Dean Lockhart: “It’s important for any elected representative to know what’s going on at the University”

Brig's Politics Editor caught up with Stirling Conservative Candidate Dean Lockhart to discuss the upcoming election, manifesto policies, and what they mean for Stirling voters and students.

17 mins read

Dean Lockhart is the Stirling Conservative candidate hoping to win votes in tomorrow’s Parliamentary Election.

Why should Stirling students (in the city centre) vote for you? 

“I think it’s important for any elected representative to know whats going on at the University, understand it’s culture and have an understanding of what the main issues are for students in the Stirling region.

“Before the Pandemic, I was a frequent visitor to the University – visiting the Institute for Aquaculture and the Dementia Research Centre. I also attended the opening ceremony for the new international students building a few years ago – as well as various political events hosted by students.

“And through that direct enagagement, I have been able to get a better understanding of some of the challenges that Students face including concerns over the poor standard of some private rented accomodation in Stirling city centre, lack of sufficient public transport between the city centre and the university – especially later at night- and anti-social behaviour in the centre of Stirling – something I have worked closely with Police Scotland and Stirling Council about.

“I am also aware of mental health concerns – especially because of the Pandemic – something I have brought up in Parliament on a regular basis.

“I am aware of over the past year, the concern of many students about blended learning – and also career prospects following graduation – which is an area in which we have announced a number of policies.

“I have also hosted Groups of Students visiting the Scottish Parliament – so they can get a better understanding of how the Parliament work and I have involved students in the Cross Party Groups that I chair in the Scottish Parliament.

“If re-elected –  I would continue this Important engagement and representation of students at the University.”

The Conservatives alongside members of other political parties are aiming to repeal the recent Hate Crime Bill. This is a cross party initiative. Can you outline and clarify the problems perceived with the Bill? 

“Genuine hate crime should be punished, but the SNP’s Hate Crime Act is an assault on free speech and can even criminalise words spoken in your own home. The SNP ignored its flaws from the start despite widespread opposition from academics, lawyers, journalists, entertainers and faith groups. That’s why we would repeal this legislation with a Protection of Free Speech Bill, to protect our fundamental right to freedom of expression.

“We would prosecute hate crime mainly through ‘aggravators’, not standalone offences. Aggravators allow a tougher sentence to be handed down for an existing crime (e.g. breach of the peace or assault) if it was motivated by prejudice against a protected characteristic. The statutory aggravators in the Hate Crime Act do not include the characteristic of sex. This is unacceptable as women are frequently targeted due to their sex. We would introduce the characteristic of sex to the Act so that women are offered the same protection as other protected characteristics.”

In the Scottish Conservative manifesto, it is explicitly stated that individuals in Scotland will receive £500 annually towards training. Does this apply to students, and would individuals need to be employed to access this? 

“We would provide up to £500 every year for training and skills development for every single adult in Scotland through Retrain to Rebuild Accounts. For those who are unemployed, facing redundancy, or earning less than £30,000, we will provide up to £500.

“For those in employment and earning over £30,000, funding would be provided on a £1 for £1 match-funded basis paid into the Account.

“This funding can only be used for external, not internal, training and for approved courses. Those already in government-funded education or training would be ineligible for funding.”

The Conservatives have promised a seven subject guarantee for students studying in S4, with a desire to increase the number of teachers to facilitate this. How do you think this will impact students in state schools and is this guarantee achievable? 

“Teacher numbers, as well as education standards, have declined under the SNP. That’s one of the reasons the Scottish Conservatives propose to recruit an extra 3,000 teachers across Scotland.

“If schools have the required teaching workforce, achieving this level of subject choice, which used to be standard practice in Scottish schools, is entirely realistic.

“The pandemic has also meant that there is a wider availability and understanding about how digital platforms can be better utilised in education. It has the potential to add wider choice and ensure more subjects can be taught across schools especially where individual school cohort numbers for a subject are small.”

Care experienced students receive a bursary which has been criticised as too little. There are no plans to increase this bursary for students in the Conservative manifesto. Why are bursaries being maintained as opposed to increased especially post-COVID? 

“We would continue to make available the current bursary to all care experienced students studying a full time eligible course and support for accommodation costs in the summer.

“This is in addition to the commitment to continue to pay in full Scottish students university tuition fees.”

Similarly in the manifesto, there is specific emphasis on a national student mental health action plan for unis and colleges, to address disparities in the support system. How could students at Stirling benefit from this action plan, and what changes may we expect to see within university support? 

“The peak of the mental health impact of the pandemic is still ahead of us.  Too many people were waiting too long for mental health support before the pandemic and now services are overwhelmed.

“This is particularly the case with Mental Health services in the Forth Valley region.

“We will work with every university and further education provider to ensure that their support facilities are comprehensive, are being prioritised and funded. We would also increase funding to mental health services to 10% of the overall health budget in Scotland.

“Early intervention is key so we would propose a permanent shift towards community mental health services by expanding programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.

“These services would be available through community triage centres in order to offer people with mild to moderate mental health problems support within six weeks.

“We would also ensure a comprehensive Self-Harm Strategy was developed and work with stakeholders to update the Suicide Action Plan. Improving the use of data is vitally important to developing a comprehensive multi-agency workforce plan to help ensure the right services are available in the right places when needed.”

Tories claim Scotland will get £1500 'Union boost' to fight Covid-19 -  Daily Record
Mr. Lockhart in the Scottish Parliament in December 2020. Credit: The Daily Record

Some Stirling students have raised concerns about the lack of taxi services after midnight during the week in Stirling. As a university city, could more be done to ensure night transport for students to minimise walking risk? 

“As an MSP in the previous Parliament, I am all too aware of the concerns of students in terms of the lack of safe public transport options in Stirling late at night.

“Of course more could and should be done to provide safe and secure transport. One option that should be considered is a coordinated project between transport operators, the university and licensing authorities to introduce late-night capacity where none exists at present.

“This may require the University to contribute towards the costs of this late-night service.  It is unlikely that the general demand would support a purely commercial operator running a service in the week after midnight.”

Stirling as of 2020 has seen a 27% rise in homelessness, with Stirling sitting above the national average for the number of homeless households per 1,000 of population, with Stirling’s rate at 7.5 compared to the Scottish rate of 6.9. How would you work with local councillors to attempt to tackle this issue? 

“No one should be faced with a night sleeping rough and we need to finally end this blight on society for good. That’s why we’ve pledged to end rough sleeping by 2026.

“Our plan to make this happen includes expanding the Housing First programme. The programme currently exists in only 5 local authorities and will have central government funding withdrawn in 2022.

“Our programme will re-energise a tired system as we seek to roll it out across every local authority and increase funding over the next five years.

“Housing First emphasises that having a settled home will ensure people have the security they need to fully engage with other forms of support and begin to turn their lives around. Turning the current system on its head, Housing First gives people a safe home of their own straight away and then puts in the support to help with their other needs.

“Identifying appropriate sites for housing is one of the major problems limiting housebuilding in every area. There should be a specific programme across Stirling to get the many brownfield sites developed to provide capacity for the homes that are needed. I would be delighted to work with the Local Authority to action this.”

The Conservatives are a unionist party, and have no support for the independence movement. Do the Scottish Conservatives support further devolution, and what powers would they fight for Scotland to wield (if any)? 

“The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party are clear that the Scottish Parliament is currently one of the most powerful devolved parliaments anywhere across the globe.

“This has been achieved as a result of the 2012 and the 2016 Scotland Acts passed by UK Conservative Governments which devolved significant powers in the areas of social security payments and income tax.

“It was through these powers devolved by a Conservative UK Government that the Scottish Child Payment could be created.

“The Scottish Parliament has the vast majority of the powers required to rebuild communities after the Pandemic.   It is now essential that we all work together across the United Kingdom and that the devolved institutions fully utilise the powers at their disposal. Endless debate over the constitution will only serve to divide, not unite us.”

There is a guarantee in the manifesto to ensure off the job training for apprentices under 25. Recent data suggests that many parents would prefer their child to enter an apprenticeship with vocational training than university. Can this guarantee be upheld realistically, and how do you envision it will impact young people in the workplace? 

“Young people should be supported to achieve their full potential whatever path they take after school. That is why we would introduce a skills participation age of 18, reform and revitalise Scotland’s college sector and seek to rebalance the relationship between academic and vocational education.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives have a comprehensive plan to continue supporting young people to fulfil their full potential and enter the best possible career path.

“We would deliver an ‘unlimited’ demand-led apprenticeship model and use the full UK Apprenticeship Levy for what it was intended for – funding apprenticeship places – rather than the SNP Government approach of using the Levy for wider skills initiatives.

“We would expand funding for graduate apprenticeships as well as expanding  opportunities for foundation apprenticeships for S5 and S6 pupils, lasting one to two years.

“Foundation apprentices spend time out of school at college or with a local employer to complete the Foundation Apprenticeship qualification alongside their other subjects. They are currently available in 12 subjects. We will work with employers and colleges to expand subject choice.

 “We would also ensure apprentices receive formal or ‘off the job’ training. This is where apprentices work towards a formal qualification and/ or undertake theoretical or classroom learning. We will guarantee that any apprentices under 25 will be required to receive ‘off the job’ training through day or block release. This will align Scotland with other parts of the UK.

“We would also encourage more women into apprenticeships. The latest apprenticeship statistics show that only 38 per cent of modern apprentices are women – so there is much more work to be done in this area.”

For many years, students have campaigned for refurbishment to the university accommodation without a large accompanied rent increase. How do you respond to students in Stirling who hope for change in the future, and how could you work on some of these issues? 

“Should I be elected to the next Scottish Parliament, I would be delighted to arrange a meeting with students campaigning for improved accommodation to fully understand the scope of the issues. I would then seek a meeting with university senior management to seek details on what they, as the responsible body, are doing about ensuring that all university-provided accommodation is to a universally high standard at an affordable rent.”

Brig thanks Dean Lockhart for his responses to our questions.

The full Scottish Conservative manifesto can be read here.

For a Conservative manifesto guide at a glance, check out Brig’s analysis here.

Featured Image Credit: Terry Mullen

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