Evelyn Tweed is the Stirling SNP candidate hoping to win votes in tomorrow’s Parliamentary Election.
She addressed students directly in the following statement:
“It would be an understatement to say we’re living in historic times. A global pandemic has disrupted the global economy; a rushed and chaotic Brexit has brought misery to Scotland’s leading businesses and sectors; climate change has continued apace, threatening the planet’s future – and on Thursday 6th May, we have the opportunity to take action.
It’s no secret that Scotland faces huge challenges over the coming years, regardless of domestic politics. If we’ve to recover economically and socially from the pandemic, and do better than before, we’ll need the powers of independence to make it happen.
Climate Change; Covid; Brexit. Across these 3 issues, young people have been, are currently, or will be some of the most affected. Scotland will need every tool in the box if we’re to build a country fit for the challenges, and opportunities, of the future.
I’m a big believer in giving back. I was the first in my family to go to university, born and raised by my mum on a council estate, and I could think of no greater act of immorality than to pull the ladder up behind you. It’s my generation’s duty, the duty of politicians and policymakers, to ensure the costs of the coming transitions are not borne again by younger generations as they so often have been in the past.
Students have made huge sacrifices during the pandemic. I want to pay particular tribute to Stirling’s nursing students: you answered the call with dedication, professionalism and calm, protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens. You’ve done yourself, your families and your university proud.
The past 12 months haven’t been easy, and I know this perhaps wasn’t what you expected when you chose to call Stirling home. But once better times arrive, home it shall become – you’ll get to see our fine city at its best, and begin enjoying your time at university like you deserve to.
We’ll be judged on what we leave behind, and I’m determined to build a better Scotland that values young people and students, recognises the contribution they make to society, and supports them properly to achieve their ambitions.
Access to education should be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay – and my own journey was only possible due to the free tuition available at the time. And that’s why I’m proud of the SNP’s record. We abolished tuition fees, recognising the barrier they can pose to those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. But more can be done, and will be done, to ensure students get the most out of their time at university or college.
I urge young people and students to vote SNP in the upcoming election. The SNP have the track record, the team and the vision to tackle the inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, fight for climate justice and ensure Scotland’s future generations can thrive and prosper in a society and economy that values the contribution they have to make.”
Why should the students and young people of Stirling vote for you?
“The pandemic has turned life upside down for many people in Stirling, but none perhaps more so than young people. Young people must be at the heart of Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, to ensure the social and economic damage wrought by Covid doesn’t deepen and ‘scar’ in the months and years ahead.
“That’s why the SNP implemented and will continue the Young Person’s Guarantee, to ensure that every young person aged between 16-24 in Scotland has the opportunity to go to university or college – to secure a job, apprenticeship or training programme – or to take part in a formal volunteering programme.
“School leavers will be equipped with vital practical life skills, regardless of their background, through the School Leavers’ Toolkit – in areas such as financial literacy, budgeting, and civic and democratic rights. Council Tax will be abolished for under 22’s, and free bus travel extended to this group too.
“But it’s important to recognise that students aren’t a homogenous block of school leavers. That’s why dedicated support measures for students have been put in place by the SNP Scottish Government, to help with the toll of the pandemic.
“£3.6 million has been allocated to provide 80 additional counsellors in Further and Higher Education. £2 million in additional funding was directed last year towards helping students access more mental health support. Students experiencing hardship will be supported by a £20 million fund, with a further £10 million allocated to support universities and colleges to provide rent rebates.
“All of this is underpinned by free tuition fees in Scotland, and a cast-iron commitment – as long as the SNP are in government, there will be no tuition fees in Scotland. Access to education should be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay.”
Housing is a primary concern for Stirling residents, as homelessness rose 27% as of September last year. How will you work with the local council to help reduce these figures?
“The rapid action to re-house some of our most vulnerable citizens during the pandemic demonstrates what can be achieved with swift action and a sense of urgency. The SNP’s aim is to end homelessness, backed by a new Ending Homelessness Together Fund of £50 million. A Housing First approach, where people with complex needs are provided wrap-around support to maintain tenancies, shows just how important prevention is to help stop homelessness in its tracks.
“We will introduce legislation that strengthens people’s housing rights and ensure public bodies have a duty to prevent homelessness, building on recommendations from the Prevention Review Group. Ultimately, these are our fellow human beings, at a low point in their lives. It’s society’s job to extend a hand and help them get back on their feet. If elected as Stirling’s next MSP, my office will work closely with Stirling Council and local charities to direct vulnerable constituents to the support and resources they deserve.”
The SNP are of course running on a mandate for independence. How could independence potentially affect students who mourn the ERASMUS project of exchange learning?
“The SNP remain fiercely committed to getting Scotland back into the Erasmus exchange programme, which the UK Government removed us from through their disastrous Brexit deal. The Scottish Government’s proposals on how Scottish participation could be facilitated was knocked back by the UK Government, which has forged ahead with its lacklustre Turing scheme instead.
“Independence is not the goal – it’s the means to build the country we know Scotland can be. It puts powers back in Scotland’s hands, in governments we elect. All around us, we see small, successful, independent European countries. If Denmark, Finland, Norway, Ireland and Estonia can do it – then why not Scotland? We’re a country rich in natural resources with an educated and skilled population. We can do so much better than being stuck in a United Kingdom which caters to the worst excesses of Westminster elitism, rather than the everyday needs of Scots.
“If Scotland was independent, we’d still be in the European Union and part of the Erasmus exchange programme. If the SNP forms the next Scottish Government we’ll have a clear mandate to pursue an independence referendum, to be held after the Covid crisis has passed.
“Recovery is not a neutral concept – what we recover to, and what we build after the pandemic, is really important. Who will we trust with that recovery and the new nation we want to craft? Will it be Boris Johnson’s Brexit cronies in Westminster? Or will it be governments elected here in Scotland, accountable to the Scottish people?”
The SNP manifesto pledges to increase woodland creation targets by 50%, enhancing Scotland’s leadership in tree planting. How could this impact Stirling and could more green spaces arrive?
“We’ll need every tool in the box if we’re to reduce carbon emissions and move towards our ambitious net-zero target by 2045. Woodland creation plays a huge role in rewilding parts of Scotland, reversing local ecological decline and increasing the amount of CO2 that can be absorbed. Around 12 million tonnes are absorbed by Scotland’s forests every year – and expanding our woodlands will only see that number increase.
“The SNP are committed to providing an extra £100 million to Scottish Forestry over the course of the next Parliament to support new planting, £30 million to Forestry and Land Scotland to expand national forests and land, and £20 million to increase nursery stocks.
“For Stirling, the opportunities are immense. We’re home to some of Scotland’s finest natural beauty spots, wildlife and landscapes. Together with local stakeholders, Stirling will be eligible for projects and funding from national plans and schemes, securing our natural assets for future generations to enjoy.”
One primary concern for young people and students in Stirling is housing and rent. How can the SNP help to alleviate the difficulties of affording rent, especially with regards to student privately rented flats in town?
“Rent is often one of the greatest pressures in a young person or student’s budget. In the last Parliament, the Scottish Government introduced the Private Housing Tenancies Act 2016, implementing stricter regulations around renting to protect the rights of tenants. ‘Private residential tenancies’ are open-ended, meaning rental agreements are more flexible and can fit in with student living patterns. More predictable rents and protection against excessive rent increases are also enshrined in the Act, along with provision for local rent caps for rent pressure areas.
“In Stirling specifically, more must be done to coordinate the many stakeholders at play in the private rental market for students. The University itself has a role to play in building more student accommodation. Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) projects from private sector providers are increasing capacity around Stirling, but it’s important rents remain affordable and attainable for incoming students. Stirling Council has an important job to do in enforcing standards and regulations. And landlords and letting agencies have a responsibility too, to ensure their properties are kept in decent condition, and the services they provide are up to scratch.
“The SNP have committed in our manifesto to developing a new Rented Sector Strategy in 2021, to address ongoing concerns in the private rented sector. A new Housing Standard, set in law by 2025, will also set new benchmarks across Scotland’s properties, new and old, for repair, safety, minimum space, digital connectivity, heating and energy.”
What pledges have the SNP committed to alleviate mental health waiting times, and underfunded/non existent mental health services in remote areas?
“Our local NHS Forth Valley team have done an amazing job during the pandemic to keep Stirling safe. In July 2020, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a new 24/7 national helpline to support health and social care workers – and £2.5 million has been committed to providing access to additional specialist support over the next two years. By looking after those who help others, we can maintain capacity and boost efforts to protect mental health services.
“The mental health of children and young people remains a top local priority. By March this year, 500 more mental health professionals have been recruited into national service since 2018. And the SNP will dedicate 10% of the frontline NHS budget to mental health services by the end of the next parliament.
“If re-elected, the SNP will work on a National Transitions Strategy to improve mental health outcomes for young people during the transition to adulthood. NHS Forth Valley are making progress on CAMHS waiting times, but this work must be central to local remobilisation plans as we emerge from Covid-19.
“The pandemic has also accelerated digital provision plans in the NHS, helping move consultations online and reducing the need for services users to travel. It’s my hope that these practices and lessons can build more flexibility into our health service for future need, helping young people who live in remote areas access high-quality services in a timely fashion without the need for costly and time-consuming travel to larger towns and cities.
“The SNP are also committed to exploring 20-minute neighbourhoods, where people can meet their daily needs within a 20-minute walk of where they live. Health service provision plays an important role within this ambition, and I’m keen to explore the concept and its interplay with local service delivery if elected as Stirling’s next MSP.”
Brig thanks Evelyn Tweed for responding to our questions.
The full SNP manifesto can be viewed here.
For a short Brig manifesto analysis on the SNP, click here.
Featured Image Credit: https://twitter.com/evelyntweedsnp