Interview with Fayzan Rehman: “We owe it to them to put recovery first”

Stirling's Lib Dem candidate sits down with Brig to talk about his party's policies for young people in Stirling.

22 mins read
Credit: Stirling North Liberal Democrats/Facebook

In tomorrows upcoming parliamentary election, Fayzan Rehman, Stirling’s Liberal Democrat candidate is hoping this years turnout will include a surge in votes for his party.

In a directed statement, he speaks to students:

“The pandemic has torn through our lives. Thousands of people died or suffered serious illness. Young people lost out on education and career opportunities. People waited longer for hospital treatment. Individuals suffered isolation. Businesses struggled to pay their bills. We owe it to them to put recovery first.

We will robustly fund universities and colleges to offer world-class opportunities. Brexit has resulted in the loss of funding, expert academics and researchers from Scottish universities. The prospect of independence would cause even more damage, allowing our universities to become marginalised from the rest of the UK.

We want to make Scotland the home for science by building on our great strengths, encouraging more people to take up science at school, and helping more women establish successful careers in science.

We bitterly regret the withdrawal from the Erasmus programme. We will work with the Liberal Democrat education minister in Wales to establish a new international study abroad scheme.

We will encourage Scottish universities to widen access and help more young people from poorer backgrounds to complete their courses, and to undertake outreach work in schools in disadvantaged areas.

Students have had a rough time during the pandemic. Their studies were disrupted. They too often found themselves unfairly paying for expensive accommodation they couldn’t use, their chances of summer jobs were curtailed and the number of career opportunities shrank. Our proposals to support graduate work placements will make a real difference.

We’ve seen Scottish institutions and experts play their part in the biggest scientific effort in history during the pandemic. They will be critical to our needle-sharp focus on recovery, building our resilience and in responding to the climate emergency.

If like many other voters at this election, you agree that we must put recovery first, ensure that you cast both your votes for the Scottish Liberal Democrats.”

In the Scottish Lib Dems Manifesto there is a focus on mental health, including detailing the extra 120 million the Lib Dems secured in spending for this area. How may students at Stirling University directly benefit from this, in the support services offered by the University?

“The Scottish Liberal Democrats will tackle the health crisis. We want mental health to be taken as seriously as physical health by the Scottish Government. That means an end to the long waits for diagnosis and treatment. It means more services available close to where people live. It means people having local, direct access to mental health treatment. There is no health without mental health. We will commit resources to train and recruit more mental health professionals to work in communities, hospitals and places of education.”

In the Lid Dem manifesto, there is a focus on creating new green spaces close to where people live. How could this policy effect the Stirling area, and what improvements may residents look forward to?

“We will make changes to the national planning framework to help us be effective in tackling the climate and nature emergencies.

“The reforms will also help us to make the best recovery from the pandemic. We support the appetite for 20-minute-neighbourhoods where people can access most of the things they need in daily life within a short distance of their home.

“We will make it easier for local planning authorities to make the changes needed to respond to post-pandemic life. We recognise that decisions on repurposing buildings and changing transport networks are best tailored to local need, decided locally, not over-ruled nationally, and require the involvement of local people and businesses in shaping them.

“Our intentions for the new national planning framework are to make sure access to green, open spaces, wildlife corridors and woodland is available to every community. We will preserve parks and playing fields.

“We will make sure there are community engagement plans in place at the planning stage of major infrastructure projects to allow local people to have an effective voice.

“We will encourage the use of living roofs to boost biodiversity and create a new network of habitats for pollinators, provide new green living spaces, reduce flooding and save energy.

“Alongside the climate emergency, we are overseeing catastrophic destruction of nature; one million animal and plant species are now at risk of extinction because of human activities and 49% of species in Scotland have declined and one in nine are threatened with national extinction.

“The climate crisis and biodiversity loss are not separate issues. They are deeply intertwined, in both sickness and in health.

“Scottish Liberal Democrats have a plan to build a resilient and green natural economy, recognising that for all the technologies we will invest in, a biodiverse ecosystem offers us the surest means of storing carbon and reducing emissions.

“We will propose a Nature Recovery Law to set legal targets across government to clean up our air, soils, seas and rivers.

“We will: set legally binding nature recovery targets, with an action plan and financial support for delivery, protect and restore carbon-rich habitats while phasing out harmful practices, expand woodland using at least 50 per cent native species, increasing Scotland’s forest cover by an additional 36 million trees every year, develop a formal strategy for Scotland’s Wild Land Areas, set a national target that 30 per cent of all publicly owned land should be used for rewilding, including land owned by Forestry and Land Scotland, Crown Estate Scotland, and Scottish Water and License of the practice of muirburn in the uplands.

“Our national parks take effective action to tackle the climate emergency and support biodiversity crisis. They promote mental and physical health and wellbeing and boost rural employment. We support the development of a new national strategy to designate more national parks, as part of a wider network of protected landscapes.

“Increasing biodiversity and restoring peatlands will also create scientific, technical and engineering opportunities in remote areas.

“We will designate new marine protected areas where this is backed by scientific evidence, and support research to demonstrate how Scotland’s marine area acts to capture carbon in the seabed and marine ecosystems.

A seemingly cross-party initiative is to guarantee jobs for 16-24 year olds in Scotland. How would the Liberal Democrats approach this, and is it a feasible promise to make young people?

The experience of the last 12 months has fallen heavily on the shoulders of the young. So we will give young people stronger opportunities to start their careers.

“We will offer a job guarantee for every 16-24-year-old so that they all have access to a job or training. To do that we will: expand support for apprenticeships, offer jobs through public agencies and our new programmes for the creative industries and create a new national programme for 2,000 paid graduate internships with small businesses.

“This programme will be run through enterprise agencies and university careers services. It will support placements for graduates from 2020 and 2021. It will support both graduates and the local economy.

“We will give workers of all ages the opportunity and means to retrain to acquire skills of the future.

“We will offer new Scottish Training Bonds for people to help them change careers. These will be worth up to £5,000. That will give people enough to live on while they train (something the Conservatives offer of a £500 training grant won’t do).

“These Scottish Training Bonds will be accompanied by careers advice to help people future-proof their new skills.

“Bonds will be targeted at people facing redundancy and those who don’t have the cushion of income to sustain themselves during training.

“We will work in partnership with businesses to develop and supplement their own schemes as part for their employee incentives.

“We will support people who have unconventional CVs, such as no formal certification or extended periods of absence from the workplace to build a recognised career passport.

“Our aim is to make sure Scotland has a reputation as the most highly skilled and adaptable workforce in Europe.”

Image Credit: Scottish Liberal Democrats

4) Walk in emergency mental-health services is a manifesto proposal that the Liberal Democrats are running on. How would this improve access to mental health services, and are there any risks you foresee to NHS staff?

“We will also bring the counselling profession into NHS workforce planning systems to make sure people have easier access to talking therapies and early interventions.

“We will provide more walk-in services at mental health emergency centres – similar to A&E – to meet the needs of people in mental health distress or crisis. We will increase the overall number of people training to be psychiatrists and psychologists to work in the NHS.

“This is not about “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, as we will ensure that the physical health part of the NHS has proper funding to catch up with the backlog of work, caused by the pandemic.”

5) There is a proposal to give students a £5,000 grant for students undertaking counselling courses. Will this be at college, university, and correspondence course level so all students from different educational backgrounds can receive this support?

“We will help people train to be counsellors by offering £5,000 grants to students undertaking courses. This will allow a wider range of people from diverse backgrounds to train, given the hundreds of hours of commitment needed to qualify.

“By providing grants, we provide the financial backing to help people receive training via a range of delivery methods. We will encourage different institutions to engage with this, to enable the full range of people from diverse backgrounds to have the opportunity to participate.”

6) The Liberal Democrats are the only major political party running on a ‘Help Not Harm’ drug policy approach with a focus on help, education, and rehab as opposed to criminal prosecution for personal usage. Is this an essential mindset shift for tackling Scotland’s drug crisis in your opinion? How will Help Not Harm benefit addicts and drug users?

“The Scottish Liberal Democrats will reduce the misery of drug abuse with compassion and health treatment rather than prosecution.

“We will take radical steps to help establish heroin assisted treatment and safe consumption spaces. We will establish new specialist Family Drug and Alcohol Commissions to help provide wraparound services and to take a holistic approach for drug offences.

“Our plan is for people caught in possession of drugs for personal use to be diverted into education, treatment and recovery, ceasing imprisonment. This will build on the agreement brokered by Liberal Democrats in the last week of the last parliamentary session.

“Protecting and enhancing drug and alcohol partnership budgets, we will adopt the principle that families shouldn’t have to pay for the care and treatment of those at risk of death from drugs or alcohol. We will help people keep their homes and tenancies while they undergo treatment and rehabilitation.”

7) 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 Scottish Liberal Democrats intentions are to end homelessness, child poverty and fuel poverty. Having the right to an adequate home is one of the basics of life. Safe, secure and good quality housing is the very foundation to ensuring fair and equal opportunities for all.

“We will build more homes that people can afford, with an initial programme for 60,000. We will use all the financial tools available to the government to pay for this, evaluating and learning from the last five years of pilots and trials to get the most from our investment.

“We will conduct an assessment of publicly owned brownfield land and consult on a mechanism for selling such land on a plot-by-plot basis direct to communities for self-building.

“We will make it much simpler, through permitted development rights, for urban derelict land and rural farm buildings to be used for zero emission homes.

“We will seek to end homelessness by taking forward the Housing First and Rapid Rehousing principles, providing both housing and other support services to individuals in need. We will address the additional challenges for young homeless people with special pathways to link suitable jobs and training to housing. We will bring forward new legislation which would strengthen the duties on public bodies to prevent homelessness.

“We will give adequate powers to local authorities to manage the numbers of second homes in their area where there is evidence of problems.”

Housing and rent is also a massive problem for Stirling students, with years of campaigning to improve old and unfit for purpose accommodation still ongoing as we speak. How would you respond to students asking what you and the Lib Dems would do to support and aid this cause?

“We will establish a Scottish Standard for Housing to apply across all forms of tenure, to include zero-emission heat, energy performance, lifetime accessibility and a minimum of gigabit-ready broadband. Such a clear standard will allow the construction industry to both contribute to and benefit from a green recovery.”

The Liberal Democrats do not support the independence movement, with Willie Rennie saying that indyref2 would ‘drag the country down’ during the worst health and economic crisis in a century. Will the Lib Dems instead fight for further devolution?

“The bitter and divisive situation that the SNP and Tories have developed, is causing a democratic impasse. Neither the dire prospect of independence nor the status-quo of continuing with devolution is the answer to this dilemma. The Liberal Democrats have long called for a federal structure for the UK, which is how modern democratic countries like Germany, Australia, the USA and Canada function.

“We will seek to work at a UK level to reform the UK to a federal future. We will give all four administrations a say over the direction of the whole UK and make sure the Scottish Parliament cannot be overruled on the say-so of the UK Government and has influence over UK wide decision-making.

“This will be better than umpteen years of strife and turmoil with an independence campaign.”

10) The Liberal Democrats across the UK supported remaining within the EU. How are the Scottish Liberal Democrats fighting to maintain relations with the EU, after there was a clear promise to fight for re-admittance/re entry into the EU? How would you respond to accusations that the Liberal Democrats have turned their back on the EU?

“We are the most pro-European of parties. We have been resolute in our opposition to Brexit because the EU is good for trade for businesses, for free movement and good for our way of life. We deeply regret what has happened. But it’s going to take time to walk the UK back to wanting to re-join the EU.

“At our recent Lib Dem federal conference, the party recommitted itself to campaigning for re-joining the EU. We will continue to call on the UK and Scottish Parliaments to keep pace with EU policy to keep the option to re-join the EU in the future. We support a close relationship with our European neighbours.

“Over the last year, we’ve had the most traumatic of times with the worst pandemic for a hundred years. Thousands of people have sadly lost their lives. Thousands more have lost their jobs. We owe it to those people to put recovery from the pandemic first. We should not repeat the mistakes of Brexit with independence. We know that breaking up long term economic partnerships is a very difficult and damaging thing to do.

“At this election, due to the pandemic, we must put those divisive constitutional arguments behind us and for all of Scotland to work together to put recovery first.”

Brig thanks Fayzan Rehman for responding to our questions.

The full Liberal Democrat manifesto can be viewed here

For a short Brig manifesto analysis on the Liberal Democrats, click here

Featured Image Credit: Stirling North Liberal Democrats/Facebook

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