Talking to People Involved in Politics … Richard Thomson from the Scottish National Party (SNP)
We posed a series of questions to all the parties with candidates standing in the 2001 General Election. Here's what Richard Thomson from the Scottish National Party (SNP) had to say.
Do you think The SNP have as much appeal to today's youth as a few years ago?
"I would certainly hope so! I joined the SNP when I went to Stirling University in 1994. It wasn't long after the Berlin Wall came down and countries like Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had become independent once more. My disillusion with the way Scotland was being governed by Westminster contrasted sharply with the example these new democracies were setting. At that point in time, although the SNP was still on the political fringes, it was making strong progress and that meant it was an exciting thing to be a part of. With the Scottish Parliament now up and running, the SNP stand a good chance of becoming the next Scottish Government. Although that means that some of the excitement of being on the fringes has gone, it's been replaced by the excitement of knowing that in a few years time the policies we've been arguing for over the years stand a good chance of being implemented. I joined the SNP because many of the things I wanted - a fairer deal for students, benefits restored for 16 & 17 year olds, nuclear disarmament, Independence for Scotland - were what the SNP wanted as well. These are policies which the SNP still stand for, so I can honestly say that if I were 18 again now I would still join the SNP. Judging by the number of people aged 15+ who get involved in the SNP, I certainly wouldn't be alone in that either!"
Do you really think it is a good example for young people for their MSP's to keep getting arrested?
"In a democratic country, I think it should always be possible to make your point without having to break the law or resort to a breach of the peace. However, whenever a politician or political activist is arrested, before judging them I think we should weigh up the rights and wrongs of the situation. For example, was there a better way for them to make their point, or was their 'crime' carried out to prevent a more serious crime taking place? Fundamentally, I think young people have to accept that all adults, even adults in authority, are just as capable of setting a bad example as well as a good example by their actions. Rather than looking to politicians for an example on how to live our lives, I think it's healthier for young people to develop their own beliefs and judge what politicians say and do on that
Would you recommend going to jail for your beliefs?
"History is full of people who went to jail in defence of political beliefs which went against the prevailing views of the day, from the Scottish radical Thomas Muir to Nelson Mandela. In general, though, if you live in a democracy I wouldn't recommend going to jail in defence of your beliefs as there is usually a more effective way to make your point. However, I don't think we should always condemn those who are prepared to go to jail, providing their actions did not cause harm to anyone else in the process. In the end, you have to make a judgement about whether going to jail is the best way to promote your views and win more support for your cause. It's a decision where you literally have to have the courage of your convictions."
Do you think the blandness amongst the political parties has caused apathy amongst our generation towards politics and politicians?
"Yes, in part. If young people don't get involved in politics then political parties will tend not to address their concerns, simply because their voice won't be heard. By getting involved and contributing their energy, ideas & views, I think younger people could help create a livelier and better rounded debate on the way forward for Scotland."
Do you think the Scottish Parliament has really achieved much?
"For all its limitations, I think it has. You have to remember what things were like before devolution - Scotland was administered by the Scottish Office – a bureaucracy of 14,000 civil servants, responsible for spending a budget of around £14 billion pounds each year. The government ministers who oversaw this were appointed by the UK Prime Minister, whose party usually did not enjoy the support of most Scottish voters. To make matters worse, these ministers only came under democratic scrutiny at Scottish Questions for around 1 hour, once every 5 weeks when Westminster happened to be sitting. The lack of time to debate Scottish issues at Westminster usually meant that despite our separate legal system, changes to Scottish laws were tacked on to the end of English legislation. This was a totally unsatisfactory way to run Scotland. Now, legislation can receive proper scrutiny, there is accountability in terms of how Scotland's budget is spent, and with proportional representation there is a balance between the different parties which better reflects how people actually cast their votes. I also think its helped politics in Scotland to mature. After the Scottish Qualifications Authority exams fiasco last year, we had to look to our own politicians for answers and to make sure that nothing like that could ever happen again, whereas before devolution the government in London would have got the blame automatically. I think people are beginning to realise that after devolution, some things can't be blamed on London government any more and that taking more responsibility for our own affairs means exactly that! I think this is very positive for Scotland and helps to remove the grievance culture which does so much to disfigure relations with our closest neighbours. However, there are things such as creating a fairer tax system, removing nuclear weapons from the River Clyde, restoring benefits to 16 & 17 year olds, deciding economic policy and representing ourselves in Europe and the World which just can't be done by the Scottish Parliament as it stands. To do any of these things we require independence, so that the Scottish Parliament can take on the powers which Westminster still retains over us."
Why should young people get involved in politics?
For the same reasons as anyone else - to try and help create a better society and to make sure that your voice and opinions are heard. It's easier to complain that politics is boring or that you don't feel represented than it is to try and convince others to change their views, but the sad fact is if you stay out of the political process then your opinions will probably go underrepresented. By joining the SNP, I've made some great friends of all ages and learned a great deal about myself as well as about others. Although it's rare to find a party that you always agree with 100%, if you get involved, you can persuade others about your ideas and maybe some day see them brought into force. If you disagree with the way the country is being run, getting involved in a political party you feel comfortable with is probably one of the most effective ways to try and change things for the better.
What has been your greatest political achievement to date?
"I think my greatest achievement is one shared with the millions of Scots who have down the years made the case for self-government in Scotland - that was seeing the Scottish Parliament open its doors. However, as a supporter of Independence for Scotland, I think that the parliament should have the same powers as Westminster has currently. I hope that my biggest achievement in the future will be to help deliver Independence, and with it the chance to create a fairer and more prosperous Scotland."
The above applies to the political process in the United Kingdom and follows the laws of the UK.
- The Pupiline Team