By Senior Campaign Agent Alasdair Fraser
Update: This article has been amended to fix some minor typographic errors.
In the latest addition to our ‘People Behind The Policy’ series, Alasdair Fraser sat down with David Evans, the Liberal Democrats candidate in the Gordon constituency for June’s general election. Their discussion ranged from youth engagement in politics, to mental health, and whether or not the ‘progressive alliance’ would be good for left-wing politics in the UK.
David, 25, a long-time political activist, attended Ellon Academy, his local high-school, before going on to study Scots Law at the University of Aberdeen, finishing in 2014. He began working for the Liberal Democrats late last year and prior to that, worked as an Information Governance Assistant at the NHS. In 2015, he ran for parliament in Banff and Buchan which saw a turnout of 66.6%; he gained 5.1% or 2,347 of the votes.
In the interest of full disclosure, the writer knows David through a mutual friend.
How old were you when you when you started to get interested in politics?
Quite young; politics has always been a big part of my family life. My dad grew up in Glasgow, so die-hard Labour family; they’ve always been politically interested but more Labour leaning. In fact, my dad’s brother-in-law stood against Ian Paisley for the Northern Irish Labour party; my uncle was the secretary of the local SNP branch in Inverness. I have always grown up around people that are interested in politics, so I was quite young. The first proper foray was the election agent in the Aberdeenshire inter-schools mock election, which they run in conjunction with the council; exactly the same way you’d do it properly, no of this ‘shoe-box’ passed around the class. They’d get the polling boxes in; they’d do it properly, and we would have a proper count the next day as opposed to overnight. Counted more like a council election—where we were the only school to return a Liberal Democrat.
Could you tell us a bit more about what made you join the Lib Dems and how you got involved in the party?
I came to it—‘Lib Dem apple pie’ is how I refer to it. If you read the party constitution, that’s essentially everything I’ve always been interested about: civil liberties, human rights, which is a lot of what I focused on when I was at university here in Aberdeen. I have always felt we are the party of the little guy; very focused on communities. And particularly when you are from the North East, you have a very community mentality, particularly the further from the city you get, and that’s what led me to the party. That was around about 2010, our candidate in Aberdeen South, a guy called John Sleigh, was a former pupil of my school, so we met and started talking and he asked me to help out with the campaign and I have been knocking doors for the liberals ever since.
How do you feel as a young political candidate, you could tackle political apathy and disillusionment, especially among young people?
I think a lot of the apathy is to do with not being able to see yourself in your politicians. The phrase that is often bandied around the Liberal Democrats is “pale, male, and stale” and I think that is what people imagine: the white, middle class, university educated man, in a suit—which I deliberately chose not to wear today—pontificating about things that young people don’t particularly care about. So, I think the start is more diverse candidates, doesn’t just have to be young, more diverse candidates so people can actually see themselves [in them]; is a start. Actually, I think that links into what I was saying about John Sleigh, he was only 10 years older than me at that point; he was late 20s early 30s, and that helped. I wasn’t out campaigning for someone much older than me, so we related to each other a bit more. I think there is also a patronising nature to the way we conduct politics, particularly because people are used to seeing the middle aged man at the door. I am told I look very young, and for that reason that invalidates my opinion. I think all opinions should be valued, particularly in an election like this; I think regardless of where you fall on the question of Brexit, on the question of independence. This election, more than most, is about the future, and with that in mind, it’s young people like myself, people younger than me, that are going to have to deal with the decisions we make now. So, exercise the right to vote and influence it!
At Talk Politics, we believe apathy is one of the greatest threats to democracy. Our manifesto, among other things, recommends automatic enrolment in the electoral register and an opt-out policy, to ensure that anyone who wants to vote is able to do so, without jumping through hoops. Do you agree, or if not, what measures do you think you could implement getting more young people to the polls?
I don’t have any problem with the automatic enrolment; I don’t see why that would pose any sort of problem. I become uncomfortable, when that becomes like the system in Australia, where you’re fining people for not turning up, that creates abnormal behaviour; so automatic enrolment, I think, helps. Proper civic education, I think, is also something that is also something that is required. Like I mention before, the mock—where they did it properly— and it wasn’t made to feel like a farce, which I think sometimes it is. I studied election law at university—I always become uncomfortable when people start talking about as a sort of consumer-type enterprise. Whereas, for me, it’s a civic duty, it’s something I should do, and though I’ve never spoiled my ballot, I think that should include going down to the polling station and ruining it—or the active decision not to go. Though, I would encourage spoiling your ballot, because it gives me or someone at the count, something more entertaining to read than a cross in a box.
I think, the automatic enrolment you mentioned sounds interesting, but I think it does come down to instilling in people that voting is something you need to do! It’s a thing on the doorstep that upsets me the most; you could be the most rude person of whatever party, including my own—I’ve had Liberals be rude to me too—that doesn’t bother me. You can vote for any other party, at least you have an opinion. It’s the people on the doorstep that say that “you’re all the same, it doesn’t make a difference” —the only way to change that is to exercise your right to vote—and I think it’s sad that people don’t that changes things.
How do you feel running against Alex Salmond, a seasoned politician, for the Gordon seat this June? How have things changed for you since 2015, when you ran the first time, in Banff and Buchan?
Well Banff and Buchan was nerve wracking because it was up against the sitting MP Eilidh Whiteford [SNP], who privately is absolutely lovely, though we disagree about absolutely everything, and the late Alex Johnstone [Conservative MSP for North East Scotland] who had a reputation as being a bit of a bruiser, though one of the loveliest guys in politics I have ever had the fortune to meet. He was incredibly supportive of me during that campaign.
Salmond, the bigger they are the harder they fall [laughs]. I don’t think being young— being, I don’t think less experienced is the right word—I think sometimes being in politics as long as he has—it’s definitely a bubble. I think I bring something a bit fresh and new to it; am I getting a bit partisan? I’m sorry. But, bring something a bit fresh and new to it—it doesn’t scare me.
Yeah, Salmond doesn’t scare me. I look forward to the many meetings we will have over the next few weeks.
What issues do you personally think young people in Scotland are worried about? What would you do to address them, given the chance?
Well, when I went for my selection, I talked about—because we have ballots in the Liberal Democrats for our candidates; we don’t appoint them—I discussed, how, as I said earlier, this election is very much about the future. And, I talked about how, even now, the future I would want; I like the idea I can move absolutely anywhere, work anywhere, in Europe, and travel freely, that I’m part of the UK, the EU, and a wider international spectrum of organisations working for the greater good. I think it was J.K. Rowling that said “We live in the age of Hufflepuff,” we are all nicey-nicey people. I think there is something to that and that younger people like that idea, because we did vote to stay in.
So, it sort of starts there and then, I think the Liberal Democrats and myself care quite a lot about mental health, which whenever we talk about it always seems to resonate quite well. I’m very concerned about provision up here [North East Scotland], though I realise that’s devolved; as an MP, I still think it’s your role to lobby for improvement—you’re there for your area, and that doesn’t mean just sticking to devolved competencies. Just because you can’t legislated on something does not mean you can’t throw your weight in behind a campaign. I get particularly concerned that there are no tier 3 mental health beds north of Dundee. If you are a young person Peterhead that needs to be committed to a young persons’ [mental health] ward, you’ve got to go to Dundee. Your family has to travel there, which—I don’t think it’s good enough. I think we should be trying to do a lot more, in that respect.
Do you have an opinion on the proposed ‘progressive alliance’?
As someone who supports electoral reform, I detest tactical voting—and I realise there is an element of hypocrisy here, because I have encouraged people to do it, and I will admit it. But, I think the problem then becomes that you end up with really weird scenarios—you guarantee a two party scenario. I know that’s not how it’s going to work with the progressive alliance, but then Labour and the Tories have the resources to outspend most other parties. So, it then becomes the case—and you saw it after the coalition; the Tories realised they weren’t going to pick up Labour votes, so they targeted Liberal voters, who are—annoyingly for me—the most likely to switch their vote between parties tactically. So, though in the short term, it might reap progressive benefits, in the long term, you are guaranteeing a two party state, and that the party you might habitually support might well not be there next time. I think that’s a problem with [the] first-past-the-post [electoral system].
Is there a particular voting system you have a preference over?
I think we have become very comfortable with the single-transferable vote [a form of proportional representation]; it’s my favourite by far. I would never argue that it’s perfect—no voting system ever is. Particularly when people talk about the electoral system for the Scottish parliament and how it’s proportional, when the constituency element of that completely throws it, and when you get to the regions you end up with ridiculous scenarios where the Highlands, the North East, and the Borders, are so massive that you couldn’t possibly hope for the regional MSPs to realistically represent their area. Then on the other hand you’ve got the constituency element of first-past-the-post, where you end up with a dictatorship of the slightly larger minority. Single-transferable vote counters the regional element of the Scottish parliament, with smaller areas. I think when people have the choice of who to go to as well—if you’re in a perhaps slightly larger constituency with four MPs or three MPs or whatever—you can choose which one of those you want to approach. I think it gives people more choice and a more realistic political picture across the UK.
Do you have a politician or public figure from elsewhere in the political spectrum that you admire? What makes you admire them, if so?
[Laughs] Don’t make me pick a Tory.
Ken Clark [Former Lord Chancellor; Conservative], largely because I think he’s a Liberal in disguise. I think, particularly in his later years he’s been very open and honest about what he thinks. He has been very happy to challenge the government—particularly around things I care about, like the EU. It’s people who will challenge their party that I admire because I’ve become very uncomfortable with the complete towing of the party-line. And, it has led to scenarios where people seem to have forgotten the area they represent, and will just to as they are told. So yeah, people like Ken Clark who put their head above the parapet and stand up for themselves sometimes, that’s what I admire.
What do you like to do when you are not out campaigning?
I’m a bit of a gamer actually. Older stuff at the minute—is it GOG, or something like that, I’ve been introduced to recently? So I’ve managed to find a host of games that my dad used to have on the computer when I was a kid. Star Wars X-wing is—actually, I think the first edition is older than me—but it’s still an awesome game. Big fan of Total War stuff as well. So yeah, bit of a gamer.
Do you have a favourite food?
Steak, as rare as you can get it. If it’s still twitching, perfect.
What do you think is the best show on TV right now?
Does Netflix count? I must admit Rick and Morty has been my switch off for the last couple of weeks; it’s fantastic, mindless, silly television. I’m sorry it’s not something more highbrow.
Are you reading anything good at the moment?
I’ve picked up—I’ve not had time to keep reading—I’ve forgotten who wrote it but it’s Be Your Own Politician, it’s written by one of the Labour advisors [Paul Twivy] I think, in the early Blair years, I’m only in the first chapters—it’s interesting talking about—and he does touch on the soundbite-y, media savvy, party stooge type politician—I’m finding that quite interesting. I’ve not read the end so if it turns out he’s advocating stuff I don’t agree with, don’t hold me to that—I’ve not finished it. That’s what I’m reading at the minute.
Image rights: Jennie Wilson