By Senior Campaign Agent Alasdair Fraser
Last week we had a chance to sit down with Orr Vinegold, Labour’s candidate for Aberdeen North this general election. Our discussion ranged from his love for bacon, why he feels first-past-the-post returns the correct result most of the time, and most importantly, how a young brand manager decides to run for parliament.
However, he faces stiff competition this June, up against popular Scottish National Party incumbent Kirsty Blackman, who took Aberdeen North with 24,793 in 2015, 13,396 more than her Labour rival. Orr, 28, an Economics and Business Enterprise graduate from the University of Strathclyde, studied in the UK, Israel and Canada and speaks Hebrew. He hopes to bring something new to politics, with deep insights into apathy and a range of ways he thinks government could help to tackle it.
How does someone in brand management come to run for parliament? How did you get involved in politics?
That’s a good question. I’ve been involved with the Labour party for about 10 years. I first got involved my first week at university, although I had been really interested in politics right through school, where we studied it in modern studies and I had a particularly good teacher—and I’d kept track of politics for the last—more than a decade—and I also helped the Labour party on campaigning some policy stuff. So, I sort of knew a little bit about politics but to be absolutely honest with you I though politics was for a very specific type of person, who has come out of university and has followed a very linear route into politics. So, I didn’t really think politics was for me, but I also got to the point in my career where I wanted to do something much more meaningful than just creating profit for somebody else. So I quit my job and then the snap election was called and I thought, well this is interesting timing and put myself forward for it.
What are your thoughts on political apathy and youth engagement, and do you think there is anything you could do if you were elected?
This will be a long answer because this is something I am quite passionate about; which is why we’re having this conversation.
The number-one message I get when I go to the doors is “I’m not voting.” That can be from young people that can be from older people but people are telling me right now that they’re sick of politics and they’re sick of politicians—the whole game—they’re turning away from it completely. So there’s a huge—I think apathy is the number-one issue on the doorstep, although it’s not one that parties campaign on, and I think they should.*
What can be done about it? I think when we talk about youth; schools have a very big role to play in it. I think that there should be whatever they call it—citizenship, politics, or modern studies, or society, or whatever they want to call it—but it’s important for people to have a base understanding of how the political system works and how important their voice is. I recently saw something online which said that if all the young folk under the age of 24 voted—and who currently don’t vote—then at the next election Labour would have a huge majority in parliament. So, when young people think that they don’t have any power—don’t have a voice—in fact, they’ve got a huge voice. They can swing the elections completely. However, at the moment there’re barriers.
I know this even from my own friends. I’m running for parliament and I’ve got friends who are not registered to vote, who are not going to vote in this election, and for them, it’s not a practical of “Oh, it’s going to take me five minutes to register to vote,” for them it’s “I don’t know anything about the system, I don’t get it—I’m not involved. It’s too complicated. These people don’t represent me. I don’t hear anybody with my voice.” And so, I think what political parties can do about that is they can work on bringing more education into schools, but they can also do more engagement—whether that’s MPs or MSPs or councillors going into schools and talking to folk, whether that is having—I think John Bercow [Speaker of the House of Commons] is a big advocate of what you guys are trying to do here, and he has been trying to open up Westminster, the palaces, to as many people as possible. We need to see the council here in Aberdeen doing that. We need to see MPs and MSPs opening up their offices to people.
And what would I do personally? I would outreach to schools. I have already done it as a candidate so going to my old teachers and saying “can I go speak to your classes and tell them a bit about what we’re doing here?” I would have open office days and get out in the community and talk to people. But also, my background is different from your standard politician, so hopefully I’m going to talk in a completely different way from your seasoned politicians—I’m aiming to be a bit more open and honest; posting videos online on my Facebook and running a campaign that is going to be slightly different.
I mean, that’s for a start.
You indicated that you’d had a wee look at Talk Politics; did you get a chance to check out our manifesto?
Possibly, I’ve looked at one of your proposals about how to get more young people engaged—I don’t know if that’s your manifesto?
Well, at Talk Politics, we believe youth 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 now, what measures do you think could implement to get more young people to the polls?
I think that’s a great idea. I think the big travesty of the last two years was the fact that now folk need to enrol—is it every year? They need to update their enrolment records?
If they move address, they have to update every time. So, for students that would be every time they moved flat, once a year, especially as young people are renting more and more because they can’t buy.*
That’s right. There was also a cull recently, where you had to re-register, even if you had registered previously at an address; there were a lot of people who just dropped off the radar. I think that’s an outrage really. I think the idea of auto-enrolling people, if you can find a practical way of doing that—I think that is a great way of doing that, absolutely. I’d be massively in favour of that. I think we need to look at two things: one is the ground-up, grass roots, building-up—so whether that’s schools, whether that’s all the open stuff, and being people who engage with young folk better; but also top-down, so legislative, which is what you guys are proposing there with auto-enrolment. Even going beyond that, looking at what Australia do which is obviously mandatory voting—I would like to explore that further if elected, because I think there’s—I think it is extremely important that people are involved in our democracy, and we’ve seen some great examples of that in [the] Scottish national independence referendum, where people really got involved in that; that was amazing to see.
It’s actually something David [Evans, Liberal Democrat for Gordon] mentioned when I spoke to him—similar questions—he mentioned Australia and unfortunately the Australian way of doing things has nasty, unintended consequences—people have to pay if they don’t vote…
Yeah, that’s right—fines.
…but there has to be a happy middle ground there. If you are enrolled automatically then all you have to do is turn up, or just sign a form to say “I want it sent to my house every election.”
I agree. It removes one barrier—I think it’s a good step.
What issues do you, personally, believe young people in Scotland are worried about; what would you do to address them, given the chance?
What are young people worried about?
Well, I still consider myself a fairly young person—look; I think young people are not given the credit they actually should be given. In fact, people think “Ah, young folk are going to be worried about a free bus or drink prices or clubbing or whatever, but actually, when I speak to young people, they’re worried about the big constitutional questions, and if you look at—again going back to the referendum campaign, where we had such an outcry for young people to vote, and to get engaged— and they were so engaged in that referendum—young people are engaged in the big issues of our country and actually sometimes young people are engaged at a much higher level because they have that kind of passion and idealism about what they want to see in the country.
So, I think what they care about is, at the moment, is of course, Scottish independence, [the] education system, about what’s going to happen after Brexit—I don’t think many people know what hard or soft Brexit means, but I think they understand that there’s big consequences to that. Of course, university tuition fees, classification of drugs, things like that, which I’d say are the big topics.
Just following on from that question: where do you stand on [the] voting [age] being lowered to 16 across the UK—it’s obviously in the Labour manifesto—do you agree with that move completely? I mean, it mirrors Scotland, obviously.
I think it’s a great step but it needs to come with some government responsibility to taking that step—and, we need to make sure that people are getting the education, are getting the bottom up approach where they can actually at 16 feel comfortable and confident to make a decision. So I think it is a good step, but I think we have a responsibility to those people as well.
With regard to the proposed ‘Progressive Alliance,’ where liberal leaning parties decide to stand down or support their opponents to create a blockade against right-wing parties—where do you stand on that—theoretically, not practically, of course?
I think that it can have some pretty negative unintended consequences and I think what you consider progressive isn’t as clear cut as you think, especially in Scotland where we would say—some people would say—the SNP are a very progressive party because they have left-leaning policies when it comes to education or health or university or prescription or whatever. However, I don’t consider separatist movements— whether that’s a Brexit movement or an independence movement to be particularly progressive. I think it’s the opposite from my point of view.*
You can potentially get into situations where, what is progressive can be debatable, and I would say that the Greens are also in favour of independence here in Scotland, so would I call them a progressive party? I would have some debate around that.
Is there a particular voting system you have a preference over? First-past-the-post has been very controversial in recent years, but we didn’t vote, in referendum, to remove it. Where do you stand on voting systems?
What, AVs? Well, obviously in Scotland we use a variety of other systems outside of first-past-the-post, but even those systems are fallible. So, I’m sure—I don’t know if your [audience] or you have looked into it [see hyperlink] but every system has its tricks and I think that some parties here use the STV [Single Transferable Vote] and they understand it and they leverage those tricks, but I think at this point we have rejected it pretty unanimously.* It was [an] overwhelming verdict of moving away from any AV type system—this was the national referendum. And, I think first-past-the-post, if you look historically, it generally is the voice of people, and it generally gives the direction of where people want to go in. Although, I totally agree that there are many imperfections in the system. I think broadly if you look at the history of our country, and who’s won elections—it’s broadly mirrored what people have wanted.
Do you have a politician or public figure from elsewhere in the political spectrum that admire? What makes you admire them, if so?
Do you mean other parties or other countries?
Wherever you sit in the political spectrum—someone from elsewhere; whether that’s a party or…
…from the right?
I see what you mean. That’s a good question. Well, this is going to be a funny answer actually…
It always is.
…but I actually think that Arnold Schwarzenegger [Former Governor of California] in America in his recent interventions against Donald Trump have been quite powerful. He’s obviously a very big climate change believer and is very much against a lot of what Donald Trump is doing. He was obviously the governor of a very left-leaning or Democratic state, so I’ve actually followed some of his stuff recently and I think he’s doing probably the best job on the Republican side of things of opposing Trump; which is unbelievable. He’s doing a better job than [John] McCain [or] any of the others in the Republican side. So I have to give him respect because that is the biggest challenge of our times: how to deal with what’s going on in America right now. He’s a good voice on the right.
Are you reading anything good at the moment? [It] doesn’t have to be politically linked.
[Laughs] Am I reading anything good? Well, to be honest at the moment, we are working about 12 to 14 hours-a-day, so the best I get is—I get home, write a little bit in my diary—journal—about what’s happened that day and you know, I might have a quick read of what happened yesterday, just to remind myself, but no, I’m not reading books at the moment.
The last good book I read was I think a book called The Yellow Sun*, which is a book about colonial Africa, which was really interesting. It was from the guys’ who were living there before all us Westerners came and invaded point of view—which was really interesting.
Do you have a favourite food?
[Laughs] Yes. Bacon; I love bacon. I could eat bacon probably every day—or at least twice a day; bacon or kebabs—one of the two.
What do you think’s the best show on TV right now?
So I mostly watch Netflix [or] Amazon Prime—I really quite like—obviously House of Cards is unbelievably shot and is really interesting and is fab but I also watch StartUp, which is about Bitcoins and is also quite an interesting show. Peep Show is long gone—if Peep Show was on that would be my answer.
What do you like to do when you are not out campaigning?
I like to go to the gym, hang out with friends, play sports, and reading if I’ve got time—that’s great—and just exploring. I mean, Aberdeen’s incredible—you’ve got the sea, and you can drive for 30 minutes and you’ve got beautiful countryside past Coulter and Banchory and all the rest of it—so just driving around Scotland or even just around Aberdeen is amazing—such a beautiful place.
Image courtesy of Orr Vinegold | Labour Press Office
1) While most parties have not campaigned directly to tackle apathy, Labour and other parties have all run vigorous campaigns to get people registered to vote; although, the Conservative party is conspicuous in the absence of any advertisements encouraging registration.
2) Students may be able to register to vote at their home address as well as their term time address; although, many still have to register each time they move.
3) This point of view is not necessarily shared by the interviewer or Talk Politics.
4) The 2011 Alternative Vote referendum had a turnout of only 42.2%, with 68% voting ‘No’ and 32% voting ‘Yes’ and is thought of as being a poorly debated referendum.
5) We believe Orr was referring to Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.