The Liberal Democrats fell short of Labour by 316 votes in Edinburgh South in the 2010 general election. Despite declining support in national opinion polls, the Lib Dem candidate Pramod Subbaraman (perhaps unsurprisingly) asserts that his party has a chance in the seat come May 2015. We talk about the issues facing voters in the constituency, the effects of the Independence Referendum, and why he thinks tactical voting can lead him to victory.
What are the most important issues for voters in Edinburgh South?
Just the same as for most people across the UK. A stronger economy and a fairer society. Sound familiar? Yes it is the Liberal Democrat slogan, but doesn’t it make perfect sense? It is impossible to have one without the other, yet the Conservatives and Labour relentlessly pursue one over the other!
There are local issues relating to greenfield developments and the new 20mph speed limit, but as far as the general election goes, the national issues are at the forefront countrywide.
What do you think has been the impact of the Scottish independence referendum on politics in the city?
It certainly has energised political involvement on both sides. I’m sure we will see a much higher turnout for this general election in Scotland than in most elections in the past few decades.
The problem is also of polarisation, not left versus right or north versus south, nor a class polarisation, but a sad one of nationalists versus everyone else.
The nationalists may have failed in breaking up the union, but they have been successful in dividing Scotland.
The Lib Dems were only 316 votes behind Labour in Edinburgh South in 2010. In recent national polling, the support for your party has decreased. Why do you think you can buck this trend in Edinburgh South?
National polling can only ever make sense for Labour and the Conservatives in the general election. For others, it only makes sense for European elections and even then only if considered by nation or by region. For the Liberal Democrats, and for the regional parties, it is only constituency specific polling that can ever make sense. The Lib Dems have consistently in the past polled 20-25% of the popular vote nationally, but have always got less than 10% of seats in the House of Commons.
This whole idea of generalised national polling is a nonsense as it can only show what the trend or the mood is, but cannot accurately predict seats for any party other than Labour and the Conservatives.
We have a very strong core vote in Edinburgh South, one that will be ours at all times. Yes we have lost a few people, but they are only a few! Most of them are ex-Labour, or ex-SNP, or ex-Green who have just returned to what they may consider as their roots.
As long as I hold on to my core vote, I believe I have a good chance of winning. Especially as I consider that I may benefit from some tactical voting from the Conservatives. After all, Labour will lose more to the nationalists than the Lib Dems ever will, and the SNP will improve their vote no doubt, but the gap is way too wide for them to win. The Conservatives will have an average showing as normal as they have a healthy-ish core vote too in this constituency, but their numbers can never add up to victory here. They should think about a tactical vote in their best interests here.
From the non nationalists’ viewpoint, I am their best chance to keep the SNP from winning this seat, and from the Conservatives’ viewpoint, I am also their best chance in this constituency of keeping Ed Miliband from number 10.
Do you think the SNP should be included in the election TV debates? Why/why not?
The SNP should be included in a debate in Scotland with the Scottish leaders of all parties. I wouldn’t mind them being included in one debate in London with Cameron, Clegg and Miliband just so that they can be challenged in full view of the nation over their priorities in the new Parliament. When they expose their blinkered and myopic views to the whole country, it will be a lot easier to defeat their narrow world view at the polls.
As a dentist, we would be interested to hear your comparisons between the NHS in England and Scotland. What do you think the two systems can learn from each other?
One good thing about devolution is that it has allowed us to progress the NHS differently in the nations. I think the fee per item system for dentistry in Scotland has a lot of merit over the UDA (unit of dental activity) system in England, especially when it comes to patients with high treatment needs. It appears that health planning in England is too broad based and it would benefit from a regional approach. The system I currently work with in Scotland, which was the system in England prior to 2006 would have been perfect for Northern England and Wales too, the current English system works well for the south of England but I’m not sure it works well throughout the nation.
What England needs is regional devolution of healthcare spending and decisions.
Returning to the lessons that could be learned, when you have different systems in operation, then you can study the evidence base and if one is significantly better than the other, it could be rolled out in the other areas too! There would then be a lot more room for creative evolution of the NHS to benefit all.
The University of Edinburgh is located right on the boundary of the constituency. What’s your message to students and how can the Liberal Democrats recapture many students disaffected with the party?
Moving on from the million or more apologies already tendered, and musically no less by Nick Clegg, I think students are capable of being level headed in their approach. Yes, it was wrong of the Lib Dems to make a pledge that they could not keep and this will inform the party’s decisions in future and you will never again see a Lib Dem promise that cannot be kept!
That said, the best way for us to keep our promises is for us to have a majority government. Now I know that it will not be possible in 2015! But it is something for the electorate to think about when they speak about broken promises. Coalitions cannot always deliver everything in each party’s manifesto, but coalitions can bring about greater representation of a wider voter base. Coalitions can bring about a politics of consensus, a political culture where it can never again be left versus right or north versus south, but one where everyone’s opinions will have to be taken into account.
Coalitions, much derided as they are now, are the future. We must embrace them in our national interest and this new political culture will bring about more responsible parties and more responsible and responsive governments.
As for students, they would know that the higher fees will never be paid if they don’t earn the incomes that they deserve from them. They also know that the higher fees have increased funding for higher education and provided better access for all. It is also an important economic lesson, both for the Liberal Democrats and for the fresh faced students who are our future, that there are no freebies! There is always someone paying for everything! That fiscal prudence is important, for themselves as students, for us as individuals and for the country as a whole. A lesson that we cannot spend someone else’s money without consequence!
We’re now under 100 days until the election on May 7th. What is your campaign concentrating on in the final countdown?
The central message of a stronger economy and a fairer society. The acceptance of the era of coalitions. An important message in Scotland that nationalism is not a good force in any political generation.