ELECTION: Q&A with Labour candidate Ian Davidson

Local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson chats with Labour candidate for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, Ian Davidson.

Thursday, 28th November 2019, 11:53 am
Ian Davidson, Labour candidate for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk.

JA: What are the big issues on the doorstep?

ID: There’s different things that I pick up. The first is the sort of ‘Brenda from Bristol’ factor: people who are scunnered with politics and don’t want this. I just get the impression that lots of people haven’t engaged, they’re not really switched onto this yet.

The second is in relation to Brexit, when people want Brexit to ‘go away’, which in my view is not the same as wanting to get it finished, and to just agree with Boris’ deal. They don’t want to discuss it anymore but that’s not the same as just accepting the deal. 

I am surprised by the extent to which that people don’t understand that even if we accept the deal, this is not the end of the process, this is just the end of the beginning. 

Lots of people, in the unions in particular, are conscious that there’s going to be another set of negotiations, and that we’ve got a very bad deal. Everybody that’s been involved in negotiations are saying what a mistake Boris has made in agreeing to Farage’s demand to set a final date for the agreement of the second phase of the negotiations. 

Everyone knows that as soon as the other side has a deadline, all you have to do is spin out the negotiations, then they either have to capitulate or they don’t get a deal. Boris has said that he’s going to get a deal by the end of 2020, he’s either going to do that by capitulating, or he’s simply not going to get it, and I suspect that he’s not going to get it and it’ll be a bit like his ‘dead in a ditch’ promise. 

There is an annoyance about this going on, and people just wish it would settle, which chimes with my own views.

Another point, there’s an enormous annoyance about the SNP pursuing the question of separation again. This constituency voted substantially to remain in the union, there is a feeling that the SNP should take a telling, but here they are saying it again. 

It was very stupid of the Nats to recently say that even if we stay in the EU they want to have another referendum, as their argument was a second referendum should happen because of Brexit. 

Now they’ve just abandoned that. That’s a clear example of them not accepting the results of the first referendum, and if they have another one, and lose again, they’ll start campaigning again the very next day. 

There was some sympathy for the view that things have drastically changed, and that leaving the EU was a drastic change, but they’ve now abandoned it and I am pleasantly surprised at how quickly activists have picked this up. 

People are motivated nowadays to vote against something. People say to me they would vote Labour if they were living anywhere else, but they’re going to vote SNP to try and beat the Tories. There are also people saying they’ve never voted Tory, but they will because they don’t want independence. 

In most elections, people are in favour of something, but this time people are just voting against things. That breeds a different, more resentful attitude. 

JA: What are your own views on Brexit?

ID: I have, for a long time, been eurosceptic. Not in the sense of wanting to automatically leave the EU, but just a bit cynical about it. I used to work at one point for Janey Buchan, who was a member of the European Parliament, so I was unhappy about it, and suspicious about it, but I was always consciously not saying that I was in favour of leaving. 

Then we came to the negotiations that Cameron did, and the humiliation he got in terms of not getting anything from them, and in a binary choice I supported leave, then went off to work for the Vote Leave campaign.

I was the Labour movement organiser for the Vote Leave campaign for a while, so I was on the board of Vote Leave with Michael Gove and Boris Johnson and people like that, though I left before the end for personal reasons. 

I’ve been astonished by two things about the negotiations. One is how appalling the Tories have been, Theresa May in particular, just how poor, right from the very beginning. 

The second is the extent to which she was undermined by people who feel the public made the wrong decision, and this is very much the EU’s line. 

All the negotiations on the British side were undermined by people who don’t believe in the objectives, so that meant things were screwed up. 

I think that Corbyn’s position of not saying what he would do is absolutely right. He can hardly say, at present, that whatever deal I negotiate I will support it. What he’s saying is that he’ll make up his mind, like he did last time, once he sees agreement. 

In this whole debate, there are two gangs of zealots. There are the Liberals, who would stay no matter the terms were, then there’s the little Englanders, who would leave no matter what the terms are. 

People actually have gradations of leave or remain, and last time I felt it was better to leave. 

It should be easier for Corbyn to negotiate a better deal, because he’s not interested in weakening environmental standards, or weakening labour standards, he’s not going to be interested in a UK that will compete with Europe by being cheaper. 

Therefore, the EU doesn’t have that to fear quite in the same way. 

JA: As a leaver, can you see parallels between the campaign to leave the EU and the campaign for Scotland to leave the UK?

ID: Yes, the ‘take back control’ message was very powerful, and I think it applies to Scotland as well as the EU.

I’m not an ideological zealot on either of these points, I think Johnson has made a mistake saying he would never agree to a referendum. I think it’s a mistake to say you would always want to remain, or leave, I think there’s got to be a pragmatic balance. 

I can see circumstances where I could see myself being in favour of Scotland getting out of this, and being better off on our own, and all the rest of it. 

At the moment, I think it’s absolutely clear it would be economically disastrous and politically disastrous to leave the UK.  

The consequences would be an economic desert would be created. 

Last time, the SNP managed to convince people the economics were better than they actually were, and I don’t think they could do that again.

There is a parallel in the way the SNP has been driven by its ultras, in the way the way the Tories were driven by their ultras on Brexit, and I think that in the same way that Johnson has given these concessions to Farage, Nicola has had to agree to things which will make her ultimate objective much, much worse.  

It’s an interesting indication of the various strengths of the moderate position in the two sets of leavers, in that they’ve had to give way to the extremists.

JA: This is the first election in a while where the main parties are all proposing to increase government spending, what is Labour’s point of difference?

ID: The difference has diminished, but the main difference is that we actually do believe in it. 

All the stuff we went through with austerity, we argued at the time that that was more of a political and ideological commitment rather than an economic necessity. 

How the money is spent is different too. Labour have said we will abolish Universal Credit, and I don’t think the Tories would do that. 

I think they are already looking at ways of sliding out of the commitment to protect the personal pensions triple-lock. 

It’s a question of the areas of expenditure. I imagine they will spend a great deal more on defence, on policing, than we would on education, for example.

We’re more likely to spend money in a much more constructive and positive manner.

We’re also much more interested in giving carers and people at the bottom of the economic pile more salaries, which in essence is invisible spending.

JA: Which more local issues would you champion if you were to become the MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk?

ID: One of the main reasons I’m standing is, having grown up here, I then had to leave to get suitable education. 

Last time round, I was arguing for the creation of an economic partnership structure, and that’s now been developed, but it’s not nearly as vigorous as it ought to be. 

We now to need to set a target, saying that as wages in the Borders are much lower than in surrounding areas, that is something we need to tackle. 

In my view there’s no future for the Borders as being a low wage area, because we’ll never be able to compete with low wage places like China, nor in my view should we aim to just be part of the greater Edinburgh sphere.

I’m conscious that average wages in the Borders have risen as a result of people commuting from Edinburgh, but that’s actually by and large people who were staying in and around Edinburgh and have just moved out further, and increasing the average wage that way. 

I also don’t think that having a future as a giant retirement village is the way forward, because that is pretty much what the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal has the Borders as being, it sees that section of the population growing, and we need to find ways of keeping our young people here.

That’s down to education. I am what I am now because of the education I received here in the Borders, but I’m not sure that youngsters from the same background are now getting quite the same chances. 

JA: On local government, Scottish Borders Council’s ruling Conservatives have often pointed to the Scottish Government as the reason for cutbacks, and the SNP has often pointed to Westminster;  what’s your view?

ID: It is undoubtedly true that the Tories in Westminster have, over a period, sought to cut public expenditure and therefore that has been passed on through the Barnett formula to Scotland. 

It’s not quite the same, and it hasn’t been the same for a while, but there is some truth in the idea that cuts are coming from Westminster.

However, the SNP in Holyrood do have virtually complete discretion over how they then use that money. Just because it’s cut back in London in a particular way doesn’t mean it that they have to do it. 

I think it’s absolutely clear that the SNP have not only passed on any cuts to local government, they’ve also magnified them.

What they’re trying to do, as far as I can see, is any cuts that are falling, they want to be able to blame on the local authorities themselves, rather than accepting that they have been disproportionately cutting the money for local authorities.

It’s undoubtedly true that Scottish Borders Council has been penalised by the SNP in Holyrood, a lot of the cuts being made are as a direct result of the cuts that have been passed on. 

That’s not to say I would agree with how SBC has made their budget and where they’ve spent their money.

I also think that over a long period, the council, being an independent quasi-Tory authority, has tended to reduce public spending more than I and other Labour authorities would, in an effort to keep the council tax as low as possible, as the people they represent tend to be the more well off who pay higher rates.