Five Questions – Brian Balcombe Scottish Labour candidate

Thank you to Brian Balcombe the Scottish Labour candidate is the third of our four candidates in Banff & Buchan constituency to respond to the five questions from My Turriff. 

Thank you to Brian Balcombe the Scottish Labour candidate is the third of our four candidates in Banff & Buchan constituency to respond to the five questions from My Turriff.

Question 1

What are the top 5 priority’s which you feel would benefit this region directly and what are you going to do to make them happen and how would you promote this area within Westminster to attract diverse businesses here?

The top five priorities of the Scottish Labour Party are ones that would bring great benefits to this area in particular. Firstly:

Climate change/green industrial revolution
Labour has a wide range of policies to deal with the climate emergency and create a new Green Industrial revolution. This will lead to a change in emphasis away from a focus in carbon intensive to carbon neutral in our industry and economy. It will lead to the creation of over 700,000 future proof jobs throughout the United Kingdom and, as the foremost energy region of Europe with so many jobs dependent on this sector, I would be arguing for Banff and Buchan and the North East of Scotland generally to be a centre of excellence for energy research and development. The large oil companies operating globally have been receiving large subsidies from government over decades and will receive £24 billion in tax relief when it comes to decommissioning rigs and pipelines in the North Sea and so it is only right that they help kickstart the greening of the UK economy with a windfall tax. Through working with the large oil companies to achieve a Just Transition, Labour will seek to overcome the kind of shock that occurred with the recent downturn in the oil price. This led to tens of thousands of workers losing their jobs with little or no support from government. Labour will not let that expertise be lost. By linking in a nationalised energy company that will invest in the necessary infrastructure as well as making our homes more energy efficient, we can help reduce our dependency on carbon based fuels as well as reducing household bills by an average of £417 per year.

Labour’s approach would also reward environmental good practice and acknowledge the position of farmers as being custodians of the environment with an important role to play not only in overcoming challenges such as soil erosion and flooding, which affects this area in particular, but through implementation of better drainage and water storage schemes and other measures. We would aim to work in partnership with farmers and other stakeholders.

Financial Stability
We are faced with a crisis of living standards. Pay has stagnated and conditions of work have worsened over the last decade with more zero hours contracts, poorly paid work and workers being forced to sign new contracts under much poorer terms and conditions. Labour wants to restore a sense of hope and well being, a positive belief in the future where people have a stake in the economy and are able to plan for their future and the future of their children. By introducing a £10 minimum wage for all this would reduce people having to rely on in-work benefits and thereby subsidising low wage employers. This would mean an immediate pay increase for 700,000 workers in Scotland. Labour would assist small employers to manage the extra costs. The minimum wage would help also to reinvigorate our High Streets as it would lead to people having more disposable income to spend locally. More people in better paid work, working under better terms and conditions will also pay dividends by increasing the tax revenue of the country and reducing the level of financial stress in families. We cannot sustain a situation in this country where the economy seems to work against the interests of the many and only in favour of the few.

Workers Rights
Labour is committed to the setting up of a Ministry of Employment Rights. Labour will tackle insecurity in the workplace by ensuring that people have full rights from day one on the job, that whistleblowers are protected and that rights of pregnant women, those going through the menopause and terminally ill workers are protected. Labour will also ban zero hours contracts and also bogus self employment so that employers cannot evade workers rights. Labour introduce a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in the workplace.

Building local affordable housing
According to research by Shelter there will be 135,000 homeless children this Christmas. This is a direct result of decisions made by the Tories. The lack of investment in affordable homes has created a waiting list in Scotland of 130,000 for either social or council housing. Labour has a plan for the building of 12,000 safe, warm and affordable homes to be built annually for the next ten years. These homes will be built to the highest ecological standards and be highly insulated. In rural areas one of the main reasons for young people leaving is the lack of affordable homes. Through the Mary Barbour law Labour will ensure that rents in the private sector are capped and also that the condition of the housing of a satisfactory standard. Homelessness is a scourge on our society Labour will ensure that agencies work together to abolish rough sleeping and tackle some of its more complex causes.

Supporting public services especially the Health Service and local GP services.
Labour has promised £100 billion in additional resources for Scotland and part of this extra money this will work to transform public services. A decade of Tory cuts has pushed our public services to breaking point. Labour will restore public sector pay to levels last seen before the banking crisis starting with a 5% increase. Labour pledges to renew the NHS and help improve access to GP services as well as mental health services. A massive expansion of social care will support people in the community rather than leave them in hospital beds. These improvements to public services will be funded by a modest increase for the highest earners.

Question 2

What are your thoughts on people throughout the Banff & Buchan constituency having to use local food banks to allow them to eat?

The growth of food banks over the last decade is an indictment on the state of this country. We are the world’s fifth richest nation and yet we are forced to rely on charity to fulfil people’s most basic need, that of food. Schools are having to put on breakfast clubs to ensure that children living in poverty stricken households get nutrition to enable them to effectively learn and function in the learning environment. How did it come to this? The Tories ideological extremism in the face of obvious hardship by persisting with the roll-out of Universal Credit in the face of public awareness of the difficulties caused is nothing short of catastrophic and has led to many families experiencing extreme hardship. That they did nothing to mitigate against the worst effects of this policy is an indictment on them. That employers knowing that the effects of low
wages, zero hours contracts and poor terms and conditions were also forcing people to use food banks is also shameful.
The imposition of austerity as a political choice, as has been admitted by both George Osborne and Philip Hammond, has done untold damage to the livelihoods of many and this election, if it is anything, is a chance to restore hope. Hope that through work we might improve our life chances and those of our children and that for our work we will receive a fair wage and work in fair conditions.
Labour will abolish Universal Credit and will work towards creating a fairer, more sensitive approach to social security. We cannot abolish this system overnight but will take immediate steps to ensure that people receive emergency payment prior to their allowance being settled. The Department of Work and Pensions with its ethos of harassment will be changed to the Department of Social Security charged with restoring the safety net that should make food banks a thing of the past. Let us also not forget that food banks are only available as a much needed support because very charitable people give generously to this cause. If food banks were not needed that community gifting could perhaps go to other local causes and not those those caused by the state choosing not to meet its responsibility.

Question 3

Recently we have had 6 bridges washed away due to heavy rain. We have been told that some bridges may not be repaired by the council. What is your policy on helping the community deal with this issue, and what are you prepared to do to sort it?

Of all the excellent questions posed this one, I would suggest, is the most difficult to answer. I have made inquiries and it seems as
though some of the bridges swept away in the recent floods may not be repaired or it may not happen until 2030 in one case and 2021 in some of the other cases. It would seem as though the unfortunate recent events of local bridges being swept away has become linked with the wider issue of not keeping up with repairs with existing historic bridges. I could use this as a party political point scoring exercise against the Conservative led Aberdeenshire Council or the SNP Scottish government for their lack of funding. I feel, however, that this is about the voice of the community being heard and that organisations such as yours are important in ensuring that these issues are not forgotten about. The disruption caused by the continuing closures of these bridges must continually be brought to the attention of the leaders, both political and
administrative, of Aberdeenshire Council. The lack of resources is one that creates many difficulties for communities in that we are constantly told that “we can’t” due to lack of money or will. We need to change that to “we can”. On a wider note I experienced the flooding that day on my way home from my commute and unless we take flood prevention measures in future we will continue to experience incidents like this. Climate change will continue to make itself felt in many ways, some that may be quite difficult to foresee and some difficult to contend with. The local community can help by highlighting what it sees as problems and what the potential solutions might be. This requires the sometimes distant authorities to listen and learn.

Question 4

Given that generations of Scots have grown accustomed to devolution (live in the late 1970s and debated again from 1992), Holyrood (since 1999) and talk of independence (since 2011), is Scottish independence inevitable in due course?

It will shortly be the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath often cited as the source of the notion that Scotland’s sovereignty lies with its people. It seems to me to be the height of arrogance to state that Scotland will never be “allowed” another referendum on independence. Jeremy Corbyn has stated that should there be a strong expression of a desire for another referendum that this would be given due consideration and given parliamentary time at a later date. That his priorities should be the resolving of the issue of Brexit through a people’s vote and also to put policies in place to overcome the damage done by a near decade of Tory austerity and change the course of the economy to reflect the needs of the climate emergency would appear to me to be sensible choices. It would afford Scotland time to both see the impact of more “Scotland friendly” policies but also to lay the ground to increase the level of support for independence, should that be the “settled will” of the people of Scotland. The constitutional convention lead by Canon Kenyon Wright and Donald Dewar took the conversation directly to the Scottish people through the range of local meetings designed to listen and to inform about the notion of Scottish devolution and the result was that the referendum result was 75% in favour of the setting up of Holyrood. This meant that no person nor party could challenge the legitimacy of the Scottish parliament as being the settled will of the Scottish people. I would argue that any major change to the constitution of this nation should require a clear and distinct majority. The Tories forget that they had no less than three referenda in five years and to state that we are not “allowed” to have any more is arrogant. If they would wish to defend the union then listening to Scotland might be an appropriate first step. The Labour Party is a party of democratic socialism and as such is comfortable with the notion of the sovereignty of the people. The manifesto commits Labour to setting up a constitutional convention led by a citizens’ assembly to restore faith in our democratic institutions and also faith that the voices of disparate communities and interests are heard and acted upon.

Question 5

The three most influential economic powers in the world are China, the EU and the USA. After Brexit – if it happens – which should we most closely align with and why?

Regardless of the outcome of the decisions to be made regarding Brexit it would make sense to align ourselves with the nations of the EU. This does not mean that we should not put in a great deal of effort to increase trade with the US and China(and also the other BRIC nations of Brazil, Russia and India I would suggest) but we should recognise that the greatest majority of our current trade is with EU nations. This makes sense geographically but also in terms of trade in things like food, agricultural products and services our close cultural similarities and deep history of commerce and trade mean that to try to change our emphasis overnight would cause a great deal of damage to our economy, damage that it would take years to recover from. Aligning with the EU would make sense in terms of similarities of environmental standards and the rights of workers which, whatever the outcomes, we should try to adhere to. Frictionless trade is a must, something we must work hard to achieve – anything else would mean huge disruption and displacement for UK businesses and lead to job losses and more factory closures than have already occurred. Whatever the outcome of the situation with Brexit, and only Labour is giving people the opportunity to confirm their choice with either a better Brexit deal that maintains access to the single market, or a vote to remain in the EU, it will be important that we do not cut off our nose to spite our face. To quote a well known politician:

“ …what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers—visible or invisible—giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people. Bigger than Japan. Bigger than the
United States. On your doorstep. And with the Channel Tunnel to give you direct access to it. It’s not a dream. It’s not a vision. It’s not some bureaucrat’s plan. It’s for real.”

And that politician?

Margaret Thatcher.

You can see all candidates in the Banff & Buchan constituency here and read the My Turriff statement on our transparency here.

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