Candidates state their case in final election debate
In the third and final hustings before next week’s election, four of the six candidates vying for a spot at Westminster battled it out.
But it was very much a case of preaching to the converted at Thursday night’s Althing with a quick show of hands before the debate revealing that only a handful of the spectators were yet to decide who to vote for.
This was a real shame for the candidates, who all had stirring moments and hard hitting soundbites which could have swayed the undecided, if more than five had been present.
Before the debate could begin there was the small matter of the empty chair to address. Stuart Hill, who has complained of being sidelined in previous debates, failed to arrive on the night despite indicating that he would attend.
But perhaps, with so few undecided voters in the room, his evening was better spent flyering and doorstepping.
Incumbent Alistair Carmichael kicked off proceedings with his opening statement by echoing Theresa May’s sentiments about this general election being the most important of our lifetime.
He said that “some of the decisions made by the next parliament will set the pace for a generation” before speaking of his record of getting “results for the local community”.
“I believe I can offer you a record of which I can be proud,” he said.
In her opening statement Robina Barton said that she was standing for Labour because of their “socialist values.”
She took aim at the SNP and said that they “may have some socialist policies but they don’t have socialist values at their heart”.
She also urged voters to remember that austerity was not just handed down from the Tories in Westminster but also from the SNP in Holyrood, before referencing Labour’s “for the many not the few” mantra.
SNP hopeful Miriam Brett spoke of her anger with the UK’s “entrenched inequality” and Conservative policies which continue to “scar our society and damage our economy.”
She also spoke of years of Liberal Democrat dominance in the constituency before expressing her belief that that party does not “represent us the way it once did.”
Jamie Halcro Johnston was at pains to point that his party was the only credible option for unionists before listing some Conservative achievements.
He boasted of a national minimum wage increase and of low levels of unemployment. He also pointed out that he was the first candidate to sign the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s Brexit pledge.
One of the first questions of the night came from independence supporter Brian Nugent who asked about increased foodbank usage under the coalition and the most recent Tory government before inviting the Labour and SNP candidates to use this as a stick to beat Mr Carmichael and Mr Halcro Johnston with.
Mr Carmichael said that complex issues were behind the increased usage and pointed out that many of us are now “just one or two paychecks from disaster.”
He then took issue with what he perceived to be a flippant attitude from Mr Nugent, saying: “It’s not a stick with which to beat people with Brian because that doesn’t help anyone.”
This response drew applause from a large portion of the crowd, many of whom had turned out to support the long-time MP.
Ms Barton also drew a large applause when she spoke of spending a Christmas period 25 years ago volunteering at a homeless shelter.
“I was thinking at the time that we’re going to end this nonsense,” she said before expressing her disgust that word foodbank is now “commonly used”.
Ex-councillor Jonathan Wills asked about the SNP’s detailed plan for Scotland to stay in the UK and the single market, which was disregarded by the Prime Minister.
He asked to hear “what was wrong with it?”
Mr Carmichael said that the plan proposed by the SNP would have been a “bureaucratic nightmare” but Ms Brett referred to it as a “brilliant response to what had just happened” following Scotland’s overall vote to remain in the European Union.
She also criticised Theresa May for her “very stupid” and “arrogant” move to exclude devolved powers from the Brexit process.
On the topic of which parties the candidates would be willing to work with in the event of a hung parliament Ms Brett said that Labour stuck out for her while Mr Carmichael said the Liberal Democrats would not join any coalition but would work with other parties on “an issue by issue basis.”
Ms Barton said the recent coalition “wasn’t that great” and that she would not want to see another one formed. She also ruled out work with the SNP, perhaps unaware that The Times was to run a story on the front page the following morning with the headline “We will use SNP to give us power, Labour says.”
In his closing statement Mr Halcro Johnston said that in Brexit he saw “positives for the fishing industry”. He said that under the Tories voters would continue to see a decrease in joblessness and an increase in employment and also said that they were the only party who could guarantee no more referendums in the near future.
Ms Brett said that the SNP had a proven track record of providing a strong opposition to the Tories and for “fighting on social justice issues left, right and centre.” She said voters had an “incredible opportunity to make history” by ousting the Liberal Democrats.
Ms Barton spoke of her values and her desire to “make the world better for everyone”. She also sought to assure any anti-Tory leaning SNP voters that the only way “to get the Tories out” was to “getLabour in.”
Finally, Mr Carmichael spoke of the many problems discussed during the evening and told voters to be “suspicious” of any party offering a simple solution. He then spoke of people throughout the UK who share the same problems and in an attack on the nationalists said that nobody “is ever going to persuade me to turn my back on those people who we share those problems with.”