Opinion: The First Time Candidate’s View

Being a first time candidate is a daunting experience, but a hugely rewarding and humbling one.

I was one of the youngest people to ever go through the candidate approval process, at just 17. Many people were surprised that I bothered, given I couldn’t stand for election yet anywhere, but in all honesty, I wanted to get it done and out of the way, so that when opportunities (such as the one I’m about to describe) occurred, I would be able to take full advantage. My advice to others is don’t wait for that ideal seat to come up before you get approved – when it does, you may not be able to get approved in time, do it now!

I was approached in October last year by Derek Barrie, and he asked what my plans were for the election. Now for those who don’t know, Derek is a Scottish campaigning guru. It was incredibly affirming just to have him be interested in what my plans were! I was blown away when he said “have you considered the Mid-Fife and Glenrothes seat?

NE Fife is one of the strongest local parties in Scotland. It has a great liberal tradition, and the people of NE Fife know that the Lib Dems are the only party standing up for them – they have the MP, MSP and most of the councillors, including 3 out of 4 in St Andrews (no mean feat in an STV election).

Believe it or not, I did give it some thought, and I took advice from people I trusted – John Mainland, who I worked for in the general election; Kris Chapman, the President of LYS and, most importantly, my mother. My mother was a Lib Dem candidate many years ago, and is currently a councillor, but has also been a source of sound advice when it came to decisions, political or otherwise. For the love of god, don’t tell her I said that.

After a few days giving it a lot of thought, I sent an email to Derek telling him I’d be happy to apply to be the candidate. I then had to attend an interview which would determine whether I’d be recommended to local members. The interview panel consisted of Harry Wills, the candidate for the corresponding constituency in the General Election, Adam Stachura, the NE Fife election agent, and Iain Smith, the current NE Fife MSP.

Luckily I survived the selection, and by early January I was officially the candidate for Mid-Fife and Glenrothes.

I feel very lucky, as a young first time candidate, and just generally as a candidate, to have such a great local party support, and agent in Adam Stachura. Adam works for both Iain Smith and Ming Campbell, but shows the same level of commitment and drive with me as he does with them. I’ve also been incredibly lucky to have a local party willing to give me a budget to work with, how I want to spend it. I can always turn to Adam, Iain or Derek for advice, but at the end of the day I have to make the decisions. Do I want to do knock and drop surveys, or voter ID? Do I want a glossy leaflet, or a Focus? Willie Rennie, our top regional list candidate, has also been an invaluable source of support and assistance, and will be out with me several times in the four weeks leading up to the election.

Being a young candidate is a challenge, and without a doubt there are prejudices. My advice to other young candidates is don’t try and be something you aren’t. Don’t wear suits, first of all. It doesn’t make you look grown up, it makes you look a young person in a suit – fact. Don’t try and talk about things you don’t understand. If you don’t understand something or have great knowledge of a subject, don’t try and blag your way through – other candidates can say they don’t know, why can’t you?

Above all, have fun and enjoy it. Your first time only happens once, and you always remember it.

Callum is candidate for Mid-Fife and Glenrothes, and Vice-President (Communications) of Liberal Youth Scotland. You can find him tweeting at twitter.com/Callum_Leslie.

Posted as part of  Caron Lindsay’s Elections, Referendums and Liberal Democrat Achievements Guest Editor Day

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This entry was posted in News, Op-eds and Scotland.
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5 Comments

  • ‘My advice to other young candidates is don’t try and be something you aren’t. Don’t wear suits, first of all. It doesn’t make you look grown up, it makes you look a young person in a suit – fact. Don’t try and talk about things you don’t understand. If you don’t understand something or have great knowledge of a subject, don’t try and blag your way through – other candidates can say they don’t know, why can’t you?’

    As a matter of interest – and to be clear I am not getting at you – what issues do you think are, ‘youth issues,’ at the moment? Clearly you see yourself as a ‘young candidate’ and entirely fair enough. It’s just there is an awful lot of, doesn’t and don’t,’ in here. What are you seeing as youth issues?

  • Callum Leslie – Thank you for the reply. I do realise that there might well be differences in Scotland.

    ‘Thanks for the feedback – as the youngest in Scotland, I certainly do consider myself a young candidate! In this article I was trying to put across the experiences of being a young candidate from a more internal party perspective, and give advice on avoiding some of the pitfalls.’

    Fair enough.

    ‘Obviously HE funding is an issue, but young people are also becoming tired of the focus on HE, so good policy on FE and colleges is vital – something which I believe we certainly have.’

    I guess that this is different in Scotland (though I do have reservations about how sustainable Scotland’s HE policy is). As a piece of advice, limber up for a very large row in about 5-10 years’ time about mergers and likely reductions in numbers of places in Scotland.

    ‘I also think that criminal justice policy, the environment and issues of liberty and equality are also of interest to young people. Labour’s ‘carry a knife go to prison’ policy has attracted a lot of debate among my friends.’

    Interesting.

    Regardless – best of luck to you.

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