Opinion: We are a party founded on the principle of free education

Liberal Youth Scotland has made a huge impact in the last few years. They have fought for equalities, demonstrated against the homophobic Westboro Baptist Church when they threatened to come to Edinburgh, produced many excellent motions to our Conference where their Quiz/Debate evenings have become the place to be. Their VP-Communications tells us what LYS has been up to and how it feels about the Browne Report.

Liberal Youth Scotland is one of the fastest growing movements in the Liberal Democrats today. Since April, our membership has gone up by over 60%. Over the past two years, we have succeeded in changing Scottish Liberal Democrat policy on equal marriage rights for all couples, and reversing the ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood.

In September 2009, we had our most successful Freshers’ season ever.  We recruited hundreds of new members, with droves signing up in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh to help the societies there with their efforts in our target seats.

During the 2010 Election campaign, Liberal Youth Scotland held action events across the country, breaking delivery records in Edinburgh and Glasgow.   We have been joined by members from all of our major University branches, as well as others from all across the country. At one event we were even joined by our counterparts from Liberal Youth UK, including then-Liberal Youth chair Alan Belmore.

Now, we are facing our toughest challenges yet. Liberal Youth Scotland were described by one MSP as “the radical conscience” of the party,  but we are now having to balance this with the challenges of being in Government.

Until this week, I would have told you that I was proud of what the Government were doing for young people.  We as Liberal Democrats in Scotland are proud of our policy of free tuition fees which was established during the Lib-Lab Coalition between 1999 and 2007 and signed by the Deputy First Minister Nichol Stephen MSP.

We are concerned of the appearance of double standards that will be created in Scotland for many voters, with the apparent support of one policy in one parliament and yet almost the exact opposite in another.

We as Liberal Youth Scotland are calling to our Scottish MPs to stand firm and proud on our policy of free tuition fees, avoid the funding gap, to vote NO on the recommendations of the Browne Report and NO to a rise in tuition fees.

President of Liberal Youth Scotland, Kristian Chapman, commented earlier this week saying:

As a candidate who stood in the General Election for the constituency of  Aberdeen North I am outraged at the recommendations of the Browne Report which seeks to condemn students for their thirst for knowledge.

It is important that we uphold our promises to the members of public within each of our constituency we wished to represent and support the pledge that we as Liberal Democrat candidates all signed.

I praise the comments in recent weeks of Sir Menzies Campbell MP for North East Fife and Charles Kennedy MP for Ross, Skye & Lochaber in upholding their commitment to students and I would strongly urge our fellow Liberal Democrat MPs to do the same.

I do not want to see students burdened any further with University debt. The Browne report does not appear to take the impact of student debt into consideration, discouraging thousands of students from undertaking further education.

We are a party founded on the principle of free education. I understand the coalition meant compromise, and the Tories don’t share our view, but there is a world of difference between not being able to enact our policy in Government, and selling it down the river.

Liberal Youth will not go down without a fight.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Scotland.
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8 Comments

  • Hear, hear! Our candidates made a pledge and they disregard it at their peril. I’m not sure whether it’s malice or incompetence on the part of our political leaders but it appears that only Liberal Youth is willing to defend this Party’s sincerely-held beliefs.

  • There is no such thing as free education.

    School years education is compulsory and is paid for by taxpayers.

    Higher and further education is a matter of choice and is paid for by a mix of private contribution and taxpayer subsidy.

  • That is a tremendously banal point.

  • Not if you’re part of the majority who never had a chance at it, let alone took it for granted as their ‘right’.

  • Agent Orange 14th Oct '10 - 6:43pm

    Free education is a bit like free health care. Where do you draw the line between a basic service that the state should provide and a luxury that people should pay for? We Lib Dems all agree that education must be free for all up to school-leaving age, that it is in the nation’s interest to train many of our citizens for free in many subjects after that, and that we should not stop people spending their own money on any crazy subject that they fancy.
    Working in for-profit further education has opened my eyes to the painful fact that much free (i.e. state-funded) education merely distorts the market. There is a terrible danger of falling into the same trap as with housing, where government money mostly ends up inflating house prices rather than helping poor people get housed.

  • “We are a party founded on the principle of free education”

    No we are a party founded on the principle of supporting Italian independence. I appreciate it’s good rhetoric but it’s bad history.

  • Neil – I’m getting a bit fed up about explaining this but I’ll do it again.

    Firstly, there are Barnett consequentials. That means that if funding for higher education is reduced in England, then the funding provided to Scotland will also be reduced.

    Secondly, the impact on Scottish universities of English universities being able to increase fees is huge. Potentially, it means that Scottish universities could lose out on research contracts etc. to their English counterparts, which results in lack of funding.

    Finally, Charles Kennedy is Rector of Glasgow University, and Sir Menzies Campbell is Chancellor of St Andrews University. Last time I looked, both had a high proportion of English fee-paying students. Therefore, they are actually representing their constituents accurately.

    So Scottish MPs are prefectly entitled to vote on this.

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