Willie Rennie is a member for Mid Scotland and Fife and part of the Scottish Liberal Democrats. We had the opportunity to sit down with MSP Rennie on 1 February and ask him a few questions.
- What made you interested in politics, as a whole?
It’s something that I’ve always been interested in, ever since I was a boy. I grew up when the SDPLiberal Alliance was coming to the fore and that sparked my interest. My parents were not heavily political but were involved in the community and the church and the local associations so they always did things for the wider area. That sense of public service was always there. Then I got involved at some byelections to help out and the rest is history. I got sucked into the whole process, but I don’t come from a particularly political family. However, I’ve always been interested in contributing back.
I lived in Cornwall for a while – you know, Liberal politics was pretty well engrained down there. So, I don’t think needing to come from a political family is necessarily different North and South of the border. Of course there’s differences in the political persuasions, but I think we’re pretty much the same in terms of contributing back, coming up with solutions. I don’t know if there’s a stronger record of familial politics North or South of the border – I’ve not noticed any trends either way. You know, you get quite a lot of people in politics who got big, long family connections and others that don’t. I don’t think there’s necessarily a pattern.
- What make you decide to run for a seat in the Scottish Parliament?
It wasn’t really just the Scottish Parliament I was interested in. Politics… I never actually thought I would enter elected politics. It’s just one of those things that developed over time. But I was initially the MP for Dunfermline in 2006 when a byelection came along and I held that seat for four years. Then I lost the seat in 2010 and I moved to the Scottish Parliament in 2011. So, I’ve been in both Parliaments. When I lost my seat in Dunfermline I thought my work in elected politics was unfinished and there was more I wanted to do, so I stayed for the Scottish Parliament.
- What are the three most important issues in the next five years, and how do you hope they will be addressed?
I think its education, then the NHS, and then civil liberties. If I was to add a fourth it would be the environment. Those are the four top issues for the next five years. In terms of education our world standing is slipping. We need to be investing more in education and be proposing an income tax for education which would give you a half a billion pounds worth of an investment in public services and education – schools, colleges, and nursery education. In terms of the NHS we need to prioritise mental health services and primary care with GPs – they’re particularly struggling – but also social care. I think in terms of the civil liberties there have been many problems with the police in recent years and we want to put that right. We also curb the kind of over-zealous nature – the kind of liberal approaches of the SNP with issues like stop-and-search and the things like the intrusive super ID database they were planning and the restrictions in freedom of information – which all sound quite dramatic, but they’re subtle but continuous changes which, I think, degrades out civil liberties. Being a Liberal I think that’s very important that we try a revert that. And finally the environment. If we’re going to be a climate change target – which we’ve not been doing in recent years – we need to have a step-change in terms of investment in public transport, doing things like opencast coal, fracking, those kind of issues – we need to make a big change on.
- Do you have any thoughts on the high polling on SNP? What are they?
I’ve got many criticisms of the SNP. By addressing my concerns with the public I hope to share some areas of improvement.
I think the SNP have been overly focused on the constitutional agenda and with independence and its distracted from the delivery of good public services. I talked about the police earlier, you know, the fact that they’ve centralized police and the control rooms and they’ve had an overbearing chief constable who changed the way the service ran. That was all during the SNP’s watch and they failed to get to grips with it. I think that was, in part, because they were focusing too much on the referendum. So there’s issues like that – the slipping of our education standards across the globe, the issue about cuts to colleges, the failure to deliver the nursery education program they promised, failing to meet climate change targets – I’ve got a long list of failures from the SNP and the positive agenda that I outlined earlier on is partly to address those difficult that have been imposed by the SNP.
- What have you done to be more active in the local community?
What we’ve tried to do, in terms of my operations, is to try and help people with their local problems. So, we’ve done Advice Surgeries, the local leaflets, I meet people in the street. We pick up and try and help their induvial problems and if there are bigger issues, like Amazon or the dockyards or local job losses, we tend to get involved in those as well. That’s the kind of area I tend to be active at a local level. With being an MSP and a party leader it’s a bit more difficult to do as much of that as I used to – just for time constraints – but that’s they style of work that I tend to do.
- How may pollution be lowered at a local level?
I’m not quite sure. In general we can improve the pollution output with public transport. But it’s not massive at a local level and the effects made are not any more than at a national level.
- The Holyrood election will have a serious effect on the next few years. What is one topic that you, personally, feel deeply about?
The most important issue for me is education. If I was to pick any of the four for earlier I’d say education as the top priority – investing in nurseries, schools, and colleges which have been neglected in recent years. I think it is something I feel strongly about and proposing to put a penny on income tax for education. We’re strongly opposed to the introduction of standardised, national testing because that disempowers teachers. It’s something the SNP are wanting to bring in and we think it’d be a retrograde step. It seems [apparent] it is the Conservative style of national testing that was rejected by the previous Liberal Democrat-Labour administration in Holyrood. We just don’t think it is the sensible thing to do to try and solve the problems the SNP have created in the education system. That is another aspect of education I feel strongly about.
- How do you think people can have more intimate communication with their MSPs? What is the best way for the public to contact you?
We’ve tried to have a variety of different mechanisms for people to get in touch, with social media (through Twitter or Facebook), email where people can write to us. People can phone my office in Holyrood. They can meet me in the street and because I live locally (I’m just over at Kelty) a lot of people do stop me in the street and speak to me about their issues. Different people respond in different ways. Some people are happier just emailing while others want to speak to you face-to-face or meet you. So those are the variety of different ways, because everybody’s different in terms of how they want to speak to politicians. And some people don’t think politicians can really help at all.
That’s my job – to try and convince them that we can.
MSP Rennie may be reached by official email or phone at 0131 348 5803 at Holyrood or 01334 656361 at his constituency office. He also has a dedicated Facebook and Twitter where any of his constituents can keep up with his work.