Dave Dempsey is a Fife Councillor currently serving the Inverkeithing and Dalgety Bay Ward and is standing as a Holyrood candidate for the Scottish Conservative & Unionist candidate for Cowdenbeath. We recently aught up with Councillor Dave Dempsey and had the opportunity to ask a few questions.
- What made you interested in politics as a whole?
I’ve always been interested but I became actively involved about fifteen years. I used to write letters to papers whenever something aroused my interest, and a number were published. Local Conservatives spotted me and invited me to join. I gradually got more involved until now it’s effectively a full-time job.
- What did the Conservative party see in you that made them interested?
Well, the views and opinions I was expressing, while not necessarily party political, fitted in with Conservative thinking. I have voted Conservative all my life (with a brief exception about 40 years ago).
- What made you decide to run for a seat in the Scottish Parliament?
I’ve been a councillor for nearly nine years. The constituency I’m contesting contains my council ward, as well as my home, so it’s just a natural progression. The opportunity was there. I’d passed the afternoon of tests for prospective parliamentary candidates. I applied to be the local candidate and was accepted.
- You seem very excited about that?
Well, it dovetails with what I’m already doing. It lets me get out, engage with the public, even more than I do anyway. It just seems a natural way to go forward.
- Are you, or would you, be interested in running for a seat in Westminster? Why?
Last year I stood for Westminster in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, and there won’t be another election for 4 years. If I get to be an MSP, I doubt I’d want to be an MP, but if I’m not an MSP, I might. If the local MP quit tomorrow and there was a by-election, I would be interested in being the candidate.
- Having previously run for Westminster, what was that experience like?
I’ve worked in an awful lot of elections (not always as a candidate) so the novelty has worn off. When I stood in the Holyrood by-election in Cowdenbeath two years ago, it was a very different experience because the whole of Scottish politics was concentrated on one very small area. I had three or four TV interviews, but I don’t expect anything like that attention this time.
My degree was in mathematics followed by a career in engineering. I’m sixty-four now. I had a thirty-year career with no political element at all and I think I bring what I call the ‘engineering approach’. I have a different angle on the world to someone who’s spent all their time in politics or, I want to say, less precise subjects. I’ve got a sort of scientific view of things, perhaps.
- Do you have any thoughts on the high polling for the SNP?
I can understand high polling for a Westminster election because the SNP’s position is we want to get everything for Scotland that we can, and we’re really not worried about anywhere else whereas if you belong to a party with a UK-wide remit, then you are possibly less focused. I’m focused on my council ward, but at the back of my mind there is always a question: ‘is this fair to other places’?
The Holyrood election is different though. The only thing Holyrood works for is Scotland. So we’re all Scottish in May, we all want to do the best for Scotland, for our bit of Scotland. So why the SNP should be quite so high in the polls is a wee bit of a mystery.
They seem to have a Teflon coating. All those who aren’t SNP supporters can find lots wrong with what they do and how they do it but it doesn’t seem to have affected the electorate. I think it’s something we just have to live with until the bubble bursts. And the bubble will burst. All bubbles burst eventually.
- What are the three most important issues in the next five years, and how do you hope they will be addressed?
I’ve had a long time to think about these things and I think they’re not just the most important issues for the next five years – they’re important always.
The first one is engaging the public and engaging with the public. The Christie Commission, and many other reports and inquiries, have suggested that the state (at all levels) needs to start doing things with people and not to people. The council is getting better at this, but it’s not doing it well enough yet. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament – and the UK Parliament for that matter – are all equally guilty; they do things to people, not with them.
I’ve made it my business to work with, and keep on board, all manner of community groups and individuals and to link them directly with the council officers. If someone has a problem with something, I put them in touch with whoever who should be addressing it. I’m not the middle man, telling everybody what to do; I just let folk get on with trying to make things better and keep a gentle eye on them.
Getting the public on board levers a huge amount of resource, good will and wisdom. Three hundred thousand Fifers, collectively, are far wiser than 78 councillors or 129 MSPs. We also have to make sure that the public are well enough informed to help people like me make decisions.
Number two is getting away from measuring the worth of everything by how much it costs. Again all bits of government are guilty of this. When I hear ‘We have invested so many millions in this …’, I feel like shouting at the TV: ‘Yeah, but what did you get for it?’ We don’t measure properly what government does. As chair of one of the council scrutiny committees, I’ve asked repeatedly how do we know what we’re getting for the money and the system cannot answer. It can tell me where the money went, down to the last penny, but it can’t tell me in any meaningful way what we got for it. I want to get that corrected. Only when we know what we’re getting for the money, can we know whether we’re spending it cleverly.
Others have said NHS and education – and that’s right. But if all you measure is how you put more money into the health service, all you can guarantee is a more expensive heath service. Whether you have a better health service is not obvious and whether you have one that is sufficiently better to justify the extra money is the question we haven’t gotten a handle on yet.
And the third one, in fact, we’ve already touched on: to find a break in the Teflon coating of the SNP. I want to see a light shone on their inconsistencies and the way they mislead the public by giving the impression of something that isn’t really there. That’s the role of opposition politicians (I’ve been one all my elected time) – to hold to account, to question, and if necessary, to expose the people who are in charge. And since they are in charge at Holyrood, if I get elected that will be my job for five years.
- Are you looking forward to that?
Oh yes. In June of this year my job will be to hold some elected politician to account – in Holyrood or in Glenrothes. I’ve been doing it for several years and I haven’t enjoyed myself as much in a long, long time. No job is perfect but this one is pretty good.
- What is Scotland’s responsibility in regards to the pollution output of the UK?
There are two ways to read this question – ‘to what extent is Scotland responsible for pollution in the UK?’ and ‘to what extent should Scotland take responsibility for sorting it out?’ It depends what you mean by pollution. On one end of the scale you’ve got out-and-out pollution – eg . oil spillages – things that simply should not be there. Scotland is responsible, through SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency), for pollution for Scotland. I think, by and large, we make a pretty good job of that.
If you then stretch the definition of pollution to take in, eg. carbon dioxide emitted at Longannet, then it’s a more subtle question. We need to generate energy.
It’s said that in a city centre a third of the traffic consists of vehicles whose drivers prefer to be stationary and parked, except they’re looking for a parking space. I don’t know how true that is, but I’ve heard that said and this brings us to the next question.
- How may pollution be lowered at a local level?
The answer to is to reduce the need. We all have a tendency to contradict ourselves on policy. I’ve said for years that we seem to have a policy for creating jobs on the Edinburgh side of Forth, and building houses on the Fife side of the Forth and then we’re surprised when it’s hard to get across the bridges.
I’m currently sitting in a room in my house with computers etc around me. This is my place of work. I go to council offices for meetings or elsewhere to talk with the public. But I do a huge amount by email or telephone. I’m not driving so I’m not creating pollution. That’s the way of the future. We reduce emissions by reducing the need for emission-generating activities rather than by insisting that people go to work in Edinburgh and then trying to herd them all onto buses. It’s inefficient and it’s not clever.
- The Holyrood election will have a serious effect on the next few years. What is one topic that you, personally, feel deeply about?
The Referendum was all about transferring power out from the centre and the people of Scotland rejected the idea of becoming an entirely separate sovereign state. We’re now getting devolution in spades from Westminster to Holyrood. But at the same time Holyrood is hoovering up all sorts of powers and capabilities from below, from the likes of Fife Council.
We had a classic example recently. In the Spencerfield area a building firm wanted to build a lot of houses. The public said ‘no’, the council said ‘no’, everybody said ‘no’. The planning committee said ‘no’. And then a civil servant – somewhere in the Scottish Government – said ‘yes’ and that was the end of it. One person can override the opinion of hundreds, if not thousands.
My big thing in politics is to continue the process of devolution as far as it can be reasonably pushed -from the Scottish Government, down to councils, down to community councils, down to the individual ultimately. I think what distinguishes my conservatism is that I want to leave people alone but with a high-quality safety net – to allow people to get on with things and only intervene when letting them get on with things is not the best answer. It’s easy to say and very difficult to put into practice. Too much is centralised. Again, too much is done to people.
The driving force behind councils are people of a similar sort of age to myself. I’m 64 and I tell people that old is ten years older than me. And that’s always true. I don’t feel I’m running low on energy or ideas. There’s a whole resource in older people to make the world a better place. We need to give them the chance to do things and to feel they are appreciated.
- How do you think people can have more intimate communication with their MPs? What is the best way for the public to contact you?
In whatever way that suits them. If you look at my bit on the Council website, you’ll find there’s something along the lines of ‘Councillor Dempsey will meet you at a time and place to suit you’ and I take communication in any way. I don’t like written letters because I then have to work out where I’ve hidden them. I do a huge amount by email and I do a fair bit by phone. Quite often someone will phone me up and start to give me what’s potentially a long story. And more than once I’ve said to them ‘are you doing anything at the moment? Can I come and see you?’ and, diary permitting, I just go.
Councillor Dempsey can be contacted by his official email (email@example.com) or phone on 01383 415022 or 07983 427 970. He has a dedicated Facebook page for the candidacy or you can follow him on Twitter.