We spoke to Edi MP Ian Murray about student loans, rents and having a lifetime pass to Big Cheese
“I’ve been a lucky accidental politician in the right place at the right time.”
Ian Murray has represented the Edinburgh South constituency as their Member of Parliament since 2010. The needs of students are high up on his agenda as his constituency contains the largely student populated areas of Marchmont and Bruntsfield, as well as the Kings’ Buildings campus.
Murray is Edinburgh born and bred having been brought up in Edinburgh, gone to university in Edinburgh, ran multiple businesses (including two pubs) here and now serving part of the city as a Member of Parliament.
We sat down with Ian to talk about his time at Edinburgh university and his thoughts on the major issues facing students: sky high rents, how student loans should be weighted depending on the city you study in, job prospects, housing, Brexit and Scottish independence…
Hi Ian, thanks for taking the time to speak to us. When did you go to Edinburgh and what was it like?
I was there from 1993 to 1997. I left school at sixteen, did LEAPS summer school, originally enrolled in Maths and Physics but by the time the term started I was doing Social Policy.
Do the places you went to as a student still exist?
The physical buildings are there but the places themselves have changed. We went to Teviot where pints were £1.60, this place Shark on a Wednesday night was 50p a pint, and 25p for a vodka. The trick wasn’t how much you could drink but how many drinks you could fit on the tray.
We’ve heard you’ve been to the Big Cheese – how did that happen?
In 2010 when we had just won, I took all the students who helped in the campaign out for dinner and then we went to the Big Cheese afterwards. We had a great night and the EUSA President at the time gave me a scribbled piece of card that said I had a lifetime pass to the Big Cheese. I’ve never used it and don’t know if it’d even work but I still keep it in my wallet.
You didn’t exactly have a conventional route into politics did you?
No, it’s not but I really enjoyed it. Everyone says to me that it must have great having a pub and it was for the first few years but after that it was horrendous. The lifestyle, just having to be there all the time and not being able to get away – but it was a good experience.
When and why did you want to become an MP?
Well, anyone who wants to be an MP should automatically be barred in my view.
I was involved with the Labour Party ever since I was a student. I was a member of Edinburgh Labour Students – that was a great time as we were winning elections. In 2002, after six pints of cider, I was asked if I wanted to run for the council and I stupidly said yes without thinking about the consequences. We weren’t supposed to win but we won it, so I juggled that with running my own businesses. I got re-elected in 2007 and in 2009 my predecessor retired and as I already represented a third of the seat, I got selected as the candidate for the Edinburgh South constituency. We weren’t expected to win in 2010 but we won by 316 votes.
I’ve been a lucky accidental politician in the right place at the right time but I’ve always worked incredibly hard to win and hold seats that statistically we should have lost.
Have you enjoyed it?
I enjoyed every single minute of it until the referendum in 2014. Scottish politics then turned a bit dark. I didn’t come into politics to constantly talk about the constitution and constantly have my Scottishness questioned and to constantly have to battle against the ideology of nationalism. I just think that’s the kind of politics that I hate. I came into politics to try to make life better for people.
Let’s not criticise them for pursuing independence. They are the Scottish National Party – they get up every morning to see how they can deliver independence for Scotland. I have no criticism for them doing that, that’s why they survive. I do have a criticism for them giving up on everything else pursuing that goal and Scotland suffering as a result.
Our economy is suffering, our public services are suffering, debate, civic society, democracy is suffering as a result of it.
Do you agree with abolishing tuition fees and will more be done by Labour to make it easier for students to live cost wise?
I think you’re right to pose the question about the package of student support and the package of what it costs to be at university, of which tuition fees are just a part of it. It’s right that tuition fees should be scrapped – the difficulty comes as when they were scrapped in Scotland, they were paid for in large part by scrapping 150,000 college places and by making the support for poorer students much less generous.
I have always argued for and continue to argue for weightings (for maintenance loans) – it’s much more expensive to live in Edinburgh than it is to live in other parts of the country, so Edinburgh students should be given a weighting to access more support. Then the issue is that you’re just putting people into much more debt. People don’t mind being debt if they think they’re guaranteed a decent job afterwards but I think we’ve pulled that away as well.
Why do you think rents are so high and what do you think can be done to curb them?
Rents and housing is appalling in terms of the cost.
The reason that the rents are so high and the reason that young people can’t get on the housing market is because of a lack of supply. Our manifesto both at a UK level or a Scottish level commits to leading the biggest house-building programme since the second world war. That’s good for a whole number of reasons.
It’s great for the economy, great for employment and great for first time buyers. The biggest impact on economic growth is when people buy their first houses. They buy their first house, they tend to be giving up a rental property, they buy the bed, the washing machine, the sofa, the TV – the economic impact of that is huge.
Until you have people buying their own starter homes, they won’t be able to move up the housing ladder. Massive increase in housing supply, massive increase in affordable housing supply. If you can sort out the supply problems you then have a fighting chance of lowering rents .
The costs for landlords are rising all the time and they’re just passing them straight onto the tenants. Rents are rising not because landlords are being greedy. We need to beef up landlord registration – I think it’s a fantastic thing. It should be beefed up to look at maintenance and it should be beefed up so that someone is completely accountable for the property.
Why would students’ job prospects be better under a Labour government?
It’s about growing the economy. If you put significant money into infrastructure including housing, you increase economic activity. The biggest problem with this government since 2010 has been depressed economic activity by taking so much out of the activity. You can’t cut your way out of an economic problem, you’ve got to invest.
If you build railways, airports, housing, schools, hospitals, the economic activity generated from that would have improved the economy, improved wages and that goes in a circular fashion. When you put stimulus in the economy you create jobs because you create confidence and the worse that could be happening in terms of graduate jobs is the uncertainty around Britain’s position with Brexit and what will happen post-Brexit. This is depressing economic activity and investment and therefore the jobs for young people disappear.
You’re backed by Open Britain, tell us a bit about that.
I’m backed by Open Britain who are a cross party organisation campaigning against a hard Brexit both for the work I’ve been doing locally and in parliament. They have given me their backing, it’s the number one seat they’re looking to save nationwide.
I’ve also got the endorsement from former Green Party leader Robin Harper, for my environmental credentials. I’ve got the pro-EU lobby, 78 per cent of this constituency voted remain by the way.
What I keep saying to people is that people will wake up on June 9th either to Nicola Sturgeon with her arm around her candidate saying their win is a boost for a second independence referendum or it’ll be me fighting another referendum. A vote for any other party just makes the SNP’s job easier and they all know that, which is why the Tories are campaigning in a different constituency.