Following the announcement of the General Election on the 12 December, Undeb Bangor, the University’s Students Union, held a debate with the Arfon Candidates at Pontio on Tuesday 3 December.
Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams will defend a majority of just 92 votes from 2017, while Labour have named Steffie Williams Roberts from Bangor as their new candidate, after Mary Gwen Griffiths-Clarke, who contested the seat for Labour in 2017, stood down. The Brexit Party have named Gary Francis Gribben as their candidate for Arfon and the Conservatives will also contest the seat after announcing that Gonul Daniels will stand for election.
The Liberal Democrats have withdrawn their candidate in Arfon after agreeing a ‘pro-EU electoral pact’ with Plaid Cymru and the Green Party. The pact means that candidates will stand aside for each other in 11 of the 40 seats in Wales, to increase the chances of a Remain-supporting MP being elected.
The Bangor debate was chaired by Mr Brian Jones of the University Business School. Mr Jones asked pre-selected questions chosen by students and members of the public. The candidates were unaware of which questions they would be asked.
Three candidates attended the debate:
Hywel Williams: Plaid Cymru
Steffie Williams Roberts: Labour Party
Gonul Daniels: Conservative Party
Gary Francis Gribben of the Brexit Party was invited but did not respond or attend the debate.
Steffie Williams Roberts (Labour) listed her priorities as the environment, the NHS and housing, and is critical of the Conservative/Liberal Democrats austerity programme which she says “cut off vital funding for several projects in the area.”
Gonul Daniels (Conservative) listed one of her aims as “getting Brexit done” and said the result of the referendum must be upheld to concentrate on the domestic agenda.
Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru) said Plaid wants Wales to play a “full and constructive part” in the world and not draw up barriers with our neighbours. He opposes student debt and wants to see Scottish-type measures.
Gonul Daniels said this is a Brexit Election and follows three years of stalemate, despite herself voting in remain she believes in democracy and opposes a second referendum which would provide a similar result.
Hywel Williams said Wales and the UK is divided and that Brexit polarises opinion. He backs staying in the EU but says the Conservative government ploughed on with “undeliverable promises”.
Steffie Williams Roberts said Labour is clear on Brexit with the choice to be put back to the people. She agrees that society is divided but Jeremy Corbyn’s neutrality is the sensible thing to do and help heal the country. Adding that many young people didn’t have a say in 2016 and circumstances change.
The candidates were asked what impact they thought Brexit would have on higher education
Hywel Williams said there are many practical issues that will be impacted by Brexit, including loss of freedom of movement to study and live elsewhere.
Steffie Williams Roberts said that many people don’t understand how reliant universities are on EU funding, and have become businesses in their own right. She also feels that Brexit would impact on important research.
Gonul Daniels said the government will make up any shortfall in funding following Brexit and safeguard students, including the Erasmus programme which doesn’t require EU membership.
Steffie Williams Roberts and Hywel Williams both agreed that university fees should be scrapped and grants protected while Gonul Daniels said it should be reduced to £7,500.
Steffie Williams Roberts said she was proud of Labour policy on climate change, with the Welsh Labour Government banning fracking but she conceded that more needs to be done, including a green industrial revolution.
Gonul Daniels said the Conservatives were on target to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and said 2030 is “too soon” as it would require eliminating petrol cars which would affect those not able to afford such measures.
Hywel Williams pointed to his “100% green record” in Parliament and highlighted Plaid’s plans to electrify the Welsh rail network. He said the UK has worst housing stock in Europe and wants to cut VAT on renovation.
Gonul Daniels said the Conservatives are promising 50,000 extra nurses and they are providing the investment for the NHS.
Steffie Williams Roberts said the Welsh Government has protected bursaries for nurses in Wales and will increase nurses pay to encourage them to stay in the profession. She conceded that nurses are overworked but more training places have been made available.
Hywel Williams said that Plaid had campaigned for a medical school in Bangor and that by training people locally, they tend to stay locally to work after graduation.
The candidates were asked how their parties plan to finance their spending plans.
Steffie Williams Roberts said she was proud that Labour had outlined where “every penny is coming from”.
Gonul Daniels said Labour left a note in 2010 saying “there’s no money left” and that the Conservatives now have “money to spend” after nine years in office.
Hywel Williams said that Plaid Cymru want to see spending on capital projects and have an “ambitious programme.” Low interest rates mean borrowing can be taken advantage of in a responsible way.
Gonul Daniels said it’s a clear choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn. Unemployment is down, saying she will deliver results.
Hywel Williams said there is “no better deal than EU membership” and said the ‘shambles’ of Brexit has taken up too much time and that Arfon needs an experienced MP.
Steffie Williams Roberts said it’s a choice between the Tories and Labour and that the poverty culture needs changing with “real change” required across Wales and the UK.
Students Union Vice President for Education, Harry Riley, who organised the debate said: “The event was open to all and focused on four main topics: NHS, Education, Brexit and the environment.
“We felt it was a very successful event and we thought the turnout was great! We had over 175 people and we were glad we were able to provide students and local residents with the opportunity to hear from their local candidates to make an informed decision.”
Photo: Undeb Bangor