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What does a Conservative presence in Scotland mean for students?

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Following May 6th’s Scottish Parliament election, The Scottish Conservatives have – for the first time in history – become Scotland’s second party. They took 31 seats, overtaking Labour whose popularity has declined in Scottish political opinion since the 2015 UK general election. So what does this new Conservative presence in Holyrood mean for the growing number of students in Scottish universities?

Tom Wrench, Chairman of Edinburgh University’s Conservative and Unionist Association (EUCUA), has said that the Conservative’s rise has been down to “the dedication, passion and determination” of party candidates, most notably the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, Ruth Davidson – and they have many plans for higher education in Scotland.

Davidson clearly captured the imaginations of Scottish voters in a way that previous Scottish Conservative leaders failed to do, with her victory in the Edinburgh Central seat surprising many and securing her role as a strong figurehead for her party.

Wrench believes that in light of this success, 2016 marks “the beginnings of a Conservative resurgence in Scotland.”

He notes that going forward, the Scottish Conservatives will aim to “support and promote the autonomy of the higher education sector” to encourage its success “without the interference of the SNP.” Wrench also promoted the party’s policy to encourage and aid young people from “the most deprived areas of Scotland” to access higher education opportunities.

Scotland is home to some of the most renowned higher education institutions in the world, with the universities of Edinburgh, St. Andrews and Glasgow all consistently ranking among the UK’s best. The party also plans to introduce a ‘graduate charge plan’, which would see an end to free tuition in Scotland.

The Conservatives have been vocal in downplaying the power held by the SNP, with Davidson claiming the SNP’s failure to win a majority leaves them unable to push for a second independence referendum. The SNP have disagreed on this front and have opted to rule as a minority party rather than pushing for a coalition.

Nicola Sturgeon has reiterated to the BBC that despite the recent vote, there has been very little change for the SNP; she said: “I’m fairly relaxed by the Parliamentary arithmetic. There’s no doubt the SNP won the election.”

The Scottish Conservatives, in light of their success, have positioned themselves as champions for Scotland’s seemingly Unionist majority. As Wrench explains: “The Scottish Conservatives demonstrated to the electorate that they are the most competent party to provide a strong opposition to the SNP in Holyrood, and to ensure that Scotland is not faced with another independence referendum.”

This is a marked change in Scottish Parliamentary politics, and one worth keeping an eye on as it develops.

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