Interviewed by Editor in Chief Banseka Kayembe
So, we are seven weeks away from the general election. Marko Scepanovic is a 23 year old student studying for the bar exams and running for the Parliamentary seat in Crawley. As you guys know, Parliament isn’t exactly the most representative place when it comes to young people. So I had a chat with Marko to find out why he is running and how we can get our voices heard in politics!
Congratulations on being selected as the Liberal Democrat candidate for Crawley. This is your first time running as an MP! We’d love to know what your ambitions were for choosing to run in this election?
“The 2015 general election result was a real turning point for me. I remember Nick Clegg speaking about how the “flame of liberalism” was in danger of going out in his farewell speech. The election of a Tory majority government for the first time in fifteen years made me go from just an “arm chair activist” to actively wanting to make a difference.
Since then I’ve been involved in local political activities in Crawley, studying for the Bar as well as working part-time. Working in a zero hours contract job that has no stability really made me realise how difficult it is for some people to survive. You are called in often last minute to work and can then go long periods of time with no work at all. It really worried me that this sort of “gig economy” type of employment is becoming so normal. How can you pay rent, or your mortgage with no stable income?
The other big motivation for me running has been my experiences in education. I went to a standard comprehensive school. Doing the bar exams alongside others who have been privately educated and gone on to Oxbridge, I noticed an immediate difference; private schools instil a level of confidence and expectation in their pupils which state schools do not. It is my ambition to level the playing field and give poorer kids the opportunity to go far in life without their social background being a barrier.”
At Naked Politics, young people are at the heart of our blog. In what ways are you hoping to be able to help young people if you get into Parliament?
“Mental health is a massive issue for young people. I have a number of friends who have suffered with anxiety and depression- really common mental health issues. There is so much pressure on kids these days, particularly with social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where young people are constantly comparing themselves to others. I would love to able foster an education system that can support young people’s understanding of mental health issues and teaches kids that they can just be themselves, rather than having to live up to social media’s expectations of who they should be.
It also worries me how little young people are taught about politics. Citizenship should be a proper part of our curriculum, so young people are educated on the different political parties, what they stand for, how to vote etc. I also think with the rise of “fake news” it’s really important to teach kids how to question things. Being able to analyse different sources of information and assess it’s credibility rather than taking things at face value is increasingly important.”
Speaking of education, Theresa May has brought the idea of grammar schools back. What are your thoughts on more grammar schools?
“More grammar schools is definitely a bad idea. There is no evidence to back up that they help social mobility. I’ve never seen a credible report that suggests that they really help the kids at the bottom. Obviously if the evidence changed, I might change my mind, but for the moment there just isn’t the evidence to back it up. I also think it’s similar in a way to what we’ve seen with free schools- in Crawley we’ve had funds diverted away from the comprehensives to give more money a free school. This seems inherently unfair and I feel like that is what would continue to happen with the introduction of more grammar schools.”
I read a statistic today that said the average age of MPs in Parliament is 50. When I think of young MPs, very few come to mind. Political parties have talked increasingly about how important black and ethnic minority representation is, or equal representation of women, but not so much about young people. How important do you think having young people represented is?
“Democracy is at it’s best when everyone is involved. We can’t say we live in a true democracy if we are not representative enough. On all these issues that we’ve discussed like mental health, education etc. they affect young people so much more. The more young people in Parliament the easier it is to make a change and get them on the legislative agenda .
It’s also seriously important to have more of us in the public sphere, to help re-build that connection between politics and young people. There has historically always been a bit of a disconnect, but in recent years that divide has really worsened. Having more of us in Parliament can only help make the business of politics more relevant to young people.”
Brexit dominates politics these days. Is this election just about Brexit? Or should we be voting based on other policy issues too?
“It definitely is not limited just to Brexit. I don’t want us to give a free hand to Theresa May on all the other issues, like grammar schools. There are so many other issues going on too which are incredibly important, like climate change, the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and Russia. Brexit might make us forget about all these other important issues. There’s no point sorting out brexit only to find everything else is crumbling away.”
Do you really feel that young people can make a difference in this election?
“Absolutely. Young people definitely have the power to make a difference and change their future for the better. There are some seats held by Conservatives, or Labour that have been won so marginally. A turnout of 600 more young people in a constituency could be enough to change the outcome. The best way to get politicians to care more about young people and to turn the tide is for young people to use their voice at the ballot box.”
What is the biggest message would you like to leave with our readers?
“Don’t give up and don’t be disheartened! Things don’t always go our way, but by giving up you are allowing the other side to win. You are allowing yourself to be silent and in a democracy that’s not a great thing. No matter how tough it gets, we have to keep fighting.”
if you’d like to get in touch with Marko you can follow him at @MarkoScepy