Apathy spoils Forsyth saga

April 25, 1997

AS YOU emerge from Stirling railway station, every lamppost is festooned with placards promoting Scotland's four main political parties. Two miles away, in Stirling University, the noticeboards are covered in posters in similarly garish colours, but the politics have evaporated.

The burning issues are the Scottish Cup semi-final between Kilmarnock and Dundee United, the free Friday disco when vodka will be 70p, and "How to Become a Journalist in Just Nine Weeks".

The palpable student political apathy can be no comfort to Labour, desperate to oust Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth. Mr Forsyth scraped home by 703 votes last time, but boundary changes have reduced this to a notional 236 majority. Politics lecturer Eric Shaw says:"Interest in the election is not high even among politics students."

He has found his students obsessed by the winter of discontent, although they never experienced it. "They have an image of heaps of dead bodies all over the place, and union barons stalking the land, but they mix it up with the three-day week. The fact that that was under a Conservative government is lost on them," he says.

Elaine McKergow, a 20-year-old English and education student, says the election is "annoying more than anything else, people knocking on your door, and every time you switch on the TV, there's some party political broadcast".

Her parents vote Conservative, but her allegiance has faded as she has accumulated a Pounds 3,500 debt, although she is unconvinced that Labour will improve students' financial situation.

Her flatmate Elizabeth Hall was going to support Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Tough, a Glasgow University archivist, but decided to vote Labour instead, given the two-horse race between Mr Forsyth and Anne McGuire.

"I don't really know what influenced me, perhaps that it was time for a change. Higher education isn't really an issue."

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