Thursday, February 20, 2014

Interview with Calum Crichton, Student at The University of Strathclyde

Pearl of Tyburn:  Tonight we have Mr. Calum Crichton coming to us from Glasgow, Scotland. Thank you for being with us, Mr. Crichton.

Calum Crichton: My pleasure.

P. T.:  First, could you tell me a little bit about your personal background, and if there was any particular political/cultural/religious or other prevailing identity you grew up with?

C.C.:  Certainly. I was born in Manchester, England, to Scottish parents, and lived there until I was 7 years old. After my parents split-up, I moved to Glasgow and have lived here ever since. I am 22 now.

I would say I am a Protestant, but I do not really practice the religion as such. It's such as I believe, and that's it. I have always been proud to be from Glasgow; and I've always been proud to be Scottish. But at the same time, I've always been proud to have a British identity too. I have never seen any conflict with this.

P.T.:  You sound you have a very well-rounded sense of national identity. Do you think having been born in England contributed to a feeling of cross-border Britishness for you at all?

C.C.:  It might have done so, but I was very young when I moved to Scotland. In all honesty, I cannot remember most of my time in England. I've just thought, ‘yea, its great being Scottish - but I love saying I'm from the UK too.’ My passport has always said British citizen, and I'm proud and comfortable with that.

P.T.:  I feel similarly about being a Marylander and an American. I know it's different in the general feeling here in the USA. The union takes precedence in most people's minds to the individual 50 states. But it was not always that way. Obviously, in our Civil War, the union almost split up, and Maryland was on the border. Hence, she was one of the states that made special efforts to assert her sense of independence during the war.

I think that fits, since Maryland was always had a unique individuality since the time the Catholic Lord Baltimore introduced religious toleration for all Christians here. I'm very proud to be a Marylander, especially given my Catholic heritage, but I am also equally proud to be American and happy that my state is part of the union.

C.C.:  I think that it’s good you have multiple identities. That's a strength, not a weakness. And that's how I feel, too.

P.T.:  So how did you first became involved in Unionist politics? And aside from being a Unionist, do you belong to any mainstream (or otherwise) political party yourself?

C.C.:  Through studying Finance & Economics at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, I began to take an interest in current affairs, because my studies helped me understand topical issues more. Obviously the referendum is a major issue in Scottish politics just now, so I have taken an interest in the subject.

I am not a member of a political party, but I take a high interest in politics. I vote as I see it, although on most issues I agree with the Conservatives. If there was a general election tomorrow that's who I'd vote for. But no party has a monopoly on perfect policies.

P.T.:  How did you locate and get involved in writing for “Open Unionism”? Also, are you involved with Better Together, the official pro-union campaign in Scotland?

C.C.:  As for OU, I was invited to join pro-UK groups on Facebook where we chat about the campaign. Through one of them I met Henry Hill and became quite friendly with him. I showed him my own blog, and he asked if I'd like to write something for “Open Unionism”.

As for campaigning with Better Together, I have not really, no. I mean, I support their cause and I will campaign for the UK at BT events. But I do not work for Better Together if that's what you mean.

P.T.:  Being a student of economics and finance, what are some of things that have convinced you to support the NO campaign in the upcoming referendum?

C.C.:  Well, I think there are 5 main reasons why I will vote NO:

POINT 1: Being part of the United Kingdom allows Scotland to maximize the potential of its human and natural resources.

POINT 2: Scotland's opportunities to engage with the international community are far greater as part of the United Kingdom.

POINT 3: The fiscal challenges lots of developing countries face can be better faced by pooling and sharing our resources across the United Kingdom.

POINT 4: Scotland has the best of both worlds as part of the United Kingdom.

POINT 5: Scotland has strong cultural and emotional ties with the United Kingdom that are not worth throwing away.

P.T.:  Regarding your first point, what human and natural resources are enhances for Scotland within the UK? Aren't the Nationalists campaigning under the banner of making more natural resources available to the Scottish people?

C.C.:  In relation to my first point, here are 3 examples:

a) Scotland receives 13% of UK research council funding; yet we have 8% of the population. We get this funding because our universities are world class - but it's something that would be lost if we separated because our universities would not longer get UK funding. 

It's the perfect example of how we get the best of both worlds. We can be proud of the fact that we have our own parliament that has control of our education system. But d'you know what? We can also be proud to be part of the larger UK education & research network. That helps Scotland get the very best out of its education system and its students.

I can particularly relate to this point. I went to primary and secondary school here in Scotland; I did my undergraduate in Scotland; and I am doing my postgraduate in Scotland, where one of my courses is funded by the ESRC, a UK research council. Now I have this funding, but I do not want future generations of Scots to miss out on this opportunity.

b) In order to encourage investment in the North Sea the UK government has committed to decommissioning tax relief of £35 billion. This massive cost is spread across a population of 65 million in the UK as whole, rather than just 5 million in Scotland. It means that every single drop of oil can be squeezed out of the North Sea at the lowest possible cost to the Scottish and UK population.

c) Given renewable energy is generally more expensive to produce, to incentivize production. To help companies meet the additional cost, the UK Government provides a green energy subsidy to energy companies.

Around one-third of the UK's renewable energy is generated here in Scotland, but all 26 million households across Britain pitch in - not just Scottish households. In line with Scotland’s 8% population share of the UK, Scottish consumers contribute around one-tenth of the cost of the green energy subsidy. However, Scotland’s immense potential means we receive around one-third of total British investment.  That is a good deal by anybody’s reckoning.

P.T.:  You purport that Scotland is able to have more clout in the international community as part of the UK. But some would insist that being an independent nation, in and of itself, would make Scotland more of a force on the world scene. Your thoughts?

C.C.:  I don't think so. We can currently punch above our weight internationally as part of the UK. Let's look at what we have now, and what we know for a fact:

If we want to engage with advanced economies and emerging markets, and engage with countries on global issues such as tax avoidance: the UK is a member of the G7, G8, and G20. An independent Scotland would not be.

If we want to improve global financial regulation: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the IMF. An independent Scotland would not be.

If we want to tackle global poverty: the UK is the 4th largest shareholder in the World Bank, and has the world's second largest aid budget. An independent Scotland would not be.

If we want to enhance global security: the UK is a permanent member of the UK security council and is part of the 'five-eyes' security arrangement with the US, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. An independent Scotland would not be.

If we want to tackle climate change and encourage business investment around Europe: the UK has the same number of votes as Germany in the European Union. An independent Scotland would have less than Greece, in accordance with its population size.

If we want to establish fantastic opportunities for our businesses: the UK is the 6th largest economy in the world and has one of the largest diplomatic networks in the world, with over 270 embassies and 169 UK Trade & Investment offices globally promoting Scottish businesses. This allows our firms to be part of a country with an unrivaled reputation of unique skills and a strong legal framework; it allows our businesses a truly global reach and an unparalleled network to tap into; and it allows our firms to promote their products, their services, their ideas, in every single part of the world.

We know for a fact that an independent Scotland would not have this vast resource to offer. The Scottish government is proposing only 70 - 90 embassies and only 26 Trade & Investment bodies.

P.T.:  What are some of the other "best of both worlds" aspects you enjoy as a Scottish Brit in the form of national institutions?

C.C.:  Loads of things. Bank of England (BoE), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), National Health Service (NHS), Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMR&C), Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (D&VLA), National Savings and Investments (NS&I), Trade & Investment (T&I), etc. The list is endless.

P.T.:  It seems as if many of the Nationalists seem the emphasize the Scots having to share their resources with England and the rest of the UK, but deemphasize the fiscal burden the rest of the country helps bear, lightening the load on Scotland. Is there a blind spot here for Alex Salmond and his supporters?

C.C.:  Well, I believe that pooling and sharing resources is a positive concept. But Nationalists want independence at any price. I respect that, but it is not an ideology I share.

P.T.:  In a brief summary, what do you think is the Nationalists' main reason for seeking independence "at any cost"? Is it emotional idealism, political opportunism, love of Scotland, hatred of Britain, pride, guilt, or a little bit of each?

C.C.:  I don't know because I'm not a Nationalist, but I believe it is mostly emotional idealism. Nationalism means the emphasis on national goals, not international goals. It means restricting sharing sovereignty with other nations as far as possible. I think this is a negative concept in a globalized world. And I don't feel my Scottish identity is oppressed by being part of the UK. I like what we achieve together in the world.

P.T.:  It's interesting to think about the word "nationalist" as used in other contexts, such as in Germany during the World Wars or in Britain and France during their Imperial Expansion projects or America with her "Manifest Destiny".

Most of the time, the inward-looking, nationalistic cult resulted in disaster and atrocities against those who didn't "fit the mold." It became a religion of the state, and a religion of intolerance. The worst case of this was Nazi Germany. Do you think the Scottish Nationalists should be wary to "look and learn" from past nationalist projects gone awry?

C.C.:  I'm not accusing them of wanting to start WW3, but what they should take from history is that nationalism is regressive and creates borders where none exist. That is still true today, which is why I will vote NO. I see nothing positive or progressive about turning our back on a country that we have helped to shape and enormously contributed to; of walking away from people with the same values as us.

P.T.:  I'm not accusing them of wanting to start WW3 either, but I do think that the nationalistic ideology, starting out relatively innocently, can sow seeds of a dangerous mindset. Especially when "my country -- right or wrong!" is adopted. Or "do such and such at ANY cost", etc.

From my own interaction with Scottish Nationalists online, many of them seem quite unstable in their manner of arguing their (comparatively insipid) points and seem determined to turn the issue into a personal battle, trying to paint their opponents as "fascists", "elitists", etc.

C.C.:  Yes, I get that too. For Nationalists it’s about focusing on the few differences we have - not the many things we have in common. It's about making out that Scots are fundamentally different to English, Welsh, and Northern Irish people; that we have superior values, which is false.

P.T.:  The lack of common courtesy is really quite unfortunate. I think I have interacted with only one truly polite Scots Nationalist, a person about whom I could actually say, "Hey, he's not so bad. We disagree, of course, I think he's using bad arguments, but he seems like a decent guy. I can respect him for himself, if not for his beliefs."

But the divisive attitude the “YES” campaign is grounded in strikes me as being deeply repulsive and, I dare say, morally wrong. Many of them go at it with animosity akin to someone trying to break up another couple’s marriage. Frankly, I think their activities can succinctly be summed up as treason against their country, even if they don’t acknowledge the UK as such. The facts still stand on their own.

C.C.:  They don't view it that way. They think a NO vote is a vote against Scotland.
They think you are anti-Scottish if you vote NO. In fact, an SNP MSP actually stood up in parliament and said people who vote no are "anti-Scottish."

P.T.:  Do you think they really believe that, or are they just pushing it to goad people into voting their way?

C.C.:  No, I think they actually believe it.

P.T.:  Why would they actually believe that, considering the evidence against such an assertation is overwhelming?

C.C.: Because they are nationalists.

P.T.:  Meaning, they just can't see past their own perspective on what they think is best for Scotland, even when many of their own countrymen disagree?

C.C.: Yes, exactly. For example, I fundamentally disagree with independence. I think it would be bad for Scotland and the rest of the UK. Hence, I will vote NO. But I can respect that people disagree, and that independence could be the democratic will of the Scottish people. If that's the case, I would want us to make the most of it.

P.T.:  If that should happen, would you stop considering your "British"? Emotionally, where do you think that would leave many Scottish Brits?

C.C.:  No, I would not stop being “British”. I mean, I was born in Manchester, England, so I guess I've always been proud to have multiple identities. But certainly, for everyone, the feeling would not be the same. The UK is the main entity associated with being British.

P.T.:  Judging from the data coming in at this point, which side on this political battle do you think is more likely to win, and what are your reasons?

C.C.:  Hmm, it's hard to say. I'm not sure. There are many variables. But I believe the case for Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom is positive and strong. And I am confident that Better Together will win on the day.

 P.T.:  I see on your blog that you recently attended an interview with First Minister Alex Salmond in Glasgow. What are some of your thoughts about him personally, his intents, and his ability to argue his case?

C.C.:  Normally in TV interviews or in First Minister's Questions, Salmond comes across as really smug, a big opportunist, and generally an unlikable person. But he has an extraordinary ability to articulate his case very well to appeal to voters.

Yet in this interview on Friday night Salmond was away from the TV cameras. The interview was a discussion, not a situation where one question after another was fired at him. So he didn't need to think about beating his opponents or providing witty answers.
He actually came across as quite a likable, charming character.

P.T.:  That's an interesting dynamic. I think our President Obama varies in the way he comes off in interviews. Sometimes he can be arrogant and insensitive, sometimes funny and rather likable.

When you say Salmond has an extraordinary ability to articulate his case to voters, what exactly do you mean? What points does he particularly emphasize or deemphasize, and how does he handle the question of dual identity on the whole?

C.C.:  Hmm, good questions. would have to watch clips of him. But basically when he gets asked a tough question he always attacks the opposition. And quite often finds statistics or quotes to back up his view. Misleading quotes and statistics, I might add, for the informed voter. But for the average voter it appeals to them.

On the question of identity he says it's not dependent on the constitution. But I do not buy this. Recently a former SNP leader was in the press emphasizing the need to attack British identity for the SNP to win. Salmond wants to break up the United Kingdom, the main foundation British. He tries to avoid the question of identity because many Scots are comfortable with being seen as British too.

P.T.:  In essence, he’d either have to be extremely naive to disassociate Britishness with the constitutional reality of the UK, or a liar, plain and simple, trying to rob people of their identity without letting them know it. Ultra "identity theft", wrapped up in the pretty paper of political rhetoric.

C.C.:  That's it.

P.T.:  What do you think would happen if he went up against David Cameron in televised debates? Which one of them do you think would gain the upper hand, with appearance, personality, debating skills, and all the other accessories needed to clinch live, TV broadcasted debates?

C.C.:  The scenario won't happen. David Cameron refuses to debate with Salmond, and rightly so. The debates would have defined the referendum. David Cameron does not have a vote in it. If Cameron was debating Salmond, he would lose.

This is not because Cameron’s not a good debater - he is, and could possibly beat Salmond. Cameron often does very well in Prime Minister's Questions against Ed Miliband. But Cameron is English, and he is a Conservative. Salmond would only use the opportunity to try to turn the referendum into a false debate about current UK government policy, not the real issues.

Salmond thinks an English Tory coming to lecture Scots would make people vote YES. Cameron knows this, so he’s refusing to debate him. The debate, in the end, is among Scots. Alistair Darling is leader of the Better Together campaign, he is Scottish, and he has a vote in the referendum (unlike Cameron). So Salmond should debate Darling.

P.T.:  Hmm. Sounds like "Call-Me-Dave" has definitely made a call on this one, although Salmond will probably make a big fuss about him "refusing" to debate. Does this mean that there are no official debates planned yet? Even with someone like Alistair Darling?

C.C.:  Yes, Salmond is making a fuss. Strategists at the SNP and Yes Scotland have been desperately wanting a debate for the reasons I outlined. They would only use it as an opportunity to make the referendum seem like an election choice between David Cameron and Alex Salmond. But Cameron is not stupid, so has ruled it out time and time again – correctly. Hence, no debates planned.

But I reckon Salmond and Darling will go head-to-head before the vote at some point. Remember, Alistair Darling is a respected and clever politician. He used to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He's not normally a witty person. He's not got a range of snappy comebacks like Salmond. But whereas Salmond relies on bluster, Darling is calm, rational, and often sticks to the facts. He's probably the only Labour politician who has had his reputation enhanced since the financial crisis.

P.T.: We would hope calm and rational would naturally win over witty and blustering.
The only problem is, from experience over here, the last presidential election 2012 saw just the opposite result, based on the footage of the vice-presidential debate, at least!

C.C.:  The thing is, though, a referendum is different from a general election. People know that. In an election people vote for the character normally, because they know they can change government in 5 years (or 4 years in the US case). But with a referendum that has an irreversible consequence, people want to know the facts.

P.T.:  True. But I would have hoped Americans voting in an election for the highest offices in the land would have taken a look at Biden's hysterics and shied away from wanting him one step away from the presidency! So people are generally unpredictable. I do hope the referendum "logic" holds in the UK, though.

C.C.:  So do I. But as you say, people are unpredictable. So we must campaign hard for every vote.

P.T.:  Do you know what BT is doing with regards to getting Unionist voters to the polls? I ask because that's another thing that basically sunk the Republican campaign for the presidency (which I continue to refer to merely because it was the most recent major exercise of the voting process we experienced here).

C.C.:  Yes, Better Together has a lot of activists who will be out talking to people and getting people out to vote NO on the day.

P.T.:  On a personal note, where do you see yourself going in the future, regarding your political involvement in Unionism as the referendum gears up and your own career?

C.C.:  As the referendum draws closer, I’ll be doing lots of campaigning around Scotland. With regards to my own career, I'm not sure what that will be yet! Let me get my masters out the way first, and I'll decide after that. Maybe I'll go into politics in some way, like political research or something.

P.T.:  Aside from your political fascination, what are some of your other interests/hobbies? How do you like to spend your free time?

C.C.:  Apart from politics, I obviously enjoy socializing with friends and doing the usual stuff like nights out, cinema, etc. I normally go to the gym 3 xs per week, and I also attend Krav Maga and Filipino Kali martial arts classes. I like loads of things though. I enjoy meeting new people and experiencing different cultures - taking myself out my comfort zone, ya know? 

P.T.:  I do indeed. And I have so enjoyed getting to learn more your own Scottish/British culture from you! Thank you so much for the interview, Mr. Crichton. It's been a real pleasure, and I do hope everyone works out for you personally and politically.

C.C.:  Pleasure; any time.

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