Saturday, August 30, 2014

Interview with Donna Edmunds, Councillor for Lewes, Sussex

Pearl of Tyburn:  Tonight we have Ms. Donna Edmunds from Sussex, England. Thank you for taking the time out for this.

Donna Edmunds: You're welcome.

P.T.:  Could you elaborate a little about your background and work?

D.E.:  Yes. I have a degree in Zoology, and after graduating spent a number of years trying out different careers. Eventually, in 2009 I got a job at the European Parliament with an MEP, doing research and other bits and pieces - writing blogs for him and helping to organise a conference, that sort of thing

I spent 18 months in Brussels, then a year in London working for an MP, then I stopped work to have my daughter, but have run a few projects on the side voluntarily since then. I'm also a councilor on my local District Council

P.T.:  Identity wise, do you see yourself having any particular national/cultural/religious identities? And do you consider yourself predominately English or British?

D.E.:  I consider myself to be equally British and English. My mother is an immigrant (she was born in Ukraine), so I also identify a little with people from an immigrant background - we have Russian dolls in the house, my mother and grandmother speak Russian to each other etc. But I've always felt very English/British, and not at all Russian or Ukrainian.

To me, being both English and British isn't a contradiction. I live in Sussex, which is on the South coast of England, as it's the same thing to me as saying "I'm English and Southern". England feels like a region of Britain that I identify with. So I don't see Scotland as a foreign country, but nor do I feel in any way Scottish (because I'm not!)

P.T.:  So what is your reaction to The Scottish Independence Referendum?

D.E.:  Well, I feel a little sad that there are people in Scotland who feel so strongly about independence that they would campaign so vigorously for a referendum. When I think about our history as a joined nation, I feel just as proud of achievements of Scottish people as I do of people from Yorkshire or Devon or Wales. We're all British, no matter where on the island we live. But if they want independence, that's up to them.

Having said that, if we English got a vote on Scottish independence in September, I'd be tempted to vote for Independence. But maybe I wouldn't actually vote that way when it came down to it. I don't know.

P.T.:  What issues make you lean that way?

D.E.:  At the moment the way devolution has taken place means that the Scottish get much more Government money spent on them than the English do. For example, if you're a Scottish student studying at a Scottish university you don't have to pay fees, whereas an English student studying at the same university does have to pay. That doesn't seem very fair to me.

Also, the politicians in Scotland are very socialist. A (slightly mean) part of me thinks "let them have a go at socialism and see how it works out. They'll come back soon enough when the money runs out" But it's not a very noble way of viewing the whole thing, which is why I say that my emotional attachment to Scotland would probably prevail in the end.

P.T.:  Do you think there is a way of making government assistance programs fairer in all parts of the UK?

D.E.:  Not without reversing devolution. The problem is that all tax money is collected centrally, but then Scottish and Welsh parliamentarians get to set the rules on how they spend their money. It's no wonder that they keep giving their people freebies - all they have to do is demand more from Whitehall.

P.T.:  What do you think of the "historical" connections some Scottish nationalists have tried to make with Bannockburn, the Jacobites, etc.?

D.E.:  I think it's inevitable that they'll use history in that way to make their case. If their goal is to paint Scotland as having been conquered, so that they can claim to be setting Scotland free again, any historical imagery that brings that case to life will be used. I think it's up to those who don’t' want to see Scotland split from GB to do likewise, by highlighting our rich shared military and social history. And of course it must be pointed out that Scotland was never conquered, but the two countries were brought together under James.

P.T.:  Speaking of military, what sort of challenges do you think an independent Scotland would face without the armed forces and general international clout of the UK?

D.E.:  Militarily I don't think they'd face huge problems as a country. I can't see any other country wanting to invade Scotland any time soon. But there's no doubt that they would have a vastly reduced standing on the world stage, and would be unable to play a leading role in major strategic maneuvers - which of course they might be quite happy with, to be honest. The wars that Britain has joined over the last couple of decades haven't been very popular. They are talking about joining the EU though, so they'll have representation in Europe at least.

As for the military specifically, again, some of the Scottish regiments are highly regarded and have illustrious histories within the British army. Would they be dissolved? Would English people serving within them be asked to leave? Disentangling the affairs of the two nations would take quite some doing.

P.T.:  What do you think of Alex Salmond vs. Alistair Darling?

D.E.: Alex Salmond is a very accomplished politician. To even get as far as securing a referendum takes quite some doing. He's clearly charismatic and good at persuading people to back his cause.

Darling, by contrast, is a very workmanlike figure. Even as Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is the highest ranking minister in the Cabinet, he was completely forgettable. I guess they chose him to front the campaign because he's Scottish and has held high office, but he's hardly the most inspirational of people. The whole 'No' campaign has been a bit lackluster, to be honest. So much so that it has occurred to me that they might be trying to lose!

P.T.:  What suggestions would you give to Better Together to improve things?

D.E.:  I think they need to paint a more positive picture of the Union in general, and appeal more to emotions. A lot of the debate is over whether people would be £200 richer or poorer if Scotland went independent. Well, you're talking about overturning 300 years of history and splitting countless families across two countries.

The nature of the debate should be more inspiring than how much money you'll have in your pocket in the short term. A little bit more discussion about how, by working together as fellow countrymen, Scots and Englishmen have accomplished all sorts of major achievements

P.T.:  Many of the people I have interviewed have said the exact same thing. How do you think that can be driven home to Better Together?

D.E.:  I'm not sure, really. It's not as if those sorts of things aren't being said out loud in our media, after all. A lot of people have commented on the uninspiring nature of the campaign. I think one of the problems is that it's not very fashionable to be patriotic at the moment. If you start talking about how Great Britain is people assume you're a bit of a bigot or racist. So perhaps they just feel embarrassed to be making that kind of appeal to emotion.

P.T.:  How do you think it might become more fashionable to be patriotic?

D.E.:  Oh, well, that's a big question! I think if UKIP, which is unashamedly patriotic, do well in the elections next year people might feel more comfortable expressing patriotic viewpoints. On the other hand, those who oppose UKIP have done so loudly and viciously, that people might feel more than ever that they couldn't say anything publically, even if they do vote UKIP at the ballot box.

It's mostly the fashionable London elite and the middle classes who find patriotism distasteful. How do you turn their opinions around? Can you? Who knows?!
This is why I say I wonder whether they really have their hearts in this campaign to keep Britain united.

P.T.:  Can you give me a little summary of UKIP policies?

D.E.:  First and foremost, we want Britain to leave the EU and become a sovereign nation again. We'd like to see Britain start to trade more freely with the rest of the world, and in particular restrengthen ties with the Commonwealth.

At home, we're a classical liberal party, so low taxes, small government, quite socially liberal. Although we have come under a lot of fire recently for saying that we'd like immigration to be better managed and for the total overall number of immigrants entering the country each year to be brought down, which isn't strictly speaking libertarian.

P.T.:  The UKIP did very well in the EU election, didn't it?

D.E.:  Came first.

P.T.:  What kind of power does that give the party?

D.E.:  None really. It makes it a little harder for the other parties to ignore us. For example Nigel Farage (the leader) has said that he will insist on being included in leaders’ debates at the next election. But it doesn't give us any electoral power.

P.T.:  Do you think pulling out of the EU would strengthen unity in the UK?

D.E.:  That's a good question. I don't know really, since devolution has given Scotland and Wales a more separate identity than they had before. I guess a case could be made for Britain being a sovereign nation once again and everyone pulling together to make it succeed. But I don't know how well that would go down in Scotland.

P.T.:  To wrap things up, what do you see in the future for your political career and personally?

D.E.: Well, I recently stood in the European Parliamentary elections in the South East, and missed out on getting a seat - but I am 'first reserve' on the list if anyone drops out, so I'm hoping that at least one of our four South East MEPs will be elected to Westminster next May as I'll pick up their MEP seat.

Other than that, I've just applied for a job heading up the Get Britain Out campaign, which as the name implies is an anti-EU campaign. So I'm sure lots more campaigning and blogging and that sort of thing. And personally, hopefully staying living in Sussex as my daughter really likes our local nursery. Although I wouldn't turn down a job offer in the States!

P.T.:  Do you have any special interests/hobbies?

D.E.:  I do a bit of horseback riding. This is going to sound very sad, but politics is my hobby as well as my career, so I read a lot of political books and magazines - when I get the time. Mostly I'm kept busy being a mother and taking part in campaigns.

P.T.: Hey, it's nice you love what you do!

D.E.: Yeah! I'm very lucky.

P.T.: Thanks so much for taking the time out to do it!

D.E.: You're very welcome. I hope it's useful

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