Sunday, August 31, 2014

Interview with Jonathan Robert Waddell, Student at the University of Aberdeen

P.T.:  Today I’ll be speaking with Jonathan Robert Waddell, a Student of History and Economics at the University of Aberdeen. Hello, Mr. Waddell.

J.W.:  Hello!

P.T.:  First could you tell me a bit about your background?

J.W.:  I'm from the north east of Scotland, studied at Aberdeen College, now North East Scotland College and moved on to study History and Economics at the University of Aberdeen. I'm president of the Aberdeen University Liberal Democrats and I'm campaigning for a Federal Britain through quite radical constitutional change post-no vote in September.

P.T.:  Could you please explain what type of constitutional changes you would be interested in seeing? And would the federalization be similar to that in the USA?

J.W.:  Starting with a full transfer of domestic policy to be handled by the devolved parliaments of the UK, the creation of an English parliament or maybe regional assemblies within England. From there I believe we can start to consider what we want our union to look like, how it will function on a constitutional basis and where we want to take it. I believe the model the Scottish parliament currently has is a great direction to take the other parliaments in.

P.T.:  How does this contrast with the situation as it is now?

J.W.:  As it stands, the current powers the Scottish and UK parliaments have in relation to each other, are defined by what are 'reserved' powers at Westminster, the Scottish parliament handles everything else. And then all of this to be embodied in a fully written, codified and entrenched constitution. I feel a system like this would give the Devolved parliaments the autonomy they deserve and need to run a success Federal UK. It's very ambitious and will require a lot of hard work, but I believe it's achievable if we work hard enough for it.

P.T.:  What do you think about the participants in the movement to bring about Scottish independence?

J.W.:  It's hard to say. In all debates I take part in and campaigns I respect my opponent and in many cases get on very well with them. Some of my best friends are Labour and Tories when I’m a Liberal Democrat.

In this debate I feel it's been so polarized that I’ve not had the opportunity to really make friends with them, and although I don't wish to make out that there has been no potential guilt on the Unionist side, I do feel that from my personal experience, the Independence movement has been much less accepting and much more hostile which has led me to find it hard to respect them while disagreeing with their campaign.

P.T.:  What are your reasons for being a unionist?

R.W.:  To me it's how we can use our resources to the best possible ends. I feel the various countries within the UK all have their various different strengths and all have very similar problems and very similar aims. If we work together, pool what resources we have, put all of our best minds together and work against our common enemies of poverty or homelessness, then we can do better to reach our common goals and eradicate these things.

I don't see what I have largely more in common with my neighbour in Scotland than my family in England or Wales. Ultimately, I feel the system we have is a good one, it's far from perfect and the policy isn't always right but the system itself has so much potential to work to the benefit of 63m people rather than just 5m. I want to make the best of that system for the benefit of everyone in the UK, including Scotland.

P.T.:  What would your consider your personal identities, national/cultural/religious/or otherwise? What do you think of the "crisis of identity" in Britain?

R.W.:  Well, this is probably the toughest part in the debate. Nationalists to me seem to be concerned with the Scottish identity and little else. But I don't really understand what that means. Cultural identity means so much more than the political boundaries you're parents were born in. My parents are from the central belt and I have a bit of that in me, but I was raised in the north east, in a town called Banchory, and then in Aberdeen. Hence, I’m a 'Taucher' and a 'Toonser' then I guess 'Scottish' and as part of that 'British' and of course, 'European'.

But all these things have so much to them they can mean whatever you want them to mean. I think the idea that you can be 'Scottish' is inherently not Scottish. As Scotland is made up of so many various, extremely rich cultural identities that to be Scottish could mean any number of things. As for the identity in Britain, we're in an increasingly internationalist and globalizing world and I feel clutching onto old ideas of Nationalism of any description is living in the past and we should start to expand our ideas into the modern world.

P.T.:  Do you believe that there is any place for a robust British identity, something along the lines of what is shown in America throughout the individual states?

R.W.:  I really hope not. I find both nationalism and patriotism quite futile ideals, the belief that your nationality is inherently good and others inferior and the idea that you can be proud of achievements you had no place in. I love where I live, and as an extension of that of course I love Scotland.

I want what's best for all the people who live here, but I want what's best for anyone living anywhere. Why wouldn't I want to extend a higher standard of living to anyone I can whenever I can? I consider myself an internationalist in that regard. I want what's best for the greater amount of people.

P.T.:  What is your view on the way history effects and informs the present? What do you think about the different "narratives" presented by nationalist and unionist camps in this debate?

J.W.:  Well, I'm a History student, and I would like to introduce the age old, over used yet under appreciated quote from George Santayana 'Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it'. I think we need to understand our past and the context to understand where we are today, learn from our mistakes and move forward from them.

I must admit whenever I bring history into the debate, nationalists like to tell me that 'this debate isn't about the past, the independence movement is about the future' before dropping into some narrative about some supposedly horrible thing 'Westminster' did way back when, completely contradicting themselves.

P.T.:  Being a student of history, what do you think of the referendum being held on the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn and the whole connection with the wars of Scottish independence in general?

J.W.:  I think in a historical context, it's completely irrelevant. The wars of independence are not only so far in the past it can't be compared to modern day events and we can't allow ourselves to judge events of the past by today’s standards, but even if we could compare them, it was a very different situation that we were in.

However, I think it's very of the SNP’s outlook and tactics to make it this year. They are desperate to inspire an idea of Scottishness over Britishness. But we've already discussed the idea of identity. In short, I feel the SNP think they can inspire people to vote with their hearts and distract people from their flimsy arguments on economics and practicalities.

P.T.:  What do you feel about the monarchy?

J.W.:  Generally passive on the idea. I feel they don't have any divine right to rule, but they have no real power and exercise purely ceremonial powers. They contribute more to the treasury than they receive out of it and are generally favourable in public opinion as well as being hugely respected diplomats across the world. I see no reason to get rid of them, but they exist as a formality, if they exercised real power I’d be far more skeptical.

P.T.:  What do you think of them as they apply to the subject of unity? And what is your opinion on the Jacobite rebellions as they are being used in Nat propaganda? And with regards to them making the current Scottish monarchy "illegitimate"?

J.W.:  I think this moves us into a much broader debate that moves us away from the contentious issues that the referendum will be won and lost on. In general, I don't feel these historical events contribute to the context that we're debating in the run up to the referendum.

P.T.:  Thanks so much for the interview, Jonathan.

J.W.:  Sure! It's nice to get different questions for a change by the way. I've answered the same questions over and over, but these are bit different and I like that :) I've done so many debates and interviews. Same issues, same questions, over and over again. This is a nice change. I’m glad you're getting involved! :)

P.T.: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself personally?

J.W.:  I'm 22! :) I'm afraid I’m a complete nerd. At university I do a lot of debating and in my free time I like to go hill walking, rock climbing and cross country mountain biking. I also play guitar and drums, punk/rock etc.

P.T.:  Thank you for taking the time to be interviewed. I do hope everything works out well in the end for you and all of us.

J.W.:  Thanks; me too.

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