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.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Interview with Paul Watterson, Media Deputy for "Open Unionism"

Pearl of Tyburn:  Now we have with us Mr. Paul Watterson, media deputy of "Open Unionism", coming to us from Eastern Europe. Welcome, Mr. Watterson.

Paul Watterson:  Hello, Pearl.

P.T.:  Please tell me a little bit about your background and upbringing.

P.W.:  I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, to an apolitical family. I have lived and studied in the North of England and London, and am presently working as an English teacher on mainland Europe.

P.T.:  You say your family was “apolitical”. Does this mean that you saw yourselves as outside the sectarian stereotypes of Catholic/Protestant, Loyalist/Republican, and “Gaelic”/Ulster Settlers?

P.W.:  My father came from a strongly working/class background and he remains pretty left-wing and certainly non-sectarian in his outlook. Actually, my brother and sisters would today also probably identify more as socialists than Unionists. My father came from a loyalist generation (pre-Troubles) that was also comfortable in describing themselves as Irish first and foremost- his church (in east Belfast) in the 60’s would organize trips to Dublin and Galway.

So, he and I certainly don't regard ourselves as "settlers"; our family has been on the island of Ireland for near enough 400 years now and I think that probably qualifies us as being as much Irish as Gerry Adams may or may not be!

P.T.:  What was it like being raised in an apolitical, “Irish” household during The Troubles? Did it have any lasting effect on you or on those around you?

P.W.:  I personally was "lucky", I guess, in that I wasn't directly affected by The Troubles as such; our school bus would regularly be attacked as it went through a "Catholic" area, but I don't put that down to political violence. It was more like plain sectarian vandalism.

 My father lost two colleagues, both of whom were shot by Republicans, and his family on the maternal side was an isolated Protestant one living in a republican part of South Derry. They literally slept with their guns under the bed, so sure were they that ethic cleansing was on the local IRA's agenda.

But really in comparison to others, we were relatively lucky. You kept your political views to yourself in those times, and as a result, my father's more "laissez faire" approach to his identity never caused him many problems. It's interesting that the vast majority of families in the UK were not affected directly by The Troubles, but the psychological effect and its continuing influence on our politics can't be underestimated.

P.T.:  Aside from statistics, it sounds as if you and your family were quite blessed to remain safe during a dangerous time. Online Unionism is certain all the better for it with regards to your work on “A Pint of Unionist Lite” and “Open Unionism.” I personally would never have gotten involved in all this if not for you.

What first encouraged you to become active politically?

P.W.:  The main thing which persuaded me to take up politics actively was the possibility that NI politics would become more UK based with the entry of the Conservative Party into the equation as a coalition with the UUP.

P.T.:  Are there any political parties in particular that you belonged to and/or associated yourself with?

P.W.:  I have been a member of one party for only a short-time, and that was the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP). At that point, the UUP was working very closely with the Conservative Party in an attempt to develop a form of all-UK Unionism. However, that concept was never really bought into being by the majority of the UUP, and when the more "traditionalist" wing of the party started to predominate again, I left.

P.T.:  Could you explain the different "mission statements" of the Conservative Party and the Ulster Unionist Party and what brought about the possibility of a coalition between them?

P.W.:  The UUP traditionally has been a socially and economically conservative party. But the Conservative Party link-up was supposedly built upon a modern, UK-wide, non-sectarian form of Unionism. It didn't work, as there were too many within the UUP who weren't prepared to take a risk.

P.T.:  Am I right in supposing you would identify yourself as leaning more towards the left of the Unionist spectrum?

P.T.:  In social matters (abortion, LGBT rights, relationship between church and state, etc.), I would regard myself as a secular (or atheist?) libertarian. In economic matters, I lean towards socialism, or at least the European version of social democracy.

Within the political establishment of Northern Irish Unionism, that would be very much a minority viewpoint. One of the reasons that there has been quite a bit of conflict in working-class Protestant/Loyalist areas recently is that there isn't really any political representation for these disadvantaged communities.

P.T.:  I am unfamiliar with the term “atheist” being applied to a worldview encompassing the social issues you have mentioned, since I would think atheists might take any number of stances about abortion, homosexual “marriage”, etc. Could you please explain?

P.W.:  Atheists do, of course, have a wide range of views on social topics, but by and large in NI, the various churches and their political advocates "guide" or dominate the debate in this regard, and non-church people, almost by default, take a more liberal attitude on abortion, same sex marriage, etc.

P.T.:  How did you first come to identify yourself as a Unionist, and what inspired you to take up blogging?

P.W.:  Having lived, worked, and studied in various parts of the United Kingdom, the awareness of my Britishness developed. I guess my Unionism is more of a pragmatic or logical belief rather than an emotional one. I quite liked the fact that Carlisle or London or Glasgow is much my nation as Belfast.

Blogging offered a good opportunity to get things off my chest, and its explosion as a medium of expression coincided with my having quite a lot of free time on my hands to do proper research/analysis before posting.

P.T.:  You say that your affinity with Unionism is more-or-less based on pragmatism. However, quite a few of your articles, particularly your famous "Liberty and Union" adaptation, reveal a very emotionally connective element. Do you believe that there is a certain balance between the head and heart in Unionism that should be met?

P.W.:  Most people feel an emotional connection with their nation. That's patriotism, and as distinct from nationalism, perfectly morally acceptable. I am no different. However I don't see any inherent superiority in, for example, British literature or music as opposed to that which is enjoyed in Germany, South Africa, or Brazil.

Unionism needs the continuance of the Union that will not result from purely an emotional argument. Our opponents (certainly in Northern Ireland and to a lesser extent in Scotland) rely almost completely on an emotional, "heart" argument at their foundation. But a large minority, or even a small majority, in both countries is not attached one way or the other regarding the constitutional future of their nation. They need a more objective argument to vote for the continuance of the Union.

P.T.:  I agree for the most part about the danger of emotional extremism, especially considering the damage done by mindless Nationalism that views other cultures as somehow inferior. It seems that Alex Salmond has played that card any number of times in hopes of making the Scots preen their feathers and look down on their southern neighbors. What do you think is a good way to combat this divisive and glaringly inaccurate attitude?

P.W.:  The best method would be objective arguments. It is impossible to beat nationalism using a political theory which is based on emotional subjectivity. We should keep asking questions rather than letting them push meaningless platitudes devoid of proof.

P.T.:  What are your hopes for Northern Ireland, as well as Ireland as a whole? Do you think the division of the island can be maintained, or is it likely that it will eventually reunite and sway one way or the other?

P.W.:  The best thing which I can hope for N. Ireland is stability and a political system which is no longer based on ethno-sectarian lines. The Republic and The North are much closer than they ever were because the Republic and the UK as a whole are closer than they ever were. The future will see those ties strengthen even further, which is good news for Northern Ireland from all points of view.

P.T.:  What do you think would be a potentially stable political system for Northern Ireland?

P.W.:  I think a governing system which is integrated more with the rest of UK would help in that it would take out the cultural and social decisions which the politicians in NI are not presently capable of dealing with.

P.T.:  Do you think Northern Ireland will ever get her own flag or home anthem? If so, what type of flag and what anthem would you favor?

P.W.:  I can see NI getting its own flag and anthem. There is quite a strong pressure from a number of NI football supporters for that to happen. Whether or not it would be acceptable to a wider audience in Northern Ireland or even a majority, I don't know. As for my personal preference, I would take the Cross of St. Patrick for the flag. Don't mind about the anthem, as long as it isn't Danny Boy!

P.T.:  What’s your opinion on parading and Orange Order functions in general?

P.W.:  The Orange Order and parading makes little to no impact on myself and my family. To a large extent the whole question has nothing to do with the Union, but is more of a social/cultural question. I do suspect that if nationalists “win” against the Orange Order, then they will move onto other British/Unionist/Protestant targets. Republicans in South Derry have in previous years complained about an annual church Boys' Brigade march.

P.T.:  Do you believe it would ever be possible for a political “reunion” to reconnect The British Isles, Ireland included, and do you believe that would theoretically desirable from a unionist perspective? Failing that, do you think The Republic of Ireland might ever rejoin the Commonwealth?

P.W.:  There won't be a political reunion of the British Isles, even though I would agree it would be theoretically desirable for a Unionist. In the end, I am not sure if it really matters if, on a cultural/social and economic level, unity between the ROI and the UK already exists. Would the ROI rejoin the Commonwealth at some point? Can't see it happening in the short term.

P.T.:  Switching gears, what’s your prediction as to the outcome of the Scottish Independence Referendum, and what are the polls showing opinion to be for and against Scottish independence at this point?

P.W.:  With not living in Scotland, hard to say. Currently, the latest opinion polls on the referendum show the "yes" 6 % behind, but increasing.

P.T.:  Do you feel at all apprehensive about this increase for “Yes”, after such a long stretch where the numbers were pretty much stagnant?

P.W.:  I do not feel much apprehension about the “Yes” increase at the moment. Another couple of months of consistently rising figures, of course, would be a different matter.

P.T.:  Should a No vote be turned out, what are some ways in which to make the most of that victory?

P.W.:  Anything below 35% for the Yes campaign, and the concept of separation will be buried for a generation or more. I am not sure we need or should do anything in the event of a "No" vote.

P.T.:  You highlight the 35% mark. What might happen if “Yes” gets more support than that, and gains the vote of just under 50%?

P.W.:  If just under 50% votes for independence, and just over 50% votes against it, quite obviously, we've still won! Nevertheless, we may see the issue resurface regularly, as is the case in Quebec.

P.T.:  Should a Yes vote be turned out and Scotland becomes independent, where do you think Unionist activists will go from there on a broad scale?

P.W.:  If the vote goes that way, Unionists should regroup and do everything possible to help and protect the British people in Scotland. The workings of the Union have always been haphazard and flexible. That's it greatest strength.

P.T.:  What exactly do you mean by protecting the British people in a potentially post-independent Scotland? And what do you think might become of the Union Jack in such a situation?

P.W.:  With regards to protecting the British people in a potentially post-independent Scotland, I mean their cultural and social rights, the right to learn British history, the financial benefits from the UK state (unemployment, pension), etc. And be assured the Union Jack would still be flown unofficially in many places.

P.T.:  Regardless of the outcome, I’m glad to hear that the Unionist camp will continue to support the rights of “British” people and make the best out of whatever situation arises.

While on the subject of referendums, do you think an independence referendum will ever be held in Northern Ireland? If so, what do you think the result would be?

P.W.:  In Northern Ireland, I don’t think there will an "independence" referendum, but perhaps more of a border poll. At the moment, if such a poll were to be taken, the Unionists would win by more than 30% of the vote.

P.T.:  As a native Northern Irishman yourself, can you highlight some of the benefits you believe Northern Ireland has remaining a part of the UK?

P.W.:  The UK has a much larger economy and is a much greater power within the world politically than the Republic. Put bluntly, it is in a much stronger position to support NI than the Northern Irish.

P.T.:  What do you consider your own identity to be: strictly British, or British/Irish, or British/Northern Irish? Do you feel that the “Northern Irish” identity is distinct from the general “Irish” identity, and is it possible for someone to feel comfortable holding all three of these identities at the same time?

P.W.:  I would be a mixture of all three, also with "European" thrown in. It is up to the individual how comfortable they feel holding all three. Again, there isn't a strict definition of Irish or N. Irish, so both can exist as separate or united identities.

P.T.:  What are some of your plans for the future, politically and otherwise? What do you think you will be doing as the referendum heats up?

P.W.:  Unfortunately due to my career responsibilities, I seem to have less and less time to even plan for the future! My personal target is better time management and creating a stronger political presence on our “Open Unionism” Facebook and twitter accounts. As the referendum heats up, I would like us to be pumping out as much material as possible online.

P.T.:  What are some of your other interests, hobbies, and goals in life?

P.W.:  I enjoy running and have already run two marathons and countless half marathons. I would like to break three hours thirty for my next marathon, and one hour thirty for the half. Other than that, I walk my dog, feed my fish, and try to keep healthy and sane!

P.T.:  Well, do extend my best wishes to your canine and aquatic family members! Thank you very much for taking the time out for this interview, Mr. Watterson.

P.W.:  Thanks for showing the interest, and keep up the good work on our own blog, OU, and here on UJC.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Interview with Henry Hill, Editor of "Open Unionism"

Pearl of Tyburn:  Tonight I will be talking with Henry Hill, the editor of the British political blog, “Open Unionism”, who comes to us now from London, England, UK. Hello, Mr. Hill.

Henry Hill:  Hello there.

P.T.:  Please tell me how you first got involved with British politics.

H.H.:  I was political from my mid-teens and started out by following my father and being a Liberal Democrat - and quite a left-wing one at that. I gradually shifted to the right during my last years of school and joined the Conservative and Unionist Party on my first week at the University of Manchester in the autumn of 2008.

P.T.:  What were some of the reasons that caused you to shift from being a Liberal Democrat to being a Tory?

H.H.:  The first moment I felt my soul rebel against the Liberals was when I was walking home from school and a friend told me that the Liberal Democrats supported an income tax rate of fifty pence to the pound. The idea of literally taking half of every pound someone freely earned appalled me, and I guess that realization opened the floodgates. I can't remember every step on the road to Damascus, but I know that I cheered the Liberal Democrats in the 2005 general election and the Republicans in the 2008 US Presidential election, so it lies somewhere between those two points.

P.T.:  You draw a parallel between the British and American political parties. For the benefit of American and British readers alike, can you highlight some of the similarities and differences between the British Liberal Democrats/American Democrats and the British Tories/American Republicans?

H.H.:  I'm afraid I'm not very well-versed on the comparisons between the British and US party systems. I'm pretty certain that I would be a socially-liberal Republican, and I was offered an internship with the Romney campaign in 2012, but I know many members of the British Conservatives support the American Democrats, and amongst the parties left of us - including the Liberal Democrats - support for the Democrats is close to one hundred per cent. Britain is a much more politically cohesive, and much more authoritarian country than America.

P.T.:  What first inspired your interest, and later active support, of Unionism?

H.H.:  My mother was born and raised in Co. Roscommon in the Republic of Ireland, and I myself am a British-Irish dual-national. Ever since I found out that my mother's country used to be a part of my country, I've always had a fascination with that notion. As I became more politically aware, that fascination blossomed into an interest in, and then belief in, political Unionism.

P.T.:  A lot of people might think that being British-Irish is something of an uncomfortable paradox considering the troubled past between the two and that, if anything, you would be driven away from unionism because of it. What would you say to them in response?

H.H.:  I don't see why being raised a dual national would make me anti-unionist. I am aware of the 'Plastic Paddie' stereotype, whereby people with tenuous direct links to Ireland adopt a deeply Irish, often wearisomely Nationalist persona. But my upbringing was British - I was raised in Britain as a Briton, and never had my Irish heritage rubbed in my face. I suppose that growing up familiar with the multi-faceted and nuanced nature of Britain made fitting an Irish identity into that a lot easier than growing up with a solidly Irish identity and trying to fit the United Kingdom into that.

P.T.:  Considering your nuanced background and embrace of Unionism, do you believe in the benefit of a hypothetical union encompassing all of the British Isles, Ireland included?

H.H.:  Yes, I am personally what is frighteningly termed a 'Neo-Unionist' - I believe that the re-accession of the Twenty-Six Irish Counties to the Union would be a good thing for everyone involved. I don't think it's remotely likely, mind you, but I think that a broader acknowledgement of this as a theoretically desirable outcome for unionists would help unionism break out of the defensive 'hold the line' mentality which has held it back for so long.

P.T.:  As a contributor on “Open Unionism” myself, I have a great deal of respect for your abilities as editor of that site. You obviously have excellent organizational skills and seem to put a lot of time and effort into making it a success. Tell me a little bit about the origins of OU, and how you and your deputy, Paul Watterson, first took command.

H.H.:  I think you pay me too much of a kindness with your first point. OU is not a Herculean effort, and if it were, my deputy Paul would certainly have rightful claim to the lion's share of the credit, organizing as he does the day-to-day activities of our Facebook and Twitter profiles.

“Open Unionism” was founded as an explicitly and exclusively Northern Irish website, which was intended, as now, to offer a platform to a wide range of writers on the issues facing Unionism in that province. Paul and I took over OU when its original editor, Geoff McGimpsey, decided to hang up his hat. He advertised on the site for people to take over, and since I had started blogging in a personal capacity some months previously, I decided that I would throw my own hat into the ring rather than see the only pluralist pro-Union site disappear from the internet.

Geoff told me that Paul had expressed an interest too, and due to the greater demands on his time (I was then a student) we quickly decided to team up, with me taking the editorial role and him the deputy. I'd been keen to get Paul back involved with the pro-Union blogscape since he stopped writing “A Pint of Unionist Lite”, so I was very pleased with the outcome. We both made the decision to broaden the remit of OU instead of keeping it focused exclusively on Northern Ireland when we took over.

P.T.:  I think the two of you make a very fine team, and your decision to broaden the scope of OU had quite a bit of foresight. With the Scottish Independence Referendum looming, the Union stands at a critical junction and is in need of a strong online presence. At this point, what is your prediction for the outcome of said Referendum? 

H. H.:  Although anything could happen, I think on present evidence the pro-union side will win the Referendum in 2014. The status quo tends to have an advantage going into any plebiscite, and with the Yes campaign polling so direly at the moment, I think they'd need a dramatic shake-up to really change the race.

P.T.:  If the No campaign wins this round, do you think the threat posed by the Scottish separatists will truly be gone?

H.H.:  No, probably not, at least not straight away. The damage defeat will do to the long-term interests of separatism really boils down to a few crucial and related issues.

First, how emphatic is the margin of victory. A close defeat could actually energize, rather than demoralize, the separatist cause as their activists see a once-impossible dream actually brought within reach. A really solid win for the Union, on the other hand, would leave the nationalists facing profound questions about where they go from here.

Second, and related to that, is what happens to the separatist movement - and the SNP in particular - in the event of Scotland rejecting their raison d'etre. Presumably the SNP will still want to be a force in Scottish politics, but how does it negotiate a political landscape where the constitutional question is neutralized, at least for a time? There are several possible points of fracture, first between the separatist die-hards and those who want to adjust their priorities to non-constitutional politics, and then within the second camp between those in the SNP who viewed independence as the root to a left-wing, even socialist country and those who are essentially Tories. Without the supreme constitutional issue to bind them together, how long will they be able to function in one party?

The third big issue comes down to how the unionists comport themselves, during the election and afterwards. If they try to fight the Referendum by offering Scots endless inducements, be it economic prizes or promises of 'more powers', then they waste all the effort Better Together put into getting a two-question referendum and undermine the capacity of Scots to emphatically endorse the Union. We need to make it clear that a No vote is not a vote for 'more powers', or a vote for a particular constitutional arrangement - it is a vote for Britain. If we don't then Nationalists can claim, as they did after the successful unionist campaigns in 1979, that Scots voted for a false prospectus and bring the constitution straight back to the table after some or other alleged devolutionary shortcoming.

It also matters how unionists use a referendum victory. It was said of Hannibal that he knew 'how to win a battle, but not how to use one', and the same applies here - even the most thumping of wins is meaningless if it is not exploited properly. Since 1998 unionists have known only one way of 'fighting' against separatism, and that was appeasement. There are many today, the federalists and so on, who can't envision a circumstance where the solution is not the continued diminution of the United Kingdom and the throwing of more bones to the nationalists. If that's the sort of unionism that governs the pro-union response to a No win, 2014 might not do us much good at all.

P.T.:  I have spoken with some Unionists who believe that a No win would put the Yes advocates into the same position as the Quebecois nationalists in Canada, their bark seeming to be much worse than their bite at this point. This is a pleasant thought, of course, but I wonder if it is perhaps also a dose of wishful thinking. What would you say?

H.H.:  The PQ are an interesting comparison, because they combine the SNP's constitutional potency with the deep linguo-cultural nationalism you see in Wales. As for losing their capacity to do harm? That depends. I regularly read the pro-federation Canadian newspaper the “National Post”, and they chronicle fairly well the continued efforts of the PQ to 'de-Canadianise' Quebec. They are currently bringing in a truly frightening new cultural control bill, and continually restrict the freedoms of Anglophone and Allophone Quebecers in their attempt to regain New France.

So yes, look to the PQ for an example of what might become of the separatists if their totemic issue is put on the back-burner. Expect to see a shift in focus towards 'de-Britishing' Scotland, undermining common institutions and any sense of common citizenship whilst striving to make the rest of the UK feel like a foreign place. Expect also much more effort to bad-mouth the English and other Britons in an attempt to sour pro-union feeling south of the border, much as the PQ work to build up resentment in the rest of Canada with their constant insistence on special treatment for their province.

Once again, it is worth remembering that the arch-devolutionaries, with their continued assaults on the United Kingdom's common institutions and those areas of government where the British are governed as the British, are aiding and abetting this process. We should not become so focused on maintaining the symbols of the UK - the passport, the flag, the mere existence of it - that we allow it to be hollowed out, diminished from a country to a sort of contract or alliance.

P.T.:  Speaking of national symbols, if Scotland broke away from The UK in 2014, what would become of the Union Jack since The Cross of St. Andrew is integral to the design?

H.H.:  I might be in the minority here, but I don't believe the remainder of The United Kingdom should change its flag should Scotland gain its independence. This is because I believe that the elements of the Union Jack must be the common property of every British subject. If one cross belongs to the English, one to the Scots, and one to the Irish, then, to bring up an old argument, what part belongs to the Welsh?

Perhaps more pertinently in an era when ethnic minorities are much more likely to identify as 'British only' than their white neighbours, what is there in the flag for those who aren't English, Scottish or Irish, but from some different part of the world altogether? I believe that although the design of our flag came from the union of three early-modern kingdoms, today it represents a union between seventy million modern people, and each of those people has an equal stake in every part of the flag.

P.T.:  Good points. I also feel that preserving the Union Jack might serve as a symbol of a British unity which once was and which continues to be deeply hoped for by many, even if it is not a current reality. Your thoughts on this?

H.H.:  If the UK were to break up, I can see the Union Jack fulfilling that role, but that could not be an official reason for retaining it, lest it be seen as a statement of irredentist intent by the Union remnant toward any new, democratically-chosen Scottish state.

P.T.:  Back to your original topic, how would you suggest making the best use of a potential unionist victory in the referendum and assuring that the mere existence of the Union does not become an empty shell devoid of real clout?

H.H.:  I would say the best use to make of any win in 2014 is to shift the terms of the debate away from "more powers". As I’ve said before, the underlying problem in the unionist response to devolution has been an apparent lack of faith in the legitimacy of 'Britain' as a source of governance - hence a constant willingness to hollow out The United Kingdom in the name of defending it.

2014 should be cast in such terms as to make a No vote an endorsement of the legitimacy of the concept of 'Britain', allowing any subsequent constitutional solution to contain a substantial role for the United parliament in Scottish affairs - far more substantial than the "foreign affairs, defense and welfare" backstop envisioned by the federalists.

The fight to secure a two-question ballot for the referendum was clearly fought with this eventuality in mind. However, certain people within the pro-Union camp are undermining all that effort by trying to claim that a No vote is a vote for 'more powers' and the 'next stage of devolution' - in effect removing the 'No' option from the ballot paper. This is not only ridiculous - the referendum is no more about the specific policies of the unionists than it is about Salmond's white paper - but it is poisoning the well of our own victory and offering the separatists a vital lifeline.

P.T.:  In the area of the Yes/No vote, I know quite a few people who are against independence, but who still see themselves as more Scottish than British. Do you think this referendum experience might give people a cause to reaffirm their joint identities?

H.H.:  I think that the decay in British identification is probably at the very heart of the current constitutional problems. Without it, nobody feels able to propose solutions rooted in 'Britain', nor defend existing institutions established on that basis. That is one of the reasons there are constant calls for 'more powers' and an unwillingness on the part of Unionists to defend Westminster and the proper role of 'London' in the governance of all parts of this United Kingdom. A re-emphasis on Britishness and a buttressing of British institutions is a must.

P.T.:  Personally, do you see yourself as being English first or British first?

H.H.:  Personally, I identify as British first - contrary to the present fashion for fragmentation. That I am English, at least part-English, is an empirical fact of geography, and I have no doubt that it informs who I am on countless subtle levels. But it's not the country I identify with. I do have some sympathy with England as proof that unions work - after all, as James I said to parliament in his first attempt at union, England was herself a union of the previous patchwork of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and all the stronger for it.

P.T.:  I think the argument about the Anglo-Saxon unification rings as true today as when it was first proposed. A similar argument can be made regarding the tribes in Scotland, and the rest of the British Isles.

Unfortunately, the "Celtic" vs. "Saxon", red dragon vs. white dragon nationalist mythology seems to have pervaded the popular imagination to an unhealthy extent, pitting England against the other nations. To what degree do you believe the Celtic Revival has affected the way people view the Union?

H.H.:  The red and white dragon stuff is just nonsense. But the Celtic myth is one of the defining factors in the 'England vs. the rest' dichotomy nationalists try to bring up. The difference, insofar as I can see it, is that at the core of Celtic nationalism there is a 'pure', 'original' culture, trammeled by invaders and settlers, to which modern nationalists can ascribe any number of virtues.

Certainly many Irish Nationalists pinned many rather absurd hopes on the notion of 'the Gael' and 'an Irish Ireland', a pure and virtuous civilization beaten down by the English. An element of that underpins much Scottish and Welsh Nationalism too. Not only does pouring money into Celtic languages serve as an excellent means of separating 'us' from 'them', but you also frequently get notions that the crimes of this country's past - particularly the Empire - are somehow particularly England's fault. Scotland, in this analysis, would have been a humble, progressive little kingdom of no trouble to anybody.

The truth is that Scots and even many Irishmen were enthusiastic participants in the Empire, which was always viewed as a 'British' project. But these Scots and Irish can be portrayed by Nationalists as not being 'true' to their nation - having instead been corrupted by England. Thus Scots and Irishmen who contradict the narrative, by being British, are thus in some sense 'English'.

England, on the other hand, has no such core myth. There is no 'true' English race or culture with romantic imagery passed down from ancient times. Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Vikings, Romans - the English are a cocktail of their conquerors, absorbing them and evolving their sense of identity to incorporate new things. Our 'colonization moment' probably occurred after the Battle of Hastings, yet English Nationalism does not hark back to a mythologized version of an almost Scandinavian England.

That is one reason why English Nationalism has been so admirably slow in awakening and is so hard to define. England has no lie to fall back on. When asked to describe Englishness, you can only reach for a set of virtues attached to some geography - which is the same as can be said for Britain. The lack of that perceived 'true England' is why the English had so little trouble becoming British, and have more difficulty blaming 'Britain' on their problems than the nationalists in the Celtic nations.

P.T.:  I am actually rather surprised English Nationalists haven't been quicker to fall back on their Anglo-Saxon past. J.R.R. Tolkien was close to embracing such a stance when he practically dedicated his life to recreating an Anglo-Saxon mythology. Why do you think there has been such nationalistic fervor for the Celts but hardly any towards a mythologized, Scandinavian England?

H.H.:  There's just no sentimental attachment to Anglo-Saxon motifs and imagery, or at least not enough and not the right sort to make it a fuel for English Nationalism. And frankly, that's to English Nationalism's - and England's - credit. The Anglo-Saxon era is a very remote time inhabited by very different people - they are not 'really us', any more than the Highlanders or Gaelic Irish are real versions of modern Scots or Irish people.

P.T.:  It’s an interesting analysis. I am personally a great lover of both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon cultures and languages, having studied their mythology and legends and learned elements of Gaelic, Welsh, and Old English for my music studies. While I think all these things have their place in world heritage and should be preserved as such, I do see your point about them being manipulated to create a divisive front.

In relation to this, how would you assess the damage done to the British national reputation by such lavishly produced but woefully misleading films emphasizing oppressed Celtic vs. oppressive Saxon or rebellious Americans vs. tyrannical Brits such as Braveheart, The Patriot, Rob Roy, and The Last of the Mohicans?

H.H.:  Braveheart certainly had a lamentable impact, but I've read that its influence may be generationally confined - support for independence is highest amongst the so-called 'Braveheart Generation' of the Nineties, with younger people markedly less enthusiastic. I'm not familiar with the American examples, and I think their influence on the UK situation is marginal. 

P.T.:  Moving along, where do you see yourself going from here with regards to your personal involvement with political Unionism?

H.H.:  Personally? Well, I'll obviously keep on top of OU. I hope that I will work for six months at British Future, a think tank which explores questions of national identity and immigration, which should deepen my understanding of the issues involved. After that, who knows? I would like to work in politics in journalism, and in either field I intend to remain a committed defender of the Union.

P.T.:  Aside from politics, do you have any other interests and hobbies of note?

H.H.:  Well, I'm an avid war-gamer - not so much tabletop stuff, but there are certain online strategy games which I enjoy. They provide an endless source of puzzles to solve in addition to letting me flex my creative muscles by doing writing work for them. I do enjoy writing fiction, and although I've not yet taken a stab at a single story, writing up other people's exploits is always enjoyable. I also play tactical card games.

Beyond that...well, I'm not sure if it counts as a hobby, but I do enjoy cooking. I'm not one to break out recipe books on an evening off or throw dinner parties, but I do enjoy experimenting when cooking for myself. I'm an enthusiastic carnivore, so its meat and pasta, mainly. It's never particularly sophisticated, but it is fun and normally fairly tasty.

Stepping away from my inner geek, I'm also a keen walker and swimmer and a dabbler in racket sports. I have recently started playing badminton, which I thoroughly enjoy for its emphasis on speed and precision, and have played tennis for years.

P.T.:  I also know from past conversations that you are quite well-traveled. Can you tell us a little bit about which places you’ve enjoyed visiting the most?

H.H.: I have traveled a fair bit. I wish I had the lifestyle to claim travelling was a hobby of mine, but I take every opportunity to travel when they present themselves. Perhaps it is some secret inner libertarian, but I tend to find I most enjoy travelling to places with fewer rules: The USA, Malawi, and Romania were all enjoyable trips, not least because they held out the forbidden prospect of smoking indoors. I'm not a habitual smoker, as it happens, but I'll cadge a cigarette with a roof over my head just for the satisfaction! I've also been to several places in Western Europe and on a school exchange to Beijing.

P.T.:  Hey, you have good taste; The USA rocks ;-)

Thanks so much for sharing your opinions, interests, and experiences, Mr. Hill. It’s been a pleasure interviewing you.

H.H.:  It was no trouble at all. Thank you.