James Stewart is from the Shetland Islands and works as a parliamentary researcher for a Member of Parliament in London. He graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 2010 with an MA in Politics and International Relations. His dissertation examined the relationship between liberty and security. He is the director of the charity Get-Well Gamers.
James, do you feel European?
Yes and no.
What do you mean?
National identity is tricky for me. I’m from the Shetland Islands which is part of Scotland which is part of Britain. But Shetlanders generally identify as Shetlandic before Scottish, British or European. If we remove Shetlandic from it all, I’m probably British first. The unique culture heritage of Shetland means that I feel as much a connection with Scotland as I do with England. I’m both, but neither.
So where does Europe fit in?
I am a fan of European integration and have travelled considerably through the continent. Is there a “European” identity? I’m not so sure. I have found that Europeans have adopted an identity that is “not American” by comparison.
That we take a more socialist approach to public life, but I don’t know if we can build an identity on that. I like the thought of there being no fixed “European” identity because it doesn’t set parameters that would only prevent countries like Turkey from joining.
You work as a parliamentary researcher for the Liberal Democrat Alistair Carmichael MP for Orkney and Shetland, what is it you do there?
I actually believe that that job title is a bit outdated. “Parliamentary Assistant” describes the job better – as we assist MPs. The job varies from day to day but the basic responsibilities include replying to routine enquiries from constituents and doing press.
Do you coordinate your work with the ALDE group in the European Parliament or vice versa?
Not at all?
No, not at all! I don’t know about the other MPs, but I have never had any communication with them.
In your work, how do you promote the European Union?
The Liberal Democrats are the only major party in the UK arguing the case for the EU. Working for a Lib Dem MP means that in letters, articles and the media we argue the benefits of the EU.
For me it’s free movement. As a big traveller, I like being able to freely go anywhere in Europe. On the wider scale, we have roughly three million jobs in the UK that rely on the EU – seems irresponsible to throw that all away in the middle of an economic recovery, well, or ever.
What do you think will be the main topics of the EU election campaigns for Scotland?
Farming and fishing are the two most important EU issues for Orkney and Shetland.
Can you notice the rising popularity of UKIP?
I am pretty saddened by the rise of UKIP. At the moment we have the incredible hypocrisy of people disliking the government’s welfare reforms and so are voting UKIP – who would completely slash public spending – in protest. Orkney and Shetland is the only constituency where UKIP kept their deposit with 6.3% of the vote. I find their media coverage extremely unfair given how few elected representatives they have, and the unbiased BBC is just as guilty as the Daily Mail of this.
How can they be challenged?
I think they are a symptom of the economic times. I don’t find their policies to be based within reason and so challenging that is difficult.
With 34% the turnout in the UK at European elections 2009 was one of the lowest in the EU. What are the reasons for that?
It probably relates to the general political “distance” from the EU to people and the diluted representation. How can someone from Shetland feel represented if their representative also represents every other corner of Scotland?
Probably a lot has to do with the elitism of the EU, don’t you think?
I don’t have a problem with elite rule in some respects so I’m not sure that the EU needs changing in that respect. Perhaps a more technocratic approach to policy would be useful and more exemptions. What works in London may not work in Lisbon or Lübeck.
James, where do you see the EU in 20 years?
Difficult to say, I imagine it will probably look quite similar. The nature of the EU against the set up of the states in the USA means that we will lurch from one problem to the next because we are all different states with different ideas. Californians and Georgians still pledge allegiance to the nation. The EU will never be that, so it will always have problems.
Will it be with or without the UK?
Hopefully with, likely without.
Thank you, James.
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