Stephen Kerr interview: Part 2 – Referendums, LGBTQ rights and taxation

19 mins read
Credit: The Times

Brexit and Scottish Independence 

What are your priorities going into this election? 

Well, the general election campaign is dominated by two main themes really in Scotland. One is getting Brexit sorted, turning the page on that so we can get on with the rest of our lives.

The second theme of course is, as Nicola Sturgeon has made a second independence referendum the core essence of the SNP’s campaign – it’s to stop that. It’s to say no to a second independence referendum, as we’ve already had that five years ago and we need to come together. 

What’s been the response on the doorstep so far? 

Very positive. Stirling is largely a constituency where a majority of people want to retain the United Kingdom. 

Do you believe EU nationals have a right to remain after Brexit? 

Absolutely. And they do, and they will have. Settled status means people who are already here, who are staying, will have the same rights as they currently enjoy. Britain and Scotland, we are completely open.

We want people to come here, to work here, we want them to come and share their talents and their genius with us. Our society is enriched on so many levels because of people who come to our country. 

Given that there were only 148 votes between you and the SNP last election, how do you plan to reassure your constituents that the British Union is worth staying in? 

Truthfully, the United Kingdom is a matter of family. We share this island, this small island, which has contributed so much to the world because of the genius and inventiveness and tenacity of our people. I’m the embodiment of that – my mother is English, my father is a Scot.  

So why do you think there’s still such a strong support for independence? 

I’m not sure there is in this constituency. 

But it was very close between you and the SNP last election. 

If you add up all the votes for parties that support the union, and add up all the votes for the SNP – they’re outnumbered. There is a strong support for the United Kingdom – the SNP are not Scotland. There is a large body of opinion in Scotland that values the union at the emotional and family level I’m describing to you.  

At every level economically, Scotland is such a massive beneficiary from the union.  

Given that Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union, what do you think the effect of going through with Brexit will be on Scotland’s support for another independence referendum? 

It wasn’t a Scottish referendum. It was a United Kingdom referendum. 

But what about Scotland’s vote specifically? 

It was a United Kingdom referendum. 

But for an independence referendum in Scotland, if there was another one, or support for another one, what do you think the effect would be of carrying on with Brexit? Do you think it would increase support? 

Brexit is going to happen. One of the issues relating to Brexit is this – the nationalists who are absolutely hellbent on breaking up the United Kingdom at any cost. This is only the latest issue that has been weaponised in order to break up the United Kingdom.

The last two and half years, the process muddled, the grandstanding, the blockages, the political manoeuvring – that hasn’t helped any of our faith in the political institution. 

So does it worry you? That there might be an effect from carrying out Brexit on the support for Scottish independence? 

When we get through this political process, when we get to the future relationship, when we get to calmer waters, people will see that what the SNP has been doing is making mayhem on the back of the political process. People in this country value the United Kingdom. I have absolute confidence in my fellow Scots that we value the United Kingdom. 

Taxation

On four separate occasions, you’ve voted to increase the threshold at which people start to pay income tax – why?  

Because I believe when people go to work, particularly when they are in low paid jobs, the government has no rights taking any of their profits. I think, as a Conservative, that it is absolutely right that when people go to work, it should be worth their while to go to work. Not only that, but I will support any plan that will raise the threshold for national insurance contributions from employees.  

Would you further increase the income tax? 

I’m more interested now in getting the national insurance contributions up to 12,500 as well. I’d like to make it so people can have the first part of their salary. And for some people, by the way, that is the level of their salary.  

That’s another issue I want to address – good work. Good quality high paying work. That’s the kind of economy we want to have, but I want to make sure that when people go to work it is worth their while to do so. Allow more people to have more of the money that they earn in their pockets to spend in the way that they want to spend it. That’s the priority. 

So, you don’t believe in reducing the threshold to get more funds for say, the NHS? 

I definitely do not believe we should be taxing the poorest paid people in this country, no. 

What about the highest paid people? 

The top 1% already pay 29% of the entire revenue that comes from income tax. No, I’m not interested in any plans that involve taking more money from people who earn money.  

We have enough problems in this country with low paying work and people who are in low paying work. We need to help them to have more money to spend and we also need to create opportunity within their grasp so they can get the lifelong training and development to get well-paid work. That’s the way we will beat poverty in this country.  

LGBTQ rights

The university has large demographic of Northern Irish students. This year, you’ve voted against the legalisation of both gay marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland – why? 

Because I believe in devolution. I believe in devolution. If we start permitting the UK parliament to legislate in areas when there are devolved institutions in place – now admittedly the one in Northern Ireland is not functioning, but I will not support the traducing of the devolution settlement.

Once we agree that certain powers are in place, it is not for Parliament to decide, to pick and choose when it will add issues like – such important issues, such sensitive issues too, in the minds of many people. Not going to allow the UK parliament just to decide willy-nilly what it’s going to legislate in those areas.

There were many people on all sides of the House of Commons who felt very uncomfortable about what was being done there, because that was a Northern Ireland enabling piece of legalisation.   

What happened was like a Christmas tree, people came along and hung these amendments on it. 

Okay, so in your personal opinion, do you believe that there should be gay marriage in Northern Ireland? 

First of all, I object to the use of the term gay marriage. 

Why? 

It’s equal marriage. It’s not gay marriage, it’s equal marriage. It’s about equal rights under the law. 

It’s about gay marriage when that wasn’t considered equal. 

It’s equal marriage. It allows all of our citizens to marry according to who they love. It’s not gay marriage. It’s equal marriage. It’s a legal right. It’s maybe shorthand to use gay marriage, but this is about equal rights under the law.

I am a Conservative because I believe that the law should be blind when it comes to people. Who they are – race, faith, sexuality, ability and disability, the law should be totally impartial. What’s a right to one should be a right to all. If you’re a Muslim, or whether you’re disabled, or whether you’re a gay or lesbian or whatever – there should be no discrimination in law. That’s fundamental in what I believe makes a free and fair country. 

Yesterday in hustings, you said you wouldn’t quite support the Gender Recognition Act. 

No, I have listened to the debate on the issues with that and I am uneasy, as are so many others about the implications of self-identification. I think we need to have a very thoughtful and calm discussion about that. 

What makes you uneasy about it? 

I think the prospect that a man might identify as a woman and enter into areas currently that are regarded by women as safe spaces for them…I am afraid I do not completely buy into this idea that because I say ‘I am woman’ that I am a woman. I’m afraid that just stands logic on its head for me. Many women, including feminists, feel concerned that that kind of approach is – there are case studies which I’m sure you’re aware of where men have identified as women and gone on to…

Now I’m not saying that’s the norm. I’m saying we need to have a thoughtful discussion and a thoughtful consideration of all these issues, particularly given these concerns of women who have expressed concerns for their safety. We have to be very protective of the issues women raise when it comes to their safety.

As a husband, and as a father, and as a grandfather, I am cautious about women’s concerns. Any man should be after everything women have been put through by men for so long. 

So in those thoughtful discussions you wouldn’t be supporting gender self-identification under the law? 

I would be listening to the arguments that would provide protection for women who feel vulnerable given the implications of any self-identification of gender. 

So you’ve not made up your mind either way? 

I’m open-minded. I want to hear the argument. But I’m not currently persuaded that we should just go ahead and do what is being proposed by the SNP without having had a careful and calm discussion about it.

When I go online and see, that even in the SNP, the way that people are speaking to each other and the way that people are denouncing each other as bigots – that causes me a lot of concern. If the people who are advancing this argument are using such intemperate and often vile language who have concerns, I’m concerned. And my concerns for the people who have concerns are doubled when I see the way that they’re addressed and spoken down to and belittled simply because they have concerns.

That’s not the kind of country that we are. That’s not kind of country we can become. We need to have proper discussion about it. Less of the abuse. 

Why do you think the debate is aggressive?  

I have no idea!  

Do you think the trans community feels under threat? 

Well, well, well, maybe they do, but I have to say it’d be wrong to say that the vile abuse comes from trans people. It’s also other people who are denouncing people who have concerns. In fact, the shrillest voices are not trans people. I want to understand and be sensitive to the feelings of trans people because of what I said earlier about rights under law. I want to make sure the law protects people from discrimination, abuse, bullying.

At the same time, the argument for change is not advanced when people resort to calling other people who have concerns as bigot and worse. And there’s much worse than that online, as I’m sure you’ve seen. Even in the SNP, there has been some horrific online discussion which I don’t understand. Surely, when we are trying to address the concerns of the minority of people, however small that minority is, surely the way to do that is not by being shrill and contentious and alienating people. Maybe you would explain it to me. 

You want me to explain it to you? I think people get so agitated because we’re discussing another person’s right to exist.

Well, if someone goes the process by which they take on the attributes and lifestyle of women because they believe that that’s who they are – that’s a different matter. We’re just talking about this whole process by which that happens.

I mean people are trans, their feelings need to be respected in all this – absolutely they do. But we’re talking about the very starting point of all this where, someone self identifies as a woman and moves into women-only spaces. That’s my fundamental concern.  

Why should trans people vote for you in this election? 

For the same reason as any other constituents should for me. 

Trans people have specific issues in relation to their identity. They may feel some of those issues aren’t being addressed by opposing the Gender Recognition Act. 

I think there are many aspects to the issues that trans people face and that is just one element. But I have to listen to what trans people say. I would like to think that I am a thoughtful person, that I have the capacity to have compassion for people regardless of who they are or what they are. 

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