ELECTION: Q&A with Lib Dem candidate Jenny Marr

Local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson chats to the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency, Jenny Marr.

By Joseph Anderson, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 28th November 2019, 12:08 pm
Updated Thursday, 28th November 2019, 12:08 pm
Jenny Marr, Lib Dem candidate for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency.
Jenny Marr, Lib Dem candidate for the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency.

JA: So what’s your background?

JM: Born and brought up in Selkirk. Left for university at 17, went to Aberdeen to study politics and international relations. My mum went to university in Aberdeen, so there was a bit of a mum-dad rivalry there.

I then graduated and went into a contract with Marie Curie for six months as a fundraising assistant, then I worked in a hotel as a receptionist. I went from there into oil and gas, where I did logistics for two and a bit years. I went from there into politics.

JA: You’ve been knocking on doors already, what’s the biggest issue that people are mentioning to you?

JM: The number one is issue is that people are fed up. There is contempt to the point where yesterday I met a woman who’s not even going to vote, she’s made a conscious decision to remove herself from the process, because she is so upset and angry.

And that is what I hear a lot in the national picture. People don’t feel listened to. If you go across to Berwickshire, people feel like second class citizens.

Wherever you go, people feel left behind, whether they’re in a small town or a big city.

In terms of local stuff: town centre regeneration, more GPs, better transport, better roads, a cyclical economy whereby we need to bring people in, but need a reason to keep them here.

There’s a lot of discontent, a lot of unhappiness, and a lot of feeling like things aren’t good enough, whether that’s nationally or locally.

JA: You touched on public services there. Labour have typically been the party of greater public funding, whereas the Tories have typically been the party of small government. Where do you fit in?

JM: We want public services to be successful, that’s how you get there. Labour are effectively a pro-Brexit party now, and the economy is going to flounder, so there’s not going to be money for that.

If the economy is bad, everything else is bad, and if we stay in the UK, and we stay in the EU, the numbers are much, much better, so we will have the money to invest.

I don’t think Labour are presenting a united front, or a platform that people understand, which is only going to be detrimental to them.

We have a strong message: pro-UK; pro-EU; stop Brexit.

JA: The SNP say that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU. Which would be better for the people of this constituency: Scotland staying in the UK, but out of the EU, or an independent Scotland in the EU?

JM: Staying in the UK and staying in the EU. I’m British, my mum is English my dad is Scottish, so that has always been my identity, and I understand that people are confused about what to do and what’s best.

I’m pro-UK and I think that makes me pro-Scotland, to be honest, because it’s better for Scotland and for everybody.

It’s about the numbers in this, and there’s absolutely no guarantee that Scotland will get back into the EU.

There’s going to be economic hardship both ways and I can’t justify remaining in one union by leaving another.

JA: Do you think it’s democratic to revoke article 50 without holding a second referendum?

JM: We’re still pro a second referendum, that’s what I would like to see.

JA: That’s not any different from Labour’s platform, is it? Their platform is to renegotiate a new withdrawal agreement and put that to a vote against remain in a second referendum.

JM: But how long has it taken them to get there? That’s the thing. We are internationalists, we are outward looking, and this has always been where we are.

I would never tell anybody, like Calum Kerr, to stop fighting for what they believe in, and I believe in the EU and I believe in the UK so I’m going to keep fighting for that.

We have been clear on that from the beginning, and I don’t think going into an election where people think: “oh, what’s Labour’s stance?” They might know, but whether they believe it or not, that’s a different thing.

JA: You believe in having a second referendum, would you extend the same to independence, if the SNP get a majority of Scottish MPs?

JM: No, because I think it’s a different question. For me, a second referendum on the EU is a vote on the deal.

What I would say as well is that we were gifted a 500-page document before the 2014 Scottish referendum, and a slogan on the side of a bus, which is what we had for the EU referendum, does not equate to a white paper.

I think people were presented with the facts and they made a decision. This would a vote on the deal because we didn’t know what it was, and many people would argue they still don’t know.

JA: On public spending, Scottish Borders Council has had to hire police officers itself, in order to make up for a perceived lack of officer numbers in the Borders. Would you like to see more local authorities spending council taxpayers’ money like that, or would you prefer to stop the cuts at a national level?

JM: Both, dream big! There’s been a lot of reports about crime and drugs, and I think the Scottish Government made mistakes centralising the police force.

I think that was an error. Shutting the police stations: I think that was an error too.

When it comes to public spending you have to make sensible decisions, you have to be smart about things.

There are so many things I would like to fix, but it’s very important to note that if councils are going to do that, then talk to the public and see what their priorities are.

I think it’s a mistake to just assume that they know, it’s important to go out and talk to people about it.

If I could fix things at both levels, that is what I would like to do, but there is a danger that if you only assume what people want, then you’re going to get it wrong.

JA: What drew you to liberalism in the first place, and how would you define it against the left and the right?

JM: The most important thing is belief in the individual, trust in the individual and providing them with the tools they need to be successful.

A belief that as long as you don’t hurt anybody else you should be free to live your life, whether you’re black, white, gay or straight you deserve the right to the freedoms that everybody else has.

I grew up in a relatively political household, both my parents worked for the local authority (Scottish Borders Council). My dad would never say how he voted, because he couldn’t, but when my mum stopped working at the council she became quite political. She was a huge fan of Charles Kennedy.

There was always chat about politics, and I grew up in a very liberal household, I was never stopped from doing anything and my parents were very supportive.

There was a moment during my fifth year modern studies, where the teacher said she would read out the names of all the parties and we had to put our hands up if we would vote for them. It was an instinctive thing, and my arm just went up, when she said Liberal Democrats.

I think we were served very well with Michael (Moore) and David (Steel). I think it’s the local stuff, the fact that it’s potholes and pavements. People constantly tell me on the doorstep, please fill in this pothole.

Fundamentally it’s about working to let people be able to be who they are and live their lives, and that’s one of the most important things for me.

JA: One of the problems you’ve mentioned there, potholes and pavements, come from public spending and when the Lib Dems were part of the coalition government they voted for austerity. Are you happy with the last ten years of austerity?

JM: I’m never going to say that austerity is a good thing. We made mistakes in coalition, we’ve apologised for that.

I think we put our party behind the interest of the country, and we suffered for that.

It takes a long time to build back people’s trust. I could sit here and say I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me, but I appreciate that people have an expectation that I might be just like that, but that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.

People move on, I think. If you look at the government we now, compared to the coalition government, I think people can see that we reined in the excesses of the Tories and that’s why we’re just shouting about it now.

Time passes, and it will take some time to get people’s trust back, I appreciate that.

JA: The last ten years have been defined by austerity. If the Lib Dems sweep to power in December, what would you like the next ten to be defined by?

JM: Defined by healing division, by having a societal and cultural change, where we’re not pitting people against each other anymore, where people are open and welcoming and I think in order for that to happen we need to fix the things that have gone wrong so that people feel like they have the services they need at their fingertips.

Whether it’s more teachers, better mental health care, people just feel like they’re not well served by things anymore, there are so many problems and that pits people against each other.

If in ten years time, we could be living in a country where people have access to what they deserve, and that they get on better with their neighbours, I’d love to see that.

JA: You say you’d love to see those divides bridged, do you understand why people voted leave?

JM: Yes, because I think we’ve been badly served by a lot of politicians for a long time. I think when you’re out on the doors you get a lot of people surprised to see you, and I think that’s fair. Often people get elected and you don’t see them for five years.

If people don’t feel well served, if people feel like there’s no connection between them and whoever their politicians are, I think that’s really dangerous.

I would rather be a person that walks down the street and can say hi to everybody, and be there, than somebody that just rocks up in a suit when it’s necessary and cuts the ribbon.

JA: So you think it was an anti-establishment vote?

JM: I think a lot of it was an anti-establishment vote, yes.

JA: Would you say the EU is perfect or in need of reform?

JM: It’s in need of reform, but you don’t not do it because of that. If your kid is struggling with piano lessons you don’t tell them to ditch it because it’s too hard.

You have to try. It’s given us so much, and I think people forget about the peace element of it, and I think we need to talk about that more particularly because we’re getting to a point where kids that are coming through are not going to be alive to see anybody who made it through the second world war.

I think just to say ‘oh well it’s hard’ isn’t good enough. So it is in need of reform, but that’s okay.

JA: What would you say to working class leave voters, who have to compete with foreign labour, to make them believe the EU is good for them?

JM: I think there’s two things, and I think they go back to politicians not doing their job properly. We have a responsibility to communicate with everybody about what it does.

Everybody has a responsibility to find out things about who their representatives are, but if we haven’t told people then part of that responsibility falls to us.

Human rights is a massive worry, all of these things could just be rescinded.

JA: We’ll still be signed up to the European Court of Human Rights though…

JM: But it’s about what the government does with the laws here. There’s no guarantee of that.

There are protections and rights which come with EU membership and it’s our responsibility to have told people about them and we haven’t done that.

The competitiveness, I understand, but that’s almost a separate immigration issue.

JA: What would your pitch be to someone on the doorstep? What’s your elevator pitch?

JM: I’m a local girl, who cares about you care about. Our party is seeking to heal the wounds that we have in our country and I will fight with every fibre of my being to make sure, whether it’s potholes, or pavements, or a care package for your grandma, or somebody that’s stuck in hospital, that my commitment is to the people here.

I’m not going to shy away from stuff, if people want a voice, that’s what they’ll get from me. I like to think of myself as a bit of a troublemaker, so I’m not just going to sit back. If something isn’t right, I’ll call it out.

Particularly here, it is time for somebody fresh, somebody new, not the old rivals. I’m the only one standing who hasn’t been an MP, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m the only woman so far. I think I can bring so much to this seat that they haven’t seen before.

And you know what? If you want to vote Liberal Democrat, sometimes it feels like taking a punt, and I think it’s time the people did that.