We recently interviewed Joanna Cherry, the SNP candidate in the General Election for Edinburgh South West, about her reasons for getting in to politics, her involvement in the independence referendum and what policies she thinks will impact Wester Hailes.
Listen to the interview here:
If you enjoyed this interview make sure you have a look at our interviews with the other candidates which will be up on the site soon!
Can’t listen to the interview? You can read it below:
My name’s Joanna Cherry, in my day job I’m a QC. I’ve just come into politics recently as a result of being very active in the independence referendum. I’m standing for election; I’m the SNP candidate for Edinburgh South West.
Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what it was that caused you to want to get into politics?
I’m a lawyer but I’m not from a legal background. I’m the first lawyer in my family and I’m only the second person in my family to go to university. I think it’s very sad that the society we live in now is not as full as of opportunities as it was for my Dad’s generation, and the Labour Party who enabled people like my Dad to go to university now want students to pay tuition fees. I came in to politics because I wanted to make a difference.
I left the Labour Party because I felt they weren’t standing up for the people they ought to be representing, and for me the last straw came with the poll tax. The poll tax was a tax that was brought in by Margaret Thatcher’s government and it was an unfair tax and it was tested out in Scotland first. The reason it was unfair is it transferred the burden of tax for local government from across society and put it on the poorest people of society, it expected everyone to pay the same and many people in Scotland couldn’t afford to pay it. At the time the poll tax was introduced Labour had 50 members of parliament for Scotland at Westminster and they are sometimes called the feeble fifty as they did nothing to protect Scotland from the poll tax where as the SNP, and too their credit, the Democratic Left fought the poll tax very hard. I really felt that Labour had failed in its duty to protect ordinary people, particularly working class people, and that’s why I left the Labour Party and started to vote SNP.
You said you did a lot of campaigning in the referendum could you tell me a bit about that?
During the referendum together with a colleague called Gail Gianni we set up a group called Lawyers for Yes. What we did is we wrote a declaration in favour of independence and why from a legal perspective we thought independence would be good for Scotland. We said we believed that with independence we could great a more fairer and equal society and we were also very interested in Scotland having a written constitution where people rights could be protected.
We persuaded about two-hundred of our colleagues to come out of the closet for yes and to sign up to this declaration, which wasn’t easy as a lot of lawyers don’t necessary want to be public about their political positions for fear of alienating clients. There are many lawyers who are in public service or have judicial or tribunal chairpersonships and that means they aren’t allowed to be politically active, but we persuaded people who were able to be politically active to come out and sign this declaration in favour of an independent Scotland.
We wanted to make a sort of symbolic gesture to show that there were lawyers who were voting yes because I think during the referendum campaign there was a perception in the main media that middle class professionals were all voting no and I knew that wasn’t the case. I wanted to show that there were people in the legal profession voting yes and I also wanted to put out legal expertise at the disposal of the yes campaign so when the better together campaign put misinformation out, for example, Scotland’s future membership of the European Union, we as lawyers were able to counter that misinformation with strong legal argument. We ended up having quite a high media profile and writing articles in newspapers, speaking at debates and public meetings and going on the television and the radio quite a lot talking about our position. I know we didn’t win the referendum but I like to think our group made a useful contribution.
Can I ask what it was that made you want to stand as an MP?
Well, I think this election is a unique opportunity for my party but also for Scotland because of the energy and the interest in politics that has been generated by the referendum, people in Scotland are far more engaged in the political process than they have been for a long time and I think repeated opinion polls have shown that the majority of people in Scotland would like to see more powers in Scotland, more powers for the Scottish parliament and that’s what the SNP stands for in this election.
I’ve spoken already about Labour’s failure to defend Scotland in the past from the poll tax, at the moment Labour are failing to defend Scotland from the austerity agenda of the Conservative Lib Dem coalition and what’s even worse is Labour has supported that agenda. In January Labour MPs voted with the Conservatives and Lib Dems for an austerity budget. Labour MPs from Scotland also voted in favour of renewing Trident, so they want to spend £100 billion over the next thirty years on Trident, when we say in the SNP that money should be spent on public services. I don’t think the Labour party are representing the interests of the Scottish people or the people who live in Scotland adequately. I think it’s only with SNP MPs in Westminster that there will be a strong Scottish voice so really I feel very motivated as I think it’s a really good opportunity to get SNP MPs elected. I think people like me who can bring experience from my legal profession both in terms of public speaking and hopefully persuasive argument are needed to stick up for Scottish interests at Westminster.
I think if we have a strong block of thirty or forty SNP members of parliament I think we’ll have a big influence on the next government.
Is there any sort of policies or issues that the SNP are campaigning on that you think will have a big impact on Wester Hailes?
Well I think one of the most important ones for Wester Hailes will be our policy of tackling the austerity agenda. You’ll be aware that the First Minister and leader of our party, Nicola Sturgeon went down to London and she spoke about how their could be an alternative to austerity and how you could increase spending on public services without jeopardising paying off our national debt and you could do that by reordering your prioties.
It has been interesting to observe that in the mainsteream media there has been many independent commentators who have said that Nicola Sturgeons agenda is a perfectly reasonable one. We don’t think its right that the poorest people in society should pay for our economic mistakes, while rich people get off scot free and indeed get tax cuts. The SNP wants to redress that balance and I think our policies will address the concerns of the people who live in Wester Hailes as many of the people who live in Wester Hailes are the sort fo people who have been hit hardest by the austerity agenda.
One aspect of the platform we are going into this election on is we want real powers to be transferred to Holyrood we don’t think what’s in the Smith commission is adequate. We want to have proper control of the whole basket of taxes and proper control over all welfare benefits so we can create a more fairer and more equal society.
In the last general election this constituency elected a Labour MP, Alistair Darling, but he’s standing down. Since that election in 2011 this area elected an SNP member of the Scottish parliament. In 2012 this area elected an SNP councillor and last year at the European elections this area elected an SNP member of the European parliament so I would like to say to people that the time is right to elect an SNP MP and complete the team so you’ll have strong Scottish voices on the council, on the Scottish Parliament, in Europe and in Westminster.