‘I’ve got a lifetime pass to the Big Cheese’: We spoke to Edinburgh’s Ian Murray MP

He’s campaigning to keep Britain in the EU

Ian Murray has been the MP for Edinburgh South since 2010 – a constituency that covers Marchmont, parts of Bruntsfield and Edinburgh University's King's Buildings.

Ian was the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland under Ed Milliband, though he resigned following the 2016 EU referendum result. But between 1993 – 1997 Ian was a student at Edinburgh University himself.

Given the likelihood of a general election being announced any day now, The Edinburgh Tab met with Ian to discuss student issues relating to Brexit, the Labour Party and, obviously, how to do first year right.

When The Edinburgh Tab arrived to Soderberg for the interview, Ian was already there, waiting with sparkling water and a latte hand.

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First thing's first – I'm sure you're aware it's freshers' week this week. What is the best advice you have for freshers beginning university?

Two pieces of advice. The first is to take every opportunity you get. Meet friends, join clubs, do things that you’re interested in – the options are endless. The second thing is to just have fun. I had a lot of fun in freshers’ week and made lifelong friends, so do everything you want to do and try out new things.

What was your favourite night out during university?

The best night out of course was the Big Cheese! I actually have, thanks to a previous President of EUSA, a lifetime pass to the Big Cheese, which I’ve never yet used. But I was very much a regular attender and I love to go back with different groups.

Obviously, given your pro-remain stance on Brexit, you’ve lost the student leave vote. But why should any remain students vote for you over the Liberal Democrats candidate? The Liberal Democrats have a clear remain policy. Your leadership’s policy is a mess: you have Tom Watson pushing for remain, then you’ve got Corbyn saying he’ll hold another referendum with a ‘credible Leave option’ and ‘remain’ on the ballot– neither of which he’ll commit to campaigning for.

Firstly, this (Brexit mess) is the Liberal Democrats' fault to a certain extent, because Nick Clegg campaigned for an EU referendum that the Labour Party never wanted. Also, by going into the coalition government in 2010, the Lib Dems bought about the referendum – so they are not clear on the issue.

Secondly, in terms of Labour’s position, I 100% agree with you. But I think Labour will get to a position of campaigning for remain. I think Jeremy Corbyn will absolutely campaign for remain. He’s juggling competing views at the moment, but the damage of leaving the EU at all will be too much for a Labour government to deal with.

A general election is not just about Brexit but also about all the other issues facing the country like the climate emergency, investment in public services, housing and fairness in our economy. My track record on these issues and Brexit is unchallengeable.

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Come a general election, you’re going to be knocking on doors imploring people to put yourself, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn, into power. What do you have to say to Jewish students at Edinburgh University who fear this very prospect?

The whole antisemetism issue has been a total disgrace and it’s not been dealt with at all by the leadership of the Labour Party and they have to be held to account for that. There’s an EHRC investigation at the moment and some of us have been Jeremy Corbyn’s biggest critics in all this.

I don’t think if we get to a General Election Jeremy Corbyn will get many votes from the Jewish community and rightly so. I think Jeremy Corbyn should stand down for the next election so we can try and win it for a Labour government.

Is there a movement right now to have Corbyn stand down?

There’s no mechanism to do so. Jeremy has to do what’s in the best interest of the country, not what’s in the best interest of himself. If you look at the opinion polls and Jeremy's net approval ratings, they’re absolutely disastrous. He and the people around him have to decide whether or not they care more about the country than losing an election.

How many more incidents of racism – ‘accidental’ or otherwise – does your party leadership need to exhibit before you can no longer bring yourself to campaign to put them in power?

I don’t think that’s the question to ask really because you’ve got two choices here haven’t you. You walk away from your party and representing the people who gave you the opportunity to represent them, or you fight. I’m a stay and fighter.

Would you say that Labour is a credible alternative to the Tories in its current form?

I think the public are already saying that it's not. You look at opinion polls and approval ratings for anyone in the shadow cabinet and for Jeremy Corbyn – they’re pretty poor. I’ve said this to Jeremy directly and he might not want to realise or believe it but ultimately the public will have their say.

Would you say you have more in common with Jeremy Corbyn or Jo Swinson?

That’s a really difficult question because it's not really a binary choice. In terms of Scotland and in terms of some of the issues around Europe I’ve got a lot in common with Jo Swinson. I work very closely with her and know her very well. In terms of Jeremy Corbyn, I’ve got a lot in common with his social policy and the way he wants to change the narrative around the economy working for everyone.

Recently we published an article discussing how Syrian students are being ‘put off’ Edinburgh University by Tim Hayward, a lecturer who propagates pro-Assad conspiracy theories. In March this year your party’s Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, launched a report for Hayward’s colleague and fellow Assad defender, David Miller. In light of this, can you assure students that Diane Abbott will make a trustworthy Home Secretary, responsible for domestic security?

I don’t know whether Diane Abbott would’ve known the link between (Miller) and his views on Syria. She probably did but I can’t comment. I think there are two much wider issues here. The first thing is that senior politicians need to be much more careful about who they associate themselves with.

Secondly, I’ve done a lot of work with Scotland and Syria and I fully understand the problems people have with a lecturer propagating those kinds of views. The arguments here are freedom of speech on the one hand and being a conspiracy theorist. I can see why Syrian students would be hugely concerned about what’s going on. University is supposed to be a place for debate and challenging norms, not peddling conspiracy theories. Therefore, I hope Edinburgh University would take a very dim view of what’s been done.

What is your proudest achievement in politics to date?

As a backbench opposition MP I managed to get Gift Aids changed about six years ago. Lots of charities collect money just by shaking buckets and getting cash but they weren't allowed to claim Gift Aid. I managed to get the law changed so that up to £5000 a year charities could claim Gift Aid for shaking buckets – that's now gone up to £15,000 a year. It's worth about £250 000 to charities from the exchequer.

Being able to change little bits of law have been very proud moments but that would all be completely usurped if we managed to get a People's Vote.