Paul Sweeney and Emily Thornberry: Freshers’ Show Debate Interview



On the fifteenth of September, European champions, GUU Debating had their inaugural show debate of the years, This House Would End the Special Relationship. G-YOU managed to get an exclusive interview with two of the many notable speakers here that day. Mrs Emily Thornberry, and Mr Paul Sweeny. Although what follows is an interview that I took in the Bridie Library, I also got some time with the two MPs out the Back of the GUU in a relaxed setting, and listen to them talk about political affairs, from the house of lords to a certain Tory MP for North East Somerset. They showed themselves as human, all be it incredibly intellectual ones.


Mr. Paul Sweeny is a graduate of Glasgow University, and currently resides on the Board of Management of the GUU, as a Former Student Member (FSM). Since the snap election last June he is now the MP for Glasgow North East as a member of the Scottish Labour Party. He sits on the front bench of the Labour Party and is Shadow Under Secretary of State for Scotland.

The Bridie Interview with Mr. Sweeny


O-        What are the key responsibilities entailed in being an MP?

S-         As a member of parliament my jobs and responsibilities mostly lie around frustrating the government, from the opposition benches. We do that through a number of canny means. We try and submit as many written questions as we can to apply scrutiny to the Government, intervene in as many debate as we can, present speeches in as many debates as we can to hold the Government to account. Also, we, particularly conscience in my mind with a majority of only 242, have to build trust and resilience with the voters. We do so by building a reliable and responsive network as an MP that works hard for the constituents.

In opposition many MPs have duties within committees to hold the Government to account, although now I am on the front bench I no longer am able to do so.

O-        My next question is in regards your other duties, not as an MP but an FSM, could you give a brief description of what the role is of the GUU board of management?

S-         Most of the board members are students as its primarily a union for student, but it is also a members club that is open to every body who has been a student here at Glasgow, that includes many former members, and life members of the union. We have a big part to play in this union, as Charles Kennedy use to say, “University may give you a degree, but it’s the union that gives you your education,” and I truly believe that, for example parliamentary debates build confidences, builds skills in critical thinking, it allows you to think on your feet and respond dynamically, and I think that is a wider form of education. The special relationship I have with the Union is one that will last my entire life, and that is why I came back to join as an FSM, to help deliver the extension and new HIVE, and since becoming elected I aim to continue to do all I can to help with the continued running of the Union.

O-        These next few questions could probably go together as one, what would you recommend students do before the graduate, what was your favorite student memory of the GUU, and what is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?

S-         {laughing} Lord… My best memory [and what all students should attend once] of GUU is D*** F*****, a themed party, which is kept secret till the night, and then hours of partying that is usually rather, well… crazy, is a lot of fun. Dancing on the podium in HIVE in the early hours of the morning is one to remember. Followed by staggering home with the Kilt on…

The naughtiest thing I’ve ever done, well I’m not too sure, the most embarrassing thing I’ve done is go to China with a mate, not eat anything then subsequently get brownout drunk on Chinese moonshine vodka, only to wake up in a dumpster outside a nightclub covered in my own blood. It turns out I had fallen and on a broken glass slicing my hand open. My friend had pulled that night, and disappeared into a city of 18 million. I was rescued by a Russian and French Expat, and we made our escape on rickshaw. Made our way to the clinic in the bottom of a five-star hotel, and tried to get them to fix my hand. They wanted to charge us  £400 just to look at it, despite me having health insurance, I refused and they shot me out into a taxi. I had no idea where my hostel was so I asked the driver to take me to Tiananmen square. Of course Mandarin is all about the tones, so after twenty attempts he finally understands takes me there. Tiananmen is about the size of Hamden Park so he chucks me out at one corner and I wander through at 6AM surrounded by school children, all whom were pointing at this decadent foreign capitalist covered in blood, as I tried to find my hostel. Finally I find it and my friend returns triumphant form the nights exploits, to open the door to me on the bed in a state. He took me to get my hand stitched at a Chinese military hospital. It cost me £3. Yea that was definitely the most humiliating thing to ever happen to me.

O-     What type of drink are you and why? For example… I’m a Guinness, Irish and slightly heavy in the stomach.

S-         Oh well, probably a really nice, smooth single malt.

O-        With there not likely being a general election till these fresher’s graduate…

S-         Aye right….

O-     … what should they do in the meantime to stay politically informed and keep politically active?

S-      Get involved with GUU debating, they keep you politically informed, discussing topical issues, and also consider joining a political party. If there is a political issue that you are interested in, join a society that deals with it. Most politicians don’t go into politics via a straight route, I sure didn’t, they get involved with issues that they are interested in and feel a pull towards, and start from there. Find something your passionate about, and follow it.

O-     What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?

S-      Obnoxious individual, although he is somewhat odious in his views and an unreconstructed populist and demagogue, I think his election is not unsurprising as the west reacts to a sort of disillusion with an establishment that is out of touch and alienating people, and I think this is due to capitalism that has ran out of control, I mean we will be the first generation to be poorer than our parents, and that demonstrates how modern capitalism has become un-channeled and broken down, ad that’s why many false prophets like Trump, gain traction on the back of populism preaching more jobs and more dignity to workers. Utterly false premise, but will gain traction. The only solution is governments that will actually take action and put in place polices to redistribute wealth and power, not somebody like trump who promises but never delivers. We need economic policies that redistribute wealth via social justice.

O-     Final question, since Donald trump is somewhat obsessed with twitter; can you give us a “tweet” of advice for our new students.

S-      A tweet of advice, although academia is the priority while at university, it is not the only part of student life.

O-      Well thank you very much for your time.



Mrs. Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary and shadow first Secretary of State, started of as a human rights lawyer till she won her seat in Parliament in 2005, since then she has served in many roles as a shadow secretary of state, being promoted to arguably the top position in the shadow cabinet.


The Bridie Interview with Mrs Thornberry

O-     What are your main responsibilities as a shadow Secretary of State?

T-      So we have to hold the government to account, and present an effective opposition. It’s our responsibility to hone our polices to be ready to walk in and start governing after the next election.

O-     What positives could we see from Brexit?

T-      There is no doubt Brexit will be hard. However, in tough times like these we as a country tend to pull together, and we’ve seen this through out history. I hope we do so again, come together as a people, and don’t turn on each other as we look outwards to connect with the world. I hope we are creative in adversary and look further afield and become more internationalist than Brexiters may have liked. If we leave we must look on the migration polices. These polices currently are really difficult for people in the EU, more so for those outside of it. I hope we can take time to look at these to create a fairer system for all.

O-     With a high number of NI students here in the University of Glasgow, what do you think the best resolution would be regarding Brexit, borders, and the Belfast agreement.

T-      The whole issue of NI was one that was skipped over by Brexiters. I don’t know how it will be sorted out. It’s been an issue that’s been obvious since the start, and the Government is responsible for its resolution and need to address it publicly rather than brushing it to the side as they have been doing.

O-     The DUP recently were going to vote Labour’s way on NHS Pay and Student fees, despite the £1bn agreement reached before summer recess. How do you think this will effect Mays minority government?

T-      Well as I mentioned at the start of my speech, I relish the chance to debate, it’s the life blood of parliament and our democracy, and keeps MPs honest. However, because of the DUPs wavering vote, the Tories backed out and didn’t turn up to debate the issues, and thus didn’t pursue a vote. This breaks down our democratic system allowing a minority to control and dictate the terms of legislation.

O-     Student fees, aye or nah?

T-      No, because education should be a right, we shouldn’t put barriers in the way of the young to. Education betters and elevates our country.

O-     What’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?

T-      Far to naughty to answer this question…

O-     What type of drink are you and why? 

T-      A G&T who believes gin and slimline has no cals and lives with the consequences.

O-     If you could have dinner with any body in the world, who would it be and why?

T-      You know I just saw Julia Gillard [Australia PM] the other day and I would just love to have a proper chat to her. A working class woman who has become the Prime Minister of a country not famed for its progressive views towards woman. I would love to hear her story personally.

O-     What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?

T-      My biggest concern is not his politics but his temperament, he is a narcissistic, temperamental man, who is not fit for the duties of the office.

O-     Should we be worried about North Korea, and why?

T-      Yes, of course we should be worried about another country having Intercontinental ballistic missles nuclear weapons in hands of a narcissistic, temperamental man.

O-     The parallels you just drew between these two world leaders is striking.

T-      Well I didn’t say that! {said with a grin}

O-     With there not being another general election till after these freshers graduate, what should they do in the meantime to stay politically informed and keep politically active?

T-      Registered to vote and keep it up to date. Young people’s vote does make a difference and the more students who stand up to be heard will mean politicians can’t ignore them. Also, think carefully, and join a party. Join Labour!

O-     Since Donald trump is somewhat obsessed with twitter; can you give us a “tweet” of advice for our new students.

T-      No… but I will say you won’t make many friends in Freshers week that you are still mates with in third year…

O-     I actually think that would fit into a tweet. Thank you for your time!


Thank you to Mrs Thronberry and Mr Sweeny for their time for this interview.

Owain Campton

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