LONDON — One of the most heated debates in the run-up to parliamentary elections in the United Kingdom last week was the country’s policies toward immigrants, with some voices calling for a less welcoming approach toward foreigners who want to make Britain their home.
As wider Europe grapples with the issue, one man stands as testament to the continent’s historical acceptance of immigrants and, with his recent election to parliament, an embodiment of political empowerment: Paul Scully, the UK-born Anglo-Indian-Burmese who will serve as a newly elected UK parliamentarian representing the Sutton constituency in southwest London.
Scully, a member of the victorious Conservative Party, told The Irrawaddy just hours after he won his seat on Thursday that he would be joining hands with Conservative parliamentarians who are active on Burma issues.
“I am really looking forward to getting involved myself, to be another Conservative that will push for this [active engagement on UK-Burma policy],” he said.
Scully has never set foot in Burma, where his late father was born, but said he has always wanted to visit the Southeast Asian nation of his ancestors, and hoped to do so “very soon” as an elected parliamentarian.
“I’ve always been very proud of my Burmese heritage, and it [Burma policy] is something that I would very much like to follow up and play a role with,” he said.
The descendant of an Anglo-Burmese father and grandfather who worked on the docks along Rangoon’s Strand Road, Scully said all of his extended family migrated to the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s, after a military coup in Burma led by the late Gen. Ne Win.
Seeking “better opportunities,” his father first settled in Glasgow, Scotland, where he worked as an apprentice on the docks of the port city before becoming an engineer. Though his father passed away 25 years ago, Scully said his family is still influenced by Burmese culture, mostly through stories from his aunt and uncle of their time living in Burma.
Another way in which that heritage endures is through Burmese food: “My wife makes a really good lattthoat [Burmese noodle and potato salad],” he said, adding, “I always love eating balachaung [fried dried shrimp and chili] and hinjo [soup].”
Born and educated in the United Kingdom, Scully’s first involvement in Burma issues was in 2007, when he joined a protest in front of the Burmese Embassy in London against human rights violations committed by the former military regime during the pro-democracy demonstrations known as the Saffron Revolution. That was one year after he first entered elected office, as a local town councilor, from 2006-2010.
He expressed his gratitude to the Burmese and foreign activists from the London-based Burma Campaign UK, who helped him learn more about the country of his ancestors.
Asked for his opinion on Burma’s political reform process, he said he had “not seen enough to make an informed view, beyond the fact that I am aware that there are still a number of restrictions on the election, not least the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi cannot stand for president.
“For free and fair elections, denying someone’s ability to stand, that’s obviously unfair,” he added.
“People must be able to make a true, free choice. They must not have undue influence; no risk of violence or corruption, and then let the debate and argument win the day, rather than force.”
And as for his personal view of the chairwoman of the National League for Democracy?
“She [Aung San Suu Kyi] is very inspirational, dedicated to her country, in a country that often tears itself apart in many areas. She is a really good, calming influence,” Scully said.
“I was really fortunate when Aung San Suu Kyi came to the UK parliament [in June 2012]. I was able to go and see her speak. That was such a privilege for me. I was speaking to my family about that and it was very emotional for them.”
Scully appears well aware that calibrating Britain’s policy toward Burma will continue to be a challenge.
“The country is in an incredibly difficult situation still,” he said, highlighting ethnic and religious unrest in Burma’s border regions.
Looking ahead to his upcoming term in office, Scully pledged to add his voice to the chorus of calls for democratic reforms to continue.
“I would seek to continue to speak out and call for free and fair elections, and to speak out against human rights abuses, and make sure Burma can truly open up as the country, in the way it started doing a couple of years ago, but has not yet fulfilled its potential.”