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Scottish Mormon in Parliament talks Theresa May and Europe's future

LONDON — While the American Steve Kerr made headlines coaching the Golden State Warriors to another NBA title this summer, the Scottish Stephen Kerr made news vigorously backing troubled British Prime Minister Theresa May.

May became vulnerable when her decision to call a snap election cost her Conservative Party the majority in the UK Parliament. But while Conservatives lost a net total of 13 seats overall, they added a dozen in Scotland.

One went to Kerr, on his third try, by 148 votes out of 47,000. Two years ago, he lost by more than 10,000 votes. This time, an instant recount was not complete until 4 a.m.

"It was an extraordinary night I'll never forget," Kerr said.

He first ran in 2005, after he had served as the president of the Edinburgh Scotland Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1994-2003. He ran again in 2015, after he completed his service as an Area Authority Seventy of the church from 2006-13.

Kerr, who at the time of his election was director of sales operations for Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, spoke with the Deseret News about May, Brexit, terrorism, Scottish independence and more.

DESERET NEWS: What is your position on the future leadership of Theresa May? Conservatives saw an increase of votes of 5 percentage points, but lost a net of 13 seats in Parliament. Two of her closest advisers had to resign and she had to strike a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to form a coalition government.

STEPHEN KERR: The position is that we've got to get behind our Prime Minister. I think people forget amid all the commentary, Conservatives won more votes (42.3 percent) across the UK than at any time in the last 34 years. We won the most votes, we won the most seats (317). We've got to get behind the Prime Minister. She's absolutely the best person to take us forward. The vast majority of MPs feel that way.

DN: In 2014, Scotland held a referendum on whether it should remain part of the United Kingdom. The vote was 55-45 to remain in the UK. What is your position?

SK: The 2014 result was good news from my point of view, because this union between Scotland and England, which has been around 300 years since it was struck in 1707, I would argue because I'm a patriot, has been the most successful union between two countries in world history. Why would we possibly want to break up such a successful relationship? Today, families have members on both sides of the border. I, for an example, have an English mother and a Scottish father, and that's pretty normal. We're one people.

DN: Theresa May called this election in an effort to increase her power heading into Brexit negotiations. How did Brexit affect the vote in your district? Some are calling for a second referendum on Scottish independence. Did that affect this election, too?

SK: The dominant issue in Scotland was the future of Scotland in the UK. Although the election was called on the basis of Brexit, many other issues were debated. The debate on Scotland's future was very polarized between Unionists who believe in the UK, who don't want to break up the UK, and the Nationalists. Scottish Nationalists want to break up the UK and become an independent country. The Scottish National Party threatened to hold a second independence referendum. We fought this election on the basis of saying no to a second independence referendum. That made for very close results, very exciting results. My side of the argument, to stay in the UK, won. In my neighboring constituency to the north, the difference was 22 votes out of 40,000 to 50,000 votes cast.

It was an extraordinary demonstration that every single vote counts in an election, when you get a majority of 22. There was another race in Scotland where the majority was two, I kid you not.

Conservatives went from having 1 out of 59 representatives from Scotland to 13 out of 59. The winners on the night in terms of progress definitely were the Scottish Conservatives.

DN: What has your time in Parliament been like so far?

SK: The first three weeks have been a whirlwind. So much to learn and so much to do. The first day was like the first day of school all over again. It's quite a labyrinth, Westminster. But I am loving it. Assignments are not yet made but we'll begin to see how things shape up over the next few weeks before the summer recess.

I'm excited. I'm only too well aware of the incredible privilege it is to be part of the House of Commons with that great history this country has, and I'm very conscious of the responsibility I have to the people who put me here, the voters of Stirling who have given me this opportunity.

DN: One of the responsibilities of government is dealing with terrorism. The UK has suffered four attacks in the past three months. (On March 22, six died, including Utahn Kurt Cochran, when a British man drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge and stabbed a police officer outside Parliament. On May 22, a British suicide bomber killed 22 outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. On June 3, eight died when three terrorists drove into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbed people in Borough Market. On June 19, 11 were injured when a van rammed pedestrians near a mosque in London.) What can be done?

SK: The public feeling in this country is resolution. We're going to stand together and we're going to stand against hate, this twisted ideology that leads people to do such terrible, wicked things. We will stand together, and we will continue to preserve our way of life. We won't defeat terrorism by giving up the liberties that define our way of life. We're absolutely resolute.

We're fortunate here in the UK, that the security services here have foiled a number of plots in the last few weeks and the last few years. We have first-class police and security in Britain. In the June 3 incident, the police took eight minutes to get to the scene in Borough Market and neutralize the three people who were doing the terrible things they were doing.

And we carry on. You remember the Second World War poster: Keep Calm and Carry On. That's what we have to do, keep wits about us, and keep calm and carry on. Otherwise, we give those people the victory they must not have.

And Theresa May is the right person to lead us in these times. (In her Queen's Speech address outlining her goals, May said she is focused on counterterrorism and investment in skills and infrastructure.)

DN: Are you aware of the Steve Kerr who coaches the Golden State Warriors in the NBA?

SK: I am, but I don't follow the NBA much. I can talk about Scottish football (soccer) till the cows come home. I'm sure he is much more prolific than I am.

DN: What has it been like running for office as a Mormon?

SK: It's not difficult. It's pretty well known that I'm a Mormon. I can't hide it. I can't hide who I am. There was a piece in a Scottish paper right after the election about the new Conservative MPs. The bit about me was that I was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It's still an issue that warrants some attention, it's still regarded as some kind of a novelty, but there's no hostility toward the church, no hostility toward me as a member of the church. I've never had anyone direct any kind of hostility toward me because of my religion.

We had a wonderful man, Brian Adam, a member of Parliament, a member of the SNP, who was LDS. He was a wonderful man of integrity. Even though I didn't agree with his politics, and he didn't agree with mine, he was a wonderful public servant. Sadly he passed away about four years ago. We've had a Labour Member of Parliament, Terry Rooney, an MP in the House of Commons. Currently now in the House of Commons we have three Mormons, David Rutley and Craig Whittaker of the British Conservative Party and myself.

The church is genuinely admired, and it's not a disadvantage at all. I think the thing is we are people who are able to see in the round. Although we are members of the church, when we are acting as legislators, we take that view.

Utah's a good example on the issue of religious freedom. In Utah, you dealt with the rights of significant minorities, an issue of respect which lies at the heart of civil society. We're dealing with that in a similar way.