Getting to know you – Maree Todd

Written by Jenni Davidson on 23 February 2017 in Inside Politics

Maree Todd sits down for a chat with Holyrood’s Jenni Davidson

Maree Todd MSP - Image credit: Holyrood

Maree Todd was elected as an SNP MSP on the Highlands and Islands list in 2016 and sits on the Scottish Parliament’s Health and Sport and Finance and Constitution committees. Completely new to politics, she was encouraged to become involved after campaigning for independence in 2014. Todd grew up in the West Highlands, attending Ullapool High School and then studying pharmacy and prescribing at Robert Gordon’s and Strathclyde, as well as taking an ante-natal teaching diploma at the University of Bedfordshire, all by distance learning. A pharmacist by profession, Todd worked in NHS Highland for 20 years, mainly as a mental health pharmacist in a psychiatric hospital and she contributed to SIGN guidance on perinatal mental health. She also taught voluntarily for the NCT and was still running a weekly ‘bumps and babies’ group until she got elected. She enjoys rugby, running, travel and reading.

What’s your earliest memory?

I remember very clearly one Christmas we got a colour television, and I must have been quite young, I was probably only five or six, my mum and dad had been through to Inverness shopping and they came back with this colour television and said it was from Santa. And I asked ‘How did you get it from Santa?’, because it was still before Christmas, and they told me that they’d met him in the Dirrie, which is the name of the road between Inverness and Ullapool, and he’d given them this television. And I was completely okay with it – so I must have been very young.

What were you like at school?

Well, I suppose I didn’t particularly shine at school until towards the end. I was probably one of the crowd, but not a leader or anything. I did ask a lot of questions – my sister gave me this picture [indicates a framed print with a quote from designer Eileen Gray “To create one must first question everything”]  – so I think I’ve been known for questioning my whole life, which might have been both a pleasure and pain for my teachers.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

If it’s a dinner date, my husband, because we just don’t see enough of each other these days and I’m still pretty fond, and he’s still pretty fond.

But if it was a dinner party, there’s a number of folk that I would love to have. The last time I was asked this it was who would you like to have for Christmas dinner and I said Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She’s written a couple of books, which are just outstanding, but she did an essay, which became a TED talk, which became a little book, called ‘We Should All Be Feminists’, and that is given to every child in Sweden on their sixteenth birthday, male and female. And I liked the idea of having her at our dinner table and my kids could chat to her too, because I just think she would be an amazing person.

But there’s so many. I mean Leonard Cohen died last year and I was just a huge admirer of his music and his writing and I would have loved to have chewed the fat with him. He had a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with them all, but he was certainly a keen observer and he was good at articulating what he thought. I like Obama. Nelson Mandela. You know, these heroes of our age. Wouldn’t it be lovely to get them together? I wouldn’t need to chat much at all. I’d just sit back and listen.

What’s your greatest fear?

I’m not very good with heights. Although I have to say, I used to work in psychiatry and we used to say to people ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’ basically, this exposure to your fears and it’s never as bad as you imagine. And during campaigning I have done so many things, and getting into politics, I’ve done so many things that I never imagined I would do – public speaking is still reasonably scary – and it’s given me confidence in every area of my life. So during campaigning I found myself on the top of this Norbord factory in the Highlands and I wasn’t particularly comfortable, but neither was I crippled by fear, and I genuinely think that pushing yourself to do things that scare you is a really positive thing.

What’s the worst things that anyone’s ever said to you?

I suppose coming into politics it’s been a bit of shock to have people accuse you of being a Nazi or Stasi – I always find it quite funny that I get accused of being both those things – that’s been a surprise. It doesn’t really hurt. It tends not to hurt unless it’s somebody you really care for whose opinion you value and you think, gosh, they might be right. I can’t think of a specific incident that people have said that have hurt. As I said, other than just the general things that people say to politicians. Even now there’s this general belief that politicians are corrupt, lazy, and people say that in front of me, but almost apologetically like ‘I don’t mean you’, and I’m like ‘Well, who do you mean then? That is me.’

What do you dislike about your appearance?

I think I’m okay about my appearance. I would like to be about a foot taller. That would be lovely. Then I could reach all the stuff in my kitchen cupboards.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I love treats of all sorts! I like chocolate. I like wine. I love gin and tonic. I like to luxuriate – I don’t do it very often – but I do love to lie in a bath with a glass of wine and a book. Maybe only happens a couple of times a year now. I do like pleasure and I try to remember that these things are treats and everything in moderation, but I like all these things.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

There’s so many exciting periods in history. But I do think the post-war couple of decades would be really interesting, the change that happened. So immediately post-war, the sort of social cohesion that brought people working together to develop things like the NHS, but then the massive societal change and the civil rights movement in the 1960s. I think I would find it troubling to look on with my modern eyes, but it would be very interesting to see.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

Keep trying.

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?

There’s lots of things that have caused me pain, but they’re all fairly temporary. I mean giving birth is reasonably uncomfortable, breastfeeding was quite hard to get the hang of and quite sore, and I’ve broken bones and things. Last year I had some nerve damage in my shoulder that meant I had numb fingers and they were hyper-sensitive and that was much harder to deal with, because it lasted a long time. Most things that are really sore pass quite quickly. But something that lasts a while is a bit hard to deal with.

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

Well, Trainspotting is very current at the moment and we’ve just watched it again. That was my first date with my husband, I went to see Trainspotting. So yeah, that was good. Over Christmas we watched Mississippi Burning with the family. That was quite a powerful film. I loved the Blues Brothers when I was growing up.

What was your best holiday ever?

I do absolutely love Italy. We went there on our honeymoon and we’ve been back a number of times since. I just love the food! Pizza, pasta and ice cream. Sunshine and wine. Lovely.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was ‘His Bloody Project’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet, which I really loved. It’s set in Applecross, which is just down the coast from me. And I really, really, really enjoyed it. It made me quite mad as I read it, but it was good. But again, since coming into politics, I was an avid reader and I’ve been really disappointed at how little I read. But the plus side is I’m reading a lot more poetry – because it’s short.

I’m disappointed I don’t have more time to read more novels. But I am going to Ullapool Book Festival this year and I am volunteering in it, as I always do, and we’re in a quiz team competing with Val McDermid. Against! So there’s no point in us coming, but it’s the Ullapool Book Festival volunteers and organisers versus the authors. No hope whatsoever! So I’m very excited about that.

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