Getting to Know You: Edward Mountain
Edward Mountain and Liam Kirkaldy discuss Idi Amin, cattle and killing a python
Edward Mountain - image credit: Holyrood
Edward Mountain is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands and his party's spokesperson for Rural Affairs
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory goes back to farming, and spending time on the family farm. I just used to love the cattle up there. I especially remember being fascinated as a child by the fact that the calves could suck your hand and not bite you because they didn’t have teeth. I just remember, always on a Sunday, wanting to go up with father to do that. I was four or five, but I still remember it to this day.
Do you ever get the chance to do that now? Do you miss it?
Well, I’ve still got a farm.
Do you still go and see the calves?
I am always down at the weekend, when I come back from here [parliament], just to see what’s going on. We’ve got a young calf at the moment whose mother died, who is being fed from a bottle. She’s really quite sweet. If you appear with a bottle, she’ll just about knock you over.
Do your dogs get on OK with them?
The dogs are fine, except for Pip, who hasn’t worked out that cows don’t like her. She thinks it’s a good idea to have a smell, but they’re not always as friendly as she thinks they’re going to be.
What were you like at school?
Appalling. All my school reports used to say, much to my parents’ annoyance, ‘could do better’. I had no real interest in school. I wanted to achieve five O-levels and one A-level to get me where I wanted to go, which was to join the army. I did just enough to do that. I expect I was every headmaster’s nightmare.
What would be your dream dinner party?
I’ve always wanted to ask people questions. Having watched the Darkest Hour, I’d like to have Winston Churchill there – I like the idea of his pithy comments on politics.
At what stage of his career?
I would think at the stage when he lost office. It would be very interesting to see how a man of his stature coped with that. We all go through downsides and I think he’d be a very good example.
Who else would you invite?
Bizarre as it may seem, I would like to invite Tony Blair, because I’d like to ask him about something which has always puzzled me. I’d like him to explain how the Good Friday Agreement was negotiated. Having been in the army and seen some of my friends, certainly Anthony Daly, blown up in Knightsbridge, I would like to know why Tony Blair thought it would be appropriate to allow people who had been involved in that to get away without prosecution, when we are still prosecuting soldiers from the same generation. I would love to develop that, and I think it would be an interesting dynamic with Winston Churchill.
That’s quite an intense dinner party.
I would also invite Idi Amin.
Why would you invite Idi Amin to a dinner party?
I’d invite Idi Amin because I think he’s a clown and I’d like to ask him why he went down the route he did in Uganda, which is a country that he effectively destroyed, and it would be nice to hold him to account.
You’ve jumped from Churchill, to asking Blair about the Northern Irish peace process, to Idi Amin’s treatment of Uganda.
Yes, because I think I would find nice allies in both Tony Blair and Winston Churchill against Idi Amin.
What’s your greatest fear?
I have a phobia of spiders, and snakes are the other thing. I remember when I was in Africa, in Uganda, and I had a snake attack one of the soldiers I was with. It was an 18-and-a-half-foot-long python. It wrapped round this soldier. He had jumped down into the grass and the snake was there, and it wrapped round him, and we couldn’t get it off. It took me a long time to work up the courage to do something about it.
What did you do?
I ended up shooting the snake. I put the rifle on his shoulder and fired through the coils of the snake. I still have the skin, just to remind me of that. But I don’t like snakes and I certainly don’t like spiders.
I can see why you didn’t like that snake.
Well… it was the soldier or the snake. It was constricting. Pythons are ambush predators – it was lying in the grass and unfortunately, he jumped down on top of it. It bit him on the waist – they anchor onto you then wrap around. Every time he screamed, it tightened.
How long did it take to get it off?
Not long, three or four minutes, but the first 40 seconds were me wondering ‘what do I do now?’
Was he OK?
He was fine, though I don’t think he was very happy about going into long grass afterwards [laughter].
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
The thing I was very self-conscious about when I was younger, and which I am still self-conscious about, is that my head is quite large. It takes a large cap or hat to fit my head. And with a name like Edward, I was always known as ‘big Ed’, for one of two reasons… If anything, I would like to have a slightly smaller head and slightly more controllable hair.
What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
As a politician, you expect comments. But what is hurtful is what some people write, especially in suggesting I am doing this for my own benefit. I didn’t get involved in politics for my own benefit, I got involved in politics because I was frustrated and I didn’t think people in Holyrood understood the countryside, and having worked and lived in the countryside, I did. I can disagree with anyone on anything and I am happy to have an argument, but I find it hurtful that people can even think that to be the case.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
To hold true to your beliefs and not to compromise them because other people tell you to do so.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
What skill should every person have?
The skill to talk to other people as they would be talked to themselves.
What’s the best holiday you’ve ever had?
I guess it was about four years ago when I managed to get all of my family to come on holiday together, probably knowing that in the future, they would want to come with partners or friends, or go off on their own. It was in Corfu and I think it was the best holiday because I knew it would probably be the last. We had a great time.
Separated from the seats of power by more than just mere geography, what has devolution done for the Highlands to close the gap?
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