Getting to Know You: Craig Hoy
The Conservative MSP for South Scotland speaks to Margaret Taylor about political awakenings, his former jet-set lifestyle and why his career as a smoker was short-lived...
What’s your earliest memory?
Going to visit my Great Aunts Jenny and Agnes and Great Uncle Willie. They lived in a Coal Board cottage in Law near Wishaw and it seemed really novel to me because they all lived in a one-bedroomed house. They had an old coal fire, which I thought was really high tech because we had a gas one, and my aunts had recessed beds while Willie slept in the other room. I thought it was really cool until I realised how awful it was – it was the late 70s and they had no running water, no bathroom, only a coal fire and it was damp. I do remember thinking ‘how can I help them get out of there’ and my parents did eventually get them into sheltered accommodation, where they had a bedroom each and a shower. That was the norm for a lot of people then, but I remember thinking how lucky me, my brother and sister were.
Did that feel like a political awakening for you?
It was a very political household – Jenny had moved away to get married and in that process had become a Tory in what was a very Labour household. She was called a “bloody Tory snob”. As I got a bit older I started getting into Margaret Thatcher. The Liberal Democrats had nice posters but I knew where my politics lay. My grandfather on the other side was a Labour man. He came from a very impoverished background in Dundee and was very strongly Labour. He and I argued until he was red in the face and I was blue in the face. I became a Tory because I felt you didn’t have to just take your lot in life or accept that you can’t change it. We’ve all got something in ourselves that we can contribute and if that’s enabled we can all flourish together.
What were you like at school?
I was political and useless at sport. I would make any excuse to get out of PE. I was good at English and anything written but pretty crap at maths.
What’s the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
That I don’t care. You see it on social media or hear it in the pub, someone saying “you’re a Tory, you don’t care”. I think everybody cares, we just have different trigger points for trying to make the changes we all want to make. When I was quite young my grandparents lived in Dunfermline and we went to visit Andrew Carnegie’s house. He said the first third of his life was devoted to learning, the next to making money and the last third to doing good things and giving it all away. For me that was really instructive – the pursuit of wealth is part of the pursuit of good; it’s part of the process of making society better. When people attack capitalism as something inherently evil maybe they are not being fair to the world as it is but thinking about the world as they’d like it to be.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Chinese food and Peking duck in particular.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I’d like to go back to the period after the Second World War. It was a time of great change and there was a hope and expectation that we wouldn’t see another major conflict again, having had two in two generations. Arguments were being tested about how the country worked and the welfare state and the NHS were being set up. There was a sense of purpose in the country on how to move forward together. It wasn’t an easy period, but it must have been really interesting.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I don’t really have one but for a period of time it would have been my passport. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot through work and when I worked abroad I tried to do as much as I could wherever I was. I’ve always been a globalist and the passport was the key to that – it was my ticket to ride.
The pandemic obviously put a stop to most travel – have you used your passport recently?
No, I haven’t. My partner and I had a business in Asia and two years ago we were coming back when we hit some really bad turbulence. It was really bad, a ‘this could be it’ moment. At that point I counted up all the visa stamps in my passport – I’d notched up 55 flights in not much more than seven months. I remember thinking ‘there’s more to life than haring around all over the place’. The passport has been in the drawer ever since.
What do you dislike about your appearance?
Being overweight and having a gap between my teeth.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Be yourself. I worked at the BBC when I was young. I was freelance and I cottoned on to the fact that the people getting full-time jobs were all smokers. In those days smoking was the great leveller – the producer, news presenter, young freelancers all went out to smoke together. I decided to take up smoking, but the problem is that if you’re not a smoker you’re exposed quite quickly. I decided to do it the old-fashioned way – on merit – instead.
What’s the last book you read?
Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, the former Sky News journalist. It was recommended to me by [fellow Conservative MSP] Stephen Kerr, who said it would tell me everything I need to know about why Russia did what it’s doing right now. It’s easy to forget that the word geopolitics has the word geography in it, but it is in there for a reason. Parts of the world are severely constrained economically, in terms of development, by their geography and the book uses maps to explain why these things come round again.