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by Tom Freeman
28 May 2019
Getting to know you: Emma Harper

Emma Harper - Image credit: Holyrood

Getting to know you: Emma Harper

What’s your earliest memory? 

Me and my wee sister, when people would offer me a sweetie, I’d say, “One for Buffy.” People remind me of the time when I would look after my wee sister.

You’ve previously told Holyrood that Bruce and Spot were the dogs you had on the farm growing up. Are they responsible for your love of dogs?

Probably. We’d put a pink t-shirt on Spot when we were kids. He’d let us pull his ears, pull his tail, tickle his belly. He was quite happy with that. On the dairy farm, my dad had working dogs. At that time there were no quad bikes, so my dad had to stand at the gate and send the dog out to bring the cows back. We were always told to stop treating them like pets because it would ruin them.

Would you put a pink t-shirt on your collies now?

No. What we do now is put Yes bandanas on them when we take them to events. They’re a good attraction. My husband and I started ‘Dugs for Yes’, and now there’s lots of wonderful doggy pictures out there.

What were you like at school?

Slow. I think I was probably one of those four-and-a-half-year-olds who went to school too early, so I felt I was always chasing my tail. Maths, maybe English. Languages, I loved. By the time I was a teenager at Annan Academy, I was hanging out with a girl who was six feet tall and another who was five foot two. We visited Chapelcross nuclear power station when we were 14 and I asked about the tritium. The guys in suits and ties stood behind me for the rest of the afternoon.

You weren’t slow by then, then.

I had an English teacher who introduced me to a poem called ‘Your Attention Please’. It was total satire about what you would do in the event of a nuclear attack. That’s when I first got satire. So on this school trip, it was a big employer for the town, but electricity was also the by-product of material used for nuclear warheads. It was my first introduction to CND and all that.

I know you like poetry. What’s your favourite poem?

There’s a few. There are modern poets I like. Stuart Paterson is one because he does modern Scots. Burns’ ‘Willie Wastle’ was one of the first I could recite.

You don’t have a favourite?

There’s one Rab Wilson has written, which is Southern Upland wit and it’s one line: ‘Wankers welcome.’ [laughs] There’s a new lady called Tracy Anne Harvey, who’s a mental health nurse from Mauchline. Oh, she is so funny.

Who is your dream dinner date?

Who’s that guy who plays the new Captain Kirk? Just because of the effort he put into his Scottish accent in the Robert the Bruce film. He seems fun.

Would it just be the two of you?

Oh, I’d have hunners of folk… Elaine C Smith might be one. I’ve met her a few times and find her energy very appealing.

What would you talk about? 

Independence! Flying the Starship Enterprise? I am a Trekkie, and I’ve loved looking at devices on Star Trek and then seeing them in intensive care units and recovery rooms. Like remote monitoring, so folk are not lying in a bed get tangled up in cables.

Needle-less shots, that started off in Star Trek?

Yeah. Maybe I’d need some kind of innovation idea-smith with us too. Elaine C Smith and an idea-smith.

What’s your greatest fear?

Jumping out of an aeroplane. I don’t understand how people could do that.

Most treasured possession?

I’ve got an orange teddy bear that’s about 55 years old. It was mine when I was a wee girl. It’s plastic.

Not even cuddly?

No. He stands up straight. His squeaker has gone so I probably could get it repaired. But he sits at home. He’s always there at the back of my mind and when I go into the room we have in the house with books on shelves, he’s always there.

Presumably if the dogs got that it would be a disaster?

It would. Maya likes to chew stuff. When we were doing the livestock worrying stuff on my birthday, my staff gave me a cuddly lamb, and Maya has already had its head in her gub.

That’s like your [livestock protection] bill writ large! What’s the worst thing anyone’s said to you?

This week? My husband blocks all the nasty tweets. If I separate the politics, the worst thing would be when the consultant told my wee sister she had cancer. It was just before the May 2016 election. I was still a nurse educator, and Buffy was told she had cancer. She was going through chemo. I would sit with her through chemo and then suddenly I’m here…

That is hard. To flip it round, what’s the best advice you’ve had?

The best advice was ‘people will give you advice’. Especially here. People will offer you an idea, or advice and that’s great. There’s a lot of knowledgeable people.

Who said that?

It might have been Fergus Ewing that said that. That was the best advice. I’m the evidence-based nurse. We look at the evidence. When I lived in California, I was really into forensic science. We’d watch CSI. Gil Grissom [CSI character] was the smartest guy in the room. In this career, there are a lot of opinions out there, but how are those opinions formed? Do they come from research or from some windbag talking head on the telly? We don’t need our heads filled with nonsense.

Guilty pleasure?

Scottish tablet, which isn’t good, because I’m a type 1 diabetic. For every square, I give myself a unit of insulin. I don’t do it very often.

Have you tried Maree Todd’s tablet?

I haven’t. Tell her to send me a square.

Favourite TV programme?

I like the new Star Treks. I also like apocalyptic, end-of-the world movies. I need to catch up with series eight of The Walking Dead. The inventors and innovators are the ones who survive. I loved Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s about surviving in a sociological post-apocalyptic planet. It makes me think about how we survive as a nation.

I take it you are stockpiling, then?

Er, I don’t.

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