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Getting to Know You: Jenni Minto

Getting to Know You: Jenni Minto

What were you like when you were at school? 
There is one of these class photographs of me in primary one, and I am sitting in the front row, in the middle, and I have white-blonde hair. Somebody said to me that I looked like the captain of the ship. I don’t think that was what I was like at school, in primary school; I was quite quiet. 

And then secondary school, going from a relatively small primary into a bigger secondary was quite a change. I loved the fact that we were being taught different subjects. I did quite a general choice. And then in my sixth year, because I needed more Highers to get to into university, I did a couple of crash Highers, and one was Modern Studies. I can remember sitting in the classroom thinking this is so interesting, learning about political systems across the world, so that, I suppose, is what sparked my interest in politics, as well as having conversations around the dining table at home. 

Were those conversations rowdy?
I remember a specific one with my dad. I asked him, because I was doing Economics and we’d been looking at the communist system, and I can remember saying, surely there’s much more fairness if everybody gets paid the same. That was quite a robust discussion. What he said to me, very clearly, was that every job is absolutely worthwhile, and every job should be paid the appropriate amount. They were never really rowdy – they were robust. And I also remember in ‘79, when there was the referendum, I could never understand why that hadn’t gone through. A lot of our discussions were more about explanations as to why certain people have different belief structures. 

And my mum, when she trained to be a chartered accountant in Dundee, there were only four women training. When I trained 26 years later, it was 50 per cent. Women had moved up, so I had a mum that was not necessarily a trailblazer, but someone that pushed me forward. I was never told by either of my parents, ‘no, you can’t do that’. It was always ‘go and try and do and see if you like it’, which I always think was really positive. One of the other things my parents gave me was an ability to connect with people, listen to people, get involved with people. 

That must have helped when moving to a close-knit island community. Was that difficult?
It was and it wasn’t. My husband and I were the couple that had the holiday home, but the intention with the holiday home was always to move there. My husband had been back and forth to Islay long before we bought our home, so he got to know the community and introduced me to people. And when we moved, we also got the dog. That is a great way of meeting people. 

Then I was involved in the charity Islay Energy Trust – we were hoping to get a community wind turbine which we were successful in doing. I also worked in the museum, but not until I’d learned more about the history of the island. I tried, in a very careful manner, to get involved in the community, slowly. Just to get to know people before making a big splash. Then what helped us get to know a lot more people was the referendum in 2014. 

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
I feel very privileged to represent Argyll and Bute because there are so many gin distilleries in the constituency. I have a shelf in my flat that is like a little family of different gins. There’s a whole array of Bute gin, a Harris gin, and then of course I can’t not mention Nerabus and The Botanist, both from Islay, and also Lussa gin from Jura, my local ones. A nice gin and tonic with a lime, that’s probably my guilty pleasure. 

Do you find it difficult to make time for yourself?
Yeah. Having the dog is really good because he needs to be taken out for a walk, so on a Saturday or Sunday, when we’re home or in Edinburgh, then that is a great thing to do. If we’re in Leith, then we take him either up the Water of Leith or Leith Links, and we’ll stop off and have brunch and make a morning of it. If we’re at home on Islay, the best beach for us to take Jim to is Kilchoman, we take the ball thrower and he runs and we can walk there and there is something so special about being so close to the elements, whether the sun is shining, or the wind is blowing, or it’s even pouring with rain, there is just something really refreshing. 

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
I go back to my mum and dad, and it’s that whole thing about, be yourself, do what you want to do and don’t think you can’t. Sadly, my dad’s no longer with us, but he’s still here. [Minto puts her hand to her heart.] 
I remember having conversations about the importance of voting as well, that was something my parents instilled in me. ‘If you don’t vote, then you can’t really complain.’ So, be yourself but also recognise what you’re adding to society and to community. That all sounds terribly pretentious, but that’s where I come from. Be yourself and don’t think you can’t do things. 

Do you still have to tell yourself that?
Oh, absolutely. Talk about imposter syndrome. It’s a privilege to be here [in parliament] and I feel very humbled. 

What skill should every person have?
I was told very early on that you’ve got two ears and one mouth, so listen to what people are saying. That’s really important. And I also think it’s about opening up with people and trying to find common ground. My parents’ best friends were on opposite sides of the political spectrum – I think that was really good growing up, because I saw my parents and their friends disagreeing on a number of topics, but still being friends. Given everything just now is so polarised, I think it’s helpful if you can listen to other people’s views, calmly give your thoughts and then at the end, agree to differ or hope you dropped a little pebble into their thoughts which might change their mind.

Do you have friends across parties in parliament?
When we started, the parliament was just emerging from lockdown. I’m told that the experience we had was a completely different experience from other groups of MSPs. I don’t feel as though I have got to know as many people from other parties. I’m hopeful that as the country and the parliament begin to open up, we’ll move more in that direction. 

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