Getting to know you: John Finnie
The Greens' MSP for the Highlands and Islands speaks about his rural upbringing and what he's looking forward to in retirement
Q: What’s your earliest memory?
I recall sitting in the sink, getting a bath from an adoring mother or grandmother.
I was brought up in a forestry house in Clunes, in Lochaber. So, the kitchen sink, having a bath.
Q: What was it like growing up there?
It was idyllic, really. I had a very pleasant childhood in a lovely part of the world. Plenty of freedom. It’s very much changed nowadays, like a lot of places in the Highlands. My father was a labourer with the Forestry. It was one of these rows of Swedish houses, these wooden houses you see dotted around the Highlands.
And I went to the local primary school, which no longer exists. I was there when it had its peak roll, which I think was 33.
Q: What were you like at school? And what was it like to go to a small school like that?
The year I left at Primary 7 was the same year the teacher left.
We were petrified of this teacher – literally petrified. These were the days when any misdemeanour resulted in belting and there was no slack given whatsoever.
Heaven forbid, if you hadn’t learned your bible, which was the most important task. And I’m not talking one verse, two verses – it was felt the benefit of learning several verses by heart would be… character building. I’m not sure that it necessarily had that effect.
Q: Were you a diligent student when it came to learning your bible verses?
I was, I was. I was brought up in a household of church attenders and I think it gives a good foundation. I think I was Kilmallie Women's Guild bible knowledge prize-winner 1964 or something!
Many of the values are values that I still think are important – compassion, understanding, love.
But I have been described since then as a man of no faith, meaning, I don’t designate myself as an adherent to any particular faith.
But these are formative years and I certainly was diligent in primary, maybe not secondary.
Q: What is your greatest fear (aside from your primary school teacher)?
I fear there’s no long-term future for the planet. I genuinely fear that. I think we have an obligation wherever we are, whatever we do, to bequeath a positive future to future generations and I genuinely fear that if we keep destroying things the way we are…
I have four grandchildren, they’re my pride and joy and I want them to have grandchildren themselves. I want future generations to have a future on a planet that’s… you know, ‘sustainable’ is a much-used word but it’s a fundamental term.
That may seem very heavy duty, but it is my fundamental concern for the future.
Q: What is your most treasured possession?
I think treasured possessions are things like memories, really. It’s not a physical thing, you know. I have a lot of positive memories about things and I do possess an optimistic outlook on things – sometimes – if that counts as a possession.
I’m not a hugely material person. I was brought up with the phrase ‘enough is as good as a feast’.
Q: What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Having said all of that, I collect guitars.
Q: Acoustic or electric?
Acoustic. You can only play one at a time, so that is a guilty pleasure.
It’s a private pleasure, because I don’t play publicly. But I look at them as things I can pass on. My daughter plays the guitar, my granddaughter plays the guitar.
Q: If you could go back in time, to any decade or era, when would you go?
Maybe a summer childhood...not being at school. I don’t know, ‘60s rural Inverness in the summer.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Best piece of advice I’ve ever had was ‘only worry about things you have control over’.
I get a lot of good advice from Mrs Finnie.
Q: What skill should every person have?
I don’t know if empathy is a skill, but if people are empathetic, it just opens so many doors to understanding how we can solve issues.
It’s my experience, from my time as a police officer, a councillor and as an MSP, that a lot of people’s frustration is about a lack of communication skills.
Q: Why did you join the police?
Because you could get a house (laughs). And I thought it was something positive to do. I was married very young and I worked with the Forestry Commission, and when I joined the police, you got a house, it was an integral part of the terms and conditions. And I thought it was a good career. It turned out to be a good career. I’ve many positive memories of my time in the police, both from the colleagues I worked with and in encounters with people along the way.
Q: What was your best holiday ever?
The family went camping in Italy at the time of the 1990 World Cup. My children were enthusiasts and there was great weather, it was a scenic holiday with the kids.
Q: What’s the last book you read?
It was The Brilliant & Forever by Kevin MacNeil. It was about alienation and different groups and I like the way he thinks. I recently saw The Stornoway Way in play form. I’m not a well-read person, it’s usually on holiday I read. But I like his outlook on things.
Q: What’s your proudest moment in parliament?
Securing the passage of the Equal Protection Bill. It was the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people. Tremendous support, I had, from so many different organisations and charities, the Children’s Commissioner...all sorts of organisations, the Youth Parliament, Steven, my office manager…This is my second term in parliament and I’ve seen the parliamentary process, the important rule of scrutiny. It takes a long time to get legislation through. The fact that it’ll contribute to the ability of the Scottish Government to incorporate the Convention of the Rights of the Child, moving us even further forward, that’s a very proud moment.
There’s been other things, too. For police and fire, I secured an amendment that ensured police officers, it was a new oath that would be sworn to uphold the citizens’ human rights. I was very pleased about that.
And getting their name in Gaelic, too, that was an amendment that I got through.
Q: What will you miss most about parliament?
It’s maybe politically geeky but… when committees are at their best then that’s very rewarding. When everyone’s working together, a stranger could walk into that room and not be able to distinguish what parties the people contributing to that debate come from. That’s rewarding.
And there’s an awful lot of nice folk here, from the cleaning staff – my mother was a hospital cleaner and I treat everyone, regardless of whether it’s the First Minister or the cleaner here with equal respect. Parliamentary staff here could not be more helpful, you’ll hear everyone say that.
Clearly, I’ll miss working with my colleagues here and I hope that more of them are back.
Q: Do you have any advice for whoever is elected to replace you?
Speak to people and listen to people.
Q: What do you look forward to most about retirement?
Spending more time with my wife. This job involves a lot of time working away from home, so there are different pressures because for the MSPs who don’t work at home, they have expectations of them during the week that those of us who work away from home don’t. I can’t attend a meeting in my constituency during the week.
The ability to see more of my grandkids, I’ve got two who live in Catalonia.
Sometimes, it’s the very mundane things: getting a dental appointment, getting a haircut, doing the gardening, helping around the house.
I’m sure Mrs Finnie will appreciate help at home.
Salt and vinegar or salt and sauce?
Salt and sauce.
Cats or dogs?
Pub or wine bar?
Whichever Mrs Finnie choses.
Early bird or night owl?
Full Scottish or continental?
Coffee or tea?
Fame or fortune?
Book or film?
Night in or night out?
Couch or gym?