Getting to know you: Peter Chapman
If you can cast your mind back, what was your first day as an MSP like?
I would use two words: chaotic and scary. It was all new, the building was new, everybody I met was new and although there was definitely support there it was a pretty daunting prospect, I must admit, on day one. It took literally weeks to find my way around the building, let alone on the first day. There’s an awful lot to take in, so a wee bit chaotic and certainly a bit scary.
So, it did take a bit of time to get to know your way around the parliament?
I remember, probably a few months in, there was a meeting in one of the rooms in the parliament and I couldn’t find this room. I asked one of the security folks who had been working there for, I think they said, seven years. I said, ‘where is this room I’m looking for?’ and he didn’t know where it was seven years into the job and these guys know the building inside out. There are places that you wouldn’t believe and corridors you never realised were there and rooms off them that nobody knows where they are. It takes a while to find your way.
Have you ever got lost in the building?
I’ve always managed to get myself back out again. I’ve certainly been in bits where I didn’t really know where I was. If you go down into the basement, there’s huge long bits, corridors in there that go for miles it almost seems. I’ve no idea what happens down in that bit.
What’s been the highlight of being an MSP?
Right from day one, Ruth Davidson took me into the shadow cabinet as rural economy spokesman and that was a real honour, something I was very keen to take up. I’ve been a self-employed farmer all my career. My focus is very much rural affairs – farming and fishing. Obviously being based in the north-east, between Fraserburgh and Peterhead, fishing is a big issue, so I was delighted to take on that portfolio. That was a big highlight.
So, serving on the shadow cabinet was one of your proudest moments?
As a new MSP, newly elected to the parliament, I did find that a real honour. It was a post I was pleased to take up because I certainly understand the rural economy and farmers, having been a farmer myself for 50 years. I felt equipped to do the job.
What’s been your most embarrassing moment in parliament?
I suppose we’ve all had minor gaffes when we’ve been interviewed on TV for instance. You get stopped in the lobby and you’re asked a question, suddenly you think ‘maybe I could have answered that better’, so I suppose there are occasions like that but nothing particular comes to mind.
Have you made any friendships across party lines that would perhaps surprise people?
I get on well with the Lib Dems. Mike Rumbles for instance. I might embarrass him by saying it, but I think we work well together. I like Mike and I think he likes me. He’s stepping down as well. I’ll miss his company. Of course, our own group are a very tight group. We virtually all get on very well together.
Is there anyone you would make a point of avoiding?
There is one… and that’s Mike Russell. He’s so abrasive in the chamber, he’s so arrogant in the chamber, he talks down to everybody in the chamber… He’s the one guy. It takes a lot for me to dislike somebody, but I do dislike him.
Have you had a particularly good night out during your time in parliament?
We’ve had lots of good nights out, mainly as a Conservative MSP group. We have Christmas parties and these sorts of things. The drinks flow and we’ve had some grand nights in various places across Edinburgh. I’ve got a pretty strong north-east Doric accent, so my forte is reciting Doric poems. I have been known to do that and to get up and sing a bothy ballad.
What will you miss most about being an MSP?
It’s always the same when you leave any organisation: what you miss most are the people. The friends you’ve made, your friends and colleagues in the parliament. There are many of them.
Is there anyone you would single out?
I’ve worked very closely with Edward Mountain. Edward has similar experience to me, he farms, he’s been the convener of the rural economy committee for the whole five years and I’ve been a member of that committee for the whole five years. We’ve worked well together and I certainly think of Edward as a good friend and a good colleague.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Something I do regret is the fact I’ve never been able to persuade Fergus Ewing how important it is to come up with a plan to change the way the farming community is supported. I’ve been banging on about this ever since the Brexit vote four years ago. I always said that coming out of the EU was an opportunity to design a new system of support for agriculture, because we were tied to the EU system, and I always saw this as an opportunity to design a system much more suited to Scottish agriculture. I’ve tried and argued with Fergus for almost four years since the vote to do that and he still hasn’t come up with a real plan.
What’s the best bit of advice you would pass on to new MSPs?
Be prepared to listen. Listen to your community, listen to your voters and take advice when you land up in the parliament from folk that have been there before you, because there is a lot to learn. It’s more important to listen than it is to speak, certainly for the first wee while.