Life Stories: Neil Findlay on the books that mean most to him
What was your favourite book as a child?
Oor Wullie and the Broons – I got the new annual for Christmas from my granny and had it read by Boxing Day. I probably read it 30 times over the year. Along with the Beano, the Shoot fitba magazine and, later, Smash Hits, these were essential childhood reads.
Which fictional character did you most identify with as a child?
Danny from Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. I was taught how to camp, fish, trap rabbits and catch pheasants so this was relevant to my upbringing.
Is there a book which got you into politics?
The Benn diaries. I watched the miners’ strike going on all around me and started to take an interest in it and the people involved. Arthur Scargill, Michael McGahey, Peter Heathfield and Tony Benn were regulars on TV and were brilliant at communicating the miners’ cause. Someone gave me a copy of Tony Benn’s diaries and I was hooked; he is, in my view, the best political communicator, bar none. I go back and read them time and again, especially when I am need of a bit of inspiration or to help find the language and style to make an argument with real clarity. I also loved A Very British Coup by Chris Mullin – a book that is more relevant than ever given events of recent years.
Which book couldn’t you finish?
Harry Potter. My daughter was young when it came out and I started reading the first book to her. She wasn’t impressed, so after a couple of weeks it was binned and we went back to the brilliant Roald Dahl. Fantasy, wizards and public school didn’t particularly do it for us.
What is your favourite novel and why?
Anything by Irvine Welsh. I love his writing, the reality laced with madness, the brutality and beauty, the humour and characters, he is a very clever, thought-provoking and interesting guy. Trainspotting is, of course, his most famous novel but it’s just one of the many gems in his catalogue.
Is there a book you would recommend to other MSPs?
I love political biographies. My late friend, the former MP Tam Dalyell’s book, The Importance of Being Awkward, is a good one for any politician who is interested in learning how one person who refused to conform and was driven by deeply held principles can, even when they are a lone voice, make a huge impact on the politics of the country.
I would also, of course, recommend my two books - Socialism and Hope: A journey through turbulent times, a diary of my first term in parliament, and Life in the Raws, my granda’s account of growing up, living and working in a West Lothian shale mining village. I have another book coming out in July which is called If You Don’t Run, They Can’t Chase You, a collection of stories from the frontline in the fight for social justice.
Which book would you be embarrassed about others seeing on your bookshelf during a Zoom call?
I have one by Boris Johnson which is particularly bad – that’s a ‘top shelf’ book hidden away from innocent eyes, but as Winston Churchill said when asked why he read the Daily Worker (the then newspaper of the Communist party) “you have to know what your enemy is thinking”.