Christmas Getting to Know You – Richard Leonard
Holyrood sits down with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard to learn about the true meaning of Christmas
What’s your earliest Christmas memory?
Probably going to the bus station on Boxing Day to visit my grandparents in Leeds.
How did you find out Santa wasn’t real?
I can’t remember one moment when it became blindingly obvious, but my sister is four years older and was more streetwise than me, and the kids in the street I played football with were about a year older so they probably broke the news to me. I think I was disabused of the Santa Claus myth at quite an early age.
Did you delay telling your parents in case the presents stopped coming?
I am not, and never have been, that calculating. I have argued that I am a principled person who is not interested in positioning myself, so I don’t think I positioned myself over the Santa Claus question. When I knew the truth, I didn’t hide the fact.
What is your favourite food or drink at Christmas?
We usually keep a couple of bottles of Beaujolais nouveau, which has a real fresh taste as it’s made from grapes that have just been harvested. It’s marketed in France for about a month in November so we’ve acquired a couple of bottles for the last few years for the festivities.
I can see the headline now: ‘Richard Leonard: Beaujolais socialist’…
Don’t you dare.
My friend Jimmy, a retired miner and keen Celtic supporter, was at the Paris Saint-Germain game and I jokingly asked him to pick up a couple of bottles of Beaujolais nouveau, and he took me seriously and came back with a crateload.
I’m surprised he didn’t drink the crate after Celtic got thrashed 7-1.
What’s your favourite Christmas game?
My honest answer – not that any of the other answers have been anything other than honest – is that we don’t really play games, but by the end of Christmas Day we normally put on some music and dance.
What is your favourite Christmas film?
Um…I’m trying to think if there’s anything special… I’m no fan of The Wizard of Oz… a Christmas film? [Turns to his adviser.] C’mon, you should have prepared me better for this.
There’s usually a James Bond film on but I’d be lying if I said I watched it. Maybe when I was 10. I love the old black and white movies that get reprised around Christmas time. Casablanca, Citizen Kane, film noir. I suppose the obvious one is It’s a Wonderful Life.
Is it because the evil banker loses at the end?
I’ve never thought of it like that, but no.
What’s the best present you’ve ever received…other than all those votes from Labour members?
Well, that was an early Christmas present. In truth, I got married on December 30 so Christmas always evokes those memories. Materialistically, to answer that question is to offend.
And your worst present?
Probably a jazzy shirt from my grandmother when I was about nine or ten. It was probably very fashionable at the time, and I’m sure I did wear it… under a jumper. It was the thing that drove me to start writing lists, so it might have been the worst present but it was a catalyst for me to start thinking about what I would like, so from that day to this I write an annual list, which is usually full of books.
Holyrood recently mocked Anas Sarwar for being sartorially obsessed, but perhaps we aimed at the wrong candidate.
Well, I am the son of a tailor, so I have got a certain entitlement.
How early do you put up your Christmas tree?
As late as possible, but family pressures usually mean it usually goes up about two weeks before Christmas Day. I would put it up on Christmas Eve, because that’s the start of the 12 days of Christmas. I don’t understand why Jackie Baillie puts her decorations up in early December, and Mary Fee isn’t long after her.
Do you have a favourite Christmas decoration?
The fairy on the top of the tree was made by my stepdaughter in primary one, and it has survived the ravages of time these past 17 years. It wasn’t as good as the snowman I made at primary school with a toilet roll, newspaper, cotton wool and two black felt eyes.
You didn’t tell your stepdaughter that, did you?
‘It’s good, but it’s not that good’? Certainly not!
Have any Christmases gone really wrong?
A couple of years ago, the dog ate the trifle.
Do you rip your presents open at once or spread them out?
Spread them out. When I was growing up, I remember getting up at 2am to open my presents, but when we got up there was no order to it, really. It was a free for all between me and my sister. In married life, the family have got a much more orderly way of doing it and that’s the tradition we’ve carried on. So I now operate in a more orderly way than my more anarchic beginnings.
Do you plan ahead or do your shopping on Christmas Eve?
I’m a great planner. The thought of leaving it to the last minute fills me with dread. One, because of the crowds and congestion, and two, because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving it too late and not being able to get the presents I want to get. That would be my worst nightmare.
Have you had much time for shopping since becoming leader?
Much less time than I can ever remember, but I will still find the time. My commitment to planning will remain undimmed.
What would your perfect Christmas involve?
Getting the family together from my wife’s side and my side, which doesn’t happen an awful lot, and friends from when I was small getting involved, but people are much more scattered today so it’s more difficult. It’s the one time of the year that I spend time with my extended family, apart from big birthdays, because it’s important to me. My mam is still alive, but my dad passed away some time ago, and my two sisters and their family are still around so getting together with them is really important so it’s a priority. In parliament, this is the quietest time of the year. During the longer recesses, people still put pressure on your time, but I do get a sense that the Christmas/New Year break [is a time] to get some quality time off.
Are you concerned parliament will lose its family-friendly hours as the Brexit discussions unfold?
It might be a necessary evil, but striking the right work-life balance is essential. I can’t spend 25 years arguing for shorter hours and longer life in the trade union movement and then renege on that, so it’s still important. It’s often about time management, and on whose terms the time is managed, so we’ll maybe need to form a ‘trade union of MSPs’ and put some demands on the bureau about the timetabling of these big debates to come on the consequences of Brexit.
Is there anything you hate about Christmas?
Commercialism. Black Friday. It’s a marketing event to drive forward consumerism, materialism and profiteering which I don’t really approve of. It puts pressure on people to spend money that in some cases they don’t have to satisfy the demand, not just from children but from adults as well. It’s not where we should be as a society. It should be a time to reflect on the world, peace and goodwill.
Who makes the Christmas dinner?
Do you agree with Theresa May that there are ‘boy jobs and girl jobs’?
No, my wife is just a much better cook than me.
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