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Jean Urquhart

Questions & Answers
Jean Urquhart and Ben Hope

FOR this month’s exclusive iScot Q&A feature, journalist DAVE BOWMAN put the questions to former Highlands and Islands MSP JEAN URQUHART, who left the SNP five years ago after the party altered its stance on an independent Scotland being outside the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Jean, together with her late husband, actor Robert Urqhart, founded the award-winning hotel, hostel and Arts and Entertainment venue, the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool over 40 years ago. Jean, who now lives on Shetland, vowed not to stand for Holyrood again after seeing out her term of office as an Independent. She changed her mind but unsuccessfully contested last years Scottish Parliament election as a candidate for RISE, Scotland left alliance.

In this fascinating interview, Jean gives her views on what the Yes movement needs to do better next time around; explains her decision to quit the SNP over the NATO policy change; tells why she refused an OBE (and handed back her MBE awarded 25 years earlier) - and reveals why TV addicts who book in to The Ceilidh Place might be a tad disappointed!

DAVE BOWMAN: You are clearly a big fan of the Highlands and Islands having spent most of your life there, but you are originally from West Lothian. Can you tell me about your upbringing in the Central Belt, your short spell in London in the 60’s and why Wester Ross and Shetland mean so much to you?

JEAN URQUHART: I grew up in West Lothian; my early years at Westfield Farm and then Ballencrieff between Bathgate and Torphichen. Billy Wolfe sometimes gave me a lift if it was raining as I made my way home from the school at dinner time. Maybe he was my earliest political influence. I had a happy childhood, both parents were born into farming families and my earliest memories are of long summers being pretty free and wild with lots of cousins about farms.

Farms I should say that are mostly only seen in children’s story books now. Farms with dairy cows that were handmilked, sheep, pigs hens, ducks, bees, a Clydesdale and a donkey, tatties, turnips, wheat fields, hay stooks and threshing machines. However, its easy to be romantic about that now, but by the time I was 15 and old enough to leave school I wanted to get as far away from that rural idyl as possible!

I spent a couple of years in Edinburgh (my first job was as office junior with the National Trust for Scotland) and then headed for London. It was the sixties and Biba had just opened, Carnaby Street was the happening place and I couldn’t wait to get there. I also didn’t particularly like Scotland, and was a bit embarrassed by the tartan imagery and aw that. The straw was out of my hair and I loved city life.

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iScot Magazine October 2017 The one with the Printed circuit board in the shape of Scotland.