Fiona Hyslop

Fiona Hyslop is the MSP for Linlithgow Constituency.

Fiona has served as the Linlithgow Constituency Member of Scottish Parliament from 2011, and was previously a Lothians Regional MSP from 1999 to 2011.

In the Scottish Government Fiona is the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture.  If you would like to contact Fiona in her Ministerial capacity you can email cabsecEFWC@gov.scot

Fiona was born in Ayrshire in 1964 and in her early years she was brought up in England before returning to Scotland and graduating from Glasgow University with an MA (Hons) in Economic History and sociology. She completed a post graduate Diploma in Industrial Administration at the Scottish College of Textiles, before moving to Edinburgh to join the financial services company Standard Life where she held various positions in sales and marketing, latterly as Brand Development Manager.

Fiona lives in Linlithgow, West Lothian with her husband and has 3 children. She enjoys swimming and the cinema and occasional gardening.

THINGS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE: Fiona Hyslop

from The National Newspaper, August 2019 

1. My early childhood in England

I think that, like many children of Scottish parents who don’t live in Scotland, I developed an acute sense of Scotland as a distinct country.

My parents were from Ayrshire but moved to Maidenhead before I was born. My dad was an enthusiastic cricket player and my mum came back to Scotland to give birth to me because he wanted me to play cricket for Scotland. I spent the first five years of my life going to cricket matches at weekends so I got a lot of fresh air.

When he was in Scotland my dad played the snare drum in Ayr Pipe Band and wore the Wallace tartan. I was chieftain of the World Pipe Band Championships last week and wore the tartan in tribute to him.

We moved to Grantham when I was three and my first school was opposite the famous Alfred Roberts shop where we used to get sweets. They tasted like soor plooms!

My mum worked as a midwife and worked nightshifts but a lovely young woman helped look after us. She was a good influence and support and used to take us to bingo and mass.

Sadly my dad died when I was very young and my mum, left as a widow with two young children, had to completely rethink her future.

2. Moving to Scotland

My mum started to retrain as a nurse tutor. We moved back home to be near family so I was brought up in Alloway and saw the struggles she had as a single mum.

However, my mum was a strong woman and I got my first sense of activism from her. She was a shop steward for the Royal College of Nursing and was dedicated to the health service. That started my understanding of the value and importance of public service. She used to take us on Christmas day into hospital to see patients when Santa did his rounds.

She had friends in the SNP in the 1970’s and I used to get taken to socials and argue with them because I did not necessarily agree with them at that time. I was interested in politics and change at an early age.

3. School and Culture

Brought up in Ayrshire, my life has always had Robert Burns as a backdrop. I caught the bus to school outside Burns’ cottage and I thought every village had an international poet and I started writing poetry. I just thought that was what everybody did.

Seeing John Byrne’s Slab Boys when I was 15 had a big impact. I remember there was a stooshie in the Ayrshire Post as to whether under 16s should be able to see it.

I took up acting at school and was Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night. I think I spent more time learning my lines than studying for exams.

I also walked to the playing fields at Ayr Race Course on Saturday mornings  through Rozelle Park with all the Henry Moore statues and, again, I thought every town had them, but I realised later that not everybody has the opportunities that I had. From an early age I was able to appreciate great art and also take part in it. I feel strongly that young people who are active participants in the arts are more likely to be audiences in the future.

4. Public Service

At the age of 14 my mum married the local GP. He was dedicated to his patients and I still don’t spend long on the phone because when I was growing up there were no long teenage chats for me as a patient could be trying to call.

My mum was a nurse tutor, my step-sister was in the police, my step-brother was a hospital catering manager and my uncle was in the fire service. We rarely had Christmas dinner altogether because everybody was working. That gave me a real sense of commitment and dedication to public service.

Because my uncle worked shifts as a firefighter he spent a great deal of time with us and we watched what he watched on TV which was Westerns and musicals. As a result I fell in love with Hollywood and musicals.

I also think my political awareness was sharpened then as it was the time that public services were being attacked by Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. It made me take an interest in how inequalities could be tackled and how we could ensure services that people relied on could be developed and improved.

5. University

I had just turned 17 when I went to Glasgow University to study social sciences. I was the first of my family to go to university although I was extremely proud when my mum finally graduated with a nursing degree from Caledonian University at the age of 60.

It was a very political time with lots of demonstrations against the Conservative Government, particularly against the abolition of grants and apartheid. The miners’ strike was also during that period.

That was when I was first became politically involved although I was never a joiner. The only group I joined was Third World First which was about tackling international inequality and supporting developing countries. Little did I know that many years later I would end up being responsible for the Scottish Government’s international development programme.

There were three things that made me believe in Scottish independence – international inequalities; my anti-nuclear stance and the treatment of the miners both by the Conservatives and Labour Party at the time.

My anti-nuclear interest stems from when I was about 15 and the Government was wanting to dump nuclear waste in the Mulwharcher hills in Ayrshire. I actually won a poetry competition writing poetry about the issue so my first political act was to write a poem.

6. Joining the SNP

I never wanted to join anything but I read the parties’ manifestos and decided that independence and what the SNP said reflected what I believed. I joined when I was in Galashiels doing a post graduate marketing course in 1986. I had helped campaign at a local by-election even though I wasn’t a member. I was sitting in the pub celebrating our win afterwards when someone said it was time I joined.

After being a member for six months I ended up being election agent for three of the regional candidates in that year’s council elections where we managed to win a seat. I was also very actively involved in the Young Scots Nationalists.

I moved to Edinburgh for a job at Standard Life and worked there for 13 years spending every spare minute campaigning for the SNP and the Young Scots Nationalists. I remember meetings in Edinburgh the SNP club with members of the youth movement such as Angus Robertson and Charlie Reid of the Proclaimers.

I started to put forward motions to help develop a strong, left of centre, social democratic policy base for the SNP and became Vice Convener for policy for the SNP and part of the drive to position the SNP in the central place of political life in Scotland.

7. Family

My husband and children have been the most important change in my life and best thing that happened to me. I married my husband in 1994. We met through the SNP and he shares my beliefs and is a great support.

In the early years when we started the family I very much had to rely on him to look after them while I carried out my responsibilities.

We lived in Leith for a number of years so Sunshine on Leith by The Proclaimers is very special song to me. I have always been conscious of the value and impact of songs and in my first campaign in 1992 the Proclaimers allowed us to use the song while we were driving in our cavalcades through the housing schemes. It is a very slow song so many gear boxes were wrecked us a result!

However, we got one of the best results for the SNP in the Westminster elections – one of the biggest swings from Labour. I recall being told by a Labour activist that a 27-year-old woman was the wrong candidate to put in a male working class area but he came up at the count and apologised. I have faced down challenges about being a woman in politics all my life but I think I have shown what is possible. I always support and encourage other women.

8. The Scottish Parliament 

I never set out to be an elected  female politician. It never occurred to me. But I spent a lot of time encouraging other women to stand for elections and you can’t ask others to do something you would not do.

In 1999 I was one of the first cohort of SNP MSPs at the new Scottish Parliament. I had a toddler daughter and a son who was 18-months-old. My husband worked part time and helped look after them.

The very early days of the Parliament were really important. One of the first debates we had was about domestic abuse and to me that symbolised how different this Parliament was to everything that had gone before. There was a lot of good will which was sadly dissipated by the dispute over the building project.

It also became clear very quickly that the Parliament was not enough as it was so restricted with what it could do. The Labour Executive had to play second fiddle to  Labour London Government. My long-held belief in Scottish independence was absolutely strengthened by the experience.

The best debates the Scottish Parliament had were related to issues that were reserved. The frustration at the lack of influence and power was particularly evident at the time of the Iraq War. I felt very strongly about the UK Government’s actions and was instrumental in ensuring the SNP took a strong position against it. I recall marching with the children against the war and that brought home that Scotland’s place in the international community  would be far better strengthened by independence.