I wanted to do something a little bit different from a normal dry biography.
THIS IS MY STORY…..
It happened at school. That moment when you start to awaken to what you may want to do when you grow up. But pupils like me at a school like mine didn’t normally aspire to University. I didn’t come from the right background. Growing up in Wester Hailes in a family that worked as coopers and slaughtermen, memories of my uncle arriving home from work with the pungent smell of neat whisky emanating from his overalls. It’s little wonder I can’t touch the stuff now.
But I always remember the moment. Walking along the window-lined corridor at school, smelling the chlorine from the swimming pool below, I bumped into the Assistant Head. I always liked him. A really kind and welcoming character who seemed to hold the respect of all the students in the school. Brevity was never his strong point but avoiding him in the long corridor with no exit was not an option this afternoon. “How do you fancy the university summer school? could get you a place that’ll open up university for you”. I said "Yes" before he finished his sentence. The one big snag. I was a grade short and doing Higher Music for the first time.
“Can you sing?” Mrs Alison my music teacher asked. “Why?” seemed to me to be a reasonable response. “Because you are not passing your exams playing the drums”. That was it. The stark reality that the grades I needed for university depended on a pass at Higher Music that I was nowhere near. Imagine the scene. Mrs Alison perched on the piano stool. Me quivering holding a piece of paper with words on it……I got a C and made the grades. The songs I sang will remain my secret forever.
Going to university at 16 never really phased me. I knew I had gone as far as I could at school. Maths and Physics at Edinburgh Uni. Brilliant. . I loved the shiny labs and the infinite possibilities of science but I remember late in the summer school staring at a blackboard with such an array of numbers on it and thinking that I probably didn’t want to do this for the next four years – even although I was called “42” at school for my equation solving skills! So by the time the term started I was doing Social Policy and Law instead. A lucky break to move across to a subject I really enjoyed. The social policy aspects in particular have come in very useful in my future career. It’s truly all about fairness and that is what social policies should be used to nurture.
Then things changed. I don’t know when it happened but I just got more politically aware. And, as I got more and more interested, the pieces of the jigsaw started to fall into place. I had always been subconsciously very political. I was a Thatcher baby growing up in Wester Hailes in a family that had some strict conditions - you would be a patriotic Scot, a passionate Hearts fan and a defender of all things Labour - A combination that has provided unbridled joy and uncontrollable tears in equal measure over the years – all of which has instigated the “why me” on many occasions. It all started to make perfect sense. My values had been shaped before I even knew what values were.
Its short, life experiences that shape your values and sometimes those are thrust upon you. I never really knew my dad. I was only 9 when he passed away suddenly. He was the same age when he died as I am today. My mum was younger and she was left with us two boys to look after. I’ve never really appreciated what it must have been like for her back then. 2 boys, 9 and 13 years old, trying to make sense of it all as she just got on with it. I’ve very much followed that determination and what my mum had to do - working all hours, patching things together, finding a way through, grabbing opportunities when she could, making her own luck and having an attitude that no-one could tell me I couldn’t achieve something.
I always remember something of that time that had a profound effect on the way I have always approached life. A large pink, semi-transparent plastic bag, sitting in the corner of the living room with a pair of large black thick rimmed glasses sitting on top of a crude hand tied knot - Dad’s clothes and personal belongings from the hospital. Mum coped with that earth shattering sideways blow and I was going to live up to that exemplar by using it as inspiration in the choices I would make through life.
That short moment in time cemented my values of fairness, equality, kindness and hard work. That’s how life should be. Certainly mum worked hard – Woolworths as a cleaner, The Busy Bee Bar as a cook, Ladbrokes as a cashier. She knew that hard work was the only way to survive. There was no real government support for her. It was during those Thatcher years of there being “no such thing as society”. She was written off through no fault of her own. It was only through her hard work that I was able to go to university. It would have been an easy option to leave school and earn money but it was made possible by a combination of what mum did and me having a job from the age of 13.”
University was great. “The best days of your life”, people always say. Politics, football and socialising (that is polite for spending too much time in the pub) and, of course, a degree. But what to do next? I did like going to the old careers office at Edinburgh University on the ground floor of a tenement block. I spent days in there trying to work it out. My strategy – look at the salaries and discount the jobs that didn’t pay well. Not a good strategy or adequate careers advice.
People always tell me that they want MPs to have had previous experience before entering Parliament. I’ve always strived to do things that I enjoy and, when young people ask me for advice on careers, jobs and their future, I always say, "Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Grab every opportunity with both hands."
Post University was tough, as I just couldn’t work out what I wanted to do. I did temporary jobs for a while in the old Ministry of Agriculture and the WM Finance Company but it was a chance I took in the summer of 1998 when I spent my entire annual leave helping out at this new venture at the Edinburgh Festival - A live television broadcast of the arts from a “Glastonbury” stage under the majestic Edinburgh Castle. 30 days of sheer enjoyment, and when the head programmer surprisingly left, I was left in charge of the entire schedule. It was always an incredibly sad day when we packed up from the site and went back to our normal lives. This is what I wanted to do. Well, maybe it was but I ended up in Finance at Scottish Equitable. I’m sure I only got the job because my soon-to-be boss interviewed me the morning after a very heavy defeat for our beloved Hearts in a Cup Semi-Final. We spent the interview over analysing the disappointment.
I did the Festival again in the summer of 1999 and it was a huge success. I was in charge of programming and infrastructure operations. All my annual leave used up to be either knee deep in water or constantly searching for the gaffer tape. But that was the pivotal moment when life definitely changed and I maxed out the use of the “life’s too short” term.
A phone call came in late 1999 offering me a permanent job as the Operations Director of a new arts based internet TV station that had grown out of the Festival. Would I be interested? The pay would be poor, the prospects would be poorer but what an opportunity. I left Aegon early in 2000 and that was that. Headlong into the unknown. We did build the station and start broadcasting but it seemed a constant battle for funding and “when the dot com bubble burst” we burst with it but I was determined not to let all that hard work, all those dreams die.
I set up my own business, got to work ensuring the Festival in Edinburgh continued and then wondered who would pay me every month. Ah, the ideal opportunity. The business centre where the station was based and where I had the tiniest of offices was looking for a receptionist. Perfect, if I could do that, earn a bit of cash and run the business at the same time I could really do this. So, in between patching calls through to tenants, writing dictated letters and making sure the toilets were clean, I organised the Festival for August. Hundreds of thousands of pounds raised in sponsorship, 29 days of live television programming and upwards of 50 staff, all from the reception desk. I must’ve been the worst receptionist in history but my typing skills were ok. It was very much like mum had to do. Working all sorts of jobs to get by but the overall goal was worth achieving.
Do you ever catch yourself randomly whistling a tune but you are not sure what it is? It often happens to me but it invariably turns out to be “Reason to Believe” by Tim Harden - the memory of that stunning sunny Friday August Festival evening in Princes Street Gardens. Emmy-lou Harris, Joan Baez, Chrissy Hinds, Steve Earle and Billy Bragg playing that song at the Landmine Free World fundraising concert. It was the proudest moment of my business. Giants of music, strumming their instruments, singing in harmony from my stage in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. Memories don’t get much better than that, with the bonus of over £100,000 raised for the charity.
Everyone uses the phrase “Do you remember where you were when JKF was shot?” (Obviously if you are old enough). The more recent “Do you remember” is the scene when Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years and is walking, hand in hand, with Winnie towards freedom. His grey suit sparkling in the South African sunshine as he waves with a gentle respect to the watching millions. 10 years later I did a whole weekend dedicated to the anniversary of the fall of apartheid.
I remember standing stunned, just at the side of the stage, when Commissioner Mabuzah, during her speech, placed her hand across her chest and burst into the South African national anthem unprompted and definitely unscripted. Everyone joined in. Mrs Alison would have been proud of my singing! There was not a dry eye in the house. What a moment. What a way to draw my 7 years of the Edinburgh Festival to a conclusion.
Did I mention the festival was where I met Hannah? We had such fun and encouraged each other to get involved in other business projects. An almost derelict hotel refurbished and re-opened in West Linton, a bar in Newington and a city centre food and sports bistro were all added to my CV before I became an MP. It’s amazing what you learn in a tough industry like hospitality. Being a small business would see us both pulling pints, cleaning toilets, becoming chefs and doing all the accounts. What was most challenging was taking on distressed premises and turning them around. We didn’t have any money so became really good at tiling, plumbing, joinery, electrics and decorating. We did everything we could ourselves and that is where the life lesson of my mum’s hard work came in handy.
But the success of the places we had was to do with the team we built together. We had great staff, we became and are still good friends. It made things so much easier. The big downside though is when you have no money left in the business to pay the staff wages and you have to put them on a personal credit card. The responsibility to ensure they could pay their rent and bills is a much bigger life lesson than any other. Being an employer has been a huge advantage in my role as a constituency MP.
So the wheels started to turn. I was doing my own events, branching out into webcasting (I did Scotland’s first ever live webcast) and keeping my interest in politics by running the membership for my local branch. Traditions have had a huge influence on my life and none more so than the annual tradition of heading to the pub after the AGM of the local Labour Party. This time, though, that tradition resulted in me agreeing to stand for the Council. I had a feeling I was being press ganged……hadn’t bought a drink all night! Life’s too short remember!!
Elected office was a real privilege. I followed one simple principle – that the people I represent come first and foremost every time. It’s a philosophy I’ve carried throughout my public service.
“I declare Ian Murray elected to serve as the Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South”, the returning officer confirmed something that I never thought would happen to me. Ordinary people like me didn’t become Members of Parliament but I’ve since learnt that it is actually ordinary people who become MPs. It was the first time in my life that I had only one job and I threw everything into it. I was determined to ensure I would be the most accessible, responsive, effective and local MP in the country. I would fight for fairness and against inequality every day. Did I want to change the world? Damn right I did.
I go to work every day not quite knowing what the day will bring. Much of my job as an MP is very unglamorous and difficult. My undoubted favourite part is being able to help people. I’ve helped over 12,000 constituents since 2010. The depth of despair that people suffer is often heart-breaking and you are their last hope. I remember being up all night trying to help a desperate daughter get back to Edinburgh to spend the last few hours with her dying father. She had a Brazilian passport and was living in Spain. We managed to wake the Ambassadors office in Spain and they were able to liaise with their Brazilian and UK counterparts while I kept pleading with them to help this frantic woman. At around 7am I got word through that the Home Office would allow her into the country and she could board a flight from Spain at 9am. She made it to Edinburgh later that day. Her father sadly passed away that evening but she did spend his last hours by his bedside.
I know the public have a low opinion of politicians but that one story is just a tiny example of the work we do. I did feel jet lagged the following day but it was all worth it.
I was delighted to be made a Shadow Minister by Ed Miliband. There's a very funny story of how what happened that evening but that's for another day. This ordinary guy from Wester Hailes had made it to speaking from the despatch box in the House of Commons. I remember my first speech. My heart was pounding, my mouth was drying up, my hands were shaking, I wasn’t even sure I could walk the step and a half to the despatch box. I quivered my way to the despatch box, delivered my speech and sat down again. Over in a flash but I loved it. Speaking from the despatch box has become a real habit since then and I now call it “home.” My portfolio with employee relations, trade, investment and postal services has kept me really busy and very topical in the intervening years.
Parliament is a powerful arena but we must make it more relevant to people’s lives and really reconnect with the electorate.
You always want to influence legislation and the future. I’m very proud of the Decarbonisation Bill that I presented to the House of Commons last year. It is now Labour Party policy and will be a step change in tackling climate change, securing energy in the future and giving certainty to the industry. I’m also very proud to have been made an honorary member of the local Rotary of Braids for the work I did in taking their issue of not being able to get gift aid on can shaking donations. I put a question to the Deputy Prime Minister in the House and we managed to get the rules changed. It’s very difficult to get laws through from the back benches and my next opportunity is with my Bill to fast track devolving job creating powers to Scotland and then to Councils with my new Bill. Here’s hoping….
So, as the General Election approaches, I know people appreciate the fact that I’ve worked hard all year round and appreciate the unstinting dedication I’ve given to the role.
What do I do in my spare time…..what’s that? Recently, almost all of my limited spare time has been taken up with helping to save Heart of Midlothian Football Club as Chair of the supporters’ coop, Foundation of Hearts. I always knew this was going to be a tough task but I’ve been a fan since I was lifted over the turnstiles in the 1980s. Seeing tens of thousands of people watching every week and the club now being on the road to safety makes it all worthwhile. The overriding conclusion seems to be that supporters feel they have their club back again. It’s important for the City, for local communities and for everyone who likes sport to maintain our historic institutions. Particularly in the year where we commemorate the incredible contribution Edinburgh football clubs made to the Great War. I’m delighted other footballing institutions are now looking at this as a model for the future. I'm sure every supporter, regardless of what team they support, will know how important that team is to them and the wider community.
I hope the next chapter in my CV will be about representing the wonderful people of South Edinburgh as part of a Labour Government post May. The dry mouth, shaking and apprehension approaching the despatch box on the Government side of the Chamber - now that is when we can get real change for the people I seek to represent………and my mum can take most of the credit.