MSP ‘politely but persuasively’ making Argyll heard

Jenni Minto - 'my role is getting Argyll and Bute into the parliament on as regular a basis as I can'. 51_a25JenniMinto02

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Jenni Minto is getting used to a new level of celebrity status.

Already well known on her home island of Islay and beyond for her work with various groups, the SNP politician’s fame has grown a little since being elected last month as MSP for Argyll and Bute.

She tells the story of a woman in Lochgilphead who approached her one day and offered congratulations – before puncturing her bubble slightly by adding: ‘It is you, isn’t it?’

Elgin-born, Ms Minto now lives in Port Charlotte. After employment as a chartered accountant with KPMG, she worked for 18 years in a variety of roles at the BBC.

She moved to Islay in 2011, became treasurer of Islay Energy Trust and served on the board of the Third Sector Interface Argyll and Bute. With her husband Les Wilson, she edited Islay Voices, an anthology of Islay.

While manager of the Museum of Islay Life she chaired the group in 2018 which organised numerous events to commemorate WWI on Islay.

But how has her first month as an MSP gone?

‘My first reaction is that I’m loving it,’ she replied.

‘I have minutes in a day where everything goes well, then there are others when I think “oh help, what am I doing?” – but I think it’s the same for any new job.’

As an island resident she is well aware of many of the issues Argyll and Bute faces, including the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful.

She said: ‘Transport Minister Graeme Dey visited the Rest recently, so he now understands a lot more about it and the amazing work the contractors have been doing to try and solve the problem.

‘But it is a massive problem, and he recognises that. I know Transport Scotland is working closely with the council, which is positive.’

She added: ‘I’m pleased that I have a good relationship with Graeme, and I’m hoping I can be the conduit for the views of the people of Argyll.

‘I am quite used to telling people – in a polite but persuasive manner – that our voices need to be heard and listened to.’

The Rest, ferries and broadband – all infrastructure issues – featured prominently in the brief Covid-restricted campaigning period before the election.

‘One of the things I’ve been hearing from communities,’ she said, ‘is that the questions all come from a central belt perspective. It’s this lack of understanding about how we live.

‘We’re resilient in Argyll; we have to be. There could be a problem at the Rest, or the ferries could be cancelled, so we are always thinking ahead about our plans to go anywhere.’

She is hopeful of getting across the Argyll perspective to those in Holyrood holding the purse strings, and is looking for a fresh approach.

‘We saw this during Covid, where if you had a rateable value you got £10,000 grant, even if you were a charity.

‘That meant charities could think about moving forward rather than basic survival. That’s the mentality we need for communities.’

One of the fundamental issues facing Argyll and Bute is depopulation, along with a larger than average proportion of retired and elderly residents.

Added to this is a growing number of holiday homes. Schools are closing, local shops struggle and communities suffer from a lack of young people in all kinds of ways.

Jenni Minto, though, sees opportunities.

She pointed to the Scottish Government’s ‘Green New Deal’ – aimed at creating a £3 billion package of investments to attract green finance to Scotland through the Scottish National Investment Bank – and the principle of ‘just transition’, which is intended to promote equality and mutual benefit as Scotland moves towards a resilient, net-zero economy.

‘Green energy and wind farms can lead to good jobs. And hopefully we can get a boost from people deciding they don’t want to live in cities, so people will actually move and work from here – but we have to get the infrastructure right for that.

‘My concern is that people come here with lots of money and can buy bigger houses, so the other key thing is building affordable homes for our young people.

She continued: ‘In our towns there are buildings which could be used for housing. Does the council need such large buildings when staff are increasingly working from home?

‘On Islay, for example, there’s a building the community wants to purchase with the intention of turning part of it into flats for young people for people who want to have a bit of independence.

‘We need to think differently.

‘In Rothesay, part of the deal when new owners took over Bute Island Foods was that they would contribute community benefit, so local people are now considering taking this opportunity to use a building almost as a Rothesay or Bute ‘parliament’ to come up with ideas.

‘The work Lochgilphead is doing also shows there is a group of people who can come up with ideas and work with contractors, so it’s about building on that.’

At the time of our interview, the MSP had made two speeches in parliament and asked at First Ministers’ Questions about support for unpaid carers.

Praising the team around her, she described her early parliamentary experience as ‘like hitting the Corryvreckan – you never know where you’re going to turn or where the currents will take you’.

She added: ‘I see my role as getting Argyll and Bute into the parliament on as regular a basis as I can and finding topics of debate which people have spoken to me about and I feel confident in.

‘The key thing for me is to get to know as many people and listen to as many voices as possible around Argyll and Bute.’