BECOMING BOWIE, by Tom Hulme & Elena Rose Bunbury
Our Deputy Comms Lead Tom Hulme and Chair and Editor Elena Rose Bunbury sat down with Andrew Bowie MP to talk everything from drug consumption rooms, independence and even red trousers!
Hi Andrew, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us!
You grew up in Arbroath in the North East of Scotland, can you tell our members what that was like?
So, I was born in Arbroath but I actually grew up in Inverurie, a town just outside Aberdeen. It was a great place to grow up and looking back I really did have a very lucky childhood. We had lots of friends and great neighbours. I went to two fantastic schools and the most amazing countryside was literally a five-minute walk from my house. It was somewhere, although a pretty large town, (even larger now) that felt small. It seemed everyone knew one another and you always had someone looking out for you. Of course, that had its downsides as well, particularly as you got older you couldn’t get away with much on a Friday or Saturday night without it getting back to your parents! But it was great.
People may not know this, but you are a very talented violinist, even playing for the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland! What got you into music, and do you think learning an instrument is an important thing for children to do?
My father is pretty musical and my parents took me to piano lessons from about the age of 6, so that’s probably when it began, but it was an amazing teacher called Dorothy Fergusson who introduced me to the violin. She was an amazing violinist and actually a very accomplished Scottish Fiddle Orchestra leader – the Garioch Fiddlers which I played in for years! Playing in NYOS though was a huge honour. I’ll never forget sitting at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall playing this great music, filling the whole room with an incredible sound and thinking, “wow, I’m actually helping make that!”
In 2012 you became the Chairman of the University of Aberdeen Conservative and Unionist Association. Are uni Tory societies really as they seem on the Riot Club, and do you think they play an important role in recruiting new members?
Haha! No. If people come to a Tory association expecting Riot Club, they’re in for a shock! It was a great honour being the Chairman of UACUA- one of the oldest unionist societies in the country. We had great fun and were, by the end of my time, the largest political association on Campus. I think YC branches and University Associations are so important. You know, so many of the guys I was with at the association are still involved with the party – some in pretty senior positions, others just volunteers. So yeah, it’s really important, and also a lot of fun!
You are lucky to be married to the beautiful Madeleine, who is from Stockholm. How's your Swedish? Any phrases you can teach our readers?
The only phrase you need is ‘en öl tack’ (‘one beer please’) and ‘Jag älskar dig’ (which is ‘I love you’). They have served me pretty well! In general my Swedish is terrible, but in part that’s because the Swedes have incredible English so there is no impetus to learn. That is really bad though, I do need to do better!
You’ve served in many different roles within the party before becoming an MP. Did working as a campaign manager in the 2015 General Election and advisor to our friend Lord Duncan give you an insight into what to expect when you were elected?
No! Nothing prepares you for life as an MP! It did give me a great insight into the party operation from a totally different perspective than that of a voluntary member, which I think ultimately helped me when I became a Vice-Chairman of the Party.
You were elected at the Member of Parliament for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine with a majority of 7,950 in 2017; tell us a bit about that election and the moment you realised you’d won.
Yes I do – and it was terrifying! We worked out I had won by about 1am, so pretty early on. I had to go outside into a pretty cool Aberdeen night actually and sit down, get some air and just reflect on the magnitude of what I had done; the first Tory MP for my seat since its creation in 1997 and the first one elected in that area since 1992. Pretty emotional.
You arrived in Parliament with 12 Scottish Conservative colleagues, the largest Conservative delegation from Scotland to the Commons since 1992. How did it feel to be part of such a historic grouping of MPs and do you all remain friends to this day?
It was quite incredible, and the press coverage was intense. We knew we had a job to do – to ensure Scotland’s other voices were heard and that the Scottish people weren’t just represented by the SNP in the House of Commons. I think we did that pretty well! Could we have done better? Yes, but it was a really intense time!
As a senior Scottish Conservative, you will have worked closely with our brilliant patron Ruth Davidson. Tell us a bit about what it’s like to be out with Ruth on the campaign and what some of your favourite memories with her are.
Ruth is a powerhouse. Everything you see is what you get; fun, busy, bossy, thoughtful, quick, passionate…an all-round great representative for our party and the country. She did, however, have a habit for a while of slagging off my dress sense, which in hindsight was fair because I was going through a red trouser phase!
In February 2018 you were appointed as a PPS for ministers at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Can you lift the lid on what it’s like to work there; is it really the ‘Department of Fun’?
Yes. 100%. A lot of serious, important work goes on in that Department- you are dealing with incredibly important issues like, in my day, GDPR legislation, broadband roll out, broadcasting, the arts, culture, national and state events and all sports. So it is a very important and busy place, but yes, how could it fail to be fun if you are working with people from the music or film or TV industry on a near daily basis?
Following your stint at DCMS you were invited to be one of Theresa May’s PPSes. Tell us what it felt like to receive that call, and what some of your standout memories are from what we can all agree was a hugely tense period in British politics.
Wow, I could write a book on this; maybe I will! But I will just say this for now; it was, and remains, an incredible honour to have served a Prime Minister in such a trusted and senior capacity. Despite all the problems we faced, I would do it all again and have no regrets about anything that we did or attempted to do.
Without betraying too much confidence, tell us a bit about what Theresa was like as a boss. Did you, her and her other PPS Seema Kennedy make a good team?
Yeah we were great! But then I would say that. Seema became a really close friend who I chat to all the time even though she is no longer here, but it’s important to note that the team was FAR bigger than us three. And everyone in Downing Street was working towards the same end – to serve the country as best as we could and deliver for the British people who had entrusted her to lead their Government.
Scotland’s political landscape is so unique in that has what seems to be a never-ending constitutional question running through every element of it. Do you think another independence referendum is on the horizon and if so, are Conservatives in Scotland ready for the fight?
It’s not on the horizon, however much the SNP would wish it, but we are ready to fight and win if it came.
What are your views on the sanctity of the union? Do you understand why some Scots want independence?
Of course I understand it, and you know, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t on occasion sympathetic to it as an idea, but I am truly proud to be British and believe that Scotland does much better as a part of the UK and so will never cease in my efforts to ensure that we remain united.
Another unique element of Scottish politics is that the debate around the rights of transgender people became part of the mainstream political conversation much earlier than in the rest of the UK. Why do you think this might be and do you agree with us that health services for trans people across Britain need urgent reform?
I’m not sure why it seems to have gone further or faster in Scotland, but it has, and the debate is being had now. I do struggle with the tone of that debate sometimes; It is such a sensitive topic with feelings running high on both sides, so I do wish that the heat was taken out of it and in making their incredibly valid and important points, both sides treated the other with some more respect.
As you know, you have become somewhat of a heartthrob to many of our members, who have often seen you throwing shapes at our conference parties! Why do you think it’s important to mix with our members, and show up not only when the media is there or for formal events?
Hahaha…I think ‘throwing shapes’ is a generous interpretation of my attempts at dancing! It’s so important to mix with members – not just of your organisation (which does and has done such good work, by the way) but with ALL members. It’s members that deliver leaflets, knock on doors, support us on social media. As MPs, particularly MPs that are in or close to the Party machine or Government, it’s so important to thank people, make the feel appreciated, and in my case, with your parties I can’t resist some cheesy pop!
I also think, on the LGBT+ side, we have come such a long way from the party of Section 28 and all the baggage that came with that – I mean, it is incredible to think that so many Conservative MPs were against equal marriage less than a decade ago! But having so many friends who are out and proud, I know how difficult it can be in the public sphere sometimes, so thanking you guys for the support you give to all those out there who you give a voice to and encourage, is so important.
And I’m very flattered to be a heartthrob for your members!
You’ve done a lot for us over the years, not only publicly but behind the scenes and we’re so thankful that you are such a champion of our community! What actions do you think are needed from Parliament and the government to further protect the rights and freedoms of LGBT+ people?
As I’ve said, we’ve come a long way, but I don’t think we’re yet at a point where people’s sexuality isn’t a question and that’s the point we need to be at if we are ever going to be a truly equal society. So, continuing to promote LGBT+ causes across the country and indeed the world is really important and I 100% think it should continue.
You are a passionate supporter of the Downs Syndrome Bill currently going through the Commons, which would recognise people with Downs Syndrome as a specific minority group. Why is that cause so important to you, and what protections would the bill bring to people with Downs Syndrome?
I am really passionate about support for people with Downs Syndrome. One of my closest friends growing up had Down Syndrome and he was, without doubt, the happiest guy you could ever hope to meet. He literally lit up every room he walked into, but I know his family struggled sometimes. So I think of him and them when I talk about Downs Syndrome and think “what can I do?” or “what can the Government do to improve their lives and make it easier?”
Polling held in Scotland on drug consumption rooms shows that the majority of people support their introduction. Do you think they would reduce Scotland’s worrying drug death rates and if not, what do you think is the solution?
I think we should explore every possible avenue to drive down the shocking drugs deaths rate in Scotland. The Scottish party does support the idea of drug consumption room pilots.
Finally, what’s your favourite biscuit?
Easy. Chocolate Digestive.