In the recent Scottish elections, 82-year-old John Swinburne led the campaign of of the All Scotland Pensioners Party. They polled a respectable 35,000 votes – the equivalent of 350,000 in a UK election. KATH KYLE spoke to John about his life
It’s not everyone’s idea of a restful retirement, but John Swinburne regards the four years he spent in the Scottish Parliament as among the most rewarding of his life.
He was elected in 2003 (when he was still just a youth of 72) and spent the next more four years fighting for the rights of Scotland’s senior citizens.
‘They thought I had lost the plot’
“I felt I had really achieved something by giving older people a voice, not just those debates to do with pensioners but in all aspects of the Parliament.After all if doesn’t affect us directly it will affect our children or grandchildren.”
John has four children and 13 grandchildren and they all thought he had “lost the plot” when he announced his plans to launch a new ‘Pensioners Party’ in 2002.
My oldest son laughed his head off – I think they take it a bit more seriously now,” he smiles.
‘No compulsory retirement age’
John thinks everyone should have an absorbing job or interest as they get older. “If you’re interested and occupied, especially with a routine you’ll stay more alert.”
He also opposes a compulsory retirement age, believing that experience can be an invaluable asset to any employer.
While he was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, John played a role in scrapping the mandatory retirement age for nurses in the NHS.
“That’s a real vocation – I couldn’t do the job,” he says. “And nursing needs experience. I thought it was wrong that when the NHS needed nurses, valuable and experienced people were being forced to retire.”
From engineering to journalism at 50
Unlike many of today’s breed of politicians, who hop from university straight into a political career, John has a vast experience of the real world of work and business.
His working life began with an apprenticeship at Barclay, Curle & Co shipbuilders on the Clyde.
“At that time there were shipyards and heavy industry all the way up the Clyde. Barclay Curle employed 12,000 people alone, now there are about 5,000 employed in the entire shipbuilding industry across the UK.”
Sticking with engineering until he was 50, John began to think he was a jinx. “I’d work for a firm for a few years and it would close. Another five years at the next one – then would close too.
“It took me a while to realise it was the economic climate and government policy which was decimating heavy industry in the west of Scotland.”
When he left engineering, John began to earn a living as a freelance journalist. I wrote about everything from funerals to football,” he says. He is proud that he earned himself Honorary Life Membership of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).
Motherwell FC director
In 1980 John became the Commercial Director of his beloved Motherwell Football Club. “I’ve followed Motherwell since I was 10-years-old so this was great for me.
“I had to give up the job when I was elected to the Scottish Parliament but I was very pleased to be offered a place on the Board.” John is still a director at Motherwell FC today.
John wishes more older people would stand up for their rights. “I think sometimes we don’t want to rock the boat so we accept too much.”
John admires the students who have taken up the campaign against tuition fees. “I wish we all had that energy and enthusiasm for fighting our corner and I plan to stay as active as they are for as long as possible.”