What matters most to me are the people and the economy of the Highlands.
My passion for the Highlands stems from generations of my family living in the North; farmers, distillers, hoteliers, soldiers. They always had a love of the people and our country. My father owned the Clachaig Inn in Glencoe for many years, and my grandfather was a farmer and Convenor of the Highland Council. I ran significant businesses for 35 years, am a Highland Councillor, wrote a series of well reviewed novels and opened the Highland Cinema and Highland Bookshop in Fort William.
I would describe myself as left of centre socially and right of centre economically. As a successful businessman for 35+ years, I feel I have a good grasp on how to stimulate economic growth, unlike so many politicians who have only ever just been politicians.
What most matters to me is the people and economy of the Highlands, and how can we make this area thrive. We need a very successful economy to fund our public services. Slow growth in Scotland versus the rest of the UK results in us receiving £750 million less tax take per year. Think what we could do with that?
After spending three years in the Queen’s Own Highlanders, stationed in the Falklands and Northern Ireland, I worked in the pension’s management world, specialising in investing in small companies. This provided excellent experience for starting my own business when I was 26, a data publishing company. Following that, I ran a series of businesses: a newspaper and a recruitment website; a recycling company; an online education business; and a company that provides and refurbishes spare parts for wind turbines. These companies each became quite big and successful, employing hundreds of people. Because of this, I was named UK Entrepreneur of the year in 2017.
Throughout my business success, I have always been determined to make a difference in the Highlands. Some time ago, I founded an endurance walk down the West Highland Way - the Caledonian Challenge - where 17,000 participants raised £14 million for Scottish causes over 20 years. I also founded The Moidart Trust, that helped 45 small companies from Lochgilphead to the Isle of Lewis grow, and funded the refurbishement of the beautiful Glenfinnan Church. I have been a Patron of the National Trust for Scotland for c.15 years, serving on the Strategic Review panel in 2010 under Lord George Reid, before serving as Vice President for almost a decade.
In 2014, I was awarded an OBE for services to the Highlands.
Having largely divested from my larger businesses, over the last few years I have written and had published a series of four Highland historical novels, following generations of Gillies men in Ardnish as they set off to war in the Lovat Scouts. More recently, I opened two independent businesses in Fort William, the Highland Bookshop and Highland Cinema, to help revitalise the heart of the town.
Due to a growing frustration with getting things done or seeing any real progress in the Highlands, I became a Liberal Democrat Highland Councillor in May 2022. Now I am hoping to represent the Highlands as a Member of Parliament after the next election.
My Irish wife Michie and I live near Arisaig. We have four grown up sons (above), Archie is co-owner of The Highland Soap Co.; Jack runs a soft drinks business called Left Field Kombucha; Jamie is in the army; and Donald is just finishing at Edinburgh University. My brother owns the Glen Spean brewery, and my sister Jane runs Rora Yogurt.
A serial entrepreneur with a conscience, with a genuine love of the West Highlands”Spears Management Awards Judges
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