Getting to know you - Alex Cole-Hamilton
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton talks to Holyrood's Liam Kirkaldy about time-travel, his surfboard and the worst pain he ever experienced
What is your earliest memory?
“I think rolling on the bathroom floor while my mother was running a bath – for some reason I remember that. I was too little to be left alone so she brought me in. I remember the sound of running water and her running the bath and me thrashing around. It’s not very exciting, I know.”
That depends how old you were.
“I was definitely under two. I am not sure I was even walking but I have a very vivid memory of it.”
What were you like at school?
“I was probably quite annoying. I was definitely very talkative, my teachers said I was interested in the work but that I had a tendency to get distracted and then distract others. I was interested in politics from an early age, which made me quite militant and I think that turned a lot of people off. From about the age of 13 I was quite strident in my views.”
What were you militant about?
“It was the first Gulf war and I became very concerned about the state of global politics. So I became a vegetarian, I grew my hair long – this was all at the age of 13 – and I became very evangelical about my arch left-wing beliefs.”
Who would be your dream dinner date?
“I am not going to say my wife because that is too easy, though I enjoy having dinner with my wife and I don’t get to see enough of her. But if it was someone famous, it would probably have to be a figure from history who was really pivotal, like Oliver Cromwell or something, to understand exactly what their motivation was and to try and find out whether they knew their actions were going to shape the course of world events in the way that they did.”
Oliver Cromwell might be quite intense over dinner.
“Yes, he would be – probably quite militant, and he was a puritan. So maybe not him. I went to help Obama in 2008 and we saw him speak at a baseball stadium, and even at a distance he had a real energy, so he would be a natural choice.”
So you are going with Oliver Cromwell or Barack Obama?
“Yes. Or both.”
That’s fine. What is your most treasured possession?
“My surfboard – I have a seven foot ten inch surfboard. I surf off East Lothian, usually Belhaven or Seacliff, but I don’t get much time for it these days – though I was out last week. This is the coldest time of year because the sun hasn’t started to warm the sea up, so you have to wear a 5mm wetsuit – I guess that is my second most prized possession…”
What do you dislike about your appearance?
“The many chins that appear in photographs which I am not aware I have. So I think it is probably my weight. The National decided to find the worst possible photograph of me, with about 17 chins, when they put me on the front page in a negative way, and probably because they know deep down that is what I dislike most about myself.”
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
“The civil war and the introduction of parliamentary democracy really fascinates me.”
Are you talking about Oliver Cromwell again?
“Well, I would also like to go back and meet my ancestor – Arthur Cole-Hamilton – who was MP for Tyrone in 1780. He was the only other Cole-Hamilton who has ever been a parliamentarian, and he was there at the time of Wilberforce, so he was an MP during the abolition of slavery. I would be fascinated to meet him.”
What party was he?
“I think he was a Tory… but I am not entirely sure how he voted in all that. Unfortunately, Hansard is a bit sketchy from those days.”
I see... What was the best piece of advice you have ever had?
“Never give up. As a Lib Dem that is really important because nothing is ever handed to you and you will learn from it [failure]. There’s a phrase ‘own this, it is part of you, don’t let it define you, and never let it beat you’, and that was really helpful for some difficult defeats I have had in elections, but also difficult circumstances I have had in my personal life, which I’m sure everyone has had.”
What skill should every person have?
“Probably being able to light fires without matches. Or being able to distil water. Survival skills.”
That makes it sound like you are worried about an apocalypse.
“Maybe I read too many zombie apocalypse novels growing up… but I think everyone should have an empathy for other people and a compassion. I think the world would be much better, and much further down the track in terms of progress, if we had a bit more understanding and compassion for each other.”
What is the worst pain you have ever experienced?
“I dislocated my shoulder on a beach, underneath a girl in Crete in 1996.”
Under a girl?
“I had fallen asleep on the beach with a girl I had met at a party in Greece. It wasn’t anything dodgy. She was just lying on my arm. But then she rolled one way and I rolled the other and dislocated my shoulder.”
“Yeah… and that, without question, is the worst pain I have ever experienced.”
What did the girl do? Did she help?
“I think she was still asleep. I managed to get the socket back into the shoulder but I had to have surgery four years later because it kept happening after that.”
The next one is ‘best holiday ever’. Was that Crete in 1996?
“No… travelling in south-east Asia with my wife in 2002. We visited Thailand and Malaysia – we went scuba diving, trekking in the Mae Hong Son – up in the jungle by the Burmese border – we did the markets, beaches, saw everything. We absolutely loved it, and in fact, I proposed to my wife 20 metres beneath the surface of the South China Sea, on a diving plate. That part of the world has a real significance for us.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton was born in Lancashire and educated at Madras College in St Andrews before attending Aberdeen University where he studied for an MA in politics and international relations. He has been a Liberal Democrat member since 2000 and prior to being elected he worked as senior parliamentary officer for YouthLink Scotland, policy and communications officer for Fairbridge Scotland. He was also head of policy at the Aberlour Child Care Trust. Cole-Hamilton was elected MSP for the Edinburgh Western ward in 2016 and is the party’s spokesperson for health. He is married to Gillian and has three children.
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