Getting to know you: Colin Smyth MSP

Written by Kate Shannon on 16 February 2018 in Inside Politics

Labour MSP for South Scotland Colin Smyth sits down for a moment of levity with Holyrood

Colin Smyth: Picture credit - Kate Shannon/Holyrood

What was your earliest memory?

Until the age of five, I was brought up in a wee council flat in Dumfries and I shared a bedroom with my sister. I remember my dad decorated half the room with Action Man wallpaper and half with Cindy doll wallpaper. That’s probably my earliest memory.

The other one, I probably shouldn’t use this one, but my mum used to bath me in the sink. The worst thing was the kitchen window was right at the front of the house, the sink was right underneath the window, and right outside the window was a bus stop. It was a good bus service so every 15 minutes you got an audience.

What were you like at school?

One report said ‘quiet and thoughtful’ so I don’t know what went wrong since then. I was very loyal to the school, I went to Maxwelltown High School which was right in the middle of a council estate in Dumfries. The rest of Dumfries used to look down their nose at it and I think that gave us a determination to prove everyone wrong.

Did you enjoy school?

I loved school. My favourite subject was Modern Studies, which I went to on to teach. I loved the determination of the inspirational teachers we had, my favourite teacher was my modern studies teacher which is probably why I ended up teaching the subject myself.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

Today of all days [the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote] it should be Emmeline Pankhurst. I have two daughters and I think it would be good to say a big thank you to her and the suffrage movement for the fact that my daughters have a lot more opportunities now than 100 years ago.

What are you scared of? 

This one is tricky. Most politicians are scared of dogs because they always try and bite you when you’re delivering leaflets but at the last election, I actually got chased by a load of chickens. I was going down a path and all these chickens came running down towards me. I honestly wasn’t scared, though [Holyrood makes a sceptical noise].

What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?

When you’re on the doorstep, you sometimes get told that politicians are all the same. If anything, in politics at the moment, it’s quite obvious that we aren’t all the same.

What is your most treasured possession?

My most treasured possessions are the photos I have of my kids. I’m obsessive about taking pictures and the wonders of modern phones means I’ve got thousands of photographs of my kids and all the memories they represent. My wife bought me a video camera for Christmas so I fully expect to soon have thousands of videos of my kids which I can embarrass them with on their 21st birthdays. My other prized possession is a Queen album signed by Freddie Mercury.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

I’ve put on two stone since being elected in 2016. The whole lifestyle of an MSP has been hard to get used to. I sat down in the Health Committee once for four hours and after all that sitting, I thought, ‘there can’t be many things unhealthier than the Health Committee’. There’s also a lot of late night events and snacking. I’m fighting back, though, and I’ve got a gym membership.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Chocolate. Though I’m less guilty because I’m convener of the Cross-Party Group on Fair Trade so I always insist it’s fair trade.

If you could go back in time, where would you go?

I’d go back to just before Rangers scored the winning goal in the 2008 Scottish Cup Final against Queen of the South and tell them to mark the guy at the back post properly. 
Apart from that, I think I was born in the wrong era because I’m a huge fan of ‘70s rock music so all the bands I’d like to see live are not with us anymore. I’d like to see Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?

My dad actually said that every day that you’re good to someone is a good day. I think it’s a useful piece of advice for a politician.

What skill should every person have?

Being able to read is a skill everyone deserves to have, for so many reasons. My wife is an English teacher and is the only person I know who if you send her a text message, sends it back with the grammar corrected. I actually proposed to her on a beach near Rockcliffe. I went out of sight to write ‘will you marry me’ on the sand with a stick and when I led her round, I got down on one knee and pointed to the message. The first thing she said was that I’d missed out the question mark. Luckily, she said yes after that.

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?

I dislocated my knee when I was playing football when I was 18. My eyes still water thinking about it.

What is your least favourite food?

There’s not much I don’t like. My wife’s mother is from Malaysia so you can well imagine the wonderful types of food we have. I love going to Asia and you get stunning food out there so there’s not much I wouldn’t try.

What is your favourite film or television programme?

I’d say The Shawshank Redemption, it shows that people can find redemption, no matter what. 

What was your best holiday?

In 2014 Queen were announcing a tour and I waited for ages for them to say where it was going to be. It turned out to be North America only and I was joking with my wife about getting the in-laws to come with us to babysit because we had a one year old at the time. But when I asked them to come with us, they said yes, so we went to New York and Washington as a family. I saw Queen in concert at Madison Square Garden, which was on my bucket list and we had an amazing holiday.

What was the last book you read?

Fire and the Fury by Michael Wolff. There were no surprises in it, it was everything I imagined it would be. Before that I read Making Sense of the Troubles which shows how much has been achieved and how far Northern Ireland has come. A lot of my family are from Northern Ireland, hence the spelling of my surname.

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