Getting to know you: Gillian Martin MSP

Written by Jenni Davidson on 5 March 2018 in Inside Politics

SNP MSP for Aberdeenshire East Gillian Martin sits down for a moment of levity with Holyrood’s Jenni Davidson

What’s your earliest memory?

I can remember standing on a little wooden bench at the living room window and seeing my dad coming off the bus and waving to me. And it must have been something that my mum did every day at a certain point because I don’t remember anything else about my mum and dad’s first flat apart from that bench and that window and they left that when I was about two and half. I also have another early memory, which was vandalising a library book with a lipstick.

On purpose?

Yeah, I was signing autographs like I was a film star. I remember taking my mum’s lipstick and [mimes signing of autographs with a flourish] and I was probably dressed up in her dresses and whatever, but knowing it was wrong, but still doing it.


And what about school, was this rebellious streak something that continued?

No, I was a swot. I was the sort of person that would live in fear of getting a row for being badly behaved. I was a goody two-shoes. And actually, in my election, my treasurer for my campaign was my former headmaster. Which was lovely. He’s a great guy. 

Who would be your dream dinner date?

I don’t think it would be anyone that I’m in awe of because I would just end up tongue tied. Is it naff to say your husband? It is naff. But given that I don’t see him an awful lot at the moment… My dream dinner date is people that I don’t get to see that much. In fact, I have got a few girlfriends from university that I was so close to, but one of them lives in the south-east of England and another one has spent most of her working life working for the European Parliament. And we met up in Paris 20 years after we graduated and it was fabulous, but that was about eight years ago and I haven’t seen them since, because we’re all so busy. So that would be my dream dinner date.

What’s your greatest fear?

As a fan of dystopian fiction, my greatest fears are all connected with the world having gone badly wrong, in a Handmaid’s Tale type way.

Or Mad Max?

I’m not even going there! But you know that whole thing of things have gone badly wrong in society or an injustice has been done to you where you have been wrongly accused of something. 

What’s the worst thing that anyone’s ever said to you?

I think that when you’re a bit shy, as I was, that it can manifest itself as being standoffish or snooty, when it’s not. And in the times when you get to know somebody and then they later say to you, ‘See when I first met you, I thought you were x’. That’s probably the worst thing.

In saying that, I have a story. Ivan McKee and Mairi Gougeon were heading up to the SNP party conference and they were sitting beside somebody on the train, and it turned out that person worked in television and they said, ‘Where did you study to do that?’ ‘North East Scotland College.’ And Ivan went to Mairi, ‘Is that not where Gillian taught?’ And the person went, ‘Gillian Martin? My goodness, the Iron Bitch!’ So Ivan texted me and said, ‘You’ll never guess what your nickname was!’ But it’s not the worst thing, because I’m quite proud of it, actually.

The Margaret Thatcher of North East College?

Oh don’t. But Ivan assures me it was said with affection. 

What’s your most treasured possession?

If it’s OK to possess dogs rather than just let them live with you, my two dogs are my most treasured, treasured possession. I miss them every single day when I’m down here. That and a string of pearls that was my gran’s, even though they’re restrung and they’re a wee bit old and tatty now. 

What do you dislike about your appearance?

Just your classic that I’m getting older and there’s nothing I can do to stop it.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I suppose the sort of thing that you probably wouldn’t admit to readily when you’re trying to be taken seriously would be that you binge watch America’s Next Top Model and love every second of it. I suppose I feel quite guilty about that. Not guilty enough to stop. 

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

Both my grans and my grandas were from Clydebank and it was probably horrific, but whenever they talk about their key moments in their life, it would be round about the Blitz, and I think I would like to go back and go dancing. My gran’s family are from Aberdeen and she talks really fondly of the Beach Ballroom and the dances that were there. So if I could go back for one night to the early 40s and go dancing, with people like my gran in the Barrowlands or the Beach Ballroom, and wear great 40s clothes and have the Marcel wave. Yeah, that would be cool. 

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

I’ve been told to trust my instincts. And that’s come from another woman who I thought was amazing. And I’m sort of like, I’ll never be like you. And she said, ‘Well, actually, we all panic, you need to trust your instinct. You’re doing OK. You need to trust yourself more. Don’t try and be like anyone else.’ That’s a fairly really recent bit of advice that I would like to pass on to other people. 

What skill should every person have?

Everyone should be able to cook. 

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

Toothache. Toothache’s the worst pain. And I’ve had two children.

What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

So, I’ve had to caveat this, because if it’s a film that would cheer me up, guaranteed, and I can watch it a million times and it didn’t matter how many, it would always have the desired effect, it would be When Harry Met Sally. I’ve been told that when I’m watching that film I’m smiling the whole time. I love it. The same goes for Some Like It Hot. But to be true to my film critic, film studies, geek self, the best films ever are The Godfather part one and part two.

What was your best holiday ever?

The best holiday I ever had was when me and my husband took the kids to Thailand. And it was fabulous and the people were so amazingly friendly and so kind to my kids and we saw terrific wildlife. And when anyone says the word ‘holiday’, that’s the image that comes into my mind.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I read was The Power by Naomi Alderman. And it’s a brutal book – again, it’s dystopian – it’s about if women ruled the world. And it was fantastic, actually, but brutal. 

So, she’s not saying it would be a utopia if women ruled the world, then?

No, she’s not. She’s more or less saying with power comes misuse of power. I’d recommend it. And the last line is wonderful and made me laugh out loud on a plane.



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