Getting to know you: Jenny Gilruth

Written by Jenni Davidson on 22 June 2018 in Inside Politics

SNP MSP for Mid Fife and Glenrothes sits down for a chat with Jenni Davidson

Jenny Gilruth - Image credit: Holyrood

What’s your earliest memory?

My earliest memory is probably waking up from a nap and then following my dad out into a barn – we lived on a farm when I was growing up. And I was wearing a blue and white polka dot dress, which then was passed on to both of my little sisters.

What were you like at school?

I think I was quite studious at school. I liked being part of clubs, so I played a lot of hockey, I played a lot of sport. I randomly was part of the recorder club, which is perhaps not the coolest club to be in. I was quite active in the school community, which was perhaps why I went on to become a teacher.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

I guess a lot of people chose celebrities for this one but I wouldn’t, because I’m a terrible friend at the moment because I’m an MSP, so I would choose my friends from school, who I have not seen in months, one of whom has had a baby who I’ve not met.

Any particular place you would go?

Well, usually to one of their houses because two of them have now got babies. We usually just go to one of their houses and get pizza and prosecco and sit in.

What’s your greatest fear?

I’m terrified of spiders. That’s a really boring one, isn’t it? My mum, I think, implanted this fear in all three of her daughters. I remember my sister finding a spider in my mum’s hair when we were wee and my sister Christina running up to her and going, ‘Mummy, Mummy, Mummy, there’s a spider in your hair,’ and we all screamed and ran away from her, so she was running around the house with this spider in her hair. So I think she’s passed that on. I probably shouldn’t have confessed that. Now somebody will do something with that information.

You’ll find a tarantula on your desk.

Hopefully not.

Would you really freak out if there was a big one?

Well, in Fife, under my mum’s old house, my sisters and I thought there was some kind of mothership spider that created them. They used to just appear. And then my grandad would come down – my granny and grandad lived in the Black Isle – and he would put conkers around the corners of the house, because apparently they keep them at bay. I think they were some sort of mutant spiders living under her house because they were certainly bigger than any I’ve ever seen anywhere else I’ve lived.

What’s your most treasured possession?

Probably this necklace that my mum gave me for my 30th [indicates the necklace she is wearing]. We all went to Crete on holiday – me, my mum and my sisters – when I was thirty. That’s only three years ago now, but it feels about 25 because this job has aged me so much. It’s got the Cretan calendar on it and it’s gold and I wear it every day.

What do you dislike about your appearance?

Are you asking this of male politicians as well?

Yes, we are asking everyone.

Good. Probably my nose, because it’s the Gilruth nose. My sister Katie has it and it’s like a boxer’s nose, although mine’s not as boxer-like as hers. Her nose is kind of squashed. But the Gilruth nose is very prominent. My youngest sister doesn’t have it, so we’ll not comment more on that, but we wind her up on not having the Gilruth nose. Perhaps she’s the postie’s, I don’t know.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? 

I love reading trashy magazines. Specifically, Closer magazine, that’s my favourite. There’s a section in there called Fridge Raider, which I’m quite a fan of, and it goes through celebrities’ fridges and gives them a mark out of ten. That must be the teacher in me.

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

As a woman, I don’t think I’d want to go back in time. I’m always looking forward, it’s the nature of the job, so I’d probably like to go into the future and see what’s going to happen to Scotland in 50 years’ time. That’s quite a political response. But I think seeing into the future would perhaps be more advantageous or more interesting.

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

Knowledge is power. Good advice for this job!

What skill should every person have?

The ability to listen, which some people in this job don’t always have. I think being a politician, the nature of the job necessitates you talk a lot and you don’t always listen and as a teacher that was one skillset that was invaluable to me in the classroom and as a politician.

Do you miss teaching?

Yeah, absolutely. One of the best parts of the job is going into schools and I was in a school last week and they just ask you the most random questions. I miss that part of the job.

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

Well, people have been mocking me recently because Mairi Gougeon and I have been training for this half marathon, so I’ve developed a crunchy knee in my right knee and Gail Ross and Mairi have been mocking me and suggesting that I was trying to get out of doing the run. I wouldn’t say it’s the worst pain I’ve ever experienced, but it’s certainly annoying at the moment and it kind of sounds like bubble wrap.

So are you giving up the running now you’ve done the half marathon?

No, I did a couple last week. I’m trying to get Mairi to come out with me tonight. But Mairi Gougeon’s a whippet. She’s very fast. So running with her is always quite an experience. She runs me up to the castle, which is essentially uphill through a sea of tourists, which is quite a sight to behold - two sweaty politicians trying to dodge through tourists, and me, obviously, flailing at the back and her sprinting at the front.

I’m going to look out for that. What’s your top film or TV programme of all time?

When I was younger I used to love the film Ten Things I Hate About You. I love a rom com. I suppose I’m quite an optimistic person so I like quite lighthearted things and I think the seriousness of this job sometime necessitates that you take a bit of time out take a step back, so watching a rom com is a favourite thing of mine to do, as I’m sure Kez Dugdale will testify.

What’s your best holiday ever?

Best holiday ever was probably when I was about 18 and I went to work in Switzerland for the summer. I worked in a kids’ camp and when I was there I met a group of lots of different folk from all over the world. It was a brilliant experience. And then afterwards I met a couple of folk on the camp who were going travelling, so we went to Italy, flew down to Sicily from Rome, and then we went over to Greece and then I got the ferry back to the top of Italy where my friend was working as a nanny at the time in the north. So it was a brilliant experience for me as an 18-year-old on my own. I think it taught me a lot as well about being self-sufficient and how you can essentially get on with anybody when you’re all working together in the same environment.

What was the last book you read?

It was Mary Beard Women and Power. Perhaps a bit clichéd being a woman MSP. It made for interesting reading. I certainly recommend it.

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