Getting to know you: Kate Forbes

Written by Tom Freeman on 28 May 2018 in Inside Politics

SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch Kate Forbes sits down for a chat with Tom Freeman

What is your earliest memory?

It’s not very exciting, but I spent the first three years of my life in India.

That is quite exciting, to be fair.

My earliest memory is of being at a massive Indian party, and I’ve seen videos of this little blonde Scot with the thickest Indian accent. I was a bit of a novelty, and was being passed round people. There were these massive jugs of water and people were scooping it out.

What’s the worst pain you’ve experienced?

That’s deep. I’ve avoided serious hospitalising. My worst pain? I know what it is but I don’t want to talk about it. Grief. You could just say the loss of a best friend.

Most people list something physical.

Oh no. 100 per cent.

What were you like at school?

Funnily enough, I have always hated rules, so I studied hard to break the rules.

Um, how does that work?

I’ve always been very competitive. I want to beat everyone else, and school was no different. I don’t think I was naturally a bright or intelligent person but I worked hard to prove to my teachers that I was.

You were at different schools, though?

Yeah. I went to Gaelic medium, and at age ten went to India again. I couldn’t read or write English, hilarious for Indian authorities. I went to a local Indian school with 60 in the class then went to an international school. Then I came back to a Glasgow high school, then a Highland high school.

That’s still quite a few. What was your favourite?

Oh, international school in the Himalayas, without a shadow of a doubt. Your excuse for being late to school was that there were monkeys on the path.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

It’s maybe a bit cheesy, but I had two grannies I didn’t really ever get to know. Both of them were well ahead of their time. Both of them worked while raising a family. They were both first in their households to go to university, going to university before their brothers. They worked extremely hard and were, by all accounts, lovely people.

Did they know each other?

No. Both of them at a meal together would be great.

What would you talk about?

In terms of our discussion on women’s rights and female empowerment, that was real empowerment. Bearing in mind I’m a very competitive person, I love the fact there was nobody gave them a helping hand to go to university, yet they did. Apparently, one of them walked five miles to uni and five miles back every day.

Biggest fear?

In this job, it’s ever being willing to compromise who I am, what I love and what I believe in for a quick shot of fame or power. This is probably too deep for this, isn’t it?

We can do deep. Have you ever got close to doing that, do you think?

I am but a humble backbencher, but you do have these kind of decisions on a daily basis.

So, if you were promoted into a ministerial position that would be a challenge, then? Isn’t politics about compromise?

If you sell your soul then you may as well give up. I enjoy being me too much to compromise.

I may have to remind you of this quote in future years, Kate.

When you see that picture of me sucking on three straws…

What would you change about your appearance?

No offence, Tom [who is wearing glasses], but I hate wearing glasses. I need to. I wear contacts.

What’s wrong with glasses?

I would love not to have to wear glasses. Mostly, I suppose, because I’m really forgetful. I leave things everywhere. The number of times I’ve got on a train and thought: ‘Oh for flip’s sake, I can’t even see where I’m going and I’ve got three days in parliament.’

Have you had an embarrassing experience because you can’t see properly?

Oh, it happens all the time. Where I can’t see and I think someone is waving at me, for example. As a politician, you always have to wave back. I’m giving it laldy, only for someone immediately behind me to go ‘oh, so nice to see you’.

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

Yesterday someone posted on Facebook that ‘the biggest joke in Kate’s constituency is that she just takes the credit for everything. She is essentially the Kim Kardashian of Scottish politics.’ I was tempted to respond: ‘Wait for the body-shaped perfume bottle coming your way,’ but it’s quite bad, isn’t it? It appeals to all the things I most dislike. Fluffy, empty.

What’s the best advice you’ve had?

There have been times when I’ve been sitting behind someone who’s speaking on camera and my mum has texted me with one word and it’s ‘smile’. Exclamation mark. At which point, I immediately perk up and smile. She says I look utterly miserable in the chamber.

That’s a bit harsh.

Here’s one: ‘Always meet criticism and accusations with kindness and warmth because it totally throws them off.’ That is what I try and do in politics. Sometimes I fail, but I do enjoy throwing people off the scent by responding to some of the nastiest accusations like that.

Who gave you that advice?

As a younger MSP, I’m trying not to reference my parents at all times, but it probably was my dad. You know, last summer I came back from holiday and I really didn’t want to go back to work. I look at all the problems in my constituency and I do feel them quite personally. They’re a heavy load. I feel like I’ve got to fill every pothole, and there’s a point you hit where you go ‘I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this.’ I remember my dad saying: ‘Even if you fail to achieve any of these things for your constituency, I still want to know there’s somebody who cares. Therefore, even if you are a total failure and thick as mince I’d vote for you.’ This is my dad. It was encouragement. It’s not really advice, but it gets you out the door.

Guilty pleasure?

Country music. Full on Nashville country music. From Johnny Cash right the way through to that well-known Kelsea Ballerini.

That’s not that guilty. Line dancing?

Love it, but I’m not very good. I used to do step dancing. I love the cheesiest country music.

Where do you get your fix at work, though? Are there any others in the parliament who would go out line dancing with you?

There is one who secretly loves it, but I can’t throw him in it. There’s a Tory MSP who I know shares my love of Tim McGraw…

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

I was at this international school in the Himalayas and was surrounded by people from all over the world. It was great.

Your own past? Most people say the Russian Revolution or World War Two.

Oh, well, I studied history at university. The more you know about history, the less you want to go back.

Last book you read?

I’m reading John F Kennedy: An Unfinished Life by Robert Dallek. It’s really long. Really long. I didn’t realise how difficult his early life was. Chronic crippling pain and nausea and stuff. He didn’t want the public to know about it because they’d see it as a weakness.

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