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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
07 July 2023
Alexander Stewart: How childhood trauma shaped my values

Alexander Stewart in the Scottish Parliament chamber

Alexander Stewart: How childhood trauma shaped my values

What’s your earliest memory? 

It’s quite a traumatic one in reality because it was my father physically abusing my mother. I have spoken about that a lot here [in the parliament] under the veil of domestic abuse and I have spoken many times on violence against women. 

It was quite traumatic, and he was a difficult individual, and I knew that from an early age. But it shaped me in some ways too because I knew that was wrong from an early age. That is the memory that really stuck with me, and my mother accepted it for quite some time before we did leave, I think I was about six, so for another three years she put up with that behaviour.

My father and I never had a close relationship because of that, but at the same time seeing that gave me some pillars of where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do, even from that age.  

What did that do to the relationship with you and your mother, did it make you both tighter?

Absolutely. And I am the middle child, I’ve got an older sister and a younger brother, and we were very tight too and still are because of that. My father has now passed on, and I never had a great relationship with him. He was my dad; I couldn’t take that away from him and he wanted me to do well, and he was a successful businessman and was involved in politics, but not in my politics, he was a Scottish nationalist, and I chose not to do that because I didn’t think that was the right route.  

We clashed most of our life; he still loved me, and I still had some respect for him but not an awful lot. I think that gave me my bearings and structure and my beliefs from seeing how people should and shouldn’t be treated. And a bully and a thug is not a good person, and I try [as an MSP] to help and support people who may not have necessarily voted for me but at the same time are in difficulty, and I have that privilege of trying to sort the situation out for them.   
What is your most treasured possession?

My grandfather was the chairman of the Scottish Licensing Association in the 60s, my family were in hotels, pubs, and nightclubs and in the license trade for seven generations. He became the Scottish president I think around about ‘67 and he was given a beautiful Swiss 22-carat gold watch for his retirement.  

I wear it sometimes, but it is lovely to have. And it is the only little treasure I have of my grandfather. I only wear it on special occasions, like when I received my MBE from the Queen. 

It needs to be looked after; it’s clogged up and when you put it on it goes a little bit fast. It needs to be taken apart, looked after and dealt with but I don’t wear it enough and I don’t want to wear it enough because I don’t want to damage it.  

He was a good guy, a very competent and caring person. So, I look at that as a treasured item. 

What is your guiltiest pleasure? 

Clothes, because I was in fashion retail. I was involved in fashion in London for nearly a decade, and I got the chance to be an assistant buyer. I worked for some of the big department stores and some of the other fashion businesses. 

To go to Fashion Week in London or Paris or Milan, looking back on that I think did I really do all of that now that I am here [Holyrood]? I still like to look smart; I still spend money on clothes, quite extravagantly occasionally if I think I like it.  

I haven’t lost that guilty pleasure, even after 30 years of not being in the trade. 

Fashion is a lifestyle when you are part of it and it is a bubble, and you live in that bubble. But it’s an exciting bubble when you are there, and I certainly did enjoy it. I was very fortunate, as I say, to have gone to Paris, Milan or London Fashion Week and be part of that culture. You have to buy the right things to make sure that they would sell and that’s a challenge because you have to work out what the punter wants.  

What is the best advice you have been given? 

To listen. Politicians, we love to talk. We like the sound of our own voice and people tell us. And I was given the advice when you go somewhere, and you see something, listen to what is being said. I do try to be a better listener in situations and circumstances and think that is quite important when it comes to being able to understand and work with people. It is all about communication, we work together, we understand, and we support. You need to understand what your constituents, businesses, and the environment want and need.   

What is the worst pain you have ever experienced?

I think back pain – I have had it for a while. When I hurt my back, I was performing in Sweeney Todd, the opera, and I was playing Beadle. I had to lean off the stage from a height while in a confined area, and I had to fall back, and I damaged it.  

I remember it was the second year I was in parliament, and I went down to pick something up and it went twang and I had to be in here in a wheelchair for two or three days and then I had a zimmer. I don’t know how women cope with labour – I certainly couldn’t cope with back pain. Now I need to be sensible about how I sit and how I do things.  

What is your favourite holiday destination?

I have been very fortunate to travel to many parts of the world. But the one place I enjoyed and really felt at home was Hong Kong. I have been twice, and when I first arrived there, I thought ‘I have been here before’. I enjoyed the multitude of people in a small space, the environment, and the lifestyle. 

I know things have changed since China came back in, but that was certainly an exciting place to visit. Space was such a premium but there was a phenomenal feeling of empowerment, togetherness.  

Sitting on the tram, which was the same one that we used to have here, brought back memories as a child. It was so vibrant; it was so electric.  

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