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David Torrance MSP: Getting to Know You

David Torrance snowboarding

David Torrance MSP: Getting to Know You

What’s your earliest memory?

I can really remember this happening when I was a toddler because I got such a row for it. My mum took me shopping down the high street and there were men digging a hole in the road. When we got home she left me out the back but the back gate was open. I got my dad’s spade and went to help the men. The neighbours quickly directed me back to the house but it sticks in my mind because of the row I got.

What were you like at school?

My report card always said ‘has ability, could have done better, easily distracted’. I loved school, though, absolutely loved it. I loved the social side of it and really loved the sports side. My high school was really geared to sport. I did football, canoeing, we even had ski trips. It was Balwearie High School. I didn’t go to Kirkcaldy High School like Gordon Brown – I went to the other high school in town.

Who would be your dream dinner date?

One of my icons through my life was Jane Fonda because of what she stood up for in the era we grew up in. She brought so many things to the forefront, like environmental issues – she really nailed her colours to the mast. She was an actress but she was very politically focused on issues that general political parties tried to avoid.

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

I don’t know if I could repeat that. When you come into politics you’ve got to have broad shoulders. Every politician has probably had some verbal abuse. The worst thing is when they have directed it at my family rather than me. That’s what upsets me the most. You’re prepared for it and you can take it, but when they attack family members that’s a different story.

What led you into politics?

I was a mechanical engineer. I did that from the age of 21 and was 50 when I went into politics full-time as an MSP. I’d been a nationalist since 1979 when the 40 per cent majority was put in – I knew that we’d been conned [the rules for the 1979 devolution referendum were that regardless of the outcome of the actual vote, at least 40 per cent of the entire electorate would have to back the Yes side in order for the vote to be won. The result was 52 per cent to 48 per cent for Yes, but only 33 per cent of those registered to vote were in that majority so No won].

My grandfather and uncle were both Labour councillors so politics has always been in my family but I decided there and then that I wanted to join the SNP.

Did you stand for elected office immediately?

No. I’d always been out there campaigning but I was elected by accident. They asked me to stand as a paper candidate for the council in 1996. They said ‘you have no chance of winning’ but I became the first-ever SNP candidate elected to Fife Council. Suddenly I found myself in politics and had to quickly adjust. The same thing happened with the Scottish Parliament. They said they’d never had a local candidate in Kirkcaldy – they’d had people like Stewart Hosie stand [Hosie contested the Kirkcaldy seat in the 1999 Holyrood election], but never anyone who lived in the area. In 2007 I’d switched wards on the council and had won that handsomely – they said ‘you’ve been a councillor for half of Kirkcaldy now, would you stand?’. I had a really good job so it was a really big decision but I decided to go for it. I was the 65th SNP MSP to be elected in the 2011 Holyrood election. That gave Alex Salmond his majority and suddenly I went from being someone who’d never been used to the media frenzy to ‘oh my god, what’s this?’.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure?

I snowboard a lot – I absolutely love it – so cancelling things in my diary when the snow is good. Rearranging things in my diary, should I say….

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

I’m happy where I am. If you go back in time to see something or try to change something you don’t know what the consequences are going to be for the future. I’m genuinely happy where I am.

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

It comes from doing engineering jobs, but if you’re going to do a job do it properly, don’t hurry. Now things are too often about doing something the quickest way and getting out, but if you did a job properly in engineering you never had to go back to fix it. It applies right across the spectrum in politics too. Scrutiny is key.

What skill should every person have?

Communication skills. If we could all sit down and speak to each other and share our points of view or share our worries the world would be a better place. 

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

I have hurt myself playing football and snowboarding but the worst pain I’ve experienced wasn’t physical, but mental, and it was when I lost my father. That was nine years ago. He was super-fit but he was diagnosed with a brain tumour and got 12 weeks. I’ve had lots of physical pain – I’ve been in leg braces and things like that – but the greatest pain is when you lose a family member like that, someone you really respect and look up to. My dad was clerk of works and went on to work for British Aerospace [now BAE Systems]. He was always there for us – me, my brother and my sister – and he encouraged us to do everything. If you wanted to go canoeing, he encouraged you to go canoeing.

What’s your top film of all time?

The Outlaw Josey Wales by Clint Eastwood. I’ve seen it too many times to mention – I watch it two to three times a year. I like it because the character he plays is so funny. My wife is sick of it – that and The Matrix.

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