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by Sofia Villegas
12 April 2024
Dundee City Council leader John Alexander: 'I'm not trying to prove my integrity to anybody'

Councillor John Alexander and his wife Sarah

Dundee City Council leader John Alexander: 'I'm not trying to prove my integrity to anybody'

What’s your earliest memory?
I think my earliest memory is probably kicking a football in the back garden with my older brother. I’m the youngest of four children so a lot of my childhood was playing games and bothering my older siblings. 

What were you like at school?
I was very talkative and energetic. All my school reports from primary school consistently said “talks too much”. So, I performed well academically, but I talked too much. I was also a little bit competitive. Funnily enough, I now see those traits in my own children, which is quite interesting.

And who would your dream dinner date be with?
If I’m being honest, there’s nobody that I’d rather have a dinner date with than my granddad, who passed away seven years ago. 

What is the worst thing anyone has ever said to you?
In this job you get lots of things thrown your way that aren’t always accurate, but the thing that really irritates me is when people call into question my integrity, so things like this notion of brown envelopes, which is thrown about politicians all the time. This really upsets me because it’s such an easy narrative to throw out, but it couldn’t be any further from the truth. Integrity is really important to me and I do everything as honestly as I possibly can. 

What led you into politics?
Well, none of my family or friends were involved in political parties. Even now, none of my family are members of a political party, not even mine, so it’s not like I’ve come from a perspective of always been around it. However, I was always really interested in what was going on in my local community and in the city. It will come as no surprise that modern studies was my best subject. It was one of the only subjects I got an A for in my Higher exams. I loved politics and I loved understanding what was going on. Then, when I went into university I got even more interested and got more involved in it in my early 20s. The rest is history.

Did you stand for elected office immediately?
No. When the first opportunity came up to throw my hat in the ring, I didn’t do it. It was only later that I was gently persuaded. A couple of folks that I now work with, ironically, said to me, “the council should look like the city, we need people from different demographics so why wouldn’t you put yourself forward for an election?” And that was a kind of lightbulb moment for me, so I stood for the 2012 Scottish council election and became Dundee’s youngest ever councillor at 23 years of age.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Jaffa Cakes. I have to moderate my intake of them because I will happily eat a box of 12 to myself while I’m having a cup of tea. So much so are they my guilty pleasure, that they got a reference in the best man’s speech at my wedding. 

If you could go back in time, where would you go?
I have two young boys, who are six and eight, and when they were a bit younger they were mad about dinosaurs, so I’d probably go back to the Jurassic Period and take my boys with me because they’d love nothing more.

What is the best advice you’ve ever had?
Somebody once said to me, “integrity is not something that you have to show people, it’s how you behave behind their backs,” and I think that’s always stayed with me. I’m not trying to prove my integrity to anybody else, I know that that’s at the core of what I’m about and that’s all that matters.

What skill should every person have?
Empathy. I say that half-jokingly because it shouldn’t be a skill. Everybody should have a degree of empathy, but I am seeing more and more people taking things for granted, or being quite disparaging about people who are less fortunate than themselves. 

What’s the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?
I am the most squeamish person I know, I hate blood and anything like that. I’ve never had a kind of physical injury that’s resulted in me being in hospital or anything like that, I’ve never broken a bone. I have, however, experienced pain in a different way. My wife had a very difficult time during labour. The anesthesia wasn’t working and she was in horrendous pain so we ended up having to take her for an emergency C-section. It was more that sort of mental pain for me. I wasn’t going through the physical pain she was, but I felt so helpless in that moment. It was absolutely horrible and horrendous, and I can’t even imagine what she was going through. I’ve now been with my wife for 21 years – we met when we were 14 – so to see the person that you love most in the world in that sort of pain was very painful.

What’s your top film of all time?
I’m very much a sci-fi geek, so even though Independence Day from a cinematic point of view is really poor, I really enjoy the film. I also love Blade Runner and The Fifth Element with Bruce Willis. 

What would you like to achieve before the next council election?
I would like to see Dundee taking its rightful place in the world. What I mean by that is that, genuinely whether I was in this job or not, I love this city. It’s a brilliant place to bring up two young children in. We’ve got so much going for us. I’d like us to deliver on everything that we’ve said, so, deliver the Eden Project, see employment significantly increase and see our population increase. We’ve got the slowest growth of any city in the UK and I’d like others to see how amazing it is here.

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