Getting to know you: Kaukab Stewart
The SNP MSP chats to Louise Wilson about diversity in parliament, her adoration of Italy and putting balls in socks.
What’s your earliest memory?
My earliest memory was in Northampton. In those days, children played out on the street quite a lot. I do remember coming home from school, and there was an alleyway that was across the road from us, where we would play this game. Do you remember when you put tennis balls into a pair of tights and that was for a game where you stood and hit it off the back of the wall? Well, we used to do that.
That was absolutely hilarious, because in an Asian household, we didn’t particularly wear tights because our legs were always covered, so I remember having to negotiate with my mum to get some. I remember saying to my mum, ‘I need some tights,’ and she’s like, ‘well, we don’t really do tights’. She said, ‘we’ve got socks’ and I was like, ‘how long are the socks?’
I think I was about eight or nine at the time. So that’s my earliest memory. It’s actually quite nice to look back and think, what do I remember? I do have a very clear image of that alleyway right across the road, it was a lovely day and there was a whole bunch of us kids that were talking about tights and the different colour of tights and then me with my long sock!
And actually it wasn’t so bad, because the woman that lived in the house on the other side of the wall, the tennis balls bounced in a lot more noisy fashion with tights, whereas my long socks actually cushioned it a bit.
So really you were being quite innovative!
Not quite! I was able to adapt within the cultural boundaries. How do I join in with this game when we don’t do tights? How can I make the best of it? And that’s what we did.
Were most of your friends back then white or where they also from Asian backgrounds?
In Northampton, we were one of the original Asian families to have moved into that area.
I left when I was 16 and moved to Glasgow, and throughout that time, there were more families that moved into the area, but it was predominantly white. We’re talking about 70s and 80s. We moved there because my father was an engineer, and there was the Plessey factory.
What was your best holiday?
I couldn’t pick just one – any holiday that I’ve had in Italy. I do enjoy Italy, the food in particular, and the culture, the architecture, the landscape, the music. I did Italian lessons.
We used to go regularly, but haven’t been for a while, like everyone else. I’ve been several times and every time I end up somewhere different. I feel very at home in Italy, for some bizarre reason. We did have a lovely holiday in Tuscany and that was amazing.
I’m not actually a rural person, I’m a city person. I like urban landscapes, I like metropolis cities, built up areas, they’re just wonderful. Being out in the countryside was not something that I ever felt enormously comfortable with, feeling isolated, ‘I have to get out of here, where’s the bus?’
But actually, it changed my mind about it. It was just beautiful, absolutely beautiful, to see the olive groves and watching that agricultural landscape, the vineyards. It’s very distinctive and I’d only ever seen it in pictures, and then when you see it in real life, you think, ‘oh my goodness, it actually does look like that’.
Who’s your dream dinner date?
I’m a big fan of Maya Angelou and all of her work. Some of it resonates more than others, and also her life and the time that she lived through.
I suppose as a Black woman, growing up, there were so few role models or women of profile, coming from very modest backgrounds, and being successful. It makes it look as though once you have the success, all the adversity and the discrimination, all the barriers, seem to fade away. But actually they don’t and the fact that that comes through her work, all of that is quite inspiring.
I think that over dinner, we would be able to, as equals, look back on some of our life, you know, just women chatting and saying, how was it for you? What did you do? The funny bits of it as well, of so many things going wrong, how did you cope with that? How did you power through it? And just unpick some of her work, ask her about that. But I think, well, it’s a dinner date, it’s not a Q&A.
I think I would have something to offer her as well, you know, I would be able to say in the field of education or the field of politics, stuff that I’m interested in, and just to be able to compare notes, and look back and chew the fat over it.
What’s your most treasured possession?
That is really tricky, because I’m not really a bits and bobs person. I mean, there are definitely things I like, but they’re transient, you know, I have a favourite possession for that moment in time.
At this moment in time, my favourite possession, which I walk around with, was a gift from a child. It’s my notebook. I think it’s super cute, it says ‘world’s most awesome teacher’. It’s my connection from my previous job and that was just so important, and the fact that it was given to me when I was leaving by a child that I taught. And I thought, well, if people can see it sitting on my desk, then hopefully somebody will say to that child, Mrs Stewart’s got your notebook on her desk, which is lovely.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
The consistent advice to me, because I’ve stood for election quite a few times and not been successful, the cliched advice is pick yourself up, dust yourself down, and start all over again.
That perseverance when you do feel like completely giving up, just keep going, don’t give up. I don’t have a fear of failure, because I’ve experienced it many times, so I don’t have an issue with that. But you get tired, you get weary of fighting the battles all the time and trying to achieve, and the structural barriers that exist are very real.
You get very tired and you just think actually, maybe it’s somebody else’s turn to take this on. Thankfully, I’ve had enough people in my life that have said, no, keep going, keep trying, don’t give up.