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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
09 December 2022
Kenneth Gibson MSP: Getting to Know You

Kenneth Gibson paragliding in Turkey

Kenneth Gibson MSP: Getting to Know You

What is your earliest memory? 

My earliest memory, and it is quite a vivid one, is of my auntie June buying me a big red car for Christmas when I was about two years old. I remember the joy I felt seeing it.  

I have a lot of memories of childhood from four years old onwards, but nothing within a year of that. That one stands out from the rest. It is all full-colour stuff; I remember the adventure and conversations.

What were you like at school? 

When I was about eight, I moved from Kelvingrove to the southside of Glasgow. I went to Bellahouston Primary, which was beside Ibrox Stadium, and everyone was football daft. It was terrible because in my first primary school I was very popular and in my second school I wasn’t because I couldn’t play football. There were 25 boys in the class and when you have two 11-a-side teams I was one of the three left over. I always preferred watching football and playing rugby.  

On my report card it said ‘argumentative’. I remember getting belted by Mr Beattie, our history teacher, because I corrected him on the date of the fall of Carthage. He said I was being cheeky, but all I was doing was telling him the right date. I remember another teacher gave me three of the belt for not putting a full stop at the end of a sentence. I think in my fourth year I got the belt on 64 separate occasions. 

When did you start to get involved in politics?  

I was interested when I was at school, but I wasn’t in the SNP or anything like that. I was always fascinated by election days. I used to stand at the school and watch people go in to vote.  
I joined the SNP on my first day at university in 1979, after working at a kibbutz in Israel.  

What were you doing in a kibbutz? 

I spent two and a half months in Israel. At first, I worked at the kibbutz picking peaches and then on an archaeological dig. It was great on the kibbutz; it was a self-governing community on the Lebanese border. We would work from four in the morning until half 12 with a half an hour break for breakfast and two ice cream breaks because it was so hot.  

The ice cream was kept in this packing house. The kibbutz had an inner perimeter and an outer perimeter at which they had dogs on chains. Between them, they had jeeps patrolling with machine guns. So, one night this young posh guy and I climbed out of the kibbutz and broke into the packing house to raid the fridge for ice cream. To be fair, it was unlocked. Actually, everything was unlocked.   

I left Israel with £120 to go and spend a month in Greece. In those days you could sell your flight ticket back to the airline for the same price that you paid for it. So instead of flying back to London from Tel Aviv, I flew to Athens and got a boat all the way to Chania, then onto Rhodes, and then over to Athens. Then I hitchhiked my way back through Italy and Switzerland.  

What is your greatest fear? 

My greatest fear isn’t actually a personal fear, it is about the future of democracy. I think that it has been so damaged lately from everything from your Trump-type populace to the opposite.  
I feel that free speech is becoming increasingly truncated. I don’t think democracy is hanging by a thread, but I do wonder if in 50 to 100 years whether it will survive the shocks that we are going to experience. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

My memories and my photo albums. I have hundreds of these albums, and they go right back to my great-grandparents. My grandparents and my parents have died, so now I am the custodian of all of the family photographs.  

When my mum died a few weeks ago, my sister and I put together a montage of photographs. Only by looking at the photographs did we realise half of the things she had done. She had never mentioned that she had been river rafting, or that she had been to the Taj Mahal, or the pyramids. She was always quite a secretive person, so there were a lot of things I found out.  
It showed me all the great things that she did and really drove home that you only have one life, and you need to make the most of it.  

What is your guiltiest pleasure?  

Galaxy milk chocolate. I absolutely love the stuff; I could eat it from dawn to dusk. I eat it a lot more than I should. I have a massive 500-odd-gram bar in my office.  
I managed to wean myself off of the salt and vinegar crisps, but I think that the Galaxy chocolate is going to be tougher.  

What is the best piece of advice you have ever had? 

Well, it is actually a piece of advice that I never ended up taking. About 30 years ago I was working in pharmaceuticals, and this guy said, ‘do you want to be right or do you want to be successful?’ This means that sometimes you have to go with the flow even when you don’t want to, and I have never been like that. I think if you believe in something, even though it is not always to your advantage to believe in that, you should be true to yourself.  

What is the worst pain you have ever experienced? 

My wee boy Kenneth dying in 2009. He was stillborn and that was really difficult, raw, emotional pain. It is never easy losing a child; it never goes away, and I think about him every day.  

What is your favourite film or TV programme? 

The original Star Trek. When I was a boy, my pal Colin, who has sadly passed away now, our mothers would watch Coronation Street, and of course, there were no videos in those days, so when you saw it, you saw it. We would never miss an episode.  

So, what would happen was I would meet with him and we would get the bus into Glasgow into a place called the Bay Horse that would let you in at 14 if you didn’t drink alcohol. We would have a Coca-Cola and watch it in full colour in the pub.

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