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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
02 February 2023
Pauline McNeill MSP: Getting to know you

Pauline at a refugee camp in Lebanon in 2016

Pauline McNeill MSP: Getting to know you

What is your earliest memory? 

I seem to be able to remember quite far back and I don’t know if it’s my actual memories or from my mum and dad talking about it, but I remember my sister being born when I was only a year and a half. I also remember my parents being in Glasgow in a flat and being scared of the Alsatian downstairs, which is bizarre to me now because I have had seven Alsatians and they are lovely dogs.  

What were you like at school? 

I was short and blonde, and looked like a quiet person and, for the most part, I was. But if anyone was being bullied, I would be absolutely fearless. 

We used to get a bus to school, and the bus was invariably stopped at the police station before you got home because the boys were setting fire to the seats. They wouldn’t allow you to go up the back of the bus, but one day I went up and told them that’s it, I’m reporting you all. They just completely ignored me. The headteacher called me and asked if I was sure about this, I said absolutely, I can’t put up with this, and they were expelled. I wanted to get home, but we kept ending up at the police station and I had just had enough.  

Who is your dream dinner date? 

I have so many. I love Coldplay and I love Chris Martin. I have listened to his interviews about how they wrote their songs. So, he would be up there. I know they are quite love-hate, but I love them. 

I don’t know if you know, but I am also in a band with my two brothers. 

What is your band called? 


Oh, I think I saw you play in East Kilbride last November at the Village Inn. 

That’s right, yeah. We also played Hogmanay there. It was absolutely wild and a great laugh. Music is the thing that I am most passionate about. I followed my brothers around Glasgow because they played in various indie bands, and now I am playing with them.  

When we first got together it was the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and we were the first band to play at the Kelvingrove bandstand when it opened.  

What’s the worst thing that anyone has ever said to you? 

When I was re-elected in 2007 there was a lot of noise in the hall, and I had to speak quite loudly to be heard. Someone I worked quite closely with told me it was the worst speech that they had ever heard me make.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I can’t live without my Apple Watch - I’m now on Series 8. I am a technology lover. But I think my most treasured possession is my moon guitar, which was handmade by Jimmy Moon, who is retired now. He has built guitars for lots of celebrities. I think Adele has a guitar by him, and Dougie McLean who wrote Caledonia has a few.  

I was able to buy it because when my dad passed away we all got money from his estate, and that is what I bought with it.  

What is your guiltiest pleasure? 

I am hooked on The Traitors at the moment. It is filmed in a Scottish castle. I suppose it is my guilty pleasure because I watch things with my husband in the living room, but he’s not into this, so whenever I’ve got time, I’ll sit with my iPad in the corner and watch it. 

The concept is three people are appointed traitors, and they meet in the dead of night to conspire against other contestants. It is a fascinating exercise in watching other people’s behaviour.  

What is your favourite film or TV programme? 

The West Wing. I think it is the smartest TV script ever, Aaron Sorkin is the writer. It’s the speed of the storylines and the characters are great. I think I have probably watched it now about three times.  

What is your best holiday ever? 

This is a funny one because my family would say Pauline’s not happy unless she’s in a conflict zone. Part of my interest is in the Middle East. I travelled to Syria just before the war. I was an observer in the Palestinian elections when Hamas came to power in 2007. I took a humanitarian convoy to Gaza, which was hard, but I did enjoy the challenge of it. I know that’s not an actual holiday, but anyway.  

Before the pandemic, my husband said he quite fancied going to Lebanon and I was surprised because I had been quite a few times to do aid work without him, but he came with me and enjoyed it.  

But the best holiday I have had without a doubt is driving through Europe with my husband with no destination planned. When we did it first it was in the days before sat nav. And I am not a great map reader, but that was my job because my husband was doing all of the driving. We had been to Mannheim, in Germany, but because there was racing on there were no hotels anywhere. As I was trying to navigate to the next town, I had the window open, and the page of the map flew out of the window.  

Did you manage to get it back? 

Luckily because maps are old school, there is a page before it which shows you a bit of the next page, so I managed to piece it together. We did it again most recently last summer and went to a few different spots in Italy.  

And how did you get involved in the work you do in the Middle East? 

I was always interested in the Palestinian cause. I used to attend all of the demonstrations and I used to think there isn’t enough intellectual thinking around policy and understanding. So I set up the Middle East North Africa Forum when I didn’t get elected in 2011 and, because of the contacts I had, I hosted quite a lot of interesting people. The first person I had was Juma Giuma, who was the Libyan ambassador to the UK, just before Colonel Gaddafi was killed. Following that we had the first prime minister of Iraq and then Mohamed Morsi.  

Thinking about it, I might need to change my dinner date to Noam Chomsky. He has been absolutely incredible in his analysis of Palestine and the Middle East. There is not another brain like Chomsky’s.

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