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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
16 March 2023
Stuart McMillan MSP: Getting to Know You

Stuart McMillan at the Berlin Wall

Stuart McMillan MSP: Getting to Know You

What were you like at school? 

I was good, I wasn’t on the naughty step on a regular basis, to say the least. I worked hard, but I was terrible at studying, particularly at secondary school.  

Like everyone, you have a few teachers that really stick out in your memory, and for me it was the music teachers, Mrs McCrorie in particular. You got her in the same way every single day, someone who loved what she was doing, loved music, and loved teaching it. And I still bump into her in the constituency from time to time.  

How is it having a former teacher as a constituent? 

I actually have a few. A couple of years ago I was in getting a new tyre and this lady came in, and I thought she looked like my primary three teacher. She sat down and I plucked up the courage and I asked her if she was my teacher, and she turned around and said, ‘yes I am, Stuart’. 

I have bumped into quite a few of them now, and none of them has told me off yet – at least not to my face.  

How did you get into piping? 

I got into it through The Boys Brigade, and when I was doing music in school, I was doing the pipes. And because the school didn’t teach the pipes, and there were a few pipers in the school, you could see the delight on Mrs McCrorie’s face when we came out during school shows.  

And you’re the parliament’s official piper, I assume you’re still practising as much? I don’t practice as much as I should – I don’t have the time to play for a band or anything like that any more. But through the parliament, I have been able to play at some really wonderful events.  

It was a great privilege to be able to pipe on behalf of the parliament last year when the parliament did a commemorative event for the Queen.  

On a more relaxed aspect, piping at the opening of the Queensferry Crossing was nice, doing it on top of Dundee’s V&A was outstanding, but piping at Hampden and Murrayfield was just amazing. 

I was due to pipe on top of the Forth Rail Bridge a few years ago but the weather forecast indicated there was going to be a hurricane. That will happen at some point. I said to Humza Yousaf when he was transport minister that if I was going to do one bridge I might as well do the other two as well.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My family. You won’t see campaigning photos of me and my family, I’m the politician, not them, and I genuinely treasure the privacy that we have, and I wouldn’t give that up for anything.  

Is it difficult to separate Stuart McMillan the politician and the family man? 

Actually, I have found it quite easy because of how I have dealt with it from day one. When I was first elected in 2007, the election was on a Thursday and I found out on Friday afternoon that I had been elected, and my eldest daughter was born on the Tuesday of election week. And I found out that I was elected standing in the stairwell of the Southern General Hospital, so it was a bit of a surprising week, to say the least. 

What is the best advice that you have been given? 

On the Saturday after I was elected in 2007, we met up for the first time, outside of Dynamic Earth, and Tricia Marwick came up to me, gave me a big hug and told me, “Now, you listen to me boy, I’m going to give you a piece of advice. You have had the best week of your life becoming a father and a politician, but you have to remember that being the father is far more important than being the politician”.  

I would like to think that over that period I have probably got it right more often than not.

You’ve mentioned how you can speak quite a bit of German, how much time have you spent there over the years? 

I went on a German exchange trip when I was in school, one year the German kids came here and the following year we went there. We weren’t far from Dortmund and Dusseldorf. The first week we went to school for three days, and the second week we went to West Berlin – this was still when the wall was up.  

We got a coach through. I don’t really remember passing through East Germany. However, on one of the days, we did have a trip to East Berlin, and that just blew my mind, to be quite honest. It was really quite bizarre. We got the underground into East Berlin and when we got in we had to go by security. The room was like one of the smaller meeting rooms in the parliament. On one side of the room there was a kiosk with a guard sitting there with his gun and on the other side there was a mirror that he would use to see if you were trying to hide anything.  
He checked my passport, asked me a few questions, and I was only 16 at the time, it was really quite frightening. The guard we had going into the county was really stern but the guard we had seeing us out was telling us to have a lovely day and hope to see you back soon. 

The day before we went for a tour of the Reichstag, this was before the Sir Norman Foster dome and the redevelopment. At one point in the tour, we were on the side facing East Germany and the guide told us that where we were standing was six metres away from East Germany and that we were being spied on. All the Scottish kids were a bit stunned; the West German kids were fine.  

What is the worst pain you have ever experienced? 

I don’t know if you would call it pain, but losing the referendum in 2014. I went through so many emotions, first of all thinking that’s it over, thinking this is not going to come back again, to just feeling absolutely spent. And then when David Cameron made his speech about English votes for English laws, I just thought that was rubbing salt into the wounds, rather than sticking a hand of friendship out. That made me really angry and frustrated but helped me carry on and continue as well.

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