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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
21 December 2022
Ivan McKee MSP: Getting to Know You

Ivan with his saxophone

Ivan McKee MSP: Getting to Know You

What is your earliest memory? 

Until I was about four, we lived in Helensburgh, my parents ran a shop there. I remember my mum carrying me about the back garden that was there, so I must have been about two or three, maybe younger. That is all pretty vague.  

Then we moved to Springburn, one of my earliest memories there, a welcome to Glasgow, was coming home from school one day and a couple of boys asked me, “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” I said nothing. Then they asked what school I went to, and then they hit me. I must have only been about five or six then.

It seemed pretty rough back then 

Well, it was the late 60s or early 70s. It was what it was, and you just got on with it. It wasn’t as bad as some of the stuff you hear about. But yeah, it was a rough old time.  

What were you like at school? 

I enjoyed school, I got on and did reasonably well from an academic point of view, and did other stuff as well; music, and sport. I was a wee bit rebellious at times, I had a thing about not wearing a uniform for a period to hit back against authority.  

I wasn’t a troublemaker; it was more pushing the envelope a wee bit.

I tend to find when I speak to politicians that rebellion is a common theme of their school days. Were you starting to become interested in politics around that time? 

I was very interested from a very young age, and my dad was always quite interested in politics. I remember him talking to his friends that would come round and talk about political issues.  

I remember them going to vote in the 1970 election, and by the 1974 election, I was really interested. I was watching the results and making a wee note of everything that was going on, tracking everything that was happening.  

Who would be your dream dinner date? 

I love to know how things work, so it would be nice to speak to some of the folks at the top and get their perspective on it. How much they would tell me I don’t know. Barack Obama is an obvious one, Bill Clinton would be interesting as well.  

I am a big blues fan, so who is left of The Blues Brothers? I know that Bill can play, and Barack can sing a wee bit, so hopefully, we could have a wee jam session afterwards.  

What is your most treasured possession? 

I have a box in the attic where I keep bits and pieces from life just to remind me of different things. So sometimes I take a wee look at that.  

I play the saxophone, and I have a sax that I have had for ages. It is a tenor, Mark VI Selmer – king of saxs. I have had that for about 40 years now. It has been all around the world with me, so that brings back memories of places that I have been. It has been to Bangladesh, I have travelled with bands to Canada, Germany, Russia, and Poland, and I have gigged all over the place.  

What was it like in Bangladesh?  

Difficult, but I learned a lot. I went right after I graduated, back in the 80s. I was there for VSO working in a cooperative factory, helping them with various technical issues and stuff like that. It was a great experience, that being said, I look back now and think about all of the scrapes that we got into and I think if my kids were away doing that at that age I would be horrified.  

What is your guiltiest pleasure? 

I probably don’t have many. Sometimes I don’t get up at six in the morning and go for a run, I feel bad about that. I am doing a lot of running now, so five or six mornings a week.  

I am getting tuned back into my marathon training, so I am getting about 40 to 50 miles a week. I did a few two or three years ago and then I had a bit of time off. Now I am back into it I want to do a few more next year.  

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given? 

When I first started work in a factory, I had a manager who said to me there are three things that you have got to do in terms of focus; organisation, motivation, and attention to detail. If you do that, you can get through anything. And he was right. It taught me to keep an eye on the detail and it stood me in good stead.  

He was a hard taskmaster, and he kind of prided himself on knocking the nonsense out of recent graduates and showing them what the real world was like. It was that period of life when you are really absorbing stuff. 

It’s amazing, people say things over your life that you don’t forget. That stuck with me, and I just refer to it occasionally. 

What is the worst pain that you have experienced? 

I’m lucky, I have never had a very physically painful experience. You occasionally hit your thumb with a hammer when you’re doing DIY. I have had food poisoning a few times, which was pretty brutal, you know, retching your guts up for days on end.  

Emotional pain, after I got divorced it was difficult. There were some issues with getting to see kids, so that was hard. But I have thankfully come through all of that, and it is all sorted out.  

What is your favourite film or TV programme? 

Top film, The Blues Brothers. To be honest, I don’t watch much TV, but what I do watch is The Chase, the quiz programme, which I think is just great, so I watch that relentlessly. I suppose that is a guilty pleasure as well.  

What was the last book that you read? 

If you can call it a book, I just read the biography of Liz Truss. I read it on a flight. You just whiz through it. I mean it is the Thick of It – it is just phenomenal some of the situations, and how things transpired. Some of the stuff you read about when she was travelling, obviously I do a bit of travelling as well, and you relate it to what she was doing and the daft conversations she got into with people, and some of the stuff she did as well as making her team do for her, it really is comical.

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