At 16 I was at school in Buckhaven. Deputy head girl. I really enjoyed school and I got quite involved – I played for the tennis team, I was in a play, I got involved in charity stuff. I loved sport – squash and tennis. I feel immensely proud that I was the first girl to play for the local boys’ under-14s football club. Yes, I was a bit of a joiner. At 16 I’d just done my Highers and I’d been accepted into Edinburgh University. So the world was my oyster. In my spare time – well, we’d already discovered drinking. It’s a good time – you haven’t made any decisions to cloud your horizons yet. You can go anywhere, be anything. So I was a very happy-go-lucky 16-year-old.
I was deputy head girl but I was quite cheeky actually. I’ve always been slightly cheeky. I’m a second child and my big sister was a straight-A student, head girl instead of deputy head, went off to study medicine – academically she was very gifted. But she and my mum used to clash quite a bit. Because I was younger I was also much better at picking a route through things, finding the path of least resistance with my parents. So I didn’t fight very much with them, we’ve got a very close relationship actually. They’re good folk, good people.
I know there’s more to life than just personal ambition
I was diagnosed with depression when I was 18. I was a bit lost at university. If I could go back to my younger self I’d tell her, just because someone is super confident doesn’t mean they’re right, just because they talk loudly doesn’t mean they know all the answers. Confidence is no substitute for knowledge. And knowledge is no substitute for intelligence. At Edinburgh University in the mid-1990s there were quite a lot of students from down south who were quite a lot older than me, lots who had already been on a gap year. So the truth is I was quite intimidated. Did I talk to anyone about it? Like most students I think… I went to the pub. I’m really pleased things like cameraphones didn’t exist when I went to university. I’m not sure I’d be a politician now if they did.
I didn’t come out until my mid-20s. I didn’t think about my sexuality in my teens. I had boyfriends through school and university. I’ve never told my coming out story and I’m not going to. But I think I’m more comfortable in my own skin now than I have been since I was about 16. For most people who come out, and I’ve been out for goodness knows how many years now, the idea of not being out… I’d find very difficult.
If people like me I think it’s because… you try to be upfront and honest. When I was first elected as leader of the party in Scotland I got a lot of emails, mostly from young men, though some women as well, saying, I’m not a Tory but… I’m out at school but not to my parents, or the other way round, I’ve thought of politics but always thought I couldn’t because I was gay. Until that point it hadn’t occurred to me that it mattered to anyone else. I took time to reply to each person individually. Some were really, really personal letters they’d written to me. And I decided then that, though I wasn’t going to give my coming out story, I was never going to say I couldn’t be asked about being gay. Because you bring yourself to work. Work is part of what makes it less unusual. I want it to feel less remarkable for the next generation.
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