My best teacher: Alex Salmond

25th February 2011 at 00:00
A formidable spinster who `scared the living daylights' out of the First Minister gave him two special gifts

I absolutely loved school. I never quite got there on time: my timekeeping was disorganised, and that caused me a bit of bother. But once I got there, I loved it. I had a fantastic schooling. Between Linlithgow Primary and the Academy I couldn't have had a better schooling anywhere in the world, and I had some fantastic teachers. If I had to pick one, I suppose it would be Miss Baird, my primary teacher.

She was in the tradition of formidable Scottish spinster primary teachers who had eyes in the backs of their heads. When they strapped you, it hurt them more than it hurt you. (I'm not quite certain that was true, incidentally.)

She scared the living daylights out of me. I was strapped five times as a four-year-old. I richly deserved it, believe me. I am not going to go through the full range of my misdemeanours, but I tried her patience sorely.

She would have been in her fifties when she taught me and she was a very properly, correctly dressed lady, well turned out. She was quite diminutive, which made her formidable approach to things all the more impressive.

By one means or another, she managed to teach a rather mischievous four- year-old to read, which is no mean achievement and was the most important thing that happened to me in my life.

I was off school a lot because I was quite a serious asthmatic. Certainly right through my primary school days, I was off a great deal, and I just read everything. My dad bought an encyclopaedia in 1960, when I was five. There were 12 volumes, and I read them from cover to cover. I knew something about everything.

Years later, when Miss Baird was an old lady in a nursing home in Linlithgow, my mother used to visit her. She left me her most prized possession, which was a painting of the school, because she was so proud that I had become a Member of Parliament.

Of the subject teachers, there was Mr Adamson, who was the history teacher at Linlithgow Academy. Miss Baird didn't manage to get me to write in any legible form, perhaps because I was off school so much. Mr Adamson took the time and effort to see beyond my illegible scrawls, to find something worth seeing behind it.

He taught me right through from first year to sixth year and he had great energy and enthusiasm for the subject, which was the reason why he was a great teacher. History was a great love of mine. My grandfather taught me Scottish history, but Mr Adamson was keen on me doing other subjects, things I didn't know so much about. For Sixth Year Studies, I did the American Civil War.

Mr Currie, another history teacher, took us for religious education. We had absolutely fascinating discussions. Not much about religion, it has to be said, but the discussions were not any the worse for that. He was the one who persuaded me to go to St Andrews University.

I couldn't get away from the technical subjects quickly enough, because I was really rubbish at them. I found everything else relatively effortless, but these technical subjects were a real trial for me. I was totally handless. The only thing I could do was plumbing, because my granddad was a plumber. I was delighted when I saw the back of technical at the end of my second year, and believe me, technical were delighted when they saw the back of me.

To Miss Baird, I would say thanks for teaching me to read, thanks for the painting and I probably deserved the strap.

First Minister Alex Salmond MSP was talking to Julia Belgutay

Personal profile

Born: Hogmanay 1954 in Linlithgow

Education: Linlithgow Primary, Linlithgow Academy, St Andrews University

Work: economist with Royal Bank of Scotland; elected MP for Banff and Buchan, 1987 and MSP, 1999; leader of the SNP, 2004; MSP for Gordon, 2007; First Minister, 2007.

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