My Best Teacher: Ruth Davidson

2nd December 2011 at 00:00
A debating coach helped the newly-elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives to find her political voice

I loved school. I was pretty bright and enjoyed learning new things - I played clarinet in the school band, was in the ski club, played tennis. I set up a theatre group and we put on The Sisterhood, an adaptation of a Moliere farce. I played the matriarch-type figure, a bit like Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey.

There were some magnificent teachers. I had a rocky start with Barbara Thomson, who did maths and guidance. It was probably my fault - I was quite gobby, although I ended up being deputy head girl, so I couldn't have been that bad.

She gave a classmate a row about an inappropriate jotter cover. So I thought, "Right, you want something offensive?" I covered my jotter in lots of disparaging quotations about teachers. When I got it back, I was steeling myself for a massive row that didn't come. But in between all my quotes, she'd written thousands of famous quotes of her own, designed to put me in my place. I thought, "You know what? You're all right." She's ended up being a fantastic friend. I broke my back when I was 25, with the Territorial Army, and she sent a card to cheer me up.

Louise Glen was a larger-than-life German teacher. She arrived at the school with stripy trousers, chunky jewellery and a really big shock of almost '80s rock star black hair. She was very funny and had us doing all sorts of crazy stuff. She used to talk about German rock bands like Die Toten Hosen - The Dead Trousers - to teach things like clothing vocabulary. She was completely infectious in her enthusiasm for German and got great results from her pupils.

Isabel Fotheringham, now McIntyre, taught English in second year. She so inspired me that I went off to university to be an English and German teacher, although I later changed my mind. She was young, vibrant and passionate about what she did.

The one who really stands out was my Standard grade and sixth-year studies English teacher, Alison Reid, who, like Barbara, is retired now. She had the patience of a saint - I would occasionally bring in very rubbish pieces of pretentious poetry which she viewed with a straight face.

She was quite challenging in what she taught. In sixth-year, we studied Edwin Morgan. There was one poem where the class was thinking, "This can't be what we think it's about, can it - men having sex in public?" It was completely challenging to what I would choose to read in my own time; it was treating us like grown-ups. We had honest discussions about it. It was the first time I really remember that.

Mrs Reid was my debating coach. I probably wouldn't be an MSP now without my school debating background - maybe I'd have been a forester, or seen the TA through and been a regular army officer.

I won a St Andrews University competition when I was 14 with my debating partner, Donald Pirie, who's a continuity announcer for STV. The prize was to go to Disneyworld in Florida with your debating coach. God love her - it was me, Donald, Mrs Reid and her husband. Both of them are very well read. While I'm sure Goofy and Snow White did not feature in their idea of a good holiday, they were pretty game. They deserved a medal for driving on the other side of the road with two teenagers hitting each other in the back. She's a lovely, warm-hearted, caring woman.

Mrs Reid gave me a biography of Burns - she was a huge fan - on which she'd put a Shakespeare quote I loved, from Julius Caesar, and "Remember to work!" There is an element of me that's more of a big-picture person than a details person. She recognised the temptation to wing it and her rebuke stayed with me: I work incredibly hard.

Ruth Davidson was talking to Henry Hepburn

Personal profile

Born: Edinburgh, 1978

Education: Knowepark Primary, Borders; Lundin Mill Primary and Buckhaven High, Fife; Edinburgh University.

Career: Journalist, latterly with BBC Scotland; elected as a Glasgow list MSP in May 2011; became Scottish Conservative leader on 4 November.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today