No wrong path
I normally skim past the yearly #nowrongpath tweets that come out around this time each year. Then, I thought about how helpful hearing about some of the things I’ve been through might be to someone in a similar situation.
I was a naturally quite a good student when I was in secondary school. Coming from a very working class family in Shettleston in the East End of Glasgow, I was looking forward to being one of the first people in my family to go to university. This did make it a bit difficult when I got into the more senior years as when you don’t have to try very hard you don’t learn the important stuff. Stuff like actually setting time aside to study and poring over textbooks months before exams. I managed eventually to get some grip on this and was getting ready to for my exams when things took a turn for the worse.
My Dad was diagnosed with cancer when I was turning 16 and though he lasted longer than we thought he would it had a huge impact on me personally. It’s not easy to focus on studying, school or for that matter much when your world is collapsing around you. In spite of the fantastic work and patience of my family, teachers, counselling staff and the other students in my year my grades plummeted. I still carried on with the motions. My favourite subject was physics, probably due to the amazing teachers I had, chief amongst them Mrs Devlin, who helped ignite a passion in the subject.
I even managed to get an interview for a conditional place studying it at St Andrews as part of an access program to improve their working class representation. It was then in fifth year that my Dad passed away. I barely scraped a pass in most of my classes and failed others. When someone that close to you dies, it takes over your entire life.
In my final year I managed to pull back some better grades again thanks to the massively understanding family, staff and friends at school. Without support this whole period would have been totally unmanageable. Again, though I missed the entry grades for any of the universities I had applied to.
I was absolutely devastated. I spent the summer meeting friends and playing video games. After summer most of my friend group left for various different unis across Scotland. It was then I realised I had to do something to pull myself out of the depression I was falling in to. My uncle worked doing IT call centre work and as I was good with a computer I thought that was something I could do.
I emailed in an application form and got an interview which I passed. After that it was full-time shift based work. Basically if your internet has ever stopped working and you had to phone up your network the person you eventually got through to was someone like me. I really enjoyed working there, being able to put my IT skills to some use helped me to feel like I was doing something useful for the first time since I’d left school. And the people I was working alongside were from all walks of life, some students on part-time contracts, others working full-time and even some retirees looking to keep themselves active. There were also some real characters and while many of the stories from that time can certainly not be put down here I would be more than happy to share them with those of you who know me over a pint!
I should also add that I spent some of that time on shift skiving (or researching if you’d rather) and reading political blogs, articles and international news. I was really interested in all that sort of stuff despite not being actively political or having studied any of it. Remember this part because it comes back later.
I worked there for about two years full-time and used the space to get myself back to a more stable place and then I started thinking about the future. I still wanted to do something related to physics but I hadn’t got the grades I needed to go to university. So I started looking in to other ways I could get were I wanted to be. I couldn’t find any pure physics courses in college no matter how hard I seemed to try. So I decided I could do some applied physics (or engineering as they prefer to call it) instead. I have always been interested in computing and in my spare time, built computers for gaming so on reading about electronics I thought that was right up my street. I applied to a couple of Glasgow Colleges and eventually chose to go to Cardonald College (Now part of Glasgow Clyde College).
I absolutely loved my time at Cardonald. I made friends and threw myself in to the work. There was also plenty of drinking, parties and general good times. The time I spent there was some of the most fun I have had and probably taught me much more about life than I learned academically. For the first time since my Dad had passed away I felt properly good again. Come to think of it I don’t think the friends I made there knew what a positive impact they had on me.
It was during my time in college that a friend would suggest to me that I come along to a meeting that would change the whole trajectory of my life. Now remember that time spent seemingly skiving earlier on, this is where it comes back. My friend invited me to a Young Scots for Independence (YSI) Glasgow meeting. In classic YSI fashion there had been a problem advertising the meeting so it ended up just being my friend, me and a another young guy from the Calton by the name of Greg Hepburn.
You see this was in the midst of the referendum campaign in 2013 I think. I had always been in favour of Scotland’s independence but I had never thought we could achieve it until that referendum kicked off. Greg told me about the ways I could get involved and this eventually led to me meeting the coordinator for the yes campaign in the East End, David Linden, who quickly got me to work canvassing and leafleting the doors for the cause. David is now one of our fantastic MPs in Westminster but he was a bit younger back then!
Meanwhile my hard work in college was paying off. I was in the top of the class and along with a handful of others got a chance to take part in a new access pathway program the college had started with Strathclyde University. This allowed us to go straight in to 2nd year if we achieved an A in the final exam and undertook extra work. Along with the others I got the grades and completed the extra work. I was finally off to university.
Around the same time I joined the SNP as I had been campaigning non-stop for independence when I wasn’t studying. I figured that if the SNP won independence they would be negotiating the birth of our new country and if we lost they would be helping keep the cause alive. Either way I knew I wanted to support them. I was gutted when we lost the referendum but I was glad I was a member because I knew I would do everything I could to get us another shot.
The year I spent at university was a strange one. I enjoyed it but something didn’t quite feel right. I didn’t feel the drive that I did in college. Eventually I realised it was because I enjoyed the time I spent campaigning more than I did when I was learning about electronic and electrical engineering. I was getting more involved in the local Shettleston Branch and at the end of the 2nd year of university a constituency office vacancy with the local MSP came up and despite having no political qualifications other than my links to the area and time spent campaigning, I applied.
I got the job as Parliamentary Officer and never returned for my 3rd year of university. Several people advised me against dropping out of uni, but I had to do what was best for me. Its funny because I had spent so long striving to get to university and I almost fell in to a job doing something that is a burning passion of mine. If only the me who was skiving and reading about politics at the call centre could have known.
I’m still working in politics now and inside the SNP I have been supported by countless members, both old and new, to get involved in all areas of the party. I convene the best branch in Scotland (In Sunny Shettleston) and have been given the opportunity to travel across the country for the SNP, including most recently Shetland.
It eventually led me to one of the proudest moments of my life – being given the opportunity to stand as one of the SNPs 6 candidates in the European Election in 2019. The privilege I felt in being able to make the case for our place in Europe across Scotland cannot be put in to words.
I know this has been a bit on the long side but I hope that at least one young person who has lost a loved one and feels like life is hopeless can take a look at the weird path I’ve taken and see that it can all work out in the end. You write your own story and as long as you keep going you will get there in the end.