MP Danny Alexander on attending a school with just 15 other pupils on a small island in the Hebrides

Me and my school photo: MP Danny Alexander on attending a school with just 15 other pupils on a small island in the Hebrides

|

UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 8 June 2012

Danny Alexander, 40, is Chief Secretary to the Treasury and a Liberal Democrat MP. Married with two children, he divides his time between London and his constituency home in Aviemore in Scotland.
Close-knit community: Danny, aged seven, on the island of Colonsay

Close-knit community: Danny, aged seven, on the island of Colonsay

This picture was taken when I was about seven at my first school, Colonsay Primary on Colonsay – a small island in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.

It had a population of around 200 at the time and the school roll was only about 15, so it was a tight-knit community.

I was the eldest of four – I had a sister and two brothers. Growing up on Colonsay taught me the importance of self-reliance but also the value of community and being able to rely on your friends and neighbours.

I grew up with a sense of freedom, which I suspect would not have been the case in many bigger places.

My father Di had multiple jobs, as people do in that part of the world.

He was a potter, the deputy pier master and a member of the fire service. When I was eight we moved to South Uist in the Western Isles [Outer Hebrides] when Dad got work there. It was heart-wrenching having to leave Colonsay. At my new school most of the kids spoke Gaelic, so I picked up a bit, but I wasn't there for long as Dad lost his job and we moved to Glengarry on the mainland.

Moving around like that can be unsettling but I always made friends quickly. At the age of 11, after a spell at Glengarry Primary School, I went to Lochaber High School in Fort William, where I spent the rest of my schooldays. It had around 1,600 pupils, so for someone who'd been to three small primary schools it was a bit of a shock to the system.

From humble beginnings: Danny is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury

From humble beginnings: Danny is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It was about 25 miles from our home, so for the first couple of weeks I stayed in a hostel for children, which I absolutely hated. Thankfully, I managed to persuade my parents to drive me to the nearest bus stop, so I could take the school bus each morning and carry on living at home.

I was pretty good at most subjects, particularly maths and science, and when I was 17 I was awarded the Dux of the School [for the top student].

One particular teacher, Miss MacIntyre, was a mentor, encouraging me to push myself as far as I could go – for which I'll always be grateful. I was involved in the debating society, but wasn't ever that involved in politics at school, even though Charles Kennedy [the former Liberal Democrat leader] had been a pupil at the school before me.

There was a bit of bullying, but while I got into the odd fight, it certainly wasn't endemic. Away from school, I joined the local rugby club. I suffered nothing worse than bumps and bruises – but can't speak for my opponents!

I'd never thought of applying to Oxford or Cambridge but my teacher urged me to do so. So I applied, and was accepted by Oxford, where I read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I think I was only the second person from my school to make it to Oxford or Cambridge.

I look back on my schooldays with affection, and think my high school in particular gave me a great platform upon which to build, despite starting out with no special advantages in life.