In praise of human politicians

I see that The Scotsman has again been trying to wring another story out of a politician’s use of Twitter. This time it is Jo Swinson exposing her ignorance about football.

As she was overwhelmed by members of the Tartan Army at a railway station, Ms Swinson got out her BlackBerry, logged on to her Twitter site and wrote: “Have I missed something? What’s the football festivity? Can’t move at Queen Street station for folk in Scotland tops.”

Seven minutes later, Graham Barrie posted: “The Tartan Army v the Dutch Army tonight at Hampden Jo. You really need to get out more :)”

Jeff and Mr Eugenides both have good takes on this. I have to agree with them. For some, football is a matter of life and death. The Scotsman‘s David Maddox calls the match “do-or-die”. But in truth, it isn’t much more than a slightly tedious playground game.

The Scotland–Netherlands tie wasn’t exactly in my diary, though it is true that I was quite aware of it thanks to my football-loving friends. My own take on the match, as published on Twitter, would probably have got me into more trouble. I wasn’t merely ignorant; I was aware, but sarcastic and dismissive:

Advice to football fans: Scotland won’t win the World Cup, so I wouldn’t concern yourself with it.

I find it difficult to get excited about football at the best of times. My enthusiasm for Scotland internationals is marginally above zilch. In my defence, I was rather put off by the fact that last month I was taken by a friend to the pub to watch what I was told would be a football match but turned out to be a disaster film. Strange.

Really, you could argue that the people who don’t think about football are making the right decision. All that worrying over whether Scotland gets knocked out in this round or that does seem to be a waste of energy. And I can well imagine Jo Swinson has plenty of other things to occupy her time with.

This comes just a few months after Patrick Harvie was at the centre of another Twitter row manufactured by David Maddox. His crime was to discreetly tweet at the dinner table, something which I think many people do.

I don’t get this obsession with politicians having to be identikit robots who all have to be up-to-date on the price of milk, whatever music is in the charts and some tedious sporting exploit. I have written about this phenomenon before, and my views haven’t changed.

The fact is that there are 646 MPs and 129 MSPs. If you took 775 random people, you can be guaranteed to find people who couldn’t give two hoots about football and couldn’t tell you how much a loaf of bread costs. You would certainly find plenty of people who didn’t feel the need to contrive odd opinions about the Arctic Monkeys. Yet we expect all this from our politicians. Why?

On the one hand people criticise politicians for being almost like robots if they are perceived to toe the party line, talk in soundbites or reel off reams of irrelevant statistics. But then if they reveal a bit of their personality by representing part of the variety of society by not fitting a media-constructed template of what a “normal person” is expected to be, they are blasted for being “out of touch”.

I can more easily admire Jo Swinson for her personal choice not to worry about football than any politician who feels the need to pretend they are interested when they are so clearly not. Indeed, Jeff’s comparison with Gordon Brown’s uneasy comments about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in Euro 96 reveals that this is one of those issues where you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.

While you would expect parliamentarians to have a knowledge of certain things in order to do their job, there’s nothing wrong with them being human when it comes to their personal interests. In cases like this, it is those in the media who seem more out of touch.


  1. Unfortunately, football has become fashionable and even those of us who would rather the whole thing went away are expected to know about it and have an opinion on the latest games. I do have an opinion, but it isn’t a positive one.

    When I was growing up, there were the kids who liked it, but those of us who didn’t weren’t bombarded with it as we are today. It is a very dull game and always has been. People who don’t follow it and don’t know what games are going on are not out of touch – they simply have better things to do.