There’s a wedding today. Somehow, I can’t raise the same animosity towards it that I felt for the last one. If the happy couple wanted to turn it into a truly popular event, they could exit Canongate Kirk and samba down to Holyrood Palace. Even a crusty old republican like me would turn out for that. But I'll come back to Edmundo in a different context later ...
TWITTER AND MSPs
Alternative media and social media have transformed politics and power structures. We’ve had the Obama campaign and subsequent election, Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and most recently, the Chinese Government being forced into an apology over the rail crash they tried to bury.
Twitter, of course, was initially a rather trivial medium, and in some respects still is - the vacuous celebrity tweeting continues unabated - but there is another side to it, one that was revealed to me by the eye-opening, mind-expanding PiCamp event in Edinburgh last year, for which I am eternally indebted to Mick Fealty of the influential Irish blog Slugger O'Toole.
Politicians and political parties were at first slow to realise Twitter’s potential, but then leapt on the bandwagon, often with risible results. We expected - and got - banality from most celebrities, but when the poverty of the minds of some of our politicians and media commentators was revealed in all its comical inadequacy, some were shocked, including me.
The Scottish political parties (a misnomer, since there is really only one, the SNP) were slower than most, but they got their act together after a fashion, even though for a time they seemed not to have grasped the essence of this new medium of communication. Some still haven’t got a handle on it, and the failure ranges from trivialising the medium to not recognising its manifest dangers.
I have looked at some of the tweets of MSPs and they fall into various types. Here are some examples, taken as typical in their format, but not specific to any particular MSP -
The Political Reporting Tweet:
“Spent the day visiting my constituents in Aberbaldy.”
“Scheduled for evening session on local amenities with residents in Aberbaldy Community Centre.”
The Political Link Tweet:
“You really must read/view Alex McCrumpshy’s piece on independence - see link $%678XZW”
(This type includes retweets of politically relevant material.)
The Political Opinion or viewpoint Tweet:
“I think the Party should redefine its policy on xxxxxxxx.”
“I tend towards the view that we (the Party) should change course on xxxxxxx.”
“I agree with Alex McCrumpshy’s stance on xxxxxxx.”
The Call for Support Tweet:
“Please try to show up for the march against the cuts/in favour of the cuts in George Square on Monday.”
“Make sure you vote YES to the question of xxxxxx.”
“Vote for me!”
The Campaign for an obscure cause safely outside of Scotland Tweet:
“The international artist Arundel Magundel has been imprisoned unjustly in Outer Mongolia because of his opposition to levitation. Please show your support by throwing a cocktail party, and inviting as many middle-class professionals as you can find among your network.”
The Insider Conversation Tweet:
“Had a wonderful time after today’s street campaign in Aberbaldy - thanks for the tea/beer/wine or other unmentionable substance. Big Willie was on top form …”
The Personal Tweet:
“I love cookery programmes on TV”
“Went to see my niece today. My, hasn’t she grown up …”
“Relaxing with a glass of wine after a long hard day.”
“Don’t you just love the Wild Protruding Bagpipers - I think their music should have wider exposure.”
“Had a wonderful meal at Jakie’s themed Meth and CherryBlossom bar/restaurant last night - can’t recommend it enough.”
(This type includes retweets of items with no political relevance whatsoever.)
There is no problem in having more than one Twitter identity. The choices are more or less infinite, from presenting yourself by real name, by pseudonym, by pseudonym and real name, by organisation, and so on. The political parties are upfront with party identity and sub-categories of that identity, news commentators present themselves either personally under their own name or with news organisation appended, e.g. jonsnowC4 Jon Snow, afneil Andrew Neil.
(I use the dual formulation, moridura Peter Curran and, for example, Peat Worrier LallandsPeatWorrier uses a dual format but preserves anonymity.)
So the choice is how to present yourself, and this choice is an important one - or ought to be - for politicians. Let me focus on Scottish MPs and MSPs.
If you place MP or MSP after your name in a public communication (and tweeting on Twitter is just that) you are calling attention to your role as a public servant.
MP/MSP is not a title, like Dr. before a name, or a qualification after it, e.g. MD, MA, WS, nor is it a title that is part of your name like OBE, MBE, etc. It is a job title, nor more, no less, for an elected office, and if you communicate under that advertised identity, the communication should be directly relevant to it.
An MP or MSP should not behave like a minor celebrity on Twitter, touting music preferences, favourite restaurants, or detailing the minutiae and often trivia of their personal lives.
This, when not done out of misplaced vanity, appears to be an attempt to somehow humanise the politician, to give evidence that they are just ordinary folk. But they are not. When a politician is elected, he or she accepts the onerous responsibility of representing the people effectively. Humanity and compassion is best demonstrated by political action, not by trivial toadying to popular trends and fashions.
The political reporting tweet, the political link tweet, the call for support tweet are all legitimate. The political opinion tweet is regrettably as rare as hen’s teeth from MSPs, who seem to wish to demonstrate as much bland conformity as Blair’s Babes (male or female).
But I could do with a lot less of the Campaign for an obscure cause safely outside of Scotland Tweet: there are more than enough urgent and demanding causes close to home, with vulnerable constituents desperately in need of their MP or MSP’s voice, support and action. Of course such issues, involving as they do real people on your doorstep, such as the abandoned families and businesses of Dalmarnock being destroyed by the Games Juggernaut, involve uncomfortable levels of commitment and some risk to political advancement and preferment, and they won’t be solved by cosy insider cocktail parties - they involve taking a stand, adopting a position.
As for the The Insider Conversation Tweet and the Personal Tweet, well, if you need this kind of thing, do it under a personal identity, not as an MP or MSP, please.
At a time when Scotland is facing desperately challenging and threatening economic challenges, the world’s economy may collapse next Tuesday if the US defaults on its debt repayments, the UK is engage in lunatic foreign adventures that are killing young Scots among many others, and when the question of independence is central to the political debate, I don’t want to hear about your favourite TV programme, or your glass of wine after dinner, nor do I want to follow your cosy insider conversations - I want to know what you are doing and how you are contributing to political solutions.
And to return, as promised, to Edmundo Ros … In the 1950s, the BBC was rather more innocent than it is today. After all, the significance of the news reporter character’s name on The Goon Show - Hugh Jampton - escaped them completely (connoisseurs of Cockney rhyming slang and residents of Hampton Wick understood), so when Edmundo Ros engaged in shameless advertising plugs with rendition of the song Torremolinos, they were blissfully unconcerned. The holiday resort of Torremolinos was discreetly and suitably grateful to Edmundo.
So, with the MPs’ expenses scandal fresh in all our minds, could I ask MPs and MSPs to stop tweeting on the favourite restaurants, watering holes, pop groups etc. under their appellation of MP or MSP. Remain above suspicion - as I am sure you are - by using a purely personal Twitter identity for this stuff. I can then ‘follow’ you in your political identity on Twitter for the real stuff, and ignore your irrelevant chaff.
I, of course, am completely free to do these things, because I am not a public servant on salary and expenses, but just an individual voter, with a viewpoint - and maybe a bit of an attitude …