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Second-hand politicians

As I was out for my walk yesterday, seven miles since you ask, it struck me that my putting one foot in front of the other was in no way specifically an MSP activity. Indeed if viewed without prior knowledge, and with the sound off, the daily actions other than our appearing in Parliament would look much like other office workers.

In a media world, almost any activity can be the subject of a "fly on the wall" series. I watch "Bangers and Cash" which follows the Mathewson family scouring the outhouses of the country for, mostly, immobile old cars which then get sold at their monthly auction in the village hall in Thornton Le-Dale in Yorkshire.

Given that my first five or six cars cost no more than a fiver, I am familiar with the task of running transport on a budget as close to zero as you could imagine. The main cost in my early motoring days was simply my time. And generous expenditure on Swarfega hand cleaner. It was a sort of green "gloop" that magically removed the oil from skin.

Asking Mr Google shows that it is still around and remains targetted at that use we made of it nearly sixty years ago. I don't know what it was made of when I used it. Now it is orange and, yes, contains oranges among its other ingredients.

Our fiver, and our time, was focussed on our having four wheels for perhaps as much as a year before the car in question could no longer be made roadworthy and MoT-able and was thus sent to the scrappy.

We were never that sad about that last journey to Windygates in Fife as were one able to drive the vehicle into the yard, they would pay you ten pounds - more than enough to get another five-pound banger on the road.

Today seems to be a rather different world.

My father bought one of the very early Mini-Cooper S cars - registration AFG 444B. It cost £757 and had the serial number AEG47 stamped on its gearbox. I watched the Mathewsons rescue a hugely diminished shell of a rather more recent "S" which had to be gently lifted by a forklift. There was the constant risk that it would simply end up, if nudged even quite gently, as a pile of rust flakes on the shed floor. At the auction, this pile of junk, looking as if hardly any of it could be rescued to form part of a rebuilt car, went for a decent five-figure some.

I gave up my interest in cars per se a few years ago. Now they are merely a means of transport.

But the show is quite hypnotic and has no professional broadcaster either appearing or speaking. It's just the family talking directly to you the audience.

Over the years there have been many behind the scenes TV series. The medical ones always fascinated me. From 1958 there was "Your Life in Their Hands." I have a suspicion that it was broadcast live but can't find a reference to confirm that.

What I certainly remember is watching a 1950s operation that might now be described as "keyhole surgery". It involved replacing the stapes bone in the ear. That's about three millimetres long and provides a vital link in the mechanical transmission of sound within our ear.

The entire operation was undertaken through one of these chrome pieces that a doctor would stick in your ear so they could see what was going on in there. The TV was then black and white and of much lower definition than now. It was both a medical "miracle" and a broadcast one showing as it did, the surgeon's manipulation of this tiny bone. Without colour and today's visual resolution, I guess it wouldn't scare too many viewers. It certainly fascinated the teenage me.

But as I walked, I tried to recall there being a TV series about us politicians of an equivalent kind. I couldn't. But I dare some someone will inform me if I have missed it.

The bottom line is that we politicians are humans too. There are quite a few hours on TV devoted to politics. But almost none of it seems to put politicians into any sort of light showing us making a real difference to ordinary individual's lives. And yet this part of our job consumes far more of our time than speeches in Parliament, which gets the most air time. Or our being in Committee, which appears only when there is some huge controversy or revelation.

The day to day job of practical help with real-life problems is all but invisible to the viewing public. My office and I can deal with a couple of thousand cases a year. That may be thirty to forty thousand since I was elected. If all seventy-three constituency members have similar workloads, that could be well over one hundred thousand a year. The fifty-six list members generally have fewer such cases but it's far from zero.

Politicians generally come well down the list of highly-regarded people in our society. If we judge them only by their on-screen confrontations, I can see why. When one's chances of getting on TV are enhanced by talking about another politician's failures, it is perhaps no surprise that we are not highly regarded.

Today sees another recycling of politicians at the end of their careers.

Unlike the cars which may end up in an auction in Yorkshire, rusty old politicians are sent to join the other vegetables (Jim Hacker's description in "Yes Minister") in the House of Lords.

The appointments which are for life and with no method of accountability to anyone, far less an electorate who could dismiss them, represent the most egregious corruption of proper political processes.

We may have to wait a wee bit for confirmation about who shall be given one of these jobs-for-life. But we know that most of them would attract no bids at Mathewsons. Or anywhere else.

OK, Ken Clarke, I make an exception for one individual. But without resiling from a desire to abolish the unelected form of this over-filled chamber.

But then Ken would probably find it easy to be elected to a second chamber.

If only as resident sage and jester.

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