Getting to know you: David Linden
The SNP MP for Glasgow East tells Tom Freeman about his alter ego as a giant chicken and why he never washes his scarf
David Linden and a Lego chicken - credit David Linden/Holyrood
How would you describe your accent?
Oh yes, the source of much discussion in the Washington Post, apparently. My friend emailed me from Florida to say the local television station had done a piece on it.
How did they describe your accent, then?
They just said a “thick Scottish accent”. Take from that what you will. I was quite surprised. I don’t think I’m hard to understand. The strangest thing is, by that point, I’d spoken in 170 debates since being elected and nobody had any difficulty understanding me. It was just weird.
Has anyone else in the past found you difficult to understand?
My mum, but that’s probably to do with my choice of career rather than how I speak.
So she didn’t approve?
It’s not that, it’s just I don’t come from a very political family, so she was quite perplexed that I’d got into politics. I’ve been an SNP activist since I was 11 years old, which is pretty sad, I guess. I think she thought it would be a phase I’d grow out of. Politics is a bit like quicksand. The more you fight it, the more you get sucked in.
What is your earliest memory?
Watching Tony Blair’s motorcade sweep in to Buckingham Palace? No, I would have been seven, so that’s not my earliest memory. I certainly remember learning to ride a bike in this ash pitch opposite my house and falling off that on a regular basis. Ash pitches are bloody horrendous.
What did your school report cards say?
That I was always a bit of a class clown. But I was unusual because the jokes I was making were normally between myself and the teacher at the expense of other pupils, rather than about the teacher.
So you saw yourself as a teacher’s pet?
I was an aspiring teacher’s pet but without the brains.
What’s your most treasured possession?
I have an unwashed Airdrie scarf from my childhood. I have this thing about how people shouldn’t wash football scarves because it takes the memories away. I’m pretty sure my wife won’t read Holyrood magazine so I can safely say that.
So what memories does it actually smell of?
Largely of pie. And probably Buckfast wine, if I’m absolutely honest.
Growing up in Shettleston as an Airdrie supporter, you would be in the minority.
I flirted with both Rangers and Celtic as a child. Partly, we didn’t have a lot of money so I just couldn’t afford to go, so I started watching junior football, Vale of Clyde, and when the Vale game was called off the next nearest game was Airdrie. I bizarrely got hooked. I spent two years as the Airdrie mascot. I dressed up as a big chicken and was known as ‘Rock the Cock’.
Yes. For a couple of years as a teenager.
What was your costume like?
Airdrie were liquidated in 2002 because no one paid the bills, so one of the assets they had was two-thirds of a mascot outfit. They didn’t have the bottom half, and I was this scrawny, skinny guy from the East End of Glasgow so my chicken legs fitted in just nicely. My genuine legs were on display.
Did you get in any altercations with other mascots?
No. Famously people would do things that were completely inappropriate, but Rock the Cock was absolutely above board.
Who would be your dream dinner date?
I’ve never had the opportunity to sit down with Winnie Ewing. It would have to be her and Gwynfor Evans, who were the real trailblazers for Welsh and Scottish nationalist politics, when it was really difficult to be a nationalist MP at Westminster.
So it would be an advice session?
Yeah, because this place can be quite boorish. We’re not entirely liked around here. I’d like to understand how they got through it and made themselves relevant.
Probably still being a politician by the time I reach retirement age.
But you were an activist at 11, do you have any other skills?
That’s just it. I’m sure I could make a good bacon roll or something like that! In all seriousness, I don’t want to just be a career politician for the rest of my life. That is something that keeps me awake at night.
Worst thing anyone ever said to you?
In this job you need a pretty thick skin. I dip in and out of Twitter but I find it a bit of a cesspit. Frankly, that’s as much about SNP supporters as other parties as well. Some of the abuse you get from people who are completely uninformed.
After I was elected, I was making my maiden speech, which is an incredibly nervous process, particularly for someone who left school at 16 and was never in a university debating society or anything like that. People were tweeting saying you’re talking bollocks, they can’t understand you, or you speak really fast. I find the Twitter stuff a bit unedifying. That said, I’m not a woman in politics. Some of my female colleagues get it really tough.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
Some of the best advice I had was to make sure you make time for your family at the weekend. I’ve largely stuck by that, but it’s actually difficult to do. I’ve got a tiny majority of only 75 and the politician instinct is you spend every waking hour opening every jumble sale and congratulating everyone on finishing their dinner, things like that.
But when you got elected, you promised to keep door knocking. How do you fit that in?
You cram it in. An hour or two on Friday afternoon. At the moment it’s more difficult because we’re in on Mondays, so we’re back down the road. The reality is the main thing people have been talking to me about is fireworks. If you turn on the parliament channel this afternoon, nobody will be talking about that.
Playing with Lego. I was miffed this week to see the UK Culture Secretary say that. That should be pretty worrying for UK culture. I enjoy playing with Lego. And Excel spreadsheets.
What is the most expensive Lego set you’ve built?
It was argued currency was our Achilles’ heel during the independence referendum. If you want a solid currency, I’d suggest a Lego brick. As a commodity it holds its value.
But I don’t spend a huge amount of money on the kits. I like to build my own thing. One of the things I like doing is building little football stadiums. When you get involved in politics at 11, you never want to conform to the instructions. Get a big bucket of Lego from a car-boot sale and stick me in a room for eight or nine hours and I’m as happy as a pig in excrement.
Last book you read?
Night School by Lee Child. I’m quite a big fan of the Jack Reacher series.
Was it good?
Yeah. I’ve read the whole lot. My godmother buys me the new Jack Reacher book every year when it comes out before Christmas, so I was conscious I’d better get the old one finished.
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