This article is from the May issue of Total Politics
Politics can be an all-consuming business, especially when it is in the blood. I grew up in a political household, studied political science at university, and had my first experience of working in politics at the tender age of 16.
Despite this, I was not prepared for the impact that becoming an MSP has had upon my life. Once I overcame the initial shock of election, recruited staff and set up my office, the job seemed to take on a life of its own.
I now have a personal and a political persona; and because being a politician is much like owning a business, except that that business is oneself, these personas are at once both separate and the same. It is easy to lose sight of where one’s political life ends, and one’s personal life begins.
This is perhaps exacerbated by the fact that many of my friends either work in politics or are deeply interested in it, so that even when I am not working or attending official engagements, I am often thinking about or discussing politics.
So what is my escape?
The answer is sport. I have always been a passionate advocate of sport (indeed, my first speech in Parliament was, ironically, about sport). It is good for the mind, good for the body, and has a purity of escapism that few other things in life offer.
And when I say sport, what I primarily mean is football. I say primarily; for the record, I am a mean badminton player.
I have always been a Celtic fan, and I can honestly say that for the 90 minutes at Celtic Park, and a good hour either side, politics does not cross my mind.
In the aftermath of a game I am either too delighted, or too despondent – and given current events, I am pleased to say it is more often delight than despondency – to think about anything else, even politics.
The tribal nature of British football notwithstanding, my interest in the sport has always been cosmopolitan. When I was younger I used to follow a team in most European Countries. I have always felt a special affinity for Barcelona – both the team and the city – and watch them play whenever possible.
Apart from football, I am lucky enough to have a close family and many good friends (even if they do insist upon talking about politics all the time).
That it was Edna Healey, wife of Denis, who stated the necessity for a ‘hinterland’, is very telling. It illustrates both her appreciation of the pressures of politics, and her understanding of, and love for, her husband.
I am an ardent believer in the power of politics to change society for the better, and I am honoured to be a politician. However, and to paraphrase a great football man, it is not, in most of its guises, a matter of life and death. And in a time when too many politicians – Robin Cook, Donald Dewar, John Smith – have died prematurely, it is important to have a safety valve. That Denis Healey is still going strong at 94 is, perhaps, no accident.
Siobhan McMahon is the Labour MSP for Central Scotland