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Twin Perks: Meet the identical twin brothers-cum-constitutional experts serving Parliament

Twin Perks: Meet the identical twin brothers-cum-constitutional experts serving Parliament

Identical twins Michael and David Torrance at primary school | Image credit: Torrance family personal collection

4 min read

Identical twins David and Michael Torrance work on different sides of Parliament, but colleagues can’t tell them apart. Despite this, the brothers tell Georgina Bailey there is an upside to a double life in Westminster.

Identical twins are accustomed to sharing everything from clothes to DNA. So it is perhaps apt that brothers David and Michael Torrance share twin careers, as constitutional clerks at opposite ends of Parliament.

Originally from Scotland, the 43-year-old brothers have worked in Westminster for more than a decade; Michael is attached to the Lords Constitution Committee and little brother David, younger by eight or 12 minutes depending on their mother’s memory, works in the Commons Library. 

Michael has been in the House of Lords for 12 years, while David has stuck to the other side of the estate, as an MP’s researcher in the mid-2000s, then a political journalist, and for the last three years as senior library clerk in the Commons, focusing on devolution, monarchy, church and state.

So, is a passion for the constitution the result of nature or nurture? The brothers grew up in a political home in Edinburgh – their father had been a committed SNP member since the 1960s. However, they say their parents never pushed them in a particular direction, and they took different paths to where they are now. 

David started by studying psychology at the University of Aberdeen then trained as a journalist, while Michael followed him there a year later to study politics and international relations, before qualifying as a lawyer. As a result, Michael says his interest in the constitution is more academic than passionate.

I’ve had some almost aggressive interactions with MPs when I tell them I’m not David

“Working in the Lords, it is a constitutional beast,” Michael says. “Much like Scotland can define itself against England, the Lords very much defines itself against the Commons. So I’ve always been interested in the nuts and bolts of constitutional arrangements.”

Perhaps because of the nature of some of the debate around Scottish independence, they both relish the necessary impartiality their roles bring now. 

David jokes that: “As a freelance journalist, I wapaid to have opinions; now I’m paid not to have opinions! But I maintain a passion about the constitution being properly understood. 

“As a journalist I felt that often the debate, not just on Scotland but Brexit too, was conducted from a position which didn’t necessarily understand the constitutional mechanics. So it’s great at the Library because I’m in a really good position to try and do something about that.”

Michael (L) and David (R) Torrance

Whether coincidental or predestined, their situation is certainly a useful one, with the two often sharing insights and briefings (as well as parliamentary gossip).

While their mother no longer colour-codes their clothes, there are differences in their appearance, like glasses, beard lengths and hairstyles. However, colleagues still find it hard to tell them apart. 

“I’ve had some almost aggressive interactions with MPs when I tell them I’m not David,” Michael says. “Their inclination, especially if they’re also Scottish, is to assume you’re making fun of them.” 

David adds: “We’ve had this all our lives. When we say to people, ‘No, I’m not who you think I am, I’m the other one,’ they think you’re having a laugh, which is a curious reaction given that twins are a recognised phenomenon.”

With their parliamentary email addresses only one letter apart, they’re no strangers to inbox confusion, even having their accounts merged temporarily when David first started. 

“When Michael worked on restoration and renewal, at least once a week I got a highly confidential email about something to do with restoration and renewal, to which I would very diligently reply: ‘I don’t think this top secret email is meant for me’,” David says. “But I never understood what was in them, so it didn’t matter.”

If you’re emailing something confidential about the constitution to one of them, however, I would recommend checking your “to” box before sending: both of the brothers Torrance will understand exactly what you mean.

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