Political Shadowing Scheme: Noor Shadowing Christina McKelvie MSP
On my first day of shadowing I felt extremely excited. I was to be shadowing SNP MSP Christina McKelvie and upon researching her I was impressed by her immediately. Once a social worker, now MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse, she was also the Convenor for the Equalities and Human Rights Committee. Upon finding this out I knew we were going to get on well.
A week before my first day I called Christina's assistant, Sean, to make arrangements. He was incredibly warm on the phone and informed me that I would be attending Christina's committee meeting. I researched this the night before to make sure that I could follow the meeting as best as I could and saw that there was an agenda on the parliament's website. This meeting was an evidence session on the bullying and harassment of young people. It was interesting to see the mechanics of committee meetings as well as see how the MSPs worked together. I honestly felt as if they were doing the best they could by trying to get as much detail and information out of the visiting speakers as possible. Following this meeting Sean came to get me and told me we were "going to pay Nicola a visit". Yes, Nicola. Nicola Sturgeon! I could barely contain myself as we took the lift up to her office. Unfortunately she wasn't in her office and was preparing for First Minister's Questions. Sean told me that he would make sure that I would get to meet her before my shadowing days were up. At least that will give me time to prepare myself in advance!
After this Sean gave me the local newspaper for Christina's constituency. He asked me to conduct constituency research by finding any notable members of the constituency and to write to them on behalf of Christina and thank them for their role in the community. Amongst those that I wrote to, one of them was a seventeen year old who had landed a role in the new Trainspotting film. It was great to be able to write to constituents and I know I would have loved to have received a letter like that when I was in school.
After writing to constituents Sean introduced me to writing motions. He helped me to write my first one which involved condemning Trump for allowing a list of crimes committed by Muslims to be published on a weekly basis. I sent it to Christina for her approval and with a few amendments it was sent away. I then wrote a further motion on the Girl Guides and their move to incorporate trans-girls and trans-women into their group.
My final task was to amend a press release that had been sent out. Christina wanted a paragraph omitted so I had to improvise and write another in place of what the template laid out.
Overall, my first day shadowing was amazing. I felt so at home and welcome in the parliament thanks to the courtesy of Sean and Christina. I truly felt like I was making a difference to their day and that the tasks I was undertaking were helpful. It gave me a great insight into how parliament runs on a day-to-day basis and I can't wait to go back.
I was informed that this shadowing day was set to be a busy one as the budget was being debated. I started my day by attending the Equality and Human Rights Commission's committee meeting. Topics that were discussed included the accessibility of housing for disabled people and the planning that goes into these decisions. Maternity discrimination was also discussed and I was disgusted to hear of how some of the case studies were treated. After two hours of the meeting the committee goes to private and all visitors are required to leave. I waited outside the committee room for Sean to come get me. Whilst I was waiting Nicola Sturgeon happened to walk past, she looked at me and said hello. Absolutely dumbstruck I was unable to reply. I was taken completely off guard and couldn't believe I'd just casually met the First Minister in passing - it was amazing!
After I managed to calm myself down I completed some constituency research by assessing the newspaper which was published in Christina's constituency. I wrote to several constituents to thank them for their service to the community and also kept my eyes peeled for any mention of Christina and her work. When she was mentioned the publicity was positive which was great news.
Following this I researched the Department of Work and Pensions job centre closures and tried to work some specifics into a potential speech for Christina on the issue. The UK government falsely reported that there was a job centre closure within Christina's constituency, so I was researching the issue to set the record straight.
Later on I met Martha who works in Christina's constituency office. I got to know her over lunch and whilst she was watching the budget debate live on television she offered to take me to the debate in person. It was a tense debate to say the least, the parties were visibly angry and there was much jeering throughout. It held my attention throughout and it was interesting to see how the parties interacted throughout.
It was an exciting day, I got to see all the big players within the Scottish government in person at the debate and Nicola Sturgeon said hello to me - all in all a great day.
I arrived bright and early for another day at the parliament. Sean came to get me at the front desk and explained to me that he wanted me to research LGBT Youth Scotland. He wanted Christina to speak on the subject of LGBTQI issues and wanted me to research the area by compiling statistics, facts from LGBT Youth Scotland's latest report, and finding case studies to reference. This was an interesting task and I managed to find out a lot on the issue at hand. One particular fact that stood out to me was that countries such as Nepal, India, and Pakistan have greater legal recognition of non-binary genders than Scotland does. I thought that this shows how far our government needs to go to include those that do not identify with male or female genders.
After this I completed a motion regarding the extermination camps in Syria. There was a full and extensive report from Amnesty International which I used to base my motion upon. This report was absolutely harrowing and at times I could not believe what I was reading. I hope that this motion is published and will make some kind of difference to the thousands of people that are undergoing systematic torture.
Following this I was offered the chance to go to First Minister's Questions as there was a spare ticket floating around. I had visited First Minister's Questions previously but it was years ago so I was glad to have a refresher. It seems that no matter what the subject in the debate chamber things appear to be tense and at points fairly ugly. The main subject appeared to be education and the attainment gap, which is a worthy subject, however there was a lot of repetition of the same arguments which seemed counter-productive to progress.
After First Minister's Questions Sean asked me to complete constituency research using the local paper. I wrote to several constituents that had completed charity work within Christina's constituency and thanked them for their efforts.
My last task of the day was to draft a motion surrounding the Girl Guide's campaign for a zero tolerance to sexual harassment within schools. This topic was incredibly interesting and I learned much from online resources, such as parliamentary reports and the Girl Guide's research in order to draft my motion. The practice of schools overall regarding sexual harassment is dismal and much needs to be done to educate pupils and prevent this from happening. I hope that measures are taken to address this as soon as possible.
Overall, it was a busy third day shadowing. My first few attempts at drafting motions on previous days were somewhat difficult whereas now I feel like I am into the swing of things and enjoy how I am able to research a wide array of topics. The weeks are going by very quickly and I can't believe I'm already halfway through.
I started the day slightly later as Storm Doris disrupted Sean's travel arrangements so he was unable to meet me at 9 on the dot. I kept myself busy - and warm - by waiting with a cosy pot of tea safe from the storm.
This shadowing day was more rigid and focused. I had two tasks at hand. The first was to reply to constituents that had asked for the Scottish government's stance on particular laws. One group of constituents asked about the use of snares on Scottish wildlife, the other group asked about the government's stance on clean energy and the effect that this has on global poverty. There is a standard response that can be sent back to each constituent, however it is much better if extra sentences are added that personalise the email. There had been some recent correspondence from the government on the use of snares so I made sure to include this in order to make sure that what was said was as up to date as possible.
The rest of the day was spent writing letters to constituents thanking and congratulating them on the work that they had done in the community. Normally I'll go through that week's newspaper but last week's newspaper hadn't been done so I had two newspapers to go through on this occasion. I managed to write fourteen letters to constituents over the course of the rest of the day. It feels great to write to people and hopefully have their day brightened by recognising their achievements. I was also told that Christina has had great feedback on the letter's that have been sent. As a result of this she's received invitations to community groups which will enable her to forge stronger bonds with people in the community. I was pleased to hear this and I hope that further letters I write have this same effect.
I felt like I'd gotten into the swing of things as this was my fourth day shadowing. I was able to keep myself busy and slide into the work of the day with ease.
I started off my day by meeting Rebecca from CRER in the reception of the parliament. Rebecca was giving evidence in the committee that Christina convenes on Equality and Human Rights. Sean asked me if I'd like a ticket to observe the meeting and I agreed as I thought it would be very interesting to sit in on. The meeting was concerned with the barriers that ethnic minorities face when seeking employment. I felt that the evidence panel were very prepared and passionate about wanting to challenge current practices but there were differing opinions on the best way to do this.
Following this, Sean asked me to email constituents to arrange visits with Christina. I was to thank them for reaching out and was then to ask if they would like further contact with her.
Sean then asked me if I'd like to go to a parliamentary event. I'd never gone to one before so I jumped at the chance. This event was concerning Ash Denham MSP, who wanted to change legislation in Scotland to decriminalise the selling of prostitution but to maintain the criminalisation of buying of prostitution. This is known as the Nordic Model. Ash had two ex-prostitutes/activists come in to speak about why it is so important for this to happen. Their main argument was that many women who prostitute themselves have no choice in the matter and are groomed, exploited and trafficked and that they should not be punished for this. This was very interesting for me to witness. As I identify as a feminist I have always struggled with whether I should support sex workers' motivations and whether I should support their right to choose what they do with their body. After hearing the harrowing first-hand accounts of the women that told us of the serious abuse they have suffered I would say that I am for the Nordic Model. They told us that their main opposition to this was people that campaigned for the decriminalisation of both buying and selling of sex. This is the case in New Zealand, Holland and Germany, and I have to say that after much thought, I'm not convinced that this model would be helpful to implement in Scotland. The event was very emotional but I felt privileged that I was able to witness this in person.
For the remainder of the day I was to write letters to constituents and sketched out a motion regarding the allocation of funds to a Women's Aid within Christina's constituency.
I think that this shadowing day was one of my favourite days. It was jam-packed with interesting tasks and I felt that I learned so much.
Today was to be my last shadowing day and I was feeling a mixture of emotions. Sadness as I truly did not want it to end, but also elation that I'd found work experience that I was truly passionate about. The parliament had an increased security presence this morning as Westminster had come under attack the previous day. Despite this I still felt safe as I was reassured that today would be business as usual.
I began my day by drafting a motion on the achievement of a local woman for her commitment to volunteer work. We were unsure of whether she fell within Christina's constituency, but I drafted it anyway. It turned out that the woman wasn't within Christina's constituency but I saw the motion was finalised and assigned to the correct constituency later.
Following this I went through the paper and completed constituency research. I wrote to members of the Christina's constituency thanking them for their contributions to charity and to bettering the community. After this I wrote letters to constituents who had emailed about the SNP's stance on the provisions made for children with mental health issues. We were going to send emails as responses but decided that it would be more beneficial to send typed letters.
After lunch there was plenty to be getting on with. I drafted two press releases. They were quite tricky to get my head around as they're a different style of writing. One press release was regarding a question that Christina asked following the resettlement of Syrian refugees. The other press release was to do with the Hamilton branch of the SNP coming to Holyrood to watch the debate on Scotland seeking a second independence referendum. I enjoyed writing the press releases as there is a degree of research involved where you get to learn more about a topic.
Lastly, there were two small tasks that I was asked to complete. The first was simply to draft an agenda for the next day. After that I was asked to compile a list of employers that could potentially exhibit at a jobs fair that Christina would be hosting.
Before I left I was presented with a leaving present which almost drew me to tears. They had printed out the first motion that I ever drafted and had it framed for me. I really felt to privileged to have been able to take part in the shadowing scheme. I felt that I contributed to Christina's office and that I was truly valued. The experience that I gained has been amazing and I have a new found confidence that I can take with me into the world of work.