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Political Shadowing Scheme - (Anonymous) Shadowing Ruth Maguire MSP

Day One

I went into Parliament the week previously to visit the office of the MSP I will be shadowing Ruth Maguire from the Cunninghame South constituency. I was welcomed by some of her team and met one of her researchers. We discussed what I hope to gain from my shadowing experience and what I can contribute to Ruth’s office. I work in an anti-racism organisation and we discussed me perhaps doing some research for Ruth’s team. I am extremely excited by this idea and looking forward to coming up with some ideas. We also discussed me visiting Ruth’s constituency in Irvine to get some campaigning experience. I would love to do that to give me an idea of how Ruth represents everyone in her constituency, not just the people who voted for her.

As my first shadowing session we planned for me to attend an Education and Skills Committee meeting that Ruth is a member of. I always find visiting Parliament a very interesting experience: passing a policeman outside then going through security checks and booking in at the desk. Then once I’m in I am always struck how open and busy the space is and despite the bustle of tours and people purposefully striding around it’s easy to forget that it is also a place of work for hundreds of people.

The committee meeting was discussing school attainment of children in poverty. It was attended by MSPs from various parties and was convened by James Dornan MSP. There was a group of witnesses who were a panel from various relevant organisations. There was a Head Teacher from a school in Glasgow which experiences high levels of deprivation, representatives from Barnardos, One Parent Family Scotland and Children’s Parliament. Each witness presented case studies of their experiences of child poverty and how it affects school attainment. They also discussed the impact of measures which have been put into place to try to combat the attainment gap relating to poverty (free school meals and the uniform grant, the Pupil Equity Fund, income maximisation strategies, parent classes, EAL support, digital inclusion, school enterprise and anti-poverty strategies suggested by children etc.) and any barriers in place that prevent parents from being able to use these services. MSPs had the opportunity to question the panel as they acknowledge that the panel are the experts – they understand the challenges faced by children living in poverty and they recognise that support packages have to be holistic and help the whole family. Good relations were emphasised time and time again as key in supporting families as it takes time to build up trusting relationships. Many families feel ashamed and stigmatised by their adverse challenges so can find asking for help a massive barrier to receiving it.

All in all, it was a fascinating meeting. The Scottish Parliament broadcasts open committee meetings on YouTube, the meeting that I attended can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wAxWt86h6M

After the meeting I had some discussion time with Ruth and we will make a plan for the rest of my sessions with her. I felt inspired after a fascinating day and learned a great deal that I can apply in my own work.

Day Two

For my second day shadowing Ruth Maguire MSP, I was scheduled to attend the Education Committee meeting in the morning, but this was cancelled. The work life of a MSP is busy, varied and can be subject to last minute changes, so Ruth’s office kindly informed me of this by a phone call the day before. However, I had the chance to spend some time with Ruth between meetings and she gave me a quick tour of the Parliament building. I find the building deceptively large from the inside - I would definitely get lost if I was by myself! Parliament is, however, bright and spacious where nearly everything on display is symbolic of Scotland’s history and people. I would highly recommend taking one of the hour long free tours.

She showed me the layout of the Chamber and explained her role as a Party Whip and its importance to ensure that MSPs are in the right place at the right time when voting. She also helps balance out personal MSP opinions and party opinions and acts as a link between the Government and Backbenchers.

She showed me the SPICe offices, which is the Scottish Parliament Information Centre. SPICe is inter-party and neutral and provides research papers and information to any MSP who requests it. This is different from the SNP’s Central Office which we also visited. The Central Office is the SNP research centre and can give MSP’s SNP-specific opinions on party political matters.

We sat down for a quick lunch and had the time to chat about family and work life balance and to discuss the afternoon’s activities. We had a meeting scheduled, but as it was confidential I cannot discuss the content. My role was to attend and take notes.

Later in the afternoon I attended a launch for two new resources that Ruth had collaborated with Play Scotland to develop – a parent pack to help parents play with children in the 8 – 12 age range and a Free Play resource to help to develop more accessible play spaces. The launch was attended by the Chief Executive of Play Scotland, the Minister for Early Years and parents who had helped to develop the resources. Play Scotland had also been running a stall in the lobby of the Parliament where MSPs from all parties were invited to play. It was a big hit! Everyone really enjoyed this and the lobby itself had lovely energy. I took photos of the launch and wrote a press release.

For information of the two resources please see Play Scotland’s website on http://www.playscotland.org/ where the Parent’s Play Pack and Free Play resources can be downloaded.

It was another busy and fascinating day at the Parliament and I will be back in next week.

Day Three

I met Ruth at her office in Parliament and we had a sit down meeting. Ruth was happy with the press release I had written and will put it up on her website after a couple of edits (https://ruthmaguire.scot/category/press-releases/).

Ruth and I had previously discussed myself doing some research in an area which ties up with my work. I have a huge interest in Mixed Race identity and experiences, and during my research I discovered that the Mixed Race population had only marginally changed between the 2001 and 2011 census (12,764 and 19,815 respectively, a change of 7051 people). This is surprising as the African population has changed from 5,118 to 29,638 (+24,520) and the Asian population has changed from 55,007 to 140,678 (+85,671).

Aside from immigration, one could assume that mixed race relationships would result from a larger African and Asian population in Scotland but this has led to a relatively small amount of mixed race growth. I am very interested to know why this is the case and to compare it to changes in other groups where Mixed Race numbers may be hiding (for example, the Black and Asian “Other” groups and the “Other” ethnic group). I wonder if there is a stigma with the “Mixed Race” label and if people feel comfortable describing themselves as such. That is part of a larger piece of work but Ruth was happy to put in a request to SPICe, the parliamentary cross party information service, to see if they could enquire about any work that had been done around Mixed Race identity in Scotland. I will do further research upon the results of this enquiry.

For the rest of the day I was attending two debates – one regarding the Policing of the Miner’s Strike of 1985 and a debate on Lord Bracadale’s Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation. Ruth showed me an SNP briefing document on Lord Bracadale’s review which outlines to MSPs the party line on a matter. It displays information in a manner which is quick to read and digest in the event that an MSP is called to give a speech on a debate item. Lord Bracadale’s review is interesting because usually there is a motion on a debate but on this occasion there isn’t one in place.

The first debate was the Policing of the Miner’s Strike of 1985. I was only three in 1985 so I know very little about the political climate of that time. However, I learned that the Government attacked the Unions and Miners to discredit them, using state power in an appalling effort to criminalise the groups to end their dispute in favour of the Government. This gave the Police permission in the eyes of the public to use extremely brutal methods to protect the status quo. The MSPs called for a public enquiry from the UK Government to get to the heart of injustice experienced by the mining community at that time. This was met with cheers from the public gallery, although this is frowned upon in the Debate Chamber.

The review of Lord Bracadale’s report on hate crime legislation was next. His review was to ensure that the current legislation around hate crime is fit for the 21st century. It acknowledges that legislation helps to change society’s opinions, but it is not the full story. The report found that hate crime laws are in good order, but made 22 recommendations to improve legislation. These included changing the law to fully cover more protected characteristics and to put extra emphasis on the vulnerability of victims (for example if they are elderly or disabled).

I listened with extreme interest, but was surprised about how many members of the public left the chamber after the miner’s strike debate and how few MSPs stayed for the hate crime review debate. I realised that much of the majority population will have no experience of hate crime (especially since Lord Bracadale did not recommend that misogyny should be made a hate crime), therefore it may not seem interesting or important. That affirmed to me why schemes like this Parliamentary Shadowing Scheme are so important. Promoting equality is crucial to allow issues that affect minority groups to come forward and ensure that everyone is represented.

That was the end of Day 3. My next date will be visiting Ruth’s constituency in Irvine. I can’t wait to see her local office and meet her team who have been so helpful in arranging dates.

Day Four

For my fourth shadowing day I was lucky enough to visit Ruth’s constituency, Cunninghame South, which covers Irvine West, Irvine East, Kilwinning in full and shares parts of Saltcoats and Stevenston with Cunninghame North. Cunninghame South has a population of 66,000. Ruth won the seat in 2016 with 52.2% of the votes with a 51% voter turnout.

From my home in West Lothian it took two hours to reach the train station in Irvine. I considered the amount of dedication required for a MSP who doesn’t live near the Parliament to commute twice a week into Edinburgh for work. Ruth stays in a flat in Edinburgh two nights a week but this means making sacrifices in terms of family time. Being an MSP isn’t just a job; it is a demanding lifestyle calling for dedication and sacrifice for the good of one’s party and constituents.

Ruth picked me up from the train station. She had already been to a meeting in the morning and had a full day ahead of her. Our first stop was one of her scheduled surgeries in a local library. As Ruth serves all her constituents (not just those who voted SNP) she has to ensure that lines of communication are as open and accessible as possible so that people can contact her in any way they find easiest. She has several face-to-face, drop-in surgeries a week; people can phone, visit or email her office in Irvine; she regularly goes out campaigning; and she makes sure to have an active presence in causes and organisations which are important to her. She takes on cases which are logged by her office on a system called CRM. She deals with a variety of issues – housing, health, education, transport, the environment – and escalates things where possible. Good relations with outside organisations are key. While an MSP has no authority over the council, she can advocate on people’s behalf.

No one stopped at the surgery that day but it gave Ruth a chance to check her emails and phone. After the surgery we drove to an event hosted by North Ayrshire Women’s Aid where they were launching their Young Voice service. The service is a support service run for and by young women to support survivors of domestic abuse. The young women have a say in everything, even designing the uniforms of the volunteers! We watched videos that they had produced and stopped for some photographs. It was a very inspiring event.

Our final stop was in Ruth’s constituency office. She shares it with an SNP MP which helps keep her costs down. It was lovely to meet Ruth’s team who have been so helpful in setting up meetings and visits. I was given a tour of the building by Ruth’s office manager while Ruth sat down to see to letters and other paperwork that needed her attention. As with all parts of an MSP’s work, Ruth’s office is busy and varied. The majority of work is casework and follow up, but the office likes to keep in touch with local organisations to offer help where possible, for example if a funding pot becomes available the office with encourage people to apply.

I only had time for a short visit before it was time to get the train home. A busy day for me – a normal day for an MSP

Day Five

For my final day of shadowing I was back in the Scottish Parliament with a much-coveted ticket for First Minister’s Question Time. It had been booked before the Westminster “Power Grab” and I was told I was lucky to have one because they are currently in short supply!

I spent some time in Ruth’s office before FMQs. She had received a response from SPICe regarding our enquiry about the mixed race demographic and how the population had changed between the 2001 and the 2011 censuses. Sadly, it didn’t leave me any time to write a piece; however it is still up-to-date, valuable information that I can use as a base for future research as there is definitely a gap in research regarding mixed race ethnicity. Ruth said she is happy to put any further enquiries in to SPICe and would be interested to know about future work.

As we were discussing this, one of Ruth’s colleagues popped in and reminded her to wear her tie. TIE, the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, had sent rainbow ties for MSPs to wear to show their support for teaching young people about LGBTI relationships as part of sex education in schools and to celebrate their anniversary. While the Presiding Officer had banned the ties from the Chamber as campaigning in the Chamber is banned, the MSPs rallied and decided to wear the ties anyway as they were showing solidarity, not campaigning. As I made my way to the Public Gallery, I did indeed see many MSPs sporting rainbow ties, some even wearing them as headbands, neckerchief or rosettes!

FMQs was buzzing and the Debating Chamber was full. In the General Questions to the Government section, questions around a variety of subjects were submitted to the Government and the relevant Minister would answer them. There were questions regarding NHS Out of Hours Provision, bargaining power of rural colleges, increasing funding for insulin pumps for under 18s, care placement movements and its effect on attainment, and a call to reduce deaths from drug abuse.

Questions to the First Minister concerned:

  • Justice - The early release of a convicted murderer, which the family of the victim were contesting

  • Education – Is the Scottish Government doing enough on education and ensuring that teachers feel respected?

  • Local - The position of Sauchiehall Street after the Glasgow School of Art fire

  • Health - Grampian NHS cancer waiting lists are too long

  • Business - Carbon Dioxide stocks dropping and the impact on businesses in Scotland

  • Social Security - Calls to scrap the two-child cap and rape clause

  • Local - North Sea Piper Alpha oil rig disaster

  • Economy - Impact on the Scottish economy of trade war between the US and EU, particularly tariffs on whisky

  • Business - Scottish Canals having financial difficulty.

FMQs is dynamic and exciting, with questions and answers moving at speed and with vocal interjections from around the Chamber. If you would like to see the session I attended, please find it here: https://www.youtube.com/user/ScottishParl.

The final order of business was a debate on approval of new Ministers and Junior Ministers for the Cabinet Reshuffle. It was wonderful to see that Humza Yousaf MSP was the new Justice Secretary - the first BME and youngest Cabinet Secretary. The SNP had also put together a gender-balanced Cabinet and Ministerial team. I am inspired to see progress like this, but still hoping for a BME woman MSP for a real step forward for equality.

I am sad that my time on the scheme has come to an end. I would like to extend my warmest thanks to Ruth and her team for their support and expertise, as well as CRER for giving me this opportunity. It has given me a valuable insight that I would never normally have, and has given me solid ideas for future work.

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