Political Shadowing Scheme - Hei Man Shadowing Tavish Scott MSP
It’s my third day lacking sleep, with an average number of 5 hours in bed. Brewed a coffee immediately to remind myself the valuable power of caffeine before commuting to Edinburgh. The sun is missed, but feeling warm enough with my one layer jacket is a pleasure. An hour on train passed with a blink, and getting to count the wild foxglove and gorse flowers blooming in June is the best kind of distraction from feeling very nervous about this first shadowing day.
Erin, Tavish Scott’s Parliamentary Assistant, came down to pick me up from the security with the warmest and the most welcoming smile, which immediately put me at ease. She led me to the MSPs offices in the maze-like building, and showed me to the desk on the ground floor where the Lib Dem team is concentrated. The interior space is tranquil and beautiful, contrasting to the astonishing outlook of the architecture. Being seated at the desk facing the garden next to Daniel, Erin, and Lily immensely helped me to immerse myself into the first step of the day- familiarising myself with a shadowing info pack, prepared by previous Parliamentary Assistant, which was very useful and handy for learning the writing styles of different types of tasks, including to draft motions, press releases, letters to constituents and Ministers, parliamentary questions, etc.
By 10:30am, Erin kindly invited me along to the Lib Dem weekly meeting to discuss the week’s schedule and businesses. I couldn’t get my eyes off the Oreo brownies brought in by Rebecca when we entered the meeting room. The cake rota posted on board made me smile very naturally as well- what an adorable team to have such weekly tradition. The team quickly went through the week’s diary and brief plan for next week, as well as the updated progress by the press team. To be honest, I was too nervous and shy to say anything in the group. Feeling ashamed of my lack of contribution, I could just humbly listen to everyone while all the smiley faces didn’t keep me away as a complete outsider.
Before lunch, I was assigned with my first task of the day, which was drafting a motion congratulating the Shetland team for winning the Stuart Cup (an annual sport event for junior young people as rivalry between Shetland and Orkney) in succession. For this, I have to thank Erin again for guiding me to kick-start my first piece of writing and supplying all the news links and previous motions for references. Although the Oreo brownies had stuffed me full, I was still very keen on checking out the Parliament canteen where I’ve heard all the good reviews! Without disappointment, I had an enjoyable lunchtime with all the Lib Dem crew, especially because I got to meet more people. Special thanks to Rebecca, Katie, and Cheryl for the warm chats at lunch!
In the afternoon, my second task was to write a letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport to ask for the Scottish Government to carry out a review of the current measures for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) disease as a response to a constituent. Erin was very kind to send me more follow-up information and a briefing done by SPICe that had greatly aided me to understand and research into the issues around the disease. Just at that good timing, I had a chance to go to a SPICe briefing session. SPICe stands for Scottish Parliament Information Centre, and Laura, one of the 40 experts from the magical team, explained to us how they work to provide and assist all staff in the Parliament through producing previous information, briefings, and publications. They serve as the information basis for MSPs for Parliamentary debates, Committee discussions, and legislation. I was definitely amazed by how organised they are in terms of their physical copies for lending and reference books, archived newspapers, and printed copies of briefings, updates, and bills (also a column of writing just for Brexit!).
The day was pretty much that. But lastly, I have to express my gratitude for Erin once again, for taking care of me when I felt sick in the afternoon. Thank you for walking me around the Parliament and taking me out to get some water and fresh air!
It was a sunny morning, and I was really thrilled on the train because I was very lucky to spot a fox, a deer, some ponies, sheep and cows on my way to Edinburgh. What a start of the day! Erin picked me up from the front desk, and I felt much more comfortable this time.
I finally got to meet Tavish! I’ve heard from Erin that he had started the day extremely busy, having 4 individual meetings with constituent organisations before lunch. We didn’t get to talk much, but I was too nervous to start talking anyways! However knowing that we’re all sharing an office and working on behalf of him and for the party was a big honour already. This morning, I continued to work on the letter to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport that I couldn’t finish yesterday.
Afterwards, I was asked to do another piece of letter writing to the Justice Secretary about the hardship of seeking funding expressed by a local group in Shetland called Dogs Against Drugs (DaD). I had learnt that under the current system of Proceeds of Crime funding through Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (PoCA) and the CashBack for Communities sector in Scotland, funds are really limited to local initiatives that fall outside of the youth programme category. Tavish therefore wanted to argue to change the policy in Scotland and hopefully loosen the criteria for the local communities to apply for the funding more easily. I couldn’t have done the task that smoothly without the help from Erin - her patience and detailed explanations from the emails were incredibly helpful. Also thanks to Lily - she was reading through my letters for me and advised on what to improve very kindly. It was really appreciated! Finally during lunch and as a reward, I had a delicious Haddock chowder and crispy wedges at the canteen!
At 14:30, Daniel announced “conference call! Then Erin immediately informed me about this weekly practice, in which a conference call is held every Tuesday with the staff from Orkney and Shetland, as well as the staff who worked for Alistair Carmichael MP in London, who is the MP for the Orkney and Shetland constituency in Westminster. At first I thought we all had to go to a meeting room for a video call, but actually everyone had to dial from their desk telephone to join the call. I was a bit nervous because I had never done it before, but it was fun and very refreshing experience after all. Thanks for introducing me Erin, and welcoming me Michael!
My next task after the call was to research into a puffin story and see if I can raise and draft any parliamentary questions from it. Erin gave me a lot of freedom and trust in terms of what to research and how to focus on the issue. Puffins! I get to read about puffin at work - how fortune and lovely! From that, I’ve learned that the population of puffins in Shetland has been dropping drastically from 33,000 in 2000 to 570 in 2007. And nothing could really be done if we did not gather enough data and research from the British, Irish, European, and even worldwide ornithologists in updated seabird census, which is exactly what Britain, and particularly Scotland, are lacking and neglecting at the moment.
I've made it through the second day! The office was obviously a lot busier than the day before. Sitting on the ground floor by the garden, and witnessing the sun going down and soft by the windows felt like an absolute privilege and fulfilment.
It’s partially sunny today in Glasgow and very sunny in Edinburgh, but still absolutely chilly and I needed my cashmere on (yes, you got me right, cashmere is for all year around just in case you’re planning a trip to Scotland). Spotted some raven and hares from train - they did cheer my morning up, as they ever will.
Erin came to collect me again, and also reminded me straight away about an Education Committee meeting starting at 10am at the Robert Burns Room. Very grateful that Erin booked my tickets for the meeting, and it was very kind of Rebecca to show us the way to the Burns Room too! Very pretty and solemn spaces to kick start my third morning in the Parliament. The Education Committee meeting’s agenda today focused on the inquiry into young people’s pathways and exploring the possible routes for young people to choose apart from higher education (while having the autonomy to follow their aspirations), alternate education, training and work. The discussion oriented around the programme of Developing the Young Workforce and its practical benefits and challenges, along with the delivery of this initiative. Today’s panel was made up of education experts from a diverse background and their interactions and exchange of ideas with the MSPs and the Convener were very insightful and interesting.
Honestly, I was in the clouds for the first half hour, but I know it’s always harder to get yourself into a brand new pace of talking and discussion . I was more on track afterwards and the two hours just flew away. Erin came pick me up again, thank you! At the recess, the lunch meal had once again proven the high quality of the canteen - 5 stars rated with no doubts!
Then, I was tasked with a piece of research that had been started and generated by Erin and Tavish’s former parliamentary assistant, David, which is a collaboration with CRER that focuses on the hardship and racial discrimination faced by ethnic minority teachers and students in Scotland. I was to gather some information and statistics for a Lib Dem story. I was really glad to be assigned with this task because I could somehow get to contribute to CRER as well during the internship. Since I am one of the people from a BAME background that CRER had drawn their heart on and given immense support, I am very glad to be offered this valuable chance. By reading more unfair real-life stories and facts the BAME population faces in the workplace and social institutions, I felt a bigger urge to do better and achieve more than in any other work opportunity. To me, CRER is genuinely a very proactive organisation that supports the BAME population directly, and I hope that I can contribute back and make a change.
The day in this section of the office was pretty busy after all, and so it had once again proven the efficiency and wonderful coordination of the team and how the dynamic work is on a daily basis (especially from Tuesdays to Thursdays with the Parliament being “turned on” like a generator!). Phone calls and speedy writings kept going on with all the staff and I could listen to all their hassles and workload from the hallway. But thanks to the openness and the cheerful teams - their small laughs in-between did put me at ease. At last, special thanks for Daniel for showing me the shortcut to Princes Street, even though I did get lost eventually.
Managed to go to bed an hour earlier than usual last night, so I definitely felt more recharged this morning. Started the day as usual to get the train (Wait, since when had it become a habit? It’s just my fourth day of work - guess I adapted well?). This morning the train stations were filled with people. I wonder if they were as excited as me?
And everything seemed a bit more rushed than the past few days because Erin has got me a Committee meeting ticket, which was meant to be starting at the time I arrived. I had been indeed looking forward to this event, because I saw it as a precious chance to witness the Committee meeting, something that not everybody gets to do on a daily basis. Today’s meeting was held by the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee, and was separated into two agendas. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, I had missed most of content from the first section: “Presidency of the Council of the European Union” discussed by the MSPs and H.E. Konstantin Dimitrov, who is the Ambassador to the UK from Bulgaria. The meeting moved onto the section “STV - strategic review” where Simon Pitts, the STV CEO, and Bobby Hain, Director of Channels, were invited to provide evidence for their recent announcement on the dismissal of the STV2 department and other related reform decisions. The issues were very critical and both sides were trying their best to elicit the problems and justify their perspectives. That was eye opening to me.
It was already 12pm when the Convener announced the suspense of public audience for a private discussion. Erin came right away to collect me (as always, thank you Erin!). Lily, Erin and I went on and got some food for ourselves for takeaway because we wanted to watch the First Minister Questions from our office. The ritual of the whole hallway of staff watching FMQs together right from 12pm was astonishing to me. FMQs session was always something we watch from a distance when out of the parliamentary institution, however to these people working as the backbone of politics, FMQs were just part of their routine and life! As I wasn’t very familiar with the customs of the Scottish Parliamentary Debate, Erin explained the “banging-table” culture. I had also learnt a fact from her - despite the MSPs looking very confrontational on screen, they do get along quite well!
After lunch, I was asked to start researching and thinking about how to draft a letter to Fergus Ewing, who is the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity to address a constituent’s concern on the potential ban on selling the seabed in Shetland under the Scotland Crown Estate Bill. Erin and I sought help from Jamie and Will. as they had done more work on the Scotland Crown Estate Bill before. Jamie was very kind and explained the Bill and Lib Dem’s stance on the follow-up amendments in detail. I have read a briefing on the Bill published by SPICe, and a Committee report from the Parliament; those were very helpful in terms of getting to understand the topic. However, I’d say reading through the official reports and trying to come up with a neat argument wasn’t very easy.
As there are quite a few young new staff joining the Scot Lib Dem team, James had a meeting with everyone as a briefing on all important routine tasks for departments to be aware of and bear in mind. The meeting had covered mainly two things: Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and Parliamentary Questions (PQs). As far as I know, he had been working for the Scot Lib Dems for give years at the Scottish Parliament. His sophisticated experiences on doing all tasks and making use of the Parliamentary departments and his networks built around them (or even the journalists and media team) were incredibly helpful for us to understand how everything works and what could be the hidden rules and manners.
Tavish was finally more relaxed around 4pm - it must have been a long day for him. It was very thoughtful of him to come to talk to me on the last day that I got to meet him. We chatted about my programme, my experience of living abroad in Glasgow, his family that scattered across the US, and finally about his political experience and linkage to Hong Kong. He also recommended that I read Chris Patten’s book written on Hong Kong. The time talking to him wasn’t very long, but it was an important moment for me - being able to step forward from my comfort zone and getting to work for a down-to-earth and caring politician like Tavish. I couldn’t thank him enough for agreeing to give me this opportunity.
I ended my fourth day by having a drink with the Lib Dem team down at the bar on ground floor. It was very friendly of them to invite me along, and I could tell it is absolutely a good funny team. Special thanks to James, Max, and Katie for showing your interest in Hong Kong politics and having a chat about it.
The quietness of the parliament on Friday largely surprised me. It was as if the whole place was about to be put asleep. The front entrance was closed, and the main reception was empty while I was expecting Erin. I definitely felt overdressed when I saw everyone in casual jeans and trainers, but seeing the parliament in silence and a relaxing mood was very interesting too!
In the morning, David from the Chamber Desk came to our office and offered us a briefing on how they work, as well as the rules and deadlines for submitting different types of questions and motions. Erin, Lily and I were listening to David, but I couldn’t imagine how busy they would get, especially in the beginning of the week. David taught us the little skills and tricks to write questions and motions that are more readable and more likely to be processed through smoothly. He also shared a lot of the interesting or hilarious situations he’s experienced before to us. As an intermediary department, although they are not responsible for handling or answering the Parliamentary Questions themselves, they are very important in transmitting the messages and safeguarding the debates in the parliament. From listening to David, I have learnt that the division of tasks, the underlying dynamics across departments and their independence from the government are the essential basis. I had so much respect for the Chamber Desk, as well as all the staff who try to research and provide the best content until the very last minute to meet the weekly deadlines and targets!
This afternoon, I was asked to write two pieces. One of them was a motion about World Ocean Day and orcas in Scotland, followed by drafting congratulation letters to constituents since eleven teachers in Shetland have successfully accomplished the headship and leadership postgraduate qualifications. Some of them even got awards from the University of Aberdeen! They’re two pieces that I enjoyed researching and writing about. Erin also shared with me that Tavish has been working on trying to put forward a bill to allow patients in Scotland to choose to die at home - the rights to pass away painlessly and peacefully at one’s conscious decision.
To wrap up the past few days’ experience at the Scottish Parliament and being part of the crew in the office, my gratitude is beyond words. First of all, I have to thank Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER) for having me since the beginning of the year. Can you believe that I can still recall how nervous I was on the day of interview (and the night before)? Rebecca from CRER has offered nothing but full supports to all of us in the shadowing scheme. I felt really touched when she gave me courage to open up myself and talk to Tavish in the office. CRER gave us this precious chance to widen our horizon and backed us with a good balance of training prior to the internship. As a Chinese minority student living in Glasgow, being able to step forward and take up this rare opportunity is a great way to give myself a voice and learn to be a better representative looking for a change in racial inequality. Last but not least, I have to thank Tavish and his team for having me on board for the week. Having a glimpse of how ‘politics’ works in real life amongst different sectors and people has been an unforgettable experience.
I thought to myself with a smile about all that I’ve accomplished the week and about all the beautiful people I met. The trains back home were always sunny by some miracles, no matter how much it rained during the days in the week. The landscape from the train was as if being fast-forwarded. I was going home and the journey was coming to an end, but after all there will be a brand new start.