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Political Shadowing Scheme - Christiana Shadowing Bob Doris MSP

Day one

My first day of shadowing at Bob Doris (MSP for Springburn and Maryhill) started at 9.30 when I arrived at the constituency which is located at Maryhill Burgh Halls. I couldn’t start earlier as Bob had a meeting with a family to discuss about some issues that were sensitive and of course would have been heavy for a first time shadowing. The first 30 minutes were the introductory bit where I got to introduce myself and know all the members of the team. As a first impression, I was surprised about how such a small team of five can produce the large amount of work required to help all the citizens of the community. After that Gay Paton (the assistant) introduced me to Bob’s work, showing me how the constituency functions and what each of the workers do. I was really amazed at how busy the office was.

Because I work in an environment where am in contact with people from different places and with different needs to satisfy, Bob decided that my shadowing will be less office based, and more direct participation and contact with the various organisations, services and citizens he meets. I was happy with that, as it meant all my shadowing days would be less office based, making it easy to see and learn more about the practical side of the political field. At 10.30 both Bob and myself jumped in a taxi for two important meetings regarding the regeneration certain areas of the constituency.

The first stop was at the NG Home office at Springburn to meet two of the heads and have some discussions regarding a Possilpark regeneration project. This meeting was to discuss eventual ways to promote the regeneration and re-population of the Possilpark area. This was more orientated in looking at the advantages and disadvantages of the project, with a focus on upcoming issues and how to overcome these issues. These also looked at the important role of housing associations like NG Homes and GHA as partners in the regeneration project.

After an hour we found ourselves running to a nearby café to meet the team responsible for the Springburn regeneration forum. This meeting, like the previous one, was to work out how to create space for the people in the community, especially the young ones, by creating a communal meeting point where people can go and participate in various activities. This was a small briefing for Bob from the head of the forum before the main meeting with all the partners involved in the project next week. This, like the first, lasted about an hour and half, after which we took a taxi to back to the office.

When I got back to the office I shadowed one of the guys working on the “White Ribbon Scotland Project”. This is a campaign that strives to end violence against women and tackle gender-based violence in the society. I helped him as he was organising some training and information workshop sections to raise awareness for men. The project targeted Ladbrokes, as these are places where men tend to go and spend much of their time betting on games or races. I spent the rest of the time writing an executive summary to circulate among the partners who are involved in the project.

I got home very happy about how productive the day was. What surprised me in both meetings was that despite this being my first day, I was briefed up with the plans and aims of both projects and when those around the table were talking they made sure I understood their points by introducing the background, ideologies behind this and their previous meetings, and by regularly checking if I was still on board!

Day Two

My day started at 9am with a meeting in the constituency where Bob Doris met with various organisations in the community and with Police Scotland to discuss how to regulate the use of quad bikes in the area of Springburn. This meeting was aimed at highlighting the various areas where quad bikes are most used and how to control the incorrect use of these. This meeting highlighted how partnership working among community services can help identify a problem and intervene with adequate resources and projects. Community networking is a resource highly used within the constituency, as Bob and his team believe this is key to effective resolutions and community development.

After the quad bike discussion meeting, I went with Bob Doris to meet with the Milton community engagement team, the chancellor (Jacqline) and other service leaders. This was also like the previous meetings, where we met with the team and discussed the re-investment of a piece of an unused piece of council-owned land into a space where children and young people can find themselves and socialise. This meeting was also to create a plan for the reconstruction of the area under consideration to create recreational environments for the young ones. It also focused on how to get necessary funds to support all the ongoing work in the community.

The afternoon was a bit more practical, as Bob Doris had the Springburn drop-in surgery at the Parish Church. During this, both Bob and the local chancellor made themselves available to welcome all citizens from the community to speak about their problems. The aim being to listen and find potential solutions to these where possible and, where it was not, to refer people to the right service. Usually people take their problems to this drop-in service when they have had no positive response from the local service and they want that letter or word from a higher position. This might be seen as a small intervention, but is usually effective in gaining that right point or solution to satisfy both citizens and service providers.

I am glad to have attended the drop-in sessions with Bob today. This has highlighted the other aspect of the work of an MSP. An MSP’s work is not only office based nor going to parliament all day, but it also requires interaction with the people who elected them into that position and whom they represent. It is a very nice and productive thing to have direct contact with the community as an MSP (as said by Bob Doris), because this helps you gain firsthand information and highlights of the needs of the various people in the community. The drop-in section lasted two hours and after that, we were allowed to go home. Reflecting back, this day has been very helpful. This has increased my desire to work in the field of politics. Now I know for sure that despite the usual news about politicians and parliamentarians, this job also has a humbler side, which is the daily engagement in the community and interaction with people who you serve. I see this as an effective way to find the right solutions and introduce services that will benefit all citizens.

Day Three

Today was quite a busier day than the previous two days. I arrived at 9am and was asked to help one of Bob’s case workers. Usually the team of five (including Bob) get allocated a number of cases to handle and work on, as a way to manage the workload. Each of them go through the various cases, read each story and try to find a better way or solution to address the needs of people in the community. Gay Paton, who I was helping out, was working on a case with one of the schools to help with the integration of an alumni. She was trying to write a letter to the school to highlight the issue and invite the head of school to help out in the case. We went through the situation and structured the letter which she was to send to the school.

At 10am, Bob and I started off to the second session of the Springburn regeneration project we attended on my first day of shadowing. This time the meeting was with all the partnerships around the project to discuss the timeline of the project and funding to support it. This meeting was more in-depth than the previous one, with various partnerships and organisations involved in the project. The team discussed what to do to raise funds and the steps of the project to make sure that everything goes smoothly. This meeting lasted from 10am to 1pm, after which we went back to the office, because Bob was holding a surgery in the constituency from 2pm to 4pm.

After my lunch, I joined Bob on his desk as he welcomed various people, introduced me to them, and asked if I could sit in their surgery. The surgery is like the drop-in sessions he had at the Parish Church. The difference between this surgery and the drop-in sessions is that the first is usually based on booked appointments, meanwhile the second was open and anyone could come in at any time. In both cases, his work was to find the solutions to each person’s problem and contact the services within the community to discuss each individual issue presented.

In the three days I have been at the constituency, I have noticed the increase in my level of interest in this type of work. I am having first-hand experience in the work of a politician, which is more field based than I thought. For sure there is more to do and to learn from an MSP. I am really happy about this experience because I am exploring more opportunities in the political field and learning how to make difference in people’s lives.

Day Four

My day was cool and calm today. I got to the office at 9.30 and spent some time with Gay Paton to arrange my calendar and to get more knowledge about the various appointments on today. Today Bob had one of his monthly surgery sessions in the Springburn Parish Church, so I went with him. The surgery started at 10am and ended at 1pm.

The surgery was very useful and insightful, as were the previous two. Surgeries are usually arranged in such a way that Bob will have about 20 minutes for a person to approach him, and to try to come up with solutions, follow-ups, etc. to all the personal problems that are being highlighted. At the end of the session, we returned to the office as the following event was private. Back in the office, the team had some discussions and reflected on the case work. This team truly work on a variety of cases, from health to housing, immigration issues, road issues and environmental issues. They focus on the broader aspect of community work to meet the needs of the constituency.

I was personally surprised about how many cases Bob and his team manage in a day. Also, it is really amazing to see how the team interact, discuss among themselves, and remember all the details of the various cases. Not only this, but spending about an hour in the office, it was possible to see how determined the team is, and how compassionate and how welcoming they are. People who visited the office like those who visited Bob during his surgeries were always happy when they are leaving the meetings, as they felt they have been listened to. Many of the people who attended the surgery demonstrated gratitude and appreciation to Bob and his team.

After this, Bob had a meeting with one of his constituents, where I was allowed to sit in. This case had the same form of the one-to-one meetings during the surgery, but it allowed for more time with the constituents, especially when the cases are complex. This lasted about 30 minutes, and I stayed for another half hour with Bob afterwards.

Despite having a less busy day than the previous ones, I have learned a bit more about the constituency and their roles in representing the people they serve. The team is really extraordinary.

Day Five

I arrived at the constituency as usual, with a catch up as the first thing. In Bob’s office and on his agenda, everything can change even an hour before the event or meeting, so that helped me get more knowledge about all his meetings and the various schedules. The day wasn’t too busy as one of the meetings was canceled an hour before, and I couldn’t sit in on one of his 1-1s too.

The first meeting of the day was with the local council to discuss a proposed cycle path at one of the campuses in the area. As common with other meetings looking to promote good interventions and services for the community, this was to discuss how to achieve the end product, which is a cycle path to help people (especially young people) to reach the campus either in wheelchairs, prams or cycles without finding the series of stairs as an impediment. It seems the project was planned a while ago, but there are difficulties in getting the project on paper realized. The group tried to look at the issues around it and determine possible interventions and resources that can help overcome the issues arising. As usual, the constituency is looking at the wellbeing of the people they serve and providing effective solutions for the entire community. This meeting lasted about an hour and half.

I spent the rest of the morning working on the White Ribbon project, as we needed to post the invitations by the end of the day. During this, I was allowed to assist one of the constituents who came in to arrange an appointment to see Bob. I had to give him the available dates for the appointments so that he can choose a suitable day and venue, and then collected some personal details and a bit on the reason why he needs to see Bob. This lasted about 30 minutes, then I went back to my work. We managed to get all the invites to the project ready and posted by half two.

At three Bob had a meeting with one of the other MSPs (Patrick Harvie) and the organisers of the “Street Life Project”, which is looking at taking some days to re-purpose the street for the people, by closing some roads and organizing community activities on the roads, free for the local community. They also discussed the “Free Wheel Project” which wasn’t on the agenda, so that meeting was over two hours. They last looked at how to get people to cycle more and use fewer cars by opening cycle paths.

This was the most relaxed day on my shadowing journey so far. I am fitting in with the team and with all the daily activities so far. I am just becoming conscious that I have only one more day left; however, this has been the most wonderful experience for me and I am grateful to Bob’s team for taking me on board, but mainly to CRER for giving me this opportunity among all those who applied. A really big thank you to all of them, in particular Rebecca.

Day Six

I arrived at Bob’s constituency at 9:20am for a quick catchup with him before the start of our day. On my arrival, he asked me if I wanted to go to Edinburgh with him in the afternoon, as he had a cross-party discussion on how to improve homelessness. I agreed to that, as it was a good opportunity to see how a cross-party discussion panel flows and how these are managed to guarantee a peaceful discussion and agreement when it comes to sensitive issues like homelessness.

Before that, Bob held one of his surgeries in Royston from 10am to noon. As with the previous ones, this was a way to engage directly with the citizens in his constituency and help them regarding their problems by writing emails, letters, recommendations or making phone calls where required to support his constituents. This meeting was held in Royston, as Bob recognises the need to break down the distance between Royston and Maryhill by bringing the constituency to the people, rather than expecting people to travel such a distance to get to the constituency when they need. This is a way to respond to people’s need by bringing the service to them in their community. After the surgery, we started off to the station where we took a train to Edinburgh for the 3pm cross-party discussion panel organized by CRISIS, which is an organisation that works on the Scottish level to fight homelessness.

The event was a full day conference which invited various political representatives in the field of homelessness prevention to present projects and policies to local councils and introduce action plans and recommendations for local councils following a study conducted by CRISIS in the previous years. The politicians, however, were asked to be at the meeting before 3pm as the discussion and questions panel was on from 3pm to 6pm. We arrived at the venue half an hour earlier, right on time for the tea break. We had some tea and were helped to the conference room. Because we arrived earlier, we had the opportunity to listen to a presentation highlighting the new policies and guidelines introduced by the Welsh Government to improve homelessness and issues that might be common to the Scottish perspective.

At 3pm exactly, the cross-party discussion started. The participants in this discussion were Bob Doris (SNP), Graham Simpson (Conservative), Pauline McNeill (Labour), Andy Wightman (Greens) and Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrats). The five MSPs were actively involved in discussions about how to achieve zero homelessness from a political perspective, with highlights on what each party is doing to promote these campaigns and to tackle homelessness. They all left aside cross-party issues and conflicts and came together for a unique aim.

I really enjoyed this session as it highlights how we can all leave aside political conflicts and come together for the same things and purpose. The purpose of this meeting was achieving stability and deliverability of homelessness.

At the end of the discussion panel, we went back to the train station and back to Glasgow. Because the morning was tight, I didn’t get the time to say thanks to all Bob’s team, so I have agreed to go back on Friday when I leave from work and have a quick drink together. I am looking forward to this. This six days have been a great experience for me and have helped me have a first-hand experience with political sphere, something I have never had the chance to do despite having studied politics all my university days. I am really glad for this and have decided to register with my local SNP constituency, so that I can get involved in the field and of course keep the good contacts made during these days for future career development.

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