Political Shadowing Scheme - Shekainah Shadowing Jackie Baillie MSP
The first week shadowing Jackie Baillie MSP involved working in her constituency office from 9:00am to 4:30pm. The main purpose of the office is be close to the constituents and provide them with an opportunity to raise any issues that they had that was relevant to the MSPs.
Confidentiality was paramount when dealing with different people who came in and therefore I was not privy to some of the issues. However, observation demonstrated that the issues raised by the constituents were highly regarded and carefully handled. I had expected business owners and other stakeholders to come to the office to lobby the MSP, but this did not happen; it was mostly the constituents who paid visits.
I was assigned to prepare First Minister's Questions (FMQs) that were related to the ethnicity pay gap in Scotland. This involved identifying whether there is such an issue in Scotland, the current state of the issue, and what the Scottish Government has done to tackle it. The FMQs were meant to ask about the gaps where the Scottish Government has not effectively dealt with the ethnicity pay gap. To do this, I was given access to some of the research resources and tools which were accessible through the Scottish Parliament. These included guidelines on how to pose FMQs, SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre), and the opportunity to forward any one of my queries to research analysts. The MSP had two other people working under her and both were very helpful and welcoming.
The second week shadowing Jackie Baillie MSP involved working in her office in the Scottish Parliament. When I arrived at Holyrood, I was required to have a day pass that would allow me access to some areas that other guests were not. The MSP had different people working in her constituency office and in her parliamentary office, and I had the pleasure to meet both. I was also made aware that there were numerous opportunities for work experience and interning with MSPs and a whole programme in the Scottish Parliament was designated and designed for this. The mix of interns were both British and international students or recent graduates.
The MSP’s offices have a specific structure, with each party occupying one or two floors and the MSP having an office in their respective party floor. On the floor that I was working on, there were also offices assigned to analysists who focused on economic news and such. I was allocated a desk and a computer to work on the previously assigned project to form First Minister Questions on the ethnicity pay gap in Scotland.
I was also given the opportunity to attend some meetings with the MSP. It was possible for business and stakeholders to visit the MSP in her offices to discuss plans they may have had that involved her constituency. This looked to me like lobbying and was very interesting to see. Jackie Baillie is a member of several Committees and Cross Party Groups, which I had a great interest in. These include:
Economy, Jobs and Fair work Committee
CPG on China
CPG on Rail
CPG on Racial Equality
CPG on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
CPG on Women in Enterprise
CPG on Disability
Unfortunately, activity on these in the parliamentary session was paused until the next session in September and I was therefore not able to attend. However, in the weeks to come I was able to join meetings that reflected these Committees and CPGs and therefore my interest.
In my third week shadowing Jackie Baillie MSP, I accompanied her to a conference that was introducing the economic paper “Policy Insights for Scotland from Small Advanced Economies”. The paper was written by Dr. David Skilling, the founding director of the Landfall Strategy Group, which advises governments, firms, and financial institutions on global economic affairs. The paper discussed how Scotland could use its devolved powers to strengthen its economic performance and draws on the examples of other small countries that share economic similarities with Scotland. I found this interesting due to my chosen field and the recent discussions on what Scotland should do following the Brexit vote. During my time at university, a similar conversation came up where it was debated how an independent Scotland would look, and a comparison with Estonia was made. Finding out that there was correlation between what I had learned at university and what was being shared in the political world was interesting to observe.
This was an early conference and we still had the whole day ahead of us. Once we arrived at the parliamentary office, preparation was made for another meeting with a journalist who was covering a piece on a part of the history of Scotland. I was also allowed to sit in for this meeting and got to learn more about Dumbarton’s history, specifically in the 1980s-90’s. From the interview, I noticed how important it was for the MSP to know the background of the place and the people she represented, which she did very well. This contributed to a major theme in the shadowing scheme that I observed which was attention to detail. It wasn’t enough to know the general, and sometimes the general wasn’t that all important. Instead, most of the work done and research I had to do was detailed and specific. What made it more complicated was that human emotion was also involved, which made it even more specific. An example of this is the history covered in the interview that went into what the people of Dumbarton, specifically, were going through at that time - what they felt and what action they were taking for themselves. In the previous weeks, during my visits at the constituency office, this theme also came out. Examples include the use of buildings, how a business coming in would affect the aesthetics of the community and therefore the people’s perception of Dumbarton, disputes between neighbours and numerous others that showed how focused the MSP’s work was in her constituency.
During my shadowing with Jackie Baillie MSP I learnt about the different roles of MPs and MSPs, mainly during my time at the constituency office. As the constituents could visit and call up the offices, there were some issues brought up that Jackie Baillie had the power to deal with and others that she did not. At times, individuals who rang up were directed to the MP for Dumbarton, who is currently Martin Docherty-Hughes (MP for West-Dunbartonshire). The difference between the two comes in with devolved and reserved matters where the MSP would have power over the former and the MP over the latter.
For my course - Economics with Management - I found that shadowing Jackie Baillie MSP was very useful as she was the lead for tourism and economic development for the Scottish Labour Party. Even though it was only locally, it was a useful stepping stone as it increased my understanding on how decisions made would affect individual communities. Prior to the shadowing, CRER introduced us to different MSPs through a Scottish Parliament visit. During this meeting I found out how different areas in Scotland needed different things and, at the same time, shared common needs that affected the country. I found that this united the interests of MSPs and was probably the reason behind structures such as Cross Party Groups and Committees.
An example where Jackie Baillie MSP worked within the devolved matters was a meeting I attended with her on rail. The participants of the meeting knew that the Scottish Parliament had powers over “some aspects of transport” that included passenger rail franchise, so it was worthwhile discussing issues with her. Furthermore, Jackie Baillie MSP is also a member of the Cross Party Group on Rail.
Further research on the roles of MSPs and MPs has shown that a local councillor may also take up some of the duties of an MSP. SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre) explains that there are no explicit rules prohibiting an MSP from working on a case that an MP is working on and there may be cases where an MSP and an MP work on the same constituent case.
However, it is advised that the constituent or stakeholder should consider who is best equipped to handle the issue in light of reserved and devolved matters. The choice does not only extend to MSPs and MPs but also local councillors. A case where the matter related to the delivery of a service in the local area would be dealt with by the local councillors. An example of this is a meeting Jackie Baillie MSP had with the representatives of a supermarket that wanted to erect a building in the constituency. The roles and duties of a local councillor include planning and the approval of licences and therefore, the representatives of the supermarkets had to get the permission of the councillors in the planning committee for the building to be approved.
The last days of my shadowing mainly involved working in the constituency office as the Scottish Parliament had begun its recess. The idea of a recess suggested that those who worked in the Scottish Parliament would resume work in the next parliamentary session and there would therefore be little or no activity for the MSP, however this was not the case. There was more opportunity for constituents to see their MSP and raise any issues they may have had. The MSP is also provided with an opportunity to engage with the community and get more involved.
An example of this was the introduction of a community space provided by a charity in the community. When opening their doors, they sought after the support of Jackie Baillie MSP who complied and was made aware of the charity’s work and presence in the community. There was also involvement and more awareness being raised on cultural and historic aspects in the constituency. All these seemed to be very different compared to the debates and meetings I attended at the Scottish Parliament during the session. Nevertheless, the cultural as well as the community space addressed two of the devolved matters under the Scottish Parliament’s authority: health and social care and tourism, and therefore these activities were equally as important as those held during the session - arguably, even more so due to their proximity to the constituency.
Ultimately, the shadowing increased my understanding of politics by further highlighting the personal or human aspects of the field. There was a lot of interaction and an attempt to understand what a constituent needed from the MSP, and therefore a level of empathy was required. The ability to influence and align one’s interest to others for the good of the constituency was also evident. To expand this further, making others aware that your interests aligned with theirs was also very effective. Recognising when one was being influenced or when an attempt was being made was also useful. Most of what was learnt was tacit knowledge - hard to codify and verbally communicate, but involved knowing how to interact and influence, which in my opinion, is the most useful knowledge in this field as it deals with people.
Finally, my understanding of Scottish culture grew - how things were done and how daily life unfolded based on the ideas held by the people, and I therefore felt more connected and involved. Again, in relation to politics I reflected that this was also important as the culture would inevitably affect the politics and an understanding of it would increase ones tacit knowledge as previously mentioned.