Political Shadowing Scheme - Alicia Shadowing Anas Sarwar MSP
My day started at midday which meant I had a whole morning filled with anticipation about the day ahead. I wasn’t nervous, having had the chance to meet Anas a couple of weeks earlier when visiting Scottish Parliament with CRER, but I was very excited.
The first thing I had to do was make sure that I actually found my way to the constituent office – I am notorious for my terrible sense of direction – and always like to be early, time keeping is everything. By quarter past eleven I was itching to leave, having googled mapped my journey I knew it wouldn’t take longer than half an hour from my house, but I thought I would head off anyway just in case I got a bit lost. I walked down to the subway, and realised it was the first time I was going to go the other direction – the inner circle line, and I was about to go further than I ever had before – off to Cessnock I went! I arrived at 423 Paisley Road to start my day and was greeted with a gorgeous building. I quickly googled it (as I was early) and discovered it was first opened in 1876 as a school, is a Grade B listed building and now functions as the Bellahouston Business Centre.
When I arrived, I was introduced to everyone in the office that Anas shares with Pauline McNeill MSP. My first task was one I was all too familiar with from the years of interning and business development work I had done in the past – inputting networking data onto an excel. Fortunately for me, we had to leave to go to Bellahouston Academy, a school Anas works closely with, shortly after I arrived so was not left to input data for too long!
Next stop was for Anas, Eunis (Anas’s Parliamentary Researcher), and I to head to Bellahouston Academy for a focus group and Anas to speak at a leaver’s ceremony. When we pulled up Anas got a hero’s welcome from students coming in from lunch. It was refreshing to see that students knew who Anas was, which is testament to how closely he has worked with the Academy. When we arrived, we headed to meet some fifth-year students who had agreed to take part in a focus group to do with Islam in the Media. This was the first of eight focus groups (not all on this day), the aim was to get the students opinions about how Islam is portrayed in the media. Following this, Anas gave a speech to the school leavers. One thing that was clear during the school visit was how approachable Anas was, students and staff felt comfortable to engage with him. In Scotland, Anas is one of two BAME MSP’s out of 129 and having a role model like him, I think, is vital to encourage more young people from diverse background to consider politics.
After this, we drove through to Edinburgh where I had the chance to see the MSP offices and help Eunis do some prep for the CPG meeting that was taking place at half five. The most interesting part of the CPG was hearing the difference in answers between those attending the CPG and the students earlier on in the day.
Although my day technically ended there, a couple of days later I went back to Scottish Parliament to attend a joint meeting between the CPG on Tackling Islamophobia and the UK Parliament’s APPG on British Muslims, to discuss their work on defining Islamophobia. Elected members of the APPG: Wes Streeting MP and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi attended as well as Anas and CPG members – both MPS and non-MSP members. You can read the publication from the APPG Islamophobia defined which outlines the discussed definition that is proposed to be adopted by all political parties and organisations.
My second full day shadowing Anas took place at his Glasgow Office in Paisley. This time I knew exactly where I was going when I got off the subway, so was on time instead of far too early – that is often a big problem for me. The weather was absolutely awful, what seemed like endless rain and I was glad to be spending the entire day in Bellahouston Business centre.
The day began with reintroductions to everyone in the office that Anas shares with Pauline McNeill, Labour are a friendly bunch! Following this, Jacqueline spoke to me a little about what my day would entail and if there was anything else, I would like to have the opportunity to do in my next shadowing day. Once I had my agenda for the day – I am a big fan of a schedule, I spent some time researching the organisations that I would be attending meetings with later in the day.
First in the agenda was the chance to meet with John, who is Anas’s speechwriter. I had asked to have the opportunity to learn about speeches as this is an element, I have always found interesting in politics – a great speech combined with brilliant delivery really makes a politician in my opinion. During this session I learnt about the importance of getting across the correct voice for the politician, in this case Anas, as well as the importance of ensuring a speech meets the requirements for the time restraints. This element is of particular importance. Additionally, and this may seem a very small point, the importance of formatting a speech correctly so the delivery is perfect. This is of course down to individual preference.
Following this, I was invited to go to a meeting Anas and Pauline were having with Call It Out – a campaign that is described by Common Space as “tackling Scotland’s blight of anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholicism”. As a Londoner, this tension is not something I have been exposed to very often and the friction between Catholics and Protestants has often come to light when discussing Celtic and Rangers with friends. In the afternoon there was a meeting with a Glasgow Food bank who came in to speak to Anas to discuss how better to engage with the Muslim communities in Glasgow. It was great to hear about the consideration of people’s cultures when discussing food donations. The diversity of the meetings really highlighted the variety in the role of an MSP.
The day ended with a brilliant debate about Labour policy past and future, how we all saw this progressing – I am always up for political discussions so it was great to be in an environment that encouraged this.
The third day shadowing Anas took me to another area I had not had the chance to visit yet whilst studying in Glasgow – Pollokshields. As I travelled from the West End of Glasgow to the Southside I noticed that the Southside of Glasgow was a lot more diverse, this was clear from the restaurants, shops and places of worship. The reason I was heading over to Pollokshields was to go to the Tramway for an event as part of the Jo Cox Great Get Together. The Tramway had an interesting history, initially serving as tram depot from the 1890s, before being the house of the Glasgow Museum of Transport in the 1960s. In 2000 the Tramway opened as a place for artistic programmes and this legacy has continued ever since. It was a noticeably wonderful venue, with lots of space and light.
The event was for Primary 5s and was centred on getting to know people they didn’t know and collaborating together for an art project. Anas arrived and spoke to the children about the importance of coming together. The event was divided into three different art projects, which each of the children had the chance to be a part of as they were divided into three groups. As they were all from different schools, they were split so they had the opportunity to speak and create with children they did not know. It was a great atmosphere and some beautiful pieces were created – all with the theme of working together. After the project was completed, Anas, who had been getting all amongst it the whole morning – even getting his face painted at points, got taught the new dance that all of the children were doing. This was then followed by an interview by the Jo Cox Great Get Together event team. It was incredibly heartwarming to see an event uniting us, following on similarities not differences, from such a tragic loss.
Following this, Anas, Eunis and I whizzed off to BBC Scotland, so Anas could show his support for the pensioners protesting against the decision that free TV licences are going to be scrapped for up to £3.7million pensioners. Although it was a windy day, they were out in full force, and it was great to see this statement by the pensioners! We then stopped for a coffee and a catch up about the day so far before heading back to the office.
The last meeting of the day was with Police Scotland. It was not until this meeting that I truly realised the threats that politicians face on a regular basis. With Anas this is often centred on his religious beliefs and ethnicity – which was a real eye opener. I knew that online trolling had increased exponentially with the growth of social media, but I had not realised the extent to which politicians were threatened in real life.