My first day began with meeting Monica Lennon’s parliamentary assistant and I received a little tour of the Scottish Parliament building whilst we made our way to the offices of the Scottish Labour MSPs. Once at the office, we had a chat about the work in the Parliament and I had the chance to meet other colleagues. Then Monica arrived from a committee meeting and I got to ask questions about her work. We also discussed her special focuses and issues affecting her constituency. Later, I familiarised myself with my work station and got set up with a parliamentary IT account and email. The first time I logged into my account I already had 135 unread emails – the Scottish Parliament is a very busy place! We agreed that the next day I would be attending the Education and Skills Committee meeting where I would take notes of the topics discussed. The meeting was going to have a roundtable discussion on Personal and Social Education in the Scottish school system. Thus, I went through the agenda for the meeting, the submissions from the witnesses and the appropriate policy briefings by SPICe (Scottish Parliament Information Centre). Then I attended a ‘Planning Futures’ seminar, which was part of the Scottish Environmental Week. The seminar was relaxed and consisted of presentations by experts and professionals about the state of Scottish environmental planning. After doing some more research in the office, my day was finished – time went very quickly as I was learning a lot of new things and trying to get my bearings!
In the morning, I attended the Education and Skills Committee Meeting. I took notes of the points raised in the discussion between the MSPs and the witnesses. The discussion focused on the content and delivery of Personal and Social Education (PSE) in schools and I certainly learned quite a lot about the topic. Some of the themes concerned mental health, sex education and inclusive education regarding LGBT+ issues – many pupils feel that these topics are not covered well in PSE and teachers have expressed that they lack adequate training to address such issues effectively. After the meeting, I returned to the office and made a summary of the important points, particularly keeping in mind issues that would link with Monica’s work. The PSE discussion also encouraged the majority of Scottish Parliament MSPs to back a pledge on LGBT+ inclusive education. Later, I worked on responses to emails from pupils regarding their assignments in Modern Studies and carried out relevant research.
Today was a less busy day. I worked on draft responses to emails and the next day I was again set to attend the Education and Skills Committee meeting. This time the roundtable discussion concerned the position of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) in the Scottish education system. I read through the witness submissions and policy briefings regarding the legislation about additional support needs in preparation for the session. Later, I browsed the local newspapers and media to see if there were any interesting developments or events in Monica’s constituency or something that related to her special focuses. During the day, I also answered phone queries and carried out regular office work tasks.
I started the day with attending the Education and Skills Committee meeting with another shadowing colleague. The roundtable discussion on ASN was very interesting and I learned that the education system is under great pressure as a result of budget cuts and lack of adequate training for teachers, which makes it hard to support pupils with additional needs. Additional support needs can cover anything from autism to bereavement – there are many categories and this has caused the number of pupils with ASN to increase over the years. After the meeting, I again compiled the most important points to a summary and gave this to Monica. The discussion in the meeting was also covered by the media and the BBC wrote an interesting piece about it. Later, I went down to the SPICe and got an introduction to their work and a tour of their office. Their work is very vital and it is clear the Scottish Parliament would not be able to function without their incredible expertise and knowledge in finding information. By now, I had read several SPICe briefings and found them very useful in giving me a grip on various topics. SPICe consists of different professionals – such as, librarians and policy experts – that research and provide information to the MSPs on their request and to support the parliamentary business in debates, committee meetings and the legislative process. The SPICe office also contains national and local newspapers, magazines, journals and books – some of which are held or archived for longer periods. They also advised me on how to carry out research on constituency data and demographics and pointed me towards useful resources.
Day Five and Day Six
During my last two shadowing dates, I started getting involved in compiling material that helps with the progression of Monica’s Member’s Bill that aims to help women and girls who cannot access or afford sanitary products and thus suffer from ‘period poverty’. For example, schools and health boards should provide sanitary products to anyone who needs them. I carried out research and went through a number of answers to various Freedom of Information requests that related to the topic of the proposed Member’s Bill. I categorised and compiled all the Freedom of Information replies, some of which were quite data-heavy. In addition, I also drafted a few motions (which were later submitted) congratulating three separate organisations in Monica’s constituency that had been awarded funding by the Big Lottery Fund. My last two days also coincided with the ‘Scotland’s Choice’ debate on a Section 30 order and a new independence referendum. The Parliament itself was very busy during this time and there was a presence of media outlets and personnel both inside and outside the building in anticipation for the vote. I followed the debate from the office through a live-stream. The debate was very interesting and (unsurprisingly) got quite heated at times. At the same time, I also followed the news coverage on the debate. However, on the second day the debate and the vote were suspended because of the unfortunate and serious incident in Westminster. All in all, I felt incredibly lucky to be in the Parliament witnessing such an important debate which could have big consequences for the UK and Scotland itself. It reminded me that politics and significant decisions are not just something that ‘happen in the news’, but rather something that involve real people and their hard work and effort. I have greatly enjoyed my experience of shadowing a MSP and their work in the Scottish Parliament. It has been a positive eye-opening experience and has taught me a lot about working in politics and understanding what it involves.