During the train journey to the Scottish Parliament to begin my first shadowing day, I had a lot of mixed feelings. I thought to myself, “What if politics really isn’t for me?”, but in my mind I knew this is what I have always wanted and the Political Shadowing Scheme was a once in a life time opportunity. I arrived at the Parliament shortly before 10am and I was ready to begin my journey into politics.
The first order of business was to attend a Justice Committee meeting. The MSP I was shadowing – Fulton MacGregor - is a member of the committee. I sat at the back and paid attention as the meeting began. The meeting was on the Limitation (Childhood Abuse) (Scotland) Bill. The proposed bill will aim to help childhood abuse victims have easier access to justice as some abuse victims have been denied a voice in the past. Attending this committee meeting inspired me to get involved in wider issues facing Scotland.
After the meeting concluded, I went up to Fulton’s office and I met the team. I met Alan (the office manager) and Ellie (a third year student from the United States doing some work experience) and we all got along fine.
Alan explained to me that there could never have been a better day to start shadowing as it was a historical day in Holyrood because for the first time in more than 300 years, the Scottish Parliament would be able vote to set rates and bands for income tax in Scotland. Before the vote, MSPs would have a debate so Ellie and I went down to the chamber to watch it. I began to fully understand the complexity of the political spectrum as on one end of the spectrum, the Conservatives were pushing for tax cuts for the top income earners (a process called trickledown economics: something I was familiar with from my studies, although I am rather sceptical about its merits), and on the other end of the spectrum, the Labour party were pushing for tax raises for the top income earners. It was fascinating to see these theories taught in lecture theatres being applied in real life.
At 6pm I attended the Cross Party Group on Racial Equality with Fulton, Alan and Rebecca - the Policy and Parliamentary Officer at the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights. It was a great experience to learn more about the issues facing BME people. Some of the issues brought up include: the disparity between aspiration and reality, the fact that BME women are mostly affected by austerity, and budget cuts.
My first shadowing day was hands-on and I had a great experience. I left parliament looking forward to my next shadowing days.
My second shadowing day was in the constituency. I arrived shortly before 9am at the constituency office in Coatbridge and Chryston, where Fulton is the MSP. It was a Monday so it was a surgery day. Fulton, Elaine – the case worker - and I left for the first surgery meeting. I was responsible for writing down the queries being faced by the public in the constituency. We had a total of 8 queries, which Fulton told me was one of the busiest days. After the surgeries were done, we headed back to the constituency office and I met the rest of the team.
After a short while, we headed out to a monthly meeting with Lanarkshire Carers and they expressed their deep concerns about the effects that austerity has had on their service, as proposed budget cuts may result in their centre being closed down. They voiced their worries, as it is a well-used and valued service.
After the meeting, we went back to the office and Naomi - one of the case workers - gave me a rundown of some of the cases she was working on. Coatbridge and Chryston has been facing a High Street decline with a high number of closed down stores. This can be attributed to high business rates being charged, thus the costs become too high to keep the business running.
This affects employment and the local economy. However, there is hope as the government is proposing a business rate relief that will help stimulate business activity again. Fulton is also heading up a programme to try to get businesses to move to Coatbridge, and also encourage new start ups.
I was fortunate enough that it was a very busy day in the constituency and as a result I learnt a great deal. I got an insight into some of the issues facing ordinary working people and this motivated me to want to take a leading role in helping to change my community for the better.
I particularly enjoyed this day because I got to work closely with Fulton. I learnt a lot from the way he conducted the queries from the surgeries. I also realised we share similar ideologies and we are both passionate about issues such as racial equality and issues facing young people.