My first day of political shadowing was an important day for me but also one, if I’m being honest, which had caught me by surprise. It didn’t seem so long ago that I’d applied to the scheme, confident, yet not expectant, that I’d be accepted. Memories of the excellent CRER training were even fresher in my mind. But in no time at all, the big day was here. I hadn't slept much the night before, so nervous excitement and caffeine were all that carried me out of bed that morning.
The commute from Glasgow seemed an eternity, but finally I was greeted with that sense of history and prestige which comes with a trip to the capital. While I waited to be collected at reception, I bumped into some of my CRER colleagues who, if they were as nervous as me, showed no sign of it. Any nerves I did have dissipated after meeting Genevieve, Adam Tomkins’s senior policy adviser. She was very friendly and readily answered all the questions I had. She was a far cry from the cold, single minded depictions of political aides on shows like House of Cards and The Thick of it.
Owing to the fact that, I have exams over the coming weeks, Adam and his team had opted not to give me a long term project until after this period was over. With that being said, I felt in no way like a spare part. Genevieve had me going through various newspapers to identify potential stories to bring to Adams’s attention. At this point Adam was in committee, quizzing Scottish Brexit minister Mike Russell on Scottish powers after the UK leaves the EU. I watched this committee whilst also carrying out my other duties, so that kept me busy!
After committee business had concluded, I was introduced to Adam who, much like Genevieve, very friendly and open. I found that to be the case for the entire Conservative office space which was a lot more informal than I expected. It seemed much like an ordinary workplace, with a strong sense of cohesion and a very welcoming atmosphere. I saw many famous faces walk by from my desk and felt honoured to be working in the same space as them, even if only for a brief period. I have to admit, I was pretty starstruck upon seeing Ruth Davidson but I also felt a sense of elation upon seeing the First Minister (letting my side down, I know).
After lunch, I sat in on a debate regarding the finances of the NHS with Labour and the Conservatives attributing the financial pressures on the NHS to the SNP Health Minister Shona Robinson. It was highly contentious and only wished I could have spent longer watching the drama unfold. After that, I spent the remainder of my day fact gathering statistics regarding alcohol consumption in Glasgow. Once that was done, I walked out of Holyrood with a real sense of pride. This was the first real work experience I’d had, and I spent it in Scotland’s greatest institution.
Even after a few weeks, the feeling of entering Holyrood still hasn’t left me - that buzz of activity after you clear security, the sense of being a small part of something much bigger. Despite the continued excitement of working in the Scottish Parliament, I tried to push this to one side in order to complete my work.
Much of my day consisted of working on my long-term project, which involves the future of policy areas formerly legislated by the EU and European Parliament. It gave me a strong idea of the duties required of a researcher/adviser, such as pouring over complex documents and using lateral thinking to gather information.
It was an especially hectic day for Adam, who was pre-occupied by various committees and meeting for most of the day. I don't think I spoke to him until three o’clock in the afternoon, at which point he was very apologetic and assured me he’d spend more time with me next time. While I was very appreciative of this, I understand that MSPs are very busy individuals and that time is at a premium for them.
With that being said, Adam’s assistant, Genevieve, was very accommodating and went out of her way to keep me occupied. After I had made significant headway in the EU project, Genevieve had me research an individual who Adam was going to speak to later that week, an introductory meeting of sorts with an interest group representative. It was interesting to see what kind of information MSPs look for before meeting someone (education, relative experience etc.) and more importantly, how much a simple Google search can reveal about someone.
While my first visit to Scottish Parliament was an enjoyable one, my then-upcoming exams meant I was impeded from any real commitment to my shadowing. Now that the exam period is over, I was able to participate fully in the comings and goings of the office. I felt like a much more integrated part of the office, and that the work I was doing was generally helping Adam and his team. And so I left Holyrood that day with a renewed sense of purpose, a wealth of knowledge, and some real work to take home with me.
Day Three - Five
As I sat on the early morning train through to Edinburgh, my last day at parliament drew ever closer. I had mixed feelings towards the end of the process. On the one hand, I felt incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity, and already believed that I had benefited immensely from it. On the other, I was sad it was already over and I wished my third visit to parliament wasn't my final.
Between my parliament visits, I had also gone to Adam’s constituency office twice to work in Maryhill with his colleague Martyn. There, my work varied from doing research on music venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh to visiting a local nursery and listening to their concerns for the future of childcare.
With that being said, the bulk of my work was focused on the project I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, on how to best manage the newly acquired policy areas from the EU. It was a challenging task, but that was the point. With the UK being the first country to leave the EU, there was a lot of questions that needed to be answered on the future of agriculture, fishing etc. Whilst I won’t get into the details here, this project made me look at devolution and Brexit in a way I would otherwise never thought about.
The long and short of it is that we need to have a radical rethink of devolution. The idea of devolved and reserved areas is somewhat of a myth, these areas inevitably overlap, and the process to deal with such overlaps is not in place. In terms of pursuing my interest in constitution, I couldn't have got a better MSP. Adam Tomkins is an expert on constitutional law and is Deputy Convener of the Finance and Constitution committee. Of course, the down side of this was that I was about to present him with a document on the constitutional implications of Brexit on devolution!
Thankfully, Adam’s senior policy adviser Genevieve gave me a few pointers, and I spent my last day making some improvements to my work. The World Cup had just began and the office was abuzz with predictions and speculations of what would unfold over the coming weeks. It was a minor but still relevant reminder that politicians are just like us, not the Eton educated robots that the media would have us believe. I sat down with Adam and Genevieve towards the end of the day, we discussed the project, politics in general and I expressed my gratitude at receiving this opportunity. They thanked me for coming and all the work I’d done. I left parliament as I’d entered it that morning, sad that it was all over but feeling a sense of achievement for what I’d been able to do in a relatively short space of time. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at parliament, I just hoped it wasn't my last.