With an early start and very excited after all the training courtesy of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights (CRER), I was more than ready to take on the new role.
I arrived nice and early, and was warmly welcomed by one of Clare’s team and then joined by her parliamentary assistant who took me through the history of parliament, and, as a person who is so passionate about women, I was inspired by ‘Travelling the Distance 2004,’ the 100 hand written sentences from 100 women about a woman they felt made significant contribution to life, culture or democracy in Scotland. This one in particular caught my eye: ‘Her passion for equalities shines through in her voice and in her eyes,’ by Ruth Black on Irene Graham.’ That is the same way I feel about equality and women in general, as I work with asylum seekers and refugees from different walks of life.
As the tour continued, we came across this poem when parliament was opened on 9th October 2004 called ‘Open the Doors!’ It was written by Edwin Morgan on what people needed for a parliament: ‘What do the people want of the place? They want it to be filled with thinking persons as open and adventurous as its architecture. A nest of fearties is what they do not want. A symposium of procrastinators is what they do not want. A phalanx of forelock-tuggers is what they do not want. And perhaps above all the droopy mantra of ‘it wizny me’ is what they do not want. Dear friends, dear lawgivers, dear parliamentarians, you are picking up a thread of pride and self-esteem that has been almost but not quite, oh no not quite, not ever broken or forgotten.”
I was off to the office where I met Clare Adamson, a very gentle lovely person, and we discussed what she does in the parliament. As well as being the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Motherwell and Wishaw, she is the Convener of the Social Security Committee and a substitute member for the Education and Skills Committee, which I am invited to attend in due course. She is also a member of various cross party groups (CPGs) in the Scottish Parliament on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness (Convener) Science and Technology (Convener), Sport (Deputy Convener), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Deputy Convener), Cancer, Carers, Digital Participation, Industrial Communities, Life Sciences, MS, Older People and Aging, Recreational Boating and Marine Tourism, and Scottish Showmen’s Guild.
Some of the activities that happen in parliament are committee business, events and exhibitions, visits, cross party groups, chamber business, and parliamentary questions.
The CPG on Sports hosted the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) on 6th March 2018. SOHK sports such as rugby to tackle the issues surrounding unemployment, crime and poor health, and works with individuals to help them take responsibility and take positive steps forward in their lives.
Great first day in the office.
Today was another exciting day in the Scottish Parliament with more to learn about what takes place, like what constitutes formal parliamentary business, such as motions, parliamentary questions, and committees. Motions, for example, can shine a light on citizens’ achievements and their work by being highlighted in parliament. Motions must be in a particular format.
In this case, we drafted a motion for a women’s rugby team. We sent the following letter to the team:
“I write to congratulate you on your win over the Watsonians in the Sarah Beaney Cup Final on 28 April 2018."
“Last week, I lodged motion S5M-12165 with the Scottish Parliament informing my fellow MSPs of the award that you have won. The motion lodged on 09/05/2018 reads:
That the Parliament congratulates the Hillhead/Jordanhill Women’s Rugby Team on its win over the Watsonians in the Sarah Beaney Cup Final on 28 April 2018; understands that the Sarah Beaney Cup Final was part of BT Cup Finals Day at BT Murray field on a day dubbed Silver Saturday; recognises that Hillhead/Jordanhill were 2017’s Sarah Beaney Cup champions; applauds the dedication and hard work of all teams involved in Silver Saturday, and encourages the Hillhead/Jordanhill Women’s Rugby Team to go for three years in a row next year."
“This win reflects the hard work and dedication of your team, and the many hours you have devoted to the Hillhead Jordanhill Women’s Rugby Team. I wish you all the best in the future, and look forward to your continued achievement. Your commitment to teamwork and success are why I am so honoured to represent the people of Scotland in the Scottish Parliament.”
After that, we went to the chamber for Portfolio Questions, which were a range of questions concerning health in connection with how young people’s voices can be heard during the development of mental health services. The topics included:
How the Scottish Government’s digital health and care strategy will help deliver person centred care
How the Scottish Government is assessing and reducing the health impact of air pollution
What impact on health the Scottish Government expects by introducing minimum unit pricing for alcohol
What discussions the Scottish Government had with Fife Health and Social Care Partnership follow its decision to suspend overnight out-of-hours service in Dunfermline, St Andrews and Glenrothes
How the Scottish Government will ensure quality is embedded in drug and alcohol services
Whether the Scottish Government will update the parliament on the implementation of its mental health strategy and what its position is on concerns regarding the overuse of antidepressants
What action the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that out-of-hours dental service is available through the NHS
How the Scottish Government supports participation in sport in the Renfrewshire South constituency
What plans the Scottish Government has to ensure that all eligible men receive mpMRI scans before a prostate biopsy
It was another great start at the Scottish Parliament with a well laid out plan for the day. I had scheduled a meeting with Christina McKelvie, who is a Scottish National Party politician. She was first elected as MSP for the Hamilton, Larkhall and Storehouses constituency in 2011.
Unfortunately due to unavoidable circumstances I couldn’t meet her. Instead I met with her parliamentary researcher, Sean McLaughlan, to discuss some of the current parliamentary and committee business that Christina is working on, which are close to my heart.
Christina is the Convener of the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and has currently been working on an inquiry called “Hidden Lives: A new beginning concerning destitution, asylum and insecure immigration status in Scotland.” This is a report written from evidence given by various people and organisations, which explains the impact of immigration on human dignity, health and wellbeing. The report addresses increased risk of exploitation; no recourse to public funds; lack of access to health care and maternity services; the integration of refuges and asylum seekers; and human rights.
Christina is a member of various Cross Party Groups (CPGs) in the Scottish Parliament and co-convenes the CPGs on Human Trafficking and Men’s Violence Against Women and Children. She is also the Deputy Convener for the CPG on Malawi, and is a member of the CPG on Tibet, Construction, Scottish Showmen’s Guild, Consumer Protection for Home Energy Efficiency, and Renewable Energy.
I then had a meeting with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe), which provides impartial information, analysis and advice on the entire parliament’s legislative competence. They cover other subjects to the level required by parliamentary business. The SPICe research team is made up of three research units that provide independent analysis and support to the communities of the Scottish Parliament and to individual members and their staff.
The Brexit, Environment, and Rural Affairs Unit provides briefings and answer questions on planning, rural affairs, environment, transport, conservation sustainable development, climate change, energy, agriculture, fisheries, parliament and constitution, and culture.
The Financial Scrutiny Unit (FSU) provides analysis on budgetary trends and issues, including independent costing of specific spending proposals. As well as this, they provide research on all areas of the economy and public finances, and the effect they have on the Scottish Government and Parliament.
The Justice, Health and Social affairs Research Unit provides briefings and answers questions on a wide range of issues. In terms of civil and criminal justice, they cover issues such as family law, property law, criminal law, the civil and criminal courts, the police, the prosecution system, prisons, access to justice and legal aid. They also provide research on health and social care, social security, children’s services, education and lifelong learning, housing and equal opportunities.
After the meeting with SPICe, I went to the Chamber for the Portfolio Questions on Communities, Social Security, and Equalities. In total there were twenty questions asked. Clare was to ask the Scottish Government whether it will provide an update on the take-up among claimants of the Scottish Universal Credit flexibilities, and followed up with a supplementary question.
Overall, it was a great busy day in the office and Scottish Parliament.
Today was yet another early start in order to get to the Social Security Committee meeting, which is led by Clare Adamson MSP.
After this, I had a meeting with the Chamber Desk to learn more about what they do, which includes checking admissibility and editing written and oral parliamentary questions (PQs), motions and amendment of motions.
Before the editing process, a question might have asked the Scottish Government:
“In the light of the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO) report showing that at least two health boards have not been handling prisoner’s NHS complaints appropriately, what action will they take to ensure that boards address the complaints.”
After the editing, the question will state,
“To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the comments in the October 2013 report by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman regarding prisoners’ access to the NHS complaints process.”
There are normally four types of oral questions namely:
· Topical Questions, asked every Tuesday at 2:00pm if they are selected.
· Ministerial Portfolio Questions, asked every Wednesday at 2:00pm.
· Ministerial General Questions, asked every Thursday at 11:40am.
· First Minister’s Questions, asked every Thursday at noon.
There are also Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB) questions asked three or four times per year. For example, this could include asking the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Board (SPCB) what assessment it has made of the danger of cyber attacks on its IT systems, asking what work is being done to improve accessibility to the parliamentary campus for people with austistic spectrum disorder, or asking the SPCB what consideration it has given to reducing the portion size of food served in the garden level restaurant.
Lastly there are urgent questions that are a determined by the Presiding Officer (PO).
There are also motions, which can cover any topic, provided the matter is not sub-judice, such as Government and Opposition Debates, Members’ Business Debates (which are normally submitted by backbenchers), and standard motions (which are not debated).
An example of a standard motion is:
“Celebrating a Summer of Reading in Burnside Primary.
That the Parliament congratulates Burnside primary school in Rutherglen on being the overall winner of south Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Limited’s Summer Reading Challenge, notes that 52% of the pupils at school signed up for the scheme, each reading at least six books of their choice over the summer break, further notes that around 3,500 children across south Lanarkshire took part in this years’ challenge and received small incentives to encourage them, including a book bag and medal, and commends all of the pupils and staff involved.”
It can also be a Members’ Business Motion, and also has a standard format.
After the meeting with chamber desk, I went in the chamber for First Minister’s Questions.
This morning I headed straight to Motherwell, not for a constituency visit, but to meet the MSP and her team so we can head to the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) in Edinburgh Napier University, as part of the community engagement programme she is doing and wants to adopt in Motherwell and Wishaw.
SOHK is a social inclusion charity which uses sport to tackle issues surrounding unemployment, crime and health, and works with individuals to help them take responsibility and take positive steps forward in their lives during the eight week training period. The charity also works hand-in-hand with the Department of Work and Pension (DWP) to assist participants to build up their confidence and to try to get back into work.
They also run a school programme aimed at students from derived backgrounds, but who also have discipline and anger issues. It aims to change behaviour and works alongside psychologists for a period of three years with the same students from Senior 2 until they reach Senior 4, and then an evaluation is carried out on the entire project annually.
We got involved in the rugby session that was going on. Seeing the MSP Clare Adamson score two tries amidst fun and excitement was very encouraging for the players who access the services.
We then had a meeting with the manager of the School Of Hard Knocks to discuss a mind map, which includes making contact with School Of Hard Knocks and the local Council in Motherwell and Wishaw. We talked about the expansion plans and how to make a case for Motherwell and Wishaw, as it is a highly deprived area with drug and alcohol issues and they could use the infrastructure in place.
We later met with the beneficiaries of the project for a feedback session on what they can do and cannot do, what their limitations are, and what their goals are. The session also asked them to focus on SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound).
We also agreed to contact and identify bodies who might have pots of money for the project and identify a training place and local volunteers. We also agreed to write a proposal and contact the DWP for support, as well as the local police and any other sponsors.
We went back to Scottish Parliament and had a couple of drop-ins including one for Missing People, a charity in the UK which is dedicated to bringing missing children and adults back together with their families.
We also visited Smart Play in a pod that encourages children and adults to play using the available resources in schools, homes and communities, calling upon Members of the Scottish Parliament to embrace it.
Another day of learning, fun and adventure.
It was a day in the constituency and I am really excited to be in Motherwell and Wishaw constituency, once again. Clare Adamson’s team welcomed me and we had a brief meeting on how the day will go, ranging from drop-ins, community engagement programmes, and visiting the constituency.
We had several drop-ins, with people coming in with a whole range of issues to be tackled and discussed with the MSP and her team. Normally people need to book appointments for Monday and Friday when the MSP is in the constituency office (this is in the morning) to discuss issues like housing, health, benefits and business, or any other issue depending on the person’s need.
We also finalised the letter going to North Lanarkshire Council regarding the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) using rugby to tackle issues surrounding unemployment, crime and health with the aim to help people to grow in confidence, experience the value of teamwork and realise their own potential.
I had a thorough study of the MSP’s report for the month of May in regards to all the activities and programmes she has been running. These ranged from health, sport, community, charity, parliamentary business, funding and social security among many others.
We then had lunch at a community cafe that was established to support people in the community with learning difficulties. This cafe trains people with learning difficulties in various ways and thereafter either employ’s them, or enables them to move on to find employment elsewhere.
We then went to the community to identify what the suitable venue will be for the community engagement project with the School of Hard Knocks (SOHK) for Motherwell and Wishaw in terms of accessibility.
First, we went to Daizel rugby club; it has a very good facility but it is not near any bus routes, so it may not be easily accessible for the community given the fact that the project targets people from deprived areas who have been affected by poverty, alcohol and drugs.
Secondly, we went to Ravenscraig regional sports centre; again it was a very great facility, but would be hard for the target group to reach given the fact that it is also located away from the bus routes, meaning it is not easily accessible.
Finally, we headed to a community ground that is used for football and we managed to get in touch with the management who were more than happy to let us use the grounds. The grounds are easy to access and perfect for the community project.
What a good day it was seeing the beautiful Motherwell and Wishaw as well as visiting the Strathclyde Country Park, which will be hosting rowing for the European Championship.
I cannot believe it is the last day of the Political Shadowing Scheme. I am sad that it is ending, but what a great learning experience - right from what the parliament does to what is done in the constituency.
I believe each day was a different experience as there were always new things to learn. I feel so positive talking about politics in any capacity because I believe politics has a great influence on society.
Wednesday was a Social Security Committee meeting which starts very early and is chaired by Clare Adamson, but today I did not get the chance to attend, so I was taken through the folder with all the discussions of the day.
The meeting included discussion on the Scottish Welfare Fund which featured representation from bereavement consultants, the National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors, the National Association of Funeral Directors, Age Scotland and Glasgow City Council, and the Child Poverty (Scotland) Act 2017
We also had a drop-in at Child Bereavement UK (tag line ‘Rebuilding Lives Together’) that supports families when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.
They provide a confidential listening service, guidance and information on a wide range of topics and issues. They also provide details about the direct support Child Bereavement UK can offer, as well as signposting to other organisations that can offer further support.
Overall, I have learnt a lot about how the Scottish Parliament operates, how it considers proposed legislation, and how it scrutinises the activities and policies of the Scottish Government through debates, parliamentary questions and the work of committees. I have also learnt about what the MSPs do, such as representing their constituencies in Parliament or helping them in various ways, such as lodging a motion to allow other MSPs to show their support for an issue or gathering support from MSPs to have the issue debated in the Parliament, or speaking in a debate about a Bill or issue.
Once again, it has been a great learning experience both in Parliament and the constituency and the memories will last forever.