After arriving at Anas Sarwar’s constituency office in Glasgow, I got a tour of the office (which he shares with another MSP) and met the staff. I quickly started working on case files for the Breast Cancer Now Campaign, which aims introduce perjeta into the NHS in Scotland. Soon after I started engaging with and replying to constituents. This allowed me to gain a real insight of how politics works on a daily basis and how an impact is made on specific individuals but also made me realise how difficult it is to help everyone all the time. In the afternoon I researched about the group ‘Grandparents Apart’ to help with the formation of new proposals in the Scottish Parliament.
However, the highlight of my day was sitting in Anas’ surgery. This showed me how personal politics can be as it allowed for individual stories to be told, and it also lets constituents to have face-to-face contact with their MSP.
On the whole, I had a very insightful first day in a working political office, which I am sure will continue and be added to throughout the week.
For my second day with Anas Sarwar, I was at his Edinburgh office in Holyrood. I went straight to his office and got to work! I started to research for a speech regarding MND Awareness Week. This initially took me a while to get to grips with, however once I found my footing this allowed me to gain knowledge on MND as an illness, but also gave an insight into how speeches are prepared.
Once I had completed the preparation, I was able to construct a press release for MND Awareness Week. As with researching for the speech, this took me a few minutes to find my way, but once I was comfortable with forming this press release it gave me further insight into the day to day life of parliamentary workers. I had a lot of help from Anas’ other researchers who helped me ease into the process.
After having lunch I was able to attend a Shadow Health Team meeting. This gave me further understanding into the policy development process, the formation of political strategy and how the government is held to account.
My final tasks for the day mirrored my first, but on a topic I have great interest in: the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. I first researched for a speech for World Refugee Day 2018, during which I discovered many startling statistics about refugees entering Scotland and how they compare to the rest of the UK. Next, I wrote the press release for this speech. By continuing my work from the morning I was able to build upon my knowledge and skills, and because I had experience from the morning I was a lot more confident in completing these tasks in the afternoon.
I began my day by preparing the guest list (and sign-up sheets) for the ‘Tackling Islamophobia’ Cross Party Group (CPG) that Anas was convening later that day. This guest list included leaders within the Muslim community and other faith groups, students, and finally editors of newspapers such as ‘The Sun’ and ‘The Daily Mail’ among others, as well as heads of media outlets such as the BBC and STV.
Next, I looked at how a motion is constructed. This allowed me to gain an insight into the quirks and particularities of Parliament.
After lunch I watched Portfolio Questions on health and sport in the parliament chamber. Then I watched the Opposition Debate on the Scottish Government’s handling of Freedom of Information requests and record keeping. These debates made it clear how the opposition is able to hold the government to account: through scrutiny and challenge. I finally watched the opposition debate on access to vital drugs for breast cancer and cystic fibrosis; this was particularly contentious as the drugs in question are available in both England and Wales. The drug for breast cancer is Perjeta, which had been the subject of my casework on my first day. So, this allowed me to see how campaign and constituents’ thoughts can lead to debate in the chamber. The chamber then filled for voting on the motions.
We then finished the final preparations for the CPG and welcomed guests. This was my first CPG and I think it was highly effective as it allowed the attendees to hold the media chiefs to account over Islamophobia, racism and general prejudice and misogyny within Scottish media by the people it had a direct effect on. After agreeing several action points to further the discussion of Islamophobia in the media, it is just a matter of time until we see a change in the race, gender and sexuality of the makeup of the media and the stories they are printing about marginalised groups.
My task for the whole of Thursday was to manage the pledge stand which read, “We can’t leave the fight against all form of prejudice and hate to individual communities”. This was a pledge led by Anas as a part of The Great Get Together in Glasgow on Saturday 23rd in memory of Jo Cox. The pledge was printed on a huge banner on which MSPs were able to sign and commit themselves to the pledge. Members of all major parties signed, which highlighted that many issues aren’t split down party lines. This task also gave me the opportunity to be introduced to many different MSPs from all parties and from all over Scotland. At The Great Get Together on Saturday 23rd, over 100 interfaith leaders will be signing the pledge in solidarity with the cause.
Holyrood’s celebrations of The Great Get Together began today as the canteen was decorated with balloons and posters which promoted members of the parties to come together for the lunch break despite party affiliations in the spirit of Jo Cox’s memory. As an extra special touch, Jo’s favourite dish of beef stew in Yorkshire pudding was served.
Today illustrated how although there are obvious divides within parliament “We have more in common than which divides us”.
My first task for the day was to begin preparing the venue for ‘The Great Get Together’ in memory of Jo Cox which was to be held on Saturday 24th June in Glasgow. This consisted of decorating the venue with balloons, bunting and signs.
Next, I accompanied Anas on a visit to the Giffnock Synagogue. Here we met with Rabbi Rubin along with the executive committee of the synagogue where they signed the pledge:
“We can’t leave the fight against all forms of prejudice and hate to individual communities”.
The members of the synagogue signed the pledge on Friday because they were unable to attend ‘The Great Get Together’ as it was on Shabbat, the Jewish holy day of the week. At the synagogue we talked about the pledge - how different communities can help each other and others fight prejudice, and find internal unity within one religion.
We then returned to Anas’ office (the venue of ‘The Great Get Together’) where we continued to add the final decorative touches for ‘The Great Get Together’. We were faced with the dilemma of how to hang the pledge so it could be displayed and the religious leaders would be able to sign it easily. After much discussion and many ideas (including hanging it from the balcony) we decided to get adhesive hooks that would (hopefully) not damage the wall after their removal. So, we went shopping for food, drink and the hooks. After our return we secured the hooks, with great care, and hoped they would be able to handle the weight of the pledge wall.
Although I wasn’t able to attend ‘The Great Get Together’ I readily kept up to date with the event through social media and it seemed a great success.
I had a wonderful week with Anas and his team, I have learned so much and gained invaluable experience.
During my week as a part of Anas’ team, both in Glasgow and in Edinburgh, it was made clear to me how important representation is within politics. The representation of ethnic minorities within politics is necessary, as it brings diversity and with diversity brings innovation and an evolution of ideas. Nearly 4% of the Scottish population are from an ethnic minority, however only 2 out of the 129 MSPs are ethnic minorities. This clearly highlights the under representation of minorities within the Scottish Parliament. Although it can’t just be left to those from the marginalised communities, members of these communities are usually able to better represent others within their community.
My time in the Scottish Parliament has made me want to get further involved in politics, whether that be as a part of organised marches and pressure groups or parliamentary politics, as my duty not only as an ethnic minority but also a female.