23rd April 2019
The first day of shadowing was started officially at 10:00am in the lobby of Scottish Parliament, awaiting to be collected by Jackie Baillie’s assistant and parliamentary researcher Shonagh. I was pretty nervous seeing as I was running late after 3 trains to Edinburgh had been cancelled, but it ended up be very fitting as I was later to write a press release on behalf of my MSP about ScotRail’s poor services.
Luckily my first day was also the first day of another intern, so we were both sat down and given a brief introduction into how the office worked, who we’d be seeing around and what we would be doing.
After this intro to the other three in the office and a whistle stop tour of the floor that our office is located, I got my first solo experience of working on behalf of an MSP. My tasks for the day were to make my way through a selection of press releases that needed to be written on behalf of Jackie, covering a wide range of topics to ScotRail complaints, lack of funding for children with special needs with education, funding per pupil in education and NHS funding.
Prior to my first day I had spoken to Shonagh and expressed my interest in the media side of politics, so this was a great opportunity for me to get stuck in and explore the ways in which politicians communicate with the media and vice versa.
First thing I came to understand was that the purpose of a press release is not just to share information between politicians and the media, but to provide the media with a narrative concerning certain issues that had been ignored by the current government. Furthermore, forming a narrative of how these nation-wide issues affected the country on a smaller scale by relating concerns to the MSPs constituencies themselves. These press releases are written so that they can be sent to various news outlets and journalists who wish to cover a particular story and are looking for a direct quote from the politicians in question. Thus this is the perfect opportunity for an MSP to get the voice of their constituency members across ensuring they are aware of how national level decisions are impacting their daily lives and that they are represented in national and local debates.
I worked both with Shonagh and Jackie closely on what to include in terms of formatting. This included the title, body of information, followed by direct quotes and then any additional information the journalist may need to understand the topic and construct as story accurately. This was invaluable experience as I was able to learn directly from Shonagh and Jackie who have a lot of expertise in the best way to approach the media. Especially in regard to providing comment on the decisions of an opposing governing party.
Writing these press releases involved researching the topics I had been asked to write about so that I could provide context and formulate a perspective. Additionally, this research required finding statistics on Jackie’s constituency in order to localise the national story to the relevant local papers.
This day of shadowing gave me a great insight into the way politicians can utilise the media to further the issues they care about and keep their smaller constituencies in the national discussion.
Day two of shadowing found me on yet another cancelled ScotRail service on a less than pleasant morning. This time however I was on route to Jackie Baillie’s constituency office in Dumbarton.
After my second round of ‘who’s who’ in the office I was introduced to the world of casework, writing constituency responses communicating information that had been south after by the office on their behalf from various agencies. For example, the West Dunbartonshire Council.
Next was a trip to a local primary school. The children had written to Jackie asking questions on what life is like as a Scottish politician, how Scottish politics works, and most surprisingly asking what was going to happen about Brexit. This is was a great opportunity to see how MSPs engage with their local community, regardless of whether it can improve votes in the future or not. All the children that took part could not possibly vote for Jackie in the next election, however she still took the time to drive down to the school and answer their questions. This was a side of politics I wasn’t really aware existed. From what we’re shown politics is all about getting things done and ensuring votes for the next election. I learned that there is much more to the work that politicians do. For example they are responsible for informing everyone in their constituency including those that can vote, those with problems and those only just starting to understand the wider world. It was great to go and sit with the young school pupils and see how much they had already absorbed about how politics worked, and how eager they were to learn more. By taking the time to visit, Jackie had potentially sprouted the seeds necessary to create another generation as engaged and concerned about their government as I have seen mine become.
For lunch the whole office was taken out to say a goodbye to another intern that I had only met that day, as his internship had come to an end. It was nice to socialise with Jackie and the others in such a relaxed setting and get to know more about their pathways to this point. Through conversation I was able to learn that there are many routes in politics, not just those that are depicted most on our screens and in the papers.
After lunch Jackie drove me and another intern back into Glasgow as we went to visit The Prince and Princess of Wales Hospice which is a relatively new care facility. The facility is one of very few to offer full time medical care for young people, saving them from becoming residents in hospitals or join care homes for those much older than themselves. Unfortunately, they were having issues with funding and the reason for our meeting was for Jackie to advise and help in getting more funding so that the hospice could continue to offer the wonderful services that they had so far.
This was yet another invaluable service provided by politicians as it was stark contrast to the limited casework I had experienced earlier. I realised that politicians do not just talk to ministers for their constituents but in fact for any issue they believe deserves greater help from the government. After discussing ways of gaining more financial help and staff were discussed, the meeting ended with a well put together plan between Jackie and the staff in charge of running the hospice. I hope to see them continue to lead the way in the hands-on quality residential care especially catered to young people in the future.
Casework, casework, casework.
Today, I was introduced to the world of case work by replying to constituents and informing them of the actions taken by Jackie Baillie MSP on their behalf.
Prior to today I wasn’t entirely sure what casework entailed or how MSPs represented their constituents on a daily and personal basis, rather than as an area as a whole. However through this hands-on experience I was able to understand the time that goes into representing a constituency.
Casework is when a constituent first gets into contact with their MSP; via email, letter, phone call or by attending a surgery. In one of these ways an individual may express a concern that they require help in a more official or governmental capacity. Issues presented vary from medical help, childcare, legal issues and neighbourhood concerns. From this interaction, Jackie goes on to contact the appropriate authorities on their behalf.
Through my role in the casework I completed today it was clear these also differ wildly: from the secretary of health, to the council, to ScotRail etc. A letter is the sent from the MSP to the constituent to inform them in writing of the actions taken on their behalf, once a response is received from those contacted by the MSP, the constituents are then written to again informing them of what is said and any further action.
My role today was to be the latter link in the chain of contact, to make constituents aware of any actions that would be taken based on the concerns they had previously voiced and contact made on their behalf. In order to do this efficiently I was to read through the prior contact made between MSP Baillie and the constituent, as well as the MSP and the authority contacted, followed by the response.
By doing this I realised how important work in the constituency is for an MSP, it isn’t just parliamentary obligations that takes priority. A whole team and part of each day is dedicated to ensuring that constituents are both heard and helped by their elected MSP in all ways possible.
It was a great insight to be a part of this process in communicating with constituents, unfortunately not always able to provide them with positive outcomes or advancements in their varying situations and being able to see hands on how MSPs represent their local areas on a daily basis.
Today I got to see parliament in all its sunshine glory. Scotland is world renowned for its gloomy rainy weather, however, today was one of those rare spring days that saw the temperatures sitting above twenty degrees and Holyrood basking in the sunshine.
This time around I tried my hand a researching to help Jackie prepare for a speech in celebration of Scottish Parliament’s twenty-year anniversary. I was given an outline of what the speech was to address, and bullet points that Jackie had jotted down which needed further facts to flush out the speech. The speech was to centre around the work that the parliaments committee have done over the years, particularly the success of the petitions committee. I spent the day researching the successes of the petitions committee and finding comparisons to UK parliament and others across the world.
Researching for this speech allowed me to further learn about the differences between Scottish and UK parliament, and the benefits of having a petitions committee that allows any member of a society to file a petition for consideration. It also alerted me to yet another aspect of what it is to be a member of parliament, and that the role goes beyond that of governmental responsibilities. They also have responsibilities to communicate on behalf of party and government in non-official capacities, such as offering to give speeches and interviews without officially being a representative. It was also another insight into the ways in which the public image of politicians and their relationship with the people is maintained with media.
With the European elections around the corner, all hands were on deck for leafleting on behalf of the labour party. It was quite an easy day, walking around designated areas of the constituency and posting leaflets through the doors.