The night before my first shadowing experience, I was nervous but I couldn’t wait to get started. I was looking forward to meeting with Clare Adamson and her team in the Motherwell constituency office. Clare Adamson is the SNP representative for the Motherwell and Wishaw constituency. The constituency is in central Scotland. She was formerly a councillor with North Lanarkshire council and she has a background in IT. She is the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Education and Skills Committee and she is a member of a number of Cross Party Groups (CPG). She is most heavily involved in the CPG on Accident Prevention and Safety Awareness and the CPG on Science and Technology – both of which she convenes.
I booked my train ticket the night before as I wanted to make sure that I would be there on time. When I arrived, Kate the Office Manager was at the entrance waiting for me in the car.
While driving around, I received a whistle-stop tour with a bit of the historical background of Motherwell. Kate explained that Motherwell was once an industrial hub – particularly well known for its massive steel industry. But it had undergone some economic problems in recent times and like many towns in central Scotland, it suffered a post-industrial decline. She also explained that the main issues in the constituency were unemployment, the economy, housing, welfare, the elderly and transport; as Motherwell is a commuter town to Glasgow.
The huge Ravenscraig steel complex was close to Motherwell. I learned that it was once the largest hot strip steel mill in western Europe, but it closed in 1992 after a long campaign to save it. The closure of Ravenscraig was a huge event in Scotland’s political history and Clare told me that this was the reason she got into politics.
Today, the Dazlell Plate Mill leads a small resurgence of Scottish steel. The formal reopening of the Dazlell plant in 2016 made it Scotland’s only major remaining steel works and the only wholly UK owned plant. Clare explained that Motherwell now has a thriving services sector and she is very keen to promote Motherwell as a very attractive place to invest.
We then drove to Wishaw where the first constituency visit took place. Clare was visiting the Wishaw Community Hub to meet with individuals from Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland. She introduced me to the host and we had a tour of the Hub. It was great seeing how Clare talked and engaged with people. After this we went to visit the Strathclyde Loch Sailing club, to hear about the Royal Yachting Association “Push the Boat Out” Initiative. There, we chatted with staff about their ambitions for the community: to allow local people to enjoy the experience of sailing at an affordable cost. They made some suggestions on how they could collaborate with North Lanarkshire council. I enjoyed the experience, even though I don’t know much about sailing it sounded like a positive thing to consider. It was great to see Clare doing her constituency duty; it was inspiring to see how devoted Clare is while doing her work.
After the visit, Clare took me for lunch near her office at Windmills café. In 2006, a group of pupils from Firpark School, Motherwell, formed a committee determined to ensure that young people with learning disabilities should have equal access to meaningful work experience opportunities, and so Windmills was born. The food was great with friendly customer service. I witnessed a constituency surgery appointment and saw how Clare interacted with members of the public who needed help with their personal circumstances. It was amazing to see all of that, I learned so much in day one! I was greatly looking forward to my next shadowing experience.
For day two I was no longer nervous. I was looking forward to going back to Motherwell for my second shadowing experience. It was a lovely sunny morning so I walked around Motherwell shopping centre before making my way to Clare’s office where I met the other members of Clare’s constituency team. I was shown examples of the kind of enquiries they received and learned how they deal with and respond to correspondence. I had the opportunity to chat with Clare and she invited me to attend a meeting with Wishaw Pump Track team. They talked to us about their community bike track project and the benefits it will bring to the Wishaw area. The meeting and conversation that Clare had with her visitors was another brilliant experience for me.
In the afternoon, Clare had a constituency appointment so I went to visit Maggie’s at the Elizabeth Montgomerie building at Airdrie in North Lanarkshire with a member of her team.
Maggie’s is a charity which runs drop- in centres where professional staff offer advice and support to individuals and families dealing with cancer. It was a well-established centre, I learned a lot about the kind of support they provide to help people. The host at Maggie’s welcomed us and Clare introduced me. Then our host began to explain the kind of work they do to support people in need of their services. The centre was such a tranquil place. The architecture was amazing. Our host explained that the place was purposely designed to create a welcoming environment for those visiting the centre. It was a very positive visit.
This was another brilliant day. I was especially enthusiastic to travel to Edinburgh due to the amazing weather. Unfortunately however, Clare was not well and would not be attending Parliament. I took an early train, from Glasgow Centre. This was my third time visiting the Scottish Parliament.
Despite this being my third visit to the Scottish Parliament, I was lost! Concerned about being late, I decided to ask for direction and fortunately made it. Clare’s Parliamentary Assistant Alistair kindly came to great me downstairs at the waiting area and took me straight to a meeting of the Education and Skills Committee. The committee session was on the subject choices inquiry and I found the meeting very eye opening. The committee received evidence from local authorities on the perceived narrowing of the number of school subjects pupils were able to choose from. After the meeting, I went to Clare’s office to experience the work that they do such as preparing and writing motions, organising Clare’s schedules and replying to important messages. I found this to be very interesting and I felt like I was part of the team already. I received great support from Alistair and Elisabeth who made me feel comfortable. There was a lot to learn; their level of professionalism was something that I have never experienced before. They showed me how busy the inbox is and took me through some of the tasks they regularly do. Alistair showed me some press releases he had been working on and I helped him with choosing the best words to fit the story.
The afternoon programme was to meet with Alison Walker, a Clerk Team Leader. Alison has been a clerk for 20 years. I spoke to her about her work supporting the Committees in the Parliament. We spoke about committee’s operations in relation to enquiries and legislation and the necessity to remain politically neutral in her duties. The meeting took place in the Garden Lobby. It was a great pleasure to meet her, I received a lot of information on Parliamentary process which was very helpful given my interest in civil service. My next meeting was with Fergus Mutch, Head of Communications and Research at SNP Central. I spoke with Fergus about the presswork and research functions of the SNP’s parliamentary resource Centre. That office is so busy that it was hard to keep track, but it was brilliant to see.
This day was another day of experience at the Parliament. Now that I know my way, I feel like I have become an expert in travel from Glasgow to Edinburgh!
I already knew my schedule for the day and I was looking forward to starting. First, I went to Clare’s office where Alistair explained the nature of Parliamentary business. How the weekly programme was prepared and the meanings of the different question sessions.
At 10:50, a meeting had been arranged with the Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh. I was fine until I was directed to make my way to his office and I had suddenly become nervous. He is an important figure in Scottish politics because of his role in chairing Parliamentary business. I was accompanied to his office by one of his staff members. Once there, he greeted me and I was no longer nervous because he made it easy to talk to him. He could not have been friendlier. He took me through his role in the Scottish parliament. After the introduction and a quick conversation, I then attended the chamber pre-brief with Presiding Officer where the PO is given a rundown of Parliamentary business for the day. I felt so privileged to get this insight into the Parliament’s inner workings before the First Minister’s Questions. I then Attended General and First Minister’s Questions, however I paid particular attention to the PO’s work.
I had lunch with the Presiding Officer to talk about the methods behind deciding upon debates and questions. He explained the rules that are in place to make sure things are balanced. I had a great conversation with him and a few people who joined us. I learned so much every day and this is what I love about this experience. It has been a short space of time, but I do feel as if I have grown in my knowledge and confidence.
My next meeting was with Laura Gilman, a senior Enquiries officer within SPICe. I spoke with Laura on the work of the independent researchers within the SPICe team, who produce briefings for debates, bills and answer questions from MSPs on all subjects. It seemed like an incredibly demanding job, but I imagine it must be amazing to be well versed in such a range of different policy areas.
My final meeting of the day was with Christina McKelvie, the Minister for Equalities and Older People. She discussed her previous work in promoting the rights of asylum seekers as well as her current work on her Female Genital Mutilation Bill. This was another brilliant conversation. I completely forgot that I was in front of a Minister as the conversation was flowing. She was an amazing individual and so positive in her approach to politics.
I am so grateful for the opportunities that this scheme has afforded me.
This was my last day in Motherwell as my shadowing experience was coming to end. I went with Kate to attend Maria McVey’s Class for Syrian refugees in Wishaw. We were welcomed by Maria and those attending the class who were pleased to receive us. Maria briefly explained her role as an ESOL lecture who’s been teaching the students for the past two years. Speaking with them was wonderful. However, it was an emotive subject and there is always a sensitivity when talking to someone who has been through what these people had been through. I understood their experiences as they were all too similar to what I had gone through. But it was wonderful to be able to talk to people who had experienced the same thing. This was one of my highlights of the scheme. Maria was an incredible teacher and they all seemed to enjoy her class. There was such a positive atmosphere and it has inspired me to do more.
This was it; my last day. I did not want it to end.
Alistair had organised for me to meet with Ben Macpherson; the Minister for Migration, to talk about Scottish Government policy particularly in relation to asylum seekers (which is reserved to Westminster). It was a brief meeting, but he was kind enough to give me some good advice for a future career in this area. I went back to Clare’s office, where I helped to write a motion for Clare and I was guided by Alistair on how to do it. I then met with Bob Doris MSP and we talked about his work in Glasgow with a charity that supports refugees. This was interesting as I am considering some voluntary work with an organization like Saheliya to get some experience in the third sector.
I the afternoon I had a great opportunity to talk to Brian Taylor, politic
al editor of BBC Scotland who took me through the current political climate. Towards the end the day, I attended a Parliamentary debate – Stage 3 of the Fuel Poverty (Scotland) Bill as this was my first experience of an open Parliamentary debate.
Through this experience I have been inspired to know that with more practice and work experience you can achieve a lot. I am no longer intimidated to aim high. I want to go for a place within the Scottish government or perhaps an NGO which promotes social justice. I now feel empowered to go for my ambitions. I am beyond grateful for my shadowing experience. I have met wonderful and inspiring people throughout my shadowing with Clare. I am appreciative for all the support that Clare’s team gave me; they did tremendous work. I will never forget this experience.
Massive thanks to Clare, Alistair, Kate, Elisabeth and Ryan. Team Clare is the best!