My first day of shadowing was on the 28th of October 2019 in the constituency of Motherwell and Wishaw. I was given an introduction to Clare’s office and an overview of how Clare’s staff deal with correspondences, particularly emails. I thereafter accompanied Clare Adamson on a constituency visit to Parksprings Care Home in order to present one of its residents, Margaret Mitchell, with a motion which Clare had submitted to Parliament, which was titled: RAF Veteran Margaret Turns 100.
Motion Text: That the Parliament congratulates Margaret Mitchell on celebrating her 100th birthday at Parksprings Care Home in Motherwell; notes that a party was thrown in her honour at the care home to celebrate this milestone; acknowledges that Margaret joined the RAF on her 21st birthday in 1940; understands that Air Cadets joined the celebration to present her with an RAF lifelong service award, notes that the North Lanarkshire Provost Jean Jones and Deputy Lieutenant John Brown also attended with a card from The Queen, and wishes Margaret many happy years to come.
My second day of shadowing was scheduled to be at the Scottish Parliament. Before I started my shadowing, I was given an opportunity to visit the Scottish Parliament and had an informative meeting with several staff working in the Parliament. Through this I was able to observe some activities that were performed by the Members of the Scottish parliament. The tour strengthened my confidence so when I came back to the parliament for my shadowing programme with Claire Adamson - MSP, I was more relaxed and anticipated to learn from her.
When I arrived at the Claire Adamson’s Office, I was given a summary of a typical week of Parliamentary business by Clare’s staff. There were so many things to learn through observation. For example, I learned the rules for submitting questions to the Parliament’s chamber desk. I was shown how to draft a Parliamentary motion with examples of recent motions from Clare’s office. Through examples, I was also shown how press releases are compiled.
Later in the day I met with Anne Peat, Clerk for the Parliament’s Social Security Committee. Anne explained the importance of Parliamentary Committees to the legislative process. She detailed the work she does for the Committee and more generally, the role of all Committee Clerks. She also took me through some of the inquiries that the Committee had been conducting to inform social security policy in Scotland. Thereafter, I wrote summary of what I had learned from my meeting with Anne and I shared it with Clare’s staff.
My Third day of shadowing was also one of my busiest days. I attended First Minister’s Questions. The topics covered included a second Scottish Independence referendum, workforce provision for the National Health Service, issues with specific NHS Health Boards, maternity services, school meals, drug deaths, cosmetic surgery regulation and funding for a new Aberdeen Art Gallery.
I also took part in a tour of the Scottish Parliament. This gave me a greater insight into the significance of the architecture with suggested interpretations for the symbolism behind the designer’s ideas. In my view, the architect did an incredible job! The tour gave a history of politics in Scotland as well as the campaign for devolution which led to the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament.
In the afternoon, I met with Laura Gilman, an enquiries officer at SPICe. SPICe is the Parliament’s independent research body and library. Laura gave me an induction to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe). She explained that SPICe operates to inform the work of MSPs and staff by answering questions submitted to them on a range of policy and research issues. SPICe also produces briefings and reports for the Parliament’s Committees as well as compiling research material for use by Members in Parliamentary debates. The SPICe team is comprised of researchers who have specific expertise in certain policy areas and librarians who are responsible for cataloguing the work being done in Parliament and the briefings produced by SPICe for Committee inquiries and bills passing through the 3 legislative stages. She then showed me some examples of recent briefings as well as draft bills being considered by MSPs. In addition, she showed me the simplified versions of the bills that SPICe produces to explain the purpose of the bill without legal jargon
On my fourth day of shadowing, I attended a meeting of the Education and Skills Committee, which Clare convenes. The meeting was focused on consideration of the Disclosure (Scotland Bill). This bill, which has been given to the Education Committee for scrutiny, seeks to improve the system of disclosure in Scotland. That is, performing background checks on people when they are applying to work with vulnerable groups, such as children or adults with mental illnesses. The Bill would make the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme mandatory for roles that involve working with vulnerable groups. It also seeks to simplify the process for determining which roles would be included in the scheme. The Bill also proposes, for the purposes of the PVG scheme, to give extra consideration to care-experienced people when conducting background checks. In other words, seeing as those who went through the care system are disproportionately more likely to have come into contact with the criminal justice system, there is a concern that the PVG scheme could cause unfair barriers to those who had been in care. It is widely recognised that having a criminal record can significantly impact on future life chances and outcomes for young people by limiting opportunities for education, training and employment. The bill aims to address that issue by providing a system that takes into consideration the context surrounding childhood offences. The consultation strongly supported the idea that disclosure of such information should remain a possibility, but only after careful and informed consideration of its necessity for public protection.
My fifth day of shadowing was particularly exciting. I met with the Rt Hon Ken McIntosh MSP, Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament and had lunch with him. He explained his role within Parliament. Essentially, the Presiding Officer is the President of the Scottish Parliament as an institution. He acts as the chair, equivalent to the Speaker in the UK’s House of Commons. The Presiding Officer has to remain strictly non-partisan. So, although he was originally elected as a Labour MSP, he is required to renounce his affiliation to Labour for his time as Presiding Officer. The Presiding Officer, and his two deputies, preside over Parliamentary debates, and enforce the rules over which MSPs may speak, debate processes and Members running over time in speeches. The PO also chooses which amendments to debate motions are selected for consideration during the debates. He does not take part in debates and does not vote, except in the event of tie. In that case, he would be required to vote for the ‘status quo’, or whatever result does not change the current situation. I felt so blessed and honoured to have the opportunity to sit and speak with him! He was very approachable and genial and I enjoyed the conversation that we had.
Subsequently, I attended a Parliamentary debate on education. The debate was part of opposition business and was led by the Conservative Party on the subject of the Curriculum for Excellence. The Conservative’s motion focused on a report which argued that the attainment gap, the difference in attainment between more deprived and less deprived children, was widening. Clare was speaking on the debate and she talked about the Committee’s inquiry into subject choice and the perceived narrowing of subject choice particularly for deprived areas
On my sixth and final shadowing day, I attended a meeting of the Social Security Committee. The meeting was in relation to the Committee’s Benefit Take Up Inquiry. The inquiry is exploring how take-up for both reserved and devolved social security benefits can be improved, including through benefit automation. This meeting was about hearing expert evidence on how benefit take up can be improved. The experts involved included: economics, policy and planning professors from Robert Gordon, Newcastle and Stirling Universities; a project manager from Citizens Advice Scotland and two policy managers from third sector organisations.
In the afternoon I attended a photocall being sponsored by Clare to mark Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month where I was able to speak to campaigners and sufferers.I learned a bit more about their awareness campaign and how pancreatic cancer is a uniquely aggressive form of cancer. It is the only common cancer for which the survival rate has not improved in 50 years and early detection is still a huge problem. Pancreatic cancer awareness month happens every November and the photocall featured most MSPs as well as the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Health Secretary Jeane Freeman
ln assessing each session I participated, I can conclude that all of them had many things in common, as they were targeting to promote people's general wellbeing. It encourages me to do more in order to improve people's lives.
I’d like to thank CRER for creating this useful programme of shadowing, which aims to encourage individuals from BME backgrounds to take different roles in the field of politics. I’d like to thank Claire Adamson - MSP and her staff for making the time to host me. I have gained invaluable knowledge and had experiences that I otherwise may not have had. I’d also like to others who participated in the scheme, particularly Councillors Jen Layden, Kim Long and Balie Hanif Raja for hosting us at the Glasgow City Chambers. Finally I’d like to thank everyone who took part in the programme, I felt privileged to be among all of you.