Gillian Mackay was placed with Allison Johnstone MSP and Patrick Harvie MSP for the Scottish Greens in 2015. She did parliamentary research work across the Greens and Independents group, and helped research a parliamentary bill for the Marine Act which was going through Parliament at the time. Gillian’s experiences on her internship led to her becoming engaged in politics for the first time, and she even stood in the Scottish Council elections in 2017. Here, Gillian tells us about all the places an internship has led her.
What were you doing before your internship?
I had just finished a Masters in Marine Biotechnology and Biodiversity at Heriot Watt and I had been class rep. My thesis project on public attitudes towards marine protected areas, difference between generations. I had done my undergraduate in Biological Sciences there too, and the disability staff are fantastic. That time of year was not great for recruitment in my field. I was seeing the disability adviser at uni when they highlighted the opportunity with the Scottish Greens. I wasn’t involved in politics at all at this point, but it seemed like a good fit for me and my background so I applied.
What did you learn on your internship?
I learned so much about how the parliament works behind the scenes, and the work of a parliamentary researcher. Now the Party has a larger group of MSPs and more staff I am one of the “old hands” and have been able to help new staff get settled. I think when this job came up the experience and knowledge I had gained during the internship were really important in helping me be successful.
What have you been doing since?
I was elected to be the Scottish Young Greens (SYG) Co-Convenor. The SYG provides a space for our younger members under 30 years old, and also students of any age. We sort of bridge the gap between the SYG members and the main party to make sure the issues that matter to our members are considered in our policy making. It’s a great way of encouraging young people to get their voices heard and we discuss ways to take these ideas forward. We do some campaigning, and are currently planning a campaign on mental health.
I was kept on for a bit longer at the end of placement to cover someone leaving and I finished up at summer recess 2015. I had a student job in retail which I kept alongside the internship, and I went back to doing this. During the Holyrood election in 2016 the party was looking for coordinators, and I got the job for Lothian campaign where we successfully elected two MSPs, one up on the previous Parliament. The new elected MSP Andy Wightman has hired me as a parliamentary assistant so I am back in Parliament.
I stood for the Forth ward in Edinburgh and got 10% first preferences. We came quite close to getting elected, but sadly lost out in the later stages. I didn’t come across too many barriers during the campaign. Hustings can be difficult but I was lucky in that they were all well chaired and had good microphones for the panel and audience. It was made much more accessible by people having microphones, this was really helpful as all candidates have mics, people were not allowed to speak without a mic. I advocate for myself if I can’t hear people, and tell them to speak louder or stop talking over each other. Great chairing makes such a difference to people with hearing impairments.
Did you have any impairment related adjustments?
I have Meniere’s disease, which causes fluctuating hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness. I have good and bad days and there is no way of predicting it. Some days I can’t hear colleagues and I need to use hearing aids and lip reading. Dizziness can stop me getting out and about or if I do my coordination can be off. Colleagues are very understanding. I haven’t used access to work yet, but I am in touch with parliament about possible adjustments. Phone calls can be difficult on bad days so I might be able to get an adapted phone. Note taking can also be a barrier, so we have talked about trying an echo pen. Being told I was attention seeking by doctors in my teenage years was a massive blow to my self esteem and my ability to ask for help.
What do you hope to do next?
I’d love to be an MSP, being in a small team and being around everyone else’s passions is fantastic. There are so many different interests, education, housing, environment, carers, etc. There are gaps where I could fill, and I think everyone in society could feed in their own unique perspective if they were able to become an MSP. I think my special interests in the environment and disability access would be useful in Holyrood.
Advice for future interns?
Make the most of it as it is amazing how quickly time goes past in this building! Make sure you get visits to each of the departments in the corporate body, broadcasting, reporting, phenomenal insights into how parliament works. It is fascinating. If parliament didn’t run smoothly MSPs wouldn’t have a platform to make change. When people think politics they think elected officials, but you can still be involved in politics even if it’s not front facing. There is so much experience to gain through an internship for if you apply for a job after that.
Most importantly, have fun!
This could be you! Please click here for current internship vacancies.
Inclusion Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government’s Equality Unit to deliver the National Disability Internship Programme “We Can Work”. 30 internships will be created for disabled people per year as per the Scottish Government’s A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People Delivery Plan. You can find out more about the plan by clicking here.