Incredible is the word best suited to my first week at Parliament; it’s also a word I’m likely to use a lot here!
I found myself working in a building that I have admired many times as a visitor, admittedly as much for the architecture as for what takes place within the beautifully curved walls. I didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to be one of the worker bees in the hive of Scottish Political activity but there I was, working, as a Parliamentary Intern for James Dornan MSP and it was an opportunity I leapt at and seized with both hands; which led to a very busy induction week!
During my initial my induction meeting I had, rather greedily perhaps, said there was no part of the Parliamentary process that I didn’t want to learn more about. It’s a place that I had studied and as a result, theoretically understood but really felt I didn’t fully know the day-to-day workings. The acting Internship Coordinator, Paul Anderson, along with the equalities manager, Aneela McKenna, liaised with various departments and organised a fantastic, full, 2-week long induction programme that along with the usual building orientation stuff gave me a real in-depth base to start from.
During the week, along with spending time in the MSP’s office, I met with Susan Duffy, Group head of Committees and Outreach, where she gave me a real overview of the role of the Committees at the Scottish Parliament and then insight into each individual Committee. I also received overviews from SPICe, the Chamber Office (wow!) and the Media Relations Office. Each one was really in depth and informative. Alongside learning more about each department, it was great to get out and meet people, all of whom were so welcoming and happy to share their time and knowledge, there wasn’t a meeting that didnt run over! I really felt like I was becoming part of Parliament life and was gradually stepping out of visitor mode – although I did still walk around staring in awe at the innards of the building I was seeing for the first time. On the back of these meetings I was offered shadowing experience at each department so they really were beneficial.
On the Thursday, my MSP had organised a ticket for me to sit in at FMQs, now that really was incredible! It was great listening and watching the debate in person rather than on TV. It was passionate, rowdy and atmospheric and if you get the opportunity during your internship or as a member of the public with a ticket do it!
To round off the week, on Friday, I travelled through to the constituency of my MSP. James Dornan is the MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, a really varied constituency that spans a large area on Glasgow’s Southside. I spent time with the office staff learning about the demographics of the area and the types of issues they generally deal with and then in the afternoon, I joined James for a home visit and a drive around his patch. It really opened my eyes to the work of an MSP out-with the glamorous Parliament side of things; its a tough job. I found the home visit quite harrowing and left feeling a renewed sense of why Politics is so important; it’s about doing what is right for people and improving their lives via services and provisions where possible. First and foremost, that’s it. It was a really valuable day and set me up well for the coming weeks.
Admittedly, throughout the first week, I did spend a lot of time getting lost but the security staff were amazing, they can spot a lost soul a mile off and they always saved the day by pointing me in the right direction. They even personally escorted me a couple of times as I was so bamboozled but they assured me they were well used to it! I did wonder afterwards about how it may have looked to arrive at meetings flanked by security!
To round this off, here are 3 hints and tips that I learnt in my first week that could be useful to any other interns:
- Shortbread – The Parliament shortbread is INCREDIBLE. It is so good; if ever you are offered any, take it. Take two pieces. Really, trust me.
- The things that look like whisky bottles on the wall of the debating chamber are actually meant to represent people; they are the architects representation of the public to focus the Member’s minds on those they are representing. This bit of info may save you from sounding as daft as I did on a tour.
- Not all lifts go to all floors and they can be misleading double check on the signage outside. This may save you from getting as lost as me!