16th February 2005 – In the constituency
They say when the cat’s away the mice will
play. Well unfortunately for me the boss put the kibosh on that when she
insisted that Calum and I have to do this column while she is out the
country. I am sure this is above and beyond the call of duty, I’ll have
to check-out my contract.
Working in the constituency office means I
am often the first point of contact for people who want advice or help
from Linda. This can either be individual constituents or someone from
business, the local community, charities, trade unions, volunteer groups
and almost any individual or organisation that has something they want
to talk about. We get people who want to thank you for your help or have
a go for something that has been said or done in the parliament or in
Quite often advice can be given over the
telephone but frequently it is best to pay a visit to someone at their
home or, invite them into the office. Whatever suits them best.
As you can imagine there is a mountain of
mail that comes in every week. Most of the stuff is promotional
brochures and reports from businesses eager for your interest or custom.
We get a lot of reports and monthly or quarterly bulletins from civil
bodies and charities.
Modern communication technology does mean
that every week we receive hundreds of email communications. Apart from
the telephone I would say this is the most popular way for constituents
to get in touch, and this system generates a lot of dialogue with
But just as with the usual paper post a lot
of the emails we get are little more than people or businesses wanting
to let you know that they exist and hoping for some interest, although
at the end of the day you still have to go through them all just to make
sure you are not missing something important.
Of course we get letters from constituents
too and this is still the formal way of communicating with people.
Certainly when making inquires into a constituents case that concerns a
local authority or business or government department or minister, old
fashioned writing skills is still the done thing.
The sort of issues we get into the office
are ones that I am sure are familiar to all MSPs – Housing especially in
a town like East Kilbride where there is a chronic shortage of public
sector housing, neighbour disputes, roads, street lighting, planning
applications, local campaign issues such as school closures or the NHS –
there are as well national issues such as fishing that generated much
lobbying of MSPs or, wind farms and renewable energy.
An example of the work that has come in this
week to the constituency office is the proposed closure of an after
school care unit in Kilmarnock, a car parking issue in East Kilbride, a
complaint against the NHS, a housing issue again in East Kilbride and a
neighbour dispute in Hamilton.
However the most contentious part of my week
was attending on behalf of Linda, a genuinely interesting seminar
organised by the National Autistic Society – it just happened to be on
the night of my wedding anniversary and I left my wife standing in the
hall, arms crossed, doing a fair impression of Tam O’Shanter’s wife. She
puts things in perspective for me, though, and she understands that this
is not always a 9 - 5 job, really.
Part of my work involves researching the
issues that are raised by constituents and for this the parliament is
very well resourced with research facilities and library, the
international web has been a real boon in this area and you more often
than not can access the information you want from there.
On a weekly basis I go through Linda’s
parliamentary diary and download any debates from the parliament chamber
she has taken part in and make them into press releases for the local
papers (unfortunately they don’t always get printed) and, release to the
press any parliamentary questions or motions that have been submitted.
Job done, I am away to play now.
In at 6.30 every morning when the boss is
away (she’ll read this when she comes back), grab a coffee and start on
Because the Parliament follows the founding
principles of openness and accessibility, email addresses are readily
available. This is a good thing in general, but it does mean that every
spam-merchant in the world has the address, so we have to clear them out
We get a fair load of mail here as well as
the office out in Motherwell, and today’s mail included the Holyrood
magazine with a profile of Linda, talking about her roots and how this
influences her politics. It’s a good piece, including a bit about
Linda’s trip to Italy over the festive period, and why she declared it
in the Register of Interests… There’s also a review of the book that
Linda wrote a chapter for (Agenda for a New Scotland, edited by Kenny
MacAskill, Luath Press, £9.99 – that’s not a plug, honest).
We’ve got research ongoing about human
rights in Scotland, particularly with regard to the operations at
Dungavel, and most of today has been taken up with that. I work for
Fiona Hyslop as well, though, and we had some education issues coming
through, so a bit of time was taken up with that.
Tuesday is a Fiona day, so little done for
Linda, but there was a continuing dialogue with the Parliament’s Chamber
desk over Parliamentary Questions that Linda lodged and they wanted some
clarification on before they processed them.
Checking off Linda’s article for Holyrood
Magazine on her debate next week on Scotland’s Civic Forum. The Civic
Forum is one of the ways in which Scots can interact with their
Parliament, and it is an important part of our democracy. Unfortunately,
their funding is being cut, and Linda has lodged a motion for debate in
an attempt to save it and ensure that its work can carry on. Doing some
background research on the Civic Forum as well to ensure that Linda has
all the facts she needs at her disposal when she opens the debate.
Interesting to note that Linda’s motion on a
Civilian Peace Service is also receiving a fair bit of support.
Showing some people round Parliament in the
evening – this is quite a regular thing now, and it’s a pleasure to show
people round – the Parliament belongs to them, after all.
Thursday morning I’m with Linda – with Fiona
in the afternoon.
Scrutinising the new planning guidelines for
rural housing this morning, but interrupted by the Daily Mirror looking
for some comments on what it’s like to be a Scot with Italian ancestry.
Fortunately, Linda had a short piece on this ready for another use, so
we could use that.
Also working my way through a few things
Linda sent on before she left, nothing glamorous, though.
Friday is a Fiona day, so the only thing I
really did for Linda was finish writing this diary and send it off. Most
things done now – half past six, can possibly sneak off for tonight,
come in and finish things off in the morning.