Sunday, 6 December 2015

A visit to the Scottish Parliament

On Thursday 4th December my wife Claire and I had the pleasure to visit the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh, with our local SNP branch (www.facebook.com/snplargs). We left Largs at 8.15am, and after picking  up some members at nearby Skelmorlie, made our way east, with lots of good cheer. This was to be my fourth visit to the Parliament, but the first visit by which I would get a better understanding of how our democracy itself works in Scotland. (I had previously visited briefly with an Australian cousin a few years back, whilst in 2014 I spent two days helping with an exhibition in the Members Lobby for the Scottish Council of Archives, which included an evening reception where I had had a chance to talk to the Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop on issues relating to the archive sector).

We arrived at 11.00am, and after a security check and receiving our passes we were then greeted by our local MSP, Kenneth Gibson, who led us to the main chamber. We did not have a lot of time in here as Parliament was due to start from 11.20, but Kenny gave us a quick overview of the working week at Holyrood, and explained the work of our MSPs, the process by which parliamentary legislation was drawn up and enacted, and more. We were given a copy of the day's Business Bulletin, which is drawn up each day to outline the questions to be asked of ministers, and the various debates and committee meetings in the building, and obviously took a few photos! After a quick look at one of the committee rooms, where Kenny discussed how much of the real work of the parliament was carried out, we then bid him a temporary farewell as we made our way to the visitors gallery, and he to the chamber.




Being a Thursday, the regular session of questions to ministers commenced at 11.40, where various Scottish Government ministers were asked to comment on a variety of questions, ranging from questions on the uptake of grants from the Centenary Memorials Restoration Fund and what discussions had been had with First Group over the closure of a bus depot at Parkhead, to whether the forthcoming Lobbying Bill was fit for purpose, and what measures were being put into place for the protection of a growing elderly population in Scotland for the winter. It was a business like meeting without controversy. The real event, however, was First Minister's Questions, at 12pm. We watched for half an hour as Nicola Sturgeon managed to deal effectively with a range of issues asked by Kezia Dugdale, the leader of the Scottish branch of the Labour Party, and Ruth Davidson, the Tory equivalent. Whilst a huge shadow hung over the proceedings, in that the night before the UK's parliament in England had voted to bomb Syria (against the wishes of the majority of the people in Scotland), this was not dwelt on too much at this session.

With the session over we then caught up with Kenny again and made our way around the building to see various areas, including the main lobby area, the back room areas where the parties are based (they each have different floors), and areas such as the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICE). It was slightly surreal to see folk like Annabel Goldie and other MSPs walking past, it is an extraordinarily open and democratic building. In fact, one of the things that Kenny mentioned was that it is very much a people's parliament, so much so that anybody in Scotland can book the function areas - after all, we paid for it! We then relocated to the member's restaurant, and had an enjoyable lunch, where we discussed much of what we had experienced with Kenny as our MSP.

As if to emphasise how open everything is, we were stunned when the First Minister walked into the restaurant with a small party to have a lunch meeting on the table next to ours. It was surreal, in that we were the only two parties dining, and so we did what any self-respecting parties would do in such circumstances - we bagged her! Specifically, we politely asked if she wouldn't mind us grabbing a quick photo opportunity with our group and with one of our local councillors, and she wonderfully obliged.



With lunch over, we had a final opportunity to have a look around, at which point Kenny had to leave us to get on with some work, but this gave us a chance to see the exhibition area in the main entrance foyer, recounting the history of Scotland's parliaments going back to the 13th century. It was an exceptional day, and although the rain was torrential by the time we had finished, our spirits were not dampened. A raffle on the bus back saw Claire win a bottle of mulled wine, but our friend Dougie failed to win the whisky (which may have upset the balance of the space-time continuum, because he usually does!).

A great day, great company, and a great democratic institution to be proud of!

(With thanks to Davina McTiernan, Kenneth Gibson MSP, and the First Minister) 

Chris

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