Behind the scenes at City Chambers and Parliament

View of George Street under dark blue sky at dusk
Blue sky thinking in George Street? Photo Ross D Strachan, Creative Commons CC NC by ND 2.0

It was fascinating to see how Edinburgh could look in the future if all sides work together to make a modern city with less congestion and more green space.

David Naylor, the latest participant of the Opening Doors shadow scheme, shares his insight into the work of Edinburgh city councillors and members of the Scottish Parliament. Over to David to tell us more…    

As I am a student with the Open University doing Philosophy, Politics and Economics, so I wanted to get an insight into how democracy works at local and national levels.  As part of the Opening Doors shadow scheme, I signed up with Lesley Hinds, Labour councillor for Inverleith ward and parliamentary candidate for Edinburgh Northern and Leith, who arranged a short programme of work experience shadowing several other Labour councillors as well as two members of the Scottish Parliament.

Day One: I joined Lesley Hinds at the confidential Transport and Environment Committee where discussion was mostly about  work planned for George Street in the city centre. The aim is to make both Edinburgh and George Street more environmentally-friendly and less congested with traffic. It was fascinating to see how Edinburgh could look in the future if all sides work together to make a modern city with less congestion and more green space.

On the second day I had the opportunity to attend the Corporate Policy and Strategy Committee. At this there were a number of participants discussing the local impact of national government’s welfare reforms, as well as the council’s policy towards spending, business support and many other issues.

I also spent time with newly elected  Councillor Marion Donaldson of Leith Walk who introduced me to the  Edinburgh Volunteer Centre on Leith walk. The importance of third sector work is so often forgotten, but here we discussed with the manager how the voluntary sector helps people throughout the city. The manager expressed concerns that council budget cuts would impact on their work and how that would be to the detriment of everybody in Edinburgh. I found it particularly interesting to spend time working with a new councillor in contrast to somebody who has been doing the job for a while;  their experiences are very different.

I also spent time with Cammy Day, councillor for Forth Ward. We met with the Edinburgh Tenants’ Association. Among topics discussed were rents, the number of council houses, and support for tenants in a number of areas. The value of working with tenants from other parts of the world was also raised.

Towards the end of my work experience, I was able to get a glimpse of the work of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. I met Sarah Boyack, who has served in parliament since 1999 and is now Labour candidate for Edinburgh Central.  I spent time in her office which I discovered is amongst all the other Labour members’ offices on the same floor. As in the City Chambers, office space in Parliament is divided so that each party more or occupies a floor of its own. I spent some time helping to stuff envelopes with election literature and though that may not sound exciting it is vital work – and it can also be surprisingly therapeutic!

Malcolm Chisholm in his office
Malcolm Chisholm

Later that day I met Malcolm Chisholm who has just retired after representing Edinburgh Northern and Leith since 1992, first as MP in Westminster and since 1999 as MSP in Holyrood. In his parliament office we went through some of the last emails he would be receiving as an elected representative.

He also provided me with some parliamentary papers regarding recent debates in the chamber, mostly regarding the fiscal framework of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee.  I watched Malcolm take part in the Health debate. He  asked the Health Secretary what progress was being made regarding NHS boards recruiting extra specialist nurses and whether the resources allocated had been fully spent. This was interesting to me in view of the Scottish Government underspend the previous year.

I really enjoyed my time shadowing and was sad it didn’t last very long. After my brief experience of politics I had to go back to my day job in hospitality, but I look forward to doing it again in the future. – after the election.

[Leith Open Space adds: our thanks to David Naylor for his very interesting account – especially that insight into the physical division of political parties in City Chambers and Scottish Parliament – and as always our thanks to city councillors, Sarah Boyack and Malcolm Chisholm for their invaluable support of the shadow scheme.]

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