After more than a month of getting lost in narrow corridors and multiple staircases, this week I finally had a tour of Parliament. Unfortunately, though, it was the wrong one. I was visiting the Scottish Parliament to meet a group of student Liberal Democrats. Nicol Stephen MSP showed us round after the meeting.
Just comparing the two buildings it is clear how different the cultures and ways of working are in Holyrood compared to Westminster. I was immediately struck by how empty Holyrood seemed, as we were there at about 8pm in the evening and most MSPs and staff had left. The debating chamber certainly seemed more open and less confrontational, although perhaps a bit less friendly. An in architectural terms, Holyrood was light, spacious, and full of natural materials. In comparison Westminster can seem dark and almost imposing.
Meeting the student group was enjoyable, not least because I always fin the company of young people in political situations inspiring. These students were busily preparing for the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh on July 2, when world leaders come to Gleneagles for the G8 Summit.
This week I also had my first experienced of being ‘work shadowed’. Gillian, a bright 5th year student from my constituency, helped with some administration tasks and joined me as I went out and about on constituency business. She was still enjoying the fact that her Highers were finally over, with the dreaded ‘brown envelope on the doormat’ day far enough ahead not to worry about. During our discussions, which ranged from the American Presidential election to conflict in the Middle East, it was obvious that young people like Gillian are as capable of being politically interested as adults. We got onto the subject of votes at 16 and Gillian, understandably, was a fan.
For people who are politically interested, at an age where they can take on a whole range of adult responsibilities, such as marriage, children, working and paying taxes, it seems a nonsense to be denied a voice in our political process. The government has now agreed to lower the age of candidacy for elections to 18, which means in 2007 at the elections for local councils and Holyrood we could see a few younger faces elected. If our elected bodies represent more closely the communities they serve – in terms of age, gender, background, ethnicity and so on – then not only will they find it easier to connect with people, I also believe this will lead to better decisions-making.
More practical issues relating to my new job as an MP have been getting sorted out this week. I chose my Westminster office. It’s squeezed into an attic-type space at the top of a building. But it’s big enough for me and a member of staff which will make communication easier (some MPs have their staff located in separate buildings). My moving-in date is next Thursday, so I’ll finally have a phone that rings and can be answered rather than being on voicemail. My constituency office should follow shortly after, as I’m currently checking over the contract for the lease.