Case Studies

Shadowing in the Scottish Parliament

Section: The ALLIANCEType: Case Study
Photo of the outside of the Scottish Parliament building

Our Policy and Information Officer Chris Doyle reflects on swapping his desk at the ALLIANCE for Holyrood for a week.

I recently exchanged the surroundings of the ALLIANCE for the Scottish Parliament, as part of a week-long placement shadowing an MSP and their team.

The office of Mark Griffin, MSP for Central Scotland and Scottish Labour spokesperson for Social Security.

The last week of October was earmarked for the placement, chosen specifically because there would be important Chamber Business in relation to Social Security. This was also the week it became clear the UK was headed for another General Election, which made for an interesting week to be in Parliament!

Engaging MSPs is an important aspect of the ALLIANCE’s policy work, to ensure that the views of our members is heard by decision makers. Having a better understanding of how MSPs and their staff operate day to day would help us to make sure that we are interacting with them in a way that is effective and maximises impact.

What did I get involved in?

  • Preparing for a debate on Social Security.
  • Learning how MSPs and their staff use information and briefings provided by third sector organisations.
  • Preparing for a ‘Portfolio Questions’ session.
  • Learning how MSPs prepare for Committee meetings.
  • Drafting Written Questions.
  • Meeting researchers working for the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe).

Some take-away points

  • Building up relationships with MSPs is very important. But as important, if not even more so, is to build up contacts with their staff members. Advisors and researchers are key to the MSPs’ work, and will often be your gateway to getting things done.
  • Don’t leave sending briefing papers until the last minute. Consult the Scottish Parliament’s Business Bulletin (this link will take you away from our website) on a regular basis to get early sight of when key debates have been scheduled.
  • Try and find out who within each Party is planning to speak in a debate. Once you know that, you may well have more of an impact sending different, tailored briefings to a few people, rather than sending the same document to 129 members.
  • Parliamentarians can, surprise surprise, be very busy people. Have a clear idea of what action you’d like them to take in order to support your cause, and make it as easy as possible for them to do so. For example, if you’d like them to lodge some Parliamentary Questions on a particular topic, have a first go at drafting some yourself and present the MSP with a set that are ‘ready to go’

Lastly, the experience confirmed that MSPs and their staff really do value the briefings and information provided to them by third sector organisations. Quite often, you will have access to relevant evidence and all-important personal testimony that they might not.

Thanks to David Raine – Senior Parliamentary Advisor, and Mark Griffin MSP for being so accommodating and working to create such a valuable learning experience.

If you’d like more information on how this shadowing placement was arranged, please contact;
Andrew Strong, Assistant Director (Policy and Communications), the ALLIANCE, via

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