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The Parliamentary Placement Experience

Since the first session of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, more than twenty cohorts of placement students have passed through the Programme: way over 300 students, mostly from the US, but also from Canada, Australia, the Netherlands and Germany (and a number of other countries, albeit through American schools). More than half of the 129 MSPs have participated as hosts in this very successful progamme.

The contributions the placement stuents have made have been positive. Their research has helped MSPs in their committee work, in responding to the daily challenges in parliamentary politics, proposing bills, and formulating mid- to long-term strategies, not to speak of campaigning in elections and by-elections! Placement students are far more than additional office clerks; they can make a contribution to the policy process itself. This is acknowledged by the MSPs and has made the programme a very attractive one for the students as well as the politicians.

The students find the Scottish Parliament and its MSPs open, accessible and easy to work with. Those who have participated in the programme before, particularly in the US, marvel at the opportunities to get involved, to become part of the small team surrounding an MSP, and at the work they are entrusted with.

Brian Gilbert, part of the programme in 2008, summed up his impression:

This program has been nothing short of amazing. I've gained so much insight into the happenings of both the Scottish Parliament and politics in general. The friends that I've made, both in and out of the program, will stick with me throughout the rest of my life. I've done things that I've only ever dreamed of. I've written a comprehensive paper on a subject that now feels like second-nature to me. …. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience and I am so happy to have done this.

The Parliament is still a very young institution; its structures are still evolving. The exciting atmosphere of the Scottish Parliament is, no doubt, conducive to the overall experience of the placement students. Equipped with the basic knowledge conveyed in the six weeks of academic tuition and assessment preceding full-time engagement at the Parliament, our students gain a unique insight into the politics and public policy in Scotland.

Previous placement students have tackled numerous topics, covering education, economic policies, the environment, social policy, health, housing, transport, tourism, crime, etc., and many of these in a comparative setting, let's just take a sample of research projects:

  • 'Why does Scotland have no plumbers?!?' An Investigation into Scotland's Skills Shortage
  • Beyond the Numbers: Female Representation in the Scottish Parliament
  • Class Size isn't Everything: A Study of Class Size Reduction Policy in Scotland
  • Comparative Analysis between American and Scottish Election Campaigns
  • Controlling Firearms in Scotland
  • Suicide in Scotland: The Need for a Hotline
  • Sustainable and Renewable Energy: Facing the Transmission Network in Scotland
  • A Study of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) in Scotland
  • Connecting with Young People: Labour Approaches to Democratic Engagement through the Scottish Parliament
  • What's the Scottish Parliament ever done for me? A Study on the Awareness of Scottish Parliament Policy Amongst Older People.
  • Moving Towards Zero Waste: An Analysis of What Needs To Be Done
  • Proposal for a Bill to create a Victims Commissioner responsible to the Scottish Parliament
  • Commodity-based Sovereign Wealth Funds: A comparative study of oil-based funds in Alaska, Alberta, Kuwait, Norway, Orkney and Shetland
  • Women Offenders of Scotland: A Need for Change
  • 2014 Commonwealth Games: Promises and Challenges for Glasgow
  • Local Government Finance: A Comparative Analysis of Tax Structures in Europe
  • Scotland's Relationship with Alcohol: Past, Present and Future
  • Trade Links with Russia and Northern Europe: Increasing Trade in Northern Scotlan
  • Counterfeit Medicines: A War without Borders
  • Global warming Adaptation:: A Strategy for Scotland
  • Scottish Drug Courts: Adapting the United States Drug Court Mode
  • Measuring Marginalities: The History, Questions, and Challenges of Hate Crime

Quotes from previous Parliamentary Placement students

"I feel I've made a meaningful contribution and am proud and have learned a lot,"

"It has been a wonderful experience and I wouldn't change it for anything."

"The environment is fun and exciting and open to arguing about politics with the people who make it and help to make it,"

"While it is never as exciting as an episode of the West Wing, it certainly stimulates the brain and senses."

"The ability to watch and work with a politician…was an ideal experience. I would recommend the entire experience to any person who has an ounce of drive and desire to work or understand the Parliamentary system. This was not just a placement that will polish up my resumé, but a work experience that I will always be aiming to duplicate."

"This has been an amazing experience and definitely something I will never forget."

Farewell Reception for Placement students, Spring 2016

Farewell Reception for Placement students

“The unique chance to experience Scottish politics both in the Parliamentary arena in Edinburgh and at the grassroots level”

That was how one of the twenty Parliamentary Placement student describes the fifteen weeks spent on the programme between January and April, leading up to the Holyrood Elections on 5 May ’16. At the farewell reception in the Raeburn room of Edinburgh University’s Old College, the buzz was tangible. In the morning, the students had, in a wrap-up seminar at the academy of Government, reflected on their sojourn in the Scottish Parliament, doing research work for their MSPs, and on the campaign trail, here in Edinburgh and further afield, from Dumfries and Galloway to the Outer Hebrides.

Addressing the farewell reception, Profs David McCrone and James Mitchell mused about the changes in Scottish politics since the programme started at the very beginning of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. We are still living in the aftermath of the Independence Referendum of September 2014 and the fallout of the UK general election last year. Now, the Holyrood elections, followed a few weeks later by the UK referendum on EU membership. Exciting times (not only) for political anoraks!

Both David McCrone and James Mitchell expressed their hope that this learning experience may have a lasting effect, and that the students will take fond memories and some useful and valuable insights home with them. They had probably learned as much in the weeks gone by, David McCrone contended, that they could teach the classes now that he, James and Paddy had taught at the beginning of their programme.

Only every five years can the programme offer this three-part experience – five weeks at the University, five weeks in the Parliament, and five weeks ‘on the stump’. That this year offered an EU referendum to boot might be seen as excess. But, as James Mitchell quipped, there is never any shortage of excitement in Scottish politics.

Caleb Hausman (placement with David Stewart MSP) summed up the general feeling in the room: “I am very thankful that I happened to be participating in this program in an election year, as I would not have otherwise had the opportunity to spend as much time in my MSP’s constituency/region, learning so much about a different side of Scottish life.”

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