Note: Blog posts reflect the views and opinions of their authors and not necessarily those of Penn Dems as an organization.
This semester, I’ve been participating in political life from a bit further away than usual. For my study abroad program, I’m interning in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.
It has certainly been an exciting semester to focus on Scottish politics. During the independence referendum in September, the entire country mobilized to make their voices heard in the historic election. Turnout was over 84%, much higher than had been predicted only a few months before. As the polls grew closer in the weeks leading up to the referendum, the “Yes” campaign for independence and the “Better Together” team for unity made their final push just as I was arriving in Edinburgh. The Yes campaign was certainly more visible, with Yes stickers, signs and even Yes cars (vans covered in Scottish flags and blasting The Proclaimers) all over the city. However, the No vote ultimately prevailed and the political discussion has quickly returned to how Scotland can gain more powers while still remaining part of the UK.
A few weeks later, after completing my crash courses in British and Scottish politics, I began my internship. I am currently working for a member of the Labour party. As an intern, I mostly research relevant topics for the Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) who I work for. During my time here so far, I have prepared briefs on various topics such as sectarian violence, human rights legislation, and the new drunk driving limit in Scotland. My main research project concerns reform of the women’s prison system. While nowhere near the levels at home, the UK and Scotland have one of the biggest mass incarceration problems in Europe. The recent spike in imprisonment of female offenders raises a multitude of issues, such as how to keep mothers in contact with their families and how to reduce reoffending.
While my research has been interesting, my internship has also been an opportunity to observe a different political system and climate. Since everything in Scotland is shifted to the left on the political scale from the States, the culture here is basically a Dems paradise. For example, Scottish Parliament’s Conservative party tirelessly campaigns on the protection of the National Health Service (aka state-run healthcare).
Although there might be less policy disagreement among members than there is at home, the political culture in the UK and Scotland is often contentious, theatrical, and exciting. For example, every week during First Minister’s Questions, members gather to question the First Minister (Alex Salmond up until just recently, when Nicola Sturgeon was elected by the Parliament to take over the position). Question time can be quite combative, with each minority party (Labour, Conservatives, and Liberal Democrats) trying to criticize the Scottish National Party administration through dramatic questioning of the First Minister. It’s always entertaining to watch and one of the highlights of my weeks here.
While I’m excited to return to home to Penn Dems, high stakes political issues, and Chipotle, I’ve certainly enjoyed this opportunity to gain insight into a completely different political system. See you all in a wee bit!