Tuesday, October 13

A few months in the Scottish Parliament.

This summer after many email and much begging I got and internship at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh working for my local MSP. (props to my local MSP and the Greens for replying) Admittedly rather jaded with National and Scottish politics I did my best to appear truly interested during my interview. It appeared to work!

So began my 2-3 months in a tunnel-like MSP's office in the Scottish Parliament. Many people don't really know what areas in which the devolved parliament at Holyrood has authority over, most things is the answer, with a few important exceptions such as full-tax raising power and foreign policy. In many ways the Scottish system is entirely independent from Westminster (although it is still technically where it derives it's power from). Most of my friends for example are vaguely aware that there is a Scottish Parliament but they are not very sure of what it really does.

Day 1 - I turn up eager to be involved in 'real' politics - whatever that may be - I arrive to find a deserted line of dark and closed offices with very few people around. I had started the week after Queens visit which it turns out many MSP's themselves did not attend as they were eager to begin their summer holidays. Some like Christine Grahame MSP came in merely to sit in her office professing her distaste for the monarchy in front of as much of the media as she could find.

So there I was.. an exciting opportunity to experience real politics. 10 weeks later I was still waiting. Admittedly my time in the Parliament was not the most enthralling of my life - still I learned quite a bit.

Firstly, Many MSPs do work damn hard and have some genuinely good ideas. I've gone from having no real opinion on the Scottish Parliament to thinking it can do good things for Scotland. (Al-Megrahi furore aside!) For constituency MSPs with a tiny majority with changing boundaries it would appear to be a rather thankless job.

Parliamentary assistants can be an odd and cliquey bunch, hawkishly eyeing the intruder into their floor in the same manner they would observe the two MSPs from a different party who had the misfortune to be on their floor. It was an odd experience being an intern, the only intern in both the constituency office and parliament. The variations in how people would treat you was a surprise too, both in good and bad ways.

You have to love the odd calls you get from constituents to brighten a dull research project; 
"When will Mr Salmond end this prohibition on cannabis?"; 
"When are we going to attack Iran?" and 
"How could you release the Lockerbie Bomber?!"' 

All questions my friends that I will have to politely direct you on to other people to deal with. :)

Saturday, September 19

American College System from a Scottish Perspective....

Here I am in South Western Pennsylvania, in a town of 15,000 people, 1,500 of which attend Washington & Jefferson College, a Private liberal arts school that requires the individual's parents to pay around $45,000 per year.

For this semester I am 'one of them'.... or correctly was one of them. Aberdeen University has more students than Washington, PA has residents so I was expecting a different experience. The second night involved an evening at the Presidents house. Much was said about taking what we could from the different 'Liberal Arts' system. How we should use this experience to broaden our intellectual horizons and take courses in Maths, Religious Studies, Business and Spanish. Admirable though the idea is having taken 8 then 5 subjects at High School and three in my first year of University I was quite ready to finally narrow my study down to what I'm truly interested in. Suffice to say I took three courses in International Relations and that was that.  I will not hide the fact that after two weeks I did not like the college culture (I know British Students have a bad reputation but we're positively serene in comparison) nor the system they operated on, but, there are a few definite positives for anyone thinking about studying in America at a Small Liberal Arts College.

  • Class sizes - 8-20 people max, infinitely superior to any of my classes at home or that any of my friends at various Scottish Universities are in. Professors are much more engaging and as the primary function of a Liberal Arts College is to teach far more attention is placed on it!
  • General Support- Once more I suppose you get what you pay for? Numerous scholarships available for Internships and Studying Abroad. Just in a totally different league.

I shall stop there as there's no fun in a long, negative rant about one persons bad experience.

P.S: For the record I would love to go back to New York and Washington again.

Sunday, May 17

Politicisation gone mad?

There comes a time when you’re watching some political event such as prime minister question time and you stop and think… What is the point? Do they really care? Is it all just one-up-man ship and point scoring? Some will argue that this is traditional and the confrontational style of the House of Commons is how it has always been and is in fact British politics and politics in general. I would like to question whether in fact now people go into politics out of a genuine passion based on beliefs, politics is increasingly becoming a career choice. Along with this there has been a rising obsession with political “correctness”, what can be said, what can be shown, what is suitable, is something biased?
In particular the idea of the media and especially the BBC being “balanced” – another ambiguous word - in their reporting is ever more coming to the front. The problem with such words is that everyone has a different conception of what is a balanced story based upon our own feelings and ideas. Last month the BBC special correspondent to the Middle East Jeremy Bowen was criticised on two counts by the BBC trust for his reporting on the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Bowen is one of the most well respected journalists that covers the middle east and has been reporting from warzones for over twenty years and has never once came under significant criticism for his reporting up to now.
Have we gotten to the point where a story cannot be told without moderating it to appear even handed and balanced? Regardless of your beliefs with regards to Israel and its actions in the Gaza strip on who was to blame and whether Israel acted with due force it is unquestionable that many civilians were killed on both sides, however, the overwhelming majority of these were within the Gaza strip with estimates varying from between 1,000 to 3,000 dead and thousands more homeless.  The BBC refused to show an appeal from a coalition of charities to raise money for humanitarian support for injured and homeless Palestinians due to the recent conflict. BBC Director General Mark Thompson said that showing the ad would;
“Call into question the public's confidence in the BBC's impartiality in its coverage of the story as a whole.
The humanitarian situation in Gaza has been well documented by the UN with 1 million Palestinians thought to be reliant on foreign aid, the advert itself makes no mention of the conflict or how people has died and is in many ways was more neutral than the standard coverage. If you look at the DEC appeal, yes its emotive, yes it shows people suffering, that is the point of an appeal for donations, they want to stir up peoples emotions by showing the plight of the people involved. It is not some kind of anti-Israeli propaganda demonising their actions.
The BBC’s decision to not show the appeal by the Disaster Emergency Committee is simply an example of an issue where the point has been forgotten amid the political furore. The question of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank is one of the most highly sensitive issues in politics where passions are easily roused. Supporters of both sides often claim that the same article or journalist is biased towards the other which just highlights the difficulty on reporting in these areas.
I may have gone of track a little but the main point is that things should not be politicised for the sake of it. Some times it is better to simply ignore the fact that an appeal for Palestinians hurt in a conflict could potentially be seen as showing Israel as the aggressors. Perhaps the focus should be on the people that are in need of our assistance and not on making a stand for the “Independence” of the BBC or any other media outlet purely for the sake of it.