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The travails of an American intern on the road with a Highland MSP

The travails of an American intern on the road with a Highland MSP

Matthew Morris, a student visiting Scotland from the US, spent 8 months working for Dave Thompson, MSP for SkyeLochaber and Badenoch. Here he writes about the experience.

With the vast halls and bright wooden chamber resting in the shadow of Arthur’s Seat, the life of an American intern in the Scottish Parliament building seems insignificant in relation to its surroundings.

MSP Dave Thompson of Skye, Lochaber, and Badenoch, recently gave me the opportunity to get out from behind my desk in the Parliament and spend a day shadowing him as he made his constituency visits. The experience opened my eyes to the incredible amount of work that goes into being an MSP, the immense responsibility of MSPs, and the sincere hospitality and generosity of the Scottish people.

The day included three surgeries and two constituency visits. After an 80 mile drive, we arrived at our first surgery at 11am and met an elderly couple who brought with them a list of issues to discuss. They were informed that no one showed up to the last surgery and felt that the people of Kyle had a responsibility to make time to talk with their elected representative. A further 10 miles to the second surgery in Broadford we talked with a man asking for help to repair a fence adjacent to his property under the jurisdiction of Highland Council.

"While I have often heard reference in Scotland to the stinginess of Scots – to the contrary - I received nothing but generosity during my time in the Highlands!"

In the hustle of drafting press releases, office briefs and other daily office tasks, my work in Parliament often takes the human element out of the job. However, here I was staring face-to-face with the reason behind all the work I was doing. I realised that being an MSP is not about the wording of legislation, the speeches delivered in the chamber, or the debates over policy - it is about making the everyday lives of the Scots people better - even if it’s just by helping repair a fence. Dave reminded me of the speech he had given on EU fisheries policy the week before, and said to me:

The responsibility of an MSP is to help the residents of his constituency and Scotland at-large, this means doing everything from helping repair a fence to shaping international law”.

Our final surgery in Skye, a further 25 miles on at Portree, was attended by a large group of residents seeking more information on the perceived closing of hospital services at Portree. Emotions were high at times, however, by the end of the meeting at 5o’clock, Dave and the assembled group were able to move forward together in the knowledge that everyone wanted what would be best for the people of Skye. Despite harsh words said in the beginning, folk ended up thanking Dave for being available, willing to listen, and ready to act for their best interests. Now, just two more constituency visits to go!

The first call, Dunvegan, 20 miles to the west of Portree, was at a post office under threat of being closed down. As Dave gave advice on how the post office should move forward, I found myself browsing a picture book for sale in the post office gift shop. Much to my surprise, as we left, the owner insisted I take it as a gift to remember my time in Scotland. The generous gesture momentarily snapped me out of my exhausted state to express my gratitude.

Though 40 years my elder, Dave was bright, energetic, and remained focused on his work at our last call at 6.30pm as he intently listened to a gentleman needing help to heat a drafty council-owned building.

Given, the blizzard conditions and the danger of a 120 mile night time drive home, we were treated to dinner and accommodation at the home of a couple who are friends with Dave. After a delicious breakfast the next day, I was gifted a bag of homemade fudge. I was amazed by the incredible friendliness of this couple, the people at the post office, and every person I met on the trip. While I have often heard reference in Scotland to the stinginess of Scots – to the contrary - I received nothing but generosity during my time in the Highlands!

At the end of the expedition I was struck by the great effort required by Dave and other representatives whose region encompass a vast geographical area. We had been in meetings or driving to meetings for 11 hours.

By the time we got back to Inverness the next day, our trip had encompassed over 274 miles, driving at times through blinding snow - all in a day’s work of Dave Thompson, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.  

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