Book review: improving engagement with Holyrood

Written by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP on 23 January 2018 in Comment

A review of Robert McGeachy and Mark Ballard's Public Affairs Guide to Scotland: Influencing policy and legislation – by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Public affairs guide review - Holyrood

The Scottish Parliament can rightly be proud of its tradition of openness and accessibility. From its very beginnings, the modern Scottish Parliament has actively encouraged the participation of the public in its proceedings. This has provided voluntary and community organisations with major opportunities to influence policy development and legislation. 

I am aware, however, from my previous experience campaigning for a children’s charity, and from my current role as the MSP for Edinburgh Western, that the effectiveness of organisations’ public affairs activities varies significantly.

All too often voluntary organisations struggle to understand, and to influence, the work of the Parliament. This is particularly disappointing given the amazing work which many provide in communities across Scotland. 

A major issue has been the lack of a clear and comprehensible guide to the workings of Holyrood, which can support people to effectively lobby their parliament.

The Public Affairs Guide to Scotland: Influencing Policy and Legislation, written by Robert McGeachy and Mark Ballard, seeks to change this. By supporting organisations improve their engagement with Holyrood, this guide will empower organisations to share their stories and experience with politicians of all parties more effectively.

This will ensure that they can help shape and inform policy development and legislation across the parliament, which can only improve the quality of the work the parliament does. 

Written by two highly experienced voluntary sector public affairs professionals, this book is an invaluable resource for anyone wishing to engage with the Scottish Government and with the Scottish Parliament. The guide is accessible, easy to read, and is full of practical advice and suggestions on how to successfully influence policy development and legislation. 

I was pleased to see that it starts with some practical guidance on how to develop campaigns, and on how to engage with key policy makers. All too often organisations’ engagement with MSPs falls at the first hurdle because of a lack of clear strategy, or a failure to understand how to make the best approach to time-constrained politicians.

It also provides useful guidance on how to respond to Scottish Government consultations and to parliamentary inquiries, and on parliamentary monitoring, members’ bills, parliamentary debates, parliamentary motions legislation, and on oral and written questions, to name but a few.

Full of useful hints and tips, The Public Affairs Guide to Scotland is the essential tool for those organisations wishing to engage with the legislative process of the Scottish Parliament and its policy development. 

Robert McGeachy and Mark Ballard’s book is an important step in making the parliament’s commitment to openness and accessibility a reality for voluntary and community organisation, and I commend them for their work. 

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