Paul Daly, our Policy and Research Manager, blogs about the role of an MSP and the ways you can engage with them around issues that you care about. Follow Paul on Twitter.
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are elected by their constituents - people who live in a specific area - to represent them. Some of the time they work in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, but they also spend time in their constituency to hear from and support the people who live there – even if they didn’t vote for them. In this blog I’m going to have a look at what MSPs do and how they help their constituents. Then I’ll set out when and how you can seek help from them.
There are two elements to how MSPs represent their constituents. Firstly, through influencing the Bills that come through the Scottish Parliament which can go on to become laws. This is the part of an MSP’s job that most people are aware of. Often, MSPs from different parties will have differing opinions about elements of a bill, including whether they support it at all. Importantly though, as your representative they should listen to you, your concerns, and your experience. In this way, you can be a powerful force in influencing their decision making.
Another way in which MSPs act on behalf of their constituents is by supporting them out-with the Parliament. This is the bit that we don’t often hear about: what MSPs call their case work. This is when an MSP works directly on behalf of a constituent. The title of MSP carries a lot of weight, so when they get involved in issues it can sometimes result in the solving of difficult problems.
I had personal experience of this because I live in one health board area, but my medical care was based in different one. My doctor recommended a treatment, but it wasn’t available in my postcode. I did my best to resolve this, but it was only when I asked my MSP to get involved that change happened and I received the recommended treatment. All it took was a letter from my MSP, who has much more influence than I do!
To understand case work better, I asked two MSPs to reflect on examples they’ve undertaken over the years:
“Case work is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most rewarding aspect of what I do. I’ve helped thousands of people since I was elected in 2016, but I’ve helped more people in the past 12 months than in the previous 4 years put together. The pandemic has put people’s livelihoods and their lives on the line. Helping people get to be with loved ones in their final hours in ITU wards at the height of lockdown was one of the most important things I’ve ever had to do and I’ll never forget weeping together with someone over the phone as they watched a business they built over 30 years turn to ash around them.
“MSPs are public servants, and as such the problems people come to them with should be the centre of their world for as long as it takes to resolve them. Whether that’s getting a young person an appointment with a mental health councillor after they’ve waited 2 years for it, or helping an older resident get their garden bin sticker because they forgot to renew it in time. For the 30 minutes you spend with them, that’s the most important thing in their world, so you need to make it the most important thing in yours.”
Alex Cole-Hamilton - MSP for Edinburgh Western.
“When a constituent reached out for help after the death of her partner, I supported her family by dealing with the local council and the health board on her behalf. When she was feeling stronger and wanted to raise awareness about mental health and suicide prevention, I raised her concerns at First Minister’s Questions and supported her when she introduced a public petition to the Scottish Parliament seeking a review of mental health services.
“My constituent sought help for her family when they were in crisis and in doing so, she found a path to help countless others. MSPs and our office teams are there to help, no matter how big or small the problem. We help people to see that their voice matters and speak up for them when they need extra support.”
Monica Lennon - MSP for Central Scotland.
The range of examples that Alex and Monica give is interesting; from bin stickers to raising an issue with the First Minister, both have supported constituents during difficult times in their lives.
Whether you want to talk to your MSPs about Bills and other Parliamentary issues, or if you want to get support with something specific, there’s a few ways you can get in touch with them. Probably the simplest method is writing them an email. You might choose to ask them for a meeting in your email so you can sit down with them (or perhaps video call) and talk in more detail. Remember: MSPs have days where they should be in their constituency having meetings, so you don’t have to travel to the Parliament building in Edinburgh. Borrowing medical language, they host local surgeries or drop-in clinics. All of this information should be on their website to help you decide how to connect with them.
Everyone who lives in Scotland has eight MSPs who represent them: one constituency MSP who represents a fairly small geographical area, and seven more who represent a much bigger region. This means that you will likely have a range of parties that represent you. For example, if you live in Stirling your constituency MSP is from the SNP and your seven regional MSPs include four Conservatives, two Labour and one Green. You are welcome to contact one or all of them to ask them to represent your views.
Here’s some top tips for engaging with your MSPs: