How can the sector most effectively engage with Scotland’s political parties to progress their policy proposals? SCVO decided to ask the experts by hosting a series of, ‘Meet the Researcher’, events for members of SCVO’s Policy Officers Network. At the events, members have the opportunity to meet party researchers from across the political spectrum who will share their party’s approach to policy making.
At the second event of the series, members of the network met five of the seven strong Scottish Conservatives research team based at Holyrood. The team, led by the Scottish Conservatives Head of Policy, Gordon Hector, made it clear that they were keen to engage with the third sector and are interested in fresh policy ideas.
So what did we learn?
As many colleagues in the sector will know, the Scottish Conservatives Shadow Cabinet does not mirror the Cabinet portfolios of the Scottish Government. Our guests confirmed that while Nicola Sturgeon may have reshuffled her Cabinet a few weeks ago, a similar shake-up is not expected from Ruth Davidson.
The relationship between researchers and MSPs vary by portfolio, with some portfolios mirroring those of the Shadow Cabinet while others cover five or six MSPs. Some portfolio areas have a clear agenda spanning several years while others are developed over the summer, an opportunity for third sector colleagues to introduce new ideas.
Portfolios of those who attended included; housing, local Government, and welfare; health and social care; and environment, rural affairs and transport.
The team appreciated that there is often overlap between portfolios. To make this connection the team recommend sharing briefings etc. with Gordon Hector who will share briefings with team members. While the team work closely with the personal researchers of MSPs contact with the relevant MSPs and their researchers directly is encouraged.
Support of Committee members tends to be driven by the individual researchers of the MSPs involved. Exceptions include high profile agendas such as the budget, or issues Scottish Conservatives feel strongly about.
Only the party tabling a motion for debate knows the substance of the motion in advance, unless parties are working in collaboration. If the Scottish Government table a motion the Scottish Conservatives, like everyone else, learn about them when upcoming debate topics are published on Thursdays at 4pm and when motion details are published on Mondays. The team then have 24 hours to prepare a briefing. When opposition parties are going to support a motion they may have more information. Similarly, what has been discussed ahead of a debate may offer a strong steer.
The team are keen to hear from colleagues ahead of debates, including suggestions for interventions to ensure answers from MSPs on issues of concern to the sector.
Motions and questions
The research team always have questions that MSPs are keen to ask. However, they are happy to ask questions on behalf of the third sector.
The Presiding Officer, Ken Mackintosh MSP set-up a commission to make parliament more effective. This will result in many changes including the restructuring of portfolio questions. From October lead opposition spokespeople will have the opportunity to challenge their counterpart in Government, creating an opportunity to press Minsters.
The random ballot will still apply to General Questions.
What makes a good briefing?
- Facts and statistics
- Clear synopsis with a couple of bullet points
- Information that only you can provide (researchers already have access to SPICE etc. and are interested in stats and quotes that may not yet be public)
- A quote. Similar to a quote from a press release.
- Also like endorsements where possible, anything unique to us.
Already the largest opposition party, the Scottish Conservatives view themselves as a Government in waiting. Like any serious contender, they recognise the need for a robust manifesto with a balance of ongoing policy positions and fresh ideas. And where better to source these that Scotland’s vibrant third sector? Get a meeting pencilled in now!
Thanks to Gordon Hector and the rest of the team for joining us.
If you are interested in finding out more about joining SCVO’s Policy Officers Network and our upcoming events email firstname.lastname@example.org