The first step in the new Opening Doors programme: (from left to right) Ola Kasprzak, Malcolm Chisholm and Fay Young
How can local communities influence political decisions? Ola Kasprzak and Maka Mwamwaja are hoping to find out as they begin this year’s shadowing programme, Opening Doors 2009, by observing the work of Malcolm Chisholm MSP both in the Scottish Parliament and in his constituency of Edinburgh North and Leith.
There has surely never been a more interesting – or important – time to go behind the scenes of parliament.
On Tuesday 19 May, at roughly the time when Michael Martin was causing a stir in Westminster by resigning as Speaker of the House of Commons, Ola and Maka were sitting down in a quiet corner of Holryood. They were there to agree a shadowing timetable with Malcolm which will give them an insight into how he divides his time between parliament and constituency duties.
Both Ola and Maka are actively involved in community work and are keen to learn how policies are made and where key decisions are taken. Malcolm’s work as a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee offers a chance to study one of the most important differences between Westminster and Holyrood.
The Scottish committee system, as Malcolm explained, gives MSPs much greater influence over how laws are made in the Scottish Parliament. “It isn’t perfect,” he says, “but it encourages power-sharing and enables MSPs to gain greater expertise and understanding of specific issues.”
In the picture: Malcolm explains the role of committees to Ola and Maka
Ola graduated in politics at Copernicus University in Poland and is now studying ‘Working with Communities’ at Jewel and Esk College as well as being actively involved in Swietlica, the Polish community group in Edinburgh. She is looking forward to comparing the theory of politics with what happens in practice but she has another motive for taking part: “I am interested in empowering people,” she says, “I am hoping to use the knowledge I gain to support people in my community and make them more aware of their rights.”
Maka, a computer scientist currently working with the NHS, is also involved in intercultural community work which encourages the integration of minority communities. He is secretary of the Tanzania Edinburgh Community (TzECA) and the last time he was in the Scottish Parliament was as a member of the team accompanying the Tanzanian High Commissioner on a tour to meet Edinburgh’s business, academic and political leaders.
“I know very little about the political structure,”says Maka, who will begin his shadowing by following Malcolm’s evening engagements with community groups in North Edinburgh. “I want to gain experience of engaging with people in authority so I can work more efficiently on community matters.”
Welcoming Ola and Maka to the shadowing scheme Malcolm commented that it was a pity more people did not understand the work of the Scottish Parliament. “It is surprising how many intelligent, well-educated people do not know know much about the powers of parliament or how that differs from local authorities.”
Perhaps they should apply to join Opening Doors!
PS: Before shadowing Malcolm, Ola and Maka get the chance to learn how the political structure fits together when they meet Mike Cowley, lecturer in politics at Telford College (and a member of Leith Open Space group), for an introductory workshop.
[report by Fay Young, co-ordinator of Leith Open Space, pictures by Nick Gardner]