Friday: 11.30 am. Zahira Hassan has just arrived in Sarah Boyack’s office. A quick glance at the MSP’s diary is enough to convince her that she is in for a very interesting few weeks shadowing the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Local Government and Planning.
Of course Zahira suspected that already which is why she asked if she could shadow an MSP when she applied to take part in Opening Doors to Democracy, the informal shadow scheme run by Leith Open Space. But this morning’s surgery (on Friday 5th April) has been particularly busy for Sarah Boyack (among the case studies: worries about tenement repairs, backgreen security and a man in his 50s made redundant two years ago wondering how he will ever get another job). The afternoon’s roving surgery in Saughton Hall would enable local residents the same opportunity to discuss their concerns.
Added to that, Sarah Boyack is not long back from a Commonwealth Parliamentary trip to Malawi including visits to projects encouraging women’s involvement in political life. The MSP for Lothian is convenor of the International Development Committee and her parliamentary portfolio includes membership of a wide range of intercultural committees as well as her long running environmental responsibilities.
All of which offers a tantalising choice of activities for Zahira who applied to join Opening Doors shadow scheme because, she says she wants to acquire new skills to apply in her community work. Zahira works part-time as a Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) Advice Worker with carers in Edinburgh who have learning disabilities or support needs. She is also a volunteer Champion for Scottish Women’s aid providing information and promoting support services for issues relating to domestic abuse.
As she explained in her application form: “I would like to make a positive difference in the local community and perhaps this can go further afield. I hope to also use this opportunity in understanding how and why decisions are made.”
So it’s not long before both Zahira and Sarah come up with ideas for a custom-made shadowing programme. The new Procurement Reform Bill , about to make its way through the Scottish Parliament, offers an ideal opportunity for Zahira to observe how laws are made. And this one, regulating how public bodies purchase goods and services, has enormous significance at a time when all local authorities are making extremely difficult choices about how to allocate their spending.
We’re delighted to welcome Zahira as our 13th participant in Opening Doors which began (we find it hard to believe) almost seven years ago in October 2006. She began by shadowing Leith Walk Councillor Nick Gardner’s work in the city council. Now looking forward to hearing how she gets on in Holyrood.