Maggie Chapman, newly elected Green MSP for the north-east region, reflects on her first week at Holyrood as part of our diary series on the experience of some of Scotland’s newest MSPs.
Monday May 10
“I’m not sure it’s quite sunk in yet. I’m delighted to have been elected as a Green MSP for the North East.
“I think it is hugely significant that the oil and gas region of Scotland has chosen a green to be one of their MSPs, and I think this signals the acknowledgement and awareness of the need for a just transition.
“But the politics will come later… practicalities are the focus of the week… although the casework has started coming in already!
“I’m not in the parliament yet: because of Covid, ‘first day’ MSPs are split into two groups, and I’ll be heading in for 9am on Tuesday morning.
“However, that doesn’t mean the new Green group hasn’t been busy.
“There are quite a lot of practical things to sort out: deciding on office space in parliament, how to ensure staff members from the previous session are treated fairly, initial discussions about portfolios, and the like.
“And I’ve not left my old job yet: there’s quite a lot for me still to do in my role as COO of a rape crisis centre, and I want to make sure I don’t leave them in the lurch!
“My first political act as an MSP is to attend and speak at a protest in solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians outside Holyrood: people have gathered to condemn the illegal evictions and attacks in East Jerusalem by Israeli defence forces. And I am pleased to be able to join them in solidarity.
Tuesday May 11
“Today’s the day! I arrive at parliament at about 8.45am by bicycle and already the snappers from the media are there.
“My Green colleague, Ariane, is staying just round the corner, so go to meet her and we walk in together.
“Everything is very well organised, and parliamentary staff are very helpful.
“In a small group of four newbies, we have an introductory chat with Gillian, our buddy, along with the obligatory coffee! And then we’re off: welcome and introduction from the chief executive in the Debating Chamber.
“We’re all spread out… there are only 22 new MSPs in the Chamber… but it’s nice to meet the others, even if just by nods across the room.
“Then, off to our temporary offices to get our IT set up. Sarah is great – she gets me logged in and sorted in minutes.
“Gillian shows me the route from the cycle store to my office, and also helps organise a locker key for me (practical priorities!).
“Rob then gives us a really interesting tour of the building: we have just become part of history, with so many links and connections to this place and the artefacts herein.
“After a lovely lunch, provided for new MSPs by the Members’ Restaurant staff, we were whisked off to get our official photographs taken, and collect our security passes. And then there was the Security Briefing, covering everything from social media safety to constituency/regional office security.
“And to round off my first day in parliament, another Green group meeting, a steady stream of casework coming in by email, and several emails from prospective Deputy Presiding Officers eliciting support for Friday’s vote.
“So, a lot of information to take in, a lot of walking around this magnificent building, and so many friendly faces and helpful folk.
“Huge thanks to all parliamentary staff for making the first day so easy! Looking forward to coming back and doing it all again tomorrow!
Wednesday May 12
“I’m in early, to test my memory of how to get into the bicycle store and find my way through to the MSPs’ block.
“I find the changing rooms, and get up to my temporary office. Phew… my sense of direction and memory didn’t fail me.
“As I prepare for the first session, a fire alarm test happens.
“Today, we cover various bits and pieces about being a parliamentarian: how to participate in Chamber Business, how to submit questions for FMQs, how to intervene in debates in the Chamber, how to vote using the remote voting system.
“And we are given a high-level summary of the responsibilities we hold as MSPs: the Code of Conduct, Data Protection regulations and, importantly, how to go about employing staff and support a culture of respect.
“As all the new MSPs sit through these sessions, the casework keeps coming in, and the matter of getting staff support and learning who to contact for what becomes increasingly urgent…
Thursday May 13
“Everyone looks very smart and well-groomed today, the day that all MSPs will take the oath or solemn affirmation of office.
“We are required to do this by law, and only once we have taken this step can we claim our salaries and expenses to pay staff. So it’s a pretty big deal.
“But for me, as a republican and a democrat, declaring allegiance to an unelected head of state does not sit right.
“That is why I gave the solemn affirmation under protest, including some words from the Claim of Right, which affirms the sovereignty of the people in Scotland.
“MSPs are also given the opportunity to repeat the oath or affirmation in another language, and I chose to do this in Shona.
“Although I’m not a native speaker, it is one of the main languages of the country of my birth – Zimbabwe – and I wanted to recognise and acknowledge that.
I’m grateful to have this view this week as I settle in @ScotParl. This #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek it’s good to be able to #ConnectWithNature in this way. @MHFScot highlights the positive impact that connecting with nature can have on our mental health: https://t.co/0K0AZhptIP pic.twitter.com/x87lWvcOCU
— Maggie Chapman (@MaggieChapman) May 13, 2021
“I think hearing (and seeing!) the different languages spoken in the Chamber is a lovely way to recognise both the diversity of our parliament, and the diversity of the people we represent.
“After lunch, we elected Alison Johnstone as the presiding officer, making a little bit of history – the first-ever Green to hold this office.
“Within the Green group, we continued our discussions about how we will share the different portfolios and how we will work together.
“And, in addition to a tablet computer for parliamentary work, it looks like I’ll soon have another phone, and another phone number to remember!
Friday May 14
“I’m getting better at remembering the names of some of the members of parliamentary staff: cleaners, caterers and security staff are key to making the building function, and I’m keen to get to know them as quickly as I can!
“I had a chat with Tam and Brenda in the bicycle store first thing, and I look forward to getting a coffee and some vegan carrot cake from Kirsty at the coffee bar later this morning.
“But the main business of the day for us is the election of two deputy presiding officers. Ten candidates were proposed for these positions and, after many rounds of voting, Annabelle Ewing and Liam McArthur were elected.
“I think it is safe to say that no one thinks the process used for this election was suitable… taking over four hours to elect two DPOs is far from efficient.
“But we got through it. And I wish Alison, Annabelle and Liam all the best as they get to grips with their new roles.
I spend most of the day catching up with writing that I’d promised a couple of magazines, pottering around the flat, and cuddling the cat.”
“We then had the first urgent questions of the session: on the Kenmure Street protests in Glasgow that saw the Home Office’s attempted immigration raids halted by the public, on the SQA’s assessment plan for 2021, and the Covid situation in Moray.
“And it looks like the last thing on my agenda for today will be a chat with BBC Africa about my use of Shona in the chamber during the oaths and affirmations sessions.”
Saturday May 15
“It’s been quite a week, and I’m ready for not quite so early a start. But today I spend the morning catching up on a few non-MSP bits and pieces, and then we (my partner and I) head north to the centre of Aberdeen.
“The Aberdeen branch of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign has organised a demonstration in Marischal Square to condemn the actions of Israeli forces in East Jerusalem and Gaza.
“Politicians (including Kirsty Blackman MP, Councillor Christian Allard and I) have been invited to say a few words, alongside religious and community leaders and peace and justice campaigners.
End the occupation of Palestine. End the Apartheid of the Israeli state.
Aberdeen stands for justice and peace! pic.twitter.com/9kF3CMMEGa
— Maggie Chapman (@MaggieChapman) May 15, 2021
“Over 300 people turn up to show solidarity with those in Palestine currently facing airstrikes by Israeli forces. Then, it’s a long-overdue catch up with some good friends over a curry.
Sunday May 16
“My partner, who has been so supportive through the campaign, brings me tea and rowies in bed this morning… I am totally spoilt!
“I spend most of the day catching up with writing that I’d promised a couple of magazines, pottering around the flat, and cuddling the cat.
“I know that, in the next week, the Green Group of new MSPs will be discussing portfolio allocations, interim staffing arrangements (until we can do proper recruitment processes), office practicalities and more.
“And I’ll have work to do at my old job as well as discussions with the two Scottish Green branches in the North East. I’m looking forward to it!”