Intern Spotlight – Sabrina at the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

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UCSB Political Science student Sabrina Mcgraw, is spending the fall term in Edinburgh where she is taking part in the Scottish Parliament Internship Programme. We have asked Sabrina to talk about her experience in Edinburgh and give us a sense of what the life of a Parliament intern is like.

Sabrina Mcgraw in Scotland

This quarter, seven other students and I decided to head to Scotland to learn about politics and government. Although we all knew that we were leaving behind a sunny California with plenty of political science classes for us to take, we made the decision because we were getting the opportunity to experience politics first hand — in the Scottish Parliament. Each of us was paired up with a Member of the Scottish Parliament to do a variety of tasks.

As an intern for Dennis Robertson MSP, I am charged with writing press releases, supporting and creating motions, writing to constituents, responding to invitations, going to various events, planning events, creating briefs for committee meetings, and writing speeches for debates in the chamber. Because Mr. Robertson is blind, I also attended sight guided training to learn the protocol for assisting visually impaired people so now I guide him to chamber and I am constantly researching new technology to overcome various obstacles. It is incredible to have the opportunity to work in the Scottish Parliament because we are given so much responsibility to do so many different things. Now, I can return home with a whole new set of skills that I gained from a high-profile internship to help me in my future career.

Working in the Scottish Parliament is also fascinating because of the political environment we find ourselves in at the moment. Most of the interns, including myself, work under the Scottish National Party which last year proposed a referendum to Scotland to become independent from the United Kingdom. Although the referendum ultimately failed, the Scottish National Party is still vying for Independence and has the majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament. As interns, we are exposed to current debates regarding Scottish and, more generally, British political concerns, which we have the change to follow closely.

Sabrina at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh with MSP Dennis Robertson, and his assistant Frances Johnston

Our Friday lectures have also been illuminating on this topic, and our Professor Dr. Ashley Cole has brought in several speakers to offer different perspectives on the subject. Ben Thomson, the Chairman and creator of Reform Scotland led our first seminar. His informative and interactive lecture focused on the subject of devolution: what powers should the United Kingdom lend to the Scottish Parliament. Thomson walked us through the relationships between different concepts such as decentralization, sovereignty, and legitimacy and then explained to us his ideas of what the ideal sort of devolution would be between the United Kingdom and the Scottish Parliament.

The esteemed Stuart Kelly led our other seminar about the Scottish Identity. Stuart Kelly is a literary journalist and critic who is known for his innovative ideas on literature and culture as it pertains to Scotland and Britain. Our seminar explored the differences and similarities between Scotland and the rest of Britain. Kelly spoke in great depth of the history of Scotland and how its culture was shaped in relationship to the United Kingdom. We learned about monarchy quarrels and religious debates as well as the lasting effects many literary geniuses had on the country. Kelly argued that Scotland was not as culturally different as it seemed on the surface and that many traditions and ideas are fundamentally intertwined with the rest of the United Kingdom.

By working in the Scottish Parliament and by hearing many different perspectives on Scottish politics from people of varying different backgrounds, my knowledge of Scottish politics is far more encompassing than it would have been if I had learned about it in a classroom back at home. Studying abroad here in this diverse environment has pushed me to think more critically than I have ever done before and it has allowed me to have an incredible and unique experience that I will never forget.  

Sabrina outside Edinburgh castle with Scottish Parliament interns Mannal Haddad and Byron Roos-Collins