Credit: John Smith Centre

John Smith Parliamentary internship open for 2021 candidates

By Lucy Dunn

The programme targets students from BAME and disadvantaged backgrounds, to shadow a local MSP in their work for 10 weeks.

The University of Glasgow’s John Smith Centre has opened applications for its 2021 Scottish Parliamentary Internship Programme. 

The centre, created in 2014 to promote and celebrate vocations in public service, is entering its fourth year of running the programme. Specifically targeted at students from BAME or disadvantaged backgrounds, the 10-week internship provides students with a valuable one-on-one experience with a local MSP, working with them both in and around their constituency, as well as experiencing life in Parliament.

Applications for the competitively paid internship close on 11 October, and interviews for the small number of available positions will be held over the 26 and 27 of that month.

The programme sets the successful intern up with an MSP from a surrounding area, and for one day a week, the student will spend time working alongside the politician and their staff, providing helpful support to the office. 

Constituency work may include involvement in constituents’ cases, campaigning, press-work and secretarial tasks, as detailed by the John Smith Centre. Students will be given both the unique opportunity to experience working as a public servant as well as witnessing the very real impact of politics on peoples’ lives. Trips to parliament are also on the cards, and here students have the opportunity to write and file motions and witness the constitutional office work transcend into legislation. The rate of pay is £10.75 per hour, and all transport and training costs are covered.

A large number of MSPs have worked with students in the past, including Humza Yousaf, the current cabinet secretary for justice, deputy leader of the Scottish Labour Party Jackie Baillie, and first minister for Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. 

Speaking with The Glasgow Guardian, Jackie Baillie observed that students tended to be most excited for their experience in parliament, “rubbing shoulders” with political figures most commonly seen in the limelight. However, she pointed out the value there is in making the distinction between taught and tangible politics, stating: “There’s the theory of politics, and then there’s the everyday lived reality… Working in the constituency, the office and parliament is a long way away from theory.”

Having been a part of the programme since its birth in 2017, Baillie has consistently taken on one student each year. She tries to ensure they establish a good balance between working in the constituency and visits to parliament and giving them flexibility in terms of the hours they spend interning. Commenting on similar programmes, Jackie Baillie remarked that too often internships benefited those who were better off, or from abroad, to whom obtaining internship experience was never an issue financially or otherwise. She said that she was extremely pleased to see the University’s John Smith Centre set up a programme that was beneficial to local people; specifically to those who would not otherwise have access to such an opportunity. 

The “super bright” students she said she has had the pleasure of meeting through the internship at times made her reflect upon her own approaches to certain political and social situations, and Ms Baillie emphasised the two-way value of the project. The Parliamentary Internship Programme was complimented as being excellent in “giving students a 360-degree view of what it’s like to be an MSP”, improving both the communication and diplomacy skills of interns, as well as their general “life skills” too. Wishing she had the chance of taking part in something similar during her own time at university, Ms Baillie concluded the interview with a glowing review, stating the Internship Programme is “a fantastic opportunity for anybody at uni”.

The Internship is specifically for those of BAME heritage or from disadvantaged backgrounds, however, there has been an increased focus on improving representation. Writing on his experience of the programme in 2018 in an article for the John Smith Centre website, Nelson Cummings commented that as much as he enjoyed his work, he was left with a feeling of alienation after being enlightened to the lacking representation of those from BAME backgrounds in Scottish parliament, feeling particularly dismayed as it was “completely detached from the reality of living in Scotland, which… is a multicultural and diverse nation”. 

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which came to the fore particularly during May and June of this year, Kezia Dugdale, current Director of the John Smith Centre and former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, pledged to double the number of applications for the programme and ensure that at least 50% of spaces are filled by BAME students. Due to Covid-19, the exact format of the internship is yet to be decided, with face-to-face contact ideally being maintained.

Having joined the centre almost a year and a half ago, Dugdale is described by Principal Anton Muscatelli as “one of Scotland’s most prominent and respected politicians”. She is keen to revive the drive and desire of students to work in the public service sector. With a long career filled with colourful and exciting experiences in this particular area, she is focused on shifting attitudes away from emotional, polarised politics to more rational, evidence-based lines of thought. 

The John Smith Centre was created in 2014, after the 20th anniversary of the former Labour Party Leader, John Smith, by his wife Elizabeth – otherwise known as Baroness Smith of Gilmorehill. As quoted by University of Glasgow News, she explained the aim of the centre is to “promote public service as a noble vocation”. Both alumni of the University themselves, Baroness Smith went on to detail her hopes to assert the importance of public service careers in today’s world, given her husband’s influential and long-lasting impact. The Parliamentary Internship can be seen as one way of combining academic theory with authentic experience for such a purpose.


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