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Independent Green Voice

Alistair McConnachie writes

What is the Purpose of an MSP?
The purpose of an MSP is to represent and help his or her constituents in the parliament and to promote publicly, through legislative participation, or other means, the principles and policies upon which he or she, or his or her party, stand. MSPs may be Independents, lone members of political parties, or members of parties which have more than one MSP.

What an MSP can do Inside the Parliament

  • Represent and Help one's Constituents by dealing with and answering your communications and enquiries, take up your views or problems with a relevant public body or official such as an executive department or local authority, refer an issue to another person or organisation or Minister, consider your opinions and use them to make judgment on relevant legislative action, propose a debate, and/or speak in a debate about an issue a constituent has raised, ask a parliamentary question on the matter, and generally assist with your problems to the extent possible, including perhaps advising that no further action can be taken. In this regard, MSPs should be careful not to take on work on behalf of their constituents which is more properly the remit of local councillors.

  • Propose Motions for Debate in order to help constituents, or to raise issues, spread ideas, defend and promote principles and policies, and recommend courses of action in specific areas. MSPs can propose motions for debate on a wide range of issues, including issues raised by constituents -- these are referred to as debates for "Members' Business". Whether they will be debated will be decided by the clerk according to a variety of measures such as timeliness, relevance etc.

  • Speak and Vote in Debates. In addition to the above, some debates will be as a result of the parliament having been "petitioned" on a matter (see below) and the appropriate parliamentary committee having decided that it ought to be debated. MSPs also debate proposals for Bills as well as debating during the passage of the Bill itself.

  • Propose or Sign Motions not intended for Debate but simply to raises issues, publicly acknowledge a situation, call for action, and seek support from other MSPs -- similar to Early Day Motions (EDMs) at Westminster.

  • Make Law by Introducing Bills with the intention that they reach the statute book. Each MSP is entitled to present two Member's Bills in each 4-year session.

  • Make Law by Scrutinising and Voting on Bills including proposing Amendments, in order to protect the interests of his or her constituents or to promote the principles and policies in which he or she, or the party, believes.

  • Establish a Cross Party Group on a specific subject, to raise awareness and develop an issue, as per sec.8 of the Code of Conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament. These are also open for joining to members of the public and outside organisations. They are not classed as official business of the SP but they can gain valuable influence within the SP.

  • Hold the Executive to Account by asking questions written or oral, and by scrutinizing legislation and questioning Ministers, in committee. Similarly…

  • Obtain Information by Submitting Questions to Ministers for either oral or written answers and thereby extract valuable data to help constituents and to promote one's principles and policies.

  • Help Facilitate the Presentation and Progress of Public Petitions, although these can be submitted directly without going via an MSP. All petitions are referred to the Public Petitions Committee of the parliament, which decides the progress of the petition. It may be referred to the appropriate committee which may decide to recommend parliamentary debate.1

  • Serve on Committees in order to further the best interests of one's constituents and one's principles and polices. Most MSPs sit on at least one of the parliament's committees, and many are members of Cross-Party Groups.

  • Organise Public Events at the Scottish Parliament

    What an MSP can do Outside the Parliament

  • Meet Constituents in his or her Local Office or hold Surgeries throughout the Constituency.

  • Use his or her Public Profile and Elected Credibility to promote the principles and policies in which he or she believes, including…

  • Speak to Media Outlets, to promote his or her ideology, including print, radio, television and web.

  • Write Articles, or a regular column or letters in a local or national newspaper, magazine or other media outlet.

  • Make Speeches for a particular cause or charity.

  • Organise Public Campaigns.

  • Lend Credibility by associating his or her name to public campaigns.

  • Visit places and people to raise awareness of issues.

  • Donate Proportion of Salary to a political cause or appropriate charity.

    Scottish Parliament:
    Scottish Executive:

    (1)  Jean McFadden and Mark Lazarowicz, The Scottish Parliament: An Introduction,
    (Edinburgh: Lexis Nexis, 3rd edition, 2003) at 49-50.

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