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Advice to the new MSPs

A contribution made to Portland PR's weekly briefing on Holyrood

A new job is a time to look in the mirror and undertake a self-assessment about what one can contribute in a new role. And what weaknesses one may have that could inhibit success. Being elected an MSP is no different in that respect. But very different in many others.

One has become public property and every action, or action thought to be by you, will be open to public comment, often unfairly. Silence is often your best response. When one comments on criticism one lengthens the “war” and widens the knowledge of it. Set your own agenda rather than respond to that of others.

Who can you trust among your fellow Parliamentarians? Make contact with as many as you can as quickly as you can. And make it a priority to interact with political opponents. The first substantive decision in the new Parliament is the election of a new Presiding Officer and it will be a secret ballot. Understanding the dynamic of other parties in making this decision can make you stand out from colleagues as an informed networker.

The demands on your time will be well beyond the constraints of the clock. Set out by doing only what only a Parliamentarian can do in person. In the last year, I dealt with over 3,000 cases raised by constituents. Actually, I dealt with only a handful of politically sensitive ones. My staff dealt with the others without my seeing my responses before they were sent.

Select one key member of staff to run your office and ask a trusted colleague to sit in on all stages of the recruitment process before making any offer. And remember that running your office requires a different skillset from winning you the election. That person will find the other staff, control your diary and write your press releases. Delegate, delegate, delegate. And the greatest of these delegations is to make them responsible for managing your weaknesses. For example; I hate the phone. My staff are responsible for bullying me into making calls in a timely fashion.

Rise early each day. Read the printed and broadcast media via the internet. Review the day’s diary and check you have all you need to hand.

Write the day’s list for action. Things you must do. Things you intend to do. Things you would like to do. And as part of the input, refer to the list you wrote before shutting up shop the previous day as the plan for the tomorrow which today now is. Always write a list at the end of the day. It helps you mentally shut the door on the day, allows some probably brief relaxation followed by worry-free sleep.

Stay fit and weigh yourself every day. If your weight rises by more than a kilo, fast for a day. Respond immediately! Your health is best measured by your weight.

Nurture your friends outside politics and put private time in the diary for them and you.

Enjoy your time as a Parliamentarian.

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