For Parliament Week, the University of Strathclyde held a workshop as part of Parliament Week. One student offers his reflections here.
A gathering of politically-minded students from the University of Strathclyde took a break from their essays recently to meet with senior lecturer, Dr Mark Shephard, to discuss Parliament. Ideas, for both Holyrood and Westminster, were discussed around the table, in tandem with recognising some of the struggles currently facing both legislatures and politics in general: voter apathy, efficiency, representation and a lack of knowledge of how Parliament really functions. At all times, the group kept at the forefront of their minds the realisation that they were in a minority, in terms of their interest and awareness of the ins and outs of Parliament, and thus endeavoured to keep their ideas as coherent and relatable as possible to the general public.
Over the course of the event, five ideas were brought forward and discussed.
(1) PMQs/FMQs should be moved to a prime-time evening TV slot so that more of the public can follow them live and engage with them through social media formats such as Twitter. This is a way to connect to a much wider audience and make the public aware of who is representing them, how and what issues are being discussed. The current format was designed for journalists to construct a story in time for the 6pm news which, in a 24hr instantaneous news culture, should no longer be the driving force of timing.
(2) Electronic voting and other examples of modernisation, such as removing the Black Rod, should be embraced in order to improve the working efficiency and to demystify the House of Commons by making it more about the issues and people. The concern with wigs, ceremony and other archaic traditions is that they can alienate many voters and waste time.
(3) Parliament Week should be a feature of the national curriculum in order to attempt to curb a lack of understanding, interest or connection to Parliament. An innovative and engaging one week course could go a long way in helping future voters grow up with a clearer image of Parliament than many currently do.
(4) The House of Lords should establish a connection to the regions that at least matches its connection to the professions, which could still be possible via candidate selection procedures for ballots. Depending on an agreed capacity for a reformed House of Lords, one example suggested to achieve this was to use PR style elections that mirror the European Parliament regions.
(5) For one working week each year, Parliament should operate outside of the capital in another town or city. Pre-planning and organisation would allow for appropriate locations to be selected, with the goal of achieving an evident local presence and to focus attention on the town, city or region whilst also performing all constant duties. Parties could even disclose in their manifestos what locations they would operate out of for the single yearly week and for what reasons, such as a Conservative manifesto for Westminster pledging to operate cabinet from Aberdeen for a week in year one in order to focus on the oil industry and the cohesion of the union, year two from Newcastle to address economic under-performance within the region etc. If done properly, without the idea of being an exhibition, a populist opportunity or holiday from London/Edinburgh, it could counter claims of a government that is “out of touch” or too centralised in the capital. It may even allow some essential maintenance work to be carried out in Westminster.
Michael Jobson, first year student in Politics at the University of Strathclyde.