Organisations across the third sector invest significantly in developing solutions to the challenges that face people and communities in Scotland. Highlighting these policy solutions to political parties is central to making many of these ideas a reality and improving the lives of the communities that organisations across the sector work for and with. So how can the sector most effectively engage with Scotland’s political parties to progress their policy proposals? SCVO decided to ask the experts by hosting a series of, ‘Meet the Researcher’, events for members of SCVO’s Policy Officers Network. At the events members have the opportunity to meet party researchers from across the political spectrum who will share their party’s approach to policy making.
At the first event of the series, 25 members of the network had the chance to quiz, Jennie Gollan, from SNP Headquarters and Leanne Dobson, Senior Researcher at SNP Central Office, on all things SNP.
The SNP researchers tend to work at either SNP Headquarters, SNP Central Office, Westminster, or with an MSP or MP.
SNP Headquarters largely engages the 200 SNP member’s branches across Scotland; dealing with enquiries from the public, and SNP members, working with local government and councillors, and taking a lead on the party’s conferences.
Based at Holyrood, SNP Central Office focuses on supporting SNP backbench MSPs. The team includes three press officers and four and a half researchers who each work on two or three portfolio areas. The team prepare briefings on parliamentary business and support MSPs on everything from Committee work to Questions.
The researchers from both offices are therefore well place to support those keen to engage the party and offered a number of valuable do’s and don’ts:
1. Don’t share your briefing with every MSP
Central Office prepare briefings for MSPs on pretty much everything. Send briefings to the team at least 24 hours before a debate for it to be attached alongside their briefing to MSPs, earlier if you hope to be cited it in their briefing. Briefings on issues not supported by the party will still be highlighted separately as rebuttal points.
2. Do share your briefing with SPiCE
SPiCE prepare briefings on everything. Briefings shared with SPiCE may be cited in their briefs which are highlighted to all MSPs and researchers ahead of debates.
3. Do keep it short
A good briefing is 2-3 pages and includes a summary box and personalised local information for MSPs, such as case-studies, local examples or statistics. Briefings not used for a debate which include local information may encourage a press release from the MSP.
4. Do find out which MSPs are speaking during a debate
Finding out who is speaking at a debate can allow you to produce a few constituency specific briefings for MSPs who you know will speak. Central Office are happy to provide a list of confirmed speakers for a debate, just ask.
5. Do share additional information for speeches with parliamentary staff
MSPs have constituency and parliamentary staff. Their parliamentary staff tend to draft their speeches.
6. Do share information for Committee Meetings with the research team
Researchers from Central Office meet with SNP MSPs ahead of Committee meetings. Share anything your organisation is keen to have raised the evening before the meeting.
7. Do contact Central Office about Portfolio Questions
Central Office contact MSPs to ask if they have something in mind when they are selected for questions. Share localised questions MSPs may be interested in with the team.
8. Do approach Central Office if you need support encouraging SNP MSPs along to Cross Party Groups (CPGs), roundtables and other meetings
The research team are happy to encourage backbench MSPs along.
9. Do work with SNP Branches to get new issues on the agenda
SNP branches hold their own meetings throughout the year which influence the SNP’s very early policy development. A limited number of resolutions from branches will go to conference or national council where decisions are made about future policy.
Branches often invite guest speakers. Keen to highlight new policy concerns to the SNP? Contacting a few branches with an offer to speak could be the place to start.
10. Do request a Manifesto meeting with researchers at SNP Headquarters
The SNP usually start work on their manifesto in the summer the year before an election. Organisations with policy ideas are encouraged to get in touch with SNP Headquarters to request a meeting. Manifesto meetings tend to take place over recess.
11. Do liaise with Headquarters on SNP Party Conference Fringes and stands
Keen to have an SNP MSP speak at your fringe event? Contact SNP Headquarters who will be sent a form asking you to list three speakers in order of preference.
To encourage MSPs to visit you stand, send round a note to let MSPs know you will be at conference, what you will highlight. Include a link to any related reports and invite them to come along to your stand to learn more and get a photo.
12. Do let Central Office know when planning an email campaign
Planning an email campaign? Let the research team know. There may be an opportunity to meet ahead of your campaign and reach an agreement.
In short, if you are keen to highlight something to SNP MSPs, start by engaging with the party’s researchers!
Thanks to Jennie Gollan and Leanne Dobson, for sharing these tips and members of the Policy Officers Network for their questions.
If you are interested in finding out more about joining SCVO’s Policy Officers Network and our upcoming events email firstname.lastname@example.org