HEIs: University of Stirling and University of Strathclyde
Host organisation: The Scottish Parliament
Duration of the internship: Part-time over 12 months
My research project, entitled ‘Fiction(s) of Political Participation: Literature, Media and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum’, combines cultural, media and literary studies perspectives with contemporary politics to analyse how political participation was mediated during the Scottish independence referendum campaign from 2012 to 2014. As such, it investigates modes of representation, participation and mythmaking in and through literary and media text, with a specific focus on links between political claims, cultural practices, emerging narratives, representation, and public voice.
I am particularly interested in how text-based practices of public opinion formation processes as well as grassroots activism shaped an image of the referendum as a festival of democracy and political participation in the wider context of elite narratives and media coverage and how these practices promote, perform and (mis-)represent the different voices of the referendum debate.
Why did you decide to undertake an internship?
When I first heard about the SGSAH internship programme, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to gain some more practical skills, complete a short-term assignment and get to know a different working environment. I did not have a specific placement in mind but was hoping to work along the lines of culture and politics which are central to my research project and closely align with my personal interests. When I saw this internship placement advertised, I knew that I had to apply for it – it was perfectly placed at the intersection between politics, culture and media with a focus on social histories and oral histories, all of which feature heavily in my own research practice.
What was your internship and what did you do?
My internship was with The Scottish Parliament, more specifically the Parliament’s Oral History Project. This oral history project captures otherwise untold memories from those working within and for the Parliament. Oral history interviews with (former) MSPs, Parliament staff and Holyrood-based political journalists give a more personal insight into what working for the Parliament means, how the institution has changed over time, and how the Parliament has influenced people’s lives and political practices in Scotland. Given that The Scottish Parliament is far younger than the great majority of democratic legislatures around the world, this project offers the rare opportunity to speak with numerous individuals who were involved in its development ever since (and well before) its (re-)convening in 1999. Consequently, the project examines and records the entire lifespan of the Parliament through the stories and memories of those who have shaped it over the last decades and provides unique insights into lived history.
My internship continued and developed the work of a former SGSAH intern, who helped start the project and recorded a substantial number of interviews with MSPs, members of staff and Holyrood-based journalists. Some of these interviews were published on the project’s SoundCloud page and in the book publication “The Scottish Parliament In Its Own Words. An Oral History” (2019), edited by Thomas Stewart, as part of the Parliament’s 20th anniversary.
My key tasks during the internship included reviewing the existing materials in order to identify gaps and potential interviewees, conduct and record oral history interviews with former MSPs, members of staff, political advisors and Scottish political journalists who were formerly based with the Scottish Parliament, and develop the project focus and review its goals. The initial project phase was focused significantly on the Parliament’s 20th anniversary, so it fell to me to reshape the project for the future and devise new ways of focussing the project and engaging with the public: from identifying new ways for communicating the work undertaken as part of the project to the public and engage more effectively with stakeholders, to making the materials collected more accessible. In line with this, I revised some of the theoretical and practical approaches of the project and developed relationships with Parliament staff involved in the project as well as with interview subjects, including current and former Parliament staff, journalists and MSPs.
What aspects of the internship did you find most rewarding?
Sadly, the majority of my internship took place during a phase where remote working was mandatory, and I was unable to meet co-workers or interviewees in person and had very little opportunity to explore the Parliament building at Holyrood as a workplace. However, as with most oral history projects, meeting and engaging with interview participants is always fascinating, incredibly rewarding and – in my personal experience – adds a different ‘thrill’ to conducting research. In this respect, the Parliament’s oral history project did not disappoint either, not least since I was able to talk to a wide range of people who previously worked for or with the Parliament – from former employees to MSPs and political journalists. Listening to their experiences, personal stories and memories was informative, sometimes challenging, but mostly fascinating. Additionally, this was also a part of the project with clear and tangible outcomes – in contrast to some of the long-term changes to the project focus and KE strategies I worked on.
Has the internship influenced your future plans at all?
I have been passionate about the connection between politics, political participation and education, and culture and the arts for a long time and this project was the ideal opportunity to reflect further on some of these connections. I feel very strongly about the participation in and accessibility of democratic processes and can imagine working on projects which aim to make political practices more accessible and relatable in the future. Working with the Parliament on their oral history project allowed me to learn more about their efforts to document their work, inform the public and ensure that political processes are accessible to the people of Scotland. Additionally, this placement was an excellent way of learning more about how cultural formats, human stories, personal perspectives and political media can support such efforts of engaging with the wider public.
What are some of the skills you have picked up or improved through the internship?
This internship placement allowed me to develop a variety of skills, most notably it allowed me to develop my knowledge of the Scottish Parliament, its history and inner workings – not least how it is remembered by staff, MSPs and journalists over the years. Further to gaining new insights into the Scottish Parliament as a cultural and political institution, I also developed my teamworking and collaboration skills by working with and alongside a wide range of professionals – from civil servants and politicians of various political parties to political journalists across the board. Especially, where specific political interests are at stake, this can be quite a challenge and I learnt a lot about how to navigate some of the openly political, as well as distinctly apolitical, approaches to teamworking by those working within the Parliament.
Given my own use of oral history methods, the chance to conduct and review an existing, high-profile oral history project was invaluable and I became much more confident in my own skills and gained a lot more experience in this area of research. As a result, I was able to enhance my interviewing techniques, interpersonal and communicate skills and engage more confidently and effectively with different audiences.
Do you have any tips for researchers looking to do an internship?
This is a difficult one, but I would start with:
Do it! If you see an internship or are in a position to design an internship that fits in well with your (research) interests or potential career path, try to make the most of this opportunity and get a sense for whether this is something you can imagine doing in the future.
Be realistic about what you can achieve! It is easy to imagine the great things you could do while working on a project, but a fixed-term internship is quite a short period of time, even if undertaken part-time. There are always additional admin tasks and waiting periods to include into the planning, which limit some of the things you are able to achieve.
Try to have fun with it! Given the short timeframe, an internship is a fairly brief commitment (compared to a PhD) so definitely try to make the most of it and enjoy the time. If your heart is in it, fantastic. If not, enjoy the opportunity and walk away knowing that you will do something different in the future.
Where can people find out more?
The best way to find out more about the project is by listening to some of the oral history interviews that have been published on the project’s SoundCloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/scotparloralhistory.
The ones currently available here were recorded in 2018.
This article was published on 20 July, 2022.