Lobbying is a way of informing your elected representative directly of your concerns and of securing their support and assistance on a particular issue. MSPs are generally very accessible and if you think they can help you, you should not hesitate to make contact. MSPs value information from their constituents, particularly if it is presented in a concise way.
MSPs can help in various different ways: by tabling questions to obtain information from the Scottish Government; by meeting or writing to Ministers; by putting forward your views during debates, committee meetings, or when talking to colleagues; by initiating debates; or by leading delegations to meet Ministers.
The BMA Scotland Public Affairs Office can provide a list of your local MSPs and their biographical details covering their political and personal background, areas of interest and attitudes on health-related issues. You will have one constituency MSP and seven regional MSPs to represent you and can choose which of them to contact.
The position held by an MSP will affect the way you make contact. For example, it is not normal practice for a member of the Scottish Government to publicly campaign on issues affecting other Government Departments, but the Minister can, of course, be very helpful in speaking privately to Ministerial colleagues and writing to their colleagues in their capacity as an MSP.
Approaching your MSP(s)
Where possible, try to involve doctors who live or work in the MSP's constituency or region. This carries more weight. MSPs receive a large volume of correspondence but their assistants will ensure they prioritise constituency correspondence. Failing that, stress that you are representing the MSP's local doctors when applicable.
Where to contact your MSP
- At the Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh EH99 1SP, or by telephoning the Scottish Parliament switchboard on 0131 348 5000. All post is efficiently forwarded to an MSP when necessary, even during Parliamentary recess
- The Scottish Parliament website is an excellent resource for finding your MSP, you can enter your postcode in the MSP section and the contact details and short biography will appear
- In the constituency: most MSPs maintain a local office in the area they represent. The location and contact details of these offices can be found through the Scottish Parliament website. Some MSPs organise regular surgeries in their constituency while others will arrange individual meetings when contacted. Details of MSP surgeries can usually be found on an MSP's website, advertised in local papers or via local libraries
When corresponding with MPs
- If you write a letter to more than one MSP at the Scottish Parliament, do not put all the letters in one envelope; Some MSPs have any post they receive in Parliament automatically forwarded to their constituency office
- Make sure you write individual correspondence with each MSP so that s/he does not feel they are receiving a standard letter, and vary any examples you give to be appropriate to the area an MSP represents. A standard letter an MSP receives multiple times is likely to attract a standard response
- Sign the letters personally
- Make sure your name and address (and position if relevant, eg LMC Chairman) are clearly indicated and can be understood by the MSP; if possible give a telephone number where you can be reached or messages left and an email address
- Give your correspondence a clear heading so that the MSP can easily identify the subject
- Start your correspondence by introducing yourself to the MSP; where possible write as a constituent from your home or place of work and, failing this, stress that you are representing the MSP's doctors
- Introduce the issue immediately
- Keep your correspondence short; if you want to go into detail, it is better to do this by enclosing a separate briefing paper or by arranging a meeting
- Where possible use examples, but take care that you can back them up (publicly if necessary)
- End your correspondence with a question so that the MSP has to think about a reply rather than just send you an acknowledgement; if you can't think of any specific questions, just say that you look forward to hearing the MSP's views on the situation
- If you have decided you want to meet the MSP personally, add a note that you will be contacting him/her to arrange a meeting.
Whenever a constituent asks for a meeting, an MSP is likely to agree. You may wish to have any meeting alone or involve other colleagues. It is preferable not to have more than three people involved. Prepare what you want to say in advance; if going along with colleagues, discuss between you the points you want to raise.
Make sure you have facts and figures to hand to back up the key points you want to make. Don't worry if faced with a question you can't answer – tell the MSP you will get back to them with the information. Leave the MSP with written information so that there is some record of the points you have raised. Try to have an idea of what you want the MSP to do, eg speak to the Minister with your concerns, contact the Health Board about your problems, raise the issue in the local press etc. The MSP may well have other suggestions.
Meeting at the Scottish Parliament:
- You will need to arrange an appointment in advance with the MSP if you wish to speak to them in Parliament. Ring their office at the Parliament (switchboard: 0131 348 5000) and speak to the MSP direct if you can or to their parliamentary assistant. Explain briefly the subject you want to discuss
- The normal sitting times of the Scottish Parliament are 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday to Thursday. MSPs are very often available at the Parliament at other times during the day, although they may be involved in Committees or other meetings. Many - particularly those in distant constituencies - return to their constituencies on Thursdays and may not return to Edinburgh until late in the day on Monday or Tuesday morning
- When visiting the Scottish Parliament enter via public entrance opposite Holyrood Park. Tell the security desk the name of the MSP you are meeting and you will be asked to wait until collected by the MSP or their staff
- Leave yourself plenty of time for your appointment as you will need to go through airport style security and there can often be large groups ahead of you in the queue; as your MSP has only limited time, you don't want to miss your appointment; if you are seeing more than one MSP at a time, leave plenty of time between appointments in case the first MSP is late or the meeting takes longer than planned. There is a public café within Parliament where you can wait.
Meeting in the constituency
MSPs are often in their constituencies on Fridays, over the weekend and Monday mornings. Some MSPs hold 'surgeries' in their constituencies where constituents can attend without an appointment and put a problem to them. The local library or constituency office will have details of times and venues. This is not ideal as the MSP will probably have a full waiting room and have to deal with all sorts of subjects ranging from housing to transport matters, but it could be useful if only to establish contact and fix a further, longer meeting.
Try to arrange a meeting elsewhere in the constituency where the MSP will have more time to spend with you.
Send the MSP a note of thanks for his/her time and give any information you had promised or points that you thought of afterwards.
Once contact has been made, either by personal meeting or correspondence, make sure you keep the MSP informed of any developments. The BMA Scotland Public Affairs Office is always happy to offer advice on meeting MSPs to members and may be able to suggest further actions you may wish to consider following a meeting.