A Day in the Life
Prior to being elected an MEP last May, I had spent some eight years in Brussels working on behalf of Scottish Parliamentarians, and several years before that lobbying on behalf of Scottish fishermen. During that time I made many valuable connections, and I learned the ropes. It meant that when I was elected last year, I was able to hit the ground running.
Before I get to a ‘day in the life’, it is worth sketching out what a ‘month in the life’ looks like. Two weeks are spent in Brussels on committee business. I sit on three, of which I delve into more below. One week is (inconveniently) spent in Strasbourg, where the parliament votes on law (maintaining the second parliament building and shuttling between the two costs €300m a year). The final week is spent in the constituency, which given I have the biggest constituency in the EU, is quite a challenge. I have an office in Perth but usually find myself hither and yon: talking to fishermen in Lerwick, students in Glasgow, distillers in Perth, farmers in the Borders. Thank goodness I have a full time member of staff in Scotland solely focused on the concerns of constituents!
Staff are integral to doing my job. You can’t be in more than once place at a time, but the team can be. I sit on three committees: Environment, Fisheries and Industry, Energy & Research. Each committee is covered by a staff member. The committees are where law begins, and so my team helps me to get on top of a range of briefs. In the last year I have secured amendments protecting Scottish North Sea oil interests, delivered financial provision for fishermen, and secured a reprieve for the electricity generators on Scotland’s islands.
So the morning begins with the team. Working out what is coming up and what I must do. I am one of the Parliament’s delegates to the December UN Climate Change conference in Paris, so a lot of my work is presently focused on global warming. In the last few weeks I have conducted morning meetings with the Ambassadors of several South Asian countries, in my capacity as Vice Chair of the Parliament’s South Asia Delegation, to talk about the impact of climate change. In the Autumn I will be working with the Maldives Government to highlight the challenges facing the lowest lying country in the world.
Looking forward is also key to getting things done. Preparations are already underway for the December fisheries negotiations. So telephone calls are scheduled with fishermen and processors, scientists and officials. The talks this year are all the more important because of the impending discard ban.
During Committee weeks, afternoons (and the following mornings too!) are taken up with discussion and debate. The key people in committee debates are the individuals nominated by their political group to lead negotiations (rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs). They are the folks who meet to hammer out the law both in public and in private. I am currently a shadow rapporteur on 8 dossiers, each with the potential to impact upon Scotland, for good or ill. It is therefore essential to talk to those affected and to hear their concerns. Where possible I amend the proposals (and seek agreement from my fellow negotiators; not always easy). Again, this is where the team is vital.
I am the chair of my Group’s policy forum on the Rural Economy. To date I have convened public meetings on CAP reform, obstacles to economic development and hosted Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. I am about to chair a session on rural broadband, and have been working closely with my colleague Vicky Ford MEP, chair of the Internal Market Committee on the digital agenda. Later in the year sessions are planned on the challenges facing islands and on rural poverty.
I am also the British Conservative Chief Whip, which means that during Strasbourg weeks I am responsible for managing the votes. No easy task when some proposed laws can have upwards of a hundred amendments tabled. It is my job to work through each amendment and establish how it would impact the UK and whether we can support it. Not always an easy task, but I am well supported by my party’s Whips Office. Most days will involve some discussion or meeting about upcoming dossiers.
Throughout each day, constituency matters are prioritised. Sometimes they are in the form of concerns about upcoming legislation, sometimes more general. Each constituent query is logged, and a response crafted. Sometimes I pass the issue on to a colleague back in Scotland, or to a fellow MEP. However, explaining what happens in Brussels is a key part of the role and I take it seriously. To that end I try to ‘blog’ about what is happening. Check out my website, www.ianduncan.org.uk, where you will find details of free trade with the US, the impact of climate change on the Maldives, and details of the Fish Discard Ban. I try to write at least one blog a week. I am currently working on the situation in Bhutan, and preparations for the UN conference in Paris. So do look it up.
Evenings can involve policy meetings, receptions for Scots visiting, or sometimes just dinner with friends (who can’t quite work out why I seem to be busier than when I was here before!). All in all it is a busy day!