By Fergus Cochrane, Head of Scottish Parliament’s International Relations Office
As a young and evolving parliament, the Scottish Parliament is keen to share its experience with other parliaments across the world and our increased engagement with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) over recent years has contributed to that aim.
The Scottish Parliament’s International Strategy sets out how our international work can support the Parliament’s strategic objectives. We want to maintain our reputation as an open, accessible and participative Parliament, willing to learn from and assist other legislatures whilst supporting the development of our own international relationships.
There are three elements to our Strategy: Policy, Parliaments; and Organisations. The Policy element identifies the issues that are central to us and on which we will seek to develop relationships with, and learn from, other parliaments. Our Strategic Plan ensures that the issues important to us as a Parliament are at the core of our international relations activities. It is these issues which will largely inform why, when and who we seek to work with internationally. However, we have developed strong and meaningful partnerships with other parliaments, through our key partnership with WFD and its parliamentary strengthening programme and look forward to supporting this work in the future. This falls neatly into the ‘Parliaments’ and ‘Organisations’ elements of our Strategy.
A key part of this work has been consolidating relationships with other parliaments in areas where we can offer expert advice such as financial oversight, research support, and strategic planning.
For many of the parliaments we work with, this relationship begins with a visit to Holyrood where delegations are exposed to ‘how we do things here’. As an evolving Parliament, and where there has been a devolution of further powers since 1999, it can be interesting for delegations to see how the Scottish Parliament, as a unicameral parliament, scrutinises the use of these powers. For example, how our committees (and procedures) are responding to the newly devolved tax powers. However, it is also of interest and importance to learn about other parliaments, to hear and learn of their approaches and how they do things.
We have been involved with the Western Balkans network for a few years now although since 2015 that has been focused on the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia and its establishment, through the WFD, of a Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) which will support more effective financial oversight by the Assembly and government accountability.
Colleagues here have partnered with WFD’s Belgrade office on the preparation and implementation of the first 100-day work plan of the PBO, including developing its training academy and modules, supporting the secondment to the Scottish Parliament of the PBO researchers in March 2016 and general support (and friendship), on-the-job coaching and mentorship sessions.
Jordan is another example where we have provided key support and started to build fundamental relationships. David McGill, Assistant Chief Executive at the Scottish Parliament, has provided instrumental support on strategic planning for the House of Representatives in Amman, meeting with the Secretary General and the leadership of the Parliament as well as all the Heads of Departments. He has been able to ascertain and collate the needs and priorities of parliamentary staff to feed into a strategic plan modeled on the Scottish Plan. By conducting comprehensive sessions on our strategic planning experience, the principles behind strategic planning, and the methodologies for implementation and monitoring and evaluation, David has provided comprehensive feedback and mentoring to the House on the final draft of the Strategic Plan that was submitted to the Secretary General for consideration in late September 2016.
David has also collaborated with WFD in similar work with the House of Representatives in Morocco and in March the Scottish Parliament will proudly host both parliaments for joint discussions on this important issue.
In the coming weeks and months, we will work with the WFD and its programmes in Montenegro, Kenya, Bahrain, and Sri Lanka. We look forward to working with the WFD, and its parliamentary partners, in the future, adding value where we can and sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences.