What Geography Mean To Me
Senior Research Specialist, Scottish Parliament Information Centre
Think about your favourite view. If you’re wistfully wishing you’d rather be there, then you’re having the same thoughts I have about Machrihanish Bay in Kintyre.
Your favourite view has been shaped by elected decision takers and law makers, affecting policy areas including planning, forestry, agriculture, architecture, natural heritage and environmental protection. Politics shapes our landscapes, and our future.
My job is to inform politicians. I’m privileged to work in Scotland’s Parliament (not for the Scottish Government – there’s a difference!). I try to contextualise issues that are sometimes best considered from a height. Think of the issues that could be analysed from Dundee Law, or Fort Dunadd, or using satellite imagery – wind farms, planning, marine environment, sea level rise, coal-fired power stations, aviation, protected areas, native species – these all come across my desk.
Politicians are only folk and are as capable as anyone of applying reasoning to understand why things are as they are. However Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) cannot be experts on every subject they are expected to comment and vote on. The Parliament supports them with 20 impartial researchers. I am one of these, covering climate change, energy, sustainable development and environment.
On a day-to-day basis this means supporting Parliamentary committees as they scrutinise legislation, most recently the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill, or as they hold inquiries into key issues, such as Scotland’s energy future. I respond to information requests from MSPs – from constituency issues (‘my constituent’s neighbour is polluting a watercourse’) to scrutiny of Government (‘I’ve a slot at First Minister’s Questions’) to policy development (‘I want to introduce plastic bags legislation’). I also write published briefings on important issues, whether high profile or not (Personal Carbon Allowances or International Polar Year).
My route to the Parliament involved studying geography and environmental science at the University of Dundee, before further postgraduate environmental studies at Strathclyde. I volunteered and worked with the Prince’s Trust and Community Service Volunteers Environment programme, before working with Energy Action Scotland, a charity campaigning for energy efficiency and against fuel poverty.
Why haven’t I really mentioned ‘geography’ yet? The phrase goes “if you don’t do politics you don’t do much”. Geography is even more all-encompassing – geographers must use the discipline to help decision takers and law makers better understand the context in which their musings will be played out. That’s what I try to do.
This article was written for the Autumn 2009 edition of The Geographer.