IT was like the first day at a new school, said one of the 51 new MSPs taking their places at the Scottish Parliament – everyone had to get to know each other, find their way around and discover where the loos are.
The new batch of Holyrood politicians turned up yesterday for an “orientation” course, introduced for the first time to help novice MSPs understand how the place works..
“The parliament people were great,” said Alex Cole-Hamilton, new Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western. “They laid on individual guides and mentors for all of us to take us through the motions of getting set up with IT, finding our temporary offices, getting passes and the security stuff sorted and a whirlwind tour of the estate.”
The outgoing presiding officer Tricia Marwick hosted a lunch for the new MSPs.
“I sat next to the presiding officer,” said Mr Cole-Hamilton. “I felt like a naughty schoolboy being kept close to the headteacher.”
Then there was a group photo on the steps in the garden lobby and a session in the chamber to learn about procedure, etiquette and how to work the microphones and voting buttons.”
New Lothian list MSP, Tory Miles Briggs, already knows his way around the building, having spent ten years working as an adviser to MSPs.
“I’m a poacher turned gamekeeper,” he said. “But I hope it gives me the opportunity to get working straight away and hit the ground running.
“A lot of the new people may never have even been in the building, so people are getting lost because the building looks quite similar wherever you go.”
He said the presiding officer and the parliament team had put a lot of effort into supporting the new intake. “That wasn’t done before. It used to be new MSPs were shown to their office and that was it.”
And he said there was also an attempt to ensure people got to know each other across the party divide.
He said: “At the lunch we were deliberately seated to be mixed because the parties can be quite bad at not speaking. I don’t mean we all have to be chums, but we have to work together.”
Mr Briggs said he already had a pile of emails to deal with – and the first one was about potholes. “It was from a woman I met during the campaign. I said if I was elected she should get in touch – and she has, straight away.”
Labour’s Daniel Johnson, MSP for Edinburgh Southern, was also getting used to his new role.
“What a privilege to be here – and what a responsibility,” he said. “That’s what my mind is full of – what can I do to make sure parliament delivers for people in South Edinburgh? And I’ve been absolutely charmed by Tricia Marwick – she was so welcoming and she has given me warm words of advice that are going to stay with me.”
An ecumenical service takes place at St Giles’ Cathedral tomorrow for the “Kirking of the Parliament”.
And all 129 MSPs elected last week will be sworn in on Thursday, the same day as a new presiding officer is chosen.
Nicola Sturgeon will be formally elected by the parliament as First Minister next week.