What really happens during parliamentary recess?

In an email warning to staff, Paul Grice, the Chief Executive at Holrood said the attack targeted parliamentary IT accounts. Picture: JP
In an email warning to staff, Paul Grice, the Chief Executive at Holrood said the attack targeted parliamentary IT accounts. Picture: JP
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The last day of the parliamentary term has a definite last day of school feel.

Cheekier questions tend to get asked and there’s generally more levity to parliamentary debates.

Both Holyrood and Westminster have now broken up for their summer recess - or, to use the House of Commons’ archaic language, it has ‘risen’.

Such breaks in the Holyrood calendar are often referred to by non-politicans as nothing more than a summer holiday for MSPs.

But do our politicians really need to be in a debating chamber to represent us?

A welcome break

Politicians are, of course, human, and deserve holidays like everyone else - even if recess seems a lot longer than the average workers’ break.

There were eyebrows raised this week, however, when Prime Minister Theresa May let it be known that she was going off on a three week walking holiday.

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While 21 days of strolling doesn’t necessarily sound like fun to some people, questions were asked about how appropriate it was for the Tory leader to be in the Swiss Alps in the midst of crises, both political and constitutional.

Most politicians will take at least some form of break in this period - though many backbench MSPs and MPs, especially those not in safe seats, will be unlikely to take as long a sojourn as the PM.

That said, there are few longserving politicians who won’t have a horror story about a summer by-election or domestic crisis interrupting their holiday.

Getting back to basics

MSPs will object to the notion that the recess allows them to ‘return’ to their constituency as they are usually in their own patch at least one day when parliament isn’t sitting.

But the summer break is possibly the only time when, non-ministers at least, get to spend an extended period of time among their constituents outwith the election period.

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Most politicians will undertake something akin to a public ‘tour’ of their constituency which will involve making sure they are a visible face during the summer months.

Parliamentary work will still go on, with committee papers to be pored over, and potential bills and questions still submitted to authorities.

But the main focus of a politician’s time during the break is to make sure that their diary is still relatively full, with a focus on local events and eye-catching campaigning.

While another Westminster election seems unlikely any time soon, and the next Holyrood vote is years away, many politicians will use the added time in their own patch to knock doors, shake hands, and get a better measure of the mood among voters than one can get during the parliamentary term.

Something different

The aforementioned ‘silly season’ impression means that some politicians will go the extra mile during the summer recess.

Some will choose the relatively quiet period to lunch a new pet project, perhaps a campaign or a private members’ bill.

Things that politicians might normally be too busy for can suddenly become priorities, for example First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s trip to see the Scottish women’s football team in Holland.

Inverclyde MSP Stuart McMillan has a particularly novel way of keeping busy for a good cause during recess.

The parliamentary piper has just finished undertaking a challenge to play the bagpipes at all 42 of Scotland’s senior football grounds in just five days to benefit three charities.