A nine-week break basking in the summer heatwave is a luxury that most people tied to the work treadmill cannot begin to imagine. But that is the length of the Scottish Parliament’s summer recess, which this year saw business end on 30 June and will not see MSPs return to Holyrood until 2 September.
Given that MSPs earn a more than comfortable salary of £62,149, a two-month break seems rather indulgent. The impression of a cushy number is reinforced when Holyrood’s nine-week break is compared with the six-week Westminster recess.
Legislatures elsewhere in the world do not seem so generous when it comes to time away from parliament. In Italy, for example, the parliament takes off a month from the second week in August until the first week of September.
The Welsh Assembly has a lengthy summer recess, but at eight weeks it is still some way short of Holyrood. On Capitol Hill, the US Senate and the House of Representatives typically have a seven-week break, although it is shorter in the Senate this year.
So what exactly do MSPs do when parliament isn’t sitting for the whole of July and August?
The answer, at least in part, can be provided by a survey by The Scotsman of the activities of Scotland’s political leaders over the period.
So if you are Tory leader Ruth Davidson you bash Boris at the Fringe by the Sea and write your Scotsman newspaper column.
If you are Willie Rennie, Scottish Lib Dem leader, you spend some time on a fishing vessel in the North Sea and if you are Green co-convener Patrick Harvie you combine a holiday in Galway with a speech at the West Belfast Festival.
If you are Labour leader Richard Leonard you fly home from your holiday in Italy and Crete into his party’s anti-Semitism storm. Almost as soon as he was off the plane, Mr Leonard was in the radio studios trying to defend his UK leader Jeremy Corbyn.
And if you are Nicola Sturgeon, the business of government continues. There has been a meeting with Theresa May over Brexit, other official engagements and publicity stunts such as conducting an orchestra at the opening of the Glasgow 2018 European Athletic Championships and even attempting to play the guitar.
All this has been combined with a staycation with husband and SNP chief executive Peter Murrell touring antiquarian bookshops. According to Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, the recess is the calm before the Brexit- inspired storm. Although in one important respect things have been quiet. Despite the SNP publishing its independence blueprint in the form of Andrew Wilson’s Growth Commission, there has been relatively little pro-indy rhetoric from the party’s key figures.
“The way it has been quiet is that the SNP has not been campaigning about independence,” said Professor Curtice.
“If it were true that Nicola Sturgeon was strongly minded to try and say this autumn there should be an independence referendum, you might have thought that she would have been getting the troops out and making speeches about the subject.”
But in the meantime, there are the more mundane matters of constituency business – although there happens to be 56 list MSPs without a constituency. Part of the rationale behind such a long break is that it gives MSPs a chance to concentrate on their constituents as well as take a summer break. All of the political leaders with the exception of Mr Harvie conduct constituency surgeries. The Green list MSP says he has never found surgeries an efficient way of communicating with people and prefers to organise appointments to meet people “one on one” or liaise with them over email and social media. For those who believe the recess is too long,
Professor Curtice argues that it can give MSPs respite from the long hours at Holyrood, particularly for those commuting long distances. There is time to catch up with correspondence and campaign on behalf of the party. “Having a spell when you can take a break and be in the one place and recover from the inevitable wear and tear the lifestyle creates might be thought necessary for the health of the body politic,” he said.