The Scottish Parliament Information Centre or SPICe has a fairly straightforward objective. Simply put we are here to meet the Parliament’s needs for impartial research and information because only well informed MSPs can contribute fully to the governance of Scotland.
SPICe was established at the very beginning of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. It was a unique situation; there are so few examples of establishing new parliamentary information services. We were deliberately not called a library because we wanted to present ourselves as a unified research and information team with one collection of stock. We were able to leave the weight of parliamentary traditions behind and build something truly fit for the 21st century.
My colleagues on the research side spend their days fully immersed in their specialist subjects or attending Committee meetings. MSPs, as political representatives and policy makers, are expected to understand, comment and legislate on a wide range of complex issues. There is now a wealth of information available, on almost any topic you care to imagine to help them in their task. Indeed there is too much information and it is often slanted towards a particular viewpoint. The researchers filter, analyse and repackage the material into a form which is accurate, impartial, balanced, current and importantly alive and readily usable by our Members.
I only came to SPICe very recently from a long career in law firm libraries and a foray into the public sector at HM Treasury and Scottish Enterprise. Working in SPICe is very challenging. The Parliament has a vibrant and positive atmosphere that values improvement. Team working is good. It is a fast moving environment which can be driven by what is happening in the news one day and gone tomorrow, it can be hard to keep up.
One aspect which took me by surprise, twice in the first week of my job to be precise, was the challenge of politicisation. Parliamentary information services are vulnerable to being brought into the political and public arena. Each of our 129 customers are independently-minded political animals who can and do quote our responses and words in public and on the record. And as parliamentary officials there is no public opportunity for reply even if we have been misquoted. Impartiality and objectivity are crucial elements of our work and it is a fascinating balancing act.