Opinion: An American Student in an Edinburgh Election – inside Alex Cole-Hamilton’s campaign

It is fairly common in American Universities for 3rd year students to go abroad for a semester.  Although I had many options, I eventually decided to come to Edinburgh, Scotland to intern with the Scottish Parliament.  The way my program is structured is that there was class for five weeks, an internship in parliament for 4, then once parliament dissolved we began working on a campaign up until polling day.  So that’s how, on March 22nd I came to be working with Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Central.  When I first met Alex I was sitting in Parliament with my academic advisor, my MSP- Glasgow Regional Representative Robert Brown- Alex, and Alex’s volunteer supervisor Emma. I wasn’t sure what to expect but Alex made his presence known immediately.  Waiting in the lobby for Robert to let us in, Alex walked straight up to me, goes “You look American, you must be Jillian.” I was a little caught off guard, but in a good way of course.  Alex then immediately began telling me about the program, everything I would be doing, and how lucky I was to be working for the “hottest” campaign in Scotland.  When the meeting finally ended and I was able to come up for air, I knew that I was about to be part of something very special.  From the beginning Alex took the time to find out what I was interested in, how I saw myself helping his campaign, and how I wanted to get involved further.  He was also already very aware of the differences and challenges I would be facing transferring from an American political system to a Scottish one.

I have had some campaign experience before this internship with the Obama campaign in Georgia.  Because Alex had worked on Obama’s campaign as well we’ve had a lot to talk about, and a lot of ideas to compare.  However, over the past few weeks I’ve realized that although the Obama campaign no doubt prepared me for this internship, it was a very different experience.  American campaigns are so much faster and more unregulated than Scottish that you can pretty much never guess what you’ll be doing or how people will respond to your actions.  This quality allows American campaigns to be very fluid and creative because there is very little limiting how to reach out to people, however the uncertainty and mania of an American election also leads to a lot of disorganization and uncertainty in many strategies.  Alex’s campaign however takes the best of the American system without opening itself up to the worst.  He encourages his volunteers to come up with their own ideas, he allows his campaign the freedom to individually target voters and be creative in its communication strategies, but most importantly he takes the time to make sure that every volunteer, and through them every voter, is happy and feels like their wishes are being met.  There is no uncertainty or frustration in Alex’s campaign, there is simply quiet inspiration and the knowledge that you’re working for someone who genuinely cares about what’s best for the people. I’m not sure if this is something that Alex learned while campaigning for Barack Obama, but I doubt it.  A simple five-minute conversation with Alex proves, even to a clueless American like me, that he lives for this job, that he wants to help make Edinburgh Central a better place, and that he is never happier than when he’s talking to a voter about how to do that.

Working for Alex’s campaign has been incredibly strenuous and I would be lying if I said there weren’t times when I questioned my sanity in doing this program, but I in no way regret my decision.  Working with Alex and on the Edinburgh Central Campaign has reminded me that there are still politicians out there who genuinely care about the people and aren’t simply looking to advance their own careers.  Alex’s inspires me the same way Obama inspired me in 2008, and I hope that when I return home after the elections I will be able to transfer a little bit of that inspiration into my own life and my search for a future that means something.

Posted as part of Caron Lindsay’s Elections, Referendums and Lib Dem Achievements Guest Editor Day

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This entry was posted in News, Op-eds and Scotland.
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