Illinois Wesleyan Student Interning for Scottish Parliament
Sept. 17, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— For a politico like Illinois Wesleyan University student Michael
Kistner ’15, being part of a country's vote for independence was the opportunity of
Kistner interned for the Minister of Public Health in Scotland last year. A political
science major, Kistner was in Scotland to study abroad at the University of Edinburgh.
As part of his study abroad experience, he served as a research assistant for the
public health minister, Michael Matheson, a member of the Scottish National Party
Scotland will hold a referendum Sept. 18 to determine independence from the United
Kingdom, dissolving its 300-year political union with England.
“Because I worked for a Minister, I literally had a desk only a few feet away from
the First Minister of Scotland (the head of the Scottish government),” said Kistner,
a Bloomington, Ill. native. “I’ve been able to hear stories from people who have been
members of the SNP since the 1970s, when they were a tiny minority party and independence
seemed like a far-off dream.
“The excitement and energy surrounding the upcoming referendum, which for some people
represents a lifetime’s work of trying to make this happen, is incredible,” he added.
“Being part of such a momentous time in a country’s political history seems almost
Because Scotland’s legal system has remained separate from those of the other UK countries,
its political system has some distinct differences from both the UK and the U.S.
“The Parliament in Scotland has only one house,” explained Kistner. “Because of this,
evaluating and making improvements on bills when they’re suggested happens entirely
at the committee level by specialized groups of legislators.”
Kistner believed the U.S. could benefit from a more efficient lawmaking system by
eliminating the filibuster and other blocking mechanisms. He added, however, that
the U.S.’s firm conception of individual rights is a distinct advantage over the Scottish
system, which has no Bill of Rights.
“Working in a different country’s political sphere forces you to recognize what you
do well as a country, and what you can improve on,” Kistner said.
Kistner said he sought the internship in order to learn as much as he could about
different political systems.
“The biggest takeaway I’ve gotten is that politics comes down to doing the most for
people, and communicating to them what you’re doing,” Kistner said. “There can be
a lot of nastiness and ineffectiveness wherever you go, and Scotland’s no different.
But if you can find a way to make life better for the people you represent, and you
can manage to convince them that you have, everything else is just a side note.”