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 a lifetime.
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 (SNP).
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 unreal.”
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.”
Contact: Kim Hill, (309) 556-3960