When the Scotland Act of 1998 declared, “There shall be a Scottish Parliament”, the churches in Scotland saw their campaign for devolution come to an end and a new era of Scottish politics beginning.
The Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office (SCPO) was set up in 1999 as a response to this momentous decision, and its vision was to build a fruitful relationship between the churches in Scotland and the new Parliament, and help them to engage effectively in the political process.
Rev Dr Graham Blount was the first Parliamentary Officer when the office opened in 1999 on Johnston Terrace, near Edinburgh Castle, while the Scottish Parliament was based in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. In 2004, the Scottish Parliament moved to its permanent home at the bottom of the Royal Mile, and in 2006, the office moved down the Mile to the Scottish Storytelling Centre. A few years later, the office relocated to share a premises with Scottish Churches Housing Action at 44 Hanover Street, before moving to 121 George Street where it remains today.
The office began with a staff of two – a Parliamentary Officer and secretary – but the budget provision allowed for a part-time Research Officer after two years. This later became a full-time post with Scottish Government funding.
As the SCPO team gradually expanded, the capacity of the office to produce more output increased. The office initially only covered Holyrood, but in June 2005, it also began to cover Westminster. This added dimension has proved useful for a number of issues that churches are interested in, but which do not fall within the remit of the Scottish Parliament.
The main focus of SCPO continues to be on resourcing the churches through monthly updates and briefings, ensuring that the churches’ contributions to public debates – whether from local churches, individual denominations or shared ecumenical responses – are timely and well-informed.
In partnership with other faith communities, the office helped to establish “Time for Reflection” – the weekly Parliamentary slot in which representatives of Scotland’s faith communities offer a reflective “Thought for the Day”. SCPO also initiated the annual Parliamentary Carol Service.
In December 2008, Rev Dr Graham Blount left SCPO and was replaced in March 2009 by Ms Chloe Clemmons. When Chloe was on maternity leave, the role was covered by David Bradwell, the current Refugee Coordinator for Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees.
In December 2015, Irene MacKinnon joined Chloe as a Research and Resource Officer for SCPO.
The first ‘Time for Reflection’ at the Scottish Parliament – 27 Oct 1999