Rachel Fergusson tells us about a very different kind of gap year. Less full moon parties and more full plenary agendas…

When I made the decision to take an impromptu gap year late last summer, I didn’t have the faintest idea how the next 12 months were going to pan out. With a pitiful bank balance hovering barely above the cost of an Edinburgh-priced coffee and a hardly frugal ambition to move to London for university, the penny quickly dropped that a gap year gallivanting in South-East Asia, drinking from coconuts and encountering holistic-awakenings, was not on the cards. Once I’d swallowed the fact that my ‘Gap Yah’ was not going to be spent riding on the back of an elephant, I set out with determination and optimism to make my year at home as productive and as valuable as possible.

Being 18 years old, with relatively little work experience, I presumed getting a job or internship relating to my interests in policy or politics was near enough impossible. I was thrilled, then, when – somewhat miraculously after three months spent waitressing (dreadfully) and applying for various opportunities to no avail – I was offered an internship as a political monitoring assistant at newsdirect. The naïve boldness with which I applied started to dwindle as alarm about doing actual adult things, like sending emails and remembering to courteously offer coffee to other people before making one for myself, began to set in. How was my Modern Studies knowledge going to fare in an office of political know-it-alls versed on the ins and outs of the Scottish Parliament?

Five months later, I can confirm that the magnitude of political expertise concentrated in the newsdirect office is formidable (revealed by a rather terrifying Holyrood-themed quiz to celebrate Easter recess – though a task to name every MSP elected as an Independent since 1999 proved too much of a stretch). Nonetheless, I needn’t have worried about the limitations of my prior knowledge because I can’t think of a better place to have a million queries about how Scottish politics works; from the very first day, the newsdirect team were supportive, encouraging and more than willing to help me out. The office was so friendly that I felt less likely to be snubbed for arriving as a Microsoft rookie, though I don’t recommend it, than failing to adhere to the Friday afternoon cake-rota or the regular staff sweepstakes (the Grand National, Eurovision, the World Cup – you name it).

With cabinet rebellions, Brexit brinkmanship and constitutional showdowns unfolding left, right and centre, it’s hardly been a dull six months. The team keep up with every political twist and turn as they happen, and with the Parliament less than five minutes down the road, there is a real sense of being right in the thick of things. The nature of political monitoring means that newsdirect’s remit intersects with PR, policy and journalism, providing plenty of interesting dynamics. Gaining some experience in these areas has been immensely valuable. Aside from my dramatically improved IT skills (Ctrl+K and Ctrl+F have undoubtedly transformed my quality of life), I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt. I have no doubt that the skills I have developed over the past few months will stand me in good stead for the coming years at university and beyond.

Reporting on the previous day’s chamber decision time at 08:30 instead of stumbling through the door from a drunken night out, it’s been an alternative year to the average 18-year-old’s. But with the exception of trawling through the jargon-saturated European business on a Friday afternoon, I will sincerely miss working at newsdirect. After all, the thrill of setting up my first out of office email was an easy substitute for student life, right?


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