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Career Summary:

I started as a civil servant in Edinburgh before moving to a small consultancy in London with clients in Brussels. I moved to Edinburgh as a consultant before running communications in Scotland and Northern Ireland for a UK-wide NDPB. I am now a Director at a small but growing company in Edinburgh.

Academic/Professional Qualifications:

BA (Hons) Politics, University of Stirling

How did you get into Public Affairs?

I wrote to every consultancy I could find on the, then very new, site with a copy of my CV. I then kept chasing until one of them, fortunately, gave me a job as an Account Executive.

What does your current role entail on a day to day basis?

It’s a total cliché but no two days are the same. One day it is what appears dry data entry to a spreadsheet, then it’s a public exhibition on a new development, a more strategic discussion with a Scottish Government Minister or planning the company’s business growth strategy and securing new business. Always interesting is the only common theme!

During your career, you’ve operated in Westminster, Scotland and Northern Ireland: what are the differences in public affairs practice?

I think the devolved administrations have started with a culture of openness from the beginning which can be helpful in Public Affairs, although it can lead to the public misunderstanding the role of good public affairs work. Seeing the development of devolution in both Scotland and Northern Ireland has been fascinating, both proceeding on their own different tracks and at different speeds but with some common themes - namely that most politicians are genuinely there to work to make their constituents lives better.

Do you think public affairs is growing or decreasing in importance within your consultancy clients (and in Scotland in general)?

I think it is changing. At the beginning of devolution, there was a lot of legislation that hadn’t been updated for decades because of limited time at Westminster so that took up a large part of the first term or two at Holyrood. Now, with less urgency on the legislative side, public affairs has become important in shaping detail of policy and guidance but the frantic last-minute legislative lobbying has probably decreased a bit.

What are the differences between working for a charity versus consultancy?

I think the main difference is the commercial aspect. The charity I worked for was hugely varied in its scope, more than most I would think, which is quite similar to consultancy if you treat those different areas in the same way as you would different clients.

Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have worked on?

As with a lot of people, it’s probably my first which was lobbying on a piece of legislation in Brussels relating to the Kyoto Protocol. Lots of dashing around, drinking too much coffee in the European Parliament, too many early mornings on the Eurostar before, finally, winning a vote in Committee by 2 and then in Plenary by 15.

What do you enjoy about working in public affairs?

The constant changing aspect of the job. Policy is always developing, the politics of an issue keep changing and the wider context in which you are working keeps evolving. Understanding and explaining that to clients can be very rewarding. I would also say the variety is another key factor – it’s not usually very glamorous work but it is very interesting.

What skills and characteristics are most important in your job?

Adaptability, explaining complex issues quickly and understanding other people’s perspectives and motivations.

What are the challenges for the Scottish public affairs industry over the next five years?

I think finding out what will happen post 2014 referendum is crucial. Whatever the result, I don’t think Scottish politics and the powers of Holyrood will stay the same for very long. There will be implications, or perhaps opportunities, for industries who currently might not see Scotland as important to their business. For those of us working in public affairs, we need to use our intelligence to anticipate what they might be and make sure the voices of different sectors are heard during policy development.

What's your prediction for the Scottish Independence Referendum result?

Now, now, you can’t expect me to answer that too directly! I don’t think the polls will really start to tell a story until the start of 2014 when the wider public really start engaging with the issue but I think the result will be quite close either way.  The only “prediction” I will give is that I think Scottish politics will change significantly by 2020 no matter what the result.

Quick-Fire Round  
Favourite restaurant for a business lunch Iris, Thistle Street
LinkedIN or Twitter? Twitter
Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less Civil Service, London, Brussels, Edinburgh. Consultancy to in-house and back again!It’s been interesting and fun.Hope it stays that way.
What’s your Media diet? BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Website, Radio 4, Herald, Scotsman, Local Press.
Favourite Film Right now, Skyfall
Guilty pleasure Well, being Scottish, it’s the occasional Bruichladdich Malt

Read Graeme Downie's advice for students and recent graduates in the GraduateForward Advice Centre where he answers questions including: How relevant is Degree subject for a public affairs career? What skills and characteristics are most important in your job? What advice would you offer to graduates seeking to break into the Scottish public affairs industry?

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