Parkinson's in the corridors of power

Tom Mason is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), representing people in the North East Scotland Region. He also has Parkinson’s. Here, he shares the impact living with the condition has had on his political life.  

As a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), I’m expected to attend Parliament in Edinburgh at least 3 days a week, including First Minister’s Question Time, debates and votes on key legislation.

There are lobbying receptions most nights and the much less visible committee work where legislation is shaped. Then back to Aberdeen for constituency visits and surgeries.

It’s a demanding role, but a great privilege, no matter which side of the benches you sit on. It also however, comes with its challenges for someone like me with Parkinson’s. 

Parkinson’s makes easy tasks hard and challenging tasks even more difficult.

Public speaking

I am generally quite quiet and do not interject in debates much. The speeches I deliver are competent but not exciting. I find it difficult to sound convincing when I am reading a speech or posing a question to Ministers, but I have had to give up making impromptu speeches.

I need a clear head in order to gather what it is I’m about to say, to breathe at the right places, to ensure flow within my statement and to actually think about what I am saying in order to answer any subsequent questions. These may sound like things anybody does naturally, but when in the high-pressure moment of standing in Parliament, with cameras pointing at you, presentation requires strong concentration.

Parkinson’s has also caused me problems with my voice – volume and projection, and articulation. I did complete a Lee-Silverman Voice Training course last year though, and it has been a real help in dealing with some of these challenges. 

Political aides 

In my role, I have to attend meetings with a range of people, such as NHS, Police or Local Government representatives, constituents or businesses with problems or concerns that they want expressed at a national level. In all these meetings, it’s important I understand the key facts, so I can use the power and influence I may have, to try and help the individual or institution.

But Parkinson’s can make it very difficult to listen what is being said, understand it, and make notes. Fortunately, Parliament allows members with certain conditions to have a slightly increased staff budget, so I have an assistant who writes everything down while I can concentrate on listening and exploring the issues with the people I meet.  

I find people I meet really supportive, especially when they remark how pleased they are that someone...is actually representing them in Parliament.

Representation

Parkinson’s makes easy tasks hard and challenging tasks even more difficult. It tends to undermine my confidence somewhat, and I do wonder if I am making sufficient impact in Holyrood Chamber as a result.

But I find people I meet really supportive, especially when they remark how pleased they are that someone – who is well past the three score years and ten span and who has a progressive condition – is actually representing them in Parliament.

There is a need for those of us in older and disadvantaged groups to have a voice speaking for them in the ‘corridors of power’ and I will not let my condition stop me from being that for my constituents.  

Find out more about speech and communication problems in Parkinson's.