Spotlight: Neely Crane-Smith '06

By Nora Clancy

Where did you study abroad?

I studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. I interned in the Scottish Parliament for the semester. First I had five weeks of classes, then I spent the rest at the Parly.

How did you manage to secure a Parliament job?

When I was looking at study abroad, I knew I didn’t want to just take classes, and I didn’t want to do language immersion. They have parliamentary internships in Scotland and Australia. I chose Scotland to be closer to my family in Europe.

Describe your responsibilities in the Parliament.

I really lucked out because I got to work with the most amazing Scottish Parliamentarian ever. He had a specific project for me. Next year he is introducing a “Private Members” bill to change the verdict system of Scotland.

What are “private members?”

Everywhere except for Scotland has a guilty or not-guilty verdict. In Scotland they have three verdicts: guilty, not-guilty, and not proven, which is this weird grey area verdict that originated in the 18th century. There’s no one official description for what it really means. People are always confused about it. In 1992 a girl was murdered and it was a huge story because the man that was accused of murdering her was found “not proven.” Even though there was tons of physical evidence he was acquitted.

Who did you work with in the Parliament?

I worked with Michael McMahon, an elected member of Parliament from Hamilton North and Bellshill. He had never had an intern before. I answered phones and emailed and wrote a couple speeches for him.

Did you get along?

He was so cool very down to earth, and not at all what you would expect a politician to be like. He dropped out of school at 16 and was a welder for 17 years. He got really involved in the unions, and they wanted him to be a union leader so they sent him back to school. Then he got really involved in politics and got elected. Everyday he would pick me up, take me to the cafeteria and buy me lunch. We would talk about Scottish politics and what we thought was interesting. He was great. It was really hard to say goodbye.

Did he teach you anything extraordinary?

He got me hooked on Irn-Bru. There are only two countries in the world where a locally produced pop drink outsells Coca-Cola. It’s bright orange and kinda tastes like bubblegum. Nobody really knows what it is. There was a little fridge in my office, so he would buy me Irn-Bru and put it in there. I can’t find it here, which is killing me. It’s so good.

What was your project?

I did a lot of research, read a lot of Scottish law journals and ended up writing a consultation paper that went out this summer to Parliamentarian members and community members to see what they thought about the “not proven” bill.

Besides researching the “not proven” verdict, did you have any other duties in Parliament?

I [communicated] a fair amount with constituents. The first few weeks I interned it took me at least five minutes to make out people’s names. The accents are so thick! There was this one crazy woman. She really wanted to have the government build a ballroom in Edinburgh. I didn’t know who she was so I wouldn’t immediately identify her because I was so paranoid about messing up. I would be taking notes and I’d tell Michael about it and he’d say “oh, don’t talk to that lady, she’s insane! We don’t do that. We are a government, we don’t build social halls for the elderly.”

Has your experience in Scotland influenced what you plan to do after graduation?

I’d love to go back to Scotland. I don’t think I’d ever go in to Scottish law, though. If you get trained in Scottish law, you can only practice in Scotland and Scottish law is a lot different than any other law.

How did you spend your days off from the “Parly?”

Edinburgh has some amazing free art galleries that are quite easy to get to. I’d get off work and wander over there. Its kind of a tourist town, so people are used to having Americans around. I never felt really alienated for being a foreigner.

Do you plan to continue in law school after graduation?

I got suckered into the Poli-Sci department, I’m still not really sure how that happened. So law school sounds like a good idea. Also, some people have been telling me I should look into going into the ministry.

Do you have any law schools in mind?

I’d like to go back to Albequrque [for school]. I’ve thought about immigration law, especially with all the stuff going on now. I miss the food. I can’t find good Mexican food, at least the kind that I’m used to. I miss pasole and tamales. My motto about food is if it doesn’t make you sweat, it’s not worth eating—the hotter the better. My tolerance has bottomed out since I’ve been here. I end up hitting Pad Thai just to stay in spice shape.

Besides law, you are interested in theology. Do you plan to pursue it?

I’m a Unitarian Universalist, and there is this really fascinating program at Starr King, the Unitarian theological school in California. It’s a masters in religious leadership for social change, which melds social activism, theological studies and Unitarian Universalism.

How will you prepare for theological school?

I just found out last week that I’m going to be a worship assistant at my church. I will help plan what the sermons are going to address. I’ve got this full-day retreat there tomorrow. I’m really excited and nervous!

Does religion play a big role in your life?

It’s been really important. I go to Unity on Grotto and Portland. I love it. It’s an incredible space. The people are really nice, the music is amazing, and I love the ministers. It was just like Kismet—the perfect combination of things to make you feel like you’re in a really great community. I go every week to the 9:30 service. It helps me center. Especially right now with my thesis, it’s really easy to get caught up in this “if I don’t get this right, everything will be terrible kind of thing.” I go to church and I’m like, “you know what, these things do not make me who I am. I should really focus on making sure that I’m happy.”