In terms of the structure of the day: expect rituals and rules. You’re called to your places before the Bailiff comes in (and sometimes the Lieutenant-Governor). You stand and bow and the Lord’s Prayer is said in French. A register is called, and you answer in French: Presente (pronounced pray-zont with a clear ‘t’ at the end) if you’re a woman or present (pray-zon – no ‘t’) if you’re a man.
During debates, there are rules about who can speak and when. You can interrupt a speech on a limited number of grounds (if the speaker has said something factually incorrect, or broken the rules – in the first instance, you’d call out for a “point of correction”, in the second for a “point of order”). In either case, the Bailiff will stop the speaker and let you make your point. If you want to interrupt for any other reason, you can stand in your place, and the speaker will decide whether or not to give way – they’re not obliged to do so.
There are rules about when amendments can be brought, rules that let you suspend those rules, and other rules that let you throw out an amendment before it can be debated. You will pick all of these up surprisingly quickly. It is worth familiarising your way around the Rules of Procedure – even though they are probably the most boring thing on earth – because you can use these to your advantage in debate.
Speaking of boredom, expect plenty of it. It is an honour and a privilege to sit in the States, but it is not always exciting. There are speakers who can make the most lively subject matter tedious. And there are, inevitably, technical or legal papers on issues that are entirely out of your comfort zone, that you have to deal with because – well, that’s what the States does. It’s the highest authority on the whole of the business of government, which means you have to put up with debates that bore you to tears, alongside the ones that you find deeply important and engaging.
You can come and go from the States’ chamber, of course. You can pop out for refreshments, or to confer with colleagues, or simply to get a bit of headspace. Just be a little bit careful – obviously don’t do this during a paper where your speech or vote could make a difference, or where you need to be there to back up your Committee. Save it for the debates that are non-contentious, or the ones that are bound to rumble on for so long you can afford to be out of the room for a time.
At the end of the day, there’s another prayer in French. I don’t have much truck with rituals in general, much less religious ones at the heart of government, but there’s something to be said for closing your eyes, taking a breath, and defusing the tensions of the day – that’s what this grace allows. (If you could just replace it with a secular alternative, you’d be my hero forever.)
The States’ day is relatively short – 9.30 to 12.30, and then 2.30 to 5.30pm – but it is pretty intense. You’ll find that things normally happen around the structured part of the day, too: people meet for breakfast or lunch, and Committee meetings happen in the lunch recess or at the end of the day.
Don’t turn up your nose at the soft stuff – when we were doing the States remotely during lockdown, I felt debates suffered because of the absence of body language and informal connection. These opportunities to be together – especially with people who aren’t on your Committees – are the spaces where friendships can form, which provides the bedrock for strong working alliances or understanding and respectful disagreement. It might not be tangible, but it’s really important.