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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 23rd January 2005


Week commencing Monday 17th January 2005

Well, so much for New Year resolutions – I was so determined as I said last week that I would do my diary column every single day, but here I am Monday 24th January looking back over the last week. The minute I’m finished this column though, I’m going to do Monday 24th’s! Meanwhile though, my email address if anyone wants to get in touch: [email protected]

Monday 17th was a Kilmarnock day. Started off at the Living Tradition office to discuss the Burns Monument and other related traditional arts issues with Pete Heywood. The problem with the Burns Monument, situated in Kay Park, is it was burnt down at the end of last year. Vandalism was blamed, but there is a local view that the monument was the victim of municipal vandalism by neglect by East Ayrshire Council over the years. See the photos below for ‘before and after the fire’.

  

Very sad that such a memorial to Burns, built by public subscription, should be destroyed. I told Peter that my colleague Adam Ingram had secured a member’s debate on Burns Heritage, scheduled for Thursday evening, and that I would try to make the case for the monument if I got called to speak.

I really enjoyed that meeting in the Living Tradition office – it’s always a pleasure to speak with people who are committed to their craft, and have shown that commitment over so many years. I was referred to two interesting websites – worth a look.

www.commongroundscotland.com and www.barredbard.org.uk

Monday afternoon brought a further meeting with a constituent who has been trying to battle against bureaucracy with one of the Executive agencies. I’ve been dealing with this case for over a year now – obviously I can’t go into detail here. There does seem to be a common theme though when coming up against government offices, agencies and statutory authorities, and I have had it said often to me by folk who feel they’re getting a rough deal: the culture seems to be that if there is enough prevarication and procrastination then the complainant will get so bogged down and beaten down that they will give up and go away. All power to those who don’t give up, difficult though it is.

I started Tuesday morning with texting my friend and colleague Roseanna Cunninghame – I sent her off to Mozambique at the weekend to take part in a Westminster Foundation for Democracy study trip along with a representative from Plaid Cymru – to see if she’d arrived safely. It was a heck of a journey – Mozambique via Glasgow/London/Madrid/Jo’burg. Well, she texted back pretty quickly to say that, yes she’d arrived but her luggage hadn’t, and she was running round the airport buying ‘essentials’! It reminded me of the time I landed in Barcelona to speak at a conference, and my luggage stayed in Amsterdam. Problem was, all my conference papers, including my speech, were in the case, and I had no clue where I was supposed to go, or who my contacts were. Panic – thankfully Calum back in Edinburgh was able to help out, but, boy oh boy did that teach me a lesson about keeping essentials with me at all times! Thankfully, Rosie’s luggage was found and all was well.

I had a long chat Tuesday morning with a constituent in Lanarkshire and yet again here was someone who felt that they’d been banging their head off a brick wall for the last four years – the NHS this time. Unprompted, this lady stated exactly the same as the chap in Kilmarnock the day before – ‘they’re hoping that if they bombard me with bureaucracy long enough then I’ll just go away’. After all this time she was now back dealing with the same department she’d started off with! We’ll try and help cut through some of the nonsense.

A great treat at lunchtime with a couple of constituents from Stenhousemuir who wanted to tour the parliament – thoroughly enjoyed the craic and the lunch. So thank you to Ernie and Betty for brightening up my day, and I must point out quite clearly that the fact that Ernie and I are cousins of some sort through my mother’s side has absolutely nothing to do with it! You can see from the photo though just what a lovely couple they are.

Emails and reading all afternoon and then an interesting reception with the Commission on Boundary Difference/Voting Systems: The Arbuthnott Commission has been set up to look at how people feel about the different electoral boundaries for Westminster/Holyrood and the different voting systems for Westminster/Holyrood/Local Government. For the forthcoming Westminster elections the number of MPs has been cut, so the constituencies from which they will be elected are different from those current at Holyrood. There is also the fact that at the next Scottish Local Government elections, councillors will be elected by the Single Transferable Vote system rather than ‘first past the post’. The current Holyrood electoral system is of course by ‘first past the post’ and ‘additional member places’. Confused? Me too. My hope is that the Commission will come up with a way of rationalising all of this as far as possible and as soon as possible.

Communities Committee on Wednesday morning and still taking evidence on the proposed reform of Charity Law – I felt really awful on Wednesday morning, so I’m afraid I left the rest of Committee to get on with it and stayed in my bed! Managed in for the afternoon though for the debate on ‘Closing the Opportunity Gap’. We used to talk about some people being rich whilst others were poor – now it’s the ‘Opportunity Gap’.

As I said in the debate, we have had this subject for Chamber discussion three times before, so I had hoped for some big announcement. Instead though, we have had the goalposts changed yet again, and I am not convinced that the measurement of progress is accountable when the benchmarks which measure it are so regularly changed. Too much obfuscation going on. Five years ago we talked about ‘relative poverty’ then it became ‘absolute poverty’ which was the baseline; we used to have 29 milestones with subsets of targets that were measured each year and published in the social justice annual report. Now, we have six objectives and 10 targets, and no annual report.

It is absolutely essential that opposition parties in any parliament hold Government to account, but in terms of social justice this is becoming more and more difficult – many members other than me raised this issue as there is real frustration that the poverty issue is being clouded by changing methodology and jargon. My view is that in our current parliament this has become a necessary tactic for the ruling parties. They have now realised that without some redistribution of wealth and without parliamentary powers over macroeconomic, tax and benefit matters, although we might take baby steps towards helping some people in some pockets of our society, we will not achieve the ultimate aim of eradicating poverty.

Wednesday evening and another tour of the parliament complex, this time with Raquel from the British Council in Madrid and Bridget from the British Embassy in Spain. The UK Government and the Spanish Government have had a UK-Espana dialogue going for the last couple of years and I have attended both events which were held in Catalonia. This year they want to hold the conference in Edinburgh, so looking to pick my brain about venues and potential participants – I hope I was helpful. It’s good that we’ll have around 100 conference participants from Spain, Wales and the North of Ireland here in June.

Wednesday night, sitting in my living room, watching Newsnight, and deep embarrassment: There I was, in the Chamber with a colleague, on national television, discussing how lovely my new boots are! Very obviously! Awful. You know, you get so used to the cameras being there that you actually forget they are there, until an experience like this pulls you up sharpish. Immediately phoned to apologise to poor Stewart Maxwell who had been gamely doing his bit in the debate with us in camera shot wittering on. Lots of comments in Parliament the next day – some in jest, some not, so big lesson learned, yet again. (They really are nice boots though!).

Round to Thursday again with First Ministers Questions at 12 noon after Stage 1 of the Further and Higher Education Bill. Nipped out for half an hour to see Greenfaulds High School from Cumbernauld in the Education Centre. Main questions, interestingly, were about the issues that the Arbuthnott Commission are considering – boundary changes and voting systems. The pupils must be learning about this in their Modern Studies Class.

Another constituent visit at lunchtime – I certainly seem to be popular this week! It was really interesting though because this chap is an expert on Energy and the Environment and he really taught me a lot and explained some of the issues which we too often talk about without really understanding. Made the afternoon’s debate on Climate Change more interesting for me.

Member’s business that evening was the aforementioned debate about Burns’ heritage and I did manage to bring up the importance of maintaining the Monument in Kay Park, Kilmarnock.

My view is that the Monument should be rehabilitated, but not just as an empty building - I do not believe that Robert Burns would have wanted sterile monuments to be created in his honour. I think that the man would truly have appreciated a focal point and a centre for the living, breathing and wonderful culture of our country, to which he contributed in his time. That can be done and there are many people and local groups have the knowledge, the capability and the experience to realise such an ambition. I mentioned Living Tradition in Kilmarnock earlier and they have contacts all over the country and all over the world who have worked to best preserve and promote traditional and indigenous arts. We should be listening to those people, rather than always seeking top-down solutions.

It was a good debate and I do believe there is a genuine will across the board to promote the legacy of Robert Burns. We also heard that Historic Scotland has been asked to consider the Monument, so I’m looking forward to hearing the plans – I just hope that they do involve more than the usual suspects in coming up with a viable and vibrant solution.

Sadness on Friday morning at the funeral of a friend’s mum. So hard when your parents die. I still occasionally have the momentary urge to phone my mum or discuss something with my dad, sharply followed by the realisation that I can’t. The old cliché, ‘time heals’, is one that I’ve considered now and again – I’m not sure that ‘heal’ is the right word, for me it’s more about time allowing you to cope with the loss.

Housing meeting with Sandra White in the afternoon at her office in Glasgow (Sandra and I are both deputies to Christine Grahame who holds the Social Justice Portfolio in our Group), and then a bout of nostalgia on Friday night.

I started my career in housing in 1982, and in 1985 I took a job with Clydebank Housing Association – the Association had just registered, the Steering Committee had become the Management Committee, and we owned around 60 houses if my memory serves me correctly. Friday night was the celebration of 20 years of providing houses in Clydebank, and I was amazed to learn that the Association now owned 1200 houses. I had a ball! It was like stepping back in time for me and great to see some of the original committee members, two of them – Betty Mackie, and John Hearns, currently vice chair still voluntarily working 20 years on. What community spirit! The job of being a Management Committee member of a Housing Association is no easy task – it involves a huge level of responsibility and commitment. Good on them all. Below are some of the original management committee members who had the vision to promote the association in Clydebank, including Malky McSporran, the first Chairperson.

Strathaven on Saturday afternoon at one of the local churches for a silent auction in aid of the Tsunami victims. I’m not naming the church because all the churches in Strathaven had contributed. I don’t know yet how much was raised, but there was loads of stuff for sale. I’m looking forward to hosting the successful bidder for my donation of a tour of the parliament and lunch for two.

Roseanna Cunninghame phoned me late afternoon to say that she was home safe and exhausted, but had a really interesting trip – heavy going few days as these study tours always are. Looking forward to hearing all about her experiences.

Crashed out to sleep early on Saturday night – whatever wee bug was moving round my system on Wednesday was still there and making himself known. Likewise on Sunday, although I did make it along to Theatre Nemo’s open day in the afternoon. This is a group, started in East Kilbride, which I support as much as possible.

Theatre Nemo is a campaigning theatre company whose aims are to raise awareness of social and mental health issues and give a voice to those who have been touched by mental ill health. The belief is that stimulation and activity mixed with fun works wonders for mental wellbeing. It was started by Isabel McCue after her son John took his own life. Isabel felt that John’s talent and creativity had been ignored, with medication being all that he was offered at the time. The group have gone from strength to strength and I am convinced by speaking to many of the participants over the last couple of years that real benefits are felt by those who participate. There were some new faces there on Sunday and I joined in learning how to juggle – I was rubbish and decided against learning how to ride a unicycle!

If anyone is interested in finding out more about Theatre Nemo, their website address is: www.theatrenemo.org. Meanwhile, the players!


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