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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 20th February 2005


Wednesday 16th February 2005 – In the constituency

They say when the cat’s away the mice will play. Well unfortunately for me the boss put the kibosh on that when she insisted that Calum and I have to do this column while she is out the country. I am sure this is above and beyond the call of duty, I’ll have to check-out my contract.

Working in the constituency office means I am often the first point of contact for people who want advice or help from Linda. This can either be individual constituents or someone from business, the local community, charities, trade unions, volunteer groups and almost any individual or organisation that has something they want to talk about. We get people who want to thank you for your help or have a go for something that has been said or done in the parliament or in the press.

Quite often advice can be given over the telephone but frequently it is best to pay a visit to someone at their home or, invite them into the office. Whatever suits them best.

As you can imagine there is a mountain of mail that comes in every week. Most of the stuff is promotional brochures and reports from businesses eager for your interest or custom. We get a lot of reports and monthly or quarterly bulletins from civil bodies and charities.

Modern communication technology does mean that every week we receive hundreds of email communications. Apart from the telephone I would say this is the most popular way for constituents to get in touch, and this system generates a lot of dialogue with people.

But just as with the usual paper post a lot of the emails we get are little more than people or businesses wanting to let you know that they exist and hoping for some interest, although at the end of the day you still have to go through them all just to make sure you are not missing something important.

Of course we get letters from constituents too and this is still the formal way of communicating with people. Certainly when making inquires into a constituents case that concerns a local authority or business or government department or minister, old fashioned writing skills is still the done thing.

The sort of issues we get into the office are ones that I am sure are familiar to all MSPs – Housing especially in a town like East Kilbride where there is a chronic shortage of public sector housing, neighbour disputes, roads, street lighting, planning applications, local campaign issues such as school closures or the NHS – there are as well national issues such as fishing that generated much lobbying of MSPs or, wind farms and renewable energy.

An example of the work that has come in this week to the constituency office is the proposed closure of an after school care unit in Kilmarnock, a car parking issue in East Kilbride, a complaint against the NHS, a housing issue again in East Kilbride and a neighbour dispute in Hamilton.

However the most contentious part of my week was attending on behalf of Linda, a genuinely interesting seminar organised by the National Autistic Society – it just happened to be on the night of my wedding anniversary and I left my wife standing in the hall, arms crossed, doing a fair impression of Tam O’Shanter’s wife. She puts things in perspective for me, though, and she understands that this is not always a 9 - 5 job, really.

Part of my work involves researching the issues that are raised by constituents and for this the parliament is very well resourced with research facilities and library, the international web has been a real boon in this area and you more often than not can access the information you want from there.

On a weekly basis I go through Linda’s parliamentary diary and download any debates from the parliament chamber she has taken part in and make them into press releases for the local papers (unfortunately they don’t always get printed) and, release to the press any parliamentary questions or motions that have been submitted.

Job done, I am away to play now.

In Edinburgh

Monday

In at 6.30 every morning when the boss is away (she’ll read this when she comes back), grab a coffee and start on the emails.

Because the Parliament follows the founding principles of openness and accessibility, email addresses are readily available. This is a good thing in general, but it does mean that every spam-merchant in the world has the address, so we have to clear them out every day.

We get a fair load of mail here as well as the office out in Motherwell, and today’s mail included the Holyrood magazine with a profile of Linda, talking about her roots and how this influences her politics. It’s a good piece, including a bit about Linda’s trip to Italy over the festive period, and why she declared it in the Register of Interests… There’s also a review of the book that Linda wrote a chapter for (Agenda for a New Scotland, edited by Kenny MacAskill, Luath Press, £9.99 – that’s not a plug, honest).

We’ve got research ongoing about human rights in Scotland, particularly with regard to the operations at Dungavel, and most of today has been taken up with that. I work for Fiona Hyslop as well, though, and we had some education issues coming through, so a bit of time was taken up with that.

Tuesday

Tuesday is a Fiona day, so little done for Linda, but there was a continuing dialogue with the Parliament’s Chamber desk over Parliamentary Questions that Linda lodged and they wanted some clarification on before they processed them.

Wednesday

Checking off Linda’s article for Holyrood Magazine on her debate next week on Scotland’s Civic Forum. The Civic Forum is one of the ways in which Scots can interact with their Parliament, and it is an important part of our democracy. Unfortunately, their funding is being cut, and Linda has lodged a motion for debate in an attempt to save it and ensure that its work can carry on. Doing some background research on the Civic Forum as well to ensure that Linda has all the facts she needs at her disposal when she opens the debate.

Interesting to note that Linda’s motion on a Civilian Peace Service is also receiving a fair bit of support.

Showing some people round Parliament in the evening – this is quite a regular thing now, and it’s a pleasure to show people round – the Parliament belongs to them, after all.

Thursday

Thursday morning I’m with Linda – with Fiona in the afternoon.

Scrutinising the new planning guidelines for rural housing this morning, but interrupted by the Daily Mirror looking for some comments on what it’s like to be a Scot with Italian ancestry. Fortunately, Linda had a short piece on this ready for another use, so we could use that.

Also working my way through a few things Linda sent on before she left, nothing glamorous, though.

Friday

Friday is a Fiona day, so the only thing I really did for Linda was finish writing this diary and send it off. Most things done now – half past six, can possibly sneak off for tonight, come in and finish things off in the morning.


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