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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 3rd March 2005


Week beginning 28th February 2005

Monday morning in Motherwell. The Communities Committee this week, having completed our report into Stage 1 of the proposed charities legislation, is taking evidence to inform decisions about changing the planning guidelines so that there is always a ‘presumption against’ open cast coal developments. Many communities feel blighted by open-cast and there have been stories of bad practice by developers, with no enforcement action being taken by local councils.

So, the Transport & General Workers Union, along with Scottish Coal had asked me to meet with them to discuss the issue from their point of view. I can see their point – worry about loss of jobs. Their view is that since England changed their planning guidelines, their have been no new developments and many lost jobs, and the worry is that the same would happen in Scotland. It may be of course that a level playing field north and south of the border would bring things back on an even keel. The evidence-taking at committee will be interesting – both sides of the argument.

As an aside from this meeting, I did ponder as to why, having been a member of the TGWU myself for many years, and a declared Trade Unionist, this is the first time I have ever been approached by my own Union in the six years since I was elected. Wrong Party? Surely not!

Monday afternoon took me through to Kinross to visit Rachel House, run by the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland (CHAS). Rachel House, Scotland’s first children’s hospice opened in 1996 and supports families throughout Scotland by providing specialist palliative support through respite care, emergency care and terminal care for children with life-limiting conditions and their families. It was started by a group of determined parents and professionals who wanted Scotland to have a children’s hospice service and it has gone from strength to strength.

Twice a year, the House stays empty for a couple of days so that donors, potential donors and other interested folk can visit to see the work carried out. The day I was there it was full of visiting groups from churches, voluntary organisations, different communities and fundraising groups. Our guide Diane, one of more than 560 volunteers, was obviously committed and full of knowledge. The first thing she asked us to realise was that Rachel House is not a sad place, but is full of joy, and that is exactly how it seemed.

The second CHAS hospice – Robin House – is due to open in Balloch in 2005 and whilst it will provide similar services to Rachel House it will also offer specialist facilities for teenagers with life-limiting conditions. If you want more information, log onto: www.chas.org.uk

Back to sunny East Kilbride for the monthly Constituency Association meeting, and an update on our Candidate, Douglas Edwards’ campaign. Time will fly in towards this forthcoming election – it will be here before we know it! I was just discussing this with Jamie Hepburn, the candidate for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East. He was saying that one part of him wants a lot longer to campaign, whilst the other part just wants it all to be over and done with. Jamie is one of our younger candidates – it would be great to see some fresh talent heading down to Westminster to fight Scotland’s corner. I should say here of course that Douglas Edwards isn’t that old either!

Tuesday was a smashing day although bizarre in some respects. Through snow and storm the Strathaven Fair Trade Group arrived at the parliament. Every year in Strathaven we hold the schools fair-trade poster/poetry competition and two winners from each primary school come through to Parliament for the day, hosted by me. So, we had 14 children and assorted adults – a great time was had by all. There’s a real sense of pride amongst Strathaven’s school-children that their town was first in Scotland to be declared a Fair Trade Town. Not only that but Sandford Primary is receiving a special initiative certificate next week from the Fair Trade Foundation as the first Fair Trade School!

Tomorrow’s Legislators:

Tuesday was also the day that the ‘Reintroduce Beavers to Scotland’ campaign hit the parliament – we all had a fluffy beaver (toy!) sent to us, and I understand although I didn’t see her myself, that there was a lady dressed as a beaver running around the Parliament! Also into dressing up that day was the Arbroath Pageant whose members arrived, in full medieval regalia to support Andrew Welsh MSP’s Tartan Day reception. For young Jennifer from Strathaven Academy who was in my office all day, it was quite an eye-opener that our Parliament is not the stuffy, formal set-up that she had imagined. Group meeting then Jennifer and I headed back to Strathaven.

Communities Committee on Wednesday morning and the evidence taking about open cast coal developments. We had presentations by residents’ groups, by the industry itself, the Unions and East Ayrshire Council in whose area a lot of the developments have taken place. This Council has issued its own good practice standard and seems to be working well. It seems to me that much of the problems have been due to non-enforcement of existing regulations as to lack of same. Interesting session and a lot to consider before next week’s follow-up meeting.

Whilst I was attending Communities, the Murray Owen Group of Elderly Carers was back at the Public Petitions Committee. This is the issue I’ve been banging on about for some time – adults with learning difficulties living at home with elderly carers who want their children settled before they are no longer able, or there, to look after them. I am glad to say that the PP Committee are continuing this petition, so hurrah, at last the issue is being recognised with members of the view that something has to be done. Well done to Madge Clark and Jeanette Kelly who despite all the responsibilities they have to their families have tenaciously carried on this campaign.

Chamber in the afternoon was covering committee business on transport – not being involved with any of these items meant I could deal with some constituency issues by email and letter. Most of this week’s postbag has been about the proposed changes to public sector pensions – lots of emails from firefighters who feel that yet again their profession is being hammered. Although pensions is generally a reserved matter, for public sector pensions it is the Scottish Public Pensions Agency which is in the frame here – the Agency has indicated that it should follow the English model, but there is no reason why it should automatically do so, and there has been very little discussion about the impact of the UK Government’s proposals on public sector pensions in Scotland. Seems to me this attack on existing pension rights is being rushed through with no true analysis or sufficient consultation.

Wednesday night and Shelter is holding a fundraising quiz night. The SNP has a team in – gNat Bites – myself, Tricia Marwick, Stewart Stevenson, Shona Robison as the MSP contingent and Calum Cashley along with Amorin Vieira and John Fellows as the ringers! Tricia, being Whip and fiercely competitive is of course Team Captain (her son Steven tells me that even when they were tots they weren’t allowed to beat mum at Ludo!). We did okay – second, beat by one point. Never mind, next time … …


Tricia looking fierce and Amorin staying out the way

Thursday morning’s debates were in SSP time and focused on the forthcoming G8 meeting in Gleneagles in July and on universal school meals – I wasn’t involved in either but attended the G8 one and listened to some good speeches. The community in Perthshire is very concerned about the potential for hordes of demonstrators and disruption/potential trouble that this brings, but it is also interesting that some people are saying that they can thole this if the G8 participants actually come up with some positive outcomes on Debt Relief and Trade Justice.

Back in January I offered for the Strathaven Churches Tsunami Appeal Silent Auction a tour of the Parliament and lunch for two in the MSP Restaurant – I was delighted to host my guests on Thursday and thoroughly enjoyed their company for lunch.

The afternoon debate was an Equal Opportunities Committee debate on Female Genital Mutilation – my colleague Sandra White and I spoke for the MSP. The basic tenet of the Executive’s proposed legislation is to expand the previous law on this from 1985 – that FMG cannot be carried out in Scotland – to also make it a criminal offence to send a female away to have this carried out. The principles were of course passed unanimously with some disagreements to be debated during Stage 2 at the Committee. Some of the facts on FMG are startling, and the debate can be picked up of course on the Parliament website.

Back to emails and correspondence on Thursday night – more public sector pension emails and letters along with many requests for information from senior school pupils and students. Same on Friday morning and afternoon, save a much enjoyed lunch at the Balmoral, courtesy of the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Interesting to hear from all their speakers that the industry is against the Sellers Survey for selling property. The Executive held a pilot on this – basically that when a house is being put on the market, it is the seller who gets the survey done rather than all the potential buyers – which has not been successful, but have pledged to proceed anyway. I do agree with the principle of Sellers Survey and look forward to seeing in more detail from the Executive how they intend to proceed despite the failure of their pilot. I do have some ideas myself which I am currently putting together.

Off to Linlithgow on Friday night for the adoption of Gordon Guthrie, candidate for Westminster election. First time I’ve ever been in Linlithgow much to the surprise of Fiona Hyslop who lives in the town and has invited me to her birthday party (I won’t say which one) on Sunday – so never been there in 40+ years, then twice in one weekend. And very fine it looked too. Also learned on Friday night that the Falkirk Council by-election has been cancelled – Labour Party legally challenged the Council’s right to hold it and won the case. Very strange – a Councillor doesn’t turn up to meetings for six months, yet the Council is not able to hold a by-election! So much for representation of the people.

So, my Saturday not being spent canvassing after all, I used Saturday to drop in at various community groups around where I live – coffee mornings, fundraisers, antique fair. Had a good day meeting lots of great folk, and eating lots of home-baking. Some days in this job are just perfect.

LF: 7.3.05


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