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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 10th March 2005


Week beginning 7th March 2005

Off to Strathaven Academy first thing Monday for the ‘Fit for Life’ day. This day has been set up for the 7 Avondale feeder primaries to send their pupils who will be joining the Academy after the summer holidays to meet with the 1st Year academy pupils in a day of sport and activity. Walking across the playground to the school I could hear how much fun everyone was having – volleyball, aerobics, martial arts, salsa dancing, swimming. I was exhausted just watching – the youngsters I spoke to were concerned about what they were going to have for lunch because they’d been told it would be healthy! Some of the first years were also saying to me that the best bit about secondary school was being able to go ‘down the street’ at lunchtime to the chip shop. I have given a lot of thought to the campaign for universal school lunches. It may work for young pupils, but when it comes to older pupils, I’m not convinced that unless we made the lunches compulsory and stopped pupils leaving the school playground at lunchtime, there would be maximum take-up. Some Councils have already introduced innovative schemes for pupils – breakfast clubs, free fruit etc., perhaps we should be looking at the good examples and expanding them.


Fit for Life at Strathaven Academy

From Strathaven to the Motherwell Office to catch up with David and constituency cases – NHS, Public Pensions, Housing, Asylum Seekers being handcuffed when taken to hospital for medical treatment (yup, I’m afraid it’s true that we handcuff sick people who are innocent of any crime).

Called in to see the Access Group. I wrote about this Group before – Access is a special initiative in the North Lanarkshire area to assist young people into being able to sustain their own house and give them skills for future employment. It’s been running for five years, very successfully, but sadly their future is now under threat because of changes in funding. Why is it that we have initiative over initiative, with the emphasis on innovation, yet we can’t continue to core-fund projects that are shown to be successful? When you’re dealing with young people who have had disadvantage in life compared to most of us, then you cannot expect overnight solutions, it has to be a long-term strategy. I often think that too much these days is ‘target’ and ‘positive outcome’ driven. Yes, you probably can give 30 young people in Motherwell a house, for example, but how many of them will still have it a year later? A quote from an Access client “they gave me a house, but they didn’t show me how to work it”. The same goes for employment – if you’ve never had role models or a sense of how employment works, how can you be expected to hold down a job? Again – you can tick the boxes and say so many clients have been put in employment, but are there figures showing how many lose that job? The problems are complex, inter-related and cannot be always be addressed so simply. I hope that the Access project can be saved – every so often you come across something that seems to work, and that you care strongly about – Access is one of these for me.

From one extreme to the other – Monday night and off to Hamilton College, a private school in Hamilton. I’m not being flippant here, or having a go at private education, and yes, I know that just because you have money and resources does not mean necessarily that you have a good life, but of course generally speaking the pupils of Hamilton College have more opportunities in life than the average client of Access in Motherwell. I often ponder the randomness of where you are born – country, neighbourhood, family, and how that affects your life. Some of us are lucky but muck it up, some of us overcome adversity, some of us have no chance at all.

The fourth year Modern Studies pupils at Hamilton College have been successful in obtaining a place in the heats of the BBC Question Time Schools Competition, and last night held a ‘Question Time’ to be judged by the BBC and joint sponsors BT. I hope they get through to the next round. The panel consisted of yours truly, a Labour MSP, a Conservative MSP, a Lib-Dem Westminster candidate and Joan Burnie, renowned journalist and social commentator – all women because of International Women’s Day. It was a good event, the audience being pupils, parents and teachers, with varied questions, topical and women-related. The pupils ran it well, so fingers crossed for them!

A day in the office and the chance to plod through the deskwork, prepare for tomorrow’s Communities Committee and the Stage 1 debate on Charity Law tomorrow afternoon. My only desk breaks today – apart from the usual wandering the corridor in case I miss anything – were a really interesting session with a Stirling University student carrying out research for his dissertation on voting patterns and Party whipping, and a housing interview with the BBC. So, here I am, back of 9 o’clock, and considering a Chinese carry-out and glass of white wine. When I left East Timor in 1999 after their independence ballot, I went to Bali for a couple of days and I’ve just received an email from pals there about their celebrations this week – Nyepe, New Year, the Day of Silence is celebrated every 420 days, and another festival, Galungan when the ancestor spirits come down to earth, every 210 days. Both fall this week with only one day in-between, so celebrations for all. Wish I was there!


Best wishes from Bali for health, peace, happiness and light from the island of the gods

And so to Wednesday morning again, Communities Committee and open-cast coal. The Deputy Minister was there to answer questions about their plans to change planning guidance to be more in favour of communities rather than the industry. The Committee don’t have the right to change any of the proposals, just to comment on them. Whilst there was no real committee opposition to the proposals because it’s recognised that there have been instances where a company has taken advantage and enforcement by the Local Authority has been lacking, there was concern about the industry and the workers involved which I hope was taken on board.

Wednesday afternoon’s debate focussed on the Communities Committee Report on the proposed Charities legislation. Good debate with some good ideas for improving the Bill, but a bit hijacked by the issue of whether all private schools would meet the ‘public benefit’ test. Next stage will be when it comes back to our Committee for potential amendment.

Fair Trade fortnight ongoing so off to Council HQ in Hamilton this evening to see Hamilton receiving Fair Trade Town status. So glad to see that once again so many school-children are involved. The Hamilton Fair Trade Group worked really hard, and South Lanarkshire Council have been supportive.

SNP Debates in Chamber this Thursday morning – Dentistry first, followed by Early Years Education. All debates can be read on the Scottish Parliament website; in fact if you could bear it some of them are on webcam! I nipped out half way through to meet up with the Commission for Racial Equality. They had asked for a meeting because during the last Anti-Racism debate in the Chamber I had raised the question of public authorities’ obligations through the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000., quoting a CRE report in 2003 that noted that 89% or public authorities said they had difficulty meeting their duties. I asked the Executive for an update, but this has not been forthcoming, so I must get back onto this. You know, there are so many things needing done!

I did have a really interesting lunchtime when my colleague Michael Matheson and I met with Mr. Robinson Githie, Assistant Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs in Kenya. He was visiting our Parliament to research the Scottish experience of devolution, as he is an ardent reformer in his own country where power is very much centralised in Nairobi. He was also interested in our reporting mechanisms, transparency and accountability etc. as there is of course a big problem with corruption in his country. Robinson was telling us that he wants to come back to Scotland because he loves to walk and climb and is fascinated by our scenery, and said that he hoped Michael and I would show him around a bit when he returns. I told him that when he comes back to bring his wife – she and I can go shopping and Michael can take him mountain climbing! Sounds good to me.

Lots of African folks around our Parliament today – I also bumped into a Tanzanian delegation of politicians, architects etc. here to look at our new complex as they plan to build a new parliament themselves. Amongst the delegation was the Tanzanian Government’s Chief Whip, the Honourable William Lukuvi, who passed on Esterina’s regards – his constituency is Iringa, next to Esterina’s where I spent such a marvellous week last November.

Well, I’m heading home to Strathaven now to make sure I’m on time to watch the first episode of The Gathering Place, the documentary about the Holyrood project. I’m really dreading this you know!

Friday morning and I’m waiting at home in Strathaven for Morag to arrive. We’ve got a big day in Strathaven and Sandford today. We have Mr. Tadesse Mescele visiting us on behalf of Fair Trade Coffee producers in Ethiopia. We’re having lunch with the Fair Trade Group in Strathaven and then heading for Sandford School where the school will be presented with a special certificate of initiative from the Fair Trade Foundation.

I watched The Gathering Place and I’m dreading next week’s even more now. The format for the four programmes seems to be chronological and generally having a go at MSPs, so next Tuesday it’s likely to be the Holyrood Progress Group slot. There was an awful clip of me at the end of the first episode – still, when you’re asked to do something, all you can do is give it your best shot, and that’s what I did.

Well, I’m back from Sandford, Morag’s off home and I feel as happy as Larry – to heck with Tuesday night’s programme, this afternoon was what’s really important in life!

Tadesse was really interesting over lunch and told us so much about his country and the way of life of his people. Before we headed off to Sandford school we were told that it was an ‘in-service’ day so might not be that busy. Well, when we got there the turnout was marvellous – over half of the school-roll of around 60 pupils had turned out, along with mums and dads, grandmas and friends. The children were so knowledgeable and well prepared, delighted to be meeting someone from Ethiopia and hearing how Fair Trade benefited Tadesse’s family and community. Tadesse himself was stunned by the reception and the obvious commitment of Sandford, the village as well as the school. They really have embraced Fair Trade and well deserve the accolade of Scotland’s first Fair Trade School. Well done Sandford!


Some of Sandord School’s posters/Tadesse meets Nessie


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