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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 17th April 2005


Week beginning Monday 11th April

Another busy week as always. Sometimes I feel that I’ll never be on top of the work required. But, I guess every job is like that. Hightailed it through to Edinburgh first thing Monday morning to speak at the launch of  "What's going on?", A study into destitution and poverty faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland. The research was carried out on behalf of The Edinburgh-based Refugee Survival Trust, and funded by Oxfam through its UK Poverty Programme. The Trust works through partner organisations to administer grants to people seeking asylum who have been left without support. Even though I do have some knowledge of the situation facing asylum seekers and refugees I was shocked at the rawness of some of the statistics. For example, the research showed that administrative and procedural delays are the cause of destitution amongst more than half of those who apply to Refugee Survival Trust, and within that category 95% of errors or delays were attributable to Government departments!

Rafiq – a young man from Iraq: “…a clerical mistake – this is the way they explained it … that’s why they’re reinstating my support…possibly a mistake happens once, why twice?”

There was one statistic which made me feel deeply ashamed - 75% of the 1,000 grant applications made during the study period were specifically for food and basic necessities. In our country people having to beg for food.

Nura – a mother with a young daughter: “At the moment I am running here and there … the Church Minister was able to give me some money to buy food. The Refugee Council said able to support me for 2 weeks but then after that nothing. I don’t know how I’ll manage”.

The report also included recommendations to the UK Government and the Home Office Immigration and Nationality Directorate, and I sincerely hope that notice will be taken. Most of these recommendations are no more than common sense, basic decency and necessary to meet the humanitarian objectives that all privileged nations espouse when it suits. We could start with the right to work, the right to be treated with respect, the right not to have to live in destitution.

Ivan – a 40-year old man, with a wife and baby: “The best thing would have been if they allowed people to work here. I’ve got my hands, my head. I’m willing to help and contribute to this country. But instead I’m reduced to this situation where I have no means of supporting myself and I have to ask for support from someone else. I would be able to earn a living for myself and my family if they allowed me to work.”

This in a country with a declining population and a Scottish Government promoting a Fresh Talent Initiative to encourage workers from overseas. Makes no sense to me at all.

Back to the office – emails, phone calls, letters meetings … … … A lot of the constituency letters/emails at the moment are in relation to pensions, shortage of dentists and of course the Health Service – the Health Service correspondence is invariably about hospital treatment rather than GP services. Also, with the forthcoming election, there are lots of letters asking for individual MSP and Party opinions about all sorts of things, from International Development issues to bad-neighbour disputes.

Tuesday Communities Committee Meeting – Tuesday instead of Wednesday this week because we’ve got an extra Parliament session tomorrow morning. Still taking evidence on the Housing Bill, this week from Local Authorities mainly. Next week from the solicitors, lawyers, estate agents and surveyors. Had a meeting later in the afternoon with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors – their main issue about the Bill is the proposed Single Sellers Survey which means that the onus will be on the seller to have the property surveyed and valued, with the eventual successful purchaser refunding the cost to the seller. Understandable, this big shift in the culture of buying and selling property is causing much controversy amongst the professions which are directly involved. I am pleased though with the pragmatism being shown by the chartered surveyors’ membership body.

Some good news today – text from Tricia Marwick to tell me that she’s now a granny! A beautiful wee grandson. That’s two grannies in the SNP Group now, Tricia and Sandra. We’re all getting on a bit right enough! Never having had children hasn’t bothered me much over the years, but I’ll tell you, I’d love to be a granny! I was offered the opportunity last summer to retire to East Timor, so maybe someday I’ll do that and be an honorary granny in the village of Peirara. What bothered me when the offer was made last year though was that there seemed to be a presumption that my retirement was imminent! I must have been looking pretty rough that day.


MY POTENTIAL GRANDWEANS

A busy Chamber day on Wednesday but interspersed with pleasure. A visit at lunchtime from one of my old neighbours in Rothesay. Marion moved south to live with her family ten years ago and this is the first I’ve seen her since. I had a great time reminiscing with her and some other Brandanes (a Brandane is someone born on the Isle of Bute) over lunch. I often look back with longing at my old job in Bute – I was development manager for the local housing association and covered Bute, Cumbrae and Argyll. There was nothing better than driving off the wee ferry at Colintraive, stopping at Inverary for breakfast before heading to Campbeltown or Lochgilphead. Of course I only remember the sunny days, not the times when the sea was so rough the ferries couldn’t get me home, or having to cancel meetings because I couldn’t get off the island. Still, it’s healthy to just remember the good times.

The Chamber business on Wednesday was “Scotland’s Needs and Aspirations” in the morning and “Women Offenders” in the afternoon. I took part in the afternoon debate and referred back years ago when prior to our parliament being re-established the Scottish Office carried out a review of Women Offenders and concluded that “The number of women prisoners who actually pose a grave danger to the general public can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand." In its conclusions, it noted that less than 1% of female convictions are for violent offences and that women’s offending frequently relates to drug abuse and is often rooted in poverty. The Justice Minister, seven years on is saying the same things. I am not denying that at times there are women who require custodial sentences – shoplifting as a business for example, but all the evidence suggests that too often women who are perceived as offenders are in fact victims and it is the case that women get jailed for crimes such as non-payment of TV Licences, non-payment of fines etc. This has a huge social cost because, after all, more women offenders than male offenders have dependent children living with them and studies have shown that such women are likely to be lone parents.

When you consider that the recent report by HM prisons inspectorate of Cornton Vale Women’s Prison shows that 80 per cent of prisoners have a history of mental illness and 90 per cent have addiction problems we have to recognise that some other way of dealing with the issue is necessary. It’s a big job. Obviously support for some offending women and their families is required – for those leaving prison, and for those who potentially would end up there. Whatever we have been doing is not working, so we really must start to take an innovative approach, using the voluntary sector where appropriate and being proactive as far as possible rather than reactive all the time. I am glad to say that there was consensus across the political parties in the Chamber.

The International Development Group held a really interesting meeting on Wednesday night where we were addressed by the Hon. Nuwe Amanya-Mushega, Secretary General of the East African Community, which is the regional intergovernmental organisation of the Republics of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, established 1999. I am always stunned by the sheer size of the African Continent – these three countries cover an area of 1.8million square kilometres. Mr. Amanya-Mushega spoke of the common history, language, culture and infrastructure of the region, and as always at these events I learned so much – our International Development Group is probably the best-attended cross-party group in the Parliament, not just by those who work here but by members of the public - a mark of how Scots have a real international interest.

Two debates on Thursday morning – Council Tax and the Nuclear Industry, and following question time, the afternoon debate on Skills. During Question Time I was able to ask the Minister about progress in the case of survivors of institutional child abuse. Many promises were made in December during a debate on the subject and I am not convinced that these have all been actioned as promised. Checking up required before I rant on more about it though!

Dashed from the Chamber to meet up with the East Kilbride Seniors – around 22 visitors if I remember correctly, and what a grilling they put me through; thoroughly enjoyable though. The talk mainly centred on the Parliament complex and my involvement in the process – I think the majority of folk were pleasantly surprised at both the complex itself and its accessibility. I always enjoy showing visitors round, but it always takes longer than you imagine it will, so as usual I was dashing off at the end to get back to Chamber leaving Morag, again as usual, to get everyone organised.


EK SENIORS VISIT HOLYROOD

Thursday evening and a presentation and meeting with the Association of Scottish Community Councils. It was really good to hear the perspective of those souls who labour away on Community Councils, in an entirely voluntary capacity, and we never actually appreciate their commitment as we should. The presentation was much appreciated, and I would like to see Community Councils having more say in how their communities operate. Their role has been consultative, but I would like to see them being enabled to be service providers on a local scale – they are after all closer to local people than any other tier of Government.

11.30 pm Thursday and round to the BBC to do a slot on Radio 5 Live – about the General Election I was told, so spent some time mugging up on manifestos and the like, only to go on air and hear that we were there to talk about the relationship between politics and comedy! Didn’t feel particularly humorous at that time of night let me tell you.

On Friday I was delighted to host my own professional institute in a visit to the Parliament – the Chartered Institute of Housing. The Institute generally arranges a members’ visit once a year to Parliament, but this was the first organised visit to our new home. I am always nervous when my fellow members visit – always more difficult to make presentations to ‘your own’. Maybe it’s because they know so much about your past! Anyway, it was all fine and dandy.

Friday night was also fine and dandy – a fundraiser on behalf of the Children’s Hospice Association organised by the Women’s Rural Institutes of Chapelton, Gilmourton, Glassford and Sandford. The event was really well attended and we listened with pleasure to the Convenanter’s Concert Band, watched in awe as the young dancers from the Laing School of Irish Dancing kept in perfect formation, and laughed along with the comic turn ‘Kenny and Jim’. Well done to all with around £1400 raised. One comment which made me laugh was when one of the performers said that he had asked a local farmer what the initials ‘WRI’ actually stood for and was told “wimmin rarely in”.

On the campaign trail on Saturday of course, but in between times attended a fascinating exhibition at Avendale Old Parish Church – some history and some contemporary information. Fascinating old photographs of Strathaven and Drumclog, tales of the Covenanters, wartime memories, and of course the marvellous current work of members – links with Ethiopia, Fair Trade, visiting and supporting asylum seekers at Dungavel, youth group, and of course as always at Kirk events smashing home-baking.

Saturday night and another community concert – the Greenhills Ceilidh Players in East Kilbride this time. This bunch of folk are great – all ages put on a show every year at this time and also a pantomime at Christmas. The mark of their popularity is that each of these shows runs for three nights to packed houses! This time it was ‘Sounds of the Sixties’ and I thoroughly enjoyed singing along – I knew all the songs, but one thing I didn’t know was that Elvis Presley is alive and well and living in Greenhills! There he was on the stage belting out ‘In the Ghetto’ and ‘Wooden Heart’. I was a huge Elvis fan and in fact was saving up to go to Las Vegas to see a show when he died so suddenly. So, Greenhills’ answer to the King really took me back to my absolute devastation at the time (I had to have two days off work!).

Talking about old memories, Saturday night brought one from even further back. My first childhood memories are from when I was in hospital in Glasgow as a toddler in the late 1950s – tuberculosis. I was in Yorkhill (I think) and then Drumchapel hospital to convalesce, for around seven months altogether. Must have been awful for my parents. Well, on Saturday night at the show, an East Kilbride lady, retired nurse, brought me two photographs of when I was in hospital and she nursed me! I was stunned to see them, and not only that she brought a photograph of another toddler, Brian, who was in at the same time as me, and would you believe it, Brian and I are pals today, so I will be able to pass on the photo. What a dedicated nurse that lady must have been, to have remembered the names of the children she nursed; and what a small country our Scotland is.

And so to Sunday – must admit to not doing a lot – Sunday’s not really a day for outside campaigning. Enjoyed Sunday evening though – attended the premiere of the Avendale Yoof Group movie, only the second film premiere to which I’ve ever had the honour of being invited; the tale of Inspector Collinder and the Missing Body. The film was so well made, by the Yoof Group themselves, and everyone there enjoyed watching it as much as the cast obviously enjoyed making it. A grand way to round off the week, and made up for my having missed Doctor Who the night before. So, thank you to all.

Linda Fabiani
18.4.05


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