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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
July 2005


END OF JULY AND FIRST MONTH OF RECESS OVER ALREADY

It’s been a busy month, even without having to attend Chamber and Committees. Recess is good though and gives the chance to do some of the paperwork that’s been hanging around for ages – I even sat in my Miralles window-pod and had a think one day!

I have had some leisure time this month though, catching up with family and friends and chilling out. An advantage of this job during summer recess is that even though there’s work to do you can make your own hours, so it’s very relaxed.

I started the month with a week off - a smashing week in Argyll, at Portsonochan on Loch Awe. Duncan and I go there for a week in July most years, but this must be the best weather we’ve ever had – everywhere looks wonderful when the sun shines and Argyll starts with the advantage of being incredibly beautiful in any case. We had long leisurely days visiting Mull, walking on Lismore, wandering around Kilmartin and Crinan, shopping in Oban and Inverary, eating glorious seafood. Perfect. And I’m ending the month with another week off – heading off tomorrow morning (Saturday 30th) to London to visit my wee brother (I really shouldn’t call him that you know – he’s a big strapping lad of 45!) and other friends.

Work goes on though, and business doesn’t stop just because the Parliament isn’t having sitting days. I swear I’ve been really busy in between my weeks off! Actually having just looked through my diary for the last couple of weeks I’m amazed how much I’ve been able to do because there’s been no Chamber and Committee preparation. Parliamentary Questions/Motions/Newspaper articles/meetings.  Not only that we’ve got a Council by-election in Denny coming up so Ruth and Cecile from Falkirk SNP have been chivvying us all to do the doorstep canvassing. Up until now the weather’s been good so it’s been enjoyable – I like canvassing and campaigning because you meet such interesting folk, both amongst your fellow campaigners and by chapping doors. It’s a real buzz too when you go to a door and someone looks at the SNP Rosette and says, "You don’t have to knock my door – I always vote for Independence". It’s even more of a buzz when they say "and there’s another 10 people live in this house and they always do the same" (I’m beginning to get carried away now I think!).

There have been a few constituency issues this month. The South Lanarkshire Schools plans still causing concern for residents in East Kilbride and Strathaven. It seems though that people power has won out in East Kilbride’s St. Leonards area, however, where residents were unhappy about the particular building layout for the new school and its associated sports facilities. I have heard, although as I write this no confirmation as yet, that the Council has reassessed the plans and come to an agreement with those affected that the layout of the building and facilities can be altered. Well done to everyone concerned, South Lanarkshire Council included – it’s always better to talk these things through and reach agreement. I do hope though that the Council will be as reasonable in discussion with residents of Strathaven and surrounding rural area about the daft proposal they have to transport the entire Strathaven Academy school roll by bus to East Kilbride for two years – that saga continues.

Health issues are still to the fore – waiting times – despite the Executive’s promises that no-one will wait more than 6 months for orthopaedic surgery that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case. I had sight of a letter this morning that had been sent to a patient waiting for an operation and I am stunned by some of its content – medical professionals are almost as frustrated as the patients sometimes. People keep hearing the six-month mantra, but no-one believes it any more. Orthopaedics seems to be a particular problem in Lanarkshire, so I’m asking questions again – the same questions I asked before and was given guarantees on progress – it never ends. Health issues raised in East Ayrshire too this month, outpatient services being the big issue here. Again, staff frustration being picked up. When you are a professional it goes against the grain to complain loudly about your employer’s practices, sometimes in fact people are scared for their jobs and how they will be treated at work if they are seen to be ‘disloyal’. So, it’s down to those, like me, who are in the fortunate position of being able to demand answers, to act. It’s become the Scottish Executive’s tactic though on health that if an opposition politician complains about the NHS or draws attention to more broken promises, then they are accused of ‘having a go’ at doctors and nurses, of demoralising health service staff. Well no, Mr. Health Minister – seems to me from what I pick up day and daily that health service staff are pretty well demoralised as it is. They are professionals who want to do a good job – from cleaners to consultants – but often feel that their views on how to improve the system are ignored.

I’ve gone through to the office in Edinburgh a few days to work because I find it really difficult to work at home – there’s always other things I can find that ‘have to be done’. So, both locally and in the capital city I’ve been able to meet up with the appropriate folk to try and move forward some issues that I’ve been involved in over the last year or so, and some new things. Sadly, we’re no further forward at all in trying to guarantee core funding for the Scottish Civic Forum – in fact they’re having to move out of their offices near the parliament and look for much cheaper accommodation. This makes me so mad – this organisation was not just dreamed up by someone who wanted to make a name for themselves, it was set up to promote one of the founding principles of our Parliament – power-sharing. It doesn’t represent people or their views, it encourages people to express their own views and become involved in the decision-making process. All the talk these days is about ‘democracy’, ‘civic participation’ and ‘citizenship’. Well, real democracy means understanding the processes and how to have your voice heard – it’s more than just putting a cross on a ballot-paper. Next month I’m hosting two Community Council visits from the Kilmarnock area to the Parliament. The visitors are spending the morning at the Civic Forum to learn about how the parliamentary process works and how to get involved, before coming to see me in the afternoon and no doubt give me a good old grilling. That’s as it should be, and what a resource a properly funded, independently minded Scottish Civic Forum could be.

Last week I wrote a short discussion piece which was published in the Scotsman Newspaper. It called for the creation of a Scottish Olympic Team to compete in the 2012 London Olympics. Seems sensible to me! No reason why we can’t do it – Guam, Hong-Kong, Bermuda, Virgin Islands – they’re just some of the teams which compete without being ‘nation-states’. Denmark, Finland, Ireland etc. etc. – they’re just some of the nations that have a similar population to us, and they compete. Scotland competes as itself in the Commonwealth Games and does very well. So why not a Scotland Olympic Team? Seven years is a good time-scale to work towards, it would attract funding from the International Olympic Committee for sports training, it would encourage sports participation amongst our young people and really give the nation an achievable goal. I followed the discussion piece with a Motion in the Parliament calling for the Executive to work towards extending the remit of the Commonwealth Games Committee to create an Olympic Committee. All perfectly reasonable I thought. This will attract cross-party support I thought. The First Minister will like the idea – he’s the one after all who said at the last Commonwealth Games that it was marvellous to compete under the Saltire to the strains of ‘Scotland the Brave’. Well, even though I am perhaps being a bit disingenuous here I was not prepared for the reaction that came. Political opponents and sports’ bosses, sadly even some of our own sports’ heroes, down on me like a ton of bricks – we don’t have the resources/we couldn’t do it/we don’t have the facilities to train (why is there this assumption that the England team would own all the UK training facilities?) On and on it went, along the lines of "we’re too small", "we’re too poor", "we’re too stupid". I don’t believe so – I believe it’s perfectly feasible and worth pursuing, and so do the many, many people who have emailed, phoned and written. So, let’s have a bit of ambition and go for it. "RAISE YOUR OWN GAME, FIRST MINISTER".


Published Newspaper articles below:

Scotland’s Olympic Team

 

London 2012.  First, let’s congratulate London on a successful bid, just as we would have congratulated Paris.  The Olympic ideal is a global ideal, not limited by national boundaries and we should support whatever city in the world is given the opportunity to host the Games.

 

That’s the ideal, now what can Scotland get out of it?  Well, we should send a team, a Scottish team.  There are 202 National Olympic Committees (NOCs), and 13 of them represent areas which are states not recognised by the UN; they include Hong Kong and Puerto Rico.  The Virgin Islands even have two teams – one from the British Virgin Islands and one from the US Virgin Islands.

 

The IOC expresses it quite simply: “Although most NOCs are from nations, the IOC also recognises independent territories, commonwealths, protectorates and geographical areas. There are currently 202 NOCs, ranging from Albania to Zimbabwe.”

 

The Olympic Charter requires that an NOC has a jurisdiction which covers the country it is in – The Commonwealth Games Council for Scotland already covers Scotland and provides the structure for teams to compete in the Commonwealth Games – there’s no reason why it can’t co-ordinate the Olympic team as well – as Bermuda does, and the Cook Islands.

 

We’ll also need at least five national sports federations which are affiliated to their international counterparts to sit on our NOC.  We can count them off easily, starting, perhaps ironically considering the current controversy over football at the Olympics, with the SFA; the Scottish Hockey Union; Canoe Scotland; the Scottish Archery Association; Scottish Swimming; Scottish Athletics and so on.  I counted 25 fairly easily.

 

It’s a challenge that Scotland would relish, recognising the hard work of our past Olympians and the ambition of our future Olympians. Surely all politicians would support the nation’s determination to join the international Olympic family.

 

There would be advantages for England as well.  Maybe at long last an English team would have the chance of competing in the curling, although, of course, Scotland would still be taking the gold medal.

 

Scotland entering a team would allow our athletes to compete at the very highest level which in turn would improve their performance, generating a desire in the country to lift our sights a little higher, to drive a little more for peak performance, not just in sport.  Who knows, perhaps it would also encourage all of Scotland, including we politicians, to ‘raise our game’ as Jack McConnell keeps urging us?

 

So there’s the challenge – London has successfully bid for the privilege of hosting the Olympics in 2012 Can Scotland make a successful bid to send a team?  The answer lies as much with the governing bodies of the sports in Scotland as with anyone else, and their voices must be heard, but it would be interesting to know how our Olympians feel.

 

In Sydney, Scotland’s Olympians won 9 gold and silver medals, a feat we haven’t managed since 1912; Shirley Robertson (sailing gold); Andrew Lindsay (rowing gold); and Stephanie Cook (pentathlon gold) showed that Scots can win at the very pinnacle of world competition. 

 

We weren’t posted missing in Athens either, Chris Hoy following his Sydney silver with an Athens gold in cycling, and Shirley Robertson adding another sailing gold.  It would be good if we could add to these tallies with future gold medals, and there’s no reason why we can’t consider every Olympic discipline.

 

Andrew Murray must be lining up for a pop at an Olympic medal – wouldn’t it be good if he could be winning a tennis gold for Scotland?

 

Let’s hear from our Olympians, past and future, about how we enter a Scottish team, from our national sports federations about how they can support the bid, and from our government about what they can do to help.

 

All congratulations to London for securing the Olympics in 2012. Let’s send a Scottish team down there to compete.  It was at the London Olympics of 1908 that Olympians first entered the stadium behind their national flag, and it would be appropriate in the London Olympics of 2012 to fly Scotland’s national flag.


 

Don’t rob young Scots of their Olympic dreams

 

Citius, Altius, Fortius.  The Olympic motto is an indicator of the ambition to which Olympians aspire – Faster; Higher; Stronger – it’s a grand motto and one that Scots support.  Another way of saying it might be “raise your game”, to quote our First Minister.

 

To aspire to that, though, you have to be there, you have to be taking part, and it’s the taking part that’s the point of the Olympics.  The Olympic creed is very simple: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

 

That’s where Scotland has a problem – Scottish athletes just don’t get enough opportunities to take part.  It’s not that we’re not up to it, it’s just that the Great Britain team doesn’t always give us the chance.

 

There were 45 Scottish medal winners at the last Commonwealth Games in 2002, 40 of them in Olympic sports.  Only 9 of them made it to the Olympic team for Athens last year, though.  What was it that made our Commonwealth medallists unworthy of a place in the Olympic team?

 

Scotland sent 207 competitors to that Commonwealth Games but only 24 went into the Great Britain team to the Olympics that followed; in spite of the Olympics having more sports than the Commonwealth Games.

 

Perhaps this was what led scottishathletics, the governing body for Scottish Athletics, to say "For Scottish athletes, the Commonwealth Games is pretty much their Olympic Games”, but that just doesn’t seem good enough.  Surely we want to see more Scottish athletes at the Olympic Games?

 

That is especially true for competitors in those sports that are Olympic sports but not Commonwealth sports – the Commonwealth Games can never be their Olympics.  Our Modern Pentathletes don’t have the chance of competing for Scotland, sailing, where Scots have won Olympic medals, isn’t a Commonwealth sport, and Taekwondo is another sport you get at Olympic level but not Commonwealth level.  These are three of the nine sports that have Olympic competitions but no Commonwealth competitions.

 

So let’s be positive.  Look at what Scotland’s First Minister said about Scotland’s successful team at the Manchester Commonwealth Games.  He said “I know that flying the flag for Scotland is a particularly special moment for our sporting stars” and “Hearing Scotland the Brave while watching the Saltire being raised must be an unforgettable feeling for our gold medallists”.  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

 

How stirring would it be to watch the Saltire raised at the London Olympics in 2012?  How unforgettable a feeling would it be for Scotland’s gold medallists to hear Scotland the Brave played for them at the 30th Olympiad?

 

We must aim to send a Scottish team to the London Olympics; to do anything less would be to rob young Scots of their Olympic dreams.  If Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Cayman Islands can all have Olympic teams, Scotland can as well.  We’re not too small – New Zealand is smaller than Scotland, but they sent 150 competitors to the Olympics.  Latvia is less than half the size of Scotland, but they sent more competitors than we did.

 

London 2012 gives us an aim, an aspiration and an achievable timescale for sending our first Scottish team to the Olympics.

 

With a Scottish team, there is the delicious anticipation of seeing an expanded Tartan Army travelling to London in 2012 to support our competitors, from footballers to gymnasts and from swimmers to athletes.  The only sport that I’m absolutely certain the Tartan Army footsoldiers would shy away from is the beach volleyball, I can’t see anything that would attract them there…

 

Having our own team would mean that we would get the benefit of a share of the funding from the International Olympic Committee.  We could be upgrading the training facilities in Scotland and improving the general sports facilities.

 

Having Olympic heroes to look up to would spark the interest of Scots young and old in sport – look at the increase in applications  to tennis clubs after Andrew Murray did so well at Wimbledon.  With all the current concerns about the health and levels of fitness of many of our youngsters, what could be better for Scotland than an Olympic team to inspire them to join sports clubs and take advantage of the new facilities provided under the Olympic programmes?

 

It’s not dangerous for a country to aspire to be good; it won’t jeopardise our current success to look for greater success; we can get there if we have the political will to do so.  We can compete with England, a friendly rivalry would be good for both our nations and all of our athletes.

 

Let’s not rob young Scots of their Olympic dreams, let’s send a Scottish team to London 2012.


I am going to sign off for July now, back at the end of August. However, I couldn’t close without telling you of the most important event for me this month/this year and in fact for as long as I can remember. Almost six years ago, Amorin, from East Timor, came to live with our family to learn English. Well, he ended up attending Napier University and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts on 15th July. I can’t tell you how proud I am, how I felt watching him walk across that stage in the Festival Theatre to pick up his award. I was there with all the other tearful mums! What an achievement for him, and how hard he worked to get there. So, I just had to show you his photograph.


Amorin's Graduation

Linda Fabiani
31.7.05

Email Linda at Linda.fabiani.msp@scottish.parliament.uk


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