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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
19th March 2006


WEEK BEGINNING MONDAY 13TH MARCH 2006

Running around mad this week – trying to make up the time I spent in Malawi. Lots of constituency work locally because of the Council by-election –when I go canvassing, every doorstep chat turns into a mini-surgery! Still, it’s a bit of the job that I really enjoy. As ever, we have the Health Service problems (a lady of over 8 decades being told that it will be 2 years before she can get a hearing aid! How ridiculous is that?), postal service issues in Gilmourton where they’ve removed the local post box (“there’s another 300 yards away” says the Royal Mail; “aye right”, say the locals, “along the fast, busy main road with no pavements - what happens if you don’t drive?” “We’ll put it on a bus shelter” say the Royal Mail … and then they continue “however, we are not aware of any date when a bus shelter might be erected”.). You couldn’t make some of it up you know.

Another bizarre “you couldn’t make it up!” episode on Tuesday: I was asked to go along to a lunch with some visiting Iraqi lawyers who were receiving some training in London. The details I received pointed out that due to security reasons we were to keep the names of the delegates secret and not disclose them to anyone. Fair enough – I can see the point of that. However, I wandered down to the dining area to see them having a group photograph taken by the Parliament’s photographer for placing on the Parliament website! Names secret/faces plastered across the world! it was actually an interesting lunchtime discussion – they had been receiving human rights training, and asked why when all their training talked about the need for an independent judiciary, with no perception of political interference, then how come in Scotland the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General were part of the Government? You may well ask! Of course this potential conflict of interest has been thrown into the spotlight because of the Shirley McKee fingerprint case.

Interesting meeting of our European & External Relations Committee on Tuesday afternoon when we discussed a Legislative Consent Memorandum (used to be called Sewel Motion) to allow Westminster to legislate on behalf of matters relevant to the Scottish Parliament under the proposed Regulation and Reform Bill. This proposed Bill is the subject of much debate and discontent in Westminster currently as it gives wide ranging powers to UK Government and reduces the power of Parliament. In our case, to cut a long story short, that whilst the reasoning given by the Scottish Executive on this is that it would be for ‘tidying up’ and ‘technical matters’ relating to European legislation. However, our giving this consent would mean that UK Ministers could amend anything we do here in Scotland by Ministerial Direction rather than primary legislation – the ultimate result of this could in fact be that UK Ministers could decide just to abolish the Scotland Act! As the ‘lead committee’ the Executive needs a report from us before it goes to our Parliament for debate. We refused to give the report because we felt (and I have to say unanimously, across the parties on our committee) that not enough information was given to us to properly discuss how we wanted to proceed. So, the Minister on the hotseat has agreed to come back to us with more detail. If anyone wishes to read all the deliberation, the link is at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/europe/meetings.htm. If you want a hard copy let me know.

Busy Wednesday with a debate about Poverty in the morning. Christine Grahame was leading this for the SNP and asked me to participate on international issues. Happy to do so in a raising awareness manner, but not so happy that in this day and age we are still talking about poverty at such a high level both home and afar. In international terms, I still get annoyed every time I hear how committed the New Labour Government seemingly are; yes, this UK Government is doing more than the last lot, but still not meeting their international obligations like other countries are capable of doing! Until they commit to the UN agreed 0.7% of GDP in international aid, then quit patting yourselves on the back! Anyway, it’s about time Scotland took the initiative here – as I said in the debate, even though we’re not yet independent and committed to playing a full part in the world, we can still take stands in issues like international aid. Other devolved legislatures do – the Basque and the Quebecis (is that the right terminology? Please French Canadian readers let me know) to name but two.

I was accused recently, by letter from someone who didn’t give an address, of being ‘naïve’ in my views – in fact, I don’t think he/she likes me or the SNP at all, covering as he/she did everything under the sun, detailing why the SNP have got it wrong (Scotland should not help anyone except what this strange correspondent terms as ‘real Scots’), and why I in fact am the worst one of all! Anyway, when it comes to international aid and fair trading agreements, I am not naïve. I know it’s not easy, I know there are corrupt Governments around (in all parts of the globe), I know there are hard choices to be made and that we have to be very careful that we don’t create dependency cultures or become over-zealous in imposing what we believe to be democracy and rights.  But, whilst there are children starving, people being bombed to oblivion, and folk dying of curable or containable diseases, anywhere on this planet that we call Earth, then we have to keep trying.

Evening meeting, as Europe Convener, with parliamentarians from Eastern Europe who have been taking part in a ‘young politicians’ programme through the British Council. I know that Nicola Sturgeon had been involved (yes, she’s just young – I can see this), and then Kenny MacAskill (now he’s not so young – let’s face it Kenny!). Bosnia-Herzegovena, Bulgaria, Montenegro – fascinating to hear all their experiences.

Fresh Talent debate on Thursday, relative to the Committee’s report. You know, there’s so much I want to rant on about regarding Fresh Talent; the fact that there’s so much of it here already that we refuse to utilise because of the UK Government’s immigration and asylum policies; the fact that we ignore some of our own home-grown talent by allowing innovative invention and design to be sold off to other countries (wave technology for example). But, as Committee Convener I was only able to present our report, which was in fact fairly hard-hitting, and be reasonable – always difficult. Never mind, my SNP colleagues did a grand job. A meeting too with Scottish Enterprise on Wednesday, to discuss how Scotland’s doing in business, with particular emphasis on Research and Development – not so well I’m afraid. The Enterprise Committee’s recent report entitled “Business Growth - the next 10 years” covers a lot of these issues and is well worth a read:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/business/committees/enterprise/index.htm. If you want a hard copy let me know.

A sad event on Thursday lunchtime when I was asked to accept a letter from Iraqi Kurdish people resident in Scotland. Thursday was the 18th anniversary of the Halabja massacre in Iraq, when thousands of Kurds were killed by chemical weaponry in a revenge attack by Sadaam Hussein. The Kurdish Union had asked their members to present letters to their national parliaments. I was honoured to be asked to accept this, and have laid a commemorative motion in the Parliament:

*S2M-4136 Linda Fabiani: Anniversary of Halabja MassacreThat the Parliament, along with Kurdish communities and other organisations around the world, remembers 16 March 2006 as the 18th anniversary of the attack on Halabja; respects the memories of the thousands who died and recognises the pain of those who survived but suffer long-term health effects; condemns any use of chemical weapons and attacks against civilian populations; reaffirms its opposition to genocide, and supports the call to bring to justice those responsible for the attack, to seek compensation for the victims of the attack, to work to address the environmental problems caused by this attack and others and to help the refugees of these attacks to return to their homelands.

The Kurdish community were in our minds again on Friday afternoon when I finished work locally and sped through to Glasgow for our meeting of the Cross Party Group on Asylum Seekers and Refugees. This was a joint meeting with the Mental Health CPG and we were discussing the mental health needs of asylum seekers and refugees in our community. The presentation was given by Dr. Anne Douglas of Glasgow-based Compass – a dedicated service, covering Glasgow only. Dr. Douglas told us that there was a high level of need amongst the Kurdish community in Glasgow. The information she imparted was stark and disturbing – what lives some people have. Some of the issues raised during our Fresh Talent debate two days before were also re-affirmed – denial of the right to work is contributing to the mental health problems of some asylum seekers, especially males. As we know, most asylum seekers are professionals (doctors, lawyers and teachers amongst them) who just want to contribute to the country in which they now live, awaiting a decision as to whether they can stay here or not. That waiting in itself, and the whole asylum process, is another cause of some of the mental health clients seen by Dr. Douglas’s team. And, then when you consider that treatment is sometimes interrupted by Dawn Raids, carting folk off to Detention Centres, you despair at what is being done in our name in our country. Especially when some of these people have already experienced - within their country of origin or en-route to another country - hardship and torture that most of us just can't begin to imagine.

I believe passionately in Scottish Independence – basically the right for those of us who live in Scotland to make our own decisions and run our own affairs; I believe passionately in the basic decency of Scottish culture and our national psyche – as an independent Nation we would be a force for good in the world, and that’s what keeps so many of us, of all ages and from all backgrounds, fighting on. Signing out now – by-election work to do!

Linda Fabiani
19.3.06

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


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