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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
24th April 2006


WEEK BEGINNING MONDAY 17TH APRIL 2006

Well, back at work after spending two marvellous weeks in Ontario, Canada with my relatives there – aunties, uncles, cousins, first-cousins-once-removed, including a brand-new one just arrived from Indonesia. My family is nothing if not multi-cultural! I love visiting Toronto – it’s a great city. One of the things that always happens to me in downtown Toronto is that I when I stop walking to look around me a bit, someone always comes up and offers me directions – I must look lost or dopey or something; or perhaps the locals in Toronto are just particularly helpful. Much appreciated. Apart from family though, other highlights of the trip:

The Frank Gehry exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario (I didn’t know he had been born and raised in Toronto until I attended this). I’ve long been an admirer of Gehry’s architecture and was delighted when the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Dundee was created by him – quirky, interesting and beautiful:

“The architecture is critical to the concept of the Maggie's Centres. They are a reaction against the institutional environment of hospitals, and are a determination to create a friendlier place in which to personally deal with the disease.” (Website: Maggie’s Centre, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee).

I like the philosophy behind the concept of the Maggie’s Centres – design and environment can be a real contributor towards emotional wellbeing, both of clients and staff. Public buildings generally should be beautiful, not necessarily institutional. That’s one of the problems I have with this Government’s preoccupation with the Public Finance Initiative/Public Private Partnerships – lowest common denominator in design standards wins out because they are profit driven. Why shouldn’t schools, hospitals etc. be individualistic and built in consideration of more than ‘unit cost’?

The Stage Musical of Lord of the Rings – not a lot I can say, except ‘Brilliant’. If you’re a Tolkien fan, catch up with this if it tours near you.

The ‘Styx’ Concert at Casino Rama in Barrie – well that took me back to the seventies! A different line-up from what I remember though – a chap called Larry Gowan who reminded me so much of Glasgow’s own, sadly deceased and much missed by me, Alex Harvey. Anyway, Gowan was so gallus that I am convinced he’s got Glasgow genes from somewhere – nothing on his website, any Canadian readers know?

It was because we were visiting relatives around Barrie that we ended up at the concert and of course on the floor of Casino Rama. This was my first visit to a ‘super casino’ of the type which I suspect will be built in Scotland due to the Westminster Government’s new gambling legislation. I hated it, but then gambling doesn’t interest me at all so I suppose I miss the attraction. What did strike me as ironic though was the fact that every slot machine had a sticky label giving the contact number for a debt-line and gambling addiction service! Then there was the small-print pointed out to me stating that a punter could only win the machine jackpot if they placed ‘maximum bet’. Seems to me that these places have it all their own way – we know we can’t beat them anyway but all the dice seem to be loaded in their favour.

Tartan Day 2006 – The Scottish Studies Society Dinner – what a treat this was, and thank you Electric Scotland for inviting me. Tartan Day of course commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath on April 6th 1320, and the Scottish Studies Society dinner has become an important annual event in Toronto (it was in Canada after all where the concept of ‘Tartan Day’ originated) for Scots-Canadians. The Scot of the Year 2006 Award was presented to Hugh Boyle – a Lanarkshire lad – proprietor of Ottawa-based Zoom Airlines, a service which makes it easier than ever before to travel between Scotland and Canada. Smashing contributions too from Ted Cowan, ex-Guelph University, Ontario, currently Crichton University Campus, Dumfries and Catherine Ann MacPhee, ex-Barra, now Ontario. Scots come and go between Canada and Scotland – from way back – and the links are strong.

I know that this event has been well covered on the Electric Scotland web-site but for those with hard copy only, a mugshot of Hudgeton and  Fabiani, and their two good-looking partners:

And so jet-setting over and back to work. Catching up on emails all day Easter Monday of course – I had taken Calum’s complaints seriously about not being ‘Blackberry obsessed’ whilst away, supposedly on holiday, so hundreds of the things to read through! Delighted to have a reason to get away from the computer on Monday evening - to Hairmyres Hospital in East Kilbride for the regular meeting of the Lanarkshire Osteoporosis Group. As a patron of this Group I try to get to as many meetings as I can – osteoporosis affects so many people (one in two women and one in five men over fifty years old). Literally every time I go to a meeting in EK there are new members of the Group. We have to keep lobbying the Health Minister and the Government in Scotland about the benefits of identification, prevention and management of the condition. Like so many other things we keep treating the effects (broken bones for example) rather than tackling the causes, identifying people at risk and helping them to cope. We were told at a previous meeting of an excellent pilot scheme where pharmacists were involved in identification and referral of clients, but this has not been promoted nationally. The Lanarkshire Group are very active in awareness raising and lobbying, and I help them all I can.

Meetings galore on Tuesday and Wednesday: Discussion with the Scottish Council for Voluntary Services about the CIVICUS World Assembly which is meeting in Glasgow this June – the first of a three-year cycle of Assemblies to be held in Glasgow, so well done to our city and to SCVO for making such a successful bid. The CIVICUS World Assembly is “a forum for international civil society representatives to get together, exchange ideas, experiences and build strategies for a just world”, and upwards of 800 delegates are expected for a conference spanning 4 days. See http://www.civicus.org/new/default.asp for more information. I very much want the Europe and External Relations Committee to get involved with this and help where we can: Discussion about the two-day Europe event being held in the Parliament on 7th and 8th May – of course I’ve got a lot of involvement in this, and particularly delighted because it’s aimed at secondary-school age pupils from every region in Scotland; the lucky school ‘out of the hat’ for my own region is from my home constituency of East Kilbride – Strathaven Academy. We’ve put an interesting (I hope!) programme together and that’s two days I’m really looking forward to. Further meetings – affordable housing, Committee Business, leading the Chamber Debate on the European Commission’s Work Programme, TV interviews about this and about the Structural funds Programme – almost a relief to escape when possible down to SNP HQ to do some telephone canvassing for the Moray by-election – looking good, but we’re all sad that this by-election is necessary.

A highlight of the day was Maureen Watt being sworn in as a list MSP for the North East (replacing Richard Lochead who resigned to fight the Moray seat on the SNP’s behalf). Maureen took her oath in the Doric – I was going to reproduce that here for you, but it’s not in the Official Report (neither is the English version, it merely states “the oath was taken”) so sorry, but there’s no way that I could reproduce that Doric oath in any way that would resemble what Maureen said! You’ll have to ask her.

Chamber business all day Thursday – we’re still in the temporary committee room because the Chamber isn’t yet re-opened for business. Much smaller and not so easy to remain inconspicuous and write constituency letters whilst listening to debate. Not enough room for a start – we’re all squashed in; very intimate. Just as well we’re all pals in the SNP Group! Managed to question the Sports Minister yet again about Scotland fielding its own team for the 2012 Olympics in London. This exchange followed on from her talking about our success in the Melbourne Commonwealth Games where of course we did brilliantly flying our own flag:

Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP): The minister mentioned the "health, sporting and confidence-building benefits "that could accrue from the games. Is she aware that last week the Republic of the Marshall Islands became an Olympic nation, despite their being little more than an American protectorate and having a population of only 60,400? Is she aware of the proposals for Greenland and the Faroe Islands to have their own teams and that the proposals have been supported by the Danish Government? Will she now add her support to the growing campaign for Scotland to have its own Olympic team in 2012?

Patricia Ferguson: My focus is on ensuring that Scotland benefits from the 2012 Olympic Games in London and that we secure and benefit from the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I take the view of our athletes—especially those who compete alongside others—who say that their best opportunity for succeeding is to participate in a successful Great Britain team. We have seen many of our athletes succeed in that way in the past. We want to ensure that, come 2012, as many Scots as possible can stand on the podium.

It’s a bad day when our elected Ministers show such a poverty of ambition for our Nation – well done to the Marshall Islands and good luck to Greenland and the Faroe Islands in their bid to have their own teams. One day we won’t need the permission of Westminster.

Strathclyde University Debating Society on Thursday night, replacing Alex Salmond in their annual Principal’s Debate – Scotland should go Nuclear. I of course was opposed to the motion. Interesting experience which I quite enjoyed even though the nuclear lobby won on the night – just as well I enjoyed it really as they’ve asked me to come back! The ‘art’ of debate is interesting – the debate being all, and the subject matter not actually being that important; watching some Westminster debates is very ‘university-debating-society-like’, and whilst we don’t generally have that same approach in the Scottish Parliament, I sometimes feel that the media judges MSPs’ contributions by such criteria. I would find it difficult to put the case for something I don’t believe in, and in a political set-up I would rather listen to someone who knows their subject and believes in it, than someone who is just practised in the art of debate, enjoyable though that can be in some fora. It was certainly enjoyable on Thursday night and what struck me above all was the value of such gatherings to promote confidence amongst the students attending to get up on their feet and talk in public. There were good contributions ‘from the floor’ and I’m sure that we’ll hear more of some of these promising young speakers sometime in the future. As a teenager I could never have got up in a crowded room and chipped in my tuppenceworth; that came much later for me – I guess some would say that once I started I never stopped.

Friday brought what has become a regular calendar event for me – the annual visit to the parliament of members of the Chartered Institute of Housing: Housing and Development practitioners from across Scotland, from Councils, Housing Associations, Co-operatives and Trusts, Funders and Consultants. As a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Housing I really enjoy it when my contemporaries come along and give me their views on current situations. The visit would usually be held on a chamber sitting day, but due to the Chamber being closed, we changed this to a Friday – hardly room for the MSPs in the Committee Room, let alone 50 members of the Institute.

And so to the weekend and off on Saturday morning to Kilmarnock in the morning to visit the local branch of the Samaritans, the Samaritans of course a long-standing organisation of volunteers pledged to be a listening ear for those who are depressed through to suicidal. I was a Samaritan volunteer (more years ago than I care to remember) and what fascinated me to learn from the Kilmarnock team was just how the organisation has moved on, in terms both of recruitment, training and of course technology. Central calling, call divert, emails means that volunteers are much more accessible and available across the country and at all hours. And then of course there is their drop-in service and the work carried out in various institutions. The Kilmarnock Team were smashing, obviously committed to their volunteer work and good pals into the bargain.


In my day they didn’t have Training Manuals!

I remember some aspects of my short stint as a Samaritan fondly – yes, there were harrowing telephone calls from folk who’d reached the end of their tether and a huge feeling of helplessness when these people would hang-up and you never knew whether they harmed themselves or not (this is still the case – Samaritans, despite the advances in technology, do not know where telephone calls come from unless the caller divulges that voluntarily), and of course those who were lonely and just wanted someone to talk to. But there were also lighter moments – old street-men who would come into the office and blatantly tell you they were “a wee bit down Hen – have you got a mug of tea and a sandwich there?”, and my favourite – a call I took one Saturday afternoon from a lad who’d met a brilliant girl at the dancin’ the night before, and yes, you’ve guessed it, when he asked for her phone number she gave him the one for the Samaritans. But, you know, he refused to be downhearted and carried on to ask me if I would like to go out with him that night instead! (I didn’t

Linda Fabiani
24th April 2006

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


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