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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
20th February 2007

WEEKS BEGINNING MONDAYS 5th and 12th February 2007

Another two weeks quickly past. I’m sorry that I’ve cut down to fortnightly lately, but the time towards the election is just flying in, and I barely seem to have time to turn around these days. That’s why I was delighted to have an afternoon and evening free in Brussels, choosing to fly out a day earlier than necessary. Any time I’ve gone before all I’ve seen is the airport and various meeting rooms, so I was determined to see the sights, eat some of the famous moules frites and buy some chocolate. And I did all of these things. Some very beautiful buildings in Brussels, but I was surprised at how little the ‘Manikin Pis’ (the wee bare boy) actually is – a toty wee thing, and you know they dress him up in various outfits to commemorate specific occasions or to honour visitors – very strange. I was going to show you the photo of him naked as the day he was born (or sculpted), but then I thought that if either my Granny or my Mum were still here to judge, then 'big trouble' for being 'vulgar', so here instead, a photograph of another strange Belgian custom - dressing up wine bottles:

The reason I was in Brussels was the feedback session following the successful event we held in our Parliament to discuss the European Commission’s maritime proposals. I had to present the report which we compiled after listening to those who attended our event – I think it went well and was really happy with the report. This will probably now be sent direct to the Commission for consideration in their own deliberations – it’s good to be in at the beginning in the hope that policy can be influenced. If the Parliament’s committee can do that I don’t see why the Scottish Executive doesn’t do it more often.

Back late Tuesday night – and I mean late, early hours of Wednesday morning actually; we got stuck on the runway at Brussels Airport for around 3 hours because of ice on the wings of the plane. As usual all I was thinking about was my stomach and thank goodness we had time to eat before boarding! Got to get your priorities right.

So, dragged myself into the office Wednesday morning to face the rest of the week after a double-espresso – an international day on Wednesday with a meeting to discuss the ongoing situation in Tibet and then with some Malawian MPs to look at how we deal here with the MSP Code of Conduct, Registration of Interests etc. It did strike me though that in a meeting with parliamentarians from a country where the Anti-Corruption Tsar has just been arrested for corruption and where patronage and favour is the political order of the day, it is not entirely convincing to talk of registering small gifts or declaring small contributions towards overseas delegations etc. They probably just think we’re daft!

I’m not mocking the intention of the Executive or the Parliament here, and I’m also not saying that every parliamentarian in Malawi is corrupt – they’re certainly not, but such an embedded system is hard to overcome and it is only comparatively recently that a form of political democracy has been established. I’m just not convinced that the method of carrying out ‘political training’ here in Edinburgh and the rest of the UK is particularly effective at this point. Yes, the Executive can ‘tick the box’ and say it’s been done: “six Malawian parliamentarians studied our systems”, but how appropriate actually is that type of training? If re-elected this is something I want to consider in more detail. I have views which I could expound for hours on end, but enough here already!

Scottish Grocers Federation meeting in the evening and glad to meet representatives from Botterills who service lots of the ‘Spar’ shops in Lanarkshire. Disturbed though to hear from them though of that day’s incident at the Post Office in Calderwood, East Kilbride where robbers had doused staff in petrol before demanding cash – nightmare stuff.

Busy SNP day in the Chamber on Thursday with the debate on Bridge tolls on the Forth and Tay. We want them stopped, same as the Erskine Bridge, but we were narrowly beaten, the Greens voting along with the Executive. Never mind, we’ll fight another day. I also had a Ministerial Question that day about Nuclear power stations – you see, strange though it sounds it is the case that even in East Kilbride constituency monitoring is still being carried out on farmland because of contamination from Chernobyl, more than two decades ago! Surely, that fact alone would make any government think twice before committing to further nuclear power? The Minister tried to say it was the standard of building that was the problem at Chernobyl, but my recollection is that it was human error, and no-one can legislate for that.

I have said before, but will repeat that it is one of the lesser known jobs of an MSP to run an office, act as employer etc., and this is what I spent all of the Friday doing. You see, because there is an election coming up and of course no guarantee of return, loads of stuff has to be sorted out, including the potential redundancy of staff and winding-up the office. My head was birling by the time I got home on Friday night. It was birling again on Saturday night, but that was entirely voluntary – a great time was had at the Balerno Burns Supper where I was giving the reply to the Toast to the Lasses. Great support from the girls – if ever a man needed a good skelping and got it, it was Balerno’s own Jim West – serves him right.

Local day on Monday 12th February – house visits, phone calls and the launch of our ‘Let Lanarkshire Flourish’ document; a good presentation by Jim Mather MSP and Alex Neil MSP who had obviously put a lot of work into laying out the case for Lanarkshire’s business future under the SNP.

Europe Committee was the main event on Tuesday with the Minister giving us evidence on our study into how the UK and Scottish Ministers implement European directives. It has become an interesting topic, especially in the light of the leaked report from the Executive’s top official in Europe – so much of what that Report says is reflected in our own conclusions.

Wednesday and Thursday sped by last week again – there’s so much business going through Chamber because we are coming to the end of term – Local Government Finance, Budget Bill, Adult Support and protection...

And then it was Friday again! Modern Studies 5th and 6th year pupils from Strathaven Academy on Friday morning; as always, a pleasure. Here they are at Committee:

A delegation from the General Teaching Council in the afternoon – the GTC were hosting international educationalists and I met with them for an hour or so: a misunderstanding was quickly cleared up thankfully – some of the delegates were from Georgia, and I in my wisdom decided that it was Georgia, Eastern Europe, so there I was, speaking slowly and distinctly: it was only when one of them responded that I realised it was Georgia, USA! That caused a laugh – thank goodness someone responded and didn’t let me go on like that for an hour!

So, another weekend of preparing for elections – only 11 weeks to go.

Linda Fabiani

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