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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 10th October 2004

The week started on an extremely sad note for me with news that a much loved local community activist in Strathaven had died. Jim's latest triumph had been to successfully campaign for a national police memorial at Tulliallen Police College in honour of those officers who had died in the line of duty. The ceremony on 7th September was one of the most moving events I have ever attended, and I am just so grateful that Jim was able to be there to see his years of hard work come to fruition. [picture taken from National Police Memorial Website]

Most of Monday was spent in Kilmarnock - following up on some individual cases. I find that most of the individual cases I am dealing with these days relate to Health Service issues - waiting times which bear no resemblance to the figures and targets churned out by the Scottish Government, concern that local services are being 'rationalised', one particularly gut-wrenching case where a family feel that they have been badly let down by their local hospital. Sometimes we are able to help, other times I feel a huge sense of frustration that there is no easy fix; sometimes folk just want someone to listen to them and at least try to understand their situation.

Monday evening and I was at a meeting of the SNP Council Group in East Ayrshire - great concerns about potential cuts in Council services so that Council Tax increases can be kept down; worries that leisure services have been privatised to the extent that admittance charges for a local swimming pool have increased dramatically. Our local councillors work extremely hard and they really are at the sharp end - it is said that all politics is local after all!

Off to Cumbernauld on Tuesday for the North Lanarkshire North CVS Health Fayre - loads of community groups took part in this with the main emphasis being on mental health. Participants told me how much it means to them to be able to attend such events and realise that they are not alone in trying to raise awareness of their own issues - the mutual support really gives them a boost. I went from there with a real community livewire called Alice to visit a fairly new community learning facility with which she is involved; the Centre is in a converted flat in Cumbernauld and services the community, from youngsters to seniors. The number of projects they are involved in is astounding, and run by volunteers. So many people give so much to their areas.

Tuesday night was a real treat - Strathaven Academy put on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. It was a delight to see the talent and enthusiasm of the pupils and teachers involved. Strathaven Academy is pretty special - not only have they embraced Strathaven's Fair Trade Status in a big way by fund-raising and running a fair-trade tuck-shop, but senior pupils have recently started their own Amnesty International Branch in the school. I love to see school pupils reaching out for knowledge and where they have imaginative teachers to support them, the world is literally their oyster.

Back to Edinburgh on Wednesday. Pretty historic for me - the very last meeting of the Holyrood Progress Group on which I have been a member for 4 years. Although I've had a lot of stick about this, I really don't regret having been a part of it, and after all if your Leader and Group ask you to represent them, then that's what you do. Maybe, if nothing else, I should get some praise for endurance! I was also on the Fred Macauley show on Wednesday morning again, talking about gifts given to Ministers and MSPs; I enjoy taking part in this radio show - it's so light-hearted compared to most media things I have to do - I've always reckoned I've got a good face for radio.

Thursday morning brought a debate on Scotland's International Reputation. I took part in this because I feel so strongly that Scotland has so much to offer the world, yet we're held back time and time again by our regional status. I am also extremely angry that our reputation is being daily dragged through the mire by an illegal war. However, I was only allowed 2 minutes so decided to be positive - following Party Policy as agreed recently in Inverness,  I called on the Scottish Government to lobby the European Union for a Centre for Peace and Reconciliation to be sited in Scotland. The idea of such a centre in Europe was mooted by John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, in his final address to the European Parliament, and what better place for it to be than in Scotland.  We are, after all, a nation involved in a process of self-government that has already secured significant constitutional change in a peaceful and democratic fashion that many people around the world admire and cite. I believe that our reputation for democratic and peaceful constitutional change means that we could be established as a force in aiding conflict resolution, even with our current regional status. Imagine what we could do if we were independent.?

Interestingly, just after that debate I met up with a chap from the Tibet Support Group in Scotland. The Dalai Lama thoroughly enjoyed his visit to Scotland earlier in the year - meeting him was one of the thrills of my life - and the Scottish Group is interested in Scotland being the venue for the 2006 International Tibet Support Group Conference. Why not? Sounds good to me - Scotland as an international centre. So, yes, we'll get working on that.

Intended to do loads of desk-work on Thursday afternoon, but we got turfed out our offices by the police doing the security checks for Saturday's royal visit: "please leave your office and the floor for 15 minutes mam". Three hours later and I was arguing to be allowed back in to collect my house keys and car keys!

Friday again, and home in the morning trying to answer all the emails I wasn't able to get round to on Thursday afternoon. Have to admit to going to the hairdresser late Friday morning! I must say though that going to the hairdresser in East Kilbride is like carrying out a surgery - I always leave with copious notes gathered from both staff and customers! Hamilton in the afternoon at a meeting with Scottish Care who are the umbrella organisation for private nursing/care home owners. It was well attended by nursing home owners who feel that the fees they are being given by the Government, through their respective Councils do not meet the cost of care. It was interesting to be told that COSLA back their case and I must look into the whole thing further. Myself and Alex Neil were able to give suggestions as to how they should lobby Parliament - focus on the Communities Committee, and indeed the Enterprise Committee, consider a Public Petition etc.

Well, it's Saturday and our Parliament is opening all over again! A great day was had and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing. The ceremony in the Chamber was fabulous and moving - the performers did us proud, with special mention for young Nicola Benedetti whose violin playing was truly magical. All MSPs had been asked to nominate a community champion to march in the parade; that was really difficult because there are so many folk who work hard in their respective communities. After long consideration I had nominated Isabel Riddet from East Kilbride who works tirelessly on mental health issues. I think she really enjoyed the day and I was honoured to have her as my guest. {photo of Isabel/George Reid/Me]. Following the parliament festivities, did the usual Scottish thing - a couple of drinks and then a curry! Ended up in the SNP Club to mull over the events of the day and put the world to rights as usual.

Well, Sunday ended the week with a special ecumenical service in St. Giles Cathedral to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Scottish Churches Housing Action. Cardinal O'Brien gave the main sermon and yes, as he said, isn't it ridiculous that we see more homeless people on the streets now than we did ten years ago when the churches decided to start their initiative? In 1993/94 Scottish Councils assessed 18,200 applications as 'homeless' and since then there has been a steady increase to 28,168 for year 2003/04. So much wrong in a society where we keep being told we are better off then ever. The fight goes on.

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