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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 17th October 2004

First week of the October recess, so no Chamber sitting this week or next. I like recess because it means you can catch up on things that you’ve been meaning to clear up for ages. I am heading off to Arran later this week though for a few days’ break.

Monday’s constituency cases again are largely about the Health Service – waiting time of 25 months for a fairly routine operation in one case. A chap who has been suffering for four years in another case. So much for all these targets that were set back in 1999 when we were going to have ‘Scottish Solutions for Scottish Problems’.

Monday afternoon brought a meeting with the British Council who have asked me to go to Tanzania for a week in mid-February to shadow a Tanzanian MP for a week in her constituency. A bunch of women Tanzanian parliamentarians visited the UK a couple of years ago and came to Edinburgh to see how devolution was working in Scotland – Zanzibar is an autonomous region of Tanzania – and this ‘twinning’ idea is one of the projects that have arisen from that. So, yes, the Whip has granted me permission and I’ll be heading off on 13th November. Looking forward to seeing the kind of issues that Esterina Kalasi has to face in her largely rural constituency.

It was disturbing late on Monday to discover that my local TV station intended to run a series of interviews with the leader of the British National Party over the coming week. There is always this argument with groups like the National Front and the BNP that freedom of speech shouldn’t be stifled, but as far as I’m concerned freedom of speech that impinges on other people’s freedom to live without fear is not valid, so I joined in the campaign to try to have these interviews stopped. Thankfully, we were successful and Thistle TV cancelled the programmes. I feel particularly strongly about this subject at the moment because I recently ended up in conversation with a BNP member, unbeknownst to me until he decided to air his views, and although I bowed out of the company pretty sharpish I was completely sickened and saddened by the violence inherent in his comments – such views are so hard to understand. The BNP has been trying hard to make inroads in Lanarkshire because that is where Dungavel Detention Centre is sited; we must counter these moves in every way possible.

East Kilbride SNP meeting on Monday night and we selected our Westminster candidate – Douglas Edwards, local, extremely hard-working activist. Billy Wolfe did us the honour of taking the Chair for the occasion; it’s always such a pleasure to listen to Billy and I love learning from him.

Tuesday morning in Strathaven – the Fair Trade Group is organising a ‘One World Day’ for next weekend. Strathaven has really embraced its status as Scotland’s First Fair Trade Town and the Committee work really hard. One of the members has recently returned from Nicaragua where she visited and worked on one of the fair trade plantations, so we’re all looking forward to hearing about her adventures. Pat had originally come along to one of our initial meetings about fair-trade to hear what it was all about, and now she’s running all over the country encouraging other towns to commit – she says that she didn’t realise early retirement would be so busy!

I’m now deputy to Christine Grahame MSP, the Party’s Social Justice Shadow Minister, and I have particular responsibility for housing, so on Tuesday afternoon I met with one of our Party members who is extremely knowledgeable about housing’s owner-occupied sector. The talent in our Party is immense and for those of us who have been fortunate enough to end up in positions where we can mouth off publicly and perhaps be listened to, it’s great to have this well of knowledge to draw on. I really did learn a lot from Graeme – most of my own housing experience has been in the social-rented sector, and it’s important to understand all aspects.

So, Wednesday and off to Arran for a few days with family. It’s years since I’ve been in Arran and I had quite forgotten just what a magical island it can be. It’s often said that Arran is Scotland in miniature and yes, that seems to be the case for more than just the beautiful scenery. I had suspected that Arran suffered a level of hidden deprivation but I hadn’t realised just how marked that could be for those living there until I chatted when friends who moved there some ten years ago, and with local activists.

Availability of housing is a big issue – both for the social rented sector, the private rented sector and for ownership. Some examples – in Lochranza more than 40% of the houses on the island being holiday-homes; a room-and-kitchen selling for around £100,000; a plot of land sold by the Council, suitable for the building of one house, £81,000; local people living in caravans with no running water; potential incoming workers having to turn down jobs because they can’t get accommodation; new houses being built, without an affordable housing deal being part of the scheme, which will sell for around £200-250,000. If you consider that the average wage on Arran is around £15,000, then decent housing is hard to come by. This of course has a knock-on effect on so many other things – local shops closing, worry about schools being sustainable, hospital services. So, yes, Scotland in miniature right enough – highly-populated areas of deprivation get coverage in the press, targeted assistance etc., but because rural poverty is deemed to affect so few people, small communities get forgotten. Yet, all communities, large or small, are part of our nation and should be sustained.

I mentioned health service targets earlier. Well, I arrived back home at the weekend to discover that the Scottish Government had decided to abandon most of its own targets! Back to the grind!

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