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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 24th October 2004

I am writing this column on Monday 25th October – evening, and I’m in a heck of a bad mood, because I’ve written it already and just deleted it by mistake! I was just starting on Friday too! Aaarrrggghhh!!!

So, Monday 18th October. In between having my Yellow Fever inoculation for my forthcoming visit to Tanzania and visiting the Dentist, I dropped in on a Strathclyde Police event in East Kilbride. They had taken over an empty shop unit in the shopping centre and it was full of stalls relating to women’s and children’s health; Women’s Aid/Quit Smoking/Al-Anon/Adult Literacy/Healthy Heart Campaign. I joined the queue to have my cholesterol and blood-pressure checked – not bad, except told to have more exercise. Nothing changed there then! It was a good and worthwhile event, and extremely busy. Well done Strathclyde Police and East Kilbride Police Station in particular.

Met in the afternoon with a case worker from Black Community Development Project in the Pilton area of Edinburgh, because they have asked me to address their conference on Friday about how black/ethnic minority communities can access community planning. This organisation started in 1991 in Muirhouse following a couple of racially aggravated incidents, and they have gone from strength to strength.

Because it’s still recess I managed to feel quite good on Tuesday night, having spent the day clearing lots of emails and paperwork. Got quite an interesting Parliamentary Question back – PQs to the Scottish Executive, are the main way that parliamentarians can get answers from the Government. Mind you, unless you’re very careful about the wording you don’t get answers as detailed as you would like. Anyway, this one confirmed that Reliance operatives – Reliance is the private company which has taken over prison escort services from the Scottish Prison Service – have no authority to chase and apprehend a prisoner who escapes from their custody. All they can do is wave ‘cheerio’ and call the police! So much for saving police time. Later that evening it was confirmed on the news that a prisoner in Reliance custody had been injured in an attack whilst waiting at court.

Got wakened up early on Wednesday morning by the BBC UK and BBC Scotland  wanting to do interviews on the Reliance issue. To me it’s very straightforward; there are services which should never be privatised and the criminal justice service is one of them – the Reliance contract should be stopped. And, as for the reasoning being to free up police time, then surely that should be by review of the whole system, meaning for example that police officers should not be sitting day after day in courts waiting for cases to come up. Local radio picked up the story so all in all a busy morning.

Wednesday afternoon brought a visit to parliament by members of the Lanarkshire Friendship Force and their visitors from the Netherlands. Like most people who have visited the Parliament they were favourably impressed and lost their initial scepticism. When the ridiculous process is separated from the end produce, It really is a beautiful piece of architecture and design. The Security Officers were all looking exhausted on Wednesday evening, and they told me that they had screened more than 2,500 visitors that day.

Again, most of Thursday was spent in clearing the decks, apart from a meeting with colleagues about the forthcoming Charity Law legislation. It’s the Communities Committee which is dealing with this, so Christine Grahame and I will be leading it for the SNP Group. We are at the pre-legislative consultation stage, so members will be going round the country speaking with relevant organisations, community reps. and individuals. I’m off to  Easterhouse, Glasgow on Tuesday morning.

I mentioned in a previous column about Thistle TV having agreed not to show their proposed interviews with the Leader of the British National Party. When I got back from Arran I was invited by them to take part in a studio discussion about freedom of speech, the BNP etc. I declined. Well, this afternoon I received a ranting email from the presenter of this programme accusing me of, amongst other things “denying the public the right to judge for themselves”, “deciding what is suitable for viewers”, and “assuming that you know best”. It also demanded that I “come in here and justify your position to the electorate of this area”.  Well, no! I made a personal decision a long time ago not to give any racist organisation, or their views, any credence by discussing them publicly. I know I might be accused of doing that here, but television is a particularly powerful medium. I would be interested to know what readers think.

Friday morning brought the Fred Macauley Show on Radio Scotland again, to discuss MP’s expenses. About time they were made as transparent as those for MSPs.

Then on to the Black Community Development Project Conference – excellent event, well attended and well run. The black community in Scotland faces many of the same difficulties of any other community, but the reality is that it is more difficult if you are black. As someone from an Italian background, it is often said to me that the Italians have integrated, like the Poles, like the Lithuanians, but you know, as a third-generation Italian it is not immediately apparent by looking at me that I come from immigrant stock; you can’t say the same for third generation Chinese, African or Pakistani. So, it really isn’t as simple as that. The only time I ever suffered any kind of racial abuse was whilst electioneering in 1999, and it was minimal. some of the stories of abuse I heard on Friday morning would break your heart. We have to recognise as a nation that we’re not actually as welcoming as we would like to believe – the “all Jock Tamson’s Bairns” syndrome. For some of our countrymen and women it really is difficult.

On Friday afternoon I was delighted to meet up with Rosemary  Burnett, Scottish Director of Amnesty International – Rosemary took a year out and went to Guatemala to work with an organisation which accompanies civic society activists to and from their business. It’s extremely dangerous in that part of the world to be ‘mouthy’ and fight against the establishment, but the presence of international volunteers keeping a watchful eye helps. Her experiences sound really interesting and I’m looking forward to hearing the full presentation of her trip which she is preparing.

Constituency work on Saturday as usual starting with a meeting in East Kilbride with people who are extremely worried about the new Job Centre Plus plans which mean that some benefit offices are closing – there are concerns about this in both East Kilbride and Hamilton. Yes, this is a ‘reserved’ matter and for the local MP to deal with, but when it directly affects local people, it’s only right that they are able to discuss the issues with all local representatives. All I can do though is try to get further information, and keep an eye on the responses to the consultation which is current.

We had a ‘One World’ day in Strathaven in the afternoon, run by the Fair Trade Group. Lots of folk attended and took advantage of the Fair Trade Tearoom and bought their Christmas paraphernalia from Traidcraft. I chaired the presentation on the Chair’s visit to Nicaragua where she was working on a coffee plantation – a co-operative run on Fair Trade principles. Everyone enjoyed hearing about Pat’s trip and the questions after her presentation were really detailed. It struck me quite forcibly that the last presentation I attended about a Latin American plantation showed children with birth deformities because of the chemicals used, Union activists being hauled off to prison on no charges, and police brutality. The Man from Del Monte says YES to a lot of awful things. Fair Trade and co-operative principles may not yet be the norm in many societies, but a start is better than nothing, and good luck to all of those who campaign for a better deal.

Saturday carried on with a visit to a local asthma charity – SARA – who run an extremely successful second-hand shop in the town, and meetings with individuals – the Health Service again I’m afraid.

And so to Sunday – lazy day looking at Housing Policy, and then a welcome visit to Strathaven’s Town Mill Theatre in the evening for a singalong of “Songs from the Shows”. I’m a sucker for all these big production numbers! It was a wild night, and the poor theatre is suffering from lots of leaks, and was freezing cold! Again, in Strathaven this resource is run by volunteers who are constantly fundraising to try to upkeep this beautiful old building. Sadly, most shows they put on run at a loss – it’s the usual cart and horse scenario – no money for marketing, no making money without marketing!

And so to bed … …

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