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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 28th November 2004

Well, Monday 22nd November and back to reality after such a fabulous week in Tanzania. Spent the day writing up my Tanzania notes and ploughing through emails, and letters, and reports, and agenda of meetings to come, and minutes of meetings which had been, and phone calls … … … … … and more letters, and more emails ... … … … good to be back though.

Monday night brought my annual treat of going along to the West Lanarkshire Guides AGM. I was delighted to be asked to be a Guiding Ambassador back in 1999 when I attended the AGM for the first time, especially since I was a Girls Brigade lass (didn’t last long if the truth be told). Every year I am fascinated by what the Brownies and Guides in West Lanarkshire have achieved, the confidence they are imparting to young girls, the links they’ve made internationally, the absolute commitment of those who give their time so freely. This year we had a fantastic presentation from one of the older guides about her trip to Madagascar with other guides from around the UK to give support to the guiding movement there – what an experience for her.

Before shooting through to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning, I had an interesting meeting with a petrol station proprietor in the constituency about the Rural Petrol Stations Grant – a grant available to suppliers who service rural areas to allow them to upgrade/stay in business. I hope we can do something to help, but some investigation of the criteria of the scheme required. Busy day in Edinburgh on Tuesday, starting with a briefing meeting with the Poverty Alliance who wanted us to know their current policy stances and their general concern that the root causes of poverty are not being addressed – my own view is that until you really have the levers of power to influence, for example, the taxation system and the benefits system, then you are doing no more that treating the symptoms.

Next Thursday we are having a debate in the Parliament about historic institutional child abuse, so I met with representatives of INCAS – In  Care Abused Support – the charity which has been leading the campaign for a Public Inquiry. I have had a dialogue with this Group since my time on the Public Petitions Committee, and because I have been acting on behalf of a survivor in my own area. This debate is interesting because it has been demanded by the Public Petitions Committee, unanimously across the parties, due to the Executive’s reluctance to act and their tardiness in even responding to MSPs’ letters and Committee requests for information. It is still the Executive’s view that a Public Inquiry would be inappropriate – I, and many colleagues even outwith the Public Petitions Committee are not convinced of this. As I said, next Thursday’s debate should be interesting – there won’t be a vote though, because the debate as called is on a ‘noting motion’ only, but if feelings are strong enough the Executive may be forced into a rethink.

And so to Wednesday – delighted that the Communities Committee meeting has been postponed because I can get on with some clearing up and out. The amount of paperwork that MSPs receive and then recycle is huge. When I look at my own piles of annual reports, circular letters and various catalogues which literally get dumped – with the best will in the world it is impossible to read everything received, let alone act on them – and multiply this by 129 it amounts to a veritable weekly mountain. Years ago I remember all the talk about the computer age rendering paper obsolete, and everyone working in ‘paperless offices’ – tosh! Things are easier mass-produced now, and it seems to me that email is in addition rather than instead of.

I had a meeting with some local councillors in the afternoon to talk about housing. Again, huge concern that whilst the Homelessness Act is admirable and everyone wants to end the use of Bed and Breakfast accommodation for families, without the resources Local Authorities won’t be able to comply and cope. The Minister’s order to end the use of B and B comes up before committee next week for discussion.

Still on a housing theme, I visited a great Group in Motherwell on Wednesday night – the Access Group, set up by North Lanarkshire Council, but sadly only funded until the end of March 2005. Access is a self-help project for young homeless people and the philosophy is bang-on. When youngsters leave institutional care, or family homes for various reasons, it is not enough just to hand over the keys to a property and leave them to cope. Life skills are more than this, and too often some of our disadvantaged youngsters are left alone to muddle through. As well as housing advice and support the Group co-ordinate service activities to give participants opportunities to gain work-related skills as well as learning how to live along – decorating, cooking etc. I was well impressed, by the Group themselves and by the Council employees who assist. These youngsters tell it exactly like it is – no frills, and some of them, despite their years, have seen more experience of the hard side of life than some folk will ever have. It’s awful to think that this service will close for lack of funding, because there will never be, unfortunately, a lack of young people who require such help. I’ll certainly do all I can to see if a way forward can be found.

Drive back to Edinburgh, because the annoying this is that it takes less than an hour late at night to get to Edinburgh from Motherwell/Hamilton/East Kilbride, but if I have to be in Chamber for 9.30 am, then I have to leave the house at around 7.00 am. In the rush hours it takes as long to get from the outskirts of Edinburgh to the City Centre as it does to get from Strathaven to the outskirts.

Thursday morning brought the Green Party debate about supermarkets and food. I could only catch part of it as I had a meeting with the Parliament’s Chief Executive to talk about the way forward for the Parliaments Art Strategy. I’m not the SNP Member on that Group. The art work in the parliament currently is superb – the original Arts Group chose well, and some of the gifts we have received are stunning. That should not be the end of the Strategy though – art should not be static – and the Parliament’s Corporate Body will soon be taking a decision about how to move forward. There are so many possibilities and I’m looking forward to the employment of the Arts Curator so that ideas can be stimulated.

The Scottish Civic Forum had asked my office to host another delegation from Falkirk – this time of community activists who wanted to learn how to interact with their elected representatives and how to access parliament services and consultations. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to spend a lot of time with them because I had to be in Chamber for the debate at 3.00 pm. I’ll tell you what though, this Group were perfectly able to suss out what it was all about!

Thursday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and this was the subject of the afternoon’s debate. Interesting contributions around the floor, my own and that of Cathie Peattie and Rosie Kane focussing on the international aspects rather than domestic.

Throughout the world, violence against women is not confined to any particular political or economic system, but a phenomenon that cuts across boundaries of wealth, race and culture. It’s recognised by the United Nations that women's role in the world is based on a fundamental belief in societies of the non-importance of women compared with men, this confirmed by their Declaration: "violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women, which have led to domination over and discrimination against women by men." I spoke particularly about the use of women as a weapon of war, in either internal or international struggles. This goes on in every conflict – from Africa to South East Asia to Eastern Europe.

It was interesting that when the Tanzanian women MPs visited Scotland and England they were astounded to learn that the UK still had issues about domestic violence against women – they see our society as ‘civilised’ and advanced. However, as a recent study showed, 1 in 5 young men and 1 in 10 young women in our society think that it is sometimes okay that domestic violence against women occurs. Until that fundamental belief system is challenged and turned round, we can’t be credibly held up as a model for less advanced nations to follow.

Happy Friday in the constituency – morning in Cleland and afternoon in East Kilbride. In Cleland I was visiting Mrs. McDonald at her invitation, along with Energy Action Scotland and North Lanarkshire Council. Last Week was ‘Warm Homes Week’ and Mrs. McDonald was having her house insulated through the EAS/Council Warm Homes Initiative, funded by the Scottish Executive. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit, and the hospitality of Mrs. McDonald, her daughter and grand-daughter.

The Central Heating Scheme and Warm Home Initiative for older citizens are sincerely welcomed as a step forward, although I would like to see the schemes expanded to include houses that have only partial or obsolete/expensive to run central heating systems in them. For example, in East Kilbride and Cumbernauld many new forms of heating were tried when the new towns were being built – electric or gas warm air systems/underfloor heating (I was even told about ceiling heating in EK although I’ve never come across it). Likewise under the old standards, partial central heating was acceptable – radiators downstairs only for example. To be fair, the Executive has said that once their current programme is complete, they will look at expansion. Looks like targets won’t be met though as already there is a back-log I understand and a shortage of gas fitters in particular.

East Kilbride fascinates me sometimes – it’s surrounded by industrial estates and technology parks, and these are full of some of the most successful and innovative companies in the land. Thursday afternoon’s visit to Memex Technology Limited was a revelation, both for me and for Pauline McNeill MSP, Chair of the Justice I Committee. Memex is a company which produces ‘intelligence management solutions’, their client base, amongst many others, including the British Transport Police, the Metropolitan Police Service, the Pennsylvania State police and the New Jersey Office of Counter Terrorism in the U.S.! So very interesting, and so very impressive. In this age of ‘cross-over’ working demands and information sharing, for the Police in particular, it’s good to know that a Lanarkshire company is at the forefront of progress.

Well, Saturday night in East Kilbride was a real treat. My friend Patricia and I hoofed it along to Greenhills to see Christian in cabaret at a local fundraiser. Do you remember him? I remember watching him on TV when I was a kid – the Chris McClure Section. Well, I know he’s a good bit older than me, but I was never able to move like that, and I have never been possessed of such energy! The man was fab and Greenhills Community Centre was rocking. Thanks Greenhills and Christian for such a treat – I even bought a CD.

Sunday – last day of the week, and free to write up some reports, catch up on the newspapers etc. Through to Edinburgh again on Sunday night though for dinner with the Italian Consul and his guests. Big conference in Edinburgh this week – the European RegLeg committee (for regional legislatures – Jack McConnell’s Convenership coming to an end at this Conference I understand). So, the Italian delegation was here, headed by Enrico La Loggia, the Minister with special responsibility for decentralisation in Italy and co-ordinating the advance towards federalism. Interesting discussion about Scotland’s devolution and whether it will advance further – didn’t seem awfully willing to discuss whether Italy’s would though! Recognition from all that Scotland, being a defined historic nation with undisputed borders, is a bit different from most of the other ‘Regions’ within the European Community. Good dinner – Tower Restaurant in the Museum of Scotland.

Italians always eat late, and extremely well, so rolled home around midnight to prepare for Monday again – comes round so quick.

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