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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 12th December 2004

W/B Monday 6th December 2004

Drove through to Edinburgh early Monday morning to attend an all-day event organised by the Presiding Officer – Futures Forum; a gathering of around 150 folk to discuss in full sessions and in breakaway groups how Scotland should move forward. I hadn’t heard of the International Futures Forum, but it has been around for some time and works all over the world encouraging politicians, business people, voluntary sector, writers, people from all sections of society to come together, share ideas and think ‘out of the box’. It was a first event for us, and it will be interesting to see what happens from here. I thoroughly enjoyed the day actually – had some interesting discussions with people coming from varying perspectives; agreed with some, disagreed with others, but then that’s what democracy’s about. As we left we were given a box of cards, each with a slogan/statement on them and meant to encourage a different way of thinking and a basis for discussion. So, I’m just going to select one right now and pass that thought on to you.

Economic activity takes place within a moral framework”

There you go – get thinking/get discussing!

Back on the road to Edinburgh from Strathaven early on Tuesday morning – 2.5 hours it took me, even leaving at 7.15 am. Busy, bitty day. Fred Macauley Show first thing to talk about the Queensberry House ghost. This is the ghost of a servant boy who was roasted over the spit by the Duke of Queensberry’s son, Lord Drumlanrig, whilst the Duke was away witnessing the signing of the Treaty of Union of the Parliaments in 1707. The kitchen and actual fireplace are still there and there’s been reports that the poor wee laddie’s ghost is stalking the parliament complex! Anyway I told Fred that when independence is declared the wee soul will be at rest.

From the Beeb to a meeting at Just World Partners to discuss our projects in Guatemala – community forestry, run by a local organisation on our behalf and employing local people. Small international charities and agencies are a bit worried about European Union funding at the moment, because it seems that the funding has been transferred from Brussels to their local offices worldwide. Seems fine and reasonable in theory, but I have heard some issues raised about local offices not meeting funding deadlines etc. This is problematic for small organisations which don’t have big reserves, and this must be investigated further. There are lots of very small charities doing small projects which are really worthwhile and giving work to locals – we should be encouraging this approach as far as possible.

Had a meeting in the afternoon with the representatives of the affordable housing groups – Scottish Federation of Housing Associations, Shelter, Scottish Council for Single Homeless, Chartered Institute of Housing – to talk about the real concerns that people have about the lack of housing for rent which is likely to be available over the forthcoming years. The Executive’s programme doesn’t specify just how much of the new housing they are promising is for rent rather than for sale, and then there is the effect of the Right to Buy – in 2012 this extends to Housing Association tenants too. Councils are worried that all their allocations will go to homeless people – whilst there is a general will to eradicate homelessness this means that unless more houses for rent are available then folk on mainstream waiting lists won’t get an offer. One of my worries is that it seems so easy now for people to get mortgages at levels which are barely affordable from their income and in the absence of rented housing they are forced to step onto the home ownership ladder just to have a roof over their heads which they can call their own.

Through to Hamilton in the evening to the SNP Council Group’s Christmas Party – again the main topic of discussion was housing and the lack of public rented houses in particular pockets of South Lanarkshire, East Kilbride for example.

Back on the road again from Strathaven at 6.30 am to get to the Communities Committee for 9.15 am. Just made it! Edinburgh really is awful for driving during the rush hours. Still, staying over in Edinburgh tonight and looking forward to a good dinner with pals.

Communities Committee was taking evidence on the Charity Law Reform Bill – more evidence-taking next week before the committee deliberates further. Straight after Communities Committee on to Public Petitions Committee where the petition submitted previously by a Group in East Kilbride – Murray Owen Group, comprising parents of adult children with learning difficulties – was up for discussion again. Madge and Jeanette were in attendance to hear the deliberations of the Committee and even though I’m no longer a member of that Committee I was there to chip in my tuppence worth. The issue is basically that the Group feel that since the hospital closure programme started and people with learning difficulties are now rightly moving back into communities, the housing needs of those who live with their parents are being put on the back-burner in some local authorities. I didn’t have to say much at the Committee because, thankfully, all of the Committee Members wanted to make further investigation of the issue. It is a real worry for elderly parents who want to make sure their adult children are settled before they are unable to look after them and crisis-management takes over.

Had a lovely lunchtime with a couple of constituents from Kilmarnock. We had the obligatory tour of the Parliament and again, John and Jim were fair taken with it despite their scepticism at the start.

Kilmarnock takes over the Chamber.

Wednesday afternoon’s debate was the Caledonian Macbrayne one in which the Executive was beaten by Parliament – only the third time this has happened! Some of the Labour Group abstained – interesting that in the three times that Parliament has overruled the Executive it has been a LibDem Minister responsible, no doubt payback will come! Happy coalition!

Member’s Debate Wednesday evening was about the contribution that retired and senior volunteers make to Society. I only had a small contribution because I just wanted it noted that it’s not only in Scotland that retired Scots volunteer. There are many programmes in Africa and elsewhere that retired teachers and business people volunteer their services, sometimes on short visits and sometimes on longer stretches through the likes of the VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas). I mentioned earlier about Pat in Strathaven who went off to Nicaragua, and Sandy, retired teacher, is arranging an African sabbatical through the VSO.

After that debate, hot-footed to the Committee Rooms for two Cross Party Group meetings, the first on Palestine and the second on Affordable Housing. The Palestine meeting was really interesting – David Martin MEP who I understand has been an activist on behalf of Palestine for many years, gave a really interesting presentation on how the European Union interacts with both Israel and Palestine, and how difficult it is for Palestinians to market their products – sometimes they are marketed as Israeli by necessity. David Martin was really knowledgeable, but unfortunately I had to leave just after his speech and before the ensuing discussion.

Straight into the Affordable Housing Cross Party Group to hear Professor Glen Bramley explain his recent study into affordable housing which was commissioned by the Executive. Interesting, but I’m not entirely convinced that in every aspect the base-lines used give a true picture. For example, it’s all very well to say that that there are enough houses available to meet needs, but that figure does not take into account house condition or any planned demolitions. Also, it may be the case that a particular Local Authority has enough houses on paper, but if you live in Arran for instance, then its immaterial to you whether your Council has empty houses in Irvine. Of course, Professor Bramley has carried out the research as requested, the next step will be to see what use the Executive makes of it in their forward planning.

At last to dinner with Rob Gibson and Roseanna Cunningham – really good Thai restaurant near the Parliament – and joined by Murray Tosh and David Mundell from the Tory Group when they turned up for dinner shortly after us. A good time was had by all – putting the world to rights! If only it were that easy.

I didn’t have to be in the Chamber on Thursday apart from at First Ministers Questions and Question Time in the afternoon, so managed to do a bit of deskwork. Haven’t been able to work late at my desk this week, so that was really useful. Also had a visit in the afternoon from some old friends who wanted to view the building, so that was a real pleasure.

Friday was the Scottish Refugee Council Annual General Meeting and they had asked me to give one of the keynote speeches in my role as Convener of the Cross Party Group on Refugees and Asylum Seekers. It was an extremely well attended meeting and the level of work carried out by the SRC is immense. During the Director’s presentation she told us that on average the Council deals with one unaccompanied child asylum seeker a week, that is someone under the age of eighteen. She told us of one young African 14 year old who was directed to their office, having just arrived in the country with no idea where he was or where to go. He had been put on the plane by a relative who was worried for his safety following persecution of his parents. Thankfully this lad is now settling and being well looked after, but its an aspect of asylum that we don’t often hear about.

The company was very moved by the contribution from Henriette Koubakienda, asylum seeker from Congo Brazzaville. Henriette is now very active in Sighthill, Glasgow, giving support to African woman and they have recently launched their Group – Karibu, which means ‘welcome’ in Swahili. When asked from the floor, Henriette gave a brief outline of her own background and her story, and no-one could fail to be impressed at her fortitude and her spirit of reaching out to help others. I visited Henriette in her home earlier this year and met with her two young sons, both studying hard at school and feeling perfectly at home in Glasgow. When I meet people like this in Sighthill and elsewhere, and read about the Executive’s ‘Fresh Talent Initiative’, I get so frustrated. What better talent could Scotland embrace than that of the likes of Henriette and her boys? Yet, we can’t make these decisions for ourselves, and because of Home Office diktat, Henriette and others like her, sometimes qualified up to their ears, aren’t even allowed to work. All we can do is keep applying the pressure – even though you feel you’re getting nowhere fast, we’ve got to keep trying, or they’ve won.

Back in Grangemouth, by-electioneering on Saturday, and family day on Sunday. Weeks just fly by.

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