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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 19th December 2004

W/B Monday 13th December 2004

As always mid-December I begin to regret not having been more organised with Christmas cards – I’ve bought my usual load of Parliament Cards, and they’re all still in the box. I haven’t even thought of personal ones, so this week will have a few late night card writing sessions. Still the week starts well with a visit to Hamilton College to talk to the third-year modern studies class about my trip to Tanzania. Unfortunately technology at home has not been kind and my digital photographs all turn out in shades of blue – dark blue people, light blue trees etc. Never mind, I was able to take along some Masai clothes and jewellery and we all had fun dressing up. The youngsters were really interested in their counterparts on the other side of the world and I hope to go back to Hamilton College to tell them more and show them some video film which is, I believe, wending its way to me.

Wrote some Christmas Cards.

A very different start to Tuesday – Standards Committee. I’m just new on this committee and have come in at the end of the discussion and recommendations to Parliament from the Committee about the ‘Members Interest Order’. Members’ interests have to be publicly declared and published, for example I had to declare my trip to Tanzania because it was paid for by the British Council. The Standards Committee has been taking soundings from members and revising the Order which has been in place since 1999. So, our Report is almost complete and will go to the Parliament for debate before the new rules are finalised.

The afternoon brought a visit from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy representative for ‘Small Parties’. The WFD arranges study visits, electoral observer visits etc. for parliamentarians in Westminster, Welsh Assembly, NI Assembly, and of course our own Parliament. I’m the SNP contact here in Holyrood. Examples of work this year have been when Michael Matheson travelled to Sudan to gauge the democratic situation there, and Tricia Marwick travelled to the Yemen on a similar exercise. So, next month, two of my colleagues are heading off for short study breaks – Roseanna Cunningham to Mozambique and Alasdair Morgan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. As you can see, hardly holiday destinations!

Still on an international theme, I had a visit in the evening from a young refugee from the Western Sahara who has now moved from Oxford to Edinburgh. She was granted leave to remain in the UK some time ago, and attended the SNP Conference in Inverness back in September – we held a Fringe Meeting to raise awareness of the plight of her people – the Saharawi.

In 1975 Morocco invaded Western Sahara (previously Spanish Sahara) and General Franco of Spain handed the territory to them and Mauritania before he died. The people were cleared out and around 170,000 now live in refugee camps in Algeria whilst around 70,000 live in the occupied territory. Morocco has also pursued a policy of transmigration – moving Moroccan people into the area so that the independence movement is diluted.

It’s not an area of the world which is much reported upon, so anyone who is interested in learning more can log onto I also remember that some time ago I attended an STUC meeting where the Fire Brigades Union were speaking in support of the Western Sahara, so I will get in touch with them again to see if they are still active in the campaign. I did place a motion in the Scottish Parliament some time ago asking the UK to use the opportunities afforded to it as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations, and in particular its term as President, to ensure that the referendum on self-determination for the Western Sahara, promised for 1992, takes place as soon as possible.

Wrote some Christmas cards.

Another Committee on Wednesday morning – Communities – it always amazes me when I read the newspapers that it looks like MSPs only work one and a half days in the Parliament, in the Chamber. It’s a shame that they only report the knock-about, confrontational debate stuff, when most of the work is actually done in Committees, and very often by consensus. At Communities Committee we were taking further evidence on the proposed Charities legislation. The first session was with the legal profession, hearing their views on the workability of the legislation and the second session was with the voluntary sector – Scottish Council of Voluntary Services etc. Differing views on various aspects of course, but a general agreement that legislation to regulate charities is necessary and overdue.

The afternoon Chamber debate was about the ‘step change’ for the Health Service, and the use of the private sector – it was widely trailed in the press of course, so no surprises there. There was much disquiet amongst members though that the relevant document “Fair to All, Personal to Each”, was unavailable to members until after the Minister was finished his speech. It seemed that the Executive was deliberately withholding information so that the debate would not be properly informed. The Presiding Officer did seem to have sympathy for members, but could only ask the Executive to ‘take cognisance’ of members’ feelings. Oh well, as long as we don’t hold our breath whilst we’re waiting for this Executive to care about members’ feelings!

Wednesday evening and a really interesting presentation by Dr. Alison Elliot, Moderator of the Church of Scotland about AIDS in Africa and the work being carried out by the Church in HIV and AIDS awareness and support. It was a very well attended meeting, arranged jointly by the International Development and the Sexual Health Cross-Party Groups. Unlike Westminster, here in Holyrood anyone can be a member of a Cross-Party Group, so it doesn’t just have to be MSPs – I’m sure this makes for much more interesting and informed discussion and decision making.

Still writing Christmas Cards.

Thursday morning brought two Tory sponsored debates – one on the Defence Review, with particular reference to the Scottish Regiments, and the other on Justice Issues, mainly Re-offending. There was a buzz about because the Labour Group and the Lib-dem Group had both laid Amendments to the motion on Defence, so no agreement there then amongst the coalition partners! Decision Time at 5 pm would tell.

I spent Thursday afternoon determined to finish the Christmas Cards once for all, but managed to muck up my database and got totally confused – which have been sent already? Cross-referencing required amidst much muttering and stamping of feet.

And so to Decision Time, and yes the Libs voted down the Executive’s amendment! Payback to their Labour partners for being so nasty to their nice Lib-Dem Minister last week about the Calmac Ferries issue? I guess we’ll never know! Anyway, two votes in it and the Parliament voted for the Scottish Regiments. If only Mr. Blair would listen. Mr. Hoon certainly heard Annabel Ewing when she got thrown out of the House of Commons on Thursday afternoon for calling him a ‘back-stabbing coward’, but there’s a difference between hearing and listening.

SNP Christmas Party Thursday night – and oh yes, we put the world to rights, all over again. We were cheery though – a triple whammy that day; Annabel giving Hoon a talking to, McConnell’s Executive getting beat on the Regiments vote, and then a cracking win at the Inchyra By-election in Grangemouth! Life was good on Thursday night.

I’m afraid I was late in at work Friday morning, and spent the last hour of the morning prepping for a housing meeting I was holding in the afternoon. Successful meeting though, with the further realisation that we really do have a long way to go in this country before everyone is given the chance of a decent roof over their heads.

Friday night, writing up the notes and fixing that blooming database. So Christmas Cards all weekend – not to mention Christmas presents, Christmas Dinner prep. and putting up the tree. Still, I love it really.

Only one more week of work to go, and then off until after New Year. Sounds good.

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