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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 13th February 2005

Week commencing Monday 7th February 2005

Well, well, here I am Friday night, 11th, in the office contemplating my week. Hugely busy this week for some reason with never a minute to draw breath. I’m going off for a few days, starting off with visiting my wee brother in London tomorrow morning. Next week parliament is in recess you see, so no Chamber. As usual before a few days off, I’m clearing out, throwing out and stressing out! So much to round off!

Morag has also sensibly decided to take advantage of recess and is having a welcome week off, so next week you’ll be reading Calum and Davie’s perspective on working in the national parliament. Goodness knows what they’ll say!

Monday was another housing day – private sector this time, talking with representative of housing developers with particular concerns that they are going to face additional costs because of the huge level of investment required to bring water and sewage services up to scratch to cope with new housing developments. Scottish Water Investment Plan due to be announced by the Executive this week. Spent Monday evening compiling PQs – parliamentary questions, used to gain information from the Executive. There’s an art to putting these questions together as you only get answered literally what you ask. Some departments are worse than others – the Justice Dept. is particularly bad on the issue of private prisons, privatised prisoner escort services etc. Here’s a good example of an answer last year being worth ‘hee-haw’

S2W-8507 - Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP) : To ask the Scottish Executive how many senior Scottish Prison Service staff have been detailed to monitor the effective delivery of services by Reliance Secure Task Management Ltd to Glasgow courts.

Answered by Cathy Jamieson (8 June 2004): I have asked Tony Cameron, Chief Executive of the Scottish Prison Service to respond. His response is as follows:

A variable number, depending on operational need.

That was around the same time that Mr. Cameron confirmed to me in another PQ that if a prisoner ran away from the Reliance Guards then Reliance had no authority to chase and apprehend! “Oh, you’re off then? bye-bye – I’ll away and call the police”.

I got another interesting PQ answer today – I had asked what the highest DISCOUNT ever received by a tenant who bought their home under the ‘Right to Buy’ was. I expected it to be around £80,000 although most folk who guessed said between £40-50,000. The answer? £150,900 – yes, one hundred and fifty thousand, nine hundred pounds! Fine for the lucky Edinburgh soul whose house it is, and let’s face it no-one can be blamed in any way for buying their council house given the opportunity, but it must be galling for those waiting on housing waiting lists, or living in a rotten, high-rent, no-security flat!

If you want a look at PQs they are easily accessible on the Parliament website.

Communities Committee meeting on Tuesday – taking informal soundings, pre-legislative, before hearing formal evidence on the proposed Private Housing Bill. Presentation from Edinburgh City Council – Perth and Glasgow the week after next.

More PQ writing on Tuesday – this time great efforts to try and get the Chamber Desk to accept questions about Dungavel Immigration and Removal Centre – reserved matter – a wee bit of land in Scotland that the Home Office can use and abuse as they wish without our being told! I am sick to the stomach that asylum seekers in Dungavel are taken to hospital, in need of medical treatment, in handcuffs. What we are putting innocent people through – they must think we are barbarians. I am trying to find out the legal basis for restraining folk who have committed no crime and have not been declared a danger to anyone else. Calum’s been working like mad using different question formulations to try and get some answers.

Lovely time on Tuesday night, following the Ofcom presentation – dinner with Trish Marwick and our old pal Fiona McLeod who served with us here in parliament from 1999 to 2003. Great to see her and to see how great she’s looking – whenever I meet any of my old colleagues from here they look years younger! That must say something about this job I guess.

Communities Committee again on Wednesday morning and still ploughing our way through the proposed Charities legislation –committee report nearly done. I met with a bunch of Romans at lunchtime! The Antonine Guard – worth a look at their website

Ron and John and their fellow guardsmen are dedicated to bringing to wider public attention Scotland’s rich Roman cultural heritage and are trying to preserve Ardoch Fort in Perthshire – like, I suspect, most people I believed for many years that the Romans were kept out of Scotland by Hadrians Wall – not so, although they did pull out in the face of our obduracy and opposition I understand. I for one am genuinely interesting in learning more, and intend to.

Wednesday afternoon brought the Water Services Statement as expected and I managed to question the Minister about his plans for infrastructure work to enable new housing development. I also have concerns that the costs of this will be passed onto the punter at the end of the line – the first-time buyer, the rent-payer. Anyway, no commitment given on protection of the buyer or renter, and I was told that the Communities Minister would explain all this further down the line.

A pleasant evening on Wednesday – first of all to Newington SNP for their AGM and a really fruitful discussion about the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, followed by a cracking curry with fellow MSP Rob Gibson, my own partner Duncan, and some Timorese friends. Eating well this week!

Busy, busy Thursday – two debates, and two parliamentary questions. Morning debate about the Reform of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Services – good progress is being made by the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor General, but still a long way to go. That’s not a criticism, because after all, as I said in the debate, the criminal justice system and the Procurator Fiscal Service have hardly changed in 300 years, real improvements relating to how the public are treated having only been made in the last five!

Had to rush out at 11 am, after apologising to the Presiding Officer of course, to meet some visitors who had arranged their trip months ago – the Cameo Group from Hamilton. I had attended their Church long time ago to talk about being a woman MSP and they had decided to wait until the new building was opened before visiting Parliament. They are a smashing bunch and I really enjoyed seeing them again:

Back to Chamber in the afternoon – one question to the Justice Minister about whether the new Human Rights Commission would cover the rights of people at Dungavel (didn’t quite understand the answer, so written PQs required!) and another about the state of the Land Register in Scotland. I understand it’s a bit chaotic so more written PQs required!

The afternoon debate was about the Exec’s Racism Strategy, something that the SNP support all the way, although we do have issues about asylum seekers not being allowed to work - the Executive has a flagship policy about attracting Fresh Talent to Scotland because of our falling population and there’s loads of talent amongst asylum seekers, skilled and professional - and about whether we really can make a difference without powers on immigration being devolved to our parliament. These powers are devolved in other countries - Quebec for one example, and the provinces of Australia for another.

The Presiding Officer of the day was in a really nippy mood as the following extract from the debate may illustrate:

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You are in your last minute, Ms Fabiani. I am sorry, Mr McGrigor, but the member is in her last minute. Will you please sit down?

Linda Fabiani: I am terribly sorry, Mr McGrigor. If I am in my last minute, I will quickly move on.

I welcome the fact that we are to have more One Scotland, Many Cultures television adverts next week. Back in 2002, the then Minister for Social Justice had John Swinney, our party leader at the time, and me along to discuss the adverts and to show us the content. The view at the time was that everyone should move forward on the issue with the same agenda. This issue, above all others, crosses all party divides. A similar initiative would be welcome today.

I started talking about language and its effect. I will indulge myself—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: You will need to indulge yourself extremely quickly.

Linda Fabiani: A word that I have issues with—which was not used much today—is "tolerance". This should not be about tolerating people; it should be about total acceptance of other people. I would not like anybody to be tolerating me—

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I have been very tolerant, thank you very much.

Cut off in my prime! Wonder who stole her scone!

Sad evening out on Thursday – our Catherine from the Press Office, and our Jenny from the Research Team both leaving our employment, so we had a do to see them off. They’ll both be missed.

And so to today, Friday, and following a Just World Partners meeting in the morning, clearing up before recess – parliamentary questions, checking motions, filing, paying bills, and threatening Calum that he better not say horrible things about me in the diary column next week. So, over to Calum and Davie!


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