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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 17th March 2005

Week beginning 14th March 2005

Well, after a weekend of SNP Conferencing in Dundee, back to work on Monday. Smashing afternoon at Dalziell High School in Motherwell. The Parliament’s Outreach Education Service has been doing some work with the third year pupils there, helped by John Swinburne MSP from the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party – John is a former pupil of Dalziell and was keeping us amused with tales of what the school was like when he was a lad.

The pupils ran a debate on Smoking – 4 in each ‘Party’ team, with an MSP to help them in the background (not that they needed any!). They were excellent, and I’m sure that they not only used some of the speech contributions from individual MSPs, but also picked up on their mannerisms; the lad that did the Tory Group’s Brian Monteith MSP was hilarious and when the lass representing the SSP made her contribution I thought it was Carolyn Leckie MSP herself – Carolyn was there and almost falling off her chair she was laughing so much. It was a lad who did the SNP contribution, so I was spared the Rory Bremner treatment, but it did remind me of a Youth Parliament event in Aberdeen some time ago when my colleague Stewart Stevenson and I did a training session on public speaking: At the feedback plenary session, the lad and lass from our workshop decided to do it in the style of Stevenson and Fabiani – oh dear! To see ourselves as others see us right enough.

Off to the office in Edinburgh at night after going through some constituency cases in Motherwell office with Davie; health service mainly again - cancelled ops, long waits to see a consultant – we keep being told it’s getting better, but it doesn’t feel that way for many of the people we see. Another big issue just now which is generating lots of letters from constituents is of course the proposed changes to pension schemes for public sector workers – some of the parliament staff are going on strike over this next Wednesday.

Tuesday breakfast meetings with colleagues to talk about the housing debate on Wednesday afternoon and then off to Perth with another couple of members of the Communities Committee to take pre-legislative soundings from Perth Council about the forthcoming housing bill on the private housing sector. Really interesting meeting – every area has their own problems, Perth a mix of urban and rural. It’s always best to hear from those at the sharp end; theory is fine but practice is often very different.

Scooted back to Auld Reekie, checked the email and then down the road to watch episode 2 of The Gathering Place. My good mates Roseanna Cunningham and Rob Gibson fed me pizza and red wine and we all watched it together. Interesting, and took me back a bit. I’d forgotten just how straining some of that time was – next episode on Thursday.

Communities Committee on Wednesday morning – Housing Bill and Tetra Masts. I missed the Tetra Mast section as for some reason I felt really not well. I should of course add here that it was nothing to do with the night before – one glass of wine only! Housing Debate in the afternoon though so had to buck up fast. The Executive were applauding themselves for their recently announced housing initiatives. Some of it is good stuff, I can’t and wouldn’t deny that, but again, theory and practice are very different things and it is all very well making big announcements – you have to make sure everything is in place to allow things to happen. Water and sewage infrastructure is a case in point. I worry that the Executive is being over simplistic about, for example, the contention that if you demolish houses on a site and then do a newbuild the infrastructure is already there. Yes, perhaps, but up to the required standard for nowadays? Not necessarily. Systems have been running at over-capacity for years and will require to be upgraded – hold-ups and costs. I also think there is an over-emphasis on home ownership, the justification being that this will take the heat out of the social rented market. Well, yes, but if you build enough social rented houses for those who would like to rent then the heat will be taken out of the home ownership market, and young people who can barely afford to buy won’t have to just so that they have a home!

Who remembers Pinky and Perky? I loved that show when I was a child, and it made me laugh during the Housing debate when the Tory spokesperson referred to Tricia Marwick and I as the “Pinky and Perky of the SNP front bench” – well Bill Aitken, I can think of a few puppets/muppets who remind me of you! You just wait.

Catching up on constituency work in the evening – voluntary sector groups in East Kilbride feeling under pressure because of cuts in funding. Visits to schedule to get an idea of exactly what the problems are.

Conservative Party sponsored Education Debate on Thursday morning prior to First Minister’s Question Time at 12.00 noon. Waiting Times – again, the reality that patients face being very different from the rhetoric. One of the issues in Lanarkshire that I have been recently told of, for example, is that there are no specialist nurses for those suffering from Parkinsons Disease. This seemingly results in long waiting times for diagnosis and treatment. I understand that early diagnosis of Parkinsons can alleviate the effects of the condition, so Davie is investigating that this week.

The Parliament is marking Commonwealth Day today, so attended a meeting of the Cross Party Group on International Development, guest speaker being Don McKinnon from New Zealand, Secretary General of the Commonwealth. I’ve heard Mr. McKinnon before and he really is a very interesting speaker who clearly values the work of his organisation. He was at pains to point out that there has been no British Commonwealth since 1949 and that the Commonwealth is a grouping of 53 equal countries with shared values, from Antigua to Zambia, showing diversity of peoples who have the ability to create consensus – no voting, the discussions carry on until there is agreement, with sometimes exceptions being noted when stalemate is reached. I certainly believe that international dialogue in a forum such as this contributes greatly to mutual understanding – there is not always the ability to iron out disagreements of course, and the shared values are not always shared – Zimbabwe, for example, is no longer a member, and there have been suspensions of countries at times – Pakistan, Fiji.

A Debate on the Commonwealth took place at 5.00 pm, led by Margaret Ewing who recently took part in a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit, along with other Parliament members, to South Africa and Malawi. All parliamentarians of Commonwealth countries are automatically members of the CPA, and Margaret is the SNP nominee to the CPA Committee in Holyrood. She and the other members of the delegation have produced a really interesting report on their visit making recommendations as to how Scotland can assist in building the capacity of Malawi in particular – skills training, building links between schools and colleges, universities and hospitals for example. This is a report well worth reading and will shortly be on the Parliament website.

Off home to watch episode 3 of The Gathering Place – still reserving judgement until I’ve seen episode 4 next Tuesday – full report next week I guess.

I’m going to be out all day locally on Saturday and some of Sunday doing house visits, and visiting organisations in the constituency, so a day at the computer on Friday, with two very welcome interruptions. The first was from a research fellow at Glasgow University who interviewed me about my views on how we should deal with unaccompanied juvenile asylum seekers – as I have said before, more common than we would imagine. His research will be published towards the end of the year. My main event of the day was with the Musselburgh Twinning Association – a very active organisation who were holding a women’s conference with delegates from their twin towns in the Czech Republic, France and Italy, and were visiting the Parliament for the day. Although they are not from my neck of the woods they had asked me some time ago to talk with them in my role as Convener of the Refugee and Asylum Cross-Party Group. So, of course the discussion was around issues of immigration and asylum and the variances of treatment amongst European countries. It’s always strange addressing a large group of people when there are translators present for those who don’t speak English – I hope nothing suffered too much in the translation!

When I got back to my desk Morag was giggling away to herself about a misunderstanding between our office and one of the small rural primary schools in South Lanarkshire. They had asked me to speak to the pupils sometime in June – we thought they were visiting Edinburgh, but actually they wanted me to visit them; so great confusion ensued with Morag asking them to give names of everyone to be present, insisting that there must be an adult present for every ten children etc. and the poor teacher feeling obliged to even give us details of the dinner lady! Thankfully, the penny dropped and no security required for me to visit them. I’m looking forward to it.

Linda Fabiani

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