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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 16th May 2005

Week beginning Monday 9th May

Faced piles of paperwork this morning! It just seems like over the last week or two everyone in the world has decided to write to Linda Fabiani. Sometimes I feel that even if I were able to work 24 hours a day I would never get to the end of what has to be done. For the first couple of years in this job I felt completely bogged under, constantly reacting to whatever turned up, and with no control whatsoever over the working day … week … month … year. I was used to work where, although some of the time was spent reacting to problems, most of it was setting the agenda, formulating strategies and working towards achievable targets. I miss that sense of order, and although generally now I cope quite well (in my own humble opinion!) with great help from Morag, Calum and Davie of course, there are still days when all I want to do is run around panicking. Gave myself a good talking-to this morning though and just got on with it! After all, there are worse jobs in the world – lots of them.

Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council meeting on Monday evening.- I try to get there quarterly at least. I’m always impressed by the members of this particular Community Council, how obviously hard they work for their respective communities – Sandford itself, Gilmourton, Drumclog. One of the big issues for the area over the last couple of years is the proposed Whitelees Wind Farm, and I wanted to check whether the Community Council had any notification from South Lanarkshire Council as to how the ‘Community Benefit’ fund allocated by Scottish Power would be disbursed. I had heard you see that this fund would be centralised by the Council and not used specifically for the benefit of the communities directly affected by the Wind Farm, and this doesn’t seem very fair to me. The Community Council hadn’t heard anything, so something else for me to check up on.

Tuesday morning in Edinburgh and lunch with an old Housing colleague, chewing the fat and putting the world to rights. It’s really useful talking to those working directly in housing when we’ve got this latest Housing Bill on the Committee table. This was followed up by meeting with Lucy from Friends of the Earth, also about said Housing Bill. Friends of the Earth want to use this legislation to ensure that housing in the private sector is brought up to standards which have been laid down for the social rented sector; after all some of the housing in worst repair in our country is in private ownership, be it owner-occupied or let out by private landlords. That’s not to say all private landlords are bad landlords, or all owner-occupiers don’t spend money maintaining their properties. Some of the problems are down to bad stewardship, but some directly relate to the age and type of homes – a huge variation, from tenement flats build in the Victorian era to old agricultural labourer cottages in the countryside.

There was a presentation in the evening in Parliament by the Assynt Foundation Appeal. You may remember back in the early 1990s when the Assynt Crofters Trust was successful in achieving the first community buy-out of their land. The people of Assynt have now been given the chance to buy the Glencanisp and Drumrunie estates – 44,000 acres including the mountains of Suilven, Canisp, Cul Mor and Cul Beag. They want to develop and safeguard the natural and cultural heritage for the benefit of the community and future generations, and for the enjoyment of the wider public. So, the Appeal for funds has been launched. The website is worth a look:

Managed to do some constituency case catch up by telephone later on in the evening. Health Service and Criminal Justice being the big issues at the moment coming my way.

So, back to the Housing Bill at the Communities Committee on Wednesday morning. Still evidence taking, this time from representatives of private landlords – extremely useful and interesting, as we don’t always take enough account of their side of the story and the knowledge that they have; especially those in rural communities.

Lunchtime Wednesday and I was hosting Professor John Crabtree who was making a presentation to the International Development Group about the current political situation in Peru. John is Research Associate of the Centre for Latin American Studies, University of Oxford. I first met John in his role as a Management Committee Member of the Peru Support Group when I was asked to become a Patron. His knowledge of socio-economic and political issues in Latin America is immense and I learned so much from him prior to my first trip there in the year 2000 when Fujimori and his henchman Montesinos were running the show. That trip was a real experience for me; there were four of us altogether – Eric Avebury from the House of Lords, Des Turner from the Commons, myself and Marcia who was the Peru Support Group Co-ordinator at that time. We were compiling a study into the likelihood of the forthcoming elections being fair and speaking to Bishops and Trade Union leaders, teachers and doctors, members of Civic Society, the judiciary, Ambassadors from the US, UK and France. A fascinating trip – uncomfortable too though, being followed everywhere we went, being aware that phone calls were being listened to, emails intercepted. That was nothing, of course, compared to what ‘mouthy’ Peruvians were suffering. Some of the folk I met were astounding in their strength – standing up for their beliefs with the constant threat of being hurt or killed.

Professor Crabtree gave an excellent presentation to Group members, reflecting the disappointment many have felt since President Toledo, the “People’s President” took power. No measurable change in the levels of services, the same culture of centralisation. One change though, something that I felt directly when I revisited the country after Toledo became President, is that at least people can convey their discontent without fear of brutal reprisal. I met Alejandro Toledo on my first trip to Lima, when he was Leader of the coalition of opposition parties – extremely charismatic, clever, personable; I rather liked him. But what a hard job to rebuild a society that has been brutalised for decades – the Shining Path terrorist movement, the State terrorism through the military. The country seems to elect its Presidents and representatives on the basis of personality – a new saviour! There are no deep-rooted political parties with solid objectives and policies – parties form in abundance at each forthcoming election, coalitions drift together and fall apart. Another election due next year and John tells me that there are already around 30 political parties forming. Peru is a country of abundant natural resources and has such a rich culture. Despite this over half the population live in dire poverty, and social discrimination and inequality are widespread. Civic society is strong though – extremely strong, so within the new democratic structures I hope change will come.

Wednesday evening and another Cross Party Group – Refugees and Asylum Seekers of which I am the Convener. Although issues of asylum are ‘reserved’ to Westminster I believe that we do have a responsibility in this Parliament to monitor the treatment of those who are dispersed to our country, and particularly for those in Dungavel Immigration and Removal Centre. It’s really difficult, and so frustrating, to be blocked at every turn by the Home Office, even when it’s just basic information that’s requested. These people are living in our country after all! Wednesday night however was very much taken up by refugee issues – ‘asylum seekers’ become ‘refugees’ once they are given permission to stay. The Scottish Government has implemented a Refugee Action and Integration Plan, some of which is good with a lot of effort being made, and we had a presentation from the Executive Team in charge of the strategy. Some follow-up to be done, with group members expressing concern at some of the detail (or lack of!).

Full day in Chamber on Thursday as usual, with the afternoon debate being particularly pertinent, 2005 being 60 years after Victory in Europe and the end of that sphere of WW2. The motion acknowledged the debt of gratitude to all Scottish veterans who served their country in World War II and recognised the ultimate sacrifice made by 57,000 Scots during that period of conflict. It was a moving experience to speak on such a subject, watched by WW2 veterans in the public gallery. What these men went through for us is unimaginable to someone of my age group who has only seen war from afar and never suffered it directly. The Presiding Officer held a reception afterwards and it was an honour to meet ex Navy, Army and Air Force personnel. The entertainment provided for our visitors was by the Watoto Children’s Choir from Uganda. Since 1994 this children’s choir has regularly toured the United States, Canada and Great Britain and through this work they raise funds to support 5,000 orphans in Uganda who have lost their parents by war or to the AIDS virus. These children are amongst 2 million children in Uganda who have lost one or both of their parents in this way. The performance was astounding, full of life and joy and it was truly uplifting to see afterwards the children of war-dead embracing the Scottish Veterans so many generations older – and still war goes on, and people die and children are orphaned.

Watoto Choir will be entertaining us again on Monday at the Commission for Africa Conference, so I’ll have more to say about them next week.

Friday and a day in Edinburgh because, unusually, scheduled to be in Edinburgh on Saturday hosting a visit to the Parliament. Whilst ploughing through the correspondence and emails had a pleasant interruption when I was asked to show a group round the Parliament. It was a real pleasure – the Group was ex-Cumbernauld Development Corporation architectural staff, so they were really interested in some of the detail of the complex. All in all, everyone was impressed – quality of finish, quality of materials, imagination of design. So I was glad to have been asked.

I managed to complete some constituency work on Friday afternoon. Cases I had picked up the previous week when attending some community functions. It’s funny, but sometimes when I go out, either socially or to community events related to work, I end up with loads more work! It’s like having a mobile surgery – pen and pad always at the ready. Some folk have a really rough ride in life – one thing this job does is make me realise, almost day and daily, just how fortunate I have been and still am. I guess it’s a truism that there’s always someone worse off than yourself and I’m often fascinated by how some people manage in situations, and with situations, that really are hard. Human resilience is a fascinating thing.

Saturday morning and Morag and I head into Parliament to meet the Avondale Civic Society, from around Strathaven. I’ve been looking forward to this visit, because I knew we would both enjoy it so much. And we did. Really good company, lots of fun, and plenty of laughs. I think that’s the first time I’ve been in the building on a Saturday and the place was buzzing! One of the Security staff told me that there were 1500 visitors on Saturday. Avondale Civic Society -clearly the most important!

Linda Fabiani

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