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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 30th May 2005

Week beginning Monday 23rd May

A clear diary for Monday – hurrah! Catch-up time, and boy oh boy did I do catch-up. Left the office of Monday evening feeling really virtuous after a day on my own, locked door with no interruptions. Parliamentary Question time – it was so long since I’d sorted out my PQs, cross-checked them and considered supplementaries. Parliamentary Questions are an art in themselves you know – the Civil Service (on behalf of Ministers) are masters at only answering EXACTLY what’s been asked, so sometimes they manage to bodyswerve the obvious issue and you end up having to ask three or four questions to get the tiny nugget of information required. This takes time of course – they have to answer within 14 days but often that’s a holding answer: “I shall reply to the member as soon as possible” – and then you can wait weeks. Of course there’s an exception to every rule – this answer I got recently certainly gives more information than asked for!

S2W-15650 - Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP) : To ask the Scottish Executive, further to the answer to question S2W-8744 by Peter Peacock on 16 June 2004, whether the target of achieving an average pupil to modern computer ratio of 7.5:1 for primary schools has now been met.

Answered by Peter Peacock (26 April 2005
): The latest information shows that the pupil: modern computer ratio in primary schools has remained steady at 9:1 in 2002, 2003 and 2004. In 1988 the ratio was 34:1

Well, I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember computers being particularly common-place in 1988 – in fact that was round about when I first encountered one in my place of work and a cumbersome beast it was. So, if the Scottish Executive is using 1988 as the benchmark for improvement then they’re bound to look good! Maybe they could go further back to slide-rules or an abacus and look even better.

I realised during my PQ Audit that since May 2003 I’ve asked and had answered 752 questions – I always was a nosy so-and-so.

Tuesday and I managed to attend some of the Kirk’s Church and Nation Committee deliberations at the General Assembly. I always try to attend some of this every year as it’s always so interesting – I managed to catch the sessions on The Republic of Sudan, Identity Cards, and The Impact of Oil. The proceedings are always very constructive and well-mannered and the standards of submitted reports excellent. Talking of ‘constructive and well-mannered’ I was delighted to end up sitting beside my old friend and colleague, Colin Campbell. Colin of course was a fellow Nationalist MSP from 1999 to 2003 and we shared an office for some time. We went for coffee and I realised afresh just how much I miss him. Colin was such a gent, always calm, reasoned and balanced – not that the likes of Adam, Kenny, John et al are not gentlemanly of course, and I’m sure all my male colleagues are particularly well-balanced, but I think I’ll abandon this train of thought before I get in any deeper.

Quick stint on the radio during Tuesday, about Sexual Health and Teenage Pregnancy. I was so impressed by the quality of contribution of two teenage girls who were in the Glasgow studio. I hardly got a word in edgeways, but that didn’t bother me at all because they spoke with such honesty and sense that they were far more worth listening to than the likes of me. We should listen more often to those who are living the situations we try to legislate for or regulate. Of course with such a subject there are views from all sides of the argument – real sensitivities around, and that’s understandable, but one old chestnut came up again – “single parents are bad”. My feathers always get ruffled by that one; I’ve met screwed-up kids from two-parent families, screwed-up kids from one-parent families, and perfectly reasonable kids from either!

Tuesday evening and Morag and I hosted a visit from a Strathaven couple and their guest from the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Western Australia. Martin, who is an architect himself, took loads of photographs of the complex to take home to Oz and show to his colleagues. He really loved it, with some reservations about the external view. We rounded the evening off with dinner in the Parliament Restaurant – the restaurant just gets better and better, super food and wonderful service (of course the Hospitality Manager is from Strathaven!).

Now Wednesday was one of these very strange parliamentary days. Started off with Communities Committee in the morning of course and final session with the Minister on the proposed Private Sector Housing Bill. I was pleased to realise that the Minister had obviously listened carefully to some of the Committee’s concerns and was willing to consider his position. We’ll await the outcome of his deliberations!

It was lunchtime that was strange!

I was delighted to wave off the Jubilee 2005 Cyclists who are cycling to Kenya and Tanzania (well, flying to Africa, cycling there, back to London and then cycling to Edinburgh in time for the Make Poverty history rally on 2nd July) to raise awareness of the need for debt cancellation. Good on them! Managed to get the Parliament to donate around 500 pencils as tokens to children (it’s difficult to get much more in the saddlebags!), so thank you to Mr. Grice (Parliament Chief Executive) for that. There was a suggestion that I ride one of the bicycles myself for a photo-shoot, but point-blank refusal from me – there’s nothing surer than that I would fall headfirst into one of the ponds with my embarrassment filmed on the BBC for posterity. So, no way, as they say – the last time I rode a bike for any distance was one of those ones with the big basket in front, around Rothesay; these racing contraptions look far too dangerous.

The Carrier Bag's got the pencils in!

I moved from cyclists to Romans – yes Romans. I know I told readers before about the Perthshire based Antonine Guard who work to preserve Roman archaeological heritage. Well, they presented their Public Petition to Parliament – “… … … … to enact new legislation to strengthen protective measures to prevent further degradation … … … to reconfirm its support for the application of the Antonine Wall and Gask ridge as World heritage sites … …”

I didn't even flinch!

Full petition and associated details can be seen on

Back to reality and Chamber in the afternoon – Statement on the National Health Service, the ‘Kerr’ Report which was commissioned by the Executive to inform the future direction of the Health Service. Lots of stooshie because the Executive are refusing a debate on the report before the summer recess. The reason given is apparently that the Health Minister wants to “discuss matters with GPs, doctors, consultants, communities, those with long-term chronic conditions and people in our communities”. I thought that the authors of the Report had been commissioned by the Health Minister to do just that – silly me!

The debate of the afternoon was about the Youth Congress which is to be held in August in Stirling – young folk from 120 countries coming to discuss issues following the G8 in Gleneagles. I’m particularly pleased that a couple of delegates from East Timor will be there – the young people in East Timor have suffered so much and are now at the forefront of rebuilding their country, so their experiences will be invaluable.

The debate was good, but I think I offended some of my MSP colleagues by my own opening remarks:

Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP): A short while ago, I looked up to see that the youngsters who had been sitting in the gallery were leaving. No harm to any of us, but I thought, "There was the youth of our country and they must have been bored witless sitting up there listening to us talking."

Seriously – I think some were offended! I stick by it though, and I include myself in the castigation!

Rounded off the evening with a quick informal dinner to discuss the future of the Scottish Civic Forum. We’re no further forward with this as the Parliament’s Corporate Body have not yet had the discussion. We’ve written to all Party Leaders looking for support for my call that the Forum, as one of the institutions of the new political settlement in Scotland, should be core-funded by the Parliament direct. Waiting for responses.

Thursday morning in Chamber and Fiona Hyslop leading the debate on behalf of the SNP, discussing Student and Graduate debt. Fiona highlighted that, this year alone, Scots graduates will be carrying a total debt of around £731 million, and called on the Executive to take action, at the very least to agree specific research into the subject. Scotland’s graduates are the people most likely to leave Scotland, according to the registrar general for Scotland, so Fiona’s concerns are valid. As she says:“Scotland's fresh talent off to make another country smart and successful”. We need our own fresh talent as well as that from other places!

Talking of the Fresh Talent Initiative– some of the PQ answers I got back were interesting. I had asked about the Parliament’s recruitment policy with regard to nationality, and similarly about the Scottish Executive. It seems that the Parliament has no nationality requirement if someone has the right to work in Scotland, but the Executive is bound by UK Civil Service rules which say that an employee must be a citizen of the European Union or a country of the Commonwealth. It doesn’t just apply to the Civil Service per se, but also to the Executive agencies – the Forestry Commission, the Prison Service, Communities Scotland etc. etc. Jack McConnell can’t even deliver jobs for Fresh Talent applicants in those workplaces he directly controls! Stymied before it’s started. No applicants from the entire American Continent except for Guyana, Belize or Canada no applicants from China, Indonesia or Egypt. There are experts within their fields from all of these countries – for example, forestry experts from South America – that Executive agencies can’t even consider. Time we had our own rules, and our own Civil Service. Time we had independence in fact!

Friday afternoon in Chamber saw the passing of the legislation for the Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation. Unanimously agreed.

Some of us attended the Theatre at lunchtime – that is the theatre attended us. The 7:84 Theatre Company has a particular project ongoing – ‘Voices’ – and the Group performs plays written by and performed by those who are, or have been homeless. Two powerful short plays followed by a discussion session. Again, like I said earlier about the two teenage girls in the radio discussion about sexual health, you can learn so much from those who live the reality. Ending up homeless can happen to anyone, for a myriad of circumstances, and without resources or appropriate help, the spiral can become a downward one, at a heck of a speed. The Homelessness legislation that has been passed by this Parliament is certainly well-intentioned, but as I’ve said before, it’s about more than just passing legislation – there’s resource issues in terms of both finance and appropriate staff levels, social issues, differing strategies required for categories of those affected – a young and vulnerable man may need a different kind of help than a family, or an elderly lady for example. I don’t believe we can ever totally eradicate homelessness, but we’ve still a long way to go in alleviation measures.

Friday, and my local appointments were cancelled earlier in the week when everyone realised it was a public holiday! So the Parliament is really quiet and down to deskwork and computer work again. A great clearing up week! Lots of constituency mail this week, much of it related to Disability Living Allowance and Occupational Pensions, as well as housing, planning, school and hospital matters. It’s a difficult path to steer sometimes as an MSP – housing, planning and schools for example are generally the remit of Local Authorities, and whilst they act within their powers, there is nothing an MSP can do except make queries and find out information. Sometimes, constituents think that the Parliament is almost like an ‘Appeal Body’ that they can come to – the Public Petitions Committee often has to inform petitioners that the Petition is not valid because it’s a Local Authority matter rather than a Parliament one. I suppose the reality is that the Parliament sets the framework and the Local Authorities act within that framework. The Public Services Ombudsman is there should someone believe that their Council has acted wrongly, contrary to their agreed policies. Problem is that folk think you’re trying to ‘pass the buck’ sometimes when they wish you to act on a specific case rather than the general issue.

So, late home on Friday for the rest of the holiday weekend. Campaigning in Cumbernauld on Saturday though – sadly, a local authority by-election caused by the untimely death of the doughty Councillor Margaret Murray.  I remember a long time ago working in the by-election at which she became a Councillor. She’ll be missed.

Linda Fabiani
30th May 2005

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