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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 6th June 2005

Week beginning Monday 30th May

Well, here I am sitting on Saturday night looking over the week past.

Public Holiday on Monday and took myself off with a couple of friends to the garden centres down the Clyde Valley, finishing up in New Lanark. I often go to New Lanark, it’s been fantastic to see how it’s built up over the years and now of course is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ended up with an impromptu surgery in the cafeteria when some Blantyre ladies recognised me and came to lobby about the crematorium site along the road from them. This was a big stooshie a couple of years ago, and eventually local protest prevailed and the original site of Greenhall Park was changed. Now, I’m told that the developer has pulled out and no-one knows what’s happening, so that’s something to look into when I get back to my desk.

When the Save Greenhall Park Campaign was active in Blantyre some years ago now, Alex was one of the leading activists and I maintained contact with him over many issues facing Blantyre – his town which he loved dearly and worked to protect and improve. Sadly, I received a phone call from a fellow Blantyre chap on Tuesday morning to tell me that Alex had died unexpectedly over the weekend. Blantyre will miss him.

Monday night and the annual dinner of the Strathaven Fair Trade Group, and very good it was too, in one of Strathaven’s fine restaurants. It was a night of reminiscing of how years ago we began to talk about the possibility of Strathaven being Scotland’s first Fair Trade Town – well, we’ve achieved that as well as having the UK’s first Fair Trade Primary School at Sandford. Onwards and upwards! I have heard rumours that the First Minister has an intention of making Scotland a Fair Trade Nation – that would of course be wonderful and I would be really interested to hear how he intends to proceed. I hope I can be involved.

Through to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning for the Standards Committee – of course, this is a committee I can’t tell you about here because it is this committee that investigates complaints about fellow MSPs who have been reported to the Standards Commissioner, so all confidential until conclusions have been reached, and reports given for the public record.

A day of desk-work until a meeting with the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations early evening. They came to talk about the debate two weeks ago on the Strategic Funding Review for the Voluntary Sector. As I said in my diary then, I was annoyed when the Minister announced in his summing up of the debate that SCVO had assured him that core funding for voluntary organisations would be a ‘backward step’ – completely contrary to any evidence I have ever heard from those working in the field. SCVO came along to tell me that this wasn’t actually the case – well, tell the Minister, not me! I stand absolutely with the premise that unless organisations which are carrying out the work of Government are given adequate core-funding for their day-to-day operations, then they are getting a raw deal and being badly used.

Long Group Meeting on Tuesday evening and then dinner with a few MSP colleagues and Alyn Smith MEP to bring each other up-to-date with what’s happening in Holyrood and Europe. Alyn was elected to the European Parliament back in June 2004, so that’s him almost completed his first year. Seems like no time at all.

A rare treat on Wednesday morning – no Communities Committee! As usual though, all the plans of getting through mountains of work in this rare mid-week space didn’t materialise – this job is so reactive, and any planned spare time just gets swallowed up with telephone calls, emergency emails and media/press queries. Managed to squeeze in a meeting with SPICE – the Parliament’s Information Service. SPICE are surveying members to ask how the service is received and whether there could be any improvements made. Of course, the minute you’re asked something direct the mind goes blank! I’m afraid I wasn’t much help to them at all, but I am pretty satisfied with the work they do for me when asked. All their briefing notes are available on the Scottish Parliament website for anyone to access if interested in a specific subject that the Parliament has covered.

Moe sadness today – it’s been a rotten week for this. I got an email to tell me that my pal David died yesterday morning. Completely unexpected and we don’t yet know why. Just a young man. Although David was a long-standing SNP member and activist I didn’t really get to know him until 1999 when I got back from East Timor. He called me then and we met up to talk about ET – he had a long standing interest in the country. We became good pals and when Amorin came to stay with our family, David was really kind to him too. He was a good person, lovely in so many ways. It’s really awful.

On Wednesday afternoon the First Minister gave his statement about his plans for Malawi, and we were able to question him for around 20 minutes afterwards. It’s good that the Scottish Parliament is taking an interest in International Development, and I am pleased that the effort is to be focused. We have to be realistic about the budget agreed - £3m – and recognise that it should be used in small local community projects with a view to attracting further funding from elsewhere, leading towards self-sufficiency. I am a great believer in small community health and education projects – train the women within communities, because women with children will stay there and pass on the benefits to all.

Following the Malawi Statement I dashed off to chair a Workshop Debate at a meeting of the United Nations Association. Meetings are being held by the United Nations Associations in the UK, jointly with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to ensure public input into the development of the Government’s priorities for the UN Millennium Summit in September when key decisions will be taken on the future of the United Nations. The meeting I chaired centred upon development, and examined the recommendations made in the UN Secretary-General’s report "In Larger Freedom". It was an excellent session with some really valuable input from a variety of attendees. If you are interested in reading more about the Report, log onto

Brainstorming in Committee Room 2

My life is a constant rush – dashed from there round to the BBC to do the Politics Tonight programme on Malawi and the G8. Got back to the office around 8.15 pm, fully intending to clear the email box, but when Calum suggested food, well, I didn’t take much persuading! Tapas – one of my favourite ways of eating – lots of great tasting ‘bits’.

The week passes to quickly – Thursday morning and Question Time again. Then in the afternoon the Stage 3 Debate on the Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill. This is the legislation which includes making internet grooming of youngsters a criminal offence. During a Stage 3 Debate, which is the final hurdle before a Bill is passed and goes for Royal Assent to become law, you have to be in the Chamber the whole time because there are amendment votes all the way through. It’s quite comical to see those who have gone out for a quick coffee, or whatever, rushing back in at breakneck speed to press the voting button when a vote is called – me amongst them of course. This piece of legislation was of course passed unanimously.

Through to Glasgow in the evening for the Consul General of Italy’s Reception to celebrate Italian National Day. It is held in Edinburgh one year, and Glasgow the next. This year it was in the Trades Hall of Glasgow in Glassford Street – a beautiful hall. A thoroughly enjoyable evening, meeting up with lots of old pals. Delighted to chat with Gianni Benedetti again – Nicola’s dad (this is how he introduces himself these days – he’s so proud of her!). She really was a star at the Parliament Official Opening last year, the sheer magic of her violin, and her composure for one so young. Mr. Benedetti was telling me that Nicola would have been at the reception, but she was in New York playing for Nelson Mandela and Bill Clinton – wow! And she’s still only 17, a UN Cultural Ambassador, an album at no. 2 in the Classical Chart. What a girl – the whole of Scotland should be proud of her!

Friday morning in East Kilbride – a couple of constituent meetings and then to the official opening of East Kilbride’s new Bus Station – it doesn’t seem that long ago that I was at a meeting to discuss the plans. Looking good.

One of my favourite pastimes in the afternoon – Gilmourton School to talk with the primary 5/6 and 7 classes. Gilmourton is a small rural school. Great youngsters with a real interest in the Parliament because of their Citizenship lessons. They’ve got a School Council and an Eco Group, and have been doing up the school garden – hard work, but I could see from the ‘before’ pictures and the transformation before my eyes that they’re really getting stuck in. I cover a really diverse area – over the last couple of weeks I’ve been at schools with hundreds of pupils – Kirktonholme School in East Kilbride has three Primary 7 classes alone – and here, Gilmourton School has a roll of around 35.

One of the issues that the children raised was the lack of a gym hall. The school classes are held in portacabin type accommodation, and they are neither big nor high enough for proper gym equipment or for running and jumping etc. So, unless the weather is good and sports can be held outside, the pupils really are restricted. There is no available village hall either, and even to ‘bus’ the children elsewhere takes a lot of money out of the school budget. I will write to the Council on their behalf, but I am sure that if South Lanarkshire Council did have sufficient funds they would already have made them available. We spend a lot of time at Holyrood talking about encouragement of sport and trying to ensure that school children have so many hours physical activity every week, but here is an example where the spirit is indeed willing but the practicalities deny.

And so to this morning, Saturday, and a morning of paperwork – Davie sent through the constituency case audit for May yesterday, and as is generally the way, new cases cover hospital Waiting Lists, Pensions and Tax Credit, Housing and Homelessness. In addition though local issues flagged up this month cover siting of telephone masts, toxic emissions and of course the ongoing saga of the schools programme in East Kilbride district. Lots of annoyed parents in Avendale because the Council’s plan for Strathaven Academy redevelopment involves all the pupils being bussed into East Kilbride for two years! Surely there’s a better way; no wonder parents and pupils are up in arms.

Spent the afternoon in Grangemouth with the Forth Valley Community Development Action Group. It was a training day for volunteers – the session I was involved in was ‘Magic Meetings – how to have good Management Committee Meetings’. It really took me back to when I was working to voluntary Management Committees in my job. The trainers were great, and I picked up some useful tips. Also, as always at these events, met some really interesting folk. One chap I was chatting with over coffee was an absolute expert on Scottish history – I was fascinated by his knowledge of the life of William Wallace, and could have spent ages longer, just learning from him.

Well, Monday morning now, and I finished the week hosting a Sunday night Dinner in the Parliament restaurant for the UK Espana conference taking place in Edinburgh over Monday and Tuesday. Morag and Calum and pals chipped in to help with the tour before and after dinner – 90 delegates is a lot to deal with! The Catalans present were obviously delighted at seeing their compatriot’s work – Enric Miralles was a proud Catalan and the Barcelona inspiration is evident.

Morag and Delegates admiring the combination of Catalan style and Scots Engineering in the Chamber roof.

This conference is the fourth in a series run by the British Council to foster links between the UK and Spain, and promote dialogue amongst legislatures national and devolved. I’ve managed to attend two of the sessions so far over the last four years, and hope to get along to as many of the sessions as possible in this one. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the experiences in the Catalan and Basque Parliaments in particular, as well as exploring the cultural differences apparent. The last conference I attended was on the theme of Identity and it was fascinating to compare the experiences, views and feelings of Catalans and Scots, Welsh and Basques. Looking forward to the opening session today, so bye!

Linda Fabiani: 6.6.05

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