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

Week beginning Monday 7th June

Unusually a Monday daytime in Edinburgh – stayed over Sunday night following the UK/Espana Dinner.

Managed to get to the morning sessions of the UK/Espana Conference – really interesting topic (each event is themed) of ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’. In other words, do companies have an obligation to take social and environmental factors into account in their business dealings? How many do? Should there be legislation? Interesting presentations and points of view from Government, Business and Non-Governmental Organisations active in the field.

Back up to the Parliament for 11.30 am though to meet the Friendship Force from Lanarkshire with their visitors from Colorado, USA – around 40 visitors. There is only one active Friendship Force organisation in Scotland I understand, covering the West of Scotland. Members create links with other organisations all over the world, and all visit each other, exchange visits etc. A great way of meeting interesting people  - I’ve hosted Parliament visitors from Holland too, through local Friendship Force members. We ended up with a question/answer session in the Chamber gallery and the Colorado folk (Coloradians? Coloradoans? I don’t know, must find out) were fascinated about our having re-convened our Parliament after almost 300 years. Stunned though to also learn that we have less powers than a State Legislature in the USA.

Morag and Linda with Lanarkshire and Colorado

Back to Lanarkshire in the evening – two meetings – one at Dungavel village and one in Gilmourton. The meeting at Dungavel was hosted by the local police to tell locals about the security plans for the forthcoming Dungavel Detention Centre demonstration during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. Naturally, small communities worry about the effect of potentially thousands of demonstrators turning up on their doorstep, but I didn’t detect any view from those present that the demonstration should be stopped or opposed. There are regular demonstrations at Dungavel (albeit smaller) and as the police stressed, always peaceful.

Followed that with a meeting of parents of school-children in Gilmourton who are aghast at South Lanarkshire’s latest plans for Strathaven Academy. An Action Group covering the whole of Avondale has been set up. The original Council schools’ renewal plan was that Strathaven Academy would be refurbished, and this was the one approved by the Scottish Executive. But now, however, it seems that the plan is to demolish the school, build a new one on the same site and meanwhile, for two years, bus the Academy pupils into East Kilbride every day! Yes, ludicrous though that seems, that’s the plan – 40 buses a day. A 30-40 mile round trip for some rural pupils. Pick-ups around 7.30 am. Health & Safety concerns. What about extra-curricular activities for two years? No wonder parents are up in arms. I could go on at greater length – lack of consultation etc. etc. etc. This really must be resisted. I’ll do whatever I can to assist.

I spoke some time ago about East Kilbride Befrienders – a voluntary group suffering, as always, with lack of core funding even though they are carrying out work by referral from the Council. Well, despite funding agreement from the Council back at the beginning of May they’ve still received no funding, and the Committee are so demoralised they are thinking of closing altogether and paying off their only staff member. Shameful that this should happen and that people giving of their time and commitment to help others are treated this way. And what about the youngsters who rely on their Befrienders? Potentially more change for them – so much for continuity, trust and certainty in their lives. And so much for Malcolm Chisholm’s contention that core funding is not an issue!

Back through to Edinburgh for the closing sessions of the UK/Espana event. You know, I enjoyed it better when it was in Spain, and not Edinburgh! That way I had to clear the diary for a couple of days, no-one could get to me and I had two whole days to concentrate and learn. I guess when it was in Spain though, some of the Spanish delegates had the same problem as me in Scotland. So that’s only fair I suppose.

More visitors today – representatives of The Church and Society Forum of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland who wanted to discuss with me how Cross-Party Groups work in our Parliament and to discuss in particular the work of the XPG on Refugees and Asylum Seekers. They were particularly interested in how here in Holyrood members of Civic Society – churches, charities, non-governmental organisations, individuals – can be full members of the Cross Party Groups, as this doesn’t appear to happen elsewhere. Certainly when I’ve attended any at Westminster the MPs all sit round a table and everyone else is just in attendance – I am told that this is ‘the norm’ there. Our way sounds much more interesting and bonds the founding principle of Parliament and Civic Society – that’s why it’s so important to keep arguing for the existence and beefing-up of the Scottish Civic Forum.

Various internal meetings in the afternoon and then a treat – Dinner with the Norwegian Ambassador, Mr. Tarald O. Brautaset. Wednesday of course is the centenary of Norway’s independence from Sweden and the Ambassador was visiting as part of the Norwegian Centenary celebrations. Norway and Scotland of course have strong trade links which have existed for many hundreds of years – fishing, construction industry, oil and education.

Consistently Norway is deemed to have the highest standard of living of any small country – around the same population as Scotland, the same natural resources, but of course it is independent and makes its own choices (including having used their oil to the advantage of their people). It was a peaceful break-up from Sweden and now the Scandinavian countries work together in all sorts of ways, joint initiatives in many things. This of course gives lie to the nonsense of Scotland’s becoming independent leading to “DIVORCE/SEPARATION/PASSPORT CONTROLS AT THE BORDER”. No more than scare stories and panic tactics. England is after all our nearest neighbour and would become a good friend, as Sweden is to Norway. Enough ranting from me – Rob Gibson’s Member’s Debate on Wednesday night says it all. You can log onto it on the Scottish Parliament website, or if you want a hard copy, just let me know and I'll send one out. You may note that no members of the Labour Group spoke in this debate. In fact none attended, except one for the first 5 minutes or so. I found it embarrassing to see these empty benches when the Ambassador, representing his country, was sitting in the gallery. How graceless. Our pal below celebrates Norway and Scotland in their absence.

The Big Dug

And as for the First Minister constantly going on about Scotland being “the best small country in the world”. Potentially yes, but Jack, have a look at Norway. Maybe that’s why none of his troops turned out to the Norway debate – too sore to listen to reality.

Wednesday afternoon we debated the G8 Summit in the Chamber. All aspects from how Scotland may/may not benefit, and the hopes for real change in the rich countries’ treatment of the world’s poor countries. The Executive keep banging on about how Scotland will be showcased by this event. I’m not convinced of this, and actually don’t believe this should be the main aim. It’s about others, not us, and we didn’t invite this event, the UK Government told us it was coming!

Quick bite and half a glass of wine at the Commission for Racial Equality reception hosted by Nicola Sturgeon and then off to the BBC to talk about the G8 on the Politics Tonight Radio Show. It was one of the Green MSPs in the studio with me so we reckoned it would be all consensus on this issue, but then a Labourite turned up, so a rammy was had after all!

Back to the office to catch up on the week’s emails – late home as usual.

Tory debate in the Chamber Thursday morning, so managed to sneak in and out only to cover my question to the Minister about core-fund for voluntary organisations yet again. This meant I got some constituency work done. Then, a great way to break up the day – lunch and tour with the lovely couple who won the prize I donated to the East Kilbride Kittoch Rotary Ball. I could have sat in that restaurant all afternoon, chewing the fat. I am so glad that I liked Karen and Les – think how difficult it would be if someone really awful won the prize and you had to wine and dine them! Uncharitable of me I know, but who likes everyone they meet!

Much as I was enjoying myself though I had to be back in the Chamber for the Stage 3 of the Charities Legislation – all over and done with; it’s been a long time coming.

Interesting meeting of the International Development Group on Thursday evening when we met Dr Sein Win, Prime Minister of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, that is of course Prime Minister in exile with some of his Government. Others of course are imprisoned in the country, the most famous being the leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi. She has been under house arrest on this occasion since 2003 and has been completely incommunicado. Dr. Sein Win and his associate explained the current situation in their country, now renamed the Union of Myanmar, which has been under military rule since 1990 when the NLD gained 80% of the votes in the election, but were not allowed to take office. I met others of the Government in Exile when I was in South East Asia some years ago and was amazed by their forbearance. Dr. Sein Win believes that the situation will improve – I guess you have to believe that or you couldn’t go on in such circumstances.

Again, a Friday in Edinburgh – Central Scotland coming to Edinburgh rather than me going there. First of all Kilmarnock Academy, visiting the parliament to learn about how we use Information Technology – I hope I was helpful, but I’m not convinced that I knew anywhere near as much as they did! Then, 49 dancers from the Red Deer Centre in East Kilbride – yes, 49! It was a great visit – we congaed in Committee Room 1 and we cha-chaed in the Chamber. Then we had lunch in the Restaurant and ended up with a Gay Gordons in the Garden. I’m only kidding, we didn’t dance on Friday, but I do intend to do so when I visit the Dance Classes when they re-open in September.

I did dance on Friday night in Perth though, at Roseanna Cunningham’s 10th Anniversary celebration of being elected at the by-election for Westminster. Hard to believe it’s been ten years since we all stood singing in the streets of Perth when the result was announced. A great memory.

Well, I said I danced, and on Saturday morning I could prove it – a big ‘strip the willow’ bruise on my arm, courtesy of Rob Gibson and Calum Smith, and a sore throat from heuchin’ and cheuchin’. Never mind, it was worth it. Strathaven Gala Day on Saturday, but I could only go along for a wee while because I was at a wedding in the afternoon and evening (Louise was an absolutely beautiful bride, and Stuart was quite handsome too in his Scottish National Tartan kilt!). I also missed the commemoration service for the radical martyrs – Baird, Hardie and Wilson (Purlie Wilson was a Strathaven man) - which takes place at the monument in Strathaven every year. The 1820 Society do admirable work in keeping the memory of the radical uprising alive: read all about the Society and the history on ElectricScotland. Meanwhile some photos:

A sunny day in Strathaven - honest, the Union Jack's not at my house!

Well, rounded off the week with Sunday canvassing for the Kildrum, Cumbernauld by-election which takes place Thursday 16th. Then, tried (unsuccessfully) to catch up on day-to-day work. Monday starts another week.

Linda Fabiani

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