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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 27th June 2005

Week beginning Monday 20th June

First of all my apologies to St. Anne’s Primary School in Hamilton. I met unexpectedly with the boys and girls on Tuesday 14th at the Parliament and because it wasn't scheduled and not in my diary, I forgot to write about it here! So sorry St. Anne’s, but I did really enjoy our impromptu session, and all of your questions were really well prepared and presented. And, thank-you for your emails afterwards.

Constituency work with Davie on Monday morning. A lot of constituency work can be standard – individuals and groups lobbying about legislation, health service waiting times, homelessness – but we’re trying to progress some cases which have been current for a couple of years now. As I’ve said before, it’s difficult to talk about cases like this here because they are very individual and unable to be standardised. Some folk have real difficulties to face in life and very often the system just seems to beat them down further. There’s a particular family we’re assisting just now who are doggedly fighting for recognition of what they believe to be a great wrong – their dignity, and their determination to make sure no-one else faces what they have had to is humbling. There are many who fight to make things better, yet, they often seem to be regarded as ‘troublemakers’ rather than constructive critics. If feathers were never ruffled or cages never shaken, then those whose self-interest dictates that the status-quo remains would win out every time.

Lunch with my pal Sergio Casci. Sergio’s a writer – film and TV scripts – whose award winning movie ‘American Cousins’ was a big hit last year. He gave me the DVD so I’m looking forward to seeing it again. The movie’s based in a Glasgow café/chip shop, and because that’s Sergio’s background the café scenes are wonderfully authentic. I still insist though that Tony Fabiani’s ice-cream was the best! When I went to the premiere l was honoured to meet Russell Hunter who played the café owner – the last screen part he played before he died I think. He was a great actor, and a real character.

A meeting of the Lanarkshire Osteoporosis Society on Monday night in East Kilbride. A big turnout as ever; this disease affects so many, many people, and I’m told that a deal of it is preventable, and the proper management of it would mean far fewer casualties with broken hips etc. So much of our health service is reactive rather than preventative, treating symptoms rather than dealing with root causes. That is not an indictment of our service, or my thinking I have all the answers, because obviously a large part of the service must be reactive; surely though there should be more of a role for prevention and consideration of alternatives. Such an approach would probably require more funding up-front, but the long term benefits may well be worth it in all respects.

Into Edinburgh office first thing Tuesday morning to have my ‘Blackberry’ installed. Now my emails can get me anytime, anyplace, anywhere, so no excuses for not replying quickly. Not sure I like this idea!

A smashing American chap came to interview me and various colleagues on Tuesday morning for his Study on ‘Identity’ – detailed questions that really made me think about my views on such things as what it means to be Scottish; who is Scottish, why are we Scottish – history, symbolism, shared experience, heart or head? Well, my head was birlin’ by the end of it, that’s for sure. It will be interesting to read his analysis when it’s published.

Morag and I had great fun at lunchtime and through the afternoon when the Access Group from Motherwell paid us a visit at the Parliament. I’ve spoken about this Group many times before I know, but they really are special. This is the special programme run by North Lanarkshire Council for youngsters who have experienced homelessness and unemployment, young people who’ve had a difficult start in life and need a ‘puddy up’. We had a group of 10 I think (felt like 110!), and they ran us ragged with their questions, and their sheer energy. Our Presiding Officer, George Reid, paid us a visit too, and was also put through the mill about how legislation works, what his role is. He told me the next day that he’d thoroughly enjoyed the session and wants to know more about how the Access programme works. Because, this programme really does seem to work. I’m sure that part of that is because of the respect shown by all concerned to the participants. And they truly deserve that respect because of what they’re achieving by their own perseverance and determination to succeed. But this Group is only the tip of the iceberg – there are many more who are not getting such appropriate assistance.

The Education Committee of the Parliament is doing an Inquiry just now into ‘looked after youngsters’, those who don’t have a family background. Some of the evidence I’ve picked up on has been disturbing, and the full Report when published must be taken seriously, with action to follow. Again I worry about the short term implications of many of the programmes that are set up because it’s easy to tick the boxes for ‘outcomes’ at the end of a set period, the secret is to give a solid grounding so that these ’outcomes’ are sustained – the ability to manage their own household, acquired skills and education so that they are employable in the kind of job they want to do for a long time, the confidence of knowing that they are a valuable part of a wider society.

I hope that Access continues its good work with many more young people, and that they keep in touch as their programmes progress.

With the PO/In the Garden Lobby/First Minister Sean

Hot-footed it from the Access Group up the High Street to do a quick training session on ‘How to Lobby your MSP’ as part of a course for organisations who want to interact with their Parliament. A good, informal session. I’ve done a few of these now – as well as enjoying meeting new people, the bonus is that the organisation which runs the courses makes a donation to a charity of my choice. Some survey firms offer the same deal, so I try always to accommodate. Back to work – clear the emails, read the mail, listen to phone messages, then SNP Group Meeting and home.

Clear morning on Wednesday – no Communities Committee – so time to read through some paperwork. The news this morning was full of condemnation for the operation of the Government’s Income Tax Credits system. No surprise to me – Davie has been dealing locally with many instances of people having problems with payments, both under and over, and I wrote in January of this year to the Executive Chairman of the Inland Revenue to highlight the very problems that are now being admitted by the Government. Real hardship is being suffered by some families who have fallen foul of the system through absolutely no fault of their own.

The Annual General Meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in the Chamber at lunchtime. It was interesting hearing about some of the international events which have been both hosted and attended by MSPs over the last year – particularly the Malawi trip which preceded the First Minister’s own visit and subsequent announcement of the Malawi Fund. I was a wee bit disappointed in a parliamentary answer I got this week – I had hoped that Blantyre in Lanarkshire would be given some special consideration in the Malawi initiative, because of its historical links with the country, but it would seem that this will not be the case. Surely some link can be made between Blantyre, Malawi, and Blantyre, Lanarkshire. It could be of benefit to both communities.

Stage 1 of the ‘Licensing Scotland Bill’ in the Chamber, and than after Decision Time, back to Strathaven on Wednesday evening for the Strathaven Academy Prizegiving. I absolutely love dishing out these prizes – they’re not all academic awards, but cover all ranges of the school’s activities and beyond. I especially like it when I know those who have won! I am so proud of our Jennifer – a leading light in the Strathaven Fair Trade Group – who walked off with umpteen and heads for University in October.

Crack of dawn driving again on Thursday morning to get to Edinburgh on time for Chamber – ‘Year End Flexibility (finance)’ and then Question Time as usual on a Thursday morning. It was Jim Wallace’s last week as LibDem Leader and Deputy First Minister, and it was he who faced up to Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of Student Debt. Nicola was ferocious, and Jim just seemed to be quite glad to be retiring to the back-benches. Good luck to him.

The National Schizophrenic Society, East Kilbride Branch, paid a visit to the Parliament on Thursday afternoon. I know so many of the members through involvement with the Lanarkshire Mental Health Forum and its many associated groups, so it was great to show off my office and have a chat in one of the Committee Rooms. As always with voluntary groups, the question of core funding. I was able to show the members the recent Parliamentary Questions I’ve asked on this issue – we suddenly found out at the beginning of the week that the Executive had changed the goalposts, without warning, for payment of grants. All of a sudden the new rules propose that grants could be paid in arrears, and withdrawn at six months notice! So much for the Minister’s recent pronouncements about valuing the voluntary sector and sorting the funding. When challenged, the Executive justified their position as follows: “Inappropriate conditions can also be deleted from the generic set, subject to negotiation with the relevant SE grant providing area” (that particular piece of gobbledygook follows on from the opening statement which says that the review has meant that the conditions are “easier to understand and follow”!).

Come and tell your story to this audience Minister - I think they find it amusing!

Meeting of the International Development Group in the evening – AGM and information session about progress in areas affected by the Tsunami six months ago. There’s been a lot of coverage in the press about it this week as well, displaced persons, aid not getting through to everyone, bureaucratic hold-ups. As always.

A free day on Friday – that is free to tidy up the office, catch up with Morag and Calum, and begin my usual panic at recess coming up! The two of them just ignored me really, so I set off home to Strathaven to prepare for the next day’s house visits and afternoon march from Stirling to Bannockburn to commemorate 1314 and Scotland’s freedom. I go most years to the Bannockburn rally and it did seem this year to be busier; perhaps because this year marks the 700th anniversary of the murder of William Wallace in London; perhaps because we’re only a couple of years away from the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Act of Union and the throwing away of that Freedom; Perhaps because Scotland’s on the way to demanding that Freedom back.

Linda Fabiani

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