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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 4th July 2005

Well, here I am, Friday evening approaching 10 pm, looking back over the week; the last week before recess, and after the Make Poverty History Demonstration in Edinburgh tomorrow I’m heading off for a week’s break at Loch Awe in Argyll. So, this will be my last piece for the next couple of weeks.

Monday was my usual pre-holiday type of day – clearing up, throwing out, driving everyone around me bonkers. In-between-times sending lots of yellow roses to my friend in Derbyshire for her 50th Birthday. My close pals all hit 50 years old this year and next (me next year), and it’s very strange to think that in what seems like no time at all we’ve gone from 20-somethings, through 30 and 40-somethings to the half century! Still feel the same though.

Standards Committee Tuesday morning, and still ploughing through the Members’ Interest Order for presenting to the Parliament later in the year. Sped off at midday to attend one of the most rewarding events I’ve been at for a long time – I struggle to find the words to describe the Leaving Assembly at Bothwellpark School in Motherwell. I spoke about this very special school before, when the pupils, who have varying degrees of learning difficulty and physical disability, performed at the North Lanarkshire Schools’ Bands Concert in the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The Leaving Assembly was marvellous, with Paul, Stacey, Kimberley, Joseph and Colette leaving to move on with their lives, to college, to work. This school has been thriving for 25 years and led the way in Lanarkshire and Scotland for making sure that all children are encouraged and helped to be the best that they can be. The Head Teacher was also leaving on Tuesday, and she’d been there right from the start – obviously loved and respected. I’ve been asked back to lunch after school holidays – lunch prepared by the pupils, and I am so looking forward to this.

Back to Edinburgh late afternoon for a meeting with a rep from the Clydesdale Bank which is closing four branches in my area. I’m assured that no customers will be disadvantaged because a banking arrangement has been made with local Post Offices to service the accounts. We’ll see how it works out – the decision has already been made. We’ve also had recent experience of local Post Offices closing, so I suppose if this means that the PO service is further secured then it could be advantageous. It does seem bizarre though that not that long ago Post Office customers were being forced to open Bank Accounts to have benefits etc. paid and now, here we are, telling customers of one of the big banks that they have to go to the Post Office again!

Chamber all day on Wednesday – unusual, but lots of legislation to get through before recess. First stage of the Housing Bill in the morning – the one that we’ve been working on in the Communities Committee. Nothing contentious, general principles agreed so that the Committee can move on to Stage 2 and start looking at potential Amendments. This was followed by a statement on Planning by the Minister to launch the Executive's White Paper. Looks a bit wishy-washy at first reading, but we’ll get into the meat of it next ‘term’.

New Ministers appointed in the afternoon, following the Liberal Democrat leadership contest, and then Stage 3 of the Transport Bill – along with other aspects this is the legislation that heralds the national concessionary travel scheme for senior citizens. We have heard lots about the system not being ready in time for its launch – I hope this isn’t the case, because this piece of legislation is long overdue.

Hurried meetings at lunch-time, because when a Stage 3 debate is on you have to be in Chamber all the time because of voting – no skiving. First I had a quick up-date with the Arts Group about how we now move forward with the Art Strategy for the Parliament, and then an interesting chat with Mrs. Kesang Kakla, the Northern European Repesentative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. A fascinating lady, striving constantly to raise and maintain awareness of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. She was telling me that the main concern now for Tibet is the dissolution of culture; the transport infrastructure from Beijing in China to Llasa in Tibet is being massively upgraded and the transmigration of Chinese residents to Tibet is still actively pursued by the Chinese Government. So, Chinese culture is becoming more and more predominant.

One of the greatest experiences of my life so far was meeting the Dalai Lama when he visited Scotland last year. I am not particularly knowledgeable about the Tibetan situation or indeed Tibetan Buddhism, but I found the man fascinating and uplifting in a way that I cannot quite explain – he’s 70 years old now and has been in exile from his country for almost all of his life. In Tibet it’s illegal for anyone to have even a photograph of him – this peaceful, thoughtful, intelligent and much-loved head of his people.

Out to dinner on Wednesday night – the annual Scottish Parliament Journalists Association annual bash. This is only the second time I've ever attended, and had great fun with the chaps from the BBC – that Brian Taylor’s a nifty dancer you know!

Chamber all day again on Thursday – the Health Bill – or, as more commonly known, the Smoking Bill because the banning of smoking in enclosed public spaces is the main part of the legislation. Another extremely important part of this Bill was about compensation to victims who suffer Hepatitis as a result of blood transfusion, and their families. The Skipton Fund was set up to issue compensation, but time-barred some of the applicants by setting a date after which it applied. At Stage 2 in Committee the SNP was successful in amending the proposed legislation so that the time bar was removed. The Executive was moving during Stage 3 to reverse the position, so we were all anxious to vote and make sure that justice would prevail for the victims of this awful disease.

All seemed to be going well – the first part of the Bill and then First Ministers Question Time at midday as usual. Nicola Sturgeon was gracious in asking the First Minister to add the Parliament’s weight to the calls to Make Poverty History when the G8 leaders meet in Gleneagles next week; David McLetchie, the Tory Leader, was less gracious and rather crass on the same subject and then a wee while after that chaos broke out. A demonstration in the Chamber which brought the parliament to a halt; the Presiding Officer had to adjourn proceedings for over an hour; the VIP Gallery of visiting Members of the European Parliament had to be cleared; the public galleries, mainly school-children, had to be cleared; and the police had to be called when three of the protestors refused to leave the floor of the Chamber (the fourth left quickly so that he could call a press conference). No, it wasn’t the international anarchists that some of the Press have been predicting would descend on Edinburgh this week, it wasn’t students protesting in the Gallery – it was elected MSPs from the Scottish Socialist Party claiming to defend democracy by disrupting the proceedings of Scotland’s democratically elected Parliament – bizarre.

When we left the Chamber we discovered that the organised meeting and press event of the Make Poverty History Campaign which was to be held in the Parliament had to cancelled because, understandably, the police wouldn’t let anyone into the Building for a while. Similarly, no other visitors were allowed in either. We learned later in the afternoon that although the protest was seemingly about being denied the right to march at Gleneagles while the G8 was sitting, actually agreement had been reached by all involved whilst all the nonsense in the Chamber was going on. What a blooming waste of time it all was!

But the worst thing of all – when it came to the vote on the Hepatitis C victims, the Executive won by 4 votes; there were of course 4 MSPs missing because their behaviour in the morning meant that the Presiding Officer withdrew their right to be in the Chamber in the afternoon. Had there been a tied vote, the Presiding Officer would have had to use his casting vote for the status quo, which was of course the decision taken by the Committee at Stage 2. Those time-barred families would have been able to make claim from the Skipton Fund. They are of course now denied that right.

In relation to the four MSPs involved in the demonstration, the upshot was that the Parliament unanimously agreed that they will be denied access to the Parliamentary complex and be denied their salary and allowances for month of September. To paraphrase the Presiding Officer, you can’t simultaneously be on the barricades and on the benches of the parliament.

Although I didn’t feel much like it after all the shenanigans of the day and the disappointment about the Skipton Fund vote, I did keep my appointment of dinner at the lovely Callendar House in Falkirk with visiting Euro MEPs from the European Free Alliance parties, holding their annual conference. Thoroughly enjoyable company – I have spent time with some of them before so it was like meeting up with old friends.

And so to today, Friday, most of which was spent in the company of the Problem Solving Team in South Lanarkshire – a multi-agency initiative involving the Council, the Police and others. The idea is that there really should be ‘joined up thinking’ when it comes to dealing with anti-social behaviour etc., and true co-operation amongst all those involved in dealing with both the causes and the effects. The results certainly seem impressive, as indeed does the philosophy. I intend to learn more about this.

So, back I came to the office in Edinburgh to clear the desk for my week off, and to march with many others through Edinburgh tomorrow. The message will be sent to the G8 leaders that it is possible to make poverty history if the will is there, and that firm commitment to trade justice, debt relief and aid is a prerequisite of public support. I’ve printed below a photograph taken yesterday when we managed to cobble together a quick photocall for the Campaign after the stramash of the morning.

Click on the picture to see a larger version

While I was looking for this photo on my computer I quickly checked my email for anything that has arrived whilst I’ve been writing here. Yes, someone has sent me a copy of a notice the Scottish Socialist Party sent out to their members today. It bewails the fact that their four MSPs have been financially disadvantaged by the Parliament’s decision to dock their wages and allowances for the month of September and suggests that their members use the Make Poverty History march tomorrow as an opportunity to fundraise for the Party. AND I ACCUSED DAVID MCLETCHIE OF BEING CRASS!

Linda Fabiani

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