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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
August 2005

“August is a Wicked Month” wrote the wonderful Irish author, Edna O’Brien. Certainly for me, August, with parliament still in recess, was a wicked month in both its usual and current hip meaning. ‘Wicked-sad’ that following his graduation our Amorin returned home to East Timor to work towards the rebuilding of his shattered homeland. After six years living with us in Strathaven, we are all missing him hugely. this must be how parents feel when their sons/daughters emigrate, although certainly these days communication is much easier. I remember as a child how we all waited at the telephone at New Year for the annual phone-call from Aunty Terri in Canada, Mum allowing us about half-a-minute each to talk, reminding us all the while about the expense being incurred by aunty T. Now, Amorin can text us from East Timor and we can reply within seconds; e-mail too.

Apart from our laddie’s departure, August was a thoroughly enjoyable month for me. A couple of days on Deeside with my pal Roseanna Cunningham, spending time with friends generally, and yes, even doing the Edinburgh Festival thing. I love Edinburgh during Festival time, although it’s a few years since we actively attended Festival events. When visitors from Derbyshire came to stay, we got our act together and got organised: the Tattoo (wonderful in some aspects), great music (Ally Bain and Phil Cunningham, Dougie McLean, Sing Zimbabwe), drama (the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by the Practical Magic Theatre Company, with Seonaid Ballantyne from Strathaven in a major role), and of course the obligatory Festival turkey (every year has one or more!) – a cabaret show that was so bad I was convinced for the first half-hour that this was deliberate and the joke would soon be shared with the audience. Not so I’m afraid, the eejits really were serious! If I could even remember the name of it I would warn you against potential future years.

Of course, work goes on while chamber doesn’t sit, but one of the grand things about my job is that so much of the work I do is thoroughly enjoyable. Recess allows you to take advantage of this. Attending constituency events, constituents visiting the Parliament to see what all the fuss is about, and travelling a bit further afield than usual to check out and catch up with events and projects that are of interest.

Lots of visitors from East Kilbride and Falkirk to Parliament this month to see the “For Freedom Alone” exhibition – display of three remarkable documents which together mark the time of the Scottish Wars of Independence: The Declaration of Arbroath, written to the pope in 1320 to support King Robert Bruce and an independent Scotland; the Lubeck letter issued by William Wallace and sent to European trade partners in 1297 advising them that Scottish ports were once again open for trade after Wallace’s defeat of the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge; and the Ayr Manuscript which contains the second-oldest surviving text of laws passed in the Scottish Parliament in 1318. Fantastic to see. One of my visitors was Allan McCallum from Grangemouth who had actually travelled to Lubeck some years ago and been allowed to hold and be photographed with the Letter! The thrill of his life, he said. Log onto the Scottish Parliament website to see more details and view all of the photographs:

The Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath was sent to the Pope in 1320, six years after the battle of Bannockburn. King Edward II had refused to make peace with Scotland and the Pope had not recognised Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.

It is thought eight Scottish earls and 38 barons sealed the Declaration – the sole survivor of three letters written from Scotland to the Pope at the time –
urging the Pope to recognise Robert the Bruce as King of Scotland.

Due to its fragile state, the Declaration is on display in a purpose-built hermetically sealed display case to protect it for future generations.

The third document to be displayed at Parliament is known as the Ayr Manuscript, which contains details of some of Scotland's earliest laws. The Act of Parliament highlighted in the manuscript states the King's desire that all should have ready access to justice, whether rich or poor.

I also had a great time hosting folks from East Ayrshire – study days for Community Councillors and Activists, with the morning spent at the Scottish Civic Forum and afternoon spent with me at the Parliament. Lots of fun and discussion.

The Lübeck letter is the only surviving original document issued by William Wallace. Sent in 1297, it was written to advise European trade partners that Scottish ports were open for trade.

Thanks to Adam Elder, Scottish Parliament Photographer, for sending these to us.

Try taking on this lot, Mr. First Minister!

I did a bit of travel myself in August as I said – to Aboyne to see how Kincardine Estate ran its rented housing; to Dundee to check out a fantastic project run by the University’s medical faculty - they run distance learning courses in both Kenya and Eritrea, with hugely successful outcomes; to New Lanark for the Communities Committee ‘Away Day’; to Glasgow to one of Strathclyde University’s Summer Academy’s graduation shows. The Strathclyde Summer Academy is now in its seventh year and attracts up to 900 school students annually. Its aim is to promote the benefits of further and higher education for pupils who may not think that they have a chance of going to University and need additional support and motivation to achieve the necessary grades.. Each course runs for two weeks and the group I visited were from both Lanarkshire and Glasgow. The graduation show they put on was really first-class.  Over 6,000 young people have to date graduated from the Summer Academy at Strathclyde, the only model of its kind in Europe.  We do so much in Scotland that is good, but we’re not so good at blowing our own trumpet!

At home in Strathaven and East Kilbride there was much going on too – the Strathaven Exposition (Agricultural Show), coffee mornings and events, and of course the famous Strathaven Balloon Festival. Yes, it is official, Strathaven is full of balloons! Not, you understand, politicians of local and national representation, but real balloons – ones that fly! Unfortunately, the weather was not such that the balloons could not be launched (is that what you do to balloons?), but a grand time was had and the ‘evening glow’ was fabulous – the balloonists displayed their crafts/vehicles (I really am struggling here!), lighting up the evening sky in the John Hastie Memorial Park. Beautiful. I had the hard bit - picking the winners in the 'decorate the balloon' competition for the children

Close your eyes and pick a winner! Really hard.

Lots of Hot Air!

Of course, in amongst the running around there was general work too, both desk-based and house-visits. One of my recent constituency cases showed both the good and the not so good of our system of local government. The good was the speedy response I had to a couple of complaints from an elderly lady in her 90's living in a sheltered housing complex. She is having problems with an overgrown shrub bed and trees at the front of her home, which because of its overgrown state was preventing use of her clothes drying area and dislodging slabs from the path running past the row of houses making it dangerous to walk on.  I contacted the local authority to highlight the problems and they very quickly came out to inspect the area and have agreed to cut back the shrubs and the tree with work beginning as I write. Sometimes the simplest things can enhance the quality of life for someone.

The not so good relates to a concern from the same lady and involves a potentially greater problem. This includes 34 residents from the sheltered housing complex and involves the replacement of kitchens and bathrooms in each of the houses as part of a programme being run by South Lanarkshire Council. While the renovations are welcome the timing of them is not!  The intention is to carry out the work in January during some of the worst of the winter weather. The main concern is that heating in the houses is supplied via storage heaters, which are far more difficult to regulate as the heat can not be simply turned up to give an immediate increase in temperature. The residents are concerned that with workmen coming and going from the house over a number of days that they will be left to sit in a cold environment for the duration of the work being carried out.

Problem one for the residents seems to have started at the meeting called to inform them of the work when little or no consideration appears to have been given to the fact that because of their age some might have difficulty hearing what was being said, with the result that a number of residents left the meeting none the wiser to what was happening and had to catch up from neighbours. Problem two is that having written to the Customer Liaison Officer with responsibility for dealing with the residents’ concerns that neither I nor any of the residents (to my knowledge) has been contacted to discuss their concerns and seek a solution. Given the age of the residents, the time of year for the proposed work and the type of heating inside the houses I had hoped for a better response from the people concerned. We’ll keep on keeping on!

I’ve spoken before about issues relating to specific health services. Again, many complaints about the orthopaedic service in Lanarkshire. Not generally about the quality of treatment, but actually being able to access treatment in the first place. When I probed the issue in parliament it turns out there has been a 65% rise nationally in the median waiting time for orthopaedic surgery in Scotland – it’s increased from 80 days in 2002 (and I complained then!) to a predicted 132 days this year. The Health Minister is still insisting that waiting times are coming down and that his targets will be met – I hope he’s right.

So, add to the above meeting with Finnish parliamentarians, lecturing to students from the U.S., attending a cocktail party with the 32nd Signal Regiment, attending a Trades Council Dinner on the Glasgow Tall Ship (and having to be evacuated because of a fire in an adjacent warehouse!), helping out at the Festival of Politics and helping to launch the Lanarkshire Branch of Young Scots for Independence you can see that August has indeed been a ‘wicked’ month. Back to weekly committees and chamber next week though! Never mind – there’s no job where you can choose only to do the best bits.

Linda Fabiani

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