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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
19th September 2005

Week beginning Monday 19th September 2005

Last full week of by-election campaigning towards the big day on the 29th September, so Monday in Cathcart to fight for Maire Whitehead and Tuesday in Livingstone for Angela Constance. Two smashing candidates – it would be great to have Maire join us here in Holyrood and have Angela stand up for Livingstone at Westminster (we could do with a woman in our Group down there! Nothing against the lads you understand, lest I’m accused of sexism).

There’s also a Council by-election in Burntisland on the same day, so good luck to George Kay as well.
I know that I ended up working in the office late on Tuesday evening, but you know, I have no recollection at all of what I did! It must be the weekend’s Conference that’s wiped it from my mind – at least I hope that’s all it is. Anyway, Wednesday was as ever hectic starting with the Public Petitions Committee in the morning. Although I’m not a member any more, this was a special occasion as Jeanette and Madge from the Murray Owen Carers Group in East Kilbride were through because their petition was being discussed yet again.

This is an issue which I have written about here before – over and over again. The plight of elderly carers looking after their adult children with learning difficulties, and their wish to see their children settled and secure before they are no longer able to look after them. The Committee was considering the Executive’s and the Council’s responses and agreed to ask for further information. That’s all fine, and I’m glad the Committee are refusing to close this petition until they have answers and solutions, but I feel so frustrated that despite visits, committee attendances and debates, the carers in the Murray Owen Group and others all over the country are actually no further forward in their wish to protect their families. As I said to the committee on behalf of Madge and Jeanette:

The original petitioners are not getting any younger. Every day, they face the prospect that they may soon be unable to look after their children who are adults. I can think of nothing worse than knowing that a son or daughter who needs help is not settled and is not achieving everything that they can in the community.

The petitioners should not need to face the thought that, one day, they will not be there when their son or daughter comes home and crisis management will need to step in. Therefore, can the committee emphasise to the Executive the urgency of many of these cases?”

The Committee agreed, so on we go. The spirit of Jeanette and Madge, and so many others like them, astounds me – I get so frustrated whilst they remain calm and positive all the time, looking not just to their own situations, but to make things better for others in the future.

And so through my now regular Wednesday meeting with the European Committee clerks to Chamber in the afternoon and the Climate Change debate. With it being conference week, there are only a few of us holding the fort at Holyrood and all hands on deck for contributing to debates – somehow I think I was over-enthusiastic though in offering my services as I’ve ended up with four! The climate change debate was interesting though, based on the Environment Committee’s inquiry and subsequent report. Certainly worth reading as it draws together all the information for those of us who do not deal with the subject day to day. It makes scary reading though with a stark warning from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution: "If we go for business as usual ... we are destined for something unimaginable."—[Official Report, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, 26 January 2005; c 1545.]

As I said on the day: “ … leadership is required. In paragraph after paragraph, the committee's report urges radical action from the top to encourage everyone else. Some solutions may be difficult for people to implement, but the Government's job is to make decisions about what is necessary for the greater good”.

We await the Executive’s plans with interest.

On the day that the United Nations promotes as the UN Day of Peace and International Ceasefire, and the week that Scotland was deemed by a UN Report to be one of the world’s most violent societies (certainly the data for that assertion requires some further analysis) I attended an interesting meeting in the evening about how to promote a Culture of Peace in Scotland, and the incorporation of peace culture into education. So often this stuff sounds wishy-washy, but the presentations from the contributors were excellent and I am sure that those in the audience who started out sceptical will have food for thought. It’s not about deciding that children will have a time slot every week to discuss ‘peace’, it’s about things like mutual respect, negotiating skills, anger management, mediation etc. being embedded across subjects. This is of course already happening within some Scottish schools and certainly in South Lanarkshire ‘citizenship’ is a subject which pupils enjoy.

And so to Thursday and before hotfooting it to Aviemore for the SNP Conference I’ve got three debates to get through, as well as a public meeting with Douglas Alexander MP, Minister for Europe, followed by a discussion lunch. I enjoyed the meeting and was impressed by Mr. Alexander’s knowledge of the current state of play in regard to the European Constitution, Services Directive, International Development and other issues. I’ll be even more impressed though when Scotland is a member of the European Community in its own right and sending our own Minister to look after Scottish interests.

The first debate of the morning was on whether Gross Domestic Product is a suitable tool by which to measure a nation’s progress. It’s a fascinating subject, tying in with the sustainable development agenda that all countries are supposed to be following, and GDP, in my humble opinion, should not be the sole indicator of a country's growth and well-being. A recent report covering the period from 1970 to 1997 shows quite clearly that although economic growth shows a steady rise, the life satisfaction figures are static. So, people are not necessarily happier and do not feel a greater sense of well-being just because the GDP happens to look good. We obviously cannot scrap GDP as a measurement, but we could look at using alternative measurements in tandem. One strange moment during my contribution: when I said “Everyone knows that everyone in the SNP believes in independence for Scotland” that wee toerag minister Allan Wilson responded “half of SNP members do”. I don’t know where he gets his ideas from, perhaps the discarding of principles within his own Party. Whatever else the SNP may argue about internally, there is one principle which will never be compromised, and that one is Independence.

The next debate was one which I wish we didn’t have to have – another debate, called by the Green Party, on asylum issues, this one called due to the appalling treatment meted out to the Vucaj family in Drumchapel. I am ashamed to live in a country where, as reported, 16 immigration officers kicked in the family's front door at 6 o'clock in the morning, the children's father was handcuffed in front of them and they were all removed to a Detention Centre for deportation. This after living in Drumchapel for years and being part of the community. I am however, glad to live in a country where the strength of public opinion, in the Drumchapel area and beyond, is such that the First Minister has been forced to condemn this and say that he will discuss this treatment of children with his counterparts at Westminster. I am not convinced, after years of lobbying, that he is entirely genuine here, and will watch progress (if any) with interest. As far as I am concerned, under the auspices of the Children’s Act 1995 the Executive should just be saying to the Home Office “NO – IT’S NOT HAPPENING HERE”. The Children’s Commissioner, here in Scotland, is outraged at the way children are being treated, and is being very vocal. More power to her elbow.

The last debate of the week – the Report of the Cultural Commission, a huge document with much worth, but lots of sifting through required to find it! My own concern, echoed by others, was that you cannot be prescriptive about culture; in fact how do you define ‘culture’. After all, one person’s three hours of heaven whilst sitting in a theatre chair, may well be someone else’s idea of hell. Even in my own household there are things which Duncan loves to attend, whilst I stay at home, and vice versa. As my colleague Roseanna Cunningham contributed, the Report seems to talk about how to deliver culture, but doesn’t actually define the product to start with. Again, Executive plans awaited.

And so, off to Aviemore with my pal Angie and colleague Stewart Maxwell for company in the car. A long time since I’ve been in Aviemore, except to stop for fish-and-chips on the way north, and I have to say that the new Aviemore Centre was a pleasant surprise. I love Conference, and this one was particularly grand because I had nothing to do! All my fringe meetings had to be handed to others because I was stuck in Edinburgh. So I had a great time dropping in on events, contributing to the odd debate and enjoying meeting folk I hadn’t seen for some time.

A couple of highlights – the brilliant session organised by Alyn Smith MEP and Ian Hudghton MEP to discuss progress since the G8 met in Gleneagles – not a lot I’m afraid, a sad position wonderfully articulated by Kumi Naidoo, the Chair of the Global Call to Action against Poverty and Chief Executive of CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, based in South Africa. Read about this organisation on Another highlight was the support being gained from delegates by the Marie Curie campaign for the right to die at home – this is one of the issues which I’ve raised before with readers, and one which has prompted a lot of responses from readers; all in favour of that right and many telling their own stories of caring for their loved ones who were terminally ill. The petition was well subscribed and will go a long way towards the campaign.

Scotland supporting the Choice to Die at Home

The final highlight was of course was the tribute to Winnie Ewing, retiring as the Party President. Whilst we have all respected Mrs. Ewing for years, actually watching the tribute and realising all over again what this grand lady has achieved in her life for the nationalist cause brought a lump to many a throat. No tribute can be enough to express our gratitude, so I won’t even try.

Winnie told a funny story about Alex Salmond having written to a constituent who was complaining about non-availability of dentistry services in the Banff area saying “Willie, I am sorry I cannot help; get onto Stewart Stevenson; your teeth are devolved”. We have our own funny office story about teeth. Davie was away South for the weekend, and I reproduce below (with his permission!) email received the other day:

“Hello David. Just to let you know we have found your teeth. I will be posting them out to you Friday. I will pack them well.”

So, no more quiche for Davie, just lots of ribbing from his colleagues.

Linda Fabiani: 26.9.05

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