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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
7th November 2005

Week beginning Monday 31st October 2005

A fairly short piece this week as I was in Germany Wednesday to Friday - more on that later.

Monday started well addressing a meeting of the Scottish Council for Trade and Industry – members with a European interest who wanted to know the Europe Committee’s work plan for the forthcoming year. Knowledgeable folk and I learned a lot from the interaction.

I was fair chuffed with myself when the chap who introduced me to the SCDI audience said that his teenage son, on hearing his dad’s agenda for the following day, had said “Oh, Linda Fabiani, we did her in Modern Studies – cool”. Wow, praise indeed! Well the swollen head didn’t last long when I arrived at Greenhills Primary School in East Kilbride. To quote one of the Primary 7 pupils: “I told my mum you were coming – she said why couldn’t we get a real MSP”. Ach well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time I suppose.

And so to Tuesday and Standards Committee followed by lots of frantic catching up on the constituency work that I had intended to clear on Monday and didn’t quite manage. I seem to spend a lot of time moving large piles of paperwork into smaller piles of paperwork and then combining them again! Thank goodness for Davie, that’s all I can say.

A reception for the Estonian Foreign Minister in the evening, held in the Parliament. Estonia is building links with Scotland now that it’s a member of the European Union – 1.3m people in the country and thriving as an independent nation! I wasn’t able to stay long because I knew I had so much to do before I headed off in the morning. I stayed long enough to hear the Estonian Male Voice Choir though – fabulous and I noticed they were accompanied by a skin-drum very like our own bodhran, although oval in shape rather than round. The small drum was the only accompaniment, the mouth-music being music enough. The Minister told me that they reckon they have a million Estonian songs, and singing is a huge part of their folk culture – we should celebrate our own song culture more, Gaelic, Highland, North East and Lowland; a rich and varied song culture of which we should be truly proud and determined never to lose.

 Worked until I almost fell asleep at the desk on Tuesday night, aware that I was heading off for three days. So home, frantic packing to turn up at Edinburgh Airport at 5 am (yes! 5 am – I was so terrified I would sleep in that I hardly slept at all!). And so to Magdeburg via Frankfurt and Berlin.

Fascinating trip – there’s a bi-annual meeting of reps from 4 of Europe Committees where their respective Parliaments have similar powers – ourselves, Catalunya, the Basque Country and Saxony Anhalt. So this was Saxony Anhalt’s turn to host in their Land Capital. Magdeburg is about a one-and-a-half hour drive from Berlin, in what used to be East Germany. It’s the first time I’ve visited that part – same for Dennis Canavan and Derek Brownlee, fellow committee members, so it was a particularly interesting experience. The meeting itself was extremely useful and we formally signed our Declaration of joint working and agreed to identify particular forthcoming European initiatives that we could respond to at a time early enough to perhaps influence – one of the frustrations felt by all is that when you’re not the ‘nation-state’ member of the European Union then often directives and regulations are handed down from the National Government with no opportunity for regions (how I hate referring to Scotland as a region! Sadly in Europe that’s what we are for the moment) to influence. What we have to ensure though is that our Group doesn’t merely become another talking shop, but truly takes on useful work. Once it’s up and running effectively, I hope other regional (that awful word again) parliaments with similar powers will join in.

Oh, if only it was an Independence Declaration!

Anyway, I know we shouldn’t talk about national stereotypes, but they exist – we were well organised by our German hosts, who laughed at themselves I have to say about their insistence on timekeeping and having a packed agenda. It was particularly amusing at times of gathering – the German contingent all early, the Scots generally on time but one of us always deciding to go to the loo at the last minute, and the Basques strolling in late, taking photos, chatting away and finishing their cigarettes. All interesting stuff though, business and social – attending a session at the Bundesrat (where representatives of the 16 Lander meet to decide what to petition the National Government about at the Bundestag), learning about the history of Magdeburg and its cathedral, our evening walking tour around Berlin (the former East Berlin) and seeing the remnants of ‘the wall’. All this of course against the backdrop of the German national government not yet being formed because of the election results being so close. No decision as I write as to whether the election will have to be re-run – interesting times for the country.

One of the big problems in the former East Germany is the loss of population to the West. One of the Saxony Anhalt MPs was telling me that in his own town the population has halved in the last ten years and generally in Saxony Anhalt the unemployment rate is around 21%. Magdeburg itself seemed strangely quiet. The hotel we stayed at in Magdeburg was just new and seemed a bizarre design for their city centre – it was Gaudiesque in style (internally the rooms were almost direct from a Mondrian painting) and could have been transplanted overnight from Barcelona. Very colourful and beautiful though. I did notice that buildings constructed since the fall of the wall were colourful and highly-designed, in contrast to the municipal housing blocks built during the Soviet years. I wonder if this is a reaction to the greyness of the communist decades. I took loads of photographs, but see below our gingerbread house hotel, and the Wall – from one extreme to the other.

Well, I got back late on Friday night, absolutely whacked, and all my good intentions for work on Saturday went straight out the window, apart from reading and telephoning some folk to catch up on their particular cases. However, relaying at the start of this piece my stories of Monday and how you can’t please all of the people all of the time, have reminded me of a very bizarre phone call I received in the last week or two. It was about 9.30 pm and I was in the office. It went something like this:

Caller: Hello, is that that Linda Fabiani
Me:             Yes, how can I help you?
: You can’t, I just wanted to tell you how hopeless you are – you know nothing – you sit in that parliament and achieve nothing – you’re rubbish – you’re just a *************** con-merchant

Me:             Please stop swearing or I’ll hang up
Typical – you don’t want to listen to anybody – you’re useless – you know absolutely nothing about anything – you haven’t a clue - you know, there was a Roman Emperor once who made his horse a Senator … …

Me:              Yes, it was Caligula and the horse was Incitatus
Caller:  See you! That’s exactly what I mean. You know everything.

Click – phone dead

So, you see, there are people who you can’t please ANY of the time!

Linda Fabiani: 7.11.05

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