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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
14th November 2005

Week beginning Monday 7th November 2005

What a week! Running in circles, barely time to catch up with myself. I’m sitting here at my desk, evening of Monday 14th, and looking over last week’s diary – some of the events I can barely remember what happened at them; I think I’m in danger of losing it here. Tuesday particularly is a bit of a blur, but then I had to head home early on Tuesday because I felt really peculiar; seems there’s a lot of strange bugs and viruses around – well one of them definitely got me last Tuesday. Only lasted the day and night though, by Wednesday morning (late’ish) I was returning to normal (for all that's worth!) and raring to go again (the 15 hours solid sleep maybe helped).

Anyway, enough of my medical condition. Daytime Monday was an Edinburgh day, a 'being the Convener of the Europe Committee' day. Started with taking part in a panel (presentation, then questions) at the Scottish European Resources Network. The panel was chaired by Michael Crow (STV’s answer to Jeremy Paxman, but not nearly so scary, and probably better-looking) and most of the contributions centred round how to make Europe and its institutions relevant to people in Scotland. It is a difficult question this, and I don’t begin to know the answer, but I do believe that one of the things that we could do to promote greater understanding of our European counterparts is to stop being so lazy, as a nation, about learning other languages (I count myself as lazy here too). Native English speakers generally tend to be complacent because English is such a universal language, and I am often in awe of young Germans, Russians, Spaniards, Poles and Czechs who not only speak English in addition to their native tongue but very often a third language too. Studies carried out amongst pupils of Gaelic-medium education show quite clearly that where children learn to use two languages from an early age, the third and beyond come easier. And, from the use of their language, from watching their films and reading their literature, flows understanding of other cultures. It would be a start – the UK strikes me as a fairly insular society, yet when you read Scotland’s history we were outward looking, at ease with our European neighbours, both south and north. I think Scotland probably still is outward looking to a certain extent, certainly more so than England, but I would like to see us looking as much to Europe as we do to across the Atlantic.

Story of my working life – I left SERN as the buffet was being served, and arrived at my next engagement as their buffet was being cleared away! This was the Hansard Society Annual conference and I was chairing a really interesting session which covered presentations from a Norwegian academic and the Icelandic Ambassador about their respective nations’ perspectives on not being full members of the European Union: Norway, Switzerland and Iceland are Associate Members – members of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association. It was interesting – the Ambassador from Iceland basically said that his country had the best of both worlds and it suited them very well, whilst the Norwegian chap’s study suggested that Norway in fact had all the dependencies but none of the influence. Both presentations were highly detailed – I am merely giving a potted personal view of what I picked up, but it was a really interesting theme about which I want to learn more.

Then to the British Council Reception to meet the new Scottish Director – we discussed how the British Council really must work to promote Scotland more overseas, and to be fair to the Council this is something they have been looking at for some time now. Mr. Cross will be appearing before the Committee at some point in the future, so we can explore his plans further then. After a quick chicken-on-a-stick  and a gulped orange juice, it was back on the road again; to Strathaven where the Strathaven Academy Action Group had called a public meeting to discuss the Council’s plans for the replacing of Strathaven Academy.

What a night it was – torrential rain/driving wind – but even so the venue was mobbed, with folk sitting on the floor and even standing outside having information relayed from the hall. The strength of feeling in Avondale is immense, but whilst there are many against the Council’s plan to demolish and rebuild on the same site (resulting in 2 years of bussing all the pupils to East Kilbride for their education), the main frustration is South Lanarkshire Council’s refusal to even consider alternative proposals. The petition currently circulating round the town and surrounding rural areas asks the Council to meet with parents and discuss potential options; I’ve written backing up this request, confirming that the meeting clearly endorsed the Action Group as their representatives. So we’ll see – I had a big wrangle with South Lanarkshire Council when they refused to meet with me, even though I was representing more than a dozen families in East Kilbride (the Elderly Carers’ issue), but surely they won’t refuse to meet the representatives of the pupils and parents of Avondale? If they do, then they ought to have a good old think to themselves about the democratic principle underlying the election of local councillors to run local services.

I’m afraid as I said earlier, Tuesday’s a bit of a blur, with Wednesday not too much better, so please excuse this short paragraph! However, I did manage to drive to Edinburgh on Tuesday morning, meet with the Committee Clerks, have lunch with a delegation from the European Parliament and then convene the Europe Committee! I’ve since read the Official Report of the Committee meeting and it seems to have gone well enough. I do remember saying ‘meeting closed’ around 4 pm, Jim Wallace MSP patting me on the head and saying “well done – you got there”, one of the Security staff taking me back to my office and Morag taking me home. In on Wednesday for a quick round of meetings with amongst others the Fisherman's Federation, Association of Publishers, Committee Clerks. Finalised the Environmental Assessment Bill in Chamber on Wednesday afternoon. That’s it folks! Least words I’ve ever used to cover two days of this job I think. I hope this particular lurgy doesn’t work its way round to you. It was a belter.

All back to normal on Thursday, and just as well; it was a South Lanarkshire day, with the ‘ladies who lunch’ from East Kilbride, Strathaven and Hamilton, my local paper ‘Echoes’ visiting with two work-experience pupils from Larkhall, and of course all well served by John Stirrat, the Parliament’s Hospitality Manager who hails from Sandford. Great fun.

Ladies who lunch

I promise that amongst all this enjoyment I did work! We debated energy policy in the morning and of course there was First Minister’s Question Time at noon as always. The main item under discussion there was the Prime Minister’s defeat over the 90-day hold-without-charge aspect of the proposed Anti-Terrorism Bill. It appears that even though Scotland has our own justice system, we’re not to have any input into such issues – some things never change! Spent Thursday afternoon arranging constituency house visits for the weekend and dashed off to East Kilbride Arts Centre in the evening for the launch of East Kilbride’s Fair Trade Initiative. Members of the Strathaven Fair Trade Group were guest speakers and the turn-out was great. A really well organised event – well done Kirstin Robb – and I’m sure that East Kilbride, with its newly formed steering group and the support of South Lanarkshire Council will follow Strathaven’s lead and become a Fair Trade town. It’s an ambitious plan for such a large town, but we’ll get there. That reminds me, the Executive made a big fanfare some time ago about promoting Scotland as a Fair Trade Country; as so often with big Executive announcements, there seems to be no follow-up. Must check this out.

Had to drive back to Edinburgh on Friday morning to cover a few different commitments. The first was an interview with Metropolis Magazine, a US Publication which covers the arts and architecture I understand. Mr. Nathan Silver (I love American names! His wife was with him and she was called Roxy) was doing a full piece about the Parliament building/contract and asked to interview me as a building user. That was followed by a meeting with the new Irish Consul to Scotland – Cliona Manahan – one of only three women Consuls in Edinburgh. A pleasure to meet her and I hope I’ll see a lot more of her during the study our committee is carrying out about the potential of European Funding for joint projects between Ireland and Scotland.

Friday lunchtime and afternoon was spent in a ‘think-tank’ discussion with academics researching Parliaments’ use of Commissioners and how these Commissioners relate to elected members (eg the Children’s Commissioner, the Public Services Ombudsman, the Information Commissioner etc.). Our Parliament’s Procedures Committee is currently considering the practice of reappointment/replacement of Commissioners once their initial term of appointment comes to an end. It was an interesting discussion and I hope that the views expressed by my colleague Alex Neil and myself were helpful.

A welcome clear run on Friday afternoon and evening in trying to catch up on some paperwork before heading home to Strathaven for a weekend of case-work and meeting various constituents who wanted advice or action. As always, I obviously can’t give much detail here on specifics but there are currently issues around for me to try to deal with covering the police, disability policy, funding of the voluntary sector, concessionary fares, and institutional child abuse.

Two particularly enjoyable events Saturday and Sunday though. On Saturday evening I went to visit Alexander and his parents. Alexander is coming to work with me next week on work experience from Duncanrig Secondary School in East Kilbride. He’s a smart laddie and I’m looking forward to having him around – I think Calum better watch out, this kid is pretty switched on and might just show him up!

Sunday and an interview (generally about life, the universe and everything) on Radio Cuillins FM with my old pal Andy Mitchell. I haven’t seen Andy for ages and it was great to talk with him on the phone for so long – problem is though when it’s someone you know so well, you forget you’re actually live on radio! Goodness knows what I said, but I do remember giggling a lot – Andy has that effect. Andy’s a great songwriter, from the beautiful, haunting ‘Indiana’ which has been recorded by many artists, to ‘The Buffalo Farm in Achiltibuie (run by big Neil and wee Hughie)’. A real home-grown talent. It did make me think afterwards though about making an effort to see more of people who I really care for and enjoy – too often we let time pass, and sometimes its just too late.

Linda Fabiani: 14.11.05

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