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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
21st November 2005

Week beginning Monday 14th November 2005

Arrived in Edinburgh Monday morning to meet up with Alexandre (I spelt his name wrongly last week), known to us all week as Zander, to start him off on his week’s work experience from Duncanrig School in East Kilbride. He instantly fitted in to our office team, he and Calum instantly forming a double-act to hassle me all week! I mentioned to a workmate that Calum had ‘reverted to adolescence’ only to be asked “what do you mean reverted!”

It was a good week to have Zander around as it was so varied, loads going on that he could join in with to see lots of different aspects of the life of an MSP. Started off with recording an interview for a radio programme on institutional child abuse. Since we had the debate in the Parliament, culminating in lots of promises from the Scottish Executive, I am not at all convinced that we are dealing fairly with those who historically suffered. I still believe that a Public Inquiry would be appropriate – how can society move on when it hasn’t properly addressed its past, recognised its failings and shown respect to those who were let down? There’s still no explanation from the Executive as to why this would be ‘inappropriate’, and quite frankly I don’t particularly think that the measures they have claimed to have put in place are an appropriate response to an issue which looms so large in the lives of victims. Zander sat in on the interview, and I think this gave him an inkling for the media as he spent the rest of the afternoon with the Press Office, learning how to track events, compile press releases and talk with journalists. The main issue for the week was the Licensing Bill which was to be up for agreement on the Wednesday in Chamber.

Sandford and Upper Avondale Community Council’s AGM on Monday night and lots of discussion about the Council’s draft local plan and proposals for housebuilding in and around the villages. It was actually quite a sad occasion, following the funeral at the weekend of one of the most stalwart community activists in the area who had been involved with the Community Council for years. Tom Leith will be missed by many of us.

Working from home on Tuesday morning, catching up with emails and letters, and writing to the Council, the Police, the Hospital – most constituency issues just now relate to these particular areas. Another AGM late morning – East Kilbride Women’s Aid. An upbeat meeting, the organisation progressing well with support from all necessary – the joint initiative amongst Social Work, the Police and the Health Board appears to be working well. That doesn’t take away from the shocking baseline statistics though: during the last year over 1400 referrals to the organisation, 142 women and 215 children turned away from the Refuge because of lack of space. Recent Executive figures show that reported cases of domestic abuse are increasing. Whilst it may well be that women are more likely to come forward these days, it is a shocking indictment on Scotland that so many suffer, that violence is seen as somehow ‘normal’ behaviour. Studies amongst young people in particular have sadly emphasised this ‘normality’ by the belief of up to 28% of young men and 12% of young women that ‘it is acceptable to hit a woman under specific circumstances’. I hope that because more women feel able to talk about it now, such views will gradually disappear.

Back to Edinburgh to find Zander and Calum ensconced in eating Tunnocks Teacakes and researching the legislation covering airguns which is currently going through Westminster. Zander then gave me bullet points to use in response to an email query - he’s a quick learner that laddie! And, he worked on to the early evening with me to do some research for constituency issues – I think I’ll keep him on.

Bright and early Wednesday morning and Zander and I in to meet Mr. Shaba, an MP from Malawi who wanted to speak with me and the Standards Committee Clerk about transparency and accountability in the behaviour of MSPs. There are concerns in the Malawi Parliament that the public don’t trust their elected representatives and Mr. Shaba has been investigating European models of Codes of Conduct, dealing with Members’ Interests etc. He was fascinated by the ‘strictures’ under which MSPs work in terms of both accountability and transparency, and I reluctantly had to tell him that even though this was in fact the case we are still accused of all sorts and that politicians here are sometimes mistrusted too.

Met with the Europe Clerks at lunchtime as usual on a Tuesday – Zander was fascinated both by their knowledge and their diplomatic language; ‘Convener, you will be aware that …’, ‘Convener, as you no doubt intend to say to so-and-so …’. It really is like the old ‘Yes Minister’ TV series sometimes. I am so glad to have the backing of the Clerking Team though because the amount I have to learn is colossal. Zander went off with the Clerks to check out how they work in their own office – organisation and research, keeping us all up to speed.

We welcomed St. Elizabeth’s Primary from Hamilton to the Parliament at lunchtime and as usual really astute questions they wanted answered – mainly about the use of airguns and whether they should be licensed/banned, so Zander’s research of the day before was timely.

Well, Stage 3 of the Licensing Bill in the afternoon and what a debacle that was. One of my frustrations in the parliament is that no matter what goes wrong the whole parliament and all the MSPs collectively are blamed. Well, actually in this case it was the Executive who were all over the place with no idea what they were about, chopping and changing, the Labour Committee Convener himself having to try and amend amendments made and agreed by his committee. What a shambles, caused by the Government benches, but as always the headlines roared that the parliament had mucked-up – no we didn’t, we knew exactly what we were doing, it was the Executive that didn’t!

Busy day for Zander and I on Thursday. Luckily I wasn’t speaking in either of the day’s debates – Dentistry and Waste Management – so was able to get some real work done! We met up with a visiting delegation of Turkish MPs in the morning who wanted to learn about the work of the European Committee; Turkey of course hopes to join the EU in around ten years’ time. It was an interesting session, but very quickly the delegates moved the discussion onto the fact that they had heard that some Scots were demonstrating against Turkey’s proposed membership and demanding that an investigation be carried out into alleged Turkish atrocities against the Armenian population some 80 years ago. They were very indignant! I was willing to go off agenda and talk about that, much to the obvious concern of the Executive officials who were accompanying the group. I told them that we in Scotland have free speech, are entitled to demonstrate and have the right to voice opinions publicly as long as violence and hatred against others is not being incited. The bottom line is that democracy works that way – get learning! It was a calm and good-natured discussion though with food for thought for all concerned. Zander told me afterwards that he was fascinated by the discussion and the body-language that was going on. We all met up later that day for an informal 'touristy' chat about Edinburgh, so our visitors were happy enough.

Zander settled down at one computer on Thursday afternoon and me at another. Worked away quite happily and then he produced a load of potential parliamentary questions about the First Minister’s recent trip to Canada. With barely any editing we submitted them to the Chamber Desk for answer by the Executive. Told you this lad was smart! Calum’s getting concerned.

Thursday evening was smashing – a reception in the Parliament for the delegates to the Tibetan Convention being held in Edinburgh City Chambers over the next two days. The Convention meets every few years to discuss progress towards autonomy for Tibet, the delegates being parliamentarians from all over the world who support the cause. Loads of interesting folk from everywhere imaginable – Zander had a long discussion with Senator Consiglio Di Nino from Canada, was presented with a Tibetan prayer scarf and had a chat with Zululand’s Chief Buthelezi! All in a day’s work for a lad from Duncanrig School!

Alexander's Week

Well, after our international day on Thursday we headed for Chapelton Primary School on Friday morning to present the pupils with their Fair Trade School Certificate – number two in Avendale, with a third coming up. We attended the school assembly – it was great, the primary 1’s and 2’s putting on a wee concert. It’s always funny when the children in primary schools have to say hello to me; you know the lilting “Good morning children”, followed by “Good morning Mrs. So-and-So”. Well with me it’s always “Good morning Mrs. Fa …..  giggle, giggle”. Makes me giggle too. When I meet them around the town later I’m happy for them to call me Linda – much easier.

And then off to Motherwell to show Zander how Davie and I deal with constituency work. A bit of a different working environment the wee office in Motherwell – the three SNP MSPs from Central Scotland fund the office because we’re only allowed one regional office to cover the ten constituencies. It’s not a drop-in facility for constituents therefore, except for those who live in Motherwell. Not ideal, and that’s why it’s so important to be out and about so much, visiting with community groups, meeting with people in their own homes. Davie took us into the Motherwell Heritage Museum – fabulous, best kept secret in Motherwell. Nostalgia time for me looking at the images from the 1960’s – shop and TV adverts, a mock up of an old cinema showing the newsreels. Great.

Glasgow in the afternoon for our Cross-Party Group on Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Monitoring the First Minister’s comments on his proposed protocol to stop ‘dawn-raids’ on families being deported was the main item because we feel that progress might be made at last. Seems to be taking a long time though, but I guess discussions with the Home Office are protracted. The longer it takes though the more families and communities will be affected.

Final meeting for Zander and I before I took him home on Friday evening when we met up with David and his family. David is shadowing me next week for his work experience. Another clever 14 year old, hugely enthusiastic about coming to work in the parliament, David is a pupil at Hamilton College. I’ve so much enjoyed having Zander around and am really looking forward to David coming next week too. It’s great having someone to chat to when driving around from town to town, or running around between appointments. Dropped Zander off at home – he sent me in a wee paragraph about his week:

      “My week in the Scottish Parliament was an interesting and exciting one. I shadowed MSP Linda Fabiani and learned a lot about the way our country is run. I did various things including, following the press office dealing with arguments on the 24 hour licensing bill and being present at the Tibetan conference reception, and meeting lots of people from various backgrounds. Many of the people who work in the Parliament were interested in their job and were always busy, although whenever they had time they would tell me what they do and how things work. After my experience of shadowing an MSP I have a fuller understanding of politics and of the people involved.”

And so to Saturday. What a strange day. On Saturday I experienced one of my worst nightmares and then one of my wildest dreams! Let me explain …

I had been asked, as Convener of the Europe Committee to attend a session of the ‘African, Caribbean, Pacific-EU Joint Parliamentary Assembly’ on Saturday morning at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The ACP-EU meet twice a year for a one-week session and the members are parliamentarians from 77 member countries from the regions as noted. Their remit is basically to promote the interdependence of North and South, and to “promote and defend democratic processes in order to guarantee the right of each people to choose its own development objectives and how to attain them”. Anyway, my letter of invitation said (quite clearly!) to come along around 11 am to meet one of their committees and exchange views with the members. Well, fine I thought, a bit of round table discussion. However, I arrived at 10.45 am, thinking I had time for coffee, to be met at the door, told I was late and rushed upstairs; I walked through a door in time to hear someone with a microphone say “I understand Ms Fabiani, our guest speaker, has arrived at last” and was duly faced with a full conference hall, a stage with a podium, lit up – FOR ME! Aaargh … wake me up! Well, what do you do? I’m not quite sure what I talked about, or for how long, but obviously I had to do it. Goodness knows how it went down – I did have a couple of folk ask for my business card before I left, so maybe it wasn’t too bad. I’ll perhaps find out more on Monday evening when I’m attending the dinner in parliament with them. I never, never want that experience to be repeated, so from now on I’ll pester whoever arranges such meetings until I know exactly what’s expected, in minute detail.

And so, from the ridiculous to the sublime. As I mentioned under Thursday evening’s entry, the Tibetan Convention was taking place in Edinburgh City Chambers. Some of us had been invited to meet the Dalai Lama, guest of the Convention, in the Parliament on Saturday afternoon. I met the Dalai Lama last year when he visited Scotland, and was stunned at the effect he had on me – I am not a religious person, nor am I knowledgeable about Buddhism, but after an hour in the company of His Holiness last year, I was walking on air for days! Every time I thought about it (even now) I got a ‘happy’ feeling. It’s hard to explain, but I know others feel the same – there’s just something about the man which promotes serenity, and he’s such fun! So, again I thoroughly enjoyed sharing his space on Saturday afternoon, and hearing his views about the Scottish model of devolution and potential progress towards some form of political autonomy for his land. Scotland has a parliament, a devolved legislature which, if Scots wish, can be advanced  along the devolution process to independence. All Tibet has is an occupying force which denies and dissipates the indigenous culture and forces its leaders into exile. You know, in Tibet it’s an imprisoning offence to have a picture of the Dalai Lama!

After that meeting, the Convention organisers asked me if I would give the valedictory address at the City Chambers, closing the conference. Of course I would – such an honour to be asked. Well, I ended up heading up Edinburgh’s High Street in the official car cavalcade, police motorbike escort, the lot! First time I’ve ever experienced that. Then, I was placed on the platform, next to the Dalai Lama for the next two hours – what a thrill. He is just so lovely, and again his sense of humour and humanity shone. How can someone who has suffered so much, watched his country and its people suffer so much, be so gracious, accepting, and lacking in bitterness? He says it’s simple, it’s inner peace – lots of us could do with even a wee bit of that. He gave a wonderful speech to the Convention, to a standing ovation of course, from both his countrymen and women and from supporters of the cause. And then I had to speak – HOW DO YOU FOLLOW THE DALAI LAMA FOR GOODNESS SAKE? But His Holiness made it easy for me, with a smile and a mischievous pinch of my arm as I passed him on the way to the podium. And it was easy – the most pleasurable public speaking experience I think I have ever had.  The first words in the Scotland Act are “There shall be a Scottish Parliament” – surely one day there shall be a Parliament in Tibet.

I was still smiling all day Sunday when I sailed through the bag of work I had taken home to complete, and I’m still smiling now!

Linda Fabiani: 21.11.05

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