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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
28th November 2005

Week beginning Monday 21st November 2005

Early start on Monday, picking up young David Craig and heading through to Edinburgh. I’ve really got to like the idea of having work experience pupils shadowing me – it’s great having company on that awful drive along the A71 to and from Edinburgh. David is a fourth year pupil at Hamilton College, and like Zander last week, has amazed me with his confidence and ability. I didn’t have even half of that ease with other people when I was 14, let alone the self-belief that actually I could achieve what I wanted in life. Of course family, friends, schooling and life circumstances all contribute – we’ll really have cracked it when we ensure that as far as possible all young people have the same opportunities, and the belief that they can take them up. For some youngsters there are obviously ‘gaps’, the challenge is to find a way of plugging them.

After introducing David to his workmates for the week we set off for the Chamber. No, Parliament wasn’t sitting on a Monday, but the European Economic and Social Committee was holding their meeting. and a complimentary conference in our Chamber and I was asked to open the proceedings in place of the Presiding Officer (neither he nor his Deputies were available). So, I was George Reid for 5 minutes! I rather liked that, though I didn’t get to bang the gavel. George was back for the afternoon session though – a joint meeting of the Committee and members of Civic Scotland; Pensioners Forum, Oxfam, Churches, Disability Forum, Racial Equality Council amongst others. The main subject of the debate was whether people felt they were listened to, able to participate in the democratic process, really had a say in decisions that affected their lives. I was one of the opening speakers whose contribution was to be used to form the debate. It was a fairly lively session, with interesting viewpoints from representatives across Europe, but I’m not sure we really learned anything new! I have to say though that even the fact that we are having such joint debates are a step in the right direction. One of the things I did say in my contribution was that we have to make sure though that we are truly listening to people, not just hearing them, and that those who set themselves up as ‘representative’ really are – and I don’t just mean politicians here! That was a wee bit controversial, but then you don’t move things forward by everyone cosily agreeing all the time – that often leads to complacency.

Monday night and hot-footed it through to East Kilbride for the first night of the Greenhills Players annual pantomime – Beauty and the Beast. As always it was a real hoot. The Greenhills Players are brilliant, entirely voluntary and they do six nights and a Saturday matinee!

Check out the Ceilidh at the Beast's  Castle, and the local Minister as Dame Bagwash

David and I were sitting with the residents of one of the local care homes for the elderly, in fact it was one of the ladies’ 100th birthday and she certainly looked well. I was sitting beside an old gentleman called Tony who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the musical interludes. Anyway, at one point I said to him “you certainly seem to enjoy the singing Tony”; his response had young Mr. Craig in stitches – “Aye, it’s very good, but it would be better if you didnae sing along”. And here’s me, thinking I had the voice of an angel! So, dropped off David around 11.15 pm, ready to pick him up at 7.30 am on Tuesday morning.

A busy day on Tuesday starting off with meeting the fairly newly appointed Ambassador of Italy to the UK. Signor Aragona is an extremely interesting chap – I had met him once before when he gave a lecture at Edinburgh University about the Italian perspective on the future of and restructuring of United Nations, and the proposed further decentralisation of powers within Italy. Again, Scotland’s current political settlement and the increased call in Scotland for more powers, is of interest here. David thoroughly enjoyed this meeting, telling me at the end of the week that this was probably his main highlight. When I told him that Andrea Macchioni, the Consul General in Scotland was only 29 years old when he was posted here I could see his eyes light up and that wee brain ticking over – Diplomatic Service for our David? Youngest of Scotland’s Ambassadors following independence?

Senor Aragona, Senor Macchioni and Senor Craig

Whilst all this was going on Morag and Calum (and associated helpers) were hosting 50+ members of East Kilbride Old Parish Guild on a tour of the parliament. David and I joined in – great fun as all these visits are – before running along to the Chamber for me to be interviewed for … … WAIT FOR IT … … ROBBIE SHEPHERD’S REEL BLEND!!!! Fame at last – I was delighted to meet Mr. Shepherd after listening to him on Radio Scotland for all these years, and you know, he looked exactly as I imagined. I didn’t manage to listen in to the programme on Sunday, but I hope I wasn’t too carried away with the occasion, and at least made some sense.

The Reel Robbie Shepherd/Good sandwiches!

Convening the Europe & External Relations Committee in the afternoon, taking evidence about both the European Commission’s work programme for the next year and their consultation on the three ‘Ds’ – Democracy, Dialogue and Debate. I’ll be hearing more about that when I meet with the Commission’s office in Brussels on St. Andrew’s Day. David sat in on the meeting and ended up on the Webcam for posterity. I also looked over at him half-way through and realised he was helping the sound-man to operate the microphones – so, an engineering career perhaps?

So, David headed home and I got ready for Dinner – what a week of dinners, this being the first of four. By the time New Year arrives my first resolution is going to have to be ‘stop eating’. It was good though, the final dinner for the African, Caribbean and Pacific Joint Committee with the EU – the folk I’d gone to speak ‘with’ on the previous Saturday morning only to discover I was main platform speaker. Anyway, I was quite relieved that some remembered me and were positive about my contribution.  The company was grand, and we ended up in the Chamber with a piper playing to close the event – all much appreciated by our guests, many of whom told me that Scotland’s was the warmest welcome they had received from any host country in which their events had been held over the last few years. I’m so glad they felt that way.

Wednesday morning spent answering emails and letters with David and Calum doing some Parliamentary Questions, David having identified issues about the Commonwealth Games, schools’ Healthy Eating campaigns and  ‘Dawn Raids’ for the removal of Asylum Seeker families. So, Parliamentary Researcher/Senior Civil Servant perhaps David?

The dawn raid issue came up because, despite our being told by the First Minister for some time now that he was working on a protocol with the Home Office to stop this, it was announced by Westminster on Wednesday morning that dawn raids had in fact never been discussed and would not be. So much for the welcome that the First Minister’s initial pronouncement had received by so many. Mr. McConnell has a terrible propensity for making a statement to get out of a difficult situation, and then failing to follow through – I’ve noted this often, and all it does is raise unfair expectations and, at the end of the day, causes a lot of hurt to a lot of people. Of course, we had an altercation about this late on Wednesday afternoon, the opposition parties all calling for a debate. Lots of the calls for this were about the First Minister having been ignored by Westminster, his being treated with contempt by the Home Office etc., but you know, the central issue is more important to me, it’s simply about not treating people cruelly in our country. Nicola asked me to speak on behalf of the SNP, so I’ve added my contribution to the end of this report so that you know what our position was.

Another dinner for me on Wednesday evening; along with the Lanarkshire voluntary representative of the Lanarkshire Osteoporosis Society I attended the Society’s annual dinner – a round-table discussion (whilst eating – the best kind!) about the national provision for osteoporosis sufferers. Photograph of Dr Eamonn Brankin, Val and I below, me looking very snooty, but then our bony friend was a bit disconcerting!

NOS Dinner

Dr. Brankin, based in Coatbridge told us all about a pilot project about identification, management and prevention which his team had carried out, with excellent results, so the aim is to have this reproduced nationally. I have learned so much about this awful condition since becoming a Patron of the Lanarkshire Group, but one of the basics is that if we identify those at risk, fund preventative measures and manage sufferers in a more proactive way, then the long-term savings to the health service are potentially huge – we must keep pressurising health boards to see the advantages of this approach, and this needs a lead from Government. My personal view is that we don’t focus on prevention enough, in general medical terms but tend to treat the symptoms rather than the root cause in a lot of cases.

Stage 3 of the Private Sector Housing Debate on Thursday morning and afternoon (final stage) so in Chamber all day voting and sticking in my tuppence-worth even though I don’t hold the Housing portfolio any more (all with the blessing of Tricia and Christine I hasten to add!). In between times, I was hosting an awareness-raising event for the Samaritans in the Parliament, again ably assisted by David. Many years ago (decades in fact) I was a Samaritan volunteer, and I am astounded by how the service has changed. In my day it was all very ‘secret’ and whilst there is of course a high level of confidentiality when it comes to the relationships between counsellors and clients, the Samaritans are now active in schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and in communities generally, spreading the word that there is help there for anyone who feels vulnerable enough that they may consider taking their own life. The level of young male suicide in particular in Scotland is the highest in the UK and the Samaritans is one of the main agencies working with ‘Choose Life’ the national strategy to reduce suicide in Scotland by 20% by 2013.

When I headed back to Chamber in the afternoon, David headed off with Alyn Smith MEP to shadow him for the afternoon in Edinburgh. His main job was to help Alyn select his Christmas card from the many competition entries sent in from schools all over the country. Alyn tells me his help was much appreciated – I bet it was, it’s really difficult, I’m currently choosing mine. David tells me he learned a lot from Alyn - future MEP perhaps?

Help!           Success!

All too soon David’s week was over as his placement was only 4 days – he’ll come back for his fifth day sometime soon I’m sure. I’m also sure that both he and Zander are welcome in this office anytime at all, their contribution was great and their company a delight. So, off went David and off went I to Radio Scotland to argue about dawn raids with a certain Mr. Harris, Westminster New Labour MP who told listeners that immigration officers kicking in a family’s door, pulling children from their beds, handcuffing their parents in front of them and bundling them into a van first thing in the morning was not inhumane. Well, even if you support the concept of removal of families who have failed in their asylum applications, you surely can’t consider that kind of treatment of children acceptable in any civilised society. What kind of country are we living in that condones that? The UK, that’s what country – you know, the one that marches round the world advocating human rights and democracy, telling others what to do. Time you had a rethink Mr. Blair. Time Scotland had a rethink about what is done in our name.

And so to Friday to await a delegation of ladies from Lanarkshire coming to see round the Parliament and have a chat.  I left my flat in Edinburgh around 8 am, and by the time I’d got round to Holyrood (10 mins) the snow was 2” deep! The visitors had cancelled because of the weather and will reschedule, so a free day for me to try and blitz the backlog. Letters, emails, phone calls, parliamentary questions, all relating to constituency issues such as police surveillance, implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act, motorbike safety initiatives, all flew off the computer with gay abandon, copious coffee was drunk and fish-and-chips for lunch. A wonderful day! And then another dinner.

That sounds like I didn’t want to go, but I did and it was thoroughly enjoyable. The Scottish Council for Development and Industry 2005 Awards. All recipients were worthy contenders but I was fair taken with the Ardgarth Guest House in Edinburgh which won an award because of their adaptation of the property to cater for guests with disabilities at varying levels. Well done – I hope this encourages other establishments to consider the same. I had intended to drive back to Strathaven but I would have been bonkers to think about driving the motorway (4 hour hold-up earlier that evening) or the back-road in that weather and at that time of night. So, Fiona Hyslop and I headed back to my place for gossip and Drambui – a lovely way to end a lovely evening.

Another late night on Saturday night – the British Heart Foundation Charity Ball in East Kilbride, followed by EK SNP’s St. Andrew’s Night Ceilidh. Yup, two in one evening – what a social whirl! Tell you what though, it’s not getting any easier, I can’t cope with two late nights in a row. Sunday morning and I was like a half-shut knife, but managed to get to Castlemilk to watch the demolition of five tower blocks, over 400 homes which took only 5 seconds from the first explosive’s ‘bang’ to five neat piles of rubble and lots of dust. Astounding – all these memories (good and bad I’m sure) of all the folk who lived in the Mitchelhill Multis, from the first tenants who moved in full of hopes for the ‘high living’ that such mansions in the sky suggested, to those who couldn’t wait to leave when the properties became hard to let and run-down. My photo of the five blocks standing didn't work out I'm afraid, but here's one of 5 seconds later!

The last appointment of the week was off to Coatbridge area to meet with some constituents who have real concerns about the changes in community care being implemented by North Lanarkshire Council and the effect this may have on members of their families who rely on such a service. Another issue to investigate – why the changes, are they for the best, do the families have any real say. We’ll see.

And home to get ready for a Brussels trip on Monday! By the way, this is where David may end up.

Look out Jack - there's someone in your Chair!

Linda Fabiani: 21.11.05

Extract: Official Report 23.11.05

Linda Fabiani (Central Scotland) (SNP): On behalf of the SNP, I speak to oppose the business motion. We believe whole-heartedly that a debate is now necessary, especially after what we have heard earlier in the afternoon and this evening. The confusion on the issue is now immense. The First Minister has said that the Home Office briefing is cack-handed.

I would like to talk about the substance of the matter, which we have discussed before. The First Minister stated that he wants

"to ensure that we in Scotland have a regime that ensures not only that there is consistent application of immigration and asylum rules but that the system operates humanely."—[Official Report, 29 September 2005; c 19655.]

Nicol Stephen stated:
"We want asylum seekers in this country—particularly in cases in which children are involved—to be treated with dignity, respect and fairness when they require to be removed from the United Kingdom."—[
Official Report, 27 October 2005; c 20096.]

The Executive's amendment at the debate on the matter stated that the Executive would "convey to the Home Office the widespread concerns about practices such as so-called 'dawn raids', handcuffing of children, and the removal of children by large groups of officers in uniform and body armour."

I think that everyone in the Parliament agrees that those practices mean that people are not treated with dignity, respect and fairness. Malcolm Chisholm said during the debate that what was happening was "absolutely appalling."

It seems to me that we all want the same thing, despite the spin that Executive ministers have been putting on what exactly the protocol means. We all want the practices to stop, because such treatment offends us and it offends the people against whom it is meted out; it offends those who have come to care for those people in their community and it offends everyone who has dignity.

Let us have a debate. I ask the First Minister to accept one of the amendments that have been moved to allow us to have the debate in which he can reiterate his true views and feelings about what is happening. I also believe that if we have an unequivocal pledge from the First Minister, not in the rammy that is First Minister's question time but during a structured debate, the Parliament will come behind him and say that it is pleased that he is taking a stand and saying to the Home Office, "This is not acceptable in our country. You have no alternative but to stop it and to deal with this."

The First Minister would have behind him not just the Parliament but civic Scotland, including all the voluntary groups and the professionals who work every day with the people who are being treated in this way and see the sorrow that is caused. He would also have behind him the general population of this country, because we all want to know that Scotland stands for dignity, respect and fairness. We want our First Minister, with the backing of the Parliament, to go down to the Home Office and tell it that that is how Scotland is going to be.

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