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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
12th December 2005

Week beginning Monday 28th November 2005

Most of Monday was a constituency day – benefits, housing, anti-social behaviour, preparing for Wednesday’s International Development afternoon at Strathaven Academy, organising my Christmas Cards! Interesting meeting at Glasgow University in the afternoon learning about ‘CRADALL’ – Centre for Research and Development in Adult and Lifelong Learning. They have a particular emphasis on lifelong learning for social justice, social inclusion and poverty reduction, both at home and afar, and offer part-time degrees amongst other initiatives. Visit their website on:

Hairmyres Hospital in the evening for the regular National Osteoporosis Lanarkshire Meeting. We had an interesting presentation from PC John Watters from East Kilbride Police Station on community safety initiatives. There’s some good stuff happening on this front in East Kilbride – the ‘Safe as Houses’ initiative which offers free to the elderly and vulnerable a home security survey and recommended items provided by Care and Repair. PC Watters also reminded us of the ‘Hands On’ project, a voluntary organisation which provides basic practical assistance to elderly, infirm, disabled and housebound people in East Kilbride. Some of those at the meeting had benefited from these great volunteers already.

PC Watters was well received, however, as always, when the question and answer session started, some folk’s experiences of dealing with the police seem to vary considerably from the theory! Tales of never seeing the Community Policeman, slow response times for incidents, action not been taken as deemed appropriate by residents etc. I am dealing with a few constituency cases currently on such issues, but I’m afraid they’re too identifiable to relate here. I have had a couple of emails from people asking for more constituency case detail – I know this is interesting, but it’s a narrow line between talking generally about the type of cases I deal with and breaching confidentiality.

Tuesday morning and into the local printers, having at long last chosen the three winning Fair Trade Christmas Cards from Sandford School. I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished articles. I know it was hard for the judges to decide from so many great entries. When I visited the school recently to launch the competition, I asked the pupils what they thought the prizes for the winners should be, and to my surprise and delight they all thought that the best prize would be a trip to the Parliament. The youngsters in Strathaven really enjoy their visits (every year we have two children from each of the seven Avondale primary schools – the winners of the Fair Trade Posters for Fair Trade Fortnight). When people get despondent about young people not voting, not being engaged with politics etc., I always try to be positive in that, for the first time ever, youngsters in Scotland are aware of their Parliament, can relate to MSPs and will surely grow up realising that they are represented, can represent their own views straight to their elected MSPs and can make a difference themselves. The growth of the internet, including email, in schools can also ensure that even those who live at a fair distance can participate.

Europe Committee in the afternoon – a fairly short meeting, the Minister having postponed (by agreement) his evidence giving session until the next meeting. On 20th December we’ll be speaking with him on both Structural Funding and the European Commission’s plans for Technology Institutes to be sited across Europe – no reason why we shouldn’t make a bid for one in Scotland as far as I can see.

Sped up the High Street straight after the meeting to catch the launch of the ‘Scotland for Sanitation’ appeal. This is an appeal created by the Scottish Homeless International Action Group, along with Homeless International, and aims to support community-led sanitation projects in Africa and Asia. An excellent presentation from my old colleague John Kernaghan of Perth HA who had visited Mumbai to see some of the community projects there and was obviously deeply moved by the work of local people to improve living conditions for their families and neighbours. In Mumbai some poor communities have already built toilet blocks, with local management teams collecting a small fee from each member of the community regularly – this pays the caretaker’s wages and funds general maintenance. All housing organisations in Scotland are being asked to get involved in this initiative, and I hope as a start Institute of Housing and SFHA members actively work to raise awareness and fundraise. Over £20,000 has already been raised.

John accepts a cheque from Albyn Housing Society in Invergordon

Relaxation time on Tuesday evening with a welcome visit to the Parliament from Lilian and Findlay Maclean, members of Kilmarnock SNP, and their daughter Linsay. Smashing dinner too!

No you two! You're supposed to argue with the Opposition!

The International Development afternoon at Strathaven Academy on Wednesday afternoon was super – it was for all the Fifth Year pupils and comprised presentations from me about our own Parliament’s limited role and general information about education in Tanzania and East Timor, from Sandy Grant about Strathaven’s Fair Trade status and from Rose Mackintosh of Mercy Corps about disaster relief. The pupils split into groups after the talks and worked on exercises designed to make them ‘think in another person’s shoes’. I met a couple of the girls on Saturday afternoon and they seemed to have found it really interesting and worthwhile. Some of the pupils had known Amorin when he lived with us in Strathaven, and although they knew he was from a place called East Timor, hadn’t really been aware of what his life had been like as a child until they heard some of the history of the country and were able to look at photographs of East Timor life now. It certainly makes you think differently about such issues when you either visit a place so different from your own, or realise that there is someone you know whose life has been very different from what you consider to be normal. Amorin didn’t talk much generally about his experiences – his stock answer when asked anything about his background or experiences was “it was fine”, when actually it was anything but fine – one brother killed, a sister having died of starvation, elderly mother and father force-marched for miles, amongst many other things. Still, he’s okay now – working in Dili on a United Nations Project about Human Rights, historic and current/future. His family are generally well, and the country is, if not prospering, at least peaceful. We fair miss him though! Still, won’t be long until we visit again in the summer.

Off to Hamilton in the evening for the Scottish Young Adult Learners Awards – well done to all, with particular mention to Suzanne Rooney from East Kilbride. Suzanne is really interested in politics so I hope she takes me up on my offer to learn first-hand what an MSP does with his/her time.

Chamber on Thursday all day – Criminal Justice/Health Services in Argyll and Clyde/Question Time. In between meeting with the PCS Union representative, the Committee Clerks and attending a Seminar run by the APBI on access to medicines in the developing world. It was billed as ‘thought-provoking’ and it certainly was. One of the most interesting short presentations was by International Health Partners, a charity which began work only a year ago, based on a Canadian model, and which links the UK medical community, pharmaceutical and medical supply companies and Government, with organisations and individual involved in providing humanitarian medical aid to the world’s most needy. They act as the distribution channel for donated, quality, in-date products to provide communities with the essential medicines and medical supplies they need. In their short life they have already distributed £12m worth of vaccines, medicines and supplies to 18 countries, treating over 400,000 children and adults. Learn more from their website – its really interesting: I hope they go from strength to strength. I was particularly interested in the concept of medical packs – I remember one of the most successful initiatives in East Timor was the supply of medical packs (delivered by motorbike) to remote communities. The potential for training local people to administer basic medicine by use of such packs is immense, and often so much more effective than transporting people to clinics or hospitals.

Friday came round quickly this week – more constituency visits and catching up with correspondence. Determined to finish the week on Friday night though so that I could at least start Christmas shopping on Saturday and Sunday. Managed it! Loads to start again with on Monday though.

Linda Fabiani: 12.12.05

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