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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
15th January 2006

Week beginning Monday 9th January 2006

Well, a new year and back at the desk after two weeks of doing not a lot at all, alternating between enjoyment at doing nothing, and guilt at enjoying the fact! It’s the Calvinist streak that we Scots have, you know where there’s fun there must be pay-back further down the line. I haven’t come across the pay-back yet, this week’s been fairly quiet, so perhaps it’s being stored up for me and desperate times will come.

Talking of desperate, thinking back over the events of the week it strikes me that it was in fact framed by the pronouncements of two desperate men in the public eye. The first, Charles Kennedy, Lib-Dem UK Leader, being forced from his job and trying to stoke up support by his media statement on his alcoholism and decision to seek treatment. Alcoholism is a truly awful affliction and I wish him well in his fight to overcome it, but I can’t help feeling that the commentators’ reporting of his ‘courage’ in admission and determination to beat the demon is a little premature: The real test of courage will be seen much further down the line, if, and I hope when, Charles has finally proved to himself that he doesn’t need alcohol in his life. If the man has been honest with himself in admitting he has a problem then that is only the first step, and he’ll need support from those that care for him now and for a long time to come.

At the end of the week we had the spectacle of the Chancellor, Gordon Brown, desperate to convince anyone who would listen that he should be the next British Prime Minister by draping himself in the Union Flag and encouraging us to celebrate Britishness – no thank you Desperate Dan, the countries currently within the UK all have their own distinct identities, and these diversities should be celebrated as part of our respective cultures. The idea of a ‘British Day’ does not wash well with many here in Scotland who have been campaigning for proper recognition of our national St. Andrew’s Day, opposed by the Chancellor’s New Labour colleagues. As Alex Salmond (always a sensible chap!) says “You cannot sustain a national identity just because someone wants to be national leader”. I’ve felt for some time now that Brown’s chance of replacing Blair has been missed – he looks increasingly like yesterday’s man, and frankly, this latest effort reinforces that.

Scottish Identity was a theme explored at an event I attended during the week – creations (I say creations because I am not knowledgeable enough to describe his work properly) by Glasgow artist/photographer Calum Colvin are temporarily on display in the Presiding Officer’s Dining Room in the Parliament and I was fascinated to hear Mr. Colvin’s presentation and explanation of his portraits – my particular favourites were that of Robert Burns, and that of James MacPherson – how he had taken the portrait subject and set that image amongst other images of our collective identity. The Scottish Parliament website says it all much better than I can – please log in if you can, it’s so worth seeing these portraits! Here’s a taster:

Another highlight of the week was political Question Time at Strathaven Academy – the entire Fifth Year grilled myself and reps from other political parties and chipped in their own tuppence worth as well! I was fascinated at both the questions asked and the knowledgeable contributions from pupils. The dialogue was so good that we only actually covered three questions – whether George Galloway MP should be in the Big Brother House (I reckon fine as long as he stays in there for a few years), whether the Monarchy was a worthwhile institution (not in my view) and the validity of nuclear weapons (no validity). What was also interesting was the political consensus on the panel – only the Conservative rep, for example, was a monarchy fan, and a supporter of the UK’s nuclear deterrent; only the Tory was sticking up for Tony!

Primary 7 of Nether Robertland Primary School in Stewarton visited the parliament on Thursday, so another grilling! It was a funny wee session with lovely children – all they really wanted to know was how much politicians of opposing parties disliked each other and whether we enjoyed arguing! They were having a good time and when I saw them in the Chamber later they were relishing every word, waiting for the sparks to fly.

So, catching up on Europe Committee business and chasing up constituency cases filled the rest of the week, with a contribution to the debate on Sustainable Development somewhere in the middle. My concern as expressed during that debate is that the Scottish Executive are prone to making big announcements, and then making others responsible for delivering on the promises and targets. Sometimes Government has to take hard decisions and lead the way, sometimes both the stick and the carrot have to be applied – on this particular issue, covering climate change, recycling, emissions etc. particularly. No doubt, as with everything else, if there are successes the Executive will take the credit, and if there are failures the Executive will find some other agency or institution to take the blame.

Like in the Health Service – to one extent micro-managed by the Executive, with stage-managed announcements about their successes, but on the other side, when they talk about the forthcoming closure of an Accident and Emergency Service in Lanarkshire, we are likely to be told that “this is a matter for the Health Board”. Perhaps I am being over-cynical, but I am waiting for answers to my parliamentary questions about the potential closure of the Hairmyres A&E service. We’ll see!

Rounded off the week with a full weekend -  campaigning in Kincardine for the forthcoming Westminster Parliament by-election in Dunfermline East, caused by the sad death of Rachel Squire MP; trying to help a couple of constituents in particularly difficult circumstances, with no real solution in sight for them at all; attending a fundraising/information event in Glasgow about the current situation in Palestine. It strikes me that we bandy about adjectives like ‘terrible’, ‘awful’, ‘horrendous’ and indeed ‘desperate’ as I did at the start of this week’s piece, sometimes in description of things that are fairly minor, but all over the world there are folks living in truly desperate circumstances. Yes, this is the start of a New Year, but for many, in Scotland and furth of Scotland, it will be a year just like the one before it, and the one before that, and the one before, and the one … … … …

Linda Fabiani

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