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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
31st January 2006

Week beginning Monday 23rd January 2006

A local day on Monday – Motherwell and East Kilbride constituencies, visiting residents and calling into our Motherwell office to go over case progress with Davie. A disturbing case has recently arrived on my desk, yet another problem with waiting lists in the health service. This time the case of a gentleman who suffered a heart attack many months ago. After he himself had to pursue his test results to be told the prognosis was not good, he was then informed that he will not be given another appointment until near the end of 2006! Unacceptable, so a letter is on its way to the Health Authority to see what can be done to speed things along. The strain of knowing you’ve got a medical problem which no-one will consider for months and months must be awful and certainly not conducive to recovery.

Took the opportunity to call into the Access Group whilst I was in Motherwell to see whether their funding has been sorted out for the coming year. This is the group which does such innovative work for young people who’ve missed out on education, social and employment opportunities for a variety of reasons. In a time when youth homelessness is rising, and there is such an emphasis by Government on employability, it is crucial that initiatives which clearly work should be maintained. I’ve raised this issue many times in Parliament, always to positive response from Ministers, but Access’ future is still uncertain. The good news is that they won’t be shutting down at the end of March as feared, but have further interim funding. But, it is hard for employees and clients to work and progress whilst constantly worrying about whether the door will close – funding guarantees are required, and we’ll work to that end. I really do think though that there is a will by all concerned to ensure the future of the Access Group, so positive thinking!

Access members at Parliament recently

Local SNP meeting on Monday night to discuss the forthcoming Council by-election in Avondale South, caused by the recent sad death of the well-respected Conservative Councillor, Mr. Hector McDonald. So, we have to choose a candidate for the by-election on 30th March. Avondale South includes around half of Strathaven along with Sandford, Drumclog, Gilmourton and Dungavel, so is a mixed farming (32% of jobs in agriculture) and commuter belt area. So, lots of issues relevant to the residents of the Ward, not least the potential closure of Strathaven Academy for two years with the pupils being commuted to East Kilbride every day, and the worry that Hairmyres Hospital will lose its Accident and Emergency Unit.

Through to Edinburgh after the meeting so I could get an early start on Tuesday morning. Also, we had a visitor for a few days last week – an East Timorese lad who’s studying English at college in Leeds – visitors are always good for making you take the effort to go out walking and see what’s around about, but I’m afraid I was so busy that the poor lad had to just take directions and see Edinburgh for himself. Still, I think he had a good time – folk are always stunned by how beautiful the city of Edinburgh is, and yes it is, but being from Glasgow I guess it’s always hard to admit that! The Norwegian Ambassador asked me whether Scotland has any divides amongst its people – where do you start? Edinburgh/Glasgow, Highlands/Lowlands, Glasgow north of the river/Glasgow south of the river – and that’s only the geographical ones!

You know, I can’t remember what I did last Tuesday, but I know I was in the office, so I must have done something! Lots I hope – there certainly seems to be less in my ‘action’ pile. You see, both Morag and Calum have been off this week and last with various lurgies and long overdue annual leave, so I guess I’m just rattling through what I can, and probably having to spend much time on things that they normally would just do automatically without even bothering to let me know. Calum says that’s the best way to deal with me – what I don’t know won’t bother me and he can just get on with it. Sometimes I think he knows me just too well!

I well remember Wednesday though – Burns’ Day, and a grand early start with a Burns’ breakfast in the Parliament restaurant courtesy of Grants of Galston who supplied the Haggis. The event was run to raise funds for ‘Realise’ – a charity that helps recovering alcohol and drug addicts back into work. First time I’ve had haggis with bacon and eggs (no whisky – far too early), but it was good and certainly sets you up for the day – I couldn’t eat again until teatime. I took the young Timorese lad with me for his first Burns experience. Before we got there I told him about Robert Burns – the poetry and songs, the Scots language – and about the food he would eat. He was quite fascinated by the whole experience, but I realised my teaching skills were in doubt when I heard him tell a fellow MSP that he was looking forward to “telling all the people in his English class about Robert Haggis”. Still, I guess he caught the spirit of it! The strangest Burns Supper I ever attended was in Fiji in 2004 – it was held in July, we ate chicken and the Suva Scottish Country Dancers (mostly indigenous Fijians) danced some very precise and serious reels. We then had some songs from a musical trio – they sang “My Love is like a Red, Red Rose”, “Green Grow the Rashes O’”, and “My Heart’s in the Highlands”. There was a pause, the band went into a huddle and then struck up Abba’s “Dancing Queen”! Bizarre, but again, the spirit was there – our own Bard celebrated all over the world.

Meetings, meetings, meetings all day Wednesday – European Committee Clerks, Citizens Advice Bureau representatives from Northern Ireland, Wales and England, and with a representative of the British Transport Police. I have concerns you see about the talk of merging the Greater London Transport Police with the Metropolitan Police – how will this affect the Transport Police operation in Scotland? What input is the Scottish Executive making to the consultation? Questions to be asked, answers to be had. The afternoon debate in Chamber was the introduction of a Bill to abolish Prescription Charges – I wasn’t involved but our Shona Robison was certainly giving it laldy! You see, the Welsh Assembly abolished prescription charges, and Shona wants us to progress this particular Bill to the next stage. Unfortunately, we were voted down, with the Executive announcing yet another consultation and review.

Happy on Wednesday evening to be interrupted at work by some of our members from Cumbernauld who were visiting the parliament – came in, sat in my window seat, ate my sweeties and moved on! Quite right too.

Thursday was very much a Europe day for me with the Austrian Ambassador visiting Scotland to discuss the Austrian presidency of the EU at a public meeting hosted by me – Her Excellency Dr. Gabriele Matzner-Holzer was a treat to be with, and her informal style was much appreciated by the public audience who came along to listen to her presentation about Austria’s priorities for the European Union, and the need for citizen engagement. This is something of course which is the subject of much discussion – how remote people feel from the institution that is the European Union. There’s a big study going on just now about it across Europe, but I have to say the language used in the consultation document shows exactly why people find it difficult to relate! After a few readings when I first received it I was left thinking “and what exactly are they trying to say?”. Eurospeak/bureauspeak. The start of the public meeting was delayed whilst one of the Parliament staff tried to hoist the Union flag along with the Austrian flag, the Europe flag and our own Saltire. it refused to be hoist and tools had to be sent for! I of course would have been happy to carry on in its absence, but I’m afraid protocol had to prevail – our day will come!

Austrian Ambassador

My favourite kind of day on Friday with two school visits: the first to St. Patrick’s primary school in Strathaven which has just become the third Fair Trade School in Avondale – great work by the pupils, staff and parents. Three down, four to go! We had a special assembly to mark the occasion and it was made even more enjoyable because the Strathaven Extra had carried the story of St. Pat’s triumph on their front page, with a great photograph of the children marching in the local gala behind their Fair Trade flag, and handing out teabag/coffee samples. The pupil council were the ones who promoted the whole ethos and come up with ideas of how the commitment could be shown, and they had been backed by all. Their families must be really proud. I had a funny moment on Saturday in the local co-op when I heard a wee lad saying to his mum “no, we can’t buy that juice until we check if there’s a fair trade one!”. I was delighted, so introduced myself and said how great it was to hear him say this (he was primary 4). It turned out he had been at the assembly in St. Patrick’s the day before, and was quite amazed to have come across me again so soon – he probably thinks I personally police the co-op to make sure they’re all buying fair trade!

Strathaven Fair Trade Group have revamped their website, with lots of information about the schools - have a look at

The afternoon’s visit was to Chatelherault Primary School in Hamilton – this school got a really good Inspection Report and I was so interested in the work they’re doing in their Autistic Spectrum Base where they have around 12 pupils who need intensive tuition. A real feeling of warmth in that school, generated by obvious teamwork and inclusion. They also have a brilliant eco-project which involves all the youngsters.

The Bard again on Friday night at Kilsyth SNP’s Burns’ Supper where I was giving the Reply to the Toast to the Lassies – I really enjoy having the chance to publicly have a go at the lads. As I said, it’s the one occasion in the year where men have to sit and listen to a woman berate them without interrupting, falling asleep or constantly glancing at the television! Super fun – I’d like a bit more of that please. Even Mr. Salmond had to listen – now that’s a treat in itself! Alex rounded off a grand evening with his combined Immortal Memory and Toast to Scotland.

By-electioneering in Dunfermline at the weekend again,. We’ve been so lucky with the weather – there’s nothing worse than trying to speak to folk at their doors in wind that blows you away, or trying to stuff soggy leaflets through letterboxes in the rain. Well, there is something worse actually – these awful wee dugs that await you silently behind the door and leap at the letterbox just as your fingers appear with the leaflet! None of that at the weekend though – sunshine and happy folk out washing cars and doing their gardens.

Last call on Sunday evening, meeting up with one of the Committee Members of Stresswatch, an organisation in Kilmarnock which I’ve mentioned here many times before. They do such useful work in helping people will all sorts of stress-related problems and phobias. I wanted some background information for a meeting we were having with Executive officials the following day to discuss the progress of the organisation and its plans for the coming year (the organisation gets some of its funding from the Scottish Executive).

I was telling Mrs. E. about my experience with my relaxation CD which one of the consultants who had attended the AGM had given to me some months before. You see, for some reason I’d been having trouble getting to sleep at night – frustrating. I remembered the relaxation CD and thought I’d give it a try. Anyway, the first night I barely got past the introduction before I was out like a light. Grand, but the second night I was determined to have the whole experience – it was lovely, the voice warm and soothing. I could feel myself relaxing as instructed – start with the toes and move up to the scalp. At one point he counted down from 10, saying that as he counted down I would relax more and more. Yes, it worked and I was in a real limbo state, felt like I was floating gently off to sleep. Then, he said he was going to count down from 10 again – marvellous. However, this time he said that by the time he got to one, I would be more alert than I had felt for some time! By the time I got out of bed to turn off the CD he was at 2, and I was wide awake! And yes, more alert than I’d felt for some time – which was why I was sitting up in bed doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords at 4 am that morning! I really must contact him and get a ‘help you sleep’ CD.

Linda Fabiani
31st January 2006

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