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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
27th February 2006

Week beginning Monday 20th February 2006

I’m back, after a grand break away with my pal for a few days – at one point I wakened Sheila up after an afternoon nap; she rubbed her eyes and muttered “is it time to eat again?”. That just about sums up our activities over that few days – eating, sleeping and of course talk, talk, talking.

I had a laugh reading Morag’s piece covering last week – poor old Calum, always getting a hammering (and it wasn’t even his coffee cup! Should I admit it or not?).

I had promised Calum this time when I went away that I wouldn’t take the accursed Blackberry with me and email him all the time. I stuck to my commitment and left it at home – the result of that though is that I came back to hundreds of emails which took almost the whole of Monday just to sift through and sort. I have this system of email folders so that my ‘inbox’ can keep clear – DO and HOLDING are the main ones, but I’m afraid DO often becomes ‘should have done by now – help!’, and HOLDING has become ‘must look at these when I get the time’. I remember all the talk a few years ago about the potential for electronic mail to cut down workloads and allow us to manage better – chance would be a fine thing; but then some of us will also remember the talk some decades ago about the imminent computer age which would result in paperless offices and give us all more leisure time!

This was an interesting week, a mixture of domestic and international. Tuesday had both of these elements, starting in the morning with a visit to the Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Agency, courtesy of an East Kilbride resident who has worked there for many years. Interesting to learn about the variances of the Edinburgh property market over the last few years, and of course the main concern I was left with was about how difficult it is for first-time buyers to take that first step onto the property ladder. This is not just in Edinburgh of course but in may parts of our country, both urban and rural. House prices, and the lack of good, secure rented accommodation makes it a nightmare in some places for young single people, couples and families to find a flat or house which is in the right location, close to their family and friends’ support networks, and commutable from work. The theories from the Executive for addressing this problem are rather good, but we are yet to see whether this works out in practice – further concern now that we have learned that Scottish Water seems unable to meet the targets for site infrastructure for the building of new properties.

Working lunch on Tuesday with some Kosovan Civil Servants.  This was as part of a DfID funded study visit to Westminster and Holyrood to observe how the Civil Service operates, and relationships with elected representatives and Government. I was asked to talk about the role of committees. Kosovo is currently UN-administered as a province within the Union of Serbia and Montenegro. Kosovo’s population of approximately 1.8 million comprises 85% Albanian origin residents, 7% Serbs who remain following the NATO invasion and post war exodus in 1999, and the rest are Bosnians, Turks, Ashkali and others. The UN Security Council recently launched international discussions on Kosovo’s future, and are meanwhile trying to build up a stable Civil Service in the absence of stable government (currently a tenuous coalition).

The Secretary General of Amnesty International was guest speaker at an Edinburgh University Lecture on Tuesday evening, so a couple of us from the office went along to hear Irene Khan give her views on whether the ‘War on Terror’ was actually a ‘War on Liberty’. It was billed as a ‘stimulating evening’ and it certainly was. Ms. Khan’s lecture was knowledgeable and enlightening, and her ease in answering the many questions posed by audience members showed her commitment and long involvement with issues of human rights. We are very good in the ‘West’ at hypothesising about human rights, democracy etc., but like so many people, I have big concerns at some of the measures that Governments propose to counter what they term the ‘war on terror’, and indeed some of the practices they currently carry out themselves! On the domestic front I never cease to be amazed at the acceptance by Labour members, and indeed by the defences they put forward without a blush, of Westminster imposed policies. Amongst other issues, if the Tories had tried to get away with some of the current immigration and asylum practices, the cutting of local government officers’ pensions and taking part in an illegal war, then these same Labour representatives would be marching in the streets, shouting from the rooftops and metaphorically lying in front of tanks. How times change! Then again, these are the same folk who for years denied information about Scotland’s potential with oil revenues to Scotland’s people, and who constantly tell us that we are too stupid, too poor, too feart, to take responsibility for ourselves, so I guess I shouldn’t be so surprised.

A general ‘head-down-and-get-on-with-it’ day on Wednesday, with a welcome break with a visit from some EK constituency members who came for the tour and a thoroughly enjoyable lunch. Visitors from EK Constituency in the evening too – a very sociable day all round! Prior to the social visit though a really interesting event – the Children’s Panel of Scotland Chairmen’s Group with Chairs from all over Scotland. I was delighted to meet up again with Barbara Paterson, the East Kilbride Chair, and to have a chat with George Anderson and Irene Allison, Falkirk and North Lanarkshire Chairs respectively. There is an ongoing review of the future structure of children’s Panels and the chairs are putting forward the views of the 2700 Penal members. I was interested to hear that amongst the 32 Panel Chairs in the country they have acquired 428 years service. Barbara indeed has been involved for 28 years – now that’s real commitment! I’ve arranged with Barbara to go along to a Panel Session at some point – that will be useful for a deeper understanding of the work that’s done and the challenges faced.

Barbara and Irene along with Elaine Smith MSP and me

Another busy day on Thursday, although not in the Chamber as there were no debates with which I was involved. I got some help though in my clearing out and tidying up. Young Jamie Lemetti was doing some work experience in my colleague Michael Matheson’s office and made the mistake of calling in to see us – you don’t do that unless you’re willing to work! Jamie’s a smashing lad who was telling me all about his forthcoming trip to Tanzania with the Scouts (while extorting money from me for the ‘Brick for Africa’ campaign – quite right Jamie, a great initiative). We had lunch together too, which ended up with our, much to the amusement of the others at the table, behaving like stereotypical Scots Italians and arguing as to whether the Fabiani’s or the Lemetti’s made the best fish and chips! And then there’s the ice-cream … … …

Jamie was telling us he wants to be an actor some day – so, take note of this face now, it will be famous one day:

Is this a dagger that I see before me? No, it’s a letter-opener silly!

More international business on Thursday night – a meeting with representatives of the Kurdish population in Turkey. As Turkey has commenced negotiations with the European Union, Kurds are understandably anxious that their cause is discussed, their repression recognised and their rights established prior to Turkey’s entry to the EU. I was particularly anxious to hear the Turkish Kurds’ point of view because at the end of March I am chairing a meeting at Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre about Turkey and the European Union. I was grateful to all the representatives for sharing their thoughts and aspirations.

Unusually, Friday in Edinburgh, and honoured to be hosting an event in the Parliament for the Scottish Adult Learning Partnership – 100 Young Adult Learners’ Voices. The Scottish Adult Learning Partnership is a voluntary organisation established to support and encourage people who do not traditionally participate within the education system. Following the Awards Ceremony in Hamilton which I had attended, we thought it would be a good idea for the Young Persons’ conference to be held in their own Parliament. In the event, there were around 80 young people, from all over the country, aged from 16 to 25 taking part in workshops, and question-time panels. A couple of representatives from the Scottish Youth Parliament were also taking part.  It all went surprisingly smoothly! Learning can be fun, and I hope all the participants found it so. We never stop learning, do we?

Linda Fabiani

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