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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
1st May 2006

Week Beginning Monday 8th May 2006

So, back into Holyrood first thing Monday morning for the second day of the "Our Voice on Europe" Youth Forum. Again, a super day with great contributions from the 8 schools involved - interactive workshops on "Engaging with the People" and "Scottish Engagement and Scottish Identify in Europe", and my favourite when I had to chair the "Chat Show" and get to be Dimbleby for a while - I'm sure Alyn Smith MEP is going to get his own back on me at some point for directing so many difficult questions to him! Much easer to be able to say "answer the question please!" than actually have to answer it! I found it interesting doing some straw-polling with the audience of teenagers - whilst there was certainly a huge commitment to Europe coming through in the questions/discussions and contributions when it actually came to the straight votes on whether we should join the Euro or open our borders as have other countries the response was divided; as in our society generally I suspect.

The day closed with contributions from each school - a view on how useful the two day event had been, and their views on European integration in general. These closing contributions were excellent, and I reproduce below one which I thought was particularly well thought out - from Mintlaw Academy in the North East, presented by Ailsa Wallace:-

"I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the presiding officer and his staff for their hard work and professionalism in hosting this youth forum.   Along with my fellow students I have learnt a lot about the issues affecting Europe. Most importantly we were impressed by both the diversity in issues and similarity of ideas raised by schools during debates. Therefore we consider that engagement with Europe and European issues could be catered for through an expanded Scottish curriculum. This could be done through greater  awareness of Europe by the teaching of modern languages in primary schools and greater focus on political citizenship and basic European geography for young children going onto secondary school. However at the moment the Scottish education systems commitment to teaching two foreign languages has been undermined by the decisions of the Scottish executive.  

Sometimes we become bogged down in individual issues that we forget the overall vision why European nations decided to work more closely in the first place.   Starting as an idea in the 1950's to control iron, steel and coal production, Western Europe grew into an economic community in the 1960's and 1970's. Today we look forward to a wider vision of European state being able to compete economically with countries such as the USA and China.   But there is also another vision we should look forward to. The question was posed by one of the speakers yesterday: "European Enlargement, where will it end?" I say why should it stop! With the entry of Turkey our union will border Syria and Iraq. We have the capacity thereafter to foster both trade and cultural links, which will help create indigenous Arab democracies.   Also, through fair trade, Europe can help create agricultural expansion for Sub-Saharan Africa. We can therefore help to create the industrial growth necessary for the expansion of literacy, health and higher education which are needed for a participatory democracy, that will allow African states to thrive.
We Europeans helped create the first participatory democracy in ancient Athens. We Europeans created the first nation state in France. The first banking system in Holland. Nor should we forget Scotland's contribution through the philosophy of Hume and Economics of Adam Smith.   Yet this is a continent of contrasts. Yes we helped foster the art of Leonardo, the music of Mozart and works of Molere and Shakespeare. But, we are also the continent that created global slavery, the mass destruction of non European peoples and cultures, as well as genocide on an industrial scale in the 20th century.

Over the centuries Europeans have conquered many frontiers in politics, philosophy, the arts and even in sport. Now we have the ability to conquer the last frontier-the human frontiers, that divides individuals along religious, ethnic and ideological boundaries.   These can be overcome gradually as long as the youth of Europe come together and build a new world, not only based on economic progress, but also reason, integration and internationalism.  Thankyou."

Whether we agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed, we're surely proud of the young people who think so deeply and thoughtfully about our country's future. The language issue is a particular one I've been probing the Scottish Government about, because I think our commitment to modern languages (not just European) in this country - at school and business level - is woeful, and I intend to use the fact that unanimously our young contributors noted this to exert further pressure.

Strathaven Academy visited my office before going home - as one of them said 'absolutely whacked', but feeling that they really had made a useful contribution over the two days. Well done to them:

Scottish Council for Development and Industry reception in the evening, and then off home.

And so to Tuesday, and my first meeting of the day with a Brazilian student who is going to be doing some voluntary research work with me over the summer recess. Adriano has already had placements in the European Parliament and in Westminster, doing research on International Development and how this is administered by different states across the world. Should make interesting reading.

European and External Relations Committee in the afternoon, with ongoing enquiry into the dispersal of structural funds, and hearing from the Minister about how the Malawi/Scotland Partnership is progressing. Things seem to be moving here, but I was glad to hear that a database is being set up for all groups in Scotland who have links with Malawi - one of the concerns I had when I visited was that so many things seem to be going on that we are in danger of duplication and not targetting properly. This does seem to have been taken on board by all concerned, so that's good news.

A humorous moment at the start of the meeting when I mischieviously asked Mr. Gallie of the Tories (an arch EU critic) to lead us off in the European Anthem as it was Europe Day (Beethoven's Ode to Joy). Mr. Gallie obliged by singing "Scots wha hae"! And on the Official Report too - he just might get into trouble from his Whip!

An extremely interesting experience for me on Wednesday when I was a guest at the Thistle Hotel in Glasgow for lunch and an audience with President Bill Clinton (do former USA presidents keep the title?). Fascinating to listen to him. I was a fan of Clinton - purely biased as he was the first major Western leader to speak out on behalf of East Timor while the atrocities of Indonesia were being perpetrated on the population. On Wednesday he was speaking about world poverty, globalisation and climate change - no notes, but spoke with fluency and ease on subjects about which he certainly came across as hugely knowledgeable. It was in answering questions that he most impressed me though - I do know the old saying that "if you can fake sincerity you've got it made", but I am convinced that he spoke from the heart, both about his own upbringing and his political regrets. I could have listened for double the time or more.

Back to reality when I hit the desk and computer back in my office on Wednesday evening - enjoyable time out is fine but the work doesn't stop coming in, and a heavy day on Thursday.

Heavy day with the Chamber, catching up with work and further meetings on structural funds etc., but certainly made enjoyable when St. Patrick's Primary School, Primary 7 came to call. What a smashing class that is - Calum and I were run ragged with their questioning, on everything under the sun (even politics!). So much so that I've agreed to go up to the school again in a couple of weeks so that those which weren't answered before their bus turned up, can be. They're doing a project on the parliament and boy-oh-boy are they getting right into it! Some budding MSPs there too:

I know I say it over and over again, but our schoolchildren who are growing up with the knowledge of how they can influence what goes on in the world are our Nation's future.

A quick visit to the Royal College of Nurses information session about School Nurses, a quick chat with the local Red Cross representatives, and a show of support for the Students demonstrating against the introduction that afternoon of variable university fees for medical students (shame on the Labour/Lib-Dem coalition), and then back to Strathaven for the Annual Fair Trade Dinner in Mario's Trattoria. The Fair Trade Group is going from strength to strength, (as is Mario's pasta), with new members and loads of new ideas. It really is great how Strathaven has led the way in Lanarkshire and Scotland on fair trade towns and schools.

Dashing around on Friday - students doing dissertations, talking with constituents who need a bit of a help, and dropping off raffle prizes for events which I was unfortunately unable to attend over the weekend as I headed off to a pal's wedding in Fife - all good luck to Pauline and Ali.

Linda Fabiani

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