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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
1st July 2006


It’s been a while since I wrote! I’m so sorry, leaving you with broken promises of Strathaven Gala photographs, but, wow!, some nasty horrible virus/buggy thing knocked me (and many others I’ve heard) for six. So, for two weeks I did not a lot, except get trundled out so as not to break commitments, showed my face, enjoyed myself for a while and then had to go back to sleep. Very bizarre – thank goodness for Calum and Davie (Morag’s not been well either), keeping things going and dealing with all of the constituency cases that have been coming in – mainly because of the Health Minister’s TV appearance stating that NHS waiting list targets have been met! Same as the statement that there are no mixed-sex hospital wards any more – sorry, no ROUTINE mixed-sex hospital wards – get it right Fabiani before Mr. Kerr writes to you and complains again. I’m waiting for his definition of ‘routine’.

So, some parts of weeks beginning 12th and 19th June are a bit of a blur – some events I certainly won’t forget for a long time though; the Limbe Choir from Malawi performing in the Garden Lobby (en route to the Saint Magnus Festival in Orkney); the Abbeyfield Society’s Golden Jubilee Party in Strathaven; and the Sound of Music brilliantly performed by Kirktonholme Primary School. When I went back to Kirktonholme the following week to give out the awards to Primary 7 pupils at their prizegiving assembly in the Kirk, I was amazed how childlike the performers appeared – they were so grown-up and confident on the stage.

Lembe Church Choir, Malawi – a great use of the Parliament’s Garden Lobby

More foreign delegations to meet in Parliament again too – the Chinese National People’s Congress (very formal), members of the Bavarian Parliament (wonderfully informal) and the new German Ambassador. Germany takes over the presidency from Finland in 2007. Yet again, the German propensity for precision tickles me – the Finns took over the Presidency on first of  July, and just last week got in touch to suggest a date to me for hosting their Scottish Public Meeting (the Presidency changes country hands every six months, and as Convener of the Europe Committee I chair a public meeting on behalf of the holding nation). The German Ambassador, however, has asked me already to confirm a date for the public meeting when they take over in January! No doubt when it comes to the Italians or Spanish I’ll have to chase them up! Generalisations and national stereotyping – how bad of me; in fact I took a Tory member to task in the Chamber just the other day for just that very thing, and here I am doing it myself. I have to say though that when I attended a meeting in Magdeburg some months ago – Scots, Saxony-Anhalters and Basques, the national stereotypes were certainly apparent. The German delegation had arranged for us to start at 8 am every morning – they were there at 7.45 am and by 8.05 am getting a bit impatient, my delegation arrived spot on time generally, but there was always one (usually Denis Canavan) who had forgotten something and had to go back for it, and the Basques would arrive around 8.30 am, strolling in, taking photos, drinking coffee and waving happily at us all.

You know, as I write this my memory is returning – I’m also remembering a smashing visit to Motherwell Fire Station where I learned so much about the highly sophisticated equipment and specialised skills used by the Fire and Rescue Service. I do remember being embarrassed when I asked what the proper name for the vehicle was, only, amidst much laughter, to be told "Fire Engine” (I’m sure there’s a much more technical term, and they were at the wind-up!). They did promise to send on some photographs, but they haven't yet – and there’s one of me in the Fire Engine too – that’ll impress some of the youngsters I meet in the schools. St. Leonards Primary from East Kilbride and Banton Primary from Kilsyth both visited the Parliament over these two weeks – lovely children from both of these schools. And then of course there was the National Osteoporosis Society meeting at Hairmyres; we heard from the NHS in Glasgow what a good service osteoporosis sufferers get there – proactive. Lanarkshire Health Board is way behind, although they are about to employ a specialist nurse. In the absence of National Guidelines though, it’s a slow process to force them to act.

By last Friday I was feeling a lot better, and it’s just as well because I was taking part in a Panel, along with Mary Robinson. What a thrill that was – I’ve admired her for so long: First female President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and following that, was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights until 2002. She is now Chair and founder of an ethical globalisation initiative ‘Realising Rights’. The Question and Answer Panel, chaired by George Reid (with his roving microphone) was for a breakout session of the Civicus World Assembly taking place in Glasgow this year and the following two – I spoke about it in a previous diary piece and last week it arrived. 1000 delegates from 70 countries; what a fabulous cultural mix and so much to learn from each other. I thoroughly enjoyed our Q and A Session – hard discussion about democracy, rights/responsibilities, citizenship, the media and development aid.

Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson and Linda Fabiani MSP took part in the Civicus Event in Parliament

Because I took part in the Assembly I was invited along to the Gala Dinner and Ceilidh that closed the Conference on the Saturday night – just as well I was feeling better, I was danced off my feet. What a time was had – wonderful! It was in the Kelvin Hall, a place of many, many childhood memories for me (we lived not far from it), and a great space for hundreds of folk to country-dance. What a mechanism for relaxation and bringing folk together Scottish ceilidh music and dancing is – the Dashing White Sergeant with participants from 50+ nations was amazing; no douce pas-de-bas from the African delegates, they completely added their own style, and raced about that dance-space at a tremendous rate, shaking and wiggling all the way. Then there was the elderly Indian gentleman who got me up to dance the Gay Gordons and insisted on going the opposite way from everyone else because he was so intent on doing it the way he’d learned around 30 years ago when he last visited – he was taking it all very seriously. I haven’t laughed so much for ages, with sheer joy at watching folk having such a good time. Well done to the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for winning the three-year conference session and for organising it so well.

So, to Monday 26th June, and after having such a good time at the weekend, no excuses accepted by anyone and I was back in harness first thing in the morning for a full week’s work – the last week of the Parliamentary Session before recess. As I mentioned earlier, Kirktonholme Primary’s Prizegiving Assembly first thing in the morning. It was in the Old Parish Church in East Kilbride Village. I’ll tell you, things have changed since I was a child and had to sit through church services with the school. We used to sit bored rigid, feart to move or make a noise. Not now, it was fun all the way with the pupils themselves running the show, and the two Chaplains who presided being full of fun too. The staff at Kirktonholme are great, Mrs. Mackenzie the Head Teacher being clearly loved by the pupils. I visited Kirktonholme first back in 1999 when I was elected I think, so the pupils who were leaving to go to Duncanrig Secondary School would have been infants then – amazing how quickly time flies in and children grow up.

Senior School in the evening with a School Board Meeting at Strathaven Academy – a special meeting called because over 60 parents requested it. Huge frustration at the lack of consultation from South Lanarkshire Council about the demolition and rebuilding of the Academy on the same site, resulting in decanting of pupils to East Kilbride for up to three years. Following the march of over 1000 through Strathaven to demonstrate against this, the Council has still not met with the parents who have formed the Action Group to look at alternative solutions. The arrogance of South Lanarkshire Council astounds me every time – I shouldn’t be surprised any more, but I am. The complete lack of consideration for the views of the electorate is appalling. More of that later in regard to East Kilbride, but meanwhile here in Strathaven, folk are determined to keep pushing for the Council to at least prove that alternative solutions have been considered. You know, one of the parents from the outlying Avondale area told us that currently her children are picked up at 8 am on the school bus to travel to Strathaven Academy at the moment – what on earth time will they need picked up to get to East Kilbride. It may be that transport solutions can be put in place, but whilst the Council is imparting no information or even discussing the issues with parents who can blame them for being so concerned.

Left Strathaven at the crack-of-dawn on Tuesday morning to meet up with St. Margaret’s Primary School from Polmont, and to get into the Edinburgh office to catch up with mail, meetings and general admin. One of the aspects of being an MSP which folk don’t generally realise is that we are direct employers and office managers, so much responsibility there, with budgeting and records to be kept up-to-date. The Parliament helps out in some regard with payroll etc but the legal responsibility is on the MSP. I’m fortunate though in that before I was elected I had many years of managerial responsibility, although in this job I’m not responsible for ensuring cash-flow and income – only for monitoring expenditure against allowances I’m glad to say. It must be quite daunting to be thrown into that position for the first time, along with all the other new things that come with being elected. Also took the chance to properly sit down with our recently arrived intern – Adriano from Brazil – to discuss the research work he is doing with us over the summer. It’s such a pleasure to be able to help out senior school-pupils and students from home and abroad.

A bit of an international day Tuesday – hosting lunch with the Polish Vice President of the European Parliament, attending a Reception for the President of the National Assembly of Slovenia, and such a pleasure in the afternoon to meet Dr. Muhammad Ahmad Mahmud, a Kurdish Member of the Iraqi Parliament, and leading member of his Party, the Kurdistan Islamic Union. It was an informal meeting, organised by Kurdish Glasgow residents, so it was fascinating to learn from Dr. Ahmad’s experiences, historically and currently in Baghdad. I asked Kenny MacAskill to join us for tea and he too found the experience enlightening and thought-provoking. There are so many brave and committed people in our world.

Kurdish Friends – Dr. Ahmad on my right

Another couple of busy days Wednesday and Thursday – had to take part in debates both days, and in fact lead and close the debate on International Development for our Group on Thursday afternoon. Wednesday’s was about Race Equality and the Government’s latest initiative. Well intentioned, but I’m not convinced that they’re hitting the mark yet; too much emphasis on initiatives and projects, and not enough on action. I seem to have taken part in many debates over the last seven years, on the same subject, with practically the same Chamber speeches being made.

I was supposed to be lunching with a delegation from the Nigerian Delta State Parliament on Wednesday. I turned up at the PO’s dining room, and just as I was about to sit down I thought “they don’t look very Nigerian” (the silence as everyone stared at me was quite telling too), and right enough I had gatecrashed lunch with the head of the Methodist Church in the UK who was attending their conference in Edinburgh and doing Time for Reflection in the Chamber in the afternoon. Turned out the Nigerians had cancelled and no-one had let me know! Anyway, the Deputy Presiding Officer, once explanation had been given, insisted I stay – very nice lunch it was too and really interesting company.

East Kilbride evenings both Wednesday and Thursday. Crime Prevention Panel Community Awards Ceremony on Wednesday at the Civic Centre. I really enjoy seeing people being honoured for their community spirit and Wednesday’s event was really well put together courtesy of the Panel members themselves, the EK News and of course Strathclyde Police. Much to my delight, Theatre Nemo won an award, and the icing on the cake was when they entertained us for a half-hour slot too. They finished with their ‘Have a Hug’ song, the audience all joined in and even Willie Rae, the Chief Constable, was seen hugging with our Avril! Didn’t manage to get a photo I’m afraid, just one of me and Avril.

Thursday night too was a packed meeting in St. Leonards Community Hall. A meeting called by the St. Leonards Community Council following the Council’s publication of their Draft Local Plan which, despite around 4,000 letters of objection, designates Colonsay Field in Calderglen Country Park for housebuilding. Like I said earlier, South Lanarkshire Council treats residents’ views with contempt; Cllr Jim Wardhaugh’s account of the Planning Committee Meeting which approved the Plan was another telling story of institutional arrogance. For example, from one Labour Councillor, the contention that if there were only 3,800 objections then 66,000 East Kilbride residents were happy with the proposal! Doubletalk and spin to a ridiculous degree. So, all hands on deck in EK to ensure that local voices are heard – this is a PUBLIC PARKLAND which should not be eroded. Graeme Macklin, Chair of the Community Council and all of the members worked like billy-oh to ensure that local people knew what was going on and that their Park could be lost (thin end of the wedge as far as I am concerned; once the principle of building in the Park is established, it could just continue on and on with more and more of the green space being lost) and the campaign continues. If the Council is short of money to fund essential services then they should be lobbying their masters at Holyrood, not using East Kilbride’s assets as a cash-cow.

A lot happening in East Kilbride this week – the decision of Lanarkshire Health Board to recommend to the Health Minister that Hairmyres full Accident and Emergency Unit be retained came through on Wednesday night. Of course Hairmyres should be saved, but I can completely understand the feelings of those Lanarkshire residents who currently rely on the service at Monklands Hospital. Their campaign should continue – it’s terrible that the A& E service is being downgraded - but as I raised with Andy Kerr, Health Minister, in the Chamber on Thursday, the campaign for Monklands should have no bearing on the decision to retain the full service at Hairmyres. As the Lanarkshire United campaign states, Lanarkshire should have such services accessible for the whole county.

Clear up day on Friday, as I’m off to London tomorrow (it’s Saturday evening as I write this and all I’ve got to do now is compose a couple of letters before I shut the computer off for the week). My London trip is a mixture of work and play – some meetings with my Westminster colleagues and catching up with my wee brother and my friend Sheila.

So, it’s summer recess and although I will of course be working through it apart from our holiday in August, I’ll limit my Diary, as last year, to a report for July and then one for August.


Linda Fabiani

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