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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
25th September 2006

Week beginning 18th September 2006

Monday morning and delighted to receive an email from John C in South Africa – I’ve been worried about you John, and so pleased that you are well. One of the joys of writing on Electric Scotland is the amount of pen-pals (cyber-pals? There must surely by now be a term for email buddies) from all over the world.

First meeting of the day up in Glasgow with the Integration through Enterprise group based at Glasgow College of Commerce and funded by Scottish Enterprise and Napier University in Edinburgh. It’s a project to assist refugees (asylums seekers who have been granted ‘leave to remain’ in the UK) who wish to start their own businesses. In their situation there are barriers to be overcome; writing a business plan for example – it’s hard enough to do in your own language, let alone in a second or third. Also there are issues about raising finance from lending institutions – no credit history, tenancy history etc. There have been successes, but it’s not easy – even harder now that funding is not at all secure due to the Scottish Enterprise overspend recently (that’s the nice way of putting it!). More to be probed and looked into, as this programme seems to me to be eminently sensible and should be maintained.

Computer work in the afternoon and then a meeting in the evening with some East Kilbride folks who are concerned about the environment and worried that proper checks and balances are not being carried out by South Lanarkshire Council and the Scottish Government when it comes to the headlong race for development of East Kilbride’s green spaces. This Group is extremely knowledgeable and it makes my job much easier to be given information instead of having to rout about for it. So, more parliamentary questions to be asked. You know, someone said to me recently that all I seemed to do was attend meetings – aye, and every meeting spawns more and more paperwork! Still, that’s my job, and I do enjoy meeting people and learning all the time.

Rainy Tuesday in Edinburgh when the Peace Walk arrives at the Parliament – 90-odd miles of walking for many of them, and then some of them wanted to walk even more and tour the building. All I would have wanted was a glass of red wine and bed! I must admit that I did do that on Tuesday evening – on behalf of all the peace marchers you understand.

Talking of cyber-pals, delighted at last to meet Teresa Fritchie on Tuesday afternoon. Teresa was over in Scotland from the US to promote her company – Thistle and Broom – which showcases quality Scottish produce, whilst ensuring that her suppliers, expert craftsmen and women are not having their talent ripped off. Fascinating discussion with Teresa and thoroughly enjoyed her company and enthusiasm for Scotland. I must find out what we do at Government level in Scotland to promote our arts, crafts and many talents. Fair Trade at home is as important as Fair Trade overseas after all.

You decide which one's Thistle and which one's Broom!

Well, for every thoroughly enjoyable meeting there’s a counter-balance. Mine was Wednesday morning and being the SNP Group’s representative on the parliamentary focus group (first time I’ve been a member of a ‘Focus Group’) to discuss Standards in Public Life. The Westminster Committee on Standards in Public Life is carrying out a huge consultation to assess what standards of behaviour and accountability people expect from public servants in all walks of life. Actually, it was quite interesting, and really difficult to find forms of words that encapsulate expectations and can be expressed easily. I find it sad that these days society seems to start from the premise that those in public life will not be decent and honest – I truly believe that the vast majority of people are, no matter what job they’re doing; that’s certainly always been my experience.

Chamber in the afternoon – I worked through it and listened on the monitor; it was the Health Committee’s report on Free Personal Care for the Elderly. It did strike me as I listened though that it’s ages since I took part in a debate; I’ve just been squirreling away in my office at every opportunity. Thing is, because we’re in the last year of this parliament there’s a lot of ‘tidying up’ and ‘catch-up’ being done in the Chamber – no huge new issues. I remember a colleague in the 1999-2003 Session being dubbed as ‘useless and lazy’ in a tabloid newspaper because over a period of a month or so she hadn’t spoken in Chamber, or asked any written Parliament Questions – actually, she was extremely hard-working and conscientious in all aspects of representing constituents; she just hadn’t been involved in these particular debates, and was researching issues before asking further questions. It was so unfair and I remember thinking that such a snapshot could be used to have a go at any of us at any time, and it worried me for a while. Then I decided to worry no more! You can only be true to yourself after all.

A day of ‘standards’ right enough and a meeting of the Standards Committee in the evening to discuss potential sanctions for the breach of confidentiality which had been reported to us the previous week by the Standards Commissioner. It’s all public knowledge now – a member had passed a confidential committee report to the press, and has now been barred from the Parliament for a week. This is not the first time such breaches of confidentiality have occurred, but the first time the MSP has been identified (I should say in this case by his own admission). I don’t enjoy having to take part in such committee discussions, but it is necessary – has to be done and during my time on this Committee I have found all members, across the parties, extremely fair with no partisanship going on.

Had to cancel my planned hoolie in the evening at the launch event of the Italian Celebration Season, but never mind, thoroughly enjoyed my late night meal with Rob Gibson and Maureen Watt instead. Lots of gossip – absolutely none of which will be reproduced here!

Very much a European day on Thursday, starting off with meeting the European Commissioner who deals with Structural Funds – Ms Danuta Hubner from Poland. She was in Scotland to meet with the First Minister about Scotland’s allocation (the allocation is actually given to the nation state – UK – which then decides how much to give the Regions of which Scotland, sadly, is one). The meeting ran on later than it should have which made me late for First Minister’s Questions (big trouble from Mr. Whip), still I was in time to some of Nicola’s pasting of the Mr. McConnell for refusing to come off the fence on the nuclear power and waste issue. Ms. Hubner arriving on a Thursday morning though did allow me to miss the Conservative Party’s debate on a Greener, Fairer Scotland, so for that I am grateful. The Tories never cease to amaze me with their chameleon tendencies – all of a sudden they’re the caring, sharing party, lovers of the environment and all things to all men (and even women these days!); I don’t know how to write the air-expelling sound I just made to express my opinion of this Damascene conversion – sounds a bit like a horse snorting I think, so use your imagination.

Another European meeting in the evening – another acronym, EMILE, which stands for something to do with elected members in liaison (MPs, Councillors, MSPs, MEPs, European Social Committee Members) and is chaired by the Scottish Government. It’s held quarterly generally, but this was only my second attendance. We spent most of the time discussing how the group could be more effective – Mr. McCabe went away promising to take suggestions on board so I hope the next meeting will in fact be more effective!

A treat afterwards though, meeting up with my pal Steven who’s home for a break from East Timor. Steven has worked in East Timor since the 1999 ballot and I rely on him so much for news ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ rather than relying on internet bulletins etc. Things are not so good there just now and I’m still worried sick about our Amorin and the family – we do manage to speak to him regularly though. I just wish I could get out there and see them, but it’s still ‘travel not recommended’ to the country, and even once there almost impossible to travel out from the city. Steven’s looking good though and heading back probably next month.

Another European acronym meeting on Friday morning – SERN! This one I do remember – Scottish European Resources Network – and extremely useful. As such meetings should be, they’re held when necessary to impart information, it’s short, properly timed, with a firm agenda, which means that everyone leaves feeling that it’s time worthwhile spent and having learned something. So there.

Rush, rush, rush on Friday afternoon, evening and all through Saturday, Sunday and Monday 25th. You see, Pete Wishart and I are off to Malawi again – in fact I write this on Tuesday morning, around an hour before I leave for the airport, and I still haven’t packed. Not much personal stuff to take – it’s only for a few days, but loads and loads of paperwork to humph. We’re going to hold a seminar in Blantyre, Malawi, for delegates of the two small political parties with which we’re linking through the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. The seminar themes are policy development and encouraging women to move from community activism to politics; it happens in every society – look at grass-roots activism in communities and you’ll find mainly women, start becoming successful and forming committees etc. and you’ll find that the office bearers and high heid-yins are mainly men! Sorry to generalise to such a degree chaps, but you try and prove me wrong.

I may as well finish by talking about two men who’ve annoyed me this weekend, the first of whom I’m extremely fond, and the second of whom leaves me entirely cold. First up Mike Russell – come on down – I know you’re a thinker, but if the press reports on your latest book are to be believed then you’ve been thinking yourself in knots! Are you really saying that we can have an independent Scotland but maintain the Union for matters of Foreign Policy and Defence? For me it’s fundamental – Scotland needs independence for many, many reasons, but the right to refuse to go to war, and the right to refuse nuclear weapons are basic and non-negotiable. How could we have that right in a partial-Union when we’re 10% of the population? I look forward to reading the book when published.

My second rant – THAT GORDON BROWN FELLA! I listened to his Labour Party Conference speech yesterday, and felt that it was just a rerun of last year. What age do you have to be to stop talking about your mum and dad? We’ve all heard about your great Presbyterian upbringing Gordon, values and all the rest of it – whoop-di-do, lucky you – when do you intend telling us what you’re actually going to do if elected? Values and vision are good, but you need a path to get there, steps along the way. Sounds to me like yesterday’s man following the yellow brick road.

Linda Fabiani

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