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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
6th November 2006

Week beginning 30th October 2006
First of all thank you to everyone who emailed whilst I was off sick, and apologies to anyone that didn’t receive a response: I really was finding it difficult to keep up with what was happening every day whilst I was off, and emailing and writing really was a strain! Well, that all sounds very pathetic, but being off work stunned me – first time in years, other than the odd day here or there. I’m back at work now though and I won’t bother you with details of my absence – suffice to say that I’m fine now, and trying hard to follow advice to take it easy physically for a wee while (never been a problem for me! Even better when it’s validated by a doctor!).  Poor Duncan’s glad I’m back at work though as I spent most of my time sitting in the house and phoning tradesmen to come and do all the jobs which have been mounting up over the years – plumbers/electricians/decorators/builders – I’ve had a great time, but Duncan came home every night wondering what had changed that day. He reckons if I’m ever sick again it would be cheaper to send me and a pal to Dubai for a month’s holiday!

The last diary I wrote was just before I headed off to Malawi again with Pete Wishart MP. A good and productive 4-day visit during which we consolidated the SNP’s relationship with the PPP (People’s Progressive Movement) and PETRA (People’s Transformation Party), both community-grounded political parties which need some assistance in developing their Party structures so that they can truly challenge the status quo and promote real democracy in their country. Once the final report has been properly agreed I’ll append a copy. Meanwhile a couple of photographs.

The working part of the trip (still fun though!)

Unlike the last time we visited Malawi, because of flight connections Pete and I were able to take a day out and visit a national park – it was fabulous. The potential for tourism in Malawi is immense – a safe environment, friendly folk and wonderful scenery which reminds so much of Scotland; hills and water.

Pete Wishart’s my hero! Not only did he drive me expertly along some of the worst roads I’ve ever travelled upon and then protect me from the crocodiles surrounding our boat (though I’m not sure that his advice - “sit in front of me, they always strike from behind”  - was true), but arranged for me to be carted off to the clinic in Jo’Burg Airport and then looked after me splendidly all the way home.

Action Men in Boat (Pete was willing to fight them off with his bare hands!)

So, back at work full time on Monday 30th October, and what a week it was – hectic.  Didn’t even manage to get through the pile up of mail on the Monday, and emails not started until Tuesday, and then in-between-times there was radio work and meetings with the Committee Clerks to bring me up-to-date as I’d missed two meetings of the Europe and External Relations Committee. There was the added fact that I was leading the Parliamentary Debate on Wednesday on the Committee’s Inquiry into the operation of European Structural Funds, and I had missed some of the detail.

And, I had been feeling so guilty about our Intern – Adriano from Brazil – as he’d been left with no direction or feedback about the study he was carrying out. I didn’t have to worry though; what a great piece of work he produced about International Development Co-operation amongst countries in what we term the ‘developing’ and ‘poorer’ parts of the world. So often people believe that all development funding is given by the richer countries of the northern hemisphere to the poorer countries of the southern, but actually there is a lot of south/south co-operation, and Adriano has researched this well. He is such a pleasant young man – Morag and I will miss him when he goes (I’m sure Calum will too, but I don’t think that Latin American good manners and good looks have quite the same effect on your average Scotsman as they have had on practically every female on the SNP floor and beyond in the Parliament!

Tuesday night I was through in Glasgow to speak at the Surjit Singh Chhokar Memorial Ceremony, and unveiling of a sculpted bust of Surjit which will be displayed in the Art Gallery with explanation of the effect that the experiences of the Chhokar family had on judiciary practice in Scotland. You may remember that Surjit was murdered some eight years ago in Lanarkshire, despite evidence no-one was convicted and the family were treated extremely badly within our justice system. This resulted in two official enquiries which although did not assist the Chhokar family were instrumental in changes as to how families of victims are treated and indeed how crimes with a racial abuse element are pursued. I was honoured to have been asked to the ceremony by Mr. Chhokar and his representatives. In all the time I have now known the family, I have been humbled by their quiet dignity in the face of a legal system which intimidated, alienated and disadvantaged. They will never get their son back, but his memory has been honoured. Having a memorial will not give answers, but if it provokes questions then it is worthwhile – well done to Glasgow Museums for agreeing to house Alexander Stoddart’s sculpture of Surjit in such a high profile environment.

Back to Edinburgh to do the Politics Tonight show on BBC Radio Scotland; in plenty of time I thought, but no, the train stopped outside Waverley station and it was a mad dash to the studio. Ran through the door just as the presenter was about to announce that I hadn’t turned up! Main topic was Iraq – the SNP and Plaid Cymru had called in the Commons for an inquiry into the Iraq war and of course this was beaten down by the Government party; reduced majority though, reflecting the discontent amongst their ranks at the illegality and current quagmire within Iraq. Of course, a government apologist was on to defend the position, although it wasn’t Eric Joyce this time, it was George Foulkes from the Lords. Usual stonewalling, trying to suggest that because I was opposed to the war then I supported Sadaam and didn’t care about the Kurds. What nonsense they are willing to talk when there is no real justification for their stances – defence of the indefensible.

Meeting of the Parliament’s Art Group on Wednesday morning to have a look at the type of acquisitions the Curator thinks we should make. Good to have some experts on board in the Group, as so often artistic concepts require to be explained to amateurs (or maybe just to be?). Anyway, sometimes it all seems to be so obvious once explained, but then again, sometimes it seems even more obscure. The suggestions were good though and up for further discussion at the Parliament’s Corporate Body.

Wednesday afternoon and I managed the Structural Fund Debate fine – amazing how quickly it all comes back when it has to. It’s quite strange having to run a Committee debate as Convener because it’s a very different stance than leading the debate for the opposition. A good Convener should be impartial and reflect the agreed views of the Committee, and certainly in this case the Committee was constructively critical. It’s up to the opposition spokespeople to make party political contribution and as ever, John Swinney led this admirably. It was certainly John’s week for talking in the Chamber with him leading the debate on the Executive’s budget (and their determination to hide the findings of a report), and then participating in the debate calling for more powers for the Parliament – both on Thursday morning.

Back to Wednesday evening though and I was hosting, in the Parliament, a presentation by the Scottish Council for Single Homeless on their home smart Campaign  and its aim of ensuring that school leavers understand the issues surrounding homelessness and how to avoid it. Really important and I’m going to try to secure a member’s debate on the motion of support that I’ve laid. It’s crucial for young people, both from privileged and difficult backgrounds, to know the score when it comes to leaving home and setting up on one’s own. I left home at 16 years old, and I think it’s even harder now than it was then. For anyone who wants to know more, the Scottish Council for Single Homeless Youth pages can be found at

Stage 3 debate on Thursday afternoon on the Scottish Human Rights Commission which meant that I didn’t get away until 6.30 pm (15 minutes after I was supposed to sit down to dinner with the Lanarkshire Pharmaceutical Society, and guests from the British Medical Association, at the Hilton in Bellshill!). Luckily Calum managed to get a hold of the organiser to let her know that I would get there to give my speech until around 8 pm. Of course, I got lost because there was a diversion on the road and didn’t get there until 8.30 pm – not only harassed and bedraggled, but starving! I’d had lunch just after midday because I had a Malawi meeting to attend over lunchtime. Anyway, as always the Pharmaceutical Society delegates were gracious, understanding and welcoming, and fed me after my talk! I enjoy the company of delegates from this Society any time that we get together, and individual members have been so helpful anytime that I have needed information on constituency matters.

So tempting just to drive home to Strathaven from Bellshill on Thursday night, but needed to be in the Parliament at 8 am on Friday morning to greet my guest for the Business in Parliament Conference – David Carrick, Chief Exec of Memex Technology in East Kilbride – I had visited David’s company some months ago and was fascinated that a firm based in EK was selling their intelligence software systems all over the world: USA, Eastern Europe, Caribbean. A real success story of a company which is going from strength to strength. Thoroughly enjoyed the conference itself and David’s input.

No matter what their age or position, they always want to sit in the Think Pod!

What a week – hardly any time to catch up on what I’d missed, and to follow up on the local constituency visits and events I’d managed to attend when I was off. So, sad git that I am, there I was still in the office at 11 o’clock on a Friday night, preparing for the Scottish Association of Language Teachers conference in Stirling the following morning (only teachers could arrange for a conference to start bang-on 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning!). I had been asked to officially open the event and I was pleased to do so because I feel we have allowed both the importance of foreign language learning and its teachers to become devalued – if we really want to compete in a globalised world we have to recognise that young people from non-English speaking nations are adept at learning other languages (it is not unusual for Polish school leavers to have a working knowledge of 5 languages), and also recognise that with the rise in Spanish and Chinese language on the internet, English will not necessarily remain the language of business. There is too much complacency on this subject – we really have to buck up!

So back to Strathaven on Saturday afternoon and an immediate snooze on the couch! Still I see from what I’ve written above that I’m in danger of coming across as a poor wee overworked soul – reality is that I love every minute of it!

Back to weekly until Christmas.

Linda Fabiani:

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