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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
7th December 2006

Week Beginning Monday 27th November 2006

Before I say anything else about this week at work I want to tell you how honoured I feel: I wrote a couple of weeks ago about supporting the campaign for recognition of our Malaysia veterans by allowing the Pingat Jasa Malaysia Medal to be formally worn by Scots alongside their Commonwealth ex-comrades in arms who already have permission to weir their PJM. Well, as a wee thankyou I received a Fight4the PJM Pin – I’ve been wearing it with pride.

Kilmarnock College on Monday morning, for a tour and a look at the wide range of courses being offered to students here. Interesting visit. I was shocked though at the state of the buildings themselves – well overdue for replacement. Still, despite that I certainly found the staff I met enthusiastic about their work and had a really good time watching one of the classes work in the ‘body-shop’ (cars and trucks that is, although I think they do also run beautician courses!). Apprentice mechanics and engineers come from as far as Argyll on block release weeks to Kilmarnock College to get expert hands-on tuition.

'First Bus' donated this bus for the students to practice on

Straight from Kilmarnock to Motherwell to spend the afternoon with Davie going through constituency cases – medical/social/educational/ongoing campaigns on carers’ rights etc. From there to our Constituency Meeting – won’t be long to the elections so lots of organising going on.

Another crack-of-dawn start on Tuesday morning to Edinburgh – the roads have been so busy lately that when something important is afoot I am really worried about not getting there on time and end up leaving Strathaven at some ridiculously early hour. I’m sure that when I got into the Parliament on Tuesday morning, it was so early that the security staff thought I’d been out all night.

Still, it was an important engagement – showing Senor Jose Manuel Barosso, current President of the European Commission and former Prime Minister of Portugal, around the Parliament Building; he had personally insisted on seeing it during his visit to Edinburgh University to receive an Honorary Doctorate. Whistlestop tour though – in/wheech/wheech/wheech/out the other end in ten minutes flat! Saw him again for lunch at Edinburgh Uni, but didn’t manage to get to the lecture he was giving as I had to get a train to Aberdeen.

Yes, Aberdeen – up to Aberdeen University in the run-up to World Aids Day to speak to the Debating Society along with a Christian Aid representative from West Africa – Maxwell Kapachawo, a Christian Minister who is a member of a voluntary group of religious community-leaders who are themselves HIV positive and believe that by being honest and up-front about this they can help to eradicate the stigma which sufferers in many parts of Africa face and can encourage people to seek help and receive the appropriate medicinal care. Fascinating man, and the event itself was well-run and extremely enjoyable. The stance of Maxwell and his colleagues (one of whom addressed the Parliament at ‘Time for Reflection’ the next day) is truly refreshing – in so many parts of the world religious leaders are dismissive of the need to tackle the disease itself and disparaging towards those who are HIV positive.  Surely if one truly has Christian values, then ours is not to judge but to help?

Last train home – that phrase has just reminded me; when we were kids we used to hold onto each other and dance round the living room while my dad, taking up poll position at the front, sang “Last train to Glasgow Central … … … …, if you miss that one, you’ll never get another one, beedy-beedy-bum-bum, to Glasgow Central” (it was a great treat for Douglas and I to be able to say ‘bum’ and not get a row). Anyone know where that came from?

Sleepy Wednesday morning, so must admit to being a bit dozy at the computer – still nice to have a free few hours to catch up. Certainly not free the rest of the day though – Standards Committee/Group Meeting/Chamber for the St. Andrew’s Day debate. Then at teatime meeting with Central Scotland representatives of the Multiple Sclerosis Society. You know, this condition is so hard for folk to live with, but one of the big frustrations that I pick up from sufferers is the length of time it seems to take for them to be taken seriously when they start to feel unwell, diagnosis and then commencement of treatment. The MS Society is a marvellous representative organisation and there’s no point in my talking about it when they know so much better.
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And another early morning on Thursday to prepare for meeting with Argyll & Bute Council to talk about the potential effects of reduced European Structural Funding for the Highlands and Islands. It’s always a pleasure to meet the ABC folks because I know them all from when I worked all over Argyll for Bute Housing Association; great to catch up on old times. One of my visitors has one of the best names ever – Cllr. Robin Banks! Just as well he’s not an accountant.

Stage 3 debate in chamber all day today too, so having to keep one ear on the division bell to run in and vote if necessary. It was the Bankruptcy and Diligence legislation – generally sensible except for one clause about attachment to property for debt. Basically this new measure (voted through by the Labour/LibDem coalition) means that for a debt of £3000 someone can have their home taken from them – in this time of record high debt levels this is worrying. Yes, this is a last resort, and there are lots of steps to go through before someone gets to this point, but as our MSPs pointed out, people might be so worried about this potential that they’ll just incur more debt, and perhaps from the most unsavoury places. Until we have control over consumer and banking affairs we can’t begin to pretend to deal with the debt situation in our society. You know, I find it so hard to believe that what was once a proud Labour movement can vote for the potential of families visiting loan sharks (registered or otherwise) in case of losing their home.

Interesting lunch along with Christine Grahame MSP and her brother Tony (ace SNP Activist!). John Home-Robertson, Labour MSP who has visited Palestine a couple of times with a charity local to him, invited us along to meet with Nasif Daraldik of the Palestine Medical Relief Committee, Muamar Nakhla from the Jerizon Refugee Camp and Ola Yaseen Nasra, an English teacher from Ramallah. Nasif, Muamar and Ola were visiting Edinburgh as part of a UK trip to raise awareness of the current situation in the Palestinian camps and to raise support for educational initiatives. This lunch though was very much a social occasion, some light relief in their busy schedule, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Christine and Tony along with Nasif

Friday off and away down to London to stay with my pal Sheila – actually the reason I was down was to chair the Peru Support Group Conference on Saturday, but took the opportunity to head down on Friday and chill out: we certainly did that – sipped champagne at the top of the Natwest Tower and then headed off to see Casino Royale with the new James Bond. Great!

Saturday was great too – I’m a Patron of the Peru Support Group and it’s a few years since I’ve managed to get down to any of their meetings, so I was really pleased to see so many old friends again. Particularly two special friends: Eric Avebury, a Lib-Dem Peer, with whom I visited Peru in 2000 when we boarded with the Franciscan Friars and carried out a study into the potential for electoral fraud by the then President, Alberto Fujimori. An interesting experience in many ways! I learned a lot from Eric though; loads of experience – as a member of the House of Commons, in 1976 he founded the Parliamentary Human rights Group and chaired it for the next 21 years until he was moved to the Lords (some would say ‘elevated’ I guess, but it’s a matter of personal opinion!). Another special old friend to see was Susana Villaran de la Puente – what a wumman! I met her in Lima in 2001 after the fall of Fujimori and his henchman Montesenos (secret police), and when we were able to hold a human rights’ conference without fear of retribution.

Linda in Fine Company

Susana stood as a presidential candidate in Peru’s recent election but was unsuccessful – she’s a politician, a journalist, an educator, an author, and a brave, brave woman who helped to found the ‘glass of milk’ programme in the shanty-towns of Lima some thirty years ago; at a time when community activists were being persecuted by both Maoist rebels (the Shining Path) and State agents. I could write pages on the achievements of Susana and her contemporaries (some killed for their work). It’s an honour to know such people.

The conference was to examine the current situation in Peru under the presidency of the recently elected Alan Garcia – issues to be watched, for example, the recent proposals about how the government should control ‘non-governmental organisations’: yes, rather sinister. One of the things that fascinated me in my short visits to Peru was how such organisations (charities and pressure-groups) maintained their commitment to truth and justice in the face of the most awful persecution and operating conditions – a courageous people who really do deserve some peace and stability in their lives. Things have been better over the last few years or so, but as Susana says, in her country’s history such phases have been transient and fragile: she described Peru as always standing on the edge of a cliff, and sometimes falling off. I hope that this time they step back from that edge.

Back to Strathaven on Sunday, and another week ahead.

Linda Fabiani

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