SEVERAL years ago I sat on a panel to recruit a constituency office assistant. A shortlisted candidate, a student at the time, bounded into the interview room with an uncontainable enthusiasm for all things Scottish politics, eager to play his part in helping the community and working towards independence.

Once the standard-issue “why do you want the job?” part was out of the way, we asked some pop quiz questions to gauge the political geekery of all applicants. The final question was meant to be lighthearted: “Aside from the First Minister, who is your favourite politician and why?”

Without hesitation the interviewee replied: “Linda Fabiani. Definitely. 100%. If there was a Church of Fabiani, I’d convert!”

He had completed a week’s work experience with Linda while a schoolkid and that was that, inspired and still immersed in Scottish politics to this day.

Linda Fabiani has announced her intention to stand down ahead of the next Holyrood election.

She has been a constant since day one of devolution in 1999. She’s literally in wi the bricks: she sat on the group which oversaw the parliament building’s construction. Despite the whys and wherefores of the project’s early challenges, her guiding principles were hopeful: “The Parliament will stand as a testament to Scotland. I want a brilliant parliament building and we will get one. I want it for the independent Scotland that this country will be.”

READ MORE: Long-serving SNP MSP Linda Fabiani to stand down before Holyrood election

Linda is a perfect fit for public service. It underpins her reasons to stand for election in the first place. She wished to see women better represented and threw her hat in the ring. Her career pre-Holyrood, as a housing association director, had people and community at its heart. She has described elected politics as an extension of that role, helping people where she can and representing them with passionate determination.

You know within seconds of speaking to Linda Fabiani that she’s more interested in what you’ve got to say than what she’s got to preach. That’s not the default in the case of many politicians, but in her case it’s genuine. Public life could do with more listeners and fewer lecturers.

When I ran the SNP’s central office in Parliament, Linda would often come in to chew the fat with the staff. She would be the first to welcome new recruits and her guidance kept me out of trouble on more than one occasion. You got the distinct impression she would rather spend an hour encouraging a junior researcher than chin-wagging with high heid yins.

But she is a natural at that too. On a busy working day in the Scottish Parliament I got a call from Lady Patricia Mirrlees, wife of the late Nobel laureate Professor James Mirrlees, in town and in tow with Kirsty Sword Gusmao, the former first lady of East Timor. Might a meeting with the First Minister or relevant Cabinet Secretary be possible? This last-minute request was a non-starter, but someone suggested Linda Fabiani might sub in.

Linda greeted Kirsty Gusmao like an old friend, asking about Xanana, her husband, who served as East Timor’s first post-independence president. Linda knew him and, as it transpired, a great deal more about the plight of that country.

Not long after her election in 1999, Linda Fabiani was patronised by a radio interviewer about the morality of the UK’s intervention in Kosovo. She pointed out the double standards of western governments talking a good talk, but failing to lift a finger to help the people of East Timor, 200,000 of whom had died at the hands of the Indonesian regime.

A couple of months later she found herself an international observer as East Timor went to the polls to secure independence. Hosted by a Timorese family, she shared her lodgings with a Labour backbencher called Jeremy Corbyn.

Around the same time, the fearless foreign correspondent Marie Colvin is credited as having saved the lives of some 1500 women and children in East Timor by refusing to step aside to let Indonesian forces storm a besieged UN compound. She said afterwards “These are people who have no voice. I feel I have a moral responsibility towards them. If journalists have a chance to save their lives, they should do so.” Those BBC and Sky News reporters chasing Syrian refugee boats across the Channel this week could learn much from that philosophy.

As Colvin did more than just write about what she saw, Linda Fabiani did so much more than just observe an election. She took East Timor and its people to her heart and has since had a succession of adopted family members who have come to live with her while studying in Scotland. She’s now grandmother to a new generation of Timorese children and remains an ardent champion for the rights of that small nation taking its place in a big world.

It’s just one example of her fundamental humanity.

Linda Fabiani’s CV is, of course, impressive. She was Europe and culture minister in the first SNP Government and delivered more powers to the Scottish Parliament through the Smith Commission. She has served as deputy presiding officer since 2016 and even received a knighthood from the Italian government recognising her solidarity with her chip shop emigrant grandfather’s homeland.

But Linda Fabiani’s Holyrood legacy will be compassion shown for those causes she held dear, with people at their heart: fighting for the families behind razor wire at Dungavel, justice for survivors of institutional abuse, a better deal for carers and fairness for victims of domestic abuse.

Politics would benefit from fewer headline-grabbing self-servers, and more people driven by these sorts of ideals.

We don’t have a jobs-for-the-boys retirement home for our veteran public servants like the House of Lords. And thank god for that.

But there’s perhaps some serious thought to be applied, after 20 years of devolution, to how we find useful roles for experienced and talented MSPs who still have so much more to give.

In 20 years Linda Fabiani may not have gained the profile of some of her showboating contemporaries, but that’s because she’s the antithesis of the self-serving politician caricature. If the next two decades throw up a few more Lindas, then our parliament will be in very safe hands indeed.