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Parliament can work while we are socially distant

Yesterday was interesting for me. Five online meetings were the most obvious sign of a world working in a very different way from "before the flood". Interacting with constituents in a familiar way. External meetings. Some social interactions. And, of course, Parliament. I think it was our first Friday meeting. Am I correct?

Our first Members' Virtual Question Time went reasonably well. Our Presiding Officer had clearly thought out his approach to pace and impartiality. And, in my view, scored an 8.3 out of ten.

The point three is, of course, just a gentle reminder from mathematical me, that some precisions in numbers are entirely spurious. Any judgement on how yesterday's session went is substantially subjective. And when we are looking at the data which are available on COVID-19 we should also not seek false precision to seventeen decimal places when we are clear that there are, and will remain, some significant margins of error in our numbers.

The software we were using for our Parliamentary session yesterday was from a company called Bluejeans. It shows how much such affordable teleconferencing software has moved to the centre stage that yesterday was the day that Verison, a major US company, announced that it acquired Bluejeans. Other options that I have used are mostly already associated with large technology companies.

The teleconferencing technology worked quite well as teleconferencing software. But I think the event also showed that what we were doing was not simply teleconferencing. It was also, about presenting the public face of a Parliament going about its business during a period of social isolation.

On that front, it was clear that good software as it was, it was not designed for Parliaments. And why would it have been? No software designer could reasonably have anticipated this application of their software.

Throughout the session, we alternated between having a screen of nine people visible and having the speaker occupying the whole screen. In broadcasting terms, I think looked fine. However, most of the nine never left that screen for the whole hour, and others almost never appeared there. There was nothing political about that. Among the "absent" were Rhoda Grant of Labour, Donald Cameron of the Conservatives and, well I would notice this wouldn't I, me.

Similarly, the nine who were more or less continuously on screen were pretty much representative of the political balance of the Parliament.

The difficulty was not simply a techie one; our Parliamentary broadcast team probably had little control over who was on screen. What was also required was that those who were on screen had to remain conscious of being so. To behave appropriately, as they would if they were on live camera all the time. They were.

It's very hard to look continuously at the camera. And yet that's what we needed to do. Quite a few of us kept partially dodging out of shot to do something else unseen to us. One yawned frequently and seemed bored by the whole thing.

So we not only do we have to refine the technology, consider more about how we use the technology, but we also modify how we as Parliamentarians behave in such a setting. It's a new milieu and needs new adaptations on our part.

It went quite well, and nothing I write should deter us from continuing with this approach. Good first effort. Well done all.

Rant over.

I wrote yesterday about my walking down to Banff to rendevous with my spouse for our weekly shopping trip. A record-breaking day with 8.39 miles walked. Briskly. Indeed after four days of week five of my social isolation, my week starts on a Tuesday because isolation started on a Tuesday, I have walked further than in week two.

I have written how, and some might say somewhat compulsively, I count and measure. The exercise is about taking the opportunity to return to the 40s. Not the 1940's, I mean the fitness level I was at in my forties.

My resting heart rate is now down 10 beats per minute. Respiration during exercise is now more even. Lung capacity continues to increase. And the muscle tone in my legs is excellent! Just now need to program in work for my upper-body muscles.

And the equipment required to effect this change? One pair of shoes. I looked at their soles. I observed what I would previously have categorised as "election fatigue". I generally have to dispose of a pair of shoes at each election.

I heard at yesterday's online meeting with my party colleagues that some have been putting on weight. Another, I think this is what they said, talked about running a marathon each week. But many of us, and not just politicians are thinking about our general health, physical and mental.

We have inspiring stories of someone climbing Everest by repeated ascending their household stairs. Others are circulating their garden. And these are stories about people much older than I.

The COVID-19 virus is mainly leading to pneumonia. Physical fitness is not a magic antidote to the virus but almost certainly will speed recovery after infection. And might reduce the impact during it for some.

For those in our community who have as yet been unable to break their addiction to smoking, this might be the best ever time to give their lungs a break and stop.

My father, a medical practitioner and tobacco addict said that nicotine was as addictive as heroin. So I'm clear that for most smokers it will be very challenging to tackle. Although we have had to move chat-line staff from "Quit Your Way Scotland" to the COVID-19 helpline, help's still available, with much good material online. And more fundamentally from Pharmacists.

We are having to re-write how primary care works. Many who would never have contemplated an online consultation with a nurse, doctor or other health professional are finding that it's quicker and easier, altogether better than physically visiting a medical centre. We have probably been continuing to work with a model established in the 1940s.

Let's pick up the good changes and keep running with them even after the impact of this "bug" abates.

While making sure those in our communities for whom change is difficult, always get the support they need.


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