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Exercise of responsibility

Yesterday was a shopping day. The last one had been thirteen days earlier. The car sits out there in-between times in gentle rebuke to me. Unwashed, unused, unloved.

More telling is that it is ten weeks now since I had to claim for any Parliamentary travel. A minor saving for the public purse; an objective indicator of how we have changed how Parliament works. This week sees my participation in ten online meetings.

I have just completed printing out the papers for today's COVID-19 Committee meeting at which will have the Deputy First Minister John Swinney appearing. Their heart is "Scotland's route map through and out of the crisis". (find it at Apparently, within an hour of publication, it had been downloaded over 100,000 times. That goes far beyond the "usual suspects" who can be relied upon to be engaged in political matters. MOPs (Members of Public) are clearly keeping close tabs on plans too.

The document is unusual in one respect. It is designed to be read on your computer screen. It is presented landscape rather than portrait (long side at the top of the document rather than "book style" where it would be the short edge). And on the left of every page are links to help you turn straight to topics of interest.

I don't know if this style has been used before, but it certainly works for me. And the graphics are clear, communicate well and are used appropriately. Whichever Civil Servants saw this put together deserve credit. Well done.

But it's the content that matters. Good layout removes barriers where bad may have obscured the messages. And the words in it are what will engage our Committee at 0900 today.

For most people, I would guess it will be the "Framework for Decision Making" that will first attract their attention. Like other families, mine has members who are in the "shielded" category. That's people who, for whatever reason, have immune systems that are less able to deal with infections than the general population.

I know from personal experience that this is no trivial matter. Nearly twenty years ago a cousin of mine, a GP in his late sixties, recovered from a leukaemia. He and his wife celebrated by taking a holiday in the West Indies. He became infected by a virus, in this case chickenpox, and with his poorly performing immune system after his chemotherapy, he died.

As an aside, the virus in question can live in the medulla (an area of the brain) for decades, often emerging in later life to cause shingles. And it can take up to three weeks to appear. So the source of my cousin's infection might not have been on holiday. I was recently offered vaccination against shingles. Having seen my father with it many decades ago, I took it.

That vaccine against shingles is said to reduce the possibility of catching it by 50% to 90%. But like many jabs against viruses, it can't totally protect you. Even if we succeed in developing a vaccine against COVID-19, we shouldn't assume it will eliminate the disease.

Our "shielded" citizens have been asked to stay completely at home, not even leave for outdoor exercise or shopping, for at least 12 weeks. What next? And why 12 weeks? Questions we might ask.

Slightly confusingly the document refers to "shielding the vulnerable". But from the outset, that's been label applied to people over the age of 70 but who are not otherwise known to have especially poor immune systems. While "shielding" has been used for people of any age whose immune system is compromised.

This lower risk category is one in which I have a special interest. Because I am in it. And the document appears to make no reference to this group. I am now in my eleventh week of being out of circulation. I suspect, I or someone will ask about that. I do, however, want caution to inform any advice directed towards my group. In part because I have so many things left to do with my life.

Travelling to foreign climes is not really one of them. I have been fortunate to have visited more than a quarter of the world's countries. There are still some on my bucket list - Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Mongolia would be among them. But there are reasons more substantial than fear of catching a bug for not visiting some on that list.

I can think back to 1980 when we visited Peru. They had just had an election. There was considerable debate about who had won. As we travelled from Lima Airport to our hotel in the city centre, our bus had to weave its way through burning vehicles on the outskirts. The debate was being conducted via low-level violence.

As was then our habit we purchased and then wrote our postcards home. We posted them at about three o'clock on the Saturday afternoon of our arrival. Astonishingly, they arrived in Edinburgh on Monday. Our BCal flight which had left Lima to continue to Santiago de Chile before returning via Lima to London Gatwick must have picked up our mail. One thing at least worked in the country. Other matters were more problematic.

As we travelled across the country, our bus was stoned on a number of occasions and indeed we lost windows. Eventually, we reached Juliaca Airport for Puno on a flight from Arequipa. This should have been a wee warning as the advice was to go out to the airport under cover of darkness to avoid attack. We did.

Juliaca Airport was about 11,000 feet up in the Andes. And in those days our flight was the only weekly flight. Today I note there are eight aircraft arriving. But more fundamentally, today it is a tarmac runway and there is a modern terminal.

In 1980 it was a grass and gravel surface that our 50 seat jet landed on. We hadn't so much come down to land as the land had come up to meet us from below. There was nothing there. Absolutely nothing apart from a six-foot square hut with a radio mast on top. No control tower and no terminal building. There was a fleet of taxis waiting at the edge of the field. The AeroPeru aircraft's crew deplaned, including the Captain, emptied the baggage onto to the grass and gesticulated in a friendly fashion towards the taxis.

There had been a few further issues en route which I will pass over. After this part of our visit, the plan had been to travel from Puno to Cuzco by train, about 300 Km. But it was on strike. So it had to be a taxi shared with another couple. An elderly American saloon with a thin squab to sit on through which my rear could feel rivets. I may bear the scars still.

More critically, the road was a dirt track and not built for speed. At the place where the first bridge should have been, there was only a gap. We travelled up the bank of the river and found somewhere to ford across. This was repeated quite a few times.

Eventually, we reached a hillside that had apparently been dynamited. The road was totally blocked. So our taxi driver turned back. Turned off to travel via another route. We drove through a village square. As we did so there was a substantial thump just behind me. The taxi driver did not stop. That turned out to be wise. It transpired that the thump was a heavy calibre bullet hitting the car. The two sides of the village square had been shooting at each other and we had just driven through that.

So in considering those countries I would wish to visit, I will bear my Peruvian experience in mind. So I suspect, it's stay at home.

That's my exercising personal decision-making in my life.

As we move from legal restraints to personal decisions in the pandemic world, we are all going to have to exercise caution. Not everything the law will permit us to do is always wise for all of us.

So it's opportunities created for us all, but not rights we should necessarily exercise.

Think on.


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