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A non-Christmas pantomime

It's a sign of the developing new normal in my personal life that the past week only saw me walk on only four of the seven days. Not because of any desire to avoid exercise, I spent 80 minutes on the rowing machine at a high-intensity 40 cycles per minute instead, no.

My days are busier. Filled with timetabled commitments that make it difficult to find the two hours and twenty minutes that I spent walking 7.34 miles last Thursday, for example.

Now there are other uses to which I could have put such a period. I could have been a member of a pantomime parliament and stood patiently in line to vote three times as some did in London yesterday. But actually, that required a full three hours, forty minutes more than I used for exercise on my last "big walk".

In our Parliament, three votes would have taken about 3 to 4 minutes. A voting period of one minute for the first, 30 seconds for each of the following ones and up to a couple of minutes for the Presiding Officer to call each vote and announce each result. And we have been doing it this way for twenty years. Zero novelty. Oh, and a print-out of how everybody cast their vote is immediately available.

One of today's newspapers estimates that yesterday's pantomime cost about £200,000.

So what else might we use three hours for?

The World Record for running 26.219 miles, a marathon, is 2 hours 1 minute and 39 seconds. Maybe we could fit in a half marathon as well?

Plenty of time to travel from Cape Canaveral to an orbit around the earth. Last week's SpaceX mission did that in under nine minutes. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin's entire space flight, including an orbit of the earth, took 1 hour 48 minutes so we could have fitted that in.

Indeed this morning's meeting of the COVID-19 Committee lasted under two hours. And covered a substantial amount of ground.

So lots of more useful ways to deploy hundreds of people earning £81,000 per year.

The MPs only need wander the short distance to visit their colleagues in Westminster who sit on red benches - the House of Lords - to see that traditions need not be sacrificed, although I might argue that many should be, while making efficient use of time. They now vote by pressing a button on their phone, tablet or computer's screen.

I have just twigged that I am being rather unfair to all those who through their efforts, delight children, and parents pretending not to be children, across the land who enjoy a good pantomime. I don't think any of them need three hours.

Westminster, look behind you! Oops! There's nobody there following your example. Absolutely nowhere in the world.

The only similarly silly thing I can recall might have been the building of Potemkin villages to deceive the very short-sighted Catherine the Great. Here's how Wikipedia describes today's meaning:

"In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction (literal or figurative) whose sole purpose is to provide an external fa├žade to a country which is faring poorly, making people believe that the country is faring better."

In fact, that's unfair to Potemkin villages. I have neither heard of anyone suggesting that the intention is to make people feel good about what is going on.

Catherine may have had short-sighted eyes but was very far-sighted in one particular respect that is relevant to today. She recognised the scourge of smallpox and had herself inoculated against it by an English doctor, Thomas Dinsdale, who later was elected to Parliament. As a rationalist and innovator, I guess he would be flabbergasted by the failure to make any real progress from the methods used when he was in Parliament more than two hundred years ago.

But Catherine didn't leave the smallpox issue there. Her actions led to over 2 million people in Russia being protected from the disease through inoculation.

Now that's the grump over. For now.

Yesterday saw a phased return of a fellow 8th decader to Parliament, the Deputy Presiding Officer, Christine Grahame. And it was she who was in the chair when I dialled in to make my speech on the economy's development as we very slowly move away from the most intensive period of the COVID pandemic.

She has lost none of her bite during her period at home. Her focussed remarks addressed to someone (you know who you are David) seated on the very back row of the Parliamentary Chamber were as pointed as ever. Keep quiet!

David had obviously forgotten that it's particularly easy to hear conversations happening at the back when you are in the chair at the front.

With Christine back, there will be conversations with others in her position about their return. She, of course, has a position which cannot readily be undertaken at home.

For my part, having no such position, there is only one thing I cannot do at home; join in Chamber votes. And the Parliamentary boffins are working on that. But the door of Parliament has opened enough to give me a glimpse of a new chapter in my time as an MSP. Bring it on.

The COVID Committee meeting today gave me the opportunity to raise a few important matters with the Cabinet Secretary. Would I ever raise a trivial matter? Of course not.

I am most exercised and have no specific proposal to offer, about the position of many children who are locked-in with a shielded parent. For such a young person, the stay-at-home period might represent some 3% of their entire life. The time distance to the 11th of August when schools go back and they may meet their pals for the first time since March, properly socially distanced of course, will be almost indistinguishable from being an infinite period ahead.

For me, it is a mere 0.3% of my life to date, although it's a substantially greater proportion of my remaining time. Unless I work out how to live forever. Working on it, Working on it.

So I have a commitment that he will discuss with colleagues, what focussed action we might take to help this section of our community for whom the restrictions of lockdown have been particularly onerous.

There is clearly still a willingness for most MSPs to work to a common cause regardless of their party affiliation.

We move forward. Provided we all behave.

Quiet at the back David.

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