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Listening and speaking

We are now about seven months from the dissolution of Session 5 of our reconvened Parliament. And many members are making decisions about their political future. Yesterday, colleague Linda Fabiani was the latest to signal that she would not be a candidate in 2021 when the General Election for Session 6 takes place.

The reasons will be very varied. When someone who has yet to reach middle age decides to leave us, the reasons are likely to include social issues. It has long been recognised that being an elected Parliamentarian means taking up a job that is anything but nine to five.

It's not the only job where one may be away from home many nights each year. Just ask the many offshore oil workers who will be away for several weeks at a time. Or fisherman who spend their week in often stormy waters to bring a delicious array of marine bounty to our tables.

Many riggies come from the North-East of England and have significant journies to make before starting their actual work. Like many MSPs representing rural areas.

But for MSPs, returning home from a week in Edinburgh does not mean an end to their responsibilities. There will be considerable constituency events, surgeries, meetings, visits. Even a domestic visit to the local shop to re-stock the cupboard will be an opportunity for a constituent to approach one with an issue. Journalists can phone at any time seeking comment on an issue. Woe betide a tired MSP's response.

Martina Navratilova was once asked what the secret of her success on the tennis court was. Her response, I paraphrase,

"It's not how I play when I am at my best, it's how I play when I am at my worst."

MSPs have to have a similar ability to break through tiredness, lack of knowledge, even sheer, even if irrational, distaste for the person engaging with one. I have long said that one benefit of retiring as an MSP is that I will be able to be rude to people again. In reality, I think that ability has largely departed, and when I leave office next year, I will be a nicer person than the one I was in 2001 when first elected. No comments, please!

In a week which has been very difficult for one of my colleagues, I think back to when I had trouble with snow and ice in 2010. I had been run ragged by the crisis, hadn't eaten or slept properly, and had lost a stone in weight in a week. It was inevitable that my mind would have slowed down and a poor performance in a TV interview brought things to a head.

I accepted personal responsibility. To this day, people whom I do not know, still come up to me in the street, to commiserate. There's an important point in that. The media frenzy that surrounds difficulty is trumped by the public's broader and more measured judgement. People nod in sympathy, implicitly acknowledging that they too make mistakes in their lives.

Nearly fifty years ago my then boss, Dave now lives in the idyllic Gold Coast north of Auckland, New Zealand, wrote on my annual review,

"Mr Stevenson is excellent at solving problems; especially when he creates them."

A robust, clear, unambiguous response to difficulty is respected beyond what is reflected in the output from the country's newsrooms. They will move on, if justice prevails, to a critical review of responses elsewhere to similar, arguably worse, problems. Reading today's papers, what is clear about is being reported is that there is no clear-headed, unambiguous response which takes personal responsibility and directly addresses others' difficulties.

The YouGov poll just published, and it uses data gathered in the midst of the crisis, seems to reflect public respect for honesty, integrity and a focussed answer to a difficulty.

That neatly brings me back the non-9-to-5 working hours of Parliamentarians. Our First Minister and her team are, I hope, not working hours so unhealthy as to adversely affect their performance. But vacations are missing from their diaries. And from the calendars of most elected officials during the pandemic.

Even in normal times, backbenchers will be working fifty or more hours in a week. As a Government Minister, I could be doing twice that.

With Parliament adapting to hybrid proceedings, a mix of people being able to physically present and others via video-conferencing, a good deal of the travel burden is lifted. But the local shop will still remain a surrogate "surgery" for many of us.

But the change may open the door to more people with non-parliamentary responsibilities to put themselves forward for election. That's got to be good. The widest possible breadth of knowledge and experience will always help inform debate.

As I draw towards the end of today's diary write-up, it is today's debate in Parliament, that I will be turning my mind.

As it is about recovery post-pandemic, it reminds us that there has to be a post-pandemic. We have to prepare for the future as well as firefight present conflagrations.

Looking at the motion and amendments for today. And being mindful that I will almost certainly be the last speaker before the contributions that will sum up and close the debate, I need much more than the simple 786 words that six minutes may require. After a couple of hours, will everything have been said? Good chance.

A motion for debate is a single, often confusingly long, sentence. I start my analysis by breaking down into paragraphs led by each "action verb". And then I mark it up to show how it may be amended by each of the proposals from opposition parties. Today there are four such. As there is no amendment 4 in the list, one may have got "lost in the post".

I now have a quick, readily accessible view of the debate into which can I dip for an extempore speech if, as often happens for the debate's tailender, it has all been said. I append my markup below, for your delectation and delight.

I have my fingers crossed for a good debate because three of the four amendment proposals delete nothing from the Government's motion but merely add to it.

Words, the stuff of life in Parliament. I expect about twenty-five to thirty thousand of them to spill from MSPs' lips into the grasp of the Official Report today.

Another day in paradise. Rather less than two hundred to go before I retire.

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S5M-22396 An Implementation Plan for Economic Recovery-That the Parliament
notes the serious damage to the economy already caused by COVID-19 in Scotland and across the globe;
recognises that the country will continue to face economic damage affecting individuals, communities and businesses for some time to come;
resolves to work collectively in a national mission to build a resilient, inclusive and green recovery, which will build on the natural, economic, social and individual strengths of Scotland to deliver a wellbeing economy;
notes the publication of the reports, Economic Recovery Implementation Plan: The Scottish Government's response to the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery and Addressing the labour market emergency: The Scottish Government's response to the Report by the Enterprise & Skills Board sub-group on measures to mitigate the labour market impacts from COVID-19,
and [.5 remove from here to end] calls for cross-party consensus in taking forward the actions required to deliver on both the recommendations of those groups and the additional actions proposed by the Scottish Government on procurement, sector recovery, SME support and digital support to ensure that Scotland continues to develop its path to recovery,
and acknowledges that further actions for recovery will be set out in its forthcoming Programme for Government, Infrastructure Investment Plan and the updated Climate Change Plan.<+.1><+.2><+.5><+.3>

S5M-22396.1 [CON] insert at end "
; calls on the Scottish Government to work constructively with the UK Government to ensure the continued success in Scotland of the Chancellor's unprecedented support measures, which have protected at least 891,500 Scottish jobs,
and asks the Scottish Government to recognise and respond to requests from key stakeholders for a detailed policy memorandum outlining the timescales and detailed methodology for the implementation of the proposals in the Economic Recovery Implementation Plan and for Ministers to provide the Parliament with that information at the earliest opportunity."

S5M-22396.2 [LAB] insert at end "
; recognises that Scotland needs to make an urgent response to the economic impact of COVID-19,
and urges the Scottish Government to bring forward the Scottish Child Payment,
invest in flexible childcare and bring forward within the next month a quality job guarantee scheme that provides a living wage and focuses on a green and just recovery, which not only invests in those requiring work but also invests in everyone's future."

S5M-22396.5 [GRN] leave out from ", and calls for" to end and insert "
; welcomes the job guarantee scheme, which has been needed since before the COVID-19 pandemic;
recognises the need for the COVID-19 recovery to focus on building a fairer, greener and more equal wellbeing economy;
believes however that these goals require clearer definitions and political will, which have not been shown by the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery;
considers that those who put GDP growth ahead of addressing inequality or the climate emergency are ideological zealots whose advice should be rejected;
notes the enormous potential to create green jobs and cut emissions by supporting the energy efficiency sector,
and calls on the Scottish Government to immediately commit specific resources beyond the 2020-21 budget to scale-up existing home energy efficiency programmes, as promised by the First Minister."

S5M-22396.3 [LD] insert at end "
, and believes that cross-party consensus will be easier to build if Scottish ministers reverse their decision to halt entitlement to expanded nursery schooling for a whole academic year,
take clearer steps to reverse the decade of centralisation of enterprise agency work
and provide the formal estimation of the amounts paid by the UK Government directly to people in Scotland under furlough, unemployment benefits and other COVID-19-related payments, as agreed by the Parliament on 23 June 2020, in order to give a better assessment of the resources both required and available to support people."

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