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Showing posts from 2020

Clutter

When big things go wrong, and one feels powerless to do much about them, small things in one's life can become surrogates for one's anger. And there are quite a few big things around at the moment; COVID-19, No-Deal Brexit; A US Presidential Election where the incumbent leads with racist statements.As the end of the current session rushes towards us, many of my colleagues are concluding that they will not be putting themselves forward at the forthcoming election. A couple of our younger colleagues are placing their families first. But most are looking at being in their eighth decade, as I already am, at the end of the next session.
When the two leading candidates for the US President are both older than I am - seventy-four in five week's time - it may seem surprising that retirement may be beckoning for me and others a lustrum younger than I am. But it illustrates the profound differences between being a back-bencher in our Parliament and the political life of a US Senator …

Train time

After one hundred and seventy-four days, I resumed sitting in our Parliament's debating chamber. It was the first time I have seen how members dialling in by video-link look and sound at the "business end".

I found that I was a bit rusty. My only oral contribution this week was to ask a question. As I approached the end of it, a sound from a mobile phone totally distracted me. Worried that it was my own phone, I paused and for about a second, lost the thread of what I was saying. I wasn't that pleased with my neighbour when they returned to their seat. Their phone, not mine.

It just shows that one can travel backwards in one's abilities. Like an athlete who has had an extended layoff and loses muscle tone, my brain had retreated from its previous peak of perfection.

Next week will be our first proper three day week. I think I will ease myself in by participating in the two Member's debates scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be about eleven hundred…

Local matters

As we inch towards new normality, some parts of it reflect the past world.

This week sees the Program for Government which is generally delivered on the first day back after the summer recess. Previously that would have been the first day back in September. And this year despite our not really having had a recess, that's the date it happens.

After many months of physical absence from the parliamentary Chamber, my last attendance there was on Thursday, 12th March, I expect to take my seat for the first time in one hundred and seventy-three days. That is about three times as big a gap as any in my nearly twenty years in Parliament.

But while I have spoken in fewer debates than usual, only three since you ask, and these were all video contributions, I have asked six questions in the Chamber by that same means. My Committee appearances have increased over the previous norm with thirty-four dial-in participations. Last year over the same period saw my attending four fewer meetings over…

Living with error

An interesting week. My first hybrid Committee meeting. I was physically present. Others dialled in by video link. Seemed to work just fine.

The legislative machinery of Parliament has now also gone hybrid. I was able to contribute remotely to a couple of the debates on the Agriculture Bill. This was a vital step to ensure that we can continue to support our farmers as the Brexit transition period comes to an end. It provides the foundations upon which we can now start to work with industry and other stakeholders to build a new support mechanism for 2025 and beyond.

There was a bit of faffing about during some of the votes. While it was being described as technical problems, it seemed to me to more like human ones. There is one MSP, no names, no pack drill, who just cannot get their mind around anything faintly techie.

Given that person's previous professional life, in an area heavily dependent on leading-edge technology, I am beginning to wonder if they just are scunnered at the …

Awareness

The United States of America's Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has nine headings under which it categorises occurrences, incidents and accidents. And those three headings are an indication of increasing severity.

I have appeared, as a pilot, in one incident report filed with the UK equivalent, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). I was flying from Edinburgh to Dornoch with three pals and their golfing equipment.

This Highland airstrip is both long and wide. Conveniently it crosses the southern edge of one of the two Royal Dornoch golf courses upon one of which my friends were due to play. That does mean a careful visual inspection before landing to ensure that golfers have obeyed the notice asking that they cross the runway rapidly and only after looking left and right to see if there are landing aircraft.

It's a lovely location, but not so frequently flown into as to require any advanced aviation facilities such as someone on the ground to speak to inbound pilots.

Even at ma…

Not always "right, right, right"

It's been a cracking week for home-working, and a wee bit of socialising. Sixteen online MSP sign-ins for meetings. And one for a social get-together.

There has been some exercise as well, with my weather-beaten look being more than adequately topped up in the bright sun we have experienced over the last few days.

I splashed out and bought a new gilet. It replaces one I purchased at the Turra Show more than ten years ago. And its replacement might have been acquired from the same stall but for the COVID-driven cancellation of one of our most important local events.

It's a particular shame not have had our usual meeting of Parliamentarians and farmers at the NFU tent. The term hybrid is now most used by your Parliamentarians to describe meetings where some are physically present and others dial-in.

But until this year, this term meant in one part a delightful combination of a formal agenda, speakers and question and answer at that gathering. The other half, justifying the sobr…

Thirty years

As a week, this one looks quite full. Three Committee meetings, Environment, Rural and then COVID-19. But at least they are on three separate days. And a fair few video meetings with assorted others. One being a personal one with my former professional colleagues at Bank of Scotland.

Friday last week, the last of my daily diary write-ups, saw a video session with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Colleagues Mairi Gougeon and Gillian Martin were with me there to hear about a project run in the North-east. One of the great advantages is that it allows self-referral.

MSPs meet many people who are experiencing excess stress in their lives and whose mental health is less than perfect. But who are not ill. They are like someone who has a regular sniffle and carries a hanky. Except that it is far from clear what the mental health equivalent of a hankie is. Mostly it's probably just a listening ear.

We can all do that. But how much better when it is attached to a trained …

A one hundred and fifty day lockdown

You can't have read much of my writings if you do not know that numbers are close to my heart. And today has a big nice round number attached to it. We are all familiar with the Google search engine. Most of us will use it today. The name is a mis-spelling of the name for the number you get when you multiply 10 by 10 one hundred times. The name Googol is the term for that number. For a brief period of time, it was the biggest number with a name.

But after Kasner and Newman came up with that name, they rapidly came up with Googolplex which is the number you get when you multiply 10 by 10 Googol times. We can in our Parliament make the Googol, if not the Googolplex real. There are 129 MSPs. If we allow people to sit randomly in seats, how many possible outcomes are there?

The first person to sit down can choose from 129 available seats. The second person can choose from one less, 128 seats. But the first person left 128 possible arrangements of the remaining seats. So the number of …

A sad farewell

Have been caught by my own writings today. Yesterday I discussed preparing for the unexpected. It is 1700 hours, and this is me just sitting down to write today's notes. They will be rather shorter as well as much later than ever before. Why?

After a week in the south, the return journey went fairly well albeit having to leave at 0715 for the four-hour drive up the A9 and then across from Aviemore to Keith and then home, was rather earlier than I would wish.

During the journey, several text messages came in. I have previously written about how smart the little three-year-old Honda that I got last December is. A prompt comes up to say that the phone has had a text message. A press of a button and it reads it out.

A very welcome message that my god-daughter Darcey made a successful transition from home to school. And thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Mum, on the other hand, is finding that the ergonomics of the kitchen, otherwise known as the office, is fighting her off via the gift of …

Be prepared

Louis Pasteur said that, "Fortune favours the prepared mind".

But in undertaking my Parliamentary duties in Edinburgh, in the constituency or elsewhere, each activity requires preparation. Sometimes that preparation is a quick read of a note prepared by my staff who do much of the heavy-lifting that keeps the Stevenson show on the road. But much has to be personal. The first hour of the day when I read a variety of news media is my filling the brain with things to say when the question requiring an answer is one not previously anticipated.

But day to day preparation is a small part of preparation. Ron Rivest was the mathematician in a group of three who developed a viable public key cryptography system. What does that mean? Does it matter you might say?

Basically, it allows important, particularly financial, information to travel across the public internet without being either read or modified by anyone other than the intended recipient. When I say public internet, a compari…

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 ma…