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Real World 1 : Virtual World 4

Thursdays would normally be interesting and busy days. First Minister's Questions are not merely an opportunity to raise important issues of the day. They are also the premier public event in Parliament's week.

Yes, it can be a bit boisterous on occasion. To the extent that I generally phone my spouse to get her feedback. Often those of us sitting in "the body of the kirk" don't hear some of the detail. By contrast the microphones of whoever the protagonists are will pick up what's said with a clarity that enables those watching at home to hear what we don't.

The virtual sessions of FMQs are serving their purpose very well. Albeit that shouting from the sidelines in the chamber is now translated to MSPs shouting at their computer at home. It's functional but strangely lifeless.

Today we move on to a virtual question time for backbenchers. Four Cabinet Secretaries will be available for an hour of questioning. Unlike the normal sessions in the Parliament, no opening questions have been published in advance. So the Government Ministers have no sense of what may be coming.

The Australian Federal Parliament has taken this kind of approach for a long time. To the extent that the Minister who answers the first question may defer to another Minister to answer supplementary questions on the same topic.

But then that Parliament, although it appears to be based on Westminster, has a rather different set of outcomes. A randomly chosen session that I viewed some years ago had, if I recall correctly, seven suspensions of members from the proceedings because of the robustness, a rather polite word for what was going on, of their contributions to the session.

I am fortunate to be one of those chosen to ask a question this afternoon. Our Parliament's boffins in our broadcasting unit are leaving nothing to chance. We had one-on-one or two or three on one technical connection trials yesterday. This morning a full "dress rehearsal". I may even shave for the occasion.

And we have to "muster" a full 30 minutes before the start of questioning at 1430—nothing left to chance.

An online social event with former colleagues illustrated just how much can go wrong. We met at 1900 for 30 minutes to chew the fat. The platform we were using allows up to 45 minutes for free with up to 100 participants.

We were but nine or ten, Dougie kept dropping in and out and was never heard nor seen.

But it was nearly zero as our "host" emailed to say that his broadband link had failed just at the time we were scheduled to start. He dug out his smart-phone and we started 10 minutes late. We never pinned down who had a "scratchy" microphone. It wasn't me.

By contrast, the RSA international discussion earlier in the day involved about 45 people and went without a technical hitch. It allowed "break-out" sessions involving 6 or 8 people who discussed in more depth some of the subject matter. Altogether a useful session revealing how people in different countries are coping with COVID-19. 

I was pleased to see that Andy Kerr, formerly Minister of Health and Community Care at Holyrood, was one of the attendees. Keep up the good work at Sense Scotland Andy.

So, one way or another I am well-rehearsed for this afternoon's Parliamentary session.

And then I have two further online meetings. The second is a social one in the evening where my god-daughter Darcey will have the opportunity to brief me about what she and her peer group of 8-year-olds have been up to. Maybe even hearing how good, or not, mum and dad are at the home-schooling—looking forward to it.

But not quite all life is online. Although an increasing amount of mine is. The exercise regime continues. Today I left the house at 0550 to walk the nearly 8 miles down to the Co-op at Banff. My spouse left considerably later - in the car - to go for our top-up shop. Eight days since our last shopping and five weeks since either of us has been in Banff, our nearest town of substance.

Less excitingly, it seems to be business as usual at HMRC. My tax return forms arrived yesterday by Royal Mail. Yodel delivered some wine my spouse had ordered. DPD delivered ink for my printer. And Hermes arrived with a new suit I ordered last week. Four delivery companies at our gate in a single day. Great for us. But efficient? Hmmm.

Hermes sent me an email saying they'd delivered my suit at 1816. I received the email at 1717. And looked out the window at 1718 to see it on the table. I told you a few days ago that this fiddling around with the clocks was bad news. 

There are definitely fewer lambs around this year. That's not an audited figure, just my observation as I walk the countryside. One of the parks I pass has two tups in the inbye land at one of the farms. Quite right. They are too valuable to be left out of sight. But boys, the evidence of my eyes says you had a lazy autumn last year. Scotch lamb is something I look forward to on my plate. I hope to see it there later in the year. Oh and mutton's not at all bad in a stew as well.

In a previous diary entry, I recounted my bafflement at what seemed to be nails which had been hammered into the road to hold a washer in place. Mystery solved!

It turns out that they are surveyors' triangulation marks. They are called setting-out points. The washer isn't what matters. It's just there so you can find the nail. I even got sent the address of a web site where you buy these special nails. If you need setting-out nails go to

Now my next big decision. Will I shave a week's beard off before the Parliamentary questions this afternoon? Well, I have a new suit. Maybe should also have a new face. (Quiet at the back please!)


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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".

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