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Never watch laws or sausages being made

Small steps can add up over time. Today is my fifty-fifth day of social isolation, and hence the 55th time I have sat down to write a daily diary. And over time, that means I have 60,040 words written down.

At the outset had I contemplated an exercise which involved writing anything that I could see even faintly as being of that scale, I would not have set out on any writing at all.

Similarly had my inserting an hour for walking into my daily schedule been presented as my walking 300 miles, I would not have stirred from the sofa. In the event, I ain't going to reach that 300 by Tuesday.

Yesterday's weather was extremely inclement; lots of rain - the garden says "thank you". So I took my daily exercise via an extended period on the rowing machine. It's something I've been encouraged to do by a niece's partner. Having cycled right around Australia, he knows a bit about exercise. And like all long-distance athletes, he carries not an ounce of spare fat.

He advocates the rowing machine as a way of breaking the pattern, a way of preventing boredom. And, more fundamentally, a way of introducing more serious cardio to my fitness regime. So it proved with my heart rate higher after 15 intensive minutes rowing than it's ever been after two hours walking.

More interestingly, the recovery time was quicker. The delay before one's heartbeat returns to normal levels is a key indicator of fitness. So today will be a split regime; an hour or so walking and 20 minutes rowing.

That will also keep the lower limbs' fitness where it needs to be while moving some of the muscle-building onto the upper body where the focus should now be.

The other thing that is showing youth and vigour where it was previously not much apparent is my hair. Its colour remains that of an eighth-decader, but it's like fertiliser has been sprinkled on when one views its growth.

Some of my colleagues have adopted the "shave it all off" approach to the tonsorial challenge of not being able to visit the barber. Others like our First Minister, are reported to be self-cutting. I have never wanted the job she does, even in "peace-time", and lack an ability to see the back of my head where the challenge of my hair is reported to be greatest. So my strategy is different.

My political colleague Chris Law MP, less grey-haired than me but making progress in that direction, sports a pigtail. It seems to involve less effort and be less risky than either of the two other approaches taken by others. It is also may suit someone like myself who is unafraid to depart from the pack in style matters. My various galluses are, for example, the subject of much admiration, but have not led to wide-spread emulation.
I will get there incrementally, a wee bit each day, and have to expend little effort. Sounds like a plan.

In political discourse too, increments take one to a destination. During the passage of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, I laid many amendments to the draft Bill. At the final stage on 23rd January 2003, I managed to secure an important change which I had been seeking for over a year. It read:

Stewart Stevenson
Supported by: Pauline McNeill

211 In the long title, page 1, line 1, leave out
<secure> and insert <establish statutory>

and it was supported by 98 MSPs, opposed by 18. As an indication of the changing fortunes of what was then and remains an opposition party, only two of the eighteen remain with us in Parliament.

So the culmination of a year's effort was to remove a single word and add back two. I felt very pleased with my efforts on this, supported by a Labour MSP, as opposition members can find it difficult to make a change when confronted by an administration with a comfortable majority.

And this little change had a big effect on the overall meaning of the resulting Act.

There has been a very long debate and many legal actions in Scotland about the general public's right to access land where the ownership of the right to occupy and use it lies with others. The term trespass is essentially an English legal construct and exists in only one title of an Act for Scotland - the Trespass (Scotland) Act 1865. The effect of that small Act is very limited, as an edited reading of its Section 3 shows:

3. ...
(1) Every person who lodges in any premises, or occupies or encamps on any land, being private property, without the consent and permission of the owner ... and every person who encamps or lights a fire ... without the consent and permission of the owner or legal occupier ... shall be guilty of an offence

(2) Subsection (1) above does not extend to anything done by a person in the exercise of the access rights created by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (asp 2).


with Subsection (2) making clear that the 2003 Act restricts the effect of the 150-year-old law.

But my change was important because it made clear that the new Act merely added to the existing rights of access. Powers asserted by the public and never overturned by courts. After my change, it was clear that the Act did not contain all the rights that people in Scotland could exercise.

So little changes matter quite a lot.

This week in Parliament, we are being asked to agree to another Bill, this time relating to how we deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. I expect the Bill, the second with such a purpose, to be published tomorrow. The COVID-19 Committee of which I am part will be meeting at 1730 that day for our first consideration of it—and continuing on Tuesday morning.

We have been advised that it represents "fine-tuning" (my phrase, not the Government's) of the previous Bill. When we do things at the rush, and this kind of legislation normally takes nearly a year, there will always be a bit of tidying up to do.

A busy week beckons and a reduction of the time I spend walking, but transfer as higher energy but a lesser period rowing will assist.

We will this week, as every time we make laws, have to demonstrate that we act in the public interest. Cross-party I know that we all want to do so. Because it is the power lent to us as Parliamentarians by the people, that we exercise.

As Cicero said two thousand years ago, "The greatest power of the law is power to the people".

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