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Showing posts from July, 2020

Welcome to helpful stress

They come to us to acquire skills, to gain academic credits for their degree. I made reference to one of my interns earlier this week. And I want to devote today's diary to thoughts about the many who have assisted me in our Parliament.

For the most part, it is US students aged between eighteen and twenty-five who come to extend their knowledge and burnish their CV.

Many will have been interns in their State legislatures. Some have made it to the Federal Senate or House of Representatives. Their tales of their time there show a very marked difference from our environment. Only rarely will they have even met their nominal boss. One spoke of a Senator's team being about seventy people. The dynamics of Holyrood where our allowances provide for us to employ three people to cover Parliament and Constituency is clearly very, very different.

Having a big team of seventy is no excuse for its leader not meeting and listening to each and every one.

When I ran big teams, much bigger than…

A dying King

Yesterday was not a good day, diary-writing wise.

Quite properly, it is a task that has to take second place to preparation for meetings, discussions about my future activities and the concerns raised by constituents. So I was very late and very rushed.

The most difficult aspect of writing is writing right. All the electronic assistants to writing, I type into app.grammarly.com which is pretty good at highlighting as I type; mis-spellings, poor grammar, infelicitous phrasing, bad punctuation. It can even if you subscribe, do a plagiarism check. But it cannot catch every attempt a tired and inattentive brain will make to mangle ideas before they pass via the keyboard into the resulting diary.

I try to proofread my words after they are written. Re-reading one's words in the form they were written is difficult, very difficult. The author reads what the author thinks they had written, not what is actually "on the page". So a means of mentally resetting one's perception o…

Learning for our future

Yesterday was a day for which the phrase "blowing a hoolie" was coined.

It being blue bin day, that's recycling for Aberdeenshire Council, ours had been put out for emptying on Monday evening. But by the time I left the house and walked up the track to the road, the wind had knocked it over and distributed its contents in three directions. So there was a quarter-hour of litter pick up before I could start my walk. And a successful search for a place to leave the newly re-filled bin where it would not be re-emptied by the wind spirits.

I also got caught by Tom Peterkin of the Press and Journal and requested to send him a photo of myself wearing a mask. I had one to hand and could easily understand why Tom might want it.

The COVID-19 Committee ended with my having what could only be described as having a bit of a rant. Graham Simpson, who was a visitor at our meeting, opened his questioning with the subject of face-coverings, "Whatever someone thinks about mandating t…

Repetition saves lives

Yesterday was a wet day. Bucketing down. I am hoping that this is not going to affect the fruit I look to harvest over the next couple of months.

It was the start of a week which although nominally still seeing Parliament in recess, will see an update statement from the First Minister and, for me, a meeting of the COVID-19 Committee later today. We shall be considering a number of pieces of secondary legislation made under the emergency Acts passed at Holyrood and Westminster. Jeanne Freeman and Michael Russell will be appearing before us as part of the review process that happens for all legislation.

The slow walk away from the most severe restrictions of COVID-19 continues. Later this week herself has a dental appointment, and next week it's hair.

But some people are not quite getting that progress in suppressing this virus continues to depend on social distancing. A delivery driver who was looking for a house whose name I did not recognise tried to march right up to the window …

Righting my name

According to Mr Yahoo a currant is a specific kind of berry. So therefore when people south of the border describe a fruit as a "blackberry", we might, as a tease, ask "which one?". I suspect we all know they really mean a bramble.

So therefore a blackcurrant is a black berry but not a blackberry. But is a blackcurrant the only black currant?

The whole issue of fruits and their naming is a complex one. There won't be a week in our household without a tomato on the table. But most people would suggest that's a vegetable. And indeed the US Supreme Court ruled in 1893 that it is. Biologists continue to hold the view that it's a fruit. As are cucumbers, marrows and many other "vegetables".

The 1893 decision is a perfect example of imperfect law.

But it doesn't stand alone.

Four years later Indiana considered a "Pi Bill" at the behest of Taylor Record. This Bill sought to express in law the squaring of the circle and hence, by implica…

Spies ahoy!

Four days ago I featured the Westminster report on Russian interference in the UK's political system in my diary blog and wrote;

"As the preparation of today's diary scribbles has involved my visiting five significant state security service web sites, I expect I shall pop up on a few of their lists later today."

I can now report an interesting outcome from Wednesday's writing. I did not happen to tweet or Facebook that day's diary. And yet the statistics for this week show about ten times the usual traffic. Almost all for that one post.

It included a significant uplift in the numbers of readers from the USA and the UK. And no reads from Russia or other former Soviet countries apart from Romania which is second in the list (29% of the total) just behind the UK. My American friends are third.

My main website at http://stewartstevenson.scot/ has a rather different profile. The USA comes top with Italy, Italy!, close behind. The UK is third with under 19% of the r…

The key to success?

No one can be in total control of their lives. External events intrude. Other entities make their own attempts to control the environment around them.

The lady who lives somewhere under the bonnet of my Honda Civic is one such external director. She has stopped trying to bully me about the seat belt in my car. But only because I am now conforming to her requirements.

Driving from the front door to our previously shut gate, without wearing my seat belt, would lead to a refusal to acknowledge pressure on the throttle by moving off stand. And upon return, exiting the car to open the gate would lead to a warning that the door was open while the engine was running.

It didn't get any better when I resumed my seat and attempted to drive onto our policies. An oral request from my vehicular boss would demand that I release the parking brake. It's an electronic brake that releases itself when you press the throttle. But only if you are wearing your seat belt.

The car-boss also gets a bi…

Semper Vigilio

Today is day 130 since my personal lockdown as a "vulnerable" person started on 17th March.

Here's some things I said in my first daily diary back then.
"For a week or two, we've moved from handshakes to elbow bumps""I miss the gossip""It is quite surprising how much of my work is done via a computer keyboard" For the members of our family who have had to be shielded, it's been somewhat tougher than for me. I have been able to take outdoor exercise every day, albeit when the weather has been bad, it's been indoor rowing rather than outdoor walking.

A visit to the shops roughly every eight to ten days has reminded us that there are still other humans out there. My walks have involved brief chats, or a "hullo", over the garden fence, but people in any number it ain't been. And Parliamentary activity has continued via Messrs Bluejeans, Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

The word "us" has also been important. My "s…

Visit or invasion?

It is encouraging to read about vaccines making their way successfully through the early stages of testing. I have been tracking some of the discussion about the SARS-CoV-2 virus in some of the scientific literature. But have to confess that while I can follow the flow of the academic arguments, I find that details ain't sticking in my memory.

I will hardly be alone in having to defer to people with decades of training and experience. However, I have at other stages of my life, seen people benefit from inoculation or vaccination.

More critically, I knew of a family where the parents decided not to allow either of the Salk or Sabin vaccinations against polio to be administered to any of their children. All three caught polio. Although long term there seems to have been no effects, there were many years of misery for the children concerned.

Albert Sabin and Jonas Salk share the glory of all but eradicating polio. But their vaccinations were radically different. Sabin's arrived f…

Russia et al

After yesterday's publication of a Westminster report into foreign state meddling in UK democratic decisions, my mind turns to the issue of leadership. Perhaps the fundamental failing identified, and I am assuming that the Parliamentary Committee had access to information that underpinned their conclusions but which is not necessarily shared with us, lay with the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

The first thing on MI6's web pages is the statement that "We work overseas to help make the UK a safer and more prosperous place". There is much worth a read (https://sis.gov.uk/) but what stands out is their statement that "Everything we do is tasked and authorised by senior government ministers".

Buried at little deeper on MI5's web site (https://www.mi5.gov.uk/) it says, "we formulate our own set of plans and priorities, which the Home Secretary approves."

But there is also GCHQ who on its web site (https://www.gchq.…

Workin' awa

Out and about I saw a youngster sitting with dad in the cab of one of these big modern tractors. Rather like me as a doctor's son. Mother could get some relief from the, presumed, incessant demands of her firstborn by dumping me into father's care. I sat with him as he made his rural calls on patients.

Apparently, I had the habit of dropping a shoe out of the car window. So I imagine it may not have the cheapest option to get a bit of peace. For my part, I have no recollection of the shoe disposal.

I resumed travelling around with my father when I reached seventeen. While I had been driving cars for some years, mostly but not exclusively on private land, it was time to become familiar with the highway and all its signs.

Father sat beside me, not to teach me to drive, but to meet the legal requirement for supervision of an "L-plated" driver. I had read all the books, especially the Highway Code, and needed no input from himself. Or so I thought.

My first test demonst…

Newsing

Today, as every day, I rise from my slumbers, pad through to the kitchen to make porridge and then sit down to breakfast in front of some of my computers.

The order I then read the morning's media is theoretically random but actually formed of habit. It follows a predictable pattern. With the Financial Times being my most expensive monthly indulgence, it comes top of my reading list. Even the recently announced reduction in tax on online media will make no difference. The FT is pocketing the saving and my subscription will remain the same. It actually costs more than I pay for my broadband connection.

Is it worth it? Yes. But is it worth more than my next read which is free? That's the Independent. A very different publication and since 2016, online-only. And apparently making a financial success of it. Their figures published in March show a profit of £2.3 million on £27 million turnover (source: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/independent-financial-results-profits-…

Late, but not too late

It has been some time since I sat down to start my daily diary at three in the afternoon. It is the weekend, and so I guess I am allowed a bit of time off from the mandates in my own calendar.

We head into a new week where for the first time our, now sixth-decade, First Minister will present but three updates on the SAR-CoV-2 virus in Scotland. Today's deflection from the timetable I have previously put down for myself also relates to the virus.

One of my distant cousins, Ken - who is a fifth cousin twice removed, lives in Massachusetts, USA and is chafing at the bit because his local family research centre is closed because of the virus. He asked for my assistance in finding the ancestors of his seven greats grandparents, they are my five greats etc., and always being up for a challenge, I diverted from good timekeeping to help.

In this particular case, it's one of these tricky ones. They are from the English quarter of my family. But only just, in the sense that living clos…

Second-hand politicians

As I was out for my walk yesterday, seven miles since you ask, it struck me that my putting one foot in front of the other was in no way specifically an MSP activity. Indeed if viewed without prior knowledge, and with the sound off, the daily actions other than our appearing in Parliament would look much like other office workers.

In a media world, almost any activity can be the subject of a "fly on the wall" series. I watch "Bangers and Cash" which follows the Mathewson family scouring the outhouses of the country for, mostly, immobile old cars which then get sold at their monthly auction in the village hall in Thornton Le-Dale in Yorkshire.

Given that my first five or six cars cost no more than a fiver, I am familiar with the task of running transport on a budget as close to zero as you could imagine. The main cost in my early motoring days was simply my time. And generous expenditure on Swarfega hand cleaner. It was a sort of green "gloop" that magical…

Stand alone, fall alone or collaborate

The UK responded to my complaint in yesterday's scrivenings about the absence of any information on their takeover proposals relating to oversight of the post-Brexit single market by publishing a document later that day. So now I read it.

All the talk about co-operation and collaboration seems to have been just that. With all four administrations agreed that a shared oversight regime was required, it seems passing strange that only one of the four regimes - Westminster - has signed the document. But then it been produced without any meaningful discussion around the table about its contents.

It's interesting that one of the areas referred to as successful joint working related to the Climate Change Committee. Perhaps they just forgot that a part of that success might stem from the co-decision-making that it incorporates. No board member may be appointed without the agreement of all the Governments.

That's not just a theoretical statement. As our Climate Change Minister, I o…