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Watch my back

Every family is different, and every child will be a distinct character formed by their DNA and by their experience of life. If many of the contacts I have had over the years are anything to go by, grandparents are a vital part of most families. Yesterday's announcement that young children can hug their non-shielding grandparents will be widely welcomed.

It's not something my personal experience has exposed me to. My siblings and I grew up in a family without grandparents. When my parents married at the ages of 32 and 37 all but one of their parents had already died. As the eldest in the family, I overlapped my maternal grandmother's life by a mere fourteen months and have no recollection of her. Indeed I have no photographs of my mother's parents apart from one which may be of me on my grannie's lap. There's no one left to check with.

My family seem to have bred very late in their lives. My youngest grandparent, Alexander Campbell MacGregor, a Gaelic speaker from rural Argyll, was born in 1872, four years before the first telephone was demonstrated. And my oldest, William Stewart Stevenson, born in 1862 in Bo'ness and later married to a Northumbrian, was three when Abraham Lincoln died. So they are part of my ancestry, anchored in history rather than part of any family experience. They exist as stories told rather than lives shared.

So make the most of it, youngsters. Drive your grandparents mad, if necessary, with your questions and cherish the memories they create for you.

I am today wondering if the next bizarre response to the current pandemic will be a Tory-led plan to change the name of one of our local Councils. After all, how can we have a council named "Scottish Borders Council" when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House of Commons aver that there is no border.

The leadership of the Council lies in the hands the Conservative Party although I suspect that the independent Councillors they are in coalition with might resist any proposal to act on the policy brought forward from the most senior politicians in the UK Government. The Convenor of the Council is one such, David Parker, with whom I happily worked on a range of issues when I was a Government Minister. I'm confident he'll keep them distanced from the lunacy of their party colleagues and their ignorance.

But it smells like something else anyway. It has all the characteristics of a classic "straw-man" distraction. Suggest that the Scottish Government has a plan to close (what Tories claim is a) non-existent border, which they don't, and then attack them for it.

I expect we shall find what all this is to cover up in a day or two, buried in the last third of a small article at the bottom of page seventeen of the Daily Telegraph.

Meantime back in the real world. We have got our new more comfortable face masks which we shall be wearing, as usual, when we make our roughly weekly visit to replenish our fresh food supplies. My new one remains a fashionable black but also proudly sports our country's flag.

With the domestic in the forefront of our activities today, I shall also be visiting our local tyre depot to collect a replacement for the deeply en-nailed one which could not be repaired. I have been paranoid about cars without a spare wheel for many years, having owned two previously. Glad to have paid the extra for a skinny get-you-home wheel when I bought a replacement car for its nine-year-old predecessor last year.

I will use the face mask again to collect the new tyre as I did yesterday for my first visit. As well as providing a modest sanitary barrier against my infecting other people, and providing some protection for me, the mask reminds of the behaviours that we all need to continue to adhere to. Not necessarily because it's the law, some aspects of the two-metre rule are being relaxed for some people, but simply because it's common sense.

In another sign of welcome change, I received an email from La Garrigue in Edinburgh's Jeffrey Street, a small French restaurant I visit once or twice a year as a treat. Like many, they have created a home service for their local customers during the last few months. I guess it's a sign of things to come that their email says;

"Even though we are reopening, it doesn't mean that we will stop the takeaway/delivery service. Actually, we are going to do even more!!"

With their having to restrict numbers inside their small bistro for social distancing reasons, it makes sense to find new markets, and to keep the new markets they have already found.

In our own area, we have been enjoying local produce and seeing entrepreneurs adapting to a changing world too.

In Parliament too, I am expecting some permanent change. While not all my colleagues have been happy with attending their Committees by video link, I have found this change very much to my liking.

In two months since we started using this technology, I have attended twenty-eight such meetings. We have only had to suspend, briefly, about three times because an attendee has lost connection. With my being able to attend two meetings at once by using video, that's three more than I could have attended had my physical presence been required. And we have successfully undertaken the full gamut of normal Committee work in them all.

So I am firmly on the side of making this a permanent feature of Parliamentary life. While not important for me, retiring as I am in Spring 2021, it opens the door to people for whom the sacrifice of much of their family life is a barrier to their serving as MSPs. Too many of younger members who are planning to stand down next year are doing so because of the difficulties created by their being away from home for four days a week, thirty-six weeks a year.

If we are genuinely concerned to have an inclusive Parliament, we must keep this change.

Debates in the Chamber, and participating in votes there, remain more problematic. So I welcome that our techies are making progress in delivering a remote voting system. It will be "large-scale" tested later this month.

Not because we can go all electronic. To have debates, particularly when the subject matter is one where no consensus has yet emerged, without being able to see the white of an opponent's eyes, doesn't work that well. To make, or accept, an intervention during a debate just requires physical presence.

Apparently, the current arrangement for my, and others, who have participated in debates by video has caused some uneasiness among some members.

It involves our appearing to face members in the Chamber when we speak. That's quite alien as the protocol is quite clear. We speak through and to the Chair. Indeed we shall be hauled up by the Presiding Officer should we turn around to speak directly to some behind us in the Chamber.

I wonder; will I make my next video contribution to a debate by turning my back to the camera on my PC?

Or will that make MSPs in the Chamber feel slighted?

I have a very attractive back.

And many opponents have said they would be glad to see the back of me.

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