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Showing posts from August, 2020

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…

Busy, busy

As I look at the post-election crisis in Belarus, I join lots of others in wondering about the limitations of democracy. Coupled with the musings of Trump about whether he will actually leave the White House if he doesn't like November's result, these are challenging times for democrats, perhaps in the USA, opportunities for Democrats.

Today in our Parliament's Environment Committee meeting, we resume consideration of the distribution of powers post Brexit. Or perhaps that's re-distribution as the UK Government seeks to retake control over powers lying in Edinburgh since 1999.

But we shouldn't necessarily ignore some opportunities. The UK Government's white paper on the state's internal market is a threat, yes. But could it also be an opportunity?

It requires mutual acceptance of standards set by one jurisdiction by all the others. So let's think about the proposals to dramatically lower food standards. Align the USA on chlorinated chicken, hormone and …

Weighing in

There is excitement in my god-daughter's household. This is the week when school's back. When you have spent months only in the company of adults, a return to having a good gossip with your peers is like having a hod of bricks taken off your shoulder.

You can learn how to carry a heavy weight but not necessarily welcome the opportunity to do so.

As a student, one of my summer jobs was as a van driver for a laundry company. I previously wrote about my visits in that role to our local GCHQ outstation. But every day was a different round. But almost every day involved heavy-lifting.

It was one of the first things I got taught before being sent out on my own with the van. For the first week, the foreman came with me while I learned the routes I would be following each day.

The pattern of the routes was straightforward. From 0900 to about 1100 hours, I called on domestic dwellings. Returning the freshly laundered items which had been given to the van-man a week ago. And collecting …

Impenetrable as nights

It's so warm out there that it's almost a relief to be able to sit indoors behind the thick insulating stone walls of our house. I am on a sofa at the end of our sitting room furthermost from the TV. That is not, however, giving me all the peace that will assist in detaching keystrokes from my fingers into the computer on my lap.
Donald Ruirh, our elderly gentleman cat, is abjuring his morning snooze in favour of "throw and fetch". He has a wee toy made by our neighbour which is simply a knot tied in a small piece of material. But at the heart of it is some catnip. One sniff of that and cats rise from the most profound slumber to draw its intoxicating fumes into their lungs

The pupils of his eyes are wide as he hops up beside me with this between his teeth and a continuous purr is amplified by his partially open mouth. Should I ignore his presence, and the newly deposited toy, a paw will engage my arm. On the second occasion, it will be augmented by the full armoury …

As we sow, we reap

Not everything changes because of the pandemic. The spring barley was planted on schedule earlier this year just across the road from the entrance to the track down to our house. And this week the combine is in the field harvesting the results.

This layman's eye reckons it looks a good crop. No rain had flattened any of that field and even the damp hollow on one edge of the field showed no lack of growth.

By comparison with a farmer who tries to earn a living from milk and therefore is tied every single day of the year to the needs of their beasts, the arable farmer seems to have an easy life. Not necessarily.

While it is possible to lay-off some of the risks from weather, disease and variable price for one's crop, that simply means sharing the income with others who take on your risk.

The field near us was cut in two days. The stalks became neatly bound rolls of straw and the grain had been carried away. Speed is of the essence and mechanisation the key to that. The modern c…

Beached

Today marks a significant step back out into the community. I shall be visiting Cairnbulg harbour to see the debris brought ashore from our seas. Some of my political colleagues in the community are getting seriously engaged in this issue and want me to see what's happening on their beaches.
It's a good first outside engagement since March. Firstly because it is outside, it will be easy to maintain a two-metre distance, and there's no reason why I cannot wear a mask. And secondly because as we are a significantly coastal area, it is an issue that matters to us.

One of the organisations that are engaged in the sea litter issue is KIMO. They describe themselves as a "network of local governments, working together for healthy seas, cleaner beaches, and thriving coastal communities."

It was originally founded thirty years ago in Denmark. That's a country I feel a substantial affinity with, not least because my nephew works as a teacher there and has bi-lingual, D…

A new use for a brick or a hammer

I seem no longer to exist. In one sense at least. And not for the first time.

Our postcode being a rural one covers as a mere six locations, all domestic dwellings. The maximum possible is ninety-nine.

The postcode system was first piloted in 1959 in Norwich in East Anglia with a code that was the characters "NOR" after which came some numbers. The pilot led to a different approach when the UK roll-out started in 1966. And Norwich was the last area to get a modern-style code in 1974.

Aberdeen was an early place to get its postcodes. Perhaps the first in Scotland. I well remember being sceptical. I posted two letters in Old Aberdeen, where the main part of the city University is located. One had the old-style address, sans postcode, of my digs in Victoria Road, Torry. The other simply had the house number and the postcode.

One arrived a day before the other. The postcode slowed down delivery.

The AB prefix didn't just extend to cover Aberdeen but extended well into rural…

Baron times

The latest list of peerages brings back to centre stage the question of what is democracy? And it's not just my political colleagues who are noticing the relevance of the question. Although the SNP have nailed their colours to the mast and have never put forward anyone for nomination.

I confess to having brought forward a resolution to our national conference some years ago suggesting that we should do so. On the basis that we should be there to keep an eye on Scotland's interest in a body that had significant power over us. I cannot quite remember when I did this. May have been 2006. But our conference was very clear in its view. The proposition was heavily defeated.

When the second story, it comes below that huge explosion in Beiruit, from the New York Times engages with the democracy question raised by the PM's list of new peers, you know that this is a matter which is further undermining the idea that Scotland is part of a democratic state.

Here's what the "ot…

Taking a long view

Today's that annual reminder of my comparatively modest academic achievements. The day when school students across our country receive the formal record of how they have done in their studies.

I suppose I am a living example that exam results less than you hoped for are not "the end".

But most receiving results today will be demonstrating achievements. And using them to move on to, more study at a higher level, the world of work, or the mind-expanding experience of a few months or a year off.

Alas, the choice of a year's travelling around the globe is all but shut off for the time being. The world will still be there in years to come.

It wasn't really an option for us after school. None of my classmates packed up, and hopped away. We were a less confident group than today's youngsters. The education system rigidly prepared us to pass exams, to be able to demonstrate that we had acquired knowledge.

Few of us had learned how to learn. Even fewer had the confid…

In sight of some difficulties

As we gradually move from the most restrictive of lockdowns, things change for my close relatives. One, who has been shielding, returned to her work in a care home on Thursday.

She was previously the matron, but as she is now in her late sixties, she stepped back from management a couple of years ago. As she writes on her Facebook page;

"First day back at work yesterday! Lovely to see people but I had forgotten about the heat when you're busy, not helped by wearing full PPE!"

I haven't had a report from her cat Lucy. But if our pair are anything to go by there will be mewing and pacing. They almost immediately leap onto my lap when I sit down. Quite new behaviour. Like my MP colleague John Nicholson's cat Rojo, our Donald Ruirdh has appeared on screen during a broadcast Parliamentary Committee meeting, but fortunately, my camera was not on the broadcast matrix at the time. Notoriety avoided.

But Lucy and others of our domestic animal companions will be likely to …

I love trains

Sundays are the day for checking that everything is in place for the week ahead. The meetings in the calendar include discussion of our environment. When I was appointed Climate Change Minister in 2007, it moved that topic up my personal interests list. And it has remained there. Yes, COVID-19 is our immediate and very pressing problem. Yes, by reducing our travel it has checked our greenhouse footprint. But we lose that if we up our car mileage post-pandemic.

With Scotrail back to near normal tomorrow, we now, after a considerable period of actively encouraging the opposite, must get us back onto public transport.

All its previous advantages, lower cost, lower stress, lower environmental footprint are still there. Lower cost you say, Stewart? Yes, I do! Let's nail it now.

When I travel by car on Parliamentary business, I am reimbursed at the rate of 45 pence per mile. And the taxman does not charge me for the sums I receive. Because simply getting back what it cost me to travel, …

Leisure

Today is our 51st wedding anniversary. And our 139th day since the commencement of lockdown. So we made careful choices, contemplated and then implemented our first day of leisure. And part of that has been not putting a hand to keyboard to write up the daily diary until 1800 hours.

Herself had a, sort of, early celebration on Friday with a visit to the dentist for a check-up. She reports to being impressed by the care taken to prevent the transfer of infection between patients and staff. And that she still has teeth that were adjudged to be in very good condition. No followup work apart from an appointment being made for a routine hygienist's brush and polish next week.

My dentist, for the time being, is not yet accepting bookings for routine work. And I have not detected a need for anything urgent.

So what did we treat ourselves to? A visit to Sainsbury's was an important part of today's relaxation. And created the opportunity to purchase a celebratory meal - an Indian m…