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Showing posts from August, 2020

Living with error

An interesting week. My first hybrid Committee meeting. I was physically present. Others dialled in by video link. Seemed to work just fine. The legislative machinery of Parliament has now also gone hybrid. I was able to contribute remotely to a couple of the debates on the Agriculture Bill. This was a vital step to ensure that we can continue to support our farmers as the Brexit transition period comes to an end. It provides the foundations upon which we can now start to work with industry and other stakeholders to build a new support mechanism for 2025 and beyond. There was a bit of faffing about during some of the votes. While it was being described as technical problems, it seemed to me to more like human ones. There is one MSP, no names, no pack drill, who just cannot get their mind around anything faintly techie. Given that person's previous professional life, in an area heavily dependent on leading-edge technology, I am beginning to wonder if they just are scunnered at


The United States of America's Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has nine headings under which it categorises occurrences, incidents and accidents. And those three headings are an indication of increasing severity. I have appeared, as a pilot, in one incident report filed with the UK equivalent, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). I was flying from Edinburgh to Dornoch with three pals and their golfing equipment. This Highland airstrip is both long and wide. Conveniently it crosses the southern edge of one of the two Royal Dornoch golf courses upon one of which my friends were due to play. That does mean a careful visual inspection before landing to ensure that golfers have obeyed the notice asking that they cross the runway rapidly and only after looking left and right to see if there are landing aircraft. It's a lovely location, but not so frequently flown into as to require any advanced aviation facilities such as someone on the ground to speak to inbound pilots. Even

Not always "right, right, right"

It's been a cracking week for home-working, and a wee bit of socialising. Sixteen online MSP sign-ins for meetings. And one for a social get-together. There has been some exercise as well, with my weather-beaten look being more than adequately topped up in the bright sun we have experienced over the last few days. I splashed out and bought a new gilet. It replaces one I purchased at the Turra Show more than ten years ago. And its replacement might have been acquired from the same stall but for the COVID-driven cancellation of one of our most important local events. It's a particular shame not have had our usual meeting of Parliamentarians and farmers at the NFU tent. The term hybrid is now most used by your Parliamentarians to describe meetings where some are physically present and others dial-in. But until this year, this term meant in one part a delightful combination of a formal agenda, speakers and question and answer at that gathering. The other half, justifying th

Thirty years

As a week, this one looks quite full. Three Committee meetings, Environment, Rural and then COVID-19. But at least they are on three separate days. And a fair few video meetings with assorted others. One being a personal one with my former professional colleagues at Bank of Scotland. Friday last week, the last of my daily diary write-ups, saw a video session with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH). Colleagues Mairi Gougeon and Gillian Martin were with me there to hear about a project run in the North-east. One of the great advantages is that it allows self-referral. MSPs meet many people who are experiencing excess stress in their lives and whose mental health is less than perfect. But who are not ill. They are like someone who has a regular sniffle and carries a hanky. Except that it is far from clear what the mental health equivalent of a hankie is. Mostly it's probably just a listening ear. We can all do that. But how much better when it is attached to a tra

A one hundred and fifty day lockdown

You can't have read much of my writings if you do not know that numbers are close to my heart. And today has a big nice round number attached to it. We are all familiar with the Google search engine. Most of us will use it today. The name is a mis-spelling of the name for the number you get when you multiply 10 by 10 one hundred times. The name Googol is the term for that number. For a brief period of time, it was the biggest number with a name. But after Kasner and Newman came up with that name, they rapidly came up with Googolplex which is the number you get when you multiply 10 by 10 Googol times. We can in our Parliament make the Googol, if not the Googolplex real. There are 129 MSPs. If we allow people to sit randomly in seats, how many possible outcomes are there? The first person to sit down can choose from 129 available seats. The second person can choose from one less, 128 seats. But the first person left 128 possible arrangements of the remaining seats. So the number

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 gif

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 c

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. Li

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

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 coll

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 armo

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 mo


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-ling

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 in

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 &qu