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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 antibiotic-treated beef, and pesticide residues in food which are a thousand times higher than we have had until now. Oh, and non-zero bacterial loads.

Suppose the first legislation on the subject comes not from Westminster but from Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. All have administrative, legislative and political systems that are substantially more agile than the lethargic and dysfunctional Westminster and Whitehall machine. And a political and community consensus against lowering food standards.

Let's give effect to our own standards at the earliest possible opportunity. The standards we currently have. And let's see mutual recognition in action. Well, we always dream.

But when Westminster attacks our food standards, I just have a feeling that that will be quite a crisis for them. Not on the scale of the dictator of Belarus declaring that the opposition leader had garnered less than 10% of the general election vote to her cause when exit polls suggest she has won.

Opposing the imposition of the poor US food standards upon us does not carry the personal risk that standing up to a dictator does, but it similarly offers a lever to reassert a genuine power of the people against the UK's most centralising Government, outside of world wars.

Each Committee meeting might see us constructing another brick in the wall of our defence against them. So as there are but 45 minutes before we sit down, 0830 today, and I have yet to shave etcetera this morning, my fingers will retreat from the keyboard pro tem. And the window for online communication will replace my Grammarly.com writing aid on my computer for up to four hours. See you later.

That's five online sessions now complete and a brief review of some outcomes.

We were meeting officials rather than decision-makers today, and so we were largely asked technical rather than policy questions. We were interested in how carbon trading after the UK leaves the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, probably at the end of the year.

Now, where we go from here is a matter of agreement between all four governments in the UK. The legislation must be agreed by all four Parliaments before it becomes law. So the question is, why is it just this step in the preparation of common frameworks that is being subject to joint decision making? If it applies to one are, why not all.

Generously I will suggest that it is more neglect than intention by most of the people in Whitehall. Would that I could say the same of political leaders down there.

Another meeting since pausing the writing up today's diary was on the subject of capping of student numbers. In May, the Education Ministry responsible for England had become alarmed at the action of a small number of English universities. With the drop off of foreign students due to Brexit and exacerbated by the pandemic, unhelpful recruitment strategies had been adopted. The UK Government consulted with the English Universities and then introduced a cap on the students they could recruit. And penalties for 2021-22 if the cap was breached. They also provided financial help to cover the impact of their new policy. So far, so good.

But they gave no consideration to the impact on Scottish Universities to which many English students come. And provided no financial assistance.

All of this without any prior to, or previous discussions with either our universities or Government. The former may have made legally enforceable offers to prospective students and have no capacity to resile from them.

This an example of not getting the meaning of teamwork, of shared interests.

However, it now transpires that the impact of COVID-19 will cause many students to defer starting their time at university. This diminishes the impact of the rule. But does not help our universities to balance their books.

If know anything, we know that the post-pandemic period will be a long one.

How old will I be before we settle down to a new normal?

Don't know.

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