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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 the sobriquet hybrid, was the delicious accompaniment of home-bakes and casual gossip with a neighbour when the top table ladled out boredom too ferociously.

I particularly recall long, intense debates with Michael Gove, Tory Government Minister in another Parish. He is as personally charming as he is detached from practical reality and fidelity. A couple of Tory MSPs on different occasions have said to me after appearances by Mr Gove in front of one of our Committees, I paraphrase, that he will agree with anything you propose and deliver nothing thereafter. I have sworn to myself that I will not embarrass my political opponents by identifying them.

But this week the population of the Gove fantasy land doubled. While I was based in Banffshire, my colleague Bruce Crawford was adding to his substantial body of useful work in our Parliament. In a debate on the proposals to require Westminster approval for large numbers of the big decisions made until now in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh, Bruce asked a North-East Tory MSP, and former farmer, about the Farmers' Union antipathy to the Boris Johnston Government's proposals. His astonishing reply was simply to state that the farmers were, "wrong, wrong, wrong".

Now, let's not claim that we are all, "right, right, right" all the time. In other words, a wise head may have second thoughts. A sensible politician will constantly be testing their espoused views against a changing landscape of occurrences and knowledge. As another Tory in the 1960s on being asked about the greatest challenge for a statesman, it was PM Harold MacMillan, replied, "events, dear boy, events".

If the individual in question had not already indicated that his very short political career - one term as a Councillor, a single session as an MSP - would come to an end next year, I suspect his former farming friends might have done so for him.

The proferring of a quite abusively delivered opinion, devoid of any supporting argument, showed amazing contempt for an important rural industry.

By contrast, I had a robust exchange of views in Committee with another first-term Tory MSP who has decided to leave our Parliament. Adam Tomkins raised the perfectly proper issue of whether the restriction of the liberties of citizens in Aberdeen was "proportionate" to the harm of COVID being inflicted by the present flare-up of infections there.

As someone well qualified, and widely read, on the principles of our legal system, it was proper that he asked us to examine whether the legally required proportionality was being properly applied. I for my part have zero legal training but have attended 277 meetings of our Justice Committee over nearly twenty years. An LLB undergraduate will attend only a few more hours of legal lectures during their undergraduate studies. But they will have learned their trade in a much more focussed way than I, albeit they will not have gained some of the eclectic knowledge I have of some of the lesser-visited corners of our legal system.

At the end of the day, I think my argument that the modest restrictions of liberty in Aberdeen were outweighed by infection rates there which are many times higher than in Scotland as a whole, was proportionality in action. Mr Tomkins came into the Committee meeting vowing to vote against the measure, but ultimately merely abstained.

My attendance at the Committee at all was in the balance. Our domestic telephony has been non-existent since last week's storms. And Thursday's meeting was on the day that Openreach said they would fix the problem. BT's web site allowed me to track the problem resolution. And in big print, it said that our broadband connection, which has continued as normal, might be disrupted while they fixed our failed phone service.

So rather than risk using our home connection, I explored three alternatives. The mobile phone signal at the top of our field wouldn't allow a video connection. One down.

As we buy our broadband from BT, we have access to a large number of BT-WiFi points across the country. Nice day, so a table and chair into the back of the car and travel a couple of miles to Cornhill. Yes, I got a signal, but a bit too slow. Outdoor option non-viable. Two down.

A pop round the door to engage Alan Ewen of our local Honda dealer, they are regularly rated "UK HONDA Dealer of the Year", provided an immediate offer of an office in the corner of their showroom. A new all-electric car provided a politically welcome backdrop. And my new venue roused some viewers from their torpor as they spotted where I was. Glad to have given people some mild amusement. And even more grateful to Ewen's for their support of my Parliamentary activity. Third time lucky.

And our telephone? Fixed.

The previous day's Rural Committee meeting also had a communications flavour. On Tuesday, in answer to a written question that I was invited to ask - this is a GIQ (a Government Inspired Question) - an interim voucher scheme for those of currently beyond the reach of superfast broadband was announced. The R100 program which will eventually lift us out of broadband "poverty" is stuck in the courts. But the voucher will allow us a few steps up the ladder in the meantime, heading us towards a superfast, perhaps even gigafast, future.

The UK Government already has a voucher scheme, launched in March, that seeks to help people who, like us, have under 10 megabits per second arriving at their house. It provides some money to help buy an answer. But it isn't intended to deliver superfast or better; that's at least 30 megabits.

And in our case, it has loaded frustration upon frustration. The UK website omits our house from the list of potentially qualifying addresses. All the remaining five houses covered by our postcode are there; we ain't. So I cannot even register for an engineering assessment. It will get fixed, but it looks we would then be at the very back of the queue for assessment. And delivery may, they warn, take up to two years after that.

Now back to the "wrong, wrong, wrong" I referred earlier. And it's a mea culpa from me. This week I was "right, right, wrong". In Committee, when I referred to my difficulties with the address database on the UK website, I attached a similar complaint to the Scottish Government's equivalent system. I was wrong. We are there.

Now in a plea of mitigation, I should say that the database only came into full operation in the hour before the meeting. My engagement with it was cursory. Not seeing our address on the list of houses presented on-screen in response to providing our postcode, I immediately shut up shop and signed into the Committee in a disgruntled frame of mind. Had I spent even another thirty seconds looking at the screen more carefully, I should have spotted that a "scroll bar" enabled one to bring up another two properties - including our own.

This paragon of good practice, me, reconfirmed the old saying, "more haste, less speed". Perfection was not my middle name that day.

It's like if I am in a rush to leave the house in the morning, happens to me occasionally, I find it difficult to draw the socks over my foot in an orderly fashion. The sock heel can magically glue itself to the top of my foot. The answer is always the same. Just stop. Draw breath. Remove the sock. Align it properly and then steadily and gently pull it upwards. It's always faster than swearing at the sock.

Mea cupla, mea maxima cupla.


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