Skip to main content

Train time

After one hundred and seventy-four days, I resumed sitting in our Parliament's debating chamber. It was the first time I have seen how members dialling in by video-link look and sound at the "business end".

I found that I was a bit rusty. My only oral contribution this week was to ask a question. As I approached the end of it, a sound from a mobile phone totally distracted me. Worried that it was my own phone, I paused and for about a second, lost the thread of what I was saying. I wasn't that pleased with my neighbour when they returned to their seat. Their phone, not mine.

It just shows that one can travel backwards in one's abilities. Like an athlete who has had an extended layoff and loses muscle tone, my brain had retreated from its previous peak of perfection.

Next week will be our first proper three day week. I think I will ease myself in by participating in the two Member's debates scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. That will be about eleven hundred words and I can make sure that I am reading from my script.

We shall also see the return of a debate brought forward from the opposition benches. It will be on the general subject of Justice albeit that we shan't see the motion until Tuesday. As someone who has attended two hundred and seventy-seven Justice Committee meetings in my time, I may yet be persuaded to speak in the debate too. But a volunteer I shall not be.

As a Minister, I also carried a Justice Bill through Parliament to the statute book. It was the Long Leases Bill. That changed leases of over one hundred and seventy-five years duration into outright ownership and was the piece of law that eliminated the final part of the feudal system from Scots law.

It was curious that as Environment and Climate Change Minister I should find myself doing a Justice Bill. I was assured that it was a simple Bill. In the previous session of Parliament it had progressed almost, but not quite, all the way through a journey to the Statute Book. But it was beaten at the final gasp by the dissolution of Parliament for the 2011 General Election. Most of the, from memory it was nine, leases were in rural areas, hence the "offer" to me to take this Bill on.

Some bits of leased land were huge. One was a few square feet up a close a few hundred metres from Holyrood.

But last time, no one out there had a concern that the ground upon which Waverley Market in Edinburgh was built was subject to a lease that this Bill would affect. The claim was made that this land was Common Good and thus that it had not been proper for the lease have been granted in the first place. Especially as we were now looking at handing it over to a commercial operation.

For those who don't know, the legal origins of Common Good derive from the 1491 Common Good Act. In total this is all that's left of it;

"Item it is statut and ordinit that the commoune gud of all our souerane lordis burrowis within the realme be obseruit and kepit to the commoune gude of the toune and to be spendit in commoune And necessare thingis of the burght be the avise of the consale of the toune for the tyme and dekkynnis of craftis quhare thai are"

In essence, it means that anything held by a Royal Burgh for the Common Good must be held as such forever.

The argument, therefore, ran that transferring land held as Common Good in Edinburgh could not properly pass into another's ownership.

Record keeping in our Councils about what may be Common Good or what might just be held ordinarily in the ownership of that body is variable in quality. What was the status of Waverley Market land owned by the Council? Who knows?

In a perfect illustration of the compromises Ministers may have to make as they legislate, we brought forward an amendment to our Bill. Instead of its applying to leases over one hundred and fifty years, we made it 175. The Waverley Market lease was no longer in scope and the issue went away; for now at least.

Ironically, it emerged later that the Scots Law Commission had originally recommended the higher figure. At some point, whether it was at the hand of a civil servant or by Ministerial diktat I shall never know, the Bill had started life with a lower figure.

The biggest, and most difficult Justice issue, I was engaged in was an enquiry into how our criminal justice system dealt with fingerprints. That lasted a long time and plunged us into highly technical areas where, I think it fair to say, all the MSPs involved found it difficult to come to sensible conclusions. Peoples jobs were at risk so the option of saying that it was all too hard, simply didn't exist.

All of which is to say that I have probably done my turn on Justice. Volunteering for more might be an act of pure masochism. But should I be asked; well, so be it.

The past week was a four Committee meeting week. And for the fourth time, I found myself dialling into two meetings happening at the same time. And escaped without injury or visible personal confusion.

The week to come will once again see me double-dipping on Wednesday, albeit that the week has a mere three Committees requiring my attendance.

The one thing I definitely am not looking forward to is the drive south. After years of using the train with only an occasional car ride, I had forgotten the back twinges that come to me with my sitting fairly still for hours.

My little car is just fine but, as I wrote some weeks ago, it's cheaper, safer and less stressful on the train.

I might be looking forward to our Parliament being full-time.

But even more, I look forward to train time.


Popular posts from this blog

Advice to the new MSPs

A contribution made to Portland PR 's weekly briefing on Holyrood A new job is a time to look in the mirror and undertake a self-assessment about what one can contribute in a new role. And what weaknesses one may have that could inhibit success. Being elected an MSP is no different in that respect. But very different in many others. One has become public property and every action, or action thought to be by you, will be open to public comment, often unfairly. Silence is often your best response. When one comments on criticism one lengthens the “war” and widens the knowledge of it. Set your own agenda rather than respond to that of others. Who can you trust among your fellow Parliamentarians? Make contact with as many as you can as quickly as you can. And make it a priority to interact with political opponents. The first substantive decision in the new Parliament is the election of a new Presiding Officer and it will be a secret ballot. Understanding the dynamic of other partie

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

End of an Era 2016-2021

Written for  Holyrood magazine's "The End of an era 2016-2021"  published 07 April 2021.    Neil Findlay is the man who loves you to hate him. As he rises from his habitual place in a distant corner of the Parliamentary Chamber, a snarl as firmly attached to his face as he is disconnected to any symbol of middle-class values such as a tie, tension flows as he selects his target for the day. Is it dapper John Scott? The record-holder for the shortest time between his being sworn in and making his first speech in Parliament; a mere twenty hours. Does Willie Rennie attract his ire? Confession; we went to the same school. Almost anything liberal is bound to attract this Labour very-back-bencher’s contumely. Greens rarely attract his attention but he should remember that John Finnie, another member of this year’s escape committee, can efficiently direct a canine arrest. Now of course, I have sought to avoid any engagement with the fellow. I never, just never, even acknow