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

Russia et al

After yesterday's publication of a Westminster report into foreign state meddling in UK democratic decisions, my mind turns to the issue of leadership. Perhaps the fundamental failing identified, and I am assuming that the Parliamentary Committee had access to information that underpinned their conclusions but which is not necessarily shared with us, lay with the Security Service (MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6).

The first thing on MI6's web pages is the statement that "We work overseas to help make the UK a safer and more prosperous place". There is much worth a read ( but what stands out is their statement that "Everything we do is tasked and authorised by senior government ministers".

Buried at little deeper on MI5's web site ( it says, "we formulate our own set of plans and priorities, which the Home Secretary approves."

But there is also GCHQ who on its web site (https://www.gchq.…


While I am pretty confident that we are far from being on a majority in our household, I am also sure that we are not unduly exceptional. We sit down to lunch each day at 1230 so that we can simultaneously masticate and educate. The first refuelling the body. The latter refuelling the intellect.

And the source of brain food? The daily press conference on the pandemic from the Government. The traditional being from fridge and food cupboard.

It's a bit like the family sitting around the radio 75 plus years ago to hear news of the battles against the nazis. Today is remarkably similar. Not a single front of battle but many. Not just fought by those on the front line, but supported by the actions of those on the home front.

Even more than then, the home front is a critical part of the front line. Each citizen's actions, or inaction, directly contributing to or hindering our ability to eliminate COVID-19 from our country.

For me, with an interest in DNA as a tool in my family histo…

Tome for a new keybiard

Today is the one hundred and eighth daily episode of my reports from an 8th decader's lockdown.

For a mathematician, 108 is a "good" number. Having three digits just locks into parts of the brain that tune into threes. And at a glance, it is a number that is divisible by three. Why, at a glance? Because if you add up the digits one, zero and eight, the answer is nine. Any number whose digits add up to a number that divides by three is itself divisible by three.

If after the first add, you have answer bigger than nine, add the digits together and keep doing that until you have a single digit. This is a digit sum.

If the final digit is a nine, then the original number will be divisible by three and by nine. If it's a six, then it's divisible by two and by three. And finally, if it's a three, then it is an odd number which is divisible by three.

I am far from sure, but my memory is trying to persuade me that I was taught this at school. I am certain about the ru…