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8 October 2020

S5M-22985 Reducing Covid-19 Transmission

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-22985, in the name of Jeane Freeman, on Covid-19.

15:25
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16:36

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I want to pick up on some of the things that Christine Grahame has just been saying and what Clare Adamson said earlier. Testing has preoccupied quite a few speakers in this debate, but it has, of course, to stand a long way second to the behaviours that we adopt. If anybody doubts that prioritisation, they should just think about what we have seen happening at 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is otherwise known as the White House. The President of the United States has been tested for Covid every single day for a very long period of time, but that did not protect him from catching the disease, because the behaviours that he and many around him adopted were not safe. It is the behaviours that protect us. However, testing is important, because it is a component of understanding where the disease is going and how we can follow it as it passes from one person to another, so that further sources of infection can be cut off. It is therefore vital that we have a good testing system.

I have read that blame is being attached to software in England that was used for doing some of the statistics associated with the pandemic. Using 13-year-old Excel software was not intrinsically a problem. The software was not to blame for the difficulties that were experienced in calculating the people who tested positive; the problem was the lack of professionalism of the people who used the software. It is like blaming a four-seat car for being unable to carry two soccer teams to a match. The car was designed to carry four people, and 22 people in those soccer teams would be the normal thing. We cannot blame the car, whether it is new or 20 years old; the issue is the person who decided to use the car in the way that they did. The deficiency that has been attributed to the software is actually a deficiency in the professionalism of the people who were using it.

In a sense, that goes to the heart of who we have as our experts. With software, we need experts who understand software. I speak with a particular interest as a professional software engineer—I am not the only one in the Parliament. I have software that I wrote more than 40 years ago that is still used millions of times every week. Age can bring maturity.

On the issue of age, I heard Richard Leonard say that we should have no restrictions until they have come to the Parliament and been approved there. I say to the member that I took my first driving test in the year in which he was born and I do not want somebody to have to stop me from stepping in front of the traffic that might be coming down the road—Christine Grahame referred to that—by going to the Parliament to get permission first. Grab me and then, post hoc, homologate the decision that is made. That is the approach that we need to take with the pandemic.

I have used the word “expert”, and it is important that we have all the experts that we require to hand and the statistics that they can gather explained to us laypeople who have to make the decisions. I do not envy the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport and I certainly do not envy the First Minister. I congratulate them on their fortitude in the face of the most impressive workload. I cannot believe that it is possible for them to be doing anything other than about 40 hours of work a day; it certainly looks that way. An expert is someone who brings expertise to the problems that we have to beat, and they do so without bias or taking a prior position.

We have heard quite a lot about the economy and I agree that it is vital that we protect it. That is why the money that is coming from the Scottish Government is to be welcomed. The hospitality sector has suffered in particular, and we need to be careful to support many small businesses. There are others, such as Tim Martin of Wetherspoons, who initially refused to pay his staff. He is worth about £0.5 billion and he has stopped paying his suppliers. I do not particularly want to be supporting the Tim Martins of the month; however, I want to support his employees, as that is very important.

I am delighted to see that we have a broad consensus and will support all the amendments, bar the Labour Party’s amendment. I welcome the debate.

16:42

Stewart Stevenson
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