Twitter facilitates Divonne inspiration

Revoking article 50 was the subject of a topical Green Party-led debate in the chamber last Wednesday afternoon, in which the Parliament accepted amendments to Patrick Harvie’s motion from the SNP and Labour, while on Thursday morning, the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee took evidence on a specific aspect of the article 50 debate—that of international agreements. The wide-ranging discussion that ensued, which you can read in full here, is a good illustration of the fact that reporting parliamentary committees can involve a fair bit of research.

Part of the process of producing a substantially verbatim report of what is said in such circumstances involves conveying the knowledge of the assembled experts—in this case, David Henig, Dmitry Grozoubinski and Professor Alan Winters. As numerous treaties, regulations and conventions can be mentioned, it’s important to correctly identify and keep track of exactly what is being referred to, particularly when shorthand can be used and there is scope for ambiguity. As reporters, we need to know whether “the partnership” is a reference to, say, the transatlantic trade and investment partnership or the trans-Pacific partnership. When someone says “DG1”, we need to look up which directorate-general of the EU they are referring to.

In most cases, a combination of an understanding of the context and a spot of googling throws light on the situation but, occasionally—when, for example, a witness drops an obscure term of art rapidly into the discussion, recalls one fact rather than another in the heat of the moment or is simply inaudible—it’s necessary to go straight to the horse’s mouth, as it were. That happened at this meeting when the subject of e-commerce came up and Dmitry Grozoubinski mentioned a place in France near the border with Switzerland where people in Geneva get their Amazon parcels sent to. To several pairs of ears, the town in question sounded like “Yverdon-les-Bois”, but research on Google Maps showed that the likely candidate—Yverdon-les-Bains—was in Switzerland, suggesting that it couldn’t have been the place that Mr Grozoubinski had in mind.

How to solve the problem? A quick Twitter exchange, in which Mr Grozoubinski clarified that he had been thinking of Divonne-les-Bains, so that’s what appeared in the Official Report.


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