INCREDIBLE as it seems, just 12 months ago we were all focused on the expiry of the Article 50 process, which was due to take place at 11pm on March 29.

I wrote then about the bitter exchanges in the Scottish Parliament and the noisy chaos at Westminster.

What a difference a year makes.

This week in the Parliament, the focus has been not on saving Scotland from Brexit – though that remains a massive consideration – but on saving lives from a pandemic.

There should no doubt about this. The advice that is being given day and daily by the Scottish and UK governments is not about the technicalities of public health.

It is about ensuring the survival of our friends, neighbours and communities. If it is not heeded then more lives will – not might – be lost.

The two constants this week have been the exemplary, tireless, good-natured but determined leadership of the First Minister and the positive, thoughtful and constructive approach taken by the opposition leaders and their parties.

Lifting my focus from the indyref – with regret but with certainty that it was the right decision – I am now trying to deliver the legislative consent of the Parliament to the UK Coronavirus Bill, which is something of an irony considering I have been active in refusing legislative consent for almost all UK measures over the last two years.

Not only have Murdo Fraser and I managed to be civil to each other, I hope we will be working with Willie Rennie, Patrick Harvie, Alex Rowley and others on a further Scottish-specific Coronavirus Bill, which the Parliament should consider before Easter.

Moreover the UK bill is the result of unprecedented co-operation between all the governments of these islands, in a way that is the polar opposite of the relationship just a few weeks ago.

Those disputes have not gone away. It is, for example, absolutely crazy to continue to pretend that the UK /EU negotiations can continue when not only are the chief negotiators on both sides laid low – one with the virus and one self isolating – but also when all the available political, governmental and official bandwidth is completely occupied by the necessity of tackling a truly global public health catastrophe.

But these are issues that cannot, for the moment, dominate our parliaments or our debates.

The profound change that has come upon us with extraordinary speed struck me forcibly on Thursday standing at the top of the stairs leading down into the Garden Lobby – a view that television viewers will know given that it forms the backdrop to much live reporting.

Usually, on that busiest day of the parliamentary week, this Holyrood crossroad would be buzzing with visitors, alive with school groups, hoaching with journalists, teeming with staff from MSPs’ offices and parliamentary departments, and dotted with MSPs exchanging information or simply gossiping.

Instead there was virtually no-one in sight.

On Tuesday someone said it was like a Friday – the day when MSPs and their staff are in the building, as they are in their constituencies.

By Thursday it was like a day when the whole place was shut.

The Chamber was also very different. During statements people left a seat or two between them and their neighbour and even at decision time it certainly wasn’t a full house. Members also lent in to speak a little less closely to friends and walked out a little further away from each other.

Upstairs in the ministerial offices, there was a huge amount of work being done but fewer civil servants in meetings as many are now working from home. And those of us who cant yet do that – there are decisions to be made, legislation to be drafted, inquiries (many, many inquiries) to be answered – were always aware that distance was important and hand washing frequent and essential. Fortunately the soap in the Parliament bathrooms is holding out, and no-one is nicking it.

These are times we never thought to see. They will last for longer than any of us want but we can help our friends and neighbours to stay alive throughout it if we do what the advice tells us. All politicians are now focused on their job, which is to secure that outcome.

That had to happen. And it has to go on happening.