Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 564

Issue # 564                                                  Week ending Saturday 8th  August  2020

Should I Worry That Our Tumble Dryer May Be Listening to Our Arguments for China?
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

This wee mouse and I clicked a long time ago. It is just amazing. It doesn’t eat or drink anything. It does not squeak the house down asking to be taken for a walk. It just sits on my desk looking at me and you would not even know it was there because it just so quiet until you want to find it. Have you clicked yet? Yes, it’s my computer mouse.

Sadly, the co-creator of the computer mouse, William English, has died, aged 91. The ex-US Navy man built the first mouse in 1963, using an idea from his workmate Doug Engelbart while the pair were working on early computing. It wasn’t until the 1980s, however, until it began to be the clicker of choice on our desks as home PCs became popular.

The computer mouse has come a long way. Bill and Doug’s first version was basically a wooden block with a single button which had two rolling wheels underneath it at 90-degree angles. That would record vertical and sideways movement. It didn’t have a name back then so they gave their own name to this Manually Operated Unnamed Switching Equipment. I just made up that name right now.

Instead, Bill and Doug called it the X-Y Position Indicator For A Display System, or XYPIFADS for short. Catchy, eh? Was that not also a type of bell-bottom trouser from the 1960s?

Our language is constantly changing. Technology particularly has brought in huge changes to words and phrases. There was a day when the web was where the spider lived. Then one day around 1990 I remember hearing how another web would allow us to speak to people all round the world through our computers. It said it could revolutionise how we do business but I couldn’t see it. Nah, I thought. I didn’t get it. That’d never catch on. We had phones and phoneboxes for any communication that we needed. Sometimes my predictions aren’t spot-on.

New words aren’t coming in but we’re, to use a new buzzphrase, repurposing our language. Take a hard drive, for example. A hard drive in the 1970s was a trip along mainly single-track roads in a sparsely-upholstered furniture van to deliver wardrobes and carpets to the nouveau riche fishing families of well-to-do places like Scalpay. I became briefly a high-flier on the commission from kitting out houses on that isle and then delivering the top-of-the-range tallboys soon after. My undercarriage has not been the same since.

Our daughter spends her days in the Rest of the UK (non-Welsh division) building applications for computers at some of the biggest companies in the world. Learned types like her were known as developers but now the term is software engineer. Her auntie is very confused. “Oh heery, I thought she was in computers. She’s a software engineer? Wait a minute, I think I know what that is. She makes fabric softener? Am I right?”

Mrs X meanwhile has become very au fait with it all. Her questions come in rapidfire bursts and are very different. “X, are you there? You know Google? That thing that answers your questions when you google stuff? You know it, right? I want to know something that has been bothering me, right? Is Google male or female?” There’s only one answer to that. Female, because it doesn't let you finish a sentence before making a suggestion of its own. She knows I’m right.

Some people are worried that some technology companies are pulling ahead of the field and, they fear, packing their tech with secret features. Donald Trump is blaming China. He is furious at them and wants them banned. Boris Johnson dithered but Trump said: “It’s my way or the Huawei.” At least we know how to pronounce that name now. It’s a worry if the Chinese are hiding listening devices in mobile phones. Where next? In animals? What do you call a wee dog that spies on people? A ChiHuawei?

Some of Donald Trump’s advisers reckon Huawei may be putting spy equipment in household appliances. Imagine that? Your fridge beaming back to the Communist Party HQ in Beijing that you have put in some smelly garlicky cheese and a black pudding. Bet you that’s where they got the name. It’s that the sound someone makes when they sniff the Boursin - huawei! What else could they bug? Maybe our new coffee machine is signalling Shanghai as it gurgles. It is very state-of-the-art and was very expensive. I call it the percolator fiscal.

Since the 1970s, the world has radically changed due in no small part to computers. Technology of all kinds have changed us and how we spend most of our time. and, of course, the entire language has changed with it. Back then, we thought a cursor swore a lot, a mousepad was where Mickey lived, a keyboard was just a piano and I had a 3.5-inch floppy. Nowadays, I tend to keep that sort of thing to myself.

Once A Feature of the Town Falkirk’s East Burn is Now Unseen
One of the features in Callendar Park which often intrigues visitors is the dried up valley of the old East Burn of Falkirk which lies to the south and west of the house close to the golf course.  Today it is an attractive grassy feature crossed by an old stone bridge though here and there are swampy stretches which gobble up golf balls and act as mud baths for nice clean puppies.  The burn is fed by springs which were used to create the artificial Callendar Loch by the Forbes family in the 19th century.  From here its three mile course to the Carron runs like a thread through the history of Falkirk although today much of it is hidden from sight.  There are a few places where the sluggish waters are still visible but they mostly lie below the surface in pipes and culverts  Near the park boundary at Kemper Avenue there is an ornamental stone cascade now in a dilapidated condition and not far away the burn was crossed by the East Bridge.  The street of the same name was once the main entrance into the town before Callendar Road was built around 1830.  Not far from there was Marion’s Well, a familiar Falkirk watering place named after a young lady of the Livingston family who had become a nun and regularly used the waters for medicinal purposes.  Here the waters of the burn supplied one of Falkirk’s tanneries in the 19th century when leather manufacture was one of our most important industries.  A similar situation existed at the west end of the town where the West Burn serviced the works at the foot of the ‘‘Tanners Brae’’ more correctly known as West Bridge Street.  It’s not that many years since the broken down tannery buildings were removed when the new Tanners Road was created.  In the medieval period both East and West Burns provided the people of the town with their main water supply which often failed during dry spells.  After crossing beneath Callendar Road the stream enters the grassy valley of Bell’s Meadow and here its local name became the ‘‘Meadow Burn’’. Thirty-odd years ago stretches of the burn were visible behind the slaughterhouse not far from the next important port of call at Ladysmill where the waters once turned the wheel of the baronial corn mill of Callendar.  Ladysmill is an interesting name. Does it refer to one of the Livingston ladies? Or is it possibly ‘‘Our Lady’s Mill’’ from some pre-Reformation religious devotion?  Millburn Street recalls another local name for the burn which skirts Victoria Park and Middlefield before heading north towards Abbots Road where it runs under the Forth and Clyde Canal in a culvert.  After merging with the Bainsford Burn flowing from the west it once powered Dalderse Mill before entering the Salt Pow a little to the east of the great loop on the Carron.  In the 17th century the Pow was Falkirk’s legal port where goods were landed from ships arriving via the Forth from the Continent.  Carting goods from here was a slow and difficult task and, a few years ago, John Reid suggested that to improve things the burn may have been engineered to form a continuous canalised waterway from Callendar Estate to the Carron.  It is a very persuasive idea and, if true, then for decades afterwards goods landed at the Pow would have been carried in small vessels all the way to the town while coal for export made the reverse journey.  That would surely make it Scotland’s first ever canal.

Greenock Campaigner Who Lost Her Sight in Her Teens is Fighting to Ensure No-one is Left Behind Coming Out of Lockdown
An award winning Greenock campaigner who lost her sight in her teens is fighting to ensure no-one is left behind coming out of lockdown.  Claire Forde has joined forces with leading charity RNIB to highlight the plight of those with visual impairments as they try to find their way in a new world of social distancing.  In her role as a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament Claire raised a series of points during a recent virtual question and answer session with leading government health official Professor Jason Leitch.  She called for flexibility around social distancing for the blind and those who need assistance when out and about. Claire, 24, said: "He admitted it was a challenge for the government and something they would be looking to clarify.  They are trying to balance it with the risks and keep people safe through social distancing and those who need help. "It has been very tough for those with sight loss during lockdown, and as it eases.  There are many obstacles to be overcome." The Greenock charity campaigner was diagnosed with hydrocephalus as a baby and had a shunt implant.  At the age of 18 she was left blind after suffering from bilateral optic nerve atrophy. But she refused to let her visual impairment impede her life and has become a champion for others, playing an influential role nationally. She is determined to do her bit to speak up for those who need help as the coronavirus crisis continues.  She is working alongside RNIB bosses who are taking forward initiatives such as partnering with leading stores to give priority slots to the blind and partially sighted, so they can get easier access to shopping. Claire said: "Lockdown has been very difficult for people. I am lucky to have my mum and dad to help me through it. There have been some benefits though.  During lockdown the streets were quieter and it was easier to get about. That is changing now and we have to think about how we can help people."

The North Highlands Can be A World Leader in Zero-carbon Aviation

Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, says every aspect of life will be affected by the move to a net-zero carbon economy  With lockdown easing and many sectors of our economy reopening in some fashion, the past few weeks have brought both welcome relief and new challenges to businesses in the north Highlands. The easing of restrictions and a gradual return to something approaching normality have also afforded us a little space to start looking beyond the immediate challenges of the past few months and to think about what the future might hold for the region.  Change is certainly in the air, with the recent announcement by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) that it is bringing operations at the Dounreay site back in under its direct oversight. It is too early to say what the opportunities of this might be for the region, but the Chamber will be engaging closely with the NDA over the coming months to ensure that the needs and concerns of our local supply chain are considered as part of the process.  In the longer term, we also need to be aware that the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to a net-zero carbon economy will mean significant changes for all of us. Every aspect of life in the north Highlands, from employment to education, transport to tourism, will be affected by this process.  As with any change, this has real potential to bring both significant benefits and significant challenges for businesses in the region. Most obviously in terms of benefits are the proposed investments in renewable energy, such as the recently opened ScotWind offshore wind leasing round. With access to a skilled local supply chain and a strong transport infrastructure, as well as a proven track record in the sector, the north Highlands is well positioned to benefit from these developments.  An obvious area where we will face challenges with the move to net-zero carbon is in transport. It is important that work is done now to understand and begin to address the challenges that will face rural regions, as the strategies which will work for dense, urban environments will not work in areas like the north Highlands.  The Scottish Government’s commitment to a net-zero carbon economy will mean significant changes for all of us. The  Chamber of Commerce said; “We have already begun some of this work with our business case for a public service obligation from Wick John O’Groats Airport, which explicitly lays out the requirement not just for viable air services to and from the region but for a clear forward plan for net-zero aviation.  This is an area where, with the right support from government, we have an opportunity to take a challenge and develop it into an opportunity for the region. There is clear worldwide demand for low and zero-carbon aviation, and by investing and supporting innovation now we can make the north Highlands a world leader in this area.  Innovation in low-carbon aviation is already happening elsewhere in the north of Scotland, with Orkney set to host a trial flight of a hydrogen-electric aircraft later this year. With the north Highlands set to be generating a surfeit of renewable energy in the next decade, there is a clear opportunity here for the region to lead in production of green hydrogen using cheap, clean electricity. Not only would this make low-carbon aviation a real possibility in the near future, it could bring significant additional investment and benefit into the region.  It is clear that the future, both immediately and in the longer term, holds challenges for businesses in the north Highlands. As a Chamber, we will continue to work closely with our members to understand their hopes and concerns, and work with local partners to lobby for investment in innovative solutions that will ensure a bright future for the region”.

Scotland's Results Day: School Pupils Get Their Grades After Exam-free Year

Scotland's school pupils are receiving their results after the Covid-19 pandemic forced exams to be cancelled for the first time in history.  About 138,000 students are finding out their grades in Nationals, Highers and Advanced Higher courses.  This year's results will be based on estimates from their teachers.  Those who signed up for text or email alerts will receive their grades from 0800 onwards on 4 August, while certificates will arrive in the post during the day. Exams were cancelled across the UK as schools closed and the country went into lockdown in March.  Scottish school pupils traditionally find out their results earlier than those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, who will receive their grades for A-levels on 13 August and GCSEs on 20 August.  This year was the first time since 1888 that exams were cancelled in Scottish schools.  Pupils should have been sitting exams in National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher subjects in May and June. There are no formal exams for National 2, National 3 and National 4 qualifications. What help is available to pupils? Skills Development Scotland runs a free results helpline offering careers advice, information and guidance.  Information and advice is also available on the My World of Work website.  James Russell, from SDS, said this year was "unlike any other" and that it was understandable that young people and their families would be feeling more anxious than usual.  "Our advice and support is available and our message is if your results aren't what you expected, don't worry - you have lots of options," he said.  The #NoWrongPath campaign is encouraging people to share their own stories on social media to highlight the different paths available to young people who may be feeling disheartened by their results. Support and advice is also available on the SQA website and on BBC Bitesize. Young people can also call Childline or get advice about exam results on its website.  As in the rest of the UK, the grades of pupils who were unable to sit exams have been worked out using estimates made by their teachers based on their performance over the school year.  The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) said it had sought to "uphold the integrity and credibility" of the system, but that its efforts had been focused on "ensuring fairness for all learners". Teachers were asked to place students within bands for each subject, and rank their pupils in order.  These assessments were then checked by the SQA, which said grades had been moderated "where appropriate" to "maintain national standards".  There is one crucial test for the qualifications system this year: have emergency arrangements worked?  The key issue is whether candidates receive results which are fair and credible.  The grades will be based on teacher estimates but had to be validated. This could mean grades going up or down. Some teachers argue this is unnecessary, but the SQA argues that validation is necessary to ensure the results have full credibility. The validation should ensure that pass rates and the numbers getting particular grades are comparable to previous years.  Many within education would strongly caution against attempting to analyse this year's data for evidence of improvements or decline in the performance of candidates. However, there have been concerns that the validation system could disadvantage those who attend schools where, in previous years, relatively few have got the best grades. This is why the appeals process this year is so important. Schools and exam centres will be able to appeal whenever a candidate is awarded a grade lower than the one their teacher had submitted.  There is no guarantee of success and supporting evidence will be needed, but it remains an important safeguard. The exams body said it would look at each school's previous history of estimating results and attainment. This sparked fears from opposition politicians that some pupils from deprived communities could be marked down because of the previous performance of their school.  SQA chief executive and chief examiner Fiona Robertson has denied that a school's previous record could put pupils at either an advantage or a disadvantage.  Where a pupil receives a lower grade than the one estimated by their teacher or lecturer, they will be able to use a free appeals process.

Sutherland Space Hub Plans Not Called in by Government

Scottish ministers have decided not to call in plans for a satellite launch site in the Highlands. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) wants to build the site on peatland near Tongue. Highland Council had received 457 objections to the plans and 118 representations in support of them.  A council planning committee approved of the plans at a meeting in June and referred its decision to the Scottish government.  Scottish ministers have said the proposals for a site on the Moine Peninsula do not require a decision at national level and should be dealt with by Highland Council.  There have been proposals to launch small satellites into space from the complex.  The impact on the environment and risk to human health are among the reasons for objections.  Local community councils have supported the project because it is expected to create new jobs.  Among the Highland Council officers' planning conditions is a requirement for launches to be limited to 12 per year.  Reasons for this include the amount of plastic and metal debris falling into the sea during rocket launches.  Twelve lunches per year would see an estimated five tonnes of carbon fibre reinforced plastic and seven tonnes of metal alloy dropping into the sea each year, according to the officials' report.  HIE has said by the year 2024 the space port would support 177 jobs across Scotland - 139 in the Highlands with more than 40 of these posts in and around the launch site.  HIE has approved up to £17.3m in funding towards designing and building the space hub. HIE would contribute £9.8m, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority £5m and the UK Space Agency £2.5m.  The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is involved because of its work to help create new jobs to replace those lost from the eventual closure of the Dounreay nuclear power site near Thurso in Caithness.  Orbex, a UK company building rockets for carrying small satellites into space from the site, described the approval from Highland councillors in June as "landmark".  It said the first orbital spaceflight from the UK had come "a step closer".

Organisers Hail Success of Big Rubbish Weekend in Fife

The efforts of local litter pickers have been praised after a successful clean up of rubbish across the Kingdom on Saturday and Sunday. Fife Street Champions organised the ‘Big Rubbish Weekend’ and were looking for people to help them collect as many bags of rubbish as they can by clearing streets, parks, countryside and beaches across the Kingdom over two days.  The move comes as the group recently appealed for more helpers to join them to improve areas blighted by litter. Pickers collected 425 bags.  Organiser David Spence revealed that hundreds of bags were filled as a result of the two-day litter pick.  "We had a total of 425 bags and 56 posts to our Facebook page,” he said.  "There were 27 picks (groups or individuals taking part) the first day and 30 the second day and the pickers ages ranged from pre-school children to retirees. Some posts were for single bags from lone pickers and others were multiple bags from groups.  Some members did multiple areas on both days. This was the first time some of our members had ever picked litter and others have been active for about 30 years. "Areas picked from included streets, parks, country sidie and beaches across Cardenden, Glenrothes, Kirkcaldy, Markinch, Burntisland, Methil, Lochgelly, Dunfermline, Kinglassie, Lumphinnans, Kingsbarns, Cupar, Crail, Guardbridge, Kinghorn, Dalgety Bay, Auchtertool, Crossford, Leslie and Lundin Links.”  David also revealed some of the items litter-pickers discovered among general rubbish. He said: “Finds included two vacuum cleaners, a skeletonised deer’s head, car crash debris, shopping trolleys, a Dell computer screen, two scooters and a sledge.”

Scottish Hospitals Public Inquiry Gets Under Way

A public inquiry into safety issues at two major Scottish hospitals is beginning. The probe will look at issues relating to ventilation and building systems at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow.  Problems at the delayed Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh will also be examined.  The inquiry, led by Lord Brodie QC, was ordered after patients' families raised safety concerns.  Last year it emerged that two patients at the Glasgow hospital died from infections linked to pigeon droppings.  The case of 10-year-old Milly Main was also referred to prosecutors earlier this year after she contracted an infection and died at the hospital.  Following the issues in Glasgow, the opening of the new children's hospital in Edinburgh was delayed due to concerns over its ventilation system last summer. The Scottish government stepped in to prevent it from opening just a day before it was due to accept patients.  According to the remit of the inquiry, its aim is to ascertain how the problems occurred, if they could have been prevented, their impact on patients and families and if the hospitals provide a safe environment.  Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman has said she hopes the inquiry will look into the "culture" of working at the hospitals as well as design and build issues. Ms Freeman said: "I believe that the culture in Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, and in other parts of the health service, needs to be seriously looked at. If we are to really deliver safe and effective care to our patients, then our staff need to feel that their views, opinions and expertise are valued and listened to. Clearly we have had issues where that has not been the case." The health secretary said the inquiry was "a critical next step" in seeking to understand the issues that affected both hospitals. "It will also make recommendations to ensure that any past mistakes are not repeated in future NHS infrastructure projects." A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "We recognise the additional distress that has been caused to families by the issues that the public inquiry will address and, for this, we are truly sorry. We are committed to rebuilding trust and demonstrating through our actions the importance we place on continuously learning, improving and collaborating with families - particularly those whose lives have been impacted upon by the areas that will be examined by the inquiry."

Heavy Rain Causes Landslip At Rest and Be Thankful

Multiple landslips have again blocked the A83 Rest and Be Thankful after heavy rainfall across Argyll.  Traffic Scotland said the local Old Military Road, which has previously been used as an alternative route, had also been blocked.  The incident happened as Scotland was battered by heavy rain on Tuesday causing localised flooding.  About 65mm of rainfall is estimated to have fallen at the Rest and Be Thankful over the course of the day.  The area has been plagued by landslips with £79.2m being invested in the maintenance of the route since 2007.  In January the road was closed for two days after being covered by 1,300 tonnes of debris.  Argyll and Bute Council has called for a permanent solution to the problem. Specialist geotechnical contractors have carried out initial visual assessments from the roadside but initial indications are that there is still movement on the hillside and it is unsafe to begin clear-up operations or carry out further assessments. Safety assessments will resume at first light on Wednesday and a diversion route has been implemented between Tarbet and Cairndow via the A83, A82, A85 and A819.

Flowers of Scotland Sent South to English Hills
Seeds of alpine Arctic plants found widely in Scotland could help save near-extinct populations of the species in England's Lake District. Conservationists are collecting seeds of mountain avens in Lochaber and downy willow in Dumfries and Galloway. The seeds are then propagated before being planted on the slopes of Helvellyn, the third highest mountain in the Lake District.  The plants have been disappearing from this area of Cumbria. Seeds of mountain avens are being gathered from plants growing on the Jahama Highland Estates near Fort William.  The plant, which grows in cold, sunny locations, has been found on lime-rich ridges at a height of 850m (2,800ft) on Beinn na Socaich, a mountain in the Grey Corries.

Lockdown Services Revive Appeal of the Church in Scotland

The Covid-19 pandemic may have had a positive effect on religion in Scotland, according to senior church figures.  Moving services online after the country was asked to stay at home may have boosted the appeal of the church.  According to a former Church of Scotland moderator, lockdown has helped churches "imagine things differently".  The Very Rev Dr Russell Barr said online services had attracted new people to the fold.  Most religious groups in Scotland said they lost money as a result of lockdown but with places of worship now able to open for communal services, albeit with limited numbers, some of Scotland's faiths are taking time to reflect on the other legacies of lockdown.  "It was actually quite emotional to be back into the building and having people together again," said the Very Rev Dr Barr, who is minister at Cramond Kirk in Edinburgh.  He said church buildings were social, as well as spiritual, places.  Like others, the building has been adapted. As well as limits on numbers there is hand sanitiser in place, blocked off pews and signs reminding people to keep their distance.  There are other differences too. For the first time during lockdown the Very Rev Dr Barr took his ministry online. The range of offerings attracted larger numbers and some people who never came to church. He says there is some wider thinking in the Kirk about buildings and the future.  "I think the lockdown has really brought it to a head, but has also helped us imagine things differently," he said.  "Although our buildings are important, much of it has to do with tradition rather than what's actually meaningful and helpful for people today, so yes, we have too many buildings, we do need to reduce but now we've found a way of not being quite so tied to our buildings as we once were."  Elsewhere, the Central Gurdwara in Glasgow has not done so much online. Even now numbers attending are below what they could be.  "They're very worried in case the virus starts again," says Surjit Singh Choudhary.  While the building was closed during lockdown, like many others, it was used to make food for different community groups.  "Rather than having people come to us we are more than happy to go out and I think that's something that will continue," says Paman Singh, who is a legal advisor to the management committee at the Gurdwara. He points to a further lockdown legacy too, in the way they look after the community's older people: "They are the backbone of the community and we've really learned that we need to cherish them and take care of them," he said.  For Eid, prayers at Glasgow's Central Mosque had to be offered several times to allow at least a portion of those who wanted to, to attend. It was a chance to gather for an important festival again.  But while the building and the community it allows is still crucial, some say this very difficult period has been marked by new and creative thinking such as live streaming of sermons and lectures, online classes for young people and hotlines and services for the more vulnerable.  "What we've seen is accessibility improve as well as connectivity which has been really good," says Zara Mohammed of the Muslim Council of Scotland.  I guess that technological aspect to spirituality has been something quite new and welcome."  The Catholic church believes live streaming, which took off in lockdown, is likely to remain popular - at the moment many churches are operating a rota system to allow those who want to attend mass to do so.

Tourism After Lockdown: rUK and Germany 'Top Targets'

A recovery plan for tourism businesses drawn up by researchers at Edinburgh University suggests targeting visitors from Germany - and from other parts of the UK. The team at the university's business school tried to identify who would be most interested in seeing Scotland, and who could afford a trip here.  The project was carried out in association with the Edinburgh Tourism Action Group (ETAG). Team leader Dr Ewelina Lacka said: "We used data from internet search engines, consumer confidence indexes, web traffic and information from members of the ETAG to help build a strong picture of where marketing is best targeted in the weeks and months ahead."

Scotland Top for Whale and Dolphin Sightings
Scotland has recorded the highest number of sightings during the latest annual National Whale and Dolphin Watch. Humpback whales feeding in the Inner Hebrides and orcas off Shetland and Caithness were among the 323 sightings.  Groups of Risso's dolphin were seen off the Western Isles, Orkney and north east Scotland. In England, 284 sightings were recorded, 88 in Wales and one in Northern Ireland.  Organisers, the Sea Watch Foundation, said more sightings could still be submitted from the event which ran from 25 July and 2 August.  Sightings officer Dr Chiara Giulia Bertulli said: "Despite the troubling times with coronavirus, this year's event has shown the strongly supportive and committed spirit of our volunteer observers, which gives us hope for the future of our seas."

Sutherland Coastguard Teams Called Out to Dune Buggy Incident At Beach Near Bettyhill

Three coastguard units in Sutherland were in action yesterday evening following an incident involving a dune buggy on a far north beach. The driver of the dune buggy is understood to have sustained an injury negotiating a stretch of Torrisdale Beach, west of Bettyhill. Coastguard teams from Melvich, Melness, Durness and Scrabster were called out along with the Scottish Air Ambulance.  The Melvich Unit later posted on social media: “Coastguard teams provided assistance while adhering to new COVID-19 safety procedures. “Following the incident, all team members, equipment and vehicles were thoroughly cleaned as per the new safety protocols.” The north Sutherland coastguard teams have had a busy spell in recent weeks.  Five days ago members of the Melness and Melvich units, along with Thurso lifeboat, went to the aid of the occupants of a yacht who were experiencing mechanical issues.  A spokesman for the Melvich unit said the team had recently experienced its busiest day in four years  He said: “Whilst we hope you enjoy the great weather we have had and our beautiful coastlines, we would like to remind everyone to think smart and be safe.  As always, if you do see someone in trouble on the coast or at sea, call 999 and ask for the coastguard."

Kinloss-based RAF Plane 'Shadowed' Russian Warship
A new RAF maritime patrol aircraft "shadowed" a Russian warship in its first operational mission.  The P-8 Poseidon flew out of Kinloss Barracks in Moray for what was described as a "prolonged overwatch" of the Vasily Bykov on Monday.  The warship was passing through the North Sea near UK waters, the Ministry of Defence said.  The Poseidon was one of two that arrived at Kinloss from the US earlier this year.  A fleet of nine are to eventually be stationed at RAF Lossiemouth, also in Moray. The station's facilities are being upgraded to accommodate the planes.  During Monday's mission, the Poseidon's crew were supported by Typhoon fighter jets stationed at Lossiemouth and a Voyager refuelling aircraft from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.  The Voyager involved is used by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the royal family for international travel.

Internal Disputes 'Risk to SNP Success'
Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP needs to "focus on what matters to people" ahead of next year's election and put aside internal disputes.  The first minister was speaking after a number of public rows about her party's policies and strategies.  The SNP leader said internal fighting would be a turn off for voters.  There has been controversy over how the SNP selects candidates as well as the prospect of a rival pro-independence party in recent weeks.  Ms Sturgeon claimed the SNP was in a "position of strength" going into the 2021 election.  But, in the first of a series of interviews BBC Scotland is conducting with Scottish party leaders, Ms Sturgeon said any trust from voters could be easily lost.  She said: "The SNP is in a position of strength and we've got as a party to recognise that we don't exist in some kind of bubble.  Right now the majority of the people in the country we serve are worried about their health and they're worried about their ability to pay their bills.  Opinion polls would suggest they massively trust the SNP to lead them through that crisis. If they ever thought the SNP was turning away from that priority and focusing on its own agendas and engaging in infighting I'm sure they would pass a verdict on that." The first minister said the new programme for government, set to be unveiled at Holyrood in September, would be "heavily influenced by the recovery from Covid". She added that a shake-up of how social care is delivered "will be uppermost in our minds as we come out of the immediate crisis". Ms Sturgeon said she would serve the full term if elected first minister and said it was "bonkers" to suggest she did not want to see an independent Scotland. Ms Sturgeon was asked about a number of other issues in a wide-ranging interview. These included: The four nations approach to battling Covid-19.  The UK Westminster and devolved governments are attempting to agree a joint approach to driving down coronavirus to the lowest possible levels and keeping it there.  Ms Sturgeon revealed talks have not reached a conclusion yet but she hoped a "substantive agreement" could be reached.  She said: "For reasons I don't fully understand there seems to be, on the part of the UK Westminster government, an unwillingness to use the word elimination and I don't really know why that is the case." Did Scotland's lockdown come too late?  The timing of the decision to go into lockdown has been the subject of much discussion since March. One study suggested more than 2,000 coronavirus deaths could have been prevented if Scotland had locked down two weeks earlier.  And Ms Sturgeon said the data at the time suggested Scotland was a couple of weeks behind England on the infection curve.  She added: "So in reality we probably went into lockdown a bit earlier. Was that early enough? Until my dying day I will probably agonise over these judgements but we took the best decisions we could at the time."