Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 569

Issue # 569                                     Week ending Saturday 12th September  2020

Bar Steward, Make Me A Quarantini Cocktail to Enjoy While I Sit Here Mocking Covidiots
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

One of the best things about the lockdown, apart from watching those re-runs of New Tricks, the best cop show ever except they are not real cops but old codgers who used to be cops, was ready access to our biscuit barrel. The best biscuit tins contain two essential biccies - Wagon Wheels and Jammie Dodgers. They are both made at the same Edinburgh factory - which makes an amazing 7.5 million biscuits every single day. It’s not just me then. The bad news is they may soon be in very short supply.

Biscuit makers Burton Biscuits have offered their staff a measly 1.6% pay rise. Ooh, Maciver is being controversial, dipping his toe in the boiling waters of industrial relations, I heard you think. Listen, without them there would be no Jammie Dodgers. They need backing. The workers want 7% to make up for what they call previous shortfalls, but negotiations are not going well. There is now talk of 24-hour walkouts.

The first could be around now, so there may be shortages. Now listen you lot, don’t you go hoarding Wagon Wheels and Jammie Dodgers and telling the food police that I gave you the idea. I had enough trouble from those sanitary inspectors when I mentioned that a good place to hide toilet rolls on a Friday night was at the back of the fridge.

There will be plenty Wheels and Dodgers to go round if we don’t panic - maybe. Biscuits cheer everyone up. Biscuits are often given as a thank you to someone - if you can’t afford chocolates. As for me, I have discovered that I can negotiate with biscuits to get anything I really want. For instance, I offered an old lady in our street a box of biscuits for a go on her stairlift. I think she’s going to take me up on it.

Something else going up is the number of Covidiots. Police now estimate there is at least one in every street. A taxi driver was telling me he took one home in his cab the other night. After he got in the back of the car, the Covidiot passenger took off his mask. When the driver asked him to put it back on, he said no, adding: “Driver, you are wearing a mask. If yours works, why do I have to wear mine?”

Instead of throwing him out, the driver told him that was a good point. He then promptly turned off his headlights and began weaving down Sandwick Road. The passenger shrieked: “What are you doing? It’s too dark.” The driver replied: “Nah mate, don’t worry. All the other drivers have their lights on.” He then stopped, turned round but the Covidiot had somehow decided to put his mask on again. Numpty.

I convey someone who calls me a numpty. Mrs X has become a nervous passenger. That’s her excuse for criticising my driving. By criticising, I mean using phrases like: “Where have you taken us now?” and “When did you say you’d passed your test?” Her other ruse is winding down the window and asking anyone she sees when the next bus back to Stornoway is as her driver is old and past it. Do you mean me? Hello?

That reminds me, I must say hello to Mrs Stewart. Years ago, I saw her in her garden wearing a mask while spraying her plants to keep off greenfly. She said: “Masks are expensive. I'm using my old bra for a face mask. Much cheaper and roomier too,” she giggled. That’s Mrs Stewart for you. I phoned her up to ask if she was using bra for a mask now. She said: “Of course. I like to keep abreast of all Covid protection measures.”

Mrs Stewart cheers me up. She’s like a breath of fresh air. No, she really is - her first name is Gale. She has been like that since we met 20 years ago. Remember the noughties? Back then, everyone used to laugh at Michael Jackson for wearing gloves and a mask. Now here we are. ...
With no mask or gloves, Mrs X offered to make a fry-up the other day. When I heard the sizzling, I ran in. I said: “Be really careful there. Put in some more butter. Oh heck, you are cooking too many eggs at once. What about the tomatoes? You don’t want them half-cooked when the eggs are ready. Those mushrooms are a bit soggy. That bacon is burnt. Do you not want to put more on? Just so we are not eating through awful, disgusting charcoal again, you know? Go on, give it a try.”

She completely blew her top She threw down the egg turner and it went skiting across the kitchen floor. Oh-oh. Then she gave me one of her perfectly-crafted evil glares. “What is wrong with you this morning? Do you really think I don’t know how to make breakfast?” I looked at her very calmly and replied: “No. I just wanted to show you what it feels like when I’m driving.”

Son Sells 28 Years of Birthday Whisky to Buy First Home
A man whose father gave him 18-year-old whisky every year for his birthday is selling the collection to buy a house.  Matthew Robson, from Taunton, was born in 1992 and over the course of his life his father Pete has spent about £5,000 on 28 bottles of Macallan single malt. The collection is now worth more than £40,000 and has been put up for sale. The 28-year-old said it "probably wasn't" the best gift for a young boy but with "strict instructions never to open them" they had become a nest egg.  Each year I received it as a birthday present," Matthew said. "I thought it was quite a quirky little present as I was slightly too young to start drinking.  But I was under strict instructions, never, never to open them and I tried my hardest and succeeded and they're all intact."  His father Pete, who is from Milnathort in Scotland, said the first bottle of 1974 whisky was bought to "wet the baby's head".  "I thought it would be interesting if I bought one every year and he'd end up with 18 bottles of 18-year-old whisky for his 18th birthday," he said.  "It wasn't the only present he got from us. It was just meant to be a unique present but it was a little bit of luck that we kept it going." Since then, experts say Macallan has become collectable and Matthew is hoping to sell his collection for £40,000 and use the money for a house deposit.  It is being sold by whisky broker Mark Littler, who has described it as a "perfect set". "The value of Macallan has risen massively over the last five to 10 years," he said. "To have such a vast collection of bottles is the real selling point of these."  He said there had been "a lot of interest already" in the collection, mostly from buyers in New York and Asia.
Comment - R
I can see my grand kids pestering me to sell MY jealously guarded collection of old Malts

'Surprise and Disappointment' At UK Drug Response
A cross-party group of MPs has accused the UK Westminster government of the almost "wholesale rejection" of moves to tackle Scotland's record drug deaths. It comes after the Scottish Affairs Committee published a report in November calling for a radical re-think of current drugs policy.  Their recommendations included decriminalising drugs for personal use and backing consumption rooms.  However, the UK Westminster government has rejected most of the recommendations.  They include calls to declare Scotland's record drug deaths - 1,187 in 2018 - a public health emergency.  The UK Westminster government also said a recommendation to reform the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act and decriminalise drugs for personal use would not "eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade, nor would it address the harms associated with drug dependence".  They added: "There is a strong link between drugs and crime, which is why we reject the assertion that the Department for Health and Social Care should lead on drug misuse. We know that people who regularly use heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine are estimated to commit around 45% of all acquisitive crime." Since 2008 the Scottish government has treated drug misuse as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.  On the idea of consumption rooms, the UK Westminster government responded that: "We want to do all we can to stop people having access to drugs that could ultimately kill them. No illegal drug-taking can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them." They added: "Our approach on drugs remains clear - we must prevent drug use in our communities, support people through treatment and recovery, and tackle the supply of illegal drugs."  Glasgow City Council has proposed allowing users to take their own drugs under the supervision of medical staff at a special facility in the city, but the idea has been blocked by the Home Office.  Sometimes dubbed "fix rooms", the aim would be to encourage users who inject heroin or cocaine on Glasgow's streets to enter a safe and clean environment. It was hoped the scheme would encourage addicts into treatment, cut down on heroin needles on city streets and counter the spread of diseases such as HIV.  Last week, a recovering heroin addict launched a drug consumption van in Glasgow despite warnings it could break the law. The cross-party committee, which is chaired by SNP MP Pete Wishart, includes four Conservatives, three Labour members, two Lib Dems and two other SNP MPs.  Mr Wishart said the committee's report was based on one of the most "extensive drugs inquiries in Scotland ever conducted".  However, following the government's response to the report, he said: "We are surprised and disappointed by the government's almost wholesale rejection of recommendations by a Westminster Select Committee after collecting a substantial body of evidence from people with lived experience, charities and academics, as well as legal, criminal justice and health professionals…few of these will find comfort in this response."  He also accused the government of providing little evidence to support its stance and called for what evidence there was to be made available ahead of a drug summit in February.  He added: "What is evident is there's little change in the government's drugs strategy despite the death rate in Scotland from problem drug use remaining stubbornly higher than any country in Europe. This fact itself should demonstrate that the current approach isn't working. This is undoubtedly a public health emergency."  All UK drugs misuse legislation is currently reserved to Westminster.  The Scottish government has said it welcomes support for the introduction of a safe drugs consumption room in Glasgow as part of efforts to reduce deaths there.  A spokeswoman said when the report was published in November: "The outdated Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 should be amended to allow us to implement a range of public health focused responses, including the introduction of safe consumption facilities in Glasgow.  We call on the UK Westminster government to amend the Act or to devolve those powers to Scotland."

Islanders Fear 'Economic Clearance' Over House Prices

Community figures have warned that rising property prices in the Hebrides, Western Isles and Skye are preventing locals from buying a home.  In an open letter they described the situation as akin to an "economic clearance" that was threatening the sustainability of the islands. They said young islanders could not compete with offers made by buyers from elsewhere in the UK.  It follows claims parts of Scotland are seeing a post-lockdown property boom.  The uptick in interest has been put down to previously office-based staff being able to work from home and perceived lower rates of Covid-19.  The letter's signatories - which includes crofters, development officers and Gaelic campaigners - said 40% of housing stock on both Tiree in the Inner Hebrides and West Harris in the Western Isles were holiday homes.  They said the availability of affordable properties for young islanders had been a long-running problem, but was expected to worsen post-lockdown.  They pointed to reports of people across the UK looking to relocate to the Highlands and Islands, and having the means to make higher offers than local buyers.  The letter said: "Part-time residencies do not sustain our communities and we should therefore ensure that houses are bought with the intention of being a primary residency.  Inaction will allow this economic clearance to be consolidated in history."  The use of the term "clearance" echoes back to the Highland clearances when tenants were evicted from land in the 18th and 19th Centuries so landlords could increase their income. The letter suggests Uist in the Western Isles be used as a trial location where properties are advertised locally in the first instance prior to being listed on the national market.  The letter said: "A recent example of a house in Uist becoming available for rental shows the scope for positive action. The owner agreed that the house should first be advertised to young locals, and a number of applications were received.  They seized this opportunity to invest in the community by offering the house to a returning young couple with three children."  The letter comes after concerns were raised that Gaelic speakers among the islands' communities could vanish within 10 years.  Researchers said daily use of Gaelic was currently too low to sustain it as a community language in the future.  The letter's signatories include Pàdruig Morrison, a Uist crofter, researcher and musician and architect and Gaelic campaigner Martin Baillie, from Skye.  Uist businesswoman Emma Axelsson and crofter Fiona NicÌosaig have also signed it.
Comment -R
Its not only in the Islands that higher prices are preventing locals from buying a home - its been happening in Sutherland and Caithness for quite some time. I first heard the disparaging term “white settlers” used to describe these incomers a fairly long time ago.

Lockdown Restrictions Extended in West of Scotland

More than 1.1 million people will now be affected by tougher restrictions on home visits after they were extended to two more areas in the west of Scotland.  The measures will apply in Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire from midnight after a rise in positive cases. The rules had already been reimposed in Glasgow city, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire last week.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said acting quickly now could "stem the tide of transmission" in the area. But she has warned that there is a "definite trend" of rising case numbers across Scotland.  Measures were reimposed in parts of the greater Glasgow area last week in response to a rise in coronavirus cases.  People are being told not to host people from other households inside their own homes, or visit another person's home. Meetings in pubs and restaurants and outdoor areas are still permitted - although the Scottish government said the hospitality sector would be monitored in the coming days to see whether restrictions should be extended.  A further 78 positive cases were reported in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board on Monday.  Ms Sturgeon said it was "too early" to say whether the fresh lockdown had had any effect on cases.  The measures are targeted at household meetings, with Ms Sturgeon saying it was "still the view of public health teams that the significant factor driving transmission is people meeting up in their own homes". She said local authorities in the area would "pay close attention to hospitality" and would encourage people to act responsibly while using bars and restaurants. The widened restrictions - which also mean there should only be "essential" visits to people in hospitals and care homes - will be reviewed in a week's time. Ms Sturgeon said the measures are not yet being extended to Lanarkshire or Inverclyde - noting that levels of infection were "significantly lower" in Inverclyde. The restrictions will now apply to apply to 179,000 people living in Renfrewshire and 108,000 in East Dunbartonshire.  The city of Glasgow has a population of 633,120, while there are 95,530 people in East Renfrewshire and 88,930 in West Dunbartonshire.  Ms Sturgeon said it was "regrettable we are in this position", but that the measures banning household visits were "considered proportionate but also the most effective".  She added: "If we act quickly and preventatively now, we can stem the tide of transmission and avoid having other restrictions put in place."  The first minister had earlier warned that a continuing rise in Covid-19 cases in Scotland could see her government "put the brakes" on the planned easing of some restrictions.  An average of 152 positive tests have been recorded each day over the past week - compared to 14 per day six weeks ago.  The number of hospital admissions and deaths has not risen as sharply, although Ms Sturgeon warned that "this may just be a matter of time".

A68 At Fala: the Collapsed Road Rebuilt in Under A Month

Heavy rainfall on 12 August caused the closure of the A68, near Fala in Midlothian. It appeared as if a massive bite had been taken out of the carriageway.  Andy Thompson of Bear Scotland said it had been a "real team effort" to get the route reopened in the space of about three-and-a-half weeks.  The first pictures of the collapse of about half the carriageway emerged after downpours swept across much of Scotland.  They showed significant damage to the important commuter route between the south of the country and the capital. The road had to be closed immediately in both directions as there was no way to allow traffic to pass safely.  It came at almost exactly the same time as Bear Scotland was taking over responsibility for maintenance of the route from Amey.  Indeed, a number of those working on the project started with one employer and ended it with another. What they were dealing with was the failure of a 20m (65ft) deep embankment below the road.  As a result, a full closure of the A68 was put in place, with a signed diversion route in operation.  Work started immediately on a three-phase project to get the road reopened.  The first stage saw the site "cleared and stabilised" before an initial 2,000 tonnes of rock was laid down.  Utility companies had to divert fibre-optic cables under the carriageway away from the work area before the embankment could be fully rebuilt.  That allowed phase two to take place as a further 3,000 tonnes of rock were used to rebuild the collapsed embankment back up to road level.  This continued around the clock despite the arrival of Storm Francis during the operations.  The final stage saw the construction of kerbing, road drainage, the footpath and the roadside safety barrier.  The surface layers of the new road were then laid down and road markings added. Bear Scotland said each stage had been "carefully programmed and co-ordinated" to get the job done as quickly as possible "without compromising safety or quality of construction".  Traffic management is currently in place but it is hoped to be removed by the end of the week.  That would allow the A68 to return to full operation in the space of an eventful month.

Wait in Store for Inverness's Kessock Bridge Paint Job
The Kessock Bridge will have to wait some time yet before it gets a new lick of paint. Trials of various types of paint on the bridge started in September 2018, and management company Bear Scotland is still planning for it to have a makeover.  A spokesman said: “The initial painting trials completed on the bridge in 2019 provided valuable insights as to how we can progress the painting scheme to ensure it remains safe and protected for years to come. The painting work on the bridge would involve removing the existing paint and applying a new paint protection system to all the main components, including beneath the deck as well as the towers. We’re in the process of carrying out testing to determine the effects from the temporary access structures required to facilitate the painting scheme, including during adverse weather conditions.”

Before Heading for the Hills Check Out this Website

Hillwalkers are being encouraged to check online for deer stalking information before setting out during the busiest part of the season.  NatureScot manages the Heading for the Scottish Hills website which provides details on deer stalking on estates between July and late October to help walkers avoid disturbing stalking.  The website also helps walkers follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. It includes advice on where and when stag stalking is taking place, provides details on who to contact for more information and includes routes that are ‘always okay’ for walkers.  Fiona Cuninghame, NatureScot recreation and access officer, said: “It has been great to see so many people returning to our wonderful outdoors once again following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions.  Many people may be discovering the joys of exploring our hills and mountains for the first time, which is fantastic.  However, it’s also important to bear in mind that this can be a very busy time for land managers.  Our Heading for the Scottish Hills website is a great resource to help walkers have a great day out without disturbing deer stalking in their chosen area, as well as helping to raise awareness of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.”

Leith Parish Church Archaeological Dig: the Most Fascinating Finds Unearthed So Far

Since the start of the summer, Leithers have been treated to a complimentary peek at the port’s medieval past, as archaeologists openly unearth fascinating antique finds from beneath Constitution Street.  With the Trams to Newhaven project now in the initial phase of construction, close to 100 human remains dating from as far back as the 14th century have been exhumed within the historic boundary of South Leith Parish Church on the future tram route.  Prior to the construction of Constitution Street in 1790, the graveyard once extended a few hundred yards east of its modern boundary and hundreds of men, women and children of all ages were laid to rest below what is now a road. Similar to a previous dig in 2008 that uncovered the remains of nearly 400 individuals, a fair proportion of the skulls found in the past few weeks are in such a well-preserved state that experts plan to take them away for forensic analysis and attempt digital facial reconstructions. Hundreds more burial plots are thought to have been lost during the Victorian era when a sewer system was built.  But it’s not just the dozens of burial plots that are wearing down archaeologists’ trowels and brushes. A large number of ancient artefacts have emerged from the sacred ground too.  Rubble remains of the church’s original boundary wall, dating from 1483, can be seen along with evidence of a gravel pathway that formerly ran between the Kirkgate and Leith Links. Whale bones, providing a direct link with Leith’s whaling past, have emerged, as well as a very rare cannonball that was likely fired during the 1559-60 Siege of Leith. A second cannonball has also been discovered and is of a type common during the Cromwell occupation in the 1600s when Constitution Street and Leith were refortified. Situated by one of the plots is a grave marker, the survival of which is considered exceptionally rare. Nearby is an unusual burial, with the head of the individual set to the east - a right usually associated with the clergy. Much of the dig site itself is sandy-coloured, a remnant of Leith’s once sprawling sand dunes that furnished land far beyond the modern-day docks after the last ice age.  City Archaeologist John Lawson has been presenting a regular vlog on YouTube, detailing finds over the past eight weeks.  One find that has attracted a lot of attention in the past week is an early 17th century coin of Dutch origin. Speaking during the latest vlog, Mr Lawson said: “We’ve got two finds showing international connections - both from Holland and dating from the 17th century. One is a shard from a Dutch redware, possibly a skillet or cooking vessel. A common import in Leith and Scotland at that time. We have very few coins coming up in local excavations - people are very careful with coins, but what we have here is quite an interesting coin from northern Holland and dates to 1628. It adds that trading connection between Edinburgh and what is now the Netherlands.”

'Piranha' Found Dead in River Ness At Inverness
What is thought to be a piranha or a close relative of the fish has been found dead in the River Ness at Inverness.  The discovery by Ness District Fishery Board followed an angler coming across two Central American species of fish in the river. The board said the fish found on Tuesday could be a piranha or a silver dollar, a relative of piranha and pacu. The other exotic fish found were thought to be Jaguar cichlids. It is suspected the fish were kept as pets before being dumped. The warm water species would not have survived long in the Ness. But the fishery board said the fish could have had diseases or parasites that posed a risk to native fish. Two cichlids were found by a member of Inverness Angling Club, and a third by the fishery board after director Chris Conroy and a colleague investigated whether other exotic fish had been dumped.  Mr Conroy said: "Any release of non-native species into the wild is extremely irresponsible and could have significant negative impacts on our native fish stocks. The species found to date are all native to a warm climate and so had little to no chance of surviving in the cold waters of the River Ness. They could however pose a significant disease risk."  The River Ness flows from Loch Ness to the sea at Inverness. The Ness river system's native species include salmon, trout and European eels, a creature suggested to be behind the legend of the Loch Ness Monster.

Borders Railway: 'The Line Has Re-energised Our Community'
No trains had stopped in the village of Stow since its station was closed in 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts, which left the whole region without any rail service.  The village, which has a population of about 700, got a new station as part of the Borders Railway project. So what impact has the return of a rail service after more than 40 years had on the community? Grace Murray has been in the village for the best part of 40 years. She works for Scottish Enterprise and, before lockdown anyway, said the morning commute to her usual base in Edinburgh had changed dramatically.  "Since the Borders Railway opened, and until the pandemic, I used the train most days to travel to Edinburgh and Glasgow for work - this after more than 30 years of driving," she said. "I've made some incredible new friends who sit in the same seats every morning to have a laugh and blether before work. You don't get that in a car." She said she felt there had been wider changes too.  "Stow has become more connected since the railway started again - both in terms of being nearer to places and by connecting us as a village through the sense of community on train journeys," she said. "The Borders Railway must be one of the friendliest routes in Britain where there's always a chat and appreciation for not having to drive into Edinburgh.  This has always been a fantastic place to live and the railway has re-energised our community - that's given a confidence to move forward and embrace a new future."  Retired engineer Bill Jamieson was an active member of the Campaign for Borders Rail and led the struggle to get a station.  He has lived in Stow for more than 30 years and had seen the number of facilities dwindle over the years, in common with many other places of similar size.  However, he said the population had risen more recently - including more young people with children - due to its growth as a commuter village. "For me it has changed the village for the better - but in some almost undefinable fashion," he said.  He said the best way he could describe it was that it seemed "far more connected" than before.  In 45 minutes, Mr Jamieson said he could be at Waverley station with links to the rest of the UK - or even Europe.  "In the other direction, visiting family and friends have a civilised journey to within half a mile of our house," he said.  Perhaps, he added, even some of the "it will never happen brigade" were now "enthusiastic train users".  He also hopes it can play a part in rejuvenating the area. "One thing I notice is how well used the trains are by younger people," he said. "I wonder if the connectivity that the railway provides is altering the old mindset where youngsters couldn't wait to leave a place like Stow?"

What is the Row Over UK 'Internal Markets' All About?

The Scottish and UK Westminster governments are heading into another constitutional standoff over post-Brexit powers and the "internal market" after new legislation was tabled at Westminster.  The new UK Internal Market Bill has immediately run into controversy over its impact on talks with the EU and on international treaties, given it could re-write parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement.  However the core function of the bill is also contentious for what it might mean for the future of devolution.  The Scottish government has not ruled out legal action to prevent it becoming law. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The Tories' proposed bill for a so-called UK internal market is an abomination. It is a naked power grab which would cripple devolution."  The Taoiseach (Ireland's prime minister) Micheál Martin has spoken to Mr Johnson "in forthright terms" about "the breach of an international treaty, the absence of bilateral engagement and the serious implications for Northern Ireland". The question of how powers currently exercised from Brussels are divided up after the transition period ends on 31 December has already seen Scotland and the UK governments clash at the Supreme Court.  At its most basic level, this is a row about who gets what.  The Scottish government says a Westminster "power grab" is under way, because anything which is not specifically reserved should automatically come to Holyrood.  But the UK Westminster government says what is happening represents "the biggest transfer of powers in the history of devolution".  This situation is perhaps something of a sideshow to the more fundamental conflict - how these powers are used, and what it could mean for the future of regulations and standards in the UK. Right now, the UK is part of the European single market, with jointly agreed regulations and standards right across the continent.  Post-Brexit, the UK Westminster government wants to continue to have a joint market across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - the "internal market". But instead of the rules and regulations around things like food and air quality and animal welfare being set in Brussels, now they have to be set closer to home - and there is a row over who should have the final say.  Many powers are set to be directly controlled by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations, in fields including food labelling, energy efficiency and support for farmers. However, the UK Westminster government has said the devolved administrations will still have to accept goods and services from all other parts of the UK - even if they have set different standards locally.  This means there would be a level playing field for companies across the "internal market" - so Welsh farmers could sell their lamb in Belfast, Scottish whisky distilleries could buy barley from English farmers, and so on. UK ministers warn that not having this kind of system could cause "serious problems".  The devolved governments are happy to have common frameworks of such rules - and work is continuing to try and agree them - but say the legislation tabled effectively undermines this by giving Westminster a veto.  Because all four nations will have to accept goods at the standards set in any one country, there are fears local quality controls could be dragged down to a lowest common denominator - the Welsh government foresee a "race to the bottom". The oft-cited example is that if the UK Westminster government did a trade deal with the US which allowed the importation of chlorine-washed chicken to England, the proposed rulebook means it would have to be allowed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too. UK ministers insist they would not do such a deal, and want to maintain high standards. Furthermore, under the current proposals any disputes would be settled by a new Office for the Internal Market. This might be envisioned as an independent third party forum, but the devolved administrations see it as being another example of decisions being taken out of their hands.  We have actually seen this row play out once already, and things could easily go the same way again. This time, ministers are gearing up to refuse consent for the UK bill, have tabled their own legislation, and say they are ready to go to court. Questions of legality have already been raised, given the UK government has rather starkly admitted that its plans would break international law.  The chances of this being settled amicably appear slim. To start with, the administrations in Edinburgh and London come from fundamentally different places on the question of Brexit.  The two big constitutional issues have become tightly interwoven, and next year's Holyrood election will provide a perfect stage for these rows to play out very publicly. Nicola Sturgeon has already drawn the link between the three, saying the SNP will be campaigning to demand a new independence referendum as "the only way to protect the Scottish parliament from being undermined and its powers eroded". The Conservatives meanwhile will undoubtedly be campaigning in May to keep the UK - and its internal market - intact. The UK may be exiting the transition period on 31 December, but the rows over Brexit and powers look set to rumble on for some time to come.

Police Scotland Operation Sees 24 Arrests Over Human Trafficking
A total of 24 arrests have been made after a Police Scotland-led operation targeting human trafficking.  Raids were carried out at four premises in Aberdeen and Glasgow, five in England and 23 in Romania.  Ten people were arrested in the UK in connection with offences related to serious and organised crime and human trafficking, with the remaining 14 being held by Romanian police.  A number of potential trafficking victims were also found. The cross-border operation was carried out in the early hours of Wednesday.  Officers from Police Scotland's National Human Trafficking Unit worked with the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Romanian Police's Directorate for Countering Organized Crime / Trafficking in Human Beings Department.  Officers from Leicestershire, West Midlands and Northamptonshire police forces were also involved.  The premises targeted in England were in Leicester, Coventry and Northampton.  Det Insp Adrian Wallis, who led the operation, said it followed a "lengthy investigation".  He said: "The arrests are the result of working closely with our partners in the NCA and officers in Romania over the last 12 months, to identify those involved in this exploitation.  The investigation isn't over yet, however, today's action should send a very clear message: trafficking won't be tolerated, and we will continue to work with partners, nationally and internationally, to identify those involved in slavery and exploitation and to bring them to justice."

University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Given Flying Marks in UK Student Survey

Postgraduate students have given top marks to the University of the Highlands and Islands in a nationwide survey.  Student satisfaction with UHI's taught postgraduate programmes is significantly above the national average.  It received a score of 85% student satisfaction in the 2020 Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey – seven% higher than the Scottish average. The UK-wide survey provides students with an opportunity to provide feedback on learning and teaching, assessment and feedback and organisation and management. Respondents rated the university particularly highly for its teaching, assessment and course information. Dr Iain Morrison, University of the Highlands and Islands Dean of Students, said: “Once again, our students are telling us that the University of the Highlands and Islands is one of the best places in the UK to study postgraduate programmes. This survey ran entirely during lockdown and the great results come as no surprise, since our dedicated staff have been delivering a personalised learning experience and support to our students for over 20 years, wherever our students choose to study.  Our strong industry links also ensure our postgraduate students develop the skills, qualifications and confidence required to support the recovery of our region following the Covid-19 pandemic.  Places on courses are still available for those who want to start their postgraduate journey in September.”

Nicola Sturgeon Says Covid Briefings 'More Important Than Ever'

The first minister has said her ability to communicate directly with the public is "more important than ever" following the BBC's decision to reduce its live TV broadcasts of the Scottish government's coronavirus briefing.  However, Nicola Sturgeon said it was for the corporation rather than politicians to decide what was televised.  It comes after the BBC said it would continue to stream the briefings online but would only show them live on TV based on their "news value". Ms Sturgeon made the comments during Friday's briefing at St Andrews House.  She said the briefings were a vital public service as Covid cases accelerated, especially for vulnerable groups.  Ms Sturgeon said that included older people - particularly those who were shielding - and people with hearing difficulties. She said:"We are in unique circumstances right now and the ability for me and my colleagues to communicate directly with the public has never been more important. "So, it's for the BBC (to decide). All I would ask is that they take that into account in the decisions that they make." The BBC has confirmed there will be full live TV coverage on Monday 14 September, to cover the introduction of newckdown restrictions in Scotland.