Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 585

Issue # 585                                                      Week ending Saturday 2nd January  2021

So Has Anyone Got Any Good Ideas About Who’ll Be Able to Lead Us All Out of this Calamity? by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Would anyone like a turkey sandwich? If you say yes I might just post it to you. Mrs X was being far too generous because every time I tried to eat one I fell asleep - probably because they were so thick I had to yawn to get them in my mouth. We don’t usually have a big bird in this house most years but this was no ordinary year and we got the opportunity so it’s turkey curry again tonight for me.

It was also probably because the world is so topsy-turvy that we reverted to very traditional fare with traditional trimmings and traditional pastimes - like slumping in the chair, snoring, shouting why do they never put anything decent on the telly at Christmas anymore, and watching that musical for people who hate musicals - Calamity Jane. Calam is one fictional character I would like to see as Prime Minister. That tomboy gunslinger would fix even Brexit.

Oh heck, we have a deal. What happens now? Who knows? It is going to be heaven or it will be hell - that still depends on who you listen to. Labour’s Sir Keir Starmer thinks it’s OK but many others in his party think it is a rubbish agreement and want to sink it. Oh, here we go again ...

The British exit from the European Union is what Brexit is, of course. I have always wondered what the Europeans say in their own languages. I doubt if the French and the rest of the EU use our English term, Brexit. They’ll describe us with something ending in U. Yep. Maybe adiEU? Of course.

Perhaps our fears are unfounded. Maybe Brexit will be a good thing. I’m not sure fishermen agree the deal is the best. Other supporters of Brexit however say it will make no difference at all because we make nothing much in Britain these days. All the hi-tech jobs are in faraway countries. I’m just looking at the back of the radio on my desk and it says Built In Antenna. Blimey, that is one country I’ve never even heard of.

There is talk of extensions to deadlines already. Surely it will all be finalised soon. You can just see what could happen. The year is 2080 and the British Prime Minister visits Brussels to ask for an extension of the Brexit deadline. No one remembers how the tradition began but every year the annual spectacle attracts tourists from all over the world.

I have just had my annual note from a reader asking me to announce what my New Year resolutions will be. What is the point of promises of performance in a pandemic? We don’t know what’s in store for 2021. Mind you, maybe we should keep up these traditions. My New Year resolution at the end of 2019 was about staying away from people who are always negative. This time my resolution is about staying away from people who test positive.
Like Boris Johnson when he caught coronavirus. He was rushed to hospital and put on that new ventilator made by Dyson. It was soon announced he was picking up nicely.

Seriously, we should take a moment to remember those who passed away in this rotten year. Covid claimed its share - so many that we have become numbed to the daily tallies on the news. It is, of course, those we knew from their appearances in our living rooms that most of us will really remember - many of them were in that corner since we were growing up. There are just so many. I am thinking of Sir Sean Connery, Barbara Windsor, Stirling Moss, Des O’Connor, Bobby Ball and someone I met a couple of times, country singer Charley Pride of hits like Kiss an Angel Good Morning and Crystal Chandeliers. Well, Mrs X was the superfan but I had to go along to make sure she didn’t whisper to him “all I have to offer you is me”. I didn’t want anyone kissing her good morning, the wee angel that she is. Right, that is quite enough smoochiness.

Lastly, I want to pay a fond farewell to Larry Tesler, a computer scientist who has helped me and everyone else who has ever used a computer. He passed away in February at age 74. Larry, of course, was best known for inventing copy and paste. Larry, of course, was best known for inventing copy and paste. Larry, of course, was best known for inventing copy and paste.

Gutted: Europe's Fishing Deal with the UK by Douglas Fraser
The deal on fisheries required concessions from both the EU and the UK - but that only gets them to 2026, when the same issues return. Until then, the British make modest inroads into Europe's share of catch quotas, much of that for species Britain has to export.  The penalties for breaking this short-term deal could be severe, and serve notice that access to European markets will come at a price, in access to British waters.  'Kicking the can down the road': it was one of those expressions that came to characterise four and a half years of Brexit negotiations, as two prime ministers struggled to find a way to square impossible expectations in their own ranks with a formidable negotiating team on the other side of the table.  It hasn't ended. The fisheries can has been kicked down Cannery Row to 30 June 2026. The issue wasn't resolved. It was postponed.  Some time before that date - probably not long, if recent experience is any guide - we'll be pitched back into the most difficult bit of the Brexit negotiations.

Some things will have changed by then. UK vessels will have around an eighth more of the total catch from UK waters, or roughly 25% more than they have now. They will have received £100m from the UK Westminster government to expand and update the fleet. And perhaps there will be a more realistic set of expectations of what Brexit can achieve. In some ways, fish was the starting point of Brexit - the 'expendable' sector in the 1970s that stoked up resentment for the next 50 years.  That partly explains why it was the last issue to be resolved - still in dispute even hours after the scheduled Christmas Eve announcement time for a deal had come and gone.  And while the negotiators dispute has ended for now, it is one of the most hotly contested elements of the outcome. Fishery organisations, along with the Scottish National Party, say it is deeply or bitterly disappointing, and that promises have been broken.  The UK Westminster government concedes that it had to give some ground, but got most of what it wanted.

"Annexe Fish.4: protocol on access to waters", on page 899 of the EU version of the agreed text, sets out the most contentious issues with more clarity than you'll find on most other pages.  It uses British language about "independent coastal states" exercising "sovereign rights". It asserts that sharing of waters should be negotiated annually - again, a British demand.  It takes the EU view in "noting the social and economic benefits of a further period of stability", it continues the fishing access established over recent years.  That period lasts longer than the British wanted, and less time than the EU would have preferred, resolving the trickiest of issues in two brief sentences: "Article 1: An adjustment period is hereby established. The adjustment period shall last from 1 January 2021 until 30 June 2026". During those five and a half years, shares will be "reasonably commensurate" with recent shares of fishing quotas and opportunities. Those stocks not restricted by quota are to retain the average tonnage of EU catch in UK waters (and vice versa) during 2012 to 2016. The same boats, or their direct replacement, must be allowed into each other's waters.  But then? The answer is on page 274: "Any subsequent changes to the shares... after 30 June 2026 are a matter for the relevant multilateral fora". In other words, back to the negotiating table.

The British side established the sovereignty issue. But for the period of the transition, they got much less of a cut than the British fishers expected in European quota. According to the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations, using figures that were briefed on Christmas Eve but don't appear in the agreement document, UK boats will see an increase of 25%. The Federation quotes officials saying 2021 will see a 15% increase, and from 2022 to 2025, each year will see an increase of only 2.5%. It won't be uniformly across all species. An annexe in the UK-EU agreement sets out the changes across stocks in different sea areas. Fisheries expert Griffin Carpenter, of the New Economics Foundation, explains that the really big increases in quota for UK vessels are in species they don't target much now, and for which there isn't much market in Britain; North Sea hake, up 36%, west of Scotland saithe, up 33%, English Channel sprat, rising 32%.  Likewise Norway pout caught in the North Sea, for which British boats will gain a 20% increase in share of the total catch. But starting from a very low base, that's a 400% increase in the amount they can land.  The most lucrative species are the ones where the UK's boats already have a share, and the relative increase in catch quota is more modest: herring, mackerel and whiting, which are mostly exported.  Possibly the best news for the white fish fleet, many of them out of north-east Scotland, is that the quota for cod is up 29% in the west of Scotland sea area, 22% around Rockall and 10% in the North Sea.

At least they know they can sell cod in the UK. Many of the other species require access for exports to European markets. And that's why it's worth taking a look at page 275 of the agreement: "Article FISH.14: Remedial measures and dispute resolution". That's where the Europeans set out their response if they lose any more than the agreed quota changes in the next five years.  First, they would block access for UK boats in EU waters. Then they would introduce tariffs on fishery products. And if that's not proportionate to the "economic and societal impact", they would introduce tariffs on other goods.  If that still isn't commensurate, they have a right to suspend the whole trade deal, and include in that the reciprocal agreement on road transport.  Such measures are subject to a tribunal judging whether these "remedies" are fair and proportionate.  But the message is clear: break this deal on fisheries for the next five years, and the EU will use the agreement to throw the kitchen sink at Britain in retaliation.  It also serves notice that any deal after June 2026 is going to link access for European vessels into UK waters with access of UK fishery products to European markets. That shouldn't surprise us. In negotiating the deal, Michel Barnier has made it clear that the two will be tied together: asserting British sovereignty comes at a price, and that price will be access to Europe's marketplace.  It's a reminder that the deal struck on Christmas Eve begins with no tariffs or quotas. But as Britain chooses to diverge, there's no guarantee that it will stay that way.

SNP MPs to Vote Against Brexit Trade Deal

SNP MPs will vote against Boris Johnson's Brexit deal when it comes before the House of Commons next week.  The party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford branded the trade agreement with the EU a "disaster for Scotland".  MPs are due to vote on the deal, reached with the EU on Christmas Eve, on 30 December.  It comes as Holyrood's presiding officer said the Scottish Parliament would be recalled to consider the deal on the same day.  Ken Macintosh said MSPs would sit from 14:00 "to consider a trade and co-operation agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union."  The UK Westminster government's deal is expected to pass at Westminster after Labour indicated it would support the agreement in order to provide legal clarity for business. SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already accused the Conservatives of selling out the Scottish fishing industry "all over again" after the deal granted access to UK waters. Ian Blackford described the agreement as an "unforgiveable act of economic vandalism and gross stupidity".  He added: "This is a very bad deal for Scotland, which will terminate our membership of the EU, rip us out of the world's largest single market and customs union, end our freedom of movement rights, and impose mountains of red tape, added costs and barriers to trade for Scottish businesses.  The deal with the EU will come into force after the UK's current transition period comes to an end on 31 December.  The Scottish government has claimed the Brexit deal could cost Scotland's economy more than £9bn by 2030 compared with remaining in the EU.  They said a forecast 6.1% drop in GDP was equivalent to losing £1,600 per person. But the UK Westminster government's Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, insisted Scots would expect their MPs to "do the right thing" and back the agreement in Wednesday's Commons vote. He said: "The deal is good news for Scotland and I believe it is now time to move on from the Brexit debate and join forces in embracing our exciting future. We have secured a historic free trade deal with the EU that delivers for Scotland and the whole of the UK."

Covid in Scotland: Confirmed Cases Pass 120,000
Almost 1,000 positive tests for Covid-19 have been recorded in the past 24 hours, taking the total number of confirmed cases to more than 120,000.  The average number of new cases per day has been rising steadily following a spike of infections before Christmas.  The percentage of people testing positive in Scotland has also been higher than 12% for the past two days. National clinical director Prof Jason Leitch urged people not to delay their test if they had symptoms.  Scottish government figures show that 967 cases were reported on Monday, taking the total during the whole pandemic to 120,891.  The number of deaths following a positive test remains at 4,416, but no update is being given on this figure between 25 and 28 December.  The "positivity rate" reached 12.3% on Sunday - the highest it has been during the second wave of the pandemic and a significant rise on recent weeks.  The rate is important because the World Health Organisation says the percentage of positive test results is a key measure when assessing the status of a Covid-19 outbreak within a country. Although the rate fluctuates daily, a two-day period above 12% is notable.  The Scottish government said Covid-19 testing centres were open as normal over the Christmas period and people should not put off getting a test if they have symptoms.  Delaying tests would "hamper efforts" to tackle a new variant of the virus which is believed to be much more transmissible.  Dumfries and Galloway Health and Social Care Partnership said cases linked to an outbreak in Wigtownshire had more than doubled over the last two days.  The new strain of the virus has been identified as part of this outbreak, which has grown from from 64 cases on Boxing Day to 142 on Monday.  Meanwhile concern has been raised that Shetland could be moved from level three to level four, amid a rise in cases.  There have been 10 cases linked to North Mainland in the last 24 hours 120 people have been asked to isolate. Prof Leitch said it was "paramount" people did not delay getting a test. "Getting tested also helps to give us the up-to-date data on how Covid-19 is spreading, which we need to tackle the virus," he said. "If people delay that testing then they are potentially putting other people at risk. So if you have a high temperature or fever, new continuous cough or a change in sense of smell or taste, you should self-isolate and please book a test immediately."  All of mainland Scotland moved into the toughest level of coronavirus restrictions on 26 December. Millions of people are now living under level four curbs - the highest of the country's five-tier system of anti-virus measures.  The change means non-essential retail and hospitality have been closed and additional travel restrictions imposed to curb a new strain of the virus.  The restrictions are due to be reviewed in three weeks.

Travel Blog Apologises After Claiming Edinburgh is in England

An international travel blog has apologised after posting a picture of Edinburgh - which it said was in England.  The Magical Places on Earth blog posted a photograph of Victoria Street in Edinburgh with the caption "Edinburgh, England" followed by a Union flag emoji. Bosses behind the blog, which has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter, said they were 'deeply sorry' for the blunder and confirmed they fired the social media intern who posted it. One user said: "Seriously? You aren't qualified to run this account clearly", while another posted: "Would have thought that a page called 'Magical Places On Earth' would have a basic grasp of geography or, at the very least, be able to search something on Google." Another posted: "Get back to school for your failed geography - Northern Ireland is a country, along with Wales, Scotland and England in the UK and Edinburgh is the capital of the country, Scotland."  Someone else added: "Bad mistake but good lesson on how to lose followers. Edinburgh is in Scotland and is not connected in any way to England. Buy a map or do whatever it takes to get your facts right." Following the backlash, the company tweeted: "Correction, it's Scotland.  We deeply apologise for our earlier tweet about Edinburgh. We just fired out social media internee. We are sorry."  The account holder, based in Pakistan, said they were a student and that English was not their first language.  They said they started the blog alone but got more people involved over time. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the blogger said: "I'm a student so I'm not getting enough time for this. So I hired someone from my university who contacted me first telling me he is interested in managing my accounts as an intern. Last night when he posted that tweet I got too many reports on my Twitter accounts. One of the reasons behind firing him was obviously the backlash by the crowd which was beyond hysteric."  The blogger said they were concerned Twitter could suspend the account which they "worked very hard on".

MSPs Recalled to Holyrood to Debate Brexit Deal
MSPs are to be recalled to the Scottish Parliament for a debate on the Brexit deal agreed between the UK and the EU.  The move comes as MPs at Westminster prepare to approve the free trade agreement sealed with EU leaders.  However the deal is not expected to win the support of MSPs, with the SNP, Labour, Greens and Lib Dems all speaking out against it. A motion in the name of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon calls for a "pause" to Brexit to consider the issue. The debate marks the fourth time Holyrood has been recalled during recess, following the death of First Minister Donald Dewar in October 2000, the death of the Queen Mother in April 2002, and the release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 2009. The last-minute agreement will come into force on Friday, with the post-Brexit transition period ending on 31 December.  It looks set to pass through Westminster in a single day, with Labour MPs backing the Conservative government in order to avoid the transition ending with no deal in place.  The SNP also want to avoid a "no-deal" exit, but with that seemingly assured, the party's MPs are to vote against the deal.  Ms Sturgeon said it was "far better" for SNP MPs to "cast a principled vote against Brexit" and get on with campaigning for Scottish independence. The Scottish Conservatives said this "political posturing" was "reckless and pathetic".  Holyrood's Europe committee will consider Westminster's European Union (Future Relationship) Bill on Wednesday morning, with Constitution Secretary Mike Russell appearing as a witness.  Then, in the afternoon, MSPs will debate a Scottish government motion which says parliament "does not consent to the bill".  The motion says that "while a no deal outcome must be avoided", the deal negotiated with EU leaders "would cause severe damage to Scotland's environmental, economy and social interests".  It says the legislation "will receive severely limited scrutiny" in particular from the Scottish Parliament, and calls on the UK Westminster government to "seek a pause in current implementation while special arrangement are made to take account of these difficulties".  Ahead of the debate, Ms Sturgeon said: "The question before the Scottish Parliament is not about this deal or no deal, but whether this deal is good or bad for Scotland.  The result is a deal which is harmful for the UK as a whole - but perhaps especially harmful for Scotland. It should not receive the Scottish Parliament's consent."  The motion looks certain to pass, with all parties bar the Scottish Conservatives having united behind it.  Scottish Labour are to reject the deal at Holyrood, despite backing it at Westminster.  Leader Richard Leonard said there had been "no engagement with industry, trade unions or devolved governments on the terms of this trade deal, and barely any parliamentary scrutiny let alone public participation". Tory leader Douglas Ross said Scottish Labour were "set to line up behind the nationalists" rather than back the trade deal, saying other parties were "voting for a no-deal Brexit".  However, Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said his party "refuse to accept this false choice between a calamitous no-deal and the Prime Minister's version, which still drags Scotland out of Europe".  And Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the deal was "bad for jobs, business, our environment and our way of life".  The UK Westminster government is expected to press ahead with the legislation regardless of the vote at Holyrood, with proceedings at Westminster due to continue through the evening.  The "Sewel convention" of devolved consent holds that the UK Westminster government would "not normally" legislate across areas which the administrations in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast are responsible for without the express consent of the devolved legislatures.  However, the Brexit process has seen UK ministers press ahead with several pieces of key legislation rejected by MSPs, arguing that departure from the EU is not a normal set of circumstances. Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the deal was "great news for Scotland", urging MPs from all parties to back it.

New Training Academy in Highland Capital to Help People Develop Skills for Rapidly Changing Jobs Market
Charity New Start Highland hopes a new training project will help tackle poverty, homelessness and long-term unemployment in the region.  The new training academy will be located at its base in Carsegate Road North and aims to support more than 150 people next year.  The organisation is working with Highland Council, Inverness College UHI and local employers and funding has been provided by Scottish and Southern Energy under the Highland Sustainable Fund. New Start Highland chief executive James Dunbar said training would be tailored to individual needs and could include warehouse training, delivery and administration. “The aim is to support people back into work and skill people up to do different work,” he said.  “We want to do our bit in offering the skills we can to help people. One of the best ways to deal with poverty is to get a job and in my experience, most people want to work and just need the skills to get a job. What we are trying to do is offer wrap-around support depending on the individual”  Reflecting on a challenging year amid the coronavirus pandemic, he said New Start Highland had also provided a mental health ‘first aid’ service for its users who are struggling.  “We work with people experiencing the most vulnerability in society – those in poverty, in crisis, those meeting challenges with mental health, substance misuse, loneliness and isolation,” he explained.  “Lockdown was difficult for those of us fortunate enough to enjoy stability and comfort in our daily lives. But for others, the pandemic catapulted people already struggling into a truly dark place. As an organisation, we were privileged to be a lifeline to many, providing a listening ear and practical support to some, access to furniture and essential items such as food, data and energy top-ups to others.” It also set up a food hub, delivering the equivalent of 30,000 meals and toiletries via about 40 community groups and social ventures across the Highlands.  It also supplies prepaid energy keys and phone cards, for local distribution.  The scheme received £55,000 from the Scottish Government’s wellbeing fund and donations from supermarkets.  Other projects it is exploring include promoting the availability of cycling, whether it is through the Cycle2Work scheme, a pool of bikes or a bike hire venture.

CalMac Vessel Out of Action Again for Oban to Barra Route

The jinxed ferry that plies Caledonian MacBrayne’s longest route is out of action yet again.  The 25-year-old MV Isle of Lewis – which sails on the Oban to Barra route – has been sidelined, this time by a broken bow ramp. It is out of service after it did not carry out sailings since the week before last due to onboard faults and bad weather.  The 331-ft vessel now cannot move off the one-ship pier at the Castlebay linkspan on Barra, so there is no berth for any replacement ship.  Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said there had been “too many breakdowns” that had plagued the ship over the past year in particular.  He said some of the problem lay with the delayed CalMac ferries being built of the Clyde. They are over three years late.  This latest breakdown highlights the need for management on the Clyde to up their game and get the two delayed ferries completed quicker to unblock the procurement programme for ageing ships like the Lewis which are having too many breakdowns,” he said. A spokesman for CalMac said: “Due to the nature of the technical issue, the vessel is unable to safely move off the berth in Castlebay and repairs will be carried out there. As a result, it is not possible to operate a service from Castlebay with an alternative vessel.”  The alternative route available to customers will be to travel via the Sound of Barra to connect with the Lochboisdale ferry which goes to Mallaig and not Oban.  Eleven days ago, the MV Isle of Lewis was diverted to Ullapool for repairs following a severe failure of her water and sanitation systems, necessitating the smaller MV Lord of the Isles to carry out a combined runs.  This time last year, Caledonian MacBrayne were blasted by Western Isles Council for leaving islanders marooned for days without a ferry.  A combination of poor weather and technical faults on the Isle of Lewis left the people of Barra facing days without a service on their lifeline ferry route to Oban.  CalMac apologised for the disruption.

New Covid Strain 'Becoming Dominant' in Scotland - Sturgeon
The new variant of Covid-19 is "fast becoming the dominant one in Scotland", Nicola Sturgeon has said, as daily infections hit a fresh record high.  A further 2,045 cases were logged on Wednesday, the highest tally for a single day since mass testing began. The whole Scottish mainland is in the highest level of restrictions in a bid to contain the new strain of the virus.  But the first minister said she could not rule out having to tighten measures even further in the coming days.  Ms Sturgeon said ministers were continuing to assess whether it will be possible to reopen schools in full from 18 January.  Although the number of cases reported on Wednesday showed a slight increase from the 1,895 reported on Tuesday, the percentage of tests that were positive (11.3%) had decreased.  A total of 43 deaths of people who tested positive for the virus were recorded, although registrar offices were closed over the public holidays. Hospital admissions are at 1,133 while 69 people are in intensive care. Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said the "significant number of new cases" underlined "the severity of the situation we face right now".  The first minister said an increasing number of positive tests coming back from laboratories appeared to be of the new variant of Covid-19.  She said Public Health Scotland analysis suggested 42.8% of positive tests processed for Scotland in the Lighthouse labs had the S gene drop out that indicated the new strain.  Ms Sturgeon said: "This new strain appears to be fast becoming the dominant one circulating in Scotland, and that is obviously a cause for real concern given it is thought to be significantly more transmissible.  The severity of this challenge means we simply cannot rule out the need for restrictions that are even tighter than those in the current level four. We continue to assess the situation carefully, on a daily basis."  The first minister repeated a warning for people not to hold parties or mix with others at Hogmanay, saying it was "really vital" people "see in 2021 in our own homes with just our own households". And she said "literally over the next few days we will be assessing the situation" with schools, although the current assumption remains that pupils will return to classrooms full-time from 18 January. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed earlier on Wednesday that the rollout of the newly-approved Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on Monday 4 January.  She said for the initial period the injections would be given in a supervised setting near hospitals. After that, the jabs will take place in GP surgeries as well as community vaccination hubs.  Scotland will get 8.2% of the overall number of UK doses, in line with its share of the population. The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the new vaccine - enough for 50 million people.

Coppersmith George Cairns Releases Cairns Scotch Whisky Liqueur
George Cairns, of East Loan, worked with food technologists at Queen Margaret University in Musselburgh to create Cairns Scotch Whisky Liqueur, which combines blended malt whisky, elderberries and Highland heather honey.  George began his career as a coppersmith in 1977 as an apprentice with McMillan, the copper pot still specialist in Prestonpans, making stills and whisky distillery equipment.  He progressed to a career in education on the subject, teaching his trade at the University of Edinburgh before working to develop his own drink.  He said: “I’ve always had an interest in whisky all my life, from working in the distilleries, being a consumer, and I’ve always been involved in some way or another.  It was an idea that came to me some years ago; I spent some years working with the food technologists at Queen Margaret University to develop the method and get the formula just right.”  His whisky liqueur was ready to sell in February but launch plans were forced to a halt by the coronavirus lockdown.  George said: “The Covid-19 pandemic impacted on the proposed launch of the product but a soft local launch on social media resulted in steady sales and excellent consumer feedback.”  George commissioned chocolatier-patissier Sebastian Kobelt to create a limited-edition cranachan truffle to complement the Christmas sales of the whisky liqueur.

Provincial Mòd in Inverness in summer 2021 is cancelled

Next summer's Inverness Provincial Mòd has been is cancelled due to Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic's disruptive impact on preparations, An Comunn Gàidhealach Meuir Inbhir Nis (Inverness Branch) announces.  Making a statement, the organisers said that they hoped that "some sort of event" could be organised instead to "celebrate the continued use of Gaelic across the Highlands".  Norman Mackay, the chairman of An Comunn Gàidhealach Meuir Inbhir Nis (Inverness Branch), said: "A decision was taken by the local branch of An Comunn Gàidhealach at its AGM on December 14 that the 2021 Provincial Mòd in Inverness will not go ahead on June 18 and 19, 2021, as planned.  "Despite the positive advances being made with vaccinations for Covid-19, the committee is aware that the usual preparations which take place in the months leading up to the Provincial Mòd in schools and other local groups/choirs just won’t be able to happen in the early part of 2021. "Meur Inbhir Nis is obviously disappointed at having to make this decision, but unanimously agreed that the safety of all its volunteers and competitors must take priority.  Despite the Provincial Mòd not being able to go ahead in its usual format, it is hoped that some sort of event can be organised to celebrate the continued use of Gaelic across the Highlands."

Covid in Scotland: Cases Hit Record High for Third Day in A Row
Scotland has recorded 2,622 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours - a record high for the third day in a row.  It comes as people are being urged to bring in the new year at home, with their own household, in a bid to suppress the virus. Parties, traditional "first-footing" and social events are banned this Hogmanay.  A total of 68 deaths of people who tested positive for the virus were recorded in the past 24 hours (up 25).  Hospital admissions are at 1,174 (up 41) while 70 people are in intensive care (up one).  The latest figure of 2,622 positive cases represents 10.1% of those newly tested (down from 11.3% on Wednesday). A total of 680 of the new cases are in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, with 379 in NHS Lothian. NHS Lanarkshire has reported 372 new cases and there are 260 in NHS Grampian, with the remaining cases spread out across the other eight health board areas. The previous record number of new cases since mass testing began was 2,045 on Wednesday.

Police Disperse Crowd Amid Muted Hogmanay Events
Several hundred people gathered at Edinburgh Castle to see in the new year despite police and government warnings to stay away. People sang and danced before dispersing when several police vans and cars drove on to the castle esplanade. Most Scots heeded warnings to hold Hogmanay celebrations at home with household members. There were no midnight fireworks at the castle, but a display was held at the Wallace Monument in Stirling.  A Police Scotland spokesperson said: "We were aware of gatherings at Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill around midnight on Hogmanay.  "Officers safely engaged with those in attendance and explained the current government regulations resulting in the groups dispersing without incident." At Edinburgh Castle, one Hogmanay tradition endured as a lone piper played in the new year at midnight.  With the capital's traditional new year party cancelled, the organisers of its annual Hogmanay celebration instead released a series of "drone swarm" videos titled Fare Well.  The display featured a swarm of 150 illuminated drones forming symbols and animals in a "beautiful ode to Scotland".First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Thursday that there should be "no gatherings, no house parties and no first footing" at Hogmanay. All of mainland Scotland and Skye are under level four restrictions, while the other islands are in level three.

First Minister’s New Year Message
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: ‘This Hogmanay, as we look forward to a new year, most of us will be relieved to be ringing out the old one. ‘2020 has been unimaginably difficult: thousands have lost loved ones, our society has been upended, our economy has taken a severe hit, many have lost jobs, families have had to cancel holidays, and, of course, Christmas plans had to be cancelled too. We have had to deny ourselves so many of the things that we most value in life – human companionship, hugs from loved ones, the comfort and the pleasure we get from meeting and spending time with each other. I can simply never thank all of you enough for the sacrifices you have made, and the patience you have shown, during these last difficult months. One of the continuing consolations of this year has been seeing how often the worst of times have brought out the very best in people. Our health and care workers, in particular, have shown the most extraordinary dedication, in the most testing of circumstances. The entire country is grateful for your efforts. But there are so many other examples too. When we asked for volunteers to help people in their local communities, more than 40,000 people signed up in the first 48 hours alone. Thousands of others signed up for vaccine trials, or helped to track Covid symptoms. ‘And many more of you supported charities and local businesses; or helped in your local communities; or kept in touch with neighbours and friends who otherwise would have been lonely. ‘These have all been points of brightness in dark times. They have reminded us again of what truly matters in life – kindness, compassion, solidarity and love. ‘As we look forward to 2021 – for all the difficulties that still lie ahead – there is a lot we can now look forward to.  ‘Tens of thousands of people in Scotland have now received their first vaccination against Covid. ‘And that number will grow in the weeks and months ahead. ‘2021 will also see the expansion of free nursery care, the introduction of the Scottish Child Payment to tackle child poverty, and the first full year of Scotland’s new investment bank. As we rebuild after this pandemic, we can, we must, focus on making Scotland a fairer country and a greener country.  ‘And of course, towards the end of the year, the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, and the COP 26 climate change summit – a gathering that has the potential to set the whole world on a path to a more sustainable future.  ‘So even as we reflect on this darkest of years, we can see light ahead.  ‘Of course our first priority must be to get through these next few weeks and months. They will be tough for all of us.  ‘So let’s stick with it, and stick together.  ‘Let’s continue to show each other kindness, compassion, and love.  ‘And let’s all of us resolve to make 2021 Scotland’s year of recovery.  ‘I wish all of you a Happy New Year.’