Some Scottish Items#62

This little effort is for the period ending 24th October 2010.    Yes its 2 months since the last challenge to Rupert Murdoch’s empire.  Blame the vagaries of IT ;  of little things called viruses and a lack of knowledge and resources.  However thanks to our hardworking webmaster we are back again. I must thank the many people who enquired about the absence and future of this little effort - rest assured as long as we are able we will bring some Scottish News and Views to you.  Once again I’ve been able to include a small named tongue-in-cheek article which I think you will enjoy - Robin


Inspirational City for the Big Yin

Billy Connolly is a very happy man after being granted the freedom of his native city, Glasgow. The well-deserved award entitles the Big Yin to graze his sheep on Glasgow Green, guarantees him a cell to himself in the event of being jailed and commits him to defending the city if called upon.  Billy declared himself “completely blown away” and “thrilled”, not, as some might think, because of having been recognised by the city he has done more than most to promote, but by having been given enough new material to last the entertainer and comedian for years.


Daddy’s Got A Squeeze Box But Mammy Never Sleeps At Night By Iain Maciver

Our minds can play awful tricks with us – especially if you have just been woken up and are still a bit dozy. That was brought home the other evening to a couple from Sandwick, near Stornoway, who had been out to visit friends. Everyone was in good form and it was the early hours before they got back.  As she had an early start, Mrs Sandwick did a little tidying up and off they headed to the land of nod.  Then she woke with a start. What’s the time? 2.30am. She’d heard a noise. She turned to Mr Sandwick but he was snoring good-style. Suddenly, she heard a rattle.  Swinging quietly out of bed, she padded over to the window. No rattle but in the distance, she could detect a gentle throbbing.  What could that be? It was dark. Her mind was racing.  What if the noise earlier was burglars trying the back door? In deadly-dull Sandwick, the most boring village in the history of the Hebrides? Always a first time, she reasoned.  Listen, there’s that distant throbbing again. That must be their getaway car parked round the corner.


She roused himself without him bawling out: “Aye, go on then and you might as well make a couple of slices of toast too.”  Rubbing the sleep from his peepers, he could hear the rattling. The intruders must have got in and they were going through their drawers.  There was only one thing for it. Mr Sandwick would have to do the decent thing and go and tackle them, she said, bravely. Take a weapon, she urged.  “A weapon?” he said. “Well, I’m sorry but I think I left my AK-47 assault rifle in the garage. Oops, silly me.”  Having tidied up, she had left nothing handily lying around with which to bludgeon the marauding criminals in the dinette. What is that in the corner? The accordion.  She grabbed it, gingerly took it out of the case – and then quickly put it down again. Very wise. It is never a good idea for an undressed lady to pick up an accordion. Why? Do you want me to draw you a picture?   Her husband was more practical though. He took the accordion case, hoisted it above his head and, still hearing the ransacking going on, set off along the hall to catch the burglars by surprise. Bursting into the kitchen with the lethal Hohner box swinging menacingly above him, he found . . . no one at all.  “You’re under the table. Come out with your hands up or I’ll . . . I’ll . . . I’ll box your ears.” No one in the freezer. What about the rattling?    It was from the washing machine.


Before retiring, Mrs Sandwick had put on a wash and, because its fixings were coming loose, the machine was doing the shake, rattle and roll on the final spin cycle. The ominous “getaway car” throbbing in neutral round the corner must have just been the wash cycle.


They shouldn’t be embarrassed. Everyone can get it wrong sometimes and a few here in the islands must have been smiling with quiet satisfaction when BBC weatherman Tomasz Schafernaker got into trouble. His wee unscripted gesture at a newsreader was caught on camera. Gaffe-prone Tomasz has form here. He is the guy who called the islands Nowheresville. Silly man; that’s just Harris.   He also warned it was going to rain at the Glastonbury Festival saying it would soon be a muddy site. Except he said it as if there was an “h” somewhere in there. Tomasz is of Polish extraction and the eminent current affairs analyst Dan Murray struggled to pronounce his surname on Gaelic radio. After a few stabs at it, Dan concluded: “Even his name sounds dirty.”   It certainly is the way you said it, Dan.


Meanwhile, our best-loved quango has been getting itself in knots with words. Jargon is killing communication and people in quangos are the worst offenders. They can’t help themselves. A crofter tells me of what is probably the unlikeliest direct quote in history by one such quasi-thingummybob, Highlands and Islands Enterprise. It made an announcement the other day about the Harris Tweed industry’s new training course. It told of a weaver in Stornoway who decided he would take up weaving as it allowed him the chance to also take up his other crofting interests. Fair enough. He is then quoted directly about the benefits of a proper training regime saying: “This accreditation drawn up by the prime movers in the textile industry should be the dynamic to drive Harris Tweed to the iconic discerning market it deserves.”


Would a real crofter actually say such meaningless drivel? I don’t think so either. You can just see two weavers in the Crit leaning on the bar with a couple of nips and halves of ordinary. Murdo asks: “Haoi, a’ Chalum. What do you think of this accreditation?” “Well,” says Calum, “I’ve thought of little else. That fellow Neil in the HIE announcement is absolutely right. It should be the dynamic that drives the clò mòr to the market. And, as you well know, a’ Mhurchaidh, it is a discerning market. And an iconic one. Oh well, yes.” “Exactly. That was my own appraisal too, Mr Calum,” replies Murdo. “I’m glad we concur. Excuse moi, two more drinky-poohs, bartender. Make them gins with tonic and ice because we too are prime movers in our industry with the dynamic to drive our products to the iconic, discerning markets they deserve.  “Oh, and a half bottle and four cans for the bus.”


However, one of the lads has had problems with words before. Murdo went into Calum’s barn and caught him doing a sexy striptease to one of his agricultural machines. Murdo was absolutely stunned. “What do you think you’re doing?”  “It’s not my fault,” says Calum. “Me and Mary have not been getting on lately and our counsellor said I should do something sexy to a tractor.”


Snapshot of Scotland Shows An Optimistic Nation

Scots are becoming more optimistic about money and happier with their local neighbourhood, public services and healthcare, according to a wide ranging study of attitudes.  The 2009 Scottish Household Survey suggested worries over the financial crisis and fears about anti-social behaviour are receding in Scotland, with fewer people concerned about their personal finances and the vast majority rating their neighbourhood as a good place to stay. But the survey, which provides a comprehensive view of the way Scots live their lives, showed the most deprived areas of Scotland still face significant challenges, with worklessness, poor health and crime more prevalent among the poorest neighbourhoods.  The snapshot of Scottish life, which has been taken since 1999, sees questions put to thousands of ordinary people on a range of topics such as health, work, anti-social behaviour and cultural activities. Researchers undertake continuous face-to-face interviews throughout the year that are then used by the General Register Office for Scotland to provide a statistical analysis of the way Scots are living their lives.



The 2009 survey reveals that optimism among Scots about their personal financial affairs is on the rise, with the number reporting that they were managing "quite well" or "very well" increasing by 2 percentage points to 49 per cent during the year.  Meanwhile, the perception of local public services improved, with the number of Scots reporting overall satisfaction with health services, education and transport rising by five percentage points to 65 per cent. At the same time, Scots became more positive about anti-social behaviour, with the numbers reporting vandalism, harassment and rowdy behaviour as a problem all falling. In all, 93.6 per cent of Scots said their area was a fairly or very good place to live - a record high for the survey. This rate was found to drop as neighbourhoods got poorer amid a general trend that showed the most deprived areas of the country faced the biggest problems.  The survey reveals that 59 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women in Scotland are in paid employment, a slight drop on the 2008 results.  The survey has consistently shown Scots to be happy with their neighbourhoods.  The gender balance was slightly in favour of females – 52 per cent against 48 per cent males, and the majority of adults living in the house were in the 45 to 59 age bracket, compared to 19 per cent aged 60 to 74, 18 per cent aged 35 to 44, and 15 per cent each for the 16 to 24 and 25 to 34 age ranges.  The vast majority - 96.8 per cent – saw themselves as white, with 82 per cent calling themselves Scottish and 11.4 per cent British. Asian people accounted for 2.1 per cent of adults, with Indians at 0.5 per cent and Pakistanis at 0.7. Black people numbered 0.4 per cent.


North Sea Find Prompts Call for Nation’s Oil Fund

SNP chief whip Brian Adam spoke out following Thursday’s announcement that German company Wintershall had found an estimated 60million to 100million barrels about 93 miles from Aberdeen.  He said the discovery strengthened the case for Scotland to set up an oil fund, similar to one in Norway.  Earlier this summer, EnCore Oil revealed the Catcher field in the central North Sea may contain up to 300million barrels. On Tuesday night, Nobel prize winner and former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stiglitz said the UK has “squandered” its oil wealth and it was “imperative” that an oil fund be set up to secure the benefits of the reserves that remain.  Mr Adam, MSP for Aberdeen North, said that, at today’s oil price, the Wintershall find would be worth more than £4.5billion ($7billion).  He also seized on the Gers (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) report in June which the SNP says shows Scotland would be in the black if it received a share of North Sea revenues. “The oil industry has contributed a great deal to Scotland, especially in Aberdeen, and it is showing no sign of drying up despite the pessimistic view taken by the London parties,” he said.  The SNP looks to Norway which set up its own oil fund which now stands at £300billion.


Plans for Two North Windfarms Rejected

Plans for two windfarms on the landscape surrounding Dava Moor and Tomatin were rejected by Highland Council’s planning committee.  Renewables firm Infinergy and Cawdor Estates’ proposals for 17 turbines at Tom nan Clach, and Eurus Energy UK’s proposed development of 31 turbines as part of the Glenkirk windfarm on the hills overlooking Dava, both failed to get the support of councillors.  Fears were raised about their significant detrimental impact on the visual amenity of the ruined Lochindorb Castle – where Alexander Stewart, 1st Earl of Buchan, and known as the Wolf of Badenoch, had his lair – and its surroundings, some of which are classed as being areas of great landscape value (AGLV).  Objectors also voiced their concerns about the developments’ effect on the tourism industry of nearby towns, claiming most of their visitors would not return if they were faced with wind turbines in the hills.  After councillors inspected the locations in the morning, they were faced by a group of banner-carrying protesters outside the local authority’s headquarters in Inverness.  Peter Moynan, project director for SKM Enviros, who did the environmental impact assessment for Eurus Energy UK, argued that the potential impact on the landscape had been significantly overestimated.


Inverness Campus to Be Hub of Expertise

The planned Inverness campus was hailed as a significant national project after the Scottish finance minister chaired the first forum on its development. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) chairman Willy Roe said he was delighted that John Swinney decided to come north to lead the partnership forum. He said: “His leadership sends a signal that this is a project of national significance for Scotland, the likes of which has not been seen in other parts of the country.” Mr Swinney said: “The project is a very dynamic enterprise which has the potential to transform economic opportunities not just in Inverness and the Highlands and islands but across the whole of Scotland.   The starting point for the campus must be to act as a first-class centre for education and the development of research expertise.”  It was confirmed at the meeting that Inverness College will be open for business at the new Beechwood campus in August 2014.

The forum, held in the HIE offices, was the first time all the partners, including representatives from national and local government, further and higher education, the NHS and public bodies, had formally met.  HIE recently put the first phase of the development at the 89-acre site out to tender, involving £18million works in roads, drainage, service and telecommunications.   As well as Inverness College the campus will be home to the University of the Highlands and Islands, the Scottish Agricultural College, phase four of the Centre for Health Science, a social enterprise hotel and comprehensive sports facilities.

Scots Stone to Be Used for Australian Statue Repairs

Stone from a Scottish quarry is to be sent to Australia to repair the oldest existing statue of Robert Burns.  The sculpture, carved by John Greenshields in 1826, was shipped to Australia in the 1850s.  It has been in poor condition for a number of years and experts have been trying identify the stone and locate the best type for repairs.  The closest match was found at the Drumhead Quarry in Denny, Stirlingshire.  Although the quarry is not currently operational, an application for planning permission to reopen it is about to be submitted.  Stone for the repairs will come from the initial excavations which have been carried out. The British Geological Society found the quarry after a request from the Australian National Trust.


Writer Gordon Ashley discovered the significance of the statue, on display in the Botanical Gardens in Camperdown, Victoria, while carrying out research for a novel set in Scotland. He said: "I came to the conclusion that this statue in Victoria was older than previously thought. I contacted the local council to let them know what I had found." But after the discovery was announced, the statue, which had already been partially damaged, was further vandalised.


Mr Ashley visited the quarry last week with Kirsty James from the National Trust of Australia. She said: "At the moment we are trying to raise public awareness of the statue in Victoria, and collect funds for the repair, which we think will cost around £60,000.  "There has been restoration work carried out previously on the statue but it has been done using inappropriate stone and techniques.  "It's quite thrilling to have the opportunity to restore it using the correct stone, and we are delighted to be working with the Denny community to do this."


Burns Relics Discovered in Attic

A cache of Robert Burns family heirlooms has been unearthed in the attic of the Burns Cottage Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire.  The National Trust for Scotland, which runs the museum, said the artefacts were sold to the museum in the 1930s by the bard's great-granddaughter.   The 19th Century items were retrieved from two boxes during renovation work.  Treasures include a portrait of one of his sons and a note written to the son by Italian patriot General Garibaldi. Many of the items have never been seen by the public and will be displayed when the museum opens its doors after the renovation.


The boxes were rediscovered in a hidden part of the attic and have lain undisturbed for more than 70 years.  The relics include an intricate hand-painted portrait of Burns' eighth and youngest son, James Glencairn Burns, who was one of only three sons to survive into adulthood.  The note from Garibaldi details his admiration for Burns and the Scottish people who pledged their support to the unification of Italy in the 1800s. Trinkets and ornaments were also discovered, along with two military medals from James Burns' days as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army of India.


David Hopes, project curator at the museum, said: "These finds are truly remarkable, both in terms of the historical information that they provide about Burns' family, but also given that they are so well preserved after being hidden away in an attic for so many years. "It's hugely exciting to discover previously unseen mementos of the poet's youngest son.  Their importance is also heightened by their provenance as they have been passed down through the famous Scot's family before being sold to the Burns Monument Trust, the former owners of the Burns Cottage and Museum by Burns' great-granddaughter.  The discovery has come at such a great time as the items can now be given the platform they deserve, when they are soon to be showcased in the new Robert Burns Birthplace Museum which I am sure the late Mrs Burns Gowring will approve of."


Loganair to Maintain Inter-island Flights

Loganair, Scotland’s Airline, has been named by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar as the long-term operator of the inter-island service between Stornoway and Benbecula.  The airline, a Flybe franchise carrier, took over the route on an interim basis at the end of March following the collapse of previous operator Highland Airways. After participating in the re-tendering process required by EU law, Loganair has been formally awarded the contract, which will run until March 2013 subject to finalisation of the CNES budget for 2011/12.


The announcement also secures jobs at Stornoway, where Loganair employed two former Highland Airways employees to strengthen the ground handling team which provides support for the service.  The Flybe reservation system has been updated with information on services from Monday 1st November, allowing passengers to book flights on both the inter-island service and the through-plane service between Inverness and Benbecula, introduced by Loganair earlier in the year.   The through-plane service has cut the cost of return travel between Benbecula and Inverness by almost £30 and made the journey more convenient for passengers by removing the need to disembark from the aircraft at Stornoway.  Connections from Stornoway to Barra via Benbecula and from Edinburgh to Benbecula via Stornoway will also become available for bookings via on the announcement, Loganair’s Commercial Director Jonathan Hinkles said: “We have worked hard to develop the Stornoway to Benbecula route since taking it over at very short notice earlier in the year. We have added a through-plane service from Inverness and offered additional benefits including online check-in, larger aircraft with improved disability access and improved connections to other Flybe services operated by Loganair.


Armed Robbery At Glasgow Store

Detectives are investigating an armed robbery at a Scotmid supermarket in Glasgow.

A masked man entered the store on Edinburgh Road and threatened the 27-year-old male employee with what appeared to be a knife and demanded money from him and the female employee. A three-figure sum of money was handed over.


Cuts Rally in Edinburgh

Teachers and members of other trade unions marched through the capital on Saturday to protest against spending cuts.  The Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) said teachers and lecturers will take to the streets as part of a larger public services demonstration in Edinburgh. The march and rally, organised with the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), aims to highlight concerns about the impact of Chancellor George Osborne's cuts package on Scotland.


Huge cuts to public spending were unveiled by the UK government in the comprehensive spending review.   Scotland is expected to lose about £3 billion over the next four years and £900 million from next year's budget, according to the Treasury.


The March called 'There is a Better Way' attracted thousands of teachers, lecturers, students and parents while Union members marched under the banner 'Why Must Our Children Pay?', focused on protecting school, college and university budgets.  The STUC expected thousands of trade unionists, community activists and members of the public to join the march. Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill also took part.


From Rambo to the Hobbit: Scots Actor Tipped for Big Things After Playing A Dwarf

It is one of the most eagerly anticipated films in recent times; a movie that before even filming has begun is guaranteed a massive global audience when its complete - and a Scots actor will be among the starring cast.  The veteran actor Graham McTavish, who appeared in the latest Rambo movie, was named yesterday to appear as a dwarf in director Peter Jackson's long-awaited prequel to The Lord of the Rings. JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit.  He will star alongside Martin Freeman, best-known for his role as Tim in The Office, who will take on the main role as Bilbo Baggins in the $500 million production, which is expected to hit the screens in 2012.  McTavish, who currently lives in Los Angeles, will take on the role of Dwalin the dwarf, one of Bilbo's companions in the plot to steal Smaug the dragon's hoard of gold treasure. His name may not be well known, but his face may be familiar to Scots. Glasgow-born McTavish, 48, has appeared in numerous Scottish stage, television and cinema roles over the years.


As well as roles with Dundee and Perth Reps, Glasgow's Citizens Theatre, the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and Musselburgh's Brunton Theatre, his television credits include 24, CSI Miami, Taggart, The Bill, Casualty and Red Dwarf, as well as appearing in the latest Rambo film.  Rumours about a film version of the Tolkien's 1937 novel have circulated since director Jackson's award-winning adaptations of the blockbuster The Lord of the Ring trilogy at the start of the previous decade.  It had been expected that the actor Ian Holm, who played Bilbo Baggins originally, would reprise the role for The Hobbit. However, in announcing Freeman as his lead, Jackson insisted there has "only ever been one Bilbo Baggins for us", and that the actor was "intelligent, funny, surprising and brave - exactly like Bilbo.  There are a few times in your career when you come across an actor who you know was born to play a role, but that was the case as soon as I met Martin," he said.  The 39-year-old has had several big-screen appearances, playing Arthur Dent in cinema-adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Richard Curtis's Love Actually and Simon Pegg's police comedy Hot Fuzz.


One Throw of the Dice, and Loch Ness Could Be Yours

Inverness Caley Thistle, Loch Ness and Ben Nevis are among the top attractions in Scotland to make it on to the new Highlands and Islands edition of the popular board game Monopoly launched on Tuesday.  Loch Ness came out top in an online poll, taking the board's most prestigious property slot - occupied in the traditional version of the game by London's exclusive Mayfair.

The rugged beauty of Skye, Mull and the Callanish Stones on Lewis replace the somewhat more gritty locations of the Angel Islington, Euston Road and Pentonville Road.  After thousands of suggestions from the public, the final list was whittled down to just over 30 sites, including the shinty club Culloden and a shopping centre.  The manufacturers of the game, which tests players' financial acumen and property dealing skills, said the demand from those living in the north of Scotland for their own game had been "overwhelming".


Graham Barnes, spokesman for Winning Moves UK, the company with the licence to produce Monopoly, said: "We had people from the Highlands and Islands coming to us asking for their own game. They had been on our radar for some time.  But it was a massive undertaking for just over 30 spaces, when the area had hundreds and thousands of landmarks and streets.  We solved the problem by asking them to vote in general for their favourite places and then place the more high-profile ones on the board.  The response was overwhelming - the best we've ever had for a game situated in a particular location or town.  Loch Ness was the outright, unrivalled winner in the poll but the rest were closely contested."


Mr Barnes added that he expected the £24.99 game would be a favourite at Christmas, especially with the overseas market of expat Scots in countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. We have had inquiries already from Scots living abroad and we expect this game to be on many dining tables on Christmas Day."


Concern for Woman Who Left Her Car Near Cliff Edge

Police say they have "real concerns" for a woman whose abandoned car was found near Melness. A search for Christine Gibson- in the Melness area, on the west side of the Kyle of Tongue, drew a blank and police now are very worried about her welfare.  The concern was prompted by the discovery of the 59-year-old's Honda Civic car on a track leading to a small cove.  The grey hatchback was parked very close to the cliff-edge.  Coastguards, police search dogs and an RAF search-and-rescue helicopter have scanned the surrounding area.  Local creel boat owners were also asked to keep a look-out.


Eight coastguards and two police officers resumed the search on Saturday without finding any sign of the missing woman. Since then, the search has continued but, as we went to press, the woman had still not been found.  She is understood to have driven north non-stop from her home in Merseyside.   Her car was seen in the Port Glasgow area early on Thursday morning and was first spotted at Melness later that day.  Ms Gibson, who has a history of depression, is thought to have had a link with a local holiday home.  Police Chief Inspector Matthew Reiss said: "We understand she had been feeling fairly low and was not able to walk any real distance.  Unfortunately all the information we have strongly suggests that she has come to harm."


‘Up with the Gaelic’ Proclaims Prince ( I know The Mod has been and gone but I just had to put this piece in - Robin)

The Duke of Rothesay has given resounding support to the Royal National Mod in Caithness.

He drew loud applause during a visit to Thurso yesterday to present prestigious An Comunn gold medals when he said in Gaelic: “Many congratulations to all the award winners and up with the Gaelic.”


The prince, who arrived at Thurso High School by helicopter and was escorted to the award ceremony by Lord-Lieutenant of Caithness Anne Dunnett and Thrumster piper Andrew Harvey, also received honorary membership of An Comunn Gàidhealach.



The gold medal, which can only be won once in a lifetime by an individual, is awarded for solo singing in Gaelic, with one medal for men and one for women.  The women’s medal went to Joy Dunlop, of Glasgow, who quickly had to leave the presentation to take part in a choral competition.  Winner of the men’s gold medal was Iain Maclean. Originally from Skye and now living in Glasgow, he said his medal would sit with that won by his wife, Kirsteen Grant, in 1964.


Prince Charles was greeted with applause as he spoke in Gaelic: “Good afternoon friends, I am delighted to be here at the National Mod.”  Switching to English, he said: “It is a great pleasure to visit the Mod on this occasion, the first time it has been held in Caithness. I have a particular affinity with the area, as did my grandmother who rescued the Castle of Mey.”


Showing awareness of local issues he mentioned that debate about the historic place of Gaelic in Caithness suggests that the language has little or no relevance in this part of the world. “I might gently question that point of view. Gaelic, like any language and culture, belongs to all the people of the nation. Gaelic belongs to the whole of Scotland and the language and culture will flourish or perish according to what happens in Scotland alone.”  He told the audience members they were “an expression of why you would like to see the Gaelic language for so long in retreat gain new levels of respect in the 21st century.  “We owe a great debt to An Comunn Gàidhealach for the effort that goes into this annual festival which exists to promote Gaelic language and culture.”


On his honorary membership of An Comunn Gàidhealach, the Duke of Rothesay joked: “I have the slightly terrifying thought that I will have very little excuse for not having a good grip of the language, and you may wish to rescind my membership.”  Prince Charles also toured the extended Gaelic and Caithness showcase event which was staged in the dome in Thurso’s North Highland College UHI.


He was welcomed by principal Dr Gordon Jenkins and entertained by the Melvich Gaelic Choir, led by Caithness Mod convener Raymond Bremner, before meeting members of the Caithness Mod organising committee.   During his visit to the college, Prince Charles was greeted by Scottish dancers Eilidh Paterson (15), of Thurso, Megan Mackay (13), of Halkirk, and Lauren Mackay (15), of Thurso.  His tour of the exhibition area was made to the sounds of a clarsach played by Edinburgh-based Mairi Macleod (23).  She presented the prince with a copy of the music she had been playing – a tune she composed for the occasion entitled “The Duke of Rothesay, Welcome to the Royal National Mod 2010”.


Once again the Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association (the GG) won the Lovat and Tullibardine with Dingwall Gaelic Choir coming second and the Govan Gaelic Choir a close third.  The Govan Gaelic is like a Phoenix rising from the ashes. The Margrat Duncan was won by the Mull Gaelic Choir.


Information Question Has the Desired Effect Published: 23/10/2010

All opposition parties know that an easy way to embarrass the government is to obtain figures, either by freedom of information legislation or by a question in parliament, and then use the resultant information to demonstrate how badly a particular minister is performing. Today it is the turn of Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill to be on the receiving end after Labour obtained figures showing that breaches of sex offender orders are on the increase. Orders were flouted on 110 occasions in the last year, almost double the 60 breaches which took place in 2006-07.

Labour claims the figures show that Mr MacAskill is losing the fight against sex offenders, arguing that a cut in the budget which pays for the monitoring of them is to blame for the increase. It all sounds convincing, but fails to take into account that the number of orders imposed on offenders has risen significantly during the same period. It fails, also, to recognise that no monitoring system can keep track of people 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and any sex offender determined to breach an order will always find a moment when no one is watching.


Scotland’s £1m Gift to Pakistan Flood Victims

The Scottish Government is to make almost £1 million available to Scottish-based organisations helping Pakistan flood victims.  They’re giving emergency funding of £500,000 for humanitarian aid and more than £400,000 of development funding. It’s estimated there are more than four million people in Pakistan affected by the floods with more than 1600 dead.  The announcement came as more rain fell on the devastated country.  The most pressing needs are reported to be for clean drinking water, food, shelter and healthcare.


The £500,000 emergency funding will be made available to support immediate aid efforts by Scottish-based organisations.  External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop said, “It’s our moral duty to do whatever is in our power to ease the suffering of the people whose lives have been devastated.  In providing assistance Scotland is saying it cares.”  A further £415,450 has been allocated to projects in Pakistan this year under the South Asia strand of the Government’s international development programme.


Take Bull by the Horns Over Election Timing by Margo MacDonald

Respect!? Don’t make me laugh. Scotland’s politicians were conned.


Respect from Westminster is just another weasel word when applied to Scotland. But don’t let’s get mad, getting even is much better. When David Cameron visited Holyrood a couple of days after he was elected (if not by Scots voters) most people welcomed his promise of a respectful working relationship with Holyrood.   Sceptics kept quiet as the new PM and Alex Salmond gave a fair impression of two guys who really enjoyed being together.  This particular sceptic had already written to the Presiding Officer about the harm to Scotland’s best interests by holding the 2015 Westminster elections on the same day as that earmarked for the Holyrood election.


Danny Alexander, the Inverness Lib Dem MP, who was David Cameron’s Scottish Secretary before being moved to fill the no. 2 slot at the Treasury, assured me the matter had been raised and that opposition such as my own was being respectfully considered.  So far, so good. He meant what he said, of that I’m sure, and another of his Scots Lib Dem colleagues and I established a line of communication for further discussion, if any were needed.  I didn’t believe the clash of dates had occurred because someone down there had something against Scotland. Once again, I thought, Scotland had been forgotten, overlooked by politicians and civil servants alike in Whitehall and Westminster.


I was too generous. The argument against two elections on the same day was clear and being properly addressed, or so we believed. But instead, the Coalition Government had the effrontery to tell us by press release that our pleas had been dismissed. To add insult to injury, they’ve decided next year’s Holyrood election should share a day with the Alternative Vote referendum.


I’ve written again to Alex Fergusson. Since Westminster is stringing us along we should take the bull by the horns and go for five-year fixed term parliaments. Far from being a hammer to crack a nut, my request is an exercise in making a virtue out of necessity.  There’s now a pattern to our present four-year Holyrood Parliaments. Following elections, it takes the best part of the first year to put back in the box destructive party political electioneering.   In the middle two years, MSPs should work together more constructively but then in the pre-election period MSPs begin jockeying inside their parties for a favourable position on the Regional Lists and the parties start gearing up for the election. So the productive, bolder policy-making phase ends and in the present Holyrood session, we’ve also had the distraction of a drawn out Westminster election, further distorting the conduct and temper of business, and arguably, making all-party efforts to combat the economic crisis impossible.  Another year would lengthen the positive part of the cycle, allow Holyrood the attention it should have during elections and may bring about a better quality of governance, at no extra expense.


Andy is One of the Most Positive People I Know.

He usually has the happy ability to find sunshine on the rainiest day. But he used to have a real problem with “glass half empty” people — folk who chose to look on the dark side of a situation really used to frustrate and depress him.


But recently I saw him talking with just such a person. Nothing he said made the other man any happier but when he walked away Andy wasn’t annoyed as he once would have been. I asked him why and he said he’d finally realised the answer. “The answer to what?” I asked.  “The answer to why we need negative people,” he laughed. “Because they make positive people try so much harder. So, in a way, the world’s a better place because of them!”


Didn’t I tell you he could find the bright side in any situation?


Tories Spark New Surge for Independence

Support for Scottish independence has risen markedly since the Conservative and Lib Dem coalition government took power in Westminster, a new poll for Scotland on Sunday reveals today.   The poll findings suggest that the drastic cuts package proposed by the coalition is politically unpopular, and as the poll was largely taken before the details were announced last week, it is thought the government will face a growing backlash. While more people still oppose independence than are in favour, the YouGov survey finds that backing for separation has gone up from 28 per cent to 34 per cent since May's general election.  At the same time, those who say they would oppose the forming of an independent country have dropped from 58 per cent to 50 per cent, according to YouGov.


Last week, David Cameron and George Osborne slashed defence spending in Scotland, closed at least one Scottish RAF base, and then cut the Scottish Government's block grant by 10 per cent over four years.  With separate polls taken since last week suggesting that the cuts programme is more unpopular north of the border than anywhere else in the UK, the SNP last night claimed that more Scots were turning to independence as a way out.  However, UK government ministers insisted that the Scottish Government had received a fair deal and told them they should now get on with setting out their own plans on spending.


Today's poll shows that support for independence is back at levels not seen since the near-collapse of Royal Bank of Scotland and HBoS in the autumn of 2008. The financial crisis was widely seen by opponents of independence to have destroyed the SNP's hopes of persuading Scots that they would be better off going it alone.  However, the Nationalists are now hoping to capitalise on the widespread dismay over the public sector cuts by arguing that more powers and independence would slow down the pace of the reductions and improve growth.



Last Updated (Tuesday, 26 October 2010 06:41)