Some Scottish News & Views #67

This little effort is for the period ending 27th November 2010.  Once again I’ve been able to include a small named tongue-in-cheek article which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Bleak Reminder of Danger on Our Roads
At a time when the number of fatalities on north-east roads is still causing deep concern, despite numerous safety campaigns, the deaths of Royal Marine Michael Strachan and his sister, Maia, really bring home the human cost of such tragedies. The lives of two talented people in their 20s, who had everything to live for and the prospect of much success to come, were lost in this accident. This awful tragedy affects so many other lives: Captain Strachan’s new bride of a few weeks and the family, friends and colleagues of the brother and sister will carry the grief for years to come.  With so many lives blighted by this one incident, the depth of suffering should serve as a powerful warning to us all about the ever-present danger on our roads.

Gaelic Clash Leaves Teacher in Crossfire
Teams from Inverness Royal Academy and Millburn Academy, Inverness, will meet head to head in the final stages of the national Gaelic Debate in Edinburgh next week with their teacher and coach caught square in the cross fire.  The draw for the competition means that one of the Inverness teams is guaranteed a place in the grand final itself in the main chamber of the Scottish Parliament. Both Inverness teams are coached by Mary Ellen Stewart who teaches Gaelic at both schools.

The two Inverness teams won through the preliminary stages at Stornoway earlier this month and are now set to meet each other in an Inverness derby semi final in the Scottish Storytelling centre in the capital.  The winners will then go on to Holyrood to meet whoever comes out on top between Castlebay High School from Barra and the Nicholson Institute from Stornoway.   The judges will be prominent figures from the Gaelic world and the debates, which will all be broadcast live on Radio nan Gaidheal, will be chaired by BBC Alba presenter Angela MacLean.  Millburn will be represented by Catriona Morrison and Caitlin Smith while the Royal Academy pairing is Corrin Miller and Sally Swanson.  While looking forward to the guarantee of one of her teams being in the final at Scotland’s premier debating venue, Ms Stewart is very aware of having both of their interests at heart. She said: “It’s great for Gaelic education in Inverness that we have two teams in the latter stages of this national debate with one of them definitely going to be in the final. “But it will be interesting, especially for myself, that they have to meet like this in the semi finals first. I am just being completely even handed between the two of them and doing my best for both.”

Salmond Condemns Plan to Evict Asylum Seekers As ‘Devoid of Compassion’

Alex Salmond has denounced plans to evict up to 600 asylum seeker families from their homes in Glasgow as “totally devoid of any compassion or understanding” and urged the Home Secretary to block the resettlement. In a scathing letter to Theresa May, the First Minister said the move by the UK Border Agency (UKBA) treated some of society’s most vulnerable people “as mere objects”. His intervention in the growing row over the plans coincided with a call by Mario Conti, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, to halt the uprooting of the families, many of whom have children at local schools. A message of support from the Archbishop was read out yesterday at a protest outside the UKBA centre in Govan. Hundreds of asylum seekers burned the letters warning them they could be re-housed at short notice.  It was reported earlier this month that the Home Office agency had cancelled a contract with Glasgow City Council to house and support 1300 asylum seekers after a dispute over funding. Asylum seekers were initially told they could be resettled at just three days’ notice, but after an outcry this was extended to two weeks.  The contract is due to transfer to Ypeople, formerly YMCA Glasgow, on February 2.

In a letter to the Home Secretary, the First Minister said the letter issued by UKBA had upset not just families, but also neighbours and those working with them in the community.The First Minister urged Theresa May to reopen negotiations between the agency and Glasgow City Council.  He also said he had been petitioned by pupils at Lourdes Secondary School, which includes many children of asylum seekers, to help prevent the change.

Robina Qureshi, of Positive Action in Housing, said: “It is disappointing that Westminster continues to stand silent on the dehumanising and heartbreaking mass removal of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.” In his statement, Archbishop Conti called for a stop to the “horrendous” action, adding: “Few of our fellow Glaswegians are as vulnerable as those brothers and sisters of ours who have come as asylum seekers.”  The UKBA says it hopes most of the asylum seekers affected can stay in their accommodation. It added: “If a move to new accommodation is required we will aim to give at least 14 days’ notice and the costs of the move will fall to the new accommodation provider.”

Young Pupils Get A Gaelic Lift
It is an ancient Celtic language that arrived in Scotland more than 1500 years ago, but new research shows its use today can have a significant impact on how well pupils do at school. Experts have found that pupils taught exclusively in Gaelic in the first few years of primary can go on to outperform their peers in English reading skills.

The report, by academics from Edinburgh University, found some pupils in so-called Gaelic-medium education – who are not taught in English until P3 – overtake pupils taught in conventional primaries.  “In P3, attainment in English is lower among Gaelic-medium pupils but this gap has disappeared by P5, by which stage Gaelic-medium pupils may, in fact, be ahead,” the report adds.  “The higher attainment in English reading is sustained into P7 and, though with weaker evidence, for pupils taking Gaelic in S2.”  The report also found pupils taught in Gaelic do not fall behind their peers in other subjects, such as science and maths – although the report notes pupils in Gaelic-medium education were less confident in science and “less engaged” with scientific content.

Fiona O’Hanlon, a research fellow at Edinburgh University and one of the authors of the report, said the findings were consistent with previous research, which found pupils taught in two languages saw a benefit to their wider education.  “The advantages we found in English reading parallel those found in international research on bilingual education,” she said. “Being bilingual stimulates awareness of how language operates and also stimulates the development of the growing brain of young children.”  Michael Russell, the Education Secretary – who is to give a keynote address at a conference in Edinburgh on Gaelic – will welcome the findings.  He is expected to tell delegates: “Gaelic-medium education is a key part of our drive to create a new generation of Gaelic speakers and ensure the language thrives. It is also an important and increasingly popular choice for many parents across Scotland.”

The research also looked at why parents chose Gaelic medium education for their children. One of the main reasons was “heritage”, with parents referring to the fact the language was spoken by previous family members, their community or even the nation. “Some parents regarded themselves as a lost generation who had missed out on the family language, and thus wanted their children to acquire it,” the report said.  “Others cited allegiance to communities where Gaelic is spoken. Several linked the choice of Gaelic-medium education to a wider interest in Scottish culture, and a belief that Gaelic is an essential part of Scottish identity.”

Guide to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Marketing By iain maciver
Did you hear about that electrical shop in Israel giving away free sheep to anyone buying a fridge? Anyone spending more than 1,000 shekels, about £200 in our money, gets a Cheviot. Those eligible could just pick their own. Brilliant. Except you had to tie it up and cram it into the boot alongside the Hotpoint or the Zanussi.  Arab customers are into slaughtering a few sheep for the Eid festival, which marks the end of Ramadan. It’s just like stocking up for the communions, but with a month of dawn-to-sunset fasting beforehand. Great idea. They sold loads.  I saw a trailer-load of blackfaces in Perceval Square car park, just behind the Scottish Hydro-Electric shop, in Stornoway the other day. Are they trying the same thing?

Clever marketing, you see. We easily forget about it, but it’s always everywhere. People in politics can be marketed like fridges – although you have to be careful with that one. The Tories tried to market their old warhorses in pointless jobs, like running banks and energy companies. It worked well – at first. Then they tried out Lord Young. Fine fellow, loads of experience, so make him an adviser, not a minister. That way he can’t do any damage, just in case Margaret Thatcher made him a bit gaga. No sooner is Maggie’s former lieutenant let loose than he has a rush of blue blood to the head and claims that the vast majority of people in the country have never had it so good since the recession. Then he corrected himself: “This so-called recession.”  After recovering from the shock, David Cameron announced he had full confidence in his adviser – always a bad sign – and Young was terminated. I mean he apologised and quit before he was pushed and a minibus came to drive him slowly back to the boardrooms from whence he came.

There are always inadvertent opportunities for marketing. I remember when mouthwashes and lozenges called Victory Vs were secretly whispered about as the surefire way to beat these fancy breath test devices wielded by dedicated Stornoway cops like Jack O’Connor and Ruairidh Nicolson. You could have six pints and, as long as you scoffed half a packet of Victory Vs or brushed your teeth with these mouth rinsers, you had nothing to worry about. They sold loads here then.  Then it was in the paper the mouthwash had more alcohol than lager. So we ditched that one. But the myth about the lozenges persisted. It may still do in wilder places like Carloway and Creagorry.

So it was a bit of a shockeroonie to see the Australian who used to run the state of Victoria saying he uses mints to bamboozle the breath test after a few bevvies. Really? How? Polo mints don’t work. Not sure about Aussies, but the first thing the Stornoway cops do when they stop a car is have a sniff for booze – or mints. It’s the surest sign drivers have been having a wee swally. Every cop here says so.  Jeff Kennet reckons Kool Mints, which must be the Aussie equivalent of the mint with the non-fattening centre, also lower the blood count. So they don’t just mask the smell, they’re a soberer-upper, too.  Wow. Maybe the mints work or maybe they don’t. Either way, as far as inadvertent marketing goes, it’s a beaut. I reckon Kennett is scoffing way too many. He claims to be just 62, but he looks like one of these old guys who wibble-wobble along Keith Street late in the evening.

And I don’t mean Jimmy, the longtime laird of Ogilvie Towers, who somehow forgot to invite me to his birthday celebrations at the weekend. He, of course, doesn’t wobble because he somehow manages to look at least 20 years younger than the 66 he has clocked up. You never see Jimmy sucking mints. Sipping the occasional fine brandy, maybe, but mints play no part in those boyish good looks which recently resulted in him being recruited as a tour guide by a bevvy of foreign girl students who wanted a fun guy to show them around the Long Island.  Fun guy? Boyish good looks? Come on, James, that must be worth a large one at least.

Marketing happens all the time. Sometimes, though, it can change over time. Take the Free Church. We know what its marketing is – being dour, looking on the dark side and generally doing its utmost to avoid anything that brings a smile to anyone’s face. Yes, I know there are people on the checkouts at the Co-op on Macaulay Road with the same outlook, but that’s only when they have a really long shift.   Now, the Free Church is bringing in hymns. Hey, wait a minute. They vowed that would never happen. Their customers aren’t getting what they expect. That’s a bad move.  It’s all right; don’t panic. It’ll happen only where congregations really, really want hymns. It won’t happen, then. It’s just marketing. That’s fine. Phew, had me worried there.

Marketing, of course, works better if you have a wee slogan. Preferably one that rhymes. On Saturday, Mrs X came back from the Co-op – whose slogan Good With Food also works well on that level – with a load of fancy toilet rolls.  They are, the marketing says, nice and soothing on your tenderest bits. Each sheet is impregnated with aloe vera. That’s a medicinal kind of plant and its sap is said to be good for burns, wounds and a whole host of painful and itchy conditions that can affect soft, pink skin like I have.  Oooh, lovely. Really soothing. Oh yes. That’s really nice. You should try it.  The loo rolls are sold with a charming wee ditty dreamed up by the marketing people for you to mull over as you sit there contemplating the universe.  It rhymes, too. It goes: “Be kind to your behind.”   Does that mean that the ordinary toilet tissue is harsh on your, er, hindquarters?

RAF Leuchars ‘In the Firing Line for Closure’
Moray’s MP claimed last night that the campaign to save RAF Lossiemouth was succeeding following reports that RAF Leuchars in Fife was now in the firing line for closure.  There were reports that Lossiemouth could be spared at the expense of the Fife base, which flies Tornado fighter aircraft and is already expecting the arrival of the new Typhoon Eurofighters.  The head of the Save RAF Lossiemouth campaign said: “All our marching has paid off.” A crowd of about 7,000 people recently marched through Lossiemouth in support of the base.  MP Angus Robertson said the case for retaining an RAF presence in Moray was “extremely strong”.  He added: “The MoD is now surely reconsidering its plans to close both bases here.”  The comments came after a Ministry of Defence source revealed that axeing RAF Leuchars to save thousands of jobs in the north-east was being considered “strongly”.  

North East Fife MP Sir Menzies Campbell in an urgent letter to UK Defence Secretary Liam Fox stated the “overwhelming” strategic case for the base, which was in “the right place at the right time and doing the right job”.  He said deployment of the three proposed Typhoon squadrons at Leuchars had already begun.  Defence expert and military author Tim Ripley said last night that the MoD could decide to cut the Typhoon fleet to about 100 planes.  The move “would surely affect” RAF Leuchars’ viability as the RAF’s second Typhoon base. RAF Coningsby near Lincoln in England also houses the aircraft.  Vociferous Lossiemouth campaigners are expected to deliver a 15,000-name petition to Westminister next month. But, in East Anglia, the battle is also being fought for RAF Marham and a petition is expected to be handed in to Westminster on November 30.  David Stewart, Lossiemouth’s leader of the Save RAF Lossiemouth Task Force, insisted that the town was not campaigning against RAF Marham.   He said: “We have never said it’s Lossie against Marham. What we have argued is that we’re unique in Moray because we have got one station closing here already. There’s no other county or shire in the whole of Britain that will be hit as hard. The government have to understand that Moray’s taken the hit already.”  The combined impact of shutting down Kinloss and Lossiemouth would be the equivalent of shedding 40,000 jobs in Glasgow, according to local estimates.

Hospitals on Notice As 'Dirty Dozen' Revealed
Hospitals are to be exposed to more unannounced "shock" check-ups, as Scotland's health watchdog seeks a rapid improvement in cleanliness standards, after dirty and bloodstained equipment and poor staff infection-prevention were unearthed by a new inspection regime.

Ahead of her first annual report today, Healthcare Environment Inspectorate (HEI) chief inspector Susan Brimelow said the increase in "shock inspections" would help reassure the public that standards in hospitals were high all the time - and not just when they were expecting to be checked. Demanding a "rapid improvement" in standards across the country, she promised the HEI would now make 90 per cent of its hospital inspection visits unannounced to try to improve standards across the board.  The body, set up by the Scottish Government to improve standards of cleanliness and infection control, has carried out 36 inspections in its first year but, in most cases, hospitals knew in advance they were to be checked. Only six checks were carried out without prior notification.  The HEI found 12 hospitals where they said practice was poor with regard to staff taking precautions to prevent the spread of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.  This could include the likes of not washing hands between patients, not wearing appropriate protective equipment and not disposing of waste appropriately. In addition, 11 hospitals did not have up-to-date infection policies on wards, and 12 had infection control teams that did not communicate effectively with staff and senior managers.  Ms Brimelow also raised concerns about poor standards of cleaning of hospital equipment found in some cases.  The report said that, overall, hospitals were "generally clean and improving". But it added more work was needed in several key areas, so rates of infection fell even further.

Grants Awarded for Green Projects
Three major projects in Caithness, Orkney and the Western Isles are to share grants worth more than £13 million. Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) awarded £5m to the Scrabster Harbour Trust to help develop the Caithness facility as a key part of Scotland's renewable energy infrastructure.  The Scrabster site is next to the Pentland Firth, the first area in the UK to be made available for commercial-scale development of wave and tidal energy.  In Orkney, HIE plans to invest £2.95m to create six industrial units at Hatston Industrial Estate in Kirkwall, to meet the needs of tidal energy developers using the European Marine Energy Centre test site at Eday.  When fully occupied, the six units are expected to support up to 35 jobs.  Community landowner Sealladh na Beinne Moire in South Uist will receive £5m towards a £9.9m project to create new marine leisure and fisheries facilities at Lochboisdale Harbour, and provide access to land for community and commercial development.


Mountaineers Get the Message: Texting 999 Could Save Your Life
Walkers and climbers are being urged to sign up to a new service allowing them to text for a rescue if they are involved in an accident on the mountains.  The service has been set up to allow people to text 999 when voice calls cannot be made, but where there is sufficient signal to send a text.  The Mountaineering Council of Scotland (MCofS), which represents 10,500 hillwalkers, climbers and mountaineers, says it could save lives. It wants everyone who walks, climbs or skis in the Scottish mountains to register with the text system, which was originally set up to help deaf and hard-of-hearing people.  Heather Morning, the MCofS mountain safety adviser, said: "You can now contact the 999 emergency services by SMS text from your mobile phone. This is going to be particularly useful for those needing 999 assistance in the hills, when mobile phone reception is often intermittent and there is not enough signal to make a call." However, she stressed that only those who have registered with the EmergencySMS service can use the link.  About 5,600 mobile phones are currently registered to use the service, and this is increasing by about 50 a week.

Church Sued Over Fatal Crash
The Free Church of Scotland is to be sued in a South American court after two Peruvian teenage boys were killed in a car crash while in the Church’s care on a school trip to the Highlands.  Donald MacLeod, 82, was driving the Honda CRV in which all three died when it crashed into a parked lorry in Inverness in 2006.  It was reported the Free Kirk member, a former rector of Fortrose Academy who lived in Inverness, had a heart attack at the wheel.

Carlos Gonzales, 15, and Gianmarco Peschiera, 14, were in a group of 12 Peruvian students on a school trip organised by the Free Church of Scotland and Colegio San Andres (Saint Andrew’s School), in Lima, which was founded by the Free Church in 1917.  The action is for civil damages on the grounds of negligence on the part of the Colegio San Andres, school owners the Free Church of Scotland, and Donald MacAulay, former headmaster of Colegio San Andres.  The civil case has been brought by the parents of Gianmarco Peshiera.  The Church said the case is due to begin in Lima on December 1.

Barra Lands A Place Among the World’s Best
It will never compete with bigger airports in terms of traffic and passengers numbers.  But when it comes to the drama of its location it is right up there with the best.  Barra airport in the Outer Hebrides has made it on to a new list of the top 10 airports with the most inspirational approaches.  Famously one of the only airports in the world where aircraft still land on the beach, Barra has been placed in the same league as Lukla airport in Nepal and McCarran airport in Las Vegas. A short-runway airport, it is situated in the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr at the north tip of the island. The beach is split into three runways indicated by wooden poles and flights must be scheduled according to the tide.  Aeroplanes must also share the beach with cockle pickers.  

Enriching the Scots Food Experience
A clarion call has been delivered to Scotland’s tourism businesses to use more home produce in their menus to boost visitor numbers and the economy. The plea in a new tourism guide echoes countless messages that have been delivered previously, but which have been ignored by many who continue to serve up dubious fare.  As a nation, we send out a message to the world that our food and drink is second to none. Supposedly, we produce the best beef, the freshest and tastiest seafood, the most succulent lamb and the sweetest strawberries and raspberries.  Sadly, the experience for countless visitors to Scotland is, however, food that is bland and whose only Scottish provenance is that it was sold here after being imported from processors on the other side of the world.  Far too often, the beef is South American, the lamb from New Zealand and the fish and seafood similarly imported as we export the best from here to countries which appreciate it more than we do.  The Food and Drink Experience in Scotland guide delivers a very serious message to restaurants, tourist attractions, guesthouses and other catering establishments to up their game.

Cameron to Host Nordic/Baltic Summit But Salmond Not Invited
The first ever Nordic/Baltic summit is to be hosted by David Cameron in London to forge stronger economic and social links between Britain and the Scandinavian countries.  However, the Scottish Government last night said its omission from the guest list was a “missed opportunity” given the issues to be discussed include North Sea oil and gas and renewable energy. As well as economic matters, the discussions will focus on trade, social policy, technology and green issues with a view to boosting equality, well-being and competitiveness.

New Post Office for Barvas
Post Office Ltd have announced proposals to secure future access to Post Office services in the community of Barvas, Isle of Lewis.  Following the resignation of the Subpostmaster, and the withdrawal of the premises for Post Office use, Post Office Ltd are proposing to introduce a Hosted service from the Barvas and Brue Community Centre, Lower Barvas, Isle of Lewis, a distance of 0.7 miles from its current premises at Torwood, Lower Barvas.  The Hosted service would be provided by the Subpostmaster from Shawbost Post Office branch and will operate for a total of 5 hours per week, on Tuesdays and Fridays between 1330-1600 hours.  Post Office Ltd believes the proposed arrangement presents the best solution to allow it to maintain and safeguard Post Office services in the area in the longer term. Customers will still be able to access the same wide range of products and services as the existing service (but only for 5 hours per week – this is Postal privatisation at work - Robin).

Celebration of Ireland and Scotland’s Cultural and Linguistic Heritage
Support for community initiativess, education, arts, publishing and youth projects was launched on Wednesday by Colmcille – a partnership programme which promotes the shared linguistic and cultural heritage of Ireland and Scotland. Colmcille fosters understanding of the diverse experience and culture of the Irish and Scottish Gaelic communities, as well as encouraging debate on common concerns in social, cultural and economic issues with a view to building self-confidence within the Gaelic language communities.   To fulfil its aims, Colncille requires the participation the participation of a wide range of communities and organisations and today launched a call for applications to support a new programme of diverse projects.  Organisations have until Friday December 17 to submit applications for grant aid.

Colmcille was the main funder for one of the most successful Scottish/Irish arts projects – An Leabhar Mor – a project which made a significant impact both nationally and internationally. Over the years Colmcille has also supported various second and third level educational projects between Ireland and Scotland, including a partnership which developed dialogue at staff and student level between two bodies with responsibility for teacher training in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  And more recently, Colmcille has assisted a Lewis primary school to develop their links with a school in County Clare – throughout a week long twinning arrangement, pupils from both schools took part in joint activities and cultural visits, cementing aspirations to set up joint history geography and science projects between the two.

Firework Spectacular Sees £2000-plus Handed Over

Saturday night saw the Christmas spectacular event at Falls of Shin with over 1000 people attending to watch the Celtic fire dancers, Sutherland Schools Pipe Band and a thrilling fireworks display.  There was also a “rodeo reindeer” which proved very popular with all ages, plus a magical new Santa’s grotto. But the evening also had a more serious side when Jan O’Donnell, operations manager at the Falls of Shin, presented a cheque for over £2000 to the Help for Heroes charity.  It was accepted on their behalf by local RAF recruit Christopher Dawes.  Christopher, who comes from Lairg and is currently based at RAF Leuchars. Jan O’Donnell commented: “We collect money for a charity each year at the Falls of Shin and this year we felt it fitting that it should go to Help for Heroes.”  If you missed the event, there’s still plenty of time to get into the Christmas spirit at the visitor centre.

Snowfall Brings Parts of Scotland to Standstill
More than 140 schools across the north-east of Scotland were closed or partially closed yesterday, as a second day of heavy snow showers brought chaos to roads in the area.
The earliest prolonged snowfalls to hit Scotland for 17 years also caused havoc on high-level routes in parts of the Borders, where pupils at six schools were sent home at lunchtime due to the deteriorating conditions.

Forecasters say will be no let-up in the east of Scotland over the weekend, with up to 20cm (8in) of fresh snow expected on higher ground in many areas. Parts of the country that have so far escaped the wintry conditions are also set for blizzards.  There were scores of minor accidents yesterday morning as motorists battled to get to work after up to 12cm of snow fell overnight in parts of Aberdeenshire.  The B974 Cairn o' Mount road between Banchory and Fettercairn, the A939 Ballater to Corgarff at the Lecht, the A93 at the Cairnwell and the B976 Crathie to Gairnshiel road were closed due to the treacherous conditions. And in the Borders, the A68 Edinburgh to Jedburgh road was closed south of Carter Bar.  Aberdeenshire Council said 121 primaries and secondaries in the area were either closed or partially closed. They included 60 schools which were closed to both pupils and staff.  Six primary schools in neighbouring Moray were completely closed and one primary partially closed because of the adverse weather. And 13 schools were closed or partially closed in Aberdeen.

Last night, heavy and prolonged snow showers were forecast across the North-east, the Highlands and the Northern Isles, leading to significant accumulations in some places. Big falls were also expected in the Borders, with snow flurries in other parts of southern and central Scotland.   A Met Office spokeswoman said: "The cold snap is set to continue well into next week at least … we could see snow filtering right through the Central Belt. Areas which have escaped up until now will be in line for some snow."

Image of the Scot takes a pounding at home and away
The universal perception of the average Scot as a level-headed, stoical and abstemious sort has taken a bit of a bashing of late. At least one Irish newspaper columnist this week drew his readers’ attention to the row raging over the proper way to wear a kilt.  He suggested that, at this time of impending financial gloom and doom, Scottish folk should be concentrating their efforts on more-weighty matters than whether or not a man should wear underpants beneath his kilt.  Of course, the Irish are very conscious that their own current financial crisis is due in large part to the machinations of the Royal Bank of Scotland and its former chief executive, so they are only too happy to take a pop at the Scots when the opportunity presents itself.

As an Irishman myself, I have never given the kilt issue much consideration, but I was intrigued to find that the Scottish Tartans Authority (STA) had come down so hard on the traditionalists who favour going commando while sporting their national dress.
A spokesman for the STA said: “The idea that you are not a real Scot unless you are bare under the kilt should be thrown in the same wastebasket as the idea that you are not a real Scot unless you put salt on your porridge.”  This statement provoked a heated response from one traditionalist, who said: “Going bare under the kilt is part of a Scottish military tradition.”

The arbiters of good taste countered this by pointing out that, in the west Highlands, midges can mount alarming and unexpected attacks on so-called true Scotsmen. That’s a pretty convincing argument. However, they could have strengthened it by pointing out the dangers to cat owners posed by sticking to the traditional practice.  Cats like nothing better than clawing to shreds anything that dangles within their reach, as I found to my cost when passing my own moggie while clad in nothing more than my dressing gown.  If that little anecdote doesn’t have you kilt-wearers rushing for your Y-fronts you’re off your heads.


The same Irish columnist rejoiced in the fact that some Scots were outraged at the BBC for including a drunken Scotsman in the cast of its long-running radio soap, The Archers, with one listener bleating: “This is stereotyping an entire race.”  But that’s a bit hard on the English when you consider that Scots themselves have been far more guilty of highlighting the image of the drunken Scot.  What about Rab C. Nesbitt, or Billy Connolly’s impressions of rubber-legged inebriates staggering along Sauchiehall Street?

However, forget kilt-wearers and sozzled soap characters. The one person who has done the greatest amount of damage to the universal perception of the Scot in recent times has to be self-styled nutritionist and jobbie-jabber Gillian McKeith, currently languishing in a hermetically sealed patch of the Australian rainforest in I’m a Celebrity . . . Get Me Out of Here!, a woman who looks and sounds as if she was Edvard Munch’s inspiration for his painting The Scream – and boy can she scream.  She also has more phobias than you could shake a didgeridoo at.  Whatever possessed a woman who is terrified of creepy-crawlies to volunteer for this show? Are we supposed to believe her when she says she had never watched it before?   And now she tells us she has a phobia of water and has never in her life been immersed in the stuff. Is it all an act? Does she think that the viewing public will be so impressed with her efforts to overcome her fears that they will forgive all the shrieking, whingeing and fainting and award her first prize?  If she believes that she is even more barking mad than she seems.

A Reformed Character: the Renovation of St Giles' Cathedral
St Giles' Cathedral is emerging from centuries of grime and generations of alteration to once more shine forth as the mother church of Presbyterianism.  Time has wrought its changes," wrote Robert Louis Stevenson in his 1879 Picturesque Notes on Edinburgh, "most notably around the precincts of St Giles". The High Kirk of Edinburgh had already seen its fair share of history by the time Stevenson started scribbling about it.

More than 700 years old by the 19th century, the Cathedral was undergoing another major restoration. Inside, the post-Reformation walls were being stripped back. Outside, a new sandstone exterior had been completed by the Victorians keen to preserve this icon of Scotland that is today known worldwide as the mother church of Presbyterianism.  Stevenson, however, wasn't blown away. "The church itself, if it were not for the spire, would be unrecognisable," he bemoaned. "The krames (an arcade of market stalls] are all gone, not a shop is left to shelter in its buttresses; and zealous magistrates and a misguided architect have shorn the design of manhood, and left it poor, naked, and pitifully pretentious."

Walking around the church today, you can't help wondering what Stevenson, whose bronze memorial is inside, would make of St Giles circa 2010. Thanks to another restoration, this one taking 16 years, St Giles is entering its next phase and the sombre Victorian feel of its interior has gone forever. Outside, the winking brass finials and vanes on top of the crown spire make the High Kirk look the very opposite of "poor" and "naked".  The St Giles' Cathedral Renewal Appeal aims to be completed next year when, on 26 January, a service of celebration is planned. So far £6.2 million has been spent on restoring the church, the money coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland and private donors.  

St Giles is no stranger to change, turbulent or otherwise.   On 29 June 1559, John Knox famously preached the sermon in the High Kirk that ignited the Reformation across Scotland. He was appointed minister of St Giles the following year. Today, in the 450th anniversary year of the Reformation the latest restoration is drawing to a close. The building has regained some of the formal, understated grandeur of its pre-Reformation past. Even Kate Middleton's heart has been won over by this great grey icon of Scotland. She reportedly originally wanted to marry Prince William at St Giles, partly because they met in St Andrews.

More than 200 craftspeople and contractors, the vast majority based in Scotland, have been involved in liberating the architecture of the building, doing expert work ranging from cleaning the 19th-century stained glass windows to installing the complex lighting system. Now the appeal is looking for a final £500,000 to realise the end of this project. Walking back up the High Street to get the best view of the medieval tower, the oldest part of the building, and the iconic crown spire. "The outsides of old Edinburgh churches," wrote Muriel Spark, "were of such dark stone, like presences almost the colour of the Castle rock, and were built so warningly with their upraised fingers." So the author of The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie wrote when Edinburgh's most famous teacher asked her girls if they had visited St Giles.

Added in 1500, the crown spire is one of a few of this style from the period. (Another, in London, St Mary-le-Bow has long gone.) The tower housing a complex 12th century framework of oak timbers (which once held the church bells) has been reinforced, the masonry repointed and eroded stones replaced.  What you notice most are the gilded finials and wind vanes at the summit of the gothic pinnacles, each one designed to represent the Arts, the Law, Medicine and Parliament. Even in this dull weather, the brass glows in the gloaming.   It was a raging winter gale in 1979 that set St Giles on the path to restoration. The old weathercock roosting at the top of the spire began to sway madly and it became apparent that the structure of the old tower was no longer sound. Restoring the outer walls of the Kirk, replaced by the Victorians, would be no small task either. The sandstone shell had weathered badly, some stones had become soft and "sugary" and old iron fixings were rusting. It took 45 months to examine every single stone.

The chandeliers made locally in Dunfermline send light above and below, drawing the eye up to the medieval vault. Now there is a sense of the eyes being cast upwards instead of being shrouded in gloom.  Before the pillars seemed to lead nowhere. And of course all this is the message of an uplifting spirit. It's not just about architecture.  At the eastern end of St Giles workmen are laying great slabs of English limestone, replacing sections of the old crumbling flagstones. Elsewhere the scaffolding is still up and amongst the hushed voices of tourists and worshippers there is the clatter of boots on boards, the sound of steel on stone, and a mobile phone ringing.  It's remarkable that so much work has gone on out of sight, the contractors huddled in the roof or disguising cable ducts as fake rainwater pipes. Two hundred wall monuments and sculptures have been restored. Two centuries worth of grime has been cleaned from marble, stone and alabaster. Mosaic floors have been tended, stained glass removed and cleaned with special solvents.  The Thistle Chapel hasn't been restored since it was built a century ago. "The oak woodwork was very dry so it was an elaborate job bringing it back to life. Originally one of the Knights of the Thistle gifted it. It cost £24,000 a century ago, a huge amount of money but it still came in £80 under budget. There was a suggestion around the time that they would restore Holyrood Church beside the Palace. But it was so difficult and expensive that this chapel was commissioned instead.

Iains Section
Did you hear about the tourists who were visiting an old graveyards in Scotland and came upon a headstone that read "Here lies a pious man, a wonderful father, and a great teacher." One of the visitors quipped, "Just like the Scots to bury three men in one grave!"
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When Hector's cat died he asked the minister if he could bury it in the church cemetery. "Certainly not" said
the minister. Hector then asked the Anglican minister and got the same answer. The next day Hector met his own minister who asked if he was still trying to bury his cat. Hector told him that in desperation he had even offered the Jewish Rabbi fifty pounds to bury him but he had refused too. The minister's face immediately lit up. "Why didn't you tell me it was a Church of Scotland cat?"
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Glasgow teachers are known to use the following translations for the remarks they make on pupils' report cards:
"A born leader" - Runs a protection racket
"Easy-going" - Bone idle
"Good progress" - You should have seen him a year ago
"Friendly" - Never shuts up
Helpful" - A creep
"Reliable" - Informs on his friends
"Expresses himself confidently" - Impertinent
"Enjoys physical education" - A bully
"Does not accept authority easily" - Dad is in prison
"Often appears tired" - Stays up all night watching television
"A rather solitary child" - He smells
"Popular in the playground" - Sells pornography