Some Scottish News & Views #93

SOME SCOTTISH NEWS & VIEWS
Issue # 93                                                                      Week ending 25thJune 2011

Some Scots Australian News
Formal Inspection of the Scottish Australia Cairn in Rawson Park, Mosman, Sydney, combined with the appointment of Malcolm Broun as the first Honorary Warden of the Cairn, will be held on 29th June at 12MD at the Cairn. All are welcome.  

Coisir Ghaidhlig Astrailianach will be singing at a Tartan Day Service at 8.30am in the Macquarie Chapel Presbyterian Church, Herring Road Eastwood on 3rd July.  All are welcome.

Coisir Ghaidhlig Astrailianach has been accepted to sing with 30 other choirs at the Blackheath Choir Festival  during the weekend of 26-28th August. for details of the festival please Contact 0437 255 816 or have a look at www.blackheathchoirfestival.weebly.com.

Why Alex Salmond Needs Donald to Stop Him Ending Up in Court by Iain MacIver - Courtesy of The Press & Journal
Sitting here laden with all my Fathers’ Day presents, I can’t help thinking how lucky I am. Who else gets a boxful? I’d better unwrap them and see what I’ve got from my wonderful loving family.
What on earth’s this? It’s one of those ear hair trimmer things. Do I need one of them? Must have been on special offer. I know how my other half can’t resist a bargain. Bless.

Look, a book. Yay. What’s it called? How To Teach A Man To Cook. My family are so thoughtful. They know that I have been looking for one that’s got a bit on how to make the perfect sausage sandwich.  And what’s this? I expected something a bit bigger and made of glass. A screwdriver? That’ll be another hint from Mrs X to fix that kitchen cupboard. Is that it?

The one day of the year when I should be spoiled, given expensive presents and served in bed with a sumptuous breakfast of caviar and hand-picked grapes dropped onto my tongue from the fair hand of a buxom wench, and what happens?

My family, including the big wench, is still up there snoring away and I’ve come down to find a pile of the most useless presents a man has ever had. Oi, you up there, where’s my bottle of malt? And there’s no batteries in this strimmer.  No, it’s not the thought that counts. I was looking forward to a bottle of something fine and warming to enjoy within the fine and warm bosom of my family. Now I have to wait until next March to get my revenge.

Don’t you worry; I’ll remember to forget Mother’s Day.

One organisation that didn’t forget to help out someone else was Western Isles Council. They set themselves the task of finding ways to help BBC Alba, the Gaelic TV channel, now that every man and his dog can see Donald Macsween presenting the Gaelic version of One Man And His Dog because it’s all now on Freeview.

Our great councillors had been scratching their heads to think of ways to come with fresh and interesting content that does not impact on vital budgetary considerations and overall strategic objectives. That means something cheap or which costs nothing at all.  They talked about the need to put on a Gaelic drama series; a soap with storylines that would grip the nation. Just one problem; the cost. Drama is hugely expensive. All these actors, producers and directors would want to be paid.

These TV people are so greedy, said one councillor who forgot to mention that he has not one, not two, but three jobs.

Hmm, it’s a real problem.

“By jove,” shouts one elected member, “I think I’ve got it. Why don’t we broadcast every council committee’s proceedings. People will see us working hard on their behalf and it’ll be very interesting. It’s all about openness.”   Openness? What he actually meant was that he considered himself a bit of an inspiring orator. He could see himself on his feet at the licensing board meetings proposing that the latest application for Sunday opening be thrown out for the health of the community.

Our eloquent elected member would then look at the camera and raise a knowing eyebrow, à la Roger Moore, before resuming his seat to thunderous applause, foot stomping and whoops of “Way to go, a’ Thormoid,” from all the Free Church elders packed into the public gallery.  Note to council: You will need more seats up there because the upcoming split in the Church of Scotland means there will be far more of those Wee Frees packed into licensing board meetings soon.
Hey, could be a good plan. Cheap too. The Beeb could just send Sweeny down with his camera. He could leave it switched on and go off to do a sheepdog programme as long as he remembers to come back last thing at night to switch it off.

Not everyone was sure of the plan for a Live From The White House daily show. One member, diplomatically avoiding any suggestion that some councillors are extremely boring speakers, raised the possibility that wall-to-wall council meetings could be too much for many viewers and that it could just put them to sleep.   What? Ridiculous notion. They were all bemused by any such suggestion.

Donald Martin of BBC Alba is a wily Harrisman - and we all know how careful Hearachs are when it comes to spending money. He made it clear that these upstanding pillars of the community were far from being a dull shower while also doing away with any need to spend £10 million on a Gaelic soap.

He looked the councillors straight in their 62 eyes and said: “We don’t need to spend money on drama. You already have it here.” The bewildered members just looked at each other. They’re probably still wondering what he meant by that.

See? It’s that kind of cunning wickedness of the pure-bred Hearach that Scotland needs. If Alex Salmond, just to take one example, had that lightness of touch so delightfully exemplified by Donald, he wouldn’t be at loggerheads with every eminent judge in the land or be in the slightly awkward position of having some of the best legal brains in the country threatening to sue the pants off him.  He would have been far better picking up the phone, calling Donald Martin and asking him what was the best way to call the judiciary a bunch of numpties without irking them enough to threaten reprisals.

It’s not what you say but how you say it. For instance, I’m still mad with Mrs X for my rubbish Father’s Day. I won’t tell her directly, of course.

However, if you see her, you could mention to her that when I was shopping recently, the checkout assistant saw me reaching for a plastic bag.

“Sir, would you like a bag for life?” she beamed, helpfully.

“No thanks,” I snapped. “I’m already married.”

Ewing: RAF Bases Key to Scotland
Scotland's closure-threatened RAF bases are of national importance, enterprise minister Fergus Ewing has said.  During a meeting with community and business representatives in Moray, he said there is an overwhelming defence, social and economic case for retaining Scotland's bases, Scotland has lost more than 10,000 defence jobs since 1997 .

A defence review by the UK Government has already spelled the end for RAF Kinloss, with the cancellation of the Nimrod contract, while the fates of Lossiemouth and Leuchars remain uncertain.  Mr Ewing said: "RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Leuchars are of national importance to Scotland and this government urges the Ministry of Defence to acknowledge the overwhelming defence, social and economic case for retaining both bases in their basing review.  "The Scottish Government continues to support the communities of Leuchars and Moray in their continuing campaign to protect Scotland's RAF footprint and to prevent the withdrawal of military personnel from Scotland.  Last week this government made a comprehensive submission to the UK Government basing review, ahead of the final UK Cabinet decision, urging it to consider the substantial economic and social impact of base closures in the communities of Fife and Moray."

Land Reform Faces Human Rights Battle
The bid by crofters to take over part of the 26,800 acre Pairc estate on Lewis could take years after a sheriff directed the Court of Session in Edinburgh to decide whether the Scottish Land Reform Act 2003 is consistent with the European Convention on Human Rights.  Sheriff David Sutherland at Stornoway Sheriff Court made the direction before he considers an appeal from the landlord at the centre of the dispute.   Critics have previously compared the laws to the regime of President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who has forced white people from their land through violence and intimidation.  At issue is the section in the act which gives crofting communities the absolute right to buy their croft land, subject to ministerial approval, whether or not the owner wants to sell.

Barry Lomas, a Warwickshire-based accountant, does not want to sell the estate his family bought in 1924. He has claimed the act breaches his human rights and that he is the “whipping boy of land reform”.  Both sides urged the Scottish Government to release the official valuation price which was assessed by an independent surveyor but ordered to remain secret at the last minute.

Almost 400 people live on the estate, which covers a similar area to Edinburgh.  It embraces 11 townships and 208 crofts. Much of the area being fought over is boggy moorland but at stake is the control of potentially lucrative profits from a £110 million wind farm.  Residents have declined to buy out the croftland villages, opting, instead, for the houseless common grazings having been advised to take this route given the tight timescale and detailed mapping requirements buying the full estate would require   The ground presently has little value except as rough pasture for livestock, but Scottish and Southern Energy’s application to build a giant windfarm has raised the odds.

Scottish ministers gave the crofters of the Pairc Trust permission to proceed and Mr Lomas sought to appeal that decision in court yesterday. But last year he also petitioned for a judicial review in the Court of Session on the human rights aspects of the legislation. That had been put on hold, but yesterday Sheriff David Sutherland directed the Court of Session to rule on the human rights issues before he heard the rest of the appeal on the ministers’ decision to approve the buyout.

Some predict it could take up to a year for the Court of Session to make a ruling, and thereafter there is a right of appeal which could take even longer.   John Randall, vice-chair of the community-led Pairc Trust, which is behind the buy-out bid, said “The sheriff said it had to be referred to the Court of Session by July 21. Nobody knows when the Court of Session will be able to set down dates for a hearing or indeed how long an appeal would take. That’s my understanding, and after all that it’s back to Stornoway Sheriff Court for the rest of Mr Lomas’s appeal.”

Mr Lomas said: “Pairc Estate continues, as it has done for many years, to encourage members of the Pairc community to come forward to discuss how progress can be made, away from the failings of politicians and Pairc Trust.”   A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “As the legal process is still ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage.”

Trump Wants Connery to Open Resort

US tycoon Donald Trump wants James Bond star Sean Connery and Scotland's First Minster Alex Salmond to officially open his planned golf resort.  The businessman jetted into Scotland to view developments at the course in Balmedie in Aberdeenshire.  Work began a year ago on the billionaire's £750 million luxury golf and housing development on the Menie estate on the North Sea coast.  Mr Trump arrived at Aberdeen airport by private jet on Monday morning, accompanied by members of his New York executive team. His supermodel wife Melania will join him with their young son Barron on Tuesday. Mr Trump took journalists on a tour of the 18-hole course and even took some shots himself.  He added that he thought his mother, Mary Anne, who was born on the Isle of Lewis would be "very proud" of the resort because she loved Scotland "more than anything, except perhaps her family".   

Some residents are refusing to sell their homes to make way for the development, which will include houses and holiday homes. Campaigners from the Tripping up Trump group, which supports the rights of home owners on the Menie Estate, called on him to use his visit as an opportunity to commit to behaving better towards his neighbours. But Mr Trump retorted: "I have made peace with everybody already."

125,000 Free Olympic Tickets for London, 50,000 for Rest of UK
Schoolchildren in London will receive two and a half times more free Olympics tickets than youngsters in the rest of the UK combined.   Just 50,000 tickets will be distributed to schoolchildren across the "regions" - which includes all areas of England outside of London, plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - while a massive 125,000 will be handed out to children at schools and colleges in London.  That is despite organisers' repeated claims that this is a Games for the whole UK, and that all parts will feel the benefits.

The free tickets for the regions, as well as 50,000 of those earmarked for London, will be funded through a scheme called Ticketshare. The scheme works by charging a levy on anyone buying hospitality tickets for the Games - the money raised is then used to pay for the free tickets for the children.  The additional 75,000 will be given out to youngsters living in the UK capital by the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.  "It seems that everywhere outside of London has been an afterthought for the Olympic organisers, and it is disgraceful that schools are going to have to scramble for tickets," said SNP sports spokesman for Westminster, Pete Wishart MP. "The allocation for schools and colleges is unfair and inadequate and should be revisited by the organising committee."

He added: "This was hailed as a Games for the whole of the UK, but on every measure, from the award of construction contracts to legacy spending and now tickets, Scotland has been short-changed and sidelined.  the UK government is failing to honour its assurances that people across the UK will benefit from the 2012 Olympics."

Govt. Trying to Ignore Coastguard Protest (The continuing saga - Robin)
An email from Coastguard chief, Sir Alan Massey to staff earlier today suggests senior MCA management and the Government aren’t listening to the wave of opposition to their cutback plans.  In the email, Sir Alan, who visited Stornoway earlier this year, informs staff of the Transport Select Committee’s report and then quotes a comment from Transport Minister, Philip Hammond who welcomed the Select Committee’s recognition that the Coastguard Service is in urgent need of modernisation.

The embattled Minister, on the receiving end of the damning report that branded the cutback proposals as seriously flawed, comments: “The original proposals do not compromise safety and include increased resources for front-line rescue services. Reform will improve resilience in the system through improvements to IT and create better career opportunities for staff, as well as better pay and conditions. As the Transport Select Committee says, the need for reform is not in question. I am confident that through this genuine consultation process we will deliver the right solution to make our coastguard service fit for the 21st century.”

Current thinking within Whitehall has been seriously called into question by the Transport Select Committee, and many now believe the proposals have been well and truly holed below the water line.  An independent review team is currently sifting through the responses to the consultation exercise and will be reporting to the Government ahead of their expected announcement next month.

MPs Totally Reject Coastguard Cut
Government plans to decimate the Coastguard have been utterly condemned by the influential cross-party Transport Committee on Thursday.  The MPs who have scrutinised the proposals have now called on the Government to withdraw its controversial proposals to modernise the Coastguard Service and go back to the drawing board.  Launching their damning report, Transport Committee Chair Louise Ellman said: “We accept there is a need for some modernisation, but the Government’s proposals for the future of the Coastguard Service are seriously flawed.  We found little support for the current proposals and we have no confidence that, under these proposals, the Coastguard will in future be able to respond to emergencies at sea as well as they do now, let alone in a more effective way.The Committee is not convinced by the Government’s claim that technology can, at present, replace such local knowledge.”

And there was a further body blow to the reformers as the Transport Committee also strongly blasted the Government’s cost-cutting decision to withdraw funding for the four Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) stationed around the UK coast — large tugs that intercept disabled ships to prevent environmental pollution disasters.  “We found no evidence that a suitable commercial alternative for these tugs exists. The Government’s decision to withdraw funding for the ETVs is unwise and short-sighted - quite literally, it is inviting disaster,” said Ms Ellman.  Lastly, the committee records its disappointment that Mike Penning MP, Minister for Shipping, instructed regular coastguards not to give oral evidence to the Committee on the basis that they were junior civil servants. “The minister should have shown more faith in the professionalism of the coastguards and stuck by his original commitment to the House [of Commons] to let them give evidence to the Committee,” added the Transport Committee chair.

Unearthing Harris Secrets
Local community members and visitors are invited to come to watch and learn from archaeologists this summer as they unearth the story of the many archaeological riches at Northton in Harris.  A team of professional archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology at the University of Birmingham, working alongside our local archaeology group Linn gu Linn, will be on hand to provide tours of the site. The main focus of the fieldwork activity will be around the ruined medieval chapel on the headland of Rubh an Teampaill, carrying out excavation of a section of the Iron Age broch which partly underlies the chapel and investigating a range of other structures in the surrounding area.

Stonemasons will be working to consolidate the chapel at the same time, saving this much loved local monument from collapse. The building works will be cordoned off for health and safety purposes, but visitors will still get close enough to witness and learn about the specialist techniques being used in the consolidation and will hear the story behind the chapel as part of the tour.  This area is one of the key archaeological locations in the Outer Hebrides. The headland, Rubh an Teampaill, was enclosed or defended by a substantial stone-built wall, set within a landscape showing evidence of human activity over several millennia, including burials of the Viking or Pictish period.

Nearby Rubh’ an Teampaill there are middens and structures exposed by coastal erosion where prehistoric artefacts can be recovered from the shoreline. This location is one of the few places in the west of Scotland, and the only one in the Outer Hebrides, known to have been occupied in the Mesolithic period, about 9000 years ago.  Occupation here continued through the Neolithic, Beaker Period and Bronze Age, and the sequence is completed with the remains of houses and structures from a pre-clearance settlement. This represents the longest known sequence of human occupation anywhere in the Outer Hebrides.  The fieldwork to be carried out in the coming weeks will involve targeted rescue excavation, field survey, and selective small-scale research excavation to provide evidence and information for written and live interpretation. Combined with the educational activities and training for schools and local guides, the aim of the fieldwork is to ensure that Northton becomes established as an important heritage focus for its archaeological sites, complementing the stunning landscape and wildlife attractions which already draw people to this area.

New Report Suggests North Businesses Should Band Together
A report issued this week outlines how Caithness and North Sutherland businesses could benefit from working more closely together to create an area wide tourism identity.  The analysis by the Tourism Resource Company (TRC), which was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), points out that many operators could come together to support the region.  The report recommends that a leadership team and local tourism development groups be created in order to provide joined-up information on services and boost marketing power.   Rachel Skene, HIE’s Head of Tourism for Caithness and North Sutherland, commented: "Many local businesses and providers have fed into this report which offers a comprehensive overview of the current market and identifies the opportunities for growth. Businesses working together could create a more connected strategy leading to a better overall visitor experience. We want to find more ways to not only meet, but exceed the expectations of visitors coming to Caithness and North Sutherland."

The economic baseline indicates the value of tourism in Caithness and North Sutherland to be £35.2 million, contributing to the value of the sector in the Highlands of £1.2 billion and in Scotland of £4.2 billion.  Rachel added: "Increasingly partnership working is producing results for the area, HIE itself is a member of Caithness and North Sutherland Regeneration Partnership. Collaboration between grass roots industry, regional and national bodies is essential in making the area a competitive destination in the national and international marketplace."

Benderloch Fossil Could Hold the Key to Life
A fossil found in Benderloch over 40 years ago could hold the key to life as we know it after modern techniques revealed it was at least 650 million years old.  Discovered by now retired geologist Martin Litherland in 1967 in the cutting along the old Connel to Ballachulish railway under the bridge to Port Selma, the Dalradian rock, known as Easdale slate, contains the fossilised remains of what could be the world’s first ever animal.  While Dr Litherland initially thought the fossil was around 500 million years old, new techniques have shown the rock it was found in to be significantly older - at least 630-650 million years old.  The paper was published in the latest edition of the Edinburgh Geological Society’s, the Edinburgh Geologist.

Grants of Dornoch Goes on Market (Their Marag Dubh is equal to the Stornoway ones-Robin)
The firm has a long history dating back to 1825 when it was founded by John Grant who delivered meat by cart from Achosnich in Birichen to Dornoch.  It has since been run by successive generations of Grants and has seen many changes.  In the early 1900s the business re-located to the distinctive corner building it still occupies in the town’s Cathedral Square. And in 1976 Donald Grant and his cousin and partner, Glen Grant, expanded it from a butcher’s shop to the current store.   Barbara Morrison, the great-great-grandaughter of founder John Grant and daughter of Donald Grant, was enlisted into family firm in 1976 and was joined by her husband, Sandy Morrison, in 1995.  Barbara’s brother, Stuart, continues to make Grant’s famous black pudding using their great-grandmother’s recipe.

City Hospitals Are Worst Maintained in Scotland
Hospitals in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde are the worst maintained in the country, according to a new report.  In the first assessment of its kind, Scotland’s largest health board was given the worst score for looking after the fabric of its hospital estate. Among the problems identified were damaged floors, door frames, missing light covers, broken tiles and dirty vents.

Gartnavel General, which opened in 1973, was the only hospital in the country to be given a red rating for the condition of the building, which indicates a score below 70%.

A system for monitoring cleanliness in Scottish hospitals was launched in the summer of 2006, with hospitals given traffic light colours according to their performance. The latest report, which covers the first three months of the year, shows that compliance with the cleaning standards has risen in all health boards and all major hospitals are ranked green.  However, for the first time the fabric of hospital buildings was also graded by the team from Health Facilities Scotland.  Two boards fell into the amber category, behind the rest of the NHS – Greater Glasgow and Clyde on 86.2% and the State Hospital at Carstairs, with 89.4%. Gartnavel was given the lowest score of any hospital at 68.7%.

Dr Jean Turner, executive director of the Scotland Patients Association, said: “You would imagine a hospital to be better kept and cleaned than your own home, but the sad thing is even in the new buildings general maintenance is not always high up the agenda so things are allowed to be neglected until they need to be replaced.”  She blamed poor management for the problem, adding: “If you do not look after your estate it is not here for you tomorrow, so it is short-term thinking. Patients, at the end of the day, are the ones who suffer.”

Family Bucks the Trend with Canna Move
The latest family to move to the Hebridean island of Canna were presented to the media by the National Trust for Scotland.   The Spence family, from Laggan, Inverness-shire - Alison, 39, Duncan, 40, their two children and two collies - were chosen after interview in which they had to show they would be able to support themselves on the trust-owned island, which aims to have a self-sustaining community.  They will join 18 other residents on the island, which is just 4½ miles long and one mile wide, and is home to one of Scotland's most important seabird colonies. Mr Spence will take up the post of pier assistant as well as carrying out woodland work and helping with an island car share scheme based in Mallaig on mainland Scotland.

Standing Room Only for Susan's Installation!

There was not a single seat left in Dornoch Cathedral on Wednesday evening - with many having to stand throughout the service - when Rev Susan Brown was officially installed as Chaplain in Ordinary to Her Majesty the Queen.  There were 11 other Royal Chaplains present for the Installation led by the Dean of the Chapel Royal, the Very Rev John B Cairns, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland.   He mentioned his great appreciation for all the work put into the evening and joked: "It's a pity there are so few present" as he looked round the packed church! He paid great tribute to Susan and all the tremendous work she has done in Dornoch adding that the people in the Parish of Dornoch are truly blessed to have such a dedicated, faithful woman leading them.

The sermon was preached by the Very Rev Dr Gilleasbuig Macmillan, minister of St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where Susan started her ministry.  Dr Macmillan's sermon was perfect for the service, humorous and wise and showing a great appreciation of Susan's ministry.  Following the service there was champagne, canapes and a huge BBQ which had been sponsored by the local business community. The uncertain weather did not dampen spirits and there was a tremendous atmosphere.  Gillian Sutherland piped everyone into church and the Dornoch pipe band welcomed everyone as they left the Cathedral.  Susan (52) said afterwards: "When the Queen is in Scotland, chaplains are called on to conduct services at Crathie Kirk and spend the weekend at Balmoral.  "I have preached there once before and stayed at Balmoral and it is a pleasant experience.  I think the Queen has a hand in who is selected and so it is a great honour."

Holidaymakers Waste Rescuers’ ‘Time and Money’
Two holidaymakers wasted the coastguard’s ‘time and money’ after an unnecessary rescue operation was launched on Loch Linnhe yesterday, according to Clyde Coastguard.  Clyde oversaw the rescue attempt and sent teams from Fort William and Appin Coastguard to the Corran Ferry area at about 3pm when the wife of a kayaker from Norfolk said her husband hadn’t returned to the ferry ramp after setting out an hour earlier.  A rescue helicopter was scrambled from Prestwick to help the effort, and the man was found safe and well at Appin Bay at 4.20pm, where he said he had always planned to go.  Clyde coastguard watch manager Tarek Yassin said: ‘All this could have been avoided if there had been better communication between the husband and wife.

Midwife Suspended Over Drug Theft Probe
A midwife has been suspended amid allegations that she stole drugs from the biggest maternity hospital in the north-east.  Deborah Jane Brown is under investigation after being accused of taking medication from a cabinet while she was on leave.  The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) banned her from working for 18 months and managers at NHS Grampian are still probing the claims.

Portree Sailor Heads Down Under for Global Yacht Race
A Portree sailor is to travel to Australia later this year to take part in a section of the famous Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.  Catherine Devlin was allocated her place last week in Southampton, and in October she will join the crew of the yacht representing Scotland —  ‘Edinburgh Inspiring Capital’. She is racing in leg four of the challenge, a new section which will see her race over 3,000 nautical miles from Geraldton in Western Australia to New Zealand.

After maintenance work in New Zealand, which crew members will help carry out, Catherine’s second race sees her leave New Zealand and race through the Pacific ocean into the Gold Coast of Australia, arriving in late December.  Catherine and the crew will be racing with a relay team of doctors, nurses and transplant patients, who are taking part to promote the national shortage of organ donations. In terms of race highlights, Catherine said she was looking forward to having the “privilege of sailing with such an inspirational group of people”, adding that she was excited at the prospect of sailing around one of three Great Capes in the world — Cape Leeuwin, in South Western Australia.   Catherine has set up her own website (www.catherinedevlin.com) to allow people to follow her race and is appealing for donations to the Highland Hospice, one of her chosen charities.

Edinburgh Hosts Armed Forces Day

The third annual Armed Forces Day, dedicated to the nation's servicemen and women, will get off to a flying start with an aerial display by the Red Arrows, which is their first performance in the city for 23 years. Up to 100,000 people are expected to flock to Scotland's capital to enjoy a full weekend of activities running until Sunday.  The Red Arrows will put on the display over the Firth of Forth and visitors will have the opportunity to try out Tornado jet simulators at Ocean Terminal shopping Centre in Leith.

Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "Armed Forces Day provides a unique opportunity for us all to pay thanks to the men and women who serve this country with such distinction.  As Defence Secretary, I have the privilege of witnessing the work they do at first hand, defending our nation and its interests both at home and abroad. They represent the very best of Britain."

Scots Firms Squeezed Out of Defence Cash
Questions have been raised over the level of defence spending in Scotland after new figures revealed that less than 1 per cent of contracts to small and medium sized companies go to firms north of the Border.  According to a written answer from the Ministry of Defence, just 50 contracts out of the 6,000 placed with small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are with Scottish companies.  The MoD insisted contracts were awarded according to quality and value for money. But small business leaders rejected any suggestion the quality of Scottish products was to blame for the low level of contracts awarded.

The revelations emerge as military and political leaders meet in Edinburgh today (Saturday) to mark Armed Forces Day.  They also come as wider questions are being asked over whether Scotland is benefiting from UK government investment, with it being revealed earlier this week that England will receive 24 times more Olympics legacy money than Scotland.

Contracts for SMEs and continuing public sector contracts have been identified both in Holyrood and Westminster as a key part of getting the economy going again.  The written answers to Labour's shadow Scotland Office minister Tom Greatrex also show that other UK departments are either not employing many or any Scottish small businesses or do not keep account of the figures.   The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office have two contracts each with Scottish SMEs.  Only 2 per cent of the total in both the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs and the Department for Energy and Climate Change are with Scottish SMEs, and just 1.1 per cent from the Department for Health.  Meanwhile, neither the Department for Work and Pensions nor the Department for International Development knew whether they had any contracts at all with Scottish SMEs.

Mr Greatrex said that the answers and level of contracts were unacceptable.  "The response from the government on this issue beggars belief," he said. "For so many government departments to have no idea how many of their contracts are awarded to SMEs is astounding.  Despite making great noise about the importance of small and medium sized enterprises to the economic recovery, these answers make clear that is little more than lip service.  When government departments are cutting costs the real danger is they award central contracts that cut out small businesses from Scotland and elsewhere.  For the MoD, particularly, to make a back-of-a-fag-packet estimate is simply not good enough."

During evidence at a recent meeting of the Scottish Affairs Select Committee, Defence Secretary Liam Fox claimed that Scotland received 50 per cent more spending than its population share merited because of contracts with the private sector.  The SNP disputed this and pointed out that Dr Fox had accepted that Scotland got less than its fair share of spending in terms of personnel, with 10,500 personnel lost north of the Border in the last decade.

Colin Borland, from the Federation of Small Businesses, said it was wrong to blame the quality of Scottish products for a lack of contracts and suggested that there was a problem with the Whitehall procurement process.  He said that he hoped a European Commission inquiry into procurement by EU governments would make the process more transparent and help smaller companies.