Some Scottish News & Views #97

Issue # 97                                                                      Week ending 23rd July 2011

Some Sydney Scots Australian News
Sad News - Rob Ridding D Urr, President of Scottish House passed away last week and his funeral service was at Rookwood Cemetery on Wednesday.

Coisir Ghaidhlig Astrailianach will be singing at a Clans Kirking of the Tartan Service at 9.30am in St Lukes Presbyterian Church, Lord Street, Roseville, Sydney on 31st  July.   Clan Societies will be parading their banners and the Pipes & Drums of Knox College will play in the grounds at 9.15am and after the service. The Service will be followed by A grand morning brunch & sausage sizzle.
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

English Fees Set to Price Out Scots Students
Scots could be priced out of leading English universities including Oxford and Cambridge by the rise in fees south of the border and confusion over what financial support is on offer.
Scottish Government officials have confirmed that while students who choose to study in Scotland will not have to pay any fees, those who want to go to universities in England from 2012 will have to pay fees of up to £9,000 a year.   The new fees, agreed by the Conservative-LibDem coalition were confirmed in full by most English universities last week. Two-thirds of them plan to charge the full amount, The average fee an student faces paying is £8,161, when fee discounts and bursaries available for poorer undergraduates are factored in.  However, it remains unclear how those discounts will apply to Scottish students as the Scottish Government has yet to unveil details of their plans for student support.   Cambridge University said that while bursaries and discounts would be available, Scots students would not be eligible for a scholarship available to English students from disadvantaged homes, worth at least £3,000 a year.

Around 8,500 Scots domiciled students are thought to study in England, with 600 winning places at Oxbridge. But student leaders said last night that the extra cost and the confusion over fee rebates could see that figure drop markedly.  Without proper help, Scottish students from disadvantaged backgrounds wishing to study in England will be forced to choose a university based not on their ability, but their ability to pay.  In Scotland, the policy of the SNP Government is to meet the tuition fees for Scots-domiciled students studying in Scotland from central funds, so they need not pay anything. A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: "Our main priority has to be to protect opportunities for Scottish students to study at Scottish institutions. Scottish students studying in England will continue to receive financial support in the form of bursaries and loans."

Fun of the Fair Under Threat As High Costs Take A Toll
The Glasgow Fair, one of the city's oldest and most venerable events, could disappear within a year as rising prices and uncertainty over the site threaten its future.  The fair, which first took place in the 12th century, has been hit by the economic downturn, with this year's event cut from a month to three weeks, and fewer rides pitching up at the site on Glasgow Green. James A Smith, who holds the lease for running the fair after taking it on from Glasgow City Council in 1999, said the event, which holds a Royal Charter dating to the 1600s, has contracted in size by 60 per cent over the past 20 years as ride owners decide it is too expensive to attend.  

This year's event has been curtailed from a month to three weeks to make way for the Glasgow Show, due to take place in the last weekend of July. Alex James Colquhoun, vice-chairman of the Showmen's Guild, the governing body for all Funfairs and Fairground Rides operated by members in Scotland, acknowledged that the fair was smaller and less impressive event than it once was. He said: "The council do recognise that there is a Royal Charter on the fair and that they do have a duty to carry that charter on the best they can and try to keep it running.

Whisky Distilleries Urged to Take the Train
Going on the wagon could have a new meaning for Scotland's whisky industry - with moves to transfer road freight onto the railways.  A new report calls for fresh investment to help shift the valuable cargo from lorries, particularly in the Highlands where 77 of Scotland's 99 malt whisky distilleries are located.  A study for transport partnership Hitrans estimates that whisky production generates more than 137,000 goods vehicle trips a year - 377 a day - on the A95 and A941 roads in Speyside.Another 47,000 trips a year - 129 a day - occur on the A9 south of Aviemore, a total of 184,000 countrywide.

Whisky contributes £2.7 billion to Scotland's economy and supports about 35,000 jobs.  A 10 per cent growth in production would result in a further 19,000 goods vehicles a year on Highlands and Islands roads.   Hitrans says moving whisky onto the railways could reduce road traffic and help the industry save on fuel costs and cut its carbon footprint. It also suggests that the industry's reliance on roads could hold back growth in future.  It has been estimated that 11 per cent of the whisky industry's carbon emissions come from distribution. The report says while there is willingness from key players to consider the move to the railways, it would not be straightforward.  Due to the volumes required, there is a requirement for critical mass before rail becomes feasible. This would need the whole industry, or at least a number of major players, to get behind any proposals.   The report adds: "Given the geographical dispersion, volumes of movements and the current lack of alternative modes, the industry's reliance on the road network is understandable. This reliance could lead to constraints for future growth of the industry both in the short and long-term futures."

Frank Roach, Hitrans' partnership manager, said shifting from road to rail is in line with EC policy to reduce transport greenhouse gases by 60 per cent by 2050, with 30 per cent of road traffic shifting to rail and sea by 2030.  Although it's been spoken about in the past, this is the first step towards making something happen."  In its environmental strategy report in 2009, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) said it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.It pledged that by 2020 it will ensure that 20 per cent of the industry's primary energy requirements will be derived from non-fossil fuel sources, with a target of 80 per cent by 2050.

Police Face Security Bill for Royal Wedding
The police budget is to bear the brunt of the expected £500,000 security costs of Scotland’s royal wedding weekend at the end of the month.  The marriage of Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter, and England rugby captain Mike Tindall at the Canongate Kirk will draw the royal, the rich and famous on July 30.  The celebrations are already an international event, with top-level sports people including Mr Tindall’s fellow English rugby players expected to join celebrities in Edinburgh to see the couple take their vows. The city is buzzing with the expected appearance of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, inevitably adding yet more refined glamour to glittering day.  William and Kate will be joined by other key royals.

The security operation is expected to be on a similar scale to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit last year, when Operation Zinnia involved 900 officers and cost police £543,000.  As that was a state occasion, Lothian and Borders Police Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone was able to apply to the Scottish Government to recoup the cash. The potential costs have prompted concern on the Lothian and Borders Police Board who are seeking talks with Holyrood on receiving specific grant aid for policing major events in the capital, which holds such events more frequently.  Iain Whyte, board chairman, said: “It does put additional pressure on the force when there are increasing numbers of VIP visitors to Edinburgh.  The key thing for me is that this event is managed carefully so that the financial and policing impact will be minimal.”  Lothian and Borders Police had to meet the bulk of a £1.2 million policing bill for just two events last year, the climate camp protests and the Pope’s visit.  The citywide protests centered on the Royal Bank of Scotland cost around £650,000.  Mr Whyte, also finance spokesman on the Tory group at Edinburgh City Council, has pushed to have those found guilty of criminal damage during such protests to pay towards the costs of policing the event.

Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “The wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall in Edinburgh on July 30 is a private event and Lothian and Borders Police will provide a presence to maintain public safety and security due to the status of members of the wedding party.  Public safety and protection fall within our normal policing duties and as such we will not be looking to recoup any costs associated with policing the wedding.”

Leuchars Loses Fight to Be RAF's Home in Scotland
RAF Leuchars has lost its battle with RAF Lossiemouth to remain as the last operating RAF base in Scotland. But the Fife base will be handed over the the army to house troops and significant numbers of troops will also be based at RAF Kinloss from 2014 as the Ministry of Defence seeks to increase the number of military personnel in Scotland.   Typhoons currently based at Leuchars will shortly be transferred to Lossiemouth whose Tornados are to be pulled back to Marham in Norfolk, England,  the third RAF base which had been under threat.

The moves are part of attempts by Mr Fox to see off any threat of the SNP using declining military numbers in Scotland as another reason to persuade the electorate to vote yes in the independence referendum expected in the next few years.  He hopes that by more than doubling the army and also increasing the number of navy personnel at Faslane with the arrival of Astute class submarines, he will be able to more than compensate for the 54 per cent reduction in RAF personnel.

The revelation that Kinloss will not be mothballed or closed altogether and has a future as a base will come as a relief to communities in Moray which are highly dependent on defence spending.   However, the wait of almost four years from when the base ended its association with the RAF with the cancellation of the new Nimrods will be a concern because of the economic gap it leaves.  The MoD has made it clear it will provide no support in the interim.  There will be concern in Fife too with the most optimistic MoD assessment of when the army could arrive being ten months - with two years more likely.

Liam Fox Unveils Defence Plan 'To Save Union'
Defence Secretary Liam Fox has made a bold attempt to try to convince Scotland of the benefits of the United Kingdom by doubling the size of the army north of the Border and increasing the overall number of personnel by 2,500.  In his long-awaited bases review, Dr Fox emphasised that the threat of an independence referendum from the SNP-run Scottish Government had played a significant part in the way he has decided to reconfigure the armed forces across the UK.  So while the regular strength of the British Army is to be chopped by 17,000 in the next few years, the numbers of troops in Scotland will increase from 3,000 to 6,500.

Dr Fox, told MPs: "This is a very important issue for this country because we will all have to face up to the question of potential independence in Scotland and the plans being laid by the Scottish Government.  And we will want to look to see what the proper basing should be for a United Kingdom."  Army units being pulled back from Germany to help form a new mobile brigade in Scotland will also be based at a new purpose-built barracks at Kirknewton, near Edinburgh. The construction of this new facility will be funded by the sell-off of the existing barracks at Craigiehall, Dreghorn and Redford. The closure of Craigiehall also confirms that, despite the increase in army numbers in Scotland, it will be losing its headquarters - with the post currently held by Major General David Shaw to be abolished and handed to a general at the army's base in Aldershot, England.  Troops are also to be based at HMS Caledonia in Rosyth in a surprise announcement, while a last-minute reprieve for Fort George near Inverness in Lib Dem Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander's constituency means the Black Watch will probably remain there. The barracks at Stirling is also safe.

But the biggest hit will come to the RAF in Scotland which will be reduced in strength from around 4,700 to 2,500 personnel.  It is understood that "two significant units" of the army, possibly the Highlanders and Royal Scots Dragoons based in Germany, will move in 2015, but Dr Fox promised a gradual draw-down of the RAF units to allow for minimum impact on the local economy.  A decision made in the autumn to base the Astute class submarines in Faslane means that there is a net increase of 1,200 in the navy in Scotland, although the 500 Royal Marines currently at RM Condor in Arbroath will be pulled back to the south-west of England in the next five to six years.

'£20m Sell-off' of Historic City Bases

MoD chiefs have decided to end the army's long association with three historic military bases in Edinburgh,  Craigiehall, Redford and Dreghorn,  in favour of a new super-barracks close to the village of Kirknewton in West Lothian.  The new base, for one of the UK's five new "multi-role brigades", will become home to around 2,000 military personnel and will be built to partly accommodate units returning from Germany over the next few years.  A new training area will be required to accommodate the new base at Kirknewton, although a site has yet to be finalised. Glencorse Barracks, in Midlothian, will also be expanded to accommodate extra troops over the next few years.

It is thought the MoD may be able to generate upwards of £20 million through the sell-off of the three sites, where about 1,750 personnel are currently based.  Redford Barracks, which dates back to 1909, while Dreghorn was opened in 1939.  The decision to leave Craigiehall, which has been occupied by the army since 1939, will also lead to the loss of a major army command post in Scotland, as the MoD has decided to axe Headquarters 2nd Division along with two other HQs in favour of a single support command base in England at Aldershot.

The Lib Dem MP for Edinburgh West, Mike Crockart, said: "The plans as outlined by the Defence Secretary break with near 400 years of history between the Royal Scots Borderers - comprising the Royal Scots and the King's Own Scottish Borderers - and the City of Edinburgh for purely commercial gain.  What is worse is that they come less than a month after people lined Edinburgh's streets to celebrate UK Armed Forces day. The changes will undoubtedly uproot local families and cause severe damage to many areas of our city.  For them to have been announced in such an underhand manner in the last week of parliament is indefensible and amounts to nothing short of historical vandalism."

From Anglican Minister to Catholic Priest - a Historic First for Scotland
Religious history has been made with the first ordination of a former Anglican clergyman in Scotland into the Catholic priesthood.  Father Len Black, 61 and a grandfather of two, was ordained into the priesthood this weekend, at a ceremony at St Mary's Church in Greenock performed by Bishop Philip Tartaglia of Paisley.  He is the latest former Anglican clergyman in the UK, and the first in Scotland, to be ordained into the Roman Catholic Church under the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, the body set up earlier this year by Pope Benedict XVI to receive those leaving the Anglican Church because of the consecration of women bishops.  Father Black was an Episcopal minister for 30 years before converting to Catholicism. Until recently he was the minister at St Michael and All Angels in Inverness and was also the regional dean of Forward in Faith, the leading group of traditionalist Anglicans.   He delivered his last sermon at St Michael's earlier this year. His move to the Catholic Church has divided the Inverness congregation, with about a dozen believed to be following him to his new charge.  Bishop Peter Moran of Aberdeen, who will shortly retire, ordained the former minister to the diaconate last month at Pluscarden Abbey near Elgin ahead of his ordination as a Catholic priest.

When the first plans for the ordinariate were announced in March last year, Father Black said he warmly welcomed the Pope's efforts "to respond to groups of Anglicans, including members of Forward in Faith, seeking to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church while preserving elements of the distinctive Anglican spiritual and liturgical patrimony".  Speaking ahead of the ceremony, he said: "The gift of ordination is a great privilege and honour, and for me it is also the culmination of a long journey into full communion with the Catholic Church made possible by the generosity of Pope Benedict."

Bishop Tartaglia, who is the bishop-delegate in Scotland for matters to do with the establishment of the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, said Sunday's ordination was a significant step.  "I am delighted to ordain the Rev Len Black to the priesthood," he said. "Although the group in Scotland is very small, when taken along with considerably more groups and clergy in England and Wales - and with ordinariate arrangements coming into place soon in the United States and possibly in Australia later - this begins to look like a new and visionary way of re- creating Christian unity after years of ecumenical stalemate.  It is marked by the striking originality, simplicity, and generosity of a Pope Benedict XVI initiative."

Father Black was Scotland's first regional dean of the Forward in Faith group, which was set up in 1994 after a number of priests felt they had been abandoned by the Church after the decision to allow women to be ordained.  Father Beaumont Brandie, acting regional dean for Forward in Faith Scotland, said Father Black has taken with him some members of the congregation.

According to religious commentator Simon Barrow, about 60 Anglican clergy in England have been received into the Catholic priesthood, but "few if any" in Scotland are likely to follow Father Black's lead.   When the Pope established the mechanism to set up the ordinariate, he said he was responding to petitions received "repeatedly and insistently" by him from groups of Anglicans wishing "to be received into full communion individually as well as corporately" with the Roman Catholic Church.

New Find Could Shed Light on Key Battle of Civil War
IT was a key battle of the English occupation of Scotland, and history could have turned out very differently had the fight not been won by the invading force.  The Battle of Inverkeithing in Fife on July 20, 1651, was the bloody end to Scotland’s defence against the English army of Oliver Cromwell.  However, the exact location of the battle has remained largely forgotten for some 360 years.  Now the site is being excavated for the first time after being identified by history enthusiasts, who describe it as one of the most significant civil war battlefields in Scotland.

A ridge, which archaeologists believe is the only remaining built structure from the time of the conflict, has been discovered and the earthworks, which were used as a defence wall by the invading army, could help uncover the secrets buried under the battlefield.   Once the exact location was pinpointed, it was decided to find out more and restore this battle’s standing in Scotland   The discovery of the site was made by members of the North Queensferry Heritage Trust, who first identified the mound from early maps and documents, and a full dig for cultural, personal and military artefacts is expected to take place next year.   Douglas Speirs, of Fife Council’s archaeological unit, who is leading the dig, said: “Not only are these earthworks among the only substantive civil war period military remains in Scotland but, by using supporting historical documentation, it has been possible not only to identify the commanding officers and soldiers responsible for the construction but, in some instances, to give an actual date and time of construction.

In a civil war that had been raging since 1642, Cromwell had won a victory after invading Dunbar in 1650, and by December that year the English army had control of the whole of Scotland south of the Forth. Edinburgh and Leith were occupied and Edinburgh Castle had surrendered.  It was suggested southern Scotland should be permanently abandoned to the English. But by the following year Cromwell fell seriously ill and the English army, low on rations and often without pay, resorted to widespread plundering and looting, especially in and around Edinburgh.

The push across the Forth in 1651 was critical and marked the last major drive for the English to conquer Scotland.   Around 2000 Scots were killed that day.  James Lawson, of North Queensferry Heritage Trust, said: “Unlike perhaps any other battle in Scotland’s history, this battle was decisive.  In losing the field that day, all hope of Scotland’s defence was lost and for the next 10 years, Scotland was subjugated, enslaved and placed under English military rule until Cromwell’s death and the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660.  Until recently, historians have long debated where the Battle of Inverkeithing took place.  Once the exact location was pinpointed, it was decided to find out more and restore the standing of this battle in Scotland.  It is hoped the site will give up much more information about this important but ignored Civil War battlefield.”

Lochinver RNLI Called Out Mid-Minch
Lochinver RNLI lifeboat whilst on passage across the Minch to Stornoway, was diverted to the aid of a cruise ship passenger on Thursday morning.  The lifeboat was on its way to Stornoway slip-way for her six-monthly scheduled clean and paint, when Stornoway Coastguard Rescue Co-ordination Centre requested her assistance with the evacuation of a passenger from a cruise liner.   The 4,000 passenger liner ‘Crown Princess’ was on-route to Belfast when a passenger required urgent medical attention and needed to be evacuated to hospital.  The lifeboat was alongside the cruise ship at 9am when the passenger, together with his partner and one of the medical team from the cruise ship, were successfully transferred to the lifeboat.  The Lochinver RNLI lifeboat then proceeded to Stornoway where she was met 30 minutes later by an awaiting ambulance for onward transfer of the passenger to Stornoway hospital.

Continental Market Pulls Out of Dornoch

The popular Continental Market has pulled out of a planned visit to Dornoch next month because of the "ridiculously high" level of fees charged by the local authority.  Local man Chris Ferne, who is the administration manager for the popular market, said the total, estimated £2575 costs of obtaining various licences and permits, along with a temporary road closure order, had made the venue unviable. The cash-strapped Highland Council trebled its fees across the board two years ago as part of a drive to bring in more revenue and balance its budgets.  But local people say it has "killed" entertainment, dances and other such events in the area.

Mr Ferne, who is also factor for Cambusmore Estate, points out that while the fees may be affordable in a bigger venue, with a larger head of population and a greater potential for profit, they are not in a small town like Dornoch.   "To be asked to pay £2575 for a one-off market in a small town like Dornoch is ridiculous," he said.  "The market was operating on a fine line to start with but this has just blown it out of the water."  Community leaders and local people have expressed disappointment at the decision.  One local woman said: "They have made it impossible - any event you want to run is in debt before you open the doors."

The Continental Market operates throughout the UK and previously visited Dornoch in 2006, 2007 and 2008, setting up its colourful stalls in the High Street, but it has not been in the area for the last couple of years.  Mr Ferne said: "Inverness and further north have always been difficult for us. The high cost of fuel, combined with the exchange rate between the pound and euro, makes markets less economic the further we trade from the Channel ports. For these reasons we've had to withdraw from Thurso and Wick.  However, due to popular demand, it had been decided to return to Dornoch this summer for a three day visit from 25th to 27th August.  A lot of local people have been asking me when the market was returning and the traders themselves were saying they wanted to go back to Dornoch so we thought we would give it another go," explained Mr Ferne.  But when he enquired with the local authority about the licenses and permits required, he was shocked to discover that costs had nearly tripled from previous years and were nearing the £3000 mark.

Regulator Tells BT to Drop Broadband Prices in the Far North
Telecom regulator Ofcom announced they will have to significantly reduce the amount they charge internet service providers in rural and less densely populated areas.  The price reduction will be 12 per cent below inflation per year and will apply until at least March 2014.  The regulator believes that the change will narrow the difference between prices that consumers in rural and urban areas pay for broadband services.  Differences have been mainly due to the more limited set of offers available which is a result of the higher costs of delivering broadband to customers in rural areas.

Rob Gibson, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, said the move was welcome but more needs to be done.  "Anything to drive down the cost of broadband has to be welcomed," he said. "I represent many people in remote and rural locations whose internet is perishingly slow with BT the only provider. BT has significant responsibilities and the lack of inclination to provide better broadband has hit businesses and stunted growth.  This is an issue of real importance to Scotland’s rural economy and the Government’s commitment to see improved broadband and digital services across Scotland will help grow the economy."

Fury as Power Firm Hikes Bills by £170 a Year
Scottish householders have again been hit by energy price hikes as another leading supplier announces its second increase in under a year.  Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has revealed plans for a rise in gas and electricity rates that could cost an average customer an extra £171 per year.  The energy giant will charge an additional 18% for gas and 11% for electricity from September 14.  (They are not the only ones I’ve just been informed that Origin Electricity is increasing all their charges in NSW as from 4th August 2011-Robin)

The announcement follows a similar hike for ScottishPower and British Gas, who have both increased prices twice in the last year.  Consumer groups and politicians attacked the move, with Finance Secretary John Swinney calling the rises a “disgrace”.  Mr Swinney said: “These latest fuel price rises by SSE come on top of similar high price rises announced by Scottish Power and Scottish Gas recently.  “Power companies must do all they can to mitigate the impact on the most vulnerable people in our society, and we support the work of Ofgem to protect consumers, deliver transparency on energy prices, and ensure that companies treat their customers fairly.

Trisha McAuley, deputy director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: “This massive increase heaps more pressure on to households and will tip thousands more people in Scotland into fuel poverty.  We know the suppliers point to rising wholesale costs. However we also know that, although wholesale prices have risen recently, they remain around a third lower than their 2008 peak.”  Around 5.2 million SSE customers in the UK will see an average increase of £118 for gas, while 3.6 million customers will see an average increase of £49 for electricity.  The firm last increased gas prices in December by 9.2%, meaning customers will have seen their bills shoot up by an average total of £227 within a year.

Regal Move on Schedule for Clyde’s Giant Warship
One of the most spectacular sights in the history of shipbuilding on the Clyde has been scheduled for next Friday.  After six months of planning, BAE Systems has announced that the 8000 tonne mid-section of the giant aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth will be moved from the shipbuilding hall at Govan and the public will glimpse the scale of the warship for the first time.  The section will then be loaded on to one of the two biggest sea-going barges in the world, never before seen on the Clyde, in preparation for a 600-mile journey around the north coast to Rosyth, where the 65,000 tonne supercarrier will be assembled.  The voyage, expected to take four days, is scheduled to start on August 16.  BAE Systems project designer Steven Carroll said it was a massive feat of engineering.  Mr Carroll added: “With the move a matter of days away, I’m extremely proud to say that we are on track.  This is only possible because of the strong partnership with our alliance partners and the skills we have in our business on the Clyde and right across British industry.”

Campbell Attacks RAF Base Closure Claims
Claims by Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander that Scotland will benefit financially from closing the RAF bases at Leuchars and Kinloss and transforming them into Army barracks have been challenged by former LibDem leader Sir Menzies Campbell.    Sir Menzies, whose North East Fife constituency includes Leuchars, said Mr Alexander’s claims that the shake-up of military bases would boost the economy by £200 million did not take sufficient account of the economic impact on Fife.  He added that “changes which are to the benefit of some regions at the expense of others cannot be described as producing a very good result for Scotland as a whole”, as Mr Alexander had claimed.

In a letter to Mr Alexander, Sir Menzies questioned his statement saying that in Fife alone an impact assessment confirmed the base contributed around £60m of income annually to the local economy and £75m of income annually to the Scottish economy.  He added: “There have been recent reports that your department believes a battalion of 550 men would contribute £16m a year to a local community. Even a generous estimate of the amount that may therefore be generated by the planned Army units and headquarters to be based at Leuchars would suggest a substantial shortfall to the local community each year.  It must be acknowledged that the people of Fife and those in my constituency now face a lengthy period of upheaval and considerable uncertainty over what the future will bring.  This situation has not been helped by the inability of the Ministry of Defence to provide a detailed timetable for the handover of the base.”

Knife-carrying Penalties Announced (What about carrying a Sgian Dhu or a Dirk as part of Highland Dress??- Robin)
Tough new penalties for first-time offenders found in possession of a knife have been announced by Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland QC.  Due to a strengthening of existing policy, anyone found with a knife in a variety of situations will be prosecuted on petition and their guilt decided by a sheriff and jury.  These situations include possessing a knife on licensed premises, when gang involvement is suspected, at a "hotspot" for violence, on public transport, or at a bus or train station.   Mr Mulholland said these measures will allow greater sentencing power for the sheriff and increases the maximum prison term from one to four years.  The aim of the policy is to act as a deterrent and to reduce reoffending. The Lord Advocate said: "Carrying a knife in public is completely unacceptable and a serious offence and those in our society who choose to ignore this will face the full rigor of the law.  "Today, I send out a further warning to those who still carry knives or use knives to harm others - you will, if caught, be prosecuted and could be imprisoned for up to four years."

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "The courts already have the power to impose a four-year sentence for possession of a knife, but with more cases set to be heard by a sheriff and a jury rather than through the summary courts, this new strengthened prosecution policy will mean more offenders now face the toughest of sentences."  The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service will implement the strengthened policy from Friday. In addition, there will be a presumption in favour of prosecution on indictment where the accused has previously been convicted of a relevant offence.

Highland Flights Soaring
The number of passengers flying in and out of airports in the north and the Scottish islands has soared, according to new figures.  Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) saw a 15 per cent rise in traffic in January to February this year, compared to the same months in 2010. Inglis Lyon, managing director, said: "We are really pleased with the results this quarter.  These figures are partially attributed to the introduction of an additional London, Gatwick flight from Inverness, a new charter to Naples and an earlier commencement of our Jersey charter - both from Inverness.  We have also seen increased offshore helicopter traffic at Sumburgh, and increased passenger numbers at Stornoway due to the Western Isles School Project."  HIAL has airports in Barra, Benbecula, Campbeltown, Inverness, Islay, Kirkwall, Stornoway, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick.

Miners Going for Gold in Scotland Again
An Australian company is to make a fresh bid to open Scotland's first commercial gold mine in one of the most picturesque stretches of Loch Lomond National Park.  Eleven months ago, the board of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park threw out an application by Scotgold Resources to reopen the Cononish gold mine, near Tyndrum.  The company was seeking permission to extract 72,000 tonnes of ore annually for up to ten years at the disused mine, which was never commercially developed and finally abandoned in 1997. But Scotgold's application was refused on the grounds that the potential economic benefits could not be balanced against conservation concerns.  Yesterday, the company said that hopes of developing Scotland's first commercial gold and silver mine had "moved a step closer" with the decision to lodge a new planning application with the park authority.  Scotgold said the new application, following detailed talks with planners, included changes designed to reduce waste from the mining process and to lessen the impact work at the mine will have on the surrounding landscape.

Chris Sangster, the chief executive of Scotgold, said that significant time and effort has been taken to address the issues identified by the park authority, following the refusal of the company's previous application.  The project, he explained, had already attracted considerable local and national support from a range or organisations including the Scottish Tourism Forum and the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI).  A Scotgold spokesman explained: "The development is expected to produce 20,000 ounces of gold and 80,000 ounces of silver per year, of which 5,000 ounces of gold will be extracted as unrefined gold bars and identifiable as 'Scottish Gold', attracting a premium for jewellers and goldsmiths due to its scarcity and uniqueness should it be manufactured into jewellery.  It is estimated that as much as £80 million in additional economic activity will be generated in Scotland through the wider supply chain as a result of the establishment of the mine."

Anger at Plan for Crown Estate Handout
Defiant ministers at Westminster have put themselves on a collision course with the Scottish Government over who should control millions of pounds generated by the Crown Estate in Scotland.  Lib Dem Chief Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander will use a visit to Stornoway to unveil a new scheme to support economic development in coastal communities from half the money raised by the Crown Estates from marine sources..

The scheme will be run independently of government by the Big Lottery and will be split into five areas including Highland and Islands, the rest of Scotland and one each for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Overall, the pot of cash is worth £23.7 million and in Scotland there will be £1.85m to be used in the Highlands and Islands and £2.05m for the rest of Scotland.  The other 50 per cent of money raised from marine sources will continue to go to the Treasury to fund services.  However, as Scotland and the UK begins to invest more in offshore renewables - including wind turbines and wave power - it is expected that the amount will increase significantly.

The move is likely to prove controversial as it bypasses First Minister Alex Salmond’s call for all Crown Estate revenue in Scotland to be devolved to Holyrood. On three visits to London since the SNP won an historic majority in Holyrood, Mr Salmond has pressed the case for control of the property, especially the seabeds.  Mr Alexander has insisted that the UK government is "still willing to listen" and "consider" the SNP's demands.  His announcement, however, also comes ahead of a Scottish Affairs Select Committee report which is expected to recommend much greater devolution to local communities so they can benefit directly from investing in their local seabeds.  Mr Alexander admitted he had not engaged with the Scottish Government on the fund.  Asked if the move was designed to spike SNP plans, he said: “No, not at all. This is some- thing I have been committed to for some time. I started discussing the work here last summer. This is an attempt to set out a policy I care about and the UK Government is committed to. The SNP have put forward a proposal and we are considering it but this is a better way forward for the communities in Scotland.”

The Scottish Government welcomed the funding announcement but warned it still does not go far enough. Finance Secretary John Swinney said: "We welcome the fact that Scotland's coastal communities will now benefit from their own resources, but it is only because of pressure from the Scottish Government that Westminster is taking any action on this issue, and this paltry announcement does not go nearly far enough.   The Treasury has hit Scotland's offshore oil and gas industry with a £2 billion tax grab and is also withholding around £200m of Scotland's money in the form of the Fossil Fuel Levy - now they appear to be trying to buy off Scotland's coastal communities by offering them only 50 per cent of their own resources. Those communities need to benefit from all of the money raised from Crown Estate revenues in Scottish waters.  This is Scotland's money, and devolving full responsibility is vital if Scotland is to make the most of our vast offshore renewable energy potential," Mr Swinney added.