Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 325

Issue # 325                                                               Week ending 5th December 2015

Forget Presents this Year and Do Something Special by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

That wheeze by big shops to make us part with our hard-earned by bringing over the Atlantic the concept of Black Friday and Cyber Monday did not really work this year. Not so many of us strode into town, promptly forgot our manners and began to pummel anyone in sight who seemed interested in the bargains we were after.

The high streets were deserted while we went online in our slippers and got carried away. The ones that were cheaper were just the stuff that wasn’t selling. Kindles, Windows phones and smartwatches were knocked down in this the latest version of what used to be the January sales.

Online retailer Amazon had its busiest day on Friday while the telly crews were despatched to find excited hordes in early-morning long queues. They found one man and his wet dog waiting for a cheap telly in Cornwall. Last year we had headlines screaming how bonkers were the people who caused mayhem when the store doors opened and the message got through. Hurrah.

The Black Friday idea is clever as it gets people spending money without pushing the Christmas theme at all. People are already fed up with seeing festive adverts on the telly and in the shops. We are already being turned off by the stress that the festivities in the name of Baby Jesus will cause by the time that red lorry full of overpriced tooth-rotting cola comes rumbling over the hill.

We were in Glasgow a while back - no, not doing Christmas shopping I stress - and we were met at the door of one shop by a full-size stuffed reindeer that could not only sing O Come Ye To Bethlehem And Spend Thy Cash, or something like that, but wiggle his head and antlers in time. In the second week of October, I tell thee? Bah. There was a bucket for donations at his hooves but a mortified Mrs X pushed me out the door before I could find a slightly-rotten carrot to chuck in it.

Are you terrified at the thought of trudging round the shops trying to find wonderful presents for wonderful people with more money than you who are simply too wonderful to tell you that your wonderful presents are not wonderful at all because they already have three of them wonderful things? Don’t worry. Help is at hand. The answer is simple.

Don’t do it. That’s right. Forget all about presents for your host of friends and cousins. Instead, do Christmas properly - the way it was meant to be. Be part of something special and think about other people - the ones who actually need help and who would appreciate having not an all-singing tablet computer or a fancy smartphone, but just something to eat.

Be part of something special. Support your local food bank. What they do is really fantastic and it means a great deal to a lot of people who are struggling - and not just at this time of year, either. I have heard all the arguments for food banks and I have heard all those against but you really cannot have a clue until you meet someone they are helping. Only then can you understand the horrible system of government that we have which can cast people aside and leave them shivering and starving for weeks.

I have been in a home where a couple, who had both lost their jobs through illness, had to go to a food bank after getting no benefits for nearly nine weeks. Each week they were routinely promised by callous benefits managers the due sum would be put into their accounts within hours. The promises were worthless. Sadly, such promises are not legal tender at the Co-op or Tesco. So they went hungry and a deathly cold descended on their flat. They are not the only ones.

The daughter and I were out shopping the other day and, of course, at one point the conversation turned to Christmas presents. So I made it clear that we would be donating to the food bank and not actually handing over any gifts. I did agree though that our own wee family would exchange small gifts between ourselves to mark the occasion.

So she will get a voucher to spend on college books and I will get another mug with something like Grumpy Old Git on it. Sorted. “What about mum?” she asked, adding that Mrs X really likes playing with the latest hi-tech and expensive technology.  After all, she already has an iPad and an iPod. Right, we have to keep that going. We will get Mrs X an iRon.

Homes Plan Could Tackle Shortage of Key Workers in Aberdeen
Plans have been lodged to build more than 100 homes in the grounds of a hospital in the hope it will address problems recruiting nursing and teaching staff across the North-east.  NHS Grampian wants to create 110 homes on the former nurses’ accommodation complex at Foresterhill Court at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. The proposed key worker accommodation is not just for NHS staff but for emergency workers and teachers.  The flats, which will be built in partnership with Grampian Housing Association, are expected to be complete by the winter of 2017.  And the plans could see 220 workers living in the three to four storey high accommodation on the former nurses’ complex.  The key worker accommodation is part of the £150 million redevelopment of Foresterhill announced in August, which will also include Baird Family Hospital, a new cancer centre and the relocation of Foresterhill Health Centre.  A range of other projects for key worker accommodation have also been planned by the health board, such as on land across from Westburn Road which was previously used for allotments for NHS Grampian. Proposals are also being developed for a bowling green near to an allotment area, which was also previously used by NHS Grampian but has remained derelict for several years.

Campaign Launched to Save Ayr United's Historic Badge and Overhaul 16th Century Heraldic Law
As ancient heraldic laws prepare to shatter decades of history at Somerset Park n Ayr, the local newspaper is launching a fightback.  Ayr United was told last week how archaic rulings – set up in the 16th century – are set to crush the very fabric of the football club.  And now we say enough is enough.  In a 21st century world facing far bigger problems, we say it is time to get a grip on reality.  The Court of Lord Lyon may want to strip The Honest Men of their “Coat of Arms”.But this issue now spreads far further afield than a simple badge design. Can it really be, in this day and age, that clubs and organisations the nation over and cowering in fear of laws drafted up for another era entirely?  Only at Westminster can these ancient laws be restructured. And only if our voice is heard.  So this week, the newspaper launches a petition on behalf of Ayr United and all other clubs living in fear of the heraldic axe.  It is time to update the world we live in.  Fans are being asked to unite  – whether you support Ayr or not – to call for a change. Because for many other clubs in Scotland falling foul of design laws, it could be you next.  United superfan Scott Kirkpatrick, who has been trying to rally support since the story broke last week, said: “Hopefully this gets plenty of attention in the right places.  “I’ve been contacted by fans of many clubs since last week – everywhere from Kilmarnock to Millwall – so it shows the support is out there.” And Ayr MSP John Scott was first to back the campaign this week. He said:.  “A club’s badge is a unique symbol defining its origins and history which is understandably very important to fans.”

Bomb Alert At Prestwick Airport: Van Packed with Gas Cannisters Parked Beside Runway
A worker who parked a van with a trailer packed with gas cannisters close to Prestwick Airport sparked a full scale emergency response.  The man was seen on closed circuit tv checking the cannisters before walking off on Saturday night.  He had parked up the vehicle and a double-axeled trailer at 8pm next to a bonded industrial unit in McIntyre Road.  The spot is just yards from a taxi-way and where private aircraft are left parked up.  A security guard fearing a terrorist explosion alerted authorities and the response quickly spiralled up the police chain of command.  The area was sealed off and a hunt was launched for the driver.  He was traced nearly three hours later completely unaware the fuss his rather foolish parking had caused.  It turned out he had parked the vehicle and equipment - used for tarmac road work - to make an early start in the morning.

Osborne Scraps Tax Credits Cuts in Surprise Welfare U-turn
Millions of low-paid families will not see their benefits cut from April after George Osborne unexpectedly scrapped plans to axe child tax credits but, with £12 billion in welfare cuts still planned, experts warned the relief would be temporary.  Although tax credits will be phased out by 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the respected think-tank, pointed out nothing would change in the long run as they would be replaced by the less generous Universal Credit.  Labour said the handling of tax credits had been a "fiasco" and cuts being transferred to Universal Credit meant "this is not the full and fair reversal that we pleaded for".  The Chancellor was able to make his surprise move because of a £27 billion windfall from better-than-expected tax receipts and rock-bottom debt interest rates.  In his Autumn Statement and Spending Review, the Chancellor also sought to embarrass Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP by highlighting the dramatic slump in oil and gas revenues. Of course, if Scotland had voted for independence, they would have had their own spending review this autumn,” he told MPs. “With world oil prices failing and revenues from the North Sea forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility to be down by 94 per cent, we would have seen catastrophic cuts to Scottish public services.”  To Tory cheers and Nationalist frowns, he declared: “Thankfully, Scotland remains a strong part of a stronger United Kingdom.”  Last year, revenue from the North Sea was £2.2bn. The latest forecast over the next six years is for a cumulative total of just £900 million.  In a packed Commons chamber, Mr Osborne told MPs he would still be able to hit his target of eliminating the deficit and achieving a £10bn surplus by 2020 while reducing the welfare bill by £12bn over the period. But he was forced to admit that he would breach his self-imposed welfare cap in each of the next three years as a result of the tax credit U-turn forced upon him by last month's defeat in the House of Lords.  According to the Scotland Office, the knock-on effect for the Scottish Government is that the capital funding budget will increase in real terms by 14 per cent over five years ie by £1.9bn. But the revenue budget will fall over the period by five per cent or 1.3 per cent a year in real terms. David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, insisted: “This is a very good settlement for Scotland. The capital budget for these five years is £16.5bn and my message to the Scottish Government is that, we have relentlessly heard in recent times about all these shovel-ready projects in relation to new infrastructure and construction; it’s time to get shovelling.”  But IPPR Scotland claimed Holyrood faced an "enormous challenge" as the Scottish budget would see a real terms cumulative cut of 3.9 per cent.  Russell Gunson, the think-tank's director, said: “The UK Government has confirmed our fears of real terms cuts to Scotland over the next four years. These spending cuts would be enough of a challenge for the Scottish Parliament; however, coming on the back of five years of similar cuts, the challenge looks enormous. With commitments made by the Scottish Government to increase spending on the NHS, affordable housing and childcare in Scotland, then non-protected departments could see billions of pounds of cuts over the coming years."

In spite of Osborne's jibes about the price of oil - would someone refer me to anywhere at any time that he forecast the present price - and Mundell's utterly ridiculous standard verbiage about it being a good deal for Scotland, "Russell Gunson, the think-tank's director, said: “The UK Government has confirmed the fears of real terms cuts to Scotland over the next four years. These spending cuts would be enough of a challenge for the Scottish Parliament; however, coming on the back of five years of similar cuts, the challenge looks enormous.".  As Osborne notes correctly, the finances of an independent Scottish Govt would have been seriously damaged by the current price of oil and consequentially tax revenue. The Scots would have had, he is correct, their "own spending review this autumn". However it would have been carried out within the wishes, aspirations, and the views of the Scottish electorate, not forced on the Scots by a Tory govt in London that the Scots did little to elect. The actions, however, unpalatable would have had to be answered for to the Scottish electorate in due course, and would have been the consequence of a debate in Scotland. Would they really have cut funding for lone parent families as various think tanks have pointed out this evening? Might the Scots have been more likely to examine the possibility of an increase in tax? Whatever the outcome of that review it would have been "their" review.

Edinburgh’s Christmas Street of Light Switched on
A spectacular new light show installed in the heart of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile for the festive season was unveiled on Monday night.  More than 60,000 lights feature in the new attraction, which is expected to attract around a quarter of a million people to the High Street section of the thoroughfare over the next month.  The “canopy of light”, which stretches from the Tron Kirk to the City Chambers, rises up to 18 metres tall.  It is the latest feature introduced by Underbelly, the Fringe promoters brought in to revitalise Edinburgh’s Christmas events several years ago. Tens of thousands of tickets for the free event, dubbed the “Virgin Money Street of Light,” have already been snapped up in advance. As well as the light show, the crowds are treated to specially-recorded versions of festive songs by carols across Edinburgh. Organisers said 5000 tickets are available for each performance of a 20-minute show, which is being staged twice a day until Christmas Eve.  People from as far afield as the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Far East, and throughout Europe, as well as the people of Edinburgh, have snapped up tickets to the event which will run until Christmas Eve.

Couple Invest £9m to Save 14th-century Scottish Castle
A couple have invested £9 million to save a 14th-century Scottish castle from ruin and restore it to its former glory.  Businessman Steve Timoney and his wife Alison Reid-Timoney bought Crossbasket Castle in High Blantyre, South Lanarkshire, in 2011 after it was listed on Scotland's Buildings at Risk Register and then began "painstakingly" restoring the historic estate.  The castle is due to be reopened in spring next year as a luxury hotel, restaurant and event venue, managed by Inverlochy Castle Management International (ICMI).  New features include a grand ballroom overlooking the waterfalls on the River Calder, plus nine unique bedrooms and a drawing room, dining room and library all furnished with 14th, 15th and 16th-century pieces from across Scotland.  Mrs Timoney said: "My husband and I have a passion for restoring old buildings and first spotted Crossbasket Castle over a decade ago. When we purchased it, vandals had damaged the roof and interiors, it was leaking water and the walls were starting to deteriorate.  Since then we have painstakingly restored it with a focus on using craftsmen to reinstate original features. Our aim is to create a sustainable business for our family that also supports the community we live in."  The castle will open for a preview event on December 21, with chef Albert Roux giving guests a sample of the food which will be available in the restaurant.

Options Unveiled for the Future of Inverness Castle
The project to relocate the courts and open Inverness Castle to the public took a major step forward today as plans for its future were unveiled.  A public consultation about the castle opened at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery in Castle Wynd and will run until January 22. Work on the North Tower and improvements to lighting and the footpaths around the castle will start in the new year.  A working group is examining future options for the castle.
Option 1: Inverness Museum and Art Gallery - Retain the visitor lookout point in the North Tower but use remaining spaces in the tower for an expanded museum and art gallery.

The court building would also be used for displays. A new two-storey link building would be created between the court building and the North Tower.  Space for a high quality museum shop and catering facility with access to the terrace overlooking the River Ness. Estimated cost: £9.47m

Option 2: ‘Capital of the Highlands’ visitor centre and tourist accommodation - Create a visitor centre in the court building that provides orientation to visitors through presenting key sites and buildings in Inverness and the rest of the Highlands.  North Tower retains lookout idea while remaining space is converted into eight self-catering units. Estimated cost: £8.64 million

Option 3: Themed visitor attraction and tourist accommodation - This would include 16 self-catering apartments this time, alongside an attraction which would include an immersive experience on a history and heritage topic relevant to the Highlands.  The feasibility study’s example theme is ‘wild and wonderful’, centred on the natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands. It also includes a cafe with access to the riverside terrace. Estimated cost: £9.98m

Option 4: Family history room, registrar’s office, wedding venue and tourist accommodation -Integrate the new Inverness Cultural Centre which will be created within easy walking distance of the castle. The court building would house the registrar’s office as well as a family history room, both relocated from Bught Park.  A new building between the court building and the North Tower, which would support a high quality wedding venue. 13 self-catering units in the tower with no further public access.  Estimated cost: £8.13 million

Forestry in Scotland Now A Billion-pound Industry
Forestry and wood is now a billion-pound industry in Scotland and the number of jobs in the sector has almost doubled in less than a decade, a new report has revealed.  More than 25,000 people are now employed in forestry and linked jobs in tourism and wildlife management, compared to 13,500 in wood processing when the last report was compiled in 2008.  As well as a peak in wood available for harvest, world-class sawmills are turning out top-quality products to push back against imports in the UK, said the Forestry Commission Scotland report, being launched today.  Industry bodies say a tree is now being harvested every minute.  While the industry has increased from £670 million to nearly £1 billion contribution to the economy, the long-term future will dip unless new trees are planted soon.  Stuart Goodall, chief executive of CONFOR, the trade association which promotes wood and forestry, said there were another 10-15 years of growth in the sector ahead, but the late 2030s to 2060s would decline without effective planning.  He said: “The sooner we can plant more new forest, the better.  The cycle is both a weakness and a strength. We cannot just plant and harvest quickly, but we can also plan ahead. For us, it’s about legacy.”  There are now more than 19,500 people working in forest management and processing, mostly located in rural areas and enabling growth in other sectors including energy, construction, tourism and biotechnology.  Exports in the report said forestry was now an employment bedrock in areas like Dumfries and Galloway, with complex supply chains and well-paid jobs. Speaking at a meeting with forestry leaders later today, Environment Minister  Dr Aileen McLeod will officially launch the new report. She said it was important to remember that forestry also contributes to mitigating climate change and the health and well-being of Scots.  Dr McLeod said: “Scottish forestry is very much a hidden success story.”

Developers Invest £200m in High-profile Projects in 'Neglected' Dumfries and Galloway
Developers are to invest £200 million in a string of high-profile projects across a neglected corner of the country.  Council leaders and business people in Dumfries and Galloway have hailed the announcement as the "most compelling" opportunity for the region in living memory. The funds will be used to build a university campus, a research centre, a museum and other facilities, while two new stands and a business park are also in the pipeline at Queen of the South’s Palmerston Park.  The investment has been brought to the table by developers Janson's Property following work by the Crichton Trust, who revitalised the former psychiatric hospital at Crichton Estate into the region's premier business hotspot.  Rob Shaw, chief executive officer of the Crichton Trust, said the cash injection had the potential to transform the area and would have an impact on the wider national economy for years to come.  He said: “We are delighted and proud to announce the most compelling and tangible investment opportunity that Dumfries and Galloway region has had in living memory.  We will deliver truly transformational investment and development in conjunction with Jansons Property and the William Pears Group and know we will be working with a partner who has a long-standing ethos of committing to projects that deliver public benefit.”  Projects which will now go ahead include a purpose-built campus for the University of the West of Scotland and a research and innovation centre for Dumfries. A museum to display artefacts from the Hunterian Museum, the Crichton Archives and the Dumfries and Galloway collection will also be built while the plans include a 250 purpose-built student residences.

Defect on Forth Road Bridge Leads to Lane Closures
Traffic on the Forth Road Bridge has been temporarily restricted to a single lane in both directions due to a "defect" underneath the southbound carriageway.  The problem with one of the bridge's steel components was discovered during a routine inspection.  Maintenance contractor Amey said the closure is required until a full detailed inspection can be carried out.
A contraflow will be put in place on the northbound carriageway on the grounds of safety and to prevent any risk of damage, however motorists are being urged to avoid the bridge or risk long delays.  Mark Arndt, Operating Company Representative, said: “We’ve taken the decision to close the southbound carriageway as a safety precaution after one of our engineers spotted a new defect to a piece of steelwork.  Unfortunately this defect is located in a particularly hard to access area so the full detailed inspection cannot safely be carried out in darkness or during high winds. Our inspectors will however be monitoring the situation overnight and we will be ready to move in as soon as conditions allow.”

Worrying Spike in Use of Legal Highs in Caithness
The number of people taking legal highs in Caithness is on the rise, according to health chiefs, who are attempting to tackle the problem. Local NHS Highland teams have reported an increase in the use of new psychoactive substances, fuelling concern over the issue.  The health authority says there are substances in circulation which claim to have similar effects to drugs such as diazepam.  And it adds they are extremely potent, with users describing higher sedation levels and prolonged amnesia effects which can last several days.  It has also been reported that the substances have a longer-lasting effect and a slow onset, which is a particular risk as the takers may not be aware that the substance is already having an effect, leading them to take more than they otherwise would.  Teresa Green, East Caithness integrated team leader and mental health services manager, said staff would continue to work with users to support them with appropriate harm reduction advice and get them into treatment.  We are very worried about the use of legal highs and we are aware of growing concerns among the local community,” she said.  “The expression ‘legal highs’ makes people think these substances are safe. In fact, we do not know what is in many of them and therefore cannot say whether or not they are safe.  Furthermore, the people who buy them, often through the internet, can have no guarantee what is in them or what their effects can be, both physically and psychologically.”  The products are central nervous system depressants and can cause decreased conscious levels and respiratory rates.  They have been known to slow down breathing and can result in breathing stopping altogether.

University Awarded £10m to Fund Forensic Science Centre
The cash injection for Dundee University is from the Leverhulme Trust, a major funder of research in the UK.  The university said the award builds on its international reputation as a centre of excellence in the field of forensic science.  The centre will be led by Professor Sue Black, director of the university's centre for anatomy and human identification.  She said: "I am delighted that the Leverhulme Trust has decided to make such a major investment in our work here at Dundee.  This really is recognition of our standing as one of the world's leading centres for research in forensic science."  Prof Black said the new Leverhulme Centre for Forensic Science would help address the "crisis" currently facing the subject.  "Forensic science is a highly valued component of the criminal justice system but it is widely recognised to be in crisis," she said.  "We have research gaps in a range of evidence types, from fingerprinting to DNA analysis, and we have to raise the bar in the standards of science underpinning these vital techniques.We will work across the forensic science and judicial landscapes and communities to address the existing research gaps, unlock enterprise potential with industry to encourage emerging opportunities and restore public and judicial confidence in forensic science."  Dundee said it is one of four UK universities - alongside Cambridge, Liverpool and Sheffield - to win the new awards, supporting research across a range of subjects.  The funding is designed to encourage original research which would establish or reshape a significant field of study and transform understanding of an important topic.

New Police Scotland Chief Named As Ex-national Crime Agency Chief Phil Gormley
A top police officer who has been at the forefront of the fight against organised crime throughout the UK has been named the new chief constable of Police Scotland.  Phil Gormley, former deputy director of the National Crime Agency, will replace Sir Stephen House who formally stood down this week.  Mr Gormley is a former chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary, deputy chief constable of West Midlands Police and a commander of special operations at the Metropolitan Police, responsible for firearms and aviation security as well as counter-terrorism.  He has over 30 years' experience in UK policing and law enforcement, and will take up his new post on January 5.  Mr Gormley said: "I am delighted to have this opportunity to serve the many communities of Scotland as their chief constable.  I believe I have the skills, the experience and the insight required to lead the amazing workforce we have across Police Scotland.  I have a 30-year career in policing and law enforcement, the last 13 years as a chief officer leading organisations delivering for the public in a period of profound transformation for policing. Police Scotland is on just such a journey and it will be my job to ensure our service strikes the right balance between local community approaches and the many challenges we face from organised criminals, cyber crime and extremism."  The appointment was made on the recommendation of the Scottish Police Authority and was approved by Scottish ministers.  Announcing the appointment, SPA chair Andrew Flanagan said: " From a strong field, I am confident we have found the best candidate to build on the progress that policing in Scotland has made, and to address the issues and challenges that the service faces.  He has extensive experience in leading law enforcement organisations with diverse workforces, operating across both rural and urban environments, and with local, national and international reach. That mix fits well with the needs of a single service here in Scotland.  The new chief constable has challenges he will want to quickly address: re-engaging our workforce, tackling budget challenges, and bringing stability to the planning and implementation of organisational change.  That is, however, just the start. We set out to find a leader with the vision to energise officers and staff towards innovative new approaches in the prevention of crime, and someone to reach out and build a strong connection between the single service and the local communities it serves.  Those are key strengths we have identified in him and that he will bring to the wider police team."

Woman Jailed After £1m of Cocaine Found in Luggage At Glasgow Airport
A woman has been jailed for seven years for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth around £1 million into the UK hidden in toiletries.  Myrtle McCreath, 53, from Ayr, was arrested at Glasgow Airport after arriving on a flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil, via Amsterdam.  During a search of her baggage, Border Force officers found around 50 containers of face cream, talcum powder and other toiletries. Inside, there was a total of 7.8 kilos of high-purity cocaine.  McCreath denied knowledge of the drugs, telling National Crime Agency (NCA) investigators that she had been in Brazil for a week on holiday.  But messages found on her mobile phone showed she had been given a suitcase to carry back to the UK, and was due to take a train to Manchester where she would hand it over.  Officers also discovered that she had been paid 1,000 euro (£700) just days before travelling, and had been paid a similar sum for a return trip to Australia via China a few months earlier.  She was found guilty of importing class A drugs following a trial at the High Court in Glasgow and has now been sentenced to seven years in prison, according to the NCA. John McGowan, from the NCA border investigation team at the Scottish Crime Campus in Gartcosh, said: "This was a substantial seizure of high-purity drugs with a potential street value of almost £1 million. Had it not been seized I've no doubt it would have ended up being sold on the streets of the UK."

Sir Ian Wood to Spend £25m to Save North East Amid Oil Downturn
One of Scotland's most successful businessmen is to spend £25 million trying to save the fortunes of Aberdeen and the north east as the oil industry declines.  Sir Ian Wood, whose family made a multi-million pound fortune from the offshore oil and gas industry, is launching a new private sector-led body Opportunity North East (ONE), to help carve out a sustainable future for the region.  It should have at least £50m to spend on job creating projects over the next five years. It will act almost like a private sector development agency working with existing public sector bodies such as Scottish Enterprise.  Sir Ian said ONE would be the Wood Foundation's "principal project" in the north east, with backing of £5m a year for the next five years. It is hoped that this will be matched by other private and public funding sources.  Sir Ian said: "Significant under investment in infrastructure, both physical and digital, a high cost of living and an economy dominated by oil and gas have combined to present us with a major challenge. The current downturn in oil and gas has cast the issues we face into even sharper relief and there are essentially two routes ahead. A renaissance which sees us revitalise the region’s economy or a slow decline towards becoming a museum for the golden age of North Sea oil and gas.” Sir Ian, who is retired, leads the philanthropic work of the Wood Foundation, both in Scotland and in the Third World.  He had previously proposed spending £50m supporting the transformation of Union Terrace Gardens in Aberdeen, from a sunken Victorian park to a new raised civic space. But the scheme was abandoned in 2012.  Now ONE will be the private sector partners of Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils in their bid to win a City Region Deal from UK and Scottish ministers. This could herald around £2.9 billion for infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years.  Sir Ian said it could be a real game-changer, improving sea and air links; Aberdeen city centre; leisure and recreational facilities; the digital and physical infrastructure. Another proposal is an Oil & Gas Technology Centre in Aberdeen.  Speaking about ONE's potential contribution, Sir Ian said: “Right now we are called the oil capital of Europe but we really are the oil operations capital. We are not the oil technology, research and development capital of Europe. That’s the balance we want to achieve.”  He said the centre would involve Aberdeen and Robert Gordon universities and would focus on technologies maximising recovery from mature oil fields, along with their decommissioning. “But it will be totally market driven and orientated," he said.

Emotional Day for Macrae Family As Memorial Unveiled
It is uncommon for a monument to be raised by public subscription in memory of an individual in the Highlands and even more so when the death of the person only occurred a couple of years before. But one was unveiled in Stoer on Monday, November 23, in tribute to the life of Allan MacRae, the much admired campaigner for crofters’ rights and chairman of the Assynt Crofters Trust.  For the family of the man whose life ended suddenly at the age of 73 on a hillside near his home at Torbreck in June 2013, it was a day of justified pride tinged with sadness.  “Sad,” said trust director, Ray Mackay, “because we are gathered here to remember a man who died before his time and proud because this is a time when the trust is becoming financially viable, mainly because of the money being generated by hydro and solar energy.  As the man himself used to say, ‘Boy, come rain or shine, the trust will be making money!” Playing the bagpipes as the MacRae family and assembled company made their way from Stoer hall to the grounds of the trust office for the unveiling ceremony was Charlie Cowan, Clachtoll. Presiding over the event was crofters’ trust vice-chairman, Ray Mackay, Achmelvich, while laying on ample food and refreshments in the hall were the indefatigable ladies of Stoer.

Renewable Energy Schemes Boost Scotland’s Communities by £10m A Year
Scotland’s communities are now seeing a £10 million annual benefit as a result of renewable energy projects, the First Minister has said.  Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement in a keynote speech to the Scottish Green Energy Awards in Edinburgh.  She said the figures highlighted her administration’s commitment to renewable energy and ensuring that local people benefit from energy developments.  The figure is recorded in the latest update of the Government’s community benefit register, which records the income communities receive from renewable energy schemes ranging from large wind farms to small farm and community projects. Ms Sturgeon said: “Our national guidance has encouraged developers to increase the value of the community benefits they offer. Communities across Scotland are now receiving over £10 million a year from onshore renewable projects. That figure is set to rise.  Local energy now helps to fund energy efficiency schemes, fuel poverty alleviation programmes and befriending projects which reduce isolation for elderly people. They meet local priorities because they are run by local communities.”  The First Minister also called for the UK Government to review its policies to ensure energy security by investing in new technologies.  The Government at Westminster last month announced it is axing its £1 billion competition to develop carbon capture and storage technology on power stations.  Ms Sturgeon said: “I’ve been left astonished by the UK Government’s decision to cut its subsidies to renewables. For those of you in the sector, the sense of frustration must be even stronger.  And that frustration must be compounded when you see the UK Government tying itself to a very expensive 35-year contract for nuclear generation – when it could be supporting new renewable technology whose costs will continue to come down over time.”

Kenny Macaskill Backs 20mg Drink Drive Limit
The former Scottish justice secretary, who introduced Scotland’s new lower drink drive legislation a year ago, has said there is a “good argument” for the limit to be reduced further. Kenny MacAskill was instrumental in bringing in the new limit of 50mg in 100ml of blood – the lowest in the UK.  Yesterday he said the reduction, which came into force on 5 December last year, had saved lives but an even lower level of 20mg would be “ideal”. This amounts to a zero drinking limit.  He said: “There is a good argument the limit should go lower still. Drink driving is down. The number convicted of drink-driving is down and so too is the number losing their lives.”  Mr MacAskill has called for lower limits for HGV and public service vehicle drivers. He has also said that the punishments for drink driving should be changed in line with the reductions in the limit.  But while the Scottish Government has the power to alter the limit leading to conviction, the power to alter sentences, including bans and fines, is not devolved. Mr MacAskill added: “Any change requires a mitigation of the current penalty regime for the reduced limit. If the limit comes down to 20mg, I don’t think you should continue to suffer a one-year ban. There would be public concern that someone could be banned for a reading of 21mg.  Maybe it could be something like ‘three strikes and you’re out’.  So, while being able to reduce the limit is welcomed, the Scottish Parliament should be able to look at the penalties. Devolution of those powers is required.”  The Scottish Licensed Trade Association also wants punishments looked at – but for the current limit of 50mg. Chief executive Paul Waterston said last December’s change had a “catastrophic effect on business” in bars and hotels. He said: “We surveyed our members and 68 per cent said it had resulted in a decline in beer sales. People are not drinking at all because the penalties are so draconian. Some countries don’t ban you at 80mg yet in Scotland you get a ban, a fine, a 20-year criminal record and you could lose your job for 50mg. We are not complaining about the limit. It is the penalties that are unfair.” Unofficial figures point to a 12.5 per cent drop in drink-driving in Scotland in the nine months to August.

Scottish Digital Currency Trialled in Glasgow Pub
The Arlington on Woodlands Road is the first business in Scotland to accept brand new digital currency Scotcoin as payment.  The 150-year-old pub has been taking Scotcoin as payment for pints of The Arlington’s own Stone of Destiny lager since St Andrew’s Day on November 30. Kenny Low, the manager at the Arlington, will accept the crypto-currency for the beer from Monday to Thursdays.  “It would be too ambitious to accept it for everything, so we decided to go with one product to see how it goes,” said Lowe.  “One of the key determinants of the referendum was that [the pro-independence argument] didn’t have its own currency – but there is a crypto-currency. Bitcoin is the big daddy of the crypto world, in the way that the dollar is the big daddy of the established world.”  Scotcoin was founded in 2013 by venture capitalist Derek Nisbet and can be traded directly for better known digital currency Bitcoin. Both Scotcoin and Bitcoin operate on a not-for-profit basis and have no associations with banks or governments, as is the case with traditional currency. While currently considered a novelty, the wide use of digital currencies like Scotcoin may become the norm in Scotland as soon as 2016.