Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 328

Issue # 328                                                 Week ending 26th December 2015

The Galaxy’s Fate Will Be Revealed in Barra and Uist by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
Because of what happened in that stable in Bethlehem all those years ago, many of us at this time of year want to settle down to watch celluloid tales of good old derring-do on the telly. We gape at the likes of The Great Escape, tissue-dabbers like Home Alone or It’s a Wonderful Life - of which more later. Or we head out to marvel at the latest box-office smash.

This year’s big success is Star Wars - The Force Awakens. How strange that people have not been rushing out to see another big-budget release called United Passions. It’s about FIFA and was commissioned by president Sepp Blatter, costing the organisation £17 million. Why would he want a film made about himself and other bosses of an allegedly-dodgy organisation? Blatter is played by Tim Roth, who now wishes he never was involved. United Passions is now on lists of the worst films ever made.

Neither have I yet seen the new Star Wars movie. After all, living on a remote island, some things get to here slowly - like broadband, for example. I assume that many dear readers also have not seen the theatrical relics wheeled out for your amusement in this latest attempt to save our galaxy from fanciful beings with really ridiculous names.

Unless we are ardent fans, it’ll take a while to get motivated to haul ourselves off the armchairs and out to the flicks when we are so used to just seeing the action on the boxes in the corner. In the cities, The Force Awakens is showing for what’s left of the year. So a lot of other Johnny Come Latelys will wander out for a heavy dose of over-the-top computer graphics and a heavily wrinkled Harrison Ford after they have had their fill of dry French hen, Brussels sprouts and that star of festive telly, the monarch person.

Here in Stornoway we have to wait until January 29 to see what 30 long years have done to Carrie Fisher’s wrinkles and who the new threat to the galaxy is who goes by the name of Kylo Ren. That’s hardly a scary name. Sounds like a cheap foreign car. Maybe the Japanese answer to the Ford Ka is the Kylo Ren.

However, we don’t have to wait quite that long. If we really, really, really want to see for ourselves before anyone else in Stornoway whether they do find Luke Skywalker in this 135-minute thriller, we can see it on January 22 if we go down to Castlebay on Barra. Or on January 27 when the Screen Machine mobile cinema rolls up to the community hall in Lochmaddy, North Uist. The southern isles are usually last in the queue for everything. May the Force be with them.

Star Wars might still be on the to-do list but later today I will be tucking a few tissues into my pocket and taking Mrs X to see Jimmy Stewart’s somewhat moist festive offering, It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes, that curious tale of a man who finds out what life is like after he has gone.

It’s exactly the right smidgen of sentimental escapism before we delve into the inevitable deaths and dramas in the TV soaps. We have seen IAWL countless times on the telly - in fact it’s on Channel 4 tomorrow - but this’ll be a first on the big screen.

We know the plot. Stewart plays George Bailey who wishes he had never been born. So an angel is sent down to grant his wish. He begins to realise how many lives he touched and how very different things would have been if he had never been there. It is a touching performance by a man with a drawl who was as laid-back, slow and hesitant in real life as he was on the screen.

Nevertheless, from time to time we hear talk that IAWL should be made again but in a more modern setting. Maybe it should be a woman, for example. She was great in Desperately Seeking Susan but Madonna wouldn’t be my choice. Her rants at her Glasgow concert audience the other night when it she was the one running late and her people put the lights out have put her off my list. And why did she call herself the Queen? The cheek of her. We already have a monarch person. Listen, material girl. What you think is immaterial.

So is there any actor alive today with film experience who could take that role and make real the idea that things would be different if they had never been born. Of course. Step forward, Sepp Blatter.

Police Recover Record Drugs Haul in Jedburgh
Police in the Scottish Borders have recovered Class A drugs with an estimated street value of £165,000 - the largest recovery of crack cocaine within the Lothian and Borders Division to date. Uniform officers discovered the large haul of heroin and crack cocaine within a car parked in Edinburgh Road, Jedburgh. The discovery was made around 12.40am while the officers were on patrol.  A total weight of 600g of heroin, valued at £60,000, and 1.7kg of crack cocaine, valued at £105,000, was recovered.  A 33-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man have been arrested and charged for being concerned in the supply of crack cocaine and heroin, and possession of cocaine.  Both suspects made an appearance at Jedburgh Sheriff Court and both were remanded in custody.  Detective Sergeant Alan Young, of the Division’s Proactive CID, said: “This is a great result and special credit must go to the uniformed officers who made the discovery. They were on night patrol and acted on their instincts, and as a result we’ve prevented a large amount of dangerous drugs getting into our community.  Everyone knows the destruction drugs can cause to families and communities, so we’re very pleased to report this find.”

Back to the Steamie?
In "Good Old Days" before washing machines became a standard utility in most homes, "Wash Houses" or "Steamies" were run by local governments to provide clothes washing facilities in cities and towns.  Of course, in those days wives stayed at home and didn't go out to full time employment as they often do now. So they had the time to go to the "steamie" - and have a gossip with their friends and neighbours. Now, proposals set out by the Scottish Government could also see people forced to give up using their own spin-dryers and dishwashers.  The Scottish Government proposal entitled ‘Making Things Last’, suggests that people should “move away from product ownership” and “rather than actually owning appliances”, they should use washing machine and dishwasher providers to pay “per wash”.  Green centralised launderettes using super-efficient washers would help the environment, especially as the average household does almost 400 loads of laundry each year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water.  The plans have been branded a “suddy outrage” by people fed up with a claimed Scottish Government “nanny state”.  It seems unlikely that the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, will be queuing up any time soon to set a good example.

Scottish Government Call for Inquiry Into Undercover Policing to Be Extended North of the Border
The Scottish Government have called for the inquiry into undercover policing to be extended north of the Border.  Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has written to the Home Office asking that the Pitchford Inquiry looks at “any activity in Scotland conducted by English and Welsh forces”.  It follows allegations in newspapers that officers spied on activists during the 2005 G8 summit at Gleneagles , Perthshire .  The inquiry, chaired by Lord Justice Pitchford, is set to look into police infiltration of political and social justice groups in England and Wales over more than 40 years.  Home Secretary Theresa May ordered the review after claims that Scotland Yard had spied on campaigners fighting for justice for murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence. Its remit does not currently cover Scotland but Matheson is urging May to change that.

Historic Scottish Banknote
Fifty years ago, female staff were never encouraged or expected to study for professional banking exams which were required for all management staff. Female bank staff were employed to do the routine branch and administration jobs, even if they remained in the bank until they retired. In recent years, of course all that has changed and there are women branch managers and senior positions in head offices. But Debbie Crosbie has made history as being the first woman to have the "honour" of having her signature on a Scottish banknote. Ms Crosbie, who is Chief Operating Officer of Clydesdale Bank, has added her rounded signature to a recently issued £20 note. The bank note includes a graphic of Robert the Bruce and incorporates a number of anti-forgery devices.  Bank of England notes had their first female signature in 1999, but the Scottish ones have been an all-male preserve until now. Only Bank of Scotland, Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank are still allowed to issue bank notes in Scotland. It was Sir Walter Scott in the 19th century who famously persuaded the UK Parliament to allow these Scottish banks to continue to issue bank notes.  The issue of female historic characters as illustrations on banknotes has become a hot issue with an ultimately successful campaign to have Jane Austen's likeness put on a Bank of England note becoming a matter of public debate. The Pride and Prejudice author will replace Charles Darwin on the Bank of England tenner in 2017.  Apart from the royals, there have been precious few female faces on Scottish banknotes. Exceptions have been Mary Slessor, a missionary and Elsie Inglis who was a pioneering Scottish doctor and suffragist. Clydesdale Bank is facing some more fundamental changes. Its current owner, National Australia Bank, is putting it up for sale in 2016 in a public flotation. Perhaps the Crosbie banknote will become a collectors piece.

The SNP is Quietly Bringing Back Clapping to the House of Commons
It may sound like a contradiction in terms, but SNP MPs are quietly bringing clapping back to the floor of the House of Commons.  The party's Westminster group was outraged when Labour's shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn received a round of applause for his speech on Syria. SNP MPs were rebuked by the Speaker John Bercow earlier this year for clapping their colleagues' contributions in the chamber.  The newly-enlarged group had fallen foul of the strict rules which govern behaviour in the Commons and at one stage were told to "show some respect". But within days of Mr Benn's speech, a number of SNP MPs clapped a point made during a backbench debate on the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (Ttip) trade deal.One SNP MP predicted that the move would not be a one-off.  The Deputy Speaker (who was in the chair at the time) didn’t say anything, or rather, after the Benn reaction, couldn't say anything.It is understood a number of SNP MPs have tackled the Speaker over his decision to allow clapping at the end of Mr Benn's speech exhorting the Commons to back airstrikes in Syria.  As MPs clapped, a number of the SNP group pointed to Mr Bercow's chair in protest. The Speaker is understood to have been sympathetic for what he felt was a “spontaneous” outpouring of feeling by Mps.  But one SNP MP said: “It is ridiculous that in a grown up democracy we cannot behave in a professional way.  When you attend political meetings ordinary people do not stand around saying ‘hear, hear’.  If someone makes a good point you give them a round of applause." SNP MPs are not the only Westminster politicians to back a change in Commons procedure. During campaigning in the Labour leadership election Yvette Cooper pledged that the clapping ban would be axed as part of a shake-up of Parliament if she became Prime Minister.  Mr Bercow has praised the new SNP intake saying that many of them were "already proving to be good parliamentarians". But many new SNP MPs have been critical of what they have seen as Westminster.  Dr Philippa Whiteford, the party’s health spokesman and the MP for Central Ayrshire, has likened the Commons to sitting in a "kindergarten where people are making animal noises”.  Her party colleague Tommy Sheppard, has also hit out at the traditions of parliament including the “Georgian pantomime dress” worn by Commons door staff in the Commons, including a “curly ruffled thing that they wear down their back which is called a wig bag”.  A spokesman for the SNP said: "The SNP MPs find the ban on clapping to be outdated and out-of-touch with the public.  We would be fully supportive of any measures which seek to reform behaviour inside the House of Commons chamber, which at times would not be tolerated in primary schools never mind a parliament."

Bridges Built From Ballachulish
Locals thought it so ugly they used to call it ‘Dracula’s coat hanger'  But the landmark Ballachulish Bridge led the way in a bridge building programme that was to transform Highland transport.  This week marks the 40th anniversary of the opening of the crossing at the mouth of Loch Leven, where vessels had plied the waters for a millennium.  Originally it had been due to open in the spring of 1975. The final road plate was installed in early May.  Two months later, there was an enormous bang when a bearing exploded on one of the bridge piers.  It was heard in Kinlochleven eight miles to the east. It threw out the already rescheduled opening date of October 1.  Unfortunately the Ballachulish Ferry Company was already being wound up. However the newest of the turntable ferries, the Glenachulish (still working between Glenelg and Kylerhea on Skye) had been sold to the new Highland Regional Council for use as a back-up vessel at Corran, Kessock and Kylesku.  So from October a single vessel maintained the service through until the last crossing at midday on December 23, when the bridge was officially opened. Then the last ferry was removed from a crossing that had seen so much history. MacIain chief of the Glencoe MacDonalds used it on the last day of 1691, as he desperately tried to get to Inverarary to swear allegiance to King William the Third, to save his people from their impending fate.  For more than four years after 1752 those using the ferry would see the corpse of a man on a 30-foot gibbet on a hill. This was James (Stewart) of the Glen, wrongly hanged for his role in the Appin Murder, immortalised in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. A monument to Stewart stands on the spot beside the southern end of the bridge today.  But few really lamented the ferries passing four decades ago. When they were busy in the summer, queues of cars would grow. If they got beyond a certain point locals knew it was quicker to drive the 18 laborious miles round by Kinlochleven.  It was in 1968 the Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI) called for both bridges for Ballachulish and Skye, and looked at the idea of tolls. In the same year another SCDI report ‘A Crossing of The Three Firths' argued for bridges across the Beauly, Cromarty and Dornoch firths.  Willie Ross, then Labour Scottish Secretary of State had no truck with the tolls, but the Highland bridges made their way into public building programmes.  Ballachulish was followed by the Cromarty Bridge across the Cromarty Firth in 1979; the Kessock across the Beauly/Inverness Firth linking Inverness to the Black Isle in 1982; the Kylesku in North West Sutherland in 1984; a bridge across the Dornoch Firth in 1991; and the private sector tolled Skye Bridge in 1995.  Highland Historian Professor Jim Hunter, grew up in Duror just south of the Ballachulish Bridge.  He said “For many centuries there had been a ferry where the bridge now is, because the loch is at its narrowest there. Indeed Ballachulish means the Village by the Narrows.  The bridge opened just a few months after local government reorganisation. The communities on the south side had always been in Argyll and saw Oban as their nearest town. That’s where the secondary school was and there even used to be train service from Ballachulish to Oban.  But places like Duror, Kentallen, Ballachulish and Glencoe became part of Highland Region and with the bridge opening it meant they increasingly looked to Fort William which had always been closer geographically. “  Professor Hunter also served two terms as chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, and said: “Improved transport links – including bridging the east coast firths, providing a Skye bridge and removing other west coast bottlenecks like the ferries at Ballachulish, Strome and Kylesku – have been fundamental to improving economic prospects across much of the Highland area.  What’s needed now from government is a similar commitment to providing the Highlands and Islands with newer but equally key services – like superfast broadband.”

Harry Potter Turns Scots Train Route Into Success
The railway line made famous by the Harry Potter films and voted the world’s most scenic train journey is ScotRail’s fastest growing route, official figures reveal.  A doubling of trains on the West Highland line between Glasgow, Oban, Fort William and Mallaig helped boost its passenger numbers by nearly 14 per cent to 454,000 in 2014-15.  A new school service transporting pupils from Dalmally, Taynuilt and Connel to Oban is also thought to have contributed to the increase.  A stretch of the line between Fort William and Mallaig featured in many of the Harry Potter film series, including the Glenfinnan viaduct. Further fame came when the route was twice voted as “best line” for scenery by readers of Wanderlust magazine for its views of some of Scotland’s finest lochs and mountains.  ScotRail hopes to attract yet more passengers when it upgrades carriages to become “scenic trains”, with seats better aligned to windows, tourist information and improved catering, from 2018.  The Friends of the West Highland Line said it was now used more than at any time since the 1950s.  Chairman Doug Carmichael said: “For years, we pushed for more services above the three a day which had been running.  A major step was our meeting with the then transport minister Keith Brown [now infrastructure secretary], who took on board our argument for more trains.” Mr Carmichael said further growth was expected with the Scottish Government extending ferry fare cuts to CalMac’s Oban-Mull route, along with extra sailings.  The growth comes amid a passenger boom for ScotRail, fuelled by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Total journeys increased by 7.3 per cent to 92.7 million, more than twice the rise in each of the two previous two years.  However, the popularity of train travel has placed a severe strain on ScotRail’s fleet, made worse by the closure of the Forth Road Bridge leading to trains across the Forth Bridge being lengthened by switching carriages from other routes.  Worst hit have been Glasgow-Falkirk Grahamston services, which have been replaced by buses.

MG ALBA Announces New Strategy to ‘Transform’ Gaelic Media Impact
MG ALBA has published a five-year strategic plan aimed at transforming the contribution of Gaelic media.  Key objectives of the plan include initiatives to effect a major step change in the involvement of young people in Gaelic media and to develop a wider range of learning platforms. Partnerships with other Gaelic organisations are central to the new strategic plan. Maggie Cunningham, chair of MG ALBA, said it laid the foundations for a new era in Gaelic media. MG ALBA operates BBC ALBA in partnership with the BBC and also LearnGaelic.scot and FilmG, the Gaelic film competition.  “BBC ALBA is a relatively young but highly successful channel and is already a noted and accepted part of the Scottish broadcasting landscape”, said Ms Cunningham.  “Although Gaelic is a minority language, BBC ALBA continues to reach a wide and diverse audience, including substantial numbers of people viewing online via the BBC iPlayer.  With such a breadth of support, there is opportunity for growth despite the continuing challenges we face in relation to funding. We remain fully committed to exploring all options to ensure that funding is maximised in future years.  BBC ALBA is a key component of Gaelic media, however it is not the only component. The success of the channel offers significant opportunities for MG ALBA to expand the impact of Gaelic media and the service they offer the core audience.”  The MG ALBA media strategy will focus on strategic initiatives including: Learning: creating new multi-platform learning content, building on the highly valuable asset that is LearnGaelic.scot. Children: new brands for pre-school and primary school age.  Digital media: initiatives to encourage and embed user-generated content and to develop Gaelic writing for screen.  MG ALBA is partnering with Bòrd na Gàidhlig, Comhairle nan Leabhraichean, Comunn na Gàidhlig, Stòrlann Nàiseanta na Gàidhlig and Fèisean nan Gàidheal, as well as other organisations, on its initiatives.  Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, said: “MG ALBA has quickly established itself as a distinctive voice in Scottish broadcasting and is at the forefront of efforts to support the Gaelic language community and its future generations. This strategy for Gaelic digital media is a welcome addition that will strengthen efforts further as we seek to empower our Gaelic community and secure a bright future for Gaelic. We need to enact that strategy within the new digital age. With Census 2011 showing elements of growth in the proportion of young people speaking Gaelic, and other media data showing that this age group is the lowest consumer of TV content, it is essential that this demographic is self-motivated to create, share and enjoy their own media content in Gaelic.  This area is arguably one of the most important elements of the digital future for Gaelic and yet it is one in which institutions such as MG ALBA must necessarily have a ‘light touch’ role in encouraging participation, in order to ensure that growth is authentic, sustainable and grassroots-led.”  MG ALBA said it was committed to ensuring that the channel’s success is aided by a drive to make Gaelic content available outside of Scotland.

Over 150,000 Drivers Stopped in Six Months by Police in Bad Driving Crackdown
More than 150,000 motorists have been stopped by police over a six month period in a crackdown on bad driving.  The latest figures are 16 per cent higher than for the same period in 2014 as police chiefs place a greater emphasis on high visibility patrols in an attempt to reduce the number of accidents.  Police Scotland traffic officers are often using the opportunity to flag down motorists to discuss their driving habits.  One motoring group said there was still no evidence the stops, recorded between April and September this year, had any impact on accident rates.  But they co-incided with a 15 per cent drop in the number of people killed on the roads to 88. There was a similar drop in the number of people seriously injured.  Neil Greig, the Scotland-based director of policy at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) said: "A lot of drivers on the road feel reassured when they see high-profile policing.  I would be disappointed if this did not have some kind of positive impact on road safety numbers, but at the moment we still don't know."  The number of cars flagged down over the six months was 151,632.  The rise came after former chief constable Sir Stephen House had demanded a new focus on traffic policing before he left his post.  Road fatalities remained four times higher than homicides and levelled out levels of policing across the country.  Superintendent Fraser Candlish said: "Following the launch of Police Scotland, our aim was to provide an equitable number of specialist road policing officers throughout the entire country.  During 2013 and 2014 a considerable number of road policing officers were recruited and trained in specialist skills and they are deployed each and every day on Scotland's roads to influence driver behaviour."  Mr Candlish said the rise in the number of stops demonstrated the commitment the force has towards reducing the number of accidents.  There was an even sharper rise in the number of stops for lorries, especially as road policing cracked down on dangerous loads.  There were 6,495 commercial vehicle checks between April and September, up 25 per cent from the same six months of 2014. The force issued a thousand prohibition notice to trucks carrying dangerous loads, a rise of more than a third.  Police Scotland in its first year came under fire for issuing more tickets for offences to motorists for offences such as failing to wear a seatbelt.  Sir Stephen had signalled a new direction under which motorists would get more informal roadside warnings, or advice, and fewer tickets.  The IAM had welcomed the change and higher visibility roads policing in general.  Traffic police will now have additional work after the Scottish Parliament banned smoking in cars carrying children.  The police had previously warned that this law would be difficult to enforce. Flouting the ban will incur a fine of £100.

Research Claims New Gaelic Speakers Are 'Developing A Glasgow Accent'
Scotland's biggest city accounts for the largest number of Gaelic speakers outside the Western Isles – and now, it seems, Glasgow's Gaels are adapting the language to their local accent. About 6,500 people, or 10 per cent of the 65,000 Gaelic speaking population, have made their home in the city.  English-born linguistics expert Dr Claire Nance — who learned the language from scratch – has made the discovery after spending four years examining the nuances of the language.  She looked at how the language is spoken in among old and young people living in the Hebrides compared to young speakers in Glasgow who have learned it as a second language or use it with one of their parents at home.  Dr Nance, who completed her doctoral thesis in Gaelic and phonetics in Glasgow and now lecturers at Lancaster University, wanted to discover if there was a "Glasgow kind of Gaelic.  So she investigated teenagers who had learned to speak it in Glasgow and comparing them to 12 young people in Lewis, and 12 older people from Lewis who had grown up in a Gaelic-dominant environment.  She said: "I was really interested in whether you could talk about a 'Glasgow' kind of Gaelic that's different from a Hebridean variety, so I interviewed all these people and I also got them to read out a list of words so that I could look at individual sounds.  Then, for the analysis, I looked at 'L' sounds because there are three 'L' sounds in Gaelic. I measured people saying the three 'Ls' and I looked at their vowels and intonation as well.  Listening to Glasgow people, they have quite a specific intonation and they sort of go up at the end of a phrase, but that's not traditional for Gaelic. But I found that people from Glasgow who speak Gaelic do use this Glaswegian intonation.  Also, some of the people in Glasgow only did the one 'L' sound - they didn't do the three different ones that Gaelic traditionally has.  And the 'Ls' tended to be more of a Glaswegian L compared to what's traditional for Hebridean Gaelic, or Hebridean English as well."  Dr Nance, originally from Stockport in south Manchester, learned Gaelic during the first year of her PhD.  She also speaks French, Greek, German and Breton - a Celtic language native to the far north-west of France which is closely related to Welsh - but said she was intrigued by Gaelic.  She said: "There's so much going on. I work in phonetics and Gaelic is very different from English in terms of phonetics and phonology so it's just really interesting to work on.  I really like the interaction between the linguistic detail and the social context, so the context of bilingualism and the political situation in Scotland and how that interacts with the language - I just find it completely fascinating."  Gaelic was given "parity of esteem" under the Labour-led Scottish Executive in 2005 in a move that has paved the way to bilingual road and railway signs and a push to raise its status and profile, particularly through more practical opportunities for learning and using the language.  Gaelic-medium education has also exploded. In 2012/13 more than 3000 pupils were receiving GME in Scotland, compared to just 24 in 1985.  

Borders Railway Has Brought Tourism Boost and Doubled Shop Takings
The new Borders Railway has brought a huge tourism boost with a 20 per cent rise in visitors to some attractions and shop takings doubling. The news comes after VisitScotland launched a three-year international marketing campaign to attract tourists from around the world.  Since the route was re-opened by the Queen with an historic steam journey along the 30-mile, £350 million line in September, visitors from America, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and the UK have stepped on board.  They have stayed in accommodation nearby and visited the attractions ranging from Melrose Abbey and Abbotsford House to the National Mining Museum Scotland and Rosslyn Chapel.  VisitScotland said four out of five shops in Galashiels reporting takings to have doubled.  There were also 17 sold out steam trains carrying around 6,200 passengers on special return journeys from Edinburgh to Tweedbank.  New passenger figures are due in the new year. By October 125,000 had travelled on the railway.  Sir Walter Scott's Abbotsford House reported an 18.4 per cent increase on 2014 visitor numbers.  There's also the £5.2m Galashiels Transport Interchange that forms a new bus station and business hub, and aims to direct footfall into the town centre.  Other facilities include a café, seating, tourist information, bus and train real-time information and a railway ticket machine.  It also has showers, changing facilities and bike lockers to promote cycling and walking.  Businesses in Galashiels have reported significantly increased activity since the railway opened, thanks to the TI directing people into the heart of the town.  David Houston of the Galashiels Chamber of Trade, who is also a member of the Community Stakeholder Group, said: “The majority of cafes and restaurants in the town have reported 50 per cent more trade.  I have heard a number of comments from overseas visitors arriving in Galashiels who are impressed with the quality of the TI and were pleasantly surprised by the welcome.”  The original Waverley Route ran south from Edinburgh, through Midlothian and the Scottish Borders, to Carlisle.  The line was named after a series of novels by Sir Walter Scott and served as an important export channel for both the wool and coal industries of that time.  It was first fully opened in 1862 closed in 1969 as part of the Beeching cuts.

Gamekeepers Angered by John Muir Trust Deer Cull
A row has erupted between gamekeepers and one of Scotland’s leading landowning charities over the treatment of deer on a remote Highland estate.  The Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) is calling on the Scottish Government to investigate claims that the John Muir Trust left the bodies of dozens of stags to rot on a Knoydart hillside.  According to the SGA, the animals were left to decompose on the moor, some with their haunches and heads removed. The SGA has questioned the deer culling techniques of the Trust on their land at Li and Coire Dhorcail.  The SGA claimed the normal practice of engaging with neighbours in the local deer group about intentions for the cull was not observed by John Muir Trust which, instead, informed Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).  Despite only 14 stags being observed during indicative cull counts by SNH on Li and Coire Dhorcail, the conservation body shot 86 stags, most of which were left on the open hill. The SGA said neighbours in the deer management group have claimed the practice has cost the local area £100 000 in wasted venison and income from visiting stalkers.  A SGA spokesman said: “Sometimes a stalker has to leave a deer, if its condition makes it unfit for consumption. A professional decision may be taken to leave it to feed a bird of prey and it may be placed out of view of those accessing the countryside. However, not at this number. What is considered ethical and decent has been over-stepped.”  Mike Daniels, the John Muir Trust’s head of land management, said: “Many thousands of deer die on our hillsides each winter – including hundreds in the Knoydart area – because deer populations are too high and they are desperately seeking food and shelter. These deaths are a direct consequence of management practices that aim for high deer numbers for sport shooting regardless of animal welfare or ecology.  “The number of deer we had to cull between July and October – just over 1 per cent of the total population on Knoydart – was higher than usual because we can no longer rely on close season authorisations, which would allow us to cull deer in the winter when they come down from the higher slopes.”

Renewables Now Biggest Generator of Electricity
Green energy projects have become the largest generator of electricity in Scotland for the first time, with renewables now producing more power than either nuclear or fossil fuels.  Almost half (49.7 per cent) of Scotland’s electricity demand came from renewable sources – such as wind power and hydro power – in 2014, according to new figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.  Renewable generation rose by 11.9 per cent from 2013, with a total of 38 per cent of the electricity generated in Scotland from this sector, against 33 per cent from nuclear and 28 per cent from coal, gas and oil.  Energy minister Fergus Ewing said: “Scotland’s renewables sector is stronger than ever and our early adoption of clean, green energy technology and infrastructure was the right thing to do.  It is fantastic news that renewables are now Scotland’s biggest electricity generator and that nearly half of gross electricity consumption comes from renewables.”  Scotland produced 49,929 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in 2014, with 18,962 GWh from renewable power sources.  The sector north of the Border employs 21,000 people directly and last year produced almost a third (29 per cent) of the UK’s renewable energy.

Kirk and Church of England to Sign Historic Pact
AN historic pact will be signed by the Churches of Scotland and England in the most significant link-up since their separate Reformations in the 16th century.  The two churches have drafted and consulted on a formal agreement called the Columba Declaration that will mean working and speaking together on national and international issues such as gay marriage and the European Referendum.  They are already linked in a credit union with a number of other churches, launched by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and former moderator Very Rev John Chalmers, but the new document is the first such agreement between the two  The Church of England has traditionally had closer relations with Episcopalian churches north and south of the Border and will continue to keep a close dialogue.  Former moderator of the Kirk's General Assembly Very Rev Dr Sheilagh Kesting - who was the first female minister in the role - is co-secretary on the group that put the report together.  She said: “It is eminently sensible and it is also putting down a marker saying this is where we’ve got to.  “I think people find it odd that we’ve never had an agreement with the Church of England before.  We recognise that we have similar responsibilities within our different contexts.”  It comes as a European Referendum and potentially another Scottish Referendum loom.  During the Scottish Referendum the Kirk provided a platform for political debate

Loganair Flight Lands Safely After Engine Fire Alert
A full emergency was triggered at Sumburgh Airport in Shetland after a passenger plane declared a mayday shortly before landing.  One engine was shut down after a fire warning light was activated on a Loganair flight carrying 46 passengers and three crew from Aberdeen.  Fire crews were called to the airport at around 9.20pm but were stood down after the aircraft landed safely.A Loganair spokesman said:  Passengers were briefed by the crew ahead of landing and the aircraft touched down safely.  The spokesman said engineers are inspecting the aircraft.  Last month, Liam McArthur, Liberal Democrat MSP for Orkney, raised questions at Holyrood about the reliability of Loganair services after a series of emergencies affecting the airline's flights.  It followed an incident in which a plane travelling from Glasgow to Sumburgh with 13 people on board was forced to make an emergency landing, the second in less than a week.  A CAA spokesman said: "Aviation safety is our top priority and we ensure all UK registered airlines meet strict European safety standards.  We work closely with Loganair and all other UK airlines on a continual basis, to provide safety oversight and advice. We can confirm that Loganair meets these European safety requirements."

Scotland’s Hogmanay: Origins and Traditions
While much of the world celebrates the beginning of the New Year, few are as passionate about it than the Scots.  Despite many theories as to its origins, no-one knows for sure where the word “Hogmanay” originated from. What is known is that Hogmanay is the Scots word for the final day of the year, and today it is most frequently used to refer to the evening’s celebrations. Theories have placed “Hogmanay” as a product of Gaelic or Norman-French origin, with the similarities to “Homme est né” (“Man is born”) in French also being noted.  Scotland’s raucous new year celebration is the descendant of a Viking festival which acknowledged the winter solstice. In addition to this, Christmas in Scotland was a very muted affair for over 300 years, as it was seen as a Catholic festival by Scottish Protestant kirks and duly banned after the Reformation.  Dr Alan MacDonald, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Dundee, explains. He said: “The principal reason why Hogmanay is bigger in Scotland than in the rest of the UK is that our Reformation was more radical than in other places in Europe. A lot of Medieval European traditions were dropped, including Christmas, so a lot of Scots took the view that the only day worth celebrating for religion was Sunday.  The reason for everyone celebrating new year was that people needed something to make them happy and they weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas!”  As well as banning the celebration of Christmas, Scotland was one of the earliest nations to change its New Year’s day from 25 March to 1 January; marking a clear moment in winter where one year ended and one began. Crucially, though, it gave the nation another event to celebrate that was culturally distinct from Christmas and its Catholic connotations, with presents exchanged and family and friends reuniting during Hogmanay. In reference to the ceremony’s Norse roots, firework displays and torchlit parades are still common over Hogmanay throughout Scotland, with the Stonehaven Fireball Ceremony one of the most famous in Scotland. Here, large fireballs are swung on metal chains down the town’s main street, signifying the Winter Solstice and the rejuvenating power of the sun.  One of the enduring characteristics of the celebration is to “first foot” the house of a neighbour, friend or family member. To bring good luck to the home, the first person to visit the home after the stroke of midnight should be a dark male with whisky, coal, shortbread or even a black bun. This tradition is believed to refer to Viking times, when the sight of a blonde stranger at your door was likely that of a Viking invading enemy instead of a well-wisher.  To first-foot an empty household is a grave mistake in Scottish culture, as it’s believed to bring bad luck to the home for the new year. Those who make it inside to the Hogmanay party will typically receive well-humoured greetings and conversation, as Hogmanay is traditionally seen as a time to move on from the problems and troubles of the previous year and start again with a clean slate.  As an added bonus, Scotland is lucky enough to have 2 January as a bank holiday (unlike the rest of UK), a perfect excuse to continue the party well into 2016...

NOLLAIG CHRIDHEIL AGUS BLIADHNA MATH UR Merry Christmas and a Good New Year