Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 341

Issue # 341                                                            Week ending 26th March 2016

Booyakasha As Wicked Cove Ali D is At De Vegetables by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

One short tense phone call. That was all it took and no less a person than Iain Duncan Smith suddenly packed in his job as Work and Pensions Secretary. News reports say that IDS’s supporters claim the PM bellowed at him. I thought that kind of stuff only happened in local politics in the Western Isles. Wow.

It was an earthquake that has shown the Prime Minister and his Chancellor of the Exchequer to be wobbling, unwilling to listen to colleagues and fallible, even vulnerable. Dissent about their suitability has started in the ranks of MPs. Power is said to be ebbing away. They will soon be sloping off to take up seats on the boards of multinational companies where they can hopefully do less harm.

With Boris Johnson taking potshots at them for pushing to stay in the EU and the furore over their allegedly heartless approach to cutting welfare while also cutting taxes for higher earners, their hats are on pegs getting shooglier by the day. Unrest in the back-benches is visible and audible. Cameron isn’t standing again so why should he stay on to possibly mess things up further, they ask.

Who could take over? With only Theresa May and Michael Fallon thought to have any chance of getting any backing to be PM, things are getting quite serious. Would they stand? Theresa may. Or she may not. Most people think she is too Thatcheresque. Is that a word? Ach, you know what I mean. Would defence secretary Fallon fall on his sword? Poor Jeremy Hunt has been called all sorts of names as he managed to upset just about everyone in the NHS.

Of course, other parties are available. Last week in the Co-op in Stornoway I rummaged for beefy tomatoes. A distinguished fellow was choosing brussels sprouts. Who’s he again? That serious face. He must be one of them Free Church (Continuing) guys. He’ll want to tell me all about the Wee Free way to salvation. I only came in for tomatoes. I’m off. Heaven can wait.

Just then he turned round and it was none other than that Baron fellow. Remember him? Of course you do. Everyone remembers those specs, those eyebrows. Baron what-was-it again? Is it Sacha Baron Cohen? What was he known as? Ali G. He’s the fellow who told Tony Benn that de unemployment benefit was wicked because you get money for doing nothing but chillin’. In his world, good things are wicked. And “the” is always “de”.

Everyone the cool Slough-based interviewer talked to was the main man, except the women. Obviously. And when he wanted to emphasise a certain point he would just shout Booyakasha. Yeah, you remember him now? He used to interview all sorts of people particularly if they had a very serious side. Some of the memorable ones were with Tory old codger Rhodes Boyson and, of course, leftie veteran Tony Benn.

Anyway, no, it wasn’t him. He wasn’t breakdancing or dressed in yellow and he had no sunglasses on. Wait. It wasn’t Ali G but it was Ali D. He is Baron Roulanish. Did I mean Richtofen? No, Roulanish. It’s a cosy wee corner of the parish of Uig tucked away at the seaward side of Breaclete, the hub of Great Bernera. Not many people without Bernera connections had heard of it but since Alistair, Baron Darling of Roulanish, took that monicker it has achieved a certain prominence.

When I said to my daughter, aged 18, that was Alistair Darling, she remembered the name. She asked what had become of him. Reminding her he was Labour chancellor, I told her Labour lost the election and David Cameron had put paid to Ali D’s chances to be PM. Then her face went purple. Not realising I was speaking loudly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ali Darling standing right beside me. He didn’t let on but he probably heard. I was out of there faster than Tony Blair fleeing a Jeremy Corbyn meeting.

When he is not busy with his temporary part-time gap-year-type jobs of being a baron in the House of Lords or running the bank he is a director of, the former chancellor under Gordon Brown scuttles back to Roulanish for a bit of R&R. I think it’s working.

He looked fit and eager. Probably all that fruit and beg from the Co-op he is scoffing. Methinks he is ready for a scrap. If Iain Duncan Smith does bring the House of Cards down round the ears of Cameron and Osborne, I tink de main man Ali D is ready. Booyakasha.

Chancellor George Osborne Almost Sank the Scotland Bill with A Last-minute Technical Objection
The deal to deliver new powers for Holyrood almost fell apart at the last moment after George Osborne refused to sign it off.  After months of negotiations and an apparent agreement between Edinburgh and London, the Chancellor blocked the Scotland Bill last week, jeopardising a critical Holyrood vote on it.  His refusal to sign off on a technicality caused consternation in Whitehall, and led to a cross-border stand-off between the Conservative and SNP administrations last week. Nicola Sturgeon held a series of urgent phone calls with John Swinney before rejecting a Treasury demand for a change that could have cost Scotland up to £200m a year. Her decision meant the final, high-profile vote on the Bill by MSPs was almost cancelled.  After 26 hours of wrangling, Osborne finally blinked and backed down and the Bill was passed by MSPs on Wednesday, allowing it to continue its passage through Westminster to become law. However insiders say that, behind the scenes, the Chancellor came perilously close to sinking the Bill - a blunder that would have handed the SNP a propaganda coup for the election. It is understood the Scottish Office and Cabinet Office put pressure on the Treasury in order to avert a political disaster.  “I think the Treasury did it to test our resolve,” said one Scottish Government source. “They thought that, even if they made a late change that cost us money, we wouldn’t have the balls to say no to more powers, but we did. They got the fright of their bloody lives.”  Designed to deliver pre-referendum promises of greater devolution - the so-called 'Vow' - the Scotland Bill will transfer major tax and welfare powers to Holyrood.  For months, the UK and Scottish governments tried to agree a set of rules, or “fiscal framework”, to make the powers work in practice.  The Treasury’s preferred method could have cost Scotland £7bn over a decade, so the Finance Secretary and the First Minister rejected it.  However on February 23, with time running out for Holyrood to scrutinise a framework, David Cameron finally announced a deal had been agreed, largely on the SNP’s terms.  Although some of the fine print still had to be thrashed out in a technical annex, Scottish and UK officials thought they had settled everything by early March.  Then last weekend, when the SNP was having its conference, the Treasury began objecting to the agreed method for reconciling shortfalls in cash due to Scotland.  This had started as an annual process, meaning Scotland would not go out of pocket for long, but the Treasury suggested a new system which would have introduced a two-year lag. In the worst case scenario, Scotland would have been £200m short in one year.  After the SNP government refused to accept the plan, the Treasury seemed to back down. However just after 2pm on Monday, officials in Edinburgh were told Osborne had refused to sign off the technical annex, meaning the fiscal framework was up in the air again.  “At this point, it seems the Scotland Office and Cabinet Office started running round as if their hair was on fire,” said an SNP insider. “They really didn’t want the process to fail.”  The timing was critical: SNP ministers were due to lodge a motion at Holyrood by 4.30pm on Monday in order to tee up Wednesday’s vote.  Sticking to her promise not to accept any deal that caused a “detriment” to Scotland’s finances, Sturgeon rejected the Treasury’s demand and refused to lodge the motion.  Early on Tuesday morning, SNP business manager Joe Fitzpatrick told the opposition party whips the motion had been held up until later in the day, but did not explain why.  The time pressure was now intense: unless the motion was lodged by 4.30pm on Tuesday, the vote to pass the Bill on Wednesday would be cancelled and the behind-the-scenes problems would spill into the open and an almighty row would erupt, risking more delays.  The Holyrood vote was also needed to allow the House of Lords to proceed with their side of the Bill the following week - and if that was knocked off course, it could mean the Bill being timed out at Holyrood, as the parliamentary terms ends on March 23 for the election. The result of all the dominoes falling would have been the Scotland Bill collapsing, the 'Vow' being broken, and the SNP gifted a propaganda tool to bash unionist rivals in May. However shortly before 4pm on Tuesday, after a series of face-saving tweaks agreed to by the SNP government, the Treasury said Osborne had finally signed off and the deal was secure. The parliamentary motion was lodged at 4.12pm, just 18 minutes before deadline.

Can there be anyone who reasonably doubts that independence is inevitable? Irrespective of Scotland's ability to manage its own economy, the Scotland Act is a graphic demonstration that Scotland and rUK are distinct entities with different needs and priorities. Westminster thinks it is still in control, having delivered The Vow, but overlooks the fact it was forced to. The wind of change gathered speed in the lead up to the Referendum, reaching gale force in September 2014. The U.K. survived but the damage was fairly devastating. There is now a chance to rebuild a new Scotland and the architects are currently wrangling over the plans. The difference is we now have more than one firm of architects.

Five of the Best Places for Summer Holidays in Scotland
When you hit the right weather, a summer holiday in Scotland can be the best thing in the world. With its sublime natural beauty, inspiring history and an undying devotion to good food and drink, where else would you rather be?  Here we look at five of the best summer holiday destinations Scotland has to offer. There are, of course, many more, don’t overlook Sutherland.

There is no reason not to go to any of Scotland’s islands but there is something that lingers long about Islay. Time slows right down here and I’m pretty sure people become the best versions of themselves when they arrive here. It might have something to do with the whisky - it is home to eight distilleries with more planned - or the openness of the island that offers beaches, wildlife and fantastic hospitality.  There are plenty holiday homes to choose from but some nice hotels too such as the traditional-music loving Port Charlotte Hotel to the west of the island, or The Old Excise House to the east, which is really just a good walk to the home of fine malts Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.  Take a walk or a horse ride at Machrie Bay for some wild Atlantic action and, if you have a camp stove, buy some scallops or prawns at a good price from Islay Crab Exports near the airport and fry them up al fresco while the kids - young and old - play in the endless sands. A drive down to Portnahaven is a must. An Tigh Seinne serves up good hot food and a nice pint. Once you have polished that off, you can sit and watch the seals bob about in the harbour.

Never has a little village offered so much. Set yourself down in Arisaig for a week’s holiday and you will feel like you have been away for two. This village sits in the heart of one of Scotland’s most beautiful and interesting spots. On a summer’s day, wake up to the sun over the water and the gorgeous views ahead to the small isles of Eigg, Muck and Rum. A boat from Arisaig Marine will take you to all three on a day trip. Back on dry land and there is much to do. Head back the way you came to Glenfinnan Monument, one of the finest landmarks in Scotland at the head of Loch Shiel where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the standard in 1745. You might also catch a glimpse of The Jacobite steam train, which takes you right down to Mallaig, which is also worth a visit. However, an absolute must is a day at the Silver Sands of Morar, a beach so pure and lovely that once stepped upon, it is truly never forgotten.

Stirling is perhaps all too often overlooked as a destination, but it really shouldn’t be given its starring role in Scottish history. Walk up the winding, cobbled streets of the old town and you’ll get a real sense of the past. At the top you’ll find Stirling Castle sitting high over the city on volcanic rock, with three battles fought not far away. There is also the National Wallace Monument to visit, a grander statement to a hero countryman you may not find.  Once you have had your history fix, head west to Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park, where small, pretty towns such as Aberfoyle and Callendar sit amongst lochs, mountains and forests. Dump the car and hire a bike from Callendar’s Wheels Cycling Centre or pull on your walking shoes and explore the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park and the many other trails that lead you through this fine area of dramatic terrain. A pleasant afternoon can also be spent on the Sir Walter Scott steamship on Loch Katrine.  Push a little further west and you will soon be at Loch Lomond. No trip to this part of the world would be complete without standing on its bonnie banks.

More sun is said to shine on the Moray coast than anywhere else in Scotland. With warmer-than-average temperatures recorded, it hashas been a popular holidays spot since Victorian times. Its balmy weather and long, sandy beaches have also caught the eye of National Geographic, which has named the coastal stretch between Inverness and Peterhead as one of the best in the world. Burghead Bay is a lovely curved bay stretching 11 miles from Findhorn beach to Burghead but there are many other fine spots along the coast, where sailing is a way of life.The Moray Firth is also hailed for its healthy population of bottlenose dolphins and Minke whales with boat tours such as those run by North 58 Sea Adventures ferrying visitors close to the action. Nairn, Troup Head and Hopeman are amongst the best places to catch the mammals. Hopeman is also known for its highly-coveted brightly painted beach huts - perfect ice cream and deckchair territory.  You are also just at the tip of Speyside whisky country should you fancy a change of scene.

Ah the twinkling blue seas and the white sands of the Outer Hebrides. Many say, when the sun is shining on these westerly isles, you could be in the Caribbean. Now I have never been there, but its true a piece of paradise is created when the light is bright in this part of the world. Calmac Ferries does a hopscotch ticket which will take you from Oban to Barra, Uist, Harris and Lewis before sailing back to Ullapool. It has got to be one of those bucket list trips, such is the special atmosphere and beauty of the islands - and the untainted way of life you will discover here. In Barra, sea kayaking is worth a shot given the shallow waters and sheltered bays. You will also find here Kisimul Castle, the only survivng Medieval castle around. On Harris, you’ll find the famous Luskentyre beach, one of the best you’ll ever see.  The Standing Stones of Calanais on Lewis, thought to date back to 3,000 BC, one of Scotland’s major prehistoric site, also cannot be missed.

Gaelic TV Saved in Scotland
The Scottish Government has stepped in to save Gaelic television, after its funding was axed by the UK Government late last year.  Chancellor George Osborne announced in November that he would not renew a £1 million-a-year grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) ear-marked for BBC Alba.  However Alasdair Allan, the minister for Scotland’s languages, has announced the Scottish Government will provide an additional £1million to the service, making up the shortfall to ensure the future of Gaelic broadcasting in Scotland. The extra funding comes on top of core funding for MG ALBA - a public body which works in partnership with BBC Scotland to produce BBC Alba - of £11.8m in 2016/17. Allan said: “I have no doubt that Gaelic broadcasting adds significant value to important areas of Gaelic development, whether that’s in education, in the community or at home.  The impact and benefits of MG ALBA are felt across Scotland, and it has an impressive economic impact – this is unique and this funding will enable these areas to increase employment, skills and training...We are committed to creating a sustainable future in the Gaelic language, and to developing broadcasting and media industries in Scotland.”  Stuart Cosgrove, Scottish broadcaster, said that the UK's Government's decision to withdraw funding had struck him as "malicious and short sighted". "My argument is a familiar one that we need to support our indigenous language across the board from television to school provision," he added.  "There is always a huge backlash against Gaelic language when the debate comes up and at times it feels like monoglot bullying."

800-year-old Castle Found in Partick During Scottish Water Work
The remains of two castles, one up to 800 years old, have been found during a multi million overhaul of the water system in Glasgow.  Archaeologists have described the discovery of a 12th or 13th century castle in Partick, and one built on the same site 400 years later, as the "most historically significant in the city for a generation".  They found several stone walls, a well and ditches after being called in during work by Scottish Water on a new sewer overflow.  A spokesman for Scottish Water said they were expecting to find something, as the existence of Partick Castle has been documented, but were amazed to find two.  The excavations also uncovered fragments of pottery, metalwork, leather, glass and animal bones, estimated to date between the 12th and 17th centuries.  The spokesman said it was “remarkable” that the ruins survived the amount of industrial activity in the area over the centuries.  The discoveries were made in the Castlebank Street area on the north bank of the River Kelvin during preparations for a £3m Scottish Water project to install a new sewer overflow.  Hugh McBrien, of West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WOSAS), said: “No-one knew anything about the 12th century castle in Partick. There was documentary evidence that the bishops of Glasgow spent time in Partick and there have been historical references to ‘charters signed at Partick’. But that’s all.It has been known that there was a tower house or castle in the 17th century but all we had were antiquarian drawings and documents that refer to Partick Castle,This is the most significant archaeological discovery in Glasgow in a generation.”  Historical records show that Partick Castle was built near the confluence of the rivers Clyde and Kelvin as a retreat for the hierarchy of the Diocese of Glasgow, which was established in 1115 and occupied the castle until the Reformation in the 1560s. Simon Brassey, environmental advisor for Scottish Water, said: “The history of the area in this part of Partick is documented on old maps but it is only when the ground is opened up that you can fully understand what has survived 19th century industrialisation.”  The discoveries will be recorded, analysed and removed and, like all archaeological finds, claimed by the Crown.

Think Outside the Circle: Campaign Launched to Extend Glasgow's Subway
A campaign has been launched to urge transport bosses to 'think outside the circle' and extend Glasgow's subway line. The Glasgow Tube campaign has attracted over 200 hundred signatures since it was launched.  The campaigners suggested that Glasgow's East End could have stops at Glasgow Green, Bridgeton Cross, Celtic Park/Emirates Arena, The Forge Retail Park, The Fort and Easterhouse.  In the South Side, stops are suggested for Bellahouston Park, Mosspark, Craigton, Cardonald, Penilee, Braehead Shopping Centre, Crookston, Silverburn Shopping Centre, Shawlands and Pollokshields.  Those behind the campaign, aimed at SPT and the minister for transport Derek MacKay, say in the petition, "Extend Glasgow’s subway network to reach more people in every corner of Glasgow. SPT and the Scottish Government need to finally deliver on plans and invest in a comprehensive and far-reaching transport system for the long-term benefit of Glasgow’s people, economy and environment. This will extend and enhance the subway’s ridership and improve everyone’s mobility - not just those who live within the limited network of the current subway system."  The campaigners have even suggested what the new transport system could look like and suggest that it is being underused because it is not accessible to the majority of Glaswegians.  The petition explains, "Glasgow’s Subway network has being going in circles for too long!  Built in 1896, Glasgow has the third oldest underground in the world but unlike all other cities, Glasgow has never extended its subway. The subway is not accessible to the majority living in Glasgow and as a result is underused for a city of its size. The ridership of Glasgow’s subway compares poorly to that of geographically smaller and less populated cities such as Lisbon whose annual underground ridership is 140.9 million, while Glasgow subway’s annual ridership is 12.8 mil, despite having the larger population."

Highland Women of All Ages Realising They Don't Need to Take Abuse
A surge in the number of abused older women seeking help is due to fading taboos among that generation, an Inverness charity believes. The majority of women helped by branches such as Inverness Women’s Aid tend to be in the 20-30 age bracket, but the number over the age of 45 now accessing help nationwide has increased by 48 per cent in the past year.  The report put together by Teesside University also said that many older victims of domestic violence are often forgotten, with services not catering for their needs.  Inverness Women’s Aid said it was not unusual for staff to help women in their 50s through outreach services and chairwoman Glynis Sinclair believes a positive message can be taken from the surge. The centre helps hundreds of women across the Highlands every year and Mrs Sinclair believes more older ladies than ever before are beginning to leave abusive relationships. "I think the report has shone a light on domestic abuse because this is the age range for whom that sort of thing used to be taboo," she said.  We are now looking at women who may have married young whereas women today aren’t getting married until their late twenties at least, and women are realising they don’t need to stay. Quite often children have left home and women no longer feel a duty to stay put in an abusive relationship because the responsibility is gone.  It’s comforting to us in a way because it shows us that the message is finally getting out there and women are realising that help will be given to them if they ask for it."  For many victims of domestic abuse both young and old, building the courage to leave after potentially years of violence can take several months, or even years, with phone calls from expert staff and an immediate place to stay in life or death situations.

Dolphin Pod of 50 Spotted Off Caithness Coast
A huge pod of dolphins has been spotted off the Caithness coast and people are being urged to look out for more.  Spectators estimated there were 50 of the animals close in to the shore at Latheronwheel, heading north at the time.  The bottlenose dolphins are a rare breed to be seen around Caithness because they live further south in the Moray Firth and around the east coast.It is believed the pod went as far as Forse bay and then went south again.  Caithness Sea Watching volunteers think there might have been a salmon run or another source of food in the area to attract in such numbers.

American Wants His Body Left on Suilven in 'Sky Burial'
An American grandfather with Sutherland roots has made a bizarre request to one of the county’s biggest landowners, it has been revealed.  The family man, who is approaching 80, contacted the Assynt Foundation to ask if, after his death, his body could be left to rot in the open somewhere on Suilven, the world-renowned mountain on foundation land at Lochinver.  The pensioner offered £35,000 to make his wish a reality and said he wanted the golden eagles which live on the mountain to pick his body clean.  His request has been turned down by the foundation’s newly-appointed executive officer Gordon Robertson, but it has triggered a wider debate on whether environmentally friendly, “green” burials could be a source of revenue for the cash-strapped estate, the first in Scotland to come under community ownership under the Land Reform Act in 2005. Mr Robertson said: “I was shocked and surprised and not sure at first if this was a genuine request or a wind-up, but it became clear he was sand sincere about it.” The practice of leaving bodies out on mountaintops to be devoured by carrion is known as “sky burials” and is acknowledged as a highly ecological method of disposing of the dead.  It is still practised in Buddhist Tibet where there is a belief in reincarnation and the transmigration of spirits.  Mr Robertson later rang the Natural Death Centre, which gives independent advice on funerals, and the Crown Office in a bid to find out the exact legal position and was told that leaving a body in the open simply could not be done in the UK.

Robert the Bruce Seal At Risk of Export Unless Buyer Found
An “irreplaceable” seal commissioned by Robert the Bruce could be exported from the UK unless a buyer can be found to match the asking price of more than £150,000.  The 14th century two-part bronze seal, used for customs documents by Dunfermline Abbey as proof of their authority and endorsement by Robert I, King of Scotland, is considered to be extremely rare and of outstanding significance.  A temporary export bar has been placed on the seal, authorised in 1322 by the Scottish king who defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, to give a buyer a chance to keep it in the UK by meeting the price of £151,250.  Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said: “This amazing artefact represents one of the few objects directly associated with Robert the Bruce’s reign.  Its departure would not only result in the loss of this irreplaceable item, but it would also strip us of the opportunity to learn more about this exceptional figure.” The upper part of the seal depicts St Margaret, Dunfermline Abbey’s founding saint, and the lower part bears the royal arms of Scotland.  The bar on the export licence application has been put in place until June 21. This period may be extended until September 21 if someone has come forward with a serious intention to raise funds to buy the seal at the recommended price.  The decision by Mr Vaizey to defer granting an export licence comes after a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA). RCEWA Member Leslie Webster said: “This remarkable and handsome seal-die is of national importance on several counts.  It is closely linked to the charismatic figure of Robert the Bruce, and to the history and institutions of Scotland at a crucial time in its evolution as a nation. Its association with the royal abbey of Dunfermline sheds light on how the king acted out his authority, delegating the powers of the crown; and its outstanding quality may suggest the influence of French craftsmen.”  The Scottish Government says it will encourage any effort to keep the historic seal in the UK - and "ideally" its future home should in Scotland.

Contents of Viking Hoard Discovered in Galloway Revealed
The contents of a pot of Viking treasure, discovered in Dumfries and Galloway two years ago, can be revealed for the first time.  A painstaking study of the pot, buried for ten centuries, has revealed silver, gold and crystal objects which had been wrapped in cloth bundles.  The project is being funded by Historic Environment Scotland, working in partnership with the Treasure Trove Unit, and the Queen’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (QLTR).  The cache of objects were, until recently, contained in a Carolingian vessel which was part of a wider hoard of around a hundred items discovered by Derek McLennan, a metal detectorist from Ayrshire.  The items from within the vessel, which may have been accumulated over a number of generations, reveal objects from across Europe.  It includes six silver Anglo-Saxon disc brooches from the early 9th century date - the same amount as the largest such hoard of brooches from England, the Pentney hoard in the British Museum.  Other items includes a silver brooch from Ireland, Byzantium silk from around modern-day Istanbul, a gold ingot and some gold and crystal objects that have been carefully wrapped.  Historic Environment Scotland however said the purpose of the cache "remains a mystery".  A statement said: "While it’s clear many of the objects collected have a value as precious metal, the nature of the hoard remains a mystery, and includes objects in base metals and glass beads which have no obvious value.  The decision about which material to include in the vessel appears to have been based on complex and highly personal notions of how an individual valued an object as much as the bullion value the objects represented."  The objects are not currently on display and are being studied by the Treasure Trove Unit, who assess the value of the hoard.  The hoard will then be allocated to Scottish museums.  Richard Welander, of Historic Environment Scotland, said: "Before removing the objects we took the rather unusual measure of having the pot CT scanned, in order that we could get a rough idea of what was in there and best plan the delicate extraction process.  That exercise offered us a tantalising glimpse but didn’t prepare me for what was to come.  These stunning objects provide us with an unparalleled insight to what was going on in the minds of the Vikings in Galloway all those years ago.  They tell us about the sensibilities of the time, reveal displays of regal rivalries, and some of the objects even betray an underlying sense of humour, which the Vikings aren’t always renowned for."

Caithness Achieves Worldhost Recognised Destination Status
Caithness has become the first region in Scotland to gain national recognition for its commitment to high-quality customer service after achieving WorldHost recognised destination status. It comes as a quarter of tourism businesses in the county reached WorldHost recognised business status – meaning they have trained at least half of their front-line staff using WorldHost customer service training, a gold standard in the industry.  Trudy Morris, chief executive of Caithness Chamber of Commerce, said it was a fantastic achievement for local companies.  She said: “Through their collective efforts Caithness is able to lead from the front and be the first region in Scotland to achieve this accolade. We want the world to know there is a warm welcome awaiting visitors to this area. Even though destination status has been achieved, the initiative is still running and businesses are encouraged to be part of the continuing success story, not just in Caithness but in Sutherland as well.”  Caithness Chamber of Commerce has been leading the drive to gain recognised destination status, offering subsidised training to help businesses train their customer-facing employees.  The project started in 2013, with funding made available by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority through the Make the Right Connections programme, and recently through a new initiative run by People 1st with funding from Skills Development Scotland.

‘Neglected’ St Peter’s Seminary to Get £10m Lottery Boost
A £10 million bid to turn one of Scotland’s most neglected buildings into a thriving international arts centre has been given the green light after winning the final backing of the Heritage Lottery Fund.  Work on the transformation of the run-down St Peter’s Seminary, a former training centre for priests, at Cardross, near Helensburgh, will begin within months after the award of £3.8 million from the HLF.Creative Scotland has also agreed to plough £400,000 into the project, which has been pursued for almost a decade by arts group NVA.  St Peter’s, created in an ancient Argyll woodland half a century ago, is considered one of the finest modernist buildings in Europe. Last used as a seminary in 1980, it is currently playing host to a sell-out sound and light show – Hinterland – which opened the country’s first Festival of Architecture.  NVA plans to “rescue, restore and reclaim” the building – which it describes as an outstanding example of 20th century architecture – by turning it into a multi-purpose arts complex, with a 600-capacity venue in the former sanctuary as its centrepiece. Visual arts shows, theatrical performances and live music events are all envisaged for the new-look St Peter’s, which will include an exhibition charting the history of the site, an outdoor courtyard for events and a café.  The plans will involve partial restoration and conservation of various elements of listed buildings on the site, making safe remaining structures as consolidated ruins, while some “carefully considered” new elements will be added.  Capital funding worth £7m is in place for the project, along with £3m to meet running costs for the first five years. It has taken ten months to remove hazardous materials and unsafe structures to allow 7,000 people to attend the Hinterland event.  Angus Farquhar, creative director of NVA, which plans to reopen St Peter’s fully in 2018, said: “This is a historic moment in the life of St Peter’s. We’re now able to start work on its permanent transformation into an international cultural centre that will speak to the creative life of Europe.”

Scotland Bill Clears Final Commons Hurdle on 'Significant Day' for Devolution
Scotland will be able to deliver "Scottish solutions to Scottish issues" in a "powerhouse parliament" after legislation handing new powers to Holyrood cleared its final hurdle. The Scotland Bill will deliver the powers promised to the country ahead of the independence referendum in 2014.  But SNP MPs warned that in future they do not want to be "given crumbs from the table at Westminster", as the Bill was debated and agreed by the House of Commons for the final time.  The Bill will hand Scotland powers over income tax, air passenger duty, abortion law, the Crown Estate and benefits.  It also sets in stone the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, requiring a referendum to abolish it.  The legislation is based on the recommendations of the Smith Commission, which sought to deliver the contents of "The Vow" made by Westminster leaders ahead of the referendum.  Scottish Secretary David Mundell described the passage of the Bill as a "truly significant day".  But Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, criticised the approach to devolution taken by the UK Government.He said: "Isn't it time that we moved away from the devolution that is effectively crumbs from the table from Westminster and moved to a model that Copenhagen shares with the Faroe Islands and Greenland: The larder is open, you choose your own powers.  No longer should we be given crumbs from the table at Westminster but the Scottish Government takes the powers the Scottish Government wants from Westminster when it wants."  The Scotland Bill cleared its final Commons vote unopposed and will become law once it has received Royal Assent.

Imam At Scotland's Biggest Mosque Praises Islamist Assassin
The spiritual leader of Scotland's biggest mosque has praised an Islamist assassin amid fresh concerns about the threat of radicalism at the Muslim centre of worship. Habib ur Rehman, the imam of Glasgow Central Mosque, said extremist Mumtaz Qadri was a "true Muslim" and equated his actions with the French resistance against the Nazis during World War Two.  He made his remarks as he protested the execution of Qadri for the 2011 murder of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who had championed the rights of Christians being persecuted under blasphemy laws.  Mr Rehman's views, expressed to a small group on messaging service Whatsapp - have sent a chill through Scotland's Islamic community as news of them spread among his congregation.  Progressive figures in Scotland's Muslim community are concerned that what they called the Old Guard - the conservatives who are desperately fighting to control the mosque - are failing to stamp down on ultra-orthodox or extremist views.  Lawyer and activist Aamer Anwar said it was "rank hypocrisy" for an imam to praise the killing of man promoting religious tolerance. He said: "Many within the community are horrified and scared that such views will filter down the Muslim community and radicalise our children. To describe a convicted terrorist as a ‘true Muslim’ or draw parallels with the ‘French resistance fighting the Nazis’ is grotesque.  His words came as liberals and conservatives fought a brutal turf war for control of the Mosque amid an investigation by Scotland's charity watchdog.

Outlander Author Diana Gabaldon: on A Third Series, the End of the Saga, and A Prequel
They are the multi-million selling time-travelling novels which have inspired a major TV series shot in Scotland.  The Outlander TV series has filmed two series in studios in Cumbernauld and the new series opens on the Amazon Prime streaming service on April 10.  Now the author behind the Outlander phenomenon says it could well return to Scotland for a third season. The makers of the series, Sony and US cable channel Starz, have not officially committed to a third series or that it will be shot in Scotland.  Diana Gabaldon, the American author of the era-hopping adventure romance novels set in 18th century Scotland, also a consultant to the TV series, has said thoughts are already turning to how the third book in the series could be filmed.A third season of the show would be based on the novel Voyager, which is set in Scotland, notably the Highlands and Edinburgh, as well as on board ships and in Jamaica.  Another season could continue the economic boost to the film industry and tourism - it is estimated to have already boosted the economy by £20m.  It could also lead to an extension of the studios in which it is filmed, in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.   The author, currently writing the ninth and, she says, penultimate book of the series, would not be drawn on whether there will be a third series in Scotland, but did say: "Working on the assumption there will be a third series, they will be able to shot quite a bit in Scotland."  Ms Gabaldon said she thinks the Outlander series will finish with ten books.  I think it will be ten," she said, "but I don't plan it out, although I have a rough notion - I think there will probably be a book ten. Then I am planning on a sequel, which will be about Jamie Fraser's parents and the rising of the [17]15."  The prequel will tell the story, she said, of his parents Brian and Ellen, as well as his maternal uncle, Dougal MacKenzie and his godfather, Murtagh.  It will take place during the Jacobite rising of 1715, when James Francis Edward Stuart, known as the Old Pretender, attempted to seize the throne of the UK, aided by the Earl of Mar and forces in Scotland and northern England.