Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 350

Issue # 350                                                                   Week ending 28th May 2016

Anticipating Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Ideas by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

A scorching sun high in the sky over Stornoway means that we are all out in our gardens doing tasks like scooping up the dog poo, putting all the empty beer cans we find lurking in the grass in the bin and getting the mower out.

How I wish we had the service they have in Finland. There, you can get the local posties to come round once a week and cut your grass. Just an extra service the privatised service provides. For about fifty quid a month, they will call once a week in the sunny months and give your patch the once over. Isn’t privatisation brilliant?

We have a guy who comes round here now and again to cut our grass. He promised to leave not a single blade unscythed but he always runs off and disappears after five minutes. We call him Bladerunner. Last month I caught him with a bottle of whisky behind our shed. He denied he had been drinking and claimed he was merely sprinkling it on the grass so it would come up half-cut.

He looks like a guy on Twitter. I had no idea who this plucky fellow with the biblical name was. Joseph had plenty to say for himself and made sense. Well, sometimes. I followed him and he was often on about players and games and pundits’ match analysis - but who isn’t in cyberspace? Probably a quiet bespectacled office worker who becomes a lunatic in front of the keyboard. Lot of them about.

Then last year this Joseph cove, from Burnley, said what he would do if he was Prime Minister. He would privatise religion and end church funding. Privatisation again. Don’t you love it? Kids should learn about the major and minor world religions and cults. I thought that’s the Free Church (Continuing) on the curriculum.

It was an old Free Church cleric who said the breakaways who became the FC(C) were “a bit like a cult” when they exited stage left from his kirk about 20 years ago.

Outspoken tweeter and aspirant prime minister Joseph wanted kids told about the different kinds of Gods worshipped throughout history. They should be told about those who think life is best lived in accordance with godless, secular and humanist values. Well, a lot of Wee Frees went ballistic.

Reverend David Robertson of the Free Church in Dundee immediately bounded over to his keyboard and stabbed out screeds and screeds suggesting this Joseph fellow in the north of England was acting like a dictator. He had no clue about the real world and the wonderful money-saving benefits of real religion like his and was just wrong on this and that and, well, everything. Still, they were many miles apart and it all fizzled out.

Wonder what happened to yon Joseph fellow? He’s still on Twitter, being oblique and mystical - and occasionally philosophical. What was his surname again? Barton. That’s it. Oh, look. According to the papers, someone with a similar name is coming up from down south to play with some football team by the name of Glasgow Rangers. But he’s called Joey. Oh, it’s him. What? How did that happen?

Apparently, Joey Barton has had a reputation in soccer as a bit of a bad boy. Way back, he has been in the nick for brawling on and off the pitch. His critics say he is a loudmouth. He will be part of the Old Firm. Am I the only one who thinks that life at the club in blue which plays on the green, green grass of Ibrox is about to get interesting with this Sassenach there? They’ve had Mike Ashley and Paul Gascoigne but you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Oh, look. Mrs X is out with the mower. That is kind of her. I did my back in when I hauled it out earlier on and tried to trim the worst part. The grass was really thick so, between that the remnants of Hector’s toilet habits, it was really very tough. I’d better explain that Hector is our dog, not some neighbour intent on fertilising our back garden for us. We have very nice neighbours and they wouldn’t dream of doing any such thing.

When we do find teabags lying in the grass, they have obviously been dragged there by some cat hinting they would like fishbones for their tea. These cans of Special Brew I am not so sure about. So I am afraid that I did try to tackle the grass but it was very difficult and, in any case, I had this column to write. I fought the lawn and the lawn won.

Kirk Vote to Allow Gay Clergy Marriages
The Church of Scotland is to allow ministers and deacons who are in same sex marriages to continue to serve after a decisive vote for reform at its General Assembly.  Kirk representatives voted by a margin of 339 to 215 to back the shake-up on the first morning of the annual gathering held in Edinburgh yesterday - despite some members saying the outcome was "against Jesus Christ".  Church of Scotland leaders said they hoped the decision would draw a line under a row about same sex marriage within the Kirk, which has split congregations and members for nine years.  However, one minister, the Rev John Nugent from Wick, said he was "profoundly disturbed at some language" used by some of those taking part in the session, after opponents of reform suggested that a vote to allow gay ministers to marry was a vote against the Christian religion.  Rev Prof Andrew McGown of Inverness said that allowing ministers who are in gay marriages to continue to serve in the church "stands contrary to the plain teaching of scripture".  He said: "This matter has decimated the Church. Thousands of members and adherents have left the Church, sometimes whole congregations. This has been particularly damaging in the highlands and islands.” Arthur C Custance, a church elder from Kinlochleven, said that a “vote in favour of homosexuality is in effect voting against Jesus Christ.”  Since 2008, 25 ministers have left because of discussions over ministers in same sex relationships. This represents just 3% of the total number of ministers.  The decision means that same sex marriage will be permitted for ministers, who the Church of Scotland Assembly last year agreed would be allowed to enter into civil partnerships. A report on same sex marriage by the Theological Forum is being prepared and will be presented to the Church of Scotland in March next year, about six weeks before the start of the 2017 General Assembly.  However, the Very Rev John Chalmers, Principal Clerk to the General Assembly, said that yesterday's vote was about "tidying up" the law of the Kirk and bringing it into line with Scots law, which now allows for same sex marriage.  He said: “We had a debate which made very clear that we were not interfering with our theological definition of marriage and were not going to the place where ministers or deacons could themselves conducting same sex marriages. It is an entirely different discussion.  Today’s decision means it will be possible for Kirk sessions and congregations to depart from the traditional understanding of marriage to call not only potentially a minister in a civil partnership but one who is in a same-sex marriage. In some ways we crossed the Rubicon last year when it was agreed that kirk sessions could call someone in a civil partnership and for many people what today was about was simply tidying up and making the law of the church consistent with Scots law.”  Chalmers, speaking after the debate appealed for unity in the wake of the vote yesterday and said that next year's report would reflect different views on marriage within the Kirk.

A History of the Scottish Highland Games
They channel a style of Scottishness expressed in tartan, bagpipes and brute strength with tens of thousands drawn to Highland Games around the world each year. Such events are as likely to be held in Detroit and Sau Paulo and Sydney as they are in Dundee and St Andrew’s as people search out a little connection to heritage and home.  Highland Games have proved to be one of Scotland’s biggest cultural exports with the events rooted some 1,000 years ago at the foot of a hill in Deeside.  Here we look at how they all began - and why they travelled so far.

HISTORY
It is said they were originally a form of war game in which the strongest and bravest soldiers would triumph.  Highland Games remain a potent expression of a form of Scottishness - both at home and abroad - with the celebration of pipes, drums, dancing and brute strength carried around the world in a fond tribute to the motherland.  The first historical reference to Highland Games-type events in Scotland was made during the reign of King Malcolm III (1057-1093) when he summoned men to race up Craig Choinnich near Braemar in order to find a royal messenger.  The games are said to have become a way of choosing the most ablest men for the clan chieftain’s household but it wasn’t just brute strength that was determined. Musicians and dancers were also sought to add prestige to the clan.  The Ceres Games in Fife are considered the oldest, continuous Highland Games in Scotland and began in 1314.  They continue to thrive more than 700 years after the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce, granted a charter for the village to hold a market and fair to acknowledge the farmers, labourers, craftsmen and “the small folk” who fought at the Battle of Bannockburn. The growing tradition of Highland Games was stalled following Culloden, when the 1746 Proscription Acts were passed to dismantle Highland life, culture and society. The Braemar Gathering, arguably the most famous games in the world given their royal connections, had its roots in Kings Malcolm’s race but its modern incarnation began in 1815 when a mutual assistance society of wrights - or builders - was formed in the town.  The workers were to hold a procession every year and in 1832, foot races were held for the first time - and have been run every year since. The games were attended by Queen Victoria in 1838 with royal support continuing since then.  It could be said that Queen Victoria’s endorsement of the games has been the biggest single factor in the growth of such events and their export around the world.

BIGGEST EVENTS IN SCOTLAND
There are around 100 Highland Games in Scotland every year.  The Cowal Highland Gathering has long claimed to be the biggest games in the world. At its peak it drew 30,000 spectators but numbers are more likely to be in the region of 20,000 over the three-day event. The games hosts the World Highland Dancing Championships with competitors from US, Canada, Australia commonly taking part.  The Braemar Gathering attracts around 10,000 spectators a day with the Queen a loyal attendee. Similar numbers are drawn to the Lonach Highland Gathering in Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, with the highlight undoubtedly the march of the Lonach Highlanders. Around 200 men of all generations, drawn from the glen and armed with Lochaber axes and pikes, join the march from Belabeg to Lonach Hall in a 175 year tradition.  Lonach grew in popularity due to the regular attendance of comedian Billy Connolly, who formerly owned nearby Candacraig House. A number of his house guests would also attend Lonach, with late comedian Robin Williams taking part in the hill race. Comedian Steve Martin and actor Sean Connery have also been spotted in the crowds.  Celebrity pulling power has also been added to the Bridge of Allan Highland Games, with Judy Murray appointed Chieftain at last year’s event. Former Rangers boss Ally McCoist and actress Dianna Rigg have also taken the honour.  Hollywood actor Ewan McGregor was appointed Chieftain of the Crieff Highland Games in 2001.

HOW GAMES SPREAD AROUND THE WORLD
As Scots moved around the world, so did a version of the traditions and culture that binded them. There is barely a corner of the globe that does not have a Caledonian Society with the ties to home and heritage seemingly as important today as they were for the diaspora of old. Caledonian Societies were rapidly formed in the 19th and early 20th Centuries to reflect emigration of Scots with Waipu, New Zealand, believed to be the first.  The Waipu Caledonian Society was formed in 1871 to help settle new Scottish arrivals, many who had left Scotland amid The Clearance and who originally settled in Nova Scotia before moving to New Zealand.  Such societies were widely formed in North America to help draw together new arrivals and act as a reunion point. The first Highland Games in the US took place in 1836 when the Highland Society of New York held its first “sportive meeting”.  Three years later, the Caledonian Club of San Francisco held its first Highland Games with claims that it is now the longest running in the country.  That year, the first games were held in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, homes to thousands of Scots.  The largest event is now said to be the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games in North Carolina, which has an attendance of 30,000.  Today, you can attend a Highland Games across Europe - particularly Germany and The Netherlands - Indonesia, Japan, South Africa and Brazil.

TRADITIONS
While many Highland Games have modernised their schedules with strong men contests and wellie flinging competitions, there are a few traditions that form the heart of the Highland Games.  It’s impossible to imagine going to a games and not seeing the tossing the caber event and the other heavyweight contests.  The caber is just short of six metres tall, lifted, balanced and completely flipped by the competitor. The highest scores goes those who land the caber straight ahead, in the 12 o’clock position.  No one really knows how the contest began but it has been suggested that cabers - today often a reclaimed telegraph pole - were first used to help men cross fast flowing rivers.  Another standard heavy event is “throwing the weight over the bar” which is said to have started with simple stones but with agricultural weights now used, primarily a 56lb metal cube.  Highland Games are the biggest, natural platform for the bagpipes with such events soundtracked by the pummelling, proud performances of the mass pipe band - or the delicate melody of the Piobaireachd master.

Chief of Ancient Highland Clan Leaves £18m to Family
A clan chief whose ancestors fought alongside Robert the Bruce left a £18 million fortune after his death it has emerged.  Angus MacDonald Lockhart, the head of the Lockhart clan, passed away with his family by his side at his Lanarkshire estate.  His published will has revealed he ordered his £17,758,874 estate be passed to his family although he did gift £1,000 to Asthma UK. The estate includes land, castles, other property interests and a stocks and shares portfolio.  Lockhart left several cash legacies to close family but instructed the bulk of his fortune be kept in trust for his wife Susan and children Ranald and Fiona. He passed away in November last year after falling ill at home aged 69. An announcement on the Clan Lockhart website read: “Angus died unexpectedly at home with his wife, Su at his side. Following a private family cremation a service of thanksgiving for his life was held at Biggar Kirk on 3 December.  The Lockhart Clan saw Symon, Second of Lee, among knights led by Sir James Douglas who took Bruce’s heart to the Crusades in 1329 to atone for his murder of John Comyn in the church of Greyfriars.

International TV Award for Scots CBBC Show About Island Girl
Children TV series Katie Morag has been awarded the broadcasting equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize at a glamorous ceremony in New York. Cherry Campbell, ten, who plays Katie in the CBeebies series, travelled to the US to accept the prestigious Peabody Award in Manhattan.  The US-based awards, celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, paid tribute to 30 of the best programmes of the year worldwide.  Among the winners were Wolf Hall, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, spy thriller Deutschland 83 and the Netflix movie Beasts of No Nation, while chat show hosts David Letterman and Jon Stewart won special achievement honours.  Katie Morag, produced by Highland-based independent TV company Move on Up, was the only children’s TV programme to win this year.  The Peabody board of judges said: “Mairi Hedderwick’s popular books about a feisty wee red headed girl, the splendid Cherry Campbell, and the Scottish island community she’s growing up in are exquisitely realised in this series. Timeless, perhaps old fashioned, but never precious or blindly idyllic, Katie Morag deals honestly and gracefully with death, loss, rivalry and other serious themes.”  Cherry was accompanied at Saturday night’s award ceremony by her parents Jill and David Campbell, lead writer Sergio Casci, director Don Coutts and executive producer Lindy Cameron.  Katie Morag is based on the hugely popular series of books by Mairi Hedderwick which relate the adventures of the feisty red-headed girl who lives with her family on the island of Struay.  The stories, filmed on the Isle of Lewis, celebrate community, the environment and the universal tensions and joys of family life.  Cherry, from Glasgow, was chosen from hundreds of girls who auditioned to play Katie when she was just seven years old. She impressed the casting team with her striking similarities to the character of Katie Morag, both in looks and personality. She was the youngest-ever recipient of a Bafta for best performance for her role in the series, when she was aged nine.  The Peabody Awards were established in the 1940s, initially as a radio equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize.

Stewart Hosie Quits As Deputy SNP Leader Amid Sex Scandal
An MP at the centre of love triangle allegations has announced he is quitting as deputy leader of the Scottish National Party.  Stewart Hosie said he wanted to “apologise for any hurt and upset” he has caused and will step back from the role to concentrate on his constituency, responsibilities at Westminster and his health.  The MP is alleged to have had an affair with Westminster journalist Serena Cowdy, who was previously said to have been involved with Angus MacNeil, who represents Na h-Eileanan an Iar in Parliament.  Mr Hosie (Dundee East) said the “intense scrutiny” of his private life had been “very difficult” to deal with.  In a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, he wrote: “I am writing to you firstly to apologise for any hurt and upset I have caused to friends, family and colleagues. That was never my intention.  I am also writing to tell you of my intention not to seek re-election as deputy leader of the SNP at this year’s annual conference, giving ample time for the party to choose a successor.  As you know I have been admitted to hospital on three occasions in the past few years with very high blood pressure. In that regard, the stress of the intense scrutiny of my private life has been very difficult. I intend to concentrate on my constituents, my responsibilities at Westminster, and most importantly, my health.”  Ms Sturgeon, a close friend of Mr Hosie’s wife Shona Robison, who is Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport in the Scottish Government, said she wished him well.  The First Minister wrote: “During your tenure in office, amongst your many other duties, you have authored two successful election manifestos - providing the policy platform for our victories in both the 2015 general election and the 2016 Scottish Parliament election. These are achievements you should be very proud of.  As you step down as deputy leader, I know you will continue to make a valuable contribution to the party in many ways and, in particular, through your work in your constituency and as part of the Westminster group.”

Western Isles Schools Are Top of the Class
Two Western Isles schools have beaten off stiff competition from across Scotland to be selected as finalists at this year’s Scottish Education Awards.  Sgoil an Iochdair and Sgoil Dhalabrog have been shortlisted for the Gaelic Education Award ahead of the upcoming ceremony. In 2015, both schools decided to work together to undertake a project which would support the development of Gaelic school status across South Uist.  The schools formed a partnership to plan a drama festival with the aim of raising the profile of Gaelic amongst young people and families.  As a result, all pupils’ leadership skills and knowledge of the Gaelic language were developed in a range of ways.  Finalists will attend an awards ceremony in Glasgow on 8th June where judges will reveal the winners of each category.  People in the Western Isles are being thanked for nominating their local schools, nurseries and individuals for the Scottish Education Awards 2016 so their achievements can be recognised.  The Scottish Education Awards recognise and reward the people who dedicate their lives to children and young people and showcase the valuable work and innovation happening in classrooms across the country.

Women Who Regularly Attend Religious Services 'Live Longer'
"Going to church could save your life," reports the Daily Mail, adding that, "Women who worship once a week are '25 per cent less likely to die early'."  Perhaps surprisingly, while the first part of the headline is overly simplistic, it may not technically be wrong – according to new research from the US, anyway. Whether or not divine providence is responsible for the increase in lifespan is still up for debate.  A large Harvard study showed that predominantly white Christian nurses who attended religious services more than once a week had a 33% lower relative risk of dying over a 16-year period compared with similar women who did not attend religious services.  A sizeable chunk of the link was explained by social support (23%), smoking rates (23%) and, to a lesser extent, optimism differences (9%) between attenders and non-attenders. The study was very large, precise, and as robust to bias and confounding as you could reasonably expect, so it can be considered reliable. But the lifestyle and social differences between the groups can't go unnoticed.  It's therefore possible that the regular pattern of social interaction associated with being part of a religious community, and the benefits this brings, is mainly responsible for the outcome seen in this research, rather than any specific religious or spiritual aspects.  The study was carried out by researchers from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health in the US.  It was funded by the John Templeton Foundation, which, according to its website, funds research on the "big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality". The foundation has a stated aim of using scientific methods to explore the alleged spiritual aspects of reality.  The study was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine.

Barras Crime Blitz Yields £30 Million in Fake Goods
Police have seized more than £30m of fake goods during a three-year crackdown in Glasgow's Barras market.  Exactly 100 arrests were made during the course of the operation, which led to the seizure of counterfeit clothing, shoes, bags, electronics, jewellery and tobacco, all labelled as designer gear.  The items were found by police and Trading Standards officers during Operation Salang, which was set up to cut down on illegal counterfeit trade and protect the intellectual property of brands.  A number of stalls were removed from the Barras and new businesses are being encouraged to set up. The Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council have allocated £5 million to regenerate the area.  The seizures came about after intelligence gathered by the police, trading standards officers and officials from the brands involved on specific traders was compiled and disseminated by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO).  Former police officer Huy Watkins, Head of Intelligence at the IPO, said: "It started just over two years ago in response to the sort of criminality we were seeing in the area around the Barras. It was quite nasty. During the past three years there has been a steady flow of work."  The number of illegal traders operating at the market has grown in recent years, with some more than ready to defend their turf.  Mr Watkins added that individual rogue traders were identified by covert surveillance undertaken throughout the Barras by various agencies.  All were then targeted after the information was shared with the police. In one case company officials concerned about their trademarks being infringed passed on information to the police which led to one man's house being subjected to proceeds of crime legislation, after he had already had £17,000 in cash seized.  Police Scotland said although selling fake goods can seem like a victimless crime, the proceeds often fund other criminal activities.  Trading Standards officer Linda Gray said: "Regeneration of the area is well under way with £5 million specifically being allocated for on-going work.  Six buildings which were previously empty are now being used for new ventures such as artists' studios with opportunities for young people."

Calls for Holyrood to Be Suspended Before EU Referendum
Holyrood business should be suspended for the final week of the European Union referendum campaign, the Scottish Liberal Democrats have said.  The party’s business manager Mike Rumbles will request the suspension at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s business bureau. Mr Rumbles said the move would allow MSPs to campaign in the final days before the vote. The UK Parliament is due to break up for recess a week before the referendum.  Mr Rumbles said:“We will choose either to remain in the EU and lead Europe or cut ties with our friends and neighbours and go it alone.  It was right the Scottish Parliament did not sit in the weeks before the independence referendum...there is a strong case for the final week of the EU campaign to be about our place in Europe and nothing else.”  Mr Rumbles called on the SNP to work with other parties to agree the move, accusing the nationalists of “carping from the sidelines” in the debate over Brexit.  SNP MSP James Dornan said: “There may well be merit in these proposals, warranting further discussion by all parties at Holyrood and the SNP will engage with any discussions in good faith.”

China-backed Moray Firth Wind Farm Given Green Light
The green light has been given for construction of a £2.6 billion wind farm off the Scottish coast – which will be one of the largest in the world and provide a potential £860 million economic boost to the country.  The consortium behind the 84-turbine Beatrice scheme in the Outer Moray Firth has reached financial close on the project, representing one of the largest private investments in Scottish infrastructure ever made.  Work is expected to start at the operations and maintenance factory in Wick and the transmission works in Moray later this year.  Offshore construction will begin next year and the 588-megawatt wind farm is due to be operational by 2019, generating enough power for 450,000 homes.  Scottish energy giant SSE owns 40 per cent of the project while Danish fund management firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners has a 35 per cent stake and China-based SDIC Power owns 25 per cent.  Beatrice is expected to bring around 890 jobs annually to Scotland and benefit the UK economy by as much as £680 million during construction.  Contracts have already been placed with many UK-based suppliers, said Paul Cooley, SSE’s director of renewables.  He added: “Around £10 million of investment is planned at Wick harbour to house the wind farm’s operations and maintenance facilities, and improving the existing RNLI facilities.”  Holyrood energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said it is “great news for the industry”.  He added: “The Beatrice offshore wind farm has the opportunity to deliver so much to Caithness and Scotland as a whole, in terms of employment and community benefit.  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.”  The deal has also been welcomed by industry leaders and environmental campaigners.  Lindsay Roberts, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: “Beatrice is the first commercial offshore wind farm to reach this stage of development in Scottish waters. It’s fantastic that the partners in the project will now be moving ahead with construction.  Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s offshore wind resource, and projects like Beatrice are enabling us to capitalise on that in both environmental and economic terms.”

‘Re-use and Repair’ Business Set for Edinburgh Launch
A new “re-use and repair superstore” in Edinburgh is aiming to reinvent second-hand shopping and repair skills in the city.  Edinburgh Remakery, which is housed in a former Santander bank branch on Leith Walk, will open its doors this week.  Visitors can take a tour of the premises, buy second-hand and upcycled furniture, and view two workshop spaces – one for textiles and computers, and one for furniture.  The store has been created by Remade in Edinburgh – which teaches furniture, computer and textile repair skills – supported by funding from Zero Waste Scotland and City of Edinburgh Council.

Historic Environment Scotland Unveils £10m Funding Pot
Historic communities across Scotland are set to receive a £10 million funding boost from the country's new heritage body.  The cash pot is being unveiled by Historic Environment Scotland, which is inviting applications from groups which believe their area could benefit from a slice of the funding.  The money, distributed through the charity's Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme (CARS), is aimed at repairing and restoring the built environment while helping to stimulate economic regeneration.  The heritage body is making the announcement at the launch of its first corporate plan in Paisley, Renfrewshire, an area which has benefited from previous cash injections.  Dr David Mitchell, acting chief executive for Historic Environment Scotland, said: "Our investments the length and breadth of Scotland both support and inspire people and communities to utilise their heritage for the future. What we aim to do is to facilitate decision-making at a local level with funding allocated to priority projects which have a key focus on the wider contribution that the historic environment brings to communities - with benefits ranging from helping to breathe life back into high streets, providing employment opportunities or acting as a tourism driver.  Releasing another round of £10 million funding will give more areas than ever before the opportunity to benefit from this investment."  The funding, available over a five year-period, can go towards repair programmes, small grants schemes or training opportunities.  Each round of CARS funding is open to local and national park authorities, community groups and other third-sector organisations.  Historic Environment Scotland is the lead public body established to investigate, care for and promote the country's historic environment.

Church of Scotland 'Overwhelmingly' Backs Remaining in European Union
The Church of Scotland's General Assembly has "overwhelmingly" backed the case for remaining in the European Union.  The vote at the Kirk's annual gathering in Edinburgh came a month before the UK referendum on EU membership takes place.  The Kirk said the motion to remain was carried with a clear majority stamping their feet at the Assembly Hall on the Mound.  Tuesday's vote represented the fifth time in the last 20 years that the Assembly has formally supported ongoing membership of the EU.  The motion carried by an overwhelming majority of 730 commissioners present gave thanks for the work of the EU in promoting peace, security and reconciliation amongst its nations and stated that the UK should remain in the EU.  During a short debate, commissioners heard a range of voices recognising the European Union's successes.  Rev Aniko Schuetz Bradwell, a minister in East Lothian, said she had grown up in East Germany close by the wall until it was torn down when she was seven.  "We have a choice now and I hope we will choose to build bridges, not to erect another wall," she said.  But Rev Dr Karen Fenwick, a minister in Angus, registered her objection to the Church appearing to tell people how to vote.  She said: "We are not a political party or a trade union. I think the Scottish public are quite capable of knowing we support the EU without us telling them what to do."  Church and Society Convener Rev Sally Foster Fulton welcomed the Assembly's continued backing for EU membership.  She said: "We are saying as a Church that much has been gained by being a part of the European Union, and we believe there is a great deal we can do in the future as an integral part of Europe. We recognise it is not perfect, but the EU is a work in progress and not the finished product. The only way we can continue to be part of the transformation is to remain within it."

Secrets of Edinburgh Unveiled in Quirky Guide
It will direct you to a little corner of the wild west, the world’s oldest masonic lodge, a museum dedicated to boxing and a “mistake library” charting the history of financial ineptitude.  A new guide to Edinburgh is lifting the lid on some of its most closely guarded secrets.  Writer and filmmaker Hannah Robinson has spent two years researching her debut book, which features more than 120 entries from all over the city. Billed as an alternative to “tourist traps and crowded landmarks”, Secret Edinburgh is also described as “an indispensable guide for those who thought they knew Edinburgh well.”  It will highlight the final resting place of the German illusionist The Great Lafayette, who died in a blaze at the old Empire Theatre and was buried alongside his beloved dog, Beauty.  There are details of how to track down a tribute to Huang Kuan – the first Chinese graduate from a European university.  The book includes the site of a vast military citadel in Leith, which was instigated on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and became home to Scotland’s first newspaper. Other points of interest include a boulder used to plug a hole in a Norwegian ship off Leith which prevented it from sinking in 1937.  Little-known sites include the Stones of Scotland, a circle of stones in Regent Road Park which were collected from every local authority in Scotland, instigated by the late artist George Wyllie.  Other curiosities include “ghost trees” which have refused to die in the middle of a filled-in loch in the Lochend area, a secret garden tucked off the Royal Mile which dates back to the 17th century and an antique book library in Debenhams department store.  The headquarters of Masonic Lodge No 1, which is reputed to date back to 1504, is in a Georgian town house in Hill Street, while there is a masonic museum at the Grand Lodge of Scotland’s headquarters on George Street.  Among the capital’s curiosities are the UK’s first museum dedicated to boxing, which is in Leith at the home of the oldest club in Scotland dedicated to the sport, and the world’s first “Library of Mistakes,” in the city’s West End, which features more than 2,000 volumes of tales of mismanagement.  Secret Edinburgh also highlights a little-known statue of Abraham Lincoln and a courtyard featuring quotes from literary figures on its paving stones.  The Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, which leads efforts to promote some of the lesser-known sites of historical interest in the Old and New Town, will mark the launch of the new guide on 1 June with a special walking tour around some of its highlights.

Confirmation of Businessman’s Direct Link to Medieval Scottish Monarch
A Stirlingshire-based businessman has been confirmed as a direct descendant of a medieval Scottish king following a new study.  A DNA sample provided by Archie Shaw Stewart confirmed that he was in the family line of King Robert III, who ruled Scotland from 1390 until his death in 1406.  Mr Shaw Stewart, who runs electronics firm Pan Controls based near Doune, had already conducted his own research, which showed that he was related to one of the king’s sons, Sir John Stewart of Blackhall and Ardgowan.  His family line also includes Sir John’s great-grandfather, Walter Stewart, one of Robert the Bruce’s main commanders at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.  In addition to uncovering Mr Shaw Stewart’s family connection, the organisers of the study also revealed that he holds a distinctive ‘genetic marker’ which had not been found in Robert III’s brothers. This leads to the potential discovery of future descendants who carry this marker and can be directly linked to the former Scottish king.  The study was carried out by the genealogical studies postgraduate programme based at the University of Strathclyde, alongside the Bannockburn Family History Project, which attempts to uncover connections between people living today and ancestors who fought in the battle.  Graham Holton, principal tutor at the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme, said: “This is a fascinating discovery of a distinct marker for descendants of Robert III.  The marker is not found in descendants of the king’s brothers, showing that a mutation in the DNA occurred in either Robert III himself or one of his descendants.  It is not yet known in which generation this took place but we are delighted to have been able to confirm Archie Shaw Stewart’s place in medieval royal lineage, and acknowledge his contribution to furthering research into the branches of the Stewarts.”

Family Hope 'Common Sense Will Prevail' As They Fight Deportation
A father whose family face deportation from the UK has said he hopes "common sense will prevail" and they will be allowed to remain in the country(reported in last issue).  Gregg Brain, who moved from Australia to Dingwall in the Scottish Highlands with wife Kathryn and their son Lachlan in 2011, said they have been "absolutely floored" by the support received from the local community and across the political spectrum.  The father and son came to Scotland as dependants of Mrs Brain, who was on a student visa at a time when a two-year post-study visa was in existence - but it was later abolished.  The family, who have been given leave to remain until next Tuesday, hope a job offer made to Mrs Brain by GlenWyvis distillery in Dingwall will meet visa requirements and allow them to stay.  They met with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday, who promised to do everything in her power to help.   Mr Brain said they are in the process of resubmitting a visa application in light of the job offer but have "significant doubts" as to whether it will be possible to pull the paperwork together in time.  UK Immigration Minister James Brokenshire, who is due to discuss the case further with Ross, Skye and Lochaber SNP MP Ian Blackford, has told the Commons the family face no ''imminent risk of immediate deportation''. Mr Brain said he is grateful that seven-year-old Lachlan, whose first language is Gaelic, does not fully comprehend the potential upheaval the family face.  He said they have been "absolutely amazed" by the support of the local community and politicians from all parties, adding that he hopes it will help other families in similar situations.