Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 358

Issue # 358                                                      Week ending 23rd  July 2016

St Kilda is the Place to Be Now - But Which One? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

They know how to enjoy themselves in Australia. Even the bar staff. One upwardly-mobile bartender in Melbourne got very confused this week after seeing an ad about a vacancy at a bar in St Kilda. As everyone knows, that is a cool and happening suburb of Melbourne, well known for its trendy restaurants and wine bars. He applied by email and was very hopeful he would get called to interview. Alas, no call came.

Imagine the poor fellow’s shock when it was gently pointed out to him that the bar he wanted to work in was not on the cool shoreside strip of suburban Melbourne but on the Atlantic-lashed piece of rock that sticks out of the sea about 40 miles west of the Scottish Hebrides. Yeah cobber, we have a St Kilda too. It doesn’t have so many people there or eateries or nightspots. There is just one and it is called the Puff Inn because of all the lovely chicks that hang out there. See girls, I mean seagulls, puffins and kittiwakes.

Actually, it is not a nightspot anymore. Or even a pub. It is just a canteen for staff that work out there on the rock. It is run by civilian contractors and has not been open to the public for the last 11 years - even if you sail your boat right out there and stop off for a stomach-settling sherbet. However, the first few times I was out there it was still run by the Army and it was a proper local. Local to who? Well, you know what I mean. And the hooch was bargain basement.

The entertainment too was fantastic. I remember one of the engineers with the Royal Artillery giving us all an impromptu sing-song one night. He had all the latest gear, including a new keyboard synthesiser. The bevvy was freely flowing and after an hour or two, we noticed the quality of the music seemed to go downhill and the poor singer seemed to develop a lisp.

It just didn’t sound right. Hey cove, are you sure the words are: “I’m too thexy for my thirt”? The struggling engineer denied he had too much to drink and he blamed his fancy new equipment. That was when we knew there was a problem. He said: “Of courth, it’th not my voith. I jutht need to adjutht my thinthithither.”

I was even at a brilliant wedding in the Puff Inn once when it was still the squaddies’ NAAFI. It went on until all hours. That was the fun bit. However, in the middle of the night we then had to clamber aboard a fishing boat and sail back to the west of Lewis in a howling gale as every big Atlantic roller that thundered into the hull of our conveyance sent rivers of stomach contents swirling back and fore across the deck. Ah, such happy times that, sadly, are now but a sweet memory.

The older I get the more I wonder about my own memory. Newspapers and magazines know the problem and there are now many handy tips published for people who find themselves in toilets wondering what they came in for. For instance, one said: “Change your computer password to “incorrect”. So if you ever forget what it is, the computer will say: “Your password is incorrect.” Brilliant. Why didn’t I think of that? Er, I don’t remember.

Looking after your brain is just another aspect of men’s health that we are supposed to take care with. My doctor said I should eat like a baby - a little but often. He suggested lots of fresh fruit. Is that not dangerous? If you’re going to give grapes to babies, make sure you cut them in half - the grapes, not the babies.

And I have to keep taking my blood pressure tablets. And take more exercise - inside, if it’s raining. Which it always is. That’s fine, I would do all that if I didn’t always forget to. It seems to me that a man’s health can be judged by the things he takes two at a time. His pills or the stairs.

By the way, if any of you, dear readers, want to work in the Puff Inn, your application has to be at contractors QinetiQ in Benbecula very soon. If he had secured the post, our Aussie bartending friend might have appreciated a term that the temporary residents out there often use. It is not kangaroo - but kangaroff. What’s the difference between a kangaroo and a kangaroff, I hear you ask. Well, one is a kangaroo and the other is a Glaswegian who would rather not be there.

Brexit Boost As Australia Seeks Free Trade Deal with UK
Australia has called for a free trade deal with Britain as soon as possible in a Brexit boost for Prime Minister Theresa May.  In a Saturday phone call, Mrs May spoke to her Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed his desire to open up trading between the two Commonwealth countries as a matter of urgency.  The new PM described the call as “very encouraging” and insisted it showed leaving the European Union could work for Britain. She tasked newly-appointed International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to begin exploring options but acknowledged that Britain could not sign any deals while it was still an EU member. Mrs May said: “I have been very clear that this Government will make a success of our exit from the European Union.  One of the ways we will do this is by embracing the opportunities to strike free trade deals with our partners across the globe.  It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish just such a deal.  This shows that we can make Brexit work for Britain, and the new Secretary of State for International Trade will be taking this forward in the weeks and months ahead.  Britain is an outward-looking and globally-minded country, and we will build on this as we forge a new role for ourselves in the world.”  On Friday, Mrs May said told Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon she would not trigger Article 50 to leave the EU before getting UK-wide agreement – a potentially difficult objective given that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc.  But Dr Fox claimed numerous non-EU countries had already asked Britain for a trade deal and said he was “scoping about a dozen free trade deals outside the EU to be ready for when we leave”, amid reports that he was preparing to fly to the United States next week He said: “We’ve already had a number of countries saying, ‘We’d love to do a trade deal with the world’s fifth biggest economy without having to deal with the other 27 members of the EU’.”  Mrs May has said immigration could rise in the short term if EU citizens feel they need to get to Britain before it leaves and can impose controls on European immigration.  Elsewhere Mr Johnson, who will travel to Brussels for an EU foreign ministers summit beginning on Monday, insisted the country can now become “Global Britain”.  He wrote that leaving the EU ” gives us a chance not just to do new trade deals, but to think of ourselves once again as a truly Global Britain using our unique voice – humane, compassionate, principled – to do good around the world, and to exploit growth markets to the full.”

Scotland Edges Towards Space Tourism Blast-off
Scotland has moved closer to launching flights into orbit after Glasgow Prestwick Airport teamed up with a space plane firm and launch vehicle designer.  A memorandum of understanding has been signed between with California-based space launch vehicle designer XCOR Aerospace and space plane design and operating company Orbital Access Limited. If successful the plan will be for the space tourism operation to be launched at Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire. The move takes it closer to launching manned flights using XCOR's Lynx space craft, including taking passengers to the edge of space in sub-orbital flights.  Mike Stewart, business development director at the spaceport at Prestwick, said:  "Signing the memorandum of understanding with Orbital Access and XCOR is a further step forward in our work to make space launches from our site a reality.  "We already have the vast majority of the infrastructure in place and with as little as £1 million investment we could be up and running. Having a pipeline of partners, customers and suppliers in place will be hugely helpful in pulling together the business case for the investment required to get up and running."

May and Sturgeon on A Collision Course
Theresa May’s tenure in Downing Street may only be in its nascent stages, but already she has made efforts to send out a strong message that Scotland matters to her.  Her first statement as Prime Minister spoke of the “precious bonds” of the United Kingdom and this has been followed by yesterday’s visit to Bute House so soon after taking office.  The warm words about forging a constructive relationship that came from both Mrs May and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon were encouraging. So was Mrs May’s promise to “listen” to Scottish Government options when it comes to Scotland maintaining a relationship with the EU.  The reality, however, is likely to prove more fraught. Mrs May might be prepared to listen, but the reality is that Scotland actually achieving its own EU arrangement presents enormous challenges. Earlier on Radio Scotland, David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, offered his opinion of the likelihood of a special Brexit deal for Scotland when he said such an idea was “fanciful”.  Mrs May also talked of securing a “UK approach” to Brexit before triggering withdrawal. Whether a UK approach would have room for a separate Scottish way forward is a moot point. As is how the rest of the EU and Brexit-voting England and Wales would react if they had to wait for Scotland to agree to a UK approach.  Mrs May is to be commended for striking the  right tone and for being prepared to listen to  options, but Ms Sturgeon’s view that exploring all options for Scotland includes consideration of a second indepedence referendum is almost certainly going to lead to a clash.

Comment - R
I do hope there aren't too many Ukippers panting for an early Brexit. Because it has become apparent that Theresa May has a quite different agenda. And she is going to use the threat of a Scottish secession to put off any progress on activating Article 50 and the path towards Brexit. Mrs May has made it plain that she puts the precious union before anything else and, following her meeting with Ms Sturgeon, now knows that any such action will precipitate another independence referendum. And now that so many Scots have experienced the consequential lies and obfuscation, the broken promises and the downright misinformation put about by the unionist side last time the next time will not be such an easy ride for them. This whole EU debacle is a case in point. The Scots were threatened that an independent Scotland could not be in the EU so what happened? Yes they voted NO and where are they now? Believe me any anti-independence lies like that will simply not be believed next time.

Kites To Fly High Over Electric Scotland?
A kite power developer plans to move its operations to Scotland after being granted permission to trial its technology on a military range near Stranraer.  Kite Power Solutions has invested nearly £4 million in creating its system and has been generating power from its current 40 kilowatt demonstration kit for several years.  Kites are tethered to spool drums and pull cables which turn drums to create electricity. The company now wants to build a bigger working model, generating 500 kilowatts, with a view to offering it for commercial sale towards the end of the decade.  The development is to take place in Dumfries and Galloway after the council granted permission for testing to start at West Freugh near Stranraer. Initially up to 19 staff will be based in Scotland. Testing is due to start next spring.

"Pianos on Prescription"
Shakespeare referred to 'music as the food of love', but an initiative in a Glasgow hospital has a slightly different emphasis.  'Pianos on Prescription' offers free access to instruments and lessons in Glasgow for NHS patients with conditions including depression and dementia. It is yielding promising results. Staff at Gartnavel Royal Hospital have reported an improvement in the behaviour of mental health patients. Fiona Sinclair, Gartnavel volunteer services manager, said:  "You can really see the transformation. People from the intensive psychiatric care unit, who are extremely unwell and who maybe can't have a conversation with someone and have to be accompanied by staff, are less anxious after they play. The referrals [to play the piano] have been quite informal but we are now looking at how to use it and record the impact on patients more formally."

Whisky Galore! Remake Uncorked in June
It has taken twelve years to bring the remake of Whisky Galore! to the screen. The film, which received its premiere on 26 June, builds on the true story of SS Politician which foundered in 1941 on the uninhabited island of Calvay. The boat's cargo was 22,000 quart bottles of whisky. The thirsty islanders of nearby Eriskay and South Uist then had a running battle with customs officers who were regarded as party poopers of the first order.  Compton Mackenzie took some liberties with the facts in his novel which was turned into a film released in 1949 by the Ealing Studios.  The Ealing film was directed by Alexander Mackendrick who went on to direct a string of hits. The film starred Basil Radford as Captain Waggett of the local Home Guard and featured a clutch of Scottish distinguished Scottish actors. James Robertson Justice, Gordon Jackson, Duncan Macrae, Finlay Clark and Jameson Currie all went on to becoming much loved character actors. The portrayal by Gordon Jackson as Hudson the buttoned up butler in Upstairs Downstairs brought him international renown.  The earlier film was in black and white and the use of colour is part of the justification for the remake.  Iain Maclean, the producer, said:  "There will always be people who say, 'Why are you touching this jewel in the crown?' On the contrary, I think we are polishing it, bringing the jewel back to life. Audiences have changed since 1949, they expect different things of a movie now than they did then. People are after a bit more and we've delivered that."  The 2016 film stars Eddie Izzard as the Home Guard Captain and the wonderful Gregor Fisher, whose credits include Love Actually, as Macroon, the islander's leader.

Iochdar School Successes Recognised by Parliament
Uist’s Sgoil an Iochdar has been congratulated in Parliament after a successful year which saw Iochdar awarded Gaelic School status for the first time.  Highlands and Islands’ Green MSP John Finnie has lodged a motion of congratulations at Holyrood, listing just a few of the highlights from the school year. Ronnie MacPhee, who has retired after 17 years leading the school’s youth club, was singled out for particular thanks.  Mr Finnie said: “It’s fantastic to see a school so connected to the local community. The imagination and dedication of teachers, and the close involvement and support of parents, is what makes Sgoil an Iochdar able to offer such a varied and fun programme of events and clubs.  The school’s success in Gaelic is particularly impressive, given it only became a Gaelic School this year. Their joint project with Sgoil Dhalabroig saw children — including English-medium pupils — write and perform their own Gaelic plays and took the two schools to joint runner-up in the Scottish Education Awards.  And Sgoil an Iochdar not only hosted the Uist Provincial Mòd, but won more points than any other primary school, including the most points in Gaelic. I’m especially grateful for the school community’s welcome to families fleeing the war in Syria. The Parent Council’s offer to help refugee families settle into Uist life exemplifies the warm, active and open-minded community spirit that is key to Sgoil an Iochdar’s success.”

Futuristic Underground Trains for Glasgow

Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has awarded the contract to Stadler Bussnang AG / Ansaldo STS a Swiss/Italian consortium. SPT say that the new trains will be quieter and smoother and more reliable. The computer controlled trains can function without a driver and will be operational by 2020.  The Glasgow Subway system is the third oldest in the world and this year it will celebrate its 120th birthday in December. It has been modernised several times and the upgrade this time will cost a total of £288 million including the cost of upgrading platforms and stations as well as the new trains and signalling equipment.  Trade Unions have raised some concerns over the fact that the new trains can run driverless. The Glasgow Underground train system has twin circular lines 6.5 miles long side running from the city centre to another 14 stations further out.

10,000 People Attend Inverness Highland Games
An expanded Inverness Highland Games and host of fringe events attracted an estimated 10,000 spectators and participants to Bught Park on the banks of the River Ness over the weekend.  The gathering was one of the largest and varied in the 194-year history of the event.  The games committee added the TruckNess vehicle exhibition, wheelbarrow grand prix, boxing tournament and veterans’ parade along with strongman and woman competitions to the traditional programme.  Saturday’s events began with a spectacular opening ceremony in which games chairman Angus Dick and scorer John Findlayson were inducted into the Inverness Highland Games hall of fame.  More than 100 Highland dancers then welcomed the chieftain, Provost Helen Carmichael, with a mass Highland fling.  An unofficial, invitation fling followed involving hundreds of excited and good-sport spectators. Games organiser Gerry Reynolds said: “It was brilliant. We had about 10,000 people, which was up on last year and TruckNess has had a wonderful impact – and the weather was kind to us.”  In the heavyweight competitions, Brad Goldsmith from Virginia, USA, became the sixth muscleman in the modern era to push the 56lbs weight over the bar.  Paul Davidson was rewarded with the provost’s medal by Councillor Carmichael in recognition of the Inverness Harriers athlete’s extensive sporting achievements.  He recently won gold in the 200m and 4×1 relay and 400m bronze at the International Neurological Athletic Association of Sports European Championships in the Turkish capital Ankara.  The TruckNess event, over both days, proved a popular attraction, featuring a huge exhibition of vehicles by local haulage firms.

Thurso Lifeboat Rescues Stricken Yacht Off Tongue
The team had been paged for a second time in five days to assist a yacht off the north Sutherland coast.   Shetland Coastguard paged the Thurso crew at 4.05pm after the German registered yacht Avanti suffered engine problems two to three miles north of the Kyle of Tongue, and due to a lack of wind, she was unable to use her sails.  The RNLI Severn class Lifeboat The Taylors arrived on scene at 5.30pm where sea and weather conditions were good. The crew quickly established a tow and took the 11 meter yacht with three persons on board under tow back to Scrabster, where they arrived safely ay 8.45pm.

Armed Forces Wages War on £150million North-east Development

Military chiefs are battling plans for a £150million housing and leisure development neighbouring one of its north-east training sites.  The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has objected to proposals for 550 homes and a new town centre, which would include a cinema, at Blackdog.  The body owns Blackdog Rifle Range, which is used by a number of different military groups, including the local reserve forces and MoD police, for training.  The facility is made up of 12 and six lane gallery ranges, as well as demolition, baton gun, clay pigeon and dry training facilities.  Now the MoD has warned council planners that they would be noisy neighbours, while suggesting the development – put forward by Ashfield Lane – would create a “sensitive environment” not suited to their “live firing and demolitions” activities.  The government department said the noise from the many exercises would prove “particularly disturbing” to those living at or visiting the development.  The objection, penned by the government body’s defence infrastructure organisation, claims issues relating to noise had “not taken into consideration” by the developer.  The MoD also fears for public safety, claiming the proposals would “create an increased trespass risk” at the range.  It also protests that an access road that forms part of the plans, which is the only means of access to its site, would end up “congested”.  The plans for the Blackdog site include the creation of retail and food outlets, a 850-seat cinema, a 150-bed hotel, a supermarket and office space. They have been lodged to Aberdeenshire Council across two applications – one for the housing development and associated infrastructure and another for the “town centre”.  A MoD spokesman said: “The MoD has significant concerns regarding the proposed development and its appropriateness for the application site.  These concerns include the potential noise levels that would be experienced at the application site as a result of the training activities undertaken at the MoD site and the associated impact on the occupants of the proposed buildings – and the potential impact of the proposed development on the training activities undertaken at the MoD site – as well as other concerns, including national security and public safety, highway and flood risk concerns.”  However Blackdog resident, Nicola Brown, said: “If the Blackdog development was to go ahead it would be good for this area because there is absolutely nothing here.  It might never happen, but it would be a shame if it didn’t happen because of something like that.  The place needs something. The majority of people I speak to have got nothing really against it.  I think the range should be secure anyway no matter what is next to it. The have got security there, their flags go up and guards when they are shooting. I am not far away and I don’t hear shooting.”  Last night Steven McGarva, director of Ashfield Land, said the plans would create “substantial benefits for people living in Aberdeenshire and beyond”.  He added: “Our detailed reports on noise assessment and flood risk indicate there are not any significant issues with regards to the rifle range. Indeed, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has concluded, subject to conditions, there is no flood risk.  There is also currently free access to the site at Blackdog Ranges and, provided members of the public adhere to the Scottish outdoor access code currently in operation at the site, we do not envisage trespassing would be an issue during or after the construction phase.”

Girl, 8, in Critical Condition After Mum and Three Daughters Stabbed in Holiday Resort for Being 'Scantily Dressed'
An eight-year-old girl is fighting for her life in a French hospital after being stabbed while on holiday.  The girl, alongside her mum and two sisters, were reportedly attacked in Garda-Colombe in the Hautes-Alpes near Montpellier in southern France for being 'scantily dressed'.  The 46-year-old mother and her daughters aged eight, 12 and 14 - were all attacked before the knifeman fled the scene - according to police.  The eight-year-old was airlifted to hospital in nearby Grenoble with a punctured lung and is in a critical condition.  The 37-year-old man, who is said to be of Moroccan origin, has since been arrested following the incident at around 10am local time.  Police say the motive for the attack remains 'vague' but local media reports state the attacker had made references to the females being 'too lightly dressed'.  Eye-witnesses said the mum and her daughters had been having breakfast when they were attacked.

SNP Moves Away From 'Land of Milk and Honey' Vision of Independence

The SNP has signalled a decisive shift away from its "land of milk and honey" vision of independence and towards a more warts and all case for leaving the UK, as it continues to prepare the ground for a second independence referendum.  In a radical departure from the rhetoric of the 2014 vote, a leading SNP MP admitted that going it alone would require "painful" budget cuts.  George Kerevan - who is part of a team considering new currency options for an independent Scotland - also warned the country's public assets would have to be sold off to prop up a new Scottish pound.  Presenting a new post-oil, post Brexit case for independence, he claimed "short term" economic pain would be the price for transforming Scotland into an economic powerhouse.  His comments came as SNP insiders revealed the party is poised to embark on its promised summer independence drive within the next few weeks.  In further signs an "indyref2" phoney war is gearing up, the party faced pressure from Dennis Canavan, the former chairman of the cross-party Yes Scotland campaign, to include other pro-independence groups in the initiative.  Meanwhile, comments by John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, were interpreted as an strong endorsement of the Union.  Speaking following meetings with Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, he said he was reassured by the Prime Minister's commitment to the "precious bonds" between the UK's nations. "The United States of America depends on a strong United Kingdom. And we mean united," he said.  The First Minister has promised to offer a "realistic and relevant" case for independence after a number of senior Nationalists publicly questioned the implausibly Utopian vision of the SNP's 2014 blueprint, the White Paper Scotland's Future.  In the last referendum, Scots were not convinced by the party's policy of sharing the UK pound - a move ruled out by the Treasury - and since 2014 the collapse of North Sea Revenues has severely weakened the country's public finances.  The latest official figures showed Scotland running a deficit of £14.9billion, proportionately twice as high as the UK's.  The gap is expected to widen further when the next set of national accounts is published on August 24.

The real advantages of staying in the United Kingdom? There are none. The no-voters and their brexiter companions have bequeathed future generations a squalid little island filled with greed, fear and hatred. It's time the Scots tried something else. And nobody is going to pay any attention to John Kerry, especially given his disastrous failures in Syria

Edinburgh's International Festival Director on the "Fright" of Brexit Vote

For 70 years it has been a cultural magnet for the world's greatest performers - attracting groundbreaking ensembles from the realms of dance, opera, music and theatre.  But even the phenomenon of the Edinburgh International Festival is not immune from the impact of Brexit with its director raising fears the impending divorce from the EU could impact on sponsorship and fundraising for the globally-renowned event.  Fergus Linehan said he would be watching political events unfold "very carefully" so to protect the famous festival, which launches in August 5  Speaking about ticket sales, Mr Linehan said: "I am loathe to say they are good because I have a feeling we will get there, but I don't think it will be easy this year. It was great up until [Brexit] that moment. We will all be watching it very carefully." Britain's narrow vote to leave the EU was "strange", said Mr Linehan, and gave festival organisers "a fright".  He said: "There is no solid indication yet [of what impact may be], but anyone who is doing anything in the retail sphere who says they are not a little bit anxious are lying."  Linehan said that leaving the EU could mean the festival incurs extra running costs compounding the threat to fundraising revenue.  "The bigger is issue is that in terms of the last six to eight months, coming out of the previous [Scottish Independence] referendum, the idea was that people were talking about the next three years, planning a bit more," he said. "And it isn't as if anyone is doing anything utterly drastic, but everyone is saying 'those conversations we were having? Let's just hold.'  You hear this from a lot of people - any kind of future investment has not been cancelled but put on hold.  I am not talking about the 2017 programme, but sponsorship and fund raising. There is a sense of hiatus."  He added: "Everyone is going: 'Look we are still absolutely on board with this but we have to see how things play out in the next six months.' So that has created anxiety, no doubt."  The EIF was founded in 1947 as a cultural reaction to the devastation wrought by World War Two. It is due to celebrate its 70th anniversary next year with a programme of shows themed on its European heritage.  "We are a European institution, that is what we were set up to be, we cannot step away form that in any sense," said Mr Linehan speaking at the launch of Songlines, a city-wide event inviting everyone to take part in a unique celebration of singing. "It goes to the core of what we are here for, and what we are about. I fundamentally agree that a festival should not be taking a political position on something, because we have to be a very broad church, but there is no doubt that this question - Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK's relationship with Europe and beyond - is now suddenly become the great question of our generation.  "And given we were set up to facilitate that discussion in a way, or to assist it, it seems perfectly appropriate to address that."  Mr Linehan said next year's anniversary is "all about Europe" and the Brexit vote will not change that.  He said that if you look back to what was behind the 1947 establishment of the festival it "does shake you, and remind you that this wasn't set up as a nice way for hotels to charge you £400 a night, it had something a little bit more serious to it."  Asked whether the Brexit vote had in some way diminished the festival, he said: "In a way, yes, and no.  I certainly felt: Are those values that I stand by, that this organisation stands by, not held by the majority of the people in the UK? Which is alarming. On the other hand it does force you to think, are those values that you hold and stand by, not cutting through to a huge number of people in this country. It is a moment for us as well to think about how, whether or not we are in a more insular conversation than we may have thought."

Closure-threatened Fort George Has Lowest Running Costs
The case for shutting down the historic Fort George barracks in the Highlands has been dealt a major blow after it emerged that it is cheapest Army site to run in Scotland.  Official figures show that the closure-threatened garrison, near Inverness, has the lowest maintenance bill of all of the country’s main infantry bases.  The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is considering ending the Army’s 250-year association with Fort George as it seeks to save money and reduce the military’s footprint across the country.  Statistics show that in the three years between 2012/13 and 2014/15, a total of £896,140 was spent on maintaining Fort George – an average of £298,713 a year.  But the annual bill at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh was more than double at £667,943, while the cost at Dreghorn Barracks, also in Edinburgh, was 84% higher than Fort George at £548,878.  Glencorse Barracks at Penicuik cost two-thirds more than Fort George to maintain at £490,427 a year, while Leuchars in Fife was also more expensive, at £530,590 in 2014/15.  Built after the Battle of Culloden, the barracks has been home to the famous Black Watch battalion for nine years and also houses The Highlanders regimental museum.  Local councillor and ex-serviceman Roddy Balfour is a member of the Queen’s Own Highlanders Regimental Association, as well as the Reserve Forces and Cadets Association and Highland Military Tattoo Committee.  He said the disproportionate military contribution of the Highlands should be taken into account by the decision-makers.  “Militarily it is a great place. The range at Fort George is one of the best in the country,” he said.  “It’s really a well equipped base and I think economically it’s a great employer in Inverness particularly  It would be a sad day for the Highlands if it closed. It has had an honourable history and a creditable history to the Highlands.  The Highlands have given more than their fair share to the military down the years and maybe that should be recognised by the retention of Fort George.”

Grow Gaelic TV and Harvest Economic Benefit
A bid to find backing amongst the country’s MPs in order to strengthen the future of Gaelic TV recently took place at Westminster.  Members of Parliament heard this week that if increased resources are made available to BBC ALBA this can deliver both for audiences and the Scottish creative economy.  The aim is to achieve parity for the Gaelic language channel with Welsh counterpart S4C and there is a drive to see the new Royal Charter enshrine a commitment from the BBC towards 10 hours of new programming per week – up from the current level of 4.2 hours. This commitment would bring BBC ALBA into line with S4C, which has enjoyed 10 hours of new programming per week from the BBC for the last 30 years. Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil MP, who attended the event on Monday, said he was pleased to see so many MPs taking the time to hear more about Gaelic programming. He said: “I fully support MG ALBA’s call for parity for the Gaelic language with Welsh counterpart S4C and will push for the new Royal Charter to include a commitment from the BBC to 10 hours of new programming for BBC ALBA each week.  The current level is just 4.2 hours and what they do produce is topical, of high quality and attracts high viewing figures.  Given the chance to produce another 5.8 hours per week would bring huge opportunities for the creative sector across Scotland, including Na h-Eileanan an Iar and would entice even more viewers to the channel.  The existence of a Gaelic channel has made a massive impact in terms of awareness of the language and culture and we need to allow it to continue to develop and grow.  At the end of last year the UK Government removed all of its funding for Gaelic TV, a decision which was taken without a second thought. This commitment within the Royal Charter is needed more than ever.”  During 2015-16, BBC ALBA commissioned 454 hours of content from 26 different production companies, with an estimated 300 jobs (40 per cent in the Highlands and Islands) as a result of those activities. MG ALBA chairperson, Maggie Cunningham, said: “BBC ALBA is currently allocated 3p of the £12.13 monthly licence fee. By comparison, the BBC spends more than 10 times that on S4C. However, we are not simply asking for more money. Existing BBC resources could and should be used more effectively to deliver for Gaelic audiences.”  Maggie Cunningham continued: “BBC ALBA has been an outstanding success since it launched in 2008 but it is clear that the channel has now reached a juncture where it needs more resources to continue its development. We have a repeat rate of 74% and it needs to be tackled.  The recent BBC Trust Annual Review report acknowledged that whilst the channel is continuing to outperform viewership targets, it suffers from under-funding which may not be sustainable in the longer term.  It is our firm belief that one mechanism to address this issue is by increased sharing of content from other BBC departments. We have seen excellent examples such as the Hebrides series that was successful across both BBC ALBA and BBC Scotland. This is not to say that BBC ALBA simply requires more content handed down from the main channels - a more responsive system of programme-making within the BBC may allow us to collaborate far easier across a range of genres including children’s programming, music and documentaries.  Increasing original content to 10 hours per week does not have to mean a hugely increased pot of cash.”

Highland Mountains to Feature on Google Street View
Even the least energetic amongst us will soon be able to enjoy views from Highland peaks thanks to a partnership between the Walkhighlands website and Google.  Using Google Trekker technology, Walkhighlands founders Paul and Helen Webster are capturing 360-degree images. The device, which weighs 44lbs, combines 15 camera lens and a GPS and automatically snaps a series of photos every 2.5 seconds. The resulting images will eventually form part of Google Street View as well as being part of Walkhighlands’ own online route guides.  The Websters were back on Skye recently — the firm was established in Staffin before the couple relocated to the Cairngorms National Park — to capture images using the new technology.  Helen said: “We hope that the footage we are capturing with the Trekker will enable more people to experience some of Scotland’s most stunning landscapes from home, and encourage more of them to come and experience these magical places for themselves. Exploring the area around the Old Man of Storr on the Trekker should be a great experience.” Walkhighlands is the busiest walkers’ site in the UK and the busiest independent Scottish tourism website, receiving over 24,000 visitors each day. It aims is to help visitors plan their walks and find accommodation as well as to chat to and encourage others through its popular community forum.