Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 378

Issue # 378                                                 Week ending 10th December 2016

Should We Feel Sorry for Eight Runaway Cockerels? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Why did the chicken cross the road? That was the big question here on Lewis this week. Actually, it was a cockerel and there were eight of them. Seriously, two groups of eight cockerels have been seen  several times off the Pentland Road, a long narrow single-track route that links Stornoway with the west side of the island. It is the ideal route to drive if you do not mind racing to the next passing place before the oncoming traffic on the most bleak featureless mid-island moor you can imagine.

According to gossip on the west side, with just a few weeks to go before the national feast of embarrassing presents and gluttony that we call Christmas, two groups of young cockerels decided their chances of survival were getting less with each passing day and they made their getaway. Cockerels Are Not Just For Christmas have now seemingly set up a protest camp beside the Pentland Road.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is not so sure that any cockerel is capable of planning a Great Escape in the style of Steven McQueen and thinks they were placed on the moor by someone - a bad person. Ach, maybe someone who had gone off chicken and decided instead to have duck or goose on the 25th. The SSPCA spokesman is having none of it and has warned: “Dumping domestic animals of any kind is classed as abandonment and is illegal.”

They have a point, of course. Mind you, the cockerels have escaped just after rats invaded and took over the school in Uig causing the kids to be schooled elsewhere. The rats just moved in as if they owned the place. They were aristocrats. They had just gone it because it was warm in the cupboards.

Everyone needs to keep warm as every second person sniffling. My seasonal ailments, of course, had to be different from everyone else. It began with the semi-shivers last week. You know when you think you may be getting a cold and you put on a jumper and then you feel too warm? Then your nose starts to run a bit and you take a couple of Flu Plus tablets. I did all that, went to bed early and in the morning I felt great again. Until I looked in the mirror. My right ear looked like a cross between Prince Charles’s lugs and Henry Cooper’s. It was bigger and thicker and redder and sorer.

Then I remembered I had a rough rash behind that ear and sure it enough it was worse. Much, much worse. I had caught an ear infection and I now had a red, flattened cauliflower-type growth on the side of my head. It is no fun having such a condition at the best of times but don’t tell anyone that you have an ear infection unless they happen to spot it themselves. Wear a scarf or, better still, a balaclava. That is because an inflamed ear is almost like having a big red sore nose. What is it about our extremities that make people just take the mickey mercilessly?

Through the pain that addled my brain for most of last week, I seem to remember sensible and decent people coming up and looking at the gaping vegetable-shaped wound in the side of my head where once was a lovely lug. And howling with laughter. Ooh, those jibes. Ear, mate. I hear you’re poorly. Can I have a word in your shell-like - actually, maybe not.

What can you say to someone who asks if you know that your ear is twice the size it normally is? Of course, I knew. It is was very sore and the antibiotics had still not kicked in. Oh, and did I mention that the swelling was squeezing my ear canal so I was almost deaf in it too. But they just kept right on sniggering. They say I am just scared about a little pain. No, I am no chicken.

Which reminds me that more news is coming in from the Pentland Road where eight cockerels worried about Christmas have made a run for it. I am now hearing an old hen has made her way out to the cockerel camp and she is not happy with what the young cocks have done. She told them that the whole family of chickens they are from were bred to be of service to the people of Carloway and Breasclete.  They should be proud if they were chosen to be the Christmas dinner. She added: “If your father could see you now, he’d turn over in his gravy.”

Scots more worried about Brexit than rest of UK, study finds
Scots are far more concerned about the consequence of Brexit than the rest of the UK, a new report from the consumer watchdog Which? has revealed.  The group said the study demonstrates that Scots showed a greater level of concern about consumer issues than those in the rest of the UK.  It also said the research showed there was a need for the Scottish Government to make full use of its recently devolved consumer powers by setting up a new statutory organisation to support consumers.  The Which? Scottish Consumer Insight Report 2016 reveals that Brexit is of greater consumer concern in Scotland than in the rest of the UK, with 52 percent worried compared to 38 percent in the rest of the UK.  Scots were also more concerned about energy (67 percent) and fuel prices (64 percent) than in the rest of the UK (56 percent and 55 percent). The biggest worry in Scotland was over public spending cuts (74 percent), with worries about interest rate on savings (67 per cent) and daily essentials such as fuel and energy prices following closely behind (64 percent and 67 per cent).  The study found that the most distrusted industry sectors in Scotland were car dealers (59 percent), those selling long-term financial products (38 percent) and energy companies and day-to-day banking (36 percent). Water businesses (68 percent) were the most trusted, followed by the food and grocery sector and technology appliances sellers (62 percent).  Its consumer snapshot also showed that eight of the ten most financially distressed constituencies in Scotland were in Glasgow. Top of the pile was Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn, followed by Glasgow Southside, Glasgow Provan, Glasgow Anniesland and Glasgow Cathcart.  The least financial distressed areas were the Western Isles, Orkney, Aberdeenshire West, Shetland, Aberdeenshire East and Eastwood.  The report shows that just a quarter (23%) of Scottish households have switched their energy supplier in the last five years.  This echoes the recent Competition and Markets Authority energy market investigation that highlighted a UK-wide problem with people being stuck on the wrong tariff or not able to switch. The Competition and Markets Authority found that this issue is worse in Scotland.  And many Scots don't know where to go for help when they experience a problem with their energy provider, with one in five (21 percent) of those experiencing problems deciding not to take action.  In other areas like broadband, around four in ten (44 percent) households experienced service problems in the last two years, and two in five said they took no action to try to resolve it. The most common reason for this was feeling it wasn’t worth the effort to complain (31 percent of those who took no action thought this).  Vickie Sheriff, director of campaigns and communications at Which?, said: “Our research shows that many people in Scotland are experiencing problems with their essential services but many don't go, or don’t know where to go, to get help or advice.  The Scottish Government has been given new powers and they present a real opportunity for ministers to be ambitious in the way they are used to benefit consumers."

Traders in Talks Over City Centre Parking
Inverness city centre traders have met directors of the Business Improvement District (Bid) this week to discuss issues with the new traffic wardens service that came under fire recently for fining churchgoers.  Bid manager Mike Smith said he organised Wednesday night’s private meeting after being approached by some of the traders.  Mr Smith said: “We are getting varied feedback from our business members about the new parking enforcement officers.  Some say ‘It’s great, they solve my parking problems,’ while others are more critical.”  Mr Smith added: “The businesses came along on Wednesday night and gave us their views. The directors will now be looking at these views and collating them.  They will then go before a board meeting for discussion and review next Tuesday as to where we go from here.  We had representations from some businesses about certain issues and invited them to come and talk about them with myself and other directors.”  Mr Smith previously said that he wants to see parking control as part of the marketing mix of the city centre. “We want it to come over as a positive experience for people coming to the city by car,” he said.“We need to be welcoming and give people best access to the city centre, and realise that for a lot of people coming by car is the preferred or only way to come to the city.”  The parking enforcement officers, now run by Highland Council seven days a week and not the police, were criticised for booking six worshippers outside the Methodist Church in Huntly Street.  And Inverness councillor Janet Campbell fears that city worshippers are starting to desert the city and drive to country churches because the parking fines are now issued seven days a week.  She has called for the enforcement officers to take Sunday mornings off to allow worshippers to park near their churches since the majority of services are held before 1pm. This happens already in most of Scotland’s major cities, she said.  She added: “I have heard that people are increasingly driving to the country churches because of the parking situation.  This is of huge concern because we don’t want to lose our city churches that are part of our heritage.  It is really heartbreaking that it may lead to closures if there is a big reduction in church-going.”  Shane Manning, Highland Council’s principle traffic officer, said he would not bow to the churches’ call for special dispensations, but has told Methodist Church stewards they would look at making more permit bays available to them. Meanwhile, The local newspaper is continuing its campaign asking the council to consider trialing 15 minutes’ free parking in the city centre as a way of boosting footfall.  Deemed a success in Perth, where traders say it has allowed more people to drop into town when re they might previously have gone to out- of- town retail parks, it has also seen even small businesses innovating with click and collect options for shoppers.

Irish Allies May Be Key to Scotland’s Brexit Hopes

The First Minister’s derided visit to the Republic may prove to be very astute, writes Lesley Riddoch.  It’s a big day for Scotland, British democracy, Brexit and the 11 judges of the Supreme Court, who sit together for the first time this century to decide if Theresa May must consult Parliament before triggering Article 50.  Whilst importance does not guarantee interest or even comprehensibility for non-legal onlookers, some major democratic issues are at stake.  The obvious one is whether an Act of Parliament is needed to invoke Article 50 and start the Brexit process.  Clever money says the UK government will lose its appeal but a subsidiary question will be just as important for the devolved nations. If Parliament must be involved – as the High Court decided earlier this month when it backed Gina Miller’s case – should the definition be stretched to include the legislative consent of assemblies and parliament in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland? Scotland’s Lord Advocate will argue MSPs should be given a vote because Brexit changes the legislative competency of Holyrood and the executive competence of the Scottish government and under the Scotland Act such changes “may not be affected by an act of the executive alone”.  The Counsel General for Wales and the Attorney General of Northern Ireland will make much the same argument and the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal will ask if Brexit needs the consent of the whole Northern Irish people – never mind just MLA’s in Stormont.  Media coverage will doubtless dwell on the messy and chaos-inducing possibility of Leave legislation being forced through two Remain supporting parliaments.  But something else may happen.  The Supreme Court might just force an arrogant UK government to acknowledge the separate will, authority, clout and jurisdiction of Britain’s devolved parliaments.  However disposable Holyrood looks to Theresa May, the law may see things differently and rule that angry First Ministers cannot be ignored, corners cannot be cut, nor founding principles dumped just because they prove inconvenient for Westminster.  When judgment is finally delivered in January, “Parliament” may be redefined as something that extends beyond the Palace of Westminster to include the legislatures of the Celtic nations. That’s a significant development in the slow unravelling of power in centralised Britain.  These cases brought by the Northern Irish authorities may seem to have little to do with Scotland. But their outcomes may be just as important for Nicola Sturgeon.  An opt-out may be more likely for Ireland than Scotland because the impact of Brexit across the water may be more than economically damaging – it might be incendiary. Put bluntly, any attempt to construct an un-wanted hard border between the European- supporting North of Ireland and the Republic will have to be financed by Britain.  Any wall, border post or bit of barbed wire erected by British troops in Ireland will be seen as an act of provocation by some in the Republican community. If they act, as they inevitably will, the delicate peace process will be destroyed.  The UK government knows this, but has said nothing so far about the massive practical and legal consequences of Brexit in Ireland. Will the free travel arrangement go, ending the visa free travel that’s allowed Irish and Northern-Irish nationals to work in one another’s country since the 1950s?  What about the customs union? Currently Northern Ireland can export into the EU without customs controls or paperwork. But that will end with Brexit.  Indeed while Scotland’s threat of a second independence vote may be more serious for Britain in the long run, it’s the fate of post Brexit-Ireland that’s concentrating minds in many European capitals.  Ireland was a relatively early and loyal EU member and will remain in when Britain walks out.  So EU members regard any threat to Irish stability as a serious issue, even if Theresa May doesn’t – and that has two important knock-on effects for Scotland.  Firstly, as members of the EU, the Irish can offer Scots valuable intelligence – and no doubt that was part of Nicola Sturgeon’s purpose during her “rock-star” style trip to Dublin last week.  As Ruadhán MacCormaic commented in the Irish Times: “The Holyrood government has often struggled to get direct access to EU discussions on issues such as agriculture or fisheries, where its crucial national interests are at stake. That problem will be magnified by Brexit, where the stakes are higher still.”  An Irish government spokesman said: “It’s very unclear (if) Scotland will get any information coming out of London-Brussels talks, or even internal London talks. So [Sturgeon] and her government see it as important to have a good strong channel of communication to Dublin in order to get information and a sense of what’s on the table.” But the Scots may also be aiming to piggyback any Irish opt out from full Brexit.  The Irish government spokesman continued: “[Scotland’s] strategy will be to point to areas where their interests coincide with Irish or Northern Irish interests.  There is a similarity in the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, that Scotland and Northern Ireland have a relationship with the UK but also a crucial relationship with the EU. If a Dublin government is going to bat with Northern Ireland’s interests at heart, [the Scots will ask] that we be cognisant that that also equates to Scottish interests.”  In short, Scotland’s priority now is the same as the Irish government.  Each wants an opt-out from the harmful impact of a hard Brexit, but Ireland is in a stronger position to get one, if the succession of visiting dignitaries lately recognising Ireland’s “unique position” is anything to go by.  Last week, Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw dubbed Nicola Sturgeon “Scotland’s Evita” for her many trips abroad. But a powerful, passionate political figure may be exactly what’s needed to win recognition for Scottish interests abroad. Professor Brian Lucey of Trinity College, Dublin, told Saturday’s Good Morning Scotland: “Nicola Sturgeon got a rapturous reception here – the first head of state to be invited to speak in the Upper House.  And she got cross party and unanimous support for her endeavours. It was basically the Upper House saying – you want to go independent, we’re behind you; we’ll hold your coat.  That was from every single shade of political opinion.  If this is what happens in the Parliament of Britain’s closest ally in Europe, what would happen if the First Minister went to speak in the Italian Parliament or in Poland.”

Nicola Sturgeon Hails ‘Diversity’ After Glasgow Mosque Visit
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has urged people from all communities to promote tolerance and diversity after a visit to a mosque attended by murdered Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah. She met members of the Ahmadiyya Mosque in the city’s Kelvingrove area and stressed that Scotland is an inclusive country which celebrates differences.  She first met leaders at the mosque before visiting an area reserved for female members, where she removed her shoes. She emerged from the visit wearing a pink headscarf before talking with a group of 15 mosque leaders including Rafiq Hayat, UK president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. The event also marked the launch of a True Islam campaign to promote understanding of Ahmadiyya Muslim beliefs, which differ from those held by most Muslims. Ms Sturgeon said: “The Scottish Government wants to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and promote the message that Scotland as a country welcomes diversity. We’ve all got a part to play in promoting tolerance and that is challenging extremism.  I believe that diversity is not a weakness, it’s a strength and it’s something which we should celebrate.”  Ibrahim Ikhlaf, national director of the outreach department of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, said the campaign aims to dispel misconceptions about their religion.  He said: “We want to promote peace, tolerance and harmony in our community.” Mr Shah was found seriously injured outside his shop in the Shawlands area of Glasgow on March 24 and was pronounced dead in hospital.  He had moved from Pakistan to Glasgow almost 20 years previously, and was attacked because his 32-year-old killer Tanveer Ahmed believed he had ‘’disrespected the Prophet Muhammad’’.  After visiting the mosque, Ms Sturgeon spoke at a Peace Symposium at Glasgow University.  She said the Ahmadiyya community’s campaign demonstrates its commitment to promoting peace, tolerance and understanding.  Ms Sturgeon added: “There is no doubt that this kind of engagement and outreach work is vital to tackling the root causes of prejudice and hatred and create the inclusive, tolerant and cohesive Scotland we all want to see.”  The Shah family had moved to Scotland from Pakistan in the 1990s to escape persecution as a result of their religious beliefs.  Ahmed, a father-of-three from Bradford who did not know Mr Shah, claimed to have been offended by clips the shopkeeper had posted online which he said ‘’disrespected the Prophet Muhammad’’. Ahmed was given a life sentence at the High Court in Glasgow after admitting murder.

Pilot Suffered Heart Attack As He Taxied to Runway At Glasgow Airport
The captain of the KLM aircraft became unwell as he was about to leave for Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.  He was resuscitated by the crew with the help of an on-board passenger. Firefighters from Glasgow Airport helped take the Dutch pilot off the plane. He was met by ambulance crews and taken to the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank.  The co-pilot of the plane, which had 128 people on board, took the aircraft back to the gate.  The flight was supposed to leave at around 5pm, but because of the emergency it was cancelled. Passengers on board had their flights re-booked.  A spokeswoman for KLM said: "During taxiing to the runway on this KLM flight to Amsterdam the captain became unwell and the staff treated him with the help of a passenger.  He was taken to hospital where his condition is stable."

Nazi Pow Leaves £400,000 to 'Kind' Scottish Village
A former German prisoner of war has left nearly £400,000 to a small Scottish village for the kindness shown to him during his imprisonment.  Heinrich Steinmeyer, a former Waffen SS soldier during World War Two, was captured in France in 1944 when he was 19 and was held at the PoW camp at Cultybraggan near the village of Comrie, Perthshire.  He was classified as a category "C" prisoner - or hardline Nazi - and was held in Perthshire until June 1945, when he was then moved to another unit in Caithness and then a camp in Fife before eventually being released in 1948.  He returned to Comrie regularly after he was freed and made life-long friendships in the area. He died in 2014, aged 90, and his ashes were scattered in the hills above the camp.  Two years on, his wish to leave £384,000 to the village has been recognised and has been donated to the village's local community trust to be spent on local development for the elderly.  The Courier newspaper said part of Mr Steinmeyer's will reads: "I would like to express my gratitude to the people of Scotland for the kindness and generosity that I have experienced in Scotland during my imprisonment of war and hereafter".  Mr Steinmeyer made close friends with a local man in the area named George Carson who died only two weeks prior to his own.  Mr Carson's son, who is also called George, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It sounds like an unbelievable story but it's absolutely true.  "My mother and her friends, all school children at Morrison's Academy in Crieff, made friends with Heinrich through the fence of the Cultybraggan camp.  I'm not quite sure how they communicated but during these conversations they discovered that Heinrich had never seen a moving picture, so they went up with their push bikes one morning and one of the girls had taken her brother's school uniform and they smuggled him out of the camp through the chainlink fence and into the cinema where he saw his very first film and he was absolutely blown away by the whole experience.  I met him a couple of times and he was a wonderful man.  He had meetings with the Comrie Development Trust in 2008 and asked them to manage his estate on his death.  He was quite specific in his will that the money should only be used on the elderly in the village.  This is his thanks for the kindness shown to him at the point of his life where he was at his lowest and he just wants to say thank you to everybody."  The money has now been transferred to a Heinrich Steinmeyer Legacy Fund and a consultation process will start to find out how the legacy should be spent.

Brexit: Referendum Gave Ministers ‘Right to Trigger Article 50’
The UK’s highest court has been told the EU referendum gave ministers the right to trigger an exit from the bloc without the approval of MPs.  The government’s attempt to trigger Article 50 is not being done on a “whim” or “out of a clear blue sky”, Attorney General Jeremy Wright told a panel of 11 justices at the Supreme Court at the start of a historic constitutional legal case.  The government’s top law officer said that process was one in which Parliament had “resolved to put a clear and decisive question about our nation’s future to the British people, and in which Parliament expected the government to act on the answer they gave”.  As protesters on both sides of the EU debate demonstrated outside, the court’s president Lord Neuberger said members of the public bringing the case had received “threats of serious violence and unpleasant abuse in emails and other electronic communications” and warned those responsible that “legal powers” existed to deal with them.  And before any arguments were heard, Lord Neuberger confirmed all parties involved had given their backing to the justices hearing the historic case.  In his opening remarks, Lord Neuberger stressed the court was aware of the “strong feelings associated with the many wider political questions surrounding the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union” - but those questions were not the subject of the appeal.  He said: “This appeal is concerned with legal issues and, as judges, our duty is to consider those issues impartially, and to decide the case according to the law. That is what we shall do.”  Mr Wright presented opening arguments on behalf of the government urging the panel of justices to overturn a High Court ruling on 3 November.  In a decision that infuriated Brexiteers, three judges said Theresa May lacked power to use the royal prerogative to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and start the two-year process of negotiating Brexit without the prior authority of Parliament. The Scottish and Welsh governments and the Attorney General for Northern Ireland are all intervening in the Supreme Court case. A ruling will not be given until the new year.  The Attorney General said starting the UK’s two-year exit using royal prerogative powers was the “logical conclusion of a process in which Parliament has been fully and consciously involved”.  He added: “None of this means, of course, that Parliament will not be closely involved in the process of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU over the coming months and years.”  Mr Wright told the justices in London that the case was of “great constitutional significance in which there is understandable and legitimate interest both inside and outside this courtroom”.  He said the High Court had reached the “wrong” decision. It was for the Government to exercise prerogative powers in the conduct of the UK’s affairs on the international plane.  The position of those who had brought the case and others had always been “that they have no interest in derailing Brexit but only in defending Parliament’s role in the process”.  Mr Wright continued: “But if this is all about standing up for Parliament, I say Parliament can stand up for itself.  When it comes to leaving the European Union, Parliament has had full capacity and multiple opportunities to restrict the executive’s ordinary ability to begin the Article 50 process and it has not chosen to do so.”  He said: “However much they may wish it had, those who support parliamentary sovereignty should, we submit, respect this exercise of parliamentary sovereignty too.”  Mr Wright submitted that “in the context of this case the imposition of a legislative precondition by the courts which Parliament did not choose to impose itself, cannot be supportive of parliamentary sovereignty but must be positively inconsistent with it”.  He said: “In the delicate balance of our constitutional settlement this court should, we submit, resist the invitation to make such an imposition.”  James Eadie QC, also appearing for the government, said Parliament had arranged for the June 23 referendum through the 2015 EU Referendum Act on the clear understanding that the Government would implement its outcome.  Nothing in law suggested that, following victory for the Leave campaign, the government’s decision to give Article 50 notice required further legislation. It was self-evident that withdrawal from the EU would affect the rights and obligations of individuals in a serious way, said Mr Eadie.  Parliament knew that would be the effect, yet left the Government’s prerogative powers untouched.  If the intention of Parliament had been to make leaving or withdrawing subject to primary legislation “not merely could it have said so, but undoubtedly would have said so”, argued Mr Eadie.  “Its silence is consistent and compelling.”  Mrs May has made it clear she still intends to give an Article 50 notification by the end of next March to start the leave negotiations with 27 other EU countries.  Downing Street yesterday accused opponents of Brexit of trying to tie the hands of UK negotiators in the upcoming talks on withdrawal from the European Union.  Both Labour and Liberal Democrats have indicated they would seek to amend any parliamentary motion as a result of the Supreme Court ruling, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying he will try to ensure that issues of market access and protections formed part of the UK position.  Other amendments could require the government to publish a white paper on its negotiating goals or hold a second referendum on the outcome.

Energy Efficiency Measures Could Help Create 9,000 Jobs, Business Chiefs Say
Boosting investment in energy efficiency could create up to 9,000 jobs a year, business leaders have told the Scottish Government.  More than 20 businesses in the sector have written a joint letter to Economy Secretary Keith Brown urging him to "set out a clear direction of travel" for the "growing industry".  While the firms already employ thousands of workers, they believe taking a "long-term, infrastructure approach to tackling poor housing as a cause of fuel poverty" could create 8,000 to 9,000 jobs a year.  The business men and women said: "Winter has closed in and we are reminded how important it is that we all have affordable, sustainable ways of keeping our homes warm.  Now is the time for the Scottish Government to be ambitious about ensuring that everyone in Scotland can do that." As well as calling for increased spend on energy efficiency, they also suggest the Scottish Government should set a target for the amount of heat that comes from renewable energy sources.  The letter was written with the backing of the Existing Homes Alliance, which is calling on ministers to increase spending on energy efficiency in next year's budget to £190 million, saying this would allow for existing schemes to be expanded and provide confidence to the sector at the start of the new Scotland's Energy Efficiency Programme (SEEP).  In the longer term, the alliance wants spending to be ramped up to an average of £450 million a year over 10 years, saying this level of investment would ensure all homes could be brought up to a minimum Energy Performance Certificate rating of C.  This change is needed to cut emissions produced by domestic heating but as well as helping tackle climate change, the move would also assist with efforts to eradicate fuel poverty in Scotland.  "More than half of Scotland's energy usage currently comes from demand for heating but so far we are only generating around 5% of that from renewable sources," the letter to Mr Brown said.  "Setting an ambition for the scale of this market would go a long way to driving industry investment, growth and innovation, just as the Scottish Government's renewable electricity targets have done."  In its budget submission to ministers, the Existing Homes Alliance said: "Housing is an area where Scotland has made relatively little progress in reducing emissions. Once adjustments for temperature are made, emissions have fallen by less than 0.8% per year in the residential sector since the Climate Change Act was introduced in 2009."  The Scottish Government's independent advisers on climate change - the Committee on Climate Change - have already recommended "an extensive upgrade of a significant number of homes in Scotland" is needed by 2030 to "keep us on the cost-effective path to meeting climate targets".  The alliance added: " It is estimated that such a programme could create 8,000 to 9000 jobs per year, spread around Scotland unlike other infrastructure projects and with a large proportion of them with small- and medium-sized businesses."  A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change, with among the most ambitious statutory targets in the world.  As of 2014, we've delivered a 45.8% reduction from baseline levels, meeting our annual target for that year and exceeding the level of our 2020 target for a 42% reduction, six years ahead of schedule.  However, we have to achieve more and have already committed to establishing a new and more testing target for 2020 of reducing actual Scottish emissions by at least 50%.  Our approach to heat in particular offers many exciting opportunities - not only helping us to deliver on our climate change ambitions, but also contributing to our efforts to promote growth and tackle inequalities, particularly fuel poverty.  We are developing a new, overarching energy strategy for Scotland, which means developing a 'whole systems approach' considering Scotland's energy supply and consumption as equal priorities, and building a genuinely integrated approach to power, transport and heat.  Last year, in response to calls from energy experts, environmental NGOs and the Committee on Climate Change, ministers designated energy efficiency as a national infrastructure priority. As set out in the Programme for Government, our primary response will be the development of Scotland's Energy Efficiency programme (SEEP)."

Graeme At Large

"Deck the halls with boughs of holly" - Christmas is fast approaching and for some of us it is a stressful time deciding what to buy people, who to buy for and how much to spend. The truth of the matter is that most of us would be happy with a visit, a card or a phone call but regardless it is the time of year to think of others and appreciate those who mean a lot to us. November was a very busy month, but I managed to enjoy a weekend away with a friend to the city known for its jute, jam and journalism: Dundee. We arrived impressed to our quayside hotel, overlooking the area soon to house the famous RRS Discovery - the last traditional wooden three-masted ship to be built in Britain. Built as a Royal Research Ship which set sail on the British National Antarctic Expedition, carrying Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first, successful journey to the Antarctic.  Dundee is definitely the place to watch. With a billion pound city waterfront transformation underway, the city quayside will develop 8km of land stretching alongside the River Tay to boost the city to international acclaim. The waterfront project encompasses five distinct areas that connect the city to its waterfront. These include a hub for digital media and cultural industries, an award winning Victoria and Albert Museum, a working port, and an area with hotels, restaurants and entertainment. All in all they are investing in its future and in their people, which is something all towns, villages and cities should aim to do.  We headed out of the city for an afternoon, calling in at the Scottish Antiques Centre at Abernyte. I know I've written about this place before, but I love it. One side of the Antiques Centre is packed with original pieces where you could (and I did!) spend hours sifting through crockery, paintings and furniture - I would be dangerous if I had money or indeed a house (I've still no intentions of settling down!). The other half of the centre is a gift shop and restaurant. That reminds me: a couple of weeks back I went to an antiques store near St Cyrus (just outside of Montrose), aptly named "Steptoe and Sons". It was a mixture of junk and antiques spread out over an old farmyard - the barns were near to bursting with tat, outside there were baskets full of old tea sets and gardening equipment and everywhere you look was a health and safety nightmare. I loved it! You're frightened to sneeze in case you disturb anything and send everything into a tumbling mess. Steptoe and Sons is the quintessential "one man's junk is another man's treasure" and a great place to find a retro Christmas gift.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to Lairg Gaelic Choir's fortieth birthday celebrations in Golspie last month and what a wonderful evening it was. Looking back over the past forty years of singing and competing in the local and national Mods, it was easy to see that the choir is more than a club. It is a community with a sense of belonging, companionship and moreover good old fashioned fun! I joined the choir back in 2008 and wasn't sure what to expect, and with no Gaelic or singing experience, I was thrown into the bass section - and I couldn't have been made to feel more welcome. It really is open to anyone with enthusiasm, enjoys singing, and is willing to learn a few Gaelic words (or sound effects!) for each song. Then along comes the National Mod once a year and as a member of the choir you feel like you are off on holiday with friends. After the important business of competing passes, the celebrations start and the ceilidh gets underway including the infamous "budgie", a tradition within the choir (and if you want to know what it is, then you will have to join!). The Lairg Gaelic Choir is open to everyone and you don't need to be from Lairg to join. They meet in Golspie and Lairg, so it's very inclusive to all those willing to travel within East Sutherland.  The birthday celebrations were well attended and after a delicious buffet, the evening was spent with plenty singing and dancing. Entertainment included James Graham, Rogart Ceilidh Band and a number of choir members from over the years giving solo performances. The church hall in Golspie proved acoustically and aesthetically to be the ideal venue to celebrate the birthday in style. We are so fortunate to have such rich culture and heritage in Sutherland and with 2017 branded as the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology - it would be great to see the numbers of the choir increase to keep them in tune for the next forty years.  As we venture into the New Year, I've decided not to set myself New Year's resolutions. I failed entirely on my pre-set ambitions for 2016 and have decided that living a full and happy year is better than setting myself unachievable tasks! So on that note, I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas. If you are still struggling for gift ideas you could always buy tickets to come and see me appear in the King and I at Aberdeen's His Majesty's Theatre this January. Sadly I am neither the King nor I, but I do play the part of a "mute" monk - and I must admit that I give an Oscar worthy performance!

Act of Union ‘Forbids UK Government From Starting Brexit’
The 309-year-old Act of Union prevents the UK Government from triggering Brexit without consulting MPs and MSPs, the Supreme Court has heard.  Giving evidence in a historic legal challenge over Brexit this morning, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC argued that the legislation that created the United Kingdom gives power to alter laws in Scotland to Westminster, not the crown.  The UK Westminster Government is arguing that it has the right to use royal prerogative powers to trigger Article 50 and begin the formal process of leaving the EU. Mr Wolffe told 11 Supreme Court justices that the Act of Union gave power to alter legislation “exclusively to parliament and to those authorised by parliament”.  Mr Wolffe was referring to a passage in the Act of Union which states: “all other laws in use within the Kingdom of Scotland do after the Union and notwithstanding thereof remain in the same force as before but alterable by the Parliament of Great Britain”  He has also argued that conventions established when the Scottish Parliament was created require any legislation affecting devolved matters passed by Westminster must be approved by Holyrood through a legislative consent motion.  The Lord Advocate said: “Against the background of the Claim of Right and the Bill of Rights it would have been extraordinary if power to change laws in use within the Kingdom of Scotland, which is the phrase in use in the Act and Treaty of Union, had been given to the Crown.”  Mr Wolffe added: “The question of who had authority with regards to Scots Law was a matter of significance to the framers of the Union legislation. I say it is not a matter simply of footnoting, to note the power to change the laws of Scotland where given to power and, of course, to those whom parliament has authorised and not to the Crown.  I say that is consistent with the limiting law of constitutional law that sets bounds of the us prerogatives and preclude the United Kingdom Westminster government from asserting the power to make the significant changes to the laws of the land by virtue of the prerogative which they claim in this case”.  The hearing, which was appealed to the Supreme Court after the UK Westminster Government lost a ruling at the High Court, concludes today with a judgement expected in January.

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