Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 381

Issue # 381                                                 Week ending 31st  December 2016

How the Best Comedy Telly Just Ends Up on the Floor by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
After all these shows claiming to bring us the top 40 celebrity fails of 2016, the schedules are now subtly changing. Now it’s 1001 things to do with turkey leftovers. Again. From Morning to night and probably through the night as well. Haven’t the festive telly schedules been dreadful? The more channels we get, the more inane drivel is dredged up and pumped out while we are trapped on the sofa. It’s not as if us Hebrideans can just get out of the house and go for a walk. The telly is like the weather. Atrocious, or at least it was between the power cuts courtesy of Storm Barbara and Conor.

There have been few escapes for us old enough to remember when the words Christmas Special meant a new TV show screened for our delectation and delight. Sadly, it now means the special Morecambe and Wise made in 1976 can be rehashed because they think those who saw it first time round have popped their clogs. Excuse me, we are still here. It shows how broken the TV industry is when Ernie Wise’s alleged toupée and the old codgers of the Walmington Home Guard are among the few shows to raise a titter in 2016.

Why don’t they make them like that any more? The new approach to Scottish TV comedy is to edit out all the really funny bits. I’ll give you an example; the BBC1 series Two Doors Down. They have made a second series because they think that awkward badly-timed comedy is what the new politically-aware Scotland is crying out for. Er, no. We want funny. We want giggles. If we wanted to see awkward we could just watch our politicians.

When they shoot it, Two Doors Down is hilarious. A great cast and, despite the deliberately-stilted performances called for in the scripts, the characters don’t take themselves seriously. So when it comes to filming, they try and say their lines, as ordered. Doesn’t really work. I am going by the chortle counter in this house (patent pending). However, when the script calls for yet another interminable awkward pause in po-faced fashion - everything is invariably interrupted with a series of mistimed snorts, sniffles and some very suspicious abdominal sounds.

The reality of it all is that these fluffs, bloopers and outright corpsing, and there are many, particularly by Elaine C Smith, never make it onto the screens in our living rooms. These unscripted bits are just edited out. However, the BBC producers are not completely bonkers. They know that letting the tender eyes of the public see the mess-ups are a highlight of many a Hollywood blockbuster after the credits and even that very giggleworthy Irish transvestism-based import, Mrs Brown’s Boys.

Which is why, rather than put them on the telly, they have picked them off the cutting room floor, stitched them all together - you can tell I am fully au fait with modern broadcast editing practices - and the really funny bits are pushed onto the Two Doors Down webpage. Not very helpful because most people wouldn’t be bothered to go looking but, if you want to see some of Scotland’s finest comic ‘actors in their element and making right Christmas turkeys of themselves, that is what you have to do.

Something else you have to do is watch The Lion King. It was on and was wonderful. See? I don’t just slag off programmes. That animated film has a great storyline and the music still whirls round in my head. Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase meaning “no worries”. It is not about root vegetables. That was just a joke in a Gaelic pantomime when a character said instead: “Tha mi ag iarraidh buntata” (I want potatoes). Penned by Elton John, a meerkat called Timon and a warthog called Pumbaa teach the wee lion cub Simba that he should forget his troubled past and live in the present. Yep, it could have been written for Jeremy Corbyn.

In the coming year, we should also try and understand what shop staff are actually saying. A couple in Stornoway didn’t have much space in their living room for a Christmas tree this year. So the wife told himself to get an artificial one and they would just put it in on a wee unit. She told him to make sure he got the smallest one that they had or it would not look right. The assistant laughed at how small the one he chose was and loudly asked him if he would manage to put it up himself. He snapped back: “Don’t be rude. I’m going to put it in the window.”

Ho Ho 'No' to Inverness Man's Santa Grotto Fundraiser
A children’s grotto raising money for cancer patients has been shut down by Scrooge officials just days before Christmas.  Retired army veteran Robert Russell said he was "heartbroken" after Highland Council forced him to close the grotto he ran at his council house in Oldtown Road, Hilton, because it breached tenancy rules.  The 53-year-old set up the grotto in his garden to bring some Christmas cheer to locals in the area and raise money for those, like him, who have suffered cancer.  He also bought and sourced presents for children whose parents are struggling this Christmas and could not afford to buy presents or attend a more traditional grotto.  The former Gordon Highlander had raised more than £200 in donations for Maggie’s Cancer Centre since opening at the beginning of December.  "I know what it’s like to have nothing and no-one at Christmas," he told the HN. "I just wanted to give something back and make people happy. It was about seeing the children’s faces light up and how that made their parents happy too. Now I’ve been forced to close the grotto, which was full of toys. It breaks my heart."  Council officials visited Mr Russell this week to tell him he was breaching tenancy rules. He was told to close the grotto or "face action". The grotto took more than two months to build and featured hundreds of pounds’ worth of Christmas lights and a life-sized Santa, which was popular with kids. He had been working with the local community and groups such as New Start Highland to give toys to every child who visited, and used his own money to buy drinks and snacks for them.  "You try to do something nice to help people, to make people smile at Christmas and this happens," he added. "There is so much badness in the world and this kind of thing, it just comes as a kick to the gut."  The former lung cancer patient always tries to do what he can to help others at Christmas, despite his own poor health.  Last year he raised a similar amount for Maggie’s by inviting donations from people who came from far and wide just to see his Christmas decorations. He also bought selection boxes for the homeless. This year, he decided to go one step further with the grotto. Mr Russell said he had tried his best to stay ahead of the law, including investigating whether he required a disclosure check. He also ensured no children visited the grotto without their parents, and restricted its opening time from 4.30pm to 6.30pm so it didn’t bother neighbours.   Police received a complaint about lighting from the property.  A council spokeswoman said tenancy rules stated an individual cannot run a business from their home without permission or cause a nuisance or harassment to neighbours.." Mr Russell said he was unaware he needed permission from the council to run the grotto. He now plans to put the remaining gifts and sweets in a covered box at his gate for people to help themselves.

Dougie Maclean is the Latest Act Announced for Hebcelt 2017
Dougie MacLean, one of Scotland’s most revered singer songwriters, is making a return to the Hebridean Celtic Festival next year.  MacLean, who appeared at the first HebCelt in 1996 and is in the festival’s Hall of Fame, will take his solo show to Stornoway in 2017.  He will be joined at the event by Skerryvore - just announced as ‘Live Act of the Year’ at the MG Alba Scots Trad Music Awards - and who have a new single and album to be launched in the new year.  Also announced for next year’s event are the Peatbog Faeries, another act in the HebCelt Hall of Fame and one of the biggest names in contemporary folk music, who are marking their 25th anniversary this year.  New live act Ímar, who include members of groups including RURA, Manran and Talisk; make their HebCelt debut. Also appearing will be local favourite C. Macleod (formerly known as The Boy Who Trapped the Sun) whose eagerly awaited new album comes out next year; and the Luke Jackson Trio, another HebCelt first, featuring the award-winning singer songwriter from Canterbury.  HebCelt, which will be held from 19-22 July, has already announced headliners The Waterboys as well as former X Factor contestant Lucy Spraggan, and Tide Lines, a Scottish band with strong traditional influences.  HebCelt director Caroline Maclennan said: “Dougie Maclean enjoys legendary status and is in the festival’s Hall of Fame for his outstanding contribution to music for more than 40 years, so we are thrilled he is returning to HebCelt.”  MacLean said: “HebCelt is rightly regarded as one of the best festivals, with its unique setting, the wonderful atmosphere and great music programme.  I have a long connection to Lewis and to the festival, dating back to the very first event, and it’s always a real joy to return to see so many friends and perform to the brilliant HebCelt audiences.”

Flybe to Suspend Dundee-amsterdam Service in January
Airline Flybe is to suspend its flights between Dundee and Amsterdam in the new year.  The service began in May and was the only international route operated by the airport, which also runs flights to London Stansted and Jersey.  In a statement, Flybe apologised for the suspension of the flights, which will begin on January 12.  It said: "Following the completion of an extensive review into its operations at Dundee Airport, Flybe regrets to announce that it has decided to suspend its Dundee to Amsterdam service with effect from Monday January 12.  Flybe will continue to offer those customers with existing bookings the option of a full refund or a road transfer between Dundee and Edinburgh with a flight between Edinburgh and Amsterdam.  The airline sincerely apologises for any inconvenience caused by this decision."  Airline chiefs said that due to topography and high levels of light aircraft activity in the area, it became clear enhanced radar coverage is required to accommodate large passenger aircraft.  Flybe said it aims to restart the service in the future once necessary measures are implemented.  Executive chairman Simon Laffin said: "We have tried very hard to find a way to operate out of Dundee but we would need better radar coverage to operate in the area. We very much hope that this can be provided in the future to allow our flights to resume."  Highlands and Islands Airports, which owns Dundee Airport, said it felt good progress was being made in finding a solution. A spokesman said: "Whilst disappointed in the decision being made, we are encouraged by the fact that Flybe see this as a suspension rather than termination of the flight and that they plan to restart the service in the future."

Scotland Donates £1.4m to Yemen in First 10 Days of DEC's Crisis Appeal
Almost £1.4 million has been raised in Scotland to help people in war-torn Yemen where children are starving to death.  A child is dying every 10 minutes because of preventable diseases and child malnutrition is at an all-time high in the country, where half a million young children are starving.  The appeal launched by the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) 10 days ago has raised £1,386,039 in Scotland so far, which includes a £250,000 contribution from the Scottish Government.  Across the UK the appeal has raised £13 million, which includes a £4.5 million contribution from the UK Government through Aid Match.  The DEC said that two years of conflict have pushed Yemen, already one of the world's poorest countries, to breaking point and urged people to donate to the appeal. Chief executive Saleh Saeed said: "We would like to thank the UK public for so generously donating to our Yemen Crisis Appeal, helping us raise more than £13 million.  Half of Yemen's population is going hungry and children are starving to death as we speak. With the funds raised, we will be able to provide emergency drip feeding for those on the brink of starvation, nutritious peanut paste for malnourished children, and cash vouchers for families unable to afford food and medicine.  The crisis in Yemen may be far from over but despite the conflict, DEC member charities are already reaching millions of people across the country with lifesaving aid, and, with extra funds, they can reach many more."  The DEC said a £25 donation could provide a month's supply of life-saving peanut paste to a malnourished child, while £60 can pay for clean drinking water for two families for a month.  A donation of £100 could provide supplies to a clinic treating severely malnourished children for a week. Presenter Clare Balding said: "Operating in areas of conflict is difficult but DEC agencies are working with local teams to deliver aid to communities on both sides.  They're giving food to babies and toddlers who won't survive without it, providing medical supplies so parents don't have to choose between feeding their hungry children or buying medicine for their sick ones. And with a cholera outbreak spreading through parts of the country, they're providing clean, safe drinking water."

Cromarty's Watch Manager Reveals What It's Like to Be A Firefighter

The Cromarty fire crew may be small in number, but they are mighty, reacting to any situation thrown at them. One week they can be responding to a road traffic accident involving people they know – their quick response the difference between life or death. The next week they can be travelling into the Highland wilderness to tackle hill fires, where burning gorse and heather is spiralling quickly out of control.  Cromarty station is manned by volunteer firefighters, of which there is a regional shortage. Almost one in four retained firefighter posts in the Highlands are vacant and earlier this month the Inverness Courier launched its own campaign to encourage more people to sign-up, avoiding situations where a station is unable to respond. Here, we speak to Cromarty watch manager Donald Cameron to find out what life is like for a retained firefighter on the Black Isle.  The 47-year-old is one of eight crew members at a station, which ideally needs 12. He may have 19 years’ service but he is not the longest serving – two others, Brian Cameron and Ronald Young have been in the service for 26 years.  Earlier in the year the station was in a precarious situation with just five crew members. An engine needs at least four firefighters to be able to respond to a call, meaning if more than one was unavailable, the station could not respond.  Luckily, Cromarty now has three new recruits – Graham Deacon, Aaron Henderson and Louise Alexander. "It was a real struggle but having the new recruits has made it so much easier," Mr Cameron said. "But ideally having 12 would take the pressure off." Mr Cameron is a farmer on Rose Farm near Cromarty, his brother Brian Cameron is a HGV lorry driver, while the other members of the crew work for Scottish Water and the Forestry Commission. They’ve also got a barmaid, a boat skipper and a baker on the team.  "The reason that most people join the fire service is to give something back and to support their area, no-one wanted to see the station in Cromarty close," Mr Cameron continued. "They could see if we didn’t get more people it would end up happening. You never know when you might need the fire service.  But it is much more than that, you learn skills that you might need to use elsewhere, like first aid. You never know when you’ll need the skills to save someone. I really enjoy it – it is never tedious or boring and you learn so much."  Cromarty station responds to around 20 calls per year. It is a community response unit, which means its firefighters don’t carry breathing apparatus. It only responds to road accidents and wildfires, freeing up other crews to deal with incidents like house fires.  In the spring months they brace themselves for wildfire season, when farmers burn gorse and heather from their hills and land. In some situations, they can travel as far north as Caithness to tackle a wildfire out of control.  But it is not just accidents and wildfires. In their community role, the crew install smoke alarms and attend houses to check for fire safety. They also work with the community to prevent fires happening.  Playing a role in the community is key for stations like Cromarty and often a driving force for people signing up. Last year the crew organised a quiz night and raised £1000 to buy a defibrilator, which the charity Lucky2BHere trained the firefighters to use.  They then passed on their skills to other members of the community. There are three defibrillator units in the village, including the fire station, which can be used in the event someone goes into cardiac arrest.  "You can’t put a price on a life," Mr Cameron added.

New Emergency Tug is En Route to the North
The UK government has gone Dutch for a new coastguard tug to protect Sutherland’s coast. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency has awarded a five-year contract for a new Scottish Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) to Ardent Maritime Netherlands BV, to begin on December 31.  However Scottish councils and politicians have constantly called for a second ETV north of the border.  The Ievoli Black, a 70m towing vessel of some 2283 gross tonnes, has a bollard pull of 139 tonnes. The vessel served as an ETV for the Netherlands from 2010-13.  The ship has sailed from her current station in the Adriatic and is making her way to the UK in time to relieve the existing MCA tug, the Herakles, of its duties by the end of the year.  The emergency tug is funded by the UK Government. Ministers announced earlier this year that they would guarantee funding for the next five years to support maritime safety in the area. "Following comprehensive engagement with local stakeholders through spring 2016, the risks to shipping off north and north-western Scotland were assessed and requirements established," said a spokeswoman for the MCA.  "The contract was awarded after an open market competition involving 22 bids and in early August, tenders were invited to meet a broad array of capability. The bids were evaluated based on vessel type and dimensions, age, bollard pull, speed, crew complement and experience, training and exercises, efficiency and the chargeable day rate. The exercise has resulted in the choice of a modern and fuel-efficient tug.  The Government does not have a statutory obligation to provide towing and salvage services when ships get into difficulty. It is for ship owners and operators to manage their own risks and arrange towing and salvage using commercial providers. However, it is recognised that it is important to ensure shipping activities off the coast of Scotland remain safe and that sufficient safeguards are in place.  The current ETV, the Herakles, has been on lease to the MCA since 2012. The vessel and its crew will now return to its owners.  Scottish councils, including Highland, the area’s MPs and MSPs want a second ETV.  However, the boss of the UK Coastguard recently insisted that the decision to withdraw an emergency tug from the west coast of Scotland had been "vindicated".  Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, claimed it would take a "very unfortunate coincidence or some very bad luck" to prompt any consideration of a return to two towing vessels.  And he told MPs he couldn’t find any evidence to suggest that a second tug, based in Stornoway, would have altered the outcome of the Transocean Winner oil rig disaster.  The 17,000-tonne offshore drilling platform was being towed by MV Alp Forward from Norway to Malta when it broke adrift during a storm and subsequently ran aground off Lewis in August.  Some 30 ballast and fuel tanks on the unmanned 33-year-old rig subsequently ruptured, spilling fuel into the sea.  The incident was the focus of the Commons transport committee meeting at Westminster.  Chairwoman Louise Ellman asked what would have to happen for a second UK Government-funded tug to be reinstated, given the concerns which had been raised by some in the Highlands about the unprotected Atlantic front.  Sir Alan replied: "We made the judgment, back in 2011, that zero was the wrong answer, (but) one was a workable answer, provided we took all the risk assessment into account, and made a sensible balance of what are the real hazards against the likelihood and, of course, let’s not forget the value for money for the taxpayer. "Over five years, that has been vindicated by circumstances." Publicly funded ETVs were deployed in the wake of the 1993 oil tanker disaster in which the Liberian-registered MV Braer ran aground in a hurricane, shedding its load off Shetland. As a result of spending cuts, the four vessels serving the UK five years ago – two of which were based in Scotland – have been whittled down to just one, based in Orkney. It was due to be removed from service in September, but the government announced in July it had been saved for another five years. The committee heard it was roughly 18 hours away when the Transocean rig went aground.

When A Man Sold His Drunken Wife Down the Grassmarket
In extraordinary scenes, Mary Mackintosh was brought to the Grassmarket by her husband, Thomas M.Guisgan, who held her by a straw rope tied around her middle with the words “to be sold by public auction” pinned on her bosom.  She was accused of being a notorious drunk and an adulterer but when the sale got underway on July 17 1828, a “bloody battle” broke out with punches thrown and people whacked with stones wrapped in stockings.  It had started out civil enough. Several thousand spectators had assembled to witness this novel sale, held around 6pm, with the auctioneer, described as a “knight of the hammer”, wrestling for attention above the rowdy crowd.  According to a report of the day, quietness fell as people started to note the “countenance of the woman”.  A Highland Drover was the first to place his bid. Stepping through the crowd, he pulled his purse and said: “She be a good like lassie, l will gi’e ten and twenty shillings for her.”  The crowd cheered at the offer but it was not long before “a stout tinker” made a bolt to the front of the crowd to say she should never go to the Highlands before offering a six pence. The clamour of the crowd heightened further. The next bid was quick to follow and came from a “Killarney Pig Jobber” whose “mouth open as wide as a turnpike gate”.  Half drunk, he offered two shillings more, given she was a “pratty” - or mischievous - woman.  It was at this stage that the atmosphere started to tilt. A brogue maker emerged from a public house “as drunk as 50 cats in a wallet - and hit the Killarney man, leaving him knocked out on the ground for a good 10 minutes.  Mary Mackintosh is said to have “laughed heartily” at the punch with the cheers of the crowd now “long and incessant”.  But the scene rapidly deteriorated as bare knuckle violence broke out, much of it executed by women armed with stones. First, however, the Brogue maker walked up to the auctioneer.  A report of the day said: “He was so enraged, he knocked the auctioneer down, and made his claret flow desperately.  The women of the neighbourhood gathered to the number of 700, and armed themselves with stones, some threw them, and others put them in their stockings and handkerchiefs, and made a general charge through the mob,knocking every one down that came in their way, until they got up to the auctioneer, when they scratched and tore his face in a dreadful manner, in consequence of the insult the fair sex had received.”  One woman, described as a “true female hero” and the wife of a sweep, pelted Mr Guisgan, the man who had tried to sell his wife, before decrying him as a “contaminated villain”.  Mr Guisgan hit her back between her eyes, leaving them like “two October cabbages.”  The report added: “A general battle ensued, and only for the interference of the police, there would have been lives lost.” After the disturbance was quelled, the husband continued to insist she should be sold.  According to report, she was brought up again before the crowd and a farmer, described as a widower, pledged two pounds and five shillings for Mrs Mackintosh.  The sale was agreed. The report concluded: “The farmer took her up behind him on his horse, and away they went amidst the cheers of the populace.”  Details of the extraordinary auction are held by the National Library of Scotland in its vast collection of broadsides, single newsheets which were distributed or pinned up around towns and cities. Predating newspapers, they were the most common way to relay news for around 300 years.  Described as the tabloids of the day, broadsides were cheaply available sold on the streets by pedlars and chapmen.

Fishing ‘Low Brexit Priority’ Lords Warn
Fishing interests should not be marginalised during Brexit negotiations, a House of Lords committee has warned. Although fisheries represent a relatively small proportion of the UK economy – less than half a percent of GDP – the industry has great significance to many coastal communities, the Lords European Union Committee said in a report outlining the risks and opportunities of Brexit for the UK fishing industry.The committee said exiting the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is an opportunity to develop regulations that are ‘tailored to the United Kingdom’, but it acknowledged that fishing will be a low priority for UK negotiators in the Brexit talks.  Under international law the UK will have the right post-Brexit to control who fishes within its exclusive economic zone. But the UK will continue to be under international obligations to co-operate with neighbouring states if fish stocks are shared between the waters of two or more countries.  Fish do not recognise political borders, and most commercial fish stocks are shared between UK waters and those of other EU or European coastal states. The UK must therefore continue to co-ordinate the exploitation of shared stocks with the EU and other neighbouring countries.  The committee also noted that the CFP has allowed more regional flexibility in recent years, and that it has played a role in protecting fish stocks from over fishing. The report says that Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas should continue to be based on scientific advice and that the UK should not ‘discard the positive elements of the CFP that successive governments have worked hard to achieve’.  The committee also found that of the 666,000 tonnes of fish produced in the UK in 2014 (both farmed and caught) 499,000 tonnes were exported, and 66 per cent of those exports went to the EU. The UK also imported 721,000 tonnes of fish, 32 per cent of which came from the EU. If the UK fishing industry as a whole is to thrive post Brexit it will need to continue to have access to EU markets.  The report is last of six reports published last week as the Committee scrutinises Brexit ahead of the expected triggering of Article 50 in March 2017.

Here’s to the Year That’s Awa! By Kay Ullrich
It’s that time of year again when we say goodbye to the old year.  I have to admit it will be difficult to raise a toast to 2016.  Politically speaking it has been a roller-coaster ride with more downs than ups!  The highlight of course, was the SNP winning our third term in Government at Holyrood.  The team played a blinder and the electorate rewarded us yet again.  The low points however, vastly outweigh the highs.  Brexit – you all know what that means – it means Brexit?  Don’t worry – no one, least of all the Tory Government, knows what it means either!  What started as a “ Jolly Jape” by the Eton boys has ended in disaster for the UK (not least for Scotland).  Theresa though, kept the “heid doon” throughout the Referendum campaign and got her reward – trouble is, she doesn’t have a scoobie what to do now!  Scotland’s interests are of no concern to Tessie and her merry men .  What a difficult situation we are in thanks to the Tories, but we are lucky that the SNP are in power at Holyrood and will fight Scotland’s corner every inch of the way – with no help from the Unionist parties in Scotland I may add!  The Labour Party at Westminster are also proving to be as useful as a chocolate tea-pot – so afraid are they of the voters in what they thought was their “heartlands” they have given the Brexiteers a blank cheque. The SNP Group at Westminster is all that stands between a good deal and a complete meltdown.  One thing that has now become abundantly clear is that in Scotland’s political climate the game is now Unionist versus Nationalist.  We have evidenced this in some recent Council By-elections. Make no mistake, the Unionist electorate is interchangeable –Tory, Labour, Lib will rank Unionists regardless of Party. We must ensure that our voters understand the importance of voting only for Independence candidates on the list. That is the challenge ahead as we go into the Council elections in May.Then just when we thought the worst was over along came “the Donald!”  Here comes my mea culpa – did I ever call it wrong!  In spite of the time over decades that I have spent visiting family in the fly-over States I just didn’t see this coming.  Mind you, I should have guessed, as by the last week of the Presidential campaign, I had managed to fall out with most of my Husband’s relatives on Facebook. This was no mean feat on my part, as my Husband is one of 9 children, all of whom married and had many children and grandchildren!  My problem was, that I thought common decency would prevail, particularly among the Evangelicals.  How wrong I  was.  No matter who Trump insulted, no matter how far he was straying from “Christian Values” the more they seemed to think he was “God’s Choice”.  If Trump was God’s choice for President then I can only assume that he/she was having a “larf” at our expense!  It is fair to say that I will not be visiting Oklahoma or Arkansas anytime within the next four years.  I must mention that our other set of relatives in Chicago somewhat restored my belief that not all Americans are easily deluded.  While the UK and the US have to sort out the consequences of our self-indulgent votes, the Middle East is a cauldron of  misery and despair.  Nightly we watch the bombing of Aleppo on our TV screens, we see the suffering of the children caught up in the carnage, the bombing of schools and hospitals and our emotions run the gauntlet of sorrow, anger and helplessness.  As Aleppo fell, the United Nations issued a statement which said “ there is a complete meltdown of humanity in Aleppo” – a sad understatement underlining the World’s inaction!  Meanwhile in the Yemen, another outrage is being played out.  The so-called “proxy war” instigated and carried out by Saudi Arabia with, to our eternal shame, weapons bought from the UK. (I never thought I would agree with Boris!)  The truth is that the situation across the Middle East is in part a result of the meddling, the manipulation and indeed,the unlawful wars imposed on that Region by none other that the UK and the US! In fact, our great imperial feet have been all over the Middle East for nigh on a century.  So folks, I will not be unhappy to see the back of 2016, but 51 years in this wee Party of ours has made me into an eternal optimist!  I will raise my glass to the activists we have lost this year – the stalwarts who haven’t lived to see the “promised land”.  Their’s are the shoulders on which we stand – we owe it to them, to our children and grandchildren to keep campaigning for our Nation’s Independence – “it’s coming yet for a’ that”.  Have a lovely time over the Festive Season – and back to the fray in January! Lang may yer lums reek!

Economy Secretary Attacks Failure to Give Position on Single Market Membership
The UK Westminster Government's failure to give an indicative position on single market membership is "completely untenable", Scotland's Economy Secretary has said.  The warning comes more than six months after the vote to leave the European Union (EU) and following publication last week of the Scottish Government's proposals for protecting Scottish interests in Europe.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out options that would allow Scotland to remain in the single market if the rest of the UK leaves through the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the European Economic Area (EEA).  Mr Brown urged the UK Westminster Government to explore options for a differentiated outcome north of the border, after Prime Minister Theresa May played down the prospect of a separate Scottish Brexit deal.  He highlighted research from The Fraser of Allander Institute, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and the Centre for Economics and Business Research which has suggested leaving the single market could reduce Scottish GDP by £11 billion per year by 2030, cost the country 80,000 jobs over 10 years and mean an average reduction in income of almost £2,000 per person.  The Economy Secretary said: "Independent research has estimated the cost of leaving single market at more than £11 billion annually which could mean Scotland's public services revenues would be £3.7 billion per year lower than they are now. The EU is also the main destination market for Scotland's international exports, accounting for 42% of trade in 2014. Losing membership of the world's largest single market would mean forfeiting the right to buy goods and services from other parts of this union free from import taxes and would also seriously impact on the ability of Scottish companies to export to other EU member nations.  Research from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research recently estimated that losses in bilateral trade with other EEA countries from leaving the single market could be as much as 60% for the service sector and up to 44% for manufacturers, which would be disastrous to our economic prosperity as a nation.  More than six months on from the EU referendum, it is completely untenable that the UK Government are unable to give even an indicative position on whether it supports remaining in the single market.  The people of Scotland voted to remain within the EU and a 'hard Brexit' would severely damage our economic and social interests.  That is why I want an assurance from the UK Government that Scotland's interests will be at the heart of any negotiations on the future of the UK within the EU.  Should the rest of the UK leave the Single Market we want to see a differentiated outcome for Scotland, one that permits us to remain inside the European Single Market and protect the jobs and economic benefits it brings."

Draconian Planning Laws Turning Highlands Into A “Museum”

Kate Forbes said the treatment of the region as a “museum” was driving young families away.  The MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch highlighted recent examples in her own constituency, including one instance on Skye and another in Cairngorms National Park where “it took five years to prove why four young local couples and their families might be more important than slow worms and badgers and trees”.  A recent study estimated that the Highlands lacked 18,000 young people in the 15-30-year-old bracket, compared to the rest of Scotland.  Ms Forbes said: “Some view the Highlands and Islands as a museum, a place where artefacts take precedence over people. Don’t touch. Don’t shout. Don’t run. And definitely don’t spoil it for everybody else.  That’s fair enough at the Louvre, the National Library or an Historic Scotland property. But apply the same rules to communities and you suck the life out of them. Literally.  Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimate that if the Highlands had the same demographic profile as the rest of Scotland, there would be an additional 18,000 young people in the 15 to 30 age range.  We’re missing a significant chunk of a generation and with some attitudes, policies and actions we’re well on our way to missing a second generation.”  Ms Forbes highlighted two situations where she argued planning objections were holding back development and not encouraging investment in the Highlands.  “Last month, the Cairngorms National Park Authority finally approved an application for a housing development at the old sawmill site in Rothiemurchus,” she said. “It took five years to prove why four young local couples and their families might be more important than slow worms and badgers and trees.  “The greatest irony of all is that a commercial saw mill occupied the site 40 years ago and then a dump, before nature took over.  The National Park is unique in that one of its aims is to promote sustainable economic and social development of the area’s communities. Requiring locals to shell out thousands of pounds and spend five years negotiating planning applications is an active dereliction of that aim.”

Why Does  Scotland Office in Westminster Needs Extra Money?

An SNP MP has demanded to know why the Scotland Office "requires such an enormous increase in its budget" after receiving an almost 20% rise in the past five years.  Margaret Ferrier claims the increasing devolution of responsibilities from Westminster to Holyrood has left the Scotland Office a "zombie department" and questions the need for extra money. Figures show the Scotland Office real terms budget, excluding non-voted election expenditure, has increased for three out of five years since 2012/13. The 2016/17 budget is an 0.4% reduction and it fell by 2.8% in 2013/14 but the remaining increases, including a 14.4% increase in 2015/16, have led to a 19.9% cumulative increase since 2012/13.  At the same time, the SNP said the real terms Scottish Government budget, excluding council tax benefit, landfill tax, stamp duty land tax, Scottish rate of income tax and the £800 million capital budget increase pledged by the UK Government in the 2016 Autumn Statement, had led to a cumulative 1.9% decrease over the five years. Earlier this year it emerged Scotland Office communications expenditure more than doubled since 2011/12 to £426,223.  Ms Ferrier said: "The Scotland Office in Westminster has long been a zombie department with next to no responsibilities.  And with more powers transferring to the Scottish government, as David Mundell so enjoys telling us, it would be interesting to hear his explanation for why his department requires such an enormous increase in its budget.  We know that the budget for Mundell's army of spin doctors and publicity campaigns to promote the benefits of the union to the people of Scotland has more than doubled.  Perhaps he needs the extra help in trying to devise a believable reason for why he has U-turned on the single market and why he believes the people of Scotland should suffer Brexit despite not voting for it.  At a time when households are being told by Tories to tighten their belts and Scotland's budget which pays for public services is being cut so savagely to the tune of £2.6 billion by 2019/20, people are entitled to ask just what David Mundell has done to deserve his budget boost and what is he spending it all on?"

£500,000 Funding to Provide Bagpipe Lessons in Schools
Hundreds of children are to get the chance to learn how to play Scotland's national instrument following a £500,000 donation to support bagpipe lessons in schools.  The Scottish Schools Pipes and Drums Trust (SSPDT) has announced plans to almost double its funding to finance bagpipe lessons for pupils across the country in 2017.  The initiative was launched by the charity in response to most state-school pupils not getting the chance to learn the pipes and drums on the same basis as other instruments.  In its first year, more than 1,000 pupils in Scotland - in 93 state schools from 13 local authority areas - received tuition under schemes funded by the SSPDT which totalled around £275,000.  Alexandra Dunn, SSPDT chief executive, said: "It is a shame that the vast majority of our young people are not offered the chance to learn our national instruments in schools.  Our trust aims to protect the heritage of our national instrument but more importantly we aim to help improve outcomes for school pupils which will hopefully change lots of young people's lives for the better.  Piping and being part of a band develops a wide range of life and employability skills including teamwork, individual and shared achievement, discipline, commitment and self-confidence as well as musicality."  The SSPDT has also revealed the world's biggest schools bagpipe competition will again take place in Edinburgh in March.  More than 700 piping pupils from about 120 schools will march into the capital for the Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championship to show off their talent across different categories.