Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 382

Issue # 382                                                                Week ending 7th January 2017

Bliadhna Mhath Ur to you all, I do trust that you all celebrated Hogmanay appropriately.  This is the time of year when my overseas phone bills go through the roof, on the same token engendering a great deal of warmth and belonging.  Though I didn’t appreciate hearing about all the snow & storms they have been having - even in areas very close to the sea with some of them claiming the worst weather they can remember in ages.  Did someone say there’s no such thing as climate change?  - Robin.

My Resolution is That I’m Going to Avoid the Bothans by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr to everyone. Yes, I know that all happened at the weekend but it is such a marker for change that everyone should make a resolution to do better. In fact, I made one on Saturday morning resolving not to have even a drop of John Barleycorn until after the bells. I only had to keep my lips firmly snapped together for 14 hours and I would have triumphed but I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for a few years and conviviality ensued. That was that. It is never too early or too late to make good resolutions so we can begin paving the road to hell with them.

My proper New Year resolutions are being compiled. I no longer have a say in the outcome - a bit like the X factor judges at deadlock when they lose the right to decide anything. The reason is that Mrs X has not yet told me what they are. Her new list will feature some which have been on the old lists for many years. They will involve perennial favourites like losing weight and not dribbling. That includes not dribbling from the mouth in polite company or when I smell black pudding, not dribbling in the bathroom and not dribbling on the football field. Some are easier to keep than others.

My own resolution is to keep up protests against our honours system. The final straw was that decision to trouble Her Maj to be nice and pin one on the unsmiling grump that is Posh Spice. Since I heard that at the end of last week, I have been straining at the leash to scream and rant. How can it also be alright for politicians to hand over gongs to people who have done little worthwhile to earn them? For little, read nothing mostly. Handing over oodles of dosh to a political party is not something that should be publicly celebrated or which the members of the Royal Family should be forced to dole out trinkets for.

Nor do I think it is OK to give a gong to Ken Dodd for not yet falling off his twig. Some think it long overdue because he made them giggle when they were knee-high to a grasshopper but, sorry, that isn’t enough. Did diddy Doddy become the world junior number one comic at the age of 17? Did he beat Tim Henman to become the British number one - at tennis, tickling or anything? Did he go off to America and beat the world number one at anything? No, that was the cove from Dunblane. A rightful recipient of an honour that was created for recognising real back-breaking, gobsmacking achievement, Sir Andrew Barron Murray, OBE, CGP (Commander of the Gold Postbox).

I cannot work out how anyone thinks it is right to honour civil servants for doing the job they were paid handsomely to do. How is that a noble or fine thing? It’s just politicians rewarding flunkies and using our hard-earned to do it. Why do politicians who claim they stood for election “to make a difference” think they can sit on their hands and say nothing about this stain on our national character? Even the parties who claim to be so opposed to this ghastly system pay mere lip-service to their own pretty insincere worked-up objections.

Talking about objections, the Gaelic TV channel has been talking to people involved in the illegal drinking dens called bothans in Ness a few decades ago. It was interesting to hear about the objections from the ministers but I was only shocked they did not do more to stop it. It was amazing how many bothans were in Ness. Almost every village had one. I visited a few of them back in the 1970s, in the interests of research, of course. An exception was the village of Dell where all was quiet and legal. No sneaky drams there. None of us guys humping furniture back then wanted to deliver there, giving rise to the phrase in the pub afterwards: “I’ve had an awful day. In fact, I’ve been to Dell and back.”

Enough is enough. I am not just going to make a resolution to work harder and go jogging more often this year. I have to try another approach. Perhaps it is time for ask for divine intervention. I sort of tried it last year but something went seriously wrong. Excuse me while I put up another few words. Dear God, my prayer for 2017 is just two things - a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix them up like you did last year. Amen.

What is Hogmanay? A Guide to Scottish New Year Traditions, Events and Celebrations

For most of the world December 31 is New Year’s Eve, but in Scotland it’s something much more important: Hogmanay.  Hogmanay is a very big deal in Scotland. It’s the biggest day in the festive calendar, a celebration that makes Christmas Day seem very small indeed – and it’s like nothing else on Earth.  Simply Hogmanay is what the Scots call their New Year’s Eve celebrations. The origins of the word are unclear – some say it’s a corruption of the Greek words for ‘holy month’, others that it’s of French origin – but the celebrations themselves go back centuries.  Hogmanay’s origins are undoubtedly Viking. Norse invaders celebrated the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, with wild parties in late December.  Those parties began to incorporate elements from the Gaelic Samhain winter festival, which celebrates the beginning of winter, and Yule, whose celebrations were known as ‘daft days’ in Scotland.  Like many annual celebrations, the end result is a mix of its various influences.  Why is it such a big deal?  Because until very recently, Scots didn’t do Christmas. The Protestant Reformation effectively banned Christmas for 400 years, and Christmas Day didn’t even become a public holiday in Scotland until 1958 and Boxing Day didn’t become a holiday until 1974.  So while the rest of the world celebrated Christmas, Scots toiled. Their family get-togethers happened at Hogmanay instead.  How is it different from other New Year’s Eve celebrations? It’s longer. Hogmanay starts on New Year’s Eve but continues throughout New Year’s Day and into January 2, which is a public holiday in Scotland.  Most Scots party, but they also observe a number of traditions.  There are many customs, both national and local, associated with Hogmanay. The most widespread national custom is the practice of first-footing, which starts immediately after midnight. This involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt (less common today), coal, shortbread, whisky, and black bun (a rich fruit cake), intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Food and drink (as the gifts) are then given to the guests. This may go on throughout the early hours of the morning and well into the next day (although modern days see people visiting houses well into the middle of January). The first-foot is supposed to set the luck for the rest of the year. Traditionally, tall, dark men are preferred as the first-foot. Other traditions include cleaning the house before Hogmanay arrives, watching terrible TV programmes before the bells chime and singing Robert Burns’ poem, Auld Lang Syne. That singing is accompanied by a mass linking of arms, and those arms are supposed to then cross each singer’s chest for the final verse. While most people know the first verse, the lusty singing tends to tail off in the second as people realise they don’t know most of the words.  Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is the biggie: it starts with a massive torchlit parade on the December 30, includes a huge fireworks display, has performances from musicians ranging from up-and-coming acts to pop stars and the odd superannuated rock group, and pulls a crowd from more than 60 different countries.  Other Scottish cities have big parties too, but Edinburgh’s one is the biggest. In 1996, it attracted more than 400,000 people, although subsequent years have been restricted to smaller (but still big) crowds for safety reasons.  There are some weird traditions around Hogmanay.  In Stonehaven near Aberdeen the locals make balls of chicken wire, paper and rags, set them on fire and swing them around.  In South Queensferry, the ‘Loony Dook’ sees hungover Scots hurling themselves into the icy sea to raise money for charity. And in Kirkwall, the ‘Ba Game’ is an enormous game of street football that can last anything from four minutes to five hours and feature as many as 350 players.  There’s no right way or wrong way to celebrate Hogmanay, but if you want to do what many Scots do you’ll have a nice meal with family and/or friends, plenty to drink – including whisky, of course – to toast the new year, and a steak pie for dinner the following day when you finally emerge from your bed.

Family's Fury At 11 Hour Wait for Ambulance
Health campaigners have expressed concerns about ambulance cover in Caithness after a family claimed they had to wait 11 hours for one to be available to take their ill son to Inverness.  Caithness Health Action Team reported the story of an eight-year-old who was taken to his GP with breathing problems resulting from a lung infection. But it is claimed there were no ambulances available in Caithness to take him to Raigmore and had to wait for a vehicle to travel from Inverness to take him south.

Wick Scientist Named in New Year Honours List
A Wick scientist has been awarded an MBE after being named in the New Year's Honours list.  Professor Iain Baikie has been made a member of the Order of the British Empire for his services of the promotion of science education in Caithness.  Professor Baikie is the chief executive of KP Technology and also chairman of Science O3 which runs the Caithness International Science Festival.

Halkirk Bus Services to Inverness Saved
Bus passengers in Halkirk will still have a service travelling to Inverness after Stagecoach axed plans to remove all southbound buses from the village. The bus operator is introducing a new X82 service which will travel from Thurso and Halkirk to Dunbeath, where passengers will transfer on to other buses before heading down to Inverness.  The bus firm said it was stopping all X99 services from travelling through Halkirk and instead driving from Thurso to Castletown and Wick before heading straight to Inverness without passengers having to transfer at Dunbeath.  The original proposals resulted in an angry response from customers living in the Halkirk area at a public meeting organised by the Caithness Bus Users’ Group in Wick in November. Stagecoach have introduced the new X82 service which will travel from Thurso to Halkirk and Dunbeath to go down to Inverness as of Monday, January 9.  As part of the new X82 service, two buses will be available every morning. The first will leave Olrig Street in Thurso at 7:20am, arrive in Halkirk at 7:30am and travel to Dunbeath at 8:04am where passengers will transfer on to the X99 service.  The second service will leave Olrig Street at 8:50am, arrive at Halkirk at 9am and travel to Dunbeath at 9:34am where passengers will once again transfer on to the X99 service.  In addition an evening service will Olrig Street at 7:10pm, arrive at Halkirk at 7:20pm and Dunbeath at 7:54pm.  All X99 services will operate to a new route with all journeys serving Castletown between Thurso and Wick before continuing south to  Dunbeath, Helmsdale, Tain and Inverness.  The X99 services will leave Sir George Street in Thurso at 6:50am, 8:20am and 10:50am.  The alteration to the route will give a direct connection on service X99 for passengers from Castletown and Wick who previously had to connect at Dunbeath to use the service to Inverness.  Stagecoach North Scotland managing director Mark Whitelocks said views received from feedback as part of the public consultation has lead to the changes in its services.  He said: “Our overall aim is to provide a better, more efficient and more reliable package of services to our customers. The changes we are making to our bus network in the Highlands better reflect the travel habits of our customers, providing better connections within Inverness, to Inverness as well as between other towns and villages across the Highlands.  Introducing the public consultation ahead of the formal registration process has built on the insight we gain when working with various community councils and bus user groups within the Highlands area.”

Milngavie Fire Update - No Reason to Believe Wrong House Was Targeted
The police have confirmed that they have no reason to believe that the wrong house was targeted when a deliberate fire was started at a home in Achray Place, Milngavie. Cameron Logan (23) was tragically killed during the fire at his parent’s semi-detached home in the early hours of New Year’s Day. His girlfriend, Rebecca (Bex) Williams (24), who works for Capital and Heart Radio as a journalist, is still in a critical condition at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.  They had been staying with Cameron’s mum and dad, Cathy and David, after they returned from a night out to celebrate Hogmanay.  Detective Chief Inspector Paul Livingstone from the Major Investigation Team, said: “Specialist officers are assisting with the investigation into this horrific and spiteful attack which has left a young man dead and a young woman fighting for her life in hospital.  A joint investigation with the fire service to establish the exact cause of the blaze is continuing, however I can confirm it was a deliberate act and that there is no information to suggest the wrong house was targeted. At this time it is unclear who the intended victim or victims were and we must keep an open mind and investigate all possibilities.  It is absolutely critical that we speak to anyone who was in the area, particularly between 6.30am and 8am hours on New Year’s morning. You may have been out walking your dog, making your way to work or coming home from a Hogmanay celebration – if you were in the area please come forward and speak to us. Whether or not you saw anything suspicious, if you saw anything at all or anyone in the area then give us that information and we will decide if it’s relevant to our investigation. In particular I would like to trace the occupants of a dark coloured car, which was parked in a lay-by on Craigton Road near to Clober Golf Club around the time the incident occurred. The car had its engine running and the passenger door was open. If this is your car, or if you have any information about who the car belongs to, then please get in touch. Local people will undoubtedly be shocked and concerned about such a horrendous crime being committed in their own community. I would like to reassure them that we believe this to be an isolated incident and our officers are doing absolutely everything they can to find the person responsible as quickly as possible.  There will be additional patrols as well as a mobile police caravan in the area for the foreseeable future and if anyone has any concerns our officers will be more than happy to speak to you.  Whoever is responsible for this despicable crime does not deserve to be protected. Somebody must know, or at least suspect something. I would ask you to please come forward with any information you may have and help us provide answers to two families who have been left absolutely devastated by what happened.”

Jane Austen Fiver Worth £50k Discovered in Scots Christmas Card

A rare plastic £5 note which features a micro-engraved portrait of Jane Austen has been discovered inside a Christmas card in Scotland.  It’s the second one to be found, after the first was discovered in south Wales last month.  The note, which could be worth up to £50,000, was discovered on Thursday.  And it now means that there will be a desperate search for the final remaining notes in circulation around the UK.  The images on the notes were created by specialist micro-engraver Graham Short, who travelled to different locations in the UK to spend them.  Each image of the ‘Pride and Prejudice’ author is surrounded by a unique quote from some of Austen’s most celebrated novels. Anyone who finds one of the notes should contact the Tony Huggins-Haig Gallery in Kelso, Roxburghshire, which launched the project.  Tony said the person who found the note in Scotland wished to remain anonymous.  He told the BBC: “When somebody opened their Christmas card from a loved one, it was contained in that Christmas card.  The person who put it in didn’t necessarily know what they were doing.  That’s two down and there’s still two out there. Keep checking your change.”

Loo with A View Will Be Most Remote in UK
The remotest public loo on mainland Britain is to be built – more than 300 feet above the sea and in a bombing range!  The toilet at Cape Wrath, the most north westerly point on mainland UK, is being constructed by the peninsula’s only resident.  John Ure is also converting the old machine room near Cape Wrath Lighthouse into a bunkhouse capable of taking ten people. He is also opening the loo for the public in a nearby outbuilding. Mr Ure runs the most remote cafe in the country right next to the lighthouse and admits he has not seen any customers for more than a month.  He usually serves around 3000 people a year, concentrated in the main season, when the area is not being used as a bombing range by the MoD.  But getting to the Sutherland lighthouse, four miles from the 900-feet highest vertical cliffs on mainland UK, is not easy.  It involves a seasonal ferry journey across the narrow Kyle of Durness and a 11-mile trip up a bumpy road.  But still a few thousand walkers and tourists head to the cape each year.  "I think the main thing that has been missing up here is a public toilet so I am planning to install one in an outbuilding and have it open around May," said Glaswegian Mr Ure, 63, a former engineer. "I am hoping to also have the full bunkhouse facilities open at the same time. But if anybody makes it up here before then, there are bunkhouse facilities in the café.  I once had 17 people stay – they got caught in a storm last year. They just kept coming in twos and threes. It was a great night. The walkers are always good company.  I just thought it would be great to upgrade the facilities and a loo was desperately needed. There’s none literally for miles and we are trying to discourage people using the place as a wild toilet.  I will also be offering evening meals and breakfast, a grocery shop in the cafe for the walkers, as well as among the best views on the planet."  The military are also increasing their use of Cape Wrath with the installation of three new major gun battery sites.  The build-up comes at a time when the nearby community of Durness is bidding to buy the only land the military do not own at the remote peninsula. However, the group behind the community buyout bid said it believed the new gun emplacements would not pose a threat to its scheme to secure the area around the famous Cape Wrath lighthouse. Work has begun on what now gives the army and navy a greater ability to fire more regularly from inside the range to targets within it.  Each installation will be capable of taking five artillery guns.  The military usually shell from the land at the Faraid Head peninsula – opposite the cape at Durness – and often to Garvie Island.  It is believed among the users of the new firing sites at Cape Wrath will be 148 battery, part of 29 Commando, Royal Artillery.  The cost of the work at Cape Wrath has not been disclosed.

Early Christmas Present As Wrapping Comes Off £1.4m Falls of Shin Centre
The wrapping came off Sutherland’s newest landmark just in time for Christmas.  The scaffolding was finally removed at the new visitor attraction at the Falls of Shin, revealing the outside of the salmon shaped building.  Designed by Sutherland-based CH Architecture and built by William Gray Construction, the new centre will employ up to 7 people and be home to a café, retail space and toilets.  It’s a community-owned facility which will replace the previous centre, destroyed by fire in 2013.  As well as the building itself the central plaza will be a venue for events and stands will give an opportunity for local producers and providers to showcase their products to visitors at peak times.  Valerie Houston, Implementation Manager on the Falls of Shin Community Project at the Kyle of Sutherland Trust, said: "We are thrilled with the progress of construction and it’s great to see the building take shape so quickly. Our focus for the New Year is on finishing the interior and making sure everything’s ready for us to open in the spring, in time to provide a wonderful attraction for both visitors and locals."  The original Falls of Shin Visitor Centre was a popular attraction until it was destroyed by fire in 2013. The Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust bought the site earlier this year and are developing the new building on behalf of the local community.  The site has been redesigned to make car parking less prominent visually and safer for all visitors with a central grass plaza providing a venue for galas, farmers’ markets, seasonal events, arts and culture.  As well as the new centre and landscaping, the project also involves improved signage which is being developed to encourage visitors to use the walks offered by the Forestry Commission for Scotland.

Sir Ivan Rogers Resigns As UK's Top EU Diplomat
The UK ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers will step down months earlier than planned, dealing a potentially significant blow to Brexit negotiations just as they are set to begin. The Financial Times reported that Sir Ivan, who was appointed to lead David Cameron's renegotiation talks with the EU ahead of last year's referendum, had resigned from his role just months before the Government is due to trigger Article 50 in March. Sir Ivan provoked anger among pro-Brexit figures at the end of 2016 by warning the Government that EU leaders believe a post-Brexit trade deal could take a decade to finalise and that even then may fail to get ratified by member states.  He also said European leaders believe the Brexit deal is likely to be a free trade arrangement rather than continued single market membership. His warnings relating to the potential timeframe for a Brexit trade deal are believed to have caused relations to strain with some members of the Government.  The Financial Times said Sir Ivan told staff on Tuesday of his decision to step down ahead of his original departure date set for November. The BBC reported that the Foreign Office had confirmed the resignation, but had not given any reasons for the decision.  Meanwhile, his advice prompted some pro-Leave Tory MPs to label him a "gloomy pessimist".  Labour former shadow foreign secretary and chairman of the Commons Brexit Committee Hilary Benn told the BBC the resignation was "not a good thing".  "I think that it means that the Government will have to get its skates on to make sure there is a replacement in place so he or she can work with Sir Ivan in the transition, the handover," he said.  "But the hard work is going to start very soon, because if Article 50 is triggered, as the Government says it wishes to, by the end of March, then negotiations will probably begin shortly thereafter.  And having a handover in the middle of that, depending on when exactly he goes, is not ideal."

Cromarty Firth Ship-to-ship Campaigners Take Battle to Holyrood
Protesters against proposals to transfer oil between ships in the Moray Firth are to take their fight to Holyrood next week. The Cromarty Rising group, who are leading the campaign against the Port of Cromarty Firth scheme, has announced plans for an "Edinburgh Gathering" outside the Scottish Parliament during First Minister’s Questions on January 12. Describing it as an attempt to "politely but clearly make our feelings on ship-to-ship oil transfers in open water in the Moray Firth known," the group adds "a good turnout for this trip could make all the difference."  It follows a spate of high-profile activity by the group and other supporters of their fight which included a mass gathering of around 500 people on the beach at Nairn and a presence outside Highland Council headquarters ahead of the local authority’s last full meeting of 2016.  At that meeting councillors declined to take a definite position in relation to the port proposals, after advice that doing so could endanger their right to comment when a revised licence application is submitted by the port.  This is expected imminently and the council is one of the statutory consultees. Instead, councillors agreed to discuss the matter at a scheduled council meeting in March or to bring this forward if, or when, a revised application is actually submitted.  The controversial plans to transfer crude oil from ship-to-ship at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth in environmentally sensitive waters famous for its bottlenose dolphins are being refined in a bid to overcome some of the public’s fears.  The plans have attracted a number of objections from community councils and conservation groups.

Petition Launched to Save Couple From Deportation
A petition has been launched to help prevent a couple from being deported to America.  Russell and Ellen Felber were told the week before Christmas they had just 30 days to leave the UK and their popular Torridon Guest House in Kenneth Street, Inverness.  Their predicament has attracted a wave of public sympathy from across the Highlands and beyond, as well as support from Inverness MP Drew Hendry and the Rt Rev Mark Strange, the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness, who maintain the couple – originally from New York – should be allowed to remain.  The Courier has now joined the campaign by starting a petition calling on UK immigration minister Robert Goodwill to reverse the Home Office decision. It states the couple have complied with the conditions set at the time of their application and should be allowed to stay in Inverness where they are valued, have built a life and a business and continue to make a positive contribution to the community.  Mr Felber said he and his wife had been overwhelmed by the level of public support.  "We have had Christmas cards and emails from people we don’t even know," he said. "When I walk into the local supermarket people are asking about us and supporting us. Our neighbours have asked if there is anything they can do."  The uncertainty is taking its toll, however. Mrs Felber spent days in hospital due to stress and is now recovering at home.  "We are coping with difficulty," Mr Felber said. "You just wake up and have a headache most of the day. We go from day to day."  The couple, who used to visit the UK every year, moved to the Highlands in 2011 on a three-year entrepreneur visa which was later extended for another two years. They have invested £400,000 in their guest house – which had previously been used as student accommodation – and frequently get glowing reviews from guests on the TripAdvisor website for their hospitality and standard of accommodation.  But their application for permanent residency was refused in September due to an employment issue, despite the Felbers maintaining they met all the criteria when their two-year extension was granted. "This is our home now," Mr Felber said. "There is no other place for us to go." The couple, helped by Mr Hendry, SNP MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, are making a two-pronged approach in a bid to stay.  Mr Hendry is seeking an urgent meeting with the immigration minister to ask for the case to be re-examined while the couple have also applied to have their case heard by the Court of Appeal. They understand that will give them some breathing space but because of the Christmas and New Year break, they remain uncertain over what will happen next.  Mr Hendry said the timing by the Home Office was "incredibly insensitive". He added: "The ability to respond has been severely curtailed by the holiday period. It has left Russell and Ellen in limbo."  The MP is urging people to support the Courier’s petition which he will present to Parliament or Downing Street.  "It will show how deeply the public feels," he said. "It can make a difference and I think the more we can highlight how unfair and unjust this situation is, the better – particularly given the fact the Felbers have complied with everything in the best possible faith, even though the rules are complex from the Home Office.  Putting the Home Office in the spotlight will hopefully allow the minister to see the nonsense and reverse the decision."  He maintained the couple had complied with all the rules and had a very strong case and a lot of people supporting them. "There is no good reason why they should be put through all this stress and uncertainty for the future," he said.  "We have always been and always will be welcoming to people who want to come and make a positive contribution to Inverness and the Highlands. The last thing which should be happening is that those people, wherever they come from and who are helping to make this a better place, should be put under pressure."

How Illegal Moray Distilleries Gave Us Our National Drink
The hidden role a tiny Moray community played in the birth of Scotland’s national drink will be uncovered as part of a multimillion-pound regeneration project.  Members of the Cabrach Trust have recruited two researchers to explore the “prehistory” of whisky as part of a scheme to breathe new life into the remote area.  The historians will focus on how illicit distilling paved the way for the creation of what is now a lifeblood industry for the Moray region worth billions of pounds to the Scottish economy.  The Cabrach Trust is aiming to transform a traditional farm near Inverharroch Castle into a distillery and heritage centre. The findings of historians Gregor Adamson and Kieran German, who will begin the research scheme this month, will shape members’ plans to use ancient methods to produce whisky. The pair will focus on the distilling techniques used at the Cabrach in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Mr German said: “This project will perform a vital role in securing the heritage of the whisky industry.  The Cabrach is the perfect destination to tell the story of the origins and emergence of distilling in Scotland.”  Mr Adamson added: “Our research will help create a blueprint for the recreation of an early distillery at Inverharroch, and will underpin the heritage programme there.”  The Cabrach Trust unveiled proposals to adapt the steading into a distillery in September as part of a drive to bring more jobs and visitors to the sparsely populated area.  The organisation’s executive director, Sue Savege, said the new project’s findings would “directly influence” the venture.  She said: “Our early research points to Inverharroch as being the possible site of one of these early distilleries, which is very exciting for us.  The Cabrach and its people played a very important role in the pre-history of whisky and the establishment of the industry in Speyside, and we are very keen to unravel this story.  What we find out will be integral to our plans.”  It is hoped the historians will unearth information on how whisky was produced, stored, aged and transported centuries ago. In the late 1700s and early 1800s, the Cabrach was a “legendary” haunt for the illegal production of the drink.  Locals created an underground network of secret stills in the hills, along with a distribution system designed to evade customs and excise officers.  In 1823, after several unsuccessful attempts by the government to end illicit distilling and smuggling, a new act of parliament ushered in the era of commercial distilling in 1823.  Licences were then issued for five new distilleries in the Cabrach – Lesmurdie, Cabrach, Tomnaven, Buck and Blackmiddens.  Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said that uncovering the “largely untold story” of the Cabrach’s role in the nation’s whisky heritage could put the neglected area back on the map.  Mr Lochhead said: “The Cabrach has a rich heritage and a largely untold story relating to the area’s colourful role in various chapters of Scottish history, especially whisky distilling.  It is most welcome that more light will be shed on these fascinating issues. This research will surely highlight that the area was once a hive of activity and interesting characters. Bringing that story to current generations will help the Cabrach community build on its plans to regenerate.”  The estimated opening date for the distillery is 2018.

How Hebridean Island of Mingulay Was ‘Wiped Out’ by Plague
It is a story of a plague that wiped out a Hebridean island population, the disease said to have come ashore with a shipwrecked boat.  When a boy was sent to Mingulay to check the condition of the islanders, he found the people all dead in their homes - and he was forbidden to leave given fears the disease had set in his stomach.  After surviving on sheep that he killed with his pocket knife, he was to go on and rebuild the island, with the land given free to his father to compensate for not letting the boy home.  This is one version of the story at least, with various accounts of the desperate episode in existence, some which place the outbreak on Mingulay more than 200 years apart.  The version of storyteller and singer Nan MacKinnon, also known as Nan of Vatersay, places the illness, which reportedly killed 10 people, to the 14th Century. MacKinnon, whose work has been recorded by Edinburgh University’s Scottish Studies department, said: “MacNeil of Barra, who was in Eoligarry House at the time, was wondering why the Mingulay people weren’t coming over to visit Barra as usual.  So he sent a boat over to Mingulay to investigate, but when the boat arrived at Mingulay, there was no sign of life on the island, so the older men who were on the boat ordered a young lad of 17 to go ashore and find out what was wrong.  The account added: “The boy did as he was told. He entered all the houses in the village, but they were all dead. He was in such a state after finding them dead that he called out at the pitch of his voice, before he got near the boat, ‘Oh God, they are all dead.”  MacKinnon’s account details how one of the older men called out to him ‘if it’s a plague that killed them all you’ve got a stomach of it already, so you’d better stay where you are.”  Despite begging to get back on the boat, the boy remained on the island for six weeks.  His father, Kenneth MacPhee, was furious that MacNeil refused to say what had happened to his son and threatened to pull his house down.  MacKinnon continued: “So the chief had to be honest about it all.”  It is claimed that MacNeil told MacPhee to “pick his own men” and go to Mingulay “where the island would be theirs free of rent as long as any of his generation lived.”  The boy, meanwhile, had survived on the sheep that he had killed with his pocket knife and on shellfish.  The hill that he is said to have climbed to seek out passing ships is called MacPhee’s Hill to this day.  Ben Buxton, in Mingulay, and Island and its People, published by Birlinn Books, disputed two key facts in Mackinnon’s account of the plague.  The first was that the MacNeils did not move to Eoligarry until the 18th Century and that the island was in no way rent free until 1840, when John Gordon of Cluny bought the land from the MacNeil family, who by this time were riddled with debt.  MacKinnon, in her account, also linked Kenneth MacPhee to the Eigg Massacre and said he was just a “baby in arms” when his father fled the island around the time of the mass killings, said to have happened around 1577.  A further account of the deadly outbreak on Mingulay was recorded by folklorist Alexander Carmichael, which possibly originated from storyteller Roderick MacNeil, nick-named Ruairidh an Rùma.  Carmichael’s work has also been documented by Edinburgh University. The Carmichael Watson Project noted that, although the word ‘plague’ is not used in the story it may be assumed that such an outbreak took place at some point during the 16th Century, just as a similar outbreak of smallpox decimated the population of St Kilda during the late 1720s.  Mingulay was eventually repopulated but following decades of tumultuous depopulation and survival, it was finally abandoned in 1912.

Indyref2 Could Be Shelved with "Soft" Brexit
A second referendum on Scottish independence could be shelved if a so called “soft Brexit” approach is adopted when the UK quits the EU, Nicola Sturgeon has indicated.  The First Minister said she is ready to seek “consensus and compromise” in the short term, although she made it clear she believes Scotland is heading towards independence in the longer term. A “soft Brexit” would mean that the UK retains membership of the EU single market, which Ms Sturgeon has previously said is a red-line issue because of its importance to the economy north of the Border.  The SNP has already launched a second national conversation on independence as it seeks to win over wavering No voters from 2014, while the Scottish Government has also drawn up legislation for a proposed second referendum to be held. Ms Sturgeon indicated yesterday this could be shelved “in terms of the timetable of Brexit” if a soft exit could be achieved.  “I think there’s a lot of consensus starting to build around some of those additional powers, for example around immigration,” she told BBC Radio Scotland. “We’ve put forward very detailed plans about how we avoid a hard Brexit and the reason it’s important to avoid a hard Brexit, let’s not forget, is because that will have a devastating impact on our economy and on jobs.  So I’m in a sense willing to put aside my preferred option of independence in the EU to see if we can explore a consensus and compromise option.”  The First Minister added: “We want to try to work with others across the UK, across the political spectrum, to try to keep the UK in the single market.”  The First Minister warned later on social media it was a “reasonable assessment” that a second independence referendum currently appeared more likely than a soft Brexit, but said the Scottish Government proposals had been “put forward in good faith”, adding “Ball is in PM court”. The alternative of a so called “hard Brexit” which would see the UK face hefty tariffs on trade with other EU nations – where none exist at the moment – are at the heart of the Scottish Government concerns. Independent research by the Fraser of Allander Institute has suggested this could mean the loss of 80,000 jobs in the long term and cost the Scottish economy billions of pounds.  Ms Sturgeon insisted she is “never going to stop arguing for independence”. She added: “I think Scotland will become independent and I think that’s the direction of travel. But we’re talking at the moment in the context of the Brexit vote.”

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