Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 385

Issue # 385                                                 Week ending 28th January 2017

Gentlemen, How Many of You Need A Computer in the Loo? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

We put our faith in computers so much. I am not just talking about the control systems of our nuclear missiles which have developed a glitch. The fireworks set off at the Plasterfield bonfire are more reliable and more likely to head off in the intended direction. I am just putting that out there for the attention of defence secretary Michael Fallon for his consideration as his current system is not a deterrent as it scares no one. At least the Plasterfield fireworks put the fear of God in every mangy dog between Ivorhill and Sandwick.

The current fancy and much more expensive computer-controlled system in use, called Trident, is not unlike my former trusty Windows system after I spilled a cup of coffee not just over the keyboard but over the box thing under my desk as well. It whirred, it clicked, it closed down and started up again. That was fine but it was when the steam, or was it smoke, began to belch out that I decided to veer off in the direction of Tech-Mobile, our local esteemed suppliers of technology stuff to the clueless and bewildered.

As it seems that officially we, the great unwashed of this once-great nation, are not supposed to know anything about missiles and that kind of stuff, I will write this quietly in case the P&J is on the MI5 reading list. After her embarrassing experience on TV with Andrew Marr the other day, Theresa may be on the dog and bone ordering an upgrade to missile control system v.211.76202 right now. No, I can’t tell you how I know that or even if I knew about it since Theresa took up residence in that wee side street off Whitehall but what I can tell you is that I continue to have faith in every aspect of our defence systems. That is the important thing. OK, that is enough codswollop for now.

However, I will put much more faith in a new computerised system out soon as that is aimed at getting men far more time in the loo. When you live with two women who seem to live in the bog, you may realise why I have such great expectations. It has some kind of sensor in the smallest room and that works out whether you are doing anything in there that you could do elsewhere. Having a shower or washing your face and stuff is fine. The computer says yes, carry on. However, if it detects you merely standing by the mirror, applying make-up or just pouting, you have 30 seconds before a buzzer goes off to advise you that you can do that anywhere at all as someone may be outside with legs crossed. Wahay, what a great idea.

Not everyone is so clueless about technology and some are even showing off how comfortable they are with it by always introducing its jargon into everyday conversations. I am fed up of people saying they will send me a hardcopy of something. It is a piece of paper, it is a printout. A letter, for goodness sake. When I returned a call from my insurance company, I heard someone say the cove looking for me was 404. That, apparently, is an internet term for “file not found”. I merely said: “When he comes back from the 404, tell him I hope he washed his hands and he can call me back.”

Even here in Stornoway they are at it. I saw a very important council official the other day coming towards me on the street. He smiled broadly and I asked him what was so funny. He laughed and said: “There are Windows on your laptop.” Wot? Are you completely mad? I have an iPad, not a laptop. What was he on about? That was when I realised my fly was undone.

I did refer to the great unwashed of this nation and there is a reason for that. I think that are more of them than we think and I do number myself among them. That is, of course, because as soon as I am in the bathroom, there is someone knocking on the door wanting me to get out. That means I only have time to do the very important things. Which is why I ask you to be understanding to those of us in our midst who suffer in this way. Be nice. Just remember that not every scruffy, smelly guy you see on the street is homeless. It could well be that he just lives with at least a couple of females in a house with only one bathroom.

Theresa May Told to End Electricity “Discrimination” Against the Highlands

A fresh call has been made for the UK Westminster Government to end unfair electricity charges which add hundreds of pounds to family power bills in the Highlands.  North MP Ian Blackford demanded that ministers put a stop to the “discrimination” in charging and introduce a universal network charge.  The region pays the highest bills in the UK, despite producing a surplus of energy, because of a regional system for distribution costs. There has been a major campaign  for an end to the “postcode lottery” in recent years, but the Conservative government scrapped plans to alleviate the pressure on Highland consumers when they won a majority in 2015.  Prime Minister Theresa May was grilled on the issue at Prime Minister’s questions in Westminster this week by Mr Blackford, the SNP MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber.  Last night, he said: “Winter is a difficult time for many people but it is especially so for people in the Highlands and islands who are penalised with higher energy costs because of where they live – despite living in an area with some of the harshest weather conditions in the UK.  Across the UK there are 14 regional markets with different levels of network charges meaning that electricity distribution charges for the north of Scotland are 84% higher than the charges for London and the standard unit price is 2p a kw/hr more than in other parts of the UK.  It’s true that 2p doesn’t sounds like much but it is a premium of 15% for consumers in the north of Scotland.  And in rural Scotland where households in off-gas areas rely on using domestic heating oil and solid fuel, costs are even higher with energy bills, on average, around £1,000 more than the national average.  It is time the UK Westminster Government introduced a universal network charge and put an end to the discrimination and unfairness that exists within our energy market.”

How Pipers Called the Shots At the Somme
A war correspondent reporting from the Battle of the Somme described the powerful impact of the pipes as Highland regimental pipers went into battle “screaming out the Charge”, and how afterwards the pipers played a Scottish “love song” as a lament to fallen comrades. London-born Sir Philip Gibbs (1877-1962), one of five official reporters during the First World War, wrote about the effects of the pipes and the extraordinary bravery of pipers and Highlanders among the British forces at the Battle of Delville Wood near the village of Longueval which raged from 15 July to 3 September 1916.  During the Great War 100 battalions had more than 2,500 pipers with them. Of these, 500 pipers were killed and 600 wounded.  Gibbs’ searing account of warfare led to him being ordered to return home as the War Office attempted to “manage” information about the war.  He refused to comply and was arrested and sent home. However, desperate to return to the front, he submitted to censorship.  Writing about the Battle of Delville Wood, Gibbs noted: “It was to the tune of the The Campbells Are Coming that one regiment went forward… heard with terror, beyond a doubt, by the German soldiers.  “Then the pipes screamed out the Charge, the most awful music to be heard by men who have the Highlanders against them, and with fixed bayonets and hand-grenades they stormed the German trenches.”  Reporting the hand-to-hand fighting, he wrote that he believed the Highlanders’ bravery was “habitual” as well as gallantry in war. He described regiments marching out of the war zone “their kilts caked in mud and stained with blood and filth”, with a piper playing the love song by Hector MacNeil (1746-1818) a Scottish poet who was born near Roslin, Midlothian.  They brought their music with them, and the pipes of war were playing a Scottish love song I Love Nae Laddie But Ain.  Hugh Anderson, curator of the College of Piping in Glasgow, said pipers paid a high price for their role in battle.  “They were the first ones out of the trenches. Their job was to rouse the troops and get them fired up. But when they were not in action their role was also very important with many acting as stretcher- bearers and entertaining the troops to keep morale up.” Dr Yvonne McEwen, director of Scotland’s War 1914-1919, at the University of Edinburgh, said the Germans were acutely aware of the power the pipers had to motivate Scottish troops and that research has shown music was also highly therapeutic in the war.  It really was a way of driving the men on and intrinsically linked to Scottish identity. The pipers were there for morale and the Germans knew they would rally the troops,” she said.  McEwen, an author and broadcaster whose research on First World War history has reached an audience worldwide, added: “The pipe music was also something deeply comforting to the Scottish soldiers, as it is so tied up in their Scottish identity.  But afterwards, when the immediate fighting was over, laments were played to signify the loss and reverence and to make sure they gave a respectful death to Scottish men who died in battle.”  In 2002 a memorial was unveiled in Longueval to pipers killed in the Great War.

Just in Case You Haven’t Seen It, Here is Scotland’s Brexit Plan

We believe that the best way to build a more prosperous and equal Scotland is to be a full independent member of the EU. But, following the EU referendum, the First Minister said she would explore all options to protect Scotland’s national interests.  The proposals set out today seek to find a solution which enables Scotland’s voice to be heard, as well as mitigating the risks that Brexit poses to our interests.  Here’s what you need to know about the proposals.

1. At the heart of the proposals is a framework to keep Scotland’s place in the European Single Market.  A Tory hard Brexit, outside the single market, threatens to cost Scotland 80,000 jobs over a decade and cost people an average of £2,000 in wages. Retaining our place in the Single Market would avoid that.  Firstly, we will argue that the UK as a whole should remain within the European Single Market and Customs Union. Secondly, if the UK decides to leave, Scotland should remain a member of the single market and should keep some key benefits of EU membership.  Our proposal seeks to ensure Scotland continues to benefit from the European Single Market in addition to – not instead of – free trade across the UK.

2. To protect Scotland’s interests, and the rights we currently enjoy as EU citizens, the Scottish Parliament should receive substantial new powers.  Powers returning from Brussels that already lie within devolved areas – such as fishing and farming – should remain the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. Further powers, such as employment law, should be devolved to Scotland to protect key rights.  Additional powers will also need to be devolved allow the solutions set out in our Brexit plan to be implemented, including immigration powers and the power to conclude international agreements in areas the Scottish Parliament is already responsible for.  

3. We do not deny the challenges in implementing our proposals but believe these can be overcome where there is political will to do so.  The whole Brexit process will be complex and unprecedented whatever the ultimate outcome. Our proposals offer practical solutions that are in the best interests of Scotland.

4. It is now up to the UK Westminster government to keep its side of the bargain. The ball is in their court.  Our proposals reflect our ambition to find as much common ground as possible and reflect a compromise on our part. We expect the UK Westminster Government to show similar flexibility.  As the current member state, it will be for the UK to negotiate with the other 27 member states of the EU. We expect them to honour their commitment that Scotland is an equal partner in the UK and that we will be fully engaged in the Brexit process.

5. If Scotland’s interests cannot be protected, or are brushed aside by the UK Westminster Government, then the people of Scotland should have the right to consider independence. The Scottish Government was elected in May on a manifesto which said the following in relation to independence:  “The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum…if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out the EU against our will.”  There is no question, therefore, about the legitimacy of the Scottish Parliament and the people of Scotland considering the question of independence in these circumstances.

Nicola Sturgeon on Why Scotland is Growing to Be Better Than Ever Before
By the time you’re reading this, unless you’re a very early bird, I’ll be on my way to London for one of my regular visits to promote Scotland as a great place to live, work and do business.  It’s an important part of my job - and it is made so much easier by the affection that so many people in the UK, Europe and around the world have for our country. Only last week it was revealed that our tourism industry had more visitors from North America in the last twelve months than ever before - spending more money and providing a huge boost to our economy.  And further evidence of Scotland’s popularity with tourists was provided by Rough Guide’s decision to rank us second in their list of the top ten places in the world to visit this year.  That’s a huge recognition not just of our amazing scenery, our people and our many attractions, but also our reputation as an open and welcoming country.  There was more encouraging news for our economy this week when Scotland Food and Drink predicted that the industry would need to take on 27,000 new employees in the next ten years and our manufacturers reported a boost in orders at the end of last year.  Tourism, food and drink, manufacturing - these success stories are a reminder of just a few of the real strengths of Scotland’s economy.  I know that as a government we have a huge contribution to make to keeping our economy on track and I’m determined to work with business to do that. For me it isn’t a competition between supporting business and supporting public services – we have to do both. After all a growing economy means more resources to invest in our NHS and our schools.  That’s why we’re investing in new roads, rail and broadband across the country – so no matter where you are in Scotland, you have the access you need to get to work or to grow your business.  It’s also why I announced a £500m Scottish growth scheme to help businesses access the finance they need to expand and take on more people - the details are now being finalized and the scheme will open later this year.  And it’s why we’re investing in apprenticeships and transforming our colleges to give people the right skills to get good jobs. But it’s not just the investment we make in infrastructure or skills that makes Scotland an attractive place to live and work in.  The quality of life we offer, the services we provide and the importance we attach to issues like tuition-free higher education, personal care for our elderly, prescriptions free at the point of need, paying the living wage and increasing childcare are all hugely important to attracting people to Scotland and helping to creating new jobs.  To put it simply, if you are a taxpayer in Scotland you get more for your money, a much better deal, than anywhere else in the UK - and that’s a strong selling point.

Mental Health Figures for NHS Highland Among the Best
Mental health treatment in the Highlands was among the best in Scotland in recent months. According to figures for the latest quarter, 96 per cent of children and adolescents needing treatment in the NHS Highland area began it within the 18-week target.  The figures cover the three months up to the end of September.  This was against a national average of 81 per cent, with patients in neighbouring NHS Grampian having to wait an average of 21 weeks for treatment in the same period.  According to recent research one in 10 youngsters aged between five and 16 has a clinically diagnosable mental health problem.  The Scottish Government is due to publish a new 10-year strategy for mental health shortly, as a growing number of voices call for the issue to be given equal parity with physical health matters. Just before Christmas mental health minister Maureen Watt announced an additional £10 million of funding for primary care mental health services over the two years, with GP services providing greater assistance to signpost people to community support and help sufferers manage their own conditions.  The Scottish Government previously committed to increasing the share of the frontline NHS budget dedicated to mental health in each year of the current parliament.  Overall mental health spending is also set to increase to at least £1 billion this year as efforts continue to tackle the problem.

Star Chef From Ardgay Cooks Up A Great Reputation in London
A former ghillie from Ardgay is taking the London restaurant scene by storm – and is now set to beat a new foodie trail to the Highlands.  Just six years ago Andy Waugh was selling venison burgers from the back of pubs.  Now the 34-year-old from Ardgay has two top London eateries – one of which was hailed by leading food critic Giles Coren as “the best restaurant in the world” – and whose patrons include TV presenter Jeremy Paxman. And the former BBC Newsnight inquisitor certainly knows his Scottish larder as he regularly fishes in the north.  Coren was certainly won over. Of Andy’s Mac & Wild in the UK capital’s Great Titchfield Street, he wrote: “I loved this restaurant. Loved the vibe, loved the people, loved the attitude to food, loved the whisky.”  And it is certainly a family success.  Andy’s restaurants source their venison and game from Ardgay Game at Bonar Bridge, run by his parents Les and Lesley and his 32-year-old brother Ruaridh.  Sister Kirsty, 27, helped out on Andy’s market stalls and is “one of the best bakers I know,” he says.  He opened his first Mac & Wild in 2014 – after first starting the Wild Game Co – with the 65-seater Great Titchfield Street eatery and then last year added another 135-cover outlet in Devonshire Square. All his restaurants, where venison is the main dish, even have the name on the menu of the stalker who culled the deer.  Now Andy plans to start a Mac & Wild school which will see foodies, chefs and others involved in the industry head to the Highlands for the whole “hill to plate” experience.  With his Wild Game Co, which was set up to principally supply raw meat, Andy was a winner of the Young British Foodies Award for best street food in 2012.  Andy, who became a father four months ago with the birth of daughter Iona, said: “Having grown up in venison and game and I know pretty much everything there is to know about the meat. I grew up learning about the family business. I was born the year my father set it up and I could not have a better teacher.  I owe my parents everything – it’s all down to them. One of the great things about them is not only do they know their stuff, they have great people working for them and they have kept their staff. Head butcher Ali Polson has been with them for 20 years for example.  When I left university, where I started a degree in biology, I went and worked for my dad for two years.   My first official day of trading on my own was at Broadway Market in late August 2010. I drove down from Scotland and took however many thousands of pounds worth of meat. “By the end of the day we’d sold around £300 worth – I was chuffed to bits. But I then had to work out what to do with the rest of it and sent it all back home.  My dad told me never to let that happen again. After that I was pretty careful about the way I was ordering meat, taking only what I knew I could sell and a bit more on top of that. Anything I couldn’t sell, I would take home and eat. It was at Camden Market that we started selling the hot food and that enabled me to use the bits I couldn’t sell.”  Andy became a regular at street-food get-togethers and festivals with his pop-ups. Then he took the plunge into restaurants – with his parents supplying the venison and game.  The Highlands has the best larder in the world. I want the world to appreciate what we’re producing – maybe even encourage a few people to visit,” said Andy, whose wife Holly works for the BBC.  “I am very much into the seasonality of the food too, and venison is the crux of the menu.  The family company also supply pheasant, partridge, grouse, pigeon and rabbit.  It is all about quality. I know where it has come from, even who has shot it. The name of the stalker is on our menus. We also stock 150 whiskies.  I worked as a ghillie on a couple of estates so I grew up with our suppliers. I know what’s involved. It’s all about the produce, it makes our job a lot easier.  We are not trying to be pretentious, just serve delicious Scottish food.  One of the most important features of our food is knowing where it comes from. I know where ours comes from – I don’t eat meat if I don’t know from where it originates.  The venison is hung for about three weeks and I work closely with the chefs. I would like to have about half a dozen restaurants in London and a couple of international sites and hope to start the Mac & Wild school this year.  Our first year trading was better than we imagined. It’s going well.”

Midwife Claire Judged Best in Scotland
An Inverness woman has been named as Scotland’s top midwife after being nominated by an appreciative mother who described her as "an angel" for her support during an anxious pregnancy.  Claire MacPhee has been named the mums’ midwife of the year for the Scottish region by Emma’s Diary and will attend a ceremony in March when the overall UK winner from seven regional contenders will be announced. Ms MacPhee, who works for NHS Highland, was nominated by 44-year-old Debbie McDonnell following the birth of her son Finn at Raigmore Hospital in August. Although Mrs McDonnell has three children from her previous marriage – the youngest being 18 – she and her husband Alan were keen to have a child together. But having suffered several miscarriages and given her age, the pregnancy was regarded as a higher risk.  But with Ms MacPhee’s support throughout the pregnancy, she felt respected, empowered and special. "Claire is an angel – the perfect midwife," Mrs McDonnell said. "She is an incredibly competent medical professional but, importantly, very lovely as well. She helped me enjoy the sometimes scary, sometimes difficult journey towards motherhood.  Claire is by far the most wonderful midwife I have ever encountered. No question is too silly, no feelings unfounded. She was born to do this job and the profession is richer for having her."  Although Ms MacPhee was not present at Finn’s birth following a straightforward labour, she visited soon afterwards. She was also involved in Mrs McDonnell’s first pregnancy 21 years ago. The two women and young Finn will travel to London for the awards ceremony hosted by TV presenter and mother-of-two Kate Silverton. Emma’s Diary, a UK support service for mothers-to-be and new parents, and the Royal College of Midwives received a record 747 nominations from across the UK for the awards.

Highlanders Battalion Poised to Form New “Strike Brigade”
The Highlanders battalion is getting ready this year to move into a key role in the Army’s new “Strike Brigades”.  The historic Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons unit – traditionally raised in the north and north-east – will be part of Britain’s first new Strike Brigade.  On high alert and ready to travel long distances by land to crisis zones at short notice, they will operate the Army’s latest infantry carrier vehicles, which are still to be unveiled. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the new force would be able to make an “increased contribution to countering terrorism and building stability overseas”.  It will be comprised of four brigades, two of which will be “armoured infantry” and two as “strike”, with one of each remaining at high readiness at all times.  The Highlanders and the 1st Battalion Scots Guards will operate new Mechanised Infantry Vehicles in the first Strike Brigade, while the Household Cavalry Regiment and the King’s Royal Hussars will use new Ajax vehicles. Defence author and analyst Tim Ripley said last night that the changes were a key part of Army reforms.  “It’s the future of the British Army, they are very excited about it,” he said. “It’s the main activity in the British Army. It’s the highest priority programme going on right now.  The Strike Brigade is all about being strategically mobile. Being able to move from bases in Britain, across Europe to crisis zones.  The aim will be that the Strike Brigades will be able to deploy to Dover and be taken through the Channel Tunnel and then go on a train or drive to wherever in Europe they are needed.”  On role of The Highlanders, he added: “They are going to be the troops that get the new vehicles. They are going to get the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle.  They are infantry and are going to get a new kind of troop carrier which will have six to eight wheels. It’s so new they haven’t even bought it yet.”  The Highlanders is a successor of the Gordon Highlanders and the Queen’s Own Highlanders (Seaforth and Camerons), and traditionally recruited from the Highlands, islands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Aberdeen. It was a regiment in its own right between 1994 and 2004, after which it became the 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS).  The unit returned to the UK from Germany in 2015 and is now based at Catterick, North Yorkshire. Announcing the details of the plans to parliament last month, Sir Michael said the “modernised division” would represent a “significant uplift in capability”.  He added that “in times of crisis” the Army would in future be able to deploy a credible division of three brigades.  A “Strike Experimentation Group” is to be established in Warminster this year to pave the way for the first brigade to be formed by the end of the decade.  The Army will lose one of its three tank regiments under the plans, with the The King’s Royal Hussars to swap its 56 Challenger 2 tanks for a fleet of Ajax lightly armoured vehicles.  However, all existing regimental cap badges will be retained under the shake-up.  The first Strike Brigade will operate from The Highlanders’ current base at Catterick and Salisbury Plain.  However, the Scottish Government has raised concerns about plans to move the 1st battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots) from its current base in Belfast to Aldershot to become one of the new specialised infantry battalions.

Nicola Sturgeon Steps Up Indyref2 Calls After Supreme Court Ruling
A Supreme Court ruling that the UK Government is "not legally compelled" to consult the devolved administrations before formally triggering the Brexit process raises "fundamental issues" for Scotland.  Nicola Sturgeon claimed Scotland’s voice is being ignored and stepped up her calls for indyref2 after the Supreme Court ruled Holyrood should not get a say on triggering EU withdrawal.  The First Minister reacted angrily to the court’s rejection of the Scottish Government’s arguments that the Article 50 process should require the formal approval of the UK’s devolved administrations.  “It is becoming clearer by the day that Scotland’s voice is simply not being heard or listened to within the UK,” Ms Sturgeon said.  “The claims about Scotland being an equal partner are being exposed as nothing more than empty rhetoric and the very foundations of the devolution settlement that are supposed to protect our interests – such as the statutory embedding of the Sewel Convention – are being shown to be worthless.  This raises fundamental issues above and beyond that of EU membership. Is Scotland content for our future to be dictated by an increasingly right-wing Westminster Government with just one MP here – or is it better that we take our future into our own hands? It is becoming ever clearer that this is a choice Scotland must make.”  The 11 justices of the Supreme Court ruled MPs must be given a vote before the Government can trigger Article 50, it unanimously ruled the assemblies in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast do not need to give their formal approval with a vote.  The Scottish Government had based its legal argument on the Sewel Convention, which states that the Scottish Parliament should be consulted when Westminster legislates on devolved matters.  But Lord Neuberger said that “The Sewel Convention plays an important part in the operation of the UK constitution, but the policing of its scope and its operation is not a matter for the courts,” he said.  Ms Sturgeon said she welcomed the fact that Article 50 cannot be triggered without an Act of Parliament.  But she criticised the UK Westminster Government for attempting to bypass MPs, adding it was “a damning indictment” that it believed it could “press on towards a hard Brexit with no regard to Parliament whatsoever”.  The First Minister added: “We are obviously disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling in respect of the devolved administrations and the legal enforceability of the Sewel Convention.  It is now crystal clear that the promises made to Scotland by the UK Westminster Government about the Sewel Convention and the importance of embedding it in statute were not worth the paper they were written on.”

Royal Approval for Scotland’s Highland Games
Scotland’s highland games have been given a major boost with the announcement that His Royal Highness Prince Charles, The Duke of Rothesay has agreed to become the patron of the sports governing body, the Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA).  The announcement comes as the SHGA marks its 70th anniversary and Scotland celebrates the year of history, heritage and archaeology.  Founded in 1947 as the Scottish Games Association to standardise competition rules and ensure judging consistency, the SHGA works to promote and preserve highland games nationally and internationally. The Duke of Rothesay will become the association’s first ever Royal Patron. It is hoped that his patronage will help to further raise the profile of the iconic events, leading to greater public participation and engagement, helping safeguard the future of highland games.  With a history stretching back centuries, highland games remain important outdoor events throughout Scotland, generating an estimated £25million for the country’s economy each year. Games take place every weekend from mid-May until mid-September and on many weekdays during July and August.  Featuring piping, highland dancing, cycling, tug o’ war, and light and heavy athletics – including tossing the caber and hammer throws – highland games are a unique blend of Scottish music, dance, sport, culture and community. Many highland games also feature trade stands, helping support small local businesses and charities by providing a platform for them to showcase their products and services, further emphasising their role in communities. The SHGA oversees 61 of the 80 highland games that take place in Scotland annually. Combined, these games attract over 150,000 visitors, including thousands from overseas who can claim Scottish ancestry. Alongside hundreds of pipers and dancers, around 500 athletes compete in light and heavy athletics events, and running and cycling races at SHGA member events throughout the games season.

Ministers Target Half of Country's Energy Needs to Be Met by Renewables by 2030
The Scottish Government has proposed a "landmark" target for half of Scotland's energy needs to be met by renewables by 2030.  Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse announced the move as he published a draft strategy setting out policies and proposals for the heat, transport and electricity sectors.  Last week, the Scottish Government published a draft climate change plan which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 66% by 2032.  Environmental groups had campaigned for the 50% renewable energy target, with WWF Scotland arguing it was both " necessary and achievable".  Launching a consultation on the plans, Mr Wheelhouse told MSPs at Holyrood: "By the end of 2015 we had seen the largest annual increase in renewable heat output since measurement began, up by more than 1,100 gigawatt hours in a single year.  In 2015 Scotland produced enough heat from renewable sources to meet between 5.3% and 5.6% of non-electrical heat demand.  We can all take pride in such successes, however it's clear that more progress will be required, particularly in the supply of low carbon heat and transport, if we are to remain on track to meet our ambitious climate change goals.  To maintain momentum, a new 2030 all energy renewables target is proposed in our energy strategy, setting an ambitious challenge to deliver the equivalent of half of Scotland's energy requirements for heat, transport and electricity from renewable energy sources."  Mr Wheelhouse confirmed that underground coal gasification (UCG), a technique which produces gas from underground coal seams, "will play no part in our energy mix". On the controversial issue of unconventional oil and gas, including fracking, which is currently subject to a separate moratorium, he added: "We will very shortly launch our full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas so that the people of Scotland can express their views on this important and contentious issue."  The government said it would announce details of up to £50 million in funding for 13 projects across Scotland which will demonstrate low carbon or renewable electricity, heating or storage solutions.  The target was unanimously welcomed by opposition parties but they called for more detail on how it would be achieved.

MSPs Keen to Hear From Asylum Seekers on Struggles Faced
A Holyrood committee is urging asylum seekers living in Scotland to speak out about the struggles and hardship they have faced.  MSPs on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee are looking at the problems they encounter in a bid to determine what more public services can do to help.  The committee will examine what gaps exist in policies and services when the authorities are dealing with destitute asylum seekers after the British Red Cross estimated there were 700 people in this situation needing help in 2015. The committee will hear from organisations trying to help asylum seekers but convener Christina McKelvie stressed members were also keen to hear first-hand from those who have been affected. Asylum seekers are classed as destitute if they do not have either adequate accommodation or day-to-day living essentials, with MSPs wanting to find out how they get food and shelter. Ms McKelvie said: " We want to hear directly from asylum seekers living in Scotland about their experiences and the hardship they have faced. Nobody doubts the great harm that destitution can have on an individual or family."

Scotch Whisky Industry 'Creates £5bn A Year' for UK Economy

Scotch whisky creates almost £5 billion a year for the UK economy, according to research. The study, commissioned by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), also found that the industry supports more than 40,000 jobs across Britain, including 7,000 in rural areas.  It was also the biggest net contributor to the UK's trade in goods in 2015, the report said.  The document, entitled The Economic Impact of Scotch Whisky Production in the UK, was published as people prepare to raise a dram to celebrate Burns Night.  The study said: "The Scotch whisky sector directly contributes over £3.2 billion to the Scottish economy. When indirect and induced effects are taken into consideration, the industry's impact is £4.7 billion.The industry is rooted in Scotland but benefits from a closely related supply chain in the rest of the UK. When the rest of the UK is taken into account, a further £268 million is injected into the economy, leading to a UK-wide impact of more than £4.9 billion." The report found that the Scotch whisky sector is the largest net exporter of any British industry. The SWA is calling for the UK Government to "stand up for Scotch" in the forthcoming Budget and deliver a 2% cut in spirits excise duty.  Julie Hesketh-Laird, SWA acting chief executive, said: "Scotch whisky is one of the UK's most strategically important industries. Without valuable Scotch exports of around £4 billion a year, the UK's trade deficit in goods would be 3% larger.  Burns Night is the perfect time to raise a dram to the success of Scotch. But we are calling on the Government to 'stand up for Scotch' by addressing the high and unfair level of taxation distillers face in their home market.  The current tax of 77% on an average priced bottle of Scotch is a burden on consumers and the industry."

No Brexit Blues As Harris Tweed Firm Launches European Campaign

It is a fabric steeped in the oldest traditions of the island way of life.  But now, Harris Tweed is making an appearance in the continental world of high fashion. Harris Tweed Hebrides company has teamed up with one of Europe’s leading fashion and design schools to ensure that a new generation of the industry’s future leaders are ambassadors for the iconic fabric. A relationship with the Institute of the Applied Arts in Vienna is part of the award-winning company’s wider campaign to boost sales in Europe’s leading fashion markets including Italy, France and Spain. Visting Professors at the institute have included Karl Lagerfeld, Vivienne Westwood and Jill Sander.  Over the next two weeks, Harris Tweed Hebrides will also be involved in major promotional events in Madrid and Paris. The European initiative was boosted when the Italian super-brand Prada included four Harris Tweed “looks” in their main Autumn Winter 2017 collection. Final year design students will be supplied with fabric from the Shawbost mill to use in their graduate collections and the partnership will culminate in a grand fashion show in June. It is hoped that a long-term relationship will then be maintained. Harris Tweed Hebrides creative director Mark Hogarth said: “When we visited Vienna to explain Harris Tweed to the students, fewer than half of them had previously heard of it, but they were really enthused to learn of its qualities and provenance. That sums up the need for this kind of initiative.”