Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 386

Issue # 386                                                           Week ending 4th February 2017

Why Learning Arithmetic is Sum Times So Very Necessary by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

It must rank as one of the bravest excuses ever. When the organisers of the half-marathon in Glasgow in October were told they had mucked up and that the course they had pegged out was way too short, they put their thinking caps on to try and come with something to make their obvious laziness, disorganisation and sheer stupidity seem not that terrible. They had not bothered to double-check anything, failed to understand the importance of getting it right for the competitors and made it seem as if they were only interested in taking the moolah.

The Bank of Scotland Great Scottish Run half-marathon course, from George Square to Glasgow Green, was 149.7 metres short of the full 13.1 miles. That is a heck of a lot. That’s from here to, well, right over there. Wait a minute. I was never good at arithmetic but ... That’s going on for nearly 300 feet. 400 feet? According to the back of this fag packet, it’s nearly 500 feet. Nah, that wasn’t a case of putting the tape on the wrong side of the road.

The clots made a complete pig’s ear of it and measured the wrong bit of road, or I’m a Dutchman. That’s what I’ve been thinking since I heard so many of the runners could not believe how well they had done. There were so many personal bests that Hillhead was out of champagne for weeks afterwards. A few hundred smartphone timers and GPS kits could not all be wrong. Yet the Great Run Company were sticking to their guns and claiming all was OK, they had done everything right and congratulations to everyone for doing so spectacularly well.

Now, let’s see what they are saying this week. They say a small section of the prescribed route wasn’t followed correctly in Bellahouston Park. That cut off 50 metres. The rest, they say, is due to the difference between measuring on closed roads compared to a measure on unclosed roads. Eh? What does that mean? Closed or, unclosed, as they call it, did they actually measure them or not? No answer. Did they measure the road after a three-hour lunchtime pub session? No answer? They merely said they have been doing it for 30 years so they know what they are doing.

They have introduced several extra checks to ensure this situation won’t be repeated. In other words, they are finally doing what they should have done all along. They are double checking their own calculations to make sure that they got the arithmetic right. It’s just what you have to do. Everyone has to do it. I write as someone who often gets my own calculations not quite right or, in other words, wrong. I found maths, and particularly arithmetic, deadly dull and boring. If I had a pound for every arithmetic exam I failed, I’d have, let me think, about £7.89 now.

So what about the Association of UK Course Measurers (AUKCM)? Yes, that is a thing. They tell me that all running courses should be measured by someone on a bike. They calibrate the digital measuring thingy on the bicycle by measure a known distance with a common extra-long steel measure as found in your local hardware shop. Nowadays they also use a hi-tech laser gadget but both methods are allowed. As long as the person rising the bike does not wobble too much or has not been to the pub, it is incredibly accurate.

They say it is also fairly important to ride the exact route. Well, who would have thought it? Now the organisers insist they have learned a lesson and they are determined to do better from now on. They say they have very professional staff who always give 100% in absolutely everything that they do. That’s the spirit. You cannot but feel good about yourself if you always give 100%. Er, unless you’re a blood donor that is.

Last summer, an old acquaintance of mine claimed to have landed a monster salmon over on the mainland. He did not have scales and his attempts at taking a photo merely resulted in a selfie with the hairs up his nosing featuring very prominently. However, he had a measuring tape and he claimed it was nearly 50 inches long. Wow, it was, he boasted, really quite record and his king of fish would probably be 40 or 50lb. Soon after he realised he had measured it in centimetres, not inches. I have not heard from him for a while. He was hoping to get a new job. Yeah, he’s probably with the organisers of the Great Scottish Run.

Great Scottish Run Course Confirmed As 150 Metres Short

The course for last year's Great Scottish Run half marathon has been found to be almost 150 metres short, invalidating records and personal best times set at the event.  Organisers remeasured the supposed 13.1-mile route through Glasgow after doubts were raised and they found it was 149.7m short.  The Great Scottish Run said it was down to "human error" when measuring the distance before the race.  An event spokesman said: "A small section of the prescribed route was not followed correctly in Bellahouston Park, which accounted for approximately 50 metres of the shortfall.  The remainder of the shortfall was as a result of the difference between measuring on closed roads compared to a measure on unclosed roads - which was the methodology used in August as a result of notification of essential utilities works affecting the course."  The finding means the Scottish half marathon record of one hour 22 seconds set by Callum Hawkins in the October race will be wiped away, along with other personal best times.  Organisers have apologised to Hawkins, who they said "fully deserved his place in the record books after his fine run", and to the winner of the women's race, Betsy Saina. Extra measures are to be put in place later this year to ensure the distance is accurate. Race director Andy Mitchelmore said: "Great Run take responsibility for the miscalculation and we apologise unreservedly to the runners and to the city of Glasgow. This was an isolated incident.  In the 30 years since the company was formed, more than four million people have participated in hundreds of our running events and the distances, which are measured by qualified independent parties, have been correct."

Churchman Branded ‘Bigot’ in Gay Issues in Schools Row

A row has erupted after a churchman claimed the promotion and discussion of gay issues in schools increases bullying.  Lay preacher Ally MacLean, an appointed member of the Highland education committee, called for all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender LGBT references to be removed from school literature to avoid potential incitement – but his choice of words angered some councillors.  He claimed that “homosexuality and other LGBT practices are being taught in school,” and that books in schools were “promoting LGBT practices”.  Mr MacLean told committee colleagues that many parents are concerned that pupils are being left “confused and disturbed”.  He said: “We’re against bullying in our schools and elsewhere in society, whether it’s against LGBT people or any other group, but it appears the LGBT lobby is using bullying of pupils to bring their agenda into our schools.” He warned that “overt” LGBT lifestyles “attract attention,” adding: “Sadly, one of the reactions against them may well be bullying.”  Committee colleague and Nairn SNP councillor Stephen Fuller was appalled by the statements.  He said: “The whole tone was quite bigoted against LGBT groups.”  The committee ultimately backed the “Time for Inclusive Education” report before them. Mr MacLean, 68, a member of the Free Presbytery Church of Scotland in Dingwall, is one of three religious representatives on the committee. Churches, the NHS and a youth convener are all appointed under local government law. Responding to the attack, Mr MacLean said: “If anyone’s got an opposing view to the the LGBT agenda they’re looked upon as being homophobic or bigots. I am most certainly not homophobic, nor am I racist. But I think there should be fairness.”  He urged any victims of bullying to speak to their head teacher or guidance staff.  A council spokeswoman said: “Mr MacLean holds one of the committee places required by legislation for faith representatives. His comments were rejected by councillors.  “While we know LGBT pupils can experience bullying, we’re committed to address this.”  Highland LGBT activist Kevin Crowe said: “The unelected Mr MacLean seems to be blaming victims for being bullied, whereas the only way to eradicate bullying is for teachers and education authorities to confront it head-on. I wish there had been campaigns against bullying when I was at school in the 1950s and 1960s, when male homosexuality was still a crime.”

Cera Impala & the New Prohibition Milngavie Concert

Cera Impala & The New Prohibition are going to perform at Milngavie Folk Club in the Fraser Centre, Milngavie, on Saturday, February 18.  Songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Cera Impala is a banjo, ukulele and guitar-wielding mama who oozes wild style. Her voice is unique yet timeless, with writing style just as magical. She creates songs that feel instantly familiar. Cera performs with her hand-picked band, The New Prohibition, featuring the talents of Joel “Jello” Sanderson on double bass and “Dr.” Dirk Ronneburg on fiddle.

Police Keen to Trace Mother and Son, Eight, Missing in Highlands
A mother and her eight-year-old son have gone missing in the Highlands.  Police are anxious to trace Linzi Davis, 36, and River Bain, aged eight, from an address in Auldearn near Nairn. They were last seen close to Nairn railway station on Friday and have failed to make contact with family or friends. The pair have links with Nairn, Inverness and Forres and Police Scotland say it is also possible they have travelled to the Edinburgh area using public transport.  Ms Davis is described as 5ft 2in tall with medium build and dark brown hair worn in a side parting. She has tattoos on the top of her right arm and on her collar bone. River is described as slim with short dark hair. It is not known what they were wearing when last seen.  Police are anxious to trace Ms Davis and River to ensure they are safe and well and urge anyone who may have information to contact Police Scotland.

Child Abuse Inquiry Must Look At Migrants Programme, Says Gordon Brown

An inquiry into historic abuse must consider the 200 Scottish youngsters who were amongst the thousands of child migrants abused after being sent to Australia and other Commonwealth nations, Gordon Brown has said.  The former PM said that in some cases, "abuse was piled upon abuse" for those involved in the Child Migrants Programme, which ran from the 1920s to the 1960s.  It saw poor children sent to a ''better life'' in Australia and elsewhere, but many of them were physically, emotionally or sexually abused.  Mr Brown said: " Approximate 200 Scots boys and girls were child migrants. The separate Scottish inquiry into sexual exploitation, chaired by Rt Hon Lady Smith, should make this a subject of their investigations."  The former PM, who formally apologised in 2010 for the UK's role in sending thousands of its children to former colonies, also wants the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in England and Wales to "examine in detail" claims from survivors that they were sexually abused, after these emerged in evidence given to the Royal Commission in Australia.  He said: "Separating the child migrants forever from families without any choice in the matter was an inhumane violation of these children's rights.  But then for governments of the day to know of abuse and yet to continue the policy for another decade-and-a-half was criminal negligence of the most vulnerable children who had been entrusted to their care."  Some youngsters suffered "shocking" abuse, he said, adding: "That such abuse was allowed to happen and remain undetected was unforgivable." He continued: "Perhaps most insidious of all, we now know some church and charity leaders came from Australia to Britain to handpick British boys for their own gratification through systematic molestation.  In some cases, that molestation and rape started within a few hours of them setting out on their long journey to Australia." Mr Brown issued a statement on abuse almost seven years after making an apology in the House of Commons for the "misguided" Child Migrants Programme, which he said had "ruined" the lives of many.  An estimated 150,000 poor youngsters aged three to 14 were sent to Commonwealth countries such as Australia and Canada, but many ended up being abused in foster homes, state-run orphanages and religious institutions.  Children were often told their parents were dead, while parents were given very little information about where their offspring were going. Survivors said that on arrival, they were separated from brothers and sisters and often subjected to brutal physical and sexual abuse by those who were meant to be caring for them.  Education Secretary John Swinney has previously rejected calls for the remit of Scotland's historic abuse inquiry to be expanded. The inquiry was set up to examine allegations of abuse from youngsters placed in children's homes and foster care, as well as those cared for by faith-based organisations or in long-term hospital care and boarding schools.  But while some abuse survivors have called for the terms to be expanded, Mr Swinney said such a move would mean the inquiry would take ''many more years to conclude''.  A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: " The Child Abuse Inquiry's remit covers children whose care was arranged in Scotland and who were subsequently sent abroad as part of these arrangements, whether the abuse took place in Scotland or overseas.  Our In Care Survivor Support Fund is also working with a number of survivors living outside Scotland to address their needs."

Alex Salmond: UK Ministers Asked Me for Help on Donald Trump

Two ministers in Theresa May’s government asked Alex Salmond for advice about how to approach Donald Trump, but failed to heed his warning to “sup with a long spoon”, the former First Minister has said.  Mr Salmond also claimed Mrs May would have “no influence” in talks with the EU because she had tied herself to a president believed to be hostile towards Europe while supporting Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  The unidentified ministers are understood to have approached the former SNP leader before Christmas, independently. As First Minister, Mr Salmond had a roller-coaster relationship with the new US president which began warmly as the property tycoon invested millions of dollars in golf resorts in Scotland. It ended with Mr Trump attacking Mr Salmond as “Mad Alex” and accusing him of “ruining Scotland” in a dispute over a planned offshore wind farm facing his estate in Aberdeenshire. Describing the approach, Mr Salmond said: “I advised them two things: under no circumstances rush into a relationship, and don’t do it under terms of disadvantage. That is what she did - she went rushing into the relationship under terms of disadvantage and it’s already unravelling.” Dozens of MPs have signed a motion calling for President Trump not to be invited to address both houses of parliament on a state visit planned for later this year, in protest at his controversial refugee and travel ban.

Hub on Nhs Highland Agenda

Plans to develop a new single health and social care “hub” facility on the north coast of Sutherland were to be put before the board of NHS Highland on Tuesday of this week. The proposals follow a period of consultation as to the future of care home services currently provided at Caladh Sona, Talmine, and the Melvich Community Care Unit in Portskerra. In 2014, the Highland Council agreed to a £1.5 million capital spend for a replacement facility for Caladh Sona, opening up debate as to its scope and location. A report on the NHS-led formal consultation, which took place between July and October 2016, sets out the three options on the table. The report asserts that, of these, building a new care home facility in one location garnered the highest level of overall support. According to an NHS consultation document, the “hub” concept could combine a range of facilities alongside residential and nursing care beds: suggestions of what these might be include GP services, community nursing, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, podiatry, dentistry, social work and even the ambulance and fire services.  Christian Nicolson, NHS quality improvement lead for the north-west, said that the board would not be invited to agree on a final location for the hub at this stage. “The board will be asked to approve the model in one location (replacing the two existing residential care home facilities located in Melness and Melvich). Further, the board will be asked to approve the recommendation that further work is required around the preferred location.”  The NHS has been quite open as to its preferred location from the outset. A summary public consultation document published in July 2016 stated: “If their recommendation was implemented NHS Highland would run services in a new purpose built facility in the Kyle of Tongue area.” Perhaps predictably, therefore, a report on the consultation period identifies the Kyle of Tongue as the front runner for a new facility, stating that 64% of respondents were in favour of this area. However, it acknowledges that “significantly more people did respond to the consultation from the Tongue area,” potentially skewing the result.  In March 2016, it was highlighted that the issue of fair representation of views across all areas, drawing particular attention to Scourie and Kinlochbervie. Asked whether further efforts had been made to gather opinion from this area, Christian Nicolson stated: “Copies of the consultation survey were made available to people in the Scourie/Kinlochbervie/Durness area. A drop-in event, similar to those held in Melness, Bettyhill and Melvich was held in Kinlochbervie. The respective community councils were contacted on a regular basis throughout the consultation period and local councillors were also communicated with as part of the process. Time was spent with pupils in the high school.” However, she conceded that of those who included an address in their response, only 4.5% were from the Scourie, Kinlochbervie and Durness area. There were no attendees at the drop-in event held in Kinlochbervie on October 12. Given the geographic spread involved, it is surprising that the consultation report divides responses into only two broad locations: “Area 1”, which combines the community council areas of Scourie/ Kinlochbervie, Durness and the Kyle of Tongue, and “Area 2”, covering Bettyhill, Strathy/Armadale and Melvich. As might be expected, views diverge even within these areas. The NHS feedback on the preferred location for a new-build reveals that the “Area 2” response was much more split, with Bettyhill the most favoured option, but with Melvich and the Kyle of Tongue also attracting a significant share of the vote. On the face of it, the unity of “Area 1” may have more to do with the fact that most responses came from the Tongue area, which understandably supports the replacement or enhancement of Caladh Sona. Views have also differed on whether a single new-build is indeed the right option, especially from the more easterly parishes which have most to lose if an upgraded facility is located further west. In October, Strathy and Armadale Community Council argued for the retention of services in Melvich alongside the renovation of Caladh Sona, “to keep services on that side of the coast.” Summarising the views of the community council, chairwoman Janette Mackay said that “centralising all services to a new ‘hub’ is only of use to those living close to it and would spoil what is at present available in our local doctors’ surgeries.”  A significant concern for all is staffing. Although Melvich Community Council issued a statement in support of a new, single hub facility, on the grounds that retaining two separate units was “unsustainable,” there were worries about the recruitment and retention of nursing and social care staff. Strathy and Armadale were likewise uneasy about staffing a new build if it were to be located around Tongue, stating that workers from the Melvich side often covered shifts at Melness due to staff shortages further west and that nursing staff resident in Caithness would be reluctant to travel the distance to Tongue. Asked how the NHS might tackle this issue, Christian Nicolson acknowledged that these concerns were still a factor: “We plan to consider this internally and to commission some external review. We will ask staff their views about where they will be willing to work, compare how long it has taken to fill posts in the different care homes and look at how some of the challenges might be addressed.” On a more reassuring note, consultation feedback revealed overwhelming support for the retention of day care facilities as they stand. Gill McVicar, director of operations for NHS Highland’s north-west operational unit, confirmed that there are no plans to change existing arrangements for day care services in Kinlochbervie, Tongue and Melvich.

‘The Hills Are Dead’

Environmental activist George Monbiot aims to better “the terrible legacy of European farm subsidies” with a post-Brexit world in which “rewilding” benefits from the support hitherto given to hill farmers.  In a submission to a House of Commons environmental audit committee inquiry, Mr Monbiot sets out his case for an alternative system. His premise is that “our bare hills are an artefact of three principal activities: sheep farming, deer stalking and grouse shooting” and that sheep in particular “are a fully automated system for environmental destruction.” The blame for this desert is laid at the door of European subsidies. He claims that “without farm subsidies, there would be scarcely any hill farming in Europe” — a good thing, in Mr Monbiot’s view.  David Forbes, a crofter from Rhivichie, Rhiconich, takes issue with some of Mr Monbiot’s conclusions, particularly their relevance to Scotland. Here, he points out, “the actual split of farm subsidies is 4% to the poorest, category 3 hill land, occupying one third of the area of Scotland, and 96% to the better land elsewhere. A shift, as happened in the other UK countries, of money ‘up the hill’ would have given a vibrant rural hill agriculture here, but sadly this has not happened, despite it being a target of the EU funders themselves. This is due to powerful lobbying by the arable sector of the Scottish National Farmers’ Union.”  What of the human impact of removing farming subsidies? Mr Monbiot is vague on this point, asserting that “claims to be preserving a cultural landscape tend to reflect the interests and practices of particular, dominant interest groups.” His alternative to the current system is “rewilding”, which he defines as “allowing trees and other rich vegetation to return to some of the places in which farming is an unproductive land use.” Ominously, over 85,000 acres of Sutherland are currently owned by the rewilding enthusiast and Danish billionaire, Anders Holch Povlsen.  Mr Forbes points out that “just because the land is poor, it does not mean that it should be a monoculture of trees. Land can help support many families given the chance.” He believes that “balance and variation of future land use would be most acceptable to most people” and that the political fad surrounding trees has its own follies.  What about the tourism argument? Mr Monbiot claims that “if an area became more attractive to visitors as a result of its richer wildlife and ecosystems, those who are not employed in farming are also likely to benefit.” While conceding some financial benefits, as seen in the success of the North Coast 500, Mr Forbes sees the case for environmental tourism as “too simplistic, as there are knock-on negative effects. More people, more problems with roads, toilets, erosion.” And while Mr Monbiot asserts that taxpayers may be more sympathetic to “such obvious public goods as functioning ecosystems and magnificent wildlife,” his submission contains one obvious flaw. Nowhere does he address the most obvious function of farming — food production – and how a return to wilderness is going to balance out that loss.

View From the Croft Gate
by John MacDonald
Another year, and probably a false dawn for those of us looking for a year of peace from mankind-induced tragedy. We can but hope. On the croft front everything has been very quiet, as has been the weather. The named storms seem to have given us a miss, and for that we are truly thankful. Quite satisfying to see on the telly news reporters braving the elements with umbrellas as they attempt a broadcast while we can look outside and say, “well, it’s not raining here.” But I had best not tempt providence.  The animals are faring well, with the sheep going for the wrapped hay, of which we have a good supply. They were glad to get off the parks where we had them over the tupping period and get loose on the bit of hill ground that we have.  We were very glad that the weather was benign over the New Year period and not only from a crofting perspective. We had put word around that we were planning one of our Heritage Music events in the old school. That unleashes problems (“will the weather be open?”), the school being in what is called “the top of the parish”, a very exposed spot were one of the snowy spells which used to mark New Years of old decide to return for 2017. The next problem is who will turn up and how many. But, as usually happens, everything fell into place and all went well with an excellent night of music. Getting the old open fire well stoked up set a good atmosphere which, along with new curtains, helped to keep the draught at bay and the place cosy. I like to think of it as good heritage in that we seemed to capture the atmosphere that prevailed at such events pre-1960 and before the arrival of modern media. We do not charge admission, but a raffle attracts donations and covers expenses. Tea depends on what people contribute and usually there is more than enough. Booze rules are relaxed and plain common sense, neither neglected nor exploited.  The old ceilidh nights were ruled by the Master of Ceremonies. There were always people whom you could depend on to be there and give the event backbone by providing a song or playing an instrument. Once a ceilidh gets warmed up a good MC will entice a turn from members of the audience should he get the hint that a latent talent is there to be tapped. Often this brings surprising results, e.g. “I never knew so and so could sing.” Anyway, our music evening went well, and it was nice to have some of the youngsters of the parish participate and to pass on to them the ceilidh atmosphere which we used to enjoy when I was of their age. I think that one or two were a bit apprehensive of the BBC chaps recording proceedings, but assurances were given in that if you did not wish your contribution to be recorded, that was respected. Not that it mattered, the BBC were there to document a year on the croft of our neighbours, visiting at specific periods, and obviously this was the “what happens at New Year” spot. So our ceilidh will probably just be used to set the atmosphere. Time will tell. I just hope that they give us a decent long shot of our neighbour playing his fiddle along with his talented daughter on her cello. Apart from that, New Year passed quietly, with no attempt by me to wind the years back and hold things in the “old style,” although we did call in on immediate neighbours. Then things went downhill when my cold turned into bronchitis or something similar. All energy disappeared. Fortunately the antibiotics seem to be working and I have found the strength to turn on the computer. But I doubt if antibiotics will help look for a topic to write about. I just wonder if the flu jab was any good. But perhaps without it my cold would have turned into full-scale flu and then you would not need an article: an obituary would do.  With spare time to pass, thoughts turn to tasks to keep me occupied which do not require much physical exertion. Foremost must be some of the heritage projects that are long on the back burner. One such regards a series of letters which were sent home by a local lad from the Boer War. They provide a window on this period, so often overshadowed by the subsequent 1914-18 war. I have in mind to write the story from the letters, then get someone to relay onto it where the story fits into the history of the war and round it off with someone playing the fine pipe airs that were being composed at that time.  Our soldier had been a ghillie in Ben Armine before he left to join the Seaforths and wondering what John Mackay had to say when he heard of him signing up. The Lovat Scouts arrive on the scene and among them are names from our parish past with which I can still identify. Indeed, I remember some of them. It is interesting to have him write about these old worthies and his opinion of them. He is trying to get a transfer to the Scouts as they get almost double his pay. Pockets, I would like to take a flying visit, if I could, for a feed of beer and venison. (The beer most preferable.) I would like a good drink, just to see how it feels to have a spree. We get rum every night now on the march and that helps to brighten us up a bit, for it is horribly cold and stormy weather here just now.” Has anyone an idea who “Pockets” could be? By-names often outlive the person and get passed on to the next generations. Whoever Pockets was, I suspect that he was one of the regular Loch Choire ghillies. Chummy Bella would be the gamekeeper’s daughter. It makes fascinating reading. It’s a pity that my father is not still around; he would enjoy it. Another extract is a foretaste of what the British Army will face some twelve years hence: “One of our generals in command of a column lost four big guns last week and I don`t know of the time that they may be used against ourselves. To make it worse two pom-poms are in the captured lot. They are the real terror of the war for the fearful damage. I would rather face the fire of a whole battery of guns than one pom-pom.” The Pom-Pom was an early design of machine gun.  I had best shoot off now.

Nicola Sturgeon Slams Tory Bid to Block Indyref2 Plans

Nicola Sturgeon said the arrogance of the Tories “knows no bounds” as she reacted to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s suggestion that the UK Government would block another independence vote.  Sir Michael said the Conservatives at Westminster would not grant the First Minister the power to hold another independence ballot, as he instead urged her to “get to grips” with problems in Scotland’s schools, health service and economy.  When asked if the UK Government would facilitate another referendum in this Parliament, Sir Michael told the Herald : “No, forget it. The respect agenda is two-way.  “She (the First Minister) is constantly asking us to respect the SNP Government but she has to respect the decision of Scotland to stay inside the UK in 2014 and the decision of the UK to leave the EU. Respect works two ways.”  Ms Sturgeon accused him of “backpedalling” on the issue when during a radio interview he later refused to say if Westminster would block a second independence referendum.  Pressed on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, the Defence Secretary said: “We don’t see the need for a referendum, I think this is a diversion. What the Scottish Government should be focusing on is what it was elected to do, which is improve school standards, get to grips with the problems in Scottish hospitals, and reverse the serious rise in unemployment.” Ms Sturgeon raised the prospect of another referendum after Scotland voted to stay in the European Union but the UK as a whole voted to leave. She has also said Prime Minister Theresa May’s intention to take the UK out of the European single market “undoubtedly” increases the chances of a second vote.  Sir Michael said: “Scotland voted in a UK referendum and overall the United Kingdom voted to leave.” Criticising Ms Sturgeon, he said: “She is trying to divert attention from her failure at the moment to get to grips with the main issues that affect Scotland - that is not a referendum. What people in Scotland want to know is do they have a Government that is prepared to deal with the challenges in Scotland, particularly in schools and hospitals and also in the economy. Anything else is a diversion.  We’ve made it clear there is no need for a second referendum and the Scottish Government should be getting on and dealing with the things the Scottish Government was elected to deal with.”  Reacting to his remarks, a spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “The arrogance of the Tories knows no bounds. They now think they can do what they want to Scotland and get away with it – not content with trying to drag us out of EU against our will with the support of just one MP out of 59 in Scotland, they are now suggesting they might try to block the nation’s right to choose a different path. Any Tory bid to block a referendum would be a democratic outrage, but would only succeed in boosting support for both a referendum and for independence itself – something which the Prime Minister has previously indicated she understands all too well. Our mandate is unequivocal, with a manifesto commitment which makes explicitly clear that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to decide on an independence referendum if Scotland faces being taken out of the EU against our will. And no Tory Westminster government has a right to stand in the way of that.  Michael Fallon’s comments betray how rattled the Tories are about Scotland – but his frantic backpedalling when pressed on the issue this morning shows that he understands what a disastrous strategy it would be for them to try and deny Scotland’s democratic right.”

Comment - R

The tories are rattled because if Scotland ever did vote to be an independent nation again, what would be left of the united kingdom? that's right, an increasingly right wing little England, with no oil and gas money, no whisky, Scottish tourism or renewable energy revenues and stuck with trying to find somewhere to put the weapons of mass destruction that they would no longer be able to afford. Wake up Scotland and realise just how much you contribute to this union and ask yourself this, would the people who actually live in your country not be better at running it? It's a no brainer unless you think the Scots, for some reason are not as intelligent, as the people who currently do run this country. look at the shambles they've made, the bottom has fallen out of the pound and the country reduced to grovelling to Donald Trump for a trading deal. It's embarrassing. c'mon Scotland, now's the time.

Soldiers' Tower Sold to War Veterans for Just A Pound

The historic Soldiers’ Tower has moved a step closer to being saved after landowners signed a deal to sell the title deeds of the monument for just £1.  The Hempriggs Estate, which owns the land where the landmark has towered over Wick at North Head for almost 110 years has sold the title to Wick Royal British Legion Scotland (Wick RBLS).  The tower was in danger of being demolished by Highland Council at the end of last year after it carried out a survey on the monument.  It was looking at two options of either repairing the tower at a cost of £41,000 or demolishing the structure and transferring the plaques from the tower to another war memorial site in the town.  Wick RBLS reacted furiously towards the suggestion of knocking the tower down and started a fundraising campaign to carry out repairs.  It was later established that Hempriggs Estate owned the land the tower stands on and it is handing over the title of the tower to Wick RBLS.  It was constructed in 1909 in honour of the soldiers from Caithness who served their country in conflict.  When the tower was opened, a casket containing the names of 400 soldiers from the county was buried under the floor. Wick High School is carrying out a project to discover the identity of the 400 names that were buried under the floor of the tower.  Up to 150 first-year pupils are to research the history of the names where each pupil will look into at least four names each.  The secondary school is working alongside Wick RBLS as part of the project.  The tower honours men from Caithness who fought and sacrificed their lives in conflicts between the French Revolutionary Wars in 1797 up to the Boer War in 1902.  Conflicts which were engraved on the side of the tower include Balaclava, Trafalgar and Waterloo.

Eleventh Hour Turnaround on Local Authority Budget Cuts
Cuts to council services will not be as severe as first thought, following a Scottish Government turnaround. The Scottish Parliament was preparing to vote on a national budget, including a lesser cut to local authorities than originally feared. This has welcomed by Highland Council budget leader Bill Fernie, who said this, combined with income generated from a council tax rise, will mitigate the £26m planned cuts.  Suggested cuts to organisations such as Women’s Aid, which was saved from a £40,000 cut at the eleventh hour last year, and Citizen’s Advice Bureaux, will no longer go ahead.  A £660,000 reduction in the budget for street cleaning, which would have resulted in the loss of 24 full time jobs, will also be lessened but the council is hoping for help from the public through a "change of attitude" towards littering.  Some, but not all, countryside rangers will also be saved, although the service may be transferred to High Life Highland and a £319,000 cut to music tuition will be reduced.  Cllr Fernie said: "This year has brought a tough settlement forcing us to make £26 million of savings to meet the budget gap. This has meant that cuts to services and the funding we provide are unavoidable. We see the clear value in keeping our streets clean and tidy and for this reason we intend to propose a lesser reduction in street cleansing by prioritising the areas serviced and by promoting a culture change in attitudes towards littering." Allowances paid to councillors who take on committee chairman roles will also be reduced, which cllr Fernie said was in light of strong public opinion.

The Best Deal
by Nicola Sturgeon
The Scottish budget has been approved by MSPs this week.  Our spending plans deliver the best deal for taxpayers anywhere in the UK. For our health service, that means an extra £304m – delivering record funding of £13bn.  Schools will benefit from £120m to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap.  To support jobs, our Small Business Bonus will ensure that 100,000 firms pay zero business rates.  And to support households, we’re freezing the basic rate of Income Tax - meaning 99 per cent will pay not a penny more than they did this year. All this plus free prescriptions, personal care for the elderly, free tuition and zero bridge tolls. Meanwhile in Westminster this week, MPs voted to take Scotland out of the EU and into the unknown – with the support of just one of Scotland’s Mps.  Next week MSPs will have their say on the triggering of Article 50.  Whether it’s Brexit or protecting our vital public services, we’re standing up for Scotland.