Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 395

Issue # 395                                                                    Week ending 8th April 2017

The Very Secret Diary of Michael Howard, aged 75¾ by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

So we are going to war, are we? If we need any more proof that some of our more, er, mature politicians are quite gaga it is the suggestion from a few of them that we should be on a war footing in case Spain snatches Gibraltar. Just because they overdo the brandy and cigars after sumptuous meals in the finer clubs that central London has to offer, does not mean we have to listen to ancient politicians. When they come out with complete and utter nonsense like that, they should merely be smiled at sweetly and have their pillows fluffed.

In the early 1700s, a British and Dutch fleet supporting Archduke Charles of Austria, whose ambition was to be King of Spain, took over Gibraltar from Spain. A deal was done later to get Britain out of that war by giving us Gib as a sweetener. Spain has since tried to get it back but the problem is that the people who live around the Rock of Gibraltar keep voting to stay as a BOT. That is a British Overseas Territory to you and me.

Michael Howard is proud of our naval history. We did stand up against nasty dictators but that doesn't give anyone the right to start sabre-rattling at another sensible country just because it feels it has a historic claim to something we own. Of course, he has not counted on Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy. He is like no British politician - certainly nothing like Michael Howard ever was. For six years, he has been prime minister and has led the Popular Party - which is very popular.

He is very popular himself too, even though the PP are pretty much like our Conservatives. How can you not like a prime minister who sends texts to people he does not get on with and who ends them: “I’ll phone you tomorrow. Hugs.” Would prim and steely Theresa May do that? Would globetrotter Nicola Sturgeon take a break from roaring down Route 66 to send a wee hug text like that to the giggly Kezia Dugdale? Nah, me neither.

Michael Howard’s memory must be going. He wasn’t even an MP when the Falklands War against an Argentinian dictator began, an event he seems happy to draw parallels with. So he probably has a wee diary hidden away somewhere and he probably peers at his old notes. Unfortunately, he didn’t have it with him when Jeremy Paxman had to ask him 14 times if he overruled the head of the prison service on TV 20 years ago. I think his eyes are going too because it will say Spain is a democracy, not a dictatorship.

He probably made an entry in that diary when his former buddy, Ann Widdecombe, told the nation that Howard “had something of the night about him”. All the newspaper cartoonists began to depict him as a vampire which drove a stake through the heart of his bid to become party leader. “Dear Diary. Note to self: Never talk to AW again. Very rude. Never liked her. If I did have fangs, I would go for the jugular. Need to stop now. Sun coming up. Eek.”

Did I mention I have been to Gibraltar? I managed to blag a jolly in an RAF Nimrod when I was stationed in Kinloss and had great fun chasing Eastern Bloc submarines in the Mediterranean. Then we developed a fault and we were laid up under the Rock as techies tried to repair the craft. No rush, boys. We will just have to endure another few very warm days with the Barbary Apes and nights in the bier kellers. We became more like an official delegation with a mission to charm the locals.  What the Ministry of Defence didn’t authorise us to do - and which I hope is OK to reveal after all these years - is that my mates and I wandered. We wheeched up the wire and went under the border fence to Spain. If we had been caught and the Spaniards twigged we were British airmen, it could have sparked a major international incident. Of course, our mission was planned with military precision. It was to investigate whether the Spanish beer, the famed cervesa, was as tasty as we’d heard in bier kellers.

Stopping for the occasional comfort break, we snuck back under the wire and now, because of the actions of night-time people Michael Howard, the danger we were in has come back to haunt us. If old duffers of the night like Michael Howard are so deluded that they still want to make headlines, I wish someone would just give them corduroy pillows.

Scotland's Charity Air Ambulance Prepares to Take Flight and Increase Operations by A Fifth From this Weekend
Vital emergency cover across Scotland is to be boosted by Perthshire-based charity SCAA, which has announced it will be extending its operational hours from this weekend.  Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance (SCAA) will operate a 12 hour shift each day – adding two hours – equivalent to a fifth - to its current life-saving service.  Thanks to public donations the charity has committed funding to cover the additional £150,000 needed to extend its online operations for its first year, with a sixth paramedic taken on to support crew shifts.  SCAA Chief Executive David Craig said: “Since 2013, SCAA has responded to hundreds of time-critical emergencies across the whole of Scotland, 10 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “When a shift ends, however, so does our response capability.  Thanks to the generosity of a very supportive public in Scotland, we now have the resources to extend our crew’s shift to their maximum 12 hours,” he explained.  “This has the potential to see us respond to even more emergencies within that expanded time frame.”  Mr Craig said the impact of the new hours would be reviewed constantly and fully assessed after six months. And he stressed that the need for support goes on.  “SCAA can fly expert paramedic care quickly to the scene of any emergency and airlift patients rapidly to advanced hospital care,” he explained, “but we can only do so if the public continues to support us as they have to date. Their generous donations mean we can now provide an enhanced life-saving service for the people of Scotland.”  The charity has to raise more than £2 million a year to keep the rapid-response service in the air. Tasked through the 999 system, SCAA works alongside the Government-funded air ambulances to provide cover across the whole of Scotland and its islands.  Andy Moir, Head of the Air Ambulance Service in Scotland, said the charity operation fulfilled a vital role.  “For nearly four years SCAA has been fully integrated into our fleet of air ambulances, playing a vital role in the country’s emergency air ambulance response capability,” he said.  “The growth of SCAA also demonstrates the success of this ongoing NHS Scotland and third sector partnership, which is unique in the UK.”  

Boost to Ambulance Cover in Caithness
Plans have been announced to increase ambulance provision in Caithness.  Scottish Ambulance Service and NHS Highland are investing in the ambulance service following a review showing an increase in inter-hospital transfers between Caithness General Hospital and Inverness’s Raigmore Hospital.  It comes after it was revealed a Thurso ambulance had to travel to Wick to attend to a patient as the Wick ambulance crew were unavailable due to transferring another patient to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and was out of the county for six hours.

Farmer Abandons Shopping in Protest At Lamb Imports

Far north farmer Joyce Campbell was not amused when she discovered the majority of lamb in her local Tesco was imported.  She felt so strongly about it that she left her trolley of shopping with a member of staff at the Thurso supermarket and after explaining why, walked out. She duly went to the town’s Lidl store and found only Scotch lamb on sale so she did her shopping there.  Ms Campbell was disappointed to see so much imported lamb on Tesco’s shelves, particularly since Scotch lamb is now being sold for very low prices in comparison to their production costs.  She said yesterday: “I would usually eat our own home-produced lamb or try to support our local butchers but I went in quite late on Saturday and the butchers were shut.  I was really disappointed to find there was very little Scotch lamb in Tesco’s chill section.  Most of it was imported from New Zealand. This lamb has come over and with the exchange rate as it is, the problem is the primary producers in New Zealand are getting knocked – there’s very little margin.  The main problem is I was down in Thainstone recently and fat lambs were being sold for £7.50 per head less than they were in the same week last year.  I spoke with the lady in charge of the Tesco store and she was lovely – she totally understood where I was coming from.”  Ms Campbell, who runs Armadale Farm, said there is more to what she does than just farming – it is farming with a conscience.  She said: “People do think lamb is an expensive product. As consumers we like buying lamb leg and chops. We don’t like doing so much with the lower end minced lamb or neck but there are some excellent recipes out there. That gives the farm the right to have the stamp of the Quality Meat Scotland assurance logo which reads Scotch Lamb PGI. All Lidl had in their chill was Scotch lamb. It’s the power of my pound to spend it as I feel is right.  There is also not clear branding in Tesco. They’re mixing Scotch up with New Zealand and British lamb with the same green branding. You have to look quite closely.”  Ms Campbell put her story up on Facebook and it has had a big reaction from people, with 1400 hits on Tesco’s main page and 1000 hits on her own, the majority of comments positive.

Warning Scotland Could Be ‘Treated Like Gibraltar’

An independent Scotland could be treated like Gibraltar with Spain exerting a veto over its post-Brexit status, the Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has warned.  Rennie claimed if there was ever independence the Spanish would handle Scotland over EU membership in the same way as it is treating Gibraltar over Brexit.  Guidelines for Brexit negotiations by the European Council state agreements between the EU and Britain on issues like trade will apply to the British territory only if it is agreed by Madrid.  Rennie said: “The situation with Gibraltar is just a taste of how an independent Scotland would be treated in any future negotiations. For the SNP to believe that Spain will simply bend over backwards and just waive Scotland into full EU or even Efta membership is delusional.  The Gibraltar situation should be a hard lesson for the SNP that Spain will look after their own interest and that means making sure that nothing aids Catalonia’s bid for independence. Easy access for an independent Scotland into the EU would clearly be something the Spanish would not want.” The warning came as shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the people of Gibraltar must not be used as a “bargaining chip”.  The government is attempting to reassure Gibraltar that the UK will stand up for the British overseas territory during the Brexit negotiations. But Gibraltar’s government has accused Spain of trying to use the UK’s decision to leave the EU to pursue its territorial claims to the Rock.

Scottish Government Takes Control of Crown Estate

Powers over the revenue and management of Crown Estate resources in Scotland have been transferred to the Scottish Government.The transfer, which formally took place on Saturday, is part of the changes contained in the 2016 Scotland Act.  It means ministers at Holyrood now have control over thousands of hectares of rural land, around half of Scotland's foreshore and leasing the seabed for rights to renewable energy.  The assets were worth a total of £271.8 million in 2015/16 and generated a gross annual revenue of £14 million. The Scottish Government said the transfer will give communities a stronger voice over how those assets are managed.  Land Reform Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: "This is a historic day. The management and resources of the Crown Estate now rest with the people of Scotland and we have a genuine, once in a lifetime opportunity to use them to change the fabric of Scottish society, placing the needs of local and coastal communities at the centre of our long-term planning for these considerable assets.  From today, decisions about both the day-to-day management and the future of the estate will be taken in Scotland.  This will have positive implications, not only for the many people who live, work or have some other direct connection with the Crown Estate, but for many communities across Scotland." A new body, Crown Estate Scotland (Interim Management), is taking on the role of managing the asset.

Some Anniversaries in Scottish History
by Carmel Audsley, Scots News Magazine
April 3, 1401 -Murder of Duke of  Rothesay, heir of Robert III.
April 4, 1384 -John of Gaunt, son of Edward III attacks Scotland.
April 4, 1689 -Scottish Parliament declared that James VII had forfeited the Scottish throne.
April 6, 1320 -Declaration of Arbroath - “For we fight not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life”.
April 9, 1139 -Second Treaty of Durham in which David I is recognised as King of an independent Scotland by King Stephen of England.
April 10, 1512 -King James V born.
April 12, 1606 -Union flag adopted as the flag of England, Wales and Scotland.
April 14, 1582 -University of Edinburgh founded.
April 21, 1703 -Edinburgh Fire Brigade, one of the first in Scotland, formed.
April 24, 1567 -First printed book ever published in Gaelic. “Forms of  Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Catechism of the Christian Faith,” translated from
English by Bishop John Carsewell of the Isles.
April 24, 1633 -Warrant issued by the Privy Council to Sir John Hepburn to raise a regiment of 1,200 men to fight in the French service. The corps ultimately became the First Regiment
of Foot, The Royal Scots.
April 25, 1058 -Malcolm III (Canmore) crowned.
April 27, 1650 -Battle of Carbisdale, Montrose’s last battle

E-cigarette Restrictions Coming Into Force in Scotland
Restrictions on e-cigarettes including a ban on sales to under-18s have come into effect. The rules make it illegal for under-18s to buy tobacco and nicotine vapour products, known as NVPs or e-cigarettes.  Anyone buying the products for under-18s will also be breaking the law, with shops selling them required to have an age verification policy and to be registered. Public health minister Aileen Campbell said: "We know e-cigarettes are almost certainly safer than cigarettes and have a role to help people quit smoking, but we don't believe children should have access to them - that's why these age restrictions are so important. From today, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to, or buy them for, under-18s. Additionally, all retailers selling tobacco or e-cigarettes must be registered and undertake age verification. We are working closely with the Scottish Grocers' Federation to make retailers aware of these changes and what they mean for their daily business. A campaign is already under way across Scotland and will continue to run throughout the summer to ensure everyone is aware of these changes to the law." The changes were brought in by the Health Act 2016, which also set out restrictions on e-cigarette advertising and a ban on vending machines selling the products.

Homes for Elderly People in Drumnadrochit Are Given the Go-ahead

An innovative community-led project to provide much-needed homes for elderly and vulnerable people is a step closer to becoming a reality.  Plans to build 12 supported homes next to the Glenurquhart Centre in Drumnadrochit have been given the go-ahead by Highland Council.  The two-bedroomed bungalows will be owned and managed by the Glenurquhart Care Project – a community-owned charity which operates the day centre and its care at home team – and will enable elderly people in the Drumnadrochit area and Strathglass to continue living locally.  No such housing exists within the area so elderly people needing support currently face the prospect of relocating further afield to places such as Inverness, away from family and friends and familiar surroundings.  It is one of the first community housing projects to apply to the Scottish Government’s £25 million rural housing fund which was launched last year in a bid to increase the supply of homes in rural areas.

Minister Welcomes Spain 'No Veto' Comment Over Independent Scotland

Scotland's Brexit minister has welcomed confirmation from Spain that it would not initially block an independent Scotland's attempts to join the European Union (EU).  Madrid's foreign minister Alfonso Dastis has reportedly said Spain would not veto an independent Scotland's EU hopes - while stressing he does not want to see the country leave the United Kingdom. Scottish Government minister Michael Russell said the comments will help to end "misinformation" about Spain's position regarding Scotland and the EU. Addressing reporters in Europe, Mr Dastis suggested an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership - something which could take several years. Asked whether Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, he reportedly said: "No, we wouldn't."  Mr Dastis told The Guardian: "We don't want it (Scottish independence) to happen. But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it."  Mr Russell said the foreign minister's remarks on the method of accession may not be "quite  accurate" but went on: "What this does is it de-escalates the situation, it produces some reality in the situation, so then we can have an argument about the merits of the case, not misinformation which has been coming from a range of sources."  Spain, nervous about its own internal separatist movements, has previously suggested Scotland would be at the "back of the queue" to join the European Union if it achieves independence.

Lews Castle Restoration Project Shortlisted for National Award

Lews Castle, which overlooks Stornoway Harbour, has been refurbished as a museum and hotel.  It was officially reopened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon last month.  Now the castle project has been named in the final of the Great British Buildings Restoration of the Year, organised by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.  The competition is featured on national television.  Lews Castle was named joint winner of the Victorian sub-category with Mount Stewart Northern Ireland. The judging panel said: “It was such a difficult building that had been out of use for forty years so finding a new use was going to be a major achievement. It would have been so easy to have taken a lesser route but in this instance they grabbed it by the horns and they have given a real full- blooded restoration.” The castle had fallen into disrepair and sat empty for decades until its re-birth as an innovative heritage and hospitality destination. The £19.5million regeneration project was led by Western Isles Council with financial support coming from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Environment Scotland, Highlands and Islands Enterprise the Scottish Government, European Regional Development Fund and Bord na Gaidhlig.  The museum is notable for showcasing six of Lewis’s most famous products – the 12th century chessmen, which are on permanent display. The castle also now boasts luxury accommodation and space for functions and conferences.

Dingwall Academy's Pioneering Sign Language Work Hailed At Holyrood
DingwalL Academy’s leadership in promoting British Sign Language (BSL) has been applauded by the Scottish Parliament – after the school was highly praised by Strathpeffer-based MSP, Maree Todd. During her speech, she used BSL to welcome former Dingwall Academy pupil, Caitlin Bogan, who was watching the debate from the viewing gallery.  The MSP later said: “We should all be proud of what is being done in the Highlands. Dingwall Academy is one of the few schools to deliver a BSL unit – all students in first year, including my son Gregor this year, take BSL classes as a taster along with other languages, including French, Gaelic and German. Dingwall Academy is a shining example of what deaf children can achieve with the right support.”  The Scottish Parliament has already shown leadership in promoting equal rights for deaf people and Scotland was the first part of the UK to recognise signing for the deaf as an official language.

Gibraltar Row Makes Scottish EU Case Stronger
by Lesley Riddoch
Possible deals for Ireland or the Rock can only lead Scots to join the queue for special treatment.  A lot of politicians have made weekend howlers over Gibraltar.  Take poor Willie Rennie. He made Sunday headlines suggesting Spain would veto EU membership for an independent Scotland a la Gibraltar. Sadly the same day, the Spanish foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, confirmed that won’t happen. “We don’t want it [Scottish independence] to happen. But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it.”  Whoops!!. Then Michael Howard drew a parallel between the present Gibraltar dispute and the Falklands War – both conflicts sparked by “Spanish-speaking countries”.  The former Tory leader raised eyebrows on the Andrew Marr show yesterday by observing; “Thirty-five years ago this week another woman Prime Minister sent a task force to defend the freedom of a small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country. I’m absolutely certain our current PM will show the same resolve.”  As one tweeter put it “Armada, armada.”  This gung-ho, aggressive attitude is precisely what scunners many Scots with British political culture, differentiates British political leaders from their more cooperative European counterparts and is exactly why Theresa May and the case for Scotland remaining in the Union is likely to come a cropper during the Brexit process.  Of course, I’m not suggesting Michael Howard is a key member of the Brexit team. But his attitude is evidently shared by many Westminster politicians and members of the press. “How dare other nations try and flex territorial muscles when Britain is centre stage. How dare someone rev the engine when old lady Britain is trying to get off the bus. Don’t they know the (unwritten) rules? We matter – pesky claims about tiny territories don’t.”  Now of course no-one has said that – aloud. But actions speak louder than words.  There was no mention of Gibraltar in Theresa May’s Article 50 letter to Brussels.  There has been no thought given to the Irish border problem and no formal answer to Nicola Sturgeon’s options paper delivered to Number Ten last December. The Welsh First Minister, Carwyn Jones summed up the problem succinctly after Theresa May’s Cardiff visit last month; “She doesn’t understand devolution”. Happily though most European states do. So while London’s Brexit focus is finding fixes to let the City of London, Nissan, and the car industry keep operating inside the EU – and to win the next election – the EU and its member nations will insist on a fairer process that requires the negotiation not imposition of deals.  That’s why the current stooshie over Gibraltar may not be as serious as the horrified British press are making out.  If British interest in Gibraltar is equivocal, the attitude of the Gibraltarians is not.  In a 2002 referendum, they rejected even partial Spanish sovereignty. Since then Spain has not disputed that Gibraltar is legally a British territory.  But one thing is certain.  The way this dispute is handled matters hugely to the 30,000 folk on the Rock. So it behoves the British to get off their warhorses and tread carefully in negotiations. It also might be an idea for the Gibraltarians to consider whether a different partner than either Spain or the UK might soon be necessary to take responsibility for “external relations” within the EU.  Gibraltar has a hugely powerful parliament of its own – indeed the idea of “saving” poor wee Gibraltar is completely wrong.  The Gibraltar parliament – formed in 1969 – has 17 members drawn from a single constituency and a nominated speaker and sends no MPs to sit in Westminster. That speaks volumes about the level of control exercised on the Rock.  The Gibraltar parliament controls every aspect of domestic policy including energy and the economy and, like Scotland, has its own independent judiciary and Supreme Court of Justice. The UK government is responsible for defence, foreign policy and internal security and has negotiated some useful EU exemptions for Gibraltar which has been inside the EU but outside the customs union, VAT area and Common Agricultural Policy.  But for how much longer?  The Lisbon Treaty which set up the modern EU says it applies to “the European territories for whose external relations a Member State is responsible.” Having the UK assume that responsibility was useful when Britain was in the EU – but that will soon be over.  Is joint UK/Spanish sovereignty an option? Although Gibraltarians speak Spanish and travel regularly into Spain, they fear their large town/mini-state will lose autonomy, status and tourist traffic if it becomes just another Spanish town and loses the cache of its present anomalous position. Gibraltar’s first minister Fabian Picardo says sharing sovereignty “would strip us of who we are”.  But theoretically, Gibraltar could resolve its EU/UK dilemma by asking another EU member to take over external affairs from the UK. Like the Irish or Portugese or even… an independent Scotland.  As the ripples from a hard Brexit threaten to overwhelm delicate arrangements in sensitive border locations, the unthinkable will soon be thought. And Scots will notice all sorts of deals are being hatched to connect some parts of the UK state with the EU – including Gibraltar, Ireland and the City of London. Each time one of these “little local British difficulties” is swept out from under the carpet by the EU, Scotland’s case for special treatment or an independence referendum surely advances.  Are Scots really willing to sit at the back of the table and watch their nation become the only interest that isn’t in with a single market shout?

Nicola Sturgeon Nets £6.3million Deal for Scots Jobs on First Day of US Visit
The investment, announced during the First Minister's visit promoting trade, investment, tourism and innovation, will secure 44 jobs in the data analytics and life sciences sectors. The announcements from Spiritus Partners Limited, ION Geophysical Corporation and PPS UK will secure 44 jobs in the data analytics and life sciences sectors.  All three firms have been supported by Scottish Enterprise through grants of more than £1.5million.  The First Minister will have various meetings during her five-day visit to the US, aimed at promoting trade, investment, tourism and innovation.  Among the engagements, she has been invited to give a speech at Stanford University on Scotland’s place in the world.  She is also expected to sign a joint agreement with Governor of California, Jerry Brown, on tackling climate change.  Sturgeon said: “The US is Scotland’s biggest source of inward investment and, in the wake of Article 50 being triggered and the risk of a hard Brexit, it is vital we continue to build on the success of our current business relationship with the US.  Scotland remains open for business and I’m delighted these companies have chosen to expand here. It further demonstrates our position as a prime location for inward investment.”  The Scottish Government have already made one announcement linked to the visit – that US technology firm Xilinx Inc are to invest £3.8million in their research centre in Edinburgh, creating 12 new jobs and protecting 30 existing roles.

‘It’s Hard to Take Anything May Says on Scotland At Face Value’
Angus Robertson has accused the Prime Minister of breaking her promises to Scotland over Brexit and said he finds it “very difficult” to take her at face value.  The SNP depute leader claimed there were “concrete examples” of Theresa May promising to involve the Scottish Government during negotiations to leave the EU and then failing to deliver.  Mr Robertson, who also serves as the leader of the SNP’s Westminster group, argued the Prime Minister risked “doing a Thatcher” and “saying a number of things that over time will reinforce a view in Scotland that she doesn’t really get it.”  Speaking in an interview, he said: “There was a promise that she would reach an agreement with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments in relation to triggering Article 50 and she’s just not done it.  I just find it very difficult to take anything at face value in relation to what she says about Scotland and Scottish governance.”

Warning UK Could ‘Cease to Exist’ As MEPs Mark Red Lines

MEPs have endorsed a tough line on Brexit negotiations in a debate that saw Nigel Farage heckled for comparing parliamentarians to the mafia and a senior Scottish Labour MEP warn the UK could “cease to exist”.  Meeting in Strasbourg, MEPs backed a resolution rejecting parallel talks on the UK’s departure from the EU and its future trading relationship, and taking note of Scotland’s 62% vote in favour of remaining in the bloc.  European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the session of the European Parliament that the EU could not deal with its future relations with the UK until the terms of withdrawal, including a possible £50 billion exit bill, were “fully resolved”.  Mr Barnier said: “We do not seek to punish the United Kingdom, we are simply asking the United Kingdom to deliver on its commitments and undertakings as a member of the European Union.”  Mr Farage was rebuked for claiming that MEPs were “behaving like the mafia”, with the parliament’s president, Italian Antonio Tajani, telling the former UKIP leader to retract the “unacceptable” comment.  Mr Farage said he would instead brand them “gangsters” and labelled EU demands for payment of outstanding budget commitments by the UK as “a kind of ransom payment”.  Mr Farage warned the EU not to drive too hard a bargain over the UK’s divorce settlement, and called the demands “vindictive” and “nasty”.  “If you wish to have no deal, if you wish to force us to walk away from the table, it is not us that will be hurt,” he said.  Mr Barnier replied: “In fact, Mr Farage, all we are doing is settling the accounts. No more and no less.”  David Martin, the UK’s longest-serving MEP, said the UK could “cease to exist” if Theresa May pushed ahead with a “hard Brexit” outside the European single market.  Speaking to the BBC ahead of the debate, he said his stance on Scottish independence had shifted following the Brexit vote.  “I voted for two unions: I voted to remain in the United Kingdom, I voted to remain in the European Union - that choice has been removed from me.” Asked how he would vote in a second referendum, Mr Martin said: “In truth, I have no idea at the moment, there are too many factors to weigh up.”  A Scottish Labour spokesman said it would “never support independence”. But Tory MSP Miles Briggs said: “Kezia Dugdale now has to either completely distance herself from these comments by her own MEP, or concede that Labour is all over the place on the constitution.”  The European Parliament, which has a veto on the final Brexit deal, backed the resolution by 560 to 133.

Comment - R
Any rational person knows that the UK will 'cease to exist' within years rather than decades. The writing has been on the wall for decades but the process is accelerating, and Brexit and the rise of the far right in England is just the final nail in the coffin.  There are at least 45% committed to independence in Scotland, and a good deal more that will be persuaded in the coming years. For the first time in history Unionist parties are not in the majority at Stormont  in Ireland. The question now is how they manage the transition, not the end result. I suspect that the Tory party will more and more become the home for the absolutist rule Britannia lot, but dissent will grow in the Labour and Liberal parties and David Martin is just the beginning of this. Its time that those two normally reasonable political parties stopped being so absolutist on the question of independence and opened up to more reasonable discussion on the future.

UK Government Trying to Scrap Green Energy Targets, Source Says
The UK Westminster Government is looking for ways to scrap its 2020 clean energy targets while maintaining everyday trade in Europe’s energy market, an early sign of the kind of cherry-picking that threatens to sour Brexit negotiations.  Officials in the Treasury and the business department are looking for a way to abandon the national goal of getting 15 percent renewable energy by 2020, which is almost double the current level, according to a person with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private.  Erasing the target would allow Britain to skirt fines that could reach tens of millions of pounds since it’s on track to narrowly miss the 2020 goal. It would also move the U.K. out of step with other European Union nations that maintain targets as part of their membership in the region’s energy market. The U.K. wishes to preserve its link to the market and smooth cross-border trading of electricity, which has helped lower power prices, the person said.  “There is a risk that energy gets wrapped up in the wider political negotiation, with the EU seeking to make access to the Internal Energy Market subject to the U.K. signing up to future energy and environment legislation,” said Simon Virley, head of power and utilities at consultants KPMG LLP an a former director-general of the U.K.’s energy and climate ministry. “That is when it could get difficult.”  The move is an example of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government seeking to maintain the most advantageous parts of the EU relationship while scrapping rules concerning to business — the sort of “cherry picking” that the European Commission has ruled out. May began the two-year process of leaving the union on March 29. And while renewables targets and electricity market rules are negotiated differently, they link at the level of political discussions.

Hurricane Energy Triples Estimate of North Sea Oil Recovery
More than 590 million barrels of oil could be recovered from an oil field west of Shetland, an exploration firm has announced.  Hurricane Energy has tripled its estimate of how many barrels it will recover from the Lancaster field from 200 million in a 2013 assessment to 593 million barrels.  Production is expected to start in the first half of 2019 and reach a daily production rate of 17,000 barrels soon after.  The increased estimate follows Hurricane’s announcement last week that it had made the “largest undeveloped discovery” of oil in UK waters in the Greater Lancaster Area (GLA).  The firm said one billion barrels of oil could be contained within the Halifax well within the GLA, 60 miles west of Shetland.  A survey found oil in two wells about 19 miles apart and says the combined discoveries have proved the presence of a giant field.

Demand for Workers Rose in March As Brexit Forecast to Worsen Staff Shortages
Brexit will exacerbate shortages of suitable candidates for jobs, a recruitment body has warned as a report showed growth in demand for staff.  The number of permanent staff appointments rose for the second month running in March, according to the Markit UK Report on Jobs: Scotland.  There was also an increase in temporary placements, which showed the sharpest rise since August 2014.  Demand for permanent staff rose at the quickest rate for 25 months in March, while Scottish recruiters reported the steepest increase in demand for temporary staff since September 2014.  The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) warned leaving the European Union might make it harder for employers to find the right candidate for the job.  REC chief executive Kevin Green said: "Finding people to do the jobs on offer is rapidly becoming employers' biggest headache and many are reporting an increasing number of white collar jobs as hard to fill, including in the IT and financial sectors.  Also, economic uncertainty about future prospects is having a detrimental effect on employees' willingness to risk a career move at this time, which seems to be driving down candidate availability. Our data shows that although candidate availability is deteriorating in Scotland, it's not so dire as in London and the South." The nursing/ medical/ care sector led growth in demand for permanent staff in March, with IT and computing remaining in second place.

£3m Pledged to Get More Green Buses on the Roads

An extra £3 million of funding for greener buses has been announced by the Scottish Government.  Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said the money would go the Scottish Green Bus Fund, set up to help get more environmentally-friendly vehicles on to the roads. Bus operators, local authorities and Regional Transport Partnerships across Scotland can apply for cash to be used for the purchase of low-carbon emission buses.  The funding boost adds to the £14.8 million the Government has already invested in the fund over the past six years. Funding for the 2017/2018 Green Bus Fund has been made available from this year's Future Transport Fund.  Mr Yousaf said:"I am pleased to announce funding for this latest round of the Green Bus Fund, which has already seen the introduction of more than 300 low-emission buses to the Scottish fleet, and I look forward to seeing even more on our roads.  We will continue to invest in public transport and active travel, and in low-carbon technologies such as electric cars and vans, hybrid ferries, green buses and the infrastructure they require."

Sutherland Set to Have its Own Flag
Sutherland appears set to follow in the footsteps of its northern neighbour in creating a dedicated flag for the county.  The area’s Lord Lieutenancy team is pushing forward with plans to give Sutherland its very own flag, a year after Caithness unveiled its new standard, it has emerged.  Lord Lieutenant Dr Monica Main, a retired GP, and her team took the decision to go ahead with the project at an initial meeting last week.  The meeting was told it would be a unifying force for the sparsely populated and geographically distant county. An open competition will be held to come up with a winning design which, it is hoped will encapsulate Sutherland’s history, culture and environment. School pupils and young people across the county are expected to play a major role.  Only four Scottish counties currently boast flags. Shetland was the first to have its officially recognised in 2005 followed by Orkney in 2007. Caithness and Kircudbrightshire both registered their flags in 2016. In contrast, of the 39 English counties, 35 have recognised flags.