Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 396

Issue # 396                                                         Week ending 15th  April 2017

When Life Gives You Lemons, Simply Order Lobster Tails by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
Always keep in with a fisherman, my granny used to say. Or was it my mum? Or was it that dolly bird in Stornoway who was known as Lozenge - a fisherman’s friend? Anyway, we were all very keen to be pally with toilers of the seas, not least because of goodies they would bring. These kindly souls every now and again would bring a couple of lobsters and, perhaps, a few large crabs. Boil them till their shrill whines drown out the telly, douse them and the spuds in lemon juice and add a side dish of warm cabbage. Come dine with me, Bernera-style.

The giomach, as we Gaels call the lobster, is amazing. It grows as long as it lives and was once thought to live forever. It does not have much of a courtship but the females kick it off by provocatively casting their shell and letting it casually slip down onto the bedroom, sorry, ocean floor. She is then vulnerable and emits an aroma that attracts males flitting by. That vulnerability can be her undoing. If matey boy is not in the mood to get his claws into her, he may just get his claws into her - and scoff her up, no lemon juice requied.

Lobsters are cannibalistic. “Have you not made my dinner yet? Nah, don’t fancy takeaway. Hey, let’s eat in tonight ...”  The big blue beauties that survived domestic disharmony came our way but only once in a blue moon because fishermen had to make a bob or two. The debate on whether crustaceans can feel pain will go on and on. One thing is sure though, they can inflict it. A lobster claw can exert pressure of up to 100 pounds per square inch and crack a human finger if you let it.

They would get sold to big concerns that would whisk them off to the best-laid European dining tables. When I was in London in the 1980s and early-1990s, I got a warm fuzzy feeling when I saw restaurant with notices announcing “fresh lobster just arrived from the Outer Hebrides”. Oh, that’ll be the Kirkibost boats, I would tell my colleagues. They would shrug to each other blankly. Happy days.

Here’s a thing. I think shellfish fishermen should earn more money for their catch. Och, come on. That statement alone must mean a wee fry is coming my way sometime soon. That is not why I say it though as I have just been learning how much they charge for a giomach to be served up in the finest eateries in the West End of London. Take Randall and Aubin, a wee seafood restaurant in Soho where Sir Winston Churchill and myself have been known to munch.

Me, I had a wee side salad and a glass of wine there once while sheltering from a storm. Churchill used to pop in for his butcher meat while taking a break from planning the salvation of the free world. Oh well. Nowadays, you have to have your gigot cooked in there but you can still go with the love of your life and have a couple of Hebridean lobsters in mayo and be charged £84 for the pleasure. Someone is making a lot of profit from lobsters and I really don’t think it’s the fishers of men.

Mind you, that’s nothing. Did you see that story earlier this week about the Australian rapper - they do exist, cobber - who did a runner without paying his bill in a seafood restaurant in Queensland? Terry Peck sprinted out of the seaside restaurant so fast that he ended up on the beach. He didn’t stop there. He ran straight into the sea. He didn’t stop there. He kept swimming away. The cops had to set off in hot pursuit on jetskis. It turned out his bill, after scoffing two lobsters and a baby octopus, was about A$600, or £360 in pommie money. Peck later complained the lobsters were overcooked. Of course they were, cove.

I also saw on the news about a guy in Bristol who goes round at night correcting punctuation and mis-spellings on shop signs. It is very important to write properly. So many signs are mis-spelt nowadays that we hardly notice. There was supposed to be a woman in Oban who set up her pitch on the pier with a sign saying “Lobster Tales - £2”. People would come up and ask: “Are they tiny lobster tails you’re selling?” Nope. “Are they old?” Not at all. Eventually, they would part with their cash. She would then lean over and say: “Once upon a time this lobster lived at the bottom of the sea ...”

Crowds Expected to Gather for the Forres European Pipe Band Championships

Pipers from across the globe are expected to descend on Moray later this summer for Europe's top contest – and tickets are on sale now. Piping at Forres, the European Pipe Band Championships, will take place on June 24 in the town's Grant Park.  Now in its fifth year, Piping at Forres not only includes world-class piping and drumming, Highland dancing and the World Tattie Scone Championships but also includes a food and drink village, a craft and retail village, bars and family attractions such as funfairs.  Visitors can even try their hand at the pipes and drums.  New attractions at this year's event will include an interactive science tent and re-enactors to tell visitors more about the history and heritage of Forres and the surrounding area.  Alan James, chairman of Forres Events, the company which organises Piping at Forres, said: "The event has grown and each year there is something new.  This year we are delighted to be part of Scotland's year of history, heritage and archaeology and the park will be cast back in time when re-enactors from various historical periods descend on the arena."  Major General Seymour Monro, who will act as this year's chieftain, said: "It is a spectacular event which has put not only Forres but Moray on the map.  From across the world, pipers and drummers travel to Forres to take part.  As a local man it is a real honour to be able to support this superb event and the launch party has kicked that off very nicely." Last year, Piping at Forres drummed up more than £1 million for the local economy and was shortlisted in 2016 for the best cultural event or festival award in the Highlands and Islands Tourism Awards.

Post Office Consultation on Mobile Service to Small Villages

Two parts of rural Caithness are set to have their mothballed post offices permanently replaced by a mobile service.  Berriedale’s sub post office closed in November 2013 while Westerdale has been without a presence for even longer.  The Post Office is consulting on plans to introduce a van service in each area. Its proposal involves a cut in the mobile cover in the Latheron area from four days a week to three.  Under the new set-up, the van would visit Berriedale’s Portland Hall on Thursdays between 3pm and 3.45pm and the car park alongside the Engineering Enterprise Services building in Westerdale every Tuesday between 9.15am and 10.15pm. To accommodate the new service, it is proposed that the van would no longer travel to Latheron on Tuesdays but continue to visit there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  The Post Office is inviting customers and others to give their views on the move.  Area network operations manager Kenny Lamont said: “We are confident that these new services at the heart of the local communities will meet customer needs. The introduction of a mobile outreach service presents the best possible solution to allow us to restore Post Office services in Berriedale and Westerdale.”

SNP Could Push Through Indyref2 Bill to Force May’s Hand

Ministers could press ahead with legislation for a second independence referendum without the UK government’s permission in a bid to force Theresa May’s hand, it has been claimed. SNP strategists are believed to be considering introducing a referendum bill at Holyrood to keep up pressure on the UK government and draw out the dispute over the right to hold a second vote.  The move would force UK ministers to take the Scottish Government to the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation if the Prime Minister continues to refuse permission for a second referendum.  The Scottish Government cannot call a referendum without reaching an agreement with Downing Street on a Section 30 order under the Scotland Act, giving it power to legislate on constitutional matters reserved to Westminster. Mrs May insists no talks on a referendum will take place until after the Brexit process is complete, having told the SNP that “now is not the time”.  Nicola Sturgeon has said she will reveal her “idea” of how to “progress the will of parliament” after Easter.  The Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament can rule on whether legislation put forward falls within Holyrood’s legal powers, but bills can proceed even if they are deemed to be outside its competence.  Under Section 33 of the Scotland Act, once legislation is approved by MSPs, there is a four-week period before it receives Royal Assent where the UK’s law officers can refer all or part of the bill to the Supreme Court to have it struck down. In 2015, a bill proposing to ban pavement parking was introduced despite confusion over whether Holyrood or Westminster had the power to legislate.  Despite a ruling from the Presiding Officer that the bill covered a reserved matter, it progressed and was passed as normal. The necessary powers were later devolved as part of the Scotland Act 2016.  Tobias Lock, a senior lecturer in EU law at the University of Edinburgh, said the SNP “could call an independence referendum if they can get it through the Scottish Parliament and it’s not thrown out by the Presiding Officer”.

Scots ‘Most Likely in UK to Use Public Libraries’
A study by the Carnegie UK Trust and Ipsos Mori found rising numbers of families in Scotland with primary school age children, occasional readers and those who are “just about managing financially” are using libraries.  Exactly half of interviewees in Scotland said they have been to a library in the past year, meaning the country retains the top spot in the UK despite having the sharpest drop of 11 percentage points since 2011.  The five-year study involving 1,000 participants in Scotland discovered more than three-quarters (77%) of people said the facilities are important for their communities and 37% said they are important for them personally.  Almost three-quarters (71%) of families with children aged five to 11 visited libraries last year, up 3% on 2011.  A total of 61% of people in the second lowest socio-economic classification reported using a library at least once a month, while occasional readers – those who read a book every two or three months – rose around eight percentage points to just under 60% in 2016.  The report also found the vast majority of those surveyed (82%) are against replacing all library employees with paid staff, while 58% favour the use of volunteers in conjunction with existing employees.  The most popular suggested improvements to libraries in Scotland a re more events (55%), better information on services (52%), and a cafe or coffee shop (50%).  The trust has made a series of recommendations including that libraries make better use of data, provide more personalised services, share ideas and successful projects better and have innovation and leadership training for staff. Martyn Evans, chief executive of Carnegie UK Trust, said: “It’s extremely promising that there’s been a rise in library use in Scotland amongst households with primary school aged children, as well as an increase in frequent use among a key socio-economic group. However, we know that the future success of public libraries depends on how effectively they respond to the changing needs of their communities. Local authority budgets are under severe pressure. All of us who value libraries’ rich and varied contribution to our wellbeing must provide clear and compelling evidence of their impact if future investment is to be secured. We also know that the public want libraries to do even more.”

Number of Scots Working in Renewable Energy on the Rise
The number of workers in Scotland employed in the low carbon and renewables sector has risen to 58,500 in 2015 - up from 43,500 in 2014.  The low carbon and renewables sector generated a turnover of £10.5 billion, 14 per cent of the total UK sector, the Office of National Statistics found.  The report found 48 per cent of all UK employment, and 53 per cent of all UK turnover, in onshore wind was north of the border.  In low carbon electrivity generation, Scotland represented 33 per cent of all UK employment, and 28% of turnover. For low carbon services, it represented 24 per cent of all UK employment, and 26 per cent of turnover.  While welcoming the growth, the Scottish Government warned such advances could be reversed if the UK Westminster Government opts to lessen financial incentives for renewable energies.  “These figures how large the sector was in 2015 and, with 58,500 employees and a turnover of £10.5 billion, the huge opportunity that green energy presents in generating the kind of sustainable growth from which all Scotland benefits,” said minister for business, Paul Wheelhouse.  “It is also telling that these statistics show a sector in rude health, and playing a growing role in our economy, just as the UK Westminster Government removed a number of key support mechanisms that have encouraged substantial growth. Today, the sector remains beset by the uncertainty brought about by short-sighted and harmful decisions by UK Ministers and indecision around support in areas such as marine energy, islands wind projects, pumped hydro storage and islands grid connections, which risks investors moving outside the UK.  While I celebrate the success these figures indicate for Scotland, I am under no illusions whatsoever as to what the wider effect of damaging UK Westminster Government decisions, and indecision, may be having on the sector in Scotland and the UK over the longer term and these figures demonstrate the scale of progress that continued, sub-optimal UK policies will put at risk.”

Has Surfing Made Waves on Life in Caithness?
For decades, Caithness has been known as a surfer’s paradise as the north coastline produces some of the best waves in the world for boarders to catch.  Now a historian is writing a book on how the sport became part of the county’s culture, looking at its influence from the past, what impact it has on the present and its future in the area.  Matt McDowell is carrying out research into how surfing has influenced people in the far north to take to the waves. Surfing boomed in popularity in Caithness during the 1950s and 1960s when Dounreay was in its infancy.  Mirgants brought to the area by the nuclear industry quickly noticed the waves were ideal to surf on.  Dr McDowell, a lecturer at Edinburgh University, travelled to Thurso to start his research into the sport’s history in the county by interviewing some of the people who came to Caithness to work in the nuclear industry.  He wants to find out how surfing has helped influence a community and changed the perception of the area to the outside world. “I want the book to look at surfing in the context of a changing community,” he said.  “I want to analyse how surfing has been reflective of the changes in Caithness since the arrival and the future closure of Dounreay.  The symbol of the Dounreay dome has existed in parallel to surfing with people who migrated to the region and brought surfing along with them. Surfing may have altered the image outsiders have of the north of Scotland It offers an alternative idea of the Highlands.”  As well as speaking to surfers, the 34-year-old also wants to look at how surfing has made waves out of the water in terms of economic and social impact. One of the main things I want to look at is surfing in the context of work.  I have found some surfers from elsewhere have moved up to Caithness just for the waves. It has not just been people working in the nuclear or offshore industry, but in other industries too.”  He has found Caithness has made the most of its surfing elements better than other parts of the country that have similar weather conditions. But he said local surfers feel that because the country’s climate is a lot cooler than many of the established surfing hotspots, the sport is not getting the backing it requires to develop. “One of the struggles people said they have with governing bodies and authorities saying surfing in Scotland is not like Australia or Hawaii and as a result does not have basic infrastructure such as changing rooms.  Scotland is a windy country and there are localities with a lot of coast that treat surfing a bit more alien than they perhaps should.”

Outlander Extras to Complete Kiltwalk Fundraiser in Full Highland Dress

Four extras on the hit TV series Outlander are set to take part in this year’s Kiltwalk to raise funds for a young girl with cerebral palsy.  Swapping broadswords for boots, the self-named ‘Paca’ – Gaelic for ‘The Pack’ – plan to take on the 23-mile Mighty Stride in the Glasgow Kiltwalk on April 30. They doing it in support of six-year-old Holly McLeod from Saltcoats in Ayrshire who desperately needs a life-changing operation in America to help her walk. Outlander star Scott Kyle joined the four to help promote their fundraising efforts.  The Paca comprises Andy McAlindon from Kilmalcolm, Grant McGregor from Dundee, Jon Dan Duncan from Ayrshire, Jay Graham from Glasgow and Barry Stewart from Inverness. Andy, a 39-year-old electrician, said: “We worked as extras during series two and three of Outlander and we just clicked. We had so much fun together and forged a strong friendship. Working on the Outlander set sparked our interest in Scottish history and we started to look into it in more detail. I took things a step further and acquired the full Jacobite costume including a five yard plaid, basket hilt broadsword, dirk, targe and baldric. After this, the rest of the guys did the same and the Paca was born.”  Grant, a 46-year-old ex-offshore geophysicist turned writer was so inspired by the historical events portrayed in Outlander and the sense of camaraderie, he put pen to paper and drafted a screenplay about the horror of the Battle of Culloden and the aftermath.  He said: “The first draft is now complete and we’re in the process of applying for funding. We want to produce it ourselves, in Scotland, using the amazing crew and acting talent that exists here in Scotland.”

Three Sisters Mountains Named Among Best Views in Britain
The sight of the Three Sisters mountains in the Highlands has been named one of the top three greatest British views. The ridges in Glencoe take second place after the view from the summit of Snowdon in Wales, while Stonehenge in Wiltshire is in third place.  More than 2,500 people across the UK took part in the study, which asked respondents to vote from a long-list of incredible views chosen by a panel of travel experts from publications including Rough Guides, Mr and Mrs Smith, Wanderlust and Good Housekeeping.  A third of the top 15 greatest British views are located in Scotland in the study, which was commissioned to mark the forthcoming launch of the new Samsung Galaxy S8 smartphone.  The other Scottish sights listed are Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Ben Nevis and Edinburgh from Arthur's Seat. Loch Lomond was named the greatest view in Scotland by the 502 Scots who took part in the survey.  It was followed by Edinburgh Castle and the view of the capital from Arthur's Seat. Loch Ness was in fourth position, followed by Glencoe.  The Scots questioned chose The Kelpies in Falkirk, the statue of Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh and the Falkirk Wheel as the top three quirkiest views across the UK.

Aberdeen University Gets Ready for May Festival
The University of Aberdeen will play host to the May Festival which will see more than 100 events take place over the two days.  Different themes will be explored throughout the event such as science, sport, literature, film, music and Gaelic.  The festival will also be celebrating Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage & Archaeology.  A children’s programme will be included as well.  Several venues across the university campus will be used to host the events which will kick off on May 26.

One of Our Medieval Grave Slabs is Missing
It could have been an ambitious April Fool prank, or perhaps even a dastardly and equally audacious crime.  On Sunday, local people noticed that one of the fine medieval grave slabs at Kirkton Chapel on the Craignish peninsula was missing.  Social media was abuzz, with scores of people condemning this despicable act on the Craignish community Facebook page. One wag even suggested that the medieval knight who originally owned the stone might have come back to claim it.  Two days later, after a great deal of consternation, the mystery was solved.  On receiving reports of the missing/stolen grave slab, government agency Historic Environment Scotland (HES) confirmed that they themselves had removed the slab for repair in Edinburgh.  A spokesman for HES said: ‘The headstone in question was discovered having split into two pieces in Kirkton Chapel graveyard, with the top half having fallen to the ground.  The HES specialist conservation team has removed the headstone to its Gyle headquarters for conservation and it will be restored during the summer.’

Ayrshire Car Owners Being Driven Raven Mad After Crazy Crows Launch Airborne Attacks
Crazy crows are attacking car mirrors and windscreen wipers.  And their antics are driving Ayrshire car owners raven mad.  A Dalrymple granny said: “I’m having to run out to chase a crow away from my car.  “It chewed through a rubber seal in one of my wing mirrors.” A Maybole man blasted: “My car was bright and shiny after a trip to the carwash.  Then when I parked outside my house this big crow landed on the bonnet and started pecking at my windscreen wipers.”  Bird expert Angus Hogg says the bizarre behaviour is nothing unusual. Crosshill-based Mr Hogg said: “Crows are highly intelligent birds.  But if they see their reflection in a car as they fly past, they might think it’s a rival.  It’s particularly common just now, in the breeding season, with male birds looking for mates, and fighting off rivals.” Mr Hogg added: “Crows are also incredibly curious birds. And once they’ve got a hold of a piece of rubber, they’ll pull at it.”  Crows are not the only bird who will try to fight with their reflection.  And Mr Hogg says it’s quite common among pied wagtails.  Troon bird man Bruce Kerr said he observed a grey wagtail wage a three-month campaign of attacks on a doctor’s car mirror in Portland Street.  And he’s also seen this behaviour in robins.  Mr Kerr said: “They seem to remember where the intruder was and go back to ‘give it some more’.” There doesn’t seem to be a lot that car owners can do about the attacks.  And the RSPB advises leaving your car dirty, or buying a cover.  Despite the crows’ crazy attacks, bird watchers are pleased to report their numbers are healthy in Ayrshire.  This is true of most varieties - rooks, ravens, magpies, jackdaws and jays, as well as carrion crows.  Mr Hogg said: “There are less people on the land, and the crows are being left alone."

Diaspora Will Be Exhibited in Full for First Time in Scotland
The world famous Diaspora Tapestry will be exhibited in full as part of the Strath capital’s Crieff Remembers programme of events to commemorate First World War in July. June McEwan of Crieff Arts Festival has secured the major artwork, which has just returned from a world tour and is currently on display in Westminster at the Houses of Parliament. She said: “It is so wonderful to get the Diaspora Tapestry. It’s a partner to the Great Scottish Tapestry and is of national significance to Scotland.  “For Crieff to get the entire tapestry, to be shown at Morrison’s Academy, is a real coup and we are really proud to be displaying it.  We are very grateful to our sponsors Crieff Succeeds BID who have pledged to pay for the exhibition.”  The tapestry’s designer Andrew Crummy, who also designed the Great Tapestry of Scotland, will also be coming to Crieff to give a talk at Innerpeffray Library about his work.  The tapestry involves 39 countries, and although it has been on a world tour, has never been shown in its entirety in its native land.  June added: “The Great Tapestry of Scotland is for Scotland but the Diaspora is for the whole world.  It represents Scottish people who migrated to other countries, from the clearances to the present day, who became famous after they emigrated.  For such a small country we have had a big impact on the rest of the world and the immense size of the Diaspora really hits home that impact made by the Scots.  The tapestry is made up of 329 panels and there is an app you can get for your phone or tablet that shows you all the amazing stories surrounding each panel. It is very ‘on theme’ for today’s world.  It will never be finished as new stories from different countries are appearing all the time and being added to the artwork.”  Ochil and South Perthshire SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh has visited the Diaspora in London. She said: “I’ve taken time to view this magnificent work in its current installation in Westminster Hall where it’s proving to be a big hit with visitors from across the world.

Sturgeon and May in Stand-off Over Second Scottish Independence Referendum Date
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted her preferred timetable for a second Scottish independence referendum is necessary to allow voters to make an "informed choice" between Brexit and leaving the UK.  The First Minister is in a stand-off on the issue with Prime Minister Theresa May, who has made clear she believes "now is not the time" for a fresh ballot to be held. The SNP leader wants there to be another vote on leaving the UK between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, when the terms of the UK's Brexit deal are clear.  She pledged the Scottish Government would set out "with as much detail and clarity as possible" key issues such as the currency of a separate Scotland - a crucial factor in the 2014 referendum - ahead of a possible second ballot.  While the First Minister has not yet set out how she intends to take the matter forward, as Scotland's devolution settlement reserves powers over the constitution to Westminster, she told an audience in Glasgow that people need to be able to "come to a considered judgment" on the issue.  She contrasted the 2014 independence referendum campaign with last year's vote for the UK to leave the European Union - a position not supported in Scotland where 62% of voters opted to remain part of the bloc.  But in that ballot she said " people were asked to vote for a change, without ever really being told what that change involved".  Ms Sturgeon said: " I don't pretend for one moment that the 2014 referendum was perfect. But I do think it was a far better process for debate and decision than the 2016 vote on the EU.  That is why nobody wants the referendum to take place immediately. Instead, I believe it should happen once the details of the final Brexit agreement with the EU are known. Based on what the Prime Minister says currently that is likely to be in late 2018 or early 2019."  She continued: " Of course well before the referendum debate the Scottish Government will also set out proposals for what an independent Scotland would look like, we will address issues such as the currency, our plans for fiscal stability and the process of securing our relationship with Europe in future. And we will do all of that with as much detail and clarity as possible."  The First Minister, recalled EU membership had been a "significant issue" in the 2014 independence referendum. She said: "Many of those who opposed Scotland becoming independent - including the UK Westminster Government - argued that leaving the United Kingdom was a risk, that it would threaten Scotland's place in the European Union. So it's somewhat ironic that the opposite has turned out to be true.

Man Slashes Passerby in Glasgow Street Then Slits Own Throat

A man has died after stabbing at least one person in the middle of Glasgow city centre before cutting his own throat. Witnesses said the man appeared to attack random passersby in the city’s St Vincent Street before turning the weapon on himself on nearby West Nile Street. One witness saw the incident from an office window.  He said: “We saw this man just randomly running at people with what looked like a Stanley knife.  One man started trying to defend himself with an umbrella and it looked like he tried to grab the blade from the knifeman, but he ended up getting his hand slashed.”  The witness described how he watched the attacker’s victim run in to a nearby burger restaurant to try to escape, before the man began to cut his own throat. He said: “He started to chase the man inside the burger shop, but then he stopped, stared in through the window and just started cutting himself. Several police units attended Glasgow’s West Nile Street. Police Scotland confirmed they were called to the scene, near St Vincent Street, shortly after 4pm on Thursday. “The man was taken by ambulance to Glasgow Royal Infirmary where he died a short time later.”

Sat Navs to Form Part of New Driving Test
Learner drivers will have to safely use sat navs to pass their driving test as part of a major overhaul of the assessment.  Other changes announced by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) include doubling the length of independent driving to 20 minutes, and replacing manoeuvres such as reversing around a corner with more common scenarios like driving into a parking bay.  Motoring research charity RAC Foundation said it is the most significant shake up of the test since the written theory exam was introduced in 1996. Transport minister Andrew Jones claimed the measures will help save lives.  He said: “We have some of the safest roads in the world but we are always looking to make them safer. These changes announced today will help reduce the number of people killed or injured on our roads and equip new drivers with the skills they need to use our roads safely. Ensuring the driving test is relevant in the 21st century, for example the introduction of sat navs, will go a long way towards doing this.”  The new driving test will be used from December 4. Road accidents are the biggest killer of young people, accounting for over a quarter of all deaths of those aged between 15 and 19. DVSA chief executive Gareth Llewellyn said: “DVSA’s priority is to help you through a lifetime of safe driving. Making sure the driving test better assesses a driver’s ability to drive safely and independently is part of our strategy to help you stay safe on Britain’s roads.  It’s vital that the driving test keeps up to date with new vehicle technology and the areas where new drivers face the greatest risk once they’ve passed their test.”  Around half of all car drivers own a sat nav and 70 per cent of respondents to a public consultation supported the DVSA’s desire for drivers to be trained to use them safely.  Reducing the focus on slow speed manoeuvres in quiet roads will allow examiners to better assess the ability of learners to drive safely in busier areas, where new drivers have the most crashes, the DVSA said.  Motoring groups welcomed the changes, which have been trialled for two years.  RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said they will mean candidates will “undergo a far more realistic assessment of their readiness to take to the road unsupervised”.  He went on: “Much has changed since the first driving test was taken in 1935, and it must be right that the test evolves, just as the cars we drive are themselves changing to incorporate ever more driver assist technology such as inbuilt sat nav systems.  Novice drivers need to demonstrate the right skills and driving style to cope with the new environment.”

Scottish and UK Government Ministers Meet to Discuss Islands Renewables
The UK Westminster Government must recognise the “vital importance” of island renewables to the UK energy market, Scotland’s energy minister said today ahead of talks with his UK counterpart.  Paul Wheelhouse and the UK Energy Secretary Greg Clark co-chaired the fifth meeting of the Scottish Islands Renewables Delivery Forum today in Stornoway.  Discussions focused on the UK Westminster Government’s recent consultation on support for wind projects on the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland. The development of proposed major projects alone would trigger initial investment of £2.5 billion. “Our position on island wind is both consistent and very clear – we must do all we can to enable our island communities to benefit from this substantial resource, large enough to meet 5% of total UK electricity demand, provide significant boost to decarbonising our electricity supply, and would be worth up to £725 million to local economies,” Mr Wheelhouse said. “The planned projects on the Western and Shetland Isles would face extremely high locational transmission charges to provide electricity to the mainland. That is why an appropriate support mechanism is so important to help unlock very significant capital investment from the private sector and community-owned developers as well as, in turn, underpinning the investment case to National Grid for vital islands grid connections. Bringing this positive scenario about, as quickly as possible, will be at the heart of my discussions with Mr Clark. Responses to the UK Westminster Government’s consultation show the case for supporting island wind projects is stronger than ever - our own submission was robust and credible. The projects under discussion would deliver tangible economic benefits to the communities involved while helping to ensure resilience in GB market electricity supplies. I look forward to making this positive case during our meeting with the Secretary of State.” The Scottish Government said Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles between them possess the ability to produce high-quality renewable energy from wind and marine resources – with the potential to meet up to 5% of total GB electricity demand.

St Magnus Way Pilgrimage Route to Open on Orkney

A new pilgrimage route is to open in Orkney this Easter to mark the 900th anniversary of St Magnus’ death as the Kirk embraces the spiritual power of walking once again.  The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland will this year be asked to reverse centuries of hostility to the ancient practice of pilgrimage which was cast aside as superstitious during the Reformation.  The Kirk hopes to embrace the popularity of routes such as the Camino de Santiago in northern Spain, Europe’s most popular pilgrimage route, which attracts 250,000 pilgrims every year.  The first steps will be taken on the St Magnus Way in Orkney on Easter Sunday, which will cover 55 miles from Evie to Kirkwall when complete. The walk will be broken into six stages with the first connecting Evie to Birsay to reflect the route of Magnus’ body on its return from Egilsay where he was murdered on the instructions of his cousin, Hakon, on April 16, most likely in 1117.  The walk will end at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, which was built by his nephew St Rognvald around 20 years after his death given several accounts of miracles associated with his uncle. Work on its construction started in 1137.  Rev David McNeish, minister for Birsay, Harray and Sandwick in Orkney, said: “We talk a lot about the drop in attendance at Sunday services and about other ways to worship. Pilgrimage is a way for a lot of people to reconnect with their spirituality and with the Church. He said the St Magnus Way came about after a small group of people from different churches came together to discuss a pilgrimage route on the island.  “When we started talking about a pilgrim route St Magnus, who is the patron saint of Orkney, was the first person who came to mind.  After his martyrdom on the island of Egilsay his body was brought to Birsay on the mainland. Then 20 years later, when the seat of power moved to Kirkwall, his bones were taken there.  So there was a journey Magnus himself took after his death, as well as evidence of people making pilgrimage to Orkney in the Middle Ages.” St Magnus Way is one of six major pilgrimage routes under development in Scotland, including Fife Pilgrims way, a 70-mile route that will link Culross and South Queensferry to St Andrews.  In Orkney, historians from the University of the Highlands and Islands are helping to define the most accurate route taken by the former Earl of Orkney. A St Magnus Way logo will appear on route waymarkers with a phone app to link walkers with Bluetooth beacons that will tell his story.  Dr Richard Frazer, Convener of the Kirk’s Church and Society Council, said pilgrimages were viewed as superstitious during the Reformation given the belief you could be healed by the water from a special well or by the bones of a saint. He added: “It’s unfortunate that in reforming some wrongful practices, we may have neglected a way to worship that is meaningful to so many. Worship comes in many forms and pilgrimage is one of them. The habits of Sunday morning services, as noble and as good as they are, do not necessarily reach people who have a profound spiritual hunger but have never developed those habits.  People who walk the Camino may not be conventionally religious, but very few who reach Santiago de Compostella would deny the journey there was a spiritual experience. In a time when the Church is looking for new ways to touch the hearts of all people, pilgrimage is a very powerful tool.”

Free North Coast 500 Itinerary Highlights History of the Highlands

Motorists tackling the North Coast 500 can now travel back in time while racking up the miles after a guide was launched exploring the fascinating history along the route.  The nine-day road trip itinerary, which was produced to coincide with Scotland’s year of history, heritage and archaeology, gives tips and hints about where to stay and what to see along the 516-mile route.  From royal castles to Iron Age brochs, and from standing stones to historic inns, it has been described as the ultimate “cheat sheet” for those looking to find out more about the north Highlands’ rich heritage.  Tom Campbell, managing director of North Coast 500, said: “One of the things that brings people to Scotland is a desire to immerse themselves in our fascinating history – no doubt fuelled in part by the popularity of programmes like Outlander. With this in mind, the itinerary we’ve produced offers an insight on all the best places to visit, and will be indispensable to those planning trips this year on the NC50