Some Scottish Neews & Views Issue # 399

Issue # 399                                                      Week ending 6th May 2017

If Remote ATC is Safe, Why Not Do it From Benbecula? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

So few facts have emerged about the utterly shocking decision of the airports operator in the Highlands and Islands to investigate remote manipulation of air traffic in the north that it makes you wonder. When a government body merely says it is in the “very early stages of exploring opportunities”, some of us suspect it is already intent on pushing through moves that may downgrade safety, demonstrate what little commitment they have to these offshore islands and, sadly, destroy a number of island-based jobs.

Forget inane psychobabble about early stages and how they must look at opportunities to “enhance the sustainability and resilience of the network”. That is purely for consumption by the great unwashed and, of course, party loyalists who will swear everything these two current governments do is better than what has gone on before. Already, Britain’s coastline is monitored by fewer coastguard watchrooms. And we all know of awful road events that many blame on the centralising of police control rooms, another move to destroy jobs in a bid to trim Police Scotland budgets.

Let’s not kid ourselves, people. Controllers at airports in Stornoway and elsewhere have already been briefed. It will be trumpeted as a magnificent victory in terms of efficiency but it will actually be a failure in terms of democracy. Where are all the north and island politicians not jumping up and down and demanding more information? Just because an election is coming should not mean your lips get stuck together.

If this particular dastardly plan really is as safe as they will tell us it is, why control all these island airports from Inverness? Why not do it the other way round? Why not boost island jobs by controlling all the airports from Stornoway or, better still, Benbecula? After all, it’s perfectly safe. Isn’t it?

Don’t tell me to calm down. Why am I getting out of my pram over this? Well, I did work in air traffic control for some years, albeit the military version, so I comprehend how things can go south when you take the living, breathing, sweating on-site human out of the equation, even with internet and satellite links. You know things are bad when the powers-that-be use economic “sustainability and resilience” as the excuse for making a great service less sustainable, less resilient and of less use. I applaud their creativity, but not their motives.

However, I love the motives of another government arm, the Driving Standards Agency, in changing driving tests. No longer must nervous learners reverse gingerly and tyre-shreddingly around tight bends in salubrious housing schemes. Generations of drivers have been forced to practice that manoeuvre in order to pass their test. Most, like me, would then go on never to use that particularly nerve-wracking stunt ever again. So the DSA says it has scrapped it in favour of more emphasis on practical stuff - like parking.

That’s a cracking idea. I may get in trouble for saying this but some drivers, even veterans of the highways, have a bit of trouble going astern into a parking space. More of them are of the female gender. It’s just a fact. Just as more boy racers drive like plonkers and lose control of their vehicles in the first year of getting a full licence, so there are differences between the abilities and behaviours of the sexes. Just saying. Don’t hit me.

And for the benefit of my learned friends at any court proceedings that may follow, I wish to make it clear that I am not referring to any particular women drivers - nor even any whom I may happen to live with. However, they are female and therefore no different to the majority of women who find parallel parking a bit bothersome and to be avoided whenever possible. No more, ladies. You shall do it. You shall learn. You shall improve your spatial awareness. But obviously not as well as ... actually, I’ll just leave that there.

Air traffic control is all about awareness too. Even with a real wheezing, coffee-swilling controller, things can slip. When one at a certain island airport heard this, he flipped. “Tower, this is 6821. We have a problem. We do not have enough fuel. We need help.”

Realising 6821 was the Glasgow flight, he thumped the red emergency button and assured the pilot they were on the case.  “The fire section is deploying to the runway and we will get the police to close the public road. What is your ETA?” The reply came: “Actually, we arrived half an hour ago. We are outside the terminal building and we just want to request a fuel tanker.”

Dad of Lockerbie Victim Welcomes Move to Clear Abdelbaset Al-megrahi of Bombing Pan Am Flight 103
The father of a Lockerbie victim has said new moves to clear the man convicted of the bombing bring the truth about Pan Am Flight 103 a step closer.  As was revealed last week, fresh grounds for an appeal to clear Abdelbaset al-Megrahi are in the final stages of preparation before being handed to the Scottish -Criminal Cases Review Commission.  John Mosey, who lost his daughter Helga, 19, in the 1988 explosion which killed 270 people, welcomed the development.  Megrahi’s widow Aisha and son Ali met with lawyer Aamer Anwar and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora died in the tragedy, in Zurich in November to discuss the appeal.  They believe crucial evidence was withheld from Megrahi’s trial. Reverend Mosey, of Lancaster, said his family supported their concerns over the guilty verdict and want to know why then justice secretary Kenny MacAskill met Megrahi in jail before he was released on compassionate grounds in 2009.  John, who is among 25 UK-based relatives of victims supporting the appeal, said: “The question of who did it is our basic question. It’s important that we live in a society where the legal system -cannot be manipulated for political ends. The rule of law is vital.  I don’t think all of the truth will ever out – there’s probably too much at stake. But some things will come out, I’m convinced of that.”  Megrahi's family could see justice as they appeal Lockerbie conviction over evidence used in trial.  He admitted to being “amazed” that Megrahi was found guilty of planting the bomb that blew the plane up over Dumfriesshire and said campaigners were supporting efforts to clear the Libyan’s name.  He said: “We’re approaching it on two fronts with our Justice for Megrahi group and this legal action on behalf of the Megrahi family, which is backed by British relatives.  It is a step in the right direction into getting an inquiry into what went on and why it wasn’t prevented.”  John felt MacAskill was holding back when they met He said: “We had several meetings and found him to be a gentleman who treated us with dignity.  I always got the feeling he would like to have been more helpful than he was allowed. I would be fine if he was called as a witness in the case.”  He believes US politicians exerted influence. He added: “It seems to us Washington leaned on Westminster, who leaned on the Scottish legal system.  It seems to me it’s linked to something the Americans were doing, perhaps in the Middle East.”

Hebridean Way Walking Route Offers New Way to Explore Islands
Scotland’s newest walking route has opened for business, taking visitors to the Outer Hebrides on a scenic journey from through a chain of islands from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis.  The 156-mile walk, called the Hebridean Way Walking Route, takes in ten islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings.  The route, which was developed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar with support from the European Regional Development Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage, is the only dedicated Hebridean walking trail to traverse the archipelago. The introduction of a walking route through the islands, from Vatersay in the south to Lews Castle, on the mostly northerly island of Lewis, adds a second string to the Hebridean Way, which already features a 185-mile cycling route. The Hebridean Way Cycling route was launched in March last year when endurance cyclist and adventurer Mark Beaumont tackled the route in a Hebridean Way Cycling Challenge, completing the journey in just 24 hours. The routes lead walkers or cyclists through the ever-changing landscapes of the islands of the Outer Hebrides and offer a chance for visitors to immerse themselves in the island experience. In addition to enjoying the scenery, walkers and cyclists could encounter wildly differing weather patterns in the course of one day.  The bodies behind the route hope that the latest addition to the walking route family will join the “iconic” long distance treks and boost the important tourist industry on the islands.  The long-established West Highland Way, a 96-mile hike from Milngavie, north of Glasgow, to Fort William, attracts around 80,000 walkers a year. For fans of longer walks, the Southern Upland Way, which opened in 1984, is a 212-mile coast to coast trek across Scotland from Portpatrick in the west to Cockburnspath in the east.

Retired Doctor Warns Theresa May of Fresh Court Challenge Over Brexit
Theresa May has been warned of a fresh challenge in the courts over Brexit by a retired Scottish doctor who claims the law requires there to be a second referendum on any withdrawal agreement.  Dr Andrew Watt has sent a letter before action - usually the first step in taking disputes to court - to the Prime Minister, arguing that Section 2 of the European Union Act 2011 requires a referendum before the UK can ratify any treaty that amends or replaces the EU or the functioning of the EU.  The Act was designed to trigger a referendum in the event of a new EU treaty which would transfer powers to the bloc from the UK.  But Dr Watt highlighted a section of the legislation which sets out that there must be a referendum if there is the "conferring on an EU institution or body of power to impose a requirement or obligation on the United Kingdom, or the removal of any limitation on any such power of an EU institution or body".  He said a separate line - providing for a referendum if the EU is given the power to impose sanctions on the UK - could also apply if the bloc is able to erect tariffs on UK goods and services.  Dr Watt said: "The Prime Minister has refused to hold a further referendum on withdrawal from the European Union. She has overlooked the fact that Section 2 of the European Union Act 2011 requires a referendum before the United Kingdom can ratify any withdrawal or related trade agreement with the European Union.  The Prime Minister's failure to recognise the legal requirement for a further referendum means that she is at high risk of running out of time in the negotiations with the European Union."  He added: "I have asked the Prime Minister to respond formally by Friday May 12.  Once I have her response I can decide which of the legal issues in the letter before action should be pursued in the High Court. At that time I expect to seek to raise funds by crowdfunding or other means to enable this important legal action to go ahead."

Places to Visit - Standing Stones of Calanais
The biggest tourist attraction on the Isle of Lewis is undoubtedly the Standing Stones of Calanais (the Gaelic spelling has been adopted by Historic Scotland and others rather than the previous form of "Callanish" or "Callanais"). Situated near the west coast of the island, around 50,000 tourists visit these standing stones each year and the visitor centre has had to been expanded to cater for a rise in numbers. Quite an achievement for a location which is in one of the remoter parts of Scotland. It has a unique arrangement, with lines of stones radiating in four directions from a central ring. There are 13 primary stones forming a rough circle, flattened on one side, about 13 metres (42 feet) in diameter, with a long approach avenue of stones to the north which narrows as it approaches the centre - archaeological research suggests that initially there was only one line of stones before the "avenue" was created. There are shorter stone rows to the east, south, and west. The overall layout of the monument recalls a distorted Celtic cross. But remember this was built around 2900 to 2600BC.. The individual stones in the centre vary from 8 to 13 feet tall, and are of the local Lewisian gneiss. They surround the tallest stone on the site which is 16 feet high and weighing about 5.5 tonnes. Some time later a stone tomb was added to the centre of the circle, nestled against the tallest stone.   Situated on a prominent ridge, Calanais is visible from miles around. And it is the centre of a further dozen or more sites of standing stones in the immediate area, showing how important the area was to prehistoric peoples. The existence of other Bronze Age monuments in the area implies that Calanais remained an active focus for prehistoric religious activity for at least 1500 years. Archaeologists usually refer to the main monument as "Calanais I" to distinguish it from these other sites.

Drum Castle and Garden of Historic Roses, Aberdeenshire
In 1984, the castle and its 411 acres were bequeathed to the National Trust for Scotland by the 24th laird, bringing to an end the ownership for 24 generations by one family. The Trust has expanded the gardens to include a Garden of Historic Roses.

Nicola Sturgeon Tells Voters 'Don't Let Tories Drag Scotland Back on June 8'

Scotland's First Minister said the Conservatives must not be given a "free hand to do whatever they want to Scotland" on June 8.  Speaking to party activists at The Hub in the east end of Glasgow she said that a vote for the SNP would deliver a "strong voice for Scotland" and ensure "real and effective opposition" in the House of Commons.  She said the council elections on May 4 would offer the SNP a chance to remove the "dead, suffocating hand of Labour" from the city chambers and replace it with a "vibrant, dynamic, ambitious city government."  And she urged voters to build on that on June 8 by backing the SNP.  She said: "A few weeks later in the General Election on June 8 we must make sure that Scotland's voice is heard and it is heard loudly and clearly.  Make no mistake, this General Election really matters to the future of our country.  It will determine whether Scotland continues to move forward or is dragged back by the Tories and it will ensure that the decisions about the future of our country, whatever that turns out to be, is taken here by the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people, not by an increasingly hard-line right wing Tory government at Westminster."  She added: "Theresa May has already told us what this General Election is about for her. It is about removing opposition and strengthening her hand to do whatever she wants.  Let us make sure that on June 8 we send a loud message from Scotland that we are not prepared to give a Conservative government a free hand to do whatever it wants to Scotland."  She contrasted what the Conservatives and SNP have done, saying the SNP is building at least 50,000 new houses while the Tories introduced the Bedroom Tax, and that the SNP is expanding free childcare while the Tories are removing tax credits from working families.  The SNP leader said it is "abundantly obvious" that Labour will not win the General Election, and does not have what it takes to be an effective opposition.  Ms Sturgeon said that only voting SNP will ensure that Scotland's voice is heard.  She told activists: "An SNP vote will deliver strong voices for Scotland. An SNP vote will also make sure that we back our Scottish parliament against a Conservative government that wants to undermine our Scottish parliament.  It will make sure that the future of our country is decided here in Scotland, not by a Tory government at Westminster.  A vote for the SNP will make sure that the Tories do not get away with silencing all opposition as they want to do.  A vote for the SNP will make sure that there continues to be real and effective opposition in the House of Commons."  She added: "If Scotland wants to make sure the Tories cannot simply do what they want in Scotland, if we want to make sure there are voices of strong opposition to the Conservatives in Westminster, then the only way to deliver that is with a strong, resounding vote for the SNP in every part of Scotland on June 8."

Distillery Celebrates with £1,250-a-bottle Dram
Thirty two bottles of a “treasured and exceptional dram”  were put up for sale at a Moray distillery this week, with a price tag of £1,250 each.  The limited edition 1976 single malt can only be bought by visitors to Benromach, on the outskirts of Forres. It has been launched to mark a successful year at the distillery, which has been owned by Elgin-based whisky specialists Gordon and Macphail, since 1993.  Distillery manager Keith Cruickshank said: “This visitor centre exclusive is a great way to mark the distillery’s recent success and I’m sure Benromach enthusiasts will be keen to get their hands on one of the 32 bottles.  This single malt was distilled before the Urquhart family, who own Gordon and Macphail, took the reins and brought Benromach distillery back to life. Now, after maturing for 40 years, it is finally time for whisky fans to get the chance to savour this treasured and exceptional dram.”  The growth of Benromach since its reopening in 1998 has led to expansion at the distillery and visitor centre, including new warehouses and a larger workforce. The former manager’s house has been converted into a tasting room.  Last year more than 12,000 people visited the distillery. The single cask DisDislimited edition Benromach 1976 is described as a “dark golden malt, matured in a refill American hogshead, with an exceptionally rare character of succulent fruits, with smooth, peppery hints followed by sweet aniseed.”

Walter Scott's Sandstone Grandfather Clock
The 19th century author Sir Walter Scott is famous not just for his many historical novels but for the home he built at Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders. It is full of items which he had collected during his lifetime and recently an unusual item was rediscovered - a grandfather clock which used sandstone rather than wood for its case. The Abbotsford Trust is trying to raise funds so that this unique clock can be further restored.

Scolarship Key to Gaelic Writers
The chance to win a scholarship to study TV fiction writing at Glasgow Caledonian University is being offered again by the Gaelic Media Service (MG Alba).  The MA television fiction writing course at Glasgow Caledonian University is the only dedicated one-year postgraduate programme of its type in the UK.  It provides aspiring screenwriters with the tools to embark on – or strengthen – their career in television fiction writing, and MG Alba supports a place on the course for one Gaelic speaker.  An option to undertake the course on a part-time basis over two years is also available.  The course is taught by a combination of leading TV scriptwriters and academic staff including course lecturer Professor Ann Marie Di Mambro whose credits include EastEnders, Casualty and River City, and Chris Dolan, author and playwright, whose credits include River City, Taggart and taking Inspector Rebus to BBC Radio 4.  Students on the course will work intensively on at least two drama series currently transmitting on British television, learning how to story conference, storyline, write scripts and edit these dramas.  The MG Alba scholarship will be awarded to one person, fluent in Gaelic, who will join the programme in September.

Wind Farm Windfall Will Boost East Caithness Communities

Communities on the east coast of Caithness will be able to apply for £2 million over the next five years thanks to the launch of an offshore wind farm community benefit fund. Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Limited is launching the Beatrice local fund and will be accepting applications from Wednesday.  The fund is available in five community council areas – Berriedale and Dunbeath; Sinclair Bay; Wick; Tannach and District, and Latheron, Lybster and Clyth.  SSE’s community investment manager Fiona Morrison said the fund will help with the realisation of community projects.  She said: “The fund is here to support activities that will enhance the Caithness area and has the potential to provide lasting benefits to the local community over the next five years.  I would encourage as many people as possible to attend our funding surgeries on May 3, 8 and 9 to find out how they can take advantage of this exciting opportunity.”  Situated 13.5km off the Caithness coast, the 84 turbine Beatrice wind farm is expected to generate enough energy to power 450,000 homes once operational in 2019.

Stolen Panel From Great Tapestry of Scotland Recreated

A stolen panel from the Great Tapestry of Scotland has been painstakingly recreated by its original stitchers.  The section which depicts the Apprentice Pillar at Rosslyn Chapel was stolen while the tapestry was in display in Kirkcaldy Galleries in September 2015.  It has never been found and so the artist Andrew Crummy and a team of volunteer stitchers recreated the panel, which is one of 160 in the work. The brainchild of author Alexander McCall Smith, it tells the story of Scotland's history and has been touring the country since it was completed in 2013.  It is said to be the longest tapestry in the world and was made by more than 1,000 volunteers. The replacement panel has been created by the seven original stitchers, all of whom live in or near Roslin.  Together, Margaret Humphries, Jean Lindsay, Anne Beedie, Jinty Murray, Barbara Stokes, Fiona McIntosh and Phillipa Peat worked for hundreds of hours to embroider the replacement.  Ms McIntosh said: "We were all devastated that our panel had been stolen, but we are happy now that it has been remade and delighted that it will once again take its place with the rest of the tapestry." The new panel closely resembles the original, but "some subtle design differences" have been added to distinguish it from the original.  Project historian Alistair Moffat said: "What the women of Roslin have achieved is something remarkable: not only have they refused to let the miserable people who stole the original panel win, they have also poured all their love and labour into creating a stunning new panel of the Apprentice Pillar that is even more powerful.  Their panel will have a special place in my heart and it will join its companions in the new building to house the tapestry in Galashiels."

Ruth Davidson Slammed for Calling Barbaric Rape Clause A Box-ticking Exercise
Ruth Davidson dismissed the Tories’ barbaric rape clause as a box-ticking exercise. The Scottish Conservative leader said the measure, which was brought in under new child tax credit rules, had been exaggerated.  The clause has caused outrage as it forces women who want to claim tax credits for a child born as a result of rape to fill out a form proving the attack took place.  But Davidson said: “The system which is in place does not require some of the things that people have said it does.  It does not require women to fill out a multipage form. It is about making sure a third party does it for them. All they have got to do is tick a box and put their name on it.”  Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “It is absolutely sickening to watch Ruth Davidson defend the rape clause.  To say this is a box-ticking exercise is to trivialise the most horrifying of experiences a person can go through. This is the nasty party at their most vile.”  Last month, the Tories brought in changes that limited tax credits to the first two children in every family, with an exception for women who have a third child as a result of rape.  To claim, victims have to convince a “professional third party” – health workers, police, social workers or rape charities – that they are telling the truth about their ordeal.  Earlier, Davidson stood by the new tax credit caps, despite warnings that other welfare cuts are already forcing desperate women to consider abortion. Charity Turn2us this week told MPs: “The most worrying trend that is emerging is pregnant women asking the call handler to undertake a benefit check to ascertain what they would be entitled to if they continue with the pregnancy, citing that the outcome will help them to decide whether they continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.  We’re concerned that this type of call will become more frequent as a result of the new two-child limit.”

Brexit Fears Delay Plans for Brewery

Plans for a multimillion-pound brewery and visitor attraction in the heart of Inverness have been put on hold – because of Brexit.  The political and economic uncertainty of the UK quitting the European Union – as well as a possible second Scottish independence referendum – have caused the husband and wife owners of the Glen Mhor Hotel to defer the plans they had for their Ness Bank business.  Jon and Victoria Erasmus received planning permission in September 2015 to build a glass-fronted brewery, restaurant and visitor centre beside the hotel.  It was the second time of asking for Mr and Mrs Erasmus, who were initially turned down because of concerns over parking and the design of the building, which one objector branded an eyesore.  However, council planners eventually backed the proposals saying the scheme could bring new jobs, increase tourism and provide an interesting new building on the river frontage.  At the time, Mr and Mrs Erasmus said they believed the plans could generate millions of pounds for the local economy. This week Mrs Erasmus said they were still “totally committed” to seeing the project through, but that current events had given them pause for thought.  “As a private family business it’s a huge investment for us at any time, regardless of anything else that would be happening, When it happens it will have an impact on the current business so we have had to think carefully in any case about when exactly the best time to get things under way would be.  Particularly for myself, though, Brexit and a possible second independence referendum are giving a bit of a concern and I do want to know more about what the impacts could be there before we go ahead.  There’s so much uncertainty and I just want to see a little bit more of where we’re going to be reassured before making any final decisions.”  The couple have invested heavily in their Inverness business in recent years, doubling the size of the Glen Mhor Hotel and Apartments in the five years between 2011 and 2016 through the purchase of a number of neighbouring guest houses.  And in general, Mrs Erasmus said they couldn’t be happier with how business is going.  “Inverness is of course at the heart of a really fantastic area that tourists still very much want to come to and even after the crash in 2007-08 the city pretty much held its own, so we couldn’t really be happier on that front,” she said.  Nevertheless her Brexit doubts chime with similar fears raised by many local businesses and other organisations in recent weeks and months.  University of the Highlands and Islands principal, Professor Clive Mulholland, told a Brussels conference in November he was concerned at the risk of his institution being sidelined in EU collaborative projects.  And Emmanuel Moine, chairman of Inverness Hotels Association as well as general manager of the Glen Mhor Hotel, has talked about the serious impact of the potential loss of EU labour on the hospitality sector. Cawdor farmer and agricultural commentator Richard Jones said there were also concerns across his own sector.  “Whether it’s raising livestock or growing crops, you really need to know at least roughly two to three years in advance what’s happening so that you can plan effectively,” he said. “At the moment everything is very much up in the air, which is very difficult to cope with.”

Glasgow Kiltwalk is Judged to Be A Huge Success As Thousands Take Part
More than 7,200 people took to the streets of Glasgow yesterday in the biggest ever Royal Bank of Scotland Kiltwalk and are on course to raise £1 million for charities in Scotland this year across the four events. Sir Tom Hunter’s vision of the Kiltwalk becoming the country’s biggest mass participation event to fight poverty and ill health took a big step to becoming a reality as people laced-up their walking shoes to go the extra mile for a charity or cause they care about.  And the man who is bringing Barrack Obama to Edinburgh next month, has guaranteed that he will add 10 per cent to all fundraising at the Kiltwalk this year.  Sir Tom said: “The real heroes are our wonderful walkers who have been pounding the streets and paths between Glasgow and Loch Lomond in a sea of tartan to change lives for the better. Encouraged along the way by our amazing Kiltie Volunteers who help make it such a unique experience for everyone involved. The atmosphere today is nothing short of incredible. It’s inspiring and it makes me extremely proud to be Scottish.”  In addition to supporting children’s charities, Kiltwalk 2017 is open to all charities in Scotland. Anyone walking for Kiltwalk sees 110 per cent of their fundraising going to the STV Children’s Appeal.

Outlander Author to Give Talk in Beauly
The Outlander writer will be in Beauly on Saturday, May 14 to open the new book department at the Old School Beauly. She was also scheduled to talk to a small group there, but early demand for tickets persuaded business owners Helen and William Crawford to shift the talk to the nearby Phipps Hall, which has room for 200 people, and to donate the ticket money to Highland Hospice.  Tickets went on sale on at 9am on Saturday and Mrs Crawford said there had been a fantastic response, with people coming from all over Scotland to snap up tickets. The majority are now sold although some tickets are still available at the Old School, where Ms Gabaldon will be singing books on the day. “We’re very aware of the close connections between Diana Gabaldon and Beauly and what she has written,” she continued. “There’s the Clan Fraser of Lovat connection as Outlander hero Jamie Fraser descends from them. And our shop is next to the ruins of Beauly Priory which is where Claire Randall meets the seer Maisri.”

May Goes ‘Full Donald Trump’ with Attack on EU Officials
In some of the most hostile rhetoric on Europe by a sitting UK prime minister, Mrs May suggested unnamed EU figures were trying to sabotage Brexit by misrepresenting Britain’s position in damaging leaks to European media.  Critics claimed the Prime Minister had “gone full Donald Trump” and was feeding the row to win votes at the general election on 8 June.  The remarks follow a turbulent four days in which leaks about a meeting with EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker put Downing Street on the defensive over its Brexit strategy.  Mrs May initially dismissed as “Brussels gossip” reports that Mr Juncker was increasingly pessimistic about reaching a Brexit agreement.  Tensions were raised further with reports yesterday that the “divorce settlement” sought by the EU had almost doubled to €100 billion (£85bn), with the EU chief negotiator warning of “explosive” consequences if the UK tried to avoid “clearing its accounts”.  At a campaign event yesterday morning, Brexit Secretary David Davis said the UK would not be “negotiating with a megaphone”.  But within hours, following a meeting with the Queen at Buckingham Palace to put the official seal on the dissolution of parliament, Mrs May accused the EU of trying to crash Brexit negotiations and interfere in the UK general election.  She said: “In the last few days, we have seen just how tough these talks are likely to be.  Britain’s negotiating position in Europe has been misrepresented in the continental press. The European Commission’s negotiating stance has hardened. Threats against Britain have been issued by European politicians and officials.  All of these acts have been deliberately timed to affect the result of the general election.”  She added: “But the events of the last few days have shown that – however reasonable the positions of Europe’s other leaders – there are some in Brussels who do not want these talks to succeed. Who do not want Britain to prosper.”  The remarks also represented a shift in tone on the risks involved in Brexit, with the Prime Minister acknowledging that “the consequences will be serious” if the UK fails to secure the right exit terms from the EU.  At a press conference in Brussels, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it was an “illusion” to think Brexit would be quick or painless.  Setting out the EU Commission’s negotiating guidelines for the first phase of talks, Mr Barnier refused to confirm the size of payment he was seeking, and insisted the UK was not being punished. Mr Davis insisted that “we will not be paying €100bn” and dismissed as “laughable” reports that Mrs May would be barred from negotiating with other European heads of government and would instead have to go through Mr Barnier.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon accused the Prime Minister of “poisoning the well” of Brexit talks and trying to turn the EU into a “bogeyman” in order to win votes. “It is vital for jobs and living standards that the UK gets the best possible deal from Brexit. But for all the bravado, the fact is that the UK government’s leverage in these negotiations is extremely limited.  So for Theresa May, driven by entirely narrow, partisan motives, to deliberately seek to poison the well will make the negotiating task ahead even harder.  This is an irresponsible, gratuitous attack on our European neighbours, which is aimed at diverting attention from the Tories’ dismal record on health, the economy, austerity and welfare by painting the EU as a bogeyman.”

Glasgow’s Shieldhall Tunnel Project 50% Complete
Officials behind the construction of Scotland’s biggest ever wastewater tunnel have revealed that the multi million pound engineering project is halfway to completion.  Glasgow’s £100 million Shieldhall Tunnel is being constructed by Scottish Water in a bid to lower contamination in the River Clyde and remove the threat of flooding.  Situated in the south of Glasgow, the project officially reached 50% completion this week when its 1,000 tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) passed underneath Pollok Park.  Construction on the tunnel began last July, with the project on schedule to be completed before Christmas.  Earlier this week, engineers on the site installed a full circle of giant concrete rings that form the runnel about 32ft (10m) under the east of Pollok Park at a point that is 1.55 miles (2.5km) along the route. More than 1,600 of these concrete rings have been completed so far.  The complete section of the tunnel is already capable of holding the equivalent of 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  The team behind the Shieldhall Tunnel for Scottish Water, known as the Glasgow Tunnel Partnership, is a commercial joint venture between Costain and VINCI Construction Grands Projets called CVJV.

The First Minister stated that support and hard work has delivered an emphatic SNP win in Scotland's council elections.  The SNP has won more councillors and more votes than any other party. And we’re now the biggest group on a majority of councils. I’m also incredibly proud that we won in Scotland’s four largest cities,- Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, and won more councillors than five years ago. But there is no time to rest on our laurels.   Describing the results as a "clear and emphatic victory for the SNP", Ms Sturgeon said : " SNP councillors and SNP councils will put their communities and the people of Scotland first."  She also said they would be "an excellent springboard for the General Election" in less than five weeks' time.  Although the Conservatives won more seats than ever before this was due to a landslide against Labour.  Make no mistake - a stronger Tory government at Westminster means deeper cuts and years of further austerity. Results across the UK show that now more than ever, Scotland needs strong SNP voices to stand up to a Tory Government that is set to impose more cuts and put thousands of jobs at risk," she said. "It is clear from these results that the only party who can be that strong opposition to the Tories - in Scotland and across the UK - is the SNP.  Where Labour let Scotland down by losing so many seats to the Tories, the SNP showed that the Tories cannot take Scotland's votes for granted."  

Last Updated (Saturday, 06 May 2017 11:35)