Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 402

Issue # 402                                                     Week ending 27th May 2017

The Lady May Be One for Turning A Bit After All by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Joutnal

It is a perfect spring day here in lovely Stornoway. The sun is shining, there is a soft breeze blowing, the birds are singing - and the lawn mower is broken. Perfect. So think for a moment on us poor people who have the responsibility of keeping back gardens in order when you next hope for a sunny day. It’s alright for you lot lounging about in your bikinis and fake tans but rarely do you ever hear a word of sympathy for those who have to lug Qualcasts about.

Gardening is such an obsession for many people. My mate Donald up the road moved into his new house last year and he and his wife found that the garden hadn’t been touched for years. There was just a rotten shed and everything was overgrown with weeds. They set to work and on the first day the minister called in. He blessed their work, saying: “I pray that you and God work together to make this the garden of your dreams.”

A few months later, the minister was back and he saw a rebuilt shed, large vegetables growing in neat rows and an immaculate trimmed lawn. It was all changed. “Ah, it’s a miracle,” said the minister. “Look what God and you have accomplished together.” “Aye, reverend,” said Donald, “it is a big change but remember what the place was like when God was doing it on his own.”

We know a change when we see one. When a Prime Minister goes all googly-eyed at probing questions and splutters that nothing has changed, there is only one thing you can be sure of. Something has changed. When that politician is the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury and Keeper of the Downing Street Cat, and everyone knows that everything has changed about something that was promised just four days earlier, then you know someone’s heading for a crash.

Theresa May promises she will be strong and stable. So we expected care homes policy to at least be worked out on the back of a fag packet. Mind you, they have changed the colours of fag packets to sickly green so they are not handy for making notes. What really got me was her insistence that nothing had changed over the cap on social care funding, or the so-called dementia tax.  The PM was just brazening it out to raise doubts in our minds that it was us who got it wrong. Didn’t work. Not so strong and stable now, eh?

Change is good, though. One change is that we now have Sunday newspapers again in the islands. Some people do not approve while others are absolutely delighted. However, at least one avid reader is still a bit confused about the change. At the weekend, a certain retired nurse went into one of the shops that sell newspapers seven days a week and asked for her usual Sunday paper. “Madam,” said the assistant, “today is Saturday. The Sunday papers do not come till tomorrow, Sunday.”  The customer paused for a while, scratched her head and said: “Oh, right. So that’s why I was the only one in church this morning.”

We have had some good days already. Before it broke, we were out with the mower, the shears and the strimmer. Once you get into it, it’s not so bad. Before long I was skipping through the knee-length grass and singing “The mower I see you, the mower I want you.” Not to be outdone, Mrs X picked up her own refrain with: “Flymo to the moon.” Honestly, conversing with her is like using Google. Before you’re halfway through a sentence, she finishes it with her own suggestions.”

Now we have to cultivate part of the garden to level it but a neighbour says we shouldn’t bother. He said: “Don’t disturb the worms. Have you not seen the news? Worms could take over the world.” I haven’t the heart to tell him the news was about global warming and not global worming.

As well as the springtime gardening, another change in this house is that Mrs X is now into healthy eating. She now demands that we have organic this and home-grown that. When I went shopping the other day, I told the man in the supermarket that my wife did not want any old vegetables but organic ones that the farmers had looked after specially. He nodded, then shook his head as if he had that once or twice before. I said: “For instance, those tomatoes there. Have they been treated with any poisonous chemicals?” “Oh no,” he said. “You’ll have to do that yourself.”

Brexit Fears Raised Over Highland GP Numbers
Fears about a Brexit impact on Highland GP numbers have been raised as doctors’ leaders call for clarity over the future of European staff. The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) Scotland issued a warning that many areas could face difficulties if doctors from countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) aren’t allowed to stay here once Britain leaves the European Union.  While the EEA includes countries not within the EU the RCGP said their research suggested there could still be a post-Brexit impact.  RCGP Scotland said 226 GPs across the country gained their first degree in EEA countries, representing four per cent of the total Scottish GP workforce. Chairman Dr Miles Mack, who is based in Dingwall, said: “There is already a projected deficit of 828 whole-time equivalent GPs in Scotland by 2021. To learn that Scotland could face the loss of an additional four per cent of its already stretched GP workforce is extremely worrying. It is one-in-25 of Scotland’s Gps. We are calling for government to safeguard the GP workforce during international negotiations by guaranteeing the status of healthcare professionals already working in Scotland.” So far the UK Westminster government has failed to provide any guarantees and Dr Mack said any Brexit impact could be particularly significant in the Highlands where there have been historic difficulties over general recruitment. Scottish Government health secretary Shona Robison said the current uncertainty presents “many challenges” for planning in the NHS and added: “The contribution of EU and EEA nationals to our NHS cannot be overestimated.” But despite these fears NHS Highland has pointed to some success in addressing the recruitment issue. In 2013 NHS Highland received £1.5 million through the Scottish Government to devise and test new ways of recruiting and training staff. It set up a recruitment website and worked with partner organisations to promote the Highlands as a place to work and live.

Clan Chiefs Have Another Go at Storming Edinburgh Castle
Scotland's clan chiefs have returned to Edinburgh Castle for the first time since the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. More than 30 clansmen and women marched to the Great Hall at Edinburgh for the first time since the attempted siege of the castle by Bonnie Prince Charlie's forces.  The visit was organised by The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo ahead of this summer's event which will invite Clan Chiefs to lead their members onto the esplanade for the first time. A total of 57 clans are due to be represented.  Brigadier David Allfrey, Chief Executive and Producer of The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, said: "Edinburgh Castle has been at the centre of so many extraordinary events over the years and it is tremendous that we will see another story playing out this summer.  I wonder what the forebears of the Clan Chiefs and the leaders of the Families would be thinking if they could witness so many of their descendants being entertained in the Great Hall?"  Sir Malcolm MacGregor, convener of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs, said it was a "great honour" to take part in the Royal Military Tattoo this year. He said: "There will be clan representatives from around the world, in keeping with the high international profile of the Tattoo, and the global nature of today's clan network.  Organisers said the recent gathering was an indication of the strength of clan loyalty which still survives in Scotland, with more than 350 clans in existence.  In September 1745, more than 900 Highland clansmen marched to the City of Edinburgh to lay siege to the Castle. Although they managed to capture Edinburgh and Holyrood, they were never successful in capturing the Castle as General Guest, Governor at the time, would not surrender the Castle to Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops.

Major Investment in New Aberdeen Hotel
A Canadian company is building the 218 room Sandman Signature Hotel in Aberdeen at a cost of £20million. The hotel will be created at a former Robert Gordon University building with 11,000 sq ft of restaurant space and 6,000 sq ft of conference and banqueting space, as well as a large rooftop gym.  It will be located on St Andrews Street and will fly the Sandman Signature brand.  The business should be up and running by next year.  The company is controlled by the Gaglardi family in Vancouver.  Mitch Gaglardi said "We have plans to expand further in the UK - we are looking at a number of sites and have a few irons in the fire.  Our Aberdeen development is a serious investment and will be a legacy property for us, one that takes us into another new part of the UK.  It is a large-scale development, with extensive conference and banqueting facilities, but it will replicate the family-friendly atmosphere and great food, service and decor that we are known for throughout the group."

Romancing in East Dunbartonshire - Boclair House Hotel
Boclair House Hotel in Bearsden has been named Glasgow and Clyde's Romantic Hotel of the Year at the Scottish Hotel Awards. The hotel also won the award for the Boutique Hotel of the Year.  The local landmark, which was built in Tudor Gothic style, has always been a popular spot for wedding photographs. It has a stunning castellated tower and a series of impressive archways creating a covered walkway reminiscent of Italian cloisters.  In addition to renovating inside the building, the new owners constructed a new bandstand in front of the building.

Flora Macneil: the Queen of Gaelic Music

She was the voice of generations who helped to popularise and revitalise Gaelic music while rescuing scores of traditional folk songs from being altogether lost and forgotten.  Flora MacNeil was born in 1928 into the remote community of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. The small island was, and still is, largely Gaelic speaking, and as a small child, Flora was fully-immersed in the ancient oral traditions of her surrounds.  Flora hailed from a long line of singers on either side of her family, but it was through her mother and aunt, Ann and Mary Gillies, that she learned the most. From a tender age she was consuming old folk lyrics and melodies in their hundreds.  At age 4, Flora was able to recite the mature Mo Run Geal Og (My Fair Young Love) – a Jacobite lament in which a woman blames Bonnie Prince Charlie for the loss of her beloved – and many others from the Oran Mor (the Great Songs). With little else other than work to distract them, Barra’s isolated islanders were great purveyors of their own heritage and engaged regularly in Ceilidhs and sing-a-longs. Flora’s parents were no different, and once it became clear that their young daughter possessed a singing voice of beauty, they encouraged her to make the most of it. Flora MacNeil would go on to become a global emissary for the great Gaelic traditions.  In her early twenties, Flora’s big break came about somewhat by chance when she relocated to Edinburgh to work as a switchboard operator.  Her arrival coincided with a 1950s British folk revival and a renewed interest in traditional Scottish music. MacNeil began singing publicly at ceilidhs and folk concerts, eventually capturing the attentions of acclaimed Scottish poet and songwriter Hamish Henderson and American folklorist Alan Lomax.  In 1951, Henderson assisted in putting on a ceilidh during the inaugural Edinburgh People’s Festival – a precursor of the Fringe – in which Flora gave a spell-binding performance, wowing the crowds with her expert delivery and tremendous presence. Alan Lomax was described as being ‘bowled over’: “It was in Edinburgh one June night… that Scotland really took hold of me. A blue-eyed girl from the Hebrides was singing.”  Flora sang forgotten songs in her native Gaelic tongue, spreading them out far and wide, effectively saving them from extinction.  In 1992 she was awarded an MBE for her services to Gaelic music and inducted to the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame 13 years later.  She released two albums, the first in 1976 entitled Craobh nan Ubhal (The Apple Tree), and Orain Floraidh (Songs of Flora) in 1999.  Those influenced by Flora’s work include performers such as Karen Matheson from the group Capercaillie and Julie Fowlis.  During a documentary about Flora’s life, Neil Fraser, former deputy controller of Radio Scotland, remarked on the music which would have been lost had it not been for her efforts: “Flora has kept faith with the tradition. But for her and others like her, most of our heritage would be beneath the sod with the previous generation.”  Having followed in her mother’s footsteps, Maggie MacInnes, a harpist and award-winning Gaelic singer herself, had this to say: “She soaked up the songs when she was growing up and did so without thinking about it.  When she took these songs to the stages of the world, her authenticity, sincerity and love for them shone through.”  Flora MacNeil died in 2015 following a short illness. She was aged 86.

Ancient Greece Comes to Victorian Rothesay
Alexander 'Greek' Thomson, 1817-1875, was a Scottish architect whose imposing churches and mansions are some of the most impressive Victorian era buildings you will see in Scotland.  Thomson, who was born in Balfron in Stirlingshire never stepped foot in Greece, but was much influenced by classical Greek architecture.  Tor House in Rothesay was commissioned by John Wilson, a local stationer and now is on the market for offers over 335,000 pounds. It is a substantial villa with some stunning views and if it was located in Glasgow or Edinburgh would probably be worth over one million pounds.

Outlander Fans Descend on Aviemore for Outlandish Gathering

Outlander mania came home to Scotland this weekend when more than 220 people, mostly women, descended on Aviemore to create their very own three-day Highland fantasy. Some had travelled thousands of miles to be part of it, from the United States mainly but also South Africa, Canada and Australia too. Following tours of Culloden Moor and Clava Cairns, there were tartan bonnets, fancy frocks and wraps of plaid on show at the opening party, where whisky cocktails were served and Highland dancing and drumming soaked up by the crowd. Gaelic classes, wool waulking workshops and herbalism lessons were also held. Writers skilled in retelling the Jacobite era, including Hugh Allison and Maggie Craig, led talks and were in high demand.  What bound it all together was a very particular kinship amongst this fan crew.  Many had met before, this being the third event of its type organised by Outlandish UK, a fan group that first met in an Edinburgh pub in 2014. Then, only 20 people were expected - but more than 120 came.  Social media has ticked away bringing these people together since then so to see each other in the flesh is a big moment, many said. Friendships have been made, history explored and worldwide travel undertaken amid the passion for the books and the show.  “To think that Diana Gabaldon sparked all this from her books is just amazing,” said Susan Palmer, 58, from Texas.  Sheila Phelps Cabrera, from California, who befriended Susan at the 2014 pub gathering, said: ”People I have met at the Gatherings have come from Scotland to visit the States and we have come back to Scotland several times. It is like a family of like minded people.”  There is a fair bit of hugging and lots of laughing over the weekend. Mrs Phelps Cabrera said this trip was particularly emotional given she underwent cancer surgery three months ago.  “When I was told I didn’t have to go to chemo, the first thing my husband did was turn to me and said ‘now you can go to Scotland’. The trip is extra special to me. It is uplifting for people to be here among so many friends,” she added. The fandom does not go unnoticed by top figures in the show. Executive producer Ronald D Moore and his wife, costume designer Terry Dresbach, sent a representative to hand out thank you gifts from the couple.  Shortbread in little paper bags was given alongside tartan and a mini calendar of Dresbach’s designs. Scottish actor Richard Rankin, who plays Roger Wakefield in the show, was they mystery cast member to take part in this year’s Q&A. Rankin, who bantered with the crowd for around an hour and posed for photographs, thanked fans for their support.  Rankin also spoke about the “uplifting effect” the show had on the television industry in Scotland - as well as tourism.  He added: “When it came to Scotland it had a massive impact on the Scottish television industry. We now have our film studios which are ever expanding and its provided a heck of a lot of work for Scottish crew and cast.”  There was a brisk trade yesterday in tartan capes, woollen shoulder shrugs and fingerless arm warmers - like those worn by Claire Randall Fraser in the show - with Scottish crafts and baking shifting well as day two of the gathering unfolded.  It is no exaggeration to say there were also tears at this years Outlandish UK gathering.  The 2017 event will be the last given the sheer scale of organising the event and the competition from Outlander conventions, the commercial ventures which snap up the stars to meet the fans.  At the Macdonald Hotel Resort, fans could not hide their sadness that this giant gang of devotees to Diana Gabaldon’s creation won’t likely be meeting again on the same scale in the same place.  The Outlandish UK gathering also raises around £25,000 for charities supported by main Outlander characters including Youth Arts Theatre Scotland and Bloodwise, championed by Sam Heughan, and World Child Cancer, which is backed by Caitriona Balfe.

'Lights, Camera, Action' for New Scottish Film Studio
The Scottish government has given the go-ahead for Scotland's first purpose-built film and TV studio. It is hoped That the Pentland Studios development will help attract more feature films and high-end TV productions. It will be based in the southern outskirts of Edinburgh.Its backers believe that the studio can be operational by the end of next year.  The decision to approve the plan in principle overturns a previous recommendation by a Scottish government reporter, who ruled against the project.  Scottish ministers have now ruled that the economic and cultural benefits of the studio outweigh these concerns.

Mull Mansion Moves to Monks - From a B&B

Oran Na Mara (Song of the Sea in English) which was on the market for 375,000 pounds and enjoy a stunning position overlooking Bunessan Bay, used to be a four-star B&B, which boasted a sauna and under-floor heating.  Father Seraphim Aldea said it would take time and money before a permanent Orthodox Monastery Of All Celtic Saints could be built but the house purchase would allow them to start "a proper monastic life on the island".  Oran Na Mara had the perfect structure for a community of five or six monks, he added. "There is even a small storage shed that can be easily turned into a chapel."  Anda Campbell, who lives next door, said: "It's not what we expected. I got an email to say they were crowd-funding and were trying to get some money gathered up, but I thought it was just a joke."

Campaigners Push Tories Over £800m in EU Funds for Scotland

A pro-European Union campaign group is seeking guarantees from the Conservative Party on the future of around £800 million of EU funding for Scotland.  The European Movement in Scotland (EMiS) campaign has raised concerns following the launch of the Conservative General Election manifesto. It said the manifesto has failed to confirm funds lost to Scotland from leaving the EU will be fully replaced by a future Conservative government. Scotland has been allocated £787 million in EU funding over the seven-year funding period to 2020, equivalent to £110 million a year in structural funds to offset economic deficiencies. The Scottish Government currently manages these funds from the European Commission and the previous funding round was used for projects such as upgrading roads in the Western Isles, transport improvements for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and constructing a windfarm in South Uist. The Conservative manifesto states that it "will use the structural fund money that comes back to the UK following Brexit to create a United Kingdom Shared Prosperity Fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities across our four nations".  Alex Orr, policy adviser for EMiS said: "With Brexit there are massive implications for Scotland and there is no guarantee, further reinforced by the Conservative manifesto, that the lost funds will be replaced in Scotland.  This funding which has benefited key areas, such as the Highlands and Islands and south-west Scotland, may not continue at the sort of levels currently enjoyed, with obvious implications for those in these communities. "Following Brexit Scotland will be at the whim of Westminster as to how any such future funding is allocated.  What we require are guarantees that this vital funding will be replaced and that it is additional to, not replacing, the current Scottish Government budget."

Ten Months and 10 U-turns for Theresa May As She Scraps Manifesto Pledge
Theresa May’s claim of “strong and stable” leadership lay crumpled in the bin last night after she tore up a manifesto pledge to tax the better off for social care in their old age. The rattled Prime Minister dumped a plan to make the elderly pay up in England, with care costs being taken out of the value of their homes after death – dubbed the “dementia tax” by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.  It is thought to be the first time a political party have been forced to rewrite a published manifesto before an election has even taken place.  And it is May’s 10th big policy U-turn in just 10 months as Prime Minister.  Plans to make people receiving care at home liable for the full costs if they have  assets worth at least £100,000 provoked a backlash from Tory voters since their manifesto was published last Thursday.  May dropped the policy, suggesting there would be a cap on costs, and at a stroke destroyed her own election offer of stability and financial competence.  She said the level of the cap would be set after the election if the Tories returned to power. May looked furious as journalists described her as “weak and wobbly” and insisted there had been no U-turn. She said: “Nothing has changed.”  Corbyn said: “You can’t trust a word Theresa May says. This is a government in chaos and confusion.”  SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson said: “This is an utter humiliation for Theresa May, and the U-turn betrays the reality of the Tory leadership – that of a weak and wobbling Prime Minister.”   
Pledges May has dumped
1. Cap on social care costs Abandoned four days after the Tory manifesto was published when critics called the plan a “dementia tax”.
2. National Insurance hike Plan to clobber millions of self-employed workers with a tax hike was dumped five days after being unveiled in the Budget.
3. No snap general election Theresa May said this seven times after becoming PM – before “changing her mind” at Easter.
4. Workers on boards During her campaign to be leader, May promised to force big firms to put employees on their boards. It was dropped in favour of a watered-down version.
5. Foreign worker lists  The Tory plan to appear tough on immigration by forcing firms to draw up lists of all foreign workers was abandoned after one day.
6. Hinckley Point  May “paused” plans for a new nuclear station in Somerset, then “unpaused” the plan a few weeks later.
7. Brexit  During the campaign, May said Brexit would threaten “Britain’s future, our influence around the world, our security and our prosperity”. She now says Brexit is a great opportunity.
8. Energy price cap  The Cabinet attacked Ed Miliband’s plan for a cap on energy prices as “Marxism”. May has stolen the policy for her own manifesto.
9. European Convention on Human Rights May had vowed to pull Britain out of the ECHR but abandoned the plan as soon as she became PM.
10. Child refugees The Tories planned to take 3000 unaccompanied refugee kids but closed the scheme after accepting 350.

Decommissioning Continues As Normal At Dounreay Under Heightened Response Rate

Dounreay said decommissioning work is continuing as normal as the UK terror threat level has been raised to critical.  Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday night the threat level was raised from severe to critical, the highest possible level after the Manchester Arena bombing on Monday night.  Critical level means an attack is expected imminently in the UK.  A spokeswoman at Dounreay has announced the site is operating at a heightened response rate but work continues as normal. She said: "Security at Dounreay and other sites owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is kept under continuous review. The site is continuing to operate at a "heightened" response state and decommissioning work is continuing as normal.  The safety and security of the site, the staff and the surrounding community remains our highest priority.  We continue to work with Government, regulators and stakeholders to keep the response state under review."

Universal Credit 'Must Be Halted' Argues Scottish Social Security Minister
How many people have to suffer before the UK Westminster Government freezes the roll out of problematic new benefit changes, a Scottish minister has asked. The social security minister, Jeane Freeman, made her comments during a visit to Inverness where she heard of people going hungry and being plunged into debt as a result of universal credit.  The city, along with Nairn, Badenoch, Strathspey, Wester Ross and Ullapool, was one of the first places to feel the force of the new single benefit when a trial began last year. It replaces Jobseeker’s Allowance, employment and support allowance, income support, child tax credit, working tax credit and housing benefit, and will be rolled out gradually across the UK over the coming years.  Claimants say they have been plagued with problems since the trial launched – from the complicated online application to a six-week benefits freeze any time a change of circumstances is reported.  On Monday Ms Freeman attended a working group of Highland Council, Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) and housing associations and was shocked by the hardship people have been left in.  “I heard a lot of detail about the practical difficulties of the roll out and the impact it has, not only on individuals but the local authorities and housing associations,” she said. “The Scottish Government has already asked the UK Westminster Government to halt the roll out until they get these problems fixed. Online is just one part which is causing problems because not everyone is confident working online. The information being asked for isn’t always clear and in many places in the Highlands you can easily lose signal. Even what can be done on the phone costs money and if benefits have been frozen money is something people don’t have.”  Highland Council is now owed more than £700,000 in rent arrears from people on the new benefits system, an increase of 82 per cent since September last year.  Universal credit is part of a wider welfare reform and that the UK Westminster government claims is an easier way to claim which will also save taxpayers’ money but Ms Freeman said it is putting more strain on other public bodies. She added that the Scottish Government has spent more than £400 million mitigating the impact of the reform, including the controversial bedroom tax.  “I’m really concerned about the roll out extending,” she said. “Inverness and East Lothian are the two areas which have experienced Universal Credit for the longest and they are both having problems. What is clear to me is that the UK Westminster Government is not listening. They don’t want to hear that the system isn’t working or about the harm it is doing.” Former Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry, who is seeking re-election on June 8, set up the working group last year to help people struggling with universal credit but Monday’s event was chaired by Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd, as Mr Hendry is not currently serving as an MP.  Ms Todd pointed out that universal credit is damaging everyone claiming benefits, from working people to the terminally ill. “The worst affects I have heard are on people who are terminally ill,” she said. “They may have six months or less to live and spend those last months of their lives worrying and navigating an impossible system.” Ms Freeman, along with Mr Hendry and Ms Todd, have called for the roll out to be halted until problems are fixed, adding that the process is not due to be completed until 2025, giving the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) time to fix the issues.  A DWP spokeswoman said payments are made in a similar way to wages but support is available to anybody struggling. Universal credit payments mirror the way many people in work are paid,” they said. “The majority of claimants are confident in managing their money and we work closely with local authorities to support those who need extra help.”

Inverness Church Leader Meets Pope Francis

An Inverness church leader who had a surprise meeting with the Pope has described the occasion as “truly wonderful”.  Bishop Mark Strange, the Bishop of Moray, Ross and Caithness for the Episcopalian Church, had the unexpected encounter with the head of the worldwide Catholic Church during a week-long trip to Rome for an inter-faith conference. The bishop – whose area includes Inverness Cathedral – was among a group of delegates when found himself being escorted across St Peter’s Square for the Papal audience which takes place every Wednesday when the Pope is in Rome. “I had picked up an email just before I left saying that I meet the Pope but thought that was not going to happen,” said Bishop Mark.  “On the day there were about 700 of us from the conference. As we approached St Peter’s Square, I was held back into a smaller group and then into another smaller group.  Then one of the officials said, ‘come with me’ and suddenly, I found myself walking out towards the Papal platform.”  The bishop was then taken up and introduced to Pope Francis.  “I explained who I was and where I was from,” he said.  We exchanged pleasantries. He blessed me and I gave what I thought was a blessing. He then gave me a gift of a set of rosary beads. It was completely unexpected.” He said the sun was very bright and he felt the Pope looked tired.  “He is a quite an elderly man,” he said. “He is making a lot of changes in the church and that is always very difficult.”  He was also struck by a sense of humility about the Pope who leads an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide. “He was sitting there so humbly,” he said. “There was nothing about him which exuded, ‘I am in charge.’ He made me very welcome. There is that sense in what he talks about is how to break down divisions whereas too often what we hear about is reinforcing divisions.” From what he gleaned from the meeting and what he had heard elsewhere, Bishop Mark felt the Pope was keen to bring people of faith together, The meeting made a deep impression. Whatever our own religious backgrounds, what is interesting is that he greeted me as a bishop not as an episcopal bishop,” he said.  “I cannot deny that this is a man who is in direct line to Peter. He is sitting on the throne of Peter and I find that is quite awe-inspiring. It was already a very special event, spending the week in the company of Christians from across the world.  We talked of Unity and fellowship with Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Reformed Church brothers and Sisters. Then to find myself being escorted across St Peter’s Square to an audience with The Pope, that was truly wonderful.” The week-long gathering attended by Bishop Mark was organised by the Focolare movement which began during World War II in 1943 to promote spiritual and social renewal.  Although it roots were in the Roman Catholic faith, today it has as strong links to the major Christian denominations and other religions, or in some cases, with the non-religious. Following his return to the Highland capital, Bishop Mark then attended the opening of the annual general assembly of the Church of Scotland on Saturday alongside this year’s Lord High Commissioner, Princess Anne. The gathering, at the General Assembly Hall on the Mound in Edinburgh, was attended by more than 730 commissioners from congregations across Scotland and beyond.

Barack Obama Wowed Guests At Charity Dinner

Former US President Barack Obama made sure he soaked up not only the sun but many of the country’s most famed delights on his first trip to Scotland.  He tried his hand at the home of golf where he charmed delighted spectators - before being introduced to Scotland’s other national drink, Irn-Bru.  And on Friday night he had a crowd of business leaders and politicians transfixed as he spoke about some of the things closest to him in his life - including his mother and toothfloss.  Mr Obama gave people an insight into his life when he addressed a charity dinner at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre in aid of the The Hunter Foundation, set up by philanthropist Sir Tom Hunter, and the Obama Foundation, set up by the former president and his wife Michelle.  Tickets for tables of ten went on sale from about £5,000 - with some tables paying far more with an added extra of meeting the Democrat personally.  Dressed in a smart black tuxedo, Mr Obama spoke about a range of topics and described how “Democracy was hard” and said “our way of life is a garden that needs to be nurtured”. He also told the 1,000 guests his priorities were tackling terrorism and making new economies work for all with increased globalisation and new technologies making it harder for people to get decent wages.  And he said finding new clean energy and tackling climate change could not be ignored.  He also tackled migration, saying it had to be done “in a way which is compassionate and respectful of the law”.  And, in what could be a stab at his successor, he said fake news was now an issue that had to be watched and that “too many people base facts on their opinions rather than basing their opinion on facts”. And the room erupted in laughter when he vowed to return Scotland so he can experience “the full rainy experience” and later said he never gets too up or too down “because he’s from Hawaii”. He told how he believed “wisdom comes from unlikely places” and for everyone “there is someone in your life who grounds you and - for me that was my mother”. All guests - which included singers, politicians, sportspeople and business figures - had been banned from using their mobile phones and had been vetted almost a month in advance. The recent Manchester Attack had clearly led to heightened security as more than 40 uniformed police officers guarded all entrances and exits to the centre. And above flats across the road two very visible snipers watched over events while a police helicopter circled overhead. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson, Scots Labour leader Kezia Dugdale and Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop were among attendees.  Event organiser Sir Tom said: “This event is all about having an inspirational speaker and, with regards to fundraising, we’re hopefully going to help about 300 children’s charities.”  Obama fans who had travelled to the capital captured the mood of the visit when they said that even though they did not see the man - they were still huge admirers. Stewart Kermack, 61, had travelled up from Prestwick - on two long bus rides - wearing a Barack Obama T-shirt his son had bought him on a trip to the US eight years ago. He said: “I came especially to see Obama. Am I sad not to see him yes. But he was here, in Scotland doing what he does best - inspiring. That’s enough for me.”

Foreign Policy Cannot Be 'No-Go Area' in Election Debates

Nicola Sturgeon has said foreign policy "can't be a no-go area" for debate during a General Election campaign after Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn came under fire for linking terror attacks in the UK to military action overseas.  The SNP leader stressed no-one was to blame for the Manchester bombing other than the terrorist and any accomplices. She added, however, that the ability to campaign on issues such as opposing intervention in Iraq and Syria without suggestions it is "defending terrorism" had to be a key consideration. Ms Sturgeon said: "I don't think we should be looking to blame anybody for what happened in Manchester other than the terrorist that carried out that atrocity and anybody who aided and abetted him in doing that. Terrorists will always look for ways to justify their actions and if it's not foreign policy, no doubt it will be something else, so they are to blame and nobody else. More generally, we must be able to have a robust debate about foreign policy, about security, about how we keep the population safe.  I've been a long-standing critic of the war in Iraq, the SNP did not vote for the bombing campaign in Syria because we believe that these kinds of foreign-policy approaches have tended to hinder rather than help the process of dealing with the underlying problems.  We must be able to have these debates, particularly in an election campaign, without anyone suggesting in any way, shape or form that that is justifying or defending terrorist atrocities."