Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 405

Issue # 405                                                                 Week ending 17th  June 2017

Where We Tell Stornoway Tourists to Go and Park by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Wow, there has been some utterly amazing news in the past week. Who would have thought seven days ago that we would be plunged into all this chaos and confusion? It has got to the stage where I really cannot do any real work at all because I feel I have to constantly keep up with the news to make sure I am abreast of all the developments as they happen. We thought sensible people were in charge. Yes, Stornoway is going to get parking meters.

Where did that come from? What are they trying to do? We have had Pay and Display for a few years but that, of course, was just in the Perceval Square car-park in the centre of town. No one uses that one - except visitors, and the wives of people who work in the oil industry so they can show off their Chelsea tractors. They can park their 4x4s in that car park while they nip off to the hairdressers and make themselves look beautiful. When they have a collection of Pay and Display stickers on the windows of their BMWs and Audis, we can gawp and think: “Oh gosh. Aren’t they rich?”

Tourists, and especially the famous lesser-spending motorhome dwellers, also use it. It’s what they are used to back home, so why deny them? Of course, no locals would ever think of using that car park. Not when there is free parking in the Fishermen’s Car Park. I used to think you had to be employed on a local boat to park there. The first time I did, a man came running over as I was getting out of my car. I panicked and blurted out: “It’s alright. I’m the new cabin boy on the MV Sheigra.” The cove had only come over to ask me the time but he went away scratching his head and looking at me very oddly.

Nowadays people are so brazen they don’t even put on a sou’wester, a dirty smock or even white wellies to park in the Fishermen’s Car Park. Everyone does it. Which, of course, is why the council has decided to put in Pay and Display meters. So what? Who cares? We’ll just go and find a space on South Beach Street - outside the old Caledonian Hotel or by the Star Inn. What did you say? They are putting them there too? That’s it. I’m moving to Fort William.

Actually, maybe not. A few years ago, a doctor’s surgery in Lochaber had a problem because people with no patience were parking there so proper patients could not. One day a feisty nurse had enough and put up a notice for a wee while which I suspect was not approved by NHS bosses. It read: “Practice patients’ parking only. Offenders will be given a colonoscopy.” Although I have no idea what that is, it sounds very painful.

Occasionally, I read a local newspaper in Victoria, Australia. The Mcivor Times is in Heathcote and, let’s face it, although founding it is credited to a Mckay back in 1863, one of my swarthy ancestors may have had a hand in it somewhere. It recently published a photo of a local parking notice. It read: “No Parking. Unauthorised vehicles will be worked over with a sledgehammer, tipped over by an angry mob, set on fire and spray-painted with rude slogans immediately after being used in an incredibly daring daylight robbery.” OK, I’ll just put the ol’ wagon somewhere else then.

Some householders get upset when motorists park up near their homes. I couldn’t figure it out until I saw one resident put up a notice saying: “No parking near this house. Get your own wi-fi.”

Meanwhile, I suppose something has to be done about parking in the administrative capital of the Outer Hebrides. An islander was frantically driving round and round Stornoway a few weeks ago because he had a job interview. He couldn’t find a parking place anywhere. As his car crawled again up Francis Street, he decided there was nothing else for it.  He stopped the car in the middle of the road outside the Post Office and clasped his hands.

Turning his eyes upwards to Heaven, he prayed: “Oh Lord, take pity on me. If you find me a parking place I will give to charity every week for the rest of my life and I will give up the bevvy. I will even go to the Free Church Continuing every Sunday. Amen.”  Miraculously, another car suddenly pulled out and there was a parking place for him. The man looked up again and said: “Oh Lord, never mind. I found one.”

Record Added Capacity Gives Renewables A Major Boost (Australia take note-RMH)
Extra installed renewable power capacity set new global records in 2016, according to a new report.  The Renewable Energy Policy Network (REN21) said in its Renewables 2017 Global Status Report (GSR) that 161 gigawatts (GW) of additional renewable power were installed last year. That increased total global capacity by nearly 9 per cent over 2015 to nearly 2,017 GW. Solar accounted for about 47 per cent of the capacity added, followed by wind power at 34 per cent and hydropower at 15.5 per cent.  The report said renewable power was becoming the least costly option, with recent deals in Denmark, Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru and the United Arab Emirates seeing renewable electricity being delivered at $0.05 per kilowatt hour or less. “This is well below equivalent costs for fossil fuel and nuclear generating capacity in each of these countries,” the GSR report said. “Winners of two recent auctions for offshore wind in Germany have done so relying only on the wholesale price of power without the need for government support, demonstrating that renewables can be the least cost option.”  Global energy-related CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and industry remained stable for a third year in a row despite 3 per cent growth in the global economy and an increased demand for energy.  “This can be attributed primarily to the decline of coal, but also to the growth in renewable energy capacity and to improvements in energy efficiency,” it added.  Other positive trends included breakthroughs in renewable power storage technology, it said, providing additional flexibility to the power system.  In 2016, 0.8 GW of new advanced energy storage capacity became operational, bringing the year-end total to an estimated 6.4 GW.  Christine Lins, executive secretary of REN21, said: “The world is in a race against time. The most important thing we could do to reduce CO2 emissions quickly and cost-effectively, is phase out coal and speed up investments in energy efficiency and renewables. [President Donald] Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement is unfortunate. But the renewables train has already left the station and those who ignore renewables’ central role in climate mitigation risk being left behind.”  The REN21 GSR is regarded as the most comprehensive review of the state of renewable energy markets.

Scrabster Ice Plant on Schedule to Be Built on Time
Scrabster Harbour Trust has announced its £1.1 million ice plant is scheduled to be completed by the end of this month and will be in operation for the fishing industry this summer.  The new facility which is under construction will allow fishing boats to take on ice at any time day or night to protect the quality of their catch.  The £1.1 million ice plant will be designed to be more energy efficient, reliable and produce ice in plate form which will improve the standard of facilities at the harbour.  Port manager Sandy Mackie said the fishing industry is important to Scrabster Harbour and is confident the ice plant will serve fishing boats well. “The fishing industry is vital to the Scottish economy and we are proud to be part of the industry,” he said.  “We are always looking to improve our offering.  The investment in the new ice plant will allow Scrabster Harbour to maintain its position among the UK’s top fish landing ports.  This investment reflects the trust’s commitment to ensuring fit for purpose facilities for the fishing industry. We look forward to it operating later this summer.”  A total of £685,000 funding has been awarded to purchase and install a new quayside ice plant at the harbour. A total of £542,000 has come from European Marine Fisheries Fund via the Scottish Government with £143,000 coming from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Norwegian company FrioNordica has been awarded the contract for the supply and installation of the ice plant.  Thurso companies Alan Gow Groundworks and G Anderson Electrical have been appointed to undertake the associated civil and electrical works.  In order to maintain a steady supply of ice while construction of the new plant is taking place, the trust has set up an alternative temporary ice supply which the NDA has provided additional funding of £39,000 to support.

Inverness City Entrepreneur to Open New Bar Within Weeks
Entrepreneur property developer Charlie Barbour, who owns the White House cocktail bar and bistro in Union Street, is set to open a second pub on neighbouring Queensgate in what he’s hoping will be a quick turnaround.  Next to the post office the premises has been home to various hostelries over the years and Mr Barbour said he is satisfied it can be fully refitted and ready for business within just four weeks.  With work beginning this week, he said: “It should take a week to do the main stripping out, then a couple of weeks for refitting and a week or so after that for the final touches.  It’s a fairly ‘transformational’ project we have planned but the White House was done in 14 days so it’s certainly possible to turn these things round quickly. The property has been vacant for about three years now so it will be good to bring it back into use – the city centre has enough empty properties as it is.”  Mr Barbour was remaining tight-lipped on exactly what people can expect from the new venture, including what the new pub will be called, though it is understood it could be a sports bar. There has been something of a mini boom for the city centre hospitality market in recent months including the granting of planning permission for the redevelopment of the former AI Welders building in Academy Street by Cairngorm Brewery.  Permission has also been granted to upmarket pub and restaurant chain Revolution to take over the former McEwens of Perth premises in Church Street while two restaurants – Wildwood and Smashburger – have been announced as new tenants in the planned redevelopment of the Eastgate Shopping Centre beside Falcon Square.  

Nicola Sturgeon to Seek ‘Four Nation’ Approach to Brexit
Nicola Sturgeon will call for a cross-party “four nation” approach to the Brexit negotiations as she joins SNP MPs at Westminster later today.  The First Minister wants membership of the European single market and the customs union to be “at the heart” of a new way forward, with the rights of EU nationals living in the UK guaranteed with immediate effect.  Her party won 35 seats in last week’s General Election, down 21 on the 56 MPs it returned in 2015. However with Theresa May failing to win a majority for the Conservatives, Ms Sturgeon will insist a UK-wide consensus position must be adopted as the process of leaving the EU begins. A previous call for a special deal to keep Scotland in the single market was rejected by the UK Government, prompting Ms Sturgeon to demand a second independence referendum when the Brexit process was triggered in March.  The First Minister has admitted the issue of another ballot was a factor in last Thursday’s vote, and stated the party will reflect on its plans amid calls for it to be taken off the table.  She has turned her focus to the UK’s Brexit approach as political leaders including Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson call for more consensus.  The SNP wants a “short pause” in the Brexit talks, due to start on June 19, to develop a new approach.  Its proposals include the involvement of the devolved governments in the negotiations, and the re-establishment of the Joint Ministerial Committee (JMC) on EU Negotiations.  The party also wants a cross-party advisory group to be set up, including representatives from the devolved administrations, to agree a new position for the UK and oversee the Brexit negotiations.  With Mrs May forging a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party to support a minority government, the SNP has further called for representation for both sides of the political debate in Northern Ireland in the advisory group.  Speaking ahead of meeting the new parliamentary group in Westminster, Ms Sturgeon said: “In what is a very unstable situation for the UK Government it is essential that time is taken to secure a consensus over the approach to Brexit negotiations.  The Tories’ hard Brexit plan has been rejected and we cannot allow the Brexit negotiations to become hostage to the inability of either the Tories or Labour to command a clear majority. The strongest possible position in the Brexit negotiations will be one that is backed by all parties and all governments across the UK.  As a first step it is now imperative that the UK Government takes a short pause before beginning negotiations to work with others to put together a new position - one that is truly based on the interests of the whole of the UK.” She added: “And at the heart of this position must be maintaining our place in the single market and in the customs union. That is where common ground lies.  The SNP and the Scottish Government are ready to begin discussions around such a position immediately and I call on all parties to come together to build a new way forward.”  Speaking on Saturday, Ms Davidson said: ‘I want to ensure that we can look again at issues like Brexit which we know we are now going to have to get cross-party support for. And move to a consensus within the country about what it means and what we seek to achieve as we leave.’’

Historic Islands Bill Introduced
An historic bill has been introduced to Parliament to meet the unique needs of Scotland’s islands now and in the future.  The Islands (Scotland) Bill published today (12 June) will help create the right environment for sustainable growth and empowered communities. Measures in the bill will include: A requirement to ‘island proof’ future legislation and policies;   The creation of a National Islands Plan ; Statutory protection for the Na h-Eileanan an lar Scottish parliamentary constituency boundary;  Greater flexibility around Councillor representation within island communities; Extended powers to island councils in relation to marine licencing.
Islands Minister Humza Yousaf said: “This government is committed to promoting islands’ voices, to harnessing islands’ resources and enhancing their well-being. The measures in this bill underpin this ambition.In particular, the provision to ‘island-proof’ decision-making across the public sector will ensure the interests of islanders are reflected in future legislation and policy from the very outset. The National Islands Plan will set out the strategic direction for supporting island communities, continuing the momentum generated by the ‘Our Islands Our Future’ campaign and the work of the Islands Strategic Group. This is the first ever bill for Scotland’s islands, marking an historic milestone for our island communities.”

Counter Terrorism Awareness Week Launches Across Scotland
Police Scotland has today launched a targeted week of action to promote counter-terrorism activity across the country.  The Counter Terrorism Awareness Week forms part of the UK Counter Terrorism Policing Networks Initiative and is co-ordinated by the National CT Policing Headquarters.  From Monday 12th until Sunday 18th June, specialist and local officers will be working together along with a number of partners to undertake a range of activities throughout Scotland, aimed at providing the public with useful information to help deter terrorism and keep them safe in the event of a terrorist incident.  In response to the tragic events in Manchester and London and other recent incidents, which have occurred across the world, Counter Terrorism Awareness Week will focus on safety and security in crowded public spaces. On Tuesday 23rd May, the national threat level was raised to Critical, meaning another attack in Britain is considered imminent. Following review by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) this was reduced to SEVERE on Saturday 27th May, meaning that an attack is still highly likely. However, Police Scotland’s message to the public remains the same -“Be alert, not alarmed” and “Be vigilant and report suspicious behaviour”.  The public should continue go about their daily business as normal, however we would ask that they be vigilant to suspicious activity and report it to us.  To launch Counter Terrorism Awareness Week, Local Day of Action officers, along with a wide range of partners will be in attendance at Aberdeen’s Union Square on Monday 12th June to commence the week’s activity. Attendees will take part in a briefing led by ACC Steve Johnson, the Police Scotland lead on Organised Crime and Counter Terrorism, and specialist Counter Terrorism Security Advisers about Counter Terrorism Awareness Week reminding those present of the useful advice about Run, Hide, Tell from ‘Stay Safe.’ Local officers will also provide reassurance to Aberdeen’s shoppers, workers and visitors and will be available to answer questions at various crowded places sites in Aberdeen city centre. Over the course of the week various events, awareness-raising seminars and business security training will be held throughout the Cities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Stirling, Perth, Edinburgh and Glasgow. These have all been specifically planned to demonstrate the range of resources and capabilities at Police Scotland’s disposal in relation to counter-terrorism.  In total, over two hundred Police Scotland resources will be utilised between the 12th and 18th June, with staff from a variety of partner agencies assisting in all areas of Scotland.  Those involved in Counter Terrorism Awareness Week will offer reassurance to the public by demonstrating counter-terrorism techniques in support of the UK CONTEST Strategy, while at the same time providing current information to various groups and individuals on safety and security. Assistant Chief Constable Steve Johnson said: “The purpose of this week-long initiative is not to alarm the public, but to provide them with all the necessary information they require to identify suspicious activity and more importantly, to keep themselves safe and secure. The tragic events in Manchester and London have undoubtedly left our communities shaken and concerned and our activities taking place throughout Counter Terrorism Awareness Week are aimed at offering reassurance to the public by demonstrating the range of capabilities at our disposal to both deter, and respond to, terrorism-related incidents. As was the case during our Counter Terrorism Day of Action in November 2016, there is no specific intelligence suggesting an attack in Scotland, however keeping our communities informed is essential to ensure they can assist counter terrorism.  I have said before that ‘Communities Defeat Terrorism’ and Scotland’s greatest defence against the terrorist threat is our close knit communities and the relationship police and partners have with the public. We are demonstrating that Scotland is a hostile environment for those intent on causing harm and by continuing to work together we can ensure this remains the case”.

Private Sector Grows As Output Reaches Highest Level Since February
Scotland's private sector grew last month, with output reaching the highest level since February, according to a new report.  Businesses put the growth down to expansion in the services sector, while manufacturing production also remains strong.  Meanwhile cost pressures eased although only marginally, remaining steep overall.  The findings are contained in the Bank of Scotland's regional purchasing managers' index (PMI) for May. The index, which produces a single-figure measure of the month-on-month change in combined manufacturing and services output, rose from 50.6 in April to 51.5 in May.  May's data also indicates a rise in business confidence towards the next 12 months, hitting a four-month high. The firms surveyed in the report attributed confidence to "an unexpected economic upturn". Fraser Sime, of Bank of Scotland, said: "Latest PMI data signalled the Scottish private sector moving up a gear, as growth reached a three-month high." He added: "The positive news was driven by rises in combined output and new orders, fuelled by solid underlying demand. Also, easing price pressures added to the overall improvement in business conditions. That said, Scottish private sector growth remains below that of the UK as a whole." Economy Secretary Keith Brown said: "The latest Bank of Scotland PMI figures show a welcome rebound in Scottish service sector business activity in May while manufacturing output remains strong and continues to improve. "These figures show the Scottish economy remains resilient and we will continue to do all we can to support growth."

Airports Enjoyed Record Passenger Numbers Last Month
Scotland's biggest airports welcomed record numbers of passengers in May. Edinburgh Airport's latest figures show 1,231,712 passengers passed through its doors, representing a 10.8% increase on May 2016's statistics.  Airport chiefs say May this year was the third busiest month on record, just behind July 2016's total of 1,332,142 passengers and the 1,296,087 welcomed in August last year.  The largest increase was in international passenger numbers which were up from 662,565 in May last year to 766,094 in 2017 - a leap of 15.6%. Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: "This is the busiest May on record and shows that our passengers are responding to greater choice at Edinburgh Airport. We continue to work with our airline partners to offer the destinations our passengers want, and in May launched Pula, Rhodes and Malaga with Thomson, and Jet2.com launched Thessaloniki."  On the other side of the country, Glasgow Airport had its busiest May on record after more than 910,000 passengers travelled through its doors - an increase of 10% on the same month last year.  International and domestic routes were up 16.5% and 2% respectively because of additional capacity on airlines including Thomson and Thomas Cook. Airport chiefs say there was strong demand for its European city destinations including Eurowings' Dusseldorf route and Ryanair services to Brussels, Sofia and Valencia. A recently-launched Lisbon route by Ryanair is said to have performed particularly well as hundreds of Celtic fans travelled to the Portuguese capital to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the club's 1967 European Cup win. Long-haul services were also up by 15% because of an increase in demand for North American flights including Florida and Emirates' double daily service to Dubai.

Ban on People Entering Remote Part of Scottish Highlands is Finally Lifted… Because TV Contestants Have Left the Area
A 15-month ban on people entering a remote part of the Highlands because of a TV show that eventually flopped has been lifted by the council.  In March the remaining cast of Eden finally left after a year surviving in the wild – to virtual anonymity.  Instead of being crowned reality TV celebrities and fought over by agents, the 10 who made it through the 12 months have learned that only four episodes have been shown – the last ten months ago. Eden, the ground-breaking Channel 4 project, saw 23 strangers cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves in a wild corner of the West Highlands.  Intended as a combination of reality TV and sociology experiment, the participants were challenged to create a new model of society. But just as in the Biblical Eden, temptation proved too strong on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. With the group torn apart by sexual jealousy, hunger, midges and feuds more than half the cast quit.  Highland Council granted planning permission to Keo Films, which was making the series for Channel 4, that allowed it to keep the area enclosed and continue filming for another year – through to March 2018 – for a second planned series with new participants. But the council has now confirmed that people are free to enter “Eden” again.  “The purpose for which the access exemption order was made, to film a TV series was no longer going ahead which meant that the order would have to be revoked,” said a council spokeswoman. “Our access officer informed the production company of the situation, gates were unlocked, signage was removed and a site inspection confirmed that there was no restriction to public access in the area so public access rights have been restored.”  Locals had hoped the series would create a tourism boom.  But last July and August, only four episodes were broadcast, starting with the cast walking through a gate in the 7ft fence that enclosed 600 acres, five miles from Acharacle. Struggling to live off the land, they resorted to smuggling in junk food and booze.  Far from completely isolated, they used their boat – meant for fishing – to attend barbecues on the shoreline opposite their camp.  Some also visited locals, who let them watch TV and use the internet.  At one point they even staged a mass mutiny, with the cast breaking out of their compound and setting off for the nearest pub in protest.  Among those introduced to viewers were carpenter Rafael, Tara, a masseuse and life coach, and chef Stephen. Each wore a portable camera and 43 static cameras were dotted around the site.  The first rows came when one of the oldest campers, 41-year-old rowing instructor Anton, could not cope with the shared sleeping arrangements and built a hut in the woods. Despite that, the rest of the group seemed optimistic at first. But trouble was not far away, as the group struggled to live on potato porridge, as they struggled to forage for food.  There were also rows over relationships and the distribution of work.  Canadian Tara Zieleman, 33, was first to leave. She said the atmosphere had become ‘toxic and contagious’, adding: ‘There was too much of an alpha male mentality. It got primal and dog eat dog.’  Eden’s viewing figures peaked at 1.7 million but the last show was aired on August 8 last year, since when nothing more has been shown. Fans have expressed frustration on social media pages set up to promote the show. Channel 4 has responded to them individually, with promises that the series will continue be shown. However, regular photo and video updates ceased eight months ago.

Thousands Enjoyed the Highland Games
Despite a damp start to the day the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games was a huge success with just under 4,000 visitors.  People enjoyed watching all the traditional games including caber tossing and the haggis hurling world championship as well as Scottish dancing, tug o’ war and wrestling.  The event has raised awareness of local charity Funding Neuro which raises money for research into Parkinson’s Disease and other brain related disorders such as tumours.  Any money left over from the event will be donated to the charity.  Event organiser Alan Oliver, said: “The sun came out at about 2pm and it was a fantastic day from then on.  Unfortunately I think the rain put some people off. Lots of charity stalls raised awareness and money for a variety of good causes.”

We Can’t Just Have A Tory Brexit, Davidson Tells May
Ruth Davidson has called for cross-party cooperation on Brexit, telling the Prime Minister the UK’s exit from the EU cannot be secured on the Conservatives’ terms alone. Ms Davidson said her 13 Scottish Conservative MPs will follow the tradition of being a “separate party” in the House of Commons on important issues like Brexit. The Scottish Conservative leader held a private meeting with Theresa May and attended a meeting of the political cabinet to hammer out the party’s position on Brexit, following its failure to secure a majority.  She said the Tories had to “reach out to others” to deliver the UK’s Brexit deal. The comments will fuel speculation that the Scottish Conservative bloc at Westminster will push for a ‘softer’ Brexit deal, potentially retaining single market membership. Speaking to the BBC after her meeting, Ms Davidson said: “I think what is clear is that there is a commitment from around that cabinet table, from within the Conservative Party, to now work with others to make sure that we go after the best economic deal. In terms of how we reach out to others and how we take on board their ideas there is lots of work to be done. But I do think that there can be changes in the offer of Brexit as we go forward.” She added: “I think my 13 MPs are all individuals and each and every one of them will play their full part in the House of Commons. In Scotland we do come from a liberal tradition, we were a separate party at one time, and I would expect them to carry that tradition into the House of Commons and I look forward to their progress.” Mrs Davidson’s calls for cooperation were echoed by Nicola Sturgeon.

Highlanders Bring Broadband to Their Rural Homes (where is OUR NBN?? -RMH)
It is the technology of the future, made possible by some old fashioned elbow grease. Residents in some of Scotland’s most remote locations are helping to dig trenches in order to enjoy some of the fastest broadband speeds anywhere in the UK.  In what is an unlikely marriage of cutting edge telecommunications and hard graft, homeowners in isolated Highland communities are helping to excavate soil to make way for ultrafast fibre. The emerging technology, a vast improvement on normal broadband, promises to transform the way we use the internet, with download speeds of up to 330Mbps, nearly a tenfold increase on the current UK average of 36.2Mbps.  Thanks to the use of full-fibre cables, instead of copper, it will allow people to download a two hour-long HD film in just 90 seconds. Crucially, it is also seen as a major boon for fragile rural economies.  As part of the rollout of the new network, which hopes to connect 12 million households by 2020, two such areas in Sutherland - Altnaharra and Skerray - will be among the first to benefit.  The installation of the network is being carried out by Openreach, a subsidiary of BT. It said the work in some of Scotland’s most northernmost communities represents a crucial stage, which will inform its strategy over the coming years.  Clive Selley, the firm’s chief executive, said a “new concept” was being used in both areas, with new nodes from the main fibre spine being spun out in order to connect outlying properties.  He explained: “As our core fibre spines penetrate even deeper into rural Scotland, it brings new opportunities to improve broadband speeds for remote communities.  The two pilot communities will see their broadband speeds jump dramatically, as well as improvements to their existing services, so this is a win-win situation. We’ll test how we can use the spines to reach very rural communities, and the distances over which we can use fibre effectively. Our learning from these innovative trials will inform our wider fibre strategy and could potentially help us to reach other very remote communities.” Workers on Altnaharra estate are helping to dig in the new cable to 45 houses, with the cable laying - carried out to Openreach’s specifications - linking up to around 100 properties in the hamlet of Skerray. As well as increasing speeds, the work will address a high fault rate in Skerray where existing copper cables buried under a nearby beach have been damaged by lightning strikes.  It is expected both communities will be connected to the new full-fibre network by the autumn.

Tales From the Hills

Writers with a feeling for mountains and mountaineers are being sought by Mountaineering Scotland for its annual literary competition.  This year’s contest is looking for the best in new mountain writing, whether fact or fiction, prose or poetry. And, with more and more people taking part in outdoor activities, there is likely to be no shortage of climbers and walkers ready to put their experiences into words and share what makes the hills, or the act of walking or climbing so special to them.  Entries should have some connection with mountains and mountaineering, rock or ice climbing, walking or ski-mountaineering, and winners will receive a cash prize and the chance to see their entries in print in Scottish Mountaineer, the quarterly Mountaineering Scotland magazine.  The deadline for this year’s competition is September 30.

New Powers Herald Bright Future for Tobermory Bay

It is a jewel in the crown of the west coast and a popular stop off for yachts and cruise ships. But by a quirk of history, Tobermory on the isle of Mull has never been a trust port or harbour authority.  Now statutory powers to operate Tobermory Harbour have been awarded to the local harbour association, making it a harbour authority.  The Harbour Empowerment Order gives Tobermory Harbour Association the legal and regulatory framework to manage the bay and assets on behalf of residents and businesses on Mull, as well as other stakeholders.  Minister for Transport and the Islands Humza Yousaf said: “By granting this Harbour Empowerment Order, we have conferred statutory harbour authority status on the Tobermory Harbour Association.  They are best placed to make the important decisions about the future of the harbour. This formal granting of powers will allow them to manage the harbour more effectively and progress a long term vision for the facility that is in the best interests of the residents of Mull and harbour users.”

Breathtaking Landscapes Are Draw to the Islands for Tourists
Breathtakingly beautiful beaches – including Luskentyre, Seilebost and Tràigh Mhòr – are proving a major draw to the Outer Hebrides, according to VisitScotland’s biggest ever Visitor Survey.  Carried out in the summers of 2015 and 2016, the national tourism organisation’s poll saw 402 visitors to the Outer Hebrides interviewed, with 167 visitors answering specific questions about their visit to the area in a follow-up survey online.  Of those respondents, 83% of people said their top activity was visiting a beach, closely followed by 82% stating that sightseeing by car, coach or on foot was their favourite thing (8% above the national average) while a short walk or stroll was enjoyed by 70% (16 % above national average).  A total of 87% of the respondents cited scenery and landscape as the main draw to the islands, followed by the fact it was a place they had always wanted to visit (59%) and the history and culture (54 %).  Visitors to the Outer Hebrides gave positive ratings of their holiday experience, with 94% giving scores of 7-10 on the satisfaction scale, and two-thirds (67 per cent) gave the highest ratings of nine or ten out of ten. Holidaymakers also expressed a high likelihood to recommend the region, with 92% scoring it between 7-10 and 67% selecting nine or ten out of ten.  Alan MacKenzie, VisitScotland Islands Manager, said: “With nearly 12,000 visitors all over the country interviewed, this is the biggest Visitor Survey we have ever produced. I am delighted, but not surprised, to see that so many people rate their trips to the Outer Hebrides so highly.”

David Davis Urged to Include Scottish and Welsh Governments in Brexit Talks

The Scottish and Welsh governments have united to reinforce calls for a seat at the table during the Brexit negotiations.  The two administrations have written to UK Brexit Secretary David Davis urging him to "re-set" the work of the Joint Ministerial Committee on EU negotiations.  Scotland's Brexit Minister Mike Russell and Welsh Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford said it is vital agreement is reached on how the devolved administrations will be represented in the negotiations.  "As you will know, both the Scottish and Welsh governments believe that we should be at the table when devolved issues are discussed and in the room for other sessions," the letter said.  It urges Mr Davis to resume meetings of the committee "at the earliest possibility" as well as agree a future programme of regular sessions timed to fit in with the negotiating meetings agreed with the European Commission. The letter also calls for a clear agenda that would allow devolved administrations to consider relevant issues arising from the negotiations, for example the replacement of EU funding schemes such as the Common Agricultural Policy, future immigration policy and analysis of the economic impact of scenarios including no deal and of reverting to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, leaving the single market and withdrawing from the customs union.  It said: "It is essential that the UK Government trust the devolved administrations to respect the confidential inter-governmental space that the JMC should fill.  We want to use JMC (EN) as a forum in which we can have meaningful discussions of key issues, aimed at reaching agreement rather than an opportunity to rehearse well-established public positions. Unfortunately, this was not our experience of the way the committee operated prior to the election."  The letter also said ministers are "deeply concerned" about a "lack of engagement" on the proposed Great Repeal Bill to transpose EU legislation into UK law
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