Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 414

Issue # 414                                             Week ending Saturday 19th August 2017

When You Choose A Business That You Want to Give Your Custom, it is Good to Talk by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Years ago BT had a commercial on the telly in which a little old cailleach had a problem with her phone. The line was crackling and she could hardly hear the other caller. So she reports the fault to BT. In the next scene, with crescendos of rousing music not unlike the William Tell Overture, countless BT vans and lorries set off along country roads, all apparently called out in response to the little old lady’s call.

Soon after, the same granny goes to call again and this time the line is perfectly clear. She says something like: “Oh lovely. My phone has gone right – all by itself.” The implication was that we consumers have not a scooby what sometimes goes on behind the scenes when we report a wee fault to BT. Because nothing goes right – “all by itself”.

Poor BT. As well as not getting the credit, they also get blamed for things that are not their fault. On Saturday I needed to change a ferry booking. You can’t do it online so I rang the 0800 number on the CalMac website. I got: “We are currently experiencing high call volumes. Please hold the line.”

I saw a programme recently where a former insurance worker in a call centre said they would stick on that message to make it seem they were working flat out - even when they went for a fag. After seven minutes of uttering ancient Gaelic oaths under my breath, it switched to: "Your call is currently ninth in the queue."

And ...? That information is as useless as a concrete parachute unless they tell you how many operators are on. Then, if you estimate each call lasts three minutes, you can work it out roughly. But no. Just more tinny muzak to make me as sick as I was when I last tried to navigate the breakfast on the MV Hebrides in a Force Eight gale.

Eventually I heard: "You are eighth in the queue." Is that all? I’d had enough. Time to ring CalMac in Stornoway where at least I would get personal and helpful service. When I dialled, I got: "The number you have dialled has not been recognised. Please check and try again."
That was a very authoritative high-pitched voice. If that was Iain Don Maciver, the local CalMac port manager, then all I can say is he's wearing his trousers too tight. Wait, I think that is a BT message. The phone line must be out of order. Darned BT. They need to get their act together. How can they leave a ferry company’s line unobtainable?

Actually it wasn’t BT’s fault at all. I phoned the number I had for the CalMac booking office in Tarbert and it wasn’t “recognised” either. The truth dawned on me. CalMac no longer has local port numbers you can call for help from the most helpful and devoted ferry staff this side of Dover. Such assistance has been shut down and replaced by a failing system perched on a wobbly pier on the smelly side of downtown Gourock.

I don’t remember being told. When I asked CalMac, they claimed they made the change about five years ago. Gosh, is it that long since I did my CalMac business offline? I had no choice but to call the 0800 number again, put it on loudspeaker, put the kettle on, go to the toilet, come back out, get a mop to wipe the floor because I was in too much of a hurry, wash my hands, pour a cuppa, get a chocolate digestive, switch on the telly, watch the news headlines and then check the phone. “You are ninth in the queue.” Aaaagh.

Customer service from CalMac is dreadful these days. I know it is still summer but there are not enough staff answering that booking line. I know many think CalMac should not have to compete on these island and west coast routes but this is the downside of that. Would they be quite so abysmal if they had a bit of competition?

I feel bad for blaming BT now. Mind you, I also blamed BT the other day when Mrs X’s sister Joey phoned. My wife said to me: “I can hardly hear her. She sounds so far away. Joey, where are you?” Usually loud Joey could only just be heard saying she was at home, up the road. I shouted that I would call BT to get the fault on her line fixed.

Then Mrs X asked her: “Joey, are you sure you’re not holding the receiver upside down again?” That was when her faulty phone suddenly went right – all by itself.

Ship Could Be Sold to Pay More Than £600,000 Owed to Crewmen Stranded in Aberdeen
A supply vessel that has been detained in Aberdeen Harbour could now be sold to pay its stranded crew.  The crew of the Malaviya Seven have been stuck in the North-east since their ship was detained last June, when a routine inspection discovered they had not been paid their wages in months.  The men have been unable to go home for fear that they could lose out on the more than $800,000 (£608,000) collectively owed to them by the ship’s Indian owners GOL Offshore – cash they need to send home to their struggling families in Mumbai. A writ was served which prevented the ship from leaving Aberdeen Harbour. Now, in the latest legal move to get the crew their money, Aberdeen Sheriff Court has ruled the ship should now be valued.  A broker will prepare a report for a sheriff to consider before a sale can be granted. Lawyers for the owners of the ship say they will not try to stop the sale. The High Court in Bombay ordered an official liquidator be appointed to the company on May 5, and the equity shares of GOL offshore were suspended from trading from July 19. Ken Fleming, from the International Transport Workers’ Federation, said: “GOL Offshore have appeared and disappeared, appeared and disappeared, and are playing with the legal system. The horrific circumstances that it is inflicting on the crew has become unacceptable. I have brought my entire UK inspector team up here to show some solidarity with the crew.” The 12 men who are still living on the ship have been able to stay in Aberdeen thanks to the support of local volunteer groups and the Apostleship of the Sea.  However, many of the crew are sole breadwinners for their families, and back home their wives, daughters and sons have been struggling to get by – with some being forced to take out expensive loans or sell heirloom jewellery just to make ends meet.

35,000 enjoy World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow
Around 35,000 people gathered in Glasgow to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the World Pipe Band Championships.  The two-day event at Glasgow Green culminated on Saturday with Inverary and District Pipe Band being named the World Pipe Band Champions for 2017. More than 8,000 pipers and drummers took part in the competition. There were performances from 219 bands from 15 nations including the USA, Canada, Northern Ireland, France, England, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Austria, Netherlands, Republic of Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark, Argentina and Scotland.  Inverary and District Pipe Band fought off competition from Northern Ireland's Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band, who finished second, and St Laurence O'Toole from Dublin, who were third.  Glasgow's Lord Provost Eva Bolander, who was chieftain of the World Pipe Band Championships 2017, said: "My heartiest congratulations to everyone who competed at the World Pipe Band Championships. As a former pipe band member I know exactly how much work goes into producing such magnificent performances."  Ian Embelton, chief executive of the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association said: "We have enjoyed two outstanding days of musical performances of extraordinary quality.  It's been a competition full of drama, excitement and above all some brilliant playing from the best bands in the world who continue to set new standards. It has been an unforgettable occasion for everyone who joined us."

Two Major Drugs Hauls for Police in Two Days

Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of drugs have been seized by police following two separate searches. Heroin and cannabis worth an estimated street value of £300,000 was recovered, along with a firearm and several rounds of ammunition, during searches of two properties in the east end of Glasgow in the early hours of Thursday. Police Scotland used search warrants to enter the addresses in Gartloch Road and Rigby Drive as part of an intelligence-led operation.  Two men, aged 30 and 36, were arrested and detained in connection with alleged drugs and firearms offences, while a 26-year-old woman was also arrested and detained in connection with alleged drugs offences.  Detective Inspector Stuart Lipsett said: "Police Scotland will not tolerate this type of reckless and criminal activity, which clearly causes risk and harm to our communities.  Specialist officers work every day to gather intelligence and target individuals who engage in the supply of controlled drugs, and with the continued support from members of the public, we will put a stop to it." Meanwhile, in a separate incident, three people have been arrested and £430,000 of heroin and cannabis has been seized following the search of a car. Police stopped the vehicle at around 5pm on Friday in Teislum Road, Lesmahagow, South Lanarkshire, as part of an intelligence-led operation. Two men, aged 28 and 30, and a 28-year-old woman were arrested over the find and have been detained in custody. A report is to be sent to the Procurator Fiscal and the three are due to appear at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Monday.

A Democracy in Decline; the Case for Electoral Reform
by Michael Rennie
Our democracy is lost at sea. As the political landscape changes at a rapid pace, Britain’s voting system needs to reflect the ever changing views of the British electorate. In modern political times, voting is like supermarkets, voters shop around to find the best deal rather than vote for one party all their lives. The two horse race days are well and truly over. For too long now, the views of a large chunk of the British electorate has been brushed aside and thrown into the political wilderness, as if they are completely meaningless because of a voting system stuck in Victorian times. The media is changing, smaller parties now have a foothold in terms of media representation. But ultimately no matter how many how many interviews they get on TV, how many positive newspaper articles are writing about them, they will ultimately fall victim to first past the post voting system. A system designed to stomp them down. Take UKIP as an example, 1 in 8 voters opted to vote for them at the 2015 General election. How many seats did they win?  40? 50? No. 1 seat.

One of the biggest failures of first past the post is the draining of voter turnout in many, many constituencies all over the UK due to “safe seats”. Safe seats are eroding our democracy. City by city, town by town. That’s not the fault of the voters. What’s the point of trekking all the way to the polling station on a bitter day in May to vote in a constituency where the incumbent party has a majority of 50%? The fact that politicians use safe seats for political gain highlights the sheer rottenness of our current political system in Britain. From Sefton to South Camberwell lie years of voter disenfranchisement, poor turnouts and contests that have been won before the election campaign had even begun. Like a drunken alcoholic, first past the post returns every 5 years to remind voters in these seats that they are powerless to make change. Some may argue that safe seats are justified as they reflect the mood of the constituency as a whole. However, there is one major flaw with this argument. The word “safe” doesn’t belong in modern day democracy. Everything in a democratic Britain should be fiercely contested, everyone and everything should always be scrutinised at every opportunity as well as having voter engagement at the heart of everything. Because of safe seats, there has been a surge in political parties parachuting candidates into seats they may have little knowledge of or a lack of understanding of the culture these constituencies boast. This is irrelevant to political parties. They can still win the seat, and that’s all that matters. This vacancy style of politics ultimately threatens the relationship between MP’s and constituents, are local people really expected to trust someone who until recently lived hundreds of miles away?

There has been a long standing myth that first past the post creates stable government this argument is often used by those who want to preserve the status quo, primarily for their benefit. In fairness, 5 out of 7 elections that have occurred in the past 25 years have resulted in a majority government. However, this just highlights one of first past the posts greatest flaw, allowing a party to win a majority of seats in parliament without winning a majority of votes. Majority governments themselves don’t necessarily mean stable government either. How could anyone consider a majority of 12 seats in a parliament made up of 650 seats to be stable? This myth has been busted in recent times as the current UK Westminster Government has split on the issue of Brexit, which was ultimately due to the fact 65% of conservative MP’s supported Britain remaining in the EU. Research shows that countries that use a proportional voting method have better government and far more effective government policies. This is because a Proportional system will often create minority or coalition governments which mean that politicians have to work together and comprise to make positive change for the benefit of all. Whereas in the UK, politicians still choose to participate in a playground style of politics. Stuck in a world of tribalism and point scoring. Is it any wonder so many people in the UK are disengaged with the politician system? The abolition of first past the post would bring us a step closer to a more progressive type of politics, that focuses on what we have in common rather than what divides us.

Perhaps the strongest case for abolition of first past the post is the fact that general election after general election, decade after decade first past the post has delivered results which do not represent the real political landscape of the UK. An example would be the 1983 General election which saw the SPD/Liberal alliance win 25% of votes but only capturing 23 seats in the House of Commons. This shows the outright ignorance of the voting system and its inability to represent voters. This leads to the question, is there really a point in voting? For many in the UK voting in a general election is like screaming in the Sahara desert. You know you’re doing it, but nobody can hear you. This was certainly the case for 24.3% of voters who opted for the Green Party, liberal democrats or UKIP at the 2015 general election as that loud scream resulted in just 10 seats between the 3 parties.

Our democracy is lost at sea. If we can’t put our values and our principals into our vote and for it to really count, we have no political compass. That’s why we need to abolish the first past the post voting system and replace it with a system that means every vote will count, in every single part of the UK. If Britain’s voting system isn’t reformed, democracy will continue on a downward spiral and eventually mean nothing to many people across the UK. Let’s embrace democracy. Let’s make every vote count. Let’s throw democracy a life raft.

Alex Salmond: Scotland Will Be Independent "In Three to Four Years"

Former First Minister Alex Salmond has claimed Scotland will be independent within four years and vowed to play “whatever part is necessary” in a second referendum campaign. He insisted the people of Scotland will vote Yes and said Brexit will determine the timing of another independence referendum.  His comments came as Scotland’s leading historian Tom Devine suggested there is a “slowly opening window” of opportunity to ensure Brexit never happens.  Devine pointed out: “Last year the UK had the highest growth rate in Europe; and this year the lowest. The sustained fall in Sterling has pushed up inflation and the Bank of England has started to consider raising interest rates. As this story unfolds, a slowly opening window rather than a chink of light might now seem a more appropriate metaphor.” Salmond, who was ousted as an MP by Conservative Douglas Ross at the General Election, said: “I think Scotland will become independent, I think that was rendered inevitable when the Scottish Parliament was established.  The timing has always been the interesting thing and I think the timing and outcome of Brexit will dictate the timing of another referendum and therefore the timing of independence, in the medium term. If Brexit is a soaraway success, the best thing since sliced bread, then I think that will postpone another referendum but I don't know anyone who thinks that now."  He added, “So therefore I think a (second independence) referendum will be at some point in the next three to four years, depending on the transitional period of Brexit, and I think the result will be a Yes.”  Salmond’s scepticism about whether a success can be made of Brexit is echoed by Devine, who has pointed to an increasing awareness of the “dark economic clouds” which he said could mean “the English, because it was they who produced the decisive majority for Leave, might yet come to their senses.”  Salmond said he will play “whatever part is necessary” in a future referendum campaign.  When asked if he would stand as an MP at the next election, the 62-year-old said: “I'm not ruling it out. The timing is not in my hands, I mean Theresa May didn't know when the last election was until she was up a Welsh mountain and she probably regrets climbing it.”  Salmond made the comments while promoting his Edinburgh festival show, which will feature invited guests, music and comedy, and is co-produced by a former SNP MP and close friend Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh.  Salmond added: “There are things you can't say in office that you can say out of office. And there are things you can do out of office that you can't do in office, not just as First Minister, but as an MP you can't just swan off to the Edinburgh Festival for a couple of weeks, that's not fair on your constituents but luckily my constituents relived me of that responsibility and I'm now able to do it.”  Nicola Sturgeon, who had initially called for an independence referendum to be held in the autumn of 2018 or spring of 2019, told MSPs before the summer recess she would delay her plans to introduce legislation for a referendum.  Then, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford announced a refreshing of the SNP’s approach to independence in the Sunday Herald last month, and insisted they must not be constrained by a timetable.  He said the SNP had “to demonstrate how much we could do to promote fairness and equity” under independence. And he promised the SNP would state clearly “what an independent Scotland would look like” in the years ahead. Blackford added: “I think that what has happened as a consequence of Nicola's statement is that we've taken away the focus from the timetable now and I'm gratified that gives us the opportunity to actually talk about the fundamentals and to talk about what an independent Scotland would look like. And I welcome that over the coming years.”

New Speyside Whisky Collection Gives A Taste of the Wild
Speyside Distillery has launched a range of “luxury” whiskies featuring images of local wildlife.  The move marks the first time that the distillery, in Kingussie, has produced a limited edition single malt collection.  Bottles in the collection feature portraits of the wildlife found near the distillery and complement the original art which features in the company’s new base in Glasgow’s art district.  The artwork has been created by Joanna McDonough, Prince’s School of Traditional Arts’ graduate and Speyside Distillery’s artist in residence. The Speyside wildlife collection is being rolled out in support of the school. Distillery chief executive John McDonough said: “The new collection emphasises the strong connection we have with the school and the wonderful and beautiful natural environment in which we create our single malt whisky.”

Data Reveals Risk to Scotland’s Coastline
Nearly a fifth of Scotland’s coastline is at risk of erosion, threatening some of the country’s most prized land and infrastructure within the next 30 years.  The potentially devastating effects of climate change and coastal erosion came to light after experts from the Scottish Government, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the University of Glasgow studied coastlines dating back to the 1890s, to plan for the future of Scotland’s coastal landscape. The ‘Dynamic Coast: Scotland’s National Coastal Change Assessment’ (NCCA) tool uses more than 2,000 maps and one million data points to make its predictions. It identifies past erosion and growth rates, and projects the data forward to show the potential change to Scotland’s coastline.  Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham said: “Since the 1970s the rates of coastal erosion has doubled, and that pace will not slow down anytime soon. In fact, it will probably get worse and faster.  The Dynamic Coast tool is a great new innovation that could help protect existing infrastructure and heritage sites from significant environmental change and damage.  More than 9,000 buildings, 500 kilometres of road, 60 kilometres of rail track, 300 kilometres of water supply lines and vital airports runways, such as Islay, are protected by natural defences; however some of these already face serious damage and it’s vital that local authorities, transport agencies and other planning bodies investigate how they can work together to manage coastal change before it’s too late.” Prof Jim Hansom, principal researcher from the University of Glasgow, said: “Since the 1970s the extent of erosion is up 39 per cent, the erosion rate has doubled and accretion extent (growth of sediment deposition) is down 22 per cent. This is what we’d expect with climate change. That means we are seeing a net loss of our coastline. The clock is ticking and we need to start adapting to avoid unnecessary costs.”

Scotland’s Private Sector Output Growing Fast

Scotland’s private sector is “moving up a gear” with output in July rising at the fastest pace in almost three years, according to a new report.  Businesses put the growth down to stronger expansions in both the services and manufacturing sectors. The findings are contained in the Bank of Scotland’s regional purchasing managers’ index (PMI) for July. The index, which produces a single-figure measure of the month-on-month change in combined manufacturing and services output, rose from 51.1 in June to 53.8 in July – the highest since October 2014. Fraser Sime, regional director of Bank of Scotland commercial banking said: “This good news was fuelled by the service sector returning to meaningful growth, alongside a faster increase in manufacturing output.” Job creation remained positive for the second month running, he added.

Salmon Exports Leap Ahead to Record High
Overseas sales of Scottish salmon leaped to a record high of £346million in the first half of 2017, with the latest figures showing a 70% rise in export value compared to the same period last year.  Industry leaders today welcomed the rapidly growing contribution of sales in the Far East, which they say is on course to develop into a major market behind the US. According to new statistics from the HMRC, the second quarter of 2017 saw 29,000 tonnes of fresh salmon, worth £190million, exported, representing a 22% increase in value from the first three months of the year.  North America remains the largest importer, while £44million sales over the past six months maintained China’s position as the industry’s most significant Asian market. During the most recent quarter, the combined value of exports to Taiwan and Japan reached just under £9million.  Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) chief executive Scott Landsburgh said: “The development of the Far East marketplace is a huge programme of work and the fact that annual Chinese exports are now worth around £90million from a standing start six or seven years ago indicates this has been worth the effort. East Asian markets are becoming increasingly significant, with Taiwan and Vietnam in the top 10 importers. We continue to see the huge global opportunity for high quality Scottish food and for salmon, in particular.”  Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers described the export figures as “phenomenal”.  He said: “The growth in the Far East reflects the talent of salmon producers and also the hard work of the trade specialists now embedded by the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership in priority markets. We are also seeing exceptional growth in other core markets such as North America where salmon sales have nearly doubled versus the first half of 2016 to £133million.” The results were also welcomed by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.  He said: “This is good news for Scotland’s aquaculture industry.  Particularly pleasing is the success of our work to unlock more markets in the Far East. However, this success simply underlines the importance of ensuring Scotland’s food and drink exports are protected from the potentially damaging consequences of Brexit.”

May Pushes for Interim Customs Deal to Prevent Brexit Chaos
Theresa May will press for Britain to enter into a temporary customs deal with the European Union in 2019 to avoid chaos on the day after Brexit. The government will today announce the plan as it begins to flesh out its negotiating stance in talks over Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.  Ministers have been warned that the imposition of customs checks at ports risks economic damage, huge delays and even lengthy motorway queues. To avoid that prospect, ministers are proposing an “interim period” of “close association” between the UK and the EU customs union under which goods can be bought and sold tariff-free. One possible approach, they say, would be to operate a temporary UK-EU customs union. During this period, the government would attempt to hammer out new trade deals with major trading partners, including forging a new relationship with the EU. The government believes it can broker a “streamlined” deal with the bloc, building on the existing lack of tariffs within the union. The proposal will be spelt out in the first of several government papers published in coming weeks which will set out Mrs May’s approach to Brexit.  Ministers argue that the move would give businesses more time to prepare for the eventual new customs regime.  The Department for Exiting the European Union, headed by Brexit Secretary David Davis, said its goal is “to secure as frictionless trade as possible with the EU alongside the ability to forge trade deals around the world”.  It said the government wanted to demonstrate Britain’s “desire to ensure our exit from the EU is smooth, orderly and successful”.  The proposal strikes a different note from the joint declaration by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, at the weekend that the UK will be “outside the customs union” during the transition as it will become a ‘third country’ not party to the EU treaties”. The plan could run into resistance in Brussels where negotiators could question why Britain should enjoy the benefits of the customs union while standing outside it.  The Labour MP Chris Leslie, of the Open Britain campaign group, accused ministers of “wishful thinking”.  He said: “It looks like the new unified position in the Cabinet is to return the Government to the territory of wanting to have their cake and eat it.  Ministers claim we can leave the Customs Union and yet still achieve ‘the most frictionless customs agreement anywhere in the world’, but with absolutely no detail about how such a miraculous new system will be achieved.”  A position paper on the fraught issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic will published tomorrow, ahead of the third round of Brexit negotiations in Brussels at the end of the month.

Message in A Bottle Found on Barra After 4,000-mile Journey

A message in a bottle has washed up on a Scottish beach more than 4,000 miles away from its origin.  The bottle, thrown into the sea in the summer of 2015, was written by a four-year-old German boy on holiday in the Dominican Republic.  The boy, known only as Luke, asked whoever found the bottle to reply to him as soon as possible. Kenny MacKinnon, a firefighter based at Barra Airport, found the bottle on the island’s west coast. He said: “I had just finished cutting the greens on the Barra Golf Course, and since it was a nice night I went down to the shoreline for a walk. I saw a bottle bouncing on the water, and because it’s a pebble beach, I went and got it before it smashed. It had growths on it, like barnacles, so I guessed it had been in the sea for a long time.” Mr MacKinnon revealed how he could see there was a message inside, so he took the bottle home and removed the cork to get it out. He continued: “It was a letter from a boy from Germany who was on holiday in the Dominican Republic, and he had sent the message from there in the summer of 2015.” The message read: “Hello. My name is Luke. I’m on holidays with my brother Earle and my father Felix and my mother Kerstin.  We are staying 3 weeks in the Dominican Republic. I’ll become 5 years on the 11th of November. I’m going on to write this letter in hope to receive an answer as soon as possible.” Mr MacKinnon confirmed that he had replied to the boy, telling him how far the bottle had travelled, as well as including photos of the bottle and its final destination.

Outlander Fans Swarm Clava Cairns - Site That Inspired the Show
Tourists are flocking to the Clava Cairns, the ancient burial monument that inspired the time-travel TV hit Outlander.  Coach-loads of foreign visitors have been swarming to the site near Culloden, near Inverness, to see the stones, which bear a similarity to a fictional Craigh na Dun formation in the series and act as a time travel portal on the show. Ward councillor Duncan MacPherson saluted the success of the series and its subsequent tourism boost adding: “The stones at Culloden are becoming like a mini Stonehenge. People are coming from all over the world to see them and be photographed beside the stones which is great for the area. The tourists are coming in their droves. The other week there were about 12 buses in the one day and of course it’s a boost for the city’s hotels, bars, restaurants and other sites.”  The romantic drama depicts the story of Claire Randall, a British Army nurse in World War II, who is on a second honeymoon in Scotland when she topples through a ring of mysterious stones and is transported back to 1743. There she meets and falls in love with Highland warrior Jamie Fraser.  The series is adapted from the bestselling books by Diana Gabaldon.  Stephen Duncan, director of commercial and tourism at Historic Environment Scotland, which manages more than 300 Historic Scotland visitor attractions, said: “We have seen historic sites in our care, such as Clava Cairns, experience a significant surge in visitor numbers due to the ‘Outlander Effect’ and the start of the summer season 2017 has seen sites right across Scotland record dramatic increases in footfall from the same period last year.” Chris Taylor, regional partnerships director of VisitScotland, admitted he was overwhelmed by the success of various tours by visitors to film locations who are known as set jetters. He said: “Set-jetting is a hugely popular pastime and the show enjoys the support of a hugely loyal and passionate fan base, particularly in North America and Germany. Outlander is helping take iconic images of the Highlands to potential visitors worldwide, boosting the profile of this beautiful region around the globe and tapping into the millions of people globally with Scottish ancestry which is particularly apt in this, Scotland’s year of history, heritage and archaeology.” The Clava Cairns are about 4,000 years old and were built to house the dead.  Two parts of the complex, Balnuaran of Clava and Milton of Clava, are open to the public and the sites contain a range of pre-historic burial monuments plus the remains of a medieval chapel. Tourists have been taking photographs and selfies of themselves at the stones and posting them on social media sites which has prompted even more tourist interest. Mr Taylor added: “Although the Clava Cairns don’t feature on screen, Scotland’s landscapes have helped breathe life into some of the world’s best-loved literary heroes.  The blockbuster fantasy series, along with the smash-hit TV show, has inspired a range of tours and catapulted the real life attractions and places into the spotlight.

Interim Brexit Customs Union Plan Branded 'Daft' by Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon dismissed proposals for Britain to keep the same EU customs arrangements for an interim period after leaving the bloc, calling on the UK Westminster Government to instead commit to staying in both the single market and the customs union.  Brexit Secretary David Davis said the temporary arrangement would avoid ''unnecessary disruption'' for UK businesses. But on Twitter, Ms Sturgeon said: "Seems UK gov is back to its daft 'have cake and eat it' approach to Brexit. They should commit to staying in single market and CU, period." Stephen Gethins MP, the SNP's Europe spokesman, earlier told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "What we're calling for is for continued membership of the single market and the customs union. What the UK seems to want here at the moment is to have its cake and eat it.  I think what we're seeing... is just how important the single market and customs union are to jobs and to the economy, to everybody in Scotland and across the UK as well.  Let's not forget that these plans haven't yet gone to Parliament for scrutiny, they've snuck them out over the summer recess and they've not yet met up with our European negotiators, because don't forget that once the UK leaves the EU, the UK is not part of the club and they're not looking out for the UK's interests, they're looking out for the EU 27's interests."  Ms Sturgeon later told BBC Scotland: "You've got the UK Westminster Government appearing to say that they don't want to say in 'the' customs union, but they want to stay in 'a' customs union, which would be pretty much identical to the European customs union that we're in already. It's nonsensical and ridiculous.  I think it increasingly makes the UK Westminster Government look like a bit of a laughing stock. I wish we weren't leaving the EU, but if the UK is leaving the EU then the common sense thing to do is to stay in the single market and to stay in the customs union. Because that will mean we can continue to export goods and services and continue to travel freely like we can today." Green MSP Ross Greer said: "The UK Westminster Government's proposal, of a temporary customs union but refusing the authority of the Court of Justice which oversees the union, is contradictory to the point of being embarrassing. With these plans, the Tories are on the verge of giving us a relationship with the EU, our largest trading partner, that's even weaker than what Turkey has."

SNP urges UK Westminster Government to Come Clean on Analysis That Supposedly Suggests Scotland Would "Lose Most" From Brexit
The SNP has called on the Brexit Department to publish its analysis on the impact of EU withdrawal after a former aide to David Davis claimed it suggested Scotland would be worst hit by the UK's departure from the Brussels bloc.  James Chapman tweeted: “Hello @DExEUgov why haven't you published analysis showing North East and Scotland will lose most from Brexit? #misconduct.” The Nationalists described the claim as a “bombshell” and demanded the UK Westminster Government come clean on the detail of its private analysis.

Caithness Digs Deep to Discover Secrets of its Brochs
They are style of building unique to the north of Scotland and a rare insight into how society organised itself more than 2,000 years ago.  Brochs, circular stone towers dating from the Iron Age, were constructed to provide shelter in both times of war and peace. The impressive structures comprised a double wall of stone, thicker towards the base and tied with cross slabs at various heights to provide stability as well as internal galleries.  Now researchers and archaeologists have teamed up to begin the first phase of the Caithness Broch Festival, a year-long programme of heritage projects for 2017 and 2018.  There are more broch sites in Caithness than anywhere else in Scotland but there have been few recent explorations of stone towers in the county. The community project began this week at Bruan Broch, near Lybster, and continues at Thing’s Va Broch, near Thurso, on August 17 and 18. Local residents and visitors have been invited to see how archaeologists undertake magnetic and earth resistance surveys at these two important Iron Age structures. The sites will be open from 10am to 3pm each day of the survey.  Bruan Broch is described as an outstanding example of an Iron Age settlement, and includes possible out-buildings associated with the main structure. Thing’s Va broch Has surviving elements of the interior including a cell within the outer wall. The site’s name suggests it was used in the Norse period as a meeting place and other accounts suggest that there are earlier Neolithic or Bronze Age structures on the site.  There are around 500 surviving broch sites across the Highlands, islands and Orkney and Shetland. The best surviving example is Mousa Broch, which is considered one of the best preserved ancient buildings in Europe.