Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 417

Issue # 417                                            Week ending Saturday 9th  September 2017

If Slaughter Houses Had Glass Walls, Would the Whole World Be Vegetarian? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Should we trust someone who does not eat meat to run the country? I think that is a fair question because a political leader has to make decisions that are far more unpalatable than sitting at a table and wondering whether you are going to have two of these scrumptious braised sausages, or three.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been a vegetarian since he was 20 years old. He worked in a slaughterhouse and that put him right off meat, he says. While I doubt it would happen today, I remember being dragged off on a school visit to the old Stornoway abattoir at Westview Terrace where we saw, well, everything that goes on in a place like that. Stun guns, bang-bang, everything.

Other sons of crofters just yawned and said they had seen it all before. But it put me off meat, right off. The teatime beef stew dished up by hostel cook Peigi Ruadh an hour or two afterwards was not quite so appealing as before. I passed on it and made do with just the bread and butter pudding.

We third years got over the initial shock and eventually realised that these animals would not even be there if they had not been raised to feed us. They were humanely killed – or as humanely as the technology allowed back then. And, we had to face it, the island of Lewis did not have enough fields for us to have porridge or cabbage for every meal.

By the next day, we were all back on the mince and tatties and the desire for bacon returned a few days later. Maybe some were left with lifelong consequences – but I don’t think so.

Jezza is now going one step further. He said the other day that he is thinking of becoming vegan. But what the heck is a vegan? No, it’s not the new political party some people are saying is about to rise up and replace the ancient political groupings that in recent years have seemed so bereft of good ideas.

Going vegan is when a vegetarian gets all huffy with the rest of us and announces he or she are to shun not just meat treats like pigs in blankets but any food made from something produced by an animal. They will start to ask you some weird questions – and then promptly provide their own answers. “What's the best way to keep milk fresh?” “Leave it in the cow.”

And that includes omelettes, pizza with peperami and gooey mozzarella, and trifle - because they have willpower and they care about the planet. So there.

It is possible that I may have mentioned it here before, but I do know what the Labour leader is about to go through. I was vegan for about 12 months several decades ago. If he thought he was ridiculed too much before, he really is in for it now. He is going to become the butt of some cruel jibes. One of the main reasons I gave up scoffing tofu, nut cutlets and bean curd was the wind in the willows. Nothing weather-related, you understand, but some chemical imbalances in the inner me.

Sometimes I would hear a strange ringing noise as I walked down the city street or took the tube to work. That’s funny, I thought. Mobile phones haven’t been invented yet. I was developing tinnitus – not uncommon in people with reduced protein levels. Then I read that studies showed vegetarianism, and being vegan, may lower fertility. That was it. I hoped to be a daddy someday so me and my boss, who also toppled off the vegan wagon, went for a Chicken Madras to mark a change in the wind.

Other prominent people have been flag-waving vegetarians  and lapsed. Bill Clinton, for one, who could not give up fish. And the Duchess of Cambridge used to bang on about how she loved vegetarian dishes. Then she stopped banging. Did I hear something about her this week? Of course, ma’am, you and me both. We were right to go back to meat.

Vegans tend to be very committed people. That’s good – but it often means they are so serious that they cannot make jokes or even understand them. If you meet one, do not say: “I also follow a strict vegan diet. I eat only vegans.” Titter they will not.

For Jeremy Corbyn, his future as a vegan may be right for him and it may not. He’s right to give it a try. He will eventually decide whether that is right for him or whether it is a mistake. For me, I decided that becoming vegetarian was a missed steak.

Scots Set to Miss Out on Billions As EU Bank Axe UK Funding Amid Brexit Talks
The decision will see an end to funding that has backed projects including work at Edinburgh Sick Children's and Dumfries and Galloway hospitals.  Scotland could lose out on billions of pounds following the EU bank’s decision to cut off funding for the UK. The European Investment Bank (EIB), who have financed more than £3billion in Scottish public projects over the past decade, have put a freeze on new long-term loans.  The decision is in the wake of the UK Westminsters Government’s triggering of Article 50 in March after the vote on Brexit last year.  The bank – owned by the EU’s 28 member states – have loaned nearly £200million for a new hospital in Dumfries and Galloway and the Edinburgh Sick Children’s Hospital.  The M73 M74 Motorway Improvements Project was backed by the bank  They have also invested £150million in the M8/M74/M73 improvements and £250million in the Aberdeen bypass.  Labour MP Ian Murray said: “The lack of clarity over the future of the European Investment Bank is typical of this Government’s piecemeal approach to Brexit, which is causing unprecedented levels of doubt and uncertainty across every sector of our economy.  Scotland has benefited enormously from the EIB, receiving over £3billion in direct financing over the last decade alone. This has included record support for Edinburgh University and vital funding for Scottish hospitals, colleges and major transport projects. The UK Westminster Government’s refusal to provide any assurances over future access will undermine business confidence and jeopardise future projects, and the moratorium the EIB have imposed could lead to further delays and escalating costs. It’s time the Government stopped dithering and acted decisively to ensure that businesses and infrastructure projects in Scotland and across the UK can continue to benefit from EIB support – both now and in the future.” The EIB’s first loan to Scotland was £25million in 1974 for building Peterhead power station in Aberdeenshire. The Scottish Government says Brexit is a “huge threat” to our economic future. A spokesman said: “The European Investment Bank has been an important source of funding for major NPD -(non-profit distributing) projects.  All such projects have already been developed or reached financial close and are not affected by the reported moratorium.  The foundations of Scotland’s economy remain strong. However, we’re doing all we can to mitigate the UK Government’s stance on Brexit, which presents a huge threat to prosperity in Scotland.” The EIB said: “Loan contracts already signed for UK-based projects remain valid.  For as long as the UK remains a member, we continue our activity in the UK.  “However, in view of the circumstances, the EIB Group have to carry out careful due diligence for operations maturing after 2019.”

Highand Tattoo Weekend Includes Fundraiser for Veterans
An annual fundraising Ride, Ramble or Run challenge will be held on the final day of the Highland Military Tattoo at Fort George near Ardersier.  The Poppyscotland event, which is open to all ages and abilities, takes place on Sunday September 10. Participants can combine walking, running and cycling and those completing the course will receive a poppy medallion.  The money raised will help support ex-service personnel. Poppyscotland’s north east community fundraiser Frances Beveridge is urging people to sign up.  "Ride, Ramble or Run will be a fun day out as well as a way to keep fit and to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of Fort George," she said.  "It’s also about getting those taking part to go the extra mile in order to raise vital funds to enable Poppyscotland to continue providing life-changing support for the Armed Forces community in Scotland."  As a prelude to the tattoo, top military musicians will perform in Inverness city centre on Friday afternoon, just hours before they take part in the main event .  The Military Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland will march through the city and play tunes which will feature at the tattoo. The parade will begin at Falcon Square at 12.15pm and will follow a route along Inglis Street and the High Street to the Town House.  The SCOTS Band, as it is otherwise known, will later take its place with other performers, including the massed pipes and drums, for the main event.  Tattoo director Major General Seymour Monro said the parade will be a taster for the performances at the tattoo.  It also gives us a chance to thank the people of Inverness for their support to the tattoo," he said.  "We are most grateful to the Inverness Common Good Frund and other local sponsors for helping to ensure that this tattoo can take place.  We thank Provost Helen Carmichael and councillors for hosting this event and look forward to welcoming many local people and visitors to Fort George."  The band, led by Major Dave Brannigan,It will join the Pipes and Drums of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, Inverness City Youth and the 1st Battalion The Highlanders’ Army Cadet Force.  Also performing at the tattoo will be youngsters from The City of Inverness Highland Dancers and the City of Inverness Choreography Dancers.  The lone piper will be Archie Drennan, of Drumnadrochit, while many re-enactors and singers will be local people. The tattoo will commemorate the Royal Flying Corps, the RAF and the RAF Regiment in its 75th anniversary year in a series of short re-enactments. The Queen’s Colour Squadron Drill team of the RAF Regiment will make its first trip north to take part.

Restored Church to Open Doors to the Public
Two replica ornate medieval stones will be displayed to the public for the first time at an open day being staged by a recently-restored historic Black Isle church.  Work to transform the derelict buildings of Kirkmichael at Balblair into a heritage centre was finally completed earlier this year thanks to the determined efforts of the small rural community over many years.  The centre is taking part in its first Doors Open Day weekend on Saturday, September 9.  The programme of activities will include the chance to see two "as-new" carved stones. Their creators, Scottish sculptors David Lindsay and Richard Groom, have fashioned the stones as they would have looked 600 years ago.  The originals were laid inside the church at Cullicudden but following the Reformation when the lairds were no longer allowed to be buried in the church, they were re-used several times over in the kirkyard until they were so badly worn and damaged the patterns were almost eroded.  The two sculptors, of award-winning company Stoneworks in Livingstone, will be on hand to run half-day stone-carving taster sesssions .  They will also give an illustrated lecture about the Kirkmichael stones in the evening.  Jim Mackay, chairman of the Kirkmichael Trust, said the Doors Open Day event - part of Scotland’s largest free festival which celebrates heritage and the built environment – marks another signifcant milestone for the project. "With building work complete and all the interpretation on display, this is the ideal time for folk to enjoy Kirkmichael," Mr Mackay said.  "There is just so much carving to be seen, from our medieval architecture and ornately carved gravestones, through to modern carving to replace perished stone and our new ornate crosses."  Family activities will include Hunt the Symbol based on the old and strange tombstone carvings at Kirkmichael.  Young piper Lucy McIver, who performed at the official opening earlier this year, will play bagpipe tunes at noon and 1pm.  Kirkmichael, which overlooks Udale Bay and the Cromarty Firth , was built in the Middle Ages.  It was the parish church of Kirkmichael and Cullicudden from 1662 but was abandoned in 1767 in favour of the new parish church at Resolis.  Over the years, it has deteriorated further.  The building was in a state of collapse and snow caused the last surviving part of its roof to cave in 2013.  But thanks to a determined community campaign led by Mr Mackay over 20 years, it has undergone a £750,000 restoration with funding from various sources.  They include the Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland Council, many other organisations and people.  "We promised the community a public open day - a day for everyone to enjoy what has been achieved at Kirkmichael," Mr Mackay said. "There are lots of activities going on and folk can engage both on the day and on our Facebook page." A 192-page illustrated book of stories, true and fictional, all connected with Kirkmichael is due to be published in the next few weeks.  It includes spooky tales by Hugh Miller, personal stories of families associated with Kirkmichael and local incidents such as the Resolis Riots. It is also sprinkled with contributions from pupils of Resolis, Cromarty and Tore Primary Schools and Fortrose Academy.

Scotland's Triumph As 'World's Most Beautiful Country' Hailed by Tourism Chiefs
Tourism bosses have welcomed a number one listing for Scotland by readers of an influential travel guide.  The readers of Rough Guide voted the nation as "the most beautiful country in the world", beating Canada to the number one slot in the top 20 countries.  In its listing, which also includes countries such as New Zealand, Finland, Norway and South Africa, the guide states: "And finally, the world's most beautiful country is revealed: Scotland.  Who can deny that these wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles are some of the most wonderful and beautiful sights in the world?"  Neighbouring England came in at number seven in the readers poll and Wales voted number 10.  Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, believes the title will attract more visitors to Scotland.  He said "We are delighted that Scotland has received this remarkable accolade from Rough Guide readers, but of course it will not be a surprise to anyone who has encountered our wonderful country. From our awe-inspiring landscapes to our remarkable historic attractions, to our bustling but beautiful urban centres, Scotland takes people's breaths away. Our latest campaign, the Spirit of Scotland, was based on feedback from visitors that they get a special feeling while in the country - whether it's in the wilds of Glen Coe on a stormy day or taking part in a ceilidh on Burns' Night - there is something different about Scotland that they can't experience anywhere else in the world.  Of course, with great beauty comes great responsibility and we urge both visitors and residents alike to respect Scotland's natural assets to protect and preserve them for many generations to come".

KLB School Very Grateful After Community Rallies Round Following Bus Firm Collapse
A North-West Sutherland school, which feared it had lost hundreds of pounds after a bus company collapsed, has been staggered by the generosity of local people and strangers. Kinlochbervie High School was left out of pocket to the tune of £1600 following the shock closure last week of bus firm Andrews (Shetland) which had school bus contracts in the north. But following a Facebook post, local groups and individuals as well as strangers have rallied round to make up the loss.  Administrative assistant Paula Macleod said: “Everyone in the school is overwhelmed by the kindness shown to us and also by the power of social media.”  The school paid the bus company in advance to take a group of students to and from Glasgow Airport later this year.  The pupils are flying to Vancouver as part of a continuing project about local World War I hero and Victoria Cross recipient George McBeath who went on to become a police officer in the Canadian city.  Ms Macleod, who has been deeply involved in the McBeath project, said the overseas trip would still have gone ahead, but that the school could ill afford to stump up another £1600.  She put a post about the situation on Facebook which last week had 248 shares and reached more than 63,000 people. She said: “I spent all that evening answering messages and comments.” As a result of the post, Kinlochbervie gala committee and Scourie gala committee donated £300 each to the school and two private donations of £500 and £100 were received. Smaller amounts from well wishers were also transferred directly into the school’s bank account. And Ms Macleod received a message from the transport manager of RS Coaches, Aberdeen, offering to take the students to and from Glasgow Airport at no cost.  She said: “We are only going to have to meet the driver’s wage and cost of fuel which is a huge saving.” The Kyle of Sutherland Development Trust stepped in to fill the breach on the Lairg to Tain bus route (900) after the collapse of Andrews (Shetland) Ltd. The trust organised alternative free transport with the help and support of local businesses and individuals.  Trust development manager Helen Houston said that the Bradbury Day Care Centre loaned its bus, while William Gray Construction contributed to the running costs and volunteer drivers stepped forward including two trust directors, Graeme Askew and Ron Boothroyd.  It is understood that DE Coaches has now taken over the route.  Mrs Houston said: “What we have been able to do shows how an organisation like ours, based in the community, can respond quickly to emergencies. A total of 107 passengers accessed our free service over the three days.”    

Tiree Surfers’ Beach Hut Set for Demolition Given Reprieve
Scotland’s surfing community is riding on the crest of a wave after scoring a victory over council planners.  Argyll and Bute Council turned down retrospective planning permission for a beach hut on Tiree, saying that Ballevullin beach should remain undeveloped. Now an Appeal Reporter has overturned the council’s -decision and declared that the hut, which is used as a first aid post and changing room by surfers, can stay.  Scotland’s under 18 surfing champion, Ben Larg, 12, whose parents Marti and Iona Larg run their Blackwater Sports surfing business from the hut, is among those who use it to train in all weathers and had pleaded with planners to let it stay. Now the young sportsman, who is heading to Japan later this month to represent his country in the World Junior Surfing Championships, has seen his wish granted.  Appeal reporter Nick Smith said: “Whilst the beach hut can be seen, I do not find this to mean that it automatically has an adverse visual impact.” He said that Scottish Natural Heritage had not raised any landscape concerns•

£170m Highlands Wind Farm Set to Generate Economic Boost

Plans have been unveiled for a £170 million wind farm development that could provide a jobs boost both in the Highlands and Lanarkshire. GFG Alliance said its proposals would bring benefits to the economy through multiple projects for clean and renewable energy to support manufacturing.  The wind farm would be developed by SIMEC Energy, consist of up to 54 turbines at Glenshero in the Highlands and generate up to 178 megawatts of energy. SIMEC said the development of renewable energy across its estate lands will contribute valuable low-cost, low-carbon power for industrial schemes such as GFG Alliance’s aluminium smelter and planned Fort William alloy wheels factory and its steel mills in Lanarkshire.  A key element of the Glenshero plan is that the steel for the required wind--tower structures could be rolled at Liberty’s Dalzell plant in Motherwell.

Defence Missiles Fired Off the Coast of Scotland in Test

Missiles were fired off the coast of Scotland in a successful test of Royal Navy’s new air defence system.  The trial’s success was confirmed by Defence Minister Harriett Baldwin on Monday as she visited defence company MBDA’s site in Filton, near Bristol.  The new air missile defence system can intercept and destroy enemy missiles travelling at supersonic speeds and will form part of the protection for the nation’s new aircraft carriers. The first firings were conducted from Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll whilst off the coast of Scotland near the Outer Hebrides in July. Sea Ceptor will provide the Royal Navy with an improved shield against airborne threats, using innovations in radar and datalink technology that will guide these potent missiles with pinpoint accuracy.  The UK-developed missiles are capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 3 and possess the ability to deal with multiple targets simultaneously, protecting an area of around 500 square miles (1,300 square kilometres) over land or sea. Mrs Baldwin said: “Sea Ceptor will protect our interests against threats both known and unknown. It will launch from the Royal Navy’s new Type 26 frigates as they keep our nuclear deterrent submarines and the UK’s two new aircraft carriers safe on operations around the globe.  Sea Ceptor supports 600 UK jobs and is yet another example of how our rising defence budget is being spent on cutting-edge kit to help our Armed Forces meet future threats.”  HMS Argyll will conduct further firing trials of the Sea Ceptor system before deploying for Japan next year. Alongside providing robust self-defence, importantly Sea Ceptor defends escort vessels within a maritime task group, such as for the new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.  Commander Toby Shaughnessy, the commanding officer of HMS Argyll, said: “This is an exciting upgrade in capability and a great opportunity for HMS Argyll to demonstrate what the missile system can do to protect our ships from future threats. Sea Ceptor is an impressive and innovative system, demonstrating that the Royal Navy is at the cutting edge of technology and working hard to keep Britain safe. I am immensely proud of my ship’s company and the work they put in to make this test firing possible.”

Ferguson Shipyard Could Be A Winner in New MoD Plan
A shipyard dramatically saved from closure two years could soon be manufacturing Royal Navy warships under a new national shipbuilding strategy, government sources have claimed. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon will unveil plans to spread military shipbuilding around the country, holding out the prospect of millions of pounds worth of investment in sites like Ferguson Marine Engineering in Port Glasgow.  Ronnie Cowan, the MP for Inverclyde which includes the Ferguson yard, was among those briefed on the strategy yesterday.  However, unions warned the plan still left gaps in production and would take work away from Scotland’s shipbuilding heartland on the Upper Clyde.  The GMB said the future of Rosyth shipyard, currently assembling the second of two new aircraft carriers, could be at risk without a commitment to build three 40,000 tonne Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels.  And industry insiders questioned whether smaller shipyards like Ferguson have the capacity to be part of the new strategy.  Mr Fallon said the new approach would “boost jobs, skills, and growth in shipyards and the supply chain across the UK.  This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navy that will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world,” he said.  The government is accepting recommendations from a former shipbuilding executive, Sir John Parker, who said warships should be built on a “modular” basis like the UK’s new aircraft carriers. In a bid to target the export market, a new cut-price frigate class will be the first to be procured under the new strategy, with each of the five vessels to be built for the Royal Navy costing no more than £250 million.  The Ministry of Defence hopes the budget Type 31 design will tempt international buyers, but critics claimed the plans were a symptom of cost-cutting. SNP defence spokesman Stewart McDonald said the strategy was “nothing to do with ambition – it is all about squeezing costs to the bone and cutting corners, and still leaves real uncertainties for the future for workers at Scottish shipyards and the communities that depend on them”.  Gary Cook, GMB Scotland organiser and Scottish Chair of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions said: “Let’s be clear that the Type 31 contracts were originally promised to the Upper Clyde.  So while shipbuilding communities across the UK would benefit from a work-share programme of the Type 31 work, this will be at the expense of the Upper Clyde despite its own future already secured until the 2030s.” Mr Cook added that RFA vessels were “the key to unlocking the massive economic and employment potential of UK shipbuilding” and said 3,800 jobs connected to Rosyth could be lost if foreign companies were allowed to bid for the work.  “Any absence of the RFAs from this strategy would be a glaring missed opportunity by the UK government and particularly against the backdrop of Brexit,” he said.

EU Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier to Meet MSPs

Europe’s chief negotiator in the Brexit talks, Michel Barnier, is to meet with MSPs. Members of the Scottish Parliament’s European Committee will receive an update on how negotiations are progressing from Mr Barnier, who recently warned the UK must take the discussions “seriously”. Committee convener Joan McAlpine pledged to raise concerns about the impact leaving the European Union could have on Scotland at the meeting on Monday September 11.  The SNP MSP said: “We are delighted that Mr Barnier has agreed to meet the committee.  This gives us a chance to hear first-hand about the progress of the negotiations and the respective positions of the EU and the UK. This meeting is a testament to the openness and transparency with which the European Commission is approaching the withdrawal negotiations. We welcome the opportunity to discuss the points that have been made to us in the evidence we have taken so far and to raise our concerns about the impact of Brexit in Scotland. We will also highlight the consequences for Scotland if an orderly withdrawal and transition cannot be agreed between the UK and the EU.”  She added: “As there have been no formal intergovernmental discussions within the UK on the withdrawal process since February this year, speaking to Mr Barnier will allow us to gain a greater understanding of the direction of the talks and the consequences of the negotiations for Scotland.”  Committee deputy convener, Lewis Macdonald, said the Brexit talks were “historic negotiations that will have a profound impact on Scotland” as he welcomed Mr Barnier’s “willingness to engage with the committee”.  The Labour MSP added: “The talks do not appear to be making as much progress as had been expected by this point of time. I am particularly concerned about whether any transitional arrangements can be agreed that allow us to maintain access to the single market in the short-term, and give us time to resolve difficult issues for the long-term. I will be seeking to establish whether there is scope for continuing membership of the customs union and the single market in a transitional period.”

Comment -R

It's refreshing to see that the EU leaders are treating the Scottish Government and people of Scotland with respect, in stark contrast to the UK Westminster TORIES. Paying taxes to Westminster for atrocious decision making has to end.

New Lord Lieutenant for Caithness

The former far north MP takes over from Anne Dunnett who last month stood down from her role as the Queen’s representative in the county.  There had been speculation for some number of weeks as to who would succeed her and the rumours were finally laid to rest with an announcement from the Prime Minister’s office. Lord Thurso was managing director of a five-star hotel in Paris at the age of 27 and went on to lead a number of hospitality businesses. He is chairman of his family company in Caithness and of VisitScotland. The 64-year-old was a member of the House of Lords as a hereditary peer until 1999 and was then elected to the House of Commons as MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross until 2015.  He said he is honoured to have been given the new position, one which was held by his late father, Robin Sinclair.

Keep Your Flag Designs Simple, Says Expert

The great Sutherland flag competition is underway but designing a flag to represent such a diverse and geographically vast county is no mean feat.  Fortunately, a well-know flag expert was on hand this week to give tips and advice on the best flag designs.  Vexicollogist Philip Tibbetts, of the Flag Institute, gave presentations to schools across Sutherland on Monday and Tuesday.  The flag competition was launched on August 21 and is being run by the county’s Lord Lieutenancy team, headed up by Lord Lieutenant Dr Monica Main.    Lord Lyon Dr Joseph Morrow, has already given the go-ahead for Sutherland to have its own flag and has agreed to officially register the winning design in the register of the Lyon Court. Anyone can enter the contest but entries must be in by Friday, September 29.  Mr Tibbetts designed the flag for Kircudbrightshire which was registered in 2016. It shows a cross on a green and white quartered background and represents the checked cloth used to count taxes by the stewards of the Lords of Galloway.  He cites amongst his favourite flags the one for Merionethshire which features three dancing goats and a sun.  Caithness registered its own flag in 2016 following a competition It features a Nordic cross and galley symbolising Caithness’ ancient ties to the Vikings.  Four areas in Scotland currently have flags – Caithness, Kircudbrightshire, Orkney and Shetland.  Mr Tibbetts spoke to pupils at Kinlochbervie, Farr, Golspie and Dornoch. He advised that simplicity was the key and that designs should not be over complicated.

Black Isle Churchyard Visitor Attraction Revamp Set for Open Day

A successful community effort to restore a ruined Black Isle church into a venue to display ancient gravestones is set to unveil years of hard work.  Intricate stone carving will be the focus at Kirkmichael’s public open day on September 9. It coincides with the annual Doors Open weekend with sculptors David Lindsay and Richard Groom, creators of the two “as-new” medieval ornate stones at Kirkmichael, running free half-day stone-carving taster sessions in the marquee.  Activities for all the family include a “Hunt the Symbol”, based on the strange, old tombstone carvings at Kirkmichael. Star of the Royal launch earlier in the year, young Lucy McIver will be playing bagpipe tunes at noon and 1pm. Dr Jim Mackay, chairman of the Kirkmichael Trust, said: “With building work complete and all the interpretation on display, this is the ideal time for folk to enjoy Kirkmichael.  There is just so much carving to be seen, from our medieval architecture and ornately carved gravestones, through to modern carving to replace perished stone and our new ornate crosses.” Guided tours of the site, with lots of lively anecdotes, will start on the hour from 9am to 4pm. And in the evening, David and Richard will be giving an illustrated talk on the process of creating the two new Kirkmichael stones, and on the sculpting highlights of their careers.  The famous “alien” gargoyle at Paisley Abbey will be featured. Kirkmichael has been transformed from derelict buildings surrounded by “Keep out” signs to a heritage and community jewel, with funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and the Highland Council among others.  “We promised the community a public open day,” said Dr Mackay. “A day for everyone to enjoy what has been achieved at Kirkmichael.

Repeal Bill: Labour and SNP Join Forces Against ‘Power Grab’

Labour and the SNP will join forces to oppose legislation to enact Brexit over fears it will “drive a coach and horses through the devolution settlement”.  As debate began on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, both parties condemned it as a “power grab” that would strip Holyrood of its ability to legislate in some areas.  Downing Street has said it is in listening mode and will take on board MPs’ concerns about the bill, including on devolution, but that the bill was essential to delivering Brexit.  MPs have also warned the government that so-called ‘Henry VIII’ provisions in the bill gave ministers too much power to amend or scrap laws without consulting parliament.  The House of Commons will have eight days to make amendments at the committee stage following a vote on Monday, with pro-EU Tories threatening to back changes to curb ministerial powers.  Away from Westminster, the European Union warned the UK government’s plans for the Irish border after Brexit “will not happen” and suggested Brexit Secretary David Davis was not making himself “available” for negotiations in Brussels.  The Repeal Bill will transfer EU regulations into UK law, giving ministers a two-year window to amend or scrap individual provisions using secondary legislation, which cannot be amended and does not need to be debated by MPs.  It will also ring-fence powers currently held by the EU but exercised by devolved administrations, in areas such as agriculture, fisheries and the environment. UK ministers insist many of these powers will be devolved soon after Brexit, but argue some need to be retained by Westminster to prevent differences in regulatory regimes that may produce internal trade barriers. During debate, Mr Davis told MPs that some devolved responsibilities would have to be retained in order to “manage shared resources such as the sea, rivers and the air”. “They will allow us to strike ambitious trade deals, administer and provide access to justice in cases with a cross-border element and enter into new international treaties,” he said. But in a joint article, the shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer, the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and shadow Scotland Secretary Lesley Laird said the devolution proposals in the bill were “completely unacceptable”.  Labour warned there were no limits in the bill to provisions that ring-fence EU responsibilities in devolved areas and claimed it would provide “a blank cheque for any future Tory Government to unilaterally claw back powers”.  And Labour also raised the heat over claims that Henry VIII powers give UK ministers greater licence to amend devolved law than Scottish ministers. “A Tory Government is threatening to drive a coach and horses through that devolution settlement, using Brexit as a pretext for an unprecedented attempt to centralise power still further in Whitehall,” the three senior Labour figures said yesterday.  The SNP’s Europe spokesman Peter Grant claimed the government was “intent on not just taking back control from Brussels, but also from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”.  Challenging Scottish Conservative backbenchers to rebel and vote against giving the bill a second reading, Mr Grant said: “Every elected Scottish MP will have a crucial role in either granting this Tory government a pass to simply do as it pleases, or stand with SNP MPs in the lobby and deny the power grab they seek to achieve.”

North Sea Energy Prospects Brightening Again

They came, they saw, and they learned that the North Sea is in better shape than it has been for many years and is ripe for renewed investment which will reap significant returns. That is the message the majority of this week’s 50,000 visitors to Offshore Europe (OE) in Aberdeen will take away. The biennial event, the second largest energy conference in the world after Houston’s Offshore Technology Conference, provided a welcome reminder to energy sector professionals that Aberdeen is re-emerging after several extremely tough years.  It would be wrong to gloss over the pain experienced by many who lost jobs and careers, estimated at 185,000 since 2015 according to Oil & Gas UK, and the countless businesses directly and indirectly associated with the oil and gas industry which failed as cash flow dried up in tandem with the declining price of crude oil.  Paradoxically, the industry needs to attract the young talent who must be recruited and inspired over the next few decades, especially in a new era where big data and digitalisation will play a central role in exploration and production. My impression from walking the floors at the Aberdeen Exhibition & Conference Centre was one of cautious optimism and a belief that the cost-cutting regimes of recent years, allied to the determined focus on innovation and collaboration, has reshaped a UKCS basin which will be deserving of investment for years to come.  It spoke volumes that industry heavyweights, BP chief executive Bob Dudley and Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden, both participated in the plenary session, each stressing the importance of oil and gas in a lower carbon environment and the relevance of the North Sea to their respective businesses.