Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 427

Issue # 427                                     Week ending Saturday 18th November 2017

Scientists Say That Sheep Can Recognise Faces Or Was That in the Wool Street Journal? By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

To look at them, you would think they are very dosy and stupid and only interested in eating and drinking. You assume there is nothing going on in their sad lives but following each other around and being herded around to do what their masters please. No, I am not talking about Members of Parliament. How dare you? I would never say such a thing about our wonderful and hard-working elected representatives. No, I am talking about sheep.

If a Blackface sheep looks at you funny, be careful. A weird news items the other day claimed sheep are not as dumb as we think and that they can recognise human beings. What did I think? I knew that all along. Since that sheep Dolly with the white eye kept staring at me when I was 10, I knew there was something odd going on between those horns. Maybe I had roughly punctured her ear with the tag machine or slashed her with a badly-wielded pair of shears in a fank. Whatever, there was something on her mind.

And there was something on my mind. When she started giving me the daggers, I had a quiet word with my dad. So Dolly had the honour of becoming the first of the flock to become chops in the freezer. I could have told those scientists that sheep recognise people - not just celebrities like Barack Obama and the newsreader Fiona Bruce. And I could have told them that sometimes you have to do what it takes to stop the staring from the sheep pen. Don’t mess with me, Me-aggs.

I could have also told you that having two airlines serving the Western Isles will bring down prices. It has. Now that we have both Flybe and Loganair in a tussle to get us up their steps, they are deadly rivals. Glasgow-based Loganair has rebranded from deadly dull fuselages and uniforms to vibrant red tartan to empasise its Scottishness. Exeter-based Flybe, well, hasn’t. The important difference are the fares though. However, sometimes Loganair seems to be cheaper and then at other times you are better going with poor old FlyMaybe.

The big selling point that Loganair has had was the free luggage allowance. That could make all the difference to the final cost. So much so that last week the Scottish airline claimed it was grinding its big competitor into the dust. Within hours, Flybe was rejigging its prices again - and also began offering free luggage. It’s war. It’s bananas, It’s great. At this rate it won’t be long until they start paying us to fly.

Not everyone is delighted. There are many people in the islands who are too scared to fly. Many is the time I have been on the flight when it has hit turbulence, I have heard someone in the seat behind me putting up a not-so-silent prayer. It is really disconcerting. You feel very confident that it is just a temporary wibbly-wobbliness until you hear the cove behind you promising the Almighty he will renounce the bevvy and all his bits on the side if only He can get the Saab 340 down safely in Melbost. As my old neighbour once said: “If God had meant man to fly, He would never have given us Caledonian MacBrayne.”

And another thing - the cabin service on flights is not as good nowadays. You don’t get a wee dram when you go to Glasgow any more. Although I did last year when Mrs X and I flew down to London on the Shuttle. That service used to be pretty good but the service has slipped a bit. Halfway through the flight, the attendant came up and asked: “Would you like dinner?” As I pulled down the tray and slipped my hankie into my collar I asked: “So, what are the choices today?” The prissy one snapped back: “Yes or no.”

The choice to have sheep is a big undertaking. A crofter was tending his flock when he saw a man drinking with a cupped hand from a stream. He shouted over in Gaelic: “Don't drink the water. There's sheep poo in it.” The man at the stream lifted his head and carried on drinking. Realising the man couldn't hear him, the farmer moved closer and shouted in Gaelic again. But still the man couldn't hear him. Finally the crofter walked right up to him and repeated his warning. The man replied: “Dreadfully sorry, my good man. I can't understand the Gaelic. I’m English, you see. “Ah right,” said the crofter. “I was just saying if you use both hands you can get more in.”

Nicola Sturgeon to Press Theresa May for More ‘Clarity’ Over Brexit Issues

The Scottish First Minister is to have face-to-face talks with Theresa May in Downing Street – the first time the two women have met in more than six months.  It comes in the middle of a deadlock between Edinburgh and London over crucial Brexit legislation, with Ms Sturgeon having made clear her Government will not consent to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill unless changes are made.  The devolved administrations of both Scotland and Wales have branded the legislation a “power grab” as power in devolved areas is set to be returned from Brussels to London, so UK-wide frameworks in areas such as agriculture can be drawn up. Responsibilities over these areas would only be given to Cardiff and Edinburgh at a later stage.  A Scottish Government spokeswoman confirmed ahead of the meeting: ” The First Minister will be seeking clarity on a range of issues at this meeting with the Prime Minister, including Brexit and the impact on Scotland of the EU Withdrawal Bill.”  With Chancellor Philip Hammond due to unveil his Budget next week, Ms Sturgeon will look to “set out the Scottish Government’s expectations of the UK budget,” and will raise concerns over the introduction of Universal Credit.  The First Minister has already said it is “morally repugnant” that the UK Government has failed to halt the roll-out of the welfare reform amid complaints about the length of time recipients have to wait for payments.  The last time Ms Sturgeon and Mrs May met for face-to-face talks was in March when the Prime Minister was in Glasgow.  However, the SNP leader has complained it is ” impossible to get any human connection” with her Tory counterpart – a comment she made in an interview with the New Statesman  ”This is a woman who sits in meetings where it’s just the two of you and reads from a script,” Ms Sturgeon said.  She described this as ” very frustrating” and saying the pair lacked the ”personal rapport” she had with David Cameron.

Nearly Half NHS Doctors From EEA Considering Leaving the UK, Survey Reveals

Almost half of NHS doctors from continental Europe are considering quitting the UK because of Brexit, and nearly one in five has already made solid plans to do so, according to a new survey.  The survey of 1,720 doctors from European Economic Area countries, conducted by the British Medical Association (BMA), found that their main reasons for considering leaving were Britain’s decision to quit the EU; negative attitudes towards EU workers in the UK; and uncertainty over future immigration rules.  The BMA said that 12,000 EEA nationals make up 7.7% of the NHS doctor workforce and are “vital” to ensuring that the health service can provide high-quality, reliable and safe patient care. The organisation urged the Government to guarantee permanent residence rights for EU doctors and medical researchers, as well as a flexible future immigration system which supports health and medical research in the UK.  BMA treasurer Andrew Dearden said: “That so many EU doctors are actively planning to leave the UK is a cause for real concern. Many have dedicated years of service to the NHS and medical research in the UK, and without them our health service would not be able to cope.  We need clarity on what the future holds for EU citizens and their families living in the UK, and an end to the uncertainty and insecurity that could see many voting with their feet. It’s also vital that any future immigration system is flexible enough to ensure the NHS can recruit and retain doctors and other NHS workers in sufficient numbers. Our NHS and patient care are all the richer for having a diverse workforce – it’s crucial we don’t lose valuable experience and expertise because of Brexit.” Of the EEA doctors questioned for the survey, 45% said they were considering leaving the UK, with a further 29% saying they were not sure whether they would leave or not. Some 77% said a negative outcome to negotiations on the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit would make them more likely to consider leaving.  Some 18% of those questioned said they had already made plans to leave the UK, with Germany, Spain and Australia the most popular destinations.  But a Department of Health spokesman said: “This survey does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, there are actually more EU doctors working in the NHS since the EU referendum, more EU graduates joining the UK medical register and 3,193 more EU nationals working in the NHS overall.”  Thoracic surgery trainee Dr Marco Nardini said that Brexit was “definitely a key factor” in his decision to move back to Italy in August 2017 after spending almost two years in the UK.  “One of my main concerns was around whether my qualifications would continue to be recognised abroad and in the UK,” he said. “There’s so much uncertainty at the moment – moving back to Italy and completing my training here seemed like the safer option rather than chasing a title from England which may not be recognised in the EU.”  Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth described the survey’s findings as “extremely worrying”.  Theresa May must urgently safeguard the future of EU workers and stop treating them as bargaining chips in her reckless Brexit negotiations,” said Mr Ashworth. “Failure to do so seriously risks increasing staff shortages and exacerbating the already dire crisis in our health and care system.”

SNP Threatens Indyref2 If Scotland Ignored on Brexit
The SNP ended a brief pause in Scotland’s constitutional debate last night, pledging to hold a second independence referendum if the UK government pushes ahead with Brexit without consent from Holyrood. On the eve of a visit to Downing Street by Nicola Sturgeon, the Nationalists appeared to break with recent policy to shelve demands for a referendum until after Brexit by issuing a new threat to call indyref2.  The comments will turn up the temperature ahead of the first face-to-face meeting between the First Minister and Theresa May for eight months, as the leaders bid to break a deadlock over new powers for Scotland after Brexit.  During a Westminster Hall debate, SNP frontbencher Tommy Sheppard told fellow Scottish MPs: “There are only two ways that this can go from here.  One is that the United Kingdom government will come to an agreement with the Scottish Government and that the Brexit process will go through with the consent of the Scottish Parliament. The other option is that the UK government will ignore the representations of  Scotland, overrule them and proceed regardless.  In those latter circumstances, I tell you here today that the mandate from 2016 is still there, and it will be executed, because we will give the people of Scotland a right to decide.”  The UK government has repeatedly said it will not discuss a second independence referendum until Brexit is completed. At the SNP’s conference last month, Ms Sturgeon called on independence campaigners to be patient, and in June she said the Scottish Government would “redouble our efforts” to influence the UK’s Brexit deal after admitting there was insufficient support for a second referendum.  Conservative MP Luke Graham said: “It’s enormously disappointing that, just weeks after the SNP conference, when they said they were looking past independence, the second referendum isn’t off the table, it’s just on pause.  This just proves that every vote for the SNP is a vote for another independence referendum.”  Mr Sheppard’s comments threaten to overshadow today’s meeting in Downing Street, the first between Ms Sturgeon and Mrs May since March. The First Minister will hold talks at Number 10 this afternoon despite claims over the summer that she would be “banned” from face-to-face meetings with Mrs May.  Talks between Scottish and UK officials are continuing in a bid to avoid a constitutional crisis over the Withdrawal Bill. The SNP claims plans to hold on to control of 111 EU responsibilities at Westminster before devolving some of them represents a “power grab”.  A senior UK government source said: “Everyone is hoping for constructive talks.”  In a recent interview, the First Minister gave an awkward account of their last meeting, saying the Prime Minister was a “difficult” character who insisted on “reading from a script” in private talks.  A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will be seeking clarity on a range of issues at this meeting with the Prime Minister, including Brexit and the impact on Scotland of the EU Withdrawal Bill.  She will also set out the Scottish Government’s expectations of the UK Budget, as well as discussing the introduction of Universal Credit and the effect it has had.” Meanwhile, a government pledge to set out the UK’s Brexit deal in primary legislation was dismissed as a “sham” after MPs were warned they will send the country crashing out of the EU without a deal if they vote against it.  In a major concession ahead of fresh Westminster debate on the legislation today, Brexit Secretary David Davis told MPs last night that they would get to scrutinise the final EU exit deal “line by line” and vote on it before 29 March 2019.  However, he angered MPs on both sides of the Commons by saying there would be no legislation and no vote if talks in Brussels fail to produce an agreement, and warned that parliament could only choose between the government’s deal and no deal at all. Conservative MP Anna Soubry claimed ministers were “preparing for no-deal”, while the Labour MP Chris Leslie said the concession was a “sham” and “totally worthless”.

‘Record Year’ for Alleged Sightings of Loch Ness Monster

Fans of Scotland’s favourite mythical beast have enjoyed a bumper 2017, with Nessie enthusiasts claiming a record number of sightings have been made. Dr Jo Knight, a lecturer at Lancaster University, spotted an unexplained “fin” shape when looking pictures of Loch Ness taken by her and son Sam while on a recent holiday.  She forwarded her image to a website dedicated to alleged sightings of the monster.  After analysis, the site agreed it could indeed be a picture of the famous beast - and it became the eighth sighting recorded in 2017. Gary Campbell, the recorder of the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register said the sighting had been accepted as the eighth of Nessie this year.  “This is the most we have had this century,” he said.  “We had some debate if the Knights’ sighting was a wave or possibly an animal. After a lot of discussion we were split 50-50 but on that basis we have given the benefit of the doubt to it being accepted as an official sighting. It certainly is very interesting and raises many questions. In recent years the most sightings in a year we have had is 17 - and that was in 1996. Before that the 1960s and 1930s were the times that had most sightings - sometimes more that 20 in a year.”

Man in Court Following St Magnus Cathedral Vandalism
An historic cathedral was forced to hold its annual Remembrance Sunday service with boarded-up windows after being damaged during a break-in.  St Magnus Cathedral, which dominates the skyline of Kirkwall in Orkney, was vandalised during the early hours of Saturday morning.  A 19-year-old man appeared from custody at Kirkwall Sheriff Court on Monday in connection with the incident. Anton Rodwell, who appeared in private, is alleged to have committed various acts of vandalism and attempted break-ins in Kirkwall, as well as the break-in at the cathedral, the Orcadian reported.  The cathedral dates back to 1137, long before Orkney became part of the Kingdom of Scotland.  Due to a historical quirk, it is owned by the burgh of Kirkwall and not the church as a result of an act by James III of Scotland following Orkney’s annexation by the Scottish crown in 1468.  The break-in has shocked residents in the Orkney town.  “The talk at the service was all about the happenings within the cathedral, when we should be remembering those who died in the war,” councillor John Ross said.  He added: “It’s a complete disgrace anyone should do this. People have told me there have also been incidents of vandalism elsewhere in the town on that night and this has to be the end.  This is the jewel of the community and, when something like this happens, it’s a disgrace. It’s an assault on Orkney and an assault on what we stand for.”

Wanted: Island Ranger for Remote Scottish Isle of Handa

For those fed up with the daily grind of the nine to five, an exciting opportunity to work as a wildlife ranger on a remote Scottish island is available.  With nearly 100,000 breeding seabirds, pristine white sandy beaches, 120m cliffs and spectacular vistas, the isle of Handa offers an idyllic retreat from modern life.  Nestled off the north-west of Scotland, the island is seeking an ‘Island Ranger’ to help protect and monitor the native bird species and help manage the isle’s conservation projects.  The Scottish Wildlife Trust, who manage the island, are looking for an individual who loves the outdoors, is physically fit and enjoys being independent as the island has no permanent population.  The 26-week position runs from 19 March - 14 September and comes with a salary of £14,5000 per annum.  Don’t expect any hotels or luxuries though.  Accommodation for the post is provided free of charge in the purpose-built Ranger’s bothy.  Weekly trips to civilization include visits to the tiny village of Scourie on the mainland, where Rangers can do laundry and collect supplies.  Despite the remoteness of the isle the Ranger will not be alone for their six month stay.  Up to 150 bird-watchers flock to the island on its busiest days and teams of volunteers help to maintain the reserve.  A spokesman for the Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “The Ranger has a room in the Bothy, while volunteers are in shared accommodation. We recruit volunteers for the season too, so if six months on Handa is too much for people to consider there they can either volunteer for a week, or on one of up to six long term placements, lasting from two weeks to five months. “Applications for volunteering open in January.”  The trust state that the successful applicant will “have a high degree of emotional maturity, resilience and flexibility and be able to organise, supervise and motivate a small team.”  The Accommodation provided is suitable for one couple taking up a job-share arrangement, or for one individual ranger. The closing date for applications is Monday.  Handa Island is owned by Scourie Estate and managed in partnership with the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Why Turnberry Has Become An Expensive Project for Donald Trump

Mr Trump is paying a sizeable price for Turnberry’s prestige, says Martyn McLaughlin.  When Donald Trump bought Turnberry in April 2014, it joined an array of golfing properties in the billionaire’s portfolio. But as a keen golfer who has reputedly whittled his handicap down to 2.8, Mr Trump knew this was not just another golf course.  As a four time host of the Open Championship, and the setting for the so-called ‘Duel in the Sun’, an epic 1977 battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, the magnate knew he was acquiring something money can seldom buy - prestige.  Even before he embarked on a multimillion pound redevelopment of the resort in South Ayrshire, Mr Trump was fulsome in his praise of Turnberry’s international standing. It was, he declared, “one of golf’s greatest and most exciting properties.” For the princely sum of £34m, he was able to add his name to its facade and bask in its reflected glory.  Yet Turnberry’s allure was not entirely up to Mr Trump’s famously high standards. Two months after taking it over from the Dubai-based Leisurecorp, he indicated he would spend £100m to make the five-star bolthole “the finest resort of its kind anywhere in the world.”  Just four months later, his ambitions for Turnberry had grown, with the renovation bill spiralling to £250m. By September the following year, however, the figure cited was £200m. Last October, his representatives put the number at £150m. Such fluctuating pledges sowed ambiguity over the extent of Mr Trump’s investment, but annual accounts filed last month with Companies House offer some detail. They show Mr Trump has provided Turnberry with interest-free loans totalling £112m since his buyout - a far cry from a quarter of billion pounds, but a significant investment nonetheless.  That money, or at least some of it, has been spent on an extensive refurbishment programme: Turnberry’s hotel suites and villas have been extensively modernised, its clubhouse refurbished, and its iconic lighthouse transformed into the luxury accommodation.  The most striking change, however, has been to the famous Ailsa course, with alterations overseen by Martin Ebert, the golf course architect. The changes have been widely lauded and in January, Ralph Porciani, Turnberry’s general manager, said the resort was on track to enjoy “its best year of revenue in 100 years.”  However, it has yet to turn a profit for Mr Trump. Operating losses more than doubled last year to £17.62m. While the size of that loss in large part down to the fact Turnberry was partially closed for refurbishment, it fully reopened for the last six months of 2016; during that time, it still ran up an operating loss of £670,000 - for the moment at least, Mr Trump is paying a sizeable price for Turnberry’s prestige.

North-east to Benefit From Full-fibre Gigabit Broadband

North-east businesses are set for a broadband boost thanks to a £23 billion Government funding scheme.  Aberdeenshire is one of four UK areas that will benefit as part of a £2 million trial to install gigabit broadband.  The full-fibre gigabit scheme aims to help businesses upload and download large files in seconds.  Benefits of the scheme include allowing businesses to put technology in place to deal with the ever-increasing demands for internet speed and connectivity, and helping firms in remote communities to compete technologically with companies in major cities that may already have full-fibre connectivity. Councillor Jim Gifford, leader of Aberdeenshire Council and chairman of the city region deal joint committee, said: “The North-east has for too long suffered from poor digital infrastructure despite above average uptake rates of, firstly, broadband services and more recently, superfast broadband services.  Participation in this initiative gives us an ideal springboard to deliver a step change in the availability and affordability of world-class infrastructure and services, and an enhanced ability to deliver cost-effective services in the public sector.”  Suppliers will be offering vouchers worth between £500 and £3,000 each to local businesses that can then be used to pay for the installation of gigabit-speed connections. The programme is part of the UK Westminster Government’s National Productivity Investment Fund, which is aimed at improving productivity.  And the fund already has £740m earmarked to help enhance the UK’s current digital infrastructure. Minister for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock said: “Faster and more reliable connections are transforming the way we live and work, and better broadband supports businesses to grow and become more productive. So we’re introducing gigaspeed vouchers to help businesses of Britain get connected to the next generation of broadband technology. This is testament to our ambitions for full fibre infrastructure across the UK.”

Army ‘Deeply Regrets’ Death of Soldier During Live-firing Exercise

The Army has said it “deeply regrets” the death of a young soldier who was shot during a live-firing exercise, following the publication of an official report. Private Conor McPherson, 24, from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Scotland, died after suffering a head wound at the Otterburn Training Area in Northumberland at around 11pm on Monday August 22 last year.  A probe into the incident has identified eight “contributory factors” that made the accident more likely to happen that night, including a lack of effective supervision of the soldier who fired the shot.  It has issued a series of recommendations aimed at reducing the likelihood of a similar accident reoccurring, which the Army is now said to be considering carefully.  Army spokesman Colonel Jim Taylor said: “The Army deeply regrets the death of Private Conor McPherson. What happened that night in Otterburn on August 22 2016 was a terrible, terrible tragedy.”  A Ministry of Defence (MoD) service inquiry (SI) into the death was carried out by the Defence Safety Authority (DSA).  It found that Pte McPherson received a fatal gunshot wound at 10.57pm that night.  People on the range ran to assist – giving him CPR, tending to the wound and calling the emergency services.  He was later pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic.  “It was confirmed by post-mortem that Pte McPherson received an unsurvivable injury, which was entirely consistent with a gunshot wound,” the report stated.  The investigating panel said it is highly likely a solder named only as “firer 2” – a private who had been in the military for five and a half years – misidentified Pte McPherson as a target and fired the fatal round. This was identified as the “causal factor” in the death.  Referring to the hour leading up to the incident, the report noted: “Due to the limited light levels and lack of experience of firing at night, the firers kept falling over and struggled to identify the targets. Some firers were surprised as they had expected illumination to aid in the identification of the targets.”  In its 82-page report, the investigating panel set out eight “contributory factors” in the accident, defined as factors which made the accident more likely to happen.  The panel concludes that the lack of effective supervision of firer 2 was a contributory factor in the accident,” it stated.  It also highlighted the lack of a walk-through of the range, the “inexperience” of safety supervisors during the night exercise and some soldiers’ lack of experience of night firing without illumination.  It further set out 13 other factors which, whilst they played no part in the accident in question, are noteworthy in that they could contribute to a future accident.  Writing in the report, Lieutenant General Richard Felton, director general of the DSA, said: “Private Conor McPherson a member of 3 Platoon, A Company, 3 SCOTS was killed during what should have been a fairly routine live-firing night exercise. The fire team (FT) level training he was conducting was early in an infantry unit’s training progression and at the lower end of complexity.  This perhaps makes his death even more tragic, but equally serves as a reminder of the unique dangers inherent in conducting realistic military training.” He also questioned why the company had been involved in an 18-hour day.  The panel did not identify fatigue as a factor, but I question why such a long and busy day was necessary,” he said.  Responding to the report, Mr Taylor, of HQ Field Army, training branch, said: “Live firing at night is inherently risky but we have to do it to be combat ready. We welcome this service inquiry; it has done outstanding work to identify what went wrong.  In particular, their reconstruction of the events that night has been invaluable in helping us identify what caused the accident and the factors which contributed to it. We are now carefully considering its recommendations.  We care about our soldiers above all else and we do everything we can to reduce the risks to them as they conduct the essential training required to prepare them for combat operations.”

Clarification Urged Over Post-grenfell Tower Blocks Cladding Information

Angela Constance has been urged to clarify when government officials and ministers were told that Grenfell-style cladding had been found on tower blocks in Glasgow.  The Communities Secretary was pressed on when the Scottish Government had been informed of the discovery as she gave a statement to MSPs at Holyrood on ministers’ response to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.  Glasgow City Council revealed in September that combustible cladding might be present on almost 60 private high rise buildings, a number that was later reduced to 19.  Ms Constance had previously told the Parliament that the local authority had notified Scottish Government standards officials of the finding late on September 5.  But private emails released after a freedom of information request made by the Scottish Conservatives show that the government’s head of building standards, Bill Dodds, was informed about a group of flats that had aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding on August 17.  Tory housing spokesman Graham Simpson said: “The Cabinet Secretary mentioned cladding in her statement. She told this parliament on September 21 that the Government was informed on September 5 that some flats in Glasgow may have ACM cladding. But we have email evidence that suggests the government knew three weeks earlier than that. Can Angela Constance confirm exactly when government officials and ministers were told about that cladding?”  In response, Ms Constance said: “We have been transparent about the work that we’re leading in the ministerial working group. We’re always happy to provide further detail.  I think it is important to stress that over the past few months we have received and do receive information from concerned people, whether that’s building owners or local authorities, and as a result of that information we have had to dig deeper to clarify at times what that information says. So I don’t accept Mr Simpson’s characterisation of how he has presented the facts around Glasgow.  There has been intensive engagement between officials and Glasgow City Council officials to clarify what the issues are and the nature of those issues and to get really specific information, because it is imperative that when we come to our feet with information that that information is indeed accurate.”  Speaking after the exchange, Mr Simpson said: “This discovery is very troubling indeed and is further compounded by the Cabinet Secretary’s inability to answer our very simple questions.  The fact is that the Cabinet Secretary for Communities is not on top of her brief and does not know what was going on in the Scottish Government in those crucial days after the Grenfell tragedy.”

Outlander Studios in Cumbernauld Set to Expand in 2018

The Scottish home of the hugely popular Outlander TV series is to be transformed into a major international film studio.  Terry Thomson, chairman and owner of the Wardpark Studios in Cumbernauld, has unveiled ambitious plans which would see the complex become the first dedicated film studio in Scotland.  A fourth series of Outlander, a time travelling drama set during the Jacobite risings in Scotland, is currently being made at Wardpark and Mr Thomson is aiming to build on the success that has brought to the studio.  He said: "Wardpark is to expand. We have acquired two additional industrial blocks, immediately adjacent to the site of the planned new sound stage and have an option on a third.  The appetite from Outlander for space has made it clear to us that we need to provide extra workshop/office/prop storage for the ‘new build’."  Mr Thomson, whose plans have been backed by £4m from Scottish Enterprise, said he is confident that when a new sound stage - or more - is built, the studio will attract "top end productions".  He said he hopes to have contractors on site in 2018 and that every other week another "realistic enquiry" for TV and movie filming approaches the studios.  Preparations have already been made on the site - on an industrial estate near the M80 - to allow for the expansion.  Further tenders are out for the remaining "enabling" works needed to build further sound stages.  The work means it is likely the studio will be expanded before other plans for major studios on the outskirts of Edinburgh - the Pentland Studios plan in Midlothian, and the Guardhouse plan, near Riccarton in Edinburgh, are developed.  Outlander, based on the successful books by Diana Gabaldon, and starring Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, are currently shooting series four in Scotland, including at locations in Edinburgh.  Mr Thomson added: "Outlander are filming Series 4 at Wardpark and I am delighted for all that brings to central Scotland and beyond. Working around Outlander’s requirements has slowed the process, but has not dented our ambitions for the studios."  Mr Thomson believes the "global phenomenon" of Outlander and other series, such as the Northern Ireland-made Game of Thrones has "certainly convinced us that there is demand for good quality film studios in Scotland".  He added that he will not know until mid-2018 if Outlander is to return to shooting in Cumbernauld. He also noted that "sound stages alone are not enough - construction workshops, costume making, make up, hair, prop storage, post- production" all require considerable space.  David Brown, Outlander's producer, said: “The adventures of Outlander could only be told properly in Scotland. Production began here in October 2013 and we have just started filming Season 4 - which will shoot into 2018.  We have worked with Terry Thompson to transform Wardpark Studios in to the fantastic facility it is now and his continued commitment to improve the studio helps us to produce the highest quality television."

Theresa May Blasted for Scottish Independence Twitter Blunder

Prime Minister Theresa May has come under fire for a Twitter gaffe suggesting Scotland was independent from the rest of the UK.  A Tweet posted from her official account after meeting First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for Brexit talks was critcised by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson. Mrs May tweeted: "The UK and Scotland must continue to work together to ensure businesses and consumers have the certainty they need as we leave the EU."  The UK and Scotland must continue to work together to ensure businesses and consumers have the certainty they need as we leave the EU: A source close to Davidson said: "Ruth hit the roof when the tweet was posted. It clearly wasn't the PM's fault but Ruth made it clear to No10 that this kind of language only plays into the hands of the SNP by making it sound as if Scotland is a separate country to the UK." Ruth Davidson played a key role in the 2014 campaign to keep Scotland in the UK.

Can Scotland’s Empty Landscapes Be Populated Once Again?

Human presence barely registers on stretches of Scotland’s vast, empty landscapes - but it wasn’t always that way.  Work is ongoing to repopulate some of the country’s most remote territories and reverse years of decline set by the Highland Clearances and mass migration. Since 2003, Scotland’s community landowners have been amongst those working to reinvigorate these lands.  Peter Peacock, policy director of Community Land Scotland, said much of the work has been motivated by the impact of depopluation of the past.  He said: “Vast areas of the Highlands that were cleared are still empty. There is a very strong cultural sense of ‘why should they be empty, why can’t they go back?’  Around 500,000 acres of Scotland - home to some 25,000 people- are managed by community landowners who have successfully taken land out of private hands.  Despite the sizeable hurdles, more than 300 new homes have been built by just 12 community land organisations with new enterprises in sectors such as tourism, renewables, retail and forestry supporting livelihoods.  On Eigg, which was bought by the community from its landlord 20 years ago, the population has grown by 60 percent.  Knoydart was home to around 65 people in 1999 when the community bought the estate from the Bank of Scotland after its owner went into receivership.  Now 115 people live there with a range of community businesses helping to employ local people, from a home maintenance firm to a venison butchery and forestry.  With Scotland’s population to rise by 350,000 by 2039, some believe Scotland’s rural areas offer a potential alternative to the country’s creaking urban centres.  People numbers are due to rise by 21 per cent in Edinburgh and 17 per cent in Aberdeen over the next 22 years.  Meanwhile in Highland, despite significant recent growth, the figure falls away to 3.5 per cent.  Mr Peacock added: “If you think over the very long term, when Scotland will continue to grow over time, were are going to need more land for people. Where is this land going to be? Well, it is potentially in the countryside.”  Despite the population rise, some communities remain incredibly fragile. In the Western Isles, population is due to fall by 13.5 per cent due to “negative natural change” - or when the death rate outstrips the numbers born.  Women are less likely to move to the islands and more likely to leave.  Mr Peacock said there were several practical issues that potentially worked against re-population and the growth of communities. Planners favour developing existing settlements, not least because expensive infrastructure, such as water, sewage and roads, is already in place. A general presumption against building in the countryside unless it is linked to agricultural use also remains, he said.  Around one-fifth of Scotland has now been designated “wild land” with 42 areas now receiving extra safeguards from development.  However, some believe the wild land designations don’t recognise man’s place in the environment over centuries.  Mr Peacock added: “Some of our members look out on wild land and they don’t see wild land. They see forlorn land, land that is empty and that was once full of people, of children.” “In some of the land that is now designated wild land, people were living there until 80 years ago.”  The designations were created in 2014 following lobbying from Mountaineering Scotland and the John Muir Trust given a string of controversial wind farm applications in the Highlands.  Dr Chris Dalglish, director of the Institute for Heritage & Sustainable Human Development, is researching the impact of wild land designations and other protected areas on the people who live there. He said: “There is a feeling the system gives a privileged position to certain points of view about the landscapes. There is a very strong undercurrent, and a lot of people have voiced this in the Highlands and Islands, that external forces are determining the future of the region. People feel this is story that has gone on for generations.” Early next year, pilot projects will run in South Uist - a wild land area - Lewis and Dumfries and Galloway to help improve the way people are represented in planning decisions.

European Council President Donaldtusk Gives Uk New Deadline for Brexit Progress

European Council President Donald Tusk has set a deadline of the beginning of December for Britain to make further movement on its Brexit divorce bill and the future of the Irish border. Speaking after talks with Theresa May in Gothenburg, Mr Tusk said the EU had completed the internal work necessary to give the green light for talks on trade and transition to begin at the next European Council summit in Brussels on December 14-15. But he said that “much more progress” was needed from the UK on two of the three key issues in withdrawal talks in order to break the deadlock which has prevented the move to the second phase of negotiations which the UK is seeking. “We will be ready to move on to the second phase already in December, but in order to do that we need to see more progress from the UK side,” said Mr Tusk. “While good progress on citizens’ rights is being made, we need to see much more progress on Ireland and on the financial settlement.” He said he had told Mrs May that “this progress needs to happen at the beginning of December at the latest”. Speaking at the conclusion of an EU jobs summit, Mr Tusk warned: “If there is not sufficient progress by then, I will not be in a position to propose new guidelines on transition and the future relationship at the December European Council”.