Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 440

Issue # 440                                     Week ending Saturday 17th  February 2018

Far North Model Speaks Out on Sexuality

On the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, a Caithness businesswoman and model has entered the debate on modern sexuality.  Natalie Oag maintains  that women can maintain respect while continuing to be sex symbols.  The former Formula One grid girl says all people are equal and deserve to be treated with respect whoever they are.   “The flip side of the coin is I believe a woman can be a sex symbol while still demanding respect.”Ms Oag, from Lyth, has worked as a top model worldwide, gaining accolades that won her Miss Scotland titles within the motor racing industry.  In 2013, she appeared as a grid girl at the Monte Carlo F1 race – a role which was recently scrapped after the sport decided to abolish its long-standing association.   “I was previously questioned should they stay or should they go and I believe they should stay,” says Ms Oag. "However, I feel lines can get blurred and there is a need for preventive measures and changes.”

Perth and Kinross Council Aims to Take Lead on Plastic-free Issue

Plastic straws are in the firing line in the global effort to cut the use of plastics.  Council chiefs have said Perth and Kinross will lead by example by working to outlaw plastic straws and other non-recyclable items.  It is hoped a plastic-free policy will be adopted across the council, affecting offices and schools and being backed by staff and elected members.  Cups and “takeaway water bottles” would also be covered by the policy, which will be taken to committee soon.  The council accepts the change will be challenging and said it will require a “behavioural shift” on the part of its large workforce but hopes in the relatively short term to be setting an example for others.  The high profile national “Final Straw” campaign urges the replacement of single-use plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives and has already seen public bodies, including the Scottish Parliament, ScotRail and CalMac, as well as supermarket giant Asda, remove plastic straws from use.  It is estimated Asda’s decision alone will result in 2.4 million fewer plastic straws being used every year.  Politicians have appealed to the council to play its part, with Perthshire North MSP John Swinney writing to the Chief Executive of Perth and Kinross Council, Bernadette Malone.  Councillor Colin Stewart, convener of the council’s environment and infrastructure committee said the authority is already “ahead of the curve” on the issue.  “We are working right now on bringing a policy to the committee on this issue,” Mr Stewart said.  “I have already been in touch with the Plastic Free Perthshire project to invite them in to discuss ending the use of, not only plastic straws, but also cups and takeaway water bottles.  Last October, to tie in with Rural Scotland’s ‘Have You got the Bottle’ campaign, the council passed a motion calling for a drinks containers deposit return scheme and offered our help to the Scottish Government to help design the scheme and trial it for them.  There will be challenges in two areas – the practical aspects of procurement and supply and the behavioural shift required by staff and elected members – but I am sure that everyone in PKC is up for the challenge.” Perthshire North MSP, John Swinney, said: “Scotland’s environment – its beaches and its countryside – is one of our most valuable assets.  The volume of single-use plastics that gets dumped or ends up washed ashore at present is truly shocking.  Anything that can help to reduce the impact of plastics on our environment is a very welcome step, particularly one as simple as removing plastic straws from circulation.  Small changes, like using biodegradable straws, can make a huge difference to our environment.  If supermarkets, businesses and local authorities can take the lead on this issue, and offer alternatives to plastic straws, it will mean people will more easily be able to say “No” to using plastic straws.  It is a very simple change to make, but an important one.”

One of Scotland's Wealthiest Men Fights £4.5m Tax Avoidance Claim in Courts

Sir Fraser Morrison, one of Scotland's wealthiest men who made his fortune selling the family business to Anglian Water is at the centre of a dispute that he is liable for nearly £4.5 million after using a tax avoidance scheme using Irish trusts to sell shares.  He is fighting the decision of an Upper Tribunal appeal in which judges ruled that he should be paying the tax from the sale of £14.5 million of Anglian shares through specially founded Irish trusts after being transferred by three Scottish trusts founded by Sir Fraser.  It has emerged that two tribunals have so far supported the taxman's view that capital gains tax was owed in the UK over what was seen as a pre-planned sale to investment bank Merrill Lynch which became a "single composite transaction" for tax purposes.  Sir Fraser, who is fighting the claim, argues there is no UK liability as no decision was made in advance to sell shares through the Irish trusts.  Permission for Sir Fraser to appeal to the Court of Appeal has been granted and is expected to be listed later this year.  The entrepreneur, who made his fortune from the sale of his Highland-based family owned construction company, set up three Scottish trusts, the 2002 Maintenance Trust, the 1989 Trust and the 1995 Trust between 1989 and 2002 for the benefit of himself, his wife Lady Patricia Morrison and three adult children, Peter, Claire and Sarah Jane.  Sir Fraser, who lives in Fife, and his brother Gordon, who four years ago together were once thought to be worth £85 million, sold Morrison Construction, the main contractor in the building of the Falkirk Wheel, to Anglian in 2000 for £263 million.  Sir Fraser received Anglian shares and loan notes worth £33.4 million in exchange for his 8,668,983 Morrison shares. The shares and loan notes were later transferred into one of his trusts. His immediate family and related trusts had held over 14 million shares in Morrison. By the autumn of 2004, the Scottish trusts had shareholdings in Anglian which were then worth £14.5 million.  In October, 2004, while considering selling the Scottish trusts' Anglian shares, it emerged that selling all the 1,933,612 Anglian shares directly onto the market, would incur a capital gains tax liability of £4.5 million.  The tribunal was told that after taking legal advice, a tax avoidance scheme was set up involving transferring the shares to the Irish Trusts and using "specially created options" allowing the Scottish trustees to sell them.  The scheme was devised to take advantage of a much lower capital gains tax bill of £53,638.82 that would arise if the shares were sold in Ireland, according to findings of fact in a first tier tax tribunal decision that found there was a tax liability.  Three new Irish trusts name No 1, No 2 and No 3 which mirrored the Scottish trust were set up which were then "repatriated" to the UK before April 5, 2005, with trustees replaced by the Morrison trustees. In a challenge to the Upper Tribunal by Sir Fraser and the three Scottish trusts, a fact statement said: "The creation of the Irish Trusts had no purpose other than the avoidance of tax. They would not have been created otherwise."  Factual findings made by the original first-tier tax tribunal said: "The Irish Trusts were created specifically as a vehicle to carry out the scheme to enable capital gains tax to be avoided on the sale of the Anglian shares. If not for the scheme, the Irish Trusts would never have been created.  It added: "Their creation was essential to the tax avoidance scheme to eliminate or minimise liability to capital gains tax on the diversification of the assets held by the Scottish Trustees by the disposal of the Anglian shares and re-investment of the sale proceeds.  The Scottish Trustees had no formal control over the Irish Trustees but it was unrealistic to assume that the Irish Trustees would do anything that significantly contradicted the views of the Scottish Trustees and the beneficiaries that the trust assets be diversified by selling the Anglian shares.  The share price would have had to fall dramatically before the Irish Trustees would have hesitated about proceeding with the tax avoidance scheme. There was no dramatic fall in price and the plan proceeded as intended and as anticipated."  On December 1, 2004, the Irish Trustees sold all the Anglian shares for £14,294,867.48 to Merrill Lynch.  In a challenge to the first tier tribunal decision, counsel for Sir Fraser and the three Scottish trusts argued it could not be said that shares sale was a "single composite transaction" for tax purposes as no advance arrangements had been made for the Merrill Lynch sale and neither the identity of the ultimate buyer nor the price was known at the time the stock was sold to the Irish Trust. Upper tax tribunal judges Justice Richard Arnold and Judge Roger Berner rejected that conclusion and said: "On the [first tier tax tribunal's] findings of fact there was no practical likelihood that the Scottish Trustees would not exercise the options, nor that the Irish Trustees would not sell."  First tier tribunal judge Gordon Reid QC said arrangements designed to obtain a tax advantage through "the creation of artificial conditions might also be described as abusive in another context".  He added: "The Scottish trustees and the beneficiaries are not being penalised. They are simply being called upon to meet or bear the effect of the fiscal liabilities in consequence of a disposal which led to a chargeable gain."

Prestwick Critics Are Aiming At the Wrong Target by
Kenny MacAskill:
Prestwick Airport is many things but an integral part of the Pentagon war machine or the Trump empire it isn’t. It doesn’t have its troubles to seek, though, as passengers and flights have reduced which is why recent comments from some Scottish politicians and London press were harmful to say the least.  The airport is in a great location but more importantly it's the site of outstanding and highly prized engineering skills. Yet the area has also suffered badly from the loss of such jobs. Preserving those key roles has accordingly become ever more important and the Scottish Government stepping in to stop the airport's closure was essential.  Now, simply because there are jobs at stake doesn’t mean that questions shouldn’t be asked. But, the allegations that have been made are a reheat of “cauld kale” on rendition, allied to dubious aspersions about visiting relevant and legitimate trade fairs.  Accusations about American rendition flights are also longstanding and have been fully investigated by the Crown and Scottish Police after the issue was raised by Amnesty International. There’s just no evidence that it happened and I know that from speaking to the Lord Advocate and senior officers involved. Had there been, action would have been taken but there wasn’t and the investigations conducted were fulsome.  Of course, it doesn’t mean that rendition flights didn’t happen as the US were rendering prisoners around the globe, as the UK Government well knew. The organisation Reprieve, as well as Amnesty, have documented that and I’ve spoken to them. It’s clear that the UK was being used as a refuelling stop to take prisoners to and from America and the Middle East, as well as to secret prisons in Eastern Europe. Indeed, it’s even been suggested that Wick may have been the refuelling stop rather than Prestwick.  Unfortunately, the information on a flight manifest is very limited and working out whether it’s a legitimate corporate jet or a rendition flight is impossible to detect. Boarding it simply on a whim would be unacceptable. The information now available has come about through tracking the CIA planes and working out the routes taken. That information wasn’t available to those on the ground whether in Wick or Prestwick at the time and no blame attaches to them whatsoever.  But the attacks were harmful to a business that’s fragile and needs support. The hostility of the Greens towards aviation is well known but, whilst I recognise that steps need to be taken on climate control and on flights themselves, the sector’s here to stay and being at the forefront of technology is essential. The criticisms were both lacking in substance and solutions for the troubled airport.  But, the unbridled hypocrisy of Labour members and their press supporters was quite breath-taking. Unsubstantiated accusations were levelled about rendition and allusions were made to being part of the American military orbit. Yet, it’s up the road at the Holy Loch where the real base of American firepower rests. The American navy may have gone but it's their technology and they who ultimately control the Trident missiles, and Labour who supports that. On rendition it was Tony Blair in 2004 who did a deal in the desert with Col Gaddafi the consequences of which wasn’t just a multi-million-pound trade deal for an oil company but the rendition of prisoners to Libya. MI6 were complicit in it and it was fully documented in a Human Rights Watch Report, Delivered into Enemy Hands. Some prisoners died in custody on their return to a land from which they’d fled, another was rendered along with his pregnant wife. The latter case and the actions of MI6 have resulted in legal action against the UK and Jack Straw.  The spurious allegations about Prestwick will pass but still the problems remain. The late Gordon Wilson once remarked that Glasgow and Prestwick went to war to become the UK's second airport and the winner was Manchester. Flippant but as always some truth in it. Almost 30 years ago I recall taking my late mother for a flight to Canada which when it departed saw me hanging around the concourse before visiting a friend in Irvine. With no further flights for hours, it was more akin to the “Marie Celeste” than an international airport, as staff scurried away and even the shops were left empty.  Flights may be limited and Edinburgh and Glasgow Airports are booming but other work remains and that’s where it's important. Whether in aviation engineering or even space technology, every effort must be made to find work for its skilled engineers. That includes attending trade fairs to seek business. It’s out there and it’ll be found but it’s not helped by politicians focusing on past fables rather than supporting a vibrant future.

Calls to Search for Buried Men At Killiecrankie A9 Site

Campaigners have called for “categorical” assurances that no human remains lie in the path of the proposed A9 extension over the site of the 1689 Battle of Killiecrankie.  Killiecrankie1689, a local opposition group, spoke out in light of a survey report on the land where the first act of the Jacobite rising was staged almost 330 years ago.  Transport Scotland wants to dual the stretch of the trunk road that already runs through the battlefield. A survey earlier found several potential pits on the site with concerns now raised by campaigners that the features could be burial pits.  One pit, which sits close to the main body of fighting associated with the battle, was assessed as being of high interest by surveyors. The pit was found in an area where a number of buttons, a buckle and some impacted lead shot have already been discovered.  Henrietta Fergusson, spokeswoman at Killiecrankie1689, said: “Transport Scotland needs to find out categorically that there are no bodies where they want to put the road. If human remains are found, it is a game changer.  Our argument is the battle site has not received the respect that it deserves. Some people may argue that the road was built on the site 40 years ago but that should not be used as an excuse. The legislation has improved since then.  There is potential for these pits to be burial pits. Normally people would have been taken home for burial but more than 2,000 people died at Killiecrankie so there weren’t many people left to do this. It is quite possible the bodies were buried close to where they fell.”  Ms Fergusson added: “We accept that the road will have to be built through part of the battlefield but it is essential that Transport Scotland gets the right route and the right design. The studies at the moment do not go far enough.”  The report, which was commissioned for Transport Scotland and published last November, said no evaluation of the pits had been carried out.  The Jacobites claimed a victory at Killiecrankie but the losses were high with the leader, John Graham of Claverhouse, also known as Viscount “Bonnie” Dundee, among the dead.   Last month, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) called for further archaeological work to be carried out at the battlefield site before dualling of this stretch of road goes ahead.  Ann MacSween, head of casework at HES, said the impact of the new road was likely to be “significant” with concerns that the knock on effects on the battlefield could be even greater given the lack of information surrounding the proposals.

Satellites to Monitor Water Quality of Scottish Lochs
Satellites will be used to monitor the quality of water in Scotland’s lochs as part of a pioneering new project.  Researchers at the University of Stirling are working with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) to investigate the feasibility of introducing earth observation technology to its day-to-day operations in a bid to improve the quality and efficiency of water sampling.  The cutting-edge approach uses the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellite to identify potential contaminants in bodies of water, such as algal concentrations, harmful algal blooms, and mineral and organic matter.  Stirling currently leads the £2.9m GloboLakes project, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), which has established the world’s first satellite-based global lake surveillance system.  But this feasibility study will allow scientists to understand how the technology may benefit end users, in this case SEPA, in developing the approach as an operational capability and, in turn, improving their approach to assessing lake water quality. Dr Claire Neil is leading the project with SEPA. “This is the first step in implementing satellite remote sensing as a regulatory data resource and will produce a step change in the way we monitor quality in the UK,” she said.  Dr Neil will use reflectance measurements, taken from the satellite, to estimate concentrations of chlorophyll-a, in Scottish lochs. The data will then help to assess risk to water quality status and allow SEPA to better target and enhance their sampling efforts.  “Recent scientific achievement through projects such as NERC GloboLakes have provided the scientific know-how which allows us to characterise a large range of optical water types with satisfactory accuracy,” Dr Neil explained.  “This method of monitoring provides a more detailed and representative view of the whole lake, when compared to current sampling techniques that typically assess water quality in samples taken close to the lake edge.  As such, measurements obtained from satellite remote sensing will increase our confidence in assigned water quality status and will provide an opportunity to direct sampling efforts.”

Lib Dem Leader Says Irish Border Key to Avoiding Brexit
The Irish border issue is the key to derailing Brexit, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has said.  Mr Rennie said difficulties in finding a solution which protects the Northern Irish peace process could sway public opinion towards abandoning plans to leave the European Union.  The Lib Dem leader put forward the argument as he addressed the David Hume Institute in Edinburgh as part of a series of speeches by Scotland’s party leaders.  He insisted people were rethinking their decision to leave the EU, stating that the Irish border, the economic impact of Brexit and the “inability of the UK Government to set out a clear position”, were key factors.  An ICM survey conducted for the Guardian newspaper and published last month found 47% of people would favour having a final say on Brexit once the terms of the UK’s departure are known. “In 2018 people are thinking again,” Mr Rennie said.  “Now in 2018 we can feel the early consequences of Brexit and have also seen the evidence of what is likely to happen next.  We have seen how the architects of Brexit in the Conservative Party have no clue what they want or how they are going to get it.” He added: “It is therefore little surprise that people are beginning to think that they have had enough of it.”  Mr Rennie continued: “I actually think Ireland is the key to this.”  The UK Westminster Government wants to avoid a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and a customs border between the latter and the rest of the UK. “It’s almost impossible to have a close relationship between Ireland and Britain, which is necessary for the Irish peace process, and have the divergence that some of the hard Brexiteers want,” Mr Rennie said. That’s where the nub comes – the Irish border is going to be the real test.  I think that’s part of the answer, and it potentially could force Britain to be be much, much closer to Europe, and we might actually end up with a situation where (people say) why do we bother breaking up if we’re going to be that close.” The Lib Dem leader also used his address to reissue a plea to Labour and the SNP to get behind a campaign for a referendum on the final Brexit deal.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said a second referendum is becoming “hard to resist” but she has stopped short of joining the campaign for one. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has previously indicated he does not support a final deal ballot, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell said on Sunday it would be better to have a general election.  “The time is coming fast when people should have the freedom to refuse a bad Brexit deal,” Mr Rennie said.  “People need to get on board. The national interest can be saved.”

Harry Potter Fans Have A Spellbinding Time
Young fans of the Harry Potter series were treated to a magical experience when a special wizarding evening was held at a Highland library.  Fun-loving librarians in Fortrose transformed their world of books into a spellbinding one with decorations, costumes and activities suitable for little wizards and witches.  As well as a reading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, 22 children at the library were treated to a craft session where they made potions and magical keys.  They also enjoyed some special treats such as butterbeer and sherbet lemons – a Hogwarts favourite. Librarian Sya Bruce said: "Thank you to every witch, wizard and muggle who joined us for a very special Harry Potter book night.  We stepped on to Platform 9 and 3/4 to enjoy making flying keys, bottles of Felix Felices, Veritaserum and Amortentia before settling down with some butterbeer and lemon sherbets to enjoy a reading of The Boy Who Lived in our very own Gryffindor common room. Thank you to everyone who made the evening possible, particularly Fortrose Academy student and ace library volunteer Aisha, who created our beautiful Thunderbird from scratch – a magical talent to be sure."  To complete the evening some of the pupils turned up dressed as Harry Potter with the signature scar and glasses or his pal Hermione, while Heather Macleod (11) wowed the group by dressing as a dementor – one of the evil creatures from the tales.

Billy Connolly Backs Campaign to Raise Public Money for A Statue of Nelson Mandela in Glasgow
Sir Billy Connolly has given his backing to a campaign to raise public money for a statue of Nelson Mandela.  The Big Yin, who is Freeman of the City of Glasgow, has signed up as a patron of the Nelson Mandela Scottish Memorial Foundation.  The foundation aims to mark the centenary of the late South African President’s birth and counts Sir Alex Ferguson and Kenny Dalglish among its patrons.  Planning permission has already been put in place for a statue in Glasgow’s Nelson Mandela Place and hopes to raise £250,000 to commission a memorial and deliver educational programmes.  Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his resistance to apartheid and was made a Freeman of the City of Glasgow in 1981, while still in jail.  Scotland’s most famous comedian Billy Connolly said that President Mandela made an unforgettable impression on him when they met.  He said: “I am honoured and delighted to join the impressive line-up of worthy Glaswegians as a patron of the campaign to build a statue to Nelson Mandela in Glasgow. I met Mr Mandela in Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He left an impression on me that I will never forget.”  Later in 1981, Glasgow’s Lord Provost Michael Kelly launched a world-wide Lord Mayors petition calling for the release of Nelson Mandela at the United Nations.  The petition was signed by thousands of mayors, contributing to the global movement to secure his freedom. Mandela was finally released from jail on Sunday 11 February 1990 and this week marks the 28th anniversary of that historic moment. In 1993, Mandela was finally able to collect his honour from Glasgow in person and addressed a crowd of 15,000 in George Square.  The foundation was launched on October 9 last year to coincide with the 24th anniversary of Mandela’s visit to Glasgow.  Mandela was among those who congratulated Sir Billy Connolly when he was made a Freeman in 2010.  He wrote to the city welcoming one of its “ .most beloved sons to a very special club.”  And sharing fond memories of the day he visited Glasgow, he wrote: “In Glasgow, I was met with such a warm and heartfelt welcome, I can never forget it.  On that most memorable day, I saw that freedom, brotherhood and justice are the ideals that make up the bedrock of your great city.”  In footage accompanying the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games opening ceremony, the Big Yin paid tribute to Nelson Mandela.  At the time, he remarked on the irony that the city’s former St George’s Place - then the location of the apartheid-supporting South African Consulate - was in 1986 renamed Nelson Mandela Place.  The Lord Provost of Glasgow Eva Bolander said it was wonderful to have Billy Connolly support the organisation.  She said: “Naturally, I’m thrilled that Sir Billy is supporting the foundation. It’s wonderful to have him on board.  I’m incredibly proud of Glasgow’s brave history of condemnation of the cruel incarceration of the late, great Nelson Mandela and its steadfast and principled stand against apartheid.”

Ukrainian Mercenaries Are Using Scottish ‘Tax Haven’ Firm As Front
Mercenaries from the former Soviet Union are using an Edinburgh shell firm as a front. Unidentified individuals who appear to be based in Ukraine have set up a Scottish limited partnership or SLP to hire armed guards for merchant ships in the world’s most dangerous waters.  The firm, Sea Force Group, late last year advertised in Russian for former soldiers and police officers willing to take to the high seas to fight pirates for just £650 a month. Its owners have failed to comply with anti-money laundering rules under which they had until August to identify themselves or face daily fines of up to £500.  However, Sea Force Group has been trading since August, placing online recruitment ads in Ukraine as recently as October 2017.  A newspaper  wrote to Sea Force Group – its supposed “head office” is a mail drop in Edinburgh with no telephone number – to ask why it had not complied with rules under which it has to name a “person of significant control” or PSC if it has one. They received no reply. Ukraine has become a major centre providing private military services, especially in the third world. The country also has an ongoing conflict in its own east where its government forces are fighting Russian-backed separatists. Back in 2016 it was  reported that another Edinburgh SLP, Childwall Systems, was providing armed guards for a steel mill close to that conflict zone. It did so despite being officially dissolved.  Sea Force Group LP was set up in 2016. Its website, registered in Ukraine in that same year, says the business has been trading since 2011.  The site claims Sea Force Group is a maritime security company based in the UK with ‘hubs’ in the Middle East and Africa. It says it hires former “Navy Seals” and other special forces and has carried out hundreds of missions. In broken English, it adds:”Our skilled security teams have effectively conducted marching vessels without incidents and no damage whatsoever to ship or crew.”  The social media site LinkedIn names a man with a Ukrainian name as Sea Force Group’s chief executive.  There was a boom in the use of mercenaries in the seas off east Africa after the outbreak of piracy following the civil war in Somalia.  Industry experts suggested demand for armed guards for commercial shipping was now falling as pirate attacks become rarer.  Sea Force Group in Russian-language recruitment adverts said it was looking for men aged 25-45 to be armed guards in “high-risk areas”. Applicants, it said, needed at least three years’ experience in the military and law enforcement.  Sea Force Group is just one of thousands of SLPs that have shrugged off the UK Government’s PSC regime. Campaigners have dubbed SLPs “Britain’s home-grown secrecy vehicle” after their opaque ownership structures were abused by mass money-launderers, tax avoiders, arms dealers and child abuse websites.  The UK Westminster Government has said it will announce further reforms of SLPs “soon” amid widespread concern the PSC regime is not working.  Labour MSP Jackie Baillie wants them to move faster. She said: “Not only do we have companies using Scotland to avoid paying tax, but it appears some of these firms are involved in military sub-contracting, deploying mercenaries to conflict zones.  There have been numerous warnings about SLPs. The UK Westminster Government must immediately take action on SLPs and close these tax loopholes to ensure no one is using Scotland to avoid paying tax or hiding murky enterprises.”

SNP MP Calls for "Braveheart" Approach to Second Referendum
The SNP’s longest-serving MP has said his party should emulate Mel Gibson in Braveheart in deciding when to call a second independence referendum. Pete Wishart said the SNP should wait to “strike at the optimum time”, just as William Wallace did before attacking the English cavalry at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.  Scottish Labour said the comment was extraordinarily embarrassing, even for Mr Wishart.  The Perth & North Perthshire MP, who is considering standing for the deputy leadership of the SNP, set out his approach to an another referendum in a column in The National.  Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan, the only declared contender for the SNP deputy position, last week said another referendum could easily be held next year.  However Mr Wishart urged caution, saying the party should only go to the country when it was “certain of winning”, something which is technically impossible in a fair contest.  He said: “I know it is a crudely constructed piece of history more designed for Hollywood than Holyrood but I love Braveheart.  My favourite part is when the Scots are assembled at Stirling Bridge itching to get into battle and William ‘Mel’ Wallace instructs them to ‘hold… hold… hold…’ before unleashing the weaponry that would lead to victory [long wooden spears in the 1995 film].  “Our approach to a second referendum has to be a bit like that and we must be patient and, like Mel, strike at the optimum time for success.”  Mr Wishart, who held off a Tory challenger to his seat by just 21 votes last year, said it would be “unthinkable” for Yes supporters to lose a second referendum, and it may well be best to delay another one until after the next Holyrood election in 2021.  He said: “If the optimum conditions are assessed to be found on the other side of a Scottish election then we should properly prepare and ensure that a mandate is once again forcefully renewed, undisputed and incontrovertible.”  Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “Pete Wishart is an MP known for his embarrassing interventions - but even for him this is extraordinary.  The sum total of the SNP’s unwanted drive for independence now seems to be taking inspiration from Hollywood scripts.  The people of Scotland would rightly hope that after the fiction of the SNP’s white paper on independence, Nationalist politicians might have learned their lesson and try sticking to fact.  Rather than spending his time watching films from twenty years ago, Pete Wishart would do better to urge Holyrood colleagues to stop the SNP’s devastating cuts to lifeline services.”

Isle of May Was Healing Shrine for Sick Picts

It lies on the edge of the Firth of Forth like a lump of the Hebrides tossed over Scotland to land in the waters off the east coast.  And today the Isle of May is chiefly home to sea birds, seals and the odd intrepid visitor attracted by its rugged beauty and isolation.  But now new evidence has emerged casting the island as a centre of medicine and healing for the people of early medieval Scotland, who were drawn to its shores seeking wisdom from the monks who called it home and also the hope of divine intervention - either in this life or the next.  For more than 1,000 years the Isle of May was home to a monastery traditionally associated with an early Christian evangelist named Ethernan, who may have died and been buried there while ministering to the Picts who once called Fife their home.  Archaeological investigations on the island near the ruined monastery have unearthed dozens of graves ranging from the year 500 AD to around 1500 AD, and last year PhD student Marlo Willows of the University of Edinburgh began a detailed examination of the remains the graveyard gave up.  She discovered that almost all were riddled with serious and life-ending diseases - including the earliest case of prostate cancer ever identified in the UK.  Peter Yeoman, the former county archaeologist for Fife, carried out many of the excavations which Ms Willows later studied.  He said he was amazed at the new light being shed on the old bones, and that the island, which is administered by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) was giving up secrets held for centuries.  The bones of the victim of prostate cancer were revealed to be covered in lesions indicating he had carried the disease for many years, while another skeleton of a teenage boy was laced with signs of congenital syphilis.  Believed to be aged around 16, the teen would have suffered from the disease all his life, yet survived almost to full adulthood. Mr Yeoman said: "This is the best evidence of disease and health care ever found from early medieval Britain.  We can only speculate, but there's something going on. These were very, very sick people - so were they going out there to be healed?  In the case of the teenager with syphilis, his bones were honeycombed with the disease and he would have been in an awful amount of pain.  He would not have been able to walk, but the fact he lived so long shows he was cared for by other people and may have been brought to the island in a last-gasp attempt at a cure when all else had failed."  Traces of medicinal plants have been found on May, including greater celadine which is used to treat pain and disease, and henbane - used as anaesthetic. It is now suspected that the monks of May used their herb lore to treat the sick and dying, who made the pilgrimage to the island in hope of a miracle cure or simple care in their dying days.  An abnormally large skull found on the island (left) which was probably caused by hydrocephaly.  Mr Yeoman said: "What we must not assume is that the Isle of May was as little visited back then as it is today. Water transport was the easiest way to travel around much of Scotland and that part of the Forth would have been full of boats.  It was far harder to move around on land, and the island sits at what was the main route into the heart of Royal Scotland. It was no-where near as isolated as it is today."  The archaeologist added: "The monastery would have been a place of learning and the monks would likely have been literate, so it's possible they were using that knowledge to treat the sick."  And while their bodies would have been in the hands of the island's religious community, the sick and dying Picts, as well as Gaels from the West and possibly Saxons from the south, would also have been comforted by being on sacred ground. The belief was that being so close to the grave of a saint such as Ethernan would help their souls reach their way to heaven, through the "sacred radiation" of his holy presence.  David Steel, SNH’s Isle of May reserve manager said: "This amazing new information showing the Isle of May was a centre of healing is another fabulous example of the uniqueness of the island. Excavations have also revealed the island was a special place for Christian pilgrimage for a thousand years, from the 5th century AD, and this work adds to our picture of how important the island was in Scotland for so many years, and for so many reasons."

5 Old Wedding Customs of Scotland
From blackening feet with soot to breaking scones over the bride’s head, Scotland has a rich history of customs to celebrate a marriage.  Here, Elsie Maclean, of Tobar an Dualchais, a database of oral heritage recordings at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, on the Isle of Skye, looks at five key customs of marriage through time. This article first appeared on Ms Maclean’s blog for Historic Environment Scotland.
The còrdadh
In Gaelic-speaking communities, a còrdadh (agreement) would be made between the bride and groom a few weeks before the wedding. This would take place in the house of the bride’s father.  Friends of the bride and groom would also be in attendance and a series of ‘false brides’ would be brought in, often with humorous results, especially when they included married or elderly women. Food, drink and laughter would be in plentiful supply.  Flora MacCuish from the island of Berneray, in a recording for the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University, earlier recalled a còrdadh she attended as a young woman in the 1920s.  At the event, a friend of the groom pretended that he was looking for a wife or a servant for a certain man. The bride’s friends were each brought out and the groom rejected them all as unsuitable, until the bride herself appeared.
The rèiteach
The rèiteach, or betrothal ceremony, would take place a week or two before the wedding. This was an informal gathering where the father of the bride-to-be was asked to give consent for his daughter to marry.  In some areas, a friend of the groom would ask for the bride’s hand in marriage on behalf on the groom but the bride would be referred to, not as herself, but usually something related to the bride’s family’s trade.  If she was from a crofting family, she might be referred to as a lamb. The groom’s friend would promise to take care of the lamb and look after it well. This would all be done in a very good-natured way. After the bride’s father consented to the union, food would be served and this would be followed by singing and dancing until the early hours of the next morning.
Soot foot and blackening
Another custom undertaken prior to the wedding was feet-washing. Friends of the bride would wash her feet in a tender manner in a symbolic act of cleansing.  Treatment of the groom was much rougher. His feet were covered in soot and feathers. Soot represented hearth and home and was thought to be lucky.  Over time, this tradition evolved to include the application of other substances, such as boot polish, tar, treacle, eggs and flour.  It time, it was no longer just the feet which were blackened. The groom (and sometimes the bride!) would be covered from head to foot in all sorts of difficult-to-remove substances. This custom became known as ‘blackening’ and is still fairly common in rural parts of Scotland. Once the couple have been captured and blackened, they are paraded through the streets for all to see.
The Wedding Scramble
The wedding scramble, sometimes known as the scammle or scatter, was a common occurrence in many parts of Scotland. The best man or bridegroom would shower children with coppers and silver as the bridal party left the church after the marriage ceremony. On occasion, the father of the bride would also shower children with money as he and the bride-to-be left home to travel to the church. Weddings could therefore a very lucrative affair for the local children, who would spend their spoils on sweets and fizzy drinks. In some areas the children would shout ‘Poor oot [Pour out] ye dirty brute, ye canna spare a ha’penny’ in order to encourage the best man or groom to fulfil their duty. The custom was believed to bring good fortune to the married couple.
The bridescake
Wedding cakes are a common feature of Scottish weddings today but in earlier times there would be a ‘bridescake’.  This would be made by the bride’s mother and was often made of scone or shortbread. A portion of the cake would be broken over the bride’s head and it signified a fruitful marriage if it broke into small pieces. Margaret Tait, of Shetland, told researchers at the School of Scottish Studies that the scone would always contain caraway seeds.  She added: “When the bride and groom arrived at the house for the feast, they were met by the bridegroom’s mother who produces this scone and broke it over the bride’s head. The guests would then scramble to see who could find pieces of the scone. I suppose it would be considered very lucky to obtain a piece.”