Some Scottiah News & Views Issue # 441

Issue # 441                                     Week ending Saturday 24th  February 2018

Don’t Just Sit There and Hope Someone Else Comes and Does it All for You by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
If you want something doing, do it yourself. That has been claimed as the motto of Napoleon, various French writers, and mothers everywhere. It is also a regular utterance of Mrs X when she gets a bit stressed that things are not happening quickly. Or, specifically, that I am not doing things quickly enough. “You and your mañana”, she says grumpily, as she plumps pillows, washes dishes and hammers nails that I absent-mindedly promised to fix last year.

So, now that she’s done all the outstanding jobs, I can reflect on doing it yourself. It is not just the pastime of the Saturday nine to fiver. It is also the mindset of communities who feel left out by the march  of progress, and particularly technology. I am thinking of broadband because the latest figures show that there are swathes of Scotland which has no fast broadband - even in 2018. It is quite shocking.

People are not just sitting waiting for broadband to come to them. Down near Stirling, a friend of mine lives in Balquhidder and they are setting up their own community broadband service. It will mean laying 22 miles of cable and will cost about £300,000 to connect up the 200 houses. Good for them. They are doing most of the heavy work themselves so they are keeping the cost down by doing that. Meanwhile, we live on an island in the Atlantic but we don’t know how we lucky we are. It would be very difficult to earn a living without a good broadband connection nowadays. So we stand up for Balquhidder.

I am calling on BT to get their act together. Yes, I know I’m sounding like I want to stand at the next election, but I’m not. BT is getting heaps of money to put down the infrastructure - I think that means cables - to bring fast broadband to everyone. They are just taking too long about it. Someone has messed up the plans. Is that not just ridiculous? It certainly wouldn’t happen in any other industry. That would be like KFC running out of chicken. What? Have they really? Well, it would be like a fish farm having holes in their nets and letting all their salmon swim away. What? Have they really?

In many cases, a broadband connection has become a necessary as a car. Not just those of us who work from home but those who need to keep in touch for all sorts of reasons. We need broadband to get TV channels with repeats when the BBC and ITV networks do not have the gumption to put on a single programme from dawn to dusk that we actually want to watch. There is no better feeling than flicking through these cheap channels and finding that True Entertainment is showing the original The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

I can still feel my wellies rubbing my ankles in short trousers as we sat in next-door neighbours Chrissie and Angus Alex’s sitting room watching Illya Kuryakin and Napoleon Solo saving civilisation from the clutches of the agents of THRUSH. It was never explained in the series what that stood for. It was obviously nothing to do with the bird so we were all keen to know. Mind you, years later I found out about another meaning for it so I was no longer itching to find out.

In this connected age, people are always itching to find out things. They are in your pocket. As soon as I leave the house, I get a text. I get a ping. I get a beep. I get a Facebook. I get an ugly face popping up on FaceTime. And then Mrs X says: “Why aren’t you answering me? Why won’t you talk to me?” What are you talking about, woman? I already know what you did today. I have given you six likes, five smiley faces and an aubergine. The only emojis you sent me in the last week were three thumbs down and the flag of Albania - and it wasn’t even Norman Wisdom’s birthday. Oh, and a tongue coming out between two lips. What’s all that about? Are you hungry?

DIY is the way to go. Of course, I do always try and be helpful to anyone who asks for help with directions or local information. A man who worked with a firm of mainland contractors working on a job in the islands, came up to me the other day. He said: “Excuse me, mate. Is there a B&Q in Stornoway?” So I told him: “Nope. Maybe you’re thinking of Balquhidder. But there are two Bs and two Es in Benbecula.”

Susan Boyle Returns to the Stage After Three Years Out and is Recording New Album 'Within Weeks'

Susan Boyle has revealed she’s planning a comeback and will record her eighth album within weeks.  The singer hasn’t toured for three years after health issues including diagnoses of Asperger syndrome and diabetes.  But the 56-year-old was thrilled to be on stage again after performing at a Britain’s Got Talent charity gig in Liverpool last weekend.  Susan sang Wild Horses, Hallelujah and I Dreamed a Dream at the gig which raised cash for Alder Hey hospital. She received a standing ovation.  Now fans can expect to hear her new material before the end of the year.  The Britain’s Got Talent star – known as SuBo – will start recording the album in April. It will be her first release since album A Wonderful World in 2016.  But Susan, of Blackburn, West Lothian, insisted she was back.  She said: “I’m still here and still going strong.  Liverpool was my first  performance in a little while. It went very well and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Here’s hoping good things will come of it – it’s really good to be back. Let me at them, that’s all I can say.”  Sources close to the star say dates in April have already been booked at a Glasgow studio to record new songs. The insider said: “It’s going to be an exciting year for Susan. She can’t wait to get back into the studio and get recording. She has lots of ideas and is looking forward to her fans hearing the new material. It’ll come out later this year.  Susan saw her performance at the Britain’s Got Talent charity show as her comeback.  She absolutely loved it and saw this as an opportunity to remind people of her voice. Being on the stage and performing, that is where Susan is happiest. Her motivation for singing is still exactly the same as when she stepped on the BGT audition stage in 2009, her love of singing and wanting to make people happy.  The trappings of fame and money are still of no interest to her after all of these years, it’s the pure joy of singing.” In 2013, Susan spoke of her “relief” after she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. At the time, she said: “I was told I had brain damage when I was a kid. It was the wrong diagnosis. I always knew it was an unfair label.  Now I have a clearer understanding of what’s wrong and I feel relieved and a bit more relaxed about myself.”

May Has Put Party Before Country When it Comes to National Security
Nicola Sturgeon has accused Theresa May of betraying the national interest by leaving a gaping hole in post-Brexit security arrangements.  Sturgeon savaged May as the Prime Minister used a landmark speech to warn EU leaders not to block a deal on security after Brexit.  May said she wanted a new treaty by next year to ensure military, intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation after the UK leaves the EU.  However, Sturgeon said May had created uncertainty because of the "utter failure" by the Tories to set out a coherent post-Brexit vision.  The SNP has warned that the UK will lose cooperation on intelligence sharing, data exchanges and counter-terrorism activities with other EU nations, and said May has failed to deliver a plan to replicate those arrangements after Brexit.  In a speech to top European and US officials, May said she wants a new partnership on security of unprecedented "depth and breadth" after Brexit in 2019.  She warned the EU that public safety will suffer if they allow "political doctrine and ideology" to hamper post-Brexit security arrangements.  Speaking to the Munich Security Conference she said a deal would require "real political will".  May said "we must now move with urgency" to implement a treaty by the end of 2019, adding "let's be ambitious" about an agreement.  She told the conference that “the UK is just as committed to Europe’s security in the future as we have been in the past”.  The PM said she wanted a “deep and special partnership” with the EU to retain cooperation.  May’s speech came after the heads of the British, French and German intelligence agencies called for continued security co-operation after Brexit, in an unprecedented joint statement.  A statement released by Alex Younger of MI6, Bernard Emie of the French DGSE and Bruno Kahl of Germany's BND, read: “The three Service Heads are united in the view that modern threats require a modern response, any failure to do so would lead to even greater risk. To have effect, our efforts must be combined in partnership.” Sturgeon said May's "weakness" had left the UK in limbo when it came to the country's future after Brexit. Sturgeon said May had put the interests of the Tory party ahead of the nation by seeking to appease hard right Brexiteers.  Sturgeon said: “It is astonishing that fully 20 months on from the EU referendum, the UK Westminster Government is still struggling to spell out its plans for Brexit.  That is a reflection of the infighting within the Tory party and of the weakness of the Prime Minister’s position – but it is inexcusable that party interest is being put ahead of the country’s interests."  May's speech was part of a series of choreographed interventions from cabinet ministers aimed at setting out a vision for the UK after Brexit.  Last week, Boris Johnson called on Remain supporters to see the benefits of leaving the EU. In a speech in London, the foreign secretary said Brexit was not "a V-sign from the cliffs of Dover".  He said that UK citizens after Brexit should have the freedom to retire to Spain, work overseas, go on “cheapo flights to stag dos” just as easily as now. However, Sturgeon said Johnson and May's interventions had left the UK in the dark about the Tories' plans for post-Brexit trade and security arrangements. She also restated her claim that leaving the single market, would have devastating consequences for living standards, saying: “If this was the week when the Tories’ Brexit plans were supposed to become clear, they have utterly failed to deliver – Boris Johnson’s speech was long on rambling rhetoric but bereft of detail.  The looming danger for Scotland is being dragged out of the single market against our will, with all the damage that will cause for jobs, investment and living standards..”  SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins said May had failed to calm fears that Brexit will undermine security in the UK and EU.  Gethins said: "Theresa May’s speech does nothing to address the concerns about how leaving the EU will harm and undermine security both in the UK and in our closest partners across the EU.  Yet again the Prime Minister is putting party before country, failing to tackle key policies out of fear of yet more Tory infighting. It is now almost two years since the referendum and the Prime Minister is only now addressing this critical issue – and even then she is not answering any questions about how the hard Brexiteers who are now running the show – are proposing to deal with these issuest.’’

Study Predicts Brexit Could Halve Scotland’s Sheep Flock

Sheep numbers in Scotland could fall by more than half and beef cows by more than a quarter due to Brexit, a new study suggests.  Researchers at Scotland’s Rural College have analysed the potential economic impact of three possible post-Brexit trade scenarios.  The first is a free trade agreement with the EU where both the UK and EU retain tariff and quota free access to each other’s markets and the UK maintains EU tariffs to the rest of the world. The other options analysed were default World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariff regimes with most favoured nation tariffs on imports and exports or unilateral trade liberalisation where there no tariffs on imports but WTO tariffs on exports.  The report predicts prices would remain relatively unchanged under the free trade agreement but would change dramatically under the other two scenarios.  Price changes modelled on differing Brexit trade agreements (SRC/PA)Beef and dairy are prices predicted to rise 23% and 31% higher between 2015 and 2022 under the second option than if that status quo was maintained, while sheep prices are predicted to drop by 29%.  Unilateral trade liberalisation emerges as the most damaging option, hitting prices on all types of farms, with beef down 45%, sheep 27%, milk 8%, barley 5% and wheat 3%.  The report states: “The model predicts that the national beef herd could shrink by up to 28% and the sheep flock by 56% depending on the trade and policy scenario.”  The report predicts if direct support payments are removed specialist 89% of sheep farms are expected to make losses in 2022 along with two-thirds of specialist beef producers.  Steven Thomson, the college’s senior agricultural economist said: “Brexit is an extremely complicated process, particularly when it comes to agriculture due to the EU’s protection for the sector.  Our results highlight the potential threats, and opportunities, to the profitability of different Scottish farming sectors under possible post-Brexit trade and policy scenarios.  The findings reiterate how vulnerable hill farming systems are to trade deals and policy choices, stressing the need to take the disadvantaged areas into account during the Brexit process.”  Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This study confirms once again what the Scottish Government has been saying all along, that the interests of farmers are best served by remaining within the EU. In all scenarios, failure to replicate the current trade arrangements with the EU will have a detrimental impact on farmers, with our sheep sector under particular threat.”

Street Pastors Celebrate A Decade of Service

Street Pastors are celebrating a decade of service on the streets of Scotland.  And the group which covers the Borders is currently enjoying huge success – with a team hitting Galashiels every Saturday night to help late-night revellers.  The volunteers hand out everything from woolly hats to flip-flops to those who are a little worse for wear.  And more and more people are now giving up their evenings to make a difference in the community.  The latest helper to complete her basic training is Elizabeth Reid from Galashiels.  Local co-ordinator Duncan Cameron said: "As an active member of Hope church, Liz first joined the pastors as an observer last summer during the riding season and felt called to join the team based here in Galashiels.   As a member of staff in Asda, Liz is used to speaking to the many customers who frequent the store, and will no doubt meet some of them while on patrol as a Street Pastor."  At the end of last year Street Pastors were recognised by the Scottish Parliament in a debate, which was attended by the Borders team.  Duncan added: "Street Pastors Scotland put its Christian faith to good use in order to improve community relations and the safety of the night-time economy and wishes the movement and the street pastors all the best.  The Borders Street Pastors is on the Streets of Galashiels every Saturday night and is also growing the team in Hawick."

Dounreay

An anti-nuclear campaigner yesterday called for more information to be made public about environmental failings which have been highlighted at Dounreay.  Tor Justad, chairman of Highlands Against Nuclear Transport, made the plea after the performance of two areas at the Caithness site were described as “poor” and “at risk”.  A database produced by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) looked at the environmental protection measures taken by various Scottish businesses.  While Dounreay scored excellent or very good ratings in some areas, Sepa found its compliance at the site’s new low level waste disposal facilities was poor. An authorisation for the licensed site was rated at risk.  Sepa issued a final warning letter to site licence company DSRL in February 2017 about the management of its wet silo waste store. In September, it specified a number of improvements it wanted in relation to liquid and gaseous discharge monitoring and reporting. Sepa is also continuing to work with DSRL to improve performance at its low level waste dump.  Mr Justad said: “Any deficiency in the handling of materials at Dounreay is of concern to Hant. This information is significant and has only come to the fore because of Sepa. It can often take the site operators months or sometimes years before such information comes to light.”

Outlander to Film in Culross Next Week

Filming will take place in Culross for the internationally acclaimed Outlander next week. The historic village was used for many scenes in the first season and the success of the TV series has brought fans from all over the world to Fife.  To accommodate filming next week there are road closures planned and car parking space will also be limited due to crew vehicles.  Tim Collins, chairman of Culross Community Council, said: “It may be a bit of a nuisance for locals but the crew are always very nice. There is restricted access, but they try their best not to interfere and it provides so much tourism for us.”  From Sunday 18 to Friday February 23, the whole of the east car park will be for filming vehicles only. From Monday 19 to Friday February 23 the west car park will be used by the crew with 53 spaces available for public parking.  Culross is one of the locations across Scotland that has been used to film multiple scenes for Outlander because of its historical surroundings and local businesses have benefited from the extra footfall.  The adaptation of books by Diana Gabaldon tells the story of Claire Randall, a Second World War nurse swept back in time from 1945 to 18th century Scotland.  Lynn Smith, a member of the community council, added: “We’ve just had five weeks of road closures by the council, so locals are feeling are bit more disgruntled than usual.  Some people have been told not to park outside of their house for filming but then there’s not going to be many parking spaces. However, I don’t think it will have a huge impact. There’s no doubt that we have benefited. A couple of businesses have come out of it. Culross was becoming a sleepy village and there was even a threat that the primary school was going to be shut down, but Outlander gave it a new lease of life. These visitors also go on to visit other places in Fife by coming here and the film company always donate to the National Trust and the community council. Long may it continue!”

Loch Fyne Oysters Hit by Brexit

Loch Fyne Oysters has already felt the impact of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, seeing a significant drop-off in seasonal labour from the continent last year.
Managing director Cameron Brown said: “Our busiest season is from October to December, ready for Christmas, and we rely a lot on seasonal labour.  In the past we have had regular workers who have come over from countries like Latvia and Poland to help at this time, but this year around a third of them did not arrive.  It’s a gap which is difficult to plug locally because we operate in a rural area and this kind of temporary workforce does not live locally. Instead we had to rely on agency workers and overtime, which increases our costs.”  They are unclear as to exactly why so many of their regular overseas workers opted not to come across this season, however it is feared that if migration is affected by Brexit then it will continue. If Brexit leads to tighter restrictions on migrant labour, this trend will continue. This has not just affected our business though, we know it has affected many other businesses who rely on migrant workers.”  They are now investigating other potential solutions to meet the shortfall in the workforce.  If we can’t rely on seasonal workers to help out during peak periods, we will have to look at alternative solutions and that’s something we’re investigating.”
Transport and digital links as they are make it difficult to fill the gap in the workforce, Cameron added: “It would help if there were better transport links so that we can attract staff from a wider catchment area. It would also help us with recruitment if broadband speeds were faster.”  Aside from the lack of available hands to do the work, there are myriad other difficulties to consider.  “On the one hand the exchange rate has helped us to enjoy some good growth in Europe but, on the other hand there are many unknowns.  We don’t know what - if any - tariffs will be placed on us next year and whether this will constrain our trade in Europe.  There is also a question over food labelling. European food standards are very strict in order to ensure safety and allergen control but we are extremely concerned that they could be diluted as part of trade deals with non-EU countries. Thankfully, Food Standards Scotland is working hard to keep our labelling regulations harmonised with Europe but there remain many ‘ifs and buts’.”  However, in the midst of the doom and gloom of the economic forecasts, demand for their seafood is still growing. “The good news is that demand is growing, though, and we are confident we can double production if we can just get the staff.”

British Linen Bank in the Gorbals to Be Turned Back Into Flats
New life is being breathed into the historic British linen Bank building.  One of the few remaining historic buildings in the Gorbals and Laurieston area, the tenement has been left to crumble over years of neglect.  Restoration work has now begun on the building, at 166 Gorbals Street, which will be turned back into flats and a commercial space.  In the early 1990s, Southside Housing Association acquired the building from Glasgow City Council, and due to its isolated position it was mothballed.  The building now comes within the boundary of the Laurieston Transformational Regeneration Area, which is one of eight areas of Glasgow earmarked as a priority for regeneration by Transforming Communities: Glasgow (TC:G).  Councillor Mhairi Hunter said: “The restoration of this wonderful building will not only provide new homes and a business for the local community, but will also take another step on the way to delivering the Laurieston Transformational Regeneration Area. We are delighted to be working with such committed partners on this project, which will bring fresh life to a fantastic example of the architectural heritage of both Laurieston and the city.  The rebirth of the Linen Bank building provides a link between our past and future and is a symbol of the ongoing regeneration of the area.”  The tenement building was built in 1900 and designed by architect James Salmon, who was also responsible for several other notable buildings in the West of Scotland, including the Lion Chambers on Hope Street and the Hatrack Building on St Vincent Street, as well as a number of villas in Kilmacolm.  The British Linen Bank building was awarded a Grade A listing from Historic Environment Scotland, reflecting its significant architectural quality in an Art Noveau style. The British Linen Bank itself was on the ground floor of the tenement, with an adjacent shop and six flats above.  One of the few buildings to escape the wholescale Gorbals clearances of the 1960s and 1970s, this red sandstone tenement stood by itself for a long period - before the recent regeneration of Laurieston - in a prominent position on Gorbals Street diagonally across from the Citizens Theatre.  Southside Housing Association succeeded in pulling together a £2.6million funding package from 10 different sources, and this enabled Glasgow City Council to grant approval for the works to proceed.  When complete in spring 2019, the building will house a ground floor commercial unit and six two-bedroom flats for mid-market rent.

Boom in Production From Giant Shetland Field Spurs Oil Industry

North Sea-focused EnQuest has seen its shares surge around 13 % after the company said it has been pumping 50,000 barrels of oil daily from a giant field off Shetland, on which it faced teething problems.  One of the biggest independents in the North Sea, EnQuest said operational efficiency has increased significantly on the Kraken field 75 miles East of Shetland in recent weeks.  The success has put London-based Kraken on track to fulfil the huge expectations of EnQuest, which developed the field with Edinburgh’s Cairn Energy. EnQuest and Cairn started production from the heavy oil field in June amid fanfare. Production lagged below target initially after work on commissioning the facilities used to process the output took longer than expected.  Yesterday EnQuest said production had hit the 50,000 barrels per day level that directors had predicted would be achieved in the first half of this year. Production exceeded 40,000 barrels on some days in the fourth quarter. Chief executive Amjad Bseisu said the delivery of Kraken on schedule and below budget had been a huge achievement.  Mr Bseisu also underlined EnQuest’s confidence in its ability to boost returns from mature North Sea fields.These include the Magnus field north of Shetland which it bought into in an $85m deal agreed with BP in January last year. “Performance at Kraken continues to improve, and along with the full year impact of Magnus underpins our expectations for material production growth in 2018,” said Mr Bseisu.  Average Group production is expected to grow by up to 55 %, to up to 58,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day (boepd) this year.  The success will be welcomed by leaders of the North Sea oil and gas industry, which was hit hard by the downturn that was triggered by the sharp fall in the crude price since 2014.  However, EnQuest expects to be able to generate big profits on the output from the field.

Islay Distillery Ardbeg to Invest in Massive Capacity Increase
Scotch whisky producer The Glenmorangie Company has unveiled a multi-million pound investment in its Ardbeg distillery on Islay.  The undisclosed investment will see a new still house built at the distillery, doubling the number of copper stills to four.  The move comes just weeks after a similar upgrade was announced at the Glenmorangie distillery.  The still house on Ardbeg will significantly increase capacity at the distillery, enabling Ardbeg to produce between 1.4 million and 2.4 million litres of alcohol each year.  Glenmorangie said the larger still house “will ensure a steady supply of whisky to meet rising demand from the ever-increasing numbers of Ardbeg fans”.  Glenmorangie, which acquired the mothballed distillery in 1997, said that subject to planning approval from Argyll & Bute Council, work will begin this year and will be completed in 2019.  Designed to regenerate a site at the heart of the distillery, this traditional-style building will house a total of four copper stills. Under the plans, the new still house would be built on a site once occupied by maturation warehouses. The plans would see the distillery work with two wash stills and two spirits stills, while the space currently housing the stills will be re-purposed to accommodate further washbacks.  Planning permission for a new boiler house has already been granted and work is under way on site.  Glenmorangie said the expansion would lead to jobs being created on the Islay, but couldn’t yet specify how many.  The investment comes as Scotch whisky has just enjoyed a record year for exports, with sales of £4.3 billion, up £356m on 2016. This included a 14.2 per cent increase in sales of single malts, to £1.17bn.  Just two weeks ago the Glenmorangie distillery in Speyside announced multi-million pound plans for a new still house which the company also aims to get under way this year. The upgrades would hugely increase the volume of whisky supplied to international markets from roughly a decade hence, based on the 10 year-old expressions on the standard variants of Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.  Established in 1815, Ardbeg is widely known for being the smokiest of the Islay malts. Production ceased at the distillery in 1981 before small-scale distillation took place under new ownership between 1987 and 1991.  It was only in 1997, when The Glenmorangie Company acquired the distillery from Allied Domeq that full-time production returned. Since its renaissance, Ardbeg has enjoyed year-on-year growth, helped by the Ardbeg Committee, a 120,000-strong members group for fans of the whisky. Ardbeg made global headlines in 2011 when it sent samples into space. The experiment saw vials of the spirit sent to the International Space Station to investigate how zero-gravity affected the maturation process. In spite of the rise in capacity, Ardbeg said it would remain one of the smallest distilleries on Islay, and the malt would be made using the methods in place more than 200 years. Distilling on Islay has been reinvigorated in recent years, with new distilleries such as Kilchoman, and Ardnahoe, which is being built by Hunter Laing.

SNP Attack Unionist "No Show" At Commons Immigration Inquiry

The SNP has condemned the failure of every other party to attend Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee as it held an inquiry into immigration.  The Nationalists said it “spoke volumes” about the priorities of Labour, the Conservatives Tories and LibDems after not one of their MPs went to a special session in Kirkcaldy.  Four Conservatives, a LibDem and three Labour members missed the event, leaving SNP chair Pete Wishart and MPs Tommy Sheppard and Deidre Brock to question witnesses.  Those absent were Tories David Duguid, John Lamont, Paul Masterton and Ross Thomson, Labour’s Hugh Gaffney, Ged Killen and Danielle Rowley, and LibDem Christine Jardine.  The session, gathering evidence on how Brexit would affect migrants, heard from the Fife Migrant Forum, the National Farmers Union, Cosla, and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.  Ms Brock said: “This was an important meeting and the failure of MPs from the Scottish Tories, Labour and Lib Dems to even show up speaks volumes about their priorities.  I appreciate MPs face diary constraints, but Brexit is the biggest issue facing Scotland, and poses a huge risk to the Scottish economy.  We heard from people who have come to Scotland to work, live and contribute to our society, and the human impact the UK government’s Brexit chaos is having. These committee hearings are important to inform our work.”

Time Running Out in Brexit Stand-off Between Holyrood and Westminster

Time is running out for a breakthrough to be found in the constitutional impasse between Holyrood and Westminster over a post Brexit "power grab", a spokesman for Nicola Sturgeon has said.  It comes amid reports that a compromise offer from UK ministers was rejected by the SNP on the transfer of powers back from Brussels over concerns it still undermines the devolution settlement.  The Scottish Government's Europe minister Mike Russell will meet with UK ministers this week in an effort to broker a deal.  But a spokesman for Nicola Sturgeon warned to that "time is of the essence."  He added: "We're still talking, we're still intent on being as co-operative as possible, but obviously time is running short and we haven't had the progress so far that we need to see."  Although no firm cut off deadlines have been set, an agreement will need to be reached well in advance of the UK's departure form the EU in March next year. The concerns centre on the EU Withdrawal Bill which will return Powers residing with Europe to the UK after Brexit. The UK Westminster Government has reportedly offered to devolve about 100 powers to Scotland in an effort to break the deadlock with the SNP in Scotland over claims of a "power grab."  But it was claimed that UK ministers would retain a veto over certain areas to ensure common "UK frameworks" apply and Ms Sturgeon's spokesman made it clear this would be unacceptable. "We've made clear consistently that we're intent on protecting the existing devolution settlement and we're not prepared to sign up to a deal that jeopardises or cuts across the existing devolution settlement," Ms Sturgeon's spokesman added.  The Scottish Government is not opposed to some frameworks in areas such as packaging of goods, to ensure the smooth running of the UK internal market, the spokesman said.  But he said: "That cannot be by imposition - frameworks would have to be agreed by mutual consent. If you're talking about an offer which involves in some way constraining the power of the Scottish Parliament in areas which are already devolved, then clearly that impinges on the existing devolution settlement and that's unacceptable."  Many of the EU powers returning to the UK in areas such as farming and fishing belong at Holyrood, according to the Scotland Act that brought about devolution. But the bill drawn up at Westminster proposes that these will all be transferred to Westminster at the point of Brexit, before UK ministers decide which additional responsibilities are then to be passed onto Holyrood. This has been branded a power grab by the SNP ministers.

21,000 Salmon Escape From Skye Fish Farm
More than 21,000 salmon have escaped from a fish farm near the Isle of Skye, owners have reported.  Grieg Seafoods, which operates the facility in Loch Snizort, a sea loch to the north-west of the island, said damage to one its pens was discovered by a diver during a routine check on February.  The Norwegian-based company estimates 21,700 fish, with an average weight of 2kg, managed to escape.  Grant Cumming, managing director Grieg Seafood Shetland Ltd, said: “Our priority is to prevent escape and a temporary mend to secure net was immediately applied.  Marine Scotland were informed of the incident and the net was repaired the same day. Since then we have counted the fish in the net and regrettably estimate that we have lost 21,700 fish. The fish were in good health and had not received any medicines lately. We are conducting an in-depth investigation to discover the root cause of the breach in the net to ensure it does not reoccur.”

Fundraising Bid to Aid Transformation
Plans to transform part of Leverhulme Memorial School, and breathe new life into South Harris, have taken a huge step forward today with the official launch of a £25,000 fundraising campaign.  Leverhulme Memorial School (LMS) is in two parts; the “new block”, which is currently undergoing renovation and the “old block” which was at risk of being demolished, at significant cost, having been declared “surplus to requirement” by the local authority.  Having recognised the distinct lack of facilities in the area and the potential within the “old block” building to fill this gap, the LMS Steering Group was formed.  Plans for the interior of the building currently include a cafe, laundrette, gym, charity shop and historical society.  The project, which will be known as the Leverhulme Community Hub, is currently looking to raise £25,000 to cover the various initial costs associated with planning and leading up to the purchase of the building.  This sum covers: Building valuation survey; Building asbestos report; Plans & build specification and company set-up.  The Steering Group will be applying to become a SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation) in the coming months and will form a Trading Company.  Applications will also be made to various funding bodies, to fund the purchase of the building.

Theresa May Faces Fresh Commons Clash Over Brexit

Theresa May is facing the threat of a Commons rebellion on staying in the customs union after a marathon gathering of senior Cabinet members met to find a united front on EU withdrawal.  The eight-hour meeting of the Brexit “war cabinet” at Chequers was called to plot a way forward after Tory tensions went public, but the Prime Minister was threatened with a fresh challenge to her authority from pro-Europe Conservative backbenchers. Former minister and leading Tory rebel Anna Soubry insisted she had cross-party support for a new amendment to the Government’s trade bill which would mandate the UK to form a customs union with Brussels after Brexit.The move presents an increased danger to the PM because Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said the party now backed a customs union that would look “pretty much like” the current one after withdrawal.  Ms Soubry said she had widespread support for her amendment, tweeting: “It would be in the national interest if the Government & official Opposition also backed it.”  The Chequers “away day” saw the inner Cabinet committee discuss the impact of Brexit on the automotive sector, agri-foods, digital trade, as well as the overall future economic partnership the UK is seeking to reach with the EU.  Mrs May will set out the Brexit agenda in a major speech next week following a meeting of the full Cabinet.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is to unveil a competing vision of how Brexit should work in what is being billed as a significant address on Monday, after some backbenchers called for more clarity from the leadership.  Ms Thornberry made it clear Labour wanted close ties to Brussels, telling LBC: “Technically, because we are leaving the European Union we can’t be in the customs union that we are in now. So, we leave and then we have to negotiate a new agreement. That we think is likely to be a customs union that will look pretty much like the current customs union.”  The senior Labour figure also said the UK could join forces with Brussels to negotiate trade deals with third countries after Brexit, rather than make its own global arrangements.  “If we were, during these negotiations, to say to the European Union, if you want to negotiate with third parties, with third countries, we could be connected to that agreement, and it would be to the advantage of Europe that you have a great big economy like Britain as part of your negotiations.”