Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 442

Issue # 442                                     Week ending Saturday 3rd March 2018

Let Us Not Give Sean Batty the Cold Shoulder Over All of Those Weather Warnings by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

We can’t get away from talking about weather. This week is different though because the really, really cold blast is due to come from the east to pulverise us. I mean, what have we ever done to Aberdeen and the Broch for them to blow their chilly winds this way? Actually, this Beast from the East is coming from much further afield and has been chilling at the North Pole before whizzing round to Siberia and has now turned round and is heading straight for Pitmedden. Nothing much ever happens in Pitmedden - ever - so this is going to knock their socks off.

When TV weatherman Sean Batty says it is going to be hooley, we all go: “Oh yeah? Whatever.” We have heard it all before and we are just immune to all these warnings to lock up our outhouses and allow extra time for going to work. Now that the Met Office gives every winter breeze a name, it has all got too comfortable. Just because he says Hooley Harry or Wind Wilma are about to descend on us does not mean we dash out and start panic buying. Mind you, it is better to be safe than sorry and get a few extra bottles in unless you are planning to watch Jennifer Hudson on The Voice. She warms my cockles.

Sean Batty has been explaining why you are going to be feeling flipping freezing by the time you read this. He answers questions before you have thought of them. He has warned that people in eastern and central Scotland who can work from home in the middle of this week should do so. “As much as 10-20cm of snow at low levels and up to 40cm in higher areas by the end of Thursday,” he said. That’s 16 inches - up to your ankles. Unless you’re Danny de Vito, of course.

It is sad for the people in central and eastern Scotland who may have to endure a spot of the kind of weather that we get. Actually, we do not get that much snow up here but the melted version seems to have been here on and off for most of, well, the last eight years. However, I was a bit uneasy after Sean answered more questions before I even thought of them. “Some parts of the UK are in for a very disruptive spell of wintry weather this week and possibly historic.” Historic? I am sorry. I am now feeling so sorry for joking about what is in store for you guys on the grey side of Scotland. No more jokes about the weather ... until this is over.

I see some magazines have quickly got in on news of the coming freeze with oodles of helpful advice about what to do when the mercury drops. And their best advice is ... moisturise. Apparently, very cold weather plays havoc with our skin and unless we get a wee pot of gunge and spread it all over our mugs, then we could end up looking like old prunes within days. Heck, that is a warning almost as worrying as Sean Batty’s.

You must use the right gunge, it says here, because most people use antibacterial handwash to keep the bugs that give you colds away but they are the absolute worst for drying out your skin. So you must, must, must use a moisturiser containing shea butter to stop that look from the box of California Dried Plums. Not cheap and they recommend a wee pot from good chemists costing £34. Yet I see that Asda has a plastic bottle of shea butter moisturiser for just £2.50.
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I must say hello to Stuart from Inverness who was over in Stornoway visiting relatives two weeks ago. He bumped into a friendly lass in a café. I will not name her for reasons which will become clear. Stuart is a student in the Highland capital and they got chatting and got on well over the latte. They promised to keep in touch until he comes over here again soon. The problem was that Stuart did not ask enough questions at that first meeting. Another problem is that the girl concerned must be dabbing on shea butter because she looks younger than she is.

Stuart texted her during his afternoon break last week. He wrote: “What r u doing?” She replied: “Chewing gum, listening to music, chilling and just waiting for this stupid double period to finish.” Stuart was not impressed. He texted: “If I was the teacher I wudve kicked u out the class.” Back came: “Not going to happen.” Puzzled. he asked: “Why not?” His new friend replied: “Cos I’m the teacher. LOL.”

More Than 400 Schools Shut As Scotland Set for ‘Highest Level Snow Warning’

More than 400 schools across Scotland have been forced to shut as the country gets braced for snow with potentially the highest level of warning from forecasters.  Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said amber alerts for snow and freezing winds from the early hours of Wednesday could be changed to red for extreme weather in certain areas, with motorists urged not to travel.  East Dunbartonshire Council, City of Edinburgh Council, Falkirk Council, Fife Council, Scottish Borders Council, Stirling Council and East Renfrewshire Council announced all schools in their areas will be closed on Wednesday due to potential of dangerous conditions.  Mr Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland: "There is a possibility that the amber warning could be in some areas upgraded to a red.  That is a warning for snow that we have never seen since the modern system has come into place in Scotland, that's what the Met Office tell me.  We are right on the cusp, we are at the strongest possible amber warning, and right on the cusp of potentially becoming a red.  That means a high likelihood of a high impact so that could be not just treacherous but frankly dangerous if you travel." Forecasters said the entire east coast, central belt and as far west as Greenock will be hit - while the worst affected areas could see up to 40cm of snow and a wind chill of minus 10C. Police Scotland has urged motorists in affected areas not to travel by road, however other transport services are likely to be impacted.  A red weather warning means a high potential of "widespread damage", travel and power disruption and risk to life.  Met Office advice for such alerts is to "avoid dangerous areas and follow the advice of the emergency services and local authorities".  As the so-called "Beast from the East" hit Scotland on Tuesday, travel routes saw disruption caused by difficult driving conditions while some areas had power cuts. Giving a forecast for Wednesday and Thursday north of the border, Met Office meteorologist Aidan McGivern said: "With the snow coming increasingly aligned into bands accompanied by strong winds there is the risk of blizzards and the risk of really significant snow accumulations building up - 5cm to 10cm widely (in the amber area) with 15cm to 25cm locally and the potential for the hills to see 40cm of snowfall building up by the end of Thursday.  Maximum temperatures on Wednesday will be barely above freezing and adding in that keen easterly wind it will feel more like minus 10C."

Brexit Fiasco Shows the UK is No Longer A Unitary State by Iain Macwhirter:
Consider the Davidson dilemma. The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, is probably the best political leader the Tory Party has thrown up in 40 years: modern and radical, without abandoning Tory virtues of self-reliance, aspiration and Unionism. But this week as she addresses her party conference, she faces an impossible contradiction: how to reconcile her support for soft Brexit with membership of a party that is going in the opposite direction, and could conceivable have Jacob Rees-Mogg as its UK leader. They’d make the oddest couple in political history.  David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has tried to paper over the cracks by raising the threat of an early independence referendum, but that is futile. No one expects Nicola Sturgeon to announce a referendum any time soon. Yet today the phoney war over Brexit finally comes to an end as the EU publishes its voluminous draft treaty based on the phase 1 “divorce” agreements struck chaotically before Christmas. Out of that farrago of fudge and contradiction, a team of Brussels lawyers has drafted a closely-argued legal text. It says there will be no extended transition period, as mooted by the UK Government in its recent position paper. Britain will be out by the end of December 2021, and the European Court of Justice will rule on all questions of trade dispute. Mr Rees-Mogg will condemn this as a Brussels diktat that makes Britain a “vassal state”, without the ability to strike its own trade deals or change the laws of the single market.  That is contentious enough, but the Irish border section is much more problematic. Britain agreed in December that there will be “full regulatory alignment” between Northern Ireland and the single market, and the draft treaty takes that literally, echoing Jeremy Corbyn’s claim that the North will have to remain in the EU customs union. Theresa May’s December reference to “no regulatory divergence with the rest of UK” has been dropped on the grounds that relations between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain is an “internal matter”. And no, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s ingenious proposal yesterday to treat the Republic of Ireland for border purposes as if it were a local council like Camden or Westminster will not be endorsed by Brussels.

Tory MPs in the European Research Group are adamant that Mrs May must refuse to accept these terms, but it’s not entirely clear what her options are if she does. It would mean accepting that Britain crashes out of the EU early and without any agreed trade deal, short of World Trade Organisation rules. This is the final collision with reality; the last hurrah for the cake-and-eat-it strategy. Brexiters like Mr Johnson had forecast that the EU would cave in eventually and accept that Britain can be both in the single market and out of it. That it can have free trade in goods and services with the EU and yet not recognise the European Court of Justice, and be free to make trade deals with non-EU countries without losing any of the privileges of EU membership. This is what Brussels calls “magical thinking”. The spell has been broken.  But the implications for the UK are profound. Mrs May’s coalition partners in the Democratic Unionist Party have made clear that they will not accept any border emerging, de facto or otherwise, between the North and the rest of the UK. Their red line is that Northern Ireland leaves the EU in exactly the same time scale and under the same conditions as the rest of Britain. They want the North to be as British as Westminster or Camden council. Perhaps Mrs May, in her speech on Friday will find a way to square this circle, but it seems a hopeless case.  Ms Davidson, meanwhile, will have to decide where she stands, not just on Ireland, but on relations between Scotland and the rest of the UK after Brexit, for that is not clear either. David Lidington, the “de facto” deputy prime minister, has said that the powers repatriated from Brussels after Brexit cannot simply land, untouched, in Holyrood. Scotland cannot be allowed to have different standards of food safety and animal welfare from the rest of the UK. Nor can it simply take over the half-billion pound funding stream from the Common Agricultural Policy, most of which comes via the UK anyway. Just as many UK Conservatives have never really understood the implications of the Good Friday Agreement, nor have they really appreciated the significance of the 1998 Scotland Act. This famously asserted that any matter not specifically reserved to Westminster automatically becomes a responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. This means that, as the House of Lords EU committee agreed in July, that powers repatriated from Brussels on agriculture, environment and so on become powers of Holyrood “by default”.

Many in the UK Government suspect that Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence on this constitutional formula is just Nationalist trouble making. That the SNP is trying to drive a wedge between Scotland and England to further its separatist project. But the inconvenient truth is that it has been the Welsh parliament, which is Labour-led, that has been leading the opposition to what the Welsh First Minster, Carwyn Jones, calls the “Westminster power grab”. This is actually a devolution issue, not an independence one.  We can expect a set of new solutions to this problem to be announced this week by the Conservatives to forestall the Scottish Government’s proposed Continuity Bill ( which anyway has been rejected by the Presiding Officer as beyond Holyrood’s competence). It will probably involve some form of joint committee to give the Scottish and Welsh parliaments equal say on the distribution of powers following Brexit. Not just consultation, but co-determination. Whether this will work as an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill remains to be seen.  But what is becoming clear is that the issues of the Irish border and devolution are essentially the same. Brexit has come to grief not just over the economic cost of abandoning the wealthiest free trade area on the planet. It has revealed that the United Kingdom is no longer a unitary entity, and that it is not possible for Britain simply to leave the EU “as one nation”.

Pupils in Fine Voice for Hugh Jackman Cinema Trip Treat in Inverness

An entire Inverness school sang along at the movies on Friday, adding a powerful new dimension to "surround sound" at the cinema.  The Drakies Primary pupils’ joyous vocals were pitch-perfect during the private screening of Hollywood star Hugh Jackman’s blockbuster The Greatest Showman.  The free treat followed his personal tweet to the youngsters, having been blown away by their rendition of the musical’s hit song "This Is Me" which they recently posted online.  Jackman had praised the "awesome" Drakies pupils and shared the 27-second burst of video with his 12 million Twitter followers.  The youngsters had described it as "an amazing song to empower and celebrate diversity and difference". A total of 260, including 30 parents and staff, packed the room for the special screening, courtesy of producer 20th Century Fox and Vue cinema.  The film is "a celebration of humanity" inspired by the story of American showman PT Barnum’s creation of the Barnum and Bailey Circus and the lives of its star attractions.  The pupils, parents and teachers revelled in it, raising the roof as they blasted out the songs.  P7 teacher Shanaz Rashid said: "It was absolutely brilliant. I’m just overjoyed with how amazing it was and I’m glad it was on a Friday.  Some of the boys in my class are not into singing but they were singing – everybody was – which was great."

Showtime for the Highlands As Film-makers Flock to the Region

Magnificent Highland scenery is inspiring more and more film-makers to record in the region, bringing a huge financial boost to the area.  Highland Council’s film unit reported a record-breaking 200 inquiries in the current financial year – a 19 per cent increase from the previous year.  It illustrates the region’s growing appeal for location shoots from blockbuster movies to online commercials.  The shoots generate up to £4 million each year for the Highlands with cast and crew accommodation, catering, vehicle hire and employment of local people, in addition to financial rewards through film tourism.  More than 40 per cent of this year’s inquiries have already led to productions starting or concluding, matching the level of interest from 2008-2011 which included blockbusters Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Skyfall and the Dark Knight Rises. The news has been welcomed by business and tourism leaders including Mike Smith, manager of Inverness Business Improvement District. "I think it is brilliant," he said. "It shows the benefit of having a film unit. I think it also shows increasing interest in the area in all sorts of ways from which we all benefit. The greater the exposure, the more promotion there is for this area and also there is the economic benefit of people coming here to work and produce films." Stewart Nicol, chief executive of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce, said the figures were "very encouraging". "It is down to the work of organisations such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Highland Council and Creative Scotland," he said.  "I think the success of programmes such as Outlander are really putting the Highlands and Inverness very much on the map as a tourist destination.  It’s really positive for the region because that work, which is actually done by the film companies when they are here, benefits the economy and also attracts people from across the globe to visit locations."  Highland-shot films to be released this year include Edie, starring Sheila Hancock, about an elderly widow who sets off to fulfil her dream of climbing a mountain in the Highlands. It will be released in the UK in May but has already taken several international film festivals by storm.  Mary Queen of Scots, starring Saoirse Ronan, and Outlaw King, about Robert the Bruce, are also due to be released this year.  Other projects have included travel and cookery TV programmes such as Coastal Railways with Julie Walters and Delicious Destinations for USA audiences.  

Fresh EU Crisis for Theresa May As Nicola Sturgeon Tables Rival Brexit Bill
The Scottish and Welsh governments have launched a pincer movement against Theresa May, producing their own alternative Brexit Bills to prevent a Westminster “power grab”. In the most profound constitutional clash since the start of devolution, Edinburgh and Cardiff said they had been forced to activate the contingency plan to protect their devolved laws. The move is intended to ramp up pressure on the Prime Minister to make substantial changes to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill in the House of Lords later this month. If she refuses, and Holyrood and Cardiff Bay pass rival versions of the Bill, the dispute could end up in the UK Supreme Court, worsening an already unpredictable Brexit process.  It is understood that Mrs May, who is due in Aberdeen this weekend for the Scottish Tory conference, will meet Nicola Sturgeon soon after her return to Downing Street in an attempt to broker a peace between the two governments.  The development follows a year-long row between London and the devolved administrations in Edinburgh & Cardiff over where devolved powers repatriated from Brussels in March 2019 should go and when.  The UK wants some key powers to go at Westminster - against the grain of the devolution settlement - pending the creation of UK-wide frameworks in agriculture and fishing to protect the UK single market. However Edinburgh and Cardiff want all such powers devolved at the point of Brexit. Ms Sturgeon yesterday said it was “very likely” the two sides could not agree and Holyrood would refuse legislative consent for the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, triggering a constitutional crisis.  Although Holyrood cannot veto UK Brexit law, Westminster has never legislated before without its consent on a devolved matter.  The First Minister said her Brexit Bill was an insurance policy against such a scenario, allowing Holyrood to “provide continuity of law in devolved areas” without Westminster.  SNP Brexit Minister, Michael Russell, told MSPs he regretted bringing forward the emergency legislation, but he had been compelled to prepare for the possibility of continued deadlock with London and the erosion of the Scottish Parliament’s powers.  He said the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill would mirror legislation at Westminster by transferring EU law into Scots law, to ensure continuity after Brexit, but would only cover devolved areas, leaving reserved powers to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.  He said his preference remained to work with the UK government to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and if that was done the Holyrood Bill would be withdrawn.  Failing that, the SNP Bill was “essential preparation” for the “unfolding disaster of Brexit”.  The Scottish Government’s most senior law officer, the Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, is due to tell MSPs today why he believes the Bill is within Holyrood’s competence.  To have any chance of success, the SNP Bill must pass before it is overtaken by the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and so it is due to be rushed through Holyrood by March 22. Carwyn Jones, the Labour First Minister of Wales, said it was “simply not acceptable” that UK ministers should keep control of powers in devolved areas.  He said: “We have developed our Bill to prepare for a situation where the UK Westminster government does not adequately amend its legislation to respect the devolution settlement.”  Scottish Secretary David Mundell said Brexit would bring a “significant increase in Holyrood's decision-making powers”, but insisted the UK retained control over some key powers.

Singer Joins Dunfermline Abbey Tribute to Robert the Bruce
A new play with a cameo appearance by a Scottish singing star will be premiered to mark the discovery of the remains of Robert the Bruce at Dunfermline Abbey 200 years ago.  Written by local playwright Diane M Stewart and directed by Catherine Exposito, Bones, Bogles and Coronets is a reconstruction of the time of the discovery of the grave on 17 February, 1818 and the laying of the foundation stone for the new Abbey Church three weeks later. Dunfermline-born singer Barbara Dickson OBE, whose hits include I Know Him So Well, will lead a community rendition of Robert Burns’ song Scots Wha’ Hae at the end of the production – which was sung at the stone-laying on 10 March, 1818.  Ms Stewart said the play, to be performed at the Abbey Church on 10 March, was a “Fife-specific” piece and a high turnout was expected.  She said: “Complete with a variety of songs and musical interludes and based on the historic accounts of the time, the play tries to imagine the banter, gossip and excitement of those days – giving voice to the ordinary workers, women and children who witnessed the historic discovery and the aftermath in Dunfermline.  The play will also include some haunting appearances by a number of royal personages. Some may be familiar, some less so, but they will all have been somewhat disturbed by the turn of events and the eagerness of some to take a closer look.”  Ms Dickson said: “How exciting to be commemorating the discovery of the original tomb of King Robert.  I remember growing up and knowing that ‘a man had put a spade in the ground and hit a lead coffin with cloth of gold and chain mail inside’. Now, I am not sure if any of that is fact, but we all had that legend in our collective memory.  I have always loved Dunfermline Abbey and as a keen amateur historian, I am fascinated with the story of my ancient home town.”  The Annals of Dunfermline record how news of the discovery of the royal grave after 489 years swept the country. They state: “Newspapers, magazines and fly-sheets gave full notices of the immortal hero-king and for months it was the all-absorbing talk.”  The play’s finale is a re-enactment of the 1818 ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone for the new Abbey Church, witnessed by an estimated 10,000 of Dunfermline’s citizens and punctuated by rousing expressions of “patriotic enthusiasm” and “peals of loud and reiterated huzzas!”

Flytippers Strike Again At Far North Beauty Spot

Caithness civic leader Willie Mackay has blasted the "inconsiderate" flytippers who have left a trail of rubbish along the South Head area of Wick. Wooden industrial pallets, plastic packing boxes, parts of a bed and what appear to be sheets, a mattress or clothing were dumped along a stretch of the scenic coastline to the south of Wick.  It is the latest such incident in what has been turning into an increasingly popular area for flytippers.  Mr Mackay said: "If only these flytippers would stop and realise the unsightliness they are creating and that Caithness is a beautiful county, so let’s keep it that way.  This rubbish would have been had to be transported there and for a few minutes more could easily have been delivered to Wick’s recycling centre."   Flytipping can be reported at the council service point, on 01349 886 603

Victorian Market in Inverness to Pay Tribute to Dog Which Died in Historic Fire
Edinburgh can boast its legendary Greyfriars Bobby, the devoted Skye terrier who spent 14 years guarding the grave of its owner until his own death.  But Inverness is now preparing to unveil its own poignant story of a canine superhero – Market Molly – who died in a catastrophic fire which destroyed the Inverness markets in June 1889.  The dog, which refused to leave the shop it was guarding, was the only life to be lost in the inferno. For years, an interpretation board in the Victorian Market has made passing reference to the tragic tale. But an ambitious project using augmented reality will give proper recognition to Market Molly – although “she” was actually a “he”.  The venture is being led by Highland Council which, as the Inverness Courier revealed last summer, is working to create a smartphone app for the city using a technology similar to that used for the Pokemon Go game craze. It allows smartphone users to point their device at a particular place in the real world and access a range of information on-screen as graphics or text.  The story of the market dog is set to be highlighted as part of the project along with the installation of a plaque.  But despite the best efforts of project team members, they have been unable to identify the dog’s name in the absence of any historic reports.  They have now come up with Market Molly which is being tested on stakeholders along with artwork and concepts.  Victorian Market manager Jo Murray said when the market burned down, it destroyed the place apart from the Academy Street entrance. “Although there were huge losses of stock and property, there were no injuries or fatalities,” she said. “The market dog who was stationed here overnight guarded the stall of the particular butcher it was employed by and refused to leave its post, ultimately perishing in the fire.  We’ve been trying to establish if the dog had a name and have been unsuccessful in finding out if it did. We doubt that, in those days, a working dog would have been named.  It was described as a farm dog. We’re assuming it was a collie for the purpose of our story.  I think it was just so loyal to its owners, in guarding the stall, that it refused to leave its post.”  A council spokeswoman revealed the project, including the story of the market dog, is set to be launched this spring.  “The plaque, with artwork by a local artist and the setting designed by the council’s in-house graphic designer, is one of several plaques to be mounted in the city marking local legends,” she said.  “The project is part of a an exciting new app using augmented reality to bring legends to life and which will be launched in the spring.”

Councillors Fail to Make Savings From Their Personal Budgets - Proving There is Such A Thing As A Free Lunch
Despite making £15 million cuts just two weeks ago, councillors are failing to meet their side of the bargain and have not been able to save any money on their own lunches. Last year councillors agreed to slash £16,000 from their own budget, which covers their salaries, expenses and catering but it has now been revealed the saving has not been made.  All 74 councillors are offered hot meals at the Glenurquhart Road headquarters in Inverness, as well as rolls, tea, coffee and biscuits and at the corporate resources committee on Wednesday  it was revealed that the £160,0000 budget is expected to be over spent by £4000. But when questioned at the meeting, business manager Kate Lackie admitted that money had been clawed back through a vacancy in the catering department and without this vacancy the department would be almost £16,000 over budget - the entire amount they were supposed to save.  Deputy opposition leader Richard Laird, who is one of the councillors who chooses not to take up the food on offer, hit out at the cost. He said: “A £16,000 hole because members are refusing to abide by a saving at our own hand is something we cannot deem acceptable in the current financial climate.”  Corporate resources chairman and budget leader Alister Mackinnon said he is “looking into it”.  The row over free meals has been ongoing for a number of years. In 2015, senior councillor Andrew Baxter, who was then an opposition backbencher, slammed councillors for continuing to accept the free meals, despite an earlier pledge to start paying for them.  His Freedom of Information request showed only 17 councillors were paying for lunch, although this did not show how many were bringing their own. He also called for the mileage expenses rate to be cut and other allowances to be frozen.

Rats Exterminated on Scottish Isles to Protect Birds

It is an internationally important nesting ground for Scotland’s seabirds – but has been plagued by black rats since a shipwreck in the 18th century.  Now the Shiant Isles has finally been declared rat-free after a major extermination operation to eradicate the invasive rodents. The cluster of remote islands in the Outer Hebrides host around 100,000 pairs of nesting seabirds each year, including puffins, guillemots and razorbills.  But the islands, which lie five miles off Lewis and Harris, had become over-run with non-native black rats, thought to have set up home there after a shipwreck almost 200 years ago.  The most recent estimates suggested the population had exploded to around 3,600 rats, and evidence showed they were feeding on seabird eggs and chicks. Conservationists feared the vermin could decimate seabird breeding colonies in Shiant, some of the most important in Europe. Now, after a successful four-year eradication project, they believe a range of seabirds species, many of which are suffering major declines, will have a much greater chance of survival.  It is also hoped that manx shearwaters and storm petrels may begin to nest on the islands now that the predators have been wiped out. Dr Charlie Main, senior project manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project, said: “This is an absolutely fantastic moment for the Shiant Isles, and everyone involved in the project is delighted that they are now officially rat-free.  With so many of Scotland’s seabird populations in decline it’s vital that we do all we can to help them. Making these islands a secure place for them to breed is really important. Over the next few years we’re really looking forward to seeing the full impact of the islands’ restoration flourish, with the seabirds enjoying improved breeding successes and other species beginning to breed there as well.  We’ll also continue to work with the local community to ensure this special place remains free of rats.”  Tom Nicolson, whose family owns the islands, said: “This is a tremendous story of success on so many levels. When the idea was presented to us six years ago, the pure logistics of the project seemed hugely ambitious. Now, knowing that new species are beginning to thrive on the islands so soon after the project has finished, there are no limits to what the Shiants could become over the next five, ten, 20 years.”  Work to eradicate the rats, which involved setting poisoned bait was carried out over the winter of 2015-16 by a specialist team from New Zealand-based company Wildlife Management International Limited and 15 volunteers.  The works was made extra challenging due to the rugged terrain and steep cliffs on the islands, and hampered by severe Hebridean weather conditions including storms. Since then, regular monitoring for signs of rats has been carried out – with none recorded. In order to ensure that the islands remain free of rats and other mammalian predators, visitors are being asked to follow simple biosecurity measures to help keep the islands safe for birds.  This includes checking boats and all kit for signs of rats prior to departing for the Shiants, and looking out for signs of the animals when ashore. Local boat operators along with SNH and RSPB Scotland staff have been trained in biosecurity measures by the project.

Who Were the ‘Redshanks’ of the Highland Clans?
The plaid-wearing fighters were known as redshanks given they went into battle with bare legs and possibly even bare feet too. Usually drawn from the Hebridean clans, the redshanks were a mercenary force who played a key role in fighting the English in Ireland during the 16th Century.  At the time, the English espionage network estimated that well over 6,600 men were ready for war in the Western Isles of Scotland, according to historian Allan Macinnes in his book Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuarts.  Clans on the west coast of the mainland also offered up men for paid fighting.  The redshanks, known as the buannachan in the Scottish Gaeldom, usually hired themselves out to Irish lords during the summer months with the fighting contracts a way for the Highland clans to raise cash. Poverty and overpopulation in the Highlands made the professional soldiering, usually in Connacht and Ulster, an attractive proposition with the fighting prowess of the men, normally schooled in seamanship and military tactics from a young age, highly regarded. Clans who assembled the redshanks included the McQuarries, the Macleods and the Macleans with the southern branch of Clan Donald contracting out men from Jura, Islay and Kintyre  Meanwhile, the Campbells recruited from their base in mid Argyll and allied clans in Lennox, Arran, Bute and Mull.  The supply of redshanks to northwest Ulster took off following the marriage of Lady Agnes Campbell, daughter of Colin Campbell, the 3rd Earl of Argyll, of Inverary Castle, to Irish chieftain Turlough Luineach O’Neill in 1569.The marriage came with a dowry of 1,200 Highland soldiers with Lady Agnes, who died in 1601, becoming a key figure in the Irish resistance to English rule.  Marriage between Irish leaders in Ulster and Scottish wives became more common to secure a steady stream of mercenaries, according to accounts.  The redshanks were give money and food for their service with the men usually away from home for a year at a time. Reserves of men were kept at home in Scotland to ensure land could still be tended. Those who went to Ireland were accompanied by leagues of advisers, which Macinnes described as a “distinct parasitic class” who profited from the mercenaries and survived on food and shelter offered by tenants and labourers. The English government started to take steps to curb the flow of mercenaries from Scotland in the late 1590s.  The Earls of Argyll were discouraged from recruitment of the fighting forces with subsidies paid to key figures in the Western Isles to keep men and home, according to accounts. Naval forces were also sent into the North Channel of the Irish Sea to prevent the mass movement of fighters.  James VI, seeking succession to the English throne, also took action against the rebels in Ireland with a series for expeditions made to pacify the islands. The end of the redshank contracts was sealed with the routing of Irish rebel leader Hugh O’Neil, Earl of Tyrone, at Kinsale in December 1601 by English forces, with the demand for large troops of Highland fighters starting to wane.