Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 446

Issue # 446                                                Week ending Saturday 7th April 2018

What They Are Finding on the Shore in Skye is Some Kind of Site for Saur Eyes
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

How do you ask a dinosaur if he wants to take a break? Tea, Rex? Yes, I know but I can’t help it. Skye has done it again. The Sgiathanachs have catapulted the Misty Isle onto the map but not for the stunning mountain views of the Cuillins, the Old Man of Storr, the historic castle at Dunvegan or even the enduring memorial to governmental arrogance that is the Skye Bridge. Someone has noticed patterns in some 50 indentations in rocks - what we would call puddles - and they have decided they are actually footprints.

Yep, some geeks have come over the sea to Skye and decided there are marks left by some rather weighty dinosaurs which have been there some time - about 170 million years, they think. They say they are globally important because they were left by sauropods and theropods. This has, apparently, been a little understood period of dinosaur evolution because very few fossil sites have been found around the world from the Middle Jurassic period.

Found at the tidal area at Rubha nam Brathairean, which means Brothers’ Point, on the Trotternish peninsula, the dino-prints were difficult to study owing to tidal conditions, the effect of weathering on them as well as other changes to the landscape. Now there is no doubt. They say they identified two trackways in addition to many isolated footprints. These were, in fact, prehistoric superhighways. Wow.

The sauropods were big beasts up to 49 feet long. That is massive even without that neck. I’ll tell you how big that is. If they were still around today, Boris Johnson would round them up and stick posters on the side of them saying: “We send the EU £350 million a week.” That’s how big they were. The big beasts lololloped around on the shores in sub-tropical temperatures, feeding off the vegetation and occasionally gorging on the seaweed and even the crustaceans - exactly like the thousands of tourists who flock to Skye each August. Ach, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Dr Steve Brusatte, of Edinburgh uni, led the team of dedicated anoraks. He said: “The more we look on the Isle of Skye, the more dinosaur footprints we find. This new site records two different types of dinosaurs-long-necked cousins of brontosaurus and sharp-toothed cousins of T-Rex hanging around a shallow lagoon, back when Scotland was much warmer and dinosaurs were beginning their march to global dominance.” Just like Boris.

Nor was it an April’s Fool prank. Despite the date on Sunday, I must admit I thought it was one of these daft tales reaching us late. There was the usual crop of nonsense - except there are new themes. Millennials all eat avocados now, apparently, so there were all the jokes about the green-flavoured fruit that we all used to get so confused about. The first time I was given one, I peeled off the flesh and threw it in the bin. Eventually I gave up trying to get into what I assumed was the juicy bit - the stone. The joke this year which everyone believed was that they were bringing out avocado-flavoured Coca-Cola - as well as sourdough and charcoal. Yep, millennials are just thick. Hmm, could be nice, though.

Another wind-up claimed Prince Harry would be drinking smoothies and engaging in “ancient Celtic chanting” for his stag do. Nothing wrong with that. Before I got entwined with her indoors, we went to the Criterion Bar and had a few smoothies. So smooth was that ancient Macallan malt that we lads soon indulged in ancient Celtic chanting which involved bawdy versions of well-known Gaelic songs. You would never hear them in the Gold Medal competition at the Royal National Mod - in the bar afterwards, maybe.

I liked the article about SodaStream which said it had started SodaSoak, a sparkling water marker for the bath. Even though it featured people I had never heard of from Game of Thrones and American reality shows, I thought it was a great idea. They told readers and viewers that the SodaSoak “didn’t just stop at tickling your tongue”.

I have alway been fascinated by one particular type of prehistoric mammal. With its huge body, long neck and small head it was of the family known as Diplodocidae. They reckon it was around from 157.3 million years ago to 145 million years ago. Its scientific name actually means thunder lizard. I can understand because the same happens to me when I have too many vegetables. I am talking, of course, about the brontosaurus.

The thesaurus, meanwhile, was the first dinosaur to die off, become extinct, defunct, deceased, disappeared, exterminated, gone …

New Contract Comes Into Force with Aim to ‘Restore Hope’ for Scotland’s GPs
A new GP contract aimed at cutting the workload of family doctors comes into force today. The British Medical Association (BMA), which drew up the contract with the Scottish Government, said it would “restore hope” to the profession.  The new contract, backed with £100 million of Scottish Government funding in its first year, aims to simultaneously reduce the workload family doctors face and create a minimum earning expectation of just over £80,000 a year.  Ministers will also provide additional funding to help GPs with the risks that come with owning or leasing their own premises.  The contract, signed in January after a poll of doctors found 71.5% were in favour, was drawn up in a bid to refocus the role of family doctors as “expert medical generalists”.  The Scottish Government said the contract will mean more practice nurses, physiotherapists and pharmacists working in general practice in the next three years as patients are given direct access to these services, freeing up more consultation time for GPs.  It is setting up a new short life working group, chaired by Professor Sir Lewis Ritchie, to ensure the contract works well for rural and remote parts of the country. Dr Alan McDevitt, the BMA’s Scottish GP Committee chairman said: “I truly believe that this contract offers something to GP practices in every part of Scotland. It will help to reduce the pressures of GP workload and improve GP recruitment and retention. The agreement to implement the new GP contract was a landmark decision for general practice in Scotland that will help to restore hope to the profession and encourage more doctors to choose careers as Gps.”  Health Secretary Shona Robison said: “This new contract will mean those who need to see a doctor get more time for consultation and that other patients get better access to specialist support quickly.  It will also help to cut doctors’ workload, ensure a minimum income guarantee for GPs and make general practice an even more attractive career, which will contribute to our commitment to increase the number of GPs by at least 800 over 10 years to ensure a sustainable service that meets increasing demand.  Our commitment to invest £7.5 million to support GP recruitment and retention, including £850,000 in increased support to expand the remote and rural incentive scheme and relocation funds, will have a positive impact for rural GPs.”

Sinn Fein Leader Sets Timetable for Irish Unity Referendum
Michelle O’Neill has called for an Irish unity referendum within five years.  Addressing republicans at an Easter commemoration in Belfast’s Milltown cemetery, the Sinn Fein deputy leader said: “Ending partition has now taken on a new dynamic because of Brexit… Because Brexit exposes the undemocratic nature of partition. Sinn Fein believes there should be a referendum vote on Irish unity within the next five years.” Her wide-ranging speech also touched on the Good Friday Agreement, which marks its 20th anniversary this month, and the current Stormont impasse.  Ms O’Neill said republicans had engaged in political talks for over a year and repeated criticisms of the DUP for walking away.  She said: “The leadership of both parties reached a fair and balanced accommodation – a draft agreement – which we felt could address our concerns, and provide a basis to restore the Executive without further delay.  However, Arlene Foster and the DUP leadership failed to deliver on this and chose to withdraw from the talks and collapse the process.  For now, they are under no pressure from the British Government to move, because Theresa May is in hock to the DUP.  It’s no surprise the British Westminster Government has put its self-interest before ours.  But let’s be very clear here today the rights issues are not going away.  We are not going away.” Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017. The devolved Stormont institutions fell when Martin McGuinness resigned amid a row over a botched green energy scheme. However divisions between the two biggest parties have widened to include Irish language rights, the ban on gay marriage and dealing with the legacy of Northern Ireland’s toxic past.

Tweed Car Ferry to Set Sail in Coming Weeks
A business consortium in Melrose expect the delivery of a car ferry in the next few days.  And they are confident it will be operational across the Tweed ahead of the town's rugby sevens later this month.  Michael Crawford, director of Melrose-based JS Crawford Ltd, came up with the idea following the most recent closure of Lowood Bridge.  Mr Crawford is among the many who face lengthy detours and delays each morning because of the closure. And a throw away remark during a social event a few weeks ago has led to the rental of the river ferry being agreed.  Mr Crawford told us: "I used Lowood Bridge every day to get to and from work, like many of my neighbours.  We thought that there had to be an easier way of reaching Melrose than the lengthy detours.  From what was a bit of a joke to start with has become a reality with the small car ferry being delivered by the end of next week." A deal has been struck for the four-vehicle ferry to be stationed next to Gattonside suspension bridge between April and June. Work on slipways either side of the Tweed began on Friday with direction signs being installed in the coming days along the single-track access roads. The Fair Lopol, which dates back to the 1960s, has been rented from the same company that operates the Windermere Ferry in the Lake District. Each journey will take between three and four minutes with return passes costing just £5.  Mr Crawford added: "We believe the ferry will pay for itself and, if anything, will be a much more enjoyable way of getting to work that following diversion signs.  We have an agreement with the company who operate the Windermere Ferry and there is nothing stopping us from going back to them if this is a success and having the Fair Lopol during the summer as well."  Mr Crawford and the business consortium behind the ferry are footing the bill for transporting the boat to the Borders.  Sponsors for life-jackets, in the colours of Melrose, have already been found. And recruitment of a seasonal ferry operator is currently under way.

Secular Scotland: Losing Our Religion?
Once the church was an anchor. It was not just about the Sunday sermon, it was central to political life and in the forming of young minds, educating children across Scotland. It provided alms for the needy and laid down a strict moral code that informed – or controlled, depending on your point of view – how Scots lived their lives from birth to death, taking in marriage along the way. But as the remaining church bells ring out to celebrate Easter this Sunday many question the church's role today.  The last census in 2011 showed that just over half of the population considered themselves religious, with 24 per cent identifying as Church of Scotland Christians and 14 per cent as Roman Catholics. The Scottish household survey in 2016 suggested those numbers were falling, with those who identify as religious now in the minority at 48.5 percent.  Attendance at Sunday services is also at an all-time low – just seven per cent go to church, according to the 2016 Scottish Church Census. The figure is expected to fall to around five per cent by 2025, about the number that attend a book group.  The hold of religion has been stripped back in all sorts of ways. Non-denominational primary schools no longer start the day with the Lord's prayer, while Brownies and Guides now promise "to be true to myself" instead of swearing to do their duty to God. Humanist weddings can take place up a mountain or in the zoo and you can choose to be buried in a woodland without any church involvement.  Yet David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity and Principal of New College at Edinburgh University, claims many would still describe themselves as spiritual. "I think the majority who would tell pollsters that they are not religious – and that is now the majority of Scots – are not card-carrying atheists by any means, " he says. "They are often interested in the questions that the church is attempting to answer."  The good news for Christians: 300 churches have opened in Scotland since 2002. The bad: 764 have closed and nearly half of congregations acknowledged decline in the last five years, a decrease in numbers over time that is the equivalent to losing more than two congregations per week.  More than 40 per cent of churchgoers are now 65 or over. As Fergusson points out, church is no longer about obligation – we opt-in rather than opting out. "That's something that the churches have to come to terms with without beating themselves up," he says. "These are forces that are outwith our control."  Peter Kearney, Director of the Catholic Church Media Office, sees this as a positive thing. "The church can take comfort in the fact that everyone who comes through the door now genuinely wants to be there." Outgoing Moderator of the Church of Scotland, Right Rev Dr Derek Browning, acknowledges the crisis but also claims a wide variety of people still attend. "Some are better at getting young people along but there is nothing wrong with a church packed full of older people," he says. "That touches on issues of isolation, which church can address. It's one of the few venues where different generations can still come together."  Forget bum-numbing pews – Church of Scotland churches, in particular, are not the formal affairs that they once were, with formats including cafe-style discussion tables and "messy church", which sees families come together to combine arts and craft activities, Christian teachings and a communal meal.  Some services take place on different days of the week, while some congregations in rural places where the church has closed are meeting in people's homes or even in pubs – such as the Crask Inn in rural Sutherland, which was handed over to the Scottish Episcopal Church by its outgoing owners. It runs as a pub but also provides regular services.  Others believe a balance must be struck. Rev Angus MacRae, incoming 2018 Moderator for the Free Church of Scotland, claims it is seeing "some modest growth" against the trend of decline because it is staying true to traditional teachings. He says: "Like any living thing a church community can die. It is sad when demographic and economic factors weaken a community and their churches.  But too many churches are dead and decaying because they lack joy and hope and deserve to die. Much of the institutional church has failed Scotland. Some preserve correct teaching but lack love and compassion. Others distort or deconstruct the message of Christ replacing God’s truth with opinion." But for Catholic Archbishop Leo Cushley it's about framing. "If one believes, as we do, that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is of vital significance to the course of human history and to the flourishing of human happiness, then the rise of an ideology that seeks to banish Christianity from the public square is obviously viewed as 'not a good thing'", he says. "The task for Christians in the 21st century is to re-propose the person of Jesus Christ to contemporary society in way that is intellectually coherent, ethically compelling and socially compassionate."

Third Ward Closed At Inverness Hospital

NHS Highland has confirmed that a third ward has been closed to new admissions due to diarrhoea and vomiting at Raigmore Hospital.  Ward 7A is the latest ward at the Inverness hospital to have confirmed cases of norovirus following Wards 2C and 6C earlier this week. NHS Highland has placed a suspension on visiting on each of these three wards and a restriction on visiting in all other wards across the hospital.  Consultant microbiologist Vanda Plecko said: "We can confirm that a number of patients have tested positive for norovirus in Ward 7A. We have placed a suspension on visiting in Wards 2C, 6C and 7A for the time being.  The suspension on visiting across all other wards has been lifted. However, we are asking for support from the public to help prevent the spread into other wards in Raigmore Hospital. We ask that visiting is restricted to two visitors per patient and would once again request that children do not visit the hospital. We would ask that anyone coming into the hospital needs to be clear of symptoms for at least 48 hours. By doing this we will limit the spread as much as possible.  For the three wards affected (Wards 2C, 6C and 7A) we would ask that all non-essential visitors stay away from the hospital.  However, if you feel that visiting is essential, please contact the ward first by phone before coming to hospital. Please do not visit the ward unless by prior arrangement with the nurse in charge." The temporary suspension of visiting will be reviewed at the end of this week.

Royal National Mòd Venues Confirmed for 2021 and 2022

Perth will host the Royal National Mòd in 2021, with the event going to Paisley in 2022. The venues were confirmed at the annual general meeting of Mòd organisers An Comunn Gàidhealach.  Scotland’s biggest Gaelic cultural festival will return to Perth for the first time since 2004, while Paisley first hosted the event in 2013.  Paisley and Perth were announced as the two host cities for 2021 and 2022 at last year’s Royal National Mòd, however it was decided to delay choosing which city would host which year, while Paisley awaited the result of its application for the UK City of Culture 2021.  With Paisley missing out on the bid, the Board of Directors of An Comunn Gàidhealach then used a point scoring system to mark the entries from both cities. The application which drew more points would host 2021, whilst the other would host 2022.  John Morrison, Chief Executive of An Comunn Gàidhealach, said: “We were in a unique position last year as to who would host the 2021 and 2022 Royal National Mòds. Both applications were extremely impressive, so the decision was made that each would become a host city, however we would wait until the City of Culture announcement had been made before choosing which city would host which year. Both applications were put through a rigorous point scoring system by our board members, with Perth marginally receiving more points, meaning the 2021 Mòd would be held there. We very much look forward to returning to Perth for the first time in 17 years, particularly with such a strong Gaelic heritage in the area. Paisley’s 2013 Royal National Mòd was widely perceived as one of the best in recent years by Mòd regulars, staff and competitors, so to be returning to the city for a second time will be fantastic.”  The Royal National Mòd 2018 takes place in Dunoon from the 12th until 20th October. The annual celebration of the best of Gaelic literature, music, singing, language and art will be held in Glasgow in 2019, and then Inverness in 2020.

Skye Youth Pipe Band in Need of Drumming Instructor to Progress

A youth pipe band on Skye fears it will be unable to build on recent progress without a regular drumming instructor.  The Isle of Skye Youth Pipe Band have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to persuade Highland Council to provide the drumming tuition which it funds in other parts of the region.  The group currently relies on its own funds, and some grant support, to provide drumming tuition on one day a week to around 30 youngsters in and around Portree.  In recent years the Skye band’s neighbours in Lochalsh faced a similar battle before the council agreed to extend the patch covered by an instructor based in the east Highlands.  There is currently a vacancy for the one-day-a-week post in Lochalsh, and the Skye group have suggested the role could be extended to Skye.  Alan MacKenzie, from the Isle of Skye Pipe Band, said the lack of support for drumming would have a knock-on effect on the senior band.  He said: “Despite years of trying, a drumming post for Skye has not been supported by Highland Council.  It would be great to get someone employed through the council for a couple of days and offering the same opportunities to both sides of the bridge.”  At the recent Scottish Schools Pipe Band Championships, the Skye youngsters secured first places for piping, but their overall marks suffered because of drumming — backing up the group’s claim that the lack of regular instruction was a barrier to achievement.  Responsibility for music tuition in Highland is soon to transfer from the council to the arms-length body High Life Highland, and there are hopes that this new arrangement could bring better news for the Skye band.  Local councillor John Finlayson said musical opportunities promoted attainment and achievement and suggested cash from the Scottish Government-backed pupil equity fund — awarded to schools to close the attainment gap and address deprivation — could help the pipe band.  He added: “High Life Highland assumes responsibility for the delivery of the council’s music tuition service from April 2018 and I have been impressed by their willingness to work with me and other local interest groups to expand drumming instruction on the island to ensure the best support for all our youngsters, and also our pipe bands. I am currently working with HLH on a number of fronts to explore potential sources of funding, and while I remain optimistic it is too early to say when we will have a clear way forward. Our joint aim is to have something in place for the new school year in August and we will continue to work together to achieve a positive outcome.”

Antiques Roadshow Set to Return to North-East this Summer

For the first time in 10 years, Antiques Roadshow has announced they will be coming to Crathes Castle on July 1.  The show’s producer Robert Murphy said: “We are looking forward to welcoming thousands of visitors when we bring Antiques Roadshow to Crathes Castle.  It’s more than 10 years since the Roadshow was last in Aberdeen so we’re looking forward to a bumper turnout and can’t wait see what kind of cherished objects emerge!” The public can arrive on the day for free, and have their possessions valued by a team of the show’s experts.

Scottish Week Return for Red Arrows

Peterhead Scottish Week organisers have announced that the World famous aerobatic display team The Red Arrows will return to the skies over the Blue Toon this summer. Negotiations to secure the return of the flying team to headline this year's 57th annual event began last year and the final agreement was given to the Scottish Week committee by the RAF yesterday.  Their Hawk jets, last seen in the port seven years ago, will display over Peterhead Lido on Sunday, July 29.  The time of the display is still to be confirmed.

Ferry Operator CalMac Warns of Delays and Breakdowns As Fleet is So Old

Passengers are facing widespread disruption on Scotland’s ferry network after the main operator warned of potential breakdowns and delays due to its increasingly ageing fleet.  The average age of ferries serving Caledonian MacBrayne’s lifeline routes is just under 22 years. Islay, Harris and Uist have already been hit by disruption, with the Hebridean Isles, one of two ferries that normally serve Islay, already withdrawn to work on the Tarbert and Lochmaddy routes.  Now CalMac Ferries’ new interim managing director, Robbie Drummond, has warned that as the company gears up for its busiest ever summer season, challenges with the ageing fleet are set to bring severe disruption.  Yesterday the network suffered disruption due to high winds, with the Arran to Ardrossan ferry suspended in early afternoon as was the Harris ferry.  Other routes were also suspended on the first Bank Holiday Monday of spring, which caused severe disruption to thousands of Easter break holidaymakers.  It came on the first weekend of CalMac’s summer timetables and the peak tourist period this year is set to be a severe test for the 32 ferries that serve 51 ports on 49 routes.  Mr Drummond said: “We ask a lot of our fleet, and indeed our people, at the busiest time of year on our network.  I am very conscious of the workload our boats will be undertaking and the strain that puts them under, particularly the older vessels in the fleet, eight of which are more than 30 years old now. We’re already dealing with the consequences of that reality and I’d like to apologise to everyone impacted by the temporary removal of the MV Hebridean Isles to cover for the MV Clansman, in dry dock awaiting the return of the propulsion unit sent to Denmark for repairs.  The Glen Sannox, launched in November, is one of two new ferries that will join our fleet in the future. Until then, we will of course pro- actively manage as best we can with the current fleet, but I fear that it will, at times, cause issues on some of our routes.”  It comes amid concerns that a 10-fold increase in traffic is already causing severe problems for island communities.  Figures show the number of motorhomes travelling to the Western Isles has risen over the past decade, with nearly 2,000 heading to Harris alone.  The huge rise in tourists follows the introduction of a Scottish Government scheme to make island ferry fares more affordable.  The Road Equivalent Tariff was introduced to boost remote economies – and worked so well the number of cars on one route is up by more than 80 per cent.  The Road Equivalent Tariff bases fares on the cost of travelling the equivalent distance by road and was introduced on the Western Isles, Coll and Tiree in October 2008, cutting fares by up to 55%.  It was extended to Islay, Colonsay and Gigha in October 2012, to Arran in October 2014 and now covers every route. Across the network, car traffic has increased by just over 25%, cutting fares by up to 55 per cent.  It was extended to Islay, Colonsay and Gigha in October 2012, to Arran in October 2014 and now covers every route.  Across the network, car traffic has increased by just over 25 per cent which is causing severe problems as islanders struggle to book ferries and increased traffic contends with many single track roads.  The rise brought severe disruption last year and island communities are already braced for delays as two £50 million hybrid green ferries are delayed by complex engineering works on the pioneering vessels.  The MV Glen Sannox, the world’s first liquified gas duel fuel ferry, was due to start on the busy Arran route from this summer but it and its sister ship, the MV Claymore, which is due to run on the Skye to Harris route, have experienced technical issues and neither is now expected to enter service until 2019 or even 2020.  During 2017, CalMac carried more than five million passengers, nearly 1.5 million cars, some 80,000 coaches, and just under one million metres of commercial traffic.  The ferries deployed on CalMac routes are leased to the company by their owners, Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), a separate and distinct company which is wholly-owned by the Scottish Government. CMAL also owns, and is responsible for maintaining, some of the many harbours CalMac uses for its services up and down the west coast.  Last year CalMac’s parent company David MacBrayne Ltd (DML), saw its subsidy from the Scottish Government rise from £122.6m to £128.3m.  A CalMac spokesman said: “Any issues with a vessel on one part of the network will have knock-on effects for other routes, as boats need to be diverted or deployed elsewhere to keep the lifeline network running. The working life expectancy of a ferry deployed on routes like those on Scotland’s western seaboard is around 25 years, so with nearly half of the ferries working these routes already beyond that milestone - and having been used intensively during those years of service - the risk of mechanical failures and breakdown is significant”.

Standing Up for Scotland May Be An Impossible Task for Ruth Davidson
by David Torrance
In his new book, “The End of British Party Politics?”, the political scientist Roger Awan-Scully captures the paradox of last year’s general election in Scotland.  While the Unionist parties successfully played on the SNP’s “turf” of weaponising Scotland’s constitutional future, in doing so “they further distanced Scottish political debate from that in the rest of the kingdom they earnestly wish Scotland to remain a part of”.  Indeed, for the first time in a UK electoral contest, 2017 produced a different victor in each of the four home nations, Labour in Wales, the Tories in England, the SNP in Scotland and the DUP in Northern Ireland. British party politics is dead, long live sub-national contests.  This tension is most acute in the only party with “Unionist” in its name – the Scottish Tories. For more than a century, it has had to be simultaneously Scottish and British, both “standing up for Scotland” and preserving the Union of which it is a part. Such an approach can pay dividends, but it can also cause problems.  Take two prominent rows since the 2017 election. First was the billion-pound “bung” to Northern Ireland in return for propping up Theresa May’s minority government, second was the more recent row over the Conservatives “selling out” Scotland’s fishing industry (such as it is) in agreeing a transitionary arrangement with the European Union.  In both cases, the SNP claimed Ruth Davidson had failed in her aim of “standing up for Scotland” from within the United Kingdom, for in the first case she’d failed to secure equivalent funding for Scotland, while in the second she had reneged on a promise Scottish fishermen wouldn’t be subject to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) beyond “independence day” on 29 March 2019.  

To a degree, the Scottish Tories only had themselves to blame: not only had Scottish Secretary David Mundell bought into a bogus narrative which completely misunderstood how the Barnett Formula actually worked, but Davidson also overstated what might be possible when it came to exiting the CFP. With both incidents, however, the facts mattered less than the perception. If you promise to “stand up for Scotland” then at some point you’ll need to produce results, which so far amount to some goodies in Philip Hammond’s most recent Budget. This is important, for Ruth Davidson’s “nationalist unionist” pitch is an important element of her aspiration, as she puts it in a new collection of Scottish Tory essays, “to lead the next government of Scotland”.  It’s clear from the contributions that follow – more personal reflections than detailed policy – that the party realises this can’t be done from the Right. Policy chief and MSP Donald Cameron champions government as “a means, not an end” and promises a vision for “a liberal, confident Scotland…a vision avowedly of the centre, not of extremes”.  His colleague Adam Tomkins also writes on “tackling the causes of poverty and social justice”, which includes a brave attempt to claim Darren McGarvey (aka Loki) as a modern conservative for rejecting left-wing orthodoxy that “individual behaviour” has nothing to do with poverty (though Tomkins is also careful to reject the opposite “deeply ill-informed” contention that poverty “has nothing to do with the structure of the economy”). This is Scottish Conservatism, Jim, but not as we know it.

Some of it’s a bit muddled, such as Ruth Davidson’s goal (shared by Mrs May and Nicola Sturgeon) of making Scotland “a genuine meritocracy”, which fails to appreciate that the late Michael Young meant “The Rise of the Meritocracy” as a warning, not an aspiration. Nevertheless, the publication reveals a party more confident in its history, role and traditions, a far cry from the defensive, hollowed-out shell I remember from 20 years ago.  But does this add up to victory in the 2021 Holyrood election? When pushed on this point, Scottish Tory MSPs usually point out that the SNP went from 27 MSPs in 2003 to a minority government four years later. This is true, but the Nationalists did that with a 33 per cent vote share – the Conservatives managed just 22 per cent in 2016 and 28.6 per cent in last year’s general election.  Here, then, is the best-case scenario for 2021: a three-way split (between the SNP, Labour and Tories) in which the Conservatives poll in the low 30s and emerge as the biggest party – just – much like the SNP in 2007. A lot depends upon Brexit which, as the CFP row demonstrates, isn’t necessarily good for the party in Scotland. On the other hand, Davidson’s poll ratings remain strong, and it’s widely assumed Sturgeon will struggle to keep the SNP brand fresh after 14 years in devolved government.  But, and there are several buts, even if the Scottish Tories do emerge as the largest party it’ll need a credible number of seats to form a minority administration (in 2007 the SNP had 47). Labour and the SNP might also form an anti-Tory pact to keep Davidson from becoming First Minister. Under another scenario, meanwhile, the Conservatives don’t even get that far.  Many are conscious of an electoral “glass ceiling” and, ironically, one brake on further advance is what one MSP refers to as “the Westminster link”. “If we’re going to attract centre-right Nats in serious numbers”, he reflects, “we can’t do that while tied to Boris & co.” It’s that paradox again, a Unionist party complaining of unhelpful English colleagues.  If, then, the Scottish Tories find themselves instead facing another term in opposition, Ruth Davidson might head south ahead of the 2022 UK general election. She will, after all, have been leader for almost a decade, but if she does, then much of her party’s progress since 2016 risks being lost. Who’ll be left standing up for Scotland then?

Life Sciences Boost From New Project

Another city facility funded by the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal is taking shape. A new venue offering "workspace and collaboration opportunities" for life sciences businesses across Highland has been launched in Inverness.  The Nexus project is part of the "Northern Innovation Hub" led by development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).  It incorporates product showcasing opportunities for start-ups, new investors and international life science businesses that aspire to establish themselves in the Highlands.  Situated within Aurora House on Inverness Campus, tenants are offered shared workspaces and opportunities to work alongside likeminded businesses. They also have access to research and academic partners, all close to the NHS Centre for Health Science.  Nexus, which offers a range of tailored packages to suit individual business needs, is due to relocate to larger premises next year.  The Pathfinder Accelerator programme, a tried and tested business programme nurturing growth in life sciences and technology and another element of Nexus, also launched today.  The Pathfinder programme will be delivered in Inverness and across Highland Council area and will offer three months’ mentoring and intensive coaching support to help start-ups and budding entrepreneurs test their ideas and business model. Companies will have the opportunity to determine quickly if their product or service is commercially viable, saving both time and money. Recruitment is underway for the first cohort of 2018 which will be delivered by HIE in partnership with the Leadership Factory and UP Accelerator.  Presentations and demonstrations from Nexus businesses allowed guests to understand the breadth of innovation and development that is happening in the space.  The city-region deal is supported by £315 million investment from the UK and Scottish governments, the council, HIE and UHI, aimed at stimulating sustainable regional economic growth.

Trump-opposed Offshore Wind Farm Connected to Grid
An offshore wind farm which will have the world’s most powerful turbines has been connected to the National Grid.  The Vattenfall European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Aberdeen Bay is expected to produce enough energy to power 78,529 homes once complete.  The connection project started early last year and involved laying more than four miles of high voltage underground cable between Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks’ (SSEN) upgraded substation in Dyce on the outskirts of Aberdeen and the wind farm’s onshore substation at Blackdog on the coast.  More than seven miles of overhead line between Dyce and Kintore was replaced.  Upgrading work to connect the wind farm to the National Grid (SSEN/PA)Upgrading work to connect the wind farm to the National Grid (SSEN/PA)  The 11-turbine development, which will be Scotland’s largest offshore wind test and demonstration facility and will trial next generation technology, faced delays including legal challenges from Donald Trump over views from his golf course at Balmedie.  It is expected to produce electricity by summer and once fully operational is predicted to generate the equivalent of 70% of Aberdeen’s domestic electricity demand.

Highlands Salmon Tracking Study Aims to Halt Species’ Decline

A “ground-breaking” project that aims to reverse the decline of wild Atlantic salmon is getting under way in the Highlands.  The Missing Salmon Project, which involves the fish being tagged and tracked, is described by organisers as the largest effort in Europe so far to help the species.  Anglers gathered at the River Garry on Tuesday to herald the start of the scheme run by the Atlantic Salmon Trust (AST), which hopes to discover why the fish is in trouble.  AST executive director Sarah Bayley Slater said: “Salmon have been around for more than 60 million years, but their future looks very bleak indeed.  If the decline we’ve seen across the Atlantic and in Scotland continues, the wild Atlantic salmon could be an endangered species in our lifetime.  In launching the Missing Salmon Project, we are making our stand now and giving our generation a chance to save the species before it’s too late.” The wild salmon population has declined by 70% in a quarter of a century, according to experts.