Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 455

Issue # 455                                           Week ending Saturday 9th  June 2018

Just Remember That No Cloud is So Dark That the Sun Cannot Shine
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

What’s that up in the sky? Heck, it’s the sun. Not only that but it seems to be staying there for longer than an hour at a time. Doesn’t usually do that. Yeah, it must be nearly summer right enough. The sun has shone for five minutes and us Jocks are already complaining of sunburn and down in Fort William they are using umbrellas in offices to keep cool until something goes on the windows to cut down the sun’s glare - like sunglasses for buildings.

Mrs X has once again reacted badly to ultra-violet rays and her skin is a bit like orange peel. Except it is red and pink oozing ... well, I won’t go on. Yep, my missus has been quite poorly since the end of last week and here I am telling everyone how awful she looks. Her skin reacts to very bright sunlight and goes all yucky. It is what it is - extreme sunburn. Not only that but she feels very sick with it. So while everyone else is out on the beach, she is avoiding the glare under three blankets and a couple of overcoats.

The two plucky guys from the north who have been attempting to row across the Atlantic had both feared sunburn and stocked up with Factor 50. However, the problem has not been the sun sickness but the sea sickness. Poor Duncan Hutchison, from Lochinver, who spent three years building his boat, was battling 10-foot waves this week and had to be winched off. Meanwhile, Niall Iain Macdonald, of Skye people but on Lewis long enough to be called a cove, is still riding the waves. He described himself on his blog the other day as: “exhausted, sunburnt, blistered, smelly ...” Yuck, you stay where you are and keep rowing, cove. See you in three months. By then it’ll be raining and you’ll smell nicer.

Reaction to sunlight is nowadays called PLE - or polymorphic light eruption. There are no volcanoes involved - the eruption refers to the nasty rash that comes with it. It is not very pleasant and I am doing my best to be very sympathetic by serving cups of coffee and biscuits at regular intervals to the afflicted. So far, the NHS’s efforts has done little to improve her condition but we are hopeful that the medication will kick in soon. There is a pattern - Mrs X does tend to suffer every few years.

I’ve just had a thought - maybe it is every four years. Why on earth would she develop a rash and get sick every four years? What happened four years ago and is also happening this year? By jove, I think I’ve got it. Mrs X may not be suffering because of sun rays after all - maybe she is allergic to the World Cup. That’s it. Though I am not really much of a football fan, I have taken a sudden interest in the World Cup because I know some people who were interested in it - but aren’t now.

Take Peter Scaramuccia. Until a year or two back, he was a Stornoway café proprietor and owner of the late, lamented Coffee Pot. He retired to his casa in Piazza del Baronio - that’s Barony Square to the rest of us - and was determined to make the most of his new-found lesiure time enjoying the efforts of his home nation in the competition. Proud of the fact that Italy won it in 1934, 1938, 1982 and 2006, he was very confident about 2018 and was stocking up on the grappa. Then back in November, Italy was roundly thrashed by the minnows of Sweden.

The Italian nation was aghast. When he got the text to say the dream was over, the Pope got such a shock he nearly fell out of the Popemobile. They had failed to qualify for the first time since 1958 when Peter was a mere piccolo ragazzo. That is either a small boy or some kind of flute. Or maybe my online translator is kaput. Poor Peter hasn’t got over the humiliation yet. My sources tell me he was up until 4am on Friday morning watching re-runs of the World Cup ... from 2006. Oh yeah, they won that one.

He’s a bit like Mrs X, hiding away from the light in case anyone sees him and the red face he and the Italian people have had since last November. Scotland didn’t qualify either but we’re not bothered. It would be a shock if we had. We Scots know is OK to be useless. No ridiculous expectations. We learnt that lesson a long time ago. All together now - “We’re on the march wi’ Ally’s Army ...”

Gallery in Edinburgh Given £375,000 Grant From Elisabeth Murdoch's Art Foundation
A leading art gallery in Edinburgh is to receive nearly £400,000 from the arts charity founded by Elisabeth Murdoch.  Ms Murdoch founded the Freelands Foundation in 2015 to support artists, cultural institutions and broaden audiences for visual arts.  The foundation, a charity, is now to launch its new Artists Programme, which gives £1.5m to galleries and other bodies across the UK to help support emerging talent in the contemporary arts.  The Talbot Rice Gallery, a respected gallery that is part of the University of Edinburgh, is to receive £375,000 over a five year period and will provide support, materials and potential exhibitions for 20 emerging artists.  The Talbot Rice, led by director Tessa Giblin, will shortly make an open call for artists to work with the gallery in the programme.  The winners of the funding were chosen by a selection panel led by Ms Murdoch, the artists Simeon Barclay and Mark Wallinger, arts director Polly Staple and writer Sacha Craddock.  Ms Giblin said: "These artists will now be part of our extended family, and part of our programme going forward - it is a great development for our gallery.  We will adapt to accommodate what the artists need: they can come and work with us, or if they need a messy room for painting, or a tidy space for academic research, we can do that.  They can work in other parts of Scotland and come in to see us. It is a lot of new artists for us and the university - and they will have access to the university, to our archives and our esteemed colleagues, so that is a very exciting prospect for a lot of artists." Melanie Cassoff, director of the Foundation, said that the five year terms of the grants add a degree of stability to what the galleries will be doing with the emerging artists in the next five years.

Premier Inn Planned for Derelict Thurso Site
A Thurso eyesore site may soon be transformed as a major hospitality company sets its sights on building a four-storey hotel on the town’s former mart area.  Whitbread is seeking permission for a new Premier Inn on the waste ground adjacent to Ormlie Road that has lain derelict for many years.  A planning application for a four-storey, 81-bedroom hotel with landscaping and car parking has been submitted to Highland Council. If approved, it would be the most northerly Premier Inn hotel in the UK.  Local Highland councillor Karl Rosie described it as “tremendous news” for Thurso.  “The site condition has been problematic for a number of years and, being adjacent to the railway station and Thurso High School, is in a prominent location,” he said.  I firmly believe this can now be the catalyst for the regeneration of the town centre and the development of the site will provide a range of benefits in terms of visual and direct impact for the local economy.”  Whitbread, which owns Premier Inn, is making a multimillion-pound investment in the development of the proposed Premier Inn. The new hotel is expected to create around 30 new year-round jobs, with “recruitment to be focused in Thurso and the surrounding areas”.  The site was previously owned by Tesco, which was given planning consent by the council in August 2007 to build a new store to replace its current branch at Millbank Road. But the supermarket giant’s plans never became a reality and the project was scrapped.  In 2015 Tesco sold the land to London and Scottish Investments (LSI) which also bought 13 other sites across the country where Tesco had planned to build new supermarkets before dropping its plans.  The lack of development of the land had attracted criticism from residents and community representatives over the past decade, with the area regarded as an eyesore.  It will now be purchased from LSI by a private investor that is also looking at other uses for the remainder of the site. Details will be made public as plans advance, Whitbread said.  Whitbread says it is “looking to expand its presence” in the Highlands and that the company has chosen to invest in Thurso on the “back of strong demand from leisure visitors to the north of Scotland”, including an increase in tourists resulting from the success of the North Coast 500 road trip, and the needs of local businesses connected to Dounreay.  Kevin Murray, head of acquisitions (north and Ireland) for Whitbread, said: “Our development partner has recently submitted a planning application to Highland Council for a brand new 81-bedroom Premier Inn hotel on the former mart site in Thurso. This would be the most northerly location of our hotels in the UK, and as you can imagine we are extremely excited about this application. If approved, the new Premier Inn hotel will help to support the local economy by attracting visitors to Thurso across all four seasons and creating approximately 30 new year-round jobs. Local businesses would also benefit from our presence as many of our guests visit local attractions and eat and drink out when they stay with us.”

Council Plea to Ministers for Roads Money

Council chiefs urgently want £180 million extra government funding to improve Highland roads maintained by the local authority.  They are telling the UK Treasury and Scottish Government that "just to maintain the road network in its current state, where it gets no better or worse" would require £21.7 million annual investment "not including bridges or footways". The figures feature in a four-page plea which also begs for urgent additional funding for schools.  The council’s independent-led administration reminds the respective governments that, in an age of ever tighter purse strings, it has to manage 4200 miles of roads, more than 2000 bridges and culverts and 100 car parks.  The plea stated: "In 2011, we had the 11th best road network in Scotland – we are now seventh worst in 25th place". It argues that it has only  £6.4 million per year – a third of the required funding – available for road resurfacing.  The document stated the council cannot afford to further increase the proportion of our revenue budget spent on the network while having the fourth highest debt of Scotland’s 32 councils, currently standing at £836.7 million.  It stated the 2018/19 Scottish Government grant is £41 million, of which £9.6 million is needed for three flood prevention schemes – and the remaining £31.4 million is needed to support all other council assets. The administration highlights the fact that it has the largest number of schools – 204 – and 12 are currently over capacity. Asked how worthwhile the approach to the two governments was, Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson said: "We are a special case. We’ve got the most roads and schools and most of them in the poorest condition. That’s nobody’s fault, that’s our geography."  She expected both governments to insist that grant support has risen year on year – something the council has consistently disputed.  A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: "Highland Council has had more money this year from the Scottish Government despite UK Westminster government cuts to our budget. It will receive over £487 million Scottish Government funding. This is £17.1 million more to support services compared to last year taken together with the decision to increase their council tax by three per cent. The local government needs-based funding formula takes into account a number of factors such as rural and island communities, as well as road length and number of school pupils."  A spokesman for the UK Treasury said: "We’ve helped make the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved bodies in the world and they have a full range of tax powers to raise funds."

Angus Centre of Excellence Targets Global Oil Industry
Oilfield services group Baker Hughes is to pump more than £30 million into its Montrose operation in a move that is expected to create 100 jobs.  The firm’s “factory of the future” will provide cutting-edge products and services for oil and gas projects around the world. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon unveiled £4.9m in funding as part of the £31m investment being made by Baker Hughes, a GE company. The funding package – provided to the company following an application to Scottish Enterprise – will support the transformation of the existing Angus facility, creating a centre of excellence to support the global oil and gas industry.  The new campus is set to benefit from advanced manufacturing tools and processes, designed to improve efficiency and productivity.  These include virtual reality tools to help technicians troubleshoot issues before construction begins, automation to boost efficiency on activities such as welding, testing and material-handling, and 3D printers to help quickly develop fully-functional prototypes of components and complex structures. Graham Gillies, vice president, subsea production systems & services at Baker Hughes GE (BHGE), said: “This is very welcome news for the oil and gas industry, and for the UK manufacturing sector in particular. We are investing in our facilities globally and our collaborative approach with Scottish Enterprise is a strong example of how we are supporting a more sustainable future for this industry.  Subsea technology is undoubtedly one of the UK’s greatest export success stories, with industry-leading technology and solutions being designed and manufactured here, and installed across basins worldwide.”  Paul Lewis, managing director, Scottish Enterprise, added: “Scotland’s oil and gas industry, and in-particular the subsea sector, is in the vanguard of global industrial development in this field and BHGE is at the forefront.  We are pleased to be able to support this exciting project which is testament to BHGE’s vision and ambition, and the company’s skilled and talented workforce here in Scotland.”

Statue Will Immortalise Seabird Hunted to Exctinction
Standing three feet tall, with a curved black beak and glossy black and white feathers, it was one of the most impressive birds ever to call Scotland its home.  The great auk was the country’s answer to the penguin – large, flightless and ungainly on land, yet fast and agile in the water. Yet in the end they became Scotland’s dodo, wiped out by the carelessness of men who hunted them for their meat and feathers, and doomed the species to extinction.  Today, all that remains of the great auk is their little cousins – puffins, razorbills and other seabirds of the same family – and a few preserved remains floating in jars and stuffed carcasses on museum shelves.  Now preparations are being made to commemorate one of the final members of the species to be killed in Scotland with a bronze replica.  The great auk was one of a pair which nested on the Orkney island of Papa Westray, and met its demise at the hands of hunters in 1813. Six years later, in 1819, the bird’s stuffed remains were purchased by the Natural History Museum, and it is only British specimen in existence.  A clay statue was made of the bird to mark the spot where it had been shot, at Fowl Crag, on the north of the island, but this was damaged in a recent storm and lost its head. Although it has been repaired, the replica is only 10in tall and plans are being made to use scans which were taken of its stuffed remains to have a life-size version made in bronze. Jonathan Ford, the ranger on Papa Westray who repaired the damaged clay version, said that a new statue would be a fitting tribute to one of the last great auks of Scotland.  He said: “We’ll always keep the original statue – there’s a lot of history with it and it’s got a long association with the island. But the bronze statue would be life-size and a model of the actual bird which was taken from here, so it would be like it is coming home. They used to be widespread on Papa Westray, and it is very sad that the last ones were driven into extinction.” Great auks ranged over much of the north Atlantic for thousands of years and could be found nesting in crags and cliffs from America to Europe.  Used as a food source, their remains have been found in sites that were home to Neanderthals in Gibraltar 100,000 years ago, while early humans daubed their images on cave walls 35,000 years ago.  One great auk bone dating from the fifth century was uncovered recently near the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick, indicating they were also eaten by medieval Scots.  However, they were hunted relentlessly in the 18th and 19th century as European ships spread out across the globe, with sailors using them as living larders they could pack on to boats. Their feathers, which were rich with oil, were also highly prized both as a fuel source and by the down industry as filling for quilts.  Tales have come down from the era of great auks being herded on to boats in large flocks, or used as fuel on treeless islands because they burned so easily.  Their persecution was famously cruel, with hunters advised to strip their feathers while the birds were still alive before leaving them to perish from the elements.  Britain banned the killing of the bird in 1794, except by fishermen. But by then it was too late.  The final great auk found in the British Isles is said to have been taken on a sea stack off of St Kilda, by fishermen hunting gannets.  They tied its feet and took it onboard their boat, only to become superstitious and fearful a few days later during a storm. Believing the bird to be “a maelstrom-conjuring witch”, they beat it to death. The last known great auks were killed on the island of Elday, off the coast of Iceland, by sailors hunting them for a museum collector in 1844.  Scottish Seabird Centre chief executive, Tom Brock said: “The really important thing is it reminds us that animals are still going extinct, even in Scotland. We should not take them for granted. One of the great auk’s close relatives, the puffin, has been put on to the red endangered list.  We must protect and conserve safeguard seabird populations or more species will go the same way as the great auk.”

Poll Suggests Anti-Brexit Feeling At Highest Level Since Aftermath of 2016 Referendum

Opposition to Brexit has reached its highest point since the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, a new poll has suggested, as Gordon Brown warned that Britain risked being “permanently paralysed” by divisions over EU withdrawal. The YouGov snapshot found 47 per cent of voters thought the decision to leave was wrong against just 40 per cent who said it was the right thing to do; the widest margin since the weekly survey began two years ago. The actual referendum result was a 52 to 48 point split for leave on a 72 per cent turnout. The poll findings come a week ahead of a series of crunch Commons votes as Theresa May seeks to overturn changes to her flagship Brexit legislation introduced in the Lords. Without a current overall majority among MPs, the Prime Minister is expected to spend the coming days trying to persuade potential rebels, who could inflict defeat on some of the UK Government's key Brexit positions.  The 47 per cent who told YouGov the Brexit decision was wrong was a rise of three points on last week and equalled the highest figure since the tracker poll began in August 2016. The 40 per cent saying the decision was right was down three points since last week and the lowest yet recorded.  More details of the survey of 1,670 adults showed 73 per cent of Labour voters and 83 per cent of Liberal Democrats said the Brexit decision was wrong while 69 per cent of Conservative voters said it was right. Some 81 per cent of those who backed Leave in 2016 said they still believed it was the right decision, with nine per cent now saying it was wrong. Labour’s Gareth Thomas, a leading supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said the Government was making a “shambolic mess of Brexit and the British people know it”.  He added: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that Brexit is too big a deal for the politicians to be left to sort out on their own. The 65 million people of this country must have their voices heard as well. That’s why we need a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal.”  Meanwhile, making a major intervention into the Brexit debate, Mr Brown in a speech in London will say: “We are now at serious risk of being permanently paralysed by seemingly irreparable divisions; a fractured country divided not just over Brexit but also with Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions at odds with Westminster and at what they see as a London-centric view of the world.” The Scot will urge all mainstream political leaderships across the UK to “rise to the challenge and deal not just with the fine print of Brexit but also lead a shared effort to address the underlying domestic drivers of dissatisfaction which produced Brexit,” including concerns about stagnant wages, left-behind communities, migration pressures, sovereignty and the state of the NHS.  Elsewhere, Labour’s Ian Murray called on Jeremy Corbyn to “reject the agenda of the Brextremists” and urged his party leader to back Lords amendments to the Brexit bill, which supported Britain staying in the customs union and joining the EEA. “If Labour refuses to back the UK staying in Europe’s economic area it will be responsible for putting thousands of jobs at risk, for threatening the rights of working people and backing a hard border in Ireland,” insisted the Edinburgh MP.  

Taxpayer Loses £2.1bn After UK Westminster Government Sells 7.7% of Rbs Holding
The government has sold a 7.7 per cent stake in Royal Bank of Scotland – at a £2.1 billion loss to the UK taxpayer.  UK Westminster Government Investments (UKGI) confirmed the “successful completion” of the disposal at a placement price of 271p per share.  The sale of around 925 million shares will bring the public holding in RBS down from about 70.1 per cent to 62.4 per cent, with proceeds of £2.5bn. It comes at a £2.1bn loss to the UK taxpayer, with the government having paid an average of 502p per share during its bailout of RBS. The total loss is expected to hit around £26.2bn. The government hopes to have sold around two-thirds of its stake by 2023.  The government bought its stake in the bank for £45bn in 2008 as part of a bailout at the height of the financial crisis.  This week’s share sale is the first time that government holdings in RBS have been offloaded since 2015.  RBS chief executive Ross McEwan said: “I am pleased that the government has decided the time is now right to restart the share sale process. This is an important moment for RBS and an important step in returning the bank to private ownership.  It also reflects the progress we have made in building  a much simpler, safer bank that is focused on delivering for its customers and its -shareholders.”  Chancellor Philip Hammond said the sale was also a “significant step” in “putting the financial crisis behind us”.  He said: “The government should not be in the business of owning banks.  “The proceeds of this sale will go towards reducing our national debt – this is the right thing to do for taxpayers as we build an economy that is fit for the future.”  RBS shares slumped in the wake of the news, ending the day 5.3 per cent lower. The share sale had been widely expected after RBS reached a $4.9bn (about £3.6bn) settlement with US regulators last month over allegations it mis-sold mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.  The settlement removed a major hurdle to the bank’s return to private hands, but the timing of the sale has still raised eyebrows.  Only last week, RBS’s outgoing finance chief, Ewen Stevenson, said the recent slump in European stocks – sparked in part by jitters over the rise of Eurosceptic parties in Italy – might cause the government to pause. Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said the share sale restart was “always going to be controversial”, but added it “probably needs to be measured against what the economic cost might have been if the bank had been allowed to fail”. He said: “Given the current size of the bank relative to its size ten years ago, the bank’s ability to generate the type of profits required to justify a return to its break-even price is going to be extremely difficult, if not next to impossible to achieve. Ultimately taxpayers and politicians of whatever persuasion need to ask themselves if a £2bn to £3bn loss on this particular stake is a price worth paying for a smaller, -safer bank, as well as banking system, with the upside that the billions of pounds it unlocks can be better used for things like the NHS, and other public services.”

This Latest Sell-off of RBS Shares is A Disgrace
Banks are not philanthropic organisations, they exist to make money for those who own them and no matter the circuitous route taken by money to reach a bank its ultimate source is us, the consumer, the workforce. With that in mind it is difficult to see any logic never mind sound business practice in the current Chancellor aping his predecessor by selling off a tranche of RBS shares at a horrendous loss to the British taxpayer. Not only are the shares being sold at a loss but the profit from the anticipated future increase in RBS share price will be handed to the private sector as will all future dividends accrued by the shares. Guestimates as to the cumulative debt to the UK taxpayer from government’s intervention in rescuing the RBS vary but will be of the order of £50bn. When one considers the clamour there was when the Government spent £6bn on two aircraft-carriers with no planes to fly from them why is the country not screaming “stop” about the RBS shenanigans? At least with the carrier saga we kept the boats, RBS is costing us 10 times as much and now we have bailed out the sinking RBS we are giving the bank back to the enemy. It does however clearly demonstrate on which side of the divide our UK Westminster Government stands.

Island Bill Passes in Scottish Parliament

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has welcomed the passage of the Islands (Scotland) Bill. The Bill was unanimously passed by MSPs in a Stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament this week.  The Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament last summer and the key provisions of the Bill enjoyed widespread public support.  Commenting, Alasdair Allan said: “This historic legislation seeks to meet the unique needs of Scotland’s islands now and in the future, helping to create the right environment for sustainable growth and empowering communities. The measures included in the bill, along with the Scottish Government’s existing work in areas like transport, digital, housing and health, will contribute to the right conditions for island communities to grow and thrive.  The legislation also seeks to “island proof” future policies to make sure that policies are workable in the islands, and to create an islands plan where the government has to set out its priorities for island communities. This is the first ever legislation for Scotland’s islands and fulfils a key manifesto pledge the SNP stood on in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2016.  I was very happy to see this piece of legislation pass.” Also welcoming the news of the Bill’s progress was Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Comhairle Convener, Councillor Norman A. MacDonald, said: “This was an historic and significant milestone for Scotland’s islands and represents an excellent outcome for the Our Islands Our Future campaign run by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Orkney Islands Council and Shetland Islands Councils.  The Bill itself is an opportunity to embed the principles that “one size does not fit all”, and a recognition of the principle that equity and fairness may, on occasion, only be achieved by the adaptation of legislation, policy, strategy or services. We warmly welcome and strongly believe that the commitments given by the Minister for Transport and Islands, Humza Yousaf MSP, and his predecessor, Derek Mackay MSP, which are reflected in Government’s Stage 3 amendments, together with opposition amendments on key points, strengthen this Bill.”

House of Fraser to Shut More Than Half its Stores
House of Fraser is set to unveil plans to close more than half its stores as the retailer’s Chinese owner finalises a restructuring proposal that will put thousands of jobs at risk. Sources have leaked details to the industry suggesting the department store chain could shut 31 of its 59 stores.  Four are located in Scotland.  Two are situated at either end of Princes Street in Edinburgh, with House of Fraser owning the iconic Jenners department store and a second shop in the West End.  Glasgow also has one store, while another outlet is situated at Loch Lomond.  House of Fraser are yet to announce specific details of store closures or which outlets would be facing the axe.  House of Fraser could also ask for rent reductions on a further 11 outlets as part of the restructuring plan, which is being drawn up with the help of accountancy firm KPMG.  The store closures will be undertaken through a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA), a controversial insolvency procedure in vogue among struggling retailers.  Landlords, who must vote through the plan, have already expressed serious concerns about the proposals. They met on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to House of Fraser.  Property agency JLL has teamed up with lawyers at Begbies Traynor to unite both institutional and individual landlords and advise on a course of action on House of Fraser’s plans.  However, some landlords have already sold off freeholds and cashed out their investment in a bid to protect themselves from the coming store closures.  House of Fraser, which has 6,000 employees and 11,500 concession staff, requires the approval of 75 per cent of its creditors for its plan to go ahead.  The retailer’s board is trying to push through its restructuring plan while securing new investment from Hamleys owner C.banner.  C.banner is being lined up to buy a 51 per cent stake in House of Fraser and invest £70 million into what remains of the business.  The firm has raised £124m in new shares to fund the transaction. However, House of Fraser remains locked in talks with its lenders and has not confirmed when it will make a final announcement on store closures.  Other retailers undertaking CVAs in a bid to keep trading include New Look, Mothercare and Carpetright. Restaurant businesses have also been seeking to cut their costs with store closure programmes, with Carluccio’s, Prezzo, Byron and Prezzo all pushing through CVAs this year.

More Than 60 Per Cent of Waste Recycled in Scottish First

Recycling in Scotland has reached a new high, with more than three fifths of all waste collected re-used in some form.  A total of 6.96 million tonnes of waste – 61 per cent of all rubbish collected – was either recycled, composted or prepared for re-use. It marks the first time the recycling rate has risen above 60 per cent, with Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham saying the increase showed “progress”.  The figures were provided by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).  The Scottish Government has set a target of having 70 per cent of all waste recycled by 2025, with just 5 per cent of rubbish sent to landfill by this date.  Scotland produced a total of 10.79 million tonnes of waste from all sources in 2016 – a drop of 0.53 million tonnes from 2015.  The latest figures show 3.8 million tonnes of rubbish was either sent to landfill or incinerated, a reduction of 463,397 (10.8 per cent) from the previous year.  Just under a third (32.5 per cent) of all waste went to to landfill – the lowest rate recorded over the period 2011 to 2016.  Ms Cunningham said: “I’m pleased to see that the amount of Scottish waste being collected in Scotland has decreased.  For the first time we’ve recycled more than 60 per cent of our waste from all sources, which shows we are making progress towards our 2025 target of 70 per cent and our work to promote and simplify recycling is paying off.” Sepa chief executive Terry A’Hearn said: “Recycling is a real Scottish success story and a simple daily step that communities, corner shops or corporates can take to build a more sustainable Scotland. The scale of the environmental challenge is enormous and we know we live on one planet, but consume the resources of three. The most successful countries in the 21st century will be resource efficient, circular economies, where what once was waste is valued as a resource.  We are committed to helping all regulated businesses do more to support waste prevention and facilitate the use of secondary resources in the economy, helping communities and businesses thrive within the resources of our planet.”

Highland Games Boost Scotland’s Economy by £25m

Highland Games boost the Scottish economy by around £25m every year, new research has found.  Dr Marjory Brewster, a lecturer at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh, said the 80 different games held across the country from May to September, successfully drove “repeat business to distinct locations.”  Dr Brewster said: “Our research indicates that 25% of visitors to highland games are international.  This is really important for Scotland’s tourism and events industry, and provides a major boost to the economies of key communities.  Many of the events take place in the highlands and islands, and due to their increased popularity, these events help drive visitor numbers to key locations thereby spreading the tourism spend across the country.”  Activities featured in the games are being piloted in some schools to encourage a younger generation to continue this trend.  Aboyne Highland Games, which will return for its 151st year this August, annually injects around £450,000 into the local economy alone. Alistair Grant, chairman of Aboyne Highland Games, said: “Since its founding, Aboyne Highland Games has played an important role in the village, attracting thousands of visitors each year who then spend money in local businesses.  It can be hard to exactly quantify the benefit that the annual highland games brings to the village, but the buzz it creates and increased footfall and trade are very evident.”

Student Nurse Wins Fight Against Deportation
A student nurse who moved to the UK almost a decade ago and carried the Commonwealth Games baton ahead of Glasgow 2014 has won a fight against deportation.  Denzel Darku, 23, moved from Ghana aged 14 and has served in the Scottish Youth Parliament. He was threatened with deportation but has now been granted permanent residence. His case was raised by politicians and earlier this week Home Secretary Sajid Javid said he was "sympathetic" to Mr Darku's case. A Home Office spokesman confirmed residence had been granted after a review of the case. He said: "We have contacted Mr Darku's legal representatives today to advise that, following reconsideration of his case, his application for permanent residence has been granted."  Mr Darku's plight was raised at First Minister's Questions last week by Neil Bibby. The Scottish Labour MSP said: "I am absolutely delighted for Denzel that this nightmare has finally come to an end. His life has been turned upside down for no reason and lessons must be learned by the Home Office in how they treat people in future.  I hope the interest in this case - and the Windrush scandal - results in a new approach to immigrants who make their lives here. The cruel and unacceptable treatment of people like Denzel in pursuit of politically-driven targets must stop."

Eight-carriage "Happy Trains" to Ease Crowding on Edinburgh-Glasgow Line
Passengers on ScotRail’s flagship route are due to get eight-carriage trains for the first time this month to ease overcrowding. The operator announced today it had agreed a lease for ten stop-gap trains for the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line.  The four-coach Class 365 electric trains, which can be coupled together, will be an increase on the current maximum six and seven-coach trains.  The so-called “Happy Trains” - because they appear to smile - have been drafted in to plug gaps caused by delays to ScotRail’s brand new Hitachi fleet and leases expiring on other trains.  This has forced the firm to shorten some peak-hour services. The trains are expected to operate two of the four hourly services between the cities. A third is already run by other electric trains.  The fourth will continue to be operated by one of the existing diesel trains, which are to be replaced.  The Class 365s are due to carry passengers by the end of the month, with the first Hitachi train expected to follow suit next month. ScotRail Alliance managing director Alex Hynes said: “I am delighted we have secured an extra ten electric trains to boost the number of seats available to our customers by 17,200 a day. This is great news for our customers travelling between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Securing these extra trains has been made possible thanks to a lot of our people across the ScotRail Alliance working flat out in recent weeks.  Transport minister Humza Yousaf said: "The 17,200 extra seats each day - that’s around 800 an hour - ensures a capacity boost between Edinburgh-Glasgow to support our major events in Scotland this summer. The recent arrival of the first four class 365 trains in Scotland is welcome news, enabling staff training to progress more quickly as well as providing more work at Springburn to prepare the fleet.”

Vital Isles Ferry Returns to Service Five Days Ahead of Schedule
A vital ferry, whose extended repairs caused massive travel disruption along the west coast, is to return to service today, five days ahead of schedule. Complications during repairs to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry meant the boat was out of action for longer than expected. Parts of the MV Clansman’s propulsion system have had to be sent to Denmark for specialist repair. The repairs had knock-on effects for other services as CalMac re-shuffled its fleet. Within days the company handled more than 12,500 calls from worried customers. The vessel was due back in service on Wednesday, but will now be back in service today on the scheduled Oban-Coll-Tiree route. The vessel’s return allowed MV Lord of the Isles to deliver an additional Oban to Lochboisdale sailing yesterday and will restart the postponed Lochboisdale-Mallaig service today as well as delivering the Mallaig-Armadale route as scheduled.  CalMac has faced criticism over its ageing fleet and contingency plans after a wave of rearranged services – causing concern among passengers, communities and tourism operators.