Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 458

Issue # 458                                     Week ending Saturday 30th   June 2018

When It's Gone It's Gone: Why the Week in Westminster Has Changed Everything
by Iain Macwhirter:
“Petulant..vulgar...immature attention-seeking”. The UK press were largely united in condemning the SNP's parliamentary walkout a fortnight ago. “A stunt”, they called it. Well, of course it was a stunt – but such theatrics are as much a part of Westminster tradition as Black Rod. You don't have to go back to Charles Stewart Parnell's use of parliamentary disruption to promote Irish Home rule in the 19th Century. There was the then Labour MP Denis Canavan crying “strangers in the gallery” back in 1987 after the Tories had been routed in Scotland. Even the ultra-respectable Donald Dewar appreciated the importance of political theatre and led a walk out of MPs shortly thereafter. And of course we had Alex Salmond's disruption of the 1988 budget speech.  And the point is that it works. Does anyone seriously believe that, had it not been for this “stunt", that the Sewel Convention and the Scotland Act would have received a smidgeon of the attention it did ? It led the BBC news for the first time, was examined at length in Channel 4 News, and was a hot topic on Question Time. The Guardian even ran an editorial on the issue of consent which, typically, condemned the walk out while saying it was actually justified.  And of course it was. Having the Scottish parliament's powers stripped away was bad enough, but leaving only 15 minutes to debate this was provocation too far. The UK Westminster government's view, echoed in a screamingly pompous Spectator comment on the walk out, is that no one in Scotland is interested in the constitution. ”It's anarchy up there” it teased, “Elderly ladies are smashing up tearooms and Church of Scotland ministers have started lamping passing policemen with bottles of Irn Bru”.  Well, the SNP got the last laugh as 5,000 new members signed up to the party within the next 24 hours. The former editor of the Daily Record, Murray Foote – the man who actually drafted the infamous Vow - then declared that he was now a supporter of independence. The combination of losing EU citizenship and seeing Holyrood demoted drove him over the edge. One suspects many more No voters from 2014 are having similar second thoughts – even if they can't thole the thought of another referendum right now. People are beginning to understand why the parties in the Scottish parliament united – bar the Tories – to refuse legislative consent to the Brexit bill. It is because the UK Westminster government has not the least interest in respecting the fundamental principle of devolution: that Westminster should only legislate for Scotland with the consent of the Scottish parliament. It's not just about fish, farming and food labelling, important though these matters are. It is about the power relations between Scotland and Westminster. Parliamentary politics is all about precedent: once it is established that Westminster can dictate to Holyrood, “whenever there is disagreement” as David Mundell put it baldly in his statement, then that will set the ground rules for the future. It is also about whether Holyrood continues to be a proper parliament with primary law-making powers, or reverts to the status of a city council. As the Brexit insider, and Times journalist, Tim Shipman, put it last week, with inadvertent candour: “why should Scotland be regarded as any more important than Manchester?”. The answer is because Scotland is one of the two nations of the Union, which Manchester is not, and because it has had its own parliament for domestic affairs since 1999. That is called Home Rule. Anyone with the slightest understanding of the UK constitution, and the history of Ireland, should surely understand why this is important. Yet, the vast majority of Tory MPs – and I fear many Labour ones – are condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. This was exactly the kind of dismissive talk about devolution that led to the Scottish Tories being wiped out in the 1997 general election. They had been insisting that “only 1000 people in Scotland care about the constitution”, as Michael Forsyth put it. That was barely a year before the landslide in the 1997 devolution referendum, when three out of four Scots voted for the creation of the Scottish parliament. They may not smash windows and burn effigies of Theresa May, but that doesn't meant that Scottish voters are uninterested in the fate of Holyrood, even though they don't necessarily engage with the constitutional hermeneutics of asymmetrical federalism. The Sewel convention is the rule that Westminster should not legislate in areas that are the Scottish parliament’s responsibilities without consent. As a reward for voting No in 2014, Scots were promised that this would be put on a statutory basis - a law not a mere convention. This was soon undermined by the insertion of the word “normally” before “legislate”in the 2016 Scotland Act – a cynical exercise in parliamentary draftsmanship. Now all pretence that Holyrood is a co-equal partner in domestic legislation is being openly discarded. As Mundell put it, in a remarkable statement, “Scotland is not a partner in the UK, it is part of the UK”.  It is abundantly clear that Brexit is all about rolling back Scottish home rule. It is incompatible with the creation of the new unitary British state, envisaged by the no-imperialist romantics of “Global Britain”. It is naïve in the extreme to believe that after seven years, in which the UK Westminster government will exert a kind of colonial authority over the Scottish parliament, that the powers will be returned and all will be as before. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.  The EU (Withdrawal) Bill will now become law, though technically it cannot get the Royal Assent without the consent of the Scottish parliament, which has been withheld. This can probably be resolved by another quick vote when the Withdrawal Bill comes back from the Lords for its final stages. Regrettably, since Labour has decided to tacitly endorse the power grab – it abstained on the vote on Clause 11/15 – there is little chance that this can now be prevented. Similarly, Labour MPs will likely ensure that the government prevails in the forthcoming trade bills in July, from which the Scottish parliament will also be withholding consent. Why Labour is so reluctant to challenge Theresa May on her approach to devolution is a mystery. They claim it is to support Wales, who have accepted the power grab clause.  But Wales is not Scotland, and the consent issue is central to the original Scotland Act, which was the brainchild of the celebrated Labour Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar. Moreover, Labour MSPs voted in Holyrood to refuse legislative consent to the very Bill which their UK MPs are now helping to impose on Scotland. This may make sense to someone, but it is politically dyslexic. Home Rule should be Labour's political property, it's unique contribution to Scottish political culture. Why throw it away to help a UK Prime Minister, who is on the ropes and on her way out, deliver a discredited Brexit bill that makes the case for Scottish independence by confirming Enoch Powell’s famous claim that “power devolved is power retained”.

Anniversary for Veterans' Centre
Poppy Scotland’s drop-in centre in Inverness has celebrated its fifth anniversary.  The charity, which helps ex-service personnel and their families, has dealt with over 3000 enquiries since opening the doors to its Strothers Lane premises in 2013.  It has also taken on around 400 separate welfare cases.  The centre’s manager Nina Semple said: "Given the thousands of people that have come through our door since 2013, it is clear that Poppyscotland’s Inverness welfare centre has become an integral part of the area in terms of the help we are giving to members of the Armed Forces community every day. With support from expert staff, they can develop a better understanding of what has caused the issues and take the steps necessary to ensure that it does not arise again." Poppyscotland estimates that there are around 100,000 ex-servicemen and women living in the Highlands, and the centre is open to all of them. The charity’s chief executive, Mark Bibbey, said: "Poppyscotland’s aim in the past five years was to set ourselves up as the heart of the welfare service offering in the north of Scotland.  None of that would have been possible if not for the welcoming atmosphere that this centre exudes, which is down to the fantastic staff and volunteers." The centre has been supported by the MacRobert Trust since its opening, and to recognise that fact, Poppyscotland has renamed the facility the MacRobert Centre. The trust’s chief executive, Rear Admiral Chris Hockley,  said: "The MacRobert Trust is delighted to have supported the Inverness Centre since its inception and we are particularly pleased about the renaming.  This enforces our determination to work alongside Poppyscotland to make a real difference to those in our Armed Forces community. I can only say that I am in awe of what has been achieved here in the past five years."

Tiny Island of Ulva Officially Transferred to Community Ownership
An entire island has passed into the hands of its community after being privately owned. Ulva in the Inner Hebrides once had a population of more than 800, but now has fewer than ten people who permanently live on the island. The site was officially bought by the North West Mull Woodland Company (NWMWC) on Thursday after former owner Jamie Howard decided to put the estate on the market. The community right to buy scheme was granted for the bulk of the estate, valued at £4.65 million, following a complex process.  Now the official handover to the people who live on the Inner Hebridean island has taken place. The bulk of the purchase price and assistance with project management over the first two years has come from the Scottish Land Fund, which provided an unprecedented £4.4m towards plans to repopulate the island and transform it into a vibrant site in the future.  Local residents have thrown themselves whole-heartedly into the buy-out initiative.  One of them, Rebecca Munro, said: “I believe the people who live and work here are best placed to run the island.  All we are asking for is the chance to shape our own future.  Community ownership offers us a say in the future and provides opportunities for us and our children.”  Ulva has been in decline in recent years, which was one of the reasons why Mr Howard chose to sell it.  But the remaining residents have spoken of their genuine belief the idyllic island will be revitalised, not least as a thriving centre for tourism.  Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish Government’s environment secretary, applauded the buy-out venture.  She said: “This is a historic day for Ulva and I would like to offer my warmest congratulations to the NWMWC for seeing the sale through to its conclusion.  They can now press ahead with their ambitious plans to regenerate the local economy and ultimately repopulate the island again.” Ulva was the birthplace of Lachlan Macquarie, who lived from 1762 to 1824, was a governor of New South Wales and is regarded by many people as the “Father of Australia”. The Macquarie Group has donated £500,000 to the takeover. Links have already been established between the Ulva residents and the National Trust for Australia, which has pledged to promote the island.

The Scottish Castle with A Pit Prison
If you like your history gruesome, follow in the footsteps of the murderers and vagabonds of the pit prison at Cardoness Castle. Cardoness Castle, once surrounded by sea, sits on a strong defensive rocky point in the Fleet Bay near Kirkcudbright, Dumfries. It is a castle with a gruesome history and tales of murder abound.  Cardoness Castle was built by the McCulloch family in the 1470s. Even the castle's beginnings are shrouded in mystery. The legend goes that a son of the McCulloch's married a daughter of the previous landowner. She was the sole survivor of a tragic accident in which her eight older sisters, her father and her new-born brother downed in a frozen lake during a celebration of her new brother's birth. The castle is known for its pit prison in the bowels of the castle. There's a murder hole over the main door which was designed to deter unwanted visitors. There's an upper level of the prison which might have been considered cosy with a latrine and small window, compared to the horrible pit prison below, where enemies of the McCullochs were thrown to rot.  A pit prison is just what the McCulloch family needed because it seems they were always embroiled in disputes with their neighbours. James McCulloch was involved in land disputes five times and upset his neighbours when he married his daughter off to a “natural idiot” in a land-grabbing plot. Alexander McCulloch was convicted for violence against his neighbours. And Ninian McCulloch was tried for theft of property from his widowed mother.  In fact Cardoness Castle never had friendly inhabitants. It was a haven for hostile pirates and murderers. Another Alexander McCulloch, known as “Cutlar McCulloch,” led a raid on the Isle of Man in 1530. He was fuelled by revenge because the Manx had attacked Galloway. He plundered the Isle of man several times, enriching himself.  However, the McCulloch's finances drained in the 1600s and they lost the castle to the nearby Gordon family, their long-standing enemies. In 1668 Alexander McCulloch dragged John Gordon's ailing widow out of the castle and tossed her onto a dung heap. Then in 1690, Sir Godfrey McCulloch shot dead William Gordon. The McCulloch murderer did a runner to France but years later he was spotted in Edinburgh and beheaded on the Maiden.  Today the castle is cared for by Historic Environment Scotland and there are plans to restore some of the extra floors of the castle that have been lost. There's a visitor centre in a converted cottage at the roadside where there's a model of how the castle would have looked originally. The pit prison is intact and it is one of the best surviving in a Scottish tower house castle, but the floor that would have separated the two prisons is no longer there.

Noise Complaints Force Edinburgh Music Festival Indoors
An outdoor festival being staged in Edinburgh to coincide with the opening of an exhibition charting the history of Scottish pop music has been forced indoors after the venue was hit by noise complaints by neighbours.  Summerhall has been forced to relocate a weekend of special events in its courtyard after being visited by council officials minutes after an outdoor show by Idlewild on Thursday night.  The gig, part of a 10-day series of events at the venue, was staged hours after frontman Roddy Woomble helped launch the exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland.  A host of leading contemporary acts had been lined up to appear at a 10-hour event in the venue’s courtyard, including Withered Hand, Modern Studies, Emma Pollock, Be Charlotte, Carla Easton, Broken Records and Stanley Odd. Billed as “an all-day event to remember and a true celebration of Scottish music,” the Rip It Up Festival was part of Southern Exposure, which was organised by Summerhall to coincide with the exhibition’s opening. City council officials found the venue had breached a previous pledge to ensure local residents would not be disrupted in their homes.  Sam Gough, general manager of Summerhall, said: “After a rousing sold out event with headliner Idlewild to celebrate the opening of Rip It Up at NMS - due to unexpected circumstances the final weekend of Southern Exposure is moving inside into Summerhall’s dissection Room. Vendors will remain outside for ticket holders over what’s set to be the hottest weekend of the year.” Broken Records singer Jamie Sutherland, who is also the music programmer at Summerhall, said: “We’ll move vendors into the front courtyard and use it as a break-out space and beer garden, but it’s certainly disappointing to not be able to perform outdoors. The Idlewild show was just magic.” A council spokeswoman said: “Edinburgh is world renowned for its culture and live music contributes to this. It’s important we balance this up with the rights of residents to peace and quiet in their own homes. “Every licenced premises has responsibility under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 to ensure it operates in accordance with its licencing conditions.  In this instance, upon receiving and witnessing noise complaints from the public, officers attended and gave the event organisers advice.”

Syrian Refugees Open Bakery on Isle of Bute
A father and son-in-law who fled war-torn Syria have gone on to open a bakery business on Bute since arriving on the island as refugees.  Bashar Helmi and his son-in-law Mohamed Helmi opened Helmi’s Patisserie in Rothesay last Sunday.  Within two hours of opening their doors they were sold out of their homemade treats, which were eagerly snapped up by locals. A packed store saw dozens of customers tuck into sweets, cakes, pastries and savouries. Bashar, who manages Helmi’s, was delighted with the first day of business at the shop. He said: “I couldn’t believe we were sold out so quickly. I hope everyday is like this! It’s a very good start for us.”  With Bashar in charge, Mohamed is responsible for creating all the tasty goods.  Bashar added: “My son-in law ran a patisserie in Syria for 16 years, so we are delighted to have opened this patisserie here in Rothesay.” The latest business owners on Bute have settled in nicely to life on the island since fleeing war in their homeland. “I have been here on Bute for two years and six months now,” said Bashar. “I have settled in. It’s home now. I have been made to feel very welcome here.”

Argyle Boulevard: Drains Take the Strain in Glasgow
A dramatic revamp of one of Scotland’s most famous shopping streets could include Britain’s first road drains in planted areas and the reintroduction of buses.  The proposals for Argyle Street in Glasgow also comprise banishing the gloom of the so-called “Hielanman’s Umbrella” bridge under Central Station with huge LED roof panels.  It is one of a £115m series of “Avenues” projects to make the city centre more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists by narrowing roads and widening pavements.  The innovative “sustainable urban drainage system”, or SuDs, involves planted areas being used to slow the flow of rainwater into the sewers to reduce pressure on the network.  It has been previously used in European cities such as Lyon.  It is designed to better cope with predicted more frequent severe storms and significantly reduce sewer flooding and resulting environmental pollution.  Traffic lanes on parts of Argyle Street between the Kingston Bridge and Trongate would be halved in width under the plans.  However, loading bays, bus stops and disabled parking spaces would be retained  A 25mm-wide raised “rib” would separate the traffic lanes, with crossing points every 30-50m.  Kerbs separating road and pavement would remain.  Buses would be allowed on to the pedestrianised section between Queen Street and Glassford Street for the first time in 40 years to speed up cross-city services by avoiding a detour via surrounding streets. At the Hielanman’s Umbrella, named after the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders who gathered there to socialise a century ago out of the rain, new businesses will be encouraged, such as street food traders.  A pilot section of another Avenues project, which involves narrowing a 600m stretch of Sauchiehall Street, is due to be completed by the end of the year.  The layouts, by designers Civic Engineers for Glasgow City Council plans are subject to change following consultation. A Scottish Water spokesperson said: “We are actively working with the council and its consulting engineers to understand the multiple benefits of the project, including removing rainwater from the combined sewer system. Discussions are ongoing and our plans have yet to be confirmed.” Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, which campaigns for pedestrians, said: “We support projects like Glasgow’s Avenues regeneration, which reclaim space for walking and people and reduce car dominance.  This level of change presents design challenges, such as accommodating bus routes while minimising impacts on vulnerable groups. However, through careful and inclusive consultation it should be possible to get the design right for everyone.”  But Philip Gomm, of the RAC Foundation motoring group, said: “We all want Scotland’s city centres to be cleaner, quieter and less congested, but the question is what happens to displaced traffic. Any improvement cannot come at the cost of clogging up neighbouring roads and routes.” Marianne Scobie, deputy chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance, said: “There needs to be a definition between roads, cycles and people.  We don’t envy the planners having to incorporate the views of so many people with various competing needs and ideas. Planners heard that parallel parking spaces do not suit those with rear entry vehicles - something they had not considered and noted for further consideration.  We also discussed that buses being included in an area previously pedestrianised may be very challenging for some, but may open up a part of the city others deemed too far to walk to previously.”

Shell to Develop North Sea Fram Gas Field
Oil company Shell has given the final go-ahead to develop the Fram gas field in the North Sea.  The field, 100 miles east of Aberdeen, is expected to produce about 41 million cubic feet of gas a day.  It will be connected using subsea infrastructure to the neighbouring Shearwater platform.  Steve Phimister, Shell's vice president for upstream in the UK and Ireland, said reducing development costs had allowed investment in new projects. He said: "With our strong record of operational excellence and project execution, we will look to invest in further projects as we work to grow our business in the North Sea."  In January, Shell announced hundreds of jobs would be created during the construction of a vessel which will be used to redevelop the Penguins oil and gas field off Shetland.

Arguments Rage Over Wind Project

Arguments raged at the North Tolsta Community Hall in Lewis on Tuesday night over controversial plans to site a corporate wind farm within a 2km buffer zone of houses.  California-based Forsa Energy have planning permission for 14 turbines at the Druim Leathann Windfarm, but are in the process of submitting an entirely new planning application to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, in order to increase the turbine size from 126.5 metres to 140 metres. Feelings were running high at the meeting – which had a turnout described by community council secretary Angus Murray as “the biggest attendance I’ve ever seen at any community council ever”.  The community council put the wind farm top of the agenda for their monthly public meeting after having put together an information leaflet recently on Forsa’s plans to “raise awareness”. They stressed the leaflet was “without bias” and as accurate as possible. At the start of the meeting, chair Stuart Thomson said: “The purpose of this meeting is to establish what people think about the proposal and what might be a sensible way forward. Please let’s try to have a civil debate about this. If it degenerates into a shouting match I’ll stop the meeting.” The first contribution was in a letter, read out by the chair, which said that if the development was to go ahead on crofting ground, that the land should be decrofted. Donald Maciver, who opposes the development, was the first to speak from the floor, asking: “Who stands to make the most money (from the development) from owning crofts in the village?”He added that the support for the Forsa project was based on those who have a vested interest in it going ahead.  Murdo Maciver replied that, no matter what was said, “this scheme is going to go ahead anyway”, adding: “We’re going to have it and it was supported by 100 people at the time”.  Fiona Macleod, on the community council, pointed out that Forsa’s new planning submission for the increased turbines was “a fresh application” – which people could choose to support or not.  Many at the meeting claimed they had not been well informed about the development, with some saying that letters about the new plans were “the first we’d heard about it” in years.  Murdo Maciver stressed the first communications had gone out in 2011 and the scheme had been advertised in the Stornoway Gazette and the local shop.  However, many said that “lack of communication has been a major problem”, while Stephan Smith, from the floor, said: “It might have been advertised but for a village this size I think it would have been prudent to advertise it to every household.”  Fiona Macleod said: “The developer has complied with the minimum statutory provision.” Much of the discussion centred on the amount of community benefit the scheme will bring – £10million over the lifetime of the windfarm, which equates to £350,000 a year.   From 14 turbines, that is the same as North Tolsta gets from the one community-owned turbine it currently operates. “Why do you need the 14 if you’re going to get the same as you make from that one?” asked one person, to a round of applause. “We’ll be getting at least £10million risk-free,” said Murdo Maciver.From the floor, Anne Marie Henderson said the village had benefited from that one turbine but asked: “Does Tolsta actually need £10million? Wouldn’t we be happier with a wee bit less and people actually getting on together? who is going to want to live in a village” so close to turbines, adding: “I want to see my children want to stay in the village.”  The planned turbines are all approved for siting within a supposed 2km buffer zone of houses, with most of them within 1.5km – one mile – and one as close as 1km. Many commented on the impact this will have on people living there and some asked why the scheme could not be moved further out into the moor. The answer was because most of that ground has European designation as a Special Protected Area.

NHS Staff to Be Offered Minimum 9% Pay Rise
Nurses, midwives and paramedics are to be offered a minimum 9% pay rise over the next three years.  The Scottish Government said its proposals would benefit 147,000 staff under the health services' agenda for change pay system but would be linked to reforms to terms and conditions.  This could include updating policies on sick leave and time-off for those who have worked extra hours as well as wider organisational change.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a 3% pay rise this year for most NHS staff at the SNP conference earlier this month.  If agreed with the unions, and following a consultation with staff, employees earning up to £80,000 will receive a minimum cumulative rise of 9%, with those earning more receiving a flat rate increase of £1,600 a year.  The government said the proposals would mean that by 2020/21 NHS Scotland staff would be significantly better paid than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "We were the first government in the UK to lift the pay cap, and today I can confirm we intend to deliver a pay rise of at least 9% to our hardworking NHS 'Agenda for Change' staff over the next three years. We're doing all we can to recruit new talent and retain existing staff, ensuring NHS Scotland has the right skills and experience to meet future demand and rising expectations. Today's announcement will help make our NHS an attractive employment option for many. In this 70th anniversary year I am delighted that we have been able to offer NHS Scotland staff a pay settlement which not only matches NHS England deal - but exceeds it."

Archaeologists Reveal Hardships of Ancient Island Life in North Uist

Ancient island life on North Uist left children starving and villages covered in sand due to devastating storms, new research has revealed.  Excavations at the Udal on the Outer Hebridean island have uncovered some of the hardships islanders faced during Neolithic and early Bronze Age Scotland.  Analysis of two skeletons discovered at the site indicates they suffered a lack of food as children, including periods of starvation. While archaeologists also believe two round buildings discovered at the Udal may have been the last surviving structures of a large settlement that was covered over by a thick layer of sand, similar to Skara Brae on Orkney.  Beverley Ballin Smith, of GUARD Archaeology, who has been leading the post-excavation work, said: “The storm that brought the sand covered fields and grazing lands in addition to the village, from dunes to the west.  The effects were so severe that the buildings and the farming land had to be abandoned and people moved inland.” The research, published in a new book, reveals that islanders were then hit by further storms, with one bringing a flood so severe that it destroyed their new fields and spread a thick stone and shingle beach across them.  The devastating weather damaged crops and killed animals, impacting on the health of residents, as shown in the two skeletons which were discovered in a burial cairn. Ms Ballin Smith added: “Our Neolithic and Bronze Age ancestors lived through climate change events such as dramatic sea-level rise and increased storminess, and trauma such as loss of fields, crops and animals. They had to relocate their settlement and houses to safer areas.”  The book, entitled Life on the Edge: The Neolithic and Bronze Age of Iain Crawford’s Udal, North Uist, is the result of several years of post-excavation work on the smallest of the Udal sites, which was exposed by coastal erosion after an exceptionally high tide in 1974.  The new book is available from Archaeopress Publishing Ltd for £25. A free version is also available to download at www.archaeology.press.

Theresa May Warned UK ‘Won’t Be An Equal’ After Brexit

Theresa May was given a harsh welcome on arrival at an EU summit in Brussels, with a warning that the relationship between the UK and Europe “isn’t going to be one of absolute equals”.  The UK was taken to task by EU leaders for its failure to agree a unified position on post-Brexit trade amid continued disagreement within Mrs May’s cabinet.  Little progress is expected to emerge from talks that were set to last late into the night. The Prime Minister was scheduled to leave Brussels on Thursday. A ‘Brexit breakfast’ is planned for this morning involving the leaders of the 27 EU member states.  The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that Ireland was ready to begin preparations for a no-deal Brexit along its land and sea border with the UK, with time running out to secure a negotiated deal. “Any relationship that exists in the future between the EU and the UK: we’re 27 member states, the UK is one country, we’re 500 million people, the UK is 60 million,” Mr Varadkar told journalists on arrival in Brussels. That basic fact has to be realised.”  The EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists: “I don’t have to lecture Mrs May but I would like our British friends to make clear their positions… we can’t go on with a split cabinet - they have to say what they want”.  The Taoiseach added: “If we have a no-deal Brexit, and that is unlikely but possible, then the UK will essentially crash out of the customs union and the single market, will not be able to trade freely any more with any part of the EU including access to a European market of 500 million people.  That would require us to make preparations in our ports and airports for that  kind of scenario and that is the kind of thing that we will be doing.”  Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Irish border had to be the “first, second and third priority” in the Brexit negotiations and the UK needed a permanent border backstop plan.  A backstop option, agreed in principle between the EU and UK, has been interpreted by Europe to mean Northern Ireland will stay in the bloc’s Customs Union if no other deal is reached.  The British government is adamant it will not accept any proposal which draws a distinction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

Glasgow to Get New £4m BBC Digital Hub As New Scottish Channel Gets Final Green Light

The BBC is to create 140 new jobs - 60 more than previously announced - in Scotland after broadcasting regulator Ofcom gave the final green light to its proposed new channel. Director-general Lord Hall announced today that a new £4 million digital technology hub will be created in Glasgow, where the new channel is also being produced.  The 60 design and engineering jobs, to be based at Pacific Quay, are over and above 80 posts the BBC has pledged to create by the time the channel launches in February.  The new jobs, to be recruited over the next three years, will include exploring how the BBC develops services on “voice interactive devices” such as Amazon Echo Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s HomePod and creating a single digital platform for the BBC’s apps, websites and online ventures. The BBC has previously pledged to spend an extra £40 million in Scotland in each of the next three years - £20 million in the new channel and £20 million on new Scottish programme for the network.  The centrepiece of the new channel, which will broadcast each evening from 7pm till midnight, will be an hour-long news programme, which will go out at 9pm. New comedy and drama series are expected to be shown, although around half of the new channel's content is expected to be made up of “repeats and archive programmes.”

Cash Lifeline to Re-open Broken Canal Bridges

Part of the Forth & Clyde Canal is to re-open to through traffic after Nicola Sturgeon announced extra £1.6 million to fix two broken lift bridges today.  The extra cash revealed by the First Minister for Scottish Canals follows the closures at Twechar and Bonnybridge in January.  However, two other bridges remain out of action in Glasgow, one at Knightswood and the other on a branch of the canal towards the city centre.  It has meant boaters are unable to traverse the canal between Grangemouth on the Forth and Bowling on the Clyde. The additional funding will also enable further repairs to Ardrishaig Pier at the eastern end of the Crinan Canal in Argyll.  A spokesperson for the Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency, which is Scottish Canals' main funder, said: “An additional £1.625m of capital grant in aid to has been announced to enable Scottish Canals to repair and improve the Bonnybridge and Twechar bridges on the Forth and Clyde and to carry out further repair work at Ardrishaig Pier.  There have ongoing discussions with Scottish Canals about their asset management plan in order to understand the scale of the financial challenges ahead. We are in regular contact with Scottish Canals to discuss the opportunities and the challenges around maintaining these historic assets.  Scottish Canals have been allocated £11.6m in the budget for 2018-19 with an increase of £0.5m (16 per cent) in the capital allocation to £3.5m.

Dynamic Edinburgh Ranked 12th in Investment Index of European Cities

Edinburgh ranks as the 12th most dynamic city in Europe, according to a new investment index.  Savills Investment Management’s Dynamic Cities index rated 130 European cities across six different categories and assigned an overall score to highlight those with solid foundations for commercial property growth. It aims to draw attention to places which encourage wealth and population growth by being able to attract and retain talent, drive innovation and increase -productivity. London topped the rankings for the second year running, with Cambridge, Oxford and Bristol also making the top 20. In addition to being ranked as the 12th most dynamic city overall, the Scottish capital achieved fifth place in the inclusion table, which measured a city’s diversity, public transport and cost of living. Edinburgh also ranked seventh for inspiration, which was defined by the number of cafes, green spaces and -cultural amenities such as museums. The four other categories were innovation, interconnection, investment and infrastructure.  Irfan Younus, head of research, Europe, at Savills IM, said: “Beating the likes of Frankfurt, Vienna, Madrid and Barcelona, Edinburgh’s success as a dynamic city shows it’s punching well above its weight and is well placed to grow in influence over the coming years. The city’s high score for both inclusion and inspiration are two major factors that will make it increasingly attractive for commercial property investment.”  The index made particular reference to the city’s commitment to the arts and culture, its stable to positive population growth forecast, and the likelihood of residents to engage in community activities.

On the March to European Championships with the Trust’s Help
Lewis Pipe Band are in the final stages of practising for their summer competitions on the mainland, which begin this weekend with the European Championships in Forres.  The band aim to attend two of the five major championships every year and will be taking part in the World Championships in Glasgow in August, as well as the European competition. However, the costs of attending these events are huge – and the band were delighted to receive support from community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, who have given £1,000 for the second year to help towards travel and accommodation. Lewis Pipe Band have 22 members at the moment and 18 of them – 11 pipers and seven drummers – will be going to the European Championships, which take place this Saturday (June 30). It costs the pipe band around £3,000 to attend each competition, although they do get help from Lochs Motor Transport in the form of very cheap coach hire. Competitions always mean a minimum of two nights away – leaving on Friday and back on Sunday – and the sheer costs mean the band cannot attend more than two of the big competitions. As well as the European and World Championships, there are also the Scottish, UK and British Championships. Only two of these are always in the same place – the Worlds in Glasgow and the Scottish Championships in Dumbarton – while the other three move around every few years, depending on what local authority has been successful in bidding for them. Sandy said the location of the European Championships in Forres had been “handy” for the band as it was so close to Inverness. However, this is the last year it will be hosted by Forres.