Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 461

Issue # 461                                              Week ending Saturday 21st  July 2018

She Punctured the Tyre of My Van But She Was the One Under Pressure
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
A man from Carloway was driving home one evening last year when he got pulled over by the police. They asked why he didn’t have his lights on. The stroppy Westsider cheekily replied: “Why should I? There is still light everywhere.”. On hearing that, the sergeant bent down and opened the valve of the man’s front tyre. With a loud hiss, the tyre deflated. The driver was enraged. “Hoi, why did you let the air of my tyre?” The cop shrugged and said: “Why shouldn’t I? There is still air everywhere.”

Mrs X has had one of those weeks. She was all set to photograph a wedding at the end of last week and she borrowed my van to carry all her cameras, tripods, parasols and stepladders. No problem. She turned up bright and early on Friday morning at the bride’s house in Balallan. Just one problem - the wedding wasn’t until Saturday. She’s misread her own diary and turned up a day early. There is some suggestion that error was down to me, as her appointments secretary, but you should not listen to mere idle gossip.

On Saturday, she tried again. It all went well with the photos of the bride getting ready and the trip back to Stornoway was uneventful - although she was fashionably late. It was while Mrs X was getting near the church - as she motored past An Lanntair arts centre - that she heard an almighty thump. As the front tyre exploded, the van slumped to the left and she valiantly fought to keep it on the road until it ground to a noisy, smoky halt right opposite her destination - the imposing, towering edifice that is the Free Church.

It was like Only Fools and Horses - and the shredded tyre meant she was virtually driving a three-wheeler. Ever the professional, Mrs X took a deep breath and headed into the church to capture the couple’s big day. But not before asking a true Samaritan, her friend Annabel, to summon the fifth emergency service - me and my daughter. Vicki rolled her sleeves up, jacked the van up in seconds, swore at the rusted nuts like a trooper, took a sharp intake of breath and muttered this was one for Mr Ross. Our trusty local mechanic Iain Ross put his noisy machine on it and, hey presto.

When Cailean and his fitter at tyre and exhaust experts Marybank Garage - “We keep your skid marks on the road” - carried out the repairs on Monday I saw for myself how serious it was. The metal rim had actually cracked and you could see daylight through it. They had not seen the like for many a long year. Photographers always talk about focussing using phrases like depth-of-field. If that had happened 10 minutes earlier as she was coming across the moor, Mrs X could have had first-hand experience of depth-of-peatbog.

With that excitement, I am out of touch about happened at the weekend. Of course, nobody knows nor cares what happened at Wimbledon because Andy Murray wasn’t in it this year. He wins it so often, they are thinking of moving Wimbledon northwards. If they do that, it will not be in the London SW19 postcode anymore. It will be NE14 10S. If that puzzles you, try saying each letter individually like this - N.E.1.4 ...

While the Brat and I were busy with the Vauxhall Combo van on Kenneth Street and miserably failing to undo the wheel nuts, the most powerful man in the free world was also jetting in to land on Scottish soil. No, not the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland - the other one. Donald Trump. How did he get on? Did he meet the Queen? Did he do anything silly? Did he come to Scotland? Did he get to play any golf? Were there any protests? All these questions - I have such a lot to catch up on.

Mrs X’s experience with her puncture on Saturday made me think. After skimping and saving all these years, I decided it was time to push the boat out and get a nice new motor for us. I hinted to Mrs X that the ideal time might be my birthday. Unfortunately, she got the wrong end of the stick and started telling me about newer vans that are for sale. I told her straight that I didn’t want another van. I said: “What I really want is something really fast that goes from 0 to 150 in a few seconds.” She rushed out and came back with a set of bathroom scales and said: “OK. Stand on that.”

Sutherland Site is UK Spaceport Frontrunner

A peninsula on Scotland's north coast has been identified as the frontrunner in the race to become the site of the UK's first spaceport.  Vertical rocket and satellite launches are planned from A'Mhoine, Sutherland.  The UK Space Agency said the move could pave the way for spaceflights from the site between Tongue and Durness. Highlands and Islands Enterprise will be given £2.5m from the UK Westminster government to develop the spaceport which could be up and running by the early 2020s.  Sutherland is the first vertical launch site to be awarded the grant money, ahead of other vertical sites at Unst, Shetland, and North Uist in the Western Isles.  The space agency said it was chosen as it is the best place in the UK to reach highly sought-after satellite orbits with vertically launched rockets.  The government also announced a new £2m development fund for horizontal launch spaceports across the UK at sites such as Prestwick in Ayrshire, Cornwall's Newquay, Campbeltown in Argyll and Bute and Llanbedr in Gwynedd, Wales, subject to a successful business case.  The cash is aimed at boosting their sub-orbital flight, satellite launch and spaceplane ambitions.  The space agency said the spaceflight market is potentially worth £3.8bn to the UK economy over the next decade.  Agency chief executive Graham Turnock said the spaceport grant would "help kick-start an exciting new era for the UK space industry".  Business Secretary Greg Clark said: "As a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we want Britain to be the first place in mainland Europe to launch satellites as part of our industrial strategy.  The UK's thriving space industry, research community and aerospace supply chain put the UK in a leading position to develop both vertical and horizontal launch sites."  The consortium behind the Sutherland spaceport proposal includes US aerospace firm Lockheed Martin.  Highlands and Islands Enterprise chief executive Charlotte Wright said: "The decision to support the UK's first spaceport in Sutherland is tremendous news for our region and for Scotland as a whole. The international space sector is growing and we want to ensure the region is ready to reap the economic benefits that will be generated from this fantastic opportunity."

Scottish Judge Rules Home Office Wrongly Deported Refugee

A Leading Scottish judge has found the Home Office guilty of making a serious blunder by unlawfully returning an Ethiopian asylum seeker fleeing persecution and made a "groundbreaking" ruling that it had to return him to the UK to continue with his case. Solomon Getenet Yitbarek fled Ethiopia's brutal regime five years ago and has an ongoing asylum claim in the UK.  However in a case described as "shocking" even to veteran asylum lawyers assisting him, he was detained during a routine appointment to sign on with the Home Office and deported back to Ethiopia, where he feared for his life.  He claims that he was mistreated on route, with excess pressure applied to handcuffs to keep him quiet, and once in Ethiopia – where both his father and brother were imprisoned, tortured and later died due to their opposition to the ruling regime – was forced to flee into Sudan illegally, to avoid capture.  Meanwhile his lawyer, Lia Devine of Latta Law – working with advocate Alan Caskie – took the case to the Court of Session, where judge Lord Colin Tyre ruled that the Home Office must issue Yitbarek with new travel documents and flights and return him to the UK at its expense. He returned earlier this month, was reunited with his pregnant girlfriend and is continuing with his asylum claim.  Describing the ruling as "groundbreaking" Devine said: "We knew we had a strong case in terms of what had happened, however, we were never sure if we would ever be able to obtain an order for his return. This does not happen often. We were all delighted with the result achieved." Stuart McDonald SNP spokesman on Immigration, Asylum and Border Control, said the latest in a long line of irresponsible decision making by the Home Office meant there was now cause to "look at whether the Home Office should at least be stripped of its role in deciding asylum applications".   He added: “The Home Office continues to act like a law unto itself – not only putting into full force the Conservative government’s awful policies and rules, but too often going further and behaving in an even more outrageous way. From Windrush to unlawful detentions, a mixture of under resourcing and poor decision making means the Home Office is too often getting it wrong." Celia Clarke, director of campaigning group Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), said that wrongful return sometimes went unchallenged. Surveys for BID show that only half of those in detention centres have legal representation. She said: "Detention is meant to be used as a last resort but in practice we find that it is being used as a first resort."  A Home Office spokesperson confirmed that Yitbarek had been "removed in error". "As soon as the court ruling was received, arrangements were put in place to return him to the UK for his case to be dealt with," she added.  Solomon Getnet Yitbarek from Ethiopia, now 27, fled to Sudan with his mother and brother after his father had been arrested by Ethiopian authorities for his political actives. It was too dangerous to return to their own country, yet life here was difficult too. Five years ago he met a British Ethiopian woman at church and the two married and came to the UK, where they settled in London. He was working, studying, and he was safe.  But the relationship broke down after three years, by which point his brother had also been arrested and detained in Ethiopia. “The same issue was the politics that my dad had also been arrested for,” he says. Afraid for his future, Yitbaret, who had also campaigned for Ginbot 7 – a peaceful Ethiopian opposition political organisation whose members have been targeted and detained by the Ethiopian government – sought advice and applied for asylum. However his case was refused. The Home Office said it did not believe him.  He was detained for immigration purposes and moved to several detention centres before ending up in Dungavel in March this year, where he had to find a new lawyer and was put in touch with Lia Devine, of Latta Law. She believed there were grounds to put in a fresh asylum claim, and after doing so, applied successfully for bail.  But within a matter of weeks, at a routine appointment he was detained again while signing on with the Home Office, this time being held in a police station for almost 48 hours before being taken to Morton Hall detention centre. "I told them I had an outstanding case," he explains. "But they said they had been ordered to detain me. They took all my stuff including my phone, searched me and put me in the cells. “I was very scared about what was going to happen next, what would happen to me if I was sent back to Ethiopia."  Once he had been taken to a detention centre a shocked Devine applied for bail the following Tuesday – the first available date – reassured Yitbarek that under UK law his active asylum claim meant he could not be deported and left the office for the weekend. But to his horror he was then moved to IRC Heathrow and after a brief meeting on Sunday – when he was unable to contact his lawyer – was told he would be deported back to Ethiopia.I kept telling them I had an outstanding case, but they didn't listen. They put a belt on me with handcuffs and I was taken in a van straight to the plane and put in the back while everyone was boarding. It was awful. I was crying and saying “please help me” but nobody was doing anything. The guard told me if you don't behave I'll tell them you are with Ginbot 7. I was very scared. Then he started squeezing the handcuffs – it hurt so much I screamed out. He told me if I didn't keep quiet he would keep squeezing them. I felt I had no choice. I had marks after." Once there he was taken to an office inside the airport where they handed over his passport to the Ethiopian official. He was told to follow him, but seeing him heading towards three police men he took fright and ran. He initially went into hiding with a fellow supporter of the party, but after learning that his brother had also been tortured in detention and had died following release, he fled, making a dangerous and illegal border crossing to Sudan. Meanwhile Devine went to the Scottish Court of Session in Edinburgh and phoned him with life changing news. “When she told me that the Home Office had been ordered to return me [to the UK] I was so shocked," says Yitbaret. "I had been feeling hopeless. Now I was just like "wow!". I was so shocked and so happy, all these mixed feelings after everything that had happened.” Travel was arrived from Khartoum, Sudan's capital where he flew back to Heathrow to be reunited with his now pregnant girlfriend. "It just felt like a dream," he said. "Now I want to be safe, to have my case considered and have a normal life in the UK."

Smiles All Round As NHS Staff Mark 70th Anniversary

The many smiling faces of NHS Highland have been revealed to the public to highlight all their "hard work and dedication".  Under the slogans #NHSHmugshot and #TeamHighland, scores of photos have appeared on Twitter to celebrate the 70-year anniversary of the service – while also reminding diligent staff to squeeze in a cup of tea.  Nurses, doctors, catering staff, porters and mail room staff have been among those getting involved by posing for a picture with a special 7tea mug.  A NHS Highland spokeswoman said: "This was something small that we thought would be a bit of fun but also get people talking about the 70th anniversary of the NHS as well as highlighting the many hard-working and dedicated staff who work in the Highlands across a whole range of specialities and departments.  We’re delighted at how well it has been received. I don’t think we appreciated just how popular it would be. More photos are being added to the album on Facebook and we’re also receiving photos from teams that we haven’t been able to reach yet which are great to see."

Former Provost Slams Broadband Roll-out Speed
Broadband provision in the Highlands is "chaotic" according to a former Inverness provost. He wants the roll out speeded up with an immediate injection of funding from the £315 million City-Region Deal.  Liberal Democrat councillor Alex Graham is furious that many rural areas are still without the service altogether. Development agency Highlands and Islands (HIE), which is leading a £146 million fibre optic roll out, says its mission "has been on time and within budget".  But the Inverness West councillor said: "Even in town, there are areas where broadband remains patchy and unreliable. Public frustration is huge, both with installation and the service provided.  Broadband is now a vital service and essential for many small businesses. A broadband one-stop-shop would help residents and providers". Cllr Graham has pressed the issue on numerous occasions with council leader Margaret Davidson.In a detailed response he has been told by the council’s independent-led administration that, under a continuing BT contract with HIE, in the past three months fibre equipment via local cabinets had joined the network in a host of towns including Munlochy, Culbokie and Boat of Garten.  Cllr Davidson told him that BT had promised to add fibre cabinet facilities "shortly" in Strathpeffer, Dornoch, Skeabost Bridge and Aultbea while direct links to premises are said to be imminent at Portmahomack.  A spokeswoman for HIE said: "All these areas already had fibre services but the roll out to homes and businesses is in stages, as we reach further depending on the best way to connect them."  The roll out is scheduled to continue across Highland until September next year mainly in so-called "landward areas".  It has had £4.2 million backing from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The money will assist the roll out in Inverness.  The council has also proposed that a proportion of £20 million of City-Region Deal funding "could" be used for networks feeding Nairn, Dingwall, Invergordon, Tain and Alness. HIE’s digital director Stuart Robertson said: "The Highlands and Islands has undergone an unprecedented increase in access to next generation broadband. In 2013, the region had only one town with any mainstream fibre broadband – Nairn. Today we have more than 86 per-cent coverage from homes as far afield as Shetland and Kintyre.  A choice of many broadband service providers is now available."  He added: "Progress has been made on time and within budget. As solutions are sought to reach increasingly scattered premises in challenging locations, huge efforts are being made by both the public and private sectors to meet the needs of businesses and communities."  HIE maintains that almost 180,000 premises "which would not have been reached without public investment" now have been. In Highland, it says more than 82,500 homes and businesses have been reached by the project. HIE’s website has a postcode checker facility at

Two Portions of this Dessert Could Put Scots Drivers Over Drink-drive Limit
A new study has found that diners should to be on guard of scoffing too much dessert - especially Scots - in case it puts them over the drink driving limit.  The study found that two portions of the popular Italian dessert tiramisu - which normally contains two tablespoons of brandy, Tia Maria or Ameretto , sometimes all three - could put you over the limit.  Fans of the coffee-flavoured dessert, translated from Italian as 'pick me up' or 'lift me up', are being warned to stick to one portion or face being hauled over for drink driving. Other desserts on the 'warning list' include cherry trifles, which normally contain around 100ml of cherry brandy, but you'd need to eat the whole lot, normally made to be eaten by eight people, to get close to the drink drive limit.  Christmas pudding is also a no-no if you want to 'scoff and drive', with a normal festive pud containing 150ml of brandy, sherry, whisky or rum, although you'd have to get through at least five slices to put you in danger.  Boozy chocolates filled with alcohol - like Bailey's mini delights or cherry liquor chocs - can also put you over the limit, although you'd need to scoff 850 to end up with a drink driving conviction, according to the study by vehicle leasing firm All Car Leasing.  In Scotland, in particular, diners should beware after the Government introduced even more stringent drink driving laws in 2014, with drivers facing conviction if they have just one pint or glass of wine. The limit in Scotland is now 22 micrograms in 100ml of breath, compared to 35 micrograms in the rest of the UK.  It's not just desserts which are a danger, with hot sauce, orange juice, peppercorn sauce and chicken marsala on the 'no go list'.  According to the study, dashing a whole bottle of hot sauce - like Jack Daniels Jalapeño or bourbon sauce - over your grub could end up with a drink driving conviction.  Scoffing too much peppercorn sauce could also land you in bother if you get behind the wheel, with four servings of the tasty accompaniment - usually containing around 100ml of brandy - putting you over the limit. Chicken marsala is also a risk, as a dish for four contains around 250ml of Marsala, a Sicilian wine with an alcohol content of between 15-20 ABV, although you'd need to scoff several portions to get pulled over by the police. Amazingly, orange juice is also on the list as it contains 0.5 ABV of alcohol, which is produced as the orange ferments, although you'd need to down at least two pints of OJ to put you close to drink drive limits. Ronnie Lawson-Jones, of All Car Leasing, said that drivers should beware of food and drink containing any alcohol at all - and be wary of how much they consume.He said: "We wanted to highlight the potential unknown risks around driving whilst under the influence due to certain foods and drinks. You’re unlikely to get through a bottle of hot sauce during one sitting, but two pints of orange juice? It’s plausible.  As a rule of thumb, two pints of regular-strength lager or two small glasses of wine would put you over the limit. Remember this doesn’t apply for those living in Scotland, as it now has stricter alcohol limits for drivers, so be sure to double check the alcohol levels of your next indulgent meal.  Whilst a light-hearted study, we felt people may want to know that some foods could add to their alcohol intake more than first thought.”

Businessman Pushes for 'Monster Trail' to Show Nessie At Her Best
Businesses around Loch Ness are being urged to help create a new monster trail by sponsoring special plaques relating stories and anecdotes about the area’s most famous resident. Despite countless reported sightings of Nessie – as well as several infamous hoaxes – little information is available at locations around the 23-mile long stretch of water.  Drumnadrochit company Cobbs has now seized the initiative by installing an engraved plaque at its lochside Clansman Hotel, relating the 1934 sighting by motorcyclist Arthur Grant who reported seeing a long-necked creature in the water on a January night. Company director Willie Cameron is now urging other businesses and organisations to sponsor plaques relating to more tales of Nessie through the years. "The majority of people who come to Loch Ness come here for one reason – the Loch Ness Monster," he said. "Yet when you go round the loch, there is very little indication relating to the mystery."  He envisages the installation of plaques at 25 different locations, depending on permission from agencies including Highland Council, Bear Scotland and landowners. The ultimate aim is to develop an app which would contain further details as well as information about any sponsors. "It is good for business and it is excellent for exceeding customer expectations relative to the sense of place," he said. "I have driven around the loch and not found anything other than in the Loch Ness Visitor Centre. What signs there are tend to be negative – no camping, no litter, no parking, no this, no that. These signs would put out a positive message."

“Astonishing” Find of 2,000-year-old Hair on Orkney
Archaeologists have made an “astonishing” find of 2,000-year-old hair on Orkney with hopes the strands will unlock rich detail about Iron Age life in Scotland.  The find was made in an underground chamber of The Cairns broch on South Ronaldsay along with several other tantalising finds, including a wooden bowl which may have been used to pass drink around a social gathering. Martin Carruthers, lecturer at UHI Archaeology Institute, said the hair was now being tested to confirm its composition and could offer a new wave of information about ancient life in Northern Scotland. He said: “We have made a number of astonishing finds at The Cairns, including strands of hair. My hunch is that it is human hair.  We have around 20 strands. That is just what we could see and I am sure there will be other strands in the soil samples we have taken.  It looks like human hair, it is pliable, if you blow on it, it moves. It is shiny, dark and measures around eight to 10 centimetres long so potentially it records eight to 10 months of information about diet and the conditions people were living in. We are hoping it will help up build a very rich picture of what was going on around that building and really drill into the detail of the humans living there.  We have recovered some human remains from the site in the past, such as a mandible and the odd tooth, but nothing as exciting as the hair which gives us enormous potential to give us a more vivid picture of the humanity of the broch.” The hair and the bowl were found within the subterranean chamber of the broch - a massive domestic roundhouse- known ‘The Well’.  Other finds include a piece of wood that resembles a tent peg, complete with notch. Part of the chamber was also covered in tiny pieces of twig, which may have been used as some sort of filter.  Several pieces of heather were also recovered, with a number of heads apparently woven together. “That was amazing to see as it was human hands that have woven those pieces of heather together,” Mr Carruthers added.  The bowl recovered from the chamber is the oldest wooden bowl to be found in Orkney. Made from alder, it a complete wood-turned bowl around 30 centimetres in diameter, with an elegant profile, a globular body and rounded base. Although the object has split at some point in the past, it is complete and was being held together and protected by the muddy silts of the excavation. The bowl has already been nicknamed the ‘Cairns Quaich’ or the ‘Cairns Cog’ after the traditional drink served at Orkney weddings. The Well features a series of stone cut steps descending into a carefully constructed stone chamber and was sealed when the broch went out of use and abandoned sometime between the Later 1st and Mid-2nd Century AD.  It is assumed that the items also date from this period also, however, radiocarbon dating will be required to see if it could be even earlier than this time.  Around 20 such ‘wells’ have been found beneath brochs with the conditions at The Cairns offering unusually good conditions for preservation. Mr Carruthers said it appeared the silts within the well have been sealed in an anerobic or anoxic state, without oxygen.The conditions mean micro-bacterias have not had an opportunity to eat away at the items.  This had led to an “incredible preservation” of organic items, usually only seen in the rarefied conditions of wetland sites such as the preshitoric loch village at Black Loch of Myrton in Dumfries and Galloway. However, the well at The Cairns sits over two metres under the floor of the broch, and a further two metres beneath the modern ground surface. The depth of the base of the well has remained damp since the Iron Age and allowed for the protection of the wood and organic items, Mr Carruthers said,

Cargo Ship Still Aground Off Caithness
A cargo ship remains aground on the Pentland Skerries between Orkney and the Caithness coast.  The 89m (292ft) Priscilla, which has six crew, got into difficulty at about 03:30 on Wednesday.  Thurso RNLI and a tug Green Isle were first on the scene but attempts to refloat the ship have so far failed.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said the crew had reported no significant damage and there was no sign of pollution.  A second, more powerful tug arrived from Scapa Flow in Orkney mid-afternoon, just before high tide but the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said it was still not possible to move the ship.  The coastguard's emergency towing vessel (ETV) Ievoli Black arrived at about 17:00 and remains on standby, along with the Longhope lifeboat which has relieved the Thurso RNLI crew.  A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said a further attempt to refloat the ship could be made overnight. She continued: "The ETV will be standing by the vessel overnight and it is unlikely that a further attempt will be made to refloat the vessel before the next high water period which is due at 4am on Thursday.  "The Longhope RNLI lifeboat is also still on scene. The vessel remains stable and there are still no signs of any major damage and no signs of any pollution. The crew remain safe and well."

Scotland’s Brexit Battle with UK Backed by Northern Ireland and Wales
The Scottish Government has won the backing of top law officers in Wales and Northern Ireland in its constitutional legal showdown with Westminster over Brexit.  Scotland’s Lord Advocate, James Wolffe, has insisted that Holyrood’s own Brexit Bill is in keeping with the “constitutional framework of devolution” ahead of a crunch hearing at the UK Supreme Court next week.  He also insisted that UK ministers are to blame for any “uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity” in the bitter constitutional stand-off.  Relations between Holyrood and Westminster have sunk to their lowest ebb in the two decades since devolution as the row intensified in recent months. It was prompted over the EU Withdrawal Bill at Westminster which provides the legal framework to repatriate EU powers to the UK after Brexit. SNP ministers have hit out at the framework which would mean key powers in areas like farming and fishing, which should return to Holyrood in line with the devolution settlement, will instead be held in London. It prompted the Scottish Government to pass its own Brexit Bill, although this was deemed outwith the competence of the Scottish Parliament by Holyrood’s Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh, prompting the referral to the UK Supreme Court.  The Lord Advocate, in a written submission to the Supreme Court, says that after Holyrood refused consent for the UK’s Brexit Bill, Tory ministers could have made changes to account for the “interface” between it’s own legislation and the Scottish Bill. “The UK Westminster government chose not to seek to address the issue by express provision,” according to the Scottish Government submission, which was also co-authored by James Mure QC, Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill and Advocate Lesley Irvine. Any uncertainty, confusion or ambiguity arising from the presence on the statute book of these two bills will be a consequence of that legislative choice.” In it’s legal case, the Scottish Government insists that Holyrood’s Brexit Bill does not relate to reserved issues, including international matters, nor is it incompatible with EU law. Northern Ireland Attorney General John Larkin backs the Scottish position.  All of its provisions are within the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament and this reference should be disposed of accordingly,” he states.  This is also supported by Jeremy Miles, Counsel General for Wales, who says it is “perfectly within the Assembly’s competence” to legislate in advance of exit from the EU.

Aberdeen Initiative to Unlock 3.5bn Barrels of Oil

An Aberdeen-based not-for-profit organisation is launching a new initiative that could unlock more than 3.5 billion barrels of oil on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).  The Oil & Gas Technology Centre (OGTC) is leading the industry-backed “Facility of the Future” initiative that could halve the cost of developing and operating an oil and gas facility and help to access the equivalent of more than 3.5 billion barrels of reserves in so-called marginal discoveries.  A discovery is classed as marginal when the risks or technology involved make it too challenging to develop economically, for instance because of its geographical location or the specialist equipment needed.  The project wants to design a new approach that will make this process more efficient than traditional methods, such as fixed platforms.  It aims to develop lower-cost, reusable facilities that can be remotely operated from onshore control centres, thereby increasing reducing the requirement for staff to work in the hazardous offshore environment and creating skilled onshore jobs.  Chris Pearson, the OGTC’s small pools solution centre manager, said: “Oil and gas is playing catch-up with many industries when it comes to automation and remote operations. We’re exploring how the combination of existing and new technology can be best used in the offshore environment to improve safety, reduce life cycle cost and increase efficiency.  New, smarter and more automated ways of developing oil and gas fields are required if we’re to fully unlock marginal discoveries and maximise economic recovery from the UKCS.  The Facility of the Future initiative will help to significantly reduce life-cycle costs and strengthen the investment case for both marginal discoveries and more traditional reservoirs.”  The initiative will kick off with a study led by Crondall Energy and Buoyant Production Technologies to develop a floating facility adapted from the type of installations currently used for shallow water gas fields, known as NUIs, to make them suitable for oil discoveries.  It hopes to design an NUI concept that will function at any water depth and uses a minimal manning approach by involving remote control and automation technologies.  Niki Chambers, project manager at the marginal development solutions centre, said: “This study is looking at unlocking the capabilities of these floating facilities to work across any kind of discovery. It is opening up the whole of the UKCS.”  The OGTC is supported by the Scottish and UK governments, Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire councils and Opportunity North East. It also generates funding from industry and university partners, and is currently in the process of securing further funds for subsequent studies as part of this initiative.

Sturgeon Must Now Fight for A People’s Vote on the EU by Iain Macwhirter
Here’s a measure of Scotland’s influence in Westminster right now. While Theresa May shredded her own middle-way White Paper on Monday night, in order to secure the consent of 40-odd Moggish Brextremists, an amendment requiring the consent of the Scottish Parliament was rejected by 280 votes. The parliament of Scotland counts for a lot less than a handful of no-deal, blue Trotskyites – as if you didn’t know.  It wouldn’t be so bad if the optimistically-named European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative MPs had any idea about what a clean break Brexit might look like, but they don’t. There is no rational “WTO option”, just a chaotic dislocation with our biggest trading partner leading, as even its advocates concede, to unstable prices, tariff wars, the loss of thousands of jobs and the collapse of long-standing agreements on everything from the safety of medicines to the extradition of terrorists. Oh – and the restoration of a hard border in Northern Ireland, which is already spiralling back into violent discontent.  The ERG amendments to the Customs Bill were designed to make impossible Theresa May’s plans, outlined only last week, for Britain to remain aligned with key EU institutions – a kind of Norway/EEA arrangement. They have succeeded. The bill as amended on Monday night makes the Irish back-stop arrangement, agreed by the UK Government only last December, unworkable because it rules there must be no divergence on customs arrangements with the rest of the UK. Another amendment requiring the 27 EU countries to set up complex machinery to collect British customs duties is manifestly bonkers and designed to ensure that Mrs May’s “facilitated customs arrangement” is rejected by Brussels even before it is submitted.  The Prime Minister had the opportunity to face down her hard Brexit fringe and lead the Remain majority in her own party and in parliament, but she opted for a meaningless compromise. This isn’t even a fudge – it is an act of self-immolation, by a desperate Prime Minister, living day-to-day, whose only solution to the gridlock in Parliament was to try to bring forward the parliamentary summer holidays. We have a leaderless government which has effectively abdicated responsibility at the height of Britain’s greatest post-war crisis. And it isn’t going to get any better.  Mrs May isn’t going anywhere. There will be no leadership challenge because the hard Brexiters, for all their noise and influence, only command around 40 to 50 votes in the Commons. A General Election is off the cards because the Tories realise that Labour would probably win it. A palace coup? Who amongst the dithering nonentities sitting round the Cabinet table has the will or the ability to seize the reins of power? Spreadsheet Phil? Wood-burning Gove? ... Boris Johnson may see himself as a blond Churchill waiting for the call – but he’s going to have a long wait.  Britain is now stuck between a rock and a hard Brexit. The only certainty is that we leave the European Union on March 29 next year. Contrary to reports, the EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, was poised to welcome the White Paper, at least as a basis for negotiation. Brussels sees it, rightly, as an attempt by an essentially Remain-supporting Prime Minister to keep Britain in the European fold by a process of legally-binding regulatory alignment. The European Court of Justice would still be in charge, under Mrs May’s plan, even though Britain formally ceases to be under its jurisdiction. It would adjudicate on any disputes arising from Britain’s half-in-half-out arrangements. It’s how Switzerland and the Ukraine deal with the EU. But a tiny minority of Tory MPs have forced the Government to accept amendments that make this realignment so difficult that negotiations can’t begin.  So we have deadlock. With the clock ticking, and no-deal Brexit looming, there seems only one way out of this national crisis: another referendum. It grieves me to say this, since it would be a painful and divisive exercise. But with Parliament hopelessly stuck, the only people who can deliver us from this nightmare are the people who dreamt it in the first place: the voters of Britain. It was anyway a very narrow vote in 2016, 52 per cent to 48 per cent, which demonstrated only that the nation was divided. We knew about Cambridge Analytica’s digital jiggery-pokery, and now the Electoral Commission has fined Vote Leave for fraud. This doesn’t invalidate the result because the referendum was only advisory. Well, let’s seek a second opinion.  No, there’s no guarantee that the result would be any different. There’d be cries of “betrayal” from Ukip’s Nigel Farage, amplified by the tribunes of Brexit in the popular press. It would be an ugly contest in which MPs would be accused of treason – Mrs May already is. But at least the voters would be making an informed decision, unlike in June 2016.  One objection to a People’s Vote had been that it would have to be a multi-option referendum, including Remain, No deal and the White Paper. This was the vote proposed by the former Tory minister, Justine Greening at the weekend. But things have moved on. The White Paper is now blowing in the wind, the choice before Britain remains clear: it is to revoke Article 50, or opt for the cliff edge with Jacob Rees-Mogg. A clear choice.  It is time for the SNP to get off the fence and start campaigning. Nicola Sturgeon has been playing a waiting game, neither opposing nor supporting what might be called Brexyref2. She’s worried about the implications for the next Scottish referendum. But right now, Scotland is being marginalised, as this week’s votes show, and the SNP needs to get back in the race.  There is a vacuum on the Remain side which she could fill, since Jeremy Corbyn has, irresponsibly, rejected another referendum. Yet trade unions, most of the Parliamentary Labour Party and even the left-wing Momentum grouping are favouring a People’s Vote. The problem is a lack of leadership. Nicola Sturgeon is rightly regarded as a leader of unique abilities: it’s time that she demonstrated them.

UK and Australian Ministers to Discuss Security
Security is on the agenda as senior UK and Australian government ministers meet for talks. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will meet with Australian counterparts in Edinburgh.  The 10th annual ministerial talks between the UK and Australia will cover foreign policy, security and defence, the Australians said.  In a joint statement, foreign minister Julie Bishop and defence minister Marise Payne said: "We will engage with our British counterparts across a range of foreign policy, defence and security interests. The annual consultations are an opportunity to identify areas where both nations can cooperate more closely in the pursuit of our shared interests including in our region, the Indo-Pacific." The Foreign Office said: "The Annual AUKMIN talks are an opportunity to celebrate the UK's historic relationship, and further strengthen our modern partnership, with Australia.  It is a dynamic relationship which delivers for Britain across the breadth of foreign and security policy, extending into trade and investment, and people to people and cultural links."  The meeting comes after Ms Payne pointed to future projects with the UK on Thursday as she visited the British defence giant behind a £20 billion warship deal for the Royal Australian Navy.  She joined Mr Williamson on a tour of the BAE Systems shipyard in Glasgow and said it provided the opportunity "consolidate the ability to work together closely decades into the future on this project and many others".