Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 466

Issue # 466                                          Week ending Friday 24th August 2018

These Mis-shaped Melons Are Healthy As Curious Carrots So Go Buy Wonky
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Does anyone else think it outrageous that a third of fruit and vegetables from Britain’s farms never reach the supermarket shelves? No, it’s not because the lorries keep breaking down but because we, the stupid public, will not buy what is now known as wonky fruit. We blamed the Common Market for setting rules on the shape of a banana but the very grim truth about all this is that we tend not to buy fruit or vegetables that do not fit in with our idea of what they should look like. We don’t want to eat anything that looks a teeny bit different. That is just ridiculous.

If you are going to dice and slice the carrots anyway, why would you not buy ones that happen to look like three welded into one? Are they going to look different on the plate? Are they not just going to end up in your belly, anyway. Are they going to be bad for your health? Not at all. The really daft thing is that this prissy fussiness is pushing up the price of that fresh produce. How can people complain about the price of fruit and veg when they are too snobbish to buy the not-so-perfect ones? A mis-shapen avocado sells for about a third of the normal shape ones and these nomal ones would also be cheaper if the farmer could sell the lot.

Personally, I would not mind if my banana was more S-shaped than the usual crescent, if my apple is more like a deflated tennis ball than a sphere or if my spuds have other little baby spuds apparently growing out of them. Is that not a sign of a healthy crop? We must be thick if we turn our nose up at that because, as well as being cheaper for us, less pickiness would help cut waste, reduce the impact of food production on the climate and just generally help the food supply chain. Demand wonky fruit, I say. Cuddle a curious carrot, love a lumpy lemon and always remember to kiss a kinky cucumber. Massage a mis-shaped melon.

The internet is also changing the world but rural areas like the islands have had a bit of a wait for decent broadband speed. When BT published a map showing progress in 2015, they had areas shown as Accepting Orders and Coming Soon and Planned Area. The west of Lewis and my home island of Great Bernera was at the very bottom marked Exploring Solutions. But like Brexit, things have begun to happen. It was announced recently that the latest phase of Digital Scotland’s £146 million superfast broadband rollout will see a few places like Glendale, Torridon and Waternish and Great Bernera will now get lightning speeds by autumn next year.

I read somewhere that download speeds in those areas will reach more than 200mbps. That’s like, er, whoosh. Films in an instant. Business files could be uploaded and transferred around the globe in minutes, seconds even milliseconds. Waow. That will be amazeballs, or whatever that X Factor lady who now sells yogurt on TV used to say. Our little island will have better broadband service than the City of London - or even Garrabost, because Point people usually get the lion’s share of everything. No more, you Rudhachs. Eat our superfast dust, losers.

Right, I am calm now. Sorry about my earlier sermon on wonky fruit and veg. I do get carried away sometimes but it does make me quite angry that there is such little progress with shoppers’ buying habits. To give them their due, some supermarkets have been doing their best to get us buying the wobbly knobbly ones but it is us, the shoppers, who still choose to refuse it. The shops cannot afford to keep doing the right thing if we are ignoring their efforts to help us and the farmers. One piece of good news is that wonky grapes are still used for making wine and that is why we don’t see them in the shops.

Sometimes Mrs X and I like to relax with a wee glass of the vino plonko or two. The other evening, after a long day in which there one or two, er, misunderstandings rather than arguments, she let out a long sigh and said: “See you. I really love you.”. Wow, I thought. That’s not like her. Had something happened to make her suddenly become so sweet and romantic? I had to remark: “Thank you. I did not expect that. But is that you or the wine talking?” She replied: “Oh, that was me talking. And I was talking to the wine.”

The Last Dance: Thousands Say Farewell to Runrig
It was the night that thousands of fans had been looking forward to – and dreading – and only the Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond would have been a more perfect location.  Runrig – that most Scottish of folk rock bands – performed their last-ever show against the backdrop of Stirling Castle. The event, which was titled The Last Dance, took place over Friday and Saturday, and original frontman Donnie Munro took to the stage for the occasion. Around 52,000 fans flocked to Stirling over the two days, each with their own reasons to say farewell. The tickets had sold out only minutes after going on sale, with fans complaining that they had been snapped up by ticket resellers, for five times the original price. Runrig, which are known for their Gaelic-language songs as much as the anthems that are sung as a climax to so many special occasions, were formed in 1973 on the Isle of Skye. Their roots have acted as an inspiration for some of their most popular songs, and it’s no surprise that they have a large fanbase hailing from their Hebridean heartland (that word, incidentally, being used as the name of one of their albums, in 1985).  Demand was so great that Scottish airline Loganair put on extra flights from the Western Isles to Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The band, which started by playing wedding receptions, are most widely known for their first single Loch Lomond. The instantly recognisable track spent five weeks in the charts in 1983, and it is still a go-to tune to end parties and weddings. But it is their wider body of work – 14 studio albums in total – that their fans were celebrating last night.  Katherine Street, who attended Friday’s show at Falleninch farm in Stirling, said: “It was absolutely fantastic. They played non-stop for over three hours. It was a superb venue with the backdrop of Stirling Castle. It was very well organised, very memorable, and I think the Runrig members were very moved by it.”  The appearance of Munro was also a massive selling point. He left the band in 1997 to pursue a career in politics and went on to become a solo performer, but he was back, just like the old times and to the delight of the faithful.  “Donnie also did a couple of numbers with the Glasgow Islay Choir. It’s probably the best one I’ve been to, and I’m not a huge Runrig fan, but that was a great night with a great crowd”, said Street.  The six-strong band have undoubtedly made a large contribution to Scottish music and culture. The Canadian vocalist Bruce Guthro, who has toured with the band for 20 years, said: “All of it has been special. It’s almost impossible to pick certain highlights – it’s just been a great journey.”  This morning, many will be sad to see the band go their separate ways, but The Last Dance was a fitting send-off, and something that will be remembered for years to come.

Injured Man Airlifted to Hospital From Fish Farm

A man has been airlifted to hospital after being injured at a fish farm in the Highlands. A Stornoway Coastguard helicopter was called to Tanera Mor, the largest of the Summer Isles, following the incident which occurred at about 11:00 on Saturday.  The man, who had suffered a leg injury, was taken to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for treatment.  His condition is not yet known.

As Hopes of Indyref2 Fade, Are We Seeing the Birth of New SNP?
by Iain Macwhirter
The Scottish Growth Commission – remember that? The former SNP MP Andrew Wilson's report was hailed as a triumph of realism and responsibility by economists like Professor John Kay. Sir Tom Devine, the nations' most treasured historian, thought that it could have made all the difference in the 2014 referendum. But it seems it will not even be debated at the SNP's crucial October conference.  Some of us weren't quite so complimentary, of course. The economic orthodoxy upon which the Growth Commission was built – balancing the books through public spending restraint – bore an awkward resemblance to the belt-tightening policies of George Osborne after 2010. SNP left-wingers, like the former MP George Kerevan, were dismayed that the Commission failed to recommend an independent currency, leaving Scotland chained to the interest rate policies of the Bank of England for the first decade of independence.  The document largely endorsed the claim by Unionists that an independent Scotland would be born with a headline £13 billion deficit. Labour called it “austerity on stilts”. The economic blogger most Nationalists love to hate, Kevin Hague, put the tin hat on it by wholeheartedly embracing the Growth Commission's analysis. The Institute for Fiscal Studies then commended the SNP's new realism, while predicting that it would mean another 10 years of austerity.  However, since its publication, I have to admit that Andrew Wilson's report has had some positive political impact. It does seem to have attracted interest in independence from the business community, who are at sea over Brexit and looking for answers. It probably reassured Scottish pensioners and home owners worried about the inflationary risks of independence. The report certainly won praise from Wilson's many friends in the media, and earned the SNP a deal of favourable coverage, which isn't to be sniffed at.  But as far as independence is concerned, the SGC hardly shifted the dial. It wasn't an inspirational programme and nor was it the SNP's Clause 4 moment. It didn't lead anywhere. The SNP has succeeded in repudiating the compendious 2013 Independence White Paper, “Scotland’s Future”, while offering nothing very positive in its place – at least in terms of a rallying cry. Nor can it just be ignored: it was never intended as a disposable discussion paper. The Growth Commission will be the great woolly mammoth in the room at the SECC in October. It is bound to surface one way or another.  The puzzle is why it saw the light of day at all. Why offer a whole boat-load of hostages to fortune on the eve of an expected referendum campaign? The optimistic Keynesian 2013 White Paper, for all its faults, was a successful campaigning document, not unlike Labour's 2017 General Election manifesto. It took Yes to the very brink of victory. Why did Nicola Sturgeon authorise the publication of its antithesis at the moment she is trying to build support for another crack at independence? At the very least the Growth Commission has created a rift in the movement when you would expect her to be seeking unity.  Well, one heretical thought is that the Commission was never intended to kick-start a campaign, but was part of the process of building down expectations of an imminent referendum. It was as political downer, a dose of Tramadol to quell the delinquent spirits of indyref enthusiasts, who believe that independence is a matter of political will, inspiration and taking politics to the streets. Nicola Sturgeon has shown no sign over the summer of preparing for independence. Back when the 2013 White Paper was published, the SNP staged high-profile conferences around Scotland bringing together the disparate elements of Scottish civil society – not just SNP members – to debate its contents. I remember this because I was asked to chair one of them. There's been nothing like that this time, only internal party discussions.  Some Nationalists are beginning to wonder whether Nicola Sturgeon really wants a referendum at all in the near future. The SNP is supremely powerful in Scotland, with Labour in confusion and the Conservatives discredited by Brexit. Why would she risk all that on a throw of the dice? Was she so burned by the last attempt at a referendum, losing a third of her MPs, that she's lost faith in referendums?  The SNP's objective is, of course, independence, but political parties are first of all about getting and retaining power. About keeping bums on seats. Losing elected members, MPs and MSPs, is painful: it means close friends losing their livelihoods. The party is still in mourning for the casualties of 2017– like Angus Robertson and Alex Salmond.  There would, of course, be dismay in the party if Sturgeon were to shelve independence again in October. This is likely to be the most divisive SNP conference since the rows over devolution in the 1990s. But Nicola Sturgeon is not in any political danger. There is no conceivable rival in the cabinet. Potential dissidents like the deputy leadership contender, councillor Chris McEleny, are remote from Holyrood politics. Nor are there organised dissenting groups in the SNP – no “Mandate Group” or “Independence Research Group”. Perhaps there should be in future.  Moreover, there will be a lot to distract the troops in October. The Tories are deeply divided and Theresa May will be lucky to survive. If she tries to breathe life into the Chequers compromise she will be roasted by the legions of hard Brexit Moggists. If she abandons her White Paper, and gives in to No Deal Brexit, there will be a huge public outcry and further resignations.  Over at Labour, the row over anti-Semitism looks set to dominate the conference, but not in the way Jeremy Corbyn’s MP critics hope. The Labour leader's many admirers in the party, who believe none of it, will use the conference to push for mandatory reselection of MPs to clear out the right. This could split the party.  Coming last allows Nicola Sturgeon to focus the SNP conference on not being Labour, or the Tories, but instead being the leading Remain party. She may not actually endorse a People's Vote, but she could say that a No Deal is unthinkable and that Article 50 should be delayed if there is no agreement on Britain's future trading arrangements with the EU. Opposing Brexit will crowd out discussion of indyref2  So, if the Growth Commission was a way of levelling with party enthusiasts – of saying that the economics just aren't right for independence at the moment – it would make some political sense. The risk, of course, is that it might be too successful, and make it very difficult to reconstruct the 2014 coalition in future. The Yes campaign managed to galvanise voters in working class communities who had largely given up on electoral politics. Voter registration in 2014 was 97 per cent and turnout on the day was 85 per cent.  It would be hard to build that kind of engagement on a programme that has spending constraint as its core economic strategy. However, a dose of “economic realism” might consolidate the SNP’s hold on Holyrood. We may he seeing the beginning of the end of the SNP as a radical, insurgent party, and the birth of what might be called New SNP.

Battle to Save 18th Century Island Lighthouse
It was one of the first lighthouses in Scotland and guided sailors to safety in the Outer Hebrides from the late 18th Century.  Now Eilean Glas lighthouse on the island of Scalpay, off Harris, is in its own battle for survival.  A group of local residents have bought over the lighthouse with hopes to restore it for community events, retreats and a quiet refuge for walkers.  But attempts to revive the structure, which is on the Buildings at Risk register, have suffered a setback.  Work to hook up the lighthouse to mains water supply - which involved using a digger to lay a kilometre of new water pipe over very rough moorland - was hampered by bad weather last year and increasing costs.  Theo Ford -Sagers, of the Eilean Glas Trust, said: “It’s an ongoing struggle. Completing the mains water supply is our current task; a big undertaking that had to be called off last year due to the weather. It’s crucial to the long-term survival of the site.”  Mr Ford-Sagers said the lighthouse formerly used water from a loch close by, but that the water quality did mot meet modern regulations.  Fundraising continues to advance the restoration project, with hopes to restart the work to reconnect the water mains this year.  Eilean Glas lighthouse was built after Captain Alex McLeod of Harris, the owner of Scalpay, was approached by the original Northern Lighthouse Trustees in 1787 for assistance in the lighthouse project.  McLeod’s men started the Scalpay Lighthouse with the trustees’ masons arriving on Scalpay from Edinburgh during the summer of the following year.  It was completed that October but initial inspections by the trustees engineer found that McLeod’s men had made the circumference of the tower four feet greater than shown on the plans.  However, to save time and expense, the large version of the planned lighthouse was given the go ahead.  The present tower, which still operates, was put up in 1824 when Robert Stevenson was sole engineer to the Board.  When Alexander Reid, the first lighthouse keeper at Eilean Glas, was pensioned off with an annuity of forty guineas just before the new lighthouse was activated, the engineer reported him as “weatherbeaten and stiff by long exposure on the Point of Glas”.

Urquhart Castle Calls A Halt to Wedding Bookings

Couples wanting to tie the knot at a world-famous landmark overlooking Loch Ness will no longer be able to do so due to record-breaking visitor numbers.  Urquhart Castle, one of Scotland’s most popular tourist attractions, was visited by almost 500,000 people last year – an increase of 22 per cent.  Government agency Historic Environment Scotland, which runs the site with its ruins dating back to the 13th century, confirmed it has stopped taking bookings.  But the lack of consultation with local companies reaping the spin-off benefits has bemused Loch Ness business leader Willie Cameron.  He only discovered about the change in policy by chance.  "Someone with local connections had made an inquiry about getting married at the castle and found out they couldn’t get married there," said Mr Cameron, a director of the Cobbs Group.  "It came as a total surprise. It seems a bit ironic when it is one of the jewels in the crown of Historic Environment Scotland and one of the most visited attractions.  One of the key things for attracting people into the area is wedding parties and the village as a whole benefits from weddings.  People come stay in bed and breakfasts or hotels, they eat at the restaurants and they spend money in the village.  The castle is up there among the top wedding venues – getting married on the shores of Loch Ness in a castle is a marketing man’s dream.  But for some reason, they have decided not to do it anymore because they are too busy."   Mr Cameron is part of the Glen Urquhart Rural Community Association which unveiled bold plans for a community buyout of the castle.  A spokeswoman for Historic Environment Scotland confirmed that due to an increase in visitor numbers at the castle,  the agency was no longer offering weddings at the site.  "This is to ensure we are not compromising on the experience we can offer the bride and groom on their special day as well as not impacting on the core visitor experience," she said.

It’s Been Quite A Year for Barra Gin Firm
The Isle of Barra Distillers was established as recently as 2016, but it’s been a dream of wife and husband team Katie and Michael Morrison for much longer than that, and this week marks one year since the Barra gin went on sale.  Michael and Katie had a number of aims when setting up the company: to create something that not only they could be proud of, but the whole of the Isle of Barra can be proud of. To try and give something back to the Island, such as employment opportunities and to build a legacy that can be continued for generations to come.  Michael described the early days: “In the early months we were overwhelmed with the support shown by the public in the new venture.  On opening night of sales, our website crashed due to demand.  In the lead up to Christmas, a real highlight of the year happened, when the Barra gin was a headline sponsor at London Fashion week for world famous designer John Smedley.”  Now growing the brand is key to all involved in the company. They have decided not to go down the conventional route of using a UK based distributor. Instead the firm has opted to do this themselves - a brave and bold move but one that is working well.  Michael explained their success in this area: “To date you will find the Barra Gin stocked in over 200 restaurants, hotels and bars across the UK. Some venues include such places like Tom Kitchines Mitchillin started restaurant The Kitchin along with sister restaurants The Scran & Scallie and The Castle Terrace all found in Scotland’s capital Edinburgh.  Other venues such as Café Gandolfi, the award-winning Carters of Mosley and The Ferry Inn to name but just a few.  It means a great deal to all involved to be able to share the story of the Barra gin, the Isle of Barra distillers and of course the Island itself to so many folks and to do this by sharing a dram - well what other way would you want to do it! “ More highlights for the company came in 2018.  In mid-March the firm agreed a distribution deal for exporting the spirit into Denmark, the first country out with the UK to have the Barra gin available to buy.  This was a special moment for the business owners and everyone involved in the firm, but then just a coupleof weeks ago Isle of Barra Distillers singed their second distribution deal, this time with an importer in Germany. This deal will see Barra gin being imported and distributed into Germany for the next 12 months.  This latest news further cements a fantastic year for the Island company, as some brands wait years for similar success.  Michael added: “Where do you begin? It’s been incredible and a year that has far surpassed our hopes.  We set out to create something a bit different and wanted to grow at a pace that we could adjust to as time went by, but from day one it has been unbelievable and we are very excited for the future.  Creating employment was one of our key goals and we have done that by adding three new opportunities into, what can only be described as a fragile Island economy, and as we grow so will the opportunities for further employment. My personal highlight is of course exporting our Island spirt and story to our friends in Denmark and Germany, to do this in year one really is fantastic.  Already we are working hard on introducing the story of the Barra gin to places much further away than our remote home here on the Isle of Barra and we are confident that by the end of 2019 you will see the Barra gin available in 5 or 6 new countries.  We are just grateful to the great team we have here at the Isle of Barra Distillers and the amazing support we have been shown by the public in what we are trying to achieve - we can’t thank you all enough!”

New £3m Film Making Fund As Spending Soars in Scotland

A total of £95m was spent on film and TV production in Scotland last year, it has been revealed.  It is the highest amount since records began a decade ago.  Avengers: Infinity War, Outlaw King, and Mary Queen of Scots, are just some of the productions filmed in Scotland recently.  Creative Scotland, which granted funding to several of those filmmakers, has now announced a new £3m fund for television production.  The Broadcast Content Fund, announced on the eve of the Edinburgh Television Festival, will offer money to future TV and digital projects.  It will be open to production companies that are based in Scotland, offering grants of between £10,000 and £500,000.

Multimillion-pound Dumfries School Campus Opens
A £28m schools campus is ready to welcome hundreds of pupils in Dumfries.  An investigation took place last month after a leak was found just weeks before it was due to open.  Social media posts suggested a ceiling had collapsed but contractors concluded a sprinkler fitting error was to blame for "sagging and superficial damage".  Repair works have since been carried out and the North West Community Campus is set to open on schedule for the start of the new school term.  Work started on the project in 2016 as a replacement for Lochside and St Ninian's primary schools, Langlands special school and Maxwelltown High School. It is part of the wider Dumfries Learning Town project which is overhauling education provision.  Jeff Leaver, who chairs Dumfries and Galloway Council's children, young people and lifelong learning committee, said the feedback from an open day at the site had been "so positive".  "Parents were impressed with the size of the school, the new classrooms and facilities, the outside space and the children were loving the new nursery," he said.  However, the council confirmed that a new library on the campus would not be opening yet.  "The library will be open to the community in the next few weeks," a statement said.  Arrangements are in place to deal with any requests for access to library resources in the interim period."

Orkney Tidal Turbine Generating 'Phenomenal Result'

A flagship tidal energy turbine has generated more electricity in its first year than Scotland's entire wave and tidal sector produced before it.  The Scotrenewables SR2000, with its 2MW turbine, was installed in the sea off Orkney in 2017.  It has now generated three gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity from near continuous operation, its owners said. It is estimated the seas around the UK could one day be capable of generating 20% of electricity needs.  The European Marine Energy Centre (Emec) in Orkney has tested 30 different devices since it was launched in 2003.  Between the rest of them, they have generated 2.8 GWh hours of electricity.  But the latest full-scale prototype, at 63m, has so far proved to be the most successful.  Andrew Scott, chief executive officer of Scotrenewables Tidal Power, said: "It is a phenomenal result. For one, we've had continual generation or testing for a year. That's fairly unique in this sector.  We've generated over three GWh into the Scottish grid. That's more than three times any prototype system that's come before us and, in fact, cumulatively that's more power generated in 12 months from this single turbine than the entire wave and tidal energy sector has done in Scotland in the 12 years preceding the launch of this turbine."  The company believes the key to its success has been the design of the generator which is significantly different to previous tidal systems.  Older prototypes involved machines - similar to wind turbines - being fixed to the seabed.  However, the SR2000 more closely resembles a boat with the rotors hanging from a device which floats on the surface.  That makes it easier and cheaper to carry out maintenance because moving parts are more easily accessible.  Mr Scott added: "We've taken a very novel approach and we believe we've got a very disruptive technology in that space."  The device was installed in the Fall of Warness, west of the island of Eday, in August 2017.  It can typically generate 7% of Orkney's electricity but at points has been able to power more than a quarter of the area's homes.  But because it is still in its infancy, the power is still expensive to produce compared with wind.  Jonathan Lindsay, from Emec, said: "Wind has had about 50 years from when it first started, whereas wave and tidal has really been over the last 10 years or so and has actually made quite a lot of progress in that time.  As we move forward we will see bigger and bigger machines coming along."  The industry experienced a significant setback four years ago when wave firm Pelamis went into administration after failing to secure investment.  But the Orkney site has recorded several '"firsts" including the recent success at creating hydrogen from marine power.  Gina Hanrahan, from environmental charity WWF Scotland, said: "As we transition to a wholly renewable electricity system, it's really important that we have a diversity of renewable electricity sources.  We've seen huge growth in onshore wind and offshore wind over recent years and it's great to see new tidal technologies now hitting new milestones."

Scottish Isle on Sale for Less Than Churchill’s Landscape

Eilean Nan Gabhar, otherwise known as the Island of the Goats in the Inner Hebrides, is on the market for £120,000.  It costs less than the average one-bedroom flat in Edinburgh, but comes with its own pebble beach, ancient woodland and resident wildlife.  While there might be a lack of buildings or services, Eilean Nan Gabhar, does come with a Vodafone signal and even 3G coverage – even if signal quality may vary – for a mere £120,000.  The island, two hours from Glasgow, has been in the same family for more than 70 years, but is now one of a range of unusual potential purchases – from the world’s most expensive whisky to a German Enigma machine – to become available for wealthy buyers to splash out on something they can be sure no-one else possesses.  For the buyer who wants to escape urban life, or the Edinburgh resident fed up with Festival crowds, Eilean Nan Gabhar could be the perfect retreat.  According to sellers Galbraiths, the island offers a stunning view of Craignish and the Island of Rum, and a bay to the north which is a natural haven for otters and seabirds. Now, for those interested in how the rich like to spend their cash, Bonhams has unveiled its “best of” exhibition to showcase items, and their eye-watering price tags, due to go on sale. Offerings include the world’s most expensive whisky – Macallan Valerio Adami 1926 60-year-old is expected to sell for up to £900,000 when it goes on sale at Bonhams Whisky Sale in Edinburgh on October 3. The lots – on show at Bonhams in Glasgow and later in Edinburgh – include a rare original Second World War Engima enciphering machine which was used by the Germans to communicate in secret. It is expected to fetch up to £150,000. Also included in the exhibition is a 1930s artwork by Sir Winston Churchill. Entitled Riviera, the almost-abstract work is thought to have been painted during a holiday on the Cote d’Azur. It’s expected to fetch up to £150,000 when it is sold in London in November.  For something closer to home, there is Scottish colourist Francis Cadell’s 1911 portrait The Model – Peggy Macrae, valued at up to £200,000. It will be sold in Edinburgh in October. The show runs at Bonhams Glasgow until Thursday before moving to Edinburgh, also includes a First Millenium Chinese bronze vessel valued at between £350,000 to £500,000.

Skull Could Offer Clues to Date of Eigg Massacre

Scientists are hoping to accurately date a notorious 16th Century massacre on the Isle of Eigg by carbon dating a human skull taken from the site.  About 400 islanders, almost the entire population of the isle, were killed by a raiding party of Macleods from Skye.  At the time the Macleods were locked in a long, violent feud with the Macdonalds of Eigg.  The skull at the centre of the new study was taken as a souvenir by novelist and poet Sir Walter Scott.  Following a visit to Eigg, the writer took the skull back to his home in Abbotsford in Melrose.  Historic Environment Scotland, working with a number of universities, hope to study samples of the bone.  Camille Dressler, chairwoman of the Eigg History Society, said the results could provide a closer date to when the massacre happened, and provide clues to the lifestyle of the islanders.  She said: "It has been very difficult to ascertain the exact date of the massacre, so the skull would help us pin down the date more accurately.  At the moment, the carbon dating that we have from other bones are from 1540 to 1620."  Ms Dressler said the sampling could also reveal what kind of diet the islanders consumed, and diseases that may have affected the local population. Samples could be extracted from the skull's teeth, but Ms Dressler said it could be six months to a year before the results were known.  The massacre marked an escalation in the feud between the Macdonalds of Clanranald and the Macleods of Dunvegan on Skye.  Previously, the tit-for-tat violence had seen the Macleods beat and then leave for dead in a boat a son of chieftain Macleod of Dunvegan.  It is said the small boat was found after it drifted back to Skye.  Seeking revenge, Macleod sent out a fleet of warriors.  Their galleys were spotted by a watchman on Eigg and the islanders fled to a cave, the entrance of which was said to be hidden behind a waterfall. When the raiders landed they only found an elderly woman who told them nothing of her fellow islanders' hiding place. Searches for the islanders proved fruitless and the Macleods destroyed the Macdonalds' homes before setting off back to Skye.  By now it had started snowing and shortly after returning to sea the raiders spotted an islander, who had been sent out from the cave to check if the Macleods had left, against a snow-covered cliff face. The Macleods immediately landed back on Eigg and followed the islander's footprints in the snow to the cave.  The waterfall was diverted and the cave's entrance was blocked with flammable material.  Macleod of Dunvegan is said to have hesitated at the last moment and decided the Macdonalds' fate should be left to the judgement of God.  If the wind blew inland from the sea he would have the material lit. If the wind blew from the land to the sea, it would not.  The wind blew in from the sea.  The remains of the massacred Macdonalds were not found for years afterwards. Hugh Miller, a 19th Century geologist, described seeing skulls covered in green mould.  Victorian tourists took pieces of bones as souvenirs before all the remaining bones that could be found were buried in Eigg's graveyard at the request of concerned islanders.  Last year, more than 50 bones were found in the cave.

Pictish Symbol Stone Found in River Don in Aberdeen

A carved Pictish symbol stone has been discovered on the banks of the River Don in Aberdeen.  The find was made by fishermen in Dyce when low water levels - after the recent warm and dry weather - partially exposed the stone on the river bank.  Historic Environment Scotland (HES) said analysis confirmed it was a Pictish symbol stone.  It has been removed, and will be permanently housed at a yet to be decided venue.  Kirsty Owen, deputy head of archaeology at HES, said: "We're very excited by this find, made all the more remarkable by the brief window of opportunity we had to recover the stone before the water levels rose again."  Bruce Mann, the local authority archaeologist for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, said: "The exceptional summer has led to river levels being at their lowest for decades, so there was always a chance that something new would be found.  However, I certainly didn't expect a find as stunning as this.  Pictish symbol-stones are incredibly rare, and this one, with its apparent connection to the river, adds further to the discussions around their meaning and what they were used for."

Fears Over Plans to Harvest Kelp Off Scotland’s West Coast

Fears have been raised over new plans to harvest wild kelp on an industrial scale in seas off Scotland’s west coast.  The proposal, by Ayr-based firm Marine Biopolymers, would eventually see more than 30,000 tonnes of the seaweed gathered each year by specially adapted boats.  The harvesting method involves large toothed devices being trawled through kelp beds, removing entire plants over a certain size.  Seaweed has a number of uses, from pharmaceuticals to food, and the market for it is burgeoning.  But critics claim the move could damage the marine environment, deplete fish stocks, increase coastal erosion and drive climate change.  “Dredging our kelp forests is not dissimilar to clear-felling virgin rainforest,” said Nick Underdown, head of campaigns at sustainable fisheries charity Open Seas.  “It’s one of the few pristine habitats in our seas that remain unscathed by over-intensive exploitation. It provides a fundamental foundation to the way our seas work, providing habitat for many hundreds of species, and represents one of our best stores of blue carbon.  On land we are trying to actively recover our native pine forests. Why repeat the mistake of deforestation at sea? The proposal is completely adrift from sensible, sustainable use of our seas and would drag us backwards.  Our environment can sustain a vibrant Scottish seaweed industry, but allowing mechanical dredging in the way proposed will not only undermine the health of our sea, it will undermine other marine businesses and alternative harvesting methods.”  Ailsa McLellan, a mussel farmer and seaweed picker from Ullapool, said: “I’m concerned from an environmental point of view. Kelp is a significant absorber of carbon, it buffers ocean acidity caused by warming seas and prevents coastal erosion.  It seems utterly bonkers to take that away at this stage in our planetary evolution. There is nothing green about dredging up kelp.”  Marine Biopolymers has submitted a scoping report to Marine Scotland, laying out its intention to apply for “one or more” licences to harvest kelp in waters from Mull up to Lochinver and across to the Outer Hebrides. The scheme would be a first for Scotland.  The company also aims to build a processing plant in Mallaig. The product will be used in heartburn medication. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Marine Scotland will consult fully on any forthcoming application and environmental assessments. Scottish ministers will then make a determination on a licence application, taking into account the effects on the environment and other uses of the sea.”

New Safer Bridge Over Clyde Opens in Glasgow
Subtle safety features have been included in a new bridge opened over the Clyde to deter people climbing onto or jumping from its parapets.  The £1.5 million Polamdie footbridge beside Glasgow Green in the city's east end replaces its 60-year-old predecessor which was closed in 2015 when its condition became dangerous.  It is the fourth new span across the river in Glasgow to open in the last 12 years.  The bridge was opened by transport secretary Michael Matheson, who said the old one had meant a lot to him because he crossed it while cross-country running as a pupil at nearby St John Bosco Secondary School.  The 103m-long bridge features a curved wire parapet which is difficult to climb. Its pointed wooden top rail is also designed to be awkward to sit or walk on.  White lighting embedded in the rail points downwards, illuminating the water, which would assist in a river rescue.  Glasgow City Council hopes the bridge will encourage more walking and cycling by re-connecting riverside paths on the banks of the river, which are part of the national cycle network. City convener for sustainability and carbon reduction Anna Richardson said: "It is a very important link in our walking and cycling network."  Footbridges at the Cunnigar loop and Shawfield, further upstream, were opened four years ago, after the Tradeston "Squiggly Bridge" in the city centre in 2009 and the "Squinty Bridge" Clyde Arc near the SEC three years earlier.  The bridge restores a link closed three years ago when its predecessor was deemed unsafe.