Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 470

Issue # 470                                     Week ending Saturday 22nd  September 2018

Could this Be the Start of A Landslide Victory for A Republic of Harris?
By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

After another hectic day in Inverness, I was on the ferry back to Stornoway on Monday night when I had a call from The Hearach. He was jubilant. He was aglow. He was dancing. You always know he is happy when he sings the works of Freddie Mercury. As he says himself, he’s just a poor boy, nobody loves him. He's just a poor boy from a poor family. He could see the writing on the wall. Maybe that was because he recently scrawled Freedom for Harris everywhere all around his bedroom and other areas which his mother does not regularly inspect.

The Hearach had big news because he wanted me to know that the forces of nature had now joined up with his own efforts for independence and a landslide had come down from the hills and blocked the road near the Harris Hotel to keep Harris, in his words, “beyond the reach of you Leodhasachs”. Particularly when he is on the grog, The Hearach sees the presence of anyone from Lewis on his turf as an unwelcome invasion. The vans and lorries making deliveries from companies in Stornoway are to him like the tanks of an occupying army coming over the Clisham.

They are all unnecessary, in his view, because the beauty of Luskentyre Beach, as well as the prodigious output of the Harris Gin Distillery in Tarbert, are enough to draw enough tourists with deep pockets to sustain the Hearach economy allow the Isle of Harris to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) and become self-governing and completely free. Free from the UK, free from Edinburgh and, more importantly for the loud Hearach, free from Stornoway.

To make things worse, but maybe better for my Harris acquaintance, there is no ferry either. A cargo ship hit rocks off Harris at the weekend and managed to get in and tie up at the pier before it sank. So the ferry could not get in. The Hearach thinks this can only can be a good thing because the tourist season is nearly over and no ferry means that no crafty Lewis people can sneak onto the sacred streets of Tarbert through a seaborne invasion. He has thought this through.

Like the people who dreamt up International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Oh arr, that is today. Didn’t you know? What are you? A son of a biscuit eater? Apparently, that is one of the worst insults that pirates in their day could hurl at their quivering victims. It obviously was not cool to have a fondness for yon days’ equivalent of a digestive or even a jammie dodger. You would probably be keel-hauled for nibbling on ginger nuts.

This new have-a-pirate-theme-in-your-life is spreading. There are parties, conventions and, of course, fancy dress events in pubs and clubs. I know someone who went as a pirate to a fancy dress party, complete with mean-looking eye patch. As they entered the Glasgow club, and had the security searches, he and his pals were told the electricity had just gone off. Sure enough, it was pitch black in there - or so he thought. He was in there for 20 minutes before he realised the light was actually on but the security people had just fitted him with a second eye patch.

Like my mate, the Hearach, pirates liked their grog. They were often under the weather or even three sheets to the wind, to get the pirate parlance just right. Their language was atrocious and much of it just was not suitable for a classy family newspaper. However, anyone else had to mind their language in their presence or they would report you to the captain. He would listen patiently but if he came to see you personally that would be because he couldn’t believe his buccaneers.

Pirates talked funny, not unlike your typical Hearach. The old bodachs there speak of their grim pirate history. They were from the neighbouring islands of Berneray. In 1739, Berneray businessman Sir Norman Macleod, by then based on Skye, sailed his ship, the William, to Harris and abducted many women to flog in America. He would claim they were criminals and sell them for a pretty penny. Had it not sunk off Northern Ireland he would have got away with it and the truth would have been hidden.

Before the road at Tarbert was partially reopened after the landslip, my mate The Hearach was back on the phone. He did not want traffic to start moving hither and thither and he was delighted his muddy stockade was still in place. He was singing again - but he does not sing well. He sort of rumbles. As the writer P J O’Rourke once described someone singing atrociously, it sounded like men “jumping off a table into a bathful of frogs”. And did he think any of Freddie Mercury’s words were relevant to the crisis afflicting Harris? Of course. “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide. No escape from reality ... for you Leodhasachs.”

Health Board Says Brexit Poses 'Very High' Risk of Disruption

A major Scottish health board has warned a "very high" risk Brexit could cause disruption to its services.  NHS Lanarkshire said it was working with the Scottish government to identify potential problems.  A wider BBC investigation has uncovered NHS concerns that leaving the EU could worsen staff shortages and limit access to specialist medicines and doctors. The UK Westminster government said it was confident of securing a Brexit deal that would benefit patients and the NHS.  However, ministers are also preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. While NHS Scotland is under the control of the Scottish parliament, the Brexit negotiations are the responsibility of the UK Westminster government.  The UK is due to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.  The BBC asked health boards across Scotland for details of their Brexit preparations and any impact assessments.  Their responses - under freedom of information law - reveal concerns, uncertainty and some confusion.  NHS Lanarkshire's warnings are the starkest but many of its concerns are shared across the health service. One of the key issues is the impact leaving the EU will have on retaining and recruiting European staff.  EU nationals living in the UK when Brexit happens should be allowed to remain. But NHS Lothian is concerned some will choose to leave anyway and that others may be excluded from the workforce by failing to secure settled status.  NHS Orkney said a "large proportion" of its doctors were EU nationals from outside the UK.  It said there had already been a "dramatic reduction" in applications for posts in Orkney, which it links to Brexit. There is already a shortage of NHS doctors in Scotland.  It is estimated that about 17,000 EU nationals work in health and social care in Scotland. That accounts for less than 5% of the workforce, but the proportion is much higher in some specialties.  As NHS Scotland does not routinely record the nationality of staff members, it does not have precise information.  NHS Borders said an attempt to extract that data from HMRC records was blocked by the NHS panel that deals with privacy issues.  NHS Lanarkshire - Scotland's third largest health care provider, serving more than 500,000 people and employing about 12,000 staff - has set out its position in its register of corporate risk.  It made clear "there is a risk NHS Lanarkshire will not be in full operational readiness for EU withdrawal".  It said this was especially true in areas where there was "limited detail" about what changes will occur.  It said Brexit had the "potential to adversely disrupt continuity of delivery of healthcare services".  The board raised the level of this risk from "high" to "very high" over the summer as speculation about a possible no-deal Brexit grew stronger.  A paper for the NHS National Services Scotland (NSS) NSS raised a particular concern that Brexit could end UK membership of the European Blood Alliance (EBA).  This could result in "loss of early visibility on emerging infectious diseases", it said.  The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service may also have to give up hosting an EBA conference next spring and its seat on the EBA's executive board. NHS National Services said the lack of clarity "makes contingency planning for a post EU environment challenging.  "Planning and potential mitigation" it said "could be a significant drain on energy and resources".  Scottish ministers have frequently criticised the UK Westminster government for not providing enough detailed information.

More Scots 'Favouring Apprenticeships'

More Scots are favouring apprenticeships over higher education, a survey has suggested. The Bank of Scotland found that the proportion of people who thought on-the-job training or an apprenticeship offered the best career prospects rose from 29% to 32% last year. Meanwhile, 33% said they believed university remained the best option for their prospects, despite the costs.  This was down from two in five (38%) in the previous year.  The bank said cost could be a contributory factor to this "shifting viewpoint", with nearly one in 10 Scots believing that a university education was "no longer financially viable".  However, of those who are heading off to university this month, more than half (58%) believed they had enough money for their higher education, with 35% stating they would need to find more.  Student loans remained by far the most popular source of funds, with 45% of students saying they used them to fund their studies.  Working part-time was favoured by just over 30% of students, while a quarter (25%) said they would turn to savings.  Only 15% of those heading to university said they had a partner, family member or friend who would support them financially.  Bank of Scotland director Ricky Diggins said: "While most young Scots still believe that a university education offers them the best career prospects, it's clear that a growing number are considering the wider range of options available, including less traditional routes into the workplace.  For those who are heading off to university, managing their finances can be a big challenge.  Therefore it's encouraging to see that a significant majority of Scottish students believe that they have access to the funds they need to complete their studies."

Highlands and Islands Tourism Projects Get £5m Funding Boost

A £5 million fund is being launched to support projects that showcase the “breathtaking” scenery, wildlife and culture of the Highlands and Islands.  Ten projects will be chosen to benefit from the new Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund, which is led by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH).  The fund will support projects that encourage visitors to experience more of the unique nature and culture of the Highlands and Islands and also aims to benefit communities.  Each project will receive at least £250,000 from the fund.  Trade, Investment and Innovation Minister Ivan McKee, said: “Today’s announcement of the £5 million Natural and Cultural Heritage Fund is fantastic news for the Highlands and Islands.  This money will go towards improving visitors’ facilities and access to its most remote and rural areas.  The £5 million comes from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and will support inclusive and sustainable growth, a key part of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.  Scotland’s breathtaking scenery and culture is recognised around the world, and improving the experiences for tourists in the Highlands and Islands will benefit the national and local economies by sustaining jobs and creating new opportunities.” The funding comes through the Scottish Government’s European Regional Development Fund programme, with match funding from other sources bringing overall investment to more than £7 million.  The funding round will open in early January 2019 and close in late April 2019, with decisions on the successful projects to be announced in early summer next year.  Mike Cantlay, SNH Chairman, said: “The close links between nature and culture in the Highlands and Islands are a huge draw for tourists across the globe, and the economic benefits are a vital way of maintaining our rural populations, jobs and skills. Parts of the Highlands and Islands are well served, but we know there are even more out there with potential to bring benefits to rural communities in the coming years.  We are hugely excited to find out more about projects that can make a crucial difference to visitor experience, as well as local quality of life.”

Black Isle Cinema Plan Gets the Nod

Ambitious plans for a cinema and small business hub in Cromarty have been given the unanimous seal of approval by councillors – despite mixed views from residents. The cinema, which will seat roughly 35 people, is to be built on a storage yard just to the east of the Slaughterhouse Cafe on the seafront.  It was given the green light at this week’s north planning applications committee.  The project, a joint development by the Cromarty Estate and Cromarty and Resolis Film Society, had sparked a mix of comment from the public, with planners receiving 14 letters in favour of the cinema, seven against and a further two who aired neutral views.  Those who wrote to support the project said the cinema would be a major asset to the community, save on the cost of travel to see films in Inverness and would provide an imaginative building on a vacant piece of land that is currently an ‘eyesore’. There were also hopes the small cinema would build upon the community’s successful film festival and bring more people into Cromarty, while the small hub was praised for providing much needed office space for small businesses.  Critics, however, questioned the location close to the scenic Links area, worried that there was not enough car parking on site, and argued that Cromarty already has a number of vacant and under-used buildings. They worried that the business case for the cinema and hub was not sufficient and risked adding to the number of empty buildings in Cromarty.  Others argued that the project would be out of keeping with Cromarty’s historic architecture.  A report which went before this week’s committee said that Cromarty Community Council had taken a neutral stance over the proposals, but that a consultation it held with the public found that, out of 63 residents who responded, 37 supported the plans and 26 were opposed.  Recommending approval council planners said existing paths through the site would be maintained and added that the location within an area that is already fenced off meant there was a "perceptible distinction" between the yard site and wider Links area.  They added that the film society had looked at other existing venues for a possible cinema and found none were suitable, and added that Cromarty Estate had argued there was "a demand from local groups and businesses for office space". Voting unanimously in favour of the plans, a number of councillors on the committee said it was an exciting project but also acknowledged some of the local reservations over the business case.  Wick and East Caithness councillor Raymond Bremner also acknowledged local fears that the community might be left with "difficult buildings" if the development didn’t "quite work" but praised the application and gave his support to it.

Anger At Plan for Huge Fish Farm on Wild Side of Jura
More than 1,000 people have signed a protest against plans to build an industrial-sized fish farm off the unspoilt west coast of Jura.  The proposal is for a 14-pen scheme off the island’s uninhabited western shores, an area prized by locals and visitors for its wildness.  The plans have been put forward by Kames Fish Farming, the same firm that recently scrapped intentions for a similar scheme on the other side of Jura after major opposition from environmentalists and members of the public.  The scenic island, with its three mountains – the Paps – and a distillery, is popular with visitors.  It has a population of around 200 people and 6,000 deer, as well as rare and important wildlife such as golden eagles.  Its seas are home to creatures including dolphins, porpoises, seals, otters and whales, as well as the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool.  The proposed fish farm, to be sited around 50m from the shoreline, will house up to 2,500 tonnes of salmon or sea trout – around one million fish – in 38m-wide cages.  A 10m-high service barge will be anchored alongside, with helicopters potentially used to bring in supplies.  Concerned locals fear the development will be a blight on the isle’s treasured wild landscape and pose an unacceptable risk to wildlife.  A petition opposing the plans has already gathered more than 1,300 signatures.  Islander Louise Muir said: “People are concerned about the wilderness aspect.  Jura, the west coast of Scotland and even Scotland as a whole, probably has one of the least populated coastlines in northern Europe.  It’s just so wild and remote and people really have very strong emotive connections with that and to have signs of human life there, where you want to go to get away from it all, is not a great idea.”  Gamekeeper Craig Rozga, who has lived on the island all his life, set up the petition.  He said: “It’s so wrong on so many different levels. The location could not be a more exposed stretch of coastline. I can’t see such a structure lasting a winter.”  Campaigners at Friends of the Sound of Jura, which spearheaded protests against the previous application by Kames, say there are myriad environmental reasons the fish farm should not go ahead, including risks to wild salmon and sea trout from escaped farmed fish, deadly parasite infestations and pollution from waste and chemicals.  The Scottish Government has laid out aims to double salmon production by 2030.

Gaelic Talent Provide New Video Game's Soundtrack

Gaelic musicians, including an 82-year-old Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame inductee, have provided the soundtrack to a new video game.  The Bard's Tale IV Barrows Deep is a follow up to the 1980s game Bard's Tale. Its soundtrack features celebrated piper and Gaelic singer Rona Lightfoot, and Peigi Barker, 16, who was the voice of Young Merida in Disney film Brave.  Simple Minds bass player Ged Grimes composed and produced the music.  The soundtrack features more than 30 songs. Among those singing on the tracks is a 40-member Gaelic choir.  South Uist-born Lightfoot was the first woman to take part in the coveted Bratach Gorm, or Blue Banner, the Scottish Piping Society of London's top pibroch competition.  Barker grew up near North Kessock in the Black Isle. Grimes said: "Scotland's traditional and Gaelic music is an intrinsic part of our history and culture.  Its beautiful melodies reach deep into our souls and its magical songs, passed down through the centuries, tell stories of a proud ancient civilisation.  When composing the scores for the Bard's Tale, I wanted to capture the breadth of outstanding voices and musicianship that exists in my homeland and create a soundtrack fit for the Bard which reflected Scotland's unique musical heritage."  The release of Bard's Tale IV Barrows Deep marks the 30th anniversary of the original Bard's Tale game.  The new game uses 3D reconstruction to take gamers into a virtual 18th Century world of fantasy role play in the Highlands where they must navigate maze-like dungeons and battle against "monsters, beasts and brigands".

Scientists’ Dismay As Space Rock From Skye Sold on Ebay

Geologists have raised concerns about an important meteorite site on the Isle of Skye after rocks were spotted for sale on eBay.  It is feared mineral hunters have been active on the Strathaird Peninsula, where a team recently discovered meteorite deposits from an impact 60 million years ago.  They contain mineral material from space that has not been found on Earth before.  Dr Simon Drake from Birkbeck, University of London, made the finds on Skye with colleague Dr Andy Beard.  He said: “About three weeks ago one of the students working on a project for us alerted us to the fact that our samples were being sold on eBay.  This is a very small, fragile site and I’ve been working with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), trying to get some protection for the sites.  This guy was selling the meteorite slices of rock for £9.99 per sample and he had at least 10 of them. We’re looking at about two football sizes having been taken out to provide these. This is going for the price of a fish supper, and it’s 60 million years old. It’s insanity, really.”  The seller was contacted and has now removed the items from the online auction site.  The owners of the meteorite site and a second area of interest intend to put up public notices, Dr Drake said, but he would like to see them designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest.  The team made the discovery while exploring volcanic rocks on the island which they thought were volcanic flow deposit.  When they analysed the rock they discovered it contained rare minerals - vanadium-rich and niobium-rich osbornite, which have never been reported on this planet.  The minerals have, however, been collected by Nasa’s Stardust Comet Sample Return Mission as space dust in the wake of the Wild 2 comet.  Scottish Natural Heritage said the unauthorised removal of any of the deposit could be in contravention of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. Geologist Dr Colin MacFadyen said: “The recent discovery by geologists of meteorite deposits on Skye is yet another example of Scotland’s tremendous geological heritage and its distressing to find out that mineral hunters have been targeting the site.  We are working with the researchers and land owners to safeguard the deposits and ensure they are available for future research. We also appeal to people not to remove any of the deposit which has major scientific importance and help us keep an eye out for those who do.”

Rise in Complaints About Comhairle Services But Levels Remain Low
Complaints about Comhairle services rose in 2017 /18 compared to the previous year, but remained at a low level, according to the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman (SPSO). In the period, the SSPO received six complaints about Comhairle services compared to three the previous year and 10 in 2015. None of the complaints made this year required full investigation by the Ombudsman.  The main area of complaint concerned Social Work services, with Education, Environmental Health and Cleansing, and Roads and Transport services also being referred.  Complaints to the SSPO about Comhairle services, confirmed in its annual reports, are currently less than a quarter of the average figure for Scottish local authorities.

Coming to Aid of Cargo Vessel
Stornoway RNLI lifeboat ‘Tom Sanderson’ and volunteer crew launched at 6am on Sunday morning to assist a cargo vessel that was taking on water south of Tarbert, Harris.  The Stornoway lifeboat sped to the scene arriving shortly after the vessel had been secured alongside the CalMac pier in Tarbert.  Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Coastguard Rescue Teams and a fish farm support boat also attended the scene.  The fish farm vessel transferred a portable pump onto the casualty, and this with the vessel’s own pumps, were able to cope with the ingress of water.  A local dive company were able to reduce the water flow to allow time for a more permanent repair to be prepared.  Once the water was reduced and the vessel’s own pumps were able to cope, the ‘Tom Sanderson’ Stornoway RNLI lifeboat was released to return to station.

Storm Ali Brings High Winds and Rain Across Much of Scotland

A yellow "plan ahead for severe weather" warning remains in force across most of Scotland. In many areas conditions are improving but 25,000 homes remain without power and commuters are facing a difficult journey home. Restrictions are in force on major bridges and many roads are still closed due to falling trees or debris.  ScotRail has promised to have teams working though the night to ensure rail services are back up and running again tomorrow.  The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has closed its Aberdeen office due to storm damage. About 80,000 homes across Scotland lost electricity because of the storms and 25,000 remain without power.  Guy Jefferson from SP Energy Networks said that it had been a "particularly difficult day" because of the high winds, with gusts of 80mph.  That has caused a number of tress to fall over and other wind-borne debris, such as branches, to come into the overhead power lines and cause extensive damage, In some cases our engineers out on site can hardly stand up, let alone climb the wooden poles to effect the repairs - so that has delayed us from getting some of our customers back on."  SP Energy Network, which is responsible for electricity transmission in south and central Scotland, said the damage to power lines was from Stranraer to St Andrews.  "It's right across our patch," Mr Jefferson said.  "Dumfries and Galloway was hit very hard this morning but we are still seeing very high winds across Fife right now." In the north the of the country, Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks says 4,900 are still without electricity. There is major disruption in Glasgow's West End.  Trees have fallen down at the corner of University Avenue and Kelvin Way in Glasgow, near Glasgow University in the city's West End.  The road has been closed by the police after large branches fell on it. Automobiles - Tay Road Bridge closed, Forth Road Bridge open only to single deckers, no double deckers allowed on Queensferry Crossing. A9 Dornoch and Kessock Bridges closed to high-sided vehicles. Road closures in many areas due to debris and fallen trees. There are nine flood warnings in force, most of them for rivers in Tayside. General flood alerts for Tayside, Ayrshire and Arran, Argyll and Bute, Dumfries and Galloway and West Central Scotland.

From Murder Capital of Europe to Role Model for London
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan announces plans for a unit aiming to divert young people away from knife crime. The idea is based on a successful approach used in Scotland. So, what can the English capital learn?  Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) was set up to stem the tide of knife crime which saw Glasgow become Europe's murder capital.  From its formation in 2005 the VRU proposed a fresh approach to tackling the issue.  Its key message was that gang-related stabbings and slashings were not just a policing problem but a public health problem. The unit's motto was a simple one: "Violence is preventable, not inevitable."  In 2004/05 there were 137 murders in Scotland. But by 2016/17 the total had more than halved to 61.  Over the years the VRU has worked closely with partners in the NHS, education and social work.  It has stressed the importance of positive role models and its projects have been shaped by statistics.  Former director John Carnochan once showed me a jagged graph of violent crime in Glasgow. It included many spikes but at one point it plummeted dramatically.  Mr Carnochan explained: "That was Valentine's Day."  Love may virtually halt violence once a year but other factors have helped Glasgow shed its unwanted reputation as No Mean City.  Glasgow's gang culture was highlighted in the 1960s when singer Frankie Vaughan visited Easterhouse to speak to young people.  He famously convinced rival leaders to shake hands and give up their weapons.  Fast forward four decades and the then Strathclyde Police Chief Constable Sir Stephen House invited teenagers from some of the most deprived areas of the city to Glasgow Sheriff Court.  The symbolism was powerful as Sir Stephen urged them to renounce violence or risk returning to the court for real. The VRU made bold statements to young people in simple, no nonsense terms. For example, chalk outlines of a body and a knife once appeared in 15 areas identified as gang trouble spots. Officers also proactively visited suspected gang members, targeted their meeting places and monitored their activity on early social networking sites, such as Bebo. The VRU sought inspiration from across the Atlantic in its bid to make Glasgow's streets safer.  Within two years of implementing Operation Ceasefire in 1995, Boston had reduced violent crime by about 50%.  In 2009 the VRU launched the Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV). It was designed to offer young people an alterative to gang membership such as youth clubs but, crucially, also the prospect of training and work.  Former offenders were drafted in to share their experiences with the next generation.  In 2011 police said the CIRV had resulted in a 50% reduction in violent offending by those taking part.  Even among gang members who refused to participate, data indicated a 25% fall in the number of offences committed.  In 2008 six surgeons who had witnessed first-hand the devastating impact of knife crime formed Medics Against Violence (MAV).  One of its early projects involved sending senior doctors into schools to share their harrowing experiences. MAV also produced a 15-minute film, called Your Choice, and devised lesson plans to help stimulate a debate. The organisation encouraged knife crime victims to cooperate with the police as research showed many attacks went unreported.  It has also informed national debates, such as the case for minimum alcohol pricing. Earlier this year Dr Christine Goodall, of MAV, said more than 80% of assault victims in hospital emergency departments had been drinking, as had the people who had assaulted them.  The VRU's holistic approach was illustrated at an anti-violence conference at the Scottish Police College.  It included a session by Canadian parenting expert Cathy Gordon which highlighted the importance of empathy.  The VRU launched a mentoring project in schools which is designed to combat the emerging threat of cyberbullying and encourage children to stay safe online.  The Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) initiative is teaching young people leadership skills to help them support those falling prey to different kinds of abuse.  Meanwhile, VRU deputy director Will Linden has credited a dramatic reduction in school exclusions in Scotland over the last decade as a key factor in keeping children out of trouble.  One of the VRU's key objectives is to offer young people an alternative path.  In 2010, Brigadier David Allfrey, a former commander of 51 Scottish Brigade in Stirling, ran an adventure and leadership training scheme with former gang members. And two years later he handed five men, aged 18 to 25, a role in the world-renowned Edinburgh Military Tattoo.  The ex-offenders, from the east end of Glasgow and Kilmarnock's Onthank estate were stationed at Redford Barracks in Edinburgh for the duration of the event. During each performance they moved props around and performed.  Brigadier Allfrey, the Tattoo's chief executive and producer, said: "There is enormous human potential wrapped up in these young men."  The VRU was also influenced by LA-based Homeboy Industries, which offers gang members employment in its cafes.

General Election Needed If Edinburgh and Cardiff Vote Against May's Brexit Plan

A General Election should be called if Holyrood and Cardiff reject Theresa May’s Brexit deal, Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, has insisted.  And the Labour leader made clear that a rejection of a Brexit deal by either the Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly could also eventually trigger a second referendum on the UK's relationship with the EU. Wales voted to leave the bloc by a margin of 52.5 to 47.5 per cent in the 2016 referendum, although recent polls have suggested a swing towards remain. In Scotland, there was a strong majority – 62 to 38 per cent – to remain.  Setting out what he believes should happen if the Prime Minister secured a withdrawal agreement with Brussels, Mr Jones said: "The next step is to see whether a deal can be supported by, for me, parliaments plural: Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff.  If that doesn't happen, then I don't see any alternative other than a general election where Brexit would be the main issue.  If there's an inconclusive result as a result of that general election, well, how then do you resolve the issue without going back to the very same people who took the decision in the first place? At that point you are talking about the potential for a second referendum," added the AM for Bridgend.

SHE Software Doubles Team in One Year
Technology company SHE Software has doubled the size of its global team and moved to new Scottish premises to accommodate its expansion.  The business grew headcount in its UK, US and New Zealand offices from 42 to 87 over the past 12 months, with 31 staff now based at its custom-designed East Kilbride headquarters.  SHE also reported securing several new contracts in recent months to grow its customer base.  Chief executive Matthew Elson said: “Our expanded global team reinforces our commitment to our customer base, while meeting the growing market demand for our services.  The new space will also provide us with the room we need to increase our staff headcount to 200 over the next 24 months and maintain the 60 per cent annual compound growth we have seen over the past three years.” Following a £3 million funding boost from NVM Private Equity in May, SHE Software launched a new centre of operations in Chicago, adding US interests to its existing clients.

Loch Ness Inspires Scots Absinthe First

A doctor and a former detective have joined forces to launch Scotland’s first absinthe blanche using ingredients hand-picked from around their 500-year-old ancestral home by the shores of Loch Ness.  The couple, Lorien and Kevin Cameron-Ross, creators of the award-winning Loch Ness Gin, developed the recipe for Loch Ness Absinthe, both distilled at their home on the banks of the loch, following a trip to the birthplace of the spirit, Val-de-Travers in Switzerland.  It was there Lorien learned to fine-tune the craft of making absinthe which was first used as a medicinal remedy by a French doctor living in the country, Pierre Ordinaire around the 1790s.  Although best known as absinthe verte, the notorious "green drink", popular in the late 19th and early 20th century among artists and writers in Paris, with Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemmingway among its devotees, the couple decided to create their own Scottish blanche recipe.  Blanche absinthe dates back to 1910 following the ban of green absinthe in various countries – although not in the UK – due to unproven fears it had hallucinogenic properties resulting from the use of thujone, a component of wormwood.  This led to the illegal production of clear absinthe in Switzerland, making it harder for the authorities to identify.  Lorien said: "We are really proud of our latest product, Loch Ness Absinthe, boasting our very own homegrown botanicals including wormwood mixed with nearby fresh water which flows into the famous loch. We felt there was gap in the market for an absinthe blanche in Scotland, a drink I really enjoy, so decided to put the wheels in motion last year and began to research its history and fully understand the craft of creating and distilling it."  Loch Ness Absinthe, with a ABV of 53 per cent, is less potent that absinthe verte, which is usually around 72 per cent.  The couple, who are firm believers in mindful drinking where you drink less and enjoy yourself more, recommend that Loch Ness Absinthe should be enjoyed slowly as an aperitif, ideally in a mix of one-part absinthe to three parts iced water, poured over a sugar cube on the glass’s rim.  Lorien continued: "I’ve worked really hard to get the recipe for our latest product, Loch Ness Absinthe exactly the way I wanted and in the process perfected the art of distilling it to get the exact results I was looking for.  With the help and support of Kevin, I’ve created a drink that I’m really pleased with, which has already received fantastic feedback, leading to us driving our plans forward to launch even more products in the near future that will continue to be inspired by the loch and the land around us."

Broch Team Nominated for Award

The volunteers behind the Caithness Broch Project say they are thrilled to be named among the finalists in the Scottish Heritage Angel Awards 2018. The awards celebrate groups and individuals that have gone out of their way to promote, protect and rescue Scotland's heritage.  Launched in 2014, they are supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation and are run by the Scottish Civic Trust in partnership with Historic Environment Scotland and Archaeology Scotland.  The Caithness Broch Project has been at the forefront of archaeological investigations and excavations as well as the installation of interpretation panels at brochs sites – and even the creation of a Lego broch to help raise awareness. Its ultimate goal is to build a replica Iron Age broch, using authentic building techniques from the time.  The project is nominated in the category for Best Heritage Research, Interpretation or Recording. Among those in contention for the same honour is the Kirkmichael Trust on the Black Isle which is involved in rescuing and displaying ornate medieval stone crosses. Caithness Broch Project's Ken McElroy said: "We are absolutely delighted to be nominated. We've worked really hard to try and promote Caithness as a heritage tourism destination, but we've also been committed to providing the local community with archaeological opportunities.  We've been delighted with the results and feedback so far, and we're really keen to do more – but to get something like this which recognises our small but exciting projects really is the icing on the cake.  There are some great projects out there – I've been following the Kirkmichael project for some time – so the competition is tough."  The awards ceremony will take place in Glasgow on October 22.  Alex Paterson, chief executive of Historic Environment Scotland, said: "This shortlist reflects the valuable work being undertaken all over the country to care for our historic environment, often by groups and individuals who volunteer their time."

The Bells Sound for Brexit
It is in the nature of major events like Edinburgh’s Hogmanay these days that they have to reinvent themselves a little every year.  Young festival-goers are hungry for new experiences and so organisers have to work harder than ever to tempt them back after they have been once and ‘ticked it off the list’.  This year the so-called ‘home of Hogmanay’ has chosen a theme with an edge - a celebration of our European links that sticks two metaphorical fingers up at Brexit.  It is perfectly pitched for its audience and more broadly for Scotland as a whole. Hogmanay is a night when we Scots traditionally offer a warm welcome to our neighbours. In the centre of Edinburgh, tens of thousands of Scots will join similar numbers of visitors from across Europe and beyond to celebrate as one.  Tradition dictates that it is a time when we should all cast an eye to the past and then look forward with optimism. That might be tricky this year.  If we are still staring down the barrel of a no deal Brexit, we are all going to need a stiff drink to fortify us.