Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 472

Issue # 472                                            Week ending Saturday 6th October 2018

Home Sweet Home is Where You Can Say Anything You Please, Because No One Pays Attention
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

It’s only the beginning of October but it is much colder already. Mind you the chilling wind of Brexit could be the cause. It makes my blood run cold. So much nonsense has been said about Brexit and we should not believe very much of it. How do we know what is sensible and what is utter drivel made up by politicians and their supporters to prop up their arguments and to rubbish the other side? Let’s keep it simple. It has been said Brexit was like the UK had too much Prosecco, got tiddly and accidentally unfriended Europe on Facebook. See? Now you understand.

That does not explain what happens next and why we should worry about trade deals, hard borders and whether we should go back to eating kinky bananas. Of course what people really want to know is how Brexit is going to affect them day to day. Will prices go up? Even the Bank of England is saying that with employers potentially moving away, fewer jobs, fewer migrants and rising prices in the shops the property prices will tumble.

Good? Not if fewer people can afford them. I had not really thought this through because I thought it was just democracy at work and we would be fine whatever way we voted and whatever happened afterwards. I saw Boris’s bus and the £350 million for the NHS claim and thought it was a bit of fun to start a debate. But Brexit is worrying people - even those who voted for it and did not realise that it was such a big deal. After 45 years of working closely together to cut red tape, we may have voted to strangle ourselves in more of it. Scary biscuits.

You expect politicians to tell you things based on facts. It is expected even if they twist them to suit their own side. Just as you trust senior cops to always be honest and decent. Oh, they really aren’t. Did you see that Chief Superintendent Lorraine Craddock on TV the other week? She was working with that crook to do away with the home secretary. Imagine. What a cheek.

Richard Madden came across as a smouldering, if somewhat inflammable, ball of Glaswegian testosterone. No surprise he is already being talked about as the next James Bond. Wait - Bond? So, I wasn’t watching Panorama? Oh, The Bodyguard. I knew that. Just testing you although I did get a bit carried away a bit here and there. When he walked slowly into the London square with a bomb under his cape, I did find myself slinking down behind the sofa. Well, you don’t want shrapnel ruining the hair after just putting gel on it. Just a natural reaction. I’m sure you were the same.

Property prices down there in London are ridiculous. Will Brexit will make them attainable for Joe Bloggs? Who knows? It is expensive enough to rent a place in a city in Scotland and they are not posh either. A guy who was renting a flat in Glasgow tells me he called up the local pet shop and asked for 100 mice, a few rats and loads of insects. The shop manager had never had an order like that and asked what it was for. “Well,” replied the tenant, “I am moving out of my flat today and my lease says I have to leave the place in the same condition I found it.”

Is it me or is it getting really chilly? It’s always the same. The aches and pains are returning and in Mrs X’s case, she is getting the old complaints of red skin and cracked lips. When she was really feeling the chill the other day, she asked me to go to the kitchen cupboard and get her the lip balm. That was when I had an idea. Just for a wind-up, I gave her the superglue instead. Nope, she didn’t check whether she had the right tube. So petty, she hasn’t spoken to me since.

Of course, be careful. Not all property is as it seems. I heard of a man - let’s call him James - became seriously ill. He knew the end was near and wanted to dictate his will. His wife, his daughter and his two sons were with him and the doctor was also in. He said: “My son, John. I want you to take the houses in Marybank. My dear daughter, Mairi, you take the flats on Keith Street and at Matheson Road. And my namesake son, Jim junior. I want you to take the offices in the town centre.”

Finally, he said: “And for you, my dear wife, it must be something special. You will take those posh properties on Oliver’s Brae and in Melbost.” The doctor was amazed. As James slipped away, the doctor turned to the widow and said: “My deepest condolences. Your husband must have been such a hard-working man throughout his lifetime to have amassed all that property.” His wife replied: “Property? Isd, a chlown. No, nor property. He just had a window cleaning round.”

Cairngorm Mountain Railway Closed for 'Several Weeks'
The UK's highest railway has been closed for several weeks due to problems with the structure supporting the tracks.  The operators of the CairnGorm Mountain funicular near Aviemore said the railway had been closed as a safety precaution.  Specialist engineers will carry out a detailed structural assessment.  The findings of the detailed investigations will not be known until November.  This should confirm what remedial work is necessary and how long that is likely to take to complete.  The initial work will include excavation to enable the inspection of foundations in the affected area.  Built at a cost of £19.5m and opened in 2001, the railway connects a base station with a restaurant 1,097m (3,599ft) up Cairn Gorm mountain.  Thousands of people use it, including skiers and snowboarders during the ski season to access slopes. Many of these visitors also spend time in and around Aviemore. Alan Brattey, of the Aviemore Business Association, said there was real concern about the closure continuing deep into the snow sports season.  "It would be a disaster because there isn't any other way from skiers and boarders to access the mountain if there isn't snow all the way down to the car park," he said.  "Learners and kids wouldn't be able to get up to the area where the ski school operates without the funicular railway, it's impossible." Ewan Kearney, chief operating officer at CairnGorm Mountain Limited (CML) said: "As operators of such a unique visitor attraction as the funicular, we take our responsibility and duty of care to the public and our staff extremely seriously.  It is in everybody's best interests to close the funicular to allow the engineers to conduct their investigation. Our priority is to get a clear picture of any faults with the funicular in order to develop a course of action that addresses these concerns.  Rest assured, we do not underestimate the significance of this situation to the entire local area, including our own employees, and are working to resolve this situation quickly and safely, for the future benefit of all mountain visitors."  He added: "At this stage, we are unable to provide a detailed timeline for the re-opening of the funicular and will issue further updates as we are able to do so."  Susan Smith, head of business development at Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), said: "This is a highly regrettable situation, over which we have very limited control.  Clearly it will have a considerable impact on the commercial operations on Cairngorm, and be of concern to those employed at the resort. Our thoughts are very much with them as well as those who use the mountain and its facilities. We are treating this as extremely urgent and doing all we can to address the problem and have the funicular returned to full service as quickly as possible.  In the meantime, safety must come first and we fully respect CML's decision to act on the precautionary advice of the inspectors."  The railway and the CairnGorm Mountain snowsports centre are owned by HIE and run on its behalf by the company Natural Retreats.

Confirming the Plan for A Year-round Visitor Centre in Tarbert
In response to recent rumours about the closure of the Visitor Information Centre (VIC) in Tarbert, which has been causing concern within the Harris community, Outer Hebrides Tourism (OHT) wants to make clear that it has not agreed to, nor does it support, the closure of Tarbert VIC.  As part of a broader agreement with VisitScotland on the shape of future visitor information the OHT agreed that, from next season, Tarbert Visitor Information Centre (VIC) will operate as a partnership between VisitScotland and a local business in the current premises. The OHT believes that this will operate on a year-round basis.  The Outer Hebrides-wide plan has tailored the VisitScotland’s national plan to reflect the islands’ geography and the changing ways visitors now seek information.  The key elements of the OHT plan for visitor information are:  Invest in enhancing the current provision in Stornoway by either relocating the current centre or refurbishing it.  Renegotiate the lease of the current iCentre building in Tarbert to provide the opportunity to create new year-round retail and information partnership with local retail business.  Create significant new information partnerships throughout the Uists, supported by a dedicated member of staff based seasonally in one partnership outlet.  Roll out a network of Wi-Fi spots to businesses operating information provision.  Develop new and enhanced information partnerships with partners and community outlets across the Outer Hebrides.  Provide an appropriate presence for the Outer Hebrides in VisitScotland iCentres in key mainland locations such as Ullapool, Oban, Portree and Inverness.  Promote, help recruit and monitor the effectiveness of the VisitScotland Visitor Information Partner (VIP) programme via a new partnership arrangement based on successful partnerships with VisitKelso and the NC500.   OHT has asked VisitScotland to act promptly to end the confusion and rumours of the centre’s closure by establishing the agreement for the centre’s operation in 2019 as soon as possible.

Police Deal with 33 Drivers in First Week of New Road Safety Campaign
Highland police have dealt with 33 drivers in relation to various road traffic offences during the first week of new road safety initiative Operation CEDAR (Challenge Educate Detect and Reduce).  Activity has been ongoing across the region, with particular focus during the first seven days on the Ross and Cromarty area.  Offences detected have included driving under the influence of alcohol, speeding, no insurance and driving whilst using a mobile phone. Eighteen drivers were dealt with for speeding offences – including one driver detected travelling at 115mph in a 70 mph speed limit on the A9 on the Black Isle. A report will be submitted to the Procurator Fiscal.  Five people were dealt with for drink driving. Other drivers were dealt with for driving whilst using a mobile phone, no insurance and no MOT. In addition, a 24-year-old man is expected to appear at Wick Sheriff Court on Tuesday, October 2 in relation to alleged drug driving offences.  Chief Inspector Iain MacLelland, lead officer for the Highlands and Islands Operation CEDAR initiative said: “The fact that drivers from across the region continue to place the lives of both themselves and other road users at risk whilst driving under the influence is staggering.  From the weekend past, across the Highlands and Islands we arrested a total of eight drivers for driving whilst under the influence of alcohol and one whilst under the influence of drugs. Some of these drivers were more than five times the drink drive limit.  These arrests demonstrate that some from amongst our communities have a clear disregard towards the safety of others and need to be stopped”.  The dangers of drink driving are well publicised – you are not only putting your own life and livelihood at risk but that of every other road user.  We have seen to many lives lost following collisions and my message to people across the Highlands and Islands is do not tolerate drink driving.”  Chief Inspector MacLelland added: “The enforcement work in Ross and Cromarty this week has involved local officers and from Roads Policing responding to concerns in our communities on a range of road traffic issues.  Where we identify drivers who present a clear risk to the safety of other road users we will enforce legislation and remove vehicles from drivers using legislation.”  He added: “This enforcement work will continue over the coming weeks across the Highland and Island area as we work to Challenge Educate Detect and Reduce injury collisions”.

New Caledonian Sleeper Trains Slip to May Next Year
New Caledonian Sleeper trains will not begin operating in and out of Inverness until the end of May next year.  The new rolling stock, was expected to begin its roll-out this autumn, but so far only 40 of the 75 carriages that were ordered have arrived in the UK.  The remaining 35 are currently in the final stages of construction in Spain and will be “delivered in the coming weeks”, the Caledonian Sleeper confirmed.  It said that its new fleet of trains will be operating from all stations by the end of May, in time for the peak Summer season. The launch of the Lowland service between London, Glasgow and Edinburgh will go live first, with the Highland service to Fort William, Inverness and Aberdeen following shortly after. Serco, which operates the Sleeper, said the process of testing and gaining the necessary regulatory and operating approvals for the first new carriages in 35 years was “time-consuming and complex” and that this was the reason for the May launch. Ryan Flaherty, Serco’s Managing Director at Caledonian Sleeper, said: “Our new trains will mark a magical new chapter in rail travel in the UK.  The new sleeper carriages are absolutely superb, and will transform the experience of travelling by train between Scotland and England.  We are sorry that we will not be able to launch the service this autumn, and understand that customers who wanted to travel on them in 2018 will be disappointed.  But with five different accommodation types, as well as on board catering, dining and shower facilities, this is the most complex introduction of new rolling stock ever undertaken in the UK, and we are determined to get it right.”  Guests who have already booked on a Lowland service on or after October 28 will be offered a full refund or opportunity to rebook if they no longer wish to travel. For those who still wish to travel and had booked one of our new accommodation options, Caledonian Sleeper will refund the difference in cost.  Since Serco took over the Caledonian Sleeper service in 2015, the number of people travelling on it has increased by more than 20 per cent.  The new trains will be the culmination of an investment programmed carried out by Serco since it took over the Caledonian Sleeper franchise in April 2015. These have included opening a new Guest Services Centre in Inverness; a new booking website allowing guests to book up to 12 months in advance and the ability to book pets and bikes.

UK Westminster Government Urged to Clear Highland Council's Benefits Costs

The UK Westminster government has been asked to reimburse a local authority for the costs it has incurred as a result of implementing universal credit.  Highland Council said it was facing costs of almost £2.5m due to the benefit change.  It said causes of this debt included increased council tenant rent arrears and less grant funding from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).  The council and MP Drew Hendry have called on the government to step in.  The DWP said rent arrears were "complicated", and that it was "delivering flexibilities" in universal credit payments in Scotland.  In 2013, Inverness became the first place in Scotland to introduce universal credit.  Highland Council's costs burden of almost £2.5m relates to the implementation of universal credit full service in Inverness in June 2016, and across the rest of the Highlands in July 2017.  Margaret Davidson, the council's leader, said the UK Westminster government should fully reimburse local authorities for the additional costs and loss of income attributable to universal credit.  She said: "It is only right that such costs be funded by the UK Westminster government rather than being met through Highland council tax and rent payers.  These costs include increased rent arrears for current council tenants, additional housing benefit and council tax reduction administration costs arising from the manual processes that DWP introduced when designing universal credit, and reductions to the council's grant funding from DWP."  Ms Davidson said the DWP needed to "put right the failings" of the current system.  SNP MP Mr Hendry said: "Day in, day out, Highland Council staff have to deal with a system littered with inefficiencies, and a host of process failures - costing, not only more time for officers, but lots more money from the council's budget."  A DWP spokesperson said: "Our research shows that many people join universal credit with pre-existing arrears, but the proportion of people with arrears falls by a third after four months on universal credit.  Anyone moving to universal credit from housing benefit is paid an additional two weeks of payment.  In addition, in Scotland, we are delivering flexibilities in universal credit payments known as Scottish choices on behalf of the Scottish government, where people can choose if they want to be paid twice monthly or to have the housing element of their universal credit award paid directly to their landlord."

Historian Sir Tom Devine on What Really Happened During the Clearances

Scotland’s most eminent historian admits he didn’t become engaged in arguably the most infamous and traumatic episode in the nation’s history until he was well into his twenties. “We started going on holiday to the Highlands in the late 1960s, early 1970s and you could still see the traces of dispossession very clearly,” Professor Sir Tom Devine explains. “That’s what’s so interesting when you go to the west coast and the Hebrides, that the marks of this extraordinary process of historical revolution are on the land.”  The visual scars of the Highland clearances he saw half a century ago, the ruins and abandoned townships, had a profound impact on Sir Tom personally and professionally, inspiring much of the work he has undertaken since. And the fruits of this labour have been brought together in a ground-breaking new book that not only adds to our knowledge and understanding of the clearances north of the Highland Line, but also sheds new light on how dispossession impacted on the rest of Scotland.  Indeed, the volume challenges the narrative many Scots have told themselves and others for centuries: we will surely never again be able to refer to the destructive events of the 18th and 19th centuries as the “Highland” clearances.  The name of the book, The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600-1900, highlights Sir Tom’s central premise that what occurred was a deliberate and nationwide process that affected lowland areas as much, arguably more so, than the Highlands. At the heart of the narrative is an evidentially robust but also often grim and very human story of how Scotland was transformed from the rural society of old to the largely urban nation we know today. The end of traditional Highland life is here, warts and all, but crucially so too is the far less well-known story of the demise of an entire class of lowland folk, the cottars.  “One of my main arguments is that the scale of land loss was greater in lowland Scotland and that the scale of landlessness at the end of clearance was also greater,” explains Sir Tom.  “We all know about urbanisation but in terms of Scottish culture, the sheer scale of the revolution is not recognised. In early 18th century Scotland most people living outside the towns and cities of the lowlands and Borders had access to some land because to be without it in that subsistence society was to court survival itself.  By about 1820 in the lowlands and Borders, the landholding society that had existed since time immemorial, including the quarter to a third of old rural population who were cottars, had vanished.”  As Sir Tom points out, while the wounds around clearance, dispossession and forced emigration remain painful in the Highlands, recognised and revered around the world, kept alive and passed on through families and communities, there has been no such process of grief or remembrance for the lowlands.  I’ve always been interested in puzzles,” he says. “One of the big questions is this: why in many parts of Scotland did the dog not bark in the night? With the exception of a levellers’ revolt in the 1720s the process in the rest of the country was silent. There is no folk memory of dispossession and that led many people to think nothing had happened, that the whole thing was concentrated on Gaeldom and the Highlands, where it is still a live issue. The clearances are something everybody thinks they know about. This book is an attempt – and I’m glad to have been the historian to attempt it, because it’s been absolutely stimulating – to rewrite a central aspect of a nation’s history. It’s very unusual for a scholar to be able to do that, especially your own history.”  Sir Tom believes English popular historian John Prebble, whose best-selling 1963 book The Highland Clearances is the sole source of many people’s knowledge of the subject, has much to answer for in terms of the mythmaking and politicisation that continues to surround this period of history. His new book tells a far more complex - but in many ways no less dramatic – story that covers improvement as well as loss. Prebble and I share the same publisher and it was only while going through the Penguin archives that I discovered his book on the clearances is almost certainly the biggest selling on Scottish history of all time,” says the Lanarkshire-born author and academic.  In his terms the Scots are an ancient warrior race betrayed by their leadership class and pushed off their lands. That kind of human experience, that kind of story, is very attractive. It’s got a psychological impact that is difficult to dislodge.  But the historian’s role is to be impartial and get as close to what happened and why it happened as possible. People interested in Scottish history in north America still see it through the prism of Prebble’s works. I quote in the book a fifth-generation Scottish Texan lady who hired a genealogy firm to find out where she was from and discovered, like most 19th century immigrants, she came from lowland Scotland, in fact my own place of birth, Motherwell. She was not only displeased but for a time refused to pay them. She wanted Skye, and above all else she wanted a cleared township in Skye.”  It will take time to wean north Americans off their overwhelmingly romantic view of Scottish history. But this is a book that is likely to ruffle feathers closer to home, too. Are we Scots ready to face and reassess our prejudices about the clearances?  “You get the sense that the Scottish nation is now a more confident and sophisticated place,” says Sir Tom. “People may be able to treat the arguments I put forward seriously, without indulging in outrage and invective against the author. I’ve made the evidence base as armour-plated as I can because I know this is going to touch sensitivities, not least in Highland Scotland.” Sir Tom has spent much of his life challenging accepted historical narratives during an academic career that has spanned half a century at the universities of Edinburgh, Strathclyde – his alma mater - and Aberdeen. Earlier this year he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in Historical Studies from the UK All Party Parliamentary Group on History and Archives at Westminster, the first historian from a Scottish institution to receive the award. In 2014 he was knighted. The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600-1900 is published on October 2, priced £25 in hardback by Allen Lane.

Comment - R
I think he misses, in this article, that the Highland clearances were indeed different because they involved the destruction of the distinct Gaelic culture and language. I can't understand why this obvious point is not made in the article, I can't believe Prof Devine has not made it clear in his book. Perhaps that should be the main distinction between the Highland and Lowland clearances.   Will have to obtain his book

Heart Drug Trials Halted Over Brexit Fears

Clinical trials of a new heart drug have been stopped in the UK because of concerns over Brexit.  Medical research firm Recardio was due to try the drug dutogliptin on patients in Clydebank, Leeds and Exeter.  It has suspended all UK activities due to uncertainty about how new medicines will be approved after Brexit.  The department of health said it was confident the UK would continue to have the "best possible environment" for clinical trials. The UK is due to leave the EU in less than six months on 29 March 2019 and has yet to agree departure terms.  Recardio was due to recruit patients at three sites in the UK including the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, near Glasgow.  The California-based firm wants to establish that dutogliptin can be used safely and effectively in combination with another drug to help repair heart tissue after a heart attack.  The Golden Jubilee said Recardio told its research team by email on 17 September that UK trials were being put on hold.  The hospital said Recardio had cited "uncertainty due to EU withdrawal" and "completely unresolved" issues with the European Medicines Agency that "represent a significant risk" to its business. The hospital said Recardio's position could change "when the regulatory situation has clarity".  A Scottish government spokesman said "this is the first clinical study we are aware of to be suspended in Scotland as a result of Brexit - and a very concerning sign of what could happen".  A spokesman for the UK Westminster government's department of health and social care said: "We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU that benefits patients and continues to deliver the best possible environment in which to support clinical trials. We want to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU are still able to access the most innovative and effective medicines."  Recardio's founder and president, Dr Roman Schenk, told the BBC he did not want to comment on UK politics.  However, he confirmed that uncertainty over Brexit had created a "very difficult" situation for his company.  It is understood Recardio is worried that the research data it collects in the UK might not be acceptable to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after Brexit.  The EMA gives marketing authorisation for human medicines across the European single market.    In a statement, the EMA said that it "will continue to accept clinical evidence generated in the United Kingdom" after Brexit on condition that trials continue to meet European standards. The UK Westminster government has said that it intends to stay aligned with EU regulations for clinical trials to avoid disruption even if there is no Brexit deal.  The charity, Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland's chief executive Jane-Claire Judson said she remained "seriously concerned at the lack of priority and focus given to providing detailed solutions to the health ramifications of Brexit".  Recardio is understood to be at an advanced stage in setting up its heart drug trials in the EU and the United States but has not yet recruited patients.  The UK clinical trials website confirms that Recardio is "not recruiting" in this country despite being due to do so between April 2018 and April 2019.  Work appears to be continuing on dutogliptin trials in various EU countries including Austria, Belgium and Hungary.

Scotland's Hardy Crofters in Line for National Awards

The view outside Beth Rose’s window is a picture perfect Highland view; there are rolling heather-clad mountains, passing deer and the occasional swooping sea eagle. The blue painted vintage Fordson Dexta tractor is parked in the yard.  The weed choked land that it couldn’t reach has been adequately churned thanks to Wilma, Julia and Marcia, a trio of happy pigs who, before heading off to be turned into sausages and bacon, have turned up a fine collection of stones to be picked from the mud.  Beth, who is six months pregnant, plans to lift them one by one into a wheelbarrow, which she will shove over uneven ground to the nearby orchard and tip the contents into the ground to back fill a drain pipe.  It’s back breaking work. But as Beth points out, she lifted the cow’s ring feeder when she was five months pregnant last time around, and trying to stop the lawn mower roaring off and disappearing into a ditch turned out to be far more strenuous.  A former theatre nurse who as a child battled and beat a brain tumour, there’s not much that fazes Beth, one of a new breed of Highland crofter who has shunned the thought of an ordinary day job to get dirt under her nails and quite often the blood and guts of her small collection of animals on her hands. “My son William was three months old when I did the lambing,” she recalls. “I’d be up feeding him, then I’d pull out a lamb, go back to bed for a little while, then get up again to feed him, and check the lambs. I was shattered. During calving season and when I was still working at Raigmore Hospital, I’d get up at 5am and deal with the cows before going to work.  You can be knee deep, elbow deep in who knows what," she adds. "Out in horizontal rain, trying to put down a calf with a vet.  But my attitude is ‘I’ve had a brain tumour, I can do this’.” Birchwood Croft sits against a backdrop of the Monadhliath Mountains to the west of Aviemore. In mid-September, as the sun sets and casts a warm glow over the hay bales and fruit-laden orchard, it is almost possible to forget the harsh winter to come.  It will be interesting with the baby due in winter,” reflects Beth, 36. “We’re one and a half miles up dirt track from the road, I was snowed in last year and had to shovel a path to get the buggy through. My arms will kill me if I have to shovel a path for a double buggy.”  With husband Tim, 38, working offshore, it often falls to Beth to keep on top of the croft they’ve owned since 2011.  Her nursing skills have been handy for skinning deer, tube feeding a sick calf and being able to emotionally detach herself from Fergus and Fingal, the Shetland cattle who also enjoyed croft life before being turned into steak, roasts and a range of other cuts. The work of a new generation of crofters like Beth, 36, will be celebrated in a few weeks time, when the Scottish Crofting Federation reveals the winners of its Young Crofter and Best Newcomer Crofter awards.  For Donald MacSween, who is shortlisted with Beth for the Young Crofter title, crofting was already in his blood when he was gifted a croft on family land at Ness, Isle of Lewis. An unusual 21st birthday present, he has spent the past 13 years getting the croft into working order.  “I plodded for a bit then decided to take it seriously,” he says. “I have 600 hens now and I’m one of the largest egg producers in the Western Isles.”  A full-time crofter, he also keeps pigs, 150 ewes and a few Highland cows. The eggs pay the bills, while his meat boxes are delivered to customers all over Scotland. “People want to know where their meat comes from and that the animals have been cared for,” he says. Like Beth, he wakes every day to breath-taking scenery. “I have a golden beach at one end and rambling moorland at the other of the croft.  It’s great in summer when the sun shines and it’s dry. But in winter when it doesn’t get light until 10am, it’s pouring with rain, freezing cold and you’re pulling a dead lamb out of a bog, it’s not so nice.  It’s not all cute lambs and cuddly animals. There’s blood and guts.  A lot of people have a romantic notion of what crofting is, but we are in danger of Brexit, it could kill crofting and kill rural communities.” Crofters like Donald, 34, fear the impact of Australian and New Zealand lambs flooding the market, while the loss of EU subsidies is expected to hit pockets hard.  Across the Minch and 125 miles east, mum of two Lucy Williams pops her nine months old baby, Ottilie, into a sling and gets to work on the 1500 tea plants at her five-acre croft in Bonar Bridge, Sutherland. Her other daughter, Eyra, who’s four, helps out. “She calls herself ‘the tea doctor’, and checks the crop for aphids or weeds,” says Lucy.  Tea may seem an odd crop for a Highland croft but Lucy, 35 and husband Chris, 36, who works for the Forestry Commission, figured that with little land for livestock, tea was the best high value crop they could plant.  As well as traditional black tea plants - Camellia sinensis – she is growing peppermint, chamomile and lavender for herbal teas, using goats’ milk to make soap and grinds green tea to make Matcha tea to use in hand creams and lip salve.  “The croft is gorgeous,” she says. “There are incredible views; we look over the Kyle of Sutherland, west is Ullapool, Dornoch is to the south, Loch Migdale is just east. The awards will be made at a Celebrating the Spirit of Crofting event on October 5, at Rothes, Moray.

Landmark Legal Victory Could See Brexit Halted At 11th Hour

Brexit could be halted at the 11th hour after a landmark legal victory by a group of Scottish politicians who have taken on the UK Westminster Government.   The cross-party alliance was yesterday granted permission to ask Europe’s highest court for an authoritative ruling on whether Brexit can he halted by Mps.  Scotland’s most senior judge said the question, previously dismissed by government lawyers as “hypothetical and academic”, should be referred as a matter of urgency to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) before Westminster votes on the final Brexit deal.  If the ECJ rules that Parliament can revoke the Article 50 withdrawal process without the permission of the other 27 EU states, it could, in theory, result in MPs stopping Brexit.  In practice, parliamentarians would be reluctant to overturn the result of the EU referendum.  However, having the option available would reduce the chance of a chaotic no-deal Brexit if talks between the UK and EU were to collapse.  That in turn would undermine the UK negotiating position in Brussels.  Theresa May was told by EU leaders on Thursday that her Chequers Plan for a soft Brexit “will not work” because its cherry-picking approach risks undermining the single market. The snub humiliated and wounded the Prime Minister ahead of the Tory conference.  In the words of EU Council President Donald Tusk, it also turned the next EU summit in mid-October into a “moment of truth” for Brexit.

RBS Survey: Permanent Job Placements Rise Sharply
Scottish recruitment agencies have reported the sharpest rise in permanent staff appointments since July 2014.  The latest Royal Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs found growth in placements outpaced the UK as a whole last month.  The survey also recorded a strong rise in temporary staff billings.  At the same time, pay pressures intensified, as rates of starting salary and temp wage inflation accelerated.  The report said candidate availability worsened further in September, with permanent labour supply deteriorating at its quickest pace in seven months. Short-term staff availability declined at the steepest rate since June 2015. In both cases, the rates of deterioration were stronger than their respective UK averages.  Meanwhile, job openings in Scotland continued to rise last month, with permanent vacancies increasing markedly and at the quickest pace in three months.  Agencies also reported an increase in short-term vacancies at the end of the third quarter.

One in Five Scottish Fish Farms 'Not Meeting Standards'
Almost one in five salmon farms in Scotland failed to meet statutory environmental standards, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa). The regulator has published its annual assessment of whether environmental licence conditions have meet met.  It said 56 of the country's 297 licensed fish farms were rated "poor", "very poor" or "at risk".  The figures come despite increased scrutiny on the sector.  Two parliamentary inquiries are currently looking at the impact of fish farming.  The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) insists the issues haven't led to any environmental deterioration.   The total of fish farms which failed to meet the standards has risen slightly from 50 in 2016, but represents a much greater percentage of the total number of licences issued, which fell from 352 to 297.  Reasons for the worst ratings include excessive levels of ammonia being released into the sea and unregulated quantities of fish food and faeces discovered on the sea bed.  Sepa chief executive Terry A'Hearn said: "We're clear that compliance is non-negotiable and will shortly announce a revised regime that will firmly strengthen the regulation of the sector.  We'll consult with communities across Scotland on proposals including fresh modelling using the best available science, enhanced site based environmental monitoring, a new approach to better siting of farms, and anew approach for controlling the use of medicines aligned and encouraging innovation in the containment of marine waste.  The figures come from Sepa's annual compliance report, which says 91% of regulated businesses - across all sectors - met the terms of their licences.  The Scotch whisky industry is singled out as one of the highest-achieving sectors, with 94% compliance.

Heartbreaking Personal Stories Laid Bare in New Iolaire Book

“See and don’t come home without Murdo now!” – it was an excited mother’s joke, waving cheerio to her daughter who was heading into Stornoway to meet her brother off the Iolaire. Murdo Maclean, aged 31, from Leurbost, was due home on January 1, 1919 – but, like 200 other souls on board alongside him, he never made it.  For HMY Iolaire, hit the rocks at the Beasts of Holm at 1.55am on the blackest of nights, in a rising gale. She sank 90 minutes later, at 3.25am.  It’s a story all too well known to the Isle of Lewis and Harris – although there had been a complete silence around it for 40 years, until the first memorial was erected and Sea Sorrow was published.  The BBC also ran a groundbreaking radio documentary around the same time.  There had been 254 sailors on the Iolaire, many of them Royal Naval Reservists with a lot of experience of the sea as fishermen, and a further 24 crew members. Every single one of the 201 men lost was a tragedy but the impact on the survivors too was huge.  Now, on the cusp of the centenary and 100 years after the Armistice, a new book is coming out which will tell the stories of each and every one of these men for the first time. The Darkest Dawn: The Story of the Iolaire Tragedy, is being launched by Acair Books at an evening event in An Lanntair on November 1, during the Faclan Hebridean Book Festival. It has been written by Malcolm Macdonald, chair of the Stornoway Historical Society, and the late Donald John MacLeod, who passed away earlier this year.  And although it is not billing itself as the last word or ‘definitive account’ of the tragedy, the book is the result of 20 years’ research and an amazing joint effort which brought in information, photos, memorabilia and personal stories from all over the world.  The Darkest Dawn: The Story of the Iolaire Tragedy is available on pre-order now from www.acairbooks.com, priced £25.