Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 474

Issue # 474                                            Week ending Saturday 20th   October 2018

It is Time to Stop Using Self-service Checkouts and Talk to Some Real People
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of he Press & Journal

If you need a good laugh to cheer you up, just go to the supermarket at a busy time. Friday teatimes or Saturday lunchtimes, for example. Go in but don’t stray too far from the door. Then just hang around, looking all unconcerned and non-suspicious, until you spot a target. Keep your beady eyes on the area around the self-service check-out. You are looking for someone over 60 - no maybe 50 - who is just about to use it for the first time. They have heard that they are faster than the usual checkouts. They have not dared to use them till now. They are in a hurry. Then they go for it.

Scanning each item and making sure the barcode is facing a wee window is the first problem. When they are in a hurry and they are flustered in case anyone is watching them, they can miss the barcodes  and have to keep rotating the cornflakes endlessly until the beep finally comes. Everything has a barcode - except the bags of veg. So on go the glasses to select Vegetables and then Carrots on the screen. Everything must prompt a beep. Was that a beep or was that from the check-out next to them? It wasn’t.

Many people get confused and say they have a blonde moment when they use these machines. That is so not fair on anyone with fair hair because I have seen brunettes and silver foxes of all kinds looking glaikit and trying to summon assistance because they have messed up at these check-outs. They think it’s beeped but it hasn’t and the robots can detect the weight of something that wasn’t scanned and let you know. That’s when the technology kicks in. It used to say “Unexpected item in the bagging area”. No explanation of what or where that is. Which is why that phrase was voted one of the most annoying things ever by shoppers in 2015 so it has been ditched by most supermarkets. Now it just tends to say “Please wait for assistance.” Oh, yeah, much better.

However, they still haven’t fixed the confusion when you try to pay by card. How many times have I tried to push my blue contactless wonder into the orifice that gives the change? There should be a flashing light around the correct slot. Or maybe they should use the booming electronic voice to harken back to The Golden Shot, a TV show in the 1970s which they keep threatening to bring back. So it could say “Up a bit, left a bit, right a bit.” Then, with a loud fanfare and sparkly confetti falling from the ceiling, the guy who does the voiceover on X Factor could come over the speakers and announce: “Yeeeees. You have found it. Insert your card nooooow.”

Robotic check-outs are not getting better. They remind me of Liz Macdonald, another blonde bombshell - the one in Coronation Street. I have also not watched that soap much in the last decade because, well, I have a life. Actually, it used to be good and it was not difficult to appreciate how anyone could get caught up in the plotlines. I know there have been some murderous characters since but since dodgy financial adviser Richard Hillman drove his people carrier into Weatherfield Canal to try and get rid of Gail Platt and her pesky kids, nothing could top that. Never really liked financial advisers since either. I don’t care if it is acting. Watch them. That’s all I am saying.

However, I happened to see the omnibus edition last weekend and guess what? Nothing has changed in Corrie in 10 whole years. Steve married Tracy - and had a fight. His parents Jim and the dumb blonde Liz Macdonald got together again - and had a fight. We have been watching the same scraps with the same people for 20 flipping years. Stop it, you lot. Sort your lives out. Oh yeah, and sack the writers.

I am going off these unstaffed robots. There is nothing quick about these beeping machines. They are just for miserable people who are even too miserable to talk to anyone at a check-out. Everyone else just uses these machines when there are hoardes of people and the queues are too long at the conventional non-beeping check-outs which are staffed by warm-blooded human beings who must face the daily challenges of tax demands, annoying relatives and flatulence - unlike the beeping robots near the door.

Yeah, blondes have had to put up with a lot. Friends of Dolly Parton always used to rush to her defence in the 1980s when there was a trend for always taking the mickey out of them. Everyone did it. If you were fair-haired, female, fashionable and fabulous you were assumed not to be blessed with grey matter. Dolly, however, insisted she was never offended by all the dumb blonde jokes lobbed in her direction. She said: “Why should I be offended? I know I’m not dumb. And I also know that I’m not blonde.”

Davidson and Mundell 'Could Resign Over Brexit Deal'
Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson and Scottish Secretary David Mundell could resign from their roles over a possible Brexit compromise, BBC sources say.  In a letter to the prime minister they said they would not support any deal that introduces different arrangements for Northern Ireland.  They said this would "undermine the integrity" of the UK.  Scotland's Brexit Minister Mike Russell said it was "an astonishing development".  Sources have told the BBC Ms Davidson and Mr Mundell have made it clear they would resign if Northern Ireland faces new controls that separate it from the rest of the UK - because that could fuel the case for Scottish independence. A source close to Mr Mundell said: "If you find yourself not agreeing with government policy" resigning would be the "logical outcome". A source close to Ms Davidson said the issue was a "red line".  In the letter to Theresa May, the Scottish Tory leader and Scottish Secretary said: "Having fought just four years ago to keep our country together, the integrity of our United Kingdom remains the single most important issue for us in these negotiations. Any deal that delivers a differentiated settlement for Northern Ireland beyond the differences that already exist on all Ireland basis (eg agriculture), or can be brought under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement, would undermine the integrity of our UK internal market and this United Kingdom.  It added: "We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the Union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK, beyond what currently exists."  The Scottish government's Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell said: "This is an astonishing development, not that Ruth Davidson holds any position in the UK Westminster government, but to say that you'll resign if Scotland is not treated as badly as everywhere else strikes me as a complete dereliction of duty. They're elected by people in Scotland and here they want Scotland to suffer the hardest of Brexits. That strikes me as a ludicrous position and one in which we should be saying, have they really come to this?"  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: "We'll resign if you do anything that makes Scotland think there's a better alternative to a hard Tory Brexit' say Mundell and Davidson!  "First, what a bizarre position - isn't it their job to stand up for Scotland? And, second, have they the gumption to resign? I bet they don't!" Labour MP Ian Murray tweeted: "But they also don't want to continue to participate in the customs union and single market so how do they suggest resolving it? Utterly contemptible.  They can't achieve a no hard border in Ireland without participation in the same trading arrangements as the EU."

Lockerbie Girl Mystery 'Laid to Rest'

For almost 30 years, a police officer who witnessed the aftermath of the Lockerbie bombing has been haunted by a single incident from a night of horror.  Colin Dorrance was on duty outside the town hall when a farmer drove down from the hills in a pick-up truck with debris from Pan Am 103 and, placed in the front seat, the body of a young girl.  The child was the first victim to arrive at what became a makeshift mortuary, but the young constable never discovered who she was, until a chance meeting with the farmer's son finally solved the mystery.  A terrorist bomb destroyed the airliner on 21 December, 1988, killing all 259 passengers and crew on board. Another 11 people died when the wreckage fell onto the Scottish town which gave the atrocity its name.  At 18, Colin Dorrance was the youngest police officer on duty that night and has never forgotten the child who was brought to him by the farmer.  He had carried the child into the town hall.  "It was the body of a child he'd found in a field at the back of his farm," he said. "It was a young child under the age of five. It looked as though they were asleep, it wasn't obviously injured, and it was just a shock to realise it was a passenger from Pan Am 103.  At the time it all happened so fast. There were hundreds of passengers brought into the town hall. It was just a case of moving on then, but in years since it was something that bothered me. It was such an extreme, intense moment." Colin chose not to use his position in the police to find out who the child was, feeling that it would have been unprofessional to do so.  "It took me 25 years to find out who the farmer was but I gathered that he suffered quite terribly as a result of what he experienced that night, and I didn't want to awaken any bad feelings, so I left it alone."  Like many people in Lockerbie, Colin has formed a close bond with relatives of the American victims, taking them on tours of the area so they can better understand what happened to their loved ones. It was on such a trip on Friday that Colin finally discovered who the child was.  He'd gone to the farm where the body of 21-year-old student Lynne Hartunian was found, along with many other passengers from the plane. "Fate just fell into place," Colin said. "The farmer was there and it was his father who'd brought the child to the town hall.  He said it was a child by the name of Bryony Owen who was 20 months old and it had affected his father very badly over the years.  The mystery if that's what you want to call it was laid to rest."  Bryony was travelling to the United States with her mother Yvonne Owen from Wales, to spend Christmas in Boston. They were laid to rest in a single coffin in the West Wales village of Pendine, Carmarthenshire.  Now retired, the 48-year-old is one of five men representing the emergency services who are taking part in a transatlantic fundraising bike ride to mark the 30th anniversary. On Saturday, accompanied by 70 supporters, they cycled from Lockerbie to Edinburgh Castle. The next stage will see the group cycling 600 miles from the Lockerbie memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia to Syracuse University, which lost 35 students in the bombing.  Speaking after he arrived at Edinburgh Castle, Colin said: "I was thinking about Bryony today.  There's just a sense of peace, a sense of conclusion to it.  I now know the person I need to remember."

Ben Nevis Clean-up: Underwear and Half A Toilet Seat Among Rubbish Cleared Off Mountain

It's one of Scotland's most iconic attractions. But the popularity of Ben Nevis comes at a cost, with visitors regularly dropping mountains of rubbish on the UK's highest peak.  In the latest clean up bid, volunteers collected nearly 375lb (170Kg) of items from the slopes - including part of a toilet, a military flare and underwear. About 100,000 people reach the summit of the 4,112ft-high mountain each year. Founder of the challenge, Rich Pyne, said: "If every person that went on Ben Nevis took down one piece of litter, the hill would be pristine in about 18 months. Just a thought." The operation at the weekend was part of a project dubbed the Real3Peaks Challenge, which also involves cleaning up Snowdon in Wales and Scafell Pike in the Lake District.  Clean up events also take place on other peaks such as Bennachie in Aberdeenshire, Ben Macdui in the Cairngorms, Lochnagar in the Grampians and Ben Lomond. The items collected from the slopes of Ben Nevis on Saturday filled 34 bin bags. Other finds included poo bags, toilet role and wipes, plastic and glass bottles, cans, socks, t-shirts, cigarette ends, sweet wrappers, crisp packets, an umbrella, a sleeping bag and a beach shelter. Mr Pyne said the rubbish haul was "quite a lot," especially because the hill is litter-picked regularly by trusts, charities, volunteers and hillwalkers.

The bottom line in Brussels is that May’s Hybrid Backstop doesn’t work for Scotland or the UK by Iain MacWhirter
In the foyer of the European Court of Justice building in Luxembourg there's a copy of Eduardo Paolozzi's statue of Sir Isaac Newton, on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland. Curiously, the artist signed it on the reverse. Which means that the first thing the august judges of Europe's supreme court see upon arriving for work is Newton's backside.  It's a posture that would appeal to Boris Johnson. He too wants to give the ECJ the bum's rush. He regards the court as an instrument of “colonial” domination, imposing an alien legal code on Britain. The main reason he wants to “chuck Chequers” is because Theresa May's latest Brexit plan leaves the European Court of Justice as the ultimate authority on trade disputes. Actually, on this at least, the bouffant Brexiteer is correct.

It's more complicated, of course, everything to do with Brexit is. The latest backstop proposal for resolving the Irish border problem seems to involve Britain remaining in the Customs Union for an indefinite period and for Northern Ireland to remain in regulatory alignment with the European Single Market. Brussels insiders, like the Labour MEP, David Martin, of the parliament's International Trade Committee, believe a deal along these lines has already been done behind the scenes. It remains only for the Brussels negotiator, Michel Barnier, to announce it, in great fanfare, this week.  But if my soundings in Brussels are correct, there is almost zero chance of it being agreed – at least by the Brexiteers. This is because, if Britain remains even partially in the single market and the Customs Union under the so called “hybrid backstop”, that leaves the UK still subject to the European Court of Justice. And these people don't mess about.  The top legal adviser to the European Court, Advocate- General Eleanor Sharpston is about as tough as they get - she's a karate black-belt for a start. She made it clear that there's no bucking the ECJ. “This court decides what the single market rules are, and that isn't going to change”. Theresa May can try to claim that Britain is not under the “direct jurisdiction” of the ECJ – perhaps by having the UK Supreme Court act as intermediary – but the inescapable legal reality is that it is. The ultimate arbiter for disputes about the European Single Market and the Customs Union is the Luxembourg bench.

Boris Johnson understands this. He says that, under this week’s proposed deal: “We cannot escape the EU laws and ECJ until they allow us to – which they may never do”. He goes on to say that this makes Britain a “colony” which is of course ridiculous. There is a world of difference between a court that deals with disputes over trade and related matters, and the supreme legal authority of a nation state.  Whenever countries join a rules-based international trading system they agree to share sovereignty. The World Trade Organisation , the hard Brexiteers' hard backstop, also has an arbitration procedure. The European Free Trade Association, has a court. Thai doesn't mean that members of EFTA or the WTO cease to be independent countries. Perhaps the greatest mistake made by Theresa May in these entire negotiations has been to go along with the fiction that Brexit means “taking back our laws”. We never lost them.  Even the UK Westminster government's own White Paper on Brexit made this clear in February 2017 when it said that the UK parliament “remained sovereign throughout our membership of the EU”. It went on to say that “it didn't always feel like that”, but the constitutional situation has never been in doubt. We never lost control of our laws, except in very narrowly defined areas. The demonising of the European Court of Justice has been a disastrous error of rhetoric, which has led many people to believe the canard that – as the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt put it at the Tory Conference in Birmingham– the EU is a “prison” like the old “Soviet Union” from which Britain is “escaping”.

This equation of the EU with the USSR, which has become commonplace among Tory eurosceptics, has caused genuine outrage across the European Union – especially in central European countries which actually experienced soviet domination. Try suggesting to someone from a Baltic state, like Lithuania, that the EU is prison. They'll tell you, forcefully, that it was the European Union that helped them escape from communist domination. First by giving them a model of freedom, prosperity and human rights, and second by allowing them to become members of a union founded on the autonomy of independent nations. There was a palpable change of mood in Brussels last week following the rhetoric of that Tory conference. Britain's friends in the Brussels have mostly given up trying to defend UK ministers. Officials, politicians, and Brussels commissioners just want an end to this whole demeaning Brexit process – and they don't much care how. They've other, more important things on their minds, like populism, Italy, Putin, Trump.

And I have to say, there’s very little support in Brussels for Nicola Sturgeon's call to delay the implementation of Article 50 next March. That would need the agreement of all 27 remaining states and officials now believe that is most unlikely. This is partly because EU governments just refuse to prolong the agony. This week's deal looks final.  And it poses very serious problems for Scotland. If Northern Ireland remains in the single market, this will be a huge attraction for firms wishing to gain the benefits of working within the EU without leaving the UK. It gives the North a massive competitive advantage over Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon is right to demand parity. But there's no way she is going to get it. Senior Brussels commissioners dismiss out of hand the idea of Scotland getting a similar deal. They won't even talk about it – I've tried.  There is some sympathy in the European Parliament for Scotland’s plight: being forced out of the EU against its will. According to David Martin, there's now a real willingness to help Scotland rejoin the EU, if it were to become independent. But that is very much for the future. The EU only deals with member states, in this case the UK, and right now they just want rid the lot of us.  My problem is that I can't see how the UK Westminster parliament can endorse this week's hybrid backstop. It may well be that a technical solution to the issue of Irish border checks is not far off. There are already health and environmental checks on agricultural goods and food coming from Northern Ireland to Britain. This could be the basis for a future “frictionless border” between Northern Ireland, which remains partially in the single market, and the UK which remains largely out of it.  But the DUP are having none of it. Britain remaining for an indefinite period in the Customs Union is a non-starter for Tory Brexiteers. The SNP must oppose NI exceptionalism and Chequers2 doesn't meet Labour’s “six tests”. Britain’s been asking for the impossible. If you remain even partially in regulatory alignment you must accept ECJ rulings. As with Paolozzi's statue, that's the bottom line.

Comment -R

May is playing the only hand she can, trying to play poker with a bad hand hoping the cards will fall in her favour. The European wafflers are doing the same, however May has the rat pack at her back and she has deliberately avoided discussing Scotlands concerns and that is her folly, it is destroying the Union but she cannot accept that is the case, her arrogance and one tracked approach is London comes first.  The problem is increasing tension and there is NO plan B ,even if she had one it would be without consideration for Scotland best interests,  The problem may, however, not be the EU. The problem (or more accurately problems) are the internal forces arranged against such a deal. It is impossible to reconcile the desires of the arch-Brexiters, The DUP and the moderate pro-EU Tories and any one of these can bring the UK Government down.

Suspicion Grows Over Unexplained Sheep Losses

Last week Bettyhill crofters initiated a meeting with officers from Police Scotland’s rural crime unit to discuss rising losses of young sheep from the area. The problem, the source of which remains unexplained, is also affecting neighbours from Borgie and Skerray. A local land owner and a representative of the Scottish government’s rural estates department joined crofters and farmers at the meeting in Bettyhill hall.  Those in attendance were told that the numbers lost ranged from ten to forty in the period from lambing time till clipping and gathering for lamb sales with mostly lambs and young sheep being targeted. To put the losses in context, one farmer stated that only three lambs were lost from a hill grazing similar to that of a crofter who lost forty lambs.  “Unexplained losses have occurred over the years, but this year seems to have brought an unsustainable amount of losses with some questioning the sense of continuing to keep sheep,” reported one crofter who attended the meeting. The police officers explained their remit to cover all kinds of rural crime throughout Scotland from Shetland to the Borders. They stated that stealing of livestock by organised crime is now affecting all areas including those that were once seen as remote.  Whilst effecting arrests requires evidence, the officers stressed the importance of preventative measures. Tec Tracer keel which carries within it electronic information about the owner is available. Electronic boluses can be used on most sheep along with a black ear tag which warns that a bolus is carried in the sheep. This can then be read at points of movement and if ear tags do not correspond, questions will be asked.  Basic methods of prevention such as locked gates were mentioned but can conflict with rights of access and are irrelevant as a means of protection on open hill ground.  Vigilance and communication were also stressed so that any unusual activity in the area is shared; the local police officer emphasised the importance of keeping police informed of any suspicious activity.  According to a report by rural insurer NFU Mutual, livestock theft cost the UK economy £2.4 million in 2017, up by £0.2 million from 2016. Meanwhile, across the UK, the cost of dog attacks on livestock rose by 67% over two years to an estimated £1.6m per year; £330,000 of this cost affected Scottish livestock producers.

Inverness Highland Games Venue to Host Outdoor Music Festival
A new annual outdoor music festival is to be staged on the site of the world’s first Highland Games event.  The Northern Meeting Park in Inverness city centre will play host to The Gathering, which organisers say will showcase the best music, food and drink from across the Highlands.  It will be launched as a one-day festival at the beginning of June but is already intended to expand into a two-day event the following year if there is enough demand.  The “family friendly” event will be held in the 8,000-capacity arena, close to the River Ness and Inverness Cathedral, which dates back to 1864.  The Gathering is being masterminded by the same organisers behind the long-running Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, near Beauly. Traditional music festival favourites Tide Lines, The Vatersay Boys, Elephant Sessions. Torridon, Hò-rò and Siobhan Miller are lined up for next year’s event. The Black Isle Brewery, Tomatin Distillery, Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka have all been confirmed as official partners for the inaugural event on 1 June. The Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, which was first staged in 2004, has grown to become the biggest annual outdoor event in the Highlands, with a capacity of 18,500. There are two spin-off events, Groove Cairngorm in the winter and Groove Loch Ness in the summer. The Northern Meeting Park has hosted Inverness’s Hogmanay celebration in recent years, while Simple Minds, The Pretenders and KT Tunstall played there last month. Promoter Dougie Brown said: “We hope The Gathering becomes a permanent fixture in the Scottish event calendar. We have a wealth of musical talent and incredible food and drink producers across the Highlands and Scotland and through The Gathering we aim to bring everyone together and celebrate the very best our region has to offer.” Chris Taylor, regional leadership director at VisitScotland, said: “The arrival of a new festival onto Scotland’s already legendary music scene would further enhance the country’s reputation as one of the world’s premier destinations for events and provide a significant boost to the Inverness economy, with the ripple effect felt in hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses in and around the city.”

Skye Singing Star Named Scotland's New Gaelic Ambassador
A rising singing star from the Isle of Skye has been named Scotland's new "Gaelic Ambassador."  Eilidh Cormack was presented with the honour at the opening of The Royal National Mòd, Scotland's annual celebration of Gaelic culture, in Dunoon.  The 22-year-old, who performed at the opening ceremony of the event, won the ladies gold medal at the Mòd at the first attempt when she was just 18.  Cormack, who was a semi-finalist in BBC Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year Award in 2016, joined forces with two other Gaelic singers, Ellen MacDonald and Ceitlin Smith to form a new band, Sian, the same year. They performed at the Hydro arena in Glasgow earlier this year as part of the Celtic Connections music festival.  Cormack's voice also features in a new videogame, The Bard's Tale IV: Barrows Deep, which Simple Minds star Ged Grimes created the soundtrack for. Cormack, from Portree, said: “I am absolutely delighted to have been awarded with the Gaelic Ambassador of the year at the Royal National Mòd this year and I certainly wasn’t expecting it, especially being so young.  It’s going to encourage me, to not only look back and appreciate what I’ve been doing and what the Mod are have recognised, but also encourage me to keep doing it for years to come.”

Scottish Power to Use 100% Wind Power After Drax Sale
Scottish Power will become the first major UK energy company to generate all its electricity from wind power instead of coal and gas, after selling its final gas and hydro stations to Drax.  Power company Drax has paid £702m for the rest of Scottish Power's conventional generation business.  Scottish Power plans to invest £5.2bn over four years to more than double its renewables capacity.  Chief executive Keith Anderson said it was a "pivotal shift" for the firm. "We are leaving carbon generation behind for a renewable future powered by cheaper green energy. We have closed coal, sold gas and built enough wind to power 1.2 million homes," he said.  Scottish Power has closed all of its coal plants in the past decade and has 2,700 megawatts (MW) of wind power capacity operating or under construction in the UK.  It also has projects planned that can generate more than 3,000 MW. Its four-year plan aims to make electricity "cleaner and cheaper for Britain".  Ignacio Galan, chairman of Scottish Power's Spanish owner, Iberdrola, said energy companies needed to be part of the solution to climate change.  "Iberdrola is acting now to cut carbon emissions 30% by 2020 and be carbon neutral by 2050. The sale of these generation assets is consistent with our strategy," he said. Drax chief executive Will Gardiner said: "We believe there is a compelling logic in our move to add further flexible sources of power to our offering."  Drax runs the UK's biggest power plant near Selby in North Yorkshire and is moving away from coal ahead of a government deadline for an emissions limit on coal plants from 2025.  It has already converted four of its six generating units to burn wood pellets.  The Selby plant is believed to be the first bioenergy carbon capture storage (Beccs) project of its type in Europe.  The power station has previously been criticised for the levels of air pollution it produces by campaigners, who claim it produces "dangerous" levels of air pollution.  Drax said its emissions were "well within statutory limits".  In May, it announced a £400,000 pilot scheme to capture the carbon dioxide produced from burning the wood pellets.  It said that if this pilot were to lead to a full roll-out, it would achieve what it called the "holy grail" of power generation.  It planned to work with energy firm C-Capture, which is connected to the chemistry department at the University of Leeds.  Kate Blagojevic, UK head of energy at Greenpeace, said: "Big utilities across Europe have been shedding their dirty fossil fuel infrastructure because it makes economic and environmental sense. This move by Scottish Power shows that the same maths adds up in the UK too.  Climate science could not be clearer that renewables are the future for powering our world. We need the government to give renewable energy industry its full backing rather than propping up the fossil fuel and nuclear companies."

Pregnant Gaelic Star ‘Kicking’ to Gold
An Inverness woman has finally won the Oran Mor at her 11th outing after achieving the Royal National Mod’s highest honour while six-and-a-half months pregnant.  Ceitidh Campbell, 31, claimed the gold medal in the Wednesday solo singing competitions in Dunoon and said her first baby had been kicking during the performances.  Ms Campbell, a Gaelic teacher from Inverness, was joined on the winners’ list by Portree’s Ruairidh Cormack, 24, who won the men’s Comunn Gàidhealach gold medal.  The achievement comes after he won the traditional gold in 2014, making Mod history alongside younger sister Eilidh, who claimed the corresponding women’s gold that year at her first attempt. Highland Council care, learning and housing committee chair, Councillor Andrew Baxter, said: “Well done to Ceitidh and Ruairidh for bringing the Mod gold medals home to the Highlands.  On behalf of the committee, I extend a special thanks to Ceitidh for her success. While this is a truly personal achievement, her success will also reflect positively on pupils that she teaches.  The Mod gold medal is a pinnacle to which many Gaelic singers aspire and her achievement is inspirational..”  The silver pendant final awarded on the same night was won by Eileen Duncan of Tongue in Sutherland, whilst Mikie MacEanrig from Keiss in Caithness walked away with the men’s honour. The rural choirs took to the stage yesterday in competitions broadcast live on BBC Alba.

Orkney Islands Could Get First Electric Plane Service

The air service which includes the shortest scheduled flight in the world could start to use electric-powered planes within three years. Loganair's Orkney island hopping air service is famous for the 1.7 mile jump between Westray and Papa Westray.  The airline is working with experts in the hope of making the electric service a reality by 2021.  Loganair said the Islander aircraft it uses could be modified rather than developing a model from scratch. It takes about two minutes - including taxiing - to complete the 1.7 mile Westray / Papa Westray leg flight, which is about the same length as the runway at Edinburgh Airport.  The record is 53 seconds.  The short inter-island services are seen as an ideal possible route for electric planes as a limitation of the aircraft would be range.  As well as Westray and Papa Westray, the inter island routes via Kirkwall on mainland Orkney also serve Sanday, Stronsay, Eday and North Ronaldsay. Loganair is working with Bedfordshire-based Cranfield Aerospace on the project, which the airline believes could see it be the first to introduce electric planes on a passenger service.

NHS England Sent 154 Eating Disorder Patients to Scotland
A severe shortage of beds for patients with life-threatening eating disorders has forced the NHS to send more than 100 patients from England to Scotland for treatment since 2016. At least 154 vulnerable patients, mainly women and some teenagers, had to travel hundreds of miles from their homes in order to receive residential care in Glasgow and Edinburgh, costing the NHS millions of pounds annually.  The data, obtained under freedom of information from NHS England, is the first of its kind to be revealed. Official figures showed that in 2017-18, caring for English eating disorder patients in Scotland cost £5.1m, compared with £4.5m the year before and £2.2m in 2014-15.  Mental health experts expressed alarm and blamed the NHS’s use of cross-border care on an acute lack of both beds in mental health units and specialist staff to look after patients. They said care further from home could damage patients’ chances of recovery, increase their sense of isolation through the separation from their families and even raise their risk of dying.

Thousands Object to Trump Housing Estate Plans
A record number of people have objected to plans by the Trump Organization to build a large new housing estate near the US president’s golf course north of Aberdeen.  More than 3,000 people have submitted formal objections to the plans, with another 19,000 people signing an online petition protesting against the scheme to build 550 private homes and golfers’ chalets on farmland beside the course.  Officials in Aberdeenshire council are now sifting through 3,026 letters of objection sent by the 38 Degrees campaign website before the public consultation period ended last week.  The council is also considering whether to accept the online petition, which was posted on the 38 Degrees site by local campaign group Tripping up Trump, as valid.  Of the 85 public responses accepted by the council before Monday evening, 82 were objections and only two supported the housing scheme.  Many objectors are residents in the nearby village of Balmedie, who had previously backed Donald Trump. They complain the scheme breaches the local development plan, will clog local roads, and ignores demands from government planning inspectors that the US president pays for a new school, community facilities and a sewerage upgrade. Martin Ford, a local councillor and one of Trump’s leading critics in Aberdeenshire, said this was the largest number of objections ever received for a planning application in the county.  It contrasts strongly to the public responses in 2007 when a majority were in favour of Trump’s plan for a £750m resort featuring a 450-bed five-star hotel, timeshare flats and shops. It was a stark illustration of how public opinion had turned against him, Ford said.  The US president’s current resort, Trump Aberdeen, which he hopes to expand by adding a second golf course, is still losing money. Its latest accounts report losses of £1.2m last year, with its income flatlining, and the company employed nine fewer staff than in 2016. “It’s eye-opening to see how popular this campaign is,” said Robin Priestley of 38 Degrees. “It’s clear Trump’s previous broken promises to protect the beautiful Scottish landscape and boost the economy aren’t going to wash this time. The public want the council to hold him to account.”

MPs Will Get ‘Take it Or Leave It’ Vote on Final Brexit Deal
MPs will be given a “take it or leave it” vote on the government’s Brexit deal, the Leader of the House of Commons confirmed yesterday, prompting claims that parliament was being stripped of sovereignty.  Andrea Leadsom told MPs that in voting on the Brexit deal, they would have to “recognise the question that will be in reality be before the United Kingdom, and that is whether or not to accept the deal that the government has negotiated with the European Union”.  Opposition parties have said they will seek to amend the motion that presents Theresa May’s Brexit deal for approval, in a bid to soften it or force a second referendum on EU membership.  Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said: “By trying to deny MPs a meaningful vote on their Brexit deal May and Raab have blundered into turning this issue into a fundamental question of parliamentary sovereignty and democracy in our country.  Any self-respecting MP would never allow this to happen”.  And the pro-EU Tory MP Nicky Morgan warned ministers: “This appears to be an attempt by the executive to frustrate our sovereign parliament – it is clumsy, it won’t succeed and it shows how hollow ‘taking back control’ was for some people.”                

Top Gaelic Learner Blooms At the Mod

A Dunbar resident has received a prestigious honour to celebrate one of the country’s best emerging Gaelic speakers.  Isabelle Flower, known as Izzy, was yesterday named as Gaelic Learner of the Year.  Sponsored by the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society for Scotland (RHASS), the award acknowledges a Gaelic learner who has made significant steps to becoming fluent.  The honour was presented by RHASS’s George Young at the National Royal Mod in Dunoon.  Ms Flower, 23, is one of a growing number of students who come to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig from Celtic or Gaelic departments at other universities to take a year out and study Gaelic in an immersive environment. She has always had a keen interest in languages and studies French and Gaelic at Glasgow University.  Ms Flower was given a place on a course for fluent Gaelic speakers at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, with educators saying she had quickly established herself as a popular and supportive member of the young Gaelic community on campus.  An Comunn Gàidhealach chief executive John Morrison said ahead of yesterday’s competitions: “Special congratulations to Izzy Flower, who epitomises everything the Gaelic Learner of the Year Award celebrates. The adult competitions begin with a bang, with two of the most prestigious awards up for grabs. We’re expecting some incredible performances.”

Man Jailed for Trying to Set Scottish Parliament Building Alight
A man who sprayed part of the Scottish parliament building with barbecue fluid has been jailed for 30 months.  Piotr Swiatek took out a lighter before being challenged by a police officer outside Holyrood, then pulled out a knife.  Swiatek was found guilty of attempted fire raising, possession of two knives and causing fear and alarm, following a trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.  Sheriff Gordon Liddle sentenced him to 30 months imprisonment and a 12-month supervision order.  In a sentencing statement, Sheriff Liddle said: "You caused a major security alert.  There was no way the authorities could know whether they were dealing with a terrorist incident.  I am sure that members of the public, at that very busy place on a Saturday, were alarmed."  The sheriff said part of Edinburgh's Royal Mile was closed as a result of the incident, adding "many security personnel were involved in the aftermath before an all clear could be given".