Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 475

Issue # 475                                            Week ending Saturday 27th   October 2018

Every Time I See Old Horatio Up There I Feel Like I’m Soon Going to Be As Sick As A Dog by Iain MacIver Courtesy of he Press & Journal

When we were in London a couple of years ago, things were buzzing in Westminster. As Mrs X and I emerged from the Tube by the Houses of Parliament and began stravaiging up Whitehall, cops on horseback were going clipetty-clop everywhere and long limousines were gliding past us. I thought to myself it was nice of Prime Minister David Cameron to make such a fuss just because it had been a few years since I had been in the capital. I said to herself as we neared Downing Street that he would probably be at the railings to ask us in for a cuppa. How wrong I was.

There were scores of people milling around when we reached. Maybe there was an event on. Och, we won’t bother stopping, we thought. Maybe next time. However, there was not to be a next time. When we got back to our hotel, which was just round the corner, we switched on the TV and found out that Cameron had just been given his jotters that very day and someone called Theresa May had nipped up from the Home Office to take his job. Ah, so that was what the fuss down there was all about. Maybe we should go back down this week for another wee gander because there is a lot of speculation just now that her time is also just about up. Just saying.

Later, we went out for a stroll because we were not tired of London and so we were not tired of life. As we reached Trafalgar Square, I began to feel queasy. The reason, of course, is how vivid the image is in my head of the late Blue Peter presenter John Noakes climbing Nelson’s Column in 1977. Remember him and his faithful Border collie Shep which went everywhere with him. His regular catchphrase was “Down, Shep.” There was an overhang. Noakes was actually leaning backwards as went up the rickety wooden ladder. No health and safety then. Mind you, he didn’t take the dog with him up there. Imagine if he had. One slip and it would be ... “Down, Shep.”

It was a bit pricey to stay in the centre of London but it is different for special occasions. However, it could soon be very affordable - even off Trafalgar Square. Did you see the news this week about the new wee hotels that are starting up? Your room is a bit smaller than usual - basically just a shelf with a mattress and a pillow on it. These new capsule hotels are popular in Japan and in Hong Kong people stay for a couple of nights and then move in permanently. Because they are really cheap compared to a conventional one. Here they are called pods, hubs and even compact hotels. They have been around for a few years in a few cities and I know of one in Edinburgh that charges just £25 a night. City centre prices are expected to settle soon at £19 a night.

Understand this - don’t expect too much in the way of luxury as these mini hotelettes spread in an age of ongoing austerity. No en-suite loo, no soft bathrobe, no newspaper in the morning, nothing like that. Listen, the capsule is so small that when you put your luggage under the shelf you will not have room for a kettle, cup and tea tray either. You’ll be lucky to have room for a single carton of UHT milk. Should you manage to squeeze one in, there will be no room in there for even a custard cream to go with it.

That same nausea and sweaty palm feeling I told you about came back again last week. It was the 60th birthday celebrations for Blue Peter and various tribute shows and TV news bulletins kept showing that highlight. Over and over again. I am not great with heights - unless I am in an aircraft and then I am completely not bothered. Whether I am upside down in a small jet fighter over the North Sea or skimming Atlantic waves in an airliner-sized submarine hunter, the collywobbles are the last thing on my mind. Even the sight of a pigeon that looks as if it may have once alighted for 10 seconds in Trafalgar Square is enough to have me reaching for the sickbag.

So you see, all in all, I have been feeling quite sickly. So much so that Mrs X took pity on me and when I got home the other day she said she sympathised and was going to make me feel much better. Before I could say to her to get me a dram and my slippers, she had slipped on a white coat, gave me a teaspoon of tonic and starting sounding me all over with a stethoscope. Well, I was speechless. She said: “I have decided how we shall spend this evening. We will play doctors and nurses.” Yay, I thought. She then heaved me up onto a trolley, wheeled me into the hall and completely ignored me for the next six hours.

Highlands and Islands on Lonely Planet's 'Best in Travel' List

The Scottish Highlands and islands have been named one of the top regions in the world for travellers in 2019.  Lonely Planet has revealed that the region has been listed among its top 10 "Best in Travel" destinations.  Featuring fifth on the list, the guide describes the Highlands and islands as "one of the wildest, least inhabited and most scenic parts of Europe".  It gives special mention to the North Coast 500 driving route, the North East 250 and the Snow Roads.  The Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2019 is a highly-anticipated annual collection of the best travel destinations, trends, journeys and experiences to have in the year ahead.  It also reveals the top 10 regions, countries, cities and best value places to visit in 2019. Piedmont in Italy, best known for being home to Leonardo Da Vinci, topped the "Best in Travel" list, followed by the Catskills in the USA, Northern Peru and the Red Centre in Australia.  Claiming fifth place, the Scottish Highlands and Islands were commended for their "innovative and fast-developing" accommodation sector, ranging from purpose-built campervan parking spots, to designer cottages modelled on ancient buildings.  Tom Hall, Lonely Planet's editorial director, said: "The wild landscapes of Scotland's Highlands and islands offer the ultimate escape and visiting the region's remote areas is now easier than ever thanks to impressive developments in accommodation.  This is a stunning area with so much to offer travellers, from its glorious natural landscape and rich history to enviable local food and drink."  Visitor experiences listed included savouring the region's sought-after seafood restaurants, enjoying a nature-watching trip, and climbing a mountain with the iconic peak of Suilven referenced following the repair and upgrade of its footpath.  Also highlighted in the four pages dedicated to the region, the North Coast 500 driving route which has been compared to the US's Route 66.  Stretching more than 500 miles, it was developed as a way of bringing visitors to hidden parts of the Highlands and giving economic benefits to struggling communities.  The route has attracted 29,000 more visitors to the Highlands since its launch in 2015.  The distillery experience was also praised by Lonely Planet.  With over 20 distilleries opening in Scotland in the last two years, whisky is experiencing a boom not seen since the 1890s.  The guide said: "Whisky is the essence of the Highlands, a thousand years of history and culture distilled."  Malcolm Roughead, VisitScotland chief executive, said he was "thrilled, though not entirely surprised" to see the Highlands and Island make the prestigious list.  This stunning part of Scotland punches well above its weight on the world stage as a thriving holiday destination for people from both across the globe and the UK," he added. "From its wide range of distilleries and tourist attractions, to its beautiful islands and iconic landmarks, I am sure the Lonely Planet's support for the Highlands and Islands will help to inspire and captivate the imaginations of new visitors."

Raids Target New Wave of Drug Dealers in Fraserburgh and Peterhead
Police have carried out a series of raids as an Aberdeenshire fishing town once dubbed "Scotland's drug capital" faces a new wave of dealers.  Fraserburgh - plagued by heroin in the 1990s - is facing what officers describe as an "influx of dealers" from the north west of England. About 20 people have been arrested so far in the ongoing operation.  Police say dealers are using vulnerable people to supply drugs in what is known as "cuckooing".  In the late 1990s, Fraserburgh gained the unenviable reputation of Scotland's drugs capital.
Fishing wealth  Heroin arrived in the town before it spread elsewhere because people had money to spend, thanks largely due to wealth that came with a successful fishing industry. That also meant there was not as much associated crime.  Crack cocaine also took a heavy toll on the town's young population, many away for days at a time at sea, spending their wages on drugs once back ashore.  Now, the so-called cuckooing involves the targeting of individuals with substance misuse and mental health problems by dealers, who can use their homes as a base to distribute drugs.  Police began a 10-week intelligence-led operation, culminating in a series of raids and operations in the Fraserburgh and Peterhead areas in recent days.  The operation is targeting the activities of predominantly English-based organised crime groups (OCGs), who are believed to be responsible for the influx of drugs into the north east of Scotland.  Det Ch Insp Lorna Ferguson said: "We will not tolerate individuals (drug dealers) coming into this area, we'll take action against them and we'll continue to proactively target them and make it a hostile environment for them."  She also gave a commitment to breaking the cycle of substance misuse by offering additional support to those taken into custody.  Vanessa Case, a substance misuse worker in Fraserburgh, has seen first hand the impact of drugs in her town.  She said: "A number of our clients who all went to school together will tell us about photographs that they've had of their classes and a few of them have said I'm the only person left alive from that picture.  "That's the impact that the drugs have had on the local community over those years.  It's incredibly sad to think that that level of attrition has happened in a community that's so tight-knit."  Ms Case fears that if education around drug misuse does not improve, the next generation could face a similar level of tragedy.

Scottish Labour to Hold Holyrood Vote on Monklands Hospital Site

Scottish Labour will attempt to put pressure on the Scottish government by forcing a vote at Holyrood later on the site of a new Monklands Hospital.  A panel has recommended NHS Lanarkshire use a new location at Gartcosh.  But there is opposition to that proposal and Labour want the new hospital built at the current site.  NHS Lanarkshire board members will decide on a preferred option next month, with final approval needed from the Scottish government.  Monklands Hospital has been a political issue in the past with a bitter fight over its accident and emergency unit in 2007.  The then Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon reversed the previous Labour government's decision to close the A&E department at Monklands.  Her successor Alex Neil, who is also the constituency MSP for the area covering the hospital, campaigned in 2007 to keep the A&E open.  An NHS Lanarkshire consultation on the replacement or refurbishment of the hospital closed last week.  A panel, which included patients, staff and partners such as the Scottish Ambulance Service, determined that a new hospital in Gartcosh was the leading option.  The consultation document said Gartcosh would "deliver the best clinical outcomes for patients, and can be completed with the least disruption to services".  Scottish Labour said over 5,000 people have now signed a petition backing keeping the hospital in the community where it is currently sited.  The party is to use its opposition business time at the Scottish Parliament to vote on a motion on the issue.  It claims a lack of transport links would make the Gartcosh option problematic.  Party leader Richard Leonard said: "People across Airdrie, Bellshill, Coatbridge and the wider area are angry over plans to close Monklands Hospital and relocate health services to a totally different site in Gartcosh.  Closing the hospital and relocating services to an area of North Lanarkshire which is ill-served by public transport would hurt working people across the Monklands."  The area's local MSP, the SNP's Mr Neil, and Neil Gray, SNP MP for Airdrie and Shotts, have called on Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman to commission a review regarding the decision of NHS Lanarkshire to make Gartcosh the preferred site.

Rediscovered WW1 Cornet to Sound Last Post on Remembrance Sunday

A 105-year-old cornet discovered hidden in a store cupboard will sound Last Post in Dundee on Remembrance Sunday. The cornet was played on the Western Front during WW1 by the band of the Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division.  It is believed to be the only WW1 instrument being used to sound Last Post and Reveille in Scotland on 11 November.  The cornet was found on HMS Unicorn, which served as a recruiting centre for the Division during the war. The service aboard HMS Unicorn, held annually since 1924, will honour the 10,000 Scots who served in the Royal Naval Division during WW1 and commemorate the 1,598 Scottish "Sea Soldiers" who lost their lives.  The cornet will be played on Remembrance Sunday by 18-year-old Harris Academy student Rael Watt.  Former Harris Academy pupil and bandsman Able Seaman Victor Ferrar was killed, aged 17, while serving as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli in July 1915.  Historian Andrew Jeffrey said: "It was only when we cleaned it, that we realised exactly what we had.  It's certainly one of a handful around the world.  When this instrument is played on Remembrance Sunday in the silent streets of Dundee, you will be hearing exactly the same sound as the Sea Soldiers of the Royal Naval Division heard on the Western Front.  It is a direct link with the trenches."

Clyde Marine Hub 'Could Create 1,000 Jobs' on Derelict Site

A plan to bring marine manufacturing back to the River Clyde has the potential to create nearly 1,000 jobs, according to the firm behind it.  Malin Group wants to establish a hub at Old Kilpatrick, West Dunbartonshire, on a derelict 47-acre site.  The group commissioned land development and infrastructure consultants to carry out an economic impact assessment Peter Brett Associates said it could create up to 986 jobs and add £125.4m a year to the local economy.  The construction phase of the project will also require more than 600 additional short-term jobs, the consultants said.  The site, formerly the Carless oil facility, is land zoned for industrial use.  It also has direct access to a deep-water channel via an 80m long deep-water quayside berth with heavy lift facilities.  Malin Group managing director John MacSween believes the hub will be a "magnet" for marine engineering and technology organisations and "a centre of excellence" for the sector.  He said: "The heritage of the Clyde is something of which we should all be rightly proud. We have been working in the shipping industry for over 100 years and have a passion for the river and its history, but there is a need to be looking to the future to ensure the long-term success of the Clyde as a maritime centre of excellence."  The development, which is in an advanced stage of planning with West Dunbartonshire Council, will see a £10m remediation and regeneration of the contaminated land that is a legacy of the past oil refinery.  Bodies involved in a consultation on the project included Scottish Canals, West Dunbartonshire Council, Crown Estates, Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and SEPA.  Mark Newlands, regional head of partnerships at Scottish Enterprise, said: "We welcome Malin's ambitious plans to revitalise this site and create much needed jobs in the West Dunbartonshire area.  We look forward to working alongside the company to support its growth aspirations."

Wikipedia Edit-a-thon Celebrates Women From Isle of Skye
Thirteen new articles about women from the Isle of Skye have been added to Wikipedia to mark 100 years of women's suffrage. The biographies were researched and written during a two-day edit-a-thon organised by the island's Atlas Arts project.  Among the women added to Wikipedia were Ann MacKinnon and Dr Alexandrina Matilda MacPhail.  Both attended sick and wounded close to frontlines during World War One.  Dr MacPhail, who was born in Knock, Sleat, in 1860 was a physician who graduated from the London School of Medicine for Women.  In 1887 she became a missionary and doctor in India, where she founded what would become a large hospital in Madras. During World War One she worked for the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service as a doctor in Serbia and France.  Honours that Dr MacPhail received during her lifetime included a silver Kaisar-i-Hind Medal for public services in India from the Indian Viceroy, and in 1930 she was awarded an OBE. Ms MacKinnon, who was from Waternish, tended to wounded soldiers while under enemy fire during World War One.  France awarded her the military award the Croix de Guerre for her bravery.  The nurse moved to the USA in 1928 and joined the Frontier Nursing Service. Ms MacKinnon worked as a hospital superintendent at Hayden Hospital in Kentucky, and was a founding member of The Kentucky State Association of Midwives in 1930.  She died in 1953 and was buried at Wendover, Kentucky.  Shona Cameron, of Atlas Arts and helped to organise the Women of Skye Edit-a-thon, said: "We are thrilled by how well the event went. The participants were enthusiastic and really embraced the challenge. It was wonderful to see so many new articles created, and people leave with the skills to continue to edit and update Wikipedia entries.  There are so many amazing stories of women of Skye who have been overlooked or erased from the history books - this was a small step towards addressing this issue and showcasing some of these incredible women and their work."

The Government Has Failed on Brexit, It's Time to Ask the Voter Says Ming Campbell

WHAT was it they said again?  On 10 October 2016, David Davis: “There will be no downside to Brexit, only a considerable upside”. On 20th July 2017, Liam Fox: “The free trade agreement that we will have to do with the European Union should be one of the easiest in human history”.  These assertions displayed a facile misunderstanding of the European Union, its origins and its priorities.  To coin a phrase: “It is not just about the economy, stupid!” Why are the four freedoms of goods, capital, services and labour so important? Because countries which recognise them do not go to war against each other. They have too much to lose. These freedoms are as much about security as they are about economics. It is because these freedoms are so fundamental in what has become the European Union that Michel Barnier cannot and will not make any concession which undermines them.  If the EU were to grant a member who wishes to leave the same privileges of membership, others may be emboldened to leave too.  The Prime Minister cannot simply pick and choose advantages of membership. The continuing optimism to the contrary is deeply misplaced.  There is a battle for the soul of the Tory party with even its very existence at stake.  There has been a serious catalogue of errors; the decision by David Cameron to call the referendum; the lacklustre and complacent Tory-led campaign against leaving; and the assumption by Theresa May that a general election would produce an overall majority in the Commons.  It is therefore not surprising that commentators and politicians alike are completely nonplussed by the current state of the Government.  There are sections of the Tory party that are in unrepentant revolt. The Prime Minister is a proud person, but she has now been found herself embarrassingly trying to encourage EU leaders to make a deal with her because if she was to be replaced the negotiations would be even more difficult.  We do not know what, if anything, the final package will be that is put before Parliament.  However, the chances of it being approved by the Commons melt by the hour as bitterness and abuse replace loyalty and respect.  It is claimed it would be undemocratic to allow such a vote – that it is a novel and dangerous principle to give the people the chance to pass judgment on proposals which will be a world away from what they were once promised.  Absolute Nonsense.  Brexiters never told the country that a decision to leave would result in the depreciation of the pound, an increase in inflation and a rise in the cost of living. But sadly, the public have been failed by an incoherent and incompetent Tory Government whose divisions and internal strife undermine the United Kingdom.  If ever there was a need for pause for thought it is now.  That is why nearly 700,000 members of the public marched through the streets of London last Saturday calling for the people to have the final say on any deal. The British public have a right to be allowed to pass judgment. Baron Campbell of Pittenweem was leader of the Liberal Democrats between 2006 and 2007 and was the MP for North East Fife from 1987 until 2015. He is the party’s spokesman for defence.

Major Work on Forth Road Bridge to Begin
Major maintenance work on the Forth Road Bridge is set to begin and is expected to last for the whole of 2019.  The project will see all of the bridge's main expansion joints replaced over the course of the next 12 months.  Work will start on the joints in the east footpath from 12 November and is due to continue until late January 2019, with pedestrians and cyclists using the west footpath instead.  The larger joints on the main carriageways will then be replaced.  The second phase of work is then expected to cause traffic on the bridge to be restricted to a single lane in each direction before work on the joints in the west footpath takes place.  Journey times for vehicles using the public transport corridor over the Forth Road Bridge is not anticipated to be impacted by the works, with no diversions required. Replacement of the joints had initially been planned to take place in 2009.  However, Forth Estuary Transport Authority postponed the works when the Scottish government confirmed its timetable for construction of the Queensferry Crossing.  According to Amey, the company responsible for operating the bridge, the completion of the Queensferry Crossing has reduced the cost of the works to £5.9m - less than half the £13.7m cost when plans were originally tendered in 2008.  Mark Arndt, Amey's account director for the Forth Bridges Unit, said: "The Queensferry Crossing has already delivered a major benefit by sparing the public the immense disruption that would have been caused if these works had gone ahead in 2009. It will also allow us to deliver these works at a significantly reduced cost."

Connections Over Visa 'Hassle and Stress'

Organisers of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival have hit out after being forced to scrap headline shows by world music stars due to problems securing visas for them.  Two leading African acts pulled out just six weeks before its programme launch in protest at the red tape they were confronted with.  Donald Shaw, the musician in charge of the event, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2019, said they had decided the “hassle and stress” of trying to secure permission to enter the UK was not worth it.  The withdrawal of the acts, from Mali and Senegal, has emerged months after Mr Shaw warned the festival may have to become less international in future over concerns Brexit would create a financial and logistical “nightmare.”  Shaw has previously had to scale back his programme due to the plunging value of sterling since the EU vote.  Celtic Connections has been hit months after the Edinburgh International Book Festival revealed up to a dozen authors had faced prolonged problems. Director Nick Barley warned the “humiliating” process – including demands to provide bank statements and birth certificates, and undergo biometric tests – would deter artists from visiting the UK in future.  Mr Shaw said: “We had two quite large world music acts who I had pencilled in to perform that both pulled out about six weeks ago due to the hassle and stress of the visa application process.  It wasn’t that they’d been turned down, it was what was being asked of them to get the visas. They felt they were being asked for sensitive information and were being asked to travel to another city to try to get a visa that may not be approved. They just felt it wasn’t worth the grief. The application process was made so difficult for them they decided not to persevere.  These are top-class musicians who have been travelling around the world for 20 years. Britain now has a very solidly-locked gate, certainly in terms of African visas.  The whole thing undermines us as a Scottish festival with an international outlook. We always looked to embrace an internationalist programme. Anything that restricts that is disappointing. I don’t see any good reason for it.” Among the acts appearing at next year’s festival are 1960s American rock singer Ronnie Spector, lead singer with The Ronettes, and Paul Weller, the former frontman of The Jam and The Style Council.  Weller will appear in a night honouring John Martyn a decade after his death, which will feature the Glasgow-born singer’s long-time collaborator Danny Thompson and former bandmates Alan Thomson, Foster Paterson and Arran Ahmun.  Two tribute shows will honour the victims of the Iolaire disaster off the coast of Lewis weeks after the centenary of the tragedy, including one inspired by the actions of John Finlay MacLeod, who saved dozens of lives after swimming ashore with a rope from the stricken vessel.

Bord Na Ghaidhlig Launch
Bord na Ghaidhlig chief executive Shona NicIllinnein, culture secretary Fiona Hyslop and VisitScotland chair Lord Thurso launched the Gaelic tourism blueprint. The festival will be expanding for the first time to the King’s Theatre and Glasgow University’s Queen Margaret Union after losing one of its most popular venues, the O2 ABC, in this year’s Glasgow School of Art fire.  The festival will stage its first videogame-themed event to recreate the soundtrack to a new version of The Bard’s Tale, a live concert version of the Disney-Pixar film Brave will get a world premiere and its Scottish composer, Patrick Doyle, will join forces with the BBC SSO for a 65th birthday show. Indie-rocker KT Tunstall will be among those performing in a 50th anniversary celebration of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

Mysteries of Buried Bronze Age Treasures Unravelled

It was a mysterious ritual carried out again and again in Scotland more than 2,500 years ago. During the Bronze Age, our ancestors gathered together pieces of metalwork and buried them in the ground with more than 100 such collections recovered from the land over time.  No one can be quite sure why the belongings, which usually held some value or significance, were left in this way.  It may have been a way of people connecting with the landscape or a sacrifice of wealth, said Dr Matthew Knight, Curator of Early Prehistory at the National Museum of Scotland.  The underground hoards may also have been a way of marking out territories, with the metal work usually buried at distinctive points in the landscape. Dr Knight said: “We think that these hoards were left as people expressed a connection with the land.  It might have been part of a political and sociocultural practice of claiming your spot in the landscape or a way of sacrificing part of your wealth.  The hoards may also be a way of storing valuable materials but that doesn’t explain why they are still buried more than 2,000 years later.”  Breakthrough research has been carried out on the Poolewe Hoard, a collection of axes, rings and an ornament - possibly a cloak fastener - that was discovered by a local man digging peat in the late 19th century on the north side of the River Ewe in Gairloch. Recent radiocarbon dating of a piece of surviving wood from one of the axes determined that the tool was buried between 750 - 800 BC.  The date has offered up new important information about the hoard, which could potentially be the last one buried in Scotland, Dr Knight said.  He added: “It has huge potential for how we understand this period.  We had always suspected the axe dated to around this time but it is always nice to have it confirmed by science.  Potentially this is the last Bronze Age hoards to be buried in Scotland and it makes it quite exciting that we are seeing the end of this period.”  Dr Knight said it was widely accepted that there were no other Bronze Age hoards that are obviously later than this one.  The research on the Poolewe Hoard was carried out as preparations are made to return the collection to the Highlands so it can go on show at the new Gairloch Heritage Museum next Spring.

Knitting Festival Attracts Thousands of Enthusiasts
More than 2000 people flocked to an annual knitting festival in Inverness.  The four-day Loch Ness Knit Fest event offered activities and entertainment for lovers of knitting to enjoy, with people travelling from as far afield as New Zealand and Russia.  There were 30 workshops for visitors, along with presentations and entertainment.  Loch Ness Knit Fest director, Cecilia Grigor said: "After three years of experience with this event, we have focused on the feedback to continuously improve our offering and it’s really been noticed. It was an ambitious and full programme, but we feel that we have been able to provide plenty of variety to participants. Initial feedback has been incredibly positive with people stating Loch Ness Knit Fest 2018 was the best one yet, with a great venue and attention to detail. Overall, a real positive for us has been the sense of community in the textiles and tourism sector, with many businesses and organisations pulling together to showcase Scotland’s rich fibre arts heritage combined with true Highland hospitality.  From local farmers, to yarn producers, whisky distilleries, eateries, restaurants and music venues, it has  been a real collaborative project and we were delighted to see more businesses are coming on board year after year".  Among those in attendance were renowned knitwear designers Christel Seyfarth, Jo Storie and Di Gilpin who took to the main stage with models to show off their garments. The festival also saw more than 500 donations of clothes and blankets donated to the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at Raigmore Hospital.  Stephanie Hoyle from the Highland Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (HGWSD) said: "We support and demonstrate at least six-fibre focused events each year and Loch Ness Knit Fest is most definitely a highlight.  Our group of volunteers work to inspire people to have a go. From weaving to spinning and felting there are skills we want to pass down the generations and keep alive."  Plans are already under way for the festival’s 2019 outing with tickets on sale early next year.

It's Up to You to Get Rid of 'Budgie with A Smirk'

Organisers of a competition to design a county flag for Sutherland are to go to a public vote following widespread criticism of the winning design chosen by a 11-strong selection panel this year.  The shortlist of designs from the original competition is to be publicly revealed and votes invited from Sutherland residents.  The move follows months of silence from the Lord Lieutenancy, members of which were taken aback by the strength of feeling against the winning design.  Opponents took to social media in droves to voice their disgust at the image of a swooping eagle on a yellow and red background with three stars or mullets, although it did have its supporters.  It was labelled a budgie with a smirk and compared to a Mongolian third division football team banner. Critics said they would be embarrassed to have the flag represent the county.  Rogart resident Leslie Sharp launched a petition against the flag and it was signed by more than 900 people.  At the time the Lord Lieutenancy said the red and gold colours featured on the flag had been associated with the Earls of Sutherland since the 12th century and the eagle, a bird of prey, was to be found in the area.  But such was the furore it was decided to halt the process of registering the design with the Lord Lyon of Scotland as is required. However, the Flag Institute did list it as the county flag on its website, although that has now taken it down.  Instead the Lord Lieutenancy announced it was taking time out for a period of reflection.  That period appears to be at an end with the release of an official statement on behalf of the Lord Lieutenancy. The Flag Institute, which will help organise the new vote, stated: "In the interests of county unity, the Lord Lieutenant has ordered the Sutherland Flag Committee to put the shortlist of entries for the flag competition to a binding vote by the people of Sutherland.  This follows the previously announced period of reflection that had been called for by the flag committee. During this time the flag committee received both messages of support and disapproval for the chosen design.  In the light of this polarisation it was felt that the best option was to have the final decision chosen by public vote. The vote will include the original chosen design along with the other designs that were in the final contention for the judges vote.  All these flags met the criteria for good flag design and met Lyon Court requirements.  Having a vote on these finalists will mirror the process of other competitions elsewhere in Scotland – such as in Caithness and Tiree."  The statement added that planning for the vote was underway and further details would be made known as soon as possible. A source close to the flag selection committee said; "lessons had been learned" over the debacle.  Protestor Leslie Sharp said: "It's great news that the flag selection committee have finally accepted that the people of Sutherland should indeed have a deciding vote but I worry that the committee will not have learned all the lessons.  Maybe we should look to a wider field of designs that give people much more choice.  To settle for variations of the "budgie with a smirk" would be the wrong direction to take and I think this would give rise to further criticism. I hope the selection committee have considered this. Whatever the outcome of the popular vote it is incumbent on all of us to accept it and move forward in our support for it.  I look forward to participating in the public vote."

SNP Calls on Comhairle Leader to Seek An Improved Settlement
The Comhairle’s SNP’s group of councillors has urged the Leader of the Comhairle to press for a ‘much improved settlement for the Outer Hebrides’ in budget meetings taking place this week.  Councillor Gordon Murray issued the call in an email sent to Comhairle Leader, Cllr Roddie Mackay, stating: “I am writing to you with grave concerns over our economic future in terms of council funding.  Given the level of cuts to services and jobs that potentially may occur, the nature of which will have a hugely detrimental effect on our islands and our future…I urge you to put forward a proposal that would see a much improved settlement for the Outer Hebrides.  Please do not let another opportunity pass and ensure that the islands case is put to COSLA in the strongest of terms.”  Cllr Roddie Mackay with a delegation of Comhairle councillors, is due to meet with CoSLA to agree a settlement for the Comhairle’s budget.  In a further statement, Cllr Murray denied that blame for cuts to the Comhairle’s budget could be laid at the door of the Scottish government in Holyrood, adding: “The Scottish government have protected the block grant made to CoSLA. It is up to our representatives to make a case to CoSLA. If there is a decrease in our funding that is down to our representatives, and questions will have to be asked.”

Teesport Rail Service Will Boost Scotland’s European Trade Connections
Shipping and logistics company PD Ports has launched a second rail service connecting Glasgow directly with a port in northern England, opening up further trade connections for Scotland.  The new rail service, operated by DB Cargo, will provide connections for shippers, shipping lines and forwarders looking for efficient routes to and from the European market.  It will run five days a week from the quayside at Teesport, North Yorkshire, to PD Stirling terminal at Mossend in Glasgow, coordinated with the timings of P&O Ferries calling daily at the port from Zeebrugge and Rotterdam.  The port now offers more direct daily connections to and from Scotland than any other in the north of England, running ten trains a week and carrying more than 30 shipping containers per journey each way.  Earlier this year, P&O Ferries increased its capacity on the service by 25 per cent in a response to market demand.  Frans Calje, chief executive at PD Ports, said: “Our second rail service to Scotland is a major milestone for Teesport and the wider Tees Valley. It symbolises the tremendous sense of confidence and trust global shippers have in the port to deliver peace of mind, unlike other congested UK and European hub ports.”  Calje added the frequency and reliability of the rail service “breeds trust and confidence amongst shippers that they can transport their goods from Europe to Scotland within a 36-hour period, minimising cost and carbon emissions”.  Andrew Stirling, MD at PD Stirling, added: “This is excellent news for Scottish importers and exporters. It not only provides vital daily rail connections to and from the continent through Teesport, it also provides support to Scotland’s manufacturing base. This growth in rail transport with Teesport has led to firm plans to expand our facilities and to launch the MIRP (Mossend International Rail Freight Park).”