Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 483

Issue # 483                                          Week ending Saturday 22 December 2018

Christmas is A Time for Theresa May and the Queen to Sort Out Their Most Aggravating Problems
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Oh, heck. I’d better get down to the shops. It’s Christmas on Tuesday and I haven’t got a thing for anyone. Actually, that is not true. I have paid for something. After his dinner, our new puppy Felix gnawed a tube of handcream to destruction and then licked up all that gooey, tasty, moisturising gunge. I suppose it was the closest fly Felix was going to get to the tiramisu the rest of us were scoffing but he had to be scooped up and rushed to the vet for an emergency yucky procedure to get rid of it. As my token of solidarity with that baby in a cold Nazareth stable surrounded by smelly animals, I paid the vet’s bill for the Daughter.

Brownie points all round. Not so many points from people who keep asking where their Christmas cards are. Er, nowhere. Thank you for sending us one but we are putting the money to a good cause - especially if you live round in Stornoway. After all, what is the point of sending cards to someone you bump into three times a week when you can just say “Happy Christmas, you old boot” personally.  Sorry, that was just an example, you understand, and not aimed at anyone in particular - certainly not my sister-in-law Joey, or Mrs X. Or Miss Mackay, or the old cailleachs on my delivery run or any of our neighbours.

I hear a lot of people have Advent calendars this year. The only thing I remember about them is when John Noakes and Valerie Singleton made one each year on the kids’ TV show Blue Peter from coat hangers and tinsel. Actually, when I think about it, I think that was how they made the festive decorations - they called them Advent crowns. The Advent calendars were cut from sheets of cardboard, I think. Yeah, that’s it. Mind you, I also think an empty bottle of washing-up liquid was used at some point. Everything was handmade using a plastic bottle of some kind and some sticky-backed paper.

A wee door of the Advent calendar was opened each day as it got near Christmas Day. Not that I am religious, you understand, but I now do the same Advent thing with kitchen cupboards. I just open those wee doors one at a time and eat whatever is in there. It is just my wee effort to acknowledge the old traditions. We should all do our bit at this time of year.

That storm named after Coronation Street isn’t helping get us in the festive spirit. Was it Hurricane Hayley? Tornado Toyah? Hurricane Hilda Ogden? Was the wind called Windass? Storm Deirdre. That’s it. I knew it was something like that. That constant rain and wind is not really helping me think that it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Flights and ferries have been cancelled and it’s been blowing a hooley. Someone outside keeps shouting. I don’t know whether he or she is laughing or crying. All I’m hearing is someone going oh, oh, oh. Ah, I know what that is. It’s Santa going backwards.

I can’t wait. We will be doing all the usual things - watching classic films, opening parcels that we sent to ourselves and eating. And then we will eat a bit more and then some. We are having duck on Christmas Day. It’ll be a Christmas quacker. And then we will settle down to watch the Sovereign’s address to the nation and the Commonwealth - or as the Queen calls it, The One Show. She will tell us it was not an annus horribilis and that next year will be better. Er, how can it be better when Meghan’s dad is on telly saying he is texting every day and being ignored? Actually, Christmas is the ideal time for families to get together and sort out their differences.

They should invite Thomas Markle over to din-dins at Sandringham, give him a leg, some sprouts and some stuffing and take it from there. That may be all that it takes to sort things out. Theresa May too could also see light on the horizon if she is imaginative with her guests on Tuesday. Now that Noel Edmonds is out of the jungle, she could do no worse than invite him over and offer to put him in charge of the Brexit negotiations. Well, he is used to doing Deal Or No Deal. See? All sorted.

We have friends who are a bit, er, snobbish. They say they are going to Saudi Arabia for Christmas. Of course dahlings, doesn’t everyone? They insist it is not a luxury break but that they are merely visiting former colleagues and will be having a jolly traditional teuchter Christmas over there. In warm sunshine? Even in winter, the temperature never gets below 10C and it is usually much warmer than that. They insist that on Tuesday they will be having a dram and tucking into turkey and sprouts. And they say everyone will be singing Christmas carols. Oh yeah, which one? Oh camel ye faithful?

Scotland Finance Secretary Derek Mackay Promises Budget Backing

Derek Mackay will urge MSPs to back the Scottish government's budget plans to provide Scotland with economic certainty ahead of Brexit.  Mr Mackay announced the budget for 2019-2020 at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday.  But it will need support from other parties to pass.  Mr Mackay indicated that he would work to build a consensus ahead of a final vote, expected to take place in February. "The Scottish budget seeks to strengthen and prepare our economy for the future, whatever our relationship with the EU, and, importantly, provides businesses in Scotland with much-needed economic stability," he said. "In the coming weeks and months, I will work with all parties to build consensus for our spending plans in parliament and ensure we pass this budget which will help protect Scotland's future prosperity."  The spending plans announced include an investment of about £730m in health and care services, with £180m funding to raise attainment in schools.  The document also outlined a £5bn infrastructure programme and an £11.1bn local government settlement.  Mr Mackay said: "Our spending plans for 2019-20 include a commitment to mitigate the risks of Brexit as best we can, to enable our economy to thrive in any circumstances.  If leaving the EU can be avoided, those resources currently being directed towards essential preparations can be reinvested into our public services and economy."

Ancient Ring Found by TV-inspired Metal Detector

A silver medieval ring thought to be up to 600 years old has been unearthed by a man who took up metal detecting after watching a TV sitcom.  The gold-gilded ring was found by Gordon Graham in a field in the north of the Isle of Man.  Archaeologists believe the piece, which is engraved with geometric shapes, dates from between 1400 and 1500 AD.  An inquest hearing at Douglas Courthouse declared the ring can be officially classed as treasure. Allison Fox, a curator of archaeology at Manx National Heritage, said it may date back to the time when the first Manx laws were written, in the 1400s.  Viking rule ended in AD 1266 and was followed by a century or so of political and social upheaval, with the island alternating between English and Scottish rule.  Mr Graham, from Edinburgh, said he was inspired to take up metal detecting after watching the BBC sitcom The Detectorists on Netflix.  He said he was "delighted" to find the ring in May, and immediately reported his discovery to the landowner and the Manx Museum.  “It was very beautiful. It wasn't until I got back to the house and put a picture on social media that an expert identified it as a medieval iconographic ring.  So that was a game changer, and I informed the landowner and the Manx museum straight away.  I don't do it to find gold or get rich. I do it to find something I can show to the Manx people and have in the museum. It is a fantastic thing to find."  Finds of archaeological interest on the island must be reported to Manx National Heritage within two weeks.  For items thought to be treasure, and when the original owner cannot be traced, a coroner's hearing is held to make a legal ruling. If declared treasure, the item belongs to the crown and the finder is rewarded.  

Contract Awarded to Demolish Scotland's Oldest Reactor
A contract has been awarded to demolish Scotland's oldest nuclear reactor.  The Dounreay Materials Test Reactor (DMTR) achieved criticality, a nuclear term referring to the balance of neutrons in the system, in 1958.  The site at Dounreay nuclear power complex, near Thurso, was built using 600 tonnes of steel. It was shut down in 1969.  Cavendish Nuclear will work with JGC Engineering, KDC and Frazer-Nash Consultancy on the three-year contract.  The entire Dounreay site is in the process of being decommissioned.  An interim end state, when the decommissioning work has been completed, is expected to be reached between 2030 and 2033.

The First Acts Are Announced for HebCelt 2019 Festival

The first acts for next year’s internationally-renowned Hebridean Celtic Festival have been confirmed as the event has been shortlisted for another leading award.  Tide Lines, Talisk and FARA will be part of the line-up for the 2019 HebCelt which will be held from 17-20 July in Stornoway.  Tide Lines, who are appearing in two sold-out shows in Tarbert, Harris will be returning to HebCelt for the third successive year, this time as headliners on the Thursday evening, two years after making their festival debut.  Since launching in 2016, the band have released a number of digital singles, an album and an EP, whilst building up a growing following and winning critical acclaim for their live shows.  Also making a return to HebCelt in 2019 are explosive folk band Talisk who added to their impressive list of awards by securing a Belhaven Bursary for Innovation in Scottish Music at the recent Scottish Trad Music Awards.  Formed five years ago, the band were named Folk Band of the Year at the Trad awards last year and were BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award winners in 2015.  FARA bring together four exceptional young musicians from Orkney who are at the forefront of today’s Scottish folk scene.  Following their debut release in 2016, the band are touring the UK with material from their second album.  Further line-up announcements will be made early in the new year for HebCelt which has been named as a finalist in the rural tourism category of the Scottish Rural Awards.  Winners will be announced on 21 March and, if successful, it will be the sixth major accolade collected by HebCelt in under a year. Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “We are thrilled to be shortlisted for another prestigious award. It gives the whole team a lift as we start preparations for our 24th HebCelt with the announcement of the first three acts.  Tide Lines, Talisk and FARA are all fairly new on the scene, yet they are firmly established and have been hugely successful.  We are really excited they will be joining us in 2019 and we will have more fantastic line-up news to reveal soon.”

Prince Charles and First Minister to Remember the Iolaire Tragedy At A National Service From the Western Isles on New Year’s Day
Descendants of those involved in the tragic sinking of HMY Iolaire which hit ‘The Beasts of Holm’ rocks, around 20 yards from Stornoway’s coastline as it brought men home from World War One will came together to launch the national commemoration in Scotland. Of around 300 on board, over 200 men from Lewis and Harris perished along with the crew. Organised by WW100 Scotland in conjunction with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), the National Commemorative Service will take place at the Iolaire Memorial in Stornoway on New Year’s Day, 100 years to the day of the tragedy.  It will be attended by hundreds of local people including: Iolaire descendants; HRH The Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles; First Minister Nicola Sturgeon; Scotland’s most senior Naval Officer Rear Admiral John Weale and the Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), Norman A Macdonald, each of whom will lay a wreath. The Service will be conducted by The Very Revd Dr Angus Morrison.  At the end of the Service HRH The Lord of the Isles will unveil a new sculpture to commemorate the Iolaire.  Commissioned by An Lanntair, Stornoway’s arts hub, the sculpture will feature a bronze depiction of a coiled heaving line which references the heroism of John Finlay Macleod who swam ashore with a rope to rescue 40 of the 79 men who were saved.  It was created by artists Will Maclean, Marian Leven and Arthur Watson and will bear the names of those lost and the communities they came from as well as a bronze wreath composed of maritime insignia.  While the Service on land is taking place, a similar event, led by Rev James Maciver of the Stornoway Free Church, will be held on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s MV Loch Seaforth ferry which will be situated near where the Iolaire hit the rocks just off Holm in view of the Iolaire Memorial.  Over 500 people will be on board, including schoolchildren from the Western Isles. Schoolchildren will throw 201 red carnations into the sea, one for each of the men that perished, as the Service draws to a close.  Professor Norman Drummond, Chair of the Scottish Commemorations Panel, said: “It is beyond our comprehension that over 200 men perished so close to home after surviving the War in what remains one of the worst UK maritime disasters of the 20th Century.  When you look out from the Iolaire Memorial to where HMY Iolaire hit the rocks of ‘The Beasts of Holm’ you are struck by just how close they were to shore. It is hard to imagine the relief and excitement of the men and their families on their return and then the sorrow that was to follow.  “It is right and fitting that we hold a WW100 Scotland Commemoration in their memory and reflect on the lasting impact this tragic incident had on future generations on the Western Isles and far beyond.”  Convener of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Chairman of the Iolaire Working Group, Norman A Macdonald, commented: “The Comhairle along with our partners on The Iolaire Working Group has been working to ensure that the 100th anniversary of the Iolaire tragedy is marked in an appropriate way throughout our community, including the “A Community Remembers” event in the Lewis Sports Centre on 31st December.  This commemoration is of major significance for our Islands. The events of that terrible night in January 1919 impacted on communities throughout the Western Isles and remain a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by our young men in the service of their country. It is the worst tragedy to befall our Islands and its effect reverberates to this day.”  At 3.00pm on December 31, a special commemoration will be held by Legion Scotland at Kyle Railway Station where the sailors disembarked before heading for the Iolaire one hundred years ago.  The Lord-Lieutenant of Ross and Cromarty and Skye and Lochalsh, Mrs Janet Bowen CVO will unveil a plaque and both she and Sir Alistair Irwin, President of the Royal British Legion Scotland will lay wreaths.  Historian Malcolm Macdonald whose grandfather was killed in the disaster and has co-written a book about the tragedy ‘The Darkest Dawn’ which tracked the stories of all those on board HMY Iolaire and which will be presented to HRH The Lord of the Isles, said: “Two ships left that night bound for Stornoway, one HMY Iolaire, the other SS Sheila which left later. There are many sad tales of those that swapped places to ensure that friends could get home to their families earlier.  I had no inkling of my family’s own connection to the disaster until the memorial was erected at Holm in 1960. I knew my grandfather had died in the war but I had no idea that it was so close to home as it was never talked about, a story that is true across the island.”  The grandfather of Iain Maciver, Port Manager for CalMac Ferries in Stornoway, also perished on the Iolaire. His remains were never found.  “My father was very young when he lost his father on the Iolaire and, like so many others here, his mother never talked about it.”  Anne Frater’s great grandfather, was lost in the tragedy. John Macleod, who was serving in the Royal Navy Reserves, was coming back for the baptism of the youngest of his five children, a daughter whom he would never see.  “My Granny, at 10, was the oldest child and she was helping her mother get ready for her father’s return.  What struck me about her story was how her father was even taken out of her identity. Until then, she had been known as Màiri Iain Mhurch’ Chaluim (Mary, daughter of John, son of Murdo, son of Malcolm), but after the Iolaire, people started calling her Màiri bheag Catrìona (Catherine’s wee Mary).”

Lights on for the Iolaire Art Installation in Stornoway Harbour

A powerful commemoration of the Iolaire disaster has been completed on South Beach in Stornoway in time for the New Year centenary.  ‘Sheòl an Iolaire/ The Iolaire Sailed’ is Stornoway Port Authority’s dramatic, visual tribute to the Iolaire, whose sinking on 1 January 1919 in the Minch was one of the worst maritime disasters in United Kingdom waters.   ‘Sheòl an Iolaire’, an arresting physical outline of the ship, symbolically brings the Iolaire back to port, completing the final mile of the voyage for the men who never made it home. The installation on South Beach, between the town’s main piers, is a full-scale representation of the Iolaire’s hull, pinpointed in the sand with 280 wooden posts - one for each man aboard on the fateful night the Iolaire headed for its home port from Kyle of Lochalsh.  Of these markers 79 have been painted white to represent the number of known survivors and 201 have been left plain to represent the losses.  The sculpture is an actual-size blueprint, 189 feet from stem to stern, with a 27 foot beam. It will show the true size of the vessel and represent the number of crew and passengers on board as she sailed for Stornoway on 31 December 1918.  ‘Sheòl an Iolaire’ will be covered and uncovered by tide and illuminated for the duration of the installation over December and January.  After installation work over the last three weeks the completed hull outline has now been lit allowing the sculpture to be seen in the dark and when covered by the incoming tide.  The installation will create a powerful image helping people visualise both the vessel and the circumstances of the disaster and will become a central focus of the Iolaire commemorations, complementing the many other events taking place.  Stornoway Port Authority, which regulates the largest harbour in the Western Isles, commissioned and constructed the installation from a concept by Lewis journalist Torcuil Crichton and artist Malcolm MacLean.  The wooden posts, each representing an individual on the ship, were donated by Stornoway Trust and cut from trees felled in the Castle Grounds, providing a physical and symbolic link between the island and sea.  Malcolm Maclean said: “The tragedy of the Iolaire disaster impacted on every family in Lewis at a time when the rest of the country was celebrating the end of the war.  The darkness of the story and the scale of the loss was so traumatic that it was rarely spoken about on the island and little is known about it elsewhere.  The centenary is an opportunity to tell the story in new ways that give public expression to that private pain. Torcuil and I wanted to create a public artwork that made the key facts visible and used the sea and the tides to tell the story.  The installation changes from stark and raw at low tide to something ethereal and ghostly as the lights disappear into the sea at high tide. Stornoway Port Authority grasped the concept immediately and their staff and contractors have done great work on its construction.”  ‘Sheòl an Iolaire/The Iolaire Sailed’, the title of the installation, is a poignant sentence borrowed from the Norman Malcolm MacDonald book, ‘Call na h-ìolaire’ as he describes the ship leaving Kyle of Lochalsh.

Scotland is European, and Always Will be by Richard Lochhead
The progress of research in Europe has always been reliant on people working together.  Before Scotland’s first universities – St Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen – were created in the 15th Century Scottish students had historically studied in mainland Europe. With those ties already established, when our first universities came into being, they were able to reach out beyond our borders from the outset.  These close connections have continued throughout history. Relationships and networks between organisations in Scotland and in other EU countries have been built up gradually and painstakingly through building trust and working on shared problems.  Our universities and research institutions have earned a global reputation as centres for modern thinking, new scientific thought and ground-breaking advances, including in key areas of medicine. Scotland has a proud history of punching above its weight, which is the result of an education system globally recognised for its excellence. We boast a world-leading research community with experts from different backgrounds, and multiple disciplines- a reputation illustrated by having four universities in the top 200 globally.  This is a system that contributes significantly to the Scottish economy too. Universities Scotland estimate that our universities generate £11 billion gross value every year. That’s £11 returned for every £1 of public investment. Scotland’s universities alone represent almost six percent of all jobs in the Scottish economy.  So, the positive impact that European collaboration has brought to Scotland is quite simply irreplaceable. I have met with students, staff and researchers across the country and the feeling is clear – Brexit is the single biggest threat we face. I have heard stories of the hiring of immigration lawyers, about staff in tears and students feeling uncertain and insecure about their future in the UK post-Brexit. With EU citizens forming a quarter of full time university research staff in Scotland and 9% of university students, it is clear that our reputation as a country that is world leading faces unprecedented risk. I have been actively encouraging EU nationals I meet to continue to study and work here. However, this alone is not enough. We need the UK Westminster Government to deliver the means by which we can continue to welcome European friends to Scotland after Brexit.  EU nationals are an integral part of Scottish society; they are our partners; our neighbours and friends; our work colleagues. We demand that they are treated with respect and equity by the UK Westminster Government.  I will take Scotland’s case to Brussels. Accompanied by leading figures in education, research, and science and press upon our European friends and neighbours that Scotland’s universities will remain welcoming. I will meet with partners at the European Commission and speak to representatives from across the continent to explore future collaboration, and how we can safeguard those deep relationships. Scotland’s research community is standing together. We know that Scotland’s research has been strengthened by EU citizens working in Scotland, our membership of the European Union and our active participation funding and exchange programmes. For example, Horizon 2020 is the biggest EU research and innovation programme ever, and Scotland has benefited from 558 million euros from this programme. We have had 64 million euros from the Erasmus programme, which allows young people to study abroad and encourages UK organisations to collaborate with international partners. The benefits that such participation has provided cannot be underestimated and we will not stand by and see those benefits eroded and obstacles erected that undermine our future.  Whichever way people voted in the EU referendum, they did not vote for the chaos and uncertainty of a blindfold Brexit, or worse, no-deal. Scotland’s universities and research institutions are open and welcoming, and we maintain a strong commitment to research collaboration across Europe.  The message is this: Scotland is European, and always will be.

Bid to End Rip-off Delivery Fees is 'A Triumph'
More than 1200 people have switched to a new parcel delivery service founded to help those facing rip-off fees in the rural north.  Menzies Distribution is toasting “an incredibly successful start” saying its drivers have delivered over 100 orders since it was set up six weeks ago.  Under its Highland Parcels scheme, which was rolled out on November 5, customers can have their goods delivered to the firm’s depot at Linwood and a Menzies Distribution van will take it to any address in the Highlands for a flat-fee of £4.99. The scheme was set up to help people who are paying disproportionately high delivery costs because of where they live.  Holyrood business minister Jamie Hepburn commended its approach saying it was “great to see national companies like Menzies working to solve delivery issues in the Highlands where there is a thriving community and a strong local economy”.  Fraser MacLean, general manager of Menzies Distribution’s Parcel Logistics division said it was a real triumph.  He said: “Highland Parcels has had an incredibly successful start and we are delighted that our customers and campaigners for fair postal charges have backed our initiative so enthusiastically.  We are thrilled to have been recognised by the government as a leading solution to an incredibly unfair situation in the Highlands. Our service is simple for people to use and consumers and businesses are voting with their feet.”  Menzies Distribution is now looking to roll out the flat-fee parcel service model to other parts of the UK where residents are also being classified as hard to reach by some of the other courier firms.  Consumers and businesses in these areas are said to be facing additional charges of around £15 per delivery and are having to wait for up to 35 days to have their items delivered to their homes.  More than one million people in Scotland are being ‘routinely ripped off’ by unfair delivery charges because of where they live, according to Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS).  By analysing more than 3000 customer complaints and more than 500 online companies, the organisation has uncovered a postcode penalty which forces some people to pay around £19 extra for delivery when buying their goods online. CAS head of policy Susan McPhee said: “Many Scots are being routinely ripped off. That is deeply unfair and it cannot be allowed to continue un-challenged.”

Firefighters Tackle Major Blaze At Machrihanish Golf Club

The alarm was raised at Machrihanish Golf Club, Argyll and Bute, at 13:30 on Wednesday. No one was injured but it later emerged the club steward's family home was also destroyed. Founded in 1876 the club is famous for the opening tee shot on its championship course which requires players to hit the ball over the sea.  Golfers can also test their skills on the 9 hole Pans course.  The club later posted a statement on its Facebook page.  It read: "As many will be aware, absolute devastation has hit Machrihanish Golf Club today. A fire has ripped through the entire Clubhouse, completely destroying the building.  Firefighters have been working tirelessly from lunchtime today to try and contain the fire but unfortunately, despite every effort, they have been unable to save the building."  The club thanked everyone who responded to the blaze, including those who helped remove memorabilia from the lounge. The statement concluded: "Our thoughts are with all club members at this sad time with our heartfelt, special thoughts going to Iain, our club steward and his family who have very sadly lost their home.  We will endeavour to keep you updated in due course and our office staff will be in touch with all members in the comings days."  It is understood the steward and his family lived in the upper floor of the building.  The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service said two pumps, including one from Helensburgh, were still in attendance at 22:00.

Ofcom Report Says 4g Mobile Coverage Patchy in Scotland

Mobile phone coverage in Scotland lags behind other parts of the UK, according to the communications regulator.  A report from Ofcom indicates that only 38% of the landmass has good 4G coverage from all operators - while 82% of England is covered.  Access to superfast broadband by other means, however, has improved and is now available to 92% of premises.  The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) called for stronger action to improve Scottish mobile coverage.  The Scottish government has committed to extending superfast broadband to all premises by 2021, and is investing £600m in improved connectivity.  Ofcom notes there are challenges in delivering this, with many rural customers a long distance from exchanges, but it said some progress had been made.  Among the findings of its annual report Connected Nations were:  Superfast broadband is now available to 92% of Scottish premises, up from 87% last year.  Only 40% of customers have signed up to these available superfast connections.  4% of premises in Scotland still cannot access a decent fixed broadband service.   Over the last year coverage of ultrafast broadband offering speeds up to 300 Mbit/s rose from 30% to 44%.  The regulator found less progress when it came to mobile services:     38% of Scotland's landmass has good 4G coverage from all operators compared with the UK average of 66%.  4G mobile coverage from at least one operator is available in 78% of the landmass.  Just over half of Scotland can receive voice services from all four operators, up from 39% in June 2017.  Ofcom said it would attach binding coverage rules for mobile operators when it auctions off two new frequency spectrums.  Philip Marnick, Ofcom's spectrum group director, said: "Mobile coverage has improved across the UK this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a signal. We're particularly concerned about mobile reception in rural areas.  As we release new airwaves for mobile, we're planning rules that would extend good mobile coverage to where it's needed. That will help ensure that rural communities have the kind of mobile coverage that people expect in towns and cities, reducing the digital divide."  The Federation of Small Businesses said it was wrong that customers in Scotland faced an inferior mobile service, despite paying the same charges as elsewhere in the UK.  Andrew McRae, the FSB's Scotland policy chairman, said: "While it is good to see Ofcom note that this is unsatisfactory, we need to see action from them, the UK government and mobile operators to address this long-standing problem.  On the other hand, this publication also underlines that Scotland is making good progress on superfast broadband provision, though we still lag both England and Wales.  We strongly support the Scottish government's ambition on this front, though we would underline that expectations amongst communities and firms are very high and they must deliver."

Glenshee Pooch Becomes UK’s First Ever Full-time Avalanche Rescue Dog
As a youngster, she experienced first hand the dangers of winter time in one of Scotland’s most spectacular if unforgiving glens, spending two days stranded in a snowdrift until her whimpering alerted a passerby.  Now a fully grown adult, Bodie the springer spaniel collie cross is ready to return the favour after qualifying as the UK’s first ever full-time avalanche rescue dog.  The eight-year-old, who was raised on the slopes of Glenshee Ski Centre, is now working at the Aberdeenshire resort after undergoing intensive training with the Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland.  Able to cover a distance of four to six miles an hour, she has already become a valued member of Glenshee’s mountain rescue team, a source of immense pride for her owner Kate Hunter.  Ms Hunter, the head of Glenshee’s ski patrol, adopted Bodie when she was just a pup and got into the habit of taking her to her workplace in the great outdoors.  But in 2011, Ms Hunter was skiing ahead of Bodie, then just ten months old, when she suddenly disappeared.  Bodie, it turned out, had plunged into an eight-foot deep snow hole and was entombed there for close to 48 hours.  One of Ms Hunter’s friends happened to stumble across the pup, who was bedraggled, tired and hungry. However, she was otherwise unscathed by the experience. If anything, it turned out, she was inspired by it.  Bodie only started training to become a search and rescue dog last year, after the Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland partnered up with the British Association of Ski Patrollers. This March she passed her tests with flying colours, much to Ms Hunter’s delight.  She loves it and is a hit with the skiers and is well liked amongst staff and especially loves the cafe,” she said. “But I wanted to give her a special role at Glenshee because she had been here so long.  Bodie, along with the ski patrollers, will provide a rapid response for any avalanche within the ski area. Her role is extremely vital especially during the winter season where Scotland is at risk from avalanches.”  Indeed, Bodie’s extensive training allows her to quickly flag up flashpoints to rescue teams on Glenshee by barking when she arrives at the scene and helping to dig out those skiers and snowboarders in trouble.  Her finely tuned sense of smell, Ms Hunter said, would be a key asset on the slopes.  “Her nose is worth a million transceivers sometimes,” the 63-year-old explained. “It’s just incredible.” While mountain rescue dogs are brought to assist with emergencies across Scotland, Bodie will be based permanently at Glenshee, searching for human scents detectable through snow and air. It is, Ms Hunter said, a uniquely important role.  “The dogs are based at ski areas compared to normal mountain rescue dogs who work with the mountain rescue teams and need to be brought in from outside, so they are crucial to the work of mountain rescue teams,” she said.

4,500-year-old Stone Circle ‘Discovered’ for First Time
A 4,500-year-old stone circle has been identified by archaeologists for the first time. The Recumbent Stone Circle has been recorded on a farm in Aberdeenshire, in the parish of Leochel-Cushnie.  The complete stone circle has been known and respected by those farming the area over time but the ancient formation has been unknown to archaeologists until now. The site, which sits between Aboyne and Banchory, has now been recorded after it was reported to Aberdeenshire Council’s archaeology service by Fiona Bain, whose family have farmed in the area for generations.  Experts from the local authority and Historic Environment Scotland have now visited the site and believe the stone circle is a slightly unusual example of its kind.  Neil Ackerman, Historic Environment Record Assistant at Aberdeenshire Council, said: “This amazing new site adds to our knowledge of these unique monuments and of the prehistoric archaeology of the area.  It is rare for these sites to go unidentified for so long, especially in such a good condition.  To be able add a site like this to the record caps off what has been a fantastic year for archaeology in north east Scotland.” Adam Welfare, of Historic Environment Scotland, said the circle, made up of 10 stones, was smaller in diameter than other similar examples with the individual stones proportionately smaller than usual.  The circle “enjoys a fine outlook” with its rich lichen cover “indicative of the ring’s antiquity,” Mr Welfare added.  Recumbent Stone Circles were constructed around 3,500-4,500 years ago and are unique to the north east of Scotland.  Such stone circles are defined by a large horizontal stone - the recumbent - flanked by two upright stones, which are usually placed to the south-east to south-west of the circle.  Recumbent stone circles are well known and spread throughout the north east of Scotland, but it is rare to find a previously unrecorded one, especially in such a complete condition.  This newly- recognised stone circle will add to the understanding of this period of the prehistory of north east Scotland and of these remarkable sites, a spokeswoman for Aberdeenshire Council said.

Third of Rare Scotch Whiskies Tested Found to Be Fake

More than a third of vintage Scotch whiskies tested at a specialist laboratory have been found to be fake.  Twenty-one out of 55 bottles of rare Scotch were deemed to be outright fakes or whiskies not distilled in the year declared.  The tests were conducted at the East Kilbride-based Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC).  It used advanced radiocarbon dating techniques to reach its conclusions.  The samples had been sent for analysis by whisky broker Rare Whisky 101 (RW101), which said it was responding to "growing concern surrounding the proliferation of fake whisky" in the secondary market. The bottles had been selected at random from auctions, private collections and retailers.  Last year, the same company exposed a £7,600 dram of vintage Scotch bought in a Swiss hotel as a fake.  The rare whisky bottles identified as fakes this year included an Ardbeg 1885, which had been acquired from a private owner, and a Thorne's Heritage early 20th Century blended whisky purchased from an auctioneer.  RW101 said a total of 10 single malts purporting to be from 1900 or earlier were found not to be genuine.  The company said that if tests had proven all 21 bottles to be genuine, collectively they could have been valued at about £635,000.  RW101 has estimated that about £41m worth of rare whisky which is currently circulating in the secondary market - and present in existing collections - is fake. That is more than the entire UK whisky auction market, which RW101 has forecast will exceed £36m by the end of this year.  RW101 co-founder David Robertson said "the vast majority" of vendors were not knowingly selling fake Scotch but every purported rare whisky bottle "should be assumed to be fake until proven genuine", especially if it claimed to be a single malt.  He added: "This problem will only grow as prices for rare bottles continue to increase. The exploding demand for rare whisky is inevitably attracting rogue elements to the sector."

Arbikie Launches First Rye Scotch in Over 100 Years
Arbikie Highland Estate, the family-run “field to bottle” spirits producer, has officially launched a brand of Scottish rye whisky, thought to be the first of its kind for more than 100 years.  The Angus-based distiller has announced the arrival of a limited batch of Highland Rye Single Grain Scotch Whisky, believed to be the only rye whisky produced Scotland in over a century.  Laid down in 2015, the whisky is made from a combination of Arantes rye, Odyssey malted barley and Viscount wheat.  Arbikie said the spirit “stays true to the family’s farming heritage” as it is produced from crops grown on the family’s Highland estate, allowing it to trace every ingredient used back to the field.  A limited batch of 998 bottles of the rye whisky will be sold in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America through luxury retailers, such as Harrods, with a recommended retail price of £250. The distiller, which launched in 2014 with Scotland’s first potato vodka, produces vodka, gin, rye and whisky on its 2,000-acre estate based near Inverkeilor, north of Arbroath.  Iain Stirling, director of Arbikie Highland Estate, predicted other whisky makers would soon follow suit. He said: “The rising demand internationally for our ‘field to bottle’ products has been on-going. Our Highland Rye has caught the imagination of our export partners across the globe due to our provenance as we both grow and distil.  As a young business we’re delighted to be a catalyst for a new whisky category, Scottish rye whisky, with much older distillers like Bruichladdich and Diageo, and new ones like Inchdairnie and Lone Wolf, we believe, preparing to follow.”