Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 493

Issue # 493                                              Week ending Saturday 2nd March 2019

Anyone Who Says You Cannot Buy Happiness Cannot Have Remembered About Cute Puppies
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

This is a very sad house. We are pretty much broken hearted because one of our family passed away last week and has moved over to the great beyond. There he will frolic on the long days in the sun until the stars come out to play and he will chase them too. Then he will jump back into his wee kennel in the sky, and chew a bone. Yes, we have lost Hector the Miniature Schnauzer, who has been the like the boss of this family for nearly 13 years. Actually, not like the boss at all. Most of the time he was the master of all within the four walls.

If he wanted to go for a walk, it had to be done. If it was raining, I would hide like a wee cowering, timrous beastie but the legions of womanhood would rise up and shame me to fetch my resolve, my backbone and my anorak. Then it was off round by the Creed in the Castle Grounds or along the beach at the Braighe or even onto the perfect sandiness of Coll Beach. No matter that I was soaked through to my semmit, the important thing was that Hector had to have his constitutional.

No sooner had I brought him up from his Kilmaurs birthplace than I was warned that he would soon be the boss. People who knew about the effect of the arrival of a wee ratcatcher of Bavarian extraction on a small family warned me that I would be compared with him. They would stroke their chins and inquire: “So who is the head of the house now, Maciver?” If the test of that was which of us got the other family members to comply with their wishes, I came a poor second.

We were alike in some ways, I suppose. We both messed up sometimes. I did take Hector to the pub a few times but he got so many treats from the other customers he was in danger of getting chubby. Me? No, I didn’t even get a half pint. Even worse, no one in the Carlton Bar gave me a belly rub. Regulars and publicans would give him beer. He lapped it up but, do you know something, he never had too much. He was really sensible. Mind you, he did have to take me home afterwards.

Compare us as much as you want but at least I never chomped through £4,000-worth of furniture. It’s true. As I recounted here many years ago, we ordered a three-piece suite when a well-known furniture company had a sale in the Laxdale Hall. The cost was about £1,400 and we went for the amazing free credit for 12 months deal, which these big companies tout all the time. Yeah, sign that, that, and that. No problem. Fantastic deal. However, we forgot about the 12-month deadline and we only realised that when stacks of cash were being taken out of our bank account every month.

We then found out that we had signed up to a horrendous three-year fixed credit plan. The extortionate credit charges piled on meant it would cost us a total of about £4,000 over the four years and there was no provision to pay it off early to cut down these charges. The firm went bust after we paid it off but that was certainly none of our doing. It was a difficult time for us. We learned a hard lesson but worse was to become.

After we paid off every costly cushion, Hector went though a brief I-am-small-but-I’m-a-guard-dog stage. One night when we were out he decided that the black, leather sofa looming large in the sitting room was an intruder which he had to fight off to defend his territory. He set about tearing that expensive piece of top British craftsmanship to smithereens. Hector was small and the sofa was large but by the time we got home he had gouged huge chunks out of it and reduced much of it to a pile of chewed-up foam padding and tatters of leather - which we had paid four grand for.

The last few weeks were awful. Until the painkillers kicked in, Hector coped by being grumpy - OK, ferocious. We knew he was going downhill and the question was not if we should call the vet, but when. It was just agony for us and, no doubt, a lot worse for the pain-wracked wee rascal himself.

Maybe I should be happy that I was being compared to him right up to the end. The Daughter was at the back door with Mrs X a couple of weeks ago as Hector weakly stuck his nose out and hesitated about venturing beyond. Vicki said: “Aw, look at that. Hector is seeing all the wildlife over there and he can’t do anything about it. He is just past it and has no energy to run after the birds any more.” Mrs X turned away from the sad scene and whispered: “Just like your father.”

Man Offered £50,000 to Fit Tracking Device on Taxi Boss

A man has claimed he was offered £50,000 to help kill a member of an alleged crime family. Alistair McMillan was an associate of ex-taxi firm boss Steven Daniel.  Mr McMillan said he was told of a planned attack on Mr Daniel, 39, at a secret meeting with three men in Paisley garden.  He was giving evidence at the trial of six men accused of being part of the Lyons criminal gang, which is said to have targeted the rival Daniel clan.  The accusations include a string of attempted murders over a 15-month period. The witness told the High Court in Glasgow he was asked to put a "tracker" device on Mr Daniel.  But Mr McMillan, 43, told jurors he later got himself deliberately arrested so as not to take part. Mr Daniel ended up with serious facial wounds when he was set upon after a 100mph car chase in May 2017. Earlier that year Mr McMillan was asked to go to the home of a man he knew, who lived in the Paisley area.  He went on to meet three men he had never met before. The court heard he knew two were called Fergie and Victor but was not aware of the name of the third.  Mr McMillan and the men then went into the garden as they were "scared anyone was listening". Prosecutor Paul Kearney asked: "What did they say?"  He replied: "They knew my connection to Steven and basically they wanted me to let them know where he would be at certain times. It was Fergie who was doing most of the talking.  They were looking for me to place Steven and that I would be looked after."  Asked what was meant by place, Mr McMillan replied: "It was a tracking device...place it on his car."  The witness was quizzed on whether he challenged the men as to why they wanted this done. Mr McMillan: "It was obvious that they were going to do him some harm.  It was blunt..short and sweet. No airs or graces about it. They wanted me to place Steven. They wanted him murdered."  The witness told the jury he "played along" with the plot.  Asked what would happen next, he replied: "Basically if I placed him, I would get £50,000."  Mr McMillan claimed he was given an encrypted phone to message those involved.  He told the jury he went on to have a number of meetings with Andrew Gallacher, 40, one of the men on trial.  These mainly took place at a bar in Glasgow's Shawlands area.   Mr McMillan said he was originally paid £500 at a time which was then reduced to £350.  He added that he passed on false information he had gleaned from the papers or the internet.  Mr McMillan was later due to join Mr Daniel on a trip to London and this is when he believed he was expected to put the tracker on him.  But, in early May 2017, before the journey south, Mr McMillan got himself deliberately arrested after a road traffic incident in front of watching police in Glasgow's Easterhouse.  Detectives seized the tracker device and seven mobile phones he had on him.  Mr McMillan told the jury he did not want Mr Daniel to come to any harm.  The former taxi-boss ended up being attacked close to the on-ramp of the M8 motorway in the city's Port Dundas on 18 May, 2017.  The trial continues.

More School Leavers Have Five Highers
More than 30% of Scottish students left school with at least five passes at Higher last year - the highest proportion ever recorded.  A new report shows that young people were generally staying in school longer and gaining more qualifications.  Deputy First Minister John Swinney called the findings "encouraging".  The Scottish Conservatives said the increase in Higher passes was a "good thing" but there was no sign of the attainment gap narrowing. The official figures were released as part of the School leaver attainment and initial destinations: statistics. It shows the gap between those from the most and least deprived areas achieving one pass or more at Higher Level or better decreased slightly, to a record low.  However, this was not the case at National 4 and National 5 levels where the attainment gap grew.  Other key findings include:  The number of pupils taking up work, training or further study within three months of leaving school has increased. A total of 94.4% of 49,748 leavers did so in 2017-18 - up from 93.7% of 51,300 in the previous year.  More young people are also choosing to remain at school, with almost two thirds leaving in S6.  An increasing proportion of school leavers are going into higher education - from 36.2% in 2009/10 to 41.1% last year. There is a drop in those going to training, with just 2.1% following that route last year, down from 5.1% nine years go.  The figures also indicated that the gap between those from the most and least deprived communities going onto work, training or study has halved since 2009-10.  In 2009, the total number of pupils from the most deprived areas in Scotland going on to work, training or study stood at 78.8%. The latest figures show this has risen to 90.4%. Mr Swinney said the statistics showed "real world progress in tackling an age old problem". I am particularly pleased to see the attainment gap between school leavers achieving a pass at Higher level or better is at a record low," he added.

Five Tonnes of Suspected Illicit Tobacco Seized in HMRC Raids
About five tonnes of suspected illicit tobacco have been seized in a series of raids in Glasgow.  HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said the tobacco was worth an estimated £1.5m in lost duty and taxes.  Authorities believe they have found two illicit tobacco factories as part of their searches.  Three women - aged 37, 38 and 42 - and a man, 25, have been charged with excise duty fraud in connection with the find.  The two tobacco factories were found during searches of five households, a commercial property, two self-storage containers and three vehicles on 21 February.  A total of £4,000 in cash was also seized. Joe Hendry, of HMRC's fraud investigation service said: "The trade in illicit tobacco is unregulated and makes cheaper tobacco more readily available to the young and vulnerable. The sale of illegal tobacco will not be tolerated by us or our partner agencies. Disrupting criminal trade is at the heart of our strategy to clampdown on the illicit tobacco market, which costs the UK around £2.5bn a year. This is theft from the taxpayer and undermines legitimate traders."

History Detectives Ask: Where Did the Picts Go?
They have been regarded as one of the lost peoples of history, enigmatic savages who were mentioned by the Romans but left few other traces.   But now a long-running project to shine a light on the Dark Age Picts of north-east Scotland has found that, far from being backward natives on Europe’s fringes, they were a sophisticated people with a developed culture whose reach stretched to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and beyond.  For six years the Northern Picts Project, which is mostly run by the University of Aberdeen, has been probing the secrets of one of Caledonia’s earliest people to expand upon their place in Scotland’s story.  The Picts arose around the third century AD to dominate parts of north-east Scotland, Orkney and Shetland until they mysteriously disappeared around 900 AD, leaving behind only a written record of their kings, scattered archaeological remains and strange carved stones dotted around the land. Even the name they called themselves has been lost, as Roman writers dubbed them Picts because of their habit of painting, or likely tattooing, their bodies. The Scotland they knew was a different world compared to the modern one. Wolves and bears still roamed in wild lands and elk and boar could be hunted in the forests.  People were chiefly organised into scattered farming and fishing communities, and society was only just leaving its tribal past behind.   Over time, myths have grown up around the Picts, such as the claim of the ancient writer Bede, who insisted the Picts were descended from Scythian tribes who migrated from the shores of the Black Sea.  Professor Gordon Noble, who heads up the Aberdeen University project, explained that the lack of written sources makes the period difficult to study. He said: “You can take what Bede says with a lot of salt. We do not have a huge amount of knowledge of the Picts in terms of historical sources and what we do have is mostly from external ones. There’s late Roman writings and Irish and Anglo-Saxon sources but all we have from the Picts themselves is the ‘king list’.   They are most likely a collection of the Iron Age tribes which lived in Scotland at the time slowly coming together to form a cohesive kingdom.”  The project set out to investigate sites close to long-standing symbol stones to carry out fresh excavations in the hope of forming a better understanding of this mysterious people.  A major discovery was made at Rhynie in Aberdeenshire, a landlocked village south of Huntly on the A97, where eight carved Pictish stones – among them the carved “Rhynie man” and the Craw Stane – had long been known about. Archaeologists now believe the site was home to a major royal enclosure comprised of several buildings, one of them constructed from massive curved oak beams, surrounded by a wooden wall four to five metres high.  But it was fragments from Roman vases known as amphorae recovered in digging work which provided the most tantalising clue to the reach of the Picts. Vase pieces have been found at only three other sites in Scotland, including Dumbarton Rock, the seat of the ancient rulers of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Those found at Rhynie indicate it may well have been the dwelling place of a high-status Pictish ruler whose world stretched far beyond the north-east.  The few records that remain also suggest the Picts may have had a far more unified kingdom than their neighbours to the west, organised along lines seen in Europe and to the south in England.  Mr Noble said: “Rhynie is the most northern site these fragments have been found at, and they show that the Picts were part of a trading network which stretched far and wide into the Roman world. The Picts are quite unusual in having an over-kingship of such an extensive area. In Ireland at this time there’s more than 400 or so petty kings ruling very small kingdoms but what we see in Pictland is something that’s a lot more like the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. These are not a people on the edge of Europe but one that’s developing like its southern and eastern neighbours.  There are influences of western art and a great deal of commerce. The Picts are very much a part of wider European developments.”  More recently, the project’s archaeologists probed the symbol stones themselves and concluded they contain writing as well as art. Crucially, they claim, this developed in the third century and was likely influenced through contact with the written word of the Romans. It is now believed the symbols carved into the stones were a form of naming system that communicated the identities of Pictish people and places and are the last surviving fragments of their language.  Mr Noble said: “These stones occur at prominent places in the land and on Christian Cross slabs on graves, most likely telling something about the person’s rank and identity. They were probably developed in a similar way to Ogham script in Ireland and Scandinavian runes.”  While the Northern Picts Project has gone a long way to re-evaluating their place in Scottish history, much still needs to be done to flesh out the picture. Current work centres on a large fort at Burghead on the Moray coast. This site, which was destroyed in the ninth century, may hold clues to the eventual fate of the Picts. While there is evidence of a slow merging with the western kingdom of the Gaels, the people of the north-east were facing a new threat: the Vikings.  Mr Noble added: “The Vikings were bad news for just about everybody in this period. But there’s still much we need to know before we can say where the Picts went.”

Paedophile Priest Paul Moore to Be Defrocked by Church

Proceedings have begun in the Roman Catholic church to strip an Ayrshire priest of his status as a clergyman.  The process, known as laicisation, follows 82-year-old Paul Moore's conviction for sexually abusing three young boys and a trainee priest.  It will mean he will no longer be able to call himself "father" or offer spiritual care.  Moore is currently serving an eight-year sentence for the crimes committed in Ayrshire over a 20-year period.  The youngest of his victims, whom he groomed by taking them swimming or out for meals, was just five years old.  Catholic Church sources said the disciplinary action had been delayed until the outcome of Moore's appeal.  His name appears among retired clergy in the Galloway Diocese published in the 2019 edition of the Catholic Directory for Scotland, listed above school chaplains.  Moore was successful in having his original sentence reduced from nine years, but his conviction, which followed a BBC Scotland Investigation, remained.  The BBC said Moore had confessed his abuse to his bishop in 1996.  Bishop Maurice Taylor, 91, gave evidence in his trial and told the court Moore admitted he had "an attraction to young boys" and "a desire to abuse minors".  The bishop sent him to a treatment centre in Toronto and to Fort Augustus Abbey in the Highlands.  It is understood papers to remove Moore's clerical status have now been served on him in prison.  There is no appeal against laicisation - or "loss of the clerical state," as it is officially known - in cases where a priest has been convicted of child sex abuse. The Catholic Church will no longer have any responsibility to provide Moore with housing, medical care or financial benefits when he is released from prison.  Moore was removed from the pastoral ministry after his admission to Bishop Taylor, but continued to live in a house bought by the church.  After he was jailed, the Catholic Church in Scotland said it wished to "sincerely renew" its apologies to victims.

Scottish Deposit Return Scheme Plan Praised
One of the world's leading recycling firms has said Scottish government plans for a deposit return scheme could be taken on by other countries.  Proposals for a drinks container scheme would see customers pay a small charge, which is refunded when the bottle is returned to a shop.  Truls Haug, UK boss of Norwegian firm Tomra's deposit return business, said he was "quite a fan" of the plan.  Scottish ministers are currently considering their next steps.  Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham has said the results of a recent consultation on deposit return show the public would back such a scheme, which under the current proposals would have a minimum deposit of more than 15 pence.  One of the aims of the consultation was to help determine what range of materials - such as plastic, metal or glass  - should be included. A decision on this will be announced at a later date.  Mr Haug, whose company has a focus on making "reverse vending" machines, which take in used bottles, said of the Scottish government plan: "I'm quite a fan of what they are presenting.  I think if they act on what they have stated earlier, I believe this could be a leading example going forward." He said; "They are one of the first states that focus on the recycling more than reducing littering. If you focus on recycling, the littering will automatically be reduced.  But if you only focus on littering, that doesn't mean you recycle the material.  So I think they have the correct approach to a deposit return scheme."  The Scottish government has been working to take forward the scheme amid increasing concern about the amount of recyclable waste being buried in the ground.  Mr Haug, managing director of Tomra Collection Solutions UK & Ireland, said the key to an effective deposit return scheme was to make it simple and include a wide a range of containers - like glass, plastic and paper.  He said: "Lithuania had a recycling rate of 34% prior to the introduction of deposit, and they reached about 90% within two years."  Scotland was the first part of the UK to commit to a deposit return scheme, and the Westminster, Welsh and Northern Irish governments have now set out their own plans. The idea of a UK deposit return scheme has seen some controversy, with some retailers accused of trying to water down the proposals.

Sir Tom Hunter: Politicians 'Have Let Us Down' on Brexit

One of Scotland's richest men has accused politicians of letting down the country as he called for another referendum to be held on Brexit.  Sir Tom Hunter said voters had been lied to by the Leave campaign during the EU referendum in 2016.  They had therefore made their decision without knowing the facts about what Brexit would mean, he added.  The entrepreneur also said he believed there should be another referendum on independence - but "not now".  Sir Tom was speaking on the first episode of BBC Scotland's Debate Night programme, which also featured Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, Labour MSP Monica Lennon and poet and author Jenny Lindsay.  The programme was being recorded as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed his party would join the SNP and Liberal Democrats at Westminster in calling backing calls for another EU referendum - a so-called People's Vote - after his alternative Brexit plan was again defeated in the Commons.  Prime Minister Theresa May has said holding another vote on Brexit would be a betrayal of the democratic decision made by the public in 2015.  MPs voted to endorse Mrs May's Brexit strategy on Wednesday evening - but only after she made a series of concessions.  Responding to a question from the audience about whether the UK would ever actually leave the EU, Sir Tom said he did not know - but that he did know the rest of the world is "laughing at us" as "this is no way to run a country".  He said: "What I would like to see is a People's Vote. I don't think it's the perfect answer, but there are no perfect answers here.  I know the arguments against it and I respect those arguments, but I make decisions based on some facts and we had very few facts (ahead of the referendum) and the facts that did come we were lied to."  Sir Tom said the other 27 EU countries had "stuck together and slapped us about" while the Conservatives were "ripping each other's throats" and some Labour MPs were quitting the party to join the new Independent Group in the Commons. He added: "Is there any politician who can hold their head up through this process? You have to let us all down, and we are going to have to pay."  Sir Tom went on to contrast the Brexit debate with the "grown up debate in Scotland" ahead of the independence referendum in 2014.  He said: "I think there should be another independence referendum in Scotland, just not now.  "Just look at the chaos we are in just now and I don't think even John (Swinney) would want to pile more chaos on top of that. We need to see what happens here and then have a debate."  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said in January she would set out her plans for a second independence referendum "in the coming weeks" even if the UK's departure from the EU is delayed beyond 29 March.  Her deputy, Mr Swinney, told the audience: "We have said that we would wait until there was clarity on Brexit. I don't think anybody could say we have got clarity on Brexit."  Like Sir Tom, Mr Swinney said he now did not know if the UK was ever going to leave the EU - which "makes me feel more optimistic about this process than I have felt for a long time". He added: "If I had been on this programme maybe a couple of weeks ago, I would have said yes, inevitably we are going to leave and we are going to leave in a hard no-deal Brexit and that would be a calamity.  I hope in the period that now unfolds we have the opportunity to establish a different route through this.  Inevitably, by necessity, we have to revoke Article 50 to give us time to establish what is the best way to proceed.  I happen to favour a People's Vote, which enables the public to decide upon these particular issues."  Labour MSP Monica Lennon said it was not looking possible for a Brexit deal to be agreed before 29 March, and that an extension now seemed inevitable - with Labour backing another referendum in order to avoid leaving without a deal.  But Scottish Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser warned that the country's political institutions were increasingly distrusted by people, and it would therefore be "fundamentally dangerous" for politicians to effectively in effect tell voters they had made the wrong decision in 2015.  The hour-long programme sees members of the public put their questions to a panel of politicians and other public figures on the big issues affecting Scotland and the rest of the world. The programme is hosted by Stephen Jardine, and is produced for BBC Scotland by Mentorn Scotland, makers of Question Time.

Police Warn of Rise in Football Sectarianism and Violence
A senior police officer who spent almost 30 years working in Northern Ireland is surprised at the level of sectarianism in Scottish football.  Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr, who joined Police Scotland six months ago, described the problem as "almost visceral".  Mr Kerr also warned that offensive behaviour at Scottish football matches had increased in the last year. Recent incidents include officers being attacked and spat on.  The Scottish Police Authority board meeting heard a police horse also required treatment after it was hit with a flare.  Mr Kerr made his comments after being asked by David Crichton, chairman of NHS Health Scotland, if there was evidence of an increase in sectarian abuse and offensive behaviour at football grounds.  He told the SPA board: "We have been concerned about a rise in that behaviour over the last 12 months .  It is hard to quantify empirically.  It is as much a feeling from the officers who are subject to that aggression and who police those football matches." The problem, once dubbed "Scotland's shame", recently returned to the headlines after Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke highlighted the verbal abuse he received from Rangers fans. The club's chairman Dave King later apologised to Clarke and said everyone at Rangers "abhors the sectarian element that continues to be so prevalent in Scottish football."  Kilmarnock and ex-Rangers striker Kris Boyd also spoke out about chants he was subjected to by Celtic supporters.  Others to have shared their negative experiences of life in the Old Firm spotlight include Chris Sutton and Neil McCann.  Mr Kerr, who rose to the rank of assistant chief constable with the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), told the SPA he had quickly come to realise the importance of the sport in Scotland's social fabric.  He said: "What I have been surprised at over the last six months, particularly when it comes to behaviour at football matches is two things.  One has been that level of sectarianism on display, and I say that having policed in Northern Ireland for nearly 30 years, and I have been surprised at how much it is seen as normal.  All the symptoms and how it manifests itself at football is seen as normal in Scotland and that has surprised me.  At times it feels almost visceral, in a way that I have not experienced in quite a while, and I say that with some surprise."  The former National Crime Agency director also said he had been taken aback by the level of disorder on display at some football matches.  He added: "We have been concerned, particularly over the last 12 months, that there has been a rise in both disorder, that type of offensive behaviour, and the levels of aggression towards police officers.  In the last two weeks alone that has been subject to quite a lot of commentary. People can see it for themselves, the types of behaviour on display.  We have had officers pulled off horses, spat at, attacked, very aggressive behaviour towards them."  The SPA meeting in Greenock also heard the violence had not been confined to officers.  He added: "We had a police horse which had a pyrotechnic flare thrown at it a couple of weeks ago.  It was injured to the extend it had to go to the vet.  And, again, I've been surprised the consistently thuggish behaviour of a very small number of fans is considered normal. This is not normal. It is a sport.  There is a responsibly and a need for everybody, including the police service, to collectively challenge ourselves about how much that is considered normal and what we can collectively do to address it."  Mr Kerr said all parties involved, from fans and clubs to governing bodies and local authorities, must collectively address the issue.  He added: "Is there something we can do differently to move that sort of behaviour from being normal to being unacceptable?  Part of that will be through enforcement but only part of it. We are certainly not going to arrest our way out of this issue."

One of the Last Scottish Private Schools for Girls to Shut
One of the last private girls’ secondary schools in Scotland is set to close as a result of falling pupil numbers.  Craigholme School, on the south side of Glasgow, will shut its doors in August after being unable to resolve financial difficulties.  Last year, the school joined forces with Kelvinside Academy, in the city’s west end, in a bid to survive, but under a formal merger it has been decided the school has no future.  All pupils will be transferred to Kelvinside to complete their secondary education, although the fate of staff is more uncertain. Teachers may face redundancies unless new positions can be found at Kelvinside. The primary school at Craigholme, which accepts both boys and girls, will remain open as a feeder school for Kelvinside.  The closure comes at a difficult time for private schools with steadily falling pupil rolls across the sector following the financial crash of 2008.  Since then fees have risen by more than 30 per cent, with the average annual cost to families climbing from some £11,000 to its current figure of around £15,000. Fees at Craigholme top £13,000 a year.  The closure also marks another blow for single sex education in Scotland. There will now be only eight private girls’ or boys' secondary schools left and one in the state sector compared to 13 a decade ago.

Trump Course Ordered to Pay Scottish Government Legal Bills After Aberdeen Wind Farm Battle
A firm formerly headed by US president Donald Trump has been ordered to pay Holyrood’s legal bills over Aberdeen Bay wind farm battle.  Judges at the Court of Session ruled Trump International Golf Club Scotland Ltd should pay legal bills incurred by the Scottish Ministers.  The decision stems from a case at the UK Supreme Court in December 2015. Mr Trump had instructed lawyers to fight plans to build an offshore wind farm near his Menie golf resort. His legal team lost and it went to he Supreme Court in London. Justices there also ruled against him.

Barn Owl Numbers Recover
Caithness is considered to have the most northerly population of barn owls in the world – and they have recovered well after severe winters took their toll on numbers eight or nine years ago, according to RSPB Scotland.  Representatives of the nature conservation charity were saddened to discover recently that a fit and healthy barn owl had apparently been killed by a vehicle in the county, but on the whole the birds are said to be doing well.  Barn owls originally evolved in warm, dry climates where food is in abundance all year round. It is therefore unsurprising that barn owls in the north of Scotland have a hard time during the winter months, with peak mortality rates being between December and March due to starvation.  As temperatures start to drop in winter, small mammals become less active, meaning a lot less food is available for barn owls, and they need to work extra-hard to find it. This often results in the owls being forced to feed during daylight, even though they are naturally nocturnal hunters.  This lack of food is particularly dangerous for barn owls as they are poorly insulated and need more food in winter to provide them with enough energy to stay warm.  The Barn Owl Trust estimates that between 3000 and 5000 barn owls are killed each year on UK roads.  RSPB Scotland site manager Dave Jones recently sent a deceased barn owl to the Scottish Agricultural College in Thurso for autopsy, when some concerned neighbours reported it after finding it at the roadside.  The results of the autopsy showed that the bird was fit and healthy, "in good shape and hunting successfully", and that the death followed trauma to its wing and abdomen – suggesting that the bird died as a result of being hit by a vehicle.  Dave said: "It is extremely sad to discover that a fit and healthy bird's life ended in this way. The barn owls in Caithness really are at the edge of their natural comfort zone and are particularly vulnerable in winter, so it isn't an unusual result, unfortunately. It's not all doom and gloom, though. Although we still find some casualties in this way, our population of barn owls in Caithness has recovered from the particularly poor winters of 2009/10 and 2010/11, and they are considered to be the most northerly population of barn owls in the world.  While we can't control the weather, there are some things we can do to help. If putting up a nest box, please make sure it isn't placed close to any busy roads. If you see a road casualty and it is safe to do so, please stop and report the find to your local wildlife officer and to the Barn Owl Trust. This is helpful in identifying accident black spots and monitoring for environmental hazards and poisons, and potential wildlife crime."

Celebrating A Forgotten Island Folklorist and ‘Man of the People’
He chronicled the songs, the stories, the tunes and the traditions of an island - but little was known of the man who worked tirelessly to stop its culture vanishing without trace. Fresh interest is surrounding the work of folklorist Eric Cregeen who spent decades documenting the way of the people of Tiree.  His boxes of notebooks, which were meticulously kept and documented hundreds of audio recordings from the island and beyond, were packed away in the family home for more than 20 years following his sudden death in 1983.  Last year, the notebooks were published as The Eric R Cregeen Fieldwork Journals after they were handed by his wife Lily to Dr Margaret Bennett, the writer and ethnologist at the helm of Grace Note Publications. Now, a new BBC Alba documentary further celebrates the life and work of Cregeen, who was admired by both scholar and crofter for his professionalism, his passion and his natural ease as a ‘man of the people’.  Padruig Morrison, presenter of Eric R Cregeen and The Carrying Stream, said: “For me, he was a genuinely committed and genuinely passionate collector and was himself connected to the island and the people of the isle.”  Mr Cregeen spent his childhood on the Isle of Man and later did much to record and promote the Manx language as associate director of the Manx Museum.  Ultimately he felt ‘kinship’ with the West Coast island people and went on to learn Scots Gaelic, Mr Morrison said. “He got it and he got the people in a really deep way,” said Mr Morrison, a graduate in music and ethnology at Edinburgh University.  In 1966, Cregeen joined the staff of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University and became one of its most productive fieldworkers and researchers.  Often he would take his wife and children on holiday to Tiree, where he would spend time going from croft to croft to see if anyone was in.  One crofter, Donald Sinclair, who came from a long line of bards, became a good friend of Cregeen’s with the pair sitting together for hours as song and chat filled the room.  Professor Donald E Meek, a professorial fellow in Celtic and Gaelic at Glasgow University, was an old friend and contemporary of Cregeen.  He told BBC Alba: “It was as natural for Eric Cregeen to be amongst people as it was for him to draw breath.  There was nothing that he wouldn’t do along with the people.  Eric Cregeen was a man of the people. He liked nothing better than sitting alongside people like Donald Sinclair, for example. They would sit there for hours.” Professor Meek added “Eric was like a friend who had an amazing mind. The essays he wrote are like exceptional pieces of writing.”  The documentary features a recording of a song sung by Donald Sinclair, the last person familiar with the tune and its last known words. The programme also presents a 1973 recording of a tune played by piper Donald Ewen MacDonald, from Balranald, North Uist.  The tune was played by MacDonald some 52 years earlier when he led the Balranald Land Raids, when 12 men marched on the Balrandald Estate to claim land promised to them in return for service during World War One.  The raiders were jailed, including MacDonald who spent 21 days in Inverness Jail.  It seems likely that the tune, which was written by a school master from North Uist, would have vanished by now had it not been for Cregeen’s recordings.  Cregeen worked contemporaneously with folklorists and chroniclers such as John Lorne Campbell, Margaret Fay Shaw and John MacInnes but his work has not received the same attention, up until now.


Last Updated (Saturday, 02 March 2019 01:17)