Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 505

Issue # 505                                     Week ending Saturday 25th May 2019

Although I Only Had One Wee Job to Do I Was Let Down by the Grapes of Wrath
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Mrs X has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest from the days when you could win by just having an easy-to-remember name like Lulu or Dana or Dana International. If you were none of these you could just take your shoes off, show your bunions and be laughed at like Sandie Shaw. Or take your skirt off like each girl in Buck’s Fizz. Or be Cliff Richard.

Back then it was judged on the music and performance, and gimmicks and camp frivolity, instead of now when judges and other nations want to grovel to their pals. She remembers her excitement watching the final and running round in circles. Not because of Eurovision but because she had a scooter when she was very young. One of her legs is stronger than the other so when she ran or rode a bike, she just went round in circles. Mrs X still does it when she’s excited - you know, really excited. Nah, haven’t seen her that excited in a while.

However, she still does it when she is angry. Our health regime was put on hold for Eurovision. Although we mostly now eschew chocolates and toffees and instead chew nuts and spinach, there are some events you just have to celebrate with a nice bottle of red. On Saturday night, Eurovision in Tel Aviv promised a glitzy soirée, more political bias and general awfulness towards the UK. Oh, and a lady from the 1980s called Madonna, or as some of us Hebrideans knew her, Murdina.

So I said I would get the messages. “And I might even pick up a bottle of that Pinot we like,” I said, knowing that would mean Brownie points for someone in the Maciver household. In the supermarket, after choosing the nibbles and dips, what did I espy on special offer but a bottle of Pinot. That’s the one for me, I thought. It went straight into the basket before I raced along Sandwick Road thinking I am up for major kudos when I get home. Alas, not so.

The next word on the label after Pinot was Grigio. Funny foreign brand names, eh? However, I forgot or maybe did not know, that greeshio, to give grigio its Great Bernera interpretation, does not mean red in Italian. Nope. Grigio does not mean white either, but grey. That's what Italians call wine that is, er, not red. Grey? It is not about the colour of the actual wine but is named after that lovely grape which has a grey-blue hue.

Herself was livid. She went on and on about her giving me just one task. One job and I blew it. Not my fault. It wasn't Italian I did in school but French. Pardon moi, madame. As far as getting the points for her favourite red wine was concerned, how did I do? Nil points. She was circumnavigating the living room rug like a dog chasing its tail while shouting: “You had one job, just one job, just one job ...”.

After that, events in Tel Aviv could only be a bonus. The Czech Republic fielded a boy band called Lake Malawi. They sounded as if they were from Essex. A bald dentist from San Marino sang a song which just sounded like Na, Na, Na, which he claimed to have written in five minutes. Really? Na, Na, Na way.

I was confused and then mesmerised by Australia - a lassie in a hat with spikes. I bet if you plugged that hat into the back of our telly it would pick up more channels than the one in the roof. Then she and her mates began to slowly sway in a CalMac ferry kind of way. Ooer. I thought to myself that the Pinot Grigio must be quite strong. Then I noticed Mrs X was going round in circles and shouting that the Aussies had poles going up their skirts. Of course, I wasn’t trying to figure out where those poles were going. I just thought their song was catchy. It was a cross between yodelling and the whoops you hear from girls in Stornoway late on a Saturday. “Yodel-hey whoop-whoop-whoop. Take another selfie. Yodel-hey whoop-whoop-whoop.”

And what a disappointment Madonna was. I could not believe it. How could she ...? She was not as I remember. She was flat. And she didn’t sing very well either.

Radio presenter Scott Mills apparently joked about one of the contestants having an uncanny resemblance to Lorraine, of morning TV fame. He got laldies for that from Lorraine. The queen of the mid-morning box had a go at him on Twitter, and everything. For the last few years I have been jesting in this column about Lorraine’s uncanny resemblance to another star, one who works at Stornoway Airport. I shall not mention her name again as I too got laldies from her for doing that. Aw, she is so nice - my dear friend at the airport, I mean. Really lovely, she is. And she is forgiving. Very, very forgiving. Exactly like Lorraine, in fact.

Vericall to Create 209 Jobs At New Base in Kirkcaldy
A contact centre firm has announced plans to open a "flagship" office in Kirkcaldy, creating more than 200 jobs.  The move by VeriCall is being backed with a Regional Selective Assistance grant of £1m from Scottish Enterprise.  The government agency had worked in partnership with Fife Council to attract the firm to the town.  VeriCall said it planned to create 209 jobs over two years once the company moves into new premises in John Smith Business Park.  It added that all the roles would be full-time and permanent and meet the Scottish living wage of £9 an hour.  Welcoming the news, Scottish Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said he was delighted that the new jobs would meet the Scottish living wage.  He added: "We will continue to work with VeriCall to ensure they deliver on their ambitious plans for the new centre in Fife and hope that it will attract further investment to the region."  VeriCall managing director Adam Taylor said: "Whilst researching potential locations we were drawn to the warm and accommodating nature encountered in Fife which matches the manner in which we wish to represent our clients.  Fife Council also demonstrated a desire to cultivate innovative, technology-focused businesses to create sustainable employment opportunities for future generations."  VeriCall provides customer service for business clients, linking phone support with social media and direct messaging.  Its website states: "A unique blend of artificial intelligence, robotic process automation and mobile and digital orchestration technologies enable us to easily deconstruct and re-engineer your current processes and customer journeys."  Scottish Enterprise provides RSA grants to investment projects that will "create and safeguard employment" in selected areas of Scotland.  In the financial year 2017-18, the agency offered £14m in RSA grant funding to 75 companies to support expansion plans and job creation.

Scotland Drug Death Rate Highest in Europe and Still on Rise
The rate of drug deaths in Scotland is the highest in Europe and numbers are still on the rise, a report has said.  Drug-related deaths in Scotland have almost doubled in eight years, with 934 recorded in 2017 - up from 545 in 2009.  The Scottish government spent more than £740m on tackling problem drug and alcohol use between 2008 and 2018 but Audit Scotland said "there is still much to do to reduce deaths".  Most drug-related deaths are caused by heroin, according to the findings.  The use of psychoactive substances such as Spice "has largely reduced among the general population" since it was made illegal, Audit Scotland found, although it remains a "problematic" issue in prisons.  More than three-quarters of deaths due to drugs in 2017 were of people aged 35 and over, up from 54% in 2009 to 76%. Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: "The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.  But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover."  Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "I believe that what Scotland faces in drug deaths is an emergency.  To determine what more we can do I will soon be convening an expert group to advise on what further changes, in practice or in law, could help save lives and reduce harm.  The Audit Scotland report recognises our support for medically-supervised safe consumption rooms but the UK Westminster government, which holds the power on this issue, has so far rejected them out of hand.  We want to keep taking innovative, life-saving approaches to public health priorities and if the UK Westminster government is unwilling to act then I believe they should respect the will of the Scottish Parliament and devolve those powers to allow us to do what is necessary." Graham Sharp, chairman of the Accounts Commission for Scotland, said: "Problem drug and alcohol use and their impacts continue to be significant issues for Scotland.  The commission welcomes this update, which will inform our future work around the activity and investment across Scotland's public sector to address the treatment and support of some of our most vulnerable people."

Who Owns Scotland? The Changing Face of Scotland's Landowners
For centuries, the Scottish countryside has been dominated by the image of tweed-clad lairds and their wealthy friends hunting, shooting and fishing on sprawling, heather-covered estates. The entitlement and privilege that built this way of life survived almost intact for more than 500 years, with Scotland said to have the most unequal land ownership in the western world. More recently, a new breed of owner has emerged alongside attempts by the Scottish government to modernise the rules.  But campaigners argue that the reforms have not gone far enough, and that the concentration of land in so few hands is still leading to abuses of power.  This article was inspired by questions sent in by readers of the BBC website. So who owns what in Scotland?  Unfortunately, this is a tough one to answer.  The basic problem is that it's not as easy as it could - and many would argue should - be to find out who owns which piece of land in Scotland.  A Scottish government project which aims to map who owns every part of the country by 2024 was launched five years ago, but has so far only managed to register about a third of the country's total land mass.  The government believes 57% of rural land is in private hands, with about 12.5% owned by public bodies, 3% under community ownership and about 2.5% is owned by charities and other third sector organisations. The remainder is thought to be owned by smaller estates and farms which are not recorded in those figures.  The Green MSP and land reform campaigner Andy Wightman reckons that half of the country's rural land is owned by only 432 landowners - a picture that has remained largely unchanged in recent decades.  This is a problem, according to a report by the Scottish Land Commission, because having so much land in so few hands can lead to abuses of power.  But the landowners are pushing back, fed up with what they describe as outdated stereotypes of their businesses.  The continued dominance of the private estates in rural Scotland can't be underestimated, and they often remain in the hands of the same families for generations - an average of 122 years, according to the Scottish Land Fund. Grouse shooting, deer stalking and other country sports are said to be worth £350m to the country's economy.  The most prominent of the more traditional big landowners is the Duke of Buccleuch, who has moved to slim down his holdings in recent years but still owns about 200,000 acres, much of it in the south of Scotland.  However, the Duke was recently overtaken as the country's biggest private landowner by the billionaire Danish clothing tycoon Anders Holch Povlsen, who represents a newer generation of Highland laird.  Mr Povlsen is said to have fallen in love with the Highlands during a childhood fishing trip, and now owns about 220,000 acres spread across 12 estates in Sutherland and the Grampian mountains.  He recently thanked the people of Scotland for their support after three of his children died in April's attacks in Sri Lanka, and said the Highlands had given his family "special memories" over the years.  The billionaire ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has also been busy snapping up about 63,000 acres of Scotland's countryside, and plans to build a plush new nine-bedroom lodge at Inverinate in Wester Ross.  The site already boasts a triple helipad and a 16-bed luxury hunting lodge - but the latest proposals have drawn objections from locals.  But the biggest landowner is...  Us. Or, to be more exact, the government agencies and other public bodies who manage huge areas of land on behalf of the nation.  By far the biggest of these is Forestry and Land Scotland, which was known until very recently as Forest Enterprise Scotland. It manages more than a million acres of public forest that is said to generate about £395m for the economy every year, largely through timber and tourism.  Elsewhere, about half of the Scottish coastal foreshore is held as part of the Crown Estate, while Scottish Natural Heritage owns a string of nature reserves across the country, such as Tentsmuir in Fife.  The National Trust for Scotland owns about 180,000 acres of land alongside the 130 properties it manages, and the MoD also still owns large swathes of countryside - such as the 25,000 acres of moorland at Cape Wrath in the north west of Scotland - which is primarily used for military training exercises.  Scotland's 32 local councils own about 81,000 acres between them, while conservation charity the John Muir Trust owns 60,000 acres, including the Ben Nevis Estate, and RSPB Scotland owns 125,858 acres of land for its network of reserves across the country.  One of the more surprising names on the list of the country's biggest landowners is the Church of England - which bought up about 32,000 acres of Scottish forestry in 2014 as part of a massive expansion of its investment portfolio.  Historically many parts of rural Scotland, such as the Isle of Eigg, have suffered from issues with absentee landowners - people who own a piece of land but do not live on it, and who potentially do not pay as much attention to it as they might.  But despite the amount of publicity given to the likes of Mr Povlsen and Sheikh Mohammed, the number of landowners who don't actually live in Scotland is not as big as you might imagine.  Registers of Scotland (RoS) says that just 6% of the titles it has recorded (104,257) are registered with an owner who has an address outside Scotland.  The vast majority of these were to people living in other parts of the UK, while about 24,117 are registered to overseas addresses.  However, research by Mr Wightman suggests that 750,000 acres of the country is owned in overseas tax havens, while separate RoS data suggests property in Scotland worth £2.9bn is owned by offshore companies. Owning Scottish property through offshore companies is not illegal, but it does mean the landowners duck out of paying the likes of inheritance duties and capital gains tax - which are used to fund public services such as the NHS.  In a report published earlier this year, the Scottish Land Commission called for a radical reform of the country's land ownership rules, and warned that having so much land in so few hands was causing "significant and long-term damage" to some rural communities.  The commission, which was set up by the Scottish government, argued that the "land monopoly" that exists in many areas gives landowners far too much power over things like land use, economic development and housing. And it said there was an "urgent need" for measures to be put in place to protect fragile communities, including tenant farmers, from the "irresponsible exercise of power".  It did not single anyone out for criticism, and stressed that the problems were not confined to private landlords - with public bodies also causing issues in some areas.  The commission also said owners in many areas had a positive impact on the local community and economy, and highlighted how some were actively increasing the diversity of ownership by selling off some of their land.  But Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) - which represents landowners - is worried that the land commission "still sees land ownership rather than land use as the prime route to dealing with issues being faced by communities".  Ms Laing says several SLE members, including Dalkeith Country Park near Edinburgh, have diversified into areas such as tourism and renewable energy.  The SLE also points out that Scotland's three new towns, such as Tornagrain in the Highlands, are being developed by rural landowners, and that private estates support about 8,000 jobs nationwide.  There have been some fairly big changes to land laws in recent years, largely aimed at making it easier for local communities to purchase the land they live on.  Among the most high-profile of these community buyouts have been on the Isle of Eigg and on the South Uist Estate, which includes the islands of Benbecula and Eriskay.  The latter of these saw 3,500 islanders join forces to raise the £4.5m it took to buy the estate's 93,000 acres and 850 crofts from absentee landlords in 2006. Since then, residents have built three huge wind turbines - named Wendy, Fanny and Blowy - which have helped to boost the economy of the islands.  Alex Salmond, the then-first minister, set a target in 2013 of one million acres of Scotland being owned by local communities by the end of 2020.  The latest available figures show there are now 562,230 acres in community ownership across the country - including a Cold War surveillance station on the Isle of Lewis and a former church in Edinburgh.  Ministers are also considering the recommendations of the Scottish Land Commission, which include a public interest test for significant land transfers. Further reforms seem highly likely, with government ministers consistently stressing that land reform is on a "radical journey".

Glasgow City Council Sends Women Equal Pay Settlement Offers
Female council workers affected by the equal pay dispute at Glasgow City Council are to receive equal pay offer letters in the coming days.  The long-running dispute centred on women who were paid up to £3 an hour less than male colleagues, despite being in the same pay grade.  The women affected will receive an average of £35,000 each under a settlement scheme announced in January.  The council said "individual offers" would be made to "thousands" of women. Mandy McDowall, Unison regional organiser, said: "It's been a long road but in the coming weeks we'll finally see money being rightly put back into the pockets of Glasgow's low-paid women.  This represents compensation for the pay lost due to a discriminatory pay and grading system in place for over 12 years and will be one of the largest redistributions of wealth in Glasgow's history."  A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: "The council has delivered on its promise to resolve the equal pay dispute and, having agreed a deal with claimants' representatives, is now able to make detailed, individual offers to thousands of primarily women workers.  We expect letters containing those offers to be distributed by unions and legal representatives over the coming days."  Council leader Susan Aitken added: "Settling the equal pay dispute earlier this year began the process of righting a wrong against our workforce and our communities - and, in particular, the women of the city - that had been allowed to hang around the neck of this council for far too long."

Building Work Uncovers 17th Century Fort in Stornoway
The remains of a 17th Century garrison has been uncovered during construction work in Lewis. Archaeologists believe it was built on the orders of Oliver Cromwell and that English soldiers were billeted there for almost a decade.  A stone wall almost 3m (10ft) thick and 2m (6ft) high was discovered during work to add an extension to a Stornoway Port Authority office.  The work at Amity House on Esplanade Quay has been postponed. Stornoway Port Authority is looking at how best the archaeology can be preserved.  Mary Peteranna, of AOC Archaeology, said, "We have uncovered one section of a substantial wall surviving up to 1.5m high.  "The wall face is very well-built and comprised a battered, or slightly sloping outer face. This, together with its breadth of about 2m, tells us that it's not just a building wall. The structure was built for a more substantial purpose, and we believe it formed part of the Cromwellian defensive rampart."

European Elections 2019: Voting to Begin Across Scotland
Voting is due to start in the European elections, with polling places across Scotland open between 07:00 and 22:00.  A total of six MEPs will be elected in Scotland using a form of proportional representation.  Elections are also being held across the rest of the UK on Thursday, and in other EU member countries over the next three days.  However, the results of the vote will not be known until after 22:00 on Sunday. Voters across the UK will choose a total of 73 MEPs in 12 multi-member regional constituencies, with Scotland classed as a single constituency.  Each region has a different number of MEPs based on its population. MEPs are elected in order as listed by their party, based on the parties' total share of the vote in each region.  In Scotland, Wales and the nine English regions, the number of MEPs for each party is calculated using a form of proportional representation known as the D'Hondt formula, a complex system devised by Belgian mathematician and lawyer Victor D'Hondt in the late 19th Century.  The process is slightly different in Northern Ireland, where the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system is used.  The UK will go to the polls between 07:00 and 22:00 on Thursday. The Netherlands also votes on that day, but voting in other EU nations will take place at varying times over the following three days, with the whole process completed by 22:00 on Sunday.  At the polling place the individual will be given a long ballot paper listing all the parties putting up candidates in your region and candidates' names, as well as any independents standing.  To vote for a party or individual, put a cross inside the box next to their name.  If you live in England, Wales and Scotland, you are only allowed to choose one party or individual to vote for.  In Northern Ireland - which uses a different electoral system - voters are able to rank the parties in order of preference. For instance, if there are five parties standing, voters can rank them from one to five, putting a one next to their first choice.  Counting is also done on a country by country basis - but the results are kept secret until all voting is finished. They will be announced from 22:00 on Sunday.

Star of Caledonia: Dream Still Burns for Gretna Landmark Sculpture
Plans for a £5m landmark sculpture near the Scotland-England border could still progress - nearly five years after missing out on key funding.  A fresh application for the Star of Caledonia will go before Dumfries and Galloway Council next week.  It suffered a major setback in 2014 when Creative Scotland decided not to offer £1m of support. However, the team behind it now believes it could potentially benefit from the Borderlands Growth Deal. Councillors first approved the project - designed by Cecil Balmond and Charles Jencks to celebrate the physicist James Clerk Maxwell - in early 2013.  The proposed design stands approximately 130ft (40m) high, which is twice as tall as the Angel of the North near Gateshead.  Project director Jan Hogarth said the latest planning application would hopefully give the scheme more time to secure the funding it needed to finally proceed.  "Back in 2014 we were in quite a good position then, unfortunately, that changed," she said.  "Now with people looking at the Borderlands and the South of Scotland Economic Partnership becoming a reality it feels like there is going to be development in the Gretna, Annan and Lockerbie area and the rest of the region as well."  She said the Star of Caledonia was the only "cultural capital project" being put forward for potential Borderlands investment although there was no guarantee of it being included.  Meanwhile, the project is being recommended for approval by councillors when it comes before their planning committee.   Ms Hogarth said she believed the sculpture still had the potential to deliver huge benefits to the area.  The latest impact report has suggested it would put about £2m into the local economy during the construction phase alone.  It is hoped it could attract about 100,000 visitors a year after that and drive additional tourism worth about £4m a year.  An estimated 10 million people travelling past the site - next to the A74(M) motorway - would see it annually. "I see it as a real opportunity to put Dumfries and Galloway on the map," said Ms Hogarth.

Scottish Trials to Stop Sea Eagles Stealing Lambs
Potential methods to deter Scotland's growing sea eagle population from stealing lambs are being trialled.  After being hunted to extinction, the sea eagle was reintroduced to the west coast of Scotland in the 1970s.  It is thought scores of lambs are now being taken and killed every year.  Farmers and conservationists are now working together in a bid to find a solution. So-called distraction food and helium balloons are among counter-measures being trialled. The sea eagle, or white-tailed eagle, is the UK's largest bird of prey - with an average wingspan of more than 2m (6.5ft).  There are now known to be about 130 breeding pairs of sea eagles in Scotland, from hotspots such as Skye and Mull across to the mainland.  It is estimated this could rise to at least 500 pairs by 2040.  In Appin, on the west coast of Loch Linnhe, in Argyll and Bute, David Colthart keeps 650 blackface sheep across 3,200 acres. He said his stock had been under attack since sea eagles started nesting in the area.  Describing one incident, he said: "This is a typical example of a plucking, it's basically where the bird has lifted one of the lambs and it's taken it to a certain point and it's plucked some of the wool and skin off, eaten some of it, and maybe taken the rest back to its nest."  He added: "It's very frustrating when you see that, and some members of the public aren't taking it seriously, they think we're just making it up.  It's not sustainable for any kind of farm business here in the west. We're in a very marginal farming area, and its difficult enough to raise the lambs you've got and the sea eagle is the one that starts unpicking the ability for that flock to sustain itself. Round this area, the wider area, there's at least half a dozen pairs, between here and round about Oban.  And you've got Mull as well, so that's not too far away. Mull's only 16 miles as the eagle flies, so to speak."  Trials in conjunction with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are being held to see how the birds can be distracted from killing lambs.  SNH's Rae McKenzie, who is overseeing the project, said: "We're trying a whole load of different scaring techniques and management.  You're seeing helium balloons, they float about in the air and they deter the sea eagles from coming near the lambing areas.  We're struggling a bit with those because they're not staying in the air the way they should, because of the weather or maybe just because they're maybe too light to do this kind of job in this kind of terrain."  Luring the birds away from livestock with alternative food is another option being assessed.  Mr McKenzie added: "We're considering trialling things like lasers, but we're not there yet with that, we need to think about the practicalities of that.  There's all sorts of other noise-based, light-based type scaring devices on the market we might take a look at.  We want a toolbox of things, not every eagle will respond to every scaring device, so hopefully if we've got things that work in some places and don't work in others we can mix and match.  I think the best chance we've got of doing that is working together, and hopefully getting a better understanding of what the birds will respond to, and how we might apply different measures in different places."

Seriously Ill Children Swimming with Mermaids in Aberdeen
Two-year-old Alannah has a rare lung condition that means she cannot use public pools - but thanks to the work of one woman, she has been able to swim with mermaids.  Alannah's condition means she has to have a 24/7 supply of oxygen and needs to be fed through a tube. She is unable to walk distances, and has to use a wheelchair.  Each week, Alannah and her family make the 30-mile journey from their home in Boddam, Aberdeenshire, to Aberdeen to take part in special swimming sessions run by Love Rara.  The experience with the mermaids and the swimming lessons that follow are free.  Zara Grant, the company's managing director, and her mermaids donate their own time to children who are unwell.  "It was a part of a lot of children's bucket lists to swim with the mermaids," says Zara.  "That's why I first started it, so I could create these magical memories that parents can have forever.  It allows children to come in and have memories or even just a day out at the pool with their family to have that normality while they're going through their treatment."  Zara undertook training as a swimming instructor so she would be able to safely work with the children in the water. Alannah is only able to get into a special area of the pool. Due to the oxygen supply that she needs constantly, she would be at risk if people pulled on her tube, so the area is closed to the public while Alannah is in the water.  Watching Alannah swim, her mother Lauren Norris says: "It's amazing to see, considering a couple of years ago we didn't think we'd ever get her in the water. It helps her a lot, she's getting exercise for her hyper-mobility. She can't go running or do gymnastics or dancing or other things kids her age can do, so I think swimming is the definitely the best option for Alannah."  The first sessions took place in 2017, after a child with cancer, Eileidh Paterson, made a bucket list when her illness became terminal. Swimming with mermaids was on it.  "It's obviously upsetting for Eileidh's family because she's passed but at least they have this memory now that they can keep forever," says Zara. It's really hard, because I do get close to the families. I used to see Eileidh a lot so you do get a really good connection with the children, but I look at the positives - the fact I got to give them those memories." Alannah's family is grateful to Zara for the time they can now spend in the pool.  "The bond between Zara and Alannah is amazing. Zara goes above and beyond to make sure everything's safe for Alannah," says mum Lauren.  It's amazing to see how far Alannah's come over the last two years. She's proved everyone wrong so far. I don't even think about half the things we do now. But when you look back a year ago, we struggled.  We don't know what the future holds - if she's going to be on oxygen for the rest of her life, if she's going to be tube-fed for the rest of her life, if she's going to need a wheelchair for the rest of her life - we just don't know.  We're just taking each day as it comes."

Lord of the Isles' Medieval Home in Islay Recreated
The lost medieval home of the Lords of the Isles has been reconstructed in virtual reality. During the Middle Ages, the lords ruled the Inner and Outer Hebrides and parts of Scotland and Ulster.  Their administrative and ceremonial centre was Finlaggan on Loch Finlaggan in Islay in the Inner Hebrides.  Experts at the University of St Andrews, working with the Finlaggan Trust and the National Museum of Scotland, have recreated the property.  Archaeological finds made at Finlaggan helped to guide the reconstruction.  It represents Finlaggan, a complex of buildings constructed on two small islands connected by a causeway, in the early 15th Century.  During that century, the lordship, which was traditionally held by the MacDonald family, faced efforts by Scottish kings to curtail its influence.  In the 1490s James IV sent a military expedition to sack Finlaggan. Many of the buildings were destroyed at this time.  The University of St Andrews said the site later "sank into relative obscurity".  Dr Bess Rhodes said: "Finlaggan was an amazing place to recreate digitally.  Even today the islands of Eilean Mor and Eilean na Comhairle are beautiful places, and in the Middle Ages they were the site of a remarkable complex of buildings which blended local traditions with wider European trends."  Dr Ray Lafferty, secretary of the Finlaggan Trust, said: "Despite its impact on the shaping of Scottish culture, Finlaggan and the Lordship remains little known to many.  With this virtual reality reconstruction, we hope to give some sense of the site at the zenith of its power, when MacDonald rule stretched from the Glens of Antrim in Ireland to Buchan in the north east of Scotland."

Scottish Tourism Boosting UK 'Staycations', New Report Finds
Tourism to and from Scotland is helping to boost the number of “staycations” being taken around the Britain, according to a new report.  The Great British Staycation surveyed more than 2,000 UK holidaymakers and 500 leisure and hospitality business leaders and found a 29% increase in Scots planning to spend more time on holiday in Britain.  Some 69% of Scots are choosing to visit somewhere else Scotland as opposed to the rest of the UK, with the next likely area the north-east of England (32%).  For the UK as a whole, Scotland was deemed the second best destination for a staycation with 22%, with the south-west of England being named the top region (31%).  Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “Domestic tourism is a huge market for Scotland with 80% of all over-night visitor trips from UK travellers.  We’re delighted that so many UK holidaymakers say they are planning a staycation in Scotland this year to explore the awe-inspiring landscapes, amazing attractions and fascinating history and heritage which can be found on their doorstep. It is testament to the continued investment by the Scottish tourism industry in crafting world class experiences that embrace innovation and the changing demands of visitors.” The report indicated 52% of Scottish businesses have enjoyed an increase in domestic tourism since 2017, with 42% saying bookings were being made further in advance.  Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland and the country’s whisky distilleries have been highlighted as popular attractions.

SNP Says it Would Tie New Currency to the Pound
The SNP’s plan for a new currency in an independent Scotland has come under fire after the party’s Westminster leader said it would be pegged in value to sterling.  Ian Blackford said the new currency would shadow the pound, implying Scottish Central Bank reserves of up to £300bn built up over many years.  It would also mean tying a Scottish pound to sterling’s exchange rate, giving the Bank of England continued significant control over Scotland’s economy.  Critics said the plan would squeeze public spending, as huge sums would have to be diverted into reserves to stop speculators trying to knock the currency off its peg.  SNP activists last month defied Nicola Sturgeon to adopt a new party policy of switching to an independent currency “as soon as practicable” after a Yes vote, subject to six tests.  However, they explicitly rejected a proposal to peg the currency initially to the pound.  Ms Sturgeon this week suggested the euro might be a “perfectly sensible” option as well after her MEP Alyn Smith said he was “agnostic” about which currency was used.  SNP policy in 2014 was to share the pound indefinitely with the rest of the UK.  Until now, the SNP has not said if a new Scottish currency would be free-floating - and liable to devaluation - or would aim to hold its value by fixing, or pegging, to the pound.  But speaking on LBC radio, Mr Blackford, a former banker, said it would be pegged to sterling to address voter fears over their savings and pensions losing their value.  He said: “We will have a series of economic tests which the Central Bank will validate when the time comes, as appropriate, to establish our own currency.  But one of the things I would state - and this is really important, is that when we do that, one of the key items will be making sure we have sufficient reserves, because when we do have our own currency it has to be pegged against the pound sterling because we need to make sure that - savers, pensioners - that their interests are protected, and that is the reason we’ll do that on that that basis.”  The Highland MP's remarks chime with the SNP’s Growth Commission, its economic blueprint for an independent Scotland, which said: “In the event of a new Scottish currency being created it is likely that a period of 1:1 pegging with sterling would make sense for the short and possibly medium term.”  However, the idea of taking years to build up reserves for a pegged currency is likely to anger the Left of the Yes movement, who want to ditch the pound as soon as possible.  Economist Professor Ronald MacDonald of Glasgow University’s Adam Smith Business School has previously said pegging a Scottish currency to sterling could require £300bn in reserves to protect it from economic shocks and speculators, ten times the £30bn in reserves required for a free-floating currency.  Former Labour MP Pamela Nash, chief executive of the anti-independence group Scotland in Union, said: “The SNP’s currency plan is in utter chaos. This would be catastrophic for Scotland’s economy as it would require billions of pounds in reserves, leading to devastating cuts to public services, higher borrowing and drastic tax rises.” An SNP spokesperson said: “one-to-one pegging with sterling would make sense for the short and possibly medium term”.

Smallest Whisky Town Seeks ‘Whiskiest Place’ Title
A Campbeltown distillery has launched a campaign to label the town the “whiskiest place in the world”.  The Glen Scotia plant said it would hark back to Campbeltown being known as the whisky capital of the world in Victorian times, when it had more than 30 distilleries. The campaign will be promoted at the annual Campbeltown Malts Festival from tomorrow to Thursday.  Single malts have been produced since 1832 at Glen Scotia, which was established four years after Springbank.  Glengyle, which was re-opened in 2004, is Campbeltown’s third remaining distillery.  The town will be keen to highlight its heritage since VisitScotland describes it as “Scotland’s smallest whisky-producing region”. Glen Scotia distillery manager Iain McAlister said: “Research suggests that Campbeltown was the predominant Scotch whisky for almost 100 years.  We’re very proud of our exceptional single malts and their contribution to both Campbeltown and Scotland’s world-leading whisky industry. Whisky is in our DNA in Campbeltown.  After being at the forefront of production, distilling has become a way of life here and we’re looking forward to sharing our passion for whisky with visitors to this year’s malts festival.”  Argyll and Bute MSP and constitutional affairs secretary Mike Russell, who visited the distillery, said: “It’s very encouraging to see how Glen Scotia is helping to attract visitors to Campbeltown and boost recognition of its role in Scotch. An 18-year-old single malt he helped to bottle from Cask 560, a first-fill ex-bourbon cask, describes Campbeltown on the label as “the whiskiest place in the world” in honour of the region’s long-standing association with the drink. The 57.4 % ABV whisky is among several due to be sampled straight from the cask by visitors taking part in Glen Scotia’s dunnage tastings at the festival.