Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 506

Issue # 506                                                  Week ending Saturday 1st June 2019
When Your Photographer Wife Falls in A Bog and Does Not Even Get A Photo by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

So the Glasgow accent that has been voted the sexiest in Britain. The thing is, when Glaswegians talk, particularly among themselves, they are hard to understand. When I went for a haircut in Glasgow last year, the chair was a bit low. The barber put a cushion on, and said to tell him when I was comfortable. I wiggled and then said: “Comfy.” He replied: “I’m from Clydebank.” My heart sank. People in the city I was born in don’t understand me. My heart sank.

Sinking was the theme of last week in this family. We nearly lost Mrs X. She had been asked by a certain north of Scotland regional newspaper to take photos of a large cruise ship in Stornoway harbour. As I was not quick enough to make an excuse about  being busy, she commanded me to drive her to Arnish Point for a good vantage point. So off we went and I dropped her off before you descend down to the BiFab yard and she went scurrying off though the heather with her camera bag on her back.

She will be a wee while, I thought, so I drove off and toured the Arnish yard before scrambling up the bank beyond to wave to the passengers on the MS Zuiderdam. It was ginormous. That is some canoe. It has four restaurants, 13 bars and cafés. One guest must have thought I was an onshore waiter. He seemed to be wanting two more drinks.

When I remembered I had left Mrs X on the hill, I drove back up at a rate of knots - or about 35mph in that Vauxhall Combo van. I imagined myself as Lewis Hamilton if he was driving my van instead of winning the Monaco Grand Prix. But she wasn’t there. Oh heck, she is in a cream puff and has started walking home. Although I drove to the top, there was no sign of any weary snappers on the Arnish road.

Meandering back to where I dropped her off, I spotted a bedraggled figure coming over the hill. To cut a long story sideways, my wife had fallen into a bog and had sunk up to her pink bits. This is not funny - she was nearly a goner. She had a heavy camera bag on her back so, as she struggled, Mrs X began to sink lower and lower. Her screams for me to come to her aid were in vain as the van windows were shut. Billy Connolly was on singing about his wellies and I was trying to make out the words.

Meanwhile, Mrs X’s life was flashing in front of her. Wonder if I had the starring role? Then she remembered a Youtube video about how to save yourself in a bog. Well, that was the perfect time to recall that one. She pushed forward, maneuvered herself as horizontal as she could and did roller movements with her arms as if she was some kind of human combine harvester. It worked. She began to move closer to the edge where she grabbed clumps of heather and pulled herself out. So my help was not required, after all. Just as well, I hear you say.

Seriously, it was scary. It hit her hours later and she was quite wobbly for days. It probably doesn’t help that I keep singing: “I've got a brand new combine harvester and I'll give you the key ...” Yeah, I must stop that. It is too serious. “Come on now, let's get together in perfect harmony.”

It just shows how something can happen in a flash. Take politics. Just a few years ago, we were being told that the people of Britain were again engaging with the political process and politicians in a positive way that would see us become a beacon of democracy in a world where so much still needs to be done to progress. Then Brexit struck and the air of positivity vaporised.

Since then, we have seen the government tying itself in knots as its various divisions push their own agendas while Her Majesty’s Opposition has been imploding as it cannot decide what to do over Brexit resulting in voters fleeing as they conclude the main players actually have no idea what they are doing. Now maybe Nigel Farage will be the next Prime Minister. Who would have thought it?

When I was in Glasgow the other week, I could not get over the accent. Although I was actually born in the Dear Green Place, they don’t half speak funny. They hear funny as well. We went for lunch to a wee pub in Partick and the old guy at the next table was obviously struggling to complete the crossword in the Evening Times. He turned to me and said: “Hey son, I'm stuck oan this wan. Trapped oan a desert island, eight letters, startin’ with M.” Thinking myself a smart chap, I replied in a flash. “Marooned.” His smile immediately widened. He said: “Your roond? Thanks very much, son. I'll hae a wee pint o’ lager an’ a wee double whisky chaser.”

Laser Drones Protect Scottish Forests

Laser-carrying drones that can see through the forest canopy are being used to protect native Scottish plants threatened by invasive species.  The drones use Lidar (light detection and ranging), which works like radar but uses light instead of radio waves.  Laser pulses are fired at the trees below and the time it takes for wavelengths to bounce back is used to create a 3D picture of what lies beneath.  The data is combined with information from satellites to give an accurate "fix" of the drone's position.  It all builds up an accurate map of the health of the forest floor.  The programme is led by the Edinburgh-based company Ecometrica.  Its funding partners are the Forestry Commission Scotland, Scottish Orienteering, Woodland Trust and Edinburgh University.  Support has also come from the UK's Science and Technology Facilities Council.   Once it is in the air, the four-rotor drone is easier to hear than see. It is a speck in the sky but packed with sensors.  It has been surveying forests in the west of Scotland: Lochgilphead, Ardfern, Auchterawe, Arisaig, Achdalieu and Mandally. Lidar has been used from the air before but typically this has been from larger aircraft with humans on board.  An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), usually known as a drone, holds out the prospect of reduced cost.  The point of the project is to monitor and map how land use is changing and how climate change is affecting Scotland's forests.  Conventional photos taken in natural light will only show the tree canopy.  And as much of the tree cover is evergreen and there all year round, there's no point waiting for autumn to have a look beneath it.  Ecometrica's executive chairman Richard Tipper says the technique offers "centimetre-scale detail".  "It enables you to pick out features that a satellite doesn't allow you to do," he says. Large-scale global deforestation is being monitored from the International Space Station by the GEDI Lidar system.  Dr Tipper says a Lidar drone covers a much smaller area with each sweep but the resolution is "an order of magnitude better".  One key emphasis is on protecting native species - and fighting one non-native threat in particular.  Back in the 1700s it seemed like a good idea to introduce the flowering shrub rhododendron ponticum, a native of southern Europe and western Asia, to the British Isles.  After all, their purple blooms look lovely in early summer.  The problem is, the rhododendron bushes like Scottish forests rather too much.   The acid soil means they have spread like a smothering evergreen carpet beneath the cover of the tree canopy.  You could say it is a case of having too much of a good thing except they're actually a bad thing.  They carry a fungal disease that harms trees and their leaf litter is toxic to native plants.  Without Lidar the bushes can spread undetected.  The drone data is analysed using a system called Ecometrica Platform. It creates the detailed maps that show changes to the ecosystem.  Each partner in the project has a different use for the information.  The Forestry Commission is concerned with rhododendrons but The Woodland Trust wants to map the remains of native forests.  Edinburgh University will feed it into new research, and Scottish Orienteering need digital models of the terrain as Scotland prepares to host the World Orienteering Championships in 2022.

Archaeologists Find Remains of the Roman Invasion of Ayrshire

Archaeologists have uncovered fresh evidence of a Roman invasion of Scotland under an Ayrshire playing field.  A marching camp used by the Legions as they made their way along the coast was found by a team carrying out work prior to the building of the new Ayr Academy.  It is thought to date back to the first century AD, when an army under Agricola, the Roman Governor of Britain, fought its way up to Aberdeenshire and defeated an army of Caledonians at the battle of Mons Grampius.  It was previously thought the only two known routes for the Roman invasion were further to the east; the present-day M74 and A68 roads follow these same courses.  But the new marching camp at Ayr reveals another route down the west coast towards the south-west tip of Scotland, from where Ireland is readily visible. The discovery was made during archaeological excavations undertaken by GUARD Archaeology, but only became apparent upon post-excavation analyses and radiocarbon dating.  Iraia Arabaolaza, who directed the excavation, said: ‘There was a ford across the river Ayr just below the Roman marching camp while ships may have been beached on the nearby shoreline.  The Ayr marching camp is 20 miles from the nearest Roman camp to the south at Girvan, which corresponds to a day’s march for a Roman soldier.  There is a little more distance to other Roman camps to the north-east near Strathaven. Altogether this suggests that this site was chosen as a strategic location for the Roman conquest of Ayrshire." Roman marching camps have been described as the temporary bases of a tented army on campaign. While most Roman camps are usually recognised by the regular linear ditches which enclose them, landscaping or ploughing at the Ayr Academy site appears to have destroyed any such remains.   The camp at Ayr Academy, however, shares other similarities with Roman camps in Scotland, which have also revealed similar formations of fire-pits or camp-ovens.  Ms Arabaolaza said: "The Roman features comprised 26 large, often double, fire-pits that were distributed evenly in two parallel rows 30m apart. The arrangement and uniformity of these features implies an organised layout and the evidence suggests that they were all used for baking bread.  The location of the oven was recognised by the scorching of the subsoil base, stone slabs and burnt clay fragments, some with wood imprints and with dome moulding. Ash pits were identified at the opposite end to the ovens within these figure-of-eight features, filled with burnt and charcoal-rich soil comprising the raked-out material from the clay-domed ovens."  It is also possible that the archaeological remains only represent a portion of the camp, which may have extended into the flat land to the north, where the modern racecourse is situated.  Archaeologists said that the Romans were not the first people to occupy the site. Traces of the local Iron Age population were recovered during the excavation, including a fragment of a shale bracelet, along with pits and post-holes that date to much earlier times.  Evidence of Bronze Age ritual activity from the late third and second millennium BC, a Neolithic settlement from the fourth millennium BC and a Mesolithic hunter/gatherer camp from the sixth millennium BC was also discovered, revealing the area to be one of the earliest and most complex prehistoric sites in this part of the west coast of Scotland.  This indicates the earliest occupation of the Ayr Academy site goes back to around 5200 BC, roughly twice as old as the Roman Marching Camp.  After defeating the Caledonians, Agricola returned south. Scotland would be invaded by the Romans again a century later when the Emperor Septimus Severus ventured north to put down raiding tribes.

European Elections 2019: SNP to Have Three MEPs As Labour Collapses
The SNP is on course to increase its number of MEPs from two to three in the European elections amid a collapse in support for Scottish Labour.  With 31 of the 32 Scottish council areas having declared their results, the SNP has 37.9% of the votes - up from 29% in the last EU election.  Nigel Farage's Brexit Party has the second most votes and will have one MEP, as will the Lib Dems and Tories.  Labour is fifth with just 9.3% of the votes - down from 26% in 2014.  It means Labour will lose both of its MEPs in Scotland.  The Western Isles will not declare its result until later on Monday, but it is unlikely to affect the overall Scottish result.  The Brexit Party is currently on 14.7% of the votes in Scotland, with the Liberal Democrats on 13.9% and the Conservatives on 11.7%.  It means Scotland's six new MEPs will be the SNP's Alyn Smith, Christian Allard and Aileen McLeod, Louis Stedman-Bruce of the Brexit Party, Sheila Ritchie of the Liberal Democrats and Baroness Nosheena Mobarik of the Conservatives.  SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, the country's first minister, tweeted that her party had won a "historic" victory in the election, and that Scotland had "rejected Brexit again".   The party's previous best European election result was 32.6% in 1994.  The SNP won the biggest share of the vote in 29 of the 31 council areas to have declared so far, with the Lib Dems first in both Orkney and Shetland.  Turnout across Scotland is currently 39.7%, up from 33.5% five years ago.  The election was held on Thursday in the UK, but the results could not be announced until after 22:00 on Sunday because voting was being held in other EU countries.  The SNP fought its election campaign on a strong anti-Brexit platform, with party leader Nicola Sturgeon urging voters to back her party to show "Scotland's for Europe". The Liberal Democrats, whose vote is up across the UK, and the Scottish Greens also campaigned against Brexit and have joined the SNP in calling for another referendum on EU membership.  The SNP's Alyn Smith, who tops the party's list for the election, said it was clear from the results that Scotland was a "different country" to the rest of the UK - where the Brexit Party is on course to win the most votes.  Mr Smith said: "It is clear that Scotland is for Europe, we have voted Remain again, and that vote cannot be ignored. People are voting SNP for a variety of reasons - there are those who are lending us their vote and others who are diehard SNP voters, we've got people coming to us from all over the spectrum.  This has been about proving to the UK that we want to remain (in the EU)".  Scottish Labour candidate David Martin, who had been an MEP since 1984 but will now lose his seat, said his party's woes in the election were because "we didn't have a clear position" on Brexit. He added: "Our message clearly should have been that Labour is a remain party."  But party leader Richard Leonard - a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn - insisted that Labour had been the only party fighting to unite the country against "the divisions caused by the competing nationalisms of the UK and Scottish governments".  Meanwhile Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said her party had retained a Scottish MEP on what was a "tough night for the party UK-wide"  The SNP and Labour both won two seats in Scotland in 2014, with the Conservatives and UKIP winning one each. Who's had a good night and who's had a bad one?
To take the easy questions first, it has been a good night for the SNP, who have gained a seat while cruising ahead of all of its rivals. There were council areas where the party was comfortably 30 percentage points clear of their nearest rivals. It was also a decent night for the Brexit Party, who improved on UKIP's previous performance in Scotland and look set to take a seat. See also the Lib Dems, who say they "are finding votes from places we have never been before".  But for every winner in politics, there's a loser. Other than the SNP's dominance, the big story of the night was Labour's utter collapse, losing both of their seats. The official line from Labour is that they're being punished by a "polarised" political climate. Others in the party are more direct - calling it an "absolute catastrophe" and "unforgivable". Does this tell us anything about future elections, or the fate of Brexit? That's a much harder question.  Yes, unambiguously pro-EU parties did well - although of course they were always expected to, in a country that voted 62% for Remain in 2016. The SNP in particular are keen to proclaim that the results shows that "Scotland's not for Brexit".  The strong performances from the Brexit Party and the Lib Dems also underline the importance of having a clear constitutional position in an election that was all about sending a message.  But while turnout was up on previous European elections, it was still low by comparison with almost every other vote held in Scotland over the last 20 years. Less than half of the electorate registered a vote. These results might not be replicated in any future Westminster or Holyrood election. But they will certainly shape the context of the debate in the coming months, at a pivotal time in politics.

NHS Bans Sale of Energy Drinks to Under-16s in Scottish Hospitals

The NHS has banned the sale of high-energy drinks to children in Scottish hospitals. Shops within hospitals will not be permitted to sell the stimulating drinks to anyone under the age of 16.  The ban applies to drinks with an added caffeine content of more than 150mg per litre in an effort to promote a healthy diet.  But doctors are calling for the ban to be extended to all under-16s, not just in NHS buildings. All NHS catering sites will also adopt the policy. The move is part of the latest update to the Healthcare Retail Standard, a set of rules all retailers operating in NHS sites in Scotland must adhere to.  It aims to increase the amount of healthier food and drinks in shops in NHS buildings, with tighter rules around what can be promoted.  Most major supermarkets stopped selling the drinks to under-16s in March 2018, while a teaching union has warned they are having a detrimental effect on both the health and the attention span of pupils.  New restrictions on baby food are also being introduced to promote healthy eating as early as possible.  Products will have to contain no added sugar or salt and be unsweetened.  Public Health Minister Joe Fitzpatrick said: "The Healthcare Retail Standard supports healthier eating across the NHS estate and it is right that our hospitals show a lead in providing food and drink which is health promoting. The HRS ensures that at least 50% of food and 70% of drinks on sale are healthier options. This supports the Scottish government's strategy of working to improve Scotland's diet and tackle health inequalities."

Wild Landscapes Under Threat As Tourism Soars
Scotland’s wild landscapes are in danger of being loved to death if we don’t take action to manage the country’s international success as a tourism destination, conservationists have said.  Scotland regularly features in the world’s top visitor destination rankings – only last week Shetland was listed in the Lonely Planet travel guide’s ten best places to visit in Europe.  Marketing campaigns such as the North Coast 500 driving route have proved a massive success, sparking various spin-offs around the country.  On-screen appearances in the likes of Outlander, Game Of Thrones and the Harry Potter movies have also brought droves of people to see first-hand some of the locations used for filming.  Tourism is worth an estimated £12 billion a year to the Scottish economy, and provides valuable jobs in some of the most remote and rural areas. However, increasing numbers of visitors to popular landmarks are causing wear and tear on the natural environment and impacting local communities.  The John Muir Trust (JMT) owns and cares for around 20,000 hectares of wild land across Scotland, including tourist hotspots such as the summit of Ben Nevis, the idyllic Sandwood Bay on the north coast and part of the Cuillin mountain range on Skye. The trust has welcomed the success of “brand Scotland”, but is now calling for collaboration between those promoting the country and those caring for its natural assets to work out the best way to ensure the industry remains sustainable.  “We need a better join-up between promoting tourism and managing tourism and recognising that local communities and wild areas are in danger of being loved to death,” said Mike Daniels, head of land management for JMT.  “There needs to be a debate and a discussion about how we go forward. We need to be a bit more proactive rather than reactive. Our new strategy is trying to recognise there are various problems.”  He says the challenge is even greater because of local authority budget cuts, which have taken a toll on services such as countryside rangers, public toilets and parking.  The Scottish Government has set aside £6 million in the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund, administered by VisitScotland, to help meet the demands of growing visitor numbers.  The first round of grants saw £3m shared among 18 projects across Scotland, including new toilets and campervan facilities at the Old Man of Storr on Skye and extra parking at the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.  The second round of projects is due to be announced shortly.  But the JMT believes more national funding must be made available, while options such as a tourist tax should also be considered.  Highland councillors say there is an increasing demand for provision of services and facilities such as dedicated parking and waste disposal for motorhomes, as well as footpaths and long-distance trails, viewpoints on popular roads and public wi-fi. But the current mechanism for funding local authorities does not specifically cater for tourism-related needs, which means demand for such investment must be balanced against that for other services.

Sturgeon Wants Indyref2 in 'Second Half of 2020'
SNP leader and Scottish first minister has said the result of the EU elections in Scotland are an "emphatic rejection of Brexit".  The SNP is celebrating its best ever result in the European elections. The party has increased its number of MEPs from two to three, while Scottish Labour lost both its seats. The first minister, on a visit to Ireland, said the result would further boost calls for a second Scottish independence referendum.  She said: "It is one thing to oppose independence, I don't believe it is sustainable to stand in the way of the Scottish people deciding." First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for a new Scottish independence referendum in the second half of 2020.  Speaking in Dublin Ms Sturgeon said the "latter half" of next year would be the "right time" for a new poll.  The SNP leader predicted victory in a second vote, with Scotland becoming "an independent country just like Ireland".  Ms Sturgeon also confirmed legislation setting out the rules for another independence referendum will be published at Holyrood on Wednesday.  The first minister, who met Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during her Irish trip, had previously said she wanted to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by May 2021 if the country was taken out of the EU.  Speaking after her party secured 37.7% of the Scottish vote in the European elections she gave a clearer indication of her preferred timeframe.  Ms Sturgeon said: "There will be another Scottish independence referendum and I will make a prediction today that Scotland will vote for independence and we will become an independent country just like Ireland, and the strong relationship between our two countries now will become even stronger soon.  I want to see Scotland having the choice of independence within this term of the Scottish Parliament, which ends in May 2021, so towards the latter half of next year would be when I think is the right time for that choice."In a separate BBC interview, Ms Sturgeon said she would bring forward legislation later this week at Holyrood paving the way for a second independence vote”.  She said: "This week we will bring forward legislation to put in place the rules for giving people the choice in an independence referendum over a Brexit future or a future as an independent European nation." Ms Sturgeon has previously said that in order to put a future Yes vote beyond doubt or challenge, she would want the UK Westminster government to give Holyrood the power to hold a new referendum through a "Section 30 order" or similar mechanism.  The UK Westminster government has insisted it would not support such a vote at the present time, arguing that the matter was supposed to be "settled for a generation" by the independence referendum in 2014.  The Scottish Conservative chief whip Maurice Golden criticised the first minister's comments on independence, accusing her of "hypocritical deceit" He said: "The SNP went into this election pretending to voters that it was nothing to do with independence. Yet within hours of it being announced, Nicola Sturgeon is specifically using it to argue for separation.  That's fraudulent behaviour from an SNP government that's meant to be running the country, not trying to break it up."

'At Risk' Adults Held At Dungavel Immigration Centre

Almost 40% of people detained in Scotland's only immigration removal centre are classed as vulnerable, figures obtained by BBC Scotland show.  Dungavel in South Lanarkshire holds asylum seekers and illegal immigrants who are awaiting deportation after their bid to stay in the UK has failed.  Home Office guidance states there is "a clear presumption" that detention is not appropriate for vulnerable people.  A spokeswoman said detention was used sparingly and only when necessary.  Campaigners, however, insist the "adults at risk" policy is not fit for purpose, and should be reviewed.  Dungavel opened as an immigrant detention centre in 2001 and is run on behalf of the Home Office by a private company.  Like other centres around the UK it has been criticised by campaigners, with the detainees claiming they are treated like prisoners. There is also concern about the length of time people can be detained at the centre.  Zacharie Cyriaque Ayard-Nzapajima came to the UK in 2012. He claims he was tortured in the Central African Republic after a protest about military jobs.  In January 2019 he was held in Dungavel despite being classed as vulnerable.  Under Section 35 of the 2001 Detention Centre Rules, a report must be prepared on any person whose mental or physical health is likely worsen as a result of being held in detention. He told the BBC he was taken for medical tests the day after he was detained.  Zacharie said: "They examined me - I've got the documents there - and they said I wasn't medically fit to stay in prison but they kept me there for three weeks. Can you believe that? They kept me for another three weeks. Here, speaking to you now, I'm not someone like you. I've lost a lot of my faculties. They traumatised me." The BBC was not able to verify everything Zacharie told us about his life in the Central African Republic but we did see evidence that appeared to support claims he was in danger.Zacharie was eventually released from Dungavel and is now awaiting the outcome of a judicial review in relation to his case.  Concerns about the detention of vulnerable asylum seekers were raised by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons in 2015 and a report by Stephen Shaw led to plans for a change of approach.  In 2016, the UK Westminster government introduced guidance to reduce the number of vulnerable people detained.

Mystery Backer Pledges £100k to Haven Appeal in Inverness

An anonymous benefactor has pledged £100,000 to an ambitious appeal to develop Scotland’s first multi-purpose centre for children and young people with severe disabilities.  It is the second time a mystery donor has pledged such an amount for the Haven Appeal which is aiming to raise £4 million for the planned centre at a derelict site in Smithton.  This latest gift takes the appeal, being organised by the Elsie Normington Foundation, to a total of £1.3 million.  Chairman Elsie Normington confirmed that the mystery donor lives in the Highlands. “He believes in the vision of the appeal and believes it will come to pass,” she said. “I am so touched by that.”  Mrs Normington said she was thrilled by the wide public support to deliver the ambitious project which will feature respite houses, a community café, specialist play centres, office and meeting spaces and a community garden.  “The backing comes from a very wide range of people who recognise the acute need for the kind of integrated facilities that the Haven Centre can provide,” she said.  “Donations range from money raised at a raffle to this latest pledge of support from a wealthy supporter who wishes their identity to remain anonymous.  This is a second pledge of £100,000 which is very generous indeed and hugely appreciated in helping the children and young people in our community who most deserve it.”

Crivvens, It's Oor Wullie in Brora and Helmsdale

Brora and Helmsdale Primary Schools have been taking part recently in the Archie Foundation’s Oor Wullie Big Bucket Trail.  Artists from around the country have been commissioned to paint more than 200 life-size sculptures of the famous newspaper character Oor Wullie, to create a public art trail across Scotland.  The trail runs for 11 weeks from June 17 - August 30, culminating in a series of farewell events and nationwide auctions of the sculptures in each of five host cities – Dundee, Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This is in aid of three charities - the Archie Foundation and both Edinburgh and Glasgow children’s hospitals. Fundraising will include sponsoring a sculpture.  The idea is to get family, friends and children involved in learning about Oor Wullie and Scottish heritage. Alongside the main trail, schoolchildren were asked to design and create a series of mini-sculptures which will be displayed in community locations such as libraries and will then be returned to each school after the event. Brora and Helmsdale schools took part, each running a design competition for their oldest pupils.  Mini sculptures had been provided and children then painted the winning designs onto them. At Helmsdale, the design chosen was by Grace McConnach - the Helmsdale Hero. At Brora, Abby Holliday’s Brora Boy was deemed the best.  Both models are now away to take part in the Oor Wullie trail in cities across Scotland before returning to the schools in September.

NHS Borders Recognised At National Learning Disability Awards

All eyes were on the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa at the weekend as the annual Learning Disability Awards ceremony took place.  And celebration was in order for Natalie Macdonald, the Facilities Manager at NHS Borders, as she was Highly Commended in the Support in Work category.  Hosted by The Scottish Commission for Learning Disability (SCLD) the awards provide an opportunity to celebrate, on a national level, the rarely heard stories and achievements of people with learning disabilities and those who support them.  As part of Learning Disability week, the eight award categories were centred around this year’s theme ‘Community – Active, Connected, Included’.  Natalie was nominated by Daniel Murray, a domestic assistant in Ward 9, for her invaluable support to him both during his Project SEARCH internship back in 2016 and subsequent permanent appointment within the Borders General Hospital. Friday evening brought local celebration as Natalie was recognised for leading the way towards a more inclusive workplace. She said: “When Daniel told me that I had been nominated and shortlisted for this award I was very pleased and excited.” Nominees for the Support in Work Award are recognised as individuals who have worked to break down barriers for the employment of people with a learning disability.

Music Review: Orkney Folk Festival
It’s yet more proof of Scottish folk music’s phenomenal current fecundity that a project originated in and specifically showcasing its furthest peripheries, the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides, can result in such a world-class performance as Between Islands, which premièred on Saturday at the 37th Orkney Folk Festival, and would be an ornament to any concert stage on the planet.  Curated by Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre, it brought together stellar Uist singers Julie Fowlis and Kathleen MacInnes, Orkney duo Saltfishforty and Shetland singer/fiddler Jenny Keldie – plus plenty more besides – in a rich and often moving collaborative programme of songs and tunes, old and new, ranging stylistically from newly-penned folk-pop to venerable Gaelic ballads, bluegrassy instrumentals to vintage Orcadian swing-jazz.  Themes of seafaring and longing for home emerged naturally from the pooled material, as languages and dialects were swapped and shared, together with a gorgeous wealth of iridescent vocal harmonies. The extended line-up also included visiting Shetland song group Laeverick and sundry other leading Orkney players, while around 40 local primary and senior schoolchildren, serving as string section and backing choir, heartwarmingly framed the core cast’s outstanding artistry amid a palpably living island culture.  With more than 50 acts on the bill, travelling from as far as Canada, organisers this year faced the additional challenge of Thursday’s air traffic control strike at Highlands and Islands Airports, compounded on the day by a broken-down ferry and several cancelled sailings, but by hook or crook they managed to get everybody here, even if it did mean some performers arriving onstage straight from the airport. Among the headliners on a truly mouth-watering bill – even by this festival’s illustrious standards – legendary veterans Four Men and a Dog showed the youngsters how it’s done with their evergreen, ever-pyrotechnic blend of Irish trad and Americana, while trailblazing trio Lau gave a specially-customised performance of their new fifth studio album, Midnight and Closedown, at Kirkwall’s St Magnus Cathedral. Positively revelling in the reverb amid this splendidly soaring space, they delivered a magically immersive 90 minutes of mind-altering musical adventure.  An exceptionally strong female presence in the line-up included star turns from new Scottish chamber-folk powerhouse Kinnaris Quintet, matching intricate, multi-layered sophistication with visceral excitement, and the perennially fabulous Poozies, whose current cross-generational line-up maintains their sparkling standard of vivacious, inventive instrumentals, while giving fresh pride of place to Orkney native Sarah McFadyen’s brilliant, blackly comic dialect songwriting, arranged by the four-piece with note-perfect deadpan elegance. Among other contrasting highlights were barnstorming Cape Breton quartet Còig, the peerlessly pearlescent singing of Ireland’s Cara Dillon, the tripartite Irish-trad masterclass of Dermot Byrne, Éamonn Coyne and John Doyle, and Malinky’s richly seasoned treatments of Scots song, all contributing their share to another vintage Orkney festival – an event justly lauded by Lau’s Martin Green as “one of the great cultural activities of the universe”.

Indyref2 'Framework' Bill Published At Holyrood

Legislation which could pave the way for a new Scottish independence referendum has been tabled at Holyrood.  The Scottish government wants to put the question of independence to a new public vote in the second half of 2020.  However, the Referendums (Scotland) Bill does not set a date or question, with ministers seeking agreement with the UK Westminster Government.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said "now more than ever it is essential that we keep Scotland's options open".  Constitutional Relations Secretary Mike Russell gave a statement to MSPs on Wednesday afternoon about the bill and plans for a "citizens' assembly" to discuss Brexit and independence.  The Scottish Conservatives said the "latest stunt" was "all about Nicola Sturgeon pandering to her party, not speaking for the country".  Ms Sturgeon announced in April that she wanted a new independence referendum to happen before the end of the current Scottish Parliament term in 2021.  She told MSPs that she wanted to secure a "Section 30 order" - an agreement similar to that underpinning the 2014 referendum - from the UK Westminster Government before doing this, to put the vote "beyond doubt or challenge". The UK Westminster Government has so far rejected such an agreement, but Ms Sturgeon said she would bring forward legislation to "set the rules for any referendum that is now or in the future within the competence of the Scottish Parliament".  She wants the legislation to be passed by the end of this year, with a view to applying it specifically to a second independence referendum in the event a deal is struck with UK ministers.  If such an agreement is secured, then the question, date and referendum period could be added to the bill via secondary legislation.  The bill as it stands has been ruled within Holyrood's remit by Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh.  Speaking ahead of Wednesday's statement, Ms Sturgeon said that "Scotland must have the chance to choose a better future than the one being offered by Westminster".  She added: "An independence referendum within this parliamentary term will give Scotland the opportunity to choose to be an independent European nation - rather than have a Brexit future imposed upon us.  We will seek agreement to a transfer of power at an appropriate point to enable an independence referendum that is beyond challenge to be held later in this parliament.  It is essential the UK Westminster Government recognises that it would be a democratic outrage if it seeks to block such a referendum - indeed, any such stance would, in my view, prove to be utterly unsustainable.

Hopes High of Tourism Boost for Borders As Avengers: Endgame Passes $2.6bn Mark At Box Office and Closes in on World Record
Avengers: Endgame is now the second most successful film of all time, having taken $2.683bn at box offices worldwide, and tourism businesses in the Borders are hoping that will mean big bucks for them too.  Despite only having been out a month, the Marvel superhero film, partly shot in the region, is now just $105m short of the all-time record of $2.788bn set by the 2009 James Cameron-directed science fiction film Avatar.  Scenes for the £356m movie, the fourth in the Avengers series, were shot at St Abbs on the Berwickshire coast in May 2017, and tourism chiefs are now hoping that fans of the blockbuster will be keen to follow in the footsteps of Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth, and head there.  St Abbs doubles as Thor’s Norwegian bolthole, New Asgard, in the film, and Scottish Borders Council has had road signs made highlighting that claim to fame. A spokesperson for the crew said: “During filming in 2017, St Abbs lifeboat station was rebranded as New Asgard lifeboat station, but only on the understanding that the Marvel film-makers dropped everything and cleared the way for our crew if the pagers went off during takes.  Even Hollywood doesn’t stand in the way of a call-out.  As a bit of fun, Scottish Borders Council have had a couple of road signs made up and photographed two of our crew at local spots that appear in the film. Marvel also made a generous donation to the lifeboat, which was much appreciated.” VisitScotland regional leadership director Paula Ward said: “It is fantastic to see the region take on a starring role in one of the year’s biggest blockbusters, propelling the spectacular Scottish Borders coastline to audiences and fans of the Avengers franchise across the globe.”