Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 507

Issue # 507                                                           Week ending Saturday 8th  June 2019

Dancing in the Streets At Traffic-free Event in Edinburgh City Centre
Residents and visitors will be dancing on the cobbled roads of the Old Town in Edinburgh later as the second traffic-free day promises a host of events for revellers. The second Open Streets event takes place from noon until 17:00.  It will include swing dance and hip hop performances, quiet havens for book worms as well as circus skills, walking tours and street games.  The initiative takes place on the first Sunday of every month.  The 18-month pilot project sees streets including a large stretch of the Royal Mile, Cockburn Street and Victoria Street closed to traffic and handed over to pedestrians and cyclists for the afternoon.  George IV Bridge, North Bridge and South Bridge will remain open as will access to the foot and head of the Royal Mile.  The city council hopes to gradually increase the number of streets that are included after a break during the summer months, and could eventually see a loop of the Old Town closed to traffic for the event - including Cowgate, the entire Grassmarket and Holyrood Road.  Lesley Macinnes, City of Edinburgh Council's transport and environment convener, said: "What we achieved at the first event has not only had a massive positive reaction from people, not just inside Edinburgh, but it's a very clear signal of intent.  We have not done this as a one-off - we are doing it across an 18-month period that we are committing to.  That allows us to build that evidence around what people are looking for, how people are reacting to it, the impact it is having in this specific area.  All of those aspects of it, we need to build up knowledge on."

Going Out with A Bang - How People Are Choosing for Their Ashes to Be Sent Up in Fireworks and Aeroplanes

A discreet spot has been created to enable Sikh families to scatter loved one's ashes into the River Clyde. But some, finds Sandra Dick, are opting for more flamboyant ways to say goodbye.  Captain Jim McTaggart cranked his little biplane into another impressive manoeuvre and gave a hearty wave to his passenger’s grieving friends below.  In a container behind him was her last worldly remains - around 6lbs of dusty, gritty ashes which, at the precise moment the little plane passed the mourners, he planned to eject from the rear of the aircraft in a gentle ‘puff’ of delicate cloud that would float beautifully before vanishing to the four winds.  There was, however, one tiny problem. “An American chap I’d been working with suggested using insulation tape around the top of the container. I tested it with material I use to simulate ashes – cat litter, porridge and talcum powder - and it worked beautifully,” recalls Capt. McTaggart.  “On the day, I got above Gullane where the mourners were gathered, pushed the button to release the ashes and the container blew up inside the plane. There were ashes up my nose, I was being blinded by them, and it blew a hole in the airplane.”  On the ground afterwards and full of apologies, he delicately explained the ‘malfunction’. “I said I was terribly sorry, that half their friend was all over my airplane. Thankfully, they said she was a very adventurous lady and would have enjoyed the comedy of the moment.”  The mishap was an unfortunate one-off blip. Since then the 70-year-old pilot from East Lothian has perfected the process of blasting the ‘cremains’ of the dearly departed from the rear end of his single-seater plane at spots from the Highlands to Sussex, sending them on a final heavenly journey where they hang for a moment in a wispy fog before slowly disappearing into the blue yonder forever.  It may well be one of the more dramatic means of scattering a loved one’s ashes, but demand for alternatives to the crematorium garden of remembrance or the Victoriana urn on the mantlepiece – or, more frequently, the back of the wardrobe – appears to be rising.  For just as grieving families are seeking more personalised styles of saying the last goodbye, from humanist services to wicker coffins and ‘green’ burials, the dilemma of what to do with the bag of ashes presented post-cremation is now being solved in a raft of ingenious ways. “There is a definite increase in people looking for a way to say their goodbyes that is relevant to the person’s personality,” says Richard Martin, of Scattering Ashes, an online business devoted to the problem of what to do with loved one’s remains.  “In the 1960s, only 20% of ashes were collected following cremation. But now only 20% are left at to be scattered at the garden of remembrance. You have all these people wondering what to do with them. I’ve heard of house clearances where people have opened a bedroom cupboard and found a collection of urns sitting there. It can be a real problem.”  Recently Inverclyde Council took the step to support Sikh and Hindu families seeking a dignified location to scatter ashes on flowing waters but for whom the traditional journey 2000 miles to the banks of the Ganges is neither practical or possible. Instead, a slipway leading to the River Clyde at Port Glasgow has been provided with barriers to help mourners of all faiths and none stay steady on their feet while their loved ones are committed to the grey waters of the River Clyde.  But while it has helped solve a problem for some, others, says Martin, have been caught in an urn-shaped trap. “Attitudes are changing,” he adds. “Not everyone wants the traditional Victorian-style urn on the mantlepiece. People are becoming more expressive; they are increasingly non-religious and they want a place or event that’s memorable and specific to their loved one.” According to a 2016 YouGov survey, cremation is the chosen departure route for more than half us (58%). However, only 7% want to be “kept”, compared to 79% who would prefer to be “scattered”.  But while Martin points out that “Scots have a tendency to want to scatter ashes in the wilderness” climbing a mountain and distributing uncle Bert around the summit is frowned upon by the Mountaineering Council of Scotland. It has warned of changes to the soil in some popular spots as a result of too much phosphorus, calcium and other nutrients in ashes being scattered and disrupting the delicate ecosystem.  While football pitches – another traditionally popular spot for fans to request as a final resting place – are so carefully pruned and tended, that scattering ash on the centre circle is no longer deemed suitable by most leading clubs.  To overcome the issue, Martin has a host of alternatives – from sending loved ones upwards on a drone or remote-controlled helicopter to be scattered in the sky, or, closer to ground, their ashes encased in a garden bird bath, gleaming silvery pyramid or ‘moon gazing hare’.  For those who want to stay close, ashes can be turned into delicate glass beads for bracelets, earrings or necklaces, or hidden inside silver charms. Or, even closer, mixed with ink and used to create a tattoo.  When Fiona Fraser’s father Dick Fleming died from pancreatic cancer, the family wanted a way to celebrate the Aberdeen businessman’s life in a way that reflected his bold and vibrant personality.  And so, on an evening around a year after his death, his family and friends gathered at the family home to watch fireworks containing his ashes light up the sky over his local Newburgh Golf Club to the tune of Neil Diamond singing “Beautiful Noise”.  The carefully choreographed firework display was, she says, a fitting farewell that encapsulated her dad’s joie de vivre.  “It was perfect,” she adds. “Dad was a larger than life character. He wasn’t very religious, his attitude was when you’re dead, you’re dead.  And he didn’t like the idea of a gravestone and us being morbid and sad.  The house looks over the River Ythan and the local golf course. It was a celebration; we had a glass of fizz and we’d been told to look for the green rockets as they were the ones containing his ashes.  We were teary, but it was nice.”  The other half of her dad’s ashes were taken to Loch Lomond where, on board his boat “In the Mood too”, they were scattered over the water.  According to fireworks specialist Mark Copland of Fireworx in Inverurie, which carried out the display, there is a clear shift in demand from people looking to send their loved one – including their beloved pets - out with a bang.  We started in 2010 when it was quite unusual, but we are now seeing people who have it written into their wills that they want their ashes made into a firework.  In some cases, we’re asked to design a whole show – one in Edinburgh involved a marquee in Inverleith Park, drinks, buffet and even live music.  People are saying rather than spend a lot of money of a funeral that’s not very relevant to their lives,” he adds, “they’d rather celebrate and create a memory.”

Union Parties Dismiss SNP Success At Their Peril
by Joyce McMillan
Politicians like Michael Gove appear to be in denial about the SNP’s outstanding EU election result.  Sometimes, amid the current chaos of UK politics, it’s worth taking a deep breath and stepping back a little, to contemplate the bizarre outlines of the situation we now face. Over the next two months, an electorate made up of 317 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons, plus the aged and dwindling membership of the Conservative and Unionist Party, will choose the next man or woman to be our Prime Minister. Of the 11 candidates to have declared themselves so far, most have declared themselves willing, “if necessary”, to lead the country into a no-deal exit from the European Union.  All of them probably know, at some level, that a no-deal Brexit is not in the UK’s best interests. Yet they continue to take this damaging position, mainly because their overwhelming obsession and priority is the narrowly defined game of current right-wing politics, which dictates that they must seek to fend off the recent challenge from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party – which advocates a hard Brexit, and won 31.6 per cent of the vote in last week’s European Parliament elections – by mimicking its hard-line attitude to the EU. As a result, it seems likely that the UK’s next Prime Minister will be someone who, out of conviction or ambition, not only supports a no-deal Brexit, but is also willing, across the British media, to keep repeating the line – at best debatable, and at worst downright false – that no-deal Brexit, with all the pain in it will bring in its wake, is the only way of “honouring the 2016 referendum result”, and restoring the faith of the people in British democracy.  The facts, of course, tell a rather different story. The constituency who voted for hard Brexit parties last Thursday constituted just a third of the voters, on a low turnout of under 40 per cent. The number voting for clearly anti-Brexit parties was larger, at around 40 per cent, and those voting Conservative and Labour were difficult to categorise at all. There is, in other words, no huge wave of popular support for “no deal”; at best, it represents the favoured view of a substantial and noisy minority with little support among the young, and is certainly not backed by any coherent policy programme for a post-no-deal Britain.  Such is the state of cognitive dissonance inflicted on Britain’s political establishment by the Brexit debacle, though, that most debate and commentary around the Tory leadership campaign seems to take it as read that candidates have no option but to pander to the ‘no deal’ group, and to abandon the Tories’ traditional aspiration to appeal to the “centre ground” of British politics. Even Margaret Thatcher, at the head of her neoliberal ideological revolution, was always careful to proceed with caution, and to bring middle England along with her; yet now, most Tories seem determined to act not only as if the 48 per cent who voted to remain in the EU did not exist, but also as if those moderate Leavers who would have preferred a deal should likewise, if necessary, be dumped in the dustbin of history. Small wonder that some people, noting the strange and growing ascendancy of the extreme “no deal” position in our public debate, have talked about a very British kind of coup, driven by a handful of wealthy and influential no-deal enthusiasts in the media and elsewhere; and small wonder that faced by the Tories’ chaotic handling of Brexit, and absolute failure to come to terms with the reality of the deal on offer, British voters last week fled either to the “real no-dealers” of the Brexit Party, or to those who would cancel Brexit altogether – leaving the Tories with a pitiful 9.1 per cent of the vote.  The Tory breakdown is mirrored, of course, by equal chaos on the Labour side, where the party – divided to the point of open warfare – haemorrhaged support in last week’s vote, mainly to the strong Remain position of the Liberal Democrats. In a political and media system built entirely around the presumption of two strong leading parties effectively representing most interests in the nation, and acting as effective and credible gatekeepers to political power, the current meltdown has produced some very strange reactions, as Westminster insiders struggle to work out whose views now matter, and whose can be safely ignored.  And one notable victim of this widespread attack of cognitive dissonance is, of course, the SNP, whose outstanding performance in last Thursday’s vote – scoring a higher level of support among its available electorate than any other political party in the EU, at almost 38 per cent, and outperforming the Tories and Labour in Scotland by three-to-one and four-to-one respectively – barely seems to have registered on the UK political seismometer at all. Michael Gove bizarrely referred to the result as showing there was no further demand for Scottish independence, while others tried to write the SNP off as a single-issue campaign; the idea seems to be that the SNP is either just another right-wing nationalist party, or a party that peaked in 2014 and is now in decline, or both.  Those who are interested in real political analysis, though, would do well to make a more sober appraisal of the SNP’s success. The party has its problems, of course; but its ability to remain Scotland’s largest political force by such a decisive margin reflects the observable fact, across the EU, that a measure of more-or-less competent social democracy, however imperfect, always represents by far the best bulwark against both reactionary right-wing populism, and the kind of collapse of the centre ground we are now seeing in some European countries. For Labour, the message is that it must unite around a credible social-democratic programme for the 21st century, or fade into history; for the Tories, the message is that they must leave the Brexit extremists to Nigel Farage, tack back towards the certain ground, or risk the same fate. And the fact that they will not hear those messages, coming as they do from outside their ever-narrower Westminster world, is itself a measure of the depth of their crisis; and of the growing unfitness of both parties to govern a union of nations they no longer care to understand.

Plastic Sculptor Sends Urgent Message in Bottles

Sculptures fashioned out of discarded drinks bottles, fishing gear and other litter have gone on display on the shores of a village in the West Highlands as part of a disturbing new interactive exhibition highlighting the shocking levels of plastic pollution blighting coastlines in Scotland.  Award-winning environmental artist Julia Barton has created giant cubes made out of rubbish found on Scottish beaches to demonstrate the scale and nature of the waste being washed up.  The exhibition has opened on Ullapool beach, where around 80 people braved dreich weather to take part.  They helped to collect seven common types of plastic waste and build further LitterCUBES to add to the installation.  Each cube has a story to tell, Barton says. By weighing the constructions, she helps participants calculate the energy value of the plastic contained within each as an equivalent quantity of oil.  The exhibition will go on tour to seven locations across Scotland over the next few months.  Barton says her work is driven by her concern for Scotland’s seas and nature and her determination to draw attention to society’s wasteful ways.  “I’m passionate about protecting our amazing marine and coastal environment,” she said. “I want the LitterCUBES to be a trigger for discussion: how to stop plastic waste bleeding into our seas, and what we can do to change plastic use and save valuable petrochemical resources.”  One of the first LitterCUBES to go on the scales in Ullapool was made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) drinks bottles.  Measuring 60 centimetres cubed, it weighed in at 8.2kg and contained the energy value of 9.84 litres of oil.  After Ullapool, events will be staged on beaches at Dunbar, Lerwick, Scalloway, Arbroath, Edinburgh and Eyemouth. Barton will also be hosting a talk at the Dunbar event, offering participants a chance to discuss the project.  “The cubes will be exhibited, then they will go to be recycled,” said Barton.  She has worked with Scotland’s coastal communities for more than six years, investigating beach litter in creative ways.  Barton received a Shetland Environmental Award from the Shetland Amenity Trust for her Littoral Art project’s educational work in 2017 and presented her findings to MSPs at the Scottish Parliament last year.  Sita Goudie, environmental improvement officer for Shetland Amenity Trust, said: “Julia’s creative approach really makes you think about this serious environmental issue and how we can all influence the amount of litter entering the marine environment.”  Estimates suggest up to 12 million tonnes of plastic waste ends up in oceans around the world each year. About a million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals such as whales, dolphins and turtles are killed by plastic pollution every year.

Patients 'Should Get 15-minute Appointments with GPs'

Patients should get appointments with GPs lasting at least 15 minutes rather than 10, according to the Royal College of Gps.  In a report, it warns nearly 40% of GPs in Scotland feel overwhelmed by their workload at least once a week.  And it has called for 11% of NHS funding to be allocated to general practice to tackle health inequalities.  The Scottish government said a record number of GPs were working in Scotland and there were plans to recruit more.  The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) report said family doctors were concerned that "workload pressures, rising patient demand and under-investment" were having a significant impact on both doctors and patients.  It has called on the government to introduce a series of measures to "bolster the GP workforce and increase the level of spending". They include:  More GPs brought into the system to allow for minimum 15-minute appointments as standard  RCGP Scotland chairwoman Dr Carey Lunan said: "Nearly 40% of GPs report that they feel so overwhelmed by their daily tasks that they feel they cannot cope at least once per week.  A quarter also report that they are unlikely to be working in general practice in five years' time.  General practice is the backbone of a sustainable NHS. Our patients deserve better and it is time to renew general practice in Scotland.  With an increase to 11% of the NHS budget, additional GP funding would flow to the areas of highest patient need. This will help to tackle the root causes of health inequalities, improve GP recruitment into areas of deprivation which traditionally struggle to attract GPs, and reduce pressure on vital hospital services."  The Scottish government said it was committed to addressing the "underlying causes" that drive health inequalities.  A spokeswoman added: "Our bold package of measures to help tackle issues such as smoking, obesity, inactivity and alcohol misuse will support people to live longer, healthier lives.  We are also tackling the wider causes of health inequalities through measures such as investing in affordable housing, providing free school meals and continuing to provide free prescriptions and personal care. We now have a record number of GPs working in Scotland, with more per 100,000 population in Scotland than the rest of the UK, and we are increasing the number by a further 800 over the next decade."  One of the key findings of the report was that GPs felt appointment slots to be increased from 10 minutes to 15 minutes as standard.  Dr Sigi Joseph, of Pathead Medical Centre, Midlothian, said: "We, like many, try to squeeze many problems and conditions into one consultation and I think we are finding that, nationally, it is more and more difficult to fit into these 10-minute structures.  A lot of patients have waited a bit of time to see the named doctor and we want to give each patient the contextualised care. We know those patients and we want the continuity for our patients, so when they are there, and even if they have waited in the waiting room because I am running late, then I am not going to rush that next person.  Obviously the time pressure builds up throughout the day, and trying to do the best job for our patients in that time pressure is what we are aiming for." Dr Joseph said it was proving difficult to provide a thorough consultation within the 10-minute time slot.  "We are finding everyone is living longer, they've got more medical problems, and to give those patients the justice and service that they need, we definitely need more time as a standard."  Patient Patrick Cunningham admitted feeling "quite guilty" when his consultation ran over 10 minutes.  He said: "It does seem unfair to take a lot of the GP's time up if you don't have to take it up, and I don't really know if there are more people with worse problems than me waiting and I'm holding them up.  It means you've got to rush a little bit and you haven't got the time you would normally like to discuss problems."

Quriky Black Isle Anniversary Gift Chimes with Author Behind New Book Venture

The anniversary of a gift of a bell to an historic Black Isle landmark building more than five centuries ago has helped ring up a boost for a book throwing the spotlight on it in the present day.  This is the 559th anniversary of Bishop Tulloch gifting a bell to Fortrose Cathedral on the Black Isle.  To mark the milestone, the Black Isle’s biggest housebuilder Tulloch Homes is assisting the publication of a new book about the cathedral.  Elizabeth Sutherland, an award-winning local author based at Fortrose, and talented local artist Rachel Bevan Baker, have teamed up to create Highland Cathedral, an illustrated book for children and families. Mike Marshall, Mrs Sutherland’s son, and fundraiser for the venture, explained:”Bishop Tulloch’s bell can still be heard today, 559 years later, so we approached Tulloch Homes to donate £1 for every year, and we’re delighted that they have agreed.  This is a boost to our fundraising, which now stands at £6500 towards publishing costs and we hope to launch the publication on July 21.”  The old bell, in the cathedral’s Clock Tower, has an inscription bearing the name of Thomas Tulloch, Bishop of Ross in 1460, who donated the bell to St Mary and St Boniface.  Mr Marshall added:”My mother feels that the stories of what is one of only 13 medieval cathedrals in Scotland are little-known and that it would be nice for Black Isle families to be aware of them. They can see visualised what we once had here in Fortrose.  We hope this can be the spur to the wider community, and Historic Environment Scotland, to take a renewed interest in medieval Fortrose. All profits from the book will go to Fortrose and Rosemarkie Community Council to use for local causes.”  George Fraser, Tulloch Homes chief executive, said:”The Tulloch connection with the cathedral is intriguing and we’re more than happy to help Mrs Sutherland’s book be published. We should preserve as much Highland history as possible.”  Legend has it that another bell at the cathedral was taken by Oliver Cromwell’s troops to be erected at his Citadel in Inverness. Following protests, it was decided to return it – but the bell fell overboard and was lost. Elizabeth Sutherland was appointed honorary curator of Groam House Museum in Rosemarkie in 1982 and in her 13 years there she was responsible for it becoming a Pictish Centre. Her work on Coinneach Odhar, the Brahan Seer, established her as a serious storyteller.

Cromarty Firth Plays its Part As Work on £2.6bn Offshore Wind Farm Seabed Piling Project Begins

A JACK-UP vessel which had been anchored in the Cromarty Firth has made the short voyage to the outer Moray Firth to begin work on seabed piling for the £2.6bn Moray East Offshore wind farm.  The Apollo installation vessel is owned by DEME Offshore, part of a world leader in dredging and marine engineering based in Belgium.  The wind farm will include 100 turbines with a capacity of 950MW - enough, it is claimed, to supply 950,000 homes.  The early stages of the offshore work involves the installation of sub-sea piles which are part of the jacket-based foundations on which the turbines will be installed.  Apollo, together with the first batch of piles, have arrived at the site and begun the first part of a two-year campaign to construct the total foundation systems for the turbines.  Apollo was being prepared at the Port of Cromarty Firth with a purpose-built piling template which will be used to instal the foundation piles of the wind farm.  Marcel Sunier, project director for the wind farm developer said: “After nine years of planning and development, this major milestone moves the project from concepts and plans on paper to the reality of steel in the ground offshore. I look forward to working with our partners to deliver safely and efficiently a major generating asset capable of supplying the equivalent of more than 950,000 households with low-cost, low-carbon electricity.”  The storage of the piles and the piling template are part of a deal worth over £1m to the Port of Cromarty Firth, including shipping revenues.  It will be followed next year by an 18-month contract directly with Moray Offshore Windfarm (East) Ltd, worth £10m, and announced last November, to provide storage of wind turbine components including towers, blades and nacelles for pre-assembly and shipping to site.  Bob Buskie, chief executive of the Port of Cromarty Firth, said: “This is a major project and a significant contract for the Port and the Highland region. It shows the faith a business the size of DEME Group has in our storage and delivery capabilities. The Moray East Offshore wind farm development is of huge importance to both Scotland and the renewable energy sector. We are proud to be a part of that, helping to deliver clean energy to this wonderful part of the country. It shows the success of the Port’s diversification strategy, and the Firth’s proven track record of delivery in the offshore wind sector is now leading to further discussions at Government level which could attract additional investment to the region.  In the future we hope our own development plans – especially for our new £31m Energy and Cruise Hub – will help open up the port and allow it to accommodate even more large-scale projects from across all sectors.”  Once the piles installation programme is completed, the specialist DP3 offshore installation vessel Orion will continue the work next year by installing the 103 jackets that form the other foundation components. Other firms involved in the piling phase include Burntisland Fabrications Ltd, which is supplying 150 of the pin piles and PSG Marine & Logistics Ltd, which will manage the onshore handling works at the marshalling harbour.  The wind farm is expected to be operational by 2022.

Brace Yourselves, We’re in for A Trump-johnson Double Act By Iain Macwhirter
Here’s a vision of the future that’ll really brighten your day. President Donald Trump in the White House greeting his BFF Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his first official visit to the US.  Don’t think it couldn’t happen. The bear hugs, the bumbling apologies, the bad jokes. I can see them now on the White House lawn mussing up their famous hairdos in an act of bro bonhomie.  What a special relationship. A lying, incompetent scoundrel given to racist remarks – and that’s just Boris – coupled with the most belligerent and simple-minded President in modern US history. Guzzling McDonalds and swapping locker-room tales of their sexual conquests. Boris is used to more exotic fare, but I’m sure he’d be willing to join the POTUS in a junk food banquet just so he could tell the story to his Eton-educated chums.

It’s a sobering thought. But both of them are looking like winners. Indeed, watching the crowds expressing their justifiable contempt for President Trump yesterday, I couldn’t help thinking that the demonstrators are the real losers here. The Left has thrown everything it could at him – and there has been a lot to throw, from Muller to the Wall. Yet as things stand, Donald J Trump is very likely to be re-elected in the Presidential campaign that begins later this year.  This week’s state visit effectively marks the start of that campaign, with Her Majesty the Queen providing a useful piece of political theatre to stage it. His base in middle America may be indifferent to royalty, but these images of their guy being hosted by the top tier of the UK Establishment will reassure them that Trump is now taken seriously.  And he is. Britain is desperate to curry favour with Trump because we need his trade after we leave the European Union. This, even though he’s said that the “NHS must be on the table”, thus confirming the worst fears about the cost of doing a deal with the POTUS. It was Theresa May’s final mistake as PM to elicit this information from him.  Boris Johnson will be currying favour as if there’s no tomorrow, NHS or no. The Bullingdon Brexiter, who is loathed by the liberal left almost as much as Trump, seems to be heading for victory in the Tory leadership race – a dismal contest in which the number of candidates is in inverse proportion to the quality of the field.

Jeremy Corbyn’s appearance at the head of yesterday’s anti-Trump demonstrations, despite having asked for an audience, is the surest sign that the Labour leader does not expect to win a General Election any time soon. Why? Because if he did become Prime Minister, one of his first acts would be to meet and greet Britain’s biggest military and trading ally. Instinctively, Mr Corbyn realises that Boris, not he, will likely be entering Number 10. Indeed, Boris could be in there as early as next month, without even having to suffer the inconvenience of an election.  How does he do it? He’s a bumbling, Eton-educated scion of the British upper class, and wholly unsuited for office. Yet, for all the jeering on BBC comedy shows like Have I Got News For You, and the stories about his journalistic fibbery, his philandering, his lack of competence, Tory MPs seem to believe that Boris is the Tory candidate most likely to win the next General Election. And they’re probably right.  Even more outrageous is the thought that Donald Trump, who has spend the last three years issuing semi-literate outbursts on social media, obstructing justice, launching trade wars, bullying Mexicans and other non-white peoples, is on course for a second term as President. The Democrats in the US, who should be coasting to victory, are in ideological disarray and lack a candidate of true charisma.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is too young to stand and the current front runners are elderly white men who should be relaxing on the golf course instead of vying to lead the greatest power on the planet. Maybe there’s some credible candidate, another Obama, just waiting to storm the Democrat Convention next year, but if so they’re leaving it hellish late.  So when did we start thinking that loud-mouthed egomaniacs like Trump would be Presidential material? Or Johnson. Something very odd has happened to the psychology of voters in Britain and America. Have we become so disillusioned and suspicious of the political class in general that we’ve started electing clowns and comedians to high office, the better to give the system a kicking?  I suppose it is partly down to Iraq, the banking crisis, the Westminster expenses scandal. Many voters now see elections as an opportunity to cock a snook at the pompous elites and their smug agendas. In Ukraine and Italy, they have literally been voting for comedians and actors.

Only in Scotland, it seems, do voters still elect boring, technocratic leaders like Nicola Sturgeon, who know stuff. But even here the tensions are showing. There is creeping discontent amongst the SNP membership at the lack of action. They don’t want lectures about closing the educational attainment gap – they want a bit of colour. A bit of confrontation.  The decline of conventional media has left us with a political discourse mediated by social media like Twitter and Facebook. Politics has become both more confrontational and simple-minded as a result. Politicians are judged, not on their political vision, but what they might have said in an off-hand remark years ago.  However, I do not subscribe to the view that politics has taken on the image of social media. Quite the reverse. This linguistic and ideological conformity has generated its opposite: electorates who feel stifled by political correctness and elite moralism, and register their discontent by voting for figures who kick against the bien pensant climate of internet politics. In the anonymity of the polling booth, voters are able to say what they can’t online: FU!

Blantyre Firm Ship-shape with Work for Royal Navy

A Blantyre-based business has won a contract to supply its technology to the Ministry of Defence for use in maintaining Royal Navy ships and submarines. Cactus Industrial has deployed members of staff to deliver training to navy personnel and contractors in the effective use of its “Bristle Blaster” technology in preparing surfaces affected by the marine environment.  The firm has received an order from the MoD for a number of machines using the technology and anticipates more orders over the coming months. The value of the contract has not been disclosed.  Cactus deploys Bristle Blaster technology and coatings in a range of sectors, particularly in the upstream oil and gas industry.  Chief executive Jamie Gallagher said: "Bristle Blaster technology is uniquely suited to maintaining valuable Royal Navy assets including ships and submarines.  We have now trained and educated Royal Navy personnel in how to use the Cactus Bristle Blaster for optimal surface preparation for maintaining the UK’s sea-going fleet.  Blasting without grit technology is one of the most effective ways of ensuring that Royal Navy ships and submarines are prepared to face the harsh marine environment with as little downtime as possible."

MPs Call for Review of Scotland Office

MPs have called for the role of the Scotland Office to be reviewed, with suggestions it could be replaced with a department for constitutional affairs.  Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee said the relationship between the Scottish and UK governments had "deteriorated" at a crucial moment. Chairman Pete Wishart said "fundamental changes" were needed to rebuild trust. However, a UK Westminster Government spokesman said the role of the Scotland Office was "more important than ever".  The committee - which includes a number of MPs from the SNP, Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties - held an inquiry into intergovernmental relations to mark the 20th anniversary of devolution to Holyrood. Their report concluded that "tensions between the two governments peaked in 2014", during the Scottish independence referendum, and had "come under renewed strain" as a result of the Brexit vote.  The group said the relationship between the governments in London and Edinburgh is now "characterised by mutual distrust and political stalemale", at a time when "goodwill and cooperation are needed most".  They called on both governments to "summon the political will to work together to rebuild trust", and made a series of suggestions for actions which could be taken.  Mr Wishart said over the 20 years of devolution, the political landscape of the UK had become "totally unrecognisable".  He said that while the relationship between the two governments was "far from ideal", it "is not beyond repair". He said: "We are calling on the Scottish and UK governments to make fundamental changes in their approach to devolution to restore trust.  "We've also heard evidence questioning the effectiveness of the Scotland Office in Whitehall, so we are pressing for a review of the role of the Scotland Office and the secretary of state for Scotland to ensure intergovernmental processes adapt to the changing nature of devolution." In response, a spokesman for the UK Westminster Government said that the role of the Scottish secretary was "more important than ever" amid talk of a second independence referendum.  He said: "Scotland's two governments enjoy a close working relationship, as  the secretary of state's evidence to the committee showed. We are pleased the committee acknowledged our joint efforts to develop common frameworks in areas such as agriculture when we leave the EU, which will strengthen the UK's internal market.  It is simply untrue to say that relations between the two governments have broken down."

New Tracking Technology Battles Sheep Rustling in Scottish Farms

New tracking technology is being used in the battle against sheep rustlers targeting Scotland's farms.  Sheep theft used to be an opportunistic small-scale problem, but thousands of animals are now being stolen every year by organised criminal gangs.  It is estimated rustling in Scotland has cost farmers more than £200,000 over the last two years.  Now special coded fleece paint and tracing equipment that is swallowed can help identify stolen sheep. The new technology is far harder for criminals to get around than more traditional tags and colour markings.  PC Willie Johnston, from Police Scotland's Rural Crime Unit, said the new paint features coded microdots on the fleece and skin that can be traced to farms.  He said of the new paint technology: "It's an overt and a covert means of marking them, security marking them, so it's easy for us to identify them when we recover them."  When the thieves steal sheep they can cut the ear tags out and replace them with their own.  An electronic identification device (EID) device can be swallowed by a sheep and lies in its rumen. PC Johnston said: "You're always going to get a hit on the real identity because it's lying inside the animal."  He said livestock is stolen to breed from as well as simply for meat.  He explained: "We've had instances of good pedigree livestock getting stolen, and you're also getting just normal run of the mill commercial animals just getting taken.  What you have to remember is they're getting these animals for nothing so they're not bothered what they do with them."  The thieves often target isolated hillside areas, making their crimes harder to detect.  The thefts deprive farmers not only of valuable stock, but bloodlines that have taken years to establish.  Upper Kidston near Peebles is a typical hill farm, and one of the many that has been targeted by criminal gangs.  Hugh Stewart has farmed there all his life, but in the past decade he and his cheviot and blackface flock have fallen victim to a spate of thefts. Mr Stewart said about 1,300 of his sheep had been stolen over recent years.  He said: "It started about eight years ago, I lost quite a few then. It would be the last three years out of four, we've lost about two hundred each year."  Describing the financial impact, Mr Stewart said: "We've made losses every year for about the last five years."  The farmer explained: "We've been breeding stock up here 40 or 50 years and all the best sheep's disappearing, so it's really your lives work gone down the drain isn't it?"  Mr Stewart said he'd suffered a stroke, and had quite often considered throwing in the towel.  He said: "It's been pretty grim this last four or five years aye - ken it keep you awake sometimes, well just about every night really.  A lot of folk reckon that it's what caused my stroke."  Livestock rustling is estimated to have cost the UK rural economy £2.5m last year, up nearly 14% since 2016.