Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 509

Issue # 509                                                 Week ending Saturday 20th  July 2019

Hopefully this is the restart of Scottish News & Views .  Obviously I’ve returned from Hospital with a very much repaired heart and I’m good for a while yet, though still need rehabilitation.  Many thanks to everyone for your enquiries and prayers on my behalf.  Indeed grateful thanks also go to that long suffering columnist from the Island of  Lewis, Iain MacIver.

I Would Be So Gutted If I Had to Spend All My Working Life on the Ocean Wave
By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

When you tuck into a nice bit of haddock and chips with extra salt and vinegar, and green peas with tartare sauce or maybe mayo if it is near the weekend, do you wonder about the sustainability of the fish stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea? Me neither, except maybe at those rare times in the deep mid-winter when some fish are in short supply and you have to have a sausage or black pudding supper instead. No great hardship but fish and chips is the great comfort food of our time which subconsciously tells us all is well with the world.

While we are fretting about the number of calories in a haddock and what is happening in our oceans, the Chinese are going doolally over them. A Yorkshire chippy is now opening a branch in Chengdu in Sichuan province. It’s only a sub-provincial city in Chinese terms with a mere 14.5 million people, but hey ho. They reckon the chippy’s popularity in China is down to Chinese President Xi Jinping eating fish and chips, washed down with a pint of very-English warm beer, with ex-PM David Cameron in 2015. Yuck.

Having been laid up with the grandmama of all colds for the past two or three weeks, Mrs X and I are now playing catch-up with TV shows we missed while spluttering and proving how useless cough mixtures always were, are, and probably always will be. Pouring something that smells of cinnamon, liquorice or lemon with a vaguely medicinal taste down your gullet does not mean it will cure coughs. I am convinced cough medicine is the biggest and most costly scam perpetrated on this gullible nation since the tooth fairy. District nurses misled us about the limp linctus as do today’s better-informed doctors and chemists.

We’ve just caught up with Trawlermen: Celebs At Sea. It had ex-rugby player Ben Cohen, ex-TV chef Antony Worrall Thompson and ex-Boyzone star Shane Lynch working on the Macduff trawler Genesis for 10 days. How could namby-pamby celebs survive on a pitching, yawing storm-tossed trawler? Actually, they did alright considering the up, down, up, down. And that was just their dinners. Shane and Ben had muscles to operate stuff and endlessly gut fish but Antony, at 67, was despatched to the galley to turn out gourmet meals from what seemed like a piece of scrag end and a couple of spuds.

What the two-part series again showed was what fishermen go through to get the cod and haddock on our tables. It’s hell on board. If mechanical problems and raging gales were not enough, the uncertainty over prices and the chance there would be no surplus left to pay the crew after all the expenses makes it a life that I would not thank you for. Fishermen have my respect, always have had, always will - because I love whitefish with spuds, chipped and fried or boiled with a glass of milk and trifle to follow. It’s just my thing, right?

And we finally caught up with Fair Isle. I know it was on a few years ago but it popped up on BBC Scotland’s imaginatively-titled new channel, BBC Scotland. Fair Isle is a community of 50-odd souls eking out a living on a rock. The usual money-spinner is turning out patterned woolly jumpers, obviously. You also need to be ferry crew, a twitcher, a coastguard, a firefighter and an artist. People have come to live there from all over the world. And, if the puddle-jumper is not flying because of the weather, the only other way to reach civilisation on Shetland is in a converted trawler. Aargh.

Maybe no one’s watching BBC Scotland because, no one knows it’s there. Why is the name the same as the entire Scottish service? Come on, Pacific Quay. Self-evident numptiness is bad for the Beeb, strengthens the hand of its detractors and short-changes viewers. It’s bad for Scotland where institutional numptiness is, er, not improving. Diabolical viewing figures may yet force their hand. Meanwhile, get rid of the alleged comedy which is also embarrassingly dire and fund the channel properly. Two Doors Down deserves to be six feet down. I would rather have a whole series about life on a trawler or even shellfish prices.

How about a programme about the crab fisherman who went into a Stornoway bar with a crab in his pocket? He set the crab on the bar and it walked perfectly straight ahead, instead of scuttling from side to side like crabs usually do. The barman was gobsmacked. Sensing he could make a few bob, he offered the fisherman £50 for his crab and took it home. The next day he takes the crab out of its bucket, but it begins scuttling from side to side. “What’s up with you?” the barman asks. “Why aren’t you walking straight?” The crab looked him straight in the eye and says: “Come on, gie’s a break. Even I can’t get that drunk every day.”

New Figures Reveal More Than 90 Drug-related Deaths in North-east Last Year

Drug-deaths in the north-east are at their highest level in at least 10 years, new figures revealed today.  A total of 92 people in the NHS Grampian area died a drug-related death last year.  Across Scotland more than 1,100 people died from drugs last year, new figures indicate.  There were 1,187 drug-related deaths registered in 2018 – above 1,000 for the first time and up 253 (27%) on the previous year.  The National Records of Scotland statistics indicate Scotland’s drug death rate is nearly triple the UK rate.  The drug death rate in Scotland is higher than that reported for any other EU country.  It is at its highest level since current records began in 1996 and more than double the 2008 figure of 574.  The health board area with the highest proportion of drug deaths in 2018 was Greater Glasgow and Clyde at 394 (33%).  Scotland’s Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said the country faces an “emergency” on this issue.  He said: “The number of people who have lost their lives because of drug use is shocking.  It is vital this tragedy is treated as a public health issue, and we are prepared to take innovative and bold measures in order to save the lives of those most at risk.  Last week, I gave evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee and I asked for help in persuading the UK Government to either act now to enable us to implement a range of public health focused responses – including the introduction of supervised drug consumption facilities – or devolve the power to the Scottish Parliament so that we can act.  I want to ensure that the work of the new taskforce which I have established is driven by strong evidence and the voices of those with experience of using drugs, and their families, are heard.  I am determined to shape our services in every walk of life to prevent harm and reduce the appalling number of deaths.  So I will give consideration to any proposals they bring forward which may help to tackle this issue and, ultimately, save lives.”

New Events Announced by Edinburgh International Book Festival Organisers
Comedian James Acaster and former Tory leadership candidate Rory Stewart are among the guests added for new events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.  Organisers of the festival, which runs from August 10 to 26, have announced the additions to this year’s festival, which is expected to feature approximately 900 authors.  Conservative MP Mr Stewart came fourth in the leadership contest but caught the public’s attention with his social media-focused “Rory Walks” across the country, inviting people to come and talk to him and ask questions.  The International Development Secretary has now been lined up to speak to the Guardian’s chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins about what Brexit Britain can learn from the world of literature on August 26 – the book festival’s final day.  Another new addition to the programme of events is Acaster, who will introduce his new memoir Perfect Sound Whatever at a late-night event on August 21.  The book is said to be Acaster’s love letter to the healing power of music as well as tales including how he once stole a cookie from Clint Eastwood.  There will also be commemorations for writer and illustrator Judith Kerr, who died earlier this year, with authors and fellow illustrators coming together to pay tribute to her work.  To mark the 300th anniversary of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, the BBC have commissioned a new series set to be broadcast this autumn exploring novels that shaped the world.  Ahead of the series, BBC Radio 2’s Book Club will be asking guests to discuss their favourites, from the established classics to the popular contemporary hits.  Stig Abell, journalist and editor of the Times Literary Supplement, is joined by novelists Alexander McCall Smith and Kit de Waal in the special event chaired by producer and radio presenter Joe Haddow on August 9.  Already announced for the festival are political heavyweights Gordon Brown in conversation with economist Branko Milanovic and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who will be speaking to award-winning Indian author and activist Arundhati Roy.  Major book launches at the festival include new novels from Salman Rushdie, Cressida Cowell, former Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman, Ann Cleeves – who is set to introduce her new detective – and Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead.

'The Canny Shank' - Friends Walk 200-miles Around Perimeter of Northumberland to Support Mental Health Charity
Three friends have completed a 200-mile fund-raising walk around the perimeter of Northumberland.  Sam Parker, Graeme Meek and Carl Turner took on the challenge to raise awareness and funds for If You Care Share, a small, family-ran charity in Durham that works to both prevent suicide and provide support of those left bereaved.  The North East is the worst affected part of England for male suicide, the leading cause of death among men under 50 in Britain.  Sam, 34, said: “We wanted to raise money for something unique and I knew about the work this charity does here in the North East where, unfortunately, there are a high proportion of suicides and, particularly, male suicides. It’s an issue that has touched all our lives.”  They have raised £2,500 so far from their efforts over the past fortnight, which they called ‘The Canny Shank’.  “We started from the south side of Alnmouth beach with the aim of roughly following the county’s boundaries,” said Sam. “We initially walked south to Cresswell, on to Ashington, across to Heddon-on-the-Wall and then along Hadrian’s Wall to its border with Cumbria.  We then turned north to Stonehaugh and Bellingham, then across to Kielder, Byrness and then into the Cheviots as far as Kirk Yetholm, which is just on the Scottish side of the border. We then walked to Coldstream and on to Berwick before the final leg back down the coast to finish on the north side of the Alnmouth estuary on Friday.”  The trio have been friends since their days as pupils at Duchess’s Community High School in Alnwick.  None of us are experienced walkers but it’s been a lot of fun,” said Sam. “It’s been hard work too and there are a few blisters.  There’s been the odd incident along the way too. Our tent was attacked by badgers one night!  Everyone we’ve met along the way has been really friendly, helpful and interested in what we are doing and why. That’s made it all far more bearable.”

Dougal the Tailor — the Celebrated Violinist of Bettyhill

Donald Hugh Mackay, known far and wide as Dougal the Tailor, lived in Bettyhill for most of his life where he carried on a tailor’s business. He was also known as a dancing master, composer, a collector of airs and a fiddler of some renown, especially for his Strathspey playing, the mark by which players of the national and traditional music of the violin in Scotland were judged in his day.  Dougal was born in 1864, probably at Loch Strathy where he grew up. Loch Strathy was a lonely outpost some distance into the hill, east of Strathnaver, where we believe his father was a shepherd. Dougal’s wife was Esther Swanson (1874 -1921). She was from Mey (or Dunnet, some records state) in Caithness. They had five children, three girls and two boys, including Sora (Susan) Gray, who married Robert Gray, an Edinburgh man whom she met whilst working as a nurse in Edinburgh. Sora and Robert’s son, also Robert, settled in Bettyhill in the more recent past, where he raised a family, including Mandy Mackay, to whom we are grateful for much of the information we have about Dougal. Dougal’s brother, Angus, known as Angie Hope, was also a fiddler. He taught Anson Mackay, boatbuilder and ingenious mechanic of Heilam who, it is recorded, had the temerity to beat his string teacher at a fiddle competition!  Dougal was on friendly terms with James Scott Skinner (1843-1927), in his time the best fiddler in Scotland and a pioneer of gramophone recording. On one occasion Dougal managed to persuade the self-styled “Strathspey King” to stage a concert in Bettyhill. This may have been in the early 1920s. Dougal himself was described as a “celebrated violinist, known as the Scott Skinner of the North” in the John O’ Groat Journal of Christmas Day, 1926. Five years earlier, on February 18 1921, the Caithness newspaper had carried an extensive report of a prestigious event held in Glasgow to honour a fellow countryman at which Dougal and two Mod medallists were among the main artistes. The occasion was the Glasgow Sutherlandshire Association Sixty-Fifth Annual Reunion which featured a complimentary dinner in honour of Rev Dr Adam Gunn, Durness. Gunn was a prominent Gael and crofters’ champion from Strathy who ministered in Durness for many years. The Groat reported: “Mr Dougal Mackay, the celebrated Strathnaver violinist and composer, made his first appearance before a Glasgow audience, and his skilful performances brought most enthusiastic applause, recalls being insisted upon with cheers of acclamation. A Highlander who has attained such proficiency as Mr Mackay showed can always count on a warm welcome from Highland audiences in the great city on the Clyde.”  Dougal lost is wife, Esther in 1927 when she was only 47 years old. He soldiered on himself until his death in 1942 at the age of 78 and it may have been during this difficult period of his life that he got into some debt, possibly as the result of imbibing the cratur to a greater extent than was good for his health. The owners of the Bettyhill Post Office and General Merchants, Munro by name, seized Dougal’s violin to pay for the debt but such drastic action did not go down well with local residents, many of whom seemed to have been rather fond of the errant fiddler who had played to them and entertained them for so long. One wit, who signed himself “A Mackenzie”, penned some verses with the title “The snaffling of Dougal’s fiddle”.  This may have been Allan Mackenzie of Garvault, near Kinbrace. Allan, a larger-than-life character, who died in 1959, was interviewed by Hamish Henderson of the School of Scottish Studies at Edinburgh University two years previously. He revealed that he had had when young received some lessons on playing the fiddle from Dougal. Dougal had also stayed with Allan and his wife Barbara for some six months towards the end of his life. Allan also mentioned some tunes that Dougal composed.  Although no recordings of the Bettyhill fiddler are known to exist and nearly all the music he composed and collected seems to have been lost, a fine Strathspey and reel medley, “Mrs Fraser”, composed by himself in honour of a manageress of Bettyhill Hotel has survived as has a beautiful air he collected, known as the “Portskerra Boat Song”. The three tunes, handed down orally, can be found on the CD, “Ùrachadh”, published by Taigh na Gàidhlig Mhealanais (Melness Gaelic centre). It is still available.

Drama in Store At Wick Council Offices

A touring theatre company will be putting on a performance next week in in Caithness House, the Wick base of Highland Council.  The title of the play is as enigmatic as its content with a blank space where the word "home" is meant to be – a reference to the ever-changing concept of home that the drama group explore as they move from location to location.  Therefore, the concept of home will be specially adapted for Tuesday's performance of " _____ is Where the Heart is" in the atrium of the council building in Market Square.  It is described as a tale of displacement and identity, weaving stories from local audiences into its narrative to create a play that resonates with each community it visits.
Participants will be invited to the " _____ is Where the Heart is" pop-up recording studio on Monday to record stories and memories of their home, the people who make it special, the local folklore and the moments that have gone down in local history.  These stories will then be incorporated into the performance – so each community will have a performance that is specifically designed for them.  The event is a collaboration between Lyth Arts Centre and the town centre regeneration project seeking to breathe life into Wick's Bridge Street and High Street.  Highland councillor Nicola Sinclair said the performance will help support the regeneration plans for the town. "Since the show focuses on place and home, it’s a perfect event to celebrate the regeneration getting started," she said.  Written and directed by Heather Marshall, the production features Nicholas Alban and Conrad Williamson and is part of a two-year project examining artistic vibrancy, relevance and impact by deepening the relationships between three devising performers and three communities.  All performances include partial pre-recorded British Sign Language by deaf performer Jamie Rea, captions and verbal description.  Speaking about this commission, Heather said: “I went into this residency with the aim of exploring the impact of environment on a person’s mental health. I definitely had romantic notions that rural living would be great for my mental health.  It’s been a really interesting process, one where I went from looking at the impact of environment on my own mental health to the importance of community, how communities support one another to what it means to be 'other' in a traditional or binary community and the impact that has on an individual's mental health."

Driverless Buses to Cross the Forth During Year-long Project
Would you like to be a passenger on a bus with no driver?  Driverless buses are set to take passengers across the Forth Road Bridge as part of a year-long project.  The fleet of vehicles, with no-one at the wheel, will travel along a 14-mile route between Fife and Edinburgh using the public transport corridor.  Michael Matheson, transport minister, said: “The deployment of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in Scotland will bring transformative change to the way we travel and work, as well as having a positive impact on the economy, the environment and safety.  Scotland is very much open for business when it comes to trialling these vehicles, with our trunk road network providing a wide range of environments as a diverse testing ground.”  Project CAVForth will provide Scotland with a “globally significant” demonstration of self-driving buses at the CAV Scotland 2019 event in Glasgow later this year.  Live demonstrations will be delivered and world experts will be in attendance at the SEC Glasgow in November.  It was  reported in August last year that Stagecoach were hoping to trial the driverless vehicles at the end of 2018.  The on-board system uses several sensors – including radar, laser, camera and ultrasound – along with satellite navigation to detect and avoid objects and plan routes.  They are part of the project which has funding from Innovate UK and is being led by Fusion Processing Ltd.  Mr Matheson added: “This conference will bring together CAV sector leaders, suppliers of autonomous vehicles, regulators, innovators, business leaders and academics to debate Scotland’s role in developing and deploying this new technology and I look forward to hearing about the exciting developments over the past 12 months.”  Adrian Tatum, director of Transport Network, said: “There are still many unanswered questions around CAV development: preparing our roads for autonomous vehicles; insurance and legal issues; and public confidence. The CAV Scotland event is the perfect opportunity to address some of those questions and demonstrate why Scotland is the ideal place to continue the debate and to host further necessary trials and research.”  A driverless roadmap for Scotland, considering the next steps towards trialling and implementation of vehicles on the network, will be discussed at the conference.  The legal, insurance, safety and the testing of the vehicles will also be debated.

Highland Hospital Choices Can Help Reduce Procedure Waiting Times

Patients prepared to travel could significantly reduce their waiting times for procedures by choosing to have their care carried out at other hospitals rather than Raigmore, NHS Highland has announced.  An Aviemore man recently chose to travel 65 miles to have his procedure done at the Belford Rural General Hospital in Fort William rather than the 29 miles to Raigmore in Inverness.  Instead of waiting five months, James Mair (76) was able to be operated on in just five weeks.  Now other patients are being encouraged to make the same choice in order to make use of spare capacity in smaller hospitals.  Mr Mair said: “It was five weeks or five months which is a big difference. And it was easy. My brother took me down. It was just over an hour’s journey and I was kept overnight so I travelled back the next day.  The travel difference wasn’t much. By the time you get parking at Raigmore, you could have been to Fort William and back in the same time.”  He was full of praise of the service provided at the Belford as well as the treatment he received prior to that at Raigmore. “The staff at the Belford Hospital were excellent, absolutely excellent," he said. "And it was so quick getting the appointment.  It was my consultant at Raigmore, who asked if I would like to go to Fort William. She said it had been highly recommended by other patients. And I would also recommend it. If you get the chance to go, then go.”  Dr Katrina Gannon, a consultant anaesthetist at the Belford, said: “It’s not unusual for patients from across Highland to come to the Belford for their procedures.  We do general surgery and general urology here. We have three operating lists per week and often have spare capacity.  As far as general surgery is concerned we have waiting times of only a few weeks for keyhole surgery to remove gall bladders and carry out hernia repairs, open surgery of hernia repairs, examinations under anaesthesia, operations on haemorrhoids and for lumps and bumps. The same is true for general urology, where we do hydrocele, circumcision and vasectomy procedures.”  The Belford has operated on patients outside of its immediate catchment area occasionally, but when Raigmore Hospital had a problem with its theatre renovations about 18 months ago this became much more frequent.  Dr Gannon said: “We wanted to help, so we rearranged things to create some extra capacity which we could offer Raigmore.  Some of the Raigmore surgeons still come to the Belford on a Wednesday to operate, mostly on their own Raigmore patients. But we also have some capacity for our own surgeons to operate on Raigmore patients and we have been doing quite a bit of that too.  Of the 540 patients operated on at the Belford in 2018, about 100 were Raigmore patients. Looking at the data for 2019 so far, the proportion of Raigmore patients will be considerably higher."

University of the Highlands and Islands Appoints Nanotechnology Expert in Inverness
The University of the Highlands and Islands is expanding its expertise with the appointment of a professor of medical nanotechnology.  Based at the Centre for Health Science in Inverness, Professor Alistair Kean plans to develop new innovations by applying the science of nanotechnology to healthcare. The discipline works with materials on an atomic and molecular scale.  Prof Kean will investigate nano-scaled coatings which can be used to improve medical products and devices. The research will include the development of rugged antimicrobial coatings to kill bacteria on medical instruments and new forms of thin film diamond to increase the lifetime of implants.  His role will see him develop this research towards commercialisation with a view to generating employment and improving the wellbeing of the population. He will also be responsible for building a team of researchers and establishing nanotechnology facilities at the university.  Prof Kean has a background in applied physics, studying at the universities of Strathclyde and St Andrews.  During his 30-year career he has held academic positions at the Cavendish Laboratory, the University of Cambridge and the University of Glasgow. He has worked in industry, notably with Sharp Laboratories of Europe in Oxford. In 2013, Prof Kean set up NikaWorks Ltd with the aim of commercialising nanotechnology. He also works with Johnson Matthey PLC and is a visiting professor at Manchester Metropolitan University.  Prof Kean said: “I’m excited to take up this position and I am bowled over by the opportunities and potential at Inverness Campus and across the University of the Highlands and Islands partnership. My aim is to develop world-leading research which can have practical benefits in the healthcare sector. Ultimately I want to make peoples’ lives better through healthy living supported by nanotechnology.” Professor Ian Megson, head of health research and innovation at the university, said: “This is a significant appointment for the university and signals the start of a new and exciting research initiative in our region. Prof Kean’s depth of knowledge, coupled with his links to industry will greatly accelerate our potential to develop valuable new medical devices to improve disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.”  Prof Kean’s post is being supported by the Inverness and Highland City-Region Deal, an initiative jointly funded by the UK and Scottish governments. The university was awarded £9 million from the UK government to establish commercialisation, academic and clinical capacity to deliver projects in health, social care and life sciences.  Prof Kean will be working closely with Highlands and Islands Enterprise, putting forward potential inward investment prospects in the nanotechnology field.  Ruaraidh MacNeil, Highlands and Islands Enterprise’s Inverness Campus project director, said: “Nanotechnology has the potential to create many next-generation products and services in a number of sectors, with healthcare being one of the most promising. Prof Kean’s expertise and extensive industry contacts will open up a wealth of technology-based commercial opportunities. We very much welcome his appointment and look forward to working with him in pursuing these.”

Cheaper Electricity Bill for North of Scotland Consumers
Households in the northern parts of Scotland could soon save money on their electricity bills thanks to UK Government plans to more fairly distribute the costs for providing electricity to the Shetland Islands.  The isolated nature of Shetland’s electricity system means it costs £18 million more a year to keep its 23,000 residents’ homes and businesses powered, than it does to provide power on the mainland. The cost is currently picked up by consumers in the north of Scotland through their electricity bills.  These costs are expected to rise to £27 million from next year in order to deliver a necessary upgrade to Shetland’s power supply. The UK Government is concerned about the burden this would place on consumers in the north of Scotland.  It has today published a consultation announcing plans to spread the costs of powering Shetland across Great Britain from April 2020, meaning consumers across the northern part of Scotland – from Thurso to Aberdeen – would save around £17 a year on their electricity bills.  Minister of State for Energy and Clean Growth, Chris Skidmore, said: “The UK Government is committed to ensuring everyone across the country, including in the remotest parts of northern Scotland, has access to a reliable energy supply at a fair price. We’ve already shown this through our price cap – intervening in the market to protect loyal consumers in all parts of the union from being overcharged.  Consumers in the north of Scotland should not have to fund the costs of maintaining Shetland’s energy security alone. The ability to share costs more widely is one of the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom and these plans will mean consumers in the north of Scotland will soon receive a welcome saving on their bills.”  Shetland is different to other Scottish islands as it’s the only part of Britain’s licensed distribution network that is isolated. It’s unable to benefit from the economies of scale enjoyed by other islands, which are part of the integrated network, which is why costs have always been higher.  Scotland Secretary David Mundell said: “I warmly welcome the UK Government's plan to cut the electricity costs of consumers in the north of Scotland. Spreading the costs across the whole of Great Britain reflects the unique circumstances in Shetland and northern Scotland.  The UK Government is determined to deliver for all of Scotland's communities."  The UK Government’s Hydro Benefit Replacement Scheme already provides an annual cross-subsidy of £61m to protect electricity consumers in the north of Scotland from the high costs of electricity distribution in the region. It is funded by charges on electricity suppliers across Great Britain.  The scheme will be used to deliver the new funding arrangement for Shetland’s electricity, meaning that the total assistance provided through to the north of Scotland consumers will be almost £90m a year.

Tonnes of Rubbish Cleared From Summer Isles in Highlands

Tonnes of rubbish have been removed from the Summer Isles in the north west Highlands. Ropes, nets, pieces of metal and plastic were gathered in a clean-up led by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.  A boat, formerly used as a ferry on a crossing of the Cromarty Firth, is to be used to transport up to eight tonnes of waste to the mainland.  The Summer Isles are a group of small islands north west of Ullapool in Wester Ross.  Marine pollution poses threats to both marine wildlife and animals that forage along shorelines.  In 2017, a seal pup was saved after getting tangled up in a length of plastic net in the Western Isles.  The five-week-old grey seal pup was found on a beach near North Tolsta on Lewis.  David Yardley, local area coordinator of British Divers Marine Life Rescue, and helper Lyndsey Dubberley managed to free the animal.  In the same year, deer on the Isle of Rum were found entangled in lost or abandoned fishing gear.

Driver on Trial Over Smash on Sutherland Road
A horror road smash involving two German motorcyclists and the driver of a high-powered sports car on a remote Sutherland road was recalled in court this week.  Craig Coote, of Liveridge West Yorkshire, has gone on trial charged with causing serious injury to Luiza Cabrera and Annabelle Zekl by dangerous driving.  The 49-year-old denies overtaking in a Porsche on a blind bend into the path of their motorcycles.  Inverness Sheriff Court was told the accident happened at Stronchrubie, on the A835 between Ledmore and Lochinver, in August 2017.  The two women, both aged 24, had been touring in the UK for three days before the accident. They were airlifted to hospital and required treatment for knee injuries. Their bikes were written off.  Miss Cabrera said she had tried to find a way between the Porsche and the car it was overtaking but struck the nearside wing and landed in the road. Following behind, Ms Zekl heard her friend screaming and saw her trying to squeeze between the two cars. Her motorcycle also collided with the Porsche.  She said she woke up with her machine on top of her.  Jerry Hawker (27), an accident and emergency nurse, and her husband were among the first at the scene of the accident. The couple were touring Scotland in a camper van.  She said they had been overtaken by three sporty hatchbacks including a red Porsche. It appeared the cars were racing each other. The couple then came upon the crash.  Mrs Hawker said she saw the driver of the Porsche at the scene of the crash - Craig Coote.  She spent four hours with others at the scene helping the casualties.  The trial continues.

House Prices in Scotland Grow At Almost Three Times Rate of England

House prices in Scotland are growing at almost three times the annual rate of England, new figures indicate.  Statistics show the average price of a property in Scotland in May 2019 was £152,801 – an increase of 2.8 per cent on the same time last year.  This compares to a 1% increase in England and a 1.2% average rise across the UK.  However, Aberdeen saw property prices plummet by 4.4%, according to the Office for National Statistics' UK House Price Index, which provides an official snapshot of the market.  Edwina de Klee, a partner at Edinburgh-based Garrington Property Finders, said the gap between the Scottish and English property markets “is becoming a gulf”.  She said: “At well over double the annual pace of price growth in England, and the UK as a whole, Scotland’s property market is enjoying a moment in the sun.  Buyers and sellers are responding in kind, with sales volumes in March rising to 5% above the level seen in March 2018.  But that flurry of activity, and the steady upward trajectory in prices across the nation as a whole, is masking the intense polarisation of Scotland’s local markets.  Aberdeen retains its unwanted wooden spoon as the city where prices are falling fastest.  At least the 4.4% decline in the year to May is an improvement on the painful 6.2% fall Aberdeen saw in the 12 months to April.  Meanwhile at the other end of the scale, prices in North Ayrshire and Stirling are rising at a dizzying pace.  While England’s average rate of price growth is being dragged down by London’s sharply falling prices, the declines in Aberdeen are being brushed aside by the Scottish market as a whole.  Across Scotland, buyer demand has strengthened, activity levels are picking up and the traditional spring bounce has turned into a summer surge.”  David Alexander, managing director of the letting and estate agents DJ Alexander, said Scotland was experiencing a “very buoyant market at the moment”.  He added: “The Brexit thing has not affected people up here and they are quite happy to carry on regardless. It just seems like we have a robust market.”  However, he said the impact of devolved property tax had slowed some sections of the market.  In Scotland, all property types showed a rise in average prices in May 2019 when compared with the same month last year.  Semi-detached houses enjoyed the biggest boom, rising by 3.9% to £160,000, while flats and maisonettes increased in price by 1.4% to £110,000.  House prices rose in 23 out of 32 council areas, with the biggest boost seen in North Ayrshire, where prices jumped by 8.2% to £111,000 in the year to May 2019.  Aberdeen saw the biggest fall, with average prices plummeting by 4.4% to £153,000 over the year.  The most expensive place to live in Scotland is Edinburgh, where the average cost of a house is £268,000.  Properties in East Ayrshire come in cheapest, with an average price of £90,000.  Across Scotland, house prices rose by 1.2% between April and May this year, compared to just 0.1% on average across the UK.  The average price of a property in the UK is £229,431, and the north west of England has seen the strongest growth in house prices. But the cost of a home in London fell by 4.4% over the year to May – the fastest drop since the financial crash.  The Office for National Statistics said there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a sluggish market in the south and east of England. It said indicators in the housing market typically fluctuate from month to month, meaning it is important not to put too much weight on one month's figures.  Janet Egdell, accountable officer at the Registers of Scotland, said: “Average prices in Scotland continued their upward trend in May, having increased each month since May 2016, when compared with the same month of the previous year.”  It comes after the latest economic outlook report for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said the average house price in Scotland is expected to soar to £170,000 over the next four years if a no-deal Brexit is avoided.  However, Mr Alexander previously warned Scotland faces a "property exodus" if Boris Johnson pushes ahead with his reported property tax plans.  Mr Johnson, who is widely expected to be the next Prime Minister, has suggested he wants to cut stamp duty land tax in England to help boost the housing market. His proposals risk opening up a tax gulf with Scotland.

Scots 'Would Understand Variable Recycling Return Scheme'
More than three quarters of Scots believe people would understand how to use a deposit return scheme for recyclable bottles and drinks cans with a variable fee.  A poll commissioned by environmental campaign group A Plastic Planet found just 13% of Scots said people would not be able to understand such a system.  In May, Scotland became the first part of the UK to announce plans to bring in a deposit return scheme in a bid to boost recycling.  Under proposals to be brought in before the end of the current Holyrood parliament in March 2021, a 20p charge will be levied on the vast majority of drinks containers, including PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles - used for fizzy drinks and water bottles - glass bottles and steel or aluminium drinks cans.  The deposit can then be reclaimed as cash or a voucher when the container is taken to a local collection point.  But health experts fear the Scottish Government's plans to charge a flat-rate fee for the containers will hinder efforts to reduce obesity levels and tackle diabetes.  They note the 20p charge would apply to all drinks containers, regardless of their size, and fear that it risks incentivising consumers to purchase larger containers of sugary drinks.  There have been suggestions that a variable fee would be too confusing for consumers to understand, but the campaign group said countries such as Norway, Finland, Denmark and Sweden have already implemented a successful deposit scheme in which consumers pay a variable deposit based on the size of the container they buy.  Some 77% of the 1,000 people surveyed for A Plastic Planet said they were confident that Scots would be able to understand a variable fee system. While 13% said they would not understand, 11% responded "don't know".  A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland said: "Every single year the quantity of plastic bottles we pump out can reach half-way to the sun.  We have an extraordinary moment in history to make real change happen, to dramatically reduce millions of tonnes of virgin plastic used for bottles. But all bottles are not equal and to treat them as such with a flat-rate scheme is disingenuous and patronising."  Jenni Hume, campaign manager for the Have You Got The Bottle? campaign, believes a flat rage charge is clearer.  She said: "Although many countries use variable deposit levels, in our view a single level is clearer for everyone.  It also reflects the fact that it's equally important for all cans and bottles, whatever their size, to be returned rather than litte