Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 510

Issue # 510                                                Week ending Saturday 27th  July 2019

The Best Gifts Are Things Which Can’t Be Wrapped - Or Plugged in
By Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
It is so wonderful to receive a gift. It just makes you feel so special. A guy I know got a birthday present of a trip to Perthshire for a skydive. He was chuffed. He had always wanted to jump out of a perfectly-serviceable aeroplane and was very excited. When he arrived, he had his briefing and was then told it was time to go out to the aircraft. Then he realised something was missing. He told the instructor he had no parachute. The instructor replied: “You do not need a parachute to go skydiving. You only need a parachute if you want to go skydiving twice.”

The instructor was joking but the point is some gifts have strings attached. Members of one of the great political movements of our time has gifted the party’s greatest honour to a new leader and that new holder of the top office has already made history for being a very different kind of steward. They will now take the great mantle upon their shoulders and they have vowed to face the great issues of our time with purpose, vision and the decisiveness that will show the world what they are made of.

Yes, Jo Swinson, a woman at that, has been elected leader of the LibDems.

A wee woman fae Glesga beating a cove with a knighthood to become leader of a major UK political party. You would think the media would devote acres and hours to such an achievement, but no. Instead, the focus has been on some other leadership tussle at another political party that was not really a tussle at all but a foregone conclusion. Whether you like the winning candidate or not, the fact is that there are really some big changes ahead. Brexit, or the prospect of it, has changed the rules and pretty much broken the government of this country. Little other business is being done.

Several ministers anticipated the result and headed for the exit without waiting to see what the new leader will be like in office. So Mr Johnson will have to undertake an even bigger reshuffle than he had scribbled on the back of his fag cabinet. That type of cabinet is a box of his favourite Havana Bolivar Belicosos Finos Cigars, which sell at £460 for a cabinet of 25, not just the highest governmental committee. Just saying, in case you were confused.

Change is very unsettling for anybody. A big reshuffle later this week will probably see a few more ministers feeling down and downing portfolios and heading down Downing Street to drown their sorrows down the rub-a-dub-dub. Mind you, the new leader and PM will have to install at least one clever politician in his new cabinet so if I tell you that Jeremy Hunt will be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer before the weekend, remember where you heard it first.

And if he is not given any job, just forget what you have just read here. Deal?

Being promoted to a cabinet minister is fraught with obstacles. No matter how much anyone thinks they themselves have earned it, it is not something that comes automatically if you put in enough years. It is up to who is in charge at a particular time and to what extent and how often they have been upset by the wannabe. The other vital point is nothing to do with the candidate but whether it is in the PM’s interest to promote that person. So bright spark Jeremy Hunt is likely to get a job because the PM needs one or two of those. Not too many though, as they could get ideas above their station.

So the portfolio is, in fact, a sort of gift. Actually, when you think about it, it is also a loan because it can be taken away if the PM thinks it is not appreciated or because a copybook has been blotted. But even that kind of temporary gift can be very challenging and some ministerial appointments has been described by previous borrowers as a poisoned chalice. You need special skills to stay the course, they have said. Being Brexit secretary, to give one recent example, is one that has been described as that. However, that was in the era of a former prime minister and now everything in the garden is rosy and the future is bright.

Mrs X and I just had our wedding anniversary a few weeks ago. As you can imagine, the drinking and dancing went on for days. Well, almost. We had a takeaway and a bottle of Merlot. Oh, and there were Hula Hoops. Yay. Unfortunately, something upset my stomach and the effects of that lasted for days. Still, we will have a proper break in Englandshire in a couple of months. But we did exchange gifts. I got my expectant wife - just to be clear, I did not say expecting wife - a very special gift. It’s really cool. It was fantastic to see her wee face light up when she opened it. It was a fridge.

Cross Party Group Urges Home Office Rethink on 'Fix Rooms'

A cross-party group of MPs and peers has urged the home secretary to sanction supervised drug consumption facilities, or "fix rooms".  Glasgow City Council first proposed the measure three years ago, but the plan has fallen foul of UK drug laws which are reserved to Westminster.  The idea is to encourage users to inject drugs in a safe and clean environment rather than on the street.  The Home Office said there were no plans to allow consumption rooms.  The appeal for a rethink comes after new figures revealed drug-related deaths in Scotland soared to 1,187 last year, a record level and the highest reported rate per head of population in the EU.  Tory Crispin Blunt, Labour's Jeff Smith and crossbench peer Baroness Meacher, along with seven Police and Crime Commissioners, have written to Home Secretary Sajid  Javid urging him to allow local authorities to proceed with pilot schemes. MPs from the SNP, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats also signed the letter.  The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Drug Policy Reform said in the letter that consumption rooms - also known as Overdose Prevention Centres (OPCs) - have been established in many countries with "good public health results" and an "absence of the feared negative consequences".  The politicians, who co-chair the group, wrote: "We and many of our colleagues have been assessing their value as part of local strategies to reduce drug-related deaths and infections (primarily HIV and hepatitis), as well as incidences of public disorder and needle litter.  We are supportive of areas that wish to proceed with their implementation.  We therefore call on the government to allow the relevant local authorities the discretion to proceed with locally developed, closely evaluated pilots."  The APPG said a refusal to sanction evidence-based interventions which would bring down drug-related deaths appears to be "complacent and dangerous".  Former minister Mr Blunt said: "The international evidence is clear - Overdose Prevention Centres save lives.  We are facing a crisis of drug overdose deaths, and cannot afford to reject initiatives that will help bring the death rate down.  Policymakers must urgently escape the simplicity of 'drugs are bad, they are banned' and engage in evidence-based policy and the complexities about how to reduce crime and save lives."  Opposition whip Mr Smith added: "Instead of condemning and marginalising people who use drugs, we need to support and encourage them into treatment, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.  Overdose prevention centres (DCRs) are one proven means of doing so. Nobody has ever died of an overdose in one of these centres. If the government thinks there is not currently the legislative framework that would allow them to go ahead, it is their job to change that legislation."  Baroness Meacher said: "This week's shocking figures from Scotland, showing a 27% increase in deaths in just one year, prove that this is a public health crisis.  Responsible local authorities are desperate to try new approaches, but are being prevented by a Home Office putting ideology before people's lives."  The Green Party's Caroline Lucas, Liberal Democrat Tom Brake, the SNP's Ronnie Cowan and peers including Baroness Neuberger and Lord Adebowale also signed the letter. The Scottish government and a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament have backed the idea of consumption rooms, but the UK government remains opposed, saying they would allow a range of offences to committed.  The SNP's Ronnie Cowan said: "Safe consumption rooms are not a magic bullet, but the evidence for their use is overwhelming - with even the Scottish Tory health spokesperson this week admitting they could tackle overdoses.  The Home Office's stubborn refusal to even consider trialling their use is a dereliction of duty and leaves the UK Government on the wrong side of history.  If the UK government refuse to act to save lives, it's time they devolved the powers so that Scotland can take the steps necessary."

Pioneering Egyptologist to Be Celebrated At New Aberdeen Attraction

The Aberdeen woman responsible for unveiling long-hidden mysteries of Ancient Egypt will soon be celebrated as part of a new exhibition.  Annie Piri Quibell will be among more than 100 remarkable individuals whose global influence will be showcased in Provost Skene’s House, which is currently being renovated and refurbished.  Work starts today on the £3.8 million city centre masterplan project, scheduled to be completed by autumn 2020.  Quibell was brought up at the city’s 13 Bon Accord Square – part of what records note was a“modestly distinguished” family.  She was one of the first women to enroll on a new Egyptian Archaeology course at University College London in 1892 and was later chosen as one of only two female students to join an excavation team at Saqqara in 1895.  It was in Egypt that she met James Edward Quibell of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, who was to become her partner in work and love.  They first came together in an entirely unromantic fashion, while they both battled food poisoning during a dig.  In 1900 the couple married in Aberdeen and thereafter spent their lives working together, at one point going as far as to adopt an Egyptian tomb as their home.  In her memoir “A Wayfarer in Egypt”, published in 1925, Annie Quibell wrote: “Of all the different dwelling places, give me, for choice, if not too long a time, a good tomb.  The shafts at the bottom of which the real burial is, sometimes still gape in the floor and one has to be careful not to fall in, but this is almost the only drawback.”  Responsible for recording numerous paintings and inscriptions, in later life Quibell went on to write several books on Egypt, aimed at a popular audience, including short guides to Saqqara and the Giza Pyramids.  She died from leukaemia in 1927, two years after A Wayfarer in Egypt was published.  Council co-leader, Councillor Jenny Laing, said: “Provost Skene’s House will become a treasure trove for stories like Annie Quibell’s, some stretching back centuries, others celebrating our continuing influence on the wider world. Our cultural, heritage and tourism offering continues to grow, with the launch of P&J Live nearly upon us, Aberdeen Art Gallery re-opening in the autumn and Union Terrace Gardens about to undergo its own transformation.”  Quibell will feature in the International Trailblazers section at Provost Skene’s House – which itself dates back from 1545.  The line-up will range from Professor John Mallard, who helped develop the MRI body scanner, to music superstar Emeli Sandé and rower Katherine Grainger, Britain’s most decorated female Olympian.

Who Would Win If A General Election Was Held Now?
By Sir John Curtice
With the UK about to get a new prime minister, the prospect of an early election is not far-fetched. So, how would the parties fare if one was held?  The face of party politics in the UK has undergone a dramatic change.  The deadlock over Brexit has been followed by a dramatic decline in support for both the Conservatives and Labour.  As a result, the two parties' traditional dominance of the electoral landscape is facing an unprecedented challenge.  When, on 15 November last year, Theresa May unveiled the deal she'd negotiated with the European Union, that dominance was still in evidence.  Both parties were averaging 39% in the opinion polls. Their combined tally of 78% was only a little down on the 84% share of the vote they had jointly secured in the 2017 election, the highest proportion since 1970.  Neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens were showing much sign of advancing on the 8% and 2% that they respectively won in 2017. At 5%, UKIP's tally was only up by three points on its poor performance at the same election.  Nine months later, the picture could not be more different.  True, the Conservatives and Labour are still more or less neck-and-neck - but now they each enjoy the support of just a quarter or so.  UKIP's role as the principal voice of Euroscepticism has been wrested from its grasp by a new party, the Brexit Party. Its current average poll rating of 18% is as high as anything UKIP ever achieved.  The Liberal Democrats also stand on 18%, their strongest position since they entered into coalition with the Conservatives in 2010. Their performance seems to have snuffed out an attempt by a group of Labour and Conservative rebels to form a new "centre" party, Change UK.  The Green Party, too, is enjoying something of a revival; its 6% support puts the party in its strongest position since the 2015 general election.  The only party to have experienced little change in its fortunes is the SNP in Scotland. Five Scottish polls since the beginning of April have put the party on an average of 40% of the vote north of the border. That is just a couple of points above where the party stood in the autumn, and three points above its tally in 2017.  In contrast, both the Conservatives and Labour have seen their Scottish support slip, leaving the SNP well ahead of all of its rivals.  That means that not only are there as many as four parties recording substantial levels of support across Britain as a whole, but also a fifth which has a stranglehold on Westminster voting intentions in Scotland.  The first signs of a crack in Conservative-Labour dominance were already in evidence when the UK failed to meet the original Brexit deadline of 29 March.  Support for the Conservatives fell on average by three points between mid-November and the end of March. It immediately fell by a further six points as soon as the Brexit deadline was not met.  Support for Labour also eased by five points during this period.  Conversely, support for UKIP and the newly formed Brexit Party was beginning to rise, reaching 11% immediately after the failure to leave the EU in March.  These were clear warning signs that a continuation of the Brexit impasse could well do neither the government - nor the opposition - much good.  However, the pivotal moment was the European Parliament elections that had to be held in May because the UK was still in the EU. That helped put the issue of Brexit at the forefront of voters' minds.  The Brexit Party, which was advocating leaving the EU without a deal, stormed into first place.  The Liberal Democrats, in favour of another referendum, came second.  And although some of their respective supporters would not have voted the same way in a general election, many would have done so.  By polling day, as many as one in five were indicating that they would vote in a general election for the Brexit Party or - in much smaller numbers - for UKIP.  At the same time, support for the Liberal Democrats was now also firmly in the mid-teens.  Both Labour and, especially, the Conservatives were now struggling to retain as much as a quarter of the vote. The battle for Westminster suddenly looked like a four-party rather than a two-party one.  And - so far - that more or less remains the position, even though the European elections, but perhaps not Brexit, are beginning to fade in voters' memories.  Nearly all of the Brexit Party's support is from those who voted Leave, among whom it is the single most popular party.  Support for the Liberal Democrats is predominantly from those who voted Remain, for whose support the party is evidently in close competition with Labour.  The Conservatives are more popular among Leave supporters than their Remain counterparts - and the opposite is true for Labour. But both parties still secure a substantial proportion of their support from a minority who hold the opposing view.  Now that many voters seem to want to use their ballot paper to express their view about Brexit, it is difficult for the Conservatives and Labour to maintain their cross-Brexit support.  The apparent inability of the House of Commons to make any decision about Brexit is a problem for the new prime minister. Some suggest he will eventually find it necessary to hold a general election, to try to change the Parliamentary arithmetic.  However, at the moment at least, the advent of four-party politics, or - given the position in Scotland - five-party politics, does not make this an attractive prospect.  Quite how the current numbers in the polls would translate into seats in Parliament is highly uncertain. Support for both the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party could be scattered so evenly across the country that they would end up winning few seats.  But even bearing this possibility in mind, it is still highly unlikely that either the Conservatives or Labour would be able to win an overall majority, or even come close to one.  A new government could find itself in much the same position as the one in which Theresa May has found herself - reliant on minority parties to remain in office and constantly at risk of Parliamentary defeat, including on Brexit.  That said, all eyes will be on what happens to the polls when the new prime minister is installed.  Sir John Curtice is professor of politics at Strathclyde University, senior fellow at NatCen Social Research and The UK in a Changing Europe.

Thousands Attend Hebcelt 2019 As Festival Draws to A Close

Thousands of music lovers travelled to Stornoway for the 24th annual HebCelt Festival this week, as organisers expect the final count to reveal record numbers.  Scots star KT Tunstall joined band Tide Lines and The Shires to headline the event, with more than 30 folk and rock artists taking to the stage in the scenic grounds of Lews Castle.  “It’s always a real pleasure to be asked to headline a festival,” Tunstall explained. “When you’re headlining, you take it a bit more seriously. You are crafting more of a journey for people to experience.  With something like HebCelt, it’s a real honour for me to play a festival like this because it’s also including traditional music.   I’m just really pleased that what I do can find its way into that world – it’s where I’m from. It feels like home, and part of my roots.”  Tunstall took to the stage on Friday night, pulling enormous crowds into its main arena with a stellar set of songs both old and new.  She played with an all-female band and said that it felt ‘so special’ to be playing a festival that has had women making up at least half of its line-up for the last several years.  The Edinburgh-born singer also helped launch the festival’s partnership with Tighean Innse Gall (TIG), the housing and energy agency for the Outer Hebrides.  Artists were transported to and from the festival site in a Tesla vehicle to help lessen the festival’s impact on the environment. It comes after the event outlawed single-use plastic last year and introduced a cup-deposit-return scheme, meaning that 80% of waste produced at the 2018 event was recycled.  Festival director Caroline Maclennan said: “It’s been an extremely successful festival. The audiences have been exceptional and the atmosphere has been brilliant from the start.”

Buddhists Bid to Halt Killing Near Loch Ness
Buddhists developing a retreat in the hills above Loch Ness are trying to buy part of a neighbouring estate to stop the “carnage” of wildlife being shot near the centre.  They are hoping to buy 500 acres of Balmacaan Estate beside their Centre for World Peace near Drumnadrochit and turn it into a wildlife haven.  Offers around £160,000 are being sought by the landowner, Canadian renewable energy company Boralex.  The centre is affiliated to the Samye Ling Monastery run by Tibetan Buddhists in Dumfries.  Samye Ling representative Helen MacRae said: “The prospect of guns being fired across the land and creatures being killed in the name of sport just does not bear thinking about.  We understand the present owners have a strong ethos based on protecting biodiversity and conserving local habitats wherever their company operates so we hope Boralex’s management will see this is a lovely legacy they can offer to Scotland.”  Under their code of beliefs, Buddhists cannot intentionally harm animals.  When the Loch Ness centre is complete, pride of place will be a peace pole made of Lochaber oak that was blessed by the Dalai Lama the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. It carries inscriptions in Gaelic and Tibetan.

Highlands Could Benefit From £5.4 Million for Construction Training Hubs

More than £5 million is to be spent on creating three new construction sector training hubs – one of them hopefully in the Highlands.  If a north application to run one of the hubs is successful, it will be one of three funded by a £5.4 million injection of support for training and retraining more skilled workers. The hubs are intended to expand opportunities for employment through onsite experience in mostly rural areas.  The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which is behind the Onsite Experience programme, says the Highlands and Islands has been identified as an area in specific need of investment, so any bids focused on the region would be particularly welcome.  The investment will build on the success of the Construction Skills Fund (CSF) in England, and represents a historic investment in training a site-ready workforce for construction employers.  CITB’s Construction Skills Network report shows construction requires 168,500 skilled people to enter the industry over the next five years, including 13,950 in Scotland, where the sector is forecast to grow by 0.5 per cent.  Ian Hughes, CITB partnerships director for Scotland, said: “This major cash injection will give the Scottish construction industry a real boost, specifically within Highlands and Islands, Borders, and rural East Scotland.”  Over the next three years, the Onsite Experience Commission will help the construction industry tackle the skills gap by providing 18,000 site-ready workers and help it to grow more of its own workforce.   The three Scottish hubs will be among a total of 20 across Britain which are tailored to provide training in trades where particular shortages have been identified and connecting new talent with educators and employers.

Police Smash £1m Drugs Factory in Port Glasgow

Police have smashed a major drugs operation after an early-morning raid a £1 million Inverclyde cannabis factory.  More than 600 plants and a raft of high-tech cultivation equipment including air filters and state-of-the-art heating and lighting rigs were found inside a premises in Port Glasgow.  Officers reacted to a call from a member of the public, who noticed a strong, pungent smell coming from what appeared to be a disused unit on Muirshiel Road.  Police smashed their way inside just after 10.30am and discovered a high-tech operation capable of producing high volumes of the drug.  They spent a number of days at the discovery and removed plants with an estimated street value of £985,400.  Senior officers today hailed the discovery as a major victory in the war against drugs in Inverclyde.  Inspector Julie MacDonald said that enquiries are now underway to try and trace the professional gang behind the cultivation. She said: "We received reports of a strong smell from the premises and officers attended.  Thereafter police obtained a search warrant for the premises.  Entry was gained and a large scale cannabis cultivation with an estimated street value of £985,408 was seized from the property.  Enquiries are ongoing to trace the person or persons involved."

Scottish Gaelic Coming to Duolingo

Western Isles MSP and convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group on Gaelic Alasdair Allan has welcomed the news that work has begun on adding Gaelic to Duolingo, the world’s most popular online language learning service.  The islands MSP started a campaign on this issue after being inspired by the success which the Irish language had on Duolingo.  In the first two years after their Irish language course launched in 2014, 2.3 million people started learning Irish, averaging 3,000 new learners a day. Irish is reportedly one of the top ten languages on Duolingo.  The course is currently in Duolingo’s “incubator”, where language courses are constructed with the help of a community of volunteers, and has an expected completion date of July 17 2020.  Alasdair Allan commented: “With people spending more and more of their time online and on their smartphones, it is important that learning Gaelic is as accessible in the modern world as possible.  This news is a fantastic step forward in that regard.  Duolingo has around 200 million users across the world so Gaelic’s addition to the platform would bring it to a vast new community of language learners while making it easy and fun to learn.  We know from learning about how the Irish course was created that it really depends on volunteers so well done to everyone who has campaigned and pushed for Gaelic to be added to Duolingo in getting us to this stage.  I look forward to seeing the course develop over the next year.”

Calmac Ferry Makes Emergency Stop After Crack Spotted in Hull

CalMac was forced to reshuffle its fleet after one of its largest ships developed a crack in her hull, creating massive upheaval for a number of west coast island services.  MV Isle of Lewis was not permitted to carry out passenger voyages until her hull was patched up.  Quayside repairs were unsuccessful and the ship was urgently dispatched to dry dock in Greenock.  Hundreds of travellers to various islands were badly disrupted as CalMac cancelled sailings, sent passengers on lengthy detours and swapped ships to try and maintain lifeline services. Barra traffic was the worst affected with a 165 mile island hopping diversion route via Mallaig, South Uist and Eriskay to get to Castlebay.  Essential maintenance for MV Caledonian Isles has been postponed to cover the Brodick run while their vessel, MV Isle of Arran, is deployed on the Oban – Barra run. Services are due to get back to normal tomorrow by Wednesday after the MV Isle of Lewis was patched up.  She is due to resume sailings to Barra tomorrow releasing the MV Isle of Arran and allowing CalMac to re-arrange essential repairs to the MV Caledonian Isles.  Meanwhile, high winds and rough seas risk disruption tomorrow to Skye, South Uist, Canna, Eigg, Muck, Rum as well as the Sound of Barra route.

Housebuilder Targets Ayrshire Site for 300 New Homes

A prominent new swathe of land is now being targeted by Barratt the housebuilder for 300 homes.  Hotspot Monkton has already been eyed up by a number of developers homing in on the other side of Kilmarnock Road and at the former HMS Gannet.  This time Barratt wants to build houses on a giant triangular parcel of land which stretches from the village, skirts the cemetery and finishes right at the Dutch House roundabout.  Barratt already has control over a smaller area of land flanking Prestwick Airport behind Station Road.  Their site has always been farmland and is best viewed from close to the BP filling station at Dutch House.  It appears to be more than 30 acres and would offer access to the A77 in seconds.  The developers have only stated it is “two hectares +.”  A park and ride site would also be incorporated for people to catch the bus to Glasgow.  South Ayrshire Council has allowed Barratt to make a “proposal of application notice” ahead of any actual bid to win permission. Persimmon Homes West Scotland have alread lodged a Detailed Planning Application with South Ayrshire Council for a £90 million 300-home development.  The application outlines proposals to build 297 new homes on 35 acres of agricultural land off Kilmarnock Road and Tarbolton Road.  Monkton - and Symington - are enjoying huge growth because of the A77 and M77 to Glasgow.

Glasgow's Sauchiehall Street Closed After Falling Masonry

Part of a major road through Glasgow's city centre was closed due to masonry falling from a building's roof.  Glasgow City Council said Sauchiehall Street was temporarily closed to eastbound traffic between its junction with St George's Road and Newton Street.  The road was closed at about 17:30 through the evening rush hour while emergency work took place. It reopened shortly before 20:00.  Police confirmed no-one was injured.  The building the masonry fell from houses the restaurant Nanakusa.

Prime Minister Johnson's Political Honeymoon is Already Over
by Brian Taylor
So how was it for you? The Boris Johnson political honeymoon, that is. For the avoidance of doubt, it is now over. In truth, it never started.  No doubt you followed the Conservative leadership announcement on the BBC, with the wonderfully energetic Norman Smith proclaiming the scene outside the London venue to be "plaza del chaos", replete as it was with competing demonstrators.  Perhaps the programme should have been prefaced with a solemn continuity announcer warning that the upcoming show contained "scenes which some viewers might find disturbing".  Boris Johnson himself appeared to agree, noting wryly - as only he can - that there were many in the party, indeed in the hall, who were wondering what they had done by electing him to high office.  The Tory audience tried their best to introduce a degree of razz and even a smidgeon of concomitant matazz. But you could tell their hearts weren't in it. They know - they know - that their newly chosen leader is instantly embroiled in a genuine, 24 carat political crisis. And one, moreover, to which he has contributed hugely. In a deliberately knockabout speech - he'll keep the heavy stuff for the Commons where he needs the votes in divisions on Brexit - Mr Johnson contrived to sound decidedly upbeat. He was "can-do". He was "ping off the guy ropes of self-doubt". He was delivery and action. He was energetic.  He sounded up for it. He looked faintly scared. Aware of the extent of the challenge and the current limitations of the proposed solutions.  In terms of intent, of political pitch, his acceptance speech probably hit the right, temporary note. Void of content. Heavy on rhetoric.  Giving the immediate audience what they wanted to hear. Brexit? A dawdle. Corbyn? Ancient history. UK unity? Leave it to B. After the agonies of Theresa May's uncertain leadership - which followed a catastrophic election campaign in 2017 - the Tories want robust reassurance, not timid acquiescence. They want Churchill, not Chamberlain. Mr Johnson is many things. But he is not daft. He knows - he knows - that he faces a huge problem to deliver Brexit, especially by the target date of Hallowe'en. A problem to strike a deal with a reluctant and increasing fractious and bored EU. A problem to steer a no-deal departure - which he insists he doesn't want - past a determined, if divided, Commons.  Energy there will be. But energy may not be enough. One can be energetically wrong. One can pursue a stupid policy, with vigour and resolve. Doesn't make it sensible. And then there is Scotland. Mr Johnson's election presents an immediate problem for Scots Tories, given that he would appear to be less than popular north of the border.  Ruth Davidson can do little more than live with it, while hoping to moderate his rhetoric. For Mr Johnson has a record of sceptical, even caustic, comments about Caledonia.  Ten years ago, I prepared a lavish documentary about a decade of devolution. It featured Mr Johnson, then the all-action Mayor of London, saying that he disliked the cash going north of the border, which he saw as depriving his citizens in the UK capital.  He has said the same umpteen times since. He has said that a pound spent in Croydon does more for the broad UK economy - including Scotland - than a pound spent to the north of Hadrian's Wall.  He has questioned whether a Scot can again be prime minister. He has challenged the Barnett funding formula, although he has since recanted and said it would stay.  All this we know. But now he has to seek to govern the UK, including Scotland. If there is a pragmatic side to Boris Johnson - and I certainly think there is - then it will emerge over this question, perhaps as much as in relation to Brexit where his flexibility may be constrained by previous comments, not least during the election campaign.  So expect Mr Johnson to underline the importance to him of the union. Not perhaps the hand-wringing emotion of a John Major. But with passion in evidence, authentic or assembled.  Expect him too to stress the contribution of Scotland to the UK's status in global affairs. And the contribution of the UK to projects in Scotland - a concept which the Scots Tories were beginning to test before the leadership contest.  In response, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told me she would congratulate Mr Johnson on his election - while stressing her determination to work with him where mutual interests could be discerned.  But she warned simultaneously that she would exert every sinew to thwart Brexit - and, in particular, a no-deal Brexit. Further, she said that Mr Johnson would not be able to prevent an independence referendum, should Scots exhibit support for one. Could Boris Johnson break up the UK?  On this, I thought it significant that, as in the past, Ms Sturgeon's immediate focus was Brexit. Not Scottish independence.  That does not, repeat not, repeat not, mean that she has shelved that ambition in any way whatsoever.  It does mean, however, that she still wants to fight the immediate battle of Brexit first. Expect her to issue a formal demand for an independence referendum to the new PM later this year, with a target date of the end of 2020. Expect the new PM to say no. Expect there to be a substantial row with the most likely outcome - at this stage - that the issue will dominate the 2021 Holyrood elections.  Final thought. Character matters in politics. Mr Johnson made that clear in his own acceptance statement when he underlined the necessity of pursuing projects with vigour and compelling charisma.  Ms Sturgeon's verdict on the new Tory leader, you will be astonished to learn, is rather different.  She sees him as a charlatan who has no political principles beyond self-advancement.

Thieves Have Stole £10,000 Worth of Insulation Material From A Construction Site

Brazen thieves have stole a huge £10,000 worth of insulation material from the construction site of the new Wemyss Bay Co-op store.  The yellow foam insulation panels were taken from the Greenock Road site some time over the weekend.  It's understood that the thieves would have needed a large van to take the haul away but it's unclear if anyone spotted any suspicious activity at the store.  Sid Singh from Swift Property Management is appealing for information about the incident.

‘The Last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom’

The SNP’s leader in Westminster labelled Boris Johnson “the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom” in the House of Commons on Thursday.  There was a heated exchange between MP Ian Blackford and the Tory leader during Mr Johnson’s first ever Prime Minister’s Questions in parliament.  Speaking outside Number 10 Downing Street on Wednesday after meeting the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Mr Johnson vowed to deliver on the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and take the UK out of the European Union (EU) by October 31.  However in the House of Commons on Thursday Mr Blackford pulled no punches.  On Mr Johnson’s first full day in the job the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber told fellow politicians that Scotland “will not stand by and let decisions be made by charlatans”. Mr Blackford added: “I should welcome the Prime Minister to his place – the last Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  You know Mr Speaker it is often said that the Prime Minister lives in a parallel universe. Well, my goodness, that has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt this morning.  In fact it looked as if he was about to launch himself into outer space.  Mr Speaker, there are questions to be asked as to the mandate the Prime Minister has to the office he now occupies. He has been appointed not by this house, not by the people, but by the Tory party. What have they done?  It horrifies me Mr Speaker that the new Prime Minister finds his position through such an undemocratic process. Indeed Mr Speaker it was the Prime Minister himself who called the system a gigantic fraud when Gordon Brown was parachuted into office, just like he was, 12 years ago.  Scotland did not vote for Brexit, we did not vote for no deal and we most certainly did not vote for this Prime Minister.”  Mr Blackford then asked Mr Johnson if he would agree – as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called for – to an “urgent meeting with the heads of government” to avoid a no-deal Brexit.  He claimed Mr Johnson had “no plan” for Brexit and that his approach to leaving Europe amounted to “economic madness” with “the Prime Minister supported by his new right-wing ideologs on the front bench”.  He added that a “new deal from Europe” is the “stuff of fantasy” and that Mr Johnson is “deluded”.  Mr Johnson retorted by saying that he would deliver “a fantastic and a sensible and a progressive Brexit”.  He added: “I would point out that the people of this country have voted in 2015, they voted in 2016, they voted in 2017. What they want to see is this parliament delivering on the mandate that they gave us.  Let me tell you Mr Speaker if we can deliver a fantastic and a sensible and a progressive Brexit, which I believe we can, and the whole United Kingdom comes out, as I know that it will, what happens then to the arguments of the Scottish Nationalist Party?”.

Chaos Across Rail Network As UK Records Hottest Ever July Day
Commuters are enduring chaos and disruption on the railways as the UK swelters on its hottest July day on record.  The Met Office said a new record temperature for the month was set at 38.1C in Cambridge on Thursday afternoon, beating the previous record of 36.7C set in Heathrow in 2015.  In Edinburgh, the mercury rose to 31.6C, making it the hottest day on record in Scotland's capital.  Exceptionally high temperatures have gripped Scotland as well as much of central, eastern and southern England as a plume of hot air pushes north from the Continent.  New high temperature records have also been set in parts of Belgium, Germany and Holland as a heatwave grips western and central Europe, pushing the mercury above 40C.  Experts at the Met Office say the current weather pattern is driving hot air from the south, but there is "no doubt" climate change is playing a role in the intensity of the heat being witnessed.  The scorching temperatures are causing chaos on the rail network.  A reduced timetable in the South East came into force at midday as Network Rail implemented speed restrictions amid fears tracks could buckle in the heat if trains travel too fast.  Speed limits on most commuter lines have been reduced from 60mph to 30mph.  But the extreme conditions also caused damage to overhead electric wires, blocking all lines between London and Luton.  Many operators have urged passengers not to travel as services are delayed and cancelled.  Network Rail's network services director Nick King said: "We have a number of heat-related incidents across the rail network this evening that are causing disruption to services.  We are sorry that some passengers are experiencing uncomfortable conditions and inconvenience.  Our teams are working flat-out to fix the issues as quickly as possible and get people on the move.  We're asking anyone travelling this evening to check with their train operators or visit the National Rail Enquiries website to see how their journey is affected." Further travel disruption could be caused by thundery downpours prompted by the sweltering temperatures, with flash flooding and even power cuts possible.  Met Office chief meteorologist Steve Willington said: "We're already seeing thunderstorms being triggered by today's hot weather and we'll continue to see thunderstorms breaking out this evening and overnight across wide areas of the UK."  On Wednesday night some places experienced a "tropical night" with temperatures staying above 20C, and that is likely to be repeated on Thursday into Friday.  But the country will see more familiar conditions return into the weekend, with the weather becoming less settled and an increased chance of rain for many eastern and north-eastern areas.