Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 515

Issue # 515                                     Week ending Saturday 31st   August 2019

A Plea to You to Stop Liking and Sharing Dangerous Online Scams by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

There are online and telephone scams being attempted everywhere all the time. There is an epidemic just now because it is so easy to ring up and pretend to be from Microsoft or BT and persuade someone to connect their computer up to software which will give an intruder complete access. The other reason it is easy for crooks is that so many nice people are gullible and believe everything they read on Facebook. Look - a chance to win a luxury car draw if you like and share. Click, click. Liked and shared.

Don’t do it. Please. That liking and sharing gives the baddies access to more information than you would believe. They build up a picture of you so that they can phone you later to say they are from your bank but they want to do security checks. Don’t tell us your password, they say. Just enter it in your bank’s verification box at the foot of the page. Nothing seems to happen but your password and other details you entered have been saved on a complicated cloud system run from a laptop in a remote Nigerian village or maybe a teenager’s bedroom in Doncaster. Two recent cases.

Ye olde rule applies - if it sounds too good to be true, it absolutely is. Liking and sharing an online advert will never win you a £50,000 Range Rover. It has never happened and never will. Yet in the last week, I have seen otherwise-intelligent nurses, a hotel manageress, a butcher, a shop manager, two teachers, and a string of other council employees liking and sharing this utter garbage. Get a grip, people. Think about what you’re doing. You’re actually saying to potential criminals that you are a gullible numpty who is too thick to suspect that you are about to be defrauded or enabling others to be ripped off.

It doesn’t matter if the Facebook page does look official or is entitled Range Rover 2020 or Like To Win A £5,000 Holiday? They’re not from Range Rover or Virgin Holidays. Anyone can set up a page and name it whatever they like. You probably already know that already yet you still respond to these horrible scams. Look up Range Rover FB scams. The proceeds have been traced to international drug dealers. That is who you are helping when you click Like. Your greed is helping destroy the lives of vulnerable people. That may sound very stark and extreme but all the evidence suggests that is what happens. Do you “like” that?

About 25 million scam phone calls are attempted to UK numbers every year. Some old dears are losing their life savings as you read this. And, if you give Likes to fake luxury cars ads on Facebook, you help this happen because the criminals also lift details of your Facebook friends. Are you proud of what you are doing? If you are not bothered about that, some people may say that maybe you deserve to be ripped off. Don’t get upset. Stop doing it. I don’t think I have ever liked a too-good-to-be-true ad and I hope I never will.

These things need to be said - especially now. The police set up an organisation called Action Fraud to deal with so-called cyber scams but it too has been exposed in the last week or two as next to useless with many complaints logged and never opened again. It is mainly staffed by school leavers who are not properly trained and who have allegedly admitted that they just get drunk at work and just want to sleep. How do they get away with working at their computers while drunk? These people are not even journalists.

I jest. One of the biggest scams for which no one has been convicted or is likely to is PPI. Have you applied for your refund? I have mentioned this quite a bit in the last few weeks and people say thanks for reminding them but they have done nothing about it. The deadline is tomorrow so apply with the form on the website of your bank, building society, store card or mail order catalogue. They were the main culprits. It will take 30 minutes of your time and cost you nothing - except a coffee for me if you get a refund. Deal?

Maybe I will miss those constant phone calls from PPI claim providers. Maybe, but I doubt it. Now will I miss that silly TV commercial from the Financial Conduct Authority reminding up to claim by tomorrow. It is Arnie Schwarzenegger’s severed head on a tiny remote controlled tank. I know. Who on earth thought that would be a good idea to get the message home? Still, the important thing is to claim even if it was decades ago.

My last payout was from a transaction a very long time ago. I woke up yesterday and while doing the usual stretches and scratching what did I find under the pillow but 20p. It was a long time ago but that tooth fairy must have mis-sold me PPI.

'Once in A Lifetime' Pictish Stone Found in Highlands
A Pictish stone described as a "once-in-a-lifetime find" has been uncovered in the Scottish Highlands.  The stone, thought to have been carved about 1,200 years ago, is decorated with a number of Pictish symbols and is said by experts to be of national importance.  It is believed the stone, discovered at an early Christian church site in Dingwall, originally stood at more than two metres high.  It now measures around 1.5 metres, having been broken over the years and been reused as a grave marker in the 1790s.  Anne MacInnes, from the North of Scotland Archaeological Society, was the first to recognise the stone while carrying out a survey at the church site.  She said: "I was clearing vegetation when I spotted the carving. I really couldn't believe what I was seeing."  The find was verified by archaeologists from Highland Council and Historic Environment Scotland, before being safely removed from the site by specialist conservators.  It will now be professionally conserved with a view to ultimately putting it on public display at a Highland museum or other suitable venue. Designs on the stone include several mythical beasts, oxen, an animal-headed warrior with sword and shield, and a double disc and z rod symbol.  Details of the carvings on the reverse side of the stone are not yet known but experts suggest that, based on examples from similar stones, they are likely to include a large ornate Christian cross.  It would make the stone one of an estimated 50 complete or near complete Pictish cross-slabs known across the world, and the first to be discovered on the Scottish mainland for many years.  John Borland, president of the Pictish Arts Society, said: "The discovery of the top half of a large cross slab with Pictish symbols is of national importance.  The find spot - an early Christian site in Easter Ross - is a new location for such sculpture so adds significant information to our knowledge of the Pictish church and its distribution.  This new discovery will continue to stimulate debate and new research."  Kirsty Cameron, an archaeologist at Highland Council, said: "This is a once-in-a-lifetime find and what started as a small recording project has resulted in the identification of not only this important stone, but also that the site itself must be much older than anyone ever expected.  All credit goes to the local archaeologists for immediately recognising the importance of the stone and putting plans in place for securing its future."

Gaelic Champion and Author Recognised with University Awards
The co-author of a book on the HMY Iolaire disaster and a champion of Gaelic education have been awarded honorary fellowships by the University of the Highlands and Islands. Malcolm Macdonald and Annie Macsween will be presented with the awards at the Lews Castle College UHI graduation ceremony at Martin’s Memorial Church, Stornoway.  Honorary Fellowships are given to people who have made a significant contribution to the university or who have gained recognition for their activities in education, industry, public service or cultural and creative work.  Mr Macdonald, who grew up in Stornoway, co-authored The Darkest Dawn with the late Donald John MacLeod.  Published in 2018, the book details the tragedy of the Iolaire, a ship which sank near Stornoway harbour in January 1919 causing the loss of many Royal Navy reservists returning home at the end of the First World War.  The book was a culmination of 20 years of research and royalties are being given to Bethesda Hospice in Stornoway on an annual basis.  More than £8,800 was donated in June. Mr Macdonald, who has chaired the Stornoway Historical Society for over a decade, lost his grandfather in the disaster.  Born and brought up in Ness on the Isle of Lewis, Annie Macsween’s career has focused on enhancing the status of Gaelic and the lives of those who live in the Western Isles.  She began her professional life as a Gaelic teacher at The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway in 1973 and held posts with organisations including the Van Leer Community Education Project and the Western Isles Council before joining Lews Castle College UHI in 1994.  She was part of the team which introduced the university’s first BA degree in Gaelic and she has represented Lews Castle College UHI and the university at many national Gaelic forums.  Mrs Macsween was appointed as Deputy Lord Lieutenant of the Western Isles in 2011, a role which sees her assist the Lord-Lieutenant in his role as The Queen’s representative.  Malcolm and Annie were presented with their honorary fellowships alongside 61 graduating students and award winners.

Call for Scottish City Centre Ban on Fossil Fuel Vehicles
A ban on fossil fuel vehicles in city centres by 2030 should be one of the Scottish government's key policies, according to a group of civic leaders.  The Climate Emergency Response Group has set out a 12-point-plan of measures it wants the government to consider. It includes calls for four new Green City Region Deals and a £100m fund for modernising agriculture.  Ministers have said the climate emergency will be at the heart of next month's programme for government.  The group behind the environmental action plan is made up of 19 organisations.  Its report also says public guidance should be produced on sustainable, climate friendly and healthy diets.  And it calls for a public-interest company to be created by the Scottish government to invest in and support carbon capture and storage infrastructure.  Using a similar model to Network Rail, it would allow the government to take a longer term view than a privately financed model.  The report's authors insist all 12 suggestions could be implemented within the next year.  Claire Mack, chief executive of Scottish Renewables said: "We are already witnessing the effects of climate change, and now is the moment when we must accelerate our response if we are to avoid the worst effects and secure the many social and economic benefits of moving to a climate neutral economy.  This is the time for us all to support strong changes to policy and programmes in response to the climate emergency, and this report sets out our initial recommendations for the Scottish government's leadership role."  Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land & Estates said tree planting, the restoration of peatlands and soils, and productive, efficient and sustainable agriculture, all offer long-term economic opportunities for Scotland's rural areas.  And Lynette Purves, chairwoman of 2050 Climate Group, added: "Young people all across the world are calling upon those in power to act urgently to tackle the climate crisis, and, by their inspiring actions, they have brought the matter into the spotlight on a global scale".  The Climate Emergency Response Group was formed over the summer in response to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned we have 12 years left to set the course for tackling climate change.  It followed a commitment by the world's nations to aim for a maximum average temperature rise of 1.5C.  A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said it was committed to ending Scotland's contribution to climate change within a generation.  "We will meanwhile update our climate change plan within six months of the Climate Change Bill receiving Royal Assent, ensuring our longer-term actions match our ambitions.  We are also clear, however, that the scale of the transition to becoming a net-zero society means we cannot take a knee-jerk, piecemeal approach - nor can government do this alone. We all - governments, businesses, communities and individuals - need to work together to end Scotland's contribution to climate change and seize the opportunities that this creates."

Move to Debate No-deal Brexit At Holyrood
The Scottish government wants Holyrood to hold a debate on a no-deal Brexit when MSPs return from summer recess.  The SNP government hopes a motion making the parliament's opposition to no deal in all circumstances could be agreed unanimously.  If opposition parties agree, the debate could be held next week - during the first week of the new session. Scottish Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats have all indicated support for the debate. The motion is expected to say: "That the Scottish Parliament agrees that the UK should in no circumstances leave the EU on a no deal basis".  It comes after Boris Johnson said the chances of a no deal Brexit were "touch and go" during the G7 summit in France.  He has previously said the UK must leave the European Union on 31 October "deal or no deal".  Scottish Brexit Secretary Mike Russell said the UK Westminster government appeared to be "actively pursuing" a "catastrophic no deal".  "It is essential that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to have its say while there is still time to stop this disaster from happening," he said.  The Holyrood vote would be symbolic but it could pile pressure on the Scottish Conservatives.  Willie Rennie, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, said the debate would be an opportunity to urge the prime minister to change course.  "I hope that will include Ruth Davidson, who once warned of the damage Brexit would do to our economy and way of life," he added.  Ruth Davidson has now quit as leader of the Scottish Conservatives after eight years in the job

Invasive Pacific Pink Salmon Found in Scottish Rivers
Anglers have reported finding a non-native species of fish back in rivers in parts of Scotland. Pink salmon are native to Pacific Ocean waters but have spread to parts of northern Europe after being released into rivers in Russia in the 1960s.  "Unprecedented numbers" of the fish were found in Scottish rivers in 2017.  Their two-year life cycle raises the likelihood of the salmon being seen again and catches have been reported on the Dee, Tweed and Kyle of Sutherland.  The Dee flows through Aberdeenshire, the Tweed passes through the Borders while the Kyle of Sutherland is an estuary in the east Highlands.  Ness District Salmon Fishery Board, which has responsibility for the River Ness in the Highlands, said reports of catches had been received from the three sites.  There have been no reported catches on the Ness, but pink salmon have been spotted on underwater cameras used by the fishery board. The Ness was among Scottish rivers where the fish were seen and caught two years ago. A board spokesman said: "We suspected that they may be present, albeit in lower numbers than the previous migration.  This was confirmed on Monday when a lone male was captured on one of our underwater surveillance cameras."  There are concerns the invasive species could become established in Scottish rivers and compete with native Atlantic salmon for food. The fish have already colonised some rivers in Norway.  Fisheries Management Scotland said the Pacific pink salmon numbers seen in 2017 were "unprecedented".

Dumfries Flood Scheme Public Inquiry Report Completed
A report from the public inquiry into a £25m flood protection scheme for Dumfries has been completed.  A hearing was held into the plans for the Whitesands area of the town at the end of last year.  Scottish government reporters have now completed their final report having heard the case for and against the project.  It will be submitted to ministers with their decision expected to be announced within "a few months".  A spokesman for the Scottish government's planning and environmental appeals division confirmed the report had now been finished - several months after the hearing in Dumfries concluded.  He said ministers would receive the findings shortly and then "carefully consider" its contents.  A decision typically takes a "few months" an announcement is unlikely much before Christmas. Dumfries and Galloway Council's administration has said the project would provide protection as well as boost regeneration in the area.  Opponents have voiced concerns about the impact on riverside views, the cost of the scheme and the loss of parking spaces.

MP Highlights First Signs of Brexit Impact on Islands
A local Island businessman is already getting letters from customers as regards his stock and the difficulties with the imposition of tariffs due to Brexit.  Gordon Maclennan of Stornoway Plastics, who manufacture equipment for the fishing industry, has received a letter from a customer in the Republic of Ireland about what will happen to goods after 1st November in the event of a No Deal Brexit.  Mr Maclennan has been told that Irish companies believe that a No Deal Brexit is the most likely outcome and that they anticipate the need for Customs paperwork and possibly Customs Duties will have to be paid before any imports will be accepted. Irish Companies have already been issued with a Customs reference number for use after Brexit.  Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: “This is an example of what a hard Brexit will do.  This is the first business that has come to us and said they have difficulties from customers due to the change in the trading regime. No longer will we have open markets and easy trading after Brexit.  Stornoway Plastics are, probably unknown to many, in the forefront of innovation in fishing industry tools and apparatus so much so their work has even been copied in China, but a hard Brexit means selling their Stornoway manufactured products to nearby Donegal will be a problem and customers there are already concerned at higher costs.  After Brexit, when outside the Single Market and Customs Unions there are going to be problems for businesses and a hard Brexit is going to be the worst of all.  This example from Stornoway Plastics is just the tip of the iceberg of what is yet to come.”

Parliament Suspension: Readers' Questions Answered

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to suspend the UK Westminster Parliament in September, before recommencing just 17 days before the scheduled Brexit date, has prompted many questions from readers.  The idea of shutting down Parliament in this way - known as prorogation - has caused controversy in political circles, with critics saying it would stop MPs being able to play their democratic part in the Brexit process in the run-up to the planned exit date of 31 October.  A sample of the questions received from readers on this subject follows. Where the answers weren’t obvious, experts were consulted.
1. Could the Queen have said no? - David S
It would have been impossible for the Queen to turn down the prime minister's request, royal correspondent Jonny Dymond writes.  The Queen acts on the advice of her prime minister.  While many, many people may be upset that Parliament is not going to sit at such time, precedent is on the side of those making this decision.  The idea is these things are settled in the Palace of Westminster, not Buckingham Palace.  The Queen had very little wriggle room to make any kind of political decision.
2. Could this lead to an early general election? - David K
Suspending Parliament might well trigger an election, says the Institute for Government's Hannah White.  Ms White says it is probable the Speaker John Bercow - who has already called the government's plan "an offence against the democratic process" - will find an opportunity for the House of Commons to consider a motion of no confidence, even if the government does not provide time.  If a majority of MPs vote against the government, a formal process kicks off under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.  This provides a two-week period in which an alternative government could attempt to command a majority before a general election is triggered.  Ms White adds that any attempt to prorogue Parliament to pursue a no-deal policy is likely to prompt an election. "That may even be the intention," she says.
3. How long is the normal period of suspension before a Queen's Speech? - Anon
It's normal for new governments to shut down Parliament in order to hold a Queen's Speech.The length of time varies - in 2016 Parliament was closed for four working days, while in 2014 it was closed for 13 days.  This year, if Parliament was suspended at the earliest proposed date of Monday, 9 September, it would be shut down for 25 working days before the new Queen's Speech on 14 October.  The Queen's Speech itself is a list of laws the government hopes to get approved by Parliament over the coming year. By convention, it is announced by the Sovereign in the presence of MPs, peers and other dignitaries in the House of Lords.  It also marks the start of the parliamentary year.
4. How many actual sitting days will be lost? What laws currently passing through Parliament will be killed off by the prorogation? - Tom
Parliament was expected to take a break or "recess" anyway from roughly 13 September - 8 October. Official dates for recess are not actually confirmed, so it is hard to have a definitive number on how many actual sitting days will be lost. However, in theory, it will be between three and eight parliamentary days.  MPs have to approve recess dates unlike prorogations which they will not be consulted on.  On the laws currently passing through Parliament, the Institute for Government says that once Parliament is prorogued, most parliamentary business comes to an end and any unfinished business falls.  However, it is possible to carry over some government bills into the next session, the think tank says, with the agreement of representatives of the main parties.  There are currently 17 government bills in Parliament and the Institute for Government says many of these are eligible to be carried over.  But motions fall when Parliament is prorogued and no new bills or motions can be introduced.
5. Would a legal challenge succeed? - Carmel D
It is not possible to mount a legal challenge to the Queen's exercise of her personal prerogative powers - these include the granting of honours, appointing the prime minister and proroguing parliament, legal correspondent Clive Coleman says.  But it is possible to mount a legal challenge to the advice given to her by her prime minister.  That would be done by a judicial review of the advice - in other words asking a court to rule on whether the decision to advise the Queen to prorogue was lawful.  Those bringing it could argue that the prime minister has misunderstood and so failed to correctly apply the law relating to the power to prorogue.  They would most likely argue that the power exists purely for purposes that are consistent with the healthy functioning of the country's parliamentary democracy. These purposes traditionally include enabling an election campaign to begin, and a Queen's speech to be prepared and delivered.  If it was successfully argued that the purpose of Mr Johnson's announcement was to frustrate the way the UK's parliamentary democracy operates, a court could rule that the power has been misused and so was unlawful. There is already a legal challenge taking place in the Scottish courts, supported by a group of MPs and others who are seeking to expedite it. If a challenge is brought in the English and Welsh courts, all of the challenges could end up in the UK Supreme Court. While some believe a legal challenge could work, a source close to Boris Johnson said that the threat of court action was "absurd".
6. Could this lead to another referendum on remaining or leaving? - Joyce
The Institute for Government's Hannah White says she believes Wednesday's events have made the likelihood of a second referendum less likely.  She says: "It doesn't look like there's going to be time and a sufficient group of MPs backing that as an option before the likely Brexit date."
7. What about all the other non-Brexit business that Parliament needs to do? So much time has been spent on Brexit there must be a backlog. - Amandeep
Ms White says the time spent on Brexit is part of the justification Boris Johnson has made in his letter to MPs today about the need to restart the [parliamentary] session. "But in practice it's not just about Brexit. It's about the fact that the government is in a minority in Parliament, it's been very hard to do anything significant on a legislative front, without risking  defeats,So yes there's a lot to do and the new session may help a bit, but even once Brexit is done, the government won't have a large majority, so it may be looking for an election to try and increase that majority and do more on the domestic front."
8. Can Jeremy Corbyn hold an alternative parliament if the Queen has suspended Parliament? - Luke
"Jeremy Corbyn can hold whatever meetings he likes," Ms White (of the Institute for Government) says.  "Any group of MPs can meet when Parliament isn't sitting, and can hold discussions and can choose to vote, but it won't have any constitutional significance. It doesn't actually do anything in legislative terms."
9. Is there any valid reason why the government couldn't have waited until after 31 October to suspend Parliament for a new session? - Chris S
Ms White says: "I think the answer to that is they don't want to. This is a political choice. Prorogation is a political choice and they've chosen the timing of this because they think it suits what they are trying to achieve."

Banks Must Pledge to Keep A Branch in Every Town Or Face Legislation.

Consumers should have a legal right to have a bank branch in the town if there is no voluntary commitment, a group of MPs have said.  The government should seek a pledge from banks to retain at least one branch in every town, or introduce legislation to make it a statutory requirement if that is not forthcoming, recommends a report on access to cash from the Scottish Affairs Committee.  And in the wake of a spate of cash machine closures Scotland, the report calls on ministers to consider all measures, including legislation, to ensure communities still have access to vital banking services.   The report will be launched today in Cambuslang, a town of 25,000, which went from having three bank branches to having none in 2017 in the space of 11 months. At the same time the number of cash machines dropped from four to two.  A community council survey of local residents carried out earlier this year over the impact of the closures found that over three in four found it had a "major negative impact".  Scotland has also lost one in three bank branches in just eight years, with over 400 closing since 2015, making it one of the worst affected areas in the UK, and more often than not, the cashpoints will also disappear with them.  In Scotland cash machines were disappearing at a rate of 32 a month in the 11 months to April. At that point there were 6008 cashpoints in Scotland, with 359 ATMs gone over 11 months.  The Scottish Affairs Committee is concerned that many communities have now been left without a single bank in their town and that the nation has "suffered proportionally more" bank closures than the rest of the UK.  And the MPs report stresses that if banks refuse to make a commitment to stop closing the last bank branch in the town, the Government should consider introducing legislation to "prevent further bank closures and ensure communities still have access to essential banking services".  Commenting on the report, the committee chairman Pete Wishart MP said: “It is disgraceful that banks think they can abandon Scottish towns with no access to essential financial services.  Last year my committee demanded that RBS halt their march of bank branch closures, but since then the picture seems to have just deteriorated further – in 2018 in Scotland 355 ATMs were shut down, and bank branches continue to close at an alarming rate.  Scottish communities are becoming 'cash free' against their will and it is time the Government stepped in to intervene. My committee is calling on the Government to stop banks from closing the last remaining bank branch in town.  It is essential that towns are left with at least one bank, so if the banks won’t make this commitment themselves, the Government should consider legislating.”  It was revealed in June that the ATM Industry Association, in warning as many as 1000 cashpoints in Scotland will turn to charging in the next year said the problem revolves around a 10% or 2p cut in the fee that the bank pays cash machine operators every time money is withdrawn. The report says that in towns with no bank branch remaining it is reported that people are now forced to travel outside their community to access cash and having to pay, directly or indirectly, to access their money.  Businesses also suffer from their customers’ lack of access to cash, as costly digital payment systems are often rendered unreliable by a weak phone signal or broadband connection.

Want Full Fibre? Head to the Hebrides
Grimsay in the Outer Hebrides, a three mile-long rocky outcrop linked to Benbecula by a causeway, has just a hundred households - and the best fibre broadband connections in the UK.  Grimsay and Great Bernera, a hundred miles to the north, have both been given full fibre broadband, meaning every home in these tiny remote communities can now get fibre piped right to the door.  This makes them unusual - just 7% of UK homes have access to full fibre, which means we lag far behind many of our European neighbours.  In his campaign for the Tory leadership the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson made great play of a pledge to bring fibre into every home by 2025.  But the operation to wire up Grimsay and Great Bernera shows how expensive that could be. It is part of the Digital Scotland project which has seen £442m spent - the lion's share coming from the Scottish government - to make sure rural areas do not miss out on the fibre broadband revolution.  People like Robin and Michelle Spratt, who run a candle-making business from their Grimsay home and take in bed and breakfast guests, say the fibre is already proving transformative.  Expensive satellite broadband used to be the only option here and when guests asked for the wifi password they had to say no because they would quickly burn up the monthly data allowance.  "It was embarrassing," says Robin. "But since the fibre came all that's changed."  John MacDonald, who runs his haulage business from Grimsay, points to another reason why fast fibre is now becoming a vital resource for any company that wants to stay competitive.  He takes part in online auctions to buy new equipment and explains that using slow satellite broadband he would often be several bids behind the action: "Now I can keep up with the bids."  Up the road at the Uist Wool Mill, Hazel Smith points to the rusty satellite dish on the roof and looks forward to its replacement by a fibre connection later this month.  This community enterprise has found that its vital marketing efforts have been hampered by the lack of reliable connectivity.  But Hazel says the wider community will benefit, with people less likely to leave the island communities: "Being able to work online and at a distance is hugely important - it means you can live where you want to live, but still do a city style job." Fibre campaigners have long argued that this kind of connectivity is more vital in remote rural areas than the cities, and have called for them to be first rather than last in the queue for the latest technology.  But this comes at a cost - BT reckons the price of connecting the most rural 10% of the population comes in at £4,000 per household as compared to £400 for people in cities.

EU to 'Withdraw' Current Deadline for Brexit and Remove No-deal Option
Gordon Brown has said the European Union will next week "withdraw" the current deadline for Brexit and remove any excuse for no-deal on October 31.  The former Labour Prime Minister said his belief was based on talks with EU leaders in recent days. He said he hoped it would give MPs more time to pass emergency legislation to block no-deal.  He told a thinktank seminar in Edinburgh: "I have actually been talking to some European leaders this week.  I believe that next week the European Union will withdraw the October 31st deadline and remove the excuse that Boris Johnson has and the claim that he's making that it's the European Union being inflexible in their timing, and make it possible for MPs to vote [against] no-deal Brexit."  Launching the pro-Union thinktank Our Scottish Future, Mr Brown also warned the government's lack of statesmanship and 'wise leadership' was making the current constitutional crisis worse.  He said: "I think it's true to say that Boris Johnson is not just shredding the constitution, he's tearing our country apart.  Britain is being broken up as a result of what he's doing and it will take years and perhaps decades to recover from the actions that are now being contemplated by this government if we are not in a position to stop them."  Martin Whitfield, Labour MP for East Lothian, said: “Boris Johnson has wrongly been trying to blame the EU for the current impasse, when it is his government which has set impossible red lines. It is his government that is inflexible, not the EU.  If EU leaders are prepared to extend the deadline to give MPs more time to prevent a no-deal Brexit that would be an incredibly positive step.  It is Boris Johnson who is trampling over our democracy, not the EU. Time is tight and we need to fight against his disastrous no-deal Brexit plan and fight to give the people the choice to remain in the EU.”

Boris Johnson Urged to Submit Sworn Statement Amid No-deal Brexit Court Battle
Boris Johnson has been urged to submit a sworn statement under oath to a Scottish court setting out his reasons for suspending Parliament.   Aidan O'Neill QC, a lawyer acting for a cross-party group of 76 MPs and peers seeking to prevent the Prime Minister from proroguing Westminster, made the suggestion at the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  It came after an attempt to stop Mr Johnson suspending Parliament suffered a temporary setback. Lord Raymond Doherty rejected an emergency bid to suspend the order proroguing Parliament and issue an interim interdict – similar to an injunction in England and Wales – to stop ministers or anyone else “from seeking by any means to advise the Queen to prorogue the Westminster Parliament” prior to exit day on October 31.  However, he did not give a ruling on whether the move to suspend Parliament is unlawful, and moved a full hearing forward to Tuesday next week.  He said: "It is in the interest of justice that it proceeds sooner rather than later – and in the public interest that it proceeds sooner rather than later."  A cross-party group of politicians, led by SNP MP Joanna Cherry, want the Court of Session to rule that suspending Parliament is unlawful and unconstitutional. Speaking outside the Court of Session, Ms Cherry called on the Prime Minister to "tell the truth" and have the courage of his convictions. She said: "If he believes that he has a good case for prorogation, he should have the guts to swear an affidavit."  Ms Cherry has already submitted an affidavit insisting that suspending Westminster would not give MPs enough time to debate Brexit.  She said she anticipated the case going all the way to the UK Supreme Court.  Mr O'Neill previously argued the decision to prorogue Parliament for five weeks ahead of Brexit is an abuse of power unprecedented since the age of the Stuart kings.  He told the court the UK is a constitutional democracy ruled by law, adding: “We do not live in a totalitarian state.” However, Lord Doherty said he was "not satisfied that it has been demonstrated that there's a cogent need for interim suspension or interim interdict to be granted at this stage".  He said both sides will have the opportunity to present their arguments at a full hearing next week. He also said his refusal to grant an interdict was not a judgement on whether prorogation is unlawful.  Roddy Dunlop QC, acting for the UK Westminster Government, urged Lord Doherty to hold the full hearing on Wednesday next week, rather than Tuesday, due to prior commitments in the legal team. This was rejected.  The UK Westminster government faces similar legal actions in London and Belfast from those seeking to stop prorogation.

Plea for £90 Million Annual Investment in Towns Such As Wick and Thurso
A call for £90 million to be invested annually in Scottish towns such as Wick and Thurso has been supported by the Caithness Chamber of Commerce and local civic leader Willie Mackay.  They back the plea made by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Scotland which urges the Scottish and UK Westminster governments to do more to support "hard-pressed towns". It wants both governments to direct the Scottish National Investment Bank and the UK Stronger Towns Fund respectively to invest in projects and properties that would boost Scottish high streets and town centres.  According to the federation, Highland towns have seen more than 400 closures of shops, bank branches, petrol stations and police stations since 2016.  In its latest national report, Transforming Towns: Delivering a Sustainable Future for Local Places, FSB Scotland identifies measures which can help reinvigorate these areas.  It calls for £90 million annual investment in Scottish towns and the creation of a new Scottish Government commission to tackle the blight of empty properties. FSB Highlands and Islands development manager David Richardson said: "We are calling on governments north and south of the border to invest heavily in our towns to help them overcome current challenges and to lay the groundwork for them becoming great places to live, work and play in the future. Many businesses and their customers are heavily reliant on these services.  "The closure of shops, banks, petrol pumps, council offices, courts and police stations in Highland towns is about much more than the ending of a few services, the loss of some jobs and the disposal of a redundant building or two, important though these are. Many businesses and their customers are heavily reliant on these services and the cumulative impact of their closures can cause considerable inconvenience and make towns much less attractive places to be.  This matters at a time when efforts are being made to retain and attract more young people and families to the Highlands to rebalance the population and safeguard the future viability of this region."

Appendix 1
The Scottish Tories Need to Cut the UK Party Adrift By Rebecca McQuillan
So the Scottish Conservatives are back to being … well, the Scottish Conservatives. Thanks to Ruth Davidson, they’ve been – no, not cool or trendy, never remotely that – but just a bit less Tory. That was always her gift: to change the projector image in our heads of a Conservative from a ruddy-faced, tweedy retired colonel to a short, tiggerish, cropped-headed lesbian. Urban, not rural; young, not old; fun, not disapproving, superficially at least.  Being a stooge for Boris Johnson didn’t suit Ruth at all. Now she’s gone, that ignominy will pass to her successor, whoever that benighted soul might be.  Because the Scottish Conservatives are in deep trouble. Anyone seeking the leadership now will have to justify the jaw-dropping actions of Boris Johnson, and how do they do that? An unelected prime minister who lacks a workable parliamentary majority is trying to force through a policy he knows will damage lives and livelihoods – a policy that no one voted for – by gagging our elected representatives.  How do you defend that in a country that voted overwhelmingly to remain and is showing signs of preferring the idea of independence than staying yoked to his derided government?

It doesn’t help that the accompanying deceitfulness of the UK Cabinet has been as base as the act itself. If hypocrisy were a competitive event, self-styled defender of democracy Jacob Rees-Mogg would be Team GB’s greatest hope, with his brazen insistence that suspending parliament for 23 working days at such a critical time was nothing at all to do with cutting parliament out of the Brexit debate.  Liar liar, coat-tails on fire. Mooning from the windows of Conservative Central Office would have shown less contempt for voters.  There is no coming back from this for any politician who tries to defend it.  Ms Davidson did not name Johnson as a reason for leaving (doing so would have put her successor in an intolerable position), making only a passing reference to “the conflict I have felt over Brexit” but the timing was potent. There’s the right side of history and the wrong side, and Ruth Davidson could see where she was headed. Polling already showed the Tories would suffer for having Johnson as leader. After he suspended parliament, how could she find the motivation to defend it?  There is another problem for the Scottish Tories: the vulnerability of Davidson’s legacy. Not the party’s anti-independence cred – no-one seriously questions that – but in broadening their appeal.

Don’t let the presence of Sajid Javid fool you: this is the most privileged UK cabinet for a generation. Of the 33 ministers who attend it, 22 are privately educated (Scottish Secretary Alister Jack among them), four went to Eton and 15 to Oxbridge. “An Eton coup” is how Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie aptly describes the proroguing of parliament, and he’s right. Mr Johnson is the second Etonian Prime Minister in less than four years (the other having complacently unleashed this chaos on the nation) and his Cabinet symbolises the stranglehold the class system still has on British life. It’s a very different look from the one embodied by Davidson and damaging to the brand.  More broadly, her departure marks the collapse of an unprecedented period in British public life when women ruled, many of them recognisable by their first names only: Nicola, Kezia, Ruth, Theresa, Leanne, Arlene, Caroline. Not any more. Ruth Davidson retreats citing the toll frontline politics has taken on her family and friends; ditto Kezia Dugdale, the former Scottish Labour leader. Theresa May has been ousted, Leanne Wood replaced. Jo Swinson joins Sturgeon and Lucas to face the massed ranks of Brexiteers who now treat British democracy as their plaything. It’s hard to see this as progress.

So what happens next? Tory MSP Murdo Fraser’s idea of creating a separate, independent Scottish Conservative party free to criticise the UK management, has to be worth dusting off. Yes, separation might seem perverse for a unionist party; yes, the resulting MPs might suffer from split loyalties if their leader were a Scottish MSP while their career prospects depended on the UK Conservative leader, but wouldn’t it be less uncomfortable than playing the apologist when Boris Johnson flirted with the tactics of a tinpot dictator? Surely flagellating yourself with a Vote Leave lanyard would be less uncomfortable than that.  If it seems a drastic option, then that’s just the zeitgeist. The old-fashioned UK system of government is being tested to breaking point. It needs reform like a desert needs water. If we have a monarch who can be used by an unscrupulous Prime Minister to circumvent parliament, then we should rethink the role of the monarch, or whether we have one at all (we should not, in my view, though it would be wrong to blame the Queen personally for the current guddle).

If the House of Lords can be stuffed with unelected peers by the unelected Prime Minister in order to block the will of our elected representatives (Dominic Cummings’ latest wheeze), then we should be insisting that MPs legislate to get rid of it and replace it.  And if we want a system of government that reflects the will, needs and desires of the population outside the south east of England, then we should start talking seriously to people about the benefits of federal government.  But that is for later, when the far-reaching implications of Brexit and Johnson’s constitutional gerrymandering become clear.

The pressing questions now are whether MPs of six parties will be able to work together outmanoeuvring the most shameless of opponents to prevent no-deal (perhaps), and whether the suspension of parliament is just a ruse by Johnson to make MPs pass a vote of no confidence, precipitating a general election in which he can portray them as opponents of the people (probably). No wonder Ruth Davidson has had enough.  Whoever takes over from her will need “cojones of steel” as Davidson once said of Theresa May, to stand up to Boris Johnson and their Scottish opponents at one and the same time. The alternative is to hand their strings over to Downing Street and let the chief puppeteer do the rest, which would only propel the Tories back into the political wilderness.  It’s not much of a gig. One wonders why anyone would want it.