Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 518

Issue # 518                                     Week ending Saturday 21st  September 2019

Who stole the pancakes? Somebody knows and is pointing the finger by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

What happened to Donald Trump? He had such lovely parents. That is the question posed by a relative of the former host of The Apprentice, who currently has another equally high-profile entertainment role, which gives him some even more airtime on both sides of the Atlantic. Alice Mackay is also reported to be saying that during a visit by the TV star, whose trademark was pointing the finger and saying You’re Fired, made off with her tasty pancakes. She doesn’t say how they were baked - pale or well-fired.

I’m not sure everyone would agree that both parents were lovely but his mother Mary Anne Macleod, originally from Tong, near Stornoway, is fondly remembered in a new film just out. A documentary, The President’s Mother, was made here on Lewis and on the other side of the pond. It was on BBC Alba last night so I will be able to catch up soon. There’s nothing like sitting down to watch the box with a mug of tea and a stack of pancakes. Hey, they’re mine, all mine. You’re not getting any - no matter who you are or who you’re related to.

It’s not just Donald Trump. I must ask what has happened to the Liberal Democrats? They’ve changed. They are the party who were told to go home and prepare for government, and then slept in. That was back in the early-1980s when David Steel was in charge and they were part of the Social Democratic Party-Liberal Party Alliance, a vote-losing mouthful which everyone got very excited about for a week or two. Yes, the latest reincarnation, as the LibDems, have been part of a coalition or two since then but, come on, they have not been able to do very much to write home about.

Maybe it is because it is currently party conference season and the politicos get the chance to grab the airwaves and some column inches but they are getting a bit, er, boisterous. Jo Swinson, the leader for the last few minutes, wants your votes because she says the LibDems are the party to stop Brexit. Gasps all round. No sooner has she sat back down than Willie Rennie, the friendly, smiley manager of her Scottish team, is saying we can all rely on the LibDems to stop another independence referendum as well. Really?

Half a dozen politicians from elsewhere have recently defected to the Lib Dems. Chukka Umunna has laid his hat there, actually his third party on a few months. The apple cart is wobbling and all they need to upset it, of course, are your votes, and mine. Don’t laugh. The pollsters are now saying if a general election was held tomorrow, the LibDems would romp home. As a week is famously a long time in politics, a rousing speech by Jeremy Corbyn at next weekend’s Labour Party conference could change all that. I said it could, but, no, I don’t think it will either.

He is saying this when more Scots seem to be saying they would back independence if it meant staying in Europe - while keeping the current great deal we have with the EU. Ahem. This is where my head begins to hurt and I begin to think that maybe there is something to all these mind-boggling posts all over Facebook which claim that Brexit is a fake, and that it is never going to happen, and that the last three to five years have all been about persuading us that there is no case to leave.

Then there are the other conspiracy theorists who say Brexit is a fake because the decision was taken years ago to kick us out and there is nothing we can do about it anyway. Then there are the ones that say Brexit is just healthy democracy in action and the arguments and the delays are a sign of a great nation making up its mind - but slowly as all big decisions should be - and they never noticed anything amiss written on the sides of any buses and, if there were, there is nothing there now.

Mrs X is back from shopping I see. She has bought cake. They were probably sold out of pancakes. Oh well. She has bought that lovely cake we got the other week. I call it Kim Kardashian cake and herself is baffled why. She is not so good at written Gaelic so I have to explain it. She is not so fantastic at spoken Gaelic either - apart from “Tha mi ag iarraidh airgiod” - which means I want money. She knows that phrase alright.

The confection in question is called Coulmore. I thought it was made near Inverness. After all, there is a Coulmore Bay Caravan Park in North Kessock. It turns out that it is actually made in County Cork in the Republic of Ireland. So Coulmore? I take that as the anglicisation of the same two words as we have in Scots Gaelic - cùl and mór. That is what happens if you eat too much of the cake because cùl mór means big behind.

Corbyn Says Fife Wind Farm Contract Plan 'Not Credible'
Jeremy Corbyn says plans to manufacture parts for a £2bn wind farm off the Fife coast at a site thousands of miles away are not credible.  It comes after energy giant EDF said no Scottish company had the capability to manufacture and supply the steel required for the Neart na Gaoithe site.  Mothballed manufacturer BiFab had hoped to secure the work to build wind turbine jackets for the project.  There is growing speculation the work will be done in Indonesia.  The GMB and Unite unions have been campaigning for the work to come to the Bifab yards in Methil and Burntisland, a few miles from where the new wind farm will be created.  EDF said it was currently in a structured procurement process, which started with tier one contractors who would deliver large sub packages of the NnG project.  The French-owned energy giant said it was working closely with its tier one preferred suppliers to encourage them to use Scottish suppliers for tier two work packages, such as the manufacturing of some of the jackets for the turbine foundations and the manufacturing of towers.  A spokesman for EDF said: "It is essential whichever supplier is chosen that they are competitive so UK energy consumers are not overpaying for their energy."  The issue was raised at an event in Kirkcaldy, where the UK Labour leader addressed workers and trade unionists at a rally following the Fighting For Our Future march. Mr Corbyn, who called for a "Green industrial revolution", said it was not credible to "drag" manufactured parts 8,000 miles to the wind farm site.  He said: "Allocation of work is a very important issue indeed.  "It really is not credible to say that it's the right thing to do to build facilities that will be used for the generation of electricity on wind farms in the vicinity, almost in sight of the coast, and you're dragging the manufactured parts to make those wind turbines 8,000 miles by sea with steel that's probably come from 10,000 miles away.  Where is the sustainability in that? The sustainability is in using the local skills, using the local knowledge, using your own manufacturing capability and developing the infrastructure that goes with it, and so we as a party are working very hard on the principles of what I call a green industrial revolution."  Scottish Greens Fife MSP Mark Ruskell also addressed the STUC rally.  He said there should be no offshore wind farm leases issued from the Crown Estate without the guarantee of local jobs, and that government subsidies should be conditional on local input.  He added: "We can't rely on the dead hand of the free market to grow jobs. Oil and gas companies will extract every last drop until production goes over the cliff and takes communities dependent on the jobs with it."

Vine Centre Confirmed As 'Permanent' Base
Learner drivers from the Cowdenbeath-Lochgelly area will be able to remain sitting their tests in Dunfermline.  The news comes after months of uncertainty for learners, instructors and examiners, after the original test centre at Pitreavie was closed down.  Initially, driving tests were run out of the Vine Centre on a temporary basis three times a week, but now the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) has committed to using the venue long-term. Douglas Chapman, MP for Crossgates, Hill of Beath and Moss-side, has welcomed news that the Vine Conference Centre will be used the long-term driving test centre in Dunfermline. The service will still be run Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and delivering nine programmes a week (7 tests in a programme).  But Mr. Chapman will continue to question whether three days is enough and for assurances on waiting times – which were said to be as high as eight weeks.  Commenting Mr. Chapman, the Dunfermline and West Fife MP, said: “I am delighted to hear that Dunfermline will have a long-term home for its driving test centre.  I hope this will eventually become its permanent home and we can return to running a service 5 days a week, which the original centre at Pitreavie offered.  This brings some certainty to instructors, who were fearing the worst, that the service could move to Kirkcaldy and Dunfermline and the and West and Central Fife area, would be without a service". But he added: “I will continue to push the DVSA to make the Vine Centre a permanent fixture and for waiting times to be reduced as the reports of 8 week waiting lists for tests was unacceptable.  Again, I cannot thank the Vine Conference Centre enough for the generosity and patience they have shown throughout this process, without them learner drivers in the Dunfermline area and adjoining communities probably would be without a driving test centre."

New Keiss Hotel Reignites Community Spirit
A Keiss hotel has taken on a new lease of life to create a vibrant community hub in the village.  For five years the Sinclair Bay Hotel had been up for sale – and, with the closure of the last village shop a couple of years ago, there seemed to be a "real need to bring back a sense of community spirit", according to new owners John and Nicola Russell.  The couple put in a huge effort, filling numerous skips along the way, to resurrect the hotel and give a focal point for locals to visit along with numerous North Coast 500 tourists heading to or from John O'Groats.  When the local shop closed just under two years ago a lot of Keissers thought the village was just going to die. There was no social hub or anywhere to meet," John said.  "Now that we've taken over, the hotel has been hosting local meetings, we have a special day for pensioners every second week and we even do takeaways for folk so they don't have to go off into Wick. Our staff is mainly made up from local people too."  The hotel has also been hosting meetings by the local community council and the couple say that villagers are telling them they can't believe the difference.  "They tell us it's so clean and fresh and friendly," John said. "The place was pretty run down when we took it over. I fixed up buildings as a job, so I did a lot of the work here myself.  It was a long-term ambition of mine to run a pub so I did my homework and tried to see what local people really wanted." The couple had their work cut out for them as the hotel had been on the market for five years and was very run down. "There were even old John O'Groat Journals under the carpet that dated back to 1974," said John.  It opened in May and started doing a few meals a night at first but then found demand was rising and ended up having to cater for up to 30 meals in an evening.  Nicola said: "We sold our house at Broadhaven and now live here in the hotel. For the first week or two we worried we might have made a mistake with all the work that needed doing but it's all been worth it in the end."  She said that doing the "homework" beforehand really paid dividends so they could work out what people really wanted. "We went around a few different places to work out what would work best for our menus and suchlike."  After two skips and four 14ft farm trailers of rubbish were carted off to the dump at Seater, the hotel began to take shape and they went down to the bar to greet the locals after moving in.  "We were totally mobbed the following night and it's been doing really well since. It really feels like a lifeline to the locals," John said.  With the scenes from the popular TV drama The Crown due to be filmed at Keiss harbour the Sinclair Bay Hotel might soon be playing host to "royalty" as well.

Melness Church Could Be Saved by Becoming Multi-denominational
In an unusual move, Christians of various denominations may come together to save a Sutherland village’s last remaining church.  A proposal has been put forward for Roman Catholics, Episcopalians and other Christians to use Melness Church of Scotland, which faces closure.  A meeting will be taking place at the church to discuss its future.  The Sutherland Presbytery of the kirk has called the meeting but made it clear it cannot afford to keep Melness – which is linked to St Andrews in Tongue – open.  The churches’ minister, the Rev Dr Beverly Cushman, who was the first woman ordained in the state of Louisiana in the US back in 1977, said she was “open” to the idea of different Christian denominations using the building, but stressed they would have to be responsible for it.  Dr Cushman, who has six churches in her two parishes of Altnaharra and Farr and Melness and Tongue, said Melness only attracted a few worshippers.  “The most I have had is five,” she admitted, “while at St Andrews we have 15-20 each week. Melness also only has two services a month. We want people to come and talk about the church building, about their feelings and ideas for it. To discuss options.  But we can no longer afford it. For the congregation it is too late to save it – the church is scheduled to close. We have been losing thousands of pounds each year.”  Talmine resident John Williams has contacted various Christian denominations to float the idea of a shared building.  It could be a model for other Christian groups facing the same situation,” he said.  Christians here do get on. Roman Catholic services in the community centre are once a month, so there is scope for shared use.  I have spoken to an elder of the Melness Church and he thought it was a good idea. We are all worshipping the same God after all. They would be separate services but just in the same building.  Some local people have also paid for the window replacement in the church, which is an important local building.  Hopefully it might be possible to put together some amalgam of CoS, Episcopalians, Catholics and any others of good intent to keep this, the last working church in Melness functioning.”  Dr Cushman added: “It’s a lovely church with a gorgeous view, but it needs a new roof.  It is a terribly sad thing to close a church. We are certainly open to other Christian denominations sharing it.  We would love to see something come out of that.” Construction of Melness Church began in 1896 and was completed in 1902.

Anger At Closures of Uist Dental Clinics
Dental clinics are to close in Uist and be replaced by a new central "hub", under plans jointly approved by the local health board and council.  Surgeries at Lochmaddy in North Uist and Liniclate in Benbecula are to shut.  A practice in Lochboisdale in South Uist was previously closed and will not re-open.  Dental services are to be centralised at Balivanich in Benbecula, a move criticised by Uist and Barra independent councillors.  They are angry about a loss of local services.  Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant has backed islanders' calls for a Scottish government inquiry into the decision.  Members of the Western Isles Integration Joint Board, which oversees health care services, failed to reach a majority decision on the future shape of Uist dental services following a vote.  The chief executives of NHS Western Isles and local authority Comhairle nan Eilean Siar were asked to resolve the dispute and have agreed that the central hub be created.  The health board said: "An implementation plan will be drawn up to give effect to the new model, and will ensure monitoring the effectiveness of the service model as it is rolled out."

Flamingo Land Withdraw Loch Lomond Resort Bid
Flamingo Land has formally withdrawn its planning application to build a £30m tourist resort on Loch Lomond.  The move comes after officials for the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park Authority recommended its board reject the bid earlier this month.  More than 55,000 objections were lodged against the Lomond Banks development between April and May.  But the team behind the project have not ruled out submitting a fresh application at a later date.  Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer, who led the campaign against the plans, tweeted: "We've won this battle but it's not over.  They will resubmit, in a transparent attempt to cancel the 57,000 objections lodged against them this time."  Flamingo Land Ltd and Scottish Enterprise confirmed they have informed the National Park Authority they collectively wish to withdraw the live planning application.  Andy Miller, director of Lomond Banks, said: "We've been working hard with all parties, including the National Park Authority, for more than two years to ensure all information relating to the proposed development was made readily available.  We know the national park recognises that the majority of what we propose fits in with the LDP [local development plan].  It is therefore surprising and disappointing that their recommendation report raises previously unidentified concerns and highlights the need for new additional information."  He said the move would grant the team sufficient time to understand new concerns, provide additional information requested and consider the most appropriate course of action.  Mr Miller added: "Our priority now is to fully understand concerns, gather the necessary information and dispel some of the myths that continue to circulate around our ambitions for the site.  It is only at this point, we will consider re-submitting our plans to ensure decision makers will be able to take a fully informed decision on this important application."  The final say on the development rested with the park authority - not West Dunbartonshire Council.  The proposals include a 60-bedroom apart-hotel, a 32-bedroom budget accommodation, a craft brewery, boat house, leisure centre and restaurants.  Scottish Enterprise director Allan McQuade said: "Any proposed plan and investment of this scale must be considered from all angles and subsequent planning and investment decisions based on hard evidence and fact therefore it is only right that the current planning application be withdrawn to allow sufficient time for all parties to consider additional new information.  As with previous developments at Loch Lomond, we understand people are concerned and our priority is to ensure that any development on the parcel of derelict land in Balloch is delivered in line with planning policy."  It was estimated the Lomond Banks development at Balloch would create 80 full-time jobs, 50 part-time jobs and 70 seasonal roles in the area.  While the proposal was drawn up by the theme-park operator, it was not branded as Flamingo Land. The developers have previously insisted the resort would not be a theme park.  Campaigners feared the project would spoil the scenery and limit access to the shoreline for locals.  A park authority report notes the plan "has not demonstrated that there will be no adverse impacts on the character or integrity" of the existing asset.  It states: "Two key elements of the application - proposals in Drumkinnon Wood and at the Pierhead area - would result in significant unacceptable impacts on the landscape, visual amenity, and trees and woodland.  As a result, the proposed development would adversely affect the area's built heritage and the enjoyment of the Pierhead area by both visitors and locals.  There are no socio-economic reasons, or public benefits that would outweigh these reasons. It is also not considered that the use of planning conditions could reasonably control or mitigate these impacts."

Community Fridge Project Saves 10 Kilos of Food From Landfill
A new free fridge project is putting fresh food back on the kitchen table in a bid to dramatically reduce waste.  Belville Community Garden's campaign has stopped 9.2 kilos of fresh fruit and veg from needlessly ending up in landfill in the last four months alone.  The eco team are filling fridges placed in schools and community centres with perishables handed over by supermarkets.  Now to help assist their efforts the project has produced an Inverclyde Food Map setting out the locations of all community fridges and where free food is available. Garden manager Laura Reilly said: "We can't believe how successful the project has been so far.  We are well on the way to overtaking our target, which was 15 kilos in a year.  We are nearly there with only four months gone.  Our aim is to put the fridges into places where people can get access to them and the most benefit.  We then make sure we go round with supplies and keep filling them up.  We want people to think about food waste and how to prevent it - we also want people to learn more about cooking with vegetables.  The food we need the most - fresh fruit and vegetables - can be the most expensive for people to buy.  But so much goes to waste and we want to change that."  Belville Garden's community fridge project is being funded through the government's Climate Challenge Fund grant.  One of the most successful locations so far has been Blairmore Nursery in Greenock's east end, where families can open the community fridge and find a plentiful supply of food to take home. The youngsters also use some of it for cooking in nursery to help with their learning.  Head teacher Marie Crawford said: "It is a great project.  Our parents are really on board and families really make great use of it.  We also run cooking groups as well."

How Has Scotland Changed Since the Indyref?

Five years have passed since the Scottish independence referendum. BBC Scotland looks at how the country's politics has changed since then, and how likely we are to do it all again. If you're a Scot over the age of 16, there's an 84.59% chance you were in a polling station at some point, ticking Yes or No on the question of independence.  When those ballot papers were counted up, the No pile was bigger by 55% to 45% - but that was just the beginning of the story.  Wherever you were that day, it's unlikely you would have predicted where we would all be five years later, with the UK seemingly jammed halfway out the exit door of the EU and the question of Scotland's part in it decidedly unresolved.  What has happened during this extraordinary period of political turmoil, and where does it leave us?  The wheels of history were turning within hours of the vote. Alex Salmond, Scotland's longest serving first minister and SNP leader, announced he was stepping down.  He was far from the last - if a year is a long time in politics, five is apparently a lifetime. The cast of characters at the top of the game has changed almost completely.  This is particularly true on what was supposedly the winning side - David Cameron, Alastair Darling, Nick Clegg, Ed Miliband, Jim Murphy, Kezia Dugdale and now even Ruth Davidson have all bowed out of frontline politics.  Mr Salmond's replacement was at least a familiar face - his deputy Nicola Sturgeon, who embarked on a sold-out stadium tour before returning the SNP to government in the 2016 Holyrood election.  Other members of the Yes campaign have gone on to secure prominent positions - like Mhairi Black taking Douglas Alexander's Westminster seat, or Jeane Freeman winning one at Holyrood and rising to the post of health secretary. Somehow, the issue of Scottish independence has boosted the fortunes of both the party most strongly in favour of it - the SNP - and the one most staunchly opposed to it - the Conservatives.  The SNP were the first to have a surge post-indyref, recruiting tens of thousands of new members under Ms Sturgeon and going on to score a stunning landslide in the following year's general election.  It's hard to understate just how massive the 2015 election result was. The SNP gained almost a million votes and 50 constituencies, leaping from third place in Scotland in 2010 to holding all but three seats.  For the losers, the headline was Labour's near wipeout, losing 40 seats. But the Lib Dems, fresh from five years of coalition with the Tories, also saw their vote utterly collapse, losing more than half their support and 10 seats.  All of a sudden, the SNP were the third party at Westminster - and by a comfortable margin.  Some of the new MPs didn't have a lot of time to settle in, though, because another election was coming down the tracks only two years later. This time, the pendulum swung in a different direction. The Scottish Conservatives were the ones cashing in on the constitutional question in 2017, draping themselves in the Union flag as the "no to indyref2" party on their way to gaining 12 seats in the snap election.  The SNP lost almost half a million votes as the electoral tide went out again, shedding 21 seats - but remained in position as the dominant force in Scottish politics with the majority of the country's Westminster seats.  Labour and the Lib Dems had mini-recoveries of their own, but it was the two parties camped most vocally on either side of the question of independence who were streets ahead, combining to take almost two thirds of the votes cast in Scotland.  The electoral shifts inside the span of a few years have been dizzying in some areas. The swingometer hasn't just broken, it's melted.  There were seats comfortably held by Labour or the Lib Dems in 2010, which yielded double-digit majorities for the SNP in 2015, but then turned blue for the Tories in 2017.  Who might win them in the election broadly expected for later in 2019?  The reason we had a snap election in 2017 and seem poised to have another is because the electorate were asked another binary constitutional question - about membership of the European Union.  In that 2016 contest, 62% of voters in Scotland backed Remain - while 52% across the UK as a whole voted to Leave.  Politicians have spent the three and a half years since then trying to work out exactly what "leave" means, and how to go about doing it.  Theresa May - who succeeded David Cameron as prime minister shortly after the referendum - tried a snap election to boost her majority, and ended up wiping it out. After failing to get a deal she negotiated with European leaders past the Commons, she handed over to Boris Johnson, who is locked in a struggle of his own with MPs.  All the while, the disparity between the vote in Scotland and the vote UK-wide has gnawed away, ever-present in the local debate. Unsurprisingly, the pro-independence parties see it as a decisive point in their favour; equally unsurprisingly, the unionist parties are unconvinced.  As we can see in the wild swings in the various elections held since - including a European election which saw the Brexit Party finish second in Scotland and Labour fifth - what the electorate make of it all is less clear.  Combined, the two referendums seem to have raised constitutional questions which are, as of yet, unresolved.  You will probably have noticed that the issue of independence hasn't exactly gone away over the last five years. Each of the political parties have marked the anniversary by restating arguments which have by now become extremely familiar.  So...are we going to have another referendum?  As with everything in politics, it's uncertain - and depends on who you ask.  The Scottish government are certainly pushing for a new vote, in the second half of 2020, and have drawn up legislation which might pave the way for one.  But Ms Sturgeon insists she wants to do a deal with the UK Westminster government first - the model followed in 2014 - to make sure everything is nice and legal. And given the UK Westminster government has spent the last two years saying no, that could prove a considerable sticking point.  Could the upcoming general election prove pivotal?  Well, whoever ends up in Downing Street - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn - it seems like they would be far more focused on Brexit in the first instance.  Mr Johnson is staunchly against independence, and Mr Corbyn wants to hold a fresh referendum on EU membership. While the SNP would welcome one of those, it would presumably impact on the timetable for indyref2, were the new PM to agree to it.  So the 2021 Holyrood election could end up being another contest which becomes a battle for a mandate, for or against indyref2.  The question of Scotland's place in the UK hasn't gone away over the past five years, and it doesn't seem like it's going to be going away any time soon.

'Revival' of Scottish Islands Populations
Scottish island populations are showing signs of increasing after years of decline, according to researchers and community groups.  The James Hutton Institute, Scotland's Rural College, Community Development Lens and Community Land Scotland have been gathering evidence of growth.  Their examples include populations in Colonsay and west Harris.  The organisations said young people choosing to stay or return to island communities was a factor.  They have issued a joint statement, called the Islands Revival Declaration, to highlight "green shoots" of population growth.  The groups said the rises had still to show up in official statistics, such as the Census.  Community Land Scotland's policy director, Dr Calum MacLeod, said: "The Islands Revival Declaration rightly highlights local control of land and marine assets as a key driver of positive population change in some island areas. The challenge now is to ensure that public policy maximises opportunities for more of that local control to be exercised through community ownership and other means to enable the continuing sustainability of all our islands communities."  Colonsay has seen "modest increases" with 106 people in 1991, 113 in 2001 and 132 in 2011, according to Census figures.  The groups said they expected the upward trend to continue into 2021.  In Harris, work by the West Harris Trust community group, which includes building affordable homes, has been credited with increasing the population in that part of the island from 119 in 2012 to 151 in 2019.  The trust has set a target of reaching a population of 170 by 2020.

Plans to Allow Climbs on Forth Bridge Revived

Plans for Sydney Harbour Bridge-style climbs of the Forth Bridge have been revived.  Network Rail has applied for planning permission for a new centre at the south end of the bridge, from where parties of visitors would be led on to the 129-year-old structure.  It said the revived Forth Bridge Experience plans, six years after being unveiled, would offer “a unique and memorable visit to one of Scotland’s most loved and iconic structures”.  Groups of 12 to 15 people would don safety harnesses to tour the bridge’s south cantilever, or tower. They would climb to a new viewing platform at the top, 367ft above the Forth, using walkways built into the structure.  Each tour is expected to last some two and a half hours. Network Rail hopes the attraction will open in 2022/23.  However, estimated numbers taking part have been reduced to 85,000 a year from the 126,000 quoted when the plans were first mooted in 2013.  The scheme was subsequently put on hold because of changes to the way Network Rail is funded, with a “different type of business” needed.  Network Rail has kept on ice even more ambitious plans for a glass visitor centre and lifts at the northern end of the bridge that would take people to a viewing area at the top of the north cantilever.  It said such “longer-term plans” were still “under development”.  It had hoped to open at least one of the two schemes, originally estimated to cost a total of £15 million, for the bridge’s 125th anniversary in 2015.  The infrastructure body said: “This internationally acclaimed structure is considered one of the most ambitious and successful engineering achievements of the 19th century. Alan Ross, Network Rail Scotland’s director of engineering and asset management, said: “The Forth Bridge is an engineering icon.  The plans we have submitted to deliver a bridge walk experience will offer a unique and memorable visit to one of Scotland’s most loved structures.  From the engineering genius behind its design to the historical accounts of its construction and its crucial role in Scotland’s operational railway, the bridge really is a national treasure and there is real appetite to take these plans forward.”  A “bridge walk hub” would be created at a former works compound west of the crossing’s piers, north of Dalmeny station.  Network Rail said: “It will provide the space for visitors to undertake the necessary preparation for embarking on a bridge walk as well as providing the physical access to the bridge itself. Groups will arrive and check in and will then be taken into a briefing room where they will receive verbal and video instructions. They will then move into a changing area to receive safety clothing and harnesses.  Accompanied by a guide, groups of around 15 walkers will then exit on to the roof of the building to climb up a ramp to an upper level and then on to the bridge itself.  Walkers will wear a harness, which will be attached to a continuous running safety line starting at the foot of the access ramp.”

Shock As Gates to Historic Cemetery in Caithness Badly Damaged

Residents have been left shocked after gates to a Commonwealth War Grave cemetery in Caithness were badly damaged.  A wrought iron gate and substantial stone post were knocked over in the incident believed to have happened on Wednesday evening, at the graveyard at Corsback Cemetery, on the A836 between Dunnet and Mey.  The Corsback Graveyard has headstones dating as far back as 1560 and is an official war graves site that includes a war memorial. The graveyard is still in use.  Councillor Raymond Bremner, from Caithness, who runs a graveyard project in the north, said he was “saddened and shocked” that anyone could apparently do such damage and not report it.  Mr Bremner said: “It seems like no one knows what has happened – which is even more worrying. Someone did this, they must have known that they did – and they drove off.  I can not believe that anyone would do this. It saddens and shocks me that it could have happened. This is a graveyard, it is the place where we lay our loved ones to rest. Even if it was an accident, the person who did it should still have reported it. I am speechless at the lack of care by whoever it is that has done this. People are genuinely shocked. As many as 30 people help out every weekend in the east of the county to get our graveyards looking as best as we can.  It is terrible that someone has come along and, all I can imagine is, driven into the post and knocked it over – and then driven off. The should own up to it now.”  

How War Was Followed by Land Raids in Scotland

One hundred years ago a landmark piece of legislation was introduced in response to land raids by frustrated and disillusioned soldiers and sailors after World War One.  When the war ended, many soldiers and sailors from the Highlands and Islands returned home believing they had been promised land as a reward for their service on the frontline.  They had expected to use the land to build homes, grow crops and raise livestock to feed their families. But when they found this was not available to them as promised, they carried out raids to take control of areas of large estates.  Gress in the Isle of Lewis was the scene of one of these land raids 100 years ago.  Islander Donald Graham's grandfather was among the leading raiders. They were not armed with weapons but potatoes which they planted on property belonging to landowner Lord Leverhulme.  "I feel proud of my grandfather," Mr Graham said.  "I can feel the strength of character and the force of will to do what they did, it shows a very brave man.  "It wasn't an easy thing back in those days to challenge authority. They did and you can see the outcome today of what they went through and what they did."  Dr Iain Robertson, of the University of the Highlands and Islands' Centre for History, said there were similar land protests from Highland Perthshire up to the north of Scotland and out to the Western Isles.  "Folks had been away between 1914 and 1918. They had made the ultimate sacrifice and then came back to find their families in exactly the same social and economic conditions that they had left them four years previously," he said.  "Prime Minister David Lloyd George had allegedly promised them four acres and a cow to create a land fit for heroes."  Next week, the University of the Highlands and Islands will hold a conference to mark the passing of the 1919 Land Settlement (Scotland) Act.  The legislation was in response to the land raids and it gave the government power to buy land and then divide it up into crofts and smallholdings.  Historian Prof Jim Hunter described it as a "radical measure". "Even today it would be regarded as extremely radical," he said.  "It gave the Board of Agriculture, the government agency, the power not just to acquire land compulsory but also to force and oblige landowners to install on land still in their ownership smallholding tenants."  Prof Hunter said the legislation was "hugely liberating" for many families. "On Lewis, for instance, there was huge demand for crofts and you get this really strong sense of people looking over the fence or dyke at all this land with nothing happening on it," he said.  Dr Hunter said the aims of the 100-year-old legislation was still relevant today.  "There is again talk of rural repopulation, of putting people back in the 'empty glens' of the Highlands and Islands, and I think what is often forgotten is that this has been done already on a very wide scale and this is the significance of the act," he said.  Some people believe land reform in modern Scotland may not have been possible without the 1919 act.  Dr Robertson said the legislation encouraged people to stay in the Highlands, creating a population base.  Although you cannot directly map it, I firmly believe that out of that population base comes the conditions for the community land buyout movement some 80 years later," he added.  "That is the connection, that is why the 1919 act is so important. It creates these conditions for community land buyout, which we all know is transforming the Highlands this very day."