Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 522

Issue # 522                                                  Week ending Saturday 19th October 2019

Winter is Just Around the Corner So Get Out the Old Apple Pie and Your Mee-maw
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Brrrr. It’s beginning to feel a lot like... no, I won’t say that word. It’s months away from all that expense and misery to all men - and a few dames too. There’s a bit of a chill in the air, however, and Stornoway Amenity Trust has already gone and announced the date of the town’s festive lights switch-on. Bah, humbug. Cold weather, festive lights, shopping frenzies. Yes, it is time to get ready for the commercial mayhem to come and all in the name of a baby. Sweet Jesus.

TV schedules are tad better as we slide helplessly towards another sharp winter. I have ever really liked yon Jeremy Clarkson. He and his sidekicks on Top Gear were just childish amadans on the few occasions when I switched over to see if they were still in a job. Then they weren’t. JC now has a show where he can shine without seeming like a cross between a boy racer and Methusela.

I shouldn’t take the mickey. My mother used to tell me not to laugh at others’ situations because one day I too may end up in that position too. That’s why I giggle at Bill Gates’s situation every day.

On the revamped Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Clarkson is actually entertaining. He has other shows on the unwatchable and largely unwatched Amazon Prime whatchamacallit where, from certain accounts, he’s still allowed to be a pompous so-and-so but he is better as a quizmaster than Chris oh-dear-I-have-forgotten-his-name-already. The new Ask The Host option puts Clarkson on the spot. Funny, cheeky, stupid and then, occasionally, clever. He can be all these things in a minute.

Widely travelled, Jeremy’s brilliant at geography but on popular culture he’s the proverbial pair of short planks. Nearly 20 years ago, an Army officer thought he could win that show with someone in the audience signalling the answers by coughing. Someone in the audience the other week had a cold and spluttered loudly so Clarkson quipped: “You’re supposed to cough after the questions have been asked.”

At this point, our Australian readers will be scratching their heads. I know the show ended down there in 2006 when Tony Egan of Wagga Wagga won $32,000. Sorry, Aussies.

Also bright on the box is Sheldon Cooper, fast-talking awkward smarty pants off The Big Bang Theory. He’s back in the TBBT spin-off Young Sheldon. On E4, it’s one of the funniest ever written if you really get humour from the American South with a hint of super-intelligence in a heady mix of science with religious matriarchs and beer-swilling fathers.

As American as apple pie and purrty Hebridean too. And it’s set in the 1980s and the wee Sheldon has a mee-maw who likes a wee warming dram in the evening and a wee warming boyfriend at any time of the day or night. What’s a mee-maw? A mee-maw is a grandmother in Texas. Actually, the poor woman can be anywhere but, in Texas, that’s what they call grannies.

I know. An American show that’s hilarious? Who’d have thunk it?

Junior Sheldon is played by a kid, Iain Armitage. Good actor, great name. He plays a gifted, smarmy, very gifted, arrogant, but really gifted smart alec kid who can out-talk university professors when it comes to the make-up of the universe. And out-talk church people - like his mom. Because it is on a channel like E4, well down the list when choosing what to watch, the most discerning viewers may not think it worth the candle. Well, it’s surely worth the wick.

Promise me you’ll watch a whole episode at least once. Series three started on E4 the other day. Please start watching. That kid is about to grow up and you’ll miss the best years of that very sharp humour unless you get a move on soon. And, for our Australian readers, I see series three will be starting down there real soon too. Fair dinkum.

If only I could talk so effortlessly about quasars and black holes, but I could not be bothered to learn all that now. I must, however, mention Jack Macdonald who has sailed through studies in food and nutrition and is to be the chef at a posh mainland hotel soon. The training was hard and will continue for a while. He tells me he spent the summer learning just how to make the best salads. Keep at it, Jack. At this rate, it won’t be long until you have lettuce after your name.

The mercury is falling again. Yes, it is definitely getting colder. Yesterday morning I was shivering. So I put on a vest, two t-shirts, a shirt, two jumpers, a pair of joggers, a pair of trousers, two pairs of socks and a coat. Mrs X, however, was full of energy. She said: “Right, let’s go for a nice long walk in the Castle Grounds.” I was not amused. “Not today,” I said. “I've got too much on.”

Sturgeon: Corbyn Must Back Indyref2 for SNP Votes

Nicola Sturgeon has told Jeremy Corbyn not to "bother picking up the phone" to ask the SNP to put him in government unless he backs an independence vote.  The Scottish first minister said she was in favour of removing Boris Johnson from office and holding an election.  But she said her backing for a future "progressive alliance" government relied on a deal to hold a referendum.  Ms Sturgeon also said she would seek UK Westminster government consent this year to hold a new independence vote.  Mr Corbyn has said he does not think a new independence poll is "a good idea", but has not ruled out allowing one.  Ms Sturgeon wants to hold a new vote in the second half of 2020, but has yet to ask UK ministers for the required "section 30" request to allow it.  She said it was not yet clear who the prime minister would be at that point. She told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme that she would be willing to oust the Conservatives in favour of a "progressive-type alliance", but warned Mr Corbyn to not "even bother picking up the phone to me" unless he accepted "Scotland's right to choose our own future".  Ms Sturgeon's comments come as the SNP gathers in Aberdeen for its autumn conference, and at a pivotal moment in UK politics and the Brexit process. Boris Johnson has repeatedly challenged other parties to support a snap general election, but opposition leaders want to rule out a no-deal Brexit first - and are divided on whether a fresh EU referendum should come before an election.  The SNP leader told Andrew Marr she was "ruling nothing out" in the coming weeks, but said an election would be the most realistic outcome due to the difficulty of leaving an interim government in place throughout a referendum campaign.  Should an election not produce a clear winner, Ms Sturgeon said the SNP "will not put the Tories in office and are not in favour of coalitions".  However, she warned that votes from her MPs - currently the third-largest group at Westminster - would be contingent on the new prime minister giving the green light to an independence referendum. She said: "We would favour a progressive-type alliance, but I would say this to Jeremy Corbyn or any Westminster leader who's looking to the SNP for support - if you don't accept Scotland's right to choose our own future, at the time of our own choosing, don't even bother picking up the phone to me."  Mr Corbyn has previously said Labour would not actively stand in the way of "indyref2", but has indicated he would seek to delay it.  He said he would not agree to a vote "in the formative years of a Labour government", while focusing on "central priorities" such as "sorting the Tory Brexit nightmare" and pursuing "transformative investment in Scotland's people, communities and public services".  This approach could see the independence vote pushed back beyond Ms Sturgeon's preferred timetable in 2020, and past the Holyrood elections in 2021.  A "section 30" agreement is the same legal mechanism used to facilitate the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.  Ms Sturgeon said she would make a section 30 request "over the next matter of weeks - it is coming soon. But we don't yet know who is likely to be in Downing Street - the situation is very fluid, and that is why I've chosen to do the preparations that are within our control and we're getting on with that." The current UK Westminster government has repeatedly refused to countenance allowing a new independence vote, with Home Secretary Priti Patel telling the same programme that ministers were determined to "respect the result of referendums that took place previously". This has led some SNP members - including MPs, MSPs and councillors - to call for a "plan B", such as securing a majority in an election or holding an unauthorised poll. However, Ms Sturgeon ruled out such an approach, saying a legal and constitutional referendum was the only way forward.  She said: "If I thought there was any quicker way, an easier way, a plan B that would get us there quicker, I would have taken it by now.  What we have to do is have a process that allows us to demonstrate that there is majority support in Scotland for independence, and we have to have a process that is legal and accepted, otherwise our independence will not be recognised."  Earlier, the party's Westminster leader Ian Blackford told delegates that the SNP had prepared a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson and his government.  Mr Blackford said the only way to put an end to the "chaos" was to have a general election.  He called on the leaders of the other opposition parties to act with the SNP, although he didn't specify when they would bring the motion in Parliament.

Global Energy Takes Over Former Beatrice Oil Field Jetty
An engineering company has taken over the lease of a shutdown oil field's oil terminal jetty. Global Energy Group said the structure at its Port of Nigg on the Cromarty Firth would be put to use as a deep-water berth for large ships.  The former Beatrice field jetty was built to accommodate vessels up to 290m (951ft) long.  Oil industry and offshore renewable energy project ships are expected to use the jetty.  The Beatrice field in the Moray Firth is in the process of being decommissioned.  Oil and gas company Repsol Sinopec Resources UK Ltd is removing five platform structures, power cables and two wind turbines.  The Ministry of Defence had an interest in using the platforms as a training facility, but decided not to pursue this idea further.

England Takes the World Porridge Making Title in the Highlands
An English woman has scooped the World Porridge Making Championship title. Lisa Williams, from Suffolk, claimed the golden spurtle in the 26th year of the competition, which is held in Carrbridge every year.  The title is awarded to the contestant deemed to have made the best traditional porridge using just three ingredients - oatmeal, water and salt.  Ms Williams said: "I am surprised and thrilled to win the World Porridge Making Championships."  She added: "I discovered the golden spurtle in 2015 and immediately fell in love with the competition. In 2016 I made it to the final six and have been chasing the dream ever since.  I absolutely love the competition. From the moment you step into the hall you are welcomed like family.  It's hard to describe, but from the flags and the tartan, to the people from the village who organise everything, the ladies who serve the porridge, the volunteers who wash up our equipment, the porridge parade, the bagpipes - it's just magical." Ms Williams runs a social enterprise and a community cafe for adults with learning disabilities in Trimley St Mary.  Her winning recipe was made with half Scottish oatmeal and half pinhead oatmeal, along with Maldon sea salt.  "I didn't used to use salt in my porridge, but I saw Nigel Slater using it years ago and have been doing the same ever since" she said. The judges tasted more than 60 porridges throughout the day.  Nick Barnard, from London, won the speciality title with his maple pecan porridge. It included oatmeal, pecans from South Africa and Guernsey cream from a farm in Somerset.  Charlie Miller, from the organising committee, said: "This year's competition attracted competitors from 11 different countries including Sweden, Canada, Germany, France, Poland and from across the UK. It has been a fantastic weekend celebrating a mutual love of porridge. Congratulations to our winners, well done to all competitors, and thanks to our sponsors and to everyone who came to watch them battling it out."

Pictish Carved Beasts 'Unlike Anything Found Before'
A 1,200-year-old standing stone discovered in the Highlands has carvings never before seen on a Pictish stone, archaeologists have said.  The stone was found lying in the ground and covered by vegetation at an early Christian church site near Dingwall.  Archaeologists have now revealed the side of the stone that was down in the earth and hidden from view was decorated with "two massive beasts".  Just over a metre of the original two metre-tall (6ft) stone survives.  The beasts were carved down the side of a cross.  John Borland, of Historic Environment Scotland and president of the Pictish Arts Society, said: "The two massive beasts that flank and surmount the cross are quite unlike anything found on any other Pictish stone.  These two unique creatures serve to remind us that Pictish sculptors had a remarkable capacity for creativity and individuality.  Careful assessment of this remarkable monument will be able to tell us much about the production of Pictish sculpture that we could never have guessed at."  The stone, which was used as a grave marker in the 1790s, was discovered in August by Anne MacInnes of North of Scotland Archaeological Society (NOSAS). NOSAS and the Pictish Arts Society have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £20,000 towards the cost of conserving the stone.  It is one of only about 50 Pictish cross-slabs of its kind known to exist.  The Picts created cross-slabs, intricately decorated standing stones.  They also constructed impressive hill forts to defend themselves against rival tribes and invaders.  The Picts battled against the Romans, Angles and the Vikings.

Glasgow Equal Pay Women Shocked by Legal Fees on Payouts
Thousands of women who fought Glasgow City Council for equal pay have had money deducted to pay legal fees, despite pledges from their unions.  Members of Unison, Unite and the GMB were told they would get 100% of the settlement money offered.  But BBC Disclosure has seen legal documents showing "all claimants" have had fees "deducted".  The long-running dispute over women being paid less than men in jobs of the same grade was settled in January.  Glasgow City Council agreed to pay out a reported £548m to compensate the women for the money they should have been paid, in many cases going back to 2006 when the new job evaluation scheme was adopted.  The scheme was supposed to ensure that men and women received equal pay for jobs of the same value.  But instead, some traditionally female-dominated roles such as catering or home care ended up being paid up to £3 an hour less than male-dominated jobs such as bin lorry workers or gardeners.  The majority of the 16,000 equal pay claimants were represented by private claims company Action 4 Equality, run by lawyer Stefan Cross.  Employment lawyer Carol Fox, who worked with Mr Cross on the Glasgow case, told BBC Scotland that the unions only began to put claims in for the women when they saw the success of claims companies, who were taking on councils and winning.  By the time of the settlement with Glasgow, Unison had dealt with 5,000 claims, while the GMB had more than 2,500 and Unite had 345 claims.  The unions promised members they would get all the money they were owed.  However, it has been revealed that, when Glasgow City Council finally conceded last year, the three unions - as well as Action 4 Equality - entered into a deal before negotiations began.  As part of this deal, it was agreed that every claimant would have a percentage of the settlement offered by the council deducted in legal fees. This included those backed by their unions.  According to Stefan Cross 6.9% was deducted from "all the claimants", with a proportion being paid to his company, Action 4 Equality.  In his interview with the BBC, Mr Cross acknowledged the percentage deducted equated to "many millions" of pounds.  He said: "The unions' proposal was that we had to agree parity, to start with. The cost of that is that fees had to be paid somehow. And this is the most fair, most beneficial way for everybody that we did it on that basis."  It is understood that none of the claimants represented by their unions were told they would be paying fees.  Under the terms of the settlement, none of the women are allowed to speak about how much they were awarded.  They were also not told the formula that was used to calculate their offer.  Each woman had an "individual offer" depending on how far back they were allowed to claim, how much they were underpaid per hour and how many hours they worked.  Ms Fox, who also worked on equal pay cases in North and South Lanarkshire, said she was "troubled" by aspects of the settlement.  She worked alongside Stefan Cross but left the company in 2015 and played no part in the final negotiations for the Glasgow settlement.  "That deal is very different from all the other settlements that we reached," she said.  "It doesn't appear to me that they've been told the detail of what they've paid. And who they've paid it to, and what it's been for."  All of the claimant organisations said their members or clients benefited from this deal and received higher offers by working together.  But Audrey Masson, a home carer represented by the GMB, said: "Nothing against Stefan Cross, why should we have to pay, because I never signed for him to represent me. I signed for the unions."  Helen Mitchell, a home carer represented by Unison, said: "I object to paying Unison, I certainly object to paying Stefan Cross. I would like my money back." Mr Cross, the director of Action 4 Equality, said that by signing their settlement offers, claimants agreed to the terms.  He said: "Every single agreement includes a legal commitment to make that payment."  The unions said settlements were based on a "complex formula" and they could not discuss them because they were confidential.  As well as the legal fees, it was  also discovered that potentially thousands of workers have missed out on claiming for the full extent of their discrimination.  Under Scottish law, workers who have been discriminated against are entitled to five years of back-pay if their case is successful. Because the pay dispute at Glasgow City Council has gone on since 2006, the maximum time period claimants can receive compensation for is 12 years.  Audrey Masson worked as a home carer for 15 years but is receiving only five years of back-pay. She alleges her union never told her to put in a claim.  She did eventually lodge a claim but too late to receive the full amount of 12 years of back-pay.  Ms Masson said: "We stood on the picket lines for equality, and we didn't even get it. Most of the people that stood on the picket lines didn't even know they were only getting five years."  According to Mr Cross, thousands of claims were lodged too late.  He said it was a legal requirement that each individual must make their own decision as to whether they pursued a claim.  But he said: "It is undoubtedly the case that there was not a campaign by the trade unions in the early days to put in cases."  Mr Cross said: "You have half the women getting [the full] worth of claim, and the other half getting a maximum of five years of claim, because their claims were not put in at the right time."  Ms Fox, who worked on numerous council equal pay claims, said the unions were "conflicted" because they had a concern for the higher-earning male workers who were also members. There was a fear their bonuses and extra payments could be lost if they pushed for equal pay for women, she said.  The GMB union, which represented Ms Masson, denied that claims were put in late.  In an interview , Gary Smith, GMB Scotland secretary, said: "We were given the wrong legal advice.  He added: "We did not pursue the same cases as the private lawyers, or indeed one of the other unions, but our members were not left at a detriment in the end."  Peter Hunter, Unison's regional manager, said the union was proactive in pursuing claims. He said: "Some union members and some employees generally missed out, because the system is individual. People need to consent to have somebody act for them, and they need to lodge a personal claim." The third union involved, Unite, said it did not accept its members had been left "in any detriment by failing to support and submit early equal pay claims".

Why It’s Wrong to Think Brexit Mess is Argument Against Scottish Independence
– by Angus Robertson
Independence momentum is growing in Scotland as the UK’s Brexit mess continues. Poll details published at the weekend show that support for independence has reached tipping point at 50 per cent, writes Angus Robertson.  In what might be a key development 45 per cent believe that Scotland would be better off economically as an independent country within the European Union with only 35 per cent saying the UK after Brexit.  That positive economic finding in a Panelbase poll  was also present in a Survation poll for Progress Scotland which found that 41 per cent of respondents believe that independence will be good in the long-run against 40 per cent who disagree.  Given how important economic prospects are for many voters, especially those not persuaded to vote Yes in the 2014 referendum, these results are potentially very significant.  Undoubtedly Brexit is the biggest single issue which is causing people to change their minds. Views of swing voters in Lothian matched the national average or were ahead on independence, which is perhaps down to strong regional support for ‘Remain’ but is particularly noteworthy given the 2014 deficit in independence support.  While nationally 63 per cent believe that Brexit makes independence more likely, in Lothian it was 68 per cent. While Brexit has changed 53 per cent of people’s views on independence, it is 56 per cent in Lothian. While 59 per cent of swing voters say they are more likely to vote for independence, in Lothian it is 63 per cent. All of these findings come with the caveat of sub-sample results, but the consistency is still noteworthy.  In what was a double-sized national poll for Progress Scotland by Survation with more than 2,000 participants, a strong majority believe there will be another independence referendum within the next two years.  Amongst those holding an opinion 61 per cent say it will take place within that timescale, with overwhelming support for the same Yes/No question as 2014. Respondents believed that was “clear and easy to understand”, “the question was fair” and “I would be satisfied if that question was used again in another referendum”. I set up Progress Scotland less than 12 months ago to properly research the views of people who are open-minded or undecided about Scottish independence.  Already we’ve been able to establish that one-fifth of voters are in that key category, and many are actively considering how they might vote in another independence referendum. We commission opinion polls, focus groups and other kinds of research with the support of subscribers who fund this important work.  In the months ahead we will continue to research the different needs, interests, concerns and expectations of those who have not yet been persuaded by the case for Scottish independence.  It seems pretty clear to me that there is a significant group of people who are prepared to consider voting ‘Yes’ in a referendum and transform Scotland for the better.  By being able to motivate ‘Yes’ supporters from 2014 as well as communicate and persuade previously sceptical voters there is a natural majority for Scottish independence. Reaching those open-minded or undecided voters will not be successful by simply turning up the volume, it will only work by properly understanding their priorities.  It might be tempting for some people to think that because the Brexit mess is causing so much instability we should not press on with constitutional change.  The opposite is true. Unless we empower ourselves as a country all of us in Scotland will continue to be victims of a broken UK political system.  Things can be so much better as an independent country within the European Union. We should get on with it.

First Tests of HMS Prince of Wales Capabilities

Britain's newest and largest warship has completed a series of tests off Scotland's north east coast.  The aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales is undergoing sea trials in the Moray Firth and North Sea.  The latest exercises included the first test of its long-range radar, tracking two Typhoon jets flown out of RAF Lossiemouth in Moray.  It also made its first port visit, to Invergordon in the Highlands, to refuel and take on supplies.  Among the other first-time tests was an exercise in an area of the ship called the citadel.  This supposedly impregnable, self-contained "heart" of the aircraft carrier is where sailors are protected from the effects of chemical, nuclear and biological weapons.  The £3bn HMS Prince of Wales is the second of two new aircraft carriers constructed at Rosyth in Fife.  The first of the ships, HMS Queen Elizabeth, conducted sea trials in the Moray Firth and North Sea in 2017.  HMS Prince of Wales, slightly heavier than the first carrier, is expected to make further brief visits to Invergordon before heading to its home port of Portsmouth next month.

Cairngorms Loch Dropped to Lowest Level in '750 Years'
The water level of a Highlands loch likely dropped to its lowest in at least 750 years in May this year, according to archaeologists.  Loch Vaa, near Aviemore, had been mysteriously losing water since September last year.  Archaeologists were asked to check for any impact on a crannog, an ancient fortified settlement, in the loch.  Just below the water's surface they found pieces of the wood that had survived since the 13th Century.  Any old wood not underwater at the crannog site has been long lost through exposure to the elements.  By May this year Loch Vaa, which is fed by a spring, was estimated to have dropped by 1.4m (4.5ft) since September 2018, and with no clear explanation as to why.  There were concerns timbers that had been used in the construction of the crannog, and preserved for centuries in the loch, would be exposed to damage by the dramatic fall in water level.  Archaeologists and the Living On Water crannog project were asked to investigate the state of the archaeological site in the Cairngorms.  The site was found to have survived the drop in water level unscathed.  The archaeologists also radiocarbon dated samples of timbers found just a few centimetres underwater.  The birch, a species of tree "not known for being particularly robust" according to the archaeologists, was dated back to the 13th Century.  The research confirmed a medieval phase of the crannog, and that the water level likely reached its lowest level since that time in May this year.  The water level has since returned to normal.  Loch Vaa is managed as a community asset for recreational fishing and water sports.  The Scottish Environment Protection Agency suggested the loch had suffered due to a "relatively dry" winter.  Scottish Water countered claims it might be responsible by saying that an underground aquifer and boreholes that supplied water to the Badenoch and Strathspey area were located about three miles (6km) upstream of Loch Vaa, and too far away to affect it.

Teenager Fighting Cancer Raises Staggering £250,000 At Charity Ball

An extraordinary teenager from Gourock who raised a staggering £250,000 at charity ball to help children battling cancer is now facing more treatment.   Molly Cuddihy has won the hearts of famous stars while fighting bone cancer and recently organised and staged an unforgettable fundraiser along with her best friend.  The 17-year-old's dream of creating a special room for eight to 12-year-olds in the life-saving Schiehallion hospital unit - similar to the existing one dedicated to teenagers which she benefited from - will now come true.  Despite undergoing more chemotherapy, Molly is already busy making plans for the new room which she says will be 'life-changing' for the children and families who use it.  As she reflects on the success of the charity ball she paid a special thank-you to everyone in Inverclyde who has supported her along the way.  Molly, who recently gained straight As in her exams, said: "I can never thank everyone enough for the support we have had.  People gave so much of their time, as well as their money.  Everyone donated something that mattered but they didn't do it for recognition.  We're overwhelmed by how much we have raised.  It is life-changing for children.  The Schiehallion unit is the most incredible place. I would never have wanted or wished to be there, no one would, but I will never forget that I was and what they did for me and I also met my best friend Sara there.  We can now give the eight to 12-year-olds a place to go to be with friends in the ward and family to talk, to eat and do normal things.  We wanted to give them that.  For me the room gave me somewhere to study."  Molly and pal Sara Millar will now work closely with the NHS Greater Glasgow Glasgow and Clyde to design the new room for the unit.  Molly said: "I think we would definitely like to choose the colour scheme!  But the most important thing for me is that there is a table in there, somewhere for children and families to sit round and to talk.  Sometimes it is the little things that matter the most."  Molly and her friend Sara, 16, from Glasgow, organised their ball as a thanks to all the staff from the Schiehallion, who were guests of honour.  They included world renowned Professor Brenda Gibson who spoke on the night and hailed Molly and Sara's achievements.  In front of the 700 guests Molly also paid an emotional tribute to her consultant Dr Jairam Sastry.  Since August Molly has had to have another operation to remove one tumour and will now have more chemo to target two more, and she will also need two stem cell bone marrow transplants.  Paediatric oncologist Dr Sastry devised a treatment plan around her circumstances, including preparations for the ball and taking into account her entry exams for university.  Grateful Molly added: "I never even asked him to do this.  He just does it anyway."  Molly was surrounded by her proud family on the night of the ball.  Her dad John said: "It was beautiful. At one point we asked people to come onto the dance floor and pledge money for the paediatric ICT unit and the whole floor just filled up with people."

Declaration of Arbroath : Celebration Plans for 700th Anniversary Revealed
The 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath is to be marked with a horse-led procession, the unveiling of a new choral work and a mass picnic in the historic Angus town where the document was signed.  A programme of anniversary celebrations unveiled today also features the unveiling of a new tapestry commissioned for the occasion and the launch of a collection of poetry and prose inspired by the Declaration.  An expected highlight of the Arbroath 2020 festival will be a re-enactment of the Declaration’s journey to France, following a ceremonial reading of the document by local people “of all generations”. Organisers of April’s festivities, which will also include a half marathon, fun run and boxing championship, have pledged that the line-up of anniversary events “will be remembered for generations”.  Arbroath 2020 chairman Harry Simpson said: “The highly significant part Arbroath played in history is worthy of a series of celebrations that will be remembered for generations.  The events taking place will shine the light on our historic town, bringing people together, attracting visitors from near and far.”  The Declaration, widely regarded as one of the most important documents in Scottish history, was a letter written to Pope John XXII on 6 April, 1320 by the barons and freeholders of Scotland to ask him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king. Sent to the papal court in Avignon on 6 April, 1320, it asked the Pontiff to persuade King Edward II of England to end hostilities against the Scots.  Community leaders and politicians have spent years planning for the anniversary celebrations, which will see the town bedecked in ceremonial flags and banners from January and the unveiling of a new bronze relief charting the story of Arbroath and its people.  The Angus area’s food and drink will be showcased in The Big Eco Lunch, a new choral work created by Paul Mealor and Graham Davies will be performed by around 300 singers in the abbey, and around 500 people are expected to march from there to the harbour for the re-enactment of the Declaration’s journey.  Creative producer Pippa Martin, creative producer of the Angus Place Partnership, said: “Although the procession will reflect the history and heritage of the Declaration, it will be a pageant for our time.  We want it to bring people and communities together, to excite and involve everyone in Arbroath.  The procession will end at the harbour, where there will be a ceremonial reading of the Declaration by voices from all generations before a replica of this priceless document is handed into the safekeeping of a local skipper and sailed out to sea, as happened 700 years ago.”

SNP Calls for Brexit Extension and General Election
The SNP is to call for a three month extension to Brexit to allow time to hold a general election.  Ian Blackford, the party's Westminster leader, has tabled an amendment to Saturday's motion in the Commons, rejecting the new Brexit deal.  He also calls for an extension until at least 31 January 2020, allowing for an early election.  Boris Johnson has said he is "very confident" MPs will back the Brexit deal he has struck with the EU.  They are due to debate the withdrawal deal at a special sitting of Parliament on Saturday. Earlier Nicola Sturgeon warned that the prime minister's deal would lead to a "much harder Brexit" than earlier plans.  Mr Blackford's amendment was tweeted by the SNP's director of communications at Westminster, Tom French.  Meanwhile it was reported that SNP would "look carefully" at any amendment on a second EU referendum.  Mr Blackford said Mr Johnson's Brexit deal would be "devastating for Scotland".  "The SNP will never vote for this deal, which would inflict lasting harm on jobs, living standards, public services and the economy," he added.  "It is crucial that opposition parties quit dithering, back our amendment, and finally act to bring this appalling Tory government down and stop Brexit." Earlier the first minister said it was "clear that Scotland is being treated unfairly", and confirmed that SNP MPs "will not vote for Brexit in any form".  After an agreement between the UK and EU was announced on Thursday morning, Ms Sturgeon said a "much harder Brexit beckons if this deal passes".  It is unclear if the new deal will pass a vote of MPs, with the DUP saying they still cannot support it.  Mr Johnson said the "great new deal" would see the UK "take back control of our laws, borders, money and trade without disruption".  The deal was announced by Mr Johnson and European leaders via Twitter on Thursday morning, ahead of a summit in Brussels.  It removes the much-disputed "backstop" proposals for the Irish border post-Brexit, and would instead see Northern Ireland remain in the UK's customs territory - while adhering to a limited set of EU rules on goods. Representatives in Northern Ireland would be able to decide whether to continue this arrangement every four years. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said it was a "fair and balanced agreement" - and suggested that it was the final deal on offer, saying there would be "no other prolongation".  However, opposition parties in the UK have been critical, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saying the deal sounded "even worse" than what was negotiated by the previous prime minister, Theresa May".  And Ms Sturgeon said Mr Johnson's plan would lead to a "much harder Brexit", highlighting that people in Scotland voted for Remain by 62% in the 2016 poll.  The SNP leader had always been clear that her 35 MPs would reject any deal brought back by Mr Johnson which takes the UK out of the EU's single market and customs union.  Reiterating this on Thursday, she said: "We support efforts to ensure peace and stability on the island of Ireland, in line with the Good Friday Agreement, which must be respected.  At the same time, it cannot be right that Scotland alone is facing an outcome it did not vote for - that is democratically unacceptable and makes a mockery of claims that the UK is in any way a partnership of equals.  The Brexit envisaged by Boris Johnson is one which sees a much looser relationship with the EU when it comes to issues like food standards, environmental protections and workers' rights. That is not the future that I or my government envisage for Scotland."

'Iconic' Eildon Hills Path Network Upgrade Completed
A project to improve the path network on the "iconic" Eildon Hills in the Borders has been completed.  The scheme saw repairs carried out along more than 2.5 miles (4km) of routes as part of efforts to improve the visitor experience in the area.  VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said the area was popular with walkers and had "fantastic scenery".  He said tourism inspired by sites like the Eildon Hills was the "heartbeat of the Scottish economy".  Scottish Borders Council was awarded more than £100,000 from VisitScotland towards improving the path network.  Mark Rowley, executive member for business and economic development, said the area was renowned for its outdoor pursuits.  "Hundreds of walkers use the paths around and over the Eildons every week and this funding has enabled significant improvements which will protect these routes for many years to come," he said.