Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 524

Issue # 524                                     Week ending Saturday 2nd November 2019

I Decided Against the Lobster and Chips. Was That Shellfish of Me? by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

The expedition to the south of England, led by satnav and Googlemaps, saw Mrs X and I hacking our way through some very forbidding territory.  She was a bit ditsy last week when we were driving down south of Dalwhinnie. Spotting a roadside sign I said to her that maybe I should reduce my speed but, of course, she had her head down to her phone and reading all the latest Facebook gossip. She muttered asking why I was going to slow down and I explained that the sign said: “Deer risk. Please drive slowly.” She then said: “How rude. They could at least have finished off that message with Yours Sincerely.”

Then I said that we had to remember to put the clocks back last weekend. She said: “Oh heck. I can’t remember where we bought them.”

Heading for Gloucestershire, Mrs X was quietly happy at a job well done in Lancashire where she took snaps at a large country house wedding - although she would not be if she had heard me say that. A snap is something members of the public take with their phones. Carefully-composed photographs are what professional photographers take after due consideration of the light, the poses, the camera, the lens, the editing process and whether the images are to be optimised for web or print. Not a snap then. Sorry.

Feeling somewhat hollow on the A9, we pulled up at House of Bruar. Everyone knows of it through the TV commercials so it should be just the thing for a carnivorous king of the road such as I and my seat cover. I only mention that because I am old enough to remember when the CB fraternity in the 1970s called their female companions seat covers. Sexist pigs.

Mrs Cover commented House of Bruar looked a bit posh. “So are we,” I said. “We are on a working holiday to visit The Daughter and we haven’t had a break for a while. Fill your boots, my dear.” I can be generous with treats - especially the ones that come round not more than once a year.

It was somewhat posh. You know a place is posh when there are no toilets. No toilets? So how do they ...? I mean there are no facilities which are called anything as common as a toilet. Here, there are just cloakrooms. After driving from Ullapool, I was bursting for a cloak.

Then I saw the chip shop. Ach, this is not posh at all. They served lobster. Aw, lobster. My mind went back to a time that was not yesterday. I was standing on Kirkibost Pier back in Great Bernera and the fishing boats had returned with their hauls. A strong fit lad, I was asked to help drag the boxes of lobsters from the pier edge to the lorry. No problem. Then one of the homarus gammarus - that’s the proper name for the European Common Lobster - broke its rubber band restraint and dug its claw into my teenage hand.

Yaow yaow yaow. What the flicking flick? Get it off me. Call an ambulance. Help. When skipper Neil John Macaulay and his crew stopped laughing at my shock and pain, they took pity on me and prised the cross crustacean off me. To make up for my shock and humiliation, he said I could take a few of the members of the undercover underwater mob that had so viciously assaulted me so I could boil them alive. Ha, revenge. So, mobster lobster, if you do not come with me you will be sleeping with the fishes tonight. Capiche?

Revenge is a dish best served cold so 40-odd years later, it was maybe time to eat a cousin of the lobster that wounded me so badly back in the day. It was obviously going to cost more than haddock and chips so I borrowed a tenner from herself and headed in. That was when I saw the chip shop price list. Half-lobster Thermidor and chips was £26.95. Yaow yaow yaow. I was out of there quicker than if the half-lobster thermidor had suddenly risen up and bitten me with its one remaining claw.

There was a day I thought I could take great photos. OK, my camera was always in automatic mode but how difficult can it be? So I tried her camera as we strolled round the picturesque harbour village that is Gloucester Quays. It is a wee bit like Stornoway but with narrowboats and more superyachts. OK, not like Stornoway at all then. No matter how hard I tried, the end result was not bright or pin sharp like hers. I couldn’t understand it.

Thankfully, Mrs X was able to fix the brightness by adjusting something or other. The rest, however, were still a bit out of focus and did not look good. I pleaded with her to help me out and make other adjustments. She said no, because there was a serious technical problem. She described it as a defective nut. Oh heck. Which nut is that? She replied: “The one behind the viewfinder.”

Nicola Sturgeon 'Ready' to Take on Tories in December

Nicola Sturgeon has said the SNP are "ready" to take on the Conservatives in the face of an election next month.  The first minister is expected to hit the campaign trail after MPs voted in favour of going to the polls on 12 December.  The bill is still to be approved by the Lords but could become law by the end of the week.  Ian Blackford, the party's Westminster leader, earlier said the SNP would beat the Tories in Scotland.  Ms Sturgeon will join Alyn Smith, the SNP's candidate for Stirling, on the campaign trail on Wednesday.  Speaking ahead of her visit she said: "The SNP is ready for an election. We stand ready to take the fight to the Tories, to bring down this undemocratic government, and give Scotland the chance to escape from Brexit and decide our own future.  Scotland has been ignored and treated with contempt by Westminster, and this election is an opportunity to bring that to an end.  A win for the SNP will be an unequivocal and irresistible demand for Scotland's right to choose our own future."  By a margin of 438 votes to 20, the Commons approved legislation paving the way for the first December election since 1923.  The one-page bill needed the support of only a simple majority of MPs in the House of Commons, rather than the two thirds majority required under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.  Ahead of the vote, Downing Street sources said they would accept an election on 11 December if it was needed to win the support of opposition parties.  Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn confirmed his party would back an election on 9 December election despite several opinion polls suggesting his party currently trails the Conservatives.  The SNP and Liberal Democrats also called for a 9 December election, which they said would prevent the prime minister from pushing his Brexit plan through Parliament ahead of the vote.  However, Labour's amendment to hold an election on 9 December was rejected and MPs voted to back the government's original bill - for an election on 12 December.  There is some unease in both parties over holding an election in December, with SNP MP Angus MacNeil, warning on Monday that it could hand Boris Johnson a majority and give him the power to block any request to hold a second Scottish independence referendum.  This would be like handing Mr Johnson his birthday and Christmas present at the same time, Mr MacNeil claimed.  But  on Tuesday, Mr Blackford said he did not accept his colleague's view that a general election was likely to hand Mr Johnson the keys to Downing Street for another five years, and open the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal.  Mr Blackford said the SNP "want to see Boris Johnson defeated and out of Number 10", and that an election would allow opposition parties to show that "what the prime minister wants to do is damaging, economically, socially and culturally".  He added: "It is up to the Labour Party and others in England and Wales to do their job in defeating the Conservatives. We will do that in Scotland.  But the simple fact remains that we cannot sit back and allow this prime minister to take us out of Europe.  In Scotland, we have got that alternative if the UK is determined to do that - we have got that insurance policy of being able to have a referendum on independence and making sure that we stay in Europe."  Mr Blackford argued last week that it would be "barking mad" to ask people to vote in December, when his own Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency will have very few hours of daylight.  But he predicted on Tuesday that people will still come out to vote, and that "we are going to have to accept our responsibilities" because "we have to resolve the situation".  The prime minister's latest - and successful - attempt to hold an early election came after EU leaders accepted the UK's request to extend the Brexit deadline to 31 January - but the UK can leave earlier if a deal is agreed by Parliament.   Mr Corbyn told his shadow cabinet that this meant Labour could now back an early election as "our condition of taking no-deal off the table has now been met" for the next three months.  Mr Johnson called on MPs to support a general election for the fourth time since he took office in July.  The bill is still to be approved by the Lords but could become law by the end of the week - if that happens, there will be a five-week campaign up to polling day.  The PM does not have a majority in Parliament after his decision in September to remove the party whip from more than 20 of his MPs who voted to block a no-deal Brexit, and some defections.  He renewed his call for an election after MPs voted against passing his Brexit bill through Parliament in three days - something that would normally take much longer.  The PM tabled a motion for an election under the Fixed-term Parliament Act on Monday, but under the law it needed the support of two-thirds of all 650 MPs to go through and it only got the backing of 299.  After the vote, Mr Johnson said the "dysfunctional Parliament" was in "paralysis" over Brexit and needed to be replaced "so the country can move on".  Mr Johnson hopes the election will give him a fresh mandate for his Brexit deal and break the current parliamentary deadlock, which has led to the UK's exit being further delayed to 31 January.

Why Life on Scotland's Islands Makes Us Happy

Scottish islands are consistently among the happiest places to live in the UK, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.  Its annual wellbeing study asks people to rank their happiness, anxiety, life satisfaction, and feeling that things in life are worthwhile. Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles have all recorded high ratings since 2012. Three locals have told us about the lure of island life.  LEAH IRVINE: “Shetland is always home.  I grew up on the outskirts of Lerwick. I studied in Edinburgh, but I live and work in Shetland now. When you experience life in a city, even a beautiful one like Edinburgh, you realise how the pace of island life is slower.  If you have a a long day in the office or things aren't going right, you can walk along a beach and the sense of calm is overwhelming. There's no way you can be outside in Shetland and be stressed. It takes it away and sends it out to sea. When I look at my childhood I had no idea how lucky I was because it was normal for me. Now I'm at a stage where I have friends who have families and they're in the car for an hour to pick up their daughter from ballet. I went to netball and dance class, but it was a five-minute drive and the majority of my time was spent outside and exploring.  There is a community feel but you definitely get out of island life what you put into it.  If you're going to sit at home and say you're bored, you are not going to have that sense of wellbeing or the quality of life you want. But if you're willing to get involved then you'll have a massive sense of wellbeing.  I've done lots of travel, but the thing about Shetland is it's always home. Earlier this year I took six weeks off and travelled around the Caribbean. It was amazing. But as gorgeous as it was, the only thing it had over Shetland was the weather.  JACK NORQUOY said: You grow at island pace.  I consider myself very lucky to have grown up in Orkney. It's a very supportive community - it's very vibrant and unique, with a real charitable spirit. That all helps with a sense of wellbeing.  It's a place of outstanding natural beauty, and there are other factors such as smaller classroom sizes, so children are able to develop very strong relationships far more easily. Orkney is changing and maybe for some it is changing too quickly. There is the expansion of the renewable sector and tourism continues to boom, and it would be wrong to say Orcadians are not reaping some good from those developments. I think having a sense of ownership helps with wellbeing. Any Orcadian would say they feel at home anywhere in Orkney. The whole place is home to them.  I think, had I grown up somewhere different, I would feel differently. Compared to a city, there's not the same pressure and you can be younger for longer and fulfil your childhood for that bit longer without some of the pressures coming to you so quickly. You grow at island pace.  From a very young age you establish the importance of your surrounding environment. I think it comes down to that sense of community and a sense of working together and appreciating and protecting what you have far more.  I also have an eagerness to see more of the world, and take the vales of my upbringing with me and share them elsewhere. I get a longing for home when I haven't been there for a while. Orkney always make me smile when I think about it.” CATRIONA DUNN: The bonds you build are strong.  I lived in Aberdeen for five years and I liked it, but I always wanted to be back here on Lewis.  The family support network here is great. It was a brilliant place for our son to grow up and I can help out with my nieces.  I help to run a parent and toddler group at our church. It's for everyone and we realised we are serving a need. We discovered we are a lifeline for some parents and can help them build a network of support for their own wellbeing.  Those bonds that you build are strong.  The backdrop to our life also helps. From my kitchen window I look across the sea and see its moods. On a clear day you can see the hills of Wester Ross. There's only a small amount of light pollution and you can avoid it.  There's nowhere like it on a starlit night. Sometimes I don't realise it until I visit my son in Glasgow and it's nice to realise how much we appreciate the natural environment”.

Bill for Glasgow's New Gaelic School Could Top £16 Million
More than £16 million will be required to build Glasgow's newest Gaelic primary school, a report has revealed.  Glasgow City Council is mulling over a plan to use the disused St James' Primary building as the site of the local authority's fourth school offering Gaelic Medium Education (GME).  The disused school in the Calton area of the city has been listed as being in poor condition by Scotland’s Buildings at Risk register.  The bill for refurbishing the crumbling school is expected to be around £16.5 million, and would see the creation of 12 state-of-the-art teaching spaces and two general-purpose areas for pupils.  It would also feature a three-court sports hall, a drama stage and a theatre for music and dance rehearsal. St James Primary, in Green Street, closed decade ago and has since fallen into a state of disrepair.  The proposal follow a surge in demand for bilingual education in Glasgow and would see the school join Glendale Primary, Pollokshields, the Glasgow Gaelic School in Berkeley Street, city centre, and the annexe at Cartvale Scool, Govan, in offering GME. A report to councillors said: “The total cost of the refurbishment has been estimated at £16.5m. Council officers would seek support from the Scottish Government through the Gaelic Capital grant, and the Government’s Learning Estate Investment Programme and the council’s own capital funding.  At this stage, it is not possible to provide an estimated opening date for the school.”  A statutory city-wide consultation over the plan is awaiting approval by the City Administration Committee.  Glasgow recently hosted the Royal National Mod for the first time in 19 years. The event, which is a celebration of Gaelic music and spoken word, generated around £2m for the city.  Demand for Gaelic education is soaring in Glasgow despite only around 6,000 people - one per cent of the city's population - speaking the language.  Gaelic appears in many places across Scotland, but is spoken by relatively few people  However, there are fears it is in retreat elsewhere. Professor Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, the director of the Language Sciences Institute at the University of the Highlands and Islands, has warned that the language has come to the point of “societal collapse” across the country.  In the 2011 Scottish census, just over 58,000 Scots reported themselves as Gaelic speakers, but research for a new study due to be published next year has estimated that in its islands heartland the language is spoken by fewer than 11,000 people.  Deputy first minister John Swinney announced a fourth Gaelic primary school would be built in Glasgow as he launched the 2019 Royal National Mòd - the national celebration of Gaelic language and culture - in the city earlier this month.  He said: “GME is central to our efforts to support the language and we must ensure it also has strong links to Gaelic in the home, the community, or the workplace.  We want to ensure those who wish to learn and use the Gaelic language are given every opportunity to do so, and I believe we are at a crucial turning point for promoting Gaelic education."  He added: “In the 20 years since the first Gaelic primary opened, Gaelic education has been highly valued by children, parents and carers. The new school would  allow more children to access the benefits of such an education.”

Councillors Comment on Car Parking Charges

The issue of car parking charges in Caithness is open for debate with Highland Council agreeing to begin a wide-ranging consultation process on the subject. In the week after Wick's inhabitants were invited to comment on the regeneration of their town, the contentious issue of car parking – linked by many to the future economic growth of the area – is back on the agenda.  The council has agreed to an ambitious new policy for off-street car parking after an in-depth question-and-answer session. Under the new policy, all 230 car parks in the region will come under the power of local area committees so that local communities can decide the best course.  Wick and east Caithness councillors (Ward 3) sent out a joint statement that same day in which they talked about "reassuring" people "so they aren’t unduly alarmed" by the decision to include all car parks.  The statement reads: "Today the Highland Council agreed to begin a wide-ranging consultation process on the introduction of car parking charges.  It was decided that all car parks would be included in the proposal to charge, and local councillors would need to opt out if they wished to abandon or amend the plans. This was not quite what we had expected – up until now it was our understanding that we’d come up with a variety of proposals at a local level that reflect community needs, and go out to consultation on those."

Kirk Selection of New Moderator is An Honour for Appointee and Area

It may have taken a little longer than the seven days of creation.  But, finally, the cross-legged of a Mearns kirk congregation can now enjoy some blessed relief without having to venture out into the vagaries of the weather on the St Cyrus coast.  Little things mean a lot and, after 165 years of an outside lavvie, the prayers of parishioners have been answered.  Not by divine intervention, rather determination and damned hard work on the part of the 80-strong congregation whose five years of fundraising has delivered the transformation of their place of worship.  With the changes have come a pledge to make the kirk a place for all the community, maximising its use by local groups in a manner being repeated in towns and villages across Courier country.  Including Monifieth, which only weeks ago heralded the opening of its stunning £2 million-plus ‘labour of love’ Parish Church.  Bricks and mortar projects are achievements which kirk sessions and congregations should be rightly proud of, and the appointment of Arbroath minister Martin Fair as the Church of Scotland’s Moderator designate is another cause for congratulation.  When he assumes the role as the kirk’s ambassador, the wider world will have the opportunity to appreciate the many qualities which have won the Rev. Dr Fair admirers well beyond the walls of churches including St Mary’s in Dundee, where he was minister before arriving at St Andrews in the Angus town.  Faith in the future exhibited by building projects in the likes of the Mearns and Monifieth is shared by the 55-year-old minister, whose journey has taken him from Bermuda to the Bell Rock and now on to the important role.  “I am really excited about the future of the Church and quite frankly, if I solely focused on statistics that suggested terminal decline I would have quit the ministry years ago,” he said.  Martin’s inspiring leadership has seen the development of the Havilah project over 13 years to create a safe haven for addicts.  The tragic death last May of Scots musician Scott Hutchison, the frontman of one of Mr Fair’s favourite bands, has also led him to call for a redoubling of efforts to address the “horrendous endemic problem” of suicide.  With his track record of action in so many other areas, one can be certain that the kirk’s move to appoint its first ever Moderator from Arbroath is a move to be praised.

Dispersal Zones Set Up Over Bonfire Night Weekend in Edinburgh

Seven dispersal zones will be operating in Edinburgh over the weekend in an attempt to combat anti-social behaviour and disorder over the bonfire period.  The zones will run between 14:00 and midnight until Tuesday 5 November.  They cover Muirhouse, Portobello, Loganlea, West Pilton, Saughton, Gorgie and Moredun.  It means police can instruct groups of two or more people who are congregating and behaving in an anti-social manner to disperse.  They will be arrested if they return within 24 hours if they do not live there.  It is the second that year dispersal zones will be used in the city over bonfire weekend.
Image caption Police at the dispersal zone in Pilton last year.  Ch Insp Murray Starkey, of Police Scotland, said: "As we witnessed last year, the use of dispersal zones enabled police to robustly tackle anti-social behaviour and general disorder in key areas of the city, allowing us to move on people who are causing a nuisance. Anyone who is banned will receive a copy of a map so that it is clear where they should not be and that they will be arrested and put before the courts if they are found to have returned to continue the same behaviour."

First Milk to Close Campbeltown Creamery
A bid by local farmers to save Campbeltown Creamery from closure has failed, putting 14 jobs at risk.  Kintyre farmers had hoped to buy the creamery after it was put up for sale by owner First Milk 18 months ago.  But First Milk said it had not been possible to find "a financially viable long-term business plan" for the Mull of Kintyre cheddar producer.  It is understood the plan faltered when a major supermarket chain reduced its commitment to buy the cheese.  First Milk put the creamery up for sale in April last year after concluding that it was not core to its business strategy.  Nearly 30 Kintyre-based members of the dairy co-operative launched an online crowdfunding campaign to help them buy the business when it became clear that a sale to a third party was unlikely.  The campaign attracted £95,000 - exceeding its £50,000 target - but was not sufficient to move their plans forward. According to the crowdfunding page, all contributions would be fully refunded if the buyout failed to go ahead.  First Milk chief executive Shelagh Hancock said the co-operative was disappointed that it had not been possible to conclude a sale. She added: "We regret the impact this decision will have on our colleagues and are committed to treating those affected fairly and with consideration during this difficult time.  Throughout the last 18 months we have been in regular dialogue with our local members on Kintyre about the future of the site.  Nothing will change in respect to their co-operative membership of First Milk, and we will continue to collect and pay for their milk on the same basis as before going forward."  James Barbour, chairman of the Kintyre milk producers steering group, said: "There was widespread enthusiasm from the local farmers to try to secure the future of the site and genuine support from First Milk, the Scottish government and the local community, along with a successful crowdfunding campaign.  Despite all of this we were not able to find a financially viable long-term solution for the creamery."

Workers Hit Out After Jobs Are Axed At Ayr's Luxury Weavers Alex Begg & co
It has been claimed that a luxury weaver was splashing the cash before announcing job cuts. Alex Begg & Co produce luxurious cashmere scarves and throws from their base at Viewfield Road in Ayr.  Last week the floor staff were told 15 of them would be made redundant.  But in an exclusive interview chief executive Ian Laird insisted the cuts - 10% of the 150 workforce - were necessary following a ‘softening’ in demand and ‘uncertainty’ over Brexit.  Last week an insider said: “We were really busy, but it has quietened down quite a bit in the last year and the company had to take out a bank overdraft. ”  Bosses sparked further anger when they invited the sales and marketing team out for a team building away day at the plush Western House Hotel while floor staff awaited their fate.  A second insider said: “It’s a crying shame that such a great company could go down this route. Brexit is a strain for everyone but it does seem a lazy excuse for these cuts – particularly when the structure is so top heavy on management. Beggs has made its name on being a firm made up of mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers all working on the same shop floor. But much of the older regime in management have now moved on – and it was long suspected the newer faces were more focused on budgets than textiles. The company exports around the world and is very successful at doing so. But the factory floor is the last place that should be under threat.”  Mr Laird said the decision was made to cut roles following a softening in demand and uncertainty over Brexit.  Mr Laird said: “85 per cent of what we do is export so we have plenty of clients abroad that we have to visit. People might say we are management heavy but I don’t think that’s true. What is true is that in the areas to win new business we rely on designers creating business development.  We have got a bumpy period ahead of us but if we don’t keep on the front-foot with product development and designs that can win new business with people, then that will cause a bigger erosion.  We had expected this growth to continue in line with our recent history and yet the uncertainty around Brexit and other global trade has seen a slowdown in overall demand.  The impact for the business is we simply don’t have enough work for the number of people we’ve got on the floor in manufacturing. If we don’t have the pipeline of work and we don’t see it coming, then we have too much resource for what’s expected.”  The company was founded by Alex Begg in 1866 in Paisley and developed signature shawls inspired by Scotland’s textural landscape, lochs and seas.

Highland Council Cuts Travel Costs and Carbon Emissions Thanks to New Car Club

New business travel arrangements introduced by Highland Council have significantly cut travel costs and carbon emissions in their first year.  Since introducing the Enterprise Car Club, the local authority has reduced its annual business mileage by more than 825,000 miles and saved over £400,000 – a 15 per cent reduction in overall business travel costs. A fleet of 60 vehicles located across 21 council offices are available for booking by the hour or day by employees who would have previously used a private car and claimed mileage reimbursement, sometimes referred to as the ‘grey fleet’.  The car club, part of global vehicle rental group, Enterprise Holdings, is also used as an alternative to daily rental in many locations, as it has proven to be a more efficient choice.  Most of the vehicles are plug-in hybrids. Five plug-in Nissan Leaf electric cars are also based at council offices in Inverness, Golspie and Fort William where average journey lengths are often shorter and electric vehicles offer the most viable and sustainable option.  Enterprise has also installed car club technology, including the ability to book online or via a mobile app, in many of the council’s own pool cars.  The council estimates it has cut its carbon footprint from staff travel by about 377 tonnes – 19 per cent – in 12 months while its  grey fleet mileage has fallen by 22 per cent and its overall business mileage by 13 per cent.  Councillor Allan Henderson, chairman of the council’s environment, development and infrastructure committee, said the new arrangements had completely transformed the local authority's approach to business travel and given control over all the previously unmanaged elements.  We’ll always have to deliver some services face-to-face, but this programme ensures that our business mileage is drastically reduced, saving a lot of taxpayer money," he said.  "We worked closely with Enterprise to analyse where we needed vehicles and to roll out the programme across our offices and made sure employees were on board and understood the benefits."  Diane Mulholland, general manager for Scotland and Northern Ireland at Enterprise, said: "Highland Council has developed a sophisticated programme that encourages employees to avoid journeys if they can, and to use the most cost-effective and sustainable option if the trip is unavoidable.  "It’s also monitored and adjusted on a day-to-day basis to keep it as efficient as possible.  "The impact on air quality and congestion could be significant if all organisations reduced their road travel emissions by 19 per cent and their business mileage by 13 per cent, as Highland Council has managed to achieve."  The council covers a large area roughly equivalent to the size of Belgium. Many of its 10,000 employees travel great distances for business to and from around 700 local offices, schools and depots to deliver essential local services.  Before bringing Enterprise on board, its grey fleet mileage amounted to more than six million miles a year at a cost of more than £2.2 million.  Enterprise worked with the council to analyse employee mileage in detail to identify why, how, when and where trips were taking place, if alternative options were suitable, and where it would make sense to have dedicated car club vehicles located on-site.  A significant factor in the success of the club has been an employee communications programme which provides clear information on how to make better travel choices.  This will soon include the generation of automated emails to notify when employees could be using vehicles more efficiently. The council aims to increase its car club fleet to 80 vehicles by the end of this year to achieve even greater savings.

Housing Support for Apprentices As Part of A Scheme to Keep Young People in the Islands

A new scheme aimed at encouraging young people to stay in the islands will see apprentices in the Western Isles amongst the first in Scotland to be ‘supported in the process of accessing low-cost housing’.  The move comes as part of a new Charter Agreement between the Comhairle and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) which will also see the development in Stornoway of a new ‘one-stop shop’ hub facility for local careers and employability services, and a new ‘digital hub’ to ‘widen access to support and information’.  In a joint statement, the partner agencies said that the Charter outlined “a joint commitment to developing, delivering and monitoring services to ensure the needs of the people in the Western Isles are met in terms of education, employment and skills for the benefit of the Islands’ economy”. And a statement from the Comhairle said that through the Islands Deal the authority was seeking investment in housing: “that will enable young people on the islands to access affordable and quality housing options”, and that central to this will be “increased flexibility and innovation around design, tenure, ownership and financing models”.  The new Charter Agreement was signed at a meeting of the Convention of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness, and the Comhairle’s Chief Executive, Malcom Burr said that “the combined offer of an apprenticeship and housing” will enable young people: “to earn, learn and live in the islands, providing them with further opportunity to stay in their own communities.”  The Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, said:  “Since the introduction of the Islands Act last year, the Scottish Government has been ramping up our efforts to engage with island communities to help us better understand the key issues, which helps us to make real inroads to ensuring a vibrant, sustainable and productive rural economy. “So it’s great to be involved in such a collaborative and innovative project with the same aims.”

Call for Support for Floating Wind Farms
The development of floating wind farms, pioneered in Scotland, could deliver tens of billions to the economy, according to report from the industry. The technology allows large turbines to be installed in much deeper waters than the sites traditionally chosen.  But the technology is expensive and funding needs to be ring-fence for its potential to be met, the report said.  The UK Westminster government said any investment in renewable electricity had to provide value for money.  The world's first floating wind farm, Hywind, opened two years ago about 15 miles off Peterhead in Aberdeenshire and it can now generate enough electricity to power 20,000 homes.  It consists of five giant turbines which are tethered to the sea bed but float upright on a sealed vase-like tube 78m deep.  Its bottom is filled with iron ore to weight the base and keep it upright in the water like a giant fishing float.  The renewables industry hopes the cutting edge technology will "unlock" new areas of the sea in deeper waters. Until now, offshore wind farms have required steel frames - or jackets - to be positioned on the seabed to hold the turbines.  That meant most were located in the southern North Sea where the water is more shallow than along the Scottish coast.  Morag Watson, director of policy at Scottish Renewables, said: "Scotland's offshore energy experience and our deep water wind resource means we're already a world leader in floating wind.  This technology will be necessary to meet our net-zero emissions target and offers the most cost-effective pathway to delivering more than 50GW of offshore wind in UK waters."  The joint report, by RenewableUK and Scottish Renewables, estimates that floating wind can generate £33.6bn of economic activity by 2050, supporting 17,000 jobs.  But it calls for changes to government contracts for selling electricity which would see a separate pot of money to help make "innovative technologies" such as floating wind cost-competitive quicker.  The Contracts for Difference (CfD) framework requires companies to bid competitively for deals to supply electricity.  But new technologies require significant capital investment which can be outbid by established projects like fixed offshore wind.

Boy Ill with Cancer 'Finds Loch Ness Monster'
A seriously ill boy from Berkshire has had his dream come true by "finding" the Loch Ness monster.  Scotland-obsessed Zachary White, five, from Bracknell, spent seven months in hospital after being diagnosed with acute leukaemia in February.  He enjoyed a trip to Loch Ness with his parents after a children's charity heard about his unusual wish.  Zachary said: "I spotted Nessie! She was green and scaly, a bit like a dinosaur, but a friendly monster." Charity Rays Of Sunshine said it was the 7,000th wish it had granted for seriously ill children in the UK and wanted to "above and beyond" make Zachary's wish come true after he underwent intensive surgery, chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.  His mother, Katie White, said: "Today had been amazing. Zachary's wish has been fulfilled.  To be able to come away as a family and create such precious memories with Zachary after so long in hospital has been incredible.  Seeing him back to his old self, so excited and smiling, has been fantastic."  During his trip on Tuesday, Zachary was given a Nessie Hunting kit including binoculars, a compass, a magnifying glass and a hand-held torch.  After an hour out on the water, he spotted the monster in the distance.  He said: "Not many people get to see her, and I got to see her."

Edinburgh Council Leader Orders Urgent Action Over Dumped Memorial Benches
Edinburgh's council leader has ordered urgent action after memorial benches were moved and piled up to make way for the capital's Christmas market.  The benches were dumped at the edge of the market in East Princes Street Gardens.  They are understood to cost thousands of pounds and families donate them to the park in memory of loved ones.  Christmas market operator Underbelly said they were handled respectfully.  However, City of Edinburgh Council leader Adam McVey said: "This is not how we treat memorial benches. I've asked for this to be dealt with urgently."  Ashley Graczyk, councillor for Edinburgh's Gorgie and Sighthill ward, said: "It is an immensely unacceptable way to treat memorial benches. I have also contacted the relevant senior officer to monitor this situation closely and to start a review to prevent this from happening again."   It comes after council officials confirmed the market would open on 16 November despite not having planning permission.  Officials said planning consent would be applied for retrospectively so the market could open on time. An Underbelly spokeswoman said: "During the installation some things need to be temporarily moved to protect them while there is a lot going on in a confined space. They are put back as soon as possible and usually within the day.  The memorial benches are handled respectfully and were placed on one of the banks during this process."

Pay Phone Removal Plan Prompts Highland Backlash
Telecoms giant BT is facing calls to save more than half of the 110 public pay phones it wants to remove from the Highlands.  It follows concerns about a lack of provision given poor mobile phone coverage in the area.  Highland Council said it planned to object to the removal of 55 pay phones following a public consultation.  It also said some communities were considering taking on responsibility for the phones themselves.  They included those living in or near Nairn, Dingwall, Glenfinnan, Kiltarlity, Dundonnell and Lochbroom.  The local authority's environment, development and infrastructure committee is due to discuss their response to BT's plans at a meeting next week.  BT said that most people now had a mobile phone and that had resulted in calls made from its public telephones falling about 90% in the past decade.  A spokesman added: "We consider a number of factors before consulting on the removal of payphones, including whether others are available nearby and usage.  As part of the consultation we are also offering communities the chance to adopt traditional red 'heritage' phone boxes for just £1 through our Adopt a Kiosk scheme and transform them into something inspirational for their local area."