Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 525

Issue # 525                                                       Week ending Saturday 9th  November 2019

I Am Told That Gretna Green Brought Out Something in Me Not Seen Before by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Before we headed back to Scotland, we went shopping in Gloucester. Jackets, shorts, undercrackers, that sort of thing. Just as every islander does in Sauchiehall Street once a year, we replicated pants shopping in the deep south. Then we went on a cultural tour. Gloucester Cathedral is magnificent.

Everyone in the big kirk was so friendly. They were all smiling and some were even laughing. That was when we realised we had been walking around the cathedral with Mountain Warehouse’s 70 Per Cent Off price tags hanging from the backs of our collars. Aaargh.

My carefully researched nutrition regime went for a bit of a burton in England. We had Korean lunches, Italian dinners and Greek midnight feasts. Well, I had a cheeky wee doner kebab on the last night. Thank goodness I did. Heading back up Scotlandwards from Gloucester was somewhat of a mare. Dire weather warnings and pelting rain delayed us setting off until mid-morning. It was chucking it down in lower and middle England.

We saw accidents and tailbacks. As we reached Lancashire though, Mrs X and I were smiled on by Helios, the Greek god of the sun and probably kebabs too, and his winged chariot pushed us speedily to the motorway services at Gretna Green.

Ah, Gretna. Such an amazingly romantic place. I held her little hand as she stepped down from the Vauxhall Vivaro and glided towards the entrance. I gazed into her deep smiling eyes as she lifted a tiny golden crumb which she then slowly pushed onto her warm lips. So lovely. So lovely, in fact, that I was being overcome with that eternal longing, that unyielding yearning for the ultimate satisfaction. I just could not resist that magical allure - I had to go and buy some of that carrot cake myself.

Climbing back into the van, we realised it was teatime and hadn’t booked a bed for the night. We decided to go somewhere we had never been before. Mad ideas like that come to us when we have been on the wine or on the carrot cake. It was the cake. You can have a vino or two in England without turning the bag but knowing we were heading into Alba, and its notoriously tough drink drive laws, we weren’t chancing it. In England, you can drive with up to 35 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath. In Scotland, it’s just 20 micrograms. Not a driblette of plonk was had. Instead we were intoxicated by cake and the thought of a cosy divan for the night.

Where to? Let’s go up past Glasgow this time. Dumbarton? Nah, there’s just a rock there. Auchtermuchty to see if we can spot The Proclaimers? Auchtermuchty? Och, no. Flick the road atlas open. It fell open at Lerwick. OK, not up there either. Then it fell open at Dunoon. We set up Seonag, the satnav app thingummyjig. Then we realised we would have to take a ferry or go all the way up Loch Lomondside, turn left at Arrochar and then back down the Cowal Peninsula to opposite Gourock and Greenock. Naw, we would be there too late.

Wait a minute. What’s that other place opposite Greenock on the west side? We could drive there directly. Helensburgh? Neither she nor I had been to the childhood home of TV inventor John Logie Baird and Bonar Law, who soon after World War 1 became the shortest-serving Prime Minister of the 20th century. Quickly googling an hostelry, we found Helensburgh was welcoming travelling teuchters with no home to go to. “At the next roundabout, take the third exit onto the A74(M) and continue towards Helensburgh.” Thank you, Seonag. Take the rest of the night off. I’ve got this.

We loved the thought of going to a place which we had never visited and no one would know us. As we checked in, receptionist Sarah brightly asked if we were from the islands. She has strong connections with Harris and Barra. Lovely girl. Probably related somewhere along the line to Mrs X on the Harris side too. Greetings over, let’s kick off our shoes, go into the restaurant and relax anonymously with lobstercakes and wee drams of Glayva. Waitress Louise was really helpful and lovely too. Then she asked if our accent was from Lewis. Turns out Louise’s cousin is married to Mrs X’s old pal of yore. Yarns galore. Ach, who wants to be anonymous anyway?

Mrs X, it turns out, was deeply touched by the side of me she saw during our brief visit to Gretna Green. She told me I was quite loving when we were down there. Really? Was I? She wished I was like that all the time. I thought I was. Apparently not. She has been going on and on about it. She said: “You were very different in Gretna. Normally, the only time you ever want to kiss me is when we have been out and you have had a wee drink.” Hmm, maybe. Mind you, that’s when I usually want a kebab as well.

Iboris Johnson Rules Out Independence Referendum Deal
Boris Johnson has ruled out granting permission for a second vote on Scottish independence while he is prime minister.  Mr Johnson said his government would not give the go-ahead for another legally-binding referendum.  The Tory leader claimed the issue had been settled in a "once-in-a-generation" vote in 2014.  Nicola Sturgeon described the position of blocking another independence referendum as "unsustainable".  The Scottish first minister has already said she will request a "section 30 order" - which grants permission for a new referendum from the UK government - within days of the 12 December general election.  The SNP leader previously said she believed Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would grant her the section 30 order if he was voted into Downing Street.  But Mr Johnson was clear he did not want to see Scots given a second vote on the country's place in the UK.  Speaking on Sky News' the PM said: "I think having another referendum, I don't think people in this country think referendums are very wonderful for harmony.  "We had one in 2014, the British people, the people of Scotland, were told in 2014 that that was a once-in-a-generation event."  Asked if he would grant permission for an independence referendum as prime minister, Mr Johnson stated: "No, I don't, I don't want to have one. But I don't see any reason to go back on that, on that assurance."  The Scottish government wants to put the question of independence to a new public vote in the second half of 2020 and has started the legislative process in Holyrood to achieve this.  However, for any referendum to be legally binding it needs the green light from the UK Westminister government, which has said it will not approve any section 30 agreement.  The Electoral Commission has also said it would want to assess the wording of the question for a new Scottish independence vote even if it was the same one used in 2014.  Reacting to Mr Johnson's comments, Ms Sturgeon, also speaking on Sky News', said: "It is not a sustainable position and it is certainly not a democratic position.  "Everyone in Scotland knows there is going to be another independence referendum and if the SNP wins this election then that sends a clear message that we want to take our future into our own hands rather than have Boris Johnson continue to impose a future upon us.  If the SNP win this election, for any Westminster politician to seek to stand in the way of an independence referendum would be seeking to ignore the democratic wishes of the Scottish people and I don't think it will be a position that any Westminster politician will be able to stick to."  On the same programme Shadow cabinet member Rebecca Long-Bailey made clear Labour would not block a second referendum if the Scottish government was to push for one after the 2021 Holyrood election.  While she was clear Labour wants "Scotland to be part of Great Britain" she added: "Ultimately, what we have said is that after the next Scottish government elections, if the Scottish government determine they want to pursue another referendum and they go through the legislative process within their own government to push that forward, than as a government we wouldn't stand in their way."  The party has said it will oppose independence if there was another referendum.  Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said Labour's comments on a second independence referendum showed Jeremy Corbyn's party could not be trusted to preserve the Union.  He said: "It's quite clear Jeremy Corbyn will break up the UK if it means he can get his hands on the keys to Downing Street."

Clara Ponsati: New European Arrest Warrant Issued
A new European arrest warrant has been issued for a St Andrews University professor over her role in the 2017 push for independence in Catalonia.  Clara Ponsatí, who was education minister in the Catalan government, is wanted in Spain on a charge of sedition.  Prof Ponsati, 62, denies wrongdoing and says she will resist extradition.  A previous warrant was withdrawn last summer, but the academic again faces being sent to Spain to stand trial.  The move comes after nine Catalan leaders were convicted of sedition over their role in an unsanctioned referendum on independence in 2017.  Protests erupted in Barcelona last month after they were sentenced to between nine and 13 years in prison by Spain's Supreme Court. Prosecutors argued that the unilateral declaration of independence was an attack on the Spanish state and accused some of those involved of a serious act of rebellion.  They also said separatist leaders had misused public funds while organising the 2017 referendum. Prof Ponsati said: "I feel a very intense feeling of outrage and injustice.  A guilty verdict on the Catalan leaders is a guilty verdict on the Catalan people that went to the polls on the referendum day. So everyone will feel the verdict in their own souls."  Prof Ponsati said she did not regret returning to her post at St Andrews University early last year, having fled the Catalan capital.  She added: "I think I can be more useful as a free person."  Prof Ponsatí considers herself an exile, unable to go home for fear of arrest.  Asked if there were moments when she wondered if it was worth it, she replied: "Of course - but at this point all I can do is keep up the fight, and submit to Scottish justice if I have to.  This is much greater than myself, I'm just one small grain of sand."  Prof Ponsati's lawyer Aamer Anwar confirmed she will report to St Leonard's Police Office in Edinburgh at 10:30 on Thursday where she will be detained and arrested.  The academic will then be transferred to Edinburgh Sheriff Court for a hearing where her legal team will apply for bail.  Mr Anwar confirmed Prof Ponsati faces a single charge of sedition and, if extradited and convicted, could face a sentence of up to 15 years.  He said: "It will be argued by Clara's legal team that there is no guarantee of a right to a fair trial in Spain, where most members of the Catalan government are already in prison or in exile.  Clara believes the charge to be part of 'a political motivated prosecution' and submits her extradition would be unjust and incompatible with her human rights."  Mr Anwar vowed the extradition will be "opposed robustly" and said the academic is "deeply grateful" for the support she has received.  He added: "Once again she is taking on the might of the Spanish state and Clara is resolute and determined to fight and believes that Spain will never be able to crush the spirit of the Catalan People."  A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: "We can confirm we are in possession of a European Arrest Warrant for Clara Ponsati.  We have now been in contact with her solicitor, who is making arrangements for her to hand herself in to police."  Spain withdrew the previous European arrest warrant for Prof Ponsati last July, four months after she was arrested by Scottish police.  At the time Prof Ponsati argued that the charges against her were politically-motivated, and claimed she would not receive a fair trial if she returned to Spain.  The independence movement in Catalonia has close links with its Scottish counterpart, and Prof Ponsati was given a standing ovation at the SNP conference in Aberdeen last year.  Prof Ponsati had been working as the director of the School of Economics and Finance at St Andrews University since January 2016, before being appointed as the Catalan government's education minister in July 2017.  She returned to work at St Andrews last year, having been in Belgium since fleeing Spain with deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont and three other former cabinet members following an unsuccessful bid to declare independence from Spain in October 2017.  Catalan nationalists have long complained that their region, which has a distinct history dating back almost 1,000 years, sends too much money to poorer parts of Spain, as taxes are controlled by Madrid. The wealthy region is home to about 7.5 million people, with their own language, parliament, flag and anthem.  During the Supreme Court case last month prosecutors argued the leaders had carried out a "perfectly planned strategy... to break the constitutional order and obtain the independence of Catalonia" illegally.  Carme Forcadell, the former parliament speaker who read out the independence result on 27 October 2017, was also accused of allowing parliamentary debates on independence despite warnings from Spain's Constitutional Court.

Bonnyrigg Care Home Owner Fined After Grandmother's Fatal Fall
A Midlothian care home has been fined £40,000 after a grandmother fell down stairs to her death.  Nazareth Care Charitable Trust had previously pleaded guilty to health and safety violations.  It admitted not doing enough to prevent 87-year-old Sheila Whitehead from losing her life at its care home in Bonnyrigg.  Mrs Whitehead's family said they were "upset and disappointed at the level of fine imposed".  The lawyer for Mrs Whitehead's family, Natalie Donald from Thompsons Solicitors, said: "They cannot understand why such a low value has been put on the life of their very much loved mother and grandmother.  They are also at a loss as to why a lower fine was imposed due to Nazareth Care Home being a charity. Why should a charity be held to a different standard from anyone else operating a care home?"  Mrs Whitehead, who had poor eyesight, stumbled past a red rope which was supposed to hold residents back.  She died after falling down stairs at the home in 2017. Investigators found the rope was not strong enough to bear any great weight.  The sheriff at Edinburgh Sheriff Court said the guidelines stated the starting point for a fine was £600,000 but he felt this was "excessive and disproportionate".

What Will MSPs Be Doing During the General Election Campaign?
Westminster has shut down ahead of the snap general election on 12 December - but the Scottish Parliament will continue to sit. What happens at Holyrood during the general election period?  In theory, the day job of devolved governance continues as usual at Holyrood, even against the backdrop of the election campaign, right up to (but not including) polling day.  Debates are still held, committees continue to sit, and scrutiny of legislation continues.  However, one major set-piece event on the political calendar has already been disrupted - the budget.  Finance Secretary Derek Mackay was planning on announcing his spending plans for the year ahead to MSPs on December 12, but something else has come up that day.  Mr Mackay can't really make plans until the Chancellor has set out the UK budget, which will confirm how much funding is heading north in the block grant. And with the UK budget being scrapped in favour of an election, we don't even know who the Chancellor is going to be.  This could have serious knock-on consequences for Holyrood. Realistically, by the time a new government is installed at Westminster and has set out its own spending plans, Mr Mackay's budget is probably going to be announced in January. MSPs had already voiced concerns that they didn't have enough time to scrutinise the budget on its previous December timetable; now they face the prospect of having to push a budget bill through in a matter of weeks.  The uncertainty knocks on to councils, who can't set their budgets until they find out how much funding they're getting from Holyrood.  If the situation gets really drawn out, the budget bill can always be postponed - spending plans would simply continue at the levels set last year.  However, what can't be put off is a vote on the Scottish Rate Resolution. If one of those isn't passed to set Scotland's devolved income tax rates by the start of the new financial year - the end of March - then the Scottish rate of income tax simply ceases to apply.  This is a real worry for Mr Mackay, but it's one that ultimately can't be resolved until after the election.  Guidance to civil servants issued before the 2017 poll noted that "it needs to be borne in mind that the activities of the Scottish government could have a bearing on the UK general election campaign".  This is particularly the case around ministerial visits and "the announcement of Scottish government decisions".  Ministers themselves are advised to have "be aware of particular sensitivities" during this period, and even in some circumstances to "postpone making certain speeches or announcements until after the general election".  In practice, party political controversy is going to be hard to avoid at Holyrood. The government of the day has the right to continue to pursue its policy agenda, and at least parts of that are knitted right into the election debate.  For example, the issue of a future Scottish independence referendum is already a big deal in the campaign, with the SNP putting it at the heart of their platform and the Conservatives and Labour arguing about who would or wouldn't agree to holding one.  There is going to be no getting around this issue at Holyrood, given the Referendums (Scotland) Bill, designed to facilitate "indyref2", is currently halfway through the parliamentary process and indeed is due to be debated this Thursday.  Literally every speech in that debate, by ministers and opposition members alike, could potentially have a bearing on the election.  The business of government is one thing, but what about the parliament as a whole?  Technically, the daily work of the parliament should continue to be about the Scottish government and its actions in devolved areas, not what's going on or indeed who's in charge at Westminster.  The day after it was confirmed the country was going to the polls on December 12, Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh appealed for MSPs "not to bring election politics into the chamber too much", stressing that "I do not want to hear any pleas to vote for one party or another".  The following day at first minister's questions, there were no fewer than a dozen references to "election politics", with seven separate "pleas to vote for one party or another".  The other issue is that MSPs are going to have to split their time between Holyrood and the campaign trail, where they will be helping get the vote out for their local party colleagues.  For all that party chiefs will want them out knocking on doors around the country, members will still need to be back in Edinburgh to vote come 17:00, Tuesday to Thursday, particularly when there is legislation under consideration.

Whale Bone DNA Gives New Clues to Iron Age Orkney Life
When they first unearthed the container near a broch at South Ronaldsay, archaeologists knew it was a hollowed out whale vertebra.  Dr Martin Carruthers from the UHI archaeology institute at Orkney College says "it was used as a casket, or a vessel.  And inside of that we found a human jawbone, and two newborn lambs.  And it was deposited we think in quite a formal manner, just outside the door of the broch at the time it was going out of use."  Even more extraordinarily two sets of antlers from red deer had been jammed into place alongside the backbone, and held in place with a quern stone.  Now, thanks to the latest DNA testing, Dr Carruthers knows the bone came from a giant fin whale - "the second largest species of whale on the planet".  Of course, that doesn't necessarily help him understand the significance of the find, or why Iron Age people left it where they did.  But, he says, "it's amazing this object has come from a whale of that magnitude, and you've got to imagine what this must have meant for a local community, if this is beached."  He said there was an "active debate" among archaeologists about whether Iron Age people would have been able to hunt creatures as big as a fin whale, or if they had to rely on harvesting animals that had stranded in the shallows.  It is hoped the new investigation - involving scientists from St Mary's University Nova Scotia and Western Carolina University - might help to answer some of those questions.  They are investigating the use of whale bone in Western Atlantic society over the last 1,000 years.  And they are interested in The Cairns excavation because it has so far produced about 100 pieces of bone from whales and other, smaller, cetaceans - one of the largest collections of prehistoric whale bones in the world.  "There's sperm whale, and there appears to be minke whale", Dr Carruthers says. "There are smaller species as well: dolphin and porpoise. So there's a wide range.  That's what you'd expect, I suppose, if you saw them as being quite opportunistic in terms of what came across their path.  But the other thing is, there are preferences for certain types. And that may indicate that they are being a bit more discerning and picky."  And it is hoped there may be more insights as the investigations continue.

Thurso Priority Projects Include Harbour Redevelopment and Community Hub
A sympathetic redevelopment at Thurso harbour and a town community hub are two of the projects being explored as part of plans to drive Thurso forward.  The initiatives are contained in Thurso Community Development Trust's newly launched five-year strategic plan and the much-anticipated Tourism Development Plan for Thurso.  Both documents are the result of the community-led development and consultation the trust has been carrying out in Thurso over the 20 months since its formation. Board members are confident that while the plans are ambitious they are not "impossible to deliver" if the community gets on board. Trust chairperson Helen Allan said that “a significant body of work has been achieved here in Thurso".  She explained: "We started last year with widespread consultation which gained close to 1200 responses and have continued throughout the past year having a deeper look at issues in tourism and finding the quieter voices in the community to give us their views.  The result is a setting of the direction for the trust for the next five years and onwards.” Tourism has been the focus of Thurso tourism development officer Scott Maclean. The development plan is the result of his year-long contract with the trust and identifies wellness and slow tourism as key areas to develop in the town, along with identifying key sites such as Thurso harbour that are seen as assets for the town as a destination.  Carol Paterson, the trust’s treasurer and a board member, added: “We are very thankful to the members of the community and local tourism industry who have attended consultations and workshops and given their views to shape the plan, and even more thankful to Scott for pulling that altogether.  The project has given us the bones to work from and it is up to us now as a community to flesh out the plan.”  Both the strategic plan and tourism development plan are ambitious for the future of Thurso but not impossible to deliver.  The strategic plan sets the direction of the schemes the trust aims to concentrate on for the next five years and contains priority projects such as continuing to develop the successful Climate Challenge Fund project Thurso Grows, investigating the feasibility for a community hub and, under tourism, exploring options for sympathetic redevelopment at Thurso harbour, as well as working in partnership to regenerate Thurso town centre and create events and activities that celebrate the area's culture and identity.  Ms Allan explained: “Both the strategic plan and tourism development plan are ambitious for the future of Thurso but not impossible to deliver with dedication, skills and hard work for the Thurso community.  In the 20 months since forming we have already achieved a huge amount of work for the town and that work is beginning to pay dividends. We are determined to remain this ambitious for Thurso and do the work needed to see it thrive.  If we can do this much in just over one year, what can we achieve in five years? The future for Thurso as determined and developed for the people of Thurso is within reach.”

Glasgow Named European Capital of Sport for 2023
Glasgow has succeeded in its bid to be named European Capital of Sport in 2023, becoming the first city to take the title twice.  Having first had the accolade in 2003, Glasgow had been in competition with Genoa in Italy.  It will coincide with the inaugural UCI Cycling World Championships.  "Sport is part of this great city's DNA," said councillor David McDonald, depute leader of Glasgow City Council and chair of Glasgow Life.  "It is a huge honour that this investment and our commitment to sport has been recognised by ACES Europe and we're thrilled that Glasgow will be the first European city to have won this great accolade twice. In 2023, the eyes of the world will once again be on Glasgow and Scotland as we host the first ever UCI World Cycling Championships - and as the European Capital of Sport, we further add to our global sporting credentials."  Gian Francesco Lupattelli, President of ACES Europe, said: "I can see that the city has not stood still since 2003 but gone from strength to strength, with the addition of some truly world-class facilities and sport and health initiatives taking place which has seen usage levels rise significantly."

Lewis Glows Red for Scottish Poppy Appeal
This weekend, more than 120 Scottish landmarks will be glowing red in support of the Scottish Poppy Appeal – with more and more joining the national campaign each day. Buildings large and small – from globally iconic castles to locally loved churches and schools – will ‘Light Up Red’ for Poppyscotland in a wonderfully modern display of Remembrance.  Point and Sandwick Trust Community Wind Farm and Stornoway War Memorial will be lighting up the Isle of Lewis from 8th – 11th November.  Members of the public are being encouraged to take pictures and to then share them on social media, tagging @Poppyscotland and using the hashtags #LightUpRed #BehindThemAlways and #ScottishPoppyAppeal.  Gordon Michie, Head of Fundraising at Poppyscotland, said: “We want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to everyone supporting this campaign.  We are touched by the effort that hundreds of people have made in order to make this happen and to help us to shine a light on those who continue to need Poppyscotland’s vital, life-changing support today.” Mr Michie added: “It is incredible to witness so many buildings, up and down the country, glowing red in tribute to Scotland’s Armed Forces community past and present. It is a visual spectacle symbolising that when it comes to the country’s Service personnel, we are behind them. Always.”

Gorgie City Farm: Council 'Trying to Secure A Future'
City of Edinburgh Council is making "every effort" to secure a future for Gorgie City Farm, according to its leader.  The well-loved attraction collapsed last week with the loss of 18 jobs.  Liquidators were called in on Friday but after meeting the insolvency practitioner, council leader Adam McVey said the response from interested charities was "encouraging". Liquidators have not specified the cause of the farm's financial collapse. Gorgie City Farm first made council officers aware of their situation on 31 October and an insolvency practitioner was appointed the following day.  Mr McVey met liquidators on Tuesday, then spoke to local elected members, MSPs, community representatives and former staff on Wednesday.  He said: "We are working with the insolvency practitioner to make every effort to secure a future for the farm in Gorgie which has provided a valuable experience for adults and children across the city for many years.  The insolvency practitioner must now be given time to work with interested parties and it is unlikely that we will find out more until at least the end of next week."  He said it was "very encouraging" that several credible charities had expressed interest in taking over the farm, and praised the positive response to a crowdfunding initiative.  Mr McVey promised that animals on the site, including livestock, would not be slaughtered.  Gorgie City Farm gave volunteering opportunities and support to disadvantaged young people and adults.  It welcomed about 200,000 visitors a year since it was saved from closure in 2016 after a crowdfunding appeal raised in excess of £100,000.
Falling revenues  MHA Henderson Loggie has been appointed to wind up the farm, which has about 50 livestock and 50 pets.  They include sheep, pigs, ducks, geese and chickens and a number of smaller animals including snakes and lizards.  The farm received funding from City of Edinburgh Council, various trusts and individual donors. Its cafe and animal boarding service also generated income.

Parking Restrictions At Busy Fife Town Junction

Fife Council has agreed to implement parking restrictions at a busy Levenmouth junction. Double yellow lines will be added to the junction of Braeside/ A916 Sandy Brae, Kennoway, after a number of complaints from residents.  They had asked for stricter parking controls, such as permit only, but this idea was rejected by council officers.  In a report to committee, Colin Stirling, lead transportation consultant, said the transportation team hadn’t observed any parking that would require such measures, but agreed to double yellow lines to remind drivers that it is illegal to park within 10 meters or opposite a junction.  At the Levenmouth area committee on Wednesday, Councillor Colin Davidson called for a site visit.  He said: “We should be talking to the residents and getting their views.  Double yellow lines will make the situation worse as people will just move further up the hill to park.”

Why Are There So Many Empty Homes in the Outer Hebrides?
Many people daydream of living there - so why do the Outer Hebrides have the highest rates of empty homes in Scotland?  Research has found that 522 properties in Na h-Eileanan Siar, or the Western Isles, have been lying empty for six months or more.  Now, action is being taken to bring these houses back into use for the benefit of those who need an affordable long-term roof over their heads.  Latest figures show that 8.3 per cent of dwellings in the islands were vacant in 2017 compared to the Scottish average of 3.1 per cent.  Most of the empty homes can be found in North Uist - 170 properties - with the next greatest numbers found in Stornoway, Harris and Barra.  A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, or Western Isles Council, said many of the empty homes were typically the 'old family home' left vacant when a new modern house - often built through the Crofter Housing Grant Scheme - was built on the same croft.  He added: "The old one is often kept for family members to use as a holiday home, or kept in the hope that the children of the owner would move back to the island, if they moved away for education or employment, to live there. Unfortunately, many people are not able to return home, due to lack of employment opportunities, for example, and a lot of these houses tend to fall into disrepair fairly quickly due to the climate."  The spokesman said it was often the case that owners of these old family homes don't want to sell the property, or rent it out, as it is too close to the new home and would impinge on their privacy.  In April 2018, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar appointed Murdo MacLeod as an empty homes officer with the hope of bringing some of the properties into the local housing system and help those in need.  Around 60 per cent live in the Outer Hebrides with most others living on the Scottish mainland. A small number live overseas.  Since Mr MacLeod has been in place, 61 properties have been sold, rented out or refurbished.  At present, there are an additional 28 properties in the process of being sold, 14 to be rented out and 84 being renovated.  Mr MacLeod has worked with a number of local and national suppliers to get discounts for those carrying out works on an empty property.  "The Comhairle has little control over the use to which owners put their properties and whilst the sustainable growth of tourism is a long-standing objective....the redeployment of these often family-sized properties has a significant impact on the amount of homes which are being made available for long-term private sector rent throughout the islands."  The council has also found that some owners of empty dwellings are simply unable to afford the renovation of their properties.  It has been suggested that means-tested grant funding might be made available to these owners to help bring the properties into use.  If small grants are awarded, it could be stipulated what the homes could be used for in the future, such as offered on an affordable private rent for a number of years.

Monk Accused of Scottish Child Abuse Loses Extradition Appeal

A former Catholic monk who taught at the Fort Augustus Abbey school has failed in a bid to halt his extradition from Australia.  Fr Denis "Chrysostom" Alexander, 83, had challenged a decision by the Australian Government to surrender him to face trial in Scotland.  But the federal court has now dismissed his case against the attorney general.  Fr Alexander, who featured in a BBC Scotland investigation, denies the allegations.  The 13-page federal court ruling includes a summary of the charges the ex-monk faces.  It is alleged that between 1970 and 1976 he "engaged in acts of physical and sexual abuse" against six complainants, aged between 11 and 15.  The Crown Office launched extradition proceedings against Fr Alexander in December 2016 but since then he has contested the move on health grounds. A letter from his solicitors in November 2017 stated that he suffers from "several chronic and ongoing health problems" and that travel to the UK "presents a real risk of serious injury and further significant ongoing deterioration of Mr Alexander's health, including death."  Fr Alexander, who turns 84 next month, was arrested in Sydney almost three years ago and has been in custody ever since.  It is understood he has 28 days to appeal the federal court's decision.  The Crown Office said extradition proceedings are "ongoing".  Run by Catholic Benedictine monks, Fort Augustus Abbey school in the Highlands closed its doors to the public in 1993.  Allegations of decades of child sexual and physical abuse at the exclusive boarding school were finally made public by BBC Scotland Investigations Correspondent Mark Daly in June 2013.  He spoke to former pupils who claimed they were abused by monks or teaching staff over five decades.  Many of those then reported their allegations to the police, sparking a major historical abuse police inquiry.

Unesco Status 'Would Better Protect' Battle of Culloden

Unesco World Heritage status could better protect the last pitched battle fought on British soil, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) has said.  Culloden in 1746 saw forces loyal to Bonnie Prince Charlie defeated by the Duke of Cumberland's government army.  Fought near Inverness, it involved the deaths of about 1,600 men - 1,500 of them Jacobites.  NTS believes the Unesco designation would prevent housing developments encroaching on the site.  The trust, which manages the battlefield, has been concerned about homes being constructed at the boundaries of its existing conservation area.  Culloden's operations manager, Raoul Curtis-Machin, said the Unesco status would make it harder to build new properties at locations visible from the battlefield.  The trust has already started researching how to secure a world heritage designation.  Mr Curtis-Machin said: "Culloden was way more than just a battle.  The ramifications and resonance after the Battle of Culloden were huge for Scotland and particularly Highland culture."  He said a Unesco World Heritage designation would create a "buffer zone" and "stronger protection" of the landscape around the battlefield.

Wick's Rickshaw-style Bike Will Bring Enjoyment of Cycling to Those Less Able

Wick Wheelers have taken delivery of a rickshaw-style Triotaxi and will soon be rolling out a new community scheme bringing the enjoyment of cycling to people not able to pedal for themselves.  Costing around £8000, the three-wheeled bike went out for its maiden journey on Wednesday with Wick historian Iain Sutherland, now resident at Pulteney House care home, in the passenger seat along with his daughter Helen Hill. Mr Sutherland's late wife Maisie was a keen member of the Wick Wheelers many years ago. Mr Sutherland (83), who hadn't been out on a bike for around 70 years, said: "It's a grand thing. I am very pleased with it."  After being taken for a cycle down along the Braehead and past his old house in Smith Terrace, he said the experience had been "very good" and he had been kept quite cosy in the blanket.  Behind the new idea is George Ewing, a long-standing member of the local cycling club.  After seeing a photo of a Triobike he went on the manufacturer's website to find out more. "I thought it would be a good idea to integrate the cycling club," he said.  George, a former policeman, said he then took on the job of trying to source funding and was helped by Caithness Voluntary Group and Befriending Caithness. Money towards the venture was received from the SSE Beatrice Local Community Fund, the Dounreay Communities Fund and the Royal Burgh of Wick Community Council. George, who now works as a part-time photocopy engineer, pointed out: "It will be a social thing, allowing people to go along and reminisce. We will go at walking pace so they can feel comfortable and secure, and stop to have a blether. Cycling is more than people going pell-mell around the countryside." Explaining that the club was still very much in the planning stage and still needed to sort out rotas, George said:.  "There are still a few things to iron out, but the hope is to be up and running as of April next year. It is not the weather just now."  The bike, which is about 2.3 metres long and just over a metre wide, has seating in the front for two passengers, with a blanket available for colder weather.