Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 528

Issue # 528                                     Week ending Saturday 30th   November 2019

If Only the Amazing Election Promises Included A Wee Something and A Tonic
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal
Free internet by 2030 if the Labour Party gets in and it could cost the country £29 billion or up to £100 billion if you believe someone at BT. And if the Conservatives win we will get 50,000 new nurses although some them already be working in the NHS. But I thought ... The SNP promise that their election promises, when they are published, will include blocking rip-off delivery charges to people in remoter areas - like islanders.

These are all wonderful election promises. We love them. Can we vote for all of them? Oh, that’s not how it works? Unfortunately, just because a party says it will happen, does not mean it will happen. In 2017, the Conservatives promised a better NHS. Now operation waiting times are going up almost everywhere and A&E times are becoming shocking in most of the country. Labour? Not much better. I remember in 2005 when it promised a “bigger, better” higher education system with increased public spending. In the years that followed, half of Britain’s universities had budgets cut as it targeted education for savings.

And that is to say nothing of SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s discomfiture this week when she was accused by veteran Rottweiler Andrew Neil of breaking the legal guarantee on the 12-week waiting time for patients to be seen. He even suggested Ms Sturgeon or beleagured health minister Jeane Freeman may have broken the law - civil law, he said. Oops. Politicians are prone to say anything. They should promise gin. That would get my vote.

Gin is the liquid version of Photoshop. You know that software that you can use to make ugly people look younger, well that is exactly what gin does - to me, at any rate. It has such a warming effect on the soul and makes everyone you talk to appear interesting and awesome. In fact, I am pretty sure that when I down a couple of G&Ts, they make me interesting and awesome too so what’s not to like?

When we were at a pub quiz recently, I did not do as well as I normally do and I have been told that was because I may have had a driblette of Harris Gin beforehand. I thought I did well in the movies section but my answers were not quite on the money, apparently. The quizmaster asked: “What is ET short for?” Everyone else was mumbling stuff like The Extra Celestial but none of us got it bang on straight away. The master of the quiz was getting impatient. “Come on, guys. What is ET short for?” Yes, I got it. I blurted out: “So he can fit in the spaceship.”

Then he asked: “If a three-book series is a trilogy, what is a four-book series?” I could not think of the word quadrilogy just then so instead I began to explain how four books fell on my head last week. I said: “I’ve only got my shelf to blame.”  Mrs X had had enough and dragged me out. On the way home, the gin was taking effect and apparently I was talking nonsense. She was picking on me so I told her that I was madly in love with Beyoncé. She said: “Yeah yeah. Whatever floats your boat.” It’s never a good idea to correct her without a helmet on but I said: “No dear, that’s buoyancy.”

Gin, if taken properly, is a medicine. Didn’t you know that? Taken with the right measure of quinine, which coincidentally is in tonic water, it is an antidote which is very effective in the treatment of malaria. Some people will say that it is the quinine only that should be available free on the NHS but they forget that it’s that combination which is so eminently drinkable as to need no coaxing of the patient to take their medicine. Malaria is spread by mosquitoes. While there have been no recent reports of such bites in Scotland of late, you can never be too careful.

So it is just as well that we are lucky enough to have a distillery making premium gin in Tarbert on the Isle of Harris, the neighbouring landmass sometimes described by rascals as south Lewis. Harris Gin, which is suffused with bits of seaweed has become very popular in the islands and all round the country. The seaweed kelp which is available as an optional extra in a wee dropper bottle takes it to another dimension. The other night, we were out in a certain hostelry when I decided to have a wee Harris Gin. Mrs X was just about to sip her Moscow Mule when I came right out and said: “I love you.”

Her mouth fell open. She gawped at me and she said: “Aw Iain, a ghraidh. That is so not like you. See? You can be romantic when you want to be. That is so nice of you. I love you too. Just one thing I want to know - is that you or the Harris Gin talking?” I replied: “It’s me. I’m talking to the Harris Gin.”

General Election 2019: Scotland Would 'Seek A Way Back In' to EU

An independent Scotland could rejoin the EU on a "relatively quick" timescale, Nicola Sturgeon has said.  The Scottish first minister and SNP leader wants a new referendum on independence to be held in 2020, and is also opposed to the UK leaving the EU.  She said that Scotland would be "seeking a way back in" to the EU if Brexit happened.  The Conservatives have claimed that a Labour government backed by SNP votes would lead to two referendums in 2020.  The SNP leader was taking part in a special interview with Andrew Neil as part of the build-up to the snap general election on 12 December.  Other party leaders are also set to be quizzed by Mr Neil, with Labour's Jeremy Corbyn to follow on Tuesday.  Ms Sturgeon has said her SNP MPs could potentially help to put Mr Corbyn in Downing Street in the event of a hung parliament, but said the Labour leader must first accept the "fundamental principle" that an independence referendum should be "in Scotland's hands".  She told Mr Neil that she would always back a new, UK-wide EU referendum but said there was "no guarantee that fixes the problem for Scotland", as "we could end up with exactly the same result we had in 2016" - with a majority in Scotland backing Remain, while the UK as a whole votes to Leave.  Questioned about how swiftly an independent Scotland could re-enter the EU, Ms Sturgeon said she did not want to set out a "specific timescale", but said talks she had had previously meant she thought it would be "relatively quick". She explained: "We understand the conditions we would require to meet, and the discussions that would require to take place. But if we're in a position of Scotland being taken out of the European Union then we will be seeking a way back in."  The SNP currently plan to have Scotland continue to use the pound in the years immediately after independence, before establishing a new currency after a series of stringent economic tests are met.  Challenged on whether Scotland could join the EU while using the currency of a non-member state, Ms Sturgeon said this was possible.  She said: "We would be setting up a central bank, the infrastructure that is required for that, that is part of the discussion we would have with the EU, but it is not true to say we would have had to establish an independent currency before joining the European Union."  The MSP added: "We would have a discussion with the EU about the journey an independent Scotland was on in terms of currency, and the accession if Scotland was already out of the EU to the point where we rejoined the EU.  Scotland faces right now the uncertainty of being ripped out of the EU against our own will. It's not of our making. And we need to plot the best way forward for our country where we are in charge of the decision that we make."  Ms Sturgeon also said an independent Scotland would "aspire to run a surplus" through faster economic growth, which she said would be aided by remaining in or returning to the EU.  Pressed on trade friction if Scotland was inside the EU and the rest of the UK was not, Ms Sturgeon said it was "a priority" to ensure smooth movement of goods and services.  She said: "We don't yet know what the UK's final relationship with the EU will be. Once we have clarity on that we have to understand the implications and set out clearly how we deal with those, in order to keep trade flowing between Scotland and England, which is in our interests and in the interests of the rest of the UK.  It is also in our interests to stay in the single market, which is eight times the size of the UK market. The experience of Ireland, albeit at a different time in history, is when they combined independence with membership of the EU, their exports to the EU grew and they became more prosperous. That's the best of both worlds I believe Scotland can attain."  Ms Sturgeon also came under pressure on her domestic record on health which has seen Scotland's largest health board being placed in "special measures" and calls for her health secretary to resign.  A recent report by Audit Scotland highlighted that just two out of eight key waiting time standards had been met and warned that the NHS in Scotland could face a £1.8bn shortfall in less than five years if it is not reformed.  Ms Sturgeon acknowledged there were problems, adding: "All health services everywhere face these challenges. We are not immune from that but I believe we are doing the things that are required."  The Conservatives have said a Jeremy Corbyn government at Westminster - potentially supported on an issue-by-issue basis by the SNP - could lead to two referendums in 2020, on Brexit and independence.  Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a "coalition of chaos" between the two parties would be a "nightmare on Downing Street". Launching his party's manifesto, he "confidently prophesised" that in 10 years' time "people will be passionately proud of their Scottish identity, and their Welsh and Northern Irish, and - yes - their English identity".  He added: "We will also all be a proud strong and whole United Kingdom, more united than ever, flying that red, white and blue union flag that represents the best of our values, from democracy and the rule of law."  Labour meanwhile have said they would not back a new independence vote within the "early years" of a Corbyn-led administration at Westminster.  Scottish leader Richard Leonard said that a request for a referendum "would not be blocked" by a UK Labour government if there was a pro-independence majority after the Holyrood elections in 2021.  However, he said Labour would be seeking to win that election, and restated his opposition to independence.  The Scottish Lib Dems are opposed to both Brexit and independence, with campaign chairman and MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton saying the party is seeking to "reclaim our lost heartlands" in the Highlands and Fife while "breaking new ground" in areas like Edinburgh which recorded a heavy Remain vote in 2016.

Woman Slept As Car in Police Chase Crashed Into Her Home

A woman says she only discovered a car had crashed into the front of her house and was on fire when a police officer told her.  Sylvia Walden, 61, slept through the early morning smash before being woken by the sound of shouting.  Three people suffered serious injuries in the incident on the A857 at Barvas in Lewis on Saturday. The car was involved in a police chase. A 32-year-old man was arrested in connection with road traffic offences.  He is due to appear in court next month.  Ms Walden, 61, was not injured in the incident.  She said: "I believe it was about 01:30. I was fast asleep and didn't hear the car go into the house. People think it rather funny I didn't get woken up by that."  Ms Walden added: "I could hear shouting. I got up, opened the door and there was a police officer with a torch saying 'hello, hello this is the police. You need to get out of the house'."  She said her first concern was for her dog, but was told by the police officer that it was fine before adding that there was a car on fire in her garden. "It was up against the house on fire," she said. The car had ended up upright on its bonnet, leaning against Ms Walden's property.  The driver and two passengers of the blue Vauxhall Zafira were taken to Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway for treatment to serious injuries.  The incident has been referred to the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) by Police Scotland. It is thought the actions of officers in the lead-up to the crash will be looked into.  A Pirc spokesman said: "As is standard procedure, Police Scotland have referred to the Pirc the circumstances of an incident in the early hours of Saturday 23 November 2019 on the Isle of Lewis. We are now carrying out an assessment to determine whether a full investigation is required."

Curlers Left in Cold As Braehead Rink Announces Closure
A major curling rink has announced its closure, leaving more than 40 clubs without a training facility.   On Friday, users of the curling rink at intu Braehead, a leisure and shopping complex in Renfrewshire, were told the rink would close at the end of the current curling season.  By the end of March 2020, about 700 curlers will be without a home.  The facility operator said user numbers had declined and it could no longer subsidise the rink.  It will close in the same week Glasgow welcomes the World Men's Curling Championships to the Emirates Arena.  Alan Hannah, chairman of the Braehead Curling Development Group, said numbers using the rink had dropped from about 900 to 700 in the past three years but that there was no alternative local venue.  He said: "The members are disappointed. There is no other rink in the Glasgow area. We asked if we could come in as a tenant of the rink but that was not possible.  Some people could see this coming but others are angry and disappointed. Some people will end up giving it up.  And it will be a challenge to accommodate our youth and wheelchair groups elsewhere."  He said members would try to explore other options to keep their clubs together and were holding emergency meetings this week.  No performance athletes currently train at the Braehead site but Olympian Eve Muirhead has recently been involved in open sessions for members of the public.  The sport's governing body Scottish Curling said it was working with the Glasgow curling community to find a solution.  Chief executive Bruce Crawford told the BBC: "It has been a huge shock to the curling community in Scotland that such a significant facility as Braehead is ceasing operation.  But the resilience and determination of that same community is gathering momentum and I think we will be able to create a new opportunity.  Glasgow is too big a city to not have a curling facility on its doorstep."  The intu Braehead rink is the joint largest facility in Scotland with eight lanes.  It is has been the venue for the prestigious Glynnhill Women's international competition for six years.  Centre director for intu Braehead, Peter Beagley, said: "It is with deep regret that we have announced the closure of the curling rink.  We haven't taken this decision lightly, however, with the declining numbers of people involved in the sport, we have had to increasingly subsidise the rink over the past 20 years which is something we can't continue to do.  We have spoken with the clubs impacted and will now work closely with them to provide what support we can to find them a new home.  We are now also looking at other ways in which we might use this space going forwards and hope to be able to share more information on this over the coming months."

Sir Tom Devine and Ian Rankin Among Names Joining Forces for Campaign to Safeguard Edinburgh's World Heritage Site
Scotland’s pre-eminent historian, Sir Tom Devine, has joined forces with best-selling authors Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith to back a campaign for more protection of Edinburgh from overtourism, “unregulated” development and climate change.  They have filmed messages of support for the Edinburgh World Heritage charity to help promote a 20th anniversary drive aimed at persuading more people in the city to support its “great crusade”. A short film created for the charity includes warnings from McCall Smith that the people of Edinburgh “cannot rely” on public bodies to safeguard the future of the city.  Sir Tom claims the role of the world heritage body is more “critical” than ever and that the city is facing the “potential destruction” of some of its most important sites.  Rankin described the heritage body was “Edinburgh’s champion” for its efforts to look after the city and “making sure that the fabric of the city is well maintained but also that is a fantastic place for visitors and its inhabitants”.  Speaking on the short film, McCall Smith said: “Edinburgh is a lived-in city and it has to be looked after. We can’t rely on government bodies and public bodies of various sorts. We actually have to do it ourselves. That’s the way cities have been looked after in the past – we must do the same.”  The new campaign has been triggered two years after the charity warned that the city centre was being over-run with tourists and that commercial exploitation was posing a long-term threat to the authenticity of the citys Old and New Towns.  Sir Tom said: “This great city is Edinburgh is basically a treasure trove. But there is the threat of unregulated tourism and the potential destruction of eminent sites that can occur through unregulated development. There’s also, of course, the difficulties of climate change. Acting in the role as guardian, as Edinburgh World Heritage has done, is even more critical today than it was in past years.  There’s two things that people who support their mission can do – be aware of the continuous need for legacies, donations and the like, but also to give the organisation your own personal drive and commitment to join in its great crusade for the city.”  Rankin said: “Every great city like Edinburgh needs its champions and Edinburgh World Heritage is Edinburgh’s champion. With your help, it’s looking after the city – its future as well as its past – making sure the fabric of the city is well maintained, but also that is a fantastic place for visitors and its inhabitants.”  Its intervention has partly inspired a new direction for tourism in Edinburgh which pledges more action to protect its historic environment, greater scrutiny of new developments and measures to tackle overcrowding hotspots.  Edinburgh World Heritage director Adam Wilkinson said: “Edinburgh is a beautiful historic city, but it is also a living, breathing one, facing future challenges such as the effects of climate change and mass tourism.

Hundreds of Edinburgh Pupils Hit by Winter Bug Including One Quarter of Gaelic Primary   At Least Four Other Schools Also Hit
More than a quarter of the pupils at a city primary school are off ill after being hit by a winter bug.  A total of 135 youngsters at Edinburgh’s Gaelic primary, Bun-sgoil Taobh na Pàirce, in Bonnington Road are affected. And the bug has also led to large number of absences at five other schools in the Capital – with 420 children reported as being ill.  Edinburgh City Council said Brunstane Primary, Buckstone Primary and the joint campus of Niddrie Mill and St Francis primaries had reported children off sick with the bug.  Schools in other parts of Scotland have had pupils off due to an outbreak of norovirus, also known as the winter vomiting bug, but it is understood the symptoms in the Edinburgh schools are more flu-like – high temperatures and sore throats.  NHS Lothian’s Health Protection Team has written to schools with advice on symptoms to watch out for and steps to take to reduce the risk of infection spreading.  No specific treatment is required for mild viral respiratory infections and most people recover with rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Children should remain off school until they have been symptom-free for at least 48 hours.

Ballot Briefing: the SNP Looks Over the Horizon

The SNP manifesto is primarily about Brexit and independence, while it doesn't seek to balance books. It's in spending mode, particularly on health.  It has priorities for further devolved powers, from employment and drugs to national insurance.  There are signals here of where it can be expected to take its campaign into the 2021 Holyrood campaign.  These elections used to be awkward for the SNP. Westminster wasn't its home turf. It wasn't seen to be a player.  It could hope to return a handful of MPs, while Labour won a landslide and steam-rollered its Scottish rivals across the central belt. How things have changed - particularly in Westminster elections.  In the past nine years, seven have lacked a majority at Westminster. Smaller parties matter, and can play a more influential role while the major parties have been split on the major issue of the day.  For the SNP, this election is a means to two ends. One is to get to an independence referendum. The other is to position itself for the Holyrood vote just over 17 months from now.  What does its manifesto tell us about that? The positioning for an independence referendum is being well aired. There's an expectation that a deal can be done with a minority Labour administration, though it could be delayed. It depends on the arithmetic and the leverage, but it could be that the SNP gets something looking like a mandate for a referendum in May 2021, taking the result to Downing Street with a demand that it should be respected.  That's before the preferred date that Nicola Sturgeon wants to have her indyref2, towards the end of 2020. Or so she says. Consider, for a moment, the state of polling on independence.  The SNP leader claims the survey evidence is moving her way. But if there's a trend, it's barely perceptible. After five years of campaigning and flag-waving, and despite three years of Brexit uncertainty, any shift in public support for independence is far from decisive. Nor is it reliable.  Ms Sturgeon might be quietly grateful if the occupant of Downing Street, after December 12, gives her an excuse for a delay until the indy polling look more favourable.  Otherwise, the manifesto gives us some steer on the way the SNP is preparing for 2021.  It's marking out the ground for more powers, notably over drugs policy and employment.  Then there's the national insurance system. Without power over that, income tax powers are constrained by perverse, unintended consequences of two payroll taxes being out of synch.  It's worth noting that the SNP does not wish to use that power to raise the threshold for lower earners, as Conservatives do, but instead to freeze it. The SNP priority is to lower employers' contributions to national insurance. So instead of something that feels like a tax cut, this looks more like a job-creating measure. Allied to that fiscal measure is a push for bigger borrowing firepower, to back up the Scottish National Investment Bank. That will be modestly funded when it starts, but with big ambitions.  Its efforts are being directed towards infrastructure to help tackle climate change. And there's a brief mention of something both radical and risky, which barely gained attention when it was announced last year - the SNP administration is looking at the possibility of setting up a National Infrastructure Company. What that seems to mean is a construction company, applying good employment practice and stripping the profits out of public sector capital projects.  In a similar way, the Scottish government had intended, last year, to set up an energy supply firm to rival the Big Six. With 17 such firms having folded this year, and the Big Six in difficulties, that has been downgraded to a more modest goal - a system to help encourage customers to shop around for a supplier.  Holyrood should have control of broadcasting, as we've heard before from the party, adding that the TV licence fee should be set independently. (The Brexit Party, meanwhile and in case you missed this, is arguing that it should be abolished.)  On welfare, the SNP is in fairly generous spending mode, reversing those squeezed entitlements that have become a feature of recent years of working age benefit cuts.  And in a manifesto that doesn't require the party to balance its books (it's not vying for a place in government, after all) the Scottish National Party has an ambitious but strange proposal on health.  It goes something like this: first, with apparent randomness, take the £136 per head gap in spending between Scotland and England. That's 6.3% higher.  You might ask: why? The answer: partly because of the higher cost of more dispersed rural health and historic problems with intractable ill health in post-industrial areas.  But the answer, not explained in the SNP manifesto, is also that Scotland's funding per head is more generous than England's, because of the Barnett funding formula.  To continue: England should close that gap, by increasing its spend by £163 per head. But of course, it doesn't end there. The point is to get a bigger tranche of funding from the block grant to Holyrood, as a consequence of higher English spending.  Assuming, implicitly, that Scotland maintains that gap, you multiply the additional funds by the population, and get to £740m more for "frontline health" next year. That's on top of a £14bn Scottish health budget in 2019-20. Then you continue to boost health spending by the same amount each year. And as if by fiscal magic, there's another £4bn to spend by 2024-25. That would be a 29% rise on a budget which is already eating up an ever growing share of public spending.  Look at it another way. Labour is being accused of unconstrained profligacy with plans to add another £5bn to Scotland's spending on public services by 2024-25. If you follow the SNP's logic and arithmetic, and imagine Labour's spending taps are full on, 80% of that would be taken up by the health budget.  Try looking at it in yet another way. None of this tells you much about change in the health service. It is purely a signal of serious intent to fund it adequately, without any indication of how it would be spent differently or sustainably, in such a way that the rising cost of health could be brought under control.  That's an issue raised recently by Audit Scotland, pointing out that money is not the only solution. Reform is necessary too, it said.  Extra billions don't buy more doctors and nurses if they're not there to be recruited. It takes time to train them, and a well-run NHS to retain them.  The SNP used to say that it could help to close the gap between reality and aspiration for public spending by tapping into the oil and gas revenue coming from Scottish offshore resources.  Taking projections from the Office for Budget Responsibility, it says this adds up to £8.5bn over five years. But instead of applying that to public services, as it has said it would do in the past, the idea now is for a 'net zero fund', to help meet the cost of the transition from the burning of fossil fuels. (Labour has a plan for a windfall tax of more than £11bn from oil and gas, with a similar intention, but it doesn't say how that would be raised.)  So after this Westminster election, Holyrood will begin a shift into pre-election mode. One of the big stories that Nicola Sturgeon wants to tell the electorate will be on a promise delivered on expanded childcare. Child poverty takes a prominent place in this manifesto. The big offers for 2021 to 2026 begin to take shape here.

TSB Confirms 17 Branch Closures in Scotland

TSB has confirmed that it will close 17 branches in Scotland next year, following a review of its UK network.  Earlier this week, the bank announced that 82 branches across the UK would close as part of a plan to make £100m of cost cuts by 2022.  The bank said it would still have a strong Scottish presence, with 134 TSB branches north of the border.  It did not reveal how many posts in Scotland were at risk as a result of the closures.  However, it said 370 positions across the UK would be hit.  The Spanish-owned bank said its closure decisions had been based in part on a branch's usage, proximity to alternative branches and the accessibility of alternative services such as free-to-use ATMs and the Post Office.In April, TSB had already announced that 71 branches in Scotland and 22 in England would open for only two or three days a week.   In a statement, TSB said its network had become difficult to sustain, with low customer numbers at "a significant number" of branches.  It also said that in the past two years alone, branch transactions had dropped by 17% as customers increasingly chose to bank online or by phone.  TSB customer banking director Robin Bulloch said: "We have made the difficult decision to close some of our quieter branches and will fully support customers through this transition.  We realise this is difficult news for our branch partners and will do everything to support those affected to redeploy as many people as we can to other roles and keep compulsory redundancies to a minimum."  TSB said it would be offering new services to support customers during the "transition".  These include "in-branch one-to-ones" for customers that regularly use the affected branches, to help them "continue to perform day-to-day banking tasks" in the local area.  TSB was created in 2013 under the instruction of the European Commission after Lloyds was bailed out by UK taxpayers in 2008.  It started with 631 branches, which included those that were branded Cheltenham & Gloucester as well as all Lloyds branches in Scotland.  At the end of 2020, TSB will have a network of 454 branches.

Women in Farming Excluded by 'Outdated Attitudes'

Women working in Scotland's agriculture sector are being excluded by "outdated attitudes and behaviours", a Scottish government panel has concluded.  The Women in Agriculture Taskforce said a gender bias meant work undertaken by women was being undervalued, downplayed or simply unseen.  Taskforce co-chair Joyce Campbell said the report shone light into some "very dark corners of Scottish agriculture."  It recommends that key organisations undertake unconscious bias training.  The taskforce was set up by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to address inequality in the farming sector.  Its final report said the main barriers women faced were cultural rather than legal.  It concluded that gender bias in the industry meant women were unlikely to be successful if standing for leadership positions. Ms Campbell, a sheep farmer in Sutherland, said: "Scottish agriculture has been missing a trick by not having women representing the industry at board level and at leadership roles. Women are the backbone of Scottish farming and crofting and they are really active on farms but they are not always visible.  I don't think the systems have allowed women to come through as much as they could have done."  The report makes 24 recommendations, including women-only skills training and improvements in rural childcare provision. It also called for an Equality Charter for Scottish Agriculture which, by the end of 2022, organisations would have to comply with if they were formal Scottish government stakeholders.  New entrants are identified as vital in changing the culture because women often enter the sector in an equal relationship with a male partner.  The taskforce calls for government agencies to provide more opportunities for people to enter the industry.  Aimee Budge, a 22-year-old livestock farmer in Shetland along with her sister Kirsty, believes her generation of women will have a much better experience of working in the industry.  She said: "I think the culture is changing and will change more.  I studied agriculture at university and there were 30 of us in the class, about half were boys and half were girls, compared to when my dad was at uni and there were maybe three girls out of a class of 30.  So, there is change there and you do see women coming up into the higher roles."  Arable farmer Amy Geddes, from Arbroath, said: "l think there's still perhaps an undertone of the traditional view. I don't think the broader public appreciate that you can be female and be a farmer.  We do need to work on promoting the fact that it's a career for girls as well as boys.  I think it will come and I think it will be to the detriment of our industry if it doesn't."  Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: "I am hopeful that, once women are appropriately represented in leadership positions and feel supported to play the role they want in this key industry, that will help deliver the productive, inclusive and sustainable industry Scotland needs."

Bifab Among NnG Wind Farm Contract Beneficiaries

Scottish companies have won key contracts to build a major wind farm off the coast of Fife. The 54 turbines for the Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) site are being assembled at Port of Dundee, while engineering firm BiFab will build eight of the foundation jackets at its Methil yard.  The announcement comes amid concern about Scots companies losing out on contracts to foreign competitors.  NnG is one of Scotland's biggest renewable energy projects.  It is due to be completed in 2023 and will provide power for 375,000 homes, with offshore construction to start in June 2020.  Eyemouth Harbour has also been earmarked as a preferred supplier for maintenance work on the project.  The announcement came amid on-going concern that Scottish firms such as BiFab were missing out on contracts to build renewable energy projects to foreign competitors.  BiFab's fabrication yards were mothballed after the Scottish government bailed out the company as it struggled to win work.  EDF Renewables UK CEO Matthieu Hue said the NnG project had reached a "hugely important milestone"  He said: "We will continue to work very hard to maximise the potential of the project for the local supply chain in Scotland.  We do not ignore the supply chain outside Scotland - in fact Scotland doesn't have all the skills and contractors yet to be able to bid in all aspects of wind farm construction.  But as the growth of offshore wind continues, we certainly hope and push for Scottish companies to increase their input into offshore projects."  The eight steel foundation jackets being built by BiFab are used to anchor wind turbines to the seabed.  Mr Hue added: "The yard has been mothballed for some time and it's important that the yard is able to build up the capacity and we certainly think it will allow BiFab and its owner to do that."  BBC Scotland's business and economy editor Douglas Fraser said the contract was "probably not a game-changer" for BiFab, given most of the jackets were being imported.  Charles Hammond, chief executive of Forth Ports, which runs Port of Dundee, said the announcement would bring "significant benefits" to Dundee and Scotland.  The union Unite welcomed the latest development but warned more needed to be done to support BiFab yards.  Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: "This work can provide a manufacturing footing for the BiFab yards to build on but greater support from the Scottish and UK governments to ensure more work and investment is secured there is absolutely vital.  The shameful reality is that if it were not for the work of the trade union-led campaign to ensure BiFab secured work from the NnG project, then in all likelihood there would have been no work going to the yards."  Earlier, Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said the government was pressing developers to explore "every possible option" to help Scottish companies win work to develop future offshore wind projects.  He added: "While we believe that much more is possible from across the whole sector, today's announcement is another welcome step in the right direction."

Plan for Family Home Near Culloden Battlefield to Be Called in by Scottish Government
A new planning fight is kicking off on Culloden Battlefield after the Scottish Government intervened and “called in” an application to build a family home there.  The relatively rare step will mean re-examination by a planning reporter of the approval given by Highland Council in September.  Scottish Ministers say the review is “in view of the proposed development’s potential impact on Culloden, which is a nationally important battlefield”. Local architect Mark Hornby and his wife want to convert a semi-derelict farm steading at Culchunaig into a family home, but the site is close to where the Jacobite front line was during the battle in 1746.  There has been growing anger nationally and worldwide about the increasing encroachment of building on the battlefield.  Protesters including the Group to Stop Development at Culloden (GSDC) were aggrieved that the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), who manage the battlefield, and Historic Environment Scotland (HES), who advise the Scottish government, did not object.  The application was approved in 2015 under delegated powers but permission lapsed and was resubmitted in September. Planning committee members were split on the application but moves to refuse permission were deemed out of order and it was approved.  GSDC social media organiser David Learmonth said: “We were astonished to see where this application was located.  It’s very unusual that the government have picked up on this, especially as two major consultees, HES and the NTS, haven’t objected.  I am very surprised and delighted to hear that the Scottish ministers have taken this decision.  I think that in part, our writing to them after the committee approved the plan had some impact on this decision.”  Councillors Ken Gowans and Andrew Jarvie both welcomed the calling in.  Mr Gowans said: “Scottish Ministers have been criticised in the past for not acting on applications to build near the battlefield, but I think they should be applauded now. It is a significant step that they are looking at this application.”  Mr Jarvie said he was delighted at the move, as previously such applications were almost impossible to oppose.  Mr Hornby said he did not wish to comment further, but would let the planning process run its course.  A NTS spokesman said: “Our view was that this proposed re-development was mainly of an existing building and would not intrude on the battlefield.  We do recognise that some degree of change and development will take place on the modern Culloden landscape and opposing all and everything would be counter-productive. We do raise our voice where development proposals unduly threaten the fabric and setting of the battlefield, as has been true in a number of recent cases.”

Sgoil An Rubha Success At Gaelic Awards

At the Scottish Gaelic Awards held this week, Sgoil an Rubha’s Iolaire play, ‘An Oidhche Mus Do Sheoil I’, secured the Community, Heritage and Tourism Award.  The Iolaire play, ‘An Oidhche Mus Do Sheoil I,’ was performed by pupils at Sgoil An Rubha as part of their Iolaire project to highlight the impact the Iolaire disaster had on the Point district in the Isle of Lewis.  The play was written by Cllr Alasdair Macleod and produced and directed by Marisa MacDonald with huge input from members of the Point community. Fifty servicemen from Point were on the Iolaire that fateful night and only 11 survived this grim experience. The 50 servicemen were played by pupils from Sgoil An Rubha and each pupil was assigned the name of a serviceman as they came on stage in the opening scene, speaking their names, ages and the village they were from.  The full story of the Iolaire was performed on stage by the pupils from the time the ship left Kyle of Lochalsh until it ran aground on the Beasts of Holm on that fateful New Year’s morning 1919.  Thirty-nine pupils left the stage dressed in black t-shirts and 11 were in white t-shirts to depict those who perished and those who survived.  The pupils left the stage to the singing of Psalm 23 in Gaelic.