Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 540

Issue # 540                                     Week ending Saturday 22nd   February 2020

Facebook is Like A Fridge. Nothing New But You Check Every 10 Minutes by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Your computer is a writer’s most important tool, they said. So always keep your computer updated, they said. That way it will always be rapid-fast, virus-free and error-free, they said. Huh, what a lot of tosh that was. After I updated my computer software last week, it has been nothing but problems ever since. Aaaarrgh.

If you’re on yon Windows 10 operating system and accepted that update which came through from the inner sanctum of the Microsoft empire, you too may be having a lot of PC hiccups. Maybe you don’t realise it yet but it is causing major wobblies. I am tearing out the few follicles I have left because this stupid machine is now writing jerkily, minimising pages which I am trying to write on and taking me to web pages I don’t want. Not again. I never asked for the website of The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).

Supergeeks who write about technological stuff say it is the worst system update ever offered to the public and that it could cause havoc before an update comes down the pipes that is rewritten or to give it its full technical name - an update that actually does what it’s supposed to.

The news is gloomy what with the chaos caused by this Microsoft burach and the carnage caused by Stormy Daniels. Did I say that right? Stormy Daniels was no storm but she did put the wind up some people. It was Storm Dennis. That’s it. Stormy Daniels was that, er, outspoken lady who had much to say about Mr Donald Trump, the POTUS. Whatever happened to her? I’ll just Google her. No, this computer can’t even do that right now. It just brought up pictures of ladies with nice hats going to church in a storm. These glitches are (Continuing)
.
Bill Gates, please come out of retirement and fix my PC. Technology is supposed to make life easier. Having no idea whether this computer will last until I complete this, I should remember that some of us have been baffled for a long time by even basic technology. Like a bulb.

A veteran island bus driver called his depot in Stornoway to say there was a problem with his vehicle one morning recently. A warning light had come up on the dashboard and he was on the west of Lewis with a busload of impatient passengers wanting to get to school and work. The veteran driver had never seen the like of this persistent warning beacon. He asked for engineers to be informed. That prompted instant action at the Broken Bus Department. He was not to move the bus one inch, his bosses instructed.

A replacement bus would immediately be taken off another route and would be dispatched from town as soon as possible. They hoped to have it to him within a couple of hours, or as soon as possible. Mayhem ensued all round the island but you cannot be too cautious when a wee warning light pops up on your dashboard. Excellent advice for the drivers of charabancs and all Vauxhall Vivaros.

A stand-in bus reached eventually and transferred the passengers. The driver vacated the driving seat so an engineer with an iPad behind his ear could look at the dashboard. The engineer shook his head and took a sharp intake of breath. Things looked grim. Meanwhile, the driver got out to apologise again to the passengers when he noticed the boot of the bus was slightly open. As he slammed it shut, the engineer whooped loudly in the cab and declared the bus fixed.

Yep, the open boot lid had caused the warning light. Twenty five years that driver had driven that bus, or buses like it, and in all that time he had no idea what that wee light was for.
Ah, technology. Supposed to make life easier. It doesn’t and it makes us tell lies. You know the biggest technology lie of all that it makes us tell is when we sign up to a new online application. “I have read and agree to the Terms and Conditions.” Yeah, right.

Still, we love all that new-fangled online stuff until it takes over our lives. Then we are left struggling. That is why I have pulled back from the latest apps and stuff. I’ve actually given up all social media. I was online for far too long every day and I am now making friends off Facebook but applying the same principles as I did online. Every day I stroll along Cromwell Street in Stornoway and I tell anyone I meet what I’ve eaten, how I feel, what I did last night and what I will do tomorrow.

Then I hand them snaps of my family, photos from our last holiday and, of course, close-ups of last night’s dinner. I also listen to all their dull conversations and tell them I like them and smile with tears running down my cheeks. Guess what? It’s working. I already have three people following me - two police officers and a psychiatrist.

Rapid Tests to Help Tackle Glasgow's HIV Outbreak

New HIV tests that provide results in minutes have been introduced in Glasgow to help tackle the worst outbreak of the infection in decades.  Drug users sharing needles are in the group most affected by the surge of HIV cases in Scotland's biggest city.  Previously, test results could take up to two weeks to come back from the laboratory and it could be difficult to trace people to tell them the outcome.  The finger prick blood tests will be available at needle exchanges.  About 170 people in Glasgow are believed to have contracted HIV in the current outbreak but it is feared the actual number may be much higher as many drug users do not engage with needle exchange services.  Experts say with each new case of HIV the potential for harm grows because of the vulnerable nature of those involved, many of whom are homeless. John Campbell, injecting equipment provision improvement manager at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, said getting results in minutes means those with positive results "can link into treatment instantly" while those who don't have the infection can be given harm reduction advice.  He said: "Undoubtedly, the current HIV outbreak is due to people sharing drug-taking equipment. Currently, people are injecting outdoors in filthy, sometimes urine-soaked alleyways or on derelict ground.  Glasgow has some of the best needle exchange services in the world but it is very hard for us to influence people's injecting behaviour unless professionals are present when they inject."  More than 5,000 people are living with HIV in Scotland and modern antiretroviral drugs mean those with the condition can live long and healthy lives.  Rapid HIV tests were first piloted in Glasgow by the Waverley Care charity but the latest initiative will significantly increase their availability.  Later this month, two summits to discuss Scotland's record drug death rate will take place in Glasgow.  Many of the drugs workers and medical staff who try to treat the HIV positive population in Glasgow favour the idea of a drug consumption room - or safe injecting facility.  Glasgow City Council and GCHSCP want to open an indoor location where drug users can consume drugs they have bought on the streets in a safe and clean environment.  They have the support of the Scottish government but drug laws are reserved to Westminster and a UK government spokeswoman confirmed it has no plans to introduce such centres.  But the spokeswoman said discussions on how it can "most effectively prevent the health-related harms of drugs misuse" will take place at the drugs summit it is holding in Glasgow on 27 February, a day after a Scottish government summit on the same issue.

Man Dies After Falling From Mountain Path During Storm Dennis
A man has died after falling from a mountain path into a gorge during Storm Dennis on Sunday.  The 42-year-old was on the route for Stob Ban, a 999m (3,277ft) Munro in the Mamores mountains near Fort William. He fell about 30m (98ft).  Police were alerted to the incident at about 13:00 and a search was launched.  Nineteen volunteers of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team recovered the man's body in "challenging" conditions, with winds gusting up to 50mph.  Snow, thunder and lightning also came during the six-hour call-out. The team said its thoughts were with the man's family and friends.  On Saturday, Dundonnell Mountain Rescue Team was involved in a search for two people in difficulty at Plodda Falls, a 40m (131ft) waterfall near Tomich, south of Inverness.  The rescue team said the pair had got into difficulty in the river at the falls, but had managed to get themselves out. They were later found on a track suffering from the effects of the cold.

Mystery Surrounds Blocking of Drainage Pipe on Great Glen Way in Inverness

Flood damage has been caused to the Great Glen Way in what appears to be a deliberate act of vandalism.  The incident on the Great Glen Way, where it links with Inverness at Mile End, was discovered when Highland Council workers were alerted to erosion damage.  A professionally-made metal device used by engineers and contractors for bunging up culverts had been used to prevent water entering the pipe during the recent torrential rain, causing a major overflow that damaged almost 200 metres of the track.  The “sabotage” was discovered by members of the council’s long distance routes team that maintains the 79 miles of path from Inverness to Fort William along the Great Glen fault line.  The team used The Great Glen Way’s Facebook page to alert walkers to take care on the badly eroded surface.  They posted: “Take care on Mile End Brae. Somebody had blocked one of the culverts pipes with a pipe sealer and this has resulted in approximately 185 metres of path washout.”  Their post went on to explain: “The pipe that was blocked is a culvert which allows water from a drainage ditch to flow beneath the path into an area of gorse, where it soaks away nicely and has done for the last 20 years or so. The bung has caused the water to flow down the path instead of under it and has resulted in the path being washed out.  The path has been tidied up and the water is running unimpeded in the ditch and through the culvert again.”  When it was suggested that the bung might have been there since the track was built, the long distance way team responded: “We built the path and maintain it. This has just appeared recently!” A local man, Brian King, posted: “It’s very prone to waterlogging there,” and Great Glen Ways responded: “It certainly is when people seal up the culverts.”  A Highland Council spokeswoman said: “The council has a Long Distance Routes team that maintain the Great Glen Way. It was they who found the culvert sealed on Monday and posted the incident on the Great Glen Way’s Facebook page.  They are currently trying to find out who may have inserted the seal and would appreciate it if those responsible would contact the Great Glen Way office on 01320 366633.”

Gas Heating to Be Banned in Scotland's Castles
Gas heating is to be eliminated from all Historic Environment Scotland (HES) buildings, including Edinburgh Castle, by 2032.  HES said it aimed to be "net-zero" by 2045 in line with the Scottish government's target.  The organisation plans to reduce the amount of visitor vehicles by 2028 by creating parking hubs where it has clusters of properties.  Low carbon "district heating" systems could also be used on some sites.  District heating takes energy released as heat and transfers it elsewhere using highly insulated pipes. HES said it could be installed on properties in highly populated areas.  The public body is one of Scotland's biggest operators of tourists sites that attract millions of visitors each year.  It manages more than 300 properties, including Stirling Castle and Linlithgow Palace.  The plan sets out how HES aims to reduce its carbon footprint over the coming years.  It intends to reduce its vehicle fleet by 30% by 2025 and, where practicable, have fully electric cars. Investment will also be made in cycling infrastructure for staff and visitors.  The use of taxis will be heavily curtailed with an aim to reduce use by 80% by 2022.

Objections to Spaceport Increase

Extinction Rebellion Scotland has joined the protests. They say that the Flow Country, ("Scotland’s Amazon") and Europe’s largest peat bog and carbon sink, is under serious threat from a "reckless and potentially extremely damaging spaceport development." Landowner Anders Holch Povlsen has also objected to the spaceport being built in the remote part of the Highlands where he has an estate.  Development agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise HIE) has submitted a planning application for a vertical launch site, Space Hub Sutherland, that it wants to build on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, Melness, near Tongue.  If the application is approved, construction on Europe’s first vertical launch site could begin later this year, with launches starting as early as 2022.  Objector Tasha Allen, Melness resident and parent, said: “I’ve lived here my whole life, within a mile of the site and have four young children. We are so privileged to bring up our children in this beautiful, untouched landscape. We need to teach our younger generations how important our planet’s resources are, it’s not all about money. How can this go ahead in a climate crisis? It’s not someone else’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem.”  Gordon McEwan, recycling centre operator and shareholder on the Melness Crofters Estate said: "I moved from Ayrshire with my two young boys and wife to get away from the noise and all that goes with life in towns and cities. This beautiful, remote and wild place will be ruined with this global vandalism in the name of apparent ‘progress and jobs’. As the saying goes, ‘there are no jobs on a dead planet’. Our planet and all the ecosystems on it, including this one, sustain us. They are our life line. We must stop destroying what keeps us alive in the name of short term profit.”  The proposed spaceport will put the fragile peatland ecosystem at huge risk, be that through fuel leaks, pollution or explosions, say campaigners.  Sarah Bird, conservation biologist said: “Any damaging development on this fragile peat bog ecosystem - which is so significant for our fight against climate change - is just wrong. If we upset that balance of chemicals in the ground or the water levels there and things dry out, then you begin to lose the peat. Which is critical, because that's carbon going out into the atmosphere.”  Holly Gillibrand, youth environmental activist, Fort William, said:“The idea that, in the midst of a climate and ecological emergency, a spaceport may be built on a rare ecosystem and a site of globally important carbon storage is ludicrous. Politicians talk about restoring peatlands and protecting species, but when you’re in a hole, you don’t keep making it deeper; you stop digging. We need to stop making this even harder for ourselves.”

UK Immigration Plans 'Devastating' for Scotland, Says Sturgeon
The UK Westminster government's plans for immigration would be "devastating" for Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has claimed.  The Home Office has set out plans for a post-Brexit system which would not give visas to low-skilled workers.  UK ministers want to "move away" from "cheap labour" from Europe and instead target the "brightest and best".  But Scotland's first minister said it would be "impossible to overstate how devastating" this would be, making it "much harder" to attract workers.  She wants powers over migration to be devolved to Holyrood so a separate system can be established north of the border.  The UK Wetminster government is keen to set up a "points-based" immigration system after the free movement of people between the UK and the EU ends on 31 December, when the Brexit transition period expires.  Home Secretary Priti Patel said that the government wants to "encourage people with the right talent" and "reduce the levels of people coming to the UK with low skills".  UK ministers have set out to reduce the overall level of migration to the UK, encouraging employers to invest in retaining staff and developing automation technology instead of "cheap labour" from abroad.  However, Ms Sturgeon argues that with population growth stalling in Scotland, more immigration is needed to boost the working-age population.  She said: "Our demographics mean we need to keep attracting people here - this makes it so much harder.  Getting power over migration in the Scottish Parliament is now a necessity for our future prosperity."  The Scottish government is arguing for a "fundamentally different approach to migration policy" north of the border, calling for an "evidence based approach which reflects the needs of our economy".  Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross insisted that "the new system will work for Scotland and the whole of the UK".  He said: "It will support our renowned universities and world beating high tech sector. It avoids putting up barriers to business by splitting our UK-wide system and it ensures our whole economy can continue to grow."  What are Scotland's demographic challenges?  The National Records of Scotland has projected that Scotland's working-age population could shrink in the coming years.  Births look set to outweigh deaths over the next 25 years, while life expectancy is on the rise. The group's projections say there could be 240,000 more pensioners by 2043 - and 7,000 fewer people of working age.  In a recent paper on migration, Ms Sturgeon said there was a "serious issue" with long-term demographic changes, saying that "all of our future population growth is projected to come form migration, and any reduction in migration will impact on the size of our working-age population".  However, the Migration Advisory Committee has argued that these demographic challenges are not unique to Scotland.  In a report in September 2018, the group said that "lower migration might lead to population decline", but said "some northern English regions have similar prospects" - concluding that "we were not of the view that Scotland's economic situation is sufficiently different from that of the rest of the UK to justify a very different migration policy".  Studies have also suggested that Scots have broadly similar attitudes to immigration as an economic asset as people in England and Wales.  The UK Westminster government has long argued in favour of a "points-based" immigration system for all migrants. Points would be allocated for things like having a job offer in a sector with staffing shortages, speaking English, and having higher education qualifications.  In total, candidates would need 70 points to qualify.  Overseas workers who speak English have the offer of a skilled job with an "approved sponsor" would accrue 50 points - needing 20 more from the other criteria.  The UK Westminster government says it is "important employers move away from a reliance on the UK's immigration system as an alternative to investment in staff retention, productivity and wider investment in technology and automation".  On "skilled" workers, the proposals would see this definition include those educated to Scottish Higher or A-level equivalent standard - not just graduate level, as is currently the case. Waiting tables and certain types of agricultural worker would be removed from the new skilled category, but new additions would include carpentry, plastering and childminding. At present, migration policy is entirely controlled from Westminster - but Scottish ministers want extra powers to be given to Holyrood to set up a distinct system.  They propose adding a Scottish-specific visa to the immigration system, which migrants could choose to apply for instead of one of the existing routes.  MSPs would decide the criteria for this new visa, and the Scottish government would receive and assess applications before sending them to the UK Westminster government for security checks.  Those applying for such a visa would need to remain resident in Scotland and pay tax locally, but would have a route to permanent settlement - unlike existing schemes for unskilled or temporary workers.  Ms Sturgeon says this would "allow Scotland to attract and retain people with the skills and attributes we need for our communities and economy to flourish".  However, the proposals were swiftly rejected by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said they were "absolutely fanciful and deranged". He said he had "every sympathy with the businesses and industries of Scotland that need to allow workers to come freely", pointing to plans to expand the entry scheme for seasonal agricultural workers.

Funding Boost for Growing Inverness Music Festival
A popular traditional music festival that takes place in Inverness has been awarded £17,000 by Event Scotland.  The Gathering takes place in late May and is one of six events across Scotland to be awarded a share of £91,240 from the body’s national events programme. Its funding will help expand the festival’s programme and enable it to stage an array of additional fringe events around the main festival.  The money will also support digital marketing, branding and city dressing costs.  The festival, which takes place at the Northern Meeting Park on May 30, will feature a host of traditional and folk bands from the Highlands and across Scotland.  They include big names such as The Peatbog Faeries, Trail West and Blazin’ Fiddles, alongside a line-up of the finest craft food and drink suppliers from the region.  And this year’s event will introduce a series of additional ticketed shows, free fringe events and pop-ups in the days leading up to and after the main festival.  They will run from Thursday, May 28 until Sunday, May 31, and take place in a diverse range of venues throughout the city including Inverness Cathedral, Eden Court Theatre and The Ironworks, together with bars, hotels and restaurants.  Chris Taylor, VisitScotland regional leadership director, said: “This popular event celebrates the best music of the Highlands and Scotland and boasts both a great atmosphere and something for all the family.  It’s fantastic that The Gathering will again be receiving funding from EventScotland’s national events programme fund.”   It is the second time the festival has benefited from the fund.

Coul Links Golf Course Project Refused Planning Permission

A controversial plan to build an 18-hole championship golf course in the Highlands has been refused planning permission by the Scottish government.  About 32 acres of the planned course was proposed for dunes at Coul Links at Embo, near Dornoch.  Highland councillors gave the project the go-ahead last June, before Scottish ministers called in the planning application for further scrutiny.  Following a public inquiry, the government has refused permission.  In their decision, Scottish ministers said the plan would have supported economic growth and rural development.  But they agreed with government-appointed planning officials' findings that the golf course would have "significant" effects on rare plantlife, wintering and breeding birds and the the dunes themselves. The government said the "likely detriment to natural heritage is not outweighed by the socio-economic benefits of the proposal".  Planning Minister Kevin Stewart said: "This proposal does not comply with the relevant provisions of the Highland Wide Local Development Plan, and runs contrary to Scottish Planning Policy's emphasis on protecting natural heritage sites and world class environmental assets.  The Scottish government has considered the reporter's findings carefully and agree with the recommendation that planning permission should be refused." The developers behind the project argued that the golf course would improve and protect the area of land involved, and bring much-needed jobs to the area.

HIE Will ‘Move Heaven and Earth’ to Get Cairn Gorm Funicular Running

The boss of Highlands and Islands Enterprise has admitted the quango will be “damned if it does, damned if it doesn’t” as it makes a final multi-million-pound decision on whether it repairs the crippled Cairn Gorm mountain railway.  Chairman Lorne Crerar said the agency will “move heaven and earth” to get the funicular running again, but only if a consultation exercise finds there is support for the move among people and businesses in the area.  Mr Crerar, who is stepping down next week from the post he has held for the past eight years, added that HIE recognised whatever action it decides on “there will be a body of people that think it’s the wrong thing to do.”  The funicular has been out of action since September 2018, when structural problems were found in support beams.  A company set up by HIE, Cairngorm Mountain (Scotland) has been running the winter sports resort since the previous operator, appointed by the agency in 2014, went into administration shortly after the railway’s failure.  HIE hired Jura Consultants and Threesixty Architecture to carry out a masterplanning exercise, including extensive local consultation, as it prepares a business case to put to the Scottish Government for extra funding for repair or demolition work.  Millions of pounds will be spent on either option of scrapping the funicular totally or repairing it. Mr Crerar said:  “I think we are in as good a place as we can be to decide what to do.  That recognises that, whatever we do, there will be a body of people that think it’s the wrong thing to do, but at least it will be based on a complete netting of all the information.”  He added: “Through no fault of ours the funicular ceased to operate and we’ve been left in this very difficult position and we’re damned if we do and we’re damned if we don’t. But what we are trying to persuade everyone is that of we are spending huge amounts of energy trying to do the right thing for Badenoch and Strathspey – and we are.”  The HIE chairman said the agency’s “direction of travel” was to repair the funicular.  But, he added: “If the masterplanning exercise comes out that what the community want is something different, it wouldn’t be right for us to pursue a policy that was not in line with what they want to achieve.  But I’m pretty condfident that if repairing the funicular is what people want to see and economic impact is the key feature of it, then we’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that happens.”

Plans Unveiled for New £1.3bn Waterfront Development in Granton

Plans for a new £1.3bn waterfront development in Edinburgh have been unveiled revealing what would be a new coastal town of the city.  The former industrial land at Granton would have 3,500 new homes, a school, medical centre, cycling and walking routes and sustainable transport hubs.  The plans will be presented to the City of Edinburgh Council's Policy and Sustainability Committee next Tuesday.  Under the plans, there would a new park linking Granton Harbour to Gypsy Brae.  Council leader Adam McVey said: "We've made a commitment to become a net zero carbon city by 2030 and the regeneration of Granton offers the perfect opportunity to showcase how this can be delivered.  We are committed to working with the local community and partners to create vibrant new neighbourhoods where people live and travel and grow the economy in an eco-friendly way."  A development framework will be published by the council on Thursday and go on display at Edinburgh College until 6 March.  If the committee approves of the proposal, the local authority will then work with the Scottish government and others to develop a funding strategy having committed around £196m to the regeneration of the area.  The council's depute leader, Cammy Day, said: "The regeneration of Granton will create hundreds of new jobs linked to growth of new services, business, leisure and creative industries and will strengthen the retail and small businesses that already exist.  Our public sector partners Edinburgh College, National Museums Scotland and National Galleries Scotland, who all have land or buildings within Granton Waterfront, are committed to working collaboratively to maximise the impact of combining our resources. "

£23 Million Work on Aberdeen Nurseries Welcomed by Leaders
Aberdeen council leaders have hailed the £23 million programme of works being carried out to prepare nurseries for the rollout of extended childcare hours.  Work is taking place on 27 sites in Aberdeen to build new nurseries as well as extending the space available for youngsters in existing facilities.  Construction work is under way to help ensure care providers are fully prepared to offer increased funded childcare hours from 600 to 1,140 hours by August.  Local authorities throughout Scotland will extend funded hours for all three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds.  Council co-leaders Jenny Laing and Douglas Lumsden visited the site of one new nurseries being built by Robertson in Seaton yesterday.  It is based on the site of the former Woodlands Primary School on Regent Walk and is expected to be completed in June.  The interiors of the building have been stripped out to make way for structural alterations to turn it into larger more modern nursery areas.  New equipment will then be installed to create a bright learning environment for children.  Aberdeen City Council co-leader Jenny Laing said: “We’ve got £23m of investment going into our early learning centres and we’re fully committed to delivering 1,140 hours from August.  We want to make sure the facilities the children will be coming to are of the standard required, as well as top class learning and teaching that will go on within them.  It’s wonderful to see the work beginning on the ground and I’m confident the facilities we’ll have in Aberdeen will be second to none.”  John McHardy, business development director for construction firm Robertson Eastern, said: “These new early years learning facilities will play a crucial role in giving children the best possible start in education and we’re pleased, once again, to be working in partnership with the council.”

'Small Fire' Led to Evacuation of North Sea Etap Rig

Dozens of workers have been evacuated from a North Sea platform after it suffered power problems caused by a "small fire".  Operators BP said 63 non-essential personnel were taken from the Etap platform, situated about 100 miles east of Aberdeen.  The action was taken following issues with power generation on Tuesday.  Production has been temporarily suspended. BP said they were working to resolve the problem.  The Etap development is one of the largest currently in the North Sea.  Of the 134 people on board, 66 were flown to Aberdeen on Tuesday evening. BP said the safety and wellbeing of its teams offshore was of the "utmost priority".  It processes oil and gas from multiple sites, with BP operating six of the seven fields.  In a statement, BP said: "Following initial investigations, we can confirm there was a small fire confined to the exhaust section of a power generation unit on the Etap platform.  The platform went to muster where all personnel were accounted for with no injuries reported. The fire was rapidly extinguished by the on board fire crews. The platform remains on emergency power generation with reduced heating and power capacities."

Rocket Launching Plans for the Uists Develop
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has confirmed that a revised planning application to develop ‘a temporary test launch facility’ in North Uist for the launch of ‘sounding rockets’ continues to be developed and will be submitted “in due course”.  The Comhairle’s announcement comes one week after Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) confirmed that it had submitted plans to Highland Council for a vertical launch site – Space Hub Sutherland – on the A’ Mhoine peninsula, Melness, near Tongue.  The Sutherland facility could see vertical launches commence as soon as 2022 with up to 12 launches of commercial satellites – typically for observation activities – taking place each year, and which, HIE claims, will be the first such launches in Europe.  ‘Sounding rockets’ typically carry instruments for data gathering, research and scientific experiments on shorter duration sub-orbital flights.  A spokesperson for the Comhairle said this week that the market for low-cost satellite launches “continues to develop” and that “a range of new opportunities will arise from the maturing of the market.” The Comhairle’s spokesperson concluded: “These opportunities will potentially be delivered across a number of launch sites which will deliver particular specialisms to the market.” Based at Scolpaig on the north west coast of North Uist, the Comhairle-backed Spaceport 1 project initially set out to be the UK’s first vertical launch commercial space port, and plans for the facility took a step-closer to realisation last summer after the authority pledged £1m to purchase land for the facility.  The Spaceport 1 project is a partnership between Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and defence contractor, Qinetiq, which operates the MOD Hebrides missile range on behalf of the Ministry of Defence.  According to the Comhairle, the project in North Uist could lead to the creation of up to 70 local jobs with additional long-term economic benefits.

Snow and Ice Warnings in Place Across Scotland
Scotland is braced for a fresh blast of wintry weather with snow and ice warnings in place across the country.  The Met Office said showers are expected in the central Scotland, Grampian, Highlands and Argyll and Bute regions.  The yellow warnings are in place and come after heavy flooding on Friday.  Some roads and railways are likely to be affected and longer journey times are expected. Drivers are being advised to expect difficult conditions and some icy patches.  A separate yellow wind warning will also be in place from 06:00 to 22:00 for most of the country.  Gusts of up to 60mph are forecast and exposed parts of northern and western Scotland could see wind speeds reach 75 mph.  Heavy rain on Friday led to vehicles becoming stranded in Paisley and Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire. Overnight the Scottish Environment Protection Agency had 12 flood alerts and 34 flood warnings in place nationwide.  The wet conditions have also led to the postponement of Friday's Scottish Premiership match between St Mirren and Hearts at the Simple Digital Arena in Paisley. Elsewhere Scotrail had to close the line between Stirling and Perth for safety reasons after water levels breached a marker on the Mill O'Keir viaduct.  And on the roads flooding forced the closure of the north bound M876 at junction 2 Broomage in central Scotland.  Last weekend road, rail and ferry links were hit and football matches cancelled as Storm Dennis swept across Scotland.  While the overall picture has improved during the week, parts of north-west England experienced more than a month's worth of rain between Thursday and Friday.