Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 579

Issue # 579                                                   Week ending Saturday 21st  November  2020

It May Have Been An Awful Year But All the Symbols Point to 2021 Being So Much Better by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

So many reasons are making the year 2020 one that we will always remember. What will we actually remember when we look back on these unprecedented times? Being stuck indoors for months on end is one going to be one of the least pleasant memories, for me at any rate. Mrs X will probably tell a different story about how she enjoyed the long months canoodling with her darling husband. That’s me, by the way.

The year 2020 has seen people get great jobs and others have stepped down. That happens all the time in politics, of course. Followers of politics will have their own weird, if predictable, recollections. What will be memorable to them will depend completely on whether they are on the red side, the blue side, this side of the Atlantic or any other side whatsoever. They see only what suits their party and they then forget or rubbish everything else.

The actual facts are somewhere in the middle of all that but who cares when it’s a really important issue and the right spiel could generate votes, support or just sympathy.

Maybe that’s why Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings last week announced he was going to make himself redundant by Christmas. Thank you for the heads-up, Dom. We will buy extra crackers to celebrate. Two days later he made a very public departure from 10 Downing Street, by the front door right under the noses of a posse of cameras, clutching an incredibly-symbolic cardboard box, marked, er, Storage Box.

It, presumably, contained maps of County Durham, satnavs, driving spectacles and whatever he needed to get home. Cummings is just a common-or-garden civil servant. So why did he get the symbolic door to carry his symbolic box out after being told not to darken the door of that symbolic house?

I’m thinking why is he telling us he’s going to quit and then quitting as quietly as a jet engine. Is something happening that may need to be blamed on someone who was there at the time. Maybe a few MPs, including the PM, being infected and having to self-isolate. Who could have passed the virus on? But Mr Cummings had quit by then. Or maybe it was spread earlier ...

Still, crateloads of Covid vaccines are on the way. That must symbolise progress, hope, love ... Please.

Also progressing this year are Ross County. I am no soccer expert but my contacts at Victoria Park in Dingwall tell me two young Lewis lads have risen through the junior ranks and have turned out for the first team. Stuart Kettlewell, the boss of the Staggies, knows good players when he sees them so Andy Mackinnon and Matthew Wright both played in the first game at the weekend against Stirling Albion with real, raucous, shouty supporters.

Ross County are so well named. I’ll tell you why. They now have five players with the first name Ross. And there’s a 16-year-old called Logan coming through their academy with the surname Ross. You couldn’t make it up. Where have all these people called Ross come from? There’s Ross Laidlaw, the goalie, Ross Doohan, on loan from Celtic, Ross Munro who also came through their excellent academy, striker Ross Stewart, and midfielder Ross Draper, who was previously with Inverness Caley.

Amazing. I’m just waiting to hear Jonathon Ross is the new manager. Sorry, Stuart Kettlewell, you’d have to step down for a Ross. Jonathon R wouldn’t be long at Woss County if he couldn’t pronounce it. He could maybe get the iconic Diana Ross to sing at half-time. Chain Reaction would have Victoria Park jumping. Then maybe Now That You’ve Gone. OK, maybe not that one. How about Give Up. No, think of another symbolic, positive song she did. She also sang No One Gets the Prize.

Do Diana Ross’s songs are not very suitable. We need another Ross. We’ll just have to get Ian Ross of Ross’s Garage in Stornoway to do the entertaining. He can’t sing either but he can tell jokes. Ian, how much is the bill for fixing my van? How much? Ha ha ha. You’ve got to be joking. He’s so funny.

Another symbolic happening will make me remember 2020. I have finally made it big in my life. On Monday, a representative from one of the world’s largest iconic companies spoke to me by phone and told me that I had arrived. It was Google Maps.

Covid in Scotland: Level 4 Lockdown to Be Imposed in 11 Council Areas
More than two million people are to be placed under Scotland's toughest Covid lockdown restrictions from Friday.  The move will see level four rules imposed in 11 council areas across western and central Scotland, including Glasgow.  It will mean non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms will have to close, although schools will still be open.  The level four restrictions will remain in place until 11 December.  They will be imposed in East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow, Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire.  North and South Lanarkshire, East and South Ayrshire, Stirling and West Lothian will also move to level four - with about 2.3 million people affected across the 11 local authority areas.  However, East Lothian and Midlothian will move from level three to level two from next Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.  Ms Sturgeon also said the existing advice for people in level three or four not to travel outside their own council area except for "certain essential purposes" will become law from Friday.  This will also mean that people living elsewhere in Scotland must not travel to level three or level four areas, except for essential purposes, and there must be no non-essential travel between Scotland and other parts of the UK.  The first minister said there were grounds for "continued and significant concern" about levels of the virus in all of the council areas that would be moving to the highest tier of restrictions.  She added: "The infection rate in all of these areas remains stubbornly and worryingly high. At these levels, we simply do not have the assurance we need that hospital and ICU services will be able to cope as we go deeper into winter." In the seven days up to Friday, Scotland as a whole had just over 140 new cases of Covid per 100,000 people.  Ms Sturgeon said all of the areas moving to level four were above that rate - ranging from West Lothian, which saw 158 cases per 100,000, to Glasgow with 277.  She said the "short, sharp" move to level four would allow restrictions in the affected areas to be eased "much more quickly" than they would be if they remained in level three.  All of the country's other council areas will remain in the same level as they currently are, although Ms Sturgeon said she hoped that Argyll and Bute could soon move from level two to level one. England is currently in a national lockdown, and ministers are hoping to reintroduce a tiered system of restrictions when that ends on 2 December.  National lockdown restrictions were eased in Wales earlier this month, although there are still curbs on meeting other households and travelling outside the country.  And restrictions, including the closure of pubs, bars and restaurants, are in place across Northern Ireland until 26 November.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said more than 700 Covid patients are in its hospitals and the number has been "increasing steadily" in recent weeks. Chief executive Jane Grant said: "Our staff and services are under the same levels of pressure as they were at the peak of the first Covid wave so we hope these new restrictions will help us to continue to provide vital services and support to our staff, patients and their loved ones."

Tayside and Fife Vaccine Trial Has 'Tremendous' Response
Hundreds of people from across Tayside and Fife are being asked to participate in a new Covid-19 vaccine trial.  The vaccine - designed by the Belgian company Janssen - uses a genetically modified common cold virus to train the immune system.  The 400 volunteers will receive two injections of the trial vaccine within a two-month period in Dundee and Kirkcaldy.  The study is being led in Scotland by Dundee University and NHS Tayside. Prof Jacob George from the university's school of medicine told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme the initial response had been "tremendous". He said: "We went out on social media on Friday afternoon and we've had many, many people volunteering, but we still need plenty more."  Volunteers, who must be aged 18 or over, will be vaccinated with the first vaccine between now and Christmas, with a booster given two months later.  Some volunteers will be injected with a control placebo.  The trial is expected to be complete in March or April, with data then submitted to regulators for approval.  Prof George said: "These trials are absolutely necessary if we want to get the data to guarantee the efficacy of these vaccines that we want to offer to the population."  About 6,000 people are being recruited for the trial in the UK, with a total of 30,000 people taking part worldwide.  The professor said a number of different vaccines would need to be developed to able to immunise the entire world population.  Last week, BioNTech and co-developers Pfizer said preliminary analysis showed their vaccine could prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.  Prof George said: "No one vaccine is likely to be suitable for the whole population, we clearly need a multilateral approach to this.  The ability of one single company to ramp up production and deliver a vaccine for the global population, it is going to be very challenging."

Almost Half A Million Infected Trees on Arran to Be Felled

Hundreds of thousands of larch are to be cut down on the Isle of Arran to prevent the spread of a disease that kills the trees. Phytophthora ramorum is a fungus-like pathogen that spreads by generating spores. It was first found in Scotland in 2002 and there is no known cure. Almost half a million trees are to be felled on Arran, bringing "substantial changes to some well-loved landscapes".  The work is due to start next month and will take several years to complete. Public body Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) said it was working on plans for replanting in the cleared areas to reduce the visual impact as much as possible.  A total of about 543 acres (220ha) of larch will be felled in an effort to control the disease.  The removal of the trees is being carried out under a licence and once felled the timber can still be processed for uses such as wood chips.  Andy Walker, of FLS, said: "This is a horrible disease that can't be eradicated and has no known cure. The only way we have to slow its rate of spread is to fell the affected larch trees.  It will result in substantial changes to some well-loved landscapes over the next few years but if we don't do this, then the long-term impact will be even worse."  He said residents and visitors to Arran could help prevent the spread of spores by cleaning mud from boots, bike wheels and dogs' paws before and after visits to woodland. FLS has more advice on its website.  Regulatory agency Scottish Forestry has been working with FLS on how to tackle the disease.  The organisation's Sasha Laing said: "The location and scale of infections on Arran have required us to develop our local regulatory approach to look to achieve the best disease control outcomes over the coming years.  The approach taken allows due consideration of the unique landscape of Arran and the capacity of the forestry sector to deliver these outcomes."

400 Pupils Isolate At One Fife School - But Total for Region is Unknown
Small numbers of positive COVID tests are impacting on a significant number of school pupils across Fife.  But the numbers having to self isolate are not being logged specifically. This comes as one headteacher publicly revealed he had over 400 pupils self isolating - and attendance in class was around 50 per cent.  Alan Pithie, headteacher at Auchmuty High school in Glenrothes, said the situation was “incredibly horrendous” - and warned change was needed in the wider community to help bring the number down. Several parents from schools across central Fife have expressed concern over the numbers of pupils being asked to isolate, but today NHS Fife and Fife Council said no specific figures were available. They stressed each school had its own contingency plan to deal with COVID issues - including remote learning - and that support was on hand.  Dona Milne, NHS Fife Director of Public Health, said: “While we have seen cases of COVID-19 associated with a considerable number of schools in Fife, these have been in relatively small numbers and are most often related to community transmission rather than transmission in schools.  Where there are positive cases it is necessary to ask those in close contact with the individual to isolate as a precaution, and in the case of schools this can lead on occasion to whole classes being affected.”And she stressed the need for community support to help minimise the impact on time lost from the classroom.  She added: “We want as few children as possible to have to isolate.  In order to reduce this number, we need the help of parents, staff and pupils.  It is really important that staff and pupils do not come to school with symptoms and follow all public health measures when they are in school.  If we do ask people to isolate, we can provide support to make this as easy as possible and we need people to follow our isolation advice.  If we are to reverse the current trend of rising cases in our schools, and in our communities, then we need the help of local people.”She said it was vital people followed the existing public health guidance, adding: “If we adhere to these measures we will very likely start to see reducing numbers of cases across our communities, and fewer children and young people will miss school as a result.”  Shelagh McLean, head of education and children's services at Fife Council, commented: "We are working very closely with colleagues in public health to monitor and manage COVID cases in schools and encouraging our school communities to follow public health advice.  Each school has its own contingency plans in place, including plans for remote learning, which are continually reviewed. Parents would be notified by their individual schools if their circumstances change."  Jo Bisset, organiser for UsForThem Scotland lobby group, said: “If a child is unwell and displaying symptoms of Covid-19 they should of course be sent home to isolate and recover. But healthy pupils should stay in school and carry on with their lives – it doesn’t have to be more complicated than that.  The Scottish Government’s own experts have repeatedly said that it’s ‘very unusual’ for children to transmit the virus.  Schools and councils should heed that advice and ensure schooling continues as normal.”

How A Meal and A Chat Are Helping Beat Covid Loneliness

A shared meal or a dinner treat delivered with kindness could be the simplest ways to beat Covid loneliness.  As millions of Scots prepare to enter tight lockdown restrictions and a long difficult winter, volunteers are using the power of food to lighten the mood and keep people connected.  A Highland community using fish teas to beat the lockdown blues and a meal-making service in Glasgow are cooking up ways to bring people together.  Andy Stadalius, 77 from Glasgow says he hit "rock bottom" when he lost his wife more than a year ago.  But an unlikely friendship with 31-year-old Alex Clarke, a volunteer for the Meal Makers service has turned things around.  Meal Makers is a local food-sharing project that connects people who love cooking, and who are happy to share an extra portion of home cooked food, with an older neighbour who would appreciate a freshly prepared meal and a friendly chat.  "I met Alex when I was feeling down after I lost my wife, " said Andy. "She cooks meals for me at least once a week and she gets my messages for me. If I am ill she looks after me.  I buy her chocolates to say thank you. She is great and she cooks lovely meals. Nothing is too much bother for her.  She treats me like a father and I treat her like a daughter. She is more than a friend to me she is my best friend. All the money in the world wouldn't compensate that lassie, she's an angel."  Alex joined the scheme because she wanted to volunteer and she loves cooking. But she got more out of it than she thought.  She said: "When I met Andy I assumed it would be dropping off food and maybe a chat. But now we are the best of friends, we have such a good giggle together.  Lockdown has made us better friends. I was aware he was going to be stuck indoors all the time, so I would phone more often and go down and speak on the doorstep.  We have really good fun. We have a similar sense of humour and we are both stubborn. We take the mickey out of each other."  With the level four lockdown approaching, they will have to stop their cafe trips, and go back to safe meal drop-offs.  Alex said: "We will be safe but keep up that social interaction. And I get a lot out of it too. It's a lovely friendship. Even for me during lockdown it was a nice break from being indoors, talking to someone, he gives me film tips."  Teenager Keegan Campbell has the kind of smile that would lift most people's spirits  The pensioners he is delivering fish suppers and scampi to can't see it under his face mask, but they know it's there, and he puts a smile on the faces of dozens of people every week.  The Go Golspie charity started their chippy runs during the first lockdown when their residents could not come out to their local lunch club.  They've now secured funding to make sure they looked after all through the winter. About 35 elderly people receive the suppers for a bargain £3, delivered every Friday with side of human interaction.  Keegan got involved as a favour to his mum.  "One afternoon we were at the youth centre and my mum was asked to help," he said. "She couldn't make it because she was working so I said I would do it. I just started helping.  We come straight here after school, get the first round of chips and deliver to the first eight or nine, then come back for the next load.  It's pretty good craic. I'm just helping the community and I hope I can carry it on."  For neighbours Etta Sutherland and Barbara Cumming, it's a nice distraction.  "It's just lovely. You know when they are coming and you are ready for them," said Barbara. "People really appreciate it. There is quite a few in the village who don't have anyone but they have good neighbours. Everybody is friendly and everybody knows each other. Fridays are great." Etta said: "It's a lovely service by everybody and we do appreciate it. Nice to get something you don't have to cook yourself.  Keegan has given up his Friday afternoon which is very good. They are lovely boys. In a little village like this people look after each other."  Peter Allan, a volunteer at Go Golspie, drives the bus. He said the organisation is committed to helping the elderly population.  "Many of the people here don't see anybody from week to week and some of them haven't been out since the start of March. The last two weeks we have started doing tours and its the first time they have been out anywhere since March. The more we can do to help people the better. As long as we can keep the funding going we will keep looking after them. The conversation in the mini bus is fun and we spend a bit longer on the doorstep than we should."

Black Watch: Famous Battalion Has Survived Some of the Fiercest Battles in History

For centuries the very name of The Black Watch struck fear into Britain’s enemies. The French named them Highland Furies and they defeated Napoleon’s Invincible Legion.  Since then, in the Americas, West Indies, India, Crimea and South Africa in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, during the war in Europe and, most recently, in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands have made the final sacrifice in its colours.  With its traditional recruiting grounds in Tayside and Fife, The Black Watch is the battalion with the closest links to Courier Country and it has resiliently survived some of the fiercest battles in history.  NOW THE BATTALION IS FACING ANOTHER TYPE OF FIGHT, THIS TIME FOR ITS SURVIVAL, AND THERE ARE FEARS IT COULD BE LOST IN A DEFENCE REVIEW.  WE TRUST IT WILL BE SEEN OFF AS OTHERS HAVE BEEN OVER A UNIQUE REGIMENTAL HISTORY.  
The Black Watch was originally raised in 1725 to maintain law and order in the Highlands after the 1715 Jacobite uprising.  It first mustered as a regiment on the banks of the Tay at Aberfeldy in 1739 and in 1885 the spot was marked by a rugged cairn, topped by a figure of a Black Watch soldier wearing the uniform of 1740, the date when the whole regiment assembled for the first time in a field nearby.  In 1825, Stewart of Garth wrote that: “Although the commissions of the officers were dated in October, and the following months of 1739, the men were not assembled until the month of May 1740.  The whole were then mustered, and embodied into a regiment in a field between Taybridge and Aberfeldy, in the county of Perth…”  In the early days, and for many years afterwards, recruitment to the regiment was rigidly confined to men from north of the Tay.  Partly because of this, the men of the regiment – regulars, volunteers, territorials – have retained the spirit of their Highland forebears, a clan feeling born of the young Highland men who joined up seeking a life of action and adventure.  The famous name arose because of the dark tartan worn by the Highlanders in marked contrast to the regular Redcoat soldiers, and the nature of their original role to deter further uprisings by guarding the Highlands.  From its foundation, The Black Watch won fame for itself and its country, and the respect of people all over the world. It received its baptism of fire at Fontenoy in Flanders in 1745 for action against the French. Although the battle was lost, a contemporary French pamphlet commented: “The Highland furies rushed in upon us with more violence than ever did the sea driven by tempest.  In short, we gained a victory, but may I never see such another!”  When the First World War ended on Armistice Day, 1918, patrols of the regiment were crossing the same field at Fontenoy.  Overcoming a little local difficulty in the form of an early mutiny, the regiment saw service in the New World against rebel Americans and the French at the Battle of Ticonderoga in 1758, and is the only existing regiment to have fought in the American Wars of Independence.  The regiment took part in the successful action at Brooklyn, New York, against George Washington’s forces in 1776 and undertook much skirmishing against the rebels during the remainder of that war.  From 1795, the regiment has worn distinguishing red bonnet feathers “as a mark of gallantry”.  The famous Red Hackle first figured prominently in the Battle of Alexandria in Egypt in 1801, when the regiment helped repel Napoleon’s forces, winning it the honour of bearing the Sphinx with the word ‘Egypt’ as a badge on its colours.  Until 1881 The Black Watch comprised two regiments of Foot, the 42nd and 73rd, both of which distinguished themselves in the final great battles of the Napoleonic Wars, Quatre Bras and Waterloo.  That year they became, respectively, the 1st and 2nd Battalions The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).  The regimental headquarters were moved to the Queen’s Barracks, Perth, which became its recruiting and training centre. But the drill square fell silent to the tramp of boots and the shouts of command in 1961 and was demolished to make way for the city’s inner-ring road.  The land where the barrack buildings once stood is now occupied by Police Scotland’s Perth headquarters,  The regiment’s heaviest casualties occurred during the First World War when the 53,000 servicemen who passed through its ranks suffered 8,900 dead.  In one offensive in 1918 the 6th Battalion lost over 450 men.  King George V became colonel-in-chief in 1912, succeeded on his death by his daughter-in-law Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother).  In 1922 the regiment became officially known as The Black Watch (The Royal Highlanders), changed in 1937 to The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment).  During the Second World War, battalions of The Black Watch served in every theatre of war except Norway and the Pacific, gaining honours from Dunkirk, the Somme and Tobruk as they once again fought through France and Germany, in North Africa and finally in Burma.  At St Valery in June 1940 the remnants of the 1st Battalion were surrounded by overwhelming German forces and marched into captivity.  Three battalions fought as part of the famous 51st Highland Division at El Alamein in 1942.  As Winston Churchill declared, in the aftermath of the hostilities: “Before Alamein, we never had a victory; after Alamein, we never had a defeat.”  In March 1944, the 2nd Battalion, which was now divided into two columns of roughly 400 men each, was flown deep into Burma.  Over the next few months they attacked Japanese forces, diverting them away from the frontline.  When the two columns were finally withdrawn from the jungle in August 1944, only two officers and 48 men were judged fit for duty.  Men who later came out of the jungle would find that their stomachs had shrunk so much that all they could eat was soup.  In hand-to-hand fighting at the infamous Battle of The Hook in Korea in 1952, the regiment broke with a tradition more than 200 years old when men of the 1st Battalion drove back Chinese communists in a charge.  Immediately after action in the Korean War the battalion was deployed to Kenya in 1953 to help suppress the Mau-Mau Rebellion.  The 1st Battalion was deployed to Northern Ireland for two short tours in 1970, followed by a longer tour of duty in the “bandit country” of South Armagh and another tour of Belfast towards the end of 1971.  The Black Watch completed 11 tours of Ulster during the Troubles before a ceasefire brought the fighting to a close in the 1990s.  In 1996 it returned to the Highlands for the first time in 66 years when it moved to Fort George near Inverness.  Since then The Black Watch has given brave service in Iraq and most recently in Afghanistan. The Black Watch was amalgamated into The Royal Regiment of Scotland in 2006.  The move was particularly controversial as The Black Watch was stationed in Basra in Iraq when the merger was announced.  One of its greatest honours came in peacetime, however.  In 1947 the Freedom of Perth was conferred on the regiment and received on its behalf by its colonel-in-chief, the Queen Mother, whose brother had fallen in the Battle of Loos in 1915 while serving in the 8th Battalion.  Thereafter it subsequently won the right to march “with bayonets fixed, drums beating and colours flying” at similar ceremonies in Dundee (1954), and elsewhere, including its spiritual home Aberfeldy (1970) and Fife (2006). The Queen Mother received the Freedom of Dundee on behalf of The Black Watch and she described it as “the great regiment which has so warm a place in the hearts of all of us”.

How Do Scots Rate Their Leaders in the Pandemic?
By Sir John Curtice
Voters in Scotland are not wholly uncritical of how the Scottish government has handled the coronavirus pandemic. However, many still feel it is performing better than the UK Westminster  government - with potential implications for the debate about independence. These are some of the key findings of a poll conducted last week by Ipsos Mori for BBC Scotland - just before the announcement by Nicola Sturgeon of a new lockdown for those living in many areas of western and central Scotland.  After a summer in which it appeared that Scotland might be close to eliminating the virus, the autumn has witnessed a second wave and the introduction of tougher restrictions.  This about turn might have been thought to have damaged public confidence in how Edinburgh has been handling the pandemic. Indeed, nearly half (49%) believe the Scottish government was "too late" in tightening the coronavirus restrictions, while 42% feel the timing was about right and just 5% that it was too early. Yet - prior to this week's announcement at least - the Scottish government is largely thought eventually to have made the right call.  As many as 62% think the restrictions under which they have until now been living locally are "about right", while those who think that they are "too strict" (19%) is almost equally counterbalanced by those who feel they are not strict enough (17%).  The poll suggests there has so far only been a minor dent in the Scottish government's reputation for handling the pandemic. As many as 72% now say that the Scottish government has handled coronavirus well, while just 15% think it has done so badly. When Ipsos Mori conducted a similar poll in May, 78% said it was doing well and 11% badly. Much the same is true of how Nicola Sturgeon is thought to have handled the pandemic. In so far as they exist, critics of Edinburgh's handling of the pandemic are most common among the minority who think that the measures in their area have been too strict. Only about half (49%) of this group feel the Scottish government has handled things well, while one in three (33%) believe it has done so badly. This suggests Tuesday's announcement is only likely to dent the Scottish government's reputation further if voters believe the lockdown in the west of Scotland is too harsh. Whatever the difficulties that have beset the Scottish government in handling the pandemic, they have been matched by those faced by the UK Westminster government, which has had to introduce a tough lockdown throughout England and reverse its attempt to reduce the financial support given to those who have been furloughed.  This appears to have had an impact. Just 25% of people in Scotland now say that the UK government has handled the pandemic well, while 55% believe that it has done so badly.  Meanwhile, the prime minister's personal ratings are even worse. Just 19% (down 11 points on May) believe he has handled the pandemic well, while 62% (up seven points) feel he has done so badly. What may particularly worry the UK Westminster government is that even among those who voted No in the 2014 independence referendum, the Scottish government and Nicola Sturgeon are rated more highly than the UK Westminster government and Boris Johnson. No less than 64% of No voters believe the Scottish government has handled the pandemic well, while 65% say the same of Nicola Sturgeon. In contrast, just 31% believe the UK Westminster government has addressed the pandemic well, and only 26% say the same of Boris Johnson.  This divergence poses the risk for the UK Westminster government that some of those who in 2014 voted to stay in the UK might now have drawn the conclusion that Scotland would be governed better under independence. Today's poll finds that among voters as a whole, as many as 39% believe an independent Scotland would have handled the pandemic better, while just 19% feel it would have fared worse.  Those who voted No in 2014 are, of course, less likely than those who voted Yes to say that an independent Scotland would have handled the pandemic better. However, as many as 15% do believe it would have done - whereas only 6% of Yes voters feel that coronavirus would have been handled worse. Only 37% of No voters believe an independent Scotland would dealt less effectively with the issue.  It seems that, so far at least, some of those who voted No six years ago do not feel that the coronavirus pandemic has been the Union's finest hour.

More Than 120 Self-Isolating After Covid-19 Outbreak At Perth School
More than 120 staff and pupils are isolating after an outbreak of coronavirus at a Perth secondary school.  Figures released by council chiefs on Thursday reveal 12 pupils and four staff at Perth Grammar have tested positive for the virus in the last 14 days.  The outbreak began on November 6 with a single member of staff. A second employee tested positive the following day.  The first confirmed case involving a pupil happened the next day, November 8. The first wave of 24 students and three staff were sent home to isolate the day after that, when a second child was infected.  Now a total of 124 people have been told to stay home, after being flagged as close contacts of confirmed cases.  The Perth and Kinross Council study shows there are a total of 429 staff and children self-isolating as a result of cases at 14 schools throughout the area.  A total of 50 are at home after two cases at St John’s RC Academy, while 46 have been told to isolate as a result of two infections in Blairgowrie High School.  Meanwhile, 46 are isolating at St Madoes School, which has a roll of just over 100. Other cases have been recorded at Bertha Park, Kinross High, Perth Academy and Perth High, and at primary schools Arngask, Crieff, Dunning and Newhill in Blairgowrie.  The number of people isolating across the region, in connection with schools, has dropped from 445 the week before.  Council leader Murray Lyle said he was hopeful the downward trend will continue.  “Overall the number of cases in Perth and Kinross has gone down – not significantly, but slightly,” he said.  “I am particularly aware of the situation at Perth Grammar and I believe that we are now on top of it. I’m confident that situation will resolve itself soon.”  He added: “If you look at this week’s numbers, you can see that that people who were self-isolating because of earlier cases are now back in circulation, and that has helped bring the numbers down.  I feel that Perth and Kinross is managing the situation well, in schools and out of school, and tackling each incident as it crops up.  I would hope to see the numbers decline further next week, and maybe we can go back to level two.  But, of course, something could come up tomorrow and change everything again. You just never know.”

Historic Inverness Bridge May Need to Close

The category B listed suspension Infirmary footbridge in Inverness which traverses the River Ness between Ness Walk and Ness Bank may need to close for public safety until The Highland Council considers and secures funding for necessary repairs.  This was the message that the council’s roads operations manager, John Taylor informed the City of Inverness area committee this week.  She also informed councillors that all reasonable steps to delay the closure without compromising public safety were being taken into consideration.  The 83-metre bridge with wrought iron trusses supported by steel hangers, steel cables and wrought iron latticework towers is over 140 years old.  Urgent repairs costing a minimum of £550,000 are required and failure to carry out these repairs could result in the closure of the bridge in the near future on the grounds of health and safety.  The rate of deterioration of the bridge is being closely monitored and further inspections will continue to be undertaken which will inform any decision on the timing of the closure.  Councillors were informed that currently there is no capital budget allocated for the bridge within their budget and that a plan is currently being developed to try to secure funding for the necessary repairs potentially from a variety of sources.  Provost of Inverness and Area, Cllr Helen Carmichael said: “Public safety is paramount and members support a temporary closure of the Infirmary Bridge until a funding solution can be found for its repairs.”  A briefing meeting will be held in the near future to provide a further update on the bridge.  Members were also updated on the maintenance of adopted road structures in the Inverness Area comprising bridges, culverts, retaining walls and cattle grids.  In 2019/20 works were carried out at Convinth, Darris, Findhorn, Cantray, Chapel, Torness and Nairnside bridges and repairs were made to a cattlegrid at Erchite and to the Clachnaharry seawall. Other works which were stopped due to the coronavirus lockdown are being planned to commence and be completed in 2020/21.

Highland Seer's Daughter Has Dead Good Wedding
Her father was the late Highland seer Swein MacDonald, who lived in a croft house at Ardgay, and many of whose prophecies were spine-tinglingly accurate. So it seems appropriate then that Gaye MacDonald chose a Mexican Day of the Dead theme for her wedding festivities.  Gaye (62), a civilian worker at Burnett Road police station, Inverness, married retired electronic engineer Fraser Wilson, (66) at Torchwood House, a 19th century stately home in the capital’s Island Bank Road. The Registrar was Bonar Bridge native Angie Williams, now resident in Fearn. The newly-weds met while attending the same spiritualist church and are strong believers in life after death.  Their friendship grew into love after Fraser stepped in to support Gaye when her first husband took his own life in the family home.  “Fraser was there for me all the way,” said Gaye.  Both are members of James Support Group, run by Patrick and Wendy Mullery who live in Cromarty and lost their son James to suicide. Instead of wedding presents, Gaye and Fraser requested donations for the group and also for Munlochy Animals Aid. More than £4000 was raised.  An animal lover, Gaye lives on a croft in Dounie surrounded by ponies, goats, ducks, hens, cats, dogs and a cockatiel.  Although he died around 20 years ago, Gaye says her dad was present at the celebration. “There was an altar to family no longer with us,” she said. “It was as if they were joining us in spirit. Dad was very present.”  Mexican food was served and the 20 guests enjoyed a slice of an amazing Day of the Dead wedding cake complete with sugar skulls and roses and expertly made by police sergeant Phil Stewart.  “We had a week off afterwards,” said Gaye. “It is just nice to know that life goes on for us into our sixties.”