Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 580

Issue # 580                                                     Week ending Saturday 28th November  2020

Pressing the Wrong Button Could Stand Out Like A Very Sore Thumb If You Are A Pope
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

You know someone has messed up when it’s announced that there is to be an investigation about their tweets. Usually, it’s some footballer who has risen to some troll’s mickey-taking on Instagram provoking him about his team or his wife or girlfriend. Sometimes it is the WAG who has been ripping into some other soccer hero’s missus and the fur is flying. Like Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.

The pair of them, who are known for being scantily clad, in various guises and on various beaches and islands of love, are currently keeping courts busy over Instagram leaks. Sorry girls, not interested. I might though be a little interested in the latest personality to get into bother over liking a Brazilian bikini model wearing clothes resembling a school uniform. Nope, not Coleen’s wee man.

Try again. Another wee cove with an even bigger following? Not Daniel Radcliffe, although at 5ft 4in he is shorter than this guy who is 5ft 8in. It’s Pope Francis. His Instagram account liked a Brazilian named Natalia Garibotto. Natty G has 2.4 million followers on Instagram - oh, it’s just gone up to 2.5 million and she follows 569 other insta celebs. That’s nothing. The Pope has 7.4 million followers. And he follows ... no one. What a dude. Follow me, people of the world, but don’t expect me to follow you back. I have a life.

I like his style. Keep ‘em keen, your Holiness. The rascal in IT responsible was probably dared on his last day by some carefree cardinal to like one for the team before he headed off to another great Italian giant of industry, like Ferrari or Pirelli. They used to make great slippers, you know. Spongey rubber soles. They were bought by geeks and that iconic name was engraved in the rubber. No, not Ferrari Cars, Pirelli Slip-Ons.

Whatever happened to slippers? People wear all kinds of alternatives. Trainers, sandals, moccasins, sandshoes, clogs and Crocs. What the heck is wrong with old, comfortable, soft-soled slippers with elasticated gussets and a cringey tartan pattern? We had a neighbour once who always drove in his dressing gown and slippers. He said: “If I’m ever involved in car crash and it’s my fault, I will just say I’m a witness from a nearby house.”

I had a similar problem to the Pope recently. I was cooking up a spicey storm in the kitchen the other day. The rogan josh was coming along well. So I texted Mrs X to say it would be ready in an hour and to remember the garlic and coriander naan. Have you tried them? Yummy. She turned up a wee while later to say the supermarket didn’t have what I had asked for. When Mrs X showed me her phone, that predictive nonsense had turned my request into a Gaelic and cormorant nanny. Er, yum.

Mr Donald Trump has been known to get in a right covfefe with his tweets. That’s the word he came out with in a tweet in 2017 and it has since been accepted as a proper word. Unlike his recent term: “I won this election, by a lot.” With legal action getting nowhere, he is now letting the Biden transition team come in so he is obviously getting ready to move out. Not that it will be the end of the White House connection with the Hebrides.

Here’s why. Joe Biden has invited the Irish traditional musicians The Chieftains to his inauguration. Playing and singing on a permanent basis with Paddy Moloney and the boys is Mrs X’s longtime friend and acquaintance of my own, Stornoway songbird Alyth McCormack. So she will be there too giving it laldy on the lawn to The Star Spangled Banner on January 20. Unless Joe B takes the decision to do it virtually, in which case his inauguration will happen on Zoom from many spare rooms with appallingly-untidy bookshelves. That’s now the way of the world.

Talking about Pirelli reminded me they make lovely calendars too. Most of them end up with oily smudges. Maybe they only sell them to mechanics. Very artistic, those calendars. It’s great that the mechanics of this country are so supportive of the arty careers of these wonderful models and skilled photographers.

I had a highly-strung girlfriend once who was very artistic. One day she got very emotional and said she wanted to draw things on my body. I gave her a shoulder to crayon.

'No Legal Route' for More Support for BiFab
The Scottish and UK Westminster governments have agreed they cannot give a £30m contract guarantee to a troubled engineering firm under existing subsidy rules.The governments concluded they must look at other ways to secure the future of BiFab's yards, in Fife and Lewis. The Scottish government said the main shareholder, a Canadian firm, refusing to provide finance, guarantees or investment was the key issue.  But it has claimed its role was to manage - not finance - the projects.  The troubled engineering firm has been unable to secure contracts for offshore wind farms.  Scottish ministers have committed more than £50m to the three fabrication yards, with the Scottish government owning more than a third of the business.  But state aid rules mean ministers are unable to bail out the struggling firm, with a joint working group now being formed to consider future opportunities for the renewables supply chain in Scotland.  The Scottish government's economy secretary, Fiona Hyslop, said matters were not helped by the firm's Canadian-based owner JV Driver, which acquired BiFab in April 2018 after the Scottish government rescued the company in 2017. Ms Hyslop added that both governments would now attempt "to secure a new future for the yards in Fife and the Western Isles".  She said: "The Scottish government has been working for more than three years to support BiFab, we have left no stone unturned in our search for a solution to the challenges faced by the business.  As a minority shareholder, we have been exhaustive in our consideration of the options available to us to financially support BiFab from public funds.  The Scottish government has been clear that state aid regulations are a barrier to us providing guarantees on the contract from Saipem to build foundation jackets for the Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) project."  Ms Hyslop added that the UK Westminster government had similarly concluded that there was no legal route for it to provide support. She added: "The situation at BiFab is a culmination of a number of issues, the main one being the unwillingness of the parent company and majority shareholder JV Driver to provide working capital, investment or guarantees for the company. We will explore options for the future of these sites and, through this new working group, work with the UK Westminster government to strengthen the renewables and clean energy supply chain."  The Scottish Greens' Mark Ruskell said: "Time and again we're told that state aid rules are the reason that the Scottish government cannot take a greater stake in the company, yet we know that other European countries strategically invest in the energy market all the time. If Scotland is to benefit from our enormous renewable energy potential, we need to see bolder action from government."

MSP Michelle Ballantyne Quits Scottish Tories
MSP Michelle Ballantyne has resigned from the Scottish Conservatives and will see out the Holyrood term as an independent.  The South Scotland MSP left the party nine months after she was defeated in a leadership contest by Jackson Carlaw.  She cited policy differences with new leader Douglas Ross - who replaced Mr Carlaw - saying she and the party were no longer "a good fit".  The former Scottish Borders councillor entered Holyrood in May 2017 via the South Scotland list after fellow Tory Rachael Hamilton quit to successfully contest a by-election.  She served as the party's social security spokeswoman, but was dropped from the frontbench team by Mr Carlaw after she contested the leadership election against him. Mr Carlaw had been the clear favourite for the post - and won comfortably - but Ms Ballantyne said the party should not have a "coronation".  However when Mr Carlaw himself quit the leadership six months later, she stood aside as Mr Ross took the role without a contest.  Ms Ballantyne broke the party whip to vote against the latest set of coronavirus restrictions on Thursday.  She told the Telegraph newspaper that travel restrictions being enforced in law had been "the straw that broke the camel's back", adding that the party "need to question a lot harder" the government's approach.  In a statement confirming she was resigning the whip, the MSP cited "differences" on policy with the new leadership, saying: "Sadly for me this means I no longer feel the party and I are a good fit."  In a joint statement with group leader Ruth Davidson, Mr Ross thanked Ms Ballantyne for "her service to the Scottish Conservatives over the years".  The resignation leaves the Scottish Conservatives with 30 MSPs until the election next May.

Death of Two-year-old in Edinburgh 'Suspicious'
Detectives have named a two-year-old boy who died in suspicious circumstances in Edinburgh.  Lucasz Czapla was found with serious injuries after the alarm was raised in the Muirhouse area at about 09:30 on Saturday.  He was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.  On Monday Lucasz Czapla, 40, appeared before Edinburgh Sheriff Court charged with assault following the toddler's death.  Mr Czapla was also charged with driving over the alcohol limit, dangerous driving and failing to stop a vehicle.  He made no plea and was remanded in custody.  Police Scotland have since confirmed the death is being treated as suspicious following a post-mortem examination.  A force spokeswoman said inquires were ongoing.

'Notable' Fall in Scotland's Alcohol Death Rate
The number of deaths caused by alcohol misuse in Scotland fell by 10% last year, according to new statistics.  Figures published by National Records of Scotland reveal 1,020 deaths in 2019 were linked to alcohol abuse.  The data also highlights 833 probable suicides - a small increase (6%) for a second year in a row.  And a total of 2,726 accidental deaths were recorded, a rise of 8.5%, with the majority caused by accidental poisonings or falls.  Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services, welcomed the "notable" fall in the alcohol- specific deaths but said it was too early to tell if it can be maintained. He said: "Since our records began in 1979, there have only been three other occasions where we have seen a reduction in the number of alcohol-specific deaths of around 10% or more in a single year. However, although an annual decrease of this magnitude is notable, further data will be required to see if this reduction continues and whether we will see a sustained shift in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland."  Alcohol-specific deaths are those which are known to be a direct consequence of alcohol misuse, while alcohol-related deaths includes those which are only partially caused by abuse of alcohol.  The drop in alcohol-specific deaths in Scotland is the first substantial decrease in that category since 2012.  It follows the introduction of minimum unit pricing by the Scottish government in May 2018 a bid to cut consumption and save lives.  In January it emerged the amount of alcohol sold in Scotland's shops fell during the first year of minimum pricing but sales increased south of the border.  The NRS report also recorded the second successive annual increase in the suicide figures, following a downward trend since the early 2000s. And the data shows that, after adjusting for age, the death rate for people in the most deprived areas was 1.9 times that of those in the least deprived areas.  This gap has gradually increased over time from a ratio of 1.6 in 2000. The 2020 annual report will include data from first 10 months of the Covid pandemic, which some experts fear will be responsible for an increase in alcohol abuse and suicides. Alison Douglas, chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, described the figures as "very encouraging. The evidence from the evaluation of minimum unit pricing so far has shown that it is having the intended effect on alcohol consumption, and now it looks like we may be beginning to see this translate into health benefits." She called for the 50p minimum price to be reviewed as it is likely to have been "eroded due to inflation" since MSPs passed the Alcohol (Minimum Pricing) (Scotland) Act in 2012.  Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs said the new statistics meant more than 10,784 alcohol deaths had now been recorded between 2010 and 2019.  Chief executive officer Justina Murray said: "Scotland's ongoing unhealthy relationship with alcohol means that alcohol harm and alcohol deaths are hidden in plain sight.  Last year, a report found Scotland has the highest rate of alcohol-specific deaths in the UK although rates have improved significantly in the past two decades.  Meanwhile, the NRS figures show that men accounted for nearly three quarters (74%) of probable suicides in 2019 and nearly a third (32%) of the total were aged between 45 and 59.  National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group chairwoman Rose Fitzpatrick said people need to be encouraged to talk about the issue and seek help.  She added: "Suicide prevention has never been more important. While today's figures predate Covid-19, the pandemic is likely to have a long-term impact on wellbeing and mental health as people's lives change."  Rachel Cackett, executive director of Samaritans Scotland, said: "It's particularly concerning to see rates of suicide increase for almost all age groups and for rates among young people under 25 continuing to rise this year.  And, as in previous years, people living in the most deprived communities in Scotland continue to be around three times more likely to take their own life, compared to those living in the wealthiest communities."  The Scottish Children's Services Coalition said the situation had worsened due to the coronavirus crisis and warned that further cuts in services would create a mental health "perfect storm". And Councillor Stuart Currie, Cosla's health and social care spokesman, highlighted the link to poverty and the profound grief behind the statistics.  Mental Health Minister Clare Haughey said: "While these statistics do not reflect the period of the coronavirus pandemic, we know that this is taking a significant toll on many people's mental health and we are doing all we can to support people at this difficult time.  "We are not being complacent and, together with Cosla, we accepted the recommendations that the National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group put forward for a pandemic-specific suicide prevention response."

Sheriff Court Trials Set to Resume in Odeon Cinemas
Remote jury centres for sheriff court trials are to be created in Odeon cinema complexes in Ayr, East Kilbride, Dundee and Dunfermline.  The facilities are in addition to two remote jury centres already identified in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where trials are set to get under way next week.  Arrangements for jury venues in Aberdeen and Inverness are currently being finalised for a February launch.  The pandemic has caused a major backlog of cases across the country.  David Fraser, chief operations officer for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, said: "The commencement of trials in Edinburgh and Glasgow next week sees the restart of sheriff court jury trials.  There has been exceptional progress to secure remote jury centre venues required and we intend to move as quickly as possible to the pre-Covid number of sheriff court jury trials proceeding in Scotland."  Under the plans, published on Tuesday, jurors will be based as follows:
Ayr Sheriff Court and Kilmarnock Sheriff Court - Odeon cinema in Ayr from 11 January
Hamilton and Airdrie Sheriff Court - Odeon in East Kilbride from 18 January
Paisley Sheriff Court - Odeon at Braehead from 11 January
Greenock and Dumbarton Sheriff Courts - Odeon at Braehead from February
Dundee and Perth Sheriff Courts - Odeon in Dundee, with Dundee cases resuming on 25 January and Perth cases on 8 February
Kirkcaldy and Falkirk Sheriff Courts - jurors will be based at the Odeon in Dunfermline, with Kirkcaldy business resuming on 1 February and Falkirk cases resuming on 8 February
The Odeon in Braehead, Renfrewshire, is currently operating as a remote jury centre for Glasgow High Court.
Last month the SCTS confirmed that six juries would be based remotely in the Odeon at Glasgow Quay for Glasgow Sheriff Court trials.
For trials running initially in Edinburgh Sheriff Court and then Livingston Sheriff Court, three juries will be based remotely in the Odeon complex on Lothian Road, Edinburgh.

Arrest Made As Man Dies After Being Hit by Car At Duntocher
A man has been arrested after another man died when he was hit by a car in West Dunbartonshire.  The 34-year-old was struck by the vehicle on the A82 westbound at Duntocher at about 17:05 on Monday.  He was pronounced dead at the scene while the male driver of the car was uninjured.  Police said a 40-year-old man had been arrested in connection with road traffic offences and inquiries were ongoing.  The road was closed for crash scene investigators to carry out inquiries, with diversions put in place. Traffic Scotland posted on Twitter that the A82 non-trunk road was closed westbound after the Kilbowie roundabout, near Kilpatrick School, however, the Erskine Bridge was "running well" and remained open.  Sgt Paul MacPherson said: "An investigation is under way to establish the circumstances of this incident and I am appealing for anyone who was in the area around the time it occurred to contact us.  In particular, if you have a dashcam, please check your footage as it could hold images which could assist us in our investigation."

Moray Sneak Thief Caught by iPhone Technology
A sneak thief was caught by new technology after stealing an iPhone from an unlocked house in Elgin.  The owner of the phone had an application which could trace it if it went missing and it led police to a block of flats in Covesea Road, Elgin on August 1. Officers could still hear the phone ringing and found it in a recycling bin belonging to 37-year-old Leam Cameron’s accommodation there.  At Inverness Sheriff Court, Cameron, admitted by video link, theft from two properties between July 31 and August 1. The court was told that the occupiers of a property in Balmoral Terrace, Elgin left a door unlocked and discovered items were missing the following morning.  Amongst the stolen goods were purses with £70 in cash, bank cards and a box of foreign coins.  On the same morning, a couple in Harrison Terrace noticed their back door was open and then that a wallet was missing.  Fiscal depute Robert Weir said that further checks revealed missing car keys and an iPhone.  He added that all the stolen goods were recovered by police when they searched Cameron’s flat. Defence solicitor Grant Daglish said: “He is more used to prison than public life. When he was released from prison in April, he went straight into lockdown and had no support network. Drugs are responsible for much of his offending and he has no memory of events.” His request for a deferral so a background report and drug treatment and testing order assessment to be carried out was granted by Sheriff Margaret Neilson.

Billionaire Landowner Invests in Shetland Space Port
A billionaire couple have invested almost £1.5m in plans for a space port in Shetland while opposing a similar project near where they own land.  Anders and Anne Holch Povlsen's company Wildland Ltd is taking legal action over planning permission for Space Hub Sutherland in the Highlands.  Another of their firms has invested in Shetland Space Centre on Unst.  The Shetland site is a former RAF station while the one in Sutherland is undeveloped peatland.  Danish businessman Mr Povlsen, who is reportedly worth £4.5bn thanks to his Bestseller clothes retail empire, and his wife own thousands of acres of land in Sutherland, and on other estates in the Highlands.   Wildland Ltd has raised concerns about Space Hub Sutherland's impact on the Caithness and Sutherland Peatlands Special Protection Area, and has sought a judicial review of Highland Council's permission for the satellite launch project. US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has secured permission from the UK Space Agency (UKSA) to push ahead with plans for satellite launches from the proposed site in Unst. Public agency Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is involved in both the Shetland and Sutherland proposals.  Tim Kirkwood, of Wildland Ventures Ltd, said the Unst project would still need to cross a "high environmental bar".  He said: "We have long been supportive of the idea that, if developed appropriately, the space industry can deliver great benefits for Scotland's rural economy.  What is needed is the right development in the right place. As a project involving an ex-RAF base, a brownfield site, a promising location, and now with backing from HIE, the UKSA and Lockheed Martin, it has become clear that Shetland Space Centre is a realistic investment prospect to be asked to be involved with."  UK rockets manufacturer Orbex described the Povlsens' investment as a "significant reversal of position and an acknowledgement that spaceports and wildland environments can happily co-exist".  The company, which operates factories and test sites in Scotland, has secured contracts for six launches of commercial satellites from Sutherland.

What Are the Latest Lockdown Rules?
Eleven areas in west and central Scotland are now in the highest level of the country's five-tier system of coronavirus restrictions.  The new rules, which will be in place until 18:00 on 11 December, will affect about 2.3 million people. The measures include the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms.  Which level is your area in?
Level four - East Ayrshire, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, South Ayrshire, South Lanarkshire, Stirling, West Dunbartonshire, West Lothian.
Level three - Angus, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Edinburgh, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, Midlothian, North Ayrshire, Perth & Kinross.
Level two - Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Argyll & Bute, Borders, Dumfries & Galloway, East Lothian.
Level one - Highland, Moray, Orkney, Shetland, Western Isles.
All pubs, restaurants and cafes must close in the level four areas, although they can still serve takeaways.  In the rest of the country a maximum of six people from two households can meet together in hospitality venues, either indoors or outdoors. Customers have to provide their contact details in case contact tracers need to reach them, and must wear face coverings while moving around and when not eating or drinking. It is mandatory for staff to wear face coverings, and there can only be table service. In level one, the only additional restriction is that hospitality premises have to close at 22:30.  In level two, pubs and restaurants can only serve alcohol with a main meal. They must close indoors at 20:00 and outdoors at 22:30. In level three, premises will be allowed to open - but no alcohol can be sold, and they must close at 18:00.  People living under level three or four restrictions should not travel outside their own local authority area for anything other than "essential" reasons. This rule has now become law.  The exceptions include travelling for work, education, outdoor exercise, healthcare or caring responsibilities, essential shopping or visiting someone in your extended household.  People living in level four are also being advised to keep journeys within their council area to "an absolute minimum".  Those in level one or two areas are also being told not to travel into level three or four areas, except for essential purposes.  People are also being asked not to travel between Scotland and England unless their journey is essential. The Scottish government advises against non-essential foreign travel, and people arriving from certain countries must spend two weeks in quarantine.  People have been banned from visiting other households indoors since 25 September, when restrictions in the west of Scotland were extended to the rest of the country.  That restriction continues to apply across mainland Scotland. However, up to six people from two households in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles are be able to meet inside their homes.  There are exemptions to the indoor rules for those who have formed extended households, to support informal childcare arrangements (e.g. grandparents coming round to care for grandchildren) and for couples who do not live together. In level one, it will be possible to meet outdoors with up to eight people from a maximum of three households from Thursday.  Across the rest of Scotland, a maximum of six people from two separate households can meet outdoors in a private garden or in a park.

Dundee Games Group Receives £1m in Chancellor’s Spending Review

A Dundee-based group that supports fledgling games developers has received £1 million as part of the Chancellor’s Spending Review.  UK Games Fund is a non-profit funding delivery body which is run from Dundee’s River Court.  The announcement by Chancellor Rishi Sunak means the group will have funding through to 2021/22.  Director Paul Durrant said: “We are delighted in this expression of confidence in the UK Games Fund’s Dundee-based operations.  Despite a tough year, our funded companies are going from strength to strength with a recent string of announcements of funding deals, acquisitions and record-breaking crowdfunding campaigns. Operating from the heart of Dundee’s amazing games community continues to underpin our success.”  Earlier this year, UK Games Fund gave financial support to 38 companies in its sixth funding round.  Companies that have received support have gone on to receive further investment, publishing deals. One firm, Coatsink, was even acquired for £23 million.  UK Games Talent and Finance, which operates the UK Games Fund also runs the annual Tranzfuser competition.

Nicola Sturgeon Wants Indyref2 'Early in Next Parliament'
Nicola Sturgeon has said a second independence referendum should be held "in the earlier part" of the next Scottish Parliament term. The SNP leader, who is also Scotland's first minister, said her focus was currently on guiding the country through the pandemic. But she insisted that the UK Westminster government's current opposition to indyref2 was unsustainable.  She would not be drawn on what she might do if it consent was refused. Ms Sturgeon was being interviewed by the BBC ahead of the SNP's virtual conference which opens on Saturday and concludes on Monday with her leader's speech.  The party, which has formed the Scottish government since 2007, believes that winning the next Holyrood election in May would give it a mandate to hold another referendum on independence. However, the UK Westminster government has repeatedly said it would not grant the consent that Ms Sturgeon has argued would be needed if any referendum was to be legal.  It argues that the referendum result in 2014 - when voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% - still stands, and points to quotes at the time from both Ms Sturgeon and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, that it was a "once in a generation" event.  And Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said there should not be another referendum for "25 or 40 years".  Some within the SNP and wider independence movement have urged Ms Sturgeon to develop a so-called Plan B strategy for securing a referendum if the UK Westminster government does not change its stance.  They include the prominent MP Joanna Cherry, who said on Friday that the Scottish Parliament should legislate to hold an independence referendum - even if the UK Westminster government refused agreement.  She acknowledged that a Holyrood-only referendum would almost certainly face legal challenge because the UK constitution is not devolved.  But Ms Cherry argued that there was nothing to be lost from testing this in court, if independence supporting parties win a majority of the seats at Holyrood.  She is also urging Ms Sturgeon to restart independence planning, which has been suspended during the pandemic, if there is to be a referendum anytime soon.  Ian Blackford, the SNP's leader at Westminster, said earlier this month that the referendum "must" be held next year - which critics argue would be all but impossible to do.  Ms Sturgeon appeared to distance herself from that strict timescale, saying only that: "I think the referendum should, for a whole variety of reasons, be in the earlier part of the next parliament."  She added: "I intend to say more about this before the election in our manifesto, but we are still in a global pandemic that I feel a bit more hopeful about seeing the end of than I did even just a couple of months ago.  There's still a lot of uncertainty ahead. I'm a life-long believer and campaigner and advocate for independence, but right now I'm also the first minister of Scotland.  My responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of the country and trying to steer it through a pandemic and I'm very focussed on that."  However, she said countries across the world - including Scotland - would have to decide "what kind of society we want to be" as they emerge from the pandemic.  The added element for Scotland, Ms Sturgeon predicted, would be questioning whether its future should be decided by "a Westminster government that seems determined to take us in the wrong direction" or a "Scottish government, of whatever party in the future, that is accountable to the Scottish people".  And she insisted: "If people in Scotland vote for a referendum, there will be a referendum.  Across the Atlantic, even Trump is having to concede the outcome of a fair and free democratic election".  The Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said another independence referendum is "the last thing Scotland needs".  The only thing to stop this and keep us focused on beating Covid and supporting our recovery after this virus is a vote for the Scottish Conservatives."  Willie Rennie, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said Scotland needed a government that was focused "needle sharp" on recovery from the Covid crisis.  It was confirmed last week that the number of deaths in Scotland which have been linked to Covid-19 had passed the 5,000 mark.  Statistics released earlier in the year found that the country had seen one of the biggest rises in its death rates in Europe at the height of the pandemic - behind only England and Spain.  But a poll for BBC Scotland which was published last week suggested that people are largely supportive of Ms Sturgeon's handling of the pandemic.  When asked what mistakes she had made during her response to the crisis, Ms Sturgeon said some of the early decisions had been based on a "under- developed knowledge" of the virus.  This impacted on the length of time it took it introduce regular testing in care homes - something she said she "deeply regrets".

Making the Case for A New Community Cable to Skye

The catastrophic breakdown of the power cable from Skye to Harris on October 16 has had a huge financial, social and environmental impact on the islands. But it has also created an opportunity for a major reset of our energy strategy for the islands which could leave us substantially better off than we were before the crisis provided that local and national government work together to deliver on that opportunity.  With the cable broken and all the island wind farms forbidden from generating and selling energy the financial hit is enormous. In a typical year community wind farms on Lewis and Harris earn around £5 million from selling their energy and the privately owned wind farms earn a similar amount resulting in a total of around £10 million lost income over the anticipated 12 months of outage.  SSE is hit hard too. It has fired up the old diesel generators at the Stornoway power station to supply the island’s power needs and hired a number of mobile diesel gensets as an emergency back-up. We don’t know the exact consumption of these generators nor the price that SSE pay for their diesel but in my opinion it is likely to cost around £50,000 a day or up to £20 million over 12 months. In total, therefore, you can say that the financial cost of the cable crisis will be in the region of £30 million.  The enormous social impact of the loss of income to the local charities supported by the community wind farms is now well known while the environmental cost is seen from the black smoke emerging from the station chimneys and which requires a special SEPA dispensation to be permitted.  So what can be done about it and where, in the midst of this gloom, is the opportunity?  In the first instance, we need to fix the local grid so that being cut off from the mainland (which normally happens about 20 days a year) no longer means that the wind farms have to be shut down as well. The solution to this is to install a battery to support the local grid and protect it from the volatile surges and dips in output that wind farms are prone to especially in an environment like the Hebrides. SSE is to be commended for being open to new ways that this might be done. One option would be to link each wind turbine to its own small battery to provide ‘peak shaving’ and make it easier for the Stornoway power station to manage them. Another, and a better one in my view, is to install one big battery to support and manage the whole grid. The latter solution would allow all the local turbines to restart operations again, not back to normal, but substantially better than the lockdown we have now. It will require local and national government working with SSE and the electricity regulators, such as Ofgem, to deliver this in a reasonable time frame. If done, the long-term stability and functioning of the local grid can end up better than before this crisis happened.  The second and even more important opportunity is to use this crisis to demand not simply a replacement cable to Harris but a bigger cable that can boost the community sector by easing the grid bottleneck that has been stifling development for the past five years. The need for a bigger cable to Skye has been raised before but the official response has been to urge patience and to wait for the big super connector from Lewis to Ullapool. Indeed, there was even a concern that pressing the case for an upgraded cable to Skye might undermine the case for the long-awaited super connector.  These arguments need to be binned now. After the Skye cable has been replaced there will be no chance to upgrade it again for another 30 years. We have to take the opportunity in front of us now or lose it for good.  In 2017, Point and Sandwick Trust commissioned a study into the Skye cable which showed it could be expanded to provide an extra 100 MW of capacity (the old cable was 22 MW) at a cost of £70 million. Given the £30 million cost of the this year’s cable disaster that would seem to be very good value! Provided that the access to this extra capacity is reserved for smaller ‘distribution scale’ wind farms (in the island context this should be 40 MW or below) then there is no reason why the case for the big super connector should be undermined and the large corporate developers such as EDF can continue to press their case.  The small wind farm projects currently in development are predominantly community owned such as the 30 MW Arnish community consortium project which is in the pre-planning stage and the 6MW Knock and Swordale turbine which received planning consent earlier this year. We have a golden opportunity now to deliver these projects plus other community ones coming through.  As everyone now appreciates, the community energy sector is irreplaceable in the support it provides to our local ecosystem of community charities and projects providing important and worthwhile jobs as well as vital local services.  To build on that success we need to make the new Skye cable a ‘community cable’ that is bigger and better for our islands. There is no practical or financial reason why that cannot happen but it will require all of us in the community sector, local and national government, SSE and Ofgem, to work together. It is an opportunity too important for the islands to miss.

Galloway Viking Treasure Hoard Set for Homecoming

A haul of Viking-era treasure found by a metal detectorist in Galloway in 2014 will return to the area next summer.  It will go on show in Kirkcudbright after first appearing at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.  It was originally intended to be put on display this year but that was cancelled due to coronavirus.  National Museums Scotland described it as "the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland". A dispute over where it should go on permanent display was eventually resolved in favour of Edinburgh over Dumfries and Galloway.  It was intended to go on show in the capital this year but that will now take place between February and May 2021. After that it will come "home" to Kirkcudbright between August 2021 and May 2022.  The Scottish government put funding in place towards the touring exhibition, including the conservation work being undertaken to allow it to take place.  It is part of a wider exhibition programme for 2021 just announced by National Museums Scotland.  Director Dr Chris Breward said: "The Galloway hoard embodies one of our core strengths as the global centre for Scottish history and archaeology.  The exhibition will reveal the detailed conservation work which has been carried out on the collection.  It will also look at the research discoveries made so far and "some of the mysteries that scholars will keep working to solve now and for many years to come".