Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 582

Issue # 582                                           Week ending Saturday 12th   December  2020

Wasn’t There to Be A New Coin to Mark Brexit? Yes. They Just Can’t Decide About the Border
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Boris Johnson is flying back to Brussels again and is on the phone to European types every day about Brexit. His people say he will do whatever is necessary to get a good trade deal for British industry. They said he will go anywhere and knock on any door. Maybe he thinks he can drop hints to get one of these prestigious prizes. You can just imagine it. Knock Knock. “Who's there?” “Nobel.” “Nobel who?” “No bell. That’s why I knocked. Now, about this trade deal ...”

Are we going to get an oven-ready trade deal? Someone called David Frost has been wheeled out to charm the Europeans with British manners and eloquence. Hello, good evening and welcome? No, this is David Frost whose real job is National Security Adviser. Because he had experience as a Brexit negotiator, he has been hauled back by Boris Johnson with a carrot of a seat in the House of Lords.

The seat is his whatever happens but he will get extra cushioning if he pulls off a trade deal. It’s all swings and roundabout because one type of deal would please some but enrage others. The best Frostie can hope for is to please some people some of the time. Fisherman are not happy with the current EU deal. The quotas angered them. Too many European boats are scooping up our cod and haddock, they claim. They hope better deals can be done to get a level playing field, as everyone calls it.

And if you’re a farmer, will you have a level growing field? Some think it’ll be fine because faraway places like China are importing more cereals like barley nowadays. Yeah, but are they making whisky with it so they can compete with Scottish dram-makers? I’m so worried. Seriously, Brexit could be great or it could be a complete nightmare if we get no good deals going and we have to pay the horrendous default rates.

Barley is used to make bread, breakfast cereals and beer. In parts of the country, barley is a major part of the distillation of fine uisge beatha. Yeah, Scotch Whisky. And it’s thanks to farmers who produce the barley in places like Morayshire that we get the best drops. The other day I heard about one such farmer who is at Auchlunkart Home Farm in Mulben, near Keith.

Yes, Gordon Morrison, it’s you I’m talking about. Your grandson Russell was over here the other day and told me all about you. You will be 91 years old a couple of days after Christmas. He and his partner Rachel let slip that you get the Press and Journal every day and that you read this column every Wednesday. Ye whit? Why on earth would you do that, loon?  Just because you’re retired, have you got nothing better to do? Is there nothing half-decent on the telly on a Wednesday? Maybe you should take Penny the Schnauzer for longer walks.

Just kidding. Thank you and all the best, Mr Morrison. I heard you like a wee fine malt or a brandy and port so, with four children, seven grandkids and six great-grandkids, I am sure you will have a great day on the 27th. I shall raise a glass of Benromach to you myself on the 27th - and probably tonight too while Mrs X is engrossed in MasterChef. I think she’s got her eye on that Gregg Wallace. What’s he got that I haven’t? Apart from his fortune and good looks, that guy has nothing.

That’s a lovely part of the country you’re in, Mr Morrison. I knew Morayshire a bit back in my RAF Kinloss days and I drove through there again last year on my way from Aviemore to Aberdeen. Just before Keith, I spotted a man standing in the middle of a field. I pulled over and noticed that he was just standing there doing nothing. Maybe he was ill. I got out and walked round to him and I asked: “Excuse me. Are you alright?”

The man said: “Sssshhh. I’m jist fine. I’m trying to win a big prize here.” He seemed very serious. “How can you win a prize by doing nothing?” I asked. He said: “Well, I’m a farmer and I have this big field of barley, you see. I was listening to the radio a wee while ago and I heard them say they give a Nobel Prize to people who are out standing in their field.”

Scotland's health chiefs warn of no-deal Brexit risk
A no-deal Brexit could threaten safe and effective patient care, a major Scottish health board has warned. NHS Tayside is preparing for possible service disruption when the transition period ends on 31 December.  The UK and the EU are struggling to strike a post-membership trade deal with the two sides acknowledging "significant differences remain".  Both the UK Westminster and Scottish governments have prepared contingency plans in case no agreement is reached. Whatever the outcome of continuing Brussels talks, continuity of healthcare is a key concern and the NHS across Scotland has reactivated plans drawn up when a Brexit crisis loomed last year. NHS Tayside is preparing for possible shortages of medicine, equipment and staff - warning that a no deal departure could "lead to an inability to deliver safe and effective care". The health board serves more than 400,000 patients across Dundee, Angus and Perth and Kinross.

Severe flooding disrupts trains and trams in parts of Scotland

Heavy rainfall has caused extensive flooding in parts of Scotland, with train and tram lines being engulfed by water.  ScotRail services between Aberdeen and Inverness have been disrupted after a landslip near Huntly.  Train services were also affected by flooding on the line at Livingston and at Hartwood in North Lanarkshire. Hartwood services have now resumed.  Tram lines in Edinburgh were also swamped with water.  Edinburgh Trams said the flooding was near Edinburgh Airport and between the Gyle Centre and Edinburgh Gateway.  It said: "Our engineers are working around the clock to minimise the effects of the heavy rainfall to ensure we are able to commence full route reservices as soon as the flooding subsides.  They continue to pump excess water, however with the nearby Gogar Burn and River Almond at or above capacity, this is having little impact."  Services from Inverness affected by the landslip will terminate and start back from Elgin and services from Aberdeen will terminate and start back from Huntly.  A number of roads in Edinburgh were also closed due to flooding. Affected areas included those around the River Almond in Kirkliston and the Water of Leith in Stockbridge and Roseburn.  Edinburgh City Council staff worked through the night dealing with problems caused by the heavy rain.  Some roads in Fife were also affected.

Man arrested after being rescued from car in River Clyde
A 32-year-old man has been arrested after having to be rescued when his car went into the River Clyde at Port Glasgow.  Emergency services were called to the scene at Newark Castle at about 23:40 on Saturday.  It is believed they found the man sitting on the roof of his car several metres out into the water.  After being rescued he was taken to Inverclyde Royal Infirmary for treatment before being released.  Police Scotland said a 32-year-old man had been charged in connection with the incident and a report would be sent to the procurator fiscal.

A plan for a Culloden steading conversion re-appears
The man behind an award winning architectural practice has submitted an application for a similar project despite it already having been through the entire planning approval process only to be ultimately rejected by Scottish ministers. Campaigners aiming to preserve the historic Culloden Battlefield have reacted with fury at the re-emergence of the plan to convert a steading on the battlefield into a large home.  It comes less than a month after being rejected by Scottish ministers and before Highland Council could even formally recognise that outcome at the next south planning applications committee on Tuesday. Previously, it had been granted planning permission but the Scottish Government called it in to examine the council’s contested decision, a reporter recommended approval but in a final twist Scottish ministers rejected it.  But the man behind the development, architectural technician Mark Hornby of MRH Design, says the plans to create a U-shaped home at Culchunaig Steading have been greatly scaled back.  In a design statement, Mr Hornby said the new proposal took into account the objections of Scottish ministers and the revised plans mean that only the existing building is part of the development. The move provoked uproar from the Campaign to Stop Development at Culloden.  Group spokesman David Learmonth said: “This is a truly appalling case of the inability of Scottish planning law to preserve sites of national importance. It is beyond appalling that any Scottish battlefield, much less Culloden, denominated as ‘of national importance’ is given no more regard under standard planning laws as just any other piece of land within the nation. To date, Culloden Battlefield has already been encroached upon to the north and further proposed developments to the east  south, south-west and north-west.  Each and every one of these developments is located on strategic locations of Culloden Battlefield and threaten to destroy the integrity and archaeological features and remains.”

Highland Councillors Unanimously Refuse Another Culloden Moor Plan

Members of The Highland Council’s South Planning Applications Committee have unanimously refused permission for a planning application from Inverness Paving Ltd regarding land at Treetop Stables, Faebuie, Culloden Moor, Inverness. Councillors have refused the application for change of use from an equestrian centre to holiday, leisure and hospitality facilities including 13 lodges, cafe/shop, reception, laundry and restaurant. Members unanimously approved a motion by Cllr Ron MacWilliam seconded by Cllr Carolyn Caddick to refuse the application which was contrary to officers’ recommendations to grant planning permission.

'Catastrophic' Failings Over Ferguson Ferry 'Fiasco'

A Holyrood probe into the construction of two overdue and over-budget ferries for CalMac has branded the management process a "catastrophic failure".  In a damning report MSPs call for "root and branch" reform of the system for procuring ships for Scotland's publicly-owned ferry network.  Former bosses at Ferguson shipyard, ministers, state-owned CMAL and Transport Scotland are all criticised.  The ships are four years late and will cost twice the £97m contract price.  The contract for the ships - Glen Sannox and an unnamed vessel known as hull 802 - was awarded in 2015, a year after businessman Jim McColl stepped in to rescue Ferguson, the last commercial shipyard on the River Clyde.  The first ship was meant to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is now expected to be ready late next year. Hull 802, destined for an Outer Hebrides route, is still being built on the slipway. The latest estimated cost for both ships is just short of £200m.  The Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow has since gone into administration and been nationalised by the Scottish government, meaning the money will be met from public funds. A 129-page report from Holyrood's rural economy and connectivity committee concluded that things started to go wrong from the outset:   There was a "lack of robust due diligence" by CMAL, the government owned company which procures ships for the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry network. CMAL and project sponsor Transport Scotland failed to properly assess the financial stability of the yard's new owner - Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) or its capabilities in project management and design.  Despite the "apparent significant risks", some of which were flagged up by CMAL, the Scottish government proceeded to award the contract to FMEL. As extra costs and project overruns worsened both the government and its agency Transport Scotland failed to intervene.  The initial design requirements lacked detail. After winning the contract, FMEL started building the ships before these designs were sufficiently developed or signed off.  The committee was "appalled" to discover that CMAL was legally bound to continue making milestone payments despite concerns about the performance of the contractor. It found "strong evidence" that FMEL deliberately proceeded to construct sections of the vessels out of sequence or not to specification "purely as a means of triggering milestone payments".   CMAL continued to make these payments, even when presented with a £17m claim for additional costs in July 2017 which should have been an "immediate red flag". As costs escalated rapidly there was a breakdown of communication between CMAL and FMEL.  The committee was "extremely concerned" that despite the spiralling costs and delays, the Scottish government provided a multi-million pound loan facility to FMEL - without communicating with CMAL or Transport Scotland .  There was a "complete lack of transparency" over the purpose and payment of these loans - and the MSPs called on Audit Scotland to investigate how they came to be granted.  While praising the skills and dedication of the Ferguson workforce the MSPs said the system for procuring CalMac ferries was "no longer fit for purpose" and should be overhauled, with some agencies reformed or even abolished.  The Scottish government's approach to the procurement of the ferries was described as "short term, piecemeal and lacking in strategic direction".  The views of islanders - some of whom questioned the suitability of the ferry designs - should be given greater weight in future decision-making, the committee said.  And the "green" credentials of the new hybrid ships - which can use both marine diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) - were also questioned.  The LNG is currently set to be imported from the Middle East and transported by lorry from southern England, and could have an "overall negative environmental impact" unless Scotland develops its own facilities.

Drumchapel Man Matthew Owen Guilty of Attempted Murder

Matthew Owen, 19, struck Ali Karimi, 23, twice in Drumchapel's Rozelle Avenue and Jedworth Avenue on July 13, 2018.  Owen left the former barber scarred for life amid claims the victim stole his cousin's phone earlier that day.  The young thug faces a lengthy spell behind bars after being convicted of attempted murder at the High Court in Glasgow. Jurors heard Mr Karimi was attacked after an apparent row with Owen's partner.  In a police statement, he stated: "When I got there, I saw [Owen's partner] and a girl in the street. We began to argue and I took a phone from the girl.  All of a sudden, when we were arguing, I saw a man running at me and began to chase me in the street.  He caught up with me and slashed my neck."  In court, Mr Karimi said he was struck on the face and neck before Owen fled.  He added: "At some point after he ran away, he said, 'I have to kill you' or 'I must kill you'."  Mr Karimi was left permanently scarred.  In his closing speech to jurors, prosecutor Christopher Fyfe said: "The injury to Mr Karimi's neck was potentially life threatening due to the proximity to an artery and nerves.  Had he not received immediate medical treatment, his life could have been in danger due to blood loss and infection."  Sentence was deferred until later this month for background reports by judge Tom Hughes who remanded Owen, of Drumry Road East, Drumchapel, in custody meantime.

Former Inverness Art Teacher's Highland Inspiration
A former Inverness art teacher has turned his hand to turning out detailed illustrations of the Highlands during lockdown. Jack Spowart (28) was travelling the world before Covid restrictions forced him to return to the city.  Mr Spowart, who lives in Milton of Leys, was an art teacher in Millburn Academy before heading off for a “gap year” with his partner in 2019. “I love capturing in drawings what I see, in the most recognisable of places,” he said. “I like to work on the wee things I see, and I make a detailed record of that. The drawings are in fine detail and I am often asked if I use a ruler, but I don’t tend to. I tend to work free hand, focusing on each small area of the drawing.” Among his recent works are renderings of Fyrish in Ross-shire, the Glenfinnan Viaduct and numerous Scottish mountains.  I consider being outside a natural and significant part of my life,” he said. “I take inspiration from the changes and movement in the raw environment that surrounds us.  I hope to inspire others to advocate that respect and build a deeper understanding of wild places.”  Describing his working method, he said: “I begin by making a pencil sketch on an A4 size artist’s piece of paper and then I use a thin ink pen to bring my work together.  I work for around seven or eight hours each day.”  He added: “I hoped originally to return to teaching after travelling, but of course there are no teaching jobs in my field being advertised at the moment, so I have been doing a very enjoyable job as a taxi driver.  I now take children to various schools around the city, and then pick them up at the end of the day. That means I have the whole day to myself and I am able to use that time to concentrate on my art.”  Mr Spowart said his dad Ian, who died two years ago, was a major inspiration.  “He took me to all over Scotland, and he shared his love of the country with me,” he said.  “I am now sharing that love of the land with others.” Mr Spowart’s work can be viewed online at https://www.jackspowart.com/

Safety Warning After Man Died in Fraserburgh Fishing Boat Tank

A safety warning has been issued after a gas leak in the refrigerated tank of a fishing trawler in Fraserburgh harbour left a man dead.  The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) said entering Sunbeam's tanks without safety precautions had become "normalised" by the crew.  This was because it had been done "without consequence" over a period of many years.  The MAIB said procedures for working in enclosed spaces needed to be "robust".  Second engineer Mr Ironside was working in the refrigerated salt water (RSW) tank, which is used for storing catch, when he collapsed.  Sunbeam was in Fraserburgh and the crew were preparing for a refit. It is believed Mr Ironside entered the tank to sweep away residual water. When he was found, other members of the crew rushed to his aid, including three others who entered the tank, one of whom also collapsed.  The crew members in the tank were then assisted by others wearing breathing apparatus.  The MAIB said Sunbeam's RSW tanks were enclosed spaces because they had limited openings, no ventilation and were not intended for continual worker occupation.  The report said it happened because the second engineer entered the tank without any of the safety precautions normally associated with such a hazard being in place, such as the atmosphere not being monitored, no plan for the work or a rescue, and he was working alone without communication.  It said: "On this occasion the atmosphere could not support life as refrigerant gas (Freon in this case) had leaked into the space through failed evaporator tubes in one of the vessel's refrigeration plants.  It simply serves to underpin the critical need for atmosphere monitoring in enclosed spaces."  The MAIB said all work activities should be subject to risk assessment and safe systems of work.  "Working in enclosed spaces is particularly hazardous, and procedures for entering and working in them should be robust and understood", the report said. "Similarly, rescue plans need to be put in place and rehearsed."

Trump Golf Course Dunes Lose Special Environmental Status

The sand dunes at Donald Trump's Aberdeenshire golf resort have lost their special status as a nationally-important protected environment.  The course, at Menie north of Aberdeen, opened in 2012.  The countryside agency Nature Scot - formerly Scottish Natural Heritage - said after construction, the area no longer merited being retained as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).  Trump International described the move as "highly politicised". The dunes are now said to not include enough special features.  SNH had warned a planning inquiry that the development would seriously damage the SSSI, but permission was granted by Scottish ministers on the basis that the potential economic benefit would outweigh environmental harm.  The plan was called in after it was rejected by an Aberdeenshire Council committee.  SNH later concluded that the site's special features had been "partially destroyed" with no prospect of recovery.  The denotification follows talks that have been ongoing since 2016.  The decision about parts of the dunes on Foveran Links followed consideration of scientific evidence by the Protected Areas Committee (PAC) of NatureScot. Eileen Stuart, NatureScot's interim director of nature and climate change said: "There is now no longer a reason to protect the dunes at Menie as they do not include enough of the special natural features for which they were designated.  Trump International Golf Links Scotland have undertaken to deliver nature conservation management on the golf course and we value the work they have done to protect the remaining rare habitats and the rare plants on their site, however they no longer have sufficient scientific interest to merit special protection." The remaining reduced SSSI at Foveran Links will be merged with the adjacent Sands of Forvie and Ythan Estuary SSSI next year.  Trump International executive vice president Sarah Malone criticised the decision, saying the organisation had "spent millions of pounds on the management and monitoring" of the site.  She said: "Nature Scot ignored and neglected the dunes under the previous ownership and has made only a handful of short visits in the past 10 years.  Their own assessment acknowledges that many attributes of the SSSI have flourished since the golf course was completed."  Ms Malone added: "Trump International's level of investment and ongoing care of the site far exceeds just about every other SSSI site in the country.  And yet, Nature Scot singles us out and prioritises this decision during a global pandemic when the tourism and leisure industry is at its most vulnerable and is contending for its survival.  Regardless of their decision, we will continue to maintain the site to the highest standards."

Covid in Scotland: Second Wave Reignited by Summer Holidays
The origins of many of the second wave of Covid infections in Scotland can be traced to countries outside the UK, a new expert report has said.  At the daily media briefing Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, said the lockdown eliminated the majority of the first wave strains.  He said the report demonstrated that whole new strains were then introduced.  The report said many cases could be traced to summer holidays and other travel abroad in July and August.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it highlighted the role of travel in "reigniting outbreaks of the virus after it has been suppressed". The new reports were written for the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) by members of the COG-UK Consortium.  By studying the genomic history of Covid they confirmed about 300 different strains were detected in Scotland during the first wave. Prof Leitch said the report showed that the March lockdown, which lasted until the start of July, was successful in "all but eliminating" the virus. However, the study identified travel to Europe as a major trigger for the second wave.  It estimated that between 17 July and 30 August, there were 46 "import events" into Scotland - 28 from England, 13 from mainland Europe and four from Asia.  However, an estimate of the relative impact of those events led the researchers to believe it was European "lineages" that led to the most spread of the virus. The report said: "Interestingly, by this measure it was imports from Europe (16%) rather than England (8%) that contributed more to the subsequent number of Scottish sequences over the summer and onwards."  Prof Leitch said: "This report allows us to say that the lockdown in the first part of the year, that you all played such a huge part in, did get Scotland incredibly close to eliminating the virus in our communities.  "But as we opened up, inevitably, people began to travel across the UK, internationally on summer holidays and other travel abroad, new strains were imported again into Scotland." Prof Leitch said that scenario "will always be the case" unless Scotland introduces a New Zealand/Australia-style travel ban. On the lessons of the report, he said: "We have learned that once as a society we are allowed to travel again, we brought fresh new strains into Scotland which started our second wave. In some cases from countries where incidences of the virus was not high enough to be on quarantine lists or from other parts of the UK where there is, of course, no quarantine." A separate study focuses on Wales, which Prof Leitch said has a "very similar Covid history" to Scotland.  Prof Leitch said the reports would inform decision making on areas such as quarantine lengths and airport testing.  He added: "These reports also provide a cautionary tale to people who are considering travelling over the Christmas period.  In an ideal world we would encourage everyone to stay as local as possible and, particularly, not to travel between high and low prevalence areas.  If you can stay local you will help Scotland to avoid another spike in January."

Investment Worth A Total of £49m for Stornoway Port

The Leader of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, Cllr Roddie MacKay, has hailed the announcement by the Scottish Government of a £49m package of support for the development of a new deep water terminal for Stornoway Harbour as a “very good news story” for the Western Isles. The development is part of Stornoway Port Authority’s (SPA) 20-year master-plan. And speaking this morning, council leader Roddie Mackay said: “This investment is the first step in a comprehensive vision for the redevelopment of Stornoway Port and ancillary facilities. The project will create new marine-related opportunities, not only for Stornoway but the whole of the Outer Hebrides. We believe this investment will make Stornoway one of the premier ports in the west of Scotland.  Our ambition is that it will be a driver and catalyst for a series of new activities such as the creation of a hydrogen-driven energy hub and as a future base for renewable energy deployments west of the Hebrides.  The Comhairle’s significant investment will not only secure the present development project but will also facilitate a route to further value-added development opportunity.”

Brexit Bill in 'Ping-Pong' As MPs Reject Changes

MPs and peers are at loggerheads over government plans to regulate trade between the four nations of the UK after Brexit. MPs voted against changes to Internal Market Bill which would have given Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a greater say over UK trading rules. Business minister Paul Scully said the government "cannot agree" with the Lords amendments.  The bill will now go back to the House of Lords for the third time on Monday. The government has been defeated 14 times on this bill, and by overturning the Lords' latest changes the bill continues to "ping-pong" - the term used when legislation goes back and forth between the Commons and Lords as they reject each others changes.  After the Brexit transition period ends on 31 December and the UK stops following EU rules and regulations, the devolved governments will gain powers in areas such as animal welfare, currently managed at the EU level.  The UK Westminster government says new legislation in the Internal Markets Bill is needed to recognise standards drawn up by the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish administrations.  MPs rejected amendments peers made to the bill on Wednesday, which would have allowed the devolved administrations more scope to diverge from rules that apply across the UK.  Amendments were also thrown out by MPs that would have given the devolved administrations a greater say over a new UK fund to replace EU regional spending, and in drawing up rules governing state support for businesses.      Labour's shadow Business secretary Ed Miliband said the bill contains "deeply flawed proposals for undermining shared governance".  Mr Miliband added: "We want the UK Internal Market Bill to reach the statute book, it must happen though in a way that does not ride roughshod over the way we are governed. "I hope very much, for the sake of the United Kingdom, for the sake of respecting the devolution settlement, that the government will reflect on this over the coming days."  The Scottish and Welsh governments argue the bill would undermine their ability to make their own rules. SNP business spokesman Drew Hendry said the bill is "unwanted" and undermines devolution.  Opponents have also claimed the bill will stymie future planned discussions to agree UK-wide standards, by effectively giving Westminster the final word on which standards should be allowed.  Mr Hendry told MPs: "This shabby, shambolic, pernicious Bill should never have seen the light of day.  It's already been delivered an historic defeat in the Lords, they rightly tore it apart, yet this government has overturned all of their amendments and sent them back to them."  On Wednesday the government agreed to drop controversial sections from the bill which would have allowed ministers to override the UK's Brexit divorce bill.  The clauses - which would have allowed ministers to breach international law - had threatened to jeopardise ongoing talks between the UK and the EU over a post-Brexit trade deal.  Mr Scully said the measures would have "provided for the safety net" if the government had not reached agreement with the EU. But they were now being removed from the bill as they were "no longer required" after the government reached an agreement in principle with the EU on how rules in the Brexit divorce deal will be implemented. Sir Bob Neill, who chairs the Commons justice committee, welcomed the removal of clauses from the bill saying it was "better off" without them. He told MPs: "I welcome the fact that the government have accepted it was unwise, if I can put it charitably, to have certain clauses in this bill which might have impugned our international reputation for supporting the rule of law.  Mr Hendry said the clauses "should never have been in there in the first place and have only served further to diminish this government and the UK's already tattered international reputation."  In Cardiff, members of the Senedd voted to reject the bill, after claims from Labour it would "neuter" devolution.

How Could A No-deal Brexit Affect Scotland?
The introduction of tariffs on many imports and exports and the associated border disruption is one obvious impact.  The NHS in Scotland warned this week how that could lead to shortages of medicines and other essential supplies in the early part of 2021.  That's why they are stockpiling, the UK Westminster government has secured alternative freight capacity and the Scottish government has activated emergency planning procedures.  UK ministers tend to play down the prospect of upheaval as "bumps along the road" to British sovereignty. The UK, they insist, will prosper in all circumstances.  It is also possible that some of those bumps could cause lasting damage to an already disunited kingdom.  During the referendum campaign, former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major teamed up to argue that Brexit could boost support for Scottish independence.  It will give them no pleasure to note that opinion polls suggest there is now a sustained majority for independence in Scotland. Analysis by politics professor Sir John Curtice suggests Brexit has helped shift former no voters towards yes.  The current leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, Douglas Ross has acknowledged this Brexit effect.  There was a time when his predecessor, Ruth Davidson and the then Scottish secretary, David Mundell threatened to resign if Brexit gave Northern Ireland a special relationship with the EU.  They argued that would "undermine the integrity" of the UK.  It may be just as well both have moved on from their previous posts as the arrangements to give effect to Northern Ireland's special status were agreed between the UK and EU this week. At Prime Minister's Questions, the SNP's Ian Blackford said Scotland was being "shafted" having voted against Brexit and been refused a differentiated relationship with the EU. Other senior nationalists see the minimisation of checks on goods crossing between Britain and Northern Ireland as a possible model for Scotland's border with England in the event of independence.  The SNP's high poll ratings remain resilient to criticism with the next Holyrood elections just five months away.  There are those who hope Brexit turbulence on top of the economic crisis caused by Covid will help persuade Scottish voters of their security within the UK.  However, many unionists think leaving the single market and customs union - especially without a trade agreement - is more likely to compound support for the SNP and their campaign for indyref2.  It remains to be seen what impact Labour's soon to be announced effort to redesign the UK along federal lines could have in this debate, with parts of England now seeking more power too.  The potential consequences of Brexit for the union may be unintended by Boris Johnson and other leave champions. The magnitude of these consequences suggests they deserve careful consideration this weekend as talks between the UK and EU edge closer to a conclusion.

Shops Reopen As Toughest Restrictions Eased
Non-essential shops across much of western Scotland - including Glasgow - are reopening for the first time in three weeks.  Retailers in the 11 council areas that had been under the country's toughest lockdown rules were able to welcome customers from 06:00. But pubs, cafes and restaurants will have to remain closed until today, Saturday. It comes as the areas move from level four to level three in the country's tiered system of Covid restrictions. More than two million people had been subject to the level four restrictions since 20 November. It was hoped that staggering opening times would limit the number of shoppers that would be flocking to the city centre at the same time.  Almost half of Scotland's non-essential stores are thought to have been shut by the level four rules, which industry bodies estimated had cost a combined £12.5m a day in lost revenues.  Three other council areas - Inverclyde, Falkirk and Angus - moved down from level three to level two from 18:00 on Friday. And both Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders will be downgraded from level two to level one.  There has been controversy over the decision to keep Edinburgh in level three despite the city having lower rates of the virus than some level two areas.  The level four restrictions were imposed in a bid to slow spiralling transmission rates across Glasgow and many of its surrounding areas.  All 11 areas have seen case numbers fall since then, but there have been warnings that they could increase again ahead of Christmas unless people continue to be careful and stick to the rules.  Strict travel restrictions will remain in place - so it will still be against the law for people outside of Glasgow to travel to the city to do their Christmas shopping, for example.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the decline in cases across the level four areas could "very easily go into reverse" unless people continued to abide by the rules.  She said this was particularly true of the ban on visiting other people's houses - which remains in place across all of mainland Scotland.  The first minister added: "I cannot emphasise enough to you today that the very, very last thing we want to see is overcrowding in or around shops and shopping centres."  The deaths of a further 31 people who had tested positive for the virus were recorded across Scotland on Friday, bringing the total by that measure to 4,070.  The latest data shows the R number - the average number of people infected by each person with Covid-19 - has fallen further below one, which experts say shows that the restrictions are having the desired effect.

Court Rejects Challenge to Edinburgh Level Decision
The decision to keep Edinburgh under level three Covid restrictions is lawful, Scotland's highest civil court has ruled.  A judicial review was sought at the Court of Session by a number of businesses operating in the city.  The petitioners argued the Scottish government's decision not to move the area to level two puts businesses in a "catastrophic" position.  But the government insisted it was not safe or sensible to ease restrictions.  On Friday a judge decided the Scottish government had a right to consider factors other than data. Lord Ericht passed a judicial review on the motion from KLR & RCR International Ltd & Others after hospitality businesses in the city warned of the further impact the measures could have. At a remote hearing on Friday, Dean of Faculty Roddy Dunlop QC, on behalf of the petitioners, told the judge the level three decision was "flawed" and did not reflect Public Health Scotland advice or case figures.  James Mure QC, representing ministers, said while the data was there to inform the decision-makers he added there was "no simple algorithm" to determine levels and the indicators used "may change over time".  In his judgment, Lord Ericht said: "The guidance as to how the government will go about its decision-making has always emphasised that the indicators are no more than indicators - they are not the sole criteria for making a decision on Covid levels."  Lord Ericht commented that economic packages had been introduced by ministers to mitigate the economic impact of the virus.