Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 584

Issue # 584                                     Week ending Saturday 26th   December  2020

Where Are All the Post Vans with My Gifts? Just Don’t Send Me Anything About Football by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

For some people, the festive season is about sport - particularly football. Yawn. What is the point of it? If a player has a modicum of talent, they get spotted and go up the ranks until they, or more precisely their agent, can charge a fortune to the highest bidder.

It’s like the difference between buying a bottle of cheap supermarket plonk for £8 and a super-smooth Château Lynch-Bages 2017 wine which currently costs about, let me see, £150 a bottle. Yep, I tasted one a while back. You get what you pay for - or, to be honest, what someone else paid for. I got a wee swallow, and that exquisite aroma is memorable - unlike here-today-and-gone-tomorrow soccer players.

Sponduliks. Yet soccer engenders crazy loyalties, and ghastly rudeness to rivals. Supporters are so predictable in their assessment of games and players. The facts don’t really matter when the goals are being slammed in and there is something cold and wet in your right hand. No, Mrs X, I don’t mean a haddock. Can you try again? Can you? Can ... She still doesn’t get it. I’m wasted here.

To a typical football supporter, it is about making the right kind of noise even if they are clueless about the technicalities. Very much like the politicians of particularly the UK parliament at this very time. There was no oven-ready Brexit deal. He hadn’t even prepared the veg.

Watching football is difficult if you know little about the game. Even the advertising hoardings at big games baffled me until recently. Why are they putting former players’ names on there, I wondered. I thought Hertz Van Rental was that Dutch player who used to play for Celtic.

OK, no more football. I don’t want to jinx anyone. I mentioned Stuart Kettlewell, the Ross County manager, a few weeks ago and now he has been replaced, although I am told he may be staying with the club. That kind of loyalty is good to hear.

Our loyal readers will have bought their presents weeks ago. I never know what to buy. Not even for Mrs X. That’s why I appreciate guidance by the recipient about what they would like. If I am going to spend cash, I need to know my time carefully choosing something was well-spent and that the gift will be welcomed, useful or drunk.

Mrs X dragged me into a Stornoway emporium the other day to stare at socks. It’s usually the other way round because the world and his wife usually buy them for me. These were actually stockings of the type you stuff into a wellington boot. She seemed to be hinting they may suit a photographer-type person like herself.

I agreed so I said: “Yes, these socks look warm.”  Bang, she went off on one. “They’re not lukewarm. They’re very warm. Now buy me a few pairs, you tight-fisted git.” I may have changed a word here and there but then Mrs X is a Celtic supporter.

I expected the Royal Mail would have to lay on extra vans to deliver my presents. Didn’t happen. I blame Covid. Thank you to the very few concerned. I suspect the parcel from Gloucestershire addressed to Iain Xmas Maciver and Sandie Claus was from The Daughter. I also suspect the book Beauty Fades, Dumb Is Forever by Judge Judy is a hint that I am spending too much time on the sofa watching the box and to get on and do some work. Thank you, hon. Love you too.

Thank you also to the lady in Point here on Lewis who has been making special marmalade. I got a pot. It’s Extra Chunky Clementine Marmalade with Tamnavulin. Jamie Oliver puts limes in marmalade to give it a kick but she pours in the finest malt whisky. I propose a toast - in fact, I propose to have toast with marmalade for the next while. Cheers, Janet.

This year has been different but better things will come. The bleak mid-winter was, is and will be a time to reflect and celebrate whether that was 2020 BC or 2020 AD. Of course, BC now means Before Covid and AD means After Donald.

How will you spend your Covid Christmas? Safely, I hope. We will play board games. Nothing involving football, obviously. There are loads of new board games out - like Dominic Cummings Monopoly. It’s easy. Ignore the rules, move anywhere on the board you like, and never Go To Jail.

Covid: Lockdown looms as Scotland tightens Christmas rules
Covid restrictions will only be relaxed on Christmas Day and mainland Scotland will then be placed under the tightest restrictions from Boxing Day.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said "firm preventative action" was needed after the emergence of a faster-spreading strain of coronavirus.  It had been planned to ease the rules between 23 and 27 December - but that will now only apply on Christmas Day.  A ban on travel to the rest of the UK will apply over the festive period.  Scotland's toughest level four rules will come into effect across mainland Scotland from 26 December.  Until then, local authority areas are expected to remain under their current level of restrictions.  Schools will return later than originally planned after the Christmas holidays.  Ms Sturgeon said they should resume from 11 January, with learning taking place online until at least 18 January.  The level four restrictions - which mean the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms - will last for three weeks.  They will apply across Scotland, with the exception of Orkney, Shetland, the Western Isles and other island communities where restrictions have recently been reduced. These areas will be placed in level three.  The first minister said decisive action was required because of a new strain of Covid which public health officials believe could be 70% more transmissible than previous strains.  At this stage she said there was no evidence to suggest the new strain made people sicker than earlier variants, or that it would change the effectiveness of the vaccine. The new variant was first seen in mid-September in London and Kent - but by December it had become the "dominant variant" in London.  Ms Sturgeon said the speed at which it could spread meant this was "probably the most serious and potentially dangerous juncture we have faced" in the pandemic. But, she said Scotland still had the opportunity to act on a preventative basis.  So far 17 cases of the new strain had been identified in Scotland through genomic sequencing.  "We do not yet know how widely this new strain of virus is circulating in Scotland, but I think we have to be realistic that that is likely to be an understatement of its true prevalence right now," she added.  There was a "concern", however, that this strain may be driving what appears to be faster transmission of Covid in some hospitals and care homes. Covid figures published at 14:00 on Saturday showed Scotland had recorded 41 new deaths and 572 positive tests over the previous 24 hours.  The first minister said Scotland's case numbers did not look as bad as those elsewhere in the UK, and that she understood why people might not understand that these steps were necessary.  But she said the new strain of the virus could very quickly "overwhelm us".  "Please believe me when I tell you... I would not be standing here on the Saturday before Christmas announcing this if I did not think this was necessary," Ms Sturgeon added.  Scotland has the lowest case rate in the UK, with 112.6 cases per 100,000 of the population.  This compares with 571.7 in Wales, 219.6 in England and 174.9 in Northern Ireland.  The planned relaxation of the rules has been scrapped for large parts of south-east England, and cut to just Christmas Day for the rest of England and Wales. A fourth tier has also been created for some of the worst affected areas in England. The first minister said maintaining a "strict travel ban" would prevent more of the new strain entering Scotland from other parts of the UK, and reduce the risk of it spreading further within Scotland.  This ban will remain in place throughout the festive period, meaning that cross-border travel will only be allowed for essential purposes.  Ms Sturgeon said she would be asking the police to consider how the enforcement of the ban could be strengthened.  Indoor mixing will be allowed on Christmas Day only. A maximum of eight people from three households will be allowed in law but the advice is to keep numbers to a minimum, celebrate in your own home, and meet others outdoors. But Ms Sturgeon said: "If you can't make it there and back in the same day, please don't go - and we're asking you not even to do that unless you feel there is genuinely no alternative."

Covid in Scotland: Businesses Warn They Need 'Extraordinary' Support
Business leaders have called for an "extraordinary" package of support to keep businesses afloat as Scotland faces a looming lockdown.  The Scottish Retail Consortium said closing shops could see retailers lose out on £135m per week in lost revenue.  Tourism and hospitality leaders warned more support was needed urgently for business and their supply chains.  One leading health expert, however, insisted the best way to help businesses was to "crunch" the virus.  Prof Devi Sridhar, of Edinburgh University, urged the rest of the UK to use Scotland's "harsh lockdown" as a model.  From Boxing Day, mainland Scotland will be under level four restrictions - which mean the closure of non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms - for at least three weeks.  The changes follow the revelation that a new strain of Covid could be 70% more transmissible than previous strains.  So far 17 cases of the new strain had been identified in Scotland through genomic sequencing, but public health officials believe this is an underestimate of its true prevalence.  Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) director David Lonsdale earlier warned that the lockdown would come "slap bang in the middle of peak trading - which so many are depending on to power their recovery and tide them over".  "The government will need to offer additional financial support to help these businesses get back on an even keel," he added.  SRC data indicates that over recent months non-food stores are consistently trading about a fifth down on last year.  The retailers' trade association claimed many scientists thought closing non-essential retail would only have a "very minimal impact" on R values and reducing transmission of the virus.  Some of Scotland's leading health experts, meanwhile, have defended the strict measures as necessary to stop the new variant spreading rapidly. National Clinical Director Prof Jason Leitch said that while people from three households would still be allowed to meet indoors for Christmas Day, people should think carefully about whether it was worth the risk.

Sir Keir Starmer Promises to Shift Power From Westminster

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is to commit his party to delivering the "boldest devolution project in a generation".  In a key policy speech he will say the Covid pandemic has put "rocket boosters" under the case for decentralisation of power.  He will promise "a positive alternative to the Scottish people" which aims "to preserve and renew the United Kingdom". Recent polls have indicated a majority in favour of independence in Scotland.  The SNP dismissed the plans as "constitutional tinkering" while the Scottish Conservatives said he was offering nothing new to challenge the SNP's dominance of Scottish politics.  Sir Keir will use his speech on Monday to confirm the setting up of a constitutional commission, advised by former prime minister Gordon Brown, to deliver a "fresh and tangible offer" to the Scottish people.  "It is Labour's duty to offer a positive alternative to the Scottish people. To show that you don't have to choose between a broken status quo and the uncertainty and divisiveness of separatism," he is expected to say.  "Boris Johnson isn't Britain just as Nicola Sturgeon isn't Scotland.  The United Kingdom is much more than that, more than any individual. It has been before - and can be again - a great force for social justice, for security and for solidarity." Labour sources said the speech would set the tone for the party's campaigning for next year's elections to the Scottish Parliament as well as more broadly across the UK.  The party has not held power at Holyrood since 2007 and struggled to hold Westminster seats after being all but wiped out by the SNP in the 2015 general election.  With support for independence on the rise, Sir Keir will argue that the shared "history, values and identity" of the people of the UK mean there should be no place for internal borders.  The constitutional convention will also examine the wider balance of powers within the UK and how best to empower communities.  A letter last month signed by a group of leading Labour mayors in England called for more powers and funding for them to deal with Covid recovery.  In his speech, delivered remotely because of Covid restrictions, he will say he wants decentralising power from Westminster to be one of the hallmarks of the next Labour government.  He will insist his plans amount to more than shifting powers from one parliament to another, or transferring "a few jobs out of London".  "There's a yearning across the United Kingdom for politics and power to be much closer to people," he will say.  The SNP's deputy Westminster leader Kirsten Oswald dismissed Labour's plans, saying the system was "broken" and "not working for Scotland".  "No amount of constitutional tinkering of the kind proposed by Labour will protect Scotland from Brexit or the Tory power grab being imposed upon us against our will," she said.  She said that even Labour supporters doubted their ability to oust the Conservatives from Westminster for another decade at least.  "It's clear that only with the full powers of independence will we be able to properly protect our interests and secure our place in Europe - and that decision lies solely with the people of Scotland, not an out-of- touch Westminster system," she said.

MSPs Pass Brexit Bill to 'Keep Pace' with EU Laws
MSPs have passed legislation which will allow ministers to keep Scottish law in line with future EU regulations.  In January, Holyrood will take on responsibility for a range of areas where policy is currently set in Brussels, including environmental and food standards and human rights.  The bill lets the Scottish government choose where to align local standards with those of the EU post-Brexit.  It also sets up a new watchdog to have oversight over environmental standards.  The Scottish government says the EU "will continue to be of fundamental importance to Scotland" after the Brexit transition period is over, and that it should "do everything it can to be an active and constructive participant on EU matters". The Scottish Conservatives argued that the bill would cause regulatory divergence between Scotland and the rest of the UK, potentially endangering domestic trade and jobs, and would see Holyrood become a "passive rule-taker".  However it passed its final vote at Holyrood 90 votes to 29 with Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats all supporting the SNP administration.  Constitution secretary Michael Russell said: "We have heard the ambition of the people of Scotland to retain the closest links with the EU and to continue to meet the high European standards that presently serve us so well. It is completely unacceptable that Scotland has been taken out of the EU, but this Bill makes a start, at least, on meeting those ambitions.  It will enable us, in devolved areas at least, to maintain alignment with Europe, when appropriate and practicable to do so."  The UK left the EU on 31 January 2020, but is currently still in alignment with many of the bloc's standards and regulations as part of an implementation period, due to end on 31 December.  From that point the Scottish Parliament will take on responsibility for a range of areas which are devolved, but on which policy was previously set EU-wide. These include many environmental standards as well as rules around fishing and farming.  The UK Withdrawal from the EU (Continuity) Bill gives Scottish ministers the power to keep certain devolved laws in line with those of the EU in future, where they deem it "appropriate".  It has a particular focus on environmental rules, copying the core principles underpinning green standards in the EU across into Scottish law, and setting up a new watchdog - Environmental Standards Scotland - to oversee them. Examples of where ministers could decide to keep pace with EU laws in future include over drinking water quality, livestock and produce standards and labelling, and any changes to environmental standards around new technology or regulations.  MSPs had raised some concerns about so-called "Henry VIII powers" in the bill, which give ministers the power to make changes to the law without consulting parliament.  However the government argued it would be "disproportionate" for all the changes which may be required in future - including many "small and technical" ones - to be put down in primary legislation for MSPs to vote on, and has agreed to make regular reports to parliament on the use of new powers.  The Scottish Conservatives contend that more than a half a million jobs in Scotland depend on barrier-free access to markets cross the rest of the UK.  The party's economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said that keeping pace with some future EU laws would "require firms in Scotland to comply with myriad divergent regulations", which he said would "increase the expense and complexity of doing business".  He also expressed concerns that the bill could represent a "power grab by Scottish ministers", allowing them to bypass Holyrood and "turn it into a passive rule-taker of future EU laws".  Labour meanwhile backed the principle of Holyrood keeping pace with EU laws, particularly on environmental standards.  However they pressed for a greater role for parliament in making decisions about this, saying it should not be "entirely at the discretion of the Scottish government". The Scottish Greens enthusiastically backed the bill, while calling for the new environment watchdog to be "strong, independent, well resourced and rigorously appointed".  And the Scottish Lib Dems supported the bill and any work "needed to minimise the damaging legacy of Brexit, especially in the area of environmental policy". A previous "continuity" bill was struck down by the Supreme Court after parts of it were deemed to run beyond the devolved powers of the Scottish Parliament.  However the latest legislation has been judged to be in line with Holyrood's competency by the presiding officer.

Author Alexander McCall Smith to Receive Edinburgh Award

Edinburgh author Alexander McCall Smith is to receive a prestigious award from his home city.  The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency writer has been named as the 2020 winner of the Edinburgh Award.  The City of Edinburgh Council said it was in recognition of his writing success, legal career and academic work.  He will get an engraved Loving Cup from the Lord Provost and his handprints set in stone at the city chambers.  Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, Mr McCall Smith is also well known for The Sunday Philosophy Club and 44 Scotland Street book series, the latter of which is set in the heart of Edinburgh's New Town.  His books are published in 47 languages.  He will become the 14th person to receive the award, following in the footsteps of last year's recipient Ann Budge (2019) and fellow writers Ian Rankin OBE (2007) and JK Rowling OBE (2008), as well as fellow academics Professor Peter Higgs (2011) and Sir Timothy O'Shea (2017). Mr McCall Smith said: "I am immensely honoured by this award.  The people who really deserve it, though, are those who have helped me in my work: the publishers, editors, and bookshop staff who help get the printed word out about this wonderful city."

Coronavirus Ayrshire: Number in Hospital with Covid Has Nearly Doubled
Hospital admissions for Covid are growing faster in Ayrshire and the Borders than anywhere else in Scotland. Figures show that the number of people being treated for the infection in hospital in the NHS Ayrshire and Arran region has increased by 71 per cent in less than two weeks, going from 88 on December 9 to 151 by December 21.  The East and South Ayrshire council areas were placed under the tightest Level 4 restrictions from November 20 until December 11, but North Ayrshire had remained in Level 3.  Across NHS Scotland as a whole there are now 1,078 people with Covid in hospital - up from 972 (11%) on December 9. The measure is known as a 'lag indicator' because it typically takes around two to three weeks between someone contracting the virus and becoming sick enough to require hospital admission.  In the NHS Borders area, the number of people in hospital with Covid rose 83% between December 9 and 21, from 12 to 22, while Lothian has experienced an increase of 38% over the same period, from 125 to 172 patients. In NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, where prevalence of the virus had been particularly high in the weeks before Level 4 curbs, the number of people in hospital with Covid has fallen by 4% from 358 to 344.

Scottish Exporter Crisis 'Deteriorating' As Stock Spoiled
Time is running out for Scots food exporters to save Christmas trade as lorries remain stuck in Kent unable to enter Europe, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.  Industry bodies say the situation is "deteriorating".  Scotland Food and Drink said pre-Christmas sales had been "ruined" for shellfish firms and called on the UK government to reach an agreement. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said later an agreement had been reached.  He said hauliers would be updated later on the deal with the French government, while French authorities said some journeys would be allowed for residents and nationals with a recent negative test. About 1,500 lorries are still stuck in Kent waiting to leave the UK as British and French officials try to agree a way to allow the flow of goods to resume across the Channel. France closed its borders on Sunday because of fears over the spread of a new, highly contagious variant of coronavirus found in south east England.  Millions of pounds worth of Scottish seafood is among the produce stuck in queues.  James Withers, chief executive at Scotland Food and Drink, warned that losing the Christmas trade could be a "fatal blow" for some businesses.  Mr Withers said: "Contrary to an upbeat assessment from the prime minister yesterday, the situation has been deteriorating with a growing backlog of lorries.  For some of our shellfish exporters, the pre-Christmas sales have now been ruined. It looks like mission impossible to get products to the big markets in Spain which are held tomorrow. That is an irrecoverable loss of income and I fear about this being a fatal blow to some of the smaller businesses after the horrendous year they have already had."  James McMillan, who runs Loch Fyne Langoustines, got stuck in the Dover port queues with £90,000 worth of stock in his lorry. He took the decision to drive back to Scotland and get his shellfish back in water. He said: "What we are hearing now is that France is not going to open up again until there is some sort of testing regime in place. That's just a disaster for us because we have already missed the biggest main market this year, after the disastrous year we have already had. We have had heavy losses. If we lose this stock then I am finished as a business. I have got to pay the fishermen for this stock and we have no customers to sell it to.  We have been shouting about access to markets for three to six months with regards to Brexit and this proves how important access is to markets. Now I don't know what to do with it. On Christmas Day I will be out of business if I don't sell this stock."  Scottish government export figures released last week indicate France remains the single largest importer of Scottish food and drink products. Exports to France for the first nine months of 2020 are already down 11.3% on the same period the previous year.  Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, agreed: "The window wherein companies would be able to salvage anything from the last couple of days is now, to all intents and purposes, closed for premium seafood, which has been perishing by the roadside since Sunday night.  Millions has been lost, much of it by small companies that were depending on this trade for survival." She said the situation turned thoughts to the end of the Brexit transition period.  She said: "The last 48 hours has given us a terrifying insight into what the situation could be come 1 January. While passage may not be formally blocked by then, there remains a "red tape blockade" which will likely have exactly the same impact as the last 48 hours. "  Updating MSPs at Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon offered Scottish-based testing for hauliers in a bid to end the UK border freight blockage.  She said it was the peak time of year for exports for the Scottish seafood sector and that the Christmas export trade was almost certainly lost.  "That is devastating for our world-class seafood businesses and they do need and will get our support," she told MSPs. "We are liaising with the sector on financial support and I also raised the issue of compensation at Cobra yesterday."  She added that if a protocol was not reached the new year trade would be in jeopardy too.  The first minister said that, since any solution was likely to include mass the testing of freight drivers, the Scottish government's willingness to help would include providing testing facilities for the sector in Scotland.

Lockdown Restrictions for the Highlands Spark Calls for the Region to Be Sealed Off
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News the Highlands will enter near lockdown from Boxing Day has led to calls for the region to be sealed off for non-essential transport to be spared what politicians, business leaders and councillors all say will be a “devastating” blow for the economy.  The move to Tier 4 for three weeks until January 16 will see retail, hospitality, pubs, bars, restaurants, and leisure services close for the prime trading weeks of the year sparking real fears that many will simply not survive.  The Scottish Government is attempting to prevent a new strain of Covid – said to be 70 per cent more contagious than previous variants – from getting a toehold in the country.  But because of the severity of measures announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon the price paid by the local economy has been described as comprehensively terrible for all sectors.  Retail outlets already fighting to stay afloat were hoping to do a roaring trade in the winter sales will instead be shut, including big names like the Eastgate shopping centre’s anchor store Debenhams.  Eden Court was already bleeding revenue with the cancellation of the panto season will close later today until January 21.  The north’s biggest leisure provider Highlife Highland is responsible for sport centres, libraries and many galleries managed to break even under its own steam but its facilities too will be closed for the duration of Tier 4 restrictions.  Hogmanay will be one of the grimmest ever as pubs, bars restaurants and hotels will all be closed.  Chief executive of the Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Stewart Nicol, underlined just how widespread the damage to the economy will be, saying: “It is affecting all business in every sector.“The timing for business could not be worse particularly hospitality as it is the busiest time of year and they have had to make immediate cancellations.  And not just the hospitality venues themselves but also the supply chain will be affected because they will have placed orders that will now be cancelled or be in receipt of perishable goods that will now be wasted.  Retail obviously is in the last few days before Christmas so there will be an immediate impact on that – Level 4 doesn’t kick in until Boxing Day and that is the major retail event of the year. I think as well that it is retail, hospitality, leisure, it is tourism, which is our largest sector in terms of jobs and value to the economy, it is also impacting on our food and drink.” Expecting Tier 4 to continue beyond mid-January he said urgent government financial support is needed: “I would like to see a more generous offering from both the Scottish and UK Westminster governments to recognise the extreme circumstances that all businesses in all sectors are facing.”

Brexit Deal: Nicola Sturgeon Says 'Major Promises' Broken on Fishing
The Scottish government said the agreement announced on Thursday was "a bad deal for fishing".  But the UK Westminster government has insisted the deal will allow Scotland's fishermen to flourish outside the EU. Negotiations in Brussels went down to the wire over what EU fishing boats are allowed to catch in UK waters.  Until the end of this year, the UK will be bound by the EU's rules including the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).  There will then be a five-and-a-half year transition period for the fishing industry.  Asked where the biggest compromises had been made, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK had wanted "complete control over our fisheries from the get-go."  "The EU began with wanting a transition period of 14 years, we wanted three years," he said, describing the final agreement as "reasonable". Ms Sturgeon said it appeared that "major promises" made by the UK Westminster government on fisheries had been broken.  "The extent of these broken promises will become apparent to all very soon," she said.  "People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but their views have been ignored.  This is a far harder Brexit than could have been imagined when the EU referendum took place, damaging and disrupting this nation's economy and society at the worst possible time."  The first minister argued that Scotland "has the right to choose its own future as an independent country and once more regain the benefits of EU membership".  However, the UK Westminster government's Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said the deal was "great news for Scotland's businesses".  He said it brought "huge opportunities" and "exceptional access" to the EU market and new markets around the world.  "The UK will once more be a sovereign coastal state."  He added that the deal would protect famous Scottish products such as whisky, Arbroath smokies and Orkney cheddar.  When Boris Johnson was asked what he might give Nicola Sturgeon for Christmas, he promised a post Brexit bonanza of fish.  It seems the largely Scottish-based UK fishing fleet will be able to catch more in home waters but not as much as they'd hoped. Mr Johnson admits compromising on fishing to get a trade deal with the EU.  He appears to have guaranteed EU fleets continued, if reduced, fishing rights for at least five and a half years.  There was a time when all Scottish Conservative MPs said they "could not support" an agreement with such a pre-existing arrangement built in.  Today, both the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross and the Scottish secretary, Alister Jack, welcomed the outcome of negotiations.  Meanwhile The Scottish Fishermen's Federation said the government had not yet provided the full text of the agreement but, on the surface, it did not appear to "deliver on the industry's aspirations".  Chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: "The princples the government said it supported - control over access, quota shares based on zonal attachment, annual negotiations - do not appear to be central to the agreement. After all the promises given the industry, that is hugely disappointing." Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said the prime minister's "irresponsible brinksmanship" and "gross mismanagement" of the process had caused "huge economic uncertainty." Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said it was "a raw deal" which would erect more trade barriers and add billions to the cost of imports and exports. The Scottish Greens' Patrick Harvie said people in Scotland had been "badly let down by a Brexit they didn't vote for".

Rules Relaxed to Allow Mixing At Christmas

Covid measures across Scotland have been relaxed to enable people to meet indoors for Christmas.  Bubbles can be formed with other households and travel restrictions have eased for 24 hours from 00:01.  The original plans to ease restrictions for five days were scrapped following the emergence of a faster-spreading strain of coronavirus.  The toughest level four rules will come into effect across mainland Scotland from Boxing Day.  However Nicola Sturgeon has warned these measures could be further strengthened in a March-style lockdown.  By law a maximum of eight people from three households can meet up - although fewer numbers are recommended and people are encouraged to keep a distance of 2m (6ft 6in) away from those outside their own household.  Those in a bubble can only gather in a private home, outdoors or at a place of worship - but should minimise the length of time spent with the bubble, especially indoors.  People can travel anywhere in Scotland to meet family and friends, but they should not go anywhere else in the UK, unless in exceptional circumstances. The relaxed rules came into effect as 1,165 people tested positive for the virus in the previous 24 hours.  Figures for deaths, hospital admissions and intensive care cases will be updated on 29 December.

Stone of Destiny to Return to Perthshire - As Museum Centrepiece
The Stone of Destiny will return to Perthshire as the centrepiece of a new £26.5m museum, it has been announced.  Construction work on the new museum at Perth City Hall is due to start in February, with it scheduled to open in 2024.  The red sandstone block was originally kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Perthshire.  It was used for early Scottish Kingship ceremonies until it was taken to England by King Edward I in 1296.  The stone was brought back to Scotland in 1996 and is currently displayed at Edinburgh Castle.  The decision to move it to Perth was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is one of the four commissioners for the safeguarding of the regalia who advise the Queen about all matters relating to the stone.  On Christmas Day 1950, four Scottish nationalist students removed the stone from Westminster Abbey and smuggled it back to Scotland, sparking a huge manhunt. It was hidden for months then placed in Arbroath Abbey before being returned to London. Since 1996, it has been displayed at Edinburgh Castle.
Comment - R
The Stone of Destiny was the traditional Coronation Stone of the Kings of Scotland and, before that, the Kings of Dalriada (An ancient Gaelic kingdom that stretched from the northern part of the present County Antrim, Northern Ireland, and part of the Inner Hebrides and Argyll, in Scotland).

I, like many others,  believe that the stone taken by Edward in 1296 was a fake that the monks at Scone Abbey hid the real Stone of Destiny and that the English were tricked into taking a substitute. It is this stone which sat in Westminster until 1996, when it was returned to Scotland.  It has been said that historic descriptions of the Destiny Stone do not match the present stone, early seals and documentary descriptions suggest a stone that is larger, darker in colour with elaborate carvings than the present claimed Stone.  Legends associate it with Saint Columba, who might have brought it from Ireland as a portable altar. The Stone was apparently used as a coronation chair when Columba anointed and crowned Aedan King of Dalriada. The Stone of Destiny was kept by the monks of Iona, the traditional headquarters of the Scottish Celtic church, until Viking raiding from 793AD caused them to move to the mainland, first to Dunkeld, Atholl, and then to Scone. Here it continued to be used in coronations, as a symbol of Scottish Kingship.  The present claimed  Stone is a lump of roughly-dressed sandstone it is certainly not the stone of Iona mentioned in early documents and traditions. In addition Geologists have confirmed  that the Stone is 'lower Old Red Sandstone' and was quarried in the vicinity of Scone.
There is no record to show the Scots ever requested the return of the Stone in the century after its departure, which they would have done if it were an important relic. The Scots had been harrying England for some years, and in 1328 the English sued for peace. The Treaty is drawn in Scotland's favour and while the Treaty stipulates the return of the Scottish regalia, there is no mention of the Stone of Scone. There have been some rather tenuous statements of whether Edward was aware of the substitution or not and one overwhelming description of a further despoiling of the remains of the Abbey, seemed to indicate that he was fully aware and his forces were searching for something specific in this second raid.