Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 590

Issue # 590                                             Week ending Saturday 6thFebruary  2021

What’s That Coming Over the Hill? Is it A Stealth Bomber Or A Council Sucker-upper?
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Murdo in Manor Park doesn’t quite get the finer points of virology. He pulled up beside me on his new bicycle and told me he had finally sold his old Ford Fiesta and was now on two wheels. I asked him why, at his age, he had gone for a colder conveyance. With no hint of a smile, he said: “I don’t want to get this car owner virus that’s going about.”

Like Murdo, some of us have to make changes. For me, a lockdown is much the same as always because I work mainly from home anyway. This column is devised, banged out and catapulted to Australia from my laminated cubbyhole. Australia? Nah, the Press and Journal isn’t on the move. That’s where my email provider is. I have a table, nay a long plank, straddled across small filing cabinets to make the most excellent desk any writer could have. It’s so wide there’s room for coffee, biscuits, drams ...

For my other job, I go out in the van for delivery companies. Conversing with other souls, even the muffled tones of the airport workers, the opticians, the shop workers and the care staff behind their masks, is great. Distancing makes it difficult to hear them. They don’t seem to hear me either - particularly when I say there is an extra £10 import tax to pay on their parcel since Brexit.

Schooling is difficult for parents and kids. Annie in Laxdale tells me her son aged six is upset because Annie’s husband turned up at lunchtime and kissed the wee fellow’s teacher in class. Shocked, I asked Annie what she was going to do about it. She said firmly: “Nothing. He’s home-schooled. I’m the flippin’ teacher.”

So I feel for anyone stuck home-schooling. I would go doolally. History, noooo. Geography, aargh. Having no interest in what the economy of Peru is doing, I couldn’t deal with a youngster throwing the seventh wobbly of the day, because they’re bo-o-o-ored. Parents who do that have my utmost admiration and not a little sympathy.

Mrs X is meanwhile educating herself about phone apps. She can see ships with an app. The ferry Loch Seaforth plying back and forth and the little dots are fishing boats with their essential worker crews putting haddies on our tables. She loves that tech. Now she has a new aviation app to see planes. She can see the few Loganair planes from Glasgow that come up via Benbecula as well as the airliners going past up at 37,000 feet.

When she asked why some airliners were showing the tag LAX, I didn't tell her these tags were destination codes and those particular planes were heading for Los Angeles, which has the code LAX. I said that air passengers often get constipated at high altitudes and that the LAX tag was a warning for airport staff at the other end to have laxatives ready for them. Don’t put her right.

Last week, we were having coffee and Abernethys (they’re still crunchy, everyone) and we heard a low rumbling roar. Mrs X leapt to her phone. She couldn't see any planes flying around on her app. There was nothing happening in the air near the islands at all. She got so excited. “I bet it’s that American spy helicopter. They have blocked it from showing on my app. Maybe it’s a low-level stealth bomber. Let’s go see.”

Rushing outside to scan the skies for an incoming stealth bomber, there was a low-level non-military bomber sitting outside our house. The council sucker-upper. The Noo-Noo, if you remember the Teletubbies. What a racket from the industrial vacuum cleaner that cleans the gutters.

We may be in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars - like cyclist Murdo. When he heard the news on Friday that the islands were going back into lockdown, he got on his bike and cycled to the supermarket to get the messages and a bottle of whisky to help get him through the weekend. Murdo placed his eggs, bread and the bottle of Grouse carefully in the wire shopping basket.

He told me afterwards: “As I was about to leave, I thought what if I fall off my bike and break the bottle? That would be a disaster. So I opened it and drank it there and then. Good job I did really because I fell off my bike seven times on the way home.”

Ambulance Crews Under Strain But Worse Was Avoided
Irene McLean turned 99 on Friday. Then, on Sunday night, she fell while trying to put her slippers on and remained lying on her living room floor until police were called to break down the door the next morning. At about 3pm in the afternoon, ambulance crew Fraser Hutchison and Jonathan Beveridge arrive at her house in Baillieston near Glasgow. After some strong pain relief she is in good spirits.  "I've had a lovely day with all these nice men," Irene says. "They've all been very nice."  The two ambulance crew is more company than she had enjoyed on her big birthday.  "I've no family here at all," she says, and the lockdown restrictions mean she couldn't have a cup of tea or glass of wine with anyone. She says: "Only by yourself, which I did."  John Leary, who lives nearby, says neighbours were concerned when Irene didn't open the curtains or answer the telephone.  "They think she's maybe dislocated or broken her pelvis," he says. "Hopefully she'll recover."  Mr Leary says that because of Covid her family will not be able to travel to visit her when she goes to hospital.  Before they could reach Irene, the ambulance crew had spent over an hour outside the emergency department of Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University hospital, with another elderly patient.  To stop the spread of coronavirus, they can no longer take patients inside to wait for treatment. So they joined a row of vehicles outside the hospital.  Paramedic Fraser says it puts pressure on the service.  "There are probably resources sitting waiting at the hospital, accumulating hours and hours of the day when they could be responding to other calls," he says. "I think it definitely has an impact on the speed that patients are waiting on an ambulance and receive one. I imagine there will be a lot of calls outstanding in our control room at the moment." In evidence to a Holyrood committee, the Scottish Ambulance Service said it was facing extra costs of about £18.5m because of Covid. Staffing costs account for about half of that - with a total of 670 ambulance service workers having tested positive for Covid so far.  Like other parts of the NHS, the service has been under strain.  During the second wave of the pandemic, they have seen the usual rise in winter pressures, despite a national lockdown.  With it being wintertime it's an added extra pressure, along with the hospitals kind of bursting at the seams," says Fraser. I think having the lockdown has offset how much worse it could be.  Maybe not getting as many drunk people who are not able to look after themselves in the street, I guess that's kind of died down. But I would say breathing problems have increased."  The ambulance service says overall demand had dropped during lockdown but calls for people needing help with a mental health issue had risen by 9%.

Ship Adrift in High Winds Sparks Rescue Operation
Power has been restored to a drilling vessel which broke free from its moorings off the North Ayrshire coast.  The Valaris DS4 was moored at Hunterston Terminal, at Fairlie, in the narrow waters between the mainland and the Isle of Cumbrae.  A mayday call was was received by the Coastguard at 19:22 on Tuesday evening when the 228m (748ft) long ship began to drift without power.  The eight-strong crew of the Valaris DS4 deployed the ship's anchors.  A second ship moored at the terminal has also required assistance and is being held in position by tug boats.  Noah Ship Management, the technical managers of the drilling ship, said the quayside moorings failed in high winds.  A HM Coastguard spokeswoman said the Valaris DS4 is now temporarily anchored off Hunterston and power has been restored to the vessel.  She added: "The Maritime and Coastguard Agency through its counter-pollution officers and HM Coastguard continue to monitor a drill ship which broke loose from its mooring at Hunterston Terminal in Ayrshire.  The engines have now been restored and the ship's technical managers are working with the port authority to return the ship to a place of safety. A moored vessel at the terminal has also required assistance in the worsening weather and is currently being helped to hold its position by four tugs." There were no reports of any injuries or pollution as a result of the incident.  The vessel, which has a displacement of 96,000 tonnes, is used for deep water drilling operations.

Funding Pledge to Help Seafood Industry Cope with Covid and Brexit
Money for the seafood and fishing industry has been allocated to help the sector deal with the impact of coronavirus and Brexit.  A £7.75m Scottish government funding package will offer support to fishermen, businesses and harbours.  The seafood industry's exports accounted for 57% of Scotland's overall food exports in 2019 - worth £1.02bn. The UK Westminster government said it is working to address any practical issues facing the seafood sector.  But Scottish Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said it has failed to provide clarity on resilience funding.  He added: "We are stepping in to support the industry and coastal communities across Scotland and ensure we meet the emergency needs of crews by providing welfare support through the Fishermen's Mission  Both shellfish and trout businesses who have faced losses due to Covid-19 hospitality closures across Europe are now losing products or facing additional costs due to border disruption and new non-tariff barriers." The package includes £6.45m for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund to provide support to eligible shellfish catchers and producers, in addition to trout farmers who have faced issues exporting to the EU.  A further £1m is available to support the investment plans of ports and harbours faced with a loss of income through landing fees.  The Fishermen's Mission has also been awarded £300,000 for welfare and emergency support activities to help workers in hardship.  Mr Ewing added: "The fund for shellfish and trout businesses will help the sector survive the ongoing loss of domestic sales due to Covid-19 and the current immediate challenges of Brexit, giving them some breathing space and allowing businesses to make the changes they need to adapt to the new, tougher, trading realities."

Covid in Scotland: Network Issues A Challenge to Remote Learning

Pupils in some rural parts of the Highlands face challenges to learning at home due to poor or "non-existent" broadband or mobile phone coverage.  A Highland Council report said affected areas included Foyers and Dores, parts of Caithness, Black Isle and Skye and Ardnamurchan and Knoydart peninsulas.  Children on Canna, Eigg, Rum and Muck also face similar challenges.  The report said local schools were making sure pupils had access to learning resources.  It said some families were also paying for satellite contracts to overcome connection issues.  Most pupils in the Highlands, like the rest of Scotland, are being taught at home - through remote learning - due to the Covid pandemic.  The report to a meeting of Highland Council's education committee next week said online learning was not possible in some places because network coverage was non-existent.  It said "significant investment" was needed to provide reliable and secure services. But the report has also highlighted how large numbers of pupils in the region were able to benefit from remote learning because Highland Council had invested in school technology over the past five years, including thousands of Chromebook personal computers. The local authority has also secured a Scottish government grant to buy more Chromebooks.

Concern Over Shetland 'Parking Lot' for Floating Oil Storage
Concern has been expressed about the potential risk posed by tankers using Shetland's coastline as a "parking lot" for floating oil storage. The Hovden Spirit - carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of Brent crude - is the latest vessel to hug the coast while awaiting a destination. The tankers are not breaking any national or international rules.  However, Shetland's former marine operations director said they should not be spending weeks so close to land.  Captain George Sutherland described it as a "parking lot for floating storage" for tankers waiting for the oil market to change.  "With low oil prices, tankers are coming to anchor laden with cargo," he said. "They're anchoring on a fairly exposed coastline, near areas of environmental sensitivity, and there are people very concerned about that."  He said tankers can take shelter during poor weather, but they should not remain for extended periods.  Mr Sutherland was instrumental in drawing up Shetland's strict environmental protections in the 1980s.  In January 1993, the Braer oil tanker was caught in hurricane-force winds, spilling more than 80,000 tonnes of crude oil. It hit rocks just west of Sumburgh Head.  The captain and crew were airlifted to safety by helicopter after the engines failed and it became clear disaster was imminent.  The weather limited the extent of the damage by sweeping much of the oil out to sea, but hundreds of birds died.  Shetland's environmental rules were further strengthened after the Braer disaster. Mr Sutherland said: "Voyage instructions for tankers approaching and leaving Sullom [Voe] contained the instruction to remain clear of the coast of Shetland for up to 20 miles. I'm sure that's still the case right now."  However, for more than a year tankers have not been complying with this. Shetland Islands Council said: "This is a complex area involving maritime law and historical agreements. It will take some time to explore the possible options available." The council, which is responsible for the coastline and ports, had previously said the instruction was "under review" and not enforceable.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was "not involved in the conditions of a purported local agreement or contract" and did not have the powers to enforce any such rule. The MCA stressed that the Hovden Spirit was not breaking any national or international rules by lying off the coast fully laden, and said it was monitoring the vessel's progress.  This stance has provoked an angry response among some Shetlanders. Former councillor Dr Jonathan Wills - a reporter during Shetland's oil boom - wrote a book detailing the historic agreements, and insists a 20-mile rule should apply.  "Why are they suddenly talking about reviewing this agreement which has lasted for three decades?" he said.  It's unwise and it ought to be stopped and we ought to go back to the system we had for decades, which kept us safe after the Braer."  Councillors have received calls and emails from constituents about the tankers sitting on the horizon.  Hovden Spirit owner, Teekay, said the vessel was using a designated safe anchorage south of Lerwick, with full permission from port control and the Coastguard.  Teekay also said that access to a mobile phone signal was not a factor.

‘Globally Significant’ Asthma Study Started in Tayside Shows Success in Controlling Disease

Groundbreaking research into asthma treatment, started in Tayside, has proven to be successful following the biggest study of its kind.  Trials which began in Dundee and Perth almost two decades ago have been studied in Europe and found to be “globally significant”. The research found tailoring treatment in teen patients, according to their genetics, can significantly improve controlling asthma symptoms.  More than one million children in the UK suffer from asthma and for many traditional treatments such as inhalers are not effective. The landmark Paediatric Asthma Controller Trial (PACT) by University of Dundee and the Brighton and Sussex Medical School has shown “genetically guided therapy” showed better results than commonly used asthma drugs.  Professor Somnath Mukhopadhyay began trialling tailored treatments with NHS Tayside, Dundee University and around 650 local children in 2003, when he became frustrated because standard treatments, such as the most commonly-prescribed inhaler, did not help many of his young patients.  One of his patients, Ewan MacKintosh, now 25, took part in the trial as a young teen.  He said when he was given montelukast, a drug which helps stop airways from narrowing, his symptoms “virtually disappeared overnight”.  Professor Mukhopadhyay, now chairman in paediatrics at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and chief investigator for the trial, said: “I hope that the results of this trial will have globally significant implications on the treatment of asthma in young people, with this particular genetic susceptibility to poor medicine response in severe asthma.”  PACT is the first randomised controlled trial of its kind.  It showed genetically susceptible patients were given montelukast, rather than the commonly used asthma drug, salmeterol, along with an inhaled steroid, which is the currently recommended treatment. Montelukast was more effective in reducing severe symptoms in 241 participants aged 12 to 18, compared with the traditional combination.  Professor Brian Lipworth, head of the Scottish Centre for respiratory research at Dundee University, said the trial’s success means they will now consider using the same method to treat other patients. This is first ever randomised controlled trial in younger people looking at tailoring therapy according to the patients’ genetic make-up, making this a potential game changer for young patients with asthma to improve outcomes,” he said.

Kilmarnock Hospital Locked Down for Three Hours After 'Serious Incidents'

A hospital was placed in lockdown as police dealt with three "serious" incidents.  Ambulances were diverted during the three-hour lockdown of University Hospital Crosshouse in Kilmarnock, which was lifted shortly before 23:00. Police were called to the first incident at the East Ayrshire hospital at about 19:45.  They believe another in the centre of Kilmarnock about 20 minutes later and a serious crash on the A76 may be linked. The incidents are not being treated as terror-related.  In a statement on Twitter Police Scotland said there was no cause for concern for the wider community.  It added that inquiries were at an early stage and that the areas involved have been cordoned off.  The second incident was on Portland Street, which is about two miles from the hospital, at about 20:05.  Police have not confirmed the nature of these incidents.  Officers were called to the crash on the A76, on the outskirts of the town, at about 20:30.  Local residents reported hearing sirens and a helicopter overhead shortly before 20:30.  It was confirmed just before 23:00 that the hospital lockdown measures had been lifted.  Dr Crawford McGuffie, the medical director of NHS Ayrshire and Arran, said police had confirmed the risk to patients, staff and visitors to the hospital was minimal.  He added: "There remains a large police presence on the grounds of the hospital.  We would like to reassure anyone coming to the hospital, in particular to any patients or staff coming on shift, that Police Scotland have confirmed it is safe to do so. However, if you are worried, please speak to the onsite Police Scotland officers."

Covid in Scotland: Public Gives Verdict on Lockdown Policing
Police Scotland was given emergency powers in March last year to ensure the safety of the public during lockdown.  Now 33,000 people have reviewed the force's performance during the pandemic.  Deputy Chief Constable Will Kerr has told BBC Scotland the force "didn't seek" the extra powers and knew it had to had to tread carefully. He said that at the start of the first lockdown police knew people would be frightened and that the unprecedented rules could have been perceived as draconian. He said: "We knew very quickly we would have to focus on two things - we knew the public would be scared. This was totally unprecedented. They would be anxious, they would need reassured.  So we tried to get as many police officers as possible out on to the streets as we possibly could to provide visibility and reassurance.  We emptied a lot of back offices to put hundreds of extra officers out there in communities across Scotland.  We police by public consent and the public would expect us to enforce with a bit of common sense and practicality. Even when it was unprecedented - these were powers we hadn't sought." He said the key was not setting tight policy parameters for front-line officers and using the "four Es": Engage, explain, encourage and enforcement. Since the new police powers were introduced, the force has been asking the public if they were getting it right. So far more than 33,500 people have responded and while they were reassured by the results they are not complacent.  More than half (58%) said they had confidence in policing in Scotland. And 85% said they felt safe in their local area.  Mr Kerr said that it has been a case of "trying to get the balance right".  He said: "We have been the front-facing interface with communities and we have watched that change over the months. When the rates are high the public want to see us doing more robust enforcement, when they are slightly lower people are more happy generally with the police response."  Crime has changed over the pandemic and while public space offences and retail crimes have dropped, officers are concerned about a rise in hidden crimes - like domestic violence and cyber crime.  Over the past 10 months, the force has been concerned about hidden harms within people's homes - the risk of potential digital harms - around child abuse and exploitation online and also financial fraud.  Mr Kerr said: "We are absolutely trying to make every effort we can to make people understand they are not alone even when they are in their own homes. It is inevitable that the longer people have to spend time in contained spaces the more there is a risk that vulnerable people can be exploited and abused and we can see rises in the types of crime that worry us. Our response is to make sure they know that help is there."  The police chief praised officers for going out to work at a time when other people have been asked to stay in their homes.  He said: "We are still asking police officers to go out in public in the same way others aren't. I think they have been absolutely remarkable. We are deeply proud of how they have stood up over the last 10 months." Human Rights lawyer John Scott QC, who was commissioned by Chief Constable Iain Livingstone to review Police Scotland's use of the emergency powers, believes the force has struck the right balance. He said: "Our conclusion is that Police Scotland have been using the powers where it has been proportionate and necessary on the far greater number of occasions. There were maybe some teething issues in the early stages but these were extraordinary new powers brought in without an awful lot of scrutiny and without much time for training and dissemination and in the early stages of the first lockdown both the police and the public made mistakes. These were good faith mistakes and these were all resolved."

Boiler House Demolished At Longannet in Fife in Controlled Explosion

The boiler house at the closed Longannet Power Station in Fife has been demolished in a controlled explosion.  Charges were used to bring down the building at the site of Scotland's last coal-fired power station.  The boiler house is the last major structure to be brought down ahead of the demolition of the chimney, expected later this year.  Longannet first began generating back in 1970. Keith Anderson, CEO of Scottish Power said: "In 2016 we made the decision to close Longannet after over 40 years of generation. "This step marked our commitment, and that of our parent company Iberdrola, to decarbonise the economy.  The fight against climate change has never been more important."  At full production, Longannet could produce enough electricity to power two million homes on average each year.  At 2.4GW, the site was Europe's largest coal-fired power station when first built and remained Scotland's largest coal-fired power station until its closure.

Snow Impact on Vaccinations 'Concerning'
Nicola Sturgeon has admitted to concerns about the impact of poor weather conditions on the Covid vaccination programme.  However she said plans were in place to help protect the rollout of the jab during the wintry weather.  The Met Office has issued an amber warning for "heavy and persistent" snow for much of the north of Scotland.  The Highlands, Aberdeenshire, Tayside and Perthshire are expected to be the worst affected.  During the Scottish government's coronavirus briefing, the first minister said: "Obviously we want people to get to vaccination centres.  Clearly it (the weather warning) is concerning me and it made my heart sink a little bit, but as part of resilience planning there is gritting and snow clearing where necessary to keep the vaccine programme running as smoothly as possible." Both NHS Grampian and Highland said people who were unable to attend vaccination centres due to adverse weather could rearrange their appointments.  The Met Office said high ground could see an additional 50cm (19in) of snow.  An amber alert means risk of travel disruption, power cuts and potential risk to life. It said some high ground exposed to strong easterly winds could see blizzards and as much as half a metre of snow building up by late Saturday evening. Less severe yellow warnings for snow and ice have been issued for much of the rest of Scotland for the weekend and Monday. These warnings extended from Orkney to the Scottish Borders.  Deep drifting snow has already caused some travel disruption with the Highland Main Line blocked in the Cairngorms. Network Rail Scotland said the line had been closed at Dalwhinnie and would be reopened as soon as possible using a snow plough, but warned of disruption to services.  Engineers have also been digging snow clear from railway points, installations which help guide trains from one line to another, including at Tomatin south of Inverness.

Eyemouth Wind Farm Maintenance Base Deal A 'Game-changer'

A lease deal has been agreed to allow a development described as a "game-changer" for a Borders town to proceed.  It will see an offshore turbine maintenance base built in Eyemouth for the Neart na Gaoithe (NnG) scheme off the Fife coast.  A 25-year lease of the site has been signed by developers and the Eyemouth Harbour Trust (EHT).  It will allow construction of the base - which promises to create 50 jobs - to begin next month. Scottish Borders Council approved the proposals last year.  The building will house the office, warehouse and staff welfare facilities required to support the servicing of NnG - which is currently under construction - once the wind farm is fully operational in 2023.  It has been estimated that the 54-turbine scheme - acquired by EDF Renewables UK in 2018 - can meet the energy needs of about 375,000 homes.  Work is already under way, with offshore construction beginning last year.  Matthias Haag, NnG project director, said the latest deal was "a truly green light for our new home in Eyemouth".  He said it would allow construction work to begin on the operations and maintenance base.

Crofting Federation Welcome the Funding Pot Announced by the Scottish Government

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has welcomed the commitment by Scottish Government of over £613 million in agricultural support to deliver activities to help meet climate change targets.  “Crofters have long been working in a sustainable way to produce food and environmental benefits,” said Donald MacKinnon, chair of the SCF. “It is no coincidence that most of the High Nature Value areas of Scotland correspond with the crofting areas. We recognise that there is plenty more that we can be doing and welcome the commitment by Scottish Government to keep up, and indeed increase in some areas, the budget for activity related to our land, ecosystems and food production.  “Crofters manage a lot of our peatlands, the prime ecosystem for carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Careful grazing increases biodiversity. Crofters also plant a lot of trees and manage woodlands, as well as grazing livestock - indeed the two go well together and should be encouraged where appropriate.” Mr MacKinnon continued: “Many crofters also provide tourist accommodation and local food for tourist outlets and this has been adversely impacted by Covid 19. Crofters often fall outside of support to tourist providers and this needs to be addressed. It is also essential that local authorities use the increase in tourism support to put in place the services, infrastructure and education to ensure that tourists get the best experience.  All in all, this is a very positive budget which aims to help crofters and farmers to deliver for Scotland. We all need food and Scotland can produce much of its own food without damaging the environment – this is our aim.”

'Treasure Chest' of Old Photographic Slides Saved From Shetland Dump

A man who was just in the "right place at the right time" saved hundreds of old photographic slides of Shetland from being dumped and lost forever. Paul Moar was working at a waste management facility in Lerwick when a customer asked how best to dispose of two bags full of unwanted slides.  He said they were pictures of his "world travels" and of Shetland, but Mr Moar asked if he could take a look.  He has now digitised many of the saved Shetland shots dating back 50 years. Mr Moar managed to identify the man in question as 77-year-old Nick Dymond, who agreed he could share them, and donate them to a museum. They have already generated huge interest on social media.  "When Covid settles down I will donate them. The reaction has been amazing, and lots of information is coming in as people recognise old faces."  Mr Moar said among the thousands of other slides there appeared to be places including India and Africa.  He added: "It's amazing to think that 99% of the time people just throw stuff in and go. Mercifully he asked how to dispose of this mountain of slides. I was in the right place at the right time."

Daily Vaccine Numbers Doubled in A Week

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said Scotland's vaccination programme was "on track" to meet its targets as he revealed the daily number of jabs had risen to 48,165 on Friday. That number was twice as many as was recorded a week ago. Mr Swinney also said the positivity rate of tests carried out remained under 5% for a second day. This is the rate the World Health Organisation (WHO) defines as being an outbreak under control.  Mr Swinney led the daily coronavirus briefing on "deadline day" for the vaccine to be completed for care home residents, healthcare workers and all over-80s. Hospital numbers had also improved, Mr Swinney said. There are 1,794 people in hospital, a decrease of 18, with 123 people in intensive care - down four from yesterday. However, 61 more deaths have been registered in the past 24 hours of people who tested positive in the last 28 days. That brings the total number of deaths by that measure to 6,383. A further 895 people have tested positive for Covid-19, which takes the total number of positive cases in Scotland to 184,313. And by 08:30 this morning, 742,512 people had received their first dose of vaccine, including: National clinical director Jason Leitch said vaccination of the over-80s would be completed "as far as absolutely possible by the end of today" and praised the high numbers of people accepting the invitation to have the jab.

Indyref2 Case Dismissed As 'Hypothetical' by Court
A case brought by a political campaigner on whether Holyrood could unilaterally hold an independence referendum has been dismissed. Martin Keatings brought the case before the Court of Session on behalf of the Forward As One group. Mr Keatings wanted the court to declare that the Scottish Parliament had the power to legislate for another vote. But lawyers acting for the UK Westminster government argued that he didn't have the "standing" to bring the matter to court. They told Lady Carmichael that Mr Keatings wasn't a member of the Scottish Parliament and wasn't "directly affected" by the policy or to the answer to the question.  In a judgement issued by the court on Friday, Lady Carmichael agreed with the submissions made by the UK Westminster government with regard to Mr Keating's standing. However, Lady Carmichael did not make a ruling on the competency of the action. She said the action was "hypothetical, academic, and premature, and the pursuer lacks standing to bring it".

Five Arrests and 30 Fines Handed Out in North-east in Just Seven Days

Five people have been arrested in Aberdeen for breaching Covid rules in the past week, according to police. The latest figures released by Police Scotland, which cover January 28 to February 4, reveal five people in Aberdeen City North were arrested on January 28. The data also shows 30 fixed penalty notices (FPN) were handed out in the north-east last week, including 11 last Sunday in the south of Aberdeenshire.

Fishing Crew Rescued in Treacherous Conditions Off Peterhead
Rescuers braved treacherous conditions to save the crew of a fishing boat "dangerously close" to hitting rocks off the north-east of Scotland.  The vessel was being towed by another fishing boat into Peterhead harbour but the tow broke several times in the stormy weather. The alarm was raised at 16:30 on Friday and Peterhead RNLI lifeboat was on the scene in minutes. Coxswain Patrick Davidson said they narrowly avoided a tragedy.  "If we had arrived seconds later the boat would have hit the rocks and it would have been a different outcome," he said.

Australian Scottish News

Coisir Ghaidhlig Astrailianach (Australian Gaelic Singers) have just started back to rehearsals unfortunately they can only rehearse by Zoom due to Covid restrictions.  This virtual rehearsal obviously is not as successful as an actual physical rehearsal but it is still invaluable for individuals learning and practising their songs and we have shown the benefit of being together - even if we are only connected by an unstable internet.  In the event that some of you might not know who we are the following is a brief Bio. Còisir Ghàidhlig Astràilianach founded in 1982 as an SATB choir bringing the sound of Scotland's Highlands and Islands to concerts, and all manner of Scottish events. We have been in the forefront of promoting Gaelic culture and music in Australia and competed at an International level in Scotland.  As others have discovered, you don’t have to understand the language to appreciate the underlying beauty of the music and the message - sometimes romantic, or joyful and foot-tapping, sometimes full of pathos and yearning for a land left behind, and nearly always very haunting.   It speaks of a time past, but not forgotten, and we continue to do our utmost to keep the memories alive.  The choir is open to all, whatever your background.  The only pre-requisites are a willingness to learn and lots of enthusiasm. A knowledge of Gaelic and/or music is not essential.  For information visit our website on www.gaelicsingers.com , or contact us on (02)9638-2625.

From the SAHC - Events and Around the Clans

Cancelled/Postponed Events: Further to the information provided previously, we are advised that the following events have been cancelled in 2021:
* Maryborough Highland Gathering, Maryborough, Victoria (1 January)
* National Multicultural Festival, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory(February, date TBA)
* Richmond Highland Gathering, Tasmania (21 February)
* Scots Day Out, Bendigo, Victoria (March)
* Geelong Highland Gathering, Geelong, Victoria (21 March)
* Australasian Pipe Band Championships, Maryborough, Victoria (April)
Scottish/Celtic Events planned for 2021
We are delighted to learn that events are being planned for 2021. We do not have confirmation from all of the following events in 2021 yet:
6 March: Liverpool Plains Military Tattoo, Quirindi, New South Wales
28 March: Ringwood Highland Games, Victoria
2-3 April (Easter): Maclean Highland Gathering, New South Wales
# 17 April: Bundanoon Highland Gathering, New South Wales
29 April-2 May: Australian Celtic Festival (Ireland & Isle of Man), Glen Innes, NSW

BRIGADOON HIGHLAND GATHERING
The following is a statement from the Brigadoon Executive from a meeting held on Thursday 14 January 2021.  Brigadoon this year (17 April 2021) is restricted to 3,000 persons in total. This number includes paying patrons AND all those needed to put on the event - Committee, Performers & Volunteers etc. Of course, this number is likely to change as COVID-19 twists and turns its way through the community. With this in mind the Executive have decided to continue the planning at this stage with a final decision to be made on March 4th.
BRIGADOON WILL BE A TICKETED EVENT. ONLINE PURCHASES ONLY
Tickets to the general public will go on sale in early February advance notice will be published on our website and social media. Planning and preparation for Brigadoon is well in hand, check out our website https://brigadoon.org.au/ for all information or log onto our Facebook page for daily updates: https://www.facebook.com/Brigadoon1978  Our Chieftain for the Day is Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston AK, AFC (Ret’d) who will be accompanied by his wife Liz. We have 23 Pipe Bands, the Kilted Warriors (The Tartan Warriors have a name change), Scottish Country and Highland Dancing, the Fiddlers Tent, Southern Highlands Dogs and of course the Children’s games. Not  forgetting  the Stalls and Clans all ready to go. Brigadoon Grand Raffle First there was the bushfires, then the floods and rain now COVID-19 which led to the cancellation of our 2020 Gathering. Because of this drastic chain of events we were unable to make any financial donations to our volunteer groups. In an attempt to rectify this, Brigadoon will be holding a Grand Raffle for our 2021 gathering be held on Saturday 17th April 2021. (https://brigadoon.org.au/brigadoon-grand-raffle/) IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT THAT BRIGADOON IS CANCELLED THE RAFFLE DRAW WILL STILL TAKE PLACE ON 17 APRIL. The Raffle is going along nicely although sales are slow they are promising.