Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 596

Issue # 596                                           Week ending Saturday 20th   March  2021

Which Scientists Said Forgetfulness is A Sign That Brains Are Getting Rid of Junk? I Forget
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

How could we forget? On Tuesday it will be a year since Boris Johnson finally got his act together and announced that people should, if possible, work from home and that many businesses would have to shut. I remember it well. We heard it on the radio down at Cannery Road in Stornoway and a local taxi driver I was chatting to loudly exclaimed: “About time Boris did something. Anyway, it’s probably too late now.”

Not what I expected from a self-employed guy. He understood droplets though, even back then. Not everyone did then and not everyone has now. Which is why we are where we are, and any other pointless clichés you can think of to describe the mindlessness of some of our fellow citizens. Did you see ... och, there’s no point in talking about it. I am guilty of the occasional bout of mindlessness myself.

Take last week, for example. That was the week I forgot Mrs X’s birthday. Now I’m being made to suffer. She’s not going to iron my pants any more because, she says, ironing contributes to global warming. Please, Mrs - oh, and my pyjamas while you’re at it. Or would that contribute to bed warming? There is something else which I forgot to do. I completely forgot to go to the gym yesterday. That’s - oh, let me think - that’s 17 years in a row.

And more than 17 million people in a row have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca in the EU and the UK. Now the bad news. Some people do get blood clots after it. Some also get various nasty diseases and restless leg syndrome. Trawling through very high-level studies, as I have done because sometimes I become a part-time geek, it is clear these conditions would happen anyway and aren’t linked to the vaccine.

Scientists are in no doubt there is more risk in not having the vaccine - particularly now. You cannot blame governments for cautiousness but they should trust the science. If we had followed other dodgy suggestions, we would all be worse off. One prominent guy suggested we could be injected with disinfectant. Where’s he now? Maybe he did that to himself?

Everyone forgets things sometimes. Even First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has had recent problems with recall. However, Mary D, can’t forget being a hippy. I wish she would forget all that hippy-speak. Yeah man, cool man. When something is great, Mary D says it’s groovy and when it’s bad, it’s a downer or, even worse, a bummer. If I tell her to speak properly, she tells me to be mellow. Me? Me-ee?

Hippies are paranoid. In the 1960s, they used Big Brother Is Watching You from George Orwell’s 1984 as justification for their dropped-out and bohemian lifestyle. Who knows what some of them were taking - well, mainly lentils and brown rice in Mary D’s case. She went shopping with her sister the other day. Mary was no sooner in the door than she grabbed her sister’s hand and said: “Hey man, we have to go.” She said she’d had a signal to leave from Big Brother in the vegetable aisle. Her weary sister asked Mary to show her.

Mary D pointed to a hand-written sign and said: “See? It says “Man get out”.” Her sister sighed: “No, it doesn’t say that. It’s a type of pea. It’s called mangetout.”

Men always get in trouble for not remembering things. Murdo and his wife are a kindly couple who live on the west of Lewis. One night recently they were awakened at 3am by someone banging their door. Murdo got up, opened the door and a wobbly fellow was standing there in the rain. The man says: “Haoi cove, any chansh of a push?” Murdo slammed the door and stomped back to bed, telling his wife it was just a drunk whose car wouldn’t start. He shouldn’t be driving in that state anyway.

His wife was appalled. “You’ve a very short memory, Murdo Mackay. Don’t you remember when we broke down in Leurbost? Those two nice Lochies helped us. Shame on you. God loves drunks too.” Feeling guilty, Murdo got dressed again and trudged back out into the pouring rain. He shouted: “Are you still there?” “Yes, a’ bhalaich,” he heard the man say. “Do you still need a push?” asked Murdo. “Yesh I do,” came the voice out of the darkness. “Where are you?” asked Murdo. The reply came: “Over here. On the swing.”

St Andrews University Welcomes Law Change Which Will See it Confer Medical and Dental Degrees

Medicine and dentistry degrees can now be awarded by St Andrews University after a law change.  Scotland’s oldest university has been banned from being able to award full medical degrees since,1966 following a century-long battle to create a separate university in Dundee. St Andrews instead awards medics a degree in medical science, before sending them to training centres to study the clinical part of their course.  It is the only ancient university in the country not to award medical and dental degrees.  Now, the law has been changed to remove the prohibition, allowing St Andrews to confer the degrees for the first time in decades.  The Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the University of St Andrews (Degrees in Medicine and Dentistry) Bill, which brings St Andrews in line with the other medical schools in Scotland, and allows the university to award the ScotGEM Primary Medical Qualification jointly with the University of Dundee.  St Andrews Principal Professor Sally Mapstone said: “We are grateful to members of the Scottish Parliament from across the political spectrum who have supported this important piece of legislation, which will now allow us to operate on an equal basis with other universities in relation to any current or future developments or commissions for a new medical or dentistry degree provider.    The legal prohibition was anomalous and so it was appropriate to remove it. I know our ScotGEM students, who enrolled to their programme of study with the clear expectation that their degree would be jointly awarded by the University of St Andrews and the University of Dundee, will be delighted at this decision. It strengthens medical education in Scotland, and through continued close working with our partners will support the national effort to improve health outcomes across the country.”  The ScotGEM programme run jointly with the University of Dundee is designed to develop doctors interested in a career as a generalist practitioner within NHS Scotland. The programme capitalises on the existing strengths of medical teaching in the Universities of St Andrews and Dundee in collaboration with NHS Fife, NHS Tayside, NHS Highland, NHS Dumfries and Galloway, and the University of the Highlands and Islands.  Students are currently placed in 72 GP practices across Scotland, including Orkney, Thurso, Tiree, Campbeltown and Newton Stewart, and had themselves appealed to the Scottish Parliament to remove the prohibition which prevented St Andrews awarding degrees in medicine.  During its passage through the Scottish Parliament the Bill attracted wide support from across the chamber.  North East Fife MSP Willie Rennie said: “With such a long and prestigious heritage, it is only right that the University of St Andrews should be able to move forward. I argue that it should be able to operate on an equal basis with other universities in relation to any current or future developments, or commissions, for a new medicine or dentistry degree provider. This change would support the development of the medical workforce in Scotland and give students a choice of universities.”

Beinn Eighe Air Crash Victims Remembered on 70th Anniversary
A fatal military aircraft crash 70 years ago is to be remembered this weekend. A Lancaster bomber, which had been converted for maritime patrol duties, crashed on Beinn Eighe in March 1951. All eight crewmen, who were stationed at an RAF base at Kinloss in Moray, died.  Members of an RAF mountain rescue team usually climb to the crash site in Torridon to pay their respects, but will not do so due to Covid rules. RAF Lossiemouth MRT can only deploy for operational reasons, meaning they cannot travel to Wester Ross and climb Beinn Eighe to mark this weekend's anniversary.  The team will instead remember the fatal crash during a training exercise at its base in Lossiemouth, which is just along the Moray coast from Kinloss.  Deputy team leader Sgt Ali Beer said: "It's a shame we can't climb the gully this year. It is an important part of RAF Mountain Rescue history and our training. However, we understand the importance of adhering to restrictions."  He added: "The crash site still contains large amounts of wreckage and forms a very atmospheric winter climb known as Fuselage Gully. On the climb, the mountaineers navigate through parts of the wreck. Further wreckage can be found at the foot of the mountain, where a plaque to the crew was laid by the team." The Lancaster crashed near the top of Beinn Eighe, a mountain with two Munros - one 1,010m (3,313ft) high and the other 993m (3,257ft).  The alarm is said to have been raised by a boy who saw a flash in the sky.  It took RAF rescuers, who were assisted by a Royal Marine mountain leader, three days to find the wreckage.  Difficulties in recovering all the bodies over several months led to the formation of RAF Mountain Rescue.  Most of the wrecked Lancaster was understood to have been destroyed in a later controlled explosion, but sections of wing and its Rolls Royce Merlin engines remain.

Viking Invasion At John O'groats
Volunteers at John O'Groats have been busy putting the finishing touches to a new Viking-themed cutout photo board and outdoor play areas for children. Money towards these latest projects was received from the Stroupster Wind Farm Community Benefit Fund and the John O'Groats Development Fund which is generated from parking fees at the popular local tourist destination.  Commenting on the new eye-catching Viking face in the hole board, Andrew Mowat, treasurer of the John O'Groats Development Trust, said: "It gives another photo opportunity – we are trying to create a bit more excitement. It will help make memories – visitors can take pictures and put them on Facebook or Instagram." The brightly painted prop features four fun characters each with cutouts for faces so that families can have a snapshot taken together during their visit to the village. It is situated on the gable end of the tourist information building facing up towards the craft shops. The board was designed by Kenny McArthur of North Design, based in Thurso, while Willie Miller of Job Joiners helped put the attraction in place as well as assisting with the work on the outdoor children's equipment.  The red Viking female figure is proudly holding a copy of the John O'Groat Journal, while the burly male character is Viking pirate Sweyn of Bucholie who is savouring a pint from the local brewery.  One of the young fun characters at the front has Game of Cones emblazoned on his tunic clutching an ice cream in his hand, like the ones available from Flavours situated in the shopping outlet. The final figure in green holds a bow and arrow and has "we've made it" written on her outfit.  Sweyns Galley and Duncansby Stacks can be seen in the background, along with some wildlife associated with the area – seals, orcas and a puffin.  Mr Mowat explained that the Viking galley, named after the pirate, relates to a little wooden boat that brothers Ivor and David Thomas, of John O'Groats Ferries, used to do tours with when they were younger. Ivor is one of the skippers with the local ferry company which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.  The new safety-matted play areas provide different activities for children to have fun on, including a sturdy swing, climbing obstacles, a balance beam and a slide. "It gives kids, whether up visiting or locals, something to play on safely and tidies up the area – it is looking a lot better," said Mr Mowat.

Scottish Farmers Enjoy Strong Trade for Prime Sheep
Farmers and crofters are enjoying strong trade for sheep with prices for prime stock trading 20% higher than this time last year.  According to red meat levy body Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), farmgate prices for prime sheep, since the start of 2021, have been some of the highest on record.  The average price for old season lambs sold at Aberdeen and Northern Marts’ (ANM) Thainstone Centre, near Inverurie, on Thursday was 281.3p per kg. The sale topped at 350p per kg and the sale average compares to 242.8p per kg at the equivalent sale on March 12, 2020. ANM said: “Prime hoggs maintained recent extreme rates resulting in a SQQ average of 285.5p and an overall of 281p or £125.13 per head.” It was a similar picture at Dingwall and Highland Marts on Tuesday when old season lambs averaged 290.2p and topped at 302.3p per kg – this is up from an average of 236.9p per kg at the equivalent sale in 2020.  The average price paid for prime hoggs at United Auctions in Stirling on Thursday was 283.51p per kg – up from 236.57p per kg at the same sale in 2020 – while prime hoggs sold at Lawrie & Symington’s Forfar Mart on Wednesday topped at 340p and averaged 274p per kg, which is up from 236.2p the year before.  QMS director of economics services, Stuart Ashworth, said a combination of factors was responsible for the increased prices. “Certainly, in the UK, slaughter data and auction market throughputs indicate a shortage of domestic supply,” said Mr Ashworth.  “January prime sheep slaughter volume in the UK was reported by Defra to have been down 18% and auction market throughputs since then continue to be lower than last year.”  He said Covid-19 disruptions at abattoirs could be responsible, in part, for the reduced throughputs, however it is more likely they are a result of a smaller lamb crop in 2020 resulting in less hoggs being carried over to 2021. In addition, farmers may be holding back stock to market them during upcoming holiday periods when demand for lamb is strong.  “With Easter fast approaching and Ramadan beginning shortly after, these two periods of historically firm consumer demand will continue to underpin prices in the short-term,” added Mr Ashworth.

Edinburgh Man Walks Every Capital Street to Raise Thousands for Mental Health Charity

Gary Wicksted has pounded the pavements of every one of the Capital’s 4841 roads, streets and paths for the last year as he raised cash for the Anna Burnett Trust.  The 39-year-old took on the street trek in a bid to keep fit last March and finally completed the challenge by walking along the city’s George Street on Saturday afternoon.  Gary, a research science manager with a pharma company, believes the feat has taken up 1000 hours of his time and he has walked around 2000 miles.  The challenge has also raised more than £2500 for the charity which aims to advance art and design opportunities for young people while supporting their mental health.  Gary, from East Craigs, said: “I first started to complete my local area for my daily exercise when lockdown started and as it progressed I moved into other nearby areas. As lockdown continued for longer than expected the challenge just carried on. Once I got halfway I decided to do it for charity.  The Anna Burnett Trust is incredibly close to me - Anna was an incredible influence in my life and a close friend. Her family have always been there for me and I’m very grateful to have completed the challenge for Anna and the charity.” Gary said he has been walking five days a week to tick the last few hundred streets off.  He added: “A huge thank you to everyone who has donated so far. I’m incredibly humbled by all the support.”

Foreign Office to Move 500 Jobs to East Kilbride

More than 1,000 civil service jobs will be relocated to Scotland in the coming years, the UK Westminster government has said.  As well as 500 previously-announced Cabinet Office roles in Glasgow, 500 Foreign Office jobs will move to the department's existing base in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire.  The additional roles will bring the Foreign Office's staff in East Kilbride to 1,500 by 2025.  It comes amid efforts by UK ministers to bolster support for the union.  Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the relocated jobs will ensure the civil service "represents all parts of the UK".  Mr Raab said: "There can be no clearer demonstration of commitment to our joint HQ in East Kilbride than today's announcement.  Staff at Abercrombie House are at the forefront of delivering the UK's diplomatic clout, as we prepare to host the G7 and COP26, while supporting the delivery of our £10bn aid budget to continue helping the world's poorest people."  The East Kilbride building was previously home to the Department for International Development before it was merged into the Foreign Office.  Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the move will "co-locate the engine room of the UK government in Scotland".  Mr Gove said it would ensure "closer collaboration between Scotland's two governments as we tackle the Covid-19 pandemic together and work to build a sustainable recovery".  He said he hoped it would also bring an end to the "Westminster knows best approach to policymaking" and "ensure Scottish voices shape everything we do".  However, SNP MSP George Adam said the UK Westminster government is only relocating jobs, because they fear an SNP victory at the Holyrood election in May.  He said: "The Tories know that if people vote SNP in May then a fresh referendum is coming - they wouldn't be spending so much time relocating Whitehall staff to Scotland if they didn't.  "In a period of Westminster austerity, the UK Westminster government chose to disproportionately slash jobs north of the border - today's announcement is a drop in the ocean against the backdrop of these widescale cuts." GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said the jobs and investment are welcome, but "won't resolve the many deep rooted problems that exist".

Council Leader Says Cash Will Be Spent on What Borderers Want

Scottish Borders Council’s administration group outlined its spending plans for the year ahead  and pledged to splash out on the region's failing roads network.  The proposed budget will go in front of councillors on Friday, March 19, alongside an optional budget proposed by the opposition.  Shona Haslam, leader of the council, claimed this budget would “help the Borders build back better”.  The council says it has earmarked £1.112m towards improving the roads badly hit by one of the wettest winters in memory during 2021/22, with a further £0.51m being spent the following year. New machinery is planned in order to fix the potholes in a better, more lasting way.  Also mentioned in the budget is £180m investment in the planned new schools, such as new high schools in Peebles, Galashiels and Hawick, over the next six years.  There’s also a further £28m investment in digital transformation to “establish the Borders as a Smart Rural Region”.  The council has pledged to deliver Hawick’s Flodd Prtoection Scheme, work on which is already under way, to the tune of £91m, with a futher £4m being spent on flood pretection work across the region, including a new consultation into the flooding problem faced by villagers in Newcastleton.  £17m is being pledged for the Borders Innovation Park in Tweedbank over the next four years, as well as £23m investment in two new care facilities.  And while the council says it will make savings of over £2m, due to taking a back step in maintenance of parks and open spaces, a social work review and roads review, it will create around 40 new jobs in areas such as the council’s food growing initiative and a sustainability officer to reduce the council’s carbon footprint.  The council also wants to spend up to £6m on replacing some of its older diesel vehicles with hybrid and electric alternatives.  Mrs Haslam said that although she felt that the money the council was receiving from the government was "unfair”, she believed this was the best way to spend it. She said: “The pressures we have felt over the past year due to Covid has been substantial, and we don’t think the money from the Scottish Government will cover all that.

Scotland's First Paramedic Returns to Help Covid Response

Scotland's first trained paramedic has come out of retirement to help with the response to coronavirus.  Bill Mason, 64, is supervising mobile testing units with the Scottish Ambulance Service.  Mr Mason qualified in 1986, after he was selected to represent Scotland as part of a group of 10 paramedics trained in Surrey.   He went on to work and train other paramedics in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee before retiring in 2011.  Mr Mason, who now lives in Kirkcaldy, Fife, said he wanted to do his part during the pandemic. He said: "I volunteered to help and was signed up to work as a supervisor with the mobile testing units.  I have made the commitment to stay until things improve and get back to some kind of normality. It is an important job on the front line. We we all want to help our fellow Scots and contribute to the health and wellbeing of Scotland."  This month marks 50 years since the first six Paramedics in the UK began their work in Brighton, in March 1971.  Before this, ambulances were mainly regarded as transport to hospital and provided limited first aid.  A training programme was extended across the UK in 1979.  Mr Mason recalls that in the 1980s, some in the medical profession were unused to the role of a paramedic.  He said: "It also took a wee while to build the trust of other medical and nursing practitioners facing this new breed of ambulance person. The vast majority were very helpful and encouraging.  It was very rewarding to us to see patients improve more rapidly than before and to know that you have made a major contribution to their lives.  One of the scarier moments was using a manual defibrillator, but it also brought great joy when a person was successfully resuscitated - knowing that it was unlikely they would have been saved without those paramedic skills and 'new' equipment."  Pat O'Meara, general manager of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said Mr Mason brought "invaluable" knowledge to the job.  He said: "His decision to come out of retirement to work as a supervisor for our mobile testing units is testament to his dedication. Several of our retired colleagues have chosen to work on MTUs to support our response to the pandemic.  Their skills and knowledge are invaluable in the fight against Covid-19."

Dundee Waterfront’s Early Grey Building Renamed After City Suffragette Agnes Husband

Scotland’s Dundee-based social security headquarters will be named after city suffragette Agnes Husband.  Born in 1852, Miss Husband was elected in 1901 as one of the first two women on Dundee Council.  In 1905 she was elected to the school board where she championed education and resources for the poor. This included providing books, meals and nursery education to children in high levels of poverty.  Miss Husband became the fifth woman given the Freedom of the City of Dundee in 1924, in recognition of her commitment to the rights of women and the poor.  She was president of the Women’s Freedom League, a UK group that campaigned for votes for women in the early 20th Century. The waterfront building, heavily criticised during its construction, was previously known as the Earl Grey Building or Site Six.  Local historian Mary Henderson, author of Dundee Women’s Trail, advised the new government agency before it settled on the name.  She said: “Miss Husband had an emphasis on respect, for women and for the disadvantaged.  She was quiet but firm, and dedicated so much of her life to helping the poor and oppressed, especially children. Her achievements as a councillor clearly deserve to be honoured and her legacy lives on. I know those who work here will be proud to follow in her footsteps.”  Officials chose Agnes Husband House as the name of the soon-to-open building after nominations from staff and an external panel. Client experience adviser Andy Wood, one of those who suggested the name, said: “In time, more people will become aware of her inspiring story.  They will learn more about her and the important work she did. It also makes me hopeful that people will take pride in our organisation and the work we do in the heart of Agnes Husband’s city.”  There is a plaque at Dundee City Chambers and a portrait in Dundee’s McManus Galleries in Miss Husband’s memory.  Social Security Scotland previously signed a 20-year lease.  Lockdown rules permitting, the first employees will start work from the building from early summer 2021.  Scottish Government social security secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “With dignity, fairness and respect at the core of Social Security Scotland’s work, it is fitting that Agnes Husband’s name will be associated with its home.  As the organisation takes on responsibility for more benefits, people will see that the service is there to support everyone when they need it. This is in keeping with what we know about Agnes and everything she stood for.”

Covid in Scotland: Health Chief 'Wholly Confident' in Astrazeneca Jab

Scotland's chief medical officer has said he is "wholly confident" in the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.  A number of European countries have suspended use of the vaccine amid fears that it may cause blood clots.  However, watchdogs including the World Health Organisation have found no link between the jab and an increased risk of developing a clot. Dr Gregor Smith said he would "categorically state that we remain confident" in the vaccine programme.  And First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged people to continue to come forward for appointments when invited, saying they provide "significant protection" against the virus. The Republic of Ireland has joined countries including the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Denmark and Norway in pausing their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  There have been about 30 cases in Europe of "thromboembolic events" - people developing blood clots - after the vaccine was administered.  However, with almost five million people having been given a first dose of the vaccine across Europe, AstraZeneca said this number of clots was "significantly lower... than would be expected among the general population".  Both the WHO and the European Medicines Agency have said there is no indication that the jab was causing the blood clots. The use of vaccines in the UK is governed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which has backed the continued use of the AstraZeneca jab.  At the Scottish government's daily Covid-19 briefing, Dr Smith said there had been "no causal link between any of these incidents and the AstraZeneca vaccine". He said: "What we can say at this point in time is that looking at the data about blood clots both in Europe and the UK, it is no more common to have an episode of a blood clot than you would see in the general population - in fact it is somewhat less.  Between one and two people in a thousand would suffer a blood clot in any given year. Among the 17 million or so vaccinations given with the AstraZeneca vaccine so far, we have not seen any signal coming through whatsoever to suggest there are any more blood clots than expected in that population.  People in that population are going to continue to become ill anyway - they will have events that they would have had whether they had had the vaccine or not.  What we are looking for in this data, what the MHRA will be looking for, is any signs of those events being over or above what is expected - and they are not seeing that."  Ms Sturgeon said she would be happy to be given the AstraZeneca jab, and urged others to continue to come forward.  The first minister said she was in the age group that should be given a first dose of the vaccine by mid-April, saying she was "hoping to see my blue envelope appear at some point in the next couple of weeks".  She added: "As soon as I get that, I will be there without hesitation, regardless of which of the vaccines I am being offered. And I would urge everybody getting an invitation to be vaccinated to be vaccinated, because it provides you and people you live with significant protection."  Ms Sturgeon said "virtually all" Scots over the age of 65 had now had a first dose of vaccine, as had 53% of 60-64 year olds, 41% of 55-59 year olds and 33% of those aged 50 to 54.  She said the pace of vaccination should "pick up significantly" in the coming days, with supplies expected to be available for 400,000 doses to be administered over the course of the week.  This is projected to continue into next month, with the government "on track" to hit its target of completing all priority groups - including over-50s, unpaid carers and adults with underlying health conditions - by mid-April.  Ms Sturgeon said: "That will be a really significant milestone, if and when we meet that target. It provides all of us with firmer grounds for hope for the months and weeks ahead."  The first minister will set out plans for further easing of lockdown restrictions at Holyrood on Tuesday, with moves to re-open shops and hospitality venues and lift the "stay at home" order expected to be scheduled through April and into May.

Aurora Lights Up the Night Sky Over Scotland
Displays of the Aurora Borealis were visible from parts of Scotland.  Also known as the Northern Lights, the aurora appear as shimmering waves of light when atoms in the Earth's high-altitude atmosphere collide with energetic charged particles from the sun.  BBC Weather Watchers and BBC Scotland News website readers photographed the "lights" from the Highlands and Moray. The displays were also powerful enough to be spotted further south than usual, including from North Berwick in East Lothian.

Scotland's Train Operator Scotrail to Be Nationalised
Scotland's train services are to be run by a public sector body, the Scottish government has announced.  Dutch firm Abellio will stop running the ScotRail franchise at the end of March next year.  After this an "arms-length" Scottish government company will take over the running of services.  Abellio has been running the franchise since 2015 but had its contract ended early amid criticism over cancellations and performance levels.  All ScotRail staff will transfer to the new Scottish government-owned entity.  The arrangement is being made under powers which allow the Scottish government to take over the rail franchise without a bidding process.  Transport Secretary Michael Matheson said he was not able to say how long these "operator of last resort" arrangements would last for.  He said: "I have decided that it would not be appropriate to award a franchise agreement to any party at this time, either through a competition or a direct award.  That is why I have confirmed that, from the expiry of the current franchise, ScotRail services will be provided in public hands through a company wholly owned and controlled by the Scottish government. This approach will provide a stable platform for ScotRail services and certainty for passengers and staff."  Scotland's railways have already been temporarily nationalised since March last year to help the service cope with the impact of coronavirus.  The Scottish government has spent £452m in support for ScotRail, along with the Caledonian Sleeper, after passenger numbers dropped dramatically as a result of lockdown restrictions.  Kevin Lindsay, Scottish organiser of train driver union Aslef, said: "We welcome the beginning of the end of the failed franchise system here in Scotland.  However, never again should people's railway ever be in the hands of the privateers. It's now for all us in the railway to build a railway that's accessible, affordable, and safe for the people of Scotland."  The "operator of last resort" model that the Scottish government will use is currently being used by the UK Westminster government to run the East Coast franchise by means of the arms-length London North Eastern Railway company.

Covid in Scotland: Two Million People Have Received First Jab

More than two million people in Scotland have now received their first dose of the Covid vaccine. The Scottish government said the milestone meant that 44% of the eligible population has had at least one jab.  "Virtually all" over-65s have now had the first dose, as well as 67% of 60 to 64-year-olds.  Across the UK, a total of 25 million people have now received their first dose.  Nicola Sturgeon said around 50,000 vaccinations were carried out in Scotland on Tuesday - the highest in a single day "for quite some time".  The first minister added that 42% of 55 to 59-year-olds and 34% of 50 to 54-year-olds have also received their first jab.  However, the announcement coincided with emerging news that the momentum of the vaccination programme is again to be hit by supply issues.  Health chiefs said on Wednesday that the UK faces a drop in vaccine availability for a four-week period heading into April.  The NHS has written to local health organisations warning of a "significant reduction in weekly supply" of coronavirus vaccines from the week beginning 29 March for a month. The letter said there had been a "reduction in national inbound vaccines supply".  The two million milestone being reached in just over three months was down to "the enormous efforts of our vaccination teams", Scotland's health secretary said. Jeane Freeman added: "I would like to thank everyone who is working tirelessly to make this a success, and also every individual who has taken up their offer of a vaccine. Scotland's Covid-19 vaccination programme is now in the final stages of vaccinating the first nine priority groups.  When you are offered the vaccine, please take up the invitation." The UK government said it was "heartening to see incredible progress being made right across the country, in the largest vaccination programme in our history".  Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon also announced at her daily briefing that a new £13m genomic sequencing centre will be set up in Scotland to identify different variants of coronavirus. The first minister said the centre would be be able to sequence up to 1,000 samples per day.  She said: "That's going to be really important in the next phase of the pandemic. It will help us identify new variants at as early a stage as possible so that we can try, where those variants are of concern, to make as sure as we can that they don't get a foothold into the community and start to spread more widely."

Aberdeen Shipping Firm Wins £270m Wind Farm Deal
An Aberdeen shipping firm has won contracts worth an estimated £270m to supply support vessels for a giant North Sea offshore wind farm.  Under the deal, North Star Renewables will provide three service operation vessels (SOVs) for the planned 3.6GW Dogger Bank project.  They will be delivered from mid-2023, ahead of the wind farm's first phase. North Star plans to create 130 new UK-based jobs in crewing and shore-based roles for the lifetime of the contract.  The new positions will be based across Scotland and the north east of England.  Recruitment for the roles will start one year ahead of vessel delivery to Dogger Bank's planned operations base in Port of Tyne.  The wind farm - which will be located more than 130km (80 miles) off the north east coast of England - is being developed by joint venture partners SSE Renewables, Equinor and Eni. Economy Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "This contract is a welcome example of our domestic supply chain benefiting from the operation and maintenance of an offshore wind project off our coastline, bringing jobs and employment opportunities to communities in Scotland."

NHS Louisa Jordan to Close At End of March

The NHS Louisa Jordan temporary hospital in Glasgow is to close at the end of March. The £38m hospital at the Scottish Event Campus was built in just two weeks early in the pandemic amid fears the NHS could be overwhelmed. Its main role, however, has been in the delivery of vaccinations to about 175,000 people and as a base for outpatient appointments. The nearby SSE Hydro will take over its role as a mass vaccination centre. Staff based as NHS Louisa Jordan will return to their health boards or the vaccination programme. The building itself will revert to being an events and conference centre, and is due to play a key role in the COP26 climate change conference later this year.  Named after a Scottish nurse who died in Serbia during World War One, NHS Louisa Jordan was one of a number of facilities established across the UK to meet the challenge of Covid. A total of 1,036 bed bays were built and it was initially able to treat 300 patients - but it was not needed to treat patients with the virus. Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said it had been used to treat more than 32,000 patients, train more than 6,900 healthcare staff and students, and since December to deliver 175,000 vaccines. There are currently just over 400 patients in Scottish hospitals with recently-confirmed Covid, down from a peak of more than 2,000 in January.

Statement from the Scottish Government

This week has been a tale of two governments. While the UK Westminster government announced they are dumping more nuclear weapons in Scotland, the Scottish Government passed transformative legislation to strengthen children’s rights.  Scotland now has the highest protection of children’s rights anywhere in the UK.  The SNP has been at the forefront of opposing nuclear weapons. While Labour are now firmly the cheerleaders of Trident, we will always stick to our principles.  Boris Johnson is happy to splash tens of billions of pounds more on bombs - while presiding over a rise in child poverty and food bank use. At the same time, the Scottish government has been delivering bold and progressive change for Scotland. We’ve outlined our strategy to deliver 100,000 more affordable homes, with at least 70% for social rent - on top of over 96,000 we’ve already built. We’re putting ScotRail into public hands. We’re freezing council tax across the country, and reforming the private rented sector to deliver for tenants. It’s clear that Scotland is on a different path from that of the out of touch Westminster Tory government we haven’t voted for.

AUSTRALIAN SCOTTISH/CELTIC NEWS
The Scottish Australian Heritage Council (SAHC) needs a Newsletter Editor so if you have a love of storytelling or know of someone that does,  the President would like to hear from you. Please contact Malcolm Buchanan at his email address  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it to discuss this very important role for keeping the Scottish Diaspora informed

Bundanoon Highland Gathering Cancelled for 2021 The Grand Raffle that has been running over the past few months is continuing and the draw for the raffle will still take place on the 17th of April at the Oval.

Coisir  Ghaidhlig Astrailianach is back rehearsing on a face to face basis at Macquarie Presbyterian Church, Marsfield (Eastwood).  Choir members follow the rules set down by the Government and the church.  They are looking for interested folk to join them. One of the choir's main purposes is the learning, practice, but above all, enjoyment of Gaelic Choral Song.   If you’d like to join them the choir is open to all, whatever your background.  The only pre- requisites are willingness to learn and lots of enthusiasm! A knowledge of Gaelic and/or music is not essential. If interested please contact our Music Director on (02) 9638-2625 or email him on: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Extract From Australian Celtic Music Newsletter
First up, some Gig information for March.
17th March                    7 pm  Empire Theatre Toowoomba
18th March                   11 am  Empire Theatre Toowoomba
20th March                    7 pm  Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane
Asleep at the Reel
17th March                    11:30 - 3pm Finn MacCool's Surfers Paradise, Qld
17th March                     6 - 9pm Harrigan's Drift Inn, Jacob's Well, Qld
String Loaded
20th March                    7.30pm. Imperial Hotel, Shenanigans Irish Pub Maitland