Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 597

Issue # 597                                                Week ending Saturday 27th   March  2021

As the Man Said: in War You Only Can Be Killed Once. But in Politics Many Times - W Churchill
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Poor Australia. They are having it tough. The bushfires near Perth, in Western Australia, early in January were ferocious and caused enormous damage to property and wildlife. The year before, in south east-Australia, an area the size of South Korea was burned to cinders and 33 people tragically died.

Then last week, rural communities in New South Wales again suffered. This time, the worst plague in decades - of mice. Yuck. A farmer said: “The ground is just moving with thousands of mice running around.” Supermarkets put food in containers and three patients in a hospital were bitten. Farmers made hay bales for the winter and lost them to the rodents. It’s claimed just one pair of mice can produce on average up to 500 offspring in a single season. That’s just awful. Poor people.

That reminds me. Our islands’ council is again discussing proposals to mothball Bernera School on my home island of Great Bernera after the summer holidays. Too few brats, you see. There are something like 10 pupils and three of them will leave in a few months and no sign of any other wee ankle-biters coming along to replace them. If only some humans could reproduce a bit more than they do. No pressure, couples on Bernera. You need to think about that. Why not have an early night and think about it?

Back in Australia, that was last week’s news - and the mice didn’t gone away. Now there’s floods. Continual downpours causing the worst floods in 50 years. Thousands, again in New South Wales, have been forced to evacuate as homes were damaged or swept away. People in parts of Sydney’s north-west were ordered to leave their houses in the middle of the night as fast-moving waters caused destruction and chaos.

Despite the devastation, nature sometimes works wonderfully. The floods swept the mice away. Those Aussies don’t deserve constant rotten luck. It’s the gross, ugly, awful unfairness of it.

Like politicians investigating whether a president did wrong, ignoring the brief and instead voting along party lines. Horrible. Like having the conduct of a First Minister being cleared by a proper legal investigation and that being immediately followed by a we-know-better decision based on personal ambitions and political feuds which are just as unfair. That committee of MSPs made some sound, factual findings but they also let down Scotland by focusing on one person.

I am no nationalist fan boy, but this is a ghastly system. It has no place even in a “pretendy wee parliament”, as someone once famously remarked. Another Holyrood inquiry is urgently needed. It should investigate why it is still riddled with their it’s-important-to-vote-like-sheep mindset, instead of a focus on justice and fairness.

At the weekend I was focused on a painful long-standing condition deep in the inner me which flared up and I had to flee my home for the comfort and safety of an A&E department. It took me the best part of an hour to get through on the phone to NHS24 to whimper about how poorly I was. I was in total, body-bending agony but I’m not complaining. Others were in need too.

The doc said I must have a shot of powerful painkiller Pethidine. I had seen that cringey video where Dolly Parton, her with the big voice who sang Jolene, turns up for her shot in a jumper with cut-outs in the shoulders for easy needle access, and sings: “Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccee-eene, I'm begging of you please don't hesitate. Vaccine, vaccine, vaccine, vaccee-eene, 'cause once you're dead then that's a bit too late.” Bit brutal, Doll?

So that’s why I turned up in a pair of my R. Stornoway jeans. They’re the really old ones full of holes, including where the back pockets once were. Not required, as I still got the jab in my upper arm. “Ouch, you ...” Good job, doc. Never felt a thing, I said, fighting back torrents of tears.

That jab, and the other tablets I had must have made me very brave. The doc wrote me a note about what foods to avoid, what not to drink, what tablets to take and when. I looked at the note and I then told him that someone had recently put graffiti over several walls in the centre of Stornoway. He said: “Why are you telling me?” I said: “I couldn’t understand it either. Was it you?”

Sturgeon Survives Holyrood Confidence Vote Over Salmond Row

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has survived a vote of no confidence at Holyrood over her government's handling of complaints against Alex Salmond.  A Holyrood committee inquiry has concluded that there were "serious flaws" in the government's approach.  The confidence vote was tabled by Tory MSP Ruth Davidson, who said nobody had taken responsibility for the failures.  But MSPs voted by 65 to 31 to reject the motion, with the Greens backing the SNP and Labour and Lib Dems abstaining.  Ms Sturgeon said she "may not have got everything right" in her handling of the matter, but insisted that she "acted appropriately and made the right judgements overall".  And she told opposition parties that if they wanted to remove her they should do it in the forthcoming election on 6 May, adding: "It is now time for the country to decide."  The Holyrood inquiry - which was set up in 2019 after the government conceded its handling of complaints against Mr Salmond had been unlawful - published its report earlier on Tuesday, stating that women had been badly let down by the failed process.  A majority of members said Ms Sturgeon had misled the inquiry in her evidence, and said they found it hard to believe that she was not aware of concerns about Mr Salmond's alleged behaviour before November 2017.  However an independent investigation by Irish lawyer James Hamilton concluded on Monday that Ms Sturgeon had not breached the ministerial code.  He said Ms Sturgeon had given an "incomplete narrative of events" to MSPs, but that he believed this was a "genuine failure of recollection" and not deliberate.  The Scottish Conservatives had tabled a motion of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon before either report had been published - saying that "overwhelming" evidence of wrongdoing had already emerged.  Ms Davidson, the party's leader at Holyrood, told MSPs that "nobody has taken responsibility for the multiple failings at every level which occurred". She said that Ms Sturgeon "should not feel able to continue in post", and that "the honourable thing would be to resign". Ms Davidson said: "The committee found that Nicola Sturgeon misled this parliament. Nothing can erase that fact, however inconvenient it is to the first minister and her supporters."  Ms Sturgeon said she "may not have got everything right in my handling of this situation", but said she would "reject entirely any suggestion of misleading this parliament".  And she said she would have resigned if Mr Hamilton had found she breached the code.  However she said she had been "cleared of any breach of the ministerial code", and told Ms Davidson: "If you think you can bully me out of office you are mistaken and have misjudged me.  If you want to remove me from office as first minister, do it in an election".  Ms Sturgeon said she had been accused of "conspiracy against, collusion with and cover-up on behalf of Alex Salmond", but that "none of that is supported by evidence because none of that is true." The first minister was backed by Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie, who said the inquiry had become a "farce" and accused opposition members of the committee of "destroying the credibility of their own work".  

Has Nicola Sturgeon Emerged From this Crisis Unscathed?

For the last few weeks, Nicola Sturgeon has been under more pressure than at any other stage in her career.  Some of that is down to criticism from her political opponents. Much of it down to the man who was once her closest ally - Alex Salmond.  In the last 24 hours or so, this story has reached its climax. Ms Sturgeon will be relieved, and I suspect delighted, with how events have panned out.  The first minister's position is stronger tonight than it has been for weeks.  The finding of the independent adviser that she did not break the ministerial code was the most important verdict in this process.  On each of the four areas investigated, he ruled she had not broken the rules.  Ms Sturgeon revealed tonight that she would have resigned if James Hamilton's verdict had gone the other way - the stakes were incredibly high this week. In the end, that report couldn't have gone better for the first minister.  That doesn't mean there was no criticism. Far from it.  The committee findings are serious and undoubtedly will cause some uncomfortable reading in the first minister's team.  Ms Sturgeon's government has been found to have overseen a deeply flawed harassment policy - which ultimately let down two complainants.  It has been criticised for continuing with a judicial review defence - which could have cost taxpayers a lot of money.  A majority on the committee didn't buy her account on some important parts of her story.  It has got a lot less attention, but it's also important to note that we've had a summary of the some of the evidence from the original complainers published today.  It contains claims the government did not offer them enough support. That is likely to cause some soul-searching in the corridors of power in Edinburgh.  But as Scotland prepares to fire the starting gun on the election campaign, things look very different to a month ago, when Mr Salmond very publicly left on the table the idea his successor would be forced from office.  Last month, the headlines were rife with talk of a conspiracy from people around the first minister. No smoking gun has been produced - although some continue to believe it was the case.  The way things have ended up was reflected in the confidence vote this afternoon.  The politics were such that only the Scottish Tories - and a couple of individual MSPs from other parties - decided they had seen enough this week to decide the first minister should lose her job before the election.  Labour and the Liberal Democrats, although unhappy with the first minister, didn't bite.  We can't be totally sure this story is completely over. Many will be wondering whether Mr Salmond will say anything in the coming days. Those close to him aren't giving much away at the moment.  But we've now had the verdicts of the independent adviser on the ministerial code (Ms Sturgeon cleared) and the Holyrood committee (government criticised).

Covid in Scotland: Western Isles Restrictions to Be Eased

The Western Isles are to move back to level three Covid restrictions from 18:00 on Wednesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.  The islands were placed under a level four lockdown at the end of January following a number of Covid outbreaks.  In her last Holyrood Covid update before the election, Ms Sturgeon confirmed non-essential shops in Scotland could open from 26 April.  There were 495 new coronavirus cases recorded in the last 24 hours.  That is 3.6% of all the latest lab tests carried out. A further seven deaths linked to the virus have been recorded; 341 people are in hospital with a positive test and of those 28 are in ICU.   The total number of deaths under the Scottish government's measure has reached 7,559.  But Ms Sturgeon said the National Records of Scotland weekly update due to be published on Wednesday would show almost 10,000 people in Scotland have died with Covid.  She said: "Each one of those deaths is a tragedy. Each one has left a gaping hole in the lives of the people who loved them.  Once again, I want to pass on my condolences to all those who are grieving."  The first minister paid tribute to the "strength and resolve" of bereaved families, and thanked Scots for an "outpouring of community spirit" that had been a "source of light in a dark year".  As well as announcing the Western Isles' move out of lockdown, the first minister confirmed collective worship would again be allowed in groups of up to 50 from Friday.  She said this would be possible if the premises were able support such a large gathering with appropriate physical distancing in place.  A move to level three for the Western Isles will take it to the same level as Orkney, Shetland and some islands in the Highlands and Argyll. Mainland Scotland remains under level four restrictions until 26 April.  Western Isles local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has welcomed the first minister's announcement.  The comhairle said: "This will allow more businesses to open up and a further return to a more normal situation in the islands, although many restrictions still apply and it is vital to continue to follow advice and rules.  The comhairle will continue discussions on progress and where we are heading with the Scottish government and public health."  Barra and neighbouring Vatersay were the first of the Western Isles to enter lockdown on 20 January after 40 positive tests on Barra.  With about 140 people self- isolating at the time, the outbreak had affected as much as 16% of the population of Barra. Islanders had observed a voluntary lockdown on Barra as part of the community's efforts to suppress the virus.  About a week after Barra and Vatersay entered level four, the whole of the Western Isles went into lockdown after a number of new outbreaks, including at the isles' largest hospital - Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, Lewis.  NHS Western Isles' vaccination programme has now reached the point of offering people aged over 40 their first dose.  More than half of all adults in the islands had received their first Covid-19 vaccination by the beginning of March.  Ms Sturgeon told MSPs at Holyrood that almost half of the adult population of Scotland had now had their first jab.

Man Charged After Covid Vial Stolen From Edinburgh Vaccination Centre
A man has been charged in connection with the theft of a vial of Covid-19 vaccine in Edinburgh.  Police Scotland said officers investigating the theft had charged a 41-year-old man and a report would be sent to the procurator fiscal.  The vial was taken from a vaccination centre in Morrison Street at 11:50 on Saturday.  It led to officers warning people to be vigilant to offers of the vaccine from people not authorised to administer it.

Man Dies After His Clothing Catches Fire in the Lammermuirs

A man has died after his clothing caught fire on a Lammermuirs estate just south of the East Lothian border. Emergency services were called out to Crichness Law, south-west of Oldhamstocks. Firefighters from Dunbar, Haddington and Duns joined colleagues from Police Scotland, the Scottish Ambulance Service and the Borders Search and Rescue Unit. Area commander Stephen Gourlay is the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s local senior officer for Midlothian, East Lothian and the Scottish Borders.  He said: “We were called to assist our emergency service partners following a fire at Crichness Law.  “Operations Control mobilised three appliances and crews assisted partners with a man who was flown [by helicopter] to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.  “Sadly, after being taken to hospital, he later passed away.  It is understood that the man, 54, was burning heather at the time – a common practice in the Lammermuirs to produce green, new shoots to feed grouse and livestock.

Dounreay Bid Suggested for Fusion Power Plant
Highland councillors are to discuss making a bid for a prototype fusion power plant to be built in Caithness.  Fusion is a potential source of almost limitless clean energy but the process is currently only used in experiments.  The UK Westminster government is seeking sites to build what it said would be the UK's, and potentially the world's, first prototype commercial reactor.  Highland Council has suggested the potential for locating it at the Dounreay nuclear complex near Thurso.  Other places potentially in the running for the prototype reactor include Chapelcross nuclear site near Annan in Dumfries and Galloway and Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal power station in Nottinghamshire.  Dounreay was the UK site for the development of fast reactor research from 1955 to 1994.  Its Dounreay Fast Reactor (DFR) was the first fast-breeder reactor in the world to produce electricity for public consumption in 1962.  The site is in the process of being decommissioned and work is ongoing to find ways of retaining and creating jobs in Caithness and neighbouring parts of Sutherland.  Highland councillors will discuss at a meeting next week making a bid to the UK Atomic Energy Authority for the prototype reactor to be constructed at Dounreay.  A report prepared for Thursday's meeting said the project offered potential "significant long-term economic benefits", with funding of £222m to be made available just for the concept design stage. Council officials said in the report: "Not only would the attraction of such a significant investment be a major boost to the north economy, it could lead to significant supply chain, innovation and educational opportunities for generations to come."

Floating Wind Farm Records UK's Top Results for Potential Output Again

The world's first full-scale floating wind farm off Peterhead has been recorded as having the UK's best results for capturing potential output offshore for the third year.  Five giant wind turbines make up the Hywind Scotland development, about 15 miles (25km) off Aberdeenshire.  It reached an average of 57.1% of its potential output over the past year. The project - run by Norwegian firm Equinor - started generating electricity in 2017. During its first two years of operation, the wind farm achieved an average capacity factor of 54%. Sebastian Bringsværd, head of floating wind development at Equinor, said access to deeper waters meant higher and more consistent wind speeds and an efficient way to generate electricity. "It's great to see the results Hywind Scotland and the floating technology keeps delivering", he said.  "The potential for floating offshore wind is huge."  At 175m (574ft) from sea surface to blade tip, the turbines are almost as tall as the Queensferry Crossing.  They extend another 78m (256ft) below the surface and are chained to the seabed to stay in place.

Australian Authors Dominate Walter Scott Book Prize Shortlist
Australian authors make up the majority of contenders for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Steven Conte, Kate Grenville and Pip Williams occupy three of the five potential winners spots on the shortlist for the £25,000 award.  Maggie O'Farrell and Hilary Mantel are the other contenders.  The winner - usually announced at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose - will be announced online in June as that event has moved to a later date.
The shortlisted titles are:  The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte.   A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville.   The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel.   Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell.     The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams A statement from the judges said it was the first time Australian writers had made up the majority of their shortlist.  It said the books were not just a "masterclass in writing" they also offered experiences readers were "unlikely to forget".  First awarded in 2010, the prize is usually given out at the Borders Book Festival but it has moved to later in the year due to Covid restrictions.  The honour will now be awarded at an online event in June instead.

NHS Staff in Scotland to Be Offered 4% Pay Rise
NHS staff in Scotland are to be offered a pay rise of at least 4%, the Scottish government has confirmed.  Nurses, paramedics and domestic staff are among those who could receive the boost to their salaries.  Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said the average pay of a front line NHS nurse would rise by over £1,200 a year.  She said the offer - which does not apply to doctors - recognised the "service and dedication" of staff during the pandemic. The settlement will be backdated to 1 December 2020 in recognition of an "exceptional year of significant pressure".  It follows the £500 thank you payment for all health and social care workers which was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in November.  Earlier this month Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended plans to give some NHS staff in England a 1% pay rise.  He praised "heroic" health and social care workers but said the rise was as much as the government could afford during the "tough times" of the pandemic. Ms Freeman described the Scottish government's offer as "the biggest single pay uplift since devolution" for NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) staff.   AfC is the current grading and pay system for NHS staff. It does not include doctors, dentists, executives and senior managers.  She added it would benefit 154,000 staff and including domestic staff, porters and health care support workers.  This group, which she described as "the backbone of our services" would see pay rises of more than £1,000, the equivalent of between 4% and 5.4%.  Those on the highest salaries will receive a £800 pay rise.  Ms Freeman said: "This has been an exceptionally challenging year for our health service and I am pleased that the Scottish government is able to recognise the service and dedication of our healthcare staff."  The announcement follows ongoing negotiations between the Scottish government, NHS employers and unions, who will now consult their members on the offer.

Covid in Scotland: How Has the Pandemic Affected Scotland's Islands?

Scotland's island communities have faced some difficult challenges over the past year.Covid has caused a collapse in tourism and threatened islanders' health and wellbeing, but there have also been signs of a strong community spirit.  You can see see why they call it Eilean a' Cheò or the Misty Isle, but even on a day when it is shrouded in cloud the Isle of Skye still manages to show off its stunning beauty.  It has been a different year here than previous ones - quieter and calmer without the thousands of visitors islanders have become so used to welcoming.  But the quiet roads and lack of tourists has led to a huge loss in income for many businesses in Skye.  From new, small emerging companies to older established ones they are all feeling the pinch. And it is a major driver in huge increases in those claiming universal credit in parts of the island, including in north west Skye where numbers have more than trebled.  Morag Hannah, of Skye and Lochalsh Citizens Advice Bureau, said the pandemic had been a "disaster" for Skye's tourism industry, the island's biggest source of income.  She said while there had been a rise in the numbers of universal credit claimants she believed the figures did not reflect the true picture.  Ms Hannah said: "Here in the bureau we are aware of people who haven't claimed universal credit with some of the known barriers being connectivity, infrastructure, digital skills and we still have people who are too proud to make that claim."  She added: "You can imagine the income shock if you are a self employed person running a bed and breakfast on an income of £500 a week.  Now you find yourself in this situation where you go to make a claim and you are then on an income of £410 a month."  At the heart of this last year has been concerns around the health of our island communities - and how the healthcare systems in these places might cope.  Each island almost without exception has seen a major outbreak at some point over the past 12 months - proving that the waters that surround our islands are no barrier to coronavirus.  Barra in the Western Isles was one such place. An outbreak on the isle led to it and neighbouring Vatersay being moved from level three restrictions into lockdown at the end of January.  Local GP Dr Mark Wilcox said: "It was really fast. We went from no cases to 20 cases in just a matter of days and then up to 55 cases.  It happened so fast there wasn't much time to reflect on the fact it was here. We were so busy - all hands to the pump.  Now we are kind of back in this sort of phoney war with some concerns about what will happen once we open up a bit, but perhaps increasing confidence as more and more members of the island get vaccinated."  But from the darkness has come some hope, including a new co-operative launched from Tiree giving islanders across Scotland the chance to sell their products online. Rhoda Meek is behind the Isle 20 initiative.  She said: "What it shows is the power of island networks and how a lot of islands and islanders are struggling with the same challenges.  The community that has come out of this is one of the really interesting things, and the model of working together, making together and generating a bit of profit we can put back into our islands."  As each island community opens up at a different pace concerns will emerge, but what makes these communities are the people, and their interactions with others.  The pandemic has brought that into sharp focus and these relationships will be key in the post-Covid world as the islands welcome people once more.

Bomb Disposal Team Called to Edinburgh Palace Grounds

A man has been arrested after a bomb disposal team attended a report of a suspicious item in the grounds of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh. Police were called to the palace, which is the Queen's official residence in Scotland, at about 20:50.  A force spokesman said: "A 39-year-old man has been arrested in connection with the incident.  There was no threat to the public and inquiries are ongoing into the full circumstances."  He added that the item was made safe following examination by an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team.  Officers carrying long sticks were seen combing the forecourt and grass outside the palace, at the foot of the Royal Mile, on Wednesday morning. Others looked down drains and underneath cars and some were seen putting items into clear plastic bags.  Police Scotland vehicles were stationed outside several entrances to the palace.

John Lewis to Permanently Close Eight More Shops

John Lewis has said it will not reopen eight of its stores once lockdown eases, putting 1,465 jobs at risk.  The retail giant said some locations could not sustain a large store.  Four "At Home" shops in Ashford, Tunbridge Wells, Basingstoke, and Chester will close - as well as department stores in Aberdeen, Peterborough, Sheffield and York.  John Lewis said the eight shops were "financially challenged prior to the pandemic".  Earlier this month, the retailer warned it would be making more store closures after the impact of the pandemic led it to report a hefty annual loss.  The latest move comes on top of the closure of eight stores that John Lewis announced last year. The chain has now axed around a third of its stores in less than a year.  For almost 40 years the John Lewis store in Peterborough has been the flagship of the city's shopping centre, but along with seven other branches it looks sets to close.

Scots Become Automatic Organ Donors Under New Law
Everyone in Scotland is now an automatic organ donor - unless they opt out of a new system. From Friday, it is presumed that people have consented to donation unless they have stated otherwise.  Experts say this will mean that many more people can be given life-saving and life-changing transplants.  People who do not want their organs to be donated for a transplant can opt out through the Organ Donation Scotland website.  Under the old system, more than half of Scotland's population were registered to donate their organs or tissue after their death. But it is hoped the number of potential donors could increase further under the new scheme.  In two years, a similar system in Wales has increased family consent by 50%.  The Scottish law was due to change in November but was postponed due to the Covid pandemic.  Organ donation means people like 27-year-old Ross Peters, who was diagnosed with a heart condition at 21, have a second chance at life.  By last summer Ross' health was so bad that he was put on the urgent transplant list - just months before his wife Shauni was about to have their first child.  Luckily for Ross, he got his new heart in August, and now he is able to play a more active role as dad to baby Louis, who was born in November.  Some are not as lucky as Ross.  Only about 1% of people die in circumstances where their organs can be used for transplants, which means there is always a shortage, and a long waiting list.  Another obstacle has been that people who would be in favour of donating their organs have not got round to registering.  There is a small group of exemptions, including:      Children under the age of 16.   Adults who lack the capacity to understand the new law (for example those with dementia).  Those who have lived in Scotland for less than 12 months.  Experts stress the importance of families discussing the issue so they know what to do should one of them die in a situation where they could be a donor.  British Heart Foundation spokesman David McColgan said evidence from other countries suggested it made a positive difference.  He said: "Of the top 10 countries in terms of donation rates, nine of them operate an opt-out system.  This is not a new system. It's been in place in countries for nearly half a century now, so we know it increases the families' ability to make the decision and we know it then increases the pool of individuals available for organ donation, and that will ultimately increase the number of people whose lives can be saved."  Wales adopted the opt-out system in 2015 and England started its opt-out system last year.

Renewables Met 97% of Scotland's Electricity Demand in 2020
Scotland has narrowly missed a target to generate the equivalent of 100% of its electricity demand from renewables in 2020.  New figures reveal it reached 97.4% from renewable sources.  This target was set in 2011, when renewable technologies generated just 37% of national demand.  Industry body Scottish Renewables said output had tripled in the last 10 years, with enough power for the equivalent of seven million households.  CEO Claire Mack, said: "Scotland's climate change targets have been a tremendous motivator to the industry to increase deployment of renewable energy sources.  Renewable energy projects are displacing tens of millions of tonnes of carbon every year, employing the equivalent of 17,700 people and bringing enormous socio-economic benefits to communities."  In 2019 Scotland met 90.1% of its equivalent electricity consumption from renewables, according to Scottish Government figures.  Scotland has some of the most ambitious climate targets in the world, with its Climate Change Bill setting out a legally binding target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2045.  By 2030, ministers want renewable energy generation to account for 50% of energy demand across electricity, heat and transport.  Scotland has been moving away from burning fossil fuels, with the last coal-fired power station, Longannet, closing in 2016.  The only remaining gas-fired power station is at Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.  Onshore wind delivers about 70% of capacity, followed by hydro and offshore wind as Scotland's main sources of renewable power. WWF Scotland praised the new figures, but said more needed to be done to cut emissions from transport and heating.

Artefacts Unearthed in Dunragit A75 Road Work Go Online

Details of archaeological finds unearthed during road work in south west Scotland have gone online.  The discoveries, made while the A75 Dunragit bypass was being built in 2014, included the earliest known house in the area - dating back 9,000 years.  Excavations by Guard Archaeology - working on behalf of Transport Scotland - made the finds.  They worked along the length of the route of the new bypass for 19 months to safeguard any important artefacts.  Full details of their findings have now been published online.  As well as the house dating back to the Mesolithic period, they included: They also unearthed a rare and complete 167-piece jet bead necklace and bracelet set thought to be from about 2,000BC and an Iron Age brooch along with Bronze Age cremation urns.  Transport Scotland said the publication of the findings provided a "fascinating glimpse" into the past which would have "remained uncovered" if the bypass work had not gone ahead.  Warren Bailie, Guard Archaeology's operations director, who led the excavations, said: "I am delighted that members of the public will have the opportunity to learn more about the lives of past generations who lived in the area.  The excavations at Dunragit uncovered a depth of prehistoric archaeology spanning eight millennia, revealing the prehistoric heart of Galloway."

University of Aberdeen to Repatriate 'Looted' Nigerian Bronze Sculpture

A sculpture will be repatriated to Nigeria by the University of Aberdeen as its acquisition is now considered to have been "extremely immoral".  The "priceless" bronze is described as having been looted by British soldiers in Benin City in 1897.  Depicting an Oba (king) of Benin, it was acquired by the university in 1957 at an auction. However, amid growing calls for the return of such items, the university has now approved its repatriation.  Thousands of sculptures and carvings were taken during the destruction of Benin City in present-day Nigeria.  Many were sold to museums or private collectors.  A number of museums have been discussing the Benin bronzes in their collections in recent years, amid support for the creation of the Edo Museum of West African Art in Benin City to display returned items. Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections, said: "The University of Aberdeen has previously agreed to repatriate sacred items and ancestral remains to Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has a procedure that considers requests in consultation with claimants.  An ongoing review of the collections identified the Head of an Oba as having been acquired in a way that we now consider to have been extremely immoral, so we took a proactive approach to identify the appropriate people to discuss what to do." A panel unanimously recommended its return to Nigeria, and the university's governing body supported the move.  Prof George Boyne, the university's principal and vice-chancellor, said: "It would not have been right to have retained an item of such great cultural importance that was acquired in such reprehensible circumstances."  Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Minister of Information and Culture of Nigeria said: "The reaching out by the University of Aberdeen and eventual release of the priceless antiquity is a step in the right direction.  Other holders of Nigerian antiquity ought to emulate this to bring fairness to the burning issue of repatriation".

Covid in Scotland: Belladrum Festival Cancelled with 'Deep Regret'

The Belladrum Tartan Heart music festival at the end of July has been cancelled, organisers have said.  Organisers of the festival, at Beauly near Inverness, said there were "still too many uncertainties" surrounding the potential Covid restrictions that may be in place.  They said they had decided to cancel the festival with "deep regret".  Ticket holders have been offered the opportunity to transfer tickets to the 2022 event or take a full refund.  The festival was also postponed due to Covid in July 2020.  Belladrum started small in 2004 as a one-day event with tickets for just 2,000 people.  However, it grew into a three-day festival with a 20,000-capacity crowd, about 14,000 of whom camped at the site.  The line-up for the 2021 festival had included Nile Rogers & Chic, Van Morrison, Emeli Sande and Passenger.  A statement from the organisers said: "No-one wants to be back in the fields at Bella more than us, however, the status of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has made it clear that delivering an event we all know and love, just isn't going to be possible this year."  It said the vaccine programme was progressing well and there were signs of light at the end of the very long tunnel but "we feel there are still too many uncertainties surrounding the potential restrictions that may be in place".  The statement said postponing to 2022 was the safest decision for the Bella community.  Scotland's largest outdoor summer music festival, Trnsmt in Glasgow, currently still plans to go ahead in July.

Eyemouth Residents Invited to Join Innovative Health Plan

Scottish Borders Council is one of five areas in Scotland to have successfully secured funding to deliver a “whole systems approach” to community planning in the Berwickshire coastal town, with a focus on “public health priority six” – eating well, having a healthy weight and being physically active. There are three main phases: collectively form an understanding of the issue, context and wider system; create a plan for action collaboratively with a wide set of stakeholders; and learn and refine the system as you go by involving stakeholders and embedding monitoring and evaluation.  A digital workshop is being organised to give Eyemouth residents the opportunity to get involved using this approach and help develop a community-led plan.  Based on local priorities, the overall aim will be to look at ways of supporting local residents to become healthier and fitter, with a particular focus on children, young people and health inequalities generally.  This will be the first of two workshops intended to reflect the collective efforts of the local area in meeting priority six and will be used to form a better understanding of local issues, context and wider systems.

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