Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 600

Issue # 600                                                     Week ending Saturday 17th  April 2021

It May Have Been Bitterly Cold But Some of Us Were Very Hot and Bothered About the BBC
by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Newreaders are a bit like the Western Isles weather of late - cold and grey. Yes, they may look suave and intelligent but then you remember they are only reading someone else’s words. They have that professional detachment, even when raising a smile and doing the inevitable "And finally ..." on News at Ten. Intelligence doesn’t come into it.

I may have changed my mind about Angela Rippon when she danced with Morecambe and Wise. Other newsreaders got in on the Strictly Come Somersaulting act but they didn’t have the legs for it. No, I am not being sexist. I am discussing the technicalities of professional- style dance routines and the physical capabilities required for executing them well.

Clive Myrie, probably the best annunciator on the News Channel, who can make even industrial relations stories seem half-interesting, has detached himself from the newsreader’s chair and plonked himself in another. The new quizmaster on Mastermind, Myrie does seem cleverer than most. He does that off-script thinking look which means he probably has a good brain. He may not have the best legs for it but who cares? We’ll never see them in his new job either.

Prince Philip had one job for a long time. Although no royalist, I was saddened by his passing. He was always there, standing slightly behind Her Maj, while everyone wondered what he was actually thinking, He came out with some unguarded howlers over the years and people who knew him said he was very direct. He had a good innings, though. So there was no reason for the BBC to cram BBC1, BBC2 and the News Channel and radio channels with endless syrupy tributes.

We know it was big news but why were we forced into wall-to-wall schmaltziness? That was a bit of an insult, actually. A state broadcaster restricting us in what to watch and think. Many in this country reject the principle of inherited privilege and unearned riches. We should be allowed a choice by the broadcaster we fund. Akin to propaganda, which our leaders are so ready to condemn in other countries, they fell curiously silent.

I was struck curiously-silent myself the other day because face masks do something to some people. When I was in the filling station the other day I met wee Ali. He may have had one or two nips inside him. A guy then strolled in and Ali raised his palm like a traffic cop and said: “Stop. You can’t come in without a face mask.” Admitting he left it in his daughter’s car, the new arrival pleaded to be let through just for a few seconds “to get lemonade”. He promised to stay distanced.

Brave behind his mask, Ali replied: “I would let you in but my friend Iain is a stickler for the law. With him being a former judo champion, I think you should comply.” Er, I know nothing about judo. I thought that shoulder throw called Ippon Seoi Nage was a car. Nevertheless, the foiled would-be shopper looked me up and down, then backed out mumbling apologies as he fled. I was livid at Ali. That cove was bigger than me. He could have thumped me.

To make it up to me, Ali invited me round to have a snifter in his whisky garden. “I don’t have any beer, so mine is a whisky garden.” I told him sternly that I’d wait until Nicola allowed visits to his patio of blends and then I would get my revenge by making his well run dry. It was too cold for the garden anyway. A couple of drams would have helped though.

It’s been as cold here as a newsreader’s stare when the autocue breaks down. On Friday morning, I couldn’t open the back door to get to the bins. Frozen solid. I had to go out early on the van and left Mrs X breakfasting. I got a text from her. It said: "Windows frozen. Won't open. Will I force it?”

Oh heck, I thought. She is trying to open the back door and if she forces it she will smash that window. I texted: “No. Do exactly what I say. Go outside and pour lukewarm water on it and wait five minutes. If that doesn’t work, just repeat.” Fifteen minutes later, she still hadn’t replied. So I asked if she had done it? She replied: “Yes, I did exactly what you said. But I think I’ve destroyed this laptop.”

Rescue after man falls at Outlander Devil's Pulpit gorge

A 24-year-old man has been taken to hospital after falling at a beauty spot made famous by the TV series Outlander.  Police said the man suffered serious injuries in the incident on Sunday.  Roads around the Devil's Pulpit in Finnich Glen, near Loch Lomond, were closed as the emergency services dealt with the incident. Up to 70,000 people a year visit the glen, known for its 70ft gorge and the Devil's Pulpit rock.  As well as featuring in the TV series Outlander, the sandstone gorge has also been used for scenes in the Netflix film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and TV drama The Nest.  However, its popularity has caused major road traffic issues and fears about erosion of the site.

A generation is being lost to the next pandemic – illicit street valium
On Sunday a young man who was just 20-years-old died after taking illicit ‘street valium’ – the latest in an explosion of deaths in Edinburgh and the Lothians linked to benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines, both the prescribed diazepam (often known by the brand name Valium) and the illicit ‘street version’ etizolam, now account for more overdoses in Edinburgh and the Lothians than heroin.  In 2019 alone, 159 people died in the city after taking benzodiazepines. Social workers, politicians, and addicts themselves all paint a picture of a new pandemic growing in the city’s youth population – self medication, using illicit street valium. Online, etizolam can be bought for around £1 a pill – but on the streets of Edinburgh 100 tablets can be bought for £60, and sometimes even cheaper.

Stick to coronavirus guidance and don't try to do too much too soon

The director of public health for NHS Highland, Dr Tim Allison, writes that it is still important to be cautious as coronavirus restrictions are eased.  Both recent history and things further back in time have much to teach us. Perhaps we can avoid repeating mistakes even if the circumstances are not quite the same.  Epidemics come in waves and Covid is no different. Why this happens will be different for one disease compared with another. It could be a build-up in immunity in some of the population, a change in the weather, a new variant of the disease or a combination of factors.  At the end of a wave of infections the natural reaction is one of relief and a desire to get back to normal, but that feeling may be misplaced. The Spanish influenza pandemic a century ago had three waves and although Covid is unlike influenza in many ways, we have had two waves and there are fears of a third. Those in government have difficult decisions to make. Covid cases have declined and vaccination uptake has been exceptionally high among those who are most vulnerable to the virus.  We all want to go back to normal and for restrictions to disappear, but what about the risk of another wave of infection?  So, decisions are made that are designed to move us back to normal at a speed that will reduce the chance of an upsurge in cases. These decisions are finely balanced and aim to go as far as is reasonable but not too far. We can all help make those difficult decisions be the right decisions by sticking to the guidance and not going too far and too fast. The current restrictions are hard and recent relaxations are very welcome. It is important not to jump the gun as things relax, especially meeting indoors where the risk of virus transmission is high.

Neilston Man on Cloud Nine As Helipad is Cleared for Take-off

A three-year campaign by a Neilston ambulance worker has paid dividends after a new £270,000 hospital helipad was cleared for take-off.  Residents of Campbeltown, in Argyll and Bute, who need emergency treatment have to be airlifted to Glasgow, Clydebank or Paisley – some 150 miles away.  Until last week, helicopters had to land up to three times a day in a muddy playing field, leading to delays for patients.  Stuart McLellan, who has lived in Neilston all his life, came up with the helipad idea in 2018 while visiting relatives in Campbeltown.  He launched a campaign to raise the £270,000 needed to build the helipad and lobbied council chiefs for planning permission.  Construction work which began on January 11 finished on March 31, ahead of schedule, and three successful test flights were carried out the following day. Funding was provided through the Helicopter Emergency Landing Pads (HELP) Appeal, run by the County Air Ambulance Trust.  

Grimsay Community Association Launches Bliadhna Na Moine
Grimsay Community Association is launching a new project, Bliadhna na Mòine - The Peat Year, with the support of Bord na Gaidhlig.  Throughout 2021, a series of COVID-safe events will focus on peat and moorland, to bring together traditional, current and new practices alongside an understanding of their produce, science and associated culture and language.  The project will explore questions such as: ‘What is peat?’ and ‘How do we use and manage our moors and peatland?’ By doing so we can learn from the traditions of small-scale use of peat and hill grazing management to develop an understanding for the sustainable land use of our peat and moorlands today. These practices are vital to the survival of our islands’ crofting communities, our traditions and cultural practices, as well as the maintenance of an important habitat that delivers many wider benefits.  Bliadhna na Mòine - The Peat Year will bring together a broad range of perspectives through the calendar of events: from crofting practices to natural history and ecology, Gaelic terminology and cultural reminiscence to food, poetry and song.  The programme begins on Saturday, May 1 with a peat-cutting demonstration by experienced local crofters on Grimsay, where young and old are welcome to watch and try their hand at learning the traditional skills. A peat cutting competition will then follow on Saturday, May 8. There will be a set duration for cutting, with neatness, speed and consistency all taken into consideration in the judging. There will be prizes, but come the autumn all competitors will be able to take the peat they cut home to warm them through the winter.  On Friday 18 and Saturday 19 June, a Crofting Practice Symposium will look at how hill and common grazing land is used, including off-lying islands.

Scotland's Church Records Now Online
Images of more than a million pages from the kirk session and other court records of the Church of Scotland, containing details of key events in communities across the country between 1559 and 1900, have been added to ScotlandsPeople, NRS’s online research service.  These records offer remarkable insights into the everyday lives of ordinary Scots, recording important moments such as births, marriages and deaths.  The church also adjudicated on paternity of children and provided basic education, as well as disciplining parishioners for what could be called anti-social behaviour – drunkenness, cursing and breaking the Sabbath. The newly added records also include accounts of how people dealt with exceptional historical events such as wars, witchcraft trials, epidemics, crop failures and extreme weather.  Paul Lowe, NRS chief executive and keeper of the records of Scotland, said: “We are delighted to make the kirk session records available online for the very first time, bringing ScotlandsPeople users closer than ever to our past.  This release has been eagerly anticipated by many who use our services. It is part of our ambitious and ongoing programme to use digital approaches to provide access to more of our historic records for the people of Scotland and indeed audiences across the world.”  The new record set is digitised and unindexed, presented as individual volumes for users to browse. The images are free to view with a small charge for users who want to save images.  The records of kirk sessions and of higher church courts, such as presbyteries and synods, are the first in a series of digitised record sets NRS will make available via ScotlandsPeople throughout 2021 and beyond.  Rev Dr George Whyte, principal clerk of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, said: “I am delighted that National Records of Scotland are making available Church of Scotland material in this digitised form.  This will allow many more people to look into Scotland’s past through the eyes of those in the Kirk who carefully recorded the everyday life of our parishes and wider communities.”  The records created by church courts are very useful for family history, local history and academic social history research.  These records have been digitised and added to the ScotlandsPeople site in partnership with the Church of Scotland. Deposited since 1960, church court records are cared for by NRS and by local archives under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of the Records of Scotland. The ScotlandsPeople website is administered by NRS, which cares for Scotland’s national archives. To find out more, visit the website at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.

Plans Unveiled for 'Green Hydrogen' Project Near Glasgow
The application by ScottishPower includes a 20MW electrolyser, a device which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen using electrical energy - in this case, via wind and solar power.  The planned facility will be located near the UK's largest onshore wind farm, Whitelee, owned by ScottishPower.  The project includes a combined solar and battery energy storage scheme to help power the electrolyser.  ScottishPower said the facility would be able to produce up to eight tonnes of hydrogen per day.  It aims to supply hydrogen to the commercial market before 2023.  The facility will be powered by a 40MW solar farm and a 50MW battery energy storage scheme, all of which will be installed about three miles west of Lochgoin reservoir and adjacent to the existing Whitelee extension substation.  It marks the first project for the Green Hydrogen for Scotland partnership between ScottishPower, specialist gas provider BOC and electrolyser manufacturer ITM Power.  It aims to create green hydrogen production facilities with clusters of refuelling stations across Scotland. The Glasgow scheme is designed to provide carbon-free transport and clean air for communities across Glasgow, as well as support industrial hydrogen demand in the region.  The city, which is set to host the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference later this year, plans to become the first net-zero city in the UK by 2030.  ScottishPower's hydrogen director Barry Carruthers said: "With all eyes set to be on Glasgow later this year as the city hosts the UN's 26th climate change conference, COP26, it's fantastic to be making this next important step towards delivering green hydrogen for Glasgow."

Covid in Scotland: Schools Begin Full-time Classroom Return
Secondary and primary pupils in six Scottish councils have returned to full-time, in-class lessons following the Easter break.  The return of pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles marks the end of distance learning for many.  Pupils will no longer have to follow strict physical distancing rules, but will still need to wear face coverings.  The majority of Scotland's pupils are due to return to school on 19 April.  However, pupils in Edinburgh and Midlothian councils will return on 20 April. Ministers have said that schools will need to adopt enhanced safety precautions, such as improved ventilation and Covid testing, to mitigate the relaxation of physical distancing measures.  Primary schools had already resumed full-time teaching before the Easter holidays, but a part-time blended learning system had been in place in secondary schools. Alison Murison, head teacher at Aberdeen Grammar School, was among those who welcomed back pupils after the Easter holiday.  "The staff and pupils have worked so hard to keep learning going but they know that nothing replicates being in the classroom," she said. "That's what they are looking forward to."  She said the return to school was the "big prize" they had been waiting for.  In addition to measures introduced in August, they now have regular lateral flow testing, and pupils and staff would wear masks inside buildings at all times. "It is so, so important that we adhere to those," Ms Murison said. "I am confident because the pupils, the staff, the parents have all been right behind me from the start in making sure that we follow these mitigations. They have been hugely supportive. "  The only exception to pupils returning will be those in the shielding category. The first minister has said that pupils who were shielding should stay at home until 26 April, in line with advice from the chief medical officer.  It comes after this year's National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers were cancelled because of disruption caused by the pandemic.  Grades will instead be based on "teacher judgement" backed up by evidence gathered in tests.  However, the approach across schools varies - with some spreading the tests over class lesson times while others will do them in one go, with invigilators on hand to ensure strict exam conditions are met.

Arrest After Findhorn Foundation Eco-community Hit by Serious Fire
Emergency services, including six fire appliances, were called to the Findhorn Foundation in the early hours of Monday.  The foundation said the community centre and main sanctuary were destroyed, but that "thankfully" no-one was hurt.  Police said a man, aged 49, had been arrested. Inquiries are ongoing.  The Findhorn Foundation was formally registered as a Scottish charity in 1972, 10 years after it began life with just a single caravan.  The community includes dozens of homes which are part of an eco village with solar panels and wind turbines.  The foundation - described as an international spiritual education centre - has welcomed thousands of people from all around the world over the last 59 years.  About a dozen people were safely evacuated as firefighters tackled the blaze at about 02:00. Chief executive Caroline Matters said: "We are so grateful that no-one was hurt and know that the spirit of the community lives in our hearts and connects us all here in Moray and our global community around the world.  Buildings can be rebuilt. Our main concern is to take care of our co-workers and community".

Bladnoch Distillery to Expand After Securing £10m Loan
Scotland's most southerly whisky distillery is set to expand its reach into international markets after securing a £10m bank loan.  Bladnoch Distillery near Wigtown aims to "target growth markets" in Australia, Israel, China, USA and parts of Europe.  The loan from HSBC will also be used to improve the distillery's carbon footprint through technology upgrades. The company said it planned to create an unspecified number of new jobs.  In the past year, Bladnoch has added seven new posts, bringing its staff headcount to 28.  Bladnoch's master distiller, Nick Savage, said: "While trading conditions have been challenging in the face of Brexit and Covid-19, we've managed to grow through this period and the business is now in a place where it can explore new opportunities to increase our international sales and reputation."  Bladnoch Distillery was bought out of administration by Australian entrepreneur David Prior in 2017.  He made a fortune out of organic yoghurt and decided to invest about £25m of it in the facility.

Covid: Every Adult is Vaccinated in Fair Isle, the UK's Remotest Island Community
It may be one of the UK's most remote communities but tiny Fair Isle - with a population of just 48 people - can now claim to be one of the safest.  The Scottish island - located between Orkney and Shetland - is famed for its knitwear and migratory birds.  It only got a reliable 24-hour-a-day electricity supply in 2018.  This week, vials of AstraZeneca vaccine were flown in on a small plane, meaning every adult on the island was able to have their second dose.  It was a practical solution to a tricky problem.  The logistics of vaccinating the furthest-flung communities along the edges of Scotland were challenging, to say the least. The first vaccine, from Pfizer, required storage temperatures so low that the tiny planes and boats serving these islands were out of the question.  For a fragile community, many of whom are older, bringing people out individually to the mainland clinic did not make sense either.  However, the AstraZeneca vaccine can be transported in a cool box.  So that is exactly what NHS Shetland has done, sending the vials in on the tiny planes that run lifeline services to its smaller isles.  When the plane touched down on the rubble airstrip near Fair Isle's 600ft cliffs the sun was shining - the first glimpse of spring after relentless weeks of sleet, snow and gales.  The rather unassuming white box was loaded carefully into the nurse's car, and taken down to the small surgery, where nurses Kirstin Robson and Margaret Cooper got ready to vaccinate Fair Isle. Other remote islands have been vaccinated in this way - some in the Hebrides, along with Shetland's Foula and Skerries.

Park Plea to Visitors to Stay Away From Capercaillie
Visitors to the Cairngorms have been asked to be aware of the potential risks they pose to Scotland's largest ground-nesting bird.  The area's pine forests are home to about 80% of the UK's small and fragile population of capercaillie.  The turkey-sized grouse, whose breeding season has just begun, are sensitive to disturbance.  With Covid travel limits due to relax on Friday, the Cairngorms are expected to be popular with day trippers.  The Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) said visitor numbers "surged" following the end of last year's lockdown, with hundreds of people drawn the area's mountains, forests and lochs. To help protect capercaillie and other ground-nesting birds, CNPA has asked visitors to stick to waymarked paths and keep dogs on leads.  The park - which includes parts of the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire - has warning signs where capercaillie are known, and more advice and information on capercaillie is available on the Cairngorms Capercaillie Project website.  Capercaillie are the largest grouse species in the world and have been living in Scotland's pine forests since the last Ice Age.  In Scotland there are estimated to be fewer than 1,000 capercaillie. Habitat loss and fatal collisions with deer fences have reduced their numbers.

Unison Urges Council Workers to Back Strike Action Over Pay
Union leaders are balloting council workers on industrial action following a pay offer that is "simply not good enough".  Unison has urged its members to reject a 2% pay increase and take action up to and including possible strikes.  It says the offer "does not address the issue of endemic low pay" for some council staff.  The increase from council umbrella body Cosla is below the 4% offered to many NHS staff by the Scottish Government. Unison is the largest union representing council workers in Scotland. Mark Ferguson, Chair of Unison Scotland's local government committee, said: "Local government and its workforce are no longer the poor relation of the public services. We have become the distant relative which is never discussed and has long been forgotten."

Armed Cops Lock Down Newton Mearns Aldi
Armed cops have locked down a supermarket in Newton Mearns near Glasgow following an ongoing incident.  Officers wearing riot gear were spotted outside the Aldi store and several police cars were in the vicinity.  Police Scotland have confirmed officers are present at the scene, but the nature of the incident is not yet clear.

Covid in Scotland: Families and Friends Reunite As Restrictions Ease

More families and friends have been able to reunite in parks, gardens and beaches across Scotland after months in lockdown.  Restrictions have been eased allowing people to travel between council areas and meet more people outdoors.  Michael Mancini, who runs the Ice Cream Factory at Troon, South Ayrshire, said the beach was "heaving" with visitors. "We have been absolutely flying today. It has been brilliant, absolutely brilliant," he told BBC Radio Scotland.  The change to the rules means it is now possible to travel out of your local area for non-essential reasons and for six people from up to six households to meet up outdoors.  The relaxation had not been due to come into force until 26 April but the government said the changes were being made earlier in an effort to boost people's mental health and wellbeing.  However, significant restrictions remain in place.  People cannot stay overnight outside their council area - even in a tent or caravan.  And the advice remains to shop within your own council area unless there are no practical alternatives. While six people can meet up outdoors, the guidance is to minimise meetings, maintain 2m distancing and "use common sense".  Andrew McVie, 27, from Glasgow, said he was "super excited" to be visiting Millport, on the Isle of Cumbrae, to cycle round the island for the first time in more than two years.  The clerical assistant said: "You can do it in about two hours if you don't stop. It's why a lot of people like it.  There's great scenery and it's a really nice, friendly, welcoming place and it's a beautiful day.  I've missed it so much not being able to go because of the travel restrictions but I'll still be taking precautions."  James Fraser, chairman of The Friends of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime the national park was not as busy as he had anticipated.  Mr Fraser put this down to people prioritising meeting up with their loved ones on day one of the travel restrictions being eased.  But he added: "I think it will be a lot busier over the weekend if this weather holds up. There is no doubt about that so we would advise people to travel early.  I am sure we will get to a stage where all the car parks are full and people will be getting turned away." Douglas Cairns, of Traffic Scotland's control centre, urged people to allow extra time for their journeys. He told the programme: "This is the first relaxation where we are allowed to travel outwith our local authority area so there will be a slight increase in demand and, obviously, that is based around weather as well."  Earlier, Scotland's chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland that people may be uncertain about using another household's toilet during a meet up - but that "pragmatism" was important.  He said: "Of course there might be a risk going into someone's house but if people are very, very careful and they make sure they're taking precautions - washing their hands afterwards - nipping in to use someone's toilet is not something I think anyone would frown on.  What we don't want to see is people using that as an excuse to nip inside for cup of tea with people and sitting in unventilated areas."  The next significant easing of restrictions on 26 April should see all shops and some hospitality reopen.  At that point, someone visiting a friend in another part of the country will be able choose to book into a hotel or bed and breakfast for the night.  All remaining shops and close contact services like nail salons are also due to reopen on 26 April.  Pubs, bars, cafés, restaurants and bars will be able to serve people outdoors - in groups of up to six from six households - until 22:00 from that date.  Alcohol will be permitted, and there will be no requirement for food to be served.  Takeaways will be able to resume normal service, with physical distancing and face masks worn in premises.

Covid: How Ready is Scotland to Unlock?
Covid travel restrictions around Scotland were eased on Friday, earlier than expected, but there will be a much more significant relaxation in the rules from 26 April. As Scotland prepares to unlock, what is the state of the epidemic in the country?  The emergence of the Kent Covid variant in the weeks before Christmas drove a massive spike in cases in Scotland. At the beginning of the year, the number of weekly cases per 100,000 people in Scotland almost reached 300, triggering a full lockdown which has now lasted almost four months. But there has been a sustained decline in weekly cases since January, with the rate falling to below 35 on 15 April. Using a World Health Organization (WHO) system for measuring infection levels, this indicates Scotland has a "moderate" level of community transmission of the virus.  The rate is now the lowest it has been since September and still appears to be falling.  The death rate per 100,000 has been below 1.0 for a month. The Scottish government says this sustained decline in the death rate has been achieved through a combination of people sticking to lockdown rules, and the vaccination of those most vulnerable to becoming severely ill or dying from Covid-19. According to the WHO's thresholds, the death rate in Scotland indicates "low" levels of community transmission.  The Scottish government measures the positivity rate by dividing the number of positive tests per day by the total number of tests carried out. By this measure the 14-day average on 12 April was 1.9% - just below the WHO's 2% threshold indicating a "low" level of community transmission.  There are still local differences across Scotland. It's expected that all of Scotland will harmonise at level three from 26 April.  Rates in all local authorities have fallen in the last couple of months, but there are still significant differences between areas.  There have been very few cases recently in Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles or in Dumfries and Galloway, contrasting with much higher rates in Clackmannanshire, North Lanarkshire and West Lothian.  On 9 April, there were 10 local authorities with a higher level of cases than the Scotland-wide rate - and six are still categorised as having "high" levels of community transmission according to the WHO.  The WHO outlines five "situational levels" ranging from level zero, when there should be "no restrictions" on daily activities, up to level four which requires a full lockdown to tackle an "uncontrolled epidemic". Using measures like the death rate and the percentage of positive cases, the WHO system indicates that Scotland is currently sitting in level one or two, which is when more stringent rules like travel restrictions can be lifted.  In other words, Scotland does appear ready to come out of a full lockdown. About 60% of people aged 16 or over in Scotland have now received at least a first dose of a Covid vaccine, with hopes that the programme will be complete by the end of July.  In recent weeks there has been a focus on administering second doses of the vaccine, with more than 600,000 people in Scotland now fully vaccinated.

Scottish Election 2021: SNP Policies Explained
by BBC Scotland Staff
The constitutional position in the SNP manifesto is a simple and by now very familiar one - the party wants to have a new referendum on independence in the first half of the next Holyrood term, if a majority of MSPs back the idea. The text is explicit that "we are seeking the permission of the Scottish people in this election to hold an independence referendum, to take place AFTER the [Covid] crisis". This is a straightforward pitch for several reasons. Firstly, it meshes easily enough with the Green manifesto - which makes an effectively identical pledge - in the event the SNP falls short of a majority on its own and needs some help to get over the line.  And secondly it looks ahead to the clash with the UK Westminster government which will likely follow the election. The clearer and plainer the position, the easier it will be for Nicola Sturgeon to argue there is a mandate for indyref2 both in the eyes of the voting public, and in a political row with Boris Johnson.  Scotland already spends more per head of population on health services than other parts of the UK and the promise here is to up that even more - but increased spending alone won't be enough.  The SNP committed to building regional centres of excellence for procedures like hips, knees and cataracts back in 2015, and more recently channelled £850m into improving waiting times. Even pre-pandemic, progress was slow. Now, more than 85,000 people are on waiting lists for hospital treatment - with more than 15,000 waiting over a year.  So, it is a bold promise to increase capacity for non-urgent procedures by 10% and commit to getting waiting times back on track.  Other pledges include establishing a national care service. One thing the pandemic made clear is the uneven relationship between health and social care - despite Scotland already having progressive policies in place.  The SNP says progress has been made but more needs to be done. The party would spend £1bn during the term of the next parliament on measures to help education recover from the pandemic and close the attainment gap.  The party adds that it would make sure schools had more control over how that money was spent because they know which individuals need extra help and support. The health service continues to grab more of Holyrood's budget, and the latest SNP plans for a 20% uplift in frontline spending would push it well over half of total spend.  Allied to other pledges for more teachers, welfare benefits and housing, the implications for lower political priorities are likely to bring a squeeze.  Can it be afforded? That depends on the uncertain outlook for the economy, tax revenue and the block grant from Westminster. Nicola Sturgeon isn't adding up the numbers, instead referring the question to a "central scenario" of what might happen over the next five years.  That depends on big assumptions by the Office for Budget Responsibility and Scottish Fiscal Commission, both of them independent and both highlighting the uncertainty of their forecasts.  Like the Scottish Greens, the SNP has pledged to double the Child Payment. While the benefit is still being rolled out for older children until late 2022, the SNP also plans to introduce a £520 cash grant for families on benefits.  There are pledges to enhance a raft of benefits only recently established in Scotland due to new devolved powers over social security.  A universal basic income can't be introduced until Scotland is independent, says the SNP, but the party says it will explore how to use new powers to introduce a "minimum income guarantee".  There's no doubt that decarbonising our society will bring winners and losers. That's why there's been a focus on a "just transition" which supports those whose industries will change, like oil and gas, farmers or traditional motor mechanics.  If re-elected, the SNP pledge to appoint a just transition minister to ensure that fairness. This is certainly not something I've heard of in any other country.  Top of their in-tray would be to draft plans for how each sector, region and community in Scotland achieves such a transition. They'll need thick skin because they'll be lobbied hard from the many who'll want to resist that change. Forget "minister without portfolio"; this will be more like "minister-without friends".  In the age of Net Zero Emissions, transport policy risks alienating voters, so it has to be handled carefully.  One aim of the SNP is to reduce car use by 20% by the end of the decade. It is not clear how - charges for road use and parking, or squeezing cars off the road? Making public transport a more attractive option is part of the story. Bus travel is being promised £500m for infrastructure and £120m for new, low emission vehicles. ScotRail is to be operated by a public sector company, and the aim of getting it electrified or on hydrogen power is aimed at 2035.  In recent elections, justice policies have been dominated by pledges on police numbers. In 2021, the focus is more about victims' and human rights.  The SNP is also promising to incorporate four more United Nations Human Rights treaties into Scots law, including the elimination of racial discrimination and discrimination against women. The delivery of that commitment however might depend on the views of the Supreme Court, which has been asked to rule on whether the legislation could be beyond the scope of Holyrood's devolved powers if it places obligations on the UK Westminster government.

Scottish Election 2021: Labour Plan to Create 170,000 Jobs

A plan to create at least 170,000 jobs has been unveiled by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.  Mr Sarwar was joined in Edinburgh by UK Labour leader Keir Starmer to promote what the party claims is the "biggest job creation scheme" since devolution. It includes 60,000 "jobs for recovery" where every young person is guaranteed a job for at least six months. Speaking at Edinburgh Airport, Mr Sarwar said: "Scotland is facing a job crisis - and without urgent action, we could see hundreds of thousands of people facing a future out of work. Sir Keir added that Scottish Labour's plan is the "only thing on offer with the scale of ambition needed to start Scotland's recovery from this pandemic".  Elsewhere on the campaign trail, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has unveiled proposals that would allow communities to register interest in the reopening of railway stations. Part of the changes Mr Ross proposes would see a reverse of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.  The Tory infrastructure plan states: "We would review closed rail lines and stations and reopen those which would support local growth. We would also take forward plans to reopen the line between Perth and Edinburgh."  The Tories also propose a smart travel card that would work on public transport across Scotland, akin to an Oyster Card in London.

Man in Court Accused of Easterhouse Murder
Kai Russell, 22, is alleged to have stabbed Kamil Charyszyn, 35, on the neck with a knife of similar instrument in Glasgow's Easterhouse on 21 March.  He is also accused of having a knife without a reasonable excuse or lawful authority in Coatbridge, North Lanarkshire, on the same date. Represented by his lawyer Ian Moir, he made no plea at a private hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Friday 16 April.  Mr Russell, of Easterhouse, was remanded in custody pending further examination.

AUSTRALIAN SCOTTISH/CELTIC NEWS
Scotland Down Under with Robin MacKenzie on 2RRR 88.5 FM
Scottish music is a huge part of Scottish culture. It carries with it ancient stories and languages that have influenced many forms of music.  Each week from 6.00 - 7.30pm on a Tuesday Robin presents Scotland Down Under from 2RRR where he showcases all things Scottish.  Featuring music from the traditional to the contemporary, Robin will also keep you in touch with local and international Scottish news. Listen locally on the dial at 88.5FM, broadcast live from 2RRR's studios in Henley, Sydney or if out of range tune in, from anywhere in the world,  via our website, 2rrr.org.au and go to Live Stream where the reception is crystal clear.  You can reach the station at the following contact points;
by Phone in the office at 9816-2988 or the Studio: 9816-2777.  
To Text Robin while he is On-air  0412 777 885.
Mailing Address PO Box 644 GLADESVILLE NSW 1675.  
Street Address Henley Cottage, 4 Victoria Road, HENLEY NSW 2111

The Scottish Australian Heritage Council  still needs a Newsletter Editor so if you or you know of someone 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  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.
Queensland Pops Orchestra will present Best of British at the Concert Hall, Queensland Performing Arts Centre in Brisbane on Saturday April 17 at 2.30pm and 7.30pm
Celts from all over Australia will be making a weekend of it in Ipswich to attend The Gathering at the Ipswich Turf Club on Sunday May 23,
Order of St John Priory of Queensland will host A Night in Scotland at the Southport Yacht Club, Main Beach on the Gold Coast on Friday May 21 from 6.30pm.

Coisir  Ghaidhlig Astrailianach
(Australian Gaelic Singers) is back rehearsing on a face to face basis at Macquarie Presbyterian Church in Eastwood and they are looking for interested folk to join them.  If you’d like to join - 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 the 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