Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 602

Issue # 602                                                       Week ending Saturday 15th May  2021

If I Ever Met Some of These Education Officials I Would Give Them An Extremely Large Custard Pie by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Another jab soon and a couple of weeks after that I should be 90 per cent protected from that awful wee virus that has crippled the world, if the spiel from the NHS, the WHO, the BOJO, and the LSO is correct. My first jab didn’t bring on severe after-effects so I am quite hopeful about my next puncturing. If you suffer side-effects, I do sympathise - not with you but whoever you live with. Her armful of AstraZeneca made Mrs X really grumpy. ‘Twas I that suffered.

How on earth did we get through the past year and a bit. In this house, we don’t do jigsaws or star-jumps with Mr Motivator - well, not since he did them on breakfast telly in the 1980s. Catch-up TV and the occasional dram helped divert my thoughts of the helplessness of our situations. Then when we were really down, the other surefire trick was raiding the kitchen cupboard.

There it was - a tin of custard. Ambrosia or Birds, it didn’t matter. Prise it open, stir in a pan inhaling the sunny aromas as it heats and the world will seem a better place very quickly. Try it. If you only have custard powder you add to hot milk, fine. Next best thing. However, if you really want the proper taste sensation, make it from scratch. Easy-peasy. Flour, preferably cornflour if you can find it, caster sugar, egg yolks and milk. The secret ingredient is vanilla extract. Yumdrops.

With ice cream or without. With sticky toffee pudding or without. With custard creams or without. Oh, is that just me? Sorry. Custard will pick you up better than any medicine. It should be on the NHS. “Hello, Mr Chemist, may I have dandruff shampoo, toenail clippers, and another month’s supply of custard ingredients? Oh, and cancel the Pro Plus, the tonic, the essential oils and the Red Bull because I’m already feeling wonderful. Bye, lovely people. The happy one is leaving now.”

Just to be clear, I haven’t actually announced it like that in Boots myself. That was all going on in my head, though.

Yon primary school pupils in Rhynie signed a petition against the outrageous ban on custard and ice cream. I’d sign it. It seems to be because custard has more calories than other boring offerings. But the substituted brownies, muffins, gingerbread, and cookies are going to be atrocious poor replacements. There’s still a place for some of them and apple chunks and bananas, and that is on a dish smothered in deep custard.

Prohibition is a sign of failure. As outspoken former Mexican president Vincente Fox used to tell anyone who would listen: “Prohibition didn't work in the Garden of Eden because Adam ate the apple.” I’m not saying parents will now bulk-buy Birds but I wouldn’t blame them.

Custard should be elevated to be a grand treat for educational achievement, birthdays and just before holidays and long weekends, which is fairly regular anyway. Politeness and good behaviour should be rewarded with the dessert of gold, canaries, grapefruit and the middle traffic light, well almost. Imagine a plateful of pudding that is the same colour as the Simpsons - but not Madge’s blue hair, obviously.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has pushed this new supposedly-healthy eating guidance. If ever someone needed a pick-me-up, it’s him. Write to him. Cheer him up. Tell him what you think.

Kids have had it tough recently. John Swinney and Aberdeenshire Council’s obsession with banning this and that shows some of them are having problems too. They too are having it so tough, they can’t see the big picture. What custard loses in health points by being higher calorie, it more than makes up for as a boost to our wee darlings’ mental health. That is simple to understand. Had you thought of that Aberdeenshire Council? Nah, I thought not.

Before banning anything, rule-makers should experience it themselves. If every education department official and councillor on the education committee did a proper investigation by eating custard themselves at least once a week for a month, they would be able to make a balanced decision. Better decisions and they could even become better people. Imagine that?

All this talk of the golden dessert of smart people made me hungry. I have been to the kitchen cupboard again. No tins left and the packet of custard powder is well past its expiry date. Ugh, that was very off-pudding.

Nicola Sturgeon Has Hailed the SNP's "Historic and Extraordinary" Fourth Consecutive Victory in the Scottish Parliament Election.
The party finished on 64 seats - one short of a majority but one more than it won in 2016.  Ms Sturgeon said her priority was the pandemic but she still intended to hold an independence referendum once the crisis has passed.  Ms Sturgeon said there was no democratic justification for the prime minister, or anyone else, to attempt to block it.  But Mr Johnson said talk of "ripping our country apart" would be "irresponsible and reckless".  The prime minister congratulated Ms Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on their re-elections and invited them to a meeting "to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them".  In Scotland the SNP won 64 seats, the Conservatives 31, Labour 22, the Scottish Greens eight and Liberal Democrats four.  Ms Sturgeon said her party had won the most constituency seats and secured the highest share of the constituency vote in the history of devolution.  And she pledged that "the task of building a better Scotland for everyone who lives here will be my priority every single day."  Ms Sturgeon said her focus in government would be on leading the country through the pandemic and keeping people safe from Covid.  She added: "It is then to kick-start and drive our recovery with an ambitious and transformative programme for government.  And, yes, when the crisis has passed, it is to give people in Scotland the right to choose their future.  All of that is what I promised and all of that is what I intend to deliver."  She said the result of the election meant there was "no democratic justification whatsoever for Boris Johnson or anyone else seeking to block the right of the people of Scotland to choose our future."  And she insisted that holding a referendum was now "the will of the country". The prime minister congratulated Ms Sturgeon and Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on their re-elections and invited them to a meeting "to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them".  He phoned Mr Drakeford on Saturday and plans to speak to Ms Sturgeon on Sunday.  In a letter to Ms Sturgeon published on Saturday night, he invited her to "discuss our shared challenges", adding "we will not always agree - but I am confident... we will be able to build back better, in the interests of the people we serve."  Mr Johnson said the country needed to "show the same spirit of unity and co-operation that marked our fight against the pandemic" in engineering a Covid-19 recovery.  But he warned it would be a "difficult journey", adding: "The broad shoulders of the UK have supported jobs and businesses the length and breadth of the country, but we know that economic recovery will be a serious shared responsibility."  Prior to the Holyrood election's final results, Mr Johnson wrote in Saturday's Daily Telegraph that it would be "irresponsible and reckless" to talk about "ripping our country apart" with an independence referendum at a time when people wanted to recover from the coronavirus crisis.   The Scottish voting system was specifically designed (by Westminster) to prevent any one party having a majority in the 129-seat parliament - although the SNP did manage to do so in the 2011 election.  The SNP, which formed a minority government after the last election in 2016, had hoped that winning another majority in this election would further strengthen its calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held.  It would also have allowed the party to pass laws and the Scottish government's annual budget at Holyrood without having to rely on the support of any other party.  But there will be another, slightly increased, pro-independence majority in the parliament thanks to the seats allocated to the Scottish Greens through the regional list system and the additional seat won by the SNP.  However, the Alba Party - which was formed by former SNP leader and first minister Alex Salmond - will not win any seats.  Polling expert Prof Sir John Curtice said the results have seen 51% voters backing pro-UK parties in the constituency ballot - and 51% backing pro-independence parties in the regional list ballot. The SNP won two seats from Labour and one from the Conservatives in the constituency results that were declared on Friday. But those wins caused the party to lose seats on the regional list, effectively cancelling out some of the gains it has made.  No other constituency seats have changed hands after Thursday's vote, which saw a record turnout for a Scottish Parliament election despite the Covid pandemic.  But the SNP's Kaukab Stewart and Pam Gosal of the Scottish Conservatives making history by becoming the first women of colour to win seats in the Scottish Parliament.  The SNP has pledged to push forward with legislation for a second Scottish independence referendum and have said they could go to the courts if the UK Westminster government attempts to block it.  Ms Sturgeon has also said she will not hold an illegal wildcat vote on the issue, arguing that it would not actually lead to Scotland becoming independent because the result would not be recognised by the UK Westminster government or the international community.  And she has repeatedly stressed that she would only want a referendum to be held once the pandemic is over.  Opinion polls suggest that voters are essentially split 50-50 on the question of whether Scotland should be an independent country.
Analysis by Glenn Campbell, BBC Scotland Political Editor
Having secured a fourth term in power for the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon is not short of things to do as first minister.  She has to form a government - that could be another SNP-only administration, unless she wants to explore a more formal arrangement with the independence-supporting Greens to secure an outright majority.  She has to reshuffle her cabinet with four cabinet posts including that of health secretary needing filled as a result of retirements.  There are also important decisions that need to be taken on coronavirus - with a further easing of restrictions due on 17 May, plans to reopen international travel to consider and concern over Covid cases in Moray to address.  Ms Sturgeon has insisted that dealing with the pandemic and its aftermath will be her immediate priority — although clearly she intends to press the case for another independence referendum too.  There are also formalities - being sworn in with the other 128 MSPs on Thursday before putting herself forward in parliament for re-election as first minister the following week.

Scottish Independence: Could the Supreme Court Rule on A Referendum? By P.Sim
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants there to be a fresh referendum on Scottish independence - but Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not. The two governments may end up taking their arguments to the Supreme Court - but why? Would this really settle the issue?  We examine the constitutional standoff between the Scottish and UK Westminster governments.
The SNP has just won an unprecedented fourth term in office in the Scottish Parliament election, winning more than twice as many seats as their nearest rivals.  They stood on a manifesto to hold a second independence referendum in the coming years - as did the Scottish Greens. Between them the two parties have a clear pro-independence majority at Holyrood.  However, this does not mean they can go straight ahead to planning a vote.  For Scotland to actually become independent, Ms Sturgeon is clear that the process must be both legally and internationally recognised.  And Mr Johnson is clear that he does not want there to be a referendum any time soon, saying the vote in 2014 - which saw Scots reject independence by 55% to 45% - should be binding for "a generation".  Why would this end up in court?  Various laws need to be passed in order to set up a referendum - and there is not a firm agreement on whether MSPs have the power, under the current devolution settlement, to do this without the backing of UK ministers.  The previous referendum in 2014 was underpinned by an agreement between the Scottish and UK Westminster governments to formally transfer powers to Holyrood. This meant MSPs could legislate for a referendum without any wrangling over who actually had the powers in the first place - everyone was signed up to the process.  Ms Sturgeon wants to follow this "gold standard" approach for a new referendum - but has seen her requests for a similar deal shot down first by Theresa May and then by Mr Johnson.  The SNP leader insists the prime minister's position is unsustainable, and that he must back down. If he does not, her plan to break the deadlock is to skip the agreement and just pass a referendum bill at Holyrood - and dare the UK Westminster government to challenge the legislation in court.  Once a bill has been approved by a final vote of MSPs, there is a four-week wait before it gets Royal Assent and becomes law.  During that period, anyone can come forward with a challenge to the legitimacy of the legislation. So if the UK Westminster government believed MSPs were acting beyond Holyrood's powers, they could have law officers issue a challenge and argue the toss in the Supreme Court.  This has happened before, over Brexit legislation - and there is currently a standing challenge to two other Holyrood bills.  Once a challenge has been made, the bill effectively goes on ice until judges at the Supreme Court have ruled on whether it falls within the set of powers devolved from Westminster to Holyrood. If judges raise particular concerns about parts of the legislation, it can be sent back to Holyrood to be amended - or if there are fundamental issues, it can simply go in the bin.  What would judges be deciding on?  The Scotland Act lists "aspects of the constitution" and specifically "the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England" as reserved matters - and says MSPs are not allowed to legislate on anything which "relates to reserved matters".  For UK ministers, this makes it very clear that the matter of the union is reserved to Westminster - and thus MSPs cannot legislate for an independence referendum without straying beyond devolved powers.  However, there is a school of argument that the bare fact of holding a referendum about the union would not necessarily impact on the union directly.  It would effectively be advisory, an illustration of the will of the people, and a mandate for independence negotiations to begin - like the Brexit referendum sparked years of negotiations, rather than drop the UK out of the EU on the spot. This argument accepts that Scotland could not break up the union unilaterally - but holds that the act of holding a referendum would not necessarily be an act of secession in itself, rather a possible prelude to one.  So the question judges would likely be answering is whether or not the holding of a referendum directly "relates to" the Union of the Kingdoms of Scotland and England.  All of that said, we do not know precisely on what terms any court challenge would be fought - there may be many more arguments which could be put forward by either side.  Has this been tested in court before?  Not directly, but there have been two cases which may be of relevance.  The first was a challenge brought to the Court of Session by independence campaigner Martin Keatings, who advanced similar arguments to those noted above.  The court declined to take a view, saying that a citizen-led challenge was "premature, hypothetical and academic" and that the proper approach would be a challenge in the Supreme Court.   Lord Carloway - Scotland's most senior judge - did drop a hint that "it may not be too difficult to arrive at a conclusion" when the case does ultimately come up, although it would likely be fought in a different court and potentially on different arguments.  The other case was the UK Westminster government's successful Supreme Court challenge to Holyrood's Brexit legislation in 2018.  MSPs had passed their own alternative to Westminster's EU Withdrawal Act, but judges said parts of it could not be allowed to stand - in part because of changes UK ministers made to their own legislation late in the day.  They added the Withdrawal Act to a schedule of protected legislation which the Scotland Act says MSPs cannot modify - rendering much of the Holyrood bill beyond competence. The Scottish government were furious, saying the goalposts had been moved midway through the match.  There has been a suggestion that should UK ministers fear defeat in the Supreme Court over legislation for a referendum, they could take the same approach again.  That might be a killer move from a legal perspective - but it might also be a dangerous one politically, if it was seen as a stitch-up by voters north of the border.  Would a court ruling settle the matter?  Legally, perhaps - but not necessarily politically. All of this is really a matter of process, rather than of the substance of the issue.  Say the court ruled that MSPs could legislate for a referendum. It would undermine Mr Johnson's position in the court of public opinion, but there would still be nothing to stop him arguing against a referendum for one political reason or another - or indeed of the unionist side boycotting any poll set up in the absence of an explicit agreement.  This would still be a major consideration for Ms Sturgeon. It is not really the referendum she is interested in, but the result.  She wants the vote to be unimpeachable in its legitimacy, and to have international recognition - particularly from the EU - so that it can actually deliver independence.  A victory in court would be great news for her, and potentially a useful tool in forcing Downing Street's hand - but the victory she craves is a political one. She needs both sides to be willing participants, signing up to a contest on a level playing field.  The same would be true if the court ruled that the process of setting up a referendum fell outside Holyrood's competence. It would not make the issue of Scottish independence simply disappear.  Ms Sturgeon would still point to a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament and a series of polls suggesting Scots are divided on the issue. A legal ruling about process would not ruin the case for deciding this issue once and for all.  In short, Ms Sturgeon will still be out to secure an agreement with Downing Street either way.

Proposed Power Line Would Cross Antonine Wall
The proposed route of a new power line from Bonnybridge to Glenmavis would cross the Antonine Wall, a World Heritage site, it has emerged.  SP Energy Networks (Spen) said plans to upgrade the network in the area would help Scotland meet Net Zero climate change targets.  It said the chosen route would cross the wall at a location that minimises potential effects on the site.  A public consultation is being held from 24 May to 21 June.  The Antonine Wall was built by the Romans, running from the Firth of Forth to the Firth of Clyde. Most of the wall and its associated fortifications have been destroyed over time, but some remains are visible.  Spen said the route would pass east of Rough Castle, "using dips in the landscape and screening provided by existing trees to reduce visibility in the landscape".  It would then pass west of the Slamannan Plateau special protection area (SPA) and cross Palacerigg Country Park.  Spen's report said: "We can't avoid crossing the park because of the need to avoid the SPA and nearby homes on the edge of Cumbernauld, but we will use the landscape and mature trees to screen the new line from views as much as possible."  The route then avoids the community growth areas and planned development north of Airdrie and east of the A73, before terminating at a point near Glenmavis where it joins on to the existing Easterhouse-Newarthill overhead transmission line.  Most of the towers would be 46m (150ft) high, but some could be up to 63m (206ft) for safety reasons. Spen said the towers were usually about 300m (328yds) apart but the exact distance would vary depending on obstacles such as roads, rivers and railway lines.  Spen said the line would be upgraded as part of the Denny to Wishaw Network Upgrade Project. It says this is because more renewable electricity needs to flows through the area as the move is made away from fossil fuels such as coal and gas.  The company said work was also needed to increase the voltage in an overhead line between Denny North and Bonnybridge substations from 275,000 volts to 400,000 volts.  Locals will be given the chance to have their say on the plans, the preferred route for the new line and the associated works.  Leaflets are being sent to 25,000 homes and businesses in communities across the central belt to explain the plans and how to take part in the consultation, which will be mainly online due to coronavirus restrictions.  Spen's project manager, Fiona Muir, said: "Scotland and the UK are in the middle of a transformation, with the electricity we use increasingly coming from clean, green renewables which are replacing older power stations.  At the same time, demand for electricity is increasing rapidly with the electrification of cars, heating systems, transport and industry.  This huge change means we need to upgrade the transmission network to ensure it can get this increasing amount of electricity from where it is produced to the homes, businesses, hospitals and public services that need it."  A second round of consultation will take place next year on a detailed route, after which Spen will seek approval from the Scottish government.

NHS Starts ‘Enhanced’ Testing Drive in Grantown As Covid Variant ‘Under Investigation’ is Detected
Highland health officials have warned of a spike of Covid cases in the Grantown area, with a new asymptomatic testing drive being organised to combat the problem.  A temporary mobile testing unit is being opened for business at Burnfield Avenue car park on Wednesday in an attempt to prevent further spread of the virus.  The move comes amid concerns from NHS Highland over a cluster of Covid-19 cases were identified in the area were linked to a variant “under investigation”.  That means it is not one of the main strains currently circulating in the UK.  Contact tracing has been carried out with all positive cases and their close contacts advised to isolate immediately.  Health chiefs say no further cases have been identified to date, and the confirmed cases are small in number.  But “enhanced contact tracing and additional PCR testing” is now being carried out due to the nature of the variant.   Lateral flow tests are now being offered to asymptomatic residents, who are currently presenting no symptoms connected to Covid-19, to prevent it spreading to the wider community.  Dr Jenny Wares, consultant in public health medicine with NHS Highland, said: “We have been really encouraged by the engagement from our communities with the measures that have been in place over the past few months.  We know that hearing about a variant under investigation can be worrying but the way to limit the spread of any variant remains the same.  It is really important that we all continue to follow FACTS – wear a face covering, avoid crowded places, clean your hands regularly, maintain two metres distance and self-isolate and book a test if you have symptoms. We would also ask that everyone continues to support those affected by COVID-19 in our communities with compassion.   Lockdown is slowly being eased and it has been a very challenging year for all but we would ask that everyone continues to adhere to the guidelines. By doing this we can fight this virus.”   Local councillor John Bruce said: “I’m very glad the testing is being carried out. It seems quite a straightforward thing to do so I hope everyone that needs it gets it and does it.”   The testing scheme is the third of its kind to be rolled out in the north in recent weeks.  At the beginning of April, drop-in testing was run at Merkinch Community Centre following a cluster of cases at the local primary school.  Four classes at the Carse Road school were instructed to self-isolate, just days before the start of the Easter holidays, after a staff member tested positive.  Health officials also identified wider family clusters in the local area.  Several weeks later, further asymptomatic testing was launched in the Inverness area to help clamp down on the spread of the virus.  A mobile testing unit was opened on the grounds of the Highland Council headquarters, as part of an eight-day scheme, launched in partnership with NHS Highland and the Highland Council.

Strike Action Looms At Whisky Maker Chivas Brothers
Workers at whisky and spirits producer Chivas Brothers have voted to back industrial action in a dispute over pay.  GMB and Unite union members were balloted last month after talks between the unions and the distiller collapsed.  The unions said strike action could begin before the end of May, unless Chivas came up with an improved offer.   Chivas said it was "deeply disappointed" but remained committed to seeking a resolution to the dispute.  The unions claim the firm, whose brands include Glenlivet, Ballantine's and Royal Salute, has been unwilling to lift a pay freeze.  Chivas employs about 1,600 workers in Scotland, including at the Kilmalid bottling hall, Strathclyde Grain Distillery, Glenlivet Distillery and maturation sites in Speyside, Clydebank and Ayrshire.  In a statement, GMB Scotland said 84.4% of its members at Chivas had voted to back strike action, with 92.7% supporting action short of a strike.  The union claimed Chivas' parent company, Pernod Ricard, had awarded pay rises to its workers in France earlier this year, while freezing pay for workers in Scotland.   GMB also said anger among workers had "intensified" during the ballot, after Pernod Ricard announced promising financial results at the end of April.   Scotland organiser Keir Greenaway said: "Chivas workers across Scotland have kept the profits rolling in throughout this pandemic, but also against the headwinds of Brexit and a tariffs war with the US.  They deserve much better than a real-terms pay cut."  Unite reported that its members had voted for strike action by 82% on a 62% turnout. Regional co-ordinating officer Elaine Dougall said: "This result comes after months of trying to negotiate a fair pay award for the workers but throughout this whole time the company have barely moved an inch.  Unite is asking that Chivas Brothers use this result as an opportunity to make an improved offer or industrial action will take place in a matter of weeks just as the country is easing restrictions on access to pubs and restaurants."   In a statement, Chivas chairman and chief executive Jean-Christophe Coutures said: "We are deeply disappointed that our union members have voted in favour of industrial action.  We maintain that our proposal to our unions - which included guaranteed pay increases in 2021 and 2022 - is fair, and recognises the hard work of our teams whilst responsibly managing our business for the years ahead.  Despite the result of this vote, we remain committed to seeking a resolution that focuses our collective efforts on achieving long-term business success, job security and growth."

Glasgow Biscuit Factory Closure Plan Puts Nearly 500 Jobs At Risk
Nearly 500 jobs are at risk under plans to close the McVitie's biscuit factory in Glasgow.  McVitie's owner Pladis said the Tollcross plant would close in the second half of 2022 with production moved to other factories in the UK.  The company has blamed "excess capacity" at its plants for the move.  Unions have said the closure of the factory, which has been operating in the city for nearly 100 years, would be "devastating".  There have been concerns raised about the future of the plant, which produces Hobnobs and Rich Tea biscuits among other products, for a number of years.  Pladis said its plans to shut the historic site were subject to a "full and meaningful consultation" with its 468 employees.  GMB Scotland Secretary Gary Smith said: "This is an utterly shameful decision by Pladis - the lowest of the low after a wretched year.  Staff have worked through the Covid pandemic because management insist they are key workers, helping this business increase its lockdown sales into billions of pounds, but instead of re-investing some of that money back into the Tollcross plant, management are rewarding them with the closure of their site within a year."  Pat McIlvogue, industrial officer for the Unite union, said: "The news that hundreds of jobs are at risk at McVitie's Tollcross factory is devastating.   We have a duty of care to hundreds of families to work tirelessly in an effort to bring forward proposals which can keep the factory open.  We can't allow a world-renowned Scottish brand to have no workers left in Glasgow and Scotland - closure simply isn't an option."  Glasgow East MP David Linden said: "Since 2017, I've been engaging with Pladis around the challenges they face as a business and I was genuinely encouraged to learn that things had started to turn a corner.  Therefore, news of proposed closure comes as something of a bolt out of the blue.  Today's news comes as a total body blow to our community."  David Murray, Pladis UK and Ireland managing director, said: "We know this news will be difficult for our colleagues at Tollcross.  Our priority now is to provide them with the support they need during the consultation process.   Pladis is home to some of Britain's best loved brands which have been part of the fabric of our society for nearly 200 years.  In order to protect them for generations to come, we must take steps to address excess capacity in the UK."

SNP Holds Airdrie and Shotts Seat in By-election
The SNP has held one of its Westminster seats in a by-election after seeing off a challenge from Labour.  Anum Qaisar-Javed won the Airdrie and Shotts seat for the SNP with a reduced majority of 1,757 over her Labour opponent.  Her victory brings the total number of SNP MPs in the Commons back to 45.  The by-election was held after sitting MP Neil Gray resigned in order to stand in last week's Scottish Parliament election.   Ms Qaisar-Javed is a 28-year-old modern studies teacher who was a Labour activist until the independence referendum in 2014. She becomes Scotland's second-ever female Muslim MP.   Her win follows the SNP's landslide victory in last week's Scottish Parliament election - which saw the SNP's Kaukab Stewart and Pam Gosal of the Scottish Conservatives become the country's first women of colour to be elected to Holyrood.  The by-election saw Ms Qaisar-Javed receive 10,129 votes, with Labour second on 8,372 - a majority of 1,757.  The SNP's share of the vote was 46.4% - 1.4 percentage points higher than in the 2019 election - with Labour's share increasing by 6.5 percentage points to 38.4%.  The Conservatives finished third with 2,812 votes, with the Liberal Democrats fourth on 220.  Turnout was 34.3% - lower than the average of 46.5% for a by-election in the last parliament - with counting being done overnight.  Mr Gray won the seat for the SNP with a majority of 5,201 in the last general election in 2019.   He was elected as the MSP for the Airdrie and Shotts seat in the Scottish Parliament last week - with SNP rules meaning he had to quit as an MP in order to stand for Holyrood.  Ms Qaisar-Javed said she hoped to be a role model for other people from minority backgrounds - and also pledged to "fight for independence" after being elected.  She said she taught her students about why there are fewer people from minority communities in politics, adding: "We talk about reasons such as a lack of role models, and it has taken until 2021, but now we have two women of colour in the Scottish Parliament.   But I don't just want women of colour to look at me, or people of colour, I want anyone from any minority group to be able to look at me and say 'if she can do it, so can I'."   In a speech made after votes were counted at the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility in Motherwell, she added that the "initial priority has to be the Covid recovery".  But she said: "As we move through the pandemic and when the time is right, then yes of course we will be looking to campaign for another independence referendum, as is the right of people of Scotland.   Whatever the result is of that referendum, so be it, but that choice is of paramount importance."  The contest was the first Westminster by-election to be held in Scotland since 2011.  This was the SNP's first ever Westminster by-election defence, and one they have handled fairly comfortably.  In theory this could have been a closer contest, with Labour coming within 195 votes of regaining the seat in 2017, but it increasingly seemed like the forgotten election as polling day approached.  It was perhaps understandable that it would fly under the radar in terms of the political debate in Scotland, coming as it did one week after a crucial set of Scottish Parliament elections.  But the same was true from a Westminster angle, with the contest in Hartlepool a week earlier seeming to take on far greater significance in the eyes of Labour, particularly in the wake of their defeat.  Airdrie and Shotts was once a Labour stronghold, and a textbook example of Scotland's importance to the party's position in government. It was the base first of the Scottish Secretary, Helen Liddell, and then the Home Secretary, John Reid.  Tonight, it has once again been held by the SNP, the new dominant political force in this part of the world - while UK Labour's focus appears to be on bickering over the results of elections elsewhere.

Covid in Scotland: Glasgow and Moray to Remain Under Level 3 Restrictions
Glasgow and Moray will remain under level three Covid restrictions for at least another week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.   She said the "difficult" decision in Glasgow followed a rise in cases.  Ms Sturgeon said the situation in the city was causing even more concern than Moray, which had already been warned it was likely to stay in level three. The decision means nearly 730,000 people in Glasgow and Moray will not move down to level two.  Ms Sturgeon said initial research suggested that the outbreak centred in the south side of Glasgow was being driven by the Indian variant of the virus.  The first minister added that people were being asked not to travel in or out of Glasgow and Moray for the coming week, unless the journey was for permitted purposes.  The rest of mainland Scotland will drop down to level two from Monday, and most islands will be placed in level one.  Ms Sturgeon said: "It is inevitable that as we continue to navigate our way through this pandemic, we will hit bumps in the road.  However, if we exercise suitable caution as we're seeking to do today, then even though that is difficult, we are much more likely to stay on the right track overall."  The seven-day rate of cases per 100,000 population in Glasgow is 80.4, while in Moray it has fallen to 68.9.  The rates are above 50 cases per 100,000, a key benchmark for deciding the appropriate tier of restrictions.  The Glasgow cases are concentrated mainly in the south of the city, with one district, Pollokshields West, seeing 47 positive cases over the previous seven days, giving a local case rate of 1,008 per 100,000 population.  The move to level two Covid restrictions on Monday in the rest of mainland Scotland will allow people to hug and visit other households indoors. Pubs and restaurants can also sell alcohol indoors.  Ms Sturgeon said the Indian variant of the virus had been detected in Glasgow, which caused increased concern among public health advisers and the government.  "We do not yet have a full understanding of the impact of this variant, including on the protection afforded by the vaccines," she said.  "I do want to stress that nothing at this stage suggests it is causing more severe illness.  However, it is thought that this variant could be significantly more transmissible than even the Kent variant that was identified before Christmas - and that alone calls for an appropriate degree of caution."  Ms Sturgeon also said there were "grounds for cautious optimism that the situation is improving" in Moray.  However, the number of cases is still more than double the Scottish average.  The first minister said it was "prudent" to keep the area in level three for another week "so we can be more confident that the situation is firmly under control".  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde is encouraging all people in the hotpspot areas to visit a Covid testing centre. It said it was "actively pursuing" ways to ensure vaccination uptake was as high as possible.  Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: "This decision will come as a disappointment to many, but I fully understand and appreciate the need for this action.  If the right action is taken now, we can get Glasgow and Moray back on track and into level two as soon as safely possible."

Return of Calmac's Largest Ferry Further Delayed
CalMac's largest and fastest ferry is now not expected to return to its Ullapool- Stornoway route until 21 May at the earliest.  The Loch Seaforth suffered an engine failure last month, but there were hopes of it being back in service by the end of April and then by 17 May. The breakdown disrupted the Ullapool-Stornoway route and other services across the CalMac network.  Services affected include sailings to and from Arran.  The firm had to move ferries from their normal routes to help provide cover for the Loch Seaforth.  The delay comes after specialist engineers carried out final testing on the Loch Seaforth and identified that further work was needed on one of its engine bearings.  The Loch Seaforth is set to leave the James Watt Dock in Greenock, where it was repaired, for two days of sea trials on Monday.

AUSTRALIAN SCOTTISH/CELTIC NEWS
Scottish Australian Heritage Council & the Celtic Council of Australia invite you to the following events;
Fri 25 June Scottish/Celtic Bards Dinner - entertainment includes Scots/Irish Dancers, Poetry from Wales/Ireland/Scotland/Brittany Sat 26 June Inspection of CAIRN, Rawson Park, Mosman. Sun 27 June Kirkin o’the Tartan, Hunter Baillie Church, Annandale.  Mon 28 June Tartan Day Lunch NSW Parliament House.  Evening  Lecture (via zoom) “weaving the tartan: Culture, imperialism and Scottish identities in Australia 1788-1938
BOOKING & INFORMATION www.scottishaustralianheritagecouncil.com.au  

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.
By email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it  
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

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