Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 605

Issue # 605                                     Week ending Saturday 5th June  2021
Did I Dream it Or Did I Really Get An Invitation to That Sudden Wedding in Westminster Cathedral?   by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

When I got the late invitation from Number 10 to a “do” in the cathedral and drinky-poos in the rose garden, I didn’t think anything of it. Not worth going all that way for a sermon and prosecco. I can do that anytime here in Stornoway, but without the plonk on the lawn.

So I thanked him kindly and just wrote “Sorry, Boris. Still busy here keeping this island Covid-free. Mrs X insists on no close-in snogging. That’s not a Covid thing - she’s been saying it to me for nearly 25 years. Maybe next time, B.”

I had absolutely no idea Boris was planning on getting hitched to Carrie or anything like that. I wouldn’t have told anyone. I would probably have mentioned it here in the column, but I wouldn’t have told anyone.

Now Boris has asked me for advice on what to do to make sure they get on together in the long-term. Well, it’s like this. You have to let go of some things that you have always held dear. For instance, yesterday, Mrs X made pancakes. She made a good job of them, surprisingly.

So I said they reminded me of my mother’s. She went all soppy. She said: “Aw, do you know something? That’s the first time you have compared anything I have done to your mother’s.” I replied: “Well, that’s because this is the first time you’ve come close.”

She would have hit me but Nicola then announced the islands were going to Level 0. Yippee. Angry to happy in two seconds. She put down the frying pan. We are hygienic people here, not like these mainlanders. Places like Glasgow are awful. They don’t turn up for jabs. They should go up to Level 4 - or maybe that should just be all Rangers supporters. I hope they take that the right way.

Just like I hope Boris will take it the right way when I say I ain’t impressed with his plans for a new national flagship. It’s just like former royal yacht Britannia. That was the royals’ ferry from 1953 to 1997. Britannia was actually designed by Prince Philip. With its slope towards the stern, it’s also going to look like the Ullapool-to-Stornoway ferry Loch Seaforth - when it’s in working order.

It will be multi-purpose, coming into service in 2025, the government claims. It is to be used by the royals and the Prime Minister of the day - so it’s going to be a life on the ocean wave for Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Also on board could be diplomats and trade delegations showcasing British exports and making the most of trading opportunities.

All because the food miles and deathly planet pollution we will be forced to cope with because of Brexit will be staggering. Still, it was the whole of Aberdeenshire which wanted this coming fiasco so it’s all your fault over there. Nothing to do with us Hebrideans. Fit like, ye loons ye.

The thought of British trade being promoted all round the world by a flagship based on designs by the late Duke of Edinburgh and the beleagured west coast ferries owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd shivers my timbers. Ach, it’ll never be reliable. It’ll be the standby ferry for the Castlebay-to-Oban route before you know it. Can’t do much worse than the rickety old MV Isle of Lewis, that’s for sure.

Mind you, the old HMY Britannia is still tied up for people to gawp at on Ocean Terminal in Leith. Hey CalMac, here’s an idea. If you are really stuck, you could maybe get Royal Assent to bring it into service as you do not seem to have done anything useful about putting any other reliable vessels on any of our island routes.

Britannia is 68 years old? So what? It’s got gold-plated toilet fittings. I would pay extra to be sick in that.

Giving Boris advice for a long and happy married life has really got me thinking. Is there anything else I should be saying to him? I wasn’t sure so I phoned Murdo who got married a few years ago. Any advice for Boris, Murd? His advice was to get the family planning right.

Murdo explained: “The doctor told me I could have that wee procedure that men get when they don’t want to have children. I told him I wanted that right away. It didn’t work though. When I got home, they were still there.”

Covid: Scotland 'At the Start' of A Third Wave

Scotland is at the beginning of a third wave of Covid, according to the country's national clinical director.  Prof Jason Leitch said more cases were inevitable as society gradually opens up after lockdown.  On Monday a scientific advisor to the UK Westminster government warned there were signs the UK was in the early stages of a third wave of infections.  Earlier Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, paused lockdown easing in some areas of the country.  Most of the country had been due to drop to level one of the five-tier system next week but Ms Sturgeon said 13 council areas would stay in level two due to rising case rates.  Glasgow, which had been the only local authority still in level three, will also move to level two.  As national clinical director, Prof Leitch regularly appears alongside Ms Sturgeon at Covid briefings to help communicate public health messages.  He was asked on BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime if he thought Scotland was at the start of a third wave.  He replied: "Yes. I think we are. The question is how big that third wave is."  Covid cases hit a low on 5 May, when 85 cases were recorded across Scotland.  But since then numbers have been rising, with 641 recorded on Friday - the highest daily number since 25 March.  The variant first identified in India is believed to be responsible for about half of Scotland's daily cases.  Prof Leitch said that as restrictions ease then it followed that there would be more cases.  He added: "The question is whether you control that to a level that doesn't cause enough severe disease to fill hospitals and enough severe disease to cause misery and death to families.  And that's the balance we are now trying to strike in the advice we are giving and the decisions the first minister and the cabinet have made today."  Prof Leitch was also asked if Glasgow's role as a host city of Euro 2020 had any bearing on the decision to ease restrictions before the tournament starts on 11 June.  The Scottish government has given approval for 12,000 supporters - 25% of the stadium's capacity - to attend tournament matches at Hampden in June.  He said: "Absolutely not. There is no single sector, despite what you might believe, there is no single sector that gets to control the Covid response.  I absolutely promise you. Not in the advice and not in the decision-making."  Meanwhile, Dr Christine Tait-Burkard, a virologist at the University of Edinburgh, later told BBC Scotland's The Nine there has been a "bump" in hospitalisation numbers.  But she added 5% of people who test positive now require hospital treatment - compared to 10% earlier in the pandemic - and patients are spending less time in hospital.  "It tells us that not only is the vaccination working but also treatments have made progress significantly since even the beginning of the year,"Dr Tait-Burkard said.  Scotland's Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the vaccine gave "a huge amount of security".  But he added: "We are not certain yet that the vaccination protects us from the significant upsurge in hospitalisation, which would obviously be a real worry as part of the development of the pandemic."  Mr Swinney, who is also the Covid recovery secretary, added: "The vaccination is a real strength but there are still dangers and we have to make sure that we take a measured approach to tackle all of those issue as we address the pace of the virus within our society."

The City Dwellers Who Want A More Tribal Way of Living
Stefanie Kaiser has been been living in Edinburgh for nine years - but says she is longing to be part of a community.  The 41-year-old communications manager grew up in a small town in Austria.  "I'm from somewhere that everyone knows each other, and they accept me for who I am.  Having someone on the spot who is rooting for you, who will help you is a big deal.  A place where you don't have to make appointments to meet people because your friends are there in your community, gardening with you, chatting with you in shared indoor and outdoor space is what I want.  I want to feel part of a community, that is what would give me happiness."  The single mother-of-two is now part of a group who want to set up a cohousing project to create a more tribal way of living.  They want to buy the 19th Century Comiston Farmhouse, which is set in an acre of land between Fairmilehead and Oxgangs in Edinburgh.  Each household would have their own home - but share other resources, such as a laundry, garden space, tools and cars.  The plan is for six small houses to be built in the grounds, with two flats in the top part of the mansion. The lower part of the building would be used by the whole group as a communal meeting area.  Stefanie says the project needs people of all ages to work.  "It needs to be sustainable, like a forest. New and old growing together.  We live in an overwhelming world, so we need people around us. We need strong community bonds."   The group behind the plans, Cohousing in Southern Scotland (Choiss), was formed in 2016 and has grown to include 20 people. They plan to sell their current properties and put their finances together to bid for the 19th Century mansion.  David Somervell, a retired university sustainability advisor, is the secretary of the group. He stressed that the community would not be transient, so relationships could build over many years.  The 67-year-old said he and his wife were looking to live a less private, more convivial existence.  "We want to live somewhere where we can draw on each other's support when we want it," he said.  "Everyone would have a quiet space and a key for their own front door, but then they could also go to the communal areas to draw on the care and affections of others.  It would give us a sense of belonging to have this support from others and for others."  The father-of-two said he saw people living in a "harmonious" way while studying architecture in Copenhagen in the 1980s.  I have a sense that individuals in our society suffer great anomie, they feel abandoned and bereft of social contact and are lonely.  It is unsatisfactory values which have been forced upon us which has lead to us living separately.  This makes us more competitive when instead we should be showing more compassion to each other. Humans are social animals."  Jan Woolley, 71, is another member of the group. The single retired civil servant said she had a "fantastic childhood" living in a compound in Kenya.  "There was no structured play dates and we grew up as a group, which is how Comiston Farmhouse would work too.  In a community like this you can see your friends whenever you want and you all help each other.  You don't have to make arrangements to meet up, you just knock on each other's doors."  The grandmother-of-two lives on her own, and says: "Currently I have a slight worry that if something was to happen to me, nobody would know for days.  In this way of life we are proposing everyone would have an awareness of how people are and would help and check on each other."  Dr John Cant, 67, who lives alone in Edinburgh, spent 30 years living in France in a shared building.  The computer software engineer said: "I became tired of the transient relationships between all the volunteers who came and went.  I want to live in a community where strong relationships develop over time.  I think humans are tribal, but the way most of us live now means we are becoming more polarised.  We now have a lot of knowledge that there are benefits to being tribal, to living in an extended group rather than in nuclear families without support, and this is how I want to live."  They hope to mirror the feeling of wellbeing that Frances McDormand's character Fern finds when she becomes part of the tribe of nomads in the film Nomadland.  Comiston Farmhouse was laterly a residential support unit for teenagers until it closed in January 2015. There had been plans for it to be sold to developers to be turned into housing, but the sale fell through following local opposition to the plans. The property has been put back on the market by City of Edinburgh Council for offers over £1m.  If Choiss is successful, it would become the location for one of the first cohousing projects to get off the ground in Scotland.  An estimated 906,000 people live on their own in Scotland with more than a third of households being occupied by one person.  Prof Lynn Jamieson, professor of sociology at Edinburgh University, said: "Creating such a community through cohousing is a good idea.  There have been times when communities were more stable and interconnected, such as in mining villages.  I think because they plan to be intergenerational they have a good chance."

Eighteen Million Trees to Be Planted Around Glasgow
An urban forest, consisting of 18 million trees, is to be planted in and around Glasgow over the next 10 years.  The Clyde Climate Forest will be part of the city region's commitment to reaching Net Zero.  It will increase woodland cover in the area from 17% to 20%.  Inter- connected woodlands will be created across Glasgow, East and West Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, and North and South Lanarkshire council areas.  The number of trees being planted is equivalent to 10 trees per resident.The planting aims to reconnect about 29,000 hectares of broad-leaved woodland in the region that has been fragmented due to urban development.  Community groups and land managers are being asked to help identify places to plant new trees, or replace those lost in the past.  George Anderson, from the Woodland Trust, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that interconnecting woodland would help wildlife.  "We are seeking to link up existing woodlands as far as possible," he said. "One of the great problems that wildlife has is that habitats like woodland are very fragmented and that means wildlife can't move around as easily as it should."  He said the Woodland Trust would ultimately like to see a network of woodland from Helensburgh to Lanark.  But we are looking at making a native forest wherever we can," he said. "It's a really vast undertaking so we are looking for everyone to get on board in the wider region."  Mr Anderson said trees could be planted in streets or in former industrial or mining areas as well as in the countryside or on the edges of farming land.  We are looking to plant trees wherever we can get at the moment because of climate change," he said. "Glasgow is hosting COP26 in November. This is Glasgow making a commitment to reaching net zero."  He said a variety of native species would be planted to bring benefits to wildlife as well as capturing carbon.  We just hope people will get involved and make a better future for the area and the planet," he added.  Glasgow City Council leader Susan Aitken said: "New community woodlands, trees and forests will bring multiple benefits to our local communities as well as wildlife.  The pandemic has brought into focus like never before the value of local spaces as places to exercise, de-stress and engage with nature and this project can help to deliver the green recovery.   The economic, ecological and social benefits will be extensive."  The project has secured £400,000 from the Woodland Trust's Emergency Tree Fund as well as £150,000 from Scottish Forestry over the next two years to recruit a project team and begin the development of new planting schemes.  Dave Signorini, Scottish Forestry chief executive, said: "The Clyde Climate Forest will deliver social and economic benefit to the population of the City Region. It will also provide a place for nature to connect, recover and thrive.  Planting trees can help us reduce our carbon footprint and strengthen communities."  Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader and MSP for Glasgow, said increasing Glasgow and Clyde's tree cover by a fifth was welcome in the year of the COP26 conference and followed Glasgow becoming the first city in Scotland to declare an ecological emergency in 2019.  The project's ambition must be realised quickly, and with a significant proportion of the trees being native woodland, so that it can play a major part on nature recovery," he said.

Ferry Returns to Service After Weeks of Repairs

CalMac's Ullapool to Stornoway ferry has returned to service after weeks of repairs. The MV Loch Seaforth completed a freight crossing overnight and is now resuming daytime sailings.  The ferry underwent major repairs in Greenock after suffering an engine failure in April.  The breakdown caused wider disruption to CalMac's west coast network because other ferries had to be used to cover for the Loch Seaforth.  CalMac said the vessel had successfully completed 50 hours of sea trials before arriving in Stornoway on Sunday.  Further tests carried out on Monday were also described as successful.  CalMac operations director Robert Morrison said: "We recognise that this has been an extremely challenging time for customers and staff and again apologise for the disruptions over the past few weeks.  We are looking forward to getting back to operating the normal summer timetable service and to welcoming passengers onto our ferries."  The return of the vessel to service will mean that:  The Castlebay to Oban service will resume on Wednesday  The Islay to Kennacraig two-vessel service will resume on Wednesday   Lochboisdale-Mallaig and Mallaig-Armadale will recommence on Wednesday  The Brodick to Ardrossan two vessel service will resume on Thursday.  Campbeltown summer season will start on Thursday.  Last week, Transport Secretary Graeme Dey said the disruption was "intolerable" for islanders.  The Loch Seaforth suffered an engine failure in the middle of April, but planned return-to-service dates were missed after engineers uncovered other engine problems.  The 116m-long (380ft) vessel is the largest and fastest in CalMac's fleet, and can carry up to 143 cars and 700 passengers.

Falkirk High School Moves to Remote Learning After Covid Outbreak

Pupils at Falkirk High School have been told to study at home for the next week after an outbreak of the Indian variant.  Staff and pupils will be tested for Covid at a mobile unit.  BBC Scotland understands up to 160 pupils are self-isolating. The school confirmed it would move to remote learning until 11 June as a precaution.  In the meantime pupils, staff and their families are being urged to undergo PCR testing to identify further cases.  The unit will be based in the school car park from Friday until Tuesday.   Falkirk Council said it would be open between 10:00 and 17:00 and no appointment was necessary. However, pupils under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.  Those sharing a household with pupils and staff are being encouraged to get tested at a separate unit located at Abbotsford House, David's Loan, Bainsford.  Tests at this location should be booked via NHS Inform or by calling 0300 303 2713.   The council confirmed staff and pupils were among the positive cases but it did not give a number.  The decision to move to remote learning and carry out enhanced testing was made following talks between officials, NHS Forth Valley, Public Health Scotland and the Scottish government in a bid to prevent the further spread of the variant, which is now the dominant strain in the UK.  The council confirmed that almost all senior pupils had completed their SQA assessments but there were still a small number self-isolating, and the school was making plans to support them. Cllr Cecil Meiklejohn, leader of Falkirk Council said: "We're putting in the mobile testing unit to ensure that both staff and pupils can get results quickly.  The decision has also been made to move Falkirk High to remote learning was not taken lightly however we recognise the concerns of pupils, parents and staff.  Testing remains an important part of preventing the Covid-19 virus from spreading. We would encourage everyone connected with the school to get a PCR test as soon as possible."  Dr Henry Prempeh, public health consultant at NHS Forth Valley, said: "Taking action now will help prevent further spread of Covid-19 which is why we are asking all pupils and staff, along with members of their households to get tested over the next few days.  This is really important to help us identify any additional positive cases as many people with Covid-19 do not have any symptoms."

Bus Depot Bid to Be Uk's Largest Electric Vehicle Charging Hub
Scotland's biggest bus operator has announced it is building the UK's largest electric vehicle charging hub.  First Bus will install 160 charging points and replace half its fleet with electric buses at its Caledonia depot in Glasgow.  The programme is expected to be completed in 2023 with the first 22 buses arriving by autumn.  Charging the full fleet will use the same electricity as it takes to power a town of 10,000 people.  The scale of the project means changes are needed to the power grid to accommodate the extra demand.  First Glasgow managing director Andrew Jarvis told BBC Scotland: "We've got to play our part in society in changing how we all live and work. A big part of that is emissions from vehicles.   Transport is stubbornly high in terms of emissions and bus companies need to play their part, and are playing their part, in that zero emission journey."  First Bus currently operates 337 buses out of its largest depot with another four sites across Glasgow.  The new buses will be built by Alexander Dennis at its manufacturing sites in Falkirk and Scarborough.  The transition requires a £35.6m investment by First with electric buses costing almost double the £225,000 bill for a single decker running on diesel.  But the company says maintenance and running costs are then much lower.  The buses can run on urban routes for 16 hours and be rapidly recharged in just four hours.  This is a big investment which the company wouldn't be able to achieve on its own.  Government grants only cover 75% of the difference between the price of a diesel and an electric bus so it's still a good bit more expensive for them.  But they know they have to do it as a social responsibility and because the requirements for using Low Emissions Zones are likely to become stricter.  The SNP manifesto committed to electrifying half of Scotland's 4,000 or so buses within two years.  Some are questioning whether that's even achievable in the timescale, given the electricity grid changes that would be necessary for charging.  But it's a commitment that environmental groups will certainly hold them to.   Transport Scotland is providing £28.1m of funding to First Bus as part of the Scottish government's commitment to electrify half of Scotland's buses in the first two years of the parliamentary term.  Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson said: "It's absolute critical that we decarbonise our transport system and what we have set out are very ambitious plans of how we go about doing that.  We've set out a target to make sure that we decarbonise as many of the bus fleets across Scotland as possible, at least half of it over the course of the next couple of years, and we'll set out our plans later on this year of how we'll drive that forward."  Transport is the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland which are responsible for accelerating climate change.  In 2018 the sector was responsible for 31% of the country's net emissions.  First Glasgow has been trialling two electric buses since January 2020.  Driver Sally Smillie said they had gone down well with passengers because they were much quieter than diesel buses.  She added: "In the beginning it was strange for them not hearing them coming but they adapt very easily and they check now.  It's a lot more comfortable. You're not feeling a gear change and the braking's smoother. I think they're great buses to drive."

Trade Down Under: No Worries, Mate?  By Douglas Fraser Business and economy editor,
An imminent trade deal between the UK and Australia sets the tone for post-Brexit deals around the world, and highlights the reality that there are winners and losers.  Sheep farmers, disproportionately important to Scottish agriculture, are probably the most vulnerable, but UK ministers emphasise there are benefits for whisky exports.  Outside the European Union, the British economy is bound to change. A key question now is how that happens - who wins and who loses - if trade deals seem to lack much input from outside government.  Economic theory tells you that everyone should win from trade. Reality, however, looks different.  The positive part of the deal is that opening up foreign markets should create opportunities to export.  And that's the message being sold today at a whisky distillery in East Lothian.  Trade minister Graham Stuart is due at the Diageo facility, to emphasise the benefits of removing the 5% tariff on Scotch as it's unloaded onto the quayside Down Under.  The tariff has not stopped Australia becoming the industry's eighth-biggest export market, ahead of Spain. But the Scotch Whisky Association, obviously, welcomes a cut in tariffs, just as it would like legal reinforcement from Canberra in protecting the Scotch brand.  However, deals require reciprocal measures, and allow foreign companies easier access to domestic markets.  Such measures are likely to be more significant where one side of the negotiations has placed time pressure on itself, as Britain has.  It's in a rush and, post-Brexit, the government has a point to prove. Australia has experience of trade talks, and it can take its time. (You can read more about it, courtesy of the BBC Reality Check team.)   UK Westminster ministers want a deal to coincide with the G7 summit in Cornwall next week, but it's now reported that Boris Johnson may have to wait for talks with his opposite number, Scott Morrison, after the main six guests have departed.  They also want to send a message that this deal is part of a strategy to get into a trading bloc including 11 diverse countries around the Pacific rim, from Australia to Vietnam, South Korea, Mexico, Japan and Canada.  Together, last year, they bought around a fifth of the value of British goods exported to the European Union. The British government's intention is to expand that, but it has a long way to go if it is to replace Europe and compensate for the trading advantage of Europe's proximity.  Inevitably, these countries want to break down barriers to British markets, built up during nearly 50 years of having trade negotiated exclusively by Brussels. And Europe's trade negotiators have built a formidable fortress around the continent's farmers - boosted by subsidy and protected by tariffs and quotas.  Outside Europe, Britain's farmers feel exposed. They can see trade negotiators going after that protection.  So the prospect of Australian beef and lamb entering the British market with neither quotas nor tariffs is the big concern. That's why I've been near Aberfeldy this week, on an idyllic day on the sheep and cattle hill farm run by Martin Kennedy, president of the National Farmers Union Scotland.  The issues affecting Scottish farmers are similar to those in other parts of Britain. But because sheep farming is such an important part of Scottish agriculture, and also Welsh, the impact on farmers - and on politics - is likely to be disproportionately large.  Britain looks to Ireland for much of its beef, and it could be Irish farmers who are more affected by competition in the UK from Australian cattle farmers.  Kennedy points out that Australia produces in much more efficient units. A beef farmer typically has more than 10,000 head of cattle, and feeds them industrially and intensively.  Their carbon footprint is therefore far higher, he claims, and that's before accounting for the cost of transportation halfway round the world.  Meat exporters Down Under don't want to big-up the scale of sales they could achieve in the UK - not while the issue is so sensitive. But nor are they pretending this would be insignificant.  One prize for them is to diversify markets away from dependence on trading partners such as China, which is becoming increasingly hostile to Canberra and deploying its might to shift the terms of trade.  They used to be even more dependent on exports to the UK, but found themselves largely locked out when Britain joined the European common market in 1973. Diversity of markets matters to them.  As quotas and tariffs on British sales are removed over 15 years or so, which is reported to be in the trade deal, Australians also see the opportunity in catering and wholesale, where consumers rarely check the provenance of what they're eating.  British farmers raise concerns about lower Aussie food standards and animal welfare. On the time that live animals are allowed to be in transit, the criticism is valid.  But as Australia already exports beef and lamb in relatively small quantities (with quotas and high, effective tariffs), Britain is already willing to accept those standards.  As part of the EU, the UK has had a ban on hormone-injected beef, and Australia has been willing to recognise that, exporting only the non-injected variety.  In recent years, that has come to 0.5% of Britain's beef consumption. Sheep exports from Australia to Britain have been bigger.  British seasonal supplies decline each year, from around now until this spring's lambs are slaughtered from late autumn.  During that period, demand is met by imports of around 100,000 tonnes of sheep meat annually, say Britain's meat processors - 70% of that from New Zealand and 15% from Australia. That's subject to quotas, and Aussie lamb has carried an effective tariff of around half its export value.  How much that grows with a trade deal will determine the future of many upland farms.  And that's true of much of the economy. The way it has developed within the European Union has responded to price signals in markets, subsidies and trade protections.   As these signals shift, and competition also shifts, there are bound to be winners and losers.  Scotch whisky is such a strong global brand that it is almost always a winner from trade liberalisation. British finance could get openings into foreign markets, though that is much tougher to achieve than trade in goods.  British food production is likely to be the most vulnerable to this process, having been the most protected.  Where Australia sets expectations, others will follow. Other countries will want to sell Britain their grain, which could hit English farmers disproportionately hard.  India hopes its primary export will be human, with pressure to open up work permits for its professional workers.  All this means pressure points, by business, trade unions, and groups campaigning to protect the environment, animal welfare or human rights.  If this Australian deal is any guide, Whitehall wants to negotiate in private. It will choose who gets to lobby, and when.  The commission which was supposed to be in place, to scrutinise such deals before they are signed off, does not yet exist.  A key reason for the Brexit vote in 2016 was the electorate's kick against globalisation, and a sense that people lacked control over economic forces that shape their lives, communities and jobs.  The process by which such deals are done this month and in the future will determine just how much people are "taking back control" or simply handing it to a different set of elite negotiators.

Covid in Scotland: Restriction Levels Ease for Millions of Scots
Millions of people in Scotland are moving into lower restriction levels despite an overall rise in coronavirus cases being identified.  Many areas in the north and south of mainland Scotland go from level two to level one from midnight.  Glasgow's move to level two allows people to meet in each other's homes for the first time in nine months and drink alcohol in pubs and restaurants.  Level zero restrictions apply to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.  But it was announced earlier this week that 13 council areas with a combined population of 2.3 million people in the central belt of the country, including Edinburgh, would stay in level two rather than moving down to level one as had been planned.  The whole country had been due to move to level 0 on 28 June but the prevalence of the Delta variant, first detected in India, may stall that.  Cases more than tripled in the past month with Friday's 992 new cases being the highest figure reported since 17 February.  Scotland's national clinical director Prof Jason Leitch said at the government's Covid briefing on Friday that about 70% of those cases were thought to be the Delta variant.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that this variant appeared to be "quite significantly" more transmissible even than the Kent variant that was dominant earlier in the year, and that there was early data to suggest it may increase the risk of hospitalisation.  However, there has not been a significant rise in Covid-19 hospital admissions, leading Ms Sturgeon to describe the situation as "hopeful but fragile" because the vaccine programme seemed to be limiting severe illness.  More than 3.2 million people in Scotland have had their first dose of the vaccine, and 2.1 million of those have had their second dose.  On Friday it was reported that 116 patients with Covid were in hospital in Scotland, six more than Thursday, and eight of those were in ICU. Two deaths were reported.  Scotland's councils will be in the following levels from Saturday:  Level two - Glasgow, Edinburgh, Midlothian, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North Ayshire, South Ayrshire, East Ayrshire, North Lanarkshire, South Lanarkshire, Clackmannanshire, and Stirling.  Level one - Highland, Argyll and Bute, Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Angus, Perth and Kinross, Falkirk, Fife, Inverclyde, East Lothian, West Lothian, West Dunbartonshire, Dumfries and Galloway, and the Borders.  Level zero - Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles, and a number of smaller islands.,  The first minister said a "slight slowing down" of the easing of restrictions was needed while vaccination continues, but described it as "a pause, not a step backwards".   In Glasgow, where residents and businesses have faced the toughest restrictions in Scotland for almost nine months, pubs and restaurants are preparing to open later in the evenings and to serve alcohol indoors again. Moving to level two means residents of the city can meet in other people's homes and travel beyond the city boundaries for non-essential reasons. In level two areas, six people from three households can meet inside and stay overnight. Travel around Scotland is permitted and residents can also go to other parts of the UK as long as they follow local rules. There is a greater relaxation on the numbers allowed to meet in level one areas, and premises can stay open later. The number of people allowed at weddings or funerals rises to 100, double the previous limit, and soft play and funfairs can open.  In level zero, all hospitality venues apart from nightclubs and adult entertainment can open - subject to rules on physical distancing, limits on numbers and other rules such as table service.  People in all areas are still urged to work from home where possible and avoid international travel "unless essential", and take two lateral flow tests a week.  More than a year after he caught Covid-19 in March 2020, 29-year-old Callum O'Dwyer from Aberdeen is still suffering with long Covid.  He told BBC Scotland's Drivetime he wanted others to avoid the same fate.  "I share a lot of the enthusiasm that people might have about everything unlocking and the feeling of getting back to things," he said.  "The unfortunate thing is that people like myself who've got long Covid, we're not counted in [the death and hospitalisation] numbers.  The people now who are more likely to be unvaccinated are the young and unfortunately long Covid doesn't discriminate by age. That risk is still there."  Callum, who had to move back in with his parents because he was too ill to look after himself, urged people to "think twice about the consequences the virus can have on your health.  It isn't just a case of dodging death or dodging a hospital bed," he said. "I've lost about a year of my life. I can't really work full-time at the moment."  Last year there were times when Callum could not sit up for more than 20 minutes before the pain got so bad he would have to lie down. Brain fog made him slur his words and fatigue kept him confined to his parents' home.  I just want to make sure as few people as possible have to suffer the consequences I have. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."  Callum was fit and healthy before contracting Covid, but said his goal now was to be well enough to work full-time and live independently again, and return to running.  "My main issues these days, as opposed to the shopping list of things that were wrong with me last year, are fatigue and my body feeling very weak or very tired even after very light exercise or exertion," he said.  "There are schoolchildren who can do more hours in the day than I can in terms of work."

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