Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 609

Issue # 609                                                           Week ending Saturday 3rd July  2021
No One Resigns From Government Now Who Does Not Expect to Return in About Two Years Time by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

So many high-profile people have been quitting their jobs recently. Piers Morgan, the anchorman, Edwin Poot, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Swedish premier Stefan Löfven. They all headed for the exit in the last while. There was someone else too. Oh wait, it was ... no, it’s gone.

Then there was that guy from the health ministry. Oh, what was his name? Got it. Professor Chezy Levy, the health director tasked with fighting coronavirus, thinks Israel is not doing enough about tackling the Delta variant. So he quit that country’s health ministry. Would that kind of principled decision to walk happen here?

Well, there was Sajid Javid. Didn’t he quit a year or two back when Dominic Cummings tried to get him to sack some of his staff? Guess what, he’ back. Now our brand new health secretary, it seems he is the latest going out the front door on an outpouring of praise for their selflessness and public-spiritedness, waiting a decent interval then skulking round the back and somehow slipping in the back door.

It’s all about the hyphen in the contract of employment. Javid had enough in his previous job, so he resigned. But when Boris called at the end of last week, he changed his mind and re-signed. See what I did there? Right, that’s enough about resignations for one week. That is not the depressing stuff you want with your Lorne Sausage on a Wednesday. Anyone got a new job? Well there’s Anne Robinson.

Remember her from The Weakest Link? That acid-tongued harridan who belittled particularly men when they admitted they were analysts, researchers or had some other boring job. She is now chairing Countdown. You are the weakest letter arranger, goodbye.

There are many people of her years still doing a very fine job. It’s about capability. She’s a year older than Donald Trump and what a marvellous job that particular Son of Hebridean Woman is doing. I probably expected too much of the old Robinson rudeness on her Monday afternoon debut. That show has never been a format for put-downs and mickey-taking. Despite the wretched hype about Robinson, we didn’t get it.

Like the gears on my first minivan, Anne became disengaged far too much for my liking. Tight editing saw only one crack at an accountant’s boring job make it to air. Anne looked vacantly around too much for someone to prompt her but Rory Bremner in Dictionary Corner for the occasion ... didn’t. Anne looked vaguely down for prompts.

Maybe she was looking for secret documents about the movements of Type 45 destroyers like HMS Defender. These papers may not be in a Channel Four studio but she may find them in a wet heap behind a bus stop. At least, that’s where they were found in Kent.

In interviews, La Robinson admits not knowing how long she can do the show for but points out that Mary Berry, at 86, has 10 years on her and is still doing Bake Off. Mary, though, has not lost her enthusiasm for telling off a male contestant’s not-quite-spherical confections with a deeply-wounding “you have irregular-shaped balls”, as she continues her crusade against all manner of soggy bottoms.

That’s what Scottish wedding guests will have for the foreseeable. Nicola has announced live music can return to events like receptions. funerals, that sort of thing. Funerals? That’s a good idea, Nic. We need more jollity as we bid farewell to the dearly departed in this dour country. Get the melodeons out. Yay.

There’s a catch though. Although live music is back at events, thou shalt not dance. Only performers on stage can sing and dancing is banned. No dancing at a Scottish wedding? In one fell swoop, Nicola has made wedding guests behave like dyed-in-the-wool Free Presbyterians.

Finally, we saw that resignation letter from the health secretary at the weekend. Ex-politicians say these published formal letters are just for the public and the actual I Quit letters are never made public. Maybe his was like the one penned by a wee Glaswegian granny called Marlene who quit her cleaning job a few years back.

Afterwards, her resignation letter was put on social media by family. Marlene had described her “joab” as “an insert bad word here” and added “am leaving.” She then said: “I’ll no be back after June 30th. Canny wait. Good luck in getting some other mug to clean the place.”

Football Linked to 2,000 Scottish Covid Cases
Nearly 2,000 Covid cases in Scotland have been linked to people watching Euro 2020 football matches.  Public Health Scotland said two thirds of the 1,991 cases were people who travelled to London for Scotland's game with England on 18 June.  This included 397 fans who were inside Wembley for the match.  A relatively small number of cases reported attending the Fanzone in Glasgow, or Scotland's two home matches at Hampden.  Scotland was only allocated 2,600 tickets for the match at Wembley because of Covid restrictions.  But tens of thousands of fans are believed to have travelled to London despite warnings not to do so unless they had a ticket.  Many gathered together in large groups in central London ahead of the game, with those in Leicester Square being moved on by police shortly after half-time.  The country's national clinical director, Prof Jason Leitch said he was disappointed that 2,000 of the 32,000 cases recorded in Scotland since 11 July had been linked to Euro 2020 events.  But he said it was impossible to know whether people had contracted the virus while watching a match or somewhere else, or how many people they may have subsequently infected.  Prof Leitch added: "Some of them may have taken it to London with them, some of them may have got it when they came home.  But the increasing number of males, the increasing number of young people and the increasing numbers with tagged Euro events, particularly indoor Euro events, and buses and travel would suggest that there is certainly a connection between some of that travel and the Euros".  He stressed that it was important "not to let everyone else off the hook" because "this is not a Euros virus".  He added: "It is of course an important part of the last few weeks, but you can catch the virus even if you weren't at the Euros and were not watching the football."  Public Health Scotland said it had tagged positive Covid cases if they attended either a Euro 2020 organised event, such as a match at Hampden or Wembley Stadium or the Fanzone at Glasgow Green.  People who tested positive after attending an informal gathering, such as a pub or a house party to watch a match, were also tagged.  The report said that 1,294 of the 1,991 total cases had reported travelling to London, including 397 who were actually at the match.  Only 55 of those who tested positive reported being at the Fanzone, while 38 had been at Scotland's match with Croatia at Hampden, and 37 at the team's opening fixture against the Czech Republic.  About 90% of the cases were male, with three quarters of the total - 1,470 cases - being aged between 20 and 39.  There has been a lot of talk about the mixing prompted by watching football being a cause of spread of the virus in Scotland.  It is an easy target given the images of people together in stadiums and fanzone sites.  But the problem with this data is it does not provide the answer to that.  It is contact tracing data used to establish who should be asked to isolate because they may be a close contact of an infected person.  It does not tell you where the individual caught the virus - just where they had been when they were infectious.  So this tells us that 6% of positive cases during this period attended a match, Fanzone, someone's home or the pub to watch a game of football.  The fact that people were out enjoying Scotland's first tournament for 23 years is no surprise.  It's quite likely that led to some transmission - although remember it is indoor settings such as having a drink in the pub or sharing public transport on the way to the game that is more risky than watching a match outdoors - but it's hardly an explanation for Scotland's big rise in cases.  Scotland fan Michael MacLean told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme that he tested positive for Covid following his trip to London for the match against England.  The 21-year-old travelled from Inverness on the train, visiting pubs and celebrating with other supporters in Leicester Square during his three-night stay in the city.  A few days after returning to Scotland, he showed symptoms of coronavirus.  He said: "Leicester Square, I would say, was the spreader.  It was an amazing experience, but I am quite gutted I got Covid because that has affected me, affected my work, it has affected my friends." On Wednesday Scotland recorded 3,887 new cases, which was 9.8% of all tests carried out.   In the past seven days 20,511 positive results have been returned.  Hospital admissions have risen and deaths related to covid are also up, but they are nowhere near the numbers seen during the first two waves of the pandemic.  Health Secretary Humza Yousaf told BBC Scotland earlier this week that the data clearly showed the number of people testing positive was "skewed disproportionately towards young males".  And he said several public health experts had partly put the increase down to the large number of indoor gatherings to watch Euro 2020 matches.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had previously denied claims that the Scottish government took a lenient approach to football fans while Scotland was playing in the tournament.  She told a briefing on Tuesday: "We haven't taken a softly, softly approach.  We were very explicit in saying to fans who didn't have a ticket for Wembley not to travel.  We can't physically stop every person travelling and significant numbers of people did travel."

Wimbledon 2021: Andy Murray Beats Oscar Otte in Second-round Thriller
Britain's Andy Murray defied the odds yet again as he reached the Wimbledon third round by beating German qualifier Oscar Otte in another thriller which finished under the Centre Court lights.  The Scot led by a set and a break but momentum switched to Otte, an SW19 debutant ranked 151st in the world.  Murray, 34, looked weary as Otte won the third set for a 2-1 lead, before darkness forced the pair off court.  But with the crowd behind him, Murray fought back to win 6-3 4-6 4-6 6-4 6-2.  The 7,500 fans allowed inside Centre Court as part of the government's event research programme had been subdued until Murray - who thought in 2019 he would have to retire because of a serious hip injury - urged them for more support from the fourth set onwards.  Then it turned into an electric atmosphere as a pumped-up Murray played himself towards victory, backed by the sound of singing and chanting from the partisan crowd.  "I enjoyed the end of the match. The middle part not so much," said Murray, who has had a series of niggling injuries since having career-saving hip resurfacing surgery.  "What an atmosphere to play in at the end. The whole crowd was amazing but there were a few guys in there getting me fired up. I needed everyone's help."  It was another incredible evening for Murray at the All England Club, coming just 48 hours after the two-time champion had beaten Georgian 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili.  Like that match, Murray returned reinvigorated - mentally, physically and tactically - from the enforced break for the roof to be closed.  After the pair returned to the court from a 15-minute pause, Murray won seven of the next nine games to take control.  There was still time for more tension and excitement. Murray struggled to hold serve for 5-2, getting over the line with a stretching volley which left even his watching wife Kim shaking her head in disbelief.  Then, he sealed a remarkable victory with a moment of brilliance. On the first of two match points, with Otte racing forward, Murray produced an inch-perfect lob which left him smiling and shaking his head as Centre Court erupted.  Now Murray will face a step up in class when he plays Canadian 10th seed Denis Shapovalov in the third round on Friday.  Shapovalov, 22, will be well rested after being given a walkover on Wednesday because of a rib injury to second-round opponent Pablo Andujar of Spain.  When he made a first Wimbledon singles appearance in four years on Monday, Murray produced arguably his most impressive display since returning from the serious hip surgery in January 2019 which he thought would end his career.  The next question was whether he would be able to recover sufficiently for another Grand Slam match 48 hours later.  Murray had spoken about how he could "barely walk" the day after beating Japan's Yoshihito Nishioka at the US Open last year - the last time he had played five sets.  That was down to the niggling groin injury which has continued to dog 118th-ranked Murray over the nine months since.  Encouragingly he had been able to practice at the All England Club on Tuesday and initially looked to be moving well against 27-year-old Otte.  Murray moved through the gears nicely to take the opening set with a second break of serve, then looked completely in command when he broke again for a 3-1 lead in the second.  A sloppy service game let the German instantly wipe that out and, playing with more aggression and confidence, Otte broke for 4-3 with the help of three wonderful winners.  There was concern when Murray slipped on the Wimbledon grass in the fourth set, crying out in pain and holding his troublesome groin, but did not seem to be affected too much  As Otte served out the set, Murray became more despondent. The chuntering we have seen throughout his career became more intense, while his body language had a sense of resignation.  The Centre Court atmosphere had become subdued and virtual silence - other than Otte's roar of celebration - greeted the end of the third.  Murray had barely rallied the crowd up to that point, but suddenly seemed to realise he needed to feed off a louder atmosphere.  The fans obliged and that inspired Murray, who was now landing the winners and reaching the balls which he could not in the middle part of the match. "I had to do something different. I started going for my shots more, started dictating more of the points," he said.  "Because of the lack of matches I didn't make the right decisions a lot of the time."  British number two Heather Watson joked Murray's performance was "not bad for a guy with a metal hip", while GB Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong said he was an "absolute legend".

Covid in Scotland: Can Rising Edinburgh Cases Be Explained?

Edinburgh has seen positive coronavirus cases reach unprecedented levels in the last two weeks.  The most recent surge in Scotland's capital saw the weekly rate jump to 582 cases per 100,000 people - that shatters the previous high of 242 reached in January.  So why now, and why Edinburgh? Have the Euros, tourism and opening up of hospitality combined to create a perfect environment for the new Delta variant to thrive?  Research has shown that even one dose of the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of infection across all age groups.  In Scotland, public health officials are increasingly confident that the immunisation programme is relieving the front line pressure on the NHS.  But Edinburgh currently has the lowest vaccination rate out of the country's 32 council areas.  Latest figures suggest 76.1% of the city's population over 18 have had their first dose, with 48.7% having received their second. The majority of these people are in the 18-49 range.  By comparison the first and second dose rates in Glasgow are slightly higher at 76.8% and 49.3% respectively.  The council areas with the best vaccination rates are those with smaller rural populations such as Shetland Islands, Western Isles and Orkney Islands.  A government spokeswoman said "a number of steps" had been taken to accelerate the vaccination programme "in the local authorities of NHS Lothian".  She added that NHS Lothian would be increasing over-18s drop-in appointments from 29 June.  But Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, said this was likely a "minor factor" in the recent uptick in Edinburgh cases.  "All the urban areas have been the slowest in terms of delivering the vaccines," she said. "Edinburgh is not unique in that - it's consistently been Glasgow, Aberdeen, or Edinburgh".  This is simply down to the fact that it is more complex to deliver vaccines in a large urban area.  Prof Bauld added that lower vaccination rates at this stage in urban hubs was largely down to cities having a typically younger population compared to somewhere like the Scottish Borders.  Edinburgh, like many of the council areas across Scotland, moved to level two on 17 May.  This easing of restrictions meant travel was now permitted, up to six people from three households could meet inside and stay overnight, and shops and leisure attractions could now open.  But Public Health Scotland (PHS) figures suggest this easing cannot be linked to the current increase with no immediate rise in positive cases in the weeks following.  This conclusion appears to be backed up by "community mobility" reports from Google.  This publicly available information is based on location data that the tech firm harvests from people's smartphones.  The most recent Edinburgh-specific report suggests that footfall to restaurants and shops in June remained 31% below baseline figures.  Google's data also indicates that by late June many people continued to work from home, and that the use of public transport remained low.  However, the reports from the tech giant are limited in scope as they only capture the movements of people who have explicitly turned on the location history setting in their Google account.  While not Edinburgh-specific, Public Health Scotland data shows that shopping and eating out account for the majority of the places visited by people in Scotland the week before their positive test.  Before Euro 2020 kicked off earlier this month there were concerns that restriction fatigue and large gatherings of people watching Scotland's fixtures could see an increase in positive tests.  On Wednesday, a new PHS report confirmed that two thirds of 1,991 cases were of people who had travelled to London for Scotland's game with England on 18 June.  These tagged cases related not only to matches at Hampden or Wembley, but also to informal gatherings at pubs and private homes.  Essentially, these were settings where the more transmissible Delta variant could thrive.  The data reveals that the majority of the specimen dates were marked 21-22 June - dates which also coincided with the surge in positive cases in Edinburgh.  However, the report does not indicate what proportion of these cases were Edinburgh-based, nor what proportion may have passed through Edinburgh's transport hubs to get to events. Murrayfield was also the setting for a British Lions warm-up game on 26 June with throngs of rugby fans passing through the city.  But there is no data yet to say whether this 16,500-strong crowd event coincided with any spikes in cases in Edinburgh.  Prof Bauld said that while sporting fixtures might have played a role, other events such as weddings and funerals could be equally culpable.  She explained: "I think Edinburgh is just seeing a rise now versus two weeks ago, versus a week from now.  And I'm not sure we can point the finger at tourists."I just think it's a timing thing - cases are rising exponentially now in Edinburgh, but it was previously Glasgow and Dundee. So I don't think Edinburgh is unique."  The case data appears to bear out such a conclusion.  Over the course of June, five different councils so far have taken turns topping the list of areas with the highest weekly rate.  Prof Bauld stressed: "This isn't an 'Edinburgh effect'. We've got a big problem in Dundee and East Lothian.  What's essentially happening is that you have a more transmissible variant, and when it's seeded in the community it spreads."  Within a five-day period the majority of the city's intermediate zones turn purple - indicating they have more than 400-plus cases per 100,000 people.  Over a dozen councils span the packed central belt of Scotland.  So while Edinburgh is currently high up the Covid cases council chart, it does not mean it will stay there and other local authority areas - note Dundee City, Midlothian and East Lothian - will, and are, seeing surges.

Queen Visits City Meadow with Princess Anne

The Queen visited an outdoor community initiative and two space technology companies in Glasgow, as part of her traditional trip north of the border for Holyrood Week.  She met young people at the Children's Wood Project, which has become a haven in the city for children, beekeepers and gardeners.  Later, the monarch met representatives from space technology companies.  She was joined by her daughter, the Princess Royal. The Queen and Princess Anne visited North Kelvin Meadow, a community open space where green-fingered residents grow produce, local schools can hold outdoor lessons and residents without gardens can relax.  The unloved patch of ground was transformed by locals, with the Queen commenting that one keen gardener's ripening strawberries looked "very tempting".  The royals met beekeepers looking after hives raised up from the ground to prevent them being disturbed by the public.  The Queen was presented with a jar of honey from the site, along with a suggestion that she might like to spread it on toast.  She also met a group of children - from the nearby East Park School, which teaches young people with complex needs - and watched as they toasted marshmallows around a fire pit.  When she was offered a marshmallow the Queen politely declined saying, "No, that's very kind of you."  The Queen and Princess Anne went on to visit two space technology companies.  Employees from AAC Clyde Space, a company that develops advanced satellites, spoke to the royals ahead of a visit to the production site, where they met representatives from the UK Space Agency. They also visited Spire Global.Shown a miniature satellite no bigger than a whisky bottle, she remarked: "That goes into space? It is very small."  She added: "It is very interesting, marvellous."  Since Monday, the monarch has carried out in-person engagements, celebrating Scottish community, innovation and history.  Holyrood Week usually takes place each summer as the Queen and members of the Royal Family undertake visits across Scotland.  The annual trip was cancelled last year because of the pandemic.  It is her first time visiting Scotland since the death of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, in April.  He and the Queen were regular visitors to the Balmoral estate in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire, for many decades.  After her trip to Scotland, the Queen will receive German Chancellor Angela Merkel at Windsor Castle in Berkshire on Friday.

Covid Cases in Scotland Surpass 4,000 for First Time Since Mass Testing

Daily Covid cases reported in Scotland have surpassed 4,000 for the first time since mass testing began.  According to Scottish government figures, 10.5% of those who were tested on Wednesday returned positive results.  It comes after Public Health Scotland linked hundreds of cases to people travelling to London for Scotland's Euros game with England on 18 June.  Third wave cases in Scotland began to surpass January's peak towards the end of June.  The Scottish government has now confirmed that 4,234 new cases of Covid were reported within the past 24 hours, as well as six deaths.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has previously said the "steep rise" in cases showed that people should be "really careful".  But she said there was "positive news" from the vaccine programme, which she said was preventing a similar rise in the number of people in hospital or losing their lives.  On Wednesday she tweeted: "Vaccines are now doing much of the work we needed heavy restrictions to do in the last wave. And thankfully, we continue to see a much lower burden of serious illness.  We continue to monitor cases - and, crucially, hospital/ICU numbers - carefully. However, by following all the advice, we all play a part in keeping country safe."  Patients being treated for Covid in hospital have steadily grown since mid-May, jumping from 235 on Wednesday to 275 on Thursday - however ICU patients have fallen to 16.  Earlier in June, tens of thousands of football fans are believed to have travelled to London despite warnings not to do so unless they had a ticket or a safe place to watch the match - with many gathering in large groups.  Public Health Scotland said it had tagged positive Covid cases if they attended either a Euro 2020 organised event, such as a match at Hampden or Wembley Stadium or the Fanzone at Glasgow Green  People who tested positive after attending an informal gathering, such as a pub or a house party to watch a match, were also tagged.   The report said 1,294 of the 1,991 total cases had reported travelling to London, including 397 who were actually at the match.   National clinical director Prof Jason Leitch told BBC Scotland that the huge increase in Covid-19 cases was straining Scotland's contact tracing system but said it was "not collapsing".  Figures from Public Health Scotland suggest it is now taking longer to contact infectious people and to track down their close contacts.  Opposition parties have called for more resources to be given to the Test and Protect system, warning that it was "reaching breaking point" and "buckling under the pressure".  Meanwhile, 3,816,251 people have received the first dose of the vaccine and 2,722,725 have received their second dose. It has emerged the NHS has been given the green light to start planning a booster programme in the UK ahead of this winter which could see 30 million people receive a third dose.   A bigger flu season than normal is expected, meaning extra protection against the virus is likely to be needed.  All adults aged 50 and over, and anyone younger who qualifies for a flu jab should receive a Covid booster.  Talks are ongoing over how this programme will be rolled out in Scotland.

Are Green MSPs Set to Join the SNP Government?

Quietly over the summer, while much of Scotland is on holiday, a new Holyrood administration could take shape.  I say "new". It would still be led by Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, after their fourth Scottish Parliament election win.  It might, however, expand to make room for the first ever Green party ministers anywhere in the UK.  The two parties are discussing a formal co-operation agreement that could take the Greens and some of their policy priorities into government.  This kind of partnership is not strictly necessary.  The SNP could govern on their own - with 64 of the 129 seats in parliament - seeking support from the Greens or others on an issue by issue basis. That's minority government. It's how the SNP operated in 2007-2011 and since 2016.  However, in the last parliament they were repeatedly outvoted by the combined strength of the opposition and had to make concessions to avoid losing confidence votes.  They did not enjoy the experience and as one government source put it, they are seeking "a degree of extra stability and policy certainty" this time.  That's what they had in 2011-2016 when they were able to form a majority government because they won enough SNP seats to get things done without relying on help from other parties.  Under Holyrood's proportional voting system, that's a very difficult outcome to repeat.  In the Scottish Parliament's first two terms, there was a coalition where two parties - Labour and the Liberal Democrats - negotiated an agreed programme and formed a majority government together.  The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats did the same at Westminster in 2010-2015 when David Cameron and Nick Clegg teamed up.  What is being considered now is something different - a partnership that falls short of a full coalition but goes beyond the confidence and supply arrangement the DUP made with Prime Minister Theresa May after 2017.  Under confidence and supply, the smaller party agrees to vote for the government's budget and to support it in confidence votes in exchange for concessions.  The SNP would certainly want that from the Greens, but both sides are also exploring what elements of a shared policy programme they could agree.  Their talks are now entering a new phase where individual SNP ministers are having more detailed policy conversations with the Greens.  The two sides have already picked six broad areas for discussion. These are Covid recovery, climate change and the constitution, plus public services, infrastructure and equality issues.  It is not hard to imagine them agreeing new measures to reduce carbon emissions or plans for another independence referendum - areas where they are already fairly close.  On some things, they are so far apart that compromise may prove impossible.  The SNP would probably struggle to accept Green plans for new wealth taxes, or to phase out open-cage fish farming which salmon producers say would have a "catastrophic effect" on their industry.  Similarly, the Greens are not likely to endorse the SNP's road-building programme, including dualling major routes such as the A9, or the party's continued commitment to oil and gas extraction.  According to Green co-leader Lorna Slater, they will remain a "constructive and vocal opposition" on those issues that are left out of any agreement.  The Greens have been taking advice from their sister party in New Zealand, which has a limited power-sharing arrangement with Jacinda Ardern's Labour.  The co-leader of the New Zealand Greens, James Shaw, has suggested they identify and deliver "three big ticket items" in any partnership to clearly "demonstrate the value of being in government".  That is how he thinks they can avoid the fate of a party like the Liberal Democrats, which suffered major election losses after their time in office with the Tories.  Mr Shaw is convinced the Greens can achieve far more in government than in opposition "despite its frustrations and constraints", and what he memorably described as "the dead rats that you have to swallow".  In short, there are bound to be decisions in government that the Greens would not like - but would have to put up with in order to retain power.  Some in the party have already suggested they should avoid a co-operation agreement with the SNP over differences in approach to transgender issues.  However, both parties are at a stage where they are looking for what they can agree rather than what they can't.  They're planning to keep talking over the summer to see what they can come up with by the time Holyrood returns from recess at the end of August.  If they reach a deal it could put Greens in government in time for the UN climate summit in Glasgow.  It could also guarantee the SNP the votes they need to get their law making plans through parliament, and reduce the influence of other larger opposition parties.

Loch Ness Falls to Lowest Water Level in Five Years

Loch Ness has dropped to its lowest level in five years, according to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa).   Sepa said drier than usual conditions in recent months were likely to be a "significant contributing factor" for the drop.  Loch Ness is Scotland's largest freshwater loch by volume.  It can hold more water - 7,452 million cubic metres - than all English and Welsh lakes together.   Sepa said its data showed the water level was at its lowest since the current loch level monitoring station began operating in 2016.  The agency said lower levels had been recorded at the previous station in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2010.  A Sepa spokesman said: "The western extent of the Ness catchment has seen drier than usual conditions in recent months, though the river levels Sepa monitor in the catchment have not been notably low.  It's likely that the dry weather is a significant contributing factor to low water levels in Loch Ness."  The loch is more than 20 miles long (32km) and almost two miles wide (3km) at its widest point.  The official maximum depth is more than 228.6m (750ft), though a tour boat skipper in 2016 said his sonar equipment had recorded a new deepest point of 270.9m (889ft).  The loch is part of the Ness system, a wide network of burns, rivers and lochs.  Ness Fishery Board said the River Ness, which flows from the northern end of Loch Ness to the sea at Inverness, was "exceptionally low" and the conditions posed a potential risk to salmon and trout.  Temperature rises in shallower water, affecting oxygen levels and causing distress to fish.  The fishery board said the conditions could encourage growth of a potentially harmful fungus on fish.  It said the cold waters flowing from Loch Ness appeared to have kept the fungus at bay so far.

Youngsters Go Wild for Inverness As Writers Launch New City Centre Trail

A free city centre trail has been launched for youngsters who are wild about Inverness. Encouraging children to discover things about the area that they may not be aware of, a map, guide and a sticker activity book is used when attempting to follow the trail.  The book is aimed at children over the age of five and lets them get busy with colouring, mazes, join-the-dots and two pages of stickers.  It also features a four-page central pull-out of the map and guide to the places and animals which make up the trail.  Wild About Inverness has been written by children’s author Pauline Mackay, from children’s publisher Ablekids Press in Market Brae Steps, together with author and historian Norman Newton.  It also includes illustrations from Marjory Tait and the new trail is a great way for locals and visitors alike to spend time getting to know some of the oldest parts of Inverness.  The city centre trail is just under 1km long and is completely outdoors and aims to be a fun experience for all age groups.  It begins on the Millennium Circle, at the foot of Market Brae Steps, and finishes with spectacular views from Castle Hill.  Miss Mackay said: "Journey through the heart of the city and discover a dazzling variety of creatures which have come to adorn Inverness over the centuries.  From unicorns to stags, eagles to wolves – even a dragon – the history of Inverness and Scotland has been carved into buildings and set on monuments for everyone to enjoy."  The map and guide is available for free from Ablekids Press – or downloaded from www.ablekidspress.com – and the sticker activity book can also be bought there and online.

Ex-soldier From Dumfries Selling Rare Medal to Buy Family Home

A former soldier is raising money to buy a family home by selling a bravery medal he won for storming an enemy gun position in Iraq.  Shaun Garry Jardine, 39, from Dumfries, was part of a quick reaction force which came under attack in August 2003.  His actions let his men move forward and forced the enemy to withdraw.  He was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross (CGC) which is expected to fetch £120,000 to £140,000 at auction on 21 July.  Mr Jardine served as a corporal in the King's Own Scottish Borderers and later the Royal Regiment of Scotland, rising to the rank of warrant officer class 2.  On 9 August 2003, while serving in Maysan Province during the Iraq War, his team found themselves under attack from two positions near a security base.  Facing heavy machine-gun fire, he ordered his team to provide covering fire and then assaulted the enemy positions in succession.  He was praised for his quick-thinking, courage and inspirational leadership.  Auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb said it was the only CGC to have been awarded to a Scottish regiment.  Mr Jardine, who has recently left the Army having joined at 16, said he was selling the CGC along with six other medals as he would like to buy a house for his family.  Describing his actions in Iraq, he said: "I started running across the bridge and they had seen me immediately.  "They were lying down, prone position, and firing at me as I ran; I saw their fingers on the triggers, then the muzzle flashes and then I could hear the rounds zipping past.  I remember thinking, why are they not hitting me?"  The soldier killed two of his attackers before calling his team forward and attacking a third enemy position.  Christopher Mellor-Hill, head of client liaison at Dix Noonan Webb, said that, to date, only 60 CGCs have been awarded, of which 15 were for the Iraq War.  "The award to Jardine is unique to the King's Own Scottish Borderers and is the only CGC to have been awarded to any Scottish regiment," he added.  The medals are being auctioned alongside a print of David Rowland's painting of the recipient winning his CGC and a file containing 15 letters of congratulation.


AUSTRALIAN SCOTTISH/CELTIC NEWS

SAHC Postpones Scottish Week 2021 events on 25-28 June 2021
Today, the Scottish Australian Heritage Council and the Celtic Council of Australia have come to the difficult decision to postpone the “Long Weekend of Events” in Sydney on Friday 25 June to Monday 28 June, inclusive.  We understand our responsibility for the health and safety of our patrons at these events. Following the health advice on Wednesday 23 June by Dr Kerry Chant, the New South Wales Chief Health Officer, regarding the growing risk to the community, we have decided to postpone all the events until later in the year. While we are confident the commercial venues we use are well set up to manage our events effectively, attendance may have been considered as "non essential" in the context of the NSW Premier’s announcement today. The events in Sydney are to encourage social interaction in the celebration of our Scottish and Celtic cultures. We looked forward to catching up with our friends and new participants at the rescheduled events later in 2021. We will keep you informed once the SAHC and CCA have had a chance to review the proposed events for later in 2021.  For those who wish to receive a refund, please advise your banking details to Nea MacCulloch via This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   The next event is the Aberdeen Games, Saturday 3 July 2021. We expect the SAHC will attend the Highland Games and we look forward to catching up with everyone there.
We wish you all the very best and to remain safe and well.
Malcolm Buchanan
President

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

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