Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 610

Issue # 610                                                        Week ending Saturday 10th  July  2021
I Think the Reason My Dentist is Always Sad As She Just Has to Look Down in the Mouth by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Your columnist today is on drugs. Let me explain how it happened. “Open wider,” said the dentist. “Oh gosh. You've got the biggest cavity I've ever seen. You’ve got the biggest cavity I've ever seen.”
That annoyed me. I said I was scared enough without her saying something like that twice.” She said: “I didn't. That was the echo.”

I am just back home and the side of my mouth is numb. Watch this, I can bite my lip really hard and nothing happens. Where did that blood come from? Oo-er, I forgot. The dentist did say not to bite anything and to just sip cool drinks for a few hours. Oops.

Knock knock. Who’s there? Dishes. Dishes who? Dishes how I talk since I got that needle at the dentist.

They did that scraping and cleaning procedure which can make you climb the walls without assistance from drugs. Yet the first two needles didn’t work at all. Didn’t I read that Superman’s constitution means that painkillers didn’t work on him? Could I really be Superman?

The dentist wasn’t so sure. She said: “I will try a multiple injection and if that doesn’t work I shall have to knock you out with gas or a big metallic rock.” I shrugged and said: “Ether, ore.”

The scientific jab, jab, jab worked. Trust the science. The other day I read that people named Alexa, like that well-known smart speaker, want to change their name because people keep asking them the weather. Kids called Alexa are being picked on in school. That’s bad. Cranky, technophobic teachers don’t understand the problem, allegedly.

Mrs X is Alexandra when I need to tell her off and “my darling” when she is telling me off. She also becomes my Alexa when I want to be really annoying. “Hey Alexandra, what is the weather going to be like tomorrow? Hey Alexandra, what do you think are the chances that no pizza will incinerate in this house this evening?” She then replies in that familiar completely unrobotic voice of hers telling me to get stuffed.

Where’s it going to end? Alexa will soon be reading and even writing of its own accord, they reckon. That’s a worry. Mrs X is concerned. She’s read that with the advent of artificial intelligence, kitchen appliances could start eavesdropping on us. She asked what I thought. I said that your microwave collecting data and the TV spying on you is bad enough. What about that hoover? It’s been gathering dirt on you for years.

A big issue is whether technology can cure stupidity. There must be a reason why wise heads such as Piers Corbyn are happy to shrug off the danger of acquiring the virus and, whether they get ill or not, they could be a carrier to infect other people. What are they afraid of? Ah, I’ve got it. They are scared of the jab. Aw. Listen, it’s not that bad. No one should worry about a wee prick. Laurence Fox is another one - with weird ideas, I mean.

Which reminds me, will someone tell Dominic Cummings to move on and quit telling us how awful the stewardship of this country is? Yet I fear that more is in store from him. Cummings being now jobless has come up with weird ways to make a few bob and stay in the news. He is going to keep on biffing Boris but will do it in a blog that even journalists will have to pay to read.

He has warned that journalists posting large chunks of his copyrighted stuff will get an invoice to their boss. Oh heck, have I just used a chunk of Dom’s copyrighted stuff? I know the Press and Journal is one of the best performing newspapers but please don’t invoice our ed. I am hoping to put in for a pay rise to the P&J soon before Alexa takes over this column. Leave a few bob for me in the kitty, Dom.

As I was coming out of the dental surgery, a woman came in to talk to another dentist. She said: “I want a tooth pulled and I don’t want anaesthetic because we’re in a hurry. Just extract the tooth as quickly as possible and we’ll be on our way.” The dentist was impressed. “That may be very painful. You’re certainly a courageous woman,” he said. “Which tooth is it?”

The woman turned to her husband and said: “Donald, show him your tooth.”

What Happened to Scotland's 'Free From Covid' Hopes?
This time last year, Scotland beginning to open up after the first wave of Covid. There was even optimistic talk of eliminating the virus by the end of summer 2020. But 12 months on, Scotland is seeing some of the highest virus rates of any European country. Can we find that optimism again?  On 13 July 2020, shopping centres in Scotland had reopened; there had been no recorded deaths for a fifth day and new positive cases stood at just 19.  Last summer, small outbreaks were being easily identified and stamped on quickly and optimism rang loud when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the elimination of coronavirus was not far away.  It was a sentiment echoed by one of the experts on the government's Covid-19 advisory group, Professor Devi Sridhar, of Edinburgh University, who said the country would effectively be Covid-free by the end of the summer should current progress be maintained.  Her prediction was essentially correct, with a seven-day rate of 15.4 cases per 100,000 people on 1 September 2020.Ten months on, that rate has shot up to 420.1 - so what's changed?  In a word, variants.  Prof Sridhar recalled: "If I think back to last summer, there were reports out of Italy suggesting that, if anything, the virus was going to mutate into a milder form.  We did think the wild-type - or unmutated - strain was bad enough, but then Alpha came along. That has now been followed by Delta which makes Alpha look easy."  The Delta variant - first identified in India - is known to be significantly more transmissible than earlier strains, and has been seeded in Glasgow - Scotland's biggest and densest urban hub.  And Prof Jason Leitch, Scotland's national clinical director, confirmed the variant was the reason why Scottish health boards featured so prominently in the World Health Organization's chart of European hotspots.  Prof Sridhar explained: "Because of the variants being more transmissible, the percentage of the population that you have to vaccinate - your herd immunity threshold - moves higher. The benchmark moved first with Alpha, and now with Delta - these variants keep moving the goalposts."  She also argued that, in some ways, Scotland is a victim of its own success.  Essentially, because fewer people in the country had the virus in the first and second waves, it meant there was no natural - or herd - immunity.  Serology data from the Office of National Statistics shows Scotland has fewer people with antibodies against Covid-19 than south of the border. But Prof Sridhar said it is not necessarily "a bad thing" that the country did not build a natural immunity.  She added: "We'd rather people get immunity through a vaccine, as studies are showing that vaccine immunity is longer-lasting. You will have a more robust immune response from a vaccine than you do from natural infection."  Since the start of the vaccination programme last December, nearly 3.9 million people in Scotland have received their first dose, and 2.7 million their second jab.   A year ago Sir Ian Boyd, who sits on the Sage scientific advisory group and is a professor of biology at St Andrews University, said the chances of getting a vaccine within five years was "moderate".  He acknowledged that the speed with which vaccines had been produced had been "a remarkable achievement, but there has been quite a lot of good luck involved".  Sir Ian said: "It is very difficult to produce vaccines for some viruses but it has emerged that SARS-CoV-2 has some characteristics which mean it stimulates a good immune response."  Why, then, are cases still increasing?  Data from Public Health Scotland shows that, a year ago, women in the 45 to 64 age range accounted for the bulk of the 16 new cases reported on 6 July 2020.  A year on, and the highest case numbers are now in the 20 to 44 age group - 84 women and 60 men.  Essentially a demographic that is least likely to have been double-vaccinated.  Prof Sridhar said this age analysis suggests the vaccination programme is working as fewer people over 50 are getting infected.  The data also suggests that the vaccine may be arresting onward transmission from younger adults to older, vaccinated relatives who may share the same household.   However, both Prof Sridhar and Sir Ian suggest that rather than looking at infections, focus should be shifted to hospitalisation data as a yardstick with which to measure Scotland's progress.  Sir Ian said: "As the older, vulnerable sections of the population have become protected then the unvaccinated, younger section of the population will tend to be those showing the highest prevalence and, in general, they will experience only mild disease.  We would then expect hospitalisations to remain low compared with last year."  However, as of 30 June, there have been 64 hospitalisations compared to a handful last year.  But Prof Sridhar said many of these were likely only overnight stays compared to multi-day stays that were typical earlier on in the pandemic  She stressed, though, that while there is cause for optimism, there was still a degree of uncertainty because of possible new variants evading "our vaccines".  However, Sir Ian echoed his view of a year ago that people will have to accept a "new normality" in which the virus will never truly go away.  He said: "I expect there will be a continuous process of virus evolution to escape the vaccine and vaccine evolution to catch up with the virus.  Ongoing vaccination involving boosters and new variations of vaccines will almost certainly be something we need to get used to."  Just as they did 12 months ago, it is expected that restrictions will continue to be lifted in Scotland.  The government's plan is for Scotland to move to level zero on 19 July, with remaining legal restrictions removed from 9 August.  Sir Ian says it is "all about balance of risks" with a calculation being made about whether continuing restrictions will have a greater health impact than Covid infections.  "We are certainly approaching the point where the balance is changing, but this is not a precise science", he said. "[But] it's worth remembering that the virus does not care about government policies, and if lifting restrictions gives it new opportunities then it will exploit those opportunities."  While the last year has shown that coronavirus in all its guises can make a mockery of any predictions, Prof Sridhar pointed to a positive future.  She said: "I think we may have a bumpy winter, but my hope is that by next summer people will look back at these 18 months as a really difficult time in their lives, but one that we've got past."

Does Political Pressure Shape Pandemic Decisions?
The Scottish government has reiterated plans to lift Covid-19 restrictions in the coming weeks despite a spike in cases. What political pressure are ministers under, and how has it shaped decision-making throughout the pandemic?  Scotland's exit from lockdown appears to be following the same pattern as much of the rest of the pandemic.  The rhetoric from politicians in Edinburgh is notably more cautious than that of their counterparts in London, but ultimately they are all traveling on the same path.  There is an extra set of steps on the Scottish route - moving to level zero on England's "freedom day" of 19 July, before scrapping most legal restrictions three weeks later - but the destination and determination to reach it are the same.  Scottish ministers may not use words like "irreversible" or "guarantee" in the rather more flamboyant style of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but they still bat away any notion of a delay or change of plans.  Listen to whoever is sent out to do the latest round of interviews, and they generally find a way to glide smoothly past questions about pressing the brakes again.  This seems a curious thing on the surface - why would a government which has cultivated a reputation for caution wave away the record case numbers which have left Scotland dominating the Euros in the worst way?  The answer is the same as it has been since the world turned upside down in March 2020. Politicians face a fiendishly complex situation, a minefield of competing harms, priorities and uncertainties.  And for a number of reasons, it makes sense for governments across the UK to pick their way through this minefield along a similar path.  To start with, the virus is a unifying factor - it has no interest in borders, and scientific advice has been broadly similar wherever you live.  Leaders are loathe to stray far from the twin totems of The Science and The Data, especially given the prominent role of advisers and clinicians in fielding questions and communicating strategy.  On the political side, parts of the pandemic response have been run from Westminster because they sit in reserved areas - things like border control and the furlough scheme. The vaccine programme - the biggest factor in the current move away from restrictions - is also a UK-wide success story.  And for all the differences in style and presentation, the big decisions under devolved control have mostly gone the same way north and south of the border - from stay-at-home orders to care homes and Christmas.  This is not to undersell the value of good presentation, incidentally. Particularly in the early days of the pandemic, clear and consistent messaging was one of the most important elements in guiding the public through a fast-changing and frankly scary situation.  It's also not to suggest that anyone has been taking decisions on the basis of anything other than what they genuinely think is best for the country (the bad news for political partisans is that if you accept this is the case for one government, it necessarily also applies to others which take exactly the same actions).  It is however much easier to pitch a message - particularly one as nuanced as the spiderweb of rules and regulations we have lived under for a year-and-a-half - when it chimes across the political spectrum.  There is a measure of political cover in acting together. Before the inquiries have even begun, we have already heard former Health Secretary Matt Hancock defend the discharge of patients from English hospitals into care homes by essentially saying "well the Scottish government did it too". Nicola Sturgeon also frequently points to the fact governments the world over are wrestling with similar issues.  And equally when administrations do dare to take diverging paths, it sparks immediate questions. Why can people in Carlisle have X when folk in Gretna are stuck with Y?  The pattern is perhaps reinforced by the fact that opposition parties are in a similar bind.  The major parties are in government in other parts of the UK, and thus need to have one eye on decisions made elsewhere before castigating ministers here for doing the same. Even the opposition are locked into a "four nation" approach of sorts.   The Conservatives are keen to make hay about Scotland's record-high case rates, but given SNP ministers are treading broadly the same path as those in Whitehall they have to do so without demanding much in the way of change.  Labour meanwhile is in charge in Wales, where ministers have not yet set any dates but are making very familiar noises about the weakening link between infections and serious illness.  If opposition MSPs were to suggest a completely radical approach, it would raise questions about why their colleagues, who are actually in charge of something, don't agree.  They also have fewer opportunities to set out their own stalls at the moment, given Holyrood is in recess until September - only reconvening for two virtual sessions at major decision-making junctures.  By late summer, it seems likely that any differences between the few remaining restrictions in Scotland and England may be largely cosmetic.  There seems to be a divide of sorts over face coverings, which Scottish ministers remain slightly more keen on.  However, it is unclear whether they will be required by law, or if it will simply be a matter of guidance - and thus effectively the same as the arrangement in England.  Remember that when the face mask regulations were introduced, it was clear that there was not going to be a huge wave of enforcement. The idea was that putting the guidance into law underlined to people that it was a serious matter, encouraging more to comply - which they did, overnight, without the need for fines to be dished out en masse.The big question is whether the post-pandemic landscape will be defined in the same way as the response to the immediate crisis. Will all corners of the UK seek to build back from Covid in the same way, or will different visions take hold?  Many of the same calculations will come into play - we have already heard questions about parity between NHS pay deals in different areas, and rows over when UK-wide schemes like furlough are phased out.  But the Scottish government clearly has designs on a very different future north of the border, given its plans for an independence referendum. In that sense, divergence from the UK is the SNP's core policy.  That said, one similarity remains - how far those plans are progressed in the year to come may depend heavily on the state of the pandemic, and relations between the governments in Edinburgh and London.

Does New Oil Field Conflict with Climate Summit Aims?
In a matter of months, all eyes will be on Scotland for climate crisis talks of world significance - but at the same time, a proposal is afoot to tap a new oil field in the North Sea for further fossil fuels.  November's COP26 summit in Glasgow will see representatives from across the world gathering to try to reach agreements on how to reduce emissions - aka greenhouse gases.  The UK Westminster government has promised to take the lead role in what is seen by many as our last, best chance to prevent global temperatures from spiralling out of control.  But environmental groups have accused ministers of hypocrisy after it emerged that the development of a vast new North Sea oil field at Cambo, west of Shetland, could get the green light.  Tessa Khan, an international climate change lawyer who founded Uplift, one of a number of groups signing a letter against the Cambo proposals, accused ministers of automatically nodding projects through without thinking about their climate impacts.  "Boris Johnson aspires to be a climate leader but it requires him to understand the reality of the climate emergency and, crucially, act on it," she says.  "This means government needs to stop handing out new drilling licences in the North Sea and stop giving the go-ahead to untouched fields, like Cambo.  And it means coming up with a real plan for phasing out supply while supporting workers to build what could be a globally-significant renewable energy industry in the UK."  What is the Cambo oil field?  The Cambo oil field is situated approximately 125km (75 miles) to the west of the Shetland Islands in water depths of between 1,050m to 1,100m and it contains over 800 million barrels of oil.  While the UK Westminster government says the original "licensing approval" for the site dates back to 2001, it is important to note that licence was an exploration licence.  Before any oil or gas is discovered in a particular location, such a licence gives companies permission to seek out where it is.  An industry expert has told me that there is then a lengthy, rigorous process - which can sometimes take decades - involving the creation of field development plans, environmental statements and many other requirements which require approval from the relevant bodies, before production activity can begin.  If approved by the Oil and Gas Authority, drilling at Cambo could start as early as 2022. And the field is expected to produce oil and gas for approximately 25 years.  It is this "licensing loophole" that is also causing concern to campaigners.  A spokesperson for the UK Westminster government's Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has responded to the criticisms, saying: "While we are working hard to drive down demand for fossil fuels, there will continue to be ongoing demand for oil and gas over the coming years, as recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee."  The company behind the Cambo proposal is Siccar Point Energy, backed by private equity firm investors.  It sees this as an opportunity to create more than 1,000 jobs and even more in the supply chain.  "The Cambo development supports the country's energy transition, maintaining secure UK supply," says Jonathan Roger, the company's CEO.  "We have proactively taken significant steps to minimise the emissions footprint through its design and Cambo will be built 'electrification-ready', with the potential to use onshore renewable power when it becomes available in the future, in line with decarbonisation targets."  The other player is Shell, which has a 30% stake in the project. While a spokesperson told me they were unable to comment on the licence application because Shell is not the operator, they did tell me about the company's overall strategy.  They said: "Even the most ambitious scenarios tell us that as the energy system transitions, the world will continue to need oil and gas for decades to come.  Targeted investment will generate cash to help fund the growth of our new low-carbon portfolio."  But the group of campaigners protesting against the proposal do not believe this sticks, with Friends of the Earth gaining thousands of signatures on their petitions.  They calculate that in phase 1, emissions alone would be approximately the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 16 coal-fired power plants.  They say this contradicts a number of robust targets and recommendations to keep rising temperatures in check, including the International Energy Agency recommendations for no new oil and gas fields from 2021, except those already approved.  "The huge response to the open letter shows that the public understand that we must keep fossil fuels in the ground and switch to clean renewable energy," says Friends of the Earth Scotland climate and energy campaigner Caroline Rance. "Both the UK and Scottish governments must end their hypocritical support for drilling for every last drop of climate-wrecking oil and gas, and instead develop a clear plan for winding down fossil fuel extraction while retraining offshore workers and supporting communities affected by this transition."  While the Scottish government did not directly comment on the proposal, a spokesperson did reiterate a commitment to becoming a net-zero economy by 2045 and that "any Scottish government support for oil and gas businesses operating in the North Sea is conditional upon them contributing to a sustainable and inclusive energy transition, and ensuring a secure energy supply".  But ultimately the decision on whether or not to allow the Cambo oil field to be drilled will be taken by officials in the Oil and Gas Authority, an organisation that says: "Oil and gas currently meet around three-quarters of UK energy demand and are forecast to remain needed in future."  A public consultation on the proposals is open until Saturday 10 July.

MoD Announces Jobs Boost for RAF Lossiemouth
The Ministry of Defence has announced a jobs boost for the north of Scotland with more than 100 new posts being created at RAF Lossiemouth.  The contract, worth more than £230m, is part of the deployment of Poseidon maritime aircraft at the base in Moray.  UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said he saw it as a benefit of Scotland being part of the UK.  But the Scottish government said the Conservatives had "zero credibility" on defence issues in Scotland.  It said this was because of "deep cuts" the party had imposed on personnel and infrastructure north of the border.  As well as a base for Typhoon fighter jets, RAF Lossiemouth will now be home to a fleet of nine P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol planes. Mr Wallace said the 106 new roles were part of a training and maintenance contract allied to the deployment of the anti-submarine aircraft.  He added: "That's another generation of RAF investment into the area."  Mr Wallace also pledged there were more jobs to come as part of a programme that included the opening of the base's new £75m runway last year.  He said: "Defence is not a here today, gone tomorrow. You invest for the long term."  Mr Wallace said the purchase of P-8A aeroplanes and E-7 Wedgetails (surveillance aircraft) brings "20, 30 years of investment".  But he also challenged the case for independence.  Mr Wallace said: "Defence of these isles is much better achieved collectively and together, and the strength of the union is demonstrated by the fact we can play to each others' strengths."  The MoD is a major employer and spends more than £2bn a year in Scotland, much of it on shipbuilding.  But Mr Wallace said an independent Scotland could not expect to get military orders from the rest of the UK.  Speaking to the BBC, he said: "If you look at their economic figures, their deficit is so large I think it would be very, very difficult for an independent Scotland to maintain any armed forces of any type of armed forces of any credible size or capability."  He also raised the question of what would happen to the Faslane nuclear base and an independent Scotland's place in Nato.  In a statement, a spokesman for Scotland's first minister said: "The Tories have zero credibility when it comes to defence issues in Scotland given the deep cuts they have imposed on personnel and infrastructure north of the border.  An independent Scotland will be more than capable of maintaining conventional forces, but will not waste billions of pounds on nuclear weapons."

Covid in Scotland: How Are Islands Delivering the Vaccine?
Scotland's island health boards have been among those to make the greatest progress in vaccinating all adults eligible for a Covid jab.  NHS Shetland leads the way with 93% of the eligible population receiving a first dose, according to the latest Public Health Scotland data.  South of Scotland health boards, it must be noted, are very close behind Shetland with 92.8% for NHS Dumfries and Galloway and 92% for NHS Borders.  For the other islands health boards, NHS Western Isles and Orkney are both on 91.9% for first doses delivered.  NHS Western Isles is top for the whole of Scotland for second dose jabs with 85% of the eligible population having had both doses, and the last mass vaccination clinics have been held on Uist, Barra and Lewis.  The Western Isles heath board also said it was the first area in Scotland to complete the target of inviting all eligible adults for their first dose of vaccine back in May.  For Lothian, Greater Glasgow and Clyde and Tayside, health boards with some of Scotland highest Covid rates, the figures for first doses are 83.4%, 83.5% and 85.9% and for second - 55.7%, 58.2% and 64.7%.  While Scotland's islands have small populations, there are challenges around travel with many communities having to be reached by ferry or plane.  NHS Western Isles said its mass vaccination programme had required a "huge team effort from the start".  Coastguard teams, firefighters and street pastors have played a part in helping to deliver vaccines, and spread the word about vaccinations.  NHS Western Isles chief executive, Gordon Jamieson, said said he was "humbled and hugely grateful" for how communities had pulled together over the past months.  He said: "The clinics simply couldn't have run without the invaluable input of all the agencies involved, and I would like to thank everyone from our own staff, our partners who provided instrumental and varied support, local volunteers, and local businesses and organisations."  Dr Susan Laidlaw, interim director of public health at NHS Shetland, said health staff have been working hard to reach every eligible adult.  She said: "We have tried to phone everyone who is registered with a Shetland GP who is eligible for the vaccine. For those we have not been able to reach by phone, we have sent at least one letter.  So, we believe we have tried to contact all our eligible population and offer vaccination."  Dr Laidlaw said some islanders have not been able to have the vaccine yet because they were working away from home, while others had declined a vaccination or not responded to phone calls and letters.  She added: "There are new people being added to our eligible cohort all the time - there are people in Shetland who have moved here recently and may not have had first vaccination, or who have recently turned 18.  The GP practices are, therefore, doing regular searches to identify people who are newly eligible so we can contact them.  "There are also a number of people living or working in Shetland who are not registered with a Shetland GP and so we are reliant on them contacting us."

'Overwhelming Majority' of Visitors Want to Enjoy Highlands Responsibly, Says Council Amid Tensions Over Tourist Impact
Highland Council says the "overwhelming majority" of visitors to the area want to enjoy the region responsibly – but have issued a fresh appeal over the matter.  The move comes amid rising tensions in some areas about the impact of visitors and the irresponsible behaviour of a small minority.  The local authority has a visitor management strategy.  Across Highland three multi-agency visitor management groups meet weekly to address local tourism matters.  A multi-agency partnership of emergency services (police, fire, ambulance, coastguard) and a range of Highland Council services cover roads, parking, litter and waste, access rangers, environmental health and public toilet related issues.  Input from Highland councillors and communities is also shared. Other partners include SEPA, Forest and Land Scotland, NatureScot and Highlands and Islands Enterprise.  The three designated groups divided by geographic area are:  Skye, Lochaber and South West Ross Visitor Management Group The North Highland Visitor Management Group  Inverness Area and Nairnshire Visitor Management Group  Chairman of the council’s Tourism Committee, Councillor Gordon Adam, who is also a Black Isle councillor, said: “The Highland Council and its partners have invested significant resources to support visitors and local communities this summer. It is imperative that we work together to ensure that we use these resources as effectively as possible, the weekly multi-agency group meetings across Highland, offer a whole-system approach and are an effective way to approach visitor management across Highland.”  The groups' aim to make sure that visitors to Highland enjoy themselves this summer while keeping safe and are aware of their rights and responsibilities. It also aims to help manage the impact visitors have on the communities hosting them and reduce the associated pressures due to the high number of people visiting the area.  The groups meet weekly throughout the tourism season to share information, plan and work to resolve any concerns, including a round-up of the main issues from the previous week and forecast for the following week.  By working together, the partners identify where responsibilities lie for particular issues and are able to provide clear and consistent information to visitors and communities. The group can also identify areas of concern and together can target resources to best effect; ranging from provision of additional bins to increased ranger patrols; police road traffic patrols and speed enforcement.  Highland Council said that "the overwhelming majority" of visitors want to enjoy the region responsibly and are reassured and happy to cooperate with the support and advice offered by the various services.  It said: "There have been instances when unacceptable behaviour has been challenged and visitors have responded positively to this. People travelling to the Highlands this summer are advised to plan ahead and make bookings in advance of travel. The Highland landscapes are beautiful and are popular destinations for locals and visitors alike. The environment needs to be cared for so its natural beauty and habitats last for centuries to come, and for others to enjoy and visit too."  It asks people to be considerate to what's around them and to respect any signage or information which "is there for a reason!"

Scottish MPs Warn Replacement Scheme for EU Funding Still to Be Explained
How much money Scotland will receive as a replacement to EU funding which helped develop Highland Wildlife Park, archaeological digs on Ardnamurchan peninsula and supported local universities in leading research is still to be determined, MPs have warned. The cross-party Scottish Affairs Committee is calling for an immediate consultation from the UK Westminster Government, as well as figures on how much funding will be made available from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.  It warned uncertainty over the operation of the fund – which will run from 2022 – was “hindering planning efforts and poses risks to a smooth transition”. For more than 40 years Scotland has been given money from the European Union, via both the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.  Projects including the support of wildlife reserves, funding for economic advancement in the Highlands and Islands, energy efficiency works in Aberdeen, whisky industry and agricultural projects has been awarded from the pots.  Scottish Universities have also benefitted over the years, with the committee hearing evidence EU research grants were 14% higher than those received by institutions in the rest of the UK.  The committee has called for the UK Prosperity Fund to prioritise money and grants for academic research, to make sure universities and research labs are not left short in the transition period between the two.  For the period 2014 to 2020, projects across Scotland were allocated £780 million – with the UK Westminster Government having committed to matching the funding the country would have received, had it still been in the EU.  But while it pledged in 2018 to hold a consultation on the design of the UKSPF, MPs on the Scottish Affairs Committee noted that “no formal consultation has yet been held by the UK Westminster Government”.Scottish Affairs Committee Chair, SNP MP Pete Wishart, said: “It is no secret that Scotland benefited significantly from EU funds and led to many communities and universities to prosper.  While we have been assured that UK replacement funds will match or exceed EU funds, we are yet to see any evidence of this. Nor have we been able to access information on the design of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund or how locations will be selected to receive grants.  It is bewildering that there seems to have been no formal consultation and time is fast running out before the UK Shared Prosperity Fund begins next year.  Our Committee urges the UK Westminster Government to consult urgently and to provide clarity on funding for what could be a vital lifeline for businesses, universities and communities across Scotland.” A UK Westminster Government spokeswoman said: “Our UK Shared Prosperity Fund will invest in people, communities and local business right across the country to level up and create opportunity where it is needed most.  We have been engaging with a wide range of key stakeholders in Scotland and across all parts of the UK since 2016, and this has helped identify the opportunities for UKSPF policy, learning lessons from EU funding.  We will increase UK-wide domestic funding to at least match what the EU currently offers – reaching around £1.5 billion a year.”

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

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, 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.
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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) unfortunately due to the Covid restrictions has been forced to cancel  rehearsals once again.  When these restrictions have been lifted we will be 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