Some Scottish News #60 Part 2

U-turn on Scrapping Children’s Free Milk (I wish they'd stopped it when I was at the school. There was nothing worse than being told to drink stale, warm milk! - even if it was “good for me” - Robin)

The coalition government was forced into an embarrassing climbdown after leaked plans to scrap free milk for nursery school children provoked a furious backlash in Scotland. The prime minister’s office issued a hasty denial of the proposal after the contents of a letter from Public Health Minister, Anne Milton, to her counterpart at Holyrood, Shona Robison, were made public. In the leaked letter, Ms Milton said the bill had almost doubled in the last five years to some £50million and there was “no evidence that it improves the health of young children”. Within hours of the suggestion emerging, Downing Street was making clear to reporters that David Cameron “did not like the idea” of cancelling free milk and it would “not be happening”. The swift U-turn failed to appease political opponents north of the border, who said the row was a reminder of Margaret Thatcher’s infamous decision to axe free school milk in 1971, earning her the nickname “Mrs Thatcher, Milk snatcher”. SNP deputy leader, Nicola Sturgeon, went on the attack last night, saying Ms Milton should consider quitting over her claims that the provision for under-fives was “outdated”, “ineffective”, and far too expensive. The Nursery Milk scheme allows children under five in approved day care to receive a third of a pint of milk free of charge each day. It dates back to 1940, when milk was issued to pregnant women and young children to protect them against wartime food shortages. It is a UK-wide scheme, covered by reserved legislation, but the costs north of the border are met by the Scottish Government.

Cardinal’s Statement on Al Megrahi Case

Simmering tension between Scottish and US politicians over the release of Lockerbie bomber al Megrahi stirred again with the intervention of Scotland’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Keith O’Brien. He spoke of America’s “culture of vengeance” compared with Scotland’s system of justice, which was laced with compassion. He defended the decision to release al Megrahi on compassionate grounds and said politicians in Scotland were not answerable to the US. He was voicing what many ordinary people in Scotland think, especially in relation to the demands for British ministers to be paraded in front of US senators to explain themselves. Cardinal O’Brien’s suggestion that Americans should “direct their gaze inwards” was a reference to its own system of justice and capital punishment, but some would see controversial US actions around the world as further evidence of double standards. The al Megrahi case is complicated by the enthusiasm of some senators to link BP to his release and persisting doubts about whether or not he did the crime. The cardinal acknowledged al Megrahi’s “gratuitous barbarity”. It is possibly for this reason that many believe he should never have been released; that some crimes are so appalling release should never be an option, whatever compassionate factors exist.

Decline of Grouse Puts Future in Firing Line

Game and wildlife experts expressed fears for the future of grouse shooting in Scotland as the Glorious Twelfth, the start of the red grouse season, begins. The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust yesterday called for support for estates from the Scottish Government after it released a report of the significant part the sport plays in the Scottish economy. According to the study by economists at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, grouse shooting generates at least £23.3million a year for the Scottish rural economy and supports more than 1,072 full-time jobs, three-quarters of them based in Aberdeenshire, the Highlands and Perth and Kinross. The group is predicting this year’s grouse-shooting season, which starts today, will be a very successful one despite the harsh winter. But it has voiced concerns over problems grouse shooting is facing in future years, due to fewer grouse being shot as the game bird’s numbers continue to fall. Report author Stewart Dunlop believes the industry should work with the Scottish Government to secure the game sport’s future. He said: “ This report strongly suggests Scottish policymakers should engage with the grouse industry to secure and potentially increase its contribution to the economy.” There are currently about 1million red grouse in Scotland, but the population is not evenly distributed. While some moors in parts of Tayside and Moray have struggled to maintain their populations, many estates in Angus, the Monadhliath and Cairngorms have seen an increase this year. Last night a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government recognises the contribution the Scottish shooting industry makes to the economy of Scotland and the conservation benefits that it can also provide. “The Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill, due to be considered by the Scottish Parliament after recess, modernises a number of areas of law that relate to game shooting.”

MSP Highlights Gaelic Summer Schools

Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, has recently written to the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to highlight the 'Coláistí Samhraidh' scheme that operates in Ireland, and to ask if any similar schemes might be considered for Scotland in the future. Alasdair Allan commented: "I have been contacted by a number of constituents who highlighted this scheme that has long operated in the most strongly Irish-speaking parts of Ireland. "This is a system which allows many thousands of school students who are interested in improving their fluency in Irish to spend three weeks at a special summer school in one of the regions of the Irish Gaeltachta. "I have taken this opportunity to write to the Scottish Government and Bòrd na Gàidhlig to ask if any lessons lie for Scottish Gaelic in the Coláistí Samhraidh. "I believe that it would have a number of obvious benefits for encouraging young Gaelic speakers and learners to use their Gaelic in a Gaelic environment and with speakers of their own age. "Particularly with so many young Gaelic speakers now being taught and growing up in areas which are not traditionally Gaelic speaking I believe a scheme like this could prove very beneficial. "There would also be major economic benefits for areas in the Gaidhealtachd of such a scheme with students living and learning in remote communities."

Celtic Congress

Gaelic will only be one of the Celtic languages heard when the annual conference of A' Chòmhdhail Cheilteach Eadar Nàiseanta, The International Celtic Congress, is held in Fort William in July 2011.

Speakers of Irish Gaeilge, Manx Gaelgach, Welsh, Breton and Cornish will also be able to catch up on language and cultural developments in each respective regions. This event will also celebrate the centenary of A' Còmhdhail Cheilteach (Alba). At the recent Annual General meeting of A' Còmhdhail Cheilteach (Alba) in Inverness, members travelled from as far as Lewis, Barra and the Argyll islands to discuss the centenary celebrations, when an artiste and a speaker from each Celtic region is invited to entertain and lecture on historical and contemporary culture. Earlier this year this annual conference was held in Eilean Vhannin. Scotland's representatives were Dr Catriona MacKie, who has completed research on vernacular architecture (Bragar Isle of Lewis, Mannin and Ireland) and Scotland's songbird, Sineag MacIntyre of Uist. A' Chòmhdhail dates are Monday, July 25 to Saturday July 30, 2011 and will include lectures, trips to places of historical interest and ceilidhs with local and international performers.

Pay on Exit – But Only with English Banknotes!

It’s an age old problem - English companies refusing to take Scottish banknotes - but embarrassingly an Inverness council car park is the latest to reject the country's currency. While machines at the Rose Street multi-storey car park accept English notes without a hitch, the new pay-on-exit system is proving problematic because it refuses to accept some Scottish money. A Highland Council transport official admitted the oversight and appealed to motorists to help identify which notes are being rejected. "It's something that's probably slipped through without realising, to be honest," said Les Houlker, technical manager with the council's transport, environment and community services. "There is no problem with English notes. But in Scotland you have the Bank of Scotland, the Royal Bank and the Clydesdale all with different notes. "Even the £10 notes and £5 notes vary with different designs so I think that's part of the problem." The new machines - which replaced a pay-and-display system last Tuesday - were altered last week after the problem was first discovered.

Woman Who Went Missing on Sutherland Mountain Found Safe and Well

A lone walker who went missing on a mountain was today found safe and well, police said. The woman went missing on mountains in Kylesku, Sutherland last night. Police said she was found tired but uninjured after spending the night on the mountain. A search was launched last night after she called police on her mobile phone to ask for help. But she lost her mobile phone signal before she could tell officers where she was and they were unable to reconnect the call. The woman was found this morning after a search by Northern Constabulary dog section, Assynt Mountain Rescue Team, RAF Kinloss Mountain Rescue Team and the Coastguard helicopter recommenced at 7am.

Thousands Flock to See £50m Titian As Masterpiece Tours the Nation

More than 140,000 people saw Titian's Diana and Actaeon when it toured to Aberdeen and Glasgow, the Scottish Government has announced. The painting was bought for £50 million for the nation in February 2009 from the Duke of Sutherland's family collection. It had hung in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh since the Second World War. Figures suggest more than 125,000 people viewed the picture at Glasgow's Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery over the course of a month earlier this year. The painting then went to Aberdeen Art Gallery, where it was seen by around 15,000 people. The work is now at the McManus Galleries in Dundee until 5 September. The Scottish Government put £12.5 million towards the painting's joint purchase by the National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery in London, with the two galleries and private and foundation donors also making large contributions. The art world united behind the campaign to save it from a possible sale on the open market, though some critics questioned spending the sum. In a parliamentary motion, entitled Titian's a Hit and backed by about 15 MSPs, Glasgow MSP Bill Butler has called on the National Galleries to send other works on tour. "We need to ensure that Diana and Actaeon is only the first of many works to make their way across the M8. Masterpieces by artists such as Botticelli, Cezanne, Raeburn and Blake could, and should, be brought to Glasgow," he said.

The figures cited yesterday compare favourably with major exhibitions at the National Gallery Complex on the Mound in Edinburgh. In 2003, the summer show Monet: the Seine and the Sea broke all records when it brought more than 170,000 people through the doors. The Titian picture was on show for free. The latest figures for Kelvingrove, Scotland's most popular tourist attraction, showed that more than 1,300,000 people passed through the doors there in 2009. The 16th Century masterpiece was seen by about 2,500 people on the opening weekend at the revamped McManus Galleries. In October, Diana and Actaeon goes on tour to the US with its sister painting, Diana and Callisto - the purchase of which is set to be the target of another huge fundraising campaign - and 11 other paintings from the NGS collection. The exhibition, Venetian Masterpieces from the National Galleries of Scotland, also includes Venus Rising from the Sea by Titian and Lorenzo Lotto's Virgin and Child with Saints Jerome, Peter, Francis.

Capital's Police Ready for Week of Disorder

Hundreds of businesses have been placed on red alert over plans by eco-warriors to set up a week-long "climate camp" in Edinburgh at the height of its festival season.The city is braced for a series of protests and police chiefs held talks with senior figures to urge firms to draw up contingency plans in case of major disruption on the scale seen when violence flared in the run-up to the G8 Summit in 2005. Protesters are being urged to gather at four locations in the city centre at noon on Thursday – Edinburgh Castle, St Andrew Square, Bristo Square and Duddingston Loch – where they will be given details of a campsite location. Mobile phone messages and social networking sites are expected to be used to spread word of the site within minutes of it being confirmed and it is also believed activists will try to put up tented villages and steel fencing to act as a base for several days of "direct action". The Royal Bank of Scotland is to be the main target amid claims it is financing companies that harm the environment. Senior police officers warned that the protests may also be aimed at coal and oil companies and other financial sector firms. It is thought police will try to break up any attempt to set up camp in "sensitive" sites such as Holyrood Park, the Meadows or Princes Street Gardens. The Camp for Climate Action, the group organising the protests, claims it will be taking "mass action" against RBS on 23 August – the day before the climate camp is due to end – targeting its headquarters, offices, branches and projects funded by the bank. Security bulletins issued by police to hundreds of businesses warned that the group had refused to discuss its plans in advance. Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone wrote that the Lothian and Borders force will "facilitate peaceful protest" but will seek to prosecute anyone involved in crime and disorder in the capital.

Senior officers met business leaders to brief them on contingency planning for the protests, which are expected to focus on the RBS headquarters at Gogarburn. The west of the city is thought to be the most likely location for the climate camp because of the large number of green-field sites and the location of the airport there. Sources said there were major fears that the city's transport networks could be gridlocked and that the protests could disrupt the city's festivals. RBS sponsors the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the free entertainment areas that have been set up in and around the Royal Mile.

Graham Birse, deputy chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "The police are being extremely vigilant about this. This group would appear to have a track record of causing trouble and protesters being prepared to break the law, so we have no doubt the police will be keeping a very close eye on things. "People are clearly entitled to their views and are entitled to protest peacefully, but if people are coming here to cause trouble out of sheer badness they should be dealt with appropriately."

One business insider said: "The police have been gathering intelligence about this protest for months and have warned that there could be significant disruption for businesses based on experience elsewhere.

Environmental activists claim that RBS is the UK bank most heavily involved with financing fossil fuel companies around the world and is the UK bank most involved in investing in "tar sands", a particularly carbon-intensive form of oil extraction in Canada. No-one from Camp for Climate Action was available for comment. However a statement on the group's website said: "Destructive projects like open-cast coal mines in the UK are only made possible through finance from banks like RBS. The government bailed them out, and now they use their profits to destroy our communities and are causing catastrophic climate change. We face a double disregard to human well-being. With RBS having been bailed out with £45.5 billion of 'public' money, not only do we face decades of unjust public sector cuts, but this diverted cash is also being used to further trash our climate and communities." In a message to activists planning on coming to Edinburgh, the protest group states: "Figure out your limits, aims, boundaries and strategies that work for you. Assess the amount of risk and style of action you feel most empowered to take. Consider the different roles needed, what kit to get and how you want to organise as a group. As a team you should support and empower each other to be as self efficient and strategic as possible." A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police confirmed officers do not know where the camp will be held. "We have no information about the specific location for the camp, nor do we have details of intended demonstrations or direct action," he said. "Along with the City of Edinburgh Council, we have asked representatives of the group to work with us and agree a suitable location for the campsite in order that basic utilities may be provided and disturbance to local residents be kept to a minimum. However, we are disappointed that organisers are unwilling to co-operate with us on this issue. Nevertheless, we are liaising with partner agencies and the business community to ensure that next week's events pass peacefully. There have been angry clashes between demonstrators and riot police at previous "climate camp" protests at Heathrow Airport, in London city centre, and at Kingsnorth power station, in Kent.