Some Scottish News #61

This little effort is for the period ending 21st August 2010. Once again I’ve been able to include a small named tongue-in-cheek article which I think you will enjoy - Robin

Call of the Wild Lures Sea Eagles

Wildlife experts are releasing a number of Scotland’s largest birds of prey from a secret location on the east coast next week. RSPB Scotland is freeing the white-tailed sea eagles – known as “flying barn doors” because of their 8ft wingspan – into the wild over the course of next week. They will be let go as part of the east Scotland sea eagles project – a five-year partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and Forestry Commission Scotland. The chicks will be radio-tagged so their progress can be recorded until they reach breeding age in the next three to five years. RSPB Scotland’s Tayside and Fife area manager Bruce Anderson said: “It’s the fourth year of the translocation where around 15-20 sea eagles from Norway are released. In previous years we have released 15 but this year it will be 19. The birds are collected from our Norwegian partners and they take them from nests containing twins. The species is globally endangered and part of the project is to expand its range back to where it was, and that includes Scotland. The last one was killed in Skye in 1907 and they were hunted to extinction so the habitat for them is still there. It was human actions that made them extinct. So there is no reason why they can’t thrive again.” Around 22 sea eagles can be seen at Blair Drummond Safari Park, near Stirling. The birds are weighed daily to monitor their condition.

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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly By lesley hart

Nothing exceeds like excess, and nowhere exceeds the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for cultural excess and debauchery . . . like the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Every year, the Fringe gets bigger and bolder and more outrageous than ever. This year, there are 2,453 shows and forty-odd thousand performers all vying for your attention. Like the wild west, the Fringe is a lawless plain – a cultural free-for-all (if not free of charge), where the good, the bad and the ugly abound in equal measure. Among the good excesses of the Fringe are the many brilliant shows on offer – too many for me to see, sadly. So far I have feasted on numerous festival hits, with Frisky and Mannish at the Underbelly, Beautiful Burnout at Pleasance Forth and The Not So Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo at Traverse Theatre ranking among my favourites. Unfortunately, I have to miss everything that clashes with The Silver Darlings – which I’m in at the Assembly Rooms every day, from 2.40-4.05pm – and quite a few shows that clash with each other. There are so many good things to do on the Fringe that no matter how solidly you binge on all the parties, plays, stand-up comedy, cabaret, bars and burger vans, no one person could experience more than a fraction of what’s on offer.

The bad excesses of the Fringe include those hours spent watching the direst of shows – hours that you can never get back; the relentless handing out of flyers in the street, bars, and everywhere you go, rendering all flyers pointless because nobody who has spent more than half an hour in Edinburgh in the last two weeks can bear to look at one, and all the money you spend in the vortexes that are The Udderbelly Pasture, the Traverse Bar, Assembly bars, the Gilded Balloon and the Pleasance Courtyard. Don’t get me wrong, these places are all exceedingly good for socialising and having fun, just very bad for the bank balance. In the ugly category, the horrible painted statue people that litter the Royal Mile come top of my list. Perhaps you disagree – like beauty, ugly is in the eye of the beholder. But there’s something about a person covered head-to-toe in metallic paint and not moving that freaks me out. There’s so many of them here as well, looking and acting kind of . . . dead, like the girl in Goldfinger – euch.

Getting back to the good, for me the Fringe is always a great place to meet up with old pals I haven’t seen in ages, and to make new ones. This year, I have spent many a lovely afternoon or evening eating, drinking and watching shows with friends and colleagues or, even better, seeing them perform. Sometimes they have come to see The Silver Darlings and caught up with me afterwards, which has led to more socialising and cultural escapades. These days on the fringe are long and exhausting – but in a good way. Time is like a sponge for soaking up culture, and I am mindful not to let any go to waste.

If I’m honest, I wish it wasn’t so congested here all the time. It’s a great thing for the Fringe to be very popular and to grow each year in size, but I can’t help getting a little bit crowd-phobic. I panic when I get stuck among a sea of slow-moving human traffic on the Royal Mile, on the Mound and in the entrances to the Assembly Rooms. The other day, I got trapped amid a sea of tourists, with a fairly punishing hangover, and in point-blank earshot of a lone snare drummer. There was no quick route out of this, and although the drum was bad enough – like having holes drilled into my skull – being gridlocked and unable to make a quick escape was worse. On the subject of bad excesses, I have to admit a controversial aversion to something very popular and prolific on the streets of Edinburgh during festival time: bagpipes. Apologies for this, but I can’t bear that incessant, ubiquitous screech, particularly when it’s happening all day long outside the house where I am staying, and I’m trying to concentrate, or sleep. Indeed, part of the inspiration for this column and its subject matter was the excessive bagpipe playing near the flat. It just feels inescapable.

On the ugly front, the 5am fallout from clubs and late licensed pubs is not a pretty sight, and although part of me loves the all-night party culture, it does get fairly messy at festival time, with people squabbling over taxis and takeaway food in the not-so-wee small hours. I almost got into a brawl with a man who tried to claim my slice of pizza the other night when the take-away shop, and nearly every other eaterie in the city, seemed to run out of food (at about 5am). Also, I have noticed a sad excess of litter in the city this year, and wonder what possesses a cultured festival crowd to discard their rubbish so thoughtlessly. It could be that the habit of chucking away the millions of flyers people hand out, that nobody wants, fosters a culture of lazy littering. Maybe the bins overflow with unwanted flyers and promotional material, leaving too little room for people to chuck their bruck. I don’t know, but if I had the authority to clamp down on one excess of the Fringe, I would ban flyering – even before the painted statue people.

On the whole, the exceedingly good excesses of the Fringe far outweigh the bad and the ugly for me. By taking some small measures, such as making the Royal Mile, taxi queues and fast food at 5am off-limits for the next two weeks, I can hopefully enjoy the best and avoid the worst of the fest.

Doors Open At Daviot Church As Highlands Show Off ‘Best Buildings’

A landmark church on the A9 Inverness to Perth road will open its doors to the public next month as part of events showcasing the best buildings in the Highlands. Daviot Church, which boasts a distinctive cockerel weather vane, is one of more than 35 sites taking part in Doors Open Days on every Saturday in September. Other historic buildings which will be welcoming visitors include 16th-century Ballone Castle near Portmahomack; Cromarty House, an imposing Georgian mansion built in 1772; and Inverness Town House, built in the Victorian Gothic style between 1878 and 1881 and housing a fine range of historic portraits, painting and busts. Participants can also explore a range of historic churches in Inverness and across the area, such as St John the Evangelists Church at Wick, built in 1868-70, and post-Reformation Cromarty East Church, which has been restored and conserved over three years by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust.

Doors Open Days will also showcase modern architecture. Special tours will be available at the Centre for Health Science, next to Raigmore Hospital, and the RNLI station at Kessock. The first open day will take place on Saturday, September 4, for the Inverness area, with Ross and Cromarty, Caithness and Sutherland, and Cromarty following later in the month. The full Door Open Days programme is now available to download from the council’s website at www.highland.gov.uk.

I Bet You Also Wanted to Slide Down the Escape Chute By iain maciver

We’ve all thought about it. That moment when we have realised that our job is just not worth the hassle. Getting close to that point has caused many of us to at least think about chucking it all in and storming out. Then again, not many of us have been working on board a plane just when we were ready to tell them to take their job and shove it. Which is why we are all a bit tickled by Steven Slater, the American flight attendant, who flipped when, according to himself anyway, some passengers were a tad rude to him. Aw, diddums.

Slater threw a wobbly, grabbed a few bevvies, released the emergency chute and – wheeee – slid right out on to the dole. Yes, I know it was the wrong thing to do and he was very unprofessional and needs to keep his emotions in check. But, seriously, who has not secretly wanted a go on that inflatable slide thingy? It looks like so much fun. And the last thing you want to do is be in a real emergency where you have to use it as intended. So, if Slater was getting his jotters anyway, why not? We all try and do the right thing but, usually, that is the boring option. So, sometimes, we just do what we really, really want to do and hang the consequences. Like all this stuff about global warming. That’s got me all worried. I just don’t know what to do. I did try doing the right thing and following the advice about cutting down on heat and light but I’m afraid that didn’t go according to plan. To cap it all, there was an accident on the road just ahead of me the other day. Sadly, a cyclist was hurt and the poor chap is still sore but recovering. Not a happy chappy, I can tell you. It was actually me that found him but is he grateful? Nope. I’m just too upset to talk about it right now. I’ll tell you some other time. Maybe.

Princess Anne was 60 yesterday. Now there’s someone who always does the right thing whenever she can. With her head usually swathed in a “beannag” — that’s a headsquare to any monoglots who chance upon this column — she is the reliable royal who will always tell it like it is. When she is not telling pushy photographers to “naff off” or refusing to comply with crazed gunmen who order her to get out of her car, she turns up unannounced in the most unlikely of places – even here on Lewis. She still regularly pops in for a cuppa to see friends who live in Lochs and was recently spotted by the tins of beans and peas in the Timsgarry shop in Uig. All this fuss is going on now because of her big birthday. She, however, would rather not mention it as she says she has a lot of proper things to do. She had to be “advised” to dress up for the photos and interviews. Just like any other busy mother in a beannag, keen to get on lifting the peats, shearing the sheep or going for the messages. Well, almost.

Sometimes, though, we could be excused for throwing our hands up and going off on one. Not that we all would do that. Take my mate, Iain Turnbull. Diagnosed with prostate cancer and not knowing how long he has to live, he could certainly have been excused for throwing a complete wobbly. Not our Iain, though. Instead, he is fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. He’s had his beard shaved off in the Macleod Motel at Tarbert and, on Wednesday, Iain, whose father and sister died from cancer, will be over in Inverness where he will again be facing the glint of cold steel. Yep, he is getting his entire head shaved this time. Those long flowing silver locks, the lovingly cultured ponytail — the lot is coming off to raise a few bob to help the charity which may be supporting him when the time comes. An former brewer, Iain has had a big batch of a special beer made. It is called Swansong. It is not for Iain himself, though. Swansong is for the party after he has gone. He wants to do the right thing for the ones he leaves behind. Now that’s what I call planning. Yep, that’s the right thing. If you would like to help Iain’s fantastic fundraising bid, just call David Cameron. No, not the one now living at a posh address in Westminster but the one based at the Macmillan charity headquarters in Bridge of Don. They’re in the phone book and David has all the details.

And another Iain was in the news this week. Iain Thornber, a historian, says there is no reason why people cannot go back to living on St Kilda. He has a point. It is so much easier to get there now. How would you market it though? A place to go for people to find themselves? Maybe it would be ideal for those silly people who go in the huff for ages and just don’t want to speak to anyone? Or maybe it would be just the place to live if you were interested in studying astronomy, the sea or our climate? Where better to look for the signs of global warming, for example? Because, yes, I am very worried about this global warming. The warnings are everywhere and the message is that we can all do our little bit to help. There was a guy on the radio the other evening and he was persuasive. He said that the polar ice caps would melt that bit slower if we all just switch off all our lights for a few minutes. I could do that, I thought. I’ll just switch off all my lights right now. It’s the right thing to do.

And that’s how I ran over that poor cyclist.

Ancient Whiskies to Go Under the Hammer

Three rare 19th-century bottles of whisky and cognac will be auctioned tomorrow. Each is expected to fetch several thousand pounds at McTear’s sale in Glasgow. A Chivas Regal is tipped to sell for £3,000 to £3,600, while a bottle of Haig & Haig pure barley malt liqueur is valued at £2,000 to £2,500. The rare Janneau 1872 Cognac is expected to fetch up to £1,800. Bottled in 1977, it is the oldest reserve yet released by Janneau. McTear’s whisky and wine specialist Andy Bell is confident all are still drinkable. “The big question though is, having spent several thousands pounds on a bottle, would you actually want to drink your investment?”

The bottles will go under the hammer at the Rare and Collectable Whisky Auction. That sale and the Wine and Port Auction today are expected to fetch more than £220,000 between them. Other bottles in the 700-lot whisky sale include a Bowmore Bi-Centenary blend which is more than 12 years old and valued at between £2,500 and £3,000, while a 35-year-old Highland Park is expected to fetch between £2,000 and £2,400.

School Closures Plan ‘Requires More Scrutiny

Plans by Scotland’s largest local authority to close three schools require more scrutiny, Education Secretary Mike Russell said yesterday. He has decided to “call in” the proposed closure of two special schools and a primary school in Glasgow. The minister said he made the decision after inspectors voiced concerns about the planned closure of Stonedyke Primary, St Joan of Arc School and St Aidan’s School. The plans have now been halted and Glasgow City Council has been asked to provide more information for ministers to decide whether the schools should be closed. Mr Russell said: “In each of these three schools, education inspectors have raised concerns over Glasgow City Council’s plans. These concerns are focused on how the education of the pupils will be improved in their new schools.” Stonedyke Primary teaches youngsters from the Drumchapel and Summerhill areas of the city. Under the council’s plans, pupils would transfer to two other schools. St Joan of Arc and St Aidan’s schools cater for pupils aged 11 to 18 with support needs. Both schools have number of autistic pupils.


Record Crowds Enjoy Abernethy Games

An all-time record crowd turned out in glorious sunshine for the Abernethy Highland Games on Saturday — one of the best in Scotland. Organisers said the numbers through the gates were 10% up on last year, which itself was a record, meaning about 3,700 enjoyed a day of varied entertainment and spectacle. The games hosts an International Gathering of the Clan Grant, and there was a special delegation from the US of members of the Cherokee Nation, led by their principal chief, Chad “Corntassel” Smith, who was made games chieftain for the event. Chief Smith holds a bachelor's degree in education, a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in law, and is credited with leading the Cherokee Nation out of a time of turmoil, unrest and controversy into an era of co-operation and achievement. Chief Smith, along with many of the 300,000 strong Cherokee Nation, are direct descendants of Ludovick Grant, younger of Creichie, who sailed to Charlestown, South Carolina, in 1716, having escaped with his life after being captured as a Jacobite at the siege of Preston. Chief Smith was joined on Saturday by about 30 members of the Cherokee Nation and several, in their tribal costumes, were formally welcomed to the Highlands by Highland Council convener Sandy Park

One of the day’s highlights was the spectacle of the massed pipes and drums with eight bands thrilling the crowd as 150 or more pipers and drummers made four appearances during the afternoon. Most of the participating bands come from towns and villages within the local area, but this year included a visiting German band – the Caverhill Guardians Pipes & Drums from the Black Forest. They have been in Scotland participating in Pipefest in Edinburgh, as well as attending the Tain Highland Games. The official opening by the Games Chieftain was preceded by the parade of massed pipe bands and the March of the Clan Grant, led by Lord Strathspey, their ranks made up with locals and visitors from near and far.

Credit Union for Highlands Due to Start in November

A Highlands and islands credit union could be in business by the beginning of November. The enterprising scheme will provide small loans of between £100 and £7,500 at more affordable repayment rates than national lenders. It is being created out of an extension and rebranding of an existing credit union which has been operating in the Western Isles since 2006. The new Highland-wide organisation, which will be known as Hi-Scot Credit Union, is due to start lending on November 1. Highland councillors will discuss progress on the proposals when they meet to take part in the resources committee meeting on Wednesday. The scheme will involve councils in Highland, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. The aim is for the credit union to become self-sufficient by 2012, generating a surplus to build up adequate reserves. The APR is proposed to start at 23.14% for the smallest loans – of £100 to £1,499 – falling to 12.68% for loans of £5,000 to £7,500. Two other existing credit unions, in Inverness and Lochaber, have been approached to become involved, but so far only the Inverness scheme has started discussions. The Scottish Government’s Third Sector Enterprise Fund has provided funding of £64,500 for the rebranding and to upgrade IT.

Scotland's Newest University Set to Reinvigorate Paisley

It has long been synonymous with industrial decline and urban decay but a major redevelopment of Scotland's newest university is set to reinvigorate Paisley as a cosmopolitan university town.

The University of the West of Scotland has a £250 million plan to revamp all of its campuses to attract more students and boost its international reputation. It could transform the former mill town, famous for creating the Paisley pattern and home town to actor David Tennant and former banker Fred Goodwin, into a student-heavy campus town. The latest step in the plan is a £13.6m student residence complex to be built in the heart of the town on the site of a former car park. UWS changed its name from Paisley University last year, making it the newest higher education name in Scotland. Work on the 340-bedroom complex begins in March and includes en-suite bathrooms, communal living and kitchen spaces, management suites, lounges and laundry facilities. A further £4.6m project will refurbish 160 University-owned flats at George Street and Lady Lane in the town. It's hoped the new facilities will help attract increasing numbers of students to the town for entry in 2012. The overall project also includes a new £70m campus at Ayr and will see classroom and IT upgrades across all four campuses to attract quality applicants. Professor Seamus McDaid, university principal, said: "The development is crucial to our ambitions to attract and retain more students and is part of the wider investment programme to improve the quality of our estate across all four campuses. "It will increase the enormous contribution that the university makes to the local economy, greatly enhancing the centre of Paisley and bringing long-term benefits to the town." A report by Spanish bank, Santander, last week found overseas students contribute £15m annually to local economies near universities, outwith fees.

It May Soon Be Legal to Drive on Whisky (I must admit to a disbelieving double-take when I saw this heading - Robin)

Getting behind the wheel after a drinking session has never been a good idea - but scientists at a Scottish university have created a unique "blend" that could see whisky-fuelled cars on the roads in a matter of years. Edinburgh Napier University has filed a patent for the new super biofuel, made from whisky by-products, which could help power cars currently on the road without any need for mechanical changes to the vehicles. The biofuel was developed over two years by the university's Biofuel Research Centre, which was provided with samples of whisky distilling by-products from Diageo's Glenkinchie Distillery in Tranent, East Lothian.

Scotland's £4 billion whisky industry is a ripe resource for developing biobutanol - the next generation of biofuel, which gives 30 per cent more output power than ethanol. It uses the two main by-products of the whisky production process - "pot ale", the liquid from the copper stills, and "draff", the spent grains, as the basis for producing the butanol that can then be used as fuel. The university plans to create a "spin-out" company to take the new fuel to the marketplace. Professor Martin Tangney, who is leading the research and is director of the centre, said: "The European Union has declared that biofuels should account for 10 per cent of total fuel sales by 2020. We're committed to finding new, innovative renewable energy sources. "Theoretically, (the new bio-fuel] could be used entirely on its own, but you would have to find a company to distribute it. "The most likely form of distribution would be a blend of perhaps 5 or 10 per cent of the biofuel with petrol or diesel, but 5 or 10 per cent means less oil, which would make a big, big difference. "This is a more environmentally sustainable option and potentially offers new revenue on the back of one Scotland's biggest industries. We've worked with some of the country's leading whisky producers to develop the process."

The £260,000 research project was funded by Scottish Enterprise's Proof of Concept programme. Energy minister Jim Mather claimed the fuel could revolutionise transport, saying: "This innovative use of waste products demonstrates a new sustainable option for the biofuel industry, while also supporting the economic and environmental objectives of the Scottish Government's new Zero Waste Plan." Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, said: "Scotch whisky is world renowned and one of Scotland's biggest exports, so it is great to see plans that could not only help power the cars on our roads and reduce fossil-fuel emissions but also help reduce the environmental impacts of the industry itself." A spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, said: "The industry's environment strategy is the first of its kind in Scotland, committing distillers to sourcing 80 per cent of their primary energy from non-fossil fuel sources by 2050.

Salmond Wins Ally in Mackerel Dispute

Scotland and Norway have joined forces to seek a resolution in the growing row over “irresponsible” fish quotas set by the Faroe Islands and Iceland. The announcement by First Minister Alex Salmond was made just hours after a Faroese vessel carrying mackerel was forced to leave Peterhead harbour with her holds full when local fishermen stopped her crew from landing the fish. Mr Salmond, with Norwegian foreign minister Jonas Gahr Store, is calling for the European Union to apply more pressure to the two countries, which have ignored international agreements and set their own catch limits. He said: “We are in complete agreement that the governments of the Faroe Islands and Iceland have acted irresponsibly and are threatening global mackerel stocks by awarding such excessive quotas.” More than 50 fishermen from the north-east pelagic fleet were locked in a stand-off with the Faroe-registered Jupiter, which was carrying 1,100 tonnes of mackerel. The boat tied up at 4am on Tuesday and neither side in the dispute budged until 10pm when the Jupiter sailed, bound for her home port, it is understood. Mr Gatt, chief executive of the Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association, said the local crews did not take glory from the protest. “This was not about getting a victory, it was about sending a strong message to Iceland and the Faroe Islands that the mackerel they catch will not be welcome in Scotland,” he said. Faroe recently set a quota for mackerel of 85,000 tonnes for this year – 15% of the recommended global total allowable catch and far greater than its previous 4% share. This followed a recent decision by Iceland to itself a quota of 130,000 tonnes.

Mr Salmond said the countries had acted “irresponsibly” and were threatening to “make a mockery” of moves to conserve fish stocks. He added: “The dispute could have huge consequences for the Scottish fishing industry if it results in damage to the stock or a substantial reduction in shares. “We are pleased that commissioner Damanaki (EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki) has taken the unusual step of publicly denouncing these damaging actions.” But the Faroese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday’s protest was not acceptable. Foreign affairs minister Jorgen Niclasen sent Mr Salmond a letter warning that a resolution could be reached only through a “shared commitment” by the Faroe Islands, Iceland, the EU and Norway.

Barra Police Receive Bravery Awards

Two Barra police officers have received bravery awards for disarming a gunman on the island last year. PCs Michael Gallie and Blair McMaster were presented with Force commendations by the Chief Constable of Northern Constabulary, Ian Latimer and the Convenor of the Northern Joint Police Board, Norman MacLeod at a ceremony in Castlebay Community Hall. The two officers were recognised for their actions during an incident on the island December 16. About 1600 hours on that day, the accused John Christie (aged 24) was seen by witnesses and was heard to say he was going to get a gun to 'hold up' the Co-op. A short time later other witnesses saw him walking through the village carrying a rifle of some description. Alarmed members of the public alerted the police. Meanwhile there were further sightings of the accused carrying a rifle through Castlebay causing fear and alarm to members of the public. Initially the officers attended at the Co-op, but it was quickly established that the accused was not there and was likely to be in the nearby village of Horve. They attended at his home address where they found the accused in his garden holding a rifle (later established to be an air rifle). He was instructed to put down the weapon, but he repeatedly levelled it at both officers threatening to shoot them. When it became apparent that verbal communication was not persuading the accused to comply, and was still refusing to put the weapon down, Constable McMaster approached and a struggle ensued during which both officers restrained and disarmed the accused, taking him into custody safely. Members of the community of Barra requested that the two officers be thanked for their bravery and professionalism in dealing with the incident.

Bifab Stornoway Lands £2 Million Order

A £2 million Norwegian renewable energy contract won by Arnish's BiFab operators has transformed the yard's fortunes almost overnight. After having last week laid off 20 employees last week, there was a sea change in spirits this week when BiFab won the main £2 million contract for the next stage of the development of one of the world's most advanced tidal turbines, Hammerfest Strøm's HS1000 device which will be installed in the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney next year. Awarded by Hammerfest Strøm UK, the order, the bulk of which will be carried out in Stornoway, was part of a £4 million package of contracts won by Scottish companies from the renewables concern that is jointly owned by Scottish Power Renewables and Norwegian energy companies.

Fort George Spectacular Could Be A Taste of Things to Come

Fort George's most successful weekend could lead to even more spectacular events taking place at the Georgian fortress. Historic Scotland's Colossal Celebration of the Centuries lived up to its name as attendance records at the fort were broken by a considerable margin. Over 250 re-enactors covering various periods of Scottish history from 2nd century Romans to World War II paratroopers, were joined by over 6000 visitors over the two days to see such attractions as displays from the participating groups, a 1940s style dance band and an aerobatics display by a low flying Spitfire. "We are absolutely ecstatic with the way it went," Historic Scotland events manager Nick Finnigan said. "The record for any event at Fort George, which was the ever popular jousting, was 4500, but this time we had 6700 over the weekend." Already billed as Historic Scotland's biggest event of the year, the success of the weekend could mean even more impressive events for the fort in the future. "I'd be very surprised if it didn't happen in some form or another," Mr Finnigan said. "We have been trying for years to heighten the profile of Fort George," Mr Finnigan continued. "Despite its vastness, people don't know it, even some local people. We have staged some successful events there, but we looked for something that would have been the breakthrough and this looks like it.

Sole Passenger Ferry Link to Europe Cut As Route Switches to Freight Only

Scotland’s sole international passenger ferry link has been axed, dealing a major blow to tourism just over a year after First Minister Alex Salmond described it as of "absolutely fundamental importance". DFDS Seaways announced yesterday the Rosyth-Zeebrugge route would be switched to freight-only from around 15 December, despite being relaunched as recently as May last year. Original operator Superfast abandoned the route in 2008 after six years and DFDS said the service had lost £6 million in its first eight months alone. Ferry experts said the 491-passenger Scottish Viking ferry had been too small for the long route, making it uneconomical. They said this year's takeover of route operator Norfolkline by DFDS sealed the link's fate because DFDS already runs a rival Newcastle-Amsterdam service. However, hauliers welcomed DFDS's new freight focus on the Fife-Belgium route, which will be operated by two freight ferries, sailing four times a week rather than the current three.

Job Fears As Health Board is Warned to Cut Further

Fears of more job losses in the NHS have been raised after it emerged Scotland’s largest health board may have to cut spending by a further £10 million. NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC)– which employs 44,000 stafff – is already trying to save £56.9m this year and has announced plans to slash 1200 posts including 670 nurses and midwives. However, a new report has warned the board may well have to make further cutbacks worth £10m. The soaring bill for medication and extra staff costs – possibly due to lower turnover because of job shortages – are among the problem factors. A number of other health boards have also warned that they have spent more money than intended so far this year. Collectively, Scotland’s health boards are having to make savings in excess of £270m to break even, according to information submitted to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year. While some say they are on track, the new NHS GGC report suggests some of their departments are struggling. The acute division, which includes frontline hospital services, has been told to save £29m but has decided to aim for £39m because it expects so many belt-tightening projects to fail. Labour health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has already announced plans to shed over 1200 jobs in the next 12 months. Many of the posts that will go are in essential jobs, like nursing and midwifery. We simply can’t afford to lose this many staff from the front line without undermining patient care. The prospect of further cuts and further job losses will simply make the problem worse and have a greater negative impact on patient care.”

Cameron Should Visit Gigha to See the Big Society in Action, Says Historian

David Cameron should pay a visit to the island of Gigha if he wants to see his Big Society already working, says a leading Scottish historian. Professor Jim Hunter will tell the Festival of Politics at Holyrood that for the Big Society to work, lessons must be learned from community buyouts like Gigha, Assynt, Eigg, Knoydart and North Harris . He will discuss Mr Cameron’s speech in Liverpool last month, in which he said: “The Big Society is about a huge culture change. Where people, in their everyday lives, in their homes, in their neighbourhoods, in their workplace ... feel both free and powerful enough to help themselves and their own communities”.

Mr Hunter says that when Mr Cameron next visits the Tarbert Estate on Jura owned by his wife Samantha’s stepfather, Viscount Astor, he should look to the south-east at Gigha, where islanders have proved the Big Society works since they took over the island in a community buyout in 2002. With help from the Scottish land Fund and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the island was bought for £4 million, with the islanders having to repay £1m within two years. “This was done. Much else has been accomplished since.” Half the island’s estate-owned homes have been refurbished and 18 new homes have been built for rent. In a place where previous lairds refused to sell house sites, nine privately owned homes have gone up and a dozen privately operated businesses have been established. The island has Britain’s only community-owned hotel as well as the country’s first community-owned and grid-connected wind farm which earns more than £100,000 each year for the community.

Mr Hunter will say this has all brought about “a spectacular reversal of Gigha’s slide towards complete population collapse”, increasing the island’s population by well over 50% to 154, and its school roll to more than 20 pupils from just six in 2002. Mr Hunter will add: “The key lesson for the UK Government’s Big Society idea is that it works best when there is real and substantial partnership between local community and government. He calls on the Government to rewrite Treasury Rules to ease and accelerate the transfer of state-owned land, such as Forestry Commission woodland, to communities, and channel some proportion of Crown Estate Commission revenues from offshore renewables into a new equivalent of the former Scottish Land Fund.

 

Last Updated (Tuesday, 24 August 2010 09:03)