Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 636

Issue # 636                                                     Week ending Saturday 8th January 2022
When the Weather Gets Chilly We Need Entertainers to Get Our Feet Tapping by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

The jingling of the bells grows fainter. The twinkling lights on trees vanish from windows. The best of the year TV compilations give way to real life stories about bad weather, prices rocketing and the endless efforts of Matt Hancock to revive his political career. Welcome back, Mr Han ... oh, just kidding. Go away, mate.

Thank goodness that expensive season is over. My festive spirit has evaporated, rather like my Irish liqueur that someone else fancied.

Now the price of Hobnobs, Jaffa Cakes and Penguins is going up by about 5% at a stroke and Santa Baby is now being replaced by programmes like One Year On, How Has Brexit Improved Your Life? We were to begin trading with the world, the NHS would get piles more cash and everything would improve. Now Scotland’s producers complain they cannot trade with their best markets in Europe because of red tape and new crippling taxes.

Less taxing is a TV appearance we long for every year. At the appointed hour, houses all around the country fall silent. They gather round the old gogglebox. The coming year would not be the same if we did not see our serene monarch of our hearts as she gets ready to speak unto the nation. Through the trials and tribulations of the last 12 months, we have waited patiently for this moment. And there she is ... Cathy Macdonald presenting the Hogmanay ceilidh into the bells.

With her loyal consort Niall Iain by her side, the queen of Gaelic daytime radio and nighttime telly effortlessly, and with perfect Great Bernera diction, introduces acts who this year were in particularly fine fettle. The Glenfinnan Ceilidh Band featuring Mallaig’s own harpist Ingrid Henderson were on blistering form as were the Stornoway Coves, otherwise known as New Tradition. They featured that superb accordionist Stephen Drummond.

Stephen is not one of these box players who just sits there twiddling and doesn’t know what to do with his head. He really gets into the music. Not since Sir Jimmy Shand ... ach, that’s enough nostalgia. I’m filling up. Sir Jimmy seemed calm on the screen but his foot was going like the clappers. He was once turned down by the BBC at an audition because he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, stop his foot tapping.

Lead warbler in New Tradition, of course, is the multi-talented Iain Costello Maciver. He can not only write and sing in both languages but also melds them with other melodies of the world. To welcome 2022, Costello sang a touching song about the moon over Loch Seaforth and how it reminded the songwriter of his long lost love. Only Costello could sing a tearjerker like that to the tune of What Made Milwaukee Famous Made A Loser Out Of Me as made famous by Jerry Lee Lewis, Rod Stewart and a million late-night pub singers.

Why didn’t the TV hosts chat to the excitable online ceilidh-goers waving on the studio screens from around the world, and around South Uist too? Well, it was getting late and a wee drammie may have been had. I’m sure even the ones peering into webcams in Canada and Texas would have started early. And people on the other side of the pond mumble. We’ve all heard Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. They’re almost as difficult to understand as people from Uist.

I am mumbling and my feet are tapping. It’s getting so cold. The forecasts are so complicated. One here says it will be below zero here with an 80% chance of heavy precipitation. You mean snow, don’t you? Why don’t you say so? Another forecast says there’ll be “Arctic air”. Is it going to freeze, then? Are we going to be invaded by polar bears?

By the way, how do you catch a polar bear? You cut a hole in the ice and line it with frozen peas. Then when the bear goes to take a pea you kick him in the ice hole.

A 10-year-old told me that one. Before I dig myself into any more holes, I must tell you about Maggie. She took a nap on Hogmanay afternoon. Afterwards, she told her husband: “I just dreamt you gave me a diamond ring as a New Year present. What does that mean?” He said: “Well, a’ ghraidh. You’ll find out tonight.” At midnight, he handed her a wee gift-wrapped box. Maggie hurriedly unwrapped it to find it was a book entitled The Meaning of Dreams.

Why Do People Link Hands to Sing Auld Lang Syne?
On New Year's Eve millions of people around the world link hands when they sing Auld Lang Syne.   Now research from the University of Edinburgh has revealed the origins of the Hogmanay tradition are connected to freemasonry.  Singing with arms crossed and hands joined was a parting ritual at many Masonic lodges.   Musicologist Dr Morag Grant discovered the connection in the archives at Glasgow's Mitchell Library.   A newspaper report of an Ayrshire lodge's Burns Supper in 1879 describes Auld Lang Syne being sung as members formed "the circle of unity" - a Masonic ritual also called the "chain of union".  Dr Grant said the tradition of singing the song at times of parting, with crossed hands, emerged in the mid-19th century among Freemasons and other fraternal organisations.  "Auld Lang Syne's sentiments didn't just resonate with Freemasons," she said.   "Some of the earliest reports of the song's use at parting come from American college graduations in the 1850s."   The many traditions and rituals associated with the song - as well as its simple, singable tune - are key to understanding its phenomenal spread, and why we still sing it today."   Robert Burns was a Freemason. The organisation was instrumental in promoting the poet's work during his life and after his death.   He was inspired to write Auld Lang Syne by fragments of earlier folk songs. He wrote the lyrics in 1788 but the tune did not appear together with the song until after his death.   In the final verse the singer offers his hand of friendship to an old friend, and asks for one in return.  Burns wrote: "And there's a hand, my trusty fiere. And gie's a hand o' thine."   Traditionally, at this point the hands are crossed and offered to the those on either side in the circle of singers.   Dr Grant uncovered the masonic link while researching her book Auld Lang Syne: A Song And Its Culture, which explores how its popularity spread around the world.   She studied sources including written accounts, newspaper reports, theatre playbills, printed music and early recordings.   Dr Grant suggests Auld Lang Syne's global fame predates the invention of sound recording and the broadcast era.   The song had already spread to Japan where it was played at graduations. The tune - known as Hotaru no hikari - is still played at the close of business in some shops.  In 1877, Alexander Graham Bell used it to demonstrate the telephone, and in 1890 it was one of the first songs recorded on Emil Berliner's gramophone.    The song's use at new year emerged around the same time, through Scots gathering outside St Paul's Cathedral in London and others living abroad.   The Scouts also played a key role in its global fame. It was sung at the end of the first World Scout Jamboree in 1920 and versions in French, German, Greek and Polish soon followed.   By 1929, the new year tradition was so well established internationally that a line from the song was displayed on the electronic ticker at celebrations in Times Square, New York.   Dr Grant said: "It's remarkable how this song, written in a language which even most Scots don't fully understand, has become so synonymous with new year the world over.   Auld Lang Syne is a song about the ties that bind us to others across the years and even though its appeal is now global, it's very much rooted in the world Burns inhabited."

Muted Celebrations As Hogmanay Curtailed by Covid
Scotland's world famous Hogmanay celebrations were muted for a second year after a Covid surge caused the cancellation of major events.   The highest profile casualty was Edinburgh's street party and the midnight fireworks.  Despite the restrictions about 1,000 people climbed to the top of Calton Hill to toast 2022.  Before Christmas, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged people to "stay at home as much as possible."  Hogmanay street parties across Scotland were called off after crowds at outdoor public events were capped at 500 from 26 December.  The restrictions, which will be in place for at least three weeks, also saw numbers at indoor public events limited to 100 standing or 200 seated.   They were introduced following the rapid spread of the Omicron variant which has resulted in a record-breaking number of positive cases.   The current 10-day isolation rules, which apply to both positive cases and all household contacts, also meant it was a subdued start to the year for thousands of individuals and families across Scotland.  The traditional New Year Loony Dook, which normally sees hundreds of hardy revellers defy the chills of the Firth of Forth in South Queensferry, was also cancelled although many took part in unofficial New Year dips at various locations across Scotland.   Despite the pandemic some people were not deterred and travelled thousands of miles to party in Edinburgh and make the most of scaled-down New Year celebration.  Brenda Jane Baxter-Vell, from Zimbabwe, travelled to Edinburgh with her friend Captain Kevin Pope, having lost her husband to Covid-19 in November and her father earlier in the year.   Hannah Vorchmann, 52, from Gdynia in Poland, said the £500 she and her husband paid for Hogmanay night in an Edinburgh hotel was a lot for them.  Mrs Vorchmann added: "We saw on the internet that the street celebrations in Edinburgh were off but we could not cancel and flew in today and leave at 4pm on New Year's Day.  Eileen and Chris Chalmers, from Dreghorn in Ayrshire, had a few days extra holiday to use.  Mrs Chalmers said: "We specifically chose to visit Edinburgh and the site at Mortonhall, in our campervan, because the large scale festivities were cancelled.   It seemed an ideal time to come to the city."  It was also a quiet night for Police Scotland on the streets of the capital   First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had previously said the restrictions were necessary during the current surge in Covid cases because "large events put an additional burden on emergency services".   The latest daily figures showed a further 11,962 cases of coronavirus had been recorded in Scotland - with 22.6% of tests coming back positive.     Piper Dave Tunstall, aged 44, who caught Covid-19 earlier in the year, drove to the capital from Paisley to busk on the Royal Mile.  "Busking with my pipes is helping pay the bills at the moment," said Mr Tunstall, "I play the double bass in a band called Langan but work is short.  In previous Hogmanays we have played gigs in London," he added.  "It is great to be able to bring music to people at this time of year."    Some Scots travelled south across the border to celebrate in England which does not have the same restrictions on gatherings.   A young woman from Glasgow who was interviewed by the BBC in Carlisle said she was there "because there's no restrictions - and all our friends have Covid".   Despite the absence of restrictions, locals in the English town reported that the streets did seem quieter than normal at New Year.

Pupils Urged to Get Second Jabs Before New Term
Young people aged between 12 and 15 are being urged to get their second coronavirus vaccine before returning to school.   Drop-in sessions for the age group are starting from today, Monday, for those who had their first vaccination at least 12 weeks ago.   Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said an increase in capacity meant they were being offered earlier than planned.  Scheduled appointments can also be brought forward.   Mr Yousaf said: "Additional vaccinator capacity across Scotland means we are now in a position to offer second doses to the 12 to 15 age group earlier than previously planned.  Eligible young people can get their second doses from next week, and before they return to school in many cases.  I would urge them to take up the offer as early as they can, to receive greater protection from the virus.   The festive season saw a major effort to get adults boosted by the bells. But we need to keep up momentum and make sure everyone is protected from the virus, particularly with the emergence of the new Omicron variant."  Scotland saw unprecedented numbers of new Covid cases confirmed in the run up to Hogmanay as the more transmissible Omicron strain became dominant.  Almost 12,000 cases were reported on New Year's Eve, though it likely to be an underestimate due to delays in processing test results. On Thursday a record 16,857 positive tests were announced.   The Scottish government said there would be no updates about case numbers on 1 and 2 January, but headline figures would be available later today.  Officials said 77% of adults had received their booster vaccinations by 30 December, as part of a drive to get 80% of the eligible population vaccinated by the new year.  However, Mr Yousaf said many vaccination clinics had also reported cancellations over the holiday period.  Details of where vaccinations are available can be found on the NHS Inform website and local health board websites.

Keeping the College Fit for the Future By Brian Wilson
Lews Castle College is starting to look ahead to its 70th anniversary which will fall in September 2023. At the same time, it is preparing for the biggest change it has contemplated in these seven decades – a potential merger with two other colleges.  These two statements reflect the challenge of moulding a future while also being acutely aware of a past that remains precious in the psyche of many islanders. Expectations placed upon the College do not always reflect its current educational priorities while too little is known by the public of the extraordinary range of work in which it is now engaged.   Further education colleges have long impressed me as remarkable places of learning – under-recognised, under-valued and under-funded. While our great universities pay lip-service to “widening access”, FE colleges get on with the job of offering opportunities for everyone from youngsters with special educational needs to PhD researchers. All under one roof and all on budgets that universities would look down their noses at.   This is exactly what Lews Castle College does in microcosm. It is the problem of scale that has driven the moves towards merger with the West Highland College which serves the west coast in 13 centres from Ullapool down to Ardnamurchan, including Skye, and North Highland College which has centres in Thurso, Halkirk, Dornoch and Alness.  In other words, it would become a single college covering a vast area and benefiting from economies of scale – not just in financial terms but also the scope and flexibility of what it could offer in an educational era where on-line teaching is going to be as important as physical location of either staff or students.  This vision for the merged college is set out in a briefing which launched a consultation process: “We have the chance to build a new strengthened and enhanced college capable of unlocking the incredible natural, social, human and economic capital in our unique areas and creating empowered and sustainable communities that offer a future to retain our young people and help attract new talent and investment.   A college that could forge ambitious collaborations with schools, community, industry, enterprise and research partners at local and regional levels, but also have national and international influence and impact”. The merged college would also retain its Higher Education role within the University of the Highlands and Islands.   Sue Macfarlane, the interim Principal of Lews Castle College, says: “We lack capacity to do some of the things we would like to do and have ambition for. Together we would be a bigger player within UHI while retaining our local identities and doing a better job for our communities”.   She adds: “The sector is under-funded. We are not coming at this from a cost-cutting perspective but it is about doing more with what we have”. The consultation process will involve staff, students and other stakeholders in the three existing colleges. It is bound to produce some interesting debate and reflections about what communities expect from their colleges, in the future rather than the past.   When four pioneers got together in Stornoway 70 years ago, the challenge they faced was very different from the one that now exists but still required a comparable scale of vision. They had a crumbling building which nobody knew what to do with – Lews Castle. They had the constant reality of emigration by the young. And they had an enlightened understanding that Further Education in non-academic subjects could make a huge difference to island society, just as it was doing in post-war cities.   Out of these circumstances Lews Castle College emerged, initially with 83 students and nine tutors. The subjects it taught were those most directly relevant to a crofting, seafaring, weaving community which also needed engineers, mechanics, cooks and builders. Through the decades that followed, this was what Lews Castle College delivered to the great satisfaction of the places, businesses and people it served. To many, it is still a fair summary of what they associate with a local FE College.   Lews Castle widened its scope over the years but the great catalyst for change came in the 1990s as the UHI concept evolved, based on a network of existing FE Colleges around the Highlands and Islands, with Inverness as the hub. Lews Castle College was in the forefront of seizing the opportunities this unique framework offered, extending its campus and offering degree courses within the UHI network.  Sue Macfarlane says that the College’s early willingness to “really embrace” Higher Education as part of its role contributed to the “complexity” of the institution that exists today.  The College became increasingly ambitious in what it offered to students, and sought to draw them in from outside the islands. From most perspectives, that complexity is positive because it reflects the vast range of courses, qualifications and abilities that the College caters for.   So, for those who have not noticed its growth, what does Lews Castle College currently consist of?   For starters, it now delivers courses from four centres – the main Stornoway campus, Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy, the Benbecula Campus and a Learning Centre in Castlebay. When Cnoc Soilleir in Daliburgh is complete, it will become a fifth LCC/UHI location, run in partnership with Ceòlas and specialising in Gaelic music, language and culture.  The list of courses offered by the College is bewildering. An entirely new on-line Geography degree course designed by Lews Castle has just been introduced to the whole of UHI. There are engineering degrees and a Master’s course in Rural Sustainability. There is PhD level research in the Hydrogen Economy. Or how about the Music Degree course run out of Benbecula, entirely on-line? For the third successive year, final year students have given it a 100 per cent satisfaction rating in a national survey.   With so much emphasis on distance learning, it is appropriate that Stornoway has become the UHI-wide centre for Digital Pedagogy which means “the understanding of how you design and deliver learning for an on-line environment”.  Put all of this into another perspective. There are 5000 more students in Edinburgh University alone than there is population in the Western Isles. Yet the opportunity to study to advanced levels in the vast range of subjects has been created through Lews Castle College for £6 million a year. Many who may never step foot in the Western Isles will learn to the same levels from tutors based here. It is remarkable value for money!   Sue Macfarlane, originally from Yorkshire, has been in the UHI network for the past 20 years, first at Perth College, then as depute principal of West Highland College before attaining the grand title of Director of Transformational Change within UHI. It was this role that first brought her to Lews Castle.  When the previous Principal, Iain MacMillan, retired, she was asked to succeed him on an interim basis to continue to deliver the change programme she had started. She agreed to stay for two years and that period will expire next September.  Her tenure so far has fallen within the pandemic period which has meant limited numbers of students on the campus. However, one of her missions is for Stornoway to give the feel of “a more vibrant student experience”. It may not be enough to retain school-leavers as they head for the city “but even if we don’t catch them for the degree, we might catch them on the way back for a postgrad course, or in the workplace”.  Another of her aims has been fulfilled – to put in place a senior management to replace those who retired over the past couple of years. Dr Barbara Keating, an engineer from Strathclyde University, has joined as Head of Curriculum; Kathleen MacDonald has moved from Western Isles Health Board as Director of Finance and Hannah Ritchie-Muir has come from Forth Valley College as depute principal.

'I Was A Heroin Addict - But Ended Up Guarding Buckingham Palace'
Paul Boggie admits he had given up on life after years as a heroin addict. But after turning his life around, he joined the Army and found himself standing guard at Buckingham Palace.  Paul started smoking heroin at the age of 18 when it arrived in the Craigentinny estate where he lived in Edinburgh.   He had been upset after falling out with his friends, so when one of them offered him the chance to take the drug with them he agreed to join in.   "They were all crammed into this wee Fiesta and I saw the flash of the tin foil but I didn't know what it was," he recalls.   "One of them came out and told me they were chasing the dragon, there were no needles or spoons or belts.  When I got into the car it smelt horrific, like rotten fish - that's what heroin smoke smells like."   He soon ran up a £16,000 debt after using his wage slips to take out loans.  Paul held down his office mail delivery job despite taking heroin every day - even in the toilets at work.   He said: "I could still function.  I didn't look like a stereotypical heroin addict, it hadn't taken a toll on my body."   He was able to hide his drug use from his employer and his family. He passed off the tell-tale sign of red eyes as being caused by hay fever.  "I didn't think I was addicted, I didn't take it seriously," said Paul, who is now aged 42 and lives in Fife.   However, when a police drugs bust left him unable to buy heroin for eight hours he felt "horrific".   "I remember when I finally got that drug again I felt amazing, all the physical pain, shivering and nose and eyes running all went away.  But then I thought: 'Oh no, I think I've just signed my death warrant'.   "It was the realisation that I was in so much danger because I loved heroin so much and I didn't want to feel cold turkey ever again. I remember thinking I must be addicted."  As the years went by the drug did start taking its toll.   Paul lost his job and started looking unwell. His moods were "all over the place" and people started noticing.    He dropped to eight stone, which was underweight for his 5ft 8in frame, and said he was "waiting to die".  "I gave up on life, I was only focused on getting heroin. I was wallowing in self-pity and heroin would take it all away.   Luckily most of the time my parents let me stay at their house, but I have slept in stairwells.  You don't feel the pain or the cold because you are happy wherever you are when you are on heroin."  Paul tried to come off heroin 13 times but relapsed every time - until he attended a course organised by the homeless charity Cyrenians.  "I had laid all of my drugs and heroin on the table alongside a milky tea I'd use to help swallow my tablets, but I walked past all of that, put my nose against the mirror in my room and just asked myself: 'What do you want?'  "I looked at myself and said: 'Don't ever ask for heroin again because you're not getting it' - and that was it."  He never took heroin again.   A few years later, after gaining weight and getting a job in Morrisons, he applied to join the Scots Guards at the age of 30.   Within six months of joining the Army he was on duty at Buckingham Palace.   "I had come off the drugs but still felt like there was something missing in my life," said Paul.   "When I joined the Scots Guards I felt so proud of what I had achieved.  I remember thinking: 'Wow, a few years ago I was a heroin addict in Lochend and now I'm standing guard at the palace."  However, after five years in the Scots Guards he was being driven to a training camp in England ahead of an Afghan tour when the truck crashed and he broke his back.  He was medically discharged and given prescription painkillers for his crushed spine, but then became addicted to the medication.   He started writing a book where all proceeds go to the homeless, Heroin to Hero, in the first lockdown. It reminded him how he had come off heroin, which enabled him to finally stop taking the painkillers.   He said: "I just choose to live with the pain now rather than take the pills."   Now Paul is speaking in schools in a bid to highlight the dangers of addiction, as well as doing talks for inmates in prison, which he does for free.  He said: "Drugs are bad, but addiction is horrendous.  It's difficult to break an addiction. You end up accepting your fate and you can end up dead like many of my friends."

Covid: Scottish Self-isolation Period Cut to Seven Days
People who test positive for Covid in Scotland will be allowed to exit self-isolation after seven days if they have no fever and record two negative lateral flow tests.   The move brings Scotland into line with England, Wales and Northern Ireland.   Household contacts of people with the virus will be allowed to take tests rather than going into quarantine, so long as they have had a booster shot.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that no other changes will be made to Scotland's pandemic restrictions for at least another week.  A further 16,103 cases were reported on Tuesday, and the first minister said there had been "rapid and very widespread transmission" of the Omicron variant of the virus over the festive period.   Official surveys suggested that in the week to 23 December, one in every 40 people in Scotland had Covid - and within a week, this had risen to one in every 20.   Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that the virus was "more widespread now than at any point in the pandemic so far", something which has had "extremely serious implications" for the NHS and other key services.   The number of people in hospital with the virus has increased by 80% over the past week, from 679 to 1,223 - although the number of people in intensive care has been broadly stable, with 42 recorded yesterday, Wednesday.  Self-isolation rules are being changed in a bid to ease staff shortages in key sectors, with Ms Sturgeon saying ministers had considered the issue very carefully.   People who test positive for the virus will be allowed to exit quarantine after seven days as long as they have no fever and record two negative lateral flow tests, one on day six of isolation and another 24 hours later.   Meanwhile close contacts of positive cases will no longer need to self-isolate as long as they are fully vaccinated - which means two doses and a booster - and take a lateral flow test daily for a week.   And people who have no symptoms but record a positive lateral flow test result will no longer have to go for a PCR test, mirroring changes made in England.   Ms Sturgeon said the changes "strike an appropriate balance" between breaking chains of transmission and reducing the disruption of self-isolation to the economy and critical services.   Opposition parties had been calling for changes to the isolation rules for weeks.   Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said the government's initial reluctance to follow the rest of the UK was "not sustainable" from the outset and had seen Scotland "left as an outlier".   He also called on the government to show what had changed in the clinical advice it had received.   Ms Sturgeon said she would publish as much data as possible, but said the decision had involved the "application of judgement" by ministers.   She said: "Last week I did not think it was the case that the benefits of changing self-isolation would outweigh the risks.   The higher transmission now and the bigger burden of self-isolation on the economy has changed that judgement."   Business groups welcomed the changes, along with further detail of financial support for the worst-affected sectors.    The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said the move "should have a positive impact on businesses ability to operate and allow employees to return to work safely, while also safeguarding public health".   The Scottish Retail Consortium said staffing levels were "manageable for the time being", adding that Wednesday's changes "should help ease the level of staff absences in retail and its wider supply chain".   Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also backed the changes, saying "they will be a relief to public services and businesses who were feeling the impact of restrictions".  Scotland's other Covid restrictions are to remain in place for at least another week, with ministers to review the situation again on 11 January.   Ms Sturgeon said she expected that restrictions on large gatherings and the requirement for physical distancing and table service in hospitality venues will remain in force until 17 January at the earliest.   People in Scotland have been urged to reduce their social contacts as much as possible, with guidance not to meet up in groups of more than three households.    Ms Sturgeon also said Scotland would need to find ways of adapting its response to the ongoing challenge of the virus, warning that Omicron is "unlikely to be the last new variant we encounter".    She said the government would not be "giving up on trying to control Covid entirely", but would be "seeking ways of doing so that are more proportionate, more sustainable and less restrictive".

Arran Ferry Cancellations Blamed on Covid and Poor Weather
A number of ferry sailings have been cancelled to and from the Isle of Arran following poor weather and staff shortages because of Covid.    On Sunday, there were understood to be 13 cancelled sailings on the main Ardrossan to Brodick route with no sailings off the island.   The Arran Ferry Action Group said the island economy was facing "serious challenges".  CalMac apologised for the disruption during "this exceptional period".   It has already introduced a temporary timetable in a bid to keep sufficient crew and vessels operating.   Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group, said Sunday was "complete chaos" with "passengers abandoned on both sides of the Firth of Clyde".   "Between Covid, weather and infrastructure issues we are facing a perfect storm of disruption," he said.  "Islanders travelling for healthcare or work are facing significant disruption. It's going to be a very challenging few weeks for all of the island communities up and down the west coast."   He added that there were also problems in Islay, Harris and the Uists.    Mr Bourne said people on Arran were also concerned at the switch from a proposed two-boat service to a single-boat service while the principal vessel was being refitted from 5 January to at least 21 January.  A spokeswoman for CalMac said the company apologised for the disruption to scheduled services.   "In spite of our very best efforts to maintain services, the unprecedented speed of the spread of Covid cases at this time is resulting in the need to cancel services at very short notice," she said.   "Although we re-crewed and deep cleaned the MV Caledonian Isles after confirmed Covid cases were identified, poor weather then prevented any further sailings from going ahead.   MV Caledonian Isles returned to service on the Ardrossan-Brodick route yesterday and MV Loch Tarbert operated three return sailings to Lochranza from Tarbert.   "MV Hebridean Isles has now also returned to service however due to continuing adverse weather, all sailings between Ardrossan-Brodick are now cancelled for the remainder of the day."   She added that MV Loch Alainn would operate additional sailings between Lochranza and Tarbert to help provide additional capacity to Arran.   CalMac's current policy if a crew member tests positive for Covid is to hire a company to deep clean the vessel before it can sail again.   Sheila Gilmore, chief executive of VisitArran, said she found the process "frustrating" because it meant ferries were tied up for "hours and hours".   She told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "It's a kind of unbelievable situation because if somebody has Covid in the Co-op they don't close the Co-op for hours and hours. We're very much at the mercy of the masters whether they feel vessels are fit to sail or not.   You still have crew members going off with Covid - I'm bamboozled by it, I think I'd be speaking for other islanders when I say that. Why is the situation so different for a vessel at sea than it is for a bus, or a shop or a hotel?"  However Tommy Gore, the Clyde area operations manager for CalMac, said the deep clean was a "sensible" measure to take, particularly given the older population travelling on ferries and living on islands.   The deep cleaning companies are actually responding pretty quickly. The challenge was getting the replacement crew. Ardrossan is an easy place to get to - when we're talking about Ullapool or the outer isles it's much more challenging and it takes much longer."

Extra Day of Snow for the Borders As New Warning Issued
A New yellow weather warning for snow has been issued in the Borders.   The Met Office has given a yellow warning for snow for parts of the central Borders starting from 10am tomorrow (Friday, January 7) until 4pm that day.  This latest warning is in addition to a previous yellow warning for snow and ice which was given for Friday.  The weather could affect transport and could lengthen journey times.   According to the Met Office's impact matrix, this warning has a medium likelihood and low impact.   A Met Office spokesperson said: "A band of rain will move eastwards across the UK during Thursday, with this likely to fall as snow for a time, particularly over hills.   Many places will see 1-2 hours of snow with a risk of temporary slushy accumulations above 100-150 m with snow leading to difficult travel conditions.  The areas covered by the warning include Peebles, Selkirk, Galashiels and Innerleithen.

An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Gaelic Association)
An Comunn Gàidhealach commonly known s An Comunn was founded in Oban in 1891. It has supported the teaching, learning and use of the Gaelic language and the study and cultivation of Gaelic literature, history, music and art for over 100 years. Through the organisation and running of the Royal National Mòd and a network of provincial Mòds across Scotland, An Comunn Gaidhealach furthers the aims of supporting and developing all aspects of the Gaelic language, culture, history and heritage at local, national & international levels. Mod Pheairt-2022 14 - 22 den Damhair Perth Mod 14- 22 October 2022

Hunterston B Nuclear Power Plant Closes Down After 46 Years
The Hunterston B nuclear power plant in North Ayrshire has been shut down for the final time after generating electricity for 46 years.   The plant's original 25-year lifespan was extended by more than two decades.   But the final closure was brought forward after cracks were found in the graphite bricks which make up the reactor cores.   The site, owned by EDF Energy, will now begin a three-year process of defueling with the spent nuclear fuel sent to Sellafield for reprocessing.  After that, the site will be handed over to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.   The 480-strong workforce at Hunterston will be cut by a quarter during defueling but the company said those 125 employees would either retire or be redeployed to other sites.   Station director Paul Forrest said: "It was originally thought Hunterston B would run for 25 years but investment in the plant and the people who work here mean we've been able to safely extend that to 46 years.   This is an incredible achievement and everyone here is proud of what the station has accomplished."   Plans had been made to operate Hunterston until 2023 but the hairline cracks in the graphite bricks have shortened the life of the power station.   The cracks were first spotted in two graphite bricks in the reactor in 2014.  By 2018, a total of 350 bricks had been affected although the Office for Nuclear Regulation subsequently gave permission to operate at much greater numbers.  Each of the two reactor cores is made up of 3,000 bricks which form vertical channels for nuclear fuel and control rods to slide in and out.  The concern was that too many cracks, combined with a rare seismic event, could affect the structural integrity of the core and prevent it being shut down in an emergency. The closure will likely mean an increased reliance in the short-term on fossil fuel or imported energy sources but a bidding round is under way to significantly increase Scotland's offshore wind capacity.   The Scottish government has long been opposed to building new nuclear power stations.  Nuclear energy will still be generated in Scotland at the newer Torness power station in East Lothian. Similar cracks are expected to develop there and at several other similar sites in England.  In December, EDF Energy announced that Torness would close two years earlier than planned in 2028 because of the issue.   Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said: "As the current energy crisis demonstrates, without nuclear the cost of the electricity we rely on is higher, causes pollution and leaves us reliant on burning imported fossil fuels.  That's why we need new nuclear - to get to net zero and provide the reliable, secure and clean power to live our lives."   Lang Banks, from WWF Scotland, said: "Thankfully Scotland has massively grown its renewable power generating capacity which means we'll no longer need the electricity from this increasingly unreliable nuclear power plant.   As the expensive and hazardous job of cleaning up the radioactive legacy Hunterston leaves in its wake now begins, Scotland must press on with plans to harness more clean, renewable energy."  A Scottish government spokesperson said: "Hunterston B, its operators and in particular the workforces who have staffed the plant for more than 40 years, have played an important role in supporting Scotland's energy requirements.   We do however remain clear in our opposition to the building of new nuclear power plants in Scotland under current technologies.   Significant growth in renewables, storage, hydrogen and carbon capture provide the best pathway to net zero by 2045, and will deliver the decarbonisation we need to see across industry, heat and transport.  We recognise that planning will be crucial to ensure that economic and social opportunities from the transition are not missed."


Contrary to a widely held common belief that the popular Scotland Down Under radio program was dead and no longer would be heard on the air waves. The truth of the matter is that Scotland Down Under will be back on the air waves from a different radio station and a different time slot very soon.  Keep your eyes and ears open and we’ll be bringing you this important news as soon as it comes to hand.

The SAHC still needs a Newsletter Editor.  Do you have a love of storytelling or know of someone that does?  If so, we need a newsletter editor.  Please contact me to discuss this very important role for keeping the Scottish Diaspora informed through my email address  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   I wish you all the very best and to remain safe and well in this troublesome times.
Malcolm Buchanan, President

Coisir  Ghaidhlig Astrailianach (Australian Gaelic Singers) is now back rehearsing on a face to face basis at Macquarie Presbyterian Church in Eastwood.  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, lots of enthusiasm! And are DOUBLE Vaccinated.  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

Tickets for Brigadoon 2 APRIL 2022 WILL GO ON SALE FROM
9am DECEMBER 10th


Alaistair Saunders, Vice President/Publicity Officer
Bundanoon Highland Gathering Inc.
PO Box 74, Bundanoon, NSW 2578, Australia  Ph: 61 2 4883 7471