Some Scottish News & Views Issue # 637

Issue # 637                                                   Week ending Saturday 15th January 2022
A Sniff Test is Vital to Check Out Politics and What’s in Your Fridge by Iain MacIver Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Something smells in this fridge. This time it is not my leftover smoked mackerel fillet from breakfast lying there to be my go-to wakener upper later this week. It’s coming from that white plastic container of lemon-coloured green stuff. What do you mean it’s the milk for my porridge? Ugh, that’s honking.

Most supermarkets are expected to take the Use By date off their milk, er, containers. I almost said milk bottles but I haven’t seen one for about 30 years. They want us to do a sniff test to decide if we want to pour it over our Coco Pops.

They will have “best before” dates to “give an indication of when the milk will have the best taste”. Milk can often still be drinkable for a few days after that. It’s because we in Britain waste about 330,000 tonnes of milk every year. That’s about seven per cent of what cows give us.

It’s been kicked off by Morrisons which has given us a handy test guide. Their advice says we should check milk by holding the bottle to our noses. No. Really? “If it smells sour then it may have spoiled. If it has curdled and lumps have formed that is also a sign it should not be used.” Enough already. Not retching is a tall order.

Another order I haven’t had for decades was because Mrs X and I got reminders to renew our driving licence photos. No problemo. You take a photo of me and I’ll take one of you and we’ll upload them. Problemo. If you’ve no valid passport, and ours expired donkeys ago, you must apply with form D1. The D1 is only available from larger town centre post offices. I’d to face rush-hour Stornoway traffic.

We could only pay by cheque or postal order. It’s been so long since I wrote a cheque, I couldn’t find the chequebook.

And a what ...?  A postal order? My old man used to buy a couple of £1 ones every fortnight to enrich the coffers of Littlewoods Pools back in the 1970s. We were poor but we could dream. Listen, we were so poor in Great Bernera we had to eat cornflakes with a fork to save milk.

I’ve not bought a postal order since. But Great Britain, a forward-looking country and so technologically-advanced, insists on curled-up paper forms, ink and postal orders when dealing with DVLA. Like in the 1970s.

So we posed with the legally-required glaikit expressions for Malcolm in the photo shop. Good job, cove, but couldn’t you have got my best side? Oh, that was? Really. Then off to Harry in Newton Post Office. He knew what a postal order was. Someone must be using them. Harry asked who it was for and, ping, it was spat out with DVLA already engraved. Snazzy.

Snazziness costs a whacking fee of 12.5 per cent or one-eighth in old money. That’s, well, that’s, er, a lot. So our two £17 photo renewal fees to DVLA, or Department Vetoing Logical Automation, as we now call it, actually cost more than £38 for sending two teeny photos? Something has significantly changed since the 1970s.

Something else I haven’t seen for a few years is common sense trying to surface in certain organisations. Labour’s Angela Rayner is nowadays properly lambasting Boris over his latest alleged boozy party, and much else. No wonder Sir Keir Stammerer is letting her fire the bullets. Something there also doesn’t smell right.

Rayner is your best performer. You sorry you tried to demote her before, KS?

Meanwhile, CalMac promises to rebuild islanders’ trust. Hmm, good luck with that. We’ve heard such guff before but this time will you appoint islanders to your board and not cronies from shipowner CMAL? If not, forget it. Trust has to be earned. And Highlands and Islands Airports has shelved its silly remote towers job-destroying plans until it comes to agreement with unions - which hopefully it won’t.

In parliament on Monday, the HIAL boss was somewhat tetchy with an on-form MP Douglas Ross. When his videolink kept dropping, a red-faced Inglis Lyons explained he was communicating on a £39.99 router - not the kind of technology his project would use, which has already cost us £9 million. That doesn’t smell right. Move on.

Meanwhile, I will move on to skimmed milk as it lasts longer. Maybe I’ll make it myself. How do you throw a fully-grown cow across a loch?

Fans to Return to Scottish Stadiums Next Week
Restrictions on large outdoor events in Scotland, including football matches and concerts, are to be lifted from next Monday.  The move will allow fans to return to stadiums when the Scottish Premiership's winter break ends.   It will also avoid Scotland's Six Nations rugby matches having to be played behind closed doors at Murrayfield next month.   A limit of 500 people at outdoor events has been in place since Boxing Day.   Premiership football teams started their winter break early after the crowd limit was imposed, with many fans believing the sport was unfairly singled out by the restrictions.   Large Hogmanay events, including the famous street party in Edinburgh, were also cancelled.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament that the limit of 500 people would be removed from Monday 17 January - which will allow Celtic's match with Hibernian on that day to be played before a full crowd at Celtic Park.  Event organisers will now have to check the vaccine certification of at least 50% of attendees, rather than the current 20%, or at least 1,000 people - whichever figure is higher.   From Monday, the definition of "fully vaccinated" for the purpose of vaccine passports will include having a booster if the second dose was more than four months ago.  And the government will also continue to consider whether the vaccine passport scheme should be extended to more venues.   Restrictions on indoor events and venues will remain in place until at least 24 January, when Ms Sturgeon said she hoped to be able to lift them too.  The Scottish Licensed Traders Association said the industry had been left in limbo by the first minister's statement, and warned that any extension of the vaccine passport scheme would have a "major negative impact" on businesses.   People will also still be required to wear face coverings in indoor public places, to work from home when possible, and to only meet indoors in groups of up to three households.   The measures were imposed by the Scottish government in an attempt to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, with the first minister saying there were now signs that the country was "starting to turn the corner" after a huge spike in cases.   Limits of 100 people were placed on indoor standing events or 200 if they were seated, while nightclubs had to close and pubs and restaurants had to bring back table service for alcohol and a one-metre distance between different groups of people.   But the latest Scottish government Covid report showed that average daily cases in Scotland (2,824 per one million population in the week to 6 January) were higher than in England (2,615 per one million), which has fewer Covid restrictions.  Some business leaders say said that the tougher coronavirus rules have failed to make a "meaningful difference" to infection levels and were causing "enormous damage" to some sectors.   And pressure has been growing on the first minister to set out how Scotland can begin to "live safely" with Covid and loosen restrictions.   Ms Sturgeon insisted that the restrictions had "helped to mitigate to some extent the impact of the Omicron wave", with positive cases estimated to be about 30,000 a day in early January rather than the initial projection of 50,000 per day .  She added: "It is very likely that the situation we face now, though serious, would have been even more challenging without the renewed sacrifices made by people across the country over these last few weeks."   The first minister also told MSPs that a revised framework for dealing with the virus will be released in the coming weeks, following input from parliament and business organisations.   In a marked change of language to earlier stages of the pandemic, the first minister said this would set out how the country might be able to live with the virus without the need for restrictive measures "that we are all tired of and which do harm in other ways". Pubs had to reintroduce table service and ensure distancing between groups of customers as part of measures aimed at slowing the spread of Omicron.

PM Must Answer the Question About Party - Scottish Tory Leader
There are "serious doubts" over Boris Johnson's future if he cannot answer questions about an alleged Downing Street party during lockdown, the Scottish Conservative leader has said.  Douglas Ross said he was "furious" about the latest claims of an outdoor gathering on 20 May 2020.   The UK Westminster government says it does not want to cut across a civil service probe into alleged parties during lockdown.   But Mr Ross said Mr Johnson should be able to answer a "simple question".   He added: "If he can't answer the question or crucially won't, that raises serious doubts. And if he's misled parliament, there is no going back on that."   Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, called for Mr Johnson to resign, saying he was "apparently not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters".  Labour has said the prime minister "can run, but he can't hide" from the row, adding that "the public has already drawn its own conclusion".   Taking questions about the row in the Commons, paymaster general Michael Ellis said a "fair and impartial investigation" had to run its course.   On Monday, ITV published a leaked email from the prime minister's principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, inviting 100 staff to "socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden" on 20 May 2020.   The invitation to the event encouraged staff to "bring your own booze" and "make the most of the lovely weather".  Strict lockdown rules were in place across London and the rest of the UK at the time, with people urged not to meet up with more than one person from another household outdoors.   Witnesses told the BBC that Mr Johnson and his wife had been among about 30 people who attended the gathering.   However, Mr Johnson has declined to say whether he was there or not, and his official spokesman has also refused to comment on the claims while senior civil servant Sue Gray continues to investigate.   The latest row has sparked fury from some Scottish Conservatives, with former leader Baroness Davidson saying that "nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden".   And Mr Ross told BBC Scotland that "we should be told right now" whether Mr Johnson had been in attendance or not.   He said: "These are rules that he himself put in place. His government urged and indeed demanded the public followed them - we have seen people punished for not following that guidance.   If the prime minister himself has not followed that guidance, if he was at that party when others were told to remain in their homes and not mix with others, that is simply unacceptable. And if he has misled parliament, in my view he can't continue."  He added that it "shouldn't take hours to formulate an answer" to an "easy yes or no question".  Hiding behind or waiting for the Sue Gray inquiry is not going to step the public demanding the answer to that question," he said.  "The prime minister has a duty to be up front and honest with the public, and he simply has to tell people, was he at this party or not - which would have been a clear and obvious breach of his own government's guidance.   "He should have done it straight away and answered the question everyone is asking."   Mr Ross's comments came shortly after Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that "people across the country are aghast about the revelations about Downing Street's conduct".   The first minister said: "It appears [to be] not just one isolated breach, but serial breaches of guidance that people were following through painful sacrifices, right throughout this pandemic, and a prime minister who apparently is not being truthful about his knowledge of these matters.  The office of prime minister would be greatly enhanced by Boris Johnson's departure from it, but more importantly I think at this moment in time the interest of the United Kingdom would be enhanced by that as well."   At Westminster, Mr Ellis took questions from MPs in the absence of Mr Johnson, and apologised "unreservedly for the upset that these allegations have caused".   He described Ms Gray as "a paragon of independence and integrity in the civil service", and said her probe would "establish the facts, and if wrongdoing is established requisite disciplinary action will be taken".

Station Ticket Office Opening Hours Could Be Cut
Dozens of ticket offices could see reduced opening hours under plans announced by ScotRail.  The rail operator said the first overhaul of opening hours in 30 years would reflect changing ways in which customers now buy their tickets.   ScotRail said the changes would affect 120 offices, with three earmarked for closure but no jobs would be lost.  One rail union criticised the plan, saying staffed offices made stations feel safer, especially in winter.  Phil Campbell, head of customer operations at the rail firm, said the use of ticket offices had fallen by 50%, heightened by the Covid pandemic.  He said: "There has been no real review of our ticket office opening hours for 30 years, and it is important we keep up with the changing habits of customers who no longer rely on purchasing tickets in that way."  Mr Campbell said there would be no job losses and the changes were "about adding value for our staff and customers".   He said station safety and disabled access would not be affected, and the plans would help reduce the carbon footprint of the network.   The proposals were, however, criticised by the TSSA rail union, which said they ignored the wider role played by staff at ticket offices.   TSSA leader Manuel Cortes said "Booking office staff don't just sell tickets, they help passengers on and off the trains and they keep stations safe for passengers - by salting and gritting platforms at this time of the year and by discouraging anti-social behaviour.  ScotRail's plans will make the railways feel less safe, particularly for women, especially in the darker months, and will result in an increase in anti-social behaviour."   

Novak Djokovic Still Has Questions to Answer, Says Andy Murray
Andy Murray says it is "positive" that Novak Djokovic has been released from detention in Australia but the Serb still has "a few questions" to answer.  World number one Djokovic, 34, won a court battle that overturned his visa cancellation on Monday, a week before the Australian Open is set to start.   But Australian border officials are investigating whether his travel entry form included a false declaration.   "It's positive that he's not in detention any more," said Murray.  "There are still a few questions that need to be answered around the isolation, which I'm sure we'll hear from him in the next few days."   Djokovic's travel declaration form, which all visitors have to complete three to seven days before arrival, stated he did not travel in the 14 days before his flight to Australia.   However, social media posts appear to show him in both Serbian capital Belgrade and Spain during that period.  Australia's immigration minister still has powers to re-cancel the visa and deport the unvaccinated player.   "He won in court, which is good," added Murray, who said the situation was "really not good for tennis at all" last week.  "It looks like he's going to be able to play and compete in the Australian Open - we do want the best players there, but there are still a few questions to be answered.   Until that happens, it is tough to give a definitive opinion on everything."   Murray, 34, said the drama around Djokovic was "frustrating" as he would rather "talk about my tennis".   The former world number one was speaking after he beat Norway's Viktor Durasovic 6-3 6-1 in round one of the Sydney Tennis Classic.  Britain's Murray will face Georgian second seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in the second round.  Three-time Grand Slam champion Murray has accepted a wildcard for the Australian Open in what will be his first appearance there since his emotional first-round exit in 2019.  Murray said he could be forced to retire through injury then, but made a comeback after having surgery on his hip for the second time.

Scotland's Airports Warn Covid Recovery Will Take Years
Scotland's airports have warned it could be 2026 before passenger numbers recover to pre-pandemic levels.  The numbers at Glasgow Airport have dropped to levels not seen since 1973 and its owner AGS is warning of a "hugely challenging" period ahead.   The impact of Covid restrictions means the industry is being "legislated out of business" according to Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport.   Brian McClean, of AGS Airports, which owns Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We were one of the first to feel the impact of the pandemic and I do believe we'll be one of the last to recover.   When we come out of this there will be less airlines, with less routes but there's going to be the same number of airports so that means our recovery will be intensively competitive.   I think the economy needs us to recover but I do believe it is going to take longer, beyond 2025/26 before we return to pre-pandemic levels."  Mr McClean highlighted that Glasgow Airport carried just below nine million passengers in 2019 and this was down to two million last year - the lowest annual tally since 1973.  Across both Aberdeen and Glasgow airports, about 2,500 jobs have been lost - both directly and indirectly - since the start of the pandemic as a result of the dramatic fall in passenger numbers.   Inglis Lyon, managing director of Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (Hial), said the publicly-funded company had suffered "eye-watering" losses due to Covid.  Hial operates 11 airports, including Campbeltown, Sumburgh and Dundee.  In 2020-21, the company recorded losses of almost £2.6m after travel restrictions and lockdowns contributed to an almost 77% reduction in passenger numbers.   On Monday, Mr Lyon told Westminster's Scottish Affairs committee that retaining Inverness Airport's link to Heathrow was a key part to helping Hial recover from the pandemic.   He said: "These things hang by a thread when the industry is under the pressure it is under, both in terms of aircraft availability, in terms of profitability, in terms of eye-watering losses over the last two years."  At the same committee hearing, Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said the industry had been on a "rollercoaster ride" and had been "legislated out of business".   He said: "At the bottom of the curve, we were down at less than 1% of pre-pandemic levels of demand, which is actually worse than being closed - all the costs of being open but very little revenue to support that."

Tenth of Salvation Army Churches Without Minister
More than a 10th of Salvation Army churches in Scotland are currently without a minister, it has been revealed.  The Christian charity operates 74 churches and community centres across Scotland.   BBC Scotland has learned eight are currently without a minister amid the "challenging" task of filling posts.   They are Aberdeen Citadel, Buckie, Findochty, Wick, Buckhaven, Fauldhouse, Clydebank and Motherwell.  The Aberdeen Citadel in the Castlegate is one of the city’s most iconic buildings.   It has been home to the Salvation Army church for more than 140 years. The Salvation Army said it was becoming more challenging to fill leadership posts for most denominations across the UK – especially in rural and isolated communities . “In many Salvation Army churches where full-time leadership is temporarily unavailable, our volunteers and congregations are able to provide community services to people who are vulnerable and in need", the organisation said in a statement.  "However, in some of our more rural locations these services can be limited.”   It is not known when the vacant posts can be filled.

Campaigners Given Assurances Over Future of Minor Injuries Unit in Thurso
NHS bosses have made clear that medics are still on hand to deal with emergencies at a Highland hospital despite its casualty department being out of action.  Thurso’s Dunbar Hospital’s minor injury unit has been shut since the pandemic began because of staffing shortages.   Would-be patients instead have to go to A&E at at Caithness General, 20 miles away in Wick.  Earlier this week, health campaigners raised concerns the temporary closure might become permanent after noticing the signs for the unit had been covered up.  NHS Highland moved to reassure Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) that the closure is temporary, and that the unit will reopen when vacancies have been filled.   And now, the health board’s district manager for Caithness has also assured locals that emergencies will not be turned away at the Dunbar.   Christian Nicolson said: “Should someone with an injury turn up at the door, staff will do all they can to help and support.”   She explained the signs had been covered over to avoid “walk-ins”, particularly visitors to the area unaware that the unit is closed.  “We were having staffing issues prior to the outbreak of Covid which resulted in frequent ad-hoc closures,” Mrs Nicolson added.   “The requirement to staff at very short notice a Covid assessment centre with experienced staff with advanced skills exacerbated this issue in that we were looking at the same pool of staff who covered the unit.   For that reason the decision was taken in March 2020 to close it on a temporary basis.  While that closure has been longer than expected, it is still the case that we fully intend to reopen the unit.  While I cannot give a precise timescale at this point, please be reassured that we are doing all we can in the background to get to a point that we can reopen.”  Ron Gunn, vice-chairman of Chat, welcomed Mrs Nicolson’s assurances.  “We are, of course, happy that they are making clear that they wouldn’t turn folk away in an emergency,” he said.  “That is welcome but while we appreciate that they are short-staffed, we are continuing to press to get the unit back up and running on a 24/7 basis.”  Mr Gunn said the unit serves west Caithness and north Sutherland and the longer it remains closed, the more fears grow about its future.  He added: “We’re concerned managers could say that the area has managed without it for two years and decide to close it permanently.”

Scottish Politics in 2022 - Five Things to Watch By Philip Sim BBC Scotland
1. Covid-19 Everyone will hope that 2022 is a year where coronavirus doesn't hang over politics, and indeed daily life.  However, even with politicians dropping more and more hints about ending restrictions and finding ways of "living with Covid", the pandemic and its legacies will still play a massive role in the immediate future.   To start with, there will be judge-led inquiries, both at a Scottish and UK-wide level, to pick over how ministers in Edinburgh and London handled the unfolding crisis.  And then there is the recovery from the pandemic itself, in sectors from physical and mental health services to the economy and education.   Will testing remain free and readily available? Will people need a fourth dose of vaccine? Will school pupils sit traditional exams this summer? Will workers be heading back to offices on a more regular basis? Will hospitality businesses manage to get back on their feet?  The unanswered questions still feel endless, but the hope will be that this is the year where we can begin to move on from them.
2. Local government; This is set to be a big year for local government, not least because there are elections to all 32 of Scotland's councils in May.  There are a host of political questions for every party involved, with Labour fighting desperately to recapture second place from the Conservatives, the Alba Party challenging the SNP for pro-independence votes, the Lib Dems battling for relevance after slipping to four Holyrood seats last year and the Scottish Greens hoping to capitalise on joining the government.  However, there are also some rather more immediate questions facing councillors, as they attempt to set their budgets for the year ahead.  The Scottish government's budget plans are sure to sail through Holyrood thanks to the SNP-Green partnership agreement, but they will not do so without howls of protest from local government.  Council leaders from across the political spectrum are deeply unhappy with the level of funding on offer, and unanimously backed an "urgent" demand for talks with Nicola Sturgeon about the "totally unacceptable" settlement.   And while Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has given them free reign over local tax rates for the first time since the SNP came to power in 2007, many see this as a poisoned chalice. Councillors will hardly be thankful for the "opportunity" to hike council tax on the eve of an election, particularly if they feel forced to do so.   Somehow this still isn't the end of the conflicts between Holyrood and town halls, with proposals for a National Care Service also raising hackles about the idea of more local services being centralised.
3. Legislation; MSPs start the year with plenty in their in-trays, with a fresh batch of election pledges to be delivered and indeed a few hanging over from last term too.   Attempts to reform the Gender Recognition Act repeatedly stalled in the previous parliamentary session as the government commissioned a series of consultations before being consumed by Covid-19. The SNP has committed to pushing through changes this term, and a bill is anticipated in the near future.   MSPs can at least be trusted to discuss the matter in a reasonably measured fashion, in contrast to some of the culture wars commentators who fan the flames of debate online.   Controversy is more or less guaranteed, though - those who responded to the aforementioned consultations were in broad agreement about one thing, which was how "toxic" the "highly polarised" issue has become.   Assisted dying is also back on the political agenda with Lib Dem Liam McArthur's legislative proposal gaining support from corners including former SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman.  A consultation which closed before Christmas apparently elicited an enormous volume of responses, and a draft bill is likely to be published in the coming months.   There will be more opposition bills on contentious matters to come too, with the Conservatives pushing a "right to recovery" in response to record levels of drug-related deaths.   The difficulties the government has faced in getting to grips with this issue were underlined at the turn of the year when the heads of its drugs death taskforce resigned in frustration.  Trans rights campaigners have rallied outside Holyrood to call for reforms
4. Leadership; To start at Westminster, Boris Johnson still sits atop a comfortable parliamentary majority - but has started the new year as he ended the last, embroiled in questions about his future as prime minister.  He has faced backbench rebellion over Covid rules and a damaging by-election defeat, but the ongoing row over parties held at Downing Street during lockdown is the most potentially damaging of all.   Opposition parties have been baying for blood for weeks to little avail, but the fact fellow Conservatives are also lining up to give him a kicking means there are real questions about Mr Johnson's longevity in office.  There are particular questions for the Scottish Conservatives, who had already been distancing themselves from Mr Johnson - he played literally no part in their 2021 election campaign, while featuring on every other SNP leaflet.   And now that Douglas Ross has broken cover to call for his resignation as prime minister and Tory leader, there are serious questions for the Scottish party.   If Mr Johnson is not ousted, relations with Downing Street will have been seriously damaged - to the extent that longstanding calls for the Scottish Tories to separate themselves entirely from the UK-wide operation may need to be considered afresh.   Circumstances are decidedly different at Holyrood, but speculation about Nicola Sturgeon's future has been rife for some time too - despite the prospect of five years of stability under an SNP-Green majority government.   Some of this is undoubtedly opposition mischief-making - she notes that other parties may as well fantasise about her walking away, having failed to lay a glove on her at the ballot box.   However, while dismissing the idea of leaving Holyrood when questioned about it directly, Ms Sturgeon also fuelled the rumour mill by flying a kite about life after politics in a Vogue magazine article shortly before spending a fortnight at COP26.   And in May, she will become Scotland's longest-serving first minister, as well as marking 23 years as an MSP - milestones which are sure to spark further talk of her legacy.  She is already the first minister who led Scotland through a pandemic, won back-to-back elections and who recently completed an overhaul of childcare trailed in her very first speech as SNP leader. The question is whether she feels she needs to deliver another independence referendum before considering her work is done.
5. Independence; Any effort to ramp up the rhetoric about a fresh push for indyref2 at the SNP conference in November was hastily shunted to the back burner by breaking news of a mutated variant of Covid-19 spreading rapidly across the globe.   But in a speech ultimately dominated by Omicron, Ms Sturgeon did pledge that in the spring the campaign for independence would "resume in earnest".   We have of course been here before. Most SNP conferences conclude with a similar rallying cry from the first minister - so are we really any closer to a referendum this year?   Ms Sturgeon's own phrasing is that she will do "everything that is within my power" to hold a referendum in 2023 - perhaps accepting that the issue is not entirely in her own hands - and that this timetable may require "an ideal set of circumstances".   She has been clear that she still wants to secure an agreement of some kind with the UK Westminster government, to ensure any vote has the legitimacy and international recognition to actually deliver independence.   So it is probable that at some point Ms Sturgeon will make a fresh approach to the prime minister asking for a Section 30 order, a transfer of powers in the style of 2014. Mr Johnson has thus far looked unlikely to agree, and the uncertainty about his future is unlikely to change this.   The Scottish government has drawn up a draft bill for an independence referendum, and could introduce this at Holyrood at some point - although it did not feature in the Programme for Government for the term running up to the summer recess.  These are the only certainties, before you plunge into a bottomless rabbit hole of hypotheticals about what might happen if the bill were introduced and if it were to be challenged at the Supreme Court.  These questions give devotees of the constitutional debate something to chew over, and Ms Sturgeon will doubtless come up with some kind of campaigning work to focus the energies of the Yes movement.  However, it seems unlikely that anything more concrete is on the immediate horizon. Look forward to this topic featuring again in the 2023 edition of this article.

Ovo Energy to Shut Five Scots Bases Amid Job Cuts
Ovo Energy's Perth office is set to close after the gas and electricity provider told UK staff it planned to cut a quarter of its workforce.  Staff have been told that 1,700 employees across the UK will lose their jobs through voluntary redundancy.  It is understood that about 700 people work in the Perth office.   Two bases in Edinburgh, one in Cumbernauld and another in Dunfermline will also close as it reduces its UK offices from 10 to three.  Only offices in Glasgow, Bristol and London will remain, while more employees will be supported to work from home.  It is another blow for Perth, where another major employer, bus company Stagecoach, has also cut jobs recently.   Following its merger with National Express, the firm is moving its headquarters to Birmingham.   Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who is also the local MSP, said he was seeking urgent talks with Ovo Energy to understand their decision.   Perth and North Perthshire MP Pete Wishart said he would also be "seeking answers" over the scale of job losses at the site.  He added: "This is bad news after all the commitments that were given to the workforce when they took over from SSE."   Mid Scotland and Fife MSP Murdo Fraser said the closure would be a "substantial blow to the Perthshire economy."   Elaine Dougall, of the Unite union, told BBC Radio Scotland's Drivetime programme, they had not been told how many jobs were at risk in Scotland.  She said the union was in discussions with Ovo Energy but employees were "in a state of shock".  "The way in which it was delivered via social media and the news was not the best way to learn that your job was potentially at threat."   The job cuts are understood to be linked to the company's acquisition of SSE's household energy business three years ago and the integration of the firm into Ovo.   In a letter to staff, Adrian Letts, the boss of Ovo's retail business, said:"We are engaging with our recognised trade unions to ensure all receive the right information and support."  The firm also said it would also create a new "Ovo Academy" in Glasgow which would create "new opportunities in the city that hosted COP26 for those who want to be at the forefront of the UK's green revolution."

NHS Highland Eases Visitor Restrictions At Fort William and Caithness Hospitals
NHS Highland has relaxed some of its visitor restrictions at rural hospitals as pressures caused by Covid ease.   The health board imposed strict “essential visitors only” rules earlier this month as Omicron spread rapidly through the region.   But now the rule only remains at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, although this is due to be reviewed on Monday.  It means that patients at Caithness General Hospital, Belford Hospital in Fort William, Lorn and Isles Hospital in Oban and New Craigs in Inverness can now have two visitors.   Visitors are being reminded to take a Covid test and phone the ward prior to their visit.  Katherine Sutton, NHS Highland’s chief officer in acute medicine, said: “The importance of visiting within hospitals cannot be overstated, bringing comfort to both those receiving visitors and to those visiting.  It is a fundamental part of the care of a patient in hospital.   We know just how difficult it is for everyone involved when visiting restrictions are put in place and I am pleased that we have been able to move these hospitals back to level one visiting.”   Mrs Sutton added: “Raigmore Hospital remains at essential visiting only but we will review that later this week.  If your visit is essential, please contact the hospital ward your relative or loved one is in, and the staff will support you with making arrangements to visit safely.  We are grateful to the public for your ongoing cooperation and understanding.  If you are visiting the hospital please ensure that you wear a face mask and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer before you go onto the ward/department and as you leave the hospital.”

'Clear Demand' for Galloway and Borders National Parks
Two landscape charities have said there is "clear local community demand" for new national parks in Galloway and the Scottish Borders.  The creation of at least one more in this parliamentary session is part of a power-sharing agreement between the SNP and Scottish Green Party.   A briefing sent to MSPs said two parts of southern Scotland had already shown they were behind their bids.   It also highlighted the need for a national strategy for the parks.  There are currently two national parks in Scotland, at the Cairngorms and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.  In their briefing, the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland (APRS) and the Scottish Campaign for National Parks (SCNP) said it was clear there was community support for new ones to be created in the Borders and Galloway.  The organisations have also offered to be part of the site selection process.  Among their suggestions is the consideration of the establishment of an overall National Parks Service as a central source of advice and expertise.   The groups previously drew up a map of seven potential locations but they stressed that other sites across the country might also be suitable.   For many years the Scottish government said it had no plans to give the designation to new parts of the country.  However, a power-sharing deal last year saw a commitment to create at least one in the lifetime of this parliament.

Tullibody Care Home Resident Choked to Death on Doughnut
A care home company has been fined £640,000 after one of its residents choked on a piece of doughnut and died.  The 65-year-old resident of Orchard Care Home in Clackmannanshire was on a specialist diet and should not have been given the doughnut.   The woman, who died in August 2019, had previously been assessed as being at risk of choking.  HC-One Limited, which runs the care home in Tullibody, pleaded guilty to health and safety failings.   The woman was on a diet of minced and moist food after a severe stroke and vascular dementia left her at risk of choking.  Bread products were not considered suitable for her diet as they could not be mashed small enough.  However, she was given a piece of jam doughnut as a snack from the tea trolley on 7 August 2019. The 65-year-old died despite the efforts of care home staff and paramedics to remove the food.  The Crown Office said that prior to her death, the resident had frequently been given sandwiches from the snack trolley, repeatedly putting her at risk.   HC-One Limited has since made changes at the home to ensure the snack trolley has suitable food for all residents, the Crown Office said.  Alistair Duncan, head of the health and safety investigation unit of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, said the death could have been prevented if "suitable training and procedures" had been in place.

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

Last Updated (Saturday, 15 January 2022 05:02)