Some Scottish News & Views #69

This little effort is for the period ending 11th December 2010.  Once again I’ve been able to include a small named tongue-in-cheek article which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Priceless Tapestry Treasures Hang on with Help From Vacuum and Velcro
It sounds more like a practical housekeeping tip than an intricate conservation technique.
However, experts restoring a worn set of 17th century Flemish Verdure tapestries have turned to Velcro for help.  Sophie Younger, an accredited textile conservator, was brought in by the National Trust for Scotland to help carry out the work at Falkland Palace in Fife.  "We use (Velcro] a lot in conservation. For hanging large textiles, it's very ubiquitous. It distributes the weight evenly ... it's fairly easily applied."

The tapestries have been patched up a number of times and have accumulated a fair amount of dirt over the past 400 years, while light damage has also seen the colourful images fade. As well as being re-hung using the Velcro in place of metal press studs, the emergency work includes some material added to the back of the tapestries to attach repairs and avoid further deterioration. The dirt is tackled with a vacuum cleaner, using filters over the nozzle. Also, ultra-violet filters placed on the windows will alleviate light damage.  Falkland Palace, nestling below the Lomond Hills of Fife, has been home to the tapestries since 1905 when they were bought from Holland for the sum of £1,537 18s.

Ninian Crichton-Stuart is the current keeper of Falkland Palace, and lives there with his family in private quarters. He has long and fond memories of the tapestries.  He said: "For those of us who know, love and care for the palace, these beautiful and subtle tapestries hark back to the ancient forest of Falkland, as a place of nature and culture.  "Our parents used to amuse us with the way that the 'shifting avenue' follows you from left to right or right to left." As a result of the emergency work it has been possible to appreciate the tapestries from the back and see the true, unfaded colours as well as the structure of the textiles, which is important for future conservation.  Ms Younger said: "What this project is all about is hanging them safely, doing the emergency repairs and surface cleaning them back and front." She added: "Doing this work will allow us to plan the future care of the tapestries.

Reindeer in Two-hour Attack on Woman
A hill walker has told how she endured a two-hour reindeer attack in the Highlands.
Pat Cook, 57, from Renfrew, was walking alone in the Cromdale hills east of Grantown- on- Spey when she spotted a light-coloured deer in the distance. Shortly after she reached the summit of Carn a'Ghille Chearr, the reindeer reappeared and charged her, throwing her on to her back.  She said: "One of my walking poles was thrown into the air. The reindeer kept trying to stick its antlers into me, but I managed to brace my feet on them. I began bashing it over the head with my other walking pole. I couldn't believe what was happening, and I was aware that I was running out of strength.  Ms Cook, who has climbed all 284 of Scotland's Munros, said any time she tried to stand up and make a run for it, the reindeer would bundle her back on to the ground.  She said: "If I didn't move and didn't shout or blow my whistle, it didn't touch me, but I knew I couldn't lie there in the snow all day."  Two hours after the initial attack, Ms Cook finally made her escape, distracting the reindeer by throwing items of her packed lunch in the opposite direction.  She was left with deep bruises on her arms, legs and head.   The animal is a two -year-old bull, part of the 130-strong Cairngorm Reindeer Herd (CRH). A spokeswoman from CRH said: "To prevent any other confrontations, the reindeer was taken down off the hill to our fenced area."

Three Cattle Killed As Roof Collapses
A farm building collapsed in Fife under the weight of snow, killing three cattle at the weekend.  The building collapsed on 29 animals at about 6:30am on Saturday at Stenhouse Farm, near Kirkcaldy.   On Friday, a roof at Over Finlarg Farm, Angus, collapsed on top of 50
cattle, killing two.

Scottish Artist Wins Turner Prize with Traditional Song
Susan Philipsz won the Turner Prize last night for her recording of a traditional folk song and said her “heart” was with protesting students whose cries against government plans to cut arts could be heard over the award ceremony.  The Glasgow-born artist was handed the £25,000 prize at an event in Tate Britain, London, and promised to spend some of the money taking her parents on holiday. She said: “It still hasn't sunk in yet, I didn't want to even think about it. “It has been a really great experience being a nominee. It has been overwhelming, the wonderful responses I’ve been getting for the work, and I just didn't expect that.”  More than 100 students from Arts Against Cuts held a sit-in in the gallery in protest at planned changes to student fees. They could not be seen by the crowd who gathered to see the prize awarded but their chants of “No Cuts” were audible throughout the ceremony. Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota acknowledged their presence and said “all” were concerned by proposed cuts to arts budgets.

Philipsz recorded three versions of the song, Lowlands, which tells the tale of a man drowned at sea who returns to tell his lover of his death.  It was played under a series of bridges over the River Clyde in her home city of Glasgow before coming to the Tate.  Philipsz, who studied sculpture in Dundee after being turned down by Glasgow Art School, said she still thought of herself as “a visual artist”. She said the site under the bridges was the work’s “perfect home” but presenting it in the Tate allowed it to become a “more intimate experience”.  It is the first time a sound installation has been shortlisted for the prize but her win was predicted and the bookies made her a firm favourite last week. Philipsz faced competition from more traditional artists including Dexter Dalwood whose collection of politically-inspired paintings includes an imagining of the death of Dr David Kelly.

Don’t Panic, But Remember to Hang on to Your Wellingtons By Iain Maciver
Panic is gripping everyone. The economy is in shreds; our parliament is being infiltrated by Russian spies, and there are leaks everywhere, particularly in Bernera and Uig. Scottish Water, or Wicked Leaks, as the company is now known on the west side of Lewis, has just turned off supplies between Garynahine and Carloway. Just because it can. At least that was what the jungle drums were beating out around Tolsta Chaolais yesterday.  You can’t blame people for being just a tad sceptical about what they are told. So often, people find out that they may have been ever-so-slightly misled. Whether it is weapons of mass destruction, the tartan tax or the real reasons behind certain licensing board decisions, there is a perception that some people could have been more, er, straightforward.

We shouldn’t panic. It doesn’t help. It’s not good for us. Books on what to do when you feel panic-stricken are selling well, but there is loads of advice out there without having to fork out.  Now there’s panic buying. Shops are selling out of wellington boots and spuds all over the country, despite the forecast that the next few days will be better. Not sure about the wellies, but the spuds flying off the shelves has nothing to do with the freeze. It’s because of that American guy who ate nothing but 20 tatties a day for two months, to show how good they are for us. Chris Voigt boiled them, marinated them, mashed them and sautéed them. His wife made him potato ice cream, although he says it wasn’t a success. Really? Why was that, then?  Voigt, by happy coincidence the boss of the Washington State Potato Commission, claims he lost a stone and a half, his cholesterol has dropped and he has never felt better – which is why I am now trying it myself.

Here’s a tip if you want to try: Potatoes are a bit bland after you’ve had six, but don’t panic. I’ve found a way round that. The remaining 14 are easier to get down if you add a wee dod of curry sauce, cheese sauce or just fry them with a teensy-weensy haddock, or perhaps a wee breast of chicken.   I’m a nutritionist and I don’t know it.  Mind you, I fear there are many things I don’t know. It must be unsettling for anyone to discover that there is a great deal about the person they live with that they didn’t have a clue about. That would make anyone panic. Tell me about it.

Mrs X skipped into the house the other evening with a rosy glow on her cheeks. Had she been frolicking in the snow?  Nah, she insisted. She had only been in town for a few things and she bumped into someone called Gordon Macrae. The encounter seemed to cheer her up no end. My radar picked up something. She had gone out all grumpy, shouting that if I left any more dirty cups lying around she was going to smash them all and leave the broken handles in my underpants. She was in a right howler.  Then she was back full of the joys and saying how nice it was to bump into this Macrae fellow.  Hmm. So what was she talking to this Macrae guy about? Who is he? Did they go for a coffee? Who else was there?

I’m not paranoid or anything, you understand, just utterly suspicious of every male this side of the Minch and riven with mind-shattering jealousy. Apart from that, I’m completely well-balanced.  Sensing my wariness, she immediately switched to the defensive. What was the point of telling me anything? I would take it the wrong way. What I failed to understand was that the two of them had history together and . . .
I had heard enough. You had what together? Since when? How come you’re telling me this now? Where is he now?
First thing in the morning, I decided, I was storming up to Stornoway primary, where he works, to sort out this Lochie interloper once and for all.  Right, Mr so-called Macrae, I will say to him. Forget that nonsense about how many trips will it take two men with wheelbarrows to move a ton of sand if they take a hundredweight each time. Here’s one for you: how many times will I clobber you over the head with a frozen black pudding before you agree to keep away from my wife?

She wasn’t happy. “You will not. If only you listened to me sometimes. I was just going to say that Gordon and I had more than just history together,” herself declared. Bold as brass. That’s it. Time to panic. A sordid, stomach-churning confession was obviously coming. We were heading for the divorce court to decide who was getting what.

Right, I figured, I’m keeping the Vauxhall Vectra, the painting of the beach at Tobson and maybe our daughter – if she would just grow up and get a job to support her old man. And I am keeping the wellies. I am sure I bought them, but they appear to have become unisex and everyone in this house wears them. I’m bagging them. The way this country is going, they will be worth thousands soon.  I am prepared to be considerate. My soon-to-be ex, Mrs X, can hold on to her Charley Pride LPs. Very fair of me, considering she hurled a jibe in my direction, one night after having a second dry sherry, insinuating that Pride was the only man in the known universe she would ever leave me for. Huh. “If you had let me finish,” I heard my exasperated missus interject, “I would have told you that Gordon and I had not just history together, but geography and maths, too. We were in the same class. That’s all.”

Eew, I felt that high.   Had history together? Of course. Why on earth did I panic?

I’m still hiding the wellies, though.

North-east Officers’ £14m Drug Haul
Grampian Police have seized more than £13.5million of illegal substances since the beginning of 2005 – but the figures have been described as representing “only a fraction” of the north-east’s growing drug problem.  Included in the total is more than £4million worth of cocaine, £4.5million worth of heroin and more than £3.5million worth of cannabis. Police have also confiscated nearly 13,000 ecstasy tablets.  According to the figures, cannabis confiscated from users and dealers weighed half a tonne, while the cocaine and heroin weighed more than 110lb (50kg) and 100lb (45kg) respectively.  In recent years, Grampian Police have launched a series of operations aimed at stopping drug dealers exploiting the north-east. Last year, nearly £80,000 worth of drugs was recovered and more than 150 people were arrested over two weeks during Operation Lochnagar.

Taxpayer Could Be Sued Over Gathering Fiasco
The Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council have been threatened with court action by creditors owed tens of thousands of pounds for helping to stage a troubled Highland clans event.  A letter from creditors to ministers warns that they "intend to pursue" the government and the local authority - effectively the taxpayer - through the courts for more than £100,000 left unpaid to firms involved in the event, part of last year's Home coming tourism drive.  The letter also claimed creditors would not have "incurred the debts" and "hard costs" associated with staging the Gathering if the Government had not made an £180,000 loan, which was later written off, to help prop up the event. Tom Davidson, managing director of Buffalo Power Services, said his firm would not have allowed credit of more than £33,000 to pay for lighting for the event in Edinburgh if the Scottish Government had not given its "backing" with the loan to The Gathering Ltd before it collapsed amid debts of £516,000.

Now a group of 11 creditors have asked the Scottish Government cover their losses of £100,802.65 on the grounds that The Gathering Ltd had a "remit set by the government". Martin Hunt, whose Edinburgh-based Tartan Silk PR firm is owed nearly £8,000 said legal action was a "last resort" but that creditors were "worried" about getting their money and that they wanted the Government and council to take their "concerns seriously".  Mr Hunt held talks with Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson before the group of creditors sent the letter to him setting out the possibility of legal action to recover the cash.  He said: "We want to resolve this amicably. We are talking about relatively small firms doing business in a difficult economic climate.  Some have even been forced to make redundancies because of the money owed to them not being paid. We'll be entering an election year soon and we expect the current administration to pay the money owed before the end of its term in office."

Mr Hunt went on to say that although the possible legal action would be taken on behalf of 11 creditors, he wanted all of those owed a share of the £516,00 debts, who number more than 100 firms, to be compensated.

Community Landowner Buys Office Base
Scotland's largest community landowner has marked the fourth anniversary of its historic buyout by moving into a permanent base.  Stòras Uibhist, the body that took over the 93,000-acre South Uist Estate in 2006, has bought a building in Daliburgh, South Uist, from Highlands and Islands Enterprise which it will use as a business centre to lease offices for local firms.  Huw Francis, the chief executive of Stòras Uibhist, said: "These offices will provide much needed space for the company as it administers the business on behalf of the 3,000 residents of the estate area and takes forward development projects that will deliver the much-needed social and economic regeneration that is the aim of community ownership."

Durness Fast Becoming the ‘Forgotten Corner’
Durness Development Officers Kevin Arrowsmith and Neil Fuller have raised anxious concerns that their area is the “forgotten corner” of the Highlands.  They are worried about service provision in the parish and are vigorously campaigning for high speed broadband. The two have been out and about seeking the opinions of the local community in the Parish of Durness and the message they received was a clear one – service provision in the area is just not good enough.  The same concerns were raised in each of the meetings held with the people of Durness, Laid, and Balnakeil. The meetings are in preparation for the publishing of a local development plan for the area which has been selected for inclusion in the “Growth at the Edge” initiative funded by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Leader and supported locally by the Durness Development Group.  “People are concerned that the parish is lagging behind the rest of the Highlands in terms of services, and that we seem to be the ‘forgotten corner’” said Neil Fuller. “People are particularly concerned about the future of care services and respite care in the current economic climate, services which allow people to remain in their own community in later years. Public transport, housing, fuel costs, and broadband were also raised at each of the meetings. We also learned last week that the Highland Council has identified the Council Service Point in Durness for closure.”

Broadband was identified in the meetings as a key enabler in stimulating the local economy. “There are endless opportunities for high technology ‘micro’ businesses which could operate successfully in rural areas but these are heavily dependent on a reliable and ‘fit for purpose’ broadband service,” said Kevin. “Durness has been waiting all year for its slow and unreliable broadband service to be upgraded but the upgrade has been postponed at least twice and some areas, such as Laid, have no ‘terrestrial’ broadband service at all.”  Recent government announcements have suggested that high speed broadband will be introduced throughout the UK by 2015 and the Scottish Government has set a target of 2020.

“We’re setting our sights high,” explained Kevin. “We want to make sure that we don’t just catch up with other areas in terms of standard broadband delivery, but that we make sure that the Parish of Durness is at the forefront of rural ‘next generation’ broadband. “Superfast broadband could have a significant economic and social impact and would be a lifeline to the area.”

Organisers 'Flabbergasted' by Da Doonie Day Response
A hearty welcome greeted the Vikings on Friday as the townsfolk of Thurso braved the elements to honour their Norse heritage.  The first-ever Da Doonie Day, a celebration of Caithness's Nordic connections, was a resounding success, according to event organiser and Thurso Rotary Club Interact liaison officer James Simpson.  By all reports it went well. Most people who turned up seem to have enjoyed themselves so we're very pleased," he said. "Overall I was quite dumbfounded and humbled by the response of the town. I have to say I'm still quite flabbergasted by all the people who turned up."

Facts and fun were brought together on the day as events all over the town let the locals enjoy finding out about the connections the county had with the ancient warrior race.  One of the events involved the jarl squads, one from Lerwick and one formed from the Thurso High School Interact Club, visiting local schools to find new recruits and educate the children on their traditions.  "Going around the primary schools during the day was one of my highlights," said Mr Simpson.  "The youngsters really did seem to appreciate it and were quite enthralled to see the Vikings and asked lots of questions about their history and their Caithness connections." He continued: "I think it worked in getting the children interested in the Caithness-Viking heritage.  "And, who knows, maybe some years down the line one of them will take up the chalice and hold their own Da Doonie Day or equivalent."

By sunset the people of Thor's River were growing restless and once full darkness had settled the main event got off to a great start as a torchlight procession made its way through the streets led by the Viking squads, stopping at Sir John's Square at 6.30pm to turn on the Christmas lights with the Thurso Town Improvements Association, which had rearranged its schedule for the friendly invaders.  Once the town was looking suitably festive, the Vikings marched down to the riverside where they ceremonially burnt a galley, echoing a tradition that may have been performed back when the town was an important Norse port.

Time Change Strikes An Echo 40 Years on
Westminster is trying to steal our mornings...again. Forty years after the late Donald Stewart set about time bandits in the House of Commons his successor, Isles MP Angus MacNeil has joined battle on the same issue.  The re-run of the daylight robbery debate took place on Friday afternoon in the Commons when the SNP condemned proposals to change daylight savings time after Tory, LibDem and Labour MPs backed a Private Members Bill which will leave Scotland with darker mornings.

The Bill, which now moves to Committee stage, would require the UK Government to conduct a cross-departmental analysis of the potential costs and benefits of advancing time by one hour for all, or part of, the year. If this analysis found that a clock change would benefit the UK, the Bill requires that the Government initiate a trial clock change to determine the full implications.  Angus MacNeil commented that the progress of the Bill is “literally a wake-up call” to the prospect of dark mornings for everyone north of Manchester. The Bill had been pushed through by MPs from the south with no regard to the impact these changes would have on the quality of life for people in the north.  “With the country in the grip of sub-zero temperatures it is not difficult to see the danger and difficulties that extending the morning hours of darkness would have for people, in particular school children, commuting on roads which remain icy prior to sunrise,” said Mr MacNeil.  “Dealing with the snow and ice which has brought parts of the country to a standstill would be even more difficult with this time change in place.”

Condemning the arguments advanced in favour of the clock change, the Isles MP stated the evidence was “dubious at best”and ignored the sound reasons for abandoning the idea after it was trialled in the 1970s and more recently on continental Europe which found it had a damaging effect on safety, health, energy consumption and commerce.  “This change would be acutely felt in Scotland, raising real safety and quality of life concerns, and this is now a real test for the Tory Government and its claims of a respect agenda for Scotland. It is also outrageous that this step is being taken without any consultation with the devolved administrations,” Mr MacNeil hit out.  A spokesman for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said the council are awaiting the outcome of the study and would respond to any ensuing consultation.

The proposals before the House of Commons were an echo of four decades ago. For as the SNP fought a rearguard action against new Daylight Saving proposals on Friday, the former elder statesman of the party had been doing precisely the same 40 years before in his maiden speech to the House.  Today’s Isles representative in Westminster, Mr Angus MacNeil commented: “I quoted Donald Stewart’s words from his maiden speech 40 years and a day later on the same subject - daylight saving. Then they voted to end the experiment by 366 to 81 but now it seems now they want to go through more experimental misery to discover what Donald and 365 others knew as they were having miserable winters.?“I have marked the event in the Commons and someone of the staff told me he was there when Donald spoke. As we know, Donald was a well known and well liked character with a good sense of humour. He was liked at the Commons and still remembered fondly even 23 years after he retired.”

In December 1970, Mr Stewart spoke for the first time in the Commons during the debate on British Standard Time which MPs ultimately scrapped in favour of turning the clocks back one hour to Greenwich Mean Time at the end of October each year.  He told the Commons: “Central European Time is really what we are discussing. It has little relevance to England and none at all to Scotland. It is pleasant to know that several hon. Members from English constituencies, some of them in the south, have indicated to me that they intend to vote for the abolition of British Standard Time.  Concluded Mr Stewart: “It would be presumptuous of me to issue a warning to the House in a maiden speech, but I invite hon. Members who may be thinking of voting to continue British Summer Time to consider the inference which may be drawn in Scotland if the will of a majority of the Scottish Members is frustrated by a majority from areas affected by British Standard Time in only a very minor way or not at all. The ridiculous imposition of this British Standard Time should now be ended in the name of equity and common sense.”?

Inter-island Air Subsidy Demise Condemned
Both the Isles MP, Angus Macneil and Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan have condemned a Comhairle nan Eilean Siar move to scrap the subsidy and effectively end the inter island Barra to Benbecula air service.  The SNP duo have been taken aback by the recommendation of the Transportation Committee who voted on the issue as part of tough new budget strictures.  Afterwards, Mr Macneil said: ““Together with my colleague Alasdair Allan MSP I am stunned that the Comhairle could seriously consider such a retrograde step in Hebridean transportation. As a regular user of the service I know that it is needed.  “I know that people use it to go to hospital and others use it to get to Glasgow on business, particularly seamen going via Benbecula as the direct Barra – Glasgow flight is often more full than not. Certainly Barra-Glasgow has a higher percentage occupation I would say from experience than any other island scheduled flight. “Politically, this decision actually makes it very difficult to argue for the Islands needing extra help with transportation from the Scottish Government when the Comhairle’s own transportation committee threatens its most needy island in this way. It may even result in the Scottish Government deducting money from the Comhairle that was given to provide the service, therefore saving precisely nil, but losing a great deal for the island’s economy and for the local community.”

He added that Barra has only three mainland ferries a week in winter and six flights to the mainland, which is by far the least of the three Hebridean island groupings. He hoped the decision would be reversed when it came before the full Council next week.  MSP, Alasdair Allan, was “staggered” by the in principle decision taken by the Transportation Committee of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.  He commented: “I understand the financial pressures on the Comhairle, as on the Scottish Government, but the decision reached in the Transport Committee today has serious implications for people in Barra.  He pointed out that the Scottish Government has shown its commitment to air services to Barra by entering negotiations with a Canadian firm to replace the two Twin Otter aircraft currently serving the island. But at the same time, the council were now contemplating a serious threat to one of the island’s two air routes.

Tory Accused of Racism After Telling Fellow Scot: Get Back to Jockland
A controversial Tory MP has been accused of making "racist" comments against Scotland when he told a fellow MP to "get back to jockland".  The intervention by Wiltshire North MP James Gray, who made the remark to Glasgow North East MP Willie Bain during environment questions in the House, has been taken as a sign that the Conservative's "respect agenda" with Scotland is "only skin deep"  It comes just over a week after Prime Minister David Cameron told a gathering of journalists that he hopes his party can make a breakthrough in Scotland despite only winning one seat in May after spending £1.2 million north of the Border.  He had tried to reach out in both opposition and government, making Holyrood the first place he had an official visit.

Highland Capital Unveils £16 Million Four-star Training Hotel
A planned £16 million hotel offering training for disadvantaged youngsters was unveiled yesterday.  Developers have launched a funding drive for the four-star hotel at the new Inverness Campus site on the outskirts of the city.  The training hotel, the brainchild of housing association Albyn Housing Society and the Calman Trust, will have 120 rooms, including 40 self-contained apartments designed as short-term accommodation.  Calum Macaulay, chief executive of Albyn Housing Society, said: "While there are existing hotels run on social enterprise principles in the UK, none compare to the size and scale of this project. The hotel will offer overnight and longer stay accommodation and will be like any other four-star hotel.  XZ "The hotel will plough profits back into the community whilst providing young people with real opportunities."

Petrol Price Reaches Record High
The price of petrol has reached new record levels, with motorists now paying 11.88p more per litre than at the beginning of the year.  The AA said yesterday that the latest average price at the pumps was 121.76p (approx $A1.96) a litre for petrol, making it an estimated £6.43 more expensive to fill up an average tank.  At the start of the year, petrol averaged 109.88p a litre and reached 121.61p on May 12.  The record price for diesel was 133.25p set on July 17, and the AA said average prices were now 125.73p. However, at the beginning of the year the cost of diesel averaged 111.52p a litre.   At Stromness, Orkney, petrol prices have soared to as high as 134.9p ($A2.17) a litre. At Elgin some garages were selling petrol for 126.9p ($A2.04) per litre, and at Tain prices were as high as 125.9p. In other areas, such as Dundee, Aberdeen and Fraserburgh, prices stand between 119.9p and 122.9p.

AA president Edmund King said: “In the past week, we have seen the average price of petrol shoot up 1.7p a litre across the UK and diesel rise 1.61p. It comes at a particularly bad time for drivers who have struggled with appalling winter weather and often seen their fuel drain away while stuck in snowbound traffic jams.  There is a growing feeling of helplessness among drivers with winter travel disruption and ever-rising fuel costs.” RAC motoring strategist Adrian Tink said the rises this year had been “unbelievable”. He said: “While the increases this year have been driven by a number of factors, you can’t get away from the fact that we have seen five rises in fuel duty in the past two years – and we’re due another one in January, plus a VAT rise”.  The news has led to the SNP calling for “real action not warm words” from the UK Government.  SNP Treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie has called on the chancellor to introduce a fuel duty regulator to even out petrol and diesel prices. He said: “It’s a national scandal that in an oil-rich country like Scotland we are paying the highest fuel prices in Europe.”

HGVs May Be Forced Into Using Snow Tyres in Winter
Heavy goods lorries may be forced to fit winter tyres after many of the long tailbacks over the last two weeks were blamed on jack-knifed juggernauts.  In the central belt almost daily delays, particularly at Harthill on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh, have been caused by articulated lorries blocking the road after skidding in the icy conditions.  First Minister Alex Salmond said heavy goods vehicles had caused more than 100 incidents in recent weeks. He revealed yesterday that Government officials have held talks with the Road Haulage Association (RHA) and the Freight Transport Association (FTA) about fitting the special tyres at the start of winter in line with some other European countries where they are compulsory at this time of year.  

Although there is no suggestion of legislation as yet as the power to change the law rests with Westminster, Mr Salmond said he was commissioning research into whether there was a “cost benefit” to such a move.  He said the study would look at what happens in countries “with greater experience of the extreme weather that we’ve endured in the last fortnight”.  Phil Flanders, director for Scotland and Northern Ireland of the RHA, said there would be a thorough examination of the results elsewhere but warned there was “no miracle solution”. He said: “The survey of our members into the recent incidents will ensure we hear straight from the horse’s mouth about what they have experienced out on the road.”  A report commissioned by the Scottish Government after the heavy snowfalls earlier this year suggested a list of actions that included closing roads in order to treat them before becoming impassable and ordering lorries into lay-bys to prevent jack-knifing as conditions deteriorated.  Mr Salmond claimed all the main recommendations in the report had been adopted and said work was also undertaken on long-term suggestions.

Scotland's Arctic Conditions May Last for A Bit Longer - About A Decade
Despite a thaw after some of the most extreme winter weather in half a century, Scotland was warned yesterday that Arctic conditions are set to return, and could become a winter feature for a decade.  Some meteorologists believe that this winter's epic snowfall and the January and February freeze mark the start of a prolonged series of bad winters. "What tends to happen is that bad winters come in clusters," said meteorologist Brian Gaze, founder of The Weather Outlook and the long-range forecaster who first predicted the Big Freeze last month. "Between the early 1990s and 2008 we had very unusual mild winters and a lot less snow than you could expect. "Late 2008 brought a significant change in winter with a lot of snow, then we had heavy snow at the beginning of this year and now the heavy snowfalls we've had recently. So I would suggest that in the next five to ten years we can expect a number of cold winters."

Gaze, who issued a severe weather warning on 16 November, five days before the Met Office warned of snow and below-average temperatures across the UK, said that the climate could be following a historic pattern.  "It's speculative, but you tend to find that in the 1940s there was a series of cold winters, it happened again in the 1960s, and again in the 1980s. Given that, it's possible that in the next five to ten years we can expect more colder winters, and there will be some fairly fierce weather with heavy snowfalls."

SNP to Offer Free University for All
SNP ministers are preparing to go into next year's election with a controversial pledge of "free" university education for all Scots, in contrast to plans to make English students pay thousands of pounds for their degree.  Sources close to Education Secretary Mike Russell have described any student payment by Scots as "increasingly irrelevant" to their own planned reforms of Scotland's university sector and are instead suggesting that higher education north of the border should be funded entirely from general taxation.  Meanwhile, English students studying in Scotland are likely to face a massive increase in their current £1,800 annual payments as Scottish ministers move to prevent a cross-Border rush of undergraduates trying to escape the new charges in England.

The SNP stance is certain to add to growing resentment in England over the cost of university education. The Con-Lib Coalition voted last week to shift almost all the burden of student finance from the taxpayer onto graduates, with average fees of around £7,500 a year to be introduced by 2012, repayable when they reach annual earnings of £21,000.  This week, the SNP Government will publish a green paper on university funding in Scotland. Following the English reforms, Scottish Government officials say that fears over a huge funding gap between England and Scotland have been over-blown, and that the pressure for a graduate repayments or deferred fee system is therefore not as pressing. The SNP abolished repayments for graduates in Scotland in 2007.