Some Scottish News & Views #70

This little effort is for the period ending 18th December 2010 and is the last for the year.  I’ve been able to include a couple of small named tongue-in-cheek articles which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Transport Minister Takes Responsibility
When the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across Scotland were so severely affected by the chaos that followed last week’s snowstorms and businesses suffered such potentially disastrous loss of sales and staff shortages, it is only right that someone takes responsibility. Stewart Stevenson may maintain that he put in place “significant efforts” to tackle the impact of the snow, but he knows that it was his words rather than actions that forced him to resign. He could do little to counter the effect of seeing Scotland cut in half and its two biggest cities paralysed.  Had he spent less time talking about the “first class” response to the situation and more time communicating directly with the thousands of people stranded in their vehicles on Scotland’s busiest roads, then he might have survived the political onslaught on his position. As it is, his successor, Keith Brown, will have to put in place plans to deal with a similar situation, even if the likelihood of it happening again on the same scale is slim.  However, with forecasters predicting more serious snowfall and low temperatures before Christmas, he may not have time to ease himself into the job.

Four Fishermen Rescued As Boat Sinks in Rough Seas
The crew onboard the Fraserburgh-registered Esorah issued a mayday reporting that they were taking in water about 100 miles north-east of Aberdeen. The call for help was picked up by crews aboard another fishing vessel, the Resilient, who then alerted Aberdeen Coastguard.  Coastguard teams mounted a major rescue operation and scrambled a helicopter from Sumburgh, while three offshore support vessels and the Resilient also made their way to the scene.  The four men managed to evacuate the 50ft prawn trawler Esorah and were found on a life-raft by supply vessel Porto Salvo.

Colin Wood, watch officer, for Aberdeen Coastguard said the area was being battered by north-westerly winds of between 35-40 knots, with waves of up to 16ft, when the incident happened. He added: “The crew of this fishing vessel were very fortunate they were able to evacuate to their life-raft after making their mayday call.  “Even though they were unable to give any information about their distress situation, they transmitted the most important piece of information – their position.

Scots Revealed to Be A Bunch of Scrooges (Bah! Humbug! - Robin)
The Scots have been exposed as a curmudgeonly breed in one of a blitz of festive surveys. Almost a third of us believe it is not important to meet up with friends at this time of the year.
Money worries and the cold snap are also cited as factors in limiting the Christmas cheer.
Psychologists say, however, that taking the time to plan and arrange a get-together with friends and family can be a relaxing experience in itself and the event can be therapeutic. A bit like anger management perhaps.

Barra Air Route Faces the Axe – Just Like Those Free Drams By iain maciver
As well as lining the stomach for a night out, doctors now say porridge is also the best thing to take for high blood pressure. I think everyone in Barra should have a few bowls every day. How else can they cope with news that our council is threatening their air link to save a mere £200,000?  That beach landing gets me every time. That curious mix of fear and exhilaration as the Twin Otter twists and turns approaching the Traigh Mhor, and I look down and see the waves coming closer and closer, could be no more. A strangulated gasp escapes me as the vulcanised rubber thumps the rippled shells and bounces back up again. That could all be a thing of the past. Still, I won’t have to worry about such big laundry bills either.

The residents of St Barr’s island are not to be trifled with. They are a determined lot. One of them is just off the phone. He says while there has to be pain, it must be shared equally by everyone in the chain of islands. Good point.  If the Barra air service is cut, he insists, so must the one from Stornoway, from the Uists and from Harris. Er? Oh, I get your point. No point in splitting hairs at this point. Planes have landed on the sands at Northton in the past. Patrols must be mounted immediately to stop that happening again.

We are all getting more militant. It’s not just those smelly students who gave the lovely Camilla and her escort such a frightful moment the other evening. Barrachs have long been better at revolting than us mild-mannered northeners. I bet it won’t be long before we see Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay organising demonstrations at Stornoway Airport. Airport protests are controversial but they can be effective. There were ones in London, Manchester and other places by a dedicated action group. I wish I could remember that group’s name. Maybe VABV could join up with them they could all work together under the banner of the protest group. Oh, I remember now what it was called. It was Plane Stupid. Yeah, that was it.  Actually, on second thoughts, maybe they should just keep the name Voluntary Action Barra and Vatersay. That sounds just fine.

Loganair has also made deep and far-reaching changes to the services from Stornoway and Benbecula. They are stopping the free drams. I must admit I had a few scoops of porridge when I heard that news. Not being blessed with the dashing good looks of our island’s frequent flyers like the councillors Angus Campbell and Alex Macdonald, I do sometimes struggle to get the attention of dolly birds at the best of times.  Yet the stewardesses on the Stornoway to Glasgow route seem a particularly fine bunch. When I have slipped them my best raised-eyebrow Roger Moore look, as if to ask if they have anything on that trolley that will excite me, they have been known to slip me an extra Vat 69 on occasion.

What is going to be the point of flying any more if you can’t make a toast with your plastic beaker while peering down over southernmost Skye? What wonderful sights you can see. The shimmering, blue-green beauty of Loch Alsh, the towering majesty of the Skye Bridge and the distressed puff-puffs from the pride of our nuclear submarine fleet rammed hard on to a shingle bank while being rammed amidships by a rescue tug. That was a few weeks ago. Now I hear, after £7million worth of repairs, the submarine HMS Astute, which is loaded with Tomahawk cruise missiles, is bust again. Blimey.

Of course, I blame the Scottish Government. In the middle of all our transport worries, the minister responsible for getting us from point A to point B goes and jacks it all in. What use is that?  If Stewart Stevenson, who is actually a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), is going to throw in the towel when he gets a bit of flak over ignoring a weather forecast and not putting out a few snowploughs, what would have happen when the campaign to save an entire island’s air service gets going? He should have taken more porridge.  Could he have withstood criticism from my new Save Our Drams In Transportation (SODIT) campaign? You don’t have to be a paid-up member of the fledgling Institute of Thirsty Air Passengers. But it helps.  Obviously, Alex Salmond was looking for a transport minister who knows these issues. He needed a minister who knows the islands and how ill-thought out decisions can make our lives difficult. And what else was Alasdair Allan, our MSP, doing with his time anyway?  Just one thing stopped him getting the job though. I’ve never known Alasdair to take a dram. How could you have a government minister tackling the ban on drams in the air who had no experience himself of the joys of supping while airborne? Alasdair, for the sake of your parliamentary career, change your life. I am not saying become a lush like everyone in the Labour Party. The occasional swift half on birthdays, holidays, away days and any days should suffice.

So Salmond sensibly went and appointed Keith Brown, a Falklands War veteran from down Stirling way, to take over. Never heard of him, I hear you say. Me neither but, as stuffed-up politicians often declare, I welcome the appointment. And I’ll tell you why. I looked up his register of interests. As a politician, he has been to various booze-related events and accepted, in the honourable tradition of Winston Churchill before him, a bottle or two here and there. The very man. I have high hopes for this fellow.  You know, I suspect it won’t be long before Brown comes up here and us ex-military types get together over a wee dram. He’d better have a good bowl of porridge first though.

Reprint Rush As Capital Hogmanay Tickets Caught Up in Snow Delays
Thousands of duplicate tickets for Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations may have to be issued amid fears that posted orders have gone astray in Scotland's clogged-up mail system. Organisers of the festivities have had to print off a huge batch of replacement passes for overseas revellers - even though some of them were paid for five months ago.  They have had to put contingency plans in place after the recent wintry weather was blamed for creating a huge backlog of festive mail.  Announcements have gone out on official Hogmanay websites after organisers were inundated with complaints and queries from overseas. It has emerged that the first batch of tickets was sent out less than two weeks ago.

A spokeswoman for the event said that anyone who had not received their tickets before leaving for the UK would be able to collect replacements at the office box office on the Royal Mile, which would remain open late on Hogmanay for last-minute arrivals.  No more tickets are to be sent overseas by post in the wake of the problems, while anyone booking from an address within the UK from now on will be offered the chance of picking them up in Edinburgh rather than risk them arriving late.  There is still widespread availability for the 2010-11 street party, which will have the same capacity as last year, even though tickets went on sale much earlier than the normal date of 1 October.  Organisers have come under fire for hiking up the price of tickets for the street party by 50 per cent - to £15 - as part of a drive to reduce the burden of the event on the taxpayer.

Husband Kills Himself After Shooting His Wife's Lover in Scots Village
A spurned husband shot his wife's lover before turning the gun on himself, after an argument in a small village in south-west Scotland.  Michael Paterson, 62, shot and injured his wife's new boyfriend in the garden of his house in the Old Bridge of Urr, a hamlet of 20 houses three miles from Castle Douglas in Kirkcudbrightshire.  Mr Paterson, who ran a successful business specialising in quad bikes and motorcycles, then ran off and shot himself in a field near his home. It is believed his estranged wife and their two teenage children were in the house when the tragedy unfolded.  It is thought his wife had left Mr Paterson one month earlier for 48-year-old Phil Sayers, who comes from the Thornhill area near Dumfries and is believed to work in a medical practice in Dumfries.   Mr Paterson's body was discovered later in a field near his house in the village by a couple walking their dog.

Saint Or Sinner, Rognvald of Orkney Got Things Done By Ron Ferguson
When Jo Grimond, the late MP for Orkney and Shetland, was asked, for the purposes of expenses, to put down his nearest railway station, he wrote down Bergen.  After all, Norway is only a skip and a jump away when you live in the Northern Isles. Look at it the other way. The Vikings knew that the Northern Isles were only a skip and a jump away from them, and that’s why they headed here in their longships, looking for land and treasure. When Orcadians saw the longships on the horizon, they knew it wasn’t the Sunday School picnic kids arriving. However, many of the Viking warriors settled happily in these islands. They married local girls and brought up families and went to the carpet bowls every Tuesday. Actually, I just made that last bit up, but you get my drift.

The Vikings certainly had a reputation as fierce warriors. You can tell by their names. You didn’t argue with Viking gang lords like Thorfinn the Skullsplitter and Eirik Bloodaxe. These guys weren’t Quakers.  Thorfinn certainly provided a radical cure for headaches: he chopped your heid off. There were some gentler Vikings, though. Some were more interested in peace than war. Saint Magnus of Orkney, obviously.  Magnus was a deeply religious man, if the Sagas are to be believed. You wouldn’t have found him dancing at the Fusion nightclub at Kirkwall. Mind you, that’s mainly because the Fusion club didn’t exist in the 11th century.

According to the Sagas, Magnus was married for 10 years yet remained chaste – “whenever the urge of temptation came upon him, he would plunge into cold water and pray to God for aid”. Jings. Plunging into the freezing seas around Orkney certainly triggers an immediate retraction, even unto this present day, but that’s a bit excessive. Joint earl of Orkney in the 12th century, Magnus accepted martyrdom for the sake of the peace of Orkney. He was a saintly kind of saint.

His nephew, Saint Rognvald, wasn’t your run-of-the-mill standard-issue saint, and there’s still controversy about whether he was canonised through the proper channels. Anyway, I want to be a cheerleader for Rognvald. He was a very popular young man in the taverns of southern Norway. A warrior, poet, musician and adventurer, he was often asked to sort out disputes. After one successful mediation, King Sigurd granted him half of Orkney. Rognvald made a vow to Saint Magnus that if he could secure the earldom, he would build a stone minster at Kirkwall “more magnificent than any in Orkney”. And that is how St Magnus Cathedral came to be.  Rognvald is an earthy, more robust character: and while I can admire Magnus and his awesome sacrifice, I personally find Rognvald to be a more congenial character. Just as I’d rather spend a social evening with Rabbie Burns than with John Knox, so I get the feeling that Earl Rognvald would have been better company than Magnus Erlendson. But all this probably says more about me than it does about Magnus or Rognvald.

Before the building of St Magnus Cathedral started in 1137, Rognvald went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with pals such as Oddi the Little, Thorbjorn the Black, Thorkel Hook-eye, and Sigmund Fish-hook. Crazy names, crazy guys.  At the seaport of Narbonne, the beautiful Queen Ermingerd invited Rognvald and his friends to dinner. Their eyes locked across a smoke-filled banqueting hall, and taking the Queen’s hand, the handsome Earl of Orkney sat her on his knee, and, according to the Saga, “for the rest of the day they had a great deal to say to one another”.

No cold showers there, then. The earl made a song about the woman he called

Ermingerd the Exquisite:
You’re a slender delight
to grasp and to cuddle,
my golden-locked girl.

Resisting entreaties to stay put, Rognvald and his merry men next boarded a passing ship near Spain and relieved it of its treasure. On reaching the Holy Land, Rognvald and Sigmund Fish-hook swam across the Jordan. There’s something quite touching about these young Orkney blades splashing boisterously in the holy river. Back in Orkney, Rognvald ruled for 22 years, until he was killed in Caithness on 20th August 1158. His bones are interred in a pillar in the cathedral he dedicated to St Magnus.  So was Rognvald a saint? Certainly not in conventional terms. In the Bible, the word translated “saint” actually refers to ordinary Christians. The “saints” were the church. The punters.

Later on, the fat ecclesiastical controllers reserved canonisation for people of high-octane piety and holiness, particularly martyrs. There are currently more than 10,000 Roman Catholic saints, and that’s after the list was purged of people who never actually existed (even though miracles were attributed to them).

To be honest, I’m not much into this sainthood stuff. At the very least I’d want its terms of reference to be broadened. The ecclesiastical adulation of virginity seems a bit dodgy to me, and too many of the people on the approved list of the sanctified seem to be rather tedious bores who would throw a pall over any party by trying to turn the wine back into water. I don’t think that being a saint should be about living a perfect life and longing to be translated immediately to heaven. I knew some nicotine-stained, purple-veined, bawdy women in Easterhouse in Glasgow who exhibited heroically generous care for elderly or vulnerable people but who’ll never make it on to any official holy list.

What I particularly like about Saint Rognvald is that he got things done. Despite his sins, or maybe because of them – did some of the pirate booty fund part of the building project? – he made the island cathedral known as “the glory and wonder of the north”, happen. So raise a glass to the memory of the earthy, exuberant, irreverently reverent, life-loving, life-giving, flawed Rognvald of Orkney, who helps give saints a good name.

Scotland Frozen Out by Retailers
The impact of last week’s extraordinary snowfall across Scotland continues to be felt with many retailers now suspending deliveries to Scottish addresses. In the run-up to Christmas this decision will be met with horror by families who were planning to do their shopping online.  The internet has enhanced considerably the options open to many households in rural and remote parts of the country, with goods previously unavailable now just the click of a mouse away.  Stopping deliveries will hit Scotland far harder than other parts of the United Kingdom.

Customers must continue to press retailers to resume normal deliveries in the run-up to Christmas.  One advantage of the delivery embargo, however, is that local retailers can expect an upsurge in trade.  The internet has increased competition for independent shops in the last decade and many have gone to the wall trying to compete with international online brands. Those that have survived should be fleet of foot enough to capitalise on the situation. Perhaps it is time for local authorities and retailers to dust down those shop local campaigns.

Police Target Life Policies in Fight Against Gangsters (not a bad idea- Robin)
Police have opened a new front in the war against organised crime by revealing the names of gangland figures to insurance firms and life assurers who then massively increase their premiums.  Detectives in Strathclyde have become the first in Britain to adopt the tactic as they live up to a pledge “to do everything possible within the law” to make life miserable for underworld figures.  Officers are passing on confidential files on gangsters – whether they have been convicted or not – to stop their families cashing in if they die in one of Scotland’s turf wars. They are also understood to be warning motor insurers about individuals who lead criminal lifestyles.

However, it is through life assurance they can do most to hit gangsters in the pocket. Underworld figures routinely take out huge policies to make their families rich if they are killed. Such individuals usually pay the same as anyone else for their insurance, because – unless they have convictions – firms do not know exactly how risky they are to insure. This has led to honest premium-payers picking up the tab.  Strathclyde Assistant Chief Constable George Hamilton said: “We have now signed information-sharing protocols with a number of high-profile insurance companies. This even runs to the extent that we let these firms understand the liability they take on when they provide life assurance to somebody involved in criminal activity.

The assistant chief constable said Police forces have long worked closely with insurance companies – not least because such firms are often the victims of scams, including the “crash-for-cash” fake road traffic accidents that have become a staple of organised crime. A spokeswoman for the Association of British Insurers said: “Insurance companies use lifestyle factors to calculate premiums – and being a gangster is a pretty high-risk lifestyle. “Gangsters would be at a much higher risk of dying than somebody of the same age who did not participate in criminal activity.”  It was revealed yesterday that Strathclyde’s interventions unit, the police squad targeting the fronts of organised crime, had prevented nearly £25 million of public contracts going to firms with underworld links in the past eight months.

Forth Crossing 'Vital for Scotland'
Plans to build a new £2.3 billion bridge over the Firth of Forth are "absolutely vital to ensure Scotland's economic well-being", the country's new transport minister has said.  Keith Brown, who stepped into the role at the weekend after Stewart Stevenson quit, spoke out as MSPs debated the legislation - the Forth Crossing Bill - which must be passed for the bridge to be built.  With cables on the existing road bridge having been affected by corrosion, Mr Brown said: "The problems with the Forth Road Bridge are well known." He added: "Should the crossing be restricted or not available there will be dire economic and social consequences. That can't be allowed to happen." The new bridge will take five to six years to build, with the transport minister adding: "The construction task itself will be huge. It will be the biggest single project in Scotland for a generation."  But he stressed: "This Bill is absolutely necessary. The Forth replacement crossing project is absolutely vital to ensure Scotland's economic well-being."  He also told MSPs the construction code of practice for the project would provide "the highest possible levels of protection" for the public against disruption during the work.  The Bill was introduced in 2009 and Mr Brown said work should start in 2011.  The Bill to start construction of a new Forth road bridge next year was overwhelmingly approved by MSPs.

Salmond in Call Over Scottish Water (and we’re selling our public utilities - Robin)
Boosting the role of Scotland's publicly owned water utility represents the "most enormous" opportunity, First Minister Alex Salmond has said.  The SNP leader was promoting his plan to expand the functions of Scottish Water after the launch of a public consultation on its role. The Scottish Government wants to keep the company in public hands and use borrowing powers, outlined in current UK legislation, to issue bonds and raise more money to re-invest. Mr Salmond said: "We see this as the most enormous economic and social opportunity for Scotland."  The UK Government's Scotland Bill, which aims to give borrowing powers to the Scottish administration, will help the water plans, he added.  At a briefing on the proposals, the First Minister said: "Scottish Water has substantial revenue, it's a profitable company. "People have said previously you've got to privatise this, or mutualise it, to do that. With borrowing powers, this is not necessary at all."

Call for Wind Farm Benefit to Be Increased
Helmsdale's recently appointed development officer is wanting to negotiate an increase in Scottish and Southern Energy's Gordonbush Wind Farm community benefit fund.  The mechanism for approving applications to, and distributing the monies from, the fund is also set to be scrutinised at a meeting in Helmsdale next month. The meeting, on Thursday, 13 January, will be between members of the four community councils affected - Rogart, Golspie, Brora and Helmsdale - and has been organised by Helmsdale's development officer, Pete Carson.  Until now, the four community councils have registered their approval of a system operated by several other wind farm companies, using the Scottish Community Foundation (SCF) to process funding applications and recommend approvals. The applications are then put before community council panels for final approval or rejection. At present, Brora and Golspie communities are being offered a one-off initial payment of £300,000, which would be seen as a "pot" - ie not directly split between the two communities. Groups would bid for funding through a formal application.  Additionally, there is a further total "pot" of £140,000 per annum for the four communities.

A meeting is to be held in January by SCF with the four community councils' representatives to discuss the setting up of a panel to consider the recommendations put before them by SCF. But Pete Carson said "I have only latterly become involved with this because I was only appointed to this post in July this year. By that time a lot of work had already been done in connection with the Gordonbush Wind Farm. Also I have only recently been co-opted on to Helmsdale Community Council. I have no axe to grind with the SCF, but I know that there are people who are not happy that a local application for funding from the community benefit should be initially assessed by SCF - and it is they who recommend approval or not.  "The feeling is that we should be able to deal with these applications ourselves, within our own communities. Maybe Rogart, Golspie and Brora Community Councils are quite happy for SCF to handle it, and that's fine, but Helmsdale may not be.  What I am suggesting is that we all get together to discuss this fully prior to our scheduled meeting with SCF representatives on January 20."  Mr Carson, who was appointed Helmsdale's local development officer in July this year, also believes that SSE could well afford to be paying out more in community benefit.  At Monday's monthly meeting of Golspie Community Council, chairman Iain Miller told members that he had been approached by Mr Carson, asking Golspie members to attend the meeting.  Mr Miller said: "My personal feeling is that we are getting a fair offer from SSE and that SCF have a proven track record.  The windfarm companies don't have to offer this money. Scottish and Southern Energy, if they wanted to, could just pull in their horns. But I think we should go to the meeting."

Stornoway Coastguard Station Under Threat
Scotland will be left with only one full-time Coastguard station to cover more than 6,000 miles of shoreline, under radical plans that have sparked fears about maritime safety.

Controversial proposals announced by shipping minister Mike Penning will result in only Aberdeen - currently one of five stations north of the Border - continuing to provide a 24-hour emergency service for shipping, the oil and fishing industries and other seafarers in the waters around Scotland's coastline.  The Forth and Clyde Coastguard stations are to be axed while the axe remains over Stornoway Coastguard station after the UK Coalition Government fudged their decision on the future of the emergency service.  

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has hit out that Scotland will be left with only one coastguard station that will be manned 24 hours a day, and a second station at either Stornoway or Shetland operating during daylight hours. In all, the proposals from the UK Government will see the number of maritime co-ordination centres cut from 18 to 8.  Commenting Angus MacNeil said: “These proposals from the UK Government show a Government that put saving money before saving lives, and will have a detrimental effect on many communities across the UK.  “This decision is one that makes me furious and comes at a time when the seas around our coasts are getting busier and busier with ship traffic. The UK Government are proving here that they are getting their priorities wrong, and this decision will come at a cost.  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, meanwhile, will vigorously oppose proposals to shut either Shetland or Stornoway Coastguard Station and are setting up a Task Group to fight the closure moves.

The Comhairle is seeking an urgent meeting to discuss the move which, they say, would put lives at risk, costs jobs and bring serious environmental consequences.  Comhairle Leader Angus Campbell said: “I have spoken to the Leader of Shetland Council today and we have agreed that we will not be set against each other. Rather we will fight a joint campaign to retain both Shetland and Stornoway Coastguard Stations.  Coming on top of the proposal that the tug is to be removed from the Western Isles this is outrageous. I believe there is a real risk of loss of life if these proposals are allowed to go ahead and a danger to the environment.

Scots Fishing Fleet Hit Again – But There is Good News Too
Scotland’s fishing fleet faces more hefty quota cuts but also a few important gains in 2011 after more than two days of talks in Brussels.  Losses for some North Sea and West coast fisheries were not as bad as expected, while increases for others were hailed as major achievements for the negotiating team. Scottish fishing leaders were thankful the deal was not a lot worse and Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the outcome was fair.  Even so, the minister said he recognised that many people in the industry faced another very tough year.  Mr Lochhead added:  “We have done well to persuade the rest of Europe to listen to the science and help Scotland reduce discards (dead fish thrown overboard) in our seas.”  Mr Lochhead said parts of the fishing industry would “continue to face tough challenges” during 2011 but viable catching opportunities had been secured for another year.

Two Pedestrians Killed in Glasgow City Centre Car Crash
Two people have died after being struck by a car in a city centre.  They were pedestrians who were hit by a Range Rover in Glasgow.  Three pedestrians and the driver of the car were taken to hospital after the accident just before 11am at the junction of North Hanover Street and Killermont Street, near to the city`s Buchanan bus station.  Strathclyde Police said two men and two women had been involved in the incident and that two women had been taken to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, while the two men were taken to the city's Western Infirmary.

Snow Brings Swathes of Scotland to Halt Yet Again
Vast swathes of northern Scotland ground to a standstill yesterday (Friday) as some of the heaviest snowfalls of the winter, blizzards and drifting snow caused chaos across the area.
Almost 500 schools were forced to close in Aberdeenshire, Moray, the Highlands and the Western and Northern isles as the atrocious conditions left Caithness cut off by road from the rest of Scotland until midday, when gritting and ploughing crews finally managed to open a 54-mile stretch of the A9 from Brora to Thurso.  High winds caused snowdrifts more than 2ft deep in places and a number of drivers were stranded in their cars for a time yesterday morning on the A92 coastal road between Inverbervie and Stonehaven.

Northern Constabulary warned motorists against non-essential travel. Throughout the night the force mounted special patrols on snow-covered routes to assist drivers in difficulty. Coastguard Rescue teams in a number of areas throughout the Highlands and Islands were also deployed to help police and medical staff battling the treacherous conditions.  On the island of Benbecula, coastguards used their 4x4 vehicle to transport medical staff to the local hospital and Stornoway Coastguard also transported Uists and Barra Hospital staff who had been unable to get to work.  Northern Constabulary had to rescue several drivers stranded near Halkirk in Caithness in "atrocious" conditions.

The Arctic conditions - due to spread to the rest of Scotland over the weekend - also hit rail and air services in the area. Aberdeen airport was closed until 9:30am yesterday. All offshore helicopter flights were suspended. Flights were also disrupted at Inverness airport. Flights to Barra were cancelled until next week as the only planes able to land on the island's beach runway are out of action, causing problems for travellers heading for the island for the Christmas holidays. Rail services were also affected, with no trains between Inverness and Kyle of Lochalsh or between Ardgay and Wick. On the main Aberdeen to Inverness line, ScotRail was operating a shuttle service between Inverness and Elgin and between Aberdeen and Inverurie. It was unable to run alternative bus transport between Inverurie and Elgin due to the road conditions.

Weather: the Grim Forecast Published Date: 18 December 2010
• Orkney and Shetland: Heavy snow - up to 10cm expected, with possibly up to 20cm accumulating in places. There is a continuing risk of widespread icy roads and heavy snow into next week.

• Grampian: Heavy snow - 5-10cm snow were expected yesterday, and up to 20cm is accumulating in places.

• Western Isles: Heavy snow.

• Strathclyde and the west of Scotland: Widespread icy roads and heavy snow. Further snow showers are likely in some parts, and some of these could be heavy.

• Central, Tayside and Fife: Widespread icy roads & heavy snow. Further snow showers are likely in some areas.

• South-west Scotland, Lothian and the Borders: Widespread icy roads & heavy snow. Further snow showers are likely in some parts.

Borders Syndicate Wins Over £900k in Lottery Draw (some good news for a change-Robin)
A father and daughter scooped more than £100,000 each when their work syndicate won a share of the Lotto jackpot.  Laura Ormiston, 24, battled through snow in the Borders to buy a ticket for Saturday's draw for her workmates.  The eight-strong group went on to win £927,429 in the National Lottery draw.  Ms Ormiston, who has been in the syndicate for five years, said: "I've never won the lottery before and I've never won really anything before in my life. It's a big shock, but a good one.  The Graham Galashiels branch syndicate has been playing the National Lottery since it launched in 1994, submitting four lines - two lucky dips and two sets of regular numbers - every Wednesday and Saturday.  They were one of five ticket-holders who matched six numbers in the draw to share the £4.6 million jackpot.

Fight to Protect 'Hallowed' Sites of Scots Battlefields
They are hallowed places where thousands gave their lives in battles that set the path of Scottish history. But they have often been overlooked, forgotten, or buried under roads or housing developments.  Now Historic Scotland, the Scottish Government agency tasked with safeguarding the country's historic environment, has released a new inventory of 17 historic battlefield sites in Scotland to give them greater protection in future planning decisions.  Detailed maps released today show historians' best guess of where armies marched and fought, with some areas already heavily developed.  The Inventory of Historic Battlefields does not offer new legal protections, but aims to stir local community interest, raise the sites' profiles, and help planners to keep what remains as "sustainable" historic sites.  The battle sites range from Bannockburn - partly buried under modern Stirling and still seen as threatened by development - to the lesser-known but brutal and bloody Battle of Pinkie, in 1547, near Musselburgh and Wallyford.  Up to 15,000 Scots died at Pinkie, historians believe, several times more than Culloden, in a pitched battle between the Scots and the English armies of Henry VIII.

But while the Culloden battlefield is a major National Trust for Scotland attraction with a visitor museum, Pinkie lacks site markers and is termed "culturally invisible".  Culture minister Fiona Hyslop said: "Many legendary battles took place in Scotland and the famous figures who fought in them, such as Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn and Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden, are known around the world.  Not only do battlefields form an important part of our sense of identity, they also have enormous potential for attracting tourists, as well as for general recreation."

The inventory begins with Bannockburn in 1314, and continues with Dupplin Moor in 1332 - fought between supporters of Robert the Bruce's son, David II, and the Balliol clan, and said to be the first demonstration of the power of the English longbow. It includes battles between Scottish clans, between Presbyterian Covenanters and government forces, and between English and Scottish armies. With one battle often setting the scene for the next 400 years of history, the list ends with the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  The inventory is designed to "help local planning authorities and other public bodies" to take battlefields into account in decisions, says Historic Scotland, to "manage change within battlefields in a sustainable way".

The Battle of Stirling Bridge, where William Wallace defeated the English in 1297, has been extensively built over and does not appear on the list - although it is under consideration among further sites to be added.  Dr Tony Pollard, director of the Centre for Battlefield Archeology at Glasgow University, said: "The great thing about this element of our heritage is that it covers such a long period. Everybody has had a go at everybody else over the centuries. The Americans have a concept of hallowed ground, where people gave their lives for a cause they believe in. On an international level we have to be seen as respectful of these sites.

Wishing you all peace and happiness this Christmas and throughout the coming year and have a joyous and safe Hogmanay.   I hope to be back with you in January 2011 so until then good health to you all , take care of your loved ones and may God go with you - Robin

Last Updated (Sunday, 19 December 2010 01:43)