Some Scottish News & Views #71

Well back again for another year of challenging the Murdoch empire.  I hope you have all survived Hogmanay and are getting set-up for the various Burns celebrations around the place.  This little effort is for the period ending 15th January 2011.  I’ve been able to include a couple of small named tongue-in-cheek articles which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Scotland's Weather: Eighth Closure At Airport As Snow Returns

Fresh concerns were raised yesterday over the ability of Scotland's busiest airport to handle bad weather after dozens of flights were cancelled or delayed following snowfalls across the country.  Edinburgh Airport had to be closed for an eighth time since the end of November after staff struggled to clear around four inches of snow.  Some 20 departures and 16 arrivals were cancelled after airport operator, BAA, was unable to open the runway until 12 noon.   A similar number of other flights were subject to delays, while two flights were diverted to other airports.

Fife, Tayside and Lothian and Borders police forces warned people only to undertake car journeys when absolutely necessary, given the hazardous conditions on some roads. Further severe weather warnings until lunchtime Monday were issued by the Met Office for most parts of Scotland, with drivers warned of the dangers of black ice.  Heavy snow was predicted for Strathclyde, central Scotland, and the north and west Highlands. A spokesman for the Met Office said temperatures were expected to have dipped as low as -6C in the Highlands overnight.  However, it said snow showers were likely to die out later today, with temperatures rising tomorrow.

Mike Russell's Local Work Comes Under Fire
It is one of the most isolated schools in the country, way out on the tip of the Kintyre peninsula. But Mike Russell would be keeping his appointment there none the less.
It was 5 November, a Friday, and Scotland's powerful education secretary had a meeting booked with the parents of the closure-threatened Southend Primary. There are 370,000 primary school children in Scotland. Tiny Southend, a dozen miles from the coast of Ireland, houses just 26 of them. But for the parliamentary candidate for Argyll and Bute, whose future hangs on a nail-biting election contest in a few months time in the area, the fate of those 26 pupils had particular importance.  Russell was "very helpful", say parents who attended the meeting. First, he informed them of his conflicted position. As education secretary, Russell could not be seen to be taking a side. Robert Millar, a local parent who attended the meeting, said: "He made that quite clear before he started. He said I can't comment about the school and say anything with the job I've got." But then, he went on to advise them about the bigger picture. "What he did do was give us a few people to get in touch with, including the Scottish Rural Schools Network (which campaigns for the retention of rural schools]."

For all concerned, the meeting was a success. But this week, Russell's assiduous local work in what he hopes will soon be his home patch is under growing scrutiny. Opposition parties want to know whether he would have been quite so helpful to schools in parts of the country where he isn't trying to win a close election fight. Local council critics claim he has blurred the boundaries between his job as education secretary and his position as a local candidate, allowing local people to think they have the ear of the minister, and riding roughshod over ministerial rules which insist the two roles be kept separate. And, having become so closely involved with schools across the area, council chiefs are now querying whether the Scottish Government can be relied on as a neutral final arbiter. Russell has long been one of the SNP's most confident and bullish performers. But has he this time over-stepped the mark?

Many neutral observers in the region say Russell's concerns about the school closure proposals were justified: the consultation exercise was seen widely as unpopular and flawed; a re-think, approved last week, will take place which has more chance of winning public approval across the area. A spokesman for the SNP said last night: "The real issue is that the Argyll and Bute administration had to withdraw their flawed plans to close 25 local primary schools, at the special meeting demanded by the SNP, which is excellent news for pupils and parents." But the wider and separate point remains about whether he was right to get involved quite so closely.

There are rarely any dull moments with Michael Russell. He stands accused of meddling and breaking codes of behaviour. His supporters would argue, however, that this is simply a case of a clear-sighted politician getting things done which needed doing. This week the Parliament returns to business, with Labour promising to raise the Argyll case with him. The sparks will continue to fly for a while yet.

Highlands Lose £20m of Health Funding
Health projects in parts of the Highlands will be shelved after the Scottish government withdrew £20 million the local health board thought it had banked.   Last month the government told health boards they will no longer be able to claim money which they kept for earmarked schemes that had yet to begin.  Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, who has been investigating the move, has been told by the board's chief executive Roger Gibbins that unless schemes are already legally committed or specifically mentioned in the government's Budget then they will not progress through public capital funding. This will have an impact on day surgery services at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, renal provision at Raigmore and Invergordon, work at MacKinnon Memorial Hospital on Skye, and dental services in Portree and Oban.

VAT 'Admission' Could Save Ski Resorts £1m Bill
Scottish ski centres paid more than £1 million to the Treasury last year because of VAT charged on ski lifts classed as private transport.  Campaigners fighting the levy said it puts Scottish resorts at a disadvantage when competing against other ski centres in Europe and raises the cost of the sport artificially high.  They now hope that an admission from an MP could cut the recently-increased 20 per cent rate (up from 17.5 per cent) to just 5 per cent. This would mean the five Scottish ski centres saving about £800,000 a year which could be put back into the industry and stimulate tourism while reducing costs to skiers. Presently an adult day pass at Cairngorm costs £30.80, at Glenshee £27 and at Nevis Range £29.

Although the industry is currently enjoying a rare boom period after two seasons of heavy and prolonged snowfall, it is still in a precarious financial position. But, uniquely in Europe, Britain classes individual seats on ski lifts as separate vehicles for VAT purposes, meaning that the majority of ski passes in Scotland are more expensive. Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Dave Thompson took the matter up last year with Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury - a former public relations boss at Cairngorm National Park Authority who is based in Aviemore- asking him to end the charging of VAT on sales of ski-lift passes.

He was previously told that an exemption for public transport applies only to vehicles capable of carrying more than ten passengers, whereas ski lifts typically carry no more than three passengers. But Alexander passed the matter to Treasury colleague Justine Greening, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury who said that, although European rules meant that Britain had no power to introduce a new area of VAT exemption, a reduction of VAT to 5 per cent was possible.  Thompson said: "Ms Greening's acknowledgement that a reduction to 5 per cent would be possible is a major breakthrough. Her letter does not reject any reduction in VAT for ski lifts."  Heather Negus, marketing manager for the Nevis Range resort, said: "If the VAT rate was reduced to 5 per cent, then we have calculated that we would be able to reduce the costs of an adult day pass at Nevis Range, currently £29, by almost £4, which we know would represent a welcome saving to our customers, especially in the current economic climate."

Cal Mac to Consult Over Sunday Harris Service
Cal Mac has commenced consultations in Tarbert over the introduction of a Sunday service into the port, the only Western Isles entry point without a seven day passenger service.  There were two scheduled Sunday sailings from Uig in Skye into Tarbert over Christmas and New Year to avoid potential backlogs created by a three day weekend.  The consultation is for winter sailings only, and via Lochmaddy on North Uist each time.  At the moment the carry ferry, Hebrides sails empty from Tarbert each Sunday to service the route between Lochmaddy and Uig. Now, Cal Mac want to carry passengers and vehicles as well. Opinion in Harris is said to be divided on the issue.   However Donald Crichton, Labour candidate for the Western Isles, has called on the Scottish Government to hold and fund a local referendum to allow the people of Harris to decide whether they want the ferry on Sunday or not.

Mr Crichton said: “There should be no Sunday ferry to Tarbert without the people of Harris having a real say and a meaningful vote in deciding whether the sailings should go ahead. After 15 years of sham consultations by CalMac, it is time to stop these charades and let the people decide. There should be a local referendum to allow the people of Harris to decide whether they want the ferry on Sunday or not.  I am personally opposed to the introduction of a Sunday sailing but I don’t have the right to impose my personal views on this issue upon others, and neither does CalMac, nor the Scottish Government.  I will respect the outcome of a referendum if it differs from my own personal views, and so should the Board of Calmac and the SNP Government.”

Special Deal for Island Airfares
Passengers travelling on Loganair’s off-peak service between Stornoway and Inverness are being offered a New Year treat with the extension of a popular fare deal across the whole of 2011.  A special offer introduced in November gave passengers the chance to travel on the mid-morning flight BE6952, which departs Stornoway at 10:50 or 11:50 local time, at a discounted rate.   Following the success of the offer, the airline has made the decision to offer the fare deal to passengers travelling throughout the year. Passengers can travel at £34.43 one-way for Air Discount Scheme members, including all taxes. Non-members will pay £47.63 one-way including all taxes. These low fares remain available right up to the day of flight departure.

George’s Plans for Rounding Up His Sheep Are Now Up in the Air By iain maciver
Getting presents is such a hassle. I don’t mean to moan, but it’s not just the money. Actually, it is the money, but there’s the palaver of last-minute shopping if you’ve left it too late. Mrs X says I’m not allowed to spend much on her. Fine, I thought. Things are tight. I won’t bother. Maybe something small, then. A few days to go and I haven’t yet even thought about it. I should have learned to plan by now.  A year or two back, finding myself in the wee Co-op mulling over which wine to mull, I thought I would nip next door to Kenny Froggan’s, the pharmacists and fragrancers of distinction.  The assistant was very helpful with suggestions. I didn’t want to admit I had only about £11 left after buying the wine, oranges and cinnamon and the brandy, vital when mulling anything.  I should have told her I’d just about enough for a thimbleful of scent.  “Let’s see what we have,” she purred, presenting a bottle of something very French – costing £70. Gulp. Divine, I told her, but it was not quite what I had in mind. Sorry.   Still smiling broadly, she came back with a smaller bottle. A snip at £50. Pretending to consider it earnestly, I shook my head.  Patient as ever, she brought a teensy-weensy bottle. Only £19.99.  Er, not quite what I was looking for, either. Poor woman. She’s getting harassed. I’ll come clean, I decided.   “What I’m looking for is something really cheap.”  
She gave me a mirror.

Not everyone is as financially constricted, though. Despite the state of the economy, some people are thinking big. Take George Gawk, who is just about to start flying lessons. He read about the RAF pensioning off all its Harrier jump jets and had a brainwave.   Like all environmentally-minded crofters, George always ponders how any old implements he has in his byre can be recycled. He couldn’t help wondering what use some vertical and short-take-off jets could be put to.  “They go up and down like a helicopter. I could use them for rounding up my sheep,” he declared. “I could then sell the quad.”  You may think it is a wacky idea, but a few days on and it has germinated into a full-blown business plan. George is now drafting a letter to the chief of the defence staff, offering to relieve him of at least one clapped-out jump jet, and more if Western Isles Enterprise can be persuaded to come up with a package of grant funding.  He tells me his robust planning strategies also include on-island servicing of the 700mph technological miracle that the Argentinians called the Black Death after our Harriers shot down 25 of their planes without incurring one casualty. “My secret is Ronnie Jappy, who used to be a postman,” whispers George. “He was a mechanic in the RAF. I’ve offered him the contract for servicing the Harrier. He’s well up for it.”  

George also plans to contact Hector Low, our local veterinary surgeon. Because the vet has to tramp over hills and moors to get to sick sheep and cows, George will suggest he gives him a lift in his Harrier to get there quicker. He’ll get a bill, of course. So that’ll pay Ronnie’s wages.  And he wondered if the Journal would like to sponsor the Harrier. Well, er . . .

“Good, that’s settled. I’ll get MathieSign in Back to put a slogan down the side of the jet. It’s going to say: ‘Sponsored by the Press and Journal, the best read in the north – except on Mondays when it has the nonsense by the cove from Bernera.’ Very snappy, George. You should have been in advertising.  I don’t know how he can afford it, but funding can come from unexpected places. A housewife I know in South in Harris was looking for some way to check if her husband was slipping over the border to see his old girlfriend in Balallan.
“I wish I could afford to keep tabs on him,” she told me.

Now the council has put a web-cam on the Clisham, the hill he has to drive over to get up to Lewis. The pictures are on the council website. They say it’s to check on the road conditions, but my friend uses it to check if her man has headed farther north when he goes up to Tarbert for a screwdriver.  Well done, comhairle.

Meanwhile, if you are thinking of buying me socks, yes please. I buy my boots with enough room to put on extra socks when it’s this cold. That’s what I did on Saturday, taking my constitutional in the castle grounds with the dog.  To be really cosy, I put on a third pair. If you tell anyone you have on three pairs, remember it’s an extra pair, not an extra sock.

That’s because I bumped into a lovely local woman who had her little chow-chow out for a breath of fresh air. She complained loudly about her freezing tootsies as she had to go off-road through the snow when the mutt wouldn’t obey her.  “I don’t have that problem,” I said. “I’m wearing three socks.”  I know, I should have said three socks on each foot, but I didn’t.

She giggled at first. Then she stopped and glared at me.  “Three socks? How on earth can you wear three socks? One on the left foot, one on the right foot and one . . .”  Her mouth fell open. Before I had a chance to say anything, she blasted: “Too much information. Why on earth did you tell me that? Now I’m going to have that image in my head for the rest of the festive season. You have ruined my Christmas. Well, thank you very much.”

No, that’s not what I meant. I meant three pairs. Hello.  Too late. She had stomped off, dragging her poor wet chow-chow behind her.

Decision 'Made Already' on Single Scots Police Force and Fire Service
The justice secretary has launched a public consultation, which will run through February, March and April, on police and fire structures.  He made clear that the status quo, of eight services in both cases, was not an option.  He backed a single fire service, and SNP sources say he is leaning towards a solitary Scottish police force, and feels the case for three or four regional forces has not been adequately made.   It was revealed earlier this month that Mr MacAskill had told Patrick Shearer, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) and chief constable of Dumfries and Galloway, that he supported a single force. However, speaking in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, he said he still had concerns about local accountability in the face of centralisation.

He also insisted he would not introduce a system where the justice secretary alone was in charge of hiring and firing the chief of police. Both Labour and the Conservatives have backed a single force, with the Scottish Liberal Democrats the only one of the main parties to oppose it.  Police sources say the headquarters could be in the same building as the Scottish Policing College at Tulliallan Castle in Kincardine, Fife, rather than in Edinburgh or Glasgow, which they say would go some way to deflecting accusations of a Central Belt bias.

Mr MacAskill said: "In a single-force model, the savings can be significant, and that is necessary in these financial times.  It can also provide a better service locally - devolving more decision-making control to local commanders who know and account to their local communities."  He was even clearer in his support for a national fire service, saying: "In our view, a single fire and rescue service, with a national framework and standards, will be best at reducing unnecessary duplication and cost, and make sure maximum funding is channelled to the front line."  Although he announced two consultations, Councillor Barbara Grant, community safety spokeswoman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), believes the justice secretary has already reached a conclusion.  "I am, to say the least, disappointed that the Scottish Government has obviously already made its mind up on a single fire and a single police service," she said. "The consultation is for others to disprove that this is the best model."  The plans face strong opposition in the north of Scotland. Chief Constable Ian Latimer, of Northern Constabulary, said: "I have made known my professional position, which is that the model which would most benefit the maintenance of excellent community policing in the Highlands and Islands is for this force to remain at the centre of it."

MSP Asks About Consultation Contradiction
Western Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan, has written to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to ask them why they are centralising coastguard services when their own their operational procedures demand that staff have local knowledge of a specific area of the coastline.  Dr Allan pointed out that the Coastguard’s Operational procedures state: “It is necessary that all grades of Coastguard Officers on first joining a new station should acquire a thorough local knowledge of all available Declared and Additional SAR facilities, navigational hazards, coastal features, shipping activity and potential SAR problems within the Area”  Dr Allan has asked why, despite this rule, and despite the fact that coastguards are regularly examined on their local knowledge, the MCA are proposing centralising services to such an extent that nobody could possibly have meaningful local knowledge of the entire Scottish coastline.  Alasdair Allan commented: “I have written to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to ask them to explain the apparent contradiction between their operational procedures and their current attempts to centralise services. If we are going to have the whole of Scotland served by a single full-time centre, it is completely unrealistic to expect staff there to have local knowledge of the whole Scottish Coastline and North Atlantic.

“I am deeply concerned by the plans of the MCA to reduce the numbers of maritime operation centres in Scotland to just one-full time and one part-time, something which has clear implications for the staff involved and for maritime safety. Now it appears there are clear contradictions between what the MCA’s own guidelines are asking of Coastguard Officers and their own plans to drastically centralise services.  I am therefore seeking urgent clarification of this point from the MCA and again urge them to rethink their proposals to cut the number of coastguard stations.”

Three Chairs for Me for Standing Up to the Boss
Apparently, you can’t buy thermal underwear in fashionable menswear shops,  presumably because it’s unfashionable to feel the cold. Obviously, there are sensible menswear shops that I don’t know about. Neither did any of the male assistants in the fashionable shops, all of whom looked like off-duty ballet dancers. They also looked puzzled when I asked if they stocked thermal vests – not the sexiest-sounding item, I have to say, but in reality a body-hugging slow burner.  “Is that a designer brand?” asked one assistant turning to his computer on the counter.  “I think it’s Greek,” I said, “for heat.”  The assistant stopped tapping at his keyboard and looked up at me: “So it’s a Greek designer brand?” he asked. I paused for a moment and then thought, why not.   “Yes it is, actually,” I said, “and it’s very hard to find.”

Curiously, earlier that day, I had asked a young waiter for a tepid cup of coffee because I’m allergic to anything that burns my throat down to the bone. He looked baffled when he took the order, but returned eventually with a warm coffee.  “Google,” he announced, grinning proudly as he put the cup down.  So now Google makes coffee, I thought. How marvellous. The day is surely coming when I won’t have to leave my desk.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t having the same success with the thermal vest.

Wandering round yet another boutique-type shop, I passed a display of old school chairs from the 60s and 70s.  “Check it out,” shouted a young man to his mate, “it’s my old school chair and it’s £30; what a laugh.”  Most of the time, it’s impossible to tell what’s for sale in these boutique shops and what’s actually a prop. A lot of my favourite possessions, which I’ve accumulated carefully over the years and would consider vintage, seem to have been re-designated as retail experience background ephemera.

Suddenly I feel perfectly at home in shops that only employ kids that look like models and speak in transatlantic croaky voices.  I waited until the couple had gone and then picked up the old school chair. There was no question I was buying it; the young man had made up my mind for me. Apart from that, it was quite stunning.  It had a black tubular metal frame with a plywood seat and back, it was worn and weathered, but it looked like a survivor from a distant age. Just the sort of thing you see in the TV series Wallander, which of course is set in Sweden where people don’t laugh at vintage furniture, not out loud in public, anyway.

There were two strange-looking red metal chairs stacked together and I pondered over them, but thought I would ask if they could be laid aside pending the boss’s approval.  The young assistant had one of those transatlantic voices, but he was very nice because he liked the chair. In fact, he admitted he had been considering buying it himself. I explained how I was about to enter a very dangerous place by buying the chair, a place where only a refund could save me from a thick ear.  “Buying impromptu furniture for our house is not in my job description,” I said, “so I’m very nervous.”

I was so nervous I came to my senses temporarily and decided I had lost the plot. I had a list of food shopping I hadn’t bought and here I was buying an old school chair. But then the assistant mentioned the red metal chairs and glancing across I saw a couple picking them up and smiling. The woman was applauding with joy. In an instant, I was over and we were wrestling with chairs. “Sorry, I’ve just bought these,” I said and hurried back to the counter with them, clattering into display stands on the way and knocking over an arrangement of hats and scarves. The couple melted quickly into the shop’s shadows.  A brief conversation with the manager confirmed that I could bring all three chairs back and get a full refund if my wife threw me out of the house. “Not going to happen,” I said as I stumped up £130, “she’ll love them.”

When I arrived home with the shopping, I kept the chairs until last, principally because I couldn’t get them out of the boot. It had taken me the best part of 10 minutes to get them in and now they were obviously too comfortable.  “Incidentally, I bought three chairs,” I said in passing as I took in the shopping.  “Three cheers?” asked my wife, distracted by the arrival of so many bags, “for what?”  “For the house,” I replied.

My wife gazed at me for a moment and then the penny dropped. Unfortunately, it didn’t land quite how I had hoped.  “For our house?” asked my wife, “three chairs for our house?” “Wait until you see them,” I enthused, “they’re vintage.”   “I don’t care if they were free,” retorted my wife, “we have enough chairs and I’ve just got the house the way we want it; there’s no room for three chairs.  You’re not going mad are you, because I’m quite busy right now?” “Not in the mood for chairs, then?” I muttered and ran after the words the moment they flew out.

There was a considerable silence, after which my wife repeated my words very slowly and somehow they sounded even more suicidal than I had thought. In fact, I was up on the roof in my thermal vest before she got to the end.  “So what kind of mood do you have to be in,” asked my wife coldly, “for chairs?”   Eventually, once I had been talked down from the roof, it was decided the school chair could stay if I promised never to return home again from a food shopping trip with a car full of vintage furniture.  “It’s not how it works,” said my wife.  “That’s what I told them in the shop, but they wouldn’t listen,” I replied, sneaking the Wallander chair through to my study.

Businesses Are Suffering Through Lack of Road Salt'
A fed-up local businessman has criticised the Highland Council over its snow-clearing operation across Sutherland.  Graham Phillips, director of Golspie-based management consultancy Phillips Aitchison Consultants, claims the authority is not doing a good enough job at keeping the county's extensive road network free of snow and ice.  As a result, he says, business people are suffering and the economy of the area as a whole is being damaged.  He alleges that the authority has ignored "winter resilience" guidelines from the Scottish Government regarding the stockpiling of salt and that it ran out some time ago.  He said: "We have to be realistic, and we all accept the weather will sometimes win for a while and there will be a hiatus while roads are cleared. But unless they are cleared and kept clear, Sutherland isn't really open for business. I've been checking with business contacts from Helmsdale in the north to Edderton in the east and Durness in the far north-west and it's the same everywhere."

The New Year Starts with Some Good News
The opening of North Highland College UHI's marine energy research centre and European funding for Scrabster harbour are both essential for Caithness to build on its world-leading nuclear energy expertise.  The college's £3 million complex is to become the academic hub in support of the upcoming wave and tidal power schemes being started up off the north and west coasts of Scotland.  The European Regional Development Fund's decision to make a £2.5m award to Scrabster harbour for its planned redevelopment as a marine renewables base also bodes well for the future of the local economy. Total funding for the redevelopment, including £5m from Highlands and Islands Enterprise and a £2m commitment from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, has now almost reached completion.  The scheme will hopefully create hundreds of jobs, many of which will be in technical areas.

Musician's Sentence Deferred After Gun Ordeal
A well-known Inverness musician, Andy Gunn,  has been detained under medical supervision until March after he subjected three former friends to a terrifying gun ordeal in the city centre.
Sentence on Gunn had been deferred for psychiatric and psychological reports after he admitted assaulting William Morrison, Lorna MacLennan and Robin Abbot on Baron Taylor's Street.  Gunn abducted Mr Morrison and was caught in possession of prohibited weapons, including an electric stun gun which he used during the incident, along with an air pistol and pepper spray.  The assault on 27th August last year sparked a manhunt as the singer and guitarist fled to London, while police sealed off the street for 12 hours and combed the area for evidence.  The 35-year-old was a member of the band Jumpin' the Gunn which recorded its first album in America when he was still a teenager.  Gunn's rage was sparked off when he thought the trio were campaigning against him and had set up a website criticising him.  Defence solicitor George Mathers told Inverness Sheriff Court his client believed he was the victim of a conspiracy but accepted responsibility for his actions. Sheriff Andrew Berry granted an interim compulsion order for up to 12 weeks on the accused, of the Orchard Clinic, Royal Edinburgh Hospital, which will see him under medical care until the 22nd March when he returns to the court for sentencing.

Hauliers Say Sky-high Cost of Fuel Puts Jobs At Risk
Motoring organisations and politicians stepped up their fight against fuel price rises yesterday as a survey of filling stations across Scotland highlighted the huge increase in the cost of petrol and diesel over the last year.  The clamour against the UK government's plans to increase fuel duty by 1p per litre above inflation in April grew when the two major trade associations representing the road freight industry joined forces to campaign for fairer prices. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) and the Road Haulage Association (RHA), which together represent 20,000 companies across the UK, announced that they will fight with the FairFuelUK Campaign. The campaign led by Peter Carroll, the activist who masterminded Joanna Lumley's Gurkha Justice Campaign, is calling on the government to stabilise fuel prices and scrap the April increase.  The Road Haulage Association warned that the rise put hundreds of Scottish jobs at stake.  "In the haulage industry, you are probably looking at hundreds of jobs and there are already businesses going under," said Phil Flanders, RHA director for Scotland.  "The government has got to take a big share of the blame for this. Somebody has got to pull the finger out at Westminster and look at a fuel stabiliser. "I think everybody should be campaigning against this."  A new survey of Scottish petrol stations has confirmed the massive increases in fuel prices across the country.

Children Claiming 'Inheritance' From Parents Who Are Still Alive (What a ridiculous state of affairs - now I’ve heard everything it’s a great shame that some do not realise that life, is not all about money, and is not worth family feuds, life is too short for that!- Robin)
The economic downturn has driven a rise in money disputes in Scottish families as more people lay claim to assets left behind on a family death. Scottish succession experts have seen a marked upturn over the past two years in family disputes that they believe are a direct result of growing financial pressures, as government austerity measures take effect and unemployment rises.

The trend has also been noted by the Financial Ombudsman Service, which received more than 3,500 family-related disputes last year, an increase of about 500 on previous years.  It said the rise reflected difficult economic conditions and the impact that money-related pressures can put on family relationships.  There has been a particular increase in cases where adult children in Scotland have claimed non-property assets to which they are entitled when their first parent dies, often at the expense of the surviving parent.

Under Scottish succession law, when someone dies the surviving spouse or civil partner and children are entitled to certain legal rights out of the deceased person's moveable estate. These rights operate regardless of whether there is a will and give children some entitlement to movable assets, such as cash, investments, insurance proceeds and the contents of the property, but not the property itself. The surviving spouse or civil partner is entitled to a third of those assets if the deceased left children or grandchildren, or to half of it if there are no children. The child or children are, in turn, also entitled to a third of the moveable estate, or half if the deceased did not have a spouse or civil partner.  Historically, these rights have been claimed only rarely, but experts say cases in which children opt to take them up are on the rise.

Malcolm Rust, partner at Shepherd & Wedderburn, believes the trend is a consequence of the financial downturn, with money worries making children more bullish in their approach to any entitlements they might have a claim on.  He said: "The number of legal rights claims has definitely gone up, perhaps as much as threefold over the last 12 months. People have lost their jobs, or their jobs are at risk, and they have suffered a loss of income from their savings.That manifests itself in cases where, especially on the first death of a parent, the estate goes to the spouse and the children are not named, the latter are exercising their right to claim."  Claims are being made even if it compromises the potential for rights when the surviving parent dies, he added.  It's all in the backdrop of strange economic times, with people feeling exposed financially. "Normally, the child or children would be happy to leave everything with the surviving spouse, but that is changing," said Mr Rust.

Welcome for Inverness Gaelic Culture Hub Plan
Plans to create a hub for Gaelic speakers and groups in Inverness, next to the city's Gaelic school have been lodged with Highland Council. The proposals include a Gaelic nursery, office space into which the main organisations overseeing the language could relocate, and space for exhibitions and events relating to the language.  The project has been taken forward by a steering group under the auspices of Fòram Gàidhlig Inbhir Nis (The Inverness Gaelic Forum).  Roy Pedersen, a Highland councillor and chairman of the steering group, said Bun-sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhir Nis (the Inverness Gaelic School) has been a huge success and will be full in two years. It has already had to be extended to accommodate its rapid growth.  He added: "Taking the nursery out of the school and relocating it in the hub will allow the school to absorb more primary classes. Bringing the Gaelic bodies together under one roof will bring financial savings through sharing facilities in a more energy-efficient space.  "The social space will create an environment in which Gaelic speakers and learners will be able to meet and undertake activities through the medium of Gaelic without feeling under pressure to switch to English.

Old Canal Network in Front Line Against Flooding
Scotland’s network of Victorian canals is to be deployed to help prevent serious flooding in homes and businesses across the country. Millions of litres of water could be quickly diverted away from danger areas following downpours, under plans drawn up by British Waterways Scotland (BWS) to protect low-lying areas in Glasgow, Edinburgh and other parts of the Central Belt.  BWS, which operates the country's canal system said canal levels could be lowered in advance of deluges by draining water through existing outlets along their routes. Any influx of extra water could then be similarly discharged safely into rivers away from flood risk areas.

Canals such as the Forth and Clyde and the Union could also be deepened by up to three feet in places by dredging to enable them to take even more water. Rainwater from downpours would be fed into lowered canals via inter-connected rivers and drains. Alternatively, pumps or new drainage routes could be installed in high-risk areas to move more water into canals. BWS said using canals would have eased the serious flooding which hit south and central Glasgow in 2002, in which a month's rainfall fell in an afternoon.  The torrent engulfed more than 200 homes and railway stations and tunnels, causing major disruption to trains and millions of pounds of damage.  Hundreds of homes in Edinburgh were also affected by major floods in 2000 and 2002 when the Braid Burn and Water of Leith burst their banks.

Although the scale of the flooding witnessed in Australia last week is unlikely, experts warn that the danger to urban areas in Scotland is mounting from climate change. Rainfall is expected to increase in line with global trends and flash floods from torrential downpours are expected to become more common.  The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) has warned of potential flooding this week as a widespread thaw of snow in hill regions leads to rising river levels. BWS director Steve Dunlop said the canal network could make a significant contribution to flood mitigation. "When high rainfall is forecast, we could lower the levels of a canal to enable it to accept more water, so it could be used as a sink. People think canals are stagnant bodies, but they can move water fairly rapidly away from areas in danger.  "It would give canals a new economic and social role for all those who thought they were assets from the past or just for a few boaters."

BWS believes its proposals could have the greatest impact in Glasgow because the city's drainage system is already under severe pressure. The Forth & Clyde Canal flows across the north of the city, with a branch to Speirs Wharf, just north of the city centre. Running between Grangemouth on the Forth and Bowling on the Clyde in West Dunbartonshire, it contains 1,435 million litres of water, the equivalent of nearly 18 million domestic baths. Elsewhere, BWS said there was also potential for using the Union canal, which terminates at Fountainbridge in central Edinburgh, and the Caledonian canal in Inverness, to address flood risks in those cities.

Last Updated (Sunday, 16 January 2011 05:02)