Some Scottish News & Views #73

This little effort is for the period ending 29th January 2011.  I’ve been able to include a small tongue-in-cheek article which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

England Thinks Again on Wallace Letter
It is a little over the size of a postcard, more than seven centuries old and firmly locked away in a drawer in the Home Counties.  But hope is mounting that a letter widely believed to have been in the possession of William Wallace when he was captured by the English in the early 14th century could finally be on its way back to Scotland.

A team of academics called in by the Scottish Government to examine the "Safe Conduct" document have concluded the document is genuine, and a member of the group has revealed they believe there is a high probability it was in Wallace's possession.  The preliminary findings will increase the pressure on the National Archives of England and Wales to return the letter from Surrey to Scotland.  The Kew-based organisation has long argued the letter may be an English copy and that there is no evidence it was held by the legendary freedom fighter.  The case is set to inflame cross-border tensions in a manner befitting Wallace himself. Some campaigners for the return of the letter predict Kew will fight tooth-and-nail to hang on to the document.  The letter is crucially important because it is one of very few surviving possessions of Wallace. It is said to have been written by King Philip IV of France, granting Wallace safe passage to visit the Pope. But Wallace was betrayed by the Earl of Menteith and arrested in Robroyston, near Glasgow, in August 1305.  He was taken to London, found guilty of treason, stripped, dragged through the city, and hanged, drawn and quartered as depicted in the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart. The letter he is said to have been carrying has been in English hands ever since.  Last year, the Scottish Government said it was considering making a formal request for the return of the Safe Conduct document.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop asked a team of historians and experts from north and south of the border, including Kew, to investigate the matter.  Notes of their first meeting reveal they are now "unanimous in judging that the letter itself, far from being a 'copy', is an 'original' produced in the French royal chancery".  The experts say the document is a writ in Latin ordering the French king's representatives to request the "Pope to favour William 'le Walois' of Scotland, knight, in the (unspecified) business that William had to expedite" and date it as "almost certainly" November 7, 1300.  The group says Wallace had a number of documents with him when he was arrested and it was at that point that it could have come into English possession. One member of the team, who asked not to be named, said: "There is a very good chance it was in Wallace's possession. I would put it at 70/30."

Duncan Fenton, chairman of the Society of William Wallace, said the academics' findings were a "huge leap forward". He said: "Kew kept fobbing us off with ‘It's an English scribe's copy'."  But Fenton predicted a huge fight ahead before it is returned north of the Border. He said: "I think they will hang on to it tooth-and-nail. Someone at Kew told us unofficially: ‘There is no way we are letting it go.'" He added: "England seems to have this ‘British Empire, you're not getting it back' attitude."

Sturgeon Predicts NHS Flight to Scotland
Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon claims that English doctors and nurses may flock north to avoid the turmoil of yet another NHS reorganisation down south. In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Sturgeon rejected warnings that the reforms in England could lead to a "brain drain" of specialists and consultants from Scotland who may be tempted south if the English market-based system begins to offer bumper salaries to attract senior staff. Instead, she said the more stable situation here was likely to create the conditions in which health professionals would be happier to move to Scotland.

The health secretary also called time on the 60-year history of the NHS as a UK institution, claiming the Conservative reforms spelled out in England last week have taken the "national out of the National Health Service". The SNP deputy leader says that the radical changes to health care in England - with more power going to GPs - have now set in stone separate English and Scottish health services.  Sturgeon said she attended a reception last week in which the English reforms were discussed. "There were quite a few people up from south of the Border and the thing that was being said to me most frequently was we wish we could come to Scotland," she said.  "Of course, we have to be competitive within a UK market but we've got lots to attract the top people - our tradition and reputation in medicine, our research capacity, as well as the fact that we do pay consultants reasonably well. So, yes, we have always got to have one eye on our competitiveness for the best people, but we do very well in attracting the best people to Scotland."  Sturgeon confirmed she would not be adopting any of the measures proposed by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley.

She said NHS Scotland - as well as the organisation in Wales - was the model which most closely resembled the founding principles of the service. She disagreed with moves to punish or reward hospitals financially for their performance, claiming patients would suffer if this was done.  Sturgeon said she wanted to drive up standards through inspections and management. "We have a system that means there is no hiding places for hospitals that fall behind because reports will be published."  Pointing to infection rates, she said: "We set up a new inspectorate that inspects cleanliness and we have halved our rates of hospital infections. What is the penalty? They (hospitals] get shamed in public when these reports are published."

Glasgow to London Flights to Face Axe
BMI is set to axe its five-flights-a-day service between Glasgow and Heathrow because of the rise in passenger fees at the London airport. Chief executive Wolfgang Prock-Schauer has confirmed the route is under threat due to the dramatic rise in domestic passenger charges from £13.43 to £20.25.  Business leaders and politicians have expressed dismay at the plans, saying the route is crucial for business in Scotland's largest city.  Yesterday the Scottish Government revealed that transport minister Keith Brown has written to his Westminster counterpart Philip Hammond to express concern over Bmi's plans, which have not yet been finalised. "In the absence for the foreseeable future of a high-speed rail link between Scotland and London, continued access to the UK's global hub at Heathrow is an imperative, and all parties concerned have a responsibility to find a solution that would secure the route's future," a Scottish Government spokesman said.

Letter From Burns Discovered in Scots Castle – 222 Years on
An unpublished letter by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns has been found in a Borders castle.  The 222-year-old letter – hailed as a “remarkable literary discovery” by experts – was unearthed in Floors Castle in Kelso.  Dated May 13, 1789, it is addressed to James Gregory, professor of medicine at Edinburgh University and head of the city’s medical school. Burns sent the letter from Ellisland, his farm near Dumfries, enclosing an early version of his poem On Seeing a Wounded Hare. He invites Gregory’s comments on the poem, asking him to “mark the faulty lines with your pencil”.

The letter was found in an autograph book belonging to the 6th Duke of Roxburghe, and was initially spotted by a staff member at the castle. It was verified by Professor David Purdie, editor-in-chief of the Burns Encyclopaedia, Dr Iain Gordon Brown, principal curator of manuscripts at the National Library of Scotland, and Dr Gerard Carruthers, director of the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at Glasgow University.  Prof Purdie said: “Unpublished letters of Robert Burns are extremely rare and this example is doubly interesting as it not only displays the evolution of one of his poems but, in Burns and Gregory, it brings together major figures of both the literary and scientific components of the Enlightenment.”

Revised Windfarm Plans Kept Under Wraps by Developers
A revised design for a planned Inverness-shire windfarm will be unveiled in a series of public exhibitions next month – but until then the developers are keeping the changes under wraps. Alterations have been made to the plans for the Druim Ba facility, between Kiltarlity and Abriachan, following a series of consultations with local communities last year. At those meetings, residents were told that a maximum of 28 turbines, about 492ft (150m), could be built in the Druim Ba forest, part of the Blairmore estate.  But Druim Ba Sustainable Energy always insisted that the plans were not the final design, and their new plans will be unveiled at exhibitions beginning on February 8.

Opposition Grows Against 413ft-high Wind Turbine Plan

An action group has been formed to fight the 81Mw development at Braemore, some four miles south west of Lairg in Sutherland.  At 126 metres or 413ft high and with a 3Mw output, opponents maintain the proposed turbines are amongst the tallest in Britain and will "wreck" the landscape.  However, this is strongly denied by developers Braemore Wind who counter that they are merely a standard size in the industry.  The company - a joint venture between Wind Prospect and Alpha Wind - also claims that opposition to Braemore comes from a "small but vocal minority."  As it is over 50Mw, it will be determined by the Scottish Government, although Highland Council is a statutory consultee.

Invershin resident, Sandy Chalmers, said the development, which will be plainly seen from the A836 Lairg to Bonar Bridge road, would affect residents at Invershin, Linside, Inveran, Achany, Strathkyle and Altass.  He estimated there were around 50 houses within two kilometres of the wind farm site.  And he said that if Braemore was to go ahead, it would bring the number of turbines sited along the hills adjacent to the Kyle up to 69. Councillor Robbie Rowantree, said that the Kyle of Sutherland had made its contribution to wind energy and Braemore was a "wind farm too far."

Hearts Fans Arrested Over Claims of Sectarian and Racial Breaches
Two Hearts fans were arrested in connection with alleged racial and sectarian breaches of the peace while on board the Glasgow to Edinburgh train.  The men, aged 50 and 19, were returning from the SPL fixture at Parkhead when the alleged incidents took place and were arrested by officers from British Transport Police when they arrived at Waverley station shortly after midnight.  Both men have been referred to the Procurator Fiscal and will appear at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in due course.  British Transport Police added that details of the incident and the men's names will be passed on to Hearts FC.

Boost for Highlands As Open Moves North
The Highlands is lining up a major economic boost after it was confirmed yesterday that the Barclays Scottish Open golf tournament will be held on the shores of the Moray Firth.
The Castle Stuart Golf Links, between Inverness and Nairn, will host the prestigious tournament from 7-10 July. It is expected to attract around 40,000 spectators. The course, which only opened in the summer of 2009, will also get a worldwide TV audience and bring spin-offs worth millions of pounds to the area.  A multi-year deal with golf's European Tour means some of the world's top players could be visiting the north of Scotland on a regular basis.  Scott Murray, development manager at Highlands and Islands Enterprise, said: "This prestigious event gives the opportunity to showcase the area on an international scale and it will bring significant economic benefits to the region as a whole, not just those in close proximity to the course."

Sandy Park, convener of the Highland Council, said: "What a chance to showcase what the Highlands has to offer to a world wide audience.  "The area is gaining a strong reputation for organising large-scale events and I have no doubt we will be up for the challenge." The competition is being switched from Loch Lomond Golf Club, where it has been held for the last 15 years.  Castle Stuart, designed by Mark Parsinen and American golf course architect Gil Hanse, was voted Best New Course for 2009 by Golf Magazine USA.  Mr Parsinen said: "All of us involved with Castle Stuart know what a privilege it is to host the Barclays Scottish Open as the first stop in a two-week celebration of links golf in the British Isles." The four-day event is expected to bring spin-off benefits for the tourism industry as well as offering golf fans the chance to get involved as one of the many volunteers needed during the competition.

Volunteer Lifeboat Crews Saved Over 900 Last Year

Scotland’s volunteer lifeboat crews rescued more than 900 people last year.  The charity's official statistics for 2010 show crews at the country's 45 lifeboat stations rescued 921 people - nine more than in 2009, which had been the RNLI's busiest ever year on record.  During the year, lifeboat crews were involved in a total of 1012 launches in Scotland.  The busiest RNLI lifeboat station in Scotland was South Queensferry, with 74 launches. The crew also rescued 138 people -the highest number in Scotland. Twenty three of those rescued were under the age of 18.  RNLI Broughty Ferry, near Dundee, and Kinghorn, also on the east coast, were second busiest with 70 launches each.  Almost half of the Broughty Ferry launches were carried out in darkness. RNLI Oban had the highest number of launches by an all-weather lifeboat, with its Trent class lifeboat called out on 57 occasions, rescuing 63 people. The annual report also reveals that, in a two-day period in September, the Lerwick lifeboat crew on Shetland spent more than 18 hours at sea, assisting on two separate emergencies, both involving boats with engine room fires.  The first shout lasted ten hours during the day and evening, and the second shout was 8.5 hours during the night.

Sunday Golfers Win Right to Play 19th Hole - Just Not the Other 18
Golfers on the Isle of Lewis enjoyed a historic round when their clubhouse opened for the first Sabbath drinks.  The ruling means members of Stornoway Golf Club are able to drink, but cannot play their course after winning the Sunday drinks licence for their 19th hole - at the third time of asking.  The island club is banned by its landlords from playing golf on the Sabbath, but, despite objections from church groups, won a Sunday drinks licence on appeal last week. The club welcomed more than 50 people in the first two hours of opening on Sunday 23rd.  It had only officially received the amended Premises Licence issued by the Licensing Standards Officer on the previous day.  "On a beautiful winter day, members and guests were able to relax in a friendly, comfortable and convivial environment," said the management committee in a statement.  In these difficult financial times, the club was pleased to receive several formal applications for membership. Over the next few weeks the management committee will monitor the business outcomes of the additional opening hours."

Following the appeal hearing at Inverness Sheriff Court, acting sheriff principal Charles Stoddart ruled in favour of the golf club - and said that the Western Isles Licensing Board must pay the club's expenses.  Stornoway Golf Club secretary Ken Galloway said the club looked forward to "welcoming many members and guests" every Sunday from now on. The club is furious that the past refusals meant that it has missed out on badly-needed income - such as from watching the Ryder Cup.  Mr Galloway said after winning the appeal: "We have lost 25 Sundays on which we could have been open. The club has said that the decision to apply for a Sunday licence was not linked to the issue of Sabbath golf.  Club members previously voted 2-1 for Sunday play but claim that they have been continuously thwarted by their landlords, The Stornoway Trust, over their demand.  The trust says the club's 25-year licence - which is at a peppercorn rent - includes the condition of no-Sunday play.

Scotland to Export More Green Energy to England
Scotland's power network is to receive a £95 million upgrade, boosting its renewable energy capability.  Energy regulator Ofgem said the extra funding would enable electricity networks to handle connections from more renewable generators.  It is the latest stage of a major investment programme to help the UK meet its carbon targets and tackle climate change.  More than £80m will be spent by National Grid Electricity Transmission and Scottish Power Transmission on increasing the amount of electricity that can flow between the high-voltage networks of England and Scotland, helping the export of renewable electricity from Scotland. Other cash being spent includes £11.5m by Scottish Hydro Electric Transmission, which will upgrade its network to connect generation in the north of Scotland.

As part of the current transmission price control, Ofgem agreed Britain's transmission companies - National Grid Electricity Transmission plc, Scottish Power Transmission Limited and Scottish Hydro-Electric Transmission Limited - could invest £3.8 billion. Last year, Ofgem introduced a framework for providing additional funding, in tranches, for critical investments over and above the £3.8bn. Ofgem has since been working with the transmission companies to examine the business case for individual projects, and approve the funding when it is justified.  So far, Ofgem has approved more than £400m of this additional funding, including the £95m announced yesterday.  Energy minister Jim Mather said:"Ofgem and National Grid must connect even more renewables projects in Scotland, including our island communities, to allow us to increase the amount of green energy we harness, transmit and export."

Return to Old Venue Saves Taste of Edinburgh Festival
Scotland’s largest food and drink event has been saved from the axe after city council chiefs in Edinburgh agreed to allow it to return to its original venue.  Organisers of the Taste of Edinburgh Festival, which has attracted some of the UK's top chefs to the city, had threatened to pull the plug on the event after being forced to relocate from the Meadows. Worth around £1 million to the economy, made a heavy loss last year at its new location, Inverleith Park, where was hit by bad weather and was snubbed by many of the capital's leading restaurants. But is now set to return to the Meadows, despite a clampdown on major events there in a bid to protect the popular park from damage over the summer.

Edinburgh is one of only three locations in the UK to host a Taste festival, a concept launched in London, which has now spread to Amsterdam, Cape Town, Dubai, Milan and Melbourne. Insiders at the city council feared the extravaganza would be lost to the city, and could even move to Glasgow, if an official bid to return to the Meadows was turned down.
Although some officials were believed to be opposed to the move to bring the event back there this July, councillors insisted a "strong case" was made by the organisers to use the Meadows again.

Jobs Hope for Nigg Yard
Up to 2,000 jobs could be created at a mothballed Highland oil yard after a long-running battle over its use was resolved. It was announced yesterday that Global Energy Group is the preferred bidder for the Nigg yard in Easter Ross, which is being earmarked as a major energy sector hub. Efforts to reopen the yard, which once employed more than 5,000 people, have been thwarted for years by a wrangle over complex ownership issues and land-lease conditions.  Two-thirds of the 238-acre yard is owned by KBR, a US engineering and construction company, which also has a 30-year lease with the Wakelyn Trust, which owns 76 acres. KBR recently pulled out of a potential £150 million plan to develop Nigg as a manufacturing base for the offshore renewables industry.  It is envisaged that Global will take over the yard by April after buying out KBR and securing a 60-year lease with the Wakelyn Trust. It will then start a major redevelopment of a key site in the Scottish Government's national renewable infrastructure plan.

Thousands turn out for Up-Helly-Aa
Thousands of people thronged the streets of Lerwick on Tuesday night to watch a Viking longboat meet her fate as the blazing centrepiece of Up-Helly-Aa, Shetland’s world-famous fire festival.  A warm orange glow filled the sky above the town as nearly 1,000 torch-bearing guizers celebrated the island’s Norse heritage by burning the dragon-headed vessel before heading into local halls for the mother of all parties. Nuns, monks, leprechauns and a large contingent of cross-dressers paraded proudly behind the modern-day Vikings of the Jarl squad, led by Guizer Jarl John Hunter, as they reduced the 30ft pine board boat to ash.  A firework display followed the flaming ritual and temperatures soared as 5,000 people packed into the town centre.

People from throughout the world flocked to the island to view the spectacle, but few will have travelled further than medical student Chris Doig, 20, who made the trip from Sydney, Australia. He said: “I have been travelling around Europe but I extended my trip for two weeks just to see Up-Helly-Aa. I read about this crazy festival on the internet and I just had to see it for myself.”  While some were new to the festivities, 72-year-old Jim Nicolson has spent “a lifetime” watching galleys getting torched.  For the past 48 years he has been the boat’s navigator – the only exception being 1979, when he was the Guizer Jarl himself. The marathon celebrations began at the crack of dawn when the Guizer Jarl’s squad – resplendent in their full Viking costume – marched from the town’s Royal British Legion through Commercial Street and Esplanade to the harbour front, accompanied by the Lerwick Brass Band and the Kirkwall City Pipe Band.

Jarl Joins Coastguard Battle
The battle to keep a 24-hour coastguard station in Shetland received Viking backing yesterday as the leader of Up-Helly-Aa jarl’s squad joined the campaign.  Guizer Jarl John Hunter added his signature to 5,000 others on a petition against the UK Government’s controversial plans to scale down emergency cover around Britain’s shores.  The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at Westminster is considering cutting the number of coastguard stations in the UK from 18 to eight, and leaving only three operating around the clock.  One main control centre would be based at Aberdeen, with a second station operating only during daylight hours at either Lerwick in Shetland or Stornoway on Lewis.  The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the government have asked people to justify which of the two Scottish island stations should remain open during the day.  Staff at both Stornoway and Shetland maritime rescue co-ordination centres have banded together to fight the plans.

Mr Hunter signed the protest document at Market Cross, Lerwick, yesterday as campaigners highlighted their plight to the thousands of people in town for last night’s festival.  Former fisherman Brian Anderson, a watch officer at the station, said: “The local knowledge we have of the weather, the locations and the local services is crucial, and I knew that when I was at sea. The only safe option is 24-hour cover.”  Fellow watch officer Alex Dodge added: “People from all around the world use the waters around Shetland, so we wanted to come out at Up-Helly-Aa to let them know what our government is proposing.  We need to stop this stupid idea.”

First Minister Alex Salmond said last week the UK Government could not be trusted to run maritime safety in Scotland because the plans were not subject to any consultation, despite the fact that Scotland has 60% of the UK’s coastline.  Shetland Coastguard keeps watch over 35,000 square miles of sea and about 2,000 miles of coastline. It is also on standby for any incidents at the oil and gas terminals at Flotta in Orkney and Sullom Voe in Shetland, as well as the increasing deepwater drilling activity west of Shetland.

Rail Link Between Edinburgh Park and Glasgow Begins
The first direct link between Edinburgh Park railway station and Glasgow has started operating.  The west Edinburgh station has been included on the new Airdrie-Bathgate line, giving it a direct link to Glasgow Queen Street in 57 minutes.  An introductory timetable has been rolled out, with the full planned timetable due to begin in the spring.  Two trains an hour are operating in each direction between Edinburgh Park and Bathgate and one train an hour goes to Glasgow Queen Street.  It means there are now six trains an hour running between Waverley and Edinburgh Park.  Pamela Grant, development director at New Edinburgh Limited, said: "This new rail line will provide an excellent boost to transport links to the Park. Previously, commuters travelling from Edinburgh Park to Glasgow had to change trains at Linlithgow Station. This new link provides direct access, cutting journey times."

I Have A Prime Candidate to Be Crowned the Cruellest Month
Thank God January is almost over. There is something about the month I have always loathed. It is cold and damp; it snows and rains.  You are supposed to lose weight and get fit, but you do none of that. To add insult to injury, you lard on about three stones during the festive period and every newspaper or magazine you read has advice on how to lose it oh-so-quickly.  However, there are only six more sleeps until February and you are still the size of a double-decker bus and feel pain in muscles you didn’t even know you had.  T.S. Eliot wrote: “April is the cruellest month,” but I reckon he missed the truth by quite a margin. January is the cruellest month. It is a time for colds, flu, illness, death and funerals.

Depressed? Moi?

Having battled, like everybody else in this country, through snow, frost and unemptied rubbish bins, all I want is a glimpse of the sun; the song of the birds in spring. If I could just see the sun – once – I would keep all those resolutions. I would walk, jog, maybe even run. I would stop eating chocolate and do sit-ups until I was out of breath.  At the moment, the only time I feel extremely breathless is when I get out of bed in the morning. The Roman calendar dictates that January is the first month of the year. It is named after the God Janus, which sounds horribly like another unmentionable word but is actually Latin for door. Janus had two faces: one enabled him to look back into the old year and the other allowed him to peer into the distance and envisage the year to come.  Well, bully for him.

January is when everybody decides to join a gym and, a few keep up the membership until March then spend the rest of the year trying to extract themselves from the agreement with the club. You hear it all the time: “I’ve joined a gym. I’m working out, not pigging out.”  However, as the drink-induced slumbers of Christmas and New Year gave way to the cold reality of 2011, most of us made nothing more than a token gesture at putting things right. These days, the usual suspects are weight loss and diet. It used to be giving up smoking, but that particular habit has all but died out, literally, in many cases.

Motivation always hits me on December 31. I am extremely lucky that way. It may have worn off by January 3, but at least I savour it for a couple of days.  Right through 2010, we were lambasted by the nanny state for being unfit and obese. To be unfit, even if you really are fat and happy, seems to be the scourge of the 21st century. It’s not enough to walk from the bedroom to the living room every so often in order to lose a load of blubber. No, you need real discipline to go to a gym where someone will force you to get into shape. The trouble is so many people are too embarrassed to go to the gym, especially after the excesses of Christmas. Who wants to be the biggest, fattest lump on the treadmill?

I have discovered that other people tend not to see you as “that big lump who looks such a fright in Lycra”. They see you as someone with the courage and motivation to change. And, hopefully, after a few months of hard grind, you do change; become stronger and slimmer. Everyone loves a winner, even if it does take decades to become one. Maybe we should stop trying so hard to give up our bad habits and take up something instead – such as thinking positive. Maybe then, this time of year would be more bearable.

Then, there are the credit-card bills which keep landing on the doormat. In previous years, I used to buy ridiculously extravagant Christmas presents; flashing the plastic – spending money I didn’t have and taking forever to pay off the debt.  It’s difficult because everyone is trying to push money down your throat.  Offers of loans pour through the letterbox, day in day out.  Some people shouldn’t be allowed within a million miles of a piece of plastic – and I am definitely one of them.  But, this year, I have been more careful; almost Scrooge-like, in fact.I can therefore look down on everybody else from the moral high ground, which, at times, can be a dark and lonely place.

And that’s another January bugbear. Speaking of dark, I loathe getting up on these dank, sunless, mornings.  In my dreams, during these nasty winter months, my dear husband, myself and my sweet dog all disappear to our favourite island, Captiva, in Florida, where the weather rarely drops below 60 degrees and we live in a huge mansion on the beach. Chance would be a fine thing.  The truth is I do protest too much. Instead of moaning, it would be more noble to think of those who don’t have a roof over their head – and have little prospect of acquiring one; those who are currently facing the toughest few weeks of the year.  As I sit here, whining about January, with my central heating, my comfortable, warm house and meals often beautifully cooked by my husband, I could spare a thought for those out on the street. Home is a cocoon, a place of safety where you can forget the rest of the world; even forget it is January if you try hard enough.

Not having a home to go to is a cold, miserable experience. My favourite song is definitely by Pilot: “January, sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me. You make me sad with your eyes, you’re telling me lies. Don't go – don't go.”  But I want one minor change to the words: Do go – do go.

Anger Over Delay on Air Bases Decision
A row erupted after a defence minister revealed a final decision on the fate of RAF bases at Lossiemouth and Leuchars in Fife will be delayed until later in the summer. Moray MP and SNP defence spokesman Angus Robertson said this would prolong the uncertainty blighting the Moray economy – and claimed it contradicted assurances that a bases review would be completed “within weeks” and a decision taken by ministers soon afterwards.  But Armed Forces Minister Nick Harvey warned in an earlier Commons mini-debate: “We do not expect that work to be completed for some time yet, but we hope it will be by the summer.” The row erupted as No 6 Squadron at Leuchars was presented with a commemorative plaque marking 100,000 flying hours with new Typhoon fighters.  It came as the battle raged on whether it, Lossiemouth or Marham in Norfolk will be closed in the review being conducted by the MoD.

Stornoway RNLI Team Responds to Tornado Crash
Two RAF Tornado GR4 pilots were forced to eject from their aircraft over the Minch on Thursday afternoon, following a Mayday call.  As the need for Stornoway Coastguard station is debated at a public meeting in Stornoway Primary tonight, the island’s rescue chopper – along with Stornoway RNLI Lifeboat, the Tom Sanderson – was called into action shortly before 3pm. A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) confirmed that a chopper launch request was made by the Air Rescue Co-ordination Centre at Kinloss at 14.43pm.  The MCA spokesman continued that the search and rescue chopper quickly located two dinghies in the water, successfully picked up the two airman, and transferred them to Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.

Skipper Blasts 'Crazy' Quotas
The Macduff skipper who took part in a TV programme to highlight the problem of North Sea fish discards hit out this week, saying, "The whole system is madness - the rules are driving me up the wall".  Gary Mutch took TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall out on his boat for four days to film a programme that has stunned a nation.  'Big Fish Fight' showed in graphic detail how around half of the fish caught in the North Sea are unnecessarily thrown back into the ocean - just to satisfy 'crazy' EU Common Fishery Policy regulations which over the years have also seen the decimation of the North-east fishing industry.  Thousands of tonnes of prime haddock and whiting are being dumped back into the sea dead every year because trawlermen have no quota left for them.  Fishing bosses and some Scottish politicians have been complaining about discards for years, but the Channel 4 programme has brought the reality of it home to the man in the street.

Mr Mutch (45), skipper of a crew of six on board the 'Seagull', said he hoped the chef's programme will help bring an end to 'crazy' practices dictated by the EU.  "Because I operate in a mixed fish area, discarding cod is unavoidable," he said "At least half of what I catch is discarded as I try to meet my quota of other fish.  Essentially, I am having to stay longer at sea to catch the species I am allowed to catch, and in the process I am catching more of the cod that I am not allowed to catch.  So if the European politicians allow a total annual quota of, say, 10,000 tonnes of cod in Scotland, 20,000 tonnes are being caught to reach that quota. I could put a 10-day trip into five and save on fuel etc. It's madness. Where is the common sense? There is plenty of fish at sea, yet we have had our days at sea cut from 140 last year to around 100 this year. There are now so few West Coast boats catching bottom-trawl species that we could never knock our stocks down.

Totally Clean and Green: Scots Scientists Pave the Way for Hydrogen Fuels
Scottish scientists have made a breakthrough which could which could pave the way for the use of hydrogen-based fuels to power aeroplanes and cars.  Researchers from Glasgow University, working with the commercial firm EADS Innovation Works, are developing technology which could allow the highly explosive gas to be used safely as a form of green fuel.  The group is working on using nanotechnology to improve the efficiency of the Hydrisafe tank developed by Hydrogen Horizons, a small Scottish company, to store hydrogen in a solid state.  The gas can be burned to release energy, or combined with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity. In both cases, the only waste product is water - meaning it could become a clean alternative to powering aircraft and car engines.  However, it can be expensive and difficult to store safely.

Duncan Gregory, professor of inorganic materials at the university's school of chemistry, said: "The largest bottleneck in the process of realising hydrogen-based technologies is storage. Finding a viable means of storing hydrogen in the solid state would pave the way for its industrial-scale use as a clean alternative to hydrocarbon-based fuels in aeroplanes.  The scientists will modify the composition and microstructure of the tank and hydrogen storage materials through nanotechnology, allowing it to be stored safely in its solid form.

Dr Agata Godula-Jopek of EADS IW said "One of the visions for 2020 is to reduce emissions per aircraft by 50 per cent and to achieve environmental protection and green aircraft through development of new technologies and new products.  If the project goes to plan, the researchers hope to be able to fly an unmanned aircraft using a hydrogen-powered fuel cell as a prototype for a commercially usable plane.  Harry McGregor of Scottish start-up firm Hydrogen Horizons, which is due to open a base in Glasgow next year, added: "Hydrogen is not only the most efficient energy carrier available, it is totally clean and completely green. Hydrogen can, and we believe will, revolutionise all modes of transportation."

The researchers said modifying the construction of the tank will extend its life, making it able to sustain the conditions required to power an aeroplane.  Once the technology has been proven in a small-scale demonstration, the team plans to create a larger team with academic and industrial partners to seek large scale funding from the UK and the European Union. The researchers have won funding from the Materials Knowledge Transfer Network - part of the UK Technology Strategy Board - and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council for a student to carry out a four-year PhD project.

Ten-year Wait May Be Over As City Shop Plan Approved
A planned Asda store in Inverness moved closer yesterday after the Scottish Government backed the latest proposals.  The supermarket chain has been trying for a decade to get a presence in the city but has been delayed by planning and legal wrangling. Last June ministers indicated they were minded to grant planning permission for the £27 million store at Slackbuie on the outskirts of Inverness and have now given approval subject to a list of conditions.  It follows Asda reaching an agreement with Highland Council and Transport Scotland on funding arrangements for road infrastructure works to ease traffic in and around the site.  The new store, which Asda say will create 400 jobs, was held up by a legal challenge by rival developers Inverness Estates which is funding another huge proposed project for the city. The consortium was unhappy that Asda was not asked to pay up-front for road improvements. The supermarket later agreed to pay £1.5m towards improvement works.

Total of 15 Police Stations to Close in Move to Make Savings of £4.7m

Members of the Northern Joint Police Board yesterday agreed to the closure of 15 police stations across the Highlands and Islands.  The controversial move is part of a £4.7million savings drive which also includes reducing the opening hours of several stations and cutting 25 officer and 50 civilian posts.  Police stations at Scalloway, Dunrossness, Stromness, Bettyhill, Lybster, Evanton, Cromarty, Barvas, Carloway, Ness, Tarbert, Broadford, Spean Bridge, Drumnadrochit and Ardersier are to close, the Inverness meeting agreed unanimously. Northern Constabulary’s chief constable Ian Latimer told the board the efficiency measures will “help support a balanced budget for 2011-12”.  Mr Latimer said: “We don’t know what will happen in the future – we could be faced with an even more financially challenging year in 2012-13.”  He added that the cuts were vital in protecting the development of “well-trained, well-led and well-equipped police officers in the communities of the Highlands and islands”.

In his report, Mr Latimer said the force estimates it will save more than £2,245,000 in both operating costs and from the sale of the premises and that a solution had to be found that will allow the savings to be made by April. Board vice-convener Councillor Ian Ross told members it was important to have a balanced budget. Ronald Young, chairman of Cromarty and District Community Council, said later: “Our biggest issue is that the level of police cover will not remain the same. We wrote a letter to the chief constable about our concerns and he replied saying that cover would remain the same, but I don’t know how he can say that. Closing Cromarty police station is an open invitation for people to commit offences when they know it will take longer for a police officer to get here.”  Sandra Munro, chairwoman of Bettyhill, Strathnaver and Altnaharra Community Council, said she felt there was nothing they could do about it.  She said: “It was a done deal. Bettyhill police station has been effectively closed for some time now – the civilian is gone and the officer works out of Caithness.  More time has been allowed to decide whether Beauly or Muir of Ord police station will close.