Some Scottish News & Views #76

This little effort is for the fortnight ending 26th February 2011. Once again in this issue I’ve been able to include a small named article which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Volunteers Remembered for Their Part in Spanish Civil War
Dundee volunteers who travelled to Spain over 70 years ago to fight fascism were commemorated on Saturday.  The annual remembrance, organised by the Trades Union Council, was held at the memorial to the International Brigade in Albert Square.  Taking part in the event along with union members were relatives of the volunteers, elected officials and others interested in the Spanish Civil War.  Chief organiser of the event Mike Arnott said afterwards, "It is important to commemorate the fact that over 60 people volunteered from Dundee to fight in a civil war. These are themes that still resonate to this day."  Between 1936 and 1938 more than 60 Dundonians left — some never to return — to fight alongside the democratically-elected republican government of Spain.  A total of 17 men from the city sacrificed their lives during the Spanish Civil War that ended in defeat for the republicans and their allies, resulting in the brutal right-wing dictatorship of Francisco Franco, which lasted until his death in 1975.

RAF Kinloss Shutdown to Begin At End of July
RAF Kinloss will cease functioning as an operational air base from 31 July, it emerged yesterday.  The Moray base's fate was effectively sealed in October, when the new generation of Nimrods it had been awaiting was cancelled.  It is understood air traffic control, firefighters and some ground staff at RAF Kinloss will be transferred to other facilities.

The date emerged as shadow Scottish secretary Ann McKechin met campaigners fighting to save Scottish RAF bases from closure.  A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "RAF Kinloss is not closing on 31 July - media reports claiming this are incorrect.  "We have already announced that RAF Kinloss is no longer required. While the airfield at Kinloss will cease to function on 31 July, 2011, the rest of the base will stay open and the gradual drawdown of staff will take place over a few years, completing in 2014.  "There may still be an alternative military use for RAF Kinloss - a decision on this is expected after the May Scottish election."

Outer Hebrides Bidding to Be First Place in UK to Host Olympic Flame
The Outer Hebrides is making a bid to become the first place in Britain from where the Olympic flame will set off on its journey to London.  Despite being one of the windiest places in Britain, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games says it is in the running.  The Olympic flame will arrive in the UK on 18 May 2012 and will travel around the UK for 70 days, arriving in London the weekend before the games begin.  Some 8,000 torchbearers will carry the flame - and the aim is for 95 per cent of the British population to be within a one-hour journey of the torch relay.  But the Outer Hebrides wants to be the first place from where the flame begins its journey after travelling from Greece so it can also showcase some of its tourist attractions like the nearly 5,000-year-old Callanish Stones on Lewis.

Stripping 200,000 of Benefits ‘A Con’
A UK Government bid to reclassify 200,000 Scots on invalidity benefit as “fit for work" was denounced as “a con".  Aberdeen South Labour MP Dame Anne Begg said the true figure for Scots “fit to work” is closer to 70,000, and of the remaining 130,000, “many will never be able to find work they can do again".  The row erupted after an assessment of a pilot involving some 850 benefit claimants in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire (partnered with Burnley in England) showed 30% “fit for work”, 39% as eventually fit for some kind of work or work-related activity and the remainder as totally unable to work.  This was interpreted in some quarters to mean nearly 70% – or 200,000 across Scotland – are fit for work or may be at some point in the future – at a time when Scotland has just 33,000 job vacancies and 225,000 unemployed.  It means one in three on invalidity benefit will lose about £32 a week as they are moved to Job Seekers Allowance.

Commuters Blast Scotrail 'Discrimination'
An angry train user has accused ScotRail of "blatant discrimination" against passengers travelling to and from stations in Sutherland.  Invershin resident Sally Mackintosh, who commutes daily to work in Inverness from her nearest train station at Ardgay, maintains she gets a raw deal on ticket prices and special offers compared to users of the Far North Line at stations outwith the county.  "For years now the ticketing from stations between Ardgay and Helmsdale has been grossly unfair, with customers being forced to pay excessively for their travel," she says. "All the cheaper options only apply to travel starting and stopping at Tain. Nothing goes beyond that except for a weekly season ticket from Helmsdale." Mrs Mackintosh,  has a Highland Rail Card which entitles her to half-price travel. She presently pays a total of £43 a week for her daily journeys from Ardgay to Inverness and back. But she points out that if she was travelling the greater distance from Helmsdale to Inverness, she would have the option of purchasing a £32 weekly season ticket, making her travel costs £11 a week cheaper.   Along with other commuters, including fellow Invershin resident Elissa Steven and Alison Agnew of Bonar Bridge, Mrs Mackintosh has waged a campaign to try to persuade ScotRail to introduce more options and better deals for those travelling from stations north of Tain.

New Website Puts Perthshire Communities Online
A rural Perthshire community has launched a website with the help of funding from the Scottish Government.  The Guildtown, Wolfhill and St Martins website aims to provide a focus on what is happening in the area. A wealth of information will be available from the site, including details of local clubs and organisations, events and activities.  Residents will also be able to check out hall and sports surface bookings, delve into the history of Guildtown and its surroundings and find information on a variety of items of local interest.  That aspect has struck a chord with local people, who have submitted photographs and other personal items to bring the site to life.  Susan Clark, the project's web administrator, said, "This is an ideal way to promote the goings on within our community. This small bit of the internet will hopefully make people aware of what goes on in our little bit of Perthshire.  "It also is a great way to identify how our area has developed as well as background information on some local historical characters — some of whom have changed the world."

Government Ignores its Experts Over Tugs (I would have thought that the UK Government in Westminister would have realised that the UK including Scotland is a maritime nation, however in their zeal to cut the bottom line this has obviously been ignored - Robin )
The UK Government is risking environmental disasters by scrapping emergency tugs in breach of its own expert advice.   A leaked report prepared for the Government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency warns that four tugs – two based in Scotland – are needed to prevent “catastrophic” spillages of oil, toxic chemicals or radioactive waste from accidents at sea. Yet UK ministers have decided to cancel the £12 million-a-year contract for the tugs from September to save money. Alongside plans to close coastguard stations and withdraw Nimrod rescue aircraft, this has provoked a storm of protest from the Scottish Government and councils.  Withdrawing funding for the tugs is “reckless and wrong-headed”, said Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead. “It has potentially serious consequences for human and environmental safety.  Recent incidents have underlined the vital role these emergency tugs play in some of the most dangerous and sensitive areas of our coastline, and we continue to press UK ministers to reconsider their decision.”

The tugs have helped avert a series of disasters in the last few years, and one rescued HMS Astute, the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarine, after it grounded near Skye last October. Around the UK they have prevented up to 35,800 tonnes of oil pollution from 48 shipping incidents since 2005, according to an analysis by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.  The “emergency towing vessels” are stationed at Lerwick, Shetland; Stornoway, Lewis; Dover, Kent; and Falmouth, Cornwall. They were introduced after the Braer oil spill in Shetland in 1993, and are used up to 70 times a year. But last October the Department for Transport in London announced that, as a result of the Government’s spending review, it was going to stop paying for the tugs.  But this decision ignored the clear advice from experts in an internal MCA report. “The current strategy of four vessels is correct,” concluded the report, saying this was “to all intents and purposes an obligation for a country such as the UK”.  The report pointed out that the four tugs played a crucial role in preventing minor accidents from becoming major catastrophes.  The tugs more than paid for themselves because of the huge clean-up costs they saved, the report argued. It pointed out the cost of the Prestige oil spill off Spain in 2002 was “in the order of £650m and rising”.

Police Probe Into Child Beatings At Mosques
Police have launched child assault probes at three of Scotland’s most prominent mosques.  Detectives last night confirmed they are investigating claims boys have been beaten in madrassas – or Islamic schools – in Glasgow.   Their probe is understood to be focusing on madrassas at Glasgow Central Mosque, Scotland’s biggest place of worship of any faith, the influential Masjid Noor in Pollokshields and the smaller Zia ul-Quran nearby.  A spokeswoman said a report on a 49-year- old woman has already been sent to the procurator-fiscal.

The investigations came after prominent Scottish Muslims raised concerns about teaching methods and child safety regimes at the mosques and their associated madrassas. Scottish - born parents are understood to have complained that some teachers in the madrassas recruited from Pakistan were using corporal punishment against their children.  Ali Khan, the chairman of Roshni – a charity that focuses on child abuse in ethnic minority communities – last night stressed that there was no excuse for hitting children at madrassas. Mr Khan said: “Corporal punishment is completely unacceptable in Scotland. And it is also totally unacceptable in Islam, which does not condone the beating of young children. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse. Roshni and several other groups are ready to help.”

Child protection experts have long expressed concerns about some of the other 3000 children who regularly attend madrassas in Scotland.  “They have no idea what they are doing,” said one concerned parent about her son’s madrassa. “They have hundreds of children but haven’t even ever organised a fire drill. Sometimes you don’t even know who the teacher is.”  The revelations come after Channel 4 aired a documentary showing pupils being hit and kicked at a mosque school in Birmingham.  The programme also revealed evidence of extremist views being taught at Muslim schools.  A class of 11-year-olds at the school were told not to trust more liberal Muslims. Their teacher said: “The person who’s got less than a fistful of beard, then you should stay away from him the same way you should stay away from a serpent or a snake.”  Another group of pupils are told in an assembly at the school: “The disbelievers, they are the worst of all people.”

Plug Pulled on Day Centre At Raigmore
Plans for an urgently-needed new day services centre at Raigmore Hospital have been shelved amid a tight squeeze on the region's health spending.  The £24.8 million project was to ease pressure on the existing nine-theatre surgical department which the hospital's managers recently described as working in a way which was "potentially dangerous and unsustainable". But disappointed health officials, who submitted a business case to the Scottish Government in November, were informed yesterday that it will not now go ahead.  The news has been greeted with anger and disappointment by politicians in the region.  It coincided with the announcement that capital funding for NHS Highland for the next financial year will be less than half what it was this year - £13.6 million compared with £29.9 million.

The centre, planned for several years, was NHS Highland's largest single capital project and included a new building for patients undergoing day surgery plus a refurbishment of the hospital's renal unit and a satellite renal unit at Invergordon. In making a robust case to the government last autumn, NHS Highland warned the existing theatres were so busy, they presented major risks and breached guidelines designed to allow time between cases to allow for preparation, cleaning and maintenance.  The department was working at 100 per cent capacity two weeks out of every five - above the recommended 85 per cent capacity.

New Church of Scotland Minister for Point
At a well-attended service the Reverend James Robert Ross Macaskill, formerly Probationary Minister at the East Church, Inverness, was ordained and inducted into Knock Parish Church of Scotland, Garrabost.  The ceremony of ordination and induction was carried out by the Lewis Presbytery of the Church of Scotland, led by the Moderator, the Rev. Paul Amed, and the Clerk, the Rev. Thomas Sinclair. The sermon was preached by the Rev. Stephen Macdonald of Carloway, and the Rev. William Black, High Church, Stornoway, conducted the Charges to the Minister and the Congregation.  Afterwards over 300 members of the congregation, guests and visitors gathered in Aird School Hall for a most enjoyable social evening. After tea and refreshments various speeches and presentations were made under the chairmanship of the Moderator.

Holyrood Poll Date Could Be Moved
The Scottish Parliament has been offered the chance to change the date of the next Holyrood election.  Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the date could be moved forward or back by one year to avoid a clash with the UK general election on May 7, 2015.  It means future Holyrood terms could last five years instead of four.

The Government has written to the presiding officers of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales about the move.  Mr Clegg, said: "We want to ensure that election campaigns for the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales can be distinctly separate from the build-up to and aftermath of the 2015 Westminster election. "But this is their choice to make - they can hold it in May 2015 if they wish, or a year before or after if they prefer - as part of this Government's commitment to mutual respect, devolution of power and political accountability."  MSPs will now be asked to consider the issue, but will be required to come up with an answer before Parliament is dissolved in March for this year's election.  Mark Harper, Minister for Political and Constitutional Reform, said the move followed "several months of dialogue" with the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments, adding: "They have asked for this power and we think it is right to give them this choice."

The Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales will both need to pass a resolution agreeing that the 2015 election should be moved on a one-off basis to another date one year earlier or later than May 2015 before they rise ahead of this year's election.  The resolution must be passed with a two-thirds majority, meaning the Government could table an amendment to the Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Bill, which sets UK Parliamentary general elections to every five years, is currently before the House of Lords.

New Catamaran for Harris Tour Operator is A First for Scotland
An Isle of Harris based cruise operator is investing in a new catamaran which will be used all year round when recreational sea angling is introduced to their range of trips.  Kilda Cruises currently operate day trips to St Kilda and other Hebridean islands using their existing vessel, Orca II which will be replaced later this year with a new catamaran, doubling the available capacity to 12 people.  Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) has been working with the owner, Angus Campbell on his plans to expand the Tarbert based business and has provided financial support of £109,500 towards the new vessel and equipment as well as assisting with marketing advice and guidance for the new service.  The new catamaran, which will be ready at the end of this year is a 16m long Wildcat 53 and will be the first of its kind in Scotland. The manufacturer, Safehaven Marine in Ireland developed the design as a support vessel for servicing offshore wind, and is expected to create opportunities for Angus in this sector, allowing for easier disembarkation on platforms. The catamaran design also creates both greater stability and increased comfort and is 20 percent more fuel efficient than similar sized mono-hull vessels.

Island's Owner Offers it Free
The owner of a Hebridean island has offered residents the chance to take it over for free.
Fred Taylor, who acquired Scalpay on the death of his father is prepared to relinquish ownership if the 300 islanders are willing to take control.  The move has been welcomed by Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan, who called it a "historic opportunity". A public meeting is planned to discuss the offer.  In a letter to the island's 128 households, Mr Taylor wrote: "My intention is that if the community wish to become involved then the land will be handed over, at no cost, for the benefit of the community."

Police Probe 'Missing Cash' Mosque Claim
Police have launched an investigation after claims that £500,000 donated by a Saudi prince to an Edinburgh mosque has disappeared.  The money was given to Edinburgh Central Mosque in Potterow when it was opened in 1998.  It is understood the money was intended to buy land at the site on the south side of the city.  But it has now emerged that a number of worshippers at the mosque, which has operated as a charity for the past ten years, have asked the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator to review the mosque's finances.  A source said: "In 1998 when the mosque was opened, £500,000 was donated by a prince in Saudi Arabia intended to buy the land next door.  "Now we are unable to get answers on where that money has disappeared to."   A Lothian and Borders police spokesman said: "An investigation is under way into allegations of financial irregularities at a place of worship in the south of Edinburgh."

Holyrood Paid Out £800,000 for Visit of Pope
Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh cost the Scottish Government over £800,000.  The amount of taxpayers’ money spent by Holyrood on the occasion amounts to almost £85,000 per hour of the Pontiff’s stop-off in Scotland last September, during which he led more than 200,000 worshippers at an open air mass at Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. A further 50,000 spectators watched the Popemobile tour the centre of Edinburgh as part of a St Ninian’s Day parade.  The cost of UK state visit was split between Holyrood, Whitehall and the Catholic Church, with extra security and policing largely financed by individual forces.

It emerged yesterday that the UK Government spent at least £7 million, before security, over the course of the four-day trip, which included an open-air mass in Birmingham.  The Catholic Church has been asked to reimburse the taxpayer another £6.35m for the lavish pastoral events staged over the four days.  The Holyrood contribution does not include the total policing bill for the Scottish stages of his visit or the final costs to either Edinburgh or Glasgow councils.  Figures released by Fiona Hyslop, minister for culture and external affairs, show the Scottish Government spent £75,000 on the Edinburgh parade, with £41,000 given to Edinburgh City Council to prepare the route for the procession.  A further £336,000 was spent on public safety and security measures at Bellahouston Park, with the UK Government spending £264,030 on the event. The total cost of the open-air mass was £1.4m.  Ms Hyslop called the visit a “tremendous success”.

Assets to Be Sold Off After Fall of Construction Giant
Vehicles and equipment worth millions of pounds will be auctioned off to the highest bidder next month following the collapse of a north-east construction giant.  Companies from around the UK and Europe are expected to flock to Aberdeenshire on March 23 to buy the assets of the debt-laden Les Taylor Group. More than 500 lots – including bulldozers, road rollers, diggers, dumper trucks, flat trailers, cars, 4X4s and nearly 100 vans – will be sold in what is the biggest commercial sale yet at the Thainstone Centre, Inverurie.

Fears That Courses Could Be Scrapped At New University
The newly appointed University of the Highlands and Islands is considering scrapping some courses this year amid “substantial” funding cuts, it was revealed yesterday.  UHI was awarded university status only days ago but now bosses admit existing and new courses which were due to start in September – including a BSc (Hons) computing degree – are under threat. A spokesman for UHI said all courses across its 13 colleges and resource centres are in jeopardy.   The news left 14 HND computing students at Inverness College’s Longman campus reeling as the majority of them anticipated progressing on to the degree, which was due to launch at the site in September. Their lecturers dropped the bombshell on Thursday that the course could be dropped.   If the axe falls on the course, it is too late for students to apply to other colleges and universities across the UK as the cut-off date was January 15.

Meanwhile, five members of the Gaelic development team at the Highlands and Islands University received redundancy letters yesterday.  The team and their manager were responsible for developing the organisation’s Gaelic plan.  Bòrd na Gàidhlig chief executive John Angus MacKay said on Thursday his organisation was concerned over the ability of the university to deliver its Gaelic commitments as a result of the redundancies.

Tricky Task for Both Coalition
David Cameron and Nick Clegg were in awkward positions as they came out fighting, from opposite corners, over the alternative vote referendum for Westminster seats. It was not so much the potential embarrassment of the prime minister and his deputy campaigning against each, for that was expected.  What was problematic was that Mr Clegg was championing a holy-grail policy of the Lib Dems, which sealed the coalition deal, but he was doing it at a time when his party is much-reviled, in some quarters, for joining the Conservatives. So, at the very moment the dream of an alternative voting system is almost within their grasp, large swathes of the country are against them. Mr Cameron, on the other hand, was faced with the tricky task of pouring scorn on “hung” parliaments, while reaping the rewards of being swept into power by one.

It would be much simpler for the Tories and Labour if they were swept into power with thumping majorities like the “good” old days. The trouble with big majorities, for both parties over the past 30 years, is that they breed complacency and abuse of power. Disillusioned voters delivered a coalition last year, which is a commonplace event around Europe. With alternative voting, every vote does count. In many safe Westminster seats under the current system, sitting members did not secure a majority of the total votes cast, but might have a job for life.  Another point to remember is that if a major element of alternative voting is good enough for Scotland, under the electoral system here, then why not Westminster?

Black Pudding Wars Erupt and Annie Waits for Lord Coe’s Call By Iain Maciver
When the Olympic flame arrives from Greece in just over a year’s time it could start its journey to London from the top of the Clisham, that big lump of rock that not only physically separates Lewis from Harris but marks the difference between two radically different ways of life.

About 8,000 runners in all will take the flaming torch from Olympia to London via the Hebrides so as many of the population as possible will be within an hour’s drive of it. So, if the residents of Rodel in South Harris aren’t to be left out at the very start, and that would never do, then it all has to kick off on An Cliseam, to give the hill its proper Gaelic name. Unless Lord Coe decides to start it in Barra, in which case Castlebay is in for a busy time. Or unless the man formerly known as Sebastian completely disregards the bid by the Western Isles to kick off the UK end, in which case you can disregard everything I have written so far.

However, I have a sneaking feeling the chairman of the London organising committee for the Olympic Games won’t do that. After all, he came up to visit us here in the Western Isles last May to have a good look round. Why was that, do you think?  Some scurrilous observers reckoned it was just a charm offensive so those in far-flung places wouldn’t feel left out and that it didn’t mean anything. However, they didn’t know about the ample charms of the islanders who met him and toiled to make his stay memorable.

Is the life peer likely to forget how he was fabulously entertained by Councillor Annie Macdonald? Annie told me recently she was hopeful she made a big impression on him. They were together at sunrise, she revealed. No, no, no; I didn’t want to know any more, cousin Annie.  It was a working breakfast, she added. Oh, that’s all right then. Phew. It’s in the bag.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hear they’re going to build another Olympic village here on Lewis. Now, where would be most suitable? How about . . . Laxay? Isn’t that where Annie stays? Gosh, I hadn’t thought of that.   After all, the man in ermine will need some excuse to come and lap up more of Annie’s full Scottish with extra black puddings.

It is these same black puddings, or marags, as we call them here, which now threaten the peaceful co-existence of the two races that are separated by the Clisham. For some unearthly reason, our council bigwigs thought it would be a mega idea to get all island producers of black puddings marketed under the label of Stornoway Black Pudding. The officials were so smug for having come up with the idea. They all went around patting themselves on the back. Clever ploy, they thought, which follows the famous KISS maxim. Keep It Simple, Stupid.

And it was precisely that – stupid.

Why would pudding-makers in Harris and Ness fall over themselves to have their own areas’ names expunged and their efforts flogged as that of their bitter rivals, the lah-di-dah townies? Yeah, right.  A.D. Munro, in Tarbert, proudly claims to use a secret family recipe for his tasty, big, black ones. Of course, we Leodhasachs suspect it was vastly improved by an additional set of instructions smuggled over the Clisham by his son-in-law, Hecco.

Everyone knows it takes a Lewisman who has grown up in the land of the doosh, that bundle of pungent offal necessary for turning out genuine homemade marags of which all shop-bought ones are mere imitations, to get the mix just right.  My mother used to say you needed big sheep blood, good guts and a combination of herbs and spices that she would reveal only to someone she was about to kill. Don’t think Mammy Maciver did get done for murder, as far as I can remember.

When Hearachs go on about the wonderful taste and consistency of A.D.’s, we nod sagely. We know what’s what. We’ll just let them think that it’s all their own work. Say no more, Hecco. My lips are sealed.  In any case, Mr Munro blew a gasket – as any vaguely-sane person knew he would.  He’s a Hearach, for goodness sake. And we all know how bolshie they can be. I should know; I somehow ended up married to a half-Hearach – always wanting to get her own way. Buy me this, buy me that. She’s been demanding a new chest freezer for a year now.  No way.

Meanwhile, up in Ness, marag merchant Rona Morrison, of Cross Stores, was, well, cross. “We would rather retain the Ness black pudding than have it lumped in with the Stornoway label,” she raged. So there. Rona, “lumped in” is a very descriptive phrase. Are you somehow suggesting that the famous product of Church Street, Westview Terrace, Francis Street and Ropework Park has less of a smooth consistency than that to be found in the land that brought us the guga mousse? I think we should be told.  Poor Murdo Mackay, the council’s marag dubh development officer, has been forced to abandon the plan. Methinks a fierce war could be about to break out.

The townie snobs in Stornoway tried to trample over the feelings of these honest, hard-working maw marag makers and things could be about to get very, very bloody. As I said, my own wife has Harris blood in her. Someone of Harris extraction can be very hard to keep. All she can talk about is the chest freezer. Have you seen the price of these things?  But I surprised her the other night when I rolled in from the pub and announced I’d got her a chest freezer at last. Aw, it was lovely to see the look of sheer astonishment on her wee face – just after I popped the ice-cube down the top of her jumper.

Frosty Response to Leaked Memo
On the subject of US-Scottish relations, things took another turn for the worse as the Scottish administration accused American diplomats of blundering over their supposed interpretation, according to WikiLeaks, of the first minister’s position on independence. According to a memo from the US embassy in London to Washington, Alex Salmond would settle for continued devolution, with extended powers, as opposed to full separation.  It received a frosty response from Mr Salmond’s office, which was hardly surprising, given the closeness of the Scottish parliamentary elections and the SNP’s declared campaign stance on independence. Mr Salmond abandoned his independence referendum, for the time being, in the face of hostile opposition from the pro-union parties, which hold the majority of Scottish votes cast the last time and, logic would suggest, represent the majority.  Polls have pointed with regularity to most people in Scotland shying away from full independence, but wishing to see greater devolved powers. It is a balancing act that also exists in Catalonia in Spain, for example, and people have become accustomed to it in Scotland over more than a decade. Maybe it is just the Americans who are not accustomed to it.

Fisherman Tells of His Search for Survivors
A scallop fishermen has described how he searched desperately for survivors after finding his friend's capsized dredger off the west coast of Scotland.  Eric McIlwraith feared the worst for the crew of the Aquila, which overturned off Ardnamurchan in July 2009.  The Girvan fisherman told a fatal accident inquiry on Monday 21st how he searched for 90 minutes, but failed to locate any of his friends.  Three crew - skipper Tony Hayton, Peter Hilton and Martin Sanderson, all from Cumbria - were killed.  A fourth crewman, Timmy Rowley, managed to survive by grabbing planks to help him float. He was collected by crew on a passing yacht.

Mr McIlwraith,  told the inquiry at Fort William Sheriff Court: "I spoke to Peter regularly that day, just socially.  I had been dredging further south and he was at Ardnamurchan, which is bad for snagging your gear.  I tried calling Peter later in the day, but there was no answer on their mobiles. I got concerned.  When I got to the scene the vessel was upside down, floating. There were two lifeboats and another fishing vessel on the scene. I got involved in the search. We were out for about an hour and a half. The lifeboat picked up someone, but we never found anything."  He said:  "I had no concerns about Tony's vessel. Ardnamurchan was renowned for being very snaggy ground. You could snag four or five times a day. It was not an unusual occurrence. But the fishing is good, that's why we go there. But it can be risky. It is part and parcel of the job. It is dangerous."

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has already carried out an investigation into the tragedy and found the sinking was caused by the trawling gear snagging on the seabed.  Investigators also found that an increase in the Aquila's ballast in the past 20 years meant it no longer met stability standards for its size.  The MAIB report said the snagging of the gear caused the boat to roll to one side and water entered the galley through an open door. Although the skipper tried to take action, the boat rapidly capsized as it was hit by a series of large waves. The accident was witnessed from the shoreline by a holidaymaker, who called the emergency services.  The fatal accident inquiry continues.

Moray Knitters Send the Humble Gansey to the Catwalk At London Fashion Week
They were once worn by Scots fishermen as protection against the salt water and sea spray. Now traditional gansey knitted sweaters are set to be taken up by the fashion set after they graced the catwalks at London Fashion week.  On a runway fitted out at the old fish market at Billingsgate, and in front of an audience that included the Prime Minister's wife, Samantha Cameron, models sashayed by in sweaters inspired by those once worn by men hauling in nets off Scotland's east coast.

The design house Meadham Kirchhoff have employed a team of knitters from Moray, as well as Scots knitwear expert Di Gilpin, to create the centrepiece of their new collection - which updated the designs to include images such as witches.  For weeks a team of about 35 knitters, under the guidance of Ms Gilpin, created more than 40 intricate pieces, including socks, skirts and sweaters, incorporating the complex designs that in the past helped to identify the bodies of drowned sailors as belonging to a particular village.  In the 18th and 19th century it was common for wives to knit the initials of their husbands into an overall design which differed slightly from village to village along the Scots coast.

The designers, Edward Meadham and Benjamin Kirchoff were inspired by the hard-wearing form of the knitwear when Ms Gilpin, an adviser to the Moray Firth Gansey Project, which seeks to preserve the patterns and skills, briefed them on its history and sent copies of the many different designs to their London offices. As a result, the designers commissioned about 40 extremely complicated pieces, which required knitters in Edinburgh and the Moray Firth to toil through the night to meet the deadline.

The Moray Firth Gansey Project, funded by the Scottish Government, the Lottery and the European Union aims to preserve and record the different styles of Gansey knitwear found in the Moray Firth. The word "gansey" comes from Guernsey, where these hard-wearing, water-repelling, seamless woollen jumpers were first made.  The secret to their success was for the wool to be twisted particularly hard during the spinning process, so that when they were later tightly knitted, the finished garment would repel rain and sea spray. The jumper was adopted by fisherman around the coast, but in Scotland's fishing villages, highly decorative patterns were added.  As part of the project, the team have gathered as many old ganseys as possible so as to note the patterns and styles with the goal of building up a complete picture of ganseys knitted around the Moray Firth. Yesterday Rona Stephen, an architect and one of the knitters who accompanied Ms Gilpin to the show, said: "I remember my grandmother sitting with friends and neighbours knitting Fair Isle sweaters and that is what we were like, we came together to knit these pieces. It was a wonderful experience. The staging of the fashion show was like a memorial, which was so fitting, as these jumpers were once used as a means of identifying the dead."

New Bridge Will Get Name As Brown Snub 'Misunderstood'
Earlier this month, Transport Minister Keith Brown appeared to snub calls for a competition to name the £2 billion structure and insist it would continue to be known simply as the Forth Replacement Crossing.  But now Transport Scotland has claimed his comments were misunderstood.  A spokeswoman said: "While there is not a pressing need to decide on a name for the new bridge at this stage, before any construction has started or even the contract to build it has been awarded, of course arrangements to consider the naming of the new bridge will be put in place in due course."  Ideas already floated include calling it the Queensferry Bridge or naming it after 11th century Queen Margaret.

Terror on the Streets of Auchinleck As Gunmen Shoot Pupils At Random
A school lunchtime turned to horror in a small Scottish town after 11 children were injured when two hooded teenagers went on a gun rampage.  The pupils were walking near Auchinleck Academy in Ayrshire when two young men, believed to be aged 15 and 18, began shooting at them during a 25-minute spree.  Some youngsters were forced to dive for cover as others were left with wounds to their legs and upper bodies.  A massive police manhunt was launched after the attacks, in which the gunmen appeared to fire indiscriminately at the pupils enjoying their lunchbreak in streets around the school.  Two teenagers were later detained in connection with the incident.  Of those injured, at least one required an operation yesterday to remove a metal pellet from their leg.  Others were taken to Kilmarnock's Crosshouse Hospital for treatment, many driven there by local people who had witnessed the attacks. All the injured were aged between 12 and 16. All but one of the 11 victims - six boys and five girls - were pupils at Auchinleck Academy, which has a roll of 955 students.  The pupils were targeted seemingly at random as they made their way downhill from the school towards their homes and the town centre, and as they made their way back to afternoon classes.  Those shot were not walking in a group, but were targeted indiscriminately, according the police officer leading the investigation

Firearms legislation is reserved to the UK government in Westminster, which in March 2008 rejected a call from SNP ministers for a review of gun laws.But, Sir Kenneth Calman, in his devolution review, recommended its transfer which is expected to happen within months.

Castle's History Comes Full Circle As 2,000-year-old Round House Found
An iron age round house has been identified in the grounds of Culzean Castle and Country Park in Ayrshire. A circular ditched enclosure, almost 40 metres in diameter, was spotted in aerial photographs taken of an "otherwise featureless field" at High Whitestone, just below the camping site at Culzean. Archaeologists uncovered a range of pits and postholes and an arc of curving wall foundation which suggested a timber-built round house about ten metres in diameter was once on the site.  Radiocarbon dating has now dated the remains to the Iron Age, about 2,000 years ago.  The site also showed signs of use throughout the medieval period - the first such evidence to be uncovered at Culzean - with the site thought to have been used in the 14th century.

Laboratory radiocarbon results have now revealed that the roundhouse was in use some time around 20BC to AD130.  The oak branch from the ditch gave a date range of AD1290 to 1410, in the Middle Ages. It seems possible that the site was re- occupied in the 14th century. Mr Alexander added: "I'm very excited by the results. This is the second time we've had good evidence for Iron Age activity at Culzean but the medieval dates are even more intriguing. This date fills a chronological gap in our knowledge of the estate although we have yet to figure out what the settlement may have looked like."

Round house designs first appeared in Britain towards the end of the Stone Age, around 2,500BC. They continued to be popular up to about AD200. They are peculiar to Britain as their use did not spread over on to the continent.  Culzean Castle was the principal seat of the Kennedy family - which traces its ancestry to Robert the Bruce - from 1759.  Over the centuries the Kennedys transformed a medieval tower house into one of the grandest country houses in Ayrshire.

Enough is Enough Say Golspie Residents As Water Fails Again
Golspie residents are shouting "enough is enough" after their water supply was cut off again on Tuesday - the third time in three months.  Residents, the local Highland councillor, the community council and a local MSP are all calling for Scottish Water to act immediately to discover the cause of so many bursts and overhaul the supply network.

Ian Ross, Highland Council representative for East Sutherland and Edderton, who lives in Golspie, said: "The problem with Scottish Water's central management is, it's entirely reactive. There's a burst so they fix it. There's no recognition that the system is rotten. It must be soul destroying for the tiny front line workforce, chasing bursts hither and yon, wondering how long the system is going to hold this time. Any competent manager knows, by the time you have that many failures in a rotting system, it's time for major replacement. Margaret Thatcher sold off England's water industry, we kept ours, and a good thing too. Now we need the Scottish Government to dance on the heads of Scottish Water management. Scottish Water has its capital programme, so why not put some of it Golspie's way?" A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We have raised this issue with Scottish Water and are assured the issue is being investigated as a priority, with a view to finding a long-term solution."  Meanwhile, Scottish Water is thanking residents of the Sutherland village for their patience.

Scotland’s History Online ( You little beauty - Robin)
New documents that shed light on the history of our ancestors – such as the names of clock and watch owners in the late 18th Century and 18,000 maps and town plans dating back to the 1580s – have just gone live online. They’ll join a treasure trove of material on the Scotland’s Places website,, which now brings together records from three of Scotland’s national archives: the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) and the National Library of Scotland (NLS).   The website will interest amateur genealogists and professional researchers alike, providing an unrivalled resource of information on the historical landscape of Scotland. New additions – drawn from the collections of the National Library of Scotland (NLS) – include:  
1.  the incredibly detailed Ordnance Survey (OS) 1st edition 6-inch maps which show every       road, field, hedge, mile post and even post box in the landscape 1843-1882;   
2.  county maps of Scotland, 1580-1928 – these pre-OS maps include the work of the most famous Scottish cartographers: Timothy Pont, Robert Gordon, and John Adair and include maps from the major Scottish Atlases of the 18th C by Blaeu, Moll and Thomson.
3.  historical town plans, 1580-1919 which are uniquely valuable for understanding the development of Scotland’s towns. For the cities (Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow) beautiful and accurate maps or ‘bird’s eye views’ exist from the 17th century;
4.  bathymetric surveys of the lochs of Scotland from 1897-1909

Users can search across the three national databases at once, using geographic locations such as counties, parishes or other place names to start their search, before drilling down through a series of map layers including Ordnance Survey (OS) maps, to refine their search area. Users can then create their own detailed, interactive historical archive maps, by plotting search results within the website or by using external geobrowsers like Google Earth.

Other additions – from the National Archives of Scotland – are the rolls of taxes on clocks and watches imposed during the war against France in 1797-8. The rolls name the owners of timepieces which were subject to tax and cover about two-thirds of Scotland.

ScotlandsPlaces offers information such as:
Maps and plans of counties, cities, towns, villages, farms, roads, canals, harbours, churches, schools, public buildings, private houses, mines and quarries – including the minerals extracted;  photographs, plans and drawings of buildings and landmarks and associated archaeological information and uses the very latest search technology to offer people access to maps including the earliest maps of Scotland by Timothy Pont up to the 20th century.”

Manuscript records and printed books from millions of pages in government and private records, including tax rolls, owners of watches and clocks, owners of land and heritages and the annual reports of county Medical Officers of Health.

Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at NLS said:
“Maps present history in one of its most enthralling forms and the maps which have just gone live on ScotlandsPlaces, collectively offer an unrivalled resource for understanding the history of Scotland’s landscape.

Robin Urquhart, Online Resources Archivist at the NAS said:
“In 1787 a short-lived tax on clocks and watches was imposed in Scotland. Today, the surviving tax rolls provide an unusual and intriguing snapshot of Scottish history.They will be of great interest to researchers of family history as well those interested in the fascinating history of timekeeping itself.”

RCAHMS head of Education & Outreach, Rebecca Bailey said:
“Anyone with an interest in Scotland’s landscape and history, or in finding out more about how our ancestors lived and the stories of their families and communities will find this free resource fascinating.  No matter where in the world you are, you can look up anywhere in Scotland and - for the first time - see at a click what’s available from three of Scotland’s national collections.

ScotlandsPlaces draws on live data so that as new information is added to the digitised collections of RCAHMS, the NAS, and NLS, it will be accessible via the website.

Success for Island Pupils in National Competition
Pupils from the Western Isles have swept the boards for the third year running at the Royal Mail’s National Gaelic creative writing competition.  In the 8-12 year old category, Lauren Matheson from Barvas Primary School was presented with the prestigious Scottish Books Trust’s first prize for Gaelic at the annual Royal Mail awards ceremony which was held in the Tramway Theatre in Glasgow on Tuesday the 15th of February 2011.  Freya MacLeod from Stornoway Primary, who won the event last year, along with Katie Finlayson from Barvas Primary School, was awarded joint runners up in the national competition.  Freya and Lauren attended the prize giving ceremony in Glasgow but Katie was unable to attend.