Some Scottish News & Views #80

This little effort is for the period ending Saturday 26th March 2011. In this issue there’s a fair bit of doom & gloom re the UK budget.  The complaints that you’ll read about are only a very small example which incidently almost mirrors the feelings in Wales and N.Ireland. - Robin

Take Bull by the Horns  Over Election Timing by Margo MacDonald
Respect!? Don’t make me laugh. Scotland’s politicians were conned.   Respect from Westminster is just another weasel word when applied to Scotland. But don’t let’s get mad, getting even is much better.

When David Cameron visited Holyrood a couple of days after he was elected (if not by Scots voters) most people welcomed his promise of a respectful working relationship with Holyrood.   Sceptics kept quiet as the new PM and Alex Salmond gave a fair impression of two guys who really enjoyed being together.   This particular sceptic had already written to the Presiding Officer about the harm to Scotland’s best interests by holding the 2015 Westminster elections on the same day as that earmarked for the Holyrood election.   Danny Alexander, the Inverness Lib Dem MP, who was David Cameron’s Scottish Secretary before being moved to fill the no. 2 slot at the Treasury, assured me the matter had been raised and that opposition such as my own was being respectfully considered.

So far, so good. He meant what he said, of that I’m sure, and another of his Scots Lib Dem colleagues and I established a line of communication for further discussion, if any were needed.   I didn’t believe the clash of dates had occurred because someone down there had something against Scotland.  Once again, I thought, Scotland had been forgotten, overlooked by politicians and civil servants alike in Whitehall and Westminster.

I was too generous. The argument against two elections on the same day was clear and being properly addressed, or so we believed. But instead, the Coalition Government had the effrontery to tell us by press release that our pleas had been dismissed. To add insult to injury, they’ve decided next year’s Holyrood election should share a day with the Alternative Vote referendum.  I’ve written again to Alex Fergusson. Since Westminster is stringing us along we should take the bull by the horns and go for five-year fixed term parliaments. Far from being a hammer to crack a nut, my request is an exercise in making a virtue out of necessity.  There’s now a pattern to our present four-year Holyrood Parliaments. Following elections, it takes the best part of the first year to put back in the box destructive party political electioneering.

In the middle two years, MSPs should work together more constructively but then in the pre-election period MSPs begin jockeying inside their parties for a favourable position on the Regional Lists and the parties start gearing up for the election.  So the productive, bolder policy-making phase ends and in the present Holyrood session, we’ve also had the distraction of a drawn out Westminster election, further distorting the conduct and temper of business, and arguably, making all-party efforts to combat the economic crisis impossible.  Another year would lengthen the positive part of the cycle, allow Holyrood the attention it should have during elections and may bring about a better quality of governance, at no extra expense.

Hoard of Iron Age Gold to Go on Display
A hoard of Iron Age treasure which was unearthed by a novice metal-detecting enthusiast is being displayed at the National Museum of Scotland.  The four gold neck ornaments, known as torcs, date to the 1st and 3rd century BC and were found just six inches beneath the surface of a Stirlingshire field in September 2009.   The treasure trove was allocated to the national collection in Chambers Street, Edinburgh - and netted finder David Booth £462,000.  Mr Booth had owned his detector for five days and was only moments into his first proper attempt when he hit the jackpot.  The torcs, on show from Monday, are considered the most significant gold hoard and were secured for the nation following a fundraising campaign.

Excavations showed that the torcs, which have a Mediterranean influence, were buried inside a wooden building. Experts said it revealed the wealth and connections of Scotland from the time.  Dr Gordon Rintoul, director of National Museums Scotland, said: "We are delighted to have secured this stunning hoard for display in Scotland's national museum.  We already attract over 600,000 visitors a year from Scotland and across the world, and expect many more when the fully redeveloped museum opens this summer.  The hoard is certain to become one of the highlights of a visit to the museum."  Funds for the treasure came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund, National Museums Scotland and the Scottish Government.

Parents Flush Out Cameras From School Toilets Over Privacy Fears
Two secondary schools in West Lothian are set to be forced to remove CCTV cameras from the pupil toilets after concerns were raised by parents.  West Calder High and Whitburn Academy have cameras covering the sink areas in toilets, but West Lothian Council is reviewing its guidelines following "a small number of complaints and concerns".

It launched a consultation and the new rules, if voted through at a meeting tomorrow, would confine cameras to monitoring the doors of toilets.  The council also says CCTV would now only be installed in "sensitive" areas with the support of parent councils and that it would not be moved to other positions. The guidelines are the same for both primary and secondary schools.

Father-of-three Martin Malone, 37, from Bathgate, has two children at West Lothian schools. He said: "I can't go to a school play or a football game and take pictures or video my children, but they want to film them in toilets? Are they having a laugh? There's no way my children should be filmed in a toilet. Who would have had access to these images? What if someone wanted to use them for devious purposes?"

The Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers endorsed removing cameras from toilets, but the parent councils at Broxburn Academy, Bellsquarry Primary, Kirkhill Primary and Windyknowe Primary said the benefits outweighed any potential privacy issues.  The headteachers at schools where cameras were already installed said they deterred violent behaviour, vandalism and smoking and gave the children an "increased sense of security".

Groat News! 2p Coin Set to Raise A Cool £1200 in Auction
It is a battered old coin which was originally worth only four old pennies - or close to 2p in modern money.  Five hundred years after it was created in the Capital, however, the rare groat is set to fetch up to £1200 at auction.

The silver groat was made at the Edinburgh Mint during the reign of King James IV of Scotland and it is thought to have lain in the ground undisturbed for around 500 years.  Experts say it was created around 15 years before the Battle of Flodden Field in Northumberland on September 9, 1513, when, at the age of just 40, James IV became the last British monarch to be killed in battle.  On one side of the coin is a rough carved image of James IV, recognisable from his flowing hair, while on the reverse is a Latin motto which cannot be made out due to the worn edges, and an inscription saying the coin was minted in the Capital.  It was made at the Edinburgh Mint sometime between June 14, 1488 and September 9, 1513 - about 60 years after Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, in 1431, and about 15 years after Caxton set up his printing press in 1476.

Exactly where and when the Edinburgh groat was unearthed is now a mystery, although experts at London auction house Spink say the coin's toning confirms that it had been in the ground and was probably once part of a hoard.  William Mackay, a coins specialist at Spink, said: "You can tell it has most likely been stored with other coins because it has not been worn away too badly, as it would have been if it was on its own and more exposed.  "We think this was made early in the reign of James IV, and the inscription on the back places it as being made in Edinburgh. The mint would have been a very secure building, probably linked to the government, and would most likely have been somewhere near Edinburgh Castle." Spink say that it is "rare" and despite its age it is in what they call "good very fine" condition.

There was only one Scottish Mint during the reign of King James IV and that was in Edinburgh. After his reign, the only other Mint in Scotland was at Stirling, where bawbees, or halfpennies, were produced during the 25-year reign (1542-1567) of Mary, Queen of Scots. Scots groats were not issued until the 1329-1371 reign of King David II and were originally worth four old pennies - about 2p - although later issues were valued at eightpence - 3p - and a shilling - 5p.

Midge Ure Backs Water Crisis Fight
Musician and charity crusader Midge Ure has joined Scotland`s fight to help solve the world's water crisis.  The former Ultravox star is backing Glasgow's bid to host the 2015 World Water Forum.  He will work to promote Scotland's commitment to provide safe, clean water to developing countries and efforts to improve global water security.  The Cambuslang-born musician said: "I set up Band Aid with Bob Geldof because the people of East Africa were suffering from a drought which led to famine.  "Sadly, water shortages are still a major cause of pain and suffering around the world.  The world needs to wake up to the water crisis and act together to find a solution.  Scotland's bid for the World Water Forum makes me proud - it's about us playing our part in a global crisis.  I know Glasgow will be a fantastic host city, and that Scots will play their part in helping the world."

The World Water Forum is held every three years to raise the profile of international water issues and attracts government leaders, engineers, academics and representatives of the global water industry.  Scotland is competing against South Korea and the United Arab Emirates to host the forum.

Fire Leads to Cannabis Factory Find
More than 500 cannabis plants with a street value of £195,000 have been found after a fire at a house in Airdrie.  Firefighters made the discovery after being called to a property in Clark Street, Airdrie, North Lanarkshire.  Police said it was the third "major cultivation" found in Airdrie in recent months.  Detective Inspector David Plunkett, of Strathclyde Police, said: "More and more cannabis factories are cropping up in residential areas, turning these otherwise innocuous properties into a means for organised crime.  This also brings with it a variety of associated risks, including fire, which has been the case in this inquiry.  An average cannabis factory will generally bypass the electricity which creates a major fire hazard. Thankfully no-one was injured in this particular incident."  He continued: "This is the third major cultivation that has been recovered in the Airdrie area in as many months by officers from the divisional proactive unit.  "We would ask the public to remain vigilant and if they suspect anything that may indicate the location of a cannabis factory in their area to contact their local police office."

Contract Saving Cuts Bridge Cost
The total cost of the new Forth road bridge has dropped from £2.3 billion to just over £1.6 billion.   Transport Scotland said the cost had fallen due to a reduction in price of the principal contract and the removal of other costs due to UK Treasury changes.   It was announced that the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors (FCBC) consortium has been chosen as preferred bidder to build the bridge.  FCBC's successful bid for the design and build contract is £790 million, representing a saving on the initial estimated cost of £1.2 billion.  The contract will be awarded to FCBC in April, with construction starting on site soon after.

Single Police Force Backed by Study

The case for a single police force in Scotland has been "strengthened" by a report into potential reform, the Justice Secretary has said.  Kenny MacAskill said savings of £153 million could be achieved, but insisted no decision will be made before the Holyrood election on May 5.  His comments followed a meeting of the Scottish Policing Board in Edinburgh where the report, compiled by senior police officers and "financial specialists" from all forces, was discussed.  The idea of scrapping the current eight-force model in favour of one Scottish service is backed by Strathclyde Police Chief Constable Stephen House but opposed by others, including the top officer in Grampian and the Scottish Liberal Democrats.  The report described a single force as the least complex and most efficient of the three options put out for consultation by the SNP administration.

Faster Ferries Are Needed Over Here, Come Hell Or High Water
It was my first meeting about ferries at which Sunday sailings weren’t mentioned. Not even once, unless it was in that lull when I nodded off before Councillor Charlie Nicolson tore off his shirt and turned into a gallant movie superhero. More of that later. Powerful decision-makers from the CalMac group of companies and the Scottish Government were lined up in a row to tell us residents of Lewis why we didn’t need two ferries to Ullapool and to just stop going on about it.

Good news on the presentations and charts: passenger numbers are going up a few per cent each year because of the SNP’s wonderful vote-harvesting RET scheme which has seen so many abandon the other party of empty promises.   Everyone agrees we need a bigger, better ferry to cope with all that than the present tub, the motor vessel Isle of Lewis.  She has good passenger accommodation, though. She can ship 1,000 dizzy Mod-goers back to their heathery island home from host towns like Dunoon and Oban.   And she has well-positioned railings for them to lean on while emptying their stomachs into the Minch while all the time keeping time with the swaying multitude warbling Eilean Fraoich.  That’s a song about a heathery island, by the way. It is much-loved by people from a heathery island who always sing it when they leave a heathery island or return to a heathery island, especially if they’ve had a wee drink.

So what answer have the bosses of the state-owned ferry company? Well, how about . . . a single vessel that will carry just 600.   Eh?  Still, she’ll probably be faster, so she will cut the sailing time and will make 10 sailings a day?  Er, not quite. In fact, not at all.

The Edinburgh mandarins got their calculators out and decided 600 passengers was quite enough. The Isle of Lewis rarely has more than 400 or 500 on board, they say. Even if the number travelling goes up a few per cent each year due to the fabulous RET scheme which assured electoral victory and enduring warm hugs here for the entire SNP, it will still be big enough for 25 years.   Except at Royal National Mods, the start and finish of the trades holidays and, of course, most Sundays.

The new ferry would cost a cool £50million. She certainly will take more vehicles, but she would be only a knot or two faster. Probably 18 knots at most. May take 15 minutes off the journey at best.  That made smoke come out of Councillor Charlie’s ears. He wants a faster boat because it is something “which everyone in this community wants”. He went on and on about that.  The captain of the outfit that owns the ferries, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (Clam), clammed up at that point. He saw Charlie’s eyes narrowing. He wasn’t happy. He was changing. He was not Charles Nicholson any more; he was someone else. Someone mean, moody, silent. The background music rose to a crescendo then: yes, yes, yes, Charles Nicholson was Charles Bronson in The Magnificent Seven.  Except there was only one of him.

The other councillors deserted our new hero. The few there said little – except Donald Manford, who is not really known for sitting on his hands and saying nothing.   Most councillors, it seems, could not pull themselves away from Coronation Street to attend a pointless ferries meeting, so poor Charlie was left to plead the case for a faster boat “which everyone in this community wants”, almost on his lonesome ownsome.

The Clam cove claimed fuel consumption would soar at these cross-channel and Irish ferry speeds. Costs would be eye-watering.   “You are only maws, after all,” I thought I heard him say, but maybe that was someone behind me. I’m really not sure.

We had tears in our eyes as Charlie vainly tried to fight the good fight for faster ferries. On his own. With no one with him.  The ferries fellow eventually agreed to “look again” at his proposals, but he hummed and hawed. The faster a ferry, the more fuel you need to run it and it is ever so slightly dear, you know.  Look again? Is that the best he could do? It’s going to be a no, then, Charlie.

All round the country, ferries are getting faster. Everywhere except between Ullapool and God’s own island, where we must put up with a quality of service that was provided elsewhere 50 years ago.  The Isle of Man has had SeaCats for donkeys. Its ferry company operates two of them to and from Douglas.   They chug along at 35 knots and, if necessary, can do 40 knots, although they don’t like to do that unless they have to because, according to a recent interview by their boss, it costs “a little bit more”. Not too eye-watering, then?  Companies like Condor also have fantastic ferries crossing to France. You know the ones; they look like white whales with their mouths open. Their average cruising speeds are also 38 knots. Whoosh.  If we had that speed across the Minch, we would be in Ullapool before we stood up to get that second cup of tea and bacon roll.

That’s it. That must be why CalMac is not so keen on having a faster ferry. It would mean we wouldn’t have enough time to tuck into those expensive sandwiches, those eggs and chips and that not-so-bad chicken curry that makes a voyage in an unbearably slow tub almost bearable.  Now, here’s a thing. If the unloved Labour Party was to actually get off its collective bottom, stop trying to block the Harris-to-Skye seven-day service and promise to get us a faster ferry – which we know “everyone in this community wants” – some of us would think they were worth voting for again.

Nah, that’s not going to happen, is it?     Forget I said anything.

First Hostile Buy-out Goes Ahead As 'Whipping Boy' Laird Forced to Sell
The first hostile buy-out of an estate in Scotland has been given the go-ahead, with the local community granted the right to purchase land the owner does not want to sell. Environment minister Roseanna Cunningham yesterday paved the way for crofters to acquire the 26,800-acre Pairc Estate in Lewis.  But the decision may yet face a legal challenge from Barry Lomas, the Warwickshire businessman whose family has owned  the land since 1924.

Almost 400 people currently live on the estate, which has 11 crofting townships and 208 crofts spread over an area the size of Edinburgh.  The Pairc Trust, the body seeking to buy the land on behalf of the community, first mooted a buy-out in 2004 but talks with Mr Lomas broke down. It later applied to acquire the estate using the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gives crofting communities the right to buy the land they croft and adjacent land whether or not the owner wishes to sell, if ministers approve.  A decision on the buy-out has been awaited since October after a consultation on the move, and ministers had been accused of procrastination.  But Ms Cunningham said yesterday that approval will now be followed by the appointment of an independent expert who will determine the market value of the land. The trust will then have six months to raise funds.

The local population has dropped from 4,000 over the past century, and the trust's plans to regenerate the area include new affordable housing, a camper van site, holiday packages for visitors and exploring renewable energy opportunities.  Trust chairman Angus McDowall said the trust would now contact Mr Lomas to resume discussions about a possible voluntary transfer of the whole estate, adding he was confident the community could raise the money required for the purchase. But Mr Lomas - who previously claimed a forced sale would breach his human rights and that he was the "whipping boy of land reform" - said last night he is still considering legal action.  He said he had offered a deal last year but the trust insisted on taking the hostile route "seemingly for the glory of having taken on the landlord".  The decision was welcomed by politicians and community groups, Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan saying he hoped Mr Lomas would now accept a fair price for the land.

New Riverside Museum Set to Open its Doors in June
The three-month countdown to the opening of the £74 million attraction on the Clyde began yesterday.  The Riverside Museum will house about 3,000 exhibits, including the city's collection of transport and technology memorabilia. The popular Transport Museum at the Kelvin Hall was shut last year to allow the objects to be transferred to their new home.  Glasgow City Council has spent £50.9m on the project, which also received £18.1m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The remainder is being raised through a public appeal.  Lord Smith of Kelvin, chairman of trustees for the Riverside Museum Appeal, said: "Donations are pouring in and everyone who gives money to the appeal will be recognised in the museum when it opens, but time is running out to become a part of Britain's most exciting museums project." The museum will open at 10am on 21 June.

George Osborne Raids North Sea to Fuel Flagging UK Recovery
George Osborne has launched a £10 billion tax raid on Scotland's North Sea oil industry in a surprise move to keep down fuel prices and kick start the economy.  In a Budget which the Chancellor said would "put fuel into the tank of the British economy", Mr Osborne said the tax increase allowed him to cancel next month's planned 4p rise in fuel duty and cut a further 1p from pump prices immediately.  The move prompted dire warnings from the North Sea oil and gas industry over the impact of jobs and investment in the north of Scotland.  The tax grab was also condemned by a number of coalition MP’s last night as "economically disastrous", while SNP First Minister Alex Salmond said it left Scotland "short-changed".  The tax increase, which means between 62 per cent and 81 per cent of profits will now be taken by the government, will be reversed at the next Budget only if the price of a barrel of oil drops to $75 for at least three months.

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney accused the chancellor of using the North Sea to fuel his Budget.  With oil and gas revenues up £4billion on the previous forecast, George Osborne had given “far too little” in return. Given that petrol prices had gone up by 16p a litre in the past year, the windfall should have been used to cut duty not by 1p but by 5p, Mr Swinney said.  If the extra revenues being used to cut duty were applied in Scotland alone, petrol prices could be slashed by 50p, he claimed.  “No wonder the Con-Dem coalition oppose financial responsibility for Scotland, and control of our own revenues,” Mr Swinney said.  “The chancellor is wrong not to use this record bonanza to deliver significantly lower fuel prices, rather than just applying a new levy for a cut that is far too small.”

Mr Swinney noted the chancellor’s silence on the fossil fuel levy which holds £191million of Scottish money which the government cannot access, but which could be invested in infrastructure to support renewable energy projects.   Labour energy and enterprise spokesman Lewis Macdonald accused Mr Osborne of “giving with one hand and taking away with the other” by cutting fuel duty by 1p and putting up VAT by 3p a litre.

Scotland Ripped Off Again
alan reid
The UK government has known for more than 30 years that Scotland does support itself financially. For example, Professor Gavin McCrone, Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, advised the UK government in 1975 of the truth about Scotland’s finances. As Chief Economic Adviser to the Secretary of State for Scotland, he prepared a report, “The Economics of Nationalism Re-examined”. His report advised the UK government that an independent Scotland would have a massive budget surplus. It was promptly classified "Secret" and suppressed. It came to light only in 2005, when the UK government was forced by law to release it. The UK government’s ‘Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland (GERS) report provides another example of the UK government’s duplicity. This was finally exposed by forensic accountant Niall Aslen's analysis of the 2005 GERS report. The analysis (available at // p7osx) was based entirely on the UK government’s own figures, with one exception for which UK government figures were not available. Mr Aslen documented the sources of all the figures. Mr Aslen's analysis exposed the UK government’s egregious misallocation – to Scotland’s serious disadvantage – of revenues (not just oil revenues) and costs. If a private firm cooked its books half as seriously as the UK government's GERS report, its directors would be in jail. Mr Aslen's analysis convincingly demolished the assertions that Scotland was being subsidised by the rest of the UK. But the British press ignored or suppressed it. Luckily, enough people saw it on the internet before the 2007 election to discredit Labour’s claims that Scotland was running a £11.2-billion deficit. Mr Aslen’s analysis showed that Scotland actually had a £9.6-billion surplus

£15m Bail-out by Taxpayer Averts Threat of Classroom Strike, for Now Action
The Scottish Government has been forced to step in with a £15 million emergency cash injection to stave off a threat of a national strike in schools.  Teaching unions had rejected a previous pay and conditions offer from local authority group Cosla.  But now a new deal that saves jobs has been backed by Scotland's biggest teaching union, the EIS.

Isabel Hutton, Cosla's education spokeswoman, said: "This recommendation is welcome and represents good news for Scotland's children and young people. The EIS is now urging members to accept the new deal after a meeting of its salaries committee.  However, other unions are still urging their members to reject the offer.  The salaries committee of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association (SSTA) is expected to reject the deal when it meets on Monday.  Members of the EIS, Scotland's biggest teaching union, had joined both the SSTA and NASUWT unions in rejecting the previous deal.  However, EIS general secretary Ronnie Smith last night said the deal is the best the profession can expect. He said: "The decision to recommend acceptance of the revised offer is based on the firm belief that this new offer is the best that can be delivered in the current economic climate."

Meanwhile, Stirling University faces more strike action after its decision-making court agreed to make 17 staff from the institute of aquaculture compulsorily redundant.  Lecturers' union the University and College accused the university's leaders of not adequately considering alternative options and had not carried out sufficient consultation Today will see a second day of strike action this month as lecturers across the UK walk out in a row over pensions and pay.  And Stirling University could face protracted disruption as the union is balloting members there for more strike action over the job losses.  Action is also taking place at universities across Scotland, with rallies in Glasgow and Aberdeen.

North Highland College to Close Ross House
The Ross House campus in Dornoch is poised for closure, North Highland College's principal Dr Gordon Jenkins said.  Following a meeting of the Board of Management last Friday, staff were told that one of the proposals to trim £1.2m off the college's budget by June will include the closure of Ross House - but the town's other campus, Burghfield House, will be saved from the axe.

As previously reported, the Board were to review a range of options across its five main campuses and it was expected that one of the Dornoch centres would be a victim. However, Dr Jenkins says: "Please remember that closing a building does not in itself necessarily mean that the staff in that building will be under threat of redundancy - the activity may just be transferred elsewhere.   In the first instance, all Ross House staff and activity will be decanted up to Burghfield House, which is to remain open."  All other campuses will remain open, but partnerships with local schools are to be re-examined, as central funding for such arrangements is cut.  It is anticipated that the partnership with Dornoch Academy will remain the same, because the school directly funds North Highland College for any on-site tuition.  The future for staff throughout the college - which is part of the University of the Highland and Islands - is still uncertain, however.

An Investment in Our Future
Plans to make Scrabster the main service for the marine energy industry in the Pentland Firth have taken "a very significant step forward".   That was the view of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP John Thurso after the Scottish Government allocated £2.2 million towards the development.  The funding means Scrabster Harbour Trust now has the £20m it needs for the project, which is expected to get under way in the summer.  The announcement was widely welcomed locally with North SNP MSP Rob Gibson hailing the scheme as "a golden opportunity" for the area.

The redevelopment work will include upgrading facilities at the port for existing users as well as exploiting the potential from the emerging marine energy sector in the Pentland Firth and the waters off Orkney. It will also encourage new offshore oil and gas-related traffic.

Willie Calder, chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust, said the money from the Scottish Government was "the final piece in the funding jigsaw."  He explained yesterday: "We very much appreciate this funding in austere times and feel that it is recognition of the project's strategic importance to the local economy and the regeneration of Caithness.

Sandy Mackie, the port manager, yesterday said he was delighted with the news and described the £20m fundraising as "a great achievement".  He pointed out that it is expected there will be around £5 billion of investment in the Pentland Firth over the next decade and said the marine industry is likely to create hundreds of jobs.  "This is very good news not only for Scrabster but for Caithness and the Highlands generally and can help offset the impact of decommissioning at Dounreay," he said yesterday.

Announcing the funding on Monday, Scottish Government finance secretary John Swinney said: "This project is pivotal to Scrabster harbour's development, its future role at the forefront of Scotland's marine renewables industry and the future economic prosperity of Caithness and North Sutherland."

First Turf on Site of 300 Jobs is Cut
Up to 300 jobs will be created in Nairn this summer when the first Sainsbury's store in the Highlands opens.  Highland Council convener Sandy Park yesterday cut the first turf on the site and the development is due to open in August.  Mr Park said: "The store will bring shopping choice to the people of Nairn and the surrounding areas."

Chancellor Derails Scots Tax Powers
George Osborne's plan to merge income tax and national insurance threatens to delay the Scotland Bill which hands more powers to the Scottish Parliament, politicians and economists warned yesterday.  Historic legislation to hand more income tax powers to Holyrood may now have to be revisited as it was based on an assumption that Westminster should keep control over national insurance. One of the architects of the enhanced Holyrood powers yesterday called for a "rethink" of the Scottish tax plans. And the SNP said a "coach and horses" would be driven through the Scotland Bill with the amalgamation of the two taxes, one of the key proposals of the Chancellor's 2011 Budget.

The SNP finance secretary John Swinney said: "The Chancellor's decision to progress the merger of the tax and national insurance systems is a good thing, but it drives a coach and horses through the Scotland Bill's financial proposals - and there has been no explanation from UK Ministers about its implications. This new factor creates uncertainty over the time scale for the tax powers, which could well be delayed."