Some Scottish News & Views #82

Issue #82                                                                          Week ending  9th April 2011
In this issue once again I’ve been able to include a small named article which I think you will enjoy. - Robin

Frustration Over the State of Our Roads
If roads were built on empty promises, there would be two gleaming dual carriageways linking Inverness with Aberdeen and Perth by now, but prevarication by successive politicians has turned this issue into a transport scandal.    Both the A9 and A96 are not “fit for purpose”, to quote that much-overused political cliche, and incapable of meeting the daily demands made upon them by commercial and private road-users.   Now there are clear signs that patience is wearing thin among the public who, you could say, have been taken for a ride. For example, a petition demanding that the A9 between Inverness and Perth be dualled for its entire length has now passed the 10,000-signature mark. Meanwhile, campaigners are planning to bring the A9 to a halt later this month in a protest aimed at forcing roads bosses to provide a safe crossing point on a new overtaking section near Newtonmore.  Both matters illustrate the level of frustration among the public at lack of action over safety improvements and the piecemeal nature of those projects which have gone ahead over the years.

The cost of road improvements is huge and requires long-term commitment, but it is much easier for politicians to squander cash on short-term popularity.  Never mind folks at least there seems to be plenty of money for England's infrastructure. “The £16billion scheme, the largest civil engineering project since the Channel Tunnel, will provide a new rail route to the heart of the capital. It will ease congestion, create thousands of jobs and provide a multimillion pound boost to the economy, ministers have promised. When up and running, Crossrail will provide 24 trains per hour, straight into the centre of London from the east and west, improving rail links to the West End, the City and Docklands. The Crossrail Bill gained an unopposed third reading last night and now goes to the Lords. During debate, junior transport minister Tom Harris said the scheme would have an enormous effect on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, provide a huge boost to the economy and preserve London's role as the business capital of Europe. He said: "It will provide London and the South-East with a world class railway."

Taxman to Take Extra £750 From Families this Year
The average Scottish household will be £750 worse off by the end of the financial year when sweeping tax and benefits changes which come into force today are combined with January's VAT rise, financial analysts have warned.  Increases in National Insurance, together with changes to the tax and benefits regime, will see the majority of families worse off. In the worst cases, some couples with children could see their income cut by up to £2,600 this year.

Experts warned the changes would drive thousands of Scots deeper into debt and leave many at risk of bankruptcy or facing having their homes repossessed.  Today sees many of Chancellor George Osborne's Budget proposals take effect, a financial milestone that has been dubbed "Worse Off Wednesday" by analysts.  The sweeping changes will hit middle earners with children and result in about 80,000 more Scots being moved into the 40 per cent tax band.  A National Insurance hike, a child benefit freeze and a fall in the income limit for child tax credit from £50,000 to £40,000 are among today's changes. For the average Scottish family with an income of £30,000 after tax, they will result directly in an income drop of £200 this year. That figure rises to £750 when the effects of January's VAT rise to 20 per cent is factored into their budgets.  The change in child benefits will hit some families harder than others. IFS analysts predicted that, from today, a one-earner couple with children can, on average, expect their household income to fall by more than 4 per cent, while a two-earner couple without children will see their income decrease by 3 per cent.

Derek Allen, director of tax at the Institute of Chartered Accountants Scotland, said: "This is really going to bite.  "The bad news is coming through with the increase in National Insurance and the reduction in the higher-rate threshold.People are going to find their take-home pay reduced while the cost of living rises. It is going to be a tough year.  The reality is that we are all going to be paying more tax."  From today, National Insurance contributions rise by 1 per cent to 12 per cent, while changes to tax credits will mean some families losing out by more than £500. The earnings threshold for the higher rate of income tax is being cut from £43,875 to £42,475, dragging an extra 750,000 people into the higher bracket - 80,000 of them Scots.

Hackles Raised As Scottish Battalions Become Key Election Battleground
The SNP will seize on the threat to famous Scottish cap badges in the Royal Regiment of Scotland and make it a key issue in the Holyrood election race, along with the closure of RAF bases by the Ministry of Defence.  Fears for the future of the Highlanders and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders battalions led Liberal Democrat Scottish Secretary Michael Moore to hold an urgent meeting with defence minister Nick Harvey yesterday, as the Nationalists put forward a Falklands veteran to front the party's campaign against defence cuts.

The potential loss of the battalions would follow the army reorganisation of 2006, when all the Scottish regiments were amalgamated into the Royal Regiment of Scotland.  And there is continued anger over the closure of RAF Kinloss in Moray as part of the coalition government's Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), along with either RAF Lossiemouth in Moray or RAF Leuchars in Fife.

Former Royal Marine Keith Brown, the SNP's transport minister and candidate for Clackmannanshire and Dunblane, yesterday led the party's attacks on Scotland's shrinking defence footprint.  The Falklands veteran said: "Scotland has already experienced disproportionate cuts to our units, bases and spending - and we already have a defence underspend totalling more than £5.4 billion in Scotland over recent years.  Threats to Scottish battalions and other defence cuts will be an issue in the Scottish election, because it is clear that the UK government are waiting until after the Holyrood vote before making any announcements.  Therefore it is vital that Scotland is in the strongest possible position to ensure that Scotland gets a fair deal, which means a re-elected SNP government."   The concerns over the two battalions were raised when the army this week refused to rule out infantry cuts in the later stages of 5,000 redundancies planned by 2015.  Clive Fairweather, an honorary colonel with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, said he has seen papers that suggest up to two battalions could go in Scotland.

Time to Reveal How the Woman I Live with Poisoned Our MSP by Iain MacIver
Wherever  she goes these days, my wife has her knockers. I am concerned that Mrs X may be having issues of low self-esteem. People she had expected to be nice to her somehow turn out to be anything but.  The reasons for her latest disgruntlement started a few months ago when Alasdair Allan, our MSP in the Western Isles, called in for a chat. She gave him a cup of tea and the obligatory custard cream.   Eagle-eyed, as I know to my cost, as she cleared away the crockery, she noticed the parliamentarian had not actually finished his cuppa. Why was that, she wondered loudly, after he had headed for the hills. Telling her it was not absolutely necessary for everyone to finish every cup of tea she made, I told her the fellow had had as much as he wanted.

Anyway, it wasn’t a good thing, I asserted, to press too much nourishment on these political types. They would just keep coming round – the last thing we wanted.  She must pull herself together and go into the kitchen and prepare her master’s supper like a good wife ought to, I ordered. I’m very good like that, you see. Selflessly, I will always come up with little tasks to take her mind off her own self-doubts. Except this time, she didn’t obey. She leapt for the fridge and sniffed the milk carton.  “This is off. Yeeaargh,” she yelled, with a shrill note of alarm.

Cow juice is not something we partake of much in this house nowadays and she had given the unwitting elected representative a good splash of the stinky, acidic gunge that had formed in the carton. It was well out of date. It was honking.  “That poor man. I have poisoned him. You’d better go and see if he is lying in the gutter between here and the SNP office,” she screamed, with a disturbing air of concern for a man she hardly knew, and which she rarely shows for her own husband.  Happily, Dr Allan survived her assassination attempt and has even bravely decided he is now just about well enough to fight another election. And it was his party who unexpectedly lifted her spirits the other day by sending her a personally-addressed election communication.

Despite her name on it, it wasn’t exactly a personal letter, of course – a leaflet with lots of yellow colours stuffed into a window envelope. Bedraggled and weary till then, my beloved squealed with joy that it wasn’t a bill and at least that very decent chap Alasdair Allan cared about her enough to drop her a wee line.  It did cross my mind that there must be around 20,000 adults on the islands’ voters’ roll and that most of them would get exactly the same letter. Then again, best not, eh? Didn’t want any more thundering, black moods.

She held up the brown envelope as if it was some kind of prize trophy for winning a popularity contest.  “Aw look, he’s even put some words on the front just for me. He’s forgiven me for almost poisoning him. What a really nice man that Alasdair Allan is.”   Then she noticed the words under “Mrs Maciver”.   They read “because Scotland deserves better”.

Well, she hit the proverbial roof. I tried to explain the previously “nice” Dr Allan was only suggesting the SNP would run Scotland better than, well, the other lot. That didn’t work, either. As the SNP has been the Scottish Government for the last four years, she wanted to know what he meant by Scotland deserves better? Better than the current incumbent? The SNP? Hmm, she had a point, I suppose. You can take it both ways.  That was more than a week ago and she still hasn’t calmed down. Which, I’m afraid, is why I had to cancel Mother’s Day yesterday.

Oh, I didn’t forget to buy her something. A lovely brooch was what I chose. Wasn’t that nice of me? I thought so, too. However, I decided not to present her with it. What would happen if she happened to be wearing the brooch as she spotted Alasdair Allan canvassing up New Street?  Imagine the headline – “SNP hopeful stabbed as mystery woman screams she should have poisoned him when she had the chance”.  That box of marshmallows from the filling station is probably the safest gift, if she does remember.

You have to feel sorry for my other half, though. She has been taking possibly-unintended insults from my side of the family from way back. Just after we got engaged, I decided to take her to visit my Aunt Margaret in Glasgow.  Margaret was in her 80s, having spent her life “in service” for various doctors and other well-to-do figures in the city known as the dear green place.  After getting off the bus near her flat, I excused myself and popped into the local delicatessen and, as I often did, bought something to have with a cup of tea.

My new fiancee wondered what I was going to get.  I told her not to worry as I knew what would go down well with my father’s sister. It wasn’t difficult to choose something because, as Margaret always reminded me, she was keen on anything which had apples.  Up the stairs to the first floor we went. I chapped the door marked “M. Maciver”.

Aunt Margaret opened it with a broad smile, so I introduced Mrs X – I mean Miss X – and handed over the bag from the deli.  Then, and I tell you not a word of a lie, my dear auntie shook the hand of the shy maiden who was soon to become my wife and uttered the immortal words that almost ended our engagement there and then.   She said: “It’s very nice to meet you, my dear.   “Shall I tell you a secret about my nephew Iain?   “Whenever he comes to see me, he always brings a tart.”

Five Years of Pain As Highland NHS Cuts £100m Off Spending
NHS Highland will have to cut its spending by as much as £100million over the next five years.  The health board warned yesterday that every aspect of its service will be scrutinised to save money.  And although there are no plans for compulsory redundancies, staffing levels will be put under the microscope.   NHS Highland receives about £500million a year as part of its basic allocation from the Scottish Government, and extra cash for building projects. Health board chairman Garry Coutts said last night: “I understand that people will be concerned and I am not going to underplay it.  It is a significant saving.  There is no one single thing that we will do. The saving will come from lots of little things.  We try to use the sum of money we get as efficiently as we can.”

Every section of the health service in the north will be examined to identify efficiency measures that can save up to £20million a year and balance its books.  Mr Coutts said: “In the past year there has been natural wastage and we have carefully looked at vacancies that have been created.   We have reduced staffing by 100 people. We will continue to scrutinise vacancies as they emerge.  The Health Department in Scotland has a policy of no compulsory redundancies and I am not anticipating that will change.”

Mr Coutts insisted the savings were a “very small proportion” of the health board’s overall budget.  In a report to the board yesterday, finance director Malcolm Iredale said the five-year financial plan showed £19.2million of savings have to be found from the 2011-12 budget, with £19.9million to be saved the following year.

Margaret Watt, of the Scottish Patients Association, said: “In small rural areas, the health service is getting less and less. We need to watch this. They could cut back too far. These may be draft figures, but they are still concerning. We cannot afford to leave people without services and £100million is a lot.”

Man Arrested in Scotland and Arms Stash Found After Omagh Murder
Police investigating the murder of constable Ronan Kerr have arrested a man and made one of the most significant arms discoveries for years.  Kalashnikov rifles, rocket-launcher components and possibly Semtex explosive were discovered on Tuesday night in east Tyrone, police said.   The arrest of a 26-year-old man in Scotland yesterday came as the funeral of the Catholic officer heard a plea for an end to violence from Ireland’s most senior Catholic churchman, Cardinal Sean Brady, and as huge crowds rallied in Belfast demanding peace.

Constable Kerr, 25, died when an under-car booby trap bomb exploded in Omagh, County Tyrone, on Saturday. The murder has been blamed on dissident republicans opposed to the peace process and is believed to be aimed at deterring Catholics from joining the police. Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “Detectives from Serious Crime Branch who are investigating Ronan’s murder have made a significant discovery of arms and munitions – one of the most significant in recent years.”  The man arrested in Renton, Dunbartonshire, in connection with the find of weapons “is being brought back to Northern Ireland for questioning”, he said.  The haul found in stolen vehicles included four rifles, ammunition, timer power units, detonators, incendiary bombs, components for rocket launchers and other explosive devices, and a quantity of explosives, possibly Semtex. The suspect was understood to be working in Renton when he was arrested and last night police were searching a terraced house in Miller Road in nearby Balloch where the suspect is believed to have lived.  The suspect was taken to the high security prison in Govan, Glasgow before being transferred to Northern Ireland.

Constable Ronan Kerr’s coffin was carried into the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, County Tyrone by PSNI officers and senior Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) members, standing side by side in an unprecedented sign of unity.  Cardinal Brady told mourners: “The people have said no, never again, to the evil and futility of violence. They have said an emphatic no to the murder and mayhem of the past.”  His killing has sparked unanimous cross-community condemnation.

Funding Boost for Uist
Sustainable Uist has been awarded £153,000 by the Climate Challenge Fund to continue its carbon reduction work in Uist.  Sustainable Uist Chairman Steve Carter said: “This is excellent news and a real endorsement of the hard work that Sustainable Uist has done over the past 12 months. It will move us closer to the ultimate aim of Uist becoming carbon neutral and therefore becoming more environmentally and economically sustainable.”

In a time of recession this funding will bring new opportunities for Uist as there will be further employment prospects within the life of this new project. Sustainable Uist will now be able to continue with its work in promoting local food production and consumption and developing strategies for improving the energy efficiency of hard to treat houses. We will also be working with households and businesses to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill and investigating ways in which we can improve our transport infrastructure.

Merits Or Otherwise of Windfarms
It would seem to many that the debate over the merits, or otherwise, of Scottish windfarms, which have transformed the country’s landscape, generates more energy than the controversial installations themselves.   Scathing new research by Scottish conservation charity the John Muir Trust has poured petrol on the flames by claiming the output of windfarms often falls to 10% capacity as opposed to the average 30% claimed by the industry. The trust claimed there was only enough energy, at times, to boil just over 6,000 kettles.

Objectors approach the windfarm debate from varying perspectives: some dislike change at any price, others are horrified by what they see as the desecration of Scotland’s spectacular landscape, to the detriment of tourism, while many question the political-economic justification for such investment and the dubious statistics for actual energy output from these farms.  On the other hand, development of renewable energy was a major priority for the last Scottish administration, to dovetail with existing oil and gas production. Future nuclear energy plans have been banished in Scotland.

In the meantime, the debate rages on about Scottish ministers and local councils placing so much reliance on wind energy – and its effectiveness. On the face of it, it seems a simple and clean way of harnessing the elements, but the system is at the mercy of the elements, too. This is why people are not convinced, believing that it is inconsistent and uneconomic.  The report appears to confirm this, but it requires a detailed response from government to explain if trying to catch the wind does have a future or if the industry is simply flying a kite.

Marine Harvest Plans
Data collection by Marine Harvest shows that further deep water sites in the Southern Isles could become part of the fish farm company’s £40 million expansion programme.  Two sites – at Hellisay, off Barra’s north west coast and Stulaigh, south of Loch Eynort, South Uist – are already the subject of planning applications. But four others sites are also in strong contention and currently subject to further investigation or proposed equipment trials to test wave height/wind strength exposure, depth and current. These sites are at Pabbay, Mingulay, Eriskay and Gighay.  The development of these deep water sites in the Minch is a first in Scotland but a concept that is well tested in Norway and Canada.

If the Sound of Hellisay site gets the go ahead, Marine Harvest plan to create six full time jobs and two seasonal post to work 16 cages producing 2,400 tonnes of salmon. Because Marine Harvest has no existing presence in Barra they plan to outsource a shorebase and fitter and electrician services locally.  The proposed Stulaigh site, meanwhile, comprises siting a dozen 100m circumference cages to produce 2,500 tonnes of fish. It is anticipated this development will create four new jobs and utilise an existing Marine Harvest shorebase for support.

Pabbay and Mingulay have, according to Marine Harvest, scored well for exposure and depth but require further work on sea current conditions. At Pabbay it is currently proposed to trial equipment while further information is being sought at Mingulay.  Four additional sites at Pabbay South, Stulaigh South, Berneray and Lingay have all been red lighted on exposure and there are no current plans to investigate them further.  Monitoring of the proposed sites and negotiations with the Crown Estate and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar mean it is now thought no work will commence before the end of 2012.

The Marine Harvest expansion comes as a result of an eight per cent per annum growth in sales of Scottish salmon, and major new demand thanks to a historic trade agreement with China permitting imports of the fish.  And with an estimated 190,000 tonne under-supply recorded for 2010, the need for expansion is growing, according to industry commentators.  A spokesman for Marine Harvest said the demand is global and it is hoped that by the end of next year all the necessary permissions will be in place.  Marine harvest currently produce 20,000 tonnes of salmon per annum and have an eye on capturing a share of the global under-supply of salmon.

HIE Under Fire Over Groats Art Tenders
Highlands and Islands Enterprise has apologised for failing to give artists in Caithness a heads-up on work it is commissioning on the end-of-the-road site at John O'Groats.  The development agency accepted a communication breakdown left the county's arts umbrella group unaware tenders had been issued. But it has refused to extend the April 11 deadline - despite complaints the eight-day delay has disadvantaged, if not excluded, some would-be local submissions.  One Caithness artist revealed work she had proposed to put forward is now bound for Shetland as a result of the hold-up in learning about the issue of the five tenders.  The artworks are part of a multi-million-pound blueprint to redevelop the John O'Groats House Hotel site and surrounding area. They include a large-scale temporary installation on the hotel front and a scheme based around the famous John O'Groats buckies or cowrie shells.

Acting secretary Jenny Bruce yesterday said artists in the county have been badly let down by HIE. She said the arts group only learned at its AGM on Wednesday of last week the tenders had been issued.  Ms Bruce said HIE's Far North area manager, Roy Kirk, has apologised but has refused to put back the April deadline. Mr Kirk said it had been decided to advertise the commissions via the HIE website and not through local papers.  Acknowledging it was at fault in not notifying Caithness Arts, he said: "We would apologise for that. They should have been informed as soon as the tenders were issued and they weren't and that is something I regret.  The commissions mark the first phase of a £108,000 initiative, which is supported by funding from the Scottish Government and the EU-backed Highland LEADER programme.

Top Cop's Pledge on Drugs Scourge
Lochaber's top cop has issued a strongly-worded parting shot to drug dealers and abusers on the eve of his move away from the area as part of a Northern Constabulary reshuffle.  Departing Chief Inspector John Chisholm reflected on recent high-profile court cases involving Lochaber dealers and issued a blunt message to those intent on the illegal possession and supply of drugs.

Last week, Inverlochy man Peter MacLean (30) was jailed for six years after pleading guilty to supplying cocaine. In a separate case, council binman John Smith (42), from Caol, was sentenced to three years in prison after admitting supplying heroin over a two year period from April 2008.  Ch Insp Chisholm said: "We've seen these very welcome convictions in recent weeks but it's also a timely reminder that Lochaber is not immune to organised crime. "Police will continue to use all legal means to disrupt this kind of behaviour. It remains a number one priority, along with tackling alcohol misuse and road safety, for officers in Lochaber.

After three-and-a-half years at Fort William, Ch Insp Chisholm has been promoted to a new post as a temporary superintendent based at Wick - a move which he said had come "out of the blue".  From April 18, Ch Insp Chisholm, currently area commander for Lochaber and Skye, will assume the title of Divisional Commander for Northern Constabulary's North Division - a patch which stretches from Tain in Easter Ross to the Shetland Isles.  Reflecting on his spell in Lochaber, Ch Insp Chisholm said he was very encouraged to see a fairly consistent reduction in crime including a "significant" reduction in crimes of violence. He attributed this in no small part to the success of Lochaber Pubwatch and investment in CCTV systems throughout Greater Fort William.

In a tongue-in-cheek parting shot, Ch Insp Chisholm said he would definitely miss seeing his beloved Newtonmore Camanachd "turning over" Fort William at An Aird.

Racist Ex-soldier Who Threatened to Behead A Muslim A Day is Jailed
A racist former soldier who threatened to bomb Glasgow Central Mosque and behead a Muslim every day has been jailed for 12 months.  Neil MacGregor, 38, made the threats in an e-mail and a series of telephone calls to Strathclyde Police, which led to an anti-terrorism operation being launched.  He claimed to be a member of the National Front and said he would execute Muslims on a daily basis unless every mosque in Scotland was closed down.

MacGregor, from Scrimgeour Court, Crieff, claimed he had been upset after watching video footage of someone being beheaded in Iraq on an internet clip.  Fiscal depute John Malpass told Perth Sheriff Court yesterday: "An e-mail was received in which he made numerous threats against Muslim people and demanded the closure of all mosques in Scotland."

Solicitor Craig Dewar, defending, said: "He viewed an internet clip of a beheading in Iraq which caused him to react in the manner described. He made threats but had absolutely no intention of carrying out these threats.  He served in the military for a period of time. He may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.  MacGregor, who is originally from Derbyshire, had his sentence for racially breaching the peace backdated to last month when he was arrested.

Public Inquiry to Decide Fate of 120-year-old Landmark
A public inquiry is set to be held to decide the fate of one of the most familiar landmarks on Edinburgh's skyline.  Developers responsible for the 150ft-high gas holder in Granton are expected to appeal against a decision barring demolition of the 120-year-old structure within weeks.  National Grid claims the gas holder will effectively "blight" 15 acres of prime development space on the city's waterfront, despite claims it should be adapted for another use.

Councillors rejected the advice of their officials last year and voted against plans to demolish the B-listed structure, the last remaining sign of Granton's once-booming gas industry. The site was once Scotland's biggest single producer of gas.  The firm, which inherited the structure from British Gas, has been accused of allowing it to fall into disrepair, even though it was given protected status by Historic Scotland 13 years ago. National Grid has complained it faces a £5 million bill to repair and restore the gas holder, and insists no viable use for it can be found.   The company claims the council's opposition to demolition has rendered plans for a new "urban village" in the area undeliverable.  The gas holder, one of three to dominate the long-running Granton gasworks, was built in 1898 but has not been used since 1987.  Heritage campaigners have pointed out that similar structures worldwide had been converted into conference centres, visitor attractions and apartment blocks.

Jim Moore, sales and marketing manager for National Grid, said it had asked for a meeting with local councillors to go through the "implications" of the authority's decision last year.  He said: "The planning committee felt that not enough consultation had been undertaken and the information available was insufficient to enable them to make an irreversible decision in favour of the demolition. We've taken these comments on board and requested this opportunity to address key questions and local concerns prior to lodging an appeal against the refusal.

Whisky Aficionados Raise A Dram to Welcome New Festival
The first whisky festival to be held in Inverness gets under way in earnest today (Saturday 9th) when aficionados of the “cratur” will have the chance to taste a selection of the finest.  Bogbain Farm is hosting the inaugural event, which started with a ceilidh last night.  About 300 people are expected to attend festival events, which will combine the best whisky with music and food.  Last night’s opener included live music, including performances from Saltfishforty and Anna Massie and Mairearad Green.

Scots singer Dougie Maclean has donated a bottle of whisky to the festival’s auction of rare whiskies.  The drink, which is named after the singer’s most famous hit, Caledonia, is distilled by Edradour, Scotland’s smallest distillery. He has also signed the bottle.  Another highlight is expected to be the demonstration by professional chef Sam Carswell, who is a past Masterchef winner.  Mr Carswell, who works at Biadh @ MacSorleys in Glasgow, will be showing off his method of smoking fish – in a giant fishbowl. Festival manager Yvonne Murray said that she was particularly looking forward to Mr Carswell’s event.  She said that Mr Carswell put his ingredients, including salmon, lobster, cucumber, and tomatoes, into the bowl with whisky.

MPs Step Up Fight for RAF Bases After £1bn Reprieve
The UK Government was under fresh pressure last night to lift the threat of closure hanging over RAF bases in Moray and Fife.   Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat MPs opposed to the closure of Lossiemouth and Leuchars have urged ministers to act after it emerged that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had won a reprieve over a £1billion overspend this year.  They said it was unacceptable for personnel from both bases, who are engaged in active service in Libya, to operate with the threat of job losses hanging over them.  Ex Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell said  “Even before the operations over Libya and particularly now that a mini-defence review is taking place, it has been clear beyond any doubt that both bases are vital for Britain’s defence and should be retained.”

SNP defence spokesman and Moray MP Angus Robertson said: “The UK Government and MoD should now make a statement that the threat of closure is now lifted from Scottish RAF bases.  “I know RAF Lossiemouth is a hive of activity because of the Libyan crisis and their involvement in helping to enforce the no-fly zone and other ongoing operations. Typhoons from RAF Leuchars are also playing a key role in the UN-backed operations. With the prime minister hinting that he is reconsidering closures, he should now take the opportunity to commit his government’s support for Scotland’s strategically vital bases.”   

Trawlerman Dies in Stornoway Harbour
A Wester Ross fisherman has died after falling into Stornoway harbour, despite attempts to rescue him.  John MacKinnon, 38, from Aultbea, had been working on a trawler which was berthed at the port's North Beach quay.  Emergency services were alerted shortly after midnight on Thursday after the accident happened.  A rescue attempt was made by coastguard, lifeboat, police and ambulance crews.  Mr MacKinnon was recovered from the water by lifeboat personnel and taken to the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway, where he was pronounced dead.

Labour and SNP Pledge Reform to Rape Laws
Scotland's shameful record of securing convictions in rape cases is to be tackled in radical law reforms being proposed by both Scotland's leading parties.  The SNP will unveil its manifesto for a second term this week with a keynote pledge to overhaul Scotland's rape laws with the aim of reversing low rates of convictions.

In the manifesto, to be launched on Thursday, Alex Salmond will back legal reforms which mean that courts will no longer have to take into account delays in reporting a rape or any apparent lack of resistance from a victim.  Meanwhile, Labour has revealed that it wants to review the historic requirement under Scots law for corroboration in a rape case, removing the need for two pieces of evidence proving a defendant's guilt.

With either the SNP or Labour certain to form part of an administration after 5 May, it means a major reform to sex crime laws in Scotland is almost certain. QCs are predicting the reforms could lead to an explosion in the number of rape cases coming to court.  The pressure for reform has been growing after figures for 2009-10 showed that just 92 out of 882 reported rapes were proceeded against, one of the lowest rates in Europe.

Under the SNP's proposed reforms, a judge would tell a jury to ignore evidence showing that it may have taken some time for a victim to come forward and report a rape case. The judge would also instruct a jury not to take into account cases where there was no evidence of physical resistance from the victim.  The aim in both instances is that a defendant would no longer be able to use such evidence to knock down a case.  The Scottish Parliament has already legislated to broaden the definition of rape, with consent based on free agreement. A list of circumstances where there can be no free agreement includes a victim being incapable through alcohol.

Grounded Ship with 100 Passengers on Board Drifts Free
A ship with 100 people on board which ran aground on rocks near a busy harbour entrance has floated free of her own accord, coastguards said.  The diving support vessel Bibby Topaz got into difficulty while leaving Lerwick harbour in the Shetland Isles at 3.15am on Friday.  No-one was injured and the ship, stuck around 200 metres from shore, was not taking on water.  Shetland Coastguard said it floated free with the rising tide at around 11.45am and tugs then took her back into the quayside. It had a pilot on board and the assistance of a manoeuvring tug at the time of the incident.  Aberdeen-based Bibby Offshore, operators of the ship, said no pollution was caused, although any damage has still to be established.

Iains Joke Section
Sandy: " Will you marry me ? "
Girlfriend: " No, but I'll always admire your good taste. "

The old Scotsman was asked by a friend what he thought of his nearest neighbour. He replied:
"Och, weel, he's a decent-like lad, but he's no' exactly a temperance man. He was sittin' there juist drinkin' an' drinkin', until I could scarcely see him."

A Scottish prayer - "Oh Lord, we do not ask you to give us wealth. But show us where it is!"

Two negatives make a positive but only in Scotland do two positives make a negative-'Aye right.'