Some Scottish News & Views #86

Issue # 86                                                                          Week ending 6th May 2011
This issue has been produced a bit earlier as I wanted to bring you the Scottish election results as soon as they were declared.  Once again I’ve been able to include a small named article  which I think you will enjoy  - Robin

The total number of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) elected to the Parliament is 129.  The  elections take place under an additional member system, designed to produce approximate proportional representation for each region. There are 8 regions each sub-divided into smaller constituencies. There are a total of 73 constituencies. Each constituency elects one (MSP) by the first past the post system of election.  Each region elects 7 additional member MSPs using an additional member system based on a highest averages method for allocating seats in party-list proportional representation.

The elections were held on Thursday 5th May with the final results not being available until Friday 6th May

Scotlands Election Results
PARTY     CONST     REGION     TOTAL    +/-
SNP         53            16         69         +23
Labour     15            22         37          -7
Conserv    3             12         15          -5
Lib Dem    2              3           5         -12    
OTH         0              3           3         +1
TOTAL     73            56        129
After 73 of 73 constituencies declared
Source: BBC Scotland

The other component of the election - the referendum on the Alternative Voting (AV) method was soundly defeated.

John Curtice, the psephologist's psephologist (he crunches the election numbers) predicted the outcome to be;  SNP 68, Labour 38, Conservatives 13, Lib Dems 6, Scottish Greens three, Others one.  In all, the SNP won 69 seats, Labour secured 37, the Conservatives won 15, the Lib Dems made it to five, the Greens won two and independent Margo Macdonald also won a seat.   (What a remarkably close prediction - Robin).

Scotland Turns Nationalist as Labour and Lib Dems Wiped Out
The SNP has enjoyed a surge in support in the Scottish Parliament election, beating Labour in what were considered heartland constituencies, while they triumphed in what was formerly a bastion of Scottish Liberalism  The collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote in Scotland has resulted in two new seats for the SNP in the Highlands.  The Nationalists have taken Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, and Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch.  The party also held Inverness and Nairn and Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles), with increased majorities.  In the regional list vote the SNP won three seats, Labour took two and the Conservatives also won two.

SNP leader Alex Salmond has offered an olive branch to his political rivals in his first speech since his party's landslide win in the Scottish election.  He said the SNP may have won Scotland's first majority government but it "did not have a monopoly on wisdom".  Mr Salmond said he had spoken to other party leaders and welcomed their pledge to provide constructive opposition.  

Mr Salmond said: "Earlier today, Iain Gray, in a very gracious phone call, conceded defeat and also assured me that the Labour Party would work constructively with the SNP.  Before I left Aberdeenshire Tavish Scott also phoned me and also assured me that the Liberal Democrats would seek to work constructively as an opposition in the Scots Parliament.   Later this evening I'll be speaking to the prime minister and laying down markers as to what this result, this mandate, means in terms of Scotland's relationship with the UK."   

Mr Salmond said there were three areas his party intended to press ahead with.  
He explained: "The areas we want to pursue as an immediate priority in terms of reinforcing the powers of the Scotland Bill to give economic teeth to that legislation going through the Westminster Parliament are areas which carry not just the support of the SNP, but the support of other parties.   In identifying borrowing powers to keep the revival in the constuction industry of Scotland moving, to keep employment and jobs and recovery in Scotland, we have the support of the Labour Party.

"In identifying the control of the Crown Estate commission, so that Scotland gets the benefit of its vast renewable wealth of offshore resources in a way we never have in terms of our vast oil and gas resources, we have the support of the Liberal Democrats.

"And identifying the need to devolve corporation tax powers it was a committee of the entire parliament that made the point that that power would have to be devolved to keep Scottish industry competitive with developments elsewhere."

Subsidy Payments to Windfarm Firms
It is grist to the mill – or windmill – of campaigners that six windfarm companies were paid hundreds of thousands of pounds to switch off their turbines because the national grid network could not absorb all the energy being produced.

They appear to have been stopped for only a few hours, but the companies were compensated with £900,000 in total.   On the one hand, it makes perfect sense to stop turbines when too much electricity is being produced. Why waste the energy generated and what was needed to run the farms for the sake of it?  On the other hand, what is the point in having so many turbines when they produce too much electricity when it is windy?

The polarised nature of the debate over windfarms means that there will be much heat and little light spread on the subject by news of the subsidy payments.   Whatever the rights and wrongs of the efficiency of windfarms, there are clearly issues for planners to address when granting permission for the dozens of schemes in the pipeline.  It is not just a question of whether or not they will be unsightly or intrusive, but what national management plans are in place to ensure that the resource is not wasted on windy days.

New Turbine Will Produce Affordable Tidal Energy
A team of engineers have developed a turbine which they claim will produce the world's first domestically affordable electricity from tidal energy within a year.   Glasgow-based Nautricity, a Strathclyde University spin-out company, is to begin pre-commercial testing of the CoRMaT device.  They say the patented rotor system could overcome the problems which have made the production of tidal energy uneconomical.

The CoRMaT is a small, free-floating capsule, tethered to a surface float, which uses a new contra-rotating rotor system to harness tidal energy. It can be used in water up to 500 metres deep and, because its closely spaced rotors move in opposite directions, it remains steady in the face of strong tidal flows.  Nautricity is one of several companies that have been selected by the Crown Estate to bid for the first round of licences to generate wave and tidal energy in the Pentland Firth.  A proof of concept version of CoRMaT has already generated electricity, and later this year a pre-commercialisation device will undergo further rigorous testing at the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC) in Orkney. Developers said they are confident it can become the first device on the market to effectively deliver commercially competitive electricity to the national grid.

David Pratt, co-founder of Nautricity, said: "We anticipate that within the next year we will be capable of producing electricity that is competitive with offshore wind generation.  First -generation tidal devices are nothing more than wind turbines in the sea. They require very heavy foundations and engineering to take place on the seabed which means they have a very high fixed cost.  Our device is small, easier to handle and engineer and significantly simpler to deploy. We have lots of small units in the water compared with a few very big units."

This Weekend I Think We Should All Go and Head for the Coast By iain maciver

Not one to bother much with ancient traditions and superstitions myself, I was kind of surprised to find that my wife is now a devotee of at least one ancient ritual. I woke up yesterday morning and there she was – gone. Not even a scribbled note on the pillow to say she had finally taken off with someone with a bigger bulge in his wallet than myself. I was bereft.

Tending soon afterwards to my ablutions, I looked out the bathroom window and there was Mrs X on her knees in the back garden.  When I got over the first “Oh no, the Free Church have got to her” moment, I rushed down thinking it was my own fault for letting her be so friendly with that charming Reverend Kenny I, and met her drying herself off with a towel.  She told me how she liked to follow the ancient custom by which young virgins would wash their faces in the morning dew on May Day to rid themselves of pimples and to become beautiful.

I said: “But you’re not a v-v-very young person . . .”   I stopped myself and tried again.

“You don’t have pimples, honey, those are just wrink . . . er, laughter lines.   And you’re beautiful, anyway,” I gulped, before she stomped off, slamming doors as she went before tripping over the dog. Oops.

We also had ancient traditions observed at the delightful wedding that we all enjoyed on Friday. And it will now be traditional for the happy couple to have a honeymoon. But where?  When a chap with a lah-di-dah accent called me a few weeks ago, he said he was looking for a get-away-from-it-all place for a happy couple in early May. Did I know any out-of-the-way places where staff wouldn’t tell tales if they recognised them?  Thespians, were they, I wondered. No, just a lad and a lass, he assured me.  Of course I could help, I said, while desperately scratching my head. I wouldn’t be here in the islands for all of the first week of May because at the weekend I’m going to see Coast, I remembered.  No, I’m not going to look at the coast. I’ll explain later.

Oh heck, there must be a hotel in the Western Isles where the staff wouldn’t know Katie Price from Kate Bush.  Found one. A discreet little hideaway where the owners do all the work and haven’t read newspapers or watched TV much for five years.   Brilliant.

Then it crossed my mind that Kate and Wills, too, may be sneaking northwards for their briefly harmonious period before the slings and arrows turned them into grumps like Victoria Beckham at a wedding. How long till his first “Calm down, dear”?  Hey, could it be them who were coming? Oh gosh.   Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. We’ll never know. They’ve cancelled. Some change of plan means they aren’t coming now. Then, at the weekend, I heard on the news that William and Catherine Wales aren’t having a honeymoon just now, either. Coincidence or what?  

With that other great tradition, the election, happening this week, it was all getting me so stressed that now I’ll be able to go to Coast in peace. Oh, sorry. You don’t even know what Coast is yet. You really want to know? OK.   When I say I am going to Coast I don’t mean yet another Saturday afternoon lying on Coll beach with Mrs X in our underthings, eating corned-beef sandwiches and blowing sand out of all these awkward little places where tiny grains can lodge.   I mean I am going to see Coast, the band. In Inverness.

Although the boys of the band are based south of the border, a couple of them are from an Army family and they spent some years living and going to school on Benbecula. There, seeping out of their transistors, were soul-stirring sounds from the likes of Runrig, probably Christine Primrose, too, and no doubt the nimble fingers of that box player extraordinaire, Calum Iain MacCorquodale. Unfortunately, being English, they always thought his name was Calum Iain Mac Crocodile. It’s understandable with that strong Uist accent.  Let it go, Calum Iain.

A veritable flood of Celtic music engulfed the boys’ souls in 1980s Balivanich. They were soon hooked and have been devotees of the Sound of Flodday Island ever since.  Having been helping the lads, who are managed by Iain Bayne, the drummer in Runrig, with some of their publicity, I thought I could maybe squeeze in a tiny mention here.  If you are at a loose end and can get to Invershneggie, come and see these rockers on Saturday night. They are fantastic. I am biased, of course, but that does not make them any less fabulous.

You’ll love them. You won’t have heard so much in one package before.   Yes, they are sort of Runriggy at times. They are also a bit Big Country. They can be ever so slightly Dire Straitsy. Sometimes they are a tad Bruce Springsteeny.  Iain Bayne mentioned that he and the other Runrig guys are usually far too busy to read my little epistles. Good, I can speak my mind, then. Ssshhh, don’t tell them I said so, but these guys in Coast could be even bigger than the other part-Hebridean beat combo that turned out classic albums from Play Gaelic to my own all-time favourite, The Cutter & The Clan.

You really must go and hear Coast. What other band could have that versatility and appeal across so many musical genres? Sometimes they are very modern; sometimes they are very traditional. I will tell you how diverse the music of Coast is. I sometimes listen to them and I can hear frontman Paul Eastham sing just like Rod Stewart or Bono from U2.  Then, at other times, I hear him sing like Calum Kennedy.   So could you and so could anybody.

On A Wing and A Prayer As Eagle Goes AWOL
With their seven-foot wingspan, sharp beak and talons, they are formidable predators of the skies in the wild.  But after a life in captivity, having been hand-reared from birth, Pilgrim the American bald eagle was a little less fearsome.  And when confronted by a pair of angry buzzards while flying high above Perthshire during the weekend, the bird of prey turned tail and fled for the horizon.  Now his keepers have launched a hunt after tracking equipment they had used to locate the nine-year-old bird during previous flights of fancy failed.

Adrian Hallgarth, head falconer at Phoenix Falconry near Auchterarder, has spent the weekend desperately looking for the bird of prey, which was chased away on Saturday at lunchtime.  The "big softie" of a bird does not pose any danger to the public, according to Mr Hallgarth.  However, Pilgrim's own safety is now in doubt, as so far there have been no sightings, despite his distinctive appearance.  "Other birds will be protecting their nests and bullying him away," said Mr Hallgarth. "He's been hand-reared so he doesn't understand that they are food, but they will see him as a threat. The danger is that he is pushed higher and higher and ends up hundreds of miles away. "

This is the third time that Pilgrim has gone missing from the falconry. However, because he is fitted with radio- tracking equipment, on previous occasions the staff have located him fairly easily.  This time, the equipment seems to have developed a fault as over the weekend it was not registering anything.  Pilgrim has not gone more than a mile or two from the falconry in the past, and Mr Hallgarth believes he is most likely still within five miles, perhaps in a secluded spot away from other birds.  The main danger to Pilgrim is starvation.

Hope Fades As Rescue Teams Call Off Search for Missing Angler (Drowning in Lochs seem to be a common occurrence - Robin)
The search for an angler missing after his boat capsized on a loch has been called off.
Clyde coastguard followed up extensive sea and air searches with further searches along the shore of Loch Etive but failed to find the man, believed to be in his 30s and from Glasgow.   He was one of a party of five spending the bank holiday weekend camping and fishing in the remote northern part of the loch, which stretches 20 miles from its head, near Glencoe, down to Connel Bridge, near Oban.

Four of the men managed to swim to the shore after strong winds caused their boat to overturn. It emerged that two of them then faced a harrowing ordeal in their bid to raise the alarm.  With no mobile phone reception, they ran from the freezing loch to their vehicle, parked some distance away. They drove to the nearest house - only to find there was no-one at home.  They then had to go another couple of miles to find the next house.   It is believed the men got out of the water about 2:30pm on Saturday but it was 4:13pm before they managed to call the police.   A full land, air and sea search saw Glencoe Mountain Rescue Team's boat crew recover the men's 15ft wooden boat from the water.  A Strathclyde Police helicopter and an RAF rescue helicopter from Lossiemouth joined Oban Lifeboat, Oban Coastguard boat, and coastguard volunteers from Oban, Appin and Fort William for the initial search, which went on until darkness fell.

Fast-track Trials to Hit Alzheimer's for Six
A new research programme, using existing therapies for other conditions, could lead to powerful new treatments for Alzheimer's disease within ten years, it was claimed today.
The Drug Discovery Project has identified six drugs which are being fast-tracked for the new studies.  Clinical trials will then be held across the UK to see if they can help patients with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.  It is hoped the programme will lead to treatments that provide benefits lasting five times longer than currently available drugs. They may also delay onset of the condition in at-risk patients.

Hundreds of Firefighters Battle Blazes in ‘Tinderbox’ Highlands
Hundreds of firefighters battled major blazes which took hold in “tinderbox” conditions in the Highlands on Wednesday.   Around 30 people, including several families, had to be evacuated from their homes in the Torridon area as the fire developed in the early morning. Stornoway Coastguard was called in to help airlift six walkers and dog from Liathach, a mountain in Glen Torridon, after they were cut off by the flames.  And the National Trust for Scotland said a plantation of trees above Kintail village, part of a scheme to restore the Caledonian pine forest, had been destroyed by fire.

GPs Try Texts to Chase Up No-shows
Thousands of text messages have been sent from GP practices trialing a project to stop patients missing appointments.  Two surgeries in East Lothian took on the scheme, and they said the 2300 messages sent have had a positive impact.   People not showing up for appointments both at doctors' surgeries or in hospital causes huge resource and financial issues for NHS Lothian.  And it is hoped this scheme can be rolled out to reduce the problem not only in GP practices, but hospitals and clinics too.   Dr Jon Turvill, one of the GPs involved, said: "Texting is becoming a standard tool for organisations as a way to manage their appointments.   The service will help practices manage not only their appointments system, but also help them manage long-term conditions and get patients in for their routine check-ups."

Prestigious Mòd Competition to Commemorate Kennedy Gold Medallists
An Comunn Gàidhealach are pleased to announce the addition of a prestigious new competition at this year’s Royal National Mòd in the Western Isles. The competition is confined to both male and female former winners of An Comunn Gàidhealach’s Gold Medal. Entrants will be expected to perform one song of their own choice.   The competition winner will be awarded a new trophy being presented in memory of the late Calum Kennedy and his wife Anne Gillies, both of whom won the prestigious An Comunn Gold Medal in 1955 and 1952, respectively. The new trophy is being donated by the Kennedy family who will be represented at the Mòd to make the presentation.

A similar competition had existed for past winners of the Gold Medal and other solo competitions, but it was discontinued after the 1953 National Mòd in Oban. Interestingly, Calum was one of the competitors in that event, and went on to win the An Comunn Gold two years later in Aberdeen, which proved to be a springboard for him to world-wide success on the stage.   President of An Comunn Gàidhealach, John MacLeod today said: “An Comunn Gàidhealach are really delighted to present such a prestigious competition at this year’s Mod in the Western Isles which we hope will attract many of the great former Gold Medalists from different generations. It is also very fitting that the competition will be held at Mòd nan Eilean Siar in memory of the highly-respected Calum Kennedy and his wife Anne Gillies, who with their family were household names in Gaelic singing and musical entertainment. They were wonderful ambassadors for Gaelic, bringing our language and culture to a world-wide audience, and this will be a great opportunity to honour their memory.”

Judge Blocks Airport's Latest Bid to 'Cash In' on Travellers
An attempt by Scotland's busiest airport to give a single bus operator exclusive rights for a city centre link was halted on Thursday by a judge.  An interim interdict was granted against the move by Edinburgh airport after Lothian Buses raised the action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.  The firm is the only one to run airport-city centre services, but argued fares would rise if the airport awarded the first monopoly contract for the route - which could go to another operator.  It comes less than a year after the airport introduced a £1 charge for drivers dropping off passengers beside the terminal, triggering widespread protest.

Lord Drummond Young, outlining his reason for granting the interim interdict, said: "What is being offered in the tendering process is exclusive right, with no competition whatsoever, to run a bus service to the city centre from this (bus] stance. What is intended is to create a monopoly, effectively."  He added that there was a potential contravention of the 1998 Competition Act, which was designed to protect consumers from a dominant position.  The move effectively blocks the tendering process, whose deadline for bids was tomorrow, from going ahead. However, the airport indicated to the judge it would be considering an appeal.

Lothian Buses' Airlink service has a contract with the airport, but does not have exclusive access to the terminal.  The firm introduced a £3 million state-of-the-art fleet on the route last year, complete with wifi and charging sockets.  Lothian Buses claimed to the judge that earlier this year the airport said it was not willing to negotiate a revised agreement and, instead, exclusive access to the stance would be put out to competitive tender.  Lothian argued there would be an effective monopoly by the successful bidder and a "serious risk to competition".  It added: "This situation will therefore operate to the detriment of the consumer, who will be very likely to have to pay significantly higher, and unconstrained, prices."

Scottish Liberators Return to Nazi Camp
Where once they arrived with guns, on Wednesday they bore bright flowers in commemoration of a darkness past.   Veterans of the Cameron Highlanders returned to the Dutch town of Vught and the SS concentration camp they liberated in 1944, the first time an advancing allied army had witnessed at first hand the horrors of the Holocaust.

Richard Massey was just 18 when he and his sergeant, George Sands, were among the first men into the concentration camp where Jews and resistance fighters were tortured before being killed or sent to death camps in the East.  Today, accompanied by the burgomeister of Vught and civic dignitaries, Mr Massey will lay a wreath at the camp which seared into his memory 67 years ago.  He recalled: "The Black Watch and the Argylls had taken a lot of punishment clearing the Germans out of Vught and we passed through them to chase the Germans away.  "Among the people we liberated were the burgomeister and his wife. We were amazed when we heard her accent - she came from Perth. She was hugging us and crying. She would not let us go. We sent word back to headquarters and they got a message to her family in Scotland telling them that she was OK."

Local Men Help Rescue Trapped Fisherman, But Crewmate Dies
A 49-year-old fisherman died in a tragic accident in the waters off Talmine pier in North Sutherland early Thursday morning .  The man, who has not yet been officially identified but is believed to be from Orkney, died after the eight-foot dinghy he was in overturned.  A younger crew mate, who was also in the dinghy, was rescued from the water after nearby residents heard his desperate cries for help. It is understood the two men had spent the evening in the Craggan Hotel in Talmine and were making their way back to their fishing boat, moored in a sheltered spot some 50 yards out to sea.

A Ray of Hope for University Music Society

Professor Jim McDonald, principal of Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, said it was no longer possible to support music, drama and art through public funding.  However, under new plans, he said the university’s Music Society and its staff would continue to be funded for three years – to give it time to bring in additional income such as donations, sponsorship and ticket sales.  Students would be encouraged to take a leading role in the running of the society through the Students’ Association and to increase its popularity by encouraging musicians from all genres to participate. The future of the historic Ramshorn Theatre and the Collins Gallery, which have both been threatened with closure, is much less certain, however.

Scottish 'Fukushima Radiation' Tests Show Minute Levels
The latest results on monitoring for pollution believed to be linked to Japan's damaged Fukushima nuclear plant show a fall in material being traced.  In Scotland, minute levels of iodine-131 have been recorded by equipment in Glasgow and Lerwick on Shetland.  The data is the first from testing sites across Scotland and the rest of the UK since updates changed from weekly to fortnightly reports.  Other test sites are in Caithness, Dumfries, Lothian and Renfrewshire.  Iodine-131 was not detectable at these stations.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and Health Protection Agency carry out the monitoring.  The HPA said that overall the levels detected were lower than those observed in the previous update published on 21 April.  The agency added: "The levels being detected mean there is no risk to public health in the UK from the environmental concentrations resulting from the release of radioactive material at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  The monitoring equipment is extremely sensitive and can pick up trace levels well below any potential risk to human health."

Now for Medieval Shipping News
Air surveys are being carried out to try to find out more about Scotland’s west-coast shipping history in Viking times.  The investigation aims to find out more about a 12th-century shipbuilding yard on Skye that archaeologists believe was a focus for maritime activity for many centuries, from the Vikings to the MacAskill and Macleod clans.

It was reported in November 2009, that investigations at Loch na h-Airde on Skye’s Rubh an Dunain peninsula have uncovered boat timbers dating from the 1100s, a stone-built quay, a man-made entrance canal, and a blockage system designed to keep a constant water level in the loch, but allowing vessels to float out at high tide.  The canal is about 100 yards long. One timber was from a boat up to 35ft long, probably a coastal vessel, another was from a 20ft clinker-built boat, similar to those still used in the area today.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland’s aerial survey team has been assisting in the investigation with reconnaissance flights photographing the loch and the surrounding area. As well as providing a context for the site in the landscape, helping to explain where and how 12th-century mariners lived and worked, the photographs will be used at high-resolution by ground surveyors to identify possible dive sites for ships and other remains.  Colin Martin, a marine archaeologist specialising in shipwrecks who is investigating Loch na h-Airde said: “This site has enormous potential to tell us about how boats were built, serviced and sailed on Scotland’s western seaboard in the medieval period – and perhaps during the early historic and prehistoric eras as well.  There is no other site quite like this in Scotland.”  

The commission’s aerial survey manager, Dave Cowley, said: “We are now so used to thinking about travelling round Scotland by roads, that it is difficult to visualise how our ancestors might have used the sea as a highway, connecting communities across these maritime landscapes.  The aerial perspective gives us an excellent sense of this, showing the inter-relations of land and sea, and helping us understand how people may have travelled, traded – and fought –on the waters around Scotland’s western isles.”

Long Life for Ladies in the Western Isles
Women in the Western Isles have one of the highest life expectancies in Scotland with the average island woman living to the age of around 83.  The islands are only one of three health board areas to achieve above average increases for womens’ life expectancy over the last ten years. The Scottish average is 80 years old.  The news is not so good for the isles’ male population, however, who have lower life expectancy than the Scottish average of just over 75. The average island man lives to 74 – nine years less than local women. (Gentlemen negative comments are not called for - Robin)

£40,000 Bill for Kelvingrove Clean-up
Cleaning up Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow after an unauthorised royal wedding street party turned into a riot has cost the city council an estimated £40,000.  Park staff were deployed on Friday night to clear up the mountains of litter left by some 6000 revellers.  It is understood the council faces a bill of around £40,000 for the clean-up, although it could be even higher.  A council spokeswoman said: “The cost will be substantial and it’s unfortunate this was the image of Glasgow seen around the world.”  The clean-up began on Friday night, with the park returning to normal by around midday on Saturday.  Glasgow City Council had posted a notice on its website last Thursday warning people not to attend the party in Kelvingrove organised by students on Facebook. The event descended into mayhem after a police officer on horseback charged a crowd to break up a fight. A total of 22 people were arrested and 11 police officers were injured.