Some Scottish News & Views #87

Issue # 87                                                                                Week ending 14th May 2011
I’ve been able to include a small historical article  which I think you will find of interest  - Robin

Scots Defy UK Gloom with Private Sector Growth Spurt
Scotland's private sector recorded a faster rate of growth last month than the UK as whole, providing an early boost for the new SNP government. The purchasing managers index (PMI) from the Bank of Scotland - one of the most respected studies of the private sector north of the Border - showed that the Scottish economy continued to make headway in April, achieving a rate of expansion that was only marginally below February's three-and-a-half-year high.   The rise on the PMI index, from 54.4 to 55.8, well above the 50 mark that divides growth and contraction, was in stark contrast to a number of gloomy surveys published last week covering the UK economy as a whole.  

Last week City economists painted a depressing picture of the UK's economic outlook as the services PMI for April recorded its second-largest fall since October 2008, while the sister survey for manufacturers hit a seven-month low. The construction PMI for the UK as a whole during April also recorded a bigger than expected drop.

Donald MacRae, chief economist at the Bank of Scotland, said the positive result from the Scottish PMI, which covers the manufacturing and service industries, was down to a combination of factors.  Scotland didn't suffer "quite the depth of recession" that the UK did, MacRae said, while many parts of the economy have made reasonable progress over the past few months, including business services, retail and tourism.  While growth in some of these areas might not be stellar, the gains, combined with promises from the Scottish Government on areas such as capital spending, have helped to prop up confidence in Scotland's private sector, he said. Recent employment data has also been reasonably positive.  "Add all of these together… it has helped the confidence," MacRae said.

The Scottish PMI survey has now recorded four consecutive months of expansion, showing that Scotland's economic recovery is "back on track", he added.  The PMI will probably add to the SNP's claims that its policies over the past few years have put Scotland on a stable footing.

Scots Design Picked for £50m Revamp of Iconic Airport Site
Two Scottish design firms have won the €60 million (£52m) contract to redevelop Berlin's historic Tempelhof airport.   Gross Max, the award- winning landscape architecture firm launched by two Edinburgh College of Art staff in 1995, won the contract for a joint project with Edinburgh architecture firm Sutherland Hussey.   The project will see the former airport, which was used for the Berlin Airlift relief flights when West Berlin was blockaded in 1948, turned into one of Europe's largest city parks - including a 60-metre-high artificial mountain for climbers.  The Scottish firms' plan beat 77 other entries in an international competition.

Tempelhof, which closed in 2008, witnessed Orville Wright's first European flight in 1909, and was turned into a famous Nazi edifice in the 1930s. It became the symbol of the Berlin Airlift as the Cold War began.   The famous crescent-shaped terminal building, 1.2 kilometres long and erected as part of the new layout for 1930s Berlin by Hitler's architect Albert Speer, will be preserved as part of the overall masterplan.  The terminal was not actually used until the American military built the airport's new paved runways in the early days of the Cold War. When the Soviet Union blocked land access to West Berlin in 1948, allied planes began the historic airlift that kept the city enclave alive.  There is a monument to some 70 US and British air crew who died ferrying supplies to the city.   The redevelopment project will begin modestly, aiming to preserve parts of the area that are already nature reserves, keeping the runways while creating parks and sporting areas.

How the Scottish Arts Faces its Own Highland Clearances
Arts and culture in the Highlands and Islands are being hit harder than anywhere else in Scotland.   Institutions on Orkney, Skye, the Western Isles and in rural areas in the north all reported losing staff, income dropping by more than 30%, a struggle to attract sponsors, and cuts to local authority arts grants of more than a third.   The tide of public and private funding for galleries and arts companies appears to be withdrawing faster from the country’s geographical extremities, leading one arts chief to warn of impending “cultural frostbite”, with resources retracting into the Central Belt. Another cultural leader admitted he was fearful for the future of some organisation.

This threat to culture in the Highlands and Islands emerged following a survey of the 50 main arts organisations in Scotland, asking a series of questions about how they were coping with the recession and funding cutbacks.  It was reported how dance was suffering the most of all the art forms. Another key finding is how organisations beyond the Central Belt and major cities were struggling.  For example, Pier Arts Centre on Orkney reports that its earned income in the six months to February this year was down 30%. Sponsorship was also down 14%. The local council cut its grant by 10% – an average figure for most arts organisations surveyed. The centre also expected to lose staff in the current financial year. This is despite it recently hosting an exhibition by the world’s top video artist, Bill Viola, and increasing its visitor numbers.  Neil Firth, the centre’s director, said: “Sponsorship in rural areas is always a tight task. We have less of a diversity of business. Agriculture is a major earner here, but you can’t go to individual farms for sponsorship.” He also noted the problem of the higher costs of staging cultural events in remote areas.

On Skye, Fèisean nan Gàidheal, which runs Scotland’s community-based Gaelic arts Fèisean movement, reported a 30% Highland council cut to the Blas Festival in Inverness, which it runs, as well as a 20% cut to its core budget. Both figures are above average for local council cuts to the arts. When two staff left last year they were not replaced, meaning “the whole team is having to work a bit harder and set aside their job descriptions to some degree and muck in”.  An Lanntair, the main arts centre on the Isle of Lewis, reported losing five staff in the last six months. It has also been forced to reduce the centre’s opening hours to save money.

Shetland Arts also recorded a drop in audience figures and a 10% dip in funding levels. Lewis-based Pròiseact nan Ealan, the country’s main Gaelic arts development agency, reported that previously guaranteed income streams are now more difficult to maintain.  These figures come against a bleak backdrop for the arts in northern Scotland. While Creative Scotland has announced a “standstill” budget for the coming year for all its 50 “foundation” organisations (the key bodies which make up the bedrock of Scottish cultural life) local councils have wielded the axe and earlier this year the Highland Council attempted to shut down the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton.  A combination of these factors, as well as the geographical distance from major funders in the Central Belt and several local councils described as being “deaf” to the importance of the arts all hurt the Highland and Islands, according to the heads of arts bodies.

Asainteach Heads Arbitration Centre
Andrew Mackenzie, a native of Culkein Stoer, was recently appointed head of the new Scottish Arbitration Centre, based at Dolphin House in Edinburgh. He is on secondment from the Scottish Government Justice Directorate. The centre was opened by Fergus Ewing, minister for community safety, and Jim Mather, minister for enterprise, energy and tourism, in the outgoing government.

The centre is a non-profit company limited by guarantee made up of the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Scottish Ministers.  The proposed objects of the centre will be to promote domestic and international arbitration under Scots Law; promote Scotland as a place to arbitrate; increase the number of arbitrations under Scots law; increase the level of business for arbitration advisers; and increase the number of appointments for arbitrators based in Scotland.

From the Assynt History File by Malcolm Bangor-Jones.      Courtesy of Am Bratach
Evander McIver had been only a matter of months as factor when he was faced with several challenges to his authority from the small tenants of Assynt. A major source of trouble was the salmon bothy at Clachtoll being built for the new tenant of the fishings.

In January 1846 it was reported that the people of Clachtoll had pulled down the bothy during the night. McIver told the Duke of Sutherland that the tenants had “behaved in a disgraceful and outrageous manner. I went to the spot and made every inquiry, but Could not trace out who the delinquents were.”   When the Ground Officer had remonstrated with the people, “one Tenant stepped forward and openly told him there was no use to attempt erecting the Bothy, for they would pull it down a second time”.  McIver advised that the man — Alexander Mackenzie — must be removed.   McIver asked the duke to write to the tenants, expressing “strong disapprobation of their Conduct — and saying you are resolved to punish severely any Tenant guilty of any outrage or of disturbing the peace of the District in any way.”

The tenants claimed — absurdly in McIver’s view — that the bothy would interfere with the ground on which they used to spread their herring nets. Few townships, according to McIver, had such an extent of dry sandy links fit for spreading nets.  The people had to be convinced that such conduct would be severely punished and that “the Factor’s authority will be supported by every means under such circumstances.” The duke followed McIver’s advice and a month later McIver reported that the people “have behaved themselves better — and the Fishing Bothy is nearly Completed.”

In May,  McIver suggested that some removals would be necessary to deal with cases of bad conduct. There was, he felt, “a turbulent feeling in the minds of the Assynt people — which requires Strong measures to quell, and I am Convinced one or two removals firmly and judiciously Carried on will do more for the benefit of the people themselves than any other mode of discipline I can think of.” Mackenzie was evicted but it soon emerged that he had “broken into the House from which he was ejected and which had been secured by Lock & Key, and now with his family maintains violent possession — they having driven off with Stones the Ground Officer and a party sent to take possession of the House — and to prevent the possibility of any future possession had been instructed this party to take down the House.”  On a second attempt being made, Mackenzie and his family had “acted with Such violence that they were apprehended and he & his daughter imprisoned at Dornoch. His wife took to bed and we could not get them out.”

McIver admitted that he was finding the removal “a most painful & difficult business”. If the “most prompt and efficient steps” to evict Mackenzie were not adopted, McIver felt he “need never attempt a Removal in Assynt again — if the Tenants there see this case trifled with they will follow the same course also.”   McIver was also experiencing difficulty in preventing people building new houses without permission. One man had ignored the interdict: if he was “not severely punished and his House levelled to the ground I may just at once resign my Factory and abandon all thoughts of keeping rule or order in Assynt. I must say they are the most difficult people to manage I ever met with in Stoer.”

The spring of 1847 found Mackenzie still in “full possession of House, keeps Sheep and Cattle on the grass — and I have no doubt intends to Crop the Arable ground this year.”  The case required special attention as Mackenzie had been consulting the Laird of Dundonnell, who had written McIver “a curious threatening letter”. It also appears that Charles Spence, the Edinburgh lawyer who had assisted in other cases on behalf of Highlanders, had become involved.   By April, however, the effects of the potato famine were being felt and the duke was subsidising emigration. Mackenzie asked for assistance to go to America. McIver agreed and arranged for the eviction to be postponed. Mackenzie and his large family sailed from Loch Laxford in June on the Panama bound for Montreal.  (Oh these terrible MacKenzies -was this one not my great- great- grandfathers brother? - Robin)

Scots Tory Leader Annabel Goldie Announces Resignation
The leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Annabel Goldie, has said she is to stand down in the autumn.  Ms Goldie said she was "disappointed" by her party's performance in last week's Scottish Parliament vote.  She is the third opposition leader at Holyrood to announce her resignation after the SNP secured an overall majority in the Holyrood election.  The Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, will quit after the summer and Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott has also resigned.

Ex-marines Hit the Heights for Charity
Three former Royal Marines will scale two Munros then do a five-mile run on the same day to raise cash for charity.  Alan Ross, 42, James Rogers, 45, and Andrew Shepherd, 46, all now Northern Constabulary PCs, will be joined by two police dogs in the challenge to raise money for Commando 999, which helps injured marines.

Seven Charged Over Celtic Incident
Five women and two men appeared in court yesterday charged with possessing a firearm outside Celtic FC's multimillion pound training facility.  The seven, including three teenagers, appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court accused of possessing the weapon and "intending to cause fear of violence".  Ashley Pittner, Amy Kirkwood and Natalie Gray, all aged 20, along with Katrina Henderson, 21, and Rachel McElveen, 19, appeared in private at the court, as did their co-accused, Gary Booth, 17, and Ross Hind, 19. All of the accused are from the Glasgow area and face the same charge after being arrested outside Celtic's Lennoxtown training centre in an East Dunbartonshire suburb.  They made no plea or declaration and were all released on bail.  The incident at the weekend sparked security fears at the Glasgow club, whose manager and high profile supporters have been the targets of a mail bomb campaign in recent months.  Strathclyde Police were called to the scene at the complex north of Glasgow at about 8pm on Sunday evening following reports that someone had been spotted with a gun in the area, although there were no reports of shots having been fired.

SNP and Labour Face New Poll Test
The triumphant SNP and vanquished Labour are facing a fierce new poll test with barely time to draw breath from last Thursday's gruelling Scottish Parliament battle.  The death of Labour former Scotland Office minister David Cairns will spark a Westminster Commons by-election at Inverclyde where he had a comfortable majority of 14,426 in last year's General Election.  However in the nearest equivalent Holyrood constituency - Greenock and Inverclyde - Labour's lead slumped to just 511 last week as the SNP swept to an overall Scottish Parliament majority.  The by-election is certain to be hard fought with nationalists hoping to keep up the momentum.  However Labour will be looking for a quick comeback, buoyed by historic evidence that the SNP performs less strongly in Westminster contests than in Holyrood ones.

MSPs Gather for Kirking Ceremony
Scotland's newly-elected MSPs have gathered together for the first time for a special service ahead of the new sitting of parliament.  The Kirking of the Parliament was held at St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh to mark the start of the fourth session at Holyrood.  The ecumenical service was attended by the Earl of Wessex, as well as the leaders of the main political parties and representatives of faith groups.  The event came ahead of the opening session of parliament, when the members will be sworn in. The new presiding officer and two deputies will also be elected.

One of Scotland's most senior religious figures, Archbishop Mario Conti, urged the new parliamentarians to adopt a "virtue agenda" and to see the Church as a willing co-operator when it comes to serving society.  Delivering the keynote address at the Kirking ceremony, he told MSPs from across the political spectrum: "The common good will never be fully served unless those who govern are ambitious for the fostering of virtue in the community, and it is here that the state does well to recognise the support it receives from allied institutions and in return encourages their work."   He also called for a united front against bigotry, saying: "The Pope was greatly moved by the reception he received last year in Scotland.  The warmth of that Scottish welcome and the success of the visit have been noted in many places and we must make sure that the reputation of the Scots for hospitality and good government is not marred by the few whose attitudes and antics are all too readily and sadly, widely broadcast."

Lossiemouth is Saved But RAF Loses Leuchars Says MoD
The fate of two Scottish military airbases is expected to be sealed as Ministry of Defence officials recommend to ministers that RAF Leuchars is handed over to the army and RAF Lossiemouth is saved.  A top-level meeting of service chiefs, senior civil servants and ministers chaired by Defence Secretary Liam Fox will consider a report on the future of the UK's bases.  The talks come in the wake of the historic SNP victory in last week's Holyrood election, which has fuelled demands from the Nationalists for both bases to be saved. However, Whitehall sources have insisted that the Holyrood election "changes nothing" and that the government will "not base any decisions on the election result".

The report, drawn up by civil servants, has agreed with the recommendations made by the RAF and the army that Lossiemouth should remain as an RAF base but Leuchars should become the new home for troops returning from Germany.  It also confirms that the third contender for closure, RAF Marham in Norfolk, England , will remain an airbase.  Before the election, then armed forces minister Nick Harvey had made it clear that the decision on closure would be between the two Scottish bases and not the one in Norfolk.  Another casualty is likely to be Fort George near Inverness, where the Black Watch is currently stationed.  A decision was delayed until after the election but is expected to be announced shortly and according to sources today's meeting was set to be "decisive".

However, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson has written to Dr Fox demanding a meeting over the future of the bases.  He argued Scotland has taken more than its fair share of cuts and, with RAF Kinloss in his Moray constituency already closed with the cancellation of Nimrod reconnaissance aircraft, shutting two-thirds of the bases in Scotland would be disproportionate.  He also pointed out that by taking 53 constituencies in last week's Holyrood election the SNP now represents almost all the military communities in Scotland, from Rosyth shipyard in the east to Govan shipyard in the west, as well as the bases across the Highlands, in Edinburgh, Fife and the north of Scotland.  He added: "We reject the continuing disproportionate defence cuts that the past and present London governments have foisted on Scotland.  "Scottish taxpayers contribute their fair share towards the Ministry of Defence and the MoD is happy to recruit personnel from Scotland, so the UK government should take their responsibilities to all of the nations and regions of the UK seriously."    The MoD yesterday said it would only hold meetings with First Minister Alex Salmond, not SNP MPs, but refused to say whether it would hold any further ones with Scottish ministers after today's crucial meeting.   An MoD spokeswoman said: "The MoD has engaged with the Scottish Government at ministerial level all through this process and we will continue to do so."

Dounreay Plant Takes A Shine to Robot Cleaner
It still uses a chamois leather and some elbow grease, but this window cleaner has a hi-tech job.  A specially designed robot has been created to tackle a spot of housekeeping at the Dounreay nuclear plant and reach parts staff cannot reach.  The labour-saving device doesn't come cheap at £10,000 but it's a drop in the bucket when the overall bill for shutting down the Caithness complex is £2.6 billion.

The plant's staff were faced with cleaning 13 glass-fronted irradiated fuel caves in the former Prototype Fast Reactor (PFR), which is being decommissioned.  Their answer was to devise a robot with arms capable of lifting the three quarters of a tonne inner window to allow it to be wiped while maintaining the safe radiologically affected atmosphere inside.  It is the first time in more than 30 years the windows have been cleaned. Over time the double glazed units have built up dust and oxides from highly reactive sodium deposits.  The thick, dirty coating is now being removed using a household chamois cloth attached to a specially designed and purpose-built lifting arm controlled with a robotic manipulator operated by trained staff. The measure will allow employees a better view of the work they are carrying out inside the reactor.

Lift Gagging,  demands Macneil
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, Angus MacNeil has reacted angrily to reports that coastguards have been banned from speaking to the House of Commons Transport Select Committee when they visit Stornoway next week.  According to advice sent from Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive, Sir Alan Massey and Government Ministers, all MCA staff and officers have been instructed to reject any invitations to give formal advice to the Transport Select Committee when they visit Falmouth and Stornoway.

The advice states, “It is a long standing principle that Civil Servants appear before a Parliamentary Select Committee on behalf of their Ministers and the Government. Against that background, Ministers have said that it would be inappropriate for Coastguard colleagues to represent them at these sessions, and colleagues should be told to DECLINE any invitation they may have had.”   Commenting Angus MacNeil said: “This is a ridiculous situation more akin to the former Soviet Union than a modern democracy. Whatever credibility the MCA had is blown to bits. If a Commons committee want to speak to staff they should be allowed to do so. End of story.  Keeping witnesses from the committee makes the Marine and Coastguard Agency look as if it has something to hide.”

Community Invited to Invest in Scalpay Community Shop
Members of the public will be invited to invest in the newly formed community cooperative Buth Scalpaigh Limited who will be responsible for running the Scalpay Community Shop which is scheduled to begin trading in March 2012.   Membership of the cooperative will require a minimum investment of 1 X £25 share on a strict ‘one member one vote’ basis meaning that the purchase of multiple shares is allowed although each member has equal voting rights irrespective of the amount of shares held.  It is hoped that £10,000 will be raised via the share option so that building renovation work can begin as soon as possible. The primary purpose of the co-operative is to secure the future of this service for the community, not to make returns on capital invested.

Stornoway Black Pudding Step Closer to Protection
Securing the identity of Stornoway marag-dubh took a massive step forward this month with news that no objections to an application for Protected Geographical Indicator Status had been received.  The Stornoway Black Pudding Producers Association – who are determined to see the island delicacy afforded the same protection as Arbroath Smokies and Melton Mowbray Pies – were informed by the Scottish Government that the UK consultation period on their application had closed, with no objections put forward.  The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have now formally submitted the application by the Stornoway Black Pudding Producers Association to the European Commission for their consideration.   

Iain Macleod of the Stornoway Black Pudding Producers Association (SBPPA), commented on the news: “We are really encouraged by the support we have received, not only from the Scottish Government, DEFRA and our local politicians, but from fans of our iconic product from all over the world. The response to our application has been tremendous.”  The Association are seeking that the islands’ tasty treat be awarded Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), which was brought into European Union legislation in 1992 aimed to protect the names and reputation of regional foods, and to eliminate unfair competition and the misleading of consumers by non-genuine products which may be of inferior quality or different flavour.   If granted, PGI ensures that only products genuinely originating in a region are allowed to be sold as such, protecting name, reputation and quality of the produce.  Iain Macleod expanded: “We believe it is vital that the special heritage of the Stornoway Black Pudding is protected.  Our product has been here in the Hebrides for hundreds of years on the crofts, and the local butchers that are members of the Producers Association trade both on and of the islands with their product.   “The emergence of ‘Stornoway-Style’ black pudding on the market place has been a threat to our product – it’s an imitation product. Whilst it is in one way a compliment that these companies want to use our name, it is an inferior product that they are selling and its very damaging to our brand.

Almost £1,000,000 Worth of Drugs Seized
Police seized heroin worth £900,000 after stopping a car during a routine check. Officers in Midlothian found 20lb of heroin in the vehicle.  Police stopped the car during a "routine road check" near Howgate on Tuesday.  A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police said 5,000 ecstasy tablets worth around £5,000 were also found at an address.

Elsewhere in Scotland, police seized heroin with an estimated street value of £25,000 after two vehicles were stopped in a Tesco store's car park in Kingsway, Dundee, and on the A90 Dundee to Forfar road, near to the Happas junction.  The two cars were stopped at around 7.30pm on Tuesday night.  A spokesman for Tayside Police said: "Three people - a 39-year-old man from Liverpool and a man and a woman from Forfar, aged 27 and 30 respectively - have been arrested in connection with the incident and inquiries are continuing.  While more than £60,000 worth of heroin has been seized by Northern Constabulary in the Inverness area within the past fortnight.  Police recovered £30,000 worth of the class A drug from a vehicle on the A9 south of Inverness on Saturday.  Thirty-nine-year-old Martin Grant, of Inverness, appeared in private at Inverness Sheriff Court today charged with intent to supply.  He made no plea or declaration and was remanded in custody. This case follows another seizure of heroin, also worth £30,000 on the A9 south of Inverness on Friday 29th April.

Legionnaires Outbreak: Two More Die
Two more people have died during an outbreak of legionnaires' disease, bringing the death toll to three.  NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) launched an urgent investigation last week after a "most unusual rise" in the number of cases, and said it was now being treated as an outbreak.  And NHSGGC confirmed a further two cases of legionnaires' disease, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to seven.   Five of the cases are from the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area and two are from the NHS Lanarkshire health board area.  The public health protection units from both health boards are working together in a joint investigation with Health Protection Scotland (HPS), the Health and Safety Executive, environmental health officers and other partner agencies.

Highland Councillors Mount Campaign to Protect Inverness Airport
A campaign to retain Inverness as a regional air hub will be undertaken by Highland councillors amid fears the vital link to London Gatwick could be at risk because of increases to landing charges.  Elected members unanimously backed low-cost airline Flybe, which is challenging the change and runs a three times a day service between the cities.  They will also seek meetings at Holyrood and Westminster to highlight the importance of daily air links for inward investment to the region’s economy.  Councillors will also seek the support of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities because they believe it will effect other parts of the country.  "Any increase in fees will inevitably need to be passed on to customers and the real danger is that this will make the route less profitable and therefore less viable," Councillor Foxley said.  "It goes against the whole ethos of promoting Inverness and the Highlands as both a place to do business and as a tourism destination.  Any risk to our air service needs to be taken very seriously as a loss in service would severely impact on the whole region.  To travel from Inverness to London by train takes more than eight hours and while other areas of the UK are to benefit from improvements to a high speed rail connection, there are no such options for Highland residents."

Alex Salmond Warns Michael Moore He Risks Thwarting Will of Scots Voters
Alex Salmond said it would be totally unacceptable for the UK government to deny Scotland the ability to lower corporation tax, after he met the Scottish Secretary for the first time since the election.  The First Minister suggested that if Westminster chose to retain Treasury control over the levy, then the UK government's stance would go against the will of the Scottish people.  After meeting Michael Moore, Mr Salmond laid down a strong marker that he expected UK ministers to reverse their opposition to devolving the tax on business to Holyrood.  The SNP leader wants the Scotland Bill, which is currently passing through Westminster, to be altered so that it grants £2 billion borrowing powers to Holyrood and gives the Scottish Parliament control over corporation tax.   A third demand made by Mr Salmond in the aftermath of his historic election victory was for the Scotland Bill to be altered so power over the Crown Estate is passed to Holyrood, a decision that would give MSPs control over coastal waters that can be exploited for renewable energy.

After a "constructive" discussion with the Scottish Secretary in St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, a bullish Mr Salmond declared that it would be "totally unacceptable, insupportable and not credible" for powers over the tax not to be devolved to Scotland.  Should the UK government continue to deny devolving corporation tax to Scotland, that would cast serious doubts over the plans to hand it to Northern Ireland.  UK ministers would struggle to justify handing fresh powers to one part of the UK - Northern Ireland - while denying them to another - Scotland - on the basis that the UK should have uniform taxes. A consultation, which is likely to see the tax devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, is to be published next month.

Mr Salmond said he expected the Scotland Bill to have been strengthened by September when it is due to come before the Scottish Parliament once more and is likely to be scrutinised by another specially set-up committee.  When asked what he would do if the UK government failed to give him what he wanted, Mr Salmond replied: "Let's put it in positive way. Let's believe that the Scotland Bill will be in a condition that the Scottish Parliament will be in a position to approve it."  On the now-inevitable independence referendum, Mr Salmond said he felt the break-up of the UK was a "destination (that] is as definite as anything can be in politics, but the timing is dependent on the wishes of the Scottish people."

Lib Dems Plot to Oust Scottish Secretary
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore is facing internal party calls to quit his post over his response to the SNP's stunning victory in last week's Holyrood elections.  Liberal Democrat sources have said that, after Alex Salmond's triumph, they believe they must push forward party plans for a federal UK, under which the decisions over almost all taxes would be made by Scottish ministers.   A gaping split has opened up between them and Mr Moore, who says he is standing by less extensive reforms enshrined in the UK government's Scotland Bill, currently going through parliament.  There are now calls from within the Lib Dems for Mr Moore to be replaced, so these more substantial reforms can be championed.  Party sources say the Lib Dems should "celebrate" the SNP victory as an endorsement of their own plans on constitutional change.

Researchers Bid to Unearth Scotland's Other Arthur's Seat
For centuries the King's Knot has had experts in a tangle trying to explain its mysterious origins.  Theories about the earthen mound below Stirling Castle include an Iron Age structure, a Roman fort and even the Round Table where King Arthur gathered his knights.

But now, the latest scientific techniques will be used to probe a metre beneath the ground to get a clearer picture of the enigmatic site. Stirling Local History Society (SLHS) and Stirling Field and Archaeological Society will join experts from Glasgow University Archaeology Department next week to conduct a geophysical survey of the entire area.  Glasgow University archaeology lecturer Dr Richard Jones, who will lead the team, said: "This is a fabulous opportunity to discover more about a site which has fascinated people down the centuries, and it's all the more exciting because we really don't know what - if anything - it will reveal. The survey equipment we use will sense beneath the ground, showing us any lost structures and features irrespective of how old they are."

There is documentary evidence that the area was a garden in the 16th century, although experts say deep ditches and trenches around the King's Knot seem inconsistent with a garden.  Extensive work on the royal gardens was carried out in the early 17th century for Charles I and it may have been then that the mound was given its final form.  The royal gardens at Stirling passed out of use during the 17th century. The first known record of the site being called the King's Knot is from 1767 when it was being leased for pasture.  There is a recorded Roman road approaching Stirling, which means there could have been at least one camp on the site.

SLHS chairman John Harrison said: "The area was used as a garden in the 16th and 17th centuries, but when was the present 'cup and saucer' mound formed? Perhaps it was as late as the 1620s.  But about 1375 the poet John Barbour says that 'the round table' was somewhere to the south of Stirling Castle and tradition continued to place 'the tabilll round' hereabouts. It is a mystery which the documents cannot solve. But geophysics may give us new insights. " Archaeologist Stephen Digney, who has co-ordinated the project, said the area around Stirling Castle holds some of the finest medieval landscapes in Europe.  He added: "This investigation will be the start of a serious effort to explore, explain and interpret them."

Funding Row Fear for Island GPs
Doctors on the island of Arran have claimed services are at risk due to plans to remove funding for three GPs.  Dr Malcolm Kerr, a GP in Brodick, said they had been told funding for three salaried GPs based at Arran War Memorial Hospital was being withdrawn in July. He said this followed more than nine months of discussions over the provision of out-of-hours cover, which eventually resulted in the local GP collective - Arran Medical Group -having to pass responsibility for this service back to the health board.  This led to the proposed reductions in funding required to provide this cover.  But yesterday NHS Ayrshire and Arran said it could not instruct the Arran Health Group to make salaried GPs redundant, saying the decision would be the collective's.

There'll Be No More Murrrrrders, As Taggart is Axed
Police drama Taggart, part of Scotland's cultural fabric for nearly three decades, has been dropped by ITV.  The network announced its decision after the 27th series attracted only 2.6 million viewers.   STV, which makes the programme, said it was in talks with other broadcasters to try to save the Glasgow-based show.  While Taggart remains popular in Scotland, the viewing figures for the last series compared to more than ten million across the UK for the last episode of ITV period drama Downton Abbey.  An ITV spokesman said: "We have decided not to commission any further series of Taggart for the ITV network."