Some Scottish News & Views #88

SOME SCOTTISH NEWS & VIEWS
Issue # 88                                                                        Week ending 21st May 2011

Lessons Are Being Learned After That Incredible Election Result
by Iain MacIver
It wasn’t my joke. I just borrowed it from Billy Connolly. It was the Big Yin who first dubbed the Scottish Parliament a wee pretendy parliament and, having nothing interesting to say myself, I just repeated his joke without a second thought. However, it was to the First Minister.

It was 1999 and the late Donald Dewar was in Stornoway pressing some Outer Hebridean flesh soon after the Holyrood parliament got going.  We were chatting as we waited for our Isles FM slot in which I was to grill the great man with deep and probing questions I had rehearsed such as “Why are you here?” and “How was your flight?”   I told The Donald I would ask if it was indeed a wee pretendy parliament he had. He giggled and said I could ask what I liked. He was a star. However, I was getting daggers from the minder who looked so serious he could have been a Free Church elder.

This thick-set fellow, with a jaw so big and chiselled that it could be erected over a gate in Bragar, began to bump me with his belly. He shoved me towards the door.  I was pushed just about out into the August morning sunshine. That someone pointed out to him he had just ejected the guy due to interview his glorious leader.  He thought I was some scruff who had wandered in off the street to heckle Donald Dewar.

That minder’s name was David Whitton. He was Dewar’s special adviser. He went on to become an MSP himself and did very well. The clever money was on him to take over from Iain Gray after the election.  I was devastated that he, like so many of his colleagues, lost his seat in the SNP landslide. He wouldn’t remember my ugly mug after 12 years so I had a wicked plan.  I would ask Whitton, on his first visit here as Labour leader, about the day some obnoxious twerp wandered in and how he helped get rid of him. I wouldn’t tell him till he finished it was actually me he had ejected.  Bad of me, I know, but sadly, that fun wasn’t to be. He’s offski. Gutted, I am.  Still, if he is looking for a new job, maybe he could capitalise on his assets. After all, he does already look like a Free Church elder so maybe ...

After the count, I bumped into George Gawk. The Labour Party stalwart of this parish was inconsolable. So emotional was he that I volunteered to be his minder on his impromptu tour to gather feedback from the patrrons of the Stornoway licensed trade. It’s just something George does when he hears bad news. And good news. And when he hears no news at all.  George meanwhile met an old college chum from Uig called John. They were in Lews Castle College about 40 years ago with George doing his sparky’s course while John did navigation.  All a long time ago and George has done well since then. What does he do? Well, now that you mention it, I’m not really sure. He’s like an adviser to the local Labour Party who sometimes moonlights as a sparky on a North Sea oilrig, where his special talents are called for too rarely. A son of the soil, he has blackface sheep.

Very political, sheep. A blackface ewe is the symbolic woolly embodiment of the presbyterian work ethic, George once told me between trips to the loo. At least, I think that’s what he said. Or maybe it was something about subsidy.  John, meanwhile, is managing to keep his head above water as the master of a ferry carrying many hundreds of people between Aberdeen and Orkney. It was fantastic to see these two old pals reunited after all these years.  The memories came flooding back. It was touching to witness them.

As John was took his leave and turned to go, something else from the dim and distant suddenly came back to him. He turned back to red-eyed George and asked: “Remember the day they hung you upside down?”  Shocked and bewildered, I asked why anyone would do such a thing to the Gawk. George quickly dismissed it as just the kind of nonsense that kids did back then for no reason.  John wasn’t quite so sure. He seemed to think there was a reason and it was a message to anyone who annoyed his college mates with the same old nonsense every day.  Then, as he turned to leave, he said: “You have to remember that George was very political back in those days.”

So what are you saying, John? He’s not now? Pfft.

We bumped into two veterans of the Stornoway scene, looking morose. Geordie Glackin and Jimmy Ogilvie were far from happy. What was the matter?  Jimmy explained how ridiculous it was that the election was on just one day. People should have at least a week in which to mark X on those bits of paper. Thursday was Jimmy’s day for shopping. Not being so fast on his pins these days, he had a stark choice. Vote or eat.

Geordie has a trusty old bicycle but he too is troubled. The bike goes where it wants not where Geordie wants. “I’ll give you an example, I went out for the papers a couple of hours ago and, look, the dashed took me here to the Crit Bar.” If he mounts the old boneshaker to go to vote, he wants to know that he can try again tomorrow if the rickety old thing overshoots the polling station and he ends up somewhere else entirely. Like the Crit. Or the Carlton.

Good points, I said. Still, I assured them, the parties have promised a root and branch review.“That would be worse,” said Jimmy. “If I have to go to the castle grounds to vote, it could take me a fortnight to find my way out again.”   Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Everything in Jura's Garden Far From Rosy

It is known as the jewel of Jura, a unique walled garden warmed by the Gulf Stream and one of the main tourist attractions on the Hebridean island.  But after its purchase last year by a wealthy Australian hedge fund manager, the famous Jura House Garden will be closed this summer, sparking fears over its future and that of the island's fragile tourism economy.  The 12,000-acre Ardfin Estate, which includes Jura House Garden, was bought last November by London-based Australian hedge fund manager Greg Coffey, 40, known in financial circles as "the wizard of Oz" for his ability to generate profits.  He is understood not to have visited the island since buying the estate, on which most of Jura's 210 islanders live and five are employed, since its purchase six months ago. Elaine Campbell, the development officer at the Jura Development Trust, said there was concern that the closure of the garden, which attracts around 2,500 visitors every year, could impact on the island's tourist economy.

Coffey, who is married with two children, is believed to have bought the estate for £3.5 million as a holiday home.  One islander said: "He (Coffey] probably hasn't a clue what he's taken on. We know he has plans, we just don't know what they are yet. He hasn't communicated them.  "But equally, when a hedge fund manager buys a Scottish estate, the writing is probably on the wall."

Snow and Gales . . it Must Be Scottish Summertime 21 May 2011
With snow falling in the Highlands, heavy rain lashing the west coast and severe weather warnings for gale force winds across the entire country from Monday – it could only be summer in Scotland. While the south of England continues to bask in a prolonged dry spell that has led to water shortages in some areas and sunbathing temperatures of over 70ºF (21ºC), people north of the border will be looking out raincoats and umbrellas for the next week at least, with the wet weather set to last into June.   Heavy rain is expected to spread throughout Scotland this weekend, though temperatures will remain relatively mild with highs of 59ºF (15ºC) in the east coast and parts of Grampian.  Downpours will also continue across the country into the beginning of next week, twinned with gale force winds on Monday and Tuesday. A severe weather warning issued by the Met Office yesterday saw Scotland engulfed by a yellow alert notice, while the rest of the UK, except for small areas of northern England and Ireland, look set to avoid it completely. A notice posted on the Met Office website warned that gusts would reach up to 60mph in the Central Belt, with exposed areas battered by winds of up to 70mph.  And while forecasts into the beginning of June predict an easing off of the storm condition, any prospect of barbecue weather looks far off.

The Met Office’s Helen Chivers said: “There are people in the south east who would love a share of the rain you’re getting in Scotland at the moment, but it isn’t looking great for Scotland. You’re going to continue to have rain on Saturday.  The east might get away with a mostly dry morning but rain coming in from the afternoon and into nighttime will be pretty heavy.  Unfortunately you’re going to continue to have rain from time to time in the next couple of weeks, but we should see some warming up as we head into late next week, and the rainfall becoming much lighter with showers and light outbreaks.  But there’s probably not going to be much in the way of sunbathing weather for a while.”

Higher ground in the northwest Highlands was also braced for gales and “hail or heavy snow” yesterday, with heavy rain expected to spread across Skye and Lochaber today.  The washout summer conditions north of the border are a far cry from weather in the south of the UK, with residents in London and the south east enjoying sunshine and Mediterranean-like highs of 72ºF (22ºC).  But while Scotland has been deluged on and off in April and May, there are fears that England and Wales could be facing a drought after they recorded their lowest rainfall in March and April since 1938.   The lack of rain has prompted warnings from farmers’ groups and water companies that some crops have already been “irreversibly” damaged and that some river levels were on a par with the Britain’s record drought on 1976.

Highland Flyers Go Dutch on New Link
Inverness airport is to schedule a new direct link to Amsterdam, a decade after the last service was grounded.  Flybe will today announce details of its new flights from the Highland capital to Schiphol Airport, which will start on 5 September.  Key funding for the new service has been provided by from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

Seabed Invader Threat to West Coast Fisheries
A feared alien species which has caused serious damage to marine life across the globe is to be investigated by the Scottish Government.  Carpet sea squirt - didemnum vexillum - is spreading off Scotland's west coast, threatening lucrative shellfish farms and fishing grounds.  Liz Cook, marine biology lecturer at the Scottish Association for Marine Science, said: "In New Zealand didemnum vexillum has been a major issue, particularly for farmers of shellfish and mussels.  "It forms a flat carpet on the sea floor which suffocates sea life. It covered the mussel lines and salmon cage netting and threatens to do that in Largs.  Aquaculture on the west coast is extremely valuable and will be hit hard if it does spread out of the marina."

Police Find £2.2m of Drugs in House

Police have seized drugs more than £2 million worth of drugs during a search of a house.  Eight officers found about two kilos of cocaine and mixing agent with an estimated street value of £2.2m during the operation.  They also found about £1,400 worth of amphetamines, about £650 of cannabis and about £3,000 in cash.   Two men aged 27 and 36 were arrested following the operation in the Gartcosh area of North Lanarkshire on Thursday.

Allan Appointed Education Minister
Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan has been appointed an education minister in the new Scottish Government.  First Minister, Alex Salmond, announced his new ministerial appointments today (Friday), which include Alasdair Allan’s new role as Minister for Learning and Skills in Mike Russell’s education department. Alasdair Allan will also have responsibility for Gaelic and Scots and is a fluent speaker of both.  

Speaking from Benbecula in his constituency, Alasdair Allan commented: “This is another challenge to take on, and one I am looking forward to immensely.  First and foremost in my mind I have a responsibility to the Western Isles as their MSP, and I will still be working hard at that job, though I will now also be pursuing causes close to my heart nationally – Scottish education, and the future of the Scots and Gaelic languages. I don’t expect life to get any less busy, but I intend to get stuck into the task I’ve been given with enthusiasm. Scotland’s new government intends to waste no time in making a positive difference to the lives of every Scot”

Lifeboat Launched for Ennard Bay Rescue
The Lochinver lifeboat was launched on Wednesday morning to the aid of a rigid inflatable boat which had fouled its propeller with a rope and was adrift in strong south westerly winds in Ennard Bay.  The request to launch was from the Stornoway Coastguard who had been in communication with the crew of the boat to discuss their difficulties.  The weather was poor with winds blowing from the south west at near gale force strength, pushing up a choppy sea.  Fortunately the crew of the inflatable were able to free the rope from their propeller shortly prior to the Lochinver lifeboat arriving on scene, within about 11 minutes of being called out.  The boat was able to return to the slip at Inver Polly under escort by the lifeboat which provided shelter from the worst of the winds. Having first made sure the troubled inflatable was able to make it safely back to shore, the lifeboat returned to station.

Caithness Couple's Distillery Wedding
Caithness newlyweds raised a toast with a dram made in the very building in which they were married.  Andrew Cuthbert, from Thurso, tied the knot with Wick's Marie Stewart at Pulteney Distillery last weekend the first time a wedding has been held in the Huddart Street premises.

The couple wanted something different for their big day, rather than getting hitched in a church or registry office.  Andrew said the Pulteney Distillery was the ideal setting to celebrate the happiest day of their lives.  The 31-year-old told the Groat: "The idea came when I received a birthday present of pouring my own bottle of whisky at the premises. While we were there, we looked around at the surroundings and thought that it would be the perfect place to hold our wedding."

The couple were married in the distillery's tasting room by celebrant Kate Buchanan, of the Humanist Society of Scotland.  Blushing bride Marie (28) arrived by truck, owned by local haulage firm D. Steven and Son where her father, Alex, works.   Guests later travelled to the Weigh Inn Hotel in Thurso for the reception.  Distillery manager Malcolm Waring said he was only too happy to accommodate Andrew and Marie on their special day.  "This was the very first time that we have staged a wedding at the distillery and it was a big success," he said.

William Wallace Hung, Drawn and Quartered After 'Misunderstanding'
William Wallace was brutally hanged, drawn and quartered because the English King Edward I - the infamous "Hammer of the Scots" - believed he wanted to be the king of Scotland, according to new research.  Historians from Glasgow University have uncovered new evidence to show that, as far as the English were concerned, the Scots patriot wanted to be king.   The accounts of King Edward I's Exchequer for the financial year 1304-5, known as the "Pipe Roll", describe Wallace as, "a robber, a public traitor, an outlaw, an enemy and rebel of the king, who throughout Scotland had falsely sought to call himself king of Scotland".  The newly discovered document also marks the earliest record of Wallace's gruesome execution. Researcher Dr John Reuben Davies made the discovery as part of a study of cross-border society and Scottish independence during the years 1216-1314, involving researchers from the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, King's College London and Lancaster.

Dr Davies said: "In the pipe roll there is an entry which has until now gone unnoticed - it is the account for expenses incurred in the execution of William Wallace and for taking his quartered body to Scotland.  The record shows quite vividly the extent to which English civil servants saw Wallace's trial and execution as an extraordinary event, so exciting that they broke from their usual routine to note down the details in what would normally be a dull record of income and expenditure."

Dr Davies, whose report is entitled The Breaking of Britain: Cross border society and Scottish Independence 1216-1314, said that although it may have been the English view that Wallace was a pretender to the throne, Wallace himself may not in fact have had any such aspiration. He said: "This is a startling revelation. The view presented in Scottish histories has always been that Wallace never sought the Scottish crown, and certainly never called himself king of Scotland - a view not explicitly contradicted in English sources.  However, we should treat this account with caution - Wallace was always scrupulous, in the very few documents issued in his name, to say he acted on behalf of King John Balliol."

Stirling historian Craig Mair said: "It's a fascinating discovery but I don't think this changes the perception of Wallace that we have in Scotland - that Wallace was a Guardian on behalf of the imprisoned Balliol.  This claim doesn't sound like a piece of propaganda, however, as it would not have been a public document. So the English may well have misunderstood the role of Guardian."

Dr Davies, a research associate at Glasgow University, said he made the discovery during a visit to the National Archives at Kew.  The reference to Wallace's death appears in a 44-page book recording payments made by the "king's wardrobe" - the largest office of the royal household, which travelled with the king, and was responsible for spending the greatest proportion of his revenues.   The previously unpublished Latin text records a payment of 15 shillings to Lord John of Seagrave, Edward's lieutenant in Scotland for taking his body back to Scotland to be displayed as a deterrent to others.

Green Cash Boost for Lybster and Dunnet Groups
Green projects in Caithness have been given a huge boost thanks to Scottish Government funding. The Government’s Climate Change Challenge Fund has awarded over £70,000 to Dunnet Forestry Trust and the Latheron Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company.  The fund was introduced in 2008 by the Scottish SNP Government with the aim of helping communities become more eco-friendly by encouraging projects that reduce carbon emissions.  Dunnet Forestry Trust receive £26,613, whilst Latheron Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company gets £44,345.

Chairwoman of the forestry trust Jean Barnett explained that the money means it will be able to improve its main source of income.  "It’s a massive boost for us. We are all so delighted. We had to prove that by selling more wood fuel we could help lower Caithness’s carbon emissions," said Mrs Barnett.  "The equipment we have to help us do so is long overdue for replacement but we have been constantly short of funds so we’re just overjoyed that we have received this money.  Hopefully we will be able to improve our logs sales as we will have a better product and that in turn, hopefully, will help us become a little bit more financially viable."  The award means that the forestry trust now has more than three-quarters of the total sum needed to buy suitable equipment including a new quad bike, a proper forestry trailer, a storage container and a steel-framed open-air wood shed.

Also thrilled with the awards is Latheron Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company’s resource centre manager Eric Larnach.  The company, which specialises in developing projects that benefit the community, is now able to bankroll a community powerdown officer for another year. The representative works with local people to help develop carbon-reduction projects and behaviour change within the participating communities.  The officer in question, Anne Sutherland, will now have the opportunity to "continue the good work" that she has been doing over the past two years, said Mr Larnach. "We’re absolutely delighted to be given the award. Obviously when a fair bit of effort goes into having the officer here over two years it’s great to be able to have them for longer," he said.

Set up in 2006, the Latheron Lybster and Clyth Community Development Company is part of the community powerdown consortium, made up of 25 groups around the country who are working with Community Energy Scotland Development Trust Association Scotland to bring green projects to life.

TV Favourite Launches New Cromarty Ferry
A new ferry service across the Cromarty Firth has been launched by television favourite Penelope Keith.  The Cromarty Queen will run 12 hours a day, seven days a week, until the end of September, sailing between the Black Isle and Easter Ross at Nigg.  Mrs Keith, who lives in Fortrose and is planning to open a tearoom in Avoch, poured a bottle of champagne over the Cromarty Queen to mark the launch.  The Cromarty Ferry Company, under managing director Tom Henderson, ran a five-minute ferry crossing for many years until the old ferry was no longer fit for purpose.  Mr Henderson said he was looking forward to restarting the ferry. The Cromarty Queen was built in Southampton and sailed north for the new job.

New Church Moderator to Be Sworn in
A former chaplain to one of Scotland's toughest jails is set to become the new moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  The Reverend David Arnott, 65, who spent two years as a part-time chaplain at Glasgow's Barlinnie Prison, will be sworn into office as the Kirk's annual gathering gets under way in Edinburgh on Saturday, taking over from the current incumbent, Rev John Christie.  The event will be held in the presence of Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, who, as this year's Lord High Commissioner, acts as the Queen's representative at the General Assembly.

During the week-long Assembly, the moderator will preside over a debate on the controversial question of whether the Church should accept gay ministers.  It comes after the topic hit the headlines two years ago with an attempt by traditionalist members to block the appointment of openly-gay minister Rev Scott Rennie.  The Assembly ultimately voted in support of the Aberdeen-based minister, following a lengthy debate, but called for a special commission to study the general issue "for the sake of the peace and unity of the Church". It is this report which will be the focus of next week's debate, scheduled for Monday.

Rev Arnott, a regular contributor on religious issues on radio and television programmes, was born in Dunfermline, Fife, and went on to study at St Andrews and Edinburgh universities.  The married father of three grown-up children was ordained to Stobhill Parish Church in Gorebridge in the early 1970s. He went on to be based at Netherlee Parish Church in Glasgow and it was during his time in the city that he worked at Barlinnie.  In 1996 he moved to St Andrews Hope Park Church, which was linked to Strathkinness Church in 2005.

Plans to Tackle Sectarianism Hailed
The chief executive of the Scottish Football Association has welcomed plans for tougher legislation to tackle sectarianism before the new season starts.  Under proposed legislation to be presented to the Cabinet by the new Lord Advocate, Frank Mulholland, football supporters who cause sectarian disruption at matches or online will face up to five years in jail.  Currently people who cause disruption at matches can be charged with breach of the peace, with a maximum one-year sentence. However, the new laws would include behaviour that is threatening, abusive, disorderly or offensive, with a maximum jail term of five years.  Online hate crime, such as comments posted on Twitter, will also be included in the legislation and would carry the same punishment.  In an interview, First Minister Alex Salmond said he wants to pass the legislation before the football season begins in July.  Stewart Regan, the Scottish FA chief executive, said: "The Scottish FA welcomes the First Minister's pledge to provide tougher legislation to tackle the problem of sectarianism. We look forward to the Scottish Government taking the lead to offer clarity on the issue of sectarianism and other forms of discriminatory behaviour within Scottish football."

Energy Giant Hints At Price Rise Despite £2.1bn Profit (Now isn’t this story familiar? - Robin)
Fears were raised that millions of customers of utility giant Scottish & Southern Energy could be hit by another hike in gas and electricity prices.  The concerns came after the Perth-based company reported a 29 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £2.1 billion, despite a drop in power use among its 9.16 million customers.  The company warned that wholesale gas and electricity prices had risen by 25 per cent, far higher this year than it had increased its customers' bills, fuelling fears that another price hike is in the pipeline, despite claims by SSE that there are no plans for a price increase.

Earlier this month Centrica, the energy giant that owns British Gas, warned that its customers might have to pay more for their energy, saying "end-user prices" did not reflect the price the company was having to pay in the wholesale gas market.  Andrew Faulk, the energy expert at Consumer Focus Scotland, said last night: "Hard-pressed consumers will be grinding their teeth in frustration as the second of the Big Six hints at price rises while reporting increased profits. Customers simply don't have faith that they are being asked to pay a fair price and Ofgem has shown this lack of trust has firm foundations."  He added: "As suppliers move to put up prices the regulator Ofgem faces its first major test since its market review. If it isn't satisfied that price rises are fair, and that suppliers are making the changes on transparency and service needed, the threat of a Competition Commission inquiry must become a reality."

Richard Lloyd, executive director of Which?, the consumer watchdog, also voiced his concern. He said: "Customers already struggling with rising energy costs and increasing inflation will find today's announcement difficult to swallow.  Once again, it appears that a Big Six energy company is putting its shareholders ahead of its customers. People are fed up with energy companies insisting they have to increase prices, while announcing bumper profits."

SSE announced a 9.4 per cent rise in gas prices at the beginning of December last year. A spokesman for the company said yesterday: "We have not said we are putting prices up. We are just going to be monitoring the market."   Announcing its full-year results, SSE said the profits increase had been helped by changes in electricity distribution prices following a regulatory review, offsetting higher-than-forecast wholesale gas prices and disappointing output from renewable energy and hydro-electric schemes. Electricity consumption by households fell by 2.5 per cent, it added.

Success As 100 Pilot Whales Avoid Death on Shore
Marine experts have claimed success in their frantic efforts to prevent a mass stranding of up to 100 pilot whales on a remote island shore.  It was the second time in a few months that animal safety teams had scrambled to Loch Carnan, South Uist, to prevent a group of the mammals from beaching.  About 20 of the whales have suffered severe head injuries in their ordeal, which is a repeat of a recent similar incident.

In October last year a pod of the same type of long-finned pilot whales were in danger of becoming stranded in the same sea loch. They moved back out to sea but less than a week later 33 whales - believed to be the same group - were discovered dead on a beach in Co Donegal, Ireland.  The Scottish SPCA and British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) were involved in trying to save the whales and were ready to use inflatable pontoons to prevent what would have been Scotland's largest ever mass stranding.   Last night the whales had moved into deeper water and the immediate danger was over.

Scottish SPCA senior inspector Calum Watt said: "When pilot whales come inshore there is a very strong chance some among the group are sick or injured.  We believe around 20 of these whales have severe head injuries but at this stage we aren't sure of the cause. One possibility is these injuries were sustained during a previous attempt to strand themselves."  Rescuers said inflatable pontoons for refloating whales were on the way. He said pilot whales have extremely strong social bonds, which means healthy whales within the pod will follow sick and injured whales on to the shore.

Dave Jarvis, spokesman for the BDMLR, said last night: "The whales appear to have moved into deeper water and split into a couple of smaller groups so the imminent danger of stranding has receded for the time being.  "However some of them have suffered some nasty injuries, possibly from previous strandings. Hopefully we can get guys out on boats to quietly approach the animals to check them out."He added: "It's very strange these animals have come back to the exact location. It appears to be a narrow inlet into the loch compared to other places they could have gone.  So why they came back there is a mystery. There are theories but we don't really know."

Every year, thousands of whales, dolphins and porpoises are found stranded around the world. In Europe, this usually involves single animals and the majority are old, sick or wounded. But in other area, like New Zealand, many stranded animals come ashore in groups.  Usually when they strand it appears that either a lead animal has made a navigational mistake or one individual has become sick or wounded and led the rest of its pod on to the shore.  Recent research by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society linked naval sonar and whale strandings.

Kirk Ready to Take Action If Collection Figures Fall
Churches are being threatened with "disciplinary action" if they don't raise enough at their weekly collections.  The Church of Scotland's General Assembly was today being asked to "instruct" congregations to take part in a "national stewardship programme" to make sure churchgoers give enough when the collection plate comes round.  Despite the recession, total offerings dipped only slightly last year to just below £71 million, but the church said it believed there was "considerable potential" for collections to be increased.  A report to the Assembly said it hoped presbyteries, which oversee local churches, would be able to ensure all congregations took part in the stewardship programme by "encouraging" and "monitoring" but it added: "Disciplinary action may be required."

Rev John Munro, minister at Edinburgh's Fairmilehead Parish Church, said in troubled economic times it was unrealistic to expect churchgoers, especially in poorer areas, to increase their giving. He said: "Members of churches in these areas are already doing as much as they possibly can.  The only churches that could realistically be expected to find more money are the bigger suburban churches and even they are being stretched."

A Kirk source said it was the first time the Assembly had been asked to "instruct" churches to join in a campaign to persuade people to put more in the plate.  But he said: "Stewardship campaigns don't work if only some people take part - it would be like some people having to pay higher taxes. It needs to be something we all engage in."  He said any disciplinary action was likely to involve "naming and shaming" those who failed to take part rather than suspension or expulsion.

The report noted some presbyteries were now challenging particular congregations by negotiating "Giving Agreements", designed to increase offerings.  But the total amount of offerings to the Church of Scotland last year was £70,986,000, a drop of just 0.1 per cent on the previous year. The report being considered by the Assembly at its opening session today said the budget for next year increased the amount asked of congregations by three per cent.

Ministers Row Back From Coastguard Cuts Closure Rethink
A campaign against planned closures of Coastguard stations has forced a climbdown by ministers who are now reconsidering the move, it has been claimed.  It was revealed on Thursday that the government is to scale back the controversial proposals which would have seen the number of stations across the UK reduced from 19 to nine.  Under the plans Aberdeen would have been left as the only full-time Scottish station, with a second - either in Shetland or Orkney - operating only during daylight hours.

But it is now understood that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond will reprieve some of the threatened stations.  A Whitehall source said Mr Hammond was responding to arguments he has heard during an ongoing consultation process, including warnings that the skills of experienced coastguards would be lost if local centres were closed.  "I can't speculate on the numbers of stations which will be in the final proposals," said the source. "There will be a reduction, but it won't be as large as originally envisaged."

Under the new, less drastic cuts, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency will get one hi-tech new national centre to replace those stations still being abandoned, rather than the two that had originally been planned.  A consultation on the plans is also being extended. Yesterday the Commons Transport Select Committee visited Stornoway as part of its inquiry into the plans.

The news of a change of heart was welcomed by unions and politicians who had been fighting the planned cuts, which many said had focussed on saving money rather than lives.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant welcomed the rethink: "Our current cover is at a minimum, given the UK's long coast line, and I believe it is imperative that the Stornoway and Shetland stations, which have proved so effective over the years, remain open. Their local knowledge of the coastline is priceless." Local authorities in Highland, Shetland and the Western Isles have also condemned the plans.  Dr Michael Foxley, Highland Council leader, told the MPs: "While we fully accept the need to modernise and develop the service, it should be done on the basis of enhancing the level of service provided, not reducing it and potentially putting lives at risk."  Western Isles Council leader Angus Campbell called the cuts as planned "dangerously reckless". He chairs the Outer Hebrides Coastguard Task Group which wants 12 centres open 24 hours a day, three of them in Scotland at Stornoway, Lerwick and Aberdeen.

Under the plans on which the government has been consulting, there would be two nationally networked Coastguard operations centres, one in Aberdeen and one in the Portsmouth-Southampton area.  There would be five sub-centres, operating in daylight hours only, in Falmouth, Humber, Swansea, either Belfast or Liverpool and either Stornoway or Shetland.  There would be one sub-centre operating 24 hours a day in Dover, and the small centre at London would remain unchanged.

Presently, the Shetland station covers Shetland, Orkney and Fair Isle.  Stornoway Coastguard covers from Ardnamurchan Point to Cape Wrath and from Barra Head to the Butt of Lewis.  Aberdeen Coastguard covers Cape Wrath to Doonies Point, while the Forth station covers Doonies Point to the Border.  The Clyde coastguard service covers Mull of Galloway to Ardnamurchan Point, including the islands of Jura, Gigha, Islay, Arran, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Bute and Cumbrae.