Some Scottish News & Views #90

SOME SCOTTISH NEWS & VIEWS
Issue # 90                                                                                 Week ending 4thJune 2011

Don’t forget that the views expressed in this little digest are not necessarily my views or views to which I ascribe.  I do try to present an even handed approach and supply news items which I think would be of interest.  This I will continue to do - as long as I am able, however it is becoming more difficult to obtain news items from all around Scotland as more Newspapers follow the modern trend and restrict free internet access to their publications - Robin

Allan Demands Answers on Fuel Duty Cut
Isles MSP, Alasdair Allan is re-applying pressure on the Chancellor of the Exchequer for answers on the delay to the promised 5p cut in fuel duty for Scottish islands.  Commented Alasdair Allan: “It has been a number of months now since the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, first proposed this five pence cut in fuel duty for Scottish island areas and we are still waiting. Since then I believe that the European Commission received the request to cut duty at the start of March, but it will still be some months from that date for the request to be agreed to.  Since the fuel duty cut was first proposed for island areas we have seen VAT rise and the price of fuel is still going up punishing levels. A simple five pence cut may be a start, but the continued delay means it is now not going to be able to solve this massive issue on its own.”  The Treasury, Dr Allan continued, need to re-examine the way in which fuel is taxed and how that tax is passed onto ordinary motorists in Scotland’s most remote communities, because the current price regime is unsustainable.  “In areas like the Western Isles, fuel at a reasonable price is not just a luxury, it is a lifeline, and people need to get to work, to be able to shop, and to fuel their fishing boats,” he explained.

Who Can We Get to Play Dolly Parton in That Film About Her? By Iain MacIver
Who can forget Jolene and Islands In The Stream? Ah, I’ve always loved those massive hits of Dolly Parton.   Oh, come on. She’s fantastic. I know some people think she is a bit cheesy but that’s Americans for you. They are all kind of loud and lacking in good taste.  Except Michelle Obama who doesn’t say very much at the best of times even when the wind is blowing her hair all over the place and she is beginning to look like a haystack and making Prince Philip have a fit of the giggles.
Or when the band starts playing the national anthem when her husband is speaking and she realises it’s all going a bit pear-shaped. Or when she’s pressed into service handing out the lettuce at posh barbecues. The look on her face between the forced smiles. Classic.

Now they are planning a film about the life of Ms Parton. However, they still haven’t found someone suitable for the role - or rather someone who is suitable to the subject of the film. They need someone who has massive, er, personality and presence. Apparently, Pamela Anderson had a couple of things in her favour but “someone” isn’t too keen on her.  The makers are getting a bit desperate. They have even considered Barbara Windsor although “someone” thinks she is far too old. Wonder who that could be? Shame, you can just see Babs swaggering on with an accent from Smoky Mountain, Tennessee, telling a bunch of cowboys to “get outta my pub”.
Er, no. I’m getting mixed up. Just forget I said that.

Reese Witherspoon was deemed unsuitable because someone said “she would need a big, old bra”. Poor girl. I am sure she could afford to get one of those if they chose her. Go on, give it to her, Doll. But no.  Someone suggested that other willowy American songbird Taylor Swift. Wee Dolly’s reaction was classic.  “You'd have to saw her legs off at the knees and get her a boob job to play me.” Oh, meeaaaow.  Now I amn’t actually sure what one of those jobs is but let’s just keep the carpentry tools away from Ms Parton for a while, eh?

Amazingly, on the list of possibles who look a little like Dolly, with your eyes closed and the curtains drawn presumably, was Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall. They had really put her on a list to ask her if she would like to audition. As if.

I can imagine the phone ringing in Clarence House and Prince Charles answering. He says she’s not in but he’ll take a message. Does he think his wife would like to play Dolly Parton in a movie? Dolly who? Well, he didn’t know but he would certainly ask. What was this Ms Parton best known for?  The songs 9 to 5, Here You Come Again and Applejack? No, he didn’t think he’d ever heard these.  Anything else? I Will Always Love You. He thought he’d certainly heard the Duchess hum that one some time back.  They were not to worry about any obvious differences. They would carry out all necessary “enhancements”, the producer says. The prince is puzzled. What could that be all about?

Soon after, Camilla comes in from Harrods, weighed down with shopping. She was expecting a call from that Lorna woman at the Harris Tweed Authority. Any calls while she was out?
Nope. Oh, someone phoned to see if she would play some singer in a movie. Dick Barton? Something like that. The one with the enormous hits. She could phone them back. The number was on the sideboard.

Will Camilla defy convention? The world is waiting for her answer.  Actually, I think I’ll just ask her myself on Thursday. She got the call from the Harris Tweed crowd and Camilla and the prince are going to be in Stockinish down in deepest, darkest Harris to have a look round a loomshed.  I think I’ll take a turn down there with Mrs X. I’ll get her to chat up their security guys - she seems to be really good at that sort of thing - and then I’ll slip into the shed while Charles is on the loom and Camilla is filling a few bobbans. I’ll just ask her outright if she’s going to go for it. Easy peasy.  If Camilla turns down this magnificent offer, they’re stuck. I was going to suggest they get Chris or Janet, two blonde bombshells at Isles FM in Stornoway. Mind you, these two would probably want too much money.

So I understand Dolly’s answer may be to play herself. Brilliant. Why did no one else think of that?
One of the amazing true facts about Dolly is that she secretly entered a Dolly Parton lookalike competition - and lost. She glamed up a wee bit with exra make-up and bolstered her, er, assets even more than they were already, called herself Donalda and put her name in for it.  She paraded around pouting and strutting her stuff. However, the judges, who must have had a wee bevvy, thought there was someone else in that line-up who was even more like Dolly than Donalda. A guy called Hector.  Poor thing. I don’t think she’s ever got over that one.

Talking about the plans for the film about her life, she explained there would have to be three actors; “a young Dolly, a teenage one and then maybe I could play the old one.”  Well, I am no film producer but I too think it would be the old Dolly you are best suited for, Dollag. You are in your mid-60s now, aren’t you? That’s a bit of clue.

When I think about it, I don’t know how interesting this film will be. Even when she was young, Dolly came across as so goody-goody. She was never very rock and roll.  When Dolly was talking about someone having good grass she was actually talking about their lawn.  Courtesy of the Press & Journal

Leurbost Minister Resigns Over Gay Issue
The Rev. Andrew Coghill, Minister of Crossbost Church of Scotland in Lochs, Lewis, for the past 18 years, has informed his congregation that he intends to demit his charge and resign from the Church following the General Assembly a decision to allow lesbians and homosexual men to serve as church ministers.   In a statement to his congregation on Sunday, and also the to High Church in Stornoway where he is Interim-Moderator, he said: “In the light of the General Assembly’s decision it is with the utmost sorrow and heartfelt grief that I have today informed the Kirk Session, and yesterday informed the Clerk to the Presbytery of Lewis, of my intention to demit the pastoral charge of Lochs Crossbost, and to resign from the active ministry of the Church of Scotland with effect from August 31.  I realise that this is rather longer notice than is customary, but there are a number of commitments and engagements which I feel obliged to honour before leaving. I also hope the additional notice may give the Presbytery a little more time to find the necessary replacements for the Presbytery posts which I currently hold. Naturally I hope it will also afford a little more time for myself and the family to arrange our domestic affairs.”

The statement continued: “There will be those among you who will feel my decision to be entirely the wrong one. What of the flock? What of the people who will be left leaderless, and without a shepherd? I am not insensitive to such claims, nor am I out of sympathy with them. But what kind of shepherd, what kind of leader would I have been, had I preached to you of taking up the Cross to follow Christ, and then to refuse any sacrifice the Lord may require of me? The Cross is not simply to be preached, it is to be lived.

“That said, there will be many Church of Scotland ministers who will share my point of view but will not, in all conscience feel that they must lay down their charge and demit, and their individual consciences must, must, be respected as honourable and right for them, and between them and the Lord. I think no less of those honourable evangelical brethren who feel their place is to stay, and I hope and pray they will think no less of me whose conscience now dictates that I must leave.  I do not expect, encourage or require that any of you should follow me out of the Church of Scotland, for I have nowhere to lead you, and I do not know the direction of my own future. I know only that whilst many good, godly and devout Christian men and women will continue within the fold of the Church of Scotland, I personally cannot continue to serve, and receive the stipend, of a Church which as an institution, has chosen its own gods, and departed from the God of the Bible, whatever words may be used to contrary. I have taken you as far as the Lord has allowed me to do.’

Surprise Announcement - Council Under Budget
The council has managed to save £7million this year, coming under budget. Highland Council's surprise announcement will be confirmed in a report to the resources committee on Wednesday which gives members a near-final position on the revenue budget with the exact figure for 2010/11 presented to council on Thursday 23rd June.  The local authority has been cutting jobs and services saying it needed to save £17.5million over a two year period until 2012.  Councillor Carolyn Wilson, resources chairman, says the projected underspend will place the local authority in a strong position to meet the increasing funding pressures its faces.

'Lucky' Trio Saved After Loch Linnhe Boat Drama
Three young people, wearing only shorts and T-shirts and no lifejackets, were rescued “by sheer chance” from a sinking boat in a choppy loch in the early hours of Thursday.  The two men and a woman – aged in their late teens and early 20s – sparked a major rescue effort after reporting by mobile phone that they were adrift and sinking in Loch Linnhe, off Fort William, in a 16ft open sailing craft with no form of propulsion.

With a lifeboat crew more than an hour’s sailing time away, only the quick actions of the crew of a passing super yacht – assisted by a Fort William on-shore Coastguard team – prevented a “real tragedy”, it was stated today.  The alarm was raised at about 1am by one of the distressed occupants of the drifting vessel, ‘Sea Otter’.  Phil Wren, Coastguard Sector Manager at Fort William, on Thursday said: “They had stated that they had no form of propulsion – no sail, no oars, no engine. There were in real trouble.  Oban Lifeboat was launched but was an hour away.  By sheer luck a passing super yacht, ‘The Lauren El’, was also contacted and between our and their searchlights, the ‘Sea Otter’ was located.  The yacht then launched its own rescue craft and towed the boat to shore and the waiting coastguard personnel and police. The rescue was completed by about 2.15am. Unbelievably, the three occupants were dressed only in shorts and T-shirts - with no lifejackets.” Mr Wren added: “These individuals should consider themselves extremely lucky.  We could have had a real tragedy on our hands, with three bodies in the loch.”

Royal Marines Set to Quit Scottish Base
The Royal Marines could pull out of their Scottish base at Arbroath as part of a major reorganisation of British forces, Ministry of Defence sources have revealed.  Shifting 45 Commando nearer to their "heartland" in Exmoor and Plymouth is "a serious option" and would be the "preferred option".  If a decision is made to move the unit, which is currently serving in Afghanistan, it will end a relationship with RM Condor that has lasted four decades since the unit was moved there from Plymouth in 1971.

The removal of the unit would come on top of the loss of two of Scotland's three RAF bases with either Leuchars in Fife or Lossiemouth in Moray set to join Kinloss in being closed down in the basing review due to report before the summer recess. As revealed yesterday, ministers hope to mitigate the impact of the loss of RAF personnel and possibly the Royal Marines by at least doubling or possibly trebling the size of the army in Scotland and stationing a new multi-purpose brigade of 6,000 north of the Border.  Ministers are also acutely aware of the impact of defence cuts on an independence referendum which is likely to be held in the next few years following the SNP's Holyrood election victory last month.

With the SNP effectively on a referendum campaign-footing for 2014 or 2015 Defence Secretary Liam Fox, originally from East Kilbride, knows that a reduction in the military footprint in Scotland will undermine the case for the Union.  And MoD sources have made it clear that the coalition wants to be able to claim it has increased the military footprint in Scotland.  The 45 Commando unit was originally moved Arbroath to be closer to Norway primarily for Arctic training to allow the UK to deal with the Soviet threat.  However, it is understood the current base RM Condor could instead become the home of a battalion in the new brigade to be set up in Scotland partly because it already has the facilities required by the army rather than the other option of putting them in former RAF bases.  The army is understood to be demanding new purpose-built barracks but with the MoD budget severely stretched ministers are looking for existing sites with the vacant RAF bases the leading option.  However, there are concerns that the different command structures of the RAF and Army, as well as the fact that most airforce personnel are married while most soldiers are single, means that the housing at bases such as Leuchars, Kinloss and Lossiemouth will not be appropriate for the Army.  There is also speculation that the Marines could be reduced in number, although this was denied when the strategic defence and security review (SDSR) was published last year.  Clive Fairweather, a former SAS commander who has seen some of the proposals and is shortly due to retire as an honorary colonel in the Argylls, said: "The move for the Marines makes sense because of training facilities and any loss for Arbroath is likely to be mitigated with the arrival of a battalion from Germany."  On numbers, he added: "The question is how many units the government wants to have. When they promise to keep the Commandos, you can almost certainly read into that that they intend to cut them."

Defence analyst Tim Ripley added: "Everything is up in the air at the moment, but it is clear that the government wants to reduce the number of military personnel."  There is widespread speculation, denied by the MoD, that at least four battalions will be cut, possibly including the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders currently based in Canterbury and the Highlanders based in Germany, both part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Twin Quakes Latest in Series to Hit Scotland
Two earthquakes have hit Scotland within 11 minutes of each other. A 2.5 magnitude tremor hit Strathrannoch in the Highlands at 8:59am while a 1.5 magnitude quake was recorded there a few minutes earlier.  Both quakes, about 12 miles from Dingwall, were recorded by the British Geological Survey on Saturday.   There have been a series of Scottish earthquakes this year. On 7 May, a 1.4 magnitude earthquake was felt on the island of Mull. A previous 2.1-level quake was felt on the island and in Oban on the mainland on 28 April. On 22 April there was a 1.9-magnitude quake recorded east of Yell on Shetland. Some eight days earlier a 1.4 magnitude shudder was recorded at Loch Fannich in the Highlands.  In March another quake was felt in Abriachan, near the northern end of Loch Ness. In January, a 3.5-magnitude quake shook Glen Uig in Moidart, sending tremors up to 70 miles away.

Scottish Fishermen Have Designs on Netting More Profit
Scotland'S prawn fishermen have joined forces with net manufacturers and designers in a bid to devise new trawling gear which will allow unwanted fish species to escape from their langoustine nets.  Shellfish landings, primarily of nephrops - also known as prawns or langoustines - are worth almost £150 million a year to Scottish fishermen.  And it was revealed yesterday that a major drive has been launched by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation's nephrops focus group to investigate and devise innovative ideas for net designs that will significantly reduce and hopefully eliminate discards.  A spokesman for the federation said: "Four gear suppliers - Gamrie Bay Nets, Scotnet, Faithlie Trawls and Pisces - have been working on new designs, and it was decided to trial the ideas over the coming months with an objective of producing two workable gear designs by January 2012."

Castaway Island Yours for £2m
The uninhabited Hebridean island of Taransay is to go on the market with an asking price of more than £2 million.  The island, two miles off Harris, was the setting for the BBC series Castaway, which followed the fortunes of an experimental community in one of the early reality television shows.  The property is owned by brothers Norman and Angus Mackay who live in Harris and are said to be selling for business reasons.   Taransay, which is made up of two islands connected by a peninsula of sand, covers 3,445 acres. The original buildings on the island were renovated for the TV series and since 2002 they have been used as self-catering holiday cottages.  The farmhouse has also been recently refurbished and the old school chalet has been upgraded, while the bothy offers more basic accommodation.

Airport to Host Security Open Day for Minorities
Ethnic minority representatives will be invited to a security open day at Glasgow Airport to try to allay fears that they are being singled out for questioning by security staff. Humza Yousaf MSP has been in discussions with airport authorities following claims that some ethnic minorities would rather fly from Manchester or London than face "awkward questions" at Glasgow.

Mr Yousaf said: "During the election campaign, a number of folk raised it with me. People have been stopped four or five times and asked really awkward questions like, 'How many times a day do you pray? What mosque do you go to?' or 'Does your wife wear a headscarf?'"   Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 empowers police officers to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports without needing reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in terrorism.  A BAA Glasgow spokesman said: "Schedule 7 checks are a police matter so we cannot comment specifically. However, we have good relations with ethnic minority groups whom we meet with on a regular basis, and we will help facilitate an open day to explain the procedures involved in the security screening process."

Mr Yousaf welcomed the airport's approach.  "There was a report that said that people from ethnic minorities are 42 times more likely to be stopped under Schedule 7 in UK airports," he said.  "From speaking to people, the situation seems to be a lot worse in Glasgow than anywhere else, to the point where some people are travelling to Manchester or London to take a flight instead.  I spoke to one individual who has lived here for 35 years and has been stopped several times, and he now takes the train to Manchester whenever he wants to fly."

University Aims to End £5.4m-a-year Power Bill - with its Own Wind Farm
Scotland's oldest university is hoping to become the first higher education institution in the country to generate all its power through its own wind farm.  After a three-year investigation and scientific study of wind levels in Fife, St Andrews University yesterday submitted an application for planning permission for the farm, which would be built on farmland six miles from the town.  Under the proposals submitted to Fife Council, six medium-sized turbines would be built on university-owned land at Kenly Farm, near Boarhills. It is hoped the turbines would generate enough power to feed the entire campus - and thereby combat rising energy costs, which the university says costs the equivalent of 120 staff members a year.  If the bid is successful, the 600-year-old institution will be the first university to create such a power source in Scotland.

The university sees the proposal as a key part of its strategy to offset what it described as the "punitive" national costs of energy.  St Andrews claims that, despite reducing energy consumption in recent years, rising national and international costs of energy have seen its bills triple since 2005 to £5.4 million a year.  Derek Watson, quaestor and factor of the university, said: "This increase in costs is equivalent to the salaries of up to 120 full-time staff at St Andrews and is a major financial risk for us. Doing nothing is not an option. We would prefer to determine our own financial fate than have it determined for us by the vagaries of international energy markets.  Our consumption is on a flat line, but we are being charged more and more for it."  He added: "We are encouraged by the Scottish Government's commitment to renewables and fortunate that we can respond positively to it."  

An environmental impact assessment, submitted as part of the planning application, includes data on potential noise, ecology, radar and aviation, and construction and traffic impacts, as well as an examination of the possible positive and negative effects of the wind farm on archaeology, cultural heritage and economic and tourism aspects.  A survey carried out among people attending public meetings in Boarhills and Kingsbarns in 2010 reported that 46 per cent of people were in favour of the planned development, and 36 per cent were against.

Wind Farm Objectors Lose Judicial Review Case
Protesters against a controversial plan to construct a huge wind farm in the Scottish Borders have lost another round in their fight as their request for a judicial review was rejected.  The proposal to site up to 48 125-metre turbines at Fallago Rigg in the Lammermuir Hills has set two dukes against each other.

The Duke of Roxburghe, who owns the land, is in favour of the wind farm, but the Duke of Northumberland, who owns grouse moor in the area, is not. The fall-out from the scheme has also pitted Scottish Borders Council and local community councils against Scottish ministers who wanted the wind farm to go ahead.  North British Windpower's bid to get the go-ahead for the turbines has been the subject of two public inquiries.  In February 2008, the reporter appointed to examine the controversy recommended against the development. A key objection had come from the Ministry of Defence which said the huge turbines would interfere with radar defences.  Nearby Torness nuclear power station, a potential target for any enemy action, could be vulnerable to surprise attack, they said.  The inquiry was re-opened under the same reporter in November 2009. By the time of the second inquiry, the Ministry of Defence had dropped its objection after discussions with other government officials.  A number of protesters got together to take their case to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, seeking a judicial review. But in a written ruling issued yesterday, judge Lord McEwan ruled out the possibility of over-turning permission for the wind farm to go ahead.  Preparatory work had begun at the site while the legal arguments were being heard in court.

Mystery Over Strathoykel Iron Age Cup Find
The discovery of a possible ancient artefact on croft land in Sutherland is causing ructions.A small stone cup was found recently in two pieces on a 21-hectare croft at Doune Mill, Strathoykel.  The land belongs to William Ross but the cup was found by two of his neighbours, Jonathan Hampton, Langwell Farm, and Billy Renwick, Easter Oape.  They contacted Inverness-based local authority archaeologist Andrew Puls, who travelled to Sutherland to collect it in person.  After a initial examination, it is thought the cup could be an Iron Age drinking vessel dating back over 2000 years.  But landowner Mr Ross, who does not live on the croft, is furious that it was taken away without his knowledge or permission. And he has gone so far as to allege the pot could have been deliberately placed there to delay plans he has to develop the land.

Retired Skibo Castle gardener Mr Ross, of Rosemount House, Glenaldie, Tain, has never lived at Doune Mill. He inherited the croft in 1974, although it has been in his family since the 1700s. A year ago he decided to look into building four new homes on the croft and has so far applied for outline consent for two houses.  As part of the planning process, an archaeological survey was undertaken on 26th April by John Wood of Cromarty based Highland Archaeology Services Ltd.  Particular attention was paid to a hillock, on one of the planned house sites. Measuring around 3.6 metres high and 200 metres wide, the hillock is listed on the Ordnance Survey map as a possible Iron Age broch. Mr Ross says: "We spent the day scraping away and found a boundary wall which was visible anyway. On one side of the wall, and within the building site, we found a round circle of flat stones, inside which was a stone with a hole in the middle.   John was not familiar with the lay-out and did not think it was worth further investigation. He dug away on the other side of the boundary wall and found nothing. He was happy that there was nothing of any interest and we covered it up."

Mr Hampton has objected to one of the proposed homes because it would restrict the access of farm animals from low ground fields to the high ground, and also because of the archeological significance of the site.  Meanwhile the Renwick family have looked after the Doune Mill Croft on behalf of Mr Ross for over three decades. Mr Renwick's mother, Dolina Renwick, has also objected to the development plans.

Mr Ross has now been told he will have to pay for further excavation work to ensure that there is nothing else of archaeological value on the site.  He decided to contact police primarily because he felt strongly that the cup should not have been removed from where it was lying.  Jonathan Hampton, who has a keen interest in archaeology, hit the headlines in February 2009 when an ancient burial cist was found on his farm,  he said: "I went to look at the dig with Billy Renwick and we found a stone cup in the line of spoil.  It was lying in the soil and was certainly very visible when we came across it. Billy found a large part of the cup and I found a little bit - presumably broken by the digger.  I thought it was of interest and I didn't want to leave it lying there so I picked it up, took photos of it and sent it to the council archaeologist."

Little Scotlander’ Taunt in Row Over Supreme Court
Alex Salmond has been forced to defend Kenny MacAskill after his Justice Secretary claimed UK Supreme Court judges learned about Scots Law from visits to the Edinburgh Festival and linked this with “ambulance-chasing” lawyers.

The comments were raised at First Minister’s Questions yesterday as the row continued between the Scottish Government and the court over its rulings in the Fraser and Cadder cases.  Tory leader Annabel Goldie accused the First Minister and the Justice Secretary of “ill-advised and provocative rhetoric” while LibDem leader Willie Rennie claimed Mr MacAskill’s attack was “tawdry”.  Ms Goldie, a lawyer, told MSPs that Mr Salmond’s objection to the court was the fact it sat in London. She said: “His trenchant dislike of and hostility to the very concept of a British court is evident by his Little Scotlander approach and his and Mr MacAskill’s ill-advised and provocative rhetoric.”

Asked by the Tory leader if he backed Mr MacAskill, Mr Salmond replied: “I fully endorse the Justice Secretary in all aspects of his excellent work.”  Ms Goldie also asked the First Minister to explain why he believed a court sitting in Strasbourg, with no permanent Scottish judge and a backlog of cases, to be a better option than the Supreme Court.  He said: “The Strasbourg Court has 40 individual jurisdictions within its remit. All of these 40 countries manage to rub along with the Strasbourg Court and human rights and they can do that of course because the Strasbourg Court, unlike the Supreme Court, does not quash convictions. It does not unlock prison cells.”

Mr Salmond said his objections were shared by high-profile Scottish legal figures including Paul McBride QC, former Lord Advocate Lord Fraser and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.  He also pointed out that Scots Tory peers were among those, when legislation was drawn up, who saw potential difficulties with Scots Law because of the role of the Supreme Court.  Mr Salmond bolstered his defence by quoting an article from The Herald in 2003 written by Lord Hope, one of the two Scottish judges who sit in the Supreme Court. Describing the article as having been written by “somebody with a great, far-seeing and perceptive nature”, he quoted Lord Hope as saying that describing a court as a Supreme Court of the United Kingdom tended to suggest there was a body of United Kingdom law and “Scots may well feel that would introduce a drift away from their system of law into an English system”.

The Man Who Shaped the Highlands
Alexander Nimmo was a 23-year-old schoolmaster when he embarked on a career change that was to see him become one of Scotland's foremost engineers and surveyors.  Under the guidance of his mentor Thomas Telford, he helped shape the Highlands at a time of revolutionary change and later became revered for his engineering innovations in Ireland.

Next week, Nimmo's journal of a ground-breaking survey, which is being published for the first time, will be launched by the University of the Highlands and Islands to highlight his place in engineering history.  It comes during the 200th anniversary of Nimmo's election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and of his appointment as engineer to the Commission for the Bogs of Ireland.

In 1806, while still rector of Inverness Royal Academy, Nimmo was commissioned, on Telford's recommendation, to complete a survey of the boundaries of Inverness-shire.  The Highlands were undergoing radical change at that time. After the Jacobite uprisings in the 18th century the clan system was fading, thousands of people were emigrating and land was being cleared for sheep farming.  At the start of the 19th century, Telford was commissioned to survey the Highlands and Islands and devise improvements to internal communications and coastal facilities.  In 1802, he said that 3,000 people had left during one year and three times that amount were due to emigrate in the coming year.  As a result, a parliamentary commission for making roads and building bridges in the Highlands and a commission for the Caledonian Canal were appointed. Nimmo's survey was incorporated in Aaron Arrowsmith's authoritative map of Scotland the following year.

His "perambulation", as he called it, began on 20 May, 1806 and finished on 1 August. He drew information from old maps and charters, shepherds, farmers, estate factors and landowners.  Nimmo also used the old military routes, but was not impressed with General George Wade who built 240 miles of roads.  "General Wade was no engineer", he wrote. In his journal, Nimmo commented on changing land patterns that had seen cattle replaced by sheep to allow landlords to cash in on the soaring demand for wool.  "Hence we may account for that species of policy which induces the sheep farmer to remove as many small tenants as he can," he wrote.

Writing of a visit to Lord Lovat at Beaufort Castle, near Inverness, he describes a map he was shown of Glenstrathfarrar. He wrote: "Several places are marked on the map and surveys which by the introduction of sheep are now uninhabited."   Other entries describe the emergence of villages.  At Ballachullish, he mentions slate quarries employing nearly 300 people, and Kingussie, he notes, had a post office and woollen mill and some buildings that "may even be styled elegant".   He records Kingussie as being the only village between Dunkeld and the Moray Firth and "affords a pleasing anticipation of what the Highlands of Scotland may become when once laid open with good roads and the industry of the people directed to useful and valuable purposes".

Nimmo, who was born in Fife, went on to complete comprehensive surveys, maps and reports on the Iveragh peninsula of County Kerry and Connemara, County Galway, under the Famine Relief Act. He died in Dublin in 1832.  Professor Noël P Wilkins, from the National University of Ireland in Galway, said Nimmo became the most influential person undertaking famine relief works and engineering development in the western part of Ireland.

Rare Robert Louis Stevenson Letter Could Fetch £8,000
A "Lost" letter from Robert Louis Stevenson to the English-born governor of Fiji, who had threatened to deport the Scot from his Samoan home, is set to fetch thousands of pounds at auction next week.  The Treasure Island novelist wrote the recently rediscovered letter on 27 December, 1893, a year before his death at the age of 44.  An internationally known literary figure, he had settled in the South Seas in search of a climate more suited to his delicate health than that of his native Edinburgh. He became embroiled in local politics, and championed the cause of the people of the Western Pacific against European exploitation and administrative incompetence.

In 1892, Stevenson fired off a series of satirical letters to the Times newspaper, causing diplomatic problems for Sir John Thurston, the governor of Fiji and high commissioner for the Western Pacific, who even threatened to deport him.  Sir John, one of the founders of modern Fiji, later offered an olive branch and invited the writer to stay with him in Fiji. In reply, Stevenson elegantly buried the hatchet and reciprocated the invitation to stay.  But the two men never met, as Stevenson died from a suspected brain haemorrhage in early December 1894.

The Scot's letter to Sir John is to be sold by an anonymous collector at Bonhams' sale of printed books and manuscripts in London on Tuesday and is expected to fetch up to £8,000. Bonhams spokesman Andrew Currie said yesterday: "Though the dispute between the two men is well documented, this remarkable letter was previously unknown, and does not appear in any of the collections of Stevenson's letters.  This letter effectively buries the hatchet between Stevenson and Sir John, whose instincts about the welfare of the Pacific islanders were very similar but who got on the wrong side of each other when Stevenson's well -intentioned interference threatened to derail Sir John's carefully constructed diplomatic position."  Stevenson addressed his letter to "His Excellency, Sir John Bates Thurston, KCMG Fiji" and clearly sought to make amends.  He also extends an invitation to Sir John to visit him at Vailima, his home on Samoa, adding: "I shall not fail to avail myself of your kind offer, should I visit Fiji; and per contra, I press your cordiality to make use of my house should you return to Samoa. I believe you could enjoy as much comfort there as anywhere, and I know we can afford you better air."