Parliament's Report Card
At the launch of the second annual report of the Scottish Parliament, Sir David Steel the Presiding Officer (equivalent of Speaker) warned that the legislature could become paralysed if the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament were reduced below the current level of 129. The reduction is built into the Act of Parliament which set up the new parliament - Scotland is currently over represented at the Parliament at Westminster on the basis of population. Sir David says that he believes that while the number in Westminster will be reduced, the number of MSPs will not be substantially altered. The "annual report" on the parliament's activities in the last year shows that 13 new bills were introduced, 14 bills were passed into law and the 17 Parliamentary Committees carried out 60 inquiries. For the first time, the annual report is available in Gaelic.
Tribute to Firefighters
More than 200 Glasgow firemen gathered at the Firefighter statue in the centre of the city to pay tribute to the US firefighters who were killed in the Twin Towers catastrophe on 11 September. The memorial service was also attended by the Deputy First Minister, Jim Wallace and the Lord Provost of Glasgow. The statue outside Glasgow's Central station was erected earlier this year in memory of Glasgow and West of Scotland firemen who had lost their lives.
Funds to Cut Congestion
Transport Minister Sarah Boyack announced the details of 26 projects costing a total of £75 million to increase the use of public transport and reduce the amount of congestion on the roads. Schemes include tram cars in Edinburgh (a scheme which has been talked about for 20 years) and a network of new bus lanes in Glasgow and cycle lanes and a transport information system in Aberdeen. Of course, some may feel that many of the projects are designed to increase road congestion in order to drive more people off the roads and onto public transport. On the other hand, there are those who point to the £250 million extension to the M74 in the south of Glasgow and other trunk road improvements.
Glasgow Grinds to a Halt
The west-bound carriageway of the M8 motorway had tail-backs of seven miles on Tuesday as a combination of bad weather, roadworks and breakdowns created chaos. On the same day, the Glasgow Underground closed for a second time in 24 hours, causing delays for those who use the "park and ride" system. The Clydeside Expressway is currently reduced to a single lane on some sections due to maintenance work and Crow Road, leading to the tunnel under the river Clyde, is reduced to one lane. The southbound tunnel is to be closed this weekend, leaving one lane in each direction using the other tunnel. The northbound lane was closed for three months last year to allow repair work to be carried out and major work on the southbound tunnel will start in January.
On Thursday, in addition to the ongoing roadworks, a collapsed manhole on the M8 motorway at Charing Cross in the centre of Glasgow, resulted in traffic on the eastbound carriageway stretching back for ten miles, as far as the airport at Renfrew. Commuters took two hours to travel into the city. Emergency repairs were carried out, but within 24 hours another manhole was found to have collapsed half a mile from the first one, causing more road hold-ups. The M8 travels over the Kingston Bridge (pictured above) in the centre of Glasgow which is the busiest river crossing in Europe.
First Minister Admits He Was A Dunce
In a frank interview with the "Scotsman" newspaper marking his first full year in office, Henry McLeish the First Minister in the Scottish Executive admitted this week that he was a failure at school because he was too keen on playing football and did not spend enough time on his studies. Unlike many of his political colleagues in Edinburgh and London, who shone at school and went on to excel at university, Mr McLeish left school at 15 and signed for Leeds United Football Club. But he became homesick and returned to play for East Fife instead. While there, he began studying again and when his football career ended prematurely due to injury, he secured a place at Heriot-Watt University to study urban planning. Since then, he reckons he has become a "workaholic" and makes up for a lack of academic brilliance with sheer hard work. Mr Mcleish has also revealed that he has a passion for America - Oklahoma in particular, where he has visited 15 times in the last 13 years.
Proposed Changes to Cannabis Laws
The UK Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has proposed this week to make possession of cannabis in small quantities no longer an arrestable offence. He argues that this would free up police time to deal with more serious drugs such as heroin and cocaine. Civil liberties groups welcomed the move, saying that it would open the way for the medicinal use of the drug by those suffering from illnesses such as multiple sclerosis. But health experts pointed out that it could increase the incidence of smoking-related illnesses. Public opinion on the proposal seems to be split (pun intended).
University Building Destroyed
Fire engulfed the 100-year-old Bower Building in Glasgow University on Wednesday causing millions of pounds worth of damage and destroying an irreplaceable collection of 19th century books, including works by Charles Darwin. The building is used by biomedical and life sciences students and staff and some of their work was also lost, including records of at least 2,000 undergraduates. The fire broke out in the top floor of the building at 1.30pm and the 40 occupants evacuated the building as soon as the alarm was raised. Nearby buildings were also emptied as a precaution and at one point the entire University lost its electricity supply. The building had celebrated its 100th birthday in June.
Glaswegians Working Too Hard
Perhaps it is the Calvinist work ethic which is to blame, but a study of working patterns in 10 cities in the UK has revealed that owners of small businesses and senior managers in large businesses in Glasgow work excessive hours, take fewer vacations and often don't take leave to which they are entitled. Glasgow came 9th out of the 10 UK cities, with only Cardiff rating lower. But those in Edinburgh had a much better balance between work and life. Glaswegian managers worked an average of 50.1 hours a week compared to those in Edinburgh who worked only 46.8 hours. 84% of those polled in Glasgow said that they missed out on time with family and friends as a result of business pressures.
Bank of Scotland Heads for Europe
Perhaps we should refer to them as "HBOS" - the new name for the Bank of Scotland after their merger with Halifax - but few people even in Scotland have got used to the new title. But perhaps the name won't matter when their corporate banking division sets out to fulfill their planned growth in continental Europe. They believe (like their rivals, the Royal Bank of Scotland) that there is lucrative business to be had there and they have just appointed four new corporate senior executives to help them win market share. Bank of Scotland already has offices in Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam and is to open new operations in Milan and Stockholm in the next few months. The bank has already written around £1 billion of corporate business on the continent. But although they compete aggressively with the Royal Bank, on the bigger deals they work together as they know each other's cultures well.
North Sea Oil Production Down 14%
The average daily output of oil and gas in the North Sea was down by almost 14% compared with the same month last year, according to the latest report by the Royal Bank of Scotland. The drop is due to low investment in the sector in 1999 and 2000, when oil prices were uncertain. Oil prices have continued to fall over the last month - UK garage forecourt petrol prices are at the lowest level for two years.
Distiller's £1.5 Million Stag Party
William Grant & Son, makers of Glenfiddich malt whisky, are planning a major advertising campaign in the lead-up to Christmas which will focus on the stag motif on the brand's bottles and the fact that the company is one of the few independent distillers left in Scotland. In Gaelic, "Glenfiddich" means "valley of the deer".
Whisky Exports Rise
The volume of whisky exports from Scotland rose by 11.2% in the first six months of 2001, helped by a recovery in the Asian markets (up by over 30%) and increasing demand in continental Europe. However, the figures look better, in part, because of a low volume in the first half of 2000 as customers ran down stocks after the Millennium celebrations. The Scotch Whisky Association report that the equivalent of 461 million bottles of whisky were exported between January and June this year. The US is the biggest market for Scotch whisky and is a major purchaser of bottled-in-Scotland single malts.
Airline Doubles Scotland to US Flights
As many international airlines cut back on the number of flights across the Atlantic (and many other routes) the trend was well and truly reversed this week by Icelandair who announced that they are to double the number of flights from Glasgow to New York (six a week instead of three) from next spring. The flights are routed via Iceland.
Boat Comes in For Islanders
Residents of the Western Isles welcomed the announcement this week of the allocation of £12.6 million to fund a new vehicle ferry for the crossing between Mallaig and Armadale on Skye and a larger ferry for the North Uist to Harris run which will allow the existing ferry to be redeployed on a new service between Barra and Eriskay.
New National Trust Chief Attacks "Elitist" Image
Robin Pellew, the new chief executive of the National Trust for Scotland (which owns and manages around 100 properties across the country) said that the public perception of the organisation being only interested in large and well-maintained buildings (like Culzean Castle, illustrated here) laid it open to accusations of elitism. This, despite the good number of smaller properties, crofts and mountain ranges - and a record number of 245,410 members. The gap between income and expenditure has now reached over £2 million, a situation which has been aggravated by reduced visitor numbers this year. Costs have also risen because of the need to meet health and safety regulations at many of the Trust's properties. Mr Pellew also argues that the organisation must also make their properties even more attractive to the public as they are operating in a very competitive market place.
40 Hour Journey From Glasgow to Shetland
A middle-aged couple who set out on a four hour journey by plane from Glasgow to Shetland ended up being involved in a 40-hour trip instead. Problems began when they were mistakenly taken by Loganair to Inverness instead of Aberdeen. Once they got there, staff explained that there were no onward flights for six days! So they travelled by taxi to Aberdeen where they boarded a ferry heading for Lerwick. Instead of having a cabin, as the airline staff had promised, there was no reservation and they had to pay £140 and sit on plastic seats on a sea journey lasting 23 hours. Even when they got to Shetland they had to travel another 28 miles to Sumburgh airport where they had left their car. When they arrived home after the 40 hour journey they found that their luggage was waiting on the doorstep - having been flown from Inverness to Shetland.
Protection for Cold Water Coral
There was a surprise announcement this week that the cold-water coral reefs in the Atlantic, off the north-west of Scotland, would almost certainly be designated as the first protected marine habitat in the UK. Potential areas are being considered by the UK government under a European habitats directive. An area of 100 square kilometres known as the Darwin Mounds, off the continental shelf, 120 miles north-west of Cape Wrath, is the site of the equivalent of an underwater rainforest, 1,000 metres below the surface. It is home to a large number of species including star-fish, sea urchins, sea stars, crabs and deep-sea fish. The mounds were only discovered in 1998.
Solar Power for Loch Lomond Passenger Boat
The interim body which is managing Scotland's first national park covering Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, has said that it is looking at the feasibility of commercial passenger boats on the loch using solar power in the future. The solar panels react to ultra-violet light, so the lack of sunshine in a sometimes cloudy and wet part of Scotland would not be a problem. Such a solution to noise and pollution is already being tried out on the Norfolk Broads in England. Water from Loch Lomond is used as drinking water for Glasgow and with 5,000 craft using the water there are distinct signs of pollution from all those engines. The illustration here is of one of the boats at Balloch which makes pleasure trips on Loch Lomond. The only ship allowed on Loch Katrine (which also supplies water to Scotland's largest city) is powered by a coal-fired steam engine. But water sports have become a popular leisure activity on Loch Lomond.
Queen Mother Visits Holiday Haven
Building workers at a construction site at Crathie in Aberdeenshire, where a local community group is creating holiday homes for people with mobility problems, were surprised this week when the Queen Mother arrived to inspect the site. Wednesday was the first sunny day this week in Aberdeenshire and the 101-year-old Queen Mum left her car onto the only solid surface in a sea of mud to talk to the workers and the site manager. With a twinkle in her eye, she even asked if there might be space for her next summer when the complex is completed. She also commented that she should have come prepared with her gum-boots in view of the conditions under-foot. At the end of the visit she spoke to a reporter and photographer from the Aberdeen Press and Journal and was impressed by the digital camera being used and the fact that the pictures which had been taken could be displayed immediately.
Edinburgh's Fettes College "Independent School of the Year"
Prime Minister Tony Blair's alma mater, Fettes College in Edinburgh, has been chosen as Scotland's "Independent School of the Year" by the Sunday Times newspaper. The college had the best A-level exam results in Scotland. Fernhill School in Glasgow had a higher percentage of pupils achieving A or B grades in the Scottish "Highers" examinations but Fettes was chosen as top school because it had risen so fast in the UK league table. The school was established from funds left by a former Lord Provost of Edinburgh in the 19th century. Originally set up to provide education for poor children it now charges fees of £15,000 a year. Tony Blair is said to have hated the school so much that he ran away twice. Nowadays, around 30% of the pupils at Fettes are from overseas.
Granny Black's Pulled Down
The collapse of a neighbouring building in Glasgow's Candleriggs ten days ago has resulted in the loss of "Granny Black's" - one of the city's oldest pubs, established in the 1890s. It's Victorian decor was removed in the 1960s and in recent years it had become a haunt of office workers and residents in the trendy "Merchant City".
Delays in Reopening Paris Kirk
The Church of Scotland has had a congregation in Paris since 1858 and they set up the "Scots Kirk" in the Rue Bayard in the French capital in 1885. The Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell preached there in 1924 rather than run in the 100 metres Olympic final (he later won the 400 metres instead). During World War II, Donald Caskie, the minister at that time, helped servicemen to escape from France, earning him the title "The Tartan Pimpernel". But in the 1990s the old building was crumbling and in 1999 the church struck a deal with developers whereby the old building was demolished and a new one put up which would house the church - paid for by selling apartments in the floors above. The congregation had hoped to return next month but the minister has announced that the church is short of funds to fit it out and it may be next year before they can move from their temporary premises at the Eglise du Saint Esprit.
Compensation for "Cod War" Fishermen
In 1979, when Iceland unilaterally extended its territorial waters to 200 miles, UK fishermen, many from Scottish ports, fought a battle to be allowed to continue fishing in their traditional fishing grounds in the area. When eventually the UK government admitted defeat in what became known as the "Cod Wars", a compensation fund was set up for fishermen who lost their jobs. But red tape and the need to prove "continuous service" on boats involved resulted in many claims being rejected or caught up in the administrative process. Recently, the Aberdeen Press & Journal newspaper took up the cause, not only leading a vociferous campaign but producing from their archives photos of many boats which were involved in order to assist in the required "proof". Now the government has climbed down and introduced less stringent rules and allocated another £10 million for the compensation fund. It is thought that up to 150 Aberdeen fishermen and another 1,150 in England will now have their claims met - 20 years after the event.
Residents Struggle to Buy Their Island
The people who live on the island of Gigha decided recently to make a bid for their island after the current owner decided to sell-up. The small island (3,400 acres) off the coast of Argyll in western Scotland is home to 110 residents and has 37 cottages, a hotel and a nine-hole golf course. The asking price is "offers over £3.8 million." The islanders are hoping that government and National Lottery funding will provide the cash needed - as of last weekend they had only raised £4,000 themselves. The closing date for offers is 29 October and government bodies and the Lottery Commission are not known for making speedy responses. But it is understood that the Scottish Land Fund is likely to agree to an amount which is considerably higher than their usual ceiling of £1 million and the Community Land Unit is expected to dig deeply into its cash and offer more than the cash allocated to the residents of the island of Eigg when they were in the same position. The selling agents say that they are expecting two or three offers to be lodged.
The vehicle licensing authority set up an auction in Glasgow this week of number plates which they thought might be of interest in Scotland. Glasgow citizens who wanted to promote the "dear green plates" were encouraged to bid for GLA56OW while residents of the neighbouring town of Paisley (currently striving to be appointed a city) could compete for P415LEY while Rangers fans might find parking 18ROX at Ibrox stadium would draw a few admiring glances. Other football fans have not been overlooked with H34RTS available. Also for sale were NES51E and MON573R which may be snapped up by someone living around Loch Ness to make sure that Nessie gets spotted on the roads as well as the loch. The sale of special number plates has raised £570 million for the government since the scheme was introduced in 1989. I wonder how much I would need to buy SCO77Y (Scotty)?
Harvest Likely to Hit 20-Year Low
A meeting in Perth this week heard that the forecast for this year's harvest is that it will be the lowest for 20 years. Poor weather last autumn meant that the area planted with winter wheat was down by 20% and a recent survey of 1,000 growers has highlighted that crop yields of areas under cultivation are down by 11%. Surprisingly, the amount of barley (used by whisky producers) rose this year but as demand by distillers was reduced, much of it will have to be sold at lower prices as animal feed.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The weather station at Glasgow reported that in the first six days of this week the sun only broke through the clouds once (for a total of 1.7 hours) and that there was some rain every day this week. In total there was about 1.5 inches of rain fell on Glasgow in the week but that was at least a lot better than south-east England where in some parts over three inches of rain fell in less than a day, causing a number of rivers to burst their banks. Thick fog enveloped the north-east of Scotland at the start of the week. A local weather forecaster described it as "grey, dreich, damp and miserable". Some flights to Aberdeen's airport at Dyce were cancelled as a result and roads were affected by fog and rain. By Friday, however, the sun had reappeared and although there were still some light showers around.
With the poor weather this week there was not much opportunity to get a flower picture to illustrate what is currently on view in gardens in Scotland. But in between a few showers I took this shot of the berries of a Rose of Sharon (also known as Hypericum).