Royal Bank's Plans For New World Headquarters
When plans for a new HQ for the Royal Bank of Scotland in the centre of Edinburgh collapsed in 2000, there was concern expressed in some quarters that this meant that the bank might relocate away from Edinburgh. But, a year further on, the bank has announced that it is to develop a new building on a 78-acre site of a former hospital at Gogarburn. This is outside the main city centre, but is close by the bank's large administration building at South Gyle and not far from Edinburgh Airport. The new World HQ building will house 3,000 staff and will be ready for occupation in 2006. Gogarburn House, a 'B' listed building will be retained and used as a staff leisure and health club.
The illustration shows the Royal bank's present Head Office in St Andrew Square in the centre of Edinburgh.
129 MSPs Until 2007
It is looking increasingly likely that the number of Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) will remain at 129 until at least 2007. The Government is understood to have come up with a very tight amendment to the Scotland Act which set up the new Scottish Parliament. Originally, the number was to have been reduced in line with the drop in the number of MPs at Westminster - the change from 72 to 59 will be made for that body at the next General Election. But it has long been argued that the number of MSPs in Edinburgh should remain at 129 in order to cope with the workload of committees scrutinising legislation and debating issues.
New £34 Million Scotrail Subsidy
The company which operates 95% of all rail services in Scotland has been allocated a further government subsidy (ie taxpayers' money) of £75 million to be paid over the next two years. It will allow Scotrail to maintain services in addition to those required under its franchise. The company has suffered as a result of the impact on services arising from additional track maintenance required after the rail crash in Hatfield in England in 2000 which was due to a broken rail.
Union Threatens All Out Strike
The second one day strike by Scotrail drivers took place on Wednesday and further talks on settling the dispute broke down again later in the week. The driver's union had been hoping that part of the £75 million government subsidy being paid to Scotrail could help the company put more money on the table. But Scotrail, which is making a loss on its operations, sees the injection as a means of remaining solvent. The franchise comes up for renewal in March 2004 and there is little prospect of Scotrail returning to profitability by that date.
Little Change in Political Opinion Polls
The NFO System Three opinion poll on voting intentions published this week in the Herald newspaper, shows little change once again in the position of the main parties. In the poll relating to the Scottish Parliament, Labour went down one percent and the Scottish National Party went up one percent compared with last month. Conservatives gained one percent and the Scottish Socialist party lost one point. In a keynote speech in Perth this week, the SNP leader John Swinney put independence for Scotland at the top of his agenda. The next election for the Scottish Parliament is next year.
Church Attacks MSPs
Members of the Scottish Parliament were castigated this week in a document circulated to them by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland - a breakaway from the Free Church of Scotland. The MSPs were accused of continuing to show "disregard for the Almighty" and of being "too much under the influence of the church of Rome." They pointed to the participation of the First Minister in the celebrations for the 400th anniversary of the Scots College in Rome and shaking hands with the Pope. They also voice regret at the number of Catholics who are in senior political positions.
Sean Connery Comeback as SNP Top Donor
Last year, Sean Connery was incensed by new regulations controlling donations to UK political parties by people living abroad. He used to be the biggest donor to the Scottish National Party but as he is not on the electoral roll in the UK, the new rules stopped him from contributing. But now it appears that although his main residence is in the Bahamas, he still has a flat in London. Due to an oversight, he failed to return the electoral registration form last year. It appears that by correcting that he will once again be able to gift £50,000 a year to the party, as before.
Fire at Scotsman Newspaper Publishing Plant
A serious fire at the printing plant used by the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday newspapers last weekend disrupted the content of both papers. They struggled to cope with reduced capacity. Fewer pages were printed of the Scotsman all week and regular features were relocated to other sections of the paper.
Edinburgh Tops Parking Fine Table
Edinburgh, with a population of 453,000, generates £5.5 million from parking fines in the city - nearly five times as much as the English city of Birmingham with a population of a million. In the UK, only the Burgh of Westminster in London generates more parking fine revenues than Edinburgh. Glasgow, with 50% more population, generates £4.4 million. Aberdeen, with a population of just under half of Edinburgh, raises a mere £600,000 - though that may be a symptom of the Aberdonian's renowned avoidance of wasting money.
Leaning Tower of Glasgow
The troubled Glasgow Tower which has been beset with problems and closures since it was completed in the spring of last year, has been closed again. A 50cm ball bearing which supports the 95-tonne, 400 feet high rotating structure has moved by 15mm. The bearing is crucial to the ability of the tower to rotate and face into the prevailing wind - the slim tower has no cables or other supports. It is the only tower in the world which revolves 360 degrees along its entire height. The tower will now have to be jacked up to allow a new bearing to be inserted. The process will not take very long but it will be two months before the new ball bearing can be obtained. Then the operator's manual will be followed to replace it. But the Edinburgh-based Scotsman newspaper took some delight in reporting about the "Leaning Tower of Glasgow" - even though the tilt was all of 15mm.
Brush Off for Lingerie Firm
A lucrative sponsorship deal offered by a lingerie company has been brushed aside by Scotland's Olympic gold medal curling team. They say that they want to be recognised as sportswomen rather than sex symbols. They want to promote the sport of curling, not any other assets they might have. The team think it is ironic that sponsors are so keen to sign them up - before the Olympics they couldn't find one sponsor and survived on a £12,000 National Lottery grant which paid many of their expenses, though they had to dip into their own pockets too.
Clydeport Mine Rich Seam
The company which operates the ports and develops property along the banks of the river Clyde, announced a 29% rise in annual profits this week. A major contributory factor has been a 92% increase in coal imports through its Hunterston terminal in Ayrshire. The coal is coming from the US and is destined for both Scottish and English power stations.
Dream Team Aim for £5 Million
A group of leading Scots are to work together to raise £5 million over the next four years towards the refurbishment of the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. Although significant funding has been promised by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the City of Glasgow, more money is required to be invested in the fabric of the building. The fund-raising group will be led by Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden, a retired businessman who is also president of Scottish Ballet, the Glasgow School of Art and the Macintosh Society. In 2000 he persuaded United Distillers to give Sir Henry Raeburn's striking portrait "The Macnab" on permanent loan to Kelvingrove. Also involved are broadcasters Kirsty Wark and Carol Smillie, millionaire businessmen Arnold Clark, Tom Hunter and David Moulsdale. It is hoped to find sponsors for many of the 35 new galleries.
Call for Dali's Return
Lord Macfarlane of Bearsden, who is heading the trust which aims to raise funding for the refurbishment of the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery (see previous item) has called for the return of the Dali painting "Christ of St John of the Cross." The painting was bought for the gallery in 1952 for £8,200 (the entire annual budget at that time) and has become one of the city's most famous paintings. In 1993, it was moved to the less well-known St Mungo Museum of Religious Life & Art near Glasgow Cathedral. But many visitors go to Kelvingrove expecting to find it there and Lord Macfarlane feels very strongly that it should return to Kelvingrove after the modernisation is completed in February 2006.
Work Starts on Edinburgh Landmark Building
After years of delay, work has started on the former main post office building on Waterloo Place, at the east end of Princes Street. Although the external facade of the imposing 1860s building will remain, internally its 210,000 sq ft over eight floors is being demolished and converted into modern office space. It will be the autumn of 2004 before the refurbished building emerges as "Waverley Gate".
New Hydro-Electric Dam?
Consideration is being given by Scottish and Southern Energy to building the first hydro-electric power station in Scotland for 40 years. In the main phase of hydro-electric dams in the 1950s and 1960s a number of possible sites had been shelved in favour of other sites. The company says that it may be possible to build a medium or large scale scheme without having too big an environmental impact. Existing hydro power schemes are already being refurbished but the desire for renewable energy is driving forward consideration of new installations, as well as wind and water power projects.
Forth Bridge Repainting Starts Soon
It used to be that painting the distinctive ironwork of the Forth Rail Bridge was a non-stop exercise - as soon as the painters had worked their way along the length of the structure it was time to start at the beginning again. But longer-lasting paints and financial constraints supposedly meant that after the completion of a four-year contract painting could be left for a spell. But the £40 million contract was cancelled by owners Railtrack in February 2000 due to delays by the main contractor. It has taken another two years to draw up and finalise a replacement contract, leading to concern about deterioration in the condition of the 109-year-old bridge. But Railtrack announced this week that refurbishment could get underway again next month. Which will mean that scaffolding will appear once more around parts of the bridge as the work goes ahead.
Villagers Buy Perthshire Hillside
The Highland Perthshire Community Land Trust, which represents residents in the villages of Killin, Dunkeld, Tummel Valley, Kinloch Rannoch, Pitlochry and Aberfeldy, have raised enough money to finance a community buyout of Dun Coillich, an 1100-acre hill to the east of Schiehallion (the so-called "fairy mountain"). The Community Land Fund which is funded by the National Lottery turned down a request for funding, saying that the social and economic benefits were not strong enough but the villagers have raised the cash themselves. The plan is to recreate native woodland on land which has been impoverished by over-grazing. But now the Land Trust will have to raise more funds to allow them to finance the implementation of their plans.
New Crop Brings Colour to Countryside
Over the years we have become used to large numbers of Scottish fields becoming bright yellow in the summer as acres of oilseed rape bursts into flower. But this year another colour is likely to appear as farmers try out a new crop - blue lupins. In England, an estimated 15,000 acres of the crop were harvested last year and there was a successful trial by the Scottish Agricultural College at Craibstone in Aberdeen. Around 50 Scottish growers are said to be interested in growing the crop. Lupins fix nitrogen in the soil, leaving the equivalent of two bags of artificial nitrogen per acre for the benefit of subsequent crops. Lupins do not suffer from disease or insect pests and the crop is easy to harvest.
Prisoner Produces Information for the Blind
A prisoner at Edinburgh's Saughton Prison, who is serving a life sentence, is producing thousands of documents in Braille after finding an old machine in the prison library. A Musselburgh paper mill donated material and now the prisoner, known as "Tam", is so busy that he may need an assistant. He has produced pamphlets, cards and a historic booklet free of charge for blind and partially sighted people.
Barra-load of Flats
Glasgow's Barrowland Market has a reputation for selling just about anything but now a Victorian factory building which forms part of the trading market is being sold - by being converted into flats. The down-market Barrowland stall-holders are not convinced that attracting up-market professional residents is a good idea, however. Externally, the building remains unchanged but the flats inside are very modern and well equipped. The development is to be known as The Warehouse and residents will have to pass under the famous Barras arch to reach their homes.
Clan Chiefs Enter Burke's Peerage
For the first time in its 176-year history "Burke's Peerage" - which charts the lineage of British nobility - is to include 140 Scottish clan chiefs in its 107th edition which is due to be published next year. When Burke's Peerage was first published, clan chiefs were not considered to be worthy of inclusion as such, though a number of Scottish nobility were included because of their rank and title, not because of being chiefs. Of course, nowadays a number of the clan chiefs are no longer based in Scotland - as a result of emigration there are five clan chiefs in USA, two in Canada, two in Canada and one in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and New Zealand.
Sale Soon for Cuillins?
The chief of the Clan Macleod, John MacLeod of Macleod, says that he is optimistic that a sale of the Cuillin mountain range on Skye is imminent. He has been trying to sell these clan lands, which contain the famous mountains, 14 miles of coastline and two salmon rivers, for the last two years for £10 million in order to obtain the money to maintain and develop 800-year-old Dunvegan Castle. 40% of the sale price will go to the government in tax. Last year MacLeod said that if a private buyer could not be found he would consider setting up a trust to own the land - that would allow such organisations as the Heritage Lottery Fund to become involved.
Photograph courtesy of the Photonet> © Web site.
European "Threat" to Bagpipes
A Conservative Member of the European Parliament claimed this week that a new noise control directive could be used to prevent people playing bagpipes and could silence Scotland's national musical instrument "for the first time since Culloden." The EU Commission is proposing a 50% reduction in noise levels to protect employees in noisy working environments and the limits would be measured on an individual basis rather than averaged over a week, as at present. Bagpipes would breach the limits by a wide margin. But a spokeswoman for the Health and Safety Executive said the limits would only cover people at work.
Edinburgh Airport Beats Glasgow Airport
In February Edinburgh Airport handled more passengers than Glasgow Airport - the first time that this has been achieved. Edinburgh Airport traffic grew by 19% in February compared with the same month in 2001 but Glasgow grew by only 6.4%. There has been a significant growth in low-cost airline traffic from Edinburgh. The new figures caused renewed calls for the construction of a rail link from the centre of Glasgow to the airport. But a spokesman for Glasgow Airport pointed out that it has a far bigger holiday charter programme which does not get underway until later in the year. By the summer, Glasgow will return to its usual position of being the busiest airport in Scotland.
It was claimed this week that the abysmal lack of foreign language skills in Scotland is driving foreign tourists away. A survey, carried out in collaboration with the Scottish Centre of Tourism, claims that 97% of people working in Scotland's hotels are unable to converse even at a basic level in French or German - two of the main sources of tourists from Europe. Staff at Edinburgh Castle are being encouraged to learn a foreign language and in addition to European languages, Historic Scotland have weekly classes in Japanese. Balmoral Hotel and Jenners department store also have staff trained in a range of foreign languages. But they claim that using their skills is difficult - most foreign visitors have a good command of English!
Carts Given the Push
The stylish Merchant Square development in Glasgow, which has struggled to attract customers, is to undergo a major revamp. The 18 traditional-style trading carts and barrows in the central courtyard will be pushed out. They have not been a success and are not being used. Earlier this year Leonardo's restaurant in the complex went bankrupt and the unit is yet to be let to another client.
Where's the Scottish Beef?
After complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority that beef labelled as "Scottish" was not necessarily raised in Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland is being forced to reconsider what constitutes "Scotch Beef". While most Scotch beef has been born and raised in Scotland, around 5% is imported from England and spends a minimum of 90 days in Scotland. While this is said to improve the flavour, Scotch beef sells for a considerable premium in supermarkets. There are now calls for Quality Meat Scotland to tighten the rules to define Scotch beef as "born, bred and slaughtered in Scotland."
Ministry of Defence Protects Ospreys
The Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane is one of the most closely guarded facilities in the UK. But this week news reporters were allowed on the site - to see a 40ft high platform on a larch tree which has been built on the Coulport peninsula at the base. It has been set up to encourage ospreys to nest there and, like the rest of the base, it will be guarded 24 hours a day by armed police, razor-wire perimeter fencing and security cameras. The submarine base is on the shores of Gare Loch and is on the southern edge of the area inhabited by 150 pairs of ospreys.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Heavy rain and high winds were once again a feature of this week's weather. On Wednesday there were 70mph winds and lashing rain across much of Scotland. In Glasgow there was nearly 1½ inches of rain on Wednesday. There was more traffic on the roads that day because of the one-day rail strike but there were no major hold-ups. The strong winds continued on Thursday and Friday but there were only intermittent showers on those days. But at least the temperatures were on the rise, reaching 13C (55F) in Edinburgh, St Andrews and Aberdeen on Friday and there were long spells of sunshine in many parts of the country on Thursday.
This photo of a group of crocus was taken in my garden during one of the bright spells of sunshine this week.