Queen Mother Dies Peacefully
Buckingham Palace has announced that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, died peacefully in her sleep at her weekend home at Royal Lodge, Windsor on 30 March at 3.15pm. She would have been 102 on her next birthday in August. The Queen and a number of close members of the family were at her bedside. The "Queen Mum", who was well-loved across the generations, had a cold and chest infection last Christmas and had taken some months to recover. In recent months, she had withdrawn from public engagements and had been confined to a wheel chair. Immediately after the announcement, all five terrestrial TV channels suspended normal broadcasts and showed news programmes and tributes instead.
The Queen Mother was closely associated with Scotland - her father was Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne. She spent much of her childhood at the family home at Glamis Castle. Her second daughter, Princess Margaret Rose (who died earlier this year) was born at Glamis Castle, the first royal baby in direct line to the throne to have been born in Scotland for 300 years.
There is a feature on the "Queen Mum's 100 Scottish Years" at www.RampantScotland.com/famous/blfamelizabeth.htm
First 1,000 Days of Scottish Parliament
Tuesday marked the first 1,000 days of the new Scottish Parliament which was a good excuse (not that they needed one) for the media to review the performance of the legislature and point out its failings. It can certainly be argued that the Scottish Parliament has not met the over optimistic expectations which were encouraged by its advocates in the campaign for a "Yes" vote for the new body. And the tawdry affair of the expenses of First Minister Henry McLeish, which led to his resignation did the office no favours. And the escalating costs of the new parliament building at Holyrood brings into question its credentials for financial management. And its aim to be "open" has meant that every minor cause has the ability to lobby for consideration - and sometimes win some benefit. But there is no doubt that legislation which would never have seen the light of day in Westminster, is now on the statute books - most of it to the benefit of people living in Scotland. Thanks to a good economic climate in the UK, spending on health has risen and unemployment has been falling. The new Parliament has not transformed Scotland, as some had claimed it would, but overall its report card for the first 1,000 days could be said to be a pass mark with a "could do better". Let's see what it can achieve in the first ten years, rather than in under three.
Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible
The industrial dispute between Scotrail and their 750 drivers has been settled. Their trade union has accepted an immediate increase of 14% which will rise to 22% in 18 months time. The company say that 11% of the increase will be self-financing from productivity improvements. The deal is not very different from the one rejected by the drivers before they began a series of one-day strikes. The dispute never had much support from the travelling public, but a planned escalation in the one-day strikes - including one on the day of the European Champions League final in Glasgow - caused outrage. The Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell described the action of the drivers as "simply unacceptable" and akin to the industrial relations of the 19th century. But it will be some time before the rail timetable returns to normal. The reduced service resulting from the drivers' ban on overtime will continue for some weeks, while a backlog of driver training is caught up. Of course, there is always a possibility that other Scotrail workers will demand that they get a similar deal...
Royal Mail Returns
The UK mail delivery company Consignia, which is making losses of £750 million a year, has announced that it is to change its name back to "Royal Mail". It is also to make massive job cuts in an effort to get back into profit. In addition to reductions in delivery and sorting staff, there are fears that the reduction in the number of post offices could impact on many Scottish towns and villages. As many as 1,000 staff in Scotland could lose their jobs over the next few years. The loss-making Parcel Force (currently in the red by £15 million a month) will see half of their staff being axed with a number of depots being closed, including two in Glasgow, one in Irvine, Ayrshire and another in Dundee. Postal workers have been amongst the most militant in recent years and any compulsory redundancies are likely to lead to strike action.
That Sinking Feeling
When 17 million gallons of water flowed into the Longannet coal mine in Fife last Saturday, workers there were relieved that it had happened at the weekend, when the mine was not being worked. But they feared the worst in terms of it being able to continue in operation. These fears were realised on Friday when the mine's board considered an engineer's report and decided that there was no possibility of getting the mine back into production. Longannet, which drives out under the Firth of Forth near Culross, had known coal reserves of 30 million tonnes. Its closure will result in the 500 workers losing their jobs and brings to an end the long tradition of deep coal mining in Scotland.
Ten Call Centres to Close
BT Group, the largest phone company in Britain, is to close 53 call centres, including ten in Scotland. Only three Scottish centres will survive - though they are being upgraded at a cost of £17.1 million. The company cannot say how many staff will lose their jobs as a result of the shake-up. BT currently employs 3,000 call centre staff in Scotland.
Clyde Naval Yard Cuts Staff
It was announced this week that plans to transfer 1,700 staff, who work at the naval maintenance bases at Faslane and Coulport, to a private company, could result in up to 500 job losses. It is claimed that the streamlining of operations at the Clyde bases and at Devonport and Portsmouth in England, will save the Royal Navy £300 million over the next five years. The RN has seen a reduction in the size of its fleet over the last few years and a corresponding decline in support and refit work is regarded as inevitable.
2,000 Jobs for Braehead
The owners of the Braehead Shopping Centre on the banks of the river Clyde, on the border between Glasgow and Renfrewshire, have announced an ambitious plan to develop a derelict site next to the existing complex. The blueprint includes Scotland's first indoor ski slope using "real" snow, cinema, health club, sports and leisure facilities, parkland, hotel, a business park and nearly 1,000 homes. When it is fully developed it will create several thousand new jobs. Renfrewshire Council have given out-line planning permission and work could start later this year, once full planning permission is granted. Being so near to the river, flood defences would have to be improved. The site was formerly occupied by Braehead Power Station.
Ferry Service "Doon the Watter"
Plans for a new £20 million high-speed ferry service from the centre of Glasgow to Braehead, Greenock, Dunoon and Rothesay would create the first ferry service "Doon the Watter" for over 30 years. The two state-of-the-art ferries are built in Australia and feature airline-style seating, widescreen television and cafes - somewhat different from the old steamers which sailed down the river Clyde. The trip from the Broomielaw in Glasgow to Dunoon by Clydefast will take just 70 minutes. There are plans also to run a five-times-a-day service to Brodick on the Isle of Arran. The company hopes to have initial services operating by June. The catamaran high-speed ferry can travel at nearly 25 knots and concerns have ben expressed about the effect of heavy wash as it passes. But it is claimed that same class of ferry is operating on the Thames from Canary Wharf to Tower Bridge, without any effect on the other traffic, as the wash is absolutely flat.
New R&D Plant in Dundee
The world-wide centre for the design and manufacture of NCR cash machines has been located in Dundee for many years. But this week Helen Liddell, the Scottish Secretary, opened a new £20 million NCR "Discovery Centre" which will bring all of the company's automatic teller machine (ATM) R&D team into a single 148,000sq ft building. NCR has had a presence in Dundee for 50 years and employs 1,600 staff there. Nearly 40,000 ATMs are manufactured at the plant each year, many being exported all over the world.
Government Rolls Dice on Gambling Industry
The biggest shake-up in UK gambling laws for 30 years is being proposed in a government consultation paper published this week. It could see the introduction of massive jackpots and more casinos across the country. The brash English seaside town of Blackpool is already getting ready to become the Las Vegas of Britain - but the Firth of Clyde resort of Ayr is also throwing its dice into the ring too. But the biggest winner in the shake-up is likely to be the government, with increased corporation tax and gaming duties. Currently, casinos are not allowed to advertise, locations are restricted and there is a maximum of 10 fruit machines per casino. Live entertainment is not allowed and alcohol can only be drunk at the bar, not at the tables. Most of these restrictions will be abolished or relaxed if, as seems likely, the new proposals are implemented.
The illustration is of the riverside Casino beside the river Clyde in Glasgow.
Anger at VisitScotland's Online Booking Plans
Although the much vaunted VisitScotland "Ossian" system for booking accommodation in Scotland has been an unmitigated disaster (a "good learning experience" is the best spin they could put on it), the tourism agency is having another go, this time in partnership with a third party. SchlumbergerSema are planning to invest £11 million in eTourism Ltd which will be jointly owned with VisitScotland as the junior partner. The plans have outraged some Scottish hoteliers who see the new company's aim being to make profits out of online bookings rather than fostering tourism. Others have also complained about the total lack of consultation on the project.
Live It - Visit Scotland
VisitScotland is running its biggest ever UK Spring campaign this year. The campaign will focus on the UK market which represents 92 per cent of visits and 82 per cent of spend and is worth more than £3billion to the Scottish economy. VisitScotland is spending £3million on a national, multi-media campaign with extra activity in Scotland, North of England, London and the South East. The advertising campaign with the tagline "Live it - Visit Scotland" will run from March 18 until the end of June, and will include activity specific offers and promotions on brands like golf, walking, cycling and culture. It is expected that more than 40million people will be given exposure to VisitScotland advertising throughout the UK. VisitScotland is also spending more than £2.5million on marketing to key markets in the USA and Europe.
More People Needed for "Booming" Highlands
Jim Hunter, the Chairman of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the government agency which encourages economic growth in the area, says that more should be done to boast about the regeneration which has taken place, in order to encourage more people to return. For the first time ever, the unemployment rate in the Highlands and Islands is running below the average for Scotland. Lochaber, which once had an unemployment rate of 18% is now as low as 1.8%. Over the last 30 years, the population of Skye has increased by more than 50% (helped, no doubt, by the bridge connecting the island to the mainland). Although the Western Isles are continuing to see a drop in population, the Highlands and Islands has seen an overall 20% increase in residents in the last 30 years. It is claimed that of all the rural and peripheral areas in the European Union, there isn't one which has performed as well as the Highlands and Islands in the last 30 years.
Romantic Holiday for Chelsea
Former US President Bill Clinton's daughter Chelsea took a romantic break in Glasgow last week with her boy friend Ian Klause. They are both studying at Oxford and during their stay in Glasgow shared a room at up-market Lang's Hotel in Port Dundas Place (pictured here), before moving on to the Highlands. When they had a meal in the hotel's Oshi restaurant, it was closed to other members of the public.
Inverness Lodges Culture Capital Bid
The bid from Inverness and Highland as an initial step towards winning the title of "Culture Capital of Europe" was lodged this week. But the brochure, outlining the events which the city would lay on if it were successful, was immediately criticised by councillors. They say that there is an inaccuracy of the Gaelic translations and Dunbeath in Caithness has been placed instead in Sutherland. Sir Cameron Cunningham, the theatre producer, who has a home in Lochaber, has become the first patron of "InvernessHighland2008." Planned events include a public art programme, a Cairngorm snow and ice festival, a full-scale re-enactment of the Battle of Culloden, a Highland Homecoming Festival, free whisky for travellers entering the Highlands, Royal National Mod in Inverness, an interactive science centre, an international curling championship and many others.
Arts Council Grant for Glasgow City Halls
The planned upgrading of the A-listed Glasgow City Halls in Candleriggs got a boost this week with the announcement that the Scottish Arts Council is to give a £1 million national lottery capital grant towards the £7 million total cost. The auditorium has 1,000 seats and is said to have some of the finest acoustics of a concert hall in Europe. After the revamp, the City Halls will become the home of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and the Scottish Music Information Centre. Work is expected to be completed in July 2004.
Clydebank Radio Ham's Role in Falkland's War
A radio ham from Clydebank is one of only 16 people invited from the UK to attend the 20th anniversary celebrations for the liberation of the Falkland Islands. It is only now that his role in communicating by short-wave radio with contacts on the islands during the Argentinean occupation has been made public. During the conflict, a local radio operator communicated the results of RAF bombing, location of minefields and the disposition of Argentinean troops on the islands. The information was passed on to the Ministry of Defence who said after the successful campaign that it had been invaluable.
Selling Banking Ethics
Dr Charles Munn, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland, established in 1875 and the oldest professional banking organisation in the world, has co-authored a guide to Ethics, Integrity and Reputation in banking. His partner in the project is the head of group compliance at the Allied Irish Bank - which was recently hit by a rogue trader in its US subsidiary. It is claimed that there has been a lot of interest in the book, particularly in Eastern Europe where the Institute is devising a foundation course in financial services.
Jedburgh - A Fashion Mecca?
The Borders town of Jedburgh (population under 5,000) is not the first place you think of as the place to go for high fashion. But "Maxim Fashion", a magazine for upmarket shoppers, lists David Thomson's shop in the High Street in Jedburgh as 19th in a list of 80 shops around the world which are the best fashion outlets. True, it was established in 1883 and sells labels such as Yves Saint Laurent as well as tweeds and tartans to local customers as well as those from abroad. Apparently a Russian cosmonaut popped in the other day. But customer confidentiality prohibits naming the individual - or whether it was a tweed or a tartan they purchased. David Thomson's (DT's to regular customers) are not saying.
150-Year-Old Bookshop Chain Saved
Edinburgh-based James Thin bookshop chain, which was founded in 1848, was forced to bring in the liquidators in January. It had faced fierce competition from larger rivals and Internet outlets. Now Ottakar's, a rival bookseller, has purchased eight shops, including five in Scotland, saving 141 jobs. Three shops, including those in Perth and Ayr will close and the others will trade as Ottakar's. Ottakar's already has eight outlets in Scotland. James Thin's 11 academic outlets and its publishing arm, the Mercat Press, are still the subject of negotiations with potential buyers.
Last Legal Fox Hunt?
The Duke of Buccleuch's Hunt in the Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders mounted this week what may be the last legal fox hunt in Scotland with dogs. They have been chasing and killing foxes in the Hunt for 176 years. But the Scottish Parliament passed a law recently which banned the hunting and killing of foxes by this means, despite protests by country people who claim that their way of life is being challenged by townspeople who are ignorant and prejudiced. The hunting season has now ended, but it is expected that there will be legal challenges later this year when the hunting season would have re-started if the legislation had not been enacted.
Irn-Bru's Profits Lose Fizz
AG Barr, the makers of Irn-Bru, the biggest-selling fizzy drink in Scotland, increased its sales in England by 22%, compared with a growth in the market of only 3%. But competition from cheap imports and the strong pound forced the company to narrow its margins, resulting in a fall in pre-tax profits of 23%, despite the increase in turnover.
Expensive Car Ferry
£7.8 million of public money has been invested in creating a new terminal, pier and causeway to allow the Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry MV Loch Ness to berth on the island of Eigg. But the islanders have secured a special traffic order to ensure that only cars belonging to residents can use the ferry. With only 30 cars on the island's single-track roads, that's £260,000 for every car. Previously, islanders had to import their cars by specially hired landing craft. But they do not want the tranquillity of the island spoiled by tourists bringing in their cars, hence the restriction.
Marriage Makes a Comeback
Figures published by the Office of National Statistics show that the number of marriages went up in the UK last year, the first rise for eight years. But church ceremonies are still in decline with 60% of couples choosing a civil wedding (compared with less than 50% ten years ago). Those who were married by a minister were more likely to choose venues such as hotels and stately homes, rather than a church. And couples are waiting longer before tying the knot - the average age for a bridegroom is now 35 and 32 for a bride.
Holy Row Over PC Hymns
The Church of Scotland is planning to replace traditional hymns such as "Jerusalem" and "God Rest Ye merry Gentlemen" with modern works dealing with social issues such as unemployment, violence against women and environmental damage. A draft of a new hymn book is to be presented to the church's General Assembly in May. It includes a new hymn "Pray for a World" which includes the lines "..pray for a world where all have a voice and none will batter, rape, abuse." Not quite the same as "a green and pleasant land."
Seals Win Another Round
The battle by gamekeepers to persuade a group of seals to leave an island near the mouth of the Thurso river in the far north of Scotland is still being won by the seals. Various attempts, including wire netting and gaudy scarecrows have failed and the latest idea - to use a model killer whale - has been abandoned. The International Animal Rescue organisation has a glass-fibre dummy of the whale but they pointed out that the young seals would probably never have been hunted by a killer whale and so would not be alarmed by it. Another idea - to play the sounds of whales hunting - might have worked but it would also have scared away the salmon which the gamekeepers want to encourage to swim up the river. Physically moving them to another location would probably not work as they would very likely just swim back. Suggestions that the gamekeepers would cull the seals have been vehemently denied by Thurso Fisheries who own the fishing rights on the river. Meanwhile, the seals seem to be enjoying the fish in the river - and the attention of the media and passers-by.
Weather in Scotland This Week
After a cool and cloudy weekend, temperatures and sunshine produced the first real spring weather. On Tuesday and Friday, Glasgow had over 11 hours of sunshine. On Thursday, temperatures reached 16C (61F) in Aberdeen, which rivalled the weather in the Costa del Sol (though the Spanish resort had reached over 30C (86F) a few days earlier). There was very little rain this week and although this weekend is forecast to be a bit cooler and cloudier, tourist attractions are gearing themselves up for a busy Easter Holiday weekend. With "British Summer Time" and the clocks springing forward one hour, there will be more useful daylight hours from now on. Many tourist attractions close down over the winter or operate reduced hours and 1 April is the watershed for most of these.
This week's illustration of current flowers in Scotland is of a magnolia beginning to open out in the grounds of Pollok House in Glasgow.