Freedom of Information Act Passed
The Scottish Parliament this week finally passed the legislation which allows individuals freedom of access to information held by government, local councils, schools, police and health service. While campaigners say that it still does not go far enough, the Freedom of Information Act goes further than anything seen in the UK for over 100 years. The principle of the legislation is that anything should be publicly available - unless there is an overwhelming reason why it should be kept secret. There will be an independent "watch dog" appointed by Parliament who will be able to order public bodies to release documents on request. The Justice Minister, Jim Wallace, claimed that the legislation demonstrated how "devolution is delivering" and had been tailored to meet the needs of Scotland. Even the critics had to grudgingly admit that it was a better set of rules than the one being progressed by the Parliament in London which will apply to England and Wales.
MSPs Take Stand on Seating Row
The Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) got into a stoushie (the Scots word for a row or an uproar) this week about the proposed seating plans for the debating chamber in the new parliament building at Holyrood. Project managers had cut the number of seats with disabled access from 81 to 61 in the 129-seat parliament and had modified the layout to allow back-bench MSPs to be closer to the front - to create a more compact debating forum. Not that there will ever be such a substantial number of disabled members, but the available seats would give a larger freedom of choice to those in wheel chairs etc. Even with the reduced numbers, the new building will have one of the most accessible parliament buildings in the world.
Photograph courtesy of the Scottish Parliament> © Web site.
How We Spend Our Time
The Office of National Statistics has carried out a survey of 11,700 people and 6,500 households in the UK to establish, on average, how much time we spend each day on various activities. Of course, the largest amount of time was spent on sleeping but the study showed that, contrary to expectations, women manage to get 8 minutes a day longer than men sleeping - men average eight hours and 25 minutes a day. A lot of time is spent commuting to work. But people in Scotland spend least time on the journey, an average of three and half hours a week, compared to those in London and the south-east of England whose weekly average is four hours and 50 minutes. Youngsters are now spending more time in front of the PC (usually playing computer games) than watching TV. And instead of being a nation of couch potatoes, the figures show that we spend longer taking exercise than watching sport on TV. Walking, swimming and keep fit are the most popular pursuits. Age obviously has an impact on how we spend our time, with reading and listening to music becoming more popular with the older age groups. But the concept of "silver surfers" took a knock with the figures showing that the average 65+ age group spends just 3 minutes a day logged on. Of course, there may be very few people who match the statistical average.
The rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh broke out again this week as the leader of Glasgow City Council, Charles Gordon, attacked plans for a second runway at Edinburgh airport and fears that the Scottish Executive were leaning towards supporting a rail link in the capital in preference to one at Glasgow. He described the plans as the "death knell" for Scotland's largest airport (which in recent years has not been growing as quickly as Edinburgh airport). One might have expected resistance to the second runway to come from Edinburgh residents who would be under the flight path. The British Airports Authority, which owns both airports dismissed the claims, saying that the two airports were complementary, not competing.
Cash Injection for Airport Link
Strathclyde Passenger Authority, responsible for all public transport in and around Glasgow and much of the west of Scotland has decided to go ahead and spend £500,000 on preparatory work for the creation of a rail link from the centre of Glasgow to the city's airport at Abbotsinch near Paisley. This is seen as a gamble as the Scottish Executive has not yet authorised the £60 million which would be required to upgrade the line from Glasgow to Paisley and create a spur to the airport. But, by moving ahead now, the transport chiefs believe that the new link could be operating by 2005. They argue that the economic case for the development is overwhelming and they are keen to see the airport connection in place before that of the rival plan for Edinburgh airport. The Scottish Executive say that airport links (to both Glasgow and Edinburgh) are "top priorities" but consider that the earliest completion date is 2008.
Commemorative Stamps Issued for Queen Mother
The Post Office braced itself for high demand for a set of postage stamps commemorating the life of the Queen Mother which went on sale on Thursday. The set of stamps shows photographs of the Queen Mum from different periods of her life, including one as a child at Glamis Castle in Angus. The same stamps, without a black border, were originally issued to celebrate her 90th birthday in 1990.
£85 Million Rolls Royce Factory
Rolls Royce confirmed this week that they are to create a new £85 million aero engine manufacturing base near Glasgow to replace the aging factory at Hillington which was built during the Second World War. The company turned down a £25 million subsidy from the Czech Republic but have instead accepted a £15 million offer of "regional assistance" from the Scottish Executive to stay in Scotland. The company say that the new plant will be built by next summer, but they have yet to make a final decision on the site. It is expected to be either at Inchinnan near Glasgow airport or the rail complex at Mossend, Lanarkshire. The decision means that the 900 jobs at the Hillington factory have been saved - workers will require an extensive retraining programme to allow them to use the latest hi-tech equipment at the new facility.
Calling the Council
The City of Glasgow Council (the local government for the city) receives more than 20 million telephone calls every year, routed through their eight switchboards. But the high volume means that two out of every five calls are unanswered (as anyone who has tried phoning the Council can testify). But now the Council is to launch a new telephone call centre which will provide a "one-stop shop" for information and complaints. When it is initially set up in the autumn of this year it will employ 80 staff but Council chiefs say that number could rise to 200/300. It will operate from between 8am and 8pm handling calls on public relations, council tax, social work, roads and other council services.
Being Nice to the English
On St George's Day (celebrating the patron saint of England) the leader of the Scottish National Party, John Swinney, mounted a charm offensive on England as he visited the set of "Coronation Street" a popular TV soap based in Manchester. Swinney described the programme as a "quintessential cultural icon enjoyed by millions, both Scottish and English." Just in case anyone in Scotland was worried that such English-based programmes might not be televised in Scotland if the country gained its independence, he assured viewers it would continue to be available - after all, Swinney himself is a fan of the programme. St George's Day is also the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and the Scottish Nationalist leader said it was an appropriate occasion to highlight the fact that the Bard of Stratford was part of Scottish culture too, with his works studied in Scotland's schools. His well publicised visit prompted opposition parties to suggest that the story lines in the TV soap were more believable than the SNP's policies.
The anniversary of the launch of the liner "Queen Elizabeth II" on 20 September is to be celebrated as "Clydebuilt Day", marking the history, achievements and future of shipbuilding on the Clyde. Shipbuilding on the Clyde is currently looking forward to a period of stability and prosperity, something which it has not experienced for the last 50 years. A website will provide information about the day and any events people are running to join in the celebrations. There may be extra sailings on the Clyde to give people a great way of travelling to and from Glasgow and Greenock and seeing as much of the current shipbuilding activity as possible. See Clydebuilt web site for more details.
Crime Figures Up and Down
The police were praised by Justice Minister Jim Wallace this week as the statistics on crimes in Scotland in 1991 were published. Overall, the number of recorded crimes was down for the second successive year, resulting in the second lowest crime figures for 20 years. But the number of violent crimes had risen by 5% (to 7,300) and crimes related to carrying offensive weapons rose by 6% (to 8,700). The police say that the rise in the number of cases involving offensive weapons was due to increased police activity in stopping and searching suspects.
Police Vote for Right to Strike
Delegates at a conference of the Scottish Police Federation which represents the rank-and-file police officers voted by 76 to 58 in favour of a motion calling for officers to have the same right to strike as other public-sector workers, including the right to strike. The Police Act of 1919 banned strike action by the police and the Federation is now looking at ways to have the law amended. They say that they would only use the right as a "last resort" and with great reluctance but feel that their pay and conditions are currently under threat from politicians. Their colleagues in England and Wales are also supporting the move.
Water of Life Flowing Well
The Scotch Whisky Association has reported that exports of Scotland's national drink soared to £2.2 billion last year. That was a record rise of 6.4% and was the equivalent of a billion bottles of whisky. The product is one of the UK's top export earners and the government receives a billion pounds in excise duty each year. Not bad for something made from barley and water. One of the biggest recent successes is the Aberlour brand, which is now the world's fastest-selling malt whisky. It has yet to knock giants like Glenmorangie and Macallan from the top spot in North America and the Far East but sales around the world grew by 16.7% last year as a result of slick marketing. Spain is still the biggest export market for Scotch whisky, where it is regarded as young and trendy - and usually drunk with cola. Ten years ago sales were practically nil. Sales in the UK were also up last year, by 2% on the previous twelve months, reaching 114 million bottles.
College Course on Whisky
There should a great demand from students who want to study a course now available from Moray College - it will explain the subtleties of the "water of life," in other words, whisky. The study package contains a CD-Rom but relax, technology is not that advanced - there's eight miniatures of whisky and three glasses as well. Quite why three glasses is not clear, perhaps to emphasise the convivial nature of "the craitur"? Whisky writer Malcolm Greenwood is the tutor for the course, which will provide a grounding in the history of whisky-making and develop skills in "nosing" and tasting. Initially it will only be available in the UK (to anyone over the age of 18) but it is hoped that eventually whisky lovers across the globe will be able to access the course.
Glasgow Twins With Havana
The cities of Glasgow and Havana in Cuba have been building up cultural and business links over the last two years and an official "twinning" agreement is now set to be signed when Glasgow's Lord Provost visits the Cuban capital on a trade mission in December. There have been two export missions to Havana in recent years and it is hoped that the closer ties will allow Scottish companies to bid for contracts in Cuba's offshore oil developments and growing health and biotechnology industries.Glasgow is also twinned with Rostov-on-Don in Russia, Dalian in China and Nuremberg in Germany.
Electronic Crofters Fail to Materialise
After ten years and an investment of £20 million, Highlands and Islands Enterprise have had to admit that their drive to create a new industry on the Internet with "electronic crofters" augmenting their income with e-commerce projects, has produced just 300 people working from home in the Highlands. About 100 of these are in the Western Isles where there are legal secretaries working for barristers in the Old Bailey in London and other workers in an electronic cottage industry. But the upgrading of communications to allow large quantities of data to be carried has been largely under-utilised. On the other hand, there are several thousand people working in call centres in remote areas such as Thurso, Stornoway and Dunoon which could not have been set up without the improved telephone system.
Lambing Season "Best for Years"
Farmers are usually not optimistic, but sheep farmers are reporting that the relatively mild spring and heavy rain in February and March has resulted in an abundance of grass in most areas which has meant that ewes are feeding well and providing lots of milk for spring lambs. Even so, in the aftermath of foot and mouth disease last year, the number of lambs will be 15% down on earlier years. But that should help farmers to get a good price for their lambs, when they come to market.
New-Look Guards on Parade at Castle
Despite protests, there are now no longer soldiers mounting guard outside Edinburgh castle. The army has decided that it is no longer able to provide the manpower on a regular basis, but instead will provide a guard only for special occasions. The new-look guard of 14 was on parade for the first time this week on the Queen's birthday and put on a bit of a show for those there early enough in the day (9am to 9.15am) to see it. The next time they will appear will be May 23-31 when the Queen is in residence at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, June 3 (anniversary of the Queen's Coronation in 1952) and June 10 (birthday of the Duke of Edinburgh).
Memorial to Lanark's VC Heroes
The Victoria Cross (VC) is Britain's highest military medal. Only 984 members of the armed forces (150 of them Scots) have won the medal since it was instituted in 1856. A granite arch was unveiled last week by Dr John Reid, (the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and a local Member of Parliament) to 14 men from Lanarkshire who had won the Victoria Cross, as a lasting memorial to their courage and valour. A local artist, who came across the stories of some of the heroes, had campaigned for four years to have the memorial created. He says: "There is an old adage that says if we forget our history, we're doomed to repeat it and the younger generation needs to be educated about the past."
Skye's First Resident Priest Since Reformation
A new church is a novelty these days, as congregations fall and many churches are converted to other uses. And a new church in an area such as the western Highlands, where the population has been declining, is even more unusual. But on the island of Skye there has been a population increase of 30% in the last 30 years - helped by the bridge connecting Skye to the mainland. But even more surprising, it is a new Catholic church and there has not been a permanent priest on the island since the Reformation in the 16th century. But the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles has confirmed that Skye is to become a parish in its own right with its own resident priest, now that the church membership had risen to over 200.
Join the Priesthood
The shortage of students at Scotland's only training college for Catholic priests has prompted the Scotus College in Bearsden near Glasgow to open its doors to lay people. It is now being marketed as a venue for Catholics who are looking for relaxation or want to run a prayer event or conference. Officials hope that it might even encourage male guests to consider becoming a priest. Currently, there are only 16 trainee priests at the college. The Catholic church has 900 priests serving a church membership of around 800,000. The seminary is named after the medieval theologian Duns Scotus - from whose name the term "dunce" is derived.
Altnaharrie Inn For Sale
The Altnaharrie Inn near Ullapool is renowned amongst gourmets from around the world for its outstanding food. It is the only restaurant in Scotland to have been awarded two stars in the Michelin Red Guide. It also has five rosettes in the AA good food guide. Guests have to reach it by boat from Ullapool as it is in an isolated location on Loch Broom in Wester Ross. But after putting up the shutters 18 months ago, the husband and wife team who have run the inn for the last 22 years have put the building up for sale at offers over £500,000. It is being sold as a private house as it has not traded for 18 months.
Healing Hands for Sore Feet
A former police sergeant is launching a massaging service for foot-sore walkers on the 96-mile West Highland Way. He will be using a converted Mercedes bus as his base to operate his mobile massage service "Fitsteps". In case there are not enough customers on the West Highland Way (which runs from Milngavie, near Glasgow to Fort William) he will be working in industry and with dancers. He says the same massage techniques are beneficial in relieving pain, strain and stress, regardless of the cause.
The illustration shows the seat at the start (and the end, depending on which you are walking) of the West Highland Way in Milngavie, near Glasgow.
Scotland's First Sea Park
The site of the UK's first sea park, off the shores of Scotland, is expected to be announced next month. It will probably be the "Darwin Mounds" - a cold water coral reef northwest of Scotland. Foreign trawlers, oil exploration and military activities will be banned or severely restricted. The plan is to expand the number of conservation areas over the next few years. in an attempt to reverse the destruction of fish stocks and unique sea life around Britain's coasts.
Scottish Woodland Growing
A report on Scotland's forests says that the country now has more woodland than it has had for the last 700 years. 17% of the land is covered by trees, compared with just 5% 100 years ago. At one time, forests covered 80% of the land mass but that had fallen to 20% around the 12th century. The National Inventory of Woodland and Trees for Scotland also says that more native varieties are being planted than foreign conifers and that plans to expand the areas covered by trees will mean that they will cover at least 25% of the land surface by 2050. Native trees provide a better environment for Scottish wildlife and flora. Even so, 70% of current planted areas are coniferous, mainly the fast growing sitka spruce. Other European countries have larger areas with woodlands - Germany has 30%, France 27%, Italy 34% and Spain 28%.
Scottish Oaks for Parliament - from Germany
Landscape architects have decided to plant 40 native Scottish red oaks in the grounds of the new Scottish Parliament in Holyrood. But as there are no commercially grown red oaks in Scotland, the 20ft high trees are having to be imported from Bavaria in Germany - at a cost of £240,000. Apart from the cost, environmentalists claim that the 15/20 year-old trees will suffer from the move. The trees will stretch from the Parliament building to the nearby Holyrood Park, linking the two. The leaves turn red, yellow or brown in the autumn and could last up to 300 years. Although Scottish forests have been growing fast in recent years (see previous item), the locally produced trees are currently too small to be used.
Weather in March in Scotland
The above average temperatures which have become such a regular feature of the weather continued in March, with most areas having 1/1.5C above the norm. The exception was the far north-east and Orkney and Shetland where it was only one degree Centigrade above the seasonal average. But the same areas also had above average sunshine during the month. Most of the country had the usual amount of rainfall with a few favoured areas in the extreme south and Aberdeenshire recording less than normal.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The thermometer climbed after the weekend reaching 17/18C (63/64F) for a few days in the middle of the week. The north-east saw the best of the weather with Kinloss reaching 19C (66F) on Wednesday and Aberdeen having 13 hours of sunshine on both Wednesday and Thursday. But the above average temperatures for the end of April soon fell back, with Glasgow only managing a chilly 9C (48F) on Friday. On higher ground in the Highlands there were some fresh falls of snow. But the spell of generally milder weather has encouraged many of the trees to burst into leaf, including the fresh green of beech and elm. Although there were a number of showers, rainfall was slight during the week, apart from Monday when an inch of rain fell at Eskdalemuir and Glasgow had 0.8 inches on the same day.
The illustration this week of current flowers in Scotland is of a marsh violet. Although it looks quite large, blown up on the screen, it is actually a very small, delicate wild flower. It was spotted growing on a wall in the countryside near Glasgow.