Apathy the Winner in Parliamentary Elections?
When the electioneering for the next Scottish Parliament on 1 May began a few weeks ago, the media was understandably swamped by stories of the Iraq war and Scottish politics took a back seat. In recent weeks, the quality newspapers have tried to present the issues and the answers from the various political parties. Even so, there is a considerable amount of disinterest amongst the electorate and, judging by the lack of party election posters on the streets, even the activists are finding it hard to rouse themselves. Jack McConnell, the Scottish Executive First Minister, is said to be so concerned that turnout could fall below 50%, that he is concentrating his efforts between now and polling day next Thursday on getting people to turn out and vote. And in typical political fashion, he is blaming his opponents in the Scottish National Party for deliberately alienating the public by highlighting negative aspects of the Parliament and the government's failures over the last four years - even though that is part of the role of any opposition.
MP Denies Taking Cash from Iraq
George Galloway, the Member of Parliament for Glasgow Kelvin was accused this week of taking cash from the former regime in Iraq. Galloway, who is sometimes referred to as the "MP for Baghdad Central" because of his support for Saddam Hussein, strenuously denies the charges which were made by the Daily Telegraph newspaper which claims it uncovered incriminating documents in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Galloway is suing the newspaper over the allegations - and he has a long track record of successful libel actions.
Full Military Honours for Scot Killed in Iraq
St John's Kirk (pictured here) in the heart of Perth was the scene this week of the funeral of Lance Corporal Barry Stephen of the Black Watch, the only Scottish soldier to die in action in the Iraqi war. He was killed defending his comrades when an Iraqi grenade exploded as he returned enemy fire. His coffin was draped in the Saltire and carried his blue bonnet with the red cockade of the Black Watch. St John's is the regimental church of the Black Watch. L/Cpl Stephen was 31 and came from Scone in Perthshire.
Scottish Water to Cut 900 Jobs
Faced by a demand by the water industry regulator to cut back on prices, the company which looks after water supplies and drainage across Scotland has confirmed that it is looking to cut 900 jobs as it seeks to reduce costs by £100 million. Scottish Water currently employs 4,700 staff and call centre staff are likely to be hardest hit. The water industry commissioner claims that Scottish Water bills were 60% higher than water authorities in England and Wales - where the water industry has been privatised.
André Gets Seal of Approval
It's amazing what a bit of media publicity can do for a seal. One week, it had a death sentence hanging over it because it was too successful at what comes naturally (catching fish) and the local angling club was threatening to shoot it The next week, there is a media frenzy with newspaper reporters and TV crews descending on the river Leven, making him into a star attraction. André then skillfully avoided all attempts at capture by divers and marine experts from the International Rescue Corps trying to rescue him to take him back to sea. Seeing the writing on the wall (and the crowds thronging the river bank), the Loch Lomond Angling Improvement Association then withdrew the death threat - and gave André an official permit (#999) featuring a passport size photo, saying that although he had cost the anglers thousands of pounds in lost fish, at least his catches would now be "legal". It is thought that the seal arrived in the Leven which flows from Loch Lomond last year, after chasing salmon from the river Clyde. In recent months, he has been unable to go further upriver because of a weir and is reluctant to go downriver because it is shallow after the prolonged dry spell. The "experts" say that rescue attempts will continue...
The Queen's Award for Enterprise is usually won by young companies which have shown exceptional growth or entrepreneurship over the previous three years. But the Royal Bank of Scotland, founded in 1727, has become the largest company ever to win the prestigious award, which is the UK business equivalent of the Oscars. The judges were impressed by the bank's spectacular growth, especially in its US subsidiary, Citizen's Financial in New England. There were seven other companies in Scotland which were honoured - all of them small or medium sized enterprises.
More University Applications from Scots
Statistics from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) show that the number of applications in the UK from prospective students for courses starting in the autumn are up by 3.9% on the same period last year. But the number of applicants from Scotland has risen by 5.4%. Over half of the applications are from female students. Applications from people living overseas has grown by 12.2% - with numbers from the Irish Republic up by 24.8%.
World's First Sidecar Hearse?
A funeral firm has been set up by a former Scottish shipyard worker which is geared towards the needs of motor cycle fanatics. Paul Sinclair has been nicknamed the "Faster Pastor" and has designed a sidecar for his motorbike which can carry a coffin. He says that contrary to the stereotypes, most enthusiastic bikers live to a ripe old age and want a funeral which reflects their lifestyle. A recent funeral procession organised by Paul involved more than 250 bikers.
Prestwick Rail Link Failing to Deliver
The passenger watchdog group at Prestwick Airport in Ayrshire, says that the railway station at the airport is failing to provide an adequate service. There is no ticket office, information screens are non-existent and there is not even a shelter for passengers to sit. Prestwick has seen a significant increase in passenger numbers as a result of the operations of budget services by Ryanair, and expects to double the numbers using the airport over the next two years. 600,000 passengers currently use the rail service annually. Numbers have been boosted by half-price rail travel to and from anywhere in Scotland for anyone on a scheduled flight. In addition to Ryanair, Aer Arann Express, another low-cost Irish airline has announced that it is to start daily flights to the Isle of Man from May and Globespan is to start services to four Mediterranean resorts.
Art Records Tumble
World record prices for Scottish artists were paid at an art sale held at Hopetoun House, near South Queensferry last week. The highest price was paid for a still life by the Scottish Colourist Samuel John Peploe, which sold for £184,000. Peploe (1871-1935) holds the world auction record for a Scottish picture, set in 2001 when his still life "The Black Bottle" was sold for £520,750. A picture by controversial Fife-born artist Jack Vettriano (born in 1954) who worked in the Fife coalfields before turning to art, sold for £66,000, a new world auction record for this artist. Vettriano has built up a strong popular following - more than 500,000 prints of his work have been sold in Britain, US and Japan. But he has been shunned by the Scottish art establishment - none of his paintings hang in any of the major galleries.
Top Chef Sells Restaurant
Nick Nairn, one of a number of chefs who has become famous as a result of presenting cookery programmes on TV, has confirmed that he is to close his restaurant in Glasgow so that he can concentrate on his cookery school and consultancy services. Last year, he had insisted that the 40-seat restaurant was a key shop window for his other activities. Nairns opened six years ago and will continue to operate as usual until it is sold.
Whisky Galore in Inverness
The Sheriff Court in Inverness heard this week how a tanker driver was left in low spirits after he approached a roundabout in Grantown too fast, clipped a verge and overturned - spilling tonnes of whisky onto the road. The road was closed for five hours while the whisky was cleared. The driver admitted driving "carelessly" and failing to negotiate the roundabout but the Sheriff decided to be lenient and only fined him £250 and added five penalty points to his licence.
£3.5 Million Deal to Enhance Tweed Salmon Fishing
The river Tweed in the Scottish Borders is already the most productive salmon river in the North Atlantic and a new deal is likely to enhance that reputation by adding thousands of additional salmon to the river this summer. The owners of 50 fishing boats, which catch thousands of fish heading for the Tweed with drift nets, are planning to surrender their licences in return for a compensation deal worth £3.5 million. This would leave only 15 boats catching fish by net. In the last three years, the nets have caught 100,000 salmon and 90,000 sea trout, most of them bound for Scottish rivers. In 2002, 10,300 salmon were landed in the Tweed by rod, the largest number for a decade.
Remote Pub Serves Island With No People
The island of Sanda covers about 314 acres, two miles off the southern tip of the Mull of Kintyre. According to the census, its population is zero but the owners of the island opened a bar there this week - named Byron Darnton, after an American Liberty ship which went aground off the island in 1946. The island has a number of holiday cottages which are used from April to October and yachts call in from time to time too. The remote hostelry has had to overcome major problems, including a lightning strike which destroyed the shed housing the batteries which store the electricity from the island's windmill. Then there was the problem of getting beer delivered - Tennents said it was impossible to reach the remote location but Scottish Brewers went that "extra mile".
Walkers Pulled to Safety in Flooded Gorge
Two walkers trapped in a flooded gorge near New Lanark had to be lifted out by rescue workers after water cascaded over a dam when the nearby Bonnington power station had its power output reduced. The walkers raised the alarm using their mobile phone and a police helicopter spotted them clinging to rocks in the middle of the river Clyde. But it was unable to pull them out as it had no winching gear. Emergency services worked for several hours before they were able to lower ropes to the exhausted couple and lift them by harness to safety.
Strife at UK's Smallest School
After being closed for nine months, the primary school on the tiny island of Papa Stour in Shetland in the far north of Scotland was about to reopen this week with the best pupil/teacher ratio in the country - one teacher for one pupil. The school closed last summer when the only other pupil on the island (population 24) moved on to secondary education in Lerwick on the mainland of Shetland. But instead of welcoming the return of the local school, the parents of the child refused to send her there, saying that they had "personal reasons" for objecting to the teacher, Ms Puckey, who had been appointed. "I was not consulted about the appointment," the mother said. "I said as far back as last September that if Ms Puckey got the job my children would not be going to school." Despite having just one pupil, the school is well-equipped and has a secretary, three computers, a television and an art room as well as a school house with three bedrooms.
Bluebells of Scotland Threatened
According to Plantlife Scotland, the native bluebell, one of Scotland's emblematic flowers, is under threat both from unscrupulous bulb collectors and from a Spanish variety which is infiltrating many woodlands. The Spanish variety is the one most commonly sold in garden centres and it is also spreading into the wild. Climate change and destruction of woodland habitat is also a threat. The charity is to undertake a survey to measure the extent to which the indigenous variety is being pushed out.
Rare Birds Threatened by Huge Fires
As rain at last helped to extinguish a number of moor and woodland fires which had broken out in a number of parts of Scotland, naturalists were counting the cost of the blazes which had damaged the nesting sites of rare birds. A massive heath fire on Lewis stretched for several miles on Barvas Moor, a designated conservation area which is home to golden plover, greenshank and dunlin. Moss on the moor is very slow growing and naturalists say it could take 50 years for the area to recover. Birds returning to the area are unlikely to nest and, because they do not move elsewhere, there will be no eggs laid this year. The fires which affected 20 square miles of the Ardnamurchan peninsula spread to the edges of the bird reserve at Glenborrodale. Golden eagles, hen harriers, merlin and waders will be affected. In some areas, fences were removed to allow deer to move downhill into the nesting areas, away from the fires.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Nearly 1,000 people had to be led to safety after fires swept through Palacerigg country park last weekend as firefighters fought to control the blaze, one of a number across Scotland arising from the prolonged dry weather. Although there were still a number of locations which had long spells of sunshine this week (Aberdeen had over 12 hours of sun on Sunday and Wednesday) the week was more changeable than of late and there were a number of showers and longer spells of rain. Temperatures also fell during the week to 8/9C (46/48F) by Thursday and Friday which is below average for this time of year. But gardeners and farmers welcomed the arrival of the rain after the long weeks of dry weather and above average temperatures.
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland were both taken this week in the gardens of Finlaystone House in Inverclyde. Rhododendrons of various varieties, including the one on the right, have been in bloom for some weeks but this was the first time that the brilliant azaleas (above) had burst into flower this year. In the coming weeks, more and more of these magnificent shrubs will brighten up gardens across the country.