Election Win for Independents
In the days leading to the elections for the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, there was a prediction that the Conservative party would lose six of its 12 seats and that the Scottish National Party would lose one seat. In the only poll that matters on 1 May, however, the result was entirely different. Perhaps the low turnout (averaging 50.4%) was a factor. The proportional representation system used in the Scottish Parliamentary elections certainly allowed the smaller parties and independents a chance of election - which they capitalised on. In the table below showing the number of seats won, the figures in brackets are the 1999 results.
|Labour ||50 (55) |
|Scottish National Party ||27 (35) |
|Liberal Democrats ||17 (18) |
|Conservatives ||18 (18) |
|Green Party ||7 (1) |
|Scottish Socialist Party ||6 (1) |
|Independents ||4 (1) |
As the party in power, seen by many to be not delivering, and recovering from the backlash of those who disagreed with the Iraqi war, the surprise was that Labour did not lose more than five seats. Certainly, they lost a couple of high-profile ministers who failed to win in their constituencies, and they will now govern with a much smaller majority, with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.
Scottish National Party
The SNP were once seen as the party of protest but there are now plenty of other parties offering a haven for those fed up with mainstream politics. They are now trying to convince the electorate that they could make a better job of governing Scotland, even if full independence is not favoured by the majority of voters. They seem to have failed in that objective, losing nearly 25% of their seats.
Being in the coalition government with Labour for four years, the LibDems have achieved a higher profile and have avoided some of the usual discontent with the government in power, resulting in a (net) gain of one seat.
Some commentators expected the Conservatives to suffer badly in this election. But thanks perhaps to a stout performance by their leader in debates in parliament, they won three constituency seats, but that meant they lost out on the regional lists and ended up with the same total as before.
Scottish Socialist Party
This extreme left-wing party has also benefitted from the higher profile of its leader in the Scottish Parliament. Espousing policies of "giving Scotland back to the people" and tax hikes for the better off to create more "social justice" they increased the number of seats under the PR system from one to six.
From only one seat in the last election the Greens have leapt to seven seats, doing even better from the proportional representation element than the SSP.
Dennis Canavan, rejected by his party in 1999, was the only independent candidate to win a seat in that election. This time, he is joined by Margo MacDonald who was turned down by the Scottish National party after a lifetime of service. Other independents who won under the proportional representation system were a retired doctor (who fought on the single issue of stopping the closure of a local hospital at Stobhill in Glasgow) and the 72-year-old leader of the Senior Citizens' Unity Party (who won a list seat in Central Scotland only eleven weeks after the party had been formed). But the party formed to fight the corner of fishermen in the north-east, polled only 2% of the regional vote, insufficient to win a seat.
Local Government Elections
At the same time as the elections for the Scottish Parliament, voters were also putting their cross on the ballot papers for the 32 local government councils across the country. The Conservatives (up 15 seats), Liberal Democrats (gaining 20 seats) and Independents (an increase of 26) all registered gains at the expense of Labour (down by 43 seats) and the Scottish National Party (net 22 seats lost).
£4 Billion Housing Revolution at Risk
The plan to bring Glasgow City Council rented accommodation up to modern standards at a cost of £4 billion, is in danger of running into the sand as a result of the lack of trained construction professionals to manage the projects. The scheme to demolish 80,000 sub-standard homes and replace them with houses for the 21st century, may be undeliverable or, at the very least, could suffer massive delays. There are also doubts about whether there are enough construction workers to carry out the actual building work - it is estimated that there is a shortage of 6,500 joiners, bricklayers, roofers, electricians and plumbers in Glasgow. Due to reductions over the years in apprenticeships, the average age of construction workers in Scotland is now 48.
Small Business Sunk by High Water Charges
Scottish Water, the publicly owned organisation which supplies water, drainage and sewage services to all domestic and business premises in Scotland, is being attacked for recent significant increases in charges to small business customers. The cash-strapped quango recently announced it would cut up to 1,500 jobs in a desperate bid to cut costs, but furious customers are demanding more consultation about charges. One car sales outlet says that his charges have increased from £19 a month to £45.50 a month - and that although he only uses water to fill a kettle and a few car radiators, he is charged the same as a nearby car wash. Scottish Water say that their charges are fixed regardless of whether someone uses one glass or ten, as it costs the same to provide the pipes and network. In England, where the water and sewage system was sold off to private companies, the introduction of meters in some premises has led to complaints from users who use a lot of water who are charged more as a result.
Royal Bank Drops Scotland in US
The Royal Bank of Scotland is dropping the word "Scotland" from its branding in the US after its chief executive, Fred Goodwin said that the country was associated with "whisky, tartan, bagpipes and golf" and in future the bank will use the initials "RBS" in corporate advertising. Last month, the bank recruited golfing legend Jack Nicklaus to help launch "Team RBS" to raise its profile in the US where its Citizen's Financial banking organisation in New England continues to expand rapidly. Some years ago, The Royal Bank of Scotland (the bank insists on a capitalised "The" being part of its corporate branding in the UK) was stopped from using trading signs on branches in England which said only "The Royal Bank". But the bank says that even in the US it will not drop the full title - it will be in small letters below the RBS name. Although at one time there was a trend towards incorporating "Scotland" in company names (ScottishPower, Scotrail etc) there has been a recent trend towards using just initials even in Scotland. Scottish Media Group has become SMG, Scottish Radio Holdings changed to SRH - and ScottishTelecom, owned by ScottishPower, became "Thus" when it floated on the stock market in 1999.
Best Restaurant in Scotland
A Scottish restaurant has made it to the top 50 restaurants in the world according to an international panel for the "Restaurant Magazine". The Three Chimneys Restaurant on Skye has been voted the 32nd best eatery on the planet. The Three Chimneys is no stranger to top awards for its fine food - it regularly wins accolades, despite being so far off the beaten track.
£3 Billion Pub Sale
The Edinburgh-based drinks giant Scottish & Newcastle has announced that it is to sell off all its bars and restaurants in order to concentrate on becoming a global brewery giant. It is to sell 1,400 pubs and restaurants and expects to realise about £2 billion as a result. Bidders are likely to be venture capitalists and other financial wheelers and dealers.
Scotland's Celebrity Seal "Gone Fishing"
Efforts by marine experts to capture a seal which has been guzzling fish in the river Leven, below Loch Lomond, failed again this week. The local anglers had initially threatened to shoot the seal, nicknamed Andre by locals - though Houdini might be more appropriate. Faced with media publicity, however, the angling association gave the seal a fishing permit "to make his catching of salmon and trout legal." But the anglers had hoped that the seal might be captured and relocated - preferably far away to somewhere like the east coast of Scotland. But the failure to catch the slippery seal, and then the rising waters of the river Leven as a result of heavy rain, allowed Andre to swim over a weir - and escape into Loch Lomond, the UK's largest stretch of inland fresh water. Finding Andre and catching him in the 27.5 square miles of the loch is not even being contemplated.
House buyers in a new development near Nairn, 15 miles east of Inverness, will have to produce their birth certificates and agree that anyone staying in their homes will be over the age of 45. Firhall Village is adopting a concept which has already proved to be popular in North America, Australia and continental Europe. While children and young people are not completely banned (they will be allowed to pay visits to residents), anyone staying there on a permanent basis must be over 45. When the plans were first put forward in the Highlands, four years ago, they were criticised for being socially-divisive retirement ghettos, but the houses have proved to be popular.
So as to give kids starting primary school at the age of five a gradual introduction to being part of the education system, they finish at noon for the first ten weeks. But that can give many working mums, particularly single parents, a headache as they try to find someone to look after their children for the afternoon. Many working parents have their children at pre-school nurseries (which are open morning and afternoon) but then find that primary school is initially part-time. Some local education authorities have been prevailed upon to abandon the system and have the five-year-olds start a full day at primary school. But Glasgow, with a large number of kids and single parents (40% of homes with children are single parent households) still operates the short day for the first term. Parents have called for a change, saying that the city is now "old fashioned".
Another City Landmark
It looks as though the striking architecture of the recently opened Radisson Hotel on Argyle Street in Glasgow has set a trend. The Radisson has a huge curving copper and glass facade sweeping up and outwards in a smooth curving shape like a giant cinema screen, reflecting the natural sun and shadow through the day, contrasting with illuminated green-blue tints by night. Further along Argyle Street, planning consent has been given for "Cuprum", a nine-story 114,500sq ft office block featuring copper, granite and high-quality glazing with an eye-catching curved exterior. The building will continue the much needed regeneration of the Anderston centre.
Air Scotland Flight Chaos
A new airline, which began operating from Scotland only a few weeks ago, admitted that its reliability record was "totally unacceptable". In the worst day, only two of 30 flights got off on time. Air-Scotland has now ditched its contract with Greek-owned Elektra Airlines and has instead done a deal with Air Holland to provide aircraft for its low-cost flights to Spanish holiday resorts. But that doesn't seem to have helped and now the airline regulators are looking at its operations.
American Experts to Advise on Forth Rail Bridge
One of Scotland's most famous icons is to come under the scrutiny of a specialist US company, to advise on the escalating cost of painting and maintenance. KTA of Philadelphia, an industrial coating specialist, is to give a "second opinion" on the estimate by Scottish engineering firm Balfour Beatty that it would cost £280 million or more over the next 10-14 years to maintain the 113-year-old bridge. The company which owns the rail network spent an average of only £6 million each year between 1997 and 2002 - though for much of that time no painting on the bridge was carried out. It is claimed that there is a huge backlog of work to be done because the bridge has not been properly maintained over the last 30 years.
Stand and Deliver
An "angry highwayman" in Stirlingshire is campaigning to get the local county council to spend more money on repairing the pot-holes in the roads in the area. He has formed an "Association of Road Surface Experts" (work out what the initials stand for yourself) which Stirling Council that "our top surveyors are currently in Moldavia but have found nothing to compare with the spine jarring potholes in your area." It's not even as if James Lindsay, the "Angry Highwayman" is wanting the government to allocate more money to Stirling for road repairs. Stirling only spends 65% of the cash allocated to it for road maintenance by central government. Even so, it pleaded poverty to the executive and was awarded an extra £650,000 to spend on road repairs. But it didn't even spend all of that on repairs - and cannot be forced to do so by the executive in Edinburgh.
Scottish Executive Backs Concorde Bid
Following the announcement of the withdrawal from service of the British Airways (and Air France) Concorde supersonic airliner fleet later this year, there was an immediate suggestion that the Museum of Flight at East Fortune in Lothian should attempt to obtain one of the aircraft for display there. Now the deputy minister for tourism in Scotland has confirmed that she has approached British Airways in support of a bid by the National Museums of Scotland. The seven Concordes owned by BA will stop flying at the end of October. Competition for the beautiful aircraft from air museums around the world is likely to be fierce.
Islay Whisky Nearly Dried Up
Whisky distillers on the western island of Islay found the recent near-drought conditions during March and April difficult to swallow as it began to threaten the production of the famous brands. The seven distilleries on the island use the soft peaty waters to create its distinctive malt whisky, but after two months virtually rain free, the rivers began to dry up. The whisky makers often stop production in July when the water table is low, but they began to consider another break at the end of April. However, the return of more unsettled weather and some heavy falls of rain have improved the situation.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The Scottish weather has now returned to its more normal pattern of sunshine, showers and fluctuating temperatures. Last weekend, temperatures were largely around 14/15C (57/59F) and there was a fair amount of sunshine in the east. But by Wednesday the thermometer had fallen to 10/12C (50/54F) in Glasgow and Edinburgh and 9C (48F) in Aberdeen and 7C (45F) in the Shetland Isles to the north.There were many frequent showers though Glasgow did manage around five hours of sunshine on Tuesday and Wednesday.
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland show very well the contrasting weather we have had this week. The dicentra (bleeding heart) was photographed on a dull, damp day in my own garden while the tulip below (looking as if someone had been busy with graphics software to create those striking colours) was in the gardens of Finlaystone House during a sunny interval.