"King's Ransom" to Visit Castle
Historic Scotland, the government agency which looks after the castles which are in state care, is being criticised for a major increase in the price of tickets to see round Edinburgh Castle, it's flagship tourist attraction. Adults will have to pay £9.80 and senior citizens will have to stump up £7.50 - an increase of 7%. Children's tickets have gone up by 75% from £2 to £3.50. Historic Scotland claim that it is still very reasonable compared to other leading attractions in Edinburgh such as the zoo. There are lots of things to see in the castle and it is possible to spend many hours there and still not see everything. But a tour of Dublin's 13th-century castle costs only £4.50 for adults and £2 for children, while an adult ticket into Prague Castle costs £8 and a concession ticket £4.
Populations Rise and Fall
Media reports this week suggested that Ireland's population will overtake that of Scotland in 15 years unless the decline on the numbers of people living in Scotland is reversed. Ireland's population stood at 2.8 million in the 1970s and will exceed 5 million by 2019 according to a forecast by the Irish Central Statistics Office. The Registrar General for Scotland, meanwhile, has predicted that the current population of 5.05 million here, could fall to 4.84 million by 2009. Population decline has been fastest in the Western Isles where numbers have fallen by 11% in the last ten years.
Meantime, within Scotland, the growth of Edinburgh and the decline of Glasgow's population means that Glasgow is losing 20,000 citizens every ten years while Edinburgh is gaining 11,000 in the same time-frame, making the capital into Scotland's largest city in under 40 years. Glasgow used to be the "Second City of the Empire", after London, but as the heavy industries declined in the 1950s and 60s and as many Glaswegians emigrated to just beyond the city boundary, the population began to fall. Currently, Glasgow has a population estimated to be 569,000 while Edinburgh has 120,000 fewer. Of course, Edinburgh's boundary stretches up to ten miles from the city centre at some points, while Glasgow covers a much smaller geographic area, with large parts of the Glasgow postal area forming part of neighbouring counties.
Scots in Queen's New Year's Honours List
Leading figures in Scotland's business community were included in the annual list of awards made by the Queen on New Year's Day. Susan Rice, chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland was recognised for her services to Banking with a CBE. Rice was born in Rhode Island, USA and she became the first woman to head a UK clearing bank, as chief executive of Lloyds TSB Scotland in 2000. Peter Lederer, chairman of VisitScotland, was also awarded a CBE for his services to tourism. He has served as a member of the tourism agency since 1995, and was appointed chair in 2001. Keith Miller, chief executive of Scotland's largest privately-owned building firm, The Miller Group, was awarded a CBE for services to the construction industry in Scotland and to charity. Frank Pignatelli, chief executive of the Scottish University for Industry, was given a CBE for services to education and lifelong learning. Pignatelli was Strathclyde region director of education and joined the private sector after local government was reorganised in 1997. Golfer Colin Montgomery and Olympic gold medallist yachtswoman Shirley Robinson from Dundee were awarded an OBE. Olympic cycling champion Chris Hoy from Edinburgh was honoured with an MBE. Musicians the Alexander Brothers (pictured here) and sculptor George Wyllie also become MBEs.
TV Presenter and First Minister Cause a Stooshie
When BBC presenter Kirsty Wark invited First Minister Jack McConnell and his wife and family to join her in her Majorcan villa at New Year, she little realised the fuss and bother it would generate. It was the second time that the McConnell family - friends for 15 or 20 years - had been guests in this fashion. It then came out that Wark had stayed at Bute House in Edinburgh, the First Minister's official residence (pictured here), on at least two occasions. As one of the BBC presenters and interviewers on political programmes, her objectivity and indeed judgement has been called into question, now that the situation has been given the glare of publicity. By Friday of this week the story had pushed the tsunami disaster off the front page of The Scotsman newspaper. Not that such close relationships are unique in the small world of the "Cosy Nostra" of Scottish politics. For example, John Campbell was counsel to the Fraser Enquiry into the shambles of the new Parliament building project. He was questioning Kirsty Wark about the tapes for the TV programme her company was making about the construction of the new building and was in the unusual position of questioning a bridesmaid at his wedding. Wark had been appointed by another friend, the late First Minister Donald Dewar, to join the panel which controversially appointed Enrico Miralles to be the architect for the parliament building. Her TV production company refused to hand over to the Fraser enquiry interview tapes made as part of the programme on the construction of the parliament.
Kick in the Teeth for Government Dental Plan
The British Dental Association (BDA) Scotland has warned the Scottish Executive that a promise to introduce free dental check-ups for everyone in Scotland may not be achievable by the target date of 2007 because there are too few dentists in the National Health Service (NHS). Many dentists have left the NHS to set up private dental care which is more lucrative and allows more time for preventive and educational procedures. The BDA say that there is more to a dental check-up than just a quick look around the patient's mouth. Currently, it is estimated that the NHS dental service is 10% short of dentists. That average figure masks large areas of Scotland where there are no subsidised dental care services available at all.
Free Bus Travel for All Pensioners
There are currently local authority schemes which provide free bus travel for over-60s, with varying rules about how far they can travel and at what time of the day. Now the Scottish Parliament has approved a national scheme of free bus travel which will apply to all pensioners (and the disabled) and which will have no time restrictions. The national scheme will also end difficulties for those travelling across council boundaries. The cost of the new arrangements will be £159 million in 2006-7, increasing to £163 million the following year. New "smartcards" will be introduced to minimise fraud.
Scottish Shoppers Shine
Gloomy reports from England and Wales that retail sales in December were the "worst Christmas for 25 years" were not being matched in Scotland. The Scottish Retail Consortium said that although full statistics had not yet been accumulated, evidence suggested that sales north of the Border have remained more resilient than across the rest of the country. Scottish consumers spend a smaller percentage of their monthly income servicing their mortgages and the slow down in rising house prices had not been as marked in Scotland. It seems that Edinburgh and Glasgow in particular helped Scotland "out-trade" the rest of the UK. However, even in Scotland, there is plenty of evidence of shops being forced into starting discounted sales earlier than usual.
Fishermen Catch a Good Deal
The annual round of negotiations in Brussels to decide on the number of fish which can be caught in European waters and when boats can put to sea, usually ends up with Scottish fishermen in the depths of despair. In the days before the meeting to negotiate the rules for 2005, there were suggestions that some of the fishing grounds would be closed permanently, to provide a nursery for young fish. In the end, that plan was rejected and, instead, a proposal to reduce the number of days fishermen can spend at sea, was altered in such a way that it will not affect most of the Scottish fleet. A controversial haddock permit system, which was in force last year, has been discontinued, the North Sea cod quota remains unchanged and there will not be a reduction in days at sea. It appears that the widespread use of 120mm mesh nets by Scottish vessels to protect juvenile fish was instrumental in avoiding a cut in fishing days. The UK negotiating team, including Ross Finnie the Scottish minister responsible for fisheries, also managed to win a 12% increase in quotas for prawn caught off the west coast and a 50% rise in the amount of monkfish caught in the North Sea off the north and north west of Scotland. However, some cod fishing grounds off the west coast of Scotland will be closed as part of conservation measures.
Chip and PIN Cause Confusion
In an effort to cut back on the amount lost by credit and debit card fraud, the UK banks have been issuing new plastic cards incorporating a fraud-proof (so far) micro-chip. Customers will require to tap in a four-digit PIN (personal identification number) at the counter or check-out, instead of scrawling an ineligible signature (which retail staff frequently don't even bother to check anyway). The transition to the new system is being phased in, but as from 1 January the banks' computer systems can demand a PIN instead of a signature - and pass the responsibility for fraud to the retailer if the customer cannot provide the correct number. Despite all the advance publicity and advertising, that is causing problems as many people cannot recall their PIN, especially if they have a number of different cards and have not selected an easier number to remember. The situation is made even more complicated by the fact that some customers have not been issued with a "Chip and PIN" card and the computer will then require a customer signature as before, causing confusion to staff and customers alike.
Emma and Lewis Lead List
The General Register Office for Scotland annual list of the most popular names used by parents registering the birth of their children in 2004 shows that Emma and Lewis are still at the top of the tree. For girls, the top five - Emma, Sophie, Ellie, Amy and Chloe - are the same as in 2003, although Sophie has moved from fourth to second. For boys, top-placed Lewis is followed by Jack in second position. James is in third (up one place), Cameron is fourth and Ryan is fifth. The name Keira has jumped 79 places into 32nd place, presumably due to the actress Keira Knightley. Boys' names making significant advances in the top 50 are Aiden (up 25 places to 32nd), Sam (up 24 places to 34th) and MacKenzie (up 35 places to 93rd). Duncan, George, Mohammed, Marcus, Mitchell, Grant, Anthony and Greg have all fallen out of the top 100. Girls' names moving out of the top 100 were Hayley, Rhiannon, Claire, Jade, Catherine, Orla, Katherine and Alicia. 26,200 boys were registered in 2004 with more than 2,200 different first names being used. 24,600 girls were registered, with more than 3,200 different names being used. In England and Wales, Jack and Emily were the most popular names for 2004 and in Northern Ireland, Jack and Katie were most popular.
New Ferry Link to Norway?
The operators of the daily ferry service between Rosyth in Fife and Zeebrugge in Belgium have begun discussions about starting a new route from Rosyth to Norway, probably docking at Kristiansund. The Superfast ferry to Belgium started in 2002 and has carried 500,000 passengers since then. A service to Norway would increase the number of tourists from there as Norwegians are used to ferry services along their long coastline. Since Norway is not part of the European Union there are also "duty free" attractions in travelling between the two countries. The initiative for a new route apparently originated in Norway where businesses there would use the service for exporting Norwegian seafood and oil industry supplies. When Rosyth began operating, the terminal and infrastructure had to be put in place, and any new route would be able to build on that.
Bumper Pay Rise for Train Drivers
In 2002, Scotrail train drivers waged a campaign of one-day strikes to force the company to come up with a better pay offer. The industrial action caused severe disruption and the company not only lost income as a result of the dispute, they lost many passengers who found alternative means of transport - and never came back. The new rail franchise company, Scotrail Direct, were clearly determined not to follow the same strategy and have made a bumper pay offer which the trade union has jumped to recommend to its members. And no wonder. The two-year deal will give drivers a 4% pay rise from 1 January and another 4% rise next January, at a time when price inflation is running at less than twice that level. There are also improved health benefits and higher starting salaries for trainees. It means that basic salaries will be lifted to above £30,000 a year.
City Council Approves Scotland's Tallest Building
Glasgow City Council has given backing to the construction of a 39-storey building on the site of the former Strathclyde Regional Council HQ, close to the approach road to the M8 road over the Kingston Bridge. The tear-drop shaped complex will soar to 134 metres (440 feet) and will be taller than the Glasgow Tower across the river at Pacific Quay and the Red Road flats (also in Glasgow), Europe's tallest homes at 328ft. More than 200 luxury homes are planned for the new building and the public would have access to a restaurant on the 34th floor. It is hoped to start demolishing the current buildings this year and have the new development ready for occupation in 2008. Of course, on a world scale, the Glasgow building will be relatively small - the Empire State Building on New York is 1,250ft tall and the Sears Tower in Chicago is 1,450 ft high while the Taipei 101 in Taiwan (completed in 2004) has a roof which is even higher - and a tall spire on top of that.
Over the Bridge to Skye - Free
First Minister Jack McConnell personally travelled to the Skye road bridge to announce that the long campaign by the islanders to have the toll charges for using the bridge removed had been successful. The bridge was built nine years ago as a privately funded project and the tolls were to pay for the cost of construction and maintenance. An amount of around £27 million has had to be paid to Skye Bridge Ltd to buy out the contract. A review of toll charges on the Erskine Bridge over the Clyde, the Tay Bridge and the Forth road bridge is also being undertaken. Removing the tolls on the Skye bridge could be shown to have no adverse traffic or environmental effects (even if traffic volumes increase by 50% they will still amount to less than 5% of that on the Forth Bridge). The Erskine Bridge (ten miles downstream from the centre of Glasgow) has lower traffic volumes than over the Tay and Forth but even so it carries twelve times the number of vehicles than the bridge to Skye. However, removal of the tolls there may help to ease the severe congestion at the Clyde Tunnel and the Kingston Bridge in Glasgow.
Problems and Successes for Airline
Budget airline Flyglobespan.com has had mixed fortunes recently on its Scottish routes. Hundreds of Scots who had booked on a new service to Paris from Glasgow, due to start in April, have received refunds because the service has had to be cancelled. The airline has been unable to obtain guaranteed landing slots at the Paris Orly airport which has become busier due to problems at the city's Charles de Gaulle terminal, after the roof of a pier there collapsed. Alternative flights with other airlines will cost considerably more. However, Flyglobespan.com also had some good news this week. It announced that, because of the success of its services to Palma in Majorca and Malaga in Spain, it is to double the number of flights to these destinations from mid-May to Mid-September.
Fair City Bids for City Status
Everyone knows the phrase "Fair City of Perth". The only problem with that is that Perth is not a city. At one time in its history Perth was the capital of Scotland (a claim which a fair number of places around the country can match) but has never been given the royal charter giving it the status of a city. The Scottish Conservative Party, which used to consider the area to be one of its strongholds, has taken up the cause not just because of status, but because it believes that the conurbation loses out financially in government grants by not being classed as a city. Meantime, in the south of Scotland, support is growing in Dumfries to make a bid for city status - whenever the next opportunity arises.
City and Village of Stirling
A truck driver who drove 150 miles to the tiny village of Stirling, near Peterhead in north-east Scotland, is just one of the many folk who have been confused by two locations in Scotland being named "Stirling". The city of Stirling in the central Lowlands was once the capital of Scotland and is famous in history for Wallace's victory at the battle of Stirling Bridge and Bruce's defeat of King Edward II of England at nearby Bannockburn. The village of Stirling in Buchan (with around a dozen houses), on the other hand, is famous for, well, being confused with its bigger namesake. Now a local councillor has been successful in getting the hamlet renamed "Stirling Village". However, it will be a long time before maps and gazetteers are updated. In the meantime villagers will just have to put up with their letters and other deliveries going first to the City of Stirling before someone realises the mistake.
New Branding for City of Inverness
Apart from some vague benefit of "prestige", being named a city does not give a town any particular advantage. But ever since Inverness (a Royal Burgh since 1158) was selected to be given a charter by the Queen as part of the Millennium celebrations, Inverness has been raising its profile. The latest move has been to create a new "brand identity" with a logo which emphasises, by the use of colour, the "In" in Inverness. It’s claimed to be a simple graphic way of expressing its personality and conveying the city's strengths and qualities. Inverness is the only city in the Highlands and the brand mark is a way of making sure everyone remembers that. See www.inverness-scotland.com/branding.asp to see the brand in various guises.
Red Carpet for Receivers
Kilmarnock-based Stoddard International is Scotland's oldest surviving carpet manufacturer. However, a fall in demand for their high quality products due to a combination of customers moving to cheaper imported products or laminate or wooden flooring, has resulted in the company struggling to survive. Now the future of the company is hanging by a thread after being forced to call in the receivers. It had been unable to secure funding to allow it to continue in operation. The company made the carpets for the film Titanic and also the red carpet used on the Queen's wedding day in 1947. The accountants will now assess the situation and decide whether it can be sold as a going concern but preliminary indications are not good.
Big Garden Birdwatch
Anyone interested in birdwatching in the UK is being invited to take part in the "Big Garden Birdwatch 2005." All they need to do is spend one hour watching the birds that visit their garden, local park or RSPB reserve over the weekend of Saturday 29 and Sunday 30 January and record what they see. Anyone wanting to take part has to sign up via the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) Web site at www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch. The picture shows a bullfinch in a suburban garden, north of Glasgow.
Another Submarine Search for Nessie
The fascination with the Loch Ness Monster - usually referred to fondly as "Nessie" - is continuing this year with the return in the spring of Dan Taylor, a former US Navy sub-mariner. He is having another go with his four-man "yellow submarine". Mr Taylor's last attempt in his underwater search in the 800ft deep loch, was back in 1969. He ditched plans four years ago to return when his ready-made 44ft long submarine developed "technical problems". Now he is returning, determined to establish whether the reputed monster is a reptile, mammal or fish. Mr Taylor claims that his technology is much more sophisticated than he was able to employ in 1969. His submarine is appropriately named "Nessa" after a Celtic goddess of water.
Weather in Scotland Over the Festive Season
Heavy snow falls (4-8 inches) on the Friday before Christmas resulted in a number of areas of Scotland having the first white Christmas since 2001 - which forced bookmakers to pay out large sums of money to those who had placed bets on snow falling on Christmas Day. Between 1971 and 1992 there was only one year - 1980 - when widespread sleet and snow fell across the UK on Christmas Day, whereas in the years 1993 to 2003 it happened five times. After a milder spell between Christmas and New Year, temperatures dropped again around Hogmanay and snow fell again on many parts of Scotland but, as at Christmas, it didn't last for long with temperatures rising on some days to as high as 11/12C (52/54F).
This week, in addition to leaden skies and heavy rain, a major feature of the weather has been recurrent spells of high winds. On Monday night, central Scotland took a battering from 60mph winds which closed the Forth Road Bridge to high sided vehicles and brought a tree down in a busy Glasgow road, caused disruption to traffic. On Tuesday morning, the Tay Road Bridge was closed completely for over two hours as 90mph winds swept over it. Surface water unable to drain away caused flooding on some roads, including the Clydeside Expressway in Glasgow. By the end of the week, weather warnings of winds up to 90mph were again being issued and heavy rain again added to the problems. After being soaked by over an inch of rain over Wednesday and Thursday, Glasgow had another inch of rain on Friday. Other parts of central Scotland were deluged too, and there was extensive flooding in Stirling, Callander and Aberfeldy. The Inverness to Fort William road was closed after rain caused a number of landslips. There was no let-up on Saturday as the rain continued to fall. In Dumfries and Galloway flooding on the River Nith and fallen trees caused road closures across the area. The Larne to Cairnryan P&O ferry was driven onto the shingle shoreline at Cairnryan harbour by winds which gusted at up to 100mph early on Saturday morning. Nobody was injured, but passengers will have to stay on board as a tug will not be able to reach the stricken ship until Sunday. Emergency rescue services are standing by in case they are needed.
This week's pictures showing illustrations indicative of the current climate show (above) swans on the ice before Christmas. The Whooper Swan cygnet below, flies in with its parents from Iceland only a matter of months after it has hatched. The Greylag Geese are oftem winter visitors too but the Blackbird, tucking into the last of the berries, is resident here all year.