Worst Storm for Twenty Years
The most powerful storm in the last 20 years battered the west coast of Scotland on Tuesday night, with gusts of hurricane-force wind reaching well over 120mph. Most of the Western Isles and parts of the mainland lost electrical supplies, affecting 85,000 homes and high tide and winds caused flooding in Oban. A family of five were swept to their deaths while attempting to drive along a coastal road in South Uist after high tides and strong winds had flooded their house. Ferry and air services were badly affected. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, winds gusted at up to 80mph, causing structural damage to some buildings. Bridges across the Forth (both the road and rail crossings) and Tay rivers (both at Friarton and at Dundee) were closed, as were the Erskine Bridge across the Clyde and the Kessock Bridge at Inverness as well as the bridge from the mainland to Skye. On Wednesday morning, commuters found that the entire main-line rail network had closed down as engineers checked for fallen trees and debris on the tracks. With major bridges and ferries still cancelled, some roads blocked by fallen trees and with the winds still blowing strongly, alternative means of getting to work were not always readily available. The A1 road between Edinburgh and Newcastle was closed after a traffic accident and a section of the eastbound M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh had to be close because an overhead gantry had been made unsafe by the high winds. The storm continued on Wednesday and thousands of homes in Tayside were without electricity. Nine roads in Perthshire alone were blocked by fallen trees or floods. The river Ness burst its banks on Wednesday afternoon, following a tidal surge, causing damage to a number of homes and businesses in Inverness.
Scots Respond to Tsunami Funds Appeal
Of the £100 million raised so far by the Disasters Emergency Committee which co-ordinates the appeal for funds for the UK's leading aid agencies, £12 million has been contributed by the Scottish public. Bearing in mind that Scotland's population is only around 8.5% of the UK total, Scots are digging deeper into their pockets than anywhere else in the UK - and despite the wealthiest parts of the UK being in the south-east of England. The disaster committee says that it expects the final amount raised from the British public to reach £200 million, as money continues to pour in and further fund-raising events take place.
Scotland May Lose European Funding
A government report has shown that the diversion of European Union funding to newer member states in eastern Europe will result in Scotland losing possibly up to £600 million in "structural funds" from 2007. The Highlands and Islands and the Scottish Borders will be particularly badly affected as these poorer regions of the country benefited most with support in the past for projects such as roads, airports and business development. Last May, the European Union was enlarged from 15 to 25 countries. However, changes in funding require the unanimous agreement of all members, so there is still a lot of scope for the usual wheeling and dealing to prevent Scotland losing out under the worst-case projection. European funding is rarely the only source of financial support for projects, but the EU element can make the difference between a scheme going ahead or being abandoned. The Highlands and Islands have benefited by £450 million between 1994 and 2006, with more than 500 projects funded, including the Cairn Gorm funicular railway, which received £2.7 million, jetties for the islands of Muck, Eigg and Rum (£2.69 million) and improvements to Stornoway airport (£2.6 million).
Scottish Exports Slide
For many years, Scotland's electronics industry sustained the country's export performance as other, older, industries declined. In recent times, however, "Silicon Glen" has struggled to compete as the market for computers, work stations, cellular phones and silicon chips has become ever more competitive, with plants springing up in low-cost economies such as eastern Europe, China and India. When Jim Wallace announced the latest figures for Scottish exports, he expressed "disappointment" at an overall fall of 0.7% between the second and third quarters of 2004. The figures were a stark contrast to a 3.4% increase in the overall UK manufactured exports. The slide in Scotland's performance was largely due to a 2.4% decline in the large-scale electrical and instrument sector, with an increase in other products. Even so, the sector still accounts for around 40% of the total of Scotland's manufactured exports.
Wind Farms Sprouting Across Scotland
Although a number of the projects will fall by the wayside, research by a pressure group which opposes the proliferation of wind farms in Scotland has calculated that if all the current installations are joined by those being proposed, there would be 6,400 turbines at over 250 sites across the country. During 2004, 12 windfarms were either completed or under construction, increasing the number of turbines in Scotland from 263 to 606. Another 25 sites have received planning permission, though work has not yet started on them. These would bring the number of turbines to 966 and a capacity of 1,657 megawatts. Another 160 sites are either at the planning application stage or proposals are in the pipeline, though these range in size from one turbine to 500 on the Morvern peninsula at the north of the island of Mull. Those who advocate wind farms say that only a small number of sites attract widespread objections and that the benefit of renewable energy is considerable. The Scottish Executive says it is committed to a target of having 40% of Scotland's electricity generated from renewable sources - wind, wave or water power - by 2020.
Increased Airport Traffic
The number of people travelling through Scotland's three main airports grew by 6% in 2004, to a total of 19.2 million passengers. Edinburgh grew by 7% to 8 million, while Glasgow's growth was slower at 5.5%, reaching 8.6 million. Aberdeen's growth was a creditable 5%, serving 2.6 million passengers. Much of the growth has come from developing new routes to continental Europe and even further afield, such as the Emirates service to Dubai. It was not all good news on the air transport front, however. Figures published this week showed that last summer only 65% of flights at Edinburgh airport were on time, with only half of the flights from Heathrow to the capital arriving on schedule. Over 20% of flights were between 30 minutes and one hour late. Holidaymakers travelling by charter flights from Glasgow airport were also subjected to delays - the average of 29 minutes inevitably covering up some very lengthy waits in the terminal.
Royal Bank of Scotland Criticised
A Glasgow Member of Parliament has condemned as "despicable" the strategy of locating fee-charging auto-tellers in poorer parts of the city in the guise of independent ATM provider Hanco, which it purchased last year. Most bank ATM's do not charge for cash withdrawals, but recently there has been a move by the banks to sell-off machines to service providers who levy a charge. John Robertson, the MP for Anniesland, claims that the banks are effectively levying a charge on the poor. In more affluent, car-owning areas, customers can go to a free machine, but those who live in poorer areas cannot do that so easily.
No Bed of Roses
Aberdeen has won the trophy in the Best City section in the "Scotland in Bloom" awards 36 times and the national UK Britain in Bloom title 10 times. A contributory factor to that success has been the central reservation on Anderson Drive, a major trunk road round the city, being planted with roses instead of the usual paving or crash barriers. The impact in the summer of this riot of colour, extending into the distance, is dramatic. Aberdeen is sometimes called "City of Roses" as well as its well-known nickname of the "Granite City". But now the company responsible for maintenance of the roads in the Highlands has suggested that the central reservation should have concrete blocks instead. Aberdeen City Council has reacted angrily to the suggestion and blame the Scottish Executive for not providing funding to keep up the road to its previous high standard. A report from the city council this week says that they are "extremely concerned and frustrated" over the lack of progress in discussions over future plans for the trunk road.
Garden Festival Site Redevelopment
When the Glasgow Garden Festival took place on a derelict site on the banks of the Clyde at Pacific Quay in 1988, it was expected that after the festival had been dismantled, the area would be used to construct new housing. In the intervening years, the Glasgow Science Centre and a number of office blocks have been built or are planned in the area (the most recent, high profile development being the new BBC Scotland HQ). But large parts are still as derelict as they were in the late 1980s. Various plans have been put forward. to develop the remaining 800,000 square feet of the site, but nothing has materialised. Now a new proposal has been submitted to Glasgow City Council for a £150 million transformation which would create a major office development, 150-bed hotel and 300 new homes. "Festival Park" would also have landscaped gardens. The project has been given a boost by the approval being given for the new Finnieston Bridge, which will connect the area to the north bank of the Clyde and the city centre.
Biggest Burns Supper?
Next week, Glasgow is once again hosting what is described as the "biggest Burns supper in the world." There will be 800 guests at the event which is to be beamed around the Web via the Glasgow City Council's Web site. The toast to the Immortal Memory is being given by the writer and broadcaster Sandy Strang and the toast to "Caledonia" is being given by Lindiwe Mabuza, the South African high commissioner. This year's event will raise money to meet the capital cost of a maternity hospital at the David Livingstone Clinic in Malawi
Licence to Kill Buzzards?
Scottish landowners, expressing concern at the increased numbers of buzzards which they say are preying on game birds, are reported to be ready to apply for licences to kill the raptors. The bird is a protected species and so far licences have only been issued to two Scottish airports and a defence establishment. But it is being argued that protection legislation has allowed the number of buzzards to soar - it is claimed that there could be as many as 17,000 in Scotland. Hard-pressed gamekeepers, who have struggled this year to produce pheasants and grouse for shooting parties due to bad weather, are looking round for ways to protect their birds. Conservationists argue that buzzards and other birds of prey have an insignificant impact on game bird stocks.
Rickshaw Proposal for Aberdeen Pulls Through
There was a heated debate in Aberdeen this week as councillors argued the merits and demerits of a proposal to bring licensed rickshaws to the Granite City. There were concerns about road safety, but others argued that there were considerable environmental and tourism benefits from the vehicles, which are based on a pedal cycle providing the propulsion. It was even suggested that if they slowed traffic in Union Street, Aberdeen's main thoroughfare, that would improve road safety. One councillor described buses going down the street "like a bat out of hell." Eventually, the licensing committee voted 7-6 in favour of seeking a more detailed assessment of the idea. If the plan goes ahead, 25 rickshaws would initially run in the city, though more could be added if they proved a success. So they will not exactly be swarming through the streets as in Mumbai or Calcutta.
Ford Top Scottish Sales Table
Figures published by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders this week show that the top-selling car in Scotland in 2004 was the Ford Focus, closely followed by the Ford Fiesta. In 2003 Ford was ousted from the top spot by the Renault Megane.
Glasgow has a long way to go to catch up on the number of festivals staged in Edinburgh, especially as the capital keeps launching new events - such as the Ghost Festival announced last week. With it's own brand of humour, Glasgow is now to host a literary festival next month under the title of "Aye, Write". Staged at the Mitchell library in the city from 19 to 27 February, it will feature 170 authors, illustrators and poets, with a particular emphasis on home-grown talent. Writers such as Liz Lochhead, Louise Welsh, Edwin Morgan, William Boyd and William McIlvanny are participating this year. Stuart Murdoch, lead singer of Belle and Sebastian, will be talking about his song-writing and Andrew Marr, the BBC's foremost political correspondent, will discuss his work and journalism. And, this being a Glasgow event, footballer Billie McNeill and sports commentator Archie Macpherson will present football stories. For more information, see Aye Write Web site.
New Lease of Life for Renfrew Ferry
There is still a ferry plying across the river Clyde between Renfrew and Yoker, as there has been since the 17th century. But the last ferry capable of carrying vehicles as well as pedestrians was withdrawn from service in the 1980s. However, the boat has continued to operate on the Clyde - but moored as a multi-purpose entertainment venue at Windmillcroft Quay in Glasgow city centre. It has been modified with the addition of a glass and steel atrium and a new mezzanine floor. It is a popular nightspot and now the owners are planning a major new lease of life, by turning it into an all-day restaurant with an new "sun deck" (in Glasgow??) for al fresco dining. It is being relocated to the north bank of the river and will benefit from the regeneration of the Broomielaw area of the Clyde.
Haggis Passes US Customs - But Aberdeen Angus Steak Fails
Utility company ScottishPower has 30% of its shareholders in the US and its subsidiary PacifiCorp provides electricity to a large area of north-west USA. It tries to promote Scottish produce in North America, so when it organised a Burns supper in New York for 70 distinguished guests, it wanted to impress them with Scottish food. Top chef Nick Nairn organised the import of juicy Aberdeen Angus beef, succulent Ayrshire hams, smoked salmon, the finest Scottish cream - and haggis, of course. But when the zealous US customs descended on the food, the "the best-laid schemes o' mice an men gang aft agley." Strangely, the haggis passed through with saltire flags flying. But the beef, hams and cream were denied entry to the land of the free and the home of the brave. The hams and cream were taken away to be destroyed, but oddly the beef was only "impounded." Chef Nairn suggested later that he hoped the US customs officials were enjoying their dinner of Scottish steak. Whether Nairn was allowed to leave the US after that remark was not recorded in the news report. This is not the first time ScottishPower have clashed with the US customs. A few years ago a Scots-born executive of PacificCorp ordered a new sporran from Edinburgh. It was impounded because US customs officials suspected - wrongly - that it was made from seal skin.
Patter Guide to Help Baffled Typists
Typists from courts in Dingwall in Ross and Cromarty in the north of Scotland have been helping out in the procurator fiscal's office in Glasgow, preparing the prosecution case by transcribing witness statements from tapes. But they have been baffled by the thick Glasgow accents and phrases such as "You're gauny get the malky" (You are going to be stabbed) and "Aw therr 'n' a wee bit mair" (Someone who is street smart and not to be taken for a fool). So the six typists have each been given a copy of the "Glasgow Patter" books by Neil Munro to help them understand their fellow Scots. The language barrier has sometimes become more apparent in recent years as the Scottish Executive has followed a policy of dispersing government jobs around the country. TV programmes such as "River City" and "Taggart" have helped, but there is nothing to beat the authoritative "Glasgow Patter" books.
The Glasgow Herald newspaper this week reported the experience observed by a reader travelling in a bus from Johnstone to Paisley. In a day of wind and rain (could have been any day in the last fortnight) a young mother boarded the bus with a baby in a buggy. Conscious of her windswept appearance, she proceeded to comb her hair and put on make-up. Although she had no mirror, she completed her face-painting apparently by instinct - and then took her own photograph with one of the latest mobile phones. She checked the picture and made some adjustments before taking a final picture to make sure that everything was OK before sitting back, well satisfied that she was ready to face the world. Little did Alexander Graham Bell know what he was starting when he patented the telephone in 1876.
Weather in Scotland This Week
After being subjected to high winds and rain in the first week of the new year, storms, heavy rain and flooding returned again last weekend and badly affected many areas of Scotland. The impact of the hurricane-force winds on Wednesday night was covered in the lead story at the start of this newsletter. Once again, sunshine was in very short supply, with Thursday being the only day with any appreciable amounts being recorded. Temperatures were around 9/11C (48/52F) at the start of the week but fell back to 6/8C (43/46F) later in the week.
This week's illustrations of current flora and fauna in Scotland shows first of all a flock of Greylag geese, enjoying some weak winter sunshine. Below is my first sighting this year of snowdrops - nearly two weeks earlier than last year. The Camellia is also very early, though admittedly the bush had only two flowers in bloom and one of those had been damaged by frost. Finally, the Rhododendron is not as unusual as it might seem as it is a very early or indeed winter-flowering variety which always is in bloom by this time of year in Scotland.