"Fee Refugees" From England Apply to Scots Universities
The introduction of "top-up" fees, amounting to up to £3000 a year by English universities from next year, has resulted in another surge in applications to Scottish universities from English-based students. The Scottish Parliament has rejected the controversial "top-up" system of giving universities more financial support. Overall applications to Scottish institutions have risen by almost 11% to 72,000 but of these, 28,000 are from students living in England. Since students apply to more than one university, to increase their chances of acceptance somewhere, the actual number of English students coming to Scotland will probably be around 4,000. The numbers applying from elsewhere in the European Union are also on the rise. Since universities cream off the best applicants, regardless of where they come from, this increase in applications from south of the border could result in some Scottish applicants being squeezed out. The Scottish Executive have tried to stem a flood of "fee refugees" by imposing a top-up fee of its own on English students coming to Scotland but that will amount to around only £700 - and is being challenged as "discrimination".
The illustration is of St Salvator's College at the University of St Andrews - a popular choice for English students.
Anarchy or Opportunity?
Initially there was a feeling of some pride that the leaders of the world's richest nations would be gathering at Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire on 6-8 July for the next G8 conference. However, the realisation has dawned that such occasions are a magnet for anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist protesters to tag on to the peaceful marches and create a lot of damage. In Genoa in 2001, one protestor died, 200 were injured and 250 demonstrators were arrested. In 2003, in the French town of Evian, 50,000 protestors fought running battles with riot police. It is anticipated that over 100,000 demonstrators will be taking part in a rally in Edinburgh on the weekend before the summit. The area around Gleneagles is also being targeted by activists. Landowners in the area, where the new "right to roam" legislation has now kicked in, will not be entitled to any government compensation if damage is done to their property. But if the police authorities see the situation as a potential powder-keg, VisitScotland the tourism agency is working with local tour operators to create packages which could "offer protesters transport, accommodation and a variety of excursions, including walking tours, distillery visits, or rounds of golf." So after breaking a few windows, demonstrators are being invited to take a short break... That may counterbalance all those who may avoid Edinburgh and central Scotland during the period of the summit in early July.
Scottish Shoppers Still Spending
The Scottish Retail Consortium has reported that total sales in January rose by 5.5%, compared to a rate of 3.5% in the UK as a whole. The like-for-like sales (which takes out the effect of new store openings) north of the border were 2% higher in January, ahead of December's growth rate of 1.5%. Analysts are still predicting a slow-down in retail activity in 2005 - clothing and footwear shops are already experiencing tough conditions, with shoe sales in Scotland in particular faring worse than in the rest of the UK.
New Role for Former Parliament Building
In 1999, when the Scottish Parliament reconvened in Edinburgh for the first time for nearly 300 years, their temporary home was in the Church of Scotland's Assembly Hall on the Mound, just along from Edinburgh Castle. While they were tenants in the building, they had to decant each year for two weeks to allow the church to hold its general assembly. Since the hall is only used for that purpose - and is empty for the other 50 weeks of the year - the 19th century building is now to be marketed as a venue for conferences, AGMs and product launches, as well as music and drama events. The hall can hold up to 1,000 people. With a central location and overlooking Princes Street Gardens, the building will be a welcome addition to the capital's conference infrastructure.
Extra Points for Migrants to Scotland
A new control system for migrants which is being introduced by the UK government will give extra points to those applicants who want to settle in Scotland. The UK-wide scheme aims to attract those who have skills to offer and who already speak English. The most highly qualified, such as doctors and university graduates, would be able to come to the UK, even if they did not have a prior job offer. And after a five-year limit, would almost certainly be allowed permanent residency if they wanted to stay. With a declining population, Scotland's need for immigrants to fill employment gaps in some areas is greater than in the UK as a whole (where the population is continuing to rise). In order to address the skills shortages, the Scottish executive introduced a "Fresh Talent" initiative last year to attract those from abroad who could make a contribution to Scotland's economic development. The UK government's new system of controls announced last week seemed to be making it more difficult for Scotland to follow that policy. The "extra points" arrangements for those coming to live in Scotland appears to get round that.
Edinburgh City Council Windfall
After years of discussion and planning, the new £50 million headquarters building for Edinburgh City Council staff is taking shape on the site of a former car park beside Waverley Station, in the centre of the capital. In anticipation of staff relocating to the new complex, the council has put up for sale more than 20 buildings they currently occupy, including a number in the historic heart of the city. An office building on High Street dates back to 1735, though others are more "modern", going back only to the 19th century. Although there is more of a demand for recently developed buildings which are more adaptable to the needs of technology, it is estimated that the council will net around £40 million, once all their surplus buildings have been sold.
US is Scotland's Biggest Manufactured Export Market
Statistics published by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry show that the US has regained the top position as export destination for Scotland's manufacturers. Data for 2003 to 2004 show that the main exports were transport equipment, office machinery, radio/TV equipment and - of course - whisky. Germany is Scotland's second most important market for manufactured products with France third. Exports to Japan have recovered well after a dip in 2003 - while whisky sales are still down, there has been a sharp rise in the export of electronics from Scotland to Japan.
Monks to Sue Government Minister?
The recipe for Buckfast Tonic wine is attributed to the French monks who settled at Buckfast Abbey in the 1880's. Wines from Spain, known as mistellas, were imported and to these were added the tonic ingredients according to an old recipe. Despite its monastic origins, Buckfast has become notorious because of its popularity amongst "binge drinkers" who can often be the cause of anti-social behaviour. So the Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson recently wrote to the head of the Co-Operative Retail chain (which has links with the Labour Party) asking them to remove Buckfast from their shelves - and the company agreed. The Justice Minister then urged other local shop-keepers to do the same. Understandably, the company selling the wine is aggrieved at being singled out - especially as there are other products which can deliver more alcohol per pound spent. The distributors have instructed their lawyers to seek legal redress. Local authorities can ban the sale of products, but cannot single out specific brands and it is argued that the Justice Minister is guilty of a restrictive trade practice.
Tartan Week Essay Competition
The Consulate General of the United States in Edinburgh has invited schools in Scotland to submit a Tartan Week essay on the topic "The Relationship Between the United States and Scotland: What it Means to My Generation". The typed essays are to be 500-700 words and the introduction should discuss the historic importance of the U.S.-Scotland relationship. Topics for this could cover, for example the influence of the Scottish Enlightenment on the founding of the United States, the contributions of Scottish scientists and inventors to the modern United States, and the role of American culture in 20th century Scottish life. The essay should also focus on the meaning and importance of the U.S.-Scottish relationship to the student's generation. Entries must reach the U.S. Consulate General in Edinburgh by April 15. The winners will be invited to spend a day with the U.S. Consul as she visits local leaders and opinion makers in the student's geographic area.
An opinion poll published in the Scotsman newspaper has suggested that voters were 2-1 against the introduction of a toll on all vehicles entering the capital. Money raised was to be used to improve the public transport infrastructure - including the return of a tramway system in the city. There were also suggestions that the city had implemented a series of road works across the city in order to create congestion - which the introduction of the toll was designed to alleviate. Of course, this week traffic in Edinburgh has been much lighter than usual - all the schools are closed for the mid-term holiday. With so many students attending fee-paying schools which are in or near the city centre, traffic levels drop dramatically whenever the schools are closed.
Rail Travel Misery Increases
When First ScotRail took over the operation of rail services across Scotland there were great promises of improving on the poor punctuality record of the previous franchise holder. Since then, far from getting better, the situation has got worse, with 20% of all trains running late. Trains in the east of Scotland, travelling into Edinburgh from Fife and Stirling, averaged a punctuality level of only 69.4% while the flagship Edinburgh / Glasgow service reached 85% arriving within 10 minutes of schedule. The rail services in Scotland are subsidised by taxpayers to the tune of £230 million each year and First Scotrail has undertaken to improve punctuality by 2% a year as part of its franchise commitment. Instead, average punctuality in the month to 5 February fell by 2% compared with the same period last year.
Open Air Market to Close
The Sunday Market at the Royal Highland showground at Ingliston, near Edinburgh Airport, is to close at the end of September. It first started to operate 30 years ago and soon became the largest in the UK, as coachloads of shoppers arrived to inspect the goods on display at over 2,700 stalls. In recent years, its reputation has been tarnished by frequent raids by police and retail standards officials targeting the sale of counterfeit CDs and DVDs. There has also been uncertainty about the long-term future of the market due to the planned expansion of Edinburgh airport, which could see the annual Royal Highland Show having to move elsewhere. Even so, there was surprise amongst the remaining 500 traders who operate there at the sudden announcement of closure.
Versace Closes Flagship Store
Italian fashion house Versace has announced that it is to close its flagship store in Glasgow as part of a "global initiative to review all of the company's retail outlets." No specific date has been set, but the store is offering 70% discounts on designer goods. Some of the boutique's more expensive stock is believed to have been moved to London. Meantime, over in Edinburgh, there are hopes that Versace might be enticed to open there instead.
Beating the Yobs With Classical Music
Gangs of youths loitering in the vicinity of a supermarket in an affluent area of Glasgow have been persuaded to go away - by the store playing loud classical overtures and symphonies from loudspeakers. Many of those living in Newton Mearns on the southern outskirts of the city appreciate classical music. But to the younger generation, which focuses on repetitive beat music, it is anathema. The volume of the music can be controlled by staff - and gets turned up if a number of disorderly youths begin to gather.
Loch Lomond Cruise Company Risks Sinking
The dispute raised by West Dunbartonshire Council over the ownership of the river Leven and its riverbank is threatening the financial ruin of the company which runs cruises on Loch Lomond from Balloch at the southern end of the loch. The council claims that a charter granted by King James VI to the Burgh of Dumbarton gives them ownership and that title deeds issued by the Keepers of the Registers of Scotland have erroneously registered ownership of parts of the riverbank in the names of companies and individuals. Now the council has asked Sweeney's Cruises, a family enterprise which has operated at Balloch for 125 years, to stop charging boat owners for moorings until the matter is resolved. The company has about 50 boats stationed on pontoon berths off the riverbank in balloch. The council wants to establish local government ownership so that they can undertake flood prevention measures.
From Landfill Eyesore to Urban Forest
Plans have been announced to transform one of Europe's largest land-fill rubbish dumps into an urban forest with a million trees. The Paterson's landfill site at Mount Vernon in Glasgow has been operating for 47 years and covers an area of 660 football pitches. It is now surrounded by housing estates which have sprung up in the years since it first began to operate. Part of the site is an active landfill site expelling methane gas and the public will not be able to access that area for 50/60 years, but paths will be constructed to allow the remainder to be used for recreational purposes.
New Homes Planned for Derelict Docks
One of the most prominent sights from the top of the Glasgow Tower (when the lifts are working, that is) is the long-derelict Govan Graving Dock, once used to repair large ships. Now, at last, plans have been submitted to the city planning department for a £150 million development which will transform the area into 1,200 affordable homes and business premises. The million square feet of real estate will be the last major piece in the regeneration of the river Clyde riverbank. A pedestrian bridge will be built across the entrance to the docks to the south of the Glasgow science Centre, which will allow visitors to wander across to the cafes, bars and restaurants planned for the new development. This will also allow a further extension to the boardwalk which is being created along a large part of the riverbank.
New Glasgow Poet Laureate
Edwin Morgan, the first poet laureate ever appointed in Glasgow, is to step down from the post due to ill health. In his place, the well versed and much-loved Liz Lochhead has been awarded the post. Although born in the village of Newarthill, near Motherwell, she has lived in Glasgow much of her life and has been identified with the city for many years. Known mostly as a playwright and author, Liz Lochhead has also been writing poetry for most of her life. She says she plans to write a poem a month for and about Glasgow and its people. The appointment is being officially announced at a dinner in Glasgow City Chambers to launch the new Glasgow Book Festival "Aye Write". The unpaid position makes the 57-year-old the first-ever female poet laureate in the UK.
Traffic Cones Meeting Their Waterloo
The equestrian statue to the Duke of Wellington, the leader of the armies that defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815, was erected in Glasgow in 1844. Over the last twenty years or so, it has become "traditional" for late night revellers to place a traffic cone on his head (and sometimes that of his horse as well). In recent years, as nobody bothers to remove Wellington's headgear, there has not been too much call on revellers to clamber up and replace the adornment. It is now very much an eye-catching tourist attraction and, as one Lord Provost of Glasgow put it "illustrates the Glasgow sense of humour." Now, however, after damage to the statue, including the loss of spurs and his sword, the "Joke of Wellington" has worn thin and Glasgow City Council now says that the traffic cone on Wellington's head is an act of vandalism and they are asking anyone thinking of climbing on the statue to desist. Strathclyde Police have warned that anyone caught climbing on the statue could face criminal prosecution. So maybe it will only be pigeons resting on Wellington's head in the future - but don't count on it.
Modern Art Cleaned Up
When the cleaners at the Arches art centre in Glasgow arrived one morning this week they were shocked at the state of the ladies' toilets (known as rest rooms in some parts of the world). They found soap stuck to the walls, floors and sinks, toilet paper on the floors and unpleasant stains on the walls. There were stickers on the walls with such phrases as "‘Now wash your mouth out" They set to, and gave the place a good scrub out. It was only later that it was realised that the night before there had been a "National Review of Live Art" festival - and they had removed the live art performance of Angela Bartram, an English visual artist who specialises in showcasing "extreme bodily functions". The artist had apparently spat, dribbled, licked, chewed and choked on soap as part of her "creation". The message telling the cleaners not to touch anything in the ladies' toilet had never reached them. The National Review of Live Art is the longest running festival of live art in Europe. It prides itself on extending the boundaries of art and understanding....
Weather in Scotland This Week
High winds and snow last weekend in the Highlands resulted in 5,000 homes losing their electricity supply. The A9 road between Perth and Inverness was closed for a time, hampering the movement of engineers travelling to replace power lines brought down by fallen trees. Gusts of well over 100mph were being experienced and it took until Monday to restore the power in some rural areas.
Although much of the rest of the week saw a good amount of sunshine, temperatures largely remained around 6/7C (43/45F) though Aberdeen reached a more acceptable 10C (50F) on Wednesday and Glasgow and Edinburgh nearly reached double figures centigrade on Thursday and Friday. But forecasters are warning that Arctic weather is on the way over the next few days, brought in by strong northerly winds. Blizzards are expected to hit the northern and eastern parts of the country as freezing air from Scandinavia brings down the temperatures. The meteorologists are predicting that this could be the coldest spell of this winter (which has been largely milder than usual).
This week's illustrations of current flowers in Scotland, photographed earlier this month, shows first of all the flowers of a Pieris. Below, the catkins stand out against the blue sky as do the petals of a very early-flowering cherry tree. Finally, the snowdrops are in front of Finlaystone House in Renfrewshire - where all the other illustration were captured.