Prime Minister in Scotland
Tony Blair was in Scotland this week for the Labour Party's Scottish Conference but - with a General Election for the UK parliament expected in the spring - he earlier attended a "question and answers session" in Kirkintilloch, north of Glasgow. (His car, escorted by motor-cycle escort with lights flashing, swept past me as he travelled from Glasgow airport on the way to this event - most impressive and a major disruption to all the other traffic). Kirkintilloch is in East Dunbartonshire, a seat which the Liberal Democrats have hopes of capturing, as they lead the local government in the area. Labour will go into the General Election (the exact date is decided by the Prime Minister) losing at least ten seats in Scotland. The number of UK Members of parliament in Scotland is being cut from 72 to 59, as a result of population changes over the decades, and ten of these are held by Labour Party candidates. The Prime Minister's speech at the Labour Party conference was (understandably, perhaps) aimed at a UK-wide audience and focused on the improvements made to the National Health Service - an improvement (if such there is) which relates to England and Wales and has not been mirrored in Scotland by the Scottish Executive.
Competitive Scottish Cities?
A report was published this week which compares Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness and Stirling to the eight English 'Core Cities' and a number of successful continental European cities on a range of urban competitiveness measures. It shows that Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen had well above the UK average level of " Gross Value Added" per head of the population and that Glasgow and Edinburgh have been leading in terms of growth in employment between 1998 and 2002, with only Manchester and Newcastle experiencing greater growth. Aberdeen and Edinburgh have employment rates ahead of any of the English Core Cities. Edinburgh had the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of any city in the UK outside of London (£24,090) and far ahead of cities such as Manchester (£14,489) and Birmingham (£15,155). Despite the perception that the economic performance of Scotland's largest city is sluggish, Glasgow also did well, with a GDP of £21,905. The encouraging report also illustrated that at least as far as its cities are concerned, Scotland's economic performance compares favourably with their European counterparts.
Aberdeen Airport Gets 24-Hour Air Travel
When Rod Stewart was performing in Aberdeen last year, he had to get special dispensation to allow his private executive jet to take off after the curfew of 11 pm at Aberdeen Airport. Ordinary travellers are not given such privileges. Flying late in the day to Aberdeen on business or at the end of a vacation, delayed flights beyond the deadline are diverted to another airport and passengers have to complete their journey by bus. Local businesses have argued for years that commercial development in the city and the surrounding area has been hampered by these "provincial airport" operating hours. Over the years, the local city council has listened to the objections to those living under the flight path and have refused to sanction night flights. But this week, by a majority of 21-18, the council agreed to allow a maximum of four flights by fixed wing aircraft during night-time hours - but noisy helicopters which service the North Sea oil rigs from Aberdeen are not included.
Cost of Aberdeen Bypass Road Doubles
The reputation of those who live in Aberdeen for looking after the pennies is being sorely tested by the escalating price of a long delayed road to bypass the city and reduce some of the traffic congestion there. The cheapest of five options (championed by the City Council, not just on cost grounds) will cost between £210 and £210 million while the most expensive (running a new road from just north of Stonehaven and taking traffic away from the coast road) could be over £400 million. The various options are being put out to consultation to allow the people in the area the opportunity to have their say.
Another Link Completed
It comes as a surprise to many motorists driving from England to Edinburgh that the A1 main trunk road, far from continuing the Motorway which runs from London to the north of England, deteriorates to an ordinary "A" road. This means that there is a single lane in each direction - and overtaking (if you dare) only if there is no oncoming traffic. A total of 63 people have been killed in accidents between Edinburgh and Newcastle in the last seven years. I know, from practical experience, that it was often faster and safer to leave Edinburgh and drive west nearly to Glasgow, along the M8, before turning south on the M74 to Carlisle and England, down the west side of the country. Gradually, over the years, a number of sections of the A1 have been upgraded to dual carriageway standard, with two lanes in each direction and a central, dividing reservation (but no hard shoulder in which vehicles which break down can safely be parked). The Scottish Executive proudly announced this week that another section of dual carriageway had been completed - bringing to two-thirds of the length of road which has been upgraded to that standard. The Scottish Borders Council is pressing the government in Edinburgh to schedule work on the remainder - much of the improvement has been completed further north, in East Lothian.
Glasgow-Dubai Air Service Expands
Emirates airline launched its daily direct service between Glasgow and Dubai less than a year ago but demand for seats has been so great that the airline is to operate a larger Boeing 777-300 from this October with an additional 149 seats per day, compared with the current 278. The Emirates aircraft currently on the route is an Airbus A300 and this large distinctive aircraft is frequently seen flying into Glasgow airport just before mid-day. The service is expected to carry over 150,000 passengers in its first year. The larger aircraft will not only be able to carry more passengers, it will have a larger cargo hold and that will be a major economic boost to Scottish exporters.
Hungry For Success
A new TV series featuring the UK stars celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, sets out to wean the pupils in a school in England away from hamburgers and French fries and onto a more healthy diet at school meals. Jamie has faced two problems - firstly to educate the children about the benefits of nutritious food and the damage done by unhealthy options. Secondly, the budget allocated for school meals at lunchtime is 37 pence - about 65 cents in US currency. During his research for the programme he came to Scotland and was impressed by the advances which had been made here as a result of the Scottish Executive's "Hungry for Success" programme. This has produced extra funding of £63.5 million over three years to improve young people's eating habits. This has included larger portions of more nutritious food such as fruit and vegetables, improving the atmosphere and facilities in school dining areas, providing all pupils in the first two years of primary school with free fruit at least three times a week, providing free chilled drinking water in schools. While it is still hard to convince youngsters of the benefit of vegetables and convince them that French fries should only be on the menu once a week, it seems that progress is being made. Of course, they are likely to go home and eat the usual, unhealthy products, but it is hoped that the message will get through and that they will adopt a healthier diet as young adults - and maybe even provide the next generation with a better start in life.
Support for Rail Link to Glasgow Airport
Early indications suggest that 80% of the responses to the consultation exercise into Glasgow's airport rail link are in favour of the project. There has been opposition from those living in and around Paisley as the new link will mean running a new line from Paisley to the airport - part of it will pass through a public recreation park. An elevated viaduct would allow most of the football pitches there to be retained. The airport service would result in six trains an hour running between Paisley and Glasgow and it is expected to carry 850,000 passengers in its first year. Strathclyde Passenger Transport distributed leaflets to homes and businesses along the route of the proposed link and organised a series of public exhibitions and meetings. A Bill is now expected to be submitted to the Scottish Parliament seeking approval for the project. If that is granted, it is estimated the link could be operational by the end of 2008. See also Glasgow Airport Link Web site.
US Life Sciences Company Creates 500 Jobs in Stirling
Inverness Medical Innovations (IMI), a US-based company which specialises in diagnostic health products, is to invest £60 million on setting up a new life sciences research, development and manufacturing facility in Stirling. The Scottish Executive is contributing a further £30 million to a three-year research programme to develop, manufacture and market home-based tests for cardiovascular disease. A new company, Stirling Medical Innovations, will create around 500 highly paid research and development posts as well as opportunities in manufacturing. A report published this week has shown that average incomes are already higher in Stirling than any other part of the country.
Big Bonus for Bank of Scotland Staff
HBoS, the banking company created by the merger of Halifax and Bank of Scotland, has awarded staff across the UK a £200 million windfall. It will mean that 17,636 staff in Scotland will be handed an average of £2,835 each, with many receiving far more than this as the amount is based on a percentage of their annual salary. The amount is greater than that allocated to Royal Bank of Scotland staff last week, who received an average of £2,100, despite HBoS producing a smaller overall profit. HBoS recorded profits of £4.59 billion for last year, up 22% on 2003. The illustration shows the Bank of Scotland main office in Edinburgh.
Publican Party Launched
Bar owners in Inverness have launched a new "Publican Party" in an attempt to stub out the Scottish Executive's legislation to ban smoking in public bars. They will stand in the tightly contested Inverness East, Nairn and Lochaber seat at the UK-wide General Election later this year, before attacking at the next Scottish Parliamentary elections in 2007. The party will campaign on a platform of reversing the smoking ban, but requiring pubs to instal comprehensive ventilation.
Leith has been the port for Edinburgh for centuries and is now part of the capital. But Forth Ports Authority, the developers of the waterfront at Granton Harbour, Western Harbour and Port of Leith, covering 450 acres and 24,000 new homes and costing £5 billion, say the combined area is to be called "Edinburgh Forthside". The name will cover about two miles of the city's shoreline. But Edinburgh City Council worthies are less than enamoured by the "marketing name" for what they regard as Leith, Granton and Newhaven. The development includes a new park, a 230-berth yachting marina, a major entertainment and casino complex, a luxury hotel, a cruise liner terminal, an art gallery and extension to the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. The illustration shows Commercial Quay at leith's dockside.
New Scottish Newspaper
Belfast-based Flagship Media is launching a new newspaper next week called the "Scottish Standard". It is expected to be a nationalist-leaning weekly tabloid with a full range of coverage in around 60 pages, published on a Thursday or Friday and distributed by post to subscribers. The initial print run is around 50,000 copies. The newspaper market in Scotland is highly competitive and papers such as Business am and the Sunday Scot in the recent past have failed. Business am was a professionally produced weekly magazine but ended up with only 5,000 subscribers before it folded.
Never Mind the Punctuality - Have a Snack
First Scotrail, the company which took over the franchise to operate the bulk of the train services in Scotland, has got off to a bad start with punctuality levels falling even lower than before. But the company has announced that at least if passengers are stuck at signals and the train is going to be late, they will be served coffee and snacks from "state-of-the-art" trolleys. And on the flagship Edinburgh to Glasgow route there will be two trolleys on six-carriage trains. As someone who used to suffer from the fact that the trolley used to pass along the train after most of the journey was over, I can appreciate that improvement. But if the train is overcrowded, as it often is at peak commuter times, with passengers standing in the aisle, the trolleys won't be able to move anyway... The illustration shows a Scotrail commuter train on the Forth Rail Bridge.
Oldest Single Malt Leaves Scotland
Sky Connection, which operates shops at Hong Kong airport, has bought the final six bottles of Glenfiddich Rare Collection 1937, which was left to mature in a cask for 64 years before being bottled. Only 61 bottles were produced of the malt which is said to have "chocolate and treacle" flavours - most folk prefer their malts to taste of whisky, but there you go. Previous bottles have fetched £10,000 each, but the price in Hong Kong is likely to be even higher. Because the whisky is so rare, the six bottles were sent in two batches in case of accidents.
River Hailed as Best in the World
A record-breaking 15,257 salmon were caught in the river Tweed last year, breaking the record number recorded in 2003 by 10%. The catch has provoked some enthusiastic anglers to describe the Tweed as the best salmon fishing river in the world. The success follows 20 years of hard work and the investment of millions of pounds in conservation and re-stocking. A "catch and release" policy was also a major contributory factor, with 7,866 of the total caught being returned to the water. So if the same salmon are hooked again, there could be an element of "double counting".
Making a Meal of It
What do you call your evening meal? That question has produced a variety of answers in Scotland - dinner, tea or supper? Now research by a food company has shown that 54% of us in Scotland call it dinner and 30% call it tea. Confusingly, those who call it tea are likely to refer to the meal they have at around mid-day as "dinner". 15% of Scots use the term "supper" for their evening meal - which for many others would mean a snack late at night. "High Tea" is still a term used in some restaurants for a hot dish served with tea, bread and maybe some scones - if you're lucky.
Edinburgh Tattoo Marching to USA?
Having successfully taken the Military Tattoo from Edinburgh Castle to New Zealand in 2000 and having just returned from Australia after playing to audiences totalling 160,000 over a six-day run, the organisers are now looking at where else in the world they could perform. They have admitted that the "obvious choice" would be to host the Tattoo in the United States. Offers to stage the spectacular event have been received from all over the world but it is likely that North America would be the main focus. However, the Tattoo organisers say they are busy planning this year's Edinburgh Tattoo in August. The New Zealand and Australia performances both involved recreating a dramatic backdrop to look like Edinburgh Castle in the host country. The illustration shows the US Presidential Honor Guard performing at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in 2003.
Biggar Savings From Postcode Change
We are often told about "Postcode Lottery" which can influence whether or not patients get expensive treatment under the National Health Service. But a local Member of the Scottish Parliament is encouraging his constituents to get out of Lanarkshire - at least as far as their postcode is concerned. He argues that if the residents of Biggar were no longer part of the "ML" district (for Mid-Lanarkshire) but in "DG" (for Dumfries and Galloway) they would be able to save hundreds of pounds each year on insurance. Because ML is close to Glasgow, where claims are greater, insurance rates are higher than in the country areas of Dumfries and Galloway.
City of Love - Where Men Are a Minority
According to census statistics, rough, tough Glasgow is a city where men are in the minority. In fact, with a female population of 52.9%, Glasgow has a higher ratio of women than places such as Edinburgh (blush), Aberdeen, Dundee, Manchester, London, Leeds, Birmingham and Liverpool (which, amongst its many claims to fame, is known for its "Liver Birds"). There are 33,000 more females in Glasgow than males, making the "City of Love" festival in February looking a bit one-sided. Women only out-number men in the over-25 age group but even so, Glasgow university has a 57% to 43% bias in favour of females - largely due to the superior exam results of girls. Emigration and early mortality may be part of the explanation.
Lifting a 7.5 Tonne Curse
When the Archbishop of Glasgow issued the longest recorded "official" curse in the English language in 1525, he was directing fire, floods, pestilence and famine on the Border Reivers, the brigands who inflicted their lawlessness on the area in those days. But as part of their Millennium celebrations, the English city of Carlisle (which had suffered at the hands of invading Scots, including the Reivers, over many centuries) decided to inscribe the words on a 7.5 tonne granite stone which was placed in the city's subterranean Millennium Gallery. Since the "Cursing Stone" was installed, however, Carlisle has been hit by a series of events which are being blamed on the curse. First, there was foot-and-mouth disease affecting the local farming community, mass redundancies at a food manufacturing plant, a fire which destroyed a bakery and recently the city has suffered severe flood damage. And, horror of horrors, the local football team has been relegated. After these disasters of Biblical proportions, there are calls for the massive stone to be removed - or even for the Archbishop of Glasgow to visit Carlisle and lift the curse.
Sticky Times for Toffee Maker
McCowan's, makers of such delights as Highland toffee, Irn Bru chews, Lanky Larry bars and fizzy Wham bars, was founded in 1924 by Andrew McCowan and their products have delighted generations of sweet-toothed Scots (and horrified their dentists). The company was sold to a foreign buyer over 40 years ago but came back into Scottish hands two years ago after a management buy-out. Since then, the company has faced "difficult trading conditions" as more and more publicity is given to the detrimental impact of sugary confectionery. Now the Stenhousemuir-based company has been forced to call in the receivers and the jobs of 100 workers are at risk.
Cooking Up Expansion at Three Chimneys
The husband and wife team who have created a restaurant on Skye which attracts customers from all over the world are to stop slaving over a hot stove and will concentrate instead on expanding the business. The owners of the Three Chimneys have appointed a new head chef and a front-of-house manager and although they still live above the restaurant and hotel, Eddie and Shirley Spear will step back from the day-to-day operations at the remote Colbost establishment, overlooking Dunvegan Bay. The Three Chimneys has been awarded a triple AA rosette and recently won an Egon Ronay star. It has been named by the magazine "Restaurant" as one of the world's best 50 places to eat.
Beavering in Argyll?
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) are awaiting approval by the Scottish Executive to release 20 beavers in the Knapdale Forest in Argyll as part of an ambitious project to bring back a species which became extinct in Scotland 400 years ago. SNH believe that there is overwhelming evidence that the animals cause little environmental damage and will increase tourism in the area. A project to bring in beavers three years ago was scuppered by a neighbouring landowner and by the National Farmers' Union. The animals will be electronically tagged and tracked so that they do not stray from the trial area. SNH argue that beaver dams will improve water quality and create habitats for fish. The beavers (from Norway) cause much less damage than their North American cousins. The land designated for the project is owned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. If the Scottish Executive give approval, the animals could be in their new homes by next spring, after spending time in quarantine.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Just when we thought that winter was over with the arrival of the month of March, the weather decided otherwise and blizzards blew in on the northerly and easterly winds which have been sweeping across Scotland for the last couple of weeks.The M8 motorway between Edinburgh and Glasgow was closed for a spell after a 30-car pile-up and many schools in Fife and Grampian closed. Once again, the west was not affected as any snow flurries rapidly melted. From Monday to Friday, maximum daytime temperatures in Scotland have remained stubbornly in the range 5/6C (41/43F) with the thermometer falling to below freezing overnight. Once again, however, the weather system has produced a fair amount of sunshine which can make it quite pleasant - if you can get out of the freezing wind.
This week's illustrations of current seasonal weather in Scotland shows first of all the exotic red spike of a Nidularium. Not that this was growing outside in Scotland - in such weather, finding the shelter of the Winter Gardens at the People's Palace on Glasgow Green is a welcome relief. Below, the snow was almost gone from the Pentland Hills to the south of Edinburgh in the picture taken on Friday from Arthur's Seat, across the Edinburgh roof-tops. The Polyanthus sparkled in the sunshine after a fall of rain on Glasgow Green and the bright yellow Crocus enjoyed the sunshine too.