Steel Fence Around Holyrood
A perimeter steel fence is to be built round the Scottish Parliament building and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh over the period of the G8 summit at Gleneagles in July, in anticipation of violence from some of those who will be descending on Scotland to protest about large corporations and globalisation. While it may only be a minority of the participants who resort to violence, experience from previous such gatherings - and the discussions on Internet Web sites which call for "bringing Scotland to its knees" - have raised considerable concerns and the authorities are trying to minimise disruption. Upwards of 100,000 people are expected at a "Make Poverty History" march in the capital on 2 July . The Queen has dropped plans to stay at Holyrood during the summit, cancelling a summer garden party as a consequence. MacDonald's food outlets, often a target for violent protestors, are likely to close in the city over the period of the marches. The heads of state attending the G8 conference have a large agenda including the future of Africa and global warming.
Prime Minister Embarrasses First Minister
Prime Minister Tony Blair embarrassed the Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell this week by pointing to the performance of the National Health Service in Scotland as evidence of the way NOT to run the service. The Labour Party in Scotland has resisted using the private sector to cut waiting times in Scotland while in England and Wales the government has turned its back on such dogma. Tony Blair and his Health Minister, John Reid, have proclaimed the successes achieved in England and Wales as a result of a new breed of private mini-clinics, a policy rejected by the more left-wing Mr McConnell in Scotland. Hospital waiting lists in England and Wales have been cut by a third since 1997, but have increased by 16% in Scotland. The Prime Minister went on to say that one of the benefits of devolution was that different systems could be tested to see which ones were better. The Scottish Executive defended its record, saying that it had addressed different priorities, such as concentrating on cancer and heart disease.
Scottish Village Hailed a Success
Figures released this week show that VisitScotland's unique "Scottish Village" in Grand Central Station in New York, attracted a quarter of a million visitors during Tartan Week earlier this month. The village was a purpose built, modular structure comprising a series of zoned areas, each featuring aspects of Scottish life and culture. The 700-year-old sword which belonged to Sir William Wallace was also displayed there - see illustration. The competition to win a free trip to Scotland, run in conjunction with the exhibition, attracted 22,000 entries. Tourism Minister Patricia Ferguson expressed delight at the figures as the US is an important overseas tourism market for Scotland. Last year the number of visitors from there grew by 11% compared with 2003.
Tracing Emigrant Ancestors
Sometimes, it's difficult to track down ancestors who settled long ago on another continent. SCOTS Heritage magazine has a new feature that will help readers and genealogists find those elusive ancestors. Each quarter SCOTS will publish two pages of genealogical queries relating to missing emigrant ancestors. Queries will also be published on the SCOTS Genes message board at www.scotsgenes.net giving researchers a double chance of finding those folks who travelled so far so many years ago. There is no charge for an entry on the website message board but a fifty word query in the printed SCOTS magazine costs A$25 and each additional 10 words over 50 will be a further $5. You can book your query for the August issue, or view the internet message board at www.scotsgenes.net.
Capital Holds Back Cash from VisitScotland
On April 1 this year, Scotland's 14 area tourist boards were disbanded and VisitScotland, the government's central tourism agency, took over the running of the network creating a number of regional "hubs" under their direct control. Many in the industry were unconvinced by the restructuring and Edinburgh City Council has sought reassurances about the future marketing of the capital and the surrounding Lothians area. There are concerns that the shake-up could disrupt the city's tourism industry which is estimated to be worth £1.66 billion to the local economy and supports 30,000 jobs. Now Edinburgh City Council is refusing to hand over £720,000 of the £1 million previously allocated by them to the former Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board. The council claims that VisitScotland promised to produce a business plan for the Edinburgh and Lothians tourist office on Princes Street and has failed to do so. The city also wants assurances about adequate support the annual Hogmanay party and the summer festivals and other major events. A VisitScotland spokesman responded by saying the organisation was "entirely confident" the shake-up would benefit Edinburgh tourism. However, the chief executive of the former Edinburgh and Lothians Tourist Board has resigned, reportedly after a row with his new boss at VisitScotland. Jack Munro is credited with a massive increase in tourism in the capital in recent years but has taken early retirement rather than stay on. Part of the retirement deal is a gagging clause, so he cannot speak out about the reasons for his departure.
Study Into Scotland's Shrinking Population
The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) has announced the launch of a new two-year research initiative into the demographic trends in Scotland, in partnership with the Scottish Executive. It will investigate three key aspects of Scotland's demography: migration, fertility and the impact of an ageing population. An ageing and declining population has important implications for public services, the labour market and the quality of everyday life. Existing evidence suggests that if current trends continue, Scotland's population will fall below 5 million in 2017 and reach 4.6 million by 2042 - nearly 10% smaller than today. The number of people aged 65 and older is expected to rise from 819,000 in 2003 to 1.3 million by 2042, a 61% increase. The number aged under 15 is expected to fall by about 30%, from 943,000 in 2003 to 677,000 by 2042. Just 51,270 births were registered in Scotland in 2002, the lowest figure since civil registration began in 1855: 24 per cent less than in 1991 and 43 per cent less than in 1951. Although there was a slight upturn in the last two years, Scotland's level of fertility now stands at 35/40% below the level required to stop the population falling. Migration is not a factor as the number of people migrating here is roughly the same as the number leaving.
Renowned Scottish Artist Dies
Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, one of Britain's most influential artists of the later half of the 20th century, died this week in a London hospital at the age of 81. Son of Italian immigrants who owned an ice-cream parlour in Leith, he is regarded as the founder of the British pop art movement - although he disliked the term "pop art", preferring to call himself a surrealist. Indeed, although he made his name initially from montages, he had a lifelong fascination with the relationship between humans and machines and a number of his works involved detailed paintings inspired by technology. Some of his most famous works include a series of mosaics on the walls of Tottenham Court Road Tube station in London and a statue of Sir Isaac Newton in the piazza of the British Library. Edinburgh can boast a large number of his large sculptures in public spaces as well as a replica of his artist's workshop in the Dean Gallery in the capital. Paolozzi taught throughout his career, lecturing in textile design at the Central School of Art, sculpture at St Martin's School of Art and ceramics at the Royal College of Art in London. Scotland's culture minister Patricia Ferguson said: "Eduardo Paolozzi was one of Scotland's true international icons. He was an artistic colossus and it is fitting that as an enduring legacy, his work adorns the walls of the Scottish Parliament as well as our modern art gallery in Edinburgh." For a brief biography on Paolozzi, see Famous Scots - Eduardo Paolozzi.
Electronic Design Company Cuts Livingston Workforce
The US electronics design company Cadence was lured to Livingston in West Lothian in 1997 with £2.72 million of regional selective grants. It was an important element in the Alba Centre, a Scottish-Enterprise backed, £200 million initiative to create a world-leading electronics design facility in the town. At the time, there were predictions of an eventual workforce of 2,000 at the Alba Centre. None of that materialised and now Cadence is likely to reduce its existing workforce of 90 by a "significant number" leaving perhaps only 25 research and development staff and a dozen support staff. Much of the cash paid to Cadence has had to be repaid by the company as it was linked to jobs and training programmes which were never created. The company's showpiece factory was put on the market in October 2003 but remains unsold.
Royal Bank Commitment to Staff
Many UK banks and other organisations are moving call centres abroad to lower cost locations in Europe or India. They cite "competitive pressures" for the move, which inevitably means redundancies and fewer jobs in the UK. And with an average turnover in Indian call centres, the level of customer support inevitably falls. This week, the Royal Bank of Scotland, the UK's biggest bank, announced that it would resist this trend and "maintain the commitment and loyalty of our employees" by refusing to use offshore tele-support centres. The bank has also kept open its final salary pension scheme to new entrants at a time when most other companies have closed theirs. This means that the bank currently has to contribute 21.5% of salary to their pension fund due to the decline in the stock market in recent years. Last year, more than 70% of staff were paid a performance bonus worth on average of 14.4% of salary. The figures were highlighted at the bank's annual general meeting this week. It had been anticipated that the meeting might be a stormy one as there had been media comment in the weeks before about the bonus scheme for the head of the Royal Bank's US arm, Boston based Citizens Financial. The amounts being paid are well over the UK norm, but the bank headed off protests from some shareholders. The chairman of the bank's remuneration committee pointed out that the plan was benchmarked against another ten US banks.
Four-Day Underground Strike
Workers in Glasgow's subway network started a four-day strike on Friday, after talks to resolve a long-running pay dispute broke down. Commuters and shoppers will have to use alternative transport and the strike will have an impact on football (soccer) fans travelling to Ibrox stadium for a major Scottish Premier League clash between Rangers and Celtic on Sunday. Employees have rejected a two-year pay offer and object to changes in holiday arrangements. Earlier in the week, talks had collapsed when union representatives failed to show up at the last minute to an arranged meeting.
Updating a Victorian Water Supply
In the 1850s, the City of Glasgow undertook the massive engineering feat of constructing an aqueduct from Loch Katrine, 25 miles away, to bring water to a reservoir at Mugdock in Milngavie, just north of the city. It has provided a clean water supply ever since and was duplicated later with a pipeline running to Craigmaddie reservoir. When the project was first completed, some Glaswegians complained that the new water "didn't have any taste" - their previous supply had been full of impurities which had given the water a "flavour". Since then, Glaswegians have been proud of their fresh water supply - especially when they taste some of the water in other parts of the country, particularly the south-esat of England, which can be full (relatively speaking) of lime or chalk. Half of Glasgow's supply now comes from Loch Lomond but the supply from Loch Katrine now no longer meets the stringent requirements of today's water industry, particularly in filtering out waterborne bacteria such as cryptosporidium. The bug was found in water at Mugdock three years ago, prompting a massive health scare (though nobody came to any harm). A massive engineering project is now underway to create a state of the art filtration process at Milngavie (pronounced "Milguy") and this week the engineers began drilling down 100 feet of dolerite rock (the hardest in the world), sandstone and clay before working sideways 50 feet to allow a 49 feet-wide tunnel to reach Mugdock Reservoir. Water levels will be artificially lowered there to allow them to work in safety. 770 million gallons of water will be removed, leaving only 110 million gallons, 36 feet lower than normal.
Farmers Uncertain About the Future
Farming is never the most predictable of industries, with the ever-present problems of the weather or disease and fickle markets for their products. But added to these problems for Scottish and UK farmers is the reform of the European Common Agricultural Policy arising from the enlargement of the European Union. The uncertainty is having an impact on the sale of equipment to farmers - an instant barometer of the confidence or otherwise of the agricultural community. Sales of tractors in the first three months of 2005 were down by 16.6% in Scotland, with the overall UK figures showing a 10% decline.
No Early Review of National Park Borders
When the Cairngorm National Park was set up in 2003, there was a lot of pressure to include Highland Perthshire within its boundaries. To many it seemed inconceivable that a national park covering the Cairngorm mountain range should stop only ten miles south of the Cairngorm mountains themselves, particularly when it extended 25 miles north into Speyside. This week an attempt was made in the Scottish Parliament to bring forward from 2007 the planned date for a review of the park's boundaries. But the Deputy Rural Affairs Minister ruled out any change in that date. However, the minister did not rule out an extension of the boundaries in the future, although he did point out that this could cause administrative headaches. The park is already 1,467 square miles in area, 40% larger than the Lake District and twice the size of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. It includes moorlands, forests, rivers, lochs and glens and 25% of Britain's threatened birds, animals, and plants are found within its boundaries.
Rise in Tolls on Forth Road Bridge
Tolls on the Forth road bridge should have gone up last year. But one Fife resident (representing a number of campaigners) forced the Scottish Executive to conduct a public enquiry into the increase - the first since 1986. The reporter to that enquiry has now recommended the increase - from 80p to £1. This is levied only on the northbound carriageway, with southbound traffic passing over without charge - and avoiding the inevitable delays at control booths at busy times. The bridge management say that they can now "go ahead with essential maintenance." All main roads in Scotland are maintained through taxation - only the bridges over the rivers Forth, Tay and Clyde incur a charge. Protestors in Skye and Lochalsh managed to persuade the government to lift the tolls on the bridge to Skye at the end of last year. Campaigners pointed out that tolls on the Forth Bridge (and the other two bridges) had paid for the cost of the bridge and maintenance many times over.
Firewater for Beltane Festival as Alcohol Ban Goes Up in Smoke
Last year, Edinburgh City Council imposed a ban on the consumption of alcohol at the Beltane Fire Festival, which takes place on Calton Hill in the city on the night of 30 April. But after legal threats from the organisers, the council scrapped the ban at the last minute - creating confusion on the night. This year, the organisers claim that they have resolved all differences with the council who are now happy to endorse what has become the biggest fire festival in Europe. There has been a history of lack of support and difficulties imposed by the City Council over the years - prompted at least in part by concerns about late night noise expressed by those who live near to Calton Hill. The event used to be free but now a charge of £3 has to be imposed to pay for security and health and safety facilities demanded by the Council. This year, although alcohol will be allowed, those attending have been asked not to bring glass bottles - plastic containers will be provided by the festival organisers if required. The pre-Christian Celtic festival is held to coincide with the start of summer - when livestock were moved to summer pastures. The event attracts up to 15,000 spectators with over 300 voluntary collaborators and performers. It takes the form of a procession snaking round the hill between points entitled fire, air, earth and water. The noisy and colourful performances last till after midnight.
Illustration © Christophe Mercier.
Multi-million Hotel Plan for Edinburgh Gap Site
The former railway goods yard at Morrison Street near Haymarket in Edinburgh's west end has been derelict for around 40 years. For those travelling to the capital from the west, it has been a useful car park for much of that time. Over the years, various plans and proposals to develop the site have been trumpeted - and then fallen by the wayside. The latest plan would see a six-storey hotel being added to plans already formulated. The site is owned by EDI, the council-owned arms-length development company. In recent years it has come up with a grandiose plan to build shops under Princes Street which would have looked out over Princes Street Gardens and the castle. Their scheme for Morrison Street would create offices, shops, bars and cafes lining a European-style arcade and square. About 5000 people would be employed. Historic Scotland, the Architectural Heritage Society of Scotland, the Cockburn Association and the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust have all raised concerns about the project. When Edinburgh City Council approved the EDI scheme last August there was consternation from local residents who said the structure would dominate the surrounding two-storey buildings. The Scottish Executive has decreed that there should be a public enquiry - which begins next month.
Another Eleven Scottish Cities?
In days gone by, a "city" in Scotland meant that it had a cathedral and in those days there 17 of these in places that are now little more than small towns or even villages by today's standards. The term "city" in more recent times came to mean an urban area that had been granted a city charter by the monarch. In the 19th century, a number of large towns were given such a royal charter, which gave them additional honorific status and so the title was strenuously sought. But for 100 years no more city charters were issued. Then, to celebrate the Millennium and later the Queen's Golden Jubilee, Inverness and Stirling joined Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee in being designated as a city. Needless to say, a number of other contenders were upset at being left out and recently Perth, long known as the "City of Perth" but without any charter to support it, has decided just to use the term anyway. Now those urban areas which have a cathedral are agitating to have their city status returned to them. If successful (which is probably unlikely) Perth, Elgin, Dunfermline, Brechin, St Andrews, Kirkwall, Dunblane and the villages of Dunkeld (that's its cathedral in the illustration), Fortrose, Dornoch and Whithorn could all be recognised. Of course, what these locations are really looking for, apart from prestige, is a share in the £90 million allocated by the Scottish Executive as a "city growth fund". For more on Scottish cities - real and aspiring - see Did You Know? Scottish Cities.
10,000 Sign Up for M77 Motorway Race
No, not 10,000 cars on the new M77 motorway, but a race by runners along the Glasgow Southern Orbital bypass, an extension of the M77 between Glasgow and Ayrshire. The new road opens at the end of the month and the organisers initially thought that it might attract 250 runners, racing for charity. Instead, the entries poured in from runners, cyclists and wheel-chair entrants. Now the event will have staggered starting times. When numbers reached 10,000, applications to participate were closed for safety reasons. Even so, the new road, which was intended to reduce traffic jams, is going to create a monstrous tail-back as all the athletes turn up (in cars, of course) to park their cars before the race. The road runs between East Kilbride and the M77 which is being extended at a cost of £130 million. The event is now expected to raise £100,000 for the Macmillan Cancer Relief charity.
Fury at Building "Dropped from Outer Space"
A housing development between Scotstoun and Yoker in Glasgow is to be clad in futuristic metal-clad blocks so that, according to a local housing association, it looks as if it has been "dropped from outer space." See the artist's impression shown here. All the existing apartments in the area are clad in red sandstone and the corner site development will be visible for some distance. Glasgow City Council planning officials approved the design, saying that it would "celebrate" the strong tenement design of adjoining properties and would have echoes of the area's shipbuilding past. The development could not afford to go ahead with red sandstone to match adjoining properties. Despite the objections voiced at a meeting of the planning committee, approval was given for it to proceed.
Wanted: Women Building Workers
The building trades in Scotland will need an additional 40,000 workers over the next four years and in order to fill the vacancies a major drive has begun to attract women into a the construction industry. Research shows that women make up just 1% of Scotland's building industry but with openings for managers and professional staff as well as trades where physical strength is not required, there are plenty of opportunities for female staff.
Rebirth of Pearl Mussels in Scottish Rivers
Nearly every river in Scotland used to contain mussels which produced not just food but pearls. These were traded in Europe in the 12th century and form part of the Scottish and British crown jewels. Numbers dramatically declined in the 19th and 20th centuries, due to pollution and illegal fishing, with the species disappearing from two rivers a year since 1970. Pearl fishing was made illegal in 1998. There are a few rivers such as the Dee in Aberdeenshire and a number of remoter rivers in the Highlands still producing freshwater pearls, with an estimated 60 breeding sites left. Even so, they contain half the world's known population of the species. Now scientists and Scottish Natural Heritage are embarking on a project to reintroduce the mussels in secret locations in the Cairngorms National Park. Mussels can be an important element in a river's eco-system as they filter and clean large quantities of water.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although the temperatures recorded in Scotland this week were mainly around 10/11C (50/52F), the return of a strong, cold, northerly wind made it feel colder than these temperatures implied. Even so, there was a fair amount of welcome sunshine, with Aberdeen averaging 9 hours a day over Tuesday to Thursday and Edinburgh recording over 11 hours of sun on Thursday. Apart from Monday, when Glasgow had 1.5 inches of rain in 24 hours, rainfall was mainly confined to light showers.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland shows first of all the pink blossom of a prunus (cherry/apple/peach etc) growing in a churchyard in Stirling earlier this week. Below is an Anemone Pulsatilla in the National Trust for Scotland's Geilston Garden near Cardross, Argyll. Next is a Tortoiseshell butterfly resting on a wall below Stirling Castle. This butterfly and a number of others were chasing one another non-stop for some time before they came to rest on the warm wall in the sunshine. Finally, the branches of the ornamental cherry tree hardly seem strong enough to support these well-fed wood pigeons. The pigeons had been feeding on the young shoots on a tree growing in my own garden. What with the predations of local bullfinches and now pigeons, it is surprising that any leaves have managed to grow at all!