Smoking Ban Given Green Light
The Scottish Parliament this week approved the legislation which will introduce a ban on smoking in any pub, restaurant or club in Scotland from April next year. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) voted by 83 votes to 15, with three abstentions, to support the Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Bill. Licensees and others who fail to enforce the law could face fines of up to £2,500 and persistent smokers who defy the ban could be fined up to £1,000. Health Minister Andy Kerr, supporting the legislation, said that quite apart from the many thousands who die or suffer from smoking relating illnesses, tobacco smoke is associated in Scotland with the deaths of over 800 people who have never smoked as a result of "passive smoking". The licensed trade association had called for a limited ban and suggested that as a consequence of the new law, 150 pubs will be forced to close and more than 2,000 jobs will be lost.
Rise in Scotland's Population
After all the gloomy predictions of a fall in Scotland's population, the latest official estimate from the Registrar General shows an increase of 21,000 at June 2004 compared with the previous year. As in recent years, there were more deaths than births although there were 1.3% fewer deaths in the year and 3.4% more births.
However, this natural decrease of about 4,000 was more than counterbalanced by an estimated migration gain of around 26,000, because more people came to Scotland than moved away. This is the highest net gain since 1952, when records were first kept in the current way. Around 61,900 people came to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland and around 46,400 people moved in the opposite direction. Including asylum seekers, around 36,300 people came to Scotland from overseas and around 24,600 people moved overseas.
Digging a Hole for Themselves
Motorists on the A77 road who have been slowed down by the roadworks involved in creating the M77 motorway (see next item) have at least been able to console themselves with the thought that at the end of the construction work there will be a faster, safer road to drive along. But most roadworks - and there are more and more of these - are due to utility companies digging up the carriageway to effect repairs on the crumbling underground water, electricity and gas pipes and cables. When they finish, they are supposed to leave the surface in a good state of repair, but a damning report has revealed that poor quality work by sub-contractors has left road surfaces decaying and pitted. 80% of the work completed by the gas company Transco has failed to pass the required quality standards and 60% of the road surfaces on which telecom giant NTL has been working are left in a sub-standard state. Scottish Water have been replacing many of the Victorian supply pipes which run along major roads, resulting in temporary traffic lights for many weeks. At least with these, regular travellers learn to use alternative routes. But frequently it is emergency repairs to water leaks or electricity supplies which result in disruption. Often the holes in the road are left for weeks before being filled in, as the company's involved race round trying to keep up with the work.
Scotland's Largest Road Project Opens to Traffic
The £132 million M77 Fenwick to Malletsheugh extension of 15.2 km (9.4 miles) to the Glasgow to Ayrshire motorway plus the 5.7 miles long Glasgow Southern Orbital (GSO) route between the M77 and East Kilbride, were officially opened this week by First Minister Jack McConnell. The new motorway replaces an existing stretch of the A77 - a notorious accident blackspot - and diverts traffic away from Busby, Eaglesham and the surrounding communities, significantly cutting journey times from Glasgow to Ayrshire and beyond.
Fuel Protestors at Grangemouth Refinery
About 200 truck drivers gathered at the BP refinery at Grangemouth on Friday to protest at high fuel costs and new controls on their working hours. Many wore bright yellow T-shirts with the slogan "Fair Fuel For All" and called for UK fuel prices to be brought into line with those in Europe. They pointed to the fact that filling the petrol tank on a truck in southern Ireland costs £70 less than in the UK and that operators in this country are thus put at a severe competitive disadvantage. Fuel produced at UK refineries is amongst the cheapest in Europe, but government taxation bumps the price up to make it the most expensive in Western Europe.
Buoyant Scottish Employment Market
The latest report on Scotland's labour market from the Bank of Scotland shows that the number of permanent placements grew for the 20th consecutive month and was above the UK average for the second month running. Recruitment consultants are finding it hard to find suitable candidates for certain jobs as demand for staff in March grew at the strongest rate in the report's history. This has put pressure on wage rates, which continue to outstrip inflation by a sizeable margin.
Scottish Parliament Not Pigeon Proof
Lots of cash may have been spent making the £431 million Scottish Parliament building resistant to terrorist attack, but it seems that two dozen pigeons have penetrated the defences. Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) are complaining that the avian visitors are sending feathers and excrement through windows and air vents. Some windows have already been sealed over and MSP Margo MacDonald, a long-standing critic of all aspects of the structure, is quoted as saying "Pigeon poo is very unsightly and it's causing a bit of a niff in some parts of the building." Air vents are being blocked to stop the arrival of the pigeon "messages" but that means the air cooling system grinds to a halt.
100% Broadband Coverage for Remote Areas
Under the Executive's Broadband for Scotland's Rural and Remote Areas initiative, BT (British Telecom) will update a network of exchanges to allow 51,000 homes and 5,400 businesses in the region access to broadband by the end of this year. The 378 exchanges in remote or rural locations would have been prohibitively expensive for commercial broadband operators to provide any service so the Scottish Executive is allocating funds from its £24 million broadband strategy programme.
Glasgow Launches Broadband TV Channel
Glasgow has become the first city in the UK to launch a broadband "TV" channel on the Internet to show footage from major events such as the Great Scottish Run, the World Pipe Band Championships and the Glasgow River Festival. There will also be clips from the tourist board's "Glasgow - Scotland with Style" DVD. The service will detect the speed of a user's connection and download a menu of available items which can be viewed on a browser without any further software. Picture quality on Broadband was good but it was disappointing that the various clips could not be selected - you have to take them in sequence (just like a TV schedule). The channel was launched on April 26 at www.glasgow.tv but note that it is intended for access by Broadband/ADSL communications.
Scottish Standard Folds After Seven Weeks
Launched only in March, the Scottish Standard weekly newspaper has stopped publication and 40 staff have been made redundant. The pro-independence newspaper had an initial print run of 50,000 but according to reports it sold only 11,800 copies initially and that number declined as the weeks went by.
Five-Star Edinburgh Hotel Sold
The George Hotel in Edinburgh is popular with visiting American tourists and its Chambertin Restaurant is a favourite lunchtime venue with local businessmen. But its owner - InterContinental, the world’s biggest hotel operator - put the hotel up for sale over a year ago, after a review of its assets. It was announced this week that the five-star establishment has been taken over by Principal Hotels, after a major bidding war with some of the world’s leading hoteliers. This will be the company's first Scottish hotel but its 6th in the UK. The 195-room George Hotel was originally built as five town houses in 1775 by world-renowned architect Robert Adam. The present carvery restaurant was originally built as a banking hall in 1879. The property opened as a hotel in 1881, making it one of the oldest in the capital.
Loss of Faith
Stirling University has announced that it is to scrap its honours degree course in religious education due to a steady decline in student numbers over the last ten years. The religious studies department will now be merged with modern languages and culture. Student numbers have halved to 20 over the last decade. Religious education courses at Glasgow and Edinburgh are supported by the Church of Scotland but Stirling had believed that their independence was a strength. A recent survey has shown that the number of people regularly attending Church of Scotland services has declined by 22% between 1995 and 2003 and attendance at Catholic churches has also fallen. These days, just over 11% of Scots attend church on an average Sunday.
Selling Glasgow With Mackintosh
Glasgow is launching a new marketing campaign which will focus on a month-long Mackintosh festival on September next year which will celebrate the work of the famous architect and his contemporaries. A specific Mackintosh brand will be developed to publicise such attractions as the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland Street School (illustrated here) and Hill House in Helensburgh, all designed by the iconic artist. There are plans to install creative street furniture inspired by his internationally recognised high-backed chairs in prominent positions in the city. Glasgow is also working on obtaining World Heritage status for its Mackintosh landmarks.
More Cruise Ships Call at Granite City
Aberdeen Harbour will see more visits by cruise ships this summer than at any time since the early 1990s. The Harbour Board are members of the Cruise Europe and Cruise Scotland marketing organisations and Aberdeen City Council recently announced a five-year programme which will also promote Aberdeen as a port-of-call and increase the number of tourists to the granite city. The season begins in May with two vessels - Polar Star and Grigoriy Mikheev - bringing visitors on the same day. Facilities at the port are best suited for small- to medium-sized specialist cruise vessels, such as those for bird-watchers on coastal voyages and the programme includes a number of these. Passengers on the Clipper Adventurer will be on a golf cruise taking them to various courses.
Castle and Royal Yacht Pass on City Pass
A revolutionary "city pass" which tourists can buy to access a wide range of venues in Edinburgh went on sale for the first time this week. Costing £26 for a day (or £34 for two days and £40 for three) gives access to 27 popular attractions. Glaring omissions from the scheme, however, are Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Yacht Britannia. Historic Scotland rejected it for Edinburgh Castle on the grounds that it did not offer "economic sustainability" but other locations such as Edinburgh Zoo, Our Dynamic Earth and the National Galleries of Scotland have all signed up. The pass also provides free return airport transfer and unlimited bus travel tickets for transport around the city and the surrounding area. There is also a 90-page colour guidebook covering all participating attractions plus useful visitor information, area maps and bus routes. The passes are available via www.edinburgh.org/pass/.
Scot Wins School Chef of the Year Award
School meals were never like this in my day... Lynne Howe's winning entry in the Local Authority Caterers’ Association’s School Chef of the Year 2005 competition was Aberdeen Angus Tortilla with Peter Pan’s Salad followed by Glamis Castle Cups with Glen Cova Cream. The lucky youngsters for whom Mrs Howe normally prepares lunch attend Tannadice Primary School in Forfar, Angus, where she prepares 90 meals each day for children aged five to 11. The judges were looking for flavour, colour, texture, nutritional balance and presentation and ingredients had to reflect seasonally available produce and be either sourced locally or represent a contestant’s region.
Volunteers Clean Up Leith Docks
The dockland area of Leith (the port area of Edinburgh) is now full of trendy restaurants and many of the houses in the area have become sought-after and expensive. And the Scottish Executive have an impressive, modern building overlooking the water. But the Water of Leith has become a litter-ridden area full of rubbish and debris. Official organisations such as Edinburgh City Council, Forth Ports and Water of Leith 2000 have argued for years over who is responsible for keeping the area clean - and none of them has taken on the job. Now a local trader and some friends have taken to the water in a rubber dinghy to clear the bottles, cans and even a snooker table from the surface of the river. Leith is being marketed as a tourist attraction and it is hoped that the public spirited action will embarrass the authorities into taking action to maintain the stretch of water.
Charles and Camilla Are Welcome After All
A few weeks ago there were media reports that Bute Community Council had decided not to invite Camilla Parker Bowles to the island after her marriage to the Prince of Wales (who is also the Duke of Rothesay). She became Duchess of Rothesay after her marriage - and many on the council were said to be unhappy with that. But later, Argyll and Bute Councillors voted unanimously to invite Prince Charles and his wife to visit the Isle of Bute, condemning as "erroneous" the press reports suggesting that the couple would not be made welcome. It was acknowledged that some of the members of Bute Community Council did not think that such an invitation was appropriate, but no vote was taken and the feeling was certainly not unanimous as the media had suggested.
Selling Sushi to Japan
Banffshire-based company Gourmet's Choice has won a contract to supply sashimi style mumbai and piccante flavoured salmon as well as 44 tonnes of smoked salmon to Japan. The company, located in the picturesque fishing village of Portsoy, was founded about a century ago by the great-grandfather of the current managing director. In recent years it has been expanding rapidly, especially with a major boost to its export sales. This week, it was one of 19 Scottish businesses attending the world’s largest seafood event, the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels.
Bank Customer's 90 Years of Loyalty
Despite consumer groups always encouraging bank customers to switch to better offerings from competitors, research shows that bank customers are more likely to get divorced than switch to another bank. But retired school teacher Anne Clark from Aberdeenshire has carried loyalty to an extreme by having an account with Lloyds TSB Scotland continuously for 90 years. Her father had opened an account for her (in Aberdeen Savings Bank, which has since merged along with other Trustee Savings Banks with Lloyds TSB) on the day she was born. He kept adding to the account and money received as birthday and Christmas presents were all added to the account. She was only allowed to access the cash when she went to university. Now a resident of Glenisla Nursing Home in Keith, she is full of praise for her bank and says that when she was considering a move to a new school during her teaching career, one of her priorities was to ensure that there was a branch of "her" bank nearby. Unfortunately, Anne Clark is not a typical bank customer. According to a survey by an online banking company, 57% of people in Scotland would not recommend their bank to others.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures at last appear to be on the rise, reaching 15/16C (59/61F) in Aberdeen and Edinburgh by Friday - though Glasgow struggled to reach 13C (55F) that day and it felt even colder than that because of a strong wind. Earlier in the week, the maximum daytime temperature across much of Scotland was only 9C (48F). There was a fair amount of sunshine recorded this week, especially in Aberdeen, though Glasgow did have nearly 11 hours of sun on Tuesday. The outlook for Sunday is for rain but Monday is predicted to have bright intervals with the thermometer rising to 17C (63F) in some parts.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland show first of all a lovely tulip in the gardens of the Burns Cottage and Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire. Below, the first illustration is of a bed of tulips with marsh marigolds in the pond behind at Drumpellier Country Park in North Ayrshire. This is followed by a rhododendron, also at Drumplellier. Finally, there is a Small White butterfly on a tree with its leaves just bursting forth. This photo was taken in the countryside north of Glasgow.