Tony Blair Learns a Hard Lesson
It was an unusually hesitant Tony Blair who spoke in Downing Street on Friday, after winning an historic third term as Prime Minister as result of Thursday's voting for the UK parliament. A Labour government has never won three consecutive elections, so this should have been a cause for celebration. But his majority in the House of Commons of 161 had been reduced to 66 (in part due to a reduction in the overall number of seats in Scotland), he had the lowest-ever share of the total vote, and he had been through a bruising campaign in which his presentation of the case for the invasion of Iraq became a crucial issue of trust. So his speech focused on "listening to the people and responding wisely, sensibly and responsibly".
In Scotland, Labour won 41 of the 59 seats (a loss of 5 on 2001) with the Liberal Democrats taking 11 (an increase of 2), the Scottish National Party 6 (an increase of 2) and the Conservatives winning just one seat. In 2001 there had been 76 seats (reduced in this election to more closely match the current population) so a comparison of the percentage share of the vote with 2001 is the most revealing statistic:
| ||2005 || ||2001 |
|Labour ||39.5% || ||44.0% |
|Liberal Democrats ||22.6% || ||16.3% |
|Scottish Nationalists ||17.7% || ||21.1% |
|Conservatives ||15.8% || ||15.6% |
The Liberal Democrats, who had opposed the war in Iraq, gained most in terms of seats and share of the vote in the UK, as well as in Scotland. The Scottish National Party said they were delighted with the gain of two seats from Labour (Western Isles and Dundee East) but in a UK election neither the gain of seats nor the loss of share of the vote is particularly significant in the context of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Socialist Party, which had been a rising force in Scottish politics, dropped off the political radar screens with their share of the vote dropping from 3.1% to 1.9%, though again their performance at the next Scottish Parliamentary election in 2007 may well differ from that.
Scotland's Top Tourist Attractions
Figures published by the tourism agency VisitScotland show that the most popular tourist attraction in the country remains Edinburgh Castle. Last year it welcomed 1.2 million visitors - an increase of 6% on the previous year. Edinburgh Zoo was the next most popular attractions among those where an entry fee is charged, followed by Stirling Castle, the Royal Yacht Britannia at Leith and the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Edinburgh. The Art Gallery and Museum at Kelvingrove in Glasgow usually takes top spot for free attractions, but it is closed for a major upgrade. So the National Gallery of Scotland, the Royal Museum and Museum of Scotland and the Royal Botanic Garden, all in Edinburgh, took the top three places.
Anchors Aweigh for Forth Ferry Service?
Recently, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority decided to start work on the design of a second road bridge across the river Forth at Queensferry. Even so, transport company Stagecoach says that it is to continue planning for a high-speed catamaran ferry service which it is claimed would dramatically cut congestion on the existing bridge. And, unlike any projected second bridge which would take many years to implement (with the usual endless planning enquiries and protests by the "Green" lobby) the ferry service could be operational within two years. The ferries, with space for up to 350 people, could cross from Burntisland in Fife to Leith (the port of Edinburgh) in ten minutes. The cost is estimated at £10 million, somewhat less than the projected £640 million for a second bridge.
Shortage of Student Accommodation
Students are stampeding to secure accommodation for the next academic year in Edinburgh because they realise that there will be a severe shortage due to new legislation. The "Houses in Multiple Occupancy" licensing scheme imposes strict health and safety regulations on landlords and many are selling up rather than spend the necessary money to comply with the legislation. With the next academic year six months away, students are signing now for multiple occupancy apartments. These days, rentals often start at the end of the academic year even though they are not needed for another three months or more.
Edinburgh Hotels Enjoy High Yields
A report by a market research company has shown that hotels in Edinburgh have increased the yield on their rooms by 7.4% compared to last year. The average daily room yield (multiplying occupancy rates by price charged) is over £60, compared to around £40 in Glasgow and Aberdeen. The profitability of hotels in Edinburgh is of course due to a combination of good occupancy rates and the higher prices they charge per room. Edinburgh City Council is using the figures to urge hotel companies to create more capacity, saying that there has never been such a good time to invest. There has been a rise of 20% in the number of rooms available in the capital since 2001, but a number of prime sites have yet to be developed.
Nervous Wait for IBM Staff
The IBM computer company announced this week that it was to shed 13,000 jobs, mainly in its overseas workforce, but refused to give any details of where the axe was to fall. That led to a lot of anxiety amongst the 2,800 staff working at the IBM factory at Spango Valley near Greenock. By the end of the week, the only information they had was a statement from the Scottish Executive, which insisted that they had been told by IBM that there was no major threat to jobs in Scotland. The job cuts announced are equivalent to 3 to 4% of IBM's world-wide workforce of 329,000. The company says they are designed to reduce layers of bureaucracy and have a higher ratio of staff in client-facing roles.
Last Minute Offer Averts Another Subway Strike
Another four-day strike was called off this weekend by staff on Glasgow's underground rail service after they accepted an improved last-minute pay deal. Staff have still to be balloted on the new offer but the union is recommending acceptance after eight weeks of intermittent industrial action which has disrupted the service. The first strike, lasting four hours, took place in January and since then there have been 24-hour and two and four-day stoppages plus an overtime ban.
1,500 Rescues Honoured
George Parsonage has been rescuing people from the river Clyde in Glasgow for 47 years. Now aged 61, Parsonage was only 14 when he helped his father, Ben Parsonage rescue someone from the river. He took over his father's role as lifeboatman for the Glasgow Humane Society in 1979 and over the years has rescued 1,500 people from the waters - and recovered the bodies of hundreds more. Some of those he rescued had fallen in by accident; others has been trying to commit suicide, but Parsonage goes to the aid of them all. This week he was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the Royal Humane Society in recognition of his service. Although he has a range of boats to work from, he prefers a rowing boat and, like his father, has become a familiar figure on the river.
Summer Flights to USA Take Off
This week saw the restart of the daily summer-only flights from Glasgow to Chicago by American Airlines. Around 25% of passengers stop at Chicago while the rest use the destination as a hub to fly to other parts of the US. US Airways will be recommencing their summer service from Glasgow to Philadelphia, with connections to Florida, Las Vegas, Cancun in Mexico and Bermuda. Rival airline Continental flies a year-round service from Glasgow and Edinburgh to Newark Airport. The Glasgow service flies 11 times a week. Canadian budget airline Zoom has services from Glasgow to Calgary, Halifax, Toronto and Vancouver. The new budget airline Air Scotland (owned by a Greek company) recently said that it is planning a Glasgow to New York and Miami service, starting later this year.
From Landfill Site to UK's Largest Urban Forest
The landfill site at Mount Vernon, on the eastern edge of Glasgow, was not only a blight on the landscape in an otherwise largely residential area, it also meant that lorries thundered through the approach roads, taking industrial waste to the mounting piles of rubbish in one of the largest industrial dumps in any European city. Branded a health hazard, with foul odours and plagues of flies in the summer, there had been a long-running campaign to bring the dumping of waste there to an end. Now Glasgow City Council has approved a £1.5 million project which will transform the 230 acre site into the UK's largest urban forest, with over a million trees being planted with lush meadows and rambling walkways. Public access to the new forest will be granted within five years, although it will take until 2012 to complete it.
Last Ocean Going Paddle Steamer Sunk by Pier Charges?
The charity operating the "Waverley" paddle steamer has called on the government to look into the charges being levied by Caledonian MacBrayne, the state-subsidised ferry company, for use of the piers in the Clyde and the west coast. The Waverley has to pay £50,000 a year to the ferry company for use of the piers which are an essential part of the Clyde infrastructure. But the Waverley owners claim they are being asked to pay a disproportionate share of the costs of the facilities as they only call there only briefly. The Waverley is the last seagoing paddle steamer in the world and was launched in October 1947 to replace another ship of the same name, lost during the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk in the Second World War.
Drambuie Art Collection to be Sold
The Drambuie Collection of Scottish Art is to be auctioned in Edinburgh next year in what experts describe as the most important sale of Scottish paintings, pottery and silverware in a generation. The family-owned liqueur company is expected to collect over £3 million from the disposal. The collection includes paintings by artists such as Peploe, Nasmyth, Hornel and Redpath and there is a large number of Wemyss Ware pottery, silver and furniture.
Portrait Gallery in Frame for a Facelift
When the Scottish National Portrait Gallery was founded in Edinburgh more than 120 years ago it was the first purpose-built portrait gallery in the world. When it opened it did not have enough paintings to fill the whole gallery. These days, however, there is not enough space for the collection and much of it has to be stored away in the basement, unseen by the public. So the gallery is planning a £14 million revamp which will see store rooms turned into display spaces to allow another 165 paintings to be displayed as well as provide an upgrade to visitor facilities. Currently, 160,000 visitors a year visit the gallery, but it is hoped that the improvements will add another 60% to that figure. The refurbished gallery will be able to provide an in-depth history of Scotland as well as a new education room, workshops and exhibitions on famous Scottish characters such as Mary Queen of Scots.
Cemeteries Running Out of Space
Scotland's first cremation took place on April 17 1895 and ever since the numbers have increased to the point where 60% of all those dying are cremated. But that still means that 40% (around 23,000) are buried in Scottish cemeteries - and as they fill up, new burial grounds have to be found. However, that is not easy since those living near proposed sites often resist at the planning stage. In Edinburgh, where most cemeteries date back to the mid-19th century, the city council environmental services department predict that although many previously used family plots can be used, new space is needed for nearly half of the burials in the capital. The prospect is having to be faced of telling residents that they may have to consider burial outside Edinburgh. A new cemetery at Mortonhall was opened in 1960 and was expected to last 50 years, but space is almost all used up already.
Continued Slump in Church Membership
Figures published by the Church of Scotland show that membership has slumped to an all-time low and shows no sign of slowing. In 1956, there were 1.2 million members of the church, but by 2003 that had fallen to 553,000 and last year that figure had gone down to 536,000. Church attendance between 1960 and 2004 has fallen by nearly 60%. However, there are many in the church who think it is better to have people going to church because they want to, rather than in the old days when people went because it was expected of them.
Horses Bring Motorway to Standstill
Two horses, which are believed to have escaped from a field in Baillieston, brought the main motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh to a halt early on Monday as they ran along the carriageway. Police were quickly on the scene as much of the motorway at that point is under the surveillance of video cameras, but it took nearly an hour to capture the frightened horses and put them in a horse-box. Fortunately, traffic was lighter than usual as Monday was a Bank Holiday.
Wind Farm Protests Across Scotland
700 objections have been lodged with Angus Council protesting at the plan to build 19 wind turbines at Montreathmont Forest, 5 miles south of Brechin. The objectors have recruited media personality and environmentalist David Bellamy, who claims that wind power will only have a minimal impact on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The objections mainly relate to having what they regard as an industrial development in a rural setting and the visual impact of turbines which are twice the height of the Wallace Monument near Stirling (which is seen for miles around). Meanwhile, further north in Moray, the Local Council are seeking a judicial review on a decision by the Scottish Executive approving a windfarm with 21 turbines near the summit of Hill of Towie near Keith. The Council had turned down the development on the 1,100 feet high hill, but the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh overturned their decision and gave the project the green light. In Perthshire, a public enquiry will get underway later this month into plans for a 24-turbine development, each 100-metres high, in the scenic Sma' Glen near Crieff. A protest group has collected thousands of signatures and has lined up 20 expert witnesses to describe the detrimental impact on the landscape, ecology, economy and tourism. The local Perth and Kinross Council agrees, and will tell the enquiry that the plans would cause "an unacceptable loss of amenity."
Fish and Chip Shop Wins Court Order
The Anstruther Fish Bar in Fife has been granted a court order banning a rival in the same street from using a similar name. The fish bar, on the harbour of the East Neuk town, has won the title of "Scottish Chip Shop of the Year" in recent years and attracts large numbers of tourists on the strength of its reputation. It is one of only three fish-and-chip shops in Britain to be included in Les Routiers Pubs and Inns guide. A new business, starting up in premises used by the Anstruther Fish Bar 20 years ago, was planning to trade as "The Original Anstruther Fish Bar" and the owners had admitted they hoped they would gain customers who mistook it for the award-winning eatery 200 yards away.
Football Club Outwits Counterfeiters
Football (soccer) clubs lose a lot of money to counterfeiters who make replica shirts which are sold at bargain prices to fans. But a recent operation by Rangers' brand protection unit resulted in criminals in Thailand manufacturing thousands of shirts with an incorrect design. The club "leaked" the template of a forthcoming design change which had a V-neck with white piping and thin red stripes. But the new official shirt has a crew neck and red piping. The counterfeiters produced 20,000 shirts, at an estimated cost of £400,000, and the club says that they will be unable to sell them as fans are only too well aware of the details of the new kit.
Serving Up Whisky Curry
Restaurant owner Deepak Bali is teetotal, but he knows what his customers like - and has dreamed up an indian curry dishes flavoured with quality Scotch malt whisky. He says he has one of the largest collections of malts in the country and runs two malt whisky web sites. But he is also passionate about curry and has set out to create a new range of the traditional dish. So Magical Macallan Masala and Bunnahabhain Balti have appeared on the menu and the customers seem to love it.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although temperatures rose to 17C (63F) in Glasgow on Tuesday, the return of a strong north-westerly wind later in the week made the 12/13C (54/55F) by the end of the week feel even cooler. There was a fair amount of sunshine around, however, and it was quite pleasant in sheltered spots away from that wind. As on many other occasions, it was Aberdeen and the north-east that saw the best of the sunshine - Aberdeen recorded over 20 hours of sun over Wednesday to Friday. The outlook is for a continuation of the bright weather but with temperatures remaining around 11/13C (52/55F) until the middle of the week.
This week's illustrations of the current season in Scotland shows first of all a group of tulips growing in the walled garden of Birkhill Castle in Fife. Below is a field of yellow oil-seed-rape, also growing in north Fife, not far from Newburgh (although the crop is found widely in other parts of central Scotland too). Next is another tulip from Birkhill Castle and finally a bright red rhododendron, also at Birkhill.