Hottest July Day for Ten Years
There are some parts of the world where temperatures of just over 80F (27C) would be regarded as cool. In Scotland, such weather is regarded as a "heatwave" and merits front-page coverage in the daily newspapers. On Monday of this week, Glasgow hit 28.4C (83F) and Aviemore in the Highlands soared to 29.8C (84F). That made it the hottest July day for ten years. The media were delighted to report that temperatures in some Mediterranean resorts, popular with Scottish holidaymakers, were actually much cooler that day. While many folk were able to take advantage of the hours of sunshine and heat, others were not so lucky. First ScotRail halved the frequency of services on the main Edinburgh-Glasgow line and on the Edinburgh to Bathgate and Fife routes because trains had to slow down to 20/30mph because of concerns that the track would buckle in the heat. Services between Scotland and the south were also because of heat-related restrictions. Of course, this being Scotland, the heatwave did not last. After three days of "roasting", the thermometer fell back on Wednesday as the clouds rolled in again.
The illustration shows the clear blue sky and sunshine in the walled garden at Culzean Castle, Ayrshire, on Monday of this week.
Scotland's Economy Out-Performs UK
Economic surveys often illustrate that Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the UK in growth. However, the latest Purchasing Managers Index, collated by Royal Bank of Scotland, suggests that output in Scotland is out-doing even the south-east of England, the traditional economic hot-spot. The services sector in Scotland hit a five-year high and even manufacturing, accustomed to being the poor relation in economic terms, was sharply up, with output in June at the strongest rate for six months. It seems that Scotland's exporters have been doing well in the key markets of the US and the European Union. Sterling has declined recently against both the dollar and the euro and that may have helped.
Retailers Count Cost of G8
Edinburgh retailers have been complaining bitterly in the wake of the unrest caused in the capital during the G8 Conference in the previous week. On the day of the "Make Poverty History" march in the city, turnover dropped by as much as 80% as fears of violence kept shoppers away. The city centre was described as a "ghost town" - away from those 200,000 marchers, that is. The John Lewis department store (pictured here) has revealed that during the week of the conference, their over-the-counter business dropped by well over 30%. Many stores also employed additional security and surveillance measures during the week, adding to their costs.
Views Sought on Holiday for St Andrew's Day
Public holidays in Scotland are frankly a mess. "Bank Holidays" were originally just the days when banks closed across the country. They have been adopted mainly by the financial, legal and government sectors. Then there are "local holidays" which affect specific cities, towns or areas, creating confusion if you don't happen to know when they occur. In Edinburgh, there is a holiday in the middle of May, for example, but Glasgow's break is at the end of the month. So, apart from Christmas and New Year, public holidays are a patchwork of dates throughout the year. But that doesn't stop politicians wanting to tinker with them - and add more. Dennis Canavan, an independent Member of the Scottish Parliament, has proposed that a public holiday should be declared on St Andrew's Day (30 November). His private member's bill has attracted a lot of support. So now a consultation exercise has been launched to obtain views from the public and interested parties. If the idea was approved, it would not give a legal right to employees for an extra day's holiday that would be subject to a contract or agreement between employer and employee, as with all other days off work. Of course, if it became an extra day's paid leave, it would cost employers many millions of pounds. On the other hand, retailers are quite keen as shop sales can soar on designated holidays. Most employees would be happy with an extra day off work - but on 30 November?
Madame Écosse to Stand Down
Winnie Ewing, one of the leading lights and longest serving members of the Scottish National Party, has said that she is planning to step down as President of the party, a post she has held since 1987. The feisty Mrs Ewing was a Glasgow solicitor and a young mother when she was elected as a Member of the UK Parliament at the Hamilton by-election in 1967. She famously said at the time of her election, "stop the world, Scotland wants to get on". She became a Member of the European Parliament in 1975 and so impressed the other MEPs in Brussels over the next 14 years that she earned the nickname of "Madame Écosse". In 1999, at the opening of the new Scottish Parliament, she acted as temporary Presiding Officer as she was the oldest elected member. She started proceedings by saying: "I want to begin with the words that I have always wanted either to say or to hear someone else say: the Scottish Parliament, which adjourned on 25 March 1707, is hereby reconvened." But if anyone thinks that stepping down as SNP President means that she is to say "adieu" to politics, hasn't been watching her star-studded career. She has suggested that, contrary to the policy advocated by Alex Salmond the SNP leader, she would like to become a member of the House of Lords. That should waken them up!
Highest Inflation for Seven Years
Data published by the Office of National Statistics this week showed that inflation has been pushed to 1.9%, the highest figure for seven years. Rising food prices and clothing and footwear costs were the main drivers. But the inflation level is broadly in line with expectations and despite the rise the Bank of England is widely forecast to reduce soon the base interest rates from the present 4.75%.
New Australian High Commissioner
Scottish politician Helen Liddell has arrived in her new post as High Commissioner in Australia and was immediately thrown into the diplomatic deep end as a result of the London bombings. She took up her appointment a week early to join the Australian Prime Minister in signing a book of condolence at the British High Commission. At least eight Australians were in hospital as a result of the atrocity. Mrs Liddell is not noted for her diplomacy, with forthright views, clearly expressed. She was first elected to the UK Parliament in 1994 after a distinguished career in politics (she was General Secretary of the Scottish Labour Party from 1977-88). She was appointed the first female Secretary of State for Scotland in 2001, but with the Scottish Parliament eroding that role, she was reported to be bored and wanted a fresh challenge. She is the first UK Labour politician to be given a senior diplomatic post in almost 30 years.
Speed Cameras for 30 Solid Miles
A stretch of road in Ayrshire has become the longest continuous speed trap in the UK. The Speed Enforcement Camera System (SPECS) tracks cars over distances of up to six miles and then calculates their average speed. So drivers who slow down at the normal speed cameras and then resume higher speeds may now find a speeding ticket coming through their letter box. Unlike existing cameras which flash when taking a picture of the speeding vehicle, the new system's technology reads the number plates of every car passing by various points, via 40 cameras placed on gantries above the carriageway. The cameras also take a photograph of the driver so that there can be no dispute about who was driving. The new system has been installed on the road from Symington, north of Ayr, to Ardwell, south of Girvan, a distance of nearly 30 miles. The £775,000 system goes live just as a report by University College London questioning the effectiveness of speed cameras in the UK is being finalised. It is also being argued that on a busy highway, drivers should be concentrating on the road, not on their speedometers and that there will be bunching of cars, all going at just under the speed limit. That may be so, but trials of the system elsewhere suggest that it reduces the number of deaths and injuries.
Speeding Up Glasgow to Edinburgh Train Service
The main rail link between Edinburgh and Glasgow Queen Street goes by way of Falkirk and a few intermediate stations and takes nearly 50 minutes for the 45 mile journey (if the train is on time, which too frequently doesn't always happen). But there is another route which swings further to the south and arrives at Glasgow Central after stopping at 19 stations, taking around 95 minutes for the entire journey. Not many commuters travel the whole distance but it is a useful lifeline for those who live in places such as Livingston, West Calder, Shotts and Uddingston. However, transport officials are looking at a plan to have limited stop, express trains on the line, overtaking the slower services at designated points along the way. The new service is estimated to cost £35 million over five years, but could make a significant reduction on the number of car journeys currently being made by people who cannot face the present dead slow and stop rail service. It is thought that the scheme may well get a green light - the railway line travels through a number of constituencies represented by Labour Member of the Scottish Parliament.
Record Month for Scottish Airports
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen airports handled 7.1% more passengers last month than in June 2004 and in the twelve months to the end of June the airports saw 19.6 million passengers, 6.2% more than in the previous year. Short-haul flights to continental Europe saw the biggest increase, though the Emirates Airways service to Dubai is also showing strong growth. Glasgow was Scotland's busiest airport in June, with 890,800 passengers (up 4.3% on the previous year) with Prague, Dublin, Las Palmas and Dubai the fastest growing destinations. Last month, Glasgow airport also recorded its 150 millionth passenger since the terminal opened in 1966. Edinburgh continued to outstrip Glasgow in growth, however. The 790,400 passengers handled by the capital's airport were 9.6% more than in June last year.
High Fives for Golden Bear
Golfer Jack Nicklaus this week became first living person outside of the royal family to have his portrait on a Scottish bank note. OK, so it was a marketing man's dream, but the honour to the American golfer who is held in such affection by many Scots and who has had such a love affair with St Andrews, was nevertheless well merited. Two million of the £5 notes were printed. They carry a small golden bear on the front in addition to the usual design. The reverse side is totally dedicated to images of Nicklaus holding the famous claret jug awarded to the winner of The Open, the Royal and Ancient club house, golden bears, golf balls, a table of the scratch scores for the course and the scores of Nicklaus' wins at The Open at St Andrews in 1970 and 1978. Nicklaus has had along connection with the Royal Bank of Scotland - he has carried the bank's logo on his golf bag for 42 years.
The Healing Touch
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has opened a special display of portraits celebrating the important role of Scots in the field of medicine. The exhibition coincides with the celebrations to mark the 500th birthday of the world's oldest medical institution, the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh. It is not just the famous names like Joseph Lister (pioneer of modern surgery and antiseptics), Sir Alexander Fleming (Nobel prize-winner as discoverer of penicillin) and Sir James Y Simpson (pioneer of the medical use of chloroform). There is a Dundee doctor, David Kinloch, who was tortured at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition before returning to his home town. And there's a portrait of Thomas Garvine who worked for the czar of Russia and was sent to China as a medical emissary early in the 18th century. And the pioneers of beta-blockers, modern obstetrics, public health and the Scottish medical experts who controlled such diseases as tuberculosis are also featured. The exhibition runs until 27 November.
Tower Blocks Will Change City's Skyline
The City of Glasgow planning committee has given approval to three tower blocks in the centre of the city which will dramatically change the skyline. A 150-feet tall glass-fronted housing block on Dixon Street will radically alter the view down Buchanan Street, Glasgow's most prestigious shopping area. A 262-feet tower at Custom House Quay which includes 388 apartments will also be visible from Buchanan Street. A 124-feet "golden unicorn" tower block is also to be built next to the Custom House Quay development. It will have golden-coloured tiles on its gable end. Work on the buildings will begin soon and is expected to be completed by 2007.
Another Claimant to the Title of "City"
Being a city in Scotland (or in the rest of the UK, for that matter) used to just be a matter of pride, but in modern times it had no financial benefit. Ever since the Scottish Executive created a special fund to assist the economic development of Scottish cities, however, all sorts of places have suddenly laid claim to the title. Inverness and Stirling have been officially accorded that status in recent years, but other locations have started to agitate for the title (and the finance). Elgin is the latest place to formally raise the question with the Scottish Executive. The local community council claims that it was granted city status during the reign of King David I in the 12th century and Elgin has described itself as such ever since. But the Executive has responded by arguing that King David only raised the town to that of a "royal burgh" and not a city. The community council in Elgin consistently describes their location as "City and Royal Burgh of Elgin" and Moray Council support the campaign for official recognition.
Fuel Prices Reach £1 a Litre
It may only be the Western Isles where the price of petrol (gasoline) has reached over a pound a litre, but it may not be long before the rest of us reach that level too. Parts of central Scotland actually fare quite well in the table of petrol prices - it is still possible to find pumps selling unleaded petrol for under 85 pence a litre. But filling stations in Stornoway are facing the problem of how to display prices on electronic price boards on gantries which are designed to display prices in pence per litre. The short-term answer seems to be to show the price as 00.9 for unleaded and 01.9 for diesel. Trading standards officers are unhappy about that - but none of the customers are likely to think that the filling station is giving the stuff away! The higher prices mean that drivers are now paying over £4.50 for a UK gallon (US gallons are about 20% smaller).
Timeshare Option for Rum Castle?
Kinloch Castle on the island of Rum, in the Inner Hebrides, was built by a wealthy Victorian industrialist and completed in 1900, using red sandstone brought from Dumfriesshire. There is no longer a market for large, flamboyant castles on remote islands with turrets and arches and enormous maintenance bills. It is now owned by Scottish Natural Heritage which has to spend £65,000 a year on the upkeep of the building. Even with that expenditure it is gradually deteriorating. But as a tourist attraction alone, it is an important part of the island's economy and could be contributing more if it was fully renovated. Various plans have been floated in recent years but so far these have come to nothing. Now the Prince of Wales, through his Phoenix Trust, has published proposals for a restoration which would cost in the region of £6 million. The Trust has put forward three proposals, including conversion to eight flats which would be sold as time-share apartments. Another idea is to have a combination of flats, education and entertainment facilities, with commercial and public access to the principal rooms. Perhaps with such royal backing there will be sufficient impetus for one of the plans to reach fruition.
Moving House Can Be Painful
We all recognise that moving house is a stressful time, but now a study by Clydesdale Bank has shown that one in eight Scots has sustained an injury when moving house, double the average for the UK. And 1% ended up in a hospital accident and emergency department on their removal day. And that didn't include those whose blood pressure rocketed or those who became upset at leaving friends behind. Not that we tend to leave friends and relatives far behind - 68% of people in Scotland move less than 15 miles from their old home.
Roll Out the Barrel as Whisky Workers Win £15 Million
Six colleagues who work on the bottling line of the Morrison Bowmore whisky plant won a total of £15 million on last week's "lucky dip" lottery. When they discovered their winnings, the six women celebrated not with whisky but with champagne. The six ladies are happily married to "even happier husbands" and all plan to retire to enjoy their winnings. The £15 million was the second largest by a syndicate in Scotland - £20 million was won by a group in Lanarkshire in 2000.
BBC Looking for People and Places
BBC TV and the British Film Institute are looking for information on the people and places featured in a colour film shot in Scotland in 1924. "The Open Road" was directed by Claude Friese-Greene and lasted for a mammoth three hours. It covers a car journey from Land's End in the south of England to John o' Groats in the far north of Scotland. There are 23 minutes of footage shot in Scotland, including Glasgow landmarks such as George Square and Queen's Park. The illustration here from the film was taken in Queen's Park. The BBC and the film institute are wanting to identify the people and places featured. Hundreds of people packed the BBC Concert Hall for showings of the film and other screenings are taking place across the country.
Weather in Scotland This Week
As noted above, Scotland enjoyed a heatwave lasting for three days at the start of the week. Temperatures rose as high as 28.4C (83F) and Aviemore in the Highlands soared to 29.8C (84F). Aberdeen was slightly cooler, reaching only 23C (73F) on Monday. Edinburgh and Glasgow experienced over 14 hours of sunshine on Tuesday and Monday had been almost as good. By Thursday, however, the clouds had rolled in and there was hardly any sun, there were showers in the west and the thermometer had fallen to 18C (64F) in the central lowlands. Saturday was brighter again and - as those watched The Open golf championship at St Andrews on TV will know, there was a good amount of sunshine that day too.
The illustration here is of a Common Blue butterfly feeding on the flowers of a larkspur plant in the walled garden of Culzean Castle Country Park
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating this week's flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created as an experiment and so as not to overload the main Newsletter.