Glasgow Going for Gold
The Scottish Executive announced this week that it is giving both its moral and financial backing to a bid by Glasgow to stage the 2014 Commonwealth Games. If successful, the games will provide an excellent showcase and provide a lasting legacy of sports facilities plus regeneration of the east end of the city as well as investment in new transport links. It will cost more than £200 million to stage the event and Scotland will be competing against cities in Canada, South Africa and Nigeria. Glasgow has staged a number of major sporting events in recent years, including the European Champions League Final, the Special Olympics and the Commonwealth Boxing Championships. Facilities already exist in Glasgow at Hampden Park, the Scottish Exhibition and Concert Centre, Kelvingrove Park, Kelvin Hall, Strathclyde Park, Glasgow Green and other projects are already in the pipeline. But a new Commonwealth Village would need to be built at Dalmarnock and Sighthill. And it is possible that some events could be staged in Edinburgh, including swimming at a revamped Commonwealth Pool and a proposed new velodrome for cycling.
Royal Bank of Scotland Leads $3.1 Billion China Investment
After months of speculation, the Royal Bank of Scotland has at last confirmed that it is to invest in the Bank of China. Royal Bank claims that the deal is low-risk, with the company providing $1.6 billion of a total $3.1 billion investment. This will give control of 10% of China's biggest lender. The Royal Bank is planning to sell its stake in Banco Santander, now that the Spanish bank has had to give up its reciprocal investment in the Royal Bank after taking over Abbey National in the UK. That will provide the capital required. The Chinese personal savings market is estimated to be $1.5 trillion and foreign banks are increasingly keen to gain a foothold. The deal will give the Royal Bank "access" to Bank of China's 11,300 branches and will also mean getting a seat on the board of the Bank of China.
Scottish Shoppers Still Spending
The British Retail Consortium, representing the major stores across the UK, has reported that high street sales in July were the worst for ten years. Taking out the effect of new store openings, like-for-like sales fell by 1.9% last month. However in Scotland total retail sales bucked that trend and increased by 3.4%. When the contribution of new retail outlets was taken into account, goods had been flying off the shelves in July 8% faster than in the same period a year ago. Non-food sales were particularly impressive, but shops report that they are achieving increases by means of heavy discounting and prolonged summer sales, which will impact on profit margins. But similar discounts in England and Wales were not having the same effect. The Monetary Policy Committee no doubt noted the UK retail sector's difficulties as one of the factors which induced them last week to reduce base interest rates by 0.25% to 4.5%.
Food Hygiene Reports Online
Until recently, the reports following food hygiene inspectors on restaurants, bars selling food, clubs and fast food take-aways have been kept confidential. But freedom of information act legislation has now made them accessible to the public. While most local government authorities only respond to requests for information, the City of Glasgow is to make all the reports on 5,000 food premises in the city available online. Even if people planning to eat out don't actually check the reports in advance before deciding where to go, the online database should encourage all food outlets in the city to make sure they don't get a bad report.
18 Bank Branches Close in North-East
Clydesdale Bank confirmed this week that 18 of their branches are to close in the north-east of Scotland as part of a closure programme involving 60 outlets across the country. Since in many instances Clydesdale is the "last bank in town" it leaves them without a proper bank. Clydesdale management say that customers have access to internet and telephone banking and can make simple deposits and withdrawals at the local Post Office branches (if there is one). Main branches in Inverbervie, Kenmay, Kintore, Laurencekirk, New Deer, Oldmeldrum and Portsoy will all close as well as another eleven sub-offices (currently with restricted opening hours). After the closure programme, the bank will be left with 157 branches, most of them in Scotland. That will mean it will have the smallest branch network by far of the four main Scottish banks.
Fewer Heart Attack Victims
Decades of unhealthy diet have taken their toll of many Scots who have fallen victim to heart attacks, producing one of the worst records for heart disease in the developed world. But efforts to persuade people to adopt a healthier lifestyle - and drugs to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol - appear to be having a beneficial effect. The Scottish health service published figures this week showing that the number of people taken to hospital after a heart attack had fallen 12% in the last five years and victims are more likely to survive too. According to Scottish Executive statistics, premature deaths from heart disease generally have fallen by 38% since 1995. And Scotland now has the shortest waiting times for heart operations in the UK. However, a government health spokesman pointed out that the best way to save even more lives is for Scots to eat more healthily, be more active - and quit smoking.
"You're Going the Wrong Way"
Playing on the long-standing rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow airports, Emirates Airways (based in Dubai in the Arabian Gulf) has erected a large billboard on the approach to Edinburgh's air terminal telling intending passengers: "You're going the wrong way." The Middle East airline is aiming to convince Edinburgh passengers that it would be far quicker taking the plane from Glasgow for long-haul flights, due to the network of connections via Dubai. Emirates claim that expensive and time-consuming connections at London Heathrow are now a thing of the past. Starting in October, the carrier is introducing larger capacity Boeing 777 on its Glasgow-Dubai flights, due to increasing demand. This will the biggest plane to land regularly at a Scottish airport.
New Air Service to Geneva
The Scottish Executive has allocated cash from its Route Development Fund to the budget airline Easyjet, to provide the incentive for them to start a daily, year-round service from Edinburgh to Geneva in Switzerland. Located in the heart of Europe, Geneva is also home to a number of research and development establishments. The payments are for the period April 24 to December 21, a period when the route is not served by flyGlobespan. The Route Development Fund supports new air links where airlines can demonstrate the services will have a direct economic benefit to Scotland. The flights must involve regularly scheduled services and must not undermine existing flights.
New Royal Regiment of Scotland Badge Appears
The design of the cap badge for the Royal Regiment of Scotland, which is to be created by the merger of the six existing regiments, was unveiled for the first time this week. Consisting of a cross of St Andrew, with a lion rampant on top and a crown above, it has the royal motto "Nemo me impune lacessit" (Nobody harms me with impunity - or more colloquially -"Wha' daur meddle wi me?") intertwined on the lower arms of the cross. Those who are opposed to the merger immediately greeted it with roars of disapproval but the army authorities insisted that there had been extensive consultation within the units on what the design should incorporate. It was argued that a single badge was in conflict with statements about the units within the new regiment being able to retain their existing cap badges.
Glasgow Becomes a Wi-Fi Zone
As a result of investment by BT Openzone, the centre of Glasgow is now a Wif-Fi zone. There are now six hotspots within 50-100 metres of key locations in the main shopping and business areas. The Wide Local Area Network is open to the public at the usual rates and allows users 9with the appropriate hardware) to log on to the Internet in random outdoor locations. It will also be used by Glasgow City Council workers to send in information that would otherwise have needed a journey back to their base office.
Game Over in Princes Street Arcade Battle
An English-based leisure firm has successfully appealed to the Scottish Executive and won planning approval for an adult gaming centre and tanning studio on Princes Street. The outlet will also accommodate Bingo (Housey-Housey) sessions as part of the entertainment. There will be a wide range of gaming machines in a sandstone building previously occupied by American Express. Edinburgh City Council has been trying to raise the tone of the city's premier shopping street, which overlooks Princes Street Gardens and the castle. Council leaders described the decision as a "backward step" for a building which is part of the New Town conservation area and a World Heritage Site. But Princes Street already has "Bargain Books" and "Quid's In" and fast food outlets and "To Let" signs pepper the once proud shopping precinct.
As pupils returned to school this week after the summer break, it was a special day for the children at Altnaharra in Sutherland. The school there closed three years ago due to having only one pupil and is the first school in the Highlands to reopen after such a move. Closure had meant that local children had to face a round trip every day of 50 miles over poor roads. In the intervening years, the number of primary school children increased and after a lot of lobbying by local parents, the school authorities have agreed to reopen it for three children. Meanwhile, across Scotland, there were 1,164 vacant teaching posts being advertised in February this year, with 439 of these vacant for more than three months. The education minister Peter Peacock insisted that 2,770 newly-qualified teachers would be entering the classrooms this month - though more teachers will have retired by the end of last term.
Shipyard Noise Keeps Residents Awake
There was a time when the hammer of riveters was a constant sound on the banks of the river Clyde in Glasgow. For over a century, Clydeside yards built a large proportion of the world's ships. In recent years, many yards have closed and those that remain struggle to obtain orders. Much of the construction these days is for the Royal Navy and one of the ships currently being fitted out at the BAE Systems yard at Yoker is a Royal Fleet Auxiliary named "Mounts Bay". The ship famously dented her stern as she crashed into the opposite bank of the river when she was launched last year - they don't have as much experience as they used to at launching ships on the narrow river, after all. But local residents have been complaining about the noise from work on the £60 million vessel that continues through the night. The hissing of blast-cleaning preparatory to painting has been keeping them awake and some of them even turned up at the gates of the shipyard in the middle of the night to protest. But it took pressure and publicity from a Glasgow evening newspaper to persuade managers to carry out the work only at "a decent hour". For health and safety reasons the work has to be done when there are few workers on the site, as the operation throws up a lot of debris.
Dinna Fash Yersel'
A BBC Voices project has concluded that regional dialects are surviving well and that the march of London and BBC English has been halted. The fact that regional accents are now regularly heard on BBC and commercial TV may have helped the process - though such gems as "Dinna fash yersel' " (don't trouble yourself) are not often heard. But the researchers found 240 different ways to say "left-handed" across Britain, 521 different words for friend - and 700 ways of playing truant. Questionnaires were sent to 32,000 people around the UK, asking them about the words they use. From the responses, a word map of Britain has been produced. The word "foonert" for cold was found only in Kilmarnock while "molly-dukered" for left-handed popped up in central Scotland. Other dialect words for left-handed in Scotland included "corrie-dukit" and "Paddy-handed". Almost without saying, the Scots have more words to describe being drunk than any other part of the UK - ranging from "blootered" to "stocious" and "bevvied." For a selection of Scots words, see Parliamo Scots.
Name That Bridge
A model of the new curving pedestrian bridge, which is to be built over the river Clyde to connect the financial district in Broomielaw with Tradeston on the south bank, has gone on display in Glasgow City Chambers. The design was chosen after a competition involving six top architects and now the City Council wants Glaswegians to suggest a name. Hopefully, the elegant bridge will get a more appropriate (though accurate) name than the unofficial title of "Squinty Bridge" for another one being built further down the river. It is so named because it crosses the river at an angle.
Operation Canna Recovery
The National Trust for Scotland has embarked on a £200,000 project to eradicate rats from the small island of Canna in the Inner Hebrides, south of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland. But before New Zealand-based Wildlife Management International (WMI) sets 3,500 traps for the rats, a breeding population of about 120 woodmice will be captured and transported to the mainland. Once the rats have been exterminated, the woodmice will be returned to Canna. WMI have already tackled rodents on the Melanesian island of New Caledonia, Mauritius and Lundy in the Bristol Channel as well as goats from the Galapagos Islands and feral cats from the Pitcairns in the Pacific. But on Canna their staff will have to lower themselves by rope down high cliffs to place thousands of plastic traps, baited with warfarin. Though they may not appreciate the experience, the exercise will ultimately benefit the woodmice - a unique genetic strain and bigger than normal. And it is hoped that the population of local breeding birds such as the Manx Shearwater, which has been decimated by the rats, will recover. But the 18 human inhabitants of Canna say that they hardly ever see the rodents.
Minister Glides Into Top Ten
Art experts may be in doubt over who actually painted the portrait of "The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch" but the general public are quite sure it is one of their favourites. A poll being run by BBC Radio 4's "Today" programme has the painting gliding into the top ten in the UK. For a long time the painting was attributed to the Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn. Then the present keeper of the National Portrait Gallery skated on thin ice when he asserted that the work was more likely to have been produced by a Frenchman, Henri-Pierre Danloux. Recently, there was more turmoil when an American historian claimed that the Rev Walker was not only insane but an informer who betrayed British soldiers serving in Ireland because of his sympathy for Irish republicans. While the painting has done well to get into the top ten in the BBC poll, it is facing stiff competition from other works from the National Gallery in London.
It's Just Not Cricket
There was great anticipation in the Scotland cricketing world (which is apparently growing strongly these days) at the impending arrival of the Australian touring cricket team, fresh from the series of Tests against England. Spirits were not dampened by the suggestion that the Australian players were more interested in playing golf than cricket during their visit here. A capacity crowd (well, the ground at the Grange in Edinburgh can only take 4,500 spectators) turned up to watch. But although football and rugby and many other sports can continue when it rains, cricket is one of those games where a few spots of rain sends the players scurrying to the grandstand. The gentle rain continued in the east for much of the day and the match was abandoned. So the showcase opportunity turned into a convivial day where the highlights were an inflatable kangaroo and two Scottish supporters who turned up dressed as Batman and Robin. Attempts were made to drive away the rain with rousing renditions of "A Man's a Man for a' That" and "500 Miles" - not by the Proclaimers but by Caledon, Scotland's own "Three Tenors". Cricket Scotland lost an estimated £80,000 as a result of the cancellation, as well as valuable exposure on national TV. But it is hoped that other international games against Pakistan and Sri Lanka can be arranged for next summer - hopefully they will not bring monsoons with them.
Weather in Scotland This Week
There was sunshine and warm weather at the start of the week, with Glasgow reaching 22C (72F) on Sunday and Edinburgh 23C (73F) on Wednesday. Aberdeen and Glasgow enjoyed six hours or more of sunshine on Sunday but after that there was a lot of cloud and later in the week there was some rain, much of it affecting the east of the country. by Friday, Edinburgh was recording a maximum daytime temperature of only 16C (61F) and the only places with any sunshine at all were in the far west such as in Stornoway and the island of Tiree.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of a Fuschia growing in my own garden. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
Regular readers of this Newsletter will be used to seeing more photographs illustrating the current flora and fauna in Scotland. This week, there were again so many photos to choose from a Colour Supplement has been created so as not to overload the main Newsletter. Click on the link and you will open up a new page with a half-dozen or so more illustrations.