Travel Plan for Everyone
The Scottish Executive published this week its vision for the development of transport over the next 20 years in the west of Scotland (where half of Scotland's population is located) and attempted to satisfy everyone from the cyclist to the air traveller. New roads, rail links, ferry routes and cycleways are all part of the £1 billion proposals. Major projects are already in the pipeline, of course, including the rail links to Glasgow airports and the extension of the M74 motorway south of Glasgow to link with the M8. Despite these and other major improvements, the mantra of increasing the use of public transport is well to the fore, with bus and rail interchanges being upgraded and more bus-only corridors being created. The present circular subway system will also be extended. There will also be a major expansion of the national network of cycleways and paths.
G8 Caused Slump in Tourism
There was a sharp drop of 8.4% in the number of tourists visiting Scotland's main attractions in July, with castles and palaces seeing the biggest drop. Clearly the G8 summit at Gleneagles, far from attracting tourists, produced a threat of disturbances and traffic disruption which kept people away. Many attractions also closed over the three days of the conference, fearing that they could be targeted by demonstrators. Those living in Scotland and England are also an important element in the country's tourist industry, with a growing number of retired folk who visit these attractions on a regular basis. During the week of the G8, they steered clear of the east of Scotland - visitor numbers at attractions in Glasgow did not follow the trend and were up by 8.2%. Clearly the tens of thousands who came to Scotland to demonstrate to the world leaders about poverty in Africa and elsewhere were not interested in also viewing castles and palaces. VisitScotland, the tourism agency, is confident that the figures recovered in August and that, overall, 2005 will be a good year.
Investment in Clyde Shipyards
The BAE shipyards at Scotstoun and Govan are to receive an investment of £22.6 million to create and safeguard hundreds of jobs in the industry. £4.1 million of the cash is coming from the Scottish Executive in the form of "Regional Selective Assistance" which is aimed at creating 400 new jobs and ensuring the continuation of another 205 existing jobs over the next eighteen months. The investment will allow extensive upgrading and modernisation at the docks and deep water berth facility, as well as the construction of additional office and training accommodation. BAE Systems Naval Ships is a warship prime contractor and systems integrator for the UK Ministry of Defence and selected export customers. The company provides a complete warship capability, from generating initial concepts through to evolving in-service support solutions. BAE is able to receive such financial assistance because it is involved in defence contracts and so does not come under European restrictions on state aid. The company employs approximately 3000 people at its facilities in Scotstoun and Govan in Glasgow and in Filton, near Bristol.
Postal Service Fails to Deliver
When people stick a first class stamp on a letter and post it in a designated pillar box by around 5pm, 93% are supposed to be delivered by the Royal Mail service the following morning. Indeed, Aberdeen and Dumfries postal districts manage to achieve 95.9% success on that target, the best in Scotland. On the other hand, in Edinburgh the success rate is only 91.9% - the second worst performance in the whole of Scotland. For understandable reasons, the only areas which have a worse record are the islands of the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney. The 93% is supposed to be a minimum target level and too many areas are failing to achieve it - and postal rates keep going up, of course.
Children in Argyll Worst for Smiles
Responses from dentists across the country to a survey on the dental health of five-year-olds show that those living in Argyll and Clyde Health Trust had the worst teeth, with an average of 3.67 decayed, missing or filled teeth. That was the third worst result in Britain, with only Merthyr, in south Wales, and North Kirklees, in Yorkshire above them in the "worst teeth in Britain" table. Greater Glasgow (which includes towns such as Paisley and Dumbarton) was not far behind, with 3.45 unhealthy teeth per child, while Lanarkshire was the third worst region in Scotland. In deprived areas of Glasgow, 80% of children have at least one rotten tooth. Children in the Scottish Borders had the best teeth in Scotland with an average of 1.29 damaged or filled teeth. But even that wasn't good enough to make the top 15 in Britain. The best area was Maidstone Weald, Kent, with an average of just 0.47 damaged teeth for every child. By the age of five, 41% of five-year-olds in Britain suffer from tooth decay; by the time they are eight, that figure has risen to 57%.
New Chief for National Galleries of Scotland
After a year-long search and interviewing 130 candidates, the trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland have announced a successor to its present director-general, who is retiring in March next year. John Leighton, who is currently director of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, is a graduate of Edinburgh University and is said to be the favoured candidate of Sir Timothy Clifford, the current director-general, and of the staff. He was the curator of 19th century paintings at the National Gallery in London before moving to Amsterdam in 1997. Despite his experience, Mr Leighton will find following Sir Timothy a hard act to follow. Clifford has been at the National Galleries for 21 years and has achieved a transformation of the collection and the buildings in which they are housed. In the process he has achieved that difficult goal of receiving critical acclaim while at the same time making the galleries popular and well attended.
200,000 More Scottish Households
Scotland's overall population may be struggling to keep to its present levels, but the growth in the number of households has risen by 10% since 1991 to reach 2.25 million by June 2004. The increase in the number of single people setting up their own home, including young people who no longer stay with their parents until they get married, has led to the rise. Average household size has been getting correspondingly smaller - according to the census returns there are now 34% of households with only one person.
Recruitment Drive by Scottish Natural Heritage
Government policy to decentralise departments and agencies from Edinburgh to other parts of Scotland, forced the management of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to create a new operational centre in Inverness. The move was greeted with dismay by many of the Edinburgh staff, many of whom were settled with their families in Edinburgh and had children in the capital's schools and spouses in employment there. Despite generous "relocation" packages, only 40 out of 270 staff have agreed to the move. That has meant that SNH has had to launch a major recruitment drive in the Highland Capital - while making redundancy payments to qualified and experienced staff in Scotland's capital. SNH is completing the creation of a new £15 million HQ building in Inverness. The Scottish Executive defends its decentraliastion policy on the basis of being "committed to ensuring that all of Scotland benefits from public sector jobs".
Many staff at Petrofac in Aberdeen which designs, builds and operates oil and gas facilities are in line to receive substantial windfalls as the company floats on the London Stock Exchange. Their stake in the company will be worth an average of £330,000 each, when the company goes public next month at a valuation of £550 million. Almost 10% of the 5,500-strong workforce have a 30% share in the firm , which has offices not only in the UK but also in India and the Middle East. Around 3,000 are located in Aberdeen and a good number of these are shareholders.The chief executive says that the flotation is aimed at meeting demand for the company's services but would allow them to offer more flexible employee share incentives.
New Aberdeen HQ for Oil Company
Oil giant BP showed its commitment to the North Sea oil industry and the role of Aberdeen in that field by announcing a new £45 million HQ building to be created at Dyce, on the outskirts of the granite city, adjacent to its existing building. It will create a single structure for the company's 1,000 staff who are based at the original building (put up 31 years ago) and other offices nearby. It will be the HQ for BP's exploration and production activities in the UK, Norway and the Netherlands.
English Think Highly of Scotland
When the Scottish Parliament was set up, there was concern in some quarters that it might create some form of English backlash, if it was felt that Scotland was being given special treatment. During the run-up to the launch of the new parliament, the additional funding per head of the Scottish (and Welsh and Norther Irish) population, which has been in place for over 30 years, was frequently highlighted. In 1999-2000, £121 was spent in Scotland for every £100 spent per head in the UK as a whole. The figure takes into account the additional expenditure incurred, for example, because of the more rural nature and larger geographic distances involved in Scotland. However, a five-year study of identity and nationhood carried out by a team of academics, co-ordinated from Edinburgh University, shows that English people not only like the Scots - they think that Scotland is better than England in many respects. Even so, there has been a marked rise in the numbers south of the border who identify themselves as "English" rather than "British". English people often volunteered praise for Scotland's education and legal systems. If they have an opinion on Scotland's relatively generous share of government spending, they believe that the system produces a fair distribution.
Scotland's Favourite Painting?
A poll conducted by Herald newspaper to find the nation's favourite painting has come up with Salvador Dali's "Christ of St John of the Cross". This work will be returning to the Kelvingrove Art gallery in Glasgow when the refurbishment of that building is completed. There was a public outcry when Dr Tom Honeyman, the then director of Glasgow's museums and art galleries, spent the city's entire annual purchasing budget (all £8,200) to obtain the painting in 1952, but it has become an icon of the Glasgow gallery. The poll was influenced no doubt by the support from the Glasgow-based paper and it is another Glaswegian painting which took second place - "Windows in the West" by Avril Paton which shows the every-day stories of a west-end Glasgow tenement block through its windows. In third place is "Flood Tide" by Joan Eardley which is displayed in the Lillie Art Gallery in Milngavie, a Glasgow dormitory suburb. Raeburn's famous painting "Rev Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch", which hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland, only made it to 7th place.
Best Scottish Book?
Thousands of people have been casting their vote for their book selection from a list of 100 since it was launched on World Book Day in March. The results were announced this week and top of the poll was "Sunset Song" by Lewis Grassic Gibbon, the story of Aberdeenshire heroine Chris Guthrie who showed everyone what "smeddum" meant. The book was first published in 1932 as the first in the "Scots Quair" trilogy. Although there was strong competition from such books as "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" by Muriel Spark (which came 9th) and "Lanark" by Alasdair Gray (which came 4th), it was "The Game of Kings" a historical epic by Dorothy Dunnett which came 2nd and "Trainspotting" by Irvine Welsh which came in at 3rd place. Perhaps surprisingly, James Hogg's "The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner" came in at 10th.
If you are wondering what "smeddum" means, it's spirit, mettle, energy, drive, vigorous common sense and resourcefulness. See the next item!
Scottish National Dictionary for 21st Century
The 10-volume Scottish National Dictionary, covering all the Scots and regional words found in the country, was completed in 1976. Now, after a three year project funded by the National Lottery, the publishers have produced a supplement which brings the record of the Scots language up to the 21st century. Combined with the 12 volumes of the Dictionary of the Older Scottish Tongue (DOST), they constitute the most comprehensive dictionaries available for the Scots language. And the good news is that both works are available online, free of charge. The site's search engine is fast, and includes examples of the words in use as well as the meaning. See Dictionary of the Scottish Language.
Through the Calm and Frosty Air
A painting of a winter landscape by Edinburgh-born Joseph Farquharson was sold at an auction of Scottish pictures at Gleneagles Hotel this week for £310,400, a world record for the artist and £50,000 more than the previous highest price. The painting is of sheep on a snow-covered track, surrounded by leafless trees, but with the artist's signature gloaming (evening) light in the background. He painted the scene at an easel set up in a mobile studio during a heavy snow-fall, with the flock of sheep tethered in front of him - though in the painting they look as though they are naturally walking through the woods.
After lengthy deliberation, the Scottish Executive has decided not to approve a plan by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to begin a trial re-introduction of the European beaver to Scotland. The minister involved tactfully commended SNH for their "imagination and effort" and acknowledged the years of research to investigate and prepare for such an application. But it was claimed that elements of the plan (including potential killing of beavers outside of the trial site and possible negative environmental effects) would have broken European law. It appears that the door is not closed to future re-introductions and the SNH strategic approach on the conservation framework is to include evaluation of possible species re-introduction.
21st Century Tardis
Blue police boxes, of the type which became famous as the time-travelling Tardis in the Dr Who TV sci-fi series, are no longer used by the police in this country. A few have been converted to other uses - such as an information point or even a coffee shop. But the concept of a police box has been re-invented for the 21st century with the latest 10ft high, circular box made of chrome, complete with CCTV and public information point, which has arrived (without any space-age sound effects) in St Enoch Square in Glasgow. If it is successful, the hi-tech boxes could be materialising in other locations across the country.
When Archie, an intelligent but impatient black labrador, lost his owner at Inverurie station in Aberdeenshire recently, closed circuit TV showed that he got fed up looking for his master and jumped onto the Aberdeen to Inverness train which pulled in at the station. A few stops down the line, Archie jumped out at the right station at Insch. Station staff identified the dog and the frantic owner got a mobile phone call from them to say that Archie was waiting for him! (Sorry about the "well trained" pun).
Roll Up, Roll Up - For Free Haggis Pizza
Supermarket chain Morrisons has been struggling to convince customers, particularly in Scotland, that their takeover of the Safeway stores was a good move. But they are trying hard and on the day before Scotland met Italy in their vital World Cup football qualifier, they attempted to blend the tastes of the two cultures by producing Italian pizza with a Scottish haggis topping. Perhaps they anticipate that this clash of tastes might not go down too well, so they are giving slices of the "Caledonia" pizzas away free throughout the day only at their Easterhouse, Glasgow, store. The manager says that he hopes the Scotland team will follow the haggis example - and come out on top.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Although some of the leaves on the trees are beginning to show signs of autumn, maximum daytime temperatures held up quite well this week, remaining largely in the range 18/19C (64/66F) with Edinburgh reaching 23C (73F) on Wednesday as warmer air crept as far as Scotland from the continent. There was a fair amount of sunshine around too, though broken cloud was usually present as well. Aberdeen recorded over 12 hours of sunshine on Tuesday and the whole country, particularly in the east, had lots of sunshine on Friday and Saturday. However, violent thunderstorms in the north of England disrupted power supplies to 86,000 homes on Wednesday, including many in the Scottish Borders.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, feeding on some Ragwort in Drumpellier Country Park. 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 more illustrations.