Signal Failure Causes Rail Chaos
Rail commuters travelling to Edinburgh are well used to delays and take plenty of reading material with them to while-away the time as various problems cause their train to be late. But on Thursday this week a signal failure caused by a computer fault early in the morning at Haymarket in Edinburgh. This, combined with a bus strike in the capital, caused more chaos than usual. Train services out of Edinburgh Waverley (pictured here) to Fife, Glasgow, Stirling and Dunblane were suspended for a time. Services to Edinburgh were forced to stop at Linlithgow and First Scotrail were unable to hire enough spare bus capacity, leaving thousands of people stranded. Members of the Scottish Parliament travelling to a debate could not get to the legislature in time, so those in the corridors of power were aware of the problems. Even when services resumed later in the day, the busiest line in Scotland, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, was only able to operate every 30 minutes instead of the usual 15-minute schedule. That inevitably caused overcrowding.
Scottish and UK Economy Slowing
The latest business surveys published by Lloyds TSB and conducted by the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde, appear to show that although Scotland's economy is continuing to expand, it is at a slower rate, estimated to be in the range 1.7% to 2%. As usual, service sector companies are doing better than those in manufacturing. The prospects for growth in Scotland's main export markets in Europe have improved slightly and Scottish firms in the services sector are reported to be still confident about the future.
Drop in Scots University Students
The number of Scots entering university this year has fallen for the first time for five years, according to figures published by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). 26,494 students from Scotland have been accepted for courses which begin next week. That's 300 less than last year. While the drop is small, education experts are suggesting that it may signal the start of a trend due to a combination of Scotland's declining population and an influx of students from the rest of the UK to avoid the more onerous fee regime in England and Wales. "Top-up" bills amounting to £3,000 a year are being imposed at universities down south next year. There has been a surge in student numbers this year to avoid the payment.
Labour Win Two By-Elections
This week saw the by-election for the Livingston constituency (caused by the death of Robin Cook, a former Cabinet Minister) at Westminster and in Glasgow Cathcart for the Scottish Parliamentary seat vacated by Lord Watson. Labour retained both seats, but with a reduced majority and a greatly reduced turnout by voters, amid considerable apathy. The turnout in Cathcart for the seat in the Scottish Parliament was only 31.9% of those eligible to vote. In both elections the Scottish National Party came second, with an increased percentage share of the vote.
Proving Anything With Figures
This week, the Glasgow based Evening Times newspaper had a banner headline stating that schools in the city had the poorest exam results in Scotland for the third successive year, with the lowest percentage of pupils in fourth year who pass Standard Grade exams at the top two levels. The Scottish Qualification Authority figures also showed that Glasgow had the lowest number of pupils who achieve either one, three or five highers. Meantime, up in Dundee, the Evening Telegraph there was making the same claim about their local schools. Not to be outdone, the Edinburgh-based Scotsman newspaper, reporting on the same data, described the figures as "mixed results for city pupils" with 4th year pupils struggling to make the grade with less gaining five or more exam passes this year than the Scottish average. However, the Glasgow-based Herald, while also commenting on the low level of passes in Scotland's largest city, also focused on the results close by where pupils in East Renfrewshire came top for this year's exam results. With affluent areas such as Newton Mearns and Clarkston in its catchment area, East Renfrewshire had 42% of pupils achieving the benchmark of three or more Highers. The next best local authority area - well-heeled East Dunbartonshire which includes Bearsden and Lenzie - achieved a level of 32%. The figures also show that, across Scotland, girls continue to outperform boys from Secondary 4 to 6, despite recent attempts to raise attainment among male pupils.
Celebrating St Andrew's Day
For much of Scotland's history, the celebration of the country's patron saint has been non-existent or, at best, low-key. The Reformation in the 16th century didn't help as it tried to sweep away all the symbols of the Roman Catholic church, including saints (and even Christmas). Although most Scots know St Andrew is the country's patron saint, many would be hard pushed to give the date when the saint is celebrated (November 30). However, in recent years the idea that there should be a public holiday on that day has been gaining momentum. A petition to this effect has been submitted to the Scottish Parliament and the subject was debated by MSPs this week. Previously, First Minister Jack McConnell has always resisted calls to support the idea of a holiday and he was still opposed to the proposed bill, saying it would increase costs for public services and for private companies. But he said he was "not hostile" to the plan and wanted the day to be better celebrated. He even suggested that the Scottish Executive might come forward with its own proposals in the future (with no dates as to when that might be)
In Edinburgh, regardless of the decisions of the Scottish Members of Parliament, a number of enthusiasts will be gathering for a march along Princes Street on 30 November. This is the third year that they will have been making their point. For further information, see www.standrewsdayrally.com.
Celebrity TV Gardener Plans Facelift for Castle of Mey
Alan Titchmarsh, who has become the most celebrated gardener on British television, has been asked by the Prince of Wales to develop a memorial garden at the Castle of Mey, the former home of the Queen Mother. Features will include engraved Caithness stone slabs marking significant dates in the life of the Queen Mother, two stone-built viewing towers and a new visitor centre. The 600-year-old castle was the only home that the Queen Mother ever owned and on her death she ensured that a charitable trust was set up so that the community - both local and nationally - could enjoy the northern castle and gardens which she had tended for so many years.
Scottish Fishing Industry "Stable"
Despite the measures which have been taken to prevent over-fishing in the North Sea, official figures published this week seem to show that the fishing industry has remained stable. When the measures such as restricting the number of days boats can put to sea were first brought forward, industry leaders said it would sound the death knell of fishing in Scotland. But the number of vessels still sailing last year reduced by a net figure of one - 2,394 compared to 2,395 in 2003. And the number of those employed in the fish-catching sector in Scotland remained at around 5,375. The value of fish landed at Scottish ports increased by 7% to £300 million in 2004. As for conservation, that seems to have had little impact with landings increased by 9% to 427,000 tonnes, although the type of fish caught has changed to a degree. 71% of the total volume of sea fish landed into the UK in 2004 was at a Scottish port.
Hi-Tech Speed Cameras Miss Motorcycles
The £775,000 camera system which measures average speeds of vehicles along a 20-mile stretch of the A77 road in Ayrshire, was held up as an example of technology being used to defeat those drivers who slow for radar speed traps and then speed up again once they are past. But it has now emerged that the 40 cameras of the "Speed Enforcement Camera System" (Specs) cannot detect motorbikes - because their registration plates do not face the front. Conventional radar speed traps take pictures of the rear of vehicles and so catch motorcycles as well as cars and trucks. Last year, despite an overall decline in road casualty figures, deaths involving motorcyclists were at the highest level since 2000. Motorcycles represent just 1% of all vehicles on Scotland's roads, but they are responsible for over 14% of all accidents.
Eyesore on Edinburgh Castle for Six More Weeks
The Military Tattoo on Edinburgh Castle's esplanade is one of the most popular events in the city each year and tickets sell out rapidly. But the temporary seating which is needed to accommodate the spectators is a bit of an eyesore. It not only obstructs the views of the approach to the castle, it is visible from Princes Street below. So once the Tattoo is over, workmen immediately start to remove it. But this year the company which was contracted to do the work went into liquidation before they could start the task. So it will be early November before the castle forecourt is cleared by a replacement firm.
Arbroath to Dundee Road Improvement Opens Early
Road improvement projects have a nasty habit of being delayed and completed behind schedule - or not going ahead at all, such as the long-talked-about upgrade of stretches of the A1 road from Edinburgh to England to dual carriageway standard. So it is good to be able to report that the upgrade to the A92 from Dundee to Arbroath to two lanes in each direction, with a central reservation and crash barriers, has been completed seven months ahead of schedule. It was claimed that this was achieved by efficient project management and extending the hours of working each day. The 19 kilometre (12 miles) Private Finance Initiative project cost £53 million and during the improvement work there were long tail-backs on the road as the complex work progressed.
Volume of Scottish Cereal Acreage at 30-year Low
Changes to the subsidies paid to farmers under the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have led to a decrease of 6% in the area of farmland given over to cereal production in 2005, leading to a 30-year low. The total area of combined harvested crops in 2005 was 457,060 hectares (1,129,418 acres), the lowest level since 1973. The CAP reforms mean that support paid to farmers is no longer based on the area of crops grown each year. This has meant that less productive areas of land have been left fallow as income from these do not justify the production costs.
New Railway Station Opens
Strathclyde Passenger Transport (SPT) began train services this week from a new station at Kelvindale in the west-end of Glasgow. The track links Anniesland and Maryhill and uses a route which has not carried passenger trains since 1918. The station lies close to new housing developments and a school and is only 16 minutes away from Queen Street station in the centre of the city. It is the third new station to be opened by SPT in the last five years
Glasgow Tower Closed - Again
Scotland's tallest free-standing structure (at 416 feet) and the world's only tower that rotates 360 degrees along its entire length, was supposed to epitomise all that was best about Scottish engineering and vision. But the £10 million Glasgow Tower has suffered from a catalogue of technical problems ever since it opened (behind schedule). In the last four years it has been closed for more days than it has been open. In January this year, ten people were trapped in the lift for several hours and had to be rescued by firefighters cutting through from the internal staircase. It took five months to repair the lift after that. The views over Glasgow from the top when visitors actually get there are well worth the entrance fee, but the troubled tower closed yet again this week and staff cannot say when it will open again. The tower is located beside the river Clyde and the Glasgow Science Centre. Even without the additional draw of the tower, the Science Centre has become the third most popular paid-for attraction in Scotland, behind only Edinburgh Castle and Edinburgh Zoo.
100 Languages in Scotland's Schools
The UK, including Scotland, is often criticised for the small number of people learning a second language. We tend to rely on English (or American) being spoken by people in other countries. But research by Stirling University's Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research has found that around 12,000 schoolchildren (that's nearly 10% of the total) speak a language other than English, because of their ethnic backgrounds. Many are fluent in Urdu, Punjabi and Mandarin Chinese because their parents and relatives still maintain their original language.
Take a Tip from the Scots
Far from being tight-fisted, Scots have come out of a survey by First Direct Bank as the most generous tippers in restaurants, bars, taxis and hairdressers. It is estimated that they give away £256 million each year - though not necessarily for good service. Often they add a tip out of habit or to avoid being thought of as being mean or cheap. Indeed, Scots are less likely than anywhere else in the UK to complain about bad service. And it appears that Scottish women are more generous than men. And the least generous area in the UK? The north and midlands of England.
Scots Make a Splash
Skimming a flat stone across the water may not be an Olympic sport (give it time?) but the annual world stone skimming championships took place at a quarry on Easdale Island, Argyll last weekend. You might have thought that a niche sport like stone skimming, played on a remotish Scottish island, would not attract competitors from far afield, but there were contestants from Germany, Denmark, Australia and the USA. However, it was Scottish entrants who swept the water, taking first place in all six categories. Last year's winner took second place this time with a distance of 59 metres (194 feet) but this year's overall champion hit the back wall of the quarry, having skimmed his stone 62 metres (203 feet). The event raised between £2000 and £3000 for local community funds.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Last Sunday was mild for the end of September, reaching a maximum daytime temperature of 17/18C (63/64F) in most places except the northern isles. There was a fair amount of sunshine too, but a seri4es of weather fronts crossing over Scotland brought a mixed bag of cloud and lower temperatures. The thermometer fell in Glasgow and Aberdeen on Wednesday so that the maximum temperature was only 12/13C (52/53F) and Glasgow had over an inch of rain over Tuesday/Wednesday. By Friday, however, temperatures had recovered to 20C (68F) in the east, though Glasgow could only manage 16C (61F) under leaden skies.The outlook next week is for temperatures around 15C (59F) but with sunshine and some showers.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of Hollyhock in the garden of the House of Dun, a national Trust for Scotland property near Montrose in Angus. For further illustrations, see the "Colour Supplement" below.
Newsletter "Colour Supplement"
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland this week to show the current flora and fauna illustrate Crathes castle in Aberdeenshire in the sun, red autumn ivy, bright, yellow Helenium, Clematis and a Ruddy Duck and a Tufted Duck.
See this week's Colour Supplement.