Local Council Taxes Double in Ten Years
Analysis by the Bank of Scotland has illustrated what we all knew - local council taxes have risen far faster than inflation in recent years. The figures show that while the Retail Price Index grew by 36% in the last ten years and house prices galloped up by 88%, council taxes have risen on average by a staggering 101% in the same period. Being local, the taxes vary across the country, with East Dunbartonshire residents paying 73% higher tax than those in the Western Isles. Edinburgh and West Dunbartonshire have seen the smallest rises in the last decade - a modest 38%.
Manufacturing Exports Slide
Since late 2000, Scotland's sales of manufactured goods abroad have declined by nearly 37%, an average decline of 2.5% every three months. So maybe the decline of 2.7% over the last year and 1% in the second quarter of this year can be looked at in a positive light. Much of the recent fall was due to the electrical and instrument engineering sector, (including computers), with a quarterly decline of 3.6%. And manufactured exports from the chemical sector went down by 8.5%. The drinks industry (which includes whisky), however, achieved an increase of 2.3% in exports in the quarter and mechanical engineering jumped up by 4.4% in the same period. The figures are based on data provided by around 1,000 companies of various sizes.
Government Dictates St Andrews Day Holiday Vote
In the vote this week in the Scottish Parliament on whether or not St Andrews Day should be declared as a national holiday, the Scottish Executive clearly put pressure on its supporters to steer the legislation into the long grass. It was eventually resolved to refer the matter back to the committee which had put the idea forward in the first place. Some of these committee members had clearly supported the idea at an earlier stage, but obeyed party lines in voting for the subject to be referred back to themselves. A vote in favour of the bill would not have enforced a holiday (bank holidays are negotiated by trade unions, staff and employers) but would have encouraged them to do so.
"Aberdeen City and Shire, A Brighter Outlook"
These days, any city, town or area that wants to sell itself, has to have an expensively created "brand" and an advertising slogan to go with it - and the north-east of Scotland has come up with "Aberdeen City and Shire, A Brighter Outlook" at a cost of £150,000. It doesn't exactly slip easily off the tongue but and there have been some scathing reactions from some Aberdonians. "Dundee, City of Discovery" was an early entrant in the branding of Scottish cities. Glasgow has gone through a number of metamorphoses - starting in 1983 with the much loved and successful "Glasgow's Miles Better" (which could be read as "Glasgow Smiles Better"), followed by the instantly forgettable "Glasgow Forrit" and then the recent "Glasgow: Scotland with Style". And Scotland's capital is sold these days as "Edinburgh: Inspiring Capital" after an £800,000 expenditure. Then, of course, there is Prestwick Airport's much derided "Pure Dead Brilliant" - a catch-phrase more resonant of Glaswegian culture than one 30 miles from that city. So maybe the folk in the north-east should be thankful that the consultants didn't come up with something worse!
£40 Million Christmas Bonus
It is many years since legislation was passed in the UK which requires wages and salaries for men and women doing the same job to be equal. Despite this, surveys keep showing that parity has not been reached. But it is surprising that local government has not followed the rules and that local authorities in various parts of Scotland are in dispute with trade unions on how to resolve the issue - including back payments covering many years. Staff in Aberdeen have been on the verge of strike action in recent months over the issue, but this week those in Glasgow have been offered a massive £40.2 million windfall, if they settle the equal pay battle which has been going on for six years. It will mean that around 11,000 mainly low-paid workers, such as cleaners, kitchen staff and home helps will receive in the run-up to Christmas sums of between £1,000 and £9,000 (depending on length of service and hours worked) with the average around £3,600. It could be the biggest pay deal of its kind in Scottish local government history. City council leaders say that the finance for the pay-out will be met with cuts and savings in other budgets.
£50 Million Expansion of Edinburgh's Financial District
Finance giant Scottish Widows has unveiled plans to create a major office development on land which it owns close to its Edinburgh HQ (pictured here). City planners are supporting the new buildings, which would see an expansion of the existing Exchange financial district by 10%, creating 1,500 new jobs in the process. An important element of the scheme is the retention and restoration of the listed facade of the former meat market building. This became a restaurant at one stage, but has been lying empty for five years. The area already houses the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Exchange Plaza, Standard Life's £60 million headquarters as well as the Scottish Widows building.
Don't Let the Bug Bite
The Scottish Executive has launched its annual TV and radio campaign to encourage vulnerable groups such as senior citizens and asthma and diabetes sufferers to go along to their doctor to be vaccinated against this year's influenza viruses. The vast majority of deaths that occur as a result of flu happen in the over-65s, so it is important that older people get vaccinated before winter begins. Healthcare workers and others dealing with the general public are also at a higher risk of exposure to the virus and can get a vaccination which could help them - and also stop the spread of flu.
Seven-Day Bus Strike Looms Again
After a series of one-day strikes by bus drivers Edinburgh, the threat of a seven-day strike appeared to have been averted when the Transport and General Workers' Union recommended acceptance of a last-minute offer. The deal was then put to drivers across east and central Scotland. Although the majority of them accepted, 61% of those in Edinburgh and the Lothians rejected the deal. So now around 350 drivers employed by First Bus are scheduling a crippling seven-day strike from October 17.
Longest Planning Application Ever
Scottish and Southern Energy has lodged a planning application which runs to 1.2 million words (twice the length of "War and Peace") in its attempt to erect electricity pylons all the way from Beauly, north of Inverness, to Denny in the central lowlands. The new 136-mile long network is needed to allow the electricity generated by windfarms in the north to be transmitted to users in the rest of the country. The largest pylons would be 200 feet high. Part of the proposed route is through the new Grampians Country Park and the park authorities say they would be a laughing stock if the plan goes ahead.
Official Register of Tartan?
Although tartan is such an important element in Scottish culture these days, there has never been any official register of the thousands of designs which have been created, never mind specifying the precise shade of the cloth. A number of organisations have attempted the task, notably the Scottish Tartans Authority, but with 120 new tartans being created around the world each year, it is an almost impossible task without any official backing. The Scottish Tartans Authority represents 300 of the largest weavers of tartan, including many of the more famous names such as Lochcarron and Strathmore Woollen Company. Now a Member of the Scottish Parliament has submitted a private members bill which, if it gains sufficient support, would create a single organisation with the authority to monitor the authenticity of tartans around the world.
Council officials in Glasgow have suggested a short list of five names for the new pedestrian bridge which will sweep in a semi-circle across the river Clyde between Broomielaw and Tradeston, as part of a £34 million project to transform the waterfront on that part of the river. The names being put forward include Mercantile Bridge (to recognise the role played by merchants in Glasgow's economic history) and James Watt Bridge (commemorating the steam engine inventor, whose workshop was close to the bridge). Other names include The Comet (after the first steam paddle vessel to sail on the Clyde in 1812) and Dewar's Bridge to celebrate Scotland's first First Minister. But despite the proposed list, council officials have launched a competition to find the best name for the structure. Already the unusual shape has prompted suggestions such as "the Glasgow Grin" and "Rainbow Bridge" while the cables holding up the curve have prompted the name "Glasgow Harp." Entries can be submitted by e-mail to email@example.com.
Painted Into a Corner
Critics of Scottish painter Jack Vettriano sometimes described him as someone who just colours in images and "paints by numbers". This week there seemed to be some vindication for that view, when it was revealed that a number of his most famous works were copied from an illustrators' teaching manual. Vettranio's most famous painting, "The Singing Butler", was recently sold for £744,800 and prints from his many works adorn many walls. One of the drawings in the manual matches the outline of this picture exactly. His agent sprang to his defence saying "Jack is a self-taught artist and it is unsurprising that .. he had neither the time nor the money to work with real-life models, that he should use a teaching manual such as this. Vettriano's skill lies in his ability to create narrative paintings with which the viewer becomes involved."
Good Morning America - From Palace of Holyroodhouse
Viewers of the popular US breakfast show "Good Morning America" have been treated to the programme being presented from inside royal castles and palaces this week. The Queen gave permission for access for a live broadcast from Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace and also the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal official residence in Scotland. Presenter Nick Watt was dressed in a kilt for that one - he is after all a former pupil of Glenalmond College near Perth. Viewers were treated to the skirl of the pipes, courtesy of his old school's pipe band. It is thought that such programmes have never been done before and they will not only respond to interest in the US about royalty and heritage, but will also be a tremendous free advertisement for UK tourism. But although access to the buildings was granted, the Queen herself stayed out of the limelight in her summer holiday home of Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, which was not included in the Royal breakfast show.
A Rowie Too Far
Popular veteran broadcaster Terry Wogan, who presents the BBC Radio 2 breakfast show, is well known for his zany comments which liven up his 8 million listeners as they eat their cornflakes or drive to work. One of the Irishman's (many) long-running tales concerns the A939 road between Cockbridge and Tomintoul which is frequently blocked in winter by snow. Wogan regales listeners with stories about local worthy "Mrs Mackay" who keeps the road open single-handedly - with a shovel. So when Wogan arrived in Aberdeen this week to present the show from the granite city, there was amused speculation that he might actually visit the road he had made so infamous (and maybe even meet Mrs Mackay too). But it was not to be - the road was closed to traffic. Not snow, this time, but roadworks on a hump-backd bridge. However, Wogan still managed to generate controversy by expressing his antipathy towards one of the delicacy's of the north-east, namely the "rowie" or "buttery". The Aberdeen version of the morning roll has an excess of fat and salt in the recipe, so it is not for the faint-hearted. But served warm with butter, it is regarded by many as one of the treats of a visit to the north-east. But Wogan compared it to seaweed - as 10,000 of them were being consumed in the area. It is said that the traditional rowie owes its existence to the fishermen of the area who wanted a morning roll that had a long shelf life for their voyages.
Students Reject Adam Smith as a "Bad Role Model"
Students at the Adam Smith College in Kirkcaldy (which boasts the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, as its chancellor) have refused to name their association after the 18th century economist whose "Wealth of Nations" is regarded as the first "modern" book on economics. Instead, they have adopted the title "Jennie Lee Students' Association" after local the socialist firebrand and wife of Nye Bevan who was a minister in the first post-war Labour government. The students say that Adam Smith, who was an advocate of free trade, didn't represent the values of a student association and that he is "associated with socio-economic policies that work against the people and are synonymous with Thatcherite and Reaganite governments. His name is linked to exploitation and greed." The director of the Adam Smith Institute says the students are free to adopt whatever name they want. But he pointed out that their decision was based on "a complete misunderstanding of what Adam Smith actually believed in."
Big Yin Coming Home
Actor and comedian Billy Connolly spends the summer at his Scottish baronial retreat of Candacraig Castle in Aberdeenshire, but for many years his main home has been in Los Angeles. But now he is exchanging the Californian sunshine for the less certain weather of the north-east of Scotland and has sold his Hollywood mansion. The move may mark a possible shift in relations between the stand-up comic and the Scottish media - Connolly says he left Scotland because the negativity of the local media felt like a disease. Of course, he can always retreat into his 12-acre estate, which he bought in 1998, if he is subjected to too much hassle. Every summer he invites a galaxy of American and British stars to stay with him and attend the local Lonach Highland Games.
Cosy New Nest for Bird Watchers
Quizmaster Magnus Magnusson, who chaired the TV show "Mastermind" for 27 years and has been chairman of Scottish Natural Heritage, opened Scotland's first independent bird-watching facility at Aberlady Bay in East Lothian this week. The Scottish Ornithologists' Club is Scotland's biggest bird-watching club and the opening of the new HQ coincided with the arrival of thousands of geese from Magnusson's home country of Iceland. The new centre is the only one in Scotland which is run independently of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. The public can access an extensive library of books as well as wander along the extensive paths on the reserve.
A Tot of Whisky
A Swedish couple have won a legal battle with the authorities in their native country to call their baby girl "Edradour", after the Highland distillery. Sweden bans the use of any name associated with an alcoholic drink brand but baby Edradour's parents are interested in whisky and fell in love with the area where the distillery is located. So they took the case to court - and won. The name Edradour is believed to be derived from the Gaelic "Edred dhobar" meaning "the stream of King Eldred".
Weather in Scotland This Week
The main feature of the weather this week has been the unrelenting cloud cover. Forecasters had predicted an area of high pressure this week, which usually means fine weather. But as the grey skies persisted this week they had to reveal that this was a "cloudy high" and that the cloud was trapped under the system. Aberdeen and north-east Scotland and the northern isles managed on some of the days this week to "escape" - Aberdeen recorded over five hours of sun on Monday, four hours on Wednesday and over seven hours on Thursday. Aberdeen was one of the few places in Scotland where the partial eclipse of the sun on Monday was visible. For the rest of the country, the instruments recording sunshine had their quietest week for a long time. At least there was very little rainfall from those clouds, with only a few minor showers.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of Schizostylis at Glendoick Garden Centre between Perth and Dundee. 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 Monikie Country Park, Cormorant, Diascea, Red Admiral Butterfly, Ruddy Duck, Gaillardia and Helianthus. See Colour Supplement on a separate page.