Last Taxi For Conservative Leader
After months of media reports about David McLetchie, the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, charging taxi fares for trips which did not relate to parliamentary business, he resigned this week "with heavy heart". Under freedom of information legislation, full details of his expenses had been published and reporters had established that, on occasions, he appeared to have charged the taxpayer for trips which related to Conservative Party events and travel to the office of the Edinburgh legal firm for which he continued to work part-time. He had repaid the cash for a number of such journeys, but as more and more items appeared to fall foul of parliamentary rules, and the media coverage became damaging to the Conservative party, he eventually decided to stand down. He was being taunted with "taxi for McLetchie" at every turn as more revelations came to light. The total sums were not huge, but illustrated a disregard for abiding by the rules. The end of McLetchie's leadership of the party in Scotland will perhaps amuse Henry McLeish, the former First Minister, who was hounded and harried by McLetchie over office expenses in the "Officegate" affair until he was forced into resigning in 2001. Annabel Goldie, who had been the chairperson of the Conservatives in Scotland, appears to be the next leader as nobody else has come forward to contest the position.
Scotland and Malawi Sign Co-operation Agreement
First Minister Jack McConnell and the President of Malawi, Bingu wa Mutharika, signed a co-operation agreement this week in Edinburgh which offered practical help to the African nation in areas such as health, education, and economic development. Scottish nurses, teachers and government staff will be going to Malawi to provide practical help. The pact is the first of its kind for 300 years, effectively twinning Scotland and Malawi to help lift the African country out of poverty. There are historic links between the two countries, which go back to the days of David Livingston The First Minister visited Malawi earlier this year and saw at first hand the poverty, hunger and famine. However, the visit by the Malawi president has been clouded by accusations of corruption in the African country and impeachment proceedings against the president in his own parliament. During his visit Mr Mutharika addressed the Scottish Parliament and attended a conference of aid charities who want to help his country in the fight against disease and starvation.
Scottish Deputy First Minister Heads for India
When Deputy First Minister Nicol Stephen travels to New Delhi and Bangalore next week, he will be the first Scottish Executive Minister to visit India. The objective of the trip is to encourage expanded business links between the two countries and promote the use of Scottish education. India is an English speaking democracy that is set to be the third biggest economy in the world. Yet it is only 33rd on the list of Scottish export destinations. The Deputy First Minister will also visit Shanghai, to further develop high-level economic and educational links with China.
Decline in Deaths Due to Heart Disease
According to government figures published this week, fewer Scots are dying prematurely from heart disease and stroke. And those suffering from these illnesses are receiving treatment more quickly than every before. Overall, coronary heart disease mortality rates decreased by 7.3% between 2003 and 2004 (from 150.4 to 139.4 per 100,000 population). The mortality rate for those under 75 declined even faster and the number of heart operations carried out by the National Health Service rose by 6.3% over the same period. Deaths from strokes also declined. Historically, Scotland has had one of the worst rates for premature cardiovascular deaths and the Scottish Executive has targeted a reduction of 60% in mortality rates between 1995 and 2010.
Royal Regiment of Scotland Starts Recruitment Drive
Although campaigners are still fighting to stop the plans, the Royal Regiment of Scotland is set to be formed in five month's time by merging such historic regiments as the Black Watch, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Royal Highland Fusiliers and the Royal Scots. Already, the Ministry of Defence has launched a multi-million recruitment campaign to attract recruits to the new regiment. While the conflict in Iraq may have more to do with it than the projected merger, enlistment to the Scottish regiments in the last year has declined substantially.
Modern Language Students Slump
In 2002, the Scottish Executive made the study of modern languages at secondary schools a voluntary part of the curriculum. Since then, the numbers taking Standard Grade and Higher grade exams in foreign languages has fallen by 13%. The Scottish Association of Language Teaching has described the government's policy as "disastrous" and has called for languages to be made compulsory again. The change had been made because it was found that only 11% of pupils who studied foreign languages in the early years of secondary school went on to take them to Higher grade exams. But at least they had an introduction to the subject and might be able to stumble their way in conversations in French, German or Italian.
Overseas Students Choose Scotland
The Scottish Executive's "Fresh Talent" initiative is being given the credit for soaring numbers of students at Scottish universities. Those who graduate from Scottish institutions qualify for a two-year extension to their residency visas, which allows them to gain practical experience working in the UK. Applications from foreign students have risen by 20% - while English universities have seen a marked decline. Paisley University saw a 90% increase in applicants from abroad and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen had a 70% increase. Some English institutions have reported a 24% decline. Recent changes to immigration rules have resulted in a perception abroad that Scotland is welcoming overseas students, while obstacles are being placed in the way of applicants to English degree courses.
Rival Budget Airlines in Price War
Leeds-based airline Jet2.com announced only last week that it was launching a service between Edinburgh and the popular Spanish holiday resort of Murcia, with prices as low as £33 for the trip. But a few days later, Scottish-based airline FlyGlobespan revealed that they were also going to fly the same route from next summer - and that they would undercut their budget-price rivals. FlyGlobespan are expanding rapidly and expect to increase the number of aircraft based at Edinburgh from four to six next year, as it adds to its network.
Daily Air Service Between Florida and Glasgow
Home-grown budget airline FlyGlobespan is to start a daily service between Glasgow and Sanford, near Orlando in Florida next summer. Fares on the no-frills route will be around £300 for a return flight, including taxes. Fares won't include food and drink, which will be on sale on board. There are already many charter flights to Florida, but this will be the first scheduled service. Flyglobespan's parent company, Globespan, has been offering charter flights to Canada for 30 years.
The Safest City in the UK for Car Crime
An analysis of claims made to a leading insurance company has found that Aberdeen is the least likely city in the UK where cars are stolen. Car thefts in the Granite City were over 50% lower than the UK average. And Aberdonians were found to be less prone to have accidents than residents in many other UK cities. But Edinburgh had the lowest percentage of accident claims amongst all the Scottish cities. The most dangerous cities in Britain for accidents were all in England - London, Birmingham and Manchester. Car thefts were most likely to occur in the English cities of Leeds, Bristol and Manchester.
Scots Win Nearly a Billion Pounds
The National Lottery was launched 11 years ago and since then more than £17 billion has been raised for "good causes" across the UK. While that in itself is a good by-product of the funds spent every week by the public in lottery tickets, the main aim of most individuals is to win several million pounds by guessing the winning numbers. Since 1984, Scots have won nearly a billion pounds in prize money and a good number of those have been made millionaires. According to figures published this week, there have been 41 winners in Glasgow alone who have won a million pounds or more. Scotland has had several big winners, including a bus driver in Loanhead near Edinburgh who won a jackpot of £8.5 million. He lived on what has been christened "Scotland's luckiest street" after four families there won large sums over the years.
Taxi Monopoly at Glasgow Airport Questioned
The licensing of taxis is the responsibility of each local authority and as a result, taxis are not allowed to pick up fares outside of their own area. Glasgow's airport is outside the city boundary, in Renfrewshire. So, as a result, only taxis licensed in Renfrewshire can pick up passengers there. If they travel into Glasgow, they must then return empty to Renfrewshire as they are not allowed to pick up passengers in the city. Meantime, taxis from Glasgow that take passengers to the airport have to return empty. Not before time, Glasgow City Council has called for a change in the law to stop the unnecessary waste in fuel and increased pollution. Of course, even if the law is amended, the taxi drivers in Renfrewshire who have a monopoly on the rank at Glasgow airport would not be happy. Locals who know the system, can arrange by phone for any taxi to collect them from the airport. Not that they would call on a "black cab" from Glasgow as that would incur a "boundary charge" to compensate for the taxi not being able to pick up another fare outside of the city boundary!
Skye Gathering Dances Over to Russia
The Skye Ball dates back to 1877, when the chiefs of the Macdonald and MacLeod clans decided to establish a Highland Games each summer which would rival those in Inverness and Oban. The Skye Gathering Ball took place on the night before the games, but some years ago they became separate events. This year, after a chance discussion with the secretary of the Caledonian Society of St Petersburg in Russia, the ball is taking place not on Skye but amid the splendour of the Shuvalov Palace, once a home of the Tsar of Russia. Over two hundred people are travelling by chartered aircraft from Scotland to St Petersburg to take part in the event on 2 December. The group will include three clan chiefs who will attend a reception, the ball and a performance of the Hermitage ballet on consecutive days.
French and German Produce in St Enoch Square
Open-air markets in the centre of Scotland's cities are becoming quite a common occurrence these days. The latest one will be open for business from Thursday to Saturday next week in Glasgow's St Enoch Square. 40 stalls from France, Holland and Germany will be bringing colour and vibrancy as they display their wares. They will be providing fresh food such as newly baked continental bread, German sausages, fresh fruit, ciders, beers and wines. And there will be lots of ornaments and clothing to tempt the passers-by.
Car Sales in Scotland Crash
New car registrations in Scotland in October dived by 16.3% compared with last year. In the UK as a whole, sales were down by only 10.75% to 12,946 vehicles. The slow turnover of stock is predicted to spur dealers and manufacturers to launch cut-price deals to get rid of a growing backlog of stock.
Castle for Sale - In Glasgow Housing Estate
Springburn in Glasgow is better known for being the heart of the now defunct locomotive works than for any truly historic association. But in 1820, when the area was still out in the open countryside, a tea baron named Captain Breeze built himself a Gothic castle, with a tower which had views across the fields. Over the years, it has become surrounded by local authority housing and apartment blocks. Breeze's Tower is now believed to be the oldest building in Springburn and the present owners (who have only lived there since 2002) have put the castle up for sale. The gothic villa boasts a 60ft tower, accessed by a spiral staircase, offering panoramic views over that part of the city and across the Clyde valley. It has five double bedrooms, a 19ft bay windowed lounge, a 17ft fitted kitchen and has a price tag of offers over £169,950 (£50,000 more than the price quoted three years ago). In a better location, a property such as this would sell for over £500,000.
Temporary Traffic Lights - For Forty Years
The main road running north along the southern half of Loch Lomond was upgraded a number of years ago, not because of tourism or commercial traffic, but to provide a good connection to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane, further west on the Gare Loch. Beyond that, the road along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, heading towards Crianlarich, deteriorates markedly. One stretch, between Tarbet and the Falls of Falloch has been branded a "national embarrassment." Not just because this busy main road twists and turns, with hardly enough space for tour buses and caravans to pass one another, but because, out in the middle of nowhere, are a set of traffic lights. These were placed at a particularly bad corner, so that traffic can only get through in one direction at a time. They were installed 40 years ago as a "temporary measure" - in the same year as the Forth Road Bridge opened and the very first stretch of motorway between Glasgow and Edinburgh carried its first vehicles. That motorway has not yet been completed - and those traffic lights are still causing tail-backs on a road which saw traffic volumes increase by 40% over the last seven years. Now a campaign has been launched on the 40th anniversary of the installation of the lights to highlight the government's inertia in dealing with the problem, not just at that point on the road but the ten mile stretch which is widely seen as the worst A-road in the country.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Another week of Atlantic weather fronts sweeping across the country, bringing lots of cloud and rain. Since the weather was mainly coming from the south-west, Lerwick in the northern Shetland islands was the only place with an appreciable amount of sunshine, recording five to six hours each day from Monday to Wednesday. Although Edinburgh reached 17C (63F) last Sunday, temperatures were largely around 12/15C (54/58F) although Glasgow struggled to reach 11C (52F) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Even so, these temperatures are above those normally expected in November. The changeable weather looks set to continue over the next few days.
The picture shown here to illustrate the current season in Scotland is of winter-flowering jasmine. 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 weather and the flora and fauna include mist on Lochend Loch in North Lanarkshire, a little egret, houttuynia leaves, a white mallard duck, a seascape at Dunbarnie Links in Fife - and a greylag goose. See the Colour Supplement.