Arctic Winds Bring Snow and Sun
Winds from the Arctic brought freezing temperatures to Scotland for much of this week. However, the northerly airflow created two different weather zones. The north of the country had repeated heavy falls of snow (Aberdeen Airport recorded its deepest March snowfall since records began) while in the central Scotland belt, there were long hours of sunshine. Blizzard conditions in the north for four consecutive days created the usual chaos, with Aberdeen brought to a virtual standstill. Most schools in Aberdeenshire and the north-east were closed, rail and air transport ground to a halt and there was a spate of accidents on the roads. Drifting snow stranded four trains and a rescue helicopter sent to assist climbers in the Cairngorms was forced to make an emergency landing high in the mountains. Ice on the rotors forced it down and snow and high winds kept it grounded for several days. Aberdeen, Inverness and Kirkwall airports were closed on a number of occasions. Hundreds of passengers were forced to spend the night at Aberdeen airport because de-icing equipment failed. Overnight temperatures in Altnahara in the Highlands fell to -16C (3F) - but that was well above the record UK low set there in 1995 of -27.2C (-16.9F). On a positive note, 100,000 schoolchildren welcomed several days off school and the ski resorts, devoid of natural snow for most of the season, opened for business. Although the central Scotland belt avoided most of the snow and enjoyed sunny if cold conditions, snow eventually arrived on Friday, affecting mainly Edinburgh and the east coast. Glasgow and the west saw a few snow flurries but these soon passed over and weather stations in the city recorded a total of 32.7 hours of sunshine over Tuesday to Friday.
Roof Collapse Closes Scottish Parliament
It was an unfortunate coincidence that Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPS) were discussing architecture in Scotland when one of the 12 foot long, heavy oak beams holding up the roof in the debating chamber, swung down towards them. Fortunately, it did not fall all the way but hung suspended at one end. Initially, business continued, after the MSPs underneath had moved away to other seats. But eventually it was decided to suspend the sitting. Once the experts had been consulted, the debating chamber was closed indefinitely until the problem could be resolved. If they are not able to return soon, alternative accommodation will have to be found. The beams appear to be secured by stainless steel brackets and have allowed the chamber to be free of any support pillars, thus creating a very open area with clear views.
Fife Member of Parliament Elected Leader of Liberal Democrats
Sir Menzies Campbell, the UK Member of Parliament for North-East Fife, was elected the new leader of the Liberal Democrat Party this week. Currently the third largest political party in the UK, the Lib Dems have 63 MPs at Westminster. Their previous leader, Charles Kennedy, was also from Scotland. Sir Menzies (often referred to as "Ming" as Menzies should be pronounced "Mingis") is aged 64. With both Labour and Conservatives with more youthful leaders, it wa thought that the Lib Dems would also have elected a younger man. But Ming says that he is going to modernise the party and encourage its bright, young members to bring forward new ideas and innovation. Sir Menzies was a lawyer before entering politics and in his youth he competed for the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team in the 200 metres at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. He was awarded a knighthood in the 2004 New Year Honours for "services to Parliament". He was certainly the best-known candidate in the leadership election.
Bridge Tolls Cause East-West Split
As predicted, the Scottish Executive announced this week that road tolls on the Erskine Bridge over the river Clyde, downstream from Glasgow, are to be abolished (from 1 April). But tolls are to remain in place over the Tay and Forth bridges in the east. While the decision was welcomed by those in Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, there was an outcry from many in the east, particularly in Fife where they will have to continue paying the tolls. The proposal from the Forth Estuary Transport Authority's (FETA) to increase tolls on the Forth Bridge to £4 at peak times has been rejected, however. There is to be an immediate start to planning for a second crossing of the Forth, although no decision on construction has yet been made. FETA reacted angrily to the rejection of their plans for increasing tolls and claim that their plans to improve the infrastructure, including additional bus services and road links, will have to be abandoned. The £1 toll will only provide the cash for basic maintenance
Bank Makes Profit of £8 Billion
The Edinburgh-based Royal Bank of Scotland Group announced its year-end results this week and revealed that profits had gone up by 21% to £7.9bn (US$13.8bn). Income rose by 14% and the dividend to shareholders is to rise by 25%. The group's international operations now produce 42% of its profits and performance has also been helped by growth in corporate lending and strong consumer banking in the US. Last year the Royal Bank Group invested nearly £1 billion in Bank of China and the previous year it expanded its Citizen's Financial Group when it bought Charter One Financial in the US for £5.8bn. In addition to making shareholders happy, the bank is also paying out from its profit sharing scheme £232 million to its employees (an average of £2,000 each). 18,000 Royal Bank Staff work in Scotland.
Combining Edinburgh and Glasgow
Tourists could be encouraged to enjoy the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh in the morning and spend the afternoon shopping in Glasgow as a result of growing co-operation between the two cities. Representatives from attractions such as Edinburgh Castle and the Glasgow Science Centre have been meeting to explore ways in which they could create collaborative projects to maximise on the attractions in both locations. It is argued that combining Edinburgh's culture and history with Glasgow's style and edginess will help to strengthen the whole of Scotland's tourism industry.
A Bridge Too Dear
The ambitious plan to have a prestigious foot-bridge, designed by the Richard Rogers Partnership, spanning the river Clyde between Tradeston and the Broomielaw in the centre of Glasgow, has had to be trimmed back. Tenders to build the curving "Neptune's Bridge" came in at between £50 and £60 million - £20 million more than the original budget. The building trade is currently booming creating inflationary pressures on all such projects. A new, simpler design is being drawn up, with a capped budget of £33 million. It will clearly cost less (but be less eye-catching) to build it in a straight line across the river, rather than extending it to form a curve.
Rolls-Royce Investment Plans Threat
The aero-engine giant Rolls-Royce has warned that if it does not get planning approval for a $35 million aero engine factory in East Kilbride, it could walk away from the town, threatening the jobs of 1,100 workers. Local people have been petitioning against the new factory because they say that its associated engine test facilities would create pollution. The new plant would repair aero engines and the company say that being able to test them on site would be cost-effective. The test bed conforms with the strictest regulations on noise levels and air emissions and there are no objections from the Health and Safety Executive or the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. But local objectors claim chemicals used to test engines will include nitrogen dioxide which could be a danger to health and the environment and that a neighbouring nature reserve could be threatened.
Grampian TV Disappearing
Aberdeen-based Grampian Television which has been broadcasting for nearly 45 years, is to disappear from TV screens in the north of Scotland. The company was taken over by Glasgow-based Scottish Television (part of Scottish Media Group) a number of years ago. Already, much of its output is identical to that of Scottish Television in the central belt. Grampian's distinctive Saltire logo disappeared in 2000. Now its current branding and logo are to go and be replaced by "STV" which will cover both the Highlands and the central lowlands. SMG claim that the change will not mean the end of specific regional news output and "North Tonight" will remain. Grampian covers the largest geographic area in Scotland but serves only one million of the five million total population in the country. Border Television, based in Carlisle in England, serves the north of England and southern Scotland.
Polish Dentists Fill Holes in Scotland
The first of around 40 dentists recruited from Poland arrived in Scotland this week to help to provide a dental service in the over-stretched National Health Service (NHS). Many Scottish dentists are leaving the NHS to work instead in the private sector where they not only earn more money but can also do the sort of preventative dentistry which is not provided by the state system. The Polish dentists are attracted by the NHS rates of pay, however, as their earnings can jump from around £4,200 a year in Poland to between £31,290 and £44,343 in Scotland. It is claimed that the techniques, equipment and materials in the two countries are very similar. The Poles have been recruited on a three-year contract. Back in Poland they have the opposite problem to Scotland - there are too many highly qualified dentists and consequently pay is low.
Smoking Ban for Children's Play Areas in Public Parks
Glasgow City Council has become the first in Scotland to approve a smoking ban in outdoor play areas in parks in the city. Notices will be posted advising adults of the ban and park rangers will ask smokers to stub out cigarettes. If they persist, they could be served with an exclusion order, and face a fine of up to £200 if they return. While anti-smoking organisations welcomed the new rules, it remains to be seen how it will be enforced. There are very few park rangers to be seen these days and the evidence of vandalism in many parks shows how ineffective supervision can be. Understandably, those who are on duty might be a bit reluctant to risk arousing a violent reaction. It has also been pointed out that the ban only applies to adults - under-age smokers in such areas can continue to puff away. Dundee and North Lanarkshire Councils are also considering introducing a similar ban.
Edinburgh to Review "Sleeping Policemen"
Edinburgh City Council is to review its policy on speed bumps (sometimes called "sleeping policemen") as traffic calming measures after a significant rise in the number of claims from motorists claiming damage to their vehicles - or to their own backs - as a result of driving over them. Inspections of those in place showed that at least 10% had been built too steeply and nearly 100 have had to be relaid at a cost of £150,000. Garages are reporting a considerable increase in the number of repairs being made to car suspensions and many three-year-old cars, coming in for their first Ministry of Transport inspection, are suffering from damage caused by speed bumps. While most drivers know to slow down when going over them, they are often not visible in the hours of darkness.
Winter Opening Attracts Visitors
Tourists who come to Scotland between 1 October and 31 March are often surprised by the fact that so many attractions across Scotland are closed for six months of the year. The growing numbers of retired people in the country, who also like to go visiting historic buildings and other attractions, also have difficulty finding places that are open. While Historic Scotland's premises (such as Edinburgh and Stirling Castles) may have shorter hours in winter, at least they remain largely open to the public. But most National Trust for Scotland buildings remain closed throughout the winter, as do many other independent attractions. So it is perhaps not surprising that Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire has reported that its experiment of opening for four days each week during the winter months has been a modest success. The castle is already one of the most popular attractions in the north-east of Scotland, with around 200,000 visitors each year. But the managers there are trying to increase that number by 25%, with a combination of the extra openings and new attractions.
Cabbies Reject Bid to Put Brakes on Advertising
A study which was commissioned by Edinburgh City Council, recommends that all the taxis in Scotland's capital city should be painted in an identical colour scheme - which would put an end to the advertising which is a significant source of income for the cabbies. The report also suggests that taxis should no longer be required to incorporate a special narrow turning circle. This allows the taxis to do a U-turn without performing a three-point turn. But the report says this just causes accidents - something the taxi trade rejects. The Scottish Taxi Federation claims that the study did not involve anyone from the trade. The full report will be published later this month.
Numero Uno for Italian Restaurants
A report on the frequency of restaurant types in twenty UK cities has shown that there are more Italian restaurants per square mile in Glasgow than anywhere else in the whole of Britain. Scotland's largest city even came out ahead of London in terms of density. The origins of many of Glasgow's Italian eateries goes back to the influx of immigrants in the 1920s. Initially, they often set up fast food outlets such as fried fish and chip shops and ice cream parlours. But in the post-war boom in dining out, they have been at the forefront of new restaurants. Many of the best Italian restaurants in Glasgow are still family owned.
Copyright Snags Hit Aberdeen's Star Trek Plans
Although other locations claim to be the birthplace (in 2222) of "Scotty" the Scottish engineer in Star Trek, Aberdeen City Council have been pushing ahead to create a statue to their "native son". Some devotees of the series say that the only clue to Scotty's origins comes in an episode called "Wolf in the Fold" in which the engineer recalls being an "old Aberdeen pub crawler." James Doohan, who played the part of "Scotty", declared that the character came from "Elgin, near Aberdeen" although some fans claim that the original TV notes for the series suggest that he was born in Edinburgh. It has been pointed out, however, that Aberdeen's plans to beam up a statue may be thwarted not by the Klingons, but by copyright and design issues, with demands for thousands of dollars for permission to use the character in a statue. Riverside, Iowa, which claimed that Captain James T. Kirk was born there (two centuries from now) had faced huge financial demands for a licence to use the image in a statue. So Aberdeen is looking at other alternatives - such as asking bars and clubs in the city to create a range of "space-related drinks" in honour of the popular "local" engineer. The old Aberdeen pub crawler would probably have approved.
Lost for Words Over Gaelic Road Signs
The Scottish Executive is to spend £3 million on erecting road signs in both Gaelic and English on trunk roads in the Highlands, a move which had been advocated by supporters of the language. But some on Highlands Council are unconvinced by the need for the bilingual signs and argue that many roads are in poor condition and the cash should be spent on repairs instead. Others on the Council welcomed the development, saying that it would let visitors "know they are entering Gaidhealtachd" (land of the Gaels) and it promotes the Gaelic culture and language to all. Indeed, some would like to see Anglicised Gaelic words removed and replaced with Gaelic originals. That might pose a problem, however, for the 98.8% of the rest of the population of Scotland who don't speak Gaelic and have difficulty with its pronunciation.
"World's Most Alcoholic Single Malt Whisky".
The managers of the Bruichladdich distillery on Islay claim that they are to produce the "world's most alcoholic single malt whisky" using a recipe from 300 years ago. The whisky will be distilled four times instead of the usual two passes and will have an alcoholic content of at least 92% (instead of 40% to 63.5%). The distillery will create just 12 barrels of the potent brew "as a bit of fun." In 1695, a travel writer, Martin Martin describes a quadruple distilled whisky called "usquebaugh-baul". In what may well have been the world's first "whisky tasting note" he said "The first taste affects all the members of the body: two spoonfuls of this last liquor is a sufficient dose; and if any man should exceed this, it would presently stop his breath, and endanger his life." You have been warned!
Weather in Scotland This Week
The week began with temperatures in the range 5/7C (41/45F) on Sunday and Monday but, as noted earlier in this Newsletter, a strong wind straight from the Arctic soon brought temperatures down. Aberdeenshire, which bore the brunt of the snow, had maximum daily temperatures of only 1/3C (34/37F) from Tuesday to Friday and the rest of the country was only slightly less chilly, with weather stations recording maximum daytime temperatures of 5/6C (41/43F) but the strong, bitterly cold winds made it feel much colder than that. The snow eventually reached Edinburgh and the east on Friday but had gone by the end of the day. The weather forecasters are predicting that temperatures could rise early next week to 10C (50F) which would be more normal for this time of year.
Despite the low temperatures, spring is continuing to make its presence felt - as this crocus photographed this week in Newlands Park in Glasgow shows.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include the Firth of Clyde from the island of Cumbrae, the Ayrshire town of Largs, Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry, Cathedral of the Isles, wigeon, golden yellow crocus in Newlands Park and a fiery red sunset over Glasgow. See This Week's Colour Supplement.