When it was announced on Thursday that a dead swan at the village of Cellardyke in the East Neuk of Fife had been found to have strains of the H5N1 avian influenza virus, the greatest danger to the local population was not the human form of the virus (which experts say is zero) but from the huge influx of cars and vans as the media reporters flooded into the narrow streets of the small fishing village. In order to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading to domestic chickens, poultry farms in the area were being encouraged to bring their birds inside, if they could. The Scottish and UK Chief Veterinary Officers were at pains to point out that there was no danger to humans as a result of the find. The virus has been around for many years and has killed around 100 people in nine countries. But those affected had all come in close contact with birds - in some cases, children had been playing with affected domesticated birds. Surveillance in north-east Fife and on the coast of Angus has been stepped up, with the greatest danger being to the wild bird population and to farmed birds. The public were also assured that it was perfectly safe to continue eating chicken and egg products. As a result of the positive test result, the public are being encouraged to notify the authorities if they come across a dead bird. So far, a number have been checked, with no virus being found.
Scottish Universities to Head Medical Research Project
Scientists at Scottish Universities are to be in the forefront of a £50 million international medical research project to develop "personalised drugs" to treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and mental illness. The universities will be working with US-based Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, a major international drugs company. The US company is contributing £33 million (with an option to extend the link-up after five years) and Scottish Enterprise will put a further £17.5million into the project. The deal has been designed so that no one centre will have a monopoly on work. The researchers in Scotland are likely to play a prominent role in fields such as vascular and arterial disease, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid conditions and osteoporosis, as well as scanning and imaging. They will be able to access medical records of Scottish patients to assist in the design of new treatments tailored to individual needs, depending on their genetic make-up. The research will target bio markers - proteins or other molecules present in the body which influence how a disease will affect a patient and how it will progress. The project was announced this week by First Minister Jack McConnell, who was in New York for the Tartan Week celebrations, and by Health Minister Andy Kerr in Glasgow.
Expansion for Scotland's Largest Under-Cover Shopping Centre?
A £400 million project to expand the shopping centre in East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire was unveiled this week. It would involve demolishing part of what is already Scotland's largest under-cover shopping centre and creating new, expanded facilities, including a leisure complex, a cultural facility with a 1000-seat theatre, a new civic centre, library and a health clinic. There would be a new civic square on a site now occupied by Plaza Tower, which would be demolished. Construction would be spread over ten years, with the first phase completed by 2012 or 2013. South Lanark Council has voiced support for the project, believing that it will benefit the whole economy of the area. Council leaders say that it would bring East Kilbride "from new town to boom town."
Morgan Stanley Creating 300 Jobs in Glasgow
Morgan Stanley, the largest investment bank in the US, is to create 300 more jobs in Glasgow, following the takeover of the Glasgow-based Goldfish credit card operation earlier this year. New posts will include financial and operational managers and analysts for Morgan Stanley's institutional securities business. The investment bank is no stranger to Scotland - it has been investing here since 1999, and has offices in Glasgow and Cumbernauld. Scotland is now Morgan Stanley's largest base in Europe outside of London.
House Prices Continue to Soar
Although data on house prices from individual lenders have to be treated with some caution (their figures can be influenced by their own marketing efforts and product mix), statistics published this week by Nationwide, one of the largest mortgage lenders in the UK, confirm reports from other sources that house prices are continuing to rise at a much faster rate than inflation. And the market in Scotland is even stronger than in the rest of the UK. House price inflation in Scotland overall is running at 9.7%, compared with a UK average of just 4.9%. Of course, even in Scotland, there are hot spots - Aberdeenshire and Moray house prices were up by 18%, while Glasgow had a rise of 8%, with Dundee and Angus up by 9% and Edinburgh by 6%. At the other end of the scale, North Lanarkshire and Dunbartonshire recorded just a 1% increase. However, economists say that the rate of growth is slowing down, partly due to the high level of house prices in relation to earnings and a slight weakening in the labour market.
Tattoo Marching To America
Plans to take the Edinburgh Military Tattoo to the United States for the first time were unveiled this week by the city's Lord Provost during his visit to New York for Tartan Week. Although talks are already underway, it will be a few years before it can be staged at a venue such as Madison Square Garden or the Yankee Stadium, probably at the same time as the annual Tartan Week. The Tattoo has already been staged overseas in recent years in New Zealand and Australia, with great success. The US project may be organised by the current Tattoo chief executive, Brigadier Melville Jamieson, who is retiring after this year's performance at Edinburgh Castle. The Brigadier led the traditional Tartan Day parade down Sixth Avenue on Saturday.
Scots Spent £400 Million on New Cars Last Month
These days, car registration plates indicate which half of which year a new car was registered. So when the new number comes into use for the first time, it generates an upsurge in car sales. Last month, when the "06" plates came into play, 39,244 cars were driven out of the sale rooms at Scottish car auto retailers, at a total cost of £400 million. But that number is 1.4% down on a year ago, as consumer confidence has taken a dip, assisted by the rising cost of petrol.
Seven Wonders of Scotland
At the end of a long-running poll, sponsored by the Scotsman newspaper, 50,000 people (equivalent to about half of the daily readership of the print version of the paper) voted to register their views on the "Seven Wonders of Scotland". The paper had listed 30 potential subjects in their shortlist and finally the Forth Rail Bridge came out ahead with 3,247 votes. That was only 123 votes more than malt whisky... Other leading subjects in the poll included Edinburgh's Old and New Town, Glencoe and the prehistoric treasures of Orkney, with the kilt coming in at 6th place. The Scots sense of humour was voted into 12th spot, but the new Scottish Parliament building came last - though votes were also cast for "wonders" not on the shortlist. Over 84% of the votes were registered online, which allowed Scots abroad to register their views too.
12,000 Drivers Caught on the Phone
The number of car and commercial vehicle drivers still seen to be using their mobile phones, while steering with one hand, has not gone down since the legislation banning this was introduced. We could be forgiven for thinking that the law is not being enforced. But figures published this week show that over 12,000 drivers were found guilty of the practice last year, with Strathclyde Police responsible for half of the £30 fines issued in Scotland since the legislation was introduced in December 2003. It is estimated that people are four times more likely to crash if they are using a mobile phone, whether hands free or hand-held sets. Currently there is no ban on the use of hands-free phones. Recently a lorry driver was fined £300 and banned for six months after using his elbows to steer while holding a mobile to his ear with one hand and a document with the other. Another trucker drove an articulated lorry past the Strathclyde Police Road Policing Unit's headquarters in Govan while talking on a mobile phone. A bad move. Tougher penalties are being considered, such as a £60 fines and three penalty points on licences.
"Lump and Line" Development for Portree
A major development of the harbour at Portree, the main town on the Isle of Skye, has received the backing of the local community council. The £40 million futuristic design, by Edinburgh architects Sutherland Hussey, was inspired by the island's geography. it is being called "Lump and Line" after a nearby prominent headland. The "lump" in the design would be also be shaped to have a "conversation" with the Cuillin Mountains. It would incorporate RNLI launch facilities and visitor centre, a Diaspora museum, RSPB mega hide and a new home for the An Tuireann Arts Centre. New deep water moorings would also be created with a new harbour wall incorporating wave power to generate renewable energy for the buildings. An application has been submitted to the Lottery "Living Landmarks" scheme for £25 million funding.
Hovercraft Crossing for Forth Estuary?
Transport group Stagecoach has revealed plans to link Kirkcaldy in Fife with Leith, Edinburgh's port, by means of a high speed hovercraft service. The 150-seat craft could be operating by 2007, bypassing the bottleneck of the Forth Road Bridge. The service would require an initial subsidy by the tax payer, but the hovercraft would significantly cut the infrastructure costs of alternative plans, as it would only need a concrete ramp rather than full docking facilities. The crossing time would be 20 minutes.
New Aircraft for Museum
The Museum of Flight at East Fortune has had a surge in visitor numbers since the arrival of the former British Airways Concorde supersonic aircraft (illustrated here). There is no doubt that the museum has created a major attraction, but that does not disguise the small number of other aircraft on view. The display of Concorde has taken over one entire hangar and the military hangar has a varied collection crammed into it. There are currently not that many civil aircraft in the third display area. But that will change later this year when the museum takes delivery of more aircraft from British Airways. One of only two British Aircraft Corporation 1-11 planes in the UK is arriving in September. This was used on flights to Europe from Edinburgh and Glasgow airports. And in May, a Vickers Viscount turbo-prop, named "Scottish Prince" will be put on display. In the past, this aircraft was based at Prestwick Airport and worked on Scottish domestic flights to Stornoway and Aberdeen. The museum is also taking delivery of a 5-metre-long front section of a US Boeing 707 jet and the cockpit of a short-haul airliner, the Hawker Siddeley Trident. The aircraft are to be part of an exhibition charting the history of passenger flights.
The latest advertising campaign for the "Glasgow: Scotland with Style" brand is being aimed at the up-market female tourist market. It features a mock paparazzi picture with a glamorous visitor flashing past Royal Exchange Square in a taxi, with the catchline "You've Arrived". With the city's reputation as the best shopping area in the UK outside of London, the advert is being placed in glossy women's magazines and in-flight entertainment publications. According to the Glasgow City Marketing Bureau the model represents a "30-something woman who epitomises style, confidence and success." The marketing men have realised that it's not just single women who choose where to go, they also make the decisions on weekend breaks within marriages. And women are also often key decision makers when it comes to deciding where an international conference is held.
VisitScotland Targets Rich Russians
New market research has shown that Russians who come to Scotland as tourists spend more per person than those from any other (with the exception of a statistically marginal number of Saudi Arabians). So VisitScotland has appointed a Russian national to spearhead a marketing campaign to attract Russian travellers and ensure that the growing travel industry there is made aware of what Scotland has to offer. The tourist organisation recently attended the Moscow International Travel Trade Show, which attracted 98,000 of those involved in the industry. While the number of tourists from Russia is not large (22,000 last year), they are regarded as opinion formers, who will influence the growing middle class in the country to follow in their footsteps.
Broadband Affected by the Tide
The residents of the island of Berneray off North Uist in the Western Isles had to wait a long time before they could get hooked up to the broadband network that many of us now take for granted. But the islanders are having problems, with failures in their connection and it seems that it is all due to the tide. The distances involved had made a landline impractical, so the link is being provided by radio transmitters. However, radio waves do not travel in a totally straight line and can be reflected off various surfaces. It has been found that the high tide is creating enough reflections to cancel out the main signal and knocking it out of phase. It seems that Berneray is the only location in the Western Isles where users have to check the timetable for the tide to see whether it's worth trying to connect to the Web. Now that the engineers are aware of the problem, they are to instal another relay site closer to the residents. All the British Telecom exchanges in the Highlands and Islands have been upgraded to provide broadband except one - and the island of Foula is scheduled for May.
Now - Chinese Tartan
As someone who regularly wears an Italian tartan tie (it just happens to go well with a blue jacket) I don't have any problems with the proliferation of tartans being created by many organisations and parts of the world far from Scotland. The launch of a Chinese tartan did cause my eye-brows to go up, however. Apparently, as with so many products, China has an earlier claim to tartan, anyway. A burial site from almost 3,000 years ago in Xinjiang, western China revealed a group of ancient Caucasian travellers wearing perfectly preserved, complex "tartans". The new China tartan incorporates colours from the flags of both Scotland and China and was inspired by the Chinese Consul General, Madame Guo Guifang, to symbolise the co-operation and harmony that exists between the two countries. The tartan was unveiled as part of Scotlandís Tartan Day celebration.
The Ultimate Blend?
A unique blend of 150 single malts from 26 Speyside distilleries has been created as a feature of this year's "Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival." Two master distillers, with 83 years of "nosing" between them, were responsible for selecting the 150 varieties which range from fully matured ten-year-olds to extra matured 21-year-olds. But only one bottle of this exclusive whisky is to be produced and then auctioned among enthusiasts. Sadly, it is likely to be bought by a collector - and never opened. However, another 2,000 souvenir miniatures will be on sale during the festival.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The forecasters are being almost apologetic as they admit that the current weather is more appropriate to February than April. Admittedly, the thermometer did struggle up to 10C (50F) once or twice but it was usually around 8/9C (46/48F). But strong, cold winds made it feel much colder than that. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday produced a fair amount of sunshine (Glasgow recorded over 11 hours of sun on Tuesday) but there were also spells of showers and more prolonged rain. By the end of the week, the northerly winds were generating snow falls on the hills in northern Scotland and even in the central lowlands there was some sleet and hail. The forecasters are predicting that temperatures will rise to around 12C (54F) by about Tuesday of next week.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Polyanthus flower, a Grey Squirrel, Princes Street in Edinburgh, Grey Wagtail, Euphorbia flower and a Goldeneye (pictured here also). See this week's Colour Supplement.