Transport for Tomorrow
A consultation document, published this week by the Scottish Executive, is asking for feedback on the future development of Scotland's transport, in particular the infrastructure investment from 2012. The "National Transport Strategy" aims to guide transport policy and take into account the views of all interested parties on such issues as reducing congestion, promoting economic growth and protecting the environment. But the government has already had to shelve the target of stabilising road traffic in 2021 at 2001 levels - after it had been shown that the target was going to be missed by between 27 and 36 per cent. So now a target based instead on reducing carbon dioxide emissions and congestion, is likely to be set instead. The Transport Minister Tavish Scott says that some road projects could perhaps be accelerated - but only if the cost was subsidised by toll charges on the completed route. A suggestion that this could apply to making the notorious A9 road between Perth and Inverness into a dual carriageway was greeted with howls of protest. Having recently removed tolls on the Erskine Bridge across the river Clyde (advocated by local councils on both sides of the river as being of benefit to economic development), the idea of introducing tolls on the main artery through the Highlands does not go down well. One road project which is likely to go ahead (without tolls) is the removal of the "temporary" traffic lights on a stretch of the A82 road along Loch Lomond, which has been in place for 30 years. While the southern stretch was upgraded many years ago (to provide good road links to the nuclear submarine base at Faslane on the Gare Loch) a narrow stretch further north is reduced to single track, controlled by traffic lights, causing huge tail-backs in the tourist season.
Electronic Vote Counting for Elections Next Year
In the past, there has been no danger of "hanging chads" or any other technology affecting the outcome of elections in Scotland. The system here is still based on ballot papers, on which voters mark their choice with a pen or pencil. They are then counted manually. But that traditional form of establishing who has received the most votes is to be replaced at next year's elections (for both the Scottish Parliament and local government) by electronic scanners, designed to read the ballot papers at the rate of 7,500 an hour. The technology will also do the calculations for the new and highly complex system of proportional voting for local councils - voters will place numbers against several preferred candidates, instead of one cross per voting paper. The technology has been used successfully in the elections for Mayor and the assembly in London. The new local council voting system, known as single transferable voting, will result in far more coalition administrations.
Consultation Begins on Coastal and Marine National Park
The Scottish Executive has launched a consultation document seeking the views of the public on the creation of Scotland's first Coastal and Marine National Park. Last month, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) gave their recommendations on possible candidate areas - Solway Firth; Argyll Islands and Coast; Ardnamurchan, Small Isles and the South of Skye Coast; North Skye and Wester Ross; North Uist, Sound of Harris and South Lewis. While there is a lot of support for the concept, there are others who fear that it will introduce unnecessary bureaucracy and restrictions on commerce in these areas. While protecting the marine environment is important, employment in Scotland's fragile coastal communities has to be taken into account also. But the government and its advisors believe that coastal and marine-based activity should be managed in a more sustainable manner for the long-term benefit of Scotland's national heritage.
Only Three Wind Farm Sites in the Highlands
Highland Council has blown away seven potential wind farm sites in the north of Scotland and have approved only three preferred locations for giant wind farm parks involving hundreds of turbines. While the prospect of a proliferation of wind turbines across large parts of the country has receded, those who oppose them totally are not satisfied. But Highland councillors accepted that wind farms provide an important source of renewable energy. As far as the council is concerned, however, they should be confined to sites in East Sutherland, Easter Ross and the Monadhliath mountains, near Inverness. There is also a hope that technology will lead to the development of offshore wind, tidal and wave power instead over the next decade. It remains to be seen whether the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh, which is keen to meet its renewable energy targets, will acquiesce to the Highland Council decision. The generating companies may well lodge an appeal with the government - which has the final say.
Quine taks Doric Tae Holyrood
A recently elected Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) became the first to be sworn in using the North-east dialect of Doric. Maureen Watt, a quine (young girl) Scottish Nationalist MSP for the north-east, pledged to liven up the legislature with such expressions as "fit like" (how are you) and "ferfochan" (exhausted). Her version of the oath (drawn up with the assistance of Doric scholars) was: "I, Maureen Watt, depone aat I wull be leal and bear ae full alleadgance tae Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her airs an ony fa come aifter her, anent the law. Sae help me God." As every Doric speaker will know, that means "I, Maureen Elizabeth Watt, do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law, so help me God." Doric speakers - some of whom can recall being beaten at school for using the dialect - applauded her efforts, describing her as a "bonnie fechter". These days, Doric poems and literature are celebrated at "a twa-wikk lang splore o the tung" every year in Aberdeenshire, known as the Doric Festival.
Bank Internet System Unavailable for More Than Two Days
Many bank customers now rely on online access to their accounts, keeping balances low in cheque accounts, where interest is pitifully low, and transferring in money when needed from other accounts with slightly better returns. But last weekend, the online banking customers of Clydesdale Bank were locked out of their accounts for over 48 hours, from Easter Friday evening until late on Monday afternoon. A holding screen referred to "Essential Maintenance" but access continued to be denied. The bank was unable to offer any explanation to customers or news reporters.
Water Supply Cut to Thousands of Homes
Over 10,000 properties in the north of Dundee had their water supply cut off on Easter Monday after contractors working for Dundee City Council fractured a 24-inch supply pipe. Families were forced to queue for water in the streets and many residents were without a piped supply for most of the day. It took Scottish Water nearly 12 hours to produce static water tanks at 28 locations to provide drinking water for householders. Bottled water was eventually delivered to sheltered housing complexes and the disabled. A number of schools were forced to close. Even when the emergency engineers had replaced the cracked main, it was the next day before water pressure returned to normal. Bottles of water in local supermarkets soon ran out and even shops further afield had a surge in demand.
£15 Million Project to Replace Bandstand
The Ross Bandstand, below Edinburgh Castle in Princes Street Gardens was built in 1877, gifted to the city by William Henry Ross, Chairman of the Distillers Company Ltd. A terraced area was developed in 1935. Used for open-air concerts, particularly at the New Year's Eve festivities and the Fireworks Concert in August, the landmark building is well past its sell-by date. At Hogmanay in 2003, the street party had to be cancelled because high winds were producing flying debris breaking away from the bandstand. While repairs have been carried out, Edinburgh City Council has been looking at ways of upgrading the facility. The £15 million project, announced this week, proposes demolishing the existing structure and replacing it with a space-age looking entertainment facility (the illustration shows three proposals), doubling the size of the stage and providing facilities for an audience of up to 10,000 people in the gardens. It would be used for regular events throughout the year, including bagpipe tournaments, cinema screenings and concerts. While it is possible that the cost of construction could be raised from the National Lottery and other sources, the council is also looking for big name sponsors - carrying on the tradition of the original Ross Bandstand. Before the project can proceed, legislation that restricts the redevelopment of the gardens will be needed.
Quickie Concerts to Boost Audiences
The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is trying to make classical music more accessible to people of all backgrounds and lifestyles. So their 2006/2007 concert series, which were announced this week, include three "Symphonies at Six" performances which will last only 75 minutes and start at 6pm instead of 7.30pm at the Edinburgh and Glasgow venues. The aim is to attract workers to come along to a concert before going home. Featured artists include conductor StZphane Denve and pianist John Lill.
Six Decades of Scotland's Census Records
The project to make available online the handwritten census records in Scotland from 1841 to 1901 has just been completed, with the addition of the very first census in 1841 - when the population of the country was only 2,620,184. The five-year ScotlandsPeople project was launched in 2002 and is claimed to contain the most comprehensive online set of family history information for any country in the world. It is currently one of the largest single information resources on the web. In addition to the census records, the material includes the indexes to the Old Parish Registers from 1553, indexed digital images of the statutory registers of births for Scotland, 1855-1905, the statutory registers of deaths for Scotland, 1855-1955 , the statutory registers of marriages for Scotland, 1855-1930. Wills and Testaments from 1513 to 1901 from the National Archives of Scotland are also available. There are 50 million historical records accessible from around the world. Their website has over 400,000 registered users paying to download information. See www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk.
The illustration shows part of my own family tree - going back to the 17th century.
Luxury Five Star Hotel for Sale
One Devonshire Gardens on Great Western Road is one of Glasgow's most prestigious hotels. With only 35 rooms, the boutique hotel has become a favourite with stars of the entertainment world, including film stars George Clooney, Gwyneth Paltrow and Keira Knightly and pop stars Britney Spears and Robbie Williams. Now the London-based company that runs the hotel, which occupies a series of Victorian townhouses, has announced that it is up for sale. The company has just completed the purchase of the last remaining private house on the terrace and there is now the potential to expand to 50 rooms and install a spa - a major requirement of guests these days, even those less esteemed than One Devonshire Gardens. In recent years, the hostelry has had a £2 million refurbishment and turnover is said to have increased. Charges are in the region of £450 a night, although there are also luxurious suites costing £1,000 a night.
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Author Dies
Novelist Dame Muriel Spark, who was born in Edinburgh and wrote the classic story about the staff and pupils at an Edinburgh girls' school, died in Tuscany last week at the age of 88. She began writing seriously after the Second World War and after a disastrous marriage. She wrote about 20 novels, but it was "Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1961) which established her reputation. The book was turned into a much performed play and later a film starring Dame Maggie Smith, for which she won a best actress Oscar in 1969. A recurrent theme in her novels was the central question of why evil exists in a world made by a good God. She considered her conversion to Roman Catholicism to be crucial in her development toward becoming a novel writer. She settled in Tuscany, Italy, and lived in the village of Civitella della Chiana, where she was made an honorary citizen in 2005.
Big in Falkirk
One of Scotland's biggest, free events, dedicated to bringing international outdoor theatre to Scotland and the UK, "Big In Falkirk" offers cutting-edge entertainment with music, internationally renowned performance, comedy and unique art in activities for children, young people and families. There's a packed programme of spectacular outdoor theatre, street arts, live music, comedy and entertainment for kids over the weekend of 29/30 April. Big in Falkirk now attracts in excess of 100,000 people over two days, with a unique outdoor festival experience in the 180 acre Scottish location of Callendar Park. See www.biginfalkirk.com.
Salmon Production Booming
Scotland is the world's third largest producer of farmed salmon (after Norway and Chile) and the industry grew rapidly in the 1990s. In 1992, production reached just over 36,000 tonnes, but by 2003 that had reached nearly 170,000 tonnes. Consumption of salmon in the UK keeps going up, but the Scottish industry hit stormy waters in 2004. Now demand is going up again and due to the time lag to grow more fish, there are forecasts that by 2007 demand could outstrip supply.
Waverley Returns for Diamond Jubilee Season
The venerable paddle steamer "Waverley" has returned to the Clyde, after another major refit, to take passengers on the magical excursions "doon the watter" on her milestone 60th year. The last sea-going paddle steamer in the world sails these days from the Glasgow Science Centre, as she cannot reach the docks at Broomielaw due to bridge construction. Three generations of Scots have sailed down the river to such places as Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute. The steamer was built on the river Clyde and can accommodate 500 passengers. In addition to excursions from her home on the Clyde, the Waverley also operates from other points around the British coastline, including the Bristol Channel, the Solent and the river Thames.
Celebrity Purchase of Football Team?
It may just have been a bit of exaggeration, but comedian Billy Connolly, presenting the Scottish Premier League Trophy to Celtic last Sunday, told the media that he and Sir Sean Connery had a dream of buying their own Scottish football team. Connolly said in a BBC Radio Scotland interview that they kept their eye on Partick Thistle, the struggling Glasgow team currently in the Second Division. Connolly joked that he always looked at their results - usually "with sadness." He went on to suggest that Sir Sean and he would wait until the "Jags" were in the 4th Division. He seemed to overlook the fact that such a league doesn't exist.
Buy a Piece of Scotland
Whisky companies are always coming up with novel ways to attract more customers - as if their product wasn't attractive enough on its own... The Edrington Group's The Macallan single malt whisky is known for its off-beat advertising and they have come up with a novel way of marking Fathers Day - offering a little piece of Scotland, along with a bottle of malt. The company is planting 1,000 oak saplings in the grounds of Easter Elchies House, the 17th century Jacobean manor at the heart of The Macallan Estate. This is part of a major woodland regeneration programme, involving over 4,000 indigenous trees. The oak saplings and a limited edition "The Macallan Woodland Estate" 12-year-old malt, which has been matured in sherry oak casks are available at a price of £95. Each tree is to have a plaque with the recipient's name and the lucky owner will get a certificate of ownership outlining where their tree is situated. Purchasers will be able to visit their own tree once planting is complete. Unfortunately, the offer is only open to UK residents.
There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch
The organisers of the first Slow Food Fair in the West Highlands, held at Ardtornish House in Lochaline, Lochaber, last weekend, had invited the people of the Morvern Peninsula to enjoy the tastes and flavours of fine local food and drink provided by 20 producers from Lochaber and neighbouring Mull. The event was sponsored by Lochaber Larder and the Lochaber and Argyll enterprise companies. The free offerings included shellfish, smoked foods, cheese, meat dishes and baking, and some fine locally-made alcohol - all served in the Victorian splendour of Ardtornish House. Around 200 people were expected - but good news of a free lunch travels fast in the Highlands and over 500 people turned up, mostly from outside the area. TV Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, who was on holiday nearby, was one of those attracted to Lochaline. He was most impressed and said it was a "wonderful lunch" and an "amazing spread". All those who turned up were given a plate, knife, fork and a glass - and grazed their way round the products of Lochaber and Mull, sampling mutton, venison, lamb, beef, oysters, mussels, scallops, smoked fish, mushrooms, cheeses, chutneys, and a wide variety of baking, with local beer, country wine, mead and whisky to wash it down.
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures are slowly edging their way up - maximum daytime temperatures were in double figures Centigrade (over 50F) every day this week. Glasgow reached 14C (57F) on Friday. There was a good amount of sunshine too, particularly in the east and in the early part of the week. Aberdeen recorded over 33 hours of sun from Sunday to Wednesday. Rainfall was light, with showers passing over quickly.
The illustration shows the flower of a Ribes bush - more commonly known as Flowering Currant.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Camellias, Polyanthus, Willow Catkins, Sycamore leaves, Rhododendron, Spirea Goldflame and Corylopsis.
See This Week's Colour Supplement.