Scots Take Top Roles After Blair's Cabinet Reshuffle
There have been mutters in recent years amongst some sectors of the English media about the "Scottish Mafia" who have been running Britain for many years, particularly in Tony Blair's cabinet. Although it is sometimes not particularly evident, Blair himself is a Scot, as is his Chancellor of the Exchequer (and likely successor) Gordon Brown. After a series of recent political problems in recent weeks, culminating in poor results for the Labour party in Thursdays local government elections in England, the Prime Minister has reshuffled his inner Cabinet. John Reid, the UK Member of Parliament (MP) for Airdrie and Shotts has taken over as Home Secretary. This is his eighth Cabinet post - an achievement which has never been matched in modern UK politics. However, this latest job in London is to a large extent looking after the areas of responsibility which have been devolved to the Scottish parliament in Scotland. Some in England would like to see Scottish MPs in Westminster being barred from voting on English only affairs - far less having a Scot in charge of the department. Des Browne, the MP for Kilmarnock, takes over Reid's previous post as Defence Secretary. Alistair Darling, MP for Edinburgh South West, moves from his post as Transport Secretary to head the Department of Trade and Industry. Douglas Alexander, previously Europe Minister and MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire South, takes over from Alistair Darling. With the decline in popularity of the Labour government, the possibility of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats (as in the Scottish parliament) after the next UK election becomes a greater possibility. And the leader of the Liberal Democrats? Why, Menzies Campbell, MP for Fife North East...
Thunder, Lightning and Torrential Rain
On Thursday, towards the end of what had been the warmest day so far this year, the west of Scotland was subjected to a spectacular lightning storm which lit up Glasgow and left 3,000 homes in darkness after power lines were cut. There were also around two inches of rain in three hours in the worst affected areas, which caused flash floods and road closures, particularly in South Lanarkshire. A young footballer in Dumfries survived being struck by lightning and firefighters in Strathclyde attended over 300 call-outs as the heavy rain caused chaos. While the storms caused problems for many folk, others watched from the safety of their homes the spectacular pyrotechnics, one of the most impressive for many years.
Parliament's Debating Chamber Patched Up
The debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh has been out of action since 2 March - after one of the roof beams swung down as the Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) were sitting below. The MSPs have had to meet in temporary accommodation since then - mainly in a committee room elsewhere in the building. But that has meant that not all the MSPs could sit in the same area and some had to be linked by closed circuit television instead. Now the structural engineers have made temporary repairs to ensure that none of the beams can come down again - and the MSPs can return to the chamber next week. Permanent repairs will be made during the summer recess.
Aberdeen Bypass Route Refined
Scottish Transport Minister Tavish Scott announced this week a narrowing of the corridor and the revised preferred line of the new bypass road around Aberdeen, arrived at after a period of consultation. While the minister claimed it would have as little impact as possible on people's homes, communities and the environment, it will still mean the demolition of 19 up-market homes and the city's 342-pupil International School at Milltimber. The compulsory purchase of the homes, school and farmland is estimated to cost £50 million. The International School is in the middle of major building project to create a new sports complex and staff are reported to be shocked by the news. The 28 mile long bypass has been talked about since at least 1996 and the initial line of the roads was announced last December. A new road will bypass Aberdeen and there will be a fast link to the bypass from Stonehaven to the south. It was a compromise solution, which addresses some of the major objections to the five routes which were under consideration. The aim is to relieve congestion and pollution in Aberdeen itself and reduce the volume of traffic on the busy Stonehaven to Aberdeen road. It is claimed that this week's announcement will end a lot of uncertainty both to those affected and those who are now outside the direct line of the new road.
Junk Food Shown the School Door
In an effort to improve Scotland's poor health record, the Scottish Executive has published plans to provide local authorities with power to provide nutritious snacks in schools, ensure that all food and drinks provided by schools meet tough nutritional standards and offer parents advice on how to make up healthy packed lunches for kids. All schools will also be under a duty to become health promoting environments and make health promotion a central purpose of schooling. In recent years, school meals have been improved dramatically and the latest moves are taking that a step further. Scotland's schools are now becoming known for the higher standards of meals being provided. Last year, TV chef Jamie Oliver, who was given the task of improving school meals in England, came to Scotland to see the impact of the Scottish Executive's "Hungry for Success" programme. He was most impressed. Now it seems that word is spreading further afield - a delegation from the French Education Ministry was in Edinburgh this week to take advice about healthy eating in schools. Deep-fried Mars bars and oatmeal cooked in a sheep's stomach were definitely off the menu at the discussions. And the statistics that the percentage of Scots children who are overweight or clinically obese is currently twice that of kids in France, shows how far Scotland still has to travel along this road.
Trump to Trumpet Scotland
American billionaire Donald Trump, who was in Scotland recently to see the proposed site of his new £274 million hotel and golf course on the coast of Aberdeenshire (see artist's impression of the club house), has agreed to promote Scotland abroad as a "GlobalScot". During his weekend in Scotland he met the Scottish First Minister, Jack McConnell, who said that the American businessman had a real passion for Scotland. As a globally recognised figure, he could help to promote Scotland and had agreed to do so. Mr Trump, more used to the phrase "You're fired" as the host of the US edition of hit TV series "The Apprentice" seemed to be pleased about hearing "You're hired." He attributes part of his success (he is estimated to be worth £1.5 billion) to his Scottish roots. Trump's mother was from Stornoway.
Takeover Approach for House of Fraser
Icelandic investment company Baugur has made a preliminary takeover approach for the House of Fraser department store chain, which has outlets in the major Scottish cities as well as in England. House of Fraser, which was founded in Glasgow in the 19th century (they stil have a store there - see illustration), took over the Jenners department store in Princes Street, Edinburgh only last year. The company says that the there can be no certainty that an offer will be made nor as to the terms on which any offer might be made. Baugur bought a 9.5% stake in House of Fraser last month, giving rise to speculation that the predatory company would make a takeover bid.
SportScotland Move to Glasgow Delayed?
There has been media speculation that there has been a delay or even cancellation of the planned move of the staff of SportScotland, the Scottish Executive's national sports agency, from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The Executive has been pursuing a policy of moving agencies from the Capital to other parts of Scotland - despite loud objections from staff involved and the high costs. When Scottish Natural Heritage moved from Edinburgh to Inverness, the bulk of the staff took the redundancy package rather than move to the Highlands, resulting in the loss of many experienced staff. A move by SportScotland has been under debate for the last four years and an announcement was expected shortly. But now it appears that Liberal Democrat ministers in the Scottish Executive coalition have expressed doubts about the relocation. Experts had rated Glasgow highest on the list of possible sites, based on accommodation costs, personnel and transport facilities. But more than one third of SportScotland's 154 staff have said that they would leave if the quango (quasi non-governmental organisation) left Edinburgh. A Scottish Executive spokeswoman is quoted as saying that "an announcement is due soon."
European Commission Warning Over Ferry Tendering
The state-owned company Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) provides virtually all of the ferry services off the west coast of Scotland in what has been described as a virtual monopoly. With great reluctance, the Scottish Executive has been forced to put the service out to tender and they have done so recently for the block of services to the Hebrides. But Western Ferries, one of two private companies which had entered the tendering process, has withdrawn. It claims that it was unfairly weighted in favour of Calmac and that they have "lost all confidence in the fairness and transparency of the tendering process." This is hardly surprising as the transport minister is quoted as saying, in December 2004, "We have to make sure that, if we are forced by Europe, we have the very best prospect possible of CalMac winning that tender." Now it has emerged that a year ago the European Union's transport commissioner had issued a private warning to Scottish ministers that Calmac's monopoly was illegal and was being investigated. That arose after a complaint from Arran Ferries which had tried, unsuccessfully, to set up a rival service to Arran. The European transport commissioner, had issued a "pre-infraction" warning as a result. The warning has now been made public and the European officials are now considering taking the proceedings further.
Wind Turbines for City Apartments
North Glasgow Housing Association, which rents 2,000 homes on a "not-for-profit" basis in the city, is to install wind turbines to generate power for tenants in high-rise flats in Springburn, Glasgow. Four tower blocks have been identified for a pilot project which is estimated to save tenants 33% on their power bills. A Glasgow based company, Windsave, is supplying the turbines.
Open Top Buses a Top Attraction
Scotland's top paid-for tourist attraction last year was Edinburgh Castle, with 1,187,342 visitors and the second most popular was Edinburgh Zoo. The VisitScotland figures had not previously highlighted the number of people using the four open-top tour buses in the capital, but the statistics now show that they were the third on the visitor number list. 460,000 people took a tour round the streets of Edinburgh on the double-decker, open-topped vehicles. Within an hour, tourists can get a quick glimpse of the main sites - and can hop on and off the buses at any point. The top two free attractions in the country were the Royal Museum and Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery of Scotland, all attractions housed in the Capital. Despite the undoubted success of all these locations, overall visitor numbers were slightly down in Edinburgh and the surrounding area last year - attributed largely to the protests that blighted the city in July during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles.
Pie and a Pint Had Its Chips?
The Scottish Executive is not just targeting the eating habits of school children. They are planning to introduce draconian new licencing laws for bar and public house owners which will demand that they provide 'sensible eating policies" - or risk losing their right to trade. The traditional meat pie and a pint of beer, possibly with chips (French fries) may become a thing of the past. But publicans, who have just coped with the laws banning smoking on their premises, are worried about the reaction of overweight customers if they are told that they should be going to the salad bar. Some are already arguing that Scotland will soon be a place where "what's not compulsory is forbidden". They argued that what adults eat should be a personal choice.
33 Hour Delay on Air Scotland Flight
Not for the first time, passengers on Air Scotland flights have been hit by extensive delays, this time over the bank holiday weekend at the start of the month. Four of the budget airline's flights were disrupted. It started when passengers due to fly from Glasgow to Malaga in Spain were instead taken to Manchester by bus to board a plane there. Passengers on the return flight from Malaga suffered from the knock-on effects and arrived back in Scotland 33 hours late. Passengers were taken to a hotel overnight, so at least they didn't have to stay at the Spanish airport. Two other Air Scotland services between Glasgow and Greece were also delayed. The consumer magazine "Holiday Which?" reported recently that Air Scotland had the worst punctuality record of any carrier. Despite its name, Air Scotland is owned by a Greek company. Earlier this year, it dropped its Glasgow to Paris service and all its flights from Edinburgh.
Train Fares Rise Again
Six months after the last rise in train fares, First Scotrail has announced another increase - claiming that it was to ease crowding. Some reduced price tickets at rush-hours are to be withdrawn, meaning that passengers who travel before 9.15am on weekdays will have to pay new, higher fares. Routes affected include Dundee to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Aberdeen. However, there will also be a new advance fare which will provide discounts - but tickets have to be booked by 6pm the day before travel.
Edinburgh's Castle Street Goes Continental
Open-air markets are to be held on the last Thursday of every month over the summer in Castle Street in Edinburgh. The street looks straight across Princes Street to the castle and Edinburgh City Council has spent £2 million on pedestrianising the bottom half of what was once a busy thoroughfare. The markets will feature traditional Scottish fare as well as continental produce. The street will also have eight kiosks on a permanent basis, selling products including coffee and newspapers in an attempt to introduce a continental cafe culture to the area. Local business such as hotels have given the development a cautious welcome, but wonder whether the tourists who want to take pictures of the castle from that area will welcome the view being obstructed by kiosks. The illustration shows Castle Street running up from Princes Street, taken from the castle ramparts.
Janitor Demands "Abandon Cup Final"
OK, so the cup final in question was Subbuteo, the table top football game in which the plastic players are flicked about the board by the opposing players. But it was the Scottish Open Championship after all, and 100 international players had been competing, for two whole days. The tense final was reaching its conclusion, with the two players (one from Belgium and the other from Austria) neck and neck. Then the janitor at the South Queensferry recreation centre burst in. It was after 5pm and he wanted to go home - so the players and spectators would all have to leave. He even threatened calling the police if the hall was not immediately vacated. Organisers of the international tournament managed to placate the janitor for long enough for the match to end and everyone was hustled out by 5.20pm. The trophy was then presented to the winner - in the car park... Organisers said that they had held the competition at South Queensferry for the last nine years and brought their business and money to the area. This was not for the first time the caretaker staff had pushed them out because it was 5pm. But they say it will be the last time - next year's event will be held where their custom will be appreciated!
First Cairngorm Skiing in May for Ten Years
Earlier in the year, the Scottish ski slopes had been experiencing a poor season, with hardly any snow. There were concerns about the financial survival of some of the ski resorts - then the snow arrived at the beginning of March. March was itself the coldest month in Scotland for about twenty years and although April did not continue that trend, strong northerly winds at times brought fresh falls of snow. The season has even continued into early May - for the first time in ten years. On the bank holiday last Monday, the resorts were experiencing good numbers of visitors. Although this year's skiing season has been one of the shortest on record, in the end it has proved to be a successful one. The resorts are now working hard to attract non-skiiers over the coming months to come and enjoy the mountain scenery.
Weather in Scotland in April
The Meteorological Office has published the aggregate weather figures for last month and they show that overall the temperature in the month was 5.8C (42.4F), which is slightly above the 1961-1990 average. A major feature of the weather during the month was the strong west or north-westerly wind, which made it feel colder than the thermometer was indicating. Sunshine in the east and south-east was well above average, but the rest of Scotland had more cloudy, showery weather. Rainfall during April was above average.
Weather in Scotland This Week
The week began on the cool side, with maximum daytime temperatures on Sunday to Tuesday only reaching 10/11C (50/52F). But later in the week, warm air moved from Spain into France and the South of England, sending temperatures soaring. Although Scotland was on the edge of this weather system, temperatures reached up to 25C (77F) in Dumfries and Gretna. However, Glasgow and Edinburgh only reached a maximum of 18C (64F). Average temperatures for this time of the year are between 13C and 14C. Aberdeen enjoyed the best of the sunshine, with long sunny spells from Wednesday to Saturday - sunshine hours totalled 26 hours from Wednesday to Friday.
The flower illustrated here is a Marsh Marigold.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Great Crested Grebe, Daffodils and Rhododendron, Lesser Celandine, Pansies, Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, Magnolia Stellata, Parrot Tulip and Ranunculus.
See This Week's Colour Supplement