Scotland's Going to the World Cup
TV screens are already starting to ramp up the excitement of the Football (Soccer) World Cup in Germany this summer. In the UK, of course, only England has qualified and for weeks we have been given regular updates on the progress of the injury to the foot of one of their star players. In the past, there has not been a lot of support in Scotland for the English football team in such contests, but the question is sometimes asked of celebrities and politicians "who will you support in the World Cup?" The slightly tongue in cheek answer given this week by Jack McConnell, the Scottish First Minister, was that he would support teams who have Scottish-based players appearing in them. And he would be instinctively be supporting the underdogs or those with a bit of flair. A local Scottish soft drinks manufacturer had already led the way on this, however, by an advertising campaign which proclaimed "Scotland's going to the World Cup." The advert then went on to extol the virtues of Jason Scotland, who plays for Trinidad and Tobago (and also the Perth club, St Johnstone). A spokesman for the Scottish drinks giant said: "With Scotland now heading for Germany, fuelled by Phenomenal Irn-Bru, Scots fans no longer need to feel left out of this summerís football extravaganza." See www.irn-bru.co.uk/jasonscotland/.
The theme has also been taken up by the manufacturers of a board game "Scottish Quest" who are promoting a song "Scotland, Scotland - Jason Scotland" which was sung with gusto at the Scottish Cup Final at Hampden Park on the 13th May, with 50,000 fans singing along to the bagpipe calypso. To add to the interest, Trinidad and Tobago play England on 15th June. Now, if only Scotland (Jason, that is) could score a goal...
Best Ever Performance By Hospitals
After years of problems and sometimes lengthy waits to see hospital consultants, Health Minister Andy Kerr triumphantly announced to the Scottish Parliament this week that every Scottish hospital hit its waiting list targets. Not one patient "covered by guarantees" waited more than six months for treatment at the end of March. Of course, many patients had much shorter waiting times than that. On the other hand, almost 34,000 patients are excluded from guarantees - about a third of patients. The Health Minister claimed that "This is our best ever performance, something for which hard-working NHS staff deserve enormous credit" He claimed that hospitals were heading towards reducing maximum waiting times to 18 weeks for a first out-patient appointment. Part of the reduction has been achieved by greater use of the Golden Jubilee Hospital in Clydebank (pictured here), a private operation which was bought by the Scottish Executive in 2002. Last year it performed 28,636 procedures, an increase of 50% on the previous year.
State Pension Age to Rise to 68
Currently, the age from which the UK old age pension is provided by the state is 60 for women and 65 for men (though the State Pension age for women is to rise gradually from age 60 to 65 from 2010 to 2020). But this week the government announced the biggest reform to the retirement pension for decades. It will result in the age at which benefit will be paid rising gradually - starting in 2024, the retirement age will rise to 66 and will move eventually to 68 in 2044. It is argued that due to increased life expectancy, workers will still be receiving a pension for roughly the same number of years as currently. There were also measures to boost the number of women who qualify for a full basic state pension from just 30% now to 70% by 2010 - as many women leave paid employment to have a family, they lose out on national insurance contributions. The number of years women have to work to qualify for the full state pension will be cut from 39 to 30. There will also be a new savings scheme which will result in an augmented pension and employers will be required to make contributions also. Business organisations claimed that it was yet another "stealth tax". The state pension is to become more generous, one important change being that annual increases will be linked to the rise in average earnings, rather than the rate of inflations as at present. Of course, workers do not have to work to these later ages - but they would not obtain the state pension until they reach the due date. As now, those who benefit from company pension schemes, which usually start paying out at age 60, will have the greatest flexibility in that regard.
The shortlist for the first Las Vegas-style "super casino" in Britain was announced this week and Glasgow was one of the eight UK cities to make it to that stage, the only one in Scotland. Only one site will get the eventual go-ahead and it has to be acknowledged that Blackpool in Lancashire is currently the front runner. The super-casino would have an unlimited jackpot, but licences will also be granted to another 16 locations for smaller casinos with jackpot limits of £4,000. The decision on all the applications will be made in December. Glasgow's case is helped because one of the selection criteria is that the casino should aid urban regeneration. Of course, it could be argued that Glasgow is now doing very nicely on that score, even without a gambling boom.
ScottishPower Increases Profits, Dividends - and Prices
ScottishPower is the largest energy supplier in Scotland and last year its profits rose 47% to £675 million, compared to the previous year, after customers saw the price of gas rise by 30/35% and electricity up by 16/17%. The company has 5.2 million customers in Britain but claims that it made a loss in its retail market, despite the soaring prices to consumers. The chief executive said that "profits are tomorrow's investment" - and increased the dividends paid to shareholders by 11%. There are also predictions of further "inevitable" rises in gas and electricity prices.
Development Plans for Edinburgh Blaze Site
In December 2002, the biggest fire in the Capital in living memory broke out between Cowgate and Chambers Street in the historic Old Town area of the city. It took two days for fire-fighters to bring it under control as the blaze swept through the tall, old buildings, up to eight storeys high, with a mass of interlocking walls and corridors. That whole area was designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1995 but fortunately none of the buildings involved were particularly historic. The conflagration created a large gap site of 135,000 square feet and now architects have unveiled the plans for a replacement. The £40 million proposal includes a hotel, arts centre, offices, homes and shops. The building may house a new concert hall or a gallery and the entrance to a modern 140-bed hotel is to be created on South Bridge (which runs over Cowgate at that point). A planning application is to be lodged for the development later this year. Once approved, it will take three years to complete.
Scotland's Biggest Airline Plans Expansion
Flyglobespan was launched only four years ago, but it has already grown to be the largest Scottish-based airline, with twelve aircraft serving tourist destinations in Europe and Florida. But by next summer the company plans to expand to a fleet of 19 aircraft, all from Boeing. That will make the airline larger than Icelandair, which has been in the business for many decades. Originally a business travel agency, Flyglobespan.com got its own licence to operate aircraft only two years ago. The company is coy about the new routes it plans to open up, but North Africa, the Caribbean and North America destinations are all being considered.
Football Tycoon Creates 500 More Jobs
David Murray, the owner of Rangers Football Club, has a large number of profitable business interests, including a call centre company RHL. They already employ 2,500 staff and this week they announced the creation of another 500 jobs in Glasgow. The expansion is being supported by a Scottish Executive grant of £1.8 million, which has enabled RHL to expand at a faster rate than would otherwise have been the case. Contact centres employ around 44,000 in Scotland. Although there have been a number of job losses in recent years, with some companies moving their operations offshore to the Indian sub-continent, there always seem to be more posts being created by organisations who want to avoid the communication problems which can arise with foreign operators.
Wind Farm Trumped
With the encouragement of the Scottish First Minister, American businessman Donald Trump selected a site on the coast of Aberdeenshire for a major new golf course and hotel complex some weeks ago. But he then threatened to pull out when he was told that there was an off-shore windfarm planned nearby. This week, the power company behind the project announced that the number of 490 feet high turbines had been cut from 33 to 23. The company insists that the reduction had not been made because of the threats made by the wealthy tycoon, but out of consideration of the impact on wildlife and aviation. The project will now stop at Bridge of Don and will be scarcely visible from the site of the proposed golf course. Trump has been sent artist's impressions of what will be visible from the planned club house. His representatives are reported to be comfortable with the new layout. The golf complex is estimated to contribute £157 million to the local economy over the next ten years and create 400 jobs. On the other hand, the windfarm company points to the role of their project in helping Scotland to meet its renewable energy targets.
Glasgow Gets Another "Twin"
After two years of discussions, a formal "twinning" arrangement is to be approved by City of Glasgow councillors next week with the Pakistani city of Lahore, capital of the Punjab. Glasgow is already twinned with Nuremberg, in Germany, Havana, in Cuba, Rostov in Russia, Italy's Turin and Dalian, in China, making Lahore the sixth "twin". Politicians always insist that these arrangements are not about expense account trips abroad, but are aimed at improving business, education and tourism links. Lahore has a population of around 6.5 million, more than ten times that of Glasgow. In the days of the British Raj, Scottish soldiers were stationed there and their influence is seen even today, with a number of Pakistani regiments with pipe bands. Many of the Victorian buildings in Lahore are also reminiscent of Glasgow. Beginning in the 1950s, there has been a steady stream of immigrants from the Punjab to Scotland, with most settling in Glasgow - there are around 30,000 people of Pakistani birth or origin living in and around Glasgow. This year, Pakistan International Airlines is starting two direct air services a week to Lahore. Pakistan's economy is growing by nearly 8% a year.
Scottish Regiments March Into History
Soldiers from the Royal Scots, the British army regiment with the longest continuous history, marched through the streets of Edinburgh for the last time this week. After 373 years, the regiment, which had its HQ in Edinburgh Castle, is being merged with the King's Own Scottish Borderers to form the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The salute in Princes Street was taken by Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, who is the Royal Scots' Colonel in Chief. The troops taking part in the parade wore their combat uniforms rather than ceremonial dress, in recognition of their recent tour of duty in Iraq. The motto of the Royal Scots, "Nemo Me Impune Lacessit" ("no-one dares me with impunity"), is now the motto of the new Royal Regiment of Scotland -see their crest shown here.
The King's Own Scottish Borderers, with whom the Royal Scots are merging, had their own parades at various locations this week in their recruiting area in the Borders.
Acoustic Monitoring of Forth Road Bridge
Delays are expected on the Forth Road Bridge this weekend and the following three weekends as engineers install acoustic monitoring devices on the bridge cables. They are to listen for the sound of snapping wires and are part of the exercise to determine how long traffic can safely use the crossing. There are 11,618 individual high tensile wires on the main cables and earlier investigations showed that some of these had broken as a result of rust.
Caledonian Canal Back in Business
After a £20 million overhaul over the last ten years, the Caledonian Canal is very much back in business and it is hoped that heavy freight will be using it as well as pleasure boats. The canal runs for 62 miles from Fort William to Inverness and was created 200 years ago. Only about one-third of the canal is man-made, the rest being formed by Lochs Ness, Oich and Lochy, along the Caledonian fault line. But eight locks are needed at Banavie to lift vessels 70 feet at "Neptune's Staircase". Last year a test showed that a vessel carrying 1,000 tonnes could successfully navigate the full length of the canal - equivalent to taking 6,000 lorry miles off Highland roads
Motorists Forced to Pay to Visit Glasgow Airport
Glasgow is proud of its reputation as the "friendly city" and, over the years, the antagonism shown to car drivers by the authorities, which is evident in some other parts of the country, have been more muted. There is a motorway which reaches almost to the city centre and the expansion of dedicated bus lanes has not been so all-pervading as it has become in Edinburgh, for example. So there was some surprise and shock this week when the British Airports Authority (BAA) announced that drivers will not be allowed to drop off passengers outside the Glasgow airport terminal. They will be forced instead to pay a minimum of £1 for just 15 minutes to pick up passengers in designated car parks, which are hundreds of yards away from the check-in desks. 88% of people who travel to the airport go by car - if not their own, then by taxi. During peak periods, 1,400 vehicles an hour currently use the forecourt outside the main terminal. Now only buses and registered airport taxis will be allowed there - even private hire cabs will not be allowed into the restricted area where currently they can wait for the arrival of passengers who have pre-booked a taxi. BAA claim that it will increase security and encourage the use of public transport - but at the same time are imposing an annual charge of £2,350 on private coach operators (including those who ferry airline crews to the airport) who want to use the short stay car park. Understandably, critics claim that it is more about introducing a money-making charge than security and encouraging public transport.
Osprey Chicks Hatch
Ospreys, with their spectacular dives into lochs from over 100 feet up, when they spot a fish in the water, have become a popular tourist attraction in parts of Scotland. But even after many years of careful protection, with round-the-clock guards on nests to deter egg collectors, there are only 160 breeding pairs, so their progress is watched with anticipation by naturalists and the many bird watchers across the country. The first of this summer's chicks hatched last Sunday at the RSPB Scotland's wild bird reserve near Boat of Garten, Badenoch and Strathspey. The news prompted a surge in the numbers of visitors at the site. Later in the week, the first chicks hatched at the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes, near Dunkeld. The rangers there may have seen the chicks break out of their shells many times before, but they still get a thrill, knowing that one more bird means a better chance of survival of the species in Scotland.
Thousands Head for the Sun
Although the last Monday in May is an English bank holiday, thousands of Scots are leaving behind the miserable May weather and heading for the sun via Scottish airports. Mediterranean resorts, Portugal and the Canary Islands are still the most popular destinations for sunshine but European city breaks to places such as Amsterdam, Prague, and Dublin are also favourite destinations. According to the Association of British Travel Agents, over two million people in the UK are expected to fly off to the sunshine over the next few days.
Whisky Warmer for School Kids
The North British whisky distillery in Edinburgh has a long tradition of producing brands such as Famous Grouse, Chivas Regal and Cutty Sark. Edinburgh City Council are building a new Tynecastle High School on an adjacent site and initially the proximity of the distillery to the whisky vats posed a problem. But these have been overcome and indeed the solution has prompted a deal whereby the excess heat from the distillery will be used to heat the new school. This will not only reduce the heating bill for the council, but it will help to reduce carbon emissions as no fossil fuels will be burnt.
Western Isles Jet Air Service Axed
Bmi regional airline provides the only jet-engined aircraft service between Stornoway and Edinburgh. It was launched four years ago and offers low fares, but there are not enough people using the service to make the route viable. So the airline is to scrap the six-days a week service on 29 July. The Scottish-based airline Loganair will continue to operate between Stornoway and the mainland, using turbo-prop aircraft. Bmi caused a storm a few years ago when it began to operate on a Sunday - many Western Isles residents strictly observe the Sabbath.
A Nip in the Air
A new perfume has been launched - malt whisky scent! Presumably for the woman who wants to attract a man who loves whisky, it is apparently redolent of the peaty, amber brew of the Highlands. Named "Spirit of Scotland" (now - stop that groaning) it took the experts three years to develop and involves more than dabbing good drinking malt behind the ears. In fact, the perfume doesn't contain any whisky (that's a relief) but has a combination of ingredients from the Indian Ocean, France and Morocco. It is designed to "recreate the traditional smoky and peaty smells of island malts such as Talisker and Laphroaig". It is being manufactured in Aultbea in Wester Ross, so it has a good pedigree. It has already been test-marketed - in London, of all places. It was reported to smell better the longer it was on the skin. Words such as "rich and sensuous" were used to describe it and one tester commented that she could be tempted to drink it. For those few unfortunate folk who can't stand the smell of whisky - the company is working on a perfume which smells of chocolate....
Weather in Scotland This Week
As May progresses, you might think that the temperatures would be on the rise. But this week, on May 23, Lochaber recorded an overnight low of -3.9C (24.98F) and that night ground frost spread as far south as Glasgow where overnight the thermometer dropped to 1C (33.8F). The clear skies and winds from the Arctic that night produced one of the lowest temperature ever recorded in May in Scotland. Maximum temperatures this week were also on the chilly side, ranging largely from 10/12C (50/54F), with the thermometer not rising above 9/12C (48/54) on Friday. Saturday turned out a but milder with Aberdeen and Edinburgh reaching 16C (61F), the highest recorded this week. There was also a lot of cloud and showery weather during the week, with the sun popping out from behind the clouds for short intervals - before the next shower appeared. The outlook for the early part of next week could best be described as "continuing changeable".
The picture here is of a Clematis after a shower of rain.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include an orange and white azalea, chestnut "candles", Finnieston Bridge (known as the "Squinty Bridge"), an acrobatic grey squirrel, hawthorn blossom (see picture here) and a zantedeschia flower.
See This Week's Colour Supplement.