Edinburgh and Glasgow Bury the Hatchet
The ancient rivalry between Scotland's two largest cities has meant that the M8 motorway between them has been the longest 43 miles in the country. There have been many calls in the past for the two cities to co-operate and so achieve more on a joint basis, particularly in the area of tourism - an business in which both cities have been remarkably successful, accounting jointly for half of Scotland's income from overseas tourists. At last, the city councils in the east and west, plus Scottish Enterprise, have produced a number of collaborative projects for closer working between the cities. They were produced as a result of a workshop earlier this year involving a large number of private sector tourism businesses in the cities. They include a new ticket package for leisure and business tourists to both cities which links airports, city centres and out of town visitor attractions. Then there is a plan for joint promotional literature and a campaign for visitor attractions in Glasgow and Edinburgh to encourage more visits to both cities. Frontline tourism staff such as taxi drivers, hotel staff and waiters working in each city will be informed and educated about the history and attractions of their opposite city. And the publications produced by each city will encourage Glaswegians to spend more time in Edinburgh and vice-versa. Other projects, including a joint events diary, are also being considered. Maybe those 43 miles just got a little shorter.
More Teachers in the Classroom
Figures published by the Scottish Executive show that the number of vacant teaching posts in Scotland has almost halved over the past year - falling from 439 to 245. "Vacant" posts are defined as those unfilled for more than three months. There are 3,787 new teachers about to start their teaching careers in Scottish classrooms in August, to replace those retiring or leaving the profession. Currently, there are 52,179 teachers in Scotland, up 892 from the previous year. The government is aiming to increase teacher numbers to 53,000, in order to reduce class sizes for English and Mathematics.
Legal Challenge to Motorway "Missing Link" Collapses
After years of debate and protests by environmentalists, it looks as though the extension of the M74 motorway from Cambuslang to the M8 at the Kingston Bridge will now go ahead. A legal challenge by Friends of the Earth Scotland has collapsed after they had reached the conclusion that it would be "irresponsible" to continue with the action. The five-mile link will complete the orbital motorway system round Glasgow and local government bodies, enterprise organisations and businesses had argued that it was vital for the economic and social benefits it will bring to the whole of the west of Scotland. The project has been bogged down in lengthy planning enquiries and legal challenges. The latest legal case which has now been withdrawn has caused a two year postponement of the project and that will raise the cost (ultimately to the taxpayer) by £20 million. The aim now is to start construction in 2008, with the project being completed in 2010.
Positive Impact on Bars from Smoking Ban
Prior to the imposition of a ban on smoking in all public buildings at the end of March this year, pubs and licenced premises in Scotland feared that it would result in a loss of business as smokers stayed away. But experience so far has been the opposite. Premises selling food have been seeing more customers and even those where drinking is the main occupation, there has been a return of non-smokers now that they are no longer subjected to clouds of smoke. A recent survey of 1,000 over-18s has shown that 24% say that the ban has encouraged them to visit bars more often and only 10% say that it has reduced their number of visits. Bars with at least some seating outside were also less likely to see a drop in trade. But the Scottish Licensed Trade Association says that it is too early to draw any firm conclusions, citing the World Cup on TV screens in bars attracting more customers and better weather making drinking outside possible. Compliance with the ban has been nearly 100%, with very few individuals or premises being fined. However, the positive situation in bars and restaurants is not reflected in bingo halls (where customers play a game in which numbered balls are drawn at random and players cover the corresponding numbers on their cards). Operators report that profits have slumped by up to 25% and a number have already closed with around half of the clubs at risk of closure in the long run. Players are also said to be arriving later and leaving earlier and smokers spend more time outside smoking than inside gaming.
Tony Blair on a Pedestal
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, attended Fettes College in Edinburgh from 1966 to 1971 and, in a school renowned for producing large numbers of leaders, he is probably the its most famous former pupil. Now the Prime Minister is coming back to Fettes - in the form of a sculpture, at least. The bronze head is by artist John Doubleday, who has previously captured the expressions of Nelson Mandela, the Beatles, Sir Laurence Olivier and the Duke of Edinburgh. Those who have seen it, say that it "seems to reflect his tired eyes and creased features after nine long years in office." The school commissioned the work five years ago to celebrate his achievement in becoming Prime Minister for a second term of office. The sculpture will be displayed beside a number of other Fettes pupils who achieved high political office, including Iain MacLeod and Selwyn Lloyd, who are both former Chancellors of the Exchequer.
The photo of Tony Blair is British Crown copyright.
Doctor Appointments Within 48 Hours
Getting an appointment to see your local doctor used to be a bit of a hit or miss affair. In some busy practices you were lucky to get the same week, but now just about every family doctor's surgery can offer an appointment within 48 hours. No doubt the improvement was helped by the doctors earning extra money if they meet that target. There are sometimes reports, however, of surgeries no longer arranging to book an appointment in advance, allowing patients to book only appointments on the day of phoning for an appointment - and being told to phone the next day if there are no spaces left.
Record Attendance at Royal Highland Show
The attendance at the four days of the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston near Edinburgh last week was a new record of 161,409, around 6,000 more than the previous year. The decent weather was no doubt a contributory factor, but there is also a growing interest in the countryside by those living in towns and cities. 70% of those turning up at the biggest annual agricultural event in Scotland are reckoned to be urban dwellers. But there is still a cloud hanging over the venue, with the neighbouring Edinburgh Airport wanting to swallow it up as part of its expansion plans. Should the show organisers lose that battle, they are looking at the feasibility of other sites in the Edinburgh area - the most favoured option is on the other side of the A8 road. This site would have a capacity to cope with crowds of 70,000 a day, 50% more than the present record levels.
Second Thoughts on Bus HQ?
Last October. transport company FirstGroup was given the green light by Aberdeen City Council to build a new bus depot and office accommodation for its global HQ in the Woodside area of the city. The plan had been opposed by many local residents and had been rejected by the council planning committee. But after threats by the company that it would move its HQ from Aberdeen, if the plan did not proceed, a meeting of the full council had approved the project. Now it appears that the transport giant is considering an alternative site, including one owned by the city council at Kittybrewster, nearer the city centre.
Approval for Glass Roof for George Square Building
The former main Post Office building overlooking Glasgow's George Square has lain vacant for over ten years. It is considered by many to be architecturally second only to the City Chambers on the east side of the same square. Plans to convert the fine 127-year-old building into a Scottish National Gallery, a hotel, a health club or shops have all fallen by the wayside. The current owners, who bought the building last year for £11 million, submitted a planning application to adapt it for 127,000 square feet of office accommodation, which they described as "iconic, radical and eye-catching". To improve the financial viability of the development, it involves an extension of glass which will rise four storeys on top of the existing Victorian building. The rooftop terraces would offer views across the city. Glasgow City Council has now approved the plan. Despite the mixture of 19th and 21st century styles, an architect's impression certainly suggests that it will be an eye-catching combination. Clearly the developers were expecting approval and they will have construction workers on-site next week. The interior will be totally demolished and the exterior walls retained. Construction is expected to be complete by September 2008.
"Super Campus" for Dumfries and Galloway College
Plans to move Dumfries and Galloway College to the Crichton campus in Dumfries has been allocated £21.7 million from the Scottish Funding Council to finance the move. The result will be a unique combination as Crichton University Campus in is already Scotland's first multi-institutional campus, hosting the University of Glasgow, the University of Paisley and Bell College so that students from south-west Scotland can study a wide range of courses closer to home. Now the Dumfries and Galloway College will join them, sharing the same site, bringing higher and further education together at the same location. The project is targeted for completion in time for the beginning of the academic year in August 2008.
New Park for Renfrew
There was a blaze of publicity a year ago about Clyde View Park on the banks of the river at Renfrew, along from the massive Braehead retail park. It was the first new park to be built in the West of Scotland for many years and featured a fountain, play areas, artwork, a waterway to encourage natural wildlife, flora and fauna, including an otter's holt and access to a walkway running from the retail complex to the Renfrew Ferry. But because of the ongoing construction work at the adjacent Xscape entertainment and leisure complex and the housing developments overlooking it, access to the seven acre park was closed to the public. Now it has opened its gates and it is indeed an excellent asset for the area. The artwork includes bronze sculptures illustrating aspects of the history of the area - ranging from Somerled, Lord of the Isles who landed at Renfrew in 1164, through Airship R34 built by Beardmores at nearby Inchinnan in 1919 to 602 (City of Glasgow) Squadron of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force which flew from a local airfield before participating in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
No Change of Tactics for First Minister
Despite being subjected to a barrage of criticism from the English media and political opponents (as well has his predecessor, Henry McLeish), First Minister Jack McConnell has refused to announce his support for England in their quarter-final World Cup clash with Portugal this Saturday. Asked again about his current position, he replied "I have made it clear from the very beginning of the World Cup that should the couple of minor teams I mentioned at the very beginning not make it to the second round, I had absolutely no intention of expressing any preference for any game." But he also made it clear that he had never said he would support "anybody but England." Pressure on the First Minister should now lessen, however - after a no-score draw, England lost to Portugal on penalties and are out of the World Cup.
Support for Trinidad and Tobago (who played against England in the group stage) by the First Minister - and by many Scottish football supporters - has prompted the government of the Caribbean island to thank Scotland for its support in the only way they know how - with a big party. Next month, two events, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, are being arranged, featuring live entertainment by well-known musicians from the island as a special thank-you. The event kicks off in Glasgow's George Square on July 15 and the party will include reggae band Flame, limbo dancers, cultural dancers, musician SW Storm and some of the Trinidad and Tobago team. It remains to be seen whether the First Minister will be brave enough (or foolish enough?) to join these celebrations...
The illustration shows Jason Scotland, who plays for Trinidad and Tobago - and Perth team St Johnstone.
Objections to Perthshire Hydro Electric Scheme
Plans by energy company Npower Renewables to create a large-scale hydro electric scheme on the river Braan in Perthshire is being recommended for rejection by Perth and Kinross Council officials on the grounds that it will have a detrimental visual and environmental impact. Much of the opposition has come from canoeists, who claimed water levels on the river near Dunkeld would drop and drastically cut canoeing days. But objections have also come from as far afield as Canada, America, New Zealand and Australia. Some local residents are said to be in support of the scheme as they would rather see a hydro scheme than wind farms in the area. Npower Renewables believes the River Braan development could generate enough electricity to power more than 2,000 homes a year. If, as expected, the scheme is rejected by Perth and Kinross Council, it will be up to Scottish Executive ministers to make the final decision.
"Maid" Rises from Loch Lomond
The "Maid of the Loch" is the last paddle steamer to be built in Britain and has been moored at Balloch Pier on Loch Lomond since she was withdrawn from service in 1981. In the last ten years, she has been undergoing painstaking repair and refurbishment and this week she passed a major milestone towards eventually sailing with passengers again. Thanks to a slipway and winch gear being rebuilt at a cost of £620,000, the paddle steamer has been taken out of the water for the first time in over 25 years. The finance was raised from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Enterprise Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire Council, and the Loch Lomond Steamship Company, which now owns the vessel. It is hoped that the Maid of the Loch will be sailing with passengers again in two to three years.
Parents Win Fight Over Free School Transport
It is not often that elected officials in local government admit that they were wrong and reverse an unpopular decision. But that is what happened in Argyll and Bute, after parents reacted angrily to the plan to withdraw free travel to school for many pupils who lived some distance from school. The Council was going to limit free transport to pupils aged under 8, who live more than 2 miles from their local school, and pupils aged 8 and over who live more than 3 miles away. But sense has prevailed and the decision (which was designed to save the council £30,000) was overturned this week on the grounds of road safety fears because more children would be walking long distances to school, while others were taken by car.
Time Capsule for Airport
The 40th anniversary of Glasgow Airport moving to the former Royal Naval Air Station at Abbotsinch, was marked with the burial of a time capsule representing "a snapshot of life in 2006." Items had been submitted by two primary schools and included a CD from Glasgow band Belle and Sebastian, a model plane, and a copy of BAA Glasgow's in-house magazine Airwaves plus a copy of the Glasgow "Evening Times" newspaper. The time capsule was buried under slabs at the entrance to the airport, outside UK arrivals. Its location will be marked by a commemorative plaque.
Stamping Gaelic on Highland Postal Service
The Royal Mail has launched a new colour scheme for 71 of its vehicles in the Highlands incorporating a dual English and Gaelic livery. Delivery vehicles which also carry passengers and double up as "Postal Buses" will carry the slogan "Bus a Phuist" - Gaelic for "postal bus." The signage is in response to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 which encourages the use of the language. The vehicles serve post codes where Gaelic is used most frequently and the scheme was launched this week in Stornoway in the Western Isles (Eilean Siar).
Row Brews Over Litre Glasses
Usually, stories about the imposition of standard measures involve the resistance of some traders to the introduction of metric measures by the European Union and the loss of the traditional imperial standards. So it was a surprise to many, including the owner of a bar in Glasgow selling traditional German beer, that they couldn't sell it in tankards measured in litres and are being threatened with court action. The West Brewing Company, overlooking Glasgow Green, uses German methods to produce their product and want to sell it in authentic German glasses. But trading standards officers have laid down that in the UK beer can only be served in "half pints, thirds of pints or multiples thereof".
Where Can We See a Real Live Haggis?
Staff at tourist information offices across Scotland are gearing up to the peak of the visitor season and the thousands of questions that are thrown at them. The office in central Edinburgh dealt with 560,000 tourists last year and coped with 2,000 a day during the peak months. Most of the questions are routine - but even the experienced staff get floored from time to time. Some visitors have no idea of the size of the country - or Europe for that matter. So they ask if they can organise a day trip to Orkney - or Disneyland Paris. Some are unsure whether the castle overlooking Princes Street is Edinburgh or Stirling. Others wonder if they can book accommodation in Edinburgh's castle - and if the open top tour bus goes to Inverness. Then there are those who wonder if money or postage stamps obtained in England are valid in Scotland. But the marketing of Scottish culture has obviously done its job when visitors ask "Where can we see a real live haggis?"
Tourist Map of Mystery
Scotland's tourism agency was forced to issue an apology and remove a map of Scotland from Edinburgh airport this week after it was pointed out that it was full of errors. The Highland capital of Inverness had moved nearly 50 miles down the A9 and was next to a huge waterway (which was wider than Loch Ness) and was probably meant to be the river Spey. Meantime, John o' Groats had lost its only claim to fame and was no longer at the top corner of Caithness and was 30 miles south of Thurso. The island of Benbecula in the Western Isles between North and South Uist had floated 75 miles north to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. And Glasgow had drifted close to Larkhall in South Lanarkshire. The agency sheepishly removed the map and said it would be replaced "when a more accurate map can be found." Cartographers John Bartholomew and Son (part of the multinational HarperCollins) who have been making maps in Scotland for over 200 years may be able to help?
Weather in Scotland This Week
After a fair amount of sunshine earlier in the week, especially in the central lowlands, cloud and eventually rain moved in by Friday. Even so, temperatures remained at or above the average for the time of year, ranging mainly from 18/20C (64/68F). Aberdeen and the Western Isles were somewhat chillier than that, earlier in the week (Aberdeen's maximum on Sunday and Monday was only 14C/57F) but all parts of the country enjoyed higher temperatures on Saturday. Edinburgh came off best, with the thermometer reaching 25C/77F. The forecast is for the warm spell to continue and maybe get even hotter, with perhaps a few thunderstorms being generated as a result.
The illustration is of a Foxglove (Digitalis)
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Anstruther Harbour in Fife, a Painted Lady butterfly (illustrated here), Astrantia and White Mecanopsis flowers, Lapwing, an early Thistle and Cirsium. See this week's Colour Supplement.