Flags at Half Mast at Kinloss Air Base
The RAF air base at Kinloss, in Moray, is home for 120 Squadron, which flies Nimrod MR2 reconnaissance aircraft. Although originally a maritime surveillance and submarine killer, the Nimrods have become an essential element in the logistical support of NATO ground forces operating in Afghanistan. Last Saturday, one of their aircraft crashed while on patrol near Kandahar, killing 12 of the aircrew, a Royal Marine and a soldier. It appears that there was an electrical fire on board, which got out of control. A routine air-to-air refuelling had taken place just before an emergency mayday call was received. Despite its age, the Nimrod is regarded as a reliable aircraft and there have only been two other crashes in the last ten years. The crash brings the death toll of UK forces personnel in Afghanistan to 36 since the start of operations in November 2001. There are 5,500 British troops in the country, helping to train Afghan security forces, facilitate reconstruction and provide security.
Tony Blair's Leadership Crisis Impacts on Scotland
The UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was honest with the electorate during the General Election in 2005, at least in so far as announcing that he would be stepping down before the next election. That proved to be unwise, of course, as there has been intense media speculation (and within the Labour party that he leads) about when that resignation would take place. And waiting in the wings, as the most likely next Prime Minister, is Gordon Brown, the head of the Treasury in Tony Blair's Cabinet. The Labour party has been losing support and popularity for some time and that has prompted frequent calls for Tony Blair to step down sooner, rather than later. This week, after another bout of speculation and resignations by junior ministers, he confirmed that he would stand down - at a time of his own choosing, "next year". While the next election for the UK Parliament is not for another three or perhaps four years, the date of the next elections for the Scottish Parliament is fixed - 3 May next year. That helps to concentrate the minds of the Scottish Labour Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs). The party currently shares power with the Liberal Democrats, with a slim majority over all the other parties. Inevitably, many of the present Labour MSPs are anxious and see Tony Blair's current unpopularity amongst many voters as a significant factor in their re-election.
Fall in Recorded Crime Numbers
Official figures published this week by the Scottish Executive, show that there was a fall of 5% in recorded crimes in 2005-06 compared with the previous year. There were 1,000 fewer victims of violent crime, the 7% reduction producing the lowest level since 1997. Housebreaking has declined by nearly 50% over the last ten years. There has, however, been a rise in the number of drug-related crimes being recorded, though the police claim that this is partly because of the police actively seeking out such crimes. Overall detection rates for crimes in Scotland is around 46%. There are 16,000 police officers in Scotland - 1,500 more than seven years ago. As in the rest of the UK, they do not normally carry fire-arms.
A New Scottish Political Party
The left-wing firebrand Tommy Sheridan was the founder of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998 and was its convener and foremost spokesperson until stepping down in 2004. In the elections for the Scottish Parliament in 2003, the SSP had won six seats under the proportional voting system. Earlier this year, Sheridan won a remarkable £200,000 libel action against the "News of the World" (who are to appeal). The case was not reported in this Newsletter as the subject matter would have resulted in large numbers of the e-mail version being rejected by spam filters.. Sheridan won despite the testimony of a large number of his colleagues on the SSP Executive Committee giving evidence supporting the newspaper's allegations. The witness testimonies are now under investigation for perjury. Tommy Sheridan told BBC Radio Scotland: "I think there have been a group of individuals in the party who tried to undermine me and my credibility because of personal spite or dislike." After initially suggesting that he would seek the leadership of the SSP again, he has decided instead to form yet another political party. It is ironic that after his legal action splitting the party, that it should be named this week "Solidarity - Scotland's Socialist Movement." It will contest seats at the elections for the Scottish Parliament next May. The Scottish Socialist Party, under its current convener, Colin Fox, will also be hoping to retain their present seats.
Major Building Development Plan for Dumfries
Dumfries (pronounced dum-freece, not dum-fries) is a town with a population of around 31,146, situated close to the Solway Firth in the south west of Scotland. It was the county town of the former county of Dumfriesshire and was the hometown of Robert Burns from 1759 until his death in 1796. It is largely a rural backwater, so a plan to build 350 new houses, retail and commercial units, a new community centre, cinema and tennis courts on adjacent farmland has received a mixed reaction - especially as an outline plan to build 700 homes on another site was approved by councillors only a couple of months ago. The latest proposals have been submitted by a Scottish-Irish business consortium. Part of the developments could involve giving up part of the site as a section of a proposed southern bypass for the town.
Fancy Buying Glasgow School of Art?
The Glasgow School of Art was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and was undoubtedly his masterwork. Built in two phases at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, the building clings to the side of a steep hill and there is a wealth of Mackintosh design detail in the building. It is still used as a school of art and the management have embarked on a multi-million pound upgrade. They have come up with a novel way of raising some of the finance - selling parts of the building to the public. Of course, the "owners" won't be able to take their goods away, but they will be able to have their ownership of a Mackintosh icon recorded for posterity in a new visitor centre. The plan is to "sell" thousands of parts, from bricks to windows to lamps and weather vane.
Perth Strengthens Links With Perth, Western Australia
Links between Perth in Scotland and its namesake in Western Australia date back to the early years of the 20th century, when flags were exchanged to mark "Empire Day". Since then, various gifts have passed between the two towns, including a table of Australian native wood sent to Scotland in 1928 and which still remains in the room of the provost (roughly equivalent to mayor) and a pair of black Australian swans, sent to Scotland in 1955. In 1978, Perth in Scotland donated two decorative lamps to the City of Perth for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Western Australia. These bear the Perth coat of arms and motto and have taken pride of place at the front of the council house since its opening in 1999. Later this month, delegates from Western Australia, including the lord mayor and chief executive officer, are to visit Perth in Scotland to sign a "charter of mutual friendship" and "enhance the level of friendship, respect and understanding each community has for the other, to the benefit of future generations". It is hoped that the visit will also forge links between Perth Concert Hall and its theatre and their equivalent in Western Australia.
A Grand New Entrance for Edinburgh Castle
Planning permission and scheduled monument clearance has been given for a £2.7 million plan to create a new ticket office and terrace area at the entrance to Edinburgh Castle - Scotland's most popular visitor attraction charging an entrance fee. It will mean an end - at last - for the notorious eyesore of the present caravan used to issue tickets to the castle. The new arrangements will also speed up the time spent by tourists buying entrance tickets and these will also be available for purchase online for the first time. The new facilities will produce a better "first impression" for visitors as they approach the castle across the esplanade. Work will start at the end of the year and the new arrangements should be in place by the start of the 2008 visitor season.
Scots Cities Beat London as UK's Top Tourist Destination
Readers of the Conde Nast holiday guide have voted Glasgow and Edinburgh as the UK's favourite tourist city destinations. Glasgow has overtaken both London and Edinburgh to come out top in the annual vote, leaving Edinburgh in second place and the UK capital third. Conde Nast said Glasgow had been singled out for its people and hospitality as well as its lively night life. The city's attractions include free galleries and museums such as the newly refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, the most popular tourist attraction outside London, and the Burrell Collection of art. Edinburgh was favoured for its safety and cleanliness.
College of Pure Art
The design for a new North Glasgow College building was revealed this week and the stunning state-of-the-art building is bright and airy with lots of glass - see artist's impression. The five-storey building, costing £30 million, will be one of Scotland's most modern teaching facilities, complete with a fully equipped sports hall and conference facilities. It has been designed by RMJM Architects, who were the Scottish partners in the design for the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh. Work on the new building in Springburn will start shortly and is expected to be completed early in 2008. North Glasgow College is a community college with 7000 students, offering a range of full and part-time courses, from Higher National Certificates and Higher National Diplomas through to City and Guilds, Access and National Qualifications.
New Scottish Evening Paper
The Daily Record, one of Scotland's best selling newspapers, has launched two new evening editions, each aimed specifically at Edinburgh and Glasgow. "Daily Record PM" will compete with existing evening newspapers - the "Evening News" in Edinburgh and the "Evening Times" in Glasgow. There is speculation that the company that owns another major daily tabloid, The Sun, is also planning an evening paper for Scotland.
£18 Million Highland Fling
The owners of the Highland Park whisky distillery in Orkney have announced that they are to invest £18 million in the facilities over the next five years, in an effort to double annual sales. Despite being voted by many whisky drinkers as one of the best mainstream malts available, it is currently ranked only 15th in terms of sales. New packaging is being introduced for the major UK supermarkets and there are plans for an aggressive sales and marketing drive both in the UK and overseas, described as "the most ambitious in the brand's 208-year history." Highland Park is part of the Edrington Group, which also produces Famous Grouse, Scotland's best selling whisky, and the Macallan single malt. Sales of single malt whisky grew by 4% last year, but Highland Park expanded by 17%. Highland Park's 18-year-old offering, was recently named best spirit in the world by US whisky expert Paul Pacult. The Orkney distillery is currently working at 95% capacity, producing 2.9 million bottles a year.
Saltire in Space
Astronaut Nick Patrick, whose mother is from Skye, is to take a saltire flag that has flown above the Scottish Parliament on his first space flight aboard space shuttle mission STS-116. It is scheduled to visit the international space station as part of the construction effort. It will be the British-born astronaut's first flight into space and Mr Patrick says he is looking forward to coming to Scotland to return the flag to the parliament after the flight. Every year, 3,000 students from schools across Scotland take part in distance learning courses on space science as part of a Careers Scotland project. About 50 are selected to attend a 10-day space school at Nasa's space centre in Texas.
Herd of Artistic Cows Raise £250,000 for Charity
The 60 life-size, decorated, fibre-glass cows which have been brightening Edinburgh's streets and visitor attractions this summer were sold at a "livestock" auction at a glittering event attended by a host of celebrities. By the end of the evening, £250,000 had been raised for charity, as the great and the good competed for their own part of CowParade. Vladimir Romanov, owner of Hearts football club, paid the highest price - £15,000 for Salty the Saltire. He also bought the aptly named Coween of Hearts for the princely sum of £10,000. Crime-writer Ian Rankin also bought two cows, Lu-Moo-Nescence, who lights up, and Cow of the Castle, who bears the image of a nightscape of Edinburgh. The cow illustrated here is the "Edinburgh Can-Can Cow".
Do You Have a Firm Date for Your Funeral?
Jock Wilson is Britain's oldest surviving D-Day veteran and he has been celebrating his 103rd birthday in the coastal town of Dunbar. The veteran landed on Juno beach in 1944 with the Royal Artillery and won the Military Medal in Holland in 1945 - he got a letter from King George VI apologising for not presenting it in perso,n because Jock was still on front line duties. He was also awarded the French Legion of Honour in 2004 as part of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Although he can still be seen riding his electric buggy around the streets of Dunbar, he recently asked the Rev Charlie Robertson, the Chaplain of the Normandy Veterans' Association, who is also a former chaplain to the Queen, if he would officiate at his funeral. Jock roared with laughter when Reverend Robertson joked that Jock might outlive him. Then the minister went further and said "I can't confirm until you gives me a hard and fast date for my diary!"
The Green and White Hoops Diet
A Celtic football fan has taken up a challenge from Edinburgh University housemates to eat only food in the club colours of green and white till the end of the season - ten months from now. Scott Campbell is eating lots of salads, vegetables and white meat and fish. Apples (minus the skins if they are red) and bananas (flesh inside is white) are part of his diet, along with milk and white wine. The diet arose from a dare and Scott reckons the hardest phase is going to be over Christmas - no Christmas pudding for him.
Scottish Councils Deny Using Spies in Our Rubbish Bins
When one of the UK national daily newspapers published a story about "spies in your wheelie bins", other papers and media weren't sure if the story was a spoof or an April 1 joke that had escaped on the wrong date. But it emerged that indeed tiny electronic devices were being attached to the inside lids of the wheeled rubbish bins (known locally as "wheelie bins"). The technology was said to be able to allow local council authorities to measure the amount of rubbish - and amounts in recycling boxes. These devices had been installed without any discussion or publicity, even though they identified the owner of the bin. It was thought that the devices could be used to charge households producing "too much waste" - as already happens in some European countries. Although the original story related to councils in England and Wales, it transpired that some councils in Scotland had been covertly installing the electronic tags too - though some immediately rushed to say that they had not been activated. They also insisted that although they had a serial number, it was to allow officials to know where recycling was taking place.
Titanic Berths in Inverness Garden
Stan Fraser and his sons spent six years building a replica of the "Titanic" in the back garden of his house in Inverness. This was no ordinary scale mode, however - it was 88 feet long and could produce smoke from the ship's four funnels, using a disco smoke machine. But when Highland Council's planning department heard about the structure, it looked as though they were going to sink the model as it did not have the requisite planning permission. The situation was complicated further by Mr Fraser's home being an old toll house and is a listed building. But after an anxious wait, the planners announced that as the model had been completed more than four years ago, it fell outside the planning regulations. The model is located in a discreet location and it wasn't even as if the neighbours had been complaining. But the council officials insist that if Stan wants to progress his ideas of creating a museum with other (smaller) models, he must get planning permission first.
Weather in Scotland This Week
There was heavy rain on Tuesday this week, with the west of Scotland experiencing non-stop rain for most of the day, resulting in nearly 2" falling in 24 hours. But the weather improved after that, with brighter weather on Thursday and almost summery weather on Friday and Saturday as the sun shone steadily and temperatures rose to 18/19C (64/66F) across much of Scotland, with Edinburgh recording a pleasant 20C (68F) on Saturday.
The picture here is of Glamis Castle in Angus, with its sun dial on the front lawn.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's online large-size photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include various views of Glamis Castle in Angus, including its Italian Garden, Hollyhock and Achillea flowers and an acrobatic Grey Squirrel. See This Week's Colour Supplement.