More Scots Support Independence
During the 1990s, the percentage of voters who supported the idea of independence from the UK for Scotland was around 30% or so. But just as disenchantment with the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher and her successors led to an upsurge in support for a devolved government, Tony Blair's current unpopularity has contributed to a growing number who see total independence as a better option. A recent opinion poll of 1,200 Scots has produced figures showing that 44% now back independence, with 42% supporting the status quo and 15% "undecided". That is quite a boost for the Scottish National Party (SNP) - which only managed to gain 27% of the vote in the Scottish Parliamentary elections in May 2003. The recent poll also found that more voters supported the SNP leader, Alex Salmond, as Scotland's First Minister. He is seen as more honest, competent and likeable - and less conceited - than the present First Minister, Jack McConnell, the Scottish Labour leader, who is regarded as out of touch. The latest opinion polls, if they are matched in next May's election for the Scottish Parliament, suggest that Labour would narrowly remain the biggest party, with 42 seats, down from its current 50. The Nationalists would win 38 of Holyrood's 129 seats, enough to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Labour's current governing partners, so long as the Green Party joined them. But eight months is a long time in politics!
U-turn by First Minister
Could it be that First Minister Jack McConnell (pictured here) was aware of the increased support for Scottish independence when he did a U-turn this week on his previous opposition towards making St Andrew's Day a national holiday? A private member's bill to create such a day of celebration has been making little progress because of a lack of support from the Scottish Executive. The government were responding to concerns from businesses about the cost to the Scottish economy of an extra holiday entitlement for staff. But now a "compromise" has been reached. The government will support the measure - but only if it is made clear that it is not an extra day's holiday - only a replacement for an existing one. Of course, as with all such breaks, the Scottish Executive cannot impose it on employers - they are subject to normal trade union or employee/employer negotiations on conditions of service. But technically, 30 November will become "a Scottish public holiday." It remains to be seen, however, what support there will be for a day's holiday at the end of November in place of one in the spring or summer.
Scottish Economy Growing "Robustly"
The latest Royal Bank of Scotland "Purchasing Managers' Index" (PMI) suggests that the Scottish economy grew robustly again in August, despite the 0.25% rise in base interest rates announced by the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee at the start of the month. There were relatively lower rises in input costs which helped its competitive performance. The manufacturing sector outpaced services for the second month in a row, buoyed by the strength of the recovery in the Euro zone. Manufacturing output grew for the ninth successive month, with growth in new orders recorded for the 38th consecutive month.There are cost pressures from rising energy costs, however, and wage costs are also rising faster than inflation.
Scottish House Prices Growing Faster
House price inflation in Scotland picked up again in July, according to the latest government data, rising from 8.9% in the previous month to 9.3%. That was nearly double the rate of increase in England and Wales where prices moved up by 5.5% in July (from 4.6% in June). In Northern Ireland, house price inflation fell slightly from a historically high level of 19.1% in June to 18.3% in July. But analysts suggest that rising interest rates (up 0.25% last month and expected to rise again by the end of the year) will slow the rate of growth of house prices.
Quote Me Unhappy
Insurance giant Norwich Union - whose TV advertising campaign is based on the phrase "quote me happy" - is cutting 4,000 call centre, back office and information technology jobs, 1,000 of these in Glasgow and Perth. The company says that 1,000 jobs are being moved to India because more customers are buying policies online instead of via call centres. The insurance group will still be employing 3,400 staff in Scotland after the restructuring.
Paisley University Defends Merger Plans
The principal of Paisley University has defended the proposal to merge with Bell College in Hamilton, saying that it would make the combined education establishment the fourth largest in Scotland, with 18,000 students in four locations. The merger of the Paisley and Bell's health and nursing schools would make it the largest provider of nurses and midwives in the country. Both the Paisley and Hamilton institutions draw a large percentage of their students from deprived areas and that focus would continue. Civic and business leaders in Paisley are concerned, however, about the plan to name the new seat of learning "University of the West of Scotland", dropping the Paisley name. But the principle argues that having the word Scotland in its title would be a great advantage, particularly in attracting foreign students. The detailed plans are to be submitted to the Scottish Executive next month.
5,000 Unemployed Back to Work
The Local Development Company Network (LDCN) in Glasgow is a group of organisations working in some of Glasgow's most deprived communities to get people in the city off state benefits and into employment. It has been working for 20 years and last year it helped more than 5,000 unemployed people back into work, the first time it had reached that total. Glasgow has been going through a massive regeneration programme, with billions of pounds going into major building developments. As a result, there are more opportunities than ever before for employment. But the long-term unemployed often have difficulties getting back into the world of work and LDCN works with people to build skills and confidence, so that they can obtain worthwhile jobs instead of depending on state allowances. Although LCDN is delighted with the progress that has been made, they recognise that much has to be done to persuade the estimated 30,000 Glasgow residents currently claiming benefit, and who are able to work, to make that leap back into the job market.
Scots' Diet Fails to Improve
Over the last ten years the government has spent £100 million encouraging people to eat a healthier diet. We are constantly being told that the unhealthy fatty, carbohydrate diet, consumed by many Scots, is killing us. We are also told, for example that we should be eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day and taking regular exercise. While some people have followed the advice, a report published this week shows that most of the healthy eating targets set in 1996 had not been met by 2005. Consumption of fruit and vegetables and oily fish is actually down slightly to 246g a day (far below the target of 400g), while sugar consumption has risen. Salt and fat reduction targets had also been missed. Poor diet is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, which is the main cause of death in Scotland and causes the premature death of about 21,000 people a year. Obesity is also soaring, with 22 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women now classed as obese.
European Commission to Clip Scotland's New Air Services
In 2002, the Scottish Executive launched its Route Development Fund, which provides a subsidy for new air services. Any airline can apply for funds for routes on which another carrier is not operating. It has helped airlines establish services to 40 new destinations from Scottish airports which have been of great benefit to the economy. The finance is paid in the difficult early years of new routes, when passenger numbers are often low, until the service has become more established. But now the European Commission, under pressure from European national flag carriers, has stepped in to propose that taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidise flights beyond European Union boundaries. The Scottish Transport Minister, Tavish Scott, is said to be outraged and his department is in "discussions" with the Eurocrats. Existing services, such as the Glasgow to Dubai service, which has surprised everyone with its popularity, will continue to receive the agreed subsidy. But no new arrangements may be allowed from next year. The prospect has produced a flurry of activity as current negotiations on new services are rushed through before the embargo is in place.
Air Services Continue to Grow
The Scottish-based airline flyglobespan.com announced this week that it is to start a new daily service from Glasgow to Toronto in Canada and their service from Edinburgh to Toronto, which has been summer only until now, is to continue to fly through the winter as well. The airline says that fares on the Glasgow to Toronto route will be "from" £169 one-way. And low cost carrier Flybe is to launch a new route from Inverness to Belfast in Northern Ireland in December. Rival carrier Easyjet is to stop flying on that route from next month after operating a service for less than two years.
Air Passengers Rise Despite Terror Alert
The threat to international air travel through London last month actually resulted in more foreign travellers using Scottish airports, with Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen seeing a rise of 7.1% in international passengers, compared with August last year. But domestic travel fell by 6.4%, with passenger numbers on London flights down 11% overall due to the delays and cancellations after tighter security regulations were introduced. In the five days of the new security regulations, 10% of flights from Scotland were cancelled. That meant that passenger numbers at the three Scottish air terminals actually fell overall in August by 0.4% to 1,957,232 - the first drop since March 1995. Aberdeen Airport was least affected by the disruption and saw passenger numbers rise by 8.1% to 279,504.
Queen Inspects Kelvingrove
The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh toured the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow this week to mark its major overhaul. They met some of the major benefactors to the project and members of staff during a three hour visit. On Saturday, the art gallery and museum welcomed its millionth visitor since reopening in July. Before it closed for refurbishment, Kelvingrove was the most popular free tourist attraction in Scotland with just over a million visitors. The upgrade was expected to add 350,000 more to that figure, but that prediction is going to be exceeded by a wide margin.
First New Town for 40 Years
In the post-war years, a number of new towns (Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Glenrothes, Irvine and Livingston) were created in central Scotland, but the concept fell out of fashion. Recently, however, Moray Estates, which develops land owned by the Earl of Moray, has proposed that a new town of 10,000 people should be created at Tornagrain, on the A96 corridor between Inverness and Nairn. But, needless to say, the proposal is "controversial". Moray Estates has just launched a consultation exercise on the design of such a new town, in which the views of the public on a number of different development proposals will be debated - even though Highland Council planning permission has not yet been granted for the plan. The expansion of Inverness in recent years has created the need for development planning, but there are those who say that in order to avoid an urban sprawl of Inverness, the town of Nairn (16 miles away) should be expanded instead. Others argue that expanding Nairn could spoil the present attractiveness of the Moray town (which has a population of around 8,000). As they say, "watch this space" - around Tornagrain.
Supermarket's New Food Range for Poles
The increasing numbers of workers in Scotland from eastern Europe, particularly Poland, has prompted Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket chain, to introduce a range of "ethnic" products in response to demand for such products as pickled vegetables, Polish vodka, Borscht (a vegetable soup, usually including beet roots, which gives it a strong red color) - and marshmallows covered in chocolate. That last item should go down well with local Scots, too. Tesco discussed the needs of the Polish community to find out what they missed most from home - and have tried to satisfy those needs.
Hotel Group Insolvent
Scotland's largest hotel group, London and Edinburgh Swallow Hotels, was placed in the hands of administrators this week. The entire group is now under the control of accountants Ernst & Young. The company employs 7,300 staff in 671 hotels and bars across the UK, a number of them well known establishments in Scotland, such as the Golf Hotel at Carnoustie (which is hosting The Open championship next year), the Fisher Hotel in Pitlochry and the 200-year-old St Michaels Inn near Leuchars in Fife. Analysts suggest that the group had tried to expand too rapidly in recent years, often buying property at too high a price. The administrators are continuing to operate the group as a going concern as they are confident that they will be able to find a buyer, though it may mean breaking up the holdings.
Aberdeen Wins Britain in Bloom City Award
It would probably come as a shock to Aberdeen if the didn't win the "Britain in Bloom" City award - after all, they have won it every year for the last 38 years - and they made it 39 when the winners were announced this week for the 2006 competition. In the related "Scotland in Bloom" competition, Alness won the premier Rosebowl award with Perth coming second, but winning the "large town" category. Falkland in Fife was voted as the best village by the judges and North Berwick won the title of best coastal resort. A special "wee village" trophy went to the location which also has the shortest place name in Britain - Ae, in Dumfriesshire. The name is pronounced "Eh?" apparently.
Rough Waters for Forth Hovercraft Service
In April this year, Transport group Stagecoach announced plans to link Kirkcaldy in Fife with Leith, Edinburgh's port, by means of a high speed hovercraft service (see artist's impression), bypassing the bottleneck of the Forth Road Bridge. The service would significantly cut the infrastructure costs of alternative plans, such as a high speed ferry, as it would only need a concrete ramp rather than full docking facilities. The company had hoped to conduct a trial this year, but that has now been postponed to the spring or summer next year. Stagecoach say that they are "frustrated" by delays caused by environmental audits being conducted by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). They claim that the technology to be used is already proven in the UK and United States, with no impact on wildlife and the local environment and that progress has been "painfully slow". SNH deny that they are dragging their feet, protesting that they are only following their normal environmental checks, as required by law. The crossing time for the 35 knot craft from Kirkcaldy to a docking facility near Edinburgh would be 20 minutes and it could still operate in sea conditions with waves of up to two metres (6.5 feet). It is estimated that a two-craft service would cost about £2 million a year, transporting about 9,000 passengers a week - which will not make much of a dent on the traffic volumes going over the Forth Road Bridge.
Rare Visitors Fly in to Aberdeen
Not one but two rare Yellow Swallowtail butterflies have been spotted in Aberdeenshire, the first time they have ever been seen on mainland Scotland and only the third time they have been recorded in Scotland as a whole. With a wingspan of nearly four inches, the insects are pale yellow, with black vein-markings on the wings, and have a red eye-spot just below each of their distinctive protruding wing-tails. Both butterflies were reported to be rather ragged and had probably been blown across the North Sea from mainland Europe. It is unlikely that the two visitors will survive for long in the climate of north-east Scotland. There is a British subspecies of Swallowtail, but it lives only in the East Anglian fenland area in south-east England - and does not travel far.
Humorous Poster Campaign Hatched
The seaside town of Nairn has had an increasing problem of marauding seagulls in recent years, as the birds take advantage of the easier pickings from litter in the streets and rubbish not properly put away in secure bins. They even follow behind youngsters at lunchtime, knowing that scraps will be trailing behind them, as snacks bought in local shops are being consumed. There are even people who cannot resist feeding them bread and scraps, throwing them up in the air to see the birds wheeling acrobatically to catch them in mid-flight. But now posters are appearing all over Nairn carrying a picture of "Sally the Seagull" begging the public not to feed her and her friends. The poster reads ""I would be very grateful if you would not feed my friends and I as we have been told by the local 'quack' to watch our diets." The posters were dreamed up by a local newsagent after the newspaper delivery boys complained about being dive-bombed by screeching gulls. He placed a poster in his window with the eye-catching picture and its message - and the idea caught on. Copies are now being included in the "Welcome pack" for visitors to the big caravan and camping site in Nairn.
Legal Eagles Cause Chaos
Swallows are known for the many daft places they decide to set up home, but a pair of the fast moving birds caused chaos in the sheriff court building in Stirling when they decided that they wanted to become "legal eagles" and create their mud nest inside the building. Because of their protected legal status, they had to be left alone. Of course, once their brood had hatched, the parents set about their usual task of feeding them - non-stop - with insects, flying at speed in and out of the entrance, much to the alarm of staff and visitors. Hardened criminals flinched as the scythe-shaped object swept past, intent on feeding the fledglings. So there was relief this week when the swallows appeared to move out, preparatory to their long and dangerous journey to over-winter in Africa. Of course, swallows often return to their old nests, so they may be "doing time" in the court again next year...
Weather in Scotland This Week
Temperatures were largely above the average for the time of year, with Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow reaching 70/72F (21/22C) at the start of the week and Lossiemouth getting as high as 73F (23C) on Monday. There were also a number of sunny spells, but Thursday saw solid, nearly continuous rain across the whole country. But this was transformed on Friday into a mainly sunny day. Again, that didn't last, and Saturday has been overcast and cloudy - the exception being the Western Isles, where there were a number of sunny spells. The outlook over the next few days is that it will continue to be "changeable" with temperatures still well above the long-term September average of 57F (14C).
The clematis in this photo was taken in the sunshine on Friday at Finlaystone Country Estate.
This Week's Colour Supplement
This week's large size photographs taken in Scotland to show the current season and its flora and fauna include Turnberry Golf Hotel, Dunure Castle, Sloe berries, Arran across the Firth of Clyde, an evening seascape and Ailsa Craig (see thumbnail). See This Week's Colour Supplement.