As in previous years, over the Christmas and New Year period the normal weekly "Scottish Snippets" of current news, events and culture is replaced by a "Review of Scottish News" covering many of the main items from the past year. This allows newer readers to catch up on items from earlier in the year and regular readers to recall the major items reported in the last twelve months. This edition covers January to June 2007 and July to December 2007 will be circulated next weekend. The normal Newsletter will resume on 5 January.
Click on the picture to see all 12 calendar views...
The Scottish Snippets Newsletter in its original format began in April 1997 and continued in an unbroken series for 591 issues. Although no longer produced in that format there is now a regular update on the new and updated pages on the Rampant Scotland site and also "Scottie's Diary" on an intermittent basis, To receive this, kust send an e-mail to Scottie with "Subscribe Newsletter" in the subject line.
Hogmanay Blown Away - Again
History repeated itself as the Hogmanay street parties in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stirling all had to be cancelled due to high winds and torrential rain. Organisers in Edinburgh left the decision until late in the evening of 31 December, before 70mph winds, barriers blown to the ground and stonework crashing from a building convinced them that it had to be "safety first". Three years ago, the event was called off at the last minute for similar reasons. Since then, organisers had tried to improve on the strength of the stages being used by the performers in Princes Street Gardens - but the storms once again defeated them. The celebrations in Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee did go ahead, however, despite the bad weather. But it was the cancellation of the world-famous Hogmanay party in the Capital, involving an expected 100,000 people, that grabbed the headlines. Despite the public celebrations being called off, however, I'm reliably informed that most revellers still had a great time - warm and snug in the various bars and hotels around the city.
Is Edinburgh in Glasgow?The staff at the VisitScotland counters deal with millions of enquiries from tourists and many are very routine. But hard working staff clearly manage to spend a few moments recording some of the more bizarre and outlandish questions and publish these from time to time. The latest list includes such gems as: ~ Does Scotland have any golf courses?
~ Can you tell me where the mountain is in Scotland?
~ Which bus do I get from Orkney Islands to Shetland Islands?
~ When does the Loch Ness monster surface and who feeds it?
~ Is Edinburgh in Glasgow?
~ Can I meet Crocodile Dundee in Dundee?
~ What Tube/Subway line runs to Edinburgh?
~ When's the changing of the guard at the White House?
The tourist who pointed to the map and asked "How do I get to one zero NA?" had staff puzzled for a moment, until they realised that she was pointing to the island of Iona...
Profits Surge in Top Scottish Companies
A report by Scottish Business Insider magazine shows that profits in the 500 largest companies in Scotland soared by 27.1% last year, to a record of £23.51 billion, with turnover rising by 22.7% to £160.9 billion. 2006 was the fourth successive rise in aggregate profits for the top 500 Scots companies. The only area which fell was in staff numbers, as companies strived to improve competitiveness. The most profitable company with its HQ in Scotland was Royal Bank of Scotland, followed by banking rival HBOS (Halifax Bank of Scotland). Scottish Power saw profits soar last year, resulting in it rising from 257th place in the table to 5th.
The illustration shows the Royal Bank of Scotland HQ, Edinburgh.
650 Jobs Lost in DundeeAfter months of speculation and rising concern, the employees of automated cash machine manufacturer NCR learned this week - by a video presentation - that 650 staff at the Dundee plant are to lose their jobs. NCR blamed a "changing market environment" and competitive pressures for the job losses. But there had been worries amongst staff ever since the company had opened a plant in eastern Europe. NCR had said in 2005 that the Hungarian operation would "complement" the Dundee operation. Around 100 staff are being retained to make products developed by the local research department.
Flu Virus Causes HavocA flu-like respiratory virus has swept across Scotland, putting major strains on a National Health Service (NHS) that is always working at the limits. NHS Grampian, in the north-east, has been forced to cancel a number of out-patient appointments at the busiest time of the year, due to a combination of additional patients and staff off sick with the bug. Wishaw General Hospital, in North Lanarkshire, had to turn away all but emergency out-patient cases this week as it could not cope with the influx of referrals. Patients were diverted to other hospitals after Wishaw experienced a 64% surge in patients as a result of the virus, which causes a severe cough and aching muscles. The NHS 24 telephone help line reported that it had received twice the normal number of calls from people complaining of flu-like symptoms.
Glasgow Accent "Calming and Trust-building"The Glasgow accent is often characterised as being rough and indecipherable (a bit like most strong accents to those unfamiliar with them). Certainly, when it is portrayed on TV or film, it often sounds aggressive and guttural. But a report this week by the recruitment agency Office Angels shows that over 160 businesses operate call centres in Scotland's largest city - and one of the reasons is that the Glasgow accent is considered to be "calming and trust-building". Of course, those employed by call centres are more likely to have an "educated Glasgow accent" rather than the one found in an east-end bar. Over 20,000 Glaswegians are now employed in call centres and as customer dissatisfaction with equivalent overseas centres increases, the numbers involved is not diminishing, despite some companies opting for lower costs rather than good service.
Now Polish Scots Have Their Own TartanA new tartan, incorporating the red and white of the flag of Poland and the dark blue of Scotland, has been created by a Polish Scot in Edinburgh, whose grandfather settled in Scotland. The two countries have had a long association - Scottish merchants lived and worked in Poland centuries ago. There is a myth in Poland that Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement, is descended from Sir William Wallace and, more certainly, Bonnie Prince Charlie's mother was Maria Clementina Sobieska, a Polish Princess. 20,000 Poles stayed on in Scotland after World War II and since Poland joined the European Union, there has been a large influx of workers from there. So now they all have a tartan to call their own.
Scots on the MoveThe results of a National Travel Survey in Scotland show in statistical terms that we are travelling more - and further - than 20 years ago. The average distance travelled by Scottish residents within the UK each year has gone up since 1975/76 by over 3,000 miles to 7,332 miles. Of course, around 75% of the distance travelled was by motor car - no other mode of travel accounted for over 10%. Buses accounted for 6% of the distance travelled and rail travel for about the same. Despite the increased amount of travel by car, over a third of people in the survey said that they walked continuously for at least 20 minutes each week - though that left the other two-thirds who didn't achieve even that level of exercise.
Scotland's Oldest Map SoldA copy of the oldest accurate chart of Scotland was sold at auction this week for £22,000 - double the amount predicted. Although named the "Nicolay Rutter" it was originally created by an Alexander Lyndsay for King James V, so that he could set out to subdue the rebellious lords of the Western Isles in 1540. The "rutter" (or routier from the French word) showed not only coasts in great accuracy, it also gave sailing directions, the tides and channels which could be used only at high tide. A copy of the map, by a scheming English admiral, found its way to Nicolas de Nicolay, a French map-maker, who produced printed copies. The map is accompanied by 86 pages of sailing directions and all but one of the 150 places shown on the Nicolay Rutter can be identified - though some places, such as "Edembourg" have been given a French spelling. Only a dozen copies of the map have survived, mainly in public institutions such as the National Library of Scotland. Later maps, such the Gordon-Blaeu map of 1654 or the Moll map of 1714, were less accurate.
The Da Vinci Code EffectThe latest accounts from the Rosslyn Chapel Trust Ltd show that the profits have soared in the last year to over £500,000. The 560-year-old building was the centerpiece of the blockbuster film "The da Vinci Code" and the publicity from that has seen the visitor numbers grow from 30,000 a year to 170,000 in 2006, with each visitor paying a £7 entry fee.. Rosslyn is undergoing a lengthy £12 million restoration programme and has had scaffolding and an unsightly steel roof to try to dry out the fabric of the building. Fortunately, the rich carvings inside are still as splendidly impressive as ever. The extra profits will be invested in the restoration programme and an extension to the visitor centre.
Antonine Wall Nominated for World Heritage StatusThe UK government's nomination for World Heritage status was announced this week by the UK Culture Secretary. As widely expected, the site being put forward to the conservation body Unesco is the Roman Antonine Wall, which runs for 37 miles across central Scotland from Old Kilpatrick on the river Clyde to Bo'ness on the Firth of Forth. The wall was built around 140AD, in the reign of Emperor Antonius Pius, to deter warriors from the north invading southern Scotland. But it lasted only 25 years, after which the Roman occupying force retreated to behind Hadrian's Wall, across northern England. Unesco will examine the proposal and will make a pronouncement at a later date.
A Christmas Miracle?Media reports that the troubled Glasgow Tower would open again on 21 December described it as a "Christmas Miracle" - the 416 feet high rotating tower has been closed for longer than it has been open since it formally accepted visitors back in 2001. Forming part of the Glasgow Science Centre, on the banks of the river Clyde at Pacific Quay, it is the tallest free-standing building in Scotland and the only tower in the world which rotates through 360 degrees. The teardrop-shaped observation platform at the top faces into the wind to reduce wind resistance and computer-controlled motors respond to each change in wind direction. Within five months of opening, it closed for two-and-a-half years after a major fault was found on the bearings supporting it. Then it closed again for five months after visitors were trapped in the lift and had to be cut free by firemen. It has again been closed for well over a year after unspecified "technical problems". The Glasgow Science Centre has five-star ranking from VisitScotland and the tower is (again) its "icing on the cake". The views from the top are spectacular - see Places to Visit - Glasgow Tower
Snowdrop FestivalOrganised by the national tourism agency VisitScotland, the first-ever Scottish Snowdrop Festival is taking place between 1st February and 11 March. Over 60 locations - mainly gardens and woodlands - have been lined up to participate so that everyone can go out and enjoy these harbingers of spring. VisitScotland has set up a Web site with an active map showing the locations of all the participants. See Scottish Snowdrop Festival.
600 Electricity Pylons, 200 Feet High, Across ScotlandA public enquiry started this week into a plan by Scottish and Southern Energy to build a 137-mile long line of around 600 electricity pylons, each around 200 feet high. They would march from Beauly, north of Inverness, across the Highlands to Denny, near Stirling. Some of the pylons would be in some of Scotland's most picturesque locations, including the Cairngorms National Park. The company argues that the £320 million development is needed to allow the renewable energy resources such as wind and wave generators, to be transmitted to the populated south of the country. There is already a line of pylons, but the new ones are much higher and even more intrusive. The enquiry is expected to last for eleven months as the electricity company makes its case and the many objectors have their say. SSE has ruled out putting the line underground on cost grounds. The report from the enquiry will be submitted to the Scottish Executive for a final decision - with SSE asserting that ministers would approve the plans because of the need to encourage the use of renewable energy.
Graphic of Drumochter Pass from Cairngorms Against Pylons.
Record Investment in North Sea OilEvery time the Chancellor of the Exchequer raises taxes on oil producers in the North Sea (a not infrequent occurrence) there are dire predictions of the companies moving investment away to where they can get better returns and a more stable tax regime - West Africa perhaps? But as another round of licences for exploring another 246 blocks of the waters off Scotland's shores was launched this week, the government was able to report (with just a touch of smug satisfaction) that investment in the North Sea continues to attract record levels of investment. The investment is paying off too - there were more oil and gas discoveries in 2006 than in the previous five years. The oil industry calculates that it has invested £340 billion in exploration, development and production since oil was first discovered there in the early 1960s. With potentially over 20 billion barrels of oil and gas still available under the sea, it is estimated that a similar amount could be spent before the supplies are exhausted.
Aberdeen Harbour BoomsDespite a decrease in the number of fishing boats, Aberdeen Harbour recorded the largest ever tonnage of cargo through the port last year. The facility handled over five million tonnes of freight for the first time and although the number of ships berthing there only grew slightly, the total tonnage went up by nearly two million gross tonnes to 23.46 million, reflecting the larger vessels now using the port. Of course, a major element of the freight traffic related to the offshore oil industry, both in the North Sea and also abroad, particularly West Africa. Timber exports also began to flow through Aberdeen for the first time.
FirstGroup Buys US GreyhoundAberdeen-based transport company FirstGroup has bought US bus business Laidlaw, which runs the cross-country Greyhound coaches and the distinctive fleet of yellow school buses. The deal makes FirstGroup the largest single school bus operator in the US, with 63,000 school buses in the US and Canada. The purchase has cost FirstGroup £1.9 billion and will build on its existing North American transit management contracting and vehicle maintenance services. FirstGroup is the UK's leading transport operator with 23% of the bus market and 23% of the passenger rail network. Hopefully the purchase will be more successful than that of Stagecoach, the other major transport company based in Scotland. It bought Coach USA in 1999 but after making major losses, Stagecoach was forced to sell off a major part of the company five years later.
Picture via Wikipedia.
Lewis Wind Farm Approved by CouncilThe environmental services committee of Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to give it its correct title) has approved a controversial plan for 181 wind turbines, each 140 metres (460 feet) high, on Barvas Moor on the Isle of Lewis. Wildlife charities, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have fought strenuously against the development. The island is the most northerly in the Hebrides and is home to one of the largest peatland habitats left in Europe. Three wind farms have been proposed for Lewis, with the potential to generate more than 1,000 megawatts of electricity and make the island the "renewable energy capital of Europe". But others argue that it will spoil the natural beauty of the area. The wind farms are not being built in the Special Area of Conservation, due to European Union restrictions. But that means they are on the periphery, which is nearer the populated areas of the island.
First Outdoor Curling for Many YearsThose of us who had to scrape the ice from windscreens or slipped on ungritted pavements this week may have cursed the recent cold spell, but one group of sports enthusiasts were delighted with the low temperatures. The members of Kinross Curling Club were able to use their recently refurbished outdoor rink for the first time in ten years and only the second time since the late 1960s. A lot of curlers have never had the opportunity to play outdoors (where the sport was originally played) and the club invited enthusiasts from far and wide. Monks are reputed to have played the game on parts of nearby Loch Leven as far back as the 14th century - when winters were far colder than they are now. Kinross Curling Club claims to have been formed in 1688 - though as with all such claims there are other clubs that dispute the title of "world's oldest".
The graphic is of an outdoor curling match taken many years ago at Lochwinnoch in Ayrshire.
Threat to Al Fresco Culture Subsides
Maybe it's global warming. Maybe it's the smokers who are forced outside of bars and cafes. But there has been a growing move to an al fresco culture in Glasgow for many years, with continental-style pavement tables and chairs, where people can sit and drink, chat - and watch the passers-by. Any establishment wanting to implement such facilities on the pavement has to obtain planning permission from three separate authorities - planning, roads and finally the licensing board. But this week Glasgow City Council announced a clamp-down, with tougher compliance regulations - red tape in other words.. There was an immediate outcry, not just from the traders but also from the public who - despite the west of Scotland climate - appreciate having the option of out-door eating and drinking. Traders complain that the present regulations take six months to get approval and cost £2,500. Surprisingly (cynics might think the elections in May might have something to do with it) the council performed a U-turn within 48-hours, saying that they would "continue" a laissez-faire approach and would even look at ways of streamlining the approvals process. Oh, if only there was an election every year....
The illustration shows the open-air cafe at the Italian Centre in Glasgow.
Busy Valentine's Day for Gretna GreenHalf the marriages in Scotland where both bride and groom are non-residents take place in Gretna Green, the first town in Scotland on the old road from England. Gretna has long had a tradition of romantic weddings, ever since the days when parental consent for marriage was required in England until the age of 21 - and in Scotland, the age of consent was (and still is) 16. These days, around 5,000 weddings a year take place in the town - even though marriage over the blacksmith's anvil is no longer available. Valentine's Day is their busiest day of the year - 44 couples tied the knot there this year on that day.
Final Bill for Parliament BuildingThe Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer (roughly equivalent to Speaker) tried to draw a line under the troubled building project for the Scottish Parliament this week by announcing the final, final cost of £414 million. Surprisingly, for a project where costs escalated throughout its life, this was some £16 million less than the previous estimate. When the site at Holyrood in Edinburgh was selected 1998, the cost was given as £50 million and a completion date of 2001. The members of the Scottish Parliament eventually moved into the building (with tradesmen still working on unfinished elements) in September 2004. Since its completion, it has picked up a number of architectural design awards, hit a number of snags (like a structural beam in the debating chamber swinging down) and has received mixed reviews from the general public.
Gaelic Software from MicrosoftStrathclyde University has concluded a deal with computer giant Microsoft to translate the entire Window's package into Gaelic. Microsoft say that the project will benefit learners and native speakers and provide an educational tool for pupils at Gaelic schools throughout Scotland. Gaelic will be the 63rd language to be implemented as part of the Microsoft global local language programme. Strathclyde University runs Gaelic teacher training courses at its Jordanhill College.
Saving 1,000 LivesThe Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) rescued 1,022 people in Scotland last year, the first time that the number had exceeded 1,000. The RNLI had its busiest ever year, with 1049 launches from lifeboat stations around the coast of Scotland. The lifeboat at Oban, Argyll, rescued 109 people, the highest tally of any single vessel in the RNLI in the UK. The volunteer crews respond 24 hours a day on every day of the year and in all weathers - including a hurricane force 12 last year. The charity is seeking to raise £10 million over the next five years so that they can continue to train crews for this life saving task.
Mackintosh's Only Church Re-opensThe Mackintosh Church at Queen’s Cross in Glasgow is re-opening to the public on 5 March following a £1 million refurbishment programme. This unique building is one of a kind and is the only church designed by Mackintosh to be built. It was commissioned in 1896 by the Free Church of Scotland as St Matthew's Church. It is surprising that the strict "Wee Frees" allowed the sensuous styling of Mackintosh's representations both outside the church and inside. Perhaps they didn't see them that way? The growing interest in the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh gave rise in 1973 to the formation of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society. They have set up the headquarters of the Society in Queen's Cross Church. For more on this interesting building, see Places to Visit - Queen’s Cross Church.
Hunt for Jacobite TreasureA letter, apparently written by a Jacobite in 1746, has set archaeologists off on a hunt in a new BBC2 series called "History Detectives". The letter claimed that he had buried French gold sent to Bonnie Prince Charlie to fund the Jacobite Uprising in 1745. Forensic tests on the letter suggest that it comes from the correct period and there are clues in the letter pointing to where the hoard may have been buried at Arisaig. Even if no treasure is found, the programme may shed some further light on the gold.
Fort William Mountain FestivalOriginally just a film festival, the Fort William Mountain Festival, now in its sixth year, has grown into a celebration of everything encompassing mountain culture. Taking place from 16 February 3 March 2007, the two week festival has a packed programme of events and activities including art, photography, literature, animation, original theatre, inspirational music and distinguished guest speakers and the opportunity to learn new skills in a series of inspirational workshops. For more details, see www.mountainfestival.co.uk.
Funding Boost for FestivalLast December, it emerged that the Edinburgh International Festival had built up a debt of £1.5 million over the previous three years. The Scottish Arts Council agreed a one-off grant of £500,000 to help reduce that figure and a charitable trust contributed a further £500,000. Edinburgh City Council increased their contribution to £1.8 million for this year's festival, but clearly additional finance was required. So this week the council agreed to add another £350,000 and the Scottish Executive is also to provide £350,000 - the first time that they have made a direct contribution, although its agency, the Scottish Arts Council, has increased its funding to £1.5 million, an increase of £400,000. The aim is to maintain the Edinburgh as ther home of one of the world's leading international arts festivals. It was estimated a few years ago that 2.5 million visitors came to the city because of the annual extravaganza and contributed £184 million to the local economy.
Falkirk Wheel Turns Round More VisitorsFigures published this week show that last year the Falkirk Wheel had the largest rise in visitor numbers of any British tourist attraction. The wheel transfers boats between the Union canal and the Forth and Clyde canal, using a unique boat lift. The impressive device (plus trips along the canal and a large visitor centre) saw a an increase of 48% in the number paying it a visit. The total number of visitors was 437,388, up from 296,000 in 2005. Scotland's leading attraction in 2005 was once again Edinburgh Castle, with 1,213,907 visitors, a rise of 2% on 2005. The largest drop in visitor numbers was recorded by the National Museum of Flight, where attendance dropped by 31%. But the year before had seen the opening of the Concorde Experience, displaying the former supersonic airliner. The attraction with the smallest number of callers was the National Museum of Costume, based at Shambellie House at New Abbey in Dumfriesshire, which recorded a drop of 18% to just 10,717 through their doors.
Scottish Banking Profits Soar to £15 BillionThere is even more resistance than usual these days by bank customers to what is seen as exorbitant bank charges. So when the major banks announced significant increases in profits this week, a lot of attention was paid to them. And the banks in response tried to present aspects of their figures which put them in a more favourable light. Two of the UK's largest banks are based in Scotland, a testament to the success of the financial services industry in Edinburgh. Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) was first to publish their results and pre-tax profits rose from £4.81 billion in 2005 to £5.71 billion in 2006 - an increase of 18.7%. The bank followed up its annual results with a special bonus of £240 to shareholders - emphasising that as a large percentage of customers were also shareholders, they too would benefit from this windfall. And staff profit sharing would mean 17,300 personnel in Scotland would be smiling all the way to the bank with a bonus of £3,468 to every worker (amounting to £60 million in total) as well as free shares worth another £4,046. Shareholders and staff will get their extra cash later this month. The Royal Bank of Scotland, the second-largest banking group in the UK, was quick to pint out that over 40% of its £9.2 billion profit in 2006 came from outside the UK and that much of the profit growth of 16% had come from its investment and corporate banking divisions. And of course the hard working staff who achieved these results will also get profit sharing bonus. So all that makes the bank charges paid by personal customers acceptable, doesn't it?
English Not a First Language10,000 school pupils in Scottish schools don't have English as their first or primary language. Instead, they speak 137 different languages at home, including Punjabi, Urdu, Cantonese, Polish and Arabic. Of course, although the number seems quite large, that is out of a total of 702,737 pupils in 2,757 state schools last September, at the start of the new academic year. Those numbers were down from the previous year when there were 713,240 pupils in 2769 schools. The Educational Institute of Scotland has warned that the increase in pupils who are not fluent in English has not been matched by a rise in language support services.
Going Up in the World
The proposal to convert the 165 feet high cantilever crane at Finnieston on the banks of the river Clyde into a restaurant has gained the cautious support of the city council planners and even the heritage watchdog Historic Scotland, despite it being listed as a category "A" building. The hammer head crane was built in 1932 and was at that time the largest in Europe. It was capable of lifting 175 tons and was often used to transport railway engines made in the city onto ships at the dockside.
Nation's Shopping BasketThe Office for National Statistics measures retail price inflation using a basket of commodities that reflect what is in the nation's shopping basket. This is updated every year to keep track of emerging trends and items entering and leaving the list provide an insight into changing purchasing habits. This time, a number of food items have changed, with pro-biotic drinks, courgettes and broccoli being consumed in sufficient quantities to merit being added to the table, but the humble brussels sprout has been consigned to the wilderness, along with vegetable oil (now replaced by olive oil as we become more health conscious). CRT televisions and portable TVs are now excluded as sales of flat panel screens take over, with the rise of digital channels. VHS tapes have survived until now but are now replaced by recordable DVDs in the 650-item list of prices recorded in the latest consumer price index.
Moon GazingAs in many other parts of the world, there was a total eclipse of the moon visible (weather permitting) on Saturday, 3 March, with totality at around 10.45pm, lasting until about midnight. It was the first such eclipse visible in Scotland since January 2001. Unlike some earlier celestial events, there were clear skies over much of Scotland during the eclipse, so there were plenty opportunities for amateur and professional astronomers to get a good view. The photo shown here was taken in my back garden at around 10.30pm, just before the moon was totally eclipsed as the earth passed between it and the sun.
Eight-Year High Baby BoomOver 55,000 births were registered in Scotland in 2006, the highest number since 1998. Combined with a slight reduction in the number of deaths in 2006 compared to 2005, there were more births than deaths, the first time that has happened since 1994. Deaths from heart disease were down by 8% and strokes by 5%, but they still remain the country's biggest killers. Cancer accounted for 27% of all deaths. The data from the Registrar General also showed that the number of infant deaths at 248 was the lowest ever recorded and 13% down on the previous year.
End of the Line for Phone Boxes?The explosion of mobile phones has had a lot of unintended consequences - and one of them has been the major decline in the use of the ubiquitous red telephone box which used to dot all our towns and countryside. Telephone giant BT still operates all these public call boxes. The company has pointed out that the ten most underutilised phone booths are all in Scotland, with only three calls being made from them in the last year. These were not in remote Highland locations either, but in places like Penicuik (just ten miles from Edinburgh) and two in Auchterarder in Perthshire. There are 1,200 phone boxes in Scotland which take in less than £100 a year in call charges - which doesn't even cover the annual maintenance costs of around £1,600.
Wi-Fi West EndFree, high-speed Internet access via wi-fi technology is to be made available to the West End of Glasgow, including the major shopping area around Byres Road and Glasgow University. Nine lamp-posts will be replaced with disguised transmitters to create the network. The scheme is an extension of a successful trial in the city centre where there are 12 transmitters which provide services for customers of the major mobile phone companies. There are also ongoing discussions about providing wi-fi access in all 15 of Glasgow's Subway stations.
Aberdeen's Shipbuilding History On-LineA new Web site has been launched which is dedicated to telling the histories of nearly 3,000 vessels that were built in the shipyards of Aberdeen. The project is being taken forward by the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, aided by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant and funding from the Hilda Duthie Bequest - a fitting tribute to the local shipbuilding family of Duthies. The web site gives basic information and history of the vessels, as well as details of related objects which are held by the Maritime Museum, including any photos, drawings and artefacts. There is already a lot of information on the site, but it will take until August 2008 to complete the catalogue. See also www.aberdeenships.com.
Celebrating Thomas Telford2007 is the 250th anniversary of the birth (on August 9) of one of the greatest Scottish engineers in history - Thomas Telford. The Institute of Civil Engineers, of which he was the first president, are planning to mark the occasion as are other areas in the Midlands of England where much of Telford's work was done. A series of events is being planned for his native Eskdale, but so far the Scottish Executive has rejected any suggestions for an official event as well as turning down a request for financial aid to the local project. Last year much was made of the anniversary of the birth of the English engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Experts in the field argue that the contribution of Telford was the greater. To rub salt in the wound, the Scottish Executive has approved the removal of the historic area Eskdale from the ballot papers for the Local Elections in May. The ward is now to be known as Annandale East, much to the disgust of locals from Eskdale.
Tribute to Scots Pioneers in QuebecThe Scottish Parliament is celebrating the Scottish links with Quebec with an exhibition which highlights the achievements of Scottish settlers in Canada's largest province. The first influx of Scots to the area was in the 1760s, when discharged soldiers were given land grants along the shores of the St Lawrence River. More Scots arrived in the 19th and 20th centuries. The exhibition shows the achievements of Scots in the fields of engineering, commerce, shipping and academia. Pictures in the exhibition include Sir William Edmond Logan, who was born in Montreal to Scottish parents in 1798 and studied at Edinburgh University. He returned to Canada and became one of the founding Directors of the Geological Survey of Canada. Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada, was named in his honour. Other photographs include one of curling on the St Lawrence River (in 1878). Also featured is James McGill (seen here), a Glasgow-born merchant who went on to become one of the richest men in Montreal, leaving money to found the prestigious McGill University.
Record Ticket Sales for T in the Park35,000 tickets for this year's T in the Park pop festival at Balado near Kinross were snapped up within 70 minutes when they went on sale within days of the end of last year's event. That was before the artists performing in July this year had been announced. This week, another 40,000 passes for the three-day spectacular went on sale on-line and at a few selected outlets. Within 40 minutes, they had all been purchased. For those who missed out, there is a faint hope as the organisers announced that another 5,000 tickets would be made available. And, although efforts are being made to prevent ticket touting, they are also being sold on eBay - though a weekend pass, with a face value of £120, is being offered at prices approaching £500.
Picture via Wikipedia.
It's Snow FairScottish ski resorts are experiencing one of their worst seasons for many years - and they've had a few bad ones recently. Once again, the lack of snow has been the major problem. And when there has been enough snow, high winds have discouraged skiers and snowboarders and hampered the operation of tows and the funicular railway at the CairnGorm resort. Last year, the season was saved by a late fall of snow in March and the resorts are hoping that they will be lucky again in the next few weeks.
Starship LinlithgowJames Doohan, the actor who played Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer on the starship Enterprise, passed away in July 2005. There was then an unseemly scramble by a number of Scottish locations to be named as the (future) birthplace of the fictional character. Elgin and Linlithgow vied with Aberdeen, each quoting verbal and written "evidence". It now seems that Linlithgow has won this particular space race. A writer who created many of the original Star Trek episodes has confirmed to West Lothian's "enterprise committee" that the future birthplace (on June 28, 2222) of "Scotty" who regularly beamed up Captain Kirk, was/will be none other than Linlithgow. Now the town where Mary Queen of Scots was born is planning a Star Trek exhibition in the Annet House Museum. It will feature the original Star Trek costume worn by Scotty plus a scale model of the famous starship Enterprise. So in addition to displaying the history of the town, the museum will be showing its future as well...
Screen Machine for Southern ScotlandRemote areas of the Highlands and Islands have been served for many years by two state of the art travelling cinemas. These show newly released movies in communities where there are little or no cinema provisions. The "Screen Machines" which can cater for audiences of up to 100, have proved to be very popular, even in this age of DVDs and satellite television. Now the Scottish Executive has allocated funding of £500,000 for another mobile cinema to operate in southern Scotland, so that the isolated areas of the Scottish Borders, Dumfries & Galloway can also have access to the "cinema experience".
World Irish Dancing ChampionshipsUnderstandably, the World Irish Dancing Championships is normally held in Ireland. But in 2002, they ventured across the sea to Scotland and held the event in Glasgow. Clearly they enjoyed the experience and are returning to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall from 1-8 April. There are 4,000 competitors from fifteen countries and up to 12,000 supporters. While some will be locals, most will be from abroad. So quite apart from the enjoyment of the best Irish dancing in the world, there is a significant economic benefit too.
Glasgow Arena Funding CompleteAlthough planning permission was granted last year, it was only this week that the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC) put the final piece of the funding jigsaw in place for the new national indoor arena on the site. With a seating capacity of 12,500, it will not only strengthen Glasgow's bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2014, it will provide an added attraction to the many conferences that come to the city each year. It is estimated that 20% of the city's hotel bedrooms are occupied by conference delegates each year. The £118 million arena is being designed by Foster and Partners, who created the adjacent 3,000 seat Clyde Auditorium (better known locally as the "Armadillo" because of its resemblance to the South American mammal), which was completed in 1997. The new arena will be the third largest indoor venue in Britain when it opens in 2010. It is part of a major £570 million building project at the SECC, which includes a new hotel, public space and housing.
Summer Arrives EarlyRegular readers of the weather reports in this newsletter will be aware that in recent weeks there has been an above average amount of sunshine and higher than usual temperatures in Scotland. That weather pattern has continued again this week. The long-term average maximum daytime temperature for April in central Scotland is around 11/12C (52/54F) - and slightly lower further north in places like Aberdeen. This week, temperatures have often reached 18C (64F), with long spells of sunshine. On Saturday, temperatures in some parts reached 21C (70F). To those of you living in warmer climates than Scotland, that may not sound very warm - but it is above the average temperature for June here. The lack of rain (although there were a few showers this week on Tuesday, welcomed by farmers and gardeners alike) is not unusual for April, however, as this is the driest month of the year. Tourist attractions, particularly those in the open air, have seen record numbers of visitors as schools are closed for the Easter break and many parents and others take at least some time off work. The only glum faces are of those who run Scotland's ski resorts!
Go-Ahead for Motherwell CollegeThe cooling towers of the Ravenscraig steel plant used to dominate the North Lanarkshire town of Motherwell, until they were pulled down after the closure of the steelworks in 1992. That signalled the end of large scale steel making in Scotland. Since then, there have been a number of grand plans for the redevelopment of the site. Most have included large retail units, which produced lengthy objections from existing retail centres in the area. It now looks as though the project may at last be getting under way and the publication of an artist's impression of a new state-of-the-art campus for Motherwell College, which is part of the regeneration project, is a positive sign. The 280,000 square feet campus, costing £70 million, will be the first building on the site, which will also see the creation of thousands of homes, shops and community facilities. One of the new college building has been designed in a cylindrical shape - to reflect the former structures at Ravenscraig steelworks. Currently, the college has 20,000 students from more than 40 countries.
MY 07 CARCar number plates in the UK reflect the year of manufacture, with the last two digits of the year being included - the first two letters indicate the part of the country in which it has been registered. (The exceptions are where owners pay extra for personalised registration letters). The new year starts in March, however, so car dealers pull out all the stops to encourage motorists to buy a new car with the current year on the number plates. It seems that they were successful, with sales up by 2.3% compared to last year. However, the increase was achieved only as a result of heavy discounting on prices. There were also regional variations, with dealers in the Scottish Borders recording an increase in sales of 15%, while those in Lothian saw numbers slump by 9%. The best-selling car in Scotland remained the compact French-built Renault Clio.
UK Pound Worth US $2For the first time since 1992, the exchange rate for the UK pound has moved through the US $2 mark as sterling strengthens due to the present robust economy and the money market expecting UK interest rates to rise from their present level of 5.25%. The consumer price index rose to 3.1% in March - which is more than 1% above the government's target and action to curb further rises seems inevitable. The strong pound has been great news for visitors from Scotland to the US - it is said that shoppers have been "flocking" to New York in recent months. But it makes it harder for UK exporters to sell abroad and tourists coming here view prices as "expensive" due to the exchange rate.
Strongest Economic Growth Since 1997Scotland's economy grew by 2.6% in 2006, well in excess of its long-term annual trend rate of under 2%. Growth was the fastest in any calendar year since 1997 and was only a shade below that achieved by the UK economy as a whole. The performance was well ahead of forecasts by economists. Once again, it was the banking and construction sectors that led the way. Manufacturing output was still struggling, however, falling by 0.1% over last year. Statistics published this week also showed that the UK economy grew by 0.7% in the first quarter of this year, equivalent o an annual rate of 2.8%. That is widely expected to further convince the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee that they should raise base rates next month.
Kidnapped Travels the WorldIn February, 250 copies of Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel "Kidnapped" were left lying around in various places in Scotland's Capital as part of the "One Book - One Edinburgh " campaign. This was designed to make the tale of David Balfour and Alan Breck more freely available than ever before. People who find the books are encouraged to register with the BookCrossing website, so that they can be tracked. So far, copies of Kidnapped have been registered in Calcutta, Barcelona, Stockholm and Frankfurt as well as various parts of the UK. One copy of the book was left (and picked up) in Hawes Inn in South Queensferry, which is featured in the novel. Readers are encouraged to leave the book for other to find, once they have read it. The illustration shows a statue of David Balfour and Alan Breck in Edinburgh.
MusaThe Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £449,000 towards a £1 million project to preserve the historical collections of St Andrews University. They will be displayed in a new venue to be known as "Musa" - Museum of the University of St Andrews. There will be four galleries, an education centre and a terrace, which will have scenic views over St Andrews Bay. Items which will be on public display include three medieval maces (currently only on show during graduation ceremonies), college silver, an oil painting by Scottish Colourist Samuel Peploe, and silver archery medals won by students between 1620 and 1750. With the lottery funding now in place and other funds pledged by the university itself and private donors, work in the museum is expected to begin next month.
Jacobite Standard Raised AgainA piper and a crowd of onlookers gathered on Dundee Law, high above the "City of Discovery" last Saturday, to watch a re-enactment of the unfurling of the standard of King James VII of Scotland. The event was held in memory of John Grahame of Claverhouse - better known as Bonnie Dundee - who had launched a bid to restore the king on April 13, 1689. Later, in July of that year, Grahame and a force of Jacobite Highlanders defeated the army sent by King William at the Battle of Killiecrankie. However, Grahame was killed leading the charge. He is buried in a church in the grounds of nearby Blair Castle.
Setting Edinburgh AlightWhen a few hundred people turned up on Calton Hill in 1987 to celebrate the arrival of spring with a Beltane Fire Festival, the organisers never dreamt that it would become Europe's largest event of its kind. The ancient Celtic celebration was attended by 12,000 people last year - and this year, there will be additional events in the days leading up to the night of 30 April/1 May to mark its 20th anniversary. There will be walking tours highlighting the geology of Arthur's Seat and a photography exhibition. Efforts are being made to make it more environmentally friendly, with recycling and car-sharing as well as plans to plant trees to offset carbon emissions. But the main event will still be the hundreds of performers leading a fire-lit procession around Calton Hill, moving through a fire gate and round points representing earth, air, water and fire. See also www.beltane.org.
The illustration of the Beltane Fire Festival is copyright of Christophe Mercier.
130 BeersThe Renfrewshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) is holding the 20th Paisley Real Ale Festival at Paisley Town Hall from the morning of 23 April until Saturday 28th. The four-day event will have over 130 beers on tap, including those from two local independent breweries, in Houston and Barrhead. The general public can obtain access from 5pm on Wednesday - entry fee is £5 and that includes a souvenir pint glass - which should come in handy!
Dundee's Thriving Music SceneHard on the heels of performances by top pop music groups The View and Arctic Monkeys at Dundee's Caird Hall this month, singer KT Tunstall is booked to perform at Fat Sam's in the city on June 22. KT (her real name is Kate) was originally from St Andrews and she was educated for a time at Dundee High school. The Dundee gig will come not long after the release of a new album "Under The Moonlight" by Scottish band Travis in which she sings a song which she co-wrote.
Picture via Wikipedia.
Political Map of Scotland RedrawnWhen the voting system for the devolved Scottish Parliament was drawn up, it was essential to introduce an element of proportional representation. Otherwise, a "first past the post" system would have produced a perpetual Labour government. In the first two elections, the majority Labour party needed the support of the Liberal Democrats to create a coalition government. This week, the Scottish National Party (SNP) became the largest single party - but by the slenderest margin of one seat. Now, neither the SNP or Labour have enough seats to form a majority coalition with the Liberal Democrats - even if the LibDems wanted to join such an alliance. The full results of Thursday's election were:
SNP 21 26 47 +20 Labour 37 9 46 -4 Conservative 4 13 17 -1 Lib/Dem 11 5 16 -1 Green 0 0 0 -5 Independent 0 1 1 -5 SSP 0 0 0 -6
Alex Salmond Elected First MinisterThe leader of the Scottish National Party will head the first minority administration since devolution, after being elected as First Minister on Wednesday. Alex Salmond was voted into office by 49 votes to 46, supported by his own party and by the two Green Scottish Members of Parliament (MSP). The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives abstained in the vote. The new First Minister told the MSPs "I believe Scotland is ready for change, ready for reform," and that "We're a small nation, but we've got a big future." He appealed for support "policy by policy" from the other parties. Jack McConnell, the previous First Minister, responded that he would not oppose for its own sake but even so, he "would be proud to lead the largest opposition party the Scottish Parliament has ever had."
Photograph courtesy of the Scottish Parliament> © Web site.
Exam Time for 160,000 Scots PupilsThe Standard Grade and Higher examinations, which pupils take in their final years at secondary school, began this week. Between now and 8 June, 160,000 pupils, aged 16-18, will sit 2.3 million exam papers. Then an army of nearly 10,000 markers will assess their efforts, so that the results can be made available in August. Following a successful experiment last year, students will be able to sign up to go online to check their results once they are ready to be published. That will be just as nerve-wracking as waiting for the postman to drop the envelope through the letter-box, however.
Scotland's Busiest Tourist AttractionsThis week, the tourism agency VisitScotland published the figures on the number of visitors to Scotland's top tourist attractions last year. Nobody was surprised that the newly refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (pictured here) had overtaken Edinburgh Castle for the top spot. Despite only being open for less than six months in 2006, Kelvingrove welcomed 1.9 visitors. Edinburgh Castle, with 1.2 million people through its gates, was the second busiest location - and the top location with an entrance fee. Edinburgh Zoo and Edinburgh Bus Tours followed the castle as Scotland's top paid-for attractions. Glasgow Science Centre and Blair Drummond Safari Park were 4th and 5th respectively. Of the free attractions, the National Gallery of Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland (both in Edinburgh) were high on the list, followed by the Old Blacksmith's Shop Centre in Gretna Green and Edinburgh's Royal Botanic Garden. Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian, made famous by Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci code, saw numbers almost double between 2005 and 2006.
Scotland the WaveBefore 180 of the world's top surfers arrived at Thurso beach in the north of Scotland for the second World Qualifying Series event, they had been competing in the warm sunshine at Copacabana Beach in Brazil. Even though they had to wear rubber wet suits, gloves and hoods for the cold conditions of the North Sea, the champion surfers said that the Thurso waves had been the best on the tour, allowing them to reach a high standard of performance. In some of the sessions, they experienced "stand-up barrels", meaning that they could stand upright as the wave barrels around them. They were reported to be back on the beach speechless - not because of the cold, but because they couldn't believe the quality of the waves. At the end of the O'Neill Highland Open, it was Australian Nathan Edge who won the final and the competition's prized trophy sword.
End for Nuclear LandmarkThe four landmark cooling towers at the Chapelcross nuclear power station, near Annan in Dumfries and Galloway, are to be blown up in a controlled explosion on 20 May. The plant was built in 1959, with a primary purpose of producing weapons-grade plutonium for the UK's nuclear weapons programme. It also generated electrical power on a commercial basis. In 1967 one of the reactors suffered a partial nuclear meltdown. It restarted in 1969, but Chapelcross finally stopped producing electricity in 2004, prior to full decommissioning. At that time, it was one of the oldest nuclear power plants in the United Kingdom.
Picture via Wikipedia.
Scotland's Most Northerly Point SoldLargely because of the eight-sided house built by a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, a ferryman in the reign of King James IV (1488 - 1513), John o' Groats is widely regarded as the most northerly place on the British mainland. In reality, the peninsula of Dunnet Head that should have that title. This week, Scottish Water sold a small plot of land there of just 250 square feet for £1,600. It has commanding views over the Pentland Firth to the Orkney Islands; Scottish Water say that you cannot go any further north in mainland Scotland "without getting your feet wet".
Cold War Time WarpIt's twenty years since RAF fighters were regularly scrambled from Scottish airfields to intercept Russian reconnaissance aircraft probing UK air space. But this week two RAF Tornado interceptors were scrambled when a Russian Tupolev 95 "Bear Foxtrot" appeared on the radar screens. The huge turbo-prop reconnaissance aircraft is of 1950s vintage and had flown from its base on the Kola peninsula in northern Russia, to spy on a Royal Navy exercise being staged in international waters, north of the Western Isles. The fighters flew alongside the Russian aircraft and it "left quietly" as an RAF spokesman put it.
Picture via Wikipedia.
Overview of Last Month's WeatherThe Meteorological Office has published the figures for April's weather and they confirm that it was an exceptionally warm month, compared to the long-term averages. All districts and regions set new maximum and average temperature records. Parts of eastern Scotland were over 5C above the 1961-1990 average. For Scotland as a whole, this April was 3.4C above the average. Rainfall was also well below normal, producing only 63% of the 1961-1990 average. It was also the sunniest April since 1974, with sunshine being recorded for 189 hours, which is 138% of the long-term average for the month.
Whisky Giant Sold to Indian BillionaireScottish whisky distiller Whyte & Mackay has been taken over by Indian spirits giant United Brewers, headed by billionaire Vijay Mallya. The companies say the purchase will help expand the market for Whyte & Mackay's brands in emerging economies such as India. It will also add Scotch whisky to the United Brewers brand, the only "missing link" in its portfolio. The new owner dismissed any suggestion that any of the Whyte & Mackay whisky could be produced in India. He stressed "Scotch whisky can only be made in Scotland." Whyte & Mackay's own brand has 3% of the UK whisky market and the company also owns the Dalmore and Jura brands as well as Vladivar vodka and Glayva liqueur. After the sale had been announced, the outgoing Whyte & Mackay owner and chief executive announced that he was to pay all 600 employees the equivalent of three month's salary from his own pocket. The £26 million bonus was a "thank-you" to the staff for helping to transform the company's fortunes since 2005.
Coffee Giving Capital Its Buzz?Edinburgh used to have a reputation for being more laid-back and relaxed than bustling Glasgow. But in recent years, the Capital seems to have picked up a lot more pace. Now it has been suggested that the reason is not just striving for economic growth, but the buzz is due to the fact that the city has more Starbuck coffee shops than any other part of the UK, outside of London and that the faster pace is due to a caffeine overload...
Rome's Lost LegionKevin Macdonald, the director of the Oscar-winning movie "The Last King of Scotland," is hoping to make a film about another Scottish-related subject - "The Eagle Of The Ninth". As a young man he had read a 1954 novel about a young Roman who sets out to discover the truth about 4,000 elite Roman troops who marched into the Highlands to conquer the Pictish tribes - and vanished. The book sold over a million copies and was made into a BBC TV drama in 1977. Now Macdonald, who was enthralled by the story as a child, is on the verge of realising his ambition to turn it into a big screen movie. He hopes to start filming in Scotland next year, with the screenplay by the co-author of "The Last King of Scotland" - that was a fictional memoir of a Scottish doctor employed by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, based on impressions of actual events. There was a real Roman IX Legion which distinguished itself in Spain and was part of Julius Caesar's army that invaded Britain in 55BC. When the Romans later returned, they subdued the country as far as central Scotland. But around 120AD they constructed Hadrian's Wall, roughly on what is now the English/Scottish border, to keep out the "barbarians" to the north. It is shortly after this that the Ninth Legion disappears from Roman history - sparking the idea that they had been sent to Scotland, where they were slaughtered.
Rosslyn Film Wins AwardsNo, not the Da Vinci Code... "Rosslyn Enigma", a film produced to promote Rosslyn Chapel, is a finalist in the Tourism Sales category of the New York Festivals International Film and Video Awards. It was also awarded third place at The Golden City Gate Awards in Berlin and is currently nominated for six other film awards this year. The film was actually made to dispel myths about the ancient chapel portrayed in the Da Vinci Code book and film. Of course, another aim was to encourage people to come to Scotland and visit Rosslyn Chapel for themselves and learn about the conservation project there. Visitor numbers soared to an all-time high of 170,000 last year after the blockbuster movie generated massive publicity for the church in Midlothian.
Antiques Road Show Heads NorthThe long-running BBC TV programme "Antiques Road Show" in which members of the public bring along items to be identified and valued by a panel of experts, is coming to the Castle of Mey, near Thurso. The castle was the Scottish home of the late Queen Mother. The show regularly attracts around 2,000 visitors and usually turns up interesting and valuable items - often to the complete surprise of the owners.
Picture of Castle of May via Wikipedia.
Spirit of Speyside Whisky FestivalThe annual whisky festival in the heart of Speyside has sometimes struggled to attract enough visitors to turn it into a success. But this year's event seems to have attracted thousands of people to Morayshire to enjoy their favourite tipple as well as other events such as ceilidhs with traditional Scottish music, distillery tours, walks, tastings and art. The Whisky Museum at Dufftown even managed to combine two of life's pleasures with a selection of specialist chocolates that had been matched to different whiskies. For those in search of the great outdoors, there were walks exploring the Braes of Glenlivet and a hike over Gownie hill - what better way of inducing an appetite for the "water of life"?
"Snake in the Grass" for the "Theatre in the Hills"Pitlochry Festival Theatre, nestling in the Perthshire hills by the river Tummel, produces six plays each year for its summer season. Included in this season's offerings by the 18-strong company is a play by Alan Ayckbourne, which is receiving its Scottish premiere. "Snake in the Grass" is billed as a thriller, but ranges from bantering comedy to murder and sibling rivalry. "The Flouers o' Edinburgh" on the other hand, takes place in Edinburgh in 1763. It is a raucous, classic comedy about 1707, the Scottish Enlightenment and the battle between the Scots and English tongues! When Lord Stanebyres' son returns from the "Grand Tour" of Europe and declares "I am British, father. The terms ‘Scotch’ and ‘English’ became obsolete with the Union" his Lordship is not well pleased! The play marks the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union.
Strathclyde Police Cop ChampionshipOn a wet and windy Saturday afternoon, Strathclyde Police Pipe Band won the Scottish Pipe Band Championships last weekend at Dumbarton's Levengrove Park. This is the first major competition of 2007 organised by the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association. The House of Edgar-Shotts & Dykehead band came second. Winning the Scottish championship is sometimes an indicator for the World championship, held in Glasgow in August. The Field Marshal Montgomery band won at Dumbarton last year and went on to win the supreme event.
Graduate Fee ScrappedThe Scottish Executive confirmed this week that, subject to Parliamentary approval, they plan to scrap the so-called graduate endowment fee. That will mean that 50,000 university and college students doing degree courses will no longer have to pay over £2,200 when they finish their course. They were introduced in 2001/2002 and, although there are exemptions, about half of all students were liable for the charge. It is argued that it is a complicated and inefficient way of generating money. As the Liberal Democrats look likely to support the change (despite also being part of the government that introduced it when they were in coalition with Labour) it is likely to be approved. University tuition fees, payable by Scottish students in Scotland, were scrapped by the last administration.
The graphic is of Abertay University's crest.
Record Low UnemploymentScotland is bucking the present UK trend, where the number of those "economically inactive" (which includes students, long-term sick or people looking after a family) rose by 120,000 last year. In Scotland, this category fell by 23,000 in 2006. Of the 619,000 of working age who are economically inactive, 445,000 are not seeking a job. As a result, the number of those on job-seekers' allowance is at an all-time low. And the number of people actually in employment (swelled not just by the number of women working these days bit also by workers from Eastern Europe) is at the highest level since records began for this statistic in 1992.
Antonine Centre Opens in CumbernauldThe original shopping facilities in Cumbernauld have been a major contributory factor in the North Lanarkshire town being voted top place in the "Most Dismal Town in Scotland." The mall building also won a public nomination to be bulldozed in the Channel 4 series "Demolition" and was voted "The Worst Building in Britain." Now a new centre, named after the Roman Antonine Wall, the remains of which pass close by, opened its doors this week. The Antonine Centre has a modern design with a glass roof - perhaps not the most exciting of buildings, but anything would have been a big improvement on the original centre. It houses 42 stores and also displays the clock which once stood in Glasgow's St Enoch Square. That became famous as the meeting place for John Gordon Sinclair and Clare Grogan in the Cumbernauld-set film "Gregory's Girl." The old, unloved, shopping mall is still open and there is a corridor linking the two buildings. There are currently no plans to demolish it.
Litter Police Patrol Glasgow StreetsA force of 30 uniformed enforcement officers are now patrolling the streets of Glasgow to crack down on litter louts by imposing £50 on-the-spot fines. With body armour under their smart tunics (just in case...), they issued 120 fines in the first week - and the publicity got many others to think twice before dropping litter. Many of those accosted were embarrassed to find that they had been picked up for such anti-social behaviour. Those who refuse to pay up could end up in court. The enforcement officers are also fighting back on graffiti and "fly posting" by painting out illegal adverts, claiming they can do that faster than the posters can put them up. Where events are being advertised, the officers have their own "posters" with "cancelled", making it less worthwhile for advertisers to put them up in the first place. There have been complaints by some people who have bought tickets for an event and been alarmed by the "cancellation", but the City Council says that it is "only the advert that has been cancelled." Quite.
24-Hour Bus Link from Airport to CityAir travellers will now be able to jump on a round the clock bus service between Glasgow Airport and the city centre, regardless of the time their plane lands. The "GlasgowFlyer" service will be operated by a fleet of high specification coaches with fares priced at just under £4, with a return fare costing under £6. Regular fliers can buy a 10-journey ticket for just £28. There will be eight buses every hour during peak times.
Tartan for Scottish Film StarThe Borders knitwear company of Lochcarron has produced a new specially-designed tartan for a Scottish film star. No, not Sean Connery - Shrek, the cinematic ogre with a Scottish accent (well, nearly Scottish...) The tourism agency VisitScotland came up with the idea in advance of the release of Shrek the Third. The tartan is described as "muted browns and acid greens" and is aimed at encouraging people to trace their own Scottish roots. Shrek, presumably has done so and may be a member of the clan Nessie? Being of somewhat ample girth, they needed 10 metres of cloth to make Shrek's kilt, which he wore for advance publicity shots prior to the launch of the movie.
Glasgow Airport EvacuatedJust at the start of the school holidays and a larger than usual number of families at Glasgow airport on Saturday afternoon, a Jeep Cherokee was driven at speed at the main terminal building with flames coming from underneath. It crashed into the main entrance doors at 3.15pm and two men attempted to throw around petrol (with one of them with clothing on fire). They were involved in a fight with bystanders and police who moved in to arrest them. So far, there have not been any reports of any of the passengers in the terminal being injured, despite the petrol tank on the vehicle exploding and extensive fire damage to the front of the building. The airport was closed, with all flights in and out cancelled and roads in the area were also cordoned off. Passengers who attempted to go back to their cars in the adjacent car park were not allowed to move their vehicles and passengers on aircraft that had just landed before the incident are stuck on board, unable to disembark. The security focus on Saturday in Scotland was more on Edinburgh, as the Queen was performing the official opening of the Scottish Parliament there. This is the first time that Scotland has been involved on the ground in this way in an incident of this kind. So far, the authorities have not given any details of the men or their motives.
Picture sent to the BBC by Richard Grey, who was at the airport to pick up relatives, and took the picture after being evacuated.
Three Warships - Going CheapIn 1998, the Sultan of Brunei ordered three coastal frigates from the BAE shipyard at Scotstoun on the Clyde, in a contract worth £600 million. The ships were built to their specifications and were launched in 2001/2002. But the Sultan claimed that the ships did not meet contract specifications and refused to take delivery. They have been moored at the yard ever since - overlooked by the Braehead Shopping Centre in Renfrew. Eventually, the dispute was taken to arbitration at the International Court of Arbitration and BAE won the dispute. The ships have now been paid for and handed over to the Brunei equivalent of the Ministry of Defence. But they won't be setting sail for the northern Borneo state of Brunei. The Sultan still doesn't want them - and has put them up for sale. So anyone who is looking for an offshore patrol vessel (or three for that matter) with one careful owner and "low mileage" on the clock, may be able to pick up a bargain. There may be a little problem with the specification though. Not that the Sultan (reputed to be the world's richest man) had any gold plated adornments on the ships. It's just that they were designed to accommodate Bruneian sailors - with an average height of 5ft 6in. And as they were to operate in the warm waters around Borneo, they have no central heating making them useless in colder areas of the world. So Braehead shoppers will have the sleek ships opposite the shopping mall for a while longer.
Festival to Honour the Colossus of RoadsIt was the poet laureate Robert Southey who modified one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (the Colossus of Rhodes) to describe Thomas Telford (1757-1834) as the "Colossus of Roads". Born in Dumfriesshire, 250 years ago this August, Telford was indeed a colossal talent, designing nearly all the major roads, bridges, aqueducts, churches, piers and canals in Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. His works include the Ellesmere Canal in England in 1793. He did such a good job there that he was asked to survey the rural roads in Scotland - and then implement his proposals. In so doing, Telford built nearly a 1,000 miles of roads and 120 bridges over the next 20 years. He also constructed the Caledonian Canal.. He went on to create the famous Menai Suspension Bridge from Wales to the island of Angelsey. In 1818 he helped to found the Institute of Civil Engineers and became its first president. To mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, a festival is being launched in Moray, in the north of Scotland. This will take place at Craigellachie Bridge, built by Telford and the oldest surviving cast-iron road bridge in Scotland. The festival will mark the start of a "Telford Trail" linking all the sites in Moray linked to the engineer.
Church With 6th Century Links to CloseThere was an outcry this week when the Church of Scotland announced that it was to close Govan Old Parish Church and move the congregation to Govan New Parish Church. The original building was opened in 1888, but it stands on a religious site that traces its history back to the 6th century. A former minister of the church described the move as "unprincipled, illogical, indefensible and unforgivable." The Reverend Tom Davidson Kelly said that Govan Old Parish Church was "possibly the most significant church in Glasgow, including the Cathedral." He added that the site had been a centre of worship long before the formation of Scotland as a nation. The building houses 31 pre-Christian and Christian sculptures, which were found at various times in the grounds of the church. Some of the Celtic monuments had been adapted by later generations as gravestones for Christian burials. A campaign to save the church has been launched and deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged support, describing the decision as an "act of vandalism." Of course, if the church can no longer afford to pay for the upkeep of the building, it may be possible for it to be taken over by a preservation body such as the government agency, Historic Scotland.
Black Watch to Invade USThe National Theatre of Scotland is to take its award-winning production "Black Watch" and its family show "Wolves in the Walls" on tour to North America for the first time. The "Black Watch" play, a gritty drama which moves from Fife to Iraq and is based on reports from serving soldiers, will open at UCLA Live in Los Angeles on September 18 and will then cross the continent to play at St Ann's Warehouse in New York in October. "The Wolves in the Walls" will open at the New Victory Theatre in New York in September. The venue is the city's leading theatre for children and families.
The Inaccessible PinnacleA Gaelic language film made on the Isle of Sky, which was recently screened at the Cannes Film Festival, has secured UK distribution and so should be seen by a wider audience. Entitled "Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle" it is the first-ever Scottish Gaelic feature film. It tells the story of a young man who visits his Grandfather in hospital. Angus wants to find out the truth about the death of his parents and the truth behind his Grandfather's ancient, incredible, fearful stories. Stories from the whole swathe of Gaelic history of poisoned lovers, bloody revenge, water-horses and Spanish gold. His Grandfather hijacks Angus' life for one last time, leading him to one of Scotland's most treacherous mountains, The Inaccessible Pinnacle, and an ancient truth he never expected to find... See also www.seachd.com.
Scottish Opera Hits the High NotesScottish Opera and the Royal Opera House in London are about to embark on a joint project which will result in the filming of their performances for sale on CD and DVD. The London-based company has purchased a leading classical music and dance production and distribution company, Opus Arte. The aim is to link up with Scottish Opera and other companies across Europe to film and sell their performances.
St Magnus FestivalThis northern festival was begun in 1977 with the support of London-based composer, Peter Maxwell Davies who had made his home on the island of Hoy. The festival, which runs for six days at midsummer each June, has grown from small beginnings into one of Britain's most highly regarded and adventurous arts events. There are world-class performances as well as community participation. And, of course, there is the magic of Orkney at midsummer, when there is daylight even at midnight. This year, it runs from 22-27 June and encompasses drama, dance, literature and the visual arts as well as music. For more information, see St Magnus Festival.
Picture of St Magnus Cathedral via Wikipedia.
This Review of Scotland in 2007 does not contain the usual "magazine" section of the weekly Newsletter with humour, recipes, poetry, songs and links to new features. However, if you wish to see the collection of many of the previous articles (built up over a number of years), you can do so via the Features Pages.
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