Scotland "Independent in 10 Years"
On the day before the Scottish National Party (SNP) published its first budget and economic strategy, First Minister Alex Salmond boldly predicted that Scotland would be "independent in 10 years." Previously, he has been reluctant to put a time-scale on the nationalist aspiration for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. His declaration comes not long after an opinion poll, organised by the Scottish Centre for Social Research, suggested that only 23% supported independence, its lowest point in 10 years. The bill bringing forward a referendum on independence is unlikely to be passed in the Scottish Parliament as Labour, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats oppose it. But the SNP will be hoping to win more seats at the next elections in 2011 and would then be free to go ahead with a referendum. Whether there would be a majority of Scots voting for independence in such a poll at that time will depend on a lot of factors.
Scottish Politician of the Year
First Minister Alex Salmond was named this week as "Scottish Politician of the Year" in recognition of his work which led the SNP to its historic victory at the Scottish Parliament elections in May. The award ceremony was organised by the Herald newspaper at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh. That occasion was the second victory in one day for the First Minister as he had earlier been named "Parliamentarian of the Year" at a ceremony in London, organised by the Spectator magazine. The judges declared that it was "right to salute the man whose brilliant tactics in the Scottish Parliament laid the foundations for an extraordinary victory". Other awards made at the Edinburgh event went to Gordon Brown (named the "Best Scot at Westminster" after a year in which he succeeded Tony Blair as Prime Minister). The inaugural "International Scot Award" was given to entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter, who has used his fortune to establish The Hunter Foundation, which helps fund education projects for youngsters in the developing world. Independent MSP Margo MacDonald was awarded the "Lifetime Achievement Award" for her work during a political career spanning 40 years.
Parliament Approves End of Bridge Tolls
Members of the Scottish Parliament this week backed the proposals to scrap the tolls on the Forth and Tay bridges. The removal of the £1 fee on the Forth bridge and 80p on the Tay crossing (pictured here) will cost the Scottish Government £87 million over the next four years. But concern was expressed about the potential for more congestion as additional traffic is expected to use the crossings, which are already overloaded at peak times. In response, Government Ministers have announced improvements to rail services in central Scotland and funding for bus and rail projects.
Timetable for Digital TV Switchover
Analogue TV transmissions across the country are to be brought to an end and a detailed timetable of the changeover to digital only TV broadcasts has now been announced. The change is being made area by area, with the Scottish Borders becoming the first in Scotland to switch. Analogue TV signals are to be turned off from the Selkirk transmitter next November and replaced with a stronger digital signal. Sales of digital TVs or set-top boxes that can convert the digital signal for analogue TVs fitted with Scart sockets, have rocketed in the last year and will increase next year. So far, it is estimated that only around 50% of TVs in the home have some form of digital receiver. The switchover will continue with south-west Scotland in 2009, and most other parts of Scotland in 2010. The Black Hill transmitter, which serves Glasgow and west central Scotland, will cease analogue transmissions in 2011. Some areas, particularly in the Highlands, are still having difficulty receiving a strong enough signal. That will be improved when analogue TV is no longer transmitted, allowing digital signals to be boosted.
Warning of Another Terrorist Attack
Strathclyde Police's new chief constable took up his new post this week - and immediately warned that another terrorist attack in Scotland is almost inevitable. He said that his force will have to be constantly prepared to react to a similar attack to the one in which a car exploded in flames as it was rammed into Glasgow Airport in June this year. He had watched that incident from London and commented on how impressed he had been at the way it had been dealt with and the good relations which existed between the local police and minority groups.
Subway Extension for 2014 Games
Strathclyde Partnership for Transport has firmly announced that the extension to Glasgow's Subway system to the east end of the city will be operational by the time the Commonwealth Games are staged in Glasgow in 2014. The 111-year-old system has been due for a major revamp for some time and the decision to bring the games to Glasgow is a major incentive - even a necessity - to improve the infrastructure. The extension will run from the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre to the west of the city centre, connecting with Argyle Street low level station and then on to Parkhead and Celtic stadium and the nearby National Indoor Arena. Other transport projects include the completion of the long-delayed M74 motorway which will connect Lanarkshire to the M8 west of the city centre - though the environmental lobby will continue to try to block this once again. Another major link is the extension of the railway to Glasgow Airport.
Campaign to Save Islands in Decline
Representatives from most of Scotland's 95 inhabited isles met on Mull this week to establish the "Scottish Islands Federation," to lobby for action on the problems facing these remote communities (where a total of around 100,000 people live). There was a call for the appointment of a government minister dedicated to promoting island interests and, if possible, a committee at Holyrood to monitor progress. A major concern is the long-running decline in the numbers living on the islands, with many young people leaving for jobs on the mainland, leaving behind aging communities hovering on the brink of extinction. The population of Lewis has fallen from 24,000 in 1961 to below 20,000 in 2001. However, other islands have seen an increase - Orkney has risen from 13,495 in 1961 to 15,315 in 2001 as a result of the oil boom. And Skye has seen its population go up from 7,478 in 1961 to 9, 232, much of it in recent years as a result of the Skye road bridge which removed the need for a ferry crossing.
Photo of Eriskay courtesy of Photonet>.
One of the World's Top Unspoilt Islands
522 sustainable tourism experts recently drew up a list of islands, for the National Geographic Traveller magazine, which have avoided tourism "overkill." They ranked the Shetlands as joint third in the world, behind the Faroe Islands and the Azores. One expert described Shetland as having "everything with bells on", praising the spectacular sea cliffs, pristine beaches, geology and wildlife. The survey was based on a number of different criteria, including the environmental and ecological quality, social and cultural integrity, the condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites, their aesthetic appeal, the quality of their tourism management and their outlook for the future. Despite the praise from the experts, however, Shetland is facing a major population crisis, with its working population predicted to drop by 20%. Numbers have only fallen by 3% in the last 20 years, to 21,880. But experts have forecast that in 20 years Shetland will have another 2,175 islanders aged 65 and over while the working-age population will plunge from 18,703 to 14,141 - a decrease of almost 21%. The biggest drift is expected to be from more remote rural island areas, to within a 20-minute travel distance of the capital of the island group in Lerwick.
Award for Clyde Arc
The Clyde Arc bridge over the river Clyde (known locally as the Squinty Bridge because it crosses the water diagonally) opened in 2006 and has been praised for its attractive design (but slated for its confusing road markings and turning restrictions). Recently it was recognised by the Saltire Society which has given it a Civil Engineering Award. The society said the bridge was a state-of-the-art structure and an elegant addition to the skyline in Glasgow. The Saltire Society includes in its aims enhancing the quality of Scotland's contribution to all the arts and sciences by encouraging creativity, inventiveness, and the achievement of the highest standards of excellence in these fields. Other projects commended at the awards ceremony included BBC Scotland's headquarters at Pacific Quay (which was the catalyst for the Clyde Arc being built in the first place) and the Lairig Eilde Bridge replacement on the A82 road in Glencoe.
History of Gordon Highlanders
The Gordon Highlanders regiment was raised in 1794 and recruited mainly from the north-east counties of Aberdeenshire, Moray and Nairn. So it was fitting that the first official concise regimental account should be launched this week in the regimental museum in Aberdeen. "The Gordon Highlanders, a Concise History" by author and historian Trevor Royle, is supported by the museum and is part of a series celebrating the legacy of Scots infantry regiments. The regiment was raised by the Duke of Gordon and his wife was said to have played a key role in attracting recruits - by riding through his estates, offering a guinea and a kiss to all who enlisted. One of the first Victoria Crosses was awarded to a Gordon Highlander, Private Thomas Beach, for rescuing an officer from three Russians in the Crimea in 1854. In 1994, The Gordon Highlanders amalgamated with the Queen's Own Highlanders to form The Highlanders and then in 2006 it became the 4th Battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland. The book will be formally launched on November 15.
Greyfriars Bobby in "Walk of Fame"
Greyfriars Bobby, who gained fame for his loyalty by sitting beside his master's grave in Edinburgh's Greyfriars churchyard for 14 years, has been included in the world's first Walk of Fame for dogs. This has been created in London's Battersea Park as a canine equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. The first canine stars to be honoured include Lassie, Gromit, Toto from the Wizard of Oz, Chance and Shadow from The Incredible Journey, Bullseye from Oliver! and Fang from the Harry Potter films. More dogs will be added each year. Every dog chosen to join the Walk of Fame will be honoured by a bench and a plaque - but no pawprints in cement.
500th Anniversary of Sword of State
A reception was held in Edinburgh Castle on Tuesday to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Sword of State of Scotland. The sword was presented to King James IV in 1507 as a gift from Pope Julius II, and is one of the three elements of the Honours of Scotland - Scotland's Crown Jewels. The other elements are the Crown and the sceptre. In the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell ordered that all regalia should be broken up. However, the Scottish Crown Jewels were hidden in Dunnottar Castle and successfully smuggled out to Kinneff Parish Church, when the castle was besieged. The jewels were again hidden after the Act of Union, when they were locked in a chest and lay forgotten in Edinburgh Castle. That was until 1819 when a group, which included Sir Walter Scott, set out to recover them. The Sword is now on permanent display in the Crown Room at Edinburgh Castle. It is 1.4 metres long with images of St. Peter and St. Paul etched into the blade. The silver gilt handle incorporates overlapping oak leaves and acorns taken from the Pope's coat of arms. The Scottish crown jewels are the oldest set of Crown Jewels in the British Isles and second oldest in Europe.
Formal Reopening of Inverness Theatre
Eden Court Theatre in Inverness is quite unlike any other venue in Scotland, serving an entire region not just a city and presenting an enormous variety of events, including music, drama, dance, comedy and cinema. It is also one of the busiest venues in Scotland, with ticket sales up by 40% in the last five years for 300 events a year. The building closed for a major redevelopment in 2005 and the work should have been completed earlier this year so that it could host events associated with the Highland 2007, a year-long celebration of local arts and culture. However, delays have meant that the official reopening was postponed until Saturday, 3 November. The stunning new venue looks as though it was worth the wait!
Photograph courtesy of the Scotavia> © Web site.
Black Watch Sells Out in Big Apple
The award-winning National Theatre of Scotland's gritty production "Black Watch" has sold out in New York after rave reviews. The play, which focuses on Scots soldiers of the regiment in Iraq, did well when it was performed in Los Angeles, but there had been concerns that its Scottish accents - and occasional digs at the US military - might put off audiences in New York. Instead, the New York Times gave it top billing, describing it as "one of the most richly human works to have emerged from this war".