Council denies sport centres closures

By Marion Guichaoua.

Edinburgh city council today denied sport centers are facing closure in the face of tough budget cuts across the city.

Reports yesterday quoted Edinburgh Leisure boss John Comisky as warning up to eight sports centres may have to close to balance budgets.

But the City Council said spending proposals were still at an early stage and insisted no decision had been taken yet over possible closures.

The council is facing tough decisions over cuts to services which could see Edinburgh Leisure budgets slashed.

Yesterday Mr Comiskey was quoted in the Edinburgh Evening News saying: “In the absence of an as yet unidentified silver bullet this will inevitably mean multiple venue closures.

“To absorb a 22 per cent reduction in funding will require a proportionate reduction in our level of services.”

The Council said yesterday it has launched a public consultation and is asking residents for their views on what spending priorities should be.

A spokesman for the Council said: “We expect Edinburgh Leisure to consider all of the different ways they could realistically adapt to such a change and if one of the options they identify as being efficient us the closure of some facilities this will be looked at.”

Residents can make their views known on the Council website.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Convener for Culture and Sport, said: “It is incredibly important that everyone takes the opportunity to feed back on the council’s budget proposals and as the city’s convener of sport I encourage Edinburgh Leisure users to make sure they have their say.”

Edinburgh Leisure is currently developing an options paper to be considered by the Council which will detail the impact of the proposed reduction in service payment upon special programmes, core services and facilities.

The cuts would firstly concern facilities for young children, people unemployed or people with disabilities.

New ways of working across other service areas should be found, including Health and Social Care, Children and Families, and Services for Communities.

Why Iceland’s Evolution Matters to Scotland

By Martha Shardalow

‘This little member of the European Union should have a dialogue in the Scottish Independence debate’

Two nations overlap

Two nations overlap

You might think someone must have gone completely mad to compare an independent Scotland to a country that fell flat on its face (literally) during its bankruptcy in the 2008 financial crisis. Then again, the Independence debate is big on madness and perhaps if the north is to place economics and democratic politics at the forefront of its concerns, then Iceland may still stand as an important example.

Figures show that despite Iceland’s debt being equal to 200 times its GNP in 2003, by 2007 it was 900 percent. Now whilst its future was bumpy – as the three key Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Glitnir and Kapthing crumpled and the Kroner lost 85 percent of its value with respect to the Euro – this little, volatile country has presented a shining effigy that participative processes in a time of crisis can work. It also quietly hands us an alternative to IMF austerity and privatization – and an alternative to the sale and sell-out of the public sector. This last point we must associate with; at the hands of drastic public sector cuts and the rising cost of living in an equally fragile UK.

Shunned already as just another ploy by the SNP to gain supporters – this pure neoliberal system today stands arguably as one of the richest nations in the world. The road to participatory democracy and the same road to a brand new constitution, was painful by all means but resulted in strong outcomes. Much like a similar crisis on British soil, the notion that citizens had to clear up (and pay up) for the grave errors of a financial monopoly, the belief that an entire population must be taxed, and taxed again – received public outcry and an uncertain introduction. The monumental difference though, was that in Iceland it was stopped in its tracks.

The relationship between institution and citizens drove Icelandic leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, made a brave move that despite international hostility began to pay off. In accepting calls for a referendum that took place in March 2010, 93 percent voted against repayment of the debt – Iceland’s revolution was yet to be deterred even as Great Britain and Holland increased the pressure. The IMF, of course, quickly froze its loan.

The British government believed it was time to freeze savings and checkings accounts. The government of Iceland barrelled on. The people of Iceland elected 25 citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least 30 citizens. This document was written on the internet. As Deena Stryker, writer for the ‘Bella Caledonia’, stated, “The constituents meetings are streamed on-line, and citizens can send their comments and suggestions, witnessing the document as it takes shape.”

Back in 2008, Salmond was ridiculed as his North Atlantic “band of prosperity” shattered simultaneously with Iceland’s demise. In 2012, he cited Sweden, Denmark and Norway as the new role models for Scotland’s future. The kind of boom economy he hoped to replicate – the kind of strong single democracy he believed this inspired – should still be cited in Iceland today.

It is important that the media consider this nation. It is important that the public consider it, too. The stakes are high, but the rewards are there. Its important that Scotland learns from what Iceland has to offer.

Tour de Scotland?

The Tour de France may be streamlining its way to Edinburgh, after The City of Edinburgh Council backed an audacious attempt to bring the event to Scotland for the first time.

Councillors approved a report outlining the commitments required in the event of a successful bid in a meeting today.

Heralded as the world’s largest annual sporting event, the Tour de France could bring £45-55m of revenue for the national economy, with Edinburgh benefiting to the tune of £24m.

Tour de France

Tour de France

Edinburgh Castle is the proposed venue for the Presentation of the Riders, with displays, cycle shows, stalls competition and a raft of cultural activities being held across the city throughout the duration.

A ‘non-race’ mode procession of the cyclists running through the city centre would precede the start of the race, which would be held elsewhere in the city, with riders racing down the spine of the UK through Scotland, England and Wales.

The event attracts global interest with no less than 100 TV channels, 400 newspapers and press agencies and 70 websites over 190 countries offering live coverage of last year’s event.

Councillor Steve Cardownie, Edinburgh Council’s Festivals & Events Champion, said: “I can think of no more dramatic backdrop than Edinburgh Castle and our historic Old Town and, of course, our residents are well used to laying on a fantastic welcome to the many millions of visitors that travel to the city each year.

“Of course, Edinburgh is no stranger to cycling success, thanks to the incredible achievements of Sir Chris Hoy, and we are already seeing the impact this is having on participation – a trend that would surely continue following a successful Grant Depart.”

The bid, led by EventScotland, has the support of the Scottish Government, British Cycling, UK Sport, the Welsh Government, plus numerous other English and Welsh authorities.

While the date has not yet been announced, it is likely to be in the next five years and could even be as soon as 2014.

Update: Man killed in motorway crash

Extended delays occurred on the M8 this morning

Police have identified the person killed in an M8 collision as a 19-year-old man from Bathgate. The teenager was driving a Fiat Stilo, which collided with a MAN HGV at around 1 o’clock this morning. He died at the scene of the accident. The 39-year-old driver was not injured.

The collision happened on the eastbound carriageway of the M8, around one mile east of Harthill.

It is believed that the teenager was driving west on the eastbound carriageway before colliding with the HGV, which was heading east.

Inspector Richard Latto said: “At the moment we are working to establish the circumstances leading up to this collision, and would appeal for anyone who may have been in the area at the time, and who may have seen what happened, to contact police.

Police, Ambulance and Fire Service attended the crash.

A police spokesman said: “We are investigating the circumstances that resulted in this collision and would encourage any motorists who were on the road at the time to contact police immediately.”

“Similarly, anyone with any other information that can assist police with their enquiries ares also asked to come forward.”

Scotland’s busiest motorway experienced tailbacks this morning. Commuters were unaware of the crash which caused the delays.

Bus driver Jim Anderson, who was driving the route this morning, said “this has taken two and a half hours when normally it would take one. Accidents happen that often on this road, you’d think people would be more careful. But it just keeps happening.”

The M8 has now been cleared and commuters should no longer expect delays.

Radio: Sport roundup, March 26th

John O'Groats

Mark and Alessandro look back at a weekend of Sports, with an Old Firm match packed with the usual tension and controversy, Fernando Alonso winning the Malaysian GP and the death of darts hero Jocky Wilson.

We also had a look at the strange case of John O’Groats, a Scots town which won’t see the “real” Olympic Torch.

Glasgow Soldier receives Military Cross

Corporal Keith Mitchell risked his life in Afghanistan by firing at Taliban fighters in order to save his wounded comrades. He has been awarded the Military Cross for his heroic actions.

Medal of Bravery: The Military Cross

The corporal from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, was on patrol in Pupalzay in the Helmand province in March last year with the other soldiers when they were ambushed.

In the following fire fight, which included rocket propelled grenades, four soldiers were injured.

This forced Corporal Mitchell to hide behind a wall and draw the Taliban’s fire away from his fellow soldiers. He managed to kill the Taliban fighters and the wounded soldiers could be evacuated.

He said, “I didn’t see it as putting myself in danger. I just thought that if I could push forward about five metres I could fire my weapon so we could do something about the attack.

“It may be hard to believe but I wasn’t even thinking about the incoming fire, I was just concentrating on firing my weapon and then watching the shot to make sure it was accurate, rather than noticing the rounds coming at me. You are concentrating so hard on firing your weapon that it’s like being back on the ranges, which took my mind off what was going on around me.”

The 29-year-old soldier is from Glasgow, but is currently based in Germany. He has completed two tours of Iraq, as well as his recently completed tour of Afghanistan.

PM appears at Party Conference in Troon

Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken in Troon at the Conservative Party Conference where he discussed the independence referendum and Scotland’s role in the United Kingdom.

David Cameron, image from United Kingdom Home Office

During his speech this morning he has stated that First Minister Alex Salmond is “dithering” over the independence referendum. He said, “So my message to the First Minister is this: we’ve delivered on devolution, stop dithering about an independence referendum, start delivering your manifesto commitment, and fulfil the promise you gave to the Scottish people.”

Mr Cameron was keen to stress the importance of Scotland remaining part of the United Kingdom, and that it is “better off in Britain.” He also stressed that the United Kingdom is a successful union and that his government has pledged a referendum with a clear choice for Scottish voters.

The Scottish Conservatives plan to launch a new group called Friends of the Union, whose aim is to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. The group will be open to anyone, not just party members.

The Prime Minister has also spoken about the impact of the recession, stating that “there are no shortcuts” in fixing the recession. He also said that “we are the only party that understands enterprise” and “the only ones who can fix society.”

He pledged that his party would continue to support the poorest in the country, despite changes to the welfare culture.

Listen to what David Cameron had to say here:

Final colleges facing ban revealed

John Henderson, CEO of Scotland’s colleges, talked about the colleges’ situation and their future.

Edinburgh Pandas get Lynx effect

by Pamela Paterson

It has been announced today that the two Giant Pandas at Edinburgh Zoo are to be sponsored by deodorant company Lynx during their mating season.

New Lynx advert featuring Edinburgh Zoo's pandas

Lynx is well-known for its advertising campaigns, which claim the opposite sex cannot fail to be wooed by the effect of their deodorant, known as the ‘Lynx Effect’. The new advert comes as the pandas begin their long-awaited breeding season.

While the pandas themselves are unlikely to be sprayed with the alluring scent of Lynx, smell does play a pivotal role in panda breeding. Iain Valentine, director of research and conservation at the zoo said, “In the wild pandas use a chemical communication system involving pheromones to locate and choose mates. Scent is also how males will know that female pandas are fertile.”

Tian Tian, the female panda, is being closely monitored by the zoo to see when she is ready to conceive. Pandas have been found to be notoriously picky in choosing their mates, however the zoo believes their pair are getting along well and there is a good chance they could mate.

Lynx, meanwhile believes its knowledge in attracting the opposite sex could come in handy when the Pandas choose to get together.  Kieran Danaher from Lynx said, “It’s the perfect time to partner with Edinburgh Zoo and use our attraction know-how to help out with panda mating season.”

Police still searching for Suzanne Pilley’s body

by Gavrielle Kirk-Cohen

The family of murdered Scot, Suzanne Pilly, have pleaded to David Gilroy to reveal where their daughter’s body is buried. 

Gilroy was found guilty yesterday of murdering Suzanne Pilley.

Searching: Police believe Suzanne Pilley's body has been buried at Lochgilphead, Argyll. Image: Christopher Harress

The Lothian and Border’s Police believe that Suzanne Pilley’s body has been buried in a “lonely grave” in Lochgilphead, Argyll in the Scottish highlands.

CCTV footage shows Gilroy’s car, a Vauxhall Vectra travelling from Edinburgh to the Argyll Forest Park the day after disappeared.

Extensive search

Det Supt Gary Flannigan has said: “Despite extensive efforts we haven’t been able to find her. This is something we have discussed with the family and have given reassurance that if any information comes to light then we will look at the information and if it is appropriate we will pursue that information.”

Pilley’s parents have said they “hope that one day we can lay our daughter to rest”.

                                                                “Callous and cold-blooded”

Simon Peck, director of IML and David Gilroy’s employer said: “Suzanne was a much-loved friend and colleague. To have her snatched away from her friends and her family in such a callous and cold-blooded way is something we’re all still dealing with.” He also said: “Until David Gilroy reveals where Suzanne’s body lies, her family and friends will never be able to fully come to terms with her loss.”

The trial lasted three and a half weeks and it took the jury two days to reach a verdict. The investigation into Pilley’s murder was the sixth most expensive in the history of the Lothian and Border’s force, as they made use of forensic experts and cadaver dogs.
Listen to the voicemail David Gilroy left on Suzanne Pilley’s phone after she disappeared.

Listen Here:

Guinea pig sets new world record

New record: Truffles makes a daring leap Video: YouTube/ The Courier

A Scots guinea pig has joined the ranks of many animal stars from across the world to break a record in the Guiness Book of World Records 2013.

Truffles, from Rosyth, Fife, jumped 30cm (12in) smashing the previous record held by London rodent Diesel who cleared a gap of 20.5cm (8.07in) in 2009. He has had his feat confirmed by the record breaking institution and will take part in a publicity for the launch of the latest edition of the book.

Thirteen year old Chloe Macari trained her pet to leap the distance after being inspired by Disney film, G-Force, in which  a group of  guinea pigs become special agents of the FBI.

“I had two shoe boxes and these cushions between them for safety,” the youngster explained. “We kept moving the shoe boxes further and further apart. We started at around 15cm and he was quite good. He got to 20cm and then 25cm very quickly, within a few weeks.”

The giant leap was filmed to ensure the record could be approved.

Afghanistan shooting raises questions

An investigation has been launched into why an American solider stormed homes in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the villages of Alkozai and Najeeban, and left 16 civilians dead, including women and children.

According to an U.S. official, only one U.S. soldier appeared to have been involved in the shootings but there have been eye-witness statements that suggest there were multiple soldiers involved.

An ISAF spokesman said the lone U.S. soldier “walked back to the base and turned himself in to U.S. forces this morning”.

It is speculated that the detained soldier is an Army staff sergeant who was married with two children and that he had served three Iraq tours but was on his first Afghan deployment.

It is believed that, some time before the killings, the soldier suffered a nervous breakdown.  The real reason behind the incident is currently under investigation and the solider is being questioned. There are concerns that the attack may have been premeditated.

This is just one more incident that is straining the relations in the area, and comes only weeks after American troops unknowingly burned copies of the Quran and other religious material, an act that caused mass protests across the Middle East.

Listen to the full radio piece below.

Failed UK rescue bid in Nigeria

Chris McManus, 28, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, and Franco Lamolinara have both died following an attempt by UK Special Forces and Nigerian military on Thursday.

Both engineers were abducted last May by an Islamist group in Sokoto. While David Cameron has claimed the men’s lives were in “imminent danger,” the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano,  told the Italian media “The behaviour of the British government, which did not inform or consult with Italy on the operation that it was planning, really is inexplicable.” Mr Napolitano is seeking a political and diplomatic explanation from Britain.

Reports allege that the kidnappers turned their guns on the two construction engineers before the joint British and Nigerian military operation even entered the compound. Following the operation Mr Cameron said: “The early indications are clear that both men were murdered by their captors”.

However, an unnamed Nigerian official from the state security service tells the story differently, suggesting the men died in the crossfire.

Italian Senator Lucio Malan told BBC Two’s Newsnight of Italy’s dissatisfaction. “It is quite uncommon that a country that is involved is not informed before. Apparently it was a very difficult situation and it might have been the best decision but it is still to be explained why the Italian authorities haven’t been informed”.

Dvaid Cameron’s repsonse: “A window of opportunity arose to try and secure their release. We also had reason to believe that their lives were under imminent and growing danger.”

Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee chairman Richard Ottaway supports the Prime Minister telling the BBC: “I can understand the concerns and frustrations of Italian politicians but I think they’ve got to accept and recognise that these are very fast-moving, delicate operations and it’s not always possible to keep politicians briefed in advance of what goes on.”

The two men were seized by gunmen in the town of Birnin Kebbi on 12 May 2011. The Foreign Office advises  against travel to some areas of Nigeria warning that there is the threat of kidnap and terrorism.

Young mother died in paracetamol overdose, enquiry hears.

The dangers of an over-the-counter painkiller overdose Image: pepedelaolla de la olla

A 20 year old woman died after taking too many paracetamol tablets, a coroner has told an enquiry today.

Desiree Philips upped her dose of the over-the-counter drug after a routine breast surgery and was found unconscious next to a packet of tablets at a home where she lived with her 11 -month – old son.

The inquest heard how Desiree died of liver failure on August 26 last year after being transferred to another hospital for a transplant operation.

Carmarthenshire Coroner Mark Leyton said: “Desiree was using paracetamol for pain relief and may have been exceeding the normal dose. But it remains unclear whether it was a built up or whether she took a large single dose.”

The case is the latest to present the danger of the drug when taken in an incorrect dose.

A Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency Spokesman said: “Paracetamol is a safe and effective painkiller when used correctly and when dosage recommendations are followed. Every pack has a warning about overdose and instructions not to take more than eight tablets in any 24-hour period.”

Community order and bar ban for MP Eric Joyce

Eric Joyce. Image: http://ericjoyce.co.uk/

Falkirk MP Eric Joyce, 51, has been given a 12 month community order and 3-month ban from all bars and pubs, following his guilty plea to four counts of assault.  Despite this finding of guilt, Mr Joyce will not be stepping down.

The assaults occurred during a brawl  at a House of Commons bar on February 22.  Labour whip Phil Wilson and Conservative MP Stuart Andrew were among those involved. Mr Joyce admits to one count of assault by beating, including head-butting his Tory rival. Mr Joyce also attacked Tory councillors Luke Mackenzie and Ben Maney.

Following the attacks Mr Andrew sported a bloody nose and Mr Wilson had a cut to his face after he attempted to restrain the aggravated Mr Joyce. The Falkirk MP is reported to have stated there were “too many” Tories in the bar, before his assaults began.

Mr Joyce was given a £3,000 fine and ordered to £1,400 in victim compensation. In addition to his fines and bans, Mr Joyce faces a Friday to Sunday curfew as part of his community order.

Mr Joyce says he “was lucky to avoid prison”.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “This is an extremely serious incident. We have suspended Eric Joyce pending the results of the police investigation.”

The Daily Record reports Mr Joyce saying “I won’t be standing at the next general election but until then I will carry on doing for my constituents what I do at the moment.”

Yesterday Joyce  admitted to having an “ill-advised” liason with  Meg Lauder, a teenage constituency helper who was 17 when their relationship began.

Pinhole Photography Festival

Today Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens starts hosting the Pinhole Photography Festival. It’s the first festival of its kind in Edinburgh and celebrates the art of photography without using a lens.

The simple technique works with a tiny hole in the camera, which replaces the lens. Light passes through the hole; an image is formed in the camera. The festival gives current pinhole photographers a chance to showcase their work.

The festival is designed for beginners and people who are unfamiliar with this art as well as experienced photographers. Daily workshops and discussions are offered to give an introduction to this simple but effective kind of photography.

Visitors can go see the free festival until 17th March.

An early season of dangerous weather

The weather in the United States has quietened after a chaotic weekend of severe storms and deadly tornadoes.

The most recent chain of storms have killed at least 39 people across 5 states, this is on top of deadly storms earlier in the week, bringing the total deaths this week to nearly 52.

According to Jonathan Erdman, Senior Meteorologist at weather.com the preliminary count from the National Weather Services for tornadoes, on 2nd and 3rd of March, was 79 twisters that touched down. Once the final damage reports are conducted, this could prove to be the largest March outbreak on record.

This is only 8 less then the 10-year average of 87 tornadoes in the whole of March.

These tornadoes are coming unseasonably early this year. Tornadoes are most common during the spring and summer months, typically from April to June, however the weather requirements for a tornado can happen at any time of the year.

The latest death came last night as the 15-month toddler, Angel Babcock, who was found in an open field was taken off life support last night at an Louisville,Kentucky hospital. The toddler died of intensive head and neck injuries, which had kept her in critical condition since Friday.

Weather reports for the week have predicted a quiet start to the damaged area, but with thunderstorms rolling in at the end of the week, though these storms should be without the damaging winds and weather patterns experienced in the past week.

Top Scottish lawyer found dead in hotel room

One of Scotland’s leading lawyers was found dead in a hotel room in Pakistan at the weekend. Initial reports suggest Paul McBride QC had died in his sleep.

It has been said that Mr McBride felt unwell in the lead up to his death and his body was discovered by friend and colleague, human rights lawyer, Amaer Anwar.

Mr McBride’s Twitter was updated to read today:

Paul McBride – Tonight I will be gone from your twitter screens forever in your hearts and memories #RIPPaulMcBrideQC it’s been a pleasure!

Other tributes have been flowing in on Twitter from people who knew him in some capacity and others who didn’t.

Gerard McDonald – Had the pleasure of meeting #paulmcbride twice in my capacity as a taxi driver. He was a sound guy and a great Celtic fan. #celticfamily

Scottish Fashion Publicist Tessa Hartmann – Devastated to hear about the tragic death of #PaulMcBride QC – deepest sympathies to Gary and his family. A huge loss for Scotland.

Writer and Actor, Stuart Hepburn – Shocked at the death of #PaulMcBride. He gave me a great deal of support on script research in the past. A great loss.

Graeme Tait – Sad news about Paul McBride. Thoughts and prayers go out to his family! #paulmcbride

Celtic Football Club, Chief Executive Peter Lawwell issued a statement on their website with their condolences to his family.

“This is tragic news. Paul was a very good friend of Celtic and someone who cared passionately about the club. His passing is clearly a great loss and he will be sadly missed.

“The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic are with Paul´s family at this very difficult time.”

Mr McBride was one of three people who had been sent petrol bombs to their home between 1 March and 15 April last year. Celtic manager Neil Lennon and former MSP Trish Godman were also sent packages. Trevor Muirhead, 43 and Neil McKenzie, 42 who are accused of conspiring to murder McBride, deny the charges against them.  The court heard last week that a postman had become suspicious about a parcel being delivered to the lawyer when he noticed that it smelt strongly of petrol. When investigated by police officers, the parcel was found to be a device which contained nails, a bottle filled with liquid and wires leading to a timer. It is alleged that the devices were capable of exploding.

The trail continues.

Read more about Paul McBride: http://edinburghnapiernews.com/2012/03/05/paul-mcbride-qc-1963-2012/

Putin wins presidential election

Vladimir Putin has won the Russian presidential election, reclaiming his former position after operating as Prime Minister for the last term of government.

Results indicate a landslide win with a majority of 64%, in what Putin declared was an “open and honest battle”. However opposition groups dispute the fairness of the election, claiming the contest was “clearly skewed in favour of current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin”.

In a statement Tonino Picula, the spokesman for the Organization for security and Co-operation said “The point of elections is that the outcome should be certain…This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”

Putin has been at the top of Russian politics since his first term as prime minister in 2000. As a former KGB agent, he has always been criticized for his association with private business particularly the oil sector and accusations of corruption have been prevalent throughout his political career.

Following allegations of corruption in previous elections, measures were taken to improve accountability and accuracy. Camera’s were set up in polling stations to prevent vote rigging and foul play. However Putin’s opposition have already declared these measures as ineffective, amid claims of inaccuracies and the falsification of results. Alexey Navalny an anti corruption campaigner accused Putin’s part of organizing carousel voting, where bus loads of individuals toured several polling stations in order to cast multiple votes.

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