All posts by Gemma McCallan

I'm studying MA Journalism at Edinburgh Napier University but originally hail from the pretty little town of Omagh. My main aspirations lie with feature writing and magazines. Avid tea drinker who makes a mean cheesecake.

Video: Scotland’s health improves due to smoking ban

Six years have passed since the implementation of the Scottish smoking ban and new evidence suggests the nation is healthier as a result of the change in legislation.

The ban was introduced to protect people from the dangers of passive smoking in public areas. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) has revealed that it has proved a success among both smokers and non-smokers with 83 per cent of adults supporting the ban and an 86 per cent reduction in second hand smoke in bars.

Speaking about the ban, Sheila Duffy Chief Executive of ASH Scotland outlined the benefits of the ban.

“Six years on we can clearly see how Scotland’s smoke-free law is benefiting people. The law was opposed by the tobacco industry who sought to delay and derail it, much as they are doing with the current legislation. Tobacco smoke is a toxic substance and poses a threat to health, particularly to children’s health. We need to continue to strive for people’s right to breathe clean air.”

A study carried out earlier this month by the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, showed that complications in pregnancy have fallen as a result of the ban. It was found that there had been a decrease in the number of babies being born prematurely and a reduction of infants being born underweight.

Dr Jill Pell who led the research team said:

“These reductions occurred both in mothers who smoked and those who had never smoked. While survival rates for pre-term deliveries have improved over the years, infants are still at risk of developing long-term health problems so any intervention that can reduce the risk of pre-term delivery has the potential to produce important public health benefits.”

Fire fighters rescue boy climber

A four year old boy was rescued by fire fighters after becoming trapped in a climbing frame in Lauderdale park in Dunbar, East Lothian yesterday evening (25 March 2012).

The boy had to be cut free when his arm became trapped in a metal part of the climbing frame by fire fighters using a grinder and reciprocating saw. They were able to remove the child’s arm which was still trapped by the metal pole before safely releasing his arm.

The child was checked over by an ambulance crew and did not require hospital attention.



Archbishop makes controversial claims to cut abortion rates

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, has made controversial claims that women should be shown scans of their unborn child before proceeding with an abortion.

The leader of Scotland’s Catholic Church said he thinks the NHS should introduce the measure which is currently used in America in order to reduce terminations in Scotland. In the US currently, there are seven states which require women to receive ultra sound scans and descriptions of the foetus before proceeding with an abortion.

Anti-abortion campaigners are in agreement with Cardinal O’Brien saying that if these procedures are in place they may help persuade women not to go through with the abortion after seeing their unborn baby and how developed they are. Approximately 200,000 abortions are carried out in Scotland every year.

These comments come on the 15th anniversary of the Glasgow-based Cardinal Winning pro-life initiative which offers help for women facing crisis pregnancies. Sister Roseann Rweddy who runs the initiative said that around 120 babies are alive today because their mothers availed of their service.

A Marie Stope International Spokesperson said that the comments made by Cardinal O’Brien are deeply worrying.

“We believe the Catholic Church in Scotland’s desire for women to be forced to have ­- and look at – a scan of the foetus before being granted an abortion is deeply worrying.  This is something we’ve increasingly seen in the US over the previous year, and in several states this has in fact passed into law.

We do not want to see a situation like this in UK, where a woman’s right to choose and access this procedure is gradually eroded.  Women invariably know whether it is the right time in their life to have a child, and the decision to choose to terminate a pregnancy must be theirs to make without any further barriers being introduced.”

What do you think?

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:

Claims MacAskill urged Lockerbie bomber to drop appeal

The Scottish Justice Secretary  urged the Lockerbie bomber to abandon his appeal against conviction in order to “make it easier” for him to be released on compassionate grounds, according to a new  book. The Scottish government has denied the claims, with Downing Street branding the book “an insult.”

“Megrahi: You Are My Jury” was written by John Ashton, with the full cooperation of Megrahi and features exclusive interviews and revelations.  Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, who has terminal prostate cancer, claims he was “the innocent victim of dirty politics, a flawed investigation and judicial folly.”

The book which is made up of around 60 per cent of Megrahi’s own words, claims that MacAskill met with Libyan officials, including Abdulati al-Obedi 10 days before the announcement of the decision to drop the appeal. Megrahi claimed: “After the meeting, the Libyan delegation came to prison to visit me. Obedi said that towards the end of the meeting, MacAskill had asked to speak to him in private.

“Once the others had withdrawn, he stated that MacAskill gave him to understand that it would be easier to grant compassionate release if I dropped my appeal. He said he was not demanding that I do so, but the message seemed clear.

“I was legally entitled to continue the appeal, but I could not risk doing so. It meant abandoning my quest for justice.”

Today the allegations were denied by a spokesperson for Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.

“The Justice Secretary has not had a meeting with any party to this issue in the absence of officials. So there has been no such meeting.”

Continuing, the spokesperson said the Scottish Government had “no conceivable’ interest in whether the appeal was perused and added that the basis of the story was inaccurate.

Downing Street also criticised the book describing it as “an insult”.

A spokesperson said: “This is yet another reminder that Alex Salmond’s government’s decision to free the UK’s greatest mass murderer was wrong. Writing a book three years after he was released is an insult to the families of the 270 people who were murdered.”

The book, “Megrahi: You Are My Jury” was launched in Edinburgh today with Ashton describing the comments from Scotland’s First Minister and The Prime Minister as “outrageous”.

“The Prime Minister knows nothing about this case. He should read the book, and if he read the book he would know this conviction was not safe.  I think it is pretty outrageous that he would comment on something that he knows nothing about.”

Mr Ashton and Dr Jim Swire, whose daughter was killed in the atrocity, called for a new appeal and a full inquiry following the book launch today.


Also see:

Lockerbie Timeline

Podcast: new book sheds light on Lockerbie bombing

Freddie certainly gave us Somebody to Love

A scene from the musical 'We Will Rock You'

Hit West End show, We Will Rock You, comes to Edinburgh
to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Freddie Mercury’s death.

The Queen frontman died an untimely death 20 years ago today. His death came one day after publicly announcing that he had Aids and asking fans to join him in his fight against the deadly virus. His anniversary coincides with the opening of ‘We Will Rock You’ at the Edinburgh Playhouse on Monday, November 29, 2011. The sell-out production will rock Edinburgh for six weeks. The performance is directed by Ben Elton with Brian May and Roger Taylor supervising music. On the opening of the production, Brian May said: “People will definitely come out of the theatre feeling that in a strange way they now know us, Queen, our struggle and our journey.”

Based on a fantastical story, Ben Elton explained: “We take the legend of Queen and create our own fantastical story of young kids battling the mighty corporations who want to suppress their individuality and their love of music. They need a hero who can help them in their struggle, and we have two – the dreamer Galileo and the sassy rock chick Scaramouche. Guess who ends up winning?”

One of Mercury’s most famous quotes, “I’m not going to be a rock star, I’m going to be a legend” certainly rings true today.  His music with Queen is still considered to be some of the greatest ever made, earning him his coveted legend status. His flamboyant routines and outrageous costumes entertained fans for decades. Mercury undoubtedly proved his dedication to his fans when he continued to entertain them, worldwide, while battling his illness. Belting out well known hits such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Another one Bites the Dust and Don’t stop me now, he carved his name into the heart of the music industry.

To celebrate the opening, a Gala event will be held on December 1, 2011 in the Edinburgh Playhouse. Held to raise funds for the Mercury Phoenix Trust, it will feature a special appearance from Queen legend Brain May. The Trust was founded in 1992 by Brian May and Roger Taylor, together with Queen manager Jim Beach. Since the establishment of the trust, it has raised over $15 million to contribute more than 750 grants to Aids charities worldwide.

December 1, will also mark World Aids day. It helps people living with the disease and commemorates those whose lives it took.  Brain May said: “I am really excited to be taking part in the show in Edinburgh, it’s always so much fun and a fantastic atmosphere and to know we are raising money for the Mercury Phoenix Trust is the icing on the cake.”

Tickets are still available for ‘We Will Rock You’ playing in Edinburgh Playhouse. For more information visit

What’s happening in Edinburgh this week – Top 5

By Gemma McCallan


Design and Democracy Art Exhibition – starts Friday 25 November 2011, The Scottish Parliament

16 graduates from Scotland’s four renowned art schools have collaborated to create an exhibition. ‘Design and Democracy’ will showcase how inspired design can be both life enhancing and creative. Designs range from photographic presentation, model store fronts, products designed for a specific use and innovative graphic design.  The exhibition aims to demonstrate that design can improve the way we live.

Entrance is free. For more information see


Beauty and the Beast – starts Friday, November 25, 2011, Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Lyceum Theatre will play host to the classic tale, Beauty and the Beast, this weekend. This performance tells the story of a merchant who stumbles across a castle and angers the beast who lives within. The merchant promises to return, or send his daughter Beauty in his place. Beauty must first face the terrible monster before they gradually become friends and prove that love conquers all. This is a treat for the whole family.

Tickets start from £18 for adults and are available on


My Week with Marilyn – Showing from Friday, November 25, 2011, Cameo Picture House

Michelle Williams plays one of Hollywood’s icons, Marilyn Monroe, in this biographical film. Based on two books by Colin Clarke, the film focuses on a week in 1965 when Monroe travelled to Britain. She was on her honeymoon with new husband, Arthur Miller. When Miller leaves the country, Clarke takes on the task of entertaining Monroe. Throughout their week together, Monroe escapes Hollywood life and the pressures that go with it.


The Saw Doctors – Saturday, November 26, 2011,The HMV Picture House, Edinburgh

Irish band, the Saw Doctors, take a rare trip to Edinburgh to scatter some of their Irish charm.  With hits such as I Useta Love Her and Joyce Country Ceili Band, it will be hard to resist getting to your feet and having a jive. This is a night not to be missed – but don’t forget your dancing shoes.

Tickets are available on Ticketmaster and are £24.45 each.


Rob Deerings Christmas Special – Tuesday, November 29, 2011, The Stand Comedy Club
Edinburgh’s finest comedy club provides a festive treat next Tuesday. Leading stand-up comedian, Rob Deering, offers a winning combination of music and laughter. Described as Chris Tarrent and Bill Bailey’s ‘love child’, Deering entertained Edinburgh with an unforgettable night. This year promises to be just as good. Labelled as ‘a comedy gig, a mix tape and a party’ all rolled into one, it promises to be full of festive cheer and a belly of laughs.

Ticket prices begin at £8.00 and are available to buy on

Leith Festival to Lose Funding

The Leith festival looks set to face a dramatic downsize due to public funding cuts.
One of Edinburgh’s largest and most renowned festivals, it is likely to lose many of its benefactors,
includingEdinburghCity Council.

Leith Gala Day

The event relies heavily on public and charitable funds, which are diminishing at an alarming rate. Edinburgh City Council is just one of the contributors which has decided not to renew their contract with the festival.

The festival has entertained thousands of people over the past 8 years and has earned a reputation as one of the cities most popular attractions. It produces a variety of events including comedy, theatre, music and dance. Festival organizers predict that in 2012, it will be stripped  back, returning to its historical roots as a Gala Day and Pageant.

Speaking about the potential cuts, Leith Councillor Gordon Munro said: “We have had to reduce the festival because we don’t have finances. There has never been much money available from the Council and other sources have dried up and for the foreseeable future, I don’t see that changing.”

The residents of Leith have relied heavily on the festival in recent years to bring trade to the area and boost community spirit. Rowan Campbell, on of the festival’s board members, said: “People need to know how vulnerable we are and that it cannot go on without them. We need their help. The festival does great things for the community but there doesn’t seem to be funding available for this sort of community event, if there is we certainly haven’t found it.”

A public meeting is scheduled to be held alongside the Leith festival.  The AGM is due to take place on Wednesday 7 December in the Leith Community Centre at 7.30pm. It is open to the public, and any offers to join the board of volunteers who run the festival, will be warmly welcomed.

Top 5 – Arts


The Rum Diary, The Cameo Picture House – Week beginning 15 November 2011

Johnny Depp stars as American journalist, Paul Kemp, who takes a debauched journey to 1950’s Puerto Rico after his life hits a road block. Working for a rundown Caribbean newspaper he continues down a drug and drink-addled path of self-destruction. Lusting after the fiancée of a wealthy businessman is just one of his many misguided ideas, documented throughout in his journal.

An adaption of the novel The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson, this film paints an interesting picture of journalism, and follows the haphazard life of a chaotic guy.


NSPCC Scotland Cupcake Couture – The Merchants’ Hall 19 November 2011

This Saturday, enjoy a stylish cupcake while lending fashion a helping hand. A chic afternoon tea, of cupcakes and cocktails, will be provided at the fabulous Merchants’ Hall. Amidst the alcohol and confectionary a fashion show will be held, featuring collections from some of Edinburgh’s top boutiques and fashion stalls. These delights will be followed by an auction, giving you the chance to donate to a wonderful cause and come home with some goodies for yourself. The NSPCC in Scotland carries offers strong support for vulnerable children.

If you are interested in attending, contact the Scottish fundraising team at 0844 892 0212 or email


Edinburgh Cancer Research Art Exhibition – starts 15 November – 20 November 2011

Scottish artists, or artists with Scottish roots, such as Lynn Rodgie, Ian Mastin, and Margaret Shaw will be showcasing their amazing work at the Edinburgh Cancer Research Art Exhibition in Adam house.

The majority of the paintings that will be exhibited are from Edinburgh, however, some of the pieces are from further afield. This exhibition is  enticing and has something for everyone, regardless of artistic familiarity and knowledge. There will also be displays of handcrafted jewellery, wool crafts and pottery.

Opening times are from 10.30am to 6.00pm Tuesday to Friday and 10.30am to 4.00pm Saturday. Refreshments are available.


The Drifters, The Tom Fleming Centre, Edinburgh – 19 November 2011

Edinburgh warmly welcomes the Drifters, one of the biggest soul groups. They will be bringing their catalogue of over 50 hits to entertain Edinburgh. The line up of the Drifters may have changed over the years but the amazing tracks stay the same. Don’t miss an amazing night!

Tickets are on sale from and are £22 each.


Top Hat, Edinburgh Playhouse – starts 22 November 2011

Get your dancing hat on for one of the greatest musicals of all time. Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s renowned Hollywood hit of the 1930s, comes to Edinburgh’s Playhouse Theatre for the ultimate of entertainment thrills.

Stars Tom Chambers (Strictly Come Dancing) and Summer Strallen (Hollyoaks) play Jerry Travers and Dale Tremont. Jerry is a famous American tap dancer and has travelled to London to appear in his first ever West End show. Here he meets Dale, the girl of his dreams, and pursues her across Europe in a bid to capture her heart.

With hours of amazing music and dancing you will not be disappointed. You’ll find yourself singing along to classics such as ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘Isn’t it a lovely day to be caught in the rain’. A feel good musical comedy is just what you need to make you forget all.

Opportunity Omagh gets underway

by Gemma McCallan

A Tesco store similar to this one will get the ball rolling at Opportunity Omagh

It has been announced that the £350 million Opportunity Omagh development is underway with supermarket giants Tesco confirming their arrival. There have been mixed reactions to the news however, with claims that it will have a detrimental affect on the town centre, taking business out of the town centre. Omagh Chamber of Commerce President, Christopher Kelly has welcomed the news but has expressed concerns that the proposed location could create ‘a rival town’. Mr Kelly said: “The Chamber welcomes the news that Tesco has plans for a new store in Omagh and that the giant retailer is interested in investing the local community and creating jobs. The problem is that the proposed site on the Derry Road is the wrong site and is too far out of town.”

It has also been recognised however that the development, which is the biggest in the town in over 20 years, will be a huge catalyst for employment in the area, creating over 2000 sustainable jobs across a number of sectors. Chairman of Omagh District Council, Cllr Frankie Donnelly said: “The importance of the immediate boost and jobs for our local construction sector from this £350m project, combined with the longer term sustainable job creation and infrastructure provision are vital to ensure that Omagh continues to grow and develop as a place for our people to live and work.”