All posts by nealjwallace

3pm bulletin – Exclusive at Leith Docks

In today’s 3pm bulletin:

Credit: Blythe Hawkins


The SNP is under fire over a freedom of information request that took 9 months to respond to.

A 20-year-old man is in court today charged with the murder of a retired Edinburgh lecturer.

Morningside Library will close for eight months for refurbishment.

How will yesterday’s budget affect Scotland’s video-gaming industry?

Exclusive at Leith Docks – Michael McKeand looks at the latest addition to the port.

New lit mag to hit streets

The University of Edinburgh will release a new publication tomorrow, which gives budding authors, poets and playwrights an platform to publish their work.

As part of the society of the same name, PublishED will be produced semesterly and distributed free around the Edinburgh University George Square campus. Containing prose, poetry, drama and interviews with authors, the magazine aims to provide a way in to the publishing industry for fledgling writers. The first issue, containing interviews with, Australian poet Les Murray and Edinburgh writers Iain Banks and Alexander McCall Smith, will be unveiled tomorrow.

The project started in May this year and Editor-in-Chief Matt Oldfield believes the magazine will be an important tool for young writers: “We started up because we got tired of waiting for other people to start a literary magazine. Since May we have been slowly building up the project, but it took awhile for things to really start moving. Its a publication with the aim of showcasing the best literary work. We also aim to provide a valuable insight and pathway into the publishing industry.”

Interviewed in the first issue: Alexander McCall Smith (Photo by Lärarnas Nyheter)

PublishED also intend to hold events throughout the year to raise both awareness and funds for the magazine, which is entirely self funded. Ahead of its official launch party, at Edinburgh’s Blackwell bookstore tonight, Oldfield said they “have so far raised over £700 through various fundraising events including book sales, bake sales, quiz nights, variety nights and ghost story nights.”

Edinburgh is well known for its rich cultural and literary heritage, and is home to some of the world’s best known writers. Some of its most celebrated poets, including Don PatersonJohn Burnside and Kathleen Jamie, will perform at this year’s Hogmanay celebrations and PublishED hopes to offer luminaries a chance to achieve the same level of success.

The website already contains a collection of local writers’ work, and Edinburgh based poet Rebecca Ross is excited by the prospect of a magazine aimed at young, rather than established, writers: “Poetry and the arts in general is a notoriously difficult industry to get into, so the launch of a magazine which provides a potential pathway is very much welcomed.”

Ross added: “The real challenge for many poets is gaining a reputation. Once you have that, publications will approach you for work. It’s extremely important for publications like this to exist to help get over that first hurdle.”

KT Tunstall to headline new Hogmanay event

by Neal Wallace

Edinburgh is known across the world as the place to be when it comes to new year celebrations.

This year it’s set to become even bigger, with the addition of a “One Day”, a day of celebration to mark the 1/1/11. The event, funded by the Scottish Government’s expo fund, will showcase the best in Scottish talent, with poetry, singing and music in a free, unticketed concert in the afternoon.

Hogmanay organiser Peter Irvine said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government’s Expo Fund has enabled us to pull together one of the strongest line-ups of Scottish writing and musical talent probably ever assembled to play over one afternoon. This roll call of talent demonstrates that the power of the word and the song is alive and well in Scotland.”

Fife-born singer KT Tunstall will headline the event with the “Resolution Concert” at the west Princes St. Gardens. Tunstall herself has handpicked the line-up, which includes Scottish artists Kassidy, King Creosote and Silver Columns. The capacity of the concert is just 3,000, a tiny proportion of the 100,000 revellers expect to descend on the city this new year.

KT Tunstall will headline the "One Day" celebrations. Photo by nni_

A full programme has been announced for “One Day”, to be hosted in the newly name Mound Precinct on Princes Street Gardens. The event will begin with a reading of new year haikus by some of Scotland’s top poets, including Alan Spence and Andrew Greig.

The main stage will then host “Scotland’s Number Ones”, with exclusive performances by Scotland’s 2010 award winning musicians, before Tunstall’s headline show.

Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop said Hogmanay is a time when Scotland “shines on the world stage”, stating that it generates £29 million for the Scottish economy. She added: “One Day adds a dynamic and innovative edge to our traditional festivities, highlighting the best of contemporary Scottish music, culture and creativity. It will help cement Scotland’s global reputation as a fantastic visitor destination and the best place in the world to see in the bells.”

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations date back to the ancient Anamistic practices of sun and fire worship in the deep mid-winter, which later evolved into the great Roman winter festival of Satumalia.

Thousands of years on, Edinburgh now plays host to one of the world’s biggest parties. The event in its current form was first organised in 1993, after the highly successful “Summit in the City” conference a year earlier.

The 1996/97 street party drew a crowd of 300,000, leading to safety concerns and since then the party has been a ticketed. The capacity is now limited to 100,000, with around 20,000 expected to attend the “One Day” celebrations.

Irvine said he was confident the event would be a success, saying that “it will be One Great Day in Edinburgh to remember.”


Scots universities at risk of closure

by Neal Wallace

Proposed spending cuts mean universities and colleges across Scotland may be forced to close or face huge job losses, MSPs were warned yesterday.

Mark Batho, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which allocates funding to higher education institutions, warned that the higher education sector faces cuts of 16 per cent, around £250m. This means compromises will have to be made in order to save colleges and universities, include ceasing numerous courses or laying off staff.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said he was “very, very concerned” at the proposed cuts, adding: “That would lead straight to the sort of circumstances of significant job losses, significant loss of provision, significant loss of quality and, frankly, a bizarre situation where Scotland, potentially along with England, would be retreating from investment in higher education.”

Scotland must find a "uniquely Scottish solution" to funding. (Photo by cna)

The news comes in the wake of last month’s Browne review, which recommended lifting the cap on tuition fees in England. This would give English universities the opportunity to charge up to £9000 a year. The highest charging institutions would then pool their money into a central pot, used to encourage poorer students to attend university.

First Minister Alex Salmond and Scottish Eduction Secretary Michael Russell have both ruled out bringing in tuition fees for Scottish students. Salmond has reiterated on a number of occasions that they must find a “uniquely Scottish solution” to the funding crisis.

Russell added: “Scotland has its own education system, its own needs, demands and strengths”, and confirmed the Scottish Government’s commitment to funding higher education.

A report in the Sunday Times last week suggested that English students looking to escape the fee hike by applying to Scottish universities may be charged the same as they would south of the border. This is seen as an attempt to stop Scottish universities being swamped by English applicants.

Universities Scotland has said the only solution to the funding crisis was to have a graduate contribution from the highest earning alumni, meaning they pay more for their education. The move has not been ruled out by the Scottish Government.

Scientists take a step closer to creating Potter’s invisibility cloak

by Neal Wallace

Harry Potter’s famous invisibility cloak may not be quite as far fetched as it seems, after scientists in the UK demonstrated a flexible film, which can make objects appear invisible.

The team, from the University of St. Andrews, demonstrated the film’s, called “Metaflex”, flexibility, by using a tiny amount on a contact lens, can . It works by interrupting and channeling the flow light, rendering objects invisible, much in the way an invisibility cloak might.

Scientist Andrea Di Falco, who wrote the paper concerning the material, said: “The first step is imagining first of all that this could be done. All the typical results have been reached in flat and rigid surfaces because this is the legacy of the procedures used to create nanostructures.”

This is not the first time flexible metamaterials have been made, with previous attempts only able to work for light with a much longer wavelength – a far redder colour – than humans can see. This is because metamaterials are easier to construct when they have relatively large structures, and so only work at the Terahertz and near-infrared ends of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Metaflex works in a similar way to water bending round a rock in a stream. Thanks to a composition of tiny nano-structures, it interacts with the light, causing it to bend around the object, rather than absorbing it.

Invisibility may soon be a reality (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros)

According to professor Ortwin Hess, at Imperial College London, the next step is to manipulate the material’s optical for use in options and cameras. He described the team’s success as a “huge step forward”.

Di Franco insists there is still a long way to go before people will be able to sneak around Hogwarts undetected: “So far he’s had to live in a house and now he can live in something like a tent; it’s not the cloak that adjusts to his shape, but it’s a bit more flexible. Now we have to take the next step forward.”

Scottish football petition to appear before Holyrood

By Neal Wallace

A petition urging changes in Scottish football will go before the Scottish Government next week.

The petition is put forward by Iain Jack, who set up Help Change Scottish Football, and requests two fundamental changes; to merge the Scottish Football Association (SFA), Scottish Premier League (SPL) and Scottish Football League (SFL) into one representative governing body, and to investigate the SFA’s use of public funding.

Jack believes the SFA does not take enough responsibility for the problems facing Scottish football, saying that the task “beyond the scope of a lot of the clubs”.

Empty stadia can be seen across Scotland. Photo by Stuart Chalmers

With many fans affected by the recession, clubs have seen a sharp decline in attendances. Hibernian‘s average attendance has dropped from nearly 15,000 four years ago to 11,000 this season. Celtic recorded an 11,000 drop in their average last term. Sky Sports’ David Tanner believes the game needs modernising, and should look Stateside for inspiration: “If you look at American sports you can get all kinds of franchised food. None of these things are available at Scottish football. That has to be modernised or the game will die. I think the attendance levels dropping reflect that.”

In a statement, the SFA said this was an issue for the SPL and SFL and made no further comment.

Mike Riley, Chairman of the Hibs Supporters’ Club, believes the introduction of a winter break would encourage more fans to come to the game: “I think Scottish football’s seriously got to look at that. That would bring it into longer situations where we’re having good weather. Making it better for the young kids as well.”

Jack believes the SFA have not done enough, stating that: “The reality is that there aren’t any real sort of plans. That’s why the SFA have to lead it.”

A change in the system has to be decided at club level through a mandate, but without the backing of all three governing bodies it cannot be completed. A single governing body, Jack believes, would make changes easier to implement: “When two large companies merge to form a larger corporate entity, each company will be different in it’s business systems and it’s technical areas. The decision to merge is often a simple one. Scottish football has to undergo a similar process but has to see beyond the detail which hampers decision making by confusing the issue.”

MSP challenged over proposed assisted suicide Bill

By Neal Wallace
MacDonald rejected claims her Bill would place the vulnerable at risk

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald is facing claims that her proposed End of Life Assistance Bill (Scotland)  may result in around 1,000 deaths a year, far more than the 55 deaths originally claimed.

Nationalist committee member Michael Matheson is claiming that MacDonald’s proposals are closer to Dutch laws, not those in the US state of Oregon upon which the figures are originally based.

Matheson said: “Using the very same methodology that you’ve used to calculate the figures, the number of people who may exercise their rights under this legislation, if enacted, is closer to 1,000 rather than 55. That’s significantly different.”.

Dismissing these figures as groundless, MacDonald said: “The legislation will not change people’s morality – it will not change loving families into rapacious families.”

MacDonald pointed to improvements in palliative care, which eases the suffering of terminally ill patients. She also rejected claims that the Bill would place extra burden on GPs, noting that no doctor would have to take part if the Bill’s terms were against his or her “conscience or moral belief”. 

The controversial Bill has also prompted a campaign Care not Killing, who promote palliative care and oppose euthanasia.  They claim that a change in the law would benefit only a small minority, instead exposing many more vulnerable people to harm. Care not Killing comment “vulnerable people such as the elderly, lonely, sick or distressed would feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to request early death”.

The Bill is also opposed by Labour’s Helen Eadie, who believes Scotland could see an influx of “suicide tourists”. Eadie claims: “We could see the development of specialist GPs or specialists who actually provide this particular service.”