Record Visitor Numbers For Scottish Tourist Hotspots

Scotland has seen a 5.5% increase in visitor numbers in 2015, with Edinburgh Castle leading the surge of major attractions.

The castle has overtaken the National Museum of Scotland as the country’s leading tourist hub for the first time, with over 1.5 million visitors, according to figures released by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA).

The National Museum was also the UK’s most popular museum outside of London, and Scotland’s most popular free attraction.

For the first time, the National Galleries of Scotland welcomed a combined total of more than 2.1 million visitors – thought to be a result of The Amazing World of M.C. Escher and Artist Rooms: Roy Lichtenstein exhibitions, with a 35% and 47% rise respectively.

Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens saw a 10% increase, which they credited to their Lights programme in the winter months.

Glasgow’s nine civic museums continue to be a draw for citizens and visitors to the city alike, with almost 4 million recorded visits – up 5% on 2014. The city’s Riverside Museum has seen a year on year rise since it opened in 2011.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum also saw a rise of 12.4%.

Tourism bosses have attributed the Scottish success to the current weakness of the pound to the euro and dollar, in making UK attractions more popular.

Bernard Donoghue, Director of ALVA, commented: “2015 continued to be a record year mainly due to our members continuing to show how diverse the UK is to both domestic and overseas visitors.

“More people visited Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Scotland, the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, combined, than visited Jamaica, Barbados and Cuba.

“More people visited Stirling Castle, Kelvingrove, the Riverside Museum and the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow, combined, than visited New Zealand. Together more people visited these 9 Scottish attractions than visited Australia and New Zealand combined.”

Stephen Duncan, Director of Commercial and Tourism at Historic Environment Scotland, also praised the findings.

“It’s great to see Edinburgh Castle at the top of the table in Scotland after another record breaking year for the castle.

“We’ve seen particular growth in online and travel trade at the castle in 2015, and following a refresh of the castle website towards the end of the year I’m sure this will continue.”

Journalist Ian Bell dies aged 59

By Nicholas Mairs

Scottish writer and journalist Ian Bell has died at the age of 59.

The Sunday Herald columnist was previously Scottish editor of The Observer, and also worked for The Herald, The Scotsman and the Daily Record.

Bell started his career as a sub-editor and then a lead writer, where he was recognised as a voice for the pro-independence side during the 2014 referendum.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ‘This is devastating news. Ian Bell was one of Scotland’s finest writers and a man of deep intellect and principle.’

Scottish media personalities paid tribute to the Edinburgh-born writer following the news.

His former Sunday Herald colleague and fellow columnist Ian McWhirter tweeted: ‘Loss of my colleague Ian Bell leaves an aching void in Scottish journalism. He set the standard we all tried to equal, but never could’.

The Herald writer Hugh MacDonald said: ‘His character can be accurately gauged by the tone and humanity of his columns. But it was a joy to read him, it was a blessing to know him. He was a great writer and a good man.’

Bell was also recognised as a biographer, having written on Robert Louis Stevenson and Bob Dylan.

He was a multi-award winner, winning the Columnist of the Year award on several occasions. He was also the recipient of the George Orwell Prize for Journalism in 1997.

Glasgow broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli honoured Bell’s accolades. He said: ‘The Scottish Columnist of the Year was affectionately known as the Ian Bell Prize, he won it that often…’

He is survived by his wife Mandy and son Sean.

Sean Bell, in a statement issued on behalf of the family, said: “Our family has lost a husband, a father and a son and Scotland has lost its finest journalist. He set a standard none shall ever reach again yet he inspired us to never stop trying.

‘We ask that our privacy is respected at this difficult time.’

The Sunday Herald has vowed to pay a ‘fulsome tribute’ to their former writer in this weekend’s edition.

 

Labour seal Oldham by-election win

Jeremy Corbyn has hailed Labour’s Oldham by-election victory as a “clear demonstration that Labour is the party working people trust.”

Its candidate Jim McMahon won a 10,722-vote majority from UKIP’s John Bickley, and a 62% vote share that was higher than at the general election.

The election followed the death of former Labour MP Michael Meacher in October.

Mr Corbyn said: “By-elections can be difficult for the party holding the seat, and turnouts often low. But to increase our share of the vote since the general election is a vote of confidence in our party.

“It’s a clear demonstration that Labour is the party working people trust.”

The contest was predicted to be a closer fight with UKIP, and Nigel Farage has criticised what he deemed a “perverse” result.

“I’ve been involved in thirty by-elections and no result has shocked me as much as this one.

“Some very odd things happened yesterday, there was a fifteen per cent increase in the number of postal votes yesterday and stories of practices that shouldn’t happen in a modern democracy.”

Mr Farage claims people came to polling stations with bundles of postage votes and this has led to “bent” election results.  He does not accept that the results are a vote of confidence for Jeremy Corbyn as many of the voters do not speak English but were keen on voting Labour even though they did not know who Jeremy Corbyn was.

“That means the electoral process is now dead”.

Mr Corbyn said  UKIP had benefited from a “protest vote”.

McMahon supported Liz Kendall in the Labour Party leadership election in September but claimed in a speech on Wednesday that “Jeremy  has my full support”.

A spokesperson from Scottish Labour said: “This is a great victory for Labour across the UK.”

 

Peers call for halt to Scotland Bill

A House of Lords committee has called for the Scotland Bill to be delayed, citing uncertainty over how Holyrood will be funded.

In a report published today, peers claim a lack of scrutiny of financial arrangements in the bill by MPs, could lead to problems in future devolution settlements.

The report by the economic affairs committee states that despite the “unprecedented” nature of devolving income tax revenue as well as giving almost full power to set the rates of tax, the bill has proceeded with “undue haste”.

Scottish and UK ministers are still negotiating terms in relation to funding.

The committee raised concerns in relation to Scotland’s block grant, claiming that given a lack of clarity over the economic risk the Scottish Government should take on, as well as its devolved income tax revenues, reaching a preferred option is currently “impossible”.

They also concluded a need to reform the Barnett Formula, used to calculate Scotland’s share of funding, and to increase transparency and scrutiny of how funding is allocated to the devolved nations.

The report recommends that the UK and Scottish Governments agree “simple and clear borrowing rules and a maximum ceiling on Scottish Government debt”,  doubting that the current “no bail out” proposal between the UK and devolved governments would be believed by the markets.

Lord Hollick, Chairman of the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, said: “The Scotland Bill has the potential to fundamentally change the UK and impact on us all both politically and economically. It is crucial that what is proposed is stable and sustainable. Parliament is being asked to pass the Bill before we are told full details about the fiscal arrangements that will underpin this new era of devolution. That cannot be right.”

The Scottish Government have previously claimed that Holyrood would reject any fiscal settlement perceived as not benefiting Scotland.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme: “I would be against there being a delay in the House of Lords because I think fundamentally we need to make progress on the Scotland Bill so that the Scottish Parliament can take its final decision on whether the bill is to be adopted before we get to the Scottish Parliament elections next May.”

 

 

 

 

Gandhi’s grandson calls for end to punishment

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson has called on the world to abandon punishment at a lecture in Edinburgh.

The non-violence activist spoke of the “passive violence” that plagues society, arguing that restorative justice rather than imprisonment was the best way to reform criminals.

The New York-based campaigner travels the world to preach his message of non-violence, with the belief that only a global effort will achieve that aim.

Speaking at the lecture, organised by Scottish community justice organisation SACRO, he said: “Justice should not mean punishment, it should mean transforming the individual.”

He went on to speak of how all actions are rooted in violence, be they “physical” or “passive”, adding, in relation to justice: “Would I be hurt by it or helped by it?”

The socio-political activist added his belief that most crime is rooted in inequality. He said: “People who are marginalised are angry.

“By calling them criminals, we de-humanise them; they are human beings.”

He added that he did not believe in the abolition of prisons, but that they should be redefined as places for rehabilitation.

Mr Gandhi cited much of his upbringing as being the root of his belief. He recounted that his parents would inflict punishment on themselves should he misbehave as a child, notably by not eating, while he would eat in front of them.

He said that a “non-punishing culture starts at home”.

Tom Halpin, Chief Executive of SACRO said: “It was a privilege to hear [Arun’s] message; the real inspiration lies in the stories.

“It allows people to become ‘peace-farmers’ and to take that message in to the future.”

He added that Mr Gandhi’s ideas were “not about being soft on crime” but “allowing people to transform and move on”.

 

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