UKIP leader calls for ‘Scot Free’ House of Commons

Newly elected UKIP leader, Paul Nuttall, called for English devolution in his first speech as UKIP leader after previously suggesting Scottish MPs should be removed from the House of Commons.

Nuttall has replaced Nigel Farage as permanent leader of the party winning over 60% of the vote in the second Leadership election the party has had in the last 3 months.

The last election was labelled a shambles after Diane James, elected in September, resigned only 18 days later, subsequently leaving the party.  Nigel Farage had to return to the leadership role while a new leader was selected. [Read more…]

Vote with your butt: Ballot Bins appear in Leith

In the wake of President-elect Donald Trump’s victory in the US, City of Edinburgh Council have installed light-hearted ‘Ballot Bins’ along Leith Walk.

The bins allow the people of Edinburgh to vote with their cigarette butts and settle the question: ‘President Donald Trump: ‘Dream’ or ‘Nightmare’?’

These bins are part of an initiative that wants to set up more Ballot Bins in the Leith Walk area later this month. It is hoped that the campaign will ease strain on the area’s communal bins, identified as ‘hotspots’ for overflowing and fly-tipping. [Read more…]

Scottish councils facing over half a billion pounds of funding deficit, Accounts Commission warns

Scottish councils could face a combined funding gap of £553 million by 2018, according to a new report from the Accounts Commission.

The Commission has said that, based on figures from 2015-16, local authorities are currently in good financial health, but have found that there could be “significant challenges” in the future.

Forecasting for the next three years, the report’s analysis found that the deficit between the money that councils raise and what they spend could rise from £87 million in 2016-17 to £553 million in 2018-19.

The figures would mean that a large proportion of local authorities would face a gap in funding higher than the amount currently held in reserves.

The Commission acknowledged that councils face, “increasing pressure from a long-term decline in funding, rising demand for services and increasing costs such as pensions.”

More to follow later.

Scottish Council worries about the impact on front line services funding.

Scottish Council worries about the impact on front line services funding.

ScotRail’s Future Off The Tracks

by Stuart Mackenzie and Noemi Distefano

 

Photo credit: Rory Nicolson

Photo credit: Rory Nicolson

 

Scotland’s Transport Minister Humza Yousaf will make a statement to the Scottish Parliament tomorrow to discuss how to improve the Scottish rail services.

This follows pressure from opposition politicians for him to speak after various proposals to bring ScotRail’s railways into public ownership.

ScotRail, who are currently operated by Abellio, have been experiencing various problems with their services.

Charlotte Twyning of Abellio UK, told to the BBC: “It should be recognised that half of the rail industry is already nationalised in the form of Network Rail and any operator that runs the ScotRail franchise – public or private – does so to a tightly specified Scottish government contract.” [Read more…]

Things to do in Edinburgh: Our Top Five Picks

Stuck in the capital this week with nothing to do?

Follow our guide to find the best events Edinburgh has to offer.

5. Cinderella – Australian Ballet

STARRING: Leanne Stojmenov, Kevin Jackson, Ako Kondo

Released: 23rd November

cinderella

Picture Credit: The Australian Ballet

The classic fairy-tale returns in beautiful ballet form. If you can’t catch it on stage, you can watch it at your local cinema.

The award-winning, critically acclaimed production, created by Alexei Ratmansky, one of the world’s most sought after choreographers, puts a twist on the story of Cinderella, her wicked step-mother and sisters and of course the glass slipper.

After sell-out seasons in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide the show makes its way to London, and various Vue cinemas, including Edinburgh. Be sure not to miss the ball.

4. Book Week Scotland

book-week

Scotland’s Book Week

Book Week Scotland, beginning yesterday (Monday 21st) and is running until Sunday 27th November, is a week-long event organised by the Scottish Book Trust that aims to celebrate reading and writing amongst the young and the old alike.

Featuring talks and events across the country, speakers like Tony Robinson and Val McDermid will be appearing to discuss their work and love of literature face to face with readers. For any lover of books, this one is not to be missed!

3. Edinburgh Christmas Market

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Edinburgh Christmas Market began this week with Sunday’s Light Night which officially launched Christmas in Edinburgh.

From Five Guys Named Moe on the West End stage to the European Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens.

Get yourself in the Christmas mood and visit the event website for more information.

2. Ghost The Musical starts run at Edinburgh Playhouse

Ghost the musical starts its six day run tonight at Edinburgh Playhouse.

playhouse

Ghost starts it’s run at Edinburgh Playhouse

Produced by Bill Kenwright, the musical presents a re-imagined, unchained version of the classic film.

Sarah Harding, the Girls Aloud singer and actress, makes her stage debut as Molly, opposite Hollyoaks star Rhys Ashworth as ‘Sam’.

The musical is based on the Academy Award winning movie and starred the late Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

The plot sees Sam tragically murdered in front of his girlfriend, Molly. Sam finds himself trapped between this world and the next. Assisted by a psychic Sam attempts to communicate with Molly and protect her from imminent danger.

With such a popular film to live up to, fans have been promised the iconic scene in which Molly sculpts a pot to the Righteous Brother’s Unchained Melody will also feature in the musical version.

Ghost The Musical premieres tonight at the Edinburgh Playhouse at 7.30pm and runs till Saturday and then tours to Nottingham.

1. The Heavy

Good news for all Edinburgh-based fans of indie rock, as ‘The Heavy’ are playing at Liquid Room tonight.

The band from Bath will be presenting their new Album ‘Hurt & The Merciless’, which is in line with what makes The Heavy’s style so unique: powerful arrangements, rough guitar sounds and, of course, Kelvin Swaby’s haunting voice – all topped up with drums that promise to make an audience go wild.

Tickets are available online

 

Edinburgh’s Christmas Market delivers and delights

by Noemi Distefano

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Edinburgh’s Christmas Market has opened to the public this weekend.

The market, one of the most popular Christmas celebrations in the UK, will run for six weeks until the 7th January.

Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens will be transformed into a veritable winter wonderland by a rich array fairground attractions, lights, buskers, artists and street-chefs.

The market has grown its reputation as one of Europe’s largest Christmas attractions.

Councillor Richard Lewis, Edinburgh’s Festivals and Events Champion, said to Edinburgh Evening News, “Edinburgh’s Christmas promises to wow once again, and the Christmas Market alongside with the Street of Light is a spectacular and mesmerising addition to what is already a brilliant line-up.”

Around 900,000 unique visitors from all over Europe are expected to fill St. Andrews Square in the coming weeks.

Hundreds of chefs and artisans are expected to open their shutters, offering nibbles, trinkets and a more magical Christmas experience.

 

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

 

Shopkeeper Judies, owner of ChristmasWorld, sells traditional German wooden ornaments. She said, “Me and my brother have been here in Edinburgh for the Christmas markets even before they became a huge event.  This is our fifteenth year in this street, and I wouldn’t like to be anywhere else.”

Norwegian shopkeeper Kari Ittervel claims that she comes to Edinburgh just for the market. A resident of Amsterdam, she flies over for just two months a year to sell her handmade pottery.

“I’ve been here for two years now, I was in London’s Christmas Market before, but it’s not even a tenth as nice as in Edinburgh’s. One day I heard that there was a beautiful market here and I resolved: ‘let’s make Edinburgh’s ladies happy with my items!’”

“The markets are amazing. Beautiful people, beautiful city, it’s just fantastic!”

It’s not just the shopkeepers who love the atmosphere. Jasmine – a tourist from Newcastle – said, “I came a long way from Newcastle, just because I think the Christmas markets are great. They bring a bit of European culture to the cities in the UK.”

“I think it is really nice, the smell is nice in the air, the sites and there are really a lot of lights and we are looking forward to go around, it is a great thing.”

The experience is certainly rich – families peer into the Gardens from the terrace of the Scottish National Gallery as the smell of burned wood and the sound of buskers fill the air.

 

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

Photo credit: Noemi Distefano

 

The Edinburgh Christmas Market will stay vibrant with music, sounds, sights and smells until early 2017.

Tickets are right now available at www.edinburghschristmas.com

Sturgeon says Yes to Brexit-vote could trigger Scottish Independence Referendum

22602998745_823413cf3b_z

By Nicholas Mairs, Jasper Farrell & Frederik Gammelby

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that a Yes to June’s Brexit vote could trigger a new Scottish independence referendum. Her statement comes Monday after one of the most politically intense weekends in recent British EU-membership history.

Saturday saw Prime Minister David Cameron announcing that the Brexit referendum will be held on June 23rd this year, coming in the immediate wake of securing a reshaping of the British membership of the EU last week.

Despite Cameron himself being a supporter of staying in the EU he has already had to face multiple unforeseen consequences of finalizing the date for the Brexit vote – one of them being the reactions in Scotland.

The announcement of the Brexit referendum comes as a new cross-party Scottish independence movement, The Radical Independence Conference, was setup Saturday, pushing for a new Scottish independence referendum in 2021.

The SNP now has more then 150.000 members nationwide, but a new YouGov poll shows that only 36 per cent of Scots supports a new independence referendum within the lifetime of the next Scottish government. Meanwhile, 46 per cent of respondents in the YouGov poll also say that a new independence vote will be a bad thing for the Scottish economy.

The Brexit referendum has been announced just in time for Scottish parties beginning preparations for the Scottish General Election in May.

This story will be updated throughout the day.

 

College lecturers to hold Edinburgh protest over cuts

By Giulia Maccagli

College lecturers from across Scotland will hold a protest later this afternoon to express their concern over ‘Draconian cuts’ to colleges.

The demonstration will take place at 2:30pm outside the offices of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in Edinburgh and will be supported by the Education Institute of Scotland – Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA).

The EIS-FELA campaigns for equal pay across the further education sector and is aiming to highlight the ‘appalling attacks which FE provision in colleges has come under over the past few years.’

John Kelly, EIS-FELA president, said: ‘The SFC has implemented Draconian cuts on FE Colleges which have been exacerbated further by light touch regulation. If the regulation of colleges had been any lighter it would have floated off to meet the Space Station orbiting Earth.

‘Principals in conjunction with Boards of Management have awarded themselves enormous pay-offs at the same time that we are repeatedly told that there is no money for FE courses.

‘Colleges have experienced course cuts and job cuts at the same time as reports of £2.4 million being shared among 13 Principals.’

College lecturers are calling on Scottish Education Secretary Angela Constance to inject more money into the sector, and are urging the SFC ‘to switch off the green light which has been shown to colleges allowing them to spend on a few, at the expense of further education students and staff.’

Commenting on today’s demonstration, a spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said: ‘Our Chief Executive, Laurence Howells, will meet a small delegation from EIS-FELA to listen to the points people wish to put across at this  afternoon’s protest.

‘On the specific issue of severance payments to former college principals, we will seek to reassure the delegation that there is now a much-strengthened set of control arrangements for severance-related financial decisions taken by colleges. These arrangements require colleges to consult with the Funding Council in advance of any decisions being made.’

A spokesperson for the EIS-FELA said the association is considering a programme of industrial action in pursuit of fair pay.

Lecturing and support staff groups have been offered a 1% pay settlement for the year, and both have rejected the offer.

Colleges Scotland, the body representing colleges all across Scotland, expressed their hope that today’s unofficial demonstration has not caused disruption to any students.

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland, said: ‘While we recognise that there have been a few legacy issues, they should not detract from the excellent work that colleges do for the benefit of students and the hard work and dedication of staff in colleges.’

 

SNP Criticises Relocation of Nuclear-powered Submarines to Scotland

THE SNP today called for only conventional vessels to be based at Faslane after the MoD announced plans to relocate two nuclear-powered submarines to the Scottish naval base.

The statement came after plans were announced to relocate a further two nuclear-powered submarines to Faslane Naval Base on the Clyde. Adding further nuclear material to the base in direct opposition to The SNP’s aim of a nuclear-free Scotland.

The expected economic benefits of transferring the vessels have been played down by the SNP today in conjunction with the benefits of the new £4 billion contract to construct 26 new Frigates on the Clyde.

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) decision to move two nuclear powered Trafalgar-class submarines, from their current home in Plymouth to Faslane in the West of Scotland, has been directly criticised by the SNP’s Westminster party spokesperson on defence and foreign affairs Angus Robertson.

He said:  “The MoD shifting two submarines nearing the end of their lifespan on the Clyde won’t disguise the lack of serious defence investment in Scotland from successive UK Governments. The fact they are happy to move nuclear submarines but not a single major surface vessel North speaks volumes.
“The fact is that Scotland’s service personnel have been poorly served by Westminster for too long by a Westminster establishment obsessed with wasting billions on nuclear weapons while stripping Scotland of military assets and cutting 11,000 defence jobs in Scotland over  the last decade. The best future for Faslane is as a full conventional naval base.”
The two submarines,  HMS Talent and HMS Triumph, will have been fully relocated from Her Majesty’s Naval Base Devonport to Scotland by 2020, making Faslane the home of The UK’s entire submarine fleet.
Other two Royal Navy craft, HMS Torbay and HMS Trenchant, are to remain at their current home in Devonport until they are decommissioned in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
Defense secretary Michael Fallon said: “This decision balances the Royal Navy’s operational requirements with giving more clarity to our servicemen and women to plan their family lives.
“HMS Torbay and HMS Trenchant crews and their families now have certainty that Devonport will be their home port until the boats decommission. We expect that local communities will welcome HMS Talent and HMS Triumph and their crews and families when they arrive in Scotland later this decade.

“Our commitment to Faslane becoming home to all Royal Navy submarines from 2020 will bring hundreds of jobs and investment to the West of Scotland.”

The two submarines will eventually be replaced by Astute-class vessels, making the transfer permanent until their eventual decommission.

Leading economist backs North Sea tax breaks

By Paul Hyland

A leading UK energy economist has backed calls for tax reform for North Sea oil exploration and extraction.

Professor Alexander Kemp, Professor of Petroleum Economics and Director of Aberdeen Centre for Research in Energy Economics and Finance at the University of Aberdeen, has backed a report by Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce (AGCC) calling for tax cuts for the industry.

Professor Kemp said tax cuts were important to combat declining efficiency in the North Sea.

“The North Sea oil and gas industry is a maturing one and the recent performance has been one of declining production, declining production efficiency and declining exploration. We now have on top of all that, a substantial fall in the oil price which makes some future projects not yet sanctioned, non-commercial.

“The tax system needs to adjust to the new operating environment of much lower oil prices and high cost per barrel which is currently the position. So in the North Sea, for very old fields, we have a marginal rate of tax going up to 81 percent and for newer fields at 62 percent and certainly I go along with the idea that tax reform is needed in the present condition of the industry.”

The AGCC reported in their recent survey that 62 percent of oil and gas firms believed fiscal reform should be the government’s top priority.

The AGCC survey showed confidence had hit a six year low in the industry’s prospects among firms. They are calling for changes in fiscal policy for the industry in Chancellor George Osborne’s Autumn Statement on December 3rd.

However, environmental groups have argued it would be a mistake to give oil and gas firms a tax break.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “The science is clear. To reduce the risk of dangerous global climate change, the vast majority of known fossil fuel reserves need to be left in the ground and not exploited. Therefore the last thing we need to see is even more tax breaks or subsidies for new North Sea oil drilling.

“We instead need to see an energy transition that enables us to harness the engineering skills currently deployed in the oil and gas industry and apply them to supporting a range of cleaner forms of energy production.”

Mary Church, Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “If the UK Government is serious about tackling climate change it must refuse this request for yet more subsidies for these big corporations.

“Climate science tells us we need to leave 80 percent of known fossil fuels reserves in the ground so incentivising their further extraction is dangerous and shortsighted.

“We should instead be investing in clean, locally-owned renewables rather than propping up dirty energy companies.”

However, Professor Kemp argued: “Well that’s all fine, to put our effort into renewable energy and reducing the CO2 emissions but we should remember that you can’t just stop using oil and gas overnight, it has to be a gradual process, otherwise there would be tremendous disruption to the economy.

“The tax system in the North Sea is much tougher than it is for other industries. In other industries the tax rate is only 21% and will be 20% next year, so they get much more favourable treatment.

“If we just cut down on our production, then I’m afraid that what would happen would be that we would just import more from countries which are not taking many steps to reduce their emissions. It’s called the CO2 leakage point.

“If the production in the North Sea went down further, then we are not going to use less oil, we are just going to import it from countries from the Middle East and Africa where they are not doing anything to reduce emissions.”

 

National Lottery celebrates 20th anniversary

By Carolina Morais

Scottish organisations funded by the National Lottery Council have applauded its “vital” and “valuable” work, as it celebrates it’s 20th anniversary.

The Edinburgh-based charity ‘Dads Rock’, which provides bonding time for dads and their children, is set to expand after the National Lottery awarded it last month with £287,096.

A spokesperson from the organisation said: “We would not be able to function without the National Lottery’s funding. It has been absolutely vital. We have been benefiting since 2012 but this last amount we just got allows us to provide services for three years.

“We are going to run a young dads’ project and invest in parenting counseling . We estimate to help over 200 families in Edinburgh.”

The children’s charity ‘Woodcraft Folk’, focused on developing young people’s social and creative skills, also recognizes the importance of the National Lottery’s support.

A Scottish representative said: “It has been a very valuable help to our organisation. The money we received allowed us to employ more staff and to do more trials to test how to approach children and help them grow.

“Here in Scotland, for example, we were able to do what we called the ‘Summer Sessions 2013’, in Stirling, in which we made some real changes in children’s lives. It has definitely been a very successful partnership for us.

Nicola Bligh, from National Lottery Good Causes, said she is “extremely proud” of what the organisation has accomplished over the last 20 years.

“It has been incredibly important. We raised over 32 billion pounds, we have supported a lot of local projects and we have benefited peoples lives.

“It is amazing how you can benefit people everyday in ordinary sectors. And we created thousands of jobs and volunteering opportunities.

“We recently captured an image that will be released this Wednesday in which we gathered over 800 people from over 50 projects that benefited from our funding over the past 20 years. It is really moving to hear these stories. The numbers of our accomplishments are amazing, but the stories behind them are what really matters.”

Ms Bligh also said: “For the future, we hope more and more projects apply for our funding, which is very easy to do through our website. Our plan, of course, is to repeat what we did over the last 20 years just as successfully and keep changing people’s lives.”

To celebrate two decades of existence, the National Lottery is releasing a new video everyday at 6pm on its website until the 19th of November, allowing people to enter the prize draws which increase in value each day.

The first National Lottery draw was on 14 November 1994. According to the organisation, over 450,000 lottery-funded projects were accomplished and over 3,700 millionaires were made in the United Kingdom.

 

 

 

A Farewell to Alex Salmond

By Charlotte Barbour

Scottish Labour politicians have said Alex Salmond will be remembered for the negative impact he has had on Scotland during his time as First Minister.

Claire Baker, a Scottish Labour MSP, described Mr Salmond as a “divisive” person and politician:

“While people should recognise his achievement as First Minister, it is time that he went.

He lost the referendum, and during his time in politics we have seen fewer teachers in schools, huge cuts to the college sector and the NHS have been put under enormous financial pressure. These are things that he will be remembered for.

Alex Salmond is a divisive person and a divisive politician and it is time for Scotland to move on.”

Salmond will submit his resignation as First Minister to the Scottish Parliament and to the Queen at 2.30 this afternoon.

Deputy SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon is expected to replace Salmond as leader of the Scottish National Party after his seven and a half years in power.

Salmond began his career in politics in 1973 at the University of St Andrews, when he joined the Federation of Student Nationalists aged 19.

He became SNP leader in 1990, and won the position of First Minister in 2007 after winning more seats than any other party in the Scottish Parliamentary Election.

He led the country into the most dramatic Scottish Independence Referendum in history, achieving a result of 44.7% yes, 55.3% no.

Despite stepping down from his position as First Minister following the ‘no’ vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum, the SNP’s campaign for Scottish Independence is far from over.

A recent poll suggested that nearly half of Scots want a second independence referendum before 2024.

This puts pressure on Ms Sturgeon to promise a re-run after the 2016 Holyrood election, despite 12% of the population being against another independence referendum.

Edinburgh Marathon promotes free workshops

By Carolina Morais

Organisers of the Edinburgh Marathon today launched a series of free workshops ahead of the event which is expected to attract thousands of people next May.

People in Edinburgh showed up at the Nuffield Health Fitness & Wellbeing Center for tips on training plans, nutrition, goal setting, physiotherapy and a guided run along the canal.

Annette Drummond, one of the organisers, said she is “proud” of all the work that has been done by her team.

“We have been around for 13 years now and the event has expanded and grown so much,” she said.

“It started off as just a marathon and now it is a marathon festival over two days, bringing 30,000 people together to raise millions for charity and boost the local economy, all whilst keeping fit and helping people achieve their dreams.”

The Edinburgh Marathon 2015, scheduled for the 30 and 31 May, will be raising funds for Diabetes Scotland and has already received a £2,376 donation from a team of investment managers from the Business Growth Fund.

The race was the first in Scotland to be recognised by the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF).

Ms Drummond said its popularity has been boosted not only for being “an IAAF rated event” but also “by the fact that Edinburgh is a beautiful city that people like to visit”.

“This is an international event”, the organiser said. “70 per cent of the marathon runners come from outwith Scotland.”

Free workshops in preparation for the main marathon will also be held in Glasgow on 30 October.

Gordon Brown: Scotland should not be given fully devolved tax powers

Gordon Brown today suggested that corporation tax should remain to be set at Westminster and for Scotland to raise 40% of its income as part of his calls for greater devolution of power.

National Insurance would also be best decided at Westminster said Brown, who recommended that only limited powers of taxation be passed on to Holyrood in the event of a No vote.

His proposals have been fiercely criticized by deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has questioned why the former Prime Minister failed to implement any of these proposals during the his ten year tenure in Westminster.

Brown was speaking in Glasgow today ahead of a tour of Scotland to advocate the union, and suggested six constitutional changes to devolve power, including the permanent status of Scottish parliament as part of the United Kingdom.

His idea to “make for a better relationship between Scotland and the United Kingdom to turn what I could call a centralized system of power to one where there is power sharing” will not appease the nationalists, however, with his plans falling well short of full powers of taxation and welfare.

Instead, he put forward plans for the Scottish parliament to have the power to vary income tax by 15p in the pound as opposed to the current level of 10p set to come into force. The first 5p in the pound of income tax would remain set within the corridors of Westminster, however, with Scotland responsible for raising 40% of its future budget.

“There should be scope for devolved taxation to raise something like 40 per cent of the Scottish Parliament’s expenditure. As we note above, the tax freedom available to the Scottish Parliament is presently very limited – only 12 per cent of its spending – and under the Scotland Act 2012 that figure will rise to around one-third.

“To raise the money that is equivalent to the cost of non-covenanted services – about 40 per cent of its budget – the best way forward is to widen the Scottish Parliament’s power to vary the income tax, which is currently 10 pence, to 15 pence.”

Devolved powers to Scotland would involve pooled resources to strengthen areas of the Scottish economy, including health and education, where Scotland is already in charge of spending:

“Within the social union of the United Kingdom, not only should UK taxes provide directly for redistributive welfare benefits such as the old-age pension, but we should also pool and share sufficient resources across the UK to ensure that the devolved administrations and the UK government can provide, on a common basis, for the key services of the UK welfare state – the right to free health care, and the universal right to education.”

“Whether you are Scots, Welsh, English or Northern Irish you have the right to a pension when elderly, help when unemployed, sick or disabled, universal free health care and basic education.”

Deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon was quick to attack Brown’s proposals, questioning the authenticity of his desire for devolution, given his inaction during his time as Prime Minister:

“[Gordon Brown] was prime minister for a number of years, he was in government for more than 10 years, and didn’t deliver the powers that he is now saying he thinks Scotland needs. That underlines the point that the only way that we can secure new powers, and the new powers that Scotland needs to meet the challenges we face, is to vote Yes in referendum and support independence.”

SNP’s media spin doctor Kevin Pringle was equally dismissive of Brown’s speech:

Brown’s speech today comes as one part of a wider, concerted cross-party effort from Westminster to put on a united front about devolving powers in the event of a No vote come September.

However, with the parties unable to agree on just what powers, and to what extent, they are willing to devolve to the Scottish parliament, voters are being left with yet more uncertainty as to what the future would hold for a Scotland that rejected independence.

Better Together spokesperson Ross MacRae on cross-party devolution front:

Just this month Scottish Labour announced grandiose plans to back the devolution of key welfare and tax powers to Holyrood in an effort to give undecided Scottish voters more confidence in a No vote.
Despite its unified façade, however, there are deep fault lines within the party regarding the issue, with senior sources admitting that the party are split about the fully devolved powers of income tax.

Any less than full devolution of income tax, as recommended by the party’s Devolution Commission, would be pounced upon by the SNP as a U-turn in Labour policy indicating a lack of commitment to achieving devolved powers.

The Scottish government have previously stated that any measures of devolution that fall short of full powers on taxation and welfare would represent a failure to the people of Scotland in the event of a No vote, and would see a perpetuation of the social inequality handed to Scotland as a result of governments they never voted for.

Eddie Nisbet

Twitter: @eddienisbet

Scottish Hockey Look Abroad For International Success

Scottish Hockey Mens Senior Squad credit: Davis

Scottish Hockey Mens Senior Squad
Credit: Davis

By Jonathan Davis

Scottish Hockey National League One is not good enough to support international sport says Scotland Internationalist, Callum Duke.

19 capped Duke said: “The best Scottish players, don’t play in the Scottish league.”

20 of the 28 players listed in Scotland’s senior men’s squad currently play their club hockey outside of Scotland, leading to worries that the domestic game in Scotland is suffering.

Duke, previously of Hillhead HC and Edinburgh University currently plies his trade in Germany with Frankfurt 1880. Duke said: “In Germany, everything is so much more professional. Everyone in your team is much better and there is a lot more competition for places.

“Everything is better, the tempo, the ball speed, the speed of the game, the speed that things change – your thought process has to be much quicker.”

The trend of players moving abroad to play is something that has certainly increased over recent years. Duke said: “I think in the past two years, maybe three, the amount of players playing abroad has doubled.”

The strength of the domestic leagues in England, Germany and Holland is of such a higher standard that it is now the natural progression for any player aspiring for the top of the game. Duke said: “Purely on hockey terms, if you want to improve and push yourself to the highest level possible, I would 100% play abroad.”

On the matter, Scotland Senior Men’s National Team Manager, Eugene Connolly said: “This is the best thing thing for Scottish International Hockey.

“If I take the example of Ireland. Ireland adopted this policy several years ago and their best players were playing in Holland, Belgium, England and Germany. This meant that Ireland reached the dizzy heights of 5th in Europe in 2011, and 6th in 2013, but friends in Ireland say that sadly this has diminished the quality of Irish club and inter-provincial hockey.”

Connolly speaks of the ethical conflict whereby for smaller nations, what may be best for the national squad, may be harmful to the state of the domestic game.

For now at least, in the lead up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the vast majority of Scottish Internationals will have to fly back from their respective clubs abroad for full-time training in April.

Connolly said: “If you look at our national league this year, there has been a leveling down and the overall standard is lower.

“From a national point of view it is very good (to have Scottish players playing abroad), but from the club point of view it is less so. But the irony is that it has actually made for a more exciting and open league than we have had for many years.”

Book Week Scotland Is Back

by Rachael Bell

Authors and Organiser Fiona Hyslop celebrating Book Week Scotland 2013 Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Authors and Organiser Fiona Hyslop celebrating Book Week Scotland 2013
Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Book Week Scotland kicked off on Monday with over 100 events taking place in Edinburgh.

The week will be hosted by Scottish Book Trust and is designed to encourage everyone in the community to take part. Mark Lambert, CEO of the Scottish Book Trust, said: “Book Week Scotland is all about celebrating Scotland’s love affair with a book, and writing. Reading and writing – two of the greatest inventions that human beings have ever come up with and something that Scotland excels in.”

According to the Carnegie UK Trust report 2012, only 12 percent of people in Scotland never or rarely read books. Compare this to the National Literary Trust 2012 and After Now study 2013 that found that 1 in 6 people in the UK have literacy levels below that expected of an 11 year old.

Book Week Scotland has a particularly captive audience in Edinburgh as a UNESCO named City of Literature. Sarah Morrison, communications executive at Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, said: “It’s a marker of how much people in Edinburgh value literary interests, not just in the literary community but the wider city community. Everything from the world’s largest book festival to story time readings in a local library are so well supported. There is something of literary interest going on every day in the city.”

It isn’t just Scottish nationals that are to be involved. Book Week Scotland is expected to attract a lot of literary tourism to Edinburgh. Ryan Van Winkle, Book Week Scotland Author Ambassador, said: “One of the things I do whenever I land in a new country is to read books that are set there. To me it’s a really great way to get to know peoples voice, their history, culture and slang. In my first few months of living in Scotland I raced through Trainspotting and Alasdair Grey’s classic Lanark. You don’t have to travel to read a book, of course, it’s obvious, and the great thing about Book Week Scotland is that we will be traveling together in an epic celebration of literature.”

Last year 30,000 school pupils in Scotland participated in the event. This year every Primary One pupil will receive three free picture books to encourage them to participate. That is 180,000 books that will be given out. There will also be 120,000 copies of Treasures to go out to the public. Treasures was a campaign set up after the success of last years Book Week Scotland. It invited Scots to submit a piece of writing about the item they hold most dear.

Primary One Children enjoying their free books during Book Week Scotland 2013 Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Primary One Children enjoying their free books during Book Week Scotland 2013
Credit: Scottish Book Trust

Many authors from around Scotland have also been participating in Book Week and sharing their love for reading and writing. Shari Low, popular fiction writer, said: “As a child I spent most of my time in the library. I just loved reading from a really young age and that’s stayed with me until now.

“That’s why I’m delighted to be a part of Book Week Scotland because I think that anything that inspires a love of reading for pleasure can only be a good thing, and I think that if we can inspire as many children as possible to read now then that’s something that will stay with them.”

Book Week Scotland 2013 will be running until December 1st. Treasures is available to pick up in libraries, independent bookshops, Waterstones branches, Visit Scotland Tourist Information Centres and more. Click here to search for events in your area.

Man Hunt After Gun Drama At Airport

Benjamin Bland

Police have launched a man hunt after gunshots were fired at a house near Edinburgh airport.

Initial reports were received at 9:30pm on Monday. An investigation started immediately resulting in the closure of the A8.

The road was closed for 12 hours in both directions between Newbridge Roundabout and Edinburgh Airport to allow forensic officers to carry out a detailed search of the area.

Police have said that no one was injured but have appealed to the public for any information.  There is increased anxiety after it was confirmed that the police were not treating the incident as a random act. There has been some speculation that the shots were an attempted gangland hit on a local convicted fraudster.

Police Scotland Superintendent Matt Richards said: “This incident took place close to one of the main routes to and from Edinburgh. It is always busy with passing traffic. I would appeal to any member of the public, either locally, or who may have been passing through Ratho Station at or around 9.30pm last night and who saw anything to contact us urgently.

It is imperative that we trace the individual involved in this incident, which thankfully did not result in any injuries. The consequences of a weapon being discharged in the manner which happened last night may have been extremely serious.

“Anyone with any information can contact the 101 Police number or Crimestoppers, in confidence, on 0800 555 111.”

Edinburgh Evening News

Traffic chaos near the airport.            Credit: Edinburgh Evening News

Air passengers faced disruption due to the road closure as they struggled with heavy traffic and diversions as they attempted to catch their flights.

Many took to twitter to express their frustration with one disgruntled traveller commenting:

“Due to incident on A8 arrived at 6:02am, bag check in closes 6am. No leeway. V upset.”

The quick response by police was reflective of heightened security in Scotland after the attempted terrorist attacks in Glasgow Airport in 2007.

Superintendent Richards said : “Uniformed officers are in the area to provide extra patrols to support the local community.”

Cauldhall open cast mine plans are given the go-ahead

By Rachael Bell and Lisa Moir

Image source: M J Richardson

Cauldhall Moor
Credit: M J Richardson

Yesterday elected members agreed to approve an application from Hargreaves Surface Mining Ltd for a huge opencast mine at Cauldhall Moor in Midlothian.

Durham-based company Hargreaves took control last year after the collapse of Scottish Coal. The mine will see 10 million tonnes of coal excavated over 10 years. The site will cover 500 acres of land. Restoration will be expected to take around two and a half years.

Councilor Owen Thompson, chair of the planning committee, said: “We are putting in strict conditions and have guarantees in place on the restoration of this land once mining has been completed. This will be a phased development, with each area mined and restored before the company moves onto the next area as the project progresses and that gives us some peace of mind over the future restoration of the site.”

The new mine is expected to directly employ 230 people with a further 114 people expected to be employed by related businesses. The economic benefit has been estimated at £475million.

Local residents have formed an opposition group called Stop Cauldhall Opencast.The protest group beleives the decision is a travesty to the Scottish and Local Planning Policy.

Alison Johnstone, a member of Holyrood’s economy and energy committee and Green MSP for Lothian, said: “The impacts on local communities from this proposal, such as noise, dust and heavy traffic, are completely unacceptable.

“Scotland has already failed its first two annual climate targets so more fossil fuel is the last thing we need, and we’ve seen landscapes across Scotland scarred by opencast being abandoned by companies that go bust.

“Hargreaves plan is contrary to the local plan and the council’s economical development strategy.”

Prior to the meeting yesterday the council received 293 complaints about the proposal and a petition of 500 names against the opening of the new mine.

Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform Launch Manifesto

Image Source: Bonnet

Lord Kirkwood. Credit: Bonnet

 

By Andy Little.

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum came together in Edinburgh on Thursday  13th November to support the launch of the Scottish Campaign on Welfare Reform. The group is a coalition of key third sector organisations from across Scotland.

The Campaign put forward five key reforms which amounts to a new approach to social security.they seek to increase benefit levels to ensure that no one is left in poverty. Make respect for human rights and dignity a cornerstone for a new approach to welfare. Radically simplify the welfare system. Invest in the support needed to ensure that everyone is able to participate fully in society and make welfare benefits work for Scotland.

Chairman, John Dickie said:

“The current approach to social security is not working. We have seen the rise of foodbanks, rising rent arrears and we need to rethink the overall approach to social security.”

Maggie Kelly the co-author of the manifesto said:

“Simple things can reduce poverty such as paying people benefit that raises them out of poverty”

Keynote speaker Lord Archie Kirkwood (Liberal Democrat) praised the role of the  third sector as an important pressure group for change. Lord Kirkwood said:

“There is massive value in working together, policy makers need to hear from the voluntary sector”

He was also critical of the Department of Work and Pensions. Kirkwood said:

“The Department of Work and Pensions is in a state of turmoil, the information technology for universal credit will never work for low income families and the sanctions regime potentially labels everyone a scrounger. That cannot be allowed to continue”

Shiela Gilmour, Labour MP and member of the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee sounded a note of caution when she referred to the cost of reform. Gilmour said:

“The cost has to be discussed it’s not just a  safety net but we must have that debate not just a wish list.”

Jamie Hepburn the SNP MSP and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament Welfare Reform Committee said:

“I welcome this manifesto for an important contribution to the debate and an important opportunity to imagine a different type of Scotland”

Nobody from the Conservative Party attended the event.

The Department of Work and Pensions was not able to respond to a request to comment.

Anger as Council Bosses Approve George Street Changes

23George_Street,_Edinburgh

By Fraser Ryan

Edinburgh City Council bosses have been criticised over plans to implement a twelve month trial to turn George Street into a one way street.

The Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Committee have angered fellow councillors and members of the public by deciding to approve a trial one way system in George Street. The plan will see the pavements in George Street extended to accommodate street events, as well as introduce a two-way cycle route.

Plans to implement the same plans on Princes Street were rejected, meaning the street will remain two-way during the initial twelve month trail period. It is unlikely any alterations will be made to Princes Street until the Trams are operational by May 2014.

Joanna Mowat, a city centre councillor and Conservative transport spokeswoman, said it would be “foolish” to introduce the system, and called it one of the worst schemes she had “ever seen in local ­government. We are flying in the face of what the architects of the city wanted, what businesses want, what pedestrians want and what cyclists want,” she said.

Gordon Henderson, spokesman for the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, said that its members felt they had been “comprehensively ignored”.

According to a poll conducted by the Federation, only 35% of people supported the move, while 27% were in favour of splitting the bus services between the two streets.

David Porteous, a senior council official who authored the report, defended the council’s decision, saying “Respondents were sceptical about the benefits of introducing a one-way system to the city centre, arguing that traffic would be displaced if no ­developments in alternative transport provision or better linkages between other parts of the city were provided.”

Edinburgh Festival Gets New Director

ferguslinehan01

The Edinburgh International Festival has today announced it has appointed a new artistic director. Fergus Linehan, the former director of the Sydney International Festival as well as fomer Head of Music at the Sydney Opera House, will take over the role in October. He succeeds Jonathan Mills, who has been in charge at the festival for seven years.

Mills will step down after the 2014 festival, but Mr Linehan will work part-time as director designate from 1st May this year. He will step up to the role full-time from October 2014, which will mean 2015 will mark his first festival as director. He will remain in charge at the EIF until at least 2019.

Under Mr Linehan the annual turnover of the Sydney International Festival almost doubled, rising from $12m to $20m between 2004 and 2009, thanks to a rise in ticket sales, funding, and sponsorship.

Speaking of the appointment, Linehan said “I am delighted and deeply honoured to have been appointed as the next director of the Edinburgh international festival. I look forward to safeguarding the founding principles of the festival in ways which are engaging and relevant to all.

“Successful festivals respond to both place and provenance to create a unique identity and this is particularly true of Edinburgh, the pre-eminent festival city. It is with this in mind that I will begin the exciting work of developing my plans and ideas for 2015 and for future festivals”

Mills had previously faced criticism over his festival programmes, which some critics claimed were lacking in homegrown talent.

Edinburgh’s Lord Provost Donald Wilson also welcomed the appointment, saying “Fergus brings new skills, intellectual rigour and a highly successful track record to the Festival and the city.

“Having previously lived in Edinburgh and worked with companies visiting the city he is familiar with what the city can offer its residents as well as visitors and artists from around the world. I look forward to welcoming him back to Edinburgh and Scotland’s creative and vibrant cultural life.”

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop, added ‘The Edinburgh International Festival has a worldwide reputation for excellence and innovation. In bringing together exceptionally talented artists from nations across the globe, it helps to celebrate and promote Scotland’s rich culture and heritage on the world stage and strengthen our links with other countries. I welcome Fergus Linehan’s appointment as Director and wish him every success in the role.’

“League games more important than Cup Final” – Pat Fenlon before Dons clash

Hibernian manager Pat Fenlon spoke to our sports reporter Joe Birchenall ahead of his sides fixture tonight at Easter Road. Fenlon’s charges face Aberdeen, a side who they have not beaten in the league since May last year. However, Hibs face the Dons on the back of a thrilling Scottish Cup semi-final win against Falkirk, which saw them claim a 4 – 3 victory despite finishing the first half three goals down. Fenlon, however, is keen to push on and to focus on remaining league games, saying he is disappointed to have finished outside of the top six.

Fenlon also discusses the breakthrough of youngsters Alex Harris and Danny Handling, his reaction to Neil Lennon’s SFA woes and the imminent departure of Hibs top scorer Leigh Griffiths.

Independence Risk for Scottish Banknotes

3411120241_4129783ec3_o

SNP plans to keep the pound in the event of Scottish independence have been dealt a blow, with a Treasury report set to indicate that a currency union could lead to the end of Scottish banknotes.

The Scottish government has proposed plans to retain the pound as part of a “sterling zone” with the rest of Britain if Scotland votes in favour of independence. But the Treasury will claim that Scottish independence would “fundamentally transform” the Bank of England’s role in Scotland.

Experts have warned that the Scottish government would need to reach an agreement over Scottish banks rights to issue their own notes. If such an agreement wasn’t reached, it could lead to Scottish notes losing their value, or being rejected altogether, elsewhere in the U.K.

However the SNP have maintained that there is no threat to their plans to keep the pound, dismissing dears that it would affect the situation with Scottish banknotes as “scaremongering”.

A spokesperson said ““The existing situation relating to Scottish banknotes will remain in place within a post-independence currency union.”

SNP MP Stewart Hosie this morning hit back at claims that the value of Scottish notes might be affected, telling the BBC “Every single Scottish note in circulation is fully covered by assets held by the Bank of England, which guarantees its value. That wouldn’t change under independence.”

The debate comes after Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign, voiced his concerns about SNP plans to the Scottish Labour conference at the weekend. Adressing the conference in Inverness, Mr Darling said that nationalist arguments for currency “fall apart” when questioned, claiming that the government was being “evasive” over the issue.

He said “In the last 12 months alone, they have gone from being in favour of the euro to using the pound, to now saying they will have a currency union. In order to keep the pound, the nationalists now say we would have to enter in to a currency union. Yesterday Nicola Sturgeon was saying that of course within a currency union you could do what you want, there would be no constraints, you could spend money on what you want. That is utter nonsense.”

Which currency should an independent Scotland use? Have your say in our poll on the issue.

Scottish History told in Stitches

close up

by SandrZüllig and Louisa Clair Anderson

More than 500 volunteer stitchers from practically every area of Scotland are involved in what will be the Great Tapestry of Scotland.

This huge community arts projects, which began in Autumn 2011, aims to create a series of over one hundred and forty panels that tell the key stories in Scottish history – everything from Duns Scotus to Dolly the sheep. The tapestry is set to be finished by August this year and will be displayed in the Scottish Parliament in September, before going on tour in Scotland and abroad.

The Great Tapestry of Scotland is the brainchild of one of Scotland’s best-known writers, Alexander McCall Smith. The 44 Scotland Street author, together with historian Alistair Moffat, and the artistic talents of Andrew Crummy, not to mention stitchers from all over Scotland, form a team set to produce the world’s longest tapestry. Writer Alexander McCall Smith says that “the recording of events, both great and small, on cloth is nothing new. The most famous example, of course, is the Bayeux Tapestry, which is one of the world’s best-known works of art. More recently, the completion of the Prestonpans Tapestry in Scotland has reminded us of just how effective this method of narrating history can be. When I saw that tapestry for the first time, I was struck not only by its beauty but by the story behind its creation.”

The numbers behind the Great Tapestry of Scotland                                               stitcher

49, 50,000 sewing hours (equivalent to sewing 24 hours a day for 6 years!)

30 miles of woolen yarn (enough to lay up and down Ben Nevis 37 times!)

12,000 years of Scottish history

Over 500 stitchers

Over 140 panels

1 beautiful tapestry depicting the entire history of Scotland!

Keep up to date with the final spurt of the Great Tapestry of Scotland on Facebook.

NHS urges famillies to get MMR vaccinations

NHS Lothian

Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh (Photo: Tom Freeman)

In light of the measles epidemic in Wales and the threat of imminent spread to the rest of Britain, NHS Lothian has highlighted the importance of MMR vaccinations. In a press release from the NHS, families are urged to ensure that they are protected from measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).

Gareth Colfer-Williams, 25, died on Thursday at his home in Swansea, the city at the centre of an epidemic of the disease. Further investigations are being undertaken by the Swansea coroner to establish the cause of death. However, the risk is still high for those who have not had the two MMR vaccinations.

NHS Lothian has admitted that a significant number of Lothian’s teenagers and young adults are considered at risk from measles, mumps and rubella, as they may not have completed or started the course of the vaccine as a child. NHS Lothian is now offering the MMR vaccine to teenagers in schools and through their GPs.

Professor Alison McCallum, the Director of Public Health and Health Policy at NHS Lothian, said:

“Measles, Mumps, and Rubella are preventable by two doses of the MMR vaccine and I would urge all parents to ensure that their children are fully protected from these three diseases. We are now offering the MMR vaccination as part of the school immunisation programme and hope more of our young people will take up the opportunity to protect themselves.”

She said it is now crucial that the course of the vaccine was finished, or in some cases, that young people began the course. Professor McCallum added: “We hope that parents and young people realise that it is never too late to be protected against these diseases.”

Measles is a very infectious virus that causes a fever, cough and rash but can also cause serious problems including blindness and encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Mumps can also cause fever along with painful swollen glands in the face and neck and can result in permanent deafness. Rubella is a milder infection but if caught during pregnancy it can cause serious damage to the unborn child.

For an updated timeline on the MMR autism fraud story from journalist Brian Deer, go to: http://briandeer.com/solved/bmj-wakefield-timeline.htm

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 440 other followers