Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2017-18: A tale of enviable good news concealed by BBC Scotland

Criminal Proceedings in Scotland, 2017-18, contains several pieces of evidence suggesting progress in Scotland which Humza Yousaf’s equivalents in the non-Scottish parts of the UK would sell their grannies for, yet ignoring the above dramatic good news and many other trends reported below, Reporting Scotland found a way to extract and construct a bad news story out of this extensive report:

Yesterday, Jackie Bird told us:

‘Almost 80% of people jailed in Scotland received sentences of less than a year according to new figures. That’s despite government plans to ask courts not to impose such short prison terms and instead use community sentences such as unpaid work.’

You see how they did this. They decided that all sentences up to 12 months, rather than those up to 3 months were ‘short sentences’, found less progress there and snuffled out this wee truffle they could selectively foreground:

Of course, we cannot see what proportion of those sentences were in the 6 to 12-month range. Do we actually want those reduced? Are they short sentences at all? Not to my mind, they’re not.

The report is 106 pages long and stuffed with other headline-worthy news, all ignored. Here’s my extract:

Handling offensive weapons:

Oh how, the ministers in London, England and Wales would drool over the above. Of course, RS would feel able to just report the last year and ignore the unwanted trend. You’ll remember many other times when they have preferred the longer view just to get a bigger headline percentage.

Overall convictions trend, still ongoing:

Convictions for crime continued to fall steady in the years since the SNP came to power. Multiple factors will be contributory, but the government of the day and its policies must take some of the credit just as, surely, they’d take any blame.

Average length of sentences:

The average length of sentences goes up and this is good news because it means fewer and fewer are going to prison for minor offences especially where violence is not involved. The average is now based on a smaller number serving longer terms thus increasing it. This trend shows the Scottish system encouraged by the Scottish Government has learned the key lesson that very short sentences are both ineffective and often make things worse by exposing minor offenders to the malign influence of those who have committed more serious crimes.

Fewer younger people convicted:

Though convictions for all groups have declined over the last ten years, the decrease has been most dramatic for the youngest group (under 21) and, less so, for the second youngest group (21-30). This is, of course, particularly good news as these are the groups most likely to be involved in crime. Similarly, the rate for males has declined dramatically from 46 per 1 000 population in 2008 to 28 in 2017-18. The rate for females has declined from 8 per 1 000 population in 2008 to 6 in 2017.

Spread the real news!


Eradicating pupil illiteracy in Scotland

It is mid-morning at St Mary’s primary school in Alexandria, a bleak, post-industrial town north-west of Glasgow that often features on Scotland’s list of areas of multiple deprivation. In Margaret Mooney’s primary 1 class, 20 five-year-olds have gathered on the floor at the teacher’s feet, pretending to be trains. “Ch, ch, ch, ch, ch,” they intone, small arms circling wildly like the wheels of a locomotive.

Mooney turns the page of a giant, colourful book. “This is the one where you are allowed to be cheeky to the teacher,” she says, pointing to the letters “th”. “What sound do they make?” The children stick out their tongues and blow through their teeth, before dissolving into giggles. “Cheeky, cheeky children,” says Mooney. “Let me see how cheeky you can be.”

They are too young to know it, but the children in Mooney’s class are part of a remarkable experiment, one that has proved so successful that it is being held up as a model for education authorities across the world and has caught the eye of Britain’s new prime minister. Gordon Brown has been taking a keen interest in events in West Dunbartonshire, and has held talks with Dr Tommy MacKay, the educational psychologist who pioneered the scheme.

Back in 1997, MacKay persuaded West Dunbartonshire council to commit itself to eradicating pupil illiteracy in its schools within a decade. This year, it is on track to reach its target, becoming what is thought to be the first local authority in the world to do so.

When the project was launched, West Dunbartonshire had one of the poorest literacy rates in the UK, with 28% of children leaving primary school at 12 functionally illiterate – that is, with a reading age of less than nine years and six months. Last year, that figure had dropped to 6% and, by the end of this year, it is expected to be 0%. In all, 60,000 children have been assessed, and evaluations show that children now entering primary 3 have an average reading age almost six months higher than previous groups. In 1997, 5% of primary school children had “very high” scores on word reading; today the figure is 45%. Across the UK, it is estimated that 100,000 pupils a year leave school functionally illiterate.

Synthetic phonics, where children learn to sound out the single and combined sounds of letters, has been at the core of the scheme but it has not been the only factor. A 10-strand intervention was set up, featuring a team of specially trained teachers, focused assessment, extra time for reading in the curriculum, home support for parents and carers, and the fostering of a “literacy environment” in the community. “The results we have now are phenomenal,” says MacKay.

When he approached the council with his proposal, he was not sure what response he would get. “I sent a letter to the director of education. It was one of these things you expect to find they are interested in, but will put in the bin. What I was saying was: why not try doing something that has not been done anywhere before in the world? You could eradicate illiteracy.”

His letter coincided with a decision by the Scottish executive to offer funding packages for early intervention in literacy and numeracy. What made West Dunbartonshire different from other authorities launching literacy projects at the time was that it wanted a cradle-to-grave system that involved the entire community.

“What we were looking at doing had never been done in the world before, bringing about inter-generational change in a whole population,” says MacKay. “We deliberately built in things other people weren’t doing: vision, profile, commitment, ownership and dedication.”

The approach was two-pronged. First, a robust early intervention programme from nursery onwards reduced the number of children experiencing reading failure. Then, those who did fall through the net were caught in the later years of primary school and given the intensive, one-on-one Toe by Toe programme. “You pick up every one of them, and you blooter them with individual help,” says MacKay.

Lynn Townsend, head of service for education at West Dunbartonshire council, says the project would not have succeeded if they had not focused on the few falling through the cracks. “If we were to achieve our goals, we really needed to be doing something with them,” she says. “There used to be a sense that if kids had not got reading by secondary, there was no point in teaching them. That is no longer appropriate. Nobody gets left behind.

“We have seen dramatic results. Kids in primary 7 who could not read at all now can, and it opens the world to them. It means secondary school is going to be meaningful. It really does change lives.”

As new research has been done, new strands have been incorporated. “We started very much with the emphasis on synthetic phonics. That’s one strand now. We have a West Dunbartonshire approach now,” says Townsend.

Headteacher Charles Kennedy noticed the difference the scheme was making when he took up his post at St Mary’s school after working in another area. “I was struck by the level the children were at, the pace and the impact,” he says. “And also the way they were enjoying it. It’s vibrant and it’s alive.”

A key component has been parental involvement. “Research shows that middle-class kids have had thousands of hours of reading practice before they get to school,” says Townsend. “A lot of our homes just can’t or don’t do that.” A home support system was set up and regular parents’ evenings held to introduce them to phonics. Nursery children are given a startpack with reading materials to prac tise at home.

Officials say that often during the parents’ meetings, one or two will approach staff and admit that they can’t read. They are advised about where they can find help and support.

MacKay hopes the project’s success will have far-reaching implications for West Dunbartonshire as a community. “We believe that, ultimately, we are looking at a stronger economy, lower crime rates and a lower prison population.”

Townsend believes the scheme has worked because there was a collective determination to see it through. “We stuck to our principles. When the funding was reduced and stopped by the executive, we maintained it,” she says.

Interest has been immense. MacKay has spoken about the project in countries as far away as South Africa, and a delegation from Dublin was in West Dunbartonshire at Easter. The Centre for Public Policy Research held it up as a model for other education authorities last year.

The new prime minister has been aware of it for some time. A spokeswoman for Brown confirmed that he had met MacKay and was “very interested” in the project. It is understood that they had several discussions while Brown was chancellor and that he was keen to know how the scheme might be rolled out across the UK.

“Many of our primary schools are in some of the most deprived areas of Scotland, yet they perform above the national average,” Townsend points out. “That is staggering. If you say from the outset, we are going to eradicate illiteracy in 10 years, which politician does not want to be part of that soundbite?”




Should BBC Scotland’s Graham Stewart resign as state broadcaster misses 100% success in critical NHS target performance? – Talking-up Scotland

Should I be flattered? In a rare communication since his former boss tried to have me sacked, a BBC Reporting Scotland reporter has had a go at responding to my recent piece on how a BMA study undermines their agenda on NHS targets. Here’s the TuS report:

Here’s one of Stewart’s three tweets in response:

Taking this as evidence of a principled position by our state broadcaster, why did they, then, miss one of the targets which NHS Scotland had met 100% and for the fifth year in succession? Could that be suppression of information?

Here is the one they conveniently missed:

The target is for 90% of patients to be screened within 365 days of receipt oi referral. Demand for the screening had gone up 5.36% since the last quarter yet 100% were screened within 365 days. The target has been met since in was first measured in 2015.

This is a quite significant and newsworthy target given that its failure to be met in England has had wider and shocking consequences for corruption in the NHS, benefiting the private sector and politicians and for related mental health conditions. See:

IVF failures create knock-on effects in women’s mental health

Failing to treat infertility can result in problems and further costs for the NHS in other areas. A Danish study of 98 737 women, between 1973 and 2003, showed that women who were unable to have children were 47% more likely to be hospitalised for schizophrenia and had a significantly higher risk of subsequent drug and alcohol abuse. See this:

IVF in England has become a licence to print money.

As we tumble toward a hard Brexit and trade deals with the USA allowing the private sector into the heart of the NHS, we can see how things will work out in the already privatised IVF service in England and contrast it with the state-controlled and regulated version, in Scotland. See this from the Guardian today:

‘Private fertility clinics routinely try to sell desperate patients add-ons that almost certainly don’t help – why isn’t more done to monitor the industry?  Around three-quarters of all IVF cycles fail. And results vary with age. Figures from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) published in March state the average live birth-rate for each fresh embryo transferred for women of all ages is 21%; for those aged under 35, it is 29% – the highest it has ever been. For older women, the picture is bleaker: 10% for women aged 40-42, for example. IVF is expensive. And what makes it worse, says Hugh Risebrow, the report’s author, is the lack of pricing transparency. “The headline prices quoted may be, say, £3,500, but you end up with a bill of £7,000,” he says. “This is because there are things not included that you need – and then things that are offered but are not evidence-based.”’

IVF in England has created opportunities for the private sector

In Tory-run NHS England, only 12% of boards offer three full cycles in line with official guidance. 61% offer only one cycle of treatment and 4% offer none at all. Private treatment costs between £1 343 and £5 788 per cycle.

Why some UK politicians would like more privatisation in the NHS

There are 64 Tory and Labour (New) MPs with ‘links’ to private health care. Why would we trust them to protect the NHS? See this:

Perhaps Stewart could pass this to the BBC Scotland Disclosure Team to investigate?

For more, see:


By David Younger

constitution we the peopleI attended the launch of the Scottish Constitution on 1st December in Glasgow. I have to say the attendance was disappointing but, in the light of my own views and those of many others, it was perhaps not surprising. There is a general feeling among supporters of the drive for independence that the constitution can be dealt with after independence – an opinion which, until Saturday, I shared.

The presentation by Mark McNaught was a compelling case for the adoption of a Scottish constitution – and at the earliest opportunity.

Let us consider the current situation. Only three countries in the world (four, if you prefer to think of Scotland as a separate country) do not have a written constitution. Every other country does and in the case of democracies, the rights of citizens to be protected from the excesses of their governments and their rights and freedoms are codified both nationally and internationally. We have no such contract with our government and this creates an effective vacuum where our rights as citizens are concerned. The rights we do have are not guaranteed in any way and only exist because no government has yet legislated against them. And such legislation is happening right now. Take the Investigative Powers Act just passed in Westminster. It is the greatest assault on the right to privacy in any democracy and would be patently unconstitutional in most other countries, but in Westminster, it goes through on the nod and without even a word in the media. There is no reason why further rights could not be stripped from citizens of what is increasingly becoming a fractious and ungovernable country.

There are also more serious long-term consequences for the overall functioning of government. The number of times the UK government has been taken to court over various actions it has taken – and lost – is staggering. But what happens as a consequence? The government changes the law to make the action in question legal. Job done. And no long-term legislation is considered. No planning for the future when, after all, any plans put in place by this government can be overturned by the next one. This gives us patchwork legislation, laws which are passed only when there is an immediate need for them, and passed often without parliamentary scrutiny or consideration for the knock-on consequences, while existing legislation – often archaic – simply lies on the statute books.

One of the more toxic consequences is a positively paranoid obsession with the concentration of power. Thus, with no constitutional guarantees , the powers of local authorities have been stripped to the point where there is no longer any meaningful local democracy. And, inevitably, there is conflict with the devolved administrations. With Northern Ireland effectively out of commission and Wales reduced to puppet status, this leaves Scotland, and the Scots are not taking abuse lying down.

In light of this obsession with power, it is perhaps inevitable that the UK government would want to remove itself from the EU. But Scotland doesn’t. Three quarters of us want to stay and many of us look to our own government to make that happen. The conflict comes to a head shortly and 29th March represents the point where any action we contemplate has to be put into effect.

So why do we need a constitution now, rather than at some time following independence?

Professor McNaught has made, in my view, an incontrovertible case for now rather than later. In the first place, we need a baseline protection for our right to self-determination including free elections without outside interference. This would make the process of holding a referendum considerably easier. Also, there are concerns on the part of supporters of the union – many of them “soft” supporters. These include suspicions that the SNP are trying to create a single-party state, and that old chestnut, pensions. In short, too many people want to stay with the devil they know rather than take a chance with the devil they don’t know. With no written constitution, people are no more confident of their place in an independent Scotland than they are now. Supporters of independence should not dismiss these concerns lightly – they matter deeply to those who hold them. If effectively addressed, their votes in favour of independence are what will take us comfortably over the finishing line. Constitutionally guaranteed rights can go a very long way toward creating confidence and ultimately support. In effect, having a baseline constitution in place can weaponise our campaign in what promises to be a very messy battle ahead.

For those who still think that the constitution can wait until after independence – that it has no value in the present campaign – there is a further matter to consider. When Scotland becomes an independent country and does so without a written constitution, we become vulnerable to outside interests, corporate in particular, which can subvert or derail our attempt to create the state that we want for ourselves. Currently we have considerable protection in the EU but, even if we continue our membership seamlessly after independence, we are still only protected under EU-wide legislation which covers only fifteen percent of all legislative areas. Furthermore, that protection is only courtesy of the constitutions of other member states. We need our own constitutional authority to be in place on the day of independence in order to maintain our freedom to design the country we want to live in.

Professor McNaught has carried out a huge amount of work so far but the constitution is not something to be handed down from on high. It is the will, the rights and the aspirations of the people of Scotland – a sort of instruction manual, if you like. With that in mind, the Constitutional Commission are asking everyone to become users on the website, propose amendments, raise individual concerns and to comment on any specific matter which they have an interest in, to literally help develop the law. I implore everyone to get involved, you don’t need expertise and all comments and submissions are given equal consideration. The end result will define the kind of nation you and I want to live in and bring up our families. It is the key to our future.

The principal question now is how we encourage the Scottish government to unambiguously adopt this constitutional platform, so it becomes THE governing structure in an independent Scotland. Like other Scots, elected officials have never lived under a codified constitution and so, few appreciate its value and power. However, all can be convinced if the right arguments are advanced. Your job as citizens in a democracy is to read and understand the constitution and the rights it confers and contact your MSPs, speak with them and convince them of its importance for the future of Scotland. This will also help to bench test the democratic mechanisms that will make this constitution function.

Time is short. Please visit the site, add your own comments as you wish. Express your own concerns. And, please contact your MP, MSP and any party activists that you know.

Spread the word!

Scotland, It is Time

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By Jason Michael

SOON IS A RELATIVE TERM when we discuss the fortunes of nations. No doubt the Irish republican rebels of 1798, even after their defeat and as they stood on the scaffold, said to themselves: Soon Ireland will be free. What we can endure, what we can achieve in our lifetimes is limited by our allotted three-score and ten years. Our lives are short. Soon to us is forced by our mortality to be immediate. But this urgency is lacking when we talk of the nation. We can say that soon Scotland will be free, and this is true – soon Scotland will be free, but it remains just as true that we may never live to see it. I believe, and in fact think it a certainty, that Scotland is moving unstoppably towards independence, but whether or not that will happen soon – relative to me – comes down to our actions in the here and now. What we do or fail to do can hasten or delay that inevitability.

On Hogmanay a friend, an independentista podcaster, got in touch to plan a road trip around a number of Yes groups. He told me that a mutual friend, a fellow blogger, was in the doldrums. As you will well know, bouts of depression – as in the low ebbing of optimism – are par for the course in political activism. Our friend is “losing faith.” He’s finding it hard to believe Nicola Sturgeon will call an independence referendum. It wouldn’t comfort him to say that we will have independence, but that that might take a while. It has taken long enough.

Nicola Sturgeon has stated that if the UK Gov blocks a section 30 order for an Independence referendum we might hav……

THE BLACK SALTIRE#FBSI (@80_mcswan) November 22, 2018

We’re all feeling that pressure right now. I trust Nicola Sturgeon, but I’m old enough to realise she’s not a god. She’s not Scotland’s saviour. She may well prove to be an instrument of our salvation, but in real life – in national politics – there are no saviours. At some point, as a movement, we will have to grow up and stop looking for messiahs. We ourselves – Sinn fhèin – are the only ones who can save us, and in realising this we must renew the struggle for independence on our own terms; prepared to drink from our own wells – depend on our own reserves and resources – rather than lazily looking for a champion to come and save us. We are our own champions.

Brexit poses an existential threat to Scotland; not only to devolution – which is not and cannot be permanent, but to the present campaign for independence. London’s self-destructive determination to leave the European Union at any cost can easily lead to the end of devolution and a total state clampdown on independence, and we would do well to think on this seriously as a movement. Neither we nor our movement is invincible. The dream can end, at least for the foreseeable future. This is why Brexit – if we are to see independence in our lifetimes – has shifted the timescale of another referendum, it has made it urgent.

We are told and we have been led to believe that the devolution we have at Holyrood is or can be made permanent, but in legal reality this is a fiction. Westminster is the only sovereign parliament of the British state, meaning that the sovereignty the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland enjoy are but a measure of Crown sovereignty devolved by Westminster. In British law the Edinburgh parliament is merely exercising the power of Westminster by the grace of Westminster because its power is derived from that sovereign parliament. We may think that sovereignty in Scotland is derived from the people of Scotland, but this is not how our democracy works in reality. Our parliament is a limited Westminster in Scotland, and it operates according to the understanding of Westminster sovereignty and not Scotland’s.

Saying the Scottish parliament is “permanent” or that it can be made so are legal fictions. Westminster cannot cons……

Jason Michael (@Jeggit) January 02, 2019

“An Act of the UK Parliament might say that the Scottish Parliament is permanent,” writes Professor Mark Elliot, deputy chair of Law at the University of Cambridge, “but that will not necessarily make it so. This follows because, at least on an orthodox analysis, the UK Parliament is incapable of legally diminishing its sovereign authority.” This is true. Principally because the British parliament is sovereign, it cannot bind future UK parliaments to an imposed limitation of its sovereignty. Either a state parliament is wholly sovereign; able to enact any legislation and at any time, or it is not sovereign at all. In sum, Westminster can and will end Scottish devolution the moment our parliament poses a significant enough challenge to its own sovereignty.

Brexit fundamentally changes the playing field of 2014. Independence then would have inflicted serious damage on England, but membership of the EU and the benefit of European law would have secured our independence and provided for the economic basis both of Scotland’s survival and that of the rUK. Out of the EU, suffering the catastrophic cost of a no-deal Brexit, the English state simply cannot afford to function without Scotland’s resources. In such a context, then, Westminster will not and cannot allow Scottish independence. Any parliament in Scotland – like the Irish parliament of 1919 – that pushes for independence will be closed. And without a parliament in Scotland the movement for independence loses its democratic leadership and its natural focal point. Uncentred and unrepresented, the Scottish independence movement will be forced into the Irish dilemma – fight or die, and physical force against the British state is not an option.

There is a simple truth.

To stop Brexit in Scotland and across the rUK, Nicola only needs to announce her intentio……

Norma 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Learmonth (@Norrie30) January 03, 2019

Time is fast running out. On 29 March, eighty-five days from today, these conditions will be realised when the United Kingdom leaves the EU – and most likely without a deal. If we are to guarantee independence in our lifetimes, then the time to act is now. Nothing, of course, is impossible, but the likelihood of yet another opportunity like this presenting itself within the next fifty years is slim to none. We have a threefold mandate under the present conditions to call another independence referendum, and time on this is even running out.

The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, promised us that when the final details of Brexit were known she would revisit the question of a referendum. We know the final details of Brexit. More than this, we know the nature of the state that took us to the very brink of utter madness. Whether or not Brexit is an apocalypse, we now know we have a government in London that is eager and willing to take us right into the jowls of annihilation if doing that gets it what it wants. There isn’t going to be a reversal of Article 50. There won’t be another Brexit referendum or a “people’s vote.” There will be Brexit, and that will be the most chaotic and dangerous Brexit on offer. There is only one way out of this for Scotland. There is only one way to ensure the permanence of our parliament and democracy. It is time for us to do that. It is time for another independence referendum.

Brexit is Scotland’s Chance for Independence



Inchyra House in Perthshire, Scotland | House & Garden

Inchyra House is a beautiful Regency mansion overlooking the Ochil Hills outside Perth. I am sitting in the kitchen with Caroline Inchyra, her husband James, and her brother Tim. It is this enterprising trio whose energy is behind the renovation of the Byre, a magnificent farm building on the Inchyra estate, and the setting for some of the most romantic weddings in Scotland. It is also the location for the Inchyra Arts Club, which is rapidly gathering a reputation as a venue for music, comedy and theatre. The final third of the Inchyra enterprises is made up by Inchyra Designs, a range of uniquely aged linen that Caroline and James began producing before the Byre and Arts Club were born in 2014.

It was in the Fifties that James’s grandfather, Frederick Hoyer Millar, bought Inchyra, then described in Country Life as, ‘the most perfect small estate in Scotland’. Following a distinguished diplomatic career that included being in charge of the British Sector of Germany after the Second World War, and later in the Foreign Office, he was awarded one of the last hereditary peerages. He took the name of Inchyra for his peerage. After he retired, he set about improving the estate, planting thousands of trees andestablishing parterre gardens, and playing host to politicians including Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden.

The estate was passed over to James in 2001 and, a year later, he, Caroline and their three children left London, where James was working as the finance director for a record company, and moved to Scotland. In 2010, Caroline’s brother Tim, his wife Belinda, and their young children moved from Somerset to live on the estate, too. Tim, who had previously worked for the Countryside Alliance, became the estate manager. He is, according to Caroline, ‘essential to the running of the place, often going for weeks without leaving. He’s also a dab hand with a power tool’.

Today, Inchyra is a family home with a collection of horses, ponies and deerhounds that has grown relentlessly over the years. But it is a far cry from the days when, as Caroline says, ‘it was assumed that there would always be staff in the house to open the front door for you, so there was no keyhole on the outside’.

Never one to stand still for long, Caroline had set up an antiques business in 2005, which over the next few years fuelled one of her abiding passions. ‘I have always particularly loved old fabrics and I became obsessed with the idea of recreating the look and feel of old linens.’ A fortuitous meeting with Angus Nicol, the managing director of Peter Greig & Co in Kirkcaldy, the last major linen mill in Britain, gave her the ‘in’ she needed. Working with printers in Cheshire and finish-ers in Lancashire, Caroline has developed a range of uniquely aged fabrics that sit perfectly in period properties. It was named Inchyra Designs, and the first range was shown at Decorex in 2011.

Inchyra Designs now has a range of eight archive-inspired patterns in a range of colourways. It is stocked across Britain in shops such as J R Design and Spencer-Churchill Designs, as well as further afield. Caroline uses the basement at Inchyra as offices and a cutting room. ‘With no background in fabric or design, I really didn’t know what I was doing when I started,’ she admits. ‘Anyone sensible might not have begun, but I’m very proud of the linens we produce now.’ In 2012, events conspired to interrupt the progression of Inchyra Designs. ‘That year was something of a milestone for the family,’ James explains. ‘It saw our fiftieth birthdays, our twentieth wedding anniversary and our daughter’s eighteenth, and we had been in Scotland for 10 years.’ They decided to have a party. Having initially booked a marquee, it occurred to them that the old cattle byre behind the house might just make a great party venue.

The late-nineteenth-century barn is built from stone with timber roofing. But at the time it had yet to be renovated and was in a poor condition, full of farm implements, tractors and chickens. So they worked like Trojans to make the building watertight, going so far as to hold the roof up with posts behind the scenes that no one could see. Tim used a sledgehammer to break down the stable walls himself, and the space was transformed into an ideal setting for a dance. With a Friday-night ceilidh and a 190-seat dinner the following night, the party was a huge success. ‘A friend who was an events manager came to the party and suggested that the Byre would make the perfect events space,’ says James. ‘So we looked into it and realised that we had the potential for a great business sitting right there.’

Once the planning permission was granted by the council in 2013, the real work started, and it was miraculously completed on time and under budget. Nothing was touched that did not need to be, every slate and stone was reused and a reclaimed floor was laid. The entire roof was rebuilt by hand and Tim made benches out of the old roof beams, which are now used for weddings in the stable room; even the bar is made from the Byre’s old wooden walls. With its vaulted timber roofs, rough stone walls, original stone cattle troughs and the old sunken cattle court forming a unique central dance floor, the character of the old barn was retained, apart from the spanking new kitchens and loos at the back. In June 2014, politician John Swinney officially opened the Byre and they were in business.

More than a year on, the decision to put so much time and effort into the Byre has paid off: it is fully booked for weddings into 2017 and frequently crops up on lists of the best wedding venues in Britain. Meanwhile, the Arts Club regularly attracts artists from across the world to this little spot in Perthshire – from Gretchen Peters to John Cooper Clarke and Dougie MacLean. With these two enterprises fully established, James and Caroline are once again turning their attentions to the linen business and two new patterns are being launched at Decorex in September.

James, Caroline and Tim are a brilliantly balanced group, each bringing their own skills and strengths to Inchyra. James does the figures and anything technical; Tim has the horticultural and building knowledge; while Caroline takes care of the design and marketing. In addition, they share a love of music and the arts. The past few years have put Inchyra on the map and on a sound footing for future generations. As Caroline says: ‘Everything we do at Inchyra is about making people happy.’ Not bad for enterprises that came about as afterthoughts.


Make Scotland a Shelter

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By Jason Michael

IRISH POLITICS HAVE TAKEN a turn for the better in the last couple of years. England’s decision to leave the European Union and its rapid descent into social, political, and economic madness have effected a change in the Irish government that almost a hundred years of independence from England have failed to produce – strong and stable government. Those unfamiliar with the Irish parliament, Dáil Éireann, will not know the origins of its two main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Cutting a long story short, these two parties were the result of the Irish Civil War (1922-23). Much like modern politics in Spain after 1939, politics in Ireland over the past ninety-five years have been the working out of the continuing and the unresolved tensions of a serious civil conflict.

Ideologically, the pro-Treaty party (Fine Gael) and the anti-Treaty party (Fianna Fáil) are both centre-right parties, looking after the interests of the dominant social class of each faction. It is a long-standing joke among the other parties in the Dáil that they should bury the hatchet and become a single party, but memories are long on small islands, and the grudges held in families since 1923 have not exactly died. But before the Civil War both were powerful factions within Sinn Féin and fought the British together in the War of Independence (1919-21).

🎙️ Brexit has done something good for Irish politics. It would be a good idea for Scotland to follow this example.……

Jason Michael (@Jeggit) December 13, 2018

Brexit has, it seems, reminded them of their common enemy, and in the cause of the national good they have set aside many of their differences to work together to stop the chaos in England spreading to Ireland. The party in government in Dublin, Fine Gael, does not have a majority; a situation, which in normal times would be dealt with in the formation of a coalition, but has gained the support of its old enemy, Fianna Fáil, in a prolonged confidence and supply agreement. While I am not exactly a fan of either of these parties, it has to be accepted that their decision to work together has stabilised politics in this country to an extent heretofore thought unimaginable.

In short, Ireland has become a haven from the madness of Brexit. Ireland is culturally closer to England than many Irish people might like to admit, and its upper class has always been hand-in-glove with its English counterpart – the aristocracy. This affinity between the two nations, together with the degree to which both benefit from mutual trade with one another, means that Brexit could easily infect and destabilise Ireland. This has always been a fear, and something British intelligence has tried to exploit with the creation of troll farms dedicated to persuading Ireland to join the dark side and leave the EU.

Knowing this, the two main political parties have made the smart choice to circle the wagons and work with each other to protect the interests of Ireland. This unlikely alliance has strengthened Ireland not just internally, but has given the country a louder and more powerful voice in Europe and as a part of the European Union. Never in its history as a state has Ireland had more power over its former colonial master than it enjoys right now. The overt anti-Irish racism being spat out from various quarters within the British establishment demonstrates how much this change in Ireland frustrates a Britain than genuinely believes it is owed something from Ireland.

“The UK decided they wanted to go ahead with Brexit, so any agreement has to be between the EU & the UK, but bear i……

Dr. Jennifer Cassidy (@OxfordDiplomat) December 13, 2018

The plan is bearing fruit. It is making Ireland stronger and producing the sort of politics – or at least political stability – of which anyone would be proud. This is something Scotland can take and make its own. Dealing with Brexit is not easy for the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government. Everything they do is reactive – always responding to the chaos spewing out from London. The Scottish government is caught in a cycle in which it is constantly running about putting out the fires started by crazed Brexiteer pyromaniacs. But this doesn’t make for good politics. It makes for a seemingly endless state of emergency, a condition that is giving the Scottish people and the independence movement event fatigue. There is so much going on that people are becoming exhausted, and sooner or later an exhausted electorate will settle for anything for a bit of peace – and that would be a nightmare for Scotland and for independence.

Scotland and Ireland have much in common. They are countries of about the same size and population with a long history of English domination. When England wobbles, Scotland and Ireland quake. In both Scotland and Ireland, regardless of their social and cultural proximity to England, there is an acute awareness of the badness of Brexit. Both instinctively understand that it threatens the fabric of their society, and both are aware of the extent to which England is working to draw them in to the misery of its awful situation. Ireland, realising this, has begun the work of healing old divides in order to protect itself from becoming England’s toy again. Scotland, not so much.

Yet, even among Scottish unionists there is a growing wariness of Brexit and the impact it will have on our country. We have reached a critical moment – the end of the Article 50 negotiations – at which concrete steps must be taken to protect Scotland. It is time for greater national unity. We are one Scotland and we are quick to shout this slogan, but the divisions remain real and deep. It is time to put the well-being of Scotland first and begin the task of working together, across all divides, to save ourselves from the impending disaster that is Brexit. By making Scotland a shelter from England’s folly we give unionists the chance to see how dangerous union has become, and in so doing we give ourselves a better chance of voting Yes in the next independence referendum.

Nation Norway: discussion points


Livingston school praised by Education Scotland following recent report

Oglivie School Campus has been praised for its positive relationships between children and staff.

The Livingston school, which specializes in education for school for primary pupils with significant social, emotional and behavioral needs, received praise in a number of areas following a recent routine inspection by Education Scotland.

Inspectors highlighted a number of key strengths including a strong sense of community across the school led by the energetic, open leadership style of the acting headteacher, positive relationships between children and staff leading to children feeling safe and cared for, ably supported by advanced pupil support workers, teachers provide learning experiences which are engaging and motivating for children and strong partnerships with parents and other stakeholders.

Read more: West Calder library receives prestigious award

Headteacher Liz Speirs said: “We are very pleased to have received such a positive report.

“There are a number of areas to work on and I can assure parents and carers that every member of staff will continue to work towards improving the school for each and every one of our pupils. The relationships between our team and our pupils is very special to us and we are delighted that Inspectors have highlighted this as a key strength for the school.

“I’d like to thank all members of staff, parents, partners and the wider school community for the part that they have played to help achieve a positive learning environment for our fantastic pupils.”

Read more: Work completed on new £1 million West Lothian nursery

Executive councillor for education, David Dodds, added: “I’m delighted to see so many important strengths in this report for Ogilvie School Campus, and I’m particularly impressed with the school’s success in involving parents, carers and families.

“Positive relationships between parents and teachers are necessary to establish a firm foundation, enabling the school to focus on learning and improving the school.

“By creating an excellent environment for learning, I am confident that parents and teachers at Ogilvie can further develop pupils and partnerships.”

Inspectors also recommended that the school continues to review approaches to promoting positive behaviour and raises attainment and achievement.



Best Winter Breaks in Scotland

As the autumn leaves are turning and we delve into the cosy depths of winter, here’s our pick of the best winter breaks in Scotland to pack a book, turn off your phone and relax.

If you want to try out the latest Scottish wellness trend ‘Coorie’ (it’s Scotland’s answer to hygge…) then Callekille is a good place to practise it. Up on Applecross Peninsula on Wester Ros, Callekille is a white washed croft cottage, just 50 yards from the beach with some of the best views in Scotland across the Inner Sound of Raasay to the Isle of Skye. Interiors are cosy cottage chic at its finest with Farrow and Ball walls and oak flooring. Get out in the great outdoors and settle in at the nearby Potting Shed for dinner in the evening.

Read our full review of Callakille

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Jura Lodge

Another west coast beauty for pure Instagram gold is Jura Lodge. The interiors are the brainchild of Bambi Sloan and they’re an eclectic mix of drums for coffee tables, antlers on the walls, a suit of armour and some elaborate lighting fixtures. The drinks cabinet is fittingly well-stocked and there’s even an excellent whiskey distillery next door. There’s plenty of coastal walks right on the doorstep and plenty of wildlife to look out for, before you return to Jura Lodge for a relaxing soak in the free-standing tub.

Read our full review of Jura Lodge

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Loch Ossian Youth Hostel

For an incredible Scottish winter break that won’t break the bank Loch Ossian Youth Hostel is a winner. You’ll find it on the west coast of Scotland by Fort William, surrounded by the spectacular Munros. It’s so wonderfully remote that you can only reach it by foot. It’s around a 20-minute walk away from Corrour train station. Loch Ossian Youth Hostel is entirely wood-clad, and its eco-friendly credentials are high with hydro power and solar power and a reed bed system for composting toilets. For a completely soul restoring experience rent the whole place out with a group of friends and go off grid for the weekend.

Read our full review of Loch Ossian Youth Hostel

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If you’re after a Scottish castle with a spa, then Isle of Eriska is perfect. And if we didn’t have you at Scottish castle with a spa, then the wildlife will seal the deal, here there’s tonnes to spot, from soaring golden eagles to grey seals and cute otters all on the hotel’s 300-acre private island. There’s 34 bedrooms in total with the most luxurious coming with their own private hot tubs. Don’t miss the spa and its 17-metre heated pool, steam room, sauna and jacuzzi.

Read our full review of Isle of Eriska

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If you’re looking for a slightly quirkier place to stay, then Ecopod Boutique Retreat could be your place. Located in the middle of a lush Birchwood forest, the Ecopod Boutique Retreat is made up of two 750-foot light filled domes, which may have a tent like structure, but are about as far from a tent as you can get. You’ll be greeted with a luxurious food hamper, there’s a state-of-the-art 60s style kitchen, an outdoor wooden hot tub and cosy touches like the sheepskin rugs. Location wise, it’s just 15 miles from Oban with brilliant views of Castle Stalker and Loch Linnhe.

Read our full review of Ecopod Boutique Retreat

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Broad Bay House

Seven miles north of Stornoway, on the completely magical Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides sits Broad Bay House. It’s home to four well- appointed bedrooms and a huge glass sided communal area, with vaulted ceilings a warming fuel stove and the most incredible views of the ocean, which stretch right to mainland Scotland on a clear day. It’s only a short walk down to the sandy shores of Broad Bay itself, where if you’re lucky you can spot seals and basking sharks.

Read our full review of Broad Bay House

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Shieldaig Lodge

The gorgeous Shieldaig Lodge in the Highlands sits within a 26, 000-acre estate right on the peaceful waters of Gairloch and is a 19th century gem of a place to stay. Think roaring log fires, leather chesterfields, snug lounges and lashings of tartan. Your stay can be as action packed (there’s everything from sea kayaking to pony trekking to gin tasting on offer), to as relaxed as you like (board game and a pick from one of the 300 whiskeys anyone?). On the food front there’s a firm focus on delicious home grown produce, local game and seafood, which you can tuck into while looking out on a backdrop of epic Highland landscapes and Sheildaig Bay.

For more information visit Shieldaig Lodge

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The Net Store

The Net Store in Ardheslaig in the Highlands wouldn’t look out of place on Grand Designs with its floor-to-ceiling apex window looking out over Loch Beag, its central wood burner, gleaming pale oak floors and its minimalist vibe. Jaw dropping views continue upstairs, where you can see the starry night sky, or the mountains from the Velux windows. Everything here is finished perfectly from the immaculate high-tech kitchen to the white-marble bathrooms. Sink into a designer armchair or brave the cold and take a wild swim it the loch if you dare.

For more information visit The Net Store

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The Woodshed

Pack your most Scandi-chic knitwear and take your loved one for a romantic break at the Woodshed, which is a welcoming timber-clad cottage, looking right out over the Pentland Hills. Throw open the French windows and soak up the views, take hikes, tuck into homemade scones and come nightfall hop in the outdoor hot tub under a starry night sky. Bliss. Rates start from £78 per night, so you won’t feel out of pocket and if you want to mix in some culture to your trip, Edinburgh is only 10 miles away.

For more information visit The Woodshed

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Investing in Scotland’s future

A significant cash injection to health and care services and funding to help prepare Scotland’s economy for Brexit are at the heart of the Scottish Government’s spending plans for the year ahead. 

The 2019/20 Scottish Budget, published today, proposes an increase of almost £730 million in health and care services. This includes additional revenues generated by tax decisions that mitigate the shortfall in NHS funding promised by the UK Government.

Unveiling the spending plans in Parliament, Finance Secretary Derek Mackay also announced more than £180 million to raise attainment in schools.

The budget includes more than £5 billion of capital investment to grow and modernise infrastructure – including a new £50 million Town Centre Fund to support the future of our high streets.

Real terms increases in funding for local government, education, health and the police will support the transformation of our public services to meet new challenges, while investment in skills, social security and training will help ensure we deliver opportunity for all.

The Scottish Government will continue to deliver on its commitments to end homelessness and tackle child poverty, while investment in culture is also protected.

Mr Mackay also confirmed that the Scottish Government’s tax policy will ensure 55% of income taxpayers in Scotland will pay less than people earning the same income in the rest of the UK, while continuing to raise revenue to support investment in the economy and public services.

Mr Mackay said:

“This is a budget of stimulus and stability. It delivers for today and invests in tomorrow and does so with fairness, equality and inclusiveness at its heart.

“It provides an increase of almost £730 million for our health and care services, invests more than £180 million to raise attainment in our schools and gives a vital boost to our economy through a £5 billion infrastructure programme.

“As a result of these decisions, we have been able to invest in essential public services, particularly the NHS, while ensuring 55% of income taxpayers in Scotland pay less tax than those earning the same income in the rest of the UK. Taken together with the personal allowance, 99% of taxpayers will pay less income tax next year on the same income.

“This budget delivers the public services, social contract and economic investment people expect while mitigating, where we can, the impacts of the UK Government’s policies of austerity and Brexit that are causing so much harm.”

Assessing the impact of ongoing uncertainty around the UK’s exit from the EU on this year’s budget, Mr Mackay added:

“Our spending plans for 2019-20 include a commitment to mitigate the risks of Brexit as best we can, to enable our economy to thrive in any circumstances, now and in the future.

“It is disappointing that we are facing the prospect of having to revisit these plans in the event of a chaotic no-deal outcome. If leaving the EU can be avoided, those resources currently being directed towards essential preparations can be reinvested into our public services and economy.”

The 2019/20 Scottish Budget includes:

See more from @ScotGov on Twitter, and follow #ScotBudget for updates.