Archive for the ‘Stuff about Life in the North’ Category

Highland LGBT Forum and Same-Sex Marriage


Although I cannot find online references, the Highland LGBT Forum is reported to be organizing a public seminar with representatives from local churches to discuss ramifications of any introduction of same-sex marriage legislation.

As far as I can see, only one question need be asked: would those who in disagreement with same-sex marriage be forced to marry someone of the same sex?

Caithness Councilor Charged With Electoral Irregularities


I should like to see an unelected upper chamber continue. Not necessarily… well… definitely not with hereditary positions or Church of England bishops, and possibly not life-long. The principle, however, of people who have – in theory, at least – done something with their lives acting in an oversight capacity appeals to me.

No more so when I consider the career trajectories of many MPs and, increasingly, MSPs. Having gone from university political unions, they then get an internship (assuming mum and dad can bankroll them) or are employed in some MP’s office. From there it is onto PPC (preferably in a safe seat), and then Spad status and work their way up the greasy pole of party machinations to get a weighty cabinet position. If they are unlucky enough to be voted out and, in the case of MPs, have upset the system so much that they cannot be elevated to the Other Place, they will take advantage of a generous severence/relocation fee and hope for consultancies or well-paid sinecures in quangos or NGOs.

Like a neo-aristrocracy, they have become so separated from the wider public, that I only can hope that they are being scrutinized by a group of individuals with actual life-experience and who are not another bunch of hacks on the make. Although the House of Lords was established and had its powers strengthed at a time when this country did not follow a social democractic model, it was established to keep in check any selfish and personal interests of the House of Commons.

Part of the currency pushed by the SNP was that they were an antitode to old politics, and could be seen as men (sic) of the people. Then Alex Salmond’s oleaginousness became more and more turgid as what once was seen as the cheeky resourcefulness of the underdog became more and more like recklessness and making-it-up-as-he-went-along.

Candidates in the 2011 Holyrood elections who had not expected to get in, came through during the landslide; and soon the senior leadership were dealing with publicity disasters like Bill Walker or plain embarassing behaviour like that of David Torrance.

At the admittedly milder of this scale was successful candidate for Caithness Landward, Alex Macleod. After winning an internship with Alex Salmond’s office, he went on to work on the Rob Gibson’s 2011 Holyrood campaign in which Gibson secured the Warren’s constituency seat. To continue his rapid rise, he attempted to secure a local council candidacy in the Tain area where he is from, but when this failed was placed as candidate for Caithness Landward; which he won in May 2012, albeit on the seventh round of counting for STV.

From there he sallied forth into several weighty council and ex officio positions, and started touting himself for PPC Holyrood candidate with Gibson’s backing.

During the council campaign, complaints were raised against Gibson’s constituency office for swinging the lead regarding expenses claims which, on analysis, were seen to be promoting Macleod and sitting Wick candidate, Gail Ross. The day after the local elections, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body decided Gibson had indeed breached the rules: although no real censure appears to have been applied, Gibson objected to reporting of this ruling against himself.

Shortly afterwards, a separate complaint was raised with the Police by an unnamed individual against a councilor assumed to be Macleod. His allocated campaign expenses had been £1226.04; and the stated reason included the non-filing of a hotel bill, with total allocated expenses coming to £88.43 below maximum.

It was stated at the time that almost £1,000 had been spent on newspaper ads and promotional leaflets, leaving little for other matters.

It is now being reported that Police have passed Macleod’s details to the Proculator Fiscal according to the Representation of the People Act (1983), something which did not happen following similar allegations against Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac Goldsmith.

Macleod has resigned forthwith from the SNP group, but not his seat. I am unsure of other completed investigations into electoral overspend (although a similar complaint has been raised against Perthshire Independent councilor, Alan Ward), but surmise that at the worst end, Macleod could be banned from public office for a finite period and a byelection necessitated.

Public Display in Thurso For Tesco Plans


After three years with no traction on their Thurso site, Tesco’s lease runs out on 17 January 2013. They are seeking another three years, and this week held a public display at their current store in Thurso.

I do not go in for reflexive Tesco-bashing. Anyone who remembers the dismal selection available in Caithness shops in the 90s cannot, in all seriousness (or, rather, would not, if they were being serious) bash a major co-operation with the money to spare which gives selections otherwise found at the end of a 200 mile round-trip. And, when criticism of Tescopoly with the inevitable call for Asda as the Prince Across the Water strikes as odd considering Asda is owned by that behemoth, Wallmart… but, c’mon, this is getting ridiculous.

State of Scottish Roads


Bad editing in the listing of Noel Donaldson’s column on regarding the state of public roads in the Highlands and Islands:

Highlands & Islands road safety campaigner and MSP, David Stewart has highlighted the fact that 61% of Scotland’s road markings are barely visible.

David Stewart said “ We have about 1030km of roads in Scotland and we are the worst in the UK when it comes to the visibility of road markings. 40% of markings on our motorways and dual carriageways need immediate replacement and there is evidence which supports the fact that clear road markings can reduce road collisions”

He continued “ The Scottish Government through Transport Scotland have signed up to the maintenance standard of markings on our roads, but clearly they are falling short. I will be writing to the Transport Minister to ascertain what plans the Government have for addressing this less than satisfactory issue”

Reading that as it was written, my first thought was… only 1030 km of road in Scotland? What are we? Iceland? Checking the North Star, I see that the 1030 km figure refers to the length of sub-standard roads which rank amongst the worst in Britain.

Grim stuff, all the same.

Whale Hunt in Thurso


Taken from the Northern Ensign, 27 June 1899.

In many parts of Caithness it was at one time a common thing, when any dispute arose as to the date of an event, to say that it happened in the year of the “muckle win”, or so many years before or after that event. That must, indeed, by the way have been a “muckle win” if one story told about it be true. A bower man was “winowing” corn, standing, as the old practice was, between two opposite open doorways, when the sieve was swept out of his hands, and never “lichtit” till it fell in the German Ocean, where it was subsequently found floating on the surface water. Henceforth, however, when any similar dispute arises in Thurso, in many ways (says out correspondent) be settled by saying that it occurred in the same year that the shoal of one hundred odd whales was stranded on the sands which, for the benefit of future generations, it may as well be here to state that it was on Monday, the 19th of June, 1899. According to common reports, shoals or schools of bottlenoses had been “knocking about” off our shores for a week or so previously, and about mid-day, on the 19th curt., one of them got quite close inshore. At first no one could hardly say whether their visit was anything more than an act of courtesy, but as soon as it became clear the shoal meant to stay, a number of small boats put out from the river harbour in order that their advent on our shores might be turned to profitable account. The occupants of the boats were armed with guns, sword-bayonets, knives, and any other weapon that could be got hold of. For several hours the whales continued swimming about, but never made any attempt to go to the open sea, and were, as the opportunity arose, knocked on the head one by one, or as many of them could be got at. This went on for hours, until the even, when favoured by the tide, they were driven on to the sands near the harbour. The greater number survived their arrival there for some hours, but gradually they were disposed of – their number when ultimately counted having been found to total up to 104. All next day and the day following they lay on the sands, and were visited by hundreds of people, as their capture had been visited by almost every man, woman, boy and girl – at least while the scene in the bay was taking place, a part of the Victoria Walk, the Esplanade, and many other places being crowded by people watching the (for this quarter) the novel sight of what is generally described as a “whale hunt”. On Thursday, Provost Mitchell of Montrose arrived here, and purchased the bottlenoses, and since then a large number of men, at 6d an hour have been engaged in taking the blubber off them, and otherwise preparing them for their future destiny, whatever that may be.

It is not, of course, bottlenoses as the article states but pilot whales. This would have been an understandable mistake as very few people would have seen a cetacean up close, and certainly not in these numbers. Their understanding of cetology would have been based around Chapter XXIII of Moby Dick.

Note also the well-dressed little boy, perched on the corpse of a whale. The idea of a child being allowed now so close to such a germ factory is unimaginable.

The scene on Thurso Beach still is immediately recognizable, although it is arresting to think of teams of men up to their elbows in whale guts working as the water ran red with their blood. I wonder if there still are trophies from this muckle win still in Thurso.

Buy a Fucking Shovel


The first frost in Caithness was yesterday morning (the last day of August), and the Mountaineering Council of Scotland has gone a’ Tweeting after the first snowfall of the year.

Do not worry. There still is time to buy a fucking a shovel.

Complaint to Police Regarding Caithness Councilor’s Expenses


It is being reported that a complaint has been passed to Police regarding expenses claims of a Caithness local Councillor during the May 2012 election campaign. Although not formally named, it is understood to be Landward councilor, Alex Macleod.

The complaint relates to Macleod’s non-filing of his stay at a hotel flat in Wick as part of his declarations which were £88.43 below the limit for his ward. As yet it is unclear if the first point of call were the Electoral Commission, which considered similar complaints against Conservative MP [and, admittedly, considerably more wealthy] Zac Goldsmith during the 2010 General Election.

Ultimately, Goldsmith was spared a Police investigation although he was admonished by the Electoral Commission for sharp practice. This is not the first time the question has has been of whether nor not Macleod’s expenses were made within the spirit as well as letter of the law.

Now 20, Macleod was the youngest local councilor elected in May 2012 when he made the rather grandiloquent promise that the Highland Council would “not know what hit it”.

Man Hit By Train Near Thurso


After three people were killed when the Thurso/Inverness train collided with their car at the Halkirk level-crossing on Bridge Street in 2009, general calls were made to secure the various other unfenced level-crossings across the Highland Region. This month Network Rail announced that work would begin, including a half-length barrier at Halkirk.

Whether or not the latest rail death near Thurso occurred at Halkirk, this cannot come soon enough.

Portland Arms, Lybster To Close. Again.


I wrote in May about the welcome return of the old coaching inn, the Portland Arms in Lybster. Now, the John o’ Groat Journal is reporting that after fewer than three months, the leaseholder, Andrew Bowles has announced that the doors will close on 24 September.

JoG reader, Donald Miller left the comment:

Mr Bowles has a long history of this even before coming to Caithness of taking over such businesses and then jumping ship after a very short period of time. I hope everyone associated with this latest foray has been paid.

Whilst I cannot speak for this, it is true that Bowles should have been aware that the leaseholder immediately prior to him had lasted only three months despite being reported to have had extensive experience in the hotelier industry. It raises the question of whether or not an adequate business plan was lodged.

Halkirk Man the Subject of an Amusing but Scientifically Inept Article


Former North Highland College lecturer and Open University co-coordinator, Ian Kinnaird has appeared in a number of national newspapers following his taking part in the Britain’s DNA project. At £170 or £200 a pop (depending on whether its a woman or man respectively, requiring only their mitochondrial DNA or mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome checked), anyone can send-off a sample of epithelial cells for analysis.

Kinnaird did so, and his paternal line was traced as far as Scandinavia. His maternal line, on the other hand, indicated a genetic marker – named L1B1 – which previously had been seen only in subjects from West Africa, and traced back to a female progenitor some 30,000 years ago and identified as on a direct line to another female progenitor from 190,000 years ago in Central Africa. (Calling her Mitochondrial Eve would suggest there is only one source for the mitochondrial lines, instead of the emerging acceptance that the mitochondrial lines are traced back to one of several early females humans. And speaking of more than one Mitochondrial Eves surely defeats the purpose of this analogy.)

All very interesting. My first thought was that, within the past two or three centuries, Kinnaird’s mother’s family had a female West African slave in its line. And this does originate in Merseyside, which would have been a significant entrepot for this human cargo.

Then the twaddle started with claims such as he was the grandfather of everyone in Britain. (In addition to repeating this, the Daily Telegraph also appears to have mis-labeled a photograph of Britain’s DNA founder, Alistair Moffat as Kinnaird.)

Hardly. They might as well call me my siblings’ grandfather.

Compared to that, the additional a priori failure shown by the Daily Mail was relatively minor. It described him as a descendent from the first woman on Earth.

Again, no. The Mitochondrial Eve hypothesis does not claim that the numera una ancestor was was the first woman to have lived. Merely the end-point of genetic tracings.

At least the Daily Mail used a correct photograph.