Appeal after pigeon left on bus in homemade wooden box

The driver found the bird when his vehicle arrived in Dumfries on Wednesday.

The pigeon had been left inside a homemade wooden box. Contributed via Scottish SPCA
The pigeon had been left inside a homemade wooden box.

A pigeon has been found in a homemade wooden box on a bus.

The driver of the bus – Wednesday’s 5.20pm Edinburgh to Dumfries 102 Stagecoach service – found the bird when the vehicle arrived at its destination.

The pigeon was not tagged and the Scottish SPCA is now appealing for information about the owner.

Animal rescue officer Sheena MacTaggart said: “The pigeon, which has distinctive white and brown plumage, was discovered in a homemade wooden box with a blue handle.

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“Unfortunately the bird doesn’t have any rings we could use to identify an owner.

“We’re hoping that this is just a case of someone being a bit forgetful, rather than anything intentional, and we can reunite this pigeon with the rightful owner as soon as possible.

“In the meantime, the bird will be cared for at one of our animal rescue and rehoming centres.”

Anyone with information can contact the Scottish SPCA on 03000 999 999.


Sturgeon: I’ve never been so certain independence will happen

The First Minister addressed delegates at the virtual SNP conference on Saturday.

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First Minister: Nicola Sturgeon addressed delegates at the virtual SNP conference on Saturday.

Scotland is a “nation on the brink of making history”, Nicola Sturgeon declared, as she insisted the country’s people have the “right” to choose their own future in a second independence referendum.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vetoed SNP calls for a fresh vote on the issue, the First Minister has said she hopes another ballot could be held in the early part of the next term of the Scottish Parliament.

The question is set to dominate next May’s Holyrood elections, with Sturgeon’s party using the campaign to step up their demands for another referendum.

Recent opinion polls have suggested that a majority of Scots now support the country becoming independent.

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And Sturgeon, addressing the SNP annual conference, told party activists that “the people of Scotland have the right to choose their future”.

She stated: “Scotland is now a nation on the brink of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.”

Her comments on unity came after SNP MP Joanna Cherry used an interview with the Times newspaper to hit out at the “cult of leader” in the party, insisting it is damaging to “put all your faith on one person”,

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Cherry said a “more collegiate leadership” style is needed, as she also criticised the “no debate mentality” as being “really unhealthy”.

The MP said: “It’s an unfortunate tendency in modern political discourse, which I’ve labelled #nodebate.

“It typifies a small minority in my party and has bled through from the debate about reform of the Gender Recognition Act, to include alternative plans for an independence referendum. I think it’s very unhealthy and I don’t think it represents the majority view in the party.”

SNP leader Sturgeon said that, in order to win independence, the party must “reach out to all of Scotland like never before”.

Speaking at the start of the online event, she said: “Let us demonstrate, with cool heads and patient persuasion, that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations.”

Support for independence has risen to become the “sustained and majority view in public opinion this year,” Sturgeon said.

And she stressed that, while the “primary focus” must currently be on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, “Scotland must also be ready for what comes next”.

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She told the conference that Covid-19 had “taken thousands of lives” and “upended our society”, with businesses and the economy “severely” damaged.

But she claimed that with independence Scotland could have a “resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart” and would be able to “protect and invest in public services like our NHS”.

Sturgeon continued: “We can overcome poverty, inequality, and we lead the way in tackling the climate emergency.

“The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this – who should be taking the decisions that shape our futures?

“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”


‘Puppy farms’ raided with 80 animals taken into care

On Friday, officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire as part of an operation targeting the low-welfare puppy trade.

Police Scotland
Police: Officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire.

Police and the Scottish SPCA have seized 80 animals as part of an operation targeting the low-welfare puppy trade.

On Friday morning, officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire following a multi-agency briefing at Kilmarnock police station.

Dogs, puppies, cats and kittens were seized in the search.

A spokesperson from the Scottish SPCA said: “This raid was part of Operation Delphin, a multi-agency taskforce set up to tackle the low-welfare puppy trade. 

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“Investigations are ongoing.”

A force spokesperson said Police Scotland is “absolutely committed” to  disrupting those involved in serious and organised crime in Scotland.

They added: “The low-welfare trade of animals is just one example where criminals seek to profit from the misery of others.

“Thousands of puppies are born into the illegal puppy trade each year. Many are kept in horrendous conditions, are often removed from their mothers too early – causing distress, harm and health problems, all in the name of a quick profit.

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“We work closely with a variety of organisations to detect and disrupt illegal activity.”

If you have any concerns about the welfare of animals in your area, call the Scottish SPCA’s confidential helpline on 03000 999 999.

For more information on the campaign against the illegal puppy trade, click here.


Cash-strapped Waverley counting the cost of the pandemic

The iconic paddle steamer is facing a cash crisis after the coronavirus pandemic took a toll on takings.

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The Waverley paddle steamer is preparing to take the down season off, berthed on the banks of the Clyde. 

The past year has taken its toll in every way, with cancellations, crashes and a cash crisis. 

Earlier this year, £2.3m was raised to make the vessel operational again, but restrictions delayed work to replace the boilers and funnels. 

This year’s season only lasted for two weeks, meaning its owners can’t afford the annual maintenance costs of £500,000.

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Paul Semple, from Waverley Excursions, said: “In a normal season, Waverley will carry 100,000 passengers. This year we were less than 6,000.

‘That was how much [the coronavirus pandemic] reduced our business and therefore reduced our opportunity to earn sufficient funds to maintain Waverley through this current winter. 

“We’re into our normal winter refit period, where there’s routine maintenance but that is highly costly and we need to raise £500,000 in total.”

In September, the paddle steamer collided with Brodick pier on the Isle of Arran, with 24 people injured in the incident.

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As a result, the ship now needs major repairs, however the cost has been covered.

“Waverley will receive a new bow when she’s dry docked and the cost of that will be met by insurance, it is not part of the appeal monies to fund the bow repair,” Paul added.

If the money isn’t found to cover the annual maintenance works, then the vessel will miss its dry dock timetable and next year’s season could be cancelled.

Author and historian Iain Quinn believes the Waverley should be saved, especially as next year marks 75 years since the ship was launched. 

“The Waverley is a priceless, tourist gem, she’s a real piece of gold and I firmly believe she should never be destroyed,” he said.

“Once you lose this, there will never be another opportunity. That’s it gone. 

“It will be assigned to a quay wall somewhere and it won’t be the same.”

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If the cash is raised in time, owners hope it will mean the Waverley can survive under her own steam once more.


New walk-through coronavirus testing centre opens up

The facility is based at Fleming House car park in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

A new walk-through coronavirus testing centre has opened in North Lanarkshire.

The facility, based at Fleming House car park in Cumbernauld, is part of a drive to continue to improve the accessibility of Covid-19 testing for local communities.

The centre, which is easily accessible for people without a car, is being operated by Mitie on behalf of the UK Government.

Gabe Docherty, director of public health at NHS Lanarkshire, said: “The public health department continues to contact-trace positive cases and clusters in our community and this addition to the UK testing provision is welcome.  

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“I want to thank the public for their cooperation in reducing spread of the virus and ask that they please remain vigilant. 

“The general measures to minimise the risk of Covid-19 remain the same – face coverings, avoid crowded places, clean your hands, two-metre distance, self-isolate and go for a test if you have symptoms.  

“Please do not hesitate if you have symptoms. It’s critical that you go for a test and this walk-in centre is a very welcome addition to our testing capacity.”

Tests must be booked in advance. Click here or call 0800 028 2816.


Shift in tone won’t hasten return of football fans

The SPFL's public letter to Nicola Sturgeon marked a change in tack for the league body.

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Fans have only been allowed to return on a very limited basis so far.

Looking over the border and drawing comparisons has never been a productive pastime for Scottish football fans, though it’s as old as the game itself.

Comparing level of play, standards of player, transfer fees or TV deals, there’s rarely a fair or accurate way to weigh up the two and never widespread agreement on conclusions reached.

This week, attention turned to supporters and the decision by the UK Government to “give the green light” to fans returning to stadia in England.

The scale of the return is limited but it prompted a change in tone for the discussion in Scotland about supporters being back in the stands and what, or who, is the barrier to progress.

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In the vast majority of grounds, doors have been closed since April with games played in front of empty seats. Test events were held and took place without any major problems or identified outbreaks of coronavirus. So the obvious questions in recent months have been “When will fans be back as a matter of course?” and “When will they be back in substantial numbers?”.

The Scottish football authorities have been keen to know the answers to the unknowable for some time but on Wednesday the Scottish Professional Football League stepped things up a gear, writing to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon requesting a meeting. Citing the English example, they wanted a meeting “at any time, day or night” to discuss a timescale.

The letter was signed by SPFL chief executive Neil Doncaster but, as he’s fond of saying “The SPFL is the member clubs” and there’s little likelihood he would be turning up the pressure in public if he hadn’t been urged to do so in private.

Doncaster’s urgency is understandable. The prolonged absence of supporters deprives clubs of their main source of income and will have grave consequences if it continues without end. The chief executive said that “failure to get fans back in the very near future will sound the death knell for some of our best-loved clubs” and he was only echoing what clubs have said themselves for some time.

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Government has been in discussion with football’s governing bodies since the start of the crisis but this new approach was a direct appeal to the top.

It varied in style from a strident ‘Let me speak to the manager’ (“If the First Minister refuses to allow football fans all over Scotland to watch their beloved teams… she will have to explain to them the clinical difference between Scottish fans and English fans”) to a more persuasive ‘Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope’ (“You alone have the chance to put a much-needed smile on the faces of millions of Scottish football fans”).

Neither plea made a difference.

Though it’s understood no written response has been received by the SPFL following their formal request for a meeting, national clinical director Jason Leitch addressed the issue when standing alongside the First Minister at Wednesday’s daily briefing.

“We are cautious but we have a route back for fans,” he said.

“The route back for fans is lower levels (of coronavirus) – and lower levels rely on prevalence in the community.

“We understand the nature of the football business and we need to both support that financially but also support it to get that revenue back for them.

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“But not at the expense of prevalence, hospital admissions and death.”

Loud and clear. Whether it’s letter from the league, or tweets from clubs, it’s unlikely to move the Scottish Government one way or the other. Public health guidelines, whether you agree with them or not, won’t be shifted to any great degree by lobbying in this case.

If exchanging Christmas gifts indoors is at the outer limit of what’s considered permissible but still risky, then exchanging insults with rival fans in the stands isn’t going to jump up the pecking order any time soon.

The following day, Minister for Sport Joe Fitzpatrick doubled down on the position, saying there was “no immediate prospect” of an increase in the numbers allowed in grounds in Tier 0 or Tier 1 areas, and “no plans” to allow fans in at all in the higher tiers.

Given the widespread warnings about the difficulties in reducing the numbers surrounding the virus, it’s no surprise that an opening of the gates has been so quickly dismissed.

The prospect of an ongoing lock-out, and a slow, incremental return affects more than the league clubs.

The Scottish FA moved the showpiece games from the climax of last season’s Scottish Cup to October and December in the hope the pandemic would have passed and some ticket sales would be permitted but the cup final will be played in an empty Hampden next month. In addition, the governing body will be keen to see the Tartan Army return to the national stadium for March’s World Cup qualifier.

UEFA are monitoring differing situations across Europe as they prepare for the delayed Euro 2020 finals and there’s growing realisation that full houses across the board are unlikely.

Everyone is affected by the current situation, which makes the SPFL’s decision to go it alone and dial up the rhetoric all the more surprising.

The announcement of the changes down south were the trigger for Wednesday’s public letter but brought out the acute concerns that are being felt across the country.

Demanding comparison and explanation is unlikely to smooth the path for an improvement in the situation though.

The rejection of their public move will be sorely felt by the 42 SPFL clubs but as they ponder their next step they may well consider part of the detail of Leitch’s comments.

“We need to both support [football] financially but also support it to get that revenue back for them,” he said. The dire situation that Doncaster described does need a response and it may be that dialogue over further financial support is needed before changes allow the stands to fill again.


Unis in plea for ‘reliable’ funding in Scottish budget

Universities Scotland said this week's UK Government Spending Review failed to set out clearly how much money will be available.

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Unis: In plea for reliable funding.

Next year’s Scottish budget needs to deliver a “reliable, sustainable funding settlement” for universities to help with the country’s recovery from Covid-19, a representative body for the sector has said.

Universities Scotland said this week’s UK Government Spending Review failed to set out clearly how much money will be available for higher education north of the border via either additional money announced for research or the Shared Prosperity Fund.

With the end of the Brexit transition period also looming at the end of December, the organisation stressed the 2021-22 Scottish budget will be “critical” to higher education.

Professor Gerry McCormac, the convener of Universities Scotland and principal of the University of Stirling, said the draft budget – which will be unveiled by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes early next year – must make “rapid progress towards sustainable funding of every Scottish-domiciled student”.

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He added: “If that cannot be achieved in one leap, we look at least for complete reversal of the £750 per student real-terms erosion in funding since 2014-15.”

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has already estimated the higher education sector will face an overall deficit of £176m in 2020- 21.

It has estimated the public funding of university teaching in 2018-19 was £157m below the full cost of providing this – with university research only funded at 80% of cost.

Prof McCormac stressed “Scotland’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will be education-led”.

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He said: “We owe it to our young people to provide maximum support and ensure they have the best educational experience possible in the years ahead.

“To do this, universities need to recover from the financial shock and receive a reliable, sustainable funding settlement from the Scottish Government.

“We are ambitious for Scotland and want to fully contribute to the recovery but the next budget from the Scottish Government will be critical in terms of addressing the major gaps in higher education funding.”

Prof McCormac said it is “regrettable that with only days to go” until the the full impact of Brexit is felt when the transition period ends, universities

“still have no clarity over our future research relationship with the EU, nor do we know if we will be members of the Erasmus student mobility scheme”.

He added: “Whilst we welcome the commitment that all EU funds will be covered, the lack of detail around the Shared Prosperity Fund is of concern.

“The value of university research has never been more evident than during this pandemic.

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“We need further progress towards research being funded at full cost so that Scottish universities can continue the world-leading research and innovation that will build a sustainable recovery.”

He added: “As we move out of the deep crisis caused by the global pandemic, we need to rebuild our capability to create more jobs, enhance social services, restore living standards and build an even more inclusive society.

“Investment in universities does that.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The lack of clarity from the UK Government about whether there will or will not be a deal with the European Union and the lack of clarity about EU-related funding in this week’s UK Government Spending Review creates significant uncertainties for our universities and colleges.

“We remain clear and consistent in our position that we expect full replacement of EU funds to ensure no detriment to Scotland’s finances and we expect the UK Government to fully respect the devolution settlement in any future arrangement.

“We know our universities and colleges face significant challenges as a result of the pandemic and we are working closely with them to mitigate the effects of the crisis.”

He added: “Our Further and Higher Education Sustainability Plan highlighted the steps we have taken to support higher education, including allocating £75m to protect world-leading research and £10m for estates development.

“The Scottish Funding Council works closely with institutions to monitor their financial health.

“We are grateful to Universities Scotland for their thoughts on the funding needs of the university sector.

“This will help inform our thinking in relation to the needs of the university sector as part of the 2021-22 Scottish budget.”


Cat seriously injured after being ‘shot with air weapon’

Borders police have launched an investigation into the incident in Walkerburn.

SNS Group via SNS Group
Appeal: If you have any information, call the police.

A cat has suffered life-changing injuries after reportedly being shot with an air weapon.

Borders police have launched an investigation into the incident, which is believed to have happened between 9pm on Wednesday and 6.30am on Thursday in Walkerburn.

The 12-year-old pet was found by its owners on Peebles Road.

Constable Scott McIntosh said: “This was a sickening act, which has left the cat in a serious condition. 

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“Our thoughts are with its family at this time and we are carrying out enquiries into the matter.”

If you have any information, call 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.


Sturgeon: Scotland a nation ‘on the cusp of history’

First Minister will open her party's annual conference by telling activists she has 'never been so certain' the country will achieve independence.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Sturgeon: To speak at SNP conference.

Nicola Sturgeon will declare Scotland is “now a nation on the cusp of making history” as she insists the SNP’s goal of independence is “in clear sight”.

Scotland’s First Minister will open her party’s annual conference by telling activists she has “never been so certain” the country will achieve independence.

Her comments will follow last December’s “landslide victory” in Scotland in the UK general election, in which the SNP won 48 of the 59 available seats.
Since then, several opinion polls have suggested a majority of Scots are in favour of leaving the UK.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly said he will not allow another referendum on Scottish independence to take place, Ms Sturgeon said a majority for her party in next year’s Holyrood election should enable such a vote to happen.

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On Thursday, she said a referendum could be held “in the earlier part” of the next parliamentary session.

She added while the country is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she is now “more hopeful” this will end soon.

Sturgeon will tell the conference, which is taking place virtually because of coronavirus: “Scotland is now a nation on the cusp of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and with unity of purpose, humility and hard work I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.

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“The people of Scotland have the right to choose their future. Let’s now focus all our efforts on making sure we bring about that better country they and future generations deserve.”

The SNP leader will say support for independence among Scots has now “risen to become the sustained and majority view in public opinion”.

She will tell delegates: “While our primary focus must remain on eliminating Covid-19 from our shores, for which we have renewed hope, Scotland must be ready for what comes next.

“And I know we will be.”

The First Minister will add: “Our country has so much talent and potential. We can build a resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart.

“We can protect and invest in public services like our NHS. We can overcome poverty, inequality and we can make our contribution to tackling the climate emergency.

“The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this: Who should be taking the decisions that will shape our futures?
“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”

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She will urge her party to “reach out to all of Scotland like never before” and say the SNP must “demonstrate with cool heads and with patient persuasion that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations”.

Her opponents said Sturgeon should focus on the fight against Covid-19.
Scottish Labour constitution spokesman Anas Sarwar said: “This proves that Nicola Sturgeon only has one priority – dividing the people of Scotland.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, when people are losing their jobs and saying goodbye to loved ones, it is insulting that she wants to focus on independence.”

Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK Scotland in Union group, said: “What people want is a unity of purpose, humility and hard work from the Scottish Government to get us through the coronavirus crisis.

“Issuing a rallying cry for independence when people across Scotland are struggling with the devastating impact of the pandemic is therefore deeply insulting.

“The next few years must be all about recovery from coronavirus, and that should be the entire focus for the Scottish Government.”


More than 30 travel fines issued in week under Covid rules

The force served 33 fixed penalty notices across eight of its divisions in the week running up to November 25.

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Travel ban: Police issued 33 fines in one week.

Police Scotland have issued more than 30 travel fines over a week for breaches of coronavirus restrictions.

The force served 33 fixed penalty notices across eight of its divisions in the seven days running up to November 25.

Nine of these were issued in Lothian and Borders, eight in Greater Glasgow and eight in Lanarkshire.

Police Scotland said the figures are indicative and may be higher.

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The remaining eight notices were split across Tayside division with three, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde at two and one each in Ayrshire, Forth Valley and North East.

More than two million people across 11 council areas were moved to the toughest level four on Friday November 20.

Another ten local authority areas were put into level three.

Fines start at £30 but rise to £60 if they are not paid within 28 days.

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Repeat offenders can face penalties of up to £960.

The Scottish Government introduced the new travel laws as a means to prevent the spread of the virus.

They cover western and central parts of Scotland.


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