Only blue Skye thinking will keep rural Scots at home

Lack of infrastructure leaves rural Scots feeling they have no choice but to flee the Highlands and Islands.

STV News

Ailish Culbertson would love to make a life for herself on Skye, her home for all of her 21 years.

But she worries that inflated house prices, a fierce demand for property and a lack of career opportunities on the island are conspiring to snatch her dream away.

She’s not the only one – a group of young adults have formed ‘The Island Initiative’ in a bid to ensure issues such as housing, employment, culture and connectivity are at the forefront of future planning for Skye and its population.

Ailish, an early years practitioner at a local primary school, says: “There’s been talk amongst young people about the need for change and the fact we do need to step up and do something.

ADVERT

“We want councillors, MSPs and politicians to take a real serious look at the concerns of young people living here.”

Scotland’s rural areas have a lower percentage of people aged 16 to 34 than urban centres. Rural Scotland makes up 98 per cent of the country’s land mass, but is home to just 17 per cent of the population living across a huge geographical spread.

Key issues ahead of next month’s Scottish Parliament election include employment, transport and connectivity.

‘Connect us to keep us’

Traditionally there has been something of a ‘brain drain’ from the Highlands and Islands. Youngsters – feeling they have no choice – flee to seek opportunities unavailable to them locally.

ADVERT

West Highland College hopes to help change that by running online courses – launched ahead of the Zoom-shaped curve formed by the pandemic.

The college enables youngsters from schools across Ross, Skye and Lochaber to carry out apprenticeships online, such as working with tech firms to build websites. 

Pupils from the likes of Fort William, Gairloch and Skye are even doing virtual work experience with firms as far away as Canada, and recently ‘attended’ an online tech expo in Las Vegas.

Technology may have turned the world into their oyster – but it’s threatened by unreliable connectivity.

“I feel like politicians are always promoting opportunities that young people should have. Loads are leaving their areas to explore opportunities, but if we had better connectivity we could do it here,” says pupil Owen MacKenzie.

“I am interested in cyber security – people can work from home in virtual technology and companies are looking at that. The government needs to keep investing in broadband to allow this to happen.”

There’s a real feeling that in Scotland’s more rural areas, technology and tradition, the land and communities all interlink. People want to stay and live and work but it’s not always made easy. These will be key election issues across rural regions.

ADVERT

“People definitely want to stay here – work here, learn here,” says Fiona Grant from West Highland College. “But you can go a few yards and you are out of phone signal. 4G is what we need and fibre internet built in to communities so people come together at a hall, library or school.

STV News
Fiona Grant

“Those small hubs could become multi-use – for example, for crofters to fill in online forms they have to do. It’s essential for communities to thrive in the future.”

‘Complicated process’

Empowering communities to have more control at local levels is also vital for many people.

Five years ago, crofters Lynn Cassells and Sandra Bear set up Lynbreck Croft near Tomintoul.

When it comes to agriculture, they feel access to land for new farmers needs to be improved, to create local supply chains for food, with more local abbatoirs.

STV News
Lynn Cassells and Sandra Bear

“We accept there needs to be rules and regulations and parameters in which we work – that’s without doubt,” says Lynn. “But the process is incredibly complicated and difficult to follow – I have a Masters degree and I can’t complete half the forms. It can definitely be streamlined a lot more.

“You are the expert on your farm, but we are not always feeling that empowered to believe that.

“If we could bring more people back on to the land, working it more and producing more food in harmony with nature we would be addressing a lot of problems faced by communities.”

Back on Skye, Ailish says there are clear measures politicians can take to strengthen rural communities, which would benefit the regions for generations to come.

“There needs to be more support for young people to get on the property ladder, such as grants to be able to afford the current price of houses, or a cap on second homes and Airbnbs,” she says.

“Working at home in different ways to what we are used to has been what’s got us through this past year, so I think Skye needs to be provided with more sustainable alternative employment and diversifying away from not just relying on seasonal tourist work.

“Skye has an incredible rich history of culture and language but that can only be continued through the younger generations – if they are forced to look elsewhere for housing and employment there will be nobody to carry on the traditions.

“It’s our culture and heritage.”

What are the parties pledging?

Scottish Greens

  • Massive investment in public transport and to restore nature;
  • A new land reform bill will give communities a greater access and control over local assets.

Scottish Conservatives

  • Connect every home and business to full fibre broadband by 2027, starting with rural areas;
  • Recruit more teachers in rural areas;
  • A fair funding formula for councils;
  • Local Policing Act to give rural communities more say over policing;
  • Review closed train lines/stations.

Scottish Liberal Democrats

  • Thousands of new jobs and public services developed locally, building more diverse and growing communities;
  • Increase the range of jobs and careers available to people in rural areas;
  • Encourage colleges to become rural enterprise hubs, meeting local skills needs and supporting innovative new businesses;
  • Roll out super-fast broadband to support business growth, education and public services, in rural areas;
  • Start a new programme to locate civil service jobs and government agencies in remote locations;
  • Increase support for the NHS in rural areas to increase the number of skilled professionals living in those communities;
  • Take opportunities for major projects such as space ports to anchor new high-skill and high wage jobs in remote areas;
  • Increase biodiversity and restore peatlands to create scientific, technical and engineering opportunities in remote area.

SNP

  • Develop a Rural Visa Pilot as a rural and remote migration initiative;
  • Giving councils power to protect housing for people who want to live in communities;
  • New £20m Rural Entrepreneur Fund – providing grants of up to £10,000 to support the relocation or creation of 2000 new businesses;
  • Work with regional transport partnerships to reinstate or develop new railway branch lines across rural Scotland;
  • £25m fund to help drive a strong tourism recovery;
  • Deliver islands-focused activity through the Young Person’s Guarantee

Scottish Labour

  • Improve transport and connectivity to support new business and traditional industries;
  • Improve population retention through education, work and housing, and boost job opportunities for young people.

Election 2021: Live results as more seats declared

Final results due to be declared throughout Saturday.

Peter Summers via Getty Images

A second day of counting is ongoing across Scotland in the 2021 Holyrood election.

With the normal overnight count cancelled to ensure Covid safety, it will be later on Saturday or possibly Sunday before the final results are known.

The SNP have claimed 44 of the 53 seats declared so far, with results due for the remaining constituencies and regions over the next few hours.

You can follow all the results as they happen right here.

Constituency seat results

ConstituencyResults (Turnout)
Aberdeen CentralSNP HOLD (56%)
Aberdeen DonsideSNP HOLD (58.2%)
Aberdeenshire EastSNP HOLD (64%)
Aberdeen South
& North Kincardine
SNP HOLD (64%)
Airdrie & ShottsSNP HOLD (59%)
Angus North
& Mearns
SNP HOLD (64%)
Argyll & ButeSNP HOLD (68%)
AyrSNP GAIN (68%)
Banffshire
& Buchan Coast
SNP HOLD (56%)
Caithness Sutherland
& Ross
SNP HOLD (65%)
Clackmannanshire
& Dunblane
SNP HOLD (66%)
Clydebank & MilngavieSNP HOLD (70.8%)
Coatbridge & ChrystonSNP HOLD (63%)
CowdenbeathSNP HOLD (61%)
Cunninghame NorthSNP HOLD (64%)
Cunninghame SouthSNP HOLD (58%)
DumbartonLabour HOLD (68%)
DumfriesshireConservatives HOLD (66%)
Dundee City EastSNP HOLD (58%)
Dundee City WestSNP HOLD (57%)
East LothianSNP GAIN (69%)
EastwoodConservatives HOLD (76%)
Edinburgh CentralSNP GAIN (63%)
Edinburgh SouthernLabour HOLD (71%)
Edinburgh WesternLib Dems HOLD (71%)
Ettrick, Roxburgh
& Berwickshire
Conservatives HOLD (64%)
Falkirk EastSNP HOLD (63%)
Glasgow
Anniesland
SNP HOLD (58%)
Glasgow Maryhill
& Springburn
SNP HOLD (52%)
Glasgow PollokSNP HOLD (55%)
Glasgow SouthsideSNP HOLD (59%)
Greenock
& Inverclyde
SNP HOLD (63%)
Hamilton, Larkhall
& Stonehouse
SNP HOLD (61%)
Inverness & NairnSNP HOLD (64%)
Kilmarnock
& Irvine Valley
SNP HOLD (61.5%)
KirkcaldySNP HOLD (57%)
LinlithgowSNP HOLD (62.2%)
Midlothian North
& Musselburgh
SNP HOLD (61%)
MoraySNP HOLD (65%)
Motherwell and WishawSNP HOLD (59%)
Na h-Eileanan an IarSNP HOLD (66%)
North East FifeLib Dems HOLD (69%)
Orkney IslandsLib Dems HOLD (65.4%)
PaisleySNP HOLD (62%)
Perthshire NorthSNP HOLD (70%)
Perthshire South & Kinross-shireSNP HOLD (70%)
Renfrewshire North
& West
SNP HOLD (68%)
Renfrewshire SouthSNP HOLD (65%)
RutherglenSNP HOLD (63%)
Shetland IslandsLib Dems HOLD (66%)
Skye, Lochaber
& Badenoch
SNP HOLD (68%)
StirlingSNP HOLD (69%)
Strathkelvin
& Bearsden
SNP HOLD (72%)

Suspicious ballot paper seized by police at Edinburgh count

A suspected case of personation was reported in the Holyrood election in the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency.

Simon Lehmann via IStock
A possible case of personation is being investigated by police at the Edinburgh count.

A possible case of electoral fraud is being investigated by police at the Edinburgh count for the Holyrood election.

A suspicious ballot paper was seized after a would-be voter in the Edinburgh Northern and Leith constituency tried to vote, only to be stopped because someone had already cast a ballot in their name.

Candidates and polling agents were summoned on Saturday morning as counting got under way in Edinburgh to witness count staff and police attempt to track down the vote in question.

Depute returning officer Chris Highcock confirmed that the vote allegedly cast in someone else’s name – a crime known as personation – had been located and was being investigated by police.

ADVERT

The votes cast in another person’s name will still be counted in the final tallies in case it turns out to be genuine, Mr Highcock said, but it has now been removed and placed in an evidence bag should police need to test for fingerprints.

The person who was unable to vote would have been able to secretly write who they intended to vote for in a sealed envelope which could then be revealed in the event of a legal challenge or court case.

The potential case of electoral fraud occurred at St Serf’s Church in Ferry Road, Inverleith, on polling day.

Mr Highcock said: “In this case, it looks like someone has turned up pertaining to be somebody else and they have been issued with the vote having said ‘Yeah, I’m that person’.

ADVERT

“In cases like that, it’s important to the police because it’s a crime to pretend to be somebody else and get their vote.

“What happens then is that the ballot paper is traced, the ballot paper is taken out the box, it is put in an evidence bag and the police hold that and they do an investigation, to try and find out who it was and see what happened.”

He added: “Because it involves the ballot box, we’ve got to have candidates, agents and police there, so as we did that there were lots of people watching and it was in full view of any observers who need to be there.”

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Police have received a report of voter personation which occurred at a polling station in St Serf’s Church, Edinburgh.

“Inquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances surrounding the incident.”

The Edinburgh probe comes after police launched an investigation earlier into a report of possible electoral fraud in West Dunbartonshire.

Police Scotland said inquiries are ongoing into a report of voter personation at a polling station in St Patrick’s Primary School in Dumbarton.

Services cancelled as ‘cracks found’ on high-speed trains

Trains serving Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow have been affected, with some services delayed or cancelled.

PA via PA Media
Disruption: High-speed trains taken out of service.

Rail passengers are being urged not to travel after a number of high-speed trains were taken out of service after ‘cracks were found’.

LNER trains serving Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow have been affected by the issue on Saturday, with some services delayed or cancelled.

The Class 800 Hitachi trains were taken out of service as a “precautionary measure”.

Network Rail said some Great Western Railway (GWR), Hull Trains, London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and TransPennine Express (TPE) trains of the Hitachi 800 model were taken out of service.

ADVERT

Great Western Railway said cracks were detected on “more than one” Hitachi 800 train, so all 93 Hitachi 800s in their fleet are being inspected as a “precaution”.

A spokesman said: “There’s a crack that’s been spotted and as a result of that – as a precaution – we’re checking all the trains, and while that’s taking place it’s better that they’re not used.

“It’s been found in more than one train, but we don’t know exactly how many trains because the fleet is still being inspected.”

Asked how long the disruption will last, the GWR spokesman said: “It’s a question of how quickly the trains can be inspected – it’s highly likely that it will certainly persist through to the end of today.

ADVERT

“Once more inspection has been carried out we’ll have a better understanding as to whether that disruption is going to continue into tomorrow.”

The spokesman added that the issue is affecting long-distance journeys between cities, which are being refunded, but that suburban and rural GWR services are still running as normal.

A LNER spokesperson said: “A number of Class 800 series Hitachi trains from several train companies have been taken out of service today for checks as a precautionary measure. 

“This problem is being investigated by Hitachi and once trains have been checked, we hope to be able to release them back into service as soon as possible. 

“This could affect a significant number of our services and passengers are advised not to travel today.”

Mick Lynch, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said: “RMT is fully aware of the issues that have led to the cancellation of services on LNER today and that similar problems with cracks appearing in the fleet on Great Western are also emerging.

“Hitachi needs to ensure the highest safety standards and properly investigate and rectify the issues.”

ADVERT

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said passengers should not be charged extra in future to pay for repairs.

“It’s welcome news that railway engineering staff have found these cracks before they led to an accident,” he said.

“This rolling stock must not be allowed back into service until we are 100% certain these trains are safe.

“It’s important to point out that the affected trains are relatively new, in which case the manufacturers should foot the bill for any repairs, not passengers or taxpayers.”

Hitachi Rail has apologised for the disruption caused.

A spokesman said: “We are working with all partners to resolve this issue as quickly and safely as possible.

“We would like to offer our sincerest apologies to passengers for the impact this may be causing for their travel plans.”


Lib Dems candidate misses election count to give birth

Aude Boubaker-Calder is being induced at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy on Saturday.

LDRS
Scottish Lib Dems: Aude Boubaker-Calder has had to miss the Holyrood election count.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats candidate for Dunfermline has apologised for being unable to see the result in person – because she is in hospital about to give birth.

Aude Boubaker-Calder, who is married to Fife councillor James Calder, is being induced at the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy on Saturday after reaching the 42-week milestone without any signs of arrival.

In a statement, she said: “I was hoping to be able to be present during the results on Saturday but our little bundle of joy has decided otherwise and I will need to be induced this weekend as I am reaching the 42-weeks milestone.”

Boubaker-Calder had been due to give birth to her child around a week before the election.

ADVERT

Speaking around three weeks ago, she said: “I’m expecting a child in the next couple of weeks – we don’t know what it is yet.

“It’s really important to me that I am engaged, as a feminist, in politics because the issue of women in politics is so important.

“We’ve seen accounts of women working in politics and motherhood at the same time – just look at the prime minister of New Zealand [Jacinda Ahern] who was in exactly the same situation as me.”

The count is currently ongoing for Dunfermline at Glenrothes’ Michael Woods Sports Centre.

ADVERT

By local democracy reporter Jon Brady


Ballot counting to resume as SNP majority hangs in balance

The SNP currently have 39 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Election: Counting set to resume on Saturday.

Counting is set to resume in the Scottish Parliament election on Saturday, as an SNP majority hangs in the balance. 

On Friday 48 of the 73 constituency results were declared, with the SNP taking 39 seats, Liberal Democrats four, Conservatives three and Labour two.

The SNP picked up key seats in Edinburgh Central, Ayr and East Lothian.

However under Holyrood’s proportional representation system, those successes could see the party lose out on the regional list which make up the remaining 56 seats.

ADVERT

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, traditional overnight counts were abandoned in favour of a longer counting process over a number of days to allow for social distancing. 

The SNP need 65 seats to achieve an outright majority in the Scottish Parliament, and if successful, could see the party call for a second independence referendum. 

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday that she would offer Scots “the choice of a better future” in a second independence referendum “when the time is right”.

Seat-by-seat results (After 48 of 129 seats declared)

  • SNP – 39
  • Lib Dems – 4
  • Conservatives – 3
  • Labour – 2
  • Greens – 0
  • Other – 0

On Friday, Labour’s Jackie Baillie held on to her Dumbarton constituency – which had been the most marginal seat in all of Scotland and a top target for the SNP.

ADVERT

Baillie had a majority of just 109 from the 2016 Scottish Parliament election, but increased that to 1483.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar lost out to Sturgeon in Glasgow Southside but said he was pleased to increase his party’s share of the vote in the constituency.

Labour’s Daniel Johnson held Edinburgh Southern on 20,760 votes to SNP candidate Catriona MacDonald’s 16,738.

But Labour’s Martin Whitfield lost East Lothian to the SNP’s Paul McLennan.

Former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw increased his majority in Eastwood as did Oliver Mundell in Dumfriesshire.

Rachael Hamilton also held Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire for the Tories, although with a reduced majority.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats retained all four of their constituency seats with leader Willie Rennie increasing his majority in North East Fife, as did Alex Cole-Hamilton in Edinburgh Western.

ADVERT

However there was disappointment for the party in Caithness, Sutherland & Ross and Shetland – which they failed to take from the SNP.

Elsewhere, former first minister and Alba Party leader Alex Salmond said the measure of his party’s success would be “our existence as a political party”, adding it is “here to stay”.


Man charged over quad bike crash after passenger injured

A 31-year-old man has been arrested and charged in connection with the incident.

Mrdoomits via IStock
Crash: Passenger treated in hospital for serious injuries following the incident.

A man has been charged following a road crash involving a quad bike which left a passenger in a serious condition in hospital.

The crash occurred on Thursday around 6.45am on the roundabout at Kenilworth Avenue, Wishaw, near the junction with Lammermoor Terrace.

The passenger of the quad bike sustained serious head injuries and is being treated at the Queen Elizabeth II University Hospital in Glasgow.

The 36-year-old remains in a serious but stable condition.

ADVERT

A 31-year-old man has been arrested and charged in connection with the incident.

He is due to appear at Hamilton Sheriff Court at a later date.

Sergeant Scott Sutherland, of the road policing unit, said: “I would like to thank everyone who assisted us in our investigation into this incident.”


First look at gentoo penguin chicks at Edinburgh Zoo

The first two eggs hatched on May 1 to parents Muffin and Mittens.

RZSS via RZSS
Cute: The first two eggs hatched on May 1 to parents Muffin and Mittens.

The first images of this year’s newly-hatched gentoo penguin chicks have been captured at Edinburgh Zoo. 

Staff at the wildlife conservation charity were delighted to report nine chicks have emerged so far and hope more will follow in the coming weeks.

The first two eggs hatched on May 1 to parents Muffin and Mittens.

Cute: The first two eggs hatched on May 1 to parents Muffin and Mittens.

The first month is critical and keepers will be keeping a close eye on the new arrivals.  

ADVERT

Gentoo chicks weigh around 98g when they hatch, which is the equivalent to half an avocado.  

Keen penguin cam viewers have been able to catch a glimpse of the youngsters on the charity’s live website camera and visitors hoping to see the chicks in-person must pre-book zoo tickets before their visit.

Airport gives heads-up for increased military flight activity

The public has been warned to expect war planes to be performing manoeuvres throughout May.

Thomas Faull via IStock
Chinooks: Resident spotted the aircraft hovering above Prestwick in March.

A pensioner is delighted Prestwick Airport has let residents know in advance there will be more military flights in the area this month. 

Martin Dorans, an unpaid carer, raised concerns about a lack of notice regarding low flying aircraft at night in the town. 

Speaking on behalf of a number of residents, the community council member appealed for a heads-up on future exercises.

And his concerns seem to have been addressed after the airport issued an update on Thursday, May 6, telling people to expect more war plane activity in the coming weeks. 

ADVERT

Mr Dorans, 68, said: “I would like to thank Prestwick Airport for having the courtesy to inform us about future military activities.”

He described seeing three Chinooks hovering above the Prestwick area up to 10.30pm during an evening in March.

Mr Dorans said there had been half a dozen incidents since January up until then.

It is understood the helicopters were taking park in defence training operation Exercise Chameleon.

ADVERT

A Prestwick Airport social media post said: “Glasgow Prestwick Airport would like to make local residents and the general public aware that throughout this month, May 2021, and the beginning of June there will be an increase of Military flight activity around the airport.

It added: “The airport will be supporting UK and NATO Military training exercises.

“Glasgow Prestwick Airport will work alongside personnel taking part in the exercises to ensure there is minimal disruption to local residents during this period.”

Story by local democracy reporter Sarah Hilley


Residents warned of Wifi disruption during Navy exercise

Customers of Lothian Broadband have been told they could face disruption over the next two weeks.

Pheelings Media via IStock
Wifi: Thousands could be impacted by the military operations.

Broadband customers in East Lothian have been warned they could lose their Wifi signal as a major naval exercise takes place off the Scottish coast.

Customers of Lothian Broadband have been told they could face disruption over the next two weeks.

An email sent out by the firm warns that some naval equipment and operations can interfere with its fixed wireless network.

Customers are being told: “The exercise is due to take place between May 8 and 22.

ADVERT

“From previous experience, the most vulnerable timings are one to two days before and one to two days following the exercise dates, as vessels travel to and from the exercise locations.”

Lothian Broadband, which was established in 2015 to provide wireless services to rural communities in East Lothian and Midlothian, is believed to currently provide services to 1800 homes in the areas.

Last year, the firm expanded by acquiring Highland Wireless and its 4000 properties as it looks to expand its footprint in Scotland.

The company told its local customers it would be increasing its support staff cover during the military exercise to deal with any issues which come up.

ADVERT

It said: “We have been working closely with Ofcom in recent days (who in turn liaise with the MoD on our behalf) to seek to minimize this impact as far as possible.

“We will also introduce some additional specific network monitoring and increase our level of support cover over this period to manage any interference that may arise.”

Story by local democracy reporter Marie Sharp

You're up to date

You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?