Free bus travel for under 19s passed by MSPs in Budget

Holyrood backs the first Budget drawn up by new finance secretary Kate Forbes by 63 votes to 55.

Finance secretary: Kate Forbes hails 'ambitious plans'. Getty
Finance secretary: Kate Forbes hails 'ambitious plans'.

The Scottish Budget, which plans to fund free bus travel for those 18 aged and under, has been passed at Holyrood.

MSPs backed the first Budget drawn up by new finance secretary Kate Forbes by 63 votes to 55, including a £15m commitment to work to implement free bus travel for youngsters from 2021 onwards.

The pledge was part of an £158m deal agreed between Forbes and the Scottish Greens to get the government’s tax and spending plans through parliament.

As a minority government, the SNP need the support of opposition MSPs to pass legislation at Holyrood, in recent years relying on the the pro-independence Greens.

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The Scottish Greens estimate widening free bus travel to all under-19s will cost around £80m a year, meaning more money would need to be invested in the policy in next year’s budget.

The original draft Budget unveiled by Forbes, who stepped in at the last minute following the shock resignation of her predecessor Derek Mackay, promised a raft of new measures and billions of pounds of environmentally friendly investments to reduce carbon emissions.

The Scottish Government has a target of becoming net-zero by 2045 – five years earlier than the UK target.

The subsequent deal with Green MSPs added an extra £45m in spending on green projects, including an additional £25m for tackling fuel poverty, £15m of fresh investment in active travel and £5m for rail services.

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An extra £95m will be put into local government funding while policing gets an additional £13m in revenue spending and a £5m boost to capital funds, with an overall uplift to the police budget of £60m.

Forbes did not deviate from the five-band Scottish income tax system set up by Mackay, with starter (19p), basic (20p) and intermediate (21p) salary thresholds rising with inflation and the higher (41p) and top (46p) thresholds frozen.

The Scottish Conservatives are critical of this policy because it further widens the income tax gap between what higher and top earners pay in Scotland to what they would pay in England.

New Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to reveal the UK Budget next week.

Forbes said: “I’m pleased that parliament has supported this Budget which will deliver certainty for our vital public services and local government.

“It supports our ambitious plans to accelerate Scotland’s transition to a net-zero economy and provides a record £15bn investment for health and social care.”

The finance secretary added: “I now hope the UK Government will deliver on its promises in their overdue budget next week.”

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Green environment spokesman Mark Ruskell said: “This is a historic budget, thanks to the Scottish Greens.

“Next year over 700,000 young people across Scotland and their families will benefit from free bus travel for under 19s.

“Greens have also provided extra funds for councils which has enabled councils to take proposed cuts off the table, increased the walking and cycling budget to £100m for the first time, won new funds for new rail projects to reach the next stage and a commitment to provide warm homes through energy efficiency measures.

“It seems incredible that other opposition parties could not back a bold transformational move such as this, especially Scottish Labour, who have put tribalism over principle once again.”

But Labour’s finance spokeswoman Rhoda Grant hit back: “We asked that young people 25 and under travel free on buses.

“This policy would have helped young people become more independent while also making family travel more affordable.

“Instead the Greens settled for talks about introducing free bus travel for young people eighteen and under.  This short-changes young people because on past performance it is unlikely to happen. 

“We wanted fair funding for local government, but they are now facing a £205m real terms cut.” 

Scottish Tory shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron said: “This is yet another ‘pay more, get less’ budget from the SNP.

“It’s a budget that underfunds our vital public services, especially local councils.

“And despite the drugs deaths crisis, it completely neglects the wellbeing of vulnerable addicts who need rehabilitation beds to turn their lives around.”

He added: “This bad budget is being made possible by the Greens, who never in the history of this parliament have asked for so much and yet received so little in return for their support.”

Scots students allowed to return home on long-term basis

Updated guidance says that students can return to another home permanently if they self-isolate.

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Students: New guidelines say students can move back home if they self-isolate.

Students have been told they can return home from university accommodation on a long-term basis, as long as they follow rules on self-isolating.

Updated guidance from the Scottish Government sets out what those who are studying higher education can do if they wish to change households.

Students have been asked to follow self-isolating rules and not use public transport if they decide to permanently return to another home, while still saying it is an “offence” to undertake short stays without a “reasonable” excuse.

Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead said: “We would encourage students to remain living in their current accommodation where they are able to, so they can continue to benefit from both a blend of digital and in-person learning, where that is possible and the opportunity to engage with others, within the restrictions, to build new networks and to make new friends.

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“However, we know that many students may be struggling with the prospect of not being able to return home to visit family and other support networks, especially if it is the first time in their life they have been away from home.

“Knowing what to consider in deciding whether to return home will help support wellbeing and enable students to make informed choices, but it is important to stress that adjusting to life away from home is always challenging.”

Current guidance states that people should self-isolate at home for 10 days if you have symptoms of Covid-19 or tested positive, or 14 days if living with someone who has.

Mr Lochhead has written to principals and student accommodation provider networks to set out the new guidance.

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It has been developed in consultation with NUS Scotland and Universities Scotland.

The guidance sets out that students should “consider how you may benefit from in-person learning” if returning home on a permanent basis.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced measures which came into force on Wednesday which ban indoor visits between households.

Students had previously been asked by university bosses to not visit pubs and restaurants this weekend as part of efforts to limit the spread of Covid-19.

NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly said: “Today’s guidance provides welcome clarity to the students in halls, who will be considering their next steps.

“We welcome that students will be able to return home on a permanent basis.

“However, we are disappointed that the government continues to talk up in-person teaching, which may keep students on campus and increase risks unnecessarily.”

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Gerry McCormac, convener of Universities Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government’s additional guidance about households puts the emphasis on staying within existing households and avoiding overnight stays elsewhere for now, but not at the expense of an individual’s wellbeing.

“It also makes clear that a change of household is possible but offers guidance to limit this to cases where a change then becomes the person’s main or only residence on a long-term basis.”


Coronavirus: One more death and 344 new cases in Scotland

It is the seventh Covid death in the country this week, taking the confirmed death toll to 2512.

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Coronavirus: Seven deaths in Scotland this week.

Another person has died with coronavirus in Scotland as the country recorded 344 new cases.

It takes the death toll in Scotland among confirmed Covid-19 patients to 2512, including seven this week.

Counting separate weekly figures from National Records of Scotland which also record suspected Covid deaths suggests total fatalities involving the virus of 4254.

The figure of 344 new infections on Sunday has decreased considerably on recent days, down more than half after 714 cases were confirmed on Saturday.

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Sunday’s number amounts to 9.1% of newly-tested Scots, down from 11.5% the day before.

The number of Scots in hospital with the virus has risen by six overnight to 105, with 12 patients in intensive care, up by one.

Of the new cases, 172 are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 58 in Lanarkshire and 40 in Lothian.

It comes amid coronavirus clusters on a number of student campuses, including major outbreaks at Glasgow University and Edinburgh Napier.

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In emergency measures to try to contain the immediate spread, all students across Scotland are barred from pubs, restaurants and cafes this week and must not socialise outside their household.

Speaking earlier on Sunday, education secretary John Swinney said ensuring students can go home for Christmas is “at the heart” of government thinking.

Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard has written to a human rights body asking if current restrictions against students breach their rights.

What is going on with coronavirus cases and tests?

Recent Covid-19 case numbers in Scotland have been higher than ever.

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Coronavirus: Testing has gradually ramped up over the months.

Recent daily coronavirus case figures in Scotland have not made for pleasant reading.

Looking at the hard numbers, it would appear as though the country’s Covid-19 epidemic is spreading worse than ever.

Three days so far this week saw new records set for the most coronavirus cases reported in a 24-hour period – 486 on Wednesday, 558 on Friday and 714 on Saturday.

Faced with this barrage of numbers every day, numbers which are so often now very large, it can be hard for the public to know what to make of them and to place them in context.

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A major part of that context is Covid-19 testing – and if cases have risen in recent weeks and months, then so have daily tests, and in a very substantial way.

None of this is simple and these days the Scottish Government’s publicly-available spreadsheets on the epidemic are plastered with notes, caveats and revisions.

Making sense of it, thankfully, is possible.

A brief history of testing

When the pandemic first began in the UK in late February to March, the country did not have the capacity for mass testing and tracing that other nations either had ready or quickly built up.

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Perhaps the UK, and Scotland by extension, could have built up that capacity rapidly as others did – but on March 12, we decided not to.

It was felt the coronavirus outbreak had already spread too widely in the community by then for the conventional public health approach of testing, tracing and isolating all cases to work.

Scotland ‘should have continued mass testing in March’ Read now

At the time, unlike now, people with symptoms were simply told to stay home for seven days to try to get better.

Generally speaking, only those whose condition deteriorated to the point of needing hospital treatment were tested.

This meant that as Scotland’s epidemic peaked during the month of April, in fact the country was only testing an average of about 1300 people per day – and sometimes considerably less.

That’s peanuts compared to the figures posted most days now.

Meanwhile, the Scottish and UK governments were building up their testing capacities, albeit not as quickly as some would have liked.

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Their chief weapon was the new UK Government-managed regional testing network, with Scottish centres predominantly based at the country’s airports.

But this separate branch of testing data caused all sorts of havoc for those updating the Scottish Government’s spreadsheets, with huge gluts of test results dumped on them in mid-June which dated back months.

And then again, in early July, a whole tranche of backlogged data related to home testing kits and care home tests was belatedly added to the daily totals, meaning test figures in Scotland suddenly skyrocketed.

Since then, we’ve been consistently looking at far higher testing numbers than at any previous point in the pandemic.

Testing has fallen back but remains relatively high. (Chart: STV News – Source: Health Protection Scotland)

They peaked in late August and early September, with the country seeing nearly 30,000 tests carried out on a number of days, testing around 16,000 Scots each time.

Since then, however, those figures have fallen back quite a bit, to an average of around 17,000 daily tests in September – or about 7400 people tested per day.

The difference between daily tests and newly-tested people is to do with the amount of individuals who are being repeat-tested, for example, care home workers.

The reasons for the drop-off in testing in recent weeks – given the government’s insistence it is pressing ahead in boosting capacity – aren’t entirely clear, but could be to do with problems the UK test booking portal has been having in meeting rising demand.

But nonetheless, the ramping-up of testing over time is unmistakeable in the statistics.

About 14% of Scots have now been tested for Covid. (Chart: STV News – Source: Health Protection Scotland)

On August 4, fewer than 375,000 people in Scotland had been tested for coronavirus.

As of Friday, three quarters of a million Scots (about 14% of the population) have been tested – doubling the figure in just seven weeks.

The positivity rate

As that first testing graph above showed, total tests conducted as well as the number of people tested can vary quite dramatically day-to-day.

Nicola Sturgeon says she now looks first each morning at a different measure to gauge Covid’s prevalence in Scotland: the positivity rate.

This relates to the percentage of positive tests compared to the number of newly-tested people.

US president Donald Trump, with his tendency to say the quiet part out loud, once said he wanted to see less testing in America because it would catch fewer cases.

But the flipside of that is, if you’re testing a lot less but still finding a lot of cases, your positivity rate is going to go through the roof.

For example, when Scotland was still conducting only limited testing on April 18, and it saw 411 positive tests out of just 1596 people tested, the positivity rate was an eye-watering 26%.

Cases were a much higher proportion of overall tests back in April. (Chart: STV News – Source: Health Protection Scotland)

That’s why looking at the positivity measure is only useful if you have robust and consistent testing in place which aims to catch all suspected cases.

Provided such a system is in place, the World Health Organisation says a country is broadly keeping its epidemic under control if its positivity rate is under 5%.

Even when cases began to rise again in August, starting with the Aberdeen pubs cluster, Scotland’s positivity rate was keeping comfortably in the ballpark of 1%.

But that has started to change and change quickly in September as new outbreaks in the west of Scotland and around universities have gathered pace.

Scotland’s positivity rate keeps rising. (Chart: STV News – Source: Health Protection Scotland)

Last Saturday (September 19), the rate hit 5.3% and it has kept jumping all this week to reach 11.5% as of this Saturday.

That, as much if not more than the hard case numbers, will be of great concern to the First Minister and her advisers.

Second wave, or did it ever really go away?

Despite cases rising again in Scotland, the UK and indeed Europe after a spell where infections had been falling, some scientists are resistant to using the phrase a “second wave”.

A second wave, they argue, is when a virus returns, having perhaps mutated into a new strain.

The first wave of Covid-19, it is argued, never really left – we simply had it under lockdown along with the rest of us.

On first glance, this daily cases graph would suggest we’re dealing with a second wave, or a second spike, or whatever you want to call it, that is spreading more virulently than the first.

Cases have soared in September. (Chart: STV News – Source: Health Protection Scotland)

But the truth is, it’s far too early to say that with any certainty.

For starters, comparing September to April, we’re testing nearly six times more people on average than we did then.

It stands to reason that at the peak of the first wave of coronavirus in Scotland, we were missing hundreds, perhaps thousands of daily cases due to the more limited testing regime.

And at the spring peak, it is believed the R number of Covid-19 in Scotland – the number of people each infected person was infecting – could have been anything from four to as high as six.

At the moment, the government estimates the R number in Scotland is between 1.2 and 1.6.

Anything above one is grounds for concern, because it means the epidemic is growing rather than shrinking.

But it indicates officials do not – yet – think the virus is spreading in quite the same exponential way as it was five or six months ago.

‘Badly parked cars’ delayed mountain rescue on Ben Lomond

Lomond Mountain Rescue said inconsiderate parking and heavy traffic delayed their response to an incident on the Munro.

Alan O'Dowd
Rescue: Team slam hillwalkers for badly parked cars.

A mountain rescue team have called on hill walkers to park their cars responsibly after facing “significant delays” during an emergency call out. 

Lomond Mountain Rescue were called to an incident on Ben Lomond in the Trossachs on Saturday, following reports that a hillwalker was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

The group say they were delayed in responding to the incident due to inconsiderate parking and heavy traffic, with the road to Rowardennan reduced to a single lane.

They added vehicles had blocked the emergency access track that allows rescue teams to reach incidents higher on the hill. 

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The group have warned the delays could have been life threatening for the hillwalker if the incident had been more serious.

David Dodson, Team Leader for Lomond Mountain Rescue Team, said: “Getting along the road is really quite difficult at the best of times, but it was particularly bad yesterday because of the sheer volume of traffic and cars which were parked pretty inconsiderately. 

“I think all we would ask folk to do is to use their common sense and try and think of other road users and not park in such a way is to prevent our vehicles going along the road.”


Misery for Murray as Wawrinka thrashes Scot at French Open

Stan Wawrinka beat the Scot during the first round of the French Open, winning 6-1 6-3 6-2.

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Murray: Scot beaten by old foe Wawrinka at French Open.

Andy Murray’s return to clay was a chastening one as he was brushed aside by old foe Stan Wawrinka in the first round of the French Open.

Much had been made of the pair being drawn together again three years after a brutal semi-final at Roland Garros proved the end of Murray’s right hip.

The cold and damp conditions were the same but the similarities ended there as 2015 champion Wawrinka took just an hour and 37 minutes to ease to a 6-1 6-3 6-2 victory.

It was so cold that Murray was wearing leggings under his shorts and there was sluggishness about the 33-year-old’s movement and particularly his serve.

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He won just 11 points on serve during the first set as Wawrinka reeled off six games in a row.

There were a few more positive signs in the second set but Murray, who was unusually reserved, was still left motionless far too often as Wawrinka bulldozed the ball into the corners.

A break of serve right at the start of the third set brought the finish line closer, and Murray was unable to take any of his first three break points when he had Wawrinka at 0-40 in the next game.

The Scot looked underpowered compared to his opponent and he was left rooted to the spot once more as Wawrinka drilled a backhand winner into the corner to break for 5-2 before serving out the victory with an ace.


Mother suing NHS board over daughter’s death at super-hospital

Milly Main died in 2017 aged 10 at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital after contracting an infection.

Milly, pictured with mum Kimberly, was in remission from leukaemia.

The mother of a child who died in a flagship hospital is seeking compensation from the health board.

Kimberly Darroch, whose 10-year-old daughter Milly Main died in 2017 at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow after contracting an infection, has launched legal action against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

Ms Darroch believes that Milly, who was recovering from leukaemia treatment, died as a result of contaminated water at the £842m hospital.

However, an independent review published in June found there were no avoidable deaths caused by the design and maintenance of the building.

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Ms Darroch told the Scottish Sun on Sunday: “We still feel in the dark about what happened to our beloved daughter.

“It’s incredibly painful to relive our ordeal, but we are determined to deliver justice for Milly and answers for all affected patients and parents.

“Our hope is that by taking action we can ensure no other family ever has to go through what we did.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: “We continue to offer our sympathies to Milly Main’s family for their loss.

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“We remain keen to meet with Milly’s family and we would be happy to arrange this if they would like to discuss Milly’s care.”

An inquiry was launched by health secretary Jeane Freeman last year after the deaths of two adults and a child from infections at the hospital.

The investigation started last month and is chaired by Lord Brodie.

Delays to the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People in Edinburgh will also be scrutinised, after Freeman stepped in to halt the move of patients between sites over fears around the ventilation system.

Three women involved in attempted murder, say police

A 31-year-old man has suffered serious injuries following the attack and is in a stable condition in hospital.

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Attack: Man in stable condition following attempted murder.

A man has suffered serious injuries following an attempted murder involving three women.

The incident happened outside a property on Florence Street around 10.30pm on Saturday.

Police say three women got out of a car and a disturbance happened at the front door of the property. 

A 31-year-old man suffered serious injuries to his upper body and was taken to Inverclyde Royal Hospital where he is in a stable condition.

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The only description available is of one of the women, who is described as heavy set with blonde hair. 

Detective Inspector David Wagstaff, of Greenock CID, said: “We don’t know where the women or the car went after the attack and we’re appealing for anyone with information to contact us.

“We believe it was a targeted attack and additional patrols are being carried out in the area.”

Anyone with any information should contact Police Scotland on 101 quoting incident number 4385 of September 26 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


Shoplifters ‘exploiting mandatory masks’ to raid stores

Retail crime experts say shops are being hit harder than ever by theft.

Rogues gallery: Some of the masked suspects being circulated by Retailers Against Crime.

Retail crime experts are warning of a rise in shoplifters exploiting the compulsory use of masks during the pandemic.

Maxine Fraser of Retailers Against Crime (RAC) says that shops, which have suffered a drop in sales, are being hit harder than ever by theft.

She told STV News: “Obviously we understand the need for everyone to wear masks but it is adding to the difficulties in identifying those who steal.

“These are often sophisticated gangs of criminals who travel across the country.

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“They have been quick to take advantage of face coverings to make their lives easier and the lives of shop and security workers harder.”

Stirling-based RAC has around 1500 retailer members across Scotland, Northern Ireland and north west England.

Some of the suspected shoplifters have been described as ‘violent’.

They receive and share information about shoplifters and other criminals such as credit card fraudsters.

A page from the organisation’s most recent “identification sought gallery” document, shared with STV News, shows unknown masked suspects, some of whom are described as violent.

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Ms Fraser said that some criminals continually change masks in order to make identification eve more difficult.

She added: “These businesses are trying to protect their staff in the most challenging of economic circumstances and now they also have this to deal with.

“The criminal justice system needs to step up and ensure there is a meaningful deterrent.”

Jim McFedries, RAC chairman and head of profit protection at Scotmid Co-Op, said: “I have seen first-hand how this has impacted our front line colleagues and shrinkage.

“Both opportunist and prolific offenders have taken advantage of masks wearing to conceal their identity, disguising themselves at a time when our front line colleagues are thin on the ground and someone wearing a mask is the ‘new norm’.”

The number of reported crimes by RAC members in March was 742. Following lockdown, that dropped to 394 in April but in July it was 859 with 994 reported in August.

RAC also warns about an uplift in threats and violence towards workers.

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Mr McFedries added: “We have had an increase in violence towards colleagues ranging from verbal abuse to actual physical violence in a bid to get away with stock in hand.”

The British Retail Consortium reported in March that total losses to retail crime in 2019 rose to £1bn with customer theft accounting for more than 75% of the total.


Two surfers rescued by RNLI after being swept out to sea

The two experienced surfers were uninjured but exhausted, having been in the water for two hours.

RNLI: Surfers rescued by lifeboat after being swept out to sea.

Two surfers have been rescued after being swept out to sea near Aberdeen.

The RNLI launched two lifeboats around 9am on Sunday to rescue the pair following a call from a member of the public concerned for their safety.

The surfers had paddled out beyond the surf line and were being swept out to sea and were unable to make their way back due to a combination of tide and wind against them.

Inshore lifeboat ‘Buoy Woody 85N’ was first on scene with a crew of three, having been guided to the surfers location – around half a mile offshore at the Footdee end of Aberdeen beach – by Aberdeen Coastguard Rescue Team volunteers ashore.

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The two experienced surfers were uninjured but said they were both exhausted, having been in the water for almost two hours. 

They and their equipment were taken aboard the lifeboat to be returned to shore.

With conditions worsening, it was decided the safest means of rescue would be to transfer the surfers to all-weather lifeboat ‘Bon Accord’, which had arrived at the scene in the calmer water beyond the surf line.

Cal Reed, Aberdeen Lifeboat’s coxswain, said: “We took the surfers on board ‘Bon Accord’ and our casualty care-qualified crew confirmed they were none the worse for their experience – but grateful for the offer of assistance from the lifeboat.”

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“The member of the public who made the initial phone call did the right thing: if you think you see someone in difficulty at sea, always call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

“Bon Accord returned the surfers and their equipment to the lifeboat berth in Aberdeen Harbour where they met the Coastguard Rescue Team around 9.20am.

“The lifeboats were washed down and readied for further service by 10am.”


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