Sturgeon was ‘very good’ but lacked detail, says Baillie

Scottish Labour's deputy leader praised the First Minister's performance before a Holyrood committee but said more information is needed.

Nicola Sturgeon appeared at the Holyrood committee into the Government’s unlawful investigation of former first minister Alex Salmond. Scottish Labour via Jackie Baillie MSP
Nicola Sturgeon appeared at the Holyrood committee into the Government’s unlawful investigation of former first minister Alex Salmond.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Nicola Sturgeon put in a “very good performance” at the Holyrood committee into the Government’s unlawful investigation of former first minister Alex Salmond but suggested detail was lacking.

Baillie, a member of the committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As I expected I thought Nicola Sturgeon put in a very good performance. It was very polished, as we’ve come to expect of her.

“But in the torrent of words that were exchanged over the eight hours I’m not sure that in some areas where we needed quite specific detailed answers that we actually got them.”

Asked to say more about those areas and if she has all the background information she needs, Baillie said: “I mean that genuinely is part of the problem. In my 22 years in Parliament, I have never been so obstructed, unable to do my job, as I have been on this committee.

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“And in part that’s down to the Scottish Government. We have consistently asked them for information, which they say they will provide, we get it six months late.

“And in the case of legal advice, it’s taken two parliamentary votes and endless letters to try and get them to actually hand it over, and they only did so at six o’clock before the committee meeting.”

She said not all the legal advice was handed over, meaning that questions about “key bits of the process” still cannot be asked.


Scottish Conservatives launch manifesto to ‘rebuild Scotland’

Douglas Ross said recovery would be crippled by another independence referendum at his party’s manifesto launch.

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Scottish Conservatives: Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson.

The Scottish Conservatives have launched their manifesto for the Holyrood elections, pledging to “rebuild Scotland” and stop another independence referendum.

Leader Douglas Ross said creating jobs would be his party’s priority in the next parliament but warned the country’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic would be “crippled” if the SNP continue to focus on independence.

The manifesto contains plans for £500 grants to help unemployed Scots to retrain.

He also announced plans to abolish Scotland’s higher rate of income tax “when public finances allow”, increasing the threshold from £43,663 to match the UK Government’s level of £50,270.

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The revised income tax threshold would increase the take-home pay for 1.1 million of Scotland’s highest earners, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

A total of 15 proposed Bills have also been unveiled, including a “Victims Bill” to end automatic early release, introduce whole life custody sentences and end the not proven verdicts that are unique to the Scottish justice system.

Speaking at the launch of the manifesto in Glasgow, Ross said: “Independence will be the SNP’s priority.

“If they are elected with a majority, they will take that mandate as free rein to drive forward their obsession at the earliest opportunity.

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“We cannot trust the SNP to deliver our recovery.

“We cannot rebuild Scotland, while we are crippled by the threat of an independence referendum.

“So we need to take that threat off the table.”

On the health service, the Tories said they would guarantee the NHS Scotland budget would increase either by the level of Barnett consequentials or 2% more than inflation every year – whichever figure is higher.

According to current estimates, this would increase the health service’s annual funding by more than £2bn by 2025-26.

A further £600m should also be allocated this year for “tackling the backlog of operations and treatment” exacerbated by the pandemic, Ross said.

The Scottish Conservatives have also pledged to increase mental health funding to 10% of the frontline health budget during the next parliament alongside expansions of community-based programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.

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Outlining education policies, Ross said: “We would invest £120mn this year into a catch-up premium for every school child and set up a national tutoring programme for those children in most need of support.

“And over the Parliament we will give £1bn directly to schools for tackling the attainment gap.

“To end the SNP’s cuts to teacher numbers, we will recruit an additional 3000 teachers.

“We would allow every primary school child a free school lunch and breakfast because – as the son of a school cook – I know the importance of nutritious meals to a child’s learning.

“And we would roll out wraparound childcare, to allow kids to take part in exciting out-of-school activities and support their parents to keep a full-time job when their child starts school.”

The Prime Minister’s aides have refused to confirm whether Boris Johnson will campaign in Scotland ahead of the Holyrood elections.

As Ross set out the party’s manifesto, Downing Street advisers said coronavirus restrictions made campaign visits more “challenging”.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “The key thing here is that because of Covid, the pandemic is making these visits more challenging than they would be otherwise.

“But rest assured we will update you in the usual way as and when a campaign trip is going to be made by the Prime Minister.”

Coronavirus: No further deaths as cases rise by 232 overnight

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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

A further 232 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

No additional deaths have been reported overnight.

The death toll of those who tested positive currently stands at 7642, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is now more than 10,000.

The daily test positivity rate is 2.5%, up from the 1.6% reported on Sunday when 211 cases were recorded.

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Of the new cases reported on Monday, 58 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 56 are in Lanarkshire, and 30 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across seven other health board areas.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Out of those, 14 patients are in intensive care.

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,747,694 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 3463 from the day before.

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A total of 757,115 people have received their second dose, a rise of 18,695.


Stonehaven train derailed ‘after colliding with stones’ on track

Rail Accident Investigation Branch says verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

STV News
Interim report has been published into Stonehaven train derailment last August.

A train derailed near Stonehaven last year after colliding with stones washed out onto the track from the gravel-filled crest drain and from the adjacent ground, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has said.

An interim report by the RAIB released on Monday said verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

The RAIB also said it had not found any evidence of a train fault that could have played a part in its derailment.

Three men died when a ScotRail train struck a landslip and came off the tracks at a bridge in Carmont, near Stonehaven, on August 12, 2020.

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Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury were killed when the 6.38am Aberdeen-Glasgow service derailed.

Six other people were injured.

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ScotRail driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury.

The RAIB report also focused on drain inspection work in the area, concluding there is no evidence that part of a drainage system built at the location of the Stonehaven rail crash was inspected between its construction in 2012 and the fatal accident in August 2020.

A slope next to the crash site already had a “history of landslips and rockfalls” including an incident in 1915 which also led to a derailment, the report said.

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This led to Network Rail commissioning Carillion Construction Ltd – which has since collapsed – to design and construct a new drainage system.

The work was completed in 2012, but only the section closest to the track was listed on Network Rail’s drain maintenance database.

The RAIB said it has found “no evidence” the drain was inspected before the crash, apart from the section closest to the track.

It added that the design and construction of the drain, plus the “intended and actual” inspection processes, are among the main areas it considered as part of its investigation.

The report said there was “near-continuous heavy rain” in the area between around 5.50am and 9am on the day of the crash, which caused “significant flooding”.

The 51.5mm of rain that fell in this period was almost 75% of the monthly total in Aberdeenshire in an average August.

But it was “dry and sunny” when the derailment happened at 9.37am.

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Survivors of the derailment have launched legal action as they continue to seek answers over the cause of the fatal crash, which caused extensive damage to the tracks, bridge, embankment and drainage systems at the site in Carmont.

The railway line between Aberdeen and Dundee reopened in early November, 2020, after being closed for almost three months.

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, welcomed Monday’s interim report into the accident, which it said had cast a long shadow across Britain’s railway industry.

Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: ‘Blame for the accident has been laid firmly at the door of Network Rail for failing to maintain the area around the track. It was the landslip – the debris washed onto the track – which caused the train to derail, with the subsequent loss of life, injuries, and catastrophic consequences.

“We are urging Network Rail to examine every mile of track for which it is responsible, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the RAIB has been conducting “extensive work” during its investigation, adding: “I look forward to receiving the full findings in due course, to ensure lessons are learned from this tragedy.”

Shoppers urged to ‘play their part’ to keep shop staff safe

The Scottish Retail Consortium and the union Usdaw have come together to make the appeal ahead of shops reopening.

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Shoppers have been asked to follow social distancing and other Covid-safety measures.

Shoppers have been urged to “play their part” in helping reduce the spread of coronavirus as the wider retail sector gets set to reopen its doors.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Usdaw have come together to ask Scots to play their part in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for other customers and staff.

Non-essential stores have been shut in Scotland for 115 consecutive days but the Scottish Government is now expected to confirm they can reopen on Monday, April 26.

David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: “Every purchase from a shop helps support jobs in local retail and throughout the supply chain.

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“Retailers and their colleagues continue to work around the clock to maintain a safe shopping experience, so customers can have the confidence to return to their favourite stores.

“If we all follow the necessary physical distancing and hygiene measures and show consideration to those around us, including shop staff who are doing a difficult job, then everyone will be better off.”

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw deputy divisional officer for Scotland, added: “The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers.

“That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there.

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“We expect employers to conduct full risk assessments, follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures.

“Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled and Covid-19 safety measures have now become significant flashpoints.

“Abuse should never be part of the job and shopworkers – who played a vital role in getting food and medicine into our homes during the pandemic – deserve our thanks and respect.”

The two organisations produced an industry-leading guide on implementing social distancing in April 2020.

They then worked with the Scottish Government to help develop official retail sector and customer safety guidance.

SRC is also launching a new social media campaign to encourage safe shopping.

Coronavirus: Majority of high school pupils return full-time

Secondary schools across Scotland start back on Monday morning following the Easter holidays.

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Coronavirus: The majority of schools return on April 19.

The majority of secondary school pupils in Scotland are returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.

Most primary and high schools across the country start back on April 19 following the Easter holidays.

High school pupils will no longer have to adhere to two-metre social distancing rules but other mitigations have been strengthened to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks must be worn in all areas – classrooms, corridors and communal areas. This applies to S1-S3 pupils – not just those in the senior phase of their school education (S4-S6) – unless medically exempt.

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Furthermore, twice-weekly lateral flow tests are available for all secondary school pupils.

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles returned to the classroom last week on April 12.

Those in Edinburgh and Midlothian council areas are set to go back on Tuesday, April 20.

Only pupils who are shielding will have to wait longer until they can resume face-to-face lessons.

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Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon said the decision to return to in-person, full-time learning would be “a huge relief” to many children and parents.

The First Minister acknowledged that there would be some “concern and anxiety” about the move, but said safety would be “paramount”.

Scotland’s primary pupils returned to class full-time in stages during February and March, while most high school students were seeing teachers in-person on a part-time basis.

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled, with results being awarded instead through coursework and assessments.

More on:

Hunt for man in balaclava who grabbed teenage girl in park

The girl was grabbed by a man wearing black clothing in Springburn Park on Saturday evening.

© Google Maps 2020
Hunt: Police search for man who grabbed teenage girl.

Police are hunting a man in a balaclava who grabbed a teenage girl in a Glasgow park.

On Saturday evening around 9pm, a man dressed in black clothing grabbed the 16-year-old as she walked through Springburn Park near to the boating pond. 

The girl managed to run away from the man before contacting police. 

“Detective Sergeant Larry Dempsey at Maryhill CID said: “This was a very frightening experience for the young teenage girl and luckily she managed to run away from the suspect.

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“It is vital that we trace the man responsible and we are currently reviewing any available CCTV in area. 

“Anyone who was in Springburn Park around 9pm on Saturday, 9 April and remembers seeing a man hanging around there who was dressed in dark clothing is urged to contact police immediately.”

Anyone with information should contact police at Maryhill via telephone number 101 quoting incident number 4445 of April 17. 

Alternatively calls can be made to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where anonymity can be maintained.


Milky Way captured over loch in one of UK’s darkest places

Peter Ribbeck, 49, took the breathtaking image at Galloway Forrest dark sky park on Friday morning.

Peter Ribbeck via SWNS
Milky Way: Photographer captures stunning image over loch.

An amateur photographer has taken a stunning image of the Milky Way above a loch in one of the darkest places in the UK.

Peter Ribbeck, 49, took the breathtaking image at Galloway Forrest dark sky park, Dumfries and Galloway, during picture-perfect weather conditions.

Father-of-two Peter said the clear, moonless sky, helped create the starry picture – and despite being taken in the middle of the night said he has never felt more awake.

He arrived at Clatteringshaws Loch around 1.30am on Friday and waited patiently until the Galactic Centre began to appear on the horizon.

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The Galactic Centre – or Milky Way’s Core – is the brightest part of the Milky Way.

Peter, who works at a yacht marina, eventually snapped the picture at 3.30am and said he felt insignificant beneath the galaxies.

Peter said: “I got to Loch Clattering and started photographing there around 1.30am before the galactic centre began to appear on the horizon at 3.30am.

“It was absolutely amazing, it was such a calm night with a moonless sky so it was really dark – it’s one of the darkest places in the UK.

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“The conditions were just perfect, and it was amazing to look at.

“I turned my head torch off and it took about three minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and then I started seeing all the finer details.

“It’s a selfie really, so you’re standing there, and the camera is running for around 30 seconds and you just feel phenomenal seeing it.

“There was no wind, it was about 0 degrees celsius and totally silent, and I was just looking into the galaxies and you feel really insignificant.

“I was quite tired but standing there I have never been more awake.”


Playing at duke’s funeral was ‘greatest honour of my career’

Pipe Major Colour Sergeant Peter Grant said playing at Prince Philip's funeral was an 'emotional' moment.

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Duke of Edinburgh: Prince Philip was laid to rest on Saturday.

The Scottish piper who played the Lament at the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral said it was “the greatest honour of my military career”.

Pipe Major Colour Sergeant Peter Grant played Flowers of the Forest after the duke’s coffin was lowered into the royal vault in Windsor as the Queen watched on.

The song is the funeral tune of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and is usually heard on Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, with the 4th battalion’s pipe major tasked with playing it in the event of Philip’s death.

Mr Grant, from Braemar in Aberdeenshire, said Saturday’s funeral was “very fitting” as he reflected on his role in the service.

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Speaking to Good Morning Scotland, he said: “It was a very emotional moment but at the same time a proud moment and probably the greatest honour of my military career.”

Mr Grant added: “Everyone that was involved with that parade was so proud; the armed forces did themselves proud as a whole.

“It was a great ceremony and I think it was very fitting for the Duke of Edinburgh.

“Personally, myself, I felt emotional because it’s a funeral and because Her Majesty and the royal family were saying goodbye to a man that meant so much to them.”

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Mr Grant said people in his hometown of Braemar feel the royal family are “locals to the village”.

He explained: “I remember seeing the royals from a very young age – about seven or eight-years-old.

“That’s when I started playing the pipes as well, I’d play at the Braemar Gathering and always see the royals there, and then joining the army and seeing the Duke of Edinburgh throughout my military career as well.”

The funeral service included military bands and musicians, and a choir of just four, with the duke said to have personally picked much of the music.

The music included I Vow To Thee My Country, Supreme Sacrifice, Jerusalem, Isle Of Beauty and Nimrod.

Work begins on golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus

Championship course on the Ury Estate near Stonehaven scheduled to open in the summer of 2024.

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Jack Nicklaus with Ury House in the background.

Construction has begun on a new championship golf course designed by Jack Nicklaus in Aberdeenshire.

The course, located on the Ury Estate near Stonehaven, is scheduled to open in the early summer of 2024.

The overall Ury Estate development is being undertaken by developer FM Group and work has just been completed on the planting scheme, covering 30 hectares with around 60,000 trees planted.

Nicklaus said: “From the first day I walked the estate and we discussed the course design, FM Group director Jonathon Milne made it very clear that the goal was to create something that would blend in naturally with the Scottish countryside.

“My philosophy has always been to work with what the natural environment has provided us with, and whenever possible create something that will enhance it, and in many cases create new and better natural habitats.

“And while our firm has created golf courses in 45 countries, Scotland is very special as the game of golf and to me personally.”

Known as the “Golden Bear”, Nicklaus is an 18-time major championship winner, including the Opens he won on Scottish soil, twice at St Andrews (1970 and 1978) and at Muirfield (1966).

He has also built one of the world’s leading golf design firms, with more than 265 courses on his CV.

Douglas Thomson, Ury Estate project director said: “To be commencing work on the course and having Jack’s personal involvement is a ringing endorsement of what we are trying to achieve here in delivering a spectacular experience for both residents and visitors alike.

“The development has a great deal to offer the local community and will attract visitors to both Stonehaven and the surrounding area.

“The golf course is a significant addition to the Ury project and with work progressing on housing, infrastructure and the castle, it is full steam ahead this year.”

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