Two Scottish ministers have called for more help for the whisky industry from the UK Government.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has pushed for Brexit-related export issues to be resolved as a matter of urgency in a letter to Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice.
The whisky industry has faced disruption due to Covid-19, Brexit and tariffs imposed by the US following a dispute with the EU.
Ewing said: “It’s been a particularly difficult year for Scotland’s food and drink sector.
“A once booming whisky industry has seen overseas exports drop by 23% in the last year alone.
“The whisky industry was already reeling from the triple threat of US import tariffs, the coronavirus pandemic slowing global demand, and a complicated alcohol duty system before Brexit compounded matters.
“Like many food and drink businesses, the sector is struggling with complicated bureaucracy post-Brexit and it is vital that such issues are resolved as soon as possible.
“I have written to the UK Government urging them to address the problems and will do my utmost to help one of Scotland’s greatest food and drink success stories get through this challenging time.”
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has also pushed for changes to be announced in the upcoming budget in a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, such as reforms to the alcohol duty system paid on exports.
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “Scotch whisky is world-renowned, and we are working closely with the industry to help them take advantage of new export markets.
“The UK Government promotes the Scotch whisky through the Food is Great campaign.
“Last year, we announced £1m dedicated to showcasing Scottish food and drink exports around the world.
“We are confident the sector is well-positioned to benefit from the expansive trade deals that we are now striking.”
It’s exactly one year since the first case of Covid-19 was found in Scotland.
Since that day, the virus has claimed the lives of thousands of people.
STV News has spoken to three families, who’ve told how coronavirus has affected their lives in different ways.
Alix lost her grandad Brian Phillips to Covid-19 on January 16. He was 85 and had received his first dose of the vaccine on December 27, but tested positive on New Year’s Day.
Alix described her ‘granda’ as totally selfless.
“He was an amazing man, he would open his house to anybody. He adopted two children and when my mum found her biological brother, he called him his ‘son’ too.
“My mum has worked in addiction for over 20 years and when people had finished their stays in rehab he took them in with my gran until they got a house and got themselves back on their feet again – and that’s just who they were as people.”
Brian was living in a care home after his wife passed away in August 2019.
“After lockdown happened we were cut off from him. We did have window visits but even those were cancelled because staff members were self-isolating.
“Even though there were no cases in the care home they stopped us going to the window, which was really really difficult, especially for him because he had his mobile phone but he wasn’t good with technology or anything like that.
“So we also wrote to him a lot, but it did really affect him, and it’s awful to think that was how he spent his last year- without contact.”
The family hoped he had managed to get through the worst of it as there were no confirmed cases in his care home.
“As a family, we were just heartbroken. He didn’t really have underlying health conditions, just mild asthma, so at first, we were hopeful that he would come through.
“He was determined to pull through, he talked about it a lot, saying that he was going to be here because he couldn’t allow my mum to lose him after he lost her mum.”
Brian’s condition deteriorated and when his oxygen levels dropped he was moved to the QEUH. He seemed to get better on three occasions, but only Brian’s daughter, Alix’s mum Ruth, was allowed in to visit.
“The last time she was called in, they weren’t sure because he seemed to pick up because he got to see her. She left at five in the morning and he died ten minutes after she left.
“It was three weeks before we could have a funeral, before we could bury him. It left us in limbo for all that time, which is unusual when somebody dies.
“But also during that time we couldn’t see each other, we were all in our own family units, so there was not a lot of support except on the phone, which is just not the same. So that was really difficult as well.
“The virus robs you of the chance to not just say goodbye together but support each other and have that time after somebody dies to talk about them and share memories and even just hug your own parent when your grandparent passes away. The loss of that can’t be measured.
“I want people to realise that there are real human beings behind the statistics, people that lived great lives, people with families that loved them.
“I think more people should talk about the people who’ve been affected, There’s a lot of ordinary people who are extraordinary who deserve to be recognised.”
Stuart, 42, caught coronavirus at the end of March last year. He was in hospital for a month, initially in Wishaw then transferred to Monklands. He is still suffering from the effects almost a year on.
“I can remember the ambulance journey from home going to the hospital. I can remember getting admitted to the hospital.
“I can remember the Sunday evening where I was getting put into the coma. I had a full mask put over my face and they started to count me down. I wouldn’t say I put up a fight, but I put up a struggle and I can remember one nurse very sternly saying ‘Stuart we’re trying to help you’… and after that there was nothing.
“The next thing I remember was a softly spoken doctor saying to me ‘Stuart you’re in Wishaw general hospital, you’ve just woken up, we’re taking good care of you. You’re linked up to a lot of machines. Please be calm’.”
“Over the next few hours there was a lot of thoughts going through my head. ‘How long have I been sleeping? Where’s my family?’. It was like aliens walking around me with the masks on, the suits on. It was very scary.
“There was one point I thought I had been away from my family for five years. The drugs that had gone through me… a nurse calmed me down. She told me I’d only been away for a fortnight.”
Stuart said it was very difficult to be away from his wife Sharon and his daughter Nyree.
“It was only the last three or four days before I got out that they managed to get a mobile phone into the hospital for me to Facetime my daughter.
“I had tubes coming out of the side of my neck and I didn’t want her to see me like that.”
After a month in hospital, Stuart was able to go home.
“Walking out the hospital was quite something else. Even now when we watch people coming out of the hospital, most of them are still in wheelchairs. So for me to be able to walk was quite a good thing.
“For the first month even getting a shower was a daily task. I had no energy to do anything else. It was really hard just trying to get about the house.
“It puts things into perspective for you. I would think nothing of just getting up and going to work and being away for a week or two. Now, it’s better time at home.
“My daughter has never seen as much of me. We’ve got a good relationship going now. A lot of nights I lie in bed thinking ‘imagine that wee girl being without her dad’.”
Stuart later found out that, of all the people in ICU at the same time as him, he was the only person that lived.
“That was like somebody hitting you over the back of the head. That was a lie back on the bed moment and think, ‘why me?’. And still now I think, ‘what was my purpose?’.
“I have now got three people that I know personally that haven’t made it. There are now 100,000 people out there [to have died in the UK]… and none of them have done anything wrong. They’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Brian and Leah Mearns
Brian Mearns, 63, spent 172 days in ICU – thought to be the longest stint of any Covid-19 patient in Scotland. He is now recovering at home but is still on oxygen and is very breathless.
“I’m not how I used to be. Tired. Short of breath. But in general… still here. That’s the main thing.
“I just want to thank everyone in the hospital that I am still here, because otherwise without them I wouldn’t be. And I’ve still got a lot to go through yet.
“There’s a lot that I don’t remember. There’s a lot that I don’t want to remember. And I just try and blank out because some of it is horrendous. I still get angry when I go to hospital appointments and I see people not wearing masks, not distancing. They’ve just no idea what this is really. I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”
Brian says the virus has had not only a devastating effect on not only him but also his family.
“For them to get called in on three different occasions to say goodbye, I can’t get my head around that.
“The staff were just incredible. There was always someone’s hand to hold or a shoulder to cry on, which in the latter stages really helped. Especially with the lockdown and my family couldn’t get in to visit me, we just had to rely on Facetime.”
Brian’s road to recovery is still a long one.
“I’ve got another operation to go through for an abnormality in my bladder. I can’t have a general anaesthetic, I’ve got to get a spinal because of the lung damage, they don’t want to risk it.
“It’s great to be home. We had a home visit two weeks before I got home, I didn’t want to leave. It was something special coming home.”
Brian’s daughter Leah says it’s been a very difficult time for the whole family.
“It’s just been an absolute nightmare,” she says. “The worst year ever. I don’t think anything will ever come close to as bad as that last year has been.”
“Never at any point did we think that dad would end up as ill as he did. We never thought that we might have lost him.
“To go to his bedside… to essentially say goodbye to him… it was horrible. Each time we went in to see him he then fought and began to pick up quite quickly again. He would improve, then something else would happen and he would be back to square one again.
“It’s a miracle that he’s still here. And I think it shows his determination to stay with us, and the determination of the staff not to let him go.”
It is one year since Scotland confirmed its first case of coronavirus.
Here are some of the key dates over the past 12 months.
March 1, 2020
A Tayside resident who travelled from Italy becomes the first person in Scotland to be diagnosed with coronavirus.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says more than 200,000 Scots could end up in hospital in a “worst-case outcome”.
The first case of community transmission is confirmed by chief medical officer Dr Catherine Calderwood.
The first patient dies after contracting Covid-19.
National clinical director Jason Leitch says elderly people will not be asked to stay at home, as more schools close and the Scottish Parliament suspends public engagements.
After two more deaths, all schools close at the end of the week while bus and rail operators reduce timetables.
As deaths rise to 14 with 499 positive cases, the country enters lockdown and Sturgeon calls coronavirus “the biggest challenge of our lifetime”.
Dr Calderwood resigns after being criticised for visiting her second home while telling Scots not to travel.
The National Records of Scotland’s (NRS) first weekly report shows 354 people have died of Covid-19, higher than previously thought.
An emergency hospital, the NHS Louisa Jordan, opens at the SEC in Glasgow. Three days later the First Minister warns restrictions could be kept in place for the rest of the year or longer.
The once-a-day exercise limit is lifted but other restrictions remain in place. A BBC Scotland investigation suggests the virus was in Scotland before March, among Nike delegates at an Edinburgh conference at the end of February.
The Test and Protect strategy is unveiled.
Scotland enters phase one of its route map out of lockdown with people allowed to meet one other household outdoors.
No new coronavirus deaths are reported for the first time since lockdown began.
Phase two of easing lockdown allows people who live alone or solely with under-18s to meet another household indoors without physical distancing in an “extended household”.
Face coverings become compulsory on public transport. Plans for “blended learning” in schools when they return are scrapped.
Phase three allows up to 15 people from five households to meet outdoors, or eight people from up to three households indoors.
Face coverings become mandatory in shops.
Hairdressers, indoor pubs and restaurants, museums and galleries reopen. Places of worship reopen for communal prayer and congregational services.
Tough restrictions are reimposed in Aberdeen due to a cluster of cases.
Pupils return to school.
Masks become mandatory in secondary school corridors and communal areas. Gyms and swimming pools reopen.
New restrictions on visiting other households are introduced in Glasgow, West Dunbartonshire and East Renfrewshire.
These are extended to East Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire as Sturgeon says the Scottish Government may need to “put the brakes” on easing lockdown.
Social gatherings are restricted to six people from two households.
The Test and Protect app is launched. A day later, household restrictions are introduced in Lanarkshire.
A ban on indoor household visits and a “strict nationwide curfew” for pubs and restaurants begins.
SNP MP Margaret Ferrier apologises for travelling to London to debate the coronavirus response in the UK Parliament while experiencing Covid-19 symptoms before testing positive and returning to Scotland.
Pubs and licensed restaurants in five health boards begin enforced closure amid new restrictions.
The new five-tier system of restrictions is unveiled with “cautious optimism” from the First Minister. Each council area will be moved into a level of restrictions dictated by prevalence of the virus.
Sturgeon says the tiers are the country’s best chance of avoiding another national lockdown.
NRS figures show more than 5000 people have died with coronavirus.
Glasgow, Stirling and Lanarkshire move to level four, the highest tier of restrictions.
The Scottish Government publishes guidance on what restrictions will be eased over Christmas.
The vaccination programme presents the “beginning of the end”, the First Minister says, as the first jabs are given.
The Christmas “bubble” policy is scaled back with indoor household mixing only allowed on Christmas Day and a travel ban imposed between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Sturgeon apologises for breaking coronavirus rules having been photographed not wearing a face mask at a funeral wake.
Mainland Scotland enters level four for three weeks.
Sturgeon urges households not to mix on Hogmanay as Scotland records the highest number of new cases since the pandemic began for the third day in a row.
January 4, 2021
The Scottish Parliament is recalled.
Schools are closed and mainland Scotland returns to lockdown the next day to combat a new, more infectious strain spreading.
Scots begin receiving doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
A ban on drinking alcohol outdoors in lockdown areas and further restrictions on takeaways are announced.
The UK death toll passes 100,000. Sturgeon says she is “truly sorry” for mistakes made.
Large-scale manufacturing of vaccine candidate begins at Valneva in Livingston. If approved, it will deliver up to 60 million doses to the UK by the end of this year.
Sturgeon says lockdown will continue until the end of February at least. The UK Government offers to step in and help vaccinate Scots amid claims the programme is “lagging way behind”.
The daily test positivity rate falls to 4.9% – below 5% which the World Health Organisation considers a pandemic to be “under control”.
Sturgeon says light at the end of the tunnel is “more visible now than at any point in recent weeks”.
Travellers landing at Scotland’s airports will be forced to quarantine for ten days – at their own cost of £1750 with an additional supplement for each other passenger if not alone.
Scotland’s vaccination rollout passes the one million mark.
Sturgeon confirms some secondary school pupils and children in P1-3 will return to face-to-face learning from February 22 – but lockdown continues.
The First Minister announces the stay-at-home order will remain in place until April 5, however more children could go back to school from March 15. She said it is also expected Scotland will move back to the tiers system from April 26, with all areas initially in level three.
One year on, 202,084 cases of coronavirus have been recorded and 7131 deaths after a positive test.
Three cases of the Brazil variant of Covid-19 have been detected in Scotland.
Following a return to north-east Scotland from Brazil, three Scottish residents tested positive for the new strain of coronavirus.
All three have been self-isolating since their return to Scotland.
The tests were completed in early February and passed to the UK’s advanced sequencing capabilities programme – which detected this new variant.
Due to the potential concerns around this variant, other passengers on the flight used by the three individuals from London to Aberdeen are being contacted.
These three cases are not connected to three cases also identified in England.
Health protection teams, including local clinicians, have assessed each case and their contacts and are arranging protective measures for this small number of potentially exposed individuals.
To provide an extra layer of safety, teams are ensuring people who could have been infected by these first line contacts are also isolated and tested.
This is to ensure all possible precautions are taken as experts learn more about this particular variant.
Clinical and trial data continues to be assessed to examine how the new variant may respond to current Covid-19 vaccines.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “The identification of this new variant is a concern but we are taking every possible precaution.
“We have identified these cases thanks to our use of advanced sequencing capabilities which means we are finding more variants and mutations than many other countries and are therefore able to take action quickly.
“This new variant demonstrates how serious Covid is and reinforces the need to minimise the spread of the virus.
“We would encourage everyone across the country to adhere to the necessary public health restrictions by staying at home except for essential purposes as this is the single best way of staying safe and stopping the spread of this virus.
“It is now also illegal for anyone to travel to or from Scotland unless it is for an essential reason.
“The Covid vaccination programme is one of three key ways we are working to beat this virus, along with our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission, and the important lockdown restrictions everyone in Scotland must follow.
“These three strands – following expert advice and guidance to suppress the virus, using our expanded testing programme to identify cases and break chains of transmission and rolling out vaccination as fast as supplies allow – are the three critical actions that will see us move, step by step, to protect the public, save lives and a brighter year ahead.”
NHS Grampian said the cases were confirmed as the variant VOC 202101/02 (P.1, Manaus) on Saturday, adding that the three people affected all isolated together at managed accommodation arranged by their employer.
The health board said in a statement: “The majority of people in Grampian should be reassured that they will not be directly affected by these cases.
“However, it must be remembered that Covid-19, no matter which variant it is, spreads in the same way.
“Everyone must continue to observe the current restrictions and follow the FACTS guidance to reduce their risk of being infected with any strain of Covid-19.”
Husband and wife team bring salt-making back to Scotland
Blackthorn Salt: The sea salt is created by piping salt water from the sea into the tower.
A husband and wife team have worked together to bring salt-making back to Scotland by using the country’s only graduation tower.
Gregorie and Whirly Marshall, owners of Blackthorn Salt, came across the graduation tower method of extracting salt, which dates back hundreds of years.
Mr Marshall, whose family has worked in the salt industry on the Ayrshire coast for generations, said it was always a dream of his to continue on the family business.
Mr Marshall said he had been playing with the idea of starting his own salt company for more than 15 years.
“We finished building around two years ago”, he said.
“We got a builder in, Archie McConnell, who’d done some green woodworking and he managed to find a few like-minded people to help out.
“We had a year of running it, to work out what worked best – it was quite nerve-wracking, the first production.
“But I’m relieved to say, and of course I’m a bit biased, that it tasted great.”
The sea salt is created by piping salt water from the sea into the tower.
It is then trickled down though 54 taps down a bed of blackthorn bushes.
This process is repeated, sometimes thousands of times, before enough water is evaporated to move to the next stage.
The remaining brine is then gently heated to evaporate the remaining water, and then the sea salt is harvested.
Mr Marshall said this process allows for a sweeter, milder salt, which greatly enhances food.
He said it was “similar to making a cup of tea” in that “if you add milk and sugar to a tea, it greatly changes the flavour, even though it only makes up 4 or 5%.
“Our salt is around 94% sodium chloride versus the 99% you’d see in regular table salt, meaning that the remaining 6% is made up of magnesium, potassium and calcium, and they all have an effect on the flavour – it becomes a much more mellow and slower release. It’s less harsh than the sharp table salt.”
With the product ready to launch, Blackthorn Salt planned to invite a number of chefs on a tour of the tower to spread the word about its product.
However, Covid-19 and lockdown hit and everything came to a standstill.
“We had to change things quite a bit”, Mr Marshall remembered. “We had all this product sitting around, and weren’t quite sure what to do.
“We ended up coming up with a plan called Pass the Salt. We had been speaking to local chefs and had planned this big launch of the product.
“Instead, we decided to give it away to those 19, with vouchers so they could pass on to others, who would get vouchers to pass on to others – it was a way to bring a bit of happiness during a really tough time.
“I didn’t feel comfortable being pushy and trying to sell it – the hospitality industry was really struggling and it didn’t feel right. So this was a way to bring a smile to someone’s face.”
Mr Marshall said that while the tower is completed, the work is never over, adding: “We’re always looking at the process and how to harness the energy we have – whether that be the wind or sun.
“If we can increase the temp of the brine, we can increase the rate of evaporation.
“In terms of the business, we hope to get the product out there so people can appreciate what good salt is, and how it can affect the flavour of food in such a positive way.”
Care homes in Scotland are set to allow visitors in for the first time in 2021.
From Monday, regular visiting will resume in care homes, with residents allowed to have two designated visitors each.
Each designated visitor will be able to see their relative once a week, the Scottish Government says, due to the progress of the vaccination programme.
Care home visiting has been tightly restricted during the pandemic.
However, data released last week showed care home coronavirus deaths had fallen by 62% in the last three weeks, with the figure cited by Nicola Sturgeon as the first “hard evidence” of the vaccine’s impact.
Almost all residents have received the jab, along with 92% of care home staff.
The government says that with the extra protection in place, the greater risk to residents’ wellbeing is from a lack of family contact.
Visitors will be “strongly recommended” to take a coronavirus test on-site and will have to wear PPE.
Cathie Russell, who has been campaigning with the Care Home Relatives Scotland group, said: “We look forward to working with care home providers, public health and oversight teams to ensure that the new guidance allows residents to enjoy meaningful contact with their closest relatives and friends once more.”
Edinburgh Airport is to trial pre-departure rapid Covid-19 testing.
The airport will work in partnership with PocDoc and BioSure to deliver the rapid testing, which gives results within 15 minutes.
The week-long trial is set to be part of the recovery plan for the aviation industry, and will start from Monday.
The rapid tests only require a saliva sample, meaning no nasal swab and a more positive testing experience.
The trial will be open to staff and campus volunteers due to low passenger numbers and will demonstrate how testing can be scaled at airports, potentially adding to the testing capability already in place at Edinburgh Airport.
Gordon Dewar, chief executive of Edinburgh Airport, said: “We know testing will be part of our travelling future, so it makes absolute sense that we look at how that is possible in an airport environment as we prepare for aviation’s recovery.
“Although there is a lack of detail on when that recovery might be able to take place, we are going to do all we can as an airport to make sure we put processes in place so we are in the strongest position possible when conditions allow.
“This trial with PocDoc and BioSure will provide some insight into rapid, efficient and affordable testing and we will study the findings before deciding our next steps.”
Founder and chief executive of PocDoc Steve Roest said: “Covid-19 has seen the travel industry brought to its knees, but we believe 2021 will see a much happier year for the sector.
“Everyone is aware of the extent of the testing problem and we believe we have found a solution.
“The very quick, reliable, cost-effective and safe service will help unlock travel and provide a massive boost to consumers and travel operators alike. To book a test, all you need to do is visit https://www.mypocdoc.co.uk/workplace-screening/”
J & D Pierce expect to create about 100 jobs in late 2021 after buying out the former Konecranes factory in South Lanarkshire.
In August 2020, Finnish firm Konecranes warned that they needed to address “the lack of profitability” at the College Milton site in East Kilbride and were looking to “protect (the company’s) long-term future”.
However, J & D Pierce have agreed to purchase the 300,000 square foot plant along with 14 acres of yard space.
Recruitment will soon take place for both manufacturing and office staff.
Cranes have been built in the facility for more than 60 years and J & D Pierce are “delighted” to continue production to supply and serve the large client base.
The plant also provides greater opportunity for the expansion of their own road and rail manufacturing division with the facility becoming the headquarters of their Strubeam business which specialises in the manufacture of bridges and heavy plated fabrication.
Managing director Derek Pierce said: “We have purchased the building and land and secured a long-term sub-contract agreement with Konecranes.
“This is a great step forward for J & D Pierce and Strubeam and we hope to create a positive impact in the community in East Kilbride.”
Human resources body the CIPD this week released a survey finding 56% of 2,000 firms planned on hiring in 2021.
Linda Fabiani MSP had called the announcement by Konecranes last year “a terribly sad situation”.
The plant’s restructuring and refurbishment will begin from March 2021.
Protections for mountain hares have come into force from today, in what campaigners are calling National Mountain Hare Day.
The new regulations mean that it is illegal to intentionally kill, injure or take mountain hares without a licence.
The regulations were passed after pressure from Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone to accept the licensing as part of the new wildlife legislation.
Johnstone said: “Today is an important moment for all those who campaigned for years to end the indiscriminate mass slaughter of mountain hares on Scotland’s grouse moors.
“These new protections come as a direct result of my amendment to wildlife laws last year, which forced the Government to act after years of delay.
“Overwhelming public support for action ensured that Parliament supported this change, and I would like to express my gratitude in particular to the tens of thousands of campaigners who backed my amendment and helped push it over the line.
“Now that mountain hares are a protected species, the Scottish Government has a responsibility to protect them.
“We will be keeping a close eye on them and will challenge any move that suggests they are not fulfilling this duty.
“Scotland is in a nature emergency, with one in nine species at threat.
“The progress we are seeing today is important but we need to do so much more.
“The Scottish Greens are committed to fighting for Scotland’s nature, ending the persecution of our wildlife and restoring Scotland’s unique and beautiful natural environment.”