Sturgeon challenged over ‘husband’s WhatsApp messages’

SNP chief Peter Murrell is alleged to have sent messages that suggest 'pressurising' police over the Alex Salmond case.

SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell.

Nicola Sturgeon has faced questions about WhatsApp messages allegedly from her husband, SNP chief executive Peter Murrell, in which he seemed to suggest putting pressure on police over the Alex Salmond case.

At First Minister’s Questions, Ruth Davidson challenged her over the issue after the messages purportedly from Mr Murrell to an unknown person were leaked.

The First Minister refused to say if the messages were from her husband due to the ongoing police probe into how the communications were obtained.

Sent at the start of the year, around the time criminal proceedings were beginning against Salmond, one message appears to suggest it would be a “good time to pressurise” police about the case.

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Another suggests London’s Metropolitan Police should open a second investigation into the former first minister.

Mr Murrell’s message reportedly read: “The more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers.”

Davidson, who is the stand-in at Holyrood for Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, attacked Sturgeon over the Holyrood inquiry into her government’s botched handling of harassment complaints made against Salmond in 2018.

She asked why the FM had chosen to “break her word” to parliament that her government would cooperate fully and be as transparent as possible with the inquiry.

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Davidson accused the Scottish Government of a “shabby abuse of power” due to key documents being withheld or heavily redacted.

Sturgeon hit back that any files that had not been provided were due to legal restrictions and said the government had supplied the special committee of MSPs with “a thousand or more pages of material”.

She denied her administration is “obstructing” the inquiry – a claim made earlier this week by the committee’s convener and SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, who said the inquiry “simply cannot proceed” at present due to a lack of evidence.

In a letter to the Court of Session, Fabiani appealed directly to access the “essential” evidence currently caught up in legal wrangling.

The First Minister was pressed by Davidson on the WhatsApp messages apparently sent by her husband in fiery exchanges on Thursday.

The Scottish Tory MSP asked: “Are these messages genuine or not?”

Sturgeon refused to say, arguing: “The obtaining of these messages is currently a matter, as I understand it, of a police investigation.”

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She added: “I do not think it is reasonable for me to be asked questions about things that other people might or might not have done.

“Call the people who the messages are purported to come from and ask them the questions.”

The messages were revealed in the Daily Record by East Lothian MP and Salmond ally Kenny MacAskill, who says he was leaked them anonymously.

Davidson insisted the police probe concerns how the messages were provided to MacAskill and “does not preclude” the First Minister admitting whether they are genuine or not.

Thursday’s row at FMQs also comes after Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell was rejected from the Holyrood chamber for accusing the First Minister of “lying” to parliament.

Regarding the committee’s work, on January 17 Sturgeon told MSPs: “The inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request.”

Mundell refused to apologise for branding the FM a liar in the chamber, which is deemed unparliamentary language, saying it was the “most appropriate” term to use.

On this issue, Davidson asked the First Minister what had made her “break her word” to MSPs.

Sturgeon said she took the inquiry “very seriously”, adding that the Conservative accusations were “not an accurate characterisation of the position”.

The First Minister said “a thousand or more pages of material” and “ten hours of oral evidence” have already been provided by Scottish Government officials to the special cross-party committee.

She added she was herself ready to give oral evidence at any point but has not yet been asked.

The inquiry has decided not to invite any more oral witnesses until it has the evidence it says it needs.

The FM said she had already personally written a submission to the inquiry “months ago” but it has not yet been published.

She went on: “As I understand it the only material that hasn’t been provided is material where there are legal reasons why it cannot be provided, including the issue of legal privilege…

“The idea that the SNP or the Scottish government is trying to obstruct this committee bears no scrutiny whatsoever.” 

But Davidson said the First Minister could furnish the committee with the evidence it wants “with the snap of her fingers” and condemned “the shabby abuse of power that this affair has revealed”.

The Tory group leader added: “We have the head of the civil service having to be recalled to the inquiry because she can’t remember or won’t answer key questions.

“A tranche of government emails related to the inquiry deleted, committee hearings having to be suspended because they can’t continue due to obstruction, and the committee chairwoman having to write to the courts to get information that the First Minister promised 18 months ago that she would undertake to provide.”

Sturgeon said that as the inquiry dealt with her own conduct, she had recused herself from any role in deciding which government materials are provided and how they are presented.

The FM continued: “I stand ready any time – today, next week, the week after that – to turn up at this committee and give evidence to it orally.

“I have not had an invitation to do that yet.

“The committee can convene this afternoon and I will answer questions for my conduct before that committee.

“The committee has now for two months been in possession of substantial written evidence from me personally.

“That has not been published and that is entirely the committee’s decision.

“But it is a bit galling for me to hear, often members of the committee from the Conservative benches, somehow saying I am not answering questions.”

The special committee was set up in early 2019 after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against Salmond had been “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former first minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The harassment claims were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, it went on to trigger Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former First Minister, and ultimately, a criminal trial.

Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual offences by a jury in the High Court in March.

‘We’re closing on Black Friday and giving staff the day off’

Many independent retailers are boycotting the annual discounted-shopping bonanza.

Maggie Blyth via Contributed
Maggie Bluth is giving her staff a 'well-earned' day off.

While many retailers are cocking their ears to the sound of ringing cash tills, an increasing number of shops are boycotting the so-called Black Friday bonanza.

Many of them – such as the Maggie Blyth clothing boutique in Inverness – are even closing their doors and giving staff the day off.

Black Friday, which started in the US as a key day for Christmas shopping following Thanksgiving, is often a pivotal time for major online retailers such as Amazon.

But for under-pressure independent shops still trying to recover from pandemic-enforced lockdowns, offering customers huge discounts is too much of a threat to profit margins.

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Maggie Blyth told STV News: “Every year, the pressure mounts to do a big sale and offer more discounts, but as a small independent shop coming out of a pandemic, we decided to take a stand.

“So, instead of a massive sale, which would have cost us our profit, we’ve decided to close the shop and give staff a well-earned day off.

“Black Friday is originally an American celebration and one made to support bigger businesses and brands which can afford to offer massive reductions and discounts.

“Small independent businesses do not have the profit margin to do the same and when we try to compete with big brands, we lose profit.”

STV News
Maggie Blyth will be closed on Black Friday, with staff given the day off.
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Ms Blyth said the boutique’s website would still be taking orders as her staff enjoyed a lie-in, and hers won’t be the only independent retailer turning it’s back on Black Friday.

The British Independent Retailers Association (Bira) said its latest survey of members showed that around 85% would be boycotting the event, which runs over the weekend.

Andrew Goodacre, chief executive of Bira, said: “The main reasons for them not wanting to take part in this is because they don’t agree with this idea – there are higher prices, and there is also insufficient volume to make large discounting work.

“They also need to preserve their margins. This, coupled with many of our independents experiencing supply chain issues, this has proved to be a real challenge.”


What do we know about the new Covid variant and should we be worried?

The B.1.1.529 variant has first been found in cases in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

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Currently, there are no cases in the UK, health secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Six countries have been added to the Scotland’s red list after UK scientists said they are worried about a new variant of coronavirus.

The B.1.1.529 variant has first been found in cases in Botswana, South Africa and Hong Kong.

People who have recently visited South Africa – where the bulk of the variants have been found so far – and returned to the UK are being contacted for testing to see if they contracted it overseas.

But how is this new variant different from previous versions and how dangerous is it?

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– When did it first appear?

UK scientists first became aware of the new strain on November 23 after samples were uploaded on to a coronavirus variant tracking website from South Africa, Hong Kong and then Botswana. A total of 59 samples have been uploaded on to the website so far.

Three samples are from Hong Kong, three are from Botswana and the rest are from South Africa.

Outlining the situation in South Africa, one senior scientist said: “If we look at the results they had up to a week ago, less than 1% of people were testing positive in lots of areas. That’s increased very dramatically in some parts to 6% in the last few days, and so that makes me concerned quite rapidly on people that may be arriving [in the UK] now.”

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– Are there any cases in the UK?

Currently, there are no cases in the UK, health secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed.

He added: “The early indication we have of this variant is it may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it.

“Now to be clear, we have not detected any of this new variant in the UK at this point in time.

“But we’ve always been clear that we will take action to protect the progress that we have made.

“Our scientists are deeply concerned about this variant. I’m concerned, of course, that’s one of the reasons we have taken this action today.”

– Have any of these countries been put on the red list?

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Yes. Flights from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe will be suspended from midday on Friday and all six countries will be added to the red list.

– What does this mean for travellers?

The UK and Scottish Government and Northern Ireland Executive said on Thursday that UK and Irish residents who arrived in England between midday Friday and 4am Sunday, and who have been in the six countries within the last 10 days, must quarantine at home for 10 days and take NHS PCR tests on Day 2 and Day 8, even if they already have a lateral flow test booked.

Passengers – including UK and Irish residents – arriving from 4am Sunday will be required to book and pay for a government-approved hotel and quarantine for 10 days. They must also take tests on day 2 and day 8.

Direct flights from the six nations to the UK are being temporarily banned until 4am on Sunday, once the quarantine hotels have been set up.

From midday on Friday, 26 November, non-UK and Irish who have visited the nations in the previous 10 days will be refused entry into England.

– How is it different from the other variants?

Despite only being tracked for the past three days, the virus has been identified as having 30 different mutations already. By comparison, that is twice as many as the Delta variant, which has been the most prominent variant in the UK over the past few months.

The mutations contain features seen in all of the other variants but also traits that have not been seen before.

– Will the vaccines protect people against it?

It’s too early to say. The mutations could potentially make the variant more transmissible and evade the protection given by prior infection or vaccination.

– Has it been classed as a “variant of concern”?

Not yet by UK scientists as they do not have enough evidence on its levels of transmissibility, however, some have said they are concerned.

Professor Ravi Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, has said: “B.1.1.529 has signatures of cumulative mutation indicating that it emerged in a chronic infection.

“B.1.1.529 does certainly look of significant concern based on mutations present. Many have been shown to impact binding by neutralising antibodies, and some are known to increase the ability of virus to enter cells or to make them fuse together to allow cell-cell spread.”

Professor Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said: “The B.1.1.529 variant has an unprecedented number of mutations in the spike protein gene, the protein which is the target of most vaccines.

“There is therefore a concern that this variant may have a greater potential to escape prior immunity than previous variants.

“However, we do not yet have reliable estimates of the extent to which B.1.1.529 might be either more transmissible or more resistant to vaccines, so it is too early to be able to provide an evidence-based assessment of the risk it poses.”

It is known as a “variant under monitoring”, meaning scientists believe it may pose a future risk, but its impact is unclear.

– How worried should we be about this variant?

Scientists in the UK are eager to acquire live virus cultures so it can be examined, but this takes time. It can take seven to 10 days at least to grow enough virus that can be shared with other scientists so they can study how it mutates and changes.

Officials will now also have to wait for data to come from South Africa. The earliest they are expecting evidence to come through is two to three weeks, but it could be as long as four to six weeks.


Extinction Rebellion blockade Amazon fulfilment centre on Black Friday

The climate campaigners are preventing HGVs from accessing the Dunfermline site - the largest in the UK.

Maciej Walczuk via XR Scotland
XR Scotland activists blockade Amazon centre.

Climate activists have blockaded the UK’s largest Amazon distribution centre, in Dunfermline, Fife, on Black Friday.

The Extinction Rebellion Scotland campaigners are preventing HGVs from accessing and exiting the facility near the M90.

Meg Peyton Jones, a spokesperson taking part in the action, told STV News: “Today, there’s a big international workers strike across Amazon centres all over the world.

“We’re doing this in solidarity with them, to show our support for it. The working conditions at Amazon are pretty appalling

Maciej Walczuk via XR Scotland
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“They work very long hours, for low pay and they are treated like robots.”

Black Friday, which started in the US as a key day for Christmas shopping following Thanksgiving, is often a pivotal time for major online retailers such as Amazon.

Many independent retailers are boycotting the annual discounted-shopping bonanza.

The blockade is part of an international action by Extinction Rebellion targeting 15 Amazon fulfilment centers in the UK, USA, Germany, and Netherlands.

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The activists have been at the Dunfermline site since around 4am on Friday. They told STV News they want to highlight how Amazon is linked with climate issues.

“Exploitation of workers and the planet is why we’re in the climate crisis in the first place, sacrificing everything on the altar of profit,” Mrs Peyton Jones said.

“We’re not going to solve it without justice for workers.”

Police are in attendance with a number of vehicles and officers at the scene.

A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report of a protest taking place on Amazon Way, Dunfermline, on Friday, November 26.

“Officers are currently in attendance and engaging with the protestors.”

Amazon has been contacted for comment.


Scotland set to learn World Cup play-off opponents

The draw for the semi-finals and finals will be made in Switzerland on Friday.

Craig Foy via SNS Group
Victory over Denmark ensured Scotland would be seeded.

Scotland’s path to the 2022 World Cup will be laid out on Friday when FIFA makes the draw for the play-offs.

Steve Clarke’s side sealed a place in the knockout round by finishing second in their qualifying group and beat Denmark on the final matchday to ensure they’ll be seeded in Zurich, Switzerland.

The national side are now just two games away from making a World Cup finals for the first time since 1998, but could face tough opposition.

Scotland already know they will have home advantage when the semi-final is played in March, and being seeded means they will avoid big hitters such as Portugal and Italy.

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The qualifiers have been split into two groups, with the six sides with the best record from the group stage being seeded, and the worst four unseeded along with the teams that earned their place through the Nations League.

Friday’s draw, which starts at 4pm UK time, will see the nations divided into three ‘paths’, with each having two semi-finals and a final, from which the three winners earn a place at Qatar 2022.

In the semi-final, Scotland could be drawn against Turkey, Poland, North Macedonia, Ukraine, Austria or Czech Republic.

The play-off semi-finals will take place on Thursday, March 24, 2022, with the finals all being played the following Tuesday.

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Scotland’s potential play-off opponents

Turkey

Of the unseeded sides, Turkey may feel the most unlucky to be on the wrong side of the draw. It was only goal difference that saw them finish below Wales in the ranking of second-placed teams and, even at that, they had pushed for first spot in their group all through the campaign.

In March, they started their Group F adventures with a 4-2 win over top seeds Netherlands, and pushed the Dutch throughout, with a 6-1 defeat in Eindhoven the major turning point.

Manager Stefan Kuntz won’t just blame that collapse for his side’s position though. Turkey dropped points from winning positions against Montenegro, Latvia and Norway.

A 6-0 win against Gibraltar and 2-1 win in Montenegro saw them finish the campaign in winning form, and with the likes of Caglar Soyuncu, Hakan Calhanoglu and Burat Yilmaz in their ranks, Turkey will be confident they can get beyond the semi-finals at least.

Poland

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Most likely the team everyone would rather avoid, Poland finished behind England in Group I.

A surprise 2-1 defeat to Hungary ended seeding hopes following a disappointing 2021 for a team that has plenty of quality.

Their campaign started with a draw in Budapest and beating Andorra, before a 2-1 defeat to England at Wembley when Harry Maguire’s 85th minute goal sealed three points for the hosts.

The World Cup was then put on hold for Euro 2020, but Poland’s showing was not as they would have liked. A 2-1 defeat to Slovakia was a surprise opener, but a creditable 1-1 draw with Spain gave hope of progress. That set up an all-or-nothing clash with Sweden, but a 3-2 defeat saw them finish bottom of the group.

Back on Qatar 2022 duty, the team found their groove, putting four past Albania and seven past San Marino (though conceding a goal to both) before a 1-1 draw at home to England. Nine points from nine followed before the Hungary slip-up.

If Poland are to drawn to face Scotland, there’ll be one name dominating the build-up and Robert Lewandowski has shown little sign of his edge blunting with age.

The Bayern Munich striker scored eight in qualifying and would come to Glasgow hunting his 75th international goal.

Eleven Polish players found the net during the campaign and with their squad drawn predominantly from England, Germany, Italy and France, they represent a tough test.

North Macedonia

One of the sides most of the Tartan Army would fancy, North Macedonia are ranked 74th in the world and are now without Goran Pandev, their record caps-holder and goalscorer.

Their push to reach the World Cup follows a successful campaign to make Euro 2020 where, like Scotland, they qualified via the play-offs. Three defeats in the summer were a blow, but there was enough to show that they have plenty of ability.

That was on display during the group section, where Germany ran away with first place. The Germans won nine of their ten games, but suffered a 2-1 home defeat to North Macedonia. That result was key to making the play-offs as the Lions lost away to Romania (when Rangers star Ianis Hagi scored a late winner) and drew at home to them, as well as drawing away to Iceland.

Pandev’s retirement after the Euros leaves the side without a talisman, but not without talent. Enis Bhardi, Elif Elmas and Aleksandar Trajkovski scored four each in qualifying.

Scotland would be heavy favourites but, like Steve Clarke’s team, North Macedonia are aiming to prove that reaching the Euros was no fluke.

Ukraine

Drawing Ukraine in the play-off would cleanly divide the Tartan Army into optimists and pessimists.

Some would point to their unbeaten group stage and be wary of any team that can face France twice without defeat. Others would take confidence that Ukraine only won two of their matches (against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Finland), drawing the other six qualifiers and failing to beat Kazakhstan in either match.

The Euro 2020 quarter-finalists have only won six of their last 18 games but seem to have a knack of getting a result when it matters.

Oleksandr Petrakov is in temporary charge after Andriy Shevchenko quit in August and has an experienced squad to draw upon, with a core of Ukraine-based players supplemented by players from top sides, including Manchester City’s Oleksandr Zinchenko and West Ham’s Andriy Yarmalenko.

Austria

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John McGinn has a shot during Scotland’s visit to Austria in the qualifying group.

Familiar faces after being in Scotland’s qualifying group (and finishing fourth), Austria owe their play-off place to the Nations League.

Steve Clarke would be more than familiar with the opposition if paired with Franco Foda’s side and would take confidence that, after drawing 2-2 at Hampden in the first group match, Scotland were 1-0 winners in Vienna in a game that was key to earning a play-off place.

The Tartan Army are well aware of the players and might be happy enough to face a team that failed to live up to their status as second seeds over ten Group F games.

Czech Republic

A chance falls to Lyndon Dykes during the Euro 2020 meeting at Hampden.

Another familiar foe for Scotland, Czech Republic are another side who benefited from the safety net of a Nations League play-off spot.

The Czechs would have been one of the seeded sides themselves, had Wales not earned a final day draw with Belgium that saw them take second place.

A home draw with Belgium and a 1-0 defeat in Wales shows how tight things were in a competitive group, but the Czechs have a lifeline to try and compete in what would be their first World Cup since 2006.

Regulars at the Euros in that time, they, of course, faced Scotland at Hampden just a few months ago at Euro 2020. Patrik Schick’s double ensured victory on that day and the team stunned Netherlands in the round of 16 before being beaten by Denmark in the quarter-finals.

Scotland will want to forget that run and, if paired with the Czechs, remember that Clarke’s side were home and away winners against the same opposition in the Nations League just a year ago.


Bertie Auld: Funeral due to be held for ‘Mr Celtic’

European Cup-winning Celtic legend Bertie Auld died aged 83 earlier this month.

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A funeral is due to be held later for European Cup-winning Celtic legend Bertie Auld.

Auld, who died aged 83 earlier in November having been diagnosed with dementia, was one of the Lisbon Lions who lifted the famous trophy in 1967.

His funeral cortege will pass Celtic Park around 1.30pm on Friday, following a service being shown on a big screen outside the stadium from midday.

Auld spent 12 years as a Celtic player across two spells with the club, winning numerous trophies as an important part of the team that became to first British side to win club football’s biggest prize.

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The former midfielder, who won three international caps and was inducted into the Scottish football Hall of Fame, made more than 280 appearances for Celtic, scoring 85 goals. He won five league titles and seven domestic cups as a player at Parkhead.

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Bertie Auld was a prominent Celtic ambassador in his later years.

Auld went into management after his playing career ended and had spells at Partick Thistle, Hibernian, Hamilton Accies and Dumbarton.

A hugely popular figure with the Celtic support, he was a prominent ambassador for the club in his later years, and was remembered during a minute’s silence before the Scotland v Denmark qualifier at Hampden.

In a tribute following Auld’s death, Celtic chairman Ian Bankier described him as “Mr Celtic”.

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He said: “The most sincere thoughts and prayers of everyone at Celtic are with Bertie’s family at such a difficult time, following this tragic loss.

“I don’t think words can ever adequately describe what Bertie meant to the club and our supporters. He was a giant of a player, a giant of a man and quite simply Mr Celtic.”

‘He defined the notion of a diehard’

Obituary by STV special correspondent Bernard Ponsonby

If Billy McNeill is the never to be forgotten icon of Lisbon 1967, Jimmy Johnstone the irrepressible entertainer, Bobby Murdoch the beating heart of this country’s greatest ever club side, then Bertie Auld is the enduring spirit.

As everyone who walks Kerrydale Street or has attended a supporter’s function or drank in a Celtic pub will know, there was no greater ambassador for remembering the magic of that night or of honouring the memory of his departed brothers than Bertie Auld.

It was Auld who led the singing of the Celtic song as the players emerged from the tunnel in the Estadio Nacional, no doubt to the bemusement of the sculpted, tanned athletes of Inter Milan. 

Although his own legendary status was assured as a result of the events of May 25, 1967, to the day he died he redefined the notion of a diehard. Wherever there was a Celtic party, the wee man was never far away.

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Read the full obituary here.


Dumfries launches bid to become Scotland’s eighth city

The town hopes to become the first city in the south of Scotland as part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Civic Awards.

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Bid: Dumfries launches bid to become 'Queen of the South' as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

Dumfries has launched a bid to become Scotland’s most southerly city as towns across the UK make their case to be awarded the elevated status.

Towns across the country are making their cases to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Civic Awards, which will next year announce new cities in the UK, and Dumfries on Friday launched its bid to be crowned “Queen of the South”.

Dumfries provost Tracey Little, who is leading the bid for the town to be elevated to a city, said: “This is a rare opportunity to showcase Dumfries – and the wider region – and show our ambition to grow and develop. We are absolutely in this to win it.”

In 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, Perth was awarded city status in Scotland, as were Chelmsford in England, and St Asaph in Wales.

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If Dumfries wins city status, it will join Inverness, Aberdeen, Dundee, Stirling, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Perth as one of Scotland’s cities and, if awarded, would see the town become the first city in the south of Scotland and the first rural city in the country.

Mark Jardine, of the People’s Project, has campaigned to get city status for Dumfries for more than 20 years.

“It was a dream of mine as a child,” he said.

“Since Inverness achieved city status, the whole of the Highland region has gone from strength to strength.

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“I firmly believe that Dumfries and Galloway could do likewise. As ‘Queen of the South’, we really would be the first city in Scotland,” he said.

Dumfries has been home to many famous faces, including Peter Pan author James Matthew Barrie, Formula One driver David Coulthard, and DJ Calvin Harris.

But its most famous former resident is Robert Burns, who spent his final years in Dumfries.

The provost said: “This will be a community-led bid with the aim of bringing benefits to the whole of Dumfries and Galloway. Giving us city status would lead to new investment, more jobs, more opportunities for our young people and really put the area on the map across the UK and beyond.”

Youngsters from schools in the area have also got behind the campaign.

Craig Adams, 16, a sixth-year student at Dumfries High School, said “it would be amazing if we won this competition and get this incredible honour from the Queen”.

Fellow student Abi Kelly, 17, said: “It would be great for the area and would create new jobs and training opportunities for young people as more companies would want to move to Dumfries.”

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Other Scottish towns are expected to submit bids to become cities ahead of the December 8 deadline.


Glasgow’s roads ‘fit for purpose’ despite £30m repair bill

The review, by the city’s roads team, found their condition would worsen under the current £10.86m investment.

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Glasgow: The city's roads are reportedly 'fit for purpose'.

Council bosses insist Glasgow’s roads are “fit for purpose” after a report revealed an extra £20m is needed to “marginally” improve their condition.

The review, by the city’s roads team, found the condition would worsen under the current £10.86m investment, but confirmed the roads would be “safe and serviceable”.

It added £30.4m would allow roads to stay at existing levels “as a minimum” but with “the ability to marginally improve”.

Labour councillor Jim Kavanagh said the £30m estimate showed how far the standard of roads in the city had fallen, adding the money was needed just to “stand still”.

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A council officer said the extra £20m was “only an indicative idea of potentially how much we need”.

They added: “The same as every department across the council, if more money was given to us, I would find locations to spend it.

“But I’m not stating that we need millions more right now, because the condition of our road network at this moment in time is fit for purpose.”

In the report, there is a gold, silver and bronze level of service.

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It reveals Glasgow is currently at bronze, which allows for a “marginal reduction in condition” in a “managed way” while “still meeting our statutory duties”.

The silver standard, which would require the £30.4m, is described as a “good” network, which enables the condition to be kept at “existing levels”, with an ability to “marginally improve” over the period of investment.

The council officer, speaking at an environment, sustainability and carbon reduction committee meeting, said there had been a “very slight fall in the acceptable condition of roads within Glasgow”, down around 0.5% since last year.

But he added the council “still far exceeds the average in Scotland” and is “still one of the best performing councils” in the country. He said the drop was related to the Covid-19 lockdown.

Labour councillor Jill Brown said there is “clearly an underfunding issue” and asked whether the report was intended as a bid to the Scottish Government to “look for appropriate funding”.

Conservative councillor Kyle Thornton noted a decline in customer satisfaction, and suggested this was due to how the council prioritised roadworks.

He said: “There are road defects being reported, people are seeing more of them, they’re just not all of the standard where the council has the available money to go out and fix that.”

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The council officer said his comments on customers reporting defects were “not the truth”.

He said: “As part of our risk-based approach to safety inspections, our technically qualified staff will go to every notification of a defect on our roads, footways, structures, and they will assess that defect.

“If they determine that defect does not meet the criteria for repair at that moment in time, it will not be repaired. If it does meet the criteria, it is then prioritised to determine what timescale that repair would be undertaken.

“I think the issue with some of our customers is that they may report something, a cracked flag outside their property, which may not aesthetically look pleasing but from a safety point of view, it’s fine and it passes.”

On footways, the officer said there had been a “slight reduction” in condition but just over 81% are in a “good or fair condition” and only 3% have “major or structural deterioration”.

He said cycleways are in a “very good” state, but around 38% of Glasgow’s street lighting columns have been “identified as being beyond their extended service life”.

He added: “It doesn’t mean that they are at a point of failure, it just means the extended service life of them has been met.”

He said the team working on structures, such as bridges, had recommended a “lengthy” investment period, which should be considered during budget processes.

And he said investigating funding sources for the Clyde Tunnel was “very high on the agenda at this period of time”.

In response to a question from cllr Thornton, the officer said: “It is not in any foreseeable or immediate danger of being closed, it’s the same as any other asset that we have.

“We may have a few issues that may occur within the tunnel, but the professional and technical staff we have on site or specifically there on site [deal] with any issues that may come up.”

SNP councillor Angus Millar, who chaired the committee, said: “The picture is broadly similar every year and obviously different political groups will have discussions to have as part of the budget process in the council, in terms of how we respond to this.

“What we have at the moment in terms of investment is a managed position, we are clearly performing in the upper quartile in Scotland in terms of road condition at the moment, but we need to keep a close eye on this.

“These are challenges that all local authorities across the UK and Scotland are dealing with.”

By local democracy reporter Drew Sandelands

Keith Brown: SNP’s ‘ambition and optimism’ will lead to independence

The SNP deputy leader will make the comments during the party's annual conference on Friday.

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Keith Brown: SNP deputy leader says Scotland's future must not be 'limited' by Westminster.

A message of “optimism and ambition” for Scotland’s future will lead the country to independence, SNP depute leader Keith Brown will insist.

After the challenges of the pandemic, Brown will stress that Scotland’s future post-Covid must not be “limited by the relentless negativity” of a Westminster system that is “broken beyond repair”.

He will accuse the London-based parties of having a “can’t-do attitude” and a “complete lack of vision” – contrasting this with the SNP’s belief that Scotland “has what it takes to be a successful independent nation”.

Brown, who is opening the SNP annual conference, will tell those watching the online event that the party is in “great shape” and has “great resolve”.

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Speaking at the start of the virtual gathering, he will say: “The last couple of years have been challenging for all of us, and they have made us all think about what really matters in our lives.

“As a responsible government, the SNP’s first priority has been – and remains – steering Scotland safely through the pandemic.

“While the whole Westminster system is quite clearly broken beyond repair, we are focused on delivering for the people in every corner of Scotland.”

He will add: “As we look to the future, we will urge the people of Scotland to think about what kind of country they want to live in when the pandemic is over.

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“Who is best placed to make decisions affecting their lives? Who is most committed to making Scotland a fairer, more prosperous nation and tackling key issues like the climate emergency?

“We will not allow Scotland’s future to be limited by the relentless negativity, the can’t-do attitude and the complete lack of vision from the unionist parties.

“Our case for Scotland’s future is one based on optimism and ambition. A belief that our nation has what it takes to be a successful independent nation.

“And a belief that the people who live here can take better decisions about their lives rather than leaving Westminster in control.

“That is the case we will make in the months ahead – and that is the case which will lead us to independence.”

However Pamela Nash, chief executive of the pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union, said: “With a new opinion poll revealing that 59% of people in Scotland want to remain part of the UK, Keith Brown is hopelessly out of touch.

“He has nothing to offer but tired old rhetoric and the arguments of yesterday, while the country has moved on and is looking to the future.

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“Rather than obsess about how to divide Scotland’s communities, we have a positive future ahead of us in the UK where nobody is left behind and we build a recovery for everyone.”


Council urged to apply for Government funds to renovate Winter Gardens

Councillor Robert Connelly is urging Glasgow City Council to apply to the UK Government's Levelling Up Fund.

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Glasgow: The People's Palace and Winter Gardens.

A fresh appeal to renovate Glasgow’s Winter Gardens – which has been closed to the public for three years – has been issued by the city’s Conservative group.

Calton councillor Robert Connelly is urging Glasgow City Council to submit a bid for UK Government Levelling Up funds in order to address the “crisis conditions” at the Glasgow Green attraction.

It comes after photos released earlier this month showed the east end attraction to be in a severe state of disrepair, with a once-thriving ecological ecosystem having been replaced by rotting vegetation and dead plant life.

The first tranche of successful levelling up bids were announced in October and included a £13m investment to transform Pollok Stables and Sawmill into a net-zero heritage centre.

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Councillors and campaigners are now asking the council to include renovation of the Winter Gardens in future funding applications in order to save the cherished community institution.

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Glasgow: Councillor Robert Connelly at the Winter Gardens.

Glasgow City Council says the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens has always been on the list of potential projects for funding. However, councillor Connelly is asking for action to be taken sooner rather than later.

He said: “The leader of the council promised that the Winter Gardens would be maintained for the community of the east end of Glasgow.

“The Winter Gardens [is an] ideal candidate for the UK Government’s Levelling Up Fund, which is investing £4.8bn across the UK, and I’m calling on Glasgow City Council to put a bid into this for the Winter Gardens.

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“The Levelling Up Fund could see significant investment brought to this venue to return it to the world-class status that it deserves.

“It would be neglect of the highest order if the SNP let this opportunity to invest in the Winter Gardens pass the city by.”

Glasgow City Council has confirmed they will apply for funding and the process of deciding which bids to submit is something that members are directly involved in.

A spokesperson for the council said the funding call for the People’s Palace and Winter Gardens will refurbish both to restore the building’s potential.

The spokesman said: “The premises has already been identified for a potential bid to the fund – but the Government has yet to publish details of the second funding round.”

An update will be provided to members in due course.

By local democracy reporter Catherine Hunter

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