FM says ‘no substantial difference’ with UK on lockdown

The First Minister told Scotland Tonight that parts of the UK could move at a slightly different pace.

STV

Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not believe there is “a huge amount of difference” in the positions of the Scottish and UK governments on lifting the Covid-19 lockdown.

Speaking to STV’s Scotland Tonight, the First Minister said different parts of the UK could ease restrictions at a different pace but with “no substantive difference in direction”.

She was speaking in a Q&A with members of the public, to be aired on STV at 7.30pm on Thursday.

The FM also raised the possibility that people might be allowed more outdoor exercise than the single daily session currently mandated, with more to come on that “over the next couple of days”.

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She said that while her government will extend the lockdown in Scotland for another three weeks – until May 28 – all measures are likely to be kept under constant review.

The First Minister also revealed the Scottish Government will air a new advert on Friday to recruit contract tracers, as part of the country’s mass “test, trace, isolate” plans.

Scottish ministers say a regime of 15,500 tests per day, backed by 2000 contact tracers, will be needed to contain any new pockets of the virus so lockdown measures can begin to be eased.

Sturgeon defended the Scottish Government’s approach in implementing the lockdown amid criticism it was done too late, saying “the easiest thing in the world is to have 20/20 hindsight”.

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It comes as Scotland’s death toll of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 cases nears 3000, while the UK’s total of more than 32,000 deaths is currently the worst in Europe.

“In due course, we’ll look back and learn lessons from this,” the First Minister said.

“We’re trying to learn as we go but at every stage we have taken, certainly, the Scottish Government has taken, the best decisions – the decisions we consider to be right at the right time and we will continue to do that.

“While any death is, as far as I’m concerned, a tragedy – there is no acceptable death toll – no country is through this pandemic yet.

“All countries measure deaths differently and we have to wait and see how this plays out before any country could claim success or compare in any meaningful way.

“In Scotland, we comprehensively report numbers of deaths and what we see yesterday is that last week is the first week we’ve seen a decline in those deaths.”

She said she asks herself “every single day” if her government is taking the right decisions to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

“We went into lockdown and took these steps at the right time based on the information we had then. The easiest thing in the world is to have 20/20 hindsight.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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The UK entered the second “delay phase” of its strategy against Covid-19 on March 12 – when the virus was considered “widespread” – but did not implement a full lockdown until March 23.

Sturgeon said: “We didn’t delay the lockdown – we went into lockdown at the point then we thought was right to do it.

“I guess in the fullness of time, everybody will look back and say did we do this right, did we do that right, did we do this soon enough or not, and that will be fair and legitimate.

“But we went into lockdown and took these steps at the right time based on the information we had then.

“The easiest thing in the world is to have 20/20 hindsight.”

Coronavirus: 100 days that have transformed Scotland Read now

She highlighted positions the Scottish Government had adopted earlier or in contrast to UK ministers, such as the banning of mass gatherings, the closure of schools, advice to cease non-essential construction and recent advice on face coverings.

The First Minister said health officials and politicians were still learning new things about Covid-19 all the time – a virus, she added, that was still only 130 days old.

On easing the lockdown, she said she had had a “good conversation” with Prime Minister earlier on Thursday along with the leaders of the other devolved governments.

It came after headlines suggesting Boris Johnson plans to lift a swathe of restrictions in England, including allowing unlimited exercise, the return of some sports, park picnics, and the opening of pub and cafe gardens.

The media reports also said the UK Government intended to scrap the “stay at home” slogan – but Downing Street has sought to play down these claims.

Johnson intends to make an address to the nation on Sunday concerning the lockdown.

Sturgeon said the PM had been “at pains” to say he would not be “proposing some early substantial lifting of restrictions”.

She said: “I still don’t know all of the detail of what the Prime Minister might propose on Sunday.

“But having spoken to him, I’m not sure there will be a huge amount of difference, if any difference at all, in our positions.

“I suspect, and I can only speak for myself, I have indicated today that these restrictions will be extended just now.

“That means we’ve got a deadline of three weeks from now to review them again.

“But that doesn’t mean we won’t make any changes before then if the evidence says it’s safe to do so.”

The First Minister continued: “We’re considering an early change to give people more opportunity to go for outdoor exercise and we’ll say more about that over the next couple of days.

“I’m very keen that we do move at the same pace in all parts of the UK. I think that makes it easier for me to give very clear messages.

“But I think we have to recognise that the evidence about how the infection is spreading, what stage it is at, might be slightly different in different parts of the UK.

“We all accept that if that’s the case, either we accept the pace of the slowest or we accept there may be a slight differences in our approach.

“But it will be a difference of pace rather than any substantive difference in direction.”

However, she pointed out the scientific evidence guiding their decisions “is developing all the time”.

She said she expects all four UK nations to agree a formal extension of the lockdown, but “with an agreement that as we move forward now, we have to keep them all under review”.

The First Minister said: “I don’t want the restrictions to be in place for a minute longer than they have to be.

“But equally, I am not prepared to lift them prematurely and risk a resurgence of the virus because that would be the worst possible thing that I could do.

“And I’m not prepared at this stage to change the very clear, well-understood ‘stay at home’ message.

“That is the advice as of now and that will continue to be the case over coming days.

“Stay at home, except for one of these limited reasons to go out – which is exercise, food, medicine – and remember to follow all the precautions when you are out.”

After the Prime Minister’s call with the First Minister, Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill, Downing Street issued a statement.

A spokesman said: “During the call, the Prime Minister emphasised that this is a critical moment in the fight against coronavirus and that the government will not throw away the efforts and sacrifices of the British people.

“He was clear that we will not risk a second peak that could overwhelm the NHS and we will act with maximum caution in order to save lives.

“He reiterated his commitment to continuing our UK-wide approach to tackling coronavirus, even if different parts of the UK begin to move at slightly different speeds. Those decisions will be made based on the science for each nation.

“They all agreed that continued engagement between our administrations is vital and to remain in close contact in the days and weeks ahead.”

FM: Nine cases of Omicron in Scotland traced to single private event

Nicola Sturgeon said that those who have tested positive have so far not required hospital care.

Scottish Parliament via Scottish Parliament TV

Nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland can all be traced back to a single private event, Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The First Minister said that those who have tested positive have so far not required hospital care.

In a statement at Holyrood, Sturgeon explained that those who attended the event on November 20, have all been self-isolating.

“I can confirm that as of 5pm yesterday (Monday), there are nine confirmed cases in Scotland,” she told MSPs.

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“Five of these are in Lanarkshire and four are in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

“We have preliminary information on all nine of these cases which is the basis of the information I am about to share with Parliament, however I want to stress that health protection teams are continuing their investigations.”

She continued: “Let me say firstly that none of the people who have tested positive for this new variant have so far required hospital care.

“All nine were tested on or around November 23 and because they had tested positive, they have all been self-isolating.”

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The First Minister said that as the known cases are so far linked to the single event, community transmission may still be limited.

She told MSPs: “None of these individuals, as far as we know, has any recent travel history to, or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

“However, while the contact tracing exercise is still ongoing, health protection teams have established that all nine cases are linked.

“They all trace back to a single private event on November 20.

“Indeed, we fully expect that there will be more cases identified over the coming days that are also linked to this event.

“In summary, the lack of any known travel or overseas connection to these cases does suggest that there is some community transmission of Omicron already happening in Scotland.

“However, the fact that all known cases are so far linked to this single event suggests that community transmission may still be limited.”


Storm Arwen’s impact on Scotland’s power network ‘unprecedented’

The number of faults across the network was around three times higher than in the Beast from the East in 2018.

Owen Humphreys via PA Ready
Storm Arwen knocked out electricity supplies to thousands of homes over the weekend.

The impact of Storm Arwen on the power network has been “unprecedented”, energy secretary Michael Matheson has said.

The Scottish Government minister said the number of faults across the network was around three times higher than in the Beast from the East in 2018.

Storm Arwen knocked out electricity supplies to thousands of homes over the weekend, with at least 17,000 homes enduring a fourth night without power on Monday.

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Extreme weather wreaked havoc across the country.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks remained at red alert status for the north of Scotland on Tuesday morning.

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Matheson appeared before Holyrood’s Net Zero Committee on Tuesday to discuss the government’s fuel poverty strategy.

Conservative MSP Liam Kerr asked him about the plans to replace gas and oil heating with electrically-powered heat pumps.

He said: “What contingency planning would be done such that if everyone were to move to electric-powered heating, that if we have the catastrophe that we’ve had over the last few days, they’re not left freezing in houses in rural areas?”

Matheson said in the wake of major events utility companies would be expected to minimise any future power losses.

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He said: “I think we have to reflect on the fact that the level of faults and difficulties which have been experienced across the network is unprecedented.

“I’ve heard over the course of the last few days – I think it’s three times the number of faults experienced during the Beast from the East.

“At one point we had over 500 faults in the system.”

The minister said district energy systems, where heating is provided to a number of properties in an area, would provide greater resilience.


Cloak-wearing robbers jailed over armed raids on jewellery stores

Connor Willis was involved in both robberies, which took place within a month of each other in 2019.

CCTV via Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service

Three robbers who took part in armed raids at jewellery stores in Edinburgh and Dundee have been jailed.

Connor Willis was involved in both robberies, which took place within a month of each other in 2019.

Anthony Wheeldon and Dean King were involved in the Dundee robbery.

The three men plead guilty at the High Court in Edinburgh on October 7 and were sentenced to a total of 32 years in prison on Tuesday.

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Willis, 24, was one of four men who carried out the robbery at Miena Jewellery on Great Junction Street, Edinburgh on August 31, 2019.

The men, who were all masked, arrived at the shop in a car stolen from a house in Edinburgh the night before.

One stayed in the car as three of the men used a sledgehammer to force their way through the locked door.

The robbers threatened to kill the shop owner and one attacked him with an axe while the others smashed display cabinets grabbing silver chains, necklaces and bangles, gold bars, chains and coins, watches, and earrings worth around £27,000.

CCTV via Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service
King bent down in the doorway to tie his shoelace, preventing the door from closing.
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The robbers sped off in the getaway car after the shop owner set off the fire extinguisher and filled the shop with fog.

Wheeldon, 40, and King, 28, and Willis were involved in a separate armed robbery in Dundee the following month, along with two others.

Just before 11am on September 23, 2019, a stolen car pulled up outside Walker the Jeweller on Union Street, Dundee and Dean King got out. He walked to the shop and a member of staff unlocked the door to allow him access.

King bent down in the doorway to tie his shoelace, preventing the door from closing. When he didn’t move, the staff member became suspicious and tried to push the door closed.

Three men came out of the car and into the shop carrying an axe, hammer and mallet. They threatened staff and customers and smashed the display cabinets, taking two Rolex watches worth £17,850. They fled when staff set off an anti-robbery fog device.

A customer who tried to fight the robbers was hit on the head with the mallet and had to be taken to hospital for treatment.

Jennifer Harrower, Procurator Fiscal for Specialist Casework, said: “These men travelled to Scotland, armed themselves and carried out violent robberies in broad daylight.

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“These were both terrifying ordeals for the staff and customers involved, particularly the two men who were attacked and injured during the robberies.

“It is thanks to thorough investigative work and co-operation with police forces in other parts of the UK that these three men have been brought to justice.”


‘I’ll be devastated if I can’t get home from Australia this Christmas’

Claire Hughes, who currently lives in Brisbane in Queensland, hasn’t made it back to Scotland in three-and-a-half years.

Simonbradfield via IStock / STV News

By Jenness Mitchell & Brandon Cook

A Scot who planned to return home from Australia for Christmas has said she’ll be “devastated” if further travel restrictions are put in place over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Claire Hughes, who currently lives in Brisbane in Queensland, hasn’t made it back to Scotland in three-and-a-half years.

She was due to visit family and friends during the summer of 2020, however the pandemic put a spanner in the works.

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Ms Hughes, who has lived in Oz for almost seven years, is booked to fly back later this month. However, the threat of the new Covid variant is causing uncertainty over her plans.

Speaking to STV News, she said: “I was excited about coming home this Christmas, but obviously these new plans are kind of throwing things into a bit of disarray.

“Not sure now what the UK is doing, so trying to keep up with it all is getting pretty confusing.

“And again, it’s bringing back that uncertainty and that worry about what’s next. You try and not get your hopes up too much.”

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Nine cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in Scotland so far – five in the Lanarkshire area and four in Greater Glasgow and Clyde.

In response to the new threat, those entering the UK from any destination abroad will have to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result.

Previously, vaccinated travellers only had to take a day two lateral flow test, and did not have to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.

The UK’s travel red list was also expanded over the weekend to include ten African nations: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, forcing arrivals into hotel quarantine for ten days.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, urging him to introduce a tougher four-nations approach to travel restrictions.

The FM has proposed that those coming into the UK from overseas should be made to self-isolate for eight days, taking PCR tests on both the second and eighth day after arrival.

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Queensland: The Brisbane skyline at night.

Ms Hughes, who tries to get home once a year, said she feels “privileged” to live in Queensland, where it’s been “fairly safe” with low Covid numbers.

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But she added: “Obviously it’s been super difficult during this time knowing that if anything were to happen, I literally cannot get back to Scotland and my family can’t get out to see me.”

With Queensland’s borders expected to open later in December, Ms Hughes quickly snapped up a ticket home.

Although she doesn’t normally fly back at Christmas due to the cost, she said: “This time the cost was no barrier.

“It was just that kind of hope of being able to spend that time with my family that I haven’t seen in three-and-a-half years.”

Ms Hughes’ mum has got all the Christmas food ordered, and there’s been excited discussions about who’s picking her up from the airport.

She’s even made plans to catch up with friends who’ve had babies she hasn’t met.

Ms Hughes said she’s “super excited” to get home, but added: “Again, you try and not get your hopes up too much because you just never know what will happen.

“But secretly at the back of my mind, if these rules do come in and stop me from getting home it will be pretty devastating. It will be really gutting.”


Man who raped two women and sexually assaulted four-year-old jailed

David Cox told one of the victims that he had a 'god given right' to have sex with her.

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High Court: Rapist jailed for seven years.

A man who raped two women and sexually assaulted a four-year-old girl has been jailed for seven years.

David Cox told one of the victims that he had a “god given right” to rape her during one of the attacks.

The 70-year-old former oil industry employee committed the offences between 1983 and 2013 at addresses in Banchory, Aberdeenshire.

He preyed on the young girl when she was between the ages of four and six.

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A judge told Cox at the High Court in Edinburgh that custody was “the only appropriate disposal” due to the serious nature of the offences.

Cox denied a series of offences but was found guilty of three rape charges and a further crime of indecent conduct towards a child at his trial.

Judge Alison Stirling told Cox, who watched the sentencing proceedings via a video link to prison, that he would be placed on the sex offenders’ register indefinitely.

The judge said one adult victim described Cox forcing himself on her “telling her it was your God given right to have sex with her”.

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A second woman was subjected to repeated sex attacks and said he was too strong for her to stop him physically.

The court heard that Cox was employed in the oil and gas industry both in the UK and abroad during his working life.

Defence counsel Drew Mckenzie said: “He maintains his innocence and will do so until his dying breath.”

He added that Cox did recognise that these kinds of offences were serious and did cause serious harm.

Mr Mckenzie said Cox had previously undertaken a course of anger management which he had described as being helpful.


Man dies at crash scene after Audi leaves road and smashes into tree

The crash happened on the B993 Torphins to Kincardine O’Neil road, Aberdeenshire, at around 9.05pm on Monday.

NORRIE3699 via IStock
Ambulance: A male driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

A man has died in Aberdeenshire after his Audi A3 left the road and smashed into a tree.

The crash happened on the B993 Torphins to Kincardine O’Neil road at around 9.05pm on Monday.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.

The man is still to be formally identified, however his family has been informed.

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Enquiries into the cause of the crash, which happened near to Ardmore Wood, are ongoing and investigating officers are appealing for anyone with information to get in touch.

Sergeant Christopher Smith said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the deceased at this time.

“We are conducting extensive enquiries into the circumstances of this incident and I am appealing for anyone who witnessed the crash, the car prior to the collision or who has dashcam footage which may assist to get in touch.”

If you have any information, call 101.

More on:

Ex-ambassador jailed for contempt over Salmond sex trial is freed

Craig Murray was jailed after a court ruled blog posts he wrote could have identified the former first minister’s accusers.

Jane Barlow via PA Ready
Craig Murray left HMP Edinburgh on Tuesday.

The former British ambassador who was jailed after a court ruled his blog posts could have identified Alex Salmond’s accusers has left prison at the end of his eight-month sentence.

Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, left HMP Edinburgh on Tuesday to the cheers of about 100 supporters who had arrived to see him walk free at the end of his prison term.

“It’s been a hard four months. I’ve learned a lot, one thing I have learned is that dignity comes from inside.

“Nobody can take away dignity from you if you don’t allow them to do so and those in the Scottish establishment who attempted to humiliate and degrade me only succeeded in humiliating themselves and sadly in bringing shame on Scotland internationally” he said.

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Murray, who had become a blogger and pro-independence campaigner in recent years, was judged to have been in contempt of court over blogs he wrote during the trial of the former first minister, Alex Salmond.

The 63-year-old’s offending articles contained details which, if pieced together, could lead readers to identify the women who made allegations allegations against Salmond, who was acquitted of all 13 charges including sexual assault and attempted rape in March last year.

On August 1, Murray handed himself into police in Edinburgh and began his jail term.

Leaving the Stenhouse prison, he said it was “horrible in there” and “prison is not a pleasant place”.

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He added: “Scotland should be ashamed of his antiquated, old fashioned and retrograde justice system”.

Almost breaking down in tears, Murray thanked his wife Nadir and his children, who were at the prison to see him released, and his supporters.

He said he had thousands of letters from across the world, including ones which said they were “appalled at this attack on freedom of speech and this miscarriage of justice”.

In his 16-minute speech, the former ambassador welcomed the Republic of Barbados into existence after it had “shaken off the British monarchy”, attacked Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP for not making a “scintilla more progress than they have on the day I went in”, and called for prison reform.

Murray told his well-wishers the prison guards he encountered in HMP Edinburgh said to him they did not think he should be in jail.

“A couple of them went further and stated straight out that they did not sign up to join the prison service in order to keep political prisoners,” he said.

At the end of his address, supporters, who arrived with Saltires and banners, handed him gifts of whisky and flowers.

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Murray, who emerged from prison with a large beard, said he would relax for the next few days with his family.


TSB announces plan to close 70 bank branches across UK next year

The business said that it would have 220 branches left at the end of June 2022, compared to 290 today.

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TSB said that it will mean 150 fewer roles.

TSB plans to close 70 bank branches across the UK next year as customers switch to online banking.

Seven of the branches set to close are located in Scotland.

The business said that it would have 220 branches left at the end of June 2022, compared to 290 today.

It will still have the country’s seventh largest branch network.

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TSB said that it will mean 150 fewer roles but that all staff who work at the closing branches will be offered alternative roles at the bank.

It is two years since TSB set out a plan to scale back its branch network but the shift to digital banking has accelerated during the pandemic as customers have been stuck at home.

Nine in 10 transactions are now done online, and 90% of mortgage appointments are video calls, TSB said.

There is “no prospect of branch transactions returning to pre-Covid levels”, the bank said.

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There is a Post Office or a free-to-use cash point within a mile of every branch that is set to close.

TSB chief customer officer Robin Bulloch said: “Closing branches is an incredibly difficult decision to take, but we have to respond to the changes in the way people bank and provide the right mix of services for all our customers now and into the future.”

Scottish TSB branches that will close next year include:

Ellon – 36 Bridge Street – April 19, 2022

Forfar – 20 East High Street – April 14, 2022

Forres – 156 High Street – April 27, 2022

Fort William – 6 Tweedale High Street – April 20, 2022

Lanark – 25 Bannatyne Street – April 27, 2022

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Stranraer – 21 Castle Street – April 28, 2022

Thurso – 12/14 Traill Street – April 21, 2022


Treemendous: A look inside Edinburgh Dome’s Christmas light display

Over half a million lights make the George Street building shine each year.

STV News

One of Scotland’s must-see Christmas attractions is back as Edinburgh’s Dome bar and restaurant unveils this year’s light display.

Over half a million lights make the George Street building shine, from a twinkling tunnel at the entrance to one of the biggest Christmas trees in the country.

The venue’s incredible décor attracts visitors from around the world.

Stephen Hall, general manager of The Dome, is delighted to have the doors fully open again, after the hospitality restrictions of last year.

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He told STV News: “We are thrilled that 2021 is going to be a full Christmas after 2020. There’s huge excitement here – we’re thrilled to be back and trading normally.

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Over half a million lights make the George Street building shine.

“So many people missed out on 2020 so there’s a huge appetite for experiences this Christmas. Everyone is determined n to have the best possible Christmas this year.”

While Christmas is still full steam ahead at the moment, concerns about the new Covid variant are creeping in for many, but Mr Hall insists that, while they can, its business as normal for The Dome.

He added: “We just have to remain positive at this point. It’s largely speculation in terms of the impact of the new variant. We prefer to focus on this week, next week, the run up to Christmas and delivering the kind of fantastic dining experiences people expect from us.”

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Christmas certainly does come early at The Dome as staff begin putting up the decorations as soon as the Edinburgh Festival ends.

However just don’t ask who has the task of unravelling all those lights or erecting that mammoth tree.

Mr Hall explained: “We don’t discuss that! We have our team of Christmas elves who beetle away when we go home.”


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