Following Covid-19 rules is the ‘best gift’ Scots can give

The First Minister said that while restrictions would be relaxed temporarily over the festive period, people should 'think carefully'.

Sturgeon: Following rules 'best gift' Scots can get. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Sturgeon: Following rules 'best gift' Scots can get.

Sticking with coronavirus rules and helping keep people safe is the “best gift” Scots can give this Christmas, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister said that while Covid-19 restrictions would be relaxed temporarily for a few days over the festive period, people should “think carefully” before deciding on whether to reunite with relatives and other loved ones.

She made the plea after the UK Government and the three devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland agreed a joint approach that will allow a slight easing of restrictions between December 23 and 27.

Up to three households will be allowed to meet either in a house, outside, or in a place of worship in a “Christmas bubble”.

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Sturgeon confirmed this is the only time restrictions can be relaxed, meaning people will not be able to enjoy similar gatherings for Hogmanay.

The plan was agreed following a Cobra meeting chaired by Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who said the deal would “offer hope for families and friends who have made many sacrifices over this difficult year”.

Sturgeon said people would be allowed to “meet with friends and family in a cautious and limited way”.

She stressed that “any relaxation of the restrictions does carry an additional risk – a risk to your friends and to your families”.

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Sturgeon said: “This year, the best gift you could give is sticking with the rules and protecting your loved ones.”

Speaking about the temporary relaxation of restrictions, the First Minister said: “We will allow ‘bubbles’ of three households to meet from December 23 to 27 in a home, an outdoor place or a place of worship.

“You don’t have to stay together for all five days – in fact you might only meet for one or two days – but importantly, once you’ve formed a bubble, you shouldn’t meet with others outside of that bubble.”

Travel restrictions will also be eased for the period, so people can “cross between protection levels” to join their bubble.

With these plans in place for Christmas, she insisted no relaxation of the restrictions would be brought in for Hogmanay.

“Those are the only rules that will change,” Sturgeon said.

“Sadly, there cannot be any further relaxation of measures for Hogmanay. It is only possible to do this once – and even then, it has risks.

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“Before you reach out to friends and family, think carefully about whether you need to form a bubble.

“Just because you can mix with others indoors over this time, that doesn’t mean you have to.

“If you choose to stick with the rules as they are, then you will be continuing the hard work to beat this virus and prevent its spread to the elderly and the vulnerable.

“We have all sacrificed so much since the early days of 2020 in order to keep our friends and families safe.

“So much so, that to throw away the progress we have made on keeping Covid-19 from our doors – just when a way out of this crisis appears to be in sight – would be irresponsible and potentially bring with it tragic consequences.”


Further 76 Covid deaths as vaccine rollout continues

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5704.

Vicki Smith via Getty Images

Scotland has recorded a further 76 deaths from coronavirus as a mass roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination continues in Glasgow.

The total number of deaths after confirmed coronavirus in Scotland now stands at 5704.

There were 1307 new cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday, with 2085 people currently in hospital with the virus.

Of that number, 159 people were in intensive care, a decrease of two from Friday.

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Meanwhile, the roll out of mass vaccinations at the NHS Louisa Jordan, situated at the SEC Glasgow, continued on Saturday.

A total of 65 vaccine stations have been created at the hospital, utilising the large floor space to ensure a rapid turnaround in a safe environment. 

Last weekend, more than 5000 health and social care staff were vaccinated at the site.

The latest figures show 380,667 people have received their first coronavirus vaccination, with 5188 having received their second dose.

SNP reveals 11-point ‘roadmap’ to independence referendum

Document says 'legal referendum' will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May's election.

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Mike Russell will present document to SNP's policy forum.

The SNP has revealed a “roadmap to a referendum” on Scottish independence, setting out how they intend to take forward their plans for a second vote.

Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s Constitution Secretary, will present the 11-point document to the party’s policy forum on Sunday.

It says a “legal referendum” will be held after the pandemic if there is a pro-independence majority following May’s election.

The roadmap states any attempt by the UK Government to challenge the legality of the referendum in the courts will be “vigorously opposed”.

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A Section 30 order – part of the Scotland Act 1998 which allows Holyrood to pass laws normally reserved to Westminster – was granted by the UK Government ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

Russell says the UK Government could either agree that Holyrood already has the power to hold a second referendum or agree to a Section 30 order – something he said would put the question of legality “beyond any doubt”.

Boris Johnson has repeatedly stated his opposition to a second independence referendum.

As the roadmap document was published on Saturday, Russell said: “I firmly believe that Scotland’s referendum must be beyond legal challenge to ensure legitimacy and acceptance at home and abroad.

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“This is the surest way by far to becoming an independent country.

“The referendum should be held after the pandemic, at a time to be decided by the democratically elected Scottish Parliament. The SNP believes that should be in the early part of the new term.”

He continued: “Today I am setting out how I believe that right can be secured, and I welcome the discussion that will take place around this idea and others.

“But what is absolutely not for discussion is the fact that if Scotland votes for a legal referendum on May 6 this year, that is what it will get.

“The SNP Scottish Government will deliver such a referendum if re-elected and the proposals I am putting forward make that very clear.”

Around 1000 party members are expected to take part in the SNP’s national assembly tomorrow, a policy forum chaired by deputy leader Keith Brown.

Opposition parties accused the SNP of putting the push for independence ahead of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Scottish Labour interim leader Jackie Baillie said: “Scotland is deep in turmoil with thousands facing a cost of living crisis and thousands more people being lost to the virus.

“It is inexcusable that at this time of acute crisis the SNP seeks to put its plan for independence above everything else.

“The people of Scotland are being badly let down by an incompetent UK Government and a Scottish Government that seeks to exploit the current crisis for its own ends.

“To turn your back on those most in need by banging the drum for another independence referendum is an act of political hubris and is truly revealing of the Scottish Government’s true priorities.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross tweeted: “When 100% of our focus should be on recovering from the pandemic, the SNP are charging ahead with plans for another referendum.

“We won’t let them get their way.”

Scientists warn against easing lockdown amid mutant Covid

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says new variant of the virus may be associated with 'a higher degree of mortality'.

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The mutant coronavirus variant found in England may be more deadly than the original strain.

Scientists have warned there can be no early easing of lockdown rules after evidence the mutant coronavirus variant which emerged in the south-east of England may be more deadly than the original strain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday the new variant may be associated with “a higher degree of mortality”.

He said the UK Government could have to bring in further restrictions on travel following a warning that other new variants found in South Africa and Brazil may be more resistant to the vaccines that have been developed.

Meanwhile, the British Medical Association has reportedly written to chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty calling for the gap between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be reduced to six weeks.

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The private letter, seen by the BBC, said the current plans of people waiting up to 12 weeks for a second dose – which Health Secretary Matt Hancock said is supported by data from an Israeli study – are “difficult to justify”.

It said: “The absence of any international support for the UK’s approach is a cause of deep concern and risks undermining public and the profession’s trust in the vaccination programme.”

At a No 10 news briefing on Friday, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said early evidence suggested the new UK variant could increase mortality by almost a third in men in their 60s.

His warning followed a briefing by scientists on the Government’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag) which concluded there was a “realistic possibility” that it was associated with an increased risk of death.

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It was already known that the new variant was up to 70% more transmissible than the original – leading to a tightening of restrictions across the UK from late December onwards.

Rowland Kao, professor of veterinary epidemiology and data science at the University of Edinburgh, said the latest findings suggested it was responsible for the “unexpectedly high” numbers of hospital admissions, especially around London.

“While the recent results showing declining case numbers is good news, and suggest that the variant is controllable via existing measures, these results on deaths imply that burden in hospitals will continue to be high requiring a more prolonged period of restrictions,” he said.

Professor Sir Mark Walport, a former government chief scientific adviser and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said even stricter measures may be needed if cases do not continue falling “at pace”.

“Decisions are going to have to be made on the basis of the evidence,” he told BBC News.

“If the evidence shows that the decrease in cases isn’t continuing, then clearly policymakers will have to consider much tougher measures.”

Johnson said the case numbers remained “forbiddingly high” and that it would be a mistake to unlock in England if it were to lead to “another big rebound” in the disease.

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On another bleak day, with a further 1,401 deaths across the UK of people who had tested for Covid-19 in the previous 28 days, there was some good news with evidence the various lockdown measures in place across the country were having an effect.

A sub-group of Sage said the reproduction number, the R, for coronavirus had fallen to below one across the UK, suggesting a retreating epidemic.

The Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) put the R, which represents how many people an infected person will pass the virus on to, at 0.8 to 1.0, down from 1.2 to 1.3 the previous week.

It said the number of new infections was shrinking by between 1% and 4% every day.

However, Professor Whitty said the situation across the UK remained “extremely precarious”.

“A very small change and it could start taking off again from an extremely high base,” he said.

“If that happened again, we would be in really, really deep trouble.”

Professor Lawrence Young, a virologist at Warwick Medical School, suggested the more serious concern was the evidence that the South African and Brazilian variants may be less susceptible to the vaccines.

“The other virus variants identified in South Africa and Brazil are more worrying as they carry more changes in the spike protein of the virus,” he said.

“It is important that we now determine the neutralising ability of antibodies against virus variants generated in response to vaccination and study the immune response in individuals infected with virus variants.”

Sir Patrick said the evidence remained uncertain and there was no sign either the South African or Brazilian variants had any “transmission advantages” over those in the UK and so would not be expected to spread more quickly or “take over”.

Meanwhile, a year has passed since the first people in Scotland were tested for coronavirus.

The Scottish Government confirmed on January 23, 2020, that five people were being examined after presenting with symptoms of the illness.

Two of them had been diagnosed with influenza after travelling to Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

The first confirmed coronavirus patient in Scotland came on March 1, and was from Tayside.

On March 13, the first death related to the virus was recorded.

The UK entered full lockdown for the first time on March 23, but less than a month later Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood resigned after making two trips to her second home.

A route-map out of the coronavirus restrictions was first published by the Scottish Government on May 21.

This has been updated throughout the pandemic and includes rules on school closures, business operations and personal freedoms.

Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, has seen the highest volumes for coronavirus infections and deaths – more than 31,700 and 863 respectively.

There have been almost 170,000 positive Covid-19 cases and 5,628 related deaths north of the border, as of Friday.

Scottish Government figures show 358,454 people have received the first dose of the Covid vaccination, and 4,689 have received the second dose

‘After my mum died of breast cancer, I found a lump’

Nicole Little was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27 after her mother Celine died of the disease in 1999.

Lesley Martin via Email
Cancer: Nicole discovered she had breast cancer at just 27.

A breast cancer survivor whose mother died from the disease is urging people to support World Cancer Day. 

Nicole Little was 27 when she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer after discovering a lump in her right breast. 

The ambulance dispatcher from Bathgate, West Lothian, carries the faulty BRCA1 gene, which is known to increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Specialists estimate that around 70% of women with a faulty BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop breast cancer by the age of 80.

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Nicole said: “Most people are lucky enough to grow up with a mum but I was so young when cancer took my mum away.

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s mother Celine died in 1999 from breast cancer.

“I still miss her every day and when it was me in the hospital room being told I had cancer, my first thought was for my mum. I feared at first it was like history repeating itself. 

“I said to the doctor, ‘that’s what killed my mum’. But the doctors quickly explained there have been huge advances in treatment for breast cancer since my mum went through it in the 1990s. 

“My mum didn’t know she had the faulty BRCA1 gene as tests weren’t available to her then. 

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“That’s so unfair. They’re so much better at treating breast cancer today thanks to research, something which gave me hope. 

“Now I want to support research, not just for me and for future generations but in honour of my mum too.”

Nicole was supported by her dad Andy Little when her hair began to fall out following chemotherapy sessions.

Nicole said: “Dad helped me shave off my hair as it was coming away in handfuls every time I went for a shower.

“At times I felt angry with my life but my dad was brilliant. At night when I couldn’t sleep he’d get up with me and we’d talk. Other times we’d just sit and do a jigsaw together. I felt like a child again. 

“Dad is bald. He’d say to me: ‘I always told you, bald is beautiful’.”

Nicole Little via Email
Nicole’s dad told her ‘bald is beautiful’ when her hair fell out following treatment.

Nicole’s best friend Kelsey Robertson also supported her through treatment. 

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The pair have been best friends for 21 years after meeting on Nicole’s first day at Balbardie Primary School.

Nicole started at the new school following the death of her mum Celine on January 21, 1999.

“The first thing I ever said to Kelsey in the classroom on that first day was, ‘Hello, my name is Nicole and my mum’s just died’,” Nicole said.

“It was quite an introduction but Kelsey looked after me from day one. Years later – after we’d grown up and Kelsey lost her own mum Christine to lung cancer aged 52 – I was there for Kelsey. 

“When I faced cancer, Kelsey was right there for me again. She made me a glass jar full of inspirational quotes. Every day I had the chance to pick out a quote from the jar. It made a big difference. She really has proved my guardian angel not once but twice.”

‘Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me.’

Nicole Little

Last year, Nicole endured an operation to remove her ovaries and just days after lockdown across Scotland began she had surgery to remove both her breasts, followed by reconstruction.

Now back at work, Nicole is in remission and believes going through cancer has changed her perspective on things.

Nicole said: “All my life I worried that I’d get breast cancer like my mum.

“I felt angry when it finally happened but I got through it and I’m still here. Going through cancer made me realise how lucky I am to have people in my life who love me. 

“Now I’d like to make them all proud by doing what I can to help other families have more time with their loved ones.”

Nicole is urging people to mark World Cancer Day by making a donation to Cancer Research UK or wearing the charity’s Unity band.  

“Just by wearing a Unity band or making a donation, everyone can help make a real difference to people with cancer,” she said.

The band is available online in three different colours and can be worn in memory of a loved one, to celebrate people who’ve overcome cancer or in support of those going through treatment.

Unity bands can be purchased from the Cancer Research UK website.

Rankin’s ‘tough’ year being unable to hug disabled son

The best-selling crime author's son Kit is being looked after by staff at his care facility.

Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Tough: Author speaks out over pandemic's impact on family.

Ian Rankin has described the “tough” situation of being unable to hug his disabled son for almost a year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The crime writer said his son Kit, who has the genetic condition Angelman syndrome, does not understand the circumstances but is well looked after by staff at his care facility, where he has a safe and “pretty full life.”

In an interview with Times Radio, Rankin highlighted the difficulties faced by families with vulnerable relatives.

“We’ve seen images on TV and we’ve heard from people about the problems they have visiting elderly relatives, but there are lots of us out there that have less elderly relatives who are also in full-time care and it’s tough on these families as well,” he said.

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“My son Kit doesn’t really know what the situation is. Luckily he’s surrounded by staff who are looking after him 24/7 and making sure he has a pretty full life.

“But the families haven’t been allowed to visit much.

“In general we see him through a gate, we see him over the wall, there’s no touching, there’s no hugs.”

Rankin said Kit’s carers have offered contact with him through Zoom, but due to his visual impairment that is not practical.

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“He doesn’t really understand screens or things in two dimensions like picture books and suchlike,” he said.

“He could hear our voices but then he was just confused because then where were we? Why were we not giving him a hug sitting next to him?

“It was working for some of the people in his facility but it wasn’t really helpful for him.

“Last summer when he was being taken out into the garden a lot, we said ‘if we came and looked over the wall would that be okay?’ and the staff consulted and said there was no problem with that.

“We moved that to looking through a gate so we were a little bit closer to him, and that’s basically been it.

“Once a week we trot along and stand one side of a big iron gate while he sits in his wheelchair on the other side, and at least we feel like we’re kind of together.”

Rankin said it had been “lovely” to be able to have his son home for Christmas, but added it is “especially hard” that people in certain vulnerable categories are not higher up the vaccine priority list.

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“He’s been trapped in this care facility since last February, it’s getting on for a year now,” Rankin said of his son.

“He’s literally almost not been outside the walls.

“When we brought him home I could see that he was just dazzled to be outside in a vehicle, moving for the first time in almost a year.

“I think what matters to Kit most is that he’s around people who are looking after him, feeding him and caring for him – the staff are giving him hugs.

“He’s safe but it’s hard and it’s especially hard to find out that people with severe learning difficulties are not as far up the vaccine list as some might want.”

Primary school ‘extensively damaged’ by deliberate fire

Police investigating blaze at Saint Maria Goretti Primary School in the east end of Glasgow on Friday evening.

© Google Maps 2020
Saint Maria Goretti Primary School was deliberately set on fire.

A primary school was deliberately set on fire in the east end of Glasgow on Friday evening.

Police are investigating the blaze at Saint Maria Goretti Primary School in the Cranhill area of the city.

Emergency services attended the blaze on Skerryvore Road at around 5.15pm on Friday and the school building was found to be extensively damaged.

Police Scotland said enquiries are under way to establish the circumstances surrounding the incident and to identify the individuals involved.

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Detective Constable Alan Martin from Shettleston CID said: “This reckless incident has left a primary school extensively damaged and unable to open, and it is vital that we trace the individuals involved.

“I would appeal to anyone who was in the area of Skerryvore Road around 5pm on Friday, and may have noticed anything at all suspicious, to please get in touch.

“I would also ask any motorists with dash-cams who were driving on the road around the time of the incident to check their footage in case they have captured anything which could be of significance to the investigation.

“Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland through 101, quoting incident number 2556 of Friday, 22 January 2021. Alternatively, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

SPFL League 1 and 2 clubs propose route to playing again

The lower league sides have united to write to the Scottish FA asking for a return to football.

Rob Casey via SNS Group
League 1 and 2 competitions are currently suspended.

Football clubs in League 1 and 2 have united to push for a return to playing games, hoping to resume their competitions in March.

On January 11, the Scottish FA suspended all football below Championship level, and the Scottish Cup, for at least three weeks due to concerns about travel-related Covid.

Some clubs were unhappy with the decision, and spoke out publicly but now all 20 sides from the two leagues have written to the governing body with a plan to begin testing and then start playing again.

A spokesman for the clubs said: “We are all aware of the ongoing impact of the pandemic on everyone’s lives.

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“We take our responsibilities to our staff and players seriously and that’s why we have complied with all that has been asked of us to date.

“However, we have used the pause in playing to look at what more we can do to create a route to us playing again in a way that reassures the football authorities and the Scottish Government.

“We know that football can be a force for good and that our games allow our fans to have one familiar activity available to them at a difficult time. But we also recognise that we need to do more if we want to restart and this proposal lays out what that might look like including the introduction of PCR testing.

“We understand the difficult position the Scottish FA found itself in when it suspended our leagues. But there will have to be a decision made about when we restart. So we wanted to support and assist in the decision-making process. This document shows that, in coming together with common purpose, 20 clubs are committed to this process and hope that the SFA will treat this proposal with the consideration it deserves.”


Police seize drugs with a street value of £520,000

Police officers seized the drugs following two separate operations in North Lanarkshire.

SNS group via Police Scotland
Police: Drugs with street value of £520,000 seized.

Police have seized £520,000 of drugs following two separate operations in North Lanarkshire.

Officers acting on warrant searched a property in Dalriada Crescent, Motherwell, on Saturday and recovered a quantity of drugs, believed to be cannabis with an estimated street value of £255,000.

Police said investigations into the recovery are continuing.

Earlier in the week, officers acting on warrant searched a house on Motherwell Road, Bellshill, on Wednesday.

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They recovered drugs believed to be heroin, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamine and Valium with an estimated street value of £265,000 and a five-figure sum of cash.

Two men, aged 37 and 45, were arrested and charged in connection with the recovery in Motherwell.

Sergeant Thomas Cairns said: “These high-value recoveries show our commitment to detecting and disrupting the supply and production of drugs in Lanarkshire.

“We will continue to work to disrupt supply routes and protect those in our local communities who are affected by the illicit drug trade.

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“We rely on the support of the public to build intelligence on drug-related issues so that we can act on their concerns.

“I would urge anyone who is aware of any information about the supply of drugs to report the matter to officers through 101.

“Alternatively Crimestoppers can be contacted on 0800 555 111, where anonymity can be maintained.”


Teenager rediscovers confidence to storm up the charts

Mayah Herlihy is making a big impression with her country single, On My Way.

STV News

A teenage singing sensation has been racing up the music charts after almost giving up on her dream.

Mayah Herlihy, 14, lost confidence in herself as lockdown began last year and decided she was going to stop before changing her mind.

Now she’s reached the top of the iTunes Country Chart and hit the number one spot in Amazon’s ‘Hot New Country’ releases chart with her debut single, On My Way.

Despite an early performance at the world-famous King Tut’s in Glasgow, Mayah – who grew up in Peterhead and moved to Carfin in North Lanarkshire a couple of years ago – feared her musical career had stalled.

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“The start of the first lockdown, I kind of thought ‘I’m never going to get anywhere’,” she told STV News.

“I didn’t believe in myself and I just thought ‘I’m going to give up music’.”

But being in the house so much while schools were closed prompted Mayah to reach once more for her guitar and rekindled her passion for writing songs.

Mayah’s mum Joanne explained: “Lockdown was extremely difficult for her. Her brother has a rare genetic condition, so Mayah took the decision that when other people could go out, she wanted to stay in to keep her brother safe.”

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For Christmas, the family decided to get the teenager a recording session and, after Mayah performed On My Way, she was snapped up by Main Street Records.

She is now working on her second single and dreams of taking to the stage at the Hydro in Glasgow one day.

“Now I have actually released it, and upon hearing the response from people around the world, I have got the confidence to do more,” she said.

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