Criminologist convinced convicted murderer is innocent

George Beattie has been trying to clear his name since being found guilty of murdering Margaret McLaughlin in 1973.

A leading criminologist is “absolutely certain” an innocent man was wrongly convicted of a young woman’s murder – and has identified a “more likely suspect”.

George Beattie spent 20 years in prison for killing 23-year-old Margaret McLaughlin in Carluke, South Lanarkshire, in 1973 and has been trying to clear his name ever since.

Criminologist Professor David Wilson returned to his home town of Carluke to investigate what he describes as “one of the most important” murders in British history for his new book Signs of Murder.

The book states: “In my mind, the case against George is broken — there is no case. Indeed, the more I looked into these matters, the more convinced I became that George had been fitted up.”

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Following research spanning two years, Prof Wilson says celebrated detective William Muncie is responsible for the alleged miscarriage of justice and is urging Police Scotland to launch a new investigation.

He told STV News: “It became quite clear George Beattie was not guilty of the murder of Margaret McLaughlin; that he had been fitted up by the police and by William Muncie in particular.”

Beattie, now 66 and living in England, was known locally as a “big softie”  when he was convicted of murdering Margaret, who was stabbed 19 times on a summer’s evening in a wooded area called Colonel’s Glen.

Two court appeals have been unsuccessful. In his most recent interview, with STV News in March, Beattie told how his mother died before he could quash his conviction, adding: “I’d like it to be cleared before I pass on but that is something that is beyond my expectations.”

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In the book, Wilson states: “When it became clear to me Beattie didn’t commit this murder, I felt I had a responsibility to then do something to analyse the next most obvious question — well if George Beattie didn’t commit this murder, who was a much more likely suspect?”

Meeting John Smith

In his book, to be published by Sphere on Thursday, Professor David Wilson describes piecing together information leading to the discovery of the “more likely suspect”.

Wilson describes the moment he came face to face with the man, who he names John Smith for legal reasons, describing it as “the most nerve-jangling ten minutes of my entire career”.

He told STV News: “I’ve worked all my life with men who’ve been violent, men who’ve committed murder and men who’ve committed serial murder.

Professor David Wilson is convinced of Beattie’s innocence.

“And I would honestly say the ten minutes that I spent at this more likely suspect’s doorstep had the most powerful effect on me because this is obviously a case that is very personal.”

Wilson learned Smith had spent time in a Lanarkshire psychiatric hospital and was widely rumoured to be dead or to have emigrated to Canada.

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He was shocked to discover that not only was Smith alive but living quietly in an unidentified town in the east of Scotland. Having written to seek a meeting only to be rejected, Wilson decided to pay a visit.

The book states: “The door opened, and for the first time I was able to see Smith face to face. A scar on the right-hand side of his face bisected his lips; he had blue eyes, but what was most striking of all was his pure snow-coloured hair.”

During the doorstep encounter Smith, now 71, says Beattie “definitely” murdered Margaret but does not explain how he could know this.

At the time of the murder, Smith was 24 and lived with his family in Unitas Crescent, Carluke. Margaret, who lived around the corner in Glenburn Terrace, passed his home on her short walk to the train station.

Former police intelligence officer Peter Macleod previously suggested Margaret could have been murdered by serial killer Angus Sinclair, but Wilson disagrees.

Carluke’s most famous son

The late detective William Muncie – a famous son of Carluke – is accused of perverting the course of justice in order to secure the conviction of George Beattie.

The charge is levelled by broadcaster and former prison governor David Wilson throughout Signs of Murder.

Others – including late Labour MP Jimmy Hood, investigative journalist Peter Hill and ex-police intelligence officer Peter Macleod – have made the same allegation in the past.

Wilson told STV News: “Muncie had what I would now describe as confirmation bias.

“He set out to demonstrate that once he’d decided George Beattie was guilty, despite evidence to the contrary, he set out simply to fit him up so that he would be arrested and charged and convicted of a crime that I have absolutely no doubt he did not commit.”

Margaret was stabbed 19 times and her killer would have been covered in blood. There were no witnesses to the attack.

Wilson said: “Margaret was ‘overkilled’. There would have been a wealth of forensic evidence to have connected the culprit to her death. There was no signs of murder on George Beattie at all that a number of witnesses could testify to.”

Muncie’s reputation was made by catching 1950s serial killer Peter Manuel who was hanged for the murder of seven people.

The killing of Margaret was the 54th and final murder of his career as a detective before his promotion to assistant chief constable.

Beattie’s jailing at the High Court in Glasgow in October 1973 ensured a 100% conviction rate for Muncie, who died in 1988.

A family and town divided

David Wilson, emeritus professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, grew up in the small town of Carluke, which is home to around 13,500 people.

He was 15 at the time of Margaret McLaughlin’s murder and recalls the effect it had on himself, his three elder sisters and the town itself.

He said: “We would discuss the murder very intensely round our dinner table. My sisters were particularly convinced even at that time that George Beattie was innocent.”

This view was not universally held in the town or in Wilson household. Wilson’s father, along with many other residents, knew Muncie personally and had faith in the detective’s ability to catch the killer. The justice system was considered beyond reproach.

In his book, Wilson speculates that his father may have attended the same Masonic lodge as Muncie and asks: “Had the Lodge perhaps created loyalties that transcended the truth?”

Beattie’s story is told in Prof Wilson’s new book.

He said: “My father took the view that William Muncie had brought Peter Manuel, the notorious Scottish serial killer, to justice [and] that the Scottish criminal justice system was the best place to test these issues of guilt or innocence.

“Therefore whatever my sisters felt or whatever I may feel, there were better places to test out what had happened to Margaret McLaughlin and who might have murdered her.”

Making a Murderer in Scotland

An American miscarriage of justice case made famous by Netflix has been compared to George Beattie’s alleged wrongful conviction.

Making a Murderer tells the story of Wisconsin man Steven Avery who served 18 years in prison for sexual assault and attempted murder. He was later cleared thanks to DNA evidence.

Avery and his nephew Brendan D’Arcy were then convicted of another woman’s murder — but concerns persist about the way in which police secured a confession from D’Arcy when he was 16.

Wilson said: “When I’ve been trying to explain this to my sisters, their friends, people in Carluke more generally, I get them to think about that incredible Netflix documentary called Making a Murderer about the conviction of Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan D’Arcy.

“I say to them, what really convicted George Beattie in the minds of the jury was a pseudo confession that he gave. Using what we now know about false or pseudo confessions, it’s quite clear that George Beattie is innocent.

“I say to those people now, look at Brendan D’Arcy, look at the fact of how the police manipulate him into saying things that he wasn’t aware of until he encountered the police.”

What happens now?

Professor David Wilson was determined to follow the evidence – no matter how uncomfortable his findings may be. He now hopes the authorities will do the same thing.

He said: “The Scottish criminal justice system has an opportunity to right a wrong that has existed for nearly five decades. I have absolutely no doubt that in doing so they would be able to identify the real murderer.”

Asked about the book’s claims, Police Scotland told STV News it would welcome any new information about Margaret’s murder – but said that because of George Beattie’s conviction, any re-investigation would have to be directed by the Crown Office.

In response, the Crown said it “would carefully consider any new evidence that comes to light”.

Wilson’s book says “justice hasn’t so much been blind but wilfully blinkered” and he adds: “I have been left wondering if it only cares about the appearance of justice, rather than justice’s reality.”

Talking to STV News, he said: “I’m finding it difficult to even express that effect because the book is so personal. This is about my community; this is about my sisters; this is about their friends; this is about their lives.

“And at the heart of what I’m writing about it a dreadful and tragic murder in which a young woman’s life was cut short.

“I just want people now to walk in my footsteps who have more power than I do to get justice for Margaret McLaughlin, for George Beattie and for Carluke itself.”


Driver, conductor and passenger die in train derailment

Six other people injured after the train came off the tracks in Aberdeenshire.

Three people have died after a commuter train derailed in Aberdeenshire.

Both the driver and conductor of the ScotRail service were killed in the crash, along with one passenger.

Six other people were taken to hospital with minor injuries after the train came off the tracks in an area hit by heavy flooding.

Police believe everyone onboard the train is accounted for, but warned that a full search of the area would take some time.

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The Wednesday morning crash sent plumes of smoke into the sky that could be seen for miles and prompted a massive emergency response.

Stonehaven train derailed.
Plumes of smoke could be seen billowing from the stricken train.

The derailed five-carriage train, which left Aberdeen at 6.38am on its way to Glasgow, left the tracks near 10am close to Stonehaven.

ScotRail turned its logo black across its social media feeds as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives.

The operator said: “British Transport Police has sadly confirmed three fatalities, including our own ScotRail driver, and multiple other injuries.

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“Our thoughts are with those who have been affected by this tragic event.

“The railway in Scotland is often referred to as a family, and it’s one that is hurting today.”

An investigation involving police and rail operators is under way to establish the cause of the incident.

It’s thought flooding may have been a contributing factor after Network Rail earlier warned of landslips in the area.

Chief Superintendent Eddie Wylie, from British Transport Police, said: “This is a tragic incident and first and foremost our thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have very sadly died this morning.

“We remain on scene alongside our emergency service colleagues, and a major incident operation has been under way.

“I would like to reassure the public that this was not a busy service, and from CCTV enquiries and witness statements we believe all passengers have been accounted for.

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“However, once the area has been made safe then a full and thorough search will be conducted, which is likely to take some time.”

Normally a train with five carriages could carry upwards of 1300 people, but social distancing measures brought on by the pandemic has cut that number significantly.

A centre was set up in Aberdeen for friends and families to get more information on anyone who was on the train, but hasn’t been heard from since the derailment.

An air ambulance was seen coming and going from the site. Pic: Newsline

NHS Grampian set itself up at Midstocket Church in Aberdeen, saying it would “provide help and support and a direct link with the emergency department at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.” 

It discouraged anyone from heading straight to the hospital looking for anyone.

“My deepest condolences are with the loved ones of those who lost their lives in this tragic incident,” the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

Local MP Andrew Bowie said the River Carron burst its banks and caused flooding in Stonehaven, but added the water receded quickly as the stormed slowed.

The Queen also sent a message of condolence on behalf of her and her family, saying: “It was with great sadness that I heard of the train derailment earlier today in Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.

“The Duke of Edinburgh, and the entire Royal Family, join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to the families of those who have died and those who have been injured.

“Our thanks go out to the emergency services for their response and dedication.”

And RMT senior assistant general secretary Mick Lynch said: “The confirmation that there have been three fatalities in the Stonehaven derailment, including the driver and one of our conductor members, is the most dreadful news and this trade union’s thoughts are with the families, colleagues and friends of those who have lost their lives in this tragedy.

“RMT will unite to provide support, assistance and solidarity at this distressing time. Safety on the railway has to be an absolute priority and this union will be working with the various agencies to establish the facts behind this disaster which has sent shock waves right throughout our industry.”


Thunderstorms bring flash flooding and travel chaos

Amber warning overnight as severe weather causes damage and disruption on Scotland's east coast.

Flash flooding has created disruption in parts of Scotland as thunderstorms caused torrential downpours overnight.

An amber warning was declared for the country’s east coast on Tuesday night until 9am on Wednesday, as adverse weather wreaked havoc in towns and cities.

A major incident was declared in Fife, where a number of schools closed, and people were evacuated from their homes.

A landslide meant hundreds of people had to be rescued at Pettycur Bay Holiday Park.

Pile-up: Victoria Hospital car park in Kirkcaldy. STV
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Adverse weather caused a pile-up at one of Victoria Hospital’s car parks, scenes which were described as “upsetting” by Monica Lennon MSP.

Heavy rain was felt across Fife, East Lothian, Midlothian, Falkirk, Edinburgh and West Lothian during Tuesday night and early hours of Wednesday.

Flooding: Victoria Hospital car park in Kirkcaldy. STV

Locals said the storms in the capital were “like nothing they had ever seen”, as thunder and lightning rumbled across the city.

Meanwhile, the weather has caused severe damage on the A68 at Fala, Midlothian, which Amey maintenance crews are working to repair.

Lightning in Redding, Falkirk. Thomas Lamont, The Kilted Photographer
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Amey added: “A diversion has been established and an investigation is taking place into the full extent of the damage.”

Further north Perth experienced the adverse weather, with the local authority closing off a number of roads on Wednesday morning.

Perth and Kinross Council described several roads as “impassable”, including Feus Road, Marshall Place, Wallace Crescent, Crammond Place, Crieff Road, Glasgow Road and the A912 at Bogle Bridge.

The council said surface water has been causing problems at a number of other locations, while Perth High School has closed due to flooding.

Flooding has also caused difficult conditions in Aberdeen, with pictures showing deep surface water on the roads. A number of schools have also been closed.

Flooding: Adverse conditions in Aberdeen. Fubar News

STV meteorologist Sean Batty said: “The east of the country has experienced some horrendous conditions overnight with frequent lightning, hailstones and torrential downpours.

“It looks like Scotland has experienced over 1500 flashes of lightning through these storms with around 300-400 across the Lothians, Edinburgh, Fife, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.

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“I’ve not seen rainfall totals this high for a long time, with some of the heaviest downpours around Edinburgh, West Lothian, Falkirk, Perth, west and central Fife.

‘It looks like Scotland has experienced over 1500 flashes of lightning through these storms with around 300-400 across the Lothians, Edinburgh, Fife, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.’

Sean Batty, STV meteorologist

“From what I can see, it looks like 110mm of rain has fallen on the eastern side of Loch Leven in Scotlandwell and Kinnesswood. This is over a month’s worth of rainfall for this part of Fife.

“Heavy falls occurred in Perth city centre which has had around 80mm of rain from the storms, roughly what we’d expect in five weeks at this time of year. In one hour alone over 40mm of rain fell in the city, which is an astonishing amount of rain in that duration. That’s two thirds of a month’s rain in an hour.

“Falkirk was also badly affected by the storms with a month’s worth of rain falling here overnight.

“Edinburgh city centre had around 50mm, while further west in Ingliston there’s been 60mm. Around the capital is a good example of how rainfall can vary wildly in thunderstorms with Hermiston just two miles away from Ingliston getting 25mm.

“It’s an even bigger contrast to the east where Gullane only had 3mm and Haddington 2mm.”

The storms are expected to continue to track north and east through Wednesday morning to clear most of the mainland.

Shetland and Orkney will see these storms throughout the morning and into the early afternoon before easing.

More thunderstorms may develop later in southern areas and across the Highlands, Moray, Aberdeenshire and Perthshire.

Travel disruption was seen throughout eastern parts of the country, with ScotRail services delayed and in some instances cancelled.

In Perth trains were unable to run towards Inverness or depart south because of flooding in the station.


High school pupils linked to new coronavirus cluster

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde confirmed on Wednesday a new outbreak of eight positive cases.

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Glasgow: The health board has identified a cluster of eight cases.

A number of secondary school pupils have been linked to a new outbreak of coronavirus cases in Glasgow.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) confirmed on Wednesday the Test and Protect service had identified a cluster of eight positive cases of Covid-19, several of whom are pupils at Bannerman High School in Baillieston.

The school reopened on Wednesday, but none of the students attended as they are currently self-isolating at home.

The health board said none of the cases are experiencing anything but mild symptoms and there is “no added risk” to the wider community or those returning to school.

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Close contacts have been advised to self-isolate. Meanwhile, Test and Protect staff are contacting anyone who may be affected.

All places the cases visited during their infectious period are being identified, assessed and are being supported with control measures.

Dr Linda de Caestecker, director of public health at NHSGGC, said: “We want to reassure local people and businesses that this cluster of cases of Covid-19 is being thoroughly investigated and managed by the NHSGGC public health protection team.

“An NHSGGC-led assessment group working with Glasgow City Council met today to undertake a risk assessment and provide advice to the school and other settings the cases visited.

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“None of the cases are experiencing anything but mild symptoms and to maintain patient confidentiality we are unable to give any further information on the cases.  

“Each of these cases is being managed and followed up in detail, and all of them are isolating at home.” 

This new cluster follows on from an outbreak last month in the health board’s Inverclyde area.

An Amazon warehouse worker in Gourock and staff at M&D Green pharmacy in Port Glasgow were amongst those to test positive.

Dr de Caestecker added: “We want to reassure the wider community and especially pupils and teachers returning to school that there is no added risk due to this cluster. 

“We also want to remind people to stay off school or work and get tested if they experience any symptoms.”

‘Moronavirus’ is a threat to the health of the national game

The First Minister told clubs this week they were on a yellow card and 'next time it will be red because you will leave us with absolutely no choice'.

Bolingoli: Celtic player broke quarantine rules.

Boli Bolingoli’s shorts may have been eye-catching, his £2000 suitcase remarkable and his Balenciaga hoodie designed to draw comment, but his facemask was the piece making a statement.

As the Celtic defender was pictured on a flight to Spain he was dressed like he was following the rules like the rest of us. The reality is that he was gambling with the immediate future of Scottish football.

One newspaper headline called Bolingoli “Celtic’s Covidiot”. His decision to fly abroad on his two days off, fail to quarantine or tell his employer about his trip, and then play against Kilmarnock on Sunday, was proof positive that moronavirus is a clear and present threat to the health of the national game.

The First Minister had made her unhappiness and annoyance clear when the ‘Aberdeen Eight’ were caught out in breach of the rules last week.

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The revelations about Bolingoli’s trip took things a step further. Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross may be a qualified referee but Nicola Sturgeon was every bit the official in charge when she told clubs they were on a yellow card and “next time it will be red because you will leave us with absolutely no choice”.

Within hours Celtic and Aberdeen’s next two matches were called off, with Scottish football’s Joint Response Group saying the decision was made when “a request was received” from the Scottish Government. This wasn’t a request so much as an offer they couldn’t refuse.

So was it a public health decision or a punishment? It was a bit of both.

A local lockdown in Aberdeen city meant that the Dons’ game was never certain to go ahead, especially after their players had caused the postponement of last Saturday’s match against St Johnstone.

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Celtic’s match against St Mirren being shelved is probably best filed under “something had to be done” in the wake of Bolingoli’s transgressions. The fact that Celtic and Aberdeen were then scheduled to meet on Saturday made a second postponement an obvious choice.

The action won’t end there, and the response to these incidents will signal a significant change in the footing of the SPFL and the SFA as they look to protect the game from itself and from the doomsday scenario where the government stops all football again.

Until now, the effects of the pandemic have been dealt with by the Joint Response Group, set up by the league and governing body to pool their efforts to help clubs through a health crisis and its potentially devastating financial impact. It’s been Hampden in rescue mode: benevolent, supportive and protective.

The Scottish Government’s warning will change the emphasis. The JRG’s work will continue but the job of policing the game will now become an equal priority.

Players endangering the careful planning won’t go unchecked now and the SFA and SPFL will now have to reach for the rule books to show everyone that they are doing what they can.

Bolingoli has been fined by the police and will be heavily disciplined by his club for actions Celtic boss Neil Lennon described as “rogue”, “selfish” and “stupid”. Aberdeen have been adamant that they will take action on their players.

That won’t be enough. Reports on Wednesday have the SPFL looking to ratify new rules and powers to allow it to deal with these sorts of issues and the sanctions it could impose might be limitless.

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That would be too late for the existing cases but it would be no surprise if the SFA’s compliance officer brought charges against Bolingoli and the eight from Pittodrie. In addition to the famous rule about bringing the game into disrepute, the governing body has one that compels players to “act in the best interests of Association Football”. It’s hard to imagine the Celtic player finding a lawyer willing to tackle that one.

It’s how the SPFL deal with clubs that will make for interesting reading. Missed and late tests will no longer be tolerable and major rule breaches will be considered disastrous but the league will have to decide if it has an appetite for calling clubs to account and how that might be achieved.

Celtic and Aberdeen have been appalled, angry and apologetic about the embarrassing behaviour of their players. There’s no suggestion they have been lax in their approach to the problem, nor that there’s any fault in the safety protocols at either club.

The SPFL is, of course, entitled to assign responsibility and impose sanctions as a deterrent. With so much at stake and after such high-profile breaches of trust it’s almost expected that it does. But to hold the clubs responsible even if they have taken all precautions isn’t popular among the clubs. We know this from failed moves to bring in such “strict liability” where offensive behaviour and racist or sectarian songs are sung.

There’s no guarantee the league will decide to go down that road but their next steps will be decisive in whether or not there’s a smooth return to competition or a shambles that leads to shutdown.

In normal circumstances Bolingoli would have a key role to play on Celtic’s left flank, using his abilities to help the team transition from defence to attack. Instead, his decision to disregard the rules has prompted a shift in attitude from all concerned with the Premiership and that change in tack could yet prove devastating.

SQA chief ‘regrets’ but defends downgraded exams

Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee on Wednesday.

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Exams: Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee.

The chief executive of the SQA has said she “regrets” how young people were left feeling over their downgraded exam results, but insisted the controversial moderation system used was “fair”.

Fiona Robertson appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee on Wednesday following the government’s U-turn that will see all downgraded results withdrawn and replaced by teachers’ estimates.

Ms Robertson said everyone at the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) was “keenly aware of the concerns from young people” expressed over the past week.

In her opening remarks to the committee, she said: “On the basis of the commission that we received from the Scottish Government, there was a clear and unequivocal case for some moderation.”

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The appeals process would have dealt with any “anomalies” in the moderated results, she said, while the SQA’s equalities impact assessments showed the results were “fair”.

Glasgow: Students held a protest at George Square.

Last Tuesday, around 138,000 school pupils received the results of their National, Higher and Advanced Higher courses after an exam-free year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although pass rates were up, the moderation system saw 26.2% of grades changed.

The SQA downgraded 124,564 results – 93.1% of all the moderated grades – based on criteria including schools’ historic performances.

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Pupils from the most deprived areas of Scotland had their grades reduced by 15.2% compared with 6.9% in the most affluent parts of the country.

In response, opposition politicians branded the moderation process a “train wreck” as well as “disturbing and grossly unequal”.

Pupils held a protest at Glasgow’s George Square, whilst Scottish Labour tabled a motion of no confidence in education secretary John Swinney – which is set to be debated on Thursday.

Jamie Greene, the Scottish Conservatives’ education spokesperson, said to Ms Robertson: “I listened with intent to your opening statement but there’s one word I didn’t hear, and that’s the word ‘sorry’”.

Ms Robertson responded: “It was difficult to see the reaction to last week’s results.

“But we were asked to fulfil a role and part of that role was to maintain standards across Scotland.

“I fully appreciate that, as I highlighted in my opening statement, young people felt that their achievements had been taken outwith their control.

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“I absolutely get that and of course I regret how young people have felt about this process.”

Scottish Government: John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon initially defended the system.

Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer asked if one of the SQA’s statisticians had resigned as the moderating system was being developed and if this was because they had concerns about the system.

She confirmed one person had resigned, but said: “I’m not privy to the full details of that particular individual.

“It probably wouldn’t be fair for me to go into that in fairness to them.”

Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray asked if the SQA signed off on a moderation system “in the sure and certain knowledge that pupils in those schools with a poorer past performance would be more heavily impacted”.

Ms Robertson said the moderation process was based on data but “the extraordinary circumstances of the year meant that we were awarding on a basis that I think we would all agree were not ideal because of the cancellation of exams”.

The SNP’s Alex Neil raised what he called the “human cost” of the system, saying he had heard from the family of a young woman who had been left “distraught” by a downgraded result and refused to eat or leave her room for three days.

Referring to previous committee meetings which raised concerns about the methodology, he said: “The SQA absolutely refused to listen to the committee’s point about the need to consult on the methodology before it was approved.

“I think everybody and their granny knew that if you used the record of local schools you’d end up with the situation we ended up with – where the moderation process led to two and a half times the downgrades in the poorest areas than happened in the more affluent areas.”

Ms Robertson said: “Where there are lessons to be learned we will learn them.”


Survey finds majority support Scottish independence

The YouGov survey revealed that 53% – excluding 'don’t knows' – would vote in favour of breaking up the Union.

Yes: A new poll has found that the majority of people support Scottish independence.

A new poll has found the majority of the country now support Scottish independence.

The YouGov survey revealed that 53% – excluding “don’t knows” – would vote in favour of breaking up the Union.

This is the fourth survey in a row to put the independence vote ahead of remain, and the highest level of support for Scottish independence ever recorded by YouGov.

The newest poll, for The Times Scotland, also marks a two-point increase in support for Scotland leaving the union, compared to YouGov’s last poll in January.

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Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said that although the UK Government and the Conservatives north and south of the border have been “stirred into action” by the warning signs about the future of Britain, they will be hampered by the struggles of their main opposition in the House of Commons.

He added: “UK ministers are making frequent forays north while the party’s Scottish leader, Jackson Carlaw, has made way for a successor who, it is hoped, will be better able to reverse the nationalist tide.

“Yet this frenetic activity hides a strategic dilemma for the Conservatives – they are unlikely to be able to save the Union on their own.

“They will need the help from Labour – but Sir Keir Starmer’s party currently looks like the weak link in the unionist chain.”

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YouGov surveyed 1142 Scottish adults, aged 16 or older, and found that 52% of voters believe that Scotland is heading in the “right direction”, a 20-point increase on the last time the question was asked roughly a year ago.

By contrast, just 26% thought the country is going in the wrong way, compared to 41% last August.

Both Sir Keir and Boris Johnson have said they do not believe there should be another referendum in the near future, and Downing Street has briefed that the Prime Minister will not countenance another vote even if the SNP wins a majority in next May’s Holyrood elections.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s depute leader, said: “This poll shows that voters across Scotland continue to place their trust in the SNP to deliver for them after more than a decade in government at Holyrood.

“People in Scotland want an accessible government which listens to and engages with the public and that’s what they will always get with the SNP.

“The Scottish Government remains fully focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic – but it’s now clearer than ever that people in Scotland have confidence in the SNP, and in Scotland’s ability to govern itself.

“It is now the established majority view in Scotland that we should be an independent country. Prolonging any attempt to stop people from having their say over their future is undemocratic, unsustainable and runs the risk of public opinion in Scotland turning even more sharply against the Prime Minister.

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“There is now unstoppable momentum behind an independence referendum – and that will be a decision for the people of Scotland, not Boris Johnson or any other Westminster politician.”


Buildings catch fire after being struck by lightning

Emergency services called to fires in early hours of Wednesday, after storms raged overnight.

Thomas Lamont
A picture captured in Redding, Falkirk, by the Kilted Photographer.

A house and butcher shop went up in flames as thunder and lightning caused destruction in Falkirk.

Emergency services were called to several separate fires in the early hours of Wednesday, after storms raged overnight.

Firefighters tackled a blaze at a house in Reddingrig Place, Redding, around 4am, before a fire broke out at Thomas Johnston’s butcher shop in Brightons’ Main Street shortly before 5am.

Police confirmed there were no injuries during either incident, however, significant damage has been caused to the roof of the butchers.

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Meanwhile, cars at the Cadgers Brae Brewers Fayre in Polmont have been submerged in water because of flooding.

Flooding: The scene at Cadgers Brae Brewers Fayre in Polmont.

The area has been badly affected by the storms, with a month’s worth of rain falling overnight.

It caused a significant breach on the Union Canal, east of the A801, between Polmont and Muiravonside.

Scottish Canals confirmed it is on site, adding the breach has impacted the Edinburgh to Glasgow railway line.

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STV meteorologist Sean Batty said the east of the country experienced “some horrendous conditions overnight with frequent lightning, hailstones and torrential downpours.”

He added: “It looks like Scotland has experienced over 1500 flashes of lightning through these storms with around 300-400 across the Lothians, Edinburgh, Fife, Falkirk and Clackmannanshire.

“I’ve not seen rainfall totals this high for a long time, with some of the heaviest downpours around Edinburgh, West Lothian, Falkirk, Perth, west and central Fife.”


If this is not a resignation issue, what is?

Despite calls for John Swinney to resign, a crisis, bigger than the one he helped create, may paradoxically be his saving grace.

Swinney: Yesterday’s climb-down was 'embarrassing'.

It is a simple question and it is one that John Swinney is no doubt pondering in private. For this has been no one-week crisis but a narrative played out over many months with probing questions being met with repeated ministerial assurances that the exams award system for 2020 would be fair and robust.

Yesterday’s climb-down was complete and as embarrassing as it gets for a politician in the mea culpa stakes. 

Last week his defence of what he buried yesterday was, to use a favourite word of this crisis, ‘robust’.  Even more robust was the First Minister’s defence in a BBC interview in which she seemed impatient and annoyed with the very suggestion the SQA had presided over a shambles rooted in injustice.

The apologies have been fulsome and the U-turn dizzying if only because the overall appearance is that saving face politically has been as much a factor as addressing injustice. 

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Having placed tens of thousands of young people in a state of abject fear, the impression that is given is that with a change of heart and a gorging on humble pie then we can now all move on.

Now the constant calls for ministers to quit can be a wearying business in the political world. Any aggrieved voter will inevitably call for a ministerial head and a public inquiry thrown in for good measure when they are the subject of perceived wrong doing.

Backbench parliamentarians no one has ever heard of make the resignation call hoping they will see their name in print. Front-benchers inevitably overuse it, most frequently when a story is running on empty.

But for once the calls are understandable. In a system of parliamentary accountability it is ministers who are answerable even for the incompetence of others that they have the ability to influence if not control.

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In any system of scrutiny, where a minister signs off on a system which he or she subsequently admits is not fit for purpose, there has to be a sanction commensurate with the shambles of their creation. 

In this context, if the exams crisis of 2020 is not a resignation issue for the cabinet secretary then what is? If there is no end-game beyond criticism in parliament then we may as well admit that the principles of scrutiny and accountability are but mere pawns in a game.

Minsters can get themselves into trouble for various reasons. Sometimes they are run by their civil servants particularly if they are lazy and are never on top of a problem. If they are naive or have no foresight as to how a developing issue might play out then that issue can come back and bite them where is hurts.

None of these shortcomings apply to John Swinney, a politician of huge experience with an instinctive feel for what could go wrong. And yet by his own admission, he failed. That failure was as serious as it gets on his watch and the consequence is that his authority is gone, completely and possibly forever.

There are moments when a politician becomes so wounded that their ability to do the job is disabled because they are ultimately defined, consumed and buried by the crisis they have sponsored.

This is never an edifying sight when applied to conscientious and hard working public servant like Swinney, but he is long enough in the tooth to know that by limping on he does so as a much diminished figure. If your authority goes as a minister your opponents scoff not merely in opposition but in jest. You cease to be taken seriously.

Now it looks likely that the education secretary will survive tomorrow’s vote of no confidence. The Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer says his party will vote with the Government to ensure John Swinney escapes parliamentary censure.

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Greer is an impressive younger politician in a party who very quickly said to the Government, if you sort the crisis on our terms you have our support. Swinney it appears duly agreed. 

The problem with the position of the Scottish Greens is that they see this as an injustice to be put right without ever embracing the concept that the sponsor of the injustice should be the subject of any meaningful sanction.  

Their intervention is rooted in a fix not in the sound principle that ministers whose failure is absolute should pay an absolute price. In that regard they have failed to discharge the most basic function of an opposition party.

I first met Mr Swinney over 30 years ago and he is a politician I have always regarded highly. In the political jungle where it is easy to locate one’s baser instincts he has always tried to play fair. Ruthlessness and cynicism are frequently virtues in this world and for the most part his reputation as a good guy is well deserved.

Forget Swinney the politician for a moment. Swinney the man will be wrestling with that most draining of contests, the struggle with his conscience. 

I cannot believe that his instincts are anything other than to resign. The brake on any decision will be that this is not an opportune time given the unprecedented times in which we live.

A crisis, bigger than the one that he helped create, may paradoxically be his saving grace.


Twin-verclyde: Nine sets of twins start primary school

Teachers were left seeing double as nine sets of twins prepared to start their first day of school in the council area.

SWNS
Seeing double: Nine sets of twins on their first day of school in the area.

Teachers were left seeing double as nine sets of twins prepared to start their first day of school in Inverclyde. 

The children, all aged four and five, will all start at primary schools across the council area – with one school set to welcome three sets of the twins.

Inverclyde has a history of having the highest number of twins in the classroom after a record breaking 19 pairs started school in the area in 2015.

Last year 16 sets of twins started primary school at the same time in the council area.

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This year 16 pairs were eligible to start school, but the parents of seven sets decided to defer their children’s start until next year.

Double trouble: Sixteen pairs were to start this year but parents of seven deferred. SWNS.

Provost Martin Brennan said: “I am constantly surprised at the high number of twins we have heading for primary school every year.

“It often runs into double-figures.

“This year would have followed that trend apart from a number of parents deciding to defer their children’s school start until 2021.

‘I am constantly surprised at the high number of twins we have heading for primary school every year.’

Provost Martin Brennan
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“As a former teacher, I am particularly pleased to be able to welcome them as they prepare to join their new classmates in their new schools.”

The rate of multiple births in 2015 – when all of this year’s twins were born – was 2.25% compared to the Sottish average of 1.15%.

Sixteen sets started primary school in Inverclyde in 2019. STV

The children will start primary school at St Patricks, St Francis’, Whinhill, Lady Alice and Craigmarloch.

Three sets of twins will all start Newark Primary school.

Councillor Jim Clocherty, convener of Inverclyde Council’s Education and Communities Committee, said: “The twins photo has become very much a traditional part of the first day at school for many local parents.

“Clearly, though the twins who start school on Wednesday will be facing a very different school environment than last year.

“We have done our utmost to make sure our schools are safe and welcoming for our new pupils.

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“Hand sanitiser stations have been installed throughout our schools along with one-way systems and social distancing where required.

“It will be a different first day and a different school experience but I’m certain it will still be a rewarding one which leads to a successful and enjoyable school career.”


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