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Roger Smith has written an excellent “Essential Guide to Finishing Points” for the TGO Challenge but to slightly misquote Alice in Wonderland: “what is use is a book that has no pictures”. As I’ve visited lots of the places on his list as I’ve wandered up and down the east coast, I thought I’d write a pictorial guide.

The first two parts focused on places between Aberdeen and Cowie, to the north of Stonehaven (Part 1) and then on Stonehaven and Dunnotar. In this post, I’ve included some pics of places between Crawton, just south of Dunnotar, and Nether Warbuton, near Montrose.

Crawton

There’s a cliff path from Dunnotar to Crawton through the bird reserve. Not much at Crawton itself but great views to the south. You need to walk back to the main road to get the bus.

From Crawton looking south.

From Crawton looking south.

Catterline

Catterline is the next village down the coast. The village itself is now a commuter village and its a wee bit from the sea. It has a good pub (the Creel Inn) that specialises in fish dishes but I don’t think there’s a shop. I haven’t been in the Creel Inn for a couple of years but the food then was excellent.

Catterline

Catterline

It’s a short walk down to the beach. For geology buffs, Catterline has some of the best examples of conglomerate rock I’ve ever seen.

Catterline beach with conglomerate stack

Catterline beach with conglomerate stack

Kinneff

I went to Kinneff specially before I wrote this. Roger says ‘no easy access’. This is an understatement – I couldn’t find any way down although I have to admit I didn’t spend too long trying. As Roger says, the church is perhaps the most interesting feature of Kinneff.

Kinneff Kirk

Kinneff Kirk

Inverbervie

Inverbervie is the largest town between Stonehaven and Montrose with a full range of shops. It was a fishing village but I don’t think there’s any fishing there now. But there’s still the old boat winches on the beach.

I’ve been there a couple of times but my view is jaundiced by the fact that when we went there on a cold Sunday afternoon after walking along the coast, nothing was open. So I can’t say anything about my eating and drinking experiences. The Bervie Chipper, as Roger says, has won awards but rumour has it that it has gone downhill recently.

Inverbervie

Inverbervie beach

 

Gourdon

Gourdon is still a working fishing village with a few fishing boats in the harbour. The Harbour Bar is a good pub and the Hornblower is an outstanding fish and chip shop (with a posher but very reasonably priced fish restaurant upstairs – see my review).

Gourdon Harbour

Gourdon Harbour

Johnshaven

I’ve never actually been in Johnshaven village when it wasn’t raining but I don’t THINK it always rains here. So, my picture is looking down on the village – I’ll replace this with a seaside photo if I get there in the near future in the sunshine.

Looking down on Johnshaven

Looking down on Johnshaven

Like Gourdon, it’s still a working fishing village although I suspect that most residents are commuters. There’s a shop and you can get the bus outside the pub to Montrose.

Lobster soup from the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven

Lobster soup from the Anchor Hotel in Johnshaven

I strongly recommend planning your arrival in Johnshaven for lunchtime and then going to the Anchor Hotel. It’s a great wee bar with friendly owners and excellent food. The lobster soup is simply the best fish soup that I’ve ever had.

Tangle Ha’

Tangle Ha'

Tangle Ha’

Tangle Ha’ is a great name but I think it is a rather unprepossessing place. Stony beach and no cliffs.

St Cyrus

St Cyrus is perhaps the most popular Challenge finishing place and rightly so. The views from the cliffs are absolutely superb and Wednesday and Thursday sees lots of people on the beach taking pictures of each other.

Challengers on St Cyrus beach

Challengers on St Cyrus beach

 

The beach stretches to the River North Esk and you can walk along to Nether Warbuton (and probably to Montrose but I’m not sure about that – you need to cross the river).

Looking south towards Montrose from the St Cyrus cliffs

Looking south towards Montrose from the St Cyrus cliffs

There’s an excellent coffee shop on the way to the beach and a pub across the road which I haven’t been in. Advice from an experience Challenger was that if there are 3 or 4 of you, it’s not much more expensive to take a taxi to Montrose rather than wait for the bus.

Nether Warbuton

I’m not sure that Nether Warbuton is really that different from St Cyrus – basically, it’s just along the beach but it does not require a traipse down the cliffs. There’s a visitor centre for the nature reserve there and a junkyard which has the biggest collection of absolute crap that I have ever seen (my daughter loves going there). It’s a nice beach.

The beach at Nether Warbuton

The beach at Nether Warbuton

Nowhere to eat but if you go back to the bridge over the River North Esk then walk a bit down the road towards Montrose, the Charleton Fruit Farm has a cafe that does very good and reasonable meals.

Other places

Kinnebar Links are on the south side of the River North Esk – I’ve never been there but some people finish there. You can see it on the St Cyrus picture – the bit across the river.

I haven’t really ventured much south of Montrose so I can’t illustrate these places yet. If I get the chance in the next few months, I’ll try and get there. Lunan Bay is a fabulous beach.

Lunan Bay

Lunan Bay

North of Aberdeen, Balmedie has fabulous sand dunes and Collieston is a lovely village. Again, I don’t have so many pictures but I might manage some coastal walking there over the winter.

 

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A weekend in Wester Ross with old university mountaineering club pals. Over the years, the conversations have evolved from youthful exploits in far-away mountains through babies and the trials and tribulations of teenagers to retirement and the inevitable aches and pains of getting older. But, by and large we are still game and still manage to get up hills. The days are short in November so we headed for Cul Beag, a steep wee hill near Ullapool.

I’ve been up this hill a couple of times before but have never seen the view from the summit so I was looking forward to climbing it on a clear day. In fact, the last time we went up there Scott (in the photo below) was blown over and badly sprained his ankle. We had a bit of an epic getting down (we’re of a generation that sees calling for the MRT an absolute last resort) but we managed to help him hobble back to the car.

Looking towards Suilven

Looking towards Suilven

Today, we took the ‘path’ (more like a burn) leading over from Loch Lurgainn to Loch an Doire Dhuibh before setting up the steep hillside. There was no obvious path so we all made our own route as we slogged up the hill.  The weather was dry and cloudy but even on a dull day, the Wester Ross landscape was magnificent.

Landscape from Cul Beag

Landscape from Cul Beag

When I reached the col, I found a bit of a path and, as I approached the summit, blue sky appeared and I hoped for some sunshine. There were sunbeams over Loch Broom but, sadly, they didn’t get to us. I was first to the top so I sheltered till everyone arrived when we had lunch and a summit picture. It was windy and a getting a bit cold so hats were on and hoods were up.

Summit sunbeams

Summit sunbeams over Loch Broom


 

We all made it to the top

We all made it to the top

We decided on a different way back to the road and headed east from the summit.  There’s a line of crags above Loch Lurgainn that we managed to avoid through some superb navigation (suggestions that this was luck are simply slanderous). But the way down via a remarkably steep grass slope to the loch side was a wee bit challenging but fortunately not too slippy. Everything stayed dry which is pretty good for November.

Then back to Ullapool for dinner and drams. I think Springbank may be the malt of choice for this year’s TGOC, if I make the cut.

I made the classic mistake of putting my camera on charge at home then leaving it behind. So, all photos taken with my iPhone.  Phone cameras are now remarkably good quality.

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In my last post, I wrote about places to finish the TGO Challenge between Aberdeen and Stonehaven. In this post, I planned to write about places between Stonehaven and Montrose but there’s a lot of places and a bit to say so I’ve decided to restrict this post to the northernmost bit of this section around Stonehaven.

Stonehaven is a small town south of Aberdeen that is a popular finishing point for Challengers. You can get there without too much tarmac pounding by going through the Fetteresso forest, which gets you to 2-3 km from the town. Unfortunately, there’s a big wind farm there now  (33 turbines) which should be fully operational by 2015 (it may be by now, I haven’t been there this year) but you still might prefer this to road walking.

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven Bay

Stonehaven proudly boasts that it is the home of the inventor of the pneumatic tyre (Robert Thomson) but keeps quiet about a more recent invention of a famous Scottish delicacy – the deep-fried Mars Bar.  If you come into the town from Kirktown of Fetteresso through the back streets, you come out near the Carron Fish Bar – birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar.

The Carron Fish Bar

The Carron Fish Bar

I have only tried this delicacy once. They don’t look too appetising (a deep-fried turd comes to mind) but actually they don’t taste too bad. Soft and chocolately with a crispy coating. I’m not sure I’d want to eat a whole one but if there’s a few of you, you may like to experiment.  Profits from DFMBs are donated to charity.

Mars tried to bully them to take it off the menu. Thankfully, they didn’t succeed.

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

A deep-fried Mars Bar from the Carron in Stonehaven

If you want fish and chips, however, best to go to The Bay fish bar at the other end of the promenade. It has won several awards for the quality and sustainability of its fish suppers.

Beer lovers and those with more refined culinary tastes should head for the harbour where there are two excellent restaurants – the Ship (good for Cullen Skink) and the Marine Hotel. The Marine has more unusual food, a great atmosphere and a superb range of beer – both real ale and bottled. They have their own brewery (6 North) so it is worth timing your arrival for a pint.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

There are good transport links from Stonehaven to Montrose – there’s an hourly bus service (timetable here) and a couple of trains per hour although taking the train means a walk up the hill for about a mile and you may have done enough walking by the time you get there.

Just to the south of Stonehaven is Dunnotar Castle, another popular Challenge finishing point. I think this is maybe the most dramatic place to end your walk with the ruined castle on a headland with cliffs plunging into the sea. There’s lots about Dunnotar on Wikipedia so I won’t say more here.

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

Evening sunshine on Dunnotar Castle

As you approach the castle, you can get down to the beach on either side. Ignore the Danger – No Access notices – it isn’t dangerous at all for people who have walked across Scotland.  You can also get down to the beach at the adjacent bay.

Dunnotar Bay

Dunnotar Bay

There’s no cafe at the Castle – there is an ice cream van in summer but I don’t think it’ll be there on a weekday in May. You need to walk back to the main road to catch the bus.

Part 3  to follow soon.

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The TGO Challenge is a cross-Scotland walk, starting on the west coast between Ardrishaig and Torridon and ending on the East, between Arbroath and Fraserburgh. I’ve done it twice starting at Mallaig and Strathcarron and ending at Girdle Ness and St Cyrus.

Roger Smith wrote a useful guide on places to finish the Challenge but a short 1 paragraph write-up does not really get over the fabulous scenery in some of the Challenge finishing places. As an east-coast dweller, I’ve been to many of the places on Roger’s list so I thought I’d go through my photos and create a more pictorial guide on possible end-points (click on pics for a better view).

I’ll mostly focus on places between Aberdeen and Montrose as that’s where most people finish and where I’ve mostly visited. But I’ll try and do a post later on places further north and south – it’s a good excuse to make a trip there.

As there’s too many places between Aberdeen and Montrose to include in a single post, I’ve split it into two. The next one will have to wait though until I’ve been to Tangle Ha’. (I’ve been there now – see Part 3)

Aberdeen

Not many challengers seem to finish in Aberdeen – perhaps because Roger’s notes suggest a lot of road walking is involved. In fact, if you use the Deeside Way, you can get from Ballater right into the heart of the city with hardly any road walking. The Deeside Way finishes at Duthie Park, one of Aberdeen’s main parks, and from there it’s less than an hour’s walk to the sea.  Two end-points are easily reached from Duthie Park – Fittie and Girdle Ness.

Aberdeen beach. Fittie on the left, Girdle Ness lighthouse on the right.

Aberdeen beach. Fittie on the left, Girdle Ness lighthouse on the right.

 

Fittie (Footdee)

Fittie is an old fishing settlement right by the beach in Aberdeen. You get there by following the Dee then walking around the harbour, which isn’t exactly a scenic walk. Aberdeen has a great beach and Fittie is a quirky community where the original sheds for nets are separate from the houses. Now these are often interestingly decorated. More pics of Fittie sheds here.

A Fittie shed

On the map, you won’t find Fittie but Footdee. But if you ask anyone in Aberdeen how to get to Footdee, they will have no idea what you are talking about. It’s always Fittie (Foot = Fit; Dee = ti).

Girdle Ness

Girdle Ness is, I think, a better place to finish the Challenge than Fittie. From Duthie Park, you follow the Dee to the 2nd bridge, cross the bridge, take 2nd on left and keep walking. You pass the harbour with a pervasive smell of fish from fish processing factories then suddenly you are out of the city, walking above the river estuary, with great views back to the harbour (see this post). There’s a great wee cove below the lighthouse where I finished my first Challenge.

Cove at Girdle Ness

Cove at Girdle Ness

 

Portlethan

The coast from Aberdeen to Montrose is punctuated by what were fishing villages – Findon is the first of these (see this post) but the first on Roger’s list is Portlethan. Portlethan is a modern, bland suburb of Aberdeen which you have to walk through to get to  the fishing village of Old Portlethan.

Portlethen harbour

Portlethen harbour

Old Portlethan is about a mile from Portlethan and has a lot more character. There’s a nice wee harbour where you can reach the sea and a pub to have a drink or coffee afterwards. There’s a village shop and supermarkets in Portlethan. However, don’t try to take the train to Montrose as Roger suggests, many trains don’t stop at Portlethan. Better to get the coastal bus.

Downies

Downies is the next village to Old Portlethan and you have to walk through Portlethan to get there.  No shop or pub. Nice coastal scenery but comparatively, there are better places. Probably only worth going there if you are collecting Challenge finish places. No pub or shop.

Beach at Downies

Newtonhill

Newtonhill is another old fishing village that has become an Aberdeen suburb, although its not as big as Portlethan.  This means that there isn’t the same urban walk as at Portlethan or Downies and it’s a pleasant stroll through the filed down to the old village. A pleasant enough beach that you reach by an easy path down the cliffs.

Newtonhill

Newtonhill

There’s a shop and pub – I haven’t been in either.

Muchalls

Muchalls is magnificent!

Muchalls looking south to Grim Brigs

Muchalls looking south to Grim Brigs

The village is on the edge of Aberdeen’s creeping sprawl which means there’s some gentrification but, as yet, no large new housing estates. You walk through the village to the road end then follow the path under the railway to the sea.

At this stage, you have no idea what is going to hit you. When you reach the sea, it’s a fantastic surprise. The views north and south are superb. Certainly, for cliff scenery, this is the best place south of Aberdeen (the Bullers of Buchan to the north are pretty good but that’ll be in a different post).

Good lunches in the Muchalls Bistro. I haven’t been there for a while and I can’t remember if it’s open for drinks and coffee or not.  Buses to Aberdeen and Stonehaven.

Muchalls looking north

Muchalls looking north

Unfortunately, it’s not easy to see how to get to Muchalls without a fair bit of tarmac pounding so that’s always going to limit its popularity.

Cowie

Cowie is a hamlet at the north end of Stonehaven. Its principal claim to fame (if you are a geo-geek) is that it’s where the Highland Boundary Fault meets the North Sea. The Highland Boundary fault, which starts in Helensburgh, is the geological boundary between the Lowlands and the Highlands.

The Highland Fault (in the background) at Cowie

The Highland Fault (in the background) at Cowie

It’s a pleasant enough we place but it doesn’t have any grand cliff scenery like the places further north. It’s a short walk to Stonehaven cafes on the promenade – Molly’s is quite good and fish and chips from the Bay are excellent. Quite easy to get to from the Feteresso forest.

I’ve had an occasional blog about food – mostly restaurant reviews for many years. I haven’t posted for a while but I’ve now decided to broaden the scope and start a new food blog. I won’t be deleting my reviews blog but new reviews etc. will be on the new blog.

So – welcome to Bistros and Beetroot.

This blog will have restaurant reviews (mostly in Edinburgh) but also other foodie stuff – recipes and ingredients, commentary, food politics and so on. I also hope to be able to post a bit more regularly than I do here.

My first real posts on Bistros and Beetroots are about courgettes – and what to do with too many of them.

I wrote before the recent referendum about my views as an undecided voter and suggested that I was tending to ‘no’. Like the majority of Scots, I voted ‘no’. As an ex-SNP voter and an instinctive independence sympathiser, I want to reflect here why the ‘yes’ campaign failed to convince me and the majority of Scots of their message.

Simplistically, perhaps, voters in the referendum could be classified into three groups. Nationalists, who would always vote for independence, unionists who would always vote for the union and a group in the middle who will listen to and be influenced by arguments. I suspect this middle group is the biggest group – clearly it is the group who need to be convinced when such a major political change is proposed.

To convince people, like myself, there needs to be both an emotional argument for independence and pragmatic arguments to back this up. These have to demonstrate that, for the majority of citizens, independence will improve their lives or, at the very least, not make them worse. What ‘improvement’ means – depends on the individual – for many it means material improvement; for some it means a more ‘civic’ society; for others it means a society that focuses more on environmental issues.

The ‘yes’ campaign had a fantastic emotional appeal – as Salmond said, who would not want to have control of their own country?  I completely support the notion of local democracy and I hope that a consequence of more devolution for Scotland is that the legitimate demands of English voters for a say is recognised. But, on the 2nd point, the ‘yes’ campaign utterly failed. The believed that the emotional appeal would carry the day but ignored our history of Scottish pragmatism – the canny Scot is not just an invention of the Sunday Post.

Where did the ‘yes’ campaign go wrong?

Firstly, it adopted fixed but fundamentally indefensible positions. Its position on the currency is an example of this. Instead of saying that there will be a currency union and therefore prompting a negative response, a far better position would have been to say that we believe that keeping the pound is in the best interests of both Scotland and the other countries in the UK and we will enter into negotiations about the best way to do this. Telling the EU that Scotland will be a member instead of saying that we want to negotiate interim membership until membership formalities have been completed is another example of unwise intransigence.

Secondly, whilst optimism is a very positive characteristic, when it comes to economics, it is better to hope for the best but plan for the worst. Instead of producing figures and data of how the Scottish economy could thrive at a lower level of oil production than assumed, the tactic of the ‘yes’ campaign was simply to deny the problem. Instead of ignoring the fact that the currency policy would have problems for financial institutions, this should have been recognised and positive incentives proposed to keep operations in Scotland even although headquarters were moved elsewhere.

Thirdly, there was never any acknowledgement that independence in a globalised world has to be limited. We may dislike the fact that the international financial markets can make or break a country (I do) but there is no point in denying that it’s true. Few countries, apart perhaps from North Korea, are truly independent and a failure to acknowledge this is, I believe, simply insulting to Scottish citizens.

There were many other, perhaps less significant mistakes. Although controlling a lunatic fringe is very difficult (and from the events in Glasgow, it is clear there is a lunatic fringe on both sides), the condemnation of the cybernats from the ‘yes’ campaign was half-hearted; equating a ‘no’ vote with a lack of confidence was again insulting.

Had the ‘yes’ campaign thought through its economic policies and showed some evidence that they understood the fundamentals of negotiation, then I believe it would have had a much more convincing case. People like myself would have been far more willing to accept independence if there had been any evidence that the people who would be in charge of negotiations had any idea of what they were doing.

I believe that the blame here must fall squarely on Alex Salmond’s shoulders. His personality drove the campaign and, from all reports, opposition to his views was simply not tolerated. He is an excellent speaker, is, I think, devoted to Scotland and has a big personality. He believed that this would be enough to carry the day but failed to understand that his case lacked the essential foundations to make it convincing. He didn’t do his homework and consequently deserved to fail.

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The Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail stretches for about 160 miles from Cullen in the north to Montrose in the south. I have walked bits and pieces of it on days out but never in any kind of systematic way.  As a national trail, it is not well documented – there are (not very good) maps available from the Aberdeenshire Council website  and Gil Campbell has written briefly about it on his blog of walking around the Scottish Coast. But there isn’t much freely available information on blogs and the web about the good and not so good bits.

So, I thought maybe I should walk the path and write a guide. Living in NE Scotland, I can get to most sections easily and it seemed a reasonable objective to do a series of day walks along the trail. Then I looked at the maps. Not good. Far too much of it doesn’t actually follow the coast but is on minor and sometimes not so minor roads. So, walking the whole trail is not for me. Instead, I decided to do a series of posts over the next year or so on the off-road bits of the trail and on some of the places along the way.

I started by taking the bus to Aberdeen, Scotland’s oil capital, and walking from the Union Square bus station. After walking through the busy harbour and the fish processing factories at Torry, you suddenly leave the city and the coast opens out in front of you. As you go up the hill towards the lighthouse, you can see an old wharf and windlass on the left which is where I joined the coastal path. You get a good view here back into the harbour.

From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour

From the start of the coastal path in Torry, looking back to Aberdeen harbour

The path follows the coast with the Girdle Ness lighthouse on your right. I stayed on the beach past a wee cove where I finished my first TGO Challenge and the giant foghorn to Nigg Bay. The official path is on the road up the hill but I stayed low and made my way around the grassy cliffs. The path is a bit tenuous here and if you don’t like steep grass, it’s best to avoid this bit. I then made my way up the the top of the cliffs and joined the marked path to Cove.

Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013

Girdle Ness. I walked from Inverie in Knoydart to here in 2013

Foghorn at Girdle Ness light

Foghorn at Girdle Ness light

Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light

Nigg Bay, looking back to Girdle Ness light

This is an absolutely delightful section along the cliff tops. The coastal scenery is fabulous  – it was like a school geography lesson come to life with all kinds of coastal features – stacks, geos and caves. It’s easy walking and there are places you can get off the path for a break.

Sea stack

Sea stack

 

A geo - a narrow cleft in the cliffs

A geo – a narrow cleft in the cliffs

Sea cave near Doonies Farm

Sea cave near Doonies Farm

I stopped for lunch on the cliff tops about a mile outside the village of Cove.

Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.

Looking south from the cliff path. My lunchtime view.

Instead of following the marked path to Cove, I stayed on the coastal path to Cove harbour. Then it’s up quite a steep hill into the village, where there’s a shop and a pub. I met a coastal backpacker here, walking from Stonehaven to Portsoy to complete his last section of his east coast walk and we chatted for a while.

The path leaves the coast here and you walk through the village, past the school to a minor road on the left where the trail continues. After you pass the quarry, this road is pretty quiet and I followed it to the village of Findon. A random food fact about Findon is that it’s the home of ‘Finnan Haddie’, a type of smoked haddock that used to be very popular. It has now been eclipsed by the better known Arbroath smoke and you rarely see them nowadays. There’s no smokers left in Findon.

At Findon, you can get back onto the coast by turning left where the road takes a sharp right turn. This takes you down the hill to Survival Craft Inspections, a company that checks out oil rig lifeboats. The orange boats give it a rather surreal feel, like something out of a science fiction film.

Survival craft

Survival craft at Findon

It’s quite hard to find the path here – I was directed to it by a couple of workers. It basically goes round the company’s yard then down some overgrown steps and across a bridge back to the cliffs. It was good to get back to the fabulous coastal scenery.

From here, it’s only a short walk to Old Portlethen. Remarkably, this was a fishing village at one time, with a tiny harbour in a rocky cove.

Portlethen harbour

Portlethen harbour

From here, it’s about a mile up the hill to Portlethen, a modern Aberdeen suburb. After passing the station, I caught a number 7 bus back into Aberdeen and then home.

Aberdeen to Portlethen: About 19km

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Probably unwisely, I have recently been involved in a number of Twitter debates about independence and have seen comments like ‘what’s the benefits of the Union’.  What I find particularly irritating about many people who are pro and anti independence is that neither will acknowledge that there are advantages and disadvantages to both positions and we must personally decide on how we trade these off.

1.     Economically, there is no question there will be short-term disruption. Business and the markets don’t like risk and they will take the lower risk option of favouring rUK rather than Scotland. If a Scottish Govt demonstrates economic competence, this will sort itself out. In the longer term, it is completely impossible to judge which option is better and both sides are dishonest in this respect in claiming that they can make such a prediction. Issues such as the EU etc. will also sort themselves out in time.

2.     The principal benefit of independence is that democracy is localised. A Scottish Govt can make decisions that are legitimised by the people of Scotland.  I don’t much like the fact that the current campaign is confusing the issue with all sorts of other policy issues, such as the removal of the Trident base from the Clyde. This is a decision to be taken by the elected Scottish Govt. at the time of independence which will NOT be the current govt.

3.     There are two important benefits of maintaining the Union. One is increased resilience – the ability to deal with emergencies be these financial, medical, weather-related, etc. Larger entities always have more resources to do this. Iceland and Ireland are examples of small countries that could not deal with a financial emergency. Denying that emergencies such as financial emergencies won’t happen in future is simply naive.

The other benefit of maintaining the union is that it maintains what is a truly open market rather than the EU’s formally open market but which is no such thing. Each country quite naturally has a tendency to prefer its own goods and services and Scottish providers will lose out. A very obvious example of this is in shipbuilding. Political pressure in England will mean that contracts for navy vessels will not come to Scottish shipyards.

To my mind, these are the key national issues and individuals have to make up their own mind about which they prefer. My preference is for local democracy but (having some professional interest in the area) I am seriously concerned about resilience, in an increasingly uncertain world.

Of course, they are not the only factors that affect voting as individuals in particular situations may vote according to their circumstances. My guess is that very few shipyard workers will vote ‘yes’ because of fears for their jobs.

The other factor that influences voting decisions is a human one – do you trust the people who are representing you?  In this respect, I am less torn – I don’t trust the current lot one bit. The truth is that independence will have short-term negative consequences and costs and their inability to acknowledge these and their apparent ignorance of how to negotiate (you NEVER make threats before starting a negotiation as it simply antagonises the other party) is shocking.

Had the Scottish Govt. declared that they would immediately call a general election after a yes vote and that parties could put forward their own positions on independence priorities, I would have had no hesitation in voting ‘yes’. What we are being denied by the current government is local democracy as we are not just voting ‘yes’ to self-government but also to a raft of other policies that we may or may not agree with.

Consequently, I’m tending to ‘no’ but in the unlikely event of an outbreak of honesty from our politicians, I’d be happy to change my mind.

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Tartan Tories

As the Scottish Referendum approaches, I find myself increasingly irritated by the political spin presented by both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns. This is an example of something I think is particularly dishonest.

 

A persuasive argument put forward by the SNP is that independence means that Scotland will get the government it votes for. The point is continually made that Conservative governments have been imposed on Scotland for many years although Scottish voters have not elected a majority of Tory MPs since the 1950s. To my mind, this argument is the most compelling reason for voting ‘yes’ in the forthcoming referendum.

Alongside the argument for independence is the spin that independence will mean that Scotland can create a ‘fairer society’, with the implication that this will benefit poorer members of society, although those making the argument are very careful to avoid making any hard commitments here.  There is also the implication that current politicians are the best people to deliver this ‘fairer society’ after independence and policies such as the abolition of university fees and prescription charges are contributors to this.

The SNP’s PR have done a good job here in convincing people of their ‘fairness’ credentials but if we look a bit deeper, what we see are policies that benefit the salaried middle classes rather than poorer members of our society. The SNP have their roots in areas that were previously Tory and the epithet ‘Tartan Tories’ is, I believe still valid. Here are some examples of middle-class policies:

1.     Freezing of council tax. The more expensive your home, the more you save. Funded by cutting council services many of which are predominantly used by the old, sick and disabled. Benefit claimants did not pay council tax anyway so they gain nothing from this. This policy has been copied in England by the current coalition government.

2.     Abolition of university fees. Universities are dominated by middle class students so the savings accrue mostly to them and their parents. Funded by cutting college places that are mostly taken up by students from poorer backgrounds. In England there has been some (not enough) targeting of funding to poorer students.

3.     Abolition of prescription charges. Only 10% of people paid prescription charges and most of them could afford to do so. Loss of revenue to the health service that could be used to improve healthcare in general.

4.     Reducing corporation tax (a stated SNP policy in an independent Scotland). Predominantly will benefit business owners, many of whom may not even live in Scotland.

You may or may not be in favour of these policies but it is dishonest to suggest that these policies are contributors to a fairer society. The current SNP government has penalised the poor and those on benefits to try to preserve the incomes of the salaried middle classes.  This may be a good political strategy but it certainly isn’t fair.

Of course, independence is not about re-electing the current Government although I imagine they will reinvent themselves as an alternative political party in the event of a ‘yes’ vote. Perhaps they will be the new ‘Scottish Conservatives’?

Disclaimer: I am a home owner and require regular medication, which I no longer pay for, so I have benefited from the current Scottish government policies.

A new windfarm is proposed between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. This will have profound effects on the local landscape and my objection to this development is here.  Please join me in objecting to this inappropriate industrial development – feel free to reuse and amend any text from here.

More information on the MCS website.

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to object to the proposals by Talladh a Bheithe Wind Farm Ltd to erect 24 wind turbines on moorland between Loch Rannoch and Loch Ericht. The basis of my objection is the negative visual impact of these turbines, the damage to wild land that will ensue and the effects on tourism in the local communities.

Scotland’s wild landscape is a unique asset and I am disappointed that the Government’s encouragement of wind farms in remote and beautiful areas does not seem to recognise this. This area has a particular resonance for me as it was in 1967, aged 16, where I climbed Schiehallion, my first Munro. The visual impact of a major industrial site from this summit and the neighbouring hills will irrevocably ruin the landscape for generations to come. It is not just the local hills that will be affected – the outlooks from the Ben Alder hills, the Glencoe hills and the Glen Lyon hills will all be affected.

We have seen, since I started going to the hills, a very welcome and significant increase in people exercising in and enjoying the Scottish Landscape. Not only is this beneficial for the individuals themselves, it has also led to a major expansion of tourism in the Highlands. We have, without doubt, a health crisis in Scotland and anything that can be done to encourage exercise should be done. Hill walking will be rather less attractive to future generations when the view is blighted by these wind turbines. And this, of course, is likely to have serious effects on our developing tourist industry.

Of course, the problem with wind farms is not simply the turbines themselves. The access roads in fact do far more damage to the land and, given the climate, the ensuing scars take tens or even hundreds of years to repair. Furthermore, because of the damage to peatland caused by road construction and the excavations for the turbines themselves, the study by Aberdeen University showed that the carbon saved by the use of wind energy rather than fossil fuels is often negative because of the loss of the peat’s carbon sink.

Finally, I note that there is considerable local opposition to this development by local tourist businesses. Small businesses are far more effective than multinationals in creating local employment and, critically, retaining and using the profits of that employment in the local community. A loss of even a small proportion of the tourists in this area as a result of the landscape destructions may make a significant proportion of existing businesses unviable. I believe that the Government have a greater responsibility to those living in Scotland than they do to multinational power companies and that everything possible should be done to ensure that local initiative is not stifled by inappropriate industrial development.

Yours sincerely

Professor Ian Sommerville

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