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Scottish politics, news, history, stories and intelligent analysis from Scotland

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    By Nancy Baldwin In my whole life I have never experienced this kind of intensity, although I have felt many earthquakes growing up in California and living in Japan for over 25 years. I guess what was the most surprising about today’s series of quakes was that although the epicentre occurred a few hundred miles away from us, north of here and off the coast, we felt it just about as badly as they did up north. Its reverberations reached as far as Kansai. Tokyo survived pretty much unscathed, but those poor folks north of us were hit very badly – plus the tsunami following the quake was just devastating. The aftershocks continue: this has been going on for over nine hours now. The first quake was so long I can only best describe it as a combination of turbulence on an airplane mixed with the swirling of a washing machine. I work on the fifth floor of a seven-storey building. I cannot imagine what it was like for folks working in taller buildings. When the first quake ended, there were some aftershocks and then another very strong one. We dived under our desks – I was shaking like a leaf. It just seemed to go on and on. But once that subsided, we left the building and started to head home. However, when the mass of humanity that normally pours into town during the morning rush-hour tried to exit Tokyo without the benefit of the train-system infrastructure, all of the taxis were taken and there were huge lines for buses. No traffic was allowed on the expressways, and the roads were so backed-up with traffic that we just walked and walked with the crowds. I was amazed at the calmness and civility of the people and of the local communities, in spite of the huge disruption we encountered today. Free vending-machine drinks, free public telephones to make phonecalls, businesses offering the flocks of homeward-bound pedestrians their restrooms if necessary. It was like a walkathon with the masses. It took over three hours of walking, but we got home safely. Then, watching the TV, we saw the horror that still continues in northern Japan. We live on the third floor of a three-storey “mansion” with no tall buildings around us, so unless something falls from the sky we should be OK. Our lifelines are intact – the cellphones are useless, but regular phones, our internet connection etc are fine. We were able to communicate with the kids through regular emails and Skype while walking home, so that was great. We were able to call our parents, and email our status on Facebook. - Nancy Baldwin first moved to Japan in 1979, and currently lives in Tokyo where she works as a director of client solutions for Oak Associates.

    A good source for information on casualty figures – which seem certain to rise considerably over the coming days – is nikkei.com. At the time of writing (late-afternoon Friday UK time), this reports Miyagi prefectural police saying they have found “200 to 300 bodies in Wakabayashi Ward” in a coastal area of the city of Sendai. For anyone with fears about family or friends who might have been caught up in the earthquake or the tsunami, Google is offering a useful contact service.

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    2. Tsunami warning after Chile hit by devastating earthquake
    3. Video footage of the moment the Chilean earthquake struck

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    Today is World Plumbing Day. It’s not that well known – but figures from the United Nations and the World Health Organisation make frightening reading. About a third of the planet’s population don’t have access to clean water or decent sanitation. Millions of children die every year as a result. The current Chairman of the World Plumbing Council is Robert Burgon, President of the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers' Federation. He sent out this message about why this day should matter to more people:

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    Recent research suggests that the centre of Edinburgh has a problem, with shoppers not using Princes Street, George Street and other key central areas in the way that either the business community or the local authority would expect. The idea now being discussed is to make the whole area not a pedestrian zone, but more akin to what is known in Scandinavia as a "home zone". This would be an area where people come first, where the boundaries between road and pavement are removed and where the speed limit is cut. Councillor Gordon Mackenzie, transport convener on City of Edinburgh Council, offered some thoughts on this to The Caledonian Mercury.

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    Some links that might be useful in light of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami: The Foreign and Commonwealth Office – messages of condolence from the Queen, prime minister David Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague. The foreign secretary also provides advice to British nationals based in the affected area. Similar advice is also available from the British embassy in Tokyo and British Abroad on Twitter. The Japanese embassy in the UK has some information, along with a message from ambassador Keiichi Hayashi. Japan-based media organisations providing up-to-the minute online information include the English web edition of asahi.com, Jiji Press, NHK World (the Japan equivalent of BBC World), the Japan Times, the Daily Yomiuri and nikkei.com. See also Asahi Japan Watch by the Asahi Shimbun on Facebook. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office helpline number for British nationals in Japan and their relatives in the UK is +(44) 207 008 0000. Links courtesy of the Daiwa Anglo–Japanese Foundation.

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    By Nancy Baldwin A few pictures taken while heading home from work in Tokyo after the earthquake hit on Friday afternoon. An account of the journey itself appears elsewhere in these pages. People waiting outside on the street having been evacuated from offices. jpnncy02jpnncy03 Tokyo Tower, 330 metres high. The top of the tower is bent.

                                                                                jpnncy04– Not able to get through on cellphones – the message in Japanese says "Please wait a little while" – but wifi and the internet worked.
                                                                                                                      The throng at Shibuya Station waiting to catch buses or some form of transportation home. jpnncy05 Inside Shibuya Station waiting for trains to start running – that took many hours. jpnncy06 Outside Shibuya Station. jpnncy07jpnncy08 We are okay, walking home among the masses.

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                                                                                                                                                            By Elizabeth McQuillan The whims of ladies’ underwear have varied according to the culture, practicalities and fashion of their time. More about avoiding draughty drawers than inspiring eroticism, these close-contact items of clothing, throughout their clandestine history, have nonetheless caused men to quiver and stand to attention. In warmer climes, the ancient Egyptian civilisation favoured simple loincloths that presumably allowed good air circulation and fast access. Likewise, the Etruscan and Roman women would wear a similar pelmet arrangement or shorts called a subligaculum. This would consist of a cloth belt arrangement around the waist with a piece of cloth stretched between the legs to cover the genitals, with the more fashion conscious opting for material draping the buttocks and side-ties. Roman ladies with cash to splash would have had the luxury of silk next to the skin and would thus have avoided any problems with overheating or chafing. The less well-heeled tolerated the bulkier and scratchier linen or wool options.

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                                                                                                                                                            Along with the Rennaissance came men wearing underwear as outerwear, and the fashion of hose and large codpieces. These solid crotch ornaments served as a hatch through which urination, and sundry other activities, were made possible without removing clothing. Henry VIII was renowned for his super-sized codpiece. This may have housed something personal and bulky, but the object in question was likely a cankerous willy with bandages soused in various unctions. Other less syphilitic individuals stored coins and keepsakes in their codpiece, close to their heart. For the ladies, it did mean that the chaps were "at liberty" without too much trouble. At the same time, the ladies had nothing of substance to interrupt progress, with a simple shift and petticoat underneath the dress. The bodice would do little more than squeeze the breasts flat, and allow a heaving overspill, to raise the pulse and ardour of any codpiece-wearing admirer. Through the 18th century, stays encouraged erect posture, ridiculously small waists and breasts to practically pop out of their prison. Laced in from an early age to form the much admired "wasp waist", women endured physical damage to developing bones and internal organs. Petticoats and bustles filled the void beneath the skirt, but still the breeze circulated freely. As the hemlines of the skirts crept up a little, the need for pantaloons became necessary for the pious Victorians. The word is derived from an Italian comedy character called Pantalone, who wore garments down to his ankles. These served to maintain modesty, and may have tantalised the hot-blooded young men of the time. The word "drawers" derives from the fact that one would "draw on" one’s pantaloons. Elizabeth Miller invented loose trousers to be worn by women and this idea was promoted by Amelia Bloomer from 1849 – and thus they became known as bloomers. Most often made with cotton, and wool for the colder months, until the 20th century these sexy numbers were crotchless and still allowed for good air circulation and passion on the move. In 1913, the New York socialite Mary Phelps Jacob fashioned the first brassiere by attaching two handkerchiefs together and securing with ribbon, and so breasts were supported and contained thereafter. Perhaps she was bored in a restaurant one day and inadvertently invented the napkin-bra trick. Underwear, and the accessible nature of undergarments, became less libertine with the progression of time. With the arrival of world war one, men were issued with button-fly shorts and thus their bids for freedom were curtailed, or at least slowed down. Women too were a more complicated prospect for the average lusty chap, wearing fully encapsulated drawers that disallowed draughts and discouraged exploration. The rest, as they say, is history.

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                                                                                                                                                            By Nancy Baldwin In my whole life I have never experienced this kind of intensity, although I have felt many earthquakes growing up in California and living in Japan for over 25 years. I guess what was the most surprising about today’s series of quakes was that although the epicentre occurred a few hundred miles away from us, north of here and off the coast, we felt it just about as badly as they did up north. Its reverberations reached as far as Kansai. Tokyo survived pretty much unscathed, but those poor folks north of us were hit very badly – plus the tsunami following the quake was just devastating. The aftershocks continue: this has been going on for over nine hours now. The first quake was so long I can only best describe it as a combination of turbulence on an airplane mixed with the swirling of a washing machine. I work on the fifth floor of a seven-storey building. I cannot imagine what it was like for folks working in taller buildings. When the first quake ended, there were some aftershocks and then another very strong one. We dived under our desks – I was shaking like a leaf. It just seemed to go on and on. But once that subsided, we left the building and started to head home. However, when the mass of humanity that normally pours into town during the morning rush-hour tried to exit Tokyo without the benefit of the train-system infrastructure, all of the taxis were taken and there were huge lines for buses. No traffic was allowed on the expressways, and the roads were so backed-up with traffic that we just walked and walked with the crowds. I was amazed at the calmness and civility of the people and of the local communities, in spite of the huge disruption we encountered today. Free vending-machine drinks, free public telephones to make phonecalls, businesses offering the flocks of homeward-bound pedestrians their restrooms if necessary. It was like a walkathon with the masses. It took over three hours of walking, but we got home safely. Then, watching the TV, we saw the horror that still continues in northern Japan. We live on the third floor of a three-storey “mansion” with no tall buildings around us, so unless something falls from the sky we should be OK. Our lifelines are intact – the cellphones are useless, but regular phones, our internet connection etc are fine. We were able to communicate with the kids through regular emails and Skype while walking home, so that was great. We were able to call our parents, and email our status on Facebook. - Nancy Baldwin first moved to Japan in 1979, and currently lives in Tokyo where she works as a director of client solutions for Oak Associates.

                                                                                                                                                            A good source for information on casualty figures – which seem certain to rise considerably over the coming days – is nikkei.com. At the time of writing (late-afternoon Friday UK time), this reports Miyagi prefectural police saying they have found “200 to 300 bodies in Wakabayashi Ward” in a coastal area of the city of Sendai. For anyone with fears about family or friends who might have been caught up in the earthquake or the tsunami, Google is offering a useful contact service.

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                                                                                                                                                            For the past few months I’ve been lecturing part-time at a further education college and a university. Both roles will go soon, not least because one of the courses I am involved in has been axed in its entirety. It is quite clear that my further education college is in crisis and the university is struggling not to go down the same path. Both institutions are facing cuts of about 10 per cent. In some cases that means one in ten jobs will go. Lecturers with decades of experience are being laid off, courses are being cut and those that remain after this cull know there will be another one to come, and probably another one after that. The issue is simple: money. There just isn’t enough. There is less coming down from central government, less then filtering down from Holyrood and this then works its way down into individual departments and faculties.

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                                                                                                                                                            The country as a whole is facing a similar crisis in public sector pensions. Employees are living longer and earning more and there just isn’t the money to cover all the liabilities. The anomalies in the system have also become so acute that they have to be faced. Why is it, for example, that a low-paid private sector employee has to work until 65 to raise the money in his or her taxes to pay for the pension of a counterpart in the public sector who retires five years earlier? Faced with these hugely difficult issues, Lord Hutton of Furness (formerly John Hutton, the work and pensions secretary) came up with his radical proposals this week to end final salary schemes – introducing career-average pensions instead and extending the public sector retirement age to match that in the private sector. In short, this will mean public sector workers retiring later, paying more into their pensions and, in many cases, ending up with less. Lord Hutton admitted, in a candid aside in Edinburgh yesterday, how difficult these plans were, conceding that he had had difficulty breaking the news of his proposals to his own children. He said: “I’ve got four kids, two of them work in the public sector. Do you know I have a real problem – I did have, not now – looking them in the eye and saying: ‘I’m going to go with what I’ve got, you have to work longer’. “For parents, to be in the position where you have to say to your kids ‘work longer, I go when I want’ – that is just not part of any concept of fairness.” But Lord Hutton went on to say: “I don’t want to borrow a slogan from other parties and say ‘we’re all in this together’, but when it comes to pensions we literally are all in this together. “We either solve this problem together across the generations, or we hard-wire real unfairness into the pensions system. I don’t want to do that. “We can’t go on like this, that’s my fundamental point. “My job was to tell it as I see it and tell the truth. If that upsets people, I am very sorry but my view is that it had to be told.” Lord Hutton knows that he has enjoyed – and is enjoying – the fruits of generous public sector provision. He will retire with a £30,000-a-year pension, the sort of lucrative settlement he is snatching away from his children. Despite this, though, he knows it is the right thing to do. It has to be done sometime and one group somewhere is going to get the rough end of the deal. Now compare this to the way Alex Salmond has approached the issue of university funding. “Rocks will melt with the sun,” he is due to declare today, at the SNP spring conference in Glasgow, before he would end the principle of free education. A spokesman for the first minister explained that this meant no tuition fees, no graduate endowment and, indeed, no graduate contribution of any sort, at all, in Scotland. A laudable aim, certainly, but is it really practical? Speak to anyone involved in teaching or managing a Scottish university and they are worried – very worried – about the funding gap that is already opening up between institutions north and south of the border. Yes, Mr Salmond has promised to close that funding gap from central coffers, but with even the most conservative estimates putting that gap at £200 million a year (or £1 billion over the course of the next parliament), is this something the first minister can really pledge to do or to afford to do, particularly when public finances are being squeezed? One of the main reasons why those such as Mr Salmond (and Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray) don’t want to introduce any sort of fees or graduate payment is because they had their education for free. They feel it is wrong to impose a burden on those going into universities today, a burden that they didn’t have to cope with when they were students. But this is exactly the sort of issue that Lord Hutton faced and dealt with. He didn’t want to impose burdens on his children that he did not have to face, but he saw there was no option simply because the circumstances now are very different from 50, 40, 30 or even 20 years ago. In terms of public sector pensions, people are living longer, are costing the country more in terms of pension payments and are earning more throughout their lifetimes. All this pushes up the financial liabilities faced by the whole country. In terms of higher education, when Mr Salmond went to St Andrews in the early 1970s, he was part of a cohort which made up about 25–30 per cent of the population going to university. It was affordable then. But now, with 50 per cent going on to higher education, the bill has become overwhelming and unaffordable. That is why, however difficult it is to accept, students are going to have to pay at least something towards their university education. It is hard, really hard, for those who enjoyed free education to take that away from the generation coming afterwards, but circumstances have changed so much that it is inevitable. The parties in England realised this. Both Labour and the Tories have backed the principle of tuition fees, aware that universities have to have the funding they need if they are to compete in what is now a global market place; but the leaders of our two main parties in Scotland refuse to admit it. Part of this is because of electoral concerns. Both believe that "free education" is a vote winner. It may be in the short-term, but our universities will lose out in the medium-to-longer term, as will other public services which will be stripped bare of their already stretched resources to cover the £1 billion cost of this extraordinary pledge over the lifetime of the next parliament. I know what it is like at our further- and higher-education institutions at the moment. The prevalent mood is so sombre it is almost suicidal. Everyone at these institutions is absolutely committed to the principle of education. But what many realise is that education is what counts. It is no good having free education if that is only available to a limited number of students, and that other potential students are being denied their chance of bettering themselves because the course they wanted to attend has been axed, their chosen faculty has been drained of staff and there just aren’t the places any more to cater for them. These are hard choices. Mr Salmond and Mr Gray would do well to heed the message of Lord Hutton. He faced hard choices and decided to take the right, if difficult, path. But then again, Lord Hutton is no longer running for election. As he said in Edinburgh yesterday: “I am a recovering politician.” Maybe it will take someone outside the electoral whirlpool to face these choices properly and rationally and soberly, without bowing to what they think will get them elected. Because, as it stands at the moment, neither of our leading candidates for the job of first minister is prepared to take on that challenge.

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                                                                                                                                                            By Giles Tuck in Tokyo

                                                                                                                                                              I work on the 26th floor of a modern 54-storey tower in the centre of Tokyo. I was at my desk on Friday afternoon when we felt the first jolt. We all glanced around slightly nervously, but nobody was too worried as minor tremors aren’t uncommon in Japan. We had quite a wobble on Wednesday, and initially yesterday’s earthquake felt much the same. The buildings are designed to absorb the energy from quakes, and they become quite springy in order to dissipate the energy. In practice, this feels like the building is a large ship on a choppy sea. It bobs around quite gently, but it’s still pretty unnerving and can make people feel a little queasy. Yesterday the building moved a bit more that we’d felt before, and people began to stand up from their desks and look out of the windows and at the light fixtures which had started swinging. One of my colleagues asked me if I could feel it too, and just as I confirmed that I could definitely feel the building shifting, we felt a huge jolt and the walls began to flex. As well as being pushed from side to side, there was a strong feeling of lifting up and down as well.

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                                                                                                                                                              There were a few gasps around the office and the nervous smiles were replaced with expressions of real shock. The movement in the floors continued to grow in strength and people started holding on to desks and walls in order to steady themselves. I was walking towards the windows as people were remarking that the tall buildings opposite were swaying noticeably. Even worse, on the outside of one of these towers was a window-cleaning crew in a cradle suspended by cables, swinging quite dramatically. It later emerged that both workers were unharmed, and that one of the building residents had opened a window so they were able to steady themselves by clinging to the window-frame. As I made my way over, I noticed that the huge floor-to-ceiling windows in our office were flexing in and out, and looked like they could explode at any moment. As the waves of movement became increasingly violent, it was getting harder to walk in a straight line. Earthquake alarms began to go off all over the building, announcing in English and Japanese that we should crawl underneath our desks, which some people began to do. I decided to move towards the core of the building, and as I did I saw people heading into the emergency stairwells. I followed suit, reasoning that getting out of the building was probably sensible. At this point, a certain amount of adrenaline kicked in, and I had to make a conscious effort to remain calm. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like being inside such a huge building that is being bounced around so violently, and I was suddenly aware that there was nowhere to go to escape the effects. Only about a minute had passed since the first big jolt, and the sway of the building was increasing to such a degree that I had to grab the handrail in the stairway to stop myself from being knocked off my feet. As I made my way down 26 storeys of windowless, grey, concrete stairs, I was aware of a huge rumbling noise resonating through the building structure and could hear the sound of crumbling plaster falling inside the walls. It took several minutes to get down the stairs and out of the building and it was disconcerting to emerge at ground level and feel that everything was still moving around. Outside the office were several hundred people, many being marshalled into assembly points. Lots of people were wearing safety helmets, part of the standard emergency earthquake kit given to Japanese workers. The main quake lasted about five minutes (a very long time for an earthquake), and by now about 15 minutes had passed. The worst of the quake was over, but very soon afterwards we felt the first of many very strong aftershocks. Although less severe than the main quake, these alone were enough to make people unsteady on their feet, and at ground level I could see lamp-posts and trees swaying quite dramatically. I remained outside for about 45 minutes, until I could be sure the worst was over, then walked 26 storeys back up to the office. The lifts shut down in the event of an earthquake and have to be inspected for damage before they can be reopened. From my office, I could see lots of black smoke coming from fires around the city, and – although I missed it – a huge fireball caused everybody to gasp as a petroleum depot at the docks exploded. I went back to work for a couple of hours, but the continued aftershocks and constant movement of the building was making me feel a little sick, and so a few of us made for the safety of a nearby pub. Over the course of the evening we discovered that many places were shut due to staff being unable to get to work, as all of the trains and subways were closed down and major roads had been shut to give access to emergency vehicles. Getting food was difficult too, as most places had their gas cut off as a safety precaution. When I eventually got home, I discovered that lots of cupboard doors were open, things had fallen off shelves and my kitchen sink was full of broken glass where my wine glasses had fallen. Thankfully my bottle of 12-year-old Macallan single malt had only made it to the edge of the shelf, so that particular disaster was averted. Over the past 24 hours, TV pictures have shown devastation caused by the tsunami in the north of Japan and my experiences seem utterly trivial. At time of writing, I’m still feeling aftershocks, making my apartment bounce around, but thankfully nothing worse. I’ve managed to get my gas reconnected and have hot water, food in the cupboards and an emergency kit within reach. I’m nervously watching events unfold at the exploded nuclear power station, but the regard for safety in Japan is such that I’m fairly confident that the best people in the world are working on making it safe. If there is more trouble to come, the authorities here will deal with it well. A final note, which I think speaks volumes about Japan, despite having suffered the worst recorded earthquake that the country has ever known, I still received letters both yesterday and today, along with the usual pizza flyers. Amazing country! - Giles Tuck writes the Japan notes blog.

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                                                                                                                                                              The address given by First Minister for Scotland and SNP leader Alex Salmond to the SNP spring conference held in Glasgow, 12 March 2011.
                                                                                                                                                              Delegates, first and foremost our thoughts are with the people of Japan in their time of extremity. Yesterday I sent a message to Prime Minister Kan on the sympathy that the Scottish people feel to our Japanese friends at this time. We stand ready to support or help in any way that is wished, in any way that we can. Delegates, by your applause please express your solidarity with the people of Japan. One of our Scottish connections with Japan is the great industrial combine of Mitsubishi, founded by a Scot, Thomas Blake Glover – born in the Broch – founded as the Nagasaki shipping company in 1870. Now Mitsubishi are making a great impact on modern Scotland, already committed to a £100 million research and programme, and one of the intended industrial partners for the power of green energy innovation now rising on the banks of the Clyde. For we are in Glasgow – a city of invention. Of entrepreneurs, engineers, of trains and ships. It is said when the QE II was launched, she actually stretched – and this city's influence has stretched across the world. First as the workshop of the empire and now as a creative city – building a new empire of the mind.

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                                                                                                                                                              But I believe it stands on the brink of another great success, Gallus Glasgow goes on, as a city at the cutting edge of the green revolution. For on the banks of the Clyde made famous by is traders and its shipbuilders, a new industry is rising. Yesterday I announced a £90m investment – Government and private sector – in Strathclyde University's International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone, dubbed IT-REZ – less of a mouthful! That is £90m and 700 jobs at the cutting edge of the green revolution and the knowledge economy. Combining Scotland's great strengths – our environment, our people and our education. It is aspirational Glasgow – can do Scotland – a university and a Government and the private sector like Scottish Power, the Weir Group and Scottish and Southern Energy, coming together to stake their claim for the future. It is aspirational Scotland, can do Glasgow, it is a revolution of expectation believing that we can lead the world in key aspects of technology and innovation. Delegates, this is an example of Strathclyde technology. It is a miniature map of Scotland, hardly the width of a human hair Nano-lithography, the manipulation of molecules, with great applications in medicine and across the sciences. This is a miniature Scotland, but Scotland itself isn’t small. Scotland’s only small in the minds of our unionist opponents – people who think small. What did they once try to call us? - The best wee wee country in the world. Why not just aspire to be the best country in the world! And this is a revolution in which all of Scotland is involved Before Christmas I announced the Mitsubishi investment. Then there is Gamesa's investment in Dundee. These are not scraps blowing in the wind but solid investments, setting roots in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee. In Machrihanish, Methil and Arnish. We are in the rapids of a new energy revolution. Let me state for this Conference and for this country the purpose of our objective. We intend that this nation - this Scotland - researches and develops, constructs and fabricates and then supplies and maintains the new green energy systems that will dominate this century. We intend that this city of Glasgow, marine engineers the 21st century just as it once led the marine engineering of the 19th - when ships from the Clyde carried a nation in their hold. These investments being made now will pay off for years and generations to come. We reckon this will be worth £30 billion for Scotland in offshore wind alone by 2020. With up to 130,000 job opportunities in the low-carbon sector. The green energy revolution in which we are embarked is the right course. It is the right course for Scotland, for Europe and for the planet. We shall be the green energy powerhouse of the European continent and a world leader in many of the key technologies. And yet amid all of this progress, more could be done with the real powers of a real parliament. Let us take but two examples: In London right now under OFGEM, there is a bank account of almost £200 million of Scotland's money paid by fossil fuel generators – places like Longannet and Peterhead. By law, these funds can only be used and accessed to support renewable development in Scotland. We need them right now to ensure that the infrastructure is in place so that places like Nigg and Dundee are able to benefit fully from the thousands of jobs which depend on these investments. So why don't we just access them right now? Because the Treasury say that if we do, then they will deduct the same sum from the block grant to fund education or health. Now the Liberal Democrats - that party of moderation and commonsense - and of course of pandering to Tory rule in Scotland – they say give up your £250 million and we will lend you the same sum through the Green Investment Bank in a few years time – a sum certainly less than the Green Investment Bank would be lending in Scotland anyway! So they take our money and then lend us back less in a few years' time – and that’s meant to be a good deal? Delegates, that is the sort of deal Nick Clegg is offering to English students! I've an alternative idea. Why don't we just invest in the power of an independent parliament and then decide for ourselves to invest our own money in developing our own resources? The second example concerns oil. Norway is the only country in Europe with more oil than Scotland. They have breezed through the world recession, largely because of the £300 billion fund for future generations accumulated over the last 15 years. We should have done that. Delegates, with oil set to last another 40 years we still can. Scotland is the second-largest oil producer in Europe, but we have among the highest prices for petrol and derv, placing our families under pressure and our industry at a competitive disadvantage. The oil price rises mean that revenues rise. This coming year they could rise by £4 billion to £14 billion – the highest ever – around £3,000 a head for every man, women and child in Scotland. If you applied even half of that £4 billion windfall to cutting fuel tax in Scotland you could reduce it by 50p per litre in Scotland – in the UK by 5p a litre. We have had enough humming and hawing on this. The case for a fuel tax regulator is made. Let the message go out loud and clear from this conference to the chancellor – cut fuel duty and cut it now. Our country is rich in resources. So here we are in this lucky, lucky country – we have oil and gas aplenty, we have huge supplies of the most precious resources of the 21st century, water, we have land and sea resources, we have one quarter of Europe's wind resource, one quarter of its tidal resource and one tenth of the wave resource and we have the skilled and inventive people. Delegates, the unionist parties tell us we are too poor to be independent and that the only reason that Tory Government in London have set their face against independence is concern for out welfare. The reality is quite different. The unionist parties oppose independence not because they Scotland is too poor, but because we are rich. What they really fear is the loss of Scottish resources. It is time we put the wealth of the land to the good of the people, and delivered a nation that looks after its own and does good for the world. On this subject, I have some more news for you about Glasgow. As you know, we intend to give Scottish Water a new direction, to become a dynamic player in our economy, and to project our humanitarian values around the world. I can announce today that Glasgow has been put on the short list, along with South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, to host the 2015 World Water Forum. 30,000 delegates to this city, indeed to this very Conference Centre, to try and solve one of the world's biggest challenges. We will campaign for this prize with the same vigour that brought the Commonwealth Games to this city for 2014. We intend to win it for Scotland. Delegates, we are Scotland's first ever SNP Government and we are standing for re-election. We do so with the best record, the best team and the only real vision for the future of our country. In the party broadcast last evening, you saw that we claimed a record 20,000 modern apprenticeships – 20,000 investments in the future. That was this year’s figure. Next year I fear we cannot repeat that. Instead we have determined on 25,000 apprenticeships – not just another Scottish record but 66 per cent higher than the number we inherited from Labour in 2007. Today we publish 100 key achievements of your SNP Government. The world's leading climate change targets – done. NHS budget protected – it was, it is and it will be. Prescription charges – ended. Bridge Tolls - removed. A thousand extra police officers – achieved. Over 1,000 council houses built – Labour only built six! Council tax frozen - done. A commitment to our infrastructure. A new Forth crossing and £2.5 billion of capital investment. The business of government is a steep learning curve – particularly for a minority. No doubt we could have done some things better. Yet – even in the teeth of world recession and the consequences of Brown's bust – we have still achieved more in four years than any other Scottish government, and we have so much more yet to do. I wanted Scotland to have her own government, so that together we could make Scotland better. I wanted the SNP to form that government so we could serve. I am the First Minister of Scotland. We have plenty still to do. With the people’s support, I intend to continue to be Scotland’s First Minister. Mind you, it’s a miracle I made it here today at all. This Wednesday, Ed Balls came to Scotland and said that Labour were going to use me as a punchbag. The next day Iain Gray said he would “take me on”. He took exception to me speaking to him calmly and got very upset. And they say they are not scared of the SNP! Well, they are right to be scared, scared of our record and scared of our team. Scared because so many Scots of all political persuasions want to see this SNP Government re-elected. Scared because only the SNP speaks for all of Scotland. Fear leads to people doing all sorts of strange things. It has even made Labour reverse its long-standing policy of charging young people for their education, and now they are engaged in council tax gymnastics. Let’s just remember it was Labour who introduced tuition fees north and south of the border. It was this SNP Government which removed them. Ed Balls doesn’t speak for Scotland. He’s the man who commissioned the Lord Browne review – the self same review that the Tories are now using to impose £9,000 a year fees on English students. He’s the man who wrecked the UK economy, Gordon Brown’s aide de camp. He’s the man who failed to regulate the banks – a failure he admitted this week. This is a Scottish election for a Scottish parliament. Ed Balls ain’t standing. Neither is Ed Miliband nor even Douglas Alexander – indeed not even Wendy Alexander. They were all on the media circuit this week trying to convince us otherwise. They hope that it will distract Scotland from what is really at stake in May. They want to convince us that this election is about enhancing Labour’s status at Westminster. But this election is not about who rules in London. It is about who is chosen to serve Scotland. Labour expects that Scotland will do its duty, to move slavishly back into line. They don’t even think they have to present any ideas. They don’t speak for Scotland. They have nothing of significance to say about Scotland. That was true in their long years of Government. Did Labour speak for Scotland when they took us into the Iraq war? Did Labour speak for Scotland when they raise the Council tax by 60 per cent? Did Labour speak for Scotland when they signed the PFI deals that now cost the public purse £800 million a year? Did Labour speak for Scotland when Alistair Darling promised cuts which were to be “deeper and tougher” than those of Margaret Thatcher? Did Labour speak for Scotland when they backed the obscenity of nuclear weapons – including £100 billion to be wasted on a new Trident system? Labour didn’t stand up for Scotland when they had their chance. Why would they do any better now? A noted Scottish journalist recently asked what Labour stood for apart from cheap booze and higher council tax. Cheap booze and higher council taxes. Keir Hardie will be birlin in his grave in Cumnock cemetery – the Labour Party in Scotland – cheap booze and higher taxes. Has there ever been a more miserable and depressing prospectus ever proffered to the people of this nation? Of course we all know they stand for more jobs – their own. They refused to back the SNP on 25,000 more apprentices. But even as they opposed supporting young people they wanted plenty of jobs for the boys. I don’t think that Scotland want to go back to Labour’s crony state, where helping out your pals came before helping the poor. Where a party card was a passport to the cushiest numbers. Remember Strathclyde Passenger Transport – whose Labour-connected officials had to leave in disgrace after an expenses scandal? They were meant to run the trains, but they were too busy operating the gravy train – like so much of Labour in Government. Labour speaks for vested interest. The Scottish National Party speak for all of Scotland. We speak for the poorest Scots the low-paid families and pensioners who have benefited most from our freeze on the council tax and our ending of prescription charges. We speak for the young delivering the 25,000 apprenticeships that Labour voted against, lowering class sizes and keeping education free. We speak for the vulnerable – we are protecting them with 1,000 extra police officers who have led crime to a 32-year low. We speak for the aspirational. The millions of Scots who want a better future for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. We speak for those who want to start their own business. The small business bonus has cut or abolished rates for 80,000 small businesses. Labour voted against that as well. We speak for the communities of Lossie and Leuchars who have served this country well and expect loyalty not betrayal in return. Delegates, we speak for all of Scotland and all of Scotland needs the Scottish National Party. Let me tell you about Nancy. I met her on Kilmarnock High Street three weeks ago. I meet a lot of folk. It’s real politics – listening to real concerns from real people. Nancy’s concern was that her disability living allowance would be taken away. That’s the thing that allows her to be in a job, to feel useful, wanted worthwhile. And Nancy was worried – is worried – that her disability allowance will be taken away by the Tory-led coalition. And she understands that these were hard times, and that everyone had to cut their cloth. But she wanted to know why she had to pay so much, for a crisis that had nothing to do with her. Now when I talk real politics, I talk of Nancy – of the need for the ordinary people to be given a fair shout and a decent chance. And as she told me her worries Nancy started to cry, not tears for herself but tears of worry, of uncertainty. And I felt concern and then sympathy and then anger – anger at the idea that a group of rich men in a London cabinet could cause such hurt to a women who overcomes adversity every single day of her life. You see I’m all for a big society, but I’ m also for a fair society. The late Jimmy Reid didn’t learn about a big society on the playing fields of Eton. He learned about a fair society on the shipyards of the Clyde. I know who received the better education in humanity, and to that concept we shall remain true. In a sense that society should try to be as equal as it can be – as in our attitude to education. The widening of the mind is the greatest gift. To learn of the universe and the atoms. Of the poets and philosophers. It is the one real luxury available to all according to their appetite to learn. And this nation pioneered free education for all, which resulted in Scots inventing and explaining much of the modern world. We called this the Scottish Enlightenment. And out of educational access came social mobility as we reached all the talents of a nation to change the world for the better. We can do so again. Some of our university Principals say that we will fall behind England. We will not. We do not intend to withdraw the state from higher education. Any funding gap will be closed. We would only fail if we were to betray our traditions and mortgage the future. So when it comes to the question of university fees or graduate taxes, I know where I stand. The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students – upfront, or backdoor. This party restored free education to Scotland in our first term. We will protect it in the next. This is part of the Scottish Settlement our social contract with the people. In the course of this coming week the Scottish Government intends to move forward again with that contract. The cuts promised by Alistair Darling – remember, “deeper and tougher” than those of Margaret Thatcher – are upon us and now under the other Tories. Across the public sector we face adversity. So let us face it together. As we are duty bound to do. We decided to protect the health service when Labour didn’t know what to do. We have protected local government as best we could because they deliver some of the most vital services. That has meant that the cuts being faced by our own administration are the most serious of all – 10 per cent this year and three per cent each year after that. And yet this coming week we are committed to agreeing with our staff unions in the civil service the continuation of our no compulsory redundancy agreement. And that comes with the pay-freeze that is inevitable and flexibility in the workforce which is necessary. But the prize in return is great. I believe that such an agreement could and should be extended across the public sector through local government, through our schools and also into our colleges, as well as throughout our health service. It will not be easy, but let me tell you why it is important. It is important to individuals to be relieved of economic uncertainty. It is important to have valuable staff properly valued. But it is also important to the economy. For eight months now, thanks to the work of John Swinney, we have had rising employment in Scotland even in the most difficult of circumstances. For three months we have had falling unemployment even as it has risen across the rest of the UK. This is the direct result of our capital acceleration in building houses and stimulating capital projects. In the first three quarters of last year, construction employment was up 16 per cent in Scotland – even as it fell across the UK. Now the Tories are implementing the savage capital spending cuts planned by Labour. We will respond by a £2.5 billion non-profit distribution programme. By moving ahead with the Southern General in Glasgow – a new bridge will span the River Forth, a new road around Aberdeen. However, we will still be under pressure. One further response is through the economics of security. If people have the fear of compulsory redundancy removed, then they are able to plan and to spend for the future of themselves and their families – that preserves jobs and helps the wider economy. That is why as First Minister I will spend every day securing our agreement with the Scottish Government unions and then seeking to see it expanded across the public sector. As a candidate I will campaign for it and if the people return me as First Minister then I will secure that prize – of no compulsory redundancies and economic security – that it brings. Delegates, we have a rich land, but too many of our people live in poverty. We have a 21st century vision, but are held back by 19th century prejudices and structures. We are ready to play our part in the world, to help from the personal to the universal. If we are to become a crucible of the new society, then we need the power of independence – we must have these powers. And there is only way of getting those, of making further advance. To vote for Scotland, not because we are better than anywhere else, but because we are the same people as people all over the world. We seek fairness and justice and responsibility. And we are the lucky nation, rich enough to deliver it all, yet we cannot without power. Our sense of the common weal is strong and should not be denied by the rich elites of elsewhere. A Scotland caught between the universality of hope, and the parochialism of power for power’s sake. And as Labour peddle fear, we have led hope. We live in tough times, but when the decision came to protect family budgets, it was straightforward – the council tax freeze stays because it's worth more than £300 to the average family since 2007. The NHS budget could have been cut, but for us it was a clear decision – the health service protects Scots young and old. Its budget is safe with the SNP. We have made Scotland secure not by the kneejerk nonsense of locking people up for short sentences, but by putting 1,000 extra police on the street and taking crime to a 32-year low. We have the best team on the park and we govern for the whole of Scotland. But politics is nothing without a bigger vision. In government, much is in the day-to-day, but you must still keep an eye on the horizon, on the big prize. For us, that prize is independence – but independence is a means to an end. That end is a society safe, happy, healthy, confident in its skin. A global citizen acting to help the world where it can. Because the mapmakers’ ink is becoming smudged on every border. Globalism, the rise of the knowledge economy, the big economic changes, the great environmental challenges – all point to a world where the responsibility of the nation is to raise people who are responsible to the world. And the definition of a nation is a community of people with a shared commitment to their culture and to their children. By having a strong sense of ourselves. That allows our new communities from Asia to know what it meant to be Scottish and to give them something to join, to be part of. And that sense of self is built on community, on the shared value of helping each other out, lending a hand, on a sense that society should try to be as equal as it can be. That is what we value and what we think is the purpose of government. To the rights of the ordinary to triumph over vested interests. In our capital city of Edinburgh there stands a monument to Thomas Muir and his fellow friends of the people. His memory should cast a beam across the work of every civil servant in the Scottish Government and every Minister – because the monument to Muir and his fellows revolutionaries spikes out of Calton graveyard like a shaft of stony light across from St Andrew's House. And this monument contains Muir's own vision: “I have devoted myself to the cause of The People. It is a good cause – it shall ultimately prevail – it shall finally triumph.” And his message was not just for this place, but for every place. For his spirit, for Robert Burn's spirit, Jimmy Reid’s spirit, our spirit, it is for the common weal. The rights of man – and of women. And the legitimacy of the ordinary over the powerful. This party has travelled a similar path. This movement, this nation, has been patronised, talked down, told it wasn't good enough. And yet this party has risen from a few MPs and a land without a parliament, to a Scotland with a parliament, and an SNP government. We never lost the strength of hope – and we fought on to triumph. But we, in our mix of the national and the international, of the personal and the political, we fought not to govern over people, but for the people to govern over themselves. It is for that reason and that reason above all that we are the Friends of the People of Scotland, and for that reason we shall prevail.

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                                                                                                                                                            • 03/15/11--11:18: Useful Scots word: sumph
                                                                                                                                                            • By Betty Kirkpatrick

                                                                                                                                                                English has a great many words for a stupid person. It has, for example, fool, idiot, nitwit, numskull, nincompoop, dolt, dope, clot, twit and airhead. Scots, however, can trump all of these with sumph, which is pronounced to rhyme with bumf. One dictionary states that sumph is used mostly of men. Could this suggest that fools or nitwits are mainly men? Surely not. That would be sexist. In any case, there must be female fools in existence, because sumph used to have the feminine form sumphess. Sadly, because I quite like it, sumphess has vanished from use. As well as referring to a stupid person or to someone who is generally useless, sumph can be used to mean a surly or sullen person. This use seems to me to be particularly descriptive.

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                                                                                                                                                                Sumph, which is of uncertain origin, can also act as a verb, although this use is not now nearly as common as the noun use. The verb means to act in a foolish, stupid way without thinking ahead. It can also mean to loaf or lie about doing nothing, or to be in a sullen sulk. Basically, the verb describes the way sumphish or sumphy people are likely to act. Sumph is enough of an insult on its own, but often users feel the need to add an adjective to it for emphasis. They often refer to a great sumph, a big sumph or a muckle sumph, these expressions all meaning the same. Curiously, there do not seem to be many little sumphs or wee sumphs around. Most insulting of all is the expression donnert sumph. Donnert is an adjective meaning very stupid and so a donnert sumph is the ultimate in idiots. Donnert is pronounced as it is spelt with the emphasis on the first syllable and is derived from the verb donner meaning to daze or stun. Donnert, thus, literally means having been dazed or stunned. Donnert is not joined at the hip to sumph. It can stand alone and is often used to describe someone who is getting on a bit and whose mind is not as sharp as it once was. Donnert refers to that stage in life when the senior moments get closer and closer together. It sounds kinder than many of its English equivalents such as loopy or batty, and is certainly a lot less harsh than demented.
                                                                                                                                                                Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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                                                                                                                                                                By John Knox It’s good to see at least one politician with a Plan B. The Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant has begun her election campaign with a plea to save the bumblebee. While others are banging on about the economy, jobs, council cuts, schooling, the health service, the state of the roads and our constitutional future, Mrs Grant appears in the Inverness Courier in a colourful photoshoot helping to launch Bee Aware fortnight in the Highlands. “Be that as it may,” you say, “but isn’t the plight of the bumblebee one of those nice non-political, motherhood-and-apple-pie issues we can all agree on and don’t really have to do anything about?” Actually, no. It is a classic example of an issue that is apparently a small thing – like the bee itself – but is in fact a large thing which goes to the heart of politics and presents us with some worryingly hard choices.

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                                                                                                                                                                Bees pollinate a third of the food we eat. Without bees, there would be no apples, raspberries, blackberries, cabbages, cucumbers, sprouts, even tea. It’s estimated that bee pollination is worth $200 billion to the global economy, £200 million a year to the UK economy and £12 million a year to the Scottish economy. But, more worrying, the decline in bee numbers is a sign of trouble deep down in the environment. Bee numbers have halved in the last 20 years. A fifth of bee colonies did not survive last winter. The reasons are many and complicated. They include bad weather, the loss of flowering meadows, the use of pesticides, the import of non-native species such as the Asian hornet, viruses, fungi, the varroa mite and diseases that affect the larvae such as European and American foulbrood. There are also the more esoteric explanations, such as that the bees’ memories and flight-paths are confused by air pollution and by electromagnetic fields from powerlines, wi-fi and mobile phone signals. And then there is Colony Collapse Disorder, for which there is, as yet, no explanation. The United Nations has just brought out a report, Global Honey Bee Colony Disorders and Other Threats to Insect Pollinators, which paints an apocalyptic picture of food shortages and environmental disaster as 20,000 flowering plant species die out and the world’s population of bees go with them. It warns that large scale bee-farming and globalisation are ideal for spreading bee diseases and it calls for more research to find a scientific way out of our global bee predicament. The UK government says it is playing its part, with £4.2 million being given to bee research over the next five years. The Scottish government has also been wringing its beekeeping gloves and has published The Honey Bee Health Strategy. This, however, does little more than urge Scotland’s 2,500 amateur beekeepers and the 25 commercial beekeeping farms to be on their guard for diseases and adopt “best practice”. But honey bees are only part of the story. There are 20,000 known species of bee, from those which prefer to live in large hives of up to 40,000 other bees, to those which prefer to live in small independent colonies of up to 400, like the bumblebee. Or those which prefer to live alone, like the carpenter bee, the leafcutter bee, the hornfaced bee or the orchard mason bee. All of them face problems living in the 21st century. Ten of Britain’s 24 species of bumblebee are in serious decline. We have lost two species completely in recent years. The great yellow bumblebee is now only found in the north and west of Scotland. There are fears that the black bee of Colonsay may disappear soon. Not if Rhoda Grant can help it. She is urging people across the Highlands and Islands to plant more flowering bushes in their gardens, leave an area of long grass for the bees, stop using pesticides and, in the winter, put out bottle-tops with a one-third sugar/water solution in them for the bees to drink. But it will take more than domestic gardeners to save the bees. Farmers will need to leave more uncut hedgerows and flower meadows, there will need to be a stop to the use of pesticides and we will need to invest in more research to combat imported viruses and diseases. Mrs Grant may be fighting the Highlands and Islands regional seat for the Labour Party and issuing press releases on council cuts, more capital funding for NHS Highland, upgrading the A95 and protecting the Stornoway Black Pudding – but she also has a Plan Bee. Quite how far she is prepared to go, and whether she is prepared to flap her wings on the issue as vigorously as the bees (230 times a second), we have until 5 May to find out.

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                                                                                                                                                                Respected rugby writer Stephen Jones warned in yesterday's Sunday Times that Scotland, a once proud rugby nation, was in danger of slipping into "freefall", that the nation's decline was now almost irreversible and that Scotland risked losing its position at the sport's top table. That was written before yesterday's Calcutta Cup match at Twickenham, and although Scotland did enough in losing 22–16 to England to suggest that the nation's decline is not irreversible, the game did hint that the serious long-term problems that Scottish teams have struggled to overcome for the last decade are no nearer being solved. First and foremost, Scotland lost. Again. That the Scots did better than almost everyone had suggested beforehand can't hide the fact that this was the team's fourth loss in succession in this year's Six Nations and now only the France-beating Italy side stand between Scotland and the wooden spoon.

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                                                                                                                                                                The game was tight. It was locked at 9–9 well into the second half with neither side able to get on top. That was a remarkable achievement for a Scotland side languishing at the bottom of the table playing away to an England side that has been cruising with tries and wins all season. But the match hinged on the sin-binning of John Barclay, the Scotland flanker. He was yellow-carded for sticking his hands into the ruck under Scotland's posts, a decision which has since been criticised by many in the Scottish camp. During Barclay's absence, England scored ten points: game over. Scotland did come back through Max Evans' delightful individual try, but the crucial points gap, which England had cultivated during that period, was never one that Scotland could make up. This is the second match in succession which Scotland have lost during the time they have been down to 14 men. Allan Jacobsen's sin-binning against Ireland sparked the final Irish try and the one that took the game away from Scotland. Two games, two sin-binnings and two defeats: on such margins are championships won and, in Scotland's case, lost. But there is more to it than that. The roots of Scotland's sin-binnings were the same – inferiority at the set-piece. More often than not, a referee will card a player from the team under pressure, almost certainly because they feel the team under the cosh will resort to underhand methods to get even. In Barclay's case, this was compounded by the fact that he was in the shadow of his own posts when this happened, clear evidence that his team were really struggling at that point. Against Ireland, Jacobsen was binned for illegal scrummaging, again highlighting the harsh penalty for teams the referee feels is second-best in the set-piece. And this is Scotland's core problem. Yesterday, the line-out was woeful. Scotland lost ball after ball after ball at the line-out, which should have been rock-solid. The scrum was little better. Scotland were pushed around and penalised all afternoon. The referee then acted accordingly and favoured England's stronger, more powerful forwards. It was the same for Scotland in the French game, it was only slightly better in the Welsh and Irish games and it is expected to be just as bad in the Italy game next Sunday. So, to answer Stephen Jones' argument, Scotland are not in "freefall" – just yet. They are not in irreversible decline, but they will be unless they find a combative pack which can gain parity at the very least, and superiority at most, against the teams they come up against. Scotland lost the Calcutta Cup during the time Barclay was in the bin, but the loss started with Ross Ford's first failed throw-in and developed with every creaking scrum and missed line-out. As in most games, it was lost up front. If Scotland want to start winning games again and prove they can regain their place at rugby's top table, then they need to find a pack of forwards who can boss their opponents. With that will come more penalties, more refereeing decisions in their favour, better field positions, more tries and more victories. It is as simple and as elusive as that. The problem is, though, that while Scotland continue to produce fewer rugby players than their competitors (there are 12 players in England for every one in Scotland), they will always struggle to find the mean, bruising heavyweights to compete. Fewer players overall means fewer of the sort who can subdue an opposition pack. Just look at what happened in the final quarter when both coaches emptied their benches in an attempt to win the match. England brought on four starring Lions: Tom Croft, a fantastic athlete who scored his team's crucial, match-winning try, Steve Thompson, a brutal and rumbustious hooker, the huge and powerful Simon Shaw and – of course – Jonny Wilkinson. Who did Scotland bring on? Scott Lawson at hooker, Alasdair Strokosch at flanker, Dan Parks at 10, Richie Vernon at no.8, Nick de Luca in the centre and Geoff Cross at prop. There is no disrespect to any of them. They are all fine, fine players – but not one has been a Lion and there is no prospect of any of them becoming one, at least at the moment. England had better starting forwards and a much, much more powerful bench. When a game is as tight as yesterday's, the team with the greater strength in depth is usually going to win, and that is what happened. Scotland's starting 15 did extremely well. They tackled their hearts out and played their best rugby of the season. Unfortunately, they were beaten up front, lost a man to the sib-bin and then were overwhelmed by England's greater resources on the bench. With such meagre resources, however, it is difficult to see how Scotland can get out of this situation. Unless and until Andy Robinson can unearth a golden generation of players who can take the game from their opponents, it is almost impossible to see a change in the near future. Then, and only then, will Scotland have proved they are not in "freefall" and can try to recover some of the glory days which seem, at the moment, to have disappeared never to return. There were positives, as there always are in close away defeats. Ruaridh Jackson had an excellent game. His line-kicking was superb (it was just a pity that was thrown away in the line-outs), he tackled bravely, passed well, stood close to the gain-line and took his dropped goal with aplomb – something Parks noticeably failed to replicate. Jackson has to be given the 10 shirt for the Italy game and has to be developed ahead of the World Cup. Yesterday was also Chris Paterson's best game for several seasons. The fact that he dove-tailed so well with Jackson is really positive. Paterson slipped in at no.10 on several occasions and stretched the defence. His try-saving tackle on England full-back Ben Foden late in the game was brilliant too, so Robinson should keep those two together. Jo Ansbro is developing into a decent 13 and Evans was excellent on the right wing, taking his try really well. But that was about it. Scotland defended with grit, especially on the inside 10 channel, stopping Chris Ashton from creating the sort of carnage he has done all season. Scotland also competed exceptionally well at the rucks and breakdowns. All they have to do now is find a tougher pack that can't be bossed around, start winning scrums and get back to winning line-outs, find a bench full of Lions and the rest will be easy. "Freefall"? No. Slipping certainly, but not freefall. Not just yet, at any rate.

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                                                                                                                                                                The death of businessman Mark Weir, on the evening of Tuesday 8 March, brought to a premature end the career of one of the most imaginative and colourful characters in the Lake District. Weir’s body was found the following morning in the wreckage of his private helicopter, which had crashed in poor weather close to the Honister Slate Mine – a business which he had owned and developed for over a decade. Aged 45, he leaves a partner and three children. A statement published on the mine’s website said: “Mark’s family and staff at Honister Slate Mine are ‘totally devastated,’ and bereft by their loss.”

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                                                                                                                                                                Honister stands in the heart of the Cumbrian fell country, on the 350-metre road pass connecting Borrowdale with Buttermere. The quarry itself occupies steep ground on the north slope of Fleetwith Pike, and was worked fairly continuously from the 18th century until closure in the late 1980s. Writing in 1966, Alfred Wainwright described it as “a labyrinth of tunnels, cuttings, tramways, cables and paths … There is no beauty in despoliation and devastation but there can be dramatic effect and interest, and so it is here.” Weir acquired the site in 1997 and endeavoured to turn it into a viable business once more. Some quarrying continued, but Weir’s more high-profile and controversial ventures focused on developing the site’s tourist potential. His efforts were in part a tribute to his grandfather, who had worked at Honister. “Mr Weir had flown his grandfather over the derelict mine,” reported the Westmorland Gazette, “and noticed how upset he had been by its closure and the loss of jobs across the rural valley of Borrowdale. The businessman’s promise to visitors was: ‘Every penny you spend at Honister remains in the local community and helps support a future for our young people’.” This he did by developing mine tours and – from 2007 – the UK’s first commercial via ferrata across the face of the old workings. Some in the climbing community were sniffy about this, but it proved popular and added a new dimension to the area’s tourist provision. There were also plans – as yet unfulfilled and now possibly destined to remain so – for a kilometre-long aerial zip-wire down into the valley from a point near the upper edge of the escarpment. This was undoubtedly contentious – the nearest equivalent in Scotland might be if someone proposed installing a rapid-descent mechanism from the Aonach Eagach to Glen Coe. Objections to the Honister zip-wire, from such as the Friends of the Lake District, came on the grounds of noise and intrusion into a quiet upland area. Not that anyone could genuinely claim that the Lake District was an unspoilt wilderness, however, and many saw the zip-wire, like the via ferrata, as a means of boosting a local economy badly hit by foot and mouth, two instances of severe flooding and the general economic downturn. It prompted a classic development-versus-conservation spat across online bulletin-boards, newspaper letters pages and the like – but such debates are hardly new. Indeed, it is still possible to find people in the Lakes who chunter with some feeling about William Wordsworth, on the grounds that his lobbying to exclude railways from the central part of the district over 150 years ago – to maintain the romantic mood of the place – has been a major factor in the modern-day traffic-clogging of Grasmere, Ambleside and the like. Weir would, one assumes, have been on the opposite side of most fences to Wordsworth: he was a moderniser, a progressive, some would say a visionary. He was also fond of the media soundbite – not just making himself available for Julia Bradbury and Griff Rhys Jones to interview in their glossy TV series, but also when it came to news-based stories. The most notorious instance of this came in October 2008, when the first of the two recent Lakeland floods coincided with the two-day Original Mountain Marathon being held in the Borrowdale and Buttermere fells. The “rescue” of 2,000 runners – most of them experienced, well-equipped and quite possibly relishing the utterly foul weather – became the lead story on the rolling news channels for a couple of days. This was in no small part due to Weir, who provided two of the juiciest quotes any reporter could have wished for: “We have come within inches of turning the Lake District mountains into a morgue”, and “The organisers should be shot”. This enraged many in the hill-running and mountain-marathon community, who saw Weir as meddlesome and attention-seeking – although the staging of such a large event in one of the busiest UK hill areas, and the decision to press on despite significant existing flooding and a poor forecast, was itself questionable. It is impossible to know whether those quotes were simply an aspect of Weir’s character, or a clever realisation that controversy would give rise to media coverage which in turn would raise the profile of the business and so boost trade – but he undoubtedly succeeded in the latter respect. He will certainly be missed. A spokesman for the company described him as “a charismatic Lake District legend with a lust for life and a giant personality. He was passionate about everything he did from fatherhood to flying and business. He loved questioning authority but won many doubters over through sheer force of his personality. He was that rare mix of shrewd businessman and creative entrepreneur.” There have also been numerous tributes in the letters pages of newspapers and the comment slots of outdoors websites. In the Westmorland Gazette, Weir was described as “a lovely man who lived his life in his way, with a can do positive attitude”, while another reader noted that “Tourism in the Lake District has lost one if its greatest assets but his legacy will go on”. On grough.co.uk, comments included: “Very sad news, a great man and a great business mind” and “A keen businessman who was not frightened to have a go”, while on UKClimbing.com, home of much debate over the merits of his various projects, Weir was described as “a friendly lad with a big personality and never changed over the years” and “Sad loss – he wasn’t afraid to give things a go. Maybe some folk didn’t like some of his ideas – however he was a down to earth local chap prepared to make a difference and his mark on the community and the area.” One final thought. Over the past 15 years, the number of people – often notable business people – to have died in private-helicopter crashes feels greater than might be expected. Any such death is tragic, of course, and the reasons each time will differ, but the roll-call of victims is starting to become lengthy. It includes Matthew Harding of Chelsea FC in 1996, the noted Derbyshire businessman Alan Godkin the same year (having survived an earlier crash in 1989), Colin McRae in 2007, and fatal accidents in Cambridgeshire in 2007, Yorkshire and Gloucestershire in 2008 and County Down in 2010. Most of these incidents also involved other deaths. Has death-by-helicopter become a substantial risk in the business-entrepreneurial trade? It shouldn’t be, but there is increasing evidence that it is. If so, what does it say about the safety or otherwise of these undoubtedly useful machines?

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                                                                                                                                                                Having a bad job can be just as harmful to mental health as having no job at all, according to newly published research. A study drawing on data from more than 7,000 people of working age in Australia suggests that the policy of getting people into work at all costs might not be best. Generally, having a job is associated with better mental health than unemployment, so efforts have tended to focus on the risks of having no job, without necessarily looking at the type of job a person has. But this research, published online in the BMJ's Occupational and Environmental Medicine, indicates that having a poor-quality job – for example, one which is badly paid, poorly supported or short-term – can have an impact on mental health which is equal to, or even worse than, unemployment.

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                                                                                                                                                                Researchers from the Australian National University in Canberra looked at data from a representative national household study, called HILDA (Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia), which is conducted every year. Respondents were asked about their employment status, and their mental health was assessed using the well-known method known as MHI. The psychosocial quality of the jobs was graded according to factors such as demands and complexity, the level of control they had over what the people did and whether or not they perceived the job as secure and fairly paid. The initial results showed that those who were unemployed had poorer mental health overall, but this wasn’t the full picture. After taking account of a range of things which might affect the results, including educational attainment and marital status, the mental health of those who were unemployed was similar to, or often better than, those of people who were in poor-quality jobs. Indeed, the sharpest decline in mental health over time was experienced by those in the poorest-quality jobs, and this became even more acute the more adverse conditions there were attached to the job. Although previous research has suggested that finding a job after a period of unemployment is good for mental health, this study shows that it depends on the quality of the post – with job quality predicting mental health. The researchers acknowledge that paid work brings benefits such as a defined social role and purpose, friendships and structured time, but they say that those jobs in which the worker has little control, which are demanding and provide little reward and support, are not good for health. “Work first policies are based on the notion that any job is better than none, as work promotes economic as well as personal wellbeing,” say the report's authors, headed by Dr Peter Butterworth of the university’s Centre for Mental Health Research. “Psychosocial job quality is a pivotal factor that needs to be considered in the design and delivery of employment and welfare policy.”

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                                                                                                                                                                Ivory wave, a drug being described as “the next mephedrone”, is growing in popularity and has already been implicated in deaths and illness across the UK, according to a critical-care paramedic. The new “legal high”, also known as purple wave, ivory coast or vanilla sky, has effects which are “concerning”, says Mark Durham from South East Coast Ambulance Service. He fears that the drug, which is usually sold online as bath salts in packs from 200mg to 500mg for £15 a go, is taking over from the previous “legal high” drug of mephedrone (also known – particularly in the press – as “miaow miaow”), which was outlawed last year.

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                                                                                                                                                                “It seems quite plausible that this drug could be the ‘next mephedrone’,” Durham writes in the Emergency Medicine Journal. “Reports reveal that its popularity has been [growing] and its use spreading across the UK in recent months.” Durham describes the case of a young man detained in a policy custody suite who complained of sudden rapid heartbeat and chest pain. He was extremely anxious and agitated, was hallucinating and had involuntary facial contortions. His blood pressure was high and his breathing very rapid. In the belief that he had snorted cocaine, the man was given a drug normally used to treat angina and an anti-anxiety medication, which calmed him down. The man then said he had snorted 2g of ivory wave earlier in the day. Durham says that there doesn’t seem to be any set “recipe” for ivory wave, and that it can vary enormously in content, but that it can contain the stimulant methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and the anaesthetic lignocaine. MDPV can have effects in doses as low as 5mg. Ivory wave’s reported effects include initial euphoria, with other symptoms occurring up to a day after using and lasting as long as a week. These can include overstimulation of the nervous and cardiovascular systems, resulting in acute paranoid psychosis, with extreme agitation, insomnia, dizziness, hyperthermia, and fitting, chest pains and variations in blood pressure that can damage the kidneys. In some cases, the resulting agitation and paranoia have prompted patients to assault hospital staff, Durham says. The drug has been implicated in the death of a man found by a fishing boat off the coast of the Isle of Wight, who was believed to have jumped off a cliff. He had taken ivory wave two days previously and, his mother said, had been suffering extreme hallucinations, psychoses and neuroses since that time. Several hospital admissions have been reported from Wales and Scotland, and another death reported in Essex – where the victim’s mother says she had been taking the drug as a slimming aid. “Whether or not this drug in fact contains illegal ingredients is as yet unclear,” Durham says. “The drug’s effects are concerning, however, and have been seen in patients in Lothian, Cumbria, Dorset and Essex. “Clinicians should be aware of its likely presentations, dangers and management.”

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                                                                                                                                                                By Betty Kirkpatrick

                                                                                                                                                                  Anyone who has recently read a story to a young female of the species cannot fail to be aware of the immense popularity of fairies in modern children’s fiction. Are these fairies a throwback to those which once played such an important role in Celtic tradition? Is history repeating itself? Absolutely not. The modern fairy is a minute female who is very much a creature of her times. She is fashionably dressed in well-coordinated clothes, with modishly styled hair, the whole liberally sprinkled with sparkles. Above all, the fairy of today’s fiction is intent on doing good, both in fairyland and in the land of humans. In the Celtic tradition of Scotland and elsewhere, by no means all fairies were out to do good. Admittedly, there were some kindly fairies who did good deeds to humans and these belonged to what was called the Seelie Court. The many fairies who were malicious and wicked belonged to the Unseelie Court. These mischievous creatures were dead set on causing as much harm as possible to humans and they were a powerful force for evil.

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                                                                                                                                                                  As to clothes, some fairies were thought to wear green – but, apart from that, not much was known about their appearance. This is hardly surprising, as they were invisible for most of the time. In modern children’s fiction, children – or at least little girls – are very anxious to meet up with fairies and they frequently do so. In former times, however, people were only too anxious to avoid the company of fairies and did their very best to ward them off. Various things were called into play to help in this task. Horseshoes, then as now, were considered to be a symbol of good luck, but they were also regarded as a fairy deterrent. This was particularly effective if the horseshoe was made of iron, as would most likely be the case, since iron was regarded as a powerful deterrent to all malevolent supernatural creatures. The horseshoe was made even more of a threat to fairies if iron nails were used to fix it to door or the fireside. A rowan tree planted near the threshold of the house was thought to keep at bay fairies and other forces of evil, such as witches. Other plant life was also used in the relentless struggle against fairies. Such plants included gorse, rosemary and dill, while St John’s Wort, now often used to ward off depression, was used to ward off fairies who were intent on stealing away humans while they were asleep. It was a common part of fairy business to steal humans away. However, it appears that they mostly concentrated on the removal of human children. When they did steal away a human child, they would frequently leave a fairy child (called a changeling) in its place. The fairies’ most determined attempts at child-stealing were made between the time a child was born and the time it was baptised. Much effort was concentrated on preventing the fairy invaders from carrying off a baby – or, indeed, the baby’s mother. Staying with the iron theme, someone in the household where there was a new-born baby might hammer a row of iron nails into the headboard of the bed where the new mother and baby were lying. In some parts of Scotland, a pair of trousers belonging to the baby’s father was thought to frighten off fairies. The trousers were hung at the foot of the bed in which mother and baby slept. Sometimes the father’s shirt was used to wrap the new-born baby in, to stop the fairy thieves in their tracks. I do not know why fairies should be so afraid of male garments. It cannot have been that fairies were weak females who were afraid of men, because not all fairies in the Celtic tradition were female. Human urine was another weapon used in the battle against the fairies. Presumably this could be supplied by a member of either sex. The urine was sprinkled on the doorposts of the front door or on the doorposts of the room where the baby lay. Apparently fairies found the smell of human urine extremely offensive and were likely to give it a wide berth. It cannot have been very pleasant for the humans in the house, either. More pleasant-smelling was the practice of lighting a piece of fir-wood and carrying it three times around the bed where mother and baby lay. Alternatively, the lit wood was twirled three times round the heads of mother and baby. Poor things. They never seem to have got a moment’s peace when this fight against the fairies was being waged around them. How would you know if the fairies had outwitted all attempts to stop them from making off with the baby and had left one of theirs in its place? Well, the fairy child was apt to be very pale, almost greenish in hue, and very frail-looking. They were said to seem to be always hungry and always crying, often with a particularly strange, pitiful cry. I know. That does sound like most babies, does it not? Many Scottish changelings were thought to have a particular longing to play the bagpipes. They did their best to get hold of a set and if they did they could play them without receiving any tuition. Or was that skirling noise just their pitiful cry again? If you suspected that the fairies had taken a baby and had left a changeling in its place, what action could you take? Well, you could get out the girdle. A girdle in this sense was not a female undergarment to pull the stomach in, but a flat cast-iron pan for making pancakes or scones on. The girdle was placed on the open fire as though a baking session were about to begin. The child who was thought to have been dumped by the fairies was then held very near the girdle over the fire. If the child were indeed a changeling it would, supposedly, go straight up the chimney to be replaced by the real child who would come down the chimney. The purpose of the girdle was to catch the baby who was returning home so that it would not land in the fire and get burnt. It presumably did not matter if the changeling suffered such a fate. There were various variations on this process and they all sound decidedly risky. If members of a household failed to unmask a changeling at a very early stage, the outlook was not good for the changeling. When its identity was suspected, he or she might be subjected to ill-treatment, such as being left to suffer from exposure on a dung-heap, or might even be murdered. It has been suggested that the authorities might turn a blind eye to such treatment of changelings. In more recent times, it has been proposed that children who were described as changelings were in fact not children of fairies, but human children who were developmentally disabled in some way. Many such disabilities would make them look different and this difference could be put down to the fact that they were fairy children. Unfortunately, this may have been considered to be more socially acceptable than having a disabled child in those unenlightened days. There was a particular kind of fairy in the Celtic tradition that people did not want to ward off. This was a Brownie. A Brownie was a kind of nocturnal fairy who spent the night carrying out the household or farm tasks while members of the household were asleep. The said household members allegedly had to be hard-working and kind-hearted in order to qualify for Brownie help. The work of Brownies did not go unrewarded. They were paid not in money, but in food – particularly milk, honey and porridge. Brownies were very fond of their food and could be temperamental. If one night the food was not put out, the Brownie might well go into a huff and storm off to households new. I have long felt that a Brownie would make an ideal addition to my household. Alas, one has never come my way, although I consider myself to be both hard-working and relatively kind-hearted. Mind you, I do not like honey. That could be it.
                                                                                                                                                                  Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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                                                                                                                                                                  With first a budget, then an election in the offing, it’s hardly surprising that the special pleading has started. The housing sector has definite grounds for concern. The fall in house-building during the recession was worse in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. It dropped by some 17 per cent from £2.4 billion in 2008 to £2 billion in 2009, compared with a fall of 7 per cent across England. This was aggravated by changes in support for social housing. Last June, the Scottish government reduced the value of the Housing Association Grant (HAG) from £68,500 to £66,500 for each home. It is now looking at cutting that again, to just £40,000, and ending what is known as the “rural distinction” – which provides grants of £70,000 for house-building in rural areas.

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                                                                                                                                                                  This morning, the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIH Scotland) tackled the issue head-on. It warned the Scottish government that it had to be more honest about the funding of new social rented housing. In particular, it wants politicians and civil servants to “come clean” about the scale of this year's 35 per cent budget cuts and the likely numbers of affordable homes the country can expect. Today’s CIH Scotland conference in Glasgow, chaired by Jim Strang of Parkhead Housing Association, argued that big question-marks hung over the Scottish government's £50m "innovation and investment fund", announced in February. The majority of this is meant to be targeted at building new social rented homes. In his opening address, Mr Strang said that most associations would “struggle to make even half of any new provision ‘social rented housing', as opposed to other tenures such as shared equity or mid-market rent. We think the Scottish government knows this only too well, but doesn't want to say it. "We fully acknowledge that money is tight and that new tenures will be an important part of the landscape in some parts of the country, but there's an elephant in the room here – everyone knows the reality but neither ministers nor officials are coming clean on it. With a subsidy benchmark of £40,000, you just can't get 75 per cent or 80 per cent social rented housing out of this fund.” Mr Strang's comments coincide with the publication of worrying statistics from the magazine Inside Housing. It culled the figures from a range of reports, the most alarming being that there are currently 250,000 households in Scotland on council and housing association waiting-lists. There are also 11,000 households in temporary accommodation at any given time throughout the year. Inside Housing has just launched its “House Proud – Devolved” campaign to ensure that politicians and decision-makers in the Senedd, at Holyrood and at Stormont understand housing’s importance. It matches last year’s initiative in the lead-up to the general election, which was a joint initiative with the CIH. This week also sees the publication of a series of strategic priorities by the Scottish Building Federation (SBF). Its “manifesto” highlights the significant impact of the economic downturn on the Scottish industry. The SBF wants incoming MSPs to ensure "that the construction industry continues to make a positive contribution to a vibrant and successful Scottish economy in the years to come." The document points out that there are much wider economic benefits as a result of capital investment in major construction projects. It wants further action to identify the priorities for public funding and to mobilise private capital investment in this area. The SBF is also looking for further action to simplify public procurement and streamline the planning process. In the view of SBF chief executive Michael Levack, “We are setting out a clear list of actions we think the next Holyrood administration needs to take to ensure that, over the next four years and beyond, the construction sector remains a critical contributor to a healthy Scottish economy. “There can be no doubt that the industry has suffered considerably as a consequence of the economic downturn. Nonetheless, construction continues to make a substantial contribution to the Scottish economy, be that in terms of economic output, employment or apprenticeships.” Mr Levack points out that, while housing is a major problem, the state of many schools in Scotland is also shocking. Figures produced last year suggested that more than one-fifth were in a "poor" or "bad" condition. So the SBF is calling for a "major programme of school building and refurbishment" to reduce the number of schools in this condition to zero by the end of the next Scottish parliament. “In the run-up to 5 May,” said Mr Levack, “I hope Scottish parliament candidates across the political spectrum will acknowledge the strategic importance of the Scottish construction industry and commit themselves, if elected, to delivering the policies needed to help it thrive in the years to come.”

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                                                                                                                                                                  By Doug Small The events in Japan are terrible. The death toll threatens to be horrendous. Thrown into the mix, as if it were needed, is the threat of nuclear meltdown. Those with responsibilities in such matters are presumably so busy that the dissemination of information to the likes of us is low their list of things to do. However, in the light of this lack of information, I cannot but help ruminate on the level of scientific articulacy or otherwise emerging from our media outlets. Each expert called into the BBC or Sky News studios seems to have to start by saying something along the lines of: “To be clear, we are not facing a Hiroshima-type explosion.” This, to my mind – and I write as a career physicist – is like Jeremy Clarkson starting a piece on the new BMW with: “Now although this car is propelled by igniting petrol vapour, fear not – there is no chance it will explode in a hideous fireball.”

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                                                                                                                                                                  Or an arts correspondent starting a piece on some new production of King Lear with: “William Shakespeare was a man who lived in Elizabethan England and who wrote plays and sonnets, some of which are still performed to this day.” Let’s be clear: it took the best minds of a generation and billions of dollars to produce uncontrollable fission, so nuclear power stations aren’t about to become bombs. So having established that whatever bad thing is going on at Fukushima Daiichi won’t give us a mushroom cloud, what can we actually expect? Again, details are few and those we have been fed are obfuscating. Take this BBC report from yesterday: “At one point [radiation] rose to a level similar to that one is exposed to during an X-ray, our correspondent says.” Presumably this is meant to reassure. We have all had X-rays, after all. But would you make up your bed on the examination table bathed in such radiation for eight hours? An X-ray is a one-off event lasting milliseconds. Otherwise, the image would blur. So is the radiation from the Japanese nuclear plant of a similar intensity, as seems to be suggested in the report? If so, it would be very worrying. Then there is this, from yesterday’s Evening Times (the same story also appeared in the Scotsman but has since been adjusted and the figures removed): “Tokyo Electric Power Co said radiation levels at Unit 3 were 10.65 microsieverts, significantly under the 500 microsieverts at which a nuclear operator must file a report to the government.” Again, this sounds reassuring. But again we have a problem with concepts. Sieverts tell you the total exposure to radiation that has happened – in other words, once it is over. Presumably what we have at Fukushima Daiichi is ongoing exposure to radiation. So how long did it take to accumulate the 10.65 microsieverts? If it was a day, then it wouldn’t be too bad – in fact, that would be barely above the background level of 2.4 millisieverts per year. If, however, it was a minute – then run for the hills. What is my point in all of this? Well, hopefully not trying to be a smartass. There must be some figures out there as to what radiation levels exist at present in north-eastern Japan. But these are being paraphrased for us by people with no actual understanding. The examples I have given are just two among many, and the level of scientific illiteracy is astounding. I fully admit to having had trouble myself, sifting my rads from my rems and röntgens, even though it is my job to know the difference between such things. I once had to read a paper entitled How many rads per Paterson-Parker röntgen?, after all. But nothing as complex and advanced as that is the problem here: it is basic secondary school physics that the media don’t seem to have. Fission bombs are difficult to make. Doses of radiation cited in sieverts need an exposure time to make sense. Meltdown does not mean a reactor plunging to the earth’s core as if in some latter-day Jules Verne novel. We are bathed in radiation all the time from cosmic rays and radon, and it doesn’t kill us unless it gets out of hand. Finally, after a certain amount of searching, I found a report on CNN with some sensible data: “[chief cabinet secretary Yukio] Edano said readings at the gate at 3:30pm Tuesday (2:30am ET) were 596.4 microsieverts per hour – compared to a high reading of 11,930 microsieverts per hour at 9am (8pm ET Monday).” The first of these figures means that if standing at the gates of the plant, one would achieve an annual background dose in four hours. The latter figure would provide it in 20 minutes – which would be a worry. So congratulations to whoever it was at CNN who wrote that report. It makes sense, and they should be given some kind of Plain Physics award along the lines of the Plain English Campaign. Would it be too much to ask that someone on each newsdesk be sent out to acquire Higher Physics before the next such event? – Doug Small is a physicist working in the NHS.

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                                                                                                                                                                  By Gordon McKenzie in Tokyo Saturday 12 March It’s been a strange day. Things give the impression of having pretty much returned to normal, except that the phones are unreliable. Some folk are without running water and electricity, but we are OK. The shops were busy – I went twice to stock up and on the second trip the supermarket and convenience stores had almost run out of pot noodles, bottled water and batteries. The secret to survival, evidently. There have been notifications of power-cuts later and potentially more aftershocks, not to mention concern about the explosions and instability at the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, but other than that things are fairly calm here. The destruction and carnage is mainly in the north-east and on coastal areas, and it certainly has been terrible. The death toll continues to rise and the images are heart-wrenching. I think that in most other parts of Japan, the inability to account for relatives and friends is harder to deal with than any damage and fear that has occurred to them directly.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Fortunately Japan accepted foreign aid straight off this time and there is a massive and professional effort across the country to deal with the situation. It is also a credit to Japanese construction and infrastructure that the situation is not much worse. The upstairs rooms in our house are a bit of a mess (not that you could tell any difference in the boys’ room), but there is no structural damage. The office building I was in at the time of Friday’s quake swayed like a boat on the high seas and visibly slid from side to side by a good foot – the way it is designed to do – but afterwards the conference continued as normal. In most other countries, the impact would unquestionably have been magnified and devastating. It took a while to get home and the road outside was like the Royal Mile after the Tattoo – a constant stream of folk walking home. We filled the bath, took everything off the shelves that hadn’t already fallen off, prepared our emergency kits – all the regular stuff. One worry is that this was not the big one expected for decades to hit Tokyo directly, so that could still come, although only the Lord knows when. Probably after everything has returned to normal and complacency sets back in. Sunday 13 March We managed to get in touch with friends in the Sendai area, who were fine. Living in the hills, they were largely unaffected by the quake and tsunami but decided to self-evacuate as uncertainty grew about the nuclear power plant. Unfortunately the wife has been unable to contact her parents, although she did confirm her brother’s safety, to obvious relief. Although badly shaken, most people here experienced little more than a fright and subsequent inconvenience and have been watching TV with the same horror as the rest of the world. You could almost be forgiven for thinking the whole event happened nowhere near. The raising of the main earthquake’s magnitude from 8.8 to 9.0, continuing aftershocks, and now reports that there is a 70 per cent chance of a magnitude 7 aftershock (raised from 6 earlier in the day) within the next three days, and possibly closer to Tokyo, have brought the concerns back to fore a little more. That hasn’t been helped by continued uncertainty about the nuclear plant and an announcement that there will be electricity outages across Tokyo and its environs, starting tomorrow: three hours at a time on an area-by-area basis between 6am and 10pm and running through until the end of April. These are not planned for the central Tokyo area, so we should be unaffected where we live. I think it is telling, though, that the management of Tokyo Electric appeared on TV and apologised that they would have to take these measures. Like it was their fault! In my view, we should be thanking them that there is still any electricity at all after what happened. There is a paradox in Tokyo. On one hand, things are continuing much as always, as if last week was just another tremor. On the other hand, there are small indications here and there. We went out for dinner. The restaurant was open as usual but had a sign on the door explaining that their neon signs were not lit up, in an effort to conserve power. There generally seemed to be fewer lights on in houses. Watching TV is disconcerting. Several colleagues who live closer to the coast are still without running water. Those familiar with Japan – and Tokyo in particular – will know that this is the Land of Convenience and Efficiency, so these are weird things. Some foreigners with whom I have spoken have a sense of post-event defiance, of having come through unscathed, almost accusing locals of panicking and over-reacting (especially re the mass buy-out of certain items). Ironic, really, since most of us do not come from countries or areas prone to this sort of danger. Personally speaking, I would prefer to err on the side of caution and be prepared. This week will be interesting. The thought of leaving your family to travel to the other side of Tokyo knowing that you might not easily get back is not a pleasant one. Without wanting to sound over-dramatic, it’s scary thinking that your world could fall apart, perhaps literally, at any minute, whether through another quake or escalation at the nuclear plant. My own company has decided that we will work from home tomorrow. The big car manufacturers will not open and Tokyo Disney Resort will remain closed. But everything cannot stop simply because of a threat, so we will see. Tuesday 15 March The big aftershock has not come. Frequent small tremors continue, but they have almost become as accepted as before. There was a large tremor at about 5am – only magnitude 1, although it felt more like 3 as it was much closer to Tokyo. A subtle reminder, though. Our friends in Fukushima called to say that they had contacted the wife’s parents. She still has a few relatives unaccounted for, but any good news is considered a blessing now. Life in Tokyo continues much as described, although there is more focus on the nuclear plant. It is difficult to know who to trust. I have read many different reports and follow what is reported on the news, but the story varies greatly: from under control to potential Armageddon. One piece of advice is to eat lots of konbu, a type of seaweed, apparently high in iodine. It is supposed to be good for your hair as well. There was a lot of confusion around the power outages, which started yesterday. Most of the train companies cut capacity as a result of the expected cuts, meaning many people stayed at home. As a result, it was reported that the deficit was not as bad as originally estimated and there would no longer be the need to cut power to civilian homes that day. So you can have power as long as you stay at home… and the economy doesn’t collapse while you’re not working. I had a quick look around today and verified what was on the local news: lines of empty shelves in the shops, petrol stations closed from being sold out, neon signs left off. Panic-buying, shrewd preparation, whatever. It is strange, though. Although a complete insult to those who experienced the real thing, it feels almost like being in a war with rationing. This really is quite something in a city/country where the trains come every two minutes in peak periods (and they not only apologise but give you a slip of paper to prove it when the train is more than ten minutes late), where the 7-Eleven stores have five deliveries a day, where you can send luggage by courier so you don’t need to carry it when you travel – and it gets there. We are moving into a more reflective and reactionary stage. People are frustrated at the confusion and seeming lack of information, not least relating to the nuclear plant, which we were assured on Saturday was under control. The power outages and seeming failure to properly provide for those who were evacuated or rescued are further examples. I don’t think, however, that anyone would fault the tremendous effort that Japan and many other countries are putting into the rescue and recovery operations, at risk to themselves as well. I have read a lot about how, although far better than in the aftermath of the Kobe earthquake in 1995, there is still not a great deal of information available in English. Tokyo Electric has announced that information pertaining to the power outages is changing so frequently that they are unable to maintain it in two languages. Everyone is confused, Japanese and foreign alike. We have just had another aftershock, magnitude 3 where we are but 6 in Shizuoka. No tsunami warning according to the TV. The shaking continues, albeit barely discernible. Funny the relief that a “small” tremor brings. I just hope that those who live where the effects were stronger have the same opinion. – Gordon McKenzie is a project director with Medidata.

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                                                                                                                                                                  Related posts:

                                                                                                                                                                  1. Japan earthquake: intensity, aftershocks and civility
                                                                                                                                                                  2. Japan earthquake in pictures: walking home from work in Tokyo
                                                                                                                                                                  3. Opinion: How scientific illiteracy mars reporting of the Japan disaster

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