Letter from Scotland

From John Knox

We are all Andy Murray fans now. Our tousled tyke has won the US Open and an Olympic gold medal at the end of a golden summer for British sport. And, by having lost out in the finals five times, the last time to Federer at Wimbeldon, he’s shown himself to be human and a tryer.

His home town of Dunblane has been whooping for joy and sending its young tennis stars out to the courts before school for the benefit of the world’s TV cameras. Dunblane was last heard of for its dreadful school shooting back in 1996 but here at last is a positive story about this pleasant dormitory town in the rolling farm lands of central Scotland.

Tennis is not a huge sport in our cold, wet, windy country. Andy had to go to Spain to perfect his game. So the fact that he is the first British player to win a grand slam tournament since the days of long-trousered Fred Perry in 1936, has surprised the Scots and puzzled the English. The First Minister Alex Salmond has called him a “sporting legend” and one enthusiastic Labour MSP has said the 25 year old should be honoured straight away with the title “Sir Andy Murray.”

Not all young Scots are so fortunate. We learnt this week that 24 per cent of them cannot find work. Overall unemployment rose for the first time for several months to 223,000, or 8.2 percent. That’s above the UK figure of 8.1 per cent – a trend that’s been going on for the past year. The trade unions have also pointed to the sharp increase in the number of people who have to settle for part time work because they cannot find full time employment – up 13,000 on a year ago.

The SNP government is blaming the Westminster government’s austerity programme. And this week the new infrastructure minister Nicola Sturgeon has been trying to do something about it. She’s announced a government guarantee scheme to persuade banks and building societies to grant mortgages of 95 per cent, rather than the usual 75 per cent. But it is only for first-time buyers and for new properties and one wonders why it has not been done before.

It is heartening to see that one of the chaps responsible for all this recession and austerity stuff has been named and shamed by the Financial Services Authority. Peter Cummings, the man who broke the Bank of Scotland, as part of HBOS, has been fined £500,000 and banned from banking for the rest of his life. He won’t be left too uncomfortable though, with a pension of £350,000 a year.

There’s been some outrage in the press too about the man who broke the other Scottish bank, RBS, Sir Fred Goodwin. He is still, apparently, a member of The Chartered Institute of Bankers and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. I wonder when the chaps sitting on the Chesterfields in these two clubs will get around to reviewing their membership lists.

As ever, there has been some murmurings about the SNP’s referendum on independence, due in the autumn of 2014. Nicola Sturgeon, as minister for independence as well as infrastructure, has been meeting Westminster’s man in Scotland Michael Moore, to discuss the final deal that will allow the referendum to go ahead. It looks like the Westminster government will make the referendum safe against any legal challenge in exchange for there being only one question – yes or no to independence.

The prominent Scottish businessman Jim McColl caused a stir when he announced he was going to vote yes to independence because his more favoured option, greater home rule, appeared to be no longer on the ballot paper.

This loss of political diversity was not however matched by the loss of bio-diversity this week with the news that a new species of plant life has been found in South Lanarkshire. The new “monkey flower” is thought to be a rare natural cross between two American invaders. Its discoverer, Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin a lecturer in evolutionary biology at Stirling University, says it could be the forerunner of many more new species as Scotland’s invading plants take hold.

A new word has also entered the official lexicon…“chuntering”. The Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer Tricia Marwick declared “there is too much chuntering going on” during First Minister’s question time. The definition: aimless background conversation or muttering, usually by young children or old men.