LETTER FROM SCOTLAND 4th April 2014

Tragedy is never far away. I live less than a mile from Liberton High School in Edinburgh where on Tuesday a 12 year old girl was killed by a changing-room wall which fell on her. Since then her picture, a beautiful and lively-looking girl, has been smiling out at me from every newspaper and television screen. How could it happen? And in a place were I have been a visitor on several occasions and where she should have been safe.

Keane Wallis-Bennett Died when a wall collapsed on her
Keane Wallis-Bennett
Died when a wall collapsed on her
Keane Wallis-Bennett was in her first year at the school. She was an “excellent” pupil, said her head teacher. She was good at sports, a good team player and keen on the environment. Her parents described her as “ our princess who dreamed of being prime minister.”

Investigators are still trying to find out exactly what happened. But many questions are beginning to fill the cold spring air. Was there an earlier warning, as some pupils suggest, that the wall was “wobbly”? Did the routine building inspection last year miss something? Are other similar dividing walls safe, in this school and other schools of this vintage? Liberton was built in the 1960s.

Whatever the answers, this single tragedy has stopped the nation in its tracks. Tributes and expressions of sympathy have poured in from pupils, parents, prime ministers and parliaments.

This is a case of “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

The gloomy news has matched the gloomy weather we’ve had all week, indeed for the past fortnight. Sea mist and a cold wind from the east have put a halt to spring. Is this another sign of climate change, I wonder. This week’s report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains yet another warning of worse things to come. It’s certainly put more wind in the sails of those arguing for Scotland to become one of the world’s leading countries for renewable energy.

Jonathan Hughes A new geological age
Jonathan Hughes
A new geological age
The new chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonathan Hughes, has been warning that we are now living in a new geological age, the Anthropocene, in which man for the first time is having a crucial effect on the planet. And he isn’t the only one. Noah has been woken from his biblical sleep this week to warn us again that we should be behaving better and looking after our planet. Edinburgh was a brief stop-off point on Russell Crowe’s whirlwind tour of Britain to promote the film.

Meanwhile someone in the Highlands has been busy poisoning 16 of our wildlife stars, 12 red kites and 4 buzzards. Their carcases were all found in the same part of Ross-shire, south of Conon Bridge, over the past two weeks. The RSPB officer in the area, Brian Etheridge, who has been helping to reintroduce the birds for almost 20 years, said it’s been the worst fortnight in his life. Police Scotland said it’s the worst case of wildlife poisoning on record.

Police Scotland itself has been under scrutiny this week, exactly a year after it was formed by the merger of the eight regional police forces. The chief constable Sir Stephen House said public trust in the new force was growing, crime figures were continuing to fall and he was on target to achieve savings of £1bn by 2026. The new unitary force has been under the cosh over its alleged lack of local accountability and for its high rate of “stop and search”.

Questions about the opening ceremony
Questions about the opening ceremony
Questions are being asked too about the Commonwealth Games. Will it be too disruptive for the ordinary traffic of Glasgow? And are the organisers about to commit a PR crime by demolishing the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony? Five 30-storey buildings, relics of the 1960s, are to be blown up in a 15 second live sequence shown on the stadium’s big screen. “Glasgow is proving it is a city that’s proud of its past but doesn’t stand still,” explained Eileen Gallagher, chair of the ceremonies committee. “ Glasgow is constantly renewing and re-inventing itself.” I’d say this is a pretty high risk, high rise exercise.

But I don’t suppose the opening and closing ceremonies – which incidentally will cost £14m – can be a pipe band, a few Highland dancers and a game of bowls. Even members of the Methil Bowling Club, who’ve just held their own closing ceremony, would expect more than that. Their club has closed after 114. It was established by Captain George Moodie, who retired to Fife, after serving as the first captain of the Cutty Sark. Now that is a part of Clydeside history we can be proud of.