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Iain Smith

The Birks Cinema – a celebrity re-opening

For a time, it seemed as if the commercial cinema was, if not doomed, then limited to the big multi-screen complexes and the occasional specialist centre such as the Filmhouse in Edinburgh or the GLasgow Film Theatre. But none of the worst predictions has come to pass and there’s a growing interest in the ‘big screen’ productions away from the city centres. The Screen Machine is currently touring the Highlands and, shortly, the new Birks Cinema will be formally opened in Aberfeldy. And the town is gearing up for the event next month because Hollywood star and Scottish actor, Alan Cumming OBE, has agreed to carry out the opening ceremony.

Alan Cumming Photo Credit - Kevin Garcia

Alan Cumming
Photo Credit – Kevin Garcia

The cinema has been operating since the Spring but its transformation from derelict Bingo Hall to its current glory has been a story of true grit, determination and enthusiasm by local film buffs. And the actor has played a considerable part in the story. Alan Cumming has been the cinema’s Patron since 2009, lending his considerable support to a local fundraising campaign that eventually saw the building undergo a £1.3million renovation programme and return to its original use as a local cinema at the heart of the community.

To celebrate the official opening of the renovated cinema, Alan will be welcomed into town on Saturday 30th November for a red carpet gala event and a private screening of his latest film, Any Day Now. “I’m truly delighted to be visiting Aberfeldy,” he said, “and I’m very much looking forward to seeing The Birks Cinema in all its finery. Everyone involved in this project has shown true dedication and commitment and I’m very excited to finally see it for myself.”

A special screening of 'Local Hero'

A special screening of ‘Local Hero’

General Manager, Paul Foley is also looking forward to welcoming Alan, saying that the community was “very grateful to Alan Cumming for his support and delighted that he has been able to make the trip over to Scotland to formally pronounce us open. I’m looking forward to rolling out the red carpet, welcoming Alan to The Birks Cinema and making this St Andrews Day a very memorable and historic one for Aberfeldy.”

But Aberfeldy isn’t the only place to see the arrival of famous folk from the films. On Saturday 2nd November, a 30th anniversary screening of Local Hero will be shown in Mallaig, one of the locations used in the film. Director Bill Forsyth and international producer Iain Smith will introduce the screening and talk to the audience about the inspirations behind what is regarded as one of the giants of Scottish cinema.

Then on Sunday 3rd November, Scottish actor Bill Paterson will unveil a rare 40th anniversary screening of the BBC film production of 7:84 Theatre’s seminal play The Cheviot, The Stag & The Black, Black Oil in Dornie where it was partly shot and where many local residents were involved in the making of the film.

The film screenings are part of the Creative Scotland funded Natural Scotland on Screen project that showcases how films and television have imagined and represented Scotland’s rich landscape and biodiversity. The Screen Machine – Scotland’s mobile cinema – will host the screenings as part of its own 15th anniversary touring programme.

Douglas Dougan

Douglas Dougan

Douglas Dougan, Natural Scotland on Screen Film Project Manager, pointed out that “we have 60 films and 30 television programmes which have been collected together to show off the beautiful locations and natural resources Scotland has to offer. So far we have shown 50 films in cinemas in the Highlands, Islands, Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with more still to come before the end of the year. This special weekend is the highpoint in the programme with outstanding films and high profile guests.”

Iain Munro, Deputy Chief Executive at Creative Scotland added that “Bill Forsyth’s Local Hero is a Scottish cult classic, with The Cheviot, The Stag & The Black Black Oil a rarely seen masterpiece. This is a great opportunity for people to experience these two landmark Scottish films as they come back home to their roots.”

<em>Picture: Walter Baxter</em>

Picture: Walter Baxter

As is always the case, this election will be won and lost in just a few key battleground areas. The swing seats hold the key to the final result, and The Caledonian Mercury will be looking at several of them over the next week. Here are the first five –

Almond Valley
Almond Valley is the sort of seat Labour needs to win if it is to regain power at Holyrood. This used to be Livingston, and it was won in 2007 by the SNP’s Angela Constance with a majority of 870.

Boundary changes have made things even tighter since then – and, according to one assessment, this is now the most marginal constituency in the country, with the SNP holding a notional majority of just four votes.

Ms Constance believes the last four years have consolidated her position and that incumbency will give her the edge over Labour stalwart Lawrence Fitzpatrick.

But, having lost some areas that she knew well – such as Broxburn and Uphall – and gained others with a Labour tradition – such as Fauldhouse and Longridge – the result here is anything but clear.

Also standing: Emma Sykes (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Hardie (Conservative), Neil McIvor (National Front).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Edinburgh Eastern
This battle between two political heavyweights encapsulates the fight for the Scottish government. A high-profile Nationalist is up against a less well-known but solid Labour candidate, and what happens in this seat should give a good indication of what is going to happen across Scotland.

The SNP’s Kenny MacAskill won here in 2007, but boundary changes have since given Labour a notional majority of 545. The Labour candidate is the Reverend Ewan Aitken, Church of Scotland minister and former Labour leader on Edinburgh city council.

Mr MacAskill believes his personal vote – built up over the past four years – will see him through, and he is doing all he can to link Mr Aitken with the unpopular trams debacle.

Also standing: Martin Veart (Liberal Democrat), Cameron Buchanan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Glasgow Southside
Somehow, the old name of Glasgow Govan carried more romance and appeal than the renamed constituency. Maybe it was the by-elections of 1973 and 1988 – both won by the SNP – but, whatever it is, this is a much-changed seat.

Boundary changes have stripped it of much of Govan including the shipyards, and have brought in Govanhill, the Gorbals and Toryglen.

But a Tory glen it isn’t. This is a straight fight between the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (who won Govan by 744 votes in 2007) and Labour’s Stephen Curran, a local councillor.

There have been claims of dirty tricks, with SNP sources muttering about claims that Mr Curran’s people have been telling voters they don’t need to worry about Ms Sturgeon being returned to parliament, because she is standing on the regional list and they can get both Mr Curran and Ms Sturgeon to parliament if they back Mr Curran on the constituency vote.

This claim has been denied by Labour, but it underlines how tense and how important this seat is.

Ms Sturgeon is under pressure in what has traditionally been a Labour heartland, but she will be hoping that the national swing to the SNP from Labour will be enough to see her returned again.

Also standing: Kenneth Elder (Liberal Democrat), David Meikle (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP hold.

North East Fife
Normally, the notional 4,500 majority which Iain Smith holds in this rural Fife seat would make this an easy hold for the Liberal Democrats – but these are not normal times.

The battering which the Lib Dems have taken in the polls because of their Westminster coalition deal with the Tories – and their subsequent decisions in government – have made this seat vulnerable to both the SNP and the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems are throwing resources at North East Fife in an attempt to head off the opposition attacks, and Mr Smith is finding on the doorstep that he has yet to build up the sort of personal vote that the local Lib Dem MP, Sir Menzies Campbell, has cultivated.

Sir Menzies would have no trouble holding this seat, but Mr Smith is facing a much harder fight. His majority will be cut – there appears to be no doubt about that – but the three-way battle may play into his hands, with neither the SNP (whose candidate is Rod Campbell) nor the Tories (Miles Briggs) likely to garner enough Lib Dem votes on their own to unseat him.

Also standing: Colin Davidson (Labour), Mike Scott-Hayward (UKIP).

Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
The battle for this big Borders seat is between two of Holyrood’s best-known and longest-serving MSPs: Jeremy Purvis for the Liberal Democrats and Christine Grahame of the SNP.

The two have fought each other so many times before that this has the feel of a personal grudge match about it.

Mr Purvis is the sitting MSP, but boundary changes have given the SNP a notional advantage – and, according to one assessment of local government voting patterns, may now have Ms Grahame in front by 1,200 votes.

Mr Purvis faces the added problem of general disillusionment with the Lib Dem coalition in London, and he has been doing his best to emphasise his work in the constituency and move discussions away from English tuition fees and Nick Clegg.

He faces an uphill battle, though, particularly against someone such as Ms Grahame who is very well known here.

Also standing: Ian Miller (Labour), Peter Duncan (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP gain from Lib Dems.

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

<em>Picture: Oosp</em>

Picture: Oosp

By Stuart Crawford

I have to say that I am a fan of the Scottish Parliament, for three reasons primarily: first, I am hugely supportive of the institution per se. Scotland should have its own parliament, and it does.

Second, I am a fan of the building itself. I know its procurement was a bit of a disaster, and that some think it would be more appropriate if sited in downtown Barcelona, but I think its has the right combination of modernity, ambition, and practicality in its design for Scotland in the 21st century.

Thirdly, I have come round to the view that we have elected, in the main, fairly decent people as our representatives. Whilst they are not always, collectively, the sharpest pins in the box, there are a handful of intelligent, thinking MSPs, and the vast majority of the rest are doing their best. Of course there is the odd charlatan and rogue, and a few who are not even on nodding acquaintance with original thought but compared to the shower populating Westminster I think we’ve come off not too badly.

So far so good, I hear you say, and I would, in general terms, have to agree. However, there are one or two matters which I consider to be amiss which need rectifying to maintain the decent start of the first ten years or so of Holyrood’s existence.

From the outset, we were told, Scotland’s restored Parliament was designed to be open, transparent and accountable, in stark contrast to the Byzantine and arcane practices at Westminster which gave rise to the perception, if not the reality, that our elected representatives in that place were remote, aloof, and uncontactable.

The seeming impenetrability of the Westminster parliament was held at least partly to blame for the whiff of corruption and sleaze at the end of the John Major Tory administration in the late 1990s. The new Scottish Parliament was going to have none of that.

So, some effort went in at the planning stages to ensure access to our MSPs was straightforward. And, by and large, it is. Want to buttonhole your MSP? Look him/her up in the book and phone the number. Often enough your MSP will answer the phone him/herself, and you can arrange a time to go and have whatever it is that’s bothering you out with him/her. Can’t wait that long? Just turn up at one of your MSP’s constituency surgeries and bend his/her ear then. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

Then there’s the Public Petitions Committee, which allows citizens to voice their concerns in the heart of the parliament. Whilst the jury’s still out on just how effective the petitions system actually is – sometimes it seems that there’s no tangible end product – it does provide another avenue for anyone to have their case heard and dealt with by the parliament. You can even send in your petition online, and ask that you address the committee in person. It doesn’t really get much better than that anywhere else.

All of which is excellent stuff, except there is one area where this admirable practice of openness, accessibility, and accountability is being progressively undermined, and that’s within the parliament’s committee practices when dealing with business. I am talking, of course, of the creeping propensity of all committees to the temptation of holding sessions in private.

Take a look at the parliament’s daily Business Bulletin any Tuesday or Wednesday when Holyrood is sitting and you’ll find that anything up to one third of committee business is being done in private. Take Wednesday, 17, November as an example. On that day, according to the pParliament’s Business Bulletin, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee (convener Iain Smith, Lib Dem) held its entire meeting in private session. Apparently the committee was to “consider its approach” to the scrutiny of the Scottish Government’s Draft Budget 2011-12, then “consider” a draft Stage 1 report on the Protection of Workers (Scotland) Bill, followed by “discussing” a draft of its submission to the Independent Commission on Banking.

Just in case you think I’m picking on poor Iain Smith and his vommittee, on he same day the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee (convener Maureen Watt, SNP) had as its very first agenda item whether to take item five in private, together with consideration of future budget evidence and a draft report, and also tacked on that agenda item six, in which the Committee would “consider” a draft Stage 1 report on the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Bill would be taken in private too! I could, in fact, select almost any day, and almost any committee, and find more or less the same thing. Doing committee business in private session has become normal in the Scottish Parliament. Modern democracy in action? I don’t think so.

What makes it worse is that we don’t get to see what decisions were made in private session because the record of proceedings is kept private too. Now, I’m not suggesting that there’s any skulduggery or corruption blossoming in these closed sessions but there must be occasions when disagreement leads to a vote, and there’s no way for the public to find out who voted for what. So our MSPs at the very least are leaving themselves open to accusations of secret and devious dealings, which helps the parliament’s reputation not one whit.

The truth is, of course, that most committee proceedings in the Scottish Parliament are as dull as ditchwater and make paint drying seem interesting. But that’s not the point. These people work for us, the electorate, after all, and we pay their salaries. We should be able to see what they’re up to. I can accept that there might be the odd occasion when either national security or commercial confidentiality might dictate a committee should meet in closed session, but given the nature of the parliament’s business such times must be few and far behind. And retreating behind closed doors because it’s just altogether easier for MSPs and staff is just not good enough.

So we can’t be complacent that our parliament is what it set out to be in terms of transparency, openness and accessibility, because it clearly ain’t. What makes it more disappointing is that both MSPs and Parliamentary authorities seem to be content that a sizeable proportion of committee business is being done in camera. If they weren’t, surely they would have done something about it by now?

Don't panic!

Don't panic!

I want you to picture a man in his pyjamas lying down in front of a bulldozer. Ah, some of you are ahead of me already. You have recognised the man as Arthur Dent, from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Put the image in your pending tray, for we will return to it later (albeit briefly), as we discuss the topic: Whither Local Newspapers.

Their future has been threatened, allegedly, by Scottish Government plans to remove the legal requirement for councils to place public information notices in them. The plans gives council the choice of putting said notices (which nobody reads) online. These plans are, therefore, a threat to democracy.

So, at least, claimed Pauline McNeill (Lab) who had called a debate on the subject in Parliament. She argued that the proposal would cause serious economic damage to the papers, and pointed out that only 60 per cent of Scots had access to broadband. Moreover, seventy per cent of the over-65s think the internet is something vaguely to do with pornography. That’s what I’d heard too.

You’ve heard of The Invincibles. Well, Jim Mather too is a superhero. He’s one of the Impenetrables. The enterprise minister is so mired in business jargon that he’s the only MSP in parliament who has subtitles going along his navel.

The gist of his case was that council advertising had to be cost-effective and that what were effectively subsidies to local papers could affect their independence. Jim said you had to go with the flow (I’m summarising here), adding: “Just this week the launch of the Caledonian Mercury has shown the potential the web offers for people to develop a new model of newspaper provision.” Does it really? Good lord, I better inform the editor.

Jim said it would be up to councils where they put their public notices (if they involve roadworks in Edinburgh, I’ve a suggestion), prompting bovine Alex Johnstone (Con) to bellow gloomily: “If local newspapers do not survive that choice will not exist.”

Jim then made this bombshell announcement: “Consultation means consultation.” Glad we cleared that one up. He added that intelligent discussion involved hearing different points of view. He couldn’t bear polarising. When this resulted in a murmur of complaint, Jim hollered: “Polarise away! Lock horns if you will.” And, after that bull, he sat down.

Ted Brocklebank (Con), a former print and broadcast journalist who also declared an interest as a shareholder in STV – “albeit an increasingly impecunious one” – said the whole thing was about cost-cutting. He said many people, particularly the elderly, still looked to newspapers for public information.

That said, the estimable Ted said he’d been “underwhelmed” by the industry’s own attempts to communicate about the problem. Ted said he could hardly get newspapers to print a line about the danger facing them. “It was almost as if the newspaper industry believed that, by not mentioning the problems, they would somehow go away,” he said, adding that they’d reacted with all the resolution of rabbits caught in the headlights. To be fair, he exonerated the Courier and the Fife Herald titles, which newspapers coincidentally cover his constituency.

All of this led logically to North East Fife MSP Iain Smith (Lib Dem) giving us a dramatised reading, complete with voices, of the aforementioned Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This seminal tome involves, as many of you know, Arthur Dent endeavouring to find the plans for demolishing his house. They were at the local council office, down unlit stairs in a basement lavatory on the door of which was written “Beware of the leopard”. Iain’s point was that making information available was not the same as making it accessible.

A good point too, well made.

Incidentally, Mr Dent once said: “I never could get the hang of Thursdays.” I thought I’d got them pretty taped in Parliament. It’s the day when all these discourses take place and, after a while, you think you know what’s coming. However, I have now to say something I’ve never said before: Karen Whitefield (Lab) made a good speech. Yup, unlikely though it sounds – and I ask you to bear in mind yesterday’s strictures re Labour leader Elmer Fudd that everything is relative – she appeared to have crafted her words. Why, she even looked up from her notes now and again.

Karen said she’d occasionally suffered bad press in her local paper – sounds like these guys are on the job – but she still supported it. Despite web-based news being free onlne, many people still bought papers. Well, it’d be worth it to see Karen panned in proper print.

Thuggish Kenny Gibson (SNP) accused Labour of trying to deny councils the choice of where to stuff their notices. He said Cosla supported the Government and that no one was going to stop councils putting notices in the papers. He also accused local papers of charging more for public notices, and conjectured that councils might now get more competitive rates.

Crucially, Kenny said he’d gone to a meeting of Saltcoats community council and, of 25 citizens present, only one had opposed the measure. Well, I think that’s that issue settled then.

Cathy Craigie (Lab) said the press was at the heart of our democratic process. That’s right. Thus, in Scotland, the national media is 98.82 per cent unionist, while the remaining 1.18 per cent occasionally give independence a fair hearing. Such a vital role in keeping Scotland free. From debate.

Bob Doris (SNP) claimed only two per cent of the mob read public notices, which brought incredulous laughter. Not sure why. Two per cent sounds like an over-estimate. Bob noted: “I hear opposition members laughing.” Oh well, at least his hearing was all right. He added: “I thought I’d come here for a constructive debate.” Good heavens, how could he make such a mistake?

Hugh Henry (Lab) said he’s been on the end of withering criticism by his local paper, but he thought this was healthy. Headline idea for local paper: “MSP says masochism is healthy.” Hugh O’Donnell (Lib Dem) made an admirable ass of himself when he advised the Government to “Drop the dead donkey”, while Cathy Jamieson (Lab) boasted of appearing on the front-page of the Himalayan Times. Headline: “Look at this nutter.”

And so it went on. I was intrigued to see what the voting would be at 5 o’clock. Of course, clearly Pauline’s motion would win – all the opposition parties were against the Government plans – but what would the margin be? Well, the result was 76-48 for Pauline, which suggests that all the Nat MSPs, and one other, supported the Government. A bit odd: you wouldn’t think it a party political issue, would you?

But there you are. Still, with that scale of opposition, local newspaper editors up and down the land may feel they can safely change out of their pyjamas. The bulldozer ain’t going anywhere – for now.

<em>Picture: Teacoolish</em>

Picture: Teacoolish

There has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth at Holyrood over plans to cut public notices from newspapers.

At the moment, councils put public notices – including major planning applications – in newspapers as a matter of course.

There are proposals to allow councils to find other ways of advertising these notices (possibly through online newspapers?), proposals which have aroused the fury of many Labour and Lib Dem MSPs in a debate yesterdday.

There indignation is well placed. Newspapers, especially local ones, will suffer hugely if this important source of finance is lost but they seem to have short memories. This whole process of efficiency savings at councils was started under the previous, Labour-Lib Dem administration.

Indeed, the proposal for a council web portal to carry these notices was given its initial approval at a meeting of Cosla (the umbrella body for local government in Scotland) in January 2007: four months before the SNP came to power.

It must be great for Scotland’s newspaper editors to hear so much being said to further their case by so many MSPs.

This release from Iain Smith of the Lib Dems was fairly typical of the arguments being made: “SNP Ministers plan to cut a huge chunk of the income of local papers by removing public notices from them. The purpose of a public notice is that it is something the public will notice. The public are unlikely to stumble across a relevant notice on the internet. People do not browse the internet like they turn the pages of a newspaper.

“This will sound the death knell for many papers in remote and rural communities across Scotland.

“It is often only through the pages of local newspapers that there is any debate about how a local council is performing. It can be the only place where community views on local planning issues are aired.

“If these proposals go ahead there will be no local press to scrutinise anything.

“The SNP should drop this ill thought out proposal.”

But how much better for Scotland’s newspapers would it have been had these MSPs taken the chance to persuade Cosla of their arguments back in 2006 and 2007?

Not only did they hold considerable influence with Scotland’s councils then but Labour and the Lib Dems were in charge of the Scottish
Executive too, and could have brought that to bear in pursuit of this case.

It is hard not to hear the sound of stables doors being bolted and horses escaping with this one.