Home Tags Posts tagged with "Ireland"

Ireland

By Simon J Smith, University of Bath

The Scottish government’s commitment to a post-independence defence and security budget of £2.5 billion, “exceeds most of the earlier predictions” and would place it in the top six of NATO countries for spending per head on the armed forces (based on 2011 defence budgets). Maintaining defence spending at around 1.7% to 2.0% of GDP would also very much buck the trend in Europe.

Since the end of the Cold War, overall defence spending has been decreasing in Europe. Although it affects the armed forces of larger and smaller states in different ways, fewer resources coupled with the reduced political will to spend on defence is evidently transforming armed forces for the majority or perhaps even all European states. This is such a worrying trend that some believe Europe is faced with the choice to either organise its defence more effectively or to renounce its capability. With this in mind, the final overall capability in Scotland could yet be well below the stated ambitions of the current Scottish government.

Bottom line, the central choice that Scotland would face in the long term would be whether to keep a balanced force or make the difficult decision towards specialisation and niche capabilities. The former would take a sizeable resource commitment and the latter both strong political leadership and strategic vision.

Missing the target

The current literature on the prospective SDF has been fashioned in two ways. Either it has compared other countries in Scotland’s geographical neighbourhood (Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Ireland) or it has used proportionality ratios to envisage what defence assets an independent Scotland would be able to negotiate out of the current UK inventory. Both methods are fundamentally flawed, although understandably so given the lack of information available when they were written.

The problem with the first approach is that although large armed forces in states with large strategic ambitions tend to reflect each other, the same cannot be said for smaller militaries. As one official responsible for defence transformation in one of those so-called “comparable” European states put it to me, “When you look at armed forces with fewer than 25,000 soldiers, they will all be completely different. They do not resemble big armies and they do not even resemble each other.”

The problem with the second approach is that when developing a state’s defence force, you must first construct a foreign policy and then develop your defence forces to meet that vision. You do not start with your assets and capabilities then build your ambition from there. An understanding of what an independent Scottish foreign policy would look like has moved on somewhat since the release of the White Paper Scotland’s Future, but it is still far too generic and “operationally meaningless” to form the basis of developing a capabilities catalogue. It also does not help that defence in Europe is becoming renationalised to a certain extent.

Twinned approach

Above all, Scotland has no history of making these types of strategic decisions. For smaller countries, there often needs to be a trade-off between not being able to do anything substantial versus being able to do something but with less autonomy. Given that an independent Scotland would essentially be creating its armed forces and defence policy from scratch, built-in bilateral cooperation would be its best bet for realistic and sustainable defence policy planning. But what could that look like?

Two examples could be in-air policing and naval collaboration. For instance, an independent Scotland could be responsible for air policing both at home and in parts or even across all UK airspace. An arrangement like this would potentially free up some UK aircraft, meaning it could maintain its expeditionary capability and an independent Scotland could provide aircraft that are less technologically advanced and therefore less expensive. It would also mean that a SDF could contribute to EU Common Security and Defence Policy or NATO burden-sharing in a realistic way. Because the ships remain under one flag and command, it permits the sovereign decision-making while still allowing for synergies to develop.

Of course, an arrangement like this necessitates both countries using the same type of vessels. If an arrangement could be established where the yards on the Clyde service both governments, this would also mean less disruption to the current defence industrial infrastructure. This could also benefit BAE Systems especially given the recent decision to close the Portsmouth yards. There are foreseeable obstacles, but future Scottish defence planners should heed the fact that naval cooperation with the Dutch actually allows Belgium to retain capabilities that it could not do otherwise.

Another option would be for the Scottish government, either alone or together with the UK government, to consider dual-use capabilities. For example in New Zealand, upgrades to the Orion patrol aircraft were co-financed with the agriculture, immigration and policing ministries.

The irony here is that bilateral defence arrangements between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK would entail cobbling together provisions that are already present under the status quo. One need only talk to the Czech and Slovak defence planners to understand how difficult it is to adopt new defence and security agreements that were already in place before the divorce, such as air defence, a new common border and sharing sensitive information. But should Scotland go its own way, both it and the UK would have much to gain by cooperating. In short, if bilateral cooperation were built into Scottish defence policy planning from the outset, it would at least help to keep the proverbial (and actual) ship afloat.

Simon J Smith receives funding from the ESRC. He is affiliated with the University of Bath and the Scotland Institute.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Is there a ‘Plan B… C… or D’?

It may be St Valentine’s Day but the message from London has suddenly changed from “Love” to a stony “No.” Last week, David Cameron went to the Olympic stadium to declare his love for Scotland and his desire for us to stay in the United Kingdom. This week, the declaration from “Mount Olympus” was followed by a rare trip to Scotland by the Chancellor George Osborne to warn voters that if they choose independence, there will be no currency union with the rest of the UK.

Danny Alexander  Fell into line with the Chancellor

Danny Alexander
Fell into line with the Chancellor

Labour’s Ed Balls and the Liberal Democrats’ Danny Alexander fell smartly into line. The SNP deputy leader Nicola Sturgeon complained that the unionist parties were “ganging up” on Scotland and we were being “bullied” into voting No to independence. It was all part of “project fear”, she said, and it would backfire spectacularly.

The currency question is undoubtedly an important one. It’s something very real, in your hand every day, and something to be worried about. So the SNP and the Yes campaigners have been responding to the London offensive with the assurance it’s all a bluff, that the rest of the UK would find it in its interest at the end of the day to keep Scotland in the sterling zone, making trade easier and sharing the UK’s debt.

Nicola Sturgeon 'Feisty'

Nicola Sturgeon
‘Feisty’

In interviews this week, the feisty Ms Sturgeon was reluctant to talk about her plan B or C or D, saying she was not going to be bullied out of her plan A, an agreed currency union. She didn’t want to threaten the rest of the UK with plan B which is for Scotland to use the pound sterling unofficially but not take on its obligations, such as the debt or limitations on borrowing.

Plan C of course is to join the euro, which was SNP policy until the global crash and the euro zone crisis. Plan D is for Scotland to have its own currency, the groat or the bawbee, which would float on its own on the turbulent seas of the international money markets. Unpopular though it may be, I think an independent Scotland should join the euro. It would certainly make our entry into the European Union much easier and there are signs that the euro is gradually recovering its credibility.

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

Scottish Power investing in Ben Cruachan

There were indications from the heavens this week that Scotland is indeed a separate country. We were spared the storms and floods that have swept the coasts of England and Wales and swollen their iconic rivers. The gods have clearly taken the view that we in Scotland are at least trying to take global warming and climate change seriously. We may be still be missing our emissions targets but our legislation is among the most ambitious in the world. And we are making a real attempt to switch to renewable energy.

This week Alex Salmond was in Spain to see a pump storage hydro scheme operated by Scottish Power’s owners Iberdrola. The company is now investigating a £600m expansion of its similar scheme at Ben Cruachan near Oban. When the windmills are turning, water is pumped up from Loch Awe into a reservoir inside the hollowed-out mountain and when the wind drops, the water flows down to the loch again through a series of electricity turbines. Result: the holy grail, renewable energy all the time.

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland (Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

Donald Trump will no longer invest in Scotland
(Pic: Gage Skidmore Creative Commons)

One man who does not like it, because he doesn’t like windmills, is Donald Trump. This week he lost his court case against an experimental wind farm in the sea off his new golf course at Menie in Aberdeenshire. “Wind farms are a disaster for Scotland,” he’s quoted as saying, adding (and I can’t quite believe he said this) “a disaster, like Lockerbie.” He promptly announced he was abandoning plans for a hotel and luxury village at Menie and instead he had bought a new golf resort at Doonbeg in County Clare on the west coast of Ireland. It’s said to have cost him £12.3m and will be the 16th golf resort in his portfolio.

As I write, Scotland is still waiting for a medal at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Our curling teams are testing our nerves with up and down performances. Team GB is celebrating Jenny Jones’s bronze medal in the snowboarding, said to be Britain’s first ever Olympic medal won on snow. Only, it’s not quite.

Alain Baxter from Aviemore won a bronze in ski-ing at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002. The medal was denied him at first because he failed a drugs test. However he was later cleared when it was discovered the banned substance was in an ordinary inhaler he’d bought quite innocently over-the-counter in the USA. The British version of the inhaler, which Baxter normally used, did not contain the forbidden substance and, in any case, the amount was not enough to affect performance. He’s still waiting for his medal to be returned but has meanwhile congratulated Jenny Jones on her achievement.

Olympian justice, like Olympian love, is a fickle thing.

The Tale of the Lonesome Pines

Gosh, we are becoming an imperious nation. The mighty Scots Pine has just been declared our national tree. The Scottish Parliament is considering making the Golden Eagle our national bird. We already have the lion rampant. I hate to think what insect we might choose as a national emblem…the praying mantis perhaps. Thank goodness for the humble thistle.

Silver Birch Came well down the list

Silver Birch
Came well down the list

The Scots Pine came top of a consultation exercise carried out by the parliament’s petitions committee, well ahead of the rowan and the holly.The silver birch, my favourite candidate, came well down the list. I can only think this is because of the Scots Pine’s grandeur. They are not unique to Scotland. We don’t have that many of them, we are down to our last 250 million (around 8 per cent of our woodland). We chopped most of them down, remember, when we felled the ancient Caledonian forest.

They are only called Scots Pines because they do not grow naturally in England. But they are native to much of northern Europe, from Spain to Siberia. In Norway they are called the Norway Pine, in Mongolia the Mongolian Pine. Besides, they are not nice-looking trees. They are scraggy below and bushy on top. They don’t turn golden in autumn or light green in spring. They don’t sway in the wind or give shelter to much wildlife. And, like most of us these days, they live too long.

The Golden Eagle too is a worrying statement of national aggrandisement. The Conservative MEP Jackson Carlaw reminded us this week that the eagle was a symbol of the Roman invaders and the Nazis. He suggests we should adopt instead the cheery little Robin. The late Helen Eadie, MSP for Cowdenbeath, once championed the cause of the pigeon, though she called it the “dove of peace.”

Golden Eagle Scotland's favourite wild creature

Golden Eagle
Scotland’s favourite wild creature

The merciless Golden Eagle came top of a poll carried out by Scottish Natural Heritage, not just as our favourite national bird, but our favourite animal, beating the red squirrel, the red deer, the otter and the harbour seal. And, again, way down the list came some of my favourites, the puffin, the pine marten and the wildcat.

I’m left wondering if this is the sort of country I want to live in. It’s a question constantly on the lips of the referendumistas these days. And there was plenty for them to obsess about this week. The Governor of the Bank of England (and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland incidentally ) came north to meet the First Minister to discuss his plans for a currency union after independence.

Mark Carney Governor of the Bank of England

Mark Carney
Governor of the Bank of England

This cool Canadian, Mark Carney, hinted vaguely that Scotland would have to sacrifice some of its financial sovereignty if a sterling zone was to avoid the problems the euro zone had been experiencing. The pro-union side took that to mean that an independent Scotland would have to accept whatever interest rate, debt level and tax-and-spend plans the Treasury in London might dictate. Mr Salmond read it rather differently – it was the Governor of the Bank of England accepting that independence could happen and that “technical discussions” could get under way about how a sterling zone would work. There would be no question however of an independent Scotland having its tax or spending plans dictated by London.

The Scottish government has meanwhile been making economies of its own this week. It announced that the number of police control rooms are to be cut from 11 to 5 and fire control rooms from 8 to 3. The fire brigade union said it will be “a disaster” for the north of Scotland but the government says it will lead to a more efficient service. The changes will be phased in over the next five years and there will no compulsory redundancies.

Mike Russell Attacked UK immigration rules

Mike Russell
Attacked UK immigration rules

The education secretary Mike Russell also breezed into the independence debate this week with a tirade against the UK immigration rules. He said they were preventing Scottish universities attracting valuable graduate students from India, China etc. He accused the Westminster government of being driven by xenophobia and the fear of UKIP. But an opinion poll in The Scotsman earlier in the week showed that more than half of Scots favour new limits on immigration. And I havn’t heard the Scottish government offering to take in refugees from Syria.

While on opinion polls, it’s perhaps worth recording what looks like a decisive shift in favour of independence. An ICM poll in Scotland on Sunday shows the Yes camp on 37 per cent, up 5 from last autumn. And when the 19 per cent undecided are excluded, the figure rises to 46 per cent. It’s being seen as a vindication of the SNP’s white paper putting the emphasis on child care.

I hope the children of Shetland were safely tucked up in bed on Tuesday night, as the Up-Helly-Aa celebrations saw the streets of Lerwick invaded once again by the Vikings. The Jarl Squad, a fearsome looking bunch of men in beards, threw their flaming torches into the traditional longboat and pushed it out to sea. Apparently in Norse mythology, the eagle was a symbol of strength and I guess the longboats were built of good Norway Pine. So perhaps our choice of national emblems is a sign that we are following our North Sea neighbours and heading for independence.

Scotland failed to be clinical against Australia
(Picture from Facebook)

Even the most myopic Scottish rugby supporter must have looked at the Ireland v All Blacks game last Sunday and sighed with longing.

Ireland_rugbyIt wasn’t just that Ireland came close to winning (indeed they could, and perhaps should have won), it wasn’t that the Irish scored three tries in the first 19 minutes and had New Zealand on the rack, it was that they played with such passion and controlled ferocity that they all but blew the Kiwis off the park.

Now compare that the dull fare served up by Scotland at Murrayfield 24 hours earlier. Scotland played reasonably well in patches but everything was controlled and organised and not in the least bit ferocious. For the last 20 minutes of the game, Scotland were only six points down. A converted try would have won the game. Indeed, the Australians kept giving Scotland lifelines but failing to knock over routine kicks at all that would put the Wallabies out of sight. Even half the energy, passion and controlled aggression that Ireland showed would have won Scotland the game.

Johnnie Beattie (Pic: Creative Commons)

Johnnie Beattie
(Pic: Creative Commons)

There was a crucial point in the last five minutes. Scotland were still within a converted score of winning, they had a lineout within ten metres of the Aussie line, a catch, drive and maul could have brought a try and what happened? The lineout was lost, the ball was turned over and the game was over. So it is not just a lack of passion and ferocity, it is also a failure to be clinical when needed that was the problem.

The classic example of this failing came just before half time when Johnnie Beattie broke up the centre, passed to Sean Maitland who beat the penultimate defender and passed left to Sean Lamont, who was in the clear with the line in sight. All three passes were a shade offline and the receivers had to check to receive the ball, letting the defence come across, smother Lamont and the chance was lost.

There is an argument to say that had Visser been on that wing – as he should have been had he not been injured – he would have completed the score. He is not only the best finisher in Scottish rugby, he is one of the fastest too. But what that simply exposes is a lack of depth in Scottish rugby. Lamont was there because he was considered the next best option for Visser and while there is no doubt Lamont gives everything he has to the Scotland cause every time he pulls on the shirt, he is not the fastest flyer, best finisher or sharpest winger the team has ever had and would probably struggle to get into any other Six Nations team.

That brings us to the other players used by Scott Johnson this autumn.

Greig Laidlaw (Pic: from Facebook)

Greig Laidlaw
(Pic: from Facebook)

Duncan Taylor of Saracens came in for Matt Scott at 12 and simply reminded us how good Scott is. Taylor had an appalling game against the Springboks. He was easily beaten for one of the South African tries and booted the ball out on the full on one of the only occasions in attack when Scotland had an overlap. Nick de Luca was his usual patchy self at 13, great against Japan and average against the better teams.

There was also no clear consensus to emerge over the crucial position of fly half. Ruaridhe Jackson was reasonably good for the first two games, without dominating while Duncan Weir failed to really excel in the final game against the Wallabies. There is a similar problem at scrum half. Greig Laidlaw’s undoubted rugby nous is valuable but Chris Cusiter gets the ball away quicker, is more urgent in ripping the ball out of the breakdown and fires is away with a harder, flatter pass than his rival and that is crucial in giving the backs the time they need to attack.

It is perhaps a shame that Johnson failed to experiment more, given that there was little more than pride resting on these games. For example, it would have been good to see how the exciting young Mark Bennett from Glasgow responds to international rugby. He would appear to be the best long-term bet for the 13 shirt and could even fill it at the World Cup but, to do that, he needs time to bed in. Greig Tonks can also count himself unlucky not to get a run at 15, at least against Japan.

Six Nations Starts the 1st weekend of February

Six Nations
Starts the 1st weekend of February

But, as Johnson has said, there will be no experimenting when it comes to the Six Nations and, on the basis of the autumn games, we can expect him to pick something along the following lines for that first game against Ireland on Sunday 2nd February 2014 – injuries permitting of course: Grant, Ford, Low (no Euan Murray as the match is on a Sunday), Swinson, Hamilton, Strokosch, Brown (c), Denton, Laidlaw, Jackson, Lamont, Scott, De Luca, Maitland, Hogg.

Johnson does seem wedded to having Kelly Brown as his captain and, as such, playing him at seven. However, it would be good to see Ross Rennie back at seven for Scotland (he starts back for Edinburgh after injury this week). Richie Gray may have recovered enough form to get back into the starting line-up be then – let’s hope so because, although Jim Hamilton adds grunt to the pack, he is still a liability in the loose.

In that case, a better team for the Ireland match may be: Grant, Ford, Low, Gray, Swinson, Harley, Rennie, Denton, Cusiter (c), Weir, Hogg, Scott, Bennett, Maitland, Lamont.

That would give the two young centres the chance to see if they can work up the sort of understanding that could serve Scotland well for years and give a proper balance to the back row.
It does favour Glasgow players but they have shown so much more this year than any others, they deserve the recognition.

The only really depressing downside is the continuing absence of Visser. Just when Scotland got themselves their best left wing in years, he goes out with a broken leg.

With either of these two sides mentioned above (but particularly the first one, which seems depressingly one-paced and lacking in turnover specialists) Scotland may well find themselves desperately in need of his finishing in what will be another tight Six Nations.

New Zealand celebrate their victory
(Picture from Facebook)

Saturday
I like my boxing, especially meaningful fights. Fitting that bill handsomely was the world super-middleweight title contest between Carl Froch and George Groves.

Carl Froch (Picture from Wikipedia)

Carl Froch
(Picture from Wikipedia)

This was always going to be a belter (excusing the pun) especially after the build-up; no holds barred, no love lost. And it was the same afterwards following referee Howard Foster’s controversial decision to stop the contest in the ninth round with challenger Groves ahead on most people’s cards. Some said Forster was premature in stepping in as IBF and WBA champion Froch unleashed a series of blows on the challenger. Not so Froch, who reckoned Forster had saved Groves’ career; not so the British Boxing Board of Control, who subsequently backed the man in the middle.

I didn’t have a problem with the decision. Forster had a split second to react, all it takes for untold damage to be done to any fighter. I’d much rather be talking next time about the various acronyms who control boxing and who sponsor these titles and belts than the one mentioned when some boxers careers have been ended prematurely. Like RIP …

Sunday
The mantra of playing till the end could have been made for the rugby players of New Zealand. The day after their Rugby League stars held on to their world crown by beating England 20-18 in the final minute of their World Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Ireland_rugbyHeartbreaking for the English, matched on Sunday when their Irish Union counterparts were beaten 24-22, Ryan Crotty’s try well after the 80 minutes had expired tying the contest, Aaron Cruden kicking the clinching conversion, given a second attempt thanks to some overly-keen Irishmen encroaching. That denied the Irish their first win over the All Blacks in 109 years of trying, losing 26 of 27 previous encounters, a draw in 1973 at Lansdowne Road their only ‘success.’

Cruden’s kick did however mean the world champions ended 2013 with a perfect 14 wins from 14 starts. If you want to see the difference between a good team and a great team, watch a re-run of this game – after the clock had gone red. Playing to the end, and beyond …

Monday
After England’s capitulation in the First Test those wondering what’s they’d have to write about with the match finishing a day early quickly got their answer.

Jonathan Trott Returned home from the Ashes Tour (Pic: Public Domain)

Jonathan Trott
Returned home from the Ashes Tour
(Pic: Public Domain)

On the back of a going over with the ball by bowler Mitchell Johnson, and verbally by David Warner, England’s Jonathan Trott leaves the Ashes tour of Australia because of a long-standing stress-related condition. Warner’s comments about Trott (“the way that Trotty got out today was pretty poor and weak”) meet with disapproval from England captain Alastair Cook who branded the Aussie opener “disrespectful” while former Australian skipper Steve Waugh said Warner had “crossed the line.”

Meanwhile current Australia captain Michael Clarke was fined 20 per cent of his match fee for telling James Anderson “to expect a broken arm,” his comments picked up on a stump microphone.

Sledging – the verbal bating that goes on during matches – is nothing new. I doubt even if this was the most serious example of it in Australia-England battles, and neither do I believe the Australians are entirely at fault. Was Anderson and Stuart Broad inviting various Aussie batsmen around for cucumber sandwiches and tea when they dismissed them or beat the outside edge? Oh, they were!

Trott’s departure has put another slant on sledging and there is obvious concern about the matter now going by the comments from Australian pace bowler Peter Siddle about sledging.

“It’s just natural. It wasn’t any different to normal. If it hadn’t of been on the mic a lot people would not have said so much about it. The most disappointing thing is that it actually came up (on the broadcast). It’s not meant to at that time and it is very stiff for Michael (Clarke). There was a lot of other stuff going on and James Anderson was in the thick of it and a culprit for it all happening. Anderson brought it on himself. So fair’s fair.”

Good to end on a conciliatory note …

Tuesday
The shortlist for BBC’s Sports Personality of The Year is announced with winner Andy Murray joined by those making up the numbers, namely athletes Mo Farah, Christine Ohuruogu and Hannah Cockroft, cyclist Chris Froome, golfer Justin Rose, Sir Ben Ainslie from the world of sailing, jump racing legend AP McCoy, British Lions star cricketer Leigh Halfpenny and Ian Bell, the England cricketer.

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

They, beyond anyone else, met the criteria set which were: to reflect UK sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage; represent the breadth and depth of UK sports, and; take into account ‘impact’ over and beyond the sport or sporting achievement in question. Adjudicating on who best met those criteria were BBC representatives Barbara Slater (director of BBC Sport); Philip Bernie (head of TV sport); Carl Doran (executive editor of Sports Personality of the Year) and Mark Pougatch who occasionally pops up on other TV channels but was on this occasion the voice of Radio 5 Live.

The opinions of the written press were gleaned from Alison Kervin, Adam Sills and Dominic Hart, respective sports editors from The Mail on Sunday, The Mirror and The Telegraph, with former nominees Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson, Dame Kelly Holmes and Marcus Trescothick accompanied by Liz Nicholl, chief executive of UK Sport, former SPoTY host Sue Barker.

And between them, they decided that neither Carl Froch nor Ronnie O’Sullivan, world champions in boxing and snooker respectively, were worthy of consideration. I’m so glad I don’t know as much about sport as that esteemed panel …

Wednesday
I’m working my way through the Scottish independence Referendum White Paper. I thought I’d better read it first before deciding who was going to get one for Christmas. But finally, I’ve reached the ‘Sport’ heading. And what an interesting Q & A it is.

Sport

218. Will Scotland have its own Olympics and Paralympics teams? Yes. Scotland currently meets all of the qualifying requirements of the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees (IOC), other than being an independent state. Arrangements will be put in place to ensure that Scottish athletes were able to compete in Rio 2016 by attending any necessary qualifying events in the lead up to Rio 2016. This work would be undertaken in parallel to the wider governance arrangements required for Olympic and Paralympic accreditation, establishing Scottish Olympic and Paralympic Committees and transferring functions currently undertaken at UK level. It is only through independence that Scotland can have its own teams for the next Olympics and Paralympics.

The White Paper

The White Paper

219. Will independence affect who can play for the Scottish rugby and football teams? No. The criteria to play for Scotland at a sport are set by each world governing body (FIFA for football, IRB for rugby etc) and not by the Scottish or Westminster Governments.

220. Will Scottish football teams still be able to compete in FIFA and UEFA competitions? Yes. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) is already a member of FIFA, the world governing body for football. Likewise, the SFA is also an affiliate member of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations).

221. Will an independent Scotland still be able to host the Open Golf Tournament? Yes. The Royal and Ancient are responsible for determining the venue of the Open. Scotland is the home of golf and Scottish golf clubs will continue to be part of the rota to host the Open championships. Both the 2015 and 2016 events are planned for Scotland.

222. How will an independent Scotland ensure that elite sport continues to secure appropriate levels of funding and facilities? Scotland already has a number of world class competition and training facilities. Our national agency for sport (sportscotland) has responsibility for all aspects of community and performance sport up to Commonwealth Games level. It will be for the Parliament of an independent Scotland to decide how best to generate and deploy this resource to the benefit of Scottish sport in future.

223. Would all Scottish athletes have to compete for Scotland or would they be free to represent the likes of “Team GB”? Athletes are currently free to choose which country they represent providing they meet that country’s relevant qualifying criteria. Whilst the Scottish Government hopes that all athletes who are qualified to represent Scotland will do so, this is a personal decision.

Little did I realise that sport could become so simplified when you are an independent nation, or have nothing to do with football as an industry or business in Scotland. Not sure who was asking the questions (probably the combined might of the SPoTY panel), but I couldn’t help but notice a couple of glaring omissions.

Would the British & Irish Lions become the British & Irish & Scottish Lions? When would Scotland win the football World Cup? Will snooker and elephant polo become part of the school and education curriculum?

Having read this leaflet, cover to cover, we deserve answers …

Thursday
And after UEFA launch an investigation in to banners and slogans displayed by the Green Brigade during the Champions League tie against AC Milan, and the SPFL steal the idea of doing the same in relation to events at last weekend’s Aberdeen game, Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell responds with a terse statement. Lawwell claimed the incident “was nothing more than clear disrespect for the club and our supporters who now face another UEFA charge.

Celtic Logo“There have now been a number of UEFA charges made against the club during the last three years, relating to behaviour, displays and pyrotechnics – it cannot go on any further. Let’s be very clear. Following the actions of a small minority, these charges are made against the CLUB. It is the reputation of Celtic, our great club and our great fans which is damaged, while others carry on indulging in such behaviour. Regardless of the political views people hold, football stadia, whether it is Celtic Park or anywhere else, should not be used to promote these.”

Strong words, but still only that. As everyone knows, actions speak louder than words. And Celtic’s actions up until now, namely outrage followed threats, followed by, eh, more outrage when it happens again, and more threats, scare no-one.

A good start would checking and searching people entering the ground to see if they are carrying these massive banners. I know, innovative thinking. Personally, I think the talents of the Green Brigade are being wasted here. With such a talent for words they should join the Stadium Scrabble Tour in America. I wonder who’ll be first to Google it?

Cricket Scotland Logo portraitIn other news, Scotland fail to qualify for next year’s World Twenty20 following an eight-wicket defeat by the Netherlands. So, Scotland will stay at home again while the likes of Afghanistan and Nepal (yes, you did read that correctly), will be in action in Bangladesh in March.

I tried desperately not to be too critical. But in cricket, Scotland is going backwards. In 2005 we won the ICC Tournament staged in Ireland, and eight years on we are losing out to nations who most people don’t even know play cricket – and that’s within Afghanistan and Nepal! Questions must be asked – though please, not by the SPoTY panel or independence White Paper authors …

Friday
And a Happy Birthday to Ryan Giggs, 40-years young, still playing for Manchester United. He puts his longevity and youthfulness down to yoga. Not sure about the first bit, but I put his youthfulness down to the fact he’s successfully avoided football management …

The day ends with the shocking news of a police helicopter crashing into a Glasgow pub. Not a time for jokes, unless of course, you are golfer Steve Elkington. You may recall him from The Open at Royal Birkdale when he Tweeted; “Things about Southport England … -fat tattooed guy -fat tattooed girl -trash -ice cream stored guy -Pakistani robber guy -shit food.”

Difficult to see how anyone could surpass those insults, but Elkington did just that minutes after the helicopter came down on the Clutha Bar.

“Helicopter crashes into Scottish Pub… Locals report that no beers were spilt…”

Not surprisingly, big, brave @elkpga quickly removed the tweet, but then explained “sorry … heard it just flopped on top.” A bit like your thought process, Steve …

SACCADE – Winners both in Scotland and Internationally

Two start-up companies, SACCADE Diagnostics from the University of Aberdeen and UXCam from University College, London, have picked up awards for Best Open Innovation Business and Best Open Innovation Business Idea respectively. They beat off teams of national and international entrepreneurs from five European countries in the final of Converge Challenge Open Innovation held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

SACCADE logoSACCADE’s technology is a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states. UXCam allows user-experience designers (UX designers) to capture data in real time to add to scenarios in the real world. Both have been awarded four-figure cash prizes by triumphing in an intense final against six other start-up businesses from the continent.

“Today, there is an incredibly strong entrepreneurial spirit among students and staff, which is apparent in the innovative and commercially minded business ideas that are showcased through Open Innovation across Europe,” said Olga Kozlova, director of Converge Challenge. “What is so important is that Open Innovation allows organisations to think way beyond the parameters of their own – often limited – internal resources. If they are looking to develop new products, services and create other new revenue streams, they don’t need to be impinged in any way. They can have access to a myriad of other practical solutions which helps them gain a fresh outlook on the way forward.”

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Royal Society of Edinburgh

Cllr Frank Ross, Convener of Economy Committee, City of Edinburgh Council, a key supporter of the Open Innovation competition said that the event “provides an exciting opportunity to hear young entrepreneurs from several regions of Europe. To have them competing in Edinburgh for the best Open Innovation idea and business awards is inspiring. We are delighted to be lead partner in the Open Innovation Project. As we have made clear in our Strategy for Jobs, we must nurture entrepreneurial talent and this event is an exemplar project which complements the incubators projects already set up in the City.“

Converge Challenge Open Innovation is a trans-national initiative for university participants and was born from a need to stimulate the collaborative process on a pan-European knowledge – share, innovation and ideas from a broad range of external sources. It is carried out in partnership with local governments, universities, business support services, and other public bodies to deliver programme of activities across the UK, France, Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

The nominating organisations for this year’s event included University College London, Laval Technopole, France; VOKA, Flanders’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Belgium; Somerset City Council, University of Kassel, Germany ; National College of Ireland, Dublin and the Converge Challenge.

The business ideas were equally diverse, including a company addressing a novel and pioneering way of advertising on Facebook, another commercialising a pioneering eye movement test which helps identify specific disease states and a software solution that processes 3D sensor data for stereoscopic Kinect sensors. In both categories, companies were judged on were judged on Innovation Level, Stage of Development, Market Opportunity and Use of Open Innovation.

Virgin’s take on the flight safety video

It’s possibly the most entertaining in-flight safety video ever produced. Virgin America‘s video was released on YouTube just a couple of days ago but already is heading towards 2m views. And when you watch it, you can understand why. Perhaps it has something to do with Sir Richard Branson’s roots – but there’s no doubt that Virgin America goes way over the top to catch your attention with this song-and-dance number about the merits of life jackets, oxygen masks and powering off electronic devices. There’s a “robot rap,” a gyrating nun and countless back-breaking dance moves, all filmed by Step Up 2: The Streets director Jon M. Chu (who also did the recent Microsoft Surface ad) and choreographed by frequent Chu collaborators Jamal Sims and Christopher Scott. Here’s what it looks like:

Meanwhile, back in European airspace, there’s news from three airports. The Spanish carrier Vueling has stepped in to save Scots passengers’ Christmas holiday plans after it announced it will operate flights between Edinburgh and Barcelona over the festive season. The airline will offer five flights from Edinburgh Airport on 21, 28, 30 December and 02 and 05 January. The decision comes after Ryanair axed flights to the Spanish city this winter. The Vueling services will allow planned holidays to go ahead but also provide an important Christmas lifeline link for those trying to get home to see family.

Staying with Ryanair, it’s just confirmed that it will start a brand-new service from the troubled Prestwick Airport starting next summer – to Knock in Ireland’s County Mayo. There will be three flights per week on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.

And finally, easyJet has announced two new routes from Glasgow Airport for 2014. The airline will serve the Croatian city of Split and the Greek island of Kos next summer. The Kos service will start on the 5th of April and operate twice a week on a Tuesday and Saturday. The inaugural flight to Split will take off on the 22nd of June, also operating twice weekly on a Wednesday and Sunday. It is the first time Split has been served from Glasgow Airport and flight times make it great for a weeks holiday or a short city break.

Tim Visser touches down for Edinburgh

So, Edinburgh’s season has been rescued – at least for the next few weeks. Edinburgh’s 29-23 victory over Munster last weekend means the capital side still have something to play for this season.

edinburgh rugby logoThey went into the game knowing they had done everything possible to put themselves out of contention in the league after less than two months (one win from five and rooted to the bottom of the table) and aware that defeat at home in the Heineken Cup would put them virtually out of Europe too. Edinburgh could easily have been looking at a virtually worthless and barren season by now, half way through October, and it is to their enormous credit that they battled through to get the win against Munster.

The tackling was generally solid and aggressive, the game plan conservative but well executed and some of the players really shone – none more so than Matt Scott at 12, lock Sean Coz in the lineout and scrum half Greig Laidlaw from the tee. But they have to acknowledge they were lucky. Munster really started to turn the screw after half time and, for the third quarter, the match appeared to be heading inexorably towards the men from Ireland.

Edinburgh found it hard to get out of their own half and often could do little more than hoof the ball away then wait in a line for Munster to run at them again. If Tim Visser’s try had been disallowed for foul play in its lead up – and that could easily have happened – Edinburgh may well have lost and all that sense of improvement and having something to play for would have disappeared.

Tackling "solid and aggressive"

Tackling “solid and aggressive”

But Edinburgh won and, in the end, that is all that matters. However they need to back it up. In theory, they could lose away to Perpignan on Sunday and still get through to the quarter finals of the Heineken Cup but, in reality, it would be difficult. Edinburgh know from their experiences two years ago that you need to win all your home games, preferably with a couple of four-try bonus points, and win two of your away games, to stand a realistic chance of topping a group.

Now, if Edinburgh could win away at Perpignan on Sunday, then we really could start to think about another great Heineken Cup run but that is an exceptionally tall order. The French teams play differently at home: just ask Glasgow.

The Warriors had the toughest task of any side in Europe last weekend when they travelled to Toulon, home of the European champions. That Glasgow emerged with a four-try bonus point, despite recording a 51-28 loss, is actually a tremendous result.

Not only are Toulon packed with international superstars but, when they start to get on top on a sunny day at home, as they did on Sunday, they can be irresistible. Some of the back play in that first half was sensational, particularly from Matt Giteau, throwing passes behind his back, flicking the ball away in the tackle and offloading at speed, all of which seemed to fall into the hands of another Toulon player.

Glasgow warriors logoGlasgow were clearly over-awed early on but came back in the second half to play the rugby their fans know they are capable of. Some have criticised Ruaridh Jackson for being subdued in the first half. That is true but he was hardly the only one. In the second, though, he came to life and it was his tremendous break to set up the irrepressible Niko Matawalu for his try.

However, for Glasgow, this weekend is even more important than last. For years, Glasgow have done well in the league but failed dismally in Europe. The pressure is on for them to turn that around this year. Indeed, they know the only way they will get respect is to start making a mark in Europe, and, having lost their first game – albeit to the European champions – they need to win on Sunday against Exeter. For them, the same basic European rule applies: you have to win your home games in Europe if you want to even think of qualifying. That is why Glasgow are under more pressure this weekend than Edinburgh. They need to win at home against a side that looked very impressive in putting six tries past Cardiff last weekend. It can be done and, for Glasgow, it needs to be done. It is that important.

Murrayfield - home of Edinburgh Rugby

Murrayfield – home of Edinburgh Rugby

Before last weekend’s matches, it would have been difficult to find any Edinburgh players who could have got into the Glasgow side on merit. After last weekend’s matches, though, a combined Edinburgh and Glasgow team would be much more balanced. It would still leave the thorny question of how to accommodate Matawalu at his best (which is undoubtedly when he’s playing at nine) and Laidlaw but, for what its worth, here is one suggestion of what a Glasgow/Edinburgh combined team from last weekend would look like:

    Ryan Grant, Ross Ford, Willem Nel, Grant Gilchrist, Sean Cox, Richie Vernon,
    Chris Fusaro, Josh Strauss, Greig Laidlaw, Tim Visser, Ruaridh Jackson, Matt Scott,
    Mark Bennett, DTH van Der Merwe, Niko Matawalu.

It wouldn’t be a bad Scottish side either – or it would be as soon as Nel and Strauss get qualified …

I’ve spent this week in the rough and tumble of a Scout Jamboree. It’s been astonishing, and humbling, to see the energy and resilience of the 850 youngsters who appeared to enjoy themselves despite days of heavy and relentless rain.

It may be raining but that's no reason for not getting in the pool

It may be raining but that’s no reason for not getting in the pool

We were in the Kilpatrick Hills north of Glasgow. The Auchengillan Jamboree is held every second year and now attracts scouts and guides from across the world. There were groups from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, The Netherlands, Pakistan, Sweden and the Ukraine. The foreigners, of course, were by far the better campers….neat, tidy, disciplined, colourful and multi-lingual.

Luckily the 25 Scottish groups and the 14 from England outshone the visitors in the talent contests. We had pipers, traditional singers and dancers, guitar players, a choir, and endless cover versions of hits by Adele, Coldplay, Train and Bastille.

During the day, there were over 40 activities to chose from, run by over 250 volunteer staff. As you walked through the camp, you would see brave attempts at hut-building, camp-cooking, wall-climbing, field games, archery, woodland drama, arts and crafts, radio hamming and long lines of people setting off for the water sports at Loch Lomond or the hill-walking (my own speciality) on “the Whangie” or in Glencoe or visits to the great city of Stirling.

What did the Scouts from overseas make of the Scottish Summer

What did the Scouts from overseas make of the Scottish Summer

It rained all Monday and all Tuesday. We had a brief respite on Wednesday, before settling back into rain on Thursday and finally clearing up on Friday. But despite the rain, and the mud that comes with it, I didn’t hear a single complaint from any of the youngsters, even from the cool girls with dyed hair or the guys with low slung jeans and unlaced trainers.

So after a week of relentless rain and relentless outdoor activity, I arrived back in Edinburgh at 10.30 on Friday night slightly damp and fairly exhausted. Here was a very different scene….still lots of people trailing about, but older, fatter, slower, complaining. Then, on George IV bridge, I watched the fire-works light the sky above the Tattoo on the castle esplanade. It’s festival time. And a whole new jamboree begins, more worldly wise perhaps but way behind the inspiration that was Auchengillan 2013.

A report from the Scottish Government has suggested that all residential areas should have 20mph zones to make them safer for cyclists. However, the idea that motorists should be force to prove they were not at fault in accidents with cyclists were turned down. The proposals were discussed as part of a series of commitments in the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland (CAPS).

Keith Brown MSP Transport Minister

Keith Brown MSP
Transport Minister

The Transport Minister, Keith Brown, said the Government was “committed to the vision outlined in the updated Caps document for 10% of journeys to be by bike by 2020 and continue to invest in the infrastructure required to increase participation in cycling for everyday travel. Most cycling trips are local trips and we encourage local authorities to invest more in local facilities.”

With this in mind, he announced the money would be available for a series of local bike schemes. For example, the “cycle safely” project in Edinburgh will get £45,000 and an Aberdeen bike ride event will get £34,000.

Campaigners had asked for the UK to adopt the law in countries such as Australia and Denmark which have “strict liability” in accidents involving cyclists. However, the report questioned the benefits of such a change, arguing that the available data did not supply “robust evidence of a direct causal link between strict liability legislation to levels of cycling and KSIs (killed and seriously injured statistics), when countries like the UK and Ireland are clearly reducing fatalities in cyclists and all other road users without strict liability legislation in place.”