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<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.

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<em>Picture: Dr Siobhan Jordan of Interface</em>

Picture: Dr Siobhan Jordan of Interface

A recession can often be the best time for a new business to start or an established one to change direction. But one problem for both is how to turn a good, innovative idea into a profitable product. For the past five years, an organisation called Interface has been helping them do just that.

In many parts of the world, the worlds of business and academia mix relatively easily. In North America and Australasia, the idea of a company looking for help from an expert in a university is seen as quite natural, as is an academic taking his or her bright idea out into the marketplace.

In Scotland however, barriers have been erected between the two. Many of our universities have been seen as ivory towers, devoted to pure research. Big business has been prepared to invest in this but smaller firms have looked at the concept with suspicion.

A key objective of Interface is to break down those barriers. It works with 26 universities and research institutes from the Borders to the Outer Isles. It identifies academics and students who are willing to work with companies. It then match-makes them with firms looking for help.

According to Dr Siobhán Jordan, the organisation’s director, it helps to have had “…a number of funding initiatives in Scotland which have proved a means of off-setting the cost of a business working with a university and that’s always in incentive in these cash-strapped times.”

The principal one, she says, is the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher Scheme. That provides up to £5,000 for the companies looking for short-term help. They have to match that funding in cash or kind, such as materials or facilities.

“It’s a win-win as a starting point,” she explains. “It helps establish if the company really wants to work with an academic and to see if they can deliver a successful outcome. It also helps give them confidence to go ahead and work on longer-term projects.”

So far, they’ve had almost 2,000 enquiries. Almost half of these have moved on to the point where serious proposals are developed. Currently, around 250 projects have actually started and others are in active negotiations to start later this year.

The projects are not necessarily what you might expect. There are indeed several which involve high technology of one kind or another. Computing, the oil industry and engineering figure large in their statistics. But the Annandale Distillery near Dumfries had special needs of its own.

The distillery first opened in the 1830s. It produced its brand of lowland whisky for around 75 years until it closed in 1919. But a local entrepreneur is determined to re-open it and restore the historic buildings. His plans include an online visitor ‘experience’ and the production of a single malt.

David Thomson has obtained financial help from Historic Scotland and the Scottish Government through a Regional Selective Assistance grant to start the project. But he also wanted academic help for historical research on the location of the distillery and the culture in its area.

This involved looking at the evolution and history of Lowland Scots and also emigration patterns from the region. This was important in developing a brand ethos as well as a memorable visitor experience online.

As David explains, “it is important that the brand has meaning and value. The team at Interface immediately grasped the key elements and arranged meetings with academics specialising in quite distinct areas that met my requirements.”

They included John Corbett, Professor of Applied Language Studies at the University of Glasgow, who drew on his knowledge of the history of the Scots tongue to produce marketing materials that were informative, yet light and witty, for use in Annandale’s website.

The team also identified migration patterns of people from the area. The idea is to tap into the folk memories of potential consumers around the world and use the history and heritage of Annan as a key sales tool.

By contrast, Cyberhawk, a Livingston-based firm, has developed cutting-edge Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (or drones), previously only available to the military, to work with the oil & gas industries, carrying out remote visual inspections of their assets.

The drones carry a mixture High Definition video and high resolution still cameras, as well as thermal imaging sensors. They can carry out detailed inspections by flying over the areas in a fraction of the time it would take when using conventional methods.

The firm recently joined forces with The UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh to carry out a feasibility study to develop a Smart Imaging System. This will will improve the image quality within the constraints imposed by using such a remote-controlled vehicle.

Malcolm Connolly, the company’s technical director, explains that UKACT “…had the exact range of expertise we required in cameras, imaging, electronics which has helped us to develop a better solution.

“The payload of the vehicle,” he adds “was the most significant constraint and the effects of shock and vibration needed to be addressed. There was also a requirement that the vehicle has the ability to “talk” to the control system, therefore electronics expertise was essential to support integration between the camera and vehicle controls.”

Even a company like Nairn’s, makers of the humble oatcake, has called on academic help. The firm had recently invested £5 million in building a new production line in Edinburgh. But it also wanted to improve the shelf life of its products and to reduce the use of saturated fats.

Its own food technicians had discovered a strange anomaly, that some batches of oatcakes stayed fresher for longer than others but for no apparent reason. They’re now working on a long-term solution to the problem through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership with the Invergowrie- based Scottish Crop Research Institute.

As its technical director Gavin Love points out, they were able to combine “various areas of interest into the one project. Interface has opened up a fantastic opportunity for us and given us access to a partner in SCRI who will offer us the means to move our research and development onto the next level.”

Siobhán Jordan is keen to stress that students are as much a resource as the more senior academics. “An industrial-based project,” he explains, “could be the topic for a PhD and so over a three year period, the company, the academic supervisors and the student themselves will work on the business challenge.

“In some cases, students who gone into a company on this basis have then been taken on by the firm as employees. There was one who went into a company to help with their computer aided design for a drilling tool. After he graduated, he was taken on by the company to run with the new product, to further develop it and improve the technical specifications.”

Looking forward however, Interface could itself be facing a challenge as a result of the spending decisions in the public sector. Dr Jordan is aware of increasing demand for the organisation’s service and has started asking how to target resources to meet those demands.

That means keeping in close contact with what she describes as “our stakeholders in the Government” to make sure they recognise the benefits to Scottish Economy Plc that are emerging from the knowledge exchange projects.

“We are currently undergoing an evaluation and revue which will identify some hard-and-fast facts about the added value we get from those projects,” she says, “but this should also help to identify if we should have new directions on which to focus.

“We need to ask if, when solving one particular part of the market failure, are there other new avenues that are opening up? We should know the results by the end of September and those findings should help us steer our course for the next few years.”

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Jim Devine: Hitting Labour vote?

Jim Devine: Hitting Labour vote?

The result of the election in Scotland on Thursday will hang on a small number of marginal seats, including.


The Tories had high hopes of taking this from the SNP’s Mike Weir and it has been a very nasty and bitter campaign between the two parties with posters ripped down, placards defaced and billboards trashed. The Tory candidate, Alberto Costa, is a combative Glaswegian Italian lawyer and he has certainly taken the fight to the SNP but Mr Weir is an experienced parliamentarian and well-known in the area. He should have enough support to hang on.
Prediction: SNP hold.

Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk

This is another top Tory target seat and the Tory candidate, John Lamont, is well known locally because he is already the MSP for a large part of this seat. He has made this a very tight marginal and he could still win but the Lib Dem boost from the Clegg debates should keep this with the incumbent, Lib Dem Michael Moore.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Dumfries and Galloway

This is a Labour seat, held by Russell Brown with a 3,000 majority, which the Tories believe they can take. They are strong in this area and, with Peter Duncan they have a candidate who is a former MP and is well known. They may well win here, but it may be their only gain on the night. Prediction: Conservative gain from Labour.

Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

David Mundell, the Conservative’s sole Scottish MP is the incumbent here and he is expected to win. Mr Mundell has boosted his profile with combative performances in the Scottish leaders’ debates and he faces a threat from the Lib Dem candidate, who has family pedigree in politics in the Borders – she is David Steel’s daughter – but the Lib Dems and Labour will probably split the opposition vote. Prediction: Conservative hold.

Dundee West

This is a top SNP target seat. It is the last remaining Labour hold-out in a city which is now otherwise completely SNP (the Nationalists hold both MSP seats, the council and the other MP seat). A win for the Nationalists, which is likely, would see the SNP in complete control of Dundee.
Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Dunfermline and West Fife

This was won by the Lib Dems’ Willie Rennie in a 2006 by-election. Labour has long held high hopes of taking it back and, at the start of the campaign, the Lib Dems appeared anxious about it. The “Clegg effect” has hardened the Lib Dem vote here too and should be enough to hold off the Labour vote.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold (from by election).

Edinburgh South

This is one of the top targets in Scotland for both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. It used to be held by Labour’s Nigel Griffiths who stood down before the election. The Lib Dems came second last time by just 405 votes and, although this was an evenly-balanced three-way marginal at the start of the campaign, the “Clegg bounce” has hardened up the Lib Dem vote and made their candidate Fred Mackintosh the favourite to win it.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.

Edinburgh North and Leith

This used to be solid Labour territory but, at every election since 1997, the Labour majorities have gone down (11,000 in ’97, 9,000 in ’01, 2,000 in ’05). Part of this has been because boundary changes brought in more affluent middle-class areas but the result is that this is now a tight Labour-Lib Dem marginal. This contest is really neck and neck but the Lib Dems believe the surge in their support across the country will propel them to victory.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.

Edinburgh East

The SNP made a big push here in this campaign, having won a similar seat at the Scottish Parliament elections in 2007 but it is the Lib Dems who are in second place to Labour and their vote is likely to hold up, robbing the SNP of the chance to take it. The Lib Dems haven’t made much of an effort here and Labour should hold on with the SNP and Lib Dems splitting the opposition vote. Prediction: Labour hold.

Glasgow East

This was won by the SNP’s John Mason in a by-election in 2008. His time as an MP, though, is expected to come to an end this week when Labour re-assert their dominance in Glasgow and take back this seat with local MSP and well-known candidate Margaret Curran.
Prediction: Labour gain from SNP (by-election).

Glasgow North

This is a Labour-held seat with solid majority of more than 3,000 over the Lib Dems but such has been the “Clegg effect” that the Liberal Democrats believe they can take it – so much so that they asked Nick Clegg to go there today, on his last visit to Scotland when he could have gone anywhere in Scotland. To take a seat in Glasgow would be a huge result for the lib Dems and would deprive Labour of their expected (and usual) clean sweep in Scotland’s biggest city. This would be a surprise but this is now well within range for the Lib Dems.
Prediction: Lib Dem gain from Labour.


This should be a solid Labour seat but the last MP was Jim Devine, who is facing court charges for expenses fraud. The “Devine effect” has certainly angered thousands of Labour voters who may stay at home. If they do, they will hand the seat to the SNP who won a similar seat in the Scottish elections in 2007.
Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Perth and North Perthshire

This is a similar contest to Angus with the Tories trying to unseat another SNP MP in Pete Wishart. The Tory candidate Peter Lyburn found embarrassing pictures of himself splashed over the front of the Daily Record early in the campaign, which probably didn’t help, nor has the presence of one of the only decent UKIP campaigns in Scotland.
Prediction: SNP hold.

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine

This is a Lib Dem-held seat (Sir Robert Smith) which the Tories hoped to take but the early strides they made in the campaign have been eaten away by the hardening of the Lib Dem vote right across the country.
Prediction: Lib Dem hold.

Overall change predicted (of Scotland’s 59 seats)

Labour – to win Glasgow East and lose Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith, Glasgow North, Livingston, Dumfries and Galloway and Dundee West.  Current total (39) + 1 – 6 = 34 (-5)

Lib Dems – to win Edinburgh South, Edinburgh North and Leith and Glasgow North, to lose none. Current total (12) + 3 = 15 (+3)

SNP – to lose Glasgow East, to win Livingston and Dundee West. Current total (7) -1 +2 = 8 (+1)

Conservatives – to hold Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and win Dumfries and Galloway. Current total (1) + 1 = 2 (+1)

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Cover of the book "... And Death Came ThirdHuman beings have been “networking” since rival tribes sat down around the camp fire in African savannah. So why is it that some people seem able to make quite a successful living teaching us how to network?

The answer may well lie in a book about networking called … and Death Came Third!. The title was chosen because of a survey carried out by the New York Times as long ago as 1984. It asked what people feared most. What came top? Walking into a room full of strangers and speaking in public. And yes, death was third on their list.

In Scotland, there’s a website called What’s on Central?. It lists many of the various networking and academic events around the country, though mainly in the Central Belt. On an average day, it carries around 150, from the A Celebration of Regional Scottish Food, to be held today (Saturday) at Jewel and Esk College, to a Ministry of Defence event at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh next week.

You can probably find a event every single working day. The rapidly expanding network called 4Networking has just confirmed that a sixth group is being launched next month in the Lothians. It will be in Haddington and will bring the total number of Scottish groups up to around 20. Not bad when you consider that that first group will be celebrating its first sixth months on election night.

This past week, its members persuaded the excellent Steph Thomas of a company called No Red Braces to come up from Oxfordshire to talk about networking. He spent two hours explaining how to get the most from not just the in-the-room networking, but social networking as well – how to make Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter work for you.

The key to both, it seems, is emphatically not think of a meeting on- or off-line as an opportunity to sell anything. As he put it, when you meet your friends and neighbours, you don’t immediately try to sell each other your carpet-laying or financial services products. Rather, you talk about your family or your problems … and that’s also how you should approach conversation in these environments as well.

A short time ago, the Edinburgh Science Triangle also decided that many of the new starts, spin-outs and innovation companies needed help to overcome their fears of walking into a room of strangers. It brought a trainer across to the Alba Innovation Centre in Livingston to teach them those very skills.

Jill Simpson of DEVA has been helping people develop their communication skills for some 15 years. Her approach is focused and interactive. She gets people talking to each other and suggests techniques and strategies for those occasions when you find yourselves in a room where (a) you don’t know a soul, and (b) everyone else seems to know each other.

The approach taken by both is all part of a change in the attitude that’s taking place towards selling. The old idea of the “hard sell” and that you’re a failure if you don’t walk out of a room with a contract in your pocket is regarded as very dated. A new idea known as “social selling” has taken over.

People buy from people. You feel more comfortable if you know, like and trust them. So meeting at a networking group should be regarded as moving through that process. You get to meet people and socialise with them. Once you’ve met them a few times, you’re much more open to the sales approach. You know who they are as well as what they have to offer.

That’s why organisations like 4Networkng, BNI, Power Lunch Club, Bizini and others continue to thrive (and by the way, there’s a Thrive network as well). You can often find the same people at all of these events – in fact, the organisers themselves often go to each other’s meetings, believing that they’re mutually supportive rather than rivals.

It may be that both Jill Simpson and Steph Thomas have read Andy Lopata and Peter Roper’s book ...and Death came Third. Some of the thinking looks familiar, not least that, if you psyche yourself up to talk to someone standing all on their own, they will be forever grateful. All you really need to do is ask simple, open questions and listen to the answers. Listening’s at least as important as talking – you have one mouth and two ears after all!

Jim Murphy. <em>Picture: Steve Punter</em>

Jim Murphy. Picture: Steve Punter

Jim Murphy, the Scottish Secretary, emerged as the winner in the first Scottish debate on STV tonight – but only just.

Mr Murphy was more relaxed, confident and assured than his opponents and, for that reason, had his nose in front by the time the debate finished. But it was a close-run thing, with all the others performing competently and solidly in what was, unfortunately, a pale shadow of the main UK leaders’ debate last week.

Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster leader, came on strongly at the end but, by then, Mr Murphy had secured a lead over the others, if only because he appeared more assured and less fractious than the others.

“The two of you sound like two drunk men arguing in a pub,” he said to David Mundell, the Scottish Conservative spokesman and Alistair Carmichael, for the Liberal Democrats, during one heated exchange near the end.

This was an example of the way in which Mr Murphy successfully managed to keep aloof from the yah-boo politics and point-scoring which swirled around the debate and, for no other reason, edged this first official Scottish campaign debate.

The Scottish Secretary also managed to appear more consensual by twice insisting that the most important issue was that people vote, not who they voted for.

The hour-long debate covered MPs’ expenses, Iraq, Afghanistan, a hung parliament and the economy.

Mr Mundell and Mr Carmichael were the least experienced of the politicians on show and both did better than expected.

Mr Carmichael had the huge expectations set by his leader, Nick Clegg, to live up to and while he could never excel to that extent, he did perform competently – although he may regret taking 40 minutes to mention the now popular Mr Clegg by name.

Mr Mundell got a little bogged down in complaining about the lack of helicopters in Afghanistan when the discussion was consumed with the ethics of conflict itself and he was hemmed in by the expenses scandal, but other than that, he was more combative than expected, regularly taking the fight to his opponents and challenging them directly.

He was particularly effective when he let rip on the SNP’s insistence that Scotland should somehow be exempt from cuts. “You are the only party – perhaps on the planet – that thinks there can be no cuts, “ he said, turning on Mr Robertson.

Mr Robertson started slowly but grew in confidence as the debate wore on but he found it difficult to explain why voters should back his party in an election where it was only ever going to have a marginal influence.

But Mr Murphy was the best performer across the board, even if it meant disowning his former colleague, the disgraced former Livingston MP Jim Devine, who is facing criminal charges for his expenses and who is seeking legal aid to defend himself.

“No politician should get legal aid to defend the way they have behaved,” Mr Murphy said, making it clear that he wanted to put as much distance between himself and Mr Devine as possible.

The journey back to Dingwall from Hampden last Saturday was interrupted for fish and chips, but not the kind of raucous, and drink-fueled, celebrations that might have accompanied a win over Celtic. But then Ross County are a club shaped by the values of two football men who share more than a familial bond.

In George Adams, the director of football, and his son, Derek, the manager, County belong to a set of principles derived from a sense of assiduity and a conscientious understanding of the need for order. Both men are teetotal, so there was little chance of their Scottish Cup semi-final triumph shrinking into an excuse for boisterous indulging.

There was joyfulness, certainly, but also reflection, and the firm application of some hard priorities. The players returned to training the following day, in preparation for a league match on Tuesday night, and no consideration will be granted to minds that drift off into cup reverie in the coming weeks, when an unlikely promotion bid might still be realised.

The triumph of this small club – which was never even a giant among Highland League teams before joining the Scottish Football League in 1994 – is in the discretion of Adams and his son. The director of football, who worked alongside Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen before scouting for Celtic and then running Rangers’ youth set-up, works to a strict budget, so that ambition does not diminish restraint and so burden the club financially.

The focus is on youth development and rejuvenating the careers of players who have slipped from prominence. Of the team that defeated Celtic, five have played Premier League football in the past, and others were rescued form Livingston when the club was demoted to the Third Division. Sensible policies, of controlled spending and growth, allow a steady progress, so that County are now established in the First Division.

Derek Adams, once a quarrelsome but brightly effective midfielder, manages with self-assurance and modesty, qualities that endear him to his players. When he makes a bold tactical decision, as he did in playing 4-3-3 last Saturday, they trust him implicitly, and the 34-year-old’s unassuming nature means that his authority is considerately respected.

The culmination of this attentiveness was a performance that caused Celtic to be angst-ridden. Reaching the final apart, the greatest satisfaction the County manager will feel is in the knowledge that his team outplayed their Premier League opponents for long spells in the game, and that his ploy of playing an extra man in midfield and instructing his team to pounce upon counter-attacking opportunities worked emphatically.

County now face Dundee United in the final on May 15. Again, they will be expected to succumb to the greater strength of their Premier League opponents. And again, Adams will seek to confound expectation. It is a story not only of shrewd football minds, but also deep-rooted convictions about how a life should be lived.

Ron Halliday in the clearing at Dechmont Woods

Ron Halliday in the clearing at Dechmont Woods

On a chilly day last month, UFOlogist Ron Halliday and spiritualist medium Gary Gray left their car by the M8 in Livingston, West Lothian, and trudged up Dechmont Law. They were following in the footsteps of forestry worker Robert, or Bob, Taylor, who, in November 1979 maintained he saw an alien spacecraft in a clearing within the forest nearby. Halliday and Gray were there to try and pick up psychic remnants from the encounter and work out just what happened that lonely November morning.

The Dechmont Woods Encounter, as it became known, remains of interest because of the reliability of the witness testimony, and also because it was the first suspected UFO case ever to be investigated by police.

Taylor was checking up on some saplings in the forest that day, when he arrived at a small clearing. There he says he saw a circular object, six meters in diameter, hovering above the forest floor. It was metallic and semi-transparent, and as he watched two smaller spheres detached themselves from the main object and floated towards him. He felt something grabbing his legs as the two spheres took hold of him and began to drag him closer to the “mother ship”. An acrid stench hissed out from the spheres and Taylor began to choke. As he was dragged closer he lost consciousness.

He awoke 20 minutes later. The clearing was now empty. Unable to talk, and covered in scratches, he dragged himself to his car and managed to drive home where his wife, disturbed by his condition, called the police. They visited the scene, convinced that Taylor had been assaulted by someone unknown, and found heavy indentations on the floor of the clearing. Having carefully checked the rest of the crime scene, they declared themselves “completely baffled”. They took away his trousers for forensic analysis, but could not determine what had made the holes in them, or what had attacked Taylor.

Both Halliday and Gray re-traced the forestry worker’s journey in the hope of picking up something from the site that might give them clues about what had happened. As they drew closer to the clearing, overgrown and less open than it had been in 1979, Gray began to suffer chest pains and heavy breathing. This, he says, was him beginning to pick up Taylor’s vibrations, experiencing through him the emphysema that eventually killed Taylor many years after the event.

Then Gray was drawn to a mound, where he says he felt the full impact of what Taylor had experienced that day. It began with static and vibrations. “My feet were stuck to the ground and the pain in my legs was tremendous,” says Gray. The pain, Halliday later told him, was right where Taylor had been pinned and grabbed by the two spheres.

Frozen in place, Gray let Taylor’s vibrations take him over.

“I have never experienced the fear of God like that before,” he says. “Never in any of my haunting or poltergeist experiences. It was an energy that I have never experienced before.”

Halliday found the visit to the site fascinating. Although not psychic himself, he grew up around a grandmother who was “forever seeing ghosts round the house”. He had previously met Taylor and was struck by the man’s demeanour. “He never changed his story. He thought it was an amazing experience, but he didn’t dwell on it.

“Bob seemed to see something out of this world. Where it came from, a craft from miles and miles away or from another dimension, who knows?”

Halliday believes that whatever happened at Dechmont Law, it was centered around the mound. It is here, he says, that the energy emanated and which attracted whatever it was to the clearing.

Gray can’t add much more, having felt Taylor’s fear, but not seeing what he saw. However, he is in no doubt that it is a place of interest. “There is something different to the energy here,” he explains. “It is from a different dimension, not from this world or the next.”

Neither Halliday nor Gray can say what happened in 1979. But they are both convinced of one thing. “Whatever happened here,” says Gray, “it has happened before and after. It is very much a live place of interest to something.”

Jim Devine

Jim Devine

Livingston Labour MP Jim Devine is one of three Members of Parliament to face charges under the Theft Act as a result of their Commons’ expenses claims, it emerged today.

Mr Devine, as well as fellow Labour MPs Elliot Morley and David Chaytor and Tory Peer Lord Hanningfield were told today they would be charged.

In a joint statement the MPs said they refuted any charges and would “defend our position robustly”.

Mr Devine has been under scrutiny over his expenses claims for several months and he has already been de-selected as the Labour candidate for Livingston for the forthcoming General Election.

He is accused of “dishonestly claiming” money for cleaning services and for stationery using false invoices.

The announcement of the charges against the MPs – the latest episode in what has become an extraordinary saga for the Houses of Parliament – was made outside the headquarters of the Crown Prosecution Service by Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer.

Mr Starmer said: “In four cases, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges and that it is in the public interest to charge the individuals concerned.

“Accordingly, summonses in these cases have been obtained from the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court and will now be served on the individuals in question.”

Former minister Elliot Morley, MP for Scunthorpe, will be charged in relation to more than £16,000 of mortgage interest claims on a property in Winterton, Lincolnshire between 2004 to 2007.

The charges alleges he made claims “in excess of that to which he was entitled” and – for part of the period when “there was no longer a mortgage on that property”.

David Chaytor, MP for Bury North, is accused of “dishonestly claiming” £1,950 for IT services and further sums of £12,925 and £5,425 relating to rent on properties in London and Lancashire.

Paul White – the Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield – is accused of “dishonestly” submitting claims “for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled” – including overnight stays in London.

Nigel GriffithsNigel Griffiths, the Labour MP for Edinburgh South, is to stand down from parliament at the General Election, it emerged today.

Mr Griffiths told his constituency party last night that he was going to take up a job with an “international education institution”.

Mr Griffiths’ departure is something of a mixed blessing for Labour. He was a well-known local MP in Edinburgh and a devoted Brownite but he often hit the news for the wrong reasons: most notably when a tryst with a young woman who was not his wife was splashed all over the front of News of the World last year.

Mr Griffiths’ constituency has been targeted by the Tories who believe they can take Edinburgh South this year, so his departure may be a fortuitous move. It is sometimes better to see what’s coming and jump before being pushed.

It is also undeniable that, despite his unquestioning loyalty to Gordon Brown, Mr Griffiths has never achieved high ministerial office, a failure which his critics claim points to a conspicuous lack of political talent.

In the short-term, though, Mr Griffiths’ departure means that Labour will have to find a new candidate for Edinburgh South and while this can be done relatively quickly, and there are several good local councillors who could step into the breach fairly well, it puts Labour at a distinct disadvantage compared to its rivals.

Both the Tories and the Liberal Democrats, who also think they can take Edinburgh South in May, have well-established candidates who have been working the constituency for the last year or so.

A new Labour candidate will not just have to get themselves known to the voters but win over the activists whose support is crucial in any campaign.

More worrying for Labour, though, is the fact that this is the second sitting MP to stand down in the last couple of weeks in the Lothians.

Anne Moffat, the MP for East Lothian, was effectively forced out by her local constituency activists last month and her replacement has not even been selected yet, leaving Labour with two new candidates in two Labour-held but vulnerable Scottish seats.

This is how Labour announced the news this morning: “Labour MP Nigel Griffiths confirmed that he will stand down at the next election after holding the Edinburgh South constituency for 23 years.

“He was elected in 1987, beating Tory MP Michael Ancram and was the first Labour MP to be elected in the constituency or its precursors. He then served on the opposition from bench and held a number of important government positions, including Minister for Construction, Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, Minister for Coal Health Compensation, Minister for Small Businesses and Minister for Enterprise. He was Deputy Leader of the House of Commons until 2007.”

Mr Griffiths said: “After 30 years of continuously elected service in Edinburgh, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it would not be right to delay accepting this position, since I want to give the Party time to select a new candidate to fight the forthcoming election.

“I firmly believe that Labour will hold South Edinburgh, given Labour’s excellent track record in our capital city and the slump in Liberal Democrat support after they took over Edinburgh, now labelled ‘the meanest council in Britain’.

“There is no evidence of any surge for the Tories here.”

Really? It is just a pity he won’t be around on election night to ask.

Anyway, this was the delighted way in which the SNP reacted: “Constituencies across the country are being abandoned by Labour MPs as they put their own careers before the needs of their constituents.”

And SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “With Nigel Griffiths adding his departure to those of other MPs it is clear Labour MPs are desperate to get off Brown’s sinking ship.

“Any way you look at this the Labour Party is in a bad way and experienced MPs are backing away from Brown as fast as they can, cashing in with consultancies and private sector contracts instead of staying to support their constituents.

“The refusal of Labour MPs to stand up and fight for their constituents exposes the phoney war being fought between Labour and the Tories.

“This election shouldn’t be about who should be prime minister but who will stick up for voters in constituencies across the country. With Labour MPs planning a mass exodus it is clear it won’t be them.

“In contrast the SNP has candidates lined up across the country who are working for all those who need them – not walking away when the going gets tough.”

And no-one mentioned the News of the World, the tryst in Mr Griffiths’ Commons’ office or the pictures that were taken that evening and published in the newspaper, such restraint…

There was one slightly better piece of news for Labour, though, with the announcement that the party had chosen its candidate, Graeme Morrice, for Livingston. But for those who might have forgotten, Livingston was short of a candidate after the sitting Labour MP, Jim Devine, was forced out over his expenses claims.