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Last week, the Caledonian Mercury published an article in which the entrepreneur, Tony Banks, explained why he had come out in favour of a “Yes” vote next year. Today, we’re publishing a second list of questions from CBI Scotland which it believes need to be answered before other parts of the business community can even make up their minds. We’ve decided to print their document in full as part of the ongoing debate.

When we published the last set of questions, some readers criticised the decision on the grounds that the CBI was a “UK organisation”. While that it true (its name after all is the Confederation of British Industry), it has many significant Scottish members and thus has a right to be heard. And it is right that bodies like the CBI should be asking questions as, in our view, too much of the discussion has been emotional rather than intellectual

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The Scottish Government’s Independence White Paper – further issues that business would like it to address

INTRODUCTION

1. CBI Scotland is an independent not-for-profit business advocacy organisation funded by its members and representing firms of all sizes from across the country and from all industrial, commercial and business sectors. Our mission is to help create and sustain the conditions in which businesses in Scotland can compete and prosper for the benefit of all.

CBI Scotland Logo2. This is the second paper in our series highlighting the issues and questions that businesses would like to see addressed in the Scottish Government’s forthcoming Independence White Paper. As indicated in our initial paper, the CBI has a rich history of engagement with governments, parliaments and others on constitutional public policy matters that affect business. Away from the public policy debate, we have also sought to encourage and assist our members in their practical consideration and assessment of what Scottish independence and constitutional change might mean for their organisation, their staff, their customers, supply chain and business operating environment.

3. As we have said previously, the decision on Scotland’s future is rightly and ultimately one for the electorate. However, industry and wider civic society has a role to play too, and the CBI is committed to ensuring that the needs of the economy and business are properly reflected in the referendum debate. The upcoming publication of the Scottish Government’s proposed White Paper on Scottish independence is a key opportunity to provide a thorough and detailed explanation and vision of what independence would look like, how it will be achieved, what it would mean for our economy and the management of economic policy, and what the business environment would look like and how it would work.

4. Our members are keen to understand the Scottish Government’s plans and vision for the business landscape in the event of independence. In this second paper, developed by our member-led Referendum Working Group and subsequently considered and approved by the elected 45-strong Council of CBI Scotland, our members highlight further issues and questions that they would like to see addressed in the Independence White Paper. These issues are in addition to or expand on the ones identified in our initial paper.

5. As we have said previously , there are gaps in knowledge about what Scottish independence would mean for business and our economy as well as what the business environment would look like in the event of independence. We recognise that in a few instances complete clarity would have to await the outcome of any negotiations between the Scottish and UK administrations following any referendum vote in favour of independence, or between the Scottish administration and relevant international institutions (e.g. the EU). However for many other aspects the Scottish Government could and should provide clarity over what it would like to achieve, and a candid assessment of the benefits, risks and costs of doing so well in advance of the referendum. This would inform a productive public debate but also provide certainty and allow businesses and others to assess the merits of what is being proposed and plan ahead accordingly. We look forward to the publication of the Scottish Government’s Independence White Paper and would urge Scottish Ministers to consider publishing it earlier than currently envisaged in order to provide the greater clarity and certainty that businesses seek.

FURTHER KEY ISSUES TO BE ADDRESSED

Fiscal strategy

6. What fiscal rules if any would be applicable to an independent Scottish government, for example with regards to borrowing and national debt? Would targets be set to reduce or eliminate the public sector deficit and the national debt?

Duties, taxation and non-domestic rates

7. What income tax rates, taxable bands, allowances and reliefs would apply to those in employment and the self-employed, including reliefs for business expenses incurred whilst working? What would be the tax treatment given to encourage employee share ownership, and for loans from employers to staff for example for travel season tickets? What tax treatment would apply to non-domiciles?

8. Would an independent Scotland seek to retain or alter the 3 different rates of Value Added Tax currently applied to goods and services, including the items which are reduced-rated (e.g. heating oil) or zero-rated, as well as the range of exemptions? At what level of a company’s turnover would the ‘VAT threshold’ commence?

9. Would an independent Scotland apply a Bank Levy to commercial banks? What tax treatment would be applied to investment trust companies?

10. What taxes, rates and destination bands on air passengers or flights, if any, would apply in an independent Scotland, including for short or long haul connections, and would flights departing from airports in the Highlands and Islands continue to be exempt? What duties if any would apply to alcohol, including spirits, wine, beer and cider? What hydrocarbon oils duties would be applied to petrol, diesel, heavy oils, aviation gasoline, and biofuels? What tobacco duties would be applied to items such as cigarettes and cigars?

11. What if any rate of aggregate levy would be applied on the commercial exploitation of rock, sand and gravel? Would there be a distinct Scottish-only climate change levy and if so what rates would be applicable?

12. Would non-domestic rates reliefs that are currently uniform across the UK – e.g. for enterprise areas, properties used for the training or care of disabled persons – continue to be so?

13. What would be the implications for the ownership, assets and liabilities of state-owned shareholdings in Network Rail, Channel 4, Met Office, Ordnance Survey, Post Office Ltd, The Royal Mint, UK Hydrographic Office, Urenco, Working Links, Plasma Resources UK Ltd?

Export and business support

14. Which overseas markets and regions will be prioritised for consular support for Scottish business and leisure travellers? What transitional arrangements are envisaged for the provision of diplomatic representation at economic-facing international institutions such as the European Union, World Trade Organisation, World Bank, International Monetary Fund?

15. How will the functions of interest to business relating to the UK’s Office of Cyber Security & Information Assurance be discharged in an independent Scotland? How will the functions of relevance to business of the security service, intelligence service and GCHQ be discharged?

16. How will the functions and services of Ordnance Survey which affect and apply to business be discharged in an independent Scotland?

17. Will the Royal Mail or its Scottish successor, or indeed any liberalised system, continue to be subject to a universal service obligation which provides for mail to be delivered to business premises 6 days a week?

18. What approach would be taken to the regulation of commercial sales online, for example to do with contractual and company information?

Labour market and pensions

19. What rates if any would be set for statutory maternity pay, statutory paternity pay, and statutory sick pay?

20. How will state pensions be paid and administered? What would be the implications from the European Union’s rules on cross border pension schemes?

21. Would key markets be prioritised or have a premium service for visa services?

22. What system of employment tribunals would be put in place to determine disputes between employers and employees and consider claims to do with matters such as unfair dismissal, redundancy payments, or discrimination?

23. Would an independent Scotland seek to retain the four different rates which apply to the national minimum wage, namely the adult, apprentice and two youth rates?

Transport and energy

24. What if any implications will there be for the ownership of Network Rail and its associated rail infrastructure, operations and rail stations in Scotland? What implications if any will there be for the management and operation of – and allocation of capacity on – cross border (between Scotland and England) rail services, and will such services be subject to EU cross border rail regulation? What charging regime would apply for freight and commercial train operators using the rail network?

25. How would the functions of the Maritime & Coastguard Agency which apply to commercial shipping, ferries, and fishing be discharged in an independent Scotland? How would the sea related aspects of the Crown Estate be discharged? Maritime agreements? Would Scotland establish its own ship registry? Would a tonnage tax continue to apply or would alternative taxation arrangements for shipping be put in place?

26. What assessment has been made of the impact of Scottish independence on likely future upgrades and improvements to transport links between Scotland and the rest of the UK, for example the A1 and M74, west and east coast mainline rail enhancements, and High Speed Rail 2? What assessment has been undertaken of the impact on any potential future requests for Public Service Obligations to guarantee existing regional air services to London’s key interlining airports?

27. What tax incentives if any would be available to encourage the exploration and production of shale gas?

Intellectual property and industry standards

28. Will an independent Scotland seek to sign up to the various international patent and trademark protection systems such as the European Patent Convention, the Patent Co-operation Treaty, and Madrid Protocol, and over what period would it hope to do so?

29. How would the functions of the UK’s national standards body and the accreditation service be discharged in an independent Scotland?

Telecommunications and digital

30. What would be the approach to spectrum management of radio and broadcast frequencies, and which authority would have oversight of this and any responsibilities for licenses and auctions? What would be the approach of the Scottish telecommunications regulator to the national telephone numbering plan and the universal service obligation?

Entertainment and gambling

31. How would the functions of the Gambling Commission as Britain’s commercial gambling regulator, including licensing, codes of practice, compliance and enforcement, be discharged in an independent Scotland, if at all? What license fees and charges would be applied?

32. How would the functions of the National Lottery Commission, including licensing of any lottery operator, be discharged in an independent Scotland, if at all?

33. What taxes and duties if any would apply to gambling and betting, including rates, fees and duties on amusement machines, bingo, and machine games duty?

Pharmaceuticals

34. How would the functions of the UK regulatory and enforcement authorities which approve and license the use of medicines, drugs and medical devices be discharged in an independent Scotland? Will pharmaceutical companies need to apply to a distinct Scotland only regulatory and inspection authority for a license, and if so what fee structure would apply?

CBI Scotland
May 2013

Amir Khan <em>Picture: SportsAngle.com</em>

Amir Khan Picture: SportsAngle.com

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
Nothing much wrong with your Saturday evening sport this week. If you didn’t fancy a bit of the “gas cooker” (work it out yourself) from the UK “Lite” Championship, then there was some boxing along later in the night. And more of that later.

But those with a passing interest in football would have lapped up the offering from Spain – Real Madrid versus Barcelona, El Clásico. And it wasn’t too far short of the billing.

Everyone believes there is nothing quite like their derby, be it Linfield against Glentoran, the Old Firm, Merseyside, Tyneside, North London or those in and around Birmingham, or Sheffield, even Norfolk.

Can’t imagine all of them put together attracting a global audience of half a billion. Probably only the Manchester rivals could pull in a similar figure.

In the end, Barcelona won, comfortably, almost as if they save their best for when people watch them most.

And as I tweeted during the match, for those who had watched Hibs versus Rangers from Easter Road, yes, Real and Barça were playing the same game.

Just playing it a little differently …

Sunday
I suppose for most it was just a continuation of Saturday night. And it was over the other side of the Pond.

But in the early hours of Sunday morning, Amir Khan put his WBA and IBF light-welterweight titles on the line in Washington DC against Lamont Peterson, a capable fighter, but someone Khan was going to be able to beat in front of a big American audience. Wasn’t he?

No, is the easy answer. Peterson was up for it – and, for me, won the fight long before referee Joseph Cooper docked the Brit a crucial point in the last round for pushing.

Cooper heaped pressure on himself and left the decision open to debate because of when he penalised Khan – who would have been deducted points long before round 12 had a British referee been in charge.

That intervention would give Khan and his entourage reason to appeal – although there were plenty who also wanted their say, one of them being part-time Manchester United striker and racehorse owner Michael Owen.

“Gutted Amir Khan got beat last night,” he tweeted. “Controversy over the scoring I hear. Is there no better way to score a fight? Seems outdated to me.

“I wouldn’t fancy my career being so dependant on 3 old guys watching from below the ring. I’m sure the rich promoters have influence too!”

Nice to show such support Michael. A bit rich given that on some occasions contests you participate in have twice as many judges, and none of them can get it right …

Monday
And Jonny Wilkinson announces his retirement from international rugby.

To be honest, he could have done so a while ago, given some of the injuries and knocks – both physical and mental – that he’s bounced back from.

In 2003, Wilkinson – and England – reached the peak of their collective powers, becoming world champions with the number 10 landing the winning drop goal, off his supposedly weaker foot.

And I may have told the story before, but it’s worth it again.

Around 1997, I went to see Doddie Weir at Kingston Park. Chatting away, I was aware of the relentless practice going on in the background – and, more impressive, the accuracy of it.

“That’ll be Jonny,” said Dod. Asked if the youngster was good, George replied: “Oh aye. The best. A star. A superstar in the making.” He wasn’t wrong.

He could also have said a machine. For while others had impressive hauls when it came to points, none did it quite as clinically, or quite as often as Wilkinson.

How good was he? It’s all about opinions. But he’s England’s best-ever stand-off. An argument you’ll never really have until the next time they win a World Cup …

Tuesday
Aberdeen beat St Johnstone 2–1 in Perth. Both sides had to beat the elements to get this game started and finished.

McDiarmid Park was battered by wind and rain, with just 1,607 turning up to watch this SPL encounter.

The weather and the size of the crowd had many debating summer football again before the final whistle had sounded, including me.

Tuesday evening’s game was all the proof or evidence some needed that summer football was the way to go.

But don’t be so quick there. Look first at the circumstances behind Tuesday’s game going ahead.

Both managers wanted to play the game when the referee offered them the chance to call it off. That would have been the second postponement of the fixture, it having been cancelled a few weeks prior due to weather.

It was a stinking night, and police and Met Office were issuing travel warnings, so the 200-mile round trip from the Granite City might not have been entirely safe.

And, the game was televised. Another good reason to stay at home and listen to the informed Ian Crocker call the plays.

All contributory factors to why so few turned out. But not even all those reasons could silence the fair-weather brigade.

However, if summer football was the way to go, then the clubs would surely have jumped at change years ago. But they haven’t – because, commercially, there are many more distractions during the “good” weather (if you know what it looks like).

Scotland has tried winter shutdowns and holidays before. But the problem we have, if you haven’t noticed, is the unpredictability of our weather.

Currently we play August (even July) to May. Call it ten months, for argument’s sake. So pick a period of ten months during the year.

January to March is hardly reliable weatherwise. And you would still be playing in September into October – when, if I’m not mistaken, a league match between Dundee United and Rangers was washed out by half-time.

Of course, the rest of the continent would have to alter their timetable as well, otherwise some of our clubs might still be playing a full 12 months if they were to get luck in European competition.

A nice idea, but practical? Nah.

Oh, and before we leave the subject, those advocates of summer football might want to cast their minds back to August 1998. Oops. Some might still have been at school. Well, read about it.

Because back then an SPL match, broadcast by Sky on a Sunday evening, attracted just 3,641. Last time I looked, August was still considered summer, even then.

So what are the excuses for that paltry crowd? The wrong kind of summer? Wrong kind of derby? It was Dundee against St Johnstone. Wrong kind of promotion? Oh, that was Sky’s big entry into the fray.

You can find causes and reasons and a case for playing summer football, playing on plastic, playing on the moon. But if all these ideas were so great and radical, why is it 30 years later we’re still hearing the same gripes without one inch of movement?

Wednesday
A slightly different take on sport, perhaps, with news that a Royal Navy destroyer was dispatched to Scotland in a major security scare after a Russian aircraft carrier came within 30 miles of British shores for the first time in 20 years.

HMS York steamed 1,000 miles from Portsmouth keep an eye on the 65,000-tonne Russian visitor.

However, it could have stayed in the south, according to my Admiralty sources. You see, the Russian import was none other than the Admiral Kuznetsov.

And I am reliably informed that, on reaching British territory, it immediately broke down with a mechanical defect. Something to do with its cruciate ligament …

Thursday
Celtic go out of the Europa League, a draw against Udinese not good enough, although the same couldn’t be levelled against their performance against the high-flyers from Serie A. Still, they are out.

So too are Birmingham City, finishing with ten points but behind Bruges and Braga. Bottom of that group table interested me, though. NK Maribor, with a single point.

That’s the same NK Maribor who knocked out Scottish champions Rangers in the qualifying round. Maybe they just peaked too soon …

Friday
And it might not be just on the pitch where Celtic lost out.

Days after being fined by UEFA for signing illegal songs, an element of the Celtic support decide to set off flares – against Italian law – and unfurl a banner stating “F*ck UEFA” – probably against their better judgement.

These people believe they are above the law and beyond reproach – a belief probably not without some foundation given how woolly and open to various interpretations the new Scottish legislation is.

Not that UEFA are governed by Scots law – or any law come to that – other than their own.

Perhaps that was why Celtic last Monday – 27 years to the day after the infamous replayed game at Old Trafford against Rapid Vienna – decided to accept the £13,000 fine imposed by Europe’s football governors for those illicit songs.

You wouldn’t want such a fine doubled or trebled should you contest it. But then, neither could you really contest it if you were willing to accept it in the first place – or are people missing that bit of the story…?

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Sooty, scourge of Celtic <em>Picture: barto</em>

Sooty, scourge of Celtic Picture: barto

By Stewart Weir

Saturday
And it’s England’s turn to kick off their Rugby World Cup campaign against Argentina, which for a while wasn’t so much the Three Lions against the Pumas, as the Pumas against the pussycats.

It was strange seeing England playing in all black. And there the comparisons end between them and the more famous New Zealand variety.

It did not escape my notice minutes into the game that England had problems with their jersey numbers, which were put on by a local Kiwi business under supervision from Nike and England kit staff.

Basically, the numbers evaporated. Obviously, the chalk wasn’t waterproof…

In all, it was a bad week for number manufacturers, as we saw in the Russia versus Ireland football game. Good job when he was packing in advance, the Irish kit manager thought “FTP – felt-tipped pen”.

Or did you think Bob Malcolm was working with the FAI?

Sunday
11 September, a date that will forever be remembered, a day when everyone recalls where exactly they were when they first heard the news.

It was my first day back in the office after the WPGA International Matchplay at Gleneagles, where Laura Davies took the £110,000 first prize – the 110 representing the fledgling management group who organised the event, which so happened to be both the inaugural, and last.

They were, as a business, heavily involved in what was still the relatively new world of the “interweb” (online hadn’t yet become vogue). On that fateful Tuesday, just after lunchtime, it stopped working, the error codes stating server overload.

Next door, the technicians sat and stood around, intensely peering into their screens. I announced the internet was down and was there a reason why the service providers might be issuing overload warnings.

“A plane has gone into the World Trade building in New York, or something.”

For a minute, and I don’t know why, I had visions of a Piper or Cessna accidentally hitting one of these structures that I had stood in the shadow of a few times. The truth was more horrendous than anyone could imagine.

While the world sat open-mouthed, everyone wondered how this would impact upon them and what they were about. For me, it meant cancelling a press conference I was going to have the next day to promote the Regal Masters, with Stephen Hendry.

I decided to leave telling sports desks and editors about the postponement until the Wednesday morning. There was enough going on in the world without me phoning up about an inconsequential press conference.

Behind my desk on the Wednesday, I first fired out a fax (that’s how we did it then), then an email, and then picked up the phone to do the ring-around.

But before the fax machine had printed off the delivery report, the phone had started ringing with requests – and the odd plead – not to cancel the “presser”.

The reason was simple. With flights throughout Europe cancelled, football teams on European duty had been unable to travel. So, sports editors had pages and airtime to fill.

And my media call was suddenly promoted to being the only sports show in town.

Monday
Hurricane Higgins’ stormy daughter Hurricane Katia forced the second leg of the Tour of Britain from Kendal to Blackpool to be cancelled.

The Met Office had issued severe warnings for north-western England with torrential rain and gusts of wind up to 58mph. So it was decided to cancel the stage because of fears over rider safety.

As I tweeted at the time, those conditions can be found during the Glesca Fair fortnight. Thinking more about it, surely the fitting of stabilisers should have been considered first before disappointing the roadside crowds?

I suppose it qualifies for today, given it started today, although it didn’t end until the wee sma’ hours of Tuesday. But the US Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal was a cracker, and well worth staying up for. Just where this win put Djokovic in terms of greatness, who can tell? He doesn’t have the expert press fawning over him like a Federer, or the “people’s champion” tag of a Nadal.

But he is better – having won more – than Andy Murray. However, regardless of what he wins, he will never in a million years carry the same levels of national optimism as the Scot, however misplaced it might be, or has so far proved…

Tuesday
As I’ve already penned, this evening I went to Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre to see Dancing Shoes – The George Best Story.

It was a most enjoyable evening, with some football faces like Danny McGrain, Gus MacPherson and Danny Lennon in the audience, as well as assorted sporting journalists – well, me and my good friend Gary Keown of the Scottish Daily Express.

There are times, even off-duty, when my anorak is fully zipped up. During the play Best (Aidan O’Neill) hoists aloft the European Cup, I noticed the lead character was wearing white shorts, when actually United wore all-blue on the night. As you can tell, I don’t get out very often…

Wednesday
Sad news arrives that David Francey, once the voice of football on BBC Radio Scotland, had passed away.

His distinctive voice and style kept Scottish football fans of more than one generation glued to their radio sets and transistors, back in the days before we had wall-to-wall TV coverage.

I remember his cry of “It’s a drive”, the inflection – or lack of it – in his voice telling you in an instant whether the effort had missed by inches, or was terracing-bound.

There are many stories – many true, many untrue – about what he did and didn’t say on air. But there were countless people who mimicked his tones.

That there was a David Francey soundalike competition once staged tells you just how famous his voice was – although maybe not that famous. He entered, and only came fourth…

Thursday
There but for the grace of God and all that, but the Scotsman (and therefore scotsman.com) contrived to come up with the headline “Scots duo Michie and Campbell are in the clear”.

There lay a headline within that headline, because I’m sure many of the snooker fraternity were not aware that Jimmy Michie was Scots – the reason being because he isn’t.

Marcus Campbell most certainly is, but Michie would probably claim Yorkshire as his nationality. Still, in these days of writers never mind subs not being entirely worldly-wise on the subject they are asked to write about, it’s a mistake that can be made.

Of course, just because someone sounds Scots doesn’t mean they have been anywhere near the place, especially true in snooker, Take Rory McLeod, whose name suggests Western Isles when West Indies is closer to the mark.

It has happened in football as well. Former Everton and Newcastle manager Gordon Lee was mid-rant when he called a player an “Irish bastard” only to be corrected by the player that he was in fact a “Scots bastard”.

“I was going by your name,” said Lee, to which the player replied: “In that case you must be f*cking Chinese…”.

Friday
Not a good morning for Celtic’s new or old Bhoys.

Last night, Celtic’s abysmal European away record was extended when they were beaten 2–0 by Atlético Madrid, the clincher coming from the on-loan Diego. His celebration was puzzling, until it was revealed that it was in tribute to the Sooty puppet he lost as a child. Judge for yourself.

Meanwhile Frank McAvennie will be wondering if he’ll ever be invited back as a talking head after his press conference at Hampden for the Focus On Football campaign was brought to an abrupt halt.

Macca was giving his take on events last season, when he observed; “I just think the government shouldn’t step in – that’s for sure. I think football should be kept out of politics. I honestly believe that. It just gives the so-called ‘PC brigade’ the chance to jump in and want to do this and want to do that and get involved in football. They shouldn’t get involved in football.”

Not what the Focus On Football campaign managers wanted to hear, and they called time on Frank’s take on the world.

An example of the PC brigade jumping in, again? Maybe Frank did have a point…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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Pope Gregory XIII – it's all his fault, sort of <em>Picture: Lavinia Fontana, 1552–1614</em>

Pope Gregory XIII – it's all his fault, sort of Picture: Lavinia Fontana, 1552–1614

“Yes, we’re here, because 365 days to go, the London Olympics starts 12 months today…” – the generally on the ball Garry Richardson reporting from the Olympic Park for the Today programme, BBC Radio 4, 27 July 2011.

“The head coach [Charles van Commenee] of UK Athletics believes they need every one of the 365 days remaining before the opening ceremony to make the necessary improvements if Great Britain are to reach the target of eight medals, including at least one gold.” Sky Sports, 27 July.

“British Embassy marks 365 days until London 2012 – The British and Canadian embassies will host a ceremonial Olympic torch relay to kick off the London 2012 countdown…” British Embassy, Tokyo (subsequently corrected).

Even leaving aside the fact that there will be eight Olympic football matches (two each in Cardiff, Glasgow and Coventry, one each in Newcastle and Manchester) played on the two days before the official opening ceremony in London, there is a disheartening innumeracy in the three reports – and others like them – given above.

Maybe it’s just me, maybe I should get out more – at least to the Asperger’s Clinic – but for all that today does indeed mark one year until the flame-in-a-bucket is lit and Lord Coe gets turned on, it isn’t 365 days – because 2012 is a leap year, so there are actually 366 days still to go.

Regular readers will know that these things annoy me, be it people assuming that the day with the longest daylight also has the latest sunset (a BBC Met Office forecaster made this mistake last year, and should surely have known better), or well-intentioned charity cyclists claiming to have pedalled uphill the equivalent of Everest when such a thing appears distinctly unlikely.

Another common mistake – and one related to leap-year adjustment – is to refer not to the 600th (or the 750th or 1,000th or whatever) anniversary of some historical event – which would be fine – but to say it is “600 years to the day” since it happened. This forgets the Julian/Gregorian calendar-change which saw ten days being skipped in October 1582. (There has since been four days’ worth of further slippage to further complicate matters.)

There are even more obscure versions of this kind of innumeracy – for instance in cricket, where it is commonplace for a commentator to say that a bowler with figures of, say, 17.5–3–46–2 (in other words 17 overs and five balls, three maidens, two wickets for 46 runs) has bowled “17.5 overs”. Strictly speaking that’s OK so long as the listener knows that the commentator is invoking base 6, as that is how six-ball overs are calculated. But in normal usage it just makes it sound as if the bowler has sent down 17½ overs – 17 overs and three balls, in other words. (This is without getting into the further complexities of no-balls and Australian eight-ball overs of yore – but not wides, which don’t count as balls bowled…)

Back to the Olympic 365-but-actually-366 countdown, it could well be argued that such things don’t really matter. But the whole event is built on precision, and what if the running track in the stadium had a similar error of 1/366, or 0.0027322404371584699453551912568306? By my reckoning, that would make the 400-metre track just over 109-and-a-quarter centimetres short. If one of the events saw a world record broken by a tiny margin, say one-hundredth of a second, would that be valid?

Actually, this in itself raises a rarely discussed issue: there is an argument to be made that the ultra-precise timings now available for athletic events, down to one-hundredth or even one-thousandth of a second, are not always matched (and perhaps cannot be matched) by the measurement of the track distance. In other words, while timing has become very accurate and – so it seems – reliable, not all tracks are the same distance, and so the world of narrow-margin records is not necessarily a level (or, rather, same-length) playing-field.

Or what of the construction of the various Olympic stadia? (Not stadiums, grrrr…) An engineer reading this might be able to chip in with the permissible margins for error for large public structures, but there is surely a fair chance that if the various girder-boltings and suchlike were as much as 1/366th out, then the roof would fall down.

Not that everyone has got it wrong, however. Interestingly, the main Foreign and Commonwealth Office information about the one-year-to-go landmark makes no mention of either 365 or 366 days. Those diplomats, they certainly know how to steer a risk-free course. This also suggests that someone in the Tokyo office indulged in a bit of subeditorial embroidery and introduced the 365 figure at that end before being tipped off – and ticked off – by someone at FCO HQ.

Then there is – hooray – the Daily Telegraph. “There are 366 days to go until the London Olympics in 2012,” the paper comments today, “and this is going to be one of the busiest. We’ll keep you up to date with all that’s going on.”

Step forward Alan Tyers and Jonathan Liew, who wrote the piece – and who even allow themselves a little nitpicking of their own: “First clanger of the day award goes to Ladbrokes for their press release offering odds of 365/1 (geddit?) on various much more unlikely than that outcomes, including Becks scoring the winning pen in the Olympic football final… nice idea, although sadly there are 366 days to go.”

So thank goodness for the Torygraph, newspaper of record and bastion of all things solid and reliable. It’s reassuring to know that at least some people out there do actually know how the calendar works and how the celestial bodies move. It appears that all – to within a reasonable margin of error – is well with the world.

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The UK shrouded in snow. <em>Picture: NEODAAS/University of Dundee</em>

The UK shrouded in snow. Picture: NEODAAS/University of Dundee

There is no such thing as a standard Scottish winter – but, if there is something approaching a traditional format, one seen more often than others, it is roughly as follows.

First comes wild-and-mild stormy weather in the couple of months before the festive season, but with not much snow apart from on the really high ground, 1,000 metres-plus. Occasional ice and mixed (or messy, or thin, or however you want to label it) conditions on medium-sized hills, and nothing much more serious than overnight frost at lower levels.

January brings the main snow-dumps, with the third week of the month tending to be seen as the critical stretch. Then February settles down into lovely anticyclonic weather, the lower ground starts to feel almost springlike, while the hills – now with a substantial base of January snow – go through freeze-thaw cycles such that everyone is happy and there are great on-hill conditions for walkers, climbers and skiers right through until after the clocks change.

That’s the template, sort of. But by pretty much any assessment, whatever it is we’ve been having this time around, it’s very much not that.

There has been a lopsidedness to proceedings. Late November until early January saw plenty of snow at all levels and disruptively low temperatures. Then the bulk of January was mild and placid, with a retreat of the snowline rather than a bulking-up of the snowpack. And now, the current wave of gales and stormy mayhem notwithstanding, it looks like we could end up viewing this as a wrong-way-round winter, a curiosity rather than a classic.

Or will we? At the start of December, The Caledonian Mercury took soundings from a couple of well-informed people as to how they saw the weather and outdoor-activity prospects over the coming weeks. Now seems a good time to go back and ask for a reassessment.

“It looks like we will be back into a spell of wet, windy and relatively mild weather for the next month or so,” says Alison McLure – former BBC weather reporter, now the national officer for Scotland with the Institute of Physics. “I suppose that will be a relief for the general population, but I miss the stunning clear blue days with crisp snow on the ground.

“I was surprised at how quickly the snow melted from the hills, although hopefully the higher climbing routes will stay in good condition. It feels like we are back to the more ‘normal’ winters of the last 20 years or so. However, if you look into the history of Scotland’s weather and climate, we have lived through a remarkably stable period of weather in recent decades. Professor Alastair Dawson’s book, So Foul and Fair a Day: A History of Scotland’s Weather and Climate, makes fairly gruesome reading, with a litany of storms and extreme cold spells followed by famine. No wonder we Scots are thought of as a dour lot!”

McLure points out that the Met Office has a good explanation of the end-of-year cold spell, with the complex La Niña phenomenon being seen as significant. (La Niña is the counterpart of the better-known el Niño, and results from sustained lower-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the central Pacific. Its effects can be felt worldwide, and it appears to have been a factor in the recent extreme weather in Australia.)

“What I wonder,” McLure says, “is why the weather has returned to a more mobile pattern where we get the mild air off the Atlantic. Has la Niña faded, or have other factors such as sea-ice extent, sea-surface temperatures etc reimposed their influence? Maybe we’ll see a return to colder weather later on. Certainly last year saw a final fling of winter in March.”

In terms of the more localised effects, experienced mountain guide Andy Nisbet suggested in early December that he was “torn between thinking this will be the coldest winter since 1947 (or even colder), or merely cold until some time in January.”

He now sees the latter as much the more likely. “The pattern is similar to 1982,” Nisbet says, “following a very cold autumn 1981 and early January 1982. Not that the winter ended in January, just that only the higher cliffs stayed in good condition. And with plenty of snow in the high Cairngorms at present, there’s no need to feel despondent.

“Atlantic air does seem established, and the Scandinavian high only an optimistic dream. So that’s my prediction: milder than average now, but places like Braeriach and the Northern Cairngorms still good.

“In February 1982, I climbed Ebony Chimney in Coire Bhrochain of Braeriach, one of the best routes I’ve done. Plenty of snow, but also several gentle thaws producing loads of ice which made this deep chimney climb memorable.”

Then there is the skiing. It’s been a great first half to the season, both at the commercial centres and for touring in the forests and on the quieter hills – but what of the lead-up to Easter and beyond? Helen Rennie – one of The Caledonian Mercury’s outdoors people of 2010 – was asked for her thoughts.

Even though she describes herself as “the eternal optimist who will ski on postage-stamp sizes of snow,” Rennie is sure there are some good days ahead, despite the general retreat during January.

“Certainly at Cairngorm the base on the upper part of the mountain has been there since November,” she says. “It has undergone many freeze-thaw cycles and been has repeatedly packed down by the piste machines and skiers, so should be solid enough to withstand some mild weather.

“I’ve kept a log of the days I’ve skied since 1996 when I bought my first season ticket after having my children, as they were both at secondary school then so I had more opportunities to ski. The patterns show that February is usually as good as or better than January, the exceptions being 2001 and 2004. March has always had more ski days that January or February, while April has had more ski days than January apart from 2005.

Rennie mainly skis at Cairngorm. “As for the other resorts,” she says, “I don’t feel quite so confident to predict the future. However, from experience, Nevis Range usually skis well in March and April, as does Glencoe. Glenshee, like Cairngorm, has had an excellent start and the base should be compacted – but it tends to have a shorter season.”

She has put together a five-minute YouTube film of the skiing during 2010 (see end of article). “It certainly brings home what fantastic cover we had over the year,” she says.

For now, though, we’re back into a stormy, unstable flow (a gust of 131mph was recorded on Aonach Mor at 5pm yesterday), with fresh snow being laid down on the middle-to-upper altitudes, but with no clarity as yet as to whether this will quickly be washed away/blown off, or whether some cool-weather stability will create a genuinely wintry February.

At present, the Met Office 30-day prediction doesn’t look promising – talk of settled weather from the middle of the coming week, but also “mild”, “southerly flow”, and “above average temperatures”.

As ever, it remains to be seen. This has certainly been a strange and memorable sequence of seasons, whatever now happens. One remarkable statistic about 2010 – a year that saw two serious winters within one cycle of the calendar – was that five of the 12 months saw temperatures drop to at least minus 18C somewhere in the UK.

That doesn’t happen very often – not since at least the 19th century, it is believed.

The UK shrouded in snow. <em>Picture: NEODAAS/University of Dundee</em>

The UK shrouded in snow. Picture: NEODAAS/University of Dundee

There is no such thing as a standard Scottish winter – but, if there is something approaching a traditional format, one seen more often than others, it is roughly as follows.

First comes wild-and-mild stormy weather in the couple of months before the festive season, but with not much snow apart from on the really high ground, 1,000 metres-plus. Occasional ice and mixed (or messy, or thin, or however you want to label it) conditions on medium-sized hills, and nothing much more serious than overnight frost at lower levels.

January brings the main snow-dumps, with the third week of the month tending to be seen as the critical stretch. Then February settles down into lovely anticyclonic weather, the lower ground starts to feel almost springlike, while the hills – now with a substantial base of January snow – go through freeze-thaw cycles such that everyone is happy and there are great on-hill conditions for walkers, climbers and skiers right through until after the clocks change.

That’s the template, sort of. But by pretty much any assessment, whatever it is we’ve been having this time around, it’s very much not that.

There has been a lopsidedness to proceedings. Late November until early January saw plenty of snow at all levels and disruptively low temperatures. Then the bulk of January was mild and placid, with a retreat of the snowline rather than a bulking-up of the snowpack. And now, the current wave of gales and stormy mayhem notwithstanding, it looks like we could end up viewing this as a wrong-way-round winter, a curiosity rather than a classic.

Or will we? At the start of December, The Caledonian Mercury took soundings from a couple of well-informed people as to how they saw the weather and outdoor-activity prospects over the coming weeks. Now seems a good time to go back and ask for a reassessment.

“It looks like we will be back into a spell of wet, windy and relatively mild weather for the next month or so,” says Alison McLure – former BBC weather reporter, now the national officer for Scotland with the Institute of Physics. “I suppose that will be a relief for the general population, but I miss the stunning clear blue days with crisp snow on the ground.

“I was surprised at how quickly the snow melted from the hills, although hopefully the higher climbing routes will stay in good condition. It feels like we are back to the more ‘normal’ winters of the last 20 years or so. However, if you look into the history of Scotland’s weather and climate, we have lived through a remarkably stable period of weather in recent decades. Professor Alastair Dawson’s book, So Foul and Fair a Day: A History of Scotland’s Weather and Climate, makes fairly gruesome reading, with a litany of storms and extreme cold spells followed by famine. No wonder we Scots are thought of as a dour lot!”

McLure points out that the Met Office has a good explanation of the end-of-year cold spell, with the complex La Niña phenomenon being seen as significant. (La Niña is the counterpart of the better-known el Niño, and results from sustained lower-than-average sea-surface temperatures in the central Pacific. Its effects can be felt worldwide, and it appears to have been a factor in the recent extreme weather in Australia.)

“What I wonder,” McLure says, “is why the weather has returned to a more mobile pattern where we get the mild air off the Atlantic. Has la Niña faded, or have other factors such as sea-ice extent, sea-surface temperatures etc reimposed their influence? Maybe we’ll see a return to colder weather later on. Certainly last year saw a final fling of winter in March.”

In terms of the more localised effects, experienced mountain guide Andy Nisbet suggested in early December that he was “torn between thinking this will be the coldest winter since 1947 (or even colder), or merely cold until some time in January.”

He now sees the latter as much the more likely. “The pattern is similar to 1982,” Nisbet says, “following a very cold autumn 1981 and early January 1982. Not that the winter ended in January, just that only the higher cliffs stayed in good condition. And with plenty of snow in the high Cairngorms at present, there’s no need to feel despondent.

“Atlantic air does seem established, and the Scandinavian high only an optimistic dream. So that’s my prediction: milder than average now, but places like Braeriach and the Northern Cairngorms still good.

“In February 1982, I climbed Ebony Chimney in Coire Bhrochain of Braeriach, one of the best routes I’ve done. Plenty of snow, but also several gentle thaws producing loads of ice which made this deep chimney climb memorable.”

Then there is the skiing. It’s been a great first half to the season, both at the commercial centres and for touring in the forests and on the quieter hills – but what of the lead-up to Easter and beyond? Helen Rennie – one of The Caledonian Mercury’s outdoors people of 2010 – was asked for her thoughts.

Even though she describes herself as “the eternal optimist who will ski on postage-stamp sizes of snow,” Rennie is sure there are some good days ahead, despite the general retreat during January.

“Certainly at Cairngorm the base on the upper part of the mountain has been there since November,” she says. “It has undergone many freeze-thaw cycles and been has repeatedly packed down by the piste machines and skiers, so should be solid enough to withstand some mild weather.

“I’ve kept a log of the days I’ve skied since 1996 when I bought my first season ticket after having my children, as they were both at secondary school then so I had more opportunities to ski. The patterns show that February is usually as good as or better than January, the exceptions being 2001 and 2004. March has always had more ski days that January or February, while April has had more ski days than January apart from 2005.

Rennie mainly skis at Cairngorm. “As for the other resorts,” she says, “I don’t feel quite so confident to predict the future. However, from experience, Nevis Range usually skis well in March and April, as does Glencoe. Glenshee, like Cairngorm, has had an excellent start and the base should be compacted – but it tends to have a shorter season.”

She has put together a five-minute YouTube film of the skiing during 2010 (see end of article). “It certainly brings home what fantastic cover we had over the year,” she says.

For now, though, we’re back into a stormy, unstable flow (a gust of 131mph was recorded on Aonach Mor at 5pm yesterday), with fresh snow being laid down on the middle-to-upper altitudes, but with no clarity as yet as to whether this will quickly be washed away/blown off, or whether some cool-weather stability will create a genuinely wintry February.

At present, the Met Office 30-day prediction doesn’t look promising – talk of settled weather from the middle of the coming week, but also “mild”, “southerly flow”, and “above average temperatures”.

As ever, it remains to be seen. This has certainly been a strange and memorable sequence of seasons, whatever now happens. One remarkable statistic about 2010 – a year that saw two serious winters within one cycle of the calendar – was that five of the 12 months saw temperatures drop to at least minus 18C somewhere in the UK.

That doesn’t happen very often – not since at least the 19th century, it is believed.

Joseph Farquharson's 'The shortening winter's day is near a close'

Joseph Farquharson's 'The shortening winter's day is near a close'

Look out of almost any window in Scotland just now – with hills, fields, roads and pavements caked under substantial amounts of snow – and the idea that there could be any doubt about the likelihood of a White Christmas is laughable.

There are, however, two types of White Christmas. There is the one we are undoubtedly about to enjoy, a deep and crisp and even (well, deep and skiddy and rutted) White Christmas – which, when the sun is shining, can look like one of those lovely Joseph Farquharson sheep paintings.

Then there is the one that Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne wrote about on a hot day in California in July 1945, and which Smokey Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Doris Day – among many others – duly sang about. The one that goes Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

And it’s the Cahn and Styne version that the bookies dread. There can be any amount of the pretty Farquharsonian snow – the sheep could be completely submerged – but so long as not a single flake of the stuff falls from the sky during the 24 hours of 25 December, the bookies will make money. By contrast, even one brief flurry on Christmas Day during the mildest, most green-field-filled winter and the bookies take a hit. It’s weird, but that’s the way it works.

Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes deals with most bets, “unless it’s a horse or a greyhound”, so “novelty bets” such as Christmas Day weather-watching land on his desk. “We started doing it 30 years ago,” he says, “when it was just London – whether any snow fell on the BBC weather tower.” The bets proved popular, so it steadily spread to a wide variety of locations, including four in Scotland: Lerwick, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Donohue notes that uptake is “100% higher than last year” – not just because of the sustained cold weather itself, but through a knock-on effect with so much sport having been snowed off. “People go to their local Ladbrokes intending to put a tenner on a football coupon,” he says, “and when the matches are off they see we’ve got a book on a White Christmas near where they live, so they’ve been sticking the tenner on that instead.”

Rupert Adams at rival bookmakers William Hill similarly reports a record number of festive bets, and says that the firm is “sweating” on the possibility of a huge payout should there be widespread snowfall – even widespread single flakes – come the day. “The latest forecast suggests that there is a real chance that the infamous industry Million Pound Payout will happen for the first time,” he says.

The actual decision on whether there has been any snowfall in each of the locations rests – as might be expected – with the professional meteorological agency. “The Met Office send us an email on Boxing Day,” says Adams, “from which we either pay out or retire to our sunbeds in the Costa del Sol.”

Although nothing is certain in advance – this is betting, after all – and everything is in the hands of the weather gods, it doesn’t look likely that the bookies will be jetting off to their Spanish siestas this time round – even assuming Heathrow ever gets itself back in order.

Ladbrokes closed their White Christmas book at midday on the day before Christmas Eve, at which stage all four of their venues were odds-on. “When we closed the market,” says Donohue, “Lerwick was 1/3, Aberdeen 4/9, Edinburgh 4/5 and Glasgow 4/6 – so we reckoned it was more likely than not to snow in all those places.”

At the time of writing, the William Hill book remained open, but again it was odds-on across the board: 4/7 on snow falling at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen (some might say the team’s chances of relegation from the SPL are similarly short), and 8/11 at both Edinburgh Castle and Glasgow Cathedral.

Further south, the odds are a bit longer, but not much: William Hill is offering only evens for each of Newcastle, York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, while London, Cambridge and Oxford are all 5/4. Even locations in the supposedly less Baltic south and west aren’t exactly value bets: Cardiff is 11/8, Exeter 6/4 and Dublin 6/5.

As to the actual Met Office prediction – and what is meteorology if not a form of educated betting? – with under 30 hours to go the forecast reads as follows: “Very cold and mainly dry on Christmas Day, just a few snow showers in the far east. Becoming increasingly windy from Sunday, with outbreaks of snow spreading slowly east later.”

That “mainly dry” will bring a smile to the lips of the people at Ladbrokes, William Hill and elsewhere. While they are surely going to lose money in some of the locations, they might avoid suffering a total whiteout – sorry, wipeout – after all.

Joseph Farquharson's 'The shortening winter's day is near a close'

Joseph Farquharson's 'The shortening winter's day is near a close'

Look out of almost any window in Scotland just now – with hills, fields, roads and pavements caked under substantial amounts of snow – and the idea that there could be any doubt about the likelihood of a White Christmas is laughable.

There are, however, two types of White Christmas. There is the one we are undoubtedly about to enjoy, a deep and crisp and even (well, deep and skiddy and rutted) White Christmas – which, when the sun is shining, can look like one of those lovely Joseph Farquharson sheep paintings.

Then there is the one that Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne wrote about on a hot day in California in July 1945, and which Smokey Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Doris Day – among many others – duly sang about. The one that goes Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!

And it’s the Cahn and Styne version that the bookies dread. There can be any amount of the pretty Farquharsonian snow – the sheep could be completely submerged – but so long as not a single flake of the stuff falls from the sky during the 24 hours of 25 December, the bookies will make money. By contrast, even one brief flurry on Christmas Day during the mildest, most green-field-filled winter and the bookies take a hit. It’s weird, but that’s the way it works.

Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes deals with most bets, “unless it’s a horse or a greyhound”, so “novelty bets” such as Christmas Day weather-watching land on his desk. “We started doing it 30 years ago,” he says, “when it was just London – whether any snow fell on the BBC weather tower.” The bets proved popular, so it steadily spread to a wide variety of locations, including four in Scotland: Lerwick, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Donohue notes that uptake is “100% higher than last year” – not just because of the sustained cold weather itself, but through a knock-on effect with so much sport having been snowed off. “People go to their local Ladbrokes intending to put a tenner on a football coupon,” he says, “and when the matches are off they see we’ve got a book on a White Christmas near where they live, so they’ve been sticking the tenner on that instead.”

Rupert Adams at rival bookmakers William Hill similarly reports a record number of festive bets, and says that the firm is “sweating” on the possibility of a huge payout should there be widespread snowfall – even widespread single flakes – come the day. “The latest forecast suggests that there is a real chance that the infamous industry Million Pound Payout will happen for the first time,” he says.

The actual decision on whether there has been any snowfall in each of the locations rests – as might be expected – with the professional meteorological agency. “The Met Office send us an email on Boxing Day,” says Adams, “from which we either pay out or retire to our sunbeds in the Costa del Sol.”

Although nothing is certain in advance – this is betting, after all – and everything is in the hands of the weather gods, it doesn’t look likely that the bookies will be jetting off to their Spanish siestas this time round – even assuming Heathrow ever gets itself back in order.

Ladbrokes closed their White Christmas book at midday on the day before Christmas Eve, at which stage all four of their venues were odds-on. “When we closed the market,” says Donohue, “Lerwick was 1/3, Aberdeen 4/9, Edinburgh 4/5 and Glasgow 4/6 – so we reckoned it was more likely than not to snow in all those places.”

At the time of writing, the William Hill book remained open, but again it was odds-on across the board: 4/7 on snow falling at Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen (some might say the team’s chances of relegation from the SPL are similarly short), and 8/11 at both Edinburgh Castle and Glasgow Cathedral.

Further south, the odds are a bit longer, but not much: William Hill is offering only evens for each of Newcastle, York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, while London, Cambridge and Oxford are all 5/4. Even locations in the supposedly less Baltic south and west aren’t exactly value bets: Cardiff is 11/8, Exeter 6/4 and Dublin 6/5.

As to the actual Met Office prediction – and what is meteorology if not a form of educated betting? – with under 30 hours to go the forecast reads as follows: “Very cold and mainly dry on Christmas Day, just a few snow showers in the far east. Becoming increasingly windy from Sunday, with outbreaks of snow spreading slowly east later.”

That “mainly dry” will bring a smile to the lips of the people at Ladbrokes, William Hill and elsewhere. While they are surely going to lose money in some of the locations, they might avoid suffering a total whiteout – sorry, wipeout – after all.

stewartstevenson-300Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson apologised today for the Scottish Government’s response to this week’s heavy snow falls which left hundreds of people trapped in their vehicles overnight across central Scotland.

After several days of increasing pressure over the way the authorities reacted to the bad weather, Mr Stevenson apologised for communication failures.

In a statement to MSPs, the Transport Minister said: “When the transport system grinds to a halt and people are forced to spend the night in their cars, then something has clearly gone wrong.

“I regret this, and apologise for the failure to communicate the situation effectively to the many people affected on Monday when the extent of the problem became apparent.”

And he added: “Of course I am sorry that anyone should have to experience the gridlock and inconvenience of recent days and in terms of the aspects of the problems that can be resolved by government, I accept that responsibility rests with me.”

Mr Stevenson’s apology represents the third admission of regret by the Scottish Government in the last three weeks.

John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, apologised to the Scottish Parliament first for not informing the parliament about the decision to allow the Tartan Tax powers to lapse.

Then last week Alex Salmond, the First Minister, admitted to a Holyrood committee he should have publicised the Scottish Government loan to the company behind the Gathering event.

Mr Stevenson’s apology, though, was combined with an announcement of a review.

He said: “I am the Transport Minister and I am responsible. What happened on Monday has been extremely difficult and challenging – it should not have happened and I have apologised for the failure to communicate the position better and earlier.”

Mr Stevenson said he would review public communication, government links with Met Office forecasts, provision of heavy duty snow-clearing vehicles and the ability of the authorities to respond.

And he concluded: “If the weather is going to be more severe, more often, then the fact is we need a step change in our preparations – and that applies to everyone in government, every business and to every household.”

Opposition politicians insisted that Mr Stevenson’s apology was not good enough. Charlie Gordon, for Labour, called on the minister to quit.

He told Mr Stevenson: “It was a first-class cock-up and you were responsible.”

Mr Gordon said: “The problem was his totally inadequate response.”

And he added: “Travellers should have been given much clearer advice. Sorry is not good enough. Will you take responsibility, admit your incompetence and go?”

David McLetchie, for the Conservatives, linked Mr Stevenson’s apology to the others from the Scottish Government over the last few weeks: “This is fast becoming a habit for what is an apology for an government,” Mr McLetchie said

Holding up a satellite image of a snow-bound Scotland from Monday, Mr McLetchie asked: “Why was it the Scottish Government couldn’t see that?”

And he added: “The response was wholly inadequate.”

Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes described Mr Stevenson as a “bungling transport minister who didn’t do his bit”.

And she declared: “He should leave the chamber, pick up a shovel and start digging. It is time for him to make amends.”

Drumpellier cricket groundBy Stuart Crawford

I’m just as bored as everyone else with the flurry of articles and comment on our recent weather travails, but I just have to make one observation and one suggestion. Then I’ll haud ma wheesht.

The observation is that the Transport Minister, Stewart Stevenson, a decent enough cove, got it badly wrong on Newsnight Scotland last night (6th December). Never the best media performer at the best of times, his “it wisnae me” line went down badly, and no doubt very badly with those poor souls stuck in their cars (not that they could have seen him, of course, being in their cars at the time of the programme).

Granted, the presenter – whose name escapes me, which tells its own story – asked him the classic media eejit question as to whether he would apologise for the traffic gridlock resulting from the unexpectedly heavy snowfall. Mr Stevenson ignored the question and went on to talk about how well the Government and various agencies had responded to events.

This is vintage media training at work – “answer, bridge, communicate” – but totally wrong in the circumstances. The response from the authorities was self evidently not good enough to those shivering in their cars on the M8, for example. And the weather, unexpected and extreme, was clearly not Mr Stevenson’s fault, unless he has hidden powers well beyond his transport brief.

But it is/was his responsibility, and it wouldn’t have done any harm to at least acknowledge the difficulties being encountered by many and saying that he was sorry for their plight. That would have helped a wee bit, don’t you think?

Needless to say, come this morning and the Transport Minister had changed his tune (and no doubt sacked his media adviser of the night before) and said all the sorts of things he should have been saying all along. Political opponents will no doubt call this a “U turn”, but basically it’s reacting to the situation and altering your stance accordingly. And I think it’s fair to say that changing your mind has always been a perfectly valid part of the intellectual process, has it not?

The suggestion I would like to make is a simple one, and can hardly be original thought. What struck me most about the reportage on the country’s travel troubles was that those caught up in it complained most not about the snow, or the cold, or the long wait in queues, or being stuck overnight, but about the lack of information from anyone in authority letting them know what was happening.

You know what it’s like. You’re driving along blithely enough one minute, then the next minute everything comes to a grinding halt. You wait, and wait, and nothing seems to happen. You try local radio, but if it’s an isolated incident chances are that it hasn’t registered on the media radar. Then, if you’re lucky, after a few minutes/hours the traffic starts moving again and eventually you get where you’re going, albeit somewhat late. Most times you never know what caused the hold up.

Wouldn’t it be useful, in such circumstances, to have a dedicated frequency on the radio which could be used to transmit information from the emergency services or local authority, or indeed relevant highway agency?

Stuck on the M8? Just tune into the Traffic Incident Information Bulletin on 99.9 FM (cute – 999. Geddit?). Oh, here’s Inspector McGurk of Starthclyde Police telling us that there’s a herd of wildebeest loose on the carriageway at the Shotts junction which should be rounded up shortly, maximum delay estimated at half an hour, and he’ll keep us posted. That’s all it needs to keep people informed and, if not necessarily happy, then probably satisfied that they know what’s happening.

It seems almost too simple to be true? Am I missing something?

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