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A ‘concerted effort’ needed to end ‘the shame of food hunger’ – Dave Myers
Picture Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom for Oxfam UK

A global food database prepared by Oxfam shows that people in the UK have among the highest and most volatile food prices in Western Europe. The Good Enough to Eat index, the first of its kind, compares data from 125 countries to create a global snapshot of the different challenges people face in getting the food they need to eat.

Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks

Record numbers of Scots have turned to food banks

The index is released at a time when Scotland has seen a five-fold increase in the number of people using foodbanks in the past year. More than 20,000 Scots sought emergency assistance with food in the six months to September 2013.

Globally, one in eight people go hungry despite there being enough to feed everyone. The new index highlights how both the distribution of food and prices are important factors. It brings together data on whether people have enough to eat, can afford to eat, the quality of food and the health outcomes of people’s diet.

Overall, the index reveals the Netherlands, followed by France and Switzerland in joint second, are the best places for people to eat, while Chad is the worst followed by Angola and Ethiopia.

Scotland - an expensive place to find good food

Scotland – an expensive place to find good food

Hairy Biker chef Dave Myers has just returned from Cambodia, which is positioned 89th overall, where he visited Oxfam’s projects to help boost food security. He said it was “terrible to think that so many people go hungry in a world that produces more than enough. I have seen how Oxfam is bringing simple solutions to Cambodia to help farmers double rice production and make more from what they grow. All of this can change lives for good but a concerted global effort is needed if we are to end the shame of hunger which is clearly affecting people everywhere, even in the UK.”

The UK is among the worst performers in Western Europe on whether citizens can afford to eat, sharing 20th position with Cyprus, and with only Austrians and Icelanders faring worse. At a time of austerity, and with more than half a million people using food banks across the UK, the index reveals how people here face higher prices for food compared to other goods than almost everyone in Western Europe. Only Austrians and Italians face the same level of pressure while Cypriots have to pay more. The UK also ranked in the bottom half of all OECD countries on food price volatility.

Jamie Livingstone 'Shocking Indictment' of the UK

Jamie Livingstone
‘Shocking Indictment’ of the UK

This record on food prices means that the UK’s combined score puts it in 13th position. Instead, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland are joined by Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and Austria, Australia, Luxembourg, Portugal, Italy and Ireland in the top 12. All enjoy top marks for their lack of malnutrition and undernourishment and for access to safe water, while other measures, including obesity, have also lowered their final results.

At the bottom of the table, one in three children are underweight in Chad, where food is relatively more expensive than anywhere else, apart from Guinea and Gambia. Chad shares fourth worst position on the quality of food consumed.

Jamie Livingstone, Acting Head of Oxfam Scotland, said: “This index lays bare some of the challenges that people face in getting the food they need, regardless of where they come from. It reveals how the world is failing to ensure that everyone is able to eat healthily, despite there being enough food to go around.

“The UK’s failure to make the top table is a shocking indictment for the world’s sixth richest country. With a record number of people turning to food banks, including tens of thousands here in Scotland, the government must carry out an urgent inquiry into how welfare changes and cuts are exacerbating food poverty and deepening inequality.”

Danny McCafferty

Danny McCafferty

Oxfam has a relationship with the West Dunbartonshire Community Foodshare, through the Clydebank Independent Resource Centre (CIRC). Danny McCafferty, Chair of CIRC, pointed out that more and more people were “having to use resources like the Community Foodshare. Part of the reason is welfare reforms and benefit cutbacks. But the big problem is that there is an increasing number of people, whether they are in work or not, who are now on the margin of being able to afford basics like food.”

Oxfam is working worldwide to provide long-term solutions that will help people grow enough food to eat and make a living. In Chad, for example, Oxfam is helping farmers grow and diversify more crops, providing veterinary training to help ensure cattle are stronger, and helping to build more food storage so that people are better prepared for drought conditions.

The Good Enough to Eat index follows the launch of Oxfam’s new fundraising campaign Lift Lives for Good, which aims to show how simple solutions on the ground can bring lasting change to individuals and then their communities and beyond. The campaign is calling for action on two major challenges that can exacerbate food poverty: inequality and climate change.

Oxfam is calling for action in the UK to address growing inequality and the underlying challenges that people are increasingly facing such as unemployment, low wages and rising food and fuel prices. It wants an urgent government inquiry into the affect welfare changes and cuts are having.

Globally, Oxfam is campaigning for urgent action on climate change which presents a significant threat to food security, as well as investment in small-holder agriculture and infrastructure to boost crop production, prevent waste and improve access to markets.

New Zealand celebrate their victory
(Picture from Facebook)

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

Carl Froch (Picture from Wikipedia)

Carl Froch
(Picture from Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good to end on a conciliatory note …

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

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

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

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

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

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


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

The White Paper

The White Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did the Scouts from overseas make of the Scottish Summer

What did the Scouts from overseas make of the Scottish Summer

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

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

It was a world first! Over 30 teams from as far away as Australia and North America had travelled to Scotland to take part in the first World Skiff Championships. The shingle beach in Ullapool was crowded with the small craft — the St Ayles Skiffs. Each of them had its allotted space and the crews gathered alongside their boats. Unlike previous regattas, this one was run over a week with a wide variety of races to suit all ages and abilities.

The small town of Ullappol on the shores of Loch Broom in the North West of Scotland was chosen in part because of its sheltered waters and in part because of the warm, Highland welcome offered by the townsfolk. The only thing the organisers couldn’t control was the weather – but right on cue, the sun shone and even the midges stayed away. The Caledonian Mercury was there.

The Princess Royal takes the salute from the assembled skiff crews
All pictures courtesy of Sybil Bacica

Four years ago, it didn’t even exist as a sport — or even an activity. However, what started as Scottish Coastal Rowing has grown to international proportions. And this week, it’s also been given Royal approval when Princess Anne launched the first ever World Skiff Championships in Ullapool.

Princess Anne opens the World Skiff Championships in Ullapool

Princess Anne opens the World Skiff Championships in Ullapool

There were crews from Australia and North America, from the Netherlands and even from England who joined the many Scottish clubs in the waters of Loch Broom. The weather was glorious for this opening event. The Princess arrived by helicopter and then was taken on a Rigid Inflatable Boat our into the loch where the boat performed a “row-past”.

Back on dry land, representatives of each of the crews were introduced to the Princess along with the obligatory speeches. The event is being run by the Scottish Coastal Rowing Association, with sponsorship from Ullapool Harbour Trust, Aberdeen Asset Management, the Highland Council, and a wide range of local partners.

One of the most unusual skiffs on show is The Sephira, a boat built in Pennsylvania which also doubles as a musical instrument. Claimed to be able to “sing to the whales”, she is a normal St Ayles skiff but with a large carved head on its prow from which eight long piano wires have been stretched which can be plucked like a harp.

Katya Bacica of RowPorty is presented to Princess Anne. A member of each club met her

Katya Bacica of RowPorty is presented to Princess Anne. A member of each club met her

As the Caledonian Mercury has reported before, St Ayles skiffs are 22ft long wooden rowing boats crewed by four oarsmen and women plus a cox. The boats were introduced by the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther in an effort to encourage a resurgence wooden boat building; it also wanted to see more activity on its local waters off the Fife coast once common in the area.

The skiffs are built from a kit, supplied by a firm in East Wemyss, which means they can be put together with a basic knowledge of DIY. Most of the club members get together to raise the money to buy the kits (some of have more than one boat). They then form community groups to build it. Group members come from all walks of life, with most having little or no experience in boatbuilding or rowing.

Further information on all aspects of the championships is available at www.skiffieworlds.com

I had a bad case of “it couldn’t have happened here ! ” this week when there was a gang-land shooting in a quiet neighbourhood, Willowbrae, on the eastern side of Arthur’s Seat, not a mile and a half from my house. It has shocked the whole country and rightly so.

The forensics tent at Willowbrae Road

The forensics tent at
Willowbrae Road

One young man died and another has been left seriously wounded after a car chase in the early hours of last Sunday morning. What is particularly shocking is that the dead man turned out to be the 25-year old son of a prominent Imam at the Central Mosque and that he had been in court just a month ago on a drugs charge. Further, the police say they are looking for between six and ten black men, thought to have been in two rival gangs from England but of Somali origin.

What exactly was going on remains a mystery. The police, at the time of writing, are not releasing many details, only that they are investigating a number of “related incidents”, including a break-in at a house in Gracemount, again not far from my home. The most likely explanation, of course, is a drug deal that has gone wrong and enforcers from the south have been sent north to discipline the Scots.

Local people reported a car crashing into railings, of shots being fired , of a police helicopter overhead, of a man being found seriously injured in the roadway and, an hour later, another man, also seriously injured, being found in a garden a few streets away. So far only one person has been arrested – on a minor charge of breach of the peace – and the police are appealing for sightings of a grey or silver hatchback car being driven erratically in early hours of that Sunday morning.

We just don’t get this sort of thing in Edinburgh. Even in Glasgow, gangland shootings are rare – the last fatal one was outside a supermarket in Robroyston in 2010 – and they tend to be domestic affairs. Indeed shootings of any sort are thankfully rare. Handguns have been banned since the Dunblane school shooting in 1996 and gun crime is at its lowest level for 30 years.

Scapa Flow, Orkney

Scapa Flow, Orkney

Another tragedy I found shocking this week was quite different. It involved two divers from the Netherlands who disappeared in the chilly waters of Scapa Flow in Orkney. They were diving down to the First World War German battleship the SMS Brummer. It’s one of 52 ships that were scuttled by the Germans in June 1919. Today seven of those ships remain on the bottom of Scapa Flow, along with the British warships the Royal Oak and the Vanguard. They attract over 4,000 diving enthusiasts every year. That itself I find surprising – for it must be an eerie experience floating down among such barnacle-encrusted reminders of human folly. But it’s also surprising that these two men, both experienced diving instructors, should get into difficulties. Then I read that, on average, two divers die every year in Scapa Flow. And still they come in their thousands.

I suppose it’s like climbing Mt Everest, the dangers just add to the sense of challenge and achievement. This week we have been celebrating that first successful climb 60 years ago. The Scottish National Library has been showing off its extensive collection of Himalayan maps, including one used by Sir Edmund Hillary. Many Scots of course are among the 4000 people who have climbed Everest since. Last week an 80 year old Japanese man made it to the top.

Elizabeth Queen of Scots

Queen of Scots

News of Hillary and Tenzing’s great achievement reached London on the morning of the Queen’s coronation, 2nd June 1953. Curiously, it was the last hurrah of the British Empire, just as the new Elizabethan age was beginning. This weekend I will have the rather strange experience of singing in a concert recreating the music from that coronation ceremony, including Parry’s triumphant anthem “I Was Glad” and Handel’s “Zadok the Priest.”

There is no better, and indeed shocking, illustration of how we are living in very different times than a new photograph of the Queen published in a book to mark the 60th anniversary. It shows her in “Monarch of the Glen” mode, in her finest Order of the Thistle robes, standing beside a river on her Balmoral estate. She looks distinctly uneasy – and we are told it was not because of the midgies ! I think she senses the uneasiness the picture represents between the natural world and our human civilisation.

Ruud van Nistelrooy Picture: Personeelsnet

During his time, he was one of the best, the very best. But like everyone in football, time eventually catches up with you. And this week, former Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy called time on his career. And what a career.

But it could have been very different.

Van Nistelrooy started his professional career in his homeland with Den Bosch before moving to Heerenveen and then on to  PSV Eindhoven, where he made his name forming a deadly striking partnership with Belgian hitman Luc Nilis.

It was during his time at the Philips Stadion that I first saw him in action. Ahead of facing Rangers in the Champions League in 1999, PSV took on Willem II on the Saturday evening.

All eyes were on the danger men Dick Advocaat’s side might have to watch out for. Van Nistelrooy was one, already the Eredivisie Golden Boot from the previous season.

But this guy was anything but impressive. For more than an hour, while PSV were coasting, van Nistelrooy did nothing. Then he produced a McCoist-like performance (as I wrote at the time), scoring a hat-trick: one from an effort smacked into the turf which bounced over the goalie, another scrambled over the line from a few inches out, and the treble completed from the penalty spot.

Afterwards, along with a few colleagues (you got to spend a week away for Champions League games back then), I waited for van Nistelrooy in the “Mixed Zone”.

He duly arrived, was asked about the prospect of facing Rangers and former manager Dick Advocaat who had sanctioned his €6.3m move from Heerenveen. It was then, almost casually – and certainly unaware of what he was about to reveal – that he dropped into the conversation that he’d rejected a move to Rangers.


It was something no one was aware of. But Ruud explained that Advocaat had wanted him to come to Glasgow, as part of the “Oranje Revolution” – but he didn’t fancy it.

In essence, van Nistelrooy saw Scotland no differently to how he viewed the Eredivisie. In Scotland, it was about the Old Firm. In Holland, it was about PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord. The same teams dominated.

And quite simply, van Nistelrooy didn’t want to be part of the same old story year on year. So Rangers purchased Michael Mols.

Van Nistelrooy wanted a move out of Holland, targeting Germany, Spain or France. And which is why two years later, having been top scorer again in 1999–2000, winning two league titles and netting 62 goals in 67 appearances, he found himself in England, at Old Trafford, after a £19m move – although not immediately.

He ruptured cruciate knee ligaments during a training session, and missed a year. But that didn’t dissuade Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who gave the Dutchman the call he awaited. And the rest, as they say, was history.

Van Nistelrooy broke a record in his first season by scoring in eight consecutive league games. He accrued 23 goals in 32 games and was voted the PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

In all, he banged in 150 goals in 219 games in his five seasons in Manchester and guided them to the title in 2002–03.

Among all the great Premier League strikers – Cole, Yorke, Shearer, Henry – van Nistelrooy had his time at the very top.

By 2006, he was surplus to requirements – or at least that was how he was made to feel by Fergie – and made another dream move, this time to Real Madrid, just the €24m changing hands this time.

Real captured back-to-back Primera Division titles, with “RvN” netting 53 goals in two seasons. But by now, injuries were taking their toll. He was rendered idle in 2008–09 and fell behind Gonzalo Higuain, the bright young one Karim Benzema – and Raúl, the only man who would head the Dutchman’s tally of 54 goals from 81 appearances in the Champions League.

If that goals-per-game ration was impressive, so too was van Nistelrooy performance at international level: 35 goals in 70 international appearances for Holland, including strikes at Euro 2004, World Cup 2006 and Euro 2008.

A year at Hamburg, and then a further year at Malaga was van Nistelrooy’s final hurrah, before he decided to retire this week aged 35.

So, in goal-scoring terms, van Nistelrooy did it all. But I do wonder if he ever regretted not accepting Advocaat’s call?

Probably not …

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments.

Bank of England <em>Picture: moppet65535</em>

Bank of England Picture: moppet65535

How many reports does it take to get the message across that the UK private pension system is “not fit for purpose”? Those of us nearing retirement age have started looking at how much we will have to live on and realising that it’s less than we had hoped for – much less. This means continuing to work into our 70s just to live, much less enjoy the never-ending holiday promised by the brochures.

It started at the end of last year with a report from the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA). The report’s author was David Pitt-Watson, chairman of Hermes Focus Asset Management, and he didn’t mince his words. He was the first to state that the sector was “not fit for purpose”, but also “hugely inefficient”, with up to 40 per cent of the money we pay into funds being swallowed by charges.

His report, Building the consensus for a People’s Pension in Britain, drew comparisons between people in the UK and other countries in Europe. It says that if someone from the UK and someone in a similar position in the Netherlands saved the same amount for their pension, the Dutch person would receive 50 per cent more income on retirement.

Pitt-Watson wants to see the whole system reformed, and he proposed a “best practice” low-cost system in which there was a limited number of large suppliers. Savers would put their money into collective schemes, cutting out the need to administer and report individual performance – something that causes your money to earn much less than you expect.

The report suggests the Pension Schemes Act 1993 should be clarified. The law should allow what are known as “collective defined contribution pensions”, similar to those in the Netherlands and Denmark which have the lowest levels of pensioner poverty in Europe. It says that political parties, employers, unions and pension funds should agree to implement a “pensions architecture” that brings the UK in line with those countries.

But Pitt-Watson is not alone. Enter Jason Riddle, co-founder of Save Our Savers. He too believes that the current system is “not fit for purpose”. But he also argues people heading for retirement are “facing a bleak future” and have every right to feel “double crossed”. The stock market crash, low interest rates and rising inflation have had a drastic impact on people’s future income.

Riddle believes that the private sector “should be stronger in voicing opinions on pensions and savings. It is being given a hard time, yet it is essential to a robust economy. Annuity rates have fallen by 45 per cent over the past 16 years, so all a typical pensioner can afford is a fixed income, guaranteeing that living standards will fall. Workers in the private sector feel so helpless.”

Riddle says that this is just one idea intended to spark a wider debate about how to improve the country’s savings rate. He plans to take his case to the Bank of England when the Monetary Policy Committee meets this Thursday, and he has invited anyone who feels aggrieved to join a protest in Threadneedle Street.

“It is now time for action,” Riddle says, “and getting politicians and the finance industry on board and to mobilise savers to protest against not being treated fairly. The private saver may not have the fearful bite of the public sector unions but the consequences of disregarding their needs will have a far more lasting and damaging effect on the economy.”

Last month, a survey from AXA – its Big Money Index” – showed that, for those nearing retirement, confidence in their financial future was low, with 35 per cent saying they don’t have enough money to retire on. To make matters worse, people under the age of 50 are cutting back on savings and borrowing more to fund their lifestyle.

But another survey from Baring Asset Management shows that 39 per cent of British adults have never made a change to the risk profile of their pension plan. The research also revealed that 17 per cent of people are unaware of the level of risk involved with investments. It agreed that more than a third of the population said they didn’t have enough money to save for retirement.

Little in the Pensions Reform Bill currently going through parliament will make any difference, since it focuses on the state system. However, it will at least this easier to understand. As Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state for work and pensions, said earlier this year: “We have to fundamentally simplify the system. And we have to make it crystal clear to young savers that it pays to save.”

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George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer <em>Picture: altogetherfool</em>

George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer Picture: altogetherfool

A report from the European Commission’s statistical office, Eurostat, shows how the economic crisis has hurt business, and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular. The report confirms what a lot of smaller firms have been saying: that the proportion of unsuccessful loan applications has risen over the past few years.

The Eurostat report says that the economic crisis has made it more difficult for SMEs to access banking credit, with the proportion of unsuccessful loan applications rising between 2007 and 2010 in 19 of the 20 European Union member states for which data are available.

In 2010, the UK ranked quite high in the league table: 21 per cent of all applications for business loans here were unsuccessful, the same as Lithuania. Only Bulgaria (36 per cent), Ireland (27 per cent), Latvia (26 per cent) and the Netherlands (23 per cent) were worse.

Eurostat surveyed 25,000 businesses across the EU, gathering information on fast-growing enterprises, the future financing needs of SMEs and perceived factors limiting business growth in the future.

“We genuinely hate to say ‘we told you so’,” said Colin Borland, head of external affairs in Scotland for the Federation of Small Businesses, “but these worrying statistics underline the case the FSB has been making since the credit crunch hit.

“It wouldn’t be fair to say that no bank is lending to any small business. But what is clear is that fewer businesses are going to their banks – and, when they do, it’s less likely they’ll get the finance they need. It’s also more likely that any finance will be less flexible, more expensive and come with more strings.”

Most of the Scottish banks have so far failed to respond to a request for their view of the report’s findings. But a Lloyds Banking Group spokesman said that it was “committed to supporting the Scottish economy and we approve eight out of ten requests for loans and overdrafts.

“Last year we provided £500 million of lending provided to Scottish small and medium sized businesses and these lending taps remain open while the absolute cost of borrowing is around half that in 2007. We are giving real support to businesses across Scotland allowing them to create new jobs and keep the economy moving.”

The report came on the day that the UK chancellor, George Osborne, told the Conservative Party conference in Manchester that the Treasury would look at ways of funnelling money directly to British companies. The idea, which has still to be spelt out in detail, will involve the government or the Bank of England issuing new kind of bond for business or underwriting loans to small businesses who are struggling to get credit now.

“Everyone knows Britain’s small firms are struggling to get credit,” the chancellor said, “and banks are weak. So as part of my determination to get the economy moving I have set the Treasury to work on ways to inject money directly into parts of the economy that need it, such as small businesses. It’s known as credit easing.

“It’s another form of monetary activism. It’s similar to the National Loan Guarantee Scheme we talked about in opposition. It could help prevent another credit crunch, provide a real boost to British business, and over time help solve that age old problem in Britain: not enough long-term investment in small business and enterprise.”

The FSB welcomed the initiative, with Colin Borland wishing it every success and adding that he looked forward to the detail. “We also welcome many of the Independent Commission on Banking recommendations [published last month], recognising we can never again see a cataclysmic banking collapse that drags the real economy into the mire. However, I am certainly unconvinced that we have put together a comprehensive plan to tackle the whole problem – especially in Scotland where two banks are dangerously close to running a duopoly.”

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Wick Herring Market <em>Picture: hayley green</em>

Wick Herring Market Picture: hayley green

By Elizabeth McQuillan

While the Scottish fisherman of 7000 BC messed about in rudimentary boats with the purpose of procuring fish and crustaceans to feed his extended family, the value of a good fish supper – and the ability to generate cash through sales – was not lost on his descendants.

Fish became a valuable commodity in medieval times, with salmon gracing the tables of the population and herring being transported to the continental market. Wherever there was a House of God, they took it upon themselves to issue fishing rights and collect their dues in fish and cash from the local fishermen.

With the growth of the population in towns and cities, so did the fishing communities and villages develop to service the needs of the hungry pescophiles. The Crown, and later governments, offered incentives to encourage the fishermen to risk their lives to deliver their catch.

Licences were granted to catch and market fish, and cash incentives were offered to build bigger and better boats. However, competition from the Norwegians in the 18th century – with their historically formidable and admirable seafaring credentials – and from the Dutch, was crushing, due to more developed and more intensive fishing methods. We were left holding a damp squid, while they hauled in the bounty.

Things did move on with the arrival of the herring boom in the early 19th century, however. The government doled out cash sums of £3 per ton to fishermen with boats greater than 60 tons and paid an extra bounty for all herring sold abroad.

During their summer feeding, and the spawning migration, the main stock of herring came from their wintering grounds near the Norwegian coast. This migratory path took them close by the Shetland and Orkney islands before they continued along the east coast of Scotland.

This meant the fish were within easy striking distance for the Scottish fishermen and their driftnets. The fishermen could use smaller and cheaper boats than the Dutch would have to, and the catch could easily be brought ashore for curing. Considered a delicacy on the continent, the oily fish had to be quickly cured to prevent them rotting.

The fisherman would agree “contracts” with the curers on shore to take their catch through the season at an agreed price.

The herring, or “silver darlings” as they were called, were indeed bringing cash into Scotland. The emergence of a rail network also meant that the catch could quickly be transported and deployed where it was required, so huge quantities could be sold. The Fishery Board was set up to oversee and inspect the cure.

Teams of three women – fisher lasses – would perform the gutting of the fish, two gutting while the other packed the fish in salt and placed them in the barrels. From fishing villages around Scotland, these girls would begin their career at 15, and travelled throughout the herring season to do their job. The inspectors would stamp a distinctive crown brand on the top of the barrel when satisfied with the quality of the gutted, packed and cured herring.

According to the Scottish Fisheries Museum, at the peak of the herring boom in 1907, 2,500,000 barrels of fish (250,000 tons) were cured and exported, the main markets being Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia. In 1913, there were over 10,000 boats involved in the Scottish herring industry.

The industry was no longer local or seasonal, since the boats followed the shoals around the coast of Britain – and along with them there followed an army of curers, merchants, general hands and the herring lasses.

With the arrival of world war one, fishermen were drafted into the Navy, and the industry began to decline. This was followed closely by world war two. By the time men were coming back to work within the fishing industry, technology meant that boats were far more efficient and able to work with fewer men on board. At this point the fishing industry changed dramatically, and the number of people involved dropped dramatically.

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