Have you been unable to read this blog recently?

Some people have been unable to load up pages of this blog in the last week or so. BT said there were problems in this area they were trying to fix.

However, my friend, the Geek, has run some tests and thinks there may be some other reason. He has now tweaked some settings and would like some feedback.

If you have been unable to view the blog recently, but can now do so, would you drop us a quick email to blog@maciver.co.uk. Thank you.

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Eggs-act cause of power cut in Ness

The power cuts in Ness today were necessary because of efforts to remove a crow’s nest from overhead power lines, says Scottish Hydro Electric.

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Spooky transient fault behind Wednesday night’s mystery power cut

The cause of the massive blackout across the north of Scotland still remains a mystery, said the Scottish government.

Ministers were told by Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) that it was caused by a “transient” fault.

Despite inspections by helicopter and staff on the ground, no visible damage or signs of a cause for the fault have been found.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman explained that the ministers were told the fault was transient – in other words, non-damaging to the lines. The system came back online by itself without any repairs or other actions being taken and with no ongoing issues.

“Such faults can be caused by foreign objects striking the lines such as debris in windy weather, lightning strike, pollution or equipment failures,” she said.

A team of engineers have inspected a 55-mile section of line between Knocknagael, south of Inverness, and Blackhillock in Moray where the fault is believed to have occurred on Wednesday night.

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Power restored all over the north of Scotland. No word on cause yet

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Over £2 million for Stornoway media and creative industries centre

Gaelic broadcaster MG Alba will receive £2.1 million of new funding, First Minister Alex Salmond announced today.

It will receive £1 million in 2014-15 and £1 million in 2015-16, the remaining two years of this spending review. It will also receive £100,000 for programming. charissa2

MG ALBA is a public body, funded by the Scottish Government, that works in partnership with BBC Scotland. Together, MG ALBA and BBC produce the channel BBC ALBA.

The First Minister also opened a new £2.5 million Creative Industries and Media Centre on the site of a former Harris Tweed mill. He also met cast members of CBBC’s Katie Morag programme, which is being redubbed in Gaelic for transmission on BBC Alba.

The centre, home to 80 staff, will house broadcaster MG Alba, BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, independent production companies, radio station Isles FM and community facilities.

Since BBC Alba became available on Freeview, its viewing figures have increased and the channel now regularly achieves a weekly reach in excess of 750,000 viewers.

Mr Salmond said: “I am delighted to open these new facilities which will be an important boost to the local economy, to the broadcasting industry and to the use of Gaelic both in the Western Isles and throughout Scotland.

“Scotland is enriched by the existence of different cultures and languages including Gaelic and this Government is committed to creating a sustainable future for the language. BBC Alba plays a key role in promoting the speaking and learning of the Gaelic language in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government has made clear its ambition to develop broadcasting and media industries in Scotland and the £2.1 million in new funding will enable MG Alba to progress and to build on its recent and impressive success.

“This new centre has a critical role to play in developing capacity and helping to acheieve that ambition.”

Maggie Cunningham, chair of MG ALBA, which operates the channel in partnership with the BBC, said: “This announcement is very good news for BBC ALBA and the creative industries in Scotland and demonstrates great faith in the channel.
“Last year was the channel’s strongest performance to date both in terms of viewer numbers and programme-making.
“This announcement by the First Minister will help us do what we do best – make high quality home-grown TV programmes for a channel that is making a significant contribution to Scottish broadcasting.”

Highland and Islands Enterprise (HIE) is contributing a £750,000 funding package for the Stornoway Centre, which is being matched by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) has also contibuted funding of £1 miilion.

MG ALBA has 31 staff providing the commissioning, scheduling, presentation and technical functions of BBC ALBA amongst other roles.

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FFS talks with Certas Energy bosses could lead way to new deal on fuel prices

Campaigners for fair fuel prices in the Western Isles today (Tue) welcomed a series of possible commitments from the main distributor in the islands. certas logo

Members of Fair Fuel Solutions (FFS) met with senior managers from Certas Energy to clarify a tentative proposal it made to the new body which has taken over the responsibilities of the Office of Fair Trading, the Competition and Markets Authority, as part of the latest inquiry into competition in the islands’ fuel market.

After the meeting, the campaign group said that progress had been made. Representatives from the authority, at a public meeting in Stornoway last week, outlined the proposal which Certas, which was previously known as GB Oils Ltd, had made as part of the ongoing probe and to possibly resolve community concerns.

That proposal was to allow:

  • guaranteed access to other fuel distributors to the Shell Street depot in Stornoway for a two-year period
  • improved competition arrangements for local fuel retailers where they would not be restricted by fixed contracts with Certas
  • new open access arrangements for other suppliers to use the Certas depot in Loch Carnan

FFS spokesman Callum Ian Macmillan said after today’s meeting with Certas that progress had been made. He said: “It was very clear from last week’s meeting that those present were not happy with what was proposed as they did not go far enough.
“That is why FFS contacted the firm directly to discuss whether the issues raised at the meeting could be addressed before FFS made its submission to the authority. Certas agreed to meet with FFS and we’re pleased at the outcome which went well on the way to answering the concerns of the meeting last week.”

He said that FFS members heard that Certas would be likely to sign up to:

  • introducing a new Platts Plus pricing system which will provide more transparency and consistency and which should deliver a fairer fuel price than available in the islands in the past
  • extending the supply arrangements for Stornoway from two years to five which is in line with Loch Carnan
  • commiting to a significant investment of around £400,000 for new tanks at Loch Carnan

“The aim of the FFS campaign was to achieve fairer, sustainable fuel prices and supply for islanders. The commitments outlined today by the main distributor go a long way to achieving these objectives. We now look forward to these commitments being confirmed by the company,” added Mr Macmillan.

He said the fuel campaign group will now be making a formal submission to the CMA by the deadline on Thursday of this week.

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Niall Iain to set off rowing across the Atlantic next month

Stornoway-based broadcaster Niall Iain Macdonald sets off at the end of May in an attempt to row solo an incredible 3,400 miles across the North Atlantic Ocean.

After twice postponing the attempt following funding difficulties, the 39-year-old will finally take the oars of a 23ft purpose-built ocean rowing boat to take an unprecedented route from New York to Stornoway which will take at least three months.

Niall Iain in Alliance Trust

Niall Iain in the Alliance Trust

If successful, Niall Iain should raise £100,000 worth of vital support for Scotland’s leading mental health charity.

Only 10 people have successfully rowed from the west to east across the North Atlantic – in fact, more people have actually walked on the moon. However, no one has ever tried the route reaching the Isle of Lewis from the Big Apple.

The solo North Atlantic row is an intense test of body and mind, with 12 hours of rowing a day, across one of the most challenging and dangerous bodies of water in the world.

Inverness-born adventurer Niall Iain is taking on the mammoth challenge to support the SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health), a charity which is close to his heart.

Having experienced depression himself, Niall Iain said: “With the help and support of family, friends and various health services, I overcame my problems. Since then I have tried to use my own experience to get people to talk more openly about mental health and show them that there is help and they are not alone.”

No stranger to demanding challenges, Niall Iain sailed as part of a crew across the Atlantic Ocean for two months and spent months on a bicycle exploring remote parts of South America.

In 2008 he successfully rowed 46 miles across the Minch between the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland. The row from New York to Stornoway is the equivalent of making that voyage 70 times.

Judith MacKinnon, director of SAMH’s ‘Get Active’ programme said: “SAMH is delighted to be the beneficiaries of Niall Iain’s unique adventure. His determination to complete this record-breaking voyage is truly inspirational.

“The NY2SY challenge will help to raise awareness of mental health as well as providing vital funds, and we wish Niall Iain every success throughout his journey.”

Katherine Garrett-Cox CBE, chief executive of main sponsor Alliance Trust, said: “We were incredibly impressed by the determination and tenacity of Niall Iain when we met him. It was a very easy decision to support such an inspiring person on this significant challenge.
“We sincerely hope this partnership is a huge success for everyone concerned, Niall Iain Macdonald, SAMH and for the fair ship Alliance Trust – may she bring Niall Iain across the North Atlantic safely and speedily.”

Niall Iain will set off from Liberty Landing Marina in New York in May when he gets the green light to begin crossing by his weather router who will be guiding him throughout his journey. He plans to be back in Stornoway by the end of August.

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Fifty years of roll-on roll-off ferries to the islands

It was on today’s date, April 15, that David MacBrayne Ltd introduced the first car ferry to the Western Isles in 1964.


MV Hebrides in 1964

The first was the MV Hebrides, on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle, and it was followed a few months later by two others, the MV Clansman and MV Columba, which operated to Mull and Skye.

All three ships were built by Hall, Russell & Company of Aberdeen at a cost of about £2 million.

They were the first ro-ro ships to serve the west coast islands. Before that vehicles and general cargo were lifted aboard using a crane and a cargo net.

In its first year MV Hebrides carried 11,000 vehicles. In 2013 78,000 were carried on the same route.

Before getting on the MV Hebrides from Uig to Tarbert, en-route to the Cabinet meeting in Stornoway, Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “I am delighted that CalMac is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its first car ferry sailing to the Western Isles. The company provides vital lifeline services to Scotland’s island communities. In this, the Year of Homecoming, CalMac will transport thousands of visitors from home and abroad coming to enjoy the Scotland’s spectacular scenery.”

David MacBrayne Ltd and the Caledonian Steam Packet Company merged in 1973 to become Caledonian MacBrayne, now CalMac Ferries Ltd.

CalMac Managing Director Martin Dorchester said: “The introduction of these ships revolutionised ferry services at the time and this anniversary shows just how far the company has come and how services have improved in 50 years.
“The evolution of car ferries serving the Western Isles has continued with the MV Hallaig, the world’s first seagoing diesel-electric hybrid ferry taking up the Sconser-Raasay run in December and the introduction of the MV Loch Seaforth on the Stornoway-Ullapool route later this year.”

And he added: “CalMac Ferries Ltd now operates the services previously delivered by David MacBrayne Ltd, but today’s ferry travellers can be assured that the desire to improve and innovate services, demonstrated in the early 1960s by the purchase of these three ships, is just as evident within the company now as it was then.”

The ferry boss promised that a major project was underway to revamp the ticketing and online booking systems to add to passengers’ experience of travelling with Caledonian MacBrayne.

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Maria Miller: Culture of conceit with no humility

An interesting analysis of Marian Miller’s stepping down.

Bill Jamieson: Culture of conceit with no humility

Maria Miller was unapologetic and defiant about the Parliamentary expenses to the end. Picture: Getty
Maria Miller was unapologetic and defiant about the Parliamentary expenses to the end. Picture: Getty
Maria Miller’s letter of resignation from the UK Cabinet is nothing more than pious nonsense, writes Bill Jamieson

Let’s skip, as Maria Miller surely did, the charm, the niceties and the flummery. Her letter of resignation to the Prime Minister yesterday was a disgrace. It did not, as might have been expected, cauterise her offence in the eyes of her colleagues and the public, or in political parlance, “draw a line under the affair”. It did something a resignation letter should never do: it made it worse.

Why should we concern ourselves with it? She has taken the advice that leapt from a million throats across the country: she has gone. Her departure should in itself be closure. Why subject her to more criticism now? Mercy is surely required, some respect for her position and her feelings, some gentle words to smooth the passage of her expenses affair into the oblivion it deserves.

I will, however, reciprocate, in the same spirit as this Cabinet minister reserved for those who sought to question her behaviour and seek some redress for her false parliamentary claims. So let’s study the letter and see what it yields by way of an explanation.

For this was not just a letter balefully absent of apology, contrition or grace. It was utterly bereft of that one quality that just might have saved her career and her reputation: humility. Humility, it seems, is for other folks.

Consider this sentence in all its evasion and sententious posturing. Mrs Miller wrote to the Prime Minister thus: “It has become clear to me that the present situation has become a distraction from the vital work this government is doing to turn our country around.”

Note the elliptical phrasing and the absence of self-involvement. Instead, there is a reference to some objective, impersonal agent: “It has become clear…”. What, did the window cleaner come? Did the car window de-mister suddenly spring to life?

There is no admission of responsibility, still less any statement of contrition or apology, either to the office she represents or the wider tax-paying public whose interests she so betrayed. In fact, there is no reference whatever to any action of her own which triggered such a public furore. You would be forgiven for not knowing there was a furore at all.

All this is hidden behind the guileful phrase, “the present situation”. Of course. It’s clear now. It was nothing she did or nothing she said that caused her to submit her resignation. It’s “the present situation”. How’s that for evasion?

And then comes this: the present situation (sic) “has become a distraction from the vital work this government is doing”.

So her behaviour was not really a problem at all, still less an offence, but “a distraction”, drawing attention from the government’s vital endeavours. There was no blame or fault. She simply got in the way of the vital work of the government and its reflection in the mirror of public view.

What pious nonsense. What effrontery to seek to pass this off as an explanation, let alone an apologia for her behaviour.

As for the literary style it reveals of the Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, it will leave many gasping in wonderment as to what competence or talent Mrs Miller could possibly have brought to the post. About the only culture on which she could fairly claim expertise on this showing would be the type discussed on Gardeners’ Question Time.

I focus on this terse and modest letter because it is, in its way, all too revealing as to why disaster befell her in the way it did. It was not just the fact of what she had done in seeking to claim her parents’ house as her second home for the purposes of a large parliamentary expenses submission, but the hauteur that came with it and her irritation and annoyance at those who dared to question the particulars of this claim.

It is worth briefly recalling the sequence of events. The conduct of Maria Miller cannot be put down to some rare, untypical moment of absentmindedness or administrative oversight. She claimed a large London property occupied by her parents was her second home and on this put in for taxpayer support of £90,718 in paying the interest. Her claim resulted in her receiving more money than that to which she was entitled. She subsequently cleared a profit of more than £1 million when the property was sold.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards ruled she should repay £45,800. But the Commons committee on standards, which has the final say on issues on disciplinary matters and on which fellow MPs constitute a majority, cut this to £5,800. In this it amply fulfilled the concerns of those who argued MPs could not be trusted with policing their own expenses.

It was then revealed that Ms Miller sent bullying e-mails to the Commissioner in an attempt to have the charges against her dropped. She also hired a lawyer to respond to requests for information and refused to hand over documents to justify her expenses claims. Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards, described her actions as “shocking”.

Moving on – and by this I mean Ms Miller was keen that the affair should move on while she remained in office – her assistant was accused of reminding a journalist from a Conservative-leaning newspaper that the minister had oversight on Press regulation in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry and that the journalist might just want to be aware of that. Hmmm.

Her apology to the Commons last week, which might have cauterised the affair, only made matters worse, lasting as it did just 32 seconds and without any hint of contrition or apology to taxpayers.

Throughout yesterday, Mary Macleod MP, her parliamentary aide, accused the media of whipping up a “witch hunt” about Ms Miller’s over-claimed expenses and could MPs please rally round and send messages of support? Ms Macleod said she thought newspapers had a “hidden agenda” in pursuing the story, after the Commons watchdog ordered Ms Miller to pay back £5,800 and apologise in the Commons. “Every allegation has been dismissed,” she said.

Truculent, defiant and in denial to the last, Mrs Miller put her Prime Minister in an impossible position. Her resignation, when it came, was delivered just hours before Prime Minister’s Question Time, when Mr Cameron stood to be torn apart by the shadow front- bench.

Her conduct has made light of his loyalty, damaged the standing of her party, discredited the role of MPs as scrutineers of parliamentary expenses, insulted taxpayers, demeaned the Commons and loaded up the armoury of Nigel Farage with more anti-Conservative ammunition than he could wish for.

That is why her letter deserves scrutiny – and why it fails so abysmally. It leaves voters with a clear impression as to how much the attitudes of some senior MPs have changed since the expenses revelations four years ago. Very little, it would seem.

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Seaman Guard Ohio men ask court to drop charges

by Stephen Spark

11 April 2014

Seafarers and counter-piracy guards from AdvanFort’s patrol vessel Seaman Guard Ohio have petitioned the Madras High Court to have all charges against them dropped.

They jointly filed a petition stating they should not have been subject to charges under the Arms Act, Essential Commodities Act, and Motor Spirit and High Speed Diesel (Regulation of Supply, Distribution and Prevention of Malpractices) Order. The case has been adjourned until 22 April.

The 35 men and an Indian fuel supplier were arrested last October after the ship strayed into Indian waters carrying what police maintain were undeclared weapons. The vessel is said to have refuelled at sea from an unregistered supplier.

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