2005-03-31

Health & Money: New Cancer vaccine?

A new cancer vaccine, which could be used for the mass immunisation of the general population against the killer disease, is under development by Scottish scientists. Current vaccines against cancer are mostly ineffective and too expensive to be given to the general population, so they are used only on people who already have some form of the disease. The new vaccines -- which could be taken in the form of a pill -- are being developed at 'The Moredun Research Institute' at Penicuik, near Edinburgh. According to early experiments, they produce a far greater immune response than traditional vaccines for certain diseases. Theoretically, there is no reason why they should not perform equally well against cancer and other conditions such as HIV, malaria and rabies, and potentially consign them to history in the same way as smallpox and diphtheria were eradicated following the discovery of vaccines in the late 19th century. Trials of a vaccine against lung cancer in sheep are due to start shortly, and human trials could start 'within a year or two', according to Mr.John March, a Moredun researcher. The scientists, who have received funding from 'Scottish Enterprise', are planning to set up a spin-off company in autumn 2005 to exploit the vast commercial potential of what they hope will be an effective treatment for cancer, and which could eventually also be used to prevent it occurring in the first place. Mr.March, who will give a lecture about his work at 'The Society for General Microbiology Conference' in Edinburgh on Tuesday, said the new type of vaccine used a bacterial virus. The virus does no harm to humans but acts as a 'container' to deliver DNA of cancerous cells or dangerous viruses into the human body. According to the Moredun research, this is far more likely to trigger a response by the immune system, which often fails to attack a cancer because it is made up of cells from the patient's body. As well as being more effective in stimulating the immune system than traditional vaccines, which have changed little since they were invented by the French scientist Mr.Louis Pasteur, the viruses also mass produce themselves, which means they would be cheap to make, allowing for the vaccination of the general population. And as the virus container protects the vaccine, it can be administered in pill form rather than as an injection. Mr.March said:
Dr.John March 'There are cancer vaccines that have been tested, but they don't work very well because it is difficult to produce the actual cancer material. But all we need is the DNA. We put it in a bacterial virus and it will then replicate itself. 'Potentially, it gives us the opportunity to make cancer vaccines relatively cheaply and, hopefully, cancer vaccines that would work a lot better'.
If tests on mice and sheep over the next few weeks prove successful, Mr.March will seek to obtain permission from the authorities to test the vaccine on humans.
'We could trial it within a year or two', he said.
'If people have cancer and there's nothing much else you can do, you would get permission to try an experimental vaccine.
'If they are going to die anyway, why not? 'At the moment, people aren't vaccinating against cancers to prevent them.
'People are only vaccinating against cancer after someone has got it -- it's like "closing the stable door after the horse has bolted". 'If we can vaccinate in advance, it will hopefully reduce the incidence of cancer even appearing.
'Most of the vaccines that are currently used are based upon the same principle Pasteur used. 'For vaccines to take us forward into the next century, we do need a leap forward in technology. 'I would hope this technology we've been developing is going to help us with that, but it is still relatively early days'.
Professor Mr.Peter Stern, the head of Cancer Research UK's immunology group at 'The Paterson Institute of Cancer Research' in Manchester, said Mr.March's type of vaccine could lead to a new way to treat cancer, but he thought human trials were several years away. He said:
'He is making the point that we might be able to harness the immune response, using such vaccines to have a therapeutic cancer effect. 'There's no doubt that is something many of us feel is a really useful way to develop treatments in the future.
'This vaccine is one of a lot of possibilities and he is at a very early stage. 'It's one thing to say this might work; it's another thing to show that it has worked. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating". 'The evidence that we can manipulate the immune response in order to potentially treat cancer is accumulating all the time'. 'I think it's extremely unlikely that a global vaccine against lung cancer (in particular) could be developed in the near future.
'But you cannot say it wouldn't be possible if we understood enough about the mechanisms that lead to these kinds of cancers'.
LIFESPAN BOOST Scientists have made a major breakthrough in breast cancer research which could potentially increase the lifespan of patients by 30 per cent. Ms.Judith Harmey, of 'The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland', said researchers had taken a successful step with the development of novel protein capable of blocking the breast cancer growth factor.
'It has been shown in a pre-clinical model that it can inhibit breast tumour growth, increase survival by 30 per cent and reduce secondary growths in bones'.
'The secondary growth in bone is what kills the majority of people'.
The study showed that the new protein blocked the insulin-like growth factor which is known to play a 'key' role in the development of many cancers. The scientists said it would be of value in treating both breast and prostate cancers in the future. Ms.Harmey said:
' It has worked better than ever expected'
She added that there was a considerable amount of work to be done, and it would be three or four years before the research could potentially be used on people with breast cancer. The six-year research project has found that the protein effectively starves the tumour by killing the blood vessels in the growth -- stopping the supply of oxygen and nutrients.
'This is a targeted approach, which tends away from using "Chemotherapy" as it kills normal cells as well as tumour cells', said Ms.Harmey.
'The targeted one hits the tumour only'.
She said this approach was less intrusive, less toxic and more specific than 'Chemotherapy'. 'Scots in cancer vaccine breakthrough', Ian Johnston, The Scotsman 2005-03-31, Th.

Life Story of Folk Hero & Scottish Criminal To Be Made Into Movie

'GENTLE Johnny' Ramensky was 'The Prince of "Petermen"', a safe-blower without peer and wartime commando cracksman, whose exploits turned him into a folk hero. Now, 100 years after his birth, the story of Scotland's most famous -- rather than infamous -- safe-breaker seems set to be made into a film. Mr.Johnny Ramensky became that rare breed -- a criminal much beloved by the public -- a compulsive and athletic burglar who eschewed violence, escaped from the penal stronghold of Peterhead prison no fewer than five times, and was hailed as a 'War Hero' after he was parachuted behind enemy lines to steal vital documents. His reputation was celebrated in tale and song, but ultimately his story is a pathetic one: he was an arch-recidivist, and neither his skills nor reputation prevented him from spending more than 40 of his 67 years in prison, where he eventually died. Mr.Ramensky's wartime exploits formed the basis of the 1958 film 'The Safecracker', starring Mr.Ray Milland. Now Aberdeen filmmaker Mr.Lee Hutcheon, whose portrait of local gang life 'In a Man's World' won best feature-length drama category at 'The New York Independent Film Festival', is looking for funding to put the Ramensky story on screen. He does so with what one might call 'inside experience', in that he wrote much of what he describes as 'a realistic, down-to-earth and gritty script' during an eight-week stint he himself served in jail. A son of Lanarkshire's immigrant Lithuanian coal mining community, Mr.Ramensky was born in the Lanarkshire village of Glenboig. He left school at 14 to follow his father, who died when he was a child, down the mines where, among other things, he learned to work with explosives. After the family moved to Glasgow's Gorbals in a fruitless attempt to find work during 'The Depression', Mr.Ramensky began burgling his way out of unemployment and was eventually sent to Polmont Borstal, near Falkirk, where a harsh regime toughened him up and gave him an appetite for physical fitness training which would serve him well in his often acrobatic entrances and exits in and out of supposedly secure premises. He became an expert 'Peterman' ('peter' being underworld slang for a safe), but while a daring and agile burglar, he was by no means immune to arrest. The first of his celebrated escapes from Peterhead was in 1934, after 'The Authorities' refused to grant him 'Parole' to attend the funeral of his first wife, Daisy. Picking the lock of the prison hospital, where he had been committed due to 'depression', he crossed the courtyard and scaled the prison gate. He was caught, however, at Ellon bridge, just 24_km along the 270_km route back to Glasgow. On release, he continued his safe-breaking career and by the time 'The Second World War' broke out, he was doing time yet again in Peterhead, where, in 1942, he received a mysterious visitor from 'The War Office' and was taken under military escort to 'Whitehall' to discuss the niceties of safe-blowing. On finishing his sentence two months later, he was whisked off to Commando Training Camp where, among other things, he was supplied with a selection of specially requisitioned safes, all of which he cheerfully blew. Much of his wartime activities remain shrouded in secrecy, but, as a sergeant in a special unit, he parachuted behind enemy lines to crack the safes of high-ranking German officers and retrieve vital documents such as codebooks and plans. In one much-celebrated episode, after the Allied liberation of Rome, he blew 14 safes in one day. His wartime exploits won him 'The Military Medal' -- which Mr.Hutcheon believes he never accepted -- and a pardon for his crimes, but he clearly found post-war life too dull and was soon back at his old trade, and by 1952 back in Peterhead. This time he fooled the guards by leaving a dummy in his bed and went over the wall again -- on this occasion, the story goes, with his memoirs tucked under his shirt. 'The Errol Flynn of Peterhead', as the press dubbed him, was soon caught again, however, a matter of miles from the prison, while a less-than-sympathetic 'Official Secrets Act' ultimately prevented the publication of his memoirs. By this time his exploits were earning him fan mail, including at least one offer of marriage, which he politely declined. Despite this popularity, in 1955, following his marriage to a Glasgow widow, Ms.Lily Mulholland, he was given a ten-year sentence, but 1958 proved his 'annus mirabilis', as the blue-eyed, boyish-looking 'con' broke out of Peterhead three times, on the third occasion vanishing for ten days before he was found near the River Don in Aberdeen. As he left police headquarters in Aberdeen for the van journey back to Peterhead, a cheering crowd of some 200 people -- mainly women -- gathered to see him off. Later, on his fifth and final escape from Peterhead, a baffled Scottish Home Department was forced to admit that it was not known whether the elusive Mr.Ramensky was inside or outside the jail. In 1967, after a bank blast in Rutherglen blew two patrolling constables on their backs, the incorrigible Mr.Ramensky was in the dock again, where he pled guilty to blowing the safe but vehemently refused to plead guilty to assaulting the two policemen during arrest. He had never assaulted anyone in his life, he protested, and only the safe-blowing charge stuck. By this time, however, he was well into his sixties, and a sad shadow of his old athletic self, which became only too evident in 1970 when he had a serious fall from the roof of Stirling county buildings while trying to escape from another court appearance. The only truly effective jailbreak Mr.Ramensky ever made was in 1972-11, when he died in Perth Royal Infirmary following a stroke while in Perth Prison. While they cursed him when his escapes dragged them out in all weathers, the police developed a certain affection for 'Gentle Johnny'. Back in 1962, Detective Superintendent Mr.Robert Colquhoun recalled that:
'Like most policemen who have come into contact with Mr.Ramensky, I find him an engaging character, the kind of man who, applying his brain to another, more acceptable type of occupation, could probably have made good'.
Mr.Colquhoun was speaking after his retirement -- just before which he had received a message of goodwill from Johnny himself, who was once again a guest of Her Majesty and had heard that the policeman was ill.
The safe-breaker wished the detective a speedy recovery and suggested he had been working too hard in pursuing him. Widespread public sympathy with the safe-breaker was reflected in at least two songs, one of them, 'Ramensky Must Go Free', written by the actor Mr.Roddy Mcmillan, while 'The Ballad of Johnny Ramensky', written to the tune of the old song 'Jamie Foyers', was published by the late MP and folk song collector Mr.Norman Buchan in the pages of this newspaper in 1959:
Far distant, far distant, in Peterheid jail, Lies Johnny Ramensky, his escape bid did fail, Iron bars and red granite keep him frae the sun, An' Johnny Ramensky nae freedom has won ...
'It is undoubted true', wrote Mr.Buchan at the time, 'that almost all people, regardless of the rights and wrongs of his case, felt some sympathy for the man who detested prison so strongly that he broke out of Scotland's strongest jail five times'.
Mr.Hutcheon, too, has been captivated by the Ramensky legend, although he wasn't born when Mr.Ramensky died:
'As I was growing up in Aberdeen, there were all sorts of stories about his exploits', he says,
'And from a filmmaker's "point of view" it's a wonderful tale.
'He was eventually caged and guarded by no fewer than six wardens, 24 hours a day.
'He makes "The Birdman of Alcatraz" look like "The Budgieman of Alcatraz"'.
Mr.Hutcheon sees actor Mr.Peter Mullan as ideal for the title role, and hopes to discuss possible funding for the project with 'Scottish Screen'.
And he makes 'no bones' about the fact that his script for the proposed film bears a certain stamp of authenticity, as he wrote much of it during the eight-week sentence he served in Aberdeen's Craiginches Prison for assault, following his involvement in what he calls 'a silly street brawl'.
'So I didn't have to search very far for inspiration'.
Mr.Hutcheon recalls ruefully that he was stuck in Craiginches on the night that 'In a Man's World' won its award in New York, USA, having fought off 450 competitors. That film was made on a negligible budget, without any assistance from 'Scottish Screen'.
Now he hopes that the prestige of the award will help attract funding for the Ramensky project.
'I've written it to be quite realistic and gritty, because that's the nature of where he came from.
'There's a lot of emotion in it, and humour.
'Basically, he became a folk hero, and I'll express it in that way'.
One of Mr.Hutcheon's sources -- an explosives expert who had been a witness at some of Mr.Ramensky's trials -- was rather dismissive of the safe-blower's professional reputation.
'He seemed to think he was messy, the way he went about his work', says Mr.Hutcheon.
Others thought otherwise. The late Mr.Paddy Meehan, the safe-cracker wrongfully convicted of murder and pardoned after serving seven years, once told a 'Scotsman' journalist that he and Mr.Ramensky had done a job together on what was then a state-of-the-art safe. Johnny, said Mr.Meehan, didn't want to use too much explosive, because he didn't want to unduly damage the safe.
'He was the sort of thief who wanted to tidy up after he'd blown the "peter"', he recalled.
So, however the life of Mr.Ramensky emerges on screen, it's unlikely to have scenes like that famous one in 'The Italian Job', with Mr.Michael Caine protesting at an overenthusiastic safe-cracker:
'You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off..'.
'The great escaper', Jim Gilchrist, 2005-03-31, Th

New Anti-Social Behaviour Act Initiatives

Late-night 'hit squads' will confiscate stereos from noisy neighbours in the middle of the night and police will issue on-the-spot fines as part of a new 'blitz' on anti-social behaviour. Edinburgh City yesterday boasted it would be able to 'stamp out' loud noise -- whether from blaring hi-fis or late-night DIY -- within half an hour of being notified, whatever the time of night. It has created two teams of eight officers who will work between 17:15 and 04:00. Anyone caught breaking the tough new rules will be handed an on-the-spot fine of 100_GBP. If they refuse to pay, they can be prosecuted and would face a 1_000_GBP maximum fine. Offenders could also have their stereo, radio or musical instrument seized. Meanwhile, Tayside Police yesterday opened another front in the war against anti-social behaviour, saying they would start handing out fixed-penalty notices to individuals who commit offences such as being Drunk & Incapable, and Breach Of The Peace. Both schemes have been set up under the terms of 'The Anti-social Behaviour Act 2004'. Edinburgh City leaders said yesterday the new powers being introduced in the capital would be used against 'inconsiderate and anti-social' people who caused serious noise disturbances. Using specialist equipment to measure noise levels from the complainer's address, the environmental health officers can take action against excessive noise, which could be in the form of music, a barking dog, washing machines or DIY. The wardens have the power to act even if the offence is taking place in a garden or communal area, but can be heard inside another dwelling. Offenders will be given a ten-minute warning to cut out the noise. If it persists, a fine will be handed out. Edinburgh City leader Mr.Donald Anderson said:
'As a council we are committed to tackling anti-social behaviour on all fronts. 'The night service will greatly help those in the city who are suffering with noisy neighbours at the time they need it most -- through the night. 'Residents who call the special number can expect a response from the council environmental health team and/or the police within 30 minutes. 'We are hopeful that this unique service will go a long way towards cutting down on specific problems of domestic noise and on anti-social behaviour in general'.
Many people's quality of life will be significantly improved by the new noise-reduction strategy, according to The Acting Assitant Chief Constable of Lothian & Borders' police Mr.Charles Michie who said:
'The new service from City of Edinburgh Council in partnership with Lothian & Borders Police will make a major contribution to improve the quality of life of residents who are plagued by excessive and unacceptable levels of noise caused by inconsiderate and anti-social neighbours. 'What might be reasonable at 15:00 would be completely unreasonable at night -- for example, people getting work done on their house, hammering away at night, or letting their dogs bark either inside the house or out in the garden'. 'If these problems can't be resolved amicably then the ultimate sanction of fixed-penalty notices and equipment seizure comes into play. 'The officers will be taking into account any attempts people may have made to minimise the noise. It could be that people are being reasonable, but the fabric of the building creates excessive noise'.
Deputy Environment & Rural Development minister Mr.Lewis Macdonald added that the measures would send a clear message to noisy neighbours. He said: 'Persistently noisy neighbours should be put on notice that we are determined to stand up to anti-social behaviour and tough action will be taken against them'. Meanwhile, the Chief Constable of Tayside Mr.John Vine, said the new fines in his force's area would help officers crack down on anti-social behaviour. Anyone issued with a penalty notice will have to pay a 40_GBP fine within 28 days or request a court hearing. If they pay the fine they will not face a possible criminal conviction.
'This will offer police officers a new, effective, alternative means of dealing with low-level anti-social behaviour and will deliver swift, simple and effective justice that also carries a deterrent effect', Mr.Vine said. 'It will reduce significantly the amount of time that police officers spend completing paperwork and attending court, while reducing the burden on the courts. 'This will increase the amount of time officers spend on the street dealing with more serious crime and free the courts to deal with more serious offending'.
Deputy Justice Minister Mr.Hugh Henry added:
'In recent weeks we have seen the first closure orders being granted, the dispersal power being used successfully in Aberdeen for the first time, and police forces gaining the power to seize the vehicles from "boy racers". 'The new powers are an important additional tool, which we expect to reduce some of the burden on the courts of dealing with minor cases. 'It means the police in Tayside can now issue a "Fixed-Penalty Notice" to anyone "Drunk & Incapable" in a public place, urinating in public or continuing to play loud music after being asked to stop'.
The project will run for a year before being evaluated. SLEEPLESS NIGHTS ARE HELL Persistent late-night noise 'pollution' is making life hell for one 27-year-old living in the Polwarth area of Edinburgh with his 'partner'. The home-owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said:
'My flat is in a block where there are others run by a housing association.
'One flat is causing the rest of us problems, not least with the strange comings and goings that take place late at night or in the early morning.
'It would not be surprising if drugs were involved. 'The girl who lives there has frequent late-night fights with her "boyfriend" which culminated recently in a television being thrown on to the stairwell.
'It made a loud explosion and there has also been blood on the stairs. 'We end up calling the police a couple of times each week and although things quieten down, rows and loud music usually start again the next night.
'I hope the introduction of "noise busters" will help "tackle" such people but it is doubtful how successful they might be at getting fines from "offenders".
'The problem has got so bad my "partner" now sometimes stays at her mother's to get a good sleep'.
'Who you gonna call, neighbour? ', Edward Black, the Scotsman, 2005-03-31, Th

Money & Stats: Families in UK getting Poorer

British households are growing poorer for the first time since 'The 1991 Recession' as The Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr.Gordon Brown's tax rises take their toll on families' wealth, government new figures have revealed. Despite the 'booming' economy, the nett income of the average family in Britain was lower in 2004/2004 than it was a year earlier. The report is a body blow for The Chancellor, who is tomorrow marking the end of his self-imposed exile from 'The New Labour Party's' election campaign by laying out his benefit to 'hard-working families'. Alan Johnson MP The Secretary of State for Works & Pensions Mr.Alan Johnson, yesterday published the results of the annual survey asking 25_000 households whether they are better- or worse -off. In previous reports, a strong economy had led to rising wages and a corresponding increase in family wealth. But in 2003/2004 -- the year covered by the report -- the nation's families were hit by a double tax 'whammy': The Chancellor's increase of 1 per cent on 'National Insurance Contributions' and nationwide 'Council Tax' rises which averaged 7 per cent. The tax rises outstripped the average 4.4 per cent pay rise over the year -- resulting in a drop in household income of a small -- but politically significant -- decrease of 0.2 per cent. The figures were seized on by 'The Conservative & Unionist Party' yesterday, as proof that The Chancellor's taxes are taking away the prosperity he claims to have created. The Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary Mr.David Willetts said:
David Willetts MP 'This is a devastating evaluation of what [New] Labour have done to hard-working families', 'No-one should be in any doubt that, if [New] Labour were to win the coming [General] Election, tax rises would bite into family incomes all over again'.
The figures -- which 'The Conservative & Unionist Party' believes will torpedo 'The New Labour Party's' economy theme -- were buried in the small print of 'The Department of Works & Pensions' (DWP) statistical publications and would have gone unnoticed had it not been for 'The Institute of Fiscal Studies' (IFS). The IFS 'think-tank' -- used as an independent arbitrator by all political parties -- said that the decline in household income was the first since the recession of 1991/1992. It is highly unusual for wealth to drop during an economic boom. The IFS noted that much of the extra money raised in tax was sent towards poorer families in the form of tax credits 'while the better-off were hit by rises in tax, national insurance and council tax'. But even medium-income households had seen their income rise by only 0.5 per cent -- 'much smaller than those seen in previous years'. Even the poorest in Britain were hit by complications in the tax credit system, said The IFS. Also, more children are living in families where no adult works -- meaning the tax credit system could not help them. This conspired to see child poverty drop by only 3 per cent to 3.5_million across the UK over the year -- a far smaller drop than commentators had expected. This means that 'The New Labour Party' will now miss its own short-term targets on child poverty. Inequality was, however, reduced; the richest 12_million Britons saw their income fall by 1 per cent, while it rose by 1 per cent in the poorest 12_million. 'The Treasury' went on the counter-offensive yesterday -- accusing The IFS of looking at the wrong set of figures, and saying that British families have grown poorer only if the self-employed are included. People who work for themselves, it said, 'experienced considerable pressure on profits during the world slowdown after 2002/2003' -- and if they were not counted, households would be 7_GBP/week better off. Even by The IFS figures, it said, households were only 1_GBP/week poorer. The household income figures are potentially devastating for 'New Labour', as it has fitted its entire general election campaign around how The Chancellors's policies have improved life for 'hard-working families'. Until now, economic evidence seemed to back up this claim -- with Britain enjoying a national pay rise of 4.4 per cent over the year, while inflation remained low, at 1.6 per cent.
But only the household income survey measures the effect on the average British family after taxes are taken into account. This will give 'The Conservative & Unionist' opposition ammunition to argue that the average British family is growing poorer under a 'New Labour Party' Government.
'New Labour Party' aides believe the statistics will not hurt them in the General Election campaign -- and that they'll come out on top if 'The Conservative & Unionist Party' take the fight to The Chancellor. POVERTY IN SCOTLAND DECLINING UNDER NEW LABOUR The number of Scottish children living in poverty in Scotland has more than halved since 'The Scottish New Labour Party' came to power, it emerged yesterday. There have also been significant reductions in poverty figures for adults and pensioners, statistics released by 'The Scottish Executive' show. However, the figures for relative poverty -- people's standard of living compared with the average -- which 'Scottish New Labour' has said it will use as a measure of its anti-poverty policies, are not as impressive. In 1996/1997, the year that 'Scottish New Labour' was elected -- and against which progress is measured, 370_000 children in Scotland, or 33 per cent, were living in low-income households. In absolute terms, this fell to 160_000, or 15 per cent, by 2004/2004. Over the same period, the number of pensioners living in poverty in Scotland has plunged from 260_000 to 70_000. 'The Scottish National Party' (SNP) said the figures still fell short of 'The Scottish New Labour Party's' targets in its 2003 Holyrood manifesto, claiming this showed New 'Labour's failure to tackle Scotland's poverty shame'. 'UK families 'getting poorer' as Brown's tax rises start to bite', Fraser Nelson/ Peter Macmahon, The Scotsman, 2005-03-31, Th

2005-03-27

Intolerance & Stats: Return of Berlin Wall Survey

Nearly a quarter of western Germans and 12 per cent of easterners want the Berlin Wall back -- more than 15 years after the fall of the barrier that split Germany during The Cold War, according to a survey. The results of the poll, published on Saturday 2005-03-26, reflected die-hard animosities over high re-unification costs lowering western standards of living and economic turmoil in the east. The survey of 2_000 Germans by 'The Free University of Berlin' and pollsters 'Forsa' found 24 per cent of those living in western Germany want The Wall back -- double the eastern level. In Berlin itself, 11 per cent of westerners and 8 per cent of easterners said 'yes' when asked:
'Would it be better if the Wall between East and West were still standing?'.
The Berlin Wall was breached on1989-11-09, paving the way for the unification of Communist East Germany with the West on 1990-10-03. But thousands of millions of Euros spent rebuilding the east have failed to prop up the depressed region, which is plagued by high unemployment and a shrinking population. The poll also found that 47 per cent of the easterners agree with the statement that The West 'acquired the east like a colony', while 58 per cent of the westerners back the statement that 'easterners tend to wallow in self-pity'. 'Many Germans want Berlin Wall back', Reuters, Berlin, 2005-03-26, Sa 13:08 GMT

Money: Public Private Partnership Excess or Success?

Scotland's controversial Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects will have cost taxpayers 8_000_million_GBP by 2018/2019, according to 'The Scottish Executive's' own figures. Tom Mccabe MSP The MSP for Finance, Mr.Tom Mccabe, has released information showing that the burden on the taxpayers of the PPP schemes has risen from just 13.8_million_GBP in 1997/1998 and will eventually reach a projected 555_million_GBP annually by 2018/2019. Last night 2005-03-25, 'The Scottish National Party' (SNP) claimed that the real figure will be more than 13_000_million_GBP, and condemned 'The Scottish Executive' for allowing the banks to make 'excessive' profits out of the projects. But a spokesman for 'The Scottish Executive' said that PPP had delivered a massive programme of modernisation of schools, colleges, hospitals, and water infrastructure for Scotland over a short period of time. The figures The Finance MSP gave to MSPs show that, from a slow start in the first years of The New Labour Party government (when PPP emerged from 'The Private Finance Initiative' [PFI]), the amount spent on these programmes -- which usually run for 20 or 25 years -- increased rapidly. By 2000/2001 it was 108.9_million_GBP/year. From this coming 2005-04, it is projected to be 413.5_million_GBP, and it rises steadily over the next 13 years to the projected 555_million_GBP. Mr.Stewart Stevenson, the SNP MSP who uncovered the figures in a parliamentary answer from The Finance MSP, last night 2005-03-25 said there would be a huge burden placed on future generations. Mr.Stevenson claimed last night that the actual sum would be higher. He said:
Stewart Stevenson MSP 'These figures relate only to projects up to 2004.
'Since then there have been a number of new schemes begun and -- by my calculations -- it could end up with a total bill of thirteen point eight "billion" pounds -- which is a huge burden on the taxpayers of today and tomorrow'.
Mr.Stevenson, the SNP MSP for 'Banff & Buchan' said that his figures would put the annual burden at 1_257_million_GBP by 2018-19, adding:
'This is a substantial commitment which this "Executive" has made -- but which "binds the hands" of future generations of politicians of whatever political colour. 'This is not about denying private companies profit. 'The logic that you can get everything built by The State does not wash. 'But the structure of PFI deals delivers unreasonable profits to people like the banks. 'And whatever "The Executive" may say, the ultimate risk is still with The State; what happens if a firm running a school or a hospital "goes bust"? '"The Executive" will not let them close, that is for sure. 'Instead of paying silly interest rates -- way above what the rate the government itself could get -- we could be getting much more for our money. 'We should be making this money work harder for us, helping to build up our infrastructure -- rather than helping to build up excessive profits'.
The MSP said that the SNP's plan for a 'Scottish Trust for Public Investment' (STPI), where the finances would be pooled and so lower interest rates could be negotiated, was a better scheme for the taxpayers. But last night 'The Scottish Executive' 'hit back' emphatically, citing the rebuilding of most schools in Glasgow since 1998 as an example of the scale of work which would not have happened without PPP. The Finance MSP's spokesman said that -- across Scotland -- PPP already had delivered 3 major new hospitals -- including the new 184_million_GBP Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh -- 80 or so new or refurbished schools, 3 further education colleges, 9 water & sewerage schemes, and a road. The spokesman said that one of the main sectors in which PPP is active is in schools where some 300 new or refurbished schools will be provided by 2009. This represented the largest single investment ever made in school buildings, with long-term maintenance locked in to the contracts and project funding. He added:
'The benefits of PPP are well recognised. 'They deliver large capital projects of quality and they deliver them quickly with the risk being borne by the private sector -- not the public sector. 'The way PPP works is similar to a mortgage -- but with the maintenance costs built in. 'Of course, you will pay more than you would with cash, but the public also gets a well-maintained building at the end of the period. 'It is a moot point whether it would be maintained as well if it were not under a PPP scheme'.
'Minister defends the �8bn bill for PPP programme', PETER MACMAHON, The Scotsman, 2005-03-26, Sa Links: Scottish Executive PFI Unit Trades Union Congress Unison Scotland PFI campaign The PFI.net Partnerships UK PFI OGC (gov)

2005-03-25

M74 Extension Goes Ahead

The MSP for Transport, Mr.Nicol Stephen has today 2005-03-25, approved the building of the long-delayed 500_million_GBP extension to the M74 to the south of Glasgow, saying it would bring clear economic benefits. Known as 'the road to nowhere', the 8_km, six-lane 'missing link' motorway will be built between the Fullarton Road and Kingston junctions.
However, in his report, published just yesterday -- 2005-03-24, The Local Inquiry Reporter, Mr.Richard Hickman warned that for transport, environmental, business and community reasons, the project was
'Very likely to have very serious undesirable results. 'The economic and traffic benefits of the project arising from the transfer of future jobs from other parts of Scotland would be more limited, more uncertain and, in the case of congestion benefits, probably ephemeral. 'It is therefore concluded that the public benefits of the proposal would be insufficient to outweigh the considerable disadvantages'.
The Reporter also questioned The Scottish Executive's transport policy of meeting its target of 70 per cent of spending on public transport by 2006.
But The MSP for Transport, of 'The Scottish Liberal Democrat Party' (who has been under pressure from Scottish New Labour MSPs to back the project), said that -- after studying the findings -- he had taken the opposite view to that of The Reporter, and given the go-ahead for the motorway, he said:
Nicol Stephen MSP 'This project is a "key" element in completing the central Scotland motorway network. This will bring much-needed economic, social and safety benefits'.
He predicted the motorway link would improve the quality of life for local communities, reduce congestion on the M8 and local roads, and reduce road injury accidents by up to 50 a year by removing traffic from local roads. He added:
'This project will help create around 20_000 jobs in the Glasgow and Clyde Valley area'.
The MSP for Transport denied that the motorway was being built as part of a deal in which the Borders rail link was delivered to a Scottish Liberal Democrat heartland, and the motorway helped Scottish New Labour in the West of Scotland. He said only:
'We reached this decision in a fair and open way. 'My role as transport minister is to try to deliver transport improvements across all of Scotland'.
The MSP for Transport said that 70 per cent of the transport budget up to 2007 will go on public transport, but that the partnership agreement between the two coalition parties had contained a promise to build the M74 link. Those encouraged by the announcement lodged their agreement: Mr.Iain Mcmillan, The Director of 'CBI Scotland', said:
Iain Mcmillan 'We have not looked closely at The Reporter's reasoning, but we find it almost impossible to believe that The Reporter could have reached such a judgment. 'The need for this new vital artery is beyond doubt'.
Mr.Alan Wilson, The Chief Executive of 'The Scottish Council for Development and Industry', said M8 congestion was putting Scottish companies at a serious disadvantage.
'The "road to nowhere" will now become a "route to success"', he said. 'The west of Scotland is "the engine room" of the Scottish economy, and it needs "first-class infrastructure"'.
Mr.Charlie Gordon, the Leader of Glasgow City Council, said the link would make a huge difference to the south side and east end of the city.
Charlie Gordon 'Not only will it remove traffic from busy local roads, but it will open up land for redevelopment and create opportunities for up to 20_000 new jobs in the vicinity of the "five-mile" extension. 'It will also improve access to Glasgow Airport'.
Ms.Sue Nicholson, the head of campaigns for 'The RAC Foundation', also welcomed the decision. She said:
Sue Nicholson 'We have prevaricated over the future for this road for a decade or more. 'Now it is time to move on with it'.
Ms.Liz Cameron, The Director of 'The Scottish Chambers of Commerce', said the announcement was "great news" for business in the west of Scotland.
Liz Cameron 'We want to see similar progress made with other unfinished routes -- including the M80, with the M8 upgraded to motorway status for its entire length', she said.
Those discouraged by the announcement lodged their disagreement Mr.Duncan Mclaren, Chief Executive of 'Friends of the Earth' said:
'This represents probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by 'The Scottish Executive'. 'Those who argued for sustainable alternatives have won the arguments -- and been "stabbed in the back" by Scottish ministers. 'We will now be exploring every legal avenue, including the use of judicial review, to halt this motorway. 'While [Scottish New] Labour must carry the lion's share of the blame for this decision, there are now serious doubts about whether The [Scottish] Liberal Democrats can be trusted on environment issues again'.
'The Scottish Green Party's' transport spokesman, Mr.Chris Ballance, said the announcement was
Chris Ballance MSP 'Bad news for Glasgow'. 'We now have evidence that the M74 extension will be a complete waste of taxpayers' money and will not do what ministers claim it will achieve. 'Yet still The [Scottish] Executive intend to "steamroller" ahead with it'.
Mr.Patrick Harvie, a Green Party MSP, predicted the decision would lead to a 'campaign of direct action'.
Patrick Harvie MSP
'The whole process has been a complete "sham". 'This decision is going to result in real anger in Glasgow -- and a significant amount of protests'.
Mr.Will Jess, who chairs 'JAM74', a coalition of community activists and environmental groups, said:
'We are definitely going to be seeking a judicial review of this decision, and if it takes "direct action" to hold up the process, we are certainly up for it'.
Ms.Rosie Kane, 'The Scottish Socialist Party' MSP and veteran 'anti-road protester', said:
Rosie kane MSP 'The Scottish Executive has "driven a coach and horses" through the whole concept of independent inquiries. 'The "M74 campaigners" will now be "looking at" a judicial review -- and we warn The Scottish Executive that their contempt for the democratic process will "cost them dearly"'.
'M74 link driven past green lobby', PETER MACMAHON & CHRIS McAULEY, The Scotsman, 2005-03-25, Fr

2005-03-24

Science: Getting Children to Behave

Trying to tame a 'toddler' in the midst of a 'tantrum' can seem an impossible task. Take a meal-time 'strop', or an over-tired child determined not to go to bed -- the 'battles' are 'never ending'. But when Ms.Jo Frost stormed onto our TV screens last summer as 'Supernanny', she brought hope to parents nationwide that these battles can be won. After 15 years' experience, the 34-year-old has perfected her firm-but-fair approach to child-rearing and claims to be able to bring harmony to any household, no matter how disruptive. According to Ms.Frost, there is no such thing as a 'bad' child; they merely live up to the expectations that parents set. Here, she outlines her top-ten tips on how to get the best from your children.

1 Praise and Rewards:

While Ms.Frost has gained a reputation as a somewhat strict and severe character, she believes the most important thing you can do for a child is to praise them.

'Praise and discipline should be given out in equal measure.

'Just as you discipline a child to teach them the consequences of bad behaviour, they must be given love and affection when they behave well.

'Such praise should come immediately afterwards so they can connect the two.

'Praise shouldn't be given out just because they do what you ask of them', she says.

'Look out for tasks they undertake on their own for displays of generosity or kindness.'

Ms.Frost also advises giving out a small reward to act as another motivating force, but warns against using food as an incentive.

'A reward doesn't necessarily need to be sweets', she says.

'A lot of people can give rewards through food thus establishing a link between emotion and food.

'This can store up trouble for later on.'

2 Consistency:
Ms.Frost says that it is crucial for parents to present a united front.
'It is important that mums and dads are consistent and read from the same page, so there is no room for a child to play one off the other', she says.

'There is a tendency to discipline and create rules on an ad-hoc basis, but parents have to make the time to sit down and go through some ground rules.'

3 Routine:
Ms.Frost is a 'stickler' for the schedule she pins firmly to the 'fridge. Ms.Frost expands on this in her book, suggesting you should design a timetable that allows you to juggle everyone's needs -- you're own as well as those of your child. She identifies mealtimes and bedtime as the cornerstones of this schedule, and as 'Draconian' as this might appear, it does seem to work;

'Routine builds consistency into family life and provides the secure and stable framework in which a child likes to operate.

'Small children function best when things are the same every day', she says.

'It ensures that they are put to bed when they are tired which sets them up for the rest of the day.

'Children have their own "body clocks", so a routine should be based on the individual, but, generally, I think it is important to do educational activities in the morning when they are alert and do a physical activity in the afternoon.

'Then at night, it is good to give them a bath, and to have some quiet time to relax them before they go to bed.'

4 Boundaries:
'You need to set rules and boundaries so children know the parameters of what is and what is not acceptable behaviour', she says.

'These boundaries can, in turn, be re-inforced with discipline to instill some self-control in them from a young age as they learn what lines not to cross.'

She does not, however, subscribe to the old adage that children should be seen and not heard.

'They are striving for independence and should not be suffocated or repressed in any way.

'Kids should be opinionated and need to be heard', she says.

Whilst part of this quest for independence is to push the boundaries you set, you must not break them, but instead offer them choices so they have a say in their day.

'You must give them choices otherwise you will control them', she says.

'Take dinner time, for example: you may stipulate mealtime boundaries and expect certain behaviour such as sitting at the table and conducting certain etiquette -- but, at the same time, you could get them involved in the meal you cook that evening -- or allow them to choose what they would like to eat as they get older.'

5 Discipline:
Once you have agreed on a set of rules and boundaries, you then have to stick to your guns and enforce them.

'It is important to be firm-but-fair', she says.

'Parents are scared to properly discipline their kids; they feel an enormous amount of guilt for punishing a child, and the fear they will lose their children when, in fact, the opposite is true.'

Ms.Frost does not condone smacking -- and stresses there is a vast array of other disciplinary methods at your disposal.
This is when her signature 'naughty step' technique comes into play: designate a stair, or a corner of the room, that is removed from the action of the household. If they are misbehaving, and have ignored the warnings, then leave them there to reflect on their actions.

'The naughty step is a very simple principle', she says.

'It makes children realise that their actions have consequences.

'It gives them time to reflect on this and then the chance to apologise and resolve the issue afterwards.

'It also gives parents the chance to calm down;

'Instead of "losing your rag", just walk away -- the technique will work quite adequately on its own.'

6 Warnings:
A wagging finger and her catchphrase -- 'Your behaviour is very naughty' -- is all it takes for Ms.Frost to stop troublesome 'tots' in their tracks. However, some parents need a bit of help to perfect Ms.Frost's voice of authority. The key, explains Ms.Frost, is that it is not what you say but how you say it.

'Speak to them at eye level in a low, serious tone.

'This communicates the fact that you are displeased at their behaviour and reinforces the fact that you are in charge.

'It is in this voice that you should explain what they have done wrong.

'Sometimes that it is all that is required.'

The 'speaking-clock' voice is also essential if your routine is going to work. These clear, calm and repetitive warnings give a child a constant update on how the day takes shape.

'Use an "everyday voice" which reminds children of their routine and lets them know what is coming next', she says.

'The "speaking clock" is to let a child know what is coming next because it gives them time to finish up what they are doing and to move on to the next thing.

'Without adequate warnings there are a series of sudden cut-off points in a child's day which can cause frustration.'

7 Explanations:
Explanations are just as crucial in the disciplinary process as the 'warnings' stage and the 'naughty step principle'. Be prepared to talk to your child about what they did wrong, and why they must not conduct themselves that way.

'Explanations go hand-in-hand with discipline because a child has to understand why they have been punished', she says.

'In this way they can learn from the process.'

8 Restraint:
Even faced with the most 'brattish' behaviour, Ms.Frost's steely resolve does not falter; her suit remains unruffled and her manicured hands are never used to tear out her hair. As unachievable as it may seem, she is adamant that parents must remain as calm and collected as her.

'You are the adult and must remain in control', she says firmly.

'If you are faced with a three-year-old who is having a temper 'tantrum', your child has "lost control" and you cannot respond by doing the same.

'If you panic and shout you will frighten the child.

'You can use different voices but shouting is not necessary;

'You are their rock and you cannot "crumble" in front of them or "break down".

'You cannot lose control otherwise the impact on the family is not a "pretty one".'

9 Responsibility:
'Allow them to do small achievable things to learn the necessary life skills and social skills for them to develop.

'This is all part of the growing-up process.

'Let them take part in dressing themselves in the morning, or, if you have got another baby on the way, make them feel a part of it.'

Part of this role-playing is another tried and tested method -- what Ms.Frost calls the Involvement Technique.
Ms.Frost suggests enlisting their help by letting them wash a few potatoes as you prepare dinner or giving them a sponge to help with washing the car.

'Having small tasks to do gives them a role to play and makes them feel good about themselves', she says.

10 Relaxation:
'This is simple', says Ms.Frost.

'If we do not relax and take a break to spend time with our partner or take time out for ourselves then nobody wins.

'Playing "martyr" will "catch up with you" and "bite you on the bottom".'

Enjoy some 'me' time with a solo shopping trip one afternoon or go out for a romantic meal for two.
Ms.Frost insists that asking a baby-sitter, friend or relative to look after your little angel for a few hours is crucial for your family's well-being in the longer term.
The book: 'Supernanny: how to get the best from your children', by Ms.Jo Frost is available now. The new series of Supernanny begins on Channel Four TV at 21:00 on 2005-04-05.

'Nanny knows best', Jessica Kiddle, The Scotsman, 2005-01-23

Stats: The New Rebellious Shoppers

They favour the local grocery store over the soul-less supermarket and the smile of the bank clerk over the impersonal directness of the call centre -- the new breed of 'rebellious consumer' wants a return to the personal service of the past. The latest 'British Lifestyle Report' by 'Mintel', the market research company, has identified a type of consumer that is irritated by call centres, internet banking and supermarket chains.
The rebellious consumer is a rugged individualist who shuns the package holiday, preferring to arrange his own place in the sun, and is not afraid to embrace a natural alternative to conventional medicine. While his or her fellow consumers embrace the latest gadgets such as iPods or camera phones, the rebellious consumer's attitude is not 'must have' but 'don't need'.
Life in the 21st century has become too faceless for these people, who desire the personal service and professionalism of a bygone age. The report, which was compiled after interviews with over 1_500 people, discovered that in six key areas --
  • finance,
  • technology,
  • food,
  • going out,
  • travel and
  • health
-- a number of consumers are actively rebelling against the direction in which the modern market is pushing them. In finance they are angry at the closure of local branches of banks; and a surprising 52 per cent find automated systems and call centres infuriating. In deciding which bank to choose, 41 per cent base their decision not on interest rates or the variety of services but on locality. Mr.Paul Rickard, director of research at 'Mintel' explained:
'This re-inforces the point that many people would still rather actually go into a branch as opposed to carrying out their transactions remotely, either on the Internet or on the telephone. Many customers seem loath to adopt the banking methods being introduced and enforced in the market today.'
'Mintel' also discovered that the lack of face-to-face contact in modern banking has damaged the trusting relationships built over the years between banks and their customers. In terms of new technology, many consumers have reached a saturation point with just 10 per cent of adults feeling that they need to 'keep up with the latest technology'. Despite the ubiquity of mobile phones -- 80 per cent of the population now owns one -- just 26 per cent believe they could not live without one.
'One reason for this apparent disenchantment with product innovation may be that they are becoming more "savvy" and less willing to accept what they are being told by marketers and advertisers', said Mr.Rickard. 'It seems that many people are rebelling against the pressure to displace perfectly functional and efficient ways of doing things with seemingly complex advancements.'
It is also apparent that some British shoppers are adopting a more traditional approach to buying their groceries. While 64 per cent of adults insist they only shop at supermarkets which offer good quality, fresh food, 36 per cent avoid supermarkets and prefer to support their local traders. The same attitude is seen with regard to Britain's social scene. Chain pubs may dominate our high streets, but 48 per cent of people still favour their traditional pub. Mr.Alasdair Bell, who runs 'Bidecom', an internet-based company from Edinburgh, is a proud rebellious consumer.
'My friends and I are known as the EH3s because we never go outside our postcode. It must be ten years since I've been to a bar in town.'
When it comes to travel, 34 per cent of adults now journey independent of travel agents or the package tour, with the Internet their principal research tool. Even the traditional resorts are being ignored by 18 per cent in favour of destinations off the beaten track, while 23 per cent now make a conscious effort to learn about the local culture. Among the most interesting aspects of the rebellious consumer is his or her willingness to embrace alternative medicines. Since 1999 the use of complementary medicine has risen by 45 per cent, while today 11 per cent of the population prefer alternative medicine to more traditional approaches. Mr.Graeme Millar, chairman of 'The Scottish Consumer Council', felt this new brand of consumer was far from being the majority and would pay a price for their rebellion:
'There is nothing really rebellious about choosing the comfort and convenience of using local shops and services. 'However, there is usually a price to pay in higher costs. The trends of recent years in out-of-town shopping and selling on the Internet are also restricting the choices that are open to such consumers', he said.
BUYING INTO THE PERSONAL TOUCH Ms.Fiona Buchanan recognises herself as a rebellious consumer -- she has her bank manager's mobile number, she prefers good food from small shops to ready meals from supermarkets and she uses the Internet only when it suits her. Happy to see the personal touch is still alive in her local branch, Ms.Buchanan said:
'I'm in the bank every day. I get on really well with the staff and we have a good laugh. 'My bank manager is great too, not distant like managers are made out to be. He's even called me up at a quarter to nine at night because he's been working with me on business proposals.' 'I've never used Internet banking and I don't think I ever will.
'The only time when I could sit down to use it would be at night, and then if I'm tired and make a mistake and something goes wrong it would be a disaster.'
She is keen to use the Internet -- but only if it saves her time:
'If I was planning a long trip then I'd use a local travel agent but I'll book tickets online for travelling to Edinburgh.'
After finding it hard to get her hands on good food, Ms.Buchanan took the unusual step of opening her own shop in Glasgow. Four years later, 'Heart Buchanan' is a thriving deli and she thinks her shop has definitely benefited from other rebellious consumers abandoning the supermarkets in favour of smaller shops. She is also aware of the popularity of traditional pubs over the chains of wine bars. Ms.Buchanan said:
'It's definitely in the detail that pubs win. It's all to do with the person behind the bar. I learned that while I was working as a barmaid.'
The rise of alternative medicine also comes as no surprise. She said:
'I'm seeing it more and more, when customers come in looking for herbal teas and roots.'
'Rebellious consumers shun 'faceless' shopping', STEPHEN MCGINTY and PETER RANSCOMBE, The Scotsman, 2005-03-23, We

Stats & Intolerance: Scottish Ancestry Most Popular White Ethnic Identity

'Plaid It Again, Uncle Sam' -- an article by Radio Broadcaster, Mr.David Stenhouse: Dunvegan Castle is the ancestral homeland of the Clan Macleod, an impregnable fortress which has withstood attack, siege and 800 years of Scottish weather. Normally it sits where it always has, on the Isle of Skye, West of Portree. But at the end of last year 2004, I had an unexpected encounter with Dunvegan Castle in a field in New Hampshire -- USA! To be fair, this wasn't the Dunvegan, just a Dunvegan. It was about 5 metres long and was sitting on the back of a trailer surrounded by artificial green grass. Its ramparts looked in need of a lick of paint, and its plywood drawbridge was up, but it certainly seemed capable of intimidating enemies. And besides, if anyone attacked this Scottish Castle, it could just drive away. This portable Dunvegan had been built by Mr.Dick Mcleod, an 'American Scot' who had celebrated his retirement by taking his wife to Skye to tread the heather which his ancestors had left behind almost two hundred years before. He was so impressed by his ancestral stronghold that when he got back to the USA, he locked himself in his garage and devoted all his free time to making a replica. Now it serves as a rallying point for his clan wherever there is a Highland games.
'I've towed it all the way up to Canada and down as far as the Carolinas', Mr.Mcleod told me. 'Once it blew off on an interstate and hit a motorcycle cop, but, luckily, his parents were from Glasgow, so he saw the funny side.'
Mr.Mcleod's castle is in hot demand; 'Highland Games' in America are going through 'boom times'. During the summer it's hard to find a weekend in the USA without a gathering of 'The Clans' from the southernmost states to the border with Canada. Even in states such as Hawaii or Alaska, which were never touched by Scottish immigration, there is no more popular weekend activity than slinging on the plaid, marching behind a pipe band and chewing the fat with other members of the clan. They may have a million different ideas about Scotland, but every US American I spoke to was convinced that their Scottish traditions were authentic -- but most native Scots would find what goes on there almost as incongruous as the castle on wheels. Big US American SUVs nuzzle next to each other in the car-park like Highland cows as their owners stride around dressed as mediaeval Scotsmen. Stalls sell Scottish pipe-band music alongside camouflaged utili-kilts 'for the man who's tired of stuffing himself into pants every morning'. Food stalls serve up an endless supply of authentic Scottish food such as Haggis made from buffalo stomachs, and prime-rib stovies. But then if there's one thing that North America does best, it is inventing 'authentic' traditions from scratch. From the 25_mm-thick slabs of street pizza -- which make visitors from Italy blanch -- to the 'Mexican' food which is put into the powerful American blender and emerges in USA-style easy-eat XXL portions. No wonder that Scottish historians find a lot of it hard to swallow. Professor Mr.Tom Devine of 'The University of Aberdeen' has laid into 'The Kirking of the Tartan' -- the blessing of a bolt of plaid cloth which serves as the solemn centrepiece of many 'Highland Games' in the USA, claiming that it is utterly inauthentic. He's right, but only partly. It's true that 'The Kirking of the Tartan' does not date back to the aftermath of 'The Jacobite Uprising of 1745' as its defenders proclaim. It was invented in 1941 by Mr.Peter Marshall, who would go on to serve as Chaplain to the US Senate between 1947 and 1949. But, though it's a tradition as old as last week, 'The Kirking of the Tartan', in common with most invented American traditions, has only one aim: to venerate a cultural tradition which generates enthusiastic support from sea to shining sea. Before home-based Scots leap in to tick off over-zealous US American Scots, we need to ask ourselves whether we could actually learn something from their transparent devotion to all things Scottish. It was a question I asked myself at the end of 2004-11 when I was invited to speak at a 'St.Andrew's Night Dinner' in Chicago which had been organised by the Illinois 'St.Andrew's Society'. Every man there was dressed in a kilt, itself not without risk in The Windy City, and we all enjoyed a traditional Scottish meal followed by speeches. Then, without warning, two pipers appeared and led in a tea trolley, pushed by four burly men. On the back of the tea-trolley was a large tartan teacosy. When the trolley appeared at the front of the stage, the teacosy stirred and a tiny girl emerged. She was wearing a tartan pinafore, had plaid ribbons in her hair and waved at the applauding crowd with the aplomb of a movie star. 'She's this year's Haggis Lassie', one of the ladies at my table explained. 'It's traditional.' 'The Haggis Lassie' and the mobile Scottish castle are just two of the ways in which North Americans are joyfully recreating Scottish traditions. But if the ways in which 'American Scots' celebrate Scotland can seem a little unusual to Scottish eyes, the sincerity with which they do it isn't in doubt.
'I've seen hardened Vietnam [war] veterans cry when they receive their clan tartan for the first time', says social anthropologist Ms.Celeste Ray who has studied 'American-Scottish' culture.
And at Harvard University, sociologist Ms.Mary Waters has accumulated evidence which proves how popular Scottish identity has become in the USA. Since the publication of Mr.Alex Hailey's 'Roots' in 1976, the hunger which Americans feel to find out about their backgrounds has grown and grown. At the end of the 1980s, a question was added to the American census which for the first time sought information about ethnic background. When she first conducted her research 20 years ago, Ms.Waters found that Scottish identity was the least popular white ethnic identity in America.
'Scots were thought to be mean, bad tempered and unfriendly', she says.
'Now Scots are the most popular white ethnic identity of all.'
If one man is responsible for this turn-around in Scottish popularity, it is Mr.Randall Wallace, creator of 'Braveheart', the man who was announced this year as 'Grand Marshall' of 'The Tartan Day' parade in New York, USA. In the world of the 'American-Scots', Mr.Randall Wallace is a demi-god and William Wallace a full-blown deity. Mr.Wallace recounts how everywhere he goes he is told how the film has boosted membership of 'Scottish-American' societies ten-fold. To Mr.Randall Wallace, his illustrious ancestor is a fully fledged Scottish hero and, thanks to Mr.Wallace's film, the blue-and-white-painted freedom fighter has become a hero to Tamil Nationalists and oppressed Peruvian peasants. When I watched Mr.Wallace speak at a dinner for 'American-Scots', it became all too clear how much 'Braveheart's' story meant to him. He told a story about taking his father to Stirling and listening to a piper play the bagpipes from the ramparts of Stirling Castle. In the middle of the story, Mr.Wallace began to cry. For a full two minutes, he struggled to regain his composure, as the 'American-Scots' sat on the edge of their seats. At my table a native-born Scot who had recently relocated to Chicago rolled his eyes:
'You wouldn't get away with this in Glasgow.'
He was absolutely right. It's hard to imagine a greater contrast than that between the colourful, innocent patriotism of 'Scottish-Americans' and the glum attitudes of modern, civic, devolutionary Scotland. But, as 'Tartan Day' rolls around again, and we all take a grim pleasure in sending up the attitudes of our North American cousins, its time to ask whether we could all be a bit more relaxed about our cultural traditions, and whether we should all put in a little homework in our garages. After all, there are plenty of castles out there crying out to be taken on the road.
The first part of David Stenhouse's series, 'Scots in America', will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland on 2005-03-28, Mo, at 11:30.
'Plaid it again, Uncle Sam', DAVID STENHOUSE, The Scotsman 2005-03-23 Links: Pipefest.com Tartan Day -- Scottish Executive Tartan Day -- Scottish Parliament VisitScotland

Dumas's Last Novel to be Published 135 years Late

A forgotten novel by the celebrated French author Mr.Alexandre Dumas is set to be published for the first time after it was discovered buried deep in the nation's literary archives. The work by the author of 'The Count of Monte-Cristo' and 'The Three Musketeers' had been lost for more than 135 years. Believed to be the great writer's last work, 'The Knight of Sainte-Hermine' -- a swashbuckling tale of derring-do in the finest Dumas tradition -- has not been heard of since 1869, the year before the author's death, when it was published in installments in a French newspaper called 'Le Moniteur Universal'. The first clue to the existence of the 900-page manuscript was uncovered 17 years ago by a Dumas expert and biographer, Mr.Claude Schopp, while he was conducting research at the archives of the National Library of France.
'It's vintage Dumas, in the same vein as the vengeful hero of "The Count of Monte-Cristo"', said Mr.Schopp, who describes the novel as a major literary work.
'The Knight of Sainte-Hermine' is mentioned in two other works by Dumas, 'The Whites and the Blues' and 'The Companions of Jehu', and forms the final part of this trilogy, which until now was thought to be missing. Mr.Schopp, who has devoted most of his life to studying the acclaimed author, said he came upon the serialised novel by accident.
'After numerous months of research, one thing lead to another and I had to consult the newspaper "Le Moniteur Universel". 'I was amazed when, after going back through reel after reel of archives, I came across a serial which was almost complete, entitled "The Knight of Sainte-Hermine" and signed by Alexandre Dumas. 'Its publication had begun in this daily on first of January and it finished at the end of November.
'For a quarter of an hour, while I was in contact with this treasure, I had the feeling that I owned the world', he said.
The project to bring 'The Knight of Sainte-Hermine' to publication had been kept secret for 17 years, with only Mr.Schopp, the publisher Mr.Jean-Pierre Sicre and the writer and literary critic Mr.Christophe Mercier in the know. During this time, Mr.Schopp worked tirelessly to adapt the manuscript from its serialised installments in the daily into a work which will be published as a novel for the first time on 2005-06-03 .
'It was a piece which was missing from the puzzle of Dumas's fictional works', said Mr.Sicre, the head of 'Editions Phebus', which will publish the lost novel. 'Claude Schopp has achieved a monumental task in making the story coherent', he added. 'It was necessary to correct numerous faults -- of names, places, etc -- resulting from a rapid publication in the press', according to Mr.Sicre. 'In fact, Claude Schopp carried out the work of rewriting, which Dumas and his team would have done and which they did not have the possibility to do after the author's death', he said.
This job was made even more complex by the fact that Dumas often created several identities for a single character. The last few lines of the last chapter are missing, almost certainly because Dumas, who was dying by the final months of 1869, was too ill to finish the story. Mr.Schopp has thus written an end to the novel, lines which will be published in italics to differentiate them from Dumas's original. However, he says he still clings to the hope that one day Dumas's ending may be found, 'because it is possible after all that one was written'. In the past, Mr.Schopp and other Dumas experts have found other unpublished or forgotten works by the prolific author, but these consisted of plays, travel notes, correspondence or shorter writings. A retired professor from Quebec, Mr.Reginald Hamel, who is the author of the Dumas Dictionary, discovered a previously unpublished five-act play by Dumas entitled 'The Gold Thieves' -- also in the archives of France's national library. The discovery of 'The Knight of Sainte-Hermine' is unique, not only because it is the writer's last novel but also because of its considerable length and literary qualities. The grandson of a Haitian slave and the son of a legendary general who died young leaving him without an inheritance, Dumas overcame poverty and a lack of formal education to become one of the world's most popular writers. His action-packed novels have been translated into almost a hundred languages and the most popular, 'The Count of Monte-Cristo' and 'The Three Musketeers' have inspired more than 100 of the 200 films based on his works. 'Dumas's trilogy completed as novel unearthed 135 years on', Susan Bell, The Scotsman, 2005-03-23, We