I love coming to Scotland every year.
Sometimes I feel completely at home here and if the weather’s nice, as it has been this week, I imagine me having a summer home here, a totally unaffordable dream of course, given the price of homes by the sea here.
There’s a great urge at the moment to repair and restore very old homes, one not far from me here in the marina at Tarbert was once a splendid hotel, built in the Victorian era, probably as a home for a shipping merchant until that industry died in the 1930s. The hotel business has suffered and this building closed at least a decade ago.
I’ve watched its decline and this year was delighted to see it, clad in scaffolding, being turned into luxury apartments. Whoever lives there will have a gorgeous view of the sea and not far away is the ruins of the Castle Robert the Bruce restored when he returned from his final defeat in battle. In fact I’ve renewed my interest in the old warrior as my sister is married to one of his direct descendants, a delightful genealogical discovery recently for my brother-in-law.
I have Scottish heritage on my father’s side as his ancestors - Moravians - came to what is now County Londonderry from Scotland in the 17th century. So my feelings of ‘at home’ when I’m here could be in my genes since I never feel at home in England or Wales.
Scotland, today, is headed up by the nationalist leader Nicola Sturgeon, a woman who appears, in turn, to be loved and loathed by the people of this country.
I can’t help being a journalist when I come here, always anxious to know how people feel about their politicians. I was asking the usual questions this week of the locals - what were their views since the election when Ms Sturgeon lost more than 20 MPs - and did they think she would hold another referendum? This week happened to be the one when the Scottish government announced that women on low incomes should be allowed free sanitary items for ‘period’ time. Scots are a bit reserved by nature and some seem embarrassed by the whole idea. One woman told me she was one of five daughters from a relatively poor family yet her mother always found the money for all her girls’ monthly cycle. ‘‘It’s a total nonsense given how much money is being splashed around by the young these days and how is this going to be policed?’’ she asked.
As for another referendum on leaving the United Kingdom, a lady in one shop thought the whole idea ‘daft’. Scotland, she declared, could not survive outside the UK. Not good news for Ms Sturgeon, as dedicated in her nationalism as Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill is in hers.
Both, I think will never achieve their dream in their lifetime. There is growing respect though for the Conservative leader in Scotland Ruth Davidson. Women and their daughters, according to The Scotsman newspaper all ‘love her’. The impression is she is doing ‘politics differently’ and is going down well across the country. Ms Sturgeon is old news I gather.
Surprisingly Theresa May is popular with Scottish women. One told me that she was being treated unfairly in London and should be allowed to get on with Brexit rather than being hounded and chased at every corner.
There was a bit of good news for Scots this week when it was learned that a site in Sutherland has been earmarked by a consortium from aerospace firm Lochheed Martin for the launching of rockets into space, an idea which has the support of Highlands and Islands Enterprise. The A’Mhoine Peninsula, between Cape Wrath and Dounreay, it is said, is the most suitable site in Britain for launching rockets carrying satellites into space. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I suspect if the project gets the go-ahead it will provide much needed employment. An economic boon for Sutherland but at what price to the environment there?
Ms Sturgeon was criticised this week for the spendthrift ways of some of her staff - one alleged to have claimed a four-figure sum for hiring a taxi in New York whilst on a working assignment.
Then there was the story of £43m paid in bonuses to NHS doctors which the local Conservative party has decided to investigate given that, like the rest of the UK, the NHS in Scotland is in crisis.
All this happening as record numbers of Scottish children are living in temporary housing with over 780 children in Edinburgh alone without a stable home. Across the country over 6,260 children are in temporary accommodation. Rents are ‘going through the roof’ yet the Scottish Government claims to be working hard to reduce child poverty.
And still Ms Sturgeon bleats on about an independence referendum. I get the clear impression that not so many people are listening to her these days.