Salmond showing a net gain

THE SNP leadership hopeful Alex Salmond may be getting some stick from his rivals for trying to send in his deputy and co-runner, Nicola Sturgeon, to bat for him in the Edinburgh and Perth hustings, but elsewhere the omens augur well.

Anyone typing in on the internet is directed straight to the SNP’s party website - where a beaming John Swinney still welcomes the party faithful to "the SNP’s new website".

Not surprisingly perhaps, repeating the trick with the names of John SwinneCunningham does not have the same effect, suggesting that someone is confident Alex will reclaim his throne.

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Meanwhile, a political mole has also come up with a theory on what prompted the proverbial king over the water to change his mind and run for the SNP leadership again. "The final straw for Alex Salmond was watching some of the MSPs in action from other parties," says my mole.

"He saw things like Frank McAveety being caught up in the so-called piegate affair and thought to himself he could do better than this lot. Some people don’t think he’s going to wait until 2007 to return north properly, but more likely 2005, when he might swap again with Stewart Stevenson. There could potentially be a Scottish Parliament by-election on the same day as a Westminster general election."

No Scotland from the air

YANN Arthus-Bertrand has taken aerial photographs all over the world, and is best known for Earth From the Air, which comes to Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden at the end of the month. Having spent ten years carefully researching the landscapes, flying over 76 countries and clocking up 3,000 flying hours by helicopter, the 58-year-old French photographer has found himself hovering over Antarctica, Alaska, southern Argentina, Australia, Siberia and Africa. So what about the wilds of Scotland?

Says Yann: "We did fly over Scotland three of four years ago, but the weather was so damp and cloudy the landscape all but disappeared." Now, there’s a surprise. "We came in October, but I hope to come back and do it properly sometime." Hope so too - but here’s a tip, Yann: check out the Met forecast first.

Do you know the Muffin Man who lives in Aberdeen?

SIR Ian Wood may be one of Scotland’s most successful businessmen, but the man who transformed his family’s business from fishing into oil in the Seventies appears to have a certain parsimonious penchant for muffins.

The 64-year-old chairman of the Aberdeen-based oil services giant Wood Group naturally spends a major amount of his time jetting between London and Aberdeen, and that’s when he has demonstrated his predilection for such delicacies.

"Sir Ian is quite a regular on the British Airways shuttles between Aberdeen and London," says my man handing out the freebies.

"In the British Airways Executive lounge in Aberdeen, there is quite often a bowl of free muffins for people to help themselves to. But instead of just taking one, Sir Ian was seen helping himself to about ten.

"Maybe he was taking them home."

Hallion gets ready to hail the luvvie legions

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EXPECT an invasion of London luvvies to descend upon The Hallion in a week or so, as the bespoke Edinburgh private members’ club is now offering temporary Festival memberships.

The idea has come from the members themselves, who have been clamouring for an arrangement that would give their friends who hail from outwith Edinburgh and the Lothians access to the hallowed portals of the Picardy Place club.

"Guests will be charged 125 for the one-month temporary membership, but still have to pay as much as 195 per night to stay at The Hallion," explains my man at the Georgian door.

"Edinburgh obviously comes alive during the Festival and this gives people the chance to soak up the atmosphere of the club who might not otherwise do so. When the Groucho set up rooms in Edinburgh one August a few years ago, it proved very popular, and some of the stars will find The Hallion a private place to unwind. So far, the interest from those coming up from London with events has been very strong indeed."

The eyes have it

SOME consolation for those like this Diary apt to spend hours shivering on Scottish riverbanks, being eaten alive by midges while unsuccessfully flogging the water. According to new research conducted by boffins at the University of Edinburgh, fish are far smarter than we give them credit for, as they are also capable of multi-tasking when they come under attack.

Dr Culum Brown, of the university’s Institute of Cell, Animal and Population Biology, says: "Our study suggests that lateralisation allows fish to concentrate on shoal mates and predators simultaneously. Put another way, you could say that fish are very good at multi-tasking. In fish, all information received by the left eye is transmitted to the right side of the brain, and vice-versa. Lateralisation is rather like having two computers to process information in different parts of the brain simultaneously, rather than just one." A useful excuse, then, to explain the ones that get away.