Now that the waters have subsided (quite literally), it’s a good chance to reflect on the catastrophic events at the beginning of the month in Hawick and other towns in the Borders.
As I’ve said before, the reaction of residents in Hawick was nothing short of extraordinary.
From the early hours of Saturday, it seemed as if the whole town understood the scale of what was happening and immediately sprang into action. All those involved, including Hawick Flood Group, emergency services, Salvation Army, volunteers and council workers were there round the clock over the weekend to stuff sandbags, help with evacuations, and provide bedding, clothing, food and drink to those affected.
This response won’t come as a surprise to any of us – it was indicative of the community spirit of Teries. And it was because of all this hard work that everyone was kept safe and there were no injuries.
I spent most of that weekend in Hawick, but I also visited Kelso and Coldstream, and villages in between, and the damage was clearly felt across large parts of the Borders. This was some of the worst flooding I have ever seen and for it to happen to so many families so close to Christmas was really difficult to witness.
The clear-up is under way now, but minds are quickly turning to what can be done to prevent such damage happening again, particularly in Hawick where residents have been waiting patiently for a flood protection system for years.
I’ve been criticised for standing up for residents and businesses in Hawick by daring to suggest the Scottish Government should do more to help. I make absolutely no apologies for that – it is my job to ensure the Borders gets the best out of the government as possible.
And I do believe that more could be done. The UK Government has provided nearly £50million in extra spending, above and beyond initial emergency funds, meaning the Scottish Government has an extra £4million to spend in Scotland on flood defences. I want and expect most of this to go to the Borders.
The UK Government has also implemented a council tax and business rates relief scheme for properties affected by flooding. The SNP should do the same in the Borders.
And the Scottish Government, who will ultimately decide on the flood prevention scheme for Hawick, needs to set aside the funding for this now and do all it can to fast-track the process. I fully support Hawick provost Stuart Marshall’s calls for the scheme to be accelerated.
While we need to get flood defences right, Teries have been waiting years for the scheme and I sense that their patience is beginning to run out. It may be that the council could do with some extra support from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency to finalise the plans – and the Scottish Government should look closely at that too.
I was pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs will consider my plea to prioritise CAP payments for farmers affected by flooding. But apart from this, and plenty of warm words from the SNP, there has so far been very little action.
The SNP have been criticising my comments recently, but I’m afraid to inform them that I will continue to demand the Scottish Government does more for my constituents.