Your picture of the Week

Grazing sheep and lambs at Sandyknowe Farm Smailholm with Smailholm Tower as a backdrop.
Grazing sheep and lambs at Sandyknowe Farm Smailholm with Smailholm Tower as a backdrop.

Curtis Welsh snapped these grazing sheep and lambs at Sandyknowe Farm, with Smailholm Tower as a backdrop.

Please email photographic contributions, with a brief caption, to southern-letters@jpress.co.uk

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

KEEPING ONE’S EYE ON THE LOCAL ANGLE

Well, with a week to go until the council elections – not the general election, not an independence referendum – and from the literature I’ve seen so far, most of the parties and candidates are concentrating on local issues, which is as it should be.

The Conservatives, however, seem to think this is an opportunity to send a message to the SNP that you don’t want a second referendum. What a waste of a vote. Even Kevin Drum, the SNP candidate for Leaderdale and Melrose, doesn’t mention independence in his leaflets.

I think he knows, much as the rest of us do, that the council elections are much more important than trying to get a political message over. It’s about who is going to represent you for the next five years at local level.

Whoever you vote for as councillor will have no influence on the outcome of either the general election or an independence referendum.

David Laing

West High Street

Lauder

FORGET CARING CONSERVATISM

MSPs John Lamont and Ruth Davidson recently responded to different aspects of the “rape clause” which allows exemption from the two-child restriction for tax credits when a third child is conceived through rape.

Their responses reveal the hypocrisy, lack of compassion and serial disregard for truth that mark the Tory Westminster Government.

John Lamont

He wrote to a constituent on April 10, defending the clause on the grounds that families who are in receipt of benefits should be subject to the same financial considerations as those who support themselves through work. Hence the benefit restrictions on a third child.

Fair enough, some might say – if you can’t afford to have a third child, then don’t, even if you long for one.

But those with the security of wealth, instead of insecurities – redundancy, bereavement, ill-health – that determine many people’s lives, can do exactly as they please.

One rule for the rich and one for the poor. Tax reductions for the rich paid for by welfare cuts to the poor.

The rape clause is meant to show understanding that life can bring the unexpected and envisage a situation where a woman does not choose to have that third child, but instead conceived it through rape. In this case, they say, an exemption to the clause can be made.

To gain exemption, the woman must complete an eight-page application form. It’s a matter of record that many women who are raped don’t report the crime, preferring to internalise the trauma than speak of it, relive it, risk not being believed and feeling raped all over again. So an eight-page application form is hardly compassionate or sensitive.

Mr Lamont says, attesting again to the sensitivity of the process, that women may disclose their experience to a relevant third party such as a health professional, social worker and specialist charities. Mr Lamont does not say that relevant specialist charities – Rape Crisis, Engender and Women’s Aid – have all publicly refused to play any part in this shameful plan. Instead, they are demanding it’s removal.

Ruth Davidson

After several days of being challenged by Kezia Dugdale MSP to publicly condemn the rape clause, on April 10, Ruth Davidson finally replied through a spokesman, and not to condemn. Instead she expressed support for the clause along the lines of Mr Lamont’s response.

Challenged again by Ms Dugdale and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to speak for herself, she went further.

Clearly stung by their condemnation of the rape clause, she said if Ms Sturgeon was so concerned about it, it was open to her to use Scottish Government funds to pay for the third child. Otherwise, said Ms Davidson, she would be guilty of the most gross hypocrisy.

Putting aside the callousness she reveals, Ms Davidson seems to have forgotten that Scots are taxed by Westminster to pay for the safety net of welfare. Should we pay twice?

As Alison Thewliss, the MP who has led the protest, said of Ms Davidson’s stance: “It takes a special kind of twisted logic for the Tory leader in Scotland to call for the Scottish Parliament to protect families from the vindictive policies of the Tory Government in Westminster.”

Ms Davidson also does not mention the steps that Ms Sturgeon’s administration has taken already to mitigate the worst of Westminster’s welfare reforms.

Read this list and think how, if Westminster did not punish the poor, the Scottish Government would not have to use funds to patch things up.

z Since 2013, the Scottish Government has spent nearly £400m to alleviate Tory cuts to household incomes.

z The Bedroom Tax in Scotland is fully mitigated and will be abolished when the power exists to do so.

z Provided crisis grants through the Scottish Welfare Fund, when someone experiences a disaster or emergency, and community care grants to enable independent living.

z Restored Westminster’s cut to council tax support through council tax reductions – protecting more than half a million people on low incomes.

z Extended child allowance in the council tax reduction scheme by 25%, benefiting 77,000 households by an average of £173pa. This will help nearly 140,000 children in low income families across Scotland.

z Safeguarded support for over 2,800 disabled people with the new Scottish Independent Living Fund.

z Extended the Scottish Welfare Fund to mitigate the UK Government’s removal of housing benefit for 18 to 21-year-olds.

Forget caring conservatism. This is what you get if you vote Tory.

I write this as the Scottish Green candidate for East Berwickshire in the local government elections to be held on May 4.

Kate Duncan

WHY I’M GOING WITH THE TORY

On June 8 we shall be voting in a very important election.

In the constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk, as in many other areas of Scotland, it will be between the SNP and Conservatives. John Lamont (Conservative) will be up against Calum Kerr (SNP), who won by just 328 votes in 2015.

My vote will go to John Lamont. Let me share with you why I think you should vote for him too:

z Mr Lamont lives locally, Mr Kerr does not. Would you rather have someone who knows what goes on in Hawick, Galashiels, Eyemouth, Kelso, Duns etc. and the rural communities, or someone who lives outside the area/constituency?

z Mr Lamont holds surgeries where constituents can come to him with their problems – more than 200 since 2015 and a total of over 1,000 local surgeries since he was first elected. Mr Kerr, on the other hand, has held none, in the same period.

z Mr Lamont wants Scotland to stay in the Union. Mr Kerr and his party are hell-bent on a separation followed by a “marriage” to Brussels. All the SNP thinks about is separation and very little else, like governing. Please consider the jobs and trade done by Scotland with England. It might just be your job. Please remember the falling standard in schools after 10 years of the SNP. And the uncertain finances in case of a separation.

z Voting for John Lamont will give the SNP a clear sign that we in the Borders do not want another referendum. The last one cost around £18m – paid for by you and me, not the SNP.

A win for John Lamont, plus any other Conservative wins, will also give Prime Minister Theresa May a stronger hand in negotiating the best possible deal with the EU – and not the hard Brexit which we may well get if the SNP gets its way and divides the nation.

To get a good Brexit will be essential to you, me, our children and grandchildren.

Pieter van Dijk

Foulden

RISKY MOVE FOR ONE-TRICK PARTY

I thought it was the shock of the election announcement that made Nicola Sturgeon come out with the ridiculous statement about Theresa May putting party politics before the good of the people (eh, Nicola, what have you been doing for years?).

However, this week the First Minister must still be in shock as she has come out with an even better one. She is now trying to distance the independence debate from the June election – quite a risky manoeuvre for a one-trick party.

So we are to vote for the SNP based on how they have run the country (seriously!).

I hope that the upcoming election gives the SNP a wake-up call that they can’t just ride roughshod over the people of Scotland.

Craig Scott

Kelso

REFERENDUM RERUN RUSE

Nicola Sturgeon is already preparing to rewrite the meaning of the result of the coming general election – she claims an SNP victory in Scotland would mean Theresa May’s opposition to a referendum rerun would “crumble to dust”.

On June 8, we will elect MPs to sit in Westminster. The SNP can put whatever it likes in its manifesto, but it will only provide a mandate to elected SNP MPs to support those policies in the UK parliament.

The number of seats the SNP secure in Scotland cannot be used to force through an independence referendum rerun because the overwhelming majority of the UK’s MPs understandably do not want to break up their country.

If opinion polls are any guide, the snap election might well deliver an increased majority to Theresa May, which she can use to secure the best possible Brexit deal for everyone throughout the UK.

The First Minister does not want to be patient and await the outcome of the Brexit deal simply because she is concerned it will be so much better than her “hardest of hard Brexit” rhetoric suggests.

Keith Howell

West Linton

TACTICAL VOTES MUST BE USED

Were it not so tragic for everyone in Scotland, it might be amusing to watch our underwhelming SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance (and the Constitution – what a fatal combination), Derek Mackay, floundering and imitating a guppy when asked why the latest economic output and GDP figures for Scotland were so catastrophic compared to those for the UK as a whole.

“Could it be that the Brexit vote (mystically) affected the Scottish economy more than the rest of the UK,” he opined?

In truth, perhaps he and his SNP cronies should look in a mirror and listen to themselves.

After 10 years of gross mismanagement, while the single-issue SNP government has spent vast sums promoting and obsessing over independence, or investing in losers at every opportunity, the endless uncertainty and social division have caused businesses and major investors to vote with their feet.

The numbers are sobering. Scottish economic output fell by 0.2% in the last quarter of 2016, while it rose by 0.7% for the whole UK (which, of course, includes the drag effect of Scotland). Production and construction declined by 0.9% and 0.8%, respectively. And, for the whole of 2016, Scottish GDP rose by only 0.4% (tantamount to a recession), compared to a rise of 1.8% for the whole UK – itself not especially impressive.

Based on these sorts of numbers, an independent Scotland would stand no chance of rejoining the EU after Brexit. Moreover, our national debt, welfare bills and taxes would be eye-watering without having the UK Treasury to bail us out, endlessly, or free and open access to 80% of our current market – England.

In the 20 years since constitutional devolution began, the SNP has contrived and conspired to make Scotland the most divided, uncompetitive, unequal, uneconomic and highest-taxed part of the UK whilst whingeing on about it being everyone else’s fault but theirs. Choose any metric. Annual high street shop closures have averaged 3.4% in Scotland since 2012 compared to 1.3% as the UK average.

The SNP must be stopped by tactical voting for credible opposition candidates who can unseat them on May 4 and thereafter.

Michael Wilson

Clovenfords

THE MADNESS OF BREXIT

After centuries of conflict across continental Europe, wise heads came together, creating what became the European Union.

In creating peace and prosperity which has lasted nearly 70 years, it’s served its purpose well.

But then came the collective madness of Brexit, and all the chaos we are about to endure which is being exacerbated by an inept Tory government.

When it was suggested that Spain could have a say in the future of Gibraltar, out of the decaying woodwork emerged a political dinosaur from another age to claim that Britain could defend Gibraltar by going to war against Spain.

So the first country to leave the EU threatens to wage war against it – precisely what the union was set up to prevent.

As the shambles and crudity that is No 10’s negotiating position becomes ever more apparent, it sometimes seems that the only politician with a grasp of the looming disaster is Nicola Sturgeon.

Richard Walthew

Duns

INTIMIDATING CONVOY

Driving south on the A68 on Sunday afternoon, a convoy of 20 vehicles – cars and motorbikes – passed going north.

Each carried a flagpole from which fluttered a large Saltire.

The motorcycles were being ridden two abreast.

This in-your-face nationalism is intimidating.

William Loneskie

Oxton