Your picture of the week
With recent heavy rain, the River Tweed at Kelso can be seen ‘boiling’ as it makes its way seawards.Curtis Welsh supplied this image. Please email photographs, with a brief caption, to [email protected]
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
PENSION JUSTICE FIGHT GOES ON
As we mark International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, the Borders supporters’ group of Women Against State Pension Inequality (WASPI) is as committed as ever to the campaign to get state pension justice for 1950s-born females.
In October this year, the state pension age (SPA) equalisation process will be complete, reaching 66 for both men and women.
But we know “equalisation” does not mean equality, so the campaign continues to fight the injustice of SPA rises so badly mismanaged by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that women were left with no time to make up the thousands of pounds shortfall, even if they had been in a position to do so.
On February 18, employment minister Mims Davies triumphantly tweeted of “record high female employment figures”. Impressive statistics indeed, but behind those figures are stories of women who have worked hard against a background of unequal pay and financial discrimination, have done all that was asked of them and more, only to have the SPA finishing line cruelly moved just as they were reaching it.
Increased longevity was one of the reasons put forward by the Westminster government for the changes. However, world-renowned health inequalities expert Professor Sir Michael Marmot has just published a report which shockingly finds “for the first time in more than 100 years life expectancy has failed to increase across the country and for the poorest 10% of women, it has actually declined”.
His report, Health Equity in England: The Marmot Review 10 Years On’, cites austerity – the brunt of which has been disproportionately borne by women – as a significant contributory factor and makes special mention of 1950s women in its section on pensioner poverty: “An abrupt change in the state pension age for women, which has risen from 60 to 66, has penalised women nearing the age of retirement (214). It is estimated that increasing the female retirement age leaves the incomes of women nearing retirement age on average £32 per week worse off, and the effect has been substantially larger for women in lower income households, increasing older women’s poverty rate by six per cent between 2010 and 2016 (223). Twenty three percent of single female pensioners were living in poverty in 2016/17, compared with 18 percent of single male pensioners (66).”
Moreover, the chief executive of the Chartered Insurance Institute and executive chair of the Insuring Women’s Futures Initiative, Sian Fisher, has warned that ongoing gender pay disparity means gender pension parity might not be achieved until the next century.
And we remember the estimated 90,000 WASPI women who have died before reaching their new SPA.
We are far more than DWP employment figures fodder. We are women who contribute massively to the country in unpaid work and do not know what “economically inactive” means.
What we seek is reasonable. We are not asking for the state pension age to go back to 60. We simply ask to be fairly compensated for the gross mismanagement of SPA changes by successive governments and the DWP.
So, as we join others around our region at events marking International Women’s Day 2020, we remind the government that this injustice is not going away – and neither are we.
(coordinator, Scottish Borders WASPI Group)
COUNCIL IS NOT MAKING THE CUT
On Tuesday, February 25, I paid a visit to my sister’s grave in Tweedmouth cemetery, Berwick.
It was heart-warming to see how neat and tidy the cemetery was. The grass had just been cut, including between and round the headstones, and spring flowers were making an appearance.
A worker told me that the cemetery is one of two that his team are responsible for and maintenance is carried out on a two-week cycle.
I was so impressed that I sent a ‘thank-you’ card to the council responsible.
Sadly, it is not ‘thank-you’ letters I send to Scottish Borders Council (SBC) parks and cemeteries department. It is letters of complaint about the poor state of our cemeteries.
What contributes to SBC cemeteries’ demise is the fact grass-cutting is once a month. When this happens the cutter blades are set high and the machines travel at speed over the grass. Instead of cutting round and between headstones, weedkiller is spread, killing off plants and flowers. This will have done much damage to the annual show of spring flowers.
Northumberland County Council tells me it is not allowed to use weedkiller, and wouldn’t use it anyway.
I will be monitoring the standard of SBC cemetery maintenance this summer – please watch this space.
FIRST MINISTER HAS TEFLON TOUCH
We all remember Teflon Tony’s (Blair) ability to emerge unscathed from repeated setbacks.
This slippery characteristic was also true of Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and latterly Donald Trump.
It appears that Nicola Sturgeon also possesses the teflon touch. Although floundering in a muddy sea of political impropriety and overseeing a dangerous slide in fiscal, health, education and policing standards, none of this mud appears to stick to her administartion.
The 2019 general election saw the SNP secure 45% of the cast votes, yielding a disproportionate 80% of seats. Sturgeon’s misleading claim that she speaks for the people of Scotland clearly resonates with her devoted ‘All Under One Banner’ supporters.
The reality is that only a third of the total electorate support her cause. With misty-eyed nostalgia they may reflect how the First Minister, with a determination worthy of William Wallace, finally succeeded at her seventh attempt to become an MSP. They also doubtless recall the Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 when Scotland first gained independence and anticipate a repetition of Bannockburn when Robert the Bruce vanquished the English tyrants.
Even as a teenager she “had a strong feeling that it was wrong for Scotland to be governed by a Tory government we never elected”. Perpetual repetition like this, known as ‘effective frequency’, eventually lodges in people’s minds as truth.
Many admire her undoubted tenacity and verbal agility, a quality she has honed to near perfection since she first took to the political stage, and rejoiced on her nickname, “Nippy Sweetie”.
This nationalist mantra has become a blind obsession to the detriment of our country. It’s time to cast off the blinkers of ancient nostalgia and focus on Scotland’s real challenges.
Ms Sturgeon recently said that Boris Johnson “is the kind of guy who talks nonsense, has the swagger and confidence and conviction, but despite the swagger it’s still nonsense”.
She clearly fails to recognise such characteristics in her own verbal acrobatics.
Neil J. Bryce
RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES
People under the age of 25 should not be jailed because their brains are not fully mature, according to new draft guidelines from the Scottish Sentencing Council.
Children aged 12 and over are regarded as capable of making life-changing decisions, like changing gender or having an abortion.
Schools are preaching a children’s rights message that often amounts to treating them as equal to adults in authority.
But when it comes to responsibility for their actions, the opposite is assumed. Younger people should be allowed to get away with murder. “Getting away with murder” is usually just a figure of speech, but it’s not too far wide of the mark here.
The fact that young people (especially male) tend to be more reckless and irresponsible means that the deterrent effect of punishment is more important, not less. In later life self-control and consideration develop more fully.
That’s when deterrence becomes less important.
Do we want to give every under 25-year-old a ready-made excuse for bad behaviour? Surely not.
How does this sound: “We’re very sorry that your daughter was raped and murdered, but the man who did it is only 24, so we mustn’t be too hard on him. His brain isn’t fully developed after all.”
At the heart of this madness is faith in the “noble savage”: the assumption that people are intrinsically good and only do wrong because of factors beyond their control.
Personal moral responsibility is buried under an avalanche of off-the-shelf excuses.
The Scottish Family Party
WE ALL HAVE TO CHANGE LIFESTYLES
Clark Cross writes about the final nail in the climate change coffin (letters, February 27).
As if he, almost singlehandedly, has defeated the threats to the planet and ensured that we can all sleep soundly in our beds.
The problem is that the only way to make the climate and species emergency go away is by us all changing our lifestyles for the better, so as to use less fossil fuel and other limited resources. At the same time, we have to pressurise government and big business to reduce the amount of CO2 and methane going into the atmosphere.
Cancelling the third runway at Heathrow is a good start. The tide is turning, here and around the world.
Even in the US, the world’s climate denier-in-chief is being outflanked by carbon reduction carried out by individual states and cities. China, India and Japan are all making progress, although there is a long way to go.
Hopefully COP26 in Glasgow later this year will put further pressure on all the world’s governments to move towards zero net carbon more urgently.
There is no doubt, no matter what the sceptics say, that the world is warming up as a result of human activity releasing CO2, methane and other gases into the atmosphere.
It was round about 1950 that the amount of CO2 first passed the maximum caused by natural cycles and it has been rising exponentially since then – 19 of the 20 warmest years have occured since 2001. This year was the hottest in Australia and was part of the reason for the forest fires.
According to David Attenborough: “Right now we are facing a disaster of global scale. Our greatest threat in thousands of years – climate change.”
I accept that some of the early commentators got the timescale of their predictions wrong. I was working for Friends of the Earth Scotland during the 1980s and it really seemed that nobody was listening or caring. Gradually, the science has become clearer and clearer. There is absolutely no doubt, for example, that the ice over Greenland and Antarctica is thinning, whilst the ocean becomes warmer and more acid, destroying coral reefs.
There is overwhelming consensus amongst scientists, politicians, even fossil fuel companies, that climate change is real and poses an existential threat to the planet.
There is no point in arguing about the detail and who said what. We just have to get on and do something about it and ignore the naysayers.
In the Borders, Greener Melrose and the many other green groups need your help to develop and run some of the great projects we need to move from our wasteful, polluting present to a happier, more sustainable future. Just contact [email protected]
In the words of Christina Figueras, who chaired the Paris Accord: “This is the decade and we are the generation.”
(for Greener Melrose)
BLEAK MAYBE, BUT THAT’S THE WAY IT IS
It has been interesting to read differing views on the causes of environmental damage we are seeing everywhere today.
Whatever the causes, their effects cannot be ignored – cities around the world polluted by vehicle emissions; likely extinction of thousands of species – animals, birds, insects, fish, mammals; polluted plastic-filled oceans; destroyed coral reefs; melting ice caps; mass deforestation in the Amazon and elsewhere; land degraded by drilling, pipelines, fracking and tar sands; ecosystems impoverished or destroyed; flooding; severe weather cycles and potentially hundreds of thousands of homeless refugees on the move from rising sea levels.
Bleak maybe, but that’s the way it is.
Many believe that major contributory factors to these tragic, yet avoidable events are mass deforestation and the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, causing a rise in CO2 and global warming. In addition, there is the excessive use of non biodegradable plastics derived from oil. These people also believe that taking positive action by reducing the amount of carbon extraction and its burning will go a long way to help reverse these catastrophic events.
However, your correspondents who take a different view on the causes of these global threats to our existence do not suggest how to deal with them.
Perhaps they could write in to suggest how best to tackle this global emergency, from their perspective. This should open up a more meaningful debate.
Now is really the time for practical ideas and actions.
D. J. Hardwick
West Lothian (Linlithgow) declared a climate emergency last October.
Now is the time for Clark Cross to welcome the leadership his councillors have shown.
Instead of using his time corresponding with local papers around Scotland, criticising the views of others who are rightly voicing their concerns about the destruction of our ecosystems, it would be much more helpful for him to come up with some practical suggestions of how to deal with the man-made catastrophes we are all responsible for causing, to a greater or lesser extent.
WESTMINSTER WATER LEVELS
MPs certainly don’t believe in danger from rising sea levels as they have approved the expenditure of up to £5bn for refurbishing the Palace of Westminster, which is only a few feet above the Thames at high water.
FLAGGING UP A NATION’S STANDING
With last Sunday (March 1) being St David’s day, I decided to go online and check out Welsh culture, of which I know almost zero.
I do, however, remember reading that a form of the Welsh language was spoken in parts of southern Scotland during the early medieval period.
My guilty ignorance was actually worse than I thought. I failed to recognise the highly-distinctive St David’s flag with its yellow cross on a black field.
It now occurs to me that if we want to create a genuinely inclusive culture in Britain, perhaps the ancient Welsh nation ought to be fully represented on a redesigned Union flag.