Brian Tait bagged this image of Davidson’s Linn, site of an illegal still in bygone days, just off the Pennine Way at the head of the Bowmont Valley.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
OUR SCHOOLS ARE CLASS ACTS
I think it’s important to mention education in the current political climate and what it means for the future in our area.
As a family, we’ve four children aged from five to 14, and we are lucky enough to be based in Jedburgh where the town is promised an exciting new intergenerational learning campus by the time my eldest leaves high school in 2020.
I grew up attending the wonderful Ednam village school and went on to Kelso High School where I left to go on to higher education and a career in the Edinburgh area.
When it came to settling down and starting a family, my partner and I chose to return to the Borders for not only the excellent healthcare, but also the very good schools. The thing about rural schools, even the big ones, is that they mix all children of all abilities and all backgrounds in one place. Children grow up more inclusive and accepting of others than in a school determined by parents’ ability to afford a house in a particular postcode.
Following recent criticism of the Scottish Government, I thought it important to speak up for Scottish education and although it’s not perfect – we are, of course, dealing with the legacy of Labour’s Curriculum for Excellence – it is moving in the right direction. With continued investment in our teachers as promised by the SNP, huge investment to reduce the attainment gap and outwardly looking towards countries like Finland for guidance, I’ve every faith in the current Scottish Government regarding my children’s education.
There’s also the considerable relief when contemplating higher education that my children won’t be saddled with huge tuition fee debts – unlike their cousins south of the border.
AN EFFECTIVE LAPDOG FOR THE PM
We received the Scottish Conservatives’ newsletter in the post last week.
Its core message was one of expressing opposition to the prospect of another independence referendum, while at the same time omitting any details regarding the party’s own policies for the general election. Surprising, I felt, given that the electorate rightly wants to know what a party stands for on these occasions.
In contrast, from what I’ve seen in recent months, the SNP’s Calum Kerr was an active MP who appeared to have solidly focused on his day job. As a candidate, he is targeting, rightly, the upcoming Brexit process that the Conservatives have taken us into. A process which stemmed from their own internal party squabbles and which now threatens this constituency’s long-term future via a likely hard Brexit.
I noted with interest ex-Environment Secretary Owen Paterson’s recent comments around funding paid to the agricultural sector, where he proposes Theresa May adopts the New Zealand model and cuts funding altogether. Agriculture is one of the Borders’ main economic drivers and I wonder how many of Paterson’s political colleagues share his views and what the impacts would be on jobs and families locally were they implemented post-Brexit?
We also see the May government turning on its own, with the likelihood that up to 10 million pensioners will have their winter heating allowance taken away (fortunately, in Scotland, current SNP policy provides existing protection that counters this), the removal of the triple lock on pensions, further impacts on business taxation and the abhorrent “rape clause”.
I can only wonder for whom the Conservatives now speak, when they’re targeting their own too? Well, perhaps if you have a healthy offshore investment fund, you’ll be fine.
Now I see why the Scottish Conservatives didn’t champion their policies and stuck to their constitutional rhetoric – after all, who can defend the indefensible? “Vote Tory and be at least £200 a year poorer” isn’t a great message if you’re a Tory candidate.
The Borders needs a strong voice, and one that will actively champion this region in the years ahead. As far as I can see, Calum Kerr has done a good shift in the last two years. He’s been an old-fashioned, hard-working MP who has delivered good results for his constituency, the Borders rural economy as a whole and the next generation of digital infrastructure integration this region desperately needs. I believe Conservative candidate John Lamont, who appears to have no policies whatsoever, will be an effective lapdog for Theresa May’s rapacious government and nothing more.
SCOTTISH BUDGET QUESTION
It is difficult to understand the reasoning behind John Lamont’s decision to give up being a MSP with a real opportunity to ensure the Borders benefits from devolved powers to stand for election to the House of Commons which has become much less influential in the affairs of Scotland.
No doubt he has his reasons, although he has never explained them publicly, which means voters can only speculate as to his true intentions. I’ll leave the speculation to others. But if an opportunity arises at a local hustings in the run-up to polling day, Mr Lamont should be asked one very crucial question.
Tory PM Theresa May and her austere Cabinet colleagues are already warning of tough financial times ahead, having presided over a huge increase in the national debt. It now totals £1.75trillion, according to official statistics, having stood at £960billion when the Conservatives came to power in 2010.
So should Mr Lamont succeed in his quest to become our local MP, and then a Tory government moves to slash the Scottish Government’s budget yet again, will he support such a cut? I think we should be told.
A few days ago the Scottish Conservatives’ four-page leaflet, Scotland’s Choice, came through our letter box.
Although I am not a supporter of this party, I thought that I should at least read it.
So, what were the main Conservative policies in this general election that were going to affect Scotland that I read about? – none.
There was no mention of any policy that may be in their manifesto. No opportunity taken to reassure Scotland about Brexit. No mention of foreign policy. No mention of welfare. No mention of fisheries or farming.
What was mentioned in this glossy leaflet? – another independence referendum. How many times? – 25.
What I concluded from this was an obsession by the leaders – Theresa May and Ruth Davidson – and their party about independence. So much so that it appeared to me that they had nothing new to offer the UK, let alone Scotland. But by distracting people about a second referendum they can continue with their policies against the poorest in our society, creating a perfect smokescreen for the two Conservative candidates in our area.
Do they think that by continually going on about the possibility of another referendum that people in the Borders will be fooled into forgetting about the policies that they have already put in place? Changes to welfare benefits (including the “rape clause”), cuts to disability benefits, removal of housing benefits for out-of-work 16 to 24-year-olds, renewal of Trident, selling weapons to rogue nations, scrapping Human Rights Act – I could fill a four-page leaflet with this information.
I am not an advocate of any of the other parties, but this vacuous leaflet is a clear statement why we should not waste a vote on the Conservatives.
TAKING CREDIT WHERE IT’S NOT DUE
On John Lamont’s general election website, there is a heading as follows: “Lamont meets Nenthorn residents to discuss broadband problems”.
The picture below this is most certainly not us – I know, as I am the organiser in the village for the improvement of broadband.
By the time we asked John Lamont and Paul Wheelhouse MSP to a brief meeting as a courtesy, we had already had a long and fruitful meeting with Calum Kerr (SNP candidate for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk), who put us in touch with Brendan Dick, BT head in Scotland. He met us also, long before John Lamont, and negotiations were well under way before John Lamont’s brief meeting.
He took a picture, promised to contact newspapers, put the photo upside down on his website, and did nothing about contacting the press. But, luckily, by that time we had been told that we would be getting the benefit of the fibre cable which goes through Nenthorn. This is well underway now, and not at all because of John Lamont.
I wonder what other “facts” on his election website are not what they seem.
BORDERLINE DEBATE HOTTING UP
It may be a bit unfair, but it seems the so-called Conservative and Unionist Party is allowed to have two different general election manifestos – one for Scotland and one for England and Wales.
In other words, Scotland can do things differently when Theresa May and Ruth Davidson say so.
But surely the fact that their party needs to produce two equally-cruel and austere documents in the space of 48 hours means their “precious Union” is already fraying at the seams.
For example, John Lamont and Rachael Hamilton, their candidates here on June 8, are now able to tell pensioners in Coldstream, Sprouston or Burnmouth they will be able to hang on to their winter fuel payments. But a few hundred yards away in Cornhill, Carham and Lamberton respectively, Tory hopeful Anne-Marie Trevelyan will (hopefully) be telling voters in the Berwick constituency they stand to lose their annual £100 windfall.
According to Ms Davidson, the separate policies are justified as Scotland has a colder climate than the rest of the UK. She hasn’t told us what the temperature difference is between Coldstream and Cornhill or in other neighbouring communities on either side of the national boundary.
Perhaps weather girl Carol Kirkwood could help!
If ever there was a cynical ploy to practically buy votes in Scotland, then this has to be it. I prefer to believe that the likes of Scottish Secretary David Mundell, Ms Davidson and all of the Tory candidates in marginal Scottish seats were horrified when Mrs May unveiled her plans to punish the elderly in that former Halifax textile mill. Rapid back-tracking was the order of the day.
After all, I recall during the 2014 referendum campaign that Conservative supporters in the Borders were warning old folk their pensions would be slashed if they voted for Scottish independence. It was simply another desperate tactic to frighten a vulnerable section of the electorate.
This time round the Tories have shot themselves in the foot on winter fuel payments and the planned removal of the triple lock on pensions.
Perhaps Mr Lamont and Mrs Hamilton can persuade us OAPs that their party has our best interests at heart. I, for one, will take some convincing.
STAGE-MANAGED AND PHONEY
The general election is only two weeks away – called suddenly by a Prime Minister who insisted she wouldn’t call one, and on the verge of the most important negotiations Britain has faced in over half a century.
Theresa May has refused to debate with political opponents for the entire duration of the campaign.
Instead, she heads off in a bus to “tour” Britain – the same bus used by “Remain” in last year’s referendum, when she argued that the very course she now insists on would be a disaster for Britain. “Campaign” stops are completely stage-managed. Apart from a few uncomfortable run-ins with Jenny and Joe Public, she addresses only hand-picked “crowds”, answering approved questions from invited journalists.
At a Leeds factory she waited for the workforce to go home, then moved her supporters in to make it look like she was talking from a “factory floor”.
It’s all completely phoney.
In light of chronic Tory mismanagement of our society and economy, how do they get away with this nonsense?
The Sunday Times Rich List shows the rich getting richer, while ill-paid working people are forced to use food banks to get by. UK pensions are among the meanest in the developed world, yet they’re changing the rules to make them even meaner. People with age-related illnesses like dementia are to be made to sell off their houses to pay for treatment.
All this with a £1.7trillion national debt that the Tory strategy of low-wages, zero hours contracts, selling the NHS to private companies and attacking the disadvantaged does nothing to solve.
Then there’s Brexit, which will hit rural areas like ours particularly badly, losing EU funding and access to markets for farming, fishing and all the ancillary industries that depend on them. The Tory line north of the border? – “No to a Scottish referendum”. Dear God, are they on another planet?
This election result could wreck the economy of our region for years to come. It’s vital that we elect someone we know will fight for us at Westminster, not someone who only insists that we do what we’re told and, if elected, will head off to Westminster to do exactly what he’s told.
This is an election about the future of the Borders – and an MP who will stand and fight for our constituency is already in place. We elected him (Calum Kerr) in 2015.
PLEA TO LOOK ON BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE
Having been a contributor to the weekly Yes and No debate, I recently decided that whatever point I make for a No vote will not in any way alter the opinion of a Yes voter, and vice eversa, so I have resisted the temptation and spent more time in the garden.
But last week’s tirade from manic depressant Richard West rattled my cage.
His total belief and hope that Armageddon is about to strike England after Brexit has no foundation whatsoever – even avid Remoaners admit their predictions of economic meltdown after Brexit was activated have proved unfounded. I understand there will be huge problems to overcome in the negotiations, but, being an optimist, feel confident that an agreement beneficial to both parties will be agreed, unlike Mr West who – like Nick Clegg, Tim Farron and Peter Mandleson – before retiring to bed, probably pray to the Lord that Brexit is a complete failure and their beloved EU punishes us for our sins.
Mr West’s view that only independence is of any importance overrides any logic, in that failure in the negotiations will impact on the Scottish economy as well as England’s.
I appeal to him to break the hold of negativity and try and be positive in his outlook on life. Unfortunately, I’m not optimistic that will happen.
Mr G. Holford
MEANING WHAT ONE SAYS
Those unhappy with Theresa May saying in the Conservative manifesto that an independence referendum rerun should not happen until “the Brexit process has played out” and when it has “public consent” should remember that Nicola Sturgeon has said things in the not too distant past that would have had a similar effect, if only she had meant them.
When seeking to encourage the Yes vote to turn out in 2014, she said the referendum would be the last chance in a “generation”. Then in subsequent elections, wanting to urge more people to vote SNP, she reassured us all that there would not be another referendum unless the people of Scotland wanted one.
So not so very different to what Theresa May is saying today, with the only significant difference being perhaps that one means what she says and the other did not.
CRUEL AND CALLOUS DEPORTATIONS
I had to read the letter from Christopher Green (Southern, May 18) twice just in case he was attempting irony – but no, he was merely guilty of the same crass, arrogant, hypocrisy as Theresa May, Ruth Davidson and the rest of the “nasty” Tory party.
His sad, misguided attempt to criticise the SNP – “Scotland has 8% of the UK population and yet only absorbs 4% of current immigration” – would be laughable if it was not such a serious issue.
He seems wilfully ignorant of the fact that the UK Home Office currently controls immigration. It not only limits Scotland’s ability to grow our workforce – teachers, nurses academics, students etc. – but even worse, disgracefully and shamefully is deporting from Scotland an ever-increasing number of decent, hard-working individuals and families who wish to make a valuable and welcome contribution to our culture and economy.
The latest in a long, long list of immoral, cruel and callous decisions concerns a Canadian, Dr Kevin Parsons, working at Glasgow University’s Institute of Biodiversity, who, with his wife and two children (one was born in Glasgow), faces deportation on June 11. Perhaps Tory candidate John Lamont would care to comment?
This scandal needs to stop, and we in Scotland need to be able to boost our working population, and the sooner we are in charge of our own affairs, including immigration, the better placed we will be to build the kind of welcoming and inclusive country we wish to be.
In passing, I notice that major Unionist parties at Westminster are attempting, in their manifestos, to catch up with – by copying – progressive Scottish Government policies, such as scrapping tuition fees.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – we must be doing something right.
MSP ANSWERS HER CRITIC
I was amused and a little perplexed by the accusation from Robin Anderson (letters, May 11) that when the SNP was part of the administration of Scottish Borders Council I failed to criticise the council.
I have five words for Mr Anderson: “The Great Tapestry of Scotland.”
Christine Grahame MSP
A PRIVILEGE TO REPRESENT JED
I am writing to say a very big thank-you to all those who supported me in my election campaign.
I am so privileged to be representing Jedburgh and District over the next five years, and I do not underestimate the task ahead.
As the youngest councillor to be elected, I shall be putting my energy and enthusiasm to good use.”
TAKING A LEAF OUT OF CHINA’S BOOK
I recently received a Conservative general election leaflet urging me to vote for them – tricky, since it gives not a single policy or proposal, nor any indication of what the party stands for.
It is solely and wholly 100% devoted to opposing a second independence referendum. Coming from the party which claims the SNP is obsessed with a referendum, this seems to suggest the obsession may lie elsewhere.
It is clear that the central factor in this election is Brexit – it is, after all, why Prime Minister Theresa May called the poll.
However, that is not discussed in the leaflet, and nor do I hear it when Scottish Conservative politicians are interviewed. They seem determined to sideline this critical event – and all other day-job issues as well.
One of the slogans repeated by the Conservatives is that we need “strong and stable leadership”. For some people, this conjures up images of Franco and Mussolini, politicians of the right – like the Tories.
However, I think this analogy is less accurate than a comparison with modern-day China.
There is no argument that China has a strong and stable leadership which presides over a society where capitalist economics flourish, despite it being a Communist state, while the gap between rich and poor is as wide as it is in Britain. The leadership sees disagreement with its decisions as verging on treason.
This is a sentiment not yet fully developed by Mrs May. But when she refers to opposition to her being made up of “extremists and separatists”, where the separatists are, in the context of her speech given in Aberdeenshire, unambiguously the SNP, and by extension the 45% of the population who vote for that party, this is uncomfortably divisive, as well as insulting to all these ordinary people who cast their vote democratically and peaceably.
There is one particular measure which supports this comparison with the People’s Republic of China.
Last year the Conservative government announced the removal of child tax credits from third and subsequent children. Contrary to some impressions, this is a benefit which is overwhelmingly paid to families with someone in work – more than 80% goes to people with low earned incomes.
This Tory measure is a form of social engineering similar to China’s current two-child policy (replacing the previous one-child policy). The difference between the British version and the Chinese one is that in China it applies to everyone, while here it is only the poorer members of society who are being “encouraged” to limit their family size.
Already there is widespread reporting of charitable agencies and Citizens’ Advice receiving queries from women about how their financial position will be affected with a view to seeking an abortion if they cannot afford to raise any more children. Naturally, the Catholic Church is alarmed by this development, but there is distinct unease as well among all Christian denominations as well as other religions and many people of no religion.
While a great deal of opposition to this measure is centred upon the notorious “rape clause” exemption, traditional Conservative supporters might want to think about the implications for that most central of Tory beliefs, one which has informed the party’s philosophy for 200 years – the family.
Until now there was never any distinction between the families of rich and poor – it was everyone’s unassailable right to be able to create and maintain whatever size family they chose. Conservatives of previous generations were to the fore in supporting the welfare of children and the fundamental importance of the family for social cohesion. It was an essential component of genuine one-nation Toryism.
This now appears to have been abandoned in the name of financial discipline. Poor families must pay for austerity measures generated by a banking scandal – or rather children are to be sacrificed instead of finding the political will to take a little more from the very well-off.
This is not the Conservatism of the likes of Harold Macmillan or Edward Heath, indeed it is not the creed of some of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet, such as Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke.
Theresa May is the most centralising and presidential-style Prime Minister we have had since the Second World War, and I am sorry that Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson has now hitched herself to that wagon. The once-feisty deflator of Boris Johnson, the reasoned voice of maintaining trade connections with Europe, even if only through the Single Market, has become a strident Brexiteer and a one-trick anti-SNP foghorn, outdoing even the tedious Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale crying “SNP bad” in the wilderness.
Would a more family-friendly, less-authoritarian Conservative party re-emerge in an independent Scotland? It’s worth thinking about.
STANDING UP FOR LOCAL HEROES
Bravo to the Aberdeen councillors who defied the centralist attitude of all political parties who seem to think that they know better than local people and locally-elected representatives of the people about what is best for the local population.
Before the “local” was taken out of local government in 1975, and we first had districts and regions before administrations became even more remote with the introduction of unitary councils covering populations of around 110,000 voters, Scotland had such a wonderful form of real local democracy. Practically every country in Europe copied it and still have a real local democratic process mostly, but not always, founded on the principal of local people with local knowledge without interference from outside their area.
The relentless march towards central control by all political parties in Scotland has destroyed the idea of local government and largely destroyed the very ideals of democracy and the much banded about idea that “sovereignty lies with the people, not political parties”.
We have seen in recent years the centralisation of further education, the police forces, the fire and rescue services and even the water supply that is God’s gift to Scotland.
Does it not matter that civic pride seems to have evaporated since the days that town and county councils provided real services to the population and the areas they covered? Does it not matter that we have a skeleton service of roads maintenance and street sweeping; of waste disposal and waste management since central government (of every political persuasion) decided they knew best and rode roughshod over the wishes of the people? Does it not matter that even in towns of around 6,000 which used to be the size of every local authority, we have no police station or even police presence, and in some cases no fire station?
Scotland used to be a great country, even under the panoply of the British Empire, but more so for hundreds of years before it.
When Earl David created Royal Burghs in the 12th century he made sure they meant something, and even up to the disaster of 1975 these places were part of the judiciary and had to be included in the signing of treaties and trading deals. Alas, no more and now even most elected councillors have to tow a party line and sign a document when they are elected to guarantee they stay in order.
That is not democracy any more than central government telling a local authority it can have extra millions of pounds to spend, providing the councillors spend it on what the ruling government party decides on their behalf.
I have been a member of two political parties, each with their own agendas, but mostly about control. Control of the people and control of what now passes for local government. That is why I stood at the latest council election as an Independent and that is why Scotland must rid itself of the control freaks in all political parties who seem hellbent on destroying democracy.
I mentioned town councils earlier and if you look at the evidence of their programmes you will find they, individually, had far more powers than the few remaining supposedly “local” authorities where the views of the local people and their elected representatives are treated with disdain.
Why else would the likes of planning and licensing matters be described as “quasi-judicial”? Why can’t locally-elected representatives take decisions that affect local people? Why do we have to have huge and extremely ugly wind farms built on our scenic hills and mountains to save the populations of Glasgow and Edinburgh, but at the same time we are denied a proper roads network to get there as “there is no justification for proper roads in rural areas”.
So I applaud the newly-elected councillors in Aberdeen, no matter what party or parties they may belong to. Local should mean local and central political parties should have no say or no part to play in local authorities.
Whatever happened to subsidiarity?
W. Kenneth Gunn