Curtis Welsh was near Smailholm when he took this image of straight drills leading the eye towards the Black Hill.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
NO CAPITAL RETURN FOR THE BORDERS
Much credit has been claimed of late by the Scottish National Party for the success of the Borders Railway, success which does not always stand up to scrutiny.
In an edition of Borders Connect, published by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) last summer, the success of the railway was celebrated. Councillor Stuart Bell (SNP), in his role as executive member for economic development, said: “These incredible passenger figures give us further impetus to really push on and build on the blueprint commitments”.
To me, the figures really did look incredible – an increase in trips of 22% over prediction, with an increase in passenger numbers at Tweedbank, for example, of 969% over prediction.
I wrote a simple analysis of the figures and incorporated them into a letter. I wrote: “If both sets of figures are correct, then surely the stratospheric passenger numbers at the southernmost section of the line must be balanced by catastrophically low passenger numbers on the rest of the line.”
I concluded that “thousands of day-trips made by Borderers to Edinburgh without reciprocal trips made by Edinburgh residents to the Borders would clearly result in a net loss to the local economy”.
My letter was forwarded on my behalf to SNP MSP Humza Yousaf, minister for transport and the islands.
In his letter of reply, the minister said: “Mr Green’s understanding of the patronage analysis for the first six months of operation is correct.
“The overall 22% additional patronage, which is based on the 2012 business case, sees significant patronage increases versus plan from the Scottish Borders stations being offset by disappointing Midlothian patronage.”
Lorne Anton (letters, May 11) claimed success for both the SNP and himself with the words, “Perhaps the greatest success story in recent years for our region has been the Borders Railway” and “The SNP government cut through Mr [John] Lamont’s smoke and steam and, with SBC, delivered the railway”.
Mr Anton also claimed that the railway had reduced congestion and emissions.
In 2008, in a blatant attempt to gain “green” support for the railway, SNP MSP Stuart Stevenson, minister for transport, said: “It will create a sustainable mode of transport that will reduce overall carbon emissions in the regions. We estimate that some 450,000 tonnes will be saved with a monetarised value of around £4m over a 60-year period”.
In a 2016 letter from Mr Yousaf to Graeme Johnstone (SBC), the minister said: “This study will examine the case for extending the Borders Railway, along with improvements to the A1, A7 and A68, within a corridor-based multi-modal transport study.”
In the minister’s reply to my letter, he proposes that “over 100 development sites” (within the Borders) will be made possible by the railway.
It seems that both Mr Anton’s and Mr Stevenson’s suggested environmental gains will go up in the smoke of Mr Yousaf’s suggested development plans, along with the unique rural quality of the Borders’ landscape.
It is also likely that the current drain on the Borders’ economy resulting from none-reciprocated shopping trips to Edinburgh will turn into a flood should the line be extended through Hawick and on to Carlisle.
The railway undoubtedly brings benefits to hundreds, if not thousands, of individual Borderers – this, however, does not necessarily mean it will ultimately benefit them or the community as a whole.
LEADERS MUST ACT FOR EVERYONE
Wherever we find ourselves on the political spectrum and no matter how we view Scotland’s big question, all will have experienced politicians we do not agree with claiming to speak for us during this general election campaign.
As the election results become clear on Friday, June 9, each of our political leaders will no doubt claim some kind of victory from the outcome, and in turn will make various commitments to acting for all of us, not just those who voted for them.
But for the people of Scotland and across the UK, who are deeply troubled at this time about a range of critical issues, the need is for those leaders to remind themselves regularly in the weeks and months ahead of ensuring that promises to represent everyone are demonstrated in their actions on our behalf, and do not simply fade away in the memory as empty day-one soundbites.
MAIN POLICIES IN A NUTSHELL
SNP: (1) despite the substantial pro-UK margin of the 2014 referendum, destroy the UK; (2) destroy the UK; (3) destroy the UK; (4) grovel to be allowed to enter the EU to be dictated to by Brussels Eurocrats, despite having far too high a debt-to-GDP ratio and double the unemployment rate of the rest of the UK to be allowed entry; (5) raise taxes to destroy businesses and wealth creation; (6) create an even more out-of-control welfare system while failing every NHS, policing, security and education performance target.
Labour: (1) flip-flop on destroying the UK in cahoots with the SNP; (2) return us to the 1970s with blackouts, a three-day week, a union dictatorship, eye-watering unemployment and crippling national debt; (3) weaken the security and defence of the UK; (4) increase immigration to be kind; (5) avoid any tough decisions and tax-and-spend to cripple future generations; (6) who knows what else? We are too confused by numbers to be rigorous or care.
Lib Dems: (1) maintain the UK and keep EU membership; (2) increase welfare spending whatever the cost; (3) weaken defence and security; (4) who knows what else?
Greens: (1) do whatever the SNP tells us; (2) avoid living in the real world.
Conservative and Unionists: (1) protect the UK constitution; (2) respect the democratic results of the referenda in 2014 (55% vs 45%) and in 2016 (17 vs 16 million); (3) be grown-up and honest, and confront the economic reality of maintaining a functional future healthcare and welfare system that is already out-of-control and unsustainable; (4) increase security and UK defence; (5) incentivise businesses that create wealth and employment to pay for (3) above.
PEOPLE’S WELFARE NOT ON AGENDA
The general election outcome will be the most important for many generations to come.
The future well-being of all the people in the UK will be greatly affected by the result. In Scotland, voters have a chance to send a clear message that remaining in the UK is fundamental to a positive future.
Over the past 10 years in office, the SNP has not risen to the task of governing Scotland, since its only interest has been that of independence and separation from the UK.
Governance of our country, and the welfare of its people, have not, it seems, been on the SNP agenda. Improving Scotland’s economy has been too much for that party, yet again.
Nicola Sturgeon’s only answer is to blame Westminster for the SNP’s self-inflicted woes, even though, during this period, more than £100bn has been silently received by the Scottish Government from Westminster. Indeed, an additional £350m is being received in 2017 from an update within the Barnet Formula which, without this increase, runs at over £11bn in 2016 for Scotland from Westminster,
Yet Ms Sturgeon’s election battle cry has been: “Voting Tory means Tory cuts.” It would seem that the opposite is true since the SNP cut Scotland’s councils’ national funding by £217m in this current year, hurting all north of the border. We are never told what we receive.
All we ever hear is the constant carping of Ms Sturgeon blaming Westminster – a never-ending smokescreen that the people of Scotland are now beginning to see through; just as the people have realised that independence is a total folly – it should have been dropped when rejected by the people. It seems that, to the nationalists, democracy is but a feather in their way. Ms Sturgeon cannot abandon her childhood dreams.
However, like it or lump it, June 8 is all about Brexit, regardless of Nicola wishing it wasn’t.
The Brexit negotiations will demand total confidentiality as far as the UK is concerned – that is the way of negotiation.
It was obvious that Nicola Sturgeon’s stance precluded her from being ‘in the loop’, so to speak. Her problem that she cannot make Scotland’s voice heard is alas of her own making. She must now trust Prime Minister Theresa May’s pledge that she will have the interests of all in the UK foremost in her negotiations.
So, what now for the SNP?
One senses that its constant negativity is not a trait that the public admires, and will not carry the nationalists through for much longer. So, unless there is a dramatic change of mindset as to how the SNP is run, the die is cast for a very difficult future for it and Scotland.
On June 8 make your vote count and send your message that we reject the way Scotland is being run by the SNP. More than ever, we need harmony in the years to come, putting an end to the division that will stand in the way of the common and collective opportunity that Brexit will offer us.
John E. Payne
DIVIDED ALONG SECTARIAN LINES
In her half-page eulogy to the SNP (Southern, June 1), Nicola Sturgeon claims that Scotland has become “a more inclusive society under the SNP”.
Nonsense. Scotland has become divided along sectarian lines, thanks to the SNP’s continual attempt to separate Scotland from the world’s fifth largest economy, and the millions of English people who think, act and live as we do. Thousands of Scots are totally alienated from the SNP and do not believe the nationalist claims that Scotland would be a better country if the SNP had total control.
I have a friend who, when he sees Sturgeon on Reporting Scotland, tells me he has great difficulty preventing himself from throwing the remote control at the screen.
No wonder Sturgeon’s popularity has slumped, with most Scots disapproving of her performance. Her constant whingeing and carping about how badly Scotland is being treated by Westminster is akin to being stuck in a cloud of midges on a damp windless night.
Far from being treated badly, thanks to the Barnett formula, every Scot – man, woman and child – has over £1,600 spent on them compared with England. It is only because of this cash that all the freebies which the SNP claim for their own can be afforded. Separation would end this cash.
Scotland is already in the red by £15bn and would not only have to terminate the freebies, but hike VAT and national insurance, and slash spending on the NHS, the police, education and transport. We would really know the meaning of austerity then.
The nationalists know this, but they ignore it. It’s time for them to tell the truth to the people.
Under independence, there would have been no Borders railway, no dualling of the A9, no new Forth road bridge and no mighty aircraft carriers being built at Rosyth. All these projects could only be financed with Scotland as part of the UK.
There is another thing which is deeply troubling about the SNP – its lack of democracy. When did you last hear one of their MSPs or MPs giving a personal opinion at odds with party policy?
Never. It’s all top-down stuff. Speak out and you will be summoned to appear before a hearing of the bosses, accused of “bringing the party into disrepute”.
And now Scotland’s journalists are concerned about the way in which the SNP government is blocking Freedom of Information requests and halting the gathering of statistics which it has a statutory duty to keep.
The Southern has given much space recently to the airing of nationalist grievances, but one that really gets my goat is the complaint that the council and Westminster elections have been dominated by the prospect of another independence referendum.
What do they expect? The SNP only has itself to blame for the fact that there is only one question in Scottish politics – and it isn’t the economy, education or local services. As Nicola Sturgeon says, independence “transcends” everything.
It apparently even transcends the fundamental tenet of democracy, which is that the outcome of a plebiscite has to be respected.
That’s why we have to accept Brexit, like it or not. It would be pointless to have a second independence referendum, given that nationalists didn’t accept the outcome of the last one less than three years ago. Scotland decided to remain part of the UK, come what may.
That result, as the SNP made clear, will endure for a generation – after all, it was the SNP that used the “once-in-a-generation” device to improve its chances of winning, and it is now stuck with it.
So the sooner nationalists and Greens accept the verdict of the people the better for all of us: they need to concentrate on restoring our economy, education and public services to something like the shape in which they found them.
And the least The Southern can do is stand up for our democracy, and show some concern for what the majority of us think, and want to read about.
PROPAGANDA FROM DARK DAYS OF 1939
As no doubt was its intention, I was amused by the SNP poster, “Keep Calum; vote Kerr”, but not convinced of its effectiveness.
It is surely somewhat counter-productive for the SNP to source its propaganda from a Ministry of Information poster from the dark days of 1939, described by one critic as “a distillation of a crucial moment in Britishness”.
The allusion to the need to “Keep Calm”, moreover, suggests perhaps a party fearful of some sort of political “blitz”.
BLOW FOR POST-WAR BABY BOOMERS
I’m surprised Prime Minister Theresa May seems to have only just realised we are an ageing population and that the country “cannot afford greater numbers of pensioners” – the demographics have been there for all of my 61 years.
For 47 of those years, the Tories have been in power, but it appears that in all that time they haven’t been creating a plan to deal with it.
Having just realised that pensioners are “the problem”, the Tory solution to this demographic timebomb is that this generation, having paid the most tax in modern times (direct and indirect taxation, including VAT, the fuel escalator, community charge and others), now needs to work longer than previous generations.
Forget the promise made to triple-lock our pensions, pay more for fuel, accept the third worst pensions in the developed world (House of Commons library SN/SGS/00290) and be subject to an assets grab when we die, limiting any assets for our children to £100K.
Young people already have a hard time getting on the housing ladder and earning a living wage during this time of Tory austerity – many rely on this legacy from their parents to get on that ladder.
I heard Theresa May say that we can’t expect the younger generation to pay for us. I can see the appeal in that, but that’s a double whammy because our National Insurance payments have been paying the bills for previous generations which is why the pot is dry for ours. Think about it – this post-war baby boom generation paid in the most, but there is nothing left to take care of us.
This shows incredible mismanagement by all previous governments, especially the past and current Tory one whose plan has been to reduce taxation on the rich, allow tax avoidance schemes and reduce corporation tax.
We need to break the cycle of the younger generation paying for the older one. This should be done by reversing Tory tax cuts and widening the tax net which is currently focused on a very narrow band of people while multi-national companies pay miniscule amounts in tax and others use offshore tax loopholes.
We also need to live within our means and reconsider the billions that the Tories have committed for projects like Trident, Hinckley Point, HS Rail and, dare I say, Brexit. These costly actions have created “the problem” that now must be filled by stripping pensioners of their assets.
We might be old, but we are not stupid and this government attack on pensioners must end on June 8.
SENDING JOHN A MESSAGE
Tory candidate John Lamont’s A3-size leaflet dropped through my door.
Pretty much as expected – almost three-quarters of it dedicated to “sending Nicola Sturgeon a message”. Think we’ve all got the message by now, John – not too keen on another independence referendum. Still not sure what that has to do with the general election, but if that’s your only policy...
Was interested in one part though: “By electing John, you will continue to have a local champion who will stand up for NHS services, schools and transport links...” I hate to be the one to break it to him, but those are all devolved issues, the stuff he was supposed to be dealing with while he was an MSP.
The rest of Mr Lamont’s leaflet seems to be wanting and campaigning for things, but nothing about what he has actually done or achieved.
The SNP’s Calum Kerr gives many examples of what he has actually done and people he has actually helped during his two years as an MP in his leaflet. A much more positive view.
Some people may think I’m picking on Mr Lamont, but I haven’t heard anything from either Labour or the Lib Dems, so it’s difficult to make any comments on their policies or anything about them.
I think on June 8 the electorate should send John Lamont a message – not about indyref2 – but that we want an MP who will stand up for the people of the Borders. And it’s not him.
West High Street
THE PERSON, NOT THE PARTY
I voted for Calum Kerr as he never talks about independence.
You vote for the person, not the party. We all speak the same language.