Derek Wood took this image of sunset over Oxton.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
PARKING POSER FOR COUNCILLORS
Borders councillors appear hell-bent on inflicting the Great Tapestry of Scotland on local taxpayers, despite the fact that it is not a top 20 attraction and has not proved to be a moneyspinner elsewhere in the country.
It is extremely unlikely that it will wash its face in Galashiels where it will create its own problems.
Those wishing to view the tapestry will largely travel by car since elderly folk will not relish the long walk from the station, unless they enjoy window shopping as they pass the multitude of charity shops and empty lots.
Perhaps those councillors who support the tapestry in defiance of the large number of taxpayers who petitioned against it will enlighten us as to where the droves of visitors are going to park their cars. Is it intended that they will be accommodated in the adjacent Iceland car park, where they will have to pay for the privilege, just like the rest of us who visit Galashiels to do our shopping, or is parking envisaged within the tapestry site?
It is extremely odd that those outwith Galashiels who use the inefficient ‘Toy Train’ to do their shopping and business in Edinburgh can park all day for free at Tweedbank, yet those who shop in Galashiels centre have to pay. This anomaly requires to be recognised and addressed.
A response from the council on all points would be appreciated.
TARGET BONUSES OF THOSE RESPONSIBLE
I am writing to express my outrage following the decision by the Royal Bank of Scotland to close 62 of its branches, many of them in the Borders, including my own local branch in Selkirk.
Whilst I accept that many of us have moved to electronic banking, I see no evidence that this has lessened the footfall in the Selkirk branch where we regularly have to queue to be served, and where the efficient staff deal with a huge variety of queries and problems.
I have a feeling of deja-vu from the Beeching era where it is now acknowledged that British Rail deliberately massaged the revenue figures to justify closure.
As a loyal customer of over 50 years and a shareholder, I feel that we, the ordinary customers, and retail bank staff who have served us well are being sold down the river, and our local communities, business and organisations are being made to pay the price of previous follies of top management.
If economies must be made, then I would suggest that the bank starts with the bonuses of those who have created its problems in the first place. This, after all, is a bank that is still owned by 72 per cent of us, following its bail-out by the Westminster government.
In the meantime, could I ask all Royal Bank customers to write to their MSPs and MPs asking that this further degradation of our rural areas be stopped.
David J. Dalglish
BANKING ON OUR MP
As business and personal banking customers of RBS in Melrose, we are appalled at its decision to effectively pull out of the Borders.
The bank’s slogan is ‘Royal Bank for Scotland’, but this is certainly not being felt in this region.
For years we have been encouraged to do everything online so that this bank, which caused its own downfall, can return to profit and make itself more attractive to get off the Westminster government’s books.
To leave the majority of Border towns with no daily banking facilities is a betrayal of its customers and we look to our MP, John Lamont, to challenge RBS over this decision.
The government has a majority stake in RBS and as our representative of that government we expect Mr Lamont to campaign as vigorously as he did over Indyref2 in the lead-up to the General Election.
John, the people of the Borders expect and need your support.
MP’S CHEAP POLITICAL STUNTS
I recently had a fruitless exchange with Borders MP John Lamont, asking what substantial point he had made in budget discussions with Chancellor Philip Hammond which led to the end of Scottish police and fire and rescue services paying VAT.
His first answer was that the SNP are very, very bad. On pressing the question, he ended our exchange.
We are meant to praise Scottish Tory MPs for getting this multi-million pound anomaly overturned. Mr Lamont was certainly keen to claim all the credit.
However, if the Chancellor was able to “untie” his hands over VAT in this budget, he could have done it at any time.
With one cheap political stunt the Tories demonstrated that the Scottish Government case, that this anomaly was unnecessary and indefensible, was correct. It has cost emergency services north of the border millions of pounds.
Mr Lamont recently infuriated Poppy Scotland when he tried to claim credit for them getting a funding award. Poppy Scotland publicly rejected his claim.
On broadband coverage he is trying to make a big fuss about the Scottish Government not implementing the next phase of a UK-style step-by-step delivery, when the Holyrood administration, with £428m funding through the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme, is actually aiming for a 100 per cent national roll-out by the end of this parliament.
Although a UK reserved responsibility, the SNP Government has stepped in to help the delivery of broadband across Scotland (very successfully, according to Ofcom).
You would think this is an area where the two governments could co-operate creatively for the benefit of everyone, but no.
In yet another stunt, Mr Lamont hauled up UK Minister Matt Hancock to tell us that Westminster are now going to give their (very modest) sum of money directly to local councils, attempting to compete with and slander the Scottish Government, rather than co-operate.
In his column last week, Mr Lamont repeated Ruth Davidson’s limp joke about Philip Hammond’s “strings attached” boost to the Scottish block grant in the recent budget, unaware it seems that the Fraser of Allander Institute has already analysed Mr Hammond’s “boost” and broadly agrees with Nicola Sturgeon. The Scottish budget is in for yet another major squeeze – more than half of the “increase” in the Scottish grant cannot be spent defending front-line services, and must be paid back to Westminster in any case.
At the last election I worried that, at a time of national crisis, John Lamont would turn out to be a mere bench-warmer in the House of Commons, and do little, if anything, to stand up for our interests. I fear I may have been over-optimistic.
With the dire state of the UK economy and threats facing us all here in the Borders as a consequence of Westminster’s currently clueless Brexit “negotiations”, we need an MP capable of offering much more than Mr Lamont’s cheap, divisive stunts.
LIVING IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE
I am pleased for Paul Singleton (letters, November 30) when he says he feels “optimistic about the future for the Union of the United Kingdom” and that opportunities are beginning to fall into place now that Brexit is beginning to “fire up”.
As usual, however, looking at the facts, rather than his unsubstantiated opinions, it’s clear he is living in some sort of parallel universe.
The rest of Europe, and indeed the world, are watching an incompetent, divided and divisive Unionist government at Westminster imploding – indecisively jumping from pillar to post, and, it would appear, making as many enemies as possible in the process.
Democracy and diplomacy are words they seem not to understand.
The OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility), in its summing up of Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget, makes the simple point that, in spite of all the spin, the government’s own targets regarding growth, productivity, debt reduction and Brexit benefitting the whole country have failed, sending the economy into a downward spiral.
What we are left with is yet more austerity, a falling pound and stagnating wages for our hard-working public servants and emergency services.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Theresa May swans off to Saudi Arabia promoting the sale of yet more British bombs which are killing and maiming innocent children in Yemen, and refuses to do the right thing and cancel the proposed visit of President Donald Trump after he supported the extremist, right-wing “Britain First” organisation, whose only aim is to spread hatred and poison, encouraging violence and division.
Mr Singleton’s view that “Major political decisions will be made in a traditional manner at Westminster”, which “is by far the best equipped”, were it not so serious, would be laughable and is at the very least highly questionable.
His suggestion that we should “stop migration to this country and all foreign aid” is xenophobia of the worst kind, and indicates his desire to create a small-minded, isolationalist and inward-looking country – the very opposite view to most people in Scotland.
Does he not understand that the NHS, farming, fishing, the service industries and businesses all over the country depend heavily on migrant labour, and that migrants contribute significantly to our economy and our culture.
Surely, we in Scotland, with a need to boost our working population, can make a much better job of running our own country (yes, we are a country, not a region of England) by building a welcoming, inclusive and fair society, running our own affairs, making our own decisions and creating opportunities for everyone who chooses to live here.
STENCH OF FISHING CHIEFS’ HYPOCRISY
The major fishing port of Grimsby voted to leave the European Union by 70 per cent.
The town and a sizeable area around it is dependent on this crucially-important industry which imports, processes and exports fish, mainly to the EU.
As the true impact Brexit will have on the fishing industry is dawning on people, the town is panicking.
Instead of lorries driving straight from ports to destinations in the EU, the prospect of perishable fish products sitting in containers on docksides waiting to be cleared by customs is truly frightening.
In an act of hypocrisy, industry leaders in Grimsby are seeking special dispensation so that profits will not be hit. If their plea is considered by the Westminster government, what would that say about the contemptuous dismissal of similar requests from Scotland?
As the government backs itself ever deeper into a cul-de-sac after months of negotiations, nothing has been resolved.
One problem in particular seems intractable – the Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland border.
The logical outcome of Brexit dictates that there will be a customs border, but neither the EU, the British or Irish governments, nor the DUP (the NI party propping up a fragile Tory majority) want that. So what is the solution?
As I understand the situation, one of the following has to happen:
1) Brexit is abandoned. If that happens watch the fireworks. Nigel Farage might actually explode.
2) There is no border. Both the south and north stay in the EU. Apart from being an insult to Scottish voters, would that not defeat one of the reasons England and Wales voted for Brexit – the control of immigrants?
3) If 2 happened would there then have to be customs checks of all goods and people entering mainland Britain from the island of Ireland? That would go down well wouldn’t it?
4) Lastly, the problem is eliminated by the north (which also voted to stay in the EU) uniting peacefully with the rest of Ireland. Aye, right.
Another outcome is possible, but unlikely within the time framework: Scotland becomes independent and remains in the EU as most voters wished. There are problematic customs borders in Ireland and at the Scottish border, but goods and services could then flow unhindered between the Irish Republic, Scotland and the EU.
Whatever solution is eventually created by Westminster and the EU, it is going to be a destabilising compromise leading to conflict in the future. None of the above will heal the divisions within the Conservative party which is what this unholy shambles was all about in the first place.
How long before farmers, the tourism industry, the City and goodness knows who else, are marching with Grimsby? What an Eton mess!
IS IT TOO LATE TO HALT THE ROT?
In keeping with the dictate of a nationalist government, which has taken control of all core powers in the running of our country – Police Scotland, NHS, education, named person, baby boxes – there is always, as has been seen throughout history, a price to pay.
With all the above mentioned in serious decline, the state of our “national police service” is one which should certainly have alarm bells ringing.
With pretty much all senior officers now suspended or retiring early, and the latest issue regarding use of the firearms facility, it would appear that the power from above has now dripped through to the senior people in office who obviously feel they are above question. This is something which, reported from a former eastern European country, would send shockwaves through society.
How long do we allow this intransigence to permeate from the SNP Government to the people with power that run services which affect our daily lives?
It’s time to halt this – but are we too late? I certainly hope not.
West High Street
PLEASE PLAY A PART IN FIGHTING VIRUS
The Borders director of public health has informed me that there is every possibility that this winter may be the worst one we have seen for many years when it comes to the circulating flu virus.
As a result I would like to ask all my constituents to play a part in helping to reduce the spread of flu within our homes, communities and workplaces.
The following are eligible for a free flu immunisation from their GP practice: people aged 65 or over, anyone with a serious health condition (particularly those with lung disease such as asthma or chronic bronchitis), pregnant women at any stage of pregnancy, those who are in receipt of a carer’s allowance, or those who are the main carer of an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill, and children in Scotland aged 2-5 years and not yet in school.
If you are eligible for a vaccine, but have not received an invitation, you should contact your GP practice. The flu vaccine is also offered to all primary school children at school. Occupational health services should also offer the vaccine to healthcare and social care workers in direct contact with clients.
Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctor visits, pneumonia, need for antibiotics, missed work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospital admissions. The flu vaccine has an excellent safety record and cannot give you flu.
Good hygiene also plays a part in reducing the spread to other people.
If you are not in one of the eligible groups for the free flu immunisation, you can get the vaccine in many High Street pharmacies for a small fee. Further information can be found on the NHS Inform website, or by phoning 0800 22 44 88.
John Lamont MP
LOOKING ANYTHING BUT ‘FREE’
The Competition and Markets Authority analysis of the care home sector in Scotland reveals a 40 per cent higher rate is typically charged to residents paying their own fees, compared with those funded by cash-strapped councils.
This is a direct result of the SNP’s 10-year onslaught on local authority budgets, forcing severely-underfunded councils to squeeze the payments to care homes and other third-sector providers. As a consequence, those needing care who have savings are having to pay significantly more as care homes try to balance their books.
For many senior citizens, the Scottish Government’s much-vaunted free-care-for-the-elderly policy is an ironic misnomer.
A significant proportion of our ageing population facing the onset of ill-health and dementia fear that life savings and the proceeds of the sale of their family home will almost entirely be used up if they need an extended period in a nursing home.
The nationalists no longer need worry about getting their hands on inheritance tax powers, as, sadly, for so many middle-income families in Scotland, meeting spiralling care home fees will leave little worth taxing.
The SNP’s care-for-the-elderly policy looks anything but ‘free’.
ANOTHER PUBLIC SECTOR PERK
Making St Andrew’s Day a national holiday has always been a farce, as the private sector can’t rely on public funding to pay for it, so virtually the only people who get to take it are employed in the public sector, ironically the same people with the highest earnings, perks and holiday entitlement.
But this year it became even more farcical when the education department decided to rewrite history and take it on Monday, November 27. Obviously this was arranged to provide a nice long weekend for the hard-pressed staff, but it makes a complete mockery of the whole concept.
What next? Christmas Day and New Year’s Day moved to ensure the maximum holiday entitlement for the chosen few? There has always been an imbalance in working practices, but it seems to be widening daily, to the detriment of the private sector.
THOSE WHO NEED US MOST
Right now, in the Home Office rules, the Westminster government doesn’t recognise the close family of refugee children beyond their parents.
This means that many children escaping war and violence can’t be safely reunited with their family in the UK without first making a deadly journey into Europe.
As the UK government works on updating its rules as a result of leaving the EU, an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill New Clause 53 would make sure the UK’s rules are fixed to stop this needless risk to children’s safety.
As this comes forward in parliament, we hope that MPs will work together to fix this problem.
I urge your readers to write to their MP to ask them to add their name to the amendment and voice their support during the debate.
(deputy executive director) Unicef UK
DELIVERING FOR KIDNEY PATIENTS
I appeal to your readers to hold on to their used stamps this Christmas and donate them to Kidney Care UK.
Every Christmas more than 1 billion cards are sent in the UK, and for every 1kg of used stamps donated, we can raise as much as £20 to help people with chronic kidney disease. There are 64,000 people being treated for kidney failure in the UK and 541 people are currently waiting for a kidney transplant in Scotland.
You can read and download our step-by-step guide to collecting and donating used stamps at www.kidneycareuk.org
(advocacy officer – Scotland)
Kidney Care UK