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A winters day at Bowmont Forest near Kelso. Taken by Ewan Dickson from Morebattle
A winters day at Bowmont Forest near Kelso. Taken by Ewan Dickson from Morebattle
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A winter’s day at Bowmont Forest, near Kelso. This image was supplied by Ewan Dickson, from Morebattle.

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

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

FUNDED BY RICH AND PRIVILEGED

Last week’s Southern had letters yet again from Keith Howell and Martin Redfern, recently exposed as part of a small secret group attached to Scotland in Union (SiU), which has been flooding newspapers with letters to give a false impression of widespread support.

The SiU leadership intends that letters should “influence journalists as well as readers” and is about “giving journalists confidence to write pro-union/anti-SNP articles”. However, they “must not advertise the existence of the group”. Messrs Howell and Redfern keep records – by October 2017 they’d 5000 letters published since counting began in March, 2015.

Who are Scotland in Union? Well, at a £250-per-head fund-raiser in Edinburgh in 2016, auction prizes included a four-day “extravaganza of polo and amazing parties in Jodhpur for two ... rubbing shoulders with the maharajah”, and a luxury stay in a “fabulous” Swiss chalet.

SiU is funded by the rich and privileged to fight for their “entitlements” against the threat of a fairer Scotland. It is currently facing questions from the Electoral Commission over the nature of its donations.

Back in 2014, William Loneskie regularly passed on every doom-laden forecast from the “expertise” of then-chancellor George Osborne on the subject of Scottish independence. Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s (much more nuanced) pronouncements were also studied carefully for all possible negatives. And who can forget Jose Manuel Barroso, then president of the European Commission, whose “difficult” comments on an independent Scotland’s European Union membership were constantly quoted to illustrate the “disaster” of independence.

Now, according to Mr Loneskie (letters, January 4), the “Soviet-style” EU is an organisation to be avoided at all costs, and the thoughts of Messrs Osborne and Carney can be dismissed – one because he’s just a millionaire “expert”, and the other because he’s, well, Canadian.

Here are the arguments I used to back my first prejudice, and here are the completely contradictory ones I am using to back my second one. What’s the problem?

Finally, on the subject of uninformed prejudice, can I suggest that Graham Holford (letters, January 4) has a wee search for any of the whole range of answers the SNP constantly gives to the question he insists it is “always avoiding”. Just because you’re not listening, Mr Holford, it doesn’t mean nothing is being said.

And your attempt to liken the SNP to the BNP is a disgusting, ignorant smear for which you should be thoroughly ashamed.

Eric Falconer

High Road

Galashiels

A SUBVERSION OF DEMOCRACY

Everyone is entitled to write letters to their local (or indeed national) newspaper.

But when a political campaigning organisation secretly co-ordinates a sustained series of letters, masquerading as individual members of the public, this is misleading and dishonest, and needs to be called out.

Readers of the Southern Reporter might therefore be interested to know that they have been targeted by a virulently right-wing anti-independence organisation called Scotland in Union, Scotland’s very own Tea Party.

Recently-exposed emails have revealed that regular contributors to this newspaper’s letters pages are key members of this cabal, which has flooded Scottish newspapers with more than 5000 letters since 2015.

Attempting to normalise contempt for our own parliament as part of a relentless SNP-bad message, whilst studiously ignoring those who wield the real power (Theresa May and her cohort of clowns) and taking great pains to keep the co-ordination of its campaign a secret, is a deceitful subversion of our democracy.

R. P. Toolis

Eddleston

PRETENDING TO CARE

In his latest letter (January 4), Richard Lucas pretends to care about transgender children, claiming “in Scottish politics and education, adherence to radical gender ideology trumps the well-being of young people”.

The only suggestion he offers is that parents “value the function of cultural markers that distinguish the sexes (like clothing), helping children avoid the dangers of gender confusion”. That suggestion is unlikely to reduce the “profound unhappiness and dissatisfaction” or “mental illness” claimed in his letter.

Twice in his letter Mr Lucas criticises LGBT groups. It may surprise him that these groups exist to support the well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. They provide important services to vulnerable people, especially in rural areas.

Richard Lucas and his Scottish Family Party should stop pretending that they care about families.

Alastair Lings

Tweed Road

Galashiels

CONTRARY TO THE HEADLINES

As I sit with my pre-dinner drink reading the headlines in a newspaper (“Scottish Government reduces hospital beds by 600 in the last year”), I would like to record my praise for the care I received during my three-night stay in Borders General Hospital.

We live in a society where we seem to enjoy reporting and reading bad news, and I accept that my opinions may not be well-received by the aforemetioned newspaper.

Accepting that the NHS, in general, is headline news, I have to say my stay in hospital was five-star, and Dr Watkins and his team worked very hard under the constraints of a cash-strapped NHS. Every one of the staff I came across was definitely in the right profession, and how they maintain their morale while working in difficult conditions is outstanding.

It may sound naive, and I realise many people may not have received the care I did, and many have their own justifiable complaints, but praise where praise is due. Well done BGH and Coldstream Health Centre.

June Swan

Coldstream

CHOOSING OUR OWN FUTURE

I am grateful to Graham Holford (letters, January 4) for accepting my invitation to Unionists to defend the Union, and attempt to explain how Scotland benefits (letters, December 21).

Significantly, he concedes that, at the very least, the financial argument is “open to interpretation”, but can’t resist taking a childish dig at former First Minister Alex Salmond for suggesting that Scotland would not have squandered the billions of pounds of oil revenue as successive UK Governments have done.

Look at how Norway used similar revenues to set up an oil fund which continues to benefit all its citizens, from the interest alone.

He says that, for him, stability and protection are the key issues:

Stability – to describe the current government as such after the swathe of resignations (sackings), gaffes, political blunders and the Brexit debacle must be an unusual new definition of stability. The current Prime Minister has lost any respect Britain may once have enjoyed abroad, and is struggling to hold her divided Cabinet together.

Protection – perhaps Mr Holford refers to the Trident nuclear system, based at Faslane, which the majority of Scots do not support or want, but are forced (as a member of the Union) to contribute to financially. The billions of pounds involved could be put to much better use for the benefit of everyone living in a peaceful, welcoming and inclusive Scotland.

Add to this all the many other UK vanity projects funded, in part, with our cash and it matters not whether the UK has “one of the strongest economies in the world” (we might debate that).

What really counts is what the money is used for – an underfunded NHS in crisis, homeless and rough sleeping figures on the rise, child poverty on the increase, the growing need for food banks (even by those in work), cutting pensions and help for the disabled – this does not look like a well-managed economy which works for everyone.

Unfortunately, Mr Holford then lowers the tone of the debate by comparing the SNP and all those who support independence (including Conservatives, Labour voters, the Greens and many others) to the BNP. The phrases “whingeing Scots” and “those horrible people over the border” have no place in a sensible discussion.

Independence is not, as he states, a desire to separate or isolate ourselves – quite the opposite. An independent Scotland able to choose its own path would take its rightful place in the world as a friendly, small country and neighbour, in a spirit of cooperation – like other independent nations across the globe.

Finally, I will attempt to answer his question. He reckons “an alliance hundreds of years old” is worth saving – an alliance which has failed dismally in that time to deliver benefits equally to all parts of the United Kingdom.

Independence and membership of the EU are two different questions. Scotland deserves to choose its own future, rather than be dragged along on the coat tails of successive Westminster governments, simply because we are outnumbered.

An independent Scotland will elect its own government (Tory, Labour, SNP or whatever) and that administration will follow the wishes of its electorate regarding the EU or indeed anything else – that’s what I call democracy.

J. Fairgrieve

Gordon

STAFF FRIENDLY, HELPFUL AND KIND

Can there be a better place than the Borders in which to shop? I doubt it very much.

Whether we visit large stores or smaller retail shops, village stores or garden centres, we have found staff all so friendly, helpful and kind.

At Argos a lovely young female member of staff couldn’t have put herself out more to find the correct piece of goods I required.

Congratulations to all. The Borders is truly the best.

Jean Cunningham

Birgham

SKIPPING THE SERIAL WRITERS

I’m just wondering if anyone else is fed up with the serial letter writers to The Southern.

I now just look for those correspondents’ names and skip to the other letters.

Lintie Gibson

Gattonside

TORY GOVERNMENT STRUGGLING

I refer to William Loneskie’s letter (“UK on course for a better future”, January 4) to remind him that we have not yet left the European Union and will not do for two years or so, and therefore are still benefitting from our membership.

The rosy picture he paints in his letter is encouraging, but nothing yet has changed.

It would be wise to remember that in 2016, 43 per cent of all the UK’s exports were to the EU and that 54 per cent of our imports were from the EU. Adjusting these trading patterns quickly could be difficult and heavily effect the prosperity of the whole of the UK.

The Tory government, as it ever so slowly gets to grips with the complexities of extracting us from the EU, is not giving the nation a lot of hope.

I would recommend Mr Loneskie reads John Grace’s book, “I, Maybot – The Rise & Fall”, to understand that we are being led by a group of elected representatives who are struggling to manage the situation for the benefit of all of us who live and work within the United Kingdom.

Tony Reed

Sutherland Gardens

Kelso

ANSWER WANTED TO AID QUESTION

President Donald Trump has questioned United States aid to Pakistan.

Can the Scottish Government clarify why it sends Scottish taxpayers’ money to nuclear-armed Pakistan, with its appalling record of persecution of Christians?

Might it be to gain favour with the Pakistani community in Scotland? Might the hundreds of thousands of pounds lavished on Scottish Muslim organisations through spurious climate change grants be part of the same project?

The SNP boasts of overwhelming support from these sections of the electorate – it seems it may be getting good value for our money.

The government’s paper on its aid to Pakistan has much to say about mutual cultural enrichment, but nothing about challenging the mistreatment of religious minorities.

Richard Lucas

Scottish Family Party

Bath Street

Glasgow

CREAKING AT THE SEAMS

Scottish education is creaking at the seams, with a decade of squeezed budgets and mismanaged implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence taking their toll, now exacerbated by a serious crisis in recruitment.

So it is troubling to hear that a survey of staff at the body central trying to oversee improvements suggests they are not at all convinced of Education Scotland’s ability to make things better.

Undoubtedly Education Secretary John Swinney has his hands full trying to sort things out, not least if he maintains a public face of denial regarding the major causes of concern.

Good teachers, and that is the great majority of them, are as able as they ever were, but cannot produce miracles.

The SNP has disproportionately pushed austerity onto our councils. They, in turn, have had little choice but to starve our schools of the additional resources they require to achieve the high standards we all expect. Equally, the Curriculum for Excellence has proven not to be the panacea some had implied on its introduction, made worse by the SNP’s determination to choose more of the same rather than look to honestly address its shortcomings.

It seems the SNP’s determination to never admit fault is becoming an ever greater drag on its performance as each year of its time in power passes.

Keith Howell

West Linton

IRELAND ASPIRATIONS

The power-sharing arrangement of the Good Friday Agreement means that Sinn Fein and the DUP are trapped in a loveless marriage.

Nothing has changed. Gerry Adams, although retired as president of Sinn Fein recently, will still rear his menacing head when required. Vice-president Mary Lou McDonald is the only realistic candidate to succeed Adams and is well placed to keep him informed on all matters of interest.

Sinn Fein-IRA work to long-term strategies. This is to hold on to power on both sides of the border and ultimately form a united Ireland and country.

They will seek to exploit the “uncertainty of Brexit” which is relevant to people both sides of the Irish border.

There are echoes of this same situation coming from elsewhere – from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and republican Scottish nationalists. They preach the same gospel for the same political purpose – i.e. republicanism and destroying the monarchy of the United Kingdom.

We, too, must keep a long-term vision and reclaim southern Ireland as it was-part of our United Kingdom. That will not be before we get a government strong enough to face Sinn Fein-IRA internment (which we have not had since the inception of the IRA in 1905).

This political problem will not go away for generations and only a strong government can solve it for us after Brexit is finalised.

Paul Singleton

Gordon

HITTING DRUNKS IN THEIR POCKETS

A&E departments in Scottish hospitals are under extreme pressure, especially at weekends, when the irresponsible drinking and partying crowd hit various licensed establishments and then expect the NHS to treat them.

In England, 70 per cent of A&E attendances on Friday and Saturday nights are due to alcohol consumption. Scotland is no better.

Doctors and nurses have long pleaded for action to get these social misfits away from A&E and into specialist drunk tanks.

A friend had to go to A&E with a serious illness, but was kept waiting while two drunks demanded immediate attention, claiming that they were diabetic.

Drinking too much is not an illness or an accident, but a self-inflicted injury.

The Scottish Government must lead the way in the UK and not only introduce drunk tanks, but make a charge of at least £100 for the overnight accommodation and treatment.

Hitting these people in their pockets will have a more immediate effect than a lecture on alcohol abuse.

Clark Cross

Linlithgow

MEMORIES FROM FIRST WORLD WAR

Testimony Films is keen to speak to men and women in Britain who have memories of the First World War for a new BBC4 documentary series, ‘Britain’s Great War: The People’s Story’.

The series will feature the childhood stories of centenarians and supercentenarians who still vividly remember family life at the time, alongside archive footage and testimonies from those who fought.

We are especially interested in talking to those who may have lost a loved one at the front or who remember the air raids, the food shortages and the patriotic spirit of the time.

If you – or someone you know – have childhood stories of the Great War, we’d love to hear from you.

Please email, call or write to Emily Sivyer, mail@testimonyfilms.com, 0117 925 8589, Testimony Films, 12 Great George Street, Bristol, BS1 5RH.

Emily Sivyer

Assistant Producer
Testimony Films

MERCHANDISE MADE IN CHINA

I was astounded to discover that, despite many of the vendors adopting German and Scottish themes, much of the tawdry merchandise on display in Edinburgh’s Christmas markets actually came from China.

Why not go the whole hog and have a real Chinese market?

I’m sure city councillors and officials would be prepared to undertake fact-finding missions to the Far East if they thought that this would enable Edinburgh to recruit appropriate traders, and no doubt the city zoo would be prepared to lend out its panda if it would add verisimilitude to such an event.

John Eoin Douglas

Spey Terrace

Edinburgh