Curtis Welsh’s eye caught this colourful bed of flowers in Lauder.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
ROUTES FIT FOR 21ST CENTURY ARE VITAL
It’s good that local authorities on both sides of the Scotland-England border are at last speaking to each other about joint schemes to create some kind of connectivity.
But what they have to do is convince Holyrood and Westminster governments that this whole area of land actually exists and is supposed to be part of what, for the moment at least, is one country.
It’s all very well to talk about a properly joined-up railway linking the central spine of Scotland and England along the route of the former Waverley Line, and we certainly have achieved a bit with the 30-odd miles of single-track railway from Edinburgh to Tweedbank. But what about roads south of the M8 which seems to be the border between what Scottish politicians believe is north and south?
A 30-mile motorway running alongside an electrified railway between Edinburgh and Glasgow seems to have the same effect as the vast bog which stopped successive generations of Romans from venturing much further than the Firth of Forth during their supposed “conquests” of Caledonia. Flanders Moss stopped north-south trading, as well as battles for territorial gain, much the same as the total lack of a proper network of roads now between the border and central to north Scotland.
A railway line on its own cannot bring back prosperity to the Border counties, but a network of roads fit for the 21st century are vital, both north to south and east to west.
An article in last week’s Southern Reporter appeared to suggest that Marjorie McCreadie, secretary of the A7 Action Group, is going to single-handedly build a Selkirk bypass and dual the A7 from Carlisle to Edinburgh. The lady has done sterling work ever since Archy Kirkwood launched the group when he was an MP to try and keep this body from sinking.
The group was supported by community councils, community groups, MPs and MSPs, and its constitution included the fact that only MPs could chair it. This was to protect the integrity of the voluntary body because if MSPs were allowed to chair there was always the possibility that a conflict of interest could arise if a local member of the Scottish Parliament became Holyrood transport minister.
A new secret society consisting of Ms McCreadie, two Tory MSPs and Scottish Secretary David Mundell seems now to be all that survives.
The A7 has to be brought back to being a full trunk road from Carlisle to Edinburgh, with dual carriageways along most of its length. The A68 from Edinburgh-Darlington and the A1(M) has to be built to similar standards to make north-south travel available for the lost kingdom of the Border Counties. And the A72, which carried monks and abbots from Lindean to the Bishopric of Glasgow and on to Kilwinning in medieval times, needs to be opened up as a proper highway, along with the A708 from Selkirk to Moffat and the M74.
Only then will the Scottish Borders and the most northern counties of England be part of the master plan for a joined-up country which many politicians aspire to.
Yes, it will take time and huge investment, but when a Labour government closed the Waverley Line in 1969 we were promised “a massive improvement and development” of the A7 as a first step to being joined up as a part of the speedy link to the south. That didn’t happen and a few years later, after some deliberations, the Tory government dropped all plans for improvement then subsequently detrunked the northern section of the A7 from Galashiels to the Edinburgh city bypass which local authorities, deprived of funding, cannot afford to maintain or improve.
Mr Mundell made a solemn pronouncement at a meeting of the A7 Action Group in Langholm in September 2015 that we should “be careful what you wish for because it may be that all of the A7 is detrunked, rather than any part of it is brought back onto the trunk roads network”.
For now it looks as if that is the direction he is aiming at, and if he gets away with it then the Borders is destined to have the current cart tracks for many generations yet. Tinkering with a penny-pinching scheme to straighten out Dirtpot Corner at Cardrona again won’t save his neck or his friends on Scottish Borders Council’s ruling alliance.
Remember what happened to the Romans at Flanders Moss.
MAKING A CASE FOR ROAD BEFORE RAIL
Rachael Hamilton MSP is right to argue for dualling the A1, and co-operation between the devolved administration and UK government.
The A1 is the most important cross-border connection, running over 400 miles from London to Edinburgh.
The single-carriageway section north of Alnwick is often clogged up with queues following slow-moving agricultural vehicles. It is dangerous. Further south, between Ferrybridge and Newark-on-Trent, the dual carriageway there is insufficient for the volume of traffic and should be upgraded to a three-lane motorway.
Ms Hamilton is also right about the need to upgrade the A7. The accident there on August 21 closed the road for five hours north of Langholm, resulting in another very serious casualty.
As Kirsty Smyth reported in last week’s Southern Reporter, the Borders is the 10th worst county in the whole of the UK for road crashes.
So before we spend hundreds of millions on extending the Borders Railway, can we not bring the region’s roads into the 21st century? And when roads are resurfaced, can they not be resurfaced with a quiet top coat, rather than one which causes annoying road roar?
Of course driver behaviour plays a large part in road accidents. Many drivers seem to regard the 60mph limit (88ft per second) as a target to be met at all times, rather than an absolute maximum when line of sight, visibility and weather conditions should determine speed. Thus we have nose-to-tail queues on the A68 speeding along at 60 or 65mph. And when was the last time you saw a 44-ton artic obeying the 40mph speed limit on the A7 or A68?
Any fool can drive fast enough to be dangerous.
SUPPORTED BY ENGLISH TAXPAYERS
State spending on Scots compared with people in the rest of the UK has soared to record levels.
They now receive £1,576pa more per person than the rest of the UK average. Free prescriptions, free student tuition fees and eye tests, and free personal care in old age are all available in Scotland – none of which are offered to the English.
This public spending disparity was revealed in the latest Government Expenditure and Revenue for Scotland statistics (GERS).
These figures are a real blow to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and another independence referendum as they show huge benefits of the Union to Scotland. They reveal an independent Scotland would face an eye-watering £13.4 bn funding black hole and its deficit would be one of the highest in Europe – four times that of the UK. Scotland has also seen its welfare bill swell to a record high of £23.6bn.
The United Kingdom is the fifth largest economy in the world and worth £1,900 to each person in Scotland this fiscal year.
Andrew Bridgen MP has succinctly commented on the above by saying: “Without support from English taxpayers the Scottish nationalists would have made Scotland into a Venezuela (without the sunshine).”
NO ENDORSEMENT FOR THE UNION
The publication of the latest GERS (Government Expenditure and Revenue for Scotland) figures have triggered a now-traditional feeding frenzy, with a black hole in Scotland’s finances heralded by unionist politicians as validating the continuation of their beloved Union.
The killer phrase, for me, from the GERS report is: “The report is designed to allow users to understand and analyse Scotland’s fiscal position under different scenarios within the current constitutional framework.”
GERS is therefore a measure of the public finances, under the current Union, hardly the greatest endorsement for how the economy has been managed on the UK’s watch.
Major economic levers required to stimulate economic growth are still currently reserved to Westminster.
It is indeed a bizarre scenario when politicians from unionist parties, who should be ashamed at the situation, actively gloat and support a Union that has mismanaged the economy so appallingly.
GERS is a set of figures, based on a measure of guesswork that indicate very little, except highlighting the negatives of the current Union. It has little bearing on the finances of an independent Scotland.
The point of independence is not to do everything in the same way as it has been done within the current constitutional framework, but to move away from this one-size-fits-all fiscal straitjacket to a tailored approach that prioritises stimulating economic growth.
THE COST OF SNP AMBITION
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon seeks to put a positive gloss on the latest Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures while ignoring what, for the SNP, is the elephant in the room.
An annual deficit that represents 7.9% of GDP, or £13.4bn in absolute terms, is not sustainable as an independent country. While the potential break-up of the UK is about a great deal more than simple economic arguments, these numbers represent one of the biggest obstacles to the SNP getting its way. Nothing short of a total transformation of Scotland’s public finances, by way of spending cuts and tax increases, would be required to fill the gap currently met by transfers from the rest of the UK.
Questioning the validity of the numbers, as some like to do, simply does not wash when they are produced by the Scottish Government’s own statisticians.
No one is suggesting that GERS numbers forecast the future economic position of an independent Scotland, rather they provide the starting point from which the SNP needs to develop a credible case for just how long and how deep austerity measures would have to go on for in order to deliver a country that could stand alone. The SNP’s own Growth Commission seemed to say this would take a decade or so of pain.
Is Scotland ready to pay the cost of the SNP’s ambition?
WORSE THAN ZIMBABWE
As a media feeding frenzy begins over Alex Salmond’s refutation of allegations of sexual assault, let’s not forget the recent news that’s more directly relevant to us all.
Scotland’s public sector 7.9% deficit is somewhat worse than Zimbabwe’s, compared to 1.9% for the entire UK – and crucially massively worse than the 3% level required by the EU for new entrant countries. It would be impossible for an independent Scotland to join the EU without, as the SNP’s own Growth Commission report admits, at least a decade of austerity in the form of higher taxation and public services cuts.
A high price to pay for making Nicola Sturgeon’s teenage UK break-up dreams come true.
THE LORD CARMONT TREATMENT
Cowardly acid attacks are becoming epidemic, leaving people with life-changing injuries which need specialist treatment.
It is too easy to buy corrosive liquids.
In Glasgow during the Fifties gang members carried an open razor and the injury inflicted was called a “Glasgow Smile”.
In 1952 leading judge Lord Carmont rocked these gangs when he began handing out long sentences for knife and razor crime, saying the public was entitled to protection from the anti-social activities of the lawless. Anyone found in possession of an open cut-throat razor was sent to prison for 10 years. There was no reduction in those days for “good behaviour”.
Overnight, razor-slashing ceased.
Today convicted criminals just laugh at the soft-touch jail sentences which are often suspended.
It’s time to take back the streets and for the judiciary in the UK to give criminals, particularly acid throwers, the Lord Carmont treatment.