Christmas trees being loaded onto transport near Lilliesleaf. Curtis Welsh supplied the image.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
A MEDIEVAL VISION FOR THE BORDERS
I hear that our useless Tory-led council is contemplating cutting still further the already woefully-inadequate bin collection service.
Our bin is frequently overflowing, and we are just a two-person household. I cannot imagine how large family households cope.
But, never mind, we could turn all this into the ‘medieval Scotland experience’.
In those times, historians tell us streets were routinely piled high with rotting garbage, something to which we will surely be shortly returning. And our roads are already well on the way to becoming cart tracks, again reminiscent of those far-off times. Add to this the closure of facilities for the elderly and vulnerable, and the streets will again be awash with beggars.
All this could bring in history-minded tourists, albeit those of a rather macabre disposition.
Clearly Scottish Borders Council is almost unable to bear the agony of spending money on anything other than schools, kids and teachers.
With my recreated ‘medieval model’, councillors would no longer have to agonise about the few coppers spent on roads, waste disposal, and the physically and mentally ill. No more tiresome pothole filling, recycling targets etc.
The council could just spend 100% of its resources on ever-more ludicrous provision for “education”. And who knows, with luck we might get a re-run of the Black Death.
Surely a win-win for all...
PREDATORS AND PREY NATURE’S WAY
Re your report last week headlined ‘Huntsmen in the clear after trial’.
Twenty-five years or more ago at the Women’s Institute major conference in London, a vet was a guest speaker.
In his speech he said: “Man has bred the hunting instinct out of dogs.”
The vet was mistaken. Man has never been able to do that and never will be able to do this. In nature there are predators and prey.
Sadly, a vocal, politically-correct section of society has no respect for nature or indeed wildlife. What is their next Bambi-style Utopia going to be? – banning birds of prey from hunting?
CYNICAL FOOD BANK STUNT
I was disappointed that The Southern Reporter website did not provide news, or analysis, of the Tory party campaign to promote poverty.
For those readers who missed the event, Conservative Central Office instructed its MPs to appear at a local food bank, have their photo taken and then tweet a prepared message.
Borders MP John Lamont chose not to attend a food bank, even though his constituency now has three (Selkirk, Galashiels and Duns), possibly because this could prove confrontational, but instead elected to show up at the safer food collection point in Tesco’s Galashiels store. As per ordered by his bosses, he tweeted his message and a photo of his smiling face.
Quite why he thought a food collection point for his starving constituents is worthy of a smile is beyond me, other than the Tory tradition of ignoring facts that contradict the party line.
This myopic vision was demonstrated by Esther McVey, the previous Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions. McVey’s steadfast refusal to consider anything but party soundbites led her to state that “the reason why people use food banks are complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause”. Of course, if you ignore the evidence, it will appear complex.
But the root cause is the government’s austerity measures. McVey’s lack of compassion was illustrated a few days after she resigned her Cabinet position following a tiff with the Prime Minister. McVey used social media to complain that she had just taken a £30,000 pay cut.
Amber Rudd took McVey’s place. Rudd, it will be remembered, had to resign as Home Secretary over the Windrush scandal that saw hundreds of UK citizens transported to countries many had never been to as adults.
Within a couple of days of taking office, Rudd voiced her concern over the language used in the Alston Report.
The report, or to give it its full title, ‘Statement on Visit to the United Kingdom, by Professor Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights’, was scathing of the government’s policies that have resulted in the levels of poverty in the UK.
The statistics are damning. In the second paragraph of the introduction, Alston states: “Fourteen million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials. The widely respected Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts a 7% rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2022, and various sources predict child poverty rates of as high as 40%. For almost one in every two children to be poor in the 21st century is not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and economic disaster, all rolled into one.”
Rudd did not protest as to the integrity of the data, but the language used.
Poverty encapsulates so much more than food poverty. Poverty places immense strain on families. What were once loving relationships can become violent. Victims of domestic abuse have a rightful expectation that local government will provide temporary refuge. However, in February this year the government, including John Lamont, voted to set the local government funding for 2018-2019 at 28% less than 2017-2018. Local governments then are trying to pick up the pieces of the damage inflicted by central government.
The physical health effects of poverty manifest themselves in different ways. Malnutrition, with the consequent symptoms of loss of muscle and tissue, mobility issues, muscle wasting are some. Regardless, the treatment of these illnesses are an additional burden on the already under-funded and over-stretched NHS.
There are mental health issues too. Caught in the poverty trap, people lose their feeling of self-worth, become despondent and depressed, leading, in too many cases, to suicide.
The stunt pulled by the Conservatives in ordering its MPs to attend food collection points was a poorly-executed and cynical attempt to normalise the existence of food banks and poverty.
TORY HALF-TRUTHS AND EVASION
I read with interest John Lamont’s comments about the roll-out of Universal Credit in the Borders.
With the Conservative party having been found to be in contempt of the Westminster parliament earlier this month – a historical first – then perhaps we should give our Tory MP’s remarks closer scrutiny as to their validity.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that over four million children are now living in poverty in the UK – and the Conservatives tell us we are one of the world’s richest economies. The foundation also says that three million people are worse off under Universal Credit. A large proportion of these people are in work, the state having to prop up wages which are so low.
The Trussell Trust, the UK’s largest food bank network, claims food bank use rises by over 50% when Universal Credit is introduced to an area.
The local authority in Ayrshire says rent arrears are rising in the area as a direct result of Universal Credit.
The National Audit Office reports that Universal Credit is unlikely to ever deliver value for money for the taxpayer, while Westminster’s work and pensions select committee savaged the “sanctions regime” as pointlessly cruel.
Why does “sanctions regime” sound just so Theresa May? Hostile environment? Strong and stable?
Finally, John, UN investigator Philip Alston talks about the devastation Universal Credit is having on poor families – in the fifth richest economy in the world. For some maybe.
Half-truths and evasion from the Tories – day after day. Be serious, who are we going to believe – all these organisations – or you?
OUT FOR HIMSELF, NOT SCOTLAND
I hope the good people of Peeblesshire are paying attention and remember recent events come the next general election.
No one (pro or against) can claim the Brexit process has been anything but a shambles. The worst part is that Scotland has had absolutely no input at all, despite having a seat at the UK government Cabinet table.
Our MP, David Mundell, the supposed Secretary of State for Scotland, has a lot of nerve remaining in office.
He promised he would bring amendments to the Brexit bill, but failed to submit a single one. He assured us there would be adequate debate and that Scottish voices would be heard and our concerns addressed. Didn’t happen. Then he drew a “red line”, threatening resignation if the agreement didn’t take Scotland out of the common fishery policy. Well, guess what? It doesn’t and he’s still there looking out for himself and not even a little bit for Scotland.
As one online blogger put it, there are Highland coos who are doing a better job of representing Scotland than he is.
Special terms were possible for Northern Ireland and Gibraltar. But Scotland doesn’t even get a mention in the proposal. Our fishing industry is just a chip in the bargaining game to be given away without even consulting us.
Mundell must resign. If he doesn’t, do not forget. This man does not look out for Scotland. The Brexit deal he is supporting will be disastrous for Scotland in countless ways.
I wish to respond to the letter published last week regarding the debate over Borders schools.
It is disappointing that only unidentified “members of the Independent Alliance” took to your letters columns to mount a personalised attack on myself and some Scottish National Party council colleagues.
I am happy to be identified and honoured to represent Galashiels on Scottish Borders Council (SBC). I also attended a Galashiels Community Council meeting last week to discuss my decision at the SBC meeting with community councillors.
The debate on November 29 about school estates had many dimensions and it was not just a narrow argument about which town should get the next new school.
I said in my own speech that I was happy to see Galashiels being proposed first, but was disappointed that towns were being pitched against each other, and that the reason for the slow progress could be found in financial decisions made by this administration – an administration which includes the “Independent Alliance” which votes with the Conservatives, presumably because they are unable to do otherwise.
The SNP group had a free vote, as we have all debates, as did the Liberal Democrats, other Independent councillors and one Conservative, and we all chose to vote for an amendment to the paper, not against it.
The paper that we were being asked to support included the wording “the proposed indicative sequence and priority for investment” and “Galashiels and Hawick will continue to be prioritised at this stage”.
In my opinion, as a Galashiels councillor, this did not guarantee Galashiels’ position and gave me cause for concern.
In addition, decades of underinvestment has meant that we now need four new secondary schools across the Borders, and a lot of the debate last month was how we solve the problem for all pupils in all of the towns. The proposal we were presented with is unaffordable and unachievable, and that is why I voted for an amendment to “note the report and appendices and agree that a further more detailed report be brought to council…”.
This amendment did not prevent officers having preliminary discussions with the Scottish Government on how they might help SBC achieve a building programme.
I am very concerned at the condition of the ageing Galashiels Academy buildings and while our teachers do a fantastic job, there is mounting evidence that pupils get a better education experience and have better outcomes in modern, fit-for-purpose buildings.
That is what we need in Galashiels.
Your correspondents from the Independent Alliance need to move on from oversimplified arguments of “my town” versus “your town”.
Unfortunately, there is a prevailing mood among some councillors to rush into decisions, leaving them making up stories or spinning facts after they have made mistakes.
I want us to get this right – which means getting it right for over 3,000 pupils across the Borders.
(councillor for Galashiels and district)
THE BEST OF TREATMENT
I recently had to spend a fortnight in Borders General Hospital due to a terrible accident.
There is much criticism of the NHS – but all I can say is that from ambulance to end of my stay, I received only the best and kindness of treatment anyone could wish for.
Thank you all.