Pamela Notman snapped this image of Bluebells near Harestanes, Ancrum.
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
WHAT HAS COUNCIL GOT TO HIDE?
From the outset the highly-controversial decision by Scottish Borders Council (SBC) to splash £11m (including fees) of our money to acquire the 109-acre Lowood country estate, near Melrose, has been shrouded in secrecy.
According to sources within the corridors of power, our councillors received at least one dire warning from a senior official that they must not discuss the deal in public or disclose any information about it. Whatever happened to freedom of speech and democracy, not to mention the council’s policy of “openness and transparency”?
Meanwhile the ‘true’ worth of Lowood, as calculated by our district valuer, remains strictly confidential, despite my best efforts to obtain the figure via Freedom of Information (FoI) requests. SBC seems to believe that withholding the valuer’s calculation is in our best interests.
Surely council taxpayers have a right to know whether we are getting value for money. But with SBC’s members effectively silenced and gagged, there appears to have been little effort by our so-called elected representatives to scrutinise or challenge this massive monetary transaction.
As per usual it is left to members of the public to carp from the sidelines or, alternatively, try to find out what has taken place. It may annoy the local authority, but some of us will continue to ask (awkward) questions if necessary.
A request for information lodged with the council revealed the add-ons, including six-figure sums for property transaction tax and to cover the cost of borrowing.
My FoI request also showed the council paid £3,100 for an item listed as ‘Foreign Options’. When asked for clarification, SBC explained the item should have read ‘Foreign Opinions’ and the money had been spent on checking the veracity of companies based in the Cayman Islands.
Ex-councillor Andrew Farquhar then submitted his own request asking for the names of those businesses and whether all of the £9.6m needed to buy Lowood had been handed to the Cayman Islands entities. The council told him that was indeed the case.
SBC obviously thinks its transfer of millions of pounds of our money to an offshore tax haven should be of no interest or concern to its constituents or to the wider public. Indeed the local authority said as much after the contents of the FOIs appeared in the media.
In a press statement a SBC media officer declared: “As a public authority, SBC was required to provide the information requested by Mr Farquhar.
“Mr Farquhar and Mr Chisholm have now chosen to publicise this information in a way that, in our view, is entirely inappropriate. The council believes private individuals should not be subject to this level of scrutiny regarding how they conduct their personal financial and legitimate tax affairs.”
I cannot speak for Mr Farquhar, but I have no interest whatsoever in the financial affairs of the former owners of Lowood. However, the conduct of my local authority is of legitimate concern, given its abysmal track record.
I would suggest the council might recover some trust and respect by publicly issuing full details of the affair and justifying its decisions, rather than shooting the messenger[s]. After all, what has it got to hide?
And maybe our councillors could pluck up courage to ignore the alleged climate of fear they operate in, come out of hiding, and tell us why they voted for or against the expenditure of such a vast sum of money while at the same time pleading poverty and ramping up our council tax bills to the maximum level permitted by the Scottish Government.
Perhaps some kind of independent investigation would establish the full story of the Lowood deal, and determine once and for all whether our £11m was well spent.
I have asked Audit Scotland, the appointed guardians of the public pound, to carry out an inquiry and await their response.
THE DISAPPEARING ACADEMIC YEAR
Just when you might have thought that teachers could not squeeze any more days off out of the academic year, hey ho, another ruse pops up.
By having the Easter school holidays not coinciding with Good Friday or Easter Monday, when the official Easter days do come along, another two days off are obviously required.
What genius dreamed this up? Look no further than the education mafia of policymakers at Newtown and the teaching unions. Presumably, the same wheeze will now be wheeled out at Christmas. That should be good for an extra week, what with New Year and all.
When I was at school during the 1960s (and benefitted from some superb teachers), half-term breaks were two days – training and snowflake days were unknown, and there were no classroom-free study days afore exams.
How families, particularly in households where both parents work full time, cope with this endless shortening of the school year (and day – remember the half-day Friday) is beyond me. I guess in the end all these days and weeks will just coalesce until the academic year disappears altogether.
CLUELESS A POLITE DESCRIPTION
My wife tells me that our community councils are at it again – the latest case being against a grocery outlet at the proposed Tweedbank development.
No doubt existing businesses are unhappy at the prospect of competition. So they should be – Melrose is not the place for groceries unless you have no choice or do not care about the prices.
Large chains such as Tesco and Asda are well able to take care of themselves without the help of this unelected group.
As to the placement of a new hotel, what do they know about it? Many locals and tourists need an accessible building with a lift and parking. A new hotel would offer that in a suitable location.
These sort of people brought us Gala Law, Hawick, would not allow a grocer’s in Selkirk, and favour things like the new gallery in Galashiels and Peebles’ Eastgate Theatre. Clueless is a polite description.
Either the Borders welcomes change or it will simply die in business terms.
J. Graham Hanson
STEPPING UP THE ‘YES’ CAMPAIGN
As thousands of independence supporters marched through Glasgow, people could be forgiven for confusion over whether there is officially going to be a second Scottish independence referendum in the foreseeable future.
The effect of Nicola Sturgeon’s recent statements on indyref2 is that the campaign is only underway for her side of the debate. She has fired up her supporters and told them to get out campaigning, indicated that she would like the vote to be in the second half of next year and has set in train legislation at Holyrood required to enable the vote to go ahead.
A number of new or existing pro-independence groups have launched refreshed and reinvigorated campaigns, looking to target potentially undecided voters, and no doubt many on the latest march will have considered that it was now part of a live campaign.
Yet for Scotland as a whole it is not.
Arguably, our First Minister’s tactics are not only contrived to give her side of the argument many months of a head start over opponents, but also the legislative process in Holyrood is set to give independence supporters their preferred terms, including the gift of a question structured to give the positive ‘Yes’ response to the pro-independence camp which, according to polling experts, is worth a few percentage points over a more neutral question.
Those who value Scotland’s positive interdependence with the rest of the UK will not start meaningful official campaigning as, understandably, the UK Government has not approved a second referendum, in part because of continued Brexit uncertainty, but also due to polling showing only a small minority want another vote in the short term.
While the route forward on Brexit is still being sorted out, nationalists in Scotland are actively trying to break up the UK, and in a way that slopes the playing field to their advantage.
POLITICALLY CORRECT AND SELECTIVE
Having just completed five media-free weeks of lambing sheep amid the timeless beauty of the Kale Valley, my only brief contact with current news has been the early-morning BBC Farming Today slot on the car radio.
Clearly the topic of climate change has been ratcheted up considerably with the farming industry now being singled out as a major contributing culprit.
I am struck, not for the first time, that the BBC, once famed for its impartiality, has become increasingly politically correct and selective in its reporting. Indeed the broadcaster has successfully muzzled and ridiculed the likes of the once illustrious and popular botanist, Professor David Bellamy, and ex-Chancellor Nigel Lawson to name but a few, and branded them as irresponsible climate change sceptics because they have dared to stick their heads above the parapet and voice contrary opinions.
A directive was handed down from the BBC that such people should not be given equal air time to expand their views, and the corporation has even gone so far as to conduct an obligatory one-hour briefing to instruct their correspondents on how they should report climate change.
It would appear it has taken a lesson from former US vice-president Al Gore who, following the release of his highly-acclaimed – but as it turned out, inaccurate – documentary, ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, in 1990.
He said: “We need to create fear – to capture the public imagination we have to offer up some scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and little mention of any doubt one might have – to strike a balance between being effective and being honest.”
It was refreshing therefore to note that in the letters pages of your April 4 issue a diverse range of views continue to be represented.
William Loneskie and Clark Cross made valid points regarding the undoubted merits of the falsely-demonised modern diesel engines and some of the pitfalls of the forthcoming electric vehicle revolution.
In Geoff Moore’s letter he alluded to the perhaps temporary slowdown in Arctic sea ice melt and another erroneous alarmist prediction of its collapse by 2016.
However, we hear little of the fact that the scientists who predicted a similar increase in Antarctic sea ice melt are finding to their puzzlement that the opposite is happening.
It is worth reflecting on the words of American physicist, the late J. Robert Oppenheimer: “We do not believe any group of men adequate enough or wise enough to operate without scrutiny or without criticism. We know that the only way to avoid error is to detect it, that the only way to detect is to be free to enquire.
“We know that in secrecy error undetected will flourish and subvert.”
If only our so-called political elite possessed such clarity of mind.
Neil J. Bryce
FAIR AND IMPARTIAL?
The BBC has always maintained that it reports fairly and with strict impartiality when it comes to political opinions and positions.
However, I am sure some of your readers may have noticed that this is not always the case.
In my opinion, the BBC tends to be biased against any campaign that threatens the status quo and has a “London centric” viewpoint when it comes to politics. The BBC was accused of this during the EU referendum campaign and of favouring the remain side of the argument. I agreed with that accusation then and it seems to still be the case today.
I remember clearly the look of shock and disbelief when BBC correspondents found out that the UK had voted to leave the EU back in 2016.
I recently watched an interview on the Andrew Marr programme and listened carefully with regards to the line of questioning Marr was following when interviewing Nigel Farage.
One would think the questions would have been predominately about the upcoming EU elections, and Farage’s newly-established Brexit Party and the candidates standing for it.
But that did not happen. Marr read out pre-prepared questions featuring a bundle of statements and remarks that Farage had made years ago which were taken completely out of context. Farage, as you would expect, became exasperated by this line of questioning and was requesting that the interviewer ask him questions about the issues of today which matter to the electorate.
Watching this interview under any other circumstances would have been laughable, but we must remember that the BBC is publicly-funded by licence fee payers. It was clear to me that the BBC did not want to give Farage any airtime, although many millions of people in the UK share his viewpoint on leaving the European Union, and once again proves to me that the BBC is anything but fair and impartial.
Mark G. Kettrick
MORE SQUABBLING ON THE CARDS
So, Sinn Fein and the DUP have deigned to give us their presence after two years of Stormont silence (plus £1bn from our exchequer).
The children have returned and more squabbling will be the result.
Scotland’s strong connection to republican Ireland is much the same as its own nationalist government but, unlike southern Ireland’s membership of the EU, Scotland would be denied entry “because its gross domestic product (GDP) @ 7.6% is much too high”. The net result could mean long-term damage to the United Kingdom.
Indeed it may no longer exist if independence is granted to republican Scotland in the future. The Brexit Party could change the entire political situation both in the UK and European Union, leaving only remainers behind in all political parties.
The end game will be finalised when the electorate takes revenge on anyone not staying loyal to the Brexit referendum result.
Theresa May, our remainer Prime Minister, is still pretending, even at this late stage, to deliver Brexit via a Labour-Conservative link which has proved another disastrous decision.
Only the British would accept three years of government whingeing, and that’s what makes us great and formidable when problems as big as Brexit are finalised for the next generation.