Your picture of the Week

The preserved bridges of the River Tweed at Leaderfoot
The preserved bridges of the River Tweed at Leaderfoot

The preserved bridges of the River Tweed at Leaderfoot caught Curtis Welsh’s eye. Please email photographs, with a brief caption, to southern-letters@jpimedia.co.uk

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

WOMEN ‘DROPPED OFF A CLIFF’

I would like to highlight inaccuracies in a letter, by Sally Mannison, which you published on September 26 about the rise in state pension age for women.

I contacted the Department for Work and Pensions two years before my 60th birthday to enquire about the process of setting up and applying for my state pension. I was told then that I would not receive my pension for another six years (when I was 66).

I told them that I had not been notified, to which they replied that they did not need to notify me. I spoke to John Lamont, who was my MSP at the time, and he said that I had been “dropped off a cliff”.

I set up a two-day petition signing at Morrisons in Hawick and it was then that I saw the impact that the Conservative government’s raising of the pension age was having on women. Many are struggling to continue working because of age-related illnesses, caring for partners and have little or no money, relying on husbands.

I set up the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) Borders group at this time as it was apparent that this injustice needed a voice. I was supported in this by our, then, SNP MP Calum Kerr whom I met frequently, and he met women across our area struggling with this change. I went to London to protest and we were supported by many MPs, of all parties.

Move on two years and John Lamont became our MP. I approached him to ask for support and he said that he would not vote against his government. In short that meant that he would not support the 7,000 women in his constituency who had not been notified of any changes to their pensions. He put me in contact with Roz Altman, pensions minister in the House of Lords, at the time. She had, in her previous job, been pension adviser for SAGA (a company focused on serving the needs of those aged 50 and over) and had agreed that these women had not been given adequate notification of changes to their pension age. But on becoming a member of the Lords, her attitude changed and she supported the Tory government’s view on this subject. She stepped down as pensions minister when David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister and immediately stated that she was not allowed to go against the government.

On September 6 this year in Westminster, John Lamont asked a question, “whether he (Guy Opperman) had any plans to change the rules on the state pension age for women and compensate those affected by the change in rules”. The reply from Guy Opperman beggars belief: “The new state pension is more generous for many women. Over three million women stand to gain an average of £550 per year by 2030 as a result of recent pension reforms.”

I would ask what has happened to the £40,000 that has been stolen from each of them?

Ms Mannison states that this issue is politically motivated. Of course it is as it is the politicians who have supported this.

But I have attended cross-party working groups in Holyrood who agree that women born in the 1950s have not been treated fairly – that is MSPs from every party.

There is a cross-party working group in Westminster, but sadly our own MP does not support his own constituents.

So, John Lamont, do not suddenly change your stance to benefit your chances of being re-elected. WASPI women have tried to talk to you, but you have just ignored their plight. Pensions are reserved to Westminster, but you frequently stated that the Scottish government could mitigate this. That was simply untrue as they are unable to set up an age-related benefit and if they did they would find themselves, as your party did last month, at the Supreme Court.

Councillor Clair Ramage

Hawick and Denholm ward

MP NO FRIEND OF THE FARMERS

For years the anti-EU wing of the Conservative party and UKIP railed against the perceived bloated bureaucracy of the European Union.

This was one of their most visible criticisms which could be repeated at any time because it was less controversial sounding than not wanting too many foreigners in Britain.

However, this argument has gone completely silent. We no longer hear Leave politicians holding forth about too much red tape and form-filling.

The reason for this is quite simple. If Britain is outside the customs union and single market, there will be a mushrooming of paperwork for anyone importing from or exporting to the EU. Even if you just want to go abroad for a holiday or a business meeting, everything from customs checks to travel insurance to pet passports will now require much more paperwork and time spent by you, the traveller – but also many more officials to process all this added administration and checking.

Red tape is set to become a major growth industry. Already several thousand extra civil servants have been recruited by the UK government, HM Customs is seeking to employ thousands more people and private business will have to find vastly more administrators to process the requirements of dealing with EU nations.

Strangely, these extra hands are not referred to pejoratively as bureaucrats, despite fulfilling the same function as those who were previously scorned.

However, this need not have been the case. It is not just that being in the EU actually reduced administrative barriers to trade, but even the form of withdrawal which was the mainstay of the pre-referendum Leavers’ case emphasised that little would change. We would be remaining within the customs union and within a diluted version of the single market.

The Leave campaign stressed that the only major change would be a restriction on freedom of movement. If you don’t believe that, just Google reports in the press from 2015 and 2016, and check the letters pages of this very newspaper from that time.

The hard Brexit which is now proposed as the only alternative to no-deal was the position of just a very few zealots back then – and was not even Nigel Farage’s policy, and certainly not that of the Scottish Conservatives.

What I find particularly perplexing is that every Tory politician in Scotland campaigned for a Remain vote, and every local government area north of the border voted that way.

Yet now, in the aftermath of Ruth Davidson’s sudden resignation, the Conservative party in Scotland not only supports Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, but is signed up to backing no-deal.

They say there are none so zealous as the converted, and this appears to be the case here. Yet there has been no matching shift of opinion among the constituents of these MPs and MSPs. Repeated polls indicate that the 62% Scottish Remain vote of 2016 has actually crept up further.

It begs the question why our own MP, John Lamont, has become such an enthusiast for creating a trading system which is not only bad for the UK, but is proportionately worse for Scotland, and verging on disastrous for farmers, especially livestock farmers, who make up a significant portion of his constituents.

John Lamont poses as the friend of farmers, making sure he regularly gets his picture in the local papers in suitably rural locations, but for several years he did nothing to get back the £160m of EU aid which was allocated to Scottish farmers, but withheld by David Cameron’s and Theresa May’s governments. Boris Johnson has promised to restore that money, but it is clear that this is a naked bribe to try to shore up the fragile Conservative vote in Scotland.

Our previous MP, Calum Kerr of the SNP, was pro-active in lobbying for this money to come to its rightful destination. John Lamont did not lift a finger, yet now is claiming credit for its reallocation.

The farming community know what a conscientious MP they had in Calum Kerr, and they will have a chance to re-elect him in the near future to replace a man who is far more beholden to an extreme ideology than to the wishes of his own constituents.

David White

Lee Brae

Galashiels

CASH-STRAPPED, BUT SPLASHING OUT

How on earth can Scottish Borders Council (SBC) tell local taxpayers that the reason for cutting front-line jobs and services is because it is cash-strapped?

A Freedom of Information request to SBC provided me with the following information:

In the year 2018/19, the council spent £2,092,844 on consultants, £544,203 on internal lawyers and £142,559 on external lawyers, as well as employing 226 staff on salaries of more than £50,000.

Add to that £11m for a piece of land, £6m for a tapestry, £16m for iPads for schoolchildren, and £44,000 for iPads and laptops for councillors. Cash-strapped? I don’t think so.

Also, we pay a massive amount of money for 34 councillors to represent us, yet while 11 executive committee councillors are making decisions which affect all of us, 23 councillors are sitting on their hands, have no say, no imput and no vote on these matters.

How do other taxpayers feel about the way their cash is being spent?

A. Cruickshank

Langlee Drive

Galashiels

SNP’S UNAUDITED GRAVY TRAIN

Finance secretary Derek Mackay, “guiding light” on fiscal matters in the SNP and Scottish government, seems unable to cope with our low-wage economy, boosted by zero-hour contracts and other insecure jobs to provide the tax revenues required to run his spending plans.

This is despite Scotland paying the highest taxes in Europe. In addition, Mackay has written off £135m of taxpayers’ money on two white elephants – CalMac Ferries and BiFab, not forgetting, in addition, Prestwick airport. Also now on the list is Liberty House Group where the Scottish government has written off a £26.4m fee it charged for providing financial guarantees in return for Liberty providing financial cover for its Lochaber aluminium smelter.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mackay have always been lightweight and secretive, particularly on the economy. Millions of pounds have been wasted by the Scottish exchequer.

It is worrying, to say the least, that Caroline Gardner, auditor general for Scotland, has mentioned the lack of transparency over how the SNP spends taxpayers’ cash. She says: “Parliament needs better information to be able to better scrutinise ministers’ financial decision-making”. The result would be mesmerising.

We know what goes on in Westminster, thanks to the courts and ugly scenes in the Commons. But no one appears to know what goes on in Holyrood where the Sturgeon “family” is ruling with an iron fist and spending public taxes unrestricted – a seemingly unaudited gravy train.

Time the train arrived at the station for our inspection.

Paul Singleton

Gordon

BAN JUST THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG

The smacking ban is just the tip of the iceberg.

The prevailing group view in the worlds of social work, education, children’s charities and politics is that children should not be punished at all. Youngsters are thought to be so “vulnerable” that any discomfort or frustration could have serious negative effects on their “well-being”.

Already we see punishments being replaced by mini-counselling sessions in schools under the banner of “restorative approaches”. This weak and indulgent process seeks excuses for misbehaviour and leads to a discipline breakdown in the longer term.

So, watch this space. By one means or another, from redefining child abuse to children’s rights activism, parents will be put under pressure to refrain from punishing their offspring at all. While some MSPs have opposed the smacking ban, none have tackled the underlying philosophy.

As the state continues its project of “liberating” children from the authority of their parents and other adults, youngsters will suffer as they grow up without the clear boundaries and structures that they need.

Richard Lucas

(leader)

Scottish Family Party

Bath Sreet

Glasgow

TAXING THE ENTERTAINERS

Ed Sheeran’s company, Ed Sheeran Ltd, has made a gross profit of nearly £62m over the last three years.

He recently completed his two-and-a-half year world-wide Divide tour which took in more than £600m. The emissions created by this and those attending were obviously huge. Add on all the other bands, film stars and celebrity gatherings which create huge additional emissions worldwide, so why are these gatherings not charged with green taxes?

Motorists and energy users are forced to pay green taxes, so why not the entertainment industry?

Green taxes should also be levied on such events. These taxes should then be used to reduce UK energy bills, which at present have an addition of 12% for green taxes, creating fuel poverty.

This approach would be better than green taxing our manufacturing and industrial companies out of business and creating unemployment.

Clark Cross

Linlithgow

RIGHT INGREDIENTS FOR FUND-RAISING

Have your readers been inspired by the Great British Bake Off?

Their time in the kitchen whipping up biscuits, puddings or cakes could make a really difference to people with epilepsy.

Epilepsy Action’s Tea Break is on Friday, October 18. People up and down the nation will be popping the kettle on and rolling out their best bakes. The tea parties will raise money to support people with epilepsy in the UK. One in 100 people live with the condition which can be life-altering.

Holding your own Epilepsy Action Tea Break couldn’t be simpler. Everyone who signs up by October 14 will get a handy toolkit filled with baking inspiration and ways to make their event a success. For a free pack, visit epilepsy.org.uk/teabreak or call 0113 210 8851.

Natalie Warnock

(chief baker)

Epilepsy Action