LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
BUILDING ON TOURISM
As an ex-pat Borderer and frequent visitor to the Ancrum area, I always enjoy picking up The Southern.
However, I was saddened to read in last week’s edition of the imminent loss of two of Galashiels’ most recognisable old buildings – St Aidan’s church and the Abbotsford Arms hotel.
I was reminded of the demolition a few years ago of 31 High Street in Jedburgh.
Although the old shop was run down and long vacant, Jedburgh had been blessed with a rare complete 18th and 19th century-built traditional Scottish high street and the building itself was later found to comprise structural elements that were possibly much older. The improvement achieved by removal of this “eyesore” appears to be a permanent ugly void, when in time investment may have been found for sympathetic restoration.
We could be led to a depressing suspicion that the fate of all the fine vernacular architecture in the Borders is a cycle of vacancy, dilapidation and ultimate destruction. Are we to assume that any scaffolding that goes up around these buildings will inevitably be their shroud?
While I accept the social and economic realities that, in line with the rest of the country, the Borders may not see a rebirth of the textile industry, a resurgence of church-going or the immediate return of diverse retail activity in rural town centres, and I also acknowledge an inevitable shrinkage in the stock of obsolete or derelict buildings, I feel that failure to protect the architectural heritage of Border towns is not only philistine, but also neglectful of some the greatest potential assets for the future prosperity of the region.
It is interesting that in the same edition of The Southern we read of the flattering recognition by The Sunday Times of Melrose as the “best place in Scotland to live”, and in the business pages of the intention of the newly-created south of Scotland enterprise agency for tourism to be central to its plans for economic revival.
If the growth of tourism is identified as the most likely successful economic future for the region, the greatest capital the Borders has in pursuit of this (after its majestic landscapes) is the elegant architecture of its picturesque town centres.
We could also consider that improvement of transport links, the increase in popularity of working from home and the growth of rural IT industry all encourage the demand for stylish commuter housing, the most desirable of which could be created by repurposing these period buildings. It is regrettable that Braedale Developments was unable to successfully repurpose St Aidan’s in just such a manner before it became “beyond the point of economical repair”.
It does not seem such a tall order that this could still be achieved with the Abbotsford Arms. The short-term economic benefits of successive occasional demolition contracts seem paltry when we consider such potential.
THE LATEST PEOPLE TO BE BETRAYED
Ruth “no referendum” Davidson, supposedly leader of Scottish Tories at Westminster and Holyrood, is struggling, not only in ‘Bake-off’, but in delivering for Scotland.
Fishermen north of the border are the latest people to be betrayed by Ms Davidson and her 13 London MPs, who yet again have failed to represent the interests of their constituents. Only last week she promised that they would regain control over their fishing grounds after Brexit.
Borders MP John Lamont, representing Eyemouth fishermen, promised exactly the same, then toed the party line and, as usual, did as he was told.
Both he and Ms Davidson say they are “disappointed” (not half as much as the fishermen) that EU boats will continue to access Scottish waters for the foreseeable future – or forever if it suits Westminster.
Yet again facts are spun, promises are broken and Scotland is sold down the river. Will Scottish farmers be next?
The “Invisible Man”, Scottish Secretary David Mundell, says he “completely supports the Prime Minister” at every opportunity and illustrates clearly the Scottish Conservatives’ total lack of influence at Westminster.
Borders Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton faces a £52k bill in respect of breaching legislation regarding pension payments for her employees. Her lame excuse – it was a typographical error – rings hollow and voters should not forget this at the next election.
This highlights the broken promises to the WASPI (Women Against State Pension Inequality) women who have lost out on their pensions because of this austerity-driven, divisive Tory government which has no interest at all in the needs of Scotland’s people.
Scottish voters deserve so much better than this, and only with independence will they benefit from electing a government which has all the powers required to build a fair and successful nation.
FILLETING THE FISHERMEN
In May last year you published a letter in which I wrote: “Perhaps the group most taken in by Brexit lies were fishermen. They seem to think they are going to take back control of the seas again. It’s not going to happen...”
As the chaotic Brexit negotiations grind on, we learn more and more horror stories which will affect Scotland badly. Twenty-four competencies controlled at the moment by the Scottish Government are going to be seized by Westminster, including fishing and agriculture, with a vague promise that they will be returned to Holyrood at a later date.
Anyone politically aware will know about the perfidious nature of Westminster, especially the Tories, and be very sceptical indeed. If London does not have nefarious motives for fishing, agriculture or the other areas, why not return them to Holyrood right away?
Many constituencies with fishing interests were conned by the Tories during the general election last year and voted for them, as they had for Brexit in 2016. Is light now beginning to dawn on them?
It is unwise to believe most politicians, but foolhardy to believe any Conservative politician. Even Tory MPs are now furious about being duped by their own government, whose chief whip thinks that it’s OK to mess around with communities as “it’s not like the fishermen are going to vote Labour”.
Such arrogance should not be rewarded at any ballot box.
Fishermen were shafted when we were taken into Europe by the Tories, and they have been shafted again as we are being taken out by the Tories.
It is with a sense of sadness that I repeat: fishermen seem to think they are going to take back control of the seas again – it’s not going to happen.
In their letters (Southern, March 22), Nick Harrison and J. Fairgrieve refer to a tax reduction for 70% of Scottish taxpayers.
Neither of them, however, mentions that by far the bulk of that reduction is attributable to the increase, by the UK Government, of the personal tax allowance. Indeed the reduction attributable to the Scottish Government is a mere 1% of £2,000 – equivalent to 39p per week.
Neither is reference made by them to the fact that 45% of Scottish taxpayers will pay more tax than their UK counterparts.
The word disingenuous comes to mind.
David S. W. Williamson
PM’S CLAIMS DISCREDITED
David Mundell claims to “fully endorse the Prime Minister in her actions” taken against Russia in relation to the “attempted murder of Mr Skripal and his daughter” (Southern, March 22).
On March 12 Theresa May told parliament: “It is now clear that Mr (Sergei) Skripal and his daughter (Yulia) were poisoned with a military grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia.”
She added: “This is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok.”
She issued an ultimatum to Russia, claiming “either this was a deliberate act by the Russian state against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially-catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others”.
Since then these claims have been discredited.
The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down actually found that blood samples taken from the Skripals “indicated exposure to a nerve agent or related compound.
The samples tested positive for the presence of a Novichok class nerve agent or closely related agent”.
In 1995 Russian scientist Dr Vil S. Mirzayanov wrote: “One should be mindful that the chemical components or precursors of A-232 or its binary version, Novichok-5, are ordinary organophosphates that can be made at commercial chemical companies that manufacture such products as fertilizers and pesticides”.
Clearly the uncertainty of the chemical analysis and the potentially-widespread source of Novichok make the UK Government’s accusations look idiotic.
To deflect attention from these failures, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnston decided to name Russian president Vladimir Putin as a suspect in the case: “We think it overwhelmingly likely that it was his decision to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the United Kingdom, on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the Second World War.”
In a further desperate attempt to regain credibility, Mr Johnston said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme (March 18): “We actually had evidence within the last 10 years that Russia has not only been investigating the delivery of nerve agents for the purposes of assassination, but it has been creating and stockpiling Novichok.”
These claims would have more credibility if they had been previously communicated to parliament and to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
The Metropolitan Police say that “this is one of the largest and most complex investigations undertaken by British counter-terrorism policing” which is “highly likely to take many months”.
The reality is we don’t know how the Skripals came into contact with a nerve agent or when, where or why. I hope the Skripals make a full recovery and that the Metropolitan Police conclude their investigations successfully.
The government’s claims and actions have set back relations between the UK and Russia by many years, and they may have compromised any prosecutions arising from the case. The only beneficiary seems to be the Conservative party which has, for a short time, appeared to be united, particularly in relation to security collaboration with the European Union.
Given the early stage of the police investigation and lack of evidence against the Russian government, I have to assume that Mr Mundell’s claims to “fully endorse the Prime Minister” is because of the short-term benefits to the Conservative party, and not for any desire to see justice done for the Skripals.
A BETTER USE FOR DONATIONS
We are now committed to spending 0.7% of UK GDP (Gross Domestic Product) on international aid which totals £13.5bn per annum.
Most proposed recipients don’t see these donations as it goes into the pockets of despots and criminals.
Also, one wonders how much of the money donated to charities at home reaches the benefactor after so-called administration costs are deducted. All management costs should be published, naming the recipients and amount received.
International aid donations from the UK Government could be channelled via the Secretary of State for International Development into funds at home for training of more doctors and other medical staff (the top priority for this government). Also, it would go a long way to helping the homeless (which is increasing by a minimum of 10% per annum).
Charity begins at home – especially when Brexit is finalised.
NAZI SALUTE YOUTUBE VIDEO
What kind of Scotland are we creating when a man can get a criminal conviction for a bad-taste video clip?
If a questionable YouTube video of a small dog raising its paw in imitation of a Nazi salute can result in a criminal record, how can people feel safe to discuss difficult questions or challenge prevailing orthodoxies?
Eugenics, for example, was once widely supported by major public figures on the left and the right. Today multiculturalism is much in need of debunking, but is it safe to do so?
When the general public knows that so much serious crime goes unprosecuted, taking action over an online video of a small dog can only serve to undermine confidence in the criminal justice system. For example, female genital mutilation has been illegal through out Britain since 1985, and yet our police and courts have failed to imprison a single vile perpetrator.
While social media does, of course, need policing of threats, scams and defamation, a tasteless YouTube video that you have to click to play really does not justify the use of scarce resources.
We allow well-meaning public servants to destroy freedom of speech at our grave peril.
TIME TO TEST CANDIDATES
The Electoral Reform Society wants legislation to ensure that at least half of parties’ candidates are women when they fight Scottish and local authority elections.
I have no difficulty with that, provided all would-be politicians and councillors pass a literacy and numeracy test as to their education standards.
An IQ test should be mandatory.
Successful candidates will be paid by taxpayers, so taxpayers are entitled to the best, not party members chosen for their loyalty and rewarded with a chance to gain a salary far beyond their ability in real life.
I am sure readers will recognise many current politicians and councillors who fall into this category.
CARING FOR THE RAF FAMILY
My grandfather, Hugh Trenchard, the first Viscount Trenchard, often called the founder of the RAF, became its first chief of the air staff on its formation on April 1, 1918.
The centenary of the RAF is a chance for the nation to reconnect with the airmen and airwomen who defended this country in its most perilous moments, to honour their dedication, commitment and bravery, and to reflect on how these qualities endure in the RAF today – particularly in light of the recent loss of an airman at RAF Valley.
In an appeal on behalf of the RAF Benevolent Fund in 1951, Winston Churchill reminded the nation of “the debt we owe” to those who served in the RAF during the Second World War.
On this 100th anniversary, it is wonderful to see the nation come together once again to acknowledge the debt we owe today, just like our forebears did all those years ago.
Right from the start, my grandfather believed that there is a responsibility to care for members of the RAF family who are in need. And so in 1919, he set up a small fund to provide welfare assistance – the RAF Benevolent Fund which would sit at the heart of the RAF family.
That role has not changed in 99 years and the fund continues to stand side-by-side with the RAF. From its modest beginnings in 1919, the fund has grown to become the leading welfare charity for the RAF, assisting 55,000 family members in 2017.
The RAF has always had an extraordinarily strong feeling of pride and loyalty – espirit de corps – and with that pride may come a reluctance to ask for help.
If you are (or know of) a serving or veteran member of the RAF family going through a difficult time, I encourage you to get in touch with the RAF Benevolent Fund – this also applies to partners and dependent children.
Please know that the RAF Benevolent Fund and its supporters are here for you, always.
Please call 0800 169 2942 or email [email protected]
3rd Viscount of Trenchard of Wolfeton DL
RAF Benevolent Fund)
GIVE PROJECTS A CHANCE TO DAZZLE
Your readers can help to recognise ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
How? Well, the National Lottery Awards 2018 are open for entries, giving Lottery-funded projects a chance to dazzle in the national limelight.
The National Lottery Awards recognise the inspirational work carried out by organisations who use National Lottery funding as a force for good to transform communities and change lives. They celebrate the amazing work and tireless efforts behind the success of local arts, education, health, environmental, sports, heritage, and community projects.
Every week National Lottery players raise £30m for good causes and, since 1994, more than 525,000 Lottery grants have been awarded. This has raised vital funds that fuel new opportunities, encourage creativity, fund sports projects and tackle loneliness to name but a few, which could not have happened without the support of National Lottery players.
Seven projects will be recognised at a star-studded awards ceremony broadcast on BBC One later this year and each will win a £5,000 cash prize.
You can nominate your favourite National Lottery-funded project by visiting www.nationallotteryawards.org.uk/awards All entries must be in by midnight on Friday, April 6.
(National Lottery awards
The National Lottery Awards