A disappearing full moon vies with increasing early-morning light at Monteath Mausoleum, Lilliardsedge, near
Ancrum, in this Curtis Welsh image. Please email photographic contributions, with a brief caption, to
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
SPENDING CUT LESSONS NEEDED
Last month, the Southern Reporter headlined a £9m funding gap that Scottish Borders Council (SBC) had convinced itself required another round of spending cuts.
No doubt the usual soft targets will be hit – more cuts in bus services, no more environmental improvements in towns, the pathetic amount of road maintenance that is carried out will be reduced to a trickle, more old folks’ homes closed, more reductions in care for the disabled and disadvantaged. One could almost write the press release now.
Meanwhile, massive capital and current expenditure on education will happily sail on, gobbling up an ever-greater proportion of SBC’s cash. If councillors and officials looked at all spending demands in a balanced way, a simple top slice off this huge budget of, say, 5% could put everything right.
But no chance of that. We must achieve absurd class size targets – when I was at primary school in the late 1960s our class roll was routinely around 45.
We must have new schools everywhere – throughout my school career, we did fine with additions to the then existing buildings. But never mind, we’ll have a massively-expensive new clutch of schools, with SBC in financial hock to developers for decades to come, which will actually be used for less than half a year.
Once again, economic reality is suspended when the endless demands of education have to be met.
EXACERBATING THE PROBLEM
I response to the letter in last week’s paper from Clark Cross in which he advocated charging intoxicated persons £200 a night for their admission to a “drunk tank”.
It is my view that such a scheme, whilst populist and superficially attractive, would serve only to exacerbate the problem which Mr Cross seeks to address.
I am a lawyer practicing exclusively in the criminal courts. I regularly represent people accused of offending whilst intoxicated at hospital.
In the Borders, successive sheriffs have made clear that the courts will take a very serious view of criminal conduct perpetrated at Borders General Hospital. They have been true to their word in that regard.
However, there is only so much which the criminal justice system can achieve.
It is my experience that those who resort to alcohol, or any other intoxicant for that matter, typically do so in order to temporarily escape some social ill. Most pertinently and commonly, they come from a background of abject poverty.
The idea that they should be charged £200 for each occasion on which they resort to such behaviour would only serve to compound those very problems.
That Mr Cross – a seemingly-articulate and intelligent person – cannot see that is beyond comprehension.
Robert E. More
INSTILLING LIBERAL VALUES
I’m grateful to Mrs C. Sharwood-Smith for drawing my attention to Nicola Sturgeon’s declaration that she will defend “liberal democracy”, and for her statement that “a liberal places free speech above offence” (letters, January 12).
I worry that Ms Sturgeon may have difficulty in persuading her colleague, Joan McAlpine MSP (South of Scotland), to adopt liberal values.
In August 2016, Pastor Angus Buchan was banned from speaking in Galashiels on dubious grounds, but continued his tour elsewhere.
Ms McAlpine had no clue what Mr Buchan was going to talk about during his tour, but that didn’t stop her website describing Mr Buchan as a “homophobic hate preacher” and claiming that he said homosexuality was a “disease” that could be “cured”. A comment on her website which asked for evidence to support her allegations was deleted.
Unfortunately for her, Mr Buchan never mentioned homosexuality at his events in Dumfries and Hexham, or in Ireland, and a columnist in ScotsGay magazine said Mr Buchan’s “level of homophobia is no greater than most churches in this land”.
Ms McAlpine may have a “zero tolerance approach to homophobia and bigotry”, but she needs to be honest with the electorate, and must be prepared to discuss issues in a sensible manner.
I do hope that Nicola Sturgeon can instil liberal values in her party and in the country.
KEEP DEVELOPERS IN CHECK
Energiekontor UK has lodged plans for a 12-turbine wind farm development on uplands to the south of Hawick, saying that the development could meet the annual energy needs of more than 22,000 homes.
Wind turbine developers always promise to supply enough electricity for so many thousand houses, but there are no checks on the actual outcome.
I suggest a rosy picture is advanced to secure planning permission and thus harvest the lucrative renewables subsidies.
However, there are no checks on the actual performance.
Wind turbine developers should be compelled to produce annual figures to compare with their planning application claims of output, and where these are not achieved then they should be fined the sale price of the electricity not produced.
WHO’S GOING TO PICK UP THE TAB?
Finance secretary Derek MacKay’s responses to Holyrood finance committee questions on his plans for 2017-18 reveal much about the SNP’s tactics on the nation’s finances.
When it comes to new powers for Scotland, the party plans to make full use of borrowing powers, yet it will make practically no use of new tax-raising powers.
SNP government ministers can borrow and spend to suit themselves, safe in the knowledge that the rest of the UK will fill the fiscal funding gap, currently to the tune of £9bn. Yet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon keeps forgetting to mention who will pick up the tab on these missing billions if she succeeds in breaking away from the UK over Brexit.
One thing is for sure – it will not be the EU.
WE COULD LEAD, NOT LEAVE THE EU
There is more than a hint of irony that as Scotland, along with the UK, prepares to leave the European Union, the island of Malta, with a population less than that of Edinburgh, has just taken over the EU presidency.
The presidency is responsible for driving forward the European Council’s work on EU legislation, ensuring the continuity of the EU agenda, orderly legislative processes and cooperation among member states.
This is the first time the island has held the presidency and during the next six months will focus on six key areas – migration, single market, security, social inclusion, Europe’s neighbourhood and maritime sector. In other words, leading the EU.
Interestingly, Estonia, with a population of less than 1.4m people, around a quarter that of Scotland, will take over the presidency in July.
During the independence referendum, the Better Together camp claimed that the only way to guarantee Scotland’s place in the EU was to vote to remain in the UK. Indeed, Scotland was to “lead the UK”, not leave the UK.
But times have indeed changed since September 2014 and we are, despite these assurances, heading for the EU exit. Of course, we could have the best of both worlds – part of a single market with the rest of the UK – as promised to Northern Ireland in its relations with the Republic of Ireland – and still members of the EU.
For that to happen requires the confidence, as Malta and Estonia have demonstrated, to take full control of our own affairs and be the masters of our own destiny – leading, not leaving the EU.
VANITY PROJECTS IN SE ENGLAND
It seems a little more than ironic, if not downright hypocritical, that Paul Singleton (letters, January 12), in criticising Richard Walthew, seems to be suggesting that only he and those who happen to share his views are entitled to a “democratic right to their opinions”.
In a previous letter, he invites us to “Bless Queen Elizabeth II”, as head of the British Empire, and suggests that we in Scotland are better off in some way as part of this shambolic, dysfunctional United Kingdom without telling us why.
Vast, eye-watering sums of taxpayers’ money are being spent on vanity projects in south-east England – refurbishment of Buckingham Palace, Palace of Westminster renovations, HS2 railway project, Hinkley Point power station, London Tube system, etc., etc. (without considering the massive costs of replacing Trident which Scotland neither needs nor wants).
All of this, and much more, convinces me that we in Scotland would be much better making our own decisions about our own future, and the kind of country we want to become.
Democracy and the freedom to express an opinion are for everyone, and, in my view, opinions are more convincing when supported by facts, or they are all too easily dismissed as entrenched dogma.
‘BIG KNIT FOR VET KIT’
I am asking readers who enjoy knitting to support SPANA’s ‘Big Knit for Vet Kit’ fundraising campaign.
SPANA is a charity that provides free veterinary treatment to sick and injured working animals in developing countries across the world.
We are calling on local knitters to make Duncan the donkey, Hattie the horse, Oscar the ox or – new for 2017 – Emma the elephant, and get sponsored while they stitch. The free knitting patterns can be ordered from www.spana.org/knit or 020 7831 3999.
Working animals do the jobs of tractors, trucks and taxis throughout the developing world, and are relied upon by many of the world’s poorest people for their livelihoods.
But without SPANA there would be no veterinary care available for so many of them.
(head of community and supporter care)
CUT OUT THE PONTIFICATING
This year I’m looking forward to the organisation calling itself the World Wildlife Foundation (Scotland) addressing any issue relating to wildlife, as opposed to pontificating about renewable energy, electric cars and road safety.
G. M. Lindsay
CALLING KNITTERS AND CROCHETERS
Local people and visitors will have seen the knitted Christmas decorations and 2,000+ pompoms in Selkirk – members of Souter Stormers hope you enjoyed them.
The group is holding its AGM on Saturday, January 21, at 10am in Connections, Back Row, Selkirk.
Perhaps new folk (knitters and crocheters) might like to join us.
Thanks to RNIB’s (Royal National Institute of Blind People) Talking Books service, sight loss doesn’t have to mean losing access to the world of books.
The Talking Books service has revolutionised reading for people with sight loss since it launched in 1935 to help soldiers blinded in the First World War.
That’s why I’m supporting RNIB’s ‘Sponsor a Talking Book’ fundraising drive which aims to raise £1m to produce hundreds of new accessible books and give thousands more blind and partially sighted people the gift of reading.
It’s really easy to make a difference.
Simply create a JustGiving page, select your fundraising total – £2,500 for an adult book and £1,500 for a children’s book. Once you’ve hit your target you can even add a personal dedication to your chosen book.
For more information, visit www.rnib.org.uk/sponsortalkingbooks
Lord Julian Fellowes