Letters: Advice for Ruth Davidson | Borders Railway

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While Nicola Sturgeon agonises about what she will write in the SNP manifesto, Ruth Davidson should make a manifesto pledge that the Scottish Conservatives will only support another independence referendum if it is a vote on a separation agreement already hammered out between Scotland and rUK, and that 65 per cent of the electorate would have to vote in favour of separation.

A 55/45 result has clearly divided the country – not an ideal starting point for a new state and neither is a vote based on a “white paper” containing disputed figures and assumptions about the pound and EU entry that were unlikely to materialise.

Allan Sutherland

Willow Row, Stonehaven

Tracking figures

Peter Smaill (Letters, 30 January) deploys lots of statistics to argue that the Borders Railway was a bad investment, but he omits a number of important points.

Firstly, the ludicrously pessimistic forecasting undertaken four years ago by Transport Scotland has been most apparent for the three stations in the Borders. In practice, in less than five months Stow station has generated more than double the number of passengers which official forecasts predicted for a year; in the case of Galashiels it’s three times the official forecast; and for Tweedbank, five times as many passengers have travelled in less than five months as was forecast for a year.

These shockingly inaccurate forecasts led to Transport Scotland responding to the supposedly poor business case by cutting back the amount of double track on the railway from 16 miles to 9½ miles – with the knock-on effect that timetable reliability on the new railway has been far from good. At the last count, only 35.5 per cent of trains were arriving on time at the Tweedbank terminus, and the Borders Railway has been one of the poorest performing ScotRail services overall. With better reliability, the patronage would have been even higher.

Secondly, it is the Midlothian stations which have suffered worst from unreliability, as on many occasions late-running trains have omitted scheduled stops there in order to make up time. It is therefore no surprise that there is less of a gap between “forecast”and “actual” for these stations.

Thirdly, many passengers have not actually been counted by ScotRail, because of overcrowding and the consequent inability of conductors to get through trains to collect fares, for example for short hops from Tweedbank to Galashiels. So the quoted 537,000 passengers is a significant underestimate.

Finally, to treat the Borders Railway as just a transport project is really to miss the point. The new railway was always intended as an agent of economic regeneration – and the impact in this respect has already been profound, drawing in very large numbers of visitors from Edinburgh and tapping into the capital’s vast tourist market to spread the benefits to a neglected region.

David Spaven

Author, Waverley Route: The Battle for the Borders Railway
Church Hill Drive, Edinburgh

Change in the air

Bearing in mind the problems of reliability that Loganair, “Scotland’s Airline”, has suffered over the last 12 months or so, many of its customers were relieved when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced she was taking personal responsibility to ensure that the airline’s troubles would be brought to an end. But, three months later, and despite the promised resignation of chief executive Stewart Adams “for personal reasons”, its record of delays, last minute cancellations, and even occasional complete no-shows, continues to get worse.

The First Minister’s failure to secure any significant improvement in the airline’s operating record might well provide the people of Scotland with cause for concern. As Sturgeon steers our country towards independence, would it not be reasonable to hope her government would be capable of sorting issues like this out? If they can’t, should they be running the country?

Mark Miller Mundy

Eireastadh, Isle of Lewis

Oil for nothing?

Does it not give pause for thought that the oil industry, upon which the economic viability of an independent Scotland was largely based, is now being bailed out by both Westminster and Holyrood.

Malcolm Parkin

Gamekeepers Road Kinnesswood,

Kinross


Share the child

It’s not surprising internet critics of nurseries offering night cover appear to be “stuck in the 1950s” (Perspective, 30 January). Perhaps not a few will recall the post-war furore raised by John Bowlby’s book, Maternal Deprivation.

That and the moralistic handwringing about the “latch-key child” were often blamed on working women.

However, governments were keen, after the Second World War Two, to get men back into work rather than women.

Are everyday beliefs, and even psychological theories of working women and childcare, determined by the economy? Evidence from other societies given by anthropologists shows quite different ways children may be reared by adults. Hence, as feminists point out, these studies show child rearing being shared by “stable groups of adults”.

No one doubts a significant aspect of this group is the role of the mother, but it is not her responsibility alone.

Noticeably however, as Bowlby once remarked, “a community that values its children must cherish its parents”.

Arguably, within the context of contemporary economic society, much still needs to be done to change the culture of work for both women and men.

Ellis Thorpe

Inverurie, Aberdeenshire

That’s one view

You may have thought the unionists won the referendum. But, according to Nicola Sturgeon, you’d be wrong. On yesterday’s Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 she informed us that, rather than win, the No campaign “almost lost”.

You couldn’t make it up.

Martin Redfern 
Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Trust the jury

I would agree with MSP Margaret Mitchell that the proposed legislation requiring judges to direct juries in rape cases would set a dangerous precedent (The Scotsman, 29 January). The Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson, demonstrates the danger very well, although presumably his intention was the opposite, when he said that “some members of a jury will take with them into the jury room pre-conceived and ill-founded attitudes…”. Apparently due process would ensure that if a jury did not share Mr Mathieson’s conceptions and attitudes before they entered the jury box, they would have them before they delivered a verdict.

This would appear to be a fundamental alteration to the concept of a jury of peers. I can only hope that this proposed legislation goes the same way as the similarly misguided proposal to abolish corroboration and that verdicts will be continue to be delivered on the basis of law and evidence and without interference from politicians.

Ian Haddow

Sidmount Avenue, Moffat

Just a minute

The only thing more likely to get a long-distance letter writer in hot water than suggesting the SNP is economically illiterate is casting a baleful eye on our sacred health services. It goes without saying that our NHS is the “best in the world” and has nothing to learn from Johnny Foreigner but I could not help noticing when last in the US their “minute clinics”.

These operate seven days (and evenings) a week in pharmacies, staffed by nurse practitioners who can treat common family illnesses, dress wounds and carry out vaccinations. If the problem is beyond them, they send you to the nearest A&E department or specialist; if not, you get a prescription on the spot, saving you time and costing a fraction of a GP visit.

In America, primary care physicians are going the way of the dinosaur and as I understand our medical students find the idea of being a GP beneath them, this may offer a solution. It would certainly be better than talking to an NHS 111 box-ticker who offers meaningless reassurance or, in a real crisis, delays a potentially vital dash to casualty.

(Rev) Dr John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews

Act on energy

Steuart Campell’s letter (30 January) in response to Joyce McMillan’s Perspective article “ Sea change required in energy policy” the previous day is correct in his analysis but the situation is much worse than he says or than people realise.

Firstly, I can see no way to change our energy policy. As far as I know, that policy is ill defined.

Secondly, when Longannet Power Station closes in April this year Scotland’s two nuclear stations will be producing approximately 50 per cent of the electricity generated in Scotland, which will all be base load electricity.

Thirdly, if there is an increase in wind energy projects beyond what we have in place today, the only back-up generation for these projects [in Scotland] will be Peterhead gas-fired station, which will probably not have the necessary capacity to meet the needs of the National Grid. It should be noted that, contrary to accepted opinion, as a result of fossil fuel back-up, wind generation is not free from CO2 emissions.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers issued a dire warning, just last week, that as a result of the decision to close all coal-fired stations in England and Wales by 2020 the UK’s electricity generating capacity will reduce to 50 per cent after that date. This is a very serious matter for people in Scotland as our security of supply will become more dependent on electricity from England and Wales, providing they have sufficient, after 2025 when our nuclear stations are due to close.

The lead time to plan, build and commission new power stations is between six and ten years. Both the UK and Scottish Government’s should urgently take independent expert engineering advice and reach decisions on an Electricity Generating Policy by the end of 2016. This policy should allow for the building of new, or replacement, power stations in sufficient time to avoid the country having a shortage of electricity.

C Scott

Mortonhall Road, Edinburgh

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