Positive stance

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ALL should welcome David Mundell’s decision to come out as being openly gay. Your leader (“Mundell’s bravery is a dilemma”, 14 January) wonders whether there is a sense of disappointment that making such a statement should still involve a degree of angst for those involved. Yet surely every person like David Mundell who makes open that which was previously not public, helps others facing a similar dilemma. Over the course of my lifetime one of the most healthy areas of progress in our society has been the wider acceptance of how and who we all are, in areas as diverse as sexuality, disability, cultural background and religious beliefs.

I hope that David’s openness will in due course help others find the best way to become more comfortable with how they express different aspects of their identity.

As one of David’s constituents, I hope that whatever people’s political opinions, they either take the view that someone’s sexuality has simply no relevance to their role as a politician, or otherwise that his announcement reflects a degree of willingness to take a stance that is positive for society at large as well as his own position.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire

What a sad political and media driven world we have created. Big issues abound – with flooding disasters; migrant issues; complex questions regarding our place in Europe; and huge poverty and abuse concerns and David Mundell thinks THE big issue is his sexuality.

Sorry David, who cares when there are important issues on our minds? Get on with the day job, which should be independent of your race, sexuality or religion.

James Watson

Randolph Crescent, Dunbar

Help with freight

Lest any readers were mis-led by the headline ‘“No real way round railway closures for freight” (Friends of the Scotsman, 14 January), it should be emphasised that Network Rail have been doing a good job to minimise the impacts on freight customers of the West Coast Main Line closure at Lamington. The Glasgow-Kilmarnock-Dumfries-Carlisle route has been specially authorised for movement of big containers on certain types of wagon, and other key Anglo-Scottish flows such as oil and automotive traffic are finding their way to market in difficult circumstances.

Yes, we do need a consistent higher standard of Anglo-Scottish diversionary route – and that will require investment by Network Rail and the Scottish Government – but credit where credit is due, to our often-maligned rail infrastructure authority.

David Spaven

Scottish Representative, Rail Freight Group

Who benefits?

Much of the debate about the current EU renegotiation by the Prime Minister has focused on restricting access to benefits for those from other European Union countries coming to the UK. Some perspective is needed on this. What tends to be forgotten is that there are around 2.2 million UK citizens living and working in the rest of the EU with, for example, just over 1 million British people living in Spain and 329,000 in Ireland.

Indeed, unemployed Britons in the EU are drawing much more in benefits and allowances in wealthier EU countries than their nationals are claiming in the UK. For example, four times as many Britons obtain unemployment benefits in Germany as Germans do in the UK, while the number of jobless Britons receiving benefits in Ireland exceeds their Irish counterparts in the UK by a rate of five to one.

Contrary to popular perceptions, the figures for nationals of those 10 east European countries drawing jobseeker’s allowance in the UK remain modest, despite the periodical outcries about “benefits tourism”. There are only about 1,000 Romanians and 500 Bulgarians, for example, drawing jobseeker’s allowance in Britain, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Of those EU migrants living here a mere 1.2% are not economically active, amounting to a miniscule number. According to University College London, between 2001 and 2011 EU migrants made an estimated positive net contribution of £20 billion to the UK economy as they tend to be younger and more economically-active than our own workforce, paying more in taxes and receiving less in benefits.

Derek Hammersley

Chairman, The European Movement in Scotland, Walker Street, Edinburgh

Tax hike in Moray

Can there be any justification for the local authority in Moray raising the council tax by more than 18% (“Swinney faces rebellion over flagship tax freeze policy”, 14 January)? It begs further questions about why the freeze, which has lasted nearly eight years, was introduced in the first place, whether the tax is an appropriate method of financing local government, and whether there is any realistic prospect of its reform. On the latter we should not be holding our breath.The freeze was introduced because its regressive nature did cause upset and concern to many who could ill afford to pay it.

The freeze helped to mitigate that difficulty. But it was also accompanied by a plan, not just to fully fund the shortfall, but to free local authorities from the constraint of ‘ring-fenced’ spending. In return for a commitment by local authorities to implement the freeze they would have more freedom to allocate the grant support from central government in their own way. Perhaps Moray Council still could not get the balance between income and expenditure right and thus have their present problems. Perhaps they have been lax in introducing more effective methods of working. Either way there can be no grounds for seeking a tax increase on the scale they propose. Setting a council budget is a complex balancing act. It is to that task that officials and councillors in Moray should be turning, rather than to further imposition on hard pressed taxpayers.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court, Glenrothes

Four into two

Your article “Commuters face four months of disruption”, brought to mind a journey undertaken by me as a child, around 1950. I travelled from Rothesay to Lochgelly, having to change trains, and stations, at Glasgow. The Fife-bound train departed from one of the Low Level platforms at Queen Street. Dark and smoky as these were in ‘steam’ days, at least the railway operators of the 1950s had the luxury of four platforms to work with. Now there are only two. Progress?

Alastair Anderson

Lauder Court, Hamilton

Over a barrel

Now that the weak economic case for independence has been blown to smithereens by the collapse of the price of oil, the SNP leadership must be very grateful that the No voters have saved them from the anguish of having to impose Greek-style austerity on the Scottish people and the humiliation, in a few short years, of having to go cap in hand to Brussels for a bail out.

With their current performance, the last thing the Nationalist leadership wants is a further referendum any time soon, and talk of one now is only bluster to keep the faithful on side.

The SNP leaders may be duplicitous, but they are not daft. Fortunately, neither are the Scottish people.

WB Campbell

Cammo Grove, Edinburgh

Sums don’t add up

Kezia Dugdale’s magic money tree never stops giving as for the fourth time she is spending a nonexistent £125 million, firstly on education, secondly restoring tax credit cuts then last week helping first time buyers and now giving care workers a living wage.

This is just not credible and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny as the next Scottish Government is facing a real term cut of £1 in every £8 by 2020. Under the Scotland Bill, other than limited income tax powers, the five main taxes that can restructure and grow our economy or make decent welfare provision will remain firmly in London.

By promising better off first time buyers a free hand out that will only increase house prices shows Labour has learnt nothing from their housing bubble that led to the 2008 banking crash. The main problem is the lack of affordable housing and the SNP plan to build 50,000 new homes by 2020, in sharp contrast to Labour’s six council houses built between 2003 and 2007.

Despite claims to the contrary, the council tax freeze has been fully funded, an extra £500 million is being provided to fund our hard pressed social care services and Scotland’s latest A & E waiting times are the best in the UK.

Unlike Labour’s pie in the sky promises these are solid SNP achievements in difficult financial times.

Fraser Grant

Warrender Park Road, Edinburgh