Cost of Trident

It seems to me that the controversies over both Trident replacement and bombing of Islamic State (IS) in Syria are essentially political problems since the military arguments for or against are rarely clear or persuasive.

A stance against nuclear weapons is seen as a litmus test of left-wing credentials whatever the merits of the arguments. A position in favour of Trident replacement is often seen as being positive about defending the country, similarly without a clear rationale.

With regard to Trident replacement, the military utility of nuclear weapons seems dubious. After all, who would admit being willing to use them? Their only value is deterrence, in that a potential enemy cannot know for certain that they would not be used. In this scenario, the cost does seem important. Why spend vast sums on a weapon which is not intended to be used, especially at the expense of conventional forces?

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If deterrence is the only rationale then the logical strategy would be to spend as little as possible on a system which would appear to pose a threat and so retains the capacity to sow doubt in the mind of a potential enemy.

I believe the arguments over bombing Syria are also primarily political, with the strongest being about being seen to support our allies. The military objectives of bombing in Syria are not clear, it is also not clear how non-combatants can be protected nor does there seem a plan for what can be put in place of Islamic State, or indeed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Henry Kinloch

Campbell Park Crescent, Edinburgh

Turkish question

Why should anyone trust Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan?

The Russian plane shot down by the Turks last Tuesday was returning to base and posed no threat to them, who claimed “the right to defend themselves”. You can only defend yourself if you are attacked.

The bomber was attacking terrorist targets inside the Syrian border not the Turks. And that is a key to understanding the incident. These terrorists were described as “moderate rebels” by Mr Erdogan. But they machine-gunned a pilot floating helplessly to earth by parachute and shouted “God is great” over his body. What is moderate about that?

The fact is that Mr Erdogan supports terrorist groups in his wish to see President Bashar al-Assad replaced by a puppet.

Turkey’s human rights record has also long been criticised. It has committed atrocities against the Kurds. Journalists have been harassed and even killed. There is no freedom of speech. There is much poverty yet Mr Erdogan has built a 1,000-room palace for himself. He has turned Turkey from a secular state into an overwhelmingly Muslim one of mosques and imams. And he has allowed cross-border economic and military support to the Islamic State terror group.

Why on Earth is Turkey a member of Nato and why is the European Commission paving the way for its entry to the EU?

William Loneskie

Justice Park

Oxton, Lauder, Berwickshire

On the money

Am I alone in noticing that no trade union ever strikes over members’ wages – it is always about the safety of passengers (train drivers), pupils (teachers) or patients (medics)?

When as a cleric trying to get support for some charitable cause I was told by a parishioner, “It’s not the money, it’s the principle” – I knew it was the money.

Students who half a century ago would have become scientists now become medics because of the prestige and the salaries, so money looms very large with junior doctors. This was made plain by the fact that the key argument for a strike was the fallacious claim that the new contract would cut doctors’ pay by 40 per cent.

The professions should not strike save in the most extraordinary circumstances – which this clearly is not – and “patient safety” should not be a smokescreen for greed.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews, Fife

BBC3 watch

The soon-to-close BBC3 costs £85 million to run, about £7m of which comes from Scotland (by percentage of the UK population). Its target audience is 16-34 year-olds of which there are more than a million in Scotland, by the last Census.

According to Dr Douglas Chalmers (Letters, 28 November) the BBC pays £8m for its channel for Gaelic speakers of which there are only 58,000 according to the same Census. On top of this the Scottish Government gives this same 1 per cent of the population another £13.8m for their TV channel when libraries with books which everyone can read are being forced to close. 

Dr Chalmers justifies this massively disproportionate spend by claiming 700,000 viewers for BBC Alba.

I have never watched BBC Alba and don’t know anyone who has for anything than sport. As BBC Alba is mysteriously excluded from the official viewing figures just how many people watch the non-sporting programmes on BBC Alba is not in the public domain.

The cost per viewer per programme on BBC Alba needs to be openly assessed as it is for every other BBC channel and a thorough review of the value for money of Gaelic broadcasting carried out.

Dr SJ Clark

Easter Road, Edinburgh

Falling short

Further to my recent letter – “Cheese and Whine” 23 November (a heading I felt unjustified) – I was pleased to see that Councillor Cameron Rose and his Tory group came out last week with four very strong reasons to reject the current tram extension proposals. At last we have a political group in the city council that truly understands the enormity of the decision to be taken. Given all of these are being ignored by the remaining political groups, perhaps the following will cause them to reconsider.

Page 59 of the Outline Business Case states that,“The graph below illustrates the impact on the three main sensitivities for affordability – patronage (10 per cent reduction), airport fares (10 per cent reduction) and construction costs (25 per cent increase) – on the first 20 years of council cumulative cash flows together with the cumulative impact should these three sensitivities occur simultaneously. Should all sensitivities occur at the same time, the initial funding gap would increase from £25 million to £34m”.

However, the graph itself, on page 60, shows a funding gap of approximately £60m for this scenario. This represents an increase of £26m on a scenario, which (given past performance where costs per kilometre soared by nearly 500 per cent from 2005 to completion, (costs Councillor Andrew Burns was responsible for in 2005 in his role as convener) would seem highly likely.

Mr Burns, the council chief executive officer and the board of Lothian Buses must confirm (before the council considers whether to progress this plan further at its meeting on 10 December) how a £60m shortfall would be met and whether Lothian Buses accounts are substantial enough to have  this sum paid as dividends  without compromising their viability. 

As it seems the tram “extension” is to take precedence over supporting existing council services, Mr Burns should at least recognise and publicly acknowledge that the project now has significantly more risk than he initially claimed and how he would protect both the council’s and Lothian Buses’ respective financial positions, should the latest tram business case, like his previous one, prove to be overly optimistic.

John R T Carson

Kirkliston Road, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

The rise of Fall

I suggest it should be incumbent upon we Brits to count the stars on the American flag with regular frequency lest there be 51 instead of 50 and that GB hasn’t been surreptitiously added to the United States. It was bad enough with the insidious grafting of “trick or treat” into Halloween vocabulary so that now it is near enough a capital letters replacement for Halloween.

Whether the onset of British winter weakens our attachment to traditional festivals or what, but now Black Fridays are slithering into this infiltration of phrase and tradition. Since Black Fridays are an American tradition attached to Thanksgiving Day, how soon will it be before Thanksgiving Day is registered on British calendars too?  British winter seasonally starts this week, with December, and autumn falls away, bringing to mind that Fall (as in the US) is another challenger poised to displace the third season in our vocabulary calendar.

Yes, keep tabs on Old Glory’s stars because there is every evidence the Big Pond is shrinking.

Ian Johnstone

Forman Drive, Peterhead, Aberdeenshire

I am delighted that that nonsensical American import “Black Friday” was such a failure. 

There were no punch-ups at store entrances, checkouts were quiet and bargain hunters noticeable by their absence. 

Maybe shoppers have finally woken up to the fact that shops were offering hugely discounted tat last year. No doubt some shops will point to the spike in online sales that day. What they will not be so quick to announce is the proportion of those goods which are returned. 

John V Lloyd

Keith Place, Inverkeithing, Fife

Choice words

Jane Bradley’s article “Bogus allergy sufferers send me nuts” (Perspective, 28 November) raises a plethora of difficult issues.

It seems bizarre and irrational behaviour to pass off as an allergy “strict dietary restrictions by choice.”

Perhaps it occurs when a person is without ritual rules of religion to justify shunning certain foods.

However, there is a cultural context within which people make these non-religious “lifestyle choices.” 

Most significant is the affluent culture which furnishes the opportunity to play the “picky chooser” role.

Can we imagine for instance making dietary lifestyle choices in the world’s most impoverished cultures, say in Africa?

These are tragic situations, emphasised by the other extreme of “conspicuous consumption” of the “world’s most expensive food”.

As a recent television programme showed there are now niche luxury caterers for Britain’s billionaires willing to pay £1,000 a head for a dinner party.

Arguably, “picky choosers” and conspicuous consumers are only explicable in the context of the “affluent culture”.

Ellis Thorpe

Old Chapel Walk, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire

Old King Coal

Steuart Campbell asks “Why should we play by the rules when others do not?” referring to electricity generation from fossil fuels (Letters, 28 November). He is absolutely correct.

Britain has 1.3 per cent of global emissions while the coal boom is accelerating. China has a new plant every week, India one every month and Japan has 41 planned. Asia is building 500 with 1,000 in planning. Germany will soon have 23 more. Coal is King, with 150 years of reserves and no let-up in demand.

Clark Cross

Springfield Road, Linlithgow, West Lothian