Rich pickings

THE CONTINUING fallout from the Panama papers, exposing tax havens for the rich and powerful, highlights the hugely immoral tax avoidance scandal that above all greatly harms the poor and vulnerable of every nation. Government tax revenues worth many hundreds of billions of pounds are lost globally each year.

In the UK, the systematic abuse of a complicated and outdated tax system, that successive governments of every hue have ignored, where political leaders, international banks and big business have been part of, is a national 

Thank goodness for the efforts of investigative journalists condemning such practices.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Grant Frazer

Cruachan, Newtonmore

Familiar problem

The main reasons given for rejecting the Garden District proposal in west Edinburgh (Your report, 15 April) are: it “would undermine the green-belt; the site is not needed to meet housing requirements; access to transport is not as good as claimed; it could lead to more congestion; approval would prejudice the Local Development Plan”.

With “housing” replaced by school, and “could” by would, these mirror exactly the objections of increasing numbers of north-east Fife residents to Fife Council’s plan to relocate St Andrews secondary school, Madras College.

In March, that plan was unanimously quashed as unlawful by three senior judges of the Inner House of the Court of Session as Fife Council had not followed proper process.

But the council intends to resubmit amended plans for the same inappropriate site (paying a private speculative landowner a windfall £1.7million) on the wrong side of town for two-thirds of pupils and staff, rather than now accepting far more suitable ground offered by St Andrews University on its campus boundary.

Apart from avoiding at least 25,000 miles per year by school buses through town (plus cars), and with many other advantages, the campus site meets the Scottish Government’s promotion of close secondary school links with colleges and universities, whose staff and facilities greatly benefit teachers’ continuing professional development and senior pupils approaching university transition.

That is the kind of visionary educational approach fit for our children’s 21st century and adopted by Fife Council in Levenmouth, but sadly not in St Andrews.

John Birkett

Horseleys Park, St Andrews

Virtual non-reality

The quote of the day from Patrick Harvie (Your report, 14 April) is a brazen inversion of reality.

The Tories deserve contempt from the electorate for leaving in place the green taxes that have, by definition, driven up the price of energy.

However, fracking will increase the supply of energy, relative to demand, and would at least reduce fuel poverty.

By contrast, Patrick Harvie’s support for both green taxes and restricting the supply of energy is guaranteed to worsen such poverty and is truly contemptible.

Bruce Crichton

Victoria Road, Falkirk

Mince indeed

SNP MP Kirsty Blackman describes Westminster’s standing orders system as “mince”. The same might be said of the SNP’s promises to play a constructive part in the UK’s parliament.

Its members have blatantly interfered in matters that do not affect Scotland and regularly use and abuse the platform of the House of Commons, whether in bombarding the costly and largely wasteful early day motion system with self-serving missives, or grandstanding on the floor of the House of Commons to stir grievance between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Then, of course, there was that promise of bringing a new kind of politics to Westminster, only to quickly find some of their own MPs mired in scandal and investigations. Yes, “mince” is the word that comes to mind.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire

Buoyant brigades

Recent news that more young people, especially girls, are joining the Scouts is an encouraging announcement for the main youth organisations in Scotland which see over 110,000 young people through their doors each year.

What is welcoming is that there is demand for places in youth organisations and a belief in the benefits membership can bring to the lives of young people.

I know, from our own organisation, The Boys’ Brigade, that there has been something of a renaissance recently, with membership increasing. We now have 20,000 members across 430 groups throughout Scotland and have the capacity to grow even bigger.

Increasing membership is important to us, but even more crucial is ensuring our programmes are meeting the needs of today’s young people. The BB is currently developing new materials for all our age groups – from five to 18.

Like all youth organisations, to grow, we rely heavily on adult volunteers. Many of our groups tell us that they would welcome even more children and young people, but can only do so if more willing people give up their time and talents to make a difference to the lives of young people.

Bill Stevenson

Director of The Boys’ Brigade in Scotland, Carronvale House, Carronvale Road, Larbert

Safety blast

Council officials claim that they closed Calton Hill during the Hogmanay celebrations out of a concern for safety (Your report, 14 April).

If this is true, why then did they not close the hill for the Torchlight Procession fireworks only days before? The crowd at that event is always considerably larger than any I have seen on Hogmanay and so must pose a far more serious “safety” problem.

Peter S. Robertson

Spring Gardens, Edinburgh

Follow the leader?

The current issue of Private Eye has a picture of Patrick Harvie (Greens), Ruth Davidson (Tory), Kezia Dugdale (Labour), and Nicola Sturgeon (SNP) with a balloon above Sturgeon’s head saying “Guess what? I’m heterosexual.” It’s a fairly typical Eye gag but it raises a wider issue when examined a bit more closely.

Of the six Scottish party leaders, four are openly LGB and between them all they have a grand total of two children – both Willie Rennie’s.

You might think it hard to disagree with the Rev David Robertson (Scotland on Sunday, 10 April) when he commented on the SNP’s plan, if the party is returned, to “overhaul gender recognition law for trans people...” by rather controversially saying: “We are not in a society where ordinary people run anything. We have government by the 1 per cent for the 1 per cent.”

That’s maybe putting it a bit strongly but, nevertheless, can it be argued that the gender make-up of the current party leaders is in any way representative of the vast majority of the Scottish electorate?

Ian McElroy

Heathfield Road, Thurso

Building blocs

I am a Eurosceptic and I am convinced that we genuine patriots who believe in the right to self-determination should be able to self-govern our respective nations without interference from the European Union.

The UK is the fifth largest economy in the world and has access to the Commonwealth nations such as Canada and Australia.

I believe most vehemently that the UK should organise its own trading bloc with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland based on voluntary cooperation, not political union that has devastated the economies of the eurozone such as Greece.

The trade bloc that we could form with the expressed consent of our respective fellow citizens would be sufficient enough to compete with the discredited and ever bankrupting European Union.

I propose that the new trading bloc has no flag, no anthem, no bureaucracy, no elected officialdom and that we oppose any extension of the free movement of labour to Turkey that Angela Merkel wants to impose upon your fine country and mine.

I believe in freedom and cooperation between our respective nations and that united as a trading bloc based on voluntary cooperation we can build stronger economies, strong skill base and a real functioning economic powerhouse to provide rising prosperity for our citizens.

Oliver Healey

Oxford House, Oxford Court, Leicester

Sloppy mistake

Poor Angus Robertson appears to have made that schoolboy error of not questioning what he reads on social media.

In Westminster, he repeats nonsense apparently dredged from Twitter that HMRC has only 300 staff investigating tax fraud while 3,250 DWP employees tackle benefits fraud. His claim grabs headlines but, unsurprisingly, is entirely wrong.

HMRC accepts it could do better yet confirms it has 26,000 staff focused on tax evasion.

Nice try, Angus, but maybe do your homework properly next time?

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus , Edinburgh

PFI alternatives

Your editorial comment says that careful scrutiny of private finance contracts is now “urgent and essential” (Perspective, 15 April)

One might be excused for words like horse, stable door and bolting coming readily to mind.

Surely councillors are as familiar as lawyers with the workings of financial instruments like public private partnerships, especially as other private funding methods are available, like, for example, the Scottish Futures Trust which in many ways sounds similar to the PFIs.

Another, the non-profit distributing model used for transport projects is extremely profitable for some financiers.

However, the most ingenious is tax increment financing, a financial investment scheme popular in America.

Apparently, Aberdeen council toyed with the idea of TIF to fund redevelopment of Union Terrace Gardens.

All these “private/public” finance schemes involve large sums of taxpayers’ money for the foreseeable future.

Arguably before any are initiated there should be intensive “debate and scrutiny” by councillors and public.

Ellis Thorpe

Old Chapel Walk, Inverurie