In my column last week I touched upon the Government’s plans, announced by Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb, to introduce a single tier State Pension of £144 in 2017. The new pension will mean that the self-employed and those with caring responsibilities no longer miss out on support in retirement and those who have saved will no longer be penalised by means-testing. Here in the Borders, there are many people who work for themselves or spend a significant part of their working life caring for children or elderly or disabled relatives. The contribution they make to society is just as valuable as those who are in employment, so it is great news that they will receive proper recognition and support when they retire.
The weather has been very challenging in the Borders over the past week with snow causing disruption for local transport, public services and businesses. I know that the Council and other agencies are working hard to keep roads open and safe for users and I want to thank them for all they are doing. This is an especially tough time for farmers as they look after their livestock and the elderly as they often feel trapped by the snow and ice and it is good to see neighbour helping neighbour in these tough conditions.
A legal referendum
Last week both the House of Commons and the House of Lords passed the legislation to enable the Scottish Parliament to hold a legal referendum on Scottish independence. There was a lively debate in both Houses.
Now that the legislation has passed I look forward to all of us getting on with the ‘great debate’ over the future of Scotland – whether it is better to go it alone, or remain in the UK. There are some who wish to fast forward past this debate and head straight into negotiations but I believe this is putting the cart before the horse. We need to hear the arguments from both sides, let people in Scotland decide and only then, if Scotland voted for independence – which I don’t think we will – negotiations would begin.
This is why I am urging those who support independence to bring forward a detailed proposal of what they would hope to achieve through negotiations. The people of Scotland need to know what independence would mean for jobs, nation security, welfare and for families and communities across the country. From the pro-UK side, the UK Government will be publishing the first of its evidence-based papers in February outlining how Scotland benefits from being part of the UK.
Ever since I heard of the Scottish Courts Service (SCS) plans back in 2011 to close the court in Duns, I have been extremely concerned about the effect this would have on local access to justice. The consultation on its proposals closed in December and the SCS is currently considering the responses and is due to report this spring. The Scottish Parliament will then make the final decision on any closures.
A number of my constituents in Berwickshire have contacted me recently expressing their opposition to these plans and I have written to the Justice Secretary to pass on their concerns and my own. Here in the Borders, as a rural area, we depend on our local services and the loss of this court would be a huge blow for the area. This is why I am urging the Justice Secretary to ensure this closure does not go ahead.