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23 May 2017

A War on Pensioners?

At the outset it would be as well before I write about pensioners, to remind you all that I am one of the three septuagenarians in Parliament.

I meet lots of pensioners who find life pretty hard. And many more of my age group vote than those under 25. About 30 percentage points more.

So with a general election on, one might imagine that the interests of those who are most likely to vote would receive the most careful attention from all. But perhaps not.

The Conservatives have three proposals that may tip, over time, more pensioners into dire straits.

They want to cut the link that the state pension currently has with inflation. That protects pensioners to fair degree from rises in the cost of living. The SNP certainly has committed to keep the link and I believe both Labour and Liberal Democrats agree.

In England and Wales, the Conservatives want to stop paying every pensioner a winter fuel allowance.

And finally, former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s proposal to cap the cost of care for our older citizens – in Scotland, personal care is free – a proposal that many pensioners favoured, is to be scrapped by Theresa May if she wins her election.

Scotland has taken a different path and we need to protect our right to do so.

Free personal care - introduced by Labour and Liberal Democrats - protected by the SNP, came from our Scottish Parliament.

Prescription charges have been abolished – we don’t tax the sick.

We have business rates scheme that means a huge number of our small businesses no longer pay anything.

And our students do not need to pay fees for their education.

All choices we have made that have broad cross-party support and come from our making decisions that suit our needs.

People will vote – and I hope you do – based on a number of factors.

But I hope no one will vote for candidates that don’t spell out what their party plans to do in their leaflets and election addresses. Some seem empty of their plans.

This time the policies for social support – something each and every one of us will need at some point in our lives – seem to be more divergent between the parties than ever before.

I suspect you don’t need me to dwell on my view that Victorian values are not for me. Nor are the 1950s – I lived through them and still remember rationing among many things from those days to now forget and leave behind – of any attraction to me.

As we leave the EU we need to consider whether a party we might support has any plans that will protect our industries and protect the rights of our citizens.

But whatever decision you come to. Do try to vote. My preference is well known. Yours is yours alone.

9 May 2017

Prediction is difficult, especially about the future

When I sit down to write these words it can be at various times of day in various locations. This Wednesday evening I am on the train from Edinburgh bound for Huntly station where my car is parked.

By the time of publication, quite a lot will have happened. We shall have elected a new Council, and the Westminster election will be a week closer to a conclusion.

One of our famous Scots is the Brahan Seer. And if he had been kind enough to include in his predictions the results of the two elections to come I could write about them confidently and informatively. I can’t.

But I can write about politicians. As someone who worked for a bank for 30 years – as a computer specialist rather than a banker – some suggest that I moved from banking to politics to improve my reputation. Being active in politics does not earn one much esteem. It should.

Last time I looked there were some 300 political parties registered with the Electoral Commission. Most will never achieve electoral success. Most you will never hear of. Just over a dozen, including the Northern Irish parties, are serious players.

And here’s the point. Almost everyone who stands for elected office in their name does so because they want to improve the lot of their fellow citizens. I don’t need to use the fingers of a second hand to count those I have met who stand for their own selfish reasons.

So in that spirit I thank all who stood in the Council elections. Regardless of their political philosophy or policies. I draw the line only against those who discriminate against others for what they are rather than what they do.

And Councillors have the most thankless job in public life. They are paid well under the average wage and the best of them work so many hours that they earn below the minimum wage per hour. And have little staff support to help them do their job.

Hundreds of candidates failed to be elected. But spent 100s of hours without reward on the campaign trail. And friends and party colleagues will have multiplied that.

The recent Presidential election in the United States saw the two main contenders spend over a billion dollars between them. Our election costs are trivial by comparison and for Council you can stand, and the occasional candidate can win, without spending anything but their own time.

To the newly elected I say, you will meet people in distress – listen, empathise and keep any promise you make to them. Enjoy your moment of electoral success and remember the disappointed losers who stand behind you waiting for your first slip, hoping that it tumbles you from office next time.

And to the losers, especially those who previously tasted office, heartfelt thanks for putting yourself forward for the most wearing, sometimes irrational, job interview in your life.

Pick out the good bits from the experience and prepare for next time.

The Brahan Seer was boiled in oil for daring to predict the future.

I won’t try.

Stewart Stevenson
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