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READERS’ LETTERS: Who would pay pensions in an independent Scotland?

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Sir, – Your correspondent Stephen Windsor launches an ugly personal attack on me. No matter, I am more concerned with the misinformation he spreads about pensions.

1. Mr Windsor’s claim that “it matters not if pensioners live in an independent Scotland, France, Spain or any other country’” all are entitled to UK pensions. He neglects to mention that pensioners abroad who receive the state pension are expatriates of the UK. The whole point of the separatist campaign is to take Scotland out of the UK. Scots would be foreigners, not British national expatriates.

2. Mr Windsor is very keen to quote Steve Webb, former pensions minister, when it suits him but not when it doesn’t. In a written submission in 2014, subsequent to his oral comments, Mr Webb said: “I would think the Scottish people would expect their government to take on full responsibility for paying pensions to people in Scotland including where liabilities had arisen before independence.

“Similarly, people in the rest of the UK would not be expecting to guarantee or underwrite the pensions of those living in what would then have become a foreign country. The security and sustainability of pensions being paid to people in Scotland would, therefore, depend on the ability of Scottish taxpayers to fund them”.

The Courier’s Derek Healey, referred on February 7 to Steve Webb’s amended statement in “Is the SNP ‘misleading voters over pensions in an independent Scotland?’”.

3. The current pensions minister, Guy Opperman, said on Sunday, “if Scotland chooses to become a foreign country, then working English, Welsh and Northern Irish taxpayers should not pay for a foreign country’s pension liabilities. That has been the settled position of the UK Government since before the 2014 referendum”.

He added, “Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford are, once again, misleading Scots”. He is right.

4. Perhaps Mr Windsor could explain to us why the SNP has changed its position on pensions. In 2013, their prospectus for the 2014 referendum, the White Paper, stated categorically on p144 that the Scottish Government would assume responsibility for paying Scottish pensions. Why have Sturgeon and Blackford changed their position?

The UK Government has not.

5. Another question – why do SNP conferences vote for an increased (even doubled) state pension if they do not think that the Scottish Government would be paying it? Why does Sturgeon tell us that a separate Scotland would have better pensions than we have at present if she would not control pension payments?

6. I am afraid that the SNP’s 11 civil servants who are working on a new referendum prospectus must have delivered to the SNP leadership bad news about pensions – that, as John Swinney confidentially informed them in 2013, “the nation’s finances – and its ability to afford pensions and public service – would be imperilled by fluctuating oil prices and the cost of an ageing population” (The Independent, March 7 2013).

The SNP knows that it would have difficulty in honouring the commitment to paying the state pension at the current rate (let alone a higher rate) if Scotland left the UK.

Mr Windsor talks about people like me “panicking”. The panic is all on the SNP’s side when faced with the reality of fulfilling their promises. I trust that the civil servants working on their referendum prospectus will not think of including the lies that the SNP leadership has been telling about pensions.

Jill Stephenson. Corstorphine, Edinburgh.

Cold reality for OAPs could mean hardship

Sir, – Stephen Windsor’s claim that Westminster would still pay Scottish pensions in the event of a split is based on a fallacy for it ignores the fact that obligations and assets would get divided between the remainder of the UK (RUK) and Scotland.

As there is no vast pension fund to pay state pensions out of, these would continue to be paid out of general taxation (and government borrowing). On separation, the liability to pay these would be divided up according in the first instance to which country each of us becames a citizen of.

Most of us living in Scotland would become Scottish citizens, but not citizens of the RUK, and vice versa for people living in the RUK. Any legal obligation would fall on our own country but not the other.

A fortunate sub-category of Scots who had worked in the RUK and were settled there at the split would probably qualify for RUK pensions on the same basis as other foreigners settled there. For the rest of us, we would only have claims on Holyrood.

And the cold reality is that on losing English subsidies of our deficit, the tax base in Scotland would not be sufficient to support pensions and other public spending at the current levels. SNP claims that the RUK would continue to pay Scottish pensions implicitly acknowledge that.

Put another way, the SNP position is effectively that people in the RUK would be taxed to pay the pensions of the citizens of a foreign country resident in that foreign country, and that is clearly absurd.

Otto Inglis. Ansonhill, Crossgates.

Worries over future incomes for elderly

Sir, – The SNP should welcome the call from its own policy convener, Tony Guigliano, for more clarity on state pensions in an independent Scotland.

No one should doubt that this matter might be crucial in an independence referendum campaign. The party has done nothing to reassure elderly voters about their future incomes.

It is confusing to claim that the rest of the United Kingdom would continue to provide pensions at the current level.

The controversy should help inject a dose of reality, however.

A Yes majority in a referendum would not mean autonomy the following Monday. It would simply start a detailed bout of negotiations.

At the centre of this would be what share of the UK national debt Scotland should accept.

What would its size be, how would it be serviced, what level of spending cuts would be required to make sure Scotland has credibility in international markets?

The size of pension and social security payments in a newly-independent state would be vital. That would have to be managed by the Scottish Government. It might continue the same payments as in the rest of the United Kingdom, or it might consider higher payments or, more likely, the payments would have to be pruned back.

It would be its decision.

Incidentally, the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford’s example of pensioners living abroad getting their pension needs to be qualified. Certainly, they get the pension, but it doesn’t mean they get the annual increase. It depends on which country you retire to.

Bob Taylor. Shiel Court, Glenrothes.

Major own goal by SNP over payments

Sir, – The claims by Nicola Sturgeon and Ian Blackford that Britain would still pay Scottish pensions after independence are a major own goal for the SNP.

What they are really saying is that an independent Scotland couldn’t afford to pay pensions at the same rate.

And they know that many Scots already know it.

Penny Ponders. Ingliston Road, Newbridge.

What you know matters so much more than what type of degree you hold

Sir, – The focus of discussions of this year’s school exams has been on ensuring that pupils can leave with the qualifications they need for university.

But I ask whether this obsession with academic as opposed to practical routes to success in life makes sense?

My mother never went to university but was fluent in five languages when The Courier employed her as their librarian during the First World War.

It is what you know, not what degree you hold that matters.

Her father, a Dundonian, was a flax merchant in Riga, buying, packing and sending flax on ships that docked in Dundee, to meet the needs of the linen factories.

His oft-repeated mantra was that the only valuable thing he could leave his children was education.

He sent my mother to the one school in Riga that taught in Russian, German and French.

They spoke English at home and, of course, she also picked up the local Latvian in the way kids do. Back home in Dundee her job was to scan foreign papers sent to The Courier for news that would interest Dundonians.

Once you leave school it is up to you how much more knowledge you need to achieve your ambitions, and your decision which learning process will allow you to do it best.

Many children are fed up with sitting in class being lectured to and do not have the self-discipline to search out for themselves in libraries and books the knowledge that will achieve a good degree. They want hands-on learning. Apprenticeship for them is as good a way as any degree.

It is an all-consuming learning process that encourages inventive thought and the continuing self-education that enables an interesting working life. It is horses for courses and what suits you that matters.

Elizabeth Buchan-Hepburn. Simpson Loan, Edinburgh.

Prioritising fat cats over ordinary folk

Sir, – Research by the food foundation has revealed that more than one million adults in the UK went a whole day without food in the UK last month.

This is the reality of Tory austerity.

The response from the Tories to this and the higher fuel prices has been utter indifference, denial and contempt. Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng was asked why the UK Government had allowed energy companies to put their prices up by 50% when France had only raised theirs by 4%.

His glib answer was that the UK needed to “protect the investors”.

In other words prioritising the fat cats. However, Mr Kwarteng’s claim collapses with even a cursory look. France actually attracts more investment than the UK.

On the day that BP announced a profit of £9.5 billion the Tories whipped their MPs into voting for a real-terms cut to Universal Credit.

The response by Keir Starmer was to abstain. Yet again Starmer’s Labour Party shows how supine, craven and utterly useless they are.

This means that people already starving and freezing are going to suffer more misery. All for the perpetual benefit of the fat cats.

The response to the escalating crisis within the UK by Boris Johnson has been resorting to Trumpian tactics.

The baying mob that surrounded Keir Starmer was incited by Johnson.

His dog whistle of Jimmy Savile was aimed in the direction of the far right. There is a warning for people of the danger of the far right.

The atmosphere of mistrust and fear being whipped up for Brexit, for herd immunity and against Russia is having real consequences.

The Westminster Parliament is a cesspit. Scotland needs to vacate and steer its own path away from this abomination.

Alan Hinnrichs. Gillespie Terrace, Dundee.

Make an example after kicking cat

Sir, – As a cat owner and lover I was appalled, disgusted and outraged by the video made public of the West Ham player Kurt Zouma kicking and slapping his pet cat.

This is reprehensible behaviour and as a footballer he has a certain amount of influence on young people.

Therefore, West Ham football club should do the right thing and dismiss him.

He also should be prosecuted and banned from keeping pets for life.

Gordon Kennedy. Simpson Square, Perth.

PM’s behaviour is quite out of order

Sir, – As someone who has had to wear a face covering from July 10 2020 – I believe it was when it became mandatory in supermarkets and shops and when meeting customers out delivering groceries – I have no great opinion one way or another regarding senior pupils in schools.

I deliver groceries and am neither a school teacher nor an epidemiologist.

However, there has been far too much criticism of the first minister and the Scottish Government by people who have never been in government.

Is it any wonder that most retail workers – especially on night shift– that I speak to have no time for politicians when you see the weekly pantomime that is FMQs or the behaviour of the prime minister in this pandemic?

Peter Ovenstone. Orchard Grove, Peterhead.