I AM struck by the fact that the Portuguese Government has slashed the debt-heavy country’s budget deficit to its lowest level in more than 40 years, despite warnings its anti-austerity policies could spell financial disaster.
Some other Eurozone countries expressed alarm when the centre-left Socialist government, with the support of the Communist Party and Left Bloc, took power in 2015 on an anti-austerity platform.
Portugal needed a €78 billion bailout in 2011, after recording a deficit of more than 11 per cent the previous year, and Eurozone officials feared it could go into another debt spiral under the Socialists.
Loading article content
However, the government’s budget last year cut taxes and restored civil servants’ salaries, eased a surtax on employees’ incomes and breathed new life into the welfare system.
So, while we pursue a remorseless austerity agenda in the UK, what Portugal has demonstrated, despite concerns over the economic policies it is pursuing, is that there is another way. Rather than blindly following an austerity agenda, the example set by Portugal is something we in the UK would be well-advised to take note of.
Alex Orr, Edinburgh
THE decision by UK Sport to reject appeals and withdraw all funding for sports such as badminton and table tennis is an abrogation of the UK Government’s responsibility to improve the health of the nation in favour of pursuing political glory and winning Olympic medals.
Relative to accessibility and participation levels, this decision makes a mockery of wider health improvement goals and aims of reducing the enormous and increasing financial strain on the NHS. Sports such as rowing, sailing, canoeing, equestrian and modern pentathlon will together receive around £100m, almost 40 per cent of total funding, in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, while badminton and table tennis, which are played and enjoyed by all ages and all socio-economic groupings across the UK, will receive nothing.
We are bombarded with news bulletins on an almost daily basis about the high costs of increasing obesity significantly hampering efforts to sustain NHS service levels, yet at the same time the message is sent out that Westminster’s priority is to encourage the development of sports that many would consider elitist instead of sports that can be enjoyed by most people across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
What is the point of GB sitting near the top of the medals table in Tokyo if a high proportion of our next generation of potential medal winners feel that sport does not offer realistic opportunities for them, and if the population in general are not encouraged to participate in more accessible sports as they do not personally identify with any of the sports in which that success has been achieved?
Stan Grodynski, Longniddry, East Lothian
THE official invitation to Donald Trump was meant to be a coup for the Tories (MPs say no to state visit from President Trump, The National, February 21). Committed to a hard Brexit from the EU, the hope was that the visit would prove that the special relationship between the US and the UK would enable Britain to thrive outside the EU. The backing of the US President, who has been openly hostile to the EU, was also to be employed to extract better terms for the UK in negotiations with its former European partners. This is a dangerous path.
Less than a year ago, Theresa May advocated Britain’s continued membership of the EU that gave the country access to the world’s largest market. Now, she will lead Britain out of the European Union and its economic, social, environmental and judicial instruments. She will accept estrangement from immediate European neighbours, but much greater reliance on a superpower governed by an isolationist, unpredictable president more than three thousand miles away across the Atlantic.
The protests which will take place when Trump visits are indicative of widespread hostility to Trump’s extreme-right, anti-immigrant, big business policies, which have sparked nearly daily demonstrations within the US. Trump’s visit has become a battle ground for rival factions within ruling circles, especially in the aftermath of last year’s vote to leave the European Union.
May’s post-Brexit strategy relies heavily on securing a US trade deal and on US backing to strengthen Britain’s hand in negotiations over continued access to European markets. But pro-Remain factions of the ruling class calculate that Trump’s "America First" agenda excludes the possibility of a significant agreement being reached and that his declared support for the break-up of the EU will backfire on the UK by almost guaranteeing its exclusion from the single market.
A country is never more vulnerable than when there is just one guarantor and not enough room for manoeuvre.
Alan Hinnrichs, Dundee
AS long as Scotland is not free it will continue to have a mini-UK economic model. Devolution ensures the Scottish Government does not redistribute wealth and its function has been managing rather than reforming the economy (Michael Gray: Scotland’s poorest need SNP action on inequality, The National, February 21).
Remember the introduction of free personal care by the Lab-Lib coalition? The UK Treasury kept the money that had previously been paid to individuals in need of personal care, leaving Scotland to foot the bill out of the existing block grant.
In 2007 the SNP proposed replacing council tax with local income tax and the Treasury immediately announced it would retain the money paid to social security claimants for their council tax. SNP plans were thus scuppered without debate even though it was the expressed objective of the majority opposition in Holyrood.
A few years ago the Scottish Government had to go through hoops to find a way to offset the bedroom tax that would not fall foul of social security rules, finally having to get Treasury permission to spend its own money for this purpose.
Power devolved is power retained; the powers devolved so far ensure that successive Scottish Governments have done and will do very little redistribution of power and wealth.
John Jamieson, South Queensferry
Anyone wishing to be kept informed of progress and of future activities is invited to register their interest at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Peter Swain, Hon Secretary, Dunbar