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It's time to wake up and smell the cocoa

Despite being in the zone myself, I try not to spend too much time with older people.

I cannot understand why hale and hearty people congregate in retirement complexes. Sure, I appreciate peace and quiet and being with people just like oneself. I have reserved a plot in our local graveyard for that very purpose.

I am increasingly impatient with my fellow baby boomers' egocentric approach to the referendum. My TV is at risk every time an Archie Macpherson type or a silver 60 or 70-something pops up wailing, "Aye, but wha' will pay oor pensions?"

It's time to wake up and smell the cocoa. Pensions will be a burning issue irrespective of the outcome. While our increasing longevity is cause for celebration it should not blind us to the cost implications, better together or not.

I am amused and bemused when my fellow pensioners talk dismissively of "benefit claimants". You don't make many friends down the luncheon club by pointing out we are the largest group of benefit claimants. There will be around 15.5 million of us by 2030.

Neither Westminster nor Holyrood can guarantee pensions for all time. All parties agree there is no silver bullet for escalating costs, but are equally aware of the power of the silver ballot. However, with the 2015 UK election safely out of the way, all bets will be off. The young, the sick and the disabled have already been hit. The largest band of benefit beneficiaries will not be immune.

Straws are already in the wind. Lord Bichard, former head of the benefits agency, drew a parallel between the "work shy" and those of pensionable age. He suggested state pensions should be earned in some way post retirement. He gave the example of the able-bodied elderly looking after the very old and frail in return for benefit payment. Lord Bichard is no student of irony, retiring in his fifties with an annual pension of £120,000. Probably means he won't be found bathing residents in a care home near you.

Others stoke up younger people's resentment about "feather bedding" the older generation. Professor James Sefton, a former Treasury adviser, expressed surprise younger people are not "taking to the streets" to protest about "subsidising" older people. I can see his point. It's hard to justify bus passes for better-off 60-somethings while fares for others steadily increase. Other universal benefits such as the winter fuel allowance are already being questioned. It is not a huge leap to the universality of the state pension itself.

However, pensioners are not a homogenous group. An increasingly unfair and unequal society does not change its spots when a person hits 65. Planned changes to the pension regime will impact most heavily on the poorest and weakest. Low-paid workers have little opportunity to build savings or pension pots and will be totally dependent on the state pension. They will have no option but to work longer.

The poorest have an unfortunate habit of dying early. Life expectancies in communities across Scotland vary by as much as 20 years. That represents a longevity dividend of around £120,000 for the healthiest and often wealthiest pensioners. The pension lottery is particularly unfair if your ticket doesn't even go in the hat.

An inconvenient truth has to be faced by those of pensionable age, particularly the better off amongst us. The question of paying Scottish pensioners post-independence in pounds or senna pods is largely irrelevant. The real issue is the inevitable reform of the benefit system and pensions in particular.

Come the day, the basic question is whether Holyrood or Westminster is more likely to come up with a fair and viable system that addresses the needs of all sections of Scotland's population, including the elderly. A government including George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, with Messrs Johnson and Farage lurking in the wings, is unlikely to understand the question let alone the answer.

This is no time for we elderly to circle the wagons to hold what we have. Change is coming whatever. Westminster sees benefit claimants as fair game. We have a chance to show that, when it comes to fairness, we are still game.

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