While the UK sits obsessing over whether anyone has heard of Cathy Ashton, perhaps one of the most effective operators I have worked with in the European Commission over the past 25 years, the rest of the European Union get on with plans for making the ­greatest leap forward since the Treaty of ­Maastricht in 1997 (“EU foreign minister Lady Ashton insists she is up to the job”, The Herald, November 21).

The EU is new and unique -- and perhaps the most successful political institution in world history. The original aim, to make war impossible between member states, has been spectacularly successful and has also led to greater prosperity and social stability. This was all made possible by the Treaty of Paris (1952) and the ­Treaties of Rome (1957), not by the personalities who implemented them.

I eagerly anticipate the huge impact for good the Treaty of Lisbon has the potential to make. For instance, should the Tories win the next General Election in the UK and reintroduce fox-hunting, I am looking forward to one million citizens, of the 500 million EU population, raising a petition through the new citizens’ initiative (introduced by the Lisbon Treaty) which allows the people of the EU to require the European Commission to bring forward a policy proposal, important to them, such as a ban on fox hunting or a ban on bull fighting in Spain.

I also look forward to the creation of the dedicated External Action Service (created as a result of the Lisbon Treaty), from which Cathy Ashton, as the High Representative of the EU, will benefit as the head of the biggest donor to the developing world. What a force for good.

I am delighted that national parliaments, as a result of Lisbon, will now have greater opportunities to make direct input into EU decision-making. I am prepared to wait, but relish the day when some future Tory administration tries to halt a progressive policy with a hissy fit, as Margaret Thatcher and John Major did in the past, and for the rest of the member states to say: “OK, we will just move forward without you,” under the new procedure of enhanced co-operation which allows a smaller group of progressive members to move on.

And what about the new provision for a member state to withdraw from the EU? When acting totally unreasonably, UK Tories could be told (under ­another new provision in the Lisbon Treaty):

“OK, if you don’t like it, you can leave,” and be shown the door. This will concentrate minds in Tory high command.

David Martin, Labour MEP, Midlothian Innovation Centre, Pentlandfield, Roslin, Midlothian.


Alex Orr makes some pertinent points (Letters, November 21) but personally I wish “bonne chance” to Belgium’s Monsieur Van Rompuy, and merci for saving Europe from the second coming of Tony Blair. You don’t need to be Hercule Poirot to detect the relief all round that the former UK Prime Minister, forever tarnished with the stain of the illegal Iraq war, is not to be President of Europe.

Mr Blair’s next opportunity to glare in the world’s spotlight should be his appearance at the Iraq inquiry to explain why he embroiled the UK in probably its worst-ever foreign policy disaster.

In contrast to the infamous Mr Blair, the worst that can be said about the new President of Europe is that virtually nobody outside his own country has heard of him.

Ruth Marr, Stirling.


One wonders how many of the 27 heads of government, in appointing Cathy Ashton (Lady Ashton) as EU High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security, thought that they were appointing Paddy Ashdown (Lord Ashdown), given his much higher international profile and his very much superior quailifications, experience and expertise in diplomatic and security matters.

Dr Alexander S Waugh, Kincardineshire.


Cowardice and complicity


I commend Richard Mowbray’s bleak dissection of the levels of indebtedness within the British economy (Letters, November 21). It is depressing to see how few politicians (with the honourable exception of Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats’ shadow chancellor, and his colleagues) have the honesty to face up to the scale by which Britain is living beyond its means.

There are two issues that need brought to the fore. First is the siren call that levels of expenditure on this scale are necessary to sustain the economy through recession. This seems to me a fundamental misreading of Keynesianism. Demand spending was designed to stimulate consumption where consumption was low. Yet our crisis is one of over-consumption and over-borrowing. Adding more debt into the ­poisonous brew seems to me ­fallacious.

In any case, there are vast areas of government spend that could be tackled without affecting the economy. Do we need to spend tens of billions on a nuclear arsenal? How much does our byzantinely complex tax system actually cost to run? If we cannot indulge the absurd levels of over-regulation that cripple business, should they not be slashed, with a saving to both business and the Exchequer?

There is a second, more insidious menace we now face. Because of Labour’s cowardice in dealing with the failure of neo-liberalism, it is now complicit in propping it up. Recover our “investment” in banks? Simple: encourage another massive asset-price bubble while screwing the customer to the wall. Stimulate the economy? Unleash another wave of ­consumption spending backed by a ­tottering pile of debt.

I do take my hat off to Gordon Brown in one respect, though. Instead of contenting himself with the traditional Labour financial crisis in one country, he has had the ambition and reach to be complicit in global financial meltdown. Of one thing he can be sure: his legacy may be ­undesirable, but it is safe.

Hugh Andrew, Edinburgh.


The Xmas factor


While having lunch in a restaurant in Lanark last Friday I spotted, at an adjoining table, my first crackers and party hats of Christmas 2009. Is this a record?

Ken Nicholson, Glasgow.


Why should and MP be paid four times as much as a councillor?


As you report, councillors are paid £16,234: hardly a fabulous salary (“Councillors’ salaries ‘should be ­frozen’”, The Herald, November 20). This compares to more than £64,000 for MPs and somewhat less for (arguably more important) MSPs.

I am probably the MP who has most recently been a councillor and I certainly remember the workload involved. It is a hugely demanding role and ­councillors deal with most of the concerns ­constituents bring forward, including housing, roads and schools.

If I, as an MP, have a free evening in London, I have a pub meal and go to the pictures. Councillors seldom have free evenings: there is almost always a surgery or community meeting to attend. Constituents understand that MSPs and MPs cannot regularly attend such meetings but woe betide the ­councillor who misses one on a key local issue. The media and also the political parties have a tendency to rank MPs first, MSPs second and councillors third. It is only this year that the Scottish Politician of the Year awards have included councillors (congratulations to Steven Purcell, leader of Glasgow City Council, for winning the award). For too long the unsung and underpaid politicians in Scotland have been local authority councillors.

Budgets will be tighter over the next few years for all of us. However, I would urge careful consideration of councillors’ pay. Many MPs work no harder than many councillors. Yet the MPs have seriously blown it in recent years. So why should an MP be paid four times as much as a councillor?

John Mason, SNP MP, 888 Shettleston Road, Glasgow.



We have enough beggin bowl project already


The past week has seen further lobbying for the SNP Government to revoke its decision to cancel the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) project.

Iain Gray, the Labour leader at Holyrood, stated that the cancellation of Garl helped his party win the Glasgow North East by-election. If he expects the public to believe that, voters should begin to tremble in their beds.

Steven Purcell, the leader of Glasgow City Council, wants Glasgow and ­Scottish Chambers of Commerce and other bodies to support reinstatement of Garl. The question that should be asked of all these organisations is: within their own individual bodies, would they approve and fund a project that has been badly conceived, does not meet operational and financial criteria and would never break even? Answers on a blank sheet of paper.

We already have a number of projects that already have the begging bowl out. The Commonwealth Games and the Edinburgh trams project, to name but two, are likely to be joined by the road bridge over the Forth.

It is about time the political fraternity -- and business -- woke up and smelled the coffee.

Mike Dooley, Ayr.


When the previous Labour/LibDem administration decided we should pay for Garl, it was costed at £130m, whereas anything up to £400m is now being ­quoted. It also had an offer to build a monorail connecting to Paisley Gilmour Street station for only £20m -- which, since there are trains to and from Glasgow Central every few minutes, would have enabled people to reach their destination faster. It would also have allowed cross-connection to Prestwick, effectively turning the two airports into a regional hub.

Though the monorail offer is still available, the SNP has decided to cancel everything. The Conservatives and Greens, though well aware of the monorail option, refuse to support anything in any way innovative.

This is typical of the way Scotland is run. Public projects are on average 13 times more expensive than in other ­countries. There can be no dispute that Garl, a Forth tunnel, affordable modular housing and other projects could be ­easily afforded undercompetent government.

Neil Craig, Glasgow.


K A Sutherland (Letters, November 21) outlines an unparalleled consensus of support for Garl but ignores the self-interest agendas that might lie behind this support.

The justification for Garl was that a ­significant percentage of passengers would use it and that it would benefit society in general. The evidence ­supports neither premise.

If one examines Prestwick Airport, which is admirably supplied with rail links, we find that fewer than 25% of its passengers use the train service, despite fares to any Scottish destination being subsidised. Prestwick has a predominance of no-frills flights and a section of the passenger-­market that is acutely price-aware and more likely to be regular users of public transport, yet a minority use this service.

Glasgow Airport deals with an entirely different sector, with a higher proportion of business traffic and passengers less likely to be regular users of public transport, who would be likely to use Garl if it was more convenient than car or taxi. It is not. The situation is further complicated by the relative proximity of the airport to the city centre. Talk of reducing carbon footprints is just hot air, as many potential passengers would need to make a separate journey to get to Glasgow Central to use Garl.

Does anyone really believe Garl would encourage more people to visit Scotland or invest in Scotland or improve the quality of life for Scots? We are being asked to support a dedicated rail link that would be expensive and underused. Maintenance costs would be high as the line could not be used for any other purpose. I am happy to agree with outcomes I dislike if I can see the logic behind the case, but the justification for Garl is simply not there. I would rather our money was spent on something we actually need.

David J Crawford, Glasgow.