KEN HOUSTON says EU’ve got to be joking!


Brexiteer viewers must have thought they were on another planet after tuning in to this year’s penultimate edition of BBC TV’s Question Time.

Not only did the audience contain a majority of Leave voters but it reflected the referendum vote in favour of leaving the EU – which was returned by the citizens of the Yorkshire town of Wakefield, venue for this programme.

What a contrast to regular Question Times since 23 June in which pro-Brexit panellists have been shouted and screamed at by pro-Remain harpies in the audience (yes, the women seem to be the worst), with the usual accusations of racism, xenophobia and economic illiteracy coming thick and fast.

On this occasion the five-person panel contained two Brexit supporters, two Remainers who’ve accepted the vote (the former Labour Home Secretary, Alan Johnson and oor ain wee Ruthie of the Scottish Tories).

Only one – a geeky, young metropolitan woman who writes for the New Statesman – was a dyed in the wool Remainer, who seemed taken aback by the lucid, non-confrontational response of these plain-speaking, hard-working Yorkshire folk to her various rants.

But anyone thinking the BBC had turned over a new leaf would have been disappointed when, less than 24 hours later, it was back to type on the radio equivalent, Any Questions?

On this programme the four-person panel comprised three Remainers (including Tory turncoat, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP) and just one Brexiteer, Peter Whittle, the new deputy leader of UKIP.

Mr Whittle seemed to struggle at times to get his views across – although this may have been down to first night nerves and constant interruption by a fellow panellist, a loud-mouthed and highly-opinionated young woman called Lisa Nandy, the Labour MP for Wigan.

Egged on by an obviously partisan pro-Remain audience, the three other social liberals on the panel tore into Mr Whittle, not just on Brexit but various other subjects, his position as a gay man not saving him on this occasion.

The fourth panellist was Tommy Sheppard, the SNP for Edinburgh East who, responding to a question about the recent Autumn Statement, criticised the Chancellor’s intention to radically reduce Corporation Tax. The last thing the country needed was a tax break for rich businessmen, said Mr Sheppard.

The Edinburgh MP did not seem to realise (or affected not to realise) that the intention of cutting Corporation Tax is not to put more money in the hands of rich businessmen but to enable additional surpluses to grow companies and encourage them to take on new staff.

The comment seemed particularly crass because owner-managers who pay corporation tax are only just now feeling the full effect of George Osborne’s earlier tax on company dividends.

Of course it’s what one has come to expect from a former trade union leader, although this time not quite. For Tommy Sheppard is himself a businessman, being co-owner of the Stand comedy clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Newcastle.

Surely he, of all people, must be aware that the tax burden on businesses in the UK is no joke.



As in similar parts of Edinburgh, there are no Christmas decorations in our local district shopping street this year. Even the city centre lights, never much in the first place, have been downgraded.

It’s all down to cuts, of course. The people will blame the City of Edinburgh Council, the council will blame the Holyrood government who, in turn, will blame those Scrooge-like pantomime villains, the wicked Tories at Westminster.

So it’s just as well that retailers and licensed premises owners have filled the breech with some impressive illuminated decorations of their own to brighten the dark nights on Princes Street, George Street and at the West End.

Some more recent retail surveys have suggested that Edinburgh is gaining ground on Glasgow as Scotland’s premier (and the UK’s second) shopping centre. I suppose it depends how one relates the statistics but Edinburgh city centre, in physical terms, does seem to have held firm while Glasgow has retracted at the edges both east and west (i.e. Argyle Street and Sauchiehall Street).

And the opening this month of an £8 million store (with champagne bar) by the jeweller, Chisholm Hunter, will further boost the capital’s growing reputation for high-end retailing.

However is this another example of ‘all fur coat and nae knickers’?

Central Edinburgh is great for clothing, jewellery and, of course mobile phones but is rather lacking when it comes to more staple items.

Take that popular Christmas stocking filler, the DVD; since the departure of HMV from Princes Street to Ocean Terminal nowhere in the city centre now offers a comprehensive range of these products. I happen to like Ocean Terminal but for most Edinburgh shoppers it’s less accessible than the centre of town. Consequently, I have just ordered some DVDs from Amazon which otherwise would have been purchased locally, had HMV still been on Princes Street.

Edinburgh is one of the few major cities in the country without a WH Smith in the centre (if you exclude the railway and bus stations). Anyone wishing to access this firm’s wide range of stationery, computer accessories and books (the latter aimed at a different market from Waterstones) needs to travel five miles east to Fort Kinnaird or five miles west, to the Gyle – where, incidentally, the Marks & Spencer store has replaced 54 Princes Street as its Edinburgh flagship.

Let us hope some balance may be restored when the 850,000 sq ft St James Quarter (much of which will be retail) opens in 2020; but who knows what the seemingly unstoppable rise in internet shopping will have done to city centre retailing by then.











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