Helen Martin: Stop playing Santa to the rest of the world

IT'S the season of giving, goodwill to all men. And the UK certainly seems to be taking that to extremes.

Monday, 26th December 2016, 9:00 am
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 2:12 pm
China is the second largest economy in the world  it doesnt need our hard-earned cash. Picture: AFP

While here we face ever-growing debt, cuts in public services, soaring bills for everything from council tax to buying or renting homes and increasing numbers of people depending on food banks, we play international Santa all year round to other countries.

If the recipients were drought-ridden lands whose people were starving to death or areas of the world afflicted by a devastating illness they couldn’t afford to treat, few would argue.

But last year the government gave £44.6 million to China, the second largest economy in the world and £185m to the fastest growing, India. Then there was £5m in aid to fund a talk show and branding for an Ethiopian girl band. Not to mention £1.3 billion to the 20 most corrupt countries on Earth.

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Angela Merkel in sombre mood after the Berlin attack. Picture: AFP

On top of all that, the Scottish government has announced it will spend another £10m on foreign aid in 2017.

Perhaps some of all this is diplomatic investment, hoping that China will, in return, see the UK as a good location for expansion bringing more jobs to Britain.

Maybe it’s a question of trying to hang on to political status, as in we may not be an Empire any more but we’re still good to have onside.

It could be something like a game of poker – giving the impression that we have a royal flush when in fact all the cards we have in hand are twos and jokers.

Angela Merkel in sombre mood after the Berlin attack. Picture: AFP

And if our economy was healthy, booming and in the black; if our health service was a world leader; if our education was top of the league; and all our people had jobs, homes and food aplenty, then most citizens might accept that such political spending could be tolerated and possibly even bring benefits long term.

But the truth is, whether that money constitutes a complicated game of diplomacy, or whether our politicians really are all Mother Teresas with hearts of gold who would give their last shilling to a boy band in Angola, they are giving away millions at the expense of their own people, and at a time when we need every penny to make ends meet.

In Edinburgh, our local services will now be cut by £37m despite council tax going up by at least three per cent.

It’s fair enough for us to rant about council over-spending on vanity projects, but most council services are essential, particularly for our own poor and under-privileged. As Tory group leader Cameron Rose pointed out, councils – and in his view Edinburgh City Council – could do much better in getting more for their bucks (our bucks, actually).

But the priority for UK and Scottish governments should certainly be putting their own poor first, along with failing national services, and doing their absolute best to keep taxes down and put as much money as possible into local authorities to provide public services and avoid brutal cuts.

Charity begins at home. Or to put it another way, a country that looks after itself and its people will ultimately be able to help more poor and needy abroad. One which impoverishes its own people to pay foreign regimes is seen as despicable and corrupt.

Was Merkel naive or just stupid?

ALL those people here and elsewhere in Europe who supported Angela Merkel’s decision to open the floodgates and welcome a million undocumented refugees into Germany, should now be hanging their heads in shame.

She epitomised the lingering German guilt that followed the Second World War and the Holocaust, which is understandable.

But by providing such a tailor-made Trojan horse to Islamic State with terrorism at an all-time high, she put her own citizens and those across Europe in jeopardy. By enabling more IS attacks, she hasn’t done any favours for law-abiding Muslims and genuine asylum seekers either.

Her face said it all when she was pictured in the aftermath of the market atrocity. She knows she was wrong. She is reputed to have already admitted that. Now all she has to figure out is whether she was guilty of Christian naivety, or outright political stupidity.

It turns out that diet drinks are a weighty issue

IT’S not unusual to see very overweight people tucking into burgers and chips while washing it down with diet something-or-other. Now scientists have told us why.

Artificial sweeteners in diet drinks make people hungrier so they eat more and pile on the pounds. Those with weight problems happily down several “zero cal” cans a day assuming them to be harmless. Big mistake.

Even as a young, slim, chick, sweeteners made me feel ill. They still do, so I can’t blame them for my middle-aged spread and teddy bear tum. It must be the wine. One way or another, what we drink rather than eat could be the key to modern obesity.

In the Sixties, fizzy drinks were more of a weekly treat, and most household drink cabinets contained dusty bottles opened only for special occasions. The obesity problem didn’t exist – and nor did artificial sweeteners.

George Street is not a problem

GEORGE Street doesn’t need a complex new plan. Full pedestrianisation, no cars or bikes, making the most of the trendy bars and restaurants, outdoor musicians, banks or bureaux de change, plenty of floral displays in summer, lights in winter – job done.