If 2016 is year of optimism, what have previous eight years of SNP rule been?

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The First Minister said in her New Year address that she wants 2016 to be a year of optimism and ambition (The Scotsman, 1 January). That begs the question: what have the previous eight years of SNP rule been? Clearly the years up to 2014 had only one objective – to win the independence referendum. Everything else played second fiddle, with the result that we now lag behind the rest of the UK in areas that are the sole responsibility of the SNP government.

In education a bright youngster from a poor background has half the chance of getting to university as the same person would have in England. The college system is in crisis and numeracy and literacy rates are deteriorating. We now have 4,300 fewer teachers in Scotland than when the SNP came to power in 2007.

In 2015, hardly a week seemed to go by without a report of another crisis in the Scottish NHS – in spite of more money being made available for health spending by the UK Government.

And local councils continue to be squeezed by reductions in funds from the SNP government and the obsession of that government with the council tax freeze.

Nicola Sturgeon also used her address to talk of increasing Scotland’s economic growth. The best way she can do this is by announcing that Scotland will not have a higher tax rate than the rest of the UK (as Ruth Davidson has done), cut out the anti-science rhetoric on issues like GM crops and fracking, and above all, rule out a second independence referendum. That would at least help to make up the ground lost over the last few years.

Keith Shortreed

Cottown of Gight, Methlick, Aberdeenshire

The First Minister’s resolution sounds fair enough at first sight. Yet recent years of divisive constitutional debate and the heavy cost being paid in poorly managed and under-resourced public services as the Scottish Government prioritise vote-winning policies and stirring grievance with the rest of the UK, leave the warm words of resolve a little less well placed.

Would the First Minister not be better ensuring that her government seeks to heal the divisions in Scottish society brought about by continued uncertainty over the nation’s future? She could, for example, use her high approval ratings to do the right thing for Scotland and announce that there will be no second independence referendum for at least the term of the next parliament. This would let her government put all its efforts into improving the critical public services upon which we all depend and allow some reprieve from the continued uncertainty that the SNP seem happy to hold over us.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire