Ways and means

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RARELY mentioned in the Duncan-Smith resignation and welfare cuts furore was what is surely the elephant in the room.

Successive governments of every hue have run a mile when it is mentioned and yet, at a stroke, it could lessen the tax burden on many: it is the close-to-obscenity of paying the wealthy and very wealthy the range of goodies we continue to do – winter fuel allowance, bus passes, free TV licences and so on. Of course those in need should continue to qualify but this is one drain on our taxes that could be eliminated and vital money freed for the NHS and much else.

The “Means Test’’ spectre and the “removal of the incentive to save for the future’’ are arguments for the 1930s and 1940s, not 2016. If every party liable to govern agreed to correct this anomaly if elected, this could quickly be implemented.

Alexander McKay

New Cut Rigg, Edinburgh

The big day

Well here we are, 24 March 2016, the day that would have been Alex Salmond’s Independence Day.

His gamble with the future of the Scottish nation would clearly have been a financial disaster. Thank goodness the overwhelming majority of Scots had the good sense not to trust a gambler. Regrettably, in spite of his delusional pronouncement, the Scottish electorate who resoundingly voted No in the referendum remain in an unhappy and divided land, the SNP refusing to accept defeat and now extending their divisive agenda to Westminster.

Our SNP representatives in Parliament are succeeding in destroying our good relationship with our English neighbours, deliberately creating further division south of the Border. Their antics in the House of Commons do nothing to enhance the reputation of Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon’s leadership has developed, during her term as First Minister, into near cult status. Members of her party, who share her aspirations, are seemingly prepared to follow her blindly into a £15 billion black hole.

It is to be hoped that if the SNP are returned with a majority in the new term of the Scottish Parliament, as predicted, that it will become clear, when confronted with the new powers, that it takes more than skilled rhetoric to run a country and there will consequently be no lingering doubt that we are far better off remaining within the United Kingdom. The future for our children and grandchildren should not include one-party state control and accumulated inherited debt.

Let us hope for their sakes that the dreamers wake up and Scotland can be restored to the wonderful country it used to be.

Jane Ball

Hendersyde, Kelso

Logic served

It is undisputed that, in general, men are stronger than women, as records of athletic achievements will show, but in the ongoing debate about the relative quality of men’s and women’s tennis with regard to prize-money, one key point has been overlooked; if two people do the same job, then, regardless of gender, they should unquestionably receive the same pay, but if one has to work 9 to 5, while the other goes home at lunchtime...

Walter J Allan

Colinton Mains Drive, Edinburgh

A red cash cow

Graham McLeod (Letters, 22 March) says it’s simple to work out why Scots vote SNP – to squeeze every penny from the UK cash cow, but still vote No in a referendum. I’m not so sure, as a vote for Labour means they are voting for the cash cow, No to independence, and much more.

Was it not Labour who in 1997-98 were the instigators of the Scottish Parliament, with all the powers devolved to it? Only a majority Labour government could have achieved this. A similar proposal now, with the Tories in power and 50+ SNP MPs, would be laughed out of court – the Conservatives opposed the Scottish Parliament and are more interested in English laws for English Tory voters.

And the reason spending in Scotland is £1,400 a year more than in the rest of the UK is down to the Barnett formula, named after Joel Barnett, an excellent Treasury minister in the Labour government of the 1960s and 1970s. SNP achieving independence would kill the golden goose. The last Labour government was stuffed full of Scots, as “mouthy” and “belligerent” as ever. These may be qualities the current SNP MPs have, but with no power, they can achieve very little. Let’s not pretend that Labour in Westminster – or Holyrood – does not fight hard for the interests of Scotland, and when in power has been able to make fundamental changes for the better to our finances and to how we are governed.

Phil Tate

Craiglockhart Road, Edinburgh

Science and fees

What a long overdue but welcome piece by Scott Macnab (Perspective, 22 March).

The apparent almost complete displacement of science by ideology, which is often actually anti-science, at Holyrood is in itself quite alarming but what disturbs me most is the relative lack of counter protest by our universities.

I may be being a bit cynical here but is lack of tuition fees a factor? That this policy has enabled Alex Salmond to erect a monument to himself is a minor matter but we need to note that it also means that the bulk of university funding now comes direct from the Scottish government – and he who pays the piper, etc… We have recently had a change to university governance. Whether for good or otherwise is a matter of debate but that it resulted from government diktat should be a matter of concern.

(Dr) A McCormick

Kirkland Road, Terregles, Dumfries

Degree of caution

I fail to see what is so good about the idea of guaranteeing young people who have spent time in care a university place (Letters, 22 March). Whilst all possible help should be offered to all disadvantaged children this is the wrong end of the problem. If they have been in care and are disadvantaged by it then the care system has failed them. It is the time before going to university that needs to be addressed.

Problems with disadvantaged children start in the home – whether family or care home – at the age before school even, and if not addressed then there is a high likelihood that the whole of the youngster’s life will be affected. Giving them university places is just a political gesture. If the student is not ready they will fail and probably feel even worse for that.

The same applies to the SNP policy of chucking more money at schools. The problems mostly exist by the time children go to school. I know of cases where youngsters go to school hardly able to speak due to their family background – no worthwhile interaction with parent(s) at home. What chance do they have? If kids are not able to win a place at university on their own merit then they are not up to it or something in their upbringing, be it home or school or care, has let them down.

Everyone should have the same chance to attend further education but only if they can benefit from it. Potentially lowering the standards for political gestures is damaging to everyone. So find the root cause and tackle that – options such as that proposed simply duck the problem for political expediency.

Ian Ross

Eden Lane, Edinburgh

Rich hypocrisy?

COSLA is complaining about inequality. That’s rich. The news media is full of stories of gross overpayment to subcontractors and sky-high salaries in local and central government, but every so often one really makes you gasp.

A year or so ago there was a spat between four employees of Lothian Buses [whose largest shareholder is the City of Edinburgh Council] each of whom was being paid more than the Prime Minister. Just stop and think about that for a moment. Three or four people working for the local bus company in a medium-sized provincial capital, all earning more than the Prime Minister. Not much concern about inequality there.

Graham M McLeod

Muirs, Kinross

Be vigilant

In Scotland we have many soft targets that could attract worldwide publicity if attacked by terrorists as in the atrocious Brussels carnage seen this week. It is every citizen’s civil responsibility to report any suspicious activity and what happened in Brussels should act as a wake-up call for everyone to be vigilant and report any unusual or unexplained event to the police. Better safe than sorry.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Mugiemoss Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen

Stats confusing

That research shows support for Scottish independence has reached a “15-year high” at 39 per cent grabs headlines (The Scotsman, 23 March) – but am I alone in finding this claim confusing?

True, based on ScotCen Scottish Social Attitudes July 2015 to January 2016 findings, the figure is higher than when it previously carried out similar research. But, as presumably every single person in Scotland knows, crucially it’s 6 per cent lower than at the 2014 referendum. According to the survey, a total of 55 per cent either favour maintaining the status quo with Scotland having its own parliament within the UK, or believe Holyrood should be closed down.

Only 43 per cent of those surveyed feel independence would be beneficial for Scotland’s economy – again, seemingly less than in September 2014. And apparently 51 per cent believe that “the Scottish Parliament should make all the decisions for Scotland” – a majority certainly, but only just – and of course this doesn’t necessarily equate with supporting independence.

39 per cent is way short of the 60 per cent opinion poll level Nicola Sturgeon seeks before demanding a second referendum trigger.

As Mark Twain was fond of observing, “there are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Tinkling coins

Edinburgh City Council is selling off closed public toilets to be used as eateries – but will spending a penny get you anything?

Tom Reilly

Esslemont Road, Edinburgh

It’s rally quiet

Can anyone tell me whether or not Sturgeon’s youth rally took place? If not, why the silence?

EP Carruthers

New Cut Rigg, Edinburgh

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