Leaders: Cameron’s familiar patter is unlikely to win new converts

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David Cameron’s message to his Scottish party members had a big headline. The time for timid apologetic Conservatism is over – it is time to stop the hand-wringing and to come out and fight for Conservative values.

A good headline indeed, Prime Minister, but the story beneath it was, well, a little thin and a little bit familiar. Mr Cameron found himself on territory which, to many Scottish Tories, is all too recognisable. He defended the cut in the top 50p rate of income tax as big, bold and necessary if Britain was to attract the brightest and best to build a dynamic economy. Such people, he declared, would not come if Britain had the highest income tax rate in Europe.

It is a perfectly plausible argument. This is a competitive world with, in Europe, complete freedom of movement of people and capital. The brightest talents will head where they can find not just the biggest challenges, but the rewards to match.

But it was also the message that Margaret Thatcher delivered with fervour. But it did not match the reality in Scotland of industrial closures and the end of Scottish manufacturing greatness. And neither did Mr Cameron’s speech chime with current reality. GlaxoSmithKline and Gamesa, big companies which have announced significant investment in Scotland in the last week, made their decisions before tax cuts were announced, as indeed have the remarkable number of other firms. The brightest and the best seem to be coming here regardless of tax rates.

Mr Cameron was on better ground arguing that these inward investments are coming because of the strength of the union and the British economy. The system of subsidies and incentives which have been put in place to support renewable energy have made the UK one of the most attractive places in the world for energy companies to invest. It is the prospect of these major developments which is encouraging manufacturers such as Gamesa to build factories here. But the fundamental underpinning of this development comes from the subsidies and incentives financed by all UK taxpayers. This is a reality which the SNP chooses to ignore, preferring to believe that current investment is all being prompted by the stirring words and vision of Alex Salmond.

Yes, Mr Salmond is a great promoter of renewable energy, but companies prefer to count the pounds and pence rather than words in a speech when deciding how to spend millions of pounds. The pounds and pence that make the difference, in this case, come from the UK electricity consumer. Scotland alone would find it impossible to replicate that funding stream without massive increases in electricity bills.

Such demonstrably practical argument might persuade some to join the Conservative Friends of the Union. But rhetoric that the already well-paid, rather fewer in number in Scotland than in London, must be paid more, is unlikely to win any converts.

Stanley Gibbons has got the internet licked

Ah, THE joys of stamp collecting. What? Younger readers may not know this, but in the olden days, before Twitter, people used to handwrite messages to each other on things called pieces of paper. People would get a pen, sit down and compose their thoughts on writing paper, fold it up, put it inside another piece of specially folded paper, lick a gluey bit, seal it, lick a tiny piece of paper with perforated edges called a stamp, stick it on the bundle of paper, and then walk with it to a red metal contraption called a pillar box.

Sounds ridiculous, but this was life before e-mail and hashtags.The stamps were things of beauty. Every country had their own. Britain had run-of-the-mill everyday stamps featuring the Queen’s head, plus lots of special editions featuring famous explorers, rare butterflies or, er, comicbook characters. People collected these, sticking them in special books. But the internet sounded the deathknell of all that and, we would have thought, to the world’s leading purveyor of stamps to collectors – Stanley Gibbons.

But the company has just had a record year, with sales over the internet booming.

It is a tale of modern salvation – instrument of doom becomes instrument of revival. A commemorative stamp should be issued.

An elementary educational insight

A MAJOR advance in teaching and understanding how it is that children can learn to be fully-equipped and society-contributing citizens in the 21st century has been made. Even more significantly, this discovery has been made in Scotland. Here it is: teachers should focus on literacy and numeracy as platforms on which to build future learning.

This is news which will flash around the world. It will shock in silences like a thunderclap, dazzle in darknesses like a lightning bolt and inspire as no other words have ever thrilled. Let us say it again, this time in plainer language: children, in order to learn history, geography, physics, chemistry and even mathematics first have to be taught how to read, write, and count.

Excuse us, but we thought this was kind of obvious. It is a bit like saying that in order to be able to buy things in shops, first you have to have money.

Remarkably, it has taken six months of consultation, debate and discussion between the Scottish Government and teachers to come up with this startling insight. Moreover, it has taken the attempted implementation, according to what teachers say, of a vast new body of learning methods and materials called Curriculum of Excellence for this gem of understanding to appear.

Let us say it again: if a child cannot read, write or count, he or she is not going to learn anything.

Teachers, parents and even children know this. Why did it take so long to dawn on the Scottish Government? Perhaps ministers didn’t learn to read, write and count properly.