Dead letter box

AS A former active letter-writer to these pages, until the death of my amanuensis (Mary Ellen, my wife, in 2013), the frailties of old age and, finally, my own passing on Sunday, 28 February put paid to the possibility of further contributions, I have to state that it is with a mixed sense of surprise and disappointment that the usual high standards of proofing associated with this publication have not been kept up.

Even with the advanced macular degeneration which so affected me latterly, I could “see” that something was awry with the printing of my death notice (along with those of others) in yesterday’s edition (4 March).

Unlike Mark Twain in May 1897, I cannot state that “the report of my death was an exaggeration”. But I would have liked to have been able to say that the proposed ultimate contact I was to have with this organ was set out both legibly and informatively.

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I hope that the rerunning of the notices proves to be less of a pixellated puzzle for your readers.

George S Cooper (deceased)

Leslie, Fife.

pp Rory H D Cooper (son)

Get smart card

Your Transport Correspondent Alastair Dalton (The Scotsman, 4 March) tells those of us who are keen to see a common smart card ticketing system in use on buses, trains and ferries in Scotland not to hold our breath.

Such systems have been in use in other parts of the world for some years. I used to spend time in Hong Kong where the Octopus Card has been widely accepted and can be used for all public transport without the need to buy a separate ticket. London subsequently adopted a similar system.

The Octopus Card can also be used in student refectories, coffee shops and many other retail outlets in much the same way as contactless debit and credit cards in the UK.

Scotland, we are told, is now home to many technology companies. Many of our brightest spend their time devising computer games and other complex computer software. Perhaps a few of them could be diverted to write software which will replicate the system which has been so successful in Hong Kong.

Benedict Bate

South Clerk Street, Edinburgh

Love council tax

The Scottish Government’s decision to tweak the existing council tax system is absolutely the correct decision. council tax is easily understood, difficult to evade and inexpensive to collect.

Other local taxation methods, such as a person-based tax (eg poll tax), or an income-based tax, have inherent severe disadvantages. In particular, both are expensive to administer and collect, and both are easily avoided.

The person-based tax is evaded by simply not registering for it (as happened with the poll tax). And an income-based tax can be avoided by transferring income or residence abroad, or by simply not declaring it. A higher income tax rate would also be a disincentive to companies to invest in Scotland.

William Mathers

Craigmount Gardens, Edinburgh

It was worrying to read in Scott Arthur’s letter commenting on the council tax that the cuts to council budgets had increased from £350 million to £400m and we are left to ponder how big the cuts will be by this time next week (Letters, 4 March).

DMH Duff (Letters, same day) majors on pensioners in large houses with small incomes and says “she presumes there will be a clause to help those in higher bands who may not have large incomes”. She presumes 
correctly and as The Scotsman very clearly stated, there will be an exemption for those on incomes under £25,000.

Ms Duff may also be a little displeased to hear that following an intervention on the topic at First Minister’s questions in Holyrood by Ruth Davidson, there was an outbreak of clapping from the Conservative benches.

Douglas Turner

Derby Street , Edinburgh

No news?

The proposed “Scottish Six” news bulletin being pushed for by the SNP is just another expensive vanity project.

Anyone who watches Reporting Scotland at 6:30pm on the BBC must be well aware that the BBC in Scotland struggle woefully to fill the half hour slot as it is. By about 6:45pm, having exhausted trivia from around the country, they treat us to ten or so minutes of football. The programme is already lacking in any depth and goodness knows what drivel will be dragged up to fill an hour. We already have Radio Scotland and BBC Alba which could be expanded upon, but I suspect that apart from a few faithful SNP cult followers there would be pitifully few viewers.

I believe River City is one of Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite programmes. Enough said! Thank goodness for digital and Sky.

Donald Lewis

Beech Hill, Gifford, East Lothian

Bridge rail gap

The report that the final cost of the replacement Forth road bridge, the Queensferry Crossing, is coming in at £1 billion below the initial estimate surely offers a unique opportunity for the Scottish Government to invest in several long overdue rail improvements in Fife.

Reinstating the five-mile stretch to Leven providing direct hourly Fife Circle services to Edinburgh would require no more than 5 percent of this £1bn. The technical reports and strong positive case are already completed so we are just awaiting a decision.

Investing in other connections such as the Forth Rail Link (Dunfermline-Stirling), Newburgh station and 
perhaps even the St Andrews link would be justified, all of which would improve access for sizeable communities presently excluded and, above all, reduce congestion on the existing road network.

The Edinburgh-Glasgow corridor has received huge recent investment so it is long overdue to address the major gaps in rail coverage elsewhere in the Central Belt. What are Transport Scotland and the Scottish Government still waiting for?

(Dr) Allen Armstrong

Secretary, LevenMouth Rail Campaign

College Street, Buckhaven

Arable histories

As a farmer in East Lothian I am grateful to Tim Jackson for highlighting the delays in delivery of the EU Basic Payments Scheme to farming businesses, especially at a time when all agricultural commodities are at such low prices (Letters, 4 March). The price of wheat today, in real terms, is one third of the 1970 price. £300 is needed today to buy what £20 bought in 1970.

Mr Jackson is quite right to criticise the delivery of the ambitious IT project commissioned by the Scottish Government who are responsible for the devolved administration of the EU payments. Why do governments consistently fail when building new IT systems? It is reassuring that the chairman of the East Lothian Conservative and Unionist Branch is fully aware of the importance of the EU Common Agricultural Policy and of these payments, not just for farmers but, as he says, for the “wider economy”. Can we expect a similarly supportive statement of the benefits of the Common Agricultural Policy from our UK farming minister who is responsible for the policy element of the CAP in the United Kingdom, which is reserved to Westminster?

It would also be enlightening if DEFRA would make some comment on where UK agriculture might find itself if the decision is made to withdraw from the European Union.

Douglas Morrison

Haddington, East Lothian

It’s oil to play for

I refer to the timeous report “Margins for error in Scottish economy thin, warns think-tank” (Business, 3 March), especially focusing attention on the way “falling oil prices weigh heavily” on the Scottish economy.

However, it must be mentioned that falling oil prices also present opportunity for major financial players.

It was reported recently that a New York based private-equity firm is upbeat about “lower commodity prices”. Apparently, by taking risks this private equity firm actually “profits from oil and gas industry distress”.

Economists should take more account of how private equity firms could affect the “real economy”. And isn’t there a disturbing moral dimension to making profits from “oil and gas industry distress”? Arguably, do private equity firms take into account the social cost of an industry’s “distress,” eg high unemployment?

Ellis Thorpe

Old Chapel Walk, Inverurie

Class inaction

If anyone is inclined to believe Nicola Sturgeon’s promise to invest an additional £100 million per annum on our schools (The Scotsman, 3 March), then perhaps they should remember that Alex Salmond promised in 2007 to reduce class size to an average of 18 in P1-P3. This reduction was supposed to take place within four years. In fact, it has been increasing over the last three years and has now reached 23.5. The SNP is strong on empty pledges but weak on achievement.

Helen HugheS

Comiston Drive, Edinburgh

Grammar’s party

Earlier this week, John Birkett highlighted the misuse of the word “myself” by a member of the Holyrood Government. Today we read in your article “Free coffee given roasting by MSPs” that another minister suggests “people get a bit more healthier” (4 March). Surely “a bit more healthy” or “a bit healthier”? Methinks Sir Tom Hunter is right in his views about education.

J Lindsay Walls

Buckstone Wood, Edinburgh