Housing help

I WATCHED this week's PMQs with great interest as Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron traded barbs on housing. The exchange was an excellent example of the many different issues at play when it comes to housing policy.

While the debate took place in Westminster, many of the issues affect us here in Scotland. Most relevant for me, the decision to cap Housing Benefit for social rented properties. This will drastically reduce the amount under-35s and people in supported accommodation – such as older and disabled people – receive to pay their rents.

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, faces a shortage of affordable housing. We are looking for our political parties to commit to increasing the supply of affordable housing – including social and mid-market types – over the next Parliament. However, we also need to create a better social security system which, among other things, protects the most vulnerable people who depend on specialist supported housing from the welfare reform measures being proposed by the current UK Government.

Keith Anderson

Chief Executive, Port of Leith Housing Association,

Constitution Street, Leith, Edinburgh

Whose cuts?

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What’s the point of more powers if you won’t use them? The SNP did something to protect the vulnerable from the bedroom tax only when Labour shamed them into it. Now they refuse to stop the decline in education. They keep blaming others, but they are all bluster, no courage. I see now why they chose yellow for their badge.

They don’t seem to rate the patriotism of their fellow Scots very highly. Since the poorest would be protected from paying more by the rebate, I am sure most better-off Scots would, like me, be willing to pay 1p more in tax to protect the future of our kids — our most valuable asset. Kez Dugdale has shown where her priorities lie by doing something against austerity. Not so the SNP. They are no longer Osborne’s cuts. They are Sturgeon’s and Swinney’s cuts.

Henry L Philip

Grange Loan, Edinburgh

Alexander McKay (Letters, February 8) inverts reality with his letter.

What the SNP have done by refusing to advocate an income tax rise is learn from a previous mistake. This has shown that the party can at least learn from previous errors, albeit slowly.

By contrast, Labour’s policy on tax appears to be to advocate tax rises in response to both economic growth and economic contraction. By trying to win an election with a policy that ensured the SNP lost a previous election, Labour have gone far beyond alleged hypocrisy and passed into actual idiocy.

Bruce Crichton

Victoria Road, Stirlingshire, Falkirk

The negotiations over the Scotland Bill must be fascinating to watch. It reminds me of passing the parcel – it’s as though they have an unexploded bomb.

The SNP don’t want Scotland’s finances based on the Barnett formula as they want to be independent. They don’t want the finances based on oil as the price has fallen so much. With all the fuss about Labour increasing income tax by 1p, and Nicola Sturgeon saying the poorest will pay more, which clearly is not right, the SNP don’t seem to want tax varying policies either.

And the Tories just want to cut, cut, cut the amount Scotland receives.

Phil Tate

Craiglockhart Road, Edinburgh

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John Swinney claims he’s trying hard to reach agreement with Westminster over the fiscal framework that accompanies the Scotland Bill. Really?

Remember, the SNP thrives on the politics of grievance. Swinney has whined for years about the generous Barnett Formula – and he’ll bleat “it’s not fair” about what’s now on offer.

Swinney and Sturgeon hardly care about effectively implementing devolution. What motivates them is driving a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Science, no fiction

Peter Kearney’s grasp of science is evidently as slender as his understanding of the real origin of Christianity and the Nativity stories (“New findings about light and mass suggest that science is not the rock some say it is”, Friends of the Scotsman, 10 February).

Mr Kearney seems excited by the idea (perhaps announced as I write) that gravitational waves have been detected and believes that this would overthrow Newton’s law of gravity.

Too late! That was overthrown 100 years ago by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. If gravitational waves are detected, that would merely be a confirmation of the Theory. It would not shake the foundations of science, nor will it be evidence of the work of a Creator.

Science explores the universe and tries to explain it, usually successfully. Religion explains nothing; it only obscures our view of the universe with mysticism.

Steuart Campbell

Dovecot Loan, Edinburgh

PM and tribunals

The SNP MP John Nicolson posed a very interesting question to the Prime Minister (PM) at PMQ’s on Wednesday, a question that did not receive any kind of sincere or confident reply from the PM.

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Mr Nicolson informed the House of Commons that he had attended a Work and Pensions tribunal appeal hearing for a disabled constituent who went on to accrue zero points at her appeal hearing despite being obviously disabled. Mr Nicolson went on to ask the PM “as a constituency MP, has he ever attended any tribunal hearing on behalf of a constituent and if so, did he consider the process to be fair, dignified and compassionate?” The PM in his reply offered to look into the case highlighted and informed the House he did get people attending constituency surgeries with enquiries regarding DLA and Employment Support Allowance.

However, the PM did not reveal to the House if he had attended any tribunal hearing on behalf of a constituent. So can we conclude from the PM’s reply that he has never attended a tribunal hearing on behalf of a constituent and would it also be fair to suggest the current system is not fit for purpose?

Catriona C Clark

Hawthorn Drive, Banknock Falkirk

Charity checks

Well, I won’t be asking Age UK for advice on my energy requirements, but I would wish to ask David Cameron how he justifies the public purse losing millions of pounds to Camila Batmanghelidjh’s Kids Company.

Individuals are and should be free to contribute to the good causes of their choice. However, more than 180,000 charities are now registered with the Charity Commission, with many duplicating each other in their aims. Ordinary taxpayers thus unwittingly contribute as well, through tax reliefs.

The watchdog Charities Commission budget has been cut. Is it not time to cut tax concessions to the mushrooming charities, some of whose Chief Executives earn eye-watering salaries?

Jim Craigen

Downie Grove, Edinburgh

Keep NHS vow

You report (11 February) that the First Minister is pledging ‘’£27 million extra for the NHS in Scotland’’. Let us hope and pray that this is genuine help and not another ‘’flood relief’’-type pledge, where, once the media spotlight is turned off, the bill is deftly handed to someone else.

The cynicism is well justified.

Alexander McKay

New Cut Rigg, Edinburgh

Windy milk

I refer to your article “Wind power provides half of Scotland’s energy needs” (The Scotsman, 8 February).

Total volume of electricity generated is irrelevant. How it is delivered is what matters. This analogy might help: You engage a milkman to deliver two pints a day. He delivers two on Sunday, none on Monday, one on Tuesday, three on Wednesday, one on Thursday, three on Friday, and four on Saturday. Job done, you have had your weekly ration of 14 pints. An average of two pints a day. You would sack your milkman after week one. You wouldn’t pay him extra for being unreliable, and you wouldn’t pay for the surplus milk on the days there is too much and you wouldn’t pay him more to take the surplus away when you can’t use it either. But that is exactly what we do when we rely on wind- generated electricity.

Stuart Young,

The Larches, Laggan Bridge, Newtonmore

Not so deer price

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We are disappointed that Alastair Robertson should make such a sweeping attack on the John Muir Trust without bothering to check even the basic facts (“Deer price paid for cull on Assynt”, Scotsman Magazine, 6 February).

The Trust culled 16 stags in Assynt last year, not 86. He is presumably getting Assynt mixed up with Knoydart, 150 miles away. We have responded at length elsewhere to questions about our deer cull on Knoydart, which should be set in its wider context.

Across the 60,000 acres managed by the John Muir Trust across Scotland, we culled approximately 400 red deer last year using a combination of staff, stalkers from neighbouring estates, contractors and local people. In contrast, private sporting estates culled more than 50,000.

A further 5,000 were reported to have died of “natural mortality” – a euphemism for starvation on the hills as a consequence of unsustainably high deer numbers in many areas.

Alastair is correct, however, to point out that under the kind of statutory system supported by the John Muir Trust, cull targets set by government agencies could be higher or lower for individual estates than at present.

The question Alastair should be asking is: why, then, are traditional sporting estates so resistant to the idea? Perhaps that’s because red deer numbers have risen exponentially over the past five decades. In 1959, the Red Deer Commission stated that there were too many red deer at a time when the population was estimated at 150,000. The current estimate by Scottish National Heritage is 400,000.

We do not oppose sport shooting of deer. We recognise that in the absence of natural predators, numbers must be kept in check. Indeed, in many areas we need more deer culled – and more deer stalkers to carry out that task – to reduce the damage being done to our native woodlands and peatlands.

Stuart Brooks

John Muir Trust Chief Executive,

Station Road, Pitlochry