Old money

I WELCOME the proposal from the Scottish Government to spend £50 million on improving radiotherapy services (your report, 16 March).

It means that the Scottish Government at least, and at long last, admits there have been problems as some of us have pointed out repeatedly for some time. I am concerned, however, that this may not all be new money.

Since 2000, thanks initially to the then Labour/Liberal Democrat coalition, Scotland has benefited from a unique and essential fully funded replacement programme for major radiotherapy equipment. Each government since has supported this. As a result all departments have the most modern machinery to do the job. So is the money announced this week additional to that? If not, this is a farce.

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The Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre alone has 11 linear accelerators each with an agreed lifespan of ten years and so on average one will be replaced each year at a cost now of about £3 million. So in the ten years this cancer plan covers we might expect about £30 million to be spent on replacements in this one of the five centres.

Unless new additional money is in the equation, we will see little benefit.

(Dr) Alan Rodger

Clairmont Gardens, Glasgow

The beaten track

I welcome your report of a substantial boost to ScotRail (“More frequent services, additional seats and quicker journeys in pipeline”, 16 March) but your headline omitted “unless you live in Dunbar”.

The fanfare earlier this year which greeted news that the revived Borders Railway had carried 500,000 passengers in its first five months was merited. But it serves nine stations with a half hourly service, and a last train from Edinburgh just before midnight.

Passenger figures from Dunbar, alone, have doubled in the past ten years to just under half a million (426,000 in 2014-15). I estimate that’s about half what the new Borders line will carry each year. But that’s from nine stations.

Yet Dunbar doesn’t even have an hourly service, let alone half hourly. And the last train back from Edinburgh is 10pm, making shift work and theatre and concert attendance very difficult.

Finally, whereas parking at Tweedbank is free, passengers parking at Dunbar have to pay.

No wonder Dunbar residents feel like “second class” passengers when it comes to Abellio ScotRail services.

Kit Fraser

Belhaven High Street, Dunbar, East Lothian

Rally disgrace

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Nicola Sturgeon said at the weekend that her “beautiful dream” initiative to convince us about independence would start in the summer. Actually, it starts on Monday, at an “Ask the First Minister” event for 16- and 17-year-old pupils at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh.

This is without a doubt an election event, yet she has made a government official write to education bosses asking them to get pupils – “ideally a boy and a girl” – from each school to attend.

This is a clear case of indoctrination and I am ashamed we are letting this go on.

Allan Sutherland

Willow Row, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

Most of us see Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed “Ask the First Minister” schools event (your report, 16 March) for what it is: a cynical attempt to win votes for the SNP in May from first-time teenage voters. 

While there’s certainly scope for pupils to ask Ms Sturgeon searching questions about her party’s lacklustre performance in handling their education, we must hope directors of education and head teachers put a stop to Brand Sturgeon’s inappropriate politicking.

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Bailey nonsense

David Fenwick is right to question politicians’ use of statistics to bolster their case, but quotes some odd-looking ones himself on GDP per capita (Letters, 16 March).

Luxembourg is almost twice as “rich” as Germany and Sweden, and Ireland 27 per cent more “rich” than the UK. Are these credible?

Maybe they should be viewed with as much scepticism as our CPI Inflation Index, since you also report on the same day that the Office for National Statistics has now decided, among other changes, to exclude nightclub entry fees from the index but to include cream liqueurs such as Baileys Irish Cream. And CPI is supposedly based on “a basket of 704 everyday items”.

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Likewise, we should be sceptical of Nicola Sturgeon’s constant glib remarks about the UK’s lack of an oil fund on Norwegian lines, until she credibly explains in detail what extra or increased taxes she would have imposed over the past 40 years, and/or how much extra borrowing she would have incurred for our grandchildren to repay, in order to offset the use of the oil revenues for current public expenditure; and/or what public expenditure she would have cut.

John Birkett

Horseleys Park, St Andrews, Fife

Straw poll

I wonder when supporters of the Union who are crowing that the recent GERS figures destroy the economic case for independence will realise that they are creating a trap for themselves? 

Put to one side that the figures bear little relation to the economic strength Scotland would have with independence if it had control of all the economic levers and the fact that no mention has been made of the crippling expenditure we won’t have, there are other relevant factors to take into account.

Clearly it’s premature to base a case against independence by looking at one year in isolation. History shows us that Scotland has paid more tax per head of population in all but one of the last 30 years and that in 2008-9 the UK’s deficit was twice Scotland’s.

Today the UK has a deficit of more than £70 billion and a national debt in excess of £1.6 trillion and nobody is saying that it can’t exist as an independent country. 

The one thing that’s certain is the cyclical nature of economics. Having based their condemnation of the case for independence on the current economic cycle, what will Unionists base their case against it on when the cycle changes in favour of Scotland? Or will they then accept that the Nationalists’ straw man is made of flesh and blood? 

Douglas Turner

Derby Street, Edinburgh

Horse sense

Wednesday saw the sad but very predictable death of three horses at the Cheltenham Festival. More than 400 horses die racing in the UK every year, but many people, dazzled by the glitz and the glamour, seem to have blinders on and prefer to focus on the dizzying array of hats on display, ignoring the fact that the only sure bet at these races is that magnificent horses will lose their lives. Just how many more must die before horse-racing is put out to pasture once and for all?

Jennifer White

Peta UK, London

Tide turner

Where are the headlines? Shetland is where it is happening, but the mass media seems to be keeping quiet. Do people not want to hear good news about Scotland, especially when there is a temporary drop in the oil price?

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On 10 March, the Shetland Tidal Array successfully delivered power to the Shetland grid from one of its three 100 kiloWatt tidal turbines. More are planned. It is a small start, but the potential is immense.

One month previously, the production of gas from a new subsea source west of Shetland started and will produce enough gas for two million homes, enough to supply the whole of Scotland for many years to come and eliminating our reliance on foreign imports. What great news for Scotland’s eco and financial future and food for thought for those who denigrate Scotland’s prospects.

Brian Hunter

Liberton Place, Edinburgh

On the QT

Lesley Riddoch (Perspective, 14 March) is to be congratulated for giving us an authoritative social and economic history of Dundee in her critique of BBC’s Question Time. It seems, however, she has a rather limited definition of what is a Dundonian.

Sadly, she defines them as poor working class, unquestioning SNP supporters with strong local accents and expects the BBC should have selected a majority of these people to provide a “balanced” QT audience. Certainly, if such a selection had been adopted last week John Swinney would have had a much easier ride but the freedom for democratic discussion would have been compromised.

In her article, Ms Riddoch condemns the BBC’s “rules of balance” describing them as “outmoded”. She seems to suggest that the audience composition for QT televised from any particular town should be determined by the political persuasion of its elected political representatives.

In my view, were Ms Riddoch’s proposals taken on board by the BBC then Question Time would degenerate from a topical current affairs show into little more than a raucous party political broadcast.

Sally Gordon-Walker

Caiystane Drive, Edinburgh

Low blow

We can all relate to the ambition of the Commission on Widening Access (“Poor students to get into university to tackle concerns over elitism”, your report, 15 March). The Scottish Government has apparently accepted the Commission’s recommended targets. But perhaps a more cautious response would be more appropriate. At its heart the concept of lowering university entrant thresholds for the 20 per cent of youngsters from the most disadvantaged areas is an attempt at social engineering.

The danger lies in the law of unintended consequences.

Improving the life chances of one group of young people, at the expense of another group, does not take Scotland forward.

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Given there will likely be a fixed number of university places available, each entrant accepted under the reduced criteria will in all likelihood be at the cost of a place for an able young person who would otherwise have been accepted into university.

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire