Readers' Letters: Independence could lead to a fitter Scotland

Hugh Pennington adds to the incessant and tiresome list of SNP failures while following the unionist line of ignoring the many, many failures of the Westminster Government (Letters, 29 March). I have never been a member of the SNP, but I see no reason to believe that Scotland is not a country and that it is unable to exist without the support and guidance of England.

Indeed I believe that the relationship between an independent Scotland and England would be far less acrimonious at official level. At street level, we are thankfully free of such animosity, barring the usual ranters and nutters on both sides of the Border, among whom I include the shockingly venomous majority of English press. Independence would also be good for the mental, and perhaps physical, health of our nation.

Which brings me to the the rest of Hugh Pennington's letter. Despite the support and advice of experts, successive governments of all hues have failed to make the Scots sufficiently healthy, at least in Mr Pennington's opinion. The gratuitous slur of “miserably short life expectancy” attributed to Glaswegians would imply that their freedom to choose a lifestyle largely composed of ingesting nasty things should be taken away by Government. We may very well need to dig a bit deeper to find the causes of plebian malaise.

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Bill Simpson, Carnoustie, Angus

Could the nation's obesity 'time bomb' be defused by Independence (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Own up

I could not agree more with Hugh Pennington’s letter. As a solicitor, recently retired after over 45 years in private practice, I can add another Scottish Government “aspiration” which, according to all informed legal opinion that I am aware of, is also doomed to fail. I refer to the target imposed by the Scottish Government on Registers of Scotland to complete the Land Register by 2024 in order to answer the question “Who owns Scotland?”

The failure of this aspiration may not have the dramatic, eye-catching effect of, say, the ferry fiasco, but it should be of major concern to those citizens caught up in Registers of Scotland’s registration arrear which now stretches back almost five years to title applications submitted and paid for as long ago as 2017. This has increased from 40,000 cases in June 2018 to more than 100,000 last month. At the present rate of clearance, many of these cases will not be registered for years to come.

Why does this matter? Simply because, in the event of rejection due to failure to meet registration criteria, any affected application would lose its place in the registration queue and be vulnerable to all sorts of problems, such as a seller’s bankruptcy or liquidation. This is not just a theoretical problem as 1,363 applications were, in fact, rejected by Registers of Scotland in the period from October 2018 to July 2021. A small proportion, but, whilst rejection may not cause insurmountable difficulties if occurring soon after lodgement, an application rejected after a delay of years could cause catastrophic problems for an unsuspecting “owner”. This doomed aspiration should be ditched now, to allow Registers of Scotland to concentrate all efforts on clearing the registration arrear.

Keith Robertson, Aberdeen

Bribes in wind

I concur with Aileen Jackson's description of the planning process concerning “Wind Power” (Letters, 30 March) having witnessed at first hand the way in which which developers deliberately mislead the public with a claimed rated capacity which is at least a 60 per cent exaggeration of delivered reality. They also display photo montage images of proposed sites at public meetings, carefully enhanced to placate concerns over visual impacts. Communities are beguiled by tempting financial “community benefits”. If an application goes to a public enquiry objectors find themselves pitted against highly professional Advocates who tie them in procedural knots. This is a mere nod to democracy by a Scottish Government obsessed with the pursuit of wind power. I experienced this at the time when they bemoaned the “theft” of Scotland's oil that would fuel an independent Scotland's economy. How times have changed.

Even though there are some 8,700 land-based turbines in the UK today they barely provide 4 per cent of energy demand. Meanwhile we hapless consumers, through our electricity bills, pay operators billions of pounds a year in subsidies and euphemistically named “constraint payments” for when the wind is either too strong or fails to blow. The claimed savings in carbon emissions have been grossly exaggerated when the raw materials, manufacturing costs (all reliant on fossil fuels) construction and decommissioning are fully taken into account. Policy makers want to expand wind farm construction with the vague claim that the wind always blows somewhere, conveniently ignoring the need for back-up from fossil fuel plants, predominantly gas, of which over 50 per cent is imported. A further “inducement” to communities is being considered – cheaper electricity to those living close to wind farms and possible relaxation of planning rules. Overrides and bribes are replacing democracy.

Some may recall Gordon Brown's “Dash for Diesel” in 2001. Under the Freedom of Information Act the Treasury eventually revealed that manufacturers and officials were well aware of the hazards of soot particulate and nitrogen dioxide emissions. Now we are being similarly urged to embrace electric vehicles which, like wind power, hide their dark secrets behind a convenient green smoke screen.

Neil J Bryce, Kelso, Scottish Borders

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No business

I'm sure the whole of Scotland is rejoicing in the news that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes were taking part in the National Economic Forum being held in Edinburgh. They were seemingly pledging that the voice of business is at “the heart of government”.

This will indeed be reassuring for Scottish shipyards, airports, oil and gas businesses, national energy start-ups and all the other growth sectors who have benefited from the amazing level of business acumen shown by our SNP/Green government.

Jim Houston, Edinburgh

Root causes

Following criticism of the Scottish Government in the recent Audit Scotland report on the new vessels for the Clyde and Hebrides, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, speaking on Radio Scotland, said “the Audit Scotland report says there were no material issues with the procurement process” and the “root cause” of the problems lies with construction. The First Minister, along with other ministers, has followed this line.

The first statement is wrong and the second is questionable. Paragraph 8 on page 10 of the Audit Scotland report states its review starts from the appointment of Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) as preferred bidder and that it “did not audit aspects of the procurement process before this point”. In paragraph 5, it refers to “serious failures in vessel procurement” previously identified in the December 2020 report by the Scottish Parliament's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.

Evidence relating to the procurement process was given to the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee. A 50:50 quality/price ratio was adopted to assess the bids. On price, FMEL was the most expensive. The highest evaluation score is awarded to the lowest cost bid, with the scores ranging from 84.8 to FMEL’s 72.9. But this cost disadvantage to FMEL was more than overcome in the quality assessment, in which FMEL was awarded the highest score of 76.0, far ahead of the second highest quality score, which was 56.5. Combining the two elements, FMEL achieved the highest overall evaluation score and was awarded the contract.

The criteria used in the quality assessment do not appear to have been published. It would be very interesting to know what they were and the reasons why FMEL was scored so much more highly than the bids from the five other shipyards, which are located in England, Germany, Poland and Turkey. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the criteria adopted for the quality evaluation aligned with the SNP administration’s political objective of favouring the Port Glasgow yard.

An effective procurement process would have included as assessment of the ability of the yard to deliver the vessels as one of the quality criteria. A rigorous assessment at this stage would have identified the weaknesses (which became all too apparent soon after construction started) and would have marked down the score on that basis. On this basis, the root cause of the delays and cost over-runs can be traced back to a flawed procurement process.

George Rennie, Inverness

Buck shelved

At First Ministers Questions on 24 March, under direct and specific questioning from Douglas Ross, Nicola Sturgeon clearly intimated that Derek Mackay, the then Transport Minister, was responsible for the ferry contracts. It appears the actual contract was signed off not by Derek Mackay but by Keith Brown. Ms Sturgeon must have known this but somehow managed to let it slip her mind. Is this not exactly the problem? Direct questions to Nicola Sturgeon seem not to receive direct answers. If this is the case then constantly stating the “buck stops with me” is meaningless. Is this not actually “passing the buck” instead?

Gerald Edwards, Glasgow

Unmasked

Whatever the announcement Nicola Sturgeon makes about the compulsory wearing of face masks, I will do what at least half the people in Dundee's biggest Tesco and Asda have been doing for weeks. I will not be wearing one from 4 April. I know political opportunism when I smell it.

Peter McGlashan, Dundee

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