Readers' letters: Nicola Sturgeon's masterclass in skating over the big issues

I attended the Iain Dale chat with Nicola Sturgeon on Wednesday (Scotsman, 11 August). No wonder he described her as one of the most impressive politicians he has interviewed. If Liz Truss ever wants to improve her “attention-seeker” barbs, she should watch the Vogue section of the podcast and see how the First Minister neatly positioned her in the magazine’s classified ads.

In general it was a masterclass in skating over the questions and perpetuating myths and grievances, ably assisted by Dale obligingly tugging his newly sprouted forelock and lacking the detailed knowledge required for any follow-up questions.

Most strikingly, Ms Sturgeon was allowed to brush off border issues as “the same as Norway and Sweden” and solvable by “planning” as opposed to years of hard-nosed negotiation with the UK and EU.

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Most of the audience loved it and I was left wondering what their reaction would have been of Iain Dale had winkled the truth out of her.

Nicola Sturgeon is interviewed by Iain Dale at the Edinburgh International Conference CentreNicola Sturgeon is interviewed by Iain Dale at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre
Nicola Sturgeon is interviewed by Iain Dale at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre

As someone who is willing to consider independence on the right terms it was depressing to come away thinking that, after 15 years, we are miles from a definitive, accepted way forward based on facts and agreement.

First of all, independence should be proposed by a government that has shown it genuinely has improved the country as far as it can. It hasn’t.

Next, it should have a worked-out plan agreed with the UK and other stakeholders which resolves major issues like pensions, currency, debt, transition timescale and cost, borders and trade. It hasn’t.

This plan should be independently verified and demonstrate that things can, and will, get better. It doesn’t.

And lastly, all of this should be put to the people in a joint Scotlad-UK proposition, and voted on.

It really is high time this whole situation was either shelved, or the hard yards put in by both governments to agree the above in a Clarity Act. Or at least, the pro-UK parties should make the passing of a Clarity Act a manifesto commitment.

Allan Sutherland, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

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Sturgeon’s show

Iain Dale’s interview with Nicola Sturgeon has attracted more attention than it deserves.

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It was a show on the Festival Fringe, not a serious political interview. The audience contained a significant SNP claque who loudly registered their appreciation of their leader, and Mr Dale lobbed rather friendly questions Ms Sturgeon’s way. What a pity he didn’t query some of her answers.

For example, when Ms Sturgeon claimed that an insult to her was an insult to Scotland, he might have gently suggested that identifying a leader with a country, and vice-versa, was a relic of the 20th century that we have chosen to leave behind.

Ms Sturgeon claimed that an independent Scotland would belong to the Common Travel Area, with the UK and Ireland. Yet she also wants Scotland to have a very different immigration policy from that of the UK. How would that work? It wouldn’t. But it was a question that needed to be asked.

Mr Dale’s show was an opportunity missed. But then a “show” was what it was, and the opportunity provided was one for Ms Sturgeon to lay out her stall without the inconvenience of needing to explain how its components would work.

Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh

Browned off

Gordon Brown’s latest attempt to mitigate the disaster of this UK Government is to suggest that struggling energy companies be temporarily renationalised.

In other words, let the state shoulder the losses of poorly-run private companies then, when the crisis blows over, return them to private control where these same companies can resume making profits and rewarding shareholders.

This is absurd. It lets these companies off the hook and does nothing to help people meet their ballooning energy bills. But that’s the Labour Party for you, more interested in helping corporations than people.

What a competent government would do is get rid of standing charges and make energy tariffs progressive, not regressive, putting pre-paid meters on the lowest, not highest, tariff; and ensure that each home pays the same proportion of its income on energy to eliminate fuel poverty.

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Trouble is, a Labour government won't counter corporate greed as it has backed away from public ownership of natural monopolies and it opposes Scotland’s right to govern itself.

What an independent Scotland would do is take energy back into public ownership, end fuel poverty, and invest in our abundant energy resources to benefit our citizens, not corporations. Not a hard choice, is it?

Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh

Pro-Union parties

At the May 2021 elections for the Scottish Parliament the total votes cast for the SNP and Green Party were 1,326,194 for the constituency vote, and 1,314,698 for the regional vote. The total votes cast for the Conservative, Labour, and Lib Dem parties were 1,364,734 for the constituency vote, and 1,260,101 for the regional vote.

Despite the fact that the pro-Union parties together achieved a higher number of votes in the constituency vote, and a broadly similar total in the regional, they only won 57 seats in total compared with 72 seats for the SNP and Green Party combined. A major reason, of course, is that the pro-Union vote is split between three parties. The SNP won 64 seats, 1 seat short of an overall majority.

The SNP and Green parties agreed a coalition to achieve a workable majority in the Scottish Parliament. However, the pro-Union parties would only need to win another eight seats to achieve a total of 65 seats, giving them an overall majority. Looking at the individual constituency results, it should be very possible to win a substantial number of extra seats if there were cooperation between the three pro-Union parties to support a single candidate, with the other pro-Union parties standing down candidates, in all or some of the promising seats.

I would like to ask the leaders of the pro-Union parties if an agreement of this sort might be possible to achieve? And would a coalition with the overriding aim of ending the government of the SNP not be infinitely preferable to the prospect of perpetual powerless opposition?

Reid Watson, Edinburgh

The ‘r’ word

It is sad that Paul Whiteley, professor in Essex University’s department of government, can write as he does about Conservative Party members and ethnic minorities, based on extrapolating the results of certain opinion polls, which by their nature involve non-nuanced, binary, yes/no questions and answers (“Is race an issue for Sunak?”, Scotsman, 10 August).

No doubt “some grassroots members” do not want the new prime minister to be from an ethnic minority; would the Labour Party be very different? But he should not stir the mud while then using weasel-words such as “looks like” and “imply” to justify his assumption that racism (though he is careful to avoid that word) “probably” contributes to Sunak’s poor performance in membership opinion polls.

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It would not be surprising if the previous ethnic-minority candidates, all high achievers in prior more difficult decades, believe that policies aimed at levelling-up and giving equal opportunities have now gone far enough, while needing to be robustly implementedl.

On immigration, many ethnic minority Britons also accept that the numbers need to be firmly controlled. It is high time for a sensible debate without the knee-jerk “racist” accusations existing since Enoch Powell’s 1968 speech.

I am not a member but many Tories, while admiring Sunak’s intellect and achievements, will have other valid reasons not to support him.

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

Neglected state

My wife and I have just spent a lovely five-day holiday based in and touring around Lochcarron in Wester Ross. I would highly recommend a visit apart from two things: the weather, which nowadays is pot luck anywhere, and the roads, which are a disgrace.

These are mainly single-track roads with passing places, which is the same in many locations all over the UK. The problem is the dreadful condition of the roads in this neck of the woods, especially the passing places. They are so badly eroded that you risk shredding your tyres if you go off the edge of the passing place. The drive over the Applecross Pass is Scottish scenery at its best but comes with the same risks.

These areas are the constituency of Ian Blackford, SNP MP, and Maree Todd, SNP MSP, and are a sad reflection of the SNP’s neglect of Scotland.

Ian Balloch, Grangemouth, Falkirk

Food for thought

It must be a great comfort to the Scottish islanders facing food rationing that the SNP have decided to spend £200000 of taxpayers' money on Dutch consultants to turn around the Ferguson Marine shipyard (Scotsman, 11 August).

They will, however, be a little puzzled as to why this is being done three years after the shipyard was taken into public control and five years after the yard should have completed two desperately needed ferries.

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They might also be wondering why they were recently told by the current chief executive that the yard had a “bright future” or what the Scottish taxpayer got from paying the previous incumbent – “turnaround expert” Tim Hair – £1.3 million other than reports of how long each new delay would last.

Never mind. Perhaps the islanders might at least allow themselves a wry smile at the announcement that the procurement of the consultants was done in an “accelerated” procedure!

Colin Hamilton, Edinburgh

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