DISAPPOINTINGLY but not at all surprisingly the biggest talking point in the Scottish election campaign has been the constitution.
A more normal feature is for a sitting government to be taken to task by the other parties for its failings whilst in office. Strangely that really hasn’t happened. Instead Nicola Sturgeon asks to be judged on her record in the five years to come.
In education Ms Sturgeon is staking her reputation on closing the attainment gap. Not before time. After nine years of the SNP the gap has widened – scarcely surprising when the promise of smaller class sizes was never fulfilled and the morale of teachers is at an all time low.
Moreover, the number of students from less well off backgrounds gaining entry to university has gone down not up under the SNP – their cut to the bursaries of such students no doubt being a contributory factor. And what of the cut of 152000 college places - a traditional route for less well off kids to improve their prospects?
One thing the SNP has achieved is to create a record level of dissatisfaction amongst employees in our public services. The threat of a teachers’ strike over excessive work load is in the air. A recent survey of police officers revealed a largely demoralised work force. And staff in the NHS are near to burnout.
I only hope voters will pay close attention to the “achievements” of the SNP in the last nine years rather than to the promises of what they might do in the next five.
Braid Hills Avenue, Edinburgh
Will the constitutional question keep haunting Scottish life and politics? Probably, although it shouldn’t.
The people of Scotland decided in a referendum how they want to govern themselves and a majority decided to stay in the UK. Although 45 per cent of the electorate were convinced that the other 55 per cent were completely mistaken, this result is not a wrong that has to be put right – neither factually nor morally. It is a result that calls for rational debate and compromise – as achieved by the Smith commission and the fiscal framework – for the good of the country.
Yet the campaign focussed in big parts on an early re-run of the independence referendum. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP insist that it’s democracy if they lobby hard enough until they can get what they want. They also claim that it’s democracy to assess through pollsters’ crystal ball gazing whether they managed to cajole enough No voters into changing their minds.
In contrast, it would be democracy to ask everyone who had the right to vote in the 2014 referendum if they want another one before the elusive “once in a generation” deadline expires. This could have been done through an election manifesto. The other option would be a full plebiscite on indyref2 as a step in assessing people’s wishes. Instead Nicola Sturgeon avoids both and resorts to poll samples. Is she too scared to ask the Scottish electorate directly?
Willow Row, Stonehaven
More ticket staff
A frustration often experienced by rail users is to arrive at a station to find the only available booking clerk engaged in a detailed, on-the-spot discussion with a potential passenger. There is often no choice but to board your train without a ticket and hope that the staff on the train will be as understanding as possible.
It is right that ScotRail should crack down on fare dodging in whatever form (Scotsman, 4 May). But the Achilles Heel in the current system is that there is often not enough staff at stations to sell tickets promptly.
It could be argued that technology has made this obsolete with ticket machines and online booking. But there is still a simple case in terms of customer care for helping passengers to buy a ticket at the station from a human being, and being given an accurate, prompt and friendly service. Notices at many stations, such as Markinch in Fife, make it clear that it is legitimate to board a train without a ticket if the booking office is closed or the sole member of staff is engaged on other duties. ScotRail clearly believes it is time to tighten up on this.
A new crackdown on fare-dodgers must be accompanied by a campaign to make the stations as user-friendly as possible for those simply wanting to buy a ticket.
Shiel Court, Glenrothes
Limit ad spending
I can’t imagine how many millions of pounds it is costing to have full-page adverts for the main political parties with their leaders photographed laughing at the electorate who are duped into voting for them.
Some stricter financial controls should be introduced to limit spending on elections, as like leaflets through the letter box they generally go straight in the rubbish bin.
Dennis Forbes Grattan
Mugiemoss Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen
Susan Bell, from ScotCen Social Research, (Scotsman, 4 May) takes a lot of column inches to tell us that the Scottish electorate is roughly evenly split between those who would like to pay more tax, to improve spending on services, and those who are content with the status quo.
She then links the divide to party affiliations but forgets to mention that the proportion of voters who pay no income tax at all is getting nearer the 50 per cent mark and rising, thanks to the Tory/Lib Dem chancellor’s increasing Personal Allowance.
It is not too difficult to understand that those paying no tax are not too worried by proposed increases for those who do!
Netherby Road, Edinburgh
Monk or monarch?
Crediting Leicester City’s recent Premier League triumph to a Buddhist monk’s soothsaying acumen is suitably colourful (“Foxes fans flock to Buddhist temple where monk predicted unlikely title win”, 4 May), but the truth of the matter is no less oddball.
Leicester’s dramatic upturn in form dates not to anything one might expect, like the arrival of manager Claudio Ranieri or any particular player, but precisely to the re-interment of England’s last Yorkist king, Richard III, in Leicester Cathedral on 26 March last year.
The monarch renowned not least for superintending, as Duke of Gloucester, the transfer in 1482 of Berwick-upon-Tweed to its current owners, might have expected to have had a reburial in York Minster, but Leicester’s authorities managed to ensure he stayed where he was found. The ensuing ceremony gave the city a somewhat dubious but significant injection of kudos, and also boosted that unquantifiable factor, civic pride.
Meanwhile, the flip side to their so-called fairytale is that in the same season, York City have been relegated from the football league. You can be sure however that when history is written, it won’t only be their fans who suspect Leicester of goalpost impropriety.
Church Street, Berwick-upon-Tweed
Change of target
I agree with Martin Redfern’s comments (Letters, 3 May) that Nicola Sturgeon has been stirring up the question on a second referendum to encourage Yes voters to cross both boxes for the SNP. I note that her previous target of converting No voters to 60 per cent has been reduced to a simple majority.
May I suggest that in the event of another referendum, and to ensure that “the democratic will of the people of Scotland” is attained, that either the final votes are based on the total electoral roll of Scotland and, or, a majority of the councils vote in favor.
If not we are in danger of becoming an independent country based on the will of the residents of Glasgow and Dundee.
Larkfield Gardens, Edinburgh
Dr Salman al-Ouda, a prominent Saudi theologian, director of Islam Today and member of the International Union for Muslim Scholars has called for an end to the persecution of gay people.
He argues that even though homosexuality is considered a sin in all the Semitic holy books, it is not “criminalised” in the Koran where gays are simply asked not to flaunt their feelings in public.
The mystery of why Allah creates individuals with the “wrong” sexual orientation will be resolved in the next world and those who execute gays are committing a graver sin than the offence itself.
As a religious scholar that would certainly be my interpretation of the Koran but in a nation where consensual gay love is legally classed with rape and paedophilia it is a parlous stance to take.
Rev Dr John Cameron,
Howard Place, St Andrews
Training for MSPs
Tricia Marwick signed off as Presiding Officer in March by announcing that new MSPs will be given training to help them be more effective parliamentarians.
As the campaign closes it is clear that it’s not just the new MSPs who’ll be in need of training. Once again electors have been subjected to undeliverable promises. Meantime, the economy gets hardly a mention as jobs are lost. Governments only create jobs in the public sector; likewise with building houses. Indeed, governments are better at destroying jobs by hiking business rates and staff costs.
All MSPs should have training in basic economics and fiscal management before they start using Holyrood’s new powers. They also need to understand Scotland’s public sector liabilities – BHS isn’t the only pension deficit needing urgent attention.
Secrets and lies
In most aspects of life we expect honesty, of purpose and ambition, and rightly reject those who fall short of that. It is odd to see a different standard so often applied in the world of politics.
Those who lead us think it acceptable to play down the inconvenient truths in securing our votes and consider it reasonable to return after our votes have been cast, to apply the real costs whether in tax increases or in a divisive self-serving campaign for separation.
It is ironic that those who shout the loudest that only they will stand up for Scotland are the ones manipulating the public mood to play out their own ambitions. The hope must be that in politics as elsewhere, all that goes up must ultimately come back down to earth, as harsh reality takes hold.
West Linton, Peeblesshire