RECENT demographic reports tell us that the old outnumber the young and this is popularly translated as the old are therefore a burden ("Dawn of a new age", The Herald, December 18).

Let us hope that description is not a first step on a path of structured euthanasia as an acceptable component of fiscal management. After all, high infant mortality in Africa was once accepted as nature's remedy for famine and poverty.

Fiscal management in the strong years of our economy failed to conceive of a pot for the looming pension equation while we postured as a world nuclear power. Margaret Thatcher as Education Minister failed to factor in the baby boomers in the 1960s, so warnings were clear even then. The burgeoning blame culture of recent decades is understandable in a failing economy and targets like immigrants and the unemployed have accumulated much more than the elected fiscal managers we call governments or their cohorts in banking. However, as the tills throughout the land ring out their dubious Christmas message are we to view the elders at our table as a burden?

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George Devlin,

Rosebank, 6 Falcon Terrace Lane, Glasgow.

THOSE who are familiar with the Mayan oral prophecy know that this ancient civilisation was predicting a Shift of the Ages: not the end of the world, as such, but of a new world order – something that has been longed for by peoples of all nations for a very long time ("Roger Tagholm on ... have yourself a Mayan little Christmas", The Herald, December 17). We don't need to be told that humans have made a bit of a mess of things thus far and would love to begin again with a clean slate.

As we approach the Winter Solstice, and the predestined Mayan date of December 21, perhaps Joel's prophecy will also be fulfilled: "I will pour out my spirit on all mankind. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men see visions". This would tie in nicely with the latest census statistics of more senior citizens in the population than callow youths, indicating a reversal of age-related wisdom, perhaps?

Janet Cunningham,

1 Cedar Avenue, Stirling.

Richard Mowbray says he is "not a believer" but he writes with the evangelical fervour of many who are (Letters, December 18). In his belittling of those who are seeking to make our society and those in it more equal he seems to have entirely missed the point.

Equality of opportunity, of access and of entitlement must lie at the heart of any just community and if these do not take place naturally then they require the support of law – which is why we have laws dealing with racism, homophobia and gender bias.

I would not like to contemplate a social order where justice and equity were left to the feelings of people without the exemplary force of law and sanction. Mr Mowbray seems to think that a "free" society will happen by chance and does not seem willing to reflect on what freedom means in a highly complex and interdependent society. I do not know what his vision of a free society is, but I am pretty certain it will not be based on his recycling of decayed Thatcherism with its stress on the individual and its denial of social responsibility. How we as a community use and share our resources is a cause for continual debate and choice but must, in my view, be governed by an over-arching concern for everyone in our society so that all people sense that they belong and are not marginalised or victimised.

Rev David A Keddie,

21 Ilay Road, Bearsden.

JOHANN Lamont has again pointed to the unfairness of university students being favoured over their college colleagues through the discriminatory fees systems of the respective institutions ("Lamont calls for an end to free tuition at university", The Herald, December 18). It is illuminating that she is supported so strongly in this issue by Ian Graham, who was responsible for the outstanding work at John Wheatley College to increase access and academic achievement to less well-off students, and equally that Education Secretary Mike Russell continues to favour the current regime and the disproportionate benefits which it delivers to students from well-off backgrounds.

The only question which remains (apart from the indifference of the SNP Government to such a glaring instance of class and economic privilege) is why Ms Lamont does not formulate her proposal as a graduate tax. This could also then be extended retrospectively to cover people such as myself, who like her benefited greatly from university education (and had a ball) in the 1970s and should now be required to support the opportunities for others to do likewise.

Peter A Russell,

87 Munro Road, Jordanhil,


DO Labour Party members and future university and college students support Johann Lamont's plans to introduce tuition fees if she ever gets into power? Since she proposes to introduce fees for universities because it results in private gain, she must also treat all sectors of post-school education in the same way if they are improving their employment chances. Those doing Higher National Certificates and Diplomas are not only improving their employment chances but for many it is a route into second or third-year university courses and it is certainly not the case that only the poorest families go to college.

What this illustrates is that Ms Lamont's attack on universalism is seriously ill-judged and is an ideological slippery slope which will undermine the whole welfare state. Why shouldn't the better-off pay for hospital treatment from which they get private gain? Why should they get state pensions if they have other income? The ultimate outcome of this, as the recent Jimmy Reid Foundation report on universalism showed, is a society in which support for public services declines because the more prosperous have no stake in public provision.

We need a highly educated population and if the more educated do eventually earn more, they should make their contribution through a progressive tax system. Even Johann Lamont is not yet suggesting that major medical interventions that improve people's earning capacity should be paid for by the patients. But, of course, Scotland at present does not have control of fiscal policy and cannot develop its own progressive policy across all areas of taxation. That should be our focus rather than going down the neo-liberal route.

Isobel Lindsay,

9 Knocklea Place, Biggar.