SINCE the First Minister is probably a bit busy today, I offer answers to Mark Smith’ questions ("Five questions the First Minister needs to answer in 2021", The Herald, January 4). He says they were prompted by her New Year article in Politico.

Mr Smith asks Ms Sturgeon to explain her comment about Scotland being unique. An odd question, seeing that he immediately grants that this is fact, but then says this doesn't mean we need a unique political system, because we are largely the same as our neighbours. Let me offer him a way to resolve this contradiction. We are similar to, but not the same as, our neighbours. Many of us believe that the UK’s political system is working very badly and needs profound change. So we’d rather choose our own.

He next asks why she says the majority of Scots now support independence. Because opinion polls very consistently show more people support it than oppose it. OK, this leaves out the “Don’t knows”, but in the context this is quibbling. Especially since the latest poll (from The Scotsman/Savanta ComRes) reports that 52 per cent of all respondents favour independence, with only 38% against.

Next question: In what way are England’s values different from ours? A sly one, this, because that’s emphatically not what the First Minister suggested. She contrasted the values behind Brexit with the collective spirit behind the collaborative international development of vaccines, a very different thing. This was a blatant twist of her words.

Mr Smith’s Question 4 is about why Ms Sturgeon is not comfortable with a federal UK. I don’t know where this question comes from. She didn’t mention federalism at all in her article. If Mr Smith would like arguments against the federal idea, I could refer him to countless articles over recent years. Among the many convincing points they make, here are two: in a federal UK, Scotland wouldn’t control its own economy; and on all major issues England would call all the shots.

Last question: Why is she still calling this a “hard Brexit”? Answer: Because it is. It is, because the UK Prime Minister was too weak to negotiate for any compromise for fear of his feral pack of Tory Brexiter extremists. I am sure the great majority of Leave voters – whose opinions I respect, though differ from – would have been happy with a far greater degree of accommodation with the EU, but Mr Johnson's leadership vacuum didn't allow him to seek it. Does Mr Smith believe that what we have is a “soft Brexit”? I’d like to hear his arguments.

Lyn Jones, Edinburgh EH3.


CREDIT must be given to Boris Johnson for his quick action in procuring the BioNTech vaccine. The EU's cumbersome bureaucratic approval process and its cautious small order has led to a shortage in EU countries, according to the CEO of the vaccine company. No wonder German media is furious with "EU dithering", as inoculation centres have had to close owing to lack of vaccine in the very country where it is produced.

So at the start of a new year, let's raise a toast to Mr Johnson. Now just be careful, Ms Sturgeon, that you don't choke.

Morag Black, Houston.


NICOLA Sturgeon's bold forecast that Scotland could be back in the European Union "soon" as an independent state ("Sturgeon: Independent Scotland will be back in the EU ‘soon’", The Herald, January 2) is entirely without foundation. Indeed, in the run-up to the independence referendum in 2014, similar claims made by Alex Salmond were very quickly countered by Juan Manuel Barroso, the then President of the European Commission.

Michel Barnier has apparently made it very clear that it will take a long time before Scotland will gain access to the EU. Spain will almost certainly veto any such application lest it boost Catalonia's independence expectations.

Ms Sturgeon has yet to confirm whether Scotland, if pressed, will join the euro. She always ducks the issue of an increasing Scottish deficit far above the EU's admissible three per cent of GDP.

Sadly her forecast, lacking in substance, is simply a wish.

Ronald J Sandford, Kingsbarns, Fife.


JIM Daly (Letters, January 4) seems to subscribe to the notion that if you repeat something often enough, people will believe it. Where is the evidence that the UK will "aggressively roll back worker and environmental protections" or that the Internal Market Bill will be used to "open up the the NHS to privatisation"? Has he forgotten that Nicola Sturgeon signed a deal in September 2020 with Ascensos in Motherwell to provide contact tracers?

Yet another example of SNP hypocrisy.

Anne Kegg, Uddingston.


STRUAN Stevenson’s attempt to vindicate the Brexit deal on fishing is political blame-mongering at its worst ("The SNP’S faux fury over fisheries policy is not surprising but it is misplaced", The Herald, January 2). It wasn’t the SNP which made repeated promises to the fishing industry and then failed to deliver – it was the chief separatist, Boris Johnson. Nor was it the SNP which egged on fishing leaders from Devon to Peterhead to shout “betrayal”; it was their disappointment at being sold a pig in a poke by the Tories yet again, a fate which will also be visited on the farming sector soon.

Independence can allow Scotland to enjoy “sovereignty” over its fishing grounds if we follow the “Norway Option”. Joining the EU means sharing sovereignty over fishing, but with full national autonomy over a vast range of responsibilities we are denied under the hegemony of Westminster.

GR Weir, Ochiltree.


KEVIN McKenna's article on the elderly care sector ("It’s time for the care sector to be completely nationalised", The Herald, January 2) made uncomfortable reading.

I accept business is business, but this particular business is supposed to be the provision of care for the elderly in our society – the elderly being those who mostly have contributed to and worried about the future generations of this country. Standards of care vary too much and are probably not regulated enough. Unfortunately, being a member of the human race may entail becoming sick, old, frail and perhaps demented. The least we should expect is to provide the elderly with care, love and dignity and that onus falls on all of us. We strive and mostly succeed to provide it for our children, so what about our old people? They should not matter less.

He is correct – we need the provision of care to be brought under the NHS with much more rigorous monitoring and where people come before profit. It is bound to cost us but it is our collective responsibility as part of a society, defined as "totality of social relationships among groups of human beings".

I hope the First Minister and all our MPs, whatever party, make this a priority for 2021. We need action immediately and particularly after this pandemic.

Sue Wade, Ayr.


I WAS dismayed though not surprised to read that as many as 2,133 Scots are believed to have contracted Covid-19 in hospital "Thousands may have contracted Covid in Scottish hospitals, data shows", The Herald, January 2). One wonders how many of these patients developed severe illness or died.

I spent two nights in hospital following elective surgery in mid-September. Before being admitted I was required to self-isolate for 14 days and be tested for Covid. While in hospital I was astounded to discover that the hospital staff were tested for Covid only if symptomatic, never routinely. This knowledge was especially troubling to me as I am over 70 and during my short stay I was in close contact with at least a dozen doctors, nurses and support staff.

I question a health board’s rationale in taking steps to ensure that patients don’t bring Covid into hospital, while failing to adopt sufficient measures to minimise patient exposure to the virus after admission.

Fiona Edelstein, Glasgow G61.


HUGH Macdonald’s beautiful piece on Hogmanay must have struck a chord in every grandparent’s heart ("Thoughts of timeless love and a lesson of living in the present", The Herald, December 31). I totally echo his sentiments about love and time and he’s so right when he talks about the lessons we can learn from children. His closing reflection on the past, present and future reminded me of some thought-provoking words sent to me at New Year by a Christian pastor in Pakistan who knows what it is to endure persecution as a member of a minority faith in his country. He wrote:

Yesterday is history.

Tomorrow is a mystery.

Today is a gift from God

which is why we call it the present.

Katie Allstaff, Aberfeldy.

Read more: Letters: Scottish Tories will surely reap the Brexit harvest in May