THE House of Commons report blaming Boris Johnson for the UK’s horrifically-high Covid death rate comes as no surprise.

Public health was undermined by a decade of Tory cuts. Public Health England’s budget was cut by 40 per cent between 2013 and 2019. Public health departments were transferred from the NHS to the local authorities and then they had their funding cut as local authority budgets were slashed.

The UK Government failed to prepare for a pandemic. In the run-up to 2020, any emergency planning carried out was focused not on pandemic threats but on the potential consequences of Brexit.

The UK Government refused to learn from other countries. It was slow to adopt measures to contain the virus such as face coverings, border controls and contact tracing to identify infection clusters.

The UK Government squandered £37.5 billion on a centralised test and tracing system that was outsourced to private company Serco that still doesn’t work.

The UK Government focused on the downstream hospital response and ignored the upstream public health response needed to prevent the spread of the virus at the outset.

Inconsistent, mixed messaging undermined public trust. Lifting all protections in mid-July fed the public perception that the pandemic was over when infection levels and hospitalisations were 10 times what they were the year before. A failure to financially support infected people so they could self-isolate guaranteed further viral spread.

This is a UK, not Scottish Government, failure. Scotland has the lowest infection rate in the UK and second-lowest death rate, 30% lower than England. This was achieved despite Scotland being able to control pandemic measures only at the end of March 2020 and being unable to borrow to save businesses and support those in need. I have no doubt that an independent Scotland would have acted differently, saving thousands of lives.

Leah Gunn Barrett, Edinburgh.

THE BLANKING OF OUR HISTORY

BILL Brown (Letters, October 12) writes that he is "left feeling that our young people are at risk of being indoctrinated at an early age in school to think predominantly Scottish rather than British". Heaven forfend that children should be taught the history and culture of their own country. At secondary school, I was taught about Henry VIII, the Industrial Revolution (in England), Peterloo, and Irish and Russian history. No Scottish history. Not one word. And there was the barest nod to Scottish literature and poetry. How many countries in the world would find it acceptable that their children are not being taught the culture and history of their own nation? I had to pay to go to night classes at Glasgow University to properly learn Scottish history.

I remember about 20 years ago attending a school parents night and sitting in the modern studies classroom, waiting to see the teacher, I was confronted by the blackboard on which was written in large letters "The main parties in Scotland are Labour and the Conservatives". This at a time when the SNP was the main party of opposition in the Scottish Parliament. The days when pupils in Scottish schools are kept in the dark about Scotland are in the past, and in the past they must remain.

Ruth Marr, Stirling.

A SLANTED QUESTION

ALAN Fitzpatrick’s letter (October 12) this morning is disingenuous in the extreme. It is a well-established fact that different forms of question on the same topic can produce different responses from the same respondent, irrespective of whether they are “disinterested in understanding what they would be voting for, or so lacking in intelligence to care”.

Is it mere coincidence that a correspondent with the unionist credentials of Mr Fitzpatrick should champion “Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No”, particularly when that question regularly produces a balance of opinion against independence in polls funded by Scotland in Union?

No doubt there will be dispute about question wording at the next referendum, so we have to hope the Electoral Commission does its work. However the “reforms” in the current Elections Bill, which will put the commission under Westminster Government control, place that in considerable doubt.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

* THERE have been many views published in the Letters Pages recently about the format of an independence question, with notable suggestions that the unionists should be able to hijack the positivity of the Yes word. The aim would be to remove, as far as possible, any "loaded" words such as yes and no. Maybe we should have a referendum on the subject, with a list of questions put before the voters, designed to remove any possible bias, and voted for on a winner-takes-all basis,

I suggest a ballot paper that looks a bit like this:

I vote that:

Scotland should be an independent country.

Scotland should not be an independent country.

I hope that readers will make their own suggestions for the benefit of those who will eventually make the final decision (on the questions in the referendum question referendum I mean).

John Jamieson, Ayr.

BIRD-BRAINED REASONING

SCOTS readers of The Herald will be familiar with the phrase "he's away with the birdies", meaning that someone is somewhat mentally lacking. That phrase certainly comes to mind when I read that our Scottish Government is giving £2.35 million to rebuild a bird watching facility on Fair Isle: a building that was burned down in March 2019 ("Fair Isle Observatory rises from the ashes after receiving £2.3m", The Herald, October 12). Apparently, the total final cost of the reconstruction is being estimated at £7.4m, so our apparently-wealthy Government may well be giving away yet more of our taxpayers' money in the future.

I've nothing against bird-watching but, as we are entering a period when the cost of gas and electricity is to rise by about 200% and some families will be forced to choose between heating and eating, is it wise to use vast sums of money to facilitate bird-watching on an island that has a population of only 60 people? This at a time when ambulance drivers' union is pleading for further funds to keep their vehicles running throughout the coming winter.

Shame on the financial reasoning of our Scottish Government.

Archibald A Lawrie, Kingskettle, Fife.

STOP THE WOKE GENDER NONSENSE

WHERE will this nonsense end? I refer to SNP ministers asking “anyone with a cervix” to come forward for a smear test ("SNP accused of ‘sowing confusion’ in health campaign language row", The Herald, October 13).

Why do I think this is nonsense? Is it all to do with what some would call the woke culture? No, it is much more important than that.

Many women don’t know what a cervix is due to lack of knowledge of their anatomy, due to the cultural society they live in where such things are not spoken about, or due to language barriers. Any medical message needs to be clear and concise. "Anyone with a cervix" is posturing to a section of people who are trying to redefine words. Smear tests are for women. There are women who no longer have a cervix and they will know that it does not apply to them. It is much more important that a woman gets the message that she needs to get a smear test than risk someone not feeling or knowing that the message applies to them.

This madness needs to stop now before someone is missed from the smear test schedule due to this playing around with words..

Jane Lax, Aberlour.

LIFE IS NOW SO CONFUSING

FOR the past 83 years I have happily existed in the company of a clitoris ("a part of the female genitalia consisting of a small elongated, highly sensitive erectile organ at the front of the vulva; homologous with the penis" – Collins English Dictionary). I have always been quite content to have a cervix too. At birth, having both of the above items attached to my person, I was identified as female. Later I went on to menstruate, have two children and a menopause. My late husband, as far as we knew, was (male) a man, and I was (female) a woman. We lived our lives accordingly and all was well.

What am I to do now? Being the possessor of this "homologous penis" am I entitled to use the male-only toilets, take this small organ for cancer checks, join men-only golf clubs? Life really is becoming very confusing. Elizabeth Reid (Letters, October 12)writes: "As an ordinary woman (not a collection of body parts) please protect our female-only spaces. I do not want biologically male people allowed free access to them. A lot of us think knowledge of facts and common sense have gone out of the window."

I just want a quiet life where I know who and what I am; have always been. Is it too much to ask? It would appear so.

Thelma Edwards, Kelso.

* I WRITE in support of Elizabeth Reid. "Ditto" is my response to every word of what she writes, especially the final paragraph. "Knowledge of facts and common sense" must be clearly defended by all who care about this issue.

Olive Bell, Dunbar.

Read more: We need more SNP MPs to stand against transphobia