I HEARD an anecdote in the sauna of my local gym, from a guy recently returned from Finland, whose Finnish hosts popped over into Russia to fetch a magnum of cheap vodka – not to drink, but to pour over the hot coals of their sauna.

Having painstakingly read the Sue Gray report, I find this to be an apt metaphor for Partygate: people living in a highly unusual hothouse atmosphere, amid an alcoholic haze.

Sue Gray’s report does not take long to read because it is of necessity very repetitive. It is in its way a prose poem, using monotony as a literary device, her condemnation all the more powerful for its understatement.

For each event, the restrictions that were current at the time are laid out, and then the event described. Booze is all-pervasive, and it is surely booze that defines an event as a party rather than a work meeting. Would you expect your doctor, your teacher, your policeman to drink while on duty?

But the real question the Sue Gray report raises is this: do we need No 10 at all? I don’t mean that the PM shouldn’t have a pied-a-terre in Whitehall, or that he shouldn’t hold a Cabinet therein.

But, do we need No 10 as, in Ms Gray’s words, a “small Government Department”? What is its function? What on earth are all these special advisers doing, other than sending WhatsApp messages to one another?

It is said that they were all working incredibly hard to get the country through the pandemic. But it was the scientists who prepared a vaccine, the pharmaceutical companies who mass-produced it, and the NHS who delivered it.

No 10 made up a few rules which manifestly didn’t apply to SW1A 2AA. If the whole shebang were to be closed down, would any of us notice the difference?

Dr Hamish Maclaren,

Thornhill, Stirling.

The beginning of dictatorship?

THE Sue Grey report has finally been published and shows the extent of drinking, socialising and rule-breaking during lockdown in Downing Street.

Now the Prime Minister has decided that the way out for him is to change the Ministerial Code so that resignation is removed as the main sanction if the code is broken.

This is how dictatorship starts and democracy is removed. The people of the UK should be very worried and remember this day. Are Tory MPs and MSPs going to stand by and do nothing?

Susan Grant, Tain.

The land can yield public funding

TOM Gordon’s report, “Ministers face ‘tough decisions’ over £3.5bn spend gap” (May 28) refers to comments by David Philips, Associate Director of the Institute of Fiscal Studies, that the Scottish Government’s forthcoming spending review “could see the announcement of pretty hefty tax rises or cuts”.

Apart from a rather offhand reference to a possible Citizen’s Assembly on reform of local government finance, the IFS offers no new thinking on public funding.

There is of course another way, which does not the involve crystal-ball-gazing and subservience to the UK Government’s largesse. But the IFS fails to demonstrate any credentials to call itself a “think-tank” when on this report there is very little thinking involved.

We know Scotland’s area and land types such as urban, woodland, arable and rough grazing.

The Scottish Government can calculate the budget it needs for its programme for government and spending ambitions. It then divides its budget by its land area then charges a rate per land type based on ability to pay.

If it introduces this system it can do so under section 801 of the Scotland Act 1998 without the permission or co-operation of the UK Government.

Legislation can be introduced very quickly as all the components to make it work are already well established and within the Scottish Government’s control.

It can abolish council tax, rates and Land and Buildings Transaction Tax and set a zero rate for income tax on earned income. A universal citizen’s income of £200 a week can also be included in the calculations.

How can this be afforded? Quite simply by charging all owners of land and property an annual Ground Floor and Roof Rent.

According to the Land Commission, around 60% of dilapidated and vacant land in urban Scotland is in the public sector. It contributes nothing to public funding and well-being.

Public- and private-sector owners who don’t steward their land will need to work what they own – or give it up to others who will do something productive with it so that the rent can be paid.

It’s time that our land became the source of our public funding as its potential to vanquish poverty while encouraging enterprise enables the Scottish Government to act as if we are already independent and deposit block grants and the vagaries of UK Government finances in the dustbin.

Graeme McCormick, Arden, Glasgow.

Census returns

I WOULDN’T agree that the missing census returns constitute a disaster, as the Tories have alleged (“Over 400,000 households yet to return census as deadline nears”, May 28) but I do think it is another bit of evidence that the SNP is not as efficient as it used to be.

Sometimes it’s hard to avoid the suspicion they have just been in power for too long. If they struggle to get a few million households to fill in their replies on time, it doesn’t augur well for bigger and more important undertakings.

F Scott, Glasgow.

Contentious coalitions

JAMES Quinn (letters 28 May) forgets that that the SNP won the local council elections with an increased share of the vote, a remarkable feat after 15 years in charge.

Edinburgh voters firmly rejected the Tories, who lost half their seats, and in the run-up to these elections Anas Sarwar said that Labour shouldn’t be doing any pacts, deals, or coalitions.

Why, then, did Edinburgh Labour award senior positions to Conservative councillors and allow them back into a position of influence over council policy, while rejecting a progressive alliance with the SNP, as the largest party, and the Greens, who were both willing to work with Labour? Labour also struck similar mutual arrangements, otherwise known as coalitions, with the Tories in Fife, West Lothian and Stirling, against the wishes of the local population.

On social media former Labour MSP Neil Findlay congratulated the two principled Edinburgh Labour councillors who refused to back the Tory deal, in line with Labour’s local government committee democratic vote.

It seems that Labour’s inherent British nationalism and high salaries are more important than stopping the Tories. “Vote Labour, get Tory” won’t be the vote winner they think it is.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh.

A dearth of ministerial talent

KEVIN McKenna writes of “the opposing extremes that characterise the reign of the First Minister (“Nicola Sturgeon: The good, the bad and the, frankly, ugly”, May 28). No doubt she would accept his compliments as her due, and lose no sleep over his strictures. I readily concede she is an accomplished politician, but I would observe that she tends to bridle too readily with hostility and impatience when faced with criticism. Since taking over from Alex Salmond she has been so much in charge that there appears to be something of a dearth of potential successors in her party. After all, one day she will decide to explore pastures new.

The performance of some Scottish ministers, including the “cranks and shiftless performance artists” referred to by Kevin McKenna, at times approaches the acutely embarrassing. Some are clearly out of their depth. The question which often springs to mind is – is this really the best of what is available ?

Ian W Thomson, Lenzie.

Uninspiring opposition

IT’S all very well for supporters of independence to claim that the SNP are only a means to an end. Should this ever come to pass, where exactly are the competent politicians of stature going to come from? The ones they believe will run the country properly? The current opposition parties do not fill me with confidence.

John NE Rankin, Bridge of Allan.

Money wasted on the ferries

IN reply to A Swanston (letters, May 28), perhaps no-one in Scotland is complaining about the cost of the Elizabeth Line because we paid no money towards the building of it. Whereas Scots, through the higher taxes taken here than in any other part of the UK, are angry that so much has been wasted on the ferries instead of improving the lives of the people who live

in Scotland.

Elizabeth Hands, Armadale.