THE Scottish Government’s policy of control over higher education obstructs its declared policy objectives. Your article on the funding of Scottish higher education ("Call to end free university tuition", The Herald, August 1) raises the fundamental question of why the Scottish Government and associated ultra-nationalist fringe (Alba) are so determined to cling to a no-fees policy.

The argument falls short of a case based on outcomes. Social disadvantage in higher education – the extension of the attainment gap for school leavers – is being sustained, even enlarged. Contrary evidence is neither available nor presented: consistent with the Scottish Government’s aversion to evidence-based policy-making. Refusal to accept OECD classification of under-achievement in Scottish schools aligns with disregard of under-performance in achieving better social distribution in higher education institutions.

The solution to the conundrum of why would any well-intentioned government behave in this way is "control". Quite simply, it is the bare politics of the centralised state. Who controls funding controls policy, supposedly. In reality, under-funding destroys policy.

The Scottish Government – accountable only to itself – misses its targets, comprehensively. As is the Government’s established way, targets are abandoned, as if never to have existed. Facts are seen as non-existential, at least an inconvenience. By gripping on to financial control, the Government loses traction over the social agenda. Other, now-predictable consequences are that because of the fixed education quantum, any increase in HE funding, or even sustaining the fee element, creates problems for other sectors. Early years provision is falling behind and may never catch up. It still has to compensate for the "Covid deficit" loss of provision. Colleges face a future of systemic under-funding, inhibiting the growth of a fully functioning skills-based sector.

Perhaps clinging to dogma reflects an ingrained fear of informed, academic criticism if institutions were to slip beyond control and constraint. Personification of policy rigidity around Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond does not help. Real leadership would eschew ideology and shift the argument to meet the demands of the evidence. More likely, it is based on misplaced self-belief about the moral authority of the state: that it can somehow deliver better provision through deep intervention, ultimately control. It applies to all spheres. The assumption that the state has a sort of moral bargain or social contract with people belies the facts that the Scottish Government lacks the creativity and competence that reside in other domains. Setting targets should not equate to direct responsibility for delivery. The answer lies in good governance.

The Government’s rationale stays clear of comparison. For example, aggregate degree provision in England is pro rata 25% cheaper than in Scotland. In England there are superior social outcomes, largely because of institution-based, well-funded, but highly accountable inclusion strategies. Because the Scottish Government pays, it marks its own report card.

The recent review of Scottish education, the Muir Review, has suggested radical reform of agencies and national bodies. The most effective reform would be to remove government as the primary funder of higher education, thereby enabling sector growth and on the basis of wider participation.

Professor William Wardle, Glasgow.


ROBIN Dow (Letters, August 2) needs to open his glass-fronted bookcase and its contents a bit more often. Sir Walter Scott is a supremely great writer. The range of his knowledge is breathtaking: he can evoke any historical period not only in the externals of dress, architecture and manners but in the complexities of the political background.

He explores those complexities in full, with a profound appreciation of their ethical as well as their practical background: as just one example, look at the conversation in which Redgauntlet attempts to persuade Darsie to align himself with the Jacobite cause. (And contrast Dickens, whose moral philosophy amounts to an ability to demonstrate through a galaxy of gloriously-imagined characters that nice people make the world nice and horrible people make it horrible.) His mastery of the Scots tongue, and his use of it to present realistic and memorable characters, is unsurpassed: in the voices of Cuddie Headrigg and Jenny Dennison we hear what life was like for the ordinary peasantry in a Scotland consumed by the Covenanters’ Wars. As with Shakespeare, much of what we know, or think we know, of our history is directly based on his writings; notably the enduring image of brave romantic “Highlanders” contrasted with dour realistic “Lowlanders”.

No doubt Scott requires some concentration on the part of a modern reader: the same is true of the Canterbury Tales, Blind Harry’s Wallace or Paradise Lost; but I presume not even Mr Dow would query the stature of Chaucer, Harry or Milton. We in Scotland should be proud to own a writer who ranks with Shakespeare in his international renown and his influence on the course of world literature.

Derrick McClure, Aberdeen.

• DURING lockdown I let both The Heart of Midlothian and Rob Roy out of my glass-fronted bookcase and was rewarded by Scott's brilliant characterisation and his eloquent, joyous use of well, Scots. Despite tiny print which I admit was a drawback, the books were read to their satisfactory conclusions.

Ruth Hird, Inchture, Perthshire.


MARK Smith's article regarding ScotRail's continued ban on alcohol ("Lesson we can learn from the alcohol ban on trains", The Herald, August 1) left me almost speechless. Is it so important for some people to be able to drink alcohol even while travelling on a train? Surely the prospect of enjoying a journey, especially a long one, without fellow passengers continually imbibing is something that is the right of every fare-paying member of the public.

Well done ScotRail, long may the ban continue.

Kathleen Ross, Kilsyth.

• I WAS moved by Kevin McKenna’s harrowing account of the miseries of his self-imposed sobriety during lockdown, with his loss of friends, self-loathing, and the savings accrued probably wasted on indulgences other than alcohol ("My long lockdown struggle against anti-social sobriety," The Herald, August 1 ).

However, help could be at hand. I urge Mr McKenna to seek salvation for himself and others by joining AA Mk II: Abstinence Anonymous.

R Russell Smith, Largs.


IN your feature on the first Edinburgh Festival (Herald Magazine, July 30), you mention the manager of the first EIF as being a kilted Hamish Maclellan. May I correct you in pointing out that this was in fact a kilted Hamish MacLennan – a man with the rare distinction of having been born in the Governor's House in Edinburgh Castle (in 1900).

Hamish's younger brother, Roderick (RRF) MacLennan, had in March 1925 participated in another national first in the capital. He played in the first Calcutta Cup match held at Murrayfield. I'm delighted to report that he was on the losing side, playing as he did as a prop for England.

Hamish McLennan, Thurso.