I SEE from the final comment on Kathleen Nutt’s article ("Sillars tells Sturgeon to ditch her ‘de facto’ referendum plan", The Herald, January 14) that the SNP leadership believes my failure to prioritise independence on occasion cancels my credibility. I suppose the same goes for Nicola Sturgeon who, in the last Holyrood election, emphasised that it was not about independence.

I am not a sinner repentant. While not changing belief in Scotland escaping from union with a declining power, I recognise that there are other priorities in the day-to-day life of the nation that call for immediate attention, analysis and action.

Among them are the effect of poverty on a child’s education; whether the present social housing construction programme is adequate; identifying where we need to improve infrastructure; assessing the performance of the Scottish National Investment Bank; the effect of our low-wage economy on the ability to tax; what ideas there are for reform of the NHS, as distinct from measures applied to the present crisis; population policy response to the forecast of losing 900,000; and others that have an effect daily on the lives of people while we await the day of independence.

Those, rather than another debate repeating the complaint about not getting a referendum, are, I suggest, what most people would want our Government to be addressing now.
Jim Sillars, Edinburgh

Sharing Keir Hardie's anger

WHEN reading of the findings of Oxfam’s Report, entitled Survival Of The Richest ("Wealthiest 1% richer than 70% combined", The Herald, January 16), I was reminded of the words of Keir Hardie, founder and first parliamentary leader of the Labour Party: "I am an agitator. My work has consisted of trying to stir up a divine discontent with wrong".

In his time he was impatient with suffering through poor housing and unemployment, angry with poverty, and displayed disdain for inequality. When one learns from the report referred to that the worth of the 685,000 richest people in Britain is worth more than that of 48 million people in the UK, I believe that we could be doing with much more of the discontent, impatience, anger and disdain once shown by Hardie. That belief is reinforced every day with the evidence of those with substantial wealth and living in some luxury, while others are short of fundamental necessities and having to seek help from food banks all over our country.
Ian W Thomson, Lenzie

• THIS octogenarian was sitting in the sunny Canaries thinking how lucky he was to have few money worries at a time when many were struggling with food costs and energy bills. Then I opened a Tory-supporting paper to discover a list of MPs' private salaries.

Later in the finance section it described Jacob Rees-Mogg as one the richest (although he was not in the earlier list). I compared my comfortable savings with these MPs' earnings with dismay and disgust. In a separate section were pages of expensive holidays, starting at sums I might attain, but rising to prices out of reach to me. All were out of the world of low-paid workers.

Today you highlight the fact that the top one per cent of people have more than the lowest 70%. Money may make the world go around – but only for the richest.

Never mind private planes, yachts, and the like; you can buy politicians and their policies, not to mention titles and honours. Years ago the French Revolution solved this problem locally with guillotines, but all we need to do is tax the richest to the hilt.

Austerity is apparently only for the poorer people. It disgusts me when MPs and well-heeled experts tell us to save energy and other costs.
JB Drummond, Kilmarnock

Standing up for the poorest

CATRIONA Stewart’s column ("Middle-class pupils missing out may finally push change", The Herald, January 13) was a fine piece of analysis of a complex policy issue of great importance to the future of individuals and the country: how do we allocate university places to best adjust for economic and educational impediments resulting from the deeply unequal starts Scotland gives our children. There is much to commend in the piece to your readers.

However, nowhere in parliament or in print has the Labour Party, or I as the party’s education spokesperson, taken the position ascribed to us. In fact, in the article Catriona Stewart quotes from the pages of the Scotsman. I am explicit that the admittance of zero non-flagged students to Edinburgh University is a result of a 13-year funding freeze from the SNP Government. In my question at FMQs, I explicitly said that the widening access places awarded were “very welcome”. There is no substance to the accusations made.

The First Minister took the same approach – as I expected her to. Regular viewers will realise that the relationship between the answers given to challenging questions can be confusingly distant. The First Minister cited her own personal circumstances as working-class background, not deprived, state school. On this basis, the doors of Edinburgh University law school would be shut to a young Nicola Sturgeon in 2022. Ms Stewart would appear to agree.

If the SQA disaster of 2020 and the Cabinet Secretary’s decision to purposefully increase the attainment gap in 2022 tells us much beyond ministerial incompetence it is that social engineering is the long-term status quo in our education system where the poorest are set up to fail. Further evidence could be the SNP/Green Government drastically cutting attainment funds for the poorest children in the poorest communities. Labour has pushed hard in Parliament and in public on all of these issues. It is, after all, what we stand for.

There is also a need for any party that believes in equality not only to espouse it but to maintain the best possible popular support for that principle. All the public should feel that the promise of a Scottish education is opportunity. A fair chance. I sincerely believe that breaking that promise will ill serve all of Scotland.
Michael Marra MSP, Scottish Labour Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh

Don't pigeonhole middle classes

THERE seems to me to be a rather harsh and hostile tone throughout Catriona Stewart’s article portraying a stereotypical portrait of middle classes encouraging their children in their "coddled" middle class enclaves of "good" schools.

There are exceptions to high-achieving middle class children, like those middle class children who are just not academic and who don’t fit into the smart set at school. There are also exceptions like those school children who are middle class who live in mainly working class areas.

Some years ago I went for a well-woman check at the local medical centre in a working class area where I lived, as a middle class person. For each poor health issue, points would be added. Having passed all the investigations I stated that I would expect to have a low score. The reply by the health professional was no, that it would be quite high because the postcode that I lived in would (artificially) raise it as I lived in an area of poor health.

Our daughter as a teenage schoolgirl went looking for a job in a neighbouring town, walking from shop to shop with her CVs. She was given a job by a shop manager who admitted afterwards that it was just as well she had met her when she had handed in her CV as if she had not met her she would have never employed her because of the postcode of her home address.

Middle-class children are not always "coddled". Life does not always come in neat, tidy packages.
Irene Munro, Conon Bridge

Easing NHS cash burden

IN recent weeks there have been a number of letters addressing the continuing stresses on our NHS and how the service should be funded in the future. Among them, there have been a couple of well-intentioned suggestions that now might be the time to introduce private health insurance, to be paid by those who can afford it. The following account of my recent experience will, I hope, give pause for thought.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my long-standing chest condition flared up badly, and I had to seek help from my surgery. A newly-qualified GP arranged an immediate appointment, at which he established quite quickly that I needed hospital attention. He arranged an emergency appointment at the Medical Assessment Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, and, within a day, they had me on the mend, and heading home.

Last week I received an unsolicited call from the GP, informing me that he had changed my routine medication prescription; replacing one inhaler with a new one, labelled Trelegy. The preventive effect of this medication was so striking that I googled it to find out more. Whilst the search proved to be very interesting, it returned some information which I didn't expect. In the UK the retail cost of one month's supply is £44.50; in the US (private health insurance) the cost is £523.
Ronnie McMillan, Milngavie

Read more letters: Scots will see through Labour's shameful lack of principles


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