I EXPERIENCED a strong emotional reaction to Kevin McKenna's interview with Alastair Campbell: I didn't know whether to laugh or cry ("'In Scotland, there is a knowledge of politics'", The Herald, May 22).

Mr Campbell, unelected and unaccountable, was one of the most influential figures during the period of the Labour government 1997 to 2010, a government which presided over one of the biggest foreign policy disasters in British history and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, financial disasters in the country's history. A government which kow-towed to Rupert Murdoch, was a poodle of Texan oil billionaires in the White House and let the City of London run rampant.

This disastrous and shameful record is not, however, the biggest indictment of this government. Worse than all the above was New Labour's ethos and culture of political spin. An approach to politics which believes those in power can endlessly fool and deceive people; an approach to politics which treats the public with contempt, an approach to politics which undermines confidence in political institutions and processes. It is extraordinary that Mr Campbell, the chief practitioner of this mode of politics, now feels able to lament the electorate's cynicism and alienation from politics. This is exactly the political mood which populism, an ideology Mr Campbell claims to abhor, thrives on.

Shamelessness is one of the chief features of many people in public life today. It would be completely wrong to suggest that 30 or 40 years ago there was a widespread respect or regard for politicians; today however we have a view of politics which has left the feelings of the past far behind. This carries great dangers, as two right-wing conferences held last week amply demonstrate.

Mr Campbell is reportedly proud of his Scottish connections and plays the bagpipes. He might reflect on Burns' plea: O wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us.

Brian Harvey, Hamilton.

Read more: We must press for more public funding of our universities

Look to schools to help fix HE SIR Peter Scott (Letters, May 22) sets out a balance sheet measuring the merit of a no Higher Education fees policy contrasting with the advantages, to individuals and institutions, of a fee-based regime. The debate is not necessarily bi-polar, with hybrid options available to limit the liability to individuals and the risks to institutions.

As Sir Peter knows, the position is made more complex in Scotland because the Scottish Government controls the expansion-valve on student numbers. The rate of flow of students is equal to the financial quantum divided by the individual fee. Herein lies a difficulty. Encouraged by the Scottish Government, more students wish to enter higher education than the formula can enable. Worse, the problem is algebraic rather than arithmetical, simple long division, because into the calculation comes the variable of the Scottish Government’s determination to close the attainment gap between advantaged and disadvantaged communities.

In true authoritarian style, the Scottish Government has removed arbitrarily the attainment gap by abolishing it. University admission policies and procedures, especially in the historic institutions, are required now to comply with directives on social engineering and designed to give preference to students from disadvantaged postcodes, compensating for lower attainment grades in Highers.

This mandate is causing more than a storm in middle class tea mugs. Highly qualified entrants to HE will shift to universities in England, and elsewhere. This is an immediate loss to HE institutions, with the Principal of Edinburgh University outspoken already on behalf of traditional universities and established courses, for example in law and medicine. Historic universities are now being forced to do the "heavy lifting" around access, moving away from the demographics of their historic share of student numbers. As a result, there are a range of emergent questions. Will inclusion be matched by retention and progression? Some universities clearly have doubts. And what will be the longer-term effects of the likely talent emigration on a potentially diminished Scotland, including the profile and reputation of its universities and the vitality of the scientific and creative sectors?

Sir Peter raised questions and issues around the dynamics of university expansion, the key to resolving the key dilemmas of access and funding. So long as HE fees hit the public purse, universities are constrained by funding limits. Expanding overseas activity helps resolve the funding shortfall, but without solving the issue of domestic admissions and has its own risks. The cost of fees to the Government denies the schools’ sector of the funding that would provide the real solution to the attainment gap. Better-resourced and staffed schools would enable progression on a level playing field to institutions funded, through fees, at an expanded operational level.

Professor William Wardle (Former Chair of the West of Scotland Widening Access Forum), Glasgow.

Politicians must snub vaping lobby

I AM writing from health charity ASH Scotland in response to Max Cruickshank’s letter (May 22), as we too are deeply concerned about the upsurge of youths using e-cigarettes.

Nicotine is highly addictive and many e-cigarettes include toxic chemicals that have not been safety-tested for inhalation and could damage health over time – this is especially worrying for children and young people as their lungs are still growing. Research also indicates young people using e-cigarettes are at a higher risk of moving on to tobacco, which is a prospect we should want to avoid.

The cheap cost of disposable e-cigarettes as well as their sweet flavours, vibrant colouring and packaging make them attractive to young people, and we are troubled that advertising portraying vaping products in a positive light is noticed more by youths than adults.

We agree with Mr Cruickshank that politicians should get the message loud and clear about the importance of this public health concern, which demands immediate decisive action by the Scottish Government to introduce long-overdue measures – enabled by the Health (Tobacco, Nicotine etc and Care) (Scotland) Act 2016 – to restrict the availability and visibility of e-cigarettes to protect young people from predatory promotional activities.

The tobacco industry and its vested interests are not permitted to lobby on health policies under the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Article 5.3. Despite those guidelines, several MSPs have met with representatives from tobacco companies to discuss vaping products during the last few years.

Profiteering multi-national tobacco corporations promoting lethal, addictive products are not credible public health stakeholders, and many e-cigarette brands are owned by the same companies that produce tobacco and have a vested interest in seeking to disrupt or prevent the regulation of recreational nicotine products.

MSPs should not be giving one second of their valuable time to engage with representatives whose messaging distorts and delays progressive policy development and implementation when Scotland should be looking to re-establish itself as a leading public health nation.

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive, ASH Scotland, Edinburgh.

Read more: Kevin McKenna meets Alastair Campbell to talk SNP, Corbyn and Brexit

We should teach budgeting skills

CATRIONA Stewart ("Widdecombe, the cheese sandwich Marie Antoinette", The Herald, May 19) rightly highlights poverty in our society and castigates Ann Widdecombe for her "let them eat cake" approach. There used to be a similar statement made about those who struggled financially that they could not really be poor as they owned a television. It is easy to be judgmental.

Ann Widdecombe is known, though, for her rather brusque statements, made for effect and without subtlety. It may be that she is précis-ing a proverb: cut your coat according to your cloth. Perhaps she really means, make a sandwich at home and don’t pay for someone else to make it if your budget is tight.

We are glad that food banks refer people to agencies where they may be enabled with budgeting. One organisation, Christians Against Poverty, have helped 20,000 people become debt-free since 2010 and make available life skills programmes. One person who benefited stated: " I learned about budgeting and changed my habits and spend so differently now. I save so much money. Last year I was able to go on holiday with my kids."

While Ms Widdecombe could more gently state her opinion, if we ignore that, for fear of being thought judgmental, some people do not manage money well, then action against poverty will always be firefighting.

Irene Munro, Conon Bridge.

Mislabelling of abortion

LENNIE Pennie ("Who is to blame for low birth rate? It’s not who you may think", The Herald, May 20) mentions the legalising of abortion as a "control" over reproduction. Reproduction has already taken place when a baby is conceived. Abortion should never be seen as a method of contraception.

Stephen Cotter, Dumfries.