ONE of the first questions on the Big, Big Debate on BBC1 on Thursday was, unsurprisingly, about tuition fees.

In response, Patrick Harvie made a powerful statement expressing his support for free tuition and his dismay at the prospect that students could face "£20,000, £30,000 or £40,000" in debt in order to do a degree.

Yet with Scotland now offering much the lowest level of student grant in the UK, those young people at the SSE Hydro whose families are in the bottom third or so of the income distribution are already expected by the government here to incur well over £20,000 in student loan debt in order to do a degree. Those sitting beside them from families further up the income scale are not expected to borrow as much and many will in practice leave university with little or no debt at all, reinforcing pre-existing income inequalities from the very start of their working lives.

As debt goes, student loans with their subsidised interest, earnings-related repayments and 35-year write-off are pretty much as good as it gets. But anyone defending the current system needs to realise that we cannot issue more than £400 million in student loans each year without many of our students ending up with substantial debts. That we have decided in Scotland, as in no other part of the UK, that this borrowing should fall disproportionately on those who start out from the poorest homes is something we need first to acknowledge and then to address.

Lucy Hunter Blackburn,

62 Kirk Brae,


BBC Scotland's Big Big Debate was highly interesting for several reasons. First, it showed how engaged the school pupils in the audience were about "adult" political issues - after all, they will be the next generation of political animals in a year or two. However, they must have been left feeling that nothing much had changed when their questions and views were studiously ignored by certain members of the panel and, at times, the moderator.

One had to feel sorry for Ruth Davidson. She comes across as a personable and intelligent politician, but she must know that her party is about as welcome in Scotland as the bubonic plague. Their only hope is to be augmented by the Liberal and Labour parties in the short term, but even a group as thick-headed as Scottish Labour are bound to feel embarrassed at being seen as the soft edge of the Tory Party before long.

Patrick Harvie, as usual, had plenty of common sense issues to get across but, again, as usual, was shouted down by the pair sitting (appropriately) stage right. He failed to develop a point about fossil fuels/hydrocarbons. He said that much more energy could be obtained from renewable sources, but failed to say that oil can still be used as the source of plastics on which we depend for much of modern life.

I was left wondering if the inclusion of George Galloway was purely for entertainment purposes. After all, he's not even entitled to vote in the referendum since he seems to prefer the Yorkshire hills to the Scottish ones nowadays. I wondered why Nicola Sturgeon didn't refute his allegations about the oil running out by bring up the "sovereign wealth fund" notion.

Barry Lees,

12 Denholm Street, Greenock.

So what will the 8,000 teenage first-time voters at the referendum debate staged in the Hydro and later shown on television have learned if they didn't know already?

That politicians consider it appropriate to interrupt, shout and denigrate, obfuscation is legitimate, and black is white if necessary.

This was a missed opportunity to show young voters that debate can be passionate but still courteous, reasoned without being overly aggressive.

Report card: tries hard but needs to learn good manners and self-discipline. Could do better.

R Russell Smith,

96 Milton Road,


THE time is now upon us to decide which path we take for the future of our country and the generations to come. This decision, regardless of the outcome, must be recorded as the greatest debate we have had in recent times. There have been town hall meetings, TV debates and hustings all over the nation, and most people have had their tuppenceworth along the way. There have been disagreements between both sides whether it be currency, NHS, nuclear weapons and so on, but the only argument should be: do you want to be in charge of your ain hoose?! This is fundamentally what we do when we become adults; it's self determination and we should have the ability and the intellect to deal with the problems.

Most of the issues will not and cannot be decided until there is a Yes vote and only then can the negotiations commence. I imagine most issues could be resolved in the first two years but Trident removal would take more time for relocation and decommissioning.

The scaremongering which has taken place has been applicable to both sides and will only increase in the last few days, but ultimately we need to bring the nation together and regardless of the vote the country should work together to ensure a fairer and more equal Scotland.

Joe Wright,

30 Westclyffe Street,