COUNCILLOR Alex Gallagher claims (January 6) the Scottish Government is “a willing conduit for Tory austerity”, but he clearly forgot the findings of Professors John McLaren and Jo Armstrong just over two years ago, that, starting from 2009-10 to 2018-19, there will be an overall cash terms cut to the Scottish budget of just over -4 per cent and a real terms cut of almost -20 per cent.

Thus, by April 2019 the Scottish block grant can be expected to be, in real terms, one-fifth less than it was at the beginning of this decade.

While the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has eased off compared to George Osborne, Mr Gallagher’s additional £418 million must be understood against the fact of the cuts that have already been imposed.
Given that there is no possibility of Holyrood running a deficit, it is less about being a conduit, and more about making what one can of a bad job. 

Predictably, if understandably, Mr Gallagher focuses on the cut to local authority funding by £327m (on top of £350m he claims the year before), but the cuts to local authority spending are taking place in the context of overall public sector spending cuts, as above.
But more importantly, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) have shown that until the cut last year, the funding increases during the council tax freeze had maintained council resourcing in line with inflation. Therefore, if there had been no council tax freeze, if councils were to have been better funded, there would have had to be real terms increases in council tax. Given its regressive nature, would Alex Gallagher approve of this?

It is all very well throwing around figures about bed blocking but, to put this in context, the House of Commons Library’s paper, “Delayed transfers of care in the NHS”, (December 2015) suggests that the situation in this regard has become worse in England since 2012.
Indeed, last year it reached a record high. But with much the same funding, it has declined, albeit slowly, in Scotland, though that is no comfort to those affected. 

When he complains of Scottish students having difficulties gaining university admission, Mr Gallagher cites a Herald report that itself makes the point that moving from sixth year to university “is no longer the only route to a degree.

Around one in three Scots starting undergraduate degrees this year did not come straight from school”. The whole point about that report is the need for everyone in Scottish education to work together for the benefit of those in learning. 

He criticises “the SNP’s fall-back position of blaming Westminster”, but the fact is that a significant cause of difficulties in the provision of public services is a smaller budget in real terms to support this.
Mr Gallagher and his party may have increasingly dim memories of what it is like to be in government and to have to take real decisions, but his letter really does suggest they are now capable of little more than carping on the side-lines. 
Alasdair Galloway,
14 Silverton Avenue,

COUNCILLOR Alex Gallagher, in his response to my letter of January 5, epitomises everything that has brought the Labour Party to its current electoral position. In other words, “Do not answer the question or take part in the debate – simply vent your own spleen and ignore the facts being raised”.

Nowhere in my letter did I blame Westminster but rather I attempted to highlight the fact that psephologists have calculated that the reduction of the number of Parliamentary seats (650 to 600) will result in an additional 20 Conservative seats. Couple this fact with the state of the Labour Party then the most likely outcome of the next general election will be a Conservative Government. With a bigger majority it will then set about nullifying its main opponent in England, namely Ukip, and indulge in a “race to the bottom” which already, among other things, has seriously damaged the NHS in England.

While Mr Gallagher can argue about how the Scottish Government “re-arranges the deckchairs”, it is my opinion that it is making a far better fist of it than any of the previous Labour/Liberal Democrat administrations.

The point I was making is that even the Labour Party, were it in power in Scotland and operating within the current financial structure, would also have to decide how it re-arranged these deckchairs. In other words, Mr Gallagher is arguing about semantics. Despite his obvious campaigning zeal, he had simply better get used to these facts. No huffing or puffing will change them.

What I had attempted to do in my earlier letter was to raise the horizon of political thinking in Scotland and set aside the “kale yard politics” for a moment while focusing on what could (and/or should) be possible were Scotland to adopt a new course.

The core of this argument is being aware of the icebergs ahead. Would it not be better to steer a different course rather than simply accept the inevitable?
Alan McKinney,
10 Beauchamp Road,

IN response to my letter of January 5, councillor Maureen Henry assures me that “Scottish Labour is very much alive”, but I really am not the person she needs to convince. To begin with, she needs to convince Labour’s friends in the Fabian Society whose word for UK Labour’s present position is stuck, and who can detect no sign of a recovery in Scotland.

She then might try to convince Unite’s Len McCluskey, whose word for the latest opinion polls is “awful”. That brings us to the awful opinion polls themselves, which put Labour trailing in third place while the SNP has a commanding lead in the run-up to May’s council elections, suggesting that the voters remain well satisfied with the SNP’s performance in government, albeit under difficult circumstances.

I have no doubt that Labour candidates will do plenty of huffing and puffing between now and May, but long years of arrogantly taking their voters for granted lost Labour the trust of those who had loyally supported them for decades. Once lost, trust is very difficult to regain.
Labour dug itself into the hole it currently finds itself in, and no amount of digging will get it out of it in time to avert another disaster for the party in May.
Ruth Marr,
99 Grampian Road,