Pisa results miss the full story

The STV leaders' debate this week brought up an interesting issue when a lady in the audience admitted that social problems affect schooling but blamed the SNP government for being in power and not addressing this. The Tory on the panel blamed the SNP for poor maths and science results.

None of them attempted to make the link that the SNP tried to introduce the “Named Person” Act because the government is fully aware that dysfunctional families with offspring from low aspirational background need state intervention and support. Yet this was rejected by the unionist parties.

If an assessment was made in state schools on the maths and science results in areas of wealth – eg Dunblane, Jordanhill, Eastwood etc – the results would be on a par with the highest in the world. But in areas where austerity has driven families into social poverty (and there are many), the results average will plummet dramatically. The SNP have tried to provide a safety net for young children in the early years but they cannot be held responsible for matrimonial break-ups and dysfunctional families, which impact adversely upon the aspirations, behaviour and later development of children at school.

I'm not suggesting all kids from split these backgrounds homes never achieve top science or maths grades, but combined with financial poverty fewer have less chance of doing so.

Therefore, I would suggest the Pisa results do not reflect the big picture of what is happening in Scotland. It's too simplistic in its measurements. In some respects perhaps its scoring should apply a handicap as in golf so results are measured relative to poverty created by Tory austerity and the unwillingness of other political parties to allow helpful state intervention.

Dave Whitton


When the truth hurts

So, with a straight face, Nicola Sturgeon states on TV: "I always tell the truth". What? Where do we start? How about her claim, on re-election in 2016, that Scotland's education system was her number one priority, when it's beyond obvious independence and the nationalist dogma drives her and the SNP above all else?

When claiming she always tells the truth, I'm sorry to say it, the First Minister of Scotland, desperate for votes next week, is kidding us all.

Martin Redfern


A lesson in being let down

John Swinney's appearance before a select Holyrood committee to defend his government's CfE was breathtaking in its ineptitude.

We have all read about teacher frustration in trying to deliver this seriously flawed package and about how pupils have restricted access to the number of subjects they can study up to certificate level.

Scotland used to pride itself on the breadth of its curriculum right up to the Highers where England specialised early with its A-levels. That day seems a long time ago now.

Our education system is letting our youngsters down and leaving them ill-prepared for work and tertiary education with serious consequences for employers and university courses, diluting what previously could be taken for granted in relation to standards.

And this is the government which wants Scotland to be able to stand on its own two feet with regard to independence.

Denis Bruce


Don't look at how under-fire hospital was built, but where

As a patient, recently and happily discharged from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, and as one of the “many many thousands of positive daily interactions with Scotland’s NHS ... in spite of limited resources” of which Stan Grodynski reminds us (Letters, December 1), I wonder if one of the major aspects of the controversy has been ignored. The site!

Although, as a map shows, this site gives easy access to the motorway system and the Clyde Tunnel, the neighbouring sewage works on the river bank, from which the “cludgie boats” used to sail with their escorts of seagulls, the hospital must now provide a tempting replacement roosting site and, of course, the site was very CHEAP, all those years ago, indeed a triumph of cost cutting.

The presence of bottled water at each bedside suggests the nursing staff are aware of the burdens laid on them by planners, accountants and architects, and by their care and concern for us minimised ours.

David Gray


Shortage of doctors? Problem solved

There is a chronic shortage of doctors in Scotland both in general practice and across the wider NHS, this under the SNP watch. All Health Secretary Jeane Freeman can spin is "We'll invest an additional £500 million per year in primary care, including £250 million in support of general practice".

This is not good enough. Scotland needs to retain the doctors that were educated and qualified in Scotland having paid no university fees. This free education should have been linked to a contract to work in Scotland for at least five years. EU student doctors also receive free education so the same should apply. Problem solved.

Clark Cross


Truths, mistruths and scare stories

Among the misleading statements in Keith Howell’s letter (Herald on Sunday, December 1), one stands out – his claim that “Nicola Sturgeon stated boldly that Scotland would never adopt the euro, something which again no recent new member has been allowed to determine in advance of being admitted”.

Regrettably, Mr Howell seems to be missing the difference between “adopt the euro” and “commit to adopt the euro”. He would be correct had he adopted (so to speak) the latter, but the reality is of 29 current member states, there are nine which, having made that commitment, do not use the euro. One example is Sweden, which like any other new member since the Maastricht Treaty was signed, committed to joining the euro in 1995, but even now continues with its own currency, with no plans to do otherwise.

Mr Howell’s confidence that Scotland’s deficit would have to be reduced to 3% to be able to join the EU is undermined by two facts. First, we do not know with any certainty what Scotland’s current deficit is. We know from GERS the notional deficit within the UK, but GERS itself is clear that it is produced for “current constitutional arrangements”, and thus not for independence.

Second, we have precedent. Take the example of Croatia whose deficit was above 3% when it joined – i.e. not “all other new entrants” as was claimed. Croatia was not told to wait, or impose the fabled “austerity on steroids”, but to present a plan for reducing the deficit to the required level. In this regard Croatia has by no means been the only member state required by the Commission to produce such a plan.

As for supposed concerns with independence movements among other European states – chief among these we are told are the Spanish – remember that last year their Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said of Scottish independence, “Why not? If they leave Britain in accordance with their internal regulation. If Westminster agrees, why should we be against it?” So, another scare story?

Finally, I agree with Mr Howell that it would be best to leave the UK “and join the EU if special deals are available and no awkward economic conditions have to be met”. I share some of his doubts whether this is possible, but there are other options. The main one is to negotiate an association agreement, typically agreed with candidate countries before accession, spelling out trading relations, regulatory alignment, participation in EU programmes etc, while negotiations continue.

As Dr Kirsty Hughes wrote in a recent paper (Independence, Scotland and EU Accession: Challenges Ahead?), “off-the-record, it is common to hear from officials and commentators from a range of EU member states, that accession of an independent Scotland would not pose any major challenges”.

Alasdair Galloway


Why should we vote for them, Nicola?

Have I missed something or is Nicola Sturgeon now running for election as an MP in Westminster? It seems so as in almost all the election debates and interviews I have watched so far, she has been the voice of the SNP for the Westminster election.

I thought that Ian Blackford was the SNP leader at Westminster, but so far he has been as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel and as visible as the Invisible Man.

I am left with the impression that the so-called leader of the SNP at Westminster and his would-be Westminster colleagues are no more than voting stooges for the real SNP power base in Holyrood, who have pushed them to one side. Why then would anyone vote for these ineffectual political non-entities?

Paul Lewis


Spending without taxation? Come on!

The SNP manifesto has no proposals to raise income tax, corporation tax, fuel duty, sugar taxes, alcohol taxes or in fact any taxes – but they call for huge increases in public spending. Surely this deserves proper analysis and indeed scorn for cruelly pretending to the voters that you can have better services and low taxation?

You are someone who understands you can't have Irish tax levels and Swedish public services – please will you call this out?

Tracey Thomas


At least there's someone we can trust

Iain Macwhirter writes that "the nationalists have been on a remarkable winning streak in this election". The reason for that may well be linked to the fact that, although not perfect, the canny electorate know that the SNP government delivers for Scotland under difficult and challenging circumstances. Voters appreciate not having to pay £9 per item for their medicine, as they do in England, or having to shell out over £27,000 for a university education, as is the case in England, while council tax is around £500 cheaper in Scotland and free personal care is the right of those who need it, regardless of age.

As Mr Macwhirter points out, "The First Minister has been the only political leader who seems capable of giving a clear and informed account of her own policies". And trust works two ways. Unlike the unionist parties which are content to take their orders from Westminster, the SNP trusts Scotland to make its own decisions and follow its own aspirations, rooted in the belief that Scotland's future should be in Scotland's hands, for good.

Ruth Marr