WITH the ramifications of the Scottish budget dominating media headlines, the deficiencies of the NHS in Scotland have receded into the background. Yet recent figures have shown that two in five patients attending A & E departments are still not being seen within the target four-hour period and a quarter of cancer patients requiring urgent treatment are waiting in excess of two months after diagnosis.

While Deputy First Minister Shona Robison is quick to blame Westminster for all of Scotland's woes, it seems that the Scottish Government is clueless about how to bring improvements to our public services. The roots of the NHS still appear to be grounded in the 1940s with its framework and staffing seemingly unable to cope with the challenges and rigours of the 21st century. No one in government is apparently brave enough to institute change and so the spiral of decline goes on.

Health Secretary Michael Matheson has a monumental task in his hands to bring about reform but is he up to it?

Bob MacDougall, Kippen.

Read more: Shona Robison Budget disaster shows SNP bubble is finally burst

Was this an election bribe?

IN the Budget, Shona Robison selected hospitality businesses, specifically only on Scottish islands, to bestow 100% rates relief up to the value of £110,000. Hospitality is a crucial sector almost everywhere in Scotland, with many jobs reliant upon it. So I wonder: is it entirely coincidental that there several SNP Westminster and Holyrood island constituencies where voters are mightily hacked off with the fiasco that is SNP new ferries procurement - and therefore may be sorely tempted to vote for another party?

Surely not a wee SNP election bribe?

Martin Redfern, Melrose.

Capitalism can be moral, but ...

I FEAR that Professor Ronnie MacDonald (“Why everything you think you know about Adam Smith is wrong,” December 17) makes the common mistake of seeing Smith mainly as a moralist, and that attributing free-market views to him must be wrong because free markets can’t be moral.

In fact, Smith was much more than a moralist, or even an economist. He also wrote and lectured on politics, jurisprudence, the use of language, scientific method and much else. In reality, he was the first social psychologist, who understood the diversity and complexity of the entire human mind. There is no contradiction between our self-interest in economics - the desire of everyone to better their condition, as he put it - and our moral actions, in which we are kind and helpful to others, because we enjoy their praise and hate their criticism of us. Social and economic actions are just two expressions of the same human personality.

The suggestion that capitalism cannot be moral is simply wrong. Smith himself favoured low taxes and open competition because he thought that specialisation and trade were the best and quickest way to create and spread value through the whole of human society. Little else was necessary to create a very general and equal prosperity than peace, low taxes and justice, he wrote. The "system of natural liberty" would do the rest. A modest level of government was needed to ensure those things. But big government was invariably corrupted by power and by the collusion political and business cronies, serving their interests and stifling those of the common people. He would regard a government that dominated almost half the economy as an appalling tyranny.

This, however, is where we are. The market economy can be a worldwide system of voluntary cooperation between free people, for their mutual benefit. But when half our economy is run by politicians and officials, and the rest is hampered by crony-driven regulation, markets inevitably struggle to fulfil that promise.

Eamonn Butler, London.

Reset the moral compass

HOW appropriate that Neil Mackay’s excellent article about Adam Smith should appear on the same day that Baroness Mone and her husband attempt to defend their £60 million profit from personal protective equipment (PPE) sold to the UK Government during the pandemic, paid for from our taxes.

Once again we see wealthy individuals benefiting from the transfer of money from the poorer members of society, namely us, to already-wealthy individuals without a thought.

Perhaps her husband, Doug Barrowman, and all the CEOs and shareholders of the energy companies should also read the article and reset their moral compasses.

Our Westminster MPs should also read it and consider why they allow this situation to continue in the name of free enterprise.

Iain McIntyre, Sauchie.

Subsidising the rich

SCOTRAIL will abolish free charging points for electric cars at its stations from January. Why did it have this in the first place since it has cost taxpayers at least £700,000 a year since it started so the total cost could be well over £2 million?

Until recently local authorities in Scotland also supplied free electricity to EV owners. One council gave away £126,000 of council taxpayers' cash, so what was the figure for 32 councils? £2 million, £3 million more? Why were rich EV owners subsidised by taxpayers many of whom cannot afford a car far less an electric one?

These same councils are now pleading poverty and claim that they will have to make cuts unless they get more money from the Scottish Government.

Clark Cross, Linlithgow.

Read more: We must protect free higher education or Thatcher will have truly won

Pray for the innocents

IN Bethlehem, Christmas is cancelled. Palestinian Christian leaders across denominations in the West Bank city have decided “that they will not hold festivities this year as a mark of solidarity with their brethren in Gaza. There will be no public celebrations, no twinkling Christmas lights and no decorated tree in Manger Square - not as long as a state of war reigns over the embattled Gaza Strip and the majority of its residents cope with Israeli bombardments, the devastation of their homes and a spiralling humanitarian crisis”.

Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church (one of the Church of Scotland’s two partner churches in Palestine) said he and his colleagues “intend to set up a small Nativity scene with rocks and debris piled atop it….This is what Christmas now means to us that we see Jesus being born among those who have lost everything, who are under the rubble.”

One way our congregations can show solidarity with our suffering Christian sisters and brothers on the West Bank and in Gaza is for us to switch off the church Christmas tree lights briefly this Christmas Eve while offering up an appropriate prayer.

In fact we must offer up prayers for all those innocents suffering so terribly all over the world there being too many to list. A singularly significant cause of that suffering is our indifference, Christmas in particular presenting an opportunity to counter that apathy.

John Milne, Uddingston.

The Herald: Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Rishi Sunak at a political festival organised by Meloni's Brothers of Italy partyItaly's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni with Rishi Sunak at a political festival organised by Meloni's Brothers of Italy party (Image: PA)

Sunak's insult to WW2 heroes

I WAS dismayed to find out that last weekend the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke at a festival in Italy organised by the Brothers of Italy political party ("PM’s praise for Meloni", December 17).

As several media outlets have pointed out, this is a party with roots in fascist parties which operated in Italy in the 1940s. Indeed the France 24 TV station has highlighted that one of the predecessors of the Brothers of Italy party was the Italian Social Movement, which was formed by allies of Benito Mussolini around 1946 .

This is of course the same Mussolini who was one of Hitler’s main allies during the Second World War.

I find it quite disturbing that a British prime minister should be speaking at an event organised by a political party with these very dubious historical links.

It seems to me that Mr Sunak’s support for this event is an insult to the servicemen and women who fought against the forces of fascism during the Second World War.

Arthur West, Ayrshire Hope not Hate Network, Irvine.