THE time has come for the rocks to melt with the sun. The great social engineering experiment introduced by Tony Blair, and so greedily embraced by the SNP, is a failure on all fronts.

It’s failed academically-gifted Scottish children who happen to be middle-class; although perhaps “discriminating” would be a better word choice ("Middle-class and private school pupils are missing out on top universities, The Herald, December 27). It's failed hard-working taxpayers who have gained little from their investment in health professionals when nearly 200 MA graduates leads to only 44 arts therapists working in the public sector ("Brain injury patients missing out on music", The Herald, December 27). And if all that weren't sufficient, the endless focus of the school system on university attainment has the perverse effect of creating second-class citizens amongst those who do not go to university, but pay their taxes to fund those who do.

Is it hardly any wonder that we have a shortage of skilled tradesfolk when the trades are regarded by the school system as a dumping ground for those not going to university? The time has come for a radical overhaul; one that not only consigns "free" university education to the waste bin of history, but one that values and nurtures trade and craft skills through the creation of technical and vocational schools. This redirection of the educational focus on practical wisdom should also guide our political decision-making.

To this end Scottish Conservatives should stop pandering to leftist sensibilities, and renounce their 2021 manifesto pledge to continue to provide taxpayer-funded free university tuition. If universities themselves wish to continue to provide free education then they should provide their own students with interest-free loans that the students can subsequently pay back. Otherwise it's now time for the Scottish Conservatives to take a stand on behalf of the taxpayer. It should do so unashamedly, with certainty, and be indifferent to the name-calling that would undoubtedly follow. And it should do so on the basis of the long-established cardinal virtue of prudence.

In her 1998 speech to the Conservative Women’s Conference, Margaret Thatcher used the parable of the prudent housewife to explain her approach to the nation’s finances. It took a government headed by a housewife with experience of running a family to balance the books for the first time in 20 years - and still have a little left over for a rainy day, she reflected. Well it's bucketing down outside, and there's nothing left in the country's purse. That's what ultimately happens when you submit to the temptation of state-induced dependence.

So it's time to be different. It's time for the Scottish Conservatives to argue for the precious qualities of self-reliance, self-respect and personal responsibility to be put at the heart of the Scottish education system. In fact, there's no need to wait for the sun; it's time to take a blowtorch to some rocks.

Graeme Arnott, Stewarton.

Read more: NHS is in dire straits, but SNP hasn't the courage to face it

Michael Matheson is no Boris Johnson

FOR once I found myself in agreement with much of Guy Stenhouse’s column ("Has Scotland now entered a very dangerous post-truth era of politics?).

Yes, Mr Stenhouse did mention Boris Johnson and that he has left office unlike Michael Matheson. But he only left after the Privileges Committee of the House of Commons found he had deliberately misled Parliament. He then took a real strop, calling the committee a kangaroo court, and resigned as an MP, thereby avoiding a probable 90-day suspension from the Commons.

The behaviour expected from a prime minister? He was a disgrace to the position and to the country. As Mr Stenhouse says, what can we believe from someone who has previously lied? Mr Johnson’s recent evidence to the Covid inquiry for example?

Actually I think Mr Matheson should resign but his misdemeanour was not at the same level as Mr Johnson’s nor had the same impact.

Willie Towers, Alford.

• GUY Stenhouse makes a comparison between the honourable conduct of Boris Johnson, who is no longer in office, and Michael Matheson, who is.

He neatly skates over the fact that Mr Matheson lied once at most and still has the confidence of the First Minister. He conveniently forgets that Mr Johnson’s career was based on multiple prior and recent lies and that, although he resigned, he had effectively been kicked out by his own party.

Sam Craig, Glasgow.

The Herald: Boris JohnsonBoris Johnson (Image: PA)

• RUTH Marr unfortunately misses the distinction between a forgiveable mistake admitted as soon as possible, and a deliberate falsehood. It is the latter (and the "protecting my family" defence) which bring Michael Matheson and Michelle Mone together, and I suggested nothing more (Letters, December 22), nor did I dismiss his previous service. Mr Matheson had an immediate opportunity to own up but chose not to. The facts speak for themselves.

Brian Chrystal, Edinburgh.

Why did the SNP abstain?

I NOTE your report on Scotland's trade with the EU ("Scots exports to EU slumped 25% in two years after Brexit", The Herald, December 26). Perhaps the SNP will try again to explain its abstention on Theresa May’s Bill to continue trading with the EU on previous terms. Attempts to date to explain have been unconvincing, other than Nicola Sturgeon perceiving benefit and issuing an order.

Those who obeyed appear less inclined to obey now.

William Durward, Bearsden.

A year of living dangerously

2023 was the year that wasn't for the SNP/Green alliance. Almost everything it touched failed. Starting with the loss of its figurehead, Nicola Sturgeon, it all went downhill.

Ms Sturgeon was the architect of most of these failures but Humza Yousaf was the diligent continuity act. The gender reforms and the Deposit Return Scheme failed badly. The ongoing ferries scandal is yet to be resolved. Highland smelters and highways are problematic and even Michael Matheson's iPad is still causing upset. Independence has become an irrelevance whilst the Government struggles to even create a Budget that works for anyone whilst public services and education languish.

Next year is a UK election year but could the Holyrood administration fall too? Never say never.

Dr Gerald Edwards, Glasgow.

Read more: PR voting is a must if we are to save our politics

Peace is not impossible

THE British and German governments’ call for a “sustainable ceasefire” is dishonest doublespeak meaning no ceasefire ("Cameron signals shift in UK's position on Gaza ceasefire", heraldscotland, December 17). David Cameron and Annalena Baerbock’s statement says “Hamas must lay down its arms” (ie, surrender) before a ceasefire could be “sustainable”, knowing that won’t happen. Hamas hasn’t rejected a ceasefire either. It has said it will only agree to a long-term ceasefire. Why would it agree to more temporary ceasefires and hostage releases, followed by the IDF “eliminating” more of its number along with their families and neighbours? Even some Conservative MPs have called for an immediate ceasefire, but Sir Keir Starmer shamefully backs the “sustainable ceasefire” con.

We’re told “no one would benefit from a permanent ceasefire except Hamas”. Palestinian children being killed in their thousands, disabled by limbs blown off, losing parents or their entire families, wouldn’t benefit from that not happening? Most of 2.3 million people who have no food or clean water due to the war wouldn’t benefit? Hostages who’d be freed and Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails, being beaten, some to death, wouldn’t benefit?

One hostage has been freed by force; at least three have been killed by the IDF and likely more. Dozens were released negotiated prisoner-for-hostage swaps.

Nor could Hamas “regroup to carry out more attacks” like October 7, which could only happen due to Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Israeli officers dismissing repeated warnings from Egyptian intelligence, Israeli intelligence and IDF border observers. Mr Netanyahu and the generals, trying to stave off inquiries, are the only people who benefit from the war continuing.

Nor is peace with Hamas impossible. From 2005 Hamas repeatedly offered negotiations on a long-term truce (hudna) with Israel of a decade, which could lead to peace, in return for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Every Israeli government refused. Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, advocated negotiations for years after Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

Even Israeli politicians admit the worst atrocities of October 7 weren’t committed by Hamas but a third wave composed of “civilians”, likely organised crime gangs.

Duncan McFarlane, Carluke.