THREE and a half million pounds may not today seem large in the scheme of things - such as the hundreds of millions squandered on unbuilt ferries - but spending it on the SNP’s secession obsession in the last two years is nevertheless significant ("Calls for SNP to 'end the spend' on Indyref as costs total £3.5m", The Herald, December 29).

Suppose that sum had, instead, been spent on flood prevention? Perhaps households that have suffered the misery of large-scale water damage to their homes this autumn and winter would have been spared that. They would not have ended up being dependent on the paltry £1,500 that is the upper limit for claims for repair and restitution.

It is high time that this SNP/Green regime got its priorities right. There is not going to be a break-up of the UK, by a referendum or a "de facto referendum" election, any time soon. There is therefore no need for a "Ministry for Independence" with its highly-paid minister Jamie Hepburn (around £100k per annum) and its 25 highly-paid civil servants who do heaven knows what apart from producing unrealistic and unconvincing prospectus booklets.

The recent Budget showed something of the extent to which Scotland is strapped for cash. Surely this is the time to spend what there is wisely and not on constitutional pipe dreams that are, in any case, outwith Holyrood’s remit?

Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh.

Read more: Won't someone give Labour a lesson on socialist values?

Scotland is no Quebec

ANDY Maciver raises the possibility of an alternative to the SNP, should the current travails of the SNP turn into a complete collapse (“If the SNP crisis turns into a full-blown crisis, where next for Scottish politics?”, The Herald, December 29).

For an example of what could be done, Mr Maciver turns to Quebec where François Legault, a former member of Party Quebecois, left to start his own party, Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which while still nationalist, aims to secure more power for Quebec rather than another referendum and the possibility of independence. Its focus is on public service reform and economic growth rather than independence. In its 12 years, this has achieved a 40% vote for CAQ, taking it into government with a bigger majority than PQ ever achieved.

However, should any of the “dozens of MSPs” Mr Maciver claims would set up such a grouping here look to act, the first problem is that the record of starting new parties in Scotland is not only infrequent, but unhappy. Moreover, the landscape would be contested as more power for Scotland as long as that is clearly short of independence; that would not be that much of a leap for either Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

Then there is the data. since support for independence remains at or above its 2014 referendum level. The most recent Redfield and Wilson poll put Yes at 48.9 per cent support (removing don’t knows). And how close is an SNP collapse when the most recent Ipsos poll last month found 40% support for the SNP at next year’s General Election, 10% more than Labour, and ironically what Mr Maciver boasts CAQ has achieved? Pretty good for a party about to be replaced by a new party, yet to be started by persons unknown.

But the biggest problem is that Canada’s is a federal system, capable of offering more power to Quebec. In contrast, the UK is centralised, and a point will come where more power for Scotland challenges the power of the centre. However, the renewed emphasis on the sovereignty of the House of Commons, as well as Westminster’s use of Section 35 of the Scotland Act, shows there can only be one winner and it won’t be Scotland.

Thus, whether a Scottish equivalent of CAQ is either likely or desirable is debatable, but structurally, barring major reform of Westminster, it really isn’t possible.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

Thatcher regime destroyed society

GRAEME Arnott's praise for the success of the Thatcher Government (Letters, December 28) missed out some important features.

Many of the nation's resources were sold off to speculators at ludicrous prices; and the traditional mutual aspect of building societies was lost while deregulation of the Stock Exchange created a casino for financial parasites. Council houses were flogged off at knock-down prices and used by "investors" to make profit. National resources and industries were "privatised" to allow them to be looted by unproductive outsourcing organisations set up for the purpose. The prevailing market fantasies were indulged in to include running the NHS as as a business.

The head of the civil service was sent to Australia to attend the ridiculous Spycatcher Trial and thought he could get away with lying to the court by saying the he was being "economical with the truth". Meanwhile many dedicated and knowledgeable civil servants were replaced by expensive consultants of dubious ability.

Perhaps the worst legacy of the whole disastrous Thatcher regime was the widespread and persistent absence of social obligation, the emphasis being on individual greed: "there is no such thing as society".

Thatcher's government abolished many things including social conscience and political integrity.

Peter Dryburgh, Edinburgh.

Secrecy comes as no surprise

YOUR front-page report ("Secret report warned of soaring ferry costs", The Herald, December 29) is no longer surprising or shocking news; indeed it has become a run of the mill embarrassment to Scotland and our once-proud shipbuilding heritage.

The ever-increasing use of Non Disclosure Agreements or gagging orders by this Scottish Government to stop the electorate being made aware of inconvenient truths is a major concern.

They sum up the SNP. Secretive. Devious. Not able to take advice. Not willing to publish advice. Not willing to take responsibility. Not able to take responsible decisions. And the SNP cannot blame the Tories or Westminster for the utter shambles that is the Ferguson ferries saga, it is completely home grown.

It is also concerning that the then Transport Minister, Humza Yousaf, was in charge at these times and is now a First Minister where gagging and black holes seem to come together.

Peter Wright, West Kilbride.

The Herald: Tony Blair already has his knighthood, but what about Gordon Brown?Tony Blair already has his knighthood, but what about Gordon Brown? (Image: free)

Tony Blair the Nimbyist

I REFER to the report that the Labour Government under Tony Blair at one time thought about establishing a camp on Mull in efforts to address the numbers of asylum seekers coming to the UK ("What’s the story ? Blair’s Mull plan", The Herald, December 29). I take it we can safely assume that no sites for this purpose were considered in the vicinity of Sedgefield in the County of Durham.

I am also inclined to take it that since Sir Tony, as a former Prime Minister, now has his honour in the bag in spite of Iraq, Mr Brown’s should arrive in the not too distant future. David Cameron seems to have got in ahead of Mr Brown in that regard.

Mr Brown may have reservations about the House of Lords as presently constructed. However, as for Sir Tony, a knighthood might fit the bill.

Ian W Thomson, Lenzie.

Piece work in the NHS

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with the spirit of Anne MacKinnon's letter (December 28) in praise of the NHS.

I'd to starve for 24 hours prior to a hastily-arranged outpatient examination in the makeshift, car park "portacabin wing" of Gartnavel in Glasgow after a long drive from Argyll.

Whoever engineered that unorthodox "field hospital" annexe, presumably in emergency response to surging hospital staff and space requirements, deserves a bonus. Certainly more intimate than conventional reception/waiting room/theatre accommodation, it ticked all boxes as regards convenience, efficiency, hygiene and utility The staff were professional and caring beyond measure.

I was relieved and cheered when I was handed the reassuring consultant's report prior to discharge.

Engaging small talk meant they knew I was ravenous but could only manage a cup of tea as I prepared for the long drive home. I said I hoped I might be ready for an early fish supper by the time I reached Balloch at the bottom of Loch Lomond or a bacon roll at John Mather's burger bar at the top of the Rest and be Thankful.

I scarcely had the words to thank them for the bag of freshly-made sandwiches handed to me with a bottle of juice suggesting an impromptu summertime picnic whenever it felt right. An hour or so later, I parked up at Glen Croe on the Rest and be Thankful and was truly grateful, indeed, for our NHS - al fresco in more ways than one in these pressured times. Our rural surgery here on Loch Fyne is an eminently worthy outpost.

Gerry Burke, Strachur, Argyll.

Read more: Tories should be bold and pledge to end free university tuition

It's time to sanction Israel

IT should be clear by now that Israel's actions in Gaza go beyond defeating Hamas, and extend to the elimination of Palestinian society.

The continual bombing has reduced much of the urban landscape to rubble, under which some 7,000 bodies have yet to be recovered. The death toll stands at 21,000, with 55,000 wounded, and rises every day.

A million people were removed from the north and told to move south for their own safety, but then the south came under ruthless bombardment too. Israel's conscript army is poorly trained and fires indiscriminately at will. Half a million people are at starvation levels, the health system has collapsed; water is scarce, and what there is, is of poor quality. In the West Bank gangs of illegal Jewish settlers with assistance from the Israeli military behave like armed thugs and attack Palestinians, destroying their villages and crops.

There can be no doubt that Israel's goal is the elimination of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in other words, ethnic cleansing. It's time sanctions were placed on this rogue state.

William Loneskie, Lauder.

Lessons from Donald Caskie

THE photograph of Rev Dr Donald Caskie (“Remember when... we honoured the Tartan Pimpernel”, The Herald, December 28) and Charles Wardrop’s letter (December 29) remind me of an occasion earlier this year when I was asked to conduct worship in an Ayrshire church (I am an elder).

I took 1st Corinthans Chapter 13 that speaks of faith, hope and love. I spoke of Donald Caskie and how he had faith that in his fellow man he had hope in supporting soldiers to escape back to the UK, from France, and the love of these men but also the love of the German pastor who persuaded the Germans not to execute him when he had been sentenced to death.

R Allan Richardson, Beith.

Message to Old Firm fans

I SHOULD like to add to W MacIntyre's letter (December 28), that if memory serves me correctly one of the main reasons for the current Old Firm ticket impasse was the away fans' behaviour (in both cases) of resorting to acts of vandalism within the stadiums, for example ripping out seats etc.

So I would add so-called supporters to the list of those who need to "behave like adults and sort this out".

Bill Rutherford, Galashiels.