THIS General Election, when it arrives, will be a battle for the soul of Britain ("PM signals autumn election in bid to dent Labour’s lead", The Herald, January 5).

Two competing ideologies are out to capture the electorate, that encapsulated in the Tory belief in the small state, the other characterised by Labour's emphasis upon the importance of community togetherness where everyone will be pulling in the one direction.

Whichever ideology comes to the fore in the election result will be faced with harsh economic circumstances.

Public services have barely been kept afloat with the provision of sufficient funding to keep them going in ordinary, everyday situations without any fat to tide them over in critical moments. Should the Tories manage a victory, no doubt we will hear amid their crocodile tears the need to prune back public services to save the state from going under. In that circumstance, to the detriment of the forcibly unemployed we will be on the road to downsizing our welfare commitments so that the Tory Eldorado can be dragged kicking and screaming into birth, the dream of the party's far right.

If the country chooses the community option, Labour will be exposed to the salvoes of the right-wing media when it is forced to go slow on rebuilding public services as a result of the economic mess it will have inherited.

The pressure upon a Labour government will be immense thanks to the flak it will face from the narratives its opposition will employ, a lot of which we will see in the run-up to polling day.

Labour will have to hold its nerve to avoid becoming a one-term government if it is to fulfil its ambition to transform the political culture of the UK so that it serves every section of the community rather than the elites which rule the roost at the moment.

Denis Bruce, Bishopbriggs.

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Thinking indy? Think Brexit

A WEEK into the new year and already the latest salvos in the war of words between the separatist and pro-UK camps have been launched. Letters fired from the keyboards of the regular pro-independence contributors to the Letters Pages will no doubt draw return barrages from the pro-UK contingent and this will intensify the closer we get to the General Election.

They are representative of the estimated 30% of the electorate strongly in favour of separation and approximately the same percentage who strongly opposed and are extremely unlikely to be able to change each others' minds, but who seek to influence the remaining 40 per cent who may have opinions on the issue but could be influenced one way or the other.

If you are one of the 40% "persuadables", but have neither the time nor the inclination to study the issue in detail then here's an approach you might consider.

Think about the volume of serious and complex issues facing our country and the world, ranging from wars and global warming effects through to the cost of living and the NHS and Artificial Intelligence (to name but a few). Now consider the capabilities of our current crop of politicians, whether in government or in opposition, who are already struggling to come up with effective policies to address these issues in the unpredictability of the modern world.

Finally, ask yourself whether adding the cost, uncertainty and distraction of an independence referendum to the mix will help or hinder them in finding solutions. A useful reference point would be Brexit and the fact that whether you were in the Remain or Leave camp to begin with, few would deny that eight years after the referendum process commenced it has taken up a huge amount of money, political time and effort with many of the pre-existing issues as yet unresolved. It shouldn't take you long to reach a conclusion.

Mark Openshaw, Aberdeen.

UK should raise NHS pay

MY previous letter on the NHS (January 4) prompted Sheila Watson (Letters, January 5) to comment that the Scottish NHS is a devolved issue. May I remind her that Holyrood’s revenue is determined by its block grant from Westminster which contains an amount proportionate to that which Westminster spends on the NHS in England. The only way Holyrood can and does increase its revenue is by the cynical ploy foisted on it by Westminster of forcing the Scottish Government to raise the tax burden on the Scottish workforce compared to south of the Border.

Currently the NHS in Scotland is functioning to the best of its ability while in England junior hospital doctors have been involved in the longest-ever withdrawal of their labour in the history of the NHS. The starting salary for a hospital doctor in England is just over £32k, meanwhile the salary for an identical position in nearby Ireland is £56k, Germany £48k and France £44k. One wonders why the UK Government which in reality dictates levels of remuneration throughout the NHS UK-wide feels that our junior hospital doctors do not merit the level of reward that other similar countries obviously do.

It is also appropriate to ask why the percentage of the total English NHS budget spent on staff wages is gradually dropping and is now down to 45% of total expenditure but at the same time the Scottish Health Service costs report for the year ending March 31, 2022 demonstrates that employment accounted for almost 68.4% or £5.7 billion of hospital costs. It seems patently obvious to me that not only would the service provided by the NHS improve if staffing levels were increased but that a greater percentage of our taxes that are used to fund the service would be recycled back into the community through staff wages rather than ending up in the pockets of the private sector.

David J Crawford, Glasgow.

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Focus on pupil happiness

GR Weir (Letters, January 2) says Scottish education is accused of failing because its PISA results are marginally different from English ones. I do not know personally anyone who takes this view. Those who do are mainly opposition politicians using the results to attack the SNP despite the fact that it does not run the schools, employ their staff, decide how the curriculum is applied or set and mark exams.

People who think these tests are useful have a very narrow concept of education. They involve a small number of pupils taking exams in reading, maths and only two or three of the 20-plus sciences. There are no tests in philosophy, economics, politics, history, geography, art, music, cookery or other subjects.

Why academic prowess is deemed all-important in judging competence is hard to understand. Far more important are attitudes and personal qualities: for example, perseverance, kindness, honesty, helpfulness, creativity, emotional intelligence and resilience. Lack of these is responsible for prejudice, violence and irresponsibility. There is no reason to believe that ability in maths and science has any effect on these.

The reasons for differences in results are many and include parenting, housing, health, welfare, diet and environment. To blame schools for failures is akin to holding the NHS responsible for failures to cure many patients.

There is little educational value in making comparisons among countries, or even areas, with diverse features. Ranking secondary schools by the percentage of pupils gaining three or more Highers is irrational and harmful. It leads to some parents trying to get their children into schools with high rankings and even buying houses within their catchment areas, so pushing up prices.

The success of a school should be judged by the effect it has on the health, welfare and happiness of the pupils. Pushing these to study subjects in which they have no interest or aptitude does more harm than good.

This "top down, one size fits all" approach to schooling has always failed pupils and society. It needs to be replaced with one which focuses on the health, welfare and happiness of children and teachers.

John Munro, Glasgow.

The Herald: Do we demand too much of pupils?Do we demand too much of pupils? (Image: Shutterstock)

French should take responsibility

I AM puzzled by the French’s criticism of the UK regarding the small boats (“French agency criticises UK over failure to stop small boats", The Herald, January 5.

The French watchdog is quoted as saying it “found that the British don’t provide usable information on the departures of small boats…” . Are we, rather than the French, expected to monitor these departures despite the fact that they are launched from French beaches? To assist the French we are giving them millions to help them fund their own gendarmes to patrol their own beaches to try to stop these departures. Surely it is up to the French themselves not only to gather the “usable information" on these departures, but also to do what they can to stop them?

We British have no responsibility for these boats unless and until they reach UK waters, when it appears our policy is to provide a taxi service to the UK beaches rather than escorting them back to French waters into the hands of the French coastguards.

Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.