WHILST I agree entirely with Kate Forbes’ analysis of the problems of the Highlands ("We must all play part to fix crisis in Highlands, says Forbes", The Herald, January 30), I take issue with the rather narrow, one-sided views of Bill Eadie (Letters, January 31), who seems to believe that long-standing problems are all the fault of the SNP government.

With relatives in Caithness, Easter Ross and the Black Isle and being familiar with Wester Ross and Sutherland for more than 50 years, I know that roads, schools and ferry links to the islands are problems that have existed all that time. I constantly heard locals complain that they had been trying for 30 or 40 years to have problems solved, to no avail.

Since devolution, I have travelled stretches of single-track, potholed road, with sides crumbling, replaced by well surfaced, two-way roads, with dangerous bends made safer, such as that from Achnasheen to Achnashellach, or Lochcarron to Kishorn. On these are signs saying “Funded by Holyrood and the EU”. I have also seen several stretches of the A9 north to Inverness dualled by similar funding. That further such improvements have now been held up is largely due to the withdrawal of EU regional funding after Brexit, which Westminster has not matched as promised. What part of this is the fault of the Scottish Government?

Instead, a much smaller sum has been offered, directly to local councils in breach of the devolution settlement, for which detailed plans for a capital project have to be vetted and approved by Michael Gove before funds are released, as so-called “Levelling Up”. Councils have to spend substantial sums drawing up these plans, and during the three rounds of funding allocations, several have spent that money, but have not had their project approved, while, strangely, councils with a Tory MP have succeeded more than once.

Forty years ago, I was told that 60% of the houses in Lochcarron were owned by wealthier folk down south, many regularly let out for holidays. At that time, I also knew a couple with two small children in a very small, tied house, who were desperate to buy a larger house locally, with a small croft attached. This they had still not achieved by the time the children had left school, as they were always outbid by someone paying over the odds for a holiday property. So the families the area needs cannot find a home, while the young locals move away. Meantime the incomers damage the local economy further by driving on the improved roads to Inverness to stock up the freezer rather than buy at the local shop.

What part of any of this is the fault of Holyrood or the SNP, while Westminster holds the purse-strings and bases the Scottish budget on a population proportion of what it intends to spend in England, and Brexit has destroyed the alternative for additional funding?

L McGregor, Falkirk.

Read more: Highlands and Islands need a return to joined-up thinking

Time to remix the formula

CONGRATULATIONS to you on your trenchant series of articles on the problems in the Highlands.

What no article nor reader's letter has yet addressed is this: the Barnett Formula.

The block grant from the UK Government is given to the devolved legislatures for them to spend it in any way they like. It goes in to the general revenue account, and is therefore not separately accounted for.

Although not explicitly based on needs, the formula was an early attempt at levelling up at a time of future devolution.

Estimates differ as to how much, but it certainly gives a net financial benefit to the Scottish Government.

If the extra money of the grant were hypothecated to specific purposes, for example levelling up in areas of need like the Highlands with its roads, ferries, schools, hospitals etc all serving a sparse population, this would serve the spirit and purpose of the formula better.

Instead, the current Government has utilised it for mass vote-winning schemes unavailable in England.

Bruce Walker, Largs.

The Herald: A ScotRail train on the West Highland lineA ScotRail train on the West Highland line (Image: PA)

Trains could be so much better

I FULLY support Ian Budd (Letters, January 31) in his views on the Far North Railway Lines and his comments on the "Inter City" lines between Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow, Edinburgh and Stirling. I would add to that my great concern about the West Highland lines, to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig. All these railway lines are vastly underfunded and have been since I was working in the West Highlands for British Rail just before rail privatisation in 1994.

Just last year I had the experience of travelling, by rail, from Zurich in Switzerland to Tirano in Italy over the Bernina Pass. Superb scenery, comparable with Scotland but the train service is so much better, with modern, comfortable trains that have large observation windows. We really should be ashamed of ourselves here in Scotland; we could, and should, do so much better.

It would, of course, be easier to do better if prominent politicians, such as Kate Forbes, were to travel by train. She does excellent work in supporting the Highlands but if she were to use the train for that long journey from Dingwall, or at least Inverness, to Edinburgh, it would take away some of that stress of driving on the A9. The "HST" trains that run on that line are very comfy. We need to get more people travelling by train, rather than by road and we need our politicians to be in that modal shift too.

Patricia Fort, Glasgow.

Read more: Highland Clearances impact 'never resolved' in Sutherland​

Lowlands areas suffering too

I HAVE enjoyed your series on the New Highland Clearances, however I have been struck by one thing: the issues facing the Highlands are also faced by many Lowland areas. As a former community councillor in Inverclyde, and currently in Ayrshire, I have been able to observe and experience first hand here the same issues faced by the Highlands.

In terms of hospitals, the services provided by the Inverclyde Royal Hospital have steadily and systematically been downgraded. Whether removal of ICU beds or downgrading of maternity services, Inverclyde residents have no option but to travel the journey up to Glasgow, whether themselves or by ambulance, in the same manner of those in the north. South Ayrshire faces the same effects of centralising services and is losing its ICU beds.

In terms of jobs, the Lowland deprived areas have and are suffering in the same way as the residents of Kinlochleven: our nuclear power plant is closed and in a generation will support very few jobs and there are no plans to even talk about how we could replace it. IBM is all but gone from Spango Valley in Greenock, joining the shipyards in the dustbin of history. Plans for new cable manufacturing facilities at Hunterson have been met with complete apathy from North Ayrshire Council and its elected members, despite North Ayrshire being one of the most deprived areas in Scotland and the STEP bid at Ardeer was purely a tick-box exercise, despite the huge opportunity there.

Rail services in the last year have, through very dubious means, been downgraded to and from Largs, with journey times no better than the era of steam, something which has affected many areas outside the "Golden Railroads" from Glasgow to Edinburgh.

Across North Ayrshire, the council is making moves to close the last remaining public toilets, ostensibly to be put into community ownership, whilst knowing there are few groups able to take them on. Ironically, North Ayrshire Council put these plans to its cabinet on the same say it voted to adopt a Tourism Strategy for North Ayrshire.

In a further synergy (with Fort William), Largs Community Council recently piloted a community cinema, which was a resounding success - young and old clearly were pleased to travel five minutes to see the flicks, rather than make the journey up to Paisley or Glasgow - something which is nigh impossible without a car in the evenings.

Despite living in close proximity to large urban areas, there is little to keep young people in our areas and encourage them to stay and start families; it seems like politicians only really care about the big cities. Rural dwellers, whether Highland or Lowland, get a raw deal but it is the wider country that will suffer in the long term.

Jamie Black, Largs.

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A matter of perspective

WILLIE Towers' letter (January 31) reminded me of an encounter I had some years ago with an elderly lady in Thurso. She was bemoaning the fact that her daughter had gone to live "away down south" and I immediately assumed she meant England. However it transpired that her daughter had moved to Inverness.

Andy Mitchell, Prestwick.