NO ONE likes to be accused of lying. Politicians in particular bristle when their honesty is impugned. Yet arguably in the world of political spin in which they operate the line between the truth and lies can so easily become blurred.

Increasingly it seems that for the SNP and its leadership, their starting point in replying to any query is to think of their preferred response and then to reverse-engineer this into an answer that wherever possible avoids an outright lie whilst avoiding revealing the truth. This is what might be termed being economic with the truth.

A clear example was the way that many SNP ministers played down their mass deletion of WhatsApp messages during Covid by reassuring us all that anything of importance would have been properly recorded on the Scottish Government’s record information system. Some, including Nicola Sturgeon, lent heavily on this reasoning when recently giving evidence in front of the UK Covid Inquiry in Edinburgh. Now it seems that a critical element was omitted from her replies, namely that no such transfers of information were ever made (“Sturgeon put ‘zero’ WhatsApp messages on official system before deletion”, The Herald, February 16). Arguably it was bad enough that potentially tens of thousands of ministers’ messages were deleted, with their authors deciding what should be kept for others to potentially see, but now we find out through further FoI requests that for many of the SNP leadership team, none of these messages was ever retained in the central database.

This of course is just one example of how the most senior figures in the Scottish Government have sought to mislead us. But if they are prepared to be so economic with the truth in responses to a judge-led public inquiry, what hope have journalists or members of the public in getting to the truth using FoI legislation, or indeed opposition politicians trying to call them to account in FMQs or other sessions of the Holyrood parliament and its committees?

Keith Howell, West Linton.

Full of sound and fury

“A HELLUVA long week in politics” is how Ruth Marr (Letters, February 16) described Sir Keir Starmer’s week.

She thought it was all over. It is now.

Sir Keir’s week culminated in two stunning by-election victories for the Labour Party in Wellingborough and Kingswood ("Kingswood and Wellingborough by-elections see massive swings to Labour", heraldscotland, February 16).

Nationalists may argue that English voting patterns are unrelated to the political situation in Scotland but the factors that influence voters in England are important throughout the country.

Replacing the inept Tory Government with Labour is the overwhelming priority at the General Election.

SNP MPs are irrelevant and impotent. They have no influence on decisions taken by either a Tory or a Labour Government and merely act in the House of Commons as a noisy embarrassment to all Scots.

Their contributions bring to mind some lines from the Scottish Play: "... a poor player, That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”

James Quinn, Lanark.

• IT would be churlish not to congratulate Labour for its by-election wins even when two-thirds of the electorate did not vote, but I agree with John Curtice that most of the swing is down to the collapse of the Tory vote, and that there is no great enthusiasm for Labour.

But with the Tories in deep doo-doo, the trend is for a Labour government with a decent majority. What this means for the UK is harder to ascertain, as the incompetence (to put it mildly) of successive Tory prime ministers and the troubles of the Scottish Government means Labour has not been required to do any hard lifting to be in a position to win a General Election: if anything, Sir Keir Starmer’s endless changes to policy is making it harder to see a coherent Labour government “narrative”.

GR Weir, Ochiltree.

This does not compute

ANAS Sarwar in his speech to the Scottish Labour Conference told us Labour will "accelerate the transition to net zero". How does this revelation sit with the recent announcement from Sir Keir Starmer ditching Labour’s pledge of a £28 billion spend on the climate crisis?

Catriona C Clark, Falkirk.

Read more: SNP must do better if the indy voice is ever to be heard

Matheson was doing well

DESPITE the UK Government's decision not to provide budget uplifts in line with inflation meaning real-terms cuts to Scotland's budget, Michael Matheson proved to be a very effective Health Secretary ("Matheson ‘never up to the job’, say critics", The Herald, February 15). Apart from ensuring our health service employees are the best-paid in the UK, and thus avoided the strikes that have devastated the health services in England and Wales, under his watch the most significant payment and reform changes in a generation for NHS dental services came into force in November.

NHS Scotland’s A&E departments remain the best-performing out of the UK’s four national health authorities. The four-hour performance in Scotland was 65.6% compared to 56.7% in Tory-run England and 57.3% for Labour-run Wales. The annual 12-hour waits show that in Scotland, 4.7% patients waited more than 12 hours in an A&E, compared to 10.7% in Tory-run England and 15.8% in Labour-run Wales.

The latest cancer waiting times published by Public Health Scotland showed that 95% of patients started treatment within the 31-day standard. This compares to NHS England at 90% and the latest figures for Labour-run Wales are much worse. With the major purse strings controlled by Westminster, Scotland’s NHS is still under severe pressures but its performance, with free prescriptions, which aren’t available in England, plus more NHS staff per population, show that things are better in Scotland.

Mary Thomas, Edinburgh.

Passport to success?

I ENJOYED Ian McConnell’s eviscerating article on the effects of Brexit ("Astonishing silence from Labour harm done by Brexit", The Herald, February 16). However, I have, at last, found one tangible benefit.

Two of my grandchildren have just received their first British passports. The jackets are a fetching shade of navy blue, so much more attractive than my boring old burgundy one.

These passports were printed in Poland, organised by a Franco-German company, for “economic” reasons.

Well done, Boris, Michael, Jacob et al! What a triumph!

Mind you, my car has been in a garage since October waiting for a replacement part which is manufactured somewhere in Europe, so perhaps everything is not so rosy as those clowns would have us believe.

John NE Rankin, Bridge of Allan.

Breaking away from group think

KEVIN McKenna excelled himself in his recent article ("Working families are the SNP's obsession", The Herald, February 13) where he expanded with clarity and frankness on the statements of KC Aidan O'Neill regarding the Scottish Government’s "disproportionate intrusion into private and family life ("Conversion therapy ban is 'beyond Holyrood's powers'", The Herald, February 12).

Two themes have stuck in my mind from Mr McKenna's article: "group think" and "state fiction". I recently reread 1984 by George Orwell after 50 years and I thought then that it was a fantastic tale and one that would never happen in our democracy. But now I see how superficially I read it, as we are obliged, without debate, to absorb "state fiction" and be careful of the "loose talk" that Mr McKenna quotes regarding East Germany, if we display dissonance from "group think". We wait now for the Government to employ a cabinet minister to head up a department of fiction, which exists in all but name, and fulfil Orwell’s prophesy.

I am thankful to people like Kevin McKenna and Aiden O’Neill for their bravery and their vigorous perceptions. They encourage others whose mantra was "oh, we are not allowed to say this now" to change to "we must be allowed to say this now.

Irene Munro, Conon Bridge.

The Herald: Should Britain withdraw support from Benjamin Netanyahu's government?Should Britain withdraw support from Benjamin Netanyahu's government? (Image: Getty)

Take a stand against Netanyahu

I SUSPECT that insufficient numbers of the British population, or even of our elected representatives, realise the true nature of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition to have an informed debate on what is happening in Gaza and on the West Bank. The Israeli liberal-leaning newspaper, Haaretz, describes it as being “extreme right-wing, racist, homophobic and theocratic”, even using the word “fascist” on numerous occasions. For instance, “Israeli Neo-Fascism Threatens Israelis and Palestinians Alike” (October 3, 2023).

How can the UK and US governments (with Keir Starmer’s support) ally themselves with and provide arms to Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in which extremists hold ministerial posts? For instance in the New York Times of November 5, 2023 it was reported that “Israel’s minister for national security, Itamar Ben-Gvir (a far-right politician who has criminal convictions for anti-Arab incitement), promised last month to provide guns to settlements”.

As a member of his party (probably for not much longer) I say to Keir Starmer “to take a clear moral stand against Netanyahu is not to be pro-Hamas or anti-Israeli or anti-Zionist or antisemitic. It’s to be pro-human rights” (Robert Reich, a Jew himself, who served in the cabinets of Ford, Carter and Clinton).

John Milne, Uddingston.

Read more: How can the good people of Israel sleep at night?

Classroom trickery

TOM Strang's letter (February 15) about using "magic" to encourage pupils to memorise facts, reminds me of an act of telepathy (or "pure mentalism") I used to perform for my pupils.

I would ask a pupil (let's call him Jimmy) to think of a number between one and 10 and then tell me it. The class would then say that was a rubbish trick.

However, if Jimmy had chosen, say, the number eight, I would direct him to the bookshelf at the back of the room and ask him to open up, for instance Kidnapped, at the last page.

Lo and behold there would be a note with my handwriting saying "I knew you would think of eight, Jimmy."

Jimmy and his classmates would be amazed, but little did they know that I had planted 10 notes, one for each number, inside 10 different books, and had memorised which book corresponded to which number.

I can't claim to have been so noble in my motivation as Mr Strang and his commitment to encouraging youngsters to remember facts. I used this in a much more nefarious way. If I spotted a pupil who looked as if they were thinking about getting up to mischief, I would simply say their name and when they turned to face me I would stare at them and say, in my most mystic of tones: "Don't forget, Jimmy. I know what you're thinking."

I found this not only to be a great defuser of potentially difficult situations, but it also allowed me to embark on that long-lost and very sadly missed hobby of Scottish teachers: sitting back in the chair, feet up on the desk, and having a nice peaceful read of the good old Herald.

Gordon Fisher, Stewarton.