WHAT a remarkable Programme for Government (PfG) it could have been ("First Minister pledges to ‘tackle scourge of poverty’", The Herald, September 6).

Against all expectations, and with refreshing honesty, the First Minister could have told us now was not the time for new initiatives. Instead, he would commit himself and his Government to correcting and reversing all the mistakes, shortfalls, and missed targets of the last 16 years of SNP rule. The priority for each Scottish Government department would be to correct the main shortcomings in their performance over the last many years. With great courage the First Minister would say we should judge him personally not just on how he tackles the attainment gap in education, but also on what difference he makes in shortening treatment times in the NHS in Scotland, and whether the ferries get into service to the great relief of our island communities. He would also commit to substantially reducing deaths due to drug and alcohol misuse, saying he would reverse all the cuts in frontline addiction services that have happened under the SNP.

If all of this was not demonstrably achieved before the next Holyrood election, the First Minister would promise to step down and let someone else take the lead. Bold, honest, and brave, this would be a PfG that would be talked about for many years to come.

Yet of course, that is not the PfG that we got. Instead, it appeared the First Minister simply gave each of his spin doctors the task of preparing a paragraph or two of his speech, focusing above all else on ensuring it sounded good. What exactly was being promised, and how and whether it would be delivered, was of secondary importance. The key was to give a warm glow to a First Minister wanting to look in control.

Engulfed by so many failings and crises largely of the SNP’s own making, the First Minister chose to ignore all of that and focus on feel-good initiatives to bolster his progressive credentials. Once again it seems that for the SNP, honesty is not the best policy.

Keith Howell, West Linton.

Read more: Humza Yousaf: wealth tax possible due to pressure on public finances

• SCOTLAND is heading for a £1 billion black hole in its accounts. Humza Yousaf's remedy: spend more money he hasn't got. This time he has concentrated on child care and Scottish child payments. Great idea if you have a booming economy, not so great if the only way to pay for this is by yet more tax rises repeatedly concentrated upon a small section of society.

The Scottish Government is building up a huge problem for itself. If the NHS does not improve and waiting times come down substantially then an entire nation has been short-changed but with potentially fatal consequences. If the SNP and Green Government cares about all of society, not just concentrating on the child-rearing years, then priorities have to change.

Dr Gerald Edwards, Glasgow.

• IN the throes of a climate emergency when people all over the world, especially poor people, are suffering from its effects, the Programme for Government announced by Humza Yousaf was deeply disappointing, and shocking.

He says that his priority is to be anti-poverty and pro-growth. We need growth of sustainable industries and jobs, not ones which increase our dependency on fossil fuels, and we urgently need to acknowledge that the poor and vulnerable are suffering, and will suffer, most from the effects of climate change, and to take action which will mitigate against those effects.

Apart from a mention of making it easier to build onshore wind farms, the programme appears to be devoid of such urgent action. No mention of the need for better-insulated homes, no mention of resisting the UK Government's ambition for more oilfields off the coast of Scotland, nothing about improving sustainable transport and reducing pollution, the cause of death for so many, especially the poor.

Dr Lesley Morrison, Peebles.


How to achieve Labour indy move

CARLOS Alba suggests that the Labour Party should consider changing its policy on Scottish independence ("Independence is here to stay so will Labour change tack?", The Herald, September 6). I would like to remind him that this could be made possible by him and others proposing this move through a motion from their Constituency Labour Party or another affiliate to Annual Conference. It could then be debated by delegates and the party and its members could decide the case on its merits.

And if Kezia Dugdale (whom he quotes) were to support such a motion, it could be helped by her prestige as a former party leader. Or maybe not.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow.

Read more: Politicians need to be brave over the purpose of our public services

Pay the rate for the job

I SUPPOSE I should have known better than to read Guy Stenhouse and expect much else. And he didn’t let me down ("Politicians need to be brave over the purpose of our public services", The Herald, September 6).

First a point of agreement. Yes, the economy is “in a bit of a bind”. So how do we get it out of it? Mr Stenhouse suggests some tried and tested (failed) solutions.

Having rejected higher taxes, he proposes “efficiency” as the answer to our problems. Indeed, “the only one viable solution”, so no pressure.

He cites several possible means by which greater efficiency could be achieved, including turning schools over to parents to run, though still with public funding. The problem with this is that in many communities the necessary skills are just not available, but what it does do is to reallocate responsibility for the operation of the school on to someone other than the local authority or central government.

Moreover, if (or when) funding comes under pressure, who will take the hit if not the teacher as salary or job cuts?

However, when he gets to health, Mr Stenhouse really outdoes himself, suggesting “patients need to become customers even if the taxpayer still pays the bill”. Thus, without using the word he suggests privatisation, which has been tried since the 1980s, found wanting and been on retreat since then. For instance, it has been argued that privatising cleaning in hospitals has been a factor in hospital-acquired infections being more common. And once again, who takes the hit? Well, if the 1980s repeat themselves it will be the cleaners in the form of fewer jobs, lower wages and poorer conditions.

Even on this short consideration of Mr Stenhouse’s suggestions, the true meaning of efficiency can be detected as lower wages and poorer conditions, the effect of which parallels the alternative rise in tax on the better-off: lower disposable income.

I agree that the public sector should never be about job creation, but there should be enough jobs for services to be delivered effectively as well as efficiently, and that the "rate for the job" be paid to work in good conditions.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

• A LITTLE of Guy Stenhouse's column makes sense. We do need greater efficiency in the private and the public sector. Where his argument falls down is in his 1980s Tory mantra that profit drives efficiency. In an ideal world, it may do but does anyone think that the privatised water companies in England derive their profit from efficiency rather than from underinvestment?

He also has a very narrow capitalist view of zero hours contracts. Anyone with a full-time salaried job may think that zero hours contracts keep prices down but, if you are on one, how do you know if you will be able to pay this week’s bills? If we are a society that cares for all its citizens, there is little place for such contracts.

Sam Craig, Glasgow.

Make the very rich pay

MANY unionist-owned newspapers cannot understand that while the ruling parties in Westminster pass laws to please those who voted for them, Holyrood legislates to help those in need and to benefit Scotland. So headlines suggesting that Humza Yousaf risks middle-class wrath with his tax threats just bewilder us.

There are few in Scotland who presently are not sickened by the obscene bonuses that are reported for bankers and some business people and most Scots would support appropriate taxation for landowners, especially those who can afford to keep huge swathes of land unproductive so that they and their friends may enjoy shooting parties for a few days a year.

Once Scotland becomes self-governing it will need to use every bit of useful land to benefit Scotland, just as other countries do. So if Holyrood wants to have a country ready for self-government it seems sensible to have appropriate taxation in place to encourage the very rich to use their money to make Scotland richer.

Elizabeth Scott, Edinburgh.