IT'S not the case that changing local government taxation was "beyond Holyrood's powers" as stated today ("Scottish Government council tax proposals ‘pointless’ - think tank", The Herald, September 18). On the contrary, the ability to do so was included from the establishment of the Scottish Parliament.

A cross-party commission on local tax reform, whose 2015 report was entitled "Just Change - a new approach to local taxation", chaired by SNP member Marco Biagi, had as its first conclusion: "The present council tax system must end." That's pretty unequivocal, as is the admission that "the present council tax has therefore rightly become discredited in the eyes of the public, and in our participation sessions across Scotland, it was made clear to us that people expect a change.

The question is, why has the SNP left this report gathering dust for the past eight years, ignoring its conclusions? Reforming local taxation is a power it does have which could greatly improve the lives of the Scottish people but it has failed to use it.

Jane Ann Liston, St Andrews.

Falling into the benefits trap

TOM Gordon writes that “the SNP came to power in 2007 promising to scrap the 'unfair' council tax and replace it with a local income tax, but immediately ran into problems with the plan”. Indeed it did, but consideration of the reasons is informative.

A major problem was, as John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, put it: “Let us be clear, if there is no council tax in Scotland there will be no council tax benefit. It is a UK benefit to help people with the cost of council tax." Thus, if the Scottish Government abolished council tax then it would no longer be compensated for the loss of council tax benefit payments.

This may all seem very logical, but consider some inconvenient facts. First that council tax is, overall, regressive as the relationship between income and council tax for lower income households is "U-shaped". If council tax were truly progressive to income, this would be linear, the converse of a welfare system.

Secondly, the spending outcome would be zero. No one gains, as Westminster welfare spending remains the same, and there are no losers as DWP welfare payments in Scotland remain the same.

However, a Labour government in London was not going to miss the opportunity to make things more difficult for an SNP government in Scotland. This was underscored a few months later when the Labour Party came up with its own plan to reform council tax, but based on the value of property, and thus regressive. However, as the replacement was not council tax it did signal council tax benefit money could stay in Scotland, subject to the condition that the replacement scheme was a Labour scheme.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.

Read more: Yousaf's latest Indyref ploy betrays his utter desperation

UK has stoked the grievance

I NEARLY choked on my Rice Krispies when I read Keith Howell’s statement (Letters, September 16). He says: "Over the last decade the SNP has used every possible excuse to stir grievance and negativity in its dealings with the UK Government, undermining any chance there might have been for establishing the level of trust and compromise for any agreement (to a referendum) to be reached."

Mr Howell perfectly demonstrates the art of how to take what actually happened and surreptitiously turn it inside out. Although a lover of the arts I, like many others, see right through his ploy. The UK Government has consistently blocked all avenues of reasonable debate at every turn. It has totally ignored the SNP and the voice of the Scottish voters who have democratically handed it a string of mandates to request a second referendum.

The UK Government has amply and cruelly demonstrated that it has no interest in "trust and compromise" and, dangerously, is going further by currently doing all it can to reduce the powers of the democratically-elected Scottish Parliament.

It is Westminster, and not the SNP, which has "stirred grievance and negativity" in matters concerning Scotland.

Dennis White, Blackwood.

Where Labour could win

MARK Smith’s article ("The Scots like me who’ll be forced to vote Conservative", The Herald, September 18) is interesting but wrong. He is right that at the General Election many electors will be tempted to use their vote to defeat the SNP rather than for their first preference. He is wrong to state that in his own constituency of Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock that means voting Tory as Labour has no chance of winning.

The latest prediction from Electoral Calculus has SNP on 35.1%, Conservatives on 28.3% and Labour on 28%. Remember Labour held this seat until 2015 and is determined to win it back.

Alastair Osborne, Symington.

Principles? What principles?

IT is not surprising that the Scottish representatives of the Conservative Party should attack Humza Yousaf's defence of the legal attempt to overturn Westminster's ban on the gender bill ("Legal bid on gender is matter of principle, says FM", The Herald September 18). The concept of "principle" is probably unfamiliar to them.

Peter Dryburgh, Edinburgh.

Read more: We need to get back to national standards for teacher numbers

Don't lower the voting age

I LISTENED this morning to an interview with a woman who claims to have been groomed and sexually assaulted by Russell Brand when she was aged 16. Now around 30, she spoke movingly of her then vulnerability and naïvety, and argued that the age of consent should be changed - perhaps to a differential age limit depending on the age of the male partner. What she said called into question the judgment and wisdom of 16-year-olds.

Her testimony was one of the best arguments I have heard for not extending the voting age downwards to the age of 16, as is the case in Scotland and is being proposed for the UK as a whole.

Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh.

The flaws with palliative care

DR Robin Taylor makes an interesting argument against the Assisted Dying Bill currently under consideration at Holyrood, however the telling sentence in his article states that “in the vast majority of patients, palliative care makes 'dying with dignity entirely possible” ("Death must not be used as a treatment for suffering... but priorities do need to change", The Herald, September 16).

The interesting point in that sentence is that there are some patients where palliative care does not remove the excruciating pain and accompanying terror.

It may be scientifically insignificant that a very small number of patients fall into this category, however try telling that to the very small number who fall into this category who are in excruciating pain and know they are dying.

Dr Taylor was a co-author in a 2014 report which stated the following: “Expertise in Palliative Care (PC) is highly advanced in the UK. Unfortunately current resources and established practice mean that only a minority of patients who are nearing the end of life benefit from this expertise. Typically PC specialists only become involved at the last stages of a patient’s illness, often once it is apparent that conventional treatment is not working. This is too late.”

Although this may no longer be the case nine years later, I doubt that more resources have been made available and the statement in the report and the statement made earlier do not fill me with confidence.

I would much rather have the option of ending any unnecessary suffering in this country rather than being forced to travel abroad six months earlier than I would prefer, to alleviate any impending, and only possible, unbearable pain.

I consider my life to be very precious and I would only want to access assisted dying if my suffering became unbearable and I suspect that most terminally ill patients would similarly place the same importance on their life.

How precious a life is and any religious or moral objections should not be used as the excuse to prevent the majority of the population who want this option to have access to it.

Iain McIntyre, Sauchie.

• I HAVE been following some of the recent correspondence relating to the Assisted Dying Bill (Letters, September 11, 13 & 15). There is a question about the proposed safeguards which troubles me. Who defines, or will define, "terminal illness"? This may seem to be a simple question but it is really quite difficult. Is it an illness which will result in death within months, or years or even decades? Could the "safeguards" be circumvented by re-interpretation of "terminal illness"?

Michael Elliott, Dunblane.