Politics

Letters: The simple fact is Scotland gets more from Westminster than we put in

FRASER Grant (Letters, December 17) is delusional in claiming that we would be better off out of the Union in the fight against Covid.

He might look back at Alex Salmond’s claims of “a second oil bonanza” and Scotland becoming the Saudi Arabia of renewables. The current First Minister will not touch oil with a bargepole thanks to her dependence upon the Green Party and the multibillion infrastructure for our renewables is manufactured in the main in Korea, China, Denmark and Germany and installed by foreign vessels and workers. A dearth of income, jobs and opportunities would have been the reality.

Andrew Wilson, the SNP financial guru, promised us 10 years of austerity max should Scotland have gained independence after 2016. He recently revised that to 25 years allowing for Covid. Had we gained independence in 2016 we would have been out of the Union, out of the EU and in a deep financial mire with no prospects of support for a furlough system. Further, Nicola Sturgeon and Michael Russell vehemently advocated that we should have stuck with the EU as part of its vaccination programme or “lives would be lost”. We know how slow the EU was in getting its vaccination programme off the ground whilst it haggled over the costs of vaccinations with the producers. Meantime our UK Government bankrolled research and development and invested in production facilities in a visionary move that enabled a quick response that saved countless lives and from which Scotland benefited greatly.

As you reported on December 20, 2020, “Finance Secretary Kate Forbes has rolled back on promises to spend ‘every penny’ of coronavirus funding on tackling effects of the pandemic. According to a new report, the Finance Secretary is now planning to keep up to £330m of the funds allocated for coronavirus for Brexit-related needs.”So a chunk of what the Scottish Government is given as funding to fight Covid is diverted elsewhere. “What are the real priorities?” we should ask the Finance Secretary.

And as for Margaret Forbes’ claim that we pay more tax than we receive back from Westminster, then she should look at the GERS figures which Andrew Wilson acknowledged as fair and accurate. We get far more back from Westminster than we pay in.

Peter Wright, West Kilbride.


NO REASON TO ENVY NORWAY

MARGARET Forbes (Letters, December 17) apparently has been locked down for too long, perhaps since the 1970s, and has not bothered to check any facts – or maybe it is simply that she believes the falsehoods endlessly emanating from the SNP.

Her allegation that Scotland has not benefited from the UK as anything received is simply “what we’re entitled to” displays the sad attitude of many nationalists who simply don’t recognise or accept the fact that while Scotland contributes 7.9% of the UK economy, the public spending in return is 9.1% – a net benefit of which she appears to be in denial. In addition, her tired bemoaning the finances of North Sea oil ignores the fact that the UK’s use of the oil income in the 1970s and 1980s was of much benefit to the entire country, as it was directly used to subsidise such areas as housing and mortgage relief – benefiting millions.

This desire for oil wealth also appears directly contrary to Ms Sturgeon’s drive now to discourage oil exploration and in fact to shut down the oil industry entirely, removing the considerable number of businesses and jobs which rely on it and denying any future economic benefits therefrom, despite there being a potential 24 billion barrels remaining.

There is also significant irony in her envy of Norway – given that country’s current position in Europe as having the second highest cost of living (behind Switzerland), while the UK lies 15th – or perhaps she longs for the day when she has to pay twice as much for a loaf of bread or a bottle of water. As ever, the nationalists simply refuse to acknowledge the facts that the UK investment in research and production provided us with earlier vaccinations than we would have had as an independent nation, and that the furlough support would have been simply unaffordable.

It would be helpful now to receive an independently audited report on the Scottish Government’s Covid spending to confirm that it has in fact distributed all of the UK-funded support provided, and that it is not otherwise diverted for the SNP’s use elsewhere on laptops or bicycles.

Steph Johnson, Glasgow.


ATTAINMENT GAP CLAIMS ARE WRONG

JANE Lax (Letters, December 16) condemns the record of the First Minister with regard to education, claiming inter alia that “Covid can’t be used as an excuse, as the [attainment] gap was not closing before the pandemic”. Indeed, there is “a clear penalty faced by disadvantaged pupils during the pandemic” according to research commissioned by the Department for Education in England. There are similar findings for other countries. Yet for Ms Lax, in Scotland “Covid can’t be used as an excuse”.

The rest of Ms Lax’s letter follows a similar comprehensive condemnation. Yet her claims about “closing the school attainment gap” are inaccurate. For instance, in October 2018 a UCAS analysis of applications in Scotland found the gap between the most and least advantaged applicants had halved, due to the increase in applications from the most disadvantaged applicants. In 2006 applications from the most disadvantaged applicants from Scotland was just under 10% of the total. By 2018 it had risen to 18%. At school levels the proportion of pupils achieving five or more Higher awards has almost doubled since 2009/10. There has been a one-third increase in the number of pupils from the most deprived areas achieving at least one Higher or equivalent. And so it goes on.

It would be difficult to imagine these developments from the unsubstantiated bile in Ms Lax’s letter, whose condemnation is in inverse proportion to the evidence she cites for her claims. However, there is more, much more, to do, but in confronting this we need to bear in mind that the attainment gap is not only a matter of education, but also of social inequality, and unless the tax and welfare system acts more effectively on this, progress is more difficult.

It is also social, as for more disadvantaged pupils there is a relative lack of role models. In more affluent areas, it is often normal for many of their peers to go on to university, but for less fortunate pupils their background may have much less contact with post-school education.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.


BEWARE SOLICITORS SALES MOVE

THE Scottish Government has presented a consultation entitled Legal Services Regulation Reform in Scotland which asks about 55 questions, of which one in particular may be of interest to your readers. That question is not asked directly in the consultation but has been concealed by implication within questions 23, 37 and 41.

The question proposes the authorisation of the sale of solicitors’ practices to non-solicitor persons or bodies under the heading of Alternative Business Structures (ABS). Why, you might ask, have these sales been previously prohibited? I would surmise that this is because solicitors enjoy certain privileges under public law which provides them with effective monopolies in relation to the sale and purchase of land and buildings and in the conduct of litigation in the courts. In exchange, the public is protected by the 10 years or so of education, training and practice that must be taken before becoming an independent solicitor and by the Clients Protection Fund maintained by solicitors for immediate recompense to any members of the public who suffer loss as a result of dishonesty by solicitors or their staff. It is a sort of quid pro quo between the public and the solicitors’ profession.

The public therefore has a huge investment in the effective operation of the solicitors’ profession and may wish not to be exposed to the risk of solicitors’ firms coming into the ownership and therefore the immediate control of non-solicitors with whom there is no such quid pro quo.

On the other hand, those solicitors who own rather than merely work in their firms stand to make huge sums of money from the prospective sales. As a solicitor myself I might not grudge those lucky solicitors their cash windfalls but the public, if aware of this plan, might feel differently about the giving up or dilution of their legal protections in order to fund those windfalls. This looks very much like private profit from the sale of public assets.

Although this ABS rule was passed into law as long ago as 2010, there has been principled opposition all along and it has been held back from commencement but now appears set to proceed under the radar in amongst this lengthy consultation.

Now, this consultation closes on December 24 but I doubt whether the Scottish Government could proceed with this proposal if sufficient of the true owners of the public asset in question were to protest, before or after that date, against the authorisation of the private sale of that public asset.

Michael Sheridan, by Strachur, Argyll.

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