Letters to the press, 30/04/21: Why rip Scotland out the Union, Finally the truth from Sturgeon and Salmond, SNP have not fought covid independently.

Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence ‘to blame’ for lower maths and science scores – The Herald

Declining scores for Scottish pupils in maths and science can plausibly be blamed on Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), according to a major report.

The study from the Institute for Government (IfG) says results for the two subjects in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) are lower than in 2006, despite a claim in the SNP’s 2011 manifesto that the drop had been “halted”.

NatWest/RBS would move OUT of Scotland after nearly 300 years if country votes for independence – The Sun

THE Royal Bank of Scotland would move out of Scotland after nearly 300 years if the country votes for independence, it has confirmed.

CEO Alison Rose said the bank, which last year changed its name from RBS Group to NatWest, would move its headquarters out of Scotland if the country backs a Yes vote.

RBS said ahead of the 2014 independence referendum that it would move its HQ to London – and Ms Rose announced that it still the bank’s position just days before the Scottish parliamentary election on May 6.

As reported by Reuters, Ms Rose said, despite the bank being “neutral” on independence, its “balance sheet would be too big” for the Scottish economy if the country breaks away from the UK.

State-backed NatWest has been based for 294 years in Edinburgh.

Ms Rose said: “In the event that there was independence for Scotland our balance sheet would be too big for an independent Scottish economy.

“And so we would move our registered headquarters, in the event of independence, to London.”

Ms Rose, who became CEO in 2019, added: “We are neutral on the issue of Scottish independence. It’s something for the Scottish people to decide.”

Investment bank Morgan Stanley this week put the chance of Scottish independence at 15 per cent, while rival Citi put it as high as 35 per cent.

A vote for the SNP would mean another wasted decade in Scotland – The Spectator

Sometimes, Westminster unwittingly makes quite a good case for Scottish independence. Britain’s Covid emergency has ended, but the damage of the last year is enormous: the knock-on effects of lockdown can be seen in NHS waiting lists, the devastated high street, the mental health backlog and the 20,000 pupils who are absent from the school register. There is urgent work to do, yet the government is engaged in a battle to the death over who paid for wallpaper in Downing Street.

We see a Prime Minister at war with his ex-adviser, unable to rise above the fray and capitalise on the opportunity of his vaccine success. Then there’s the opposition, unable to oppose. It’s not hard to see why many Scots might opt to press the ‘eject’ button by voting for the Scottish National Party in the Holyrood election next week.

Nicola Sturgeon would use a majority for independence by starting an immediate campaign for a referendum that would dominate Scottish politics for years, to the exclusion of all other issues. It’s worth asking what precisely that would mean.

The issues facing Scots are identical to those faced in England: the Covid-19 crisis is in retreat, but the deep societal damage of a year of lockdowns is increasingly evident. Some 3,550 fewer cancer diagnoses were made in Scotland last year, a fall of nearly 14 per cent. Scotland’s NHS is in no shape to play catch-up: even before the pandemic, waiting times for long-term health procedures were already estimated to be worse than in England. Generally, public services are less well run north of the border.

As for children, lockdown has hit poorest pupils hardest. But already poor pupils in Scotland were little more than half as likely as their English counterparts to get to university. Never have Scots been in more need of focused, effective government. But if they end up with an SNP majority there will be a non-stop campaign for separation; every policy will be used to drive another wedge between Scotland and England.

Sturgeon has admitted to having made no calculations about the economic impact of independence — which is odd, given that independence is her party’s reason for existing. But its chief policy seems to be the suspension of disbelief.

The pandemic is expected to have left Scotland with a deficit of up to 25 per cent of GDP, higher than any other country in the world. Any country joining the European Union needs a deficit no higher than 3 per cent of GDP: independence would mean sado-austerity with cuts far bigger than anything attempted by David Cameron or George Osborne.

Scotland joining the EU would also mean — under EU rules — border controls with England and a consequent hammer blow to trade. North Sea revenues, even if they had not collapsed, would never fill this gap.

By being in the Union during the pandemic, Scotland benefited from the safety net of being in the UK. The furlough scheme was financed by the UK Treasury’s borrowing power. Scotland is now coming out of lockdown due to having vaccination levels that are higher, by some margin, than anywhere on the Continent. By no coincidence, Scotland’s Covid deaths are down by 99 per cent — the same as in England. No European country except Portugal can say the same.

Recovering from the pandemic will take a generation. A vote for the SNP would mean another wasted decade in Scotland, with all political energies being focused on the constitutional question rather than on repairing the damage. Nicola Sturgeon argues that independence is needed to deal with the country’s post-Covid problems. But it is hard to see how Scotland having to cut public spending while not having its own central bank would help address these issues.

The best case for the Union has been made by Anas Sarwar, the new leader of Scottish Labour, in recent weeks. His message is that Scotland needs a recovery, not a referendum. If that message fails, unionists have to face up to the grim truth that, after 14 years in power and despite its dismal record, the SNP has found a way to game the devolution system. By convincing the 45 per cent of pro-independence voters that national liberation lies around the corner, Sturgeon’s party can guarantee itself victory after victory.

Devolution was not intended to deliver independence. As one Labour grandee famously said, it would ‘kill nationalism stone dead’. Even Tony Blair, with his new long hair, now admits that this was a misjudgment: it instead gave secessionists a platform from which to pursue the un-doing of the United Kingdom.

A pro-independence majority next week will take the SNP closer than ever to this goal. If the Tories have any sense of preservation — of the country, and of their party — they should give Scotland their full attention in the remaining days of the campaign.

Loch Lomond: More than 1,000 bags of litter cleared from Loch Lomond National Park in just one month – The Scotsman

Staff from the National Park Authority, local councils and communities gathered together to “get a head start on the issue” ahead of the parks’ busiest months.

The focus was primarily around the A82, a traditional trouble spot for litter.

Lay-bys, verges and undergrowth along a 15 mile stretch from Duck Bay to Tarbetstretch were monitored and cleared of all rubbish by the team.

416 bags were lifted from this section alone.

West Dunbartonshire Council also organised an A82 clean up from Barloan Toll roundabout in Dumbarton to Stoneymollan roundabout above Balloch.

Simon Jones, Director of Environment and Visitor Services at Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Authority said: “We have dedicated staff time right through April to help clean the National Park up before the influx of visitors we are expecting this summer.

“We’ve seen a big difference already with visible improvements on the A82 in particular.

“Despite this effort from our staff, partners, local businesses and communities, there is more to be done, so we are calling on everyone to take responsibility for respecting and protecting this special place.

“As well as being a serious threat to the National Park’s wildlife, litter impacts local communities and affects visitors’ enjoyment while they are here. Coming out of lockdown, the benefits that people get from spending time in nature are more important than ever.

North Ayrshire COVID: Care home deaths in each facility finally revealed – Irvine Times

The number of people who died in every care home across Scotland has been revealed, showing for the first time the extent to which some of the most vulnerable in our society were affected by the virus.

The data was released by the Crown Office and is available to view via an interactive dashboard.

It shows the care homes and operators that were hardest hit by the novel coronavirus and is part of an investigation to determine if the deaths should be the subject of a fatal accident inquiry or prosecution

Many have questioned the way that hospitalised patients were discharged into care homes at the beginning of the pandemic, without a proper testing regime in place and a lack of understanding regarding asymptomatic spread.

Care home operators have said they were let down by government policies at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Scottish Government maintains that saving lives has always been at the forefront of its decision making.

The extent to which care homes had been affected had been unclear, with care providers under no legal obligation to publish information.

The Crown Office figures shows that of the 351 COVID related deaths recorded in North Ayrshire since the beginning of the pandemic, 24.9 per cent occurred in care homes.

That figure is lower than the national average.

There have been more than 10,000 COVID-related

deaths in Scotland with around a third of all those being said to have occurred in care homes.

The breakdown for each care home in North Ayrshire is as follows:

Fullarton Care Home – 20 deaths – 5.7 per cent

Arran View Care Home – 18 deaths – 5.1 per cent

Spiers Care Home – 13 deaths – 3.7 per cent

Buckreddan Care Centre – 9 deaths – 2.6 per cent

Caledonia Care Home – 8 deaths – 2.3 per cent

Shalom Nursing Home – 7 deaths – 2 per cent

Abbeyfield House Care Home – 6 deaths – 1.7 per cent

South Beach House – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Haylie House Residential Home – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Glenburnie House – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

Cumbrae Lodge Care Home – <5 – 0.3 per cent

Anam Cara – <5 – 0.3 per cent

Abbotsford Nursing Home – <5 deaths – 0.3 per cent

On Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon called for a UK-wide public inquiry into the pandemic by the end of the year, adding she would move ahead with a Scottish-only probe if that can’t be agreed in good time.

UK secures 60 million extra Pfizer doses for booster jabs – STV News

An extra 60 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus jab have been secured by the UK Government for a booster vaccination programme in the autumn.

Officials are preparing a booster programme based on clinical need to ensure people have the strongest possible protection against the virus, according to the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

This additional stock of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – which has been rolled out in the UK since December – will be used alongside other approved vaccines for the booster programme.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “Our vaccination programme is bringing back our freedom, but the biggest risk to that progress is the risk posed by a new variant.

“We’re working on our plans for booster shots, which are the best way to keep us safe and free while we get this disease under control across the whole world.

“These further 60 million doses will be used, alongside others, as part of our booster programme from later this year, so we can protect the progress that we’ve all made.”

The Government said it will publish further details on the booster programme in due course, with the policy informed by advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

It will also assess the results of clinical trials which have studied the use of different combinations of approved vaccines.

It comes as offical figures revealed at least 10,078 people have died in Scotland with confirmed or suspected coronavirus.

On Wednesday, National Records of Scotland revealed there were 23 deaths linked to Covid registered between April 19-25, a fall of one from the previous week.

Of the new NRS figures, the majority were in hospital at 18, with three in care homes and two at home or in non-institutional settings.

There were seven deaths in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, as well as four in Lanarkshire and three in both Lothian and Tayside.

At council level, the highest number of deaths occurred in Edinburgh, North Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire, each registering three.

NRS also reported that 39% of the deaths were of people aged 75 and over, with 35% under 65.

Out of the 23 deaths, 70% were male and 30% were female.

Pete Whitehouse, director of statistical services at NRS, said: “The latest figures show another slight reduction in deaths where Covid-19 has been the underlying cause or a contributory factor, but every single death remains a tragedy.

“We know families, friends, and communities across the country are still being affected by the loss of loved ones due to this virus.

“Of these deaths, a majority of 18 occurred in hospitals, with three deaths in care homes, and two deaths occurring at home or in non-institutional settings.

“The 1103 deaths from all causes registered last week remains slightly above the five-year average, an increase of 3% compared to 2015-2019.”

The SNP has abandoned the poor – ThinkScotland

THE SNP has abandoned any attempt at helping the poor in Scotland – now over a fifth of the population.  The SNP Government has failed to put any meaningful effort into addressing the underlying causes of poverty and as a result has a shameful record of rising poverty across all measures.

Scottish Government data demonstrates clearly that poverty has increased substantially in Scotland since the SNP came to power, whereas previously it was in decline. Latest figures show that 20 per cent of Scotland’s population (1.03 million people each year) were living in relative poverty after housing costs in 2019-20. This is a substantial increase over the 16 per cent recorded in 2010/11.

Child poverty in particular has shot up, with 30,000 more kids in poverty in the last pre-covid year as the child poverty rate shot up from 23 to 26 per cent. Food insecurity is rising too, reaching 9 per cent of the population in 2019.

It’s the poorest areas that are doing the worst under SNP rule. Live there and you will likely die 13 years earlier than Scots living in better-off areas. Moreover you will have 25 years less of good health.

Those with drug issues or who become homeless are particularly vulnerable. Scotland has achieved infamy as the drug deaths capital of Europe, with a drug deaths rate three times higher than the rest of the UK. Similarly homeless deaths are three times higher than the rest of the UK and as with drug deaths have been steadily increasing over recent years.

In education again the poor have been betrayed. Closing the notorious poverty-related attainment gap, whereby poorer kids are more likely to fail to make it to university, was said by the SNP to be one of its major goals. But after 14 years no progress has been made, with only 26 per cent of kids from deprived areas going to university compared to the 60 per cent who succeed from the better-off areas. In some respects it is getting worse. A March 2021 Audit Scotland Report highlighted the fact that now the “gap is wider at higher levels of award.”

Where then does the SNP direct the Scottish taxpayers’ resources?  Not towards to the poor but rather to help its own supporters in the wealthy bureaucratic elite that runs Scotland and amongst younger members of the middle class.

This is demonstrated by the extensive £6 billion range of election bribes offered by the SNP at the current election. You don’t help the poor by financing fee dental care for all – those on low incomes already get free dental care anyway. You don’t help poor kids by handing free bikes and laptops to all schoolchildren. You help them by improving the quality of education poorer kids receive. We used to be good at this in Scotland, education was once a key route out of poverty.

The full range of election bribes are not, in any case, affordable. Money to pay for them has been pulled together by skimping on or cutting other areas. For example by the SNP is not distributing all the Covid relief money received from the UK Treasury, £2.7 billion of which is unaccounted for, according to the Scottish Auditor General.

The SNP has also spent less on health.  As the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has explained, “the NHS has been prioritised to a lesser extent than in England. As a result, Scottish health spending per person is now just 3 per cent higher than in England, versus 22 per cent at the start of the devolution”.

Lower spending on health has been accompanied by harsh cuts elsewhere. For example when the SNP came to power there were 352 rehab beds and 455 annual drug deaths but – after SNP funding cuts by 2018 the rehab beds had dropped to 70 and the annual drug deaths had risen to 1187. Other funds have been raised by brutal cuts to local government services. Cuts since 2014 have amounted to £1,544 per household and many services have worsened significantly.  Further cuts are being made. For example, the SNP-run Glasgow council has announced that an extraordinary 40 sports venues or pitches, five libraries, and 11 community centres are being permanently closed.

The need for cuts to enable the SNP to afford its election bribes is derived from SNP failure on the economy.  Growth is a third less than the rest of the UK and there is both lower investment and lower productivity. This not only means fewer good jobs but also lower tax revenues.

Failing to help the poor in order to provide election bribes to younger voters is not a sensible long-term strategy that has the interests of Scotland to heart.

Glasgow NHS whistleblowing review highlights ‘concerning’ impact on staff – The Herald

NHS whistleblowers have required counselling and medication and a quarter would not raise concerns again due to the stress and lack of support, a report found.

A review of existing policy at NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde found “concerning” evidence of a significant impact on the mental health of both whistleblowers and managers with little support provided.

A83 landslips: £4m of taxpayers’ money ‘wasted’ over five years at Rest and be Thankful – The Herald

SOME £4m has been ‘wasted’ over five years of failed temporary fixes to one of Scotland’s key roads which has become plagued by landslides.

Details of the official costs of the mitigation measures over the past five years have emerged as campaigners fight for a permanent solution after an over 15-year failure to prevent disruption on the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful.