WHEN David Mundell tells us, “Brexit will bring new opportunities. We need to ensure Scottish business can take advantage”, what planet is he on? New doesn’t mean better opportunities than our membership of the EU already affords us.

And aren’t the increased tariff barriers, or the compensatory wholesale state subsidies to be funded by we taxpayers, going to diminish opportunities, not increase them?

Of course, Mundell’s Tory government has already stolen a march to identify new opportunities, hasn’t it? Nothing more that dirty arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Far East autocrats, none of which benefits Scotland per se and which are ethically anathema to us anyway.

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The only business Mundell and his cronies are interested in is the economic lunacy of dismantling the fabric of our unrestricted access to the single biggest market in the global economy; a market that because of its close proximity to us is cost-effective for our businesses to service and which already has huge potential for further growth and market penetration by Scotland’s various business sectors.
Jim Taylor
Edinburgh

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Did anyone stop to ask ‘the poor’ what they need?

I WAS very interested in Lovina Roe’s observations about the attainment gap, but it is not just children such as the Rochdale girls who are failed by the system, although they were obviously failed in the most horrendous ways. She is right that “the poor” do not exist as a convenient grouping, and it disturbs me slightly that Nicola Sturgeon has put her faith in a “poverty tzar”, which to my mind smacks of an educated professional trying to put herself in the position of “the poor” and sort out their lives.

Did anyone think of asking “the poor” what they think would work for them, what we think would work for us?

We rightly have initiatives to help children from the poorest backgrounds to achieve university, although I think that it depends on where the school is as much as the individual family. However, getting to university is only one hurdle, and if you then want to go into the professions, you face considerable hurdles. Some professions are stuffed full of people who went to private schools. Even the Scottish Parliament is over-represented by people who did not go through the state education system.

But say for argument you get to university from a poor background, what then? Free tuition fees are great and for my family a godsend, but how are you supposed to live then while at university? Ah, get a job... True, but your richer contemporaries will not have to, so will have an advantage over you in the time they can devote to study, and it can impact on the time you spend studying, and the degree you get. Unless you are able to live at home and study at university, you will leave university with a whole load of debt which will impact on your ability to get a mortgage later on, or limit where you can rent. As we know from experience, even a full bursary from the Scottish Government (for which we were eternally grateful) only covers the rent on a box room in Edinburgh, and if it had been means tested instead of automatically granted for the particular course, we would not have got it.

So you are limited in where you can study. After study, bearing in mind that the best-paid jobs are still in Edinburgh or Glasgow, how do you afford to move there, when you have student debt hanging over you and a hefty deposit to find before you can even start a job? Poorer families would love to support their children to improve themselves, but often cannot.

Factor into all of this rents which are sky-high (so become exclusive, keeping out the poor), jobs which are often sketchy (zero-hours contracts are not conducive to peace of mind, and I have yet to meet the student who does not have rent to pay every month and would therefore want a zero-hours contract, never mind the family trying to stay above water working in such an environment). I think it was the Common Weal who observed that people in Scotland on the UK national average wage (£25k) are in the highest two-fifths of earners in Scotland, which is a disgrace in itself.

I applaud the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle poverty and the attainment gap, and we are thankful for the initiatives that have enabled our children to go to university, but there is much to be done for we need a coherent policy on all aspects of life. Jobs, rents, health, housing, education, energy, transport all link together. Thankfully we have a great NHS in Scotland, far better than elsewhere in the UK, and we also have great social care for the disabled, which we are also very grateful for. Scotland has made tentative steps in trying to limit rents, albeit it is a bit of a fudge, and to my mind, needs to be an outright rent ceiling of some sort, if you’ll pardon the pun. We also need a coherent energy policy, including price limits. Our electricity payments feel like the puggy machine you just keep feeding money into. We must also not forget that people live in the country, and could use some help in transport costs. Ah, our choice, I hear you say, but if we and others did not live in the country, the towns would be under even more pressure.

Contrary to UK Government diktat, being poor is quite often all about not having enough money, because money is a factor in everything. The sheer stress of being poor, just of having no money, is colossal, and it is time consuming and pointless, and can impact on mental health, unless you are very tough. Having to constantly monitor every pound spent is a pain, and impacts on those snatched moments when you do something other than think about money. It pursues you and won’t let you rest. Parents can be working all hours just to make ends meet, and children from poorer households start slipping behind their richer friends early on, and keep slipping. Social mobility is now worse than at any time in the post-war years. I don’t need a report from Naomi Eisenstadt to tell me that the poor will largely stay poor.
Julia Pannell
Tayside

BOTH the Tories and Labour are in favour of Brexit. Leaving the EU is absolute madness. At present a lot of our food comes from Europe, but if Britain leaves without a trade deal tariffs will be imposed on goods traded between Britain and the EU, making food more expensive and causing more hardship.

In Scotland a lot of people live in poverty and now the Westminster government are slashing our welfare spending by £4 billion.

Scotland needs to leave this Brexit chaos behind and vote for independence at the earliest opportunity. After all, 62 per cent of Scots voted to remain in the EU.
Susan Swain
Dunbar