IN continuing to stress that Universal Credit is fundamentally “a good idea” that merely requires improvements to its implementation (Universal Credit is a mess – and it needs fixed now, The National, March 10), Mhairi Black fails, in my view, to recognise the true nature and purpose of the benefit as it now stands.

The idea of “one benefit that would combine many to make the social security simpler for all who access it and simpler to administer” sounds good in theory. But things that seem good in theory aren’t necessarily going to work in practice. As someone with both personal and professional experience in relation to the benefits system, I have always felt rather sceptical about the feasibility of combining various benefits into one. When you “simplify” a support system in this way, there’s a good chance you will make it unable to respond to the matrix of circumstances which form the needs of an individual or individual household.

Leaving aside my own personal doubts about the practicability of a one-size-fits-all benefit, it’s become clear to me that, regardless of the originally stated purpose of Universal Credit (UC), it has not in the end been designed to “help”people – it’s simply another turn of the Tory screw. Among other things, it incorporates the removal of certain disability premiums; it is digital by default, making delays and sanctions more likely; any self-employed people trying to claim UC are assumed to be working 35 hours per week and earning at least the minimum wage, whether this is the case or otherwise; people claiming in-work elements of UC are subject to conditionality and sanctions, etc, etc. I could go on.

Like ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment), UC is nothing more than a grandiose benefits-cutting scheme which will in reality fail to reduce the benefits bill but will nonetheless succeed in bringing misery and hardship to millions while adding to the profits of certain large private companies. The Office for Budget Responsibility recently estimated that UC would only save around two per cent of the benefits bill, but with spiralling costs, funded by taxpayers of course, it seems doubtful if it will save even that small amount. But hey – Tory ideology wins again.

I much admire Mhairi Black and think she is doing brilliant work in very difficult, sometimes extremely adverse circumstances. But I couldn’t disagree more with her about UC – the issue isn’t about a “botched implementation” – ultimately, UC has nothing to do with “social security”, but is simply another mechanism by which the Tories can dismantle the social safety net, including the concept of social security itself, and replace it with ever precarious, ever punitive “welfare”. As such, a pause-and-fix approach is tantamount to tinkering with a toxic timebomb – we should be arguing for UC to be scrapped altogether.
Mo Maclean

AS the Labour Party conference reaches its muddled, undignified end, the need for decisive action on the timetable for indyref2 has never been clearer.

In an era when reasoned argument and calm adherence to the facts is routinely shouted down, when the date is finally set we’re going to need someone to head the Yes movement who can combine intellect and proven debating skills with passion and determination to bring the fight alive. Someone fearless, with a growing international presence and a track record of holding the Westminster government to account.

Mhairi Black, I’m looking at you.
Margaret Kirk
via email

THE erudite Paul Kavanagh is correct in his warning that despite promises (reminiscent of the 2014 Vow) the UK is trying “to reduce the powers of Holyrood without consent” (We need to tell the Tories: Hands off our Parliament!, The National, March 10). And as the EU Withdrawal Bill stumbles through Westminster, Mike Russell should be congratulated for his patience and dedication.

The SNP-led Scottish Government will not be bullied into accepting the Tory power grab – a position also taken by the Labour-led government in Wales.

These concerns are addressed by the Scottish Parliament’s large majority vote backing the Continuity Bill or Holyrood’s Brexit Bill, to protect devolution – only the Tories voted against the interests of Scotland. Furthermore in Westminster, amendments to the Withdrawal Bill introduced by opposition parties have been systematically voted down by the Conservative government.

In line with devolution agreements, EU devolved powers should be transferred directly to the devolved administrations. In fact Westminster should be increasing powers not threatening to withdraw them and certainly not threatening to suspend the Scottish Parliament if it doesn’t toe the line.

Holyrood is definitely under threat from a Tory government Scotland did not vote for, held to ransom by extremists, and by a referendum result Scotland voted against.

If we are to be bound by the fateful decisions of a weak Tory government, set on a hard Brexit and unrepresentative of the political and cultural views of Scotland and detrimental to its economy, then this broken United Kingdom must end. This will result in Scotland becoming a fully independent country once again and free to choose to become a full member of the EU or, like Norway, an associate member.
Grant Frazer
Cruachan, Newtonmore