ONE of the aspects of our First Minister’s public persona that marks her out as so different from incumbents south of the Border is her zest for literacy and the encouragement of this in our schools. It was so refreshing to see her last week presenting her Reading Inspiration Award to Prestwick Academy.

This enthusiasm in our First Minister is by no means a personal quirk in a highly educated woman; it has a hugely significant background in Scottish culture. In his A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830, TC Smout, writing about the parochial school system in the lowlands before the 1872 Act, said: “By any modern standards, of course, the whole system appears to be ramshackle, inadequate and disgraceful, with much of the teaching mechanical, many of the teachers slap-happy with the tawse, with classes much too large, attendance much too irregular and far too little to learn.

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“Yet what was actually achieved by these schools was the construction of a literate peasant society in the Scottish Lowlands that was not merely able to read but apparently loved reading.”

Our First Minister knows just how important it is for modern young people to develop a reading habit. Stephen Fry, in his autobiographical work Moab is my Washpot, recalls a schoolfriend of his who made the discovery of its transformative effect.

He wrote: “In my first year I had Fawcett as a friend and later a boy called Jo Wood, with whom I was to share a study in my second year. Jo Wood was sound, sound as a bell. Solid, cynical, amused and occasionally amusing, he did not appear to be very intelligent, and unlike Richard Fawcett and me, seemed uninterested in words, ideas and the world. But one day he said to me, ‘I’ve got it now. It’s reading, isn’t it?’

‘I’m sorry?’

‘You read a lot, don’t you? That’s where it all comes from. Reading. Yeah, reading.’

The next time I saw him he had a Herman Hess novel in his hands. I never saw him again without a book somewhere on his person. When I heard, some years later, that he had got into Cambridge, I thought to myself, I know how that happened. He decided one day to read.”

Of course we know that there are other very good universities! But how lucky we are to have a First Minister who has this insight and gives time to emphasising its importance.

Peter MacKenzie

I WAS interested to read the letter from Brian Lawson on his questions regarding Scottish Power (Letters, Jun 10) and would like to add some unexplained mysteries with Scottish Gas. Having been moved to that company for my dual-fuel supply at the beginning of February, I am still trying to get enough details from them regarding what I am expected to pay.

Since the date of the change I have submitted four sets of meter readings, the first on changeover day and the next on March 31, when the new tariffs were supposed to start. I expected a detailed bill for that period, confirming the original charges, but that has not yet arrived. Thereafter, I submitted readings on May 2 and June 5.

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During that time I was offered a fixed-price deal until the end of May 2023, which I have not accepted. Along with that, however, was their estimate of the price I would pay for my annual usage, based on last year’s usage. By dividing their annual total by 12, I reckoned that I would be paying around £150 per month.

Alternatively, by calculating on a 54% rise as advertised, on top of my previous payments, a monthly payment of approximately £185 would be required. Scottish Gas, however, wish me to set up a direct debit for £277 per month!

How on earth do these figures relate to each other and how can I be sure of the correct amount to pay? What kind of arithmetic do they employ?

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Moreover, the “bill” that I have now been sent, by email, states only the dates of the whole period from the beginning of March to the start of June, with just the figure of what I supposedly owe. No mention of the different tariffs applicable in March and the next two months, no mention of the units used or tariff applied, just more or less “here is the sum we want, so pay up”!

After being unable to get any answers on line and finding on several attempts that I would need an hour to spare to phone and get a response, I resorted to snail mail, detailing the information I need before setting up a Direct Debit. Four weeks later I have now received a letter telling me that they no longer respond to letters by sending a letter and I should use the website or telephone.

Are we simply supposed to roll over and play dead and accept this as customer service?

P Davidson

WELL done The National. Reading John Drummond’s piece in your Sunday edition, “Myths that spoil life for many, and what to do about them”, was like a breath of fresh air and a welcome relief from the daily updates of the survival of Boris Johnson that we receive from all sides. John’s piece certainly strengthens The National’s claim to be the only newspaper supporting independence.

RG Clark