Herald letter: How SNP Populism Has Ruined Holyrood.

THE disproportionate furore over the proposed car parking tax is symptomatic of a much wider malaise in Scottish politics.

Those of us with long memories can recall that when the Scottish Parliament was set up, the intention was that it would be a less adversarial legislature than “two swords’ length” Westminster. This would mean even the most contentious issues could be decided by rational and pragmatic discussion and that parties would combine to get the best possible outcomes in the governance of the country. In the early years of Holyrood, this concept was upheld by the Labour/LibDem coalitions, and by the SNP/Tory arrangement that followed.

However, then came the independence referendum of 2014, and the reckless populist Yes campaign which specifically set about demonising every party that did not support independence. Few can forget the way in which the SNP and its supporters traduced those who disagreed with them, calling them traitors, quislings and cowards.

It was the duty of the Scottish Government to bring the nation back together after that bruising and divisive episode. Instead we have had to put up with an utterly irresponsible First Minister who could not even find it in herself to attend a service of reconciliation. She has since then continuously worked to undermine the decision taken by the Scottish people in 2014 in naked pursuit of party political advantage, urged on by her fanatical support.

As a result, the situation in which Scotland now finds itself is one where even modest changes in public policy become proxy battles in the Yes/No culture wars. Likewise a single awkward question being asked of the SNP on a late-night television panel show sparks conspiracy theory outrage.

The populist genie is out of the bottle, and we cannot expect political debate and decision-making to improve at any time soon.

Peter A Russell,


Herald letter: In Depth Polling Suggestions.

[Edited by Herald – original had word ‘moneymaking’ before ‘wheeze.’]

IT is interesting that Angus Robertson’s new wheeze has an objective of “in depth polling” (“Robertson heads new polling group in bud for Indyref2”, The Herald, February 4). In a spirit of helpfulness, I would like to suggest a few in-depth questions he might like to ask the Scottish public, namely:

If leaving one union (the EU) is a Bad Thing, do you think leaving a longer-established and more economically valuable union (the UK) is a Good Thing?

Are you happy to have your salary, benefits and pensions to be paid in a different (as yet unknown but probably less valuable) currency if Scotland leaves the UK?

Do you support giving up our nuclear deterrent at a time when our enemies are developing new nuclear weapons?

And of course:

If politicians define that a referendum as Once In A Generation, should they honour that promise? And how long is a generation?

You’re welcome, Angus.

Peter A Russell

Poem on John Hume’s 82nd birthday

John Hume has dementia, and cannot remember what he achieved in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. We should not allow the world to not remember.

I had the privilege of meeting him when he delivered the Glasgow Fabians Lecture in the late 1980s. (I also bought him a drink. Or maybe two)

This poem is about him and Seamus Heaney.

The St. Columb’s Old Boys Club.

John said let us spill not our blood, but our sweat together,
His father taught him on St Patrick’s night you can’t eat a flag
Seamus made poetry’s redress with words as harsh as weather
And gave it a glorious shake in the Good Old Rattle Bag
And John left off with a whiskey from the priesthood way
To give his people cross-border credit in unions where it was due
Seamus put poet’s pen to Ulster paper to grapple and to play
With lines to define like the Bann and Foyle and make the world anew –
So bordered, confessional lives need be not blessing nor curse
The craft and sweat of labour that those obdurate men could give
Bring blessings in themselves to save them and us from worse
Making room to argue out loud together as well as love and live
John, Seamus, from two-name city, an island, people, province of divide
From a school that made peace and poetry equally Nobel prized.

Herald letter: Sturgeon and her Salmond shambles.

(Part in italics cut by the Herald.)

IN the present chaos that is British politics, Nicola Sturgeon could have easily stood out.

Although she has limited ability and zero imagination, all she had to do was to show competence, and she would have had a good Brexit war by default.

Her role was to remember her lines and not bump into the Bute House furniture.

However, that was before the Salmond case and the blunders and appalling judgment which she and those closest to her have displayed in this sorry and shambolic affair.

If the SNP was not controlled by the First Minister and her husband, Peter Murrell in a manner reminiscent of the Honeckers and the Ceaucescus, her party would call for – and would deserve to have– her head.

But the whole world will know from now on: never again can Ms Sturgeon pretend to be the only grown-up in the room and get away with it.

Peter A Russell

Love Thy Neighbour (part 2.)

THE various responses (Letters, December 19) to the aside in my earlier letter on loving thy neighbour (December 18) had prompted me to write a very lengthy reply: it included references to Father Christmas, Arthur C. Clarke and my mother, as well as the fall of the Berlin Wall and my beliefs as a liberal atheist.

However, my old pal Alastair Galloway (Letters, December 20) has enabled me to cut through all that verbiage with his reference to the Holy Scripture that is Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland – the Book of GERS, if you like (located in the New Testament between Revelation and the Acts of Nicola Sturgeon.)

To be serious, that GERS shows Scotland in deficit to the rest of UK is only of secondary importance. I would support the principle of redistribution if the flow was the other way: that Scottish revenues were shared and pooled with the less well-off parts of Tyneside, with the valleys of Wales, and the chronically depressed parts of Belfast, for example. In the same way, one of the reasons I voted for Remain in the Brexit referendum was because the UK is a net contributor to EU funding according to our means as a larger member state, providing much needed investment to lagging areas, especially in the newer member states.

For Mr Galloway and his fellow Nationalists, GERS and what it represents is a barrier to independence. To others (like myself) it is an indicator of the successful partnership between regions and nations in the UK. That is the difference: some of us see such sharing and pooling as a success and a strength and a Good Thing in their own right, while Nationalists see them as weakness and failure.

Nationalism seeks differences, barriers and walls,while social democracy seeks to dissolve them by concentrating on what we have in common and how we can support our neighbour.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy New Year (when it comes). Let us all try to live better together in 2019.

Peter A Russell,

Herald letter: Labour and Independence – Love They Neighbour.

YOUR correspondents (Letters, December 11 & 17) debate why and why not the Scottish Labour Party should change its policy so as to support Scottish independence. There are several very good reasons, which really should be obvious.

The first is that the Labour Party believes that “by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”. In other words, its philosophy is one of mutual support and co-operation, and indeed of loving our neighbour as ourselves. For my part, I cannot see how any Christian can simultaneously support that commandment and Scottish independence. (No doubt I will be enlightened by those who believe that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are not our neighbours.)

In practical terms, this philosophy means that Labour supports the continued redistribution of UK resources, currently running from London and the southeast to parts of the country where revenues are lower and/or services are more expensive. As the Scottish Government tells us, Scotland is now consistently a beneficiary of this system. It would be illogical for Scottish Labour to turn its back on this major source of funding for public services and jobs in Scotland.

Secondly, in no time in my 41 years of membership of the Labour Party, 33 of them in Scotland, have I ever known anyone in any branch or affiliate bring forward a resolution that it should support independence. If these have occurred anywhere, they have obviously been defeated. Even in the 2014 referendum campaign when a “Labour For Indy” group popped up, it was found to be a handful of nobodies, whose main publicity photo comprised SNP activists pretending to be Labour members. Just why should Labour change its policies if its membership does not want it?

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: TV Brexit debate.

WE hear today (November 29) that we are going to be treated to the pointless spectacle of a televised debate on Brexit, and that it will not on this occasion be moderated by Andrew Neil. This is a shame, but hardly surprising as neither Theresa May nor Jeremy Corbyn would relish being taken apart by Mr Neil’s forensic analytical skills.

In his absence, I have another suggestion: Mr Jack Dee, currently to be found chairing another major programme, broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It is of course called I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, which would qualify the two politicians in question admirably on this occasion. (They could even include Nicola Sturgeon on the same principle.)

Peter A Russell