(Last Year’s) Christmas Message from An Old Atheist.

I still quite like it: http://wp.me/p3f2py-6a

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Herald letter: No £wall – “Queen ‘s advice to ‘think very carefully’ was correct”

IT is interesting that the Nationalists are incensed at the advice of the Queen in urging voters to “think very carefully” before making their decision in the referendum (“Queen ‘is a political tool'”, The Herald, December 18).

Obviously they wanted people not to think carefully about it. And who can blame them?

 

Peter A Russell

Jim Murphy has a lot of questions to answer.

Jim Murphy is politician who needs to explain a lot. He was part of the Blairite New Labour project. He voted for student fees. He voted for the war in Iraq. He stood alongside the Tories in Better Together.  He won’t scrap Trident.

And I have a compelling reason for demanding these explanations from him.

After all, the very name of Tony Blair is political poison, isn’t it?  

Of course. Except for when it comes to the achievements of the Labour governments which he led: the Scottish Parliament, the Good Friday Agreement, the National Minimum Wage, the freedom accorded to Gordon Brown to use the Treasury as an instrument of social policy, leading to tax credits for families and a minimum income for pensioners, and the right to join trade union. And successful interventions saving lives in Kosovo and limbs (‘long sleeve or short sleeve’) in Sierra Leone.

All of which were endorsed by UK and Scottish voters in three successive elections. So possibly not really that poisonous, was he?

And student fees? Isn’t that about helping the worst off into higher education, Jim?

True. Except that when you look at the outcomes, it is not. First, the policy ignores (and contributes to) the situation whereby 140,000 places at Further Education colleges have been cut. In other words, in order to allow a millionaire’s child so to get free tuition at St Andrew’s, unemployed people must go without  ‘second chance’ and returners courses which would get them into employment. Secondly, if the aim was to get more young people from poorer backgrounds into university, that has not worked either.

Outcomes on that front are more positive in England where graduates repay tuition fees when they have a good job.

But the war in Iraq? Jim Murphy was responsible for going to war on the lie of WMDs, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands,  wasn’t he?

Of course.  Except for not knowing in 2003 what we know now. Especially on the question of WMD, which were believed to have been in Iraq by everyone from the world’s major intelligence services to Ming Campbell, Tony Benn and George Galloway.  And that George W. Bush would endorse the most calamitous single decision possible by Paul Bremer, to disband the Iraqi army and security forces, causing the chaos and mass murder which followed.

Actually, it is quite hard to see how Jim Murphy is especially to blame for Iraq.

And Better Together: that just shows Labour as another set of Tories, doesn’t it?

Well, possibly  – but only if you think Scottish independence is more important than having a credible currency, and  an economy not dependent on oil that is now worth only half what it needs to if public services are going to be affordable even today, let alone later when an ageing population has its effect. (Ask John Swinney.)

And Trident: anyone who won’t scrap it is a warmonger addicted WMDs, isn’t he?

Some might be. But not in the Labour Party, which has a long-term commitment to multilateral nuclear disarmament. Which would actually get rid of more warheads and more weapons systems from the UK than any march to Aldermaston or demo at Faslane has ever achieved.

Greenham Common is proof positive of this: the Peace Camps achieved zero disarmament while international agreement closed the base.

My compelling reason for wanting Jim Murphy to do some explaining is this: I want him to be the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.

And the reason I want that is that if he does become leader, he will be on the spot to take to task some of the most enduring and unwarranted myths which persist about Labour.

For example, some say that many people tell them that they feel “let down by Labour”. How do they suggest that we respond: should we meekly say ‘it wisnae me’ or ‘we are so sorry, it won’t happen again?’

Or should we mount a fierce and determined defence of the achievements of the Blair and Brown governments: by listing all of the above, and more, such as doubling and tripling NHS expenditure, transforming Glasgow’s housing stock, lifting 1 million children out of poverty and increasing incomes for the poorest in the UK year on year?

Or to take another specific example, we are told that Labour has lost the Scottish Muslim Asian vote because of Iraq. Who is pointing out that the Muslim people of Kosovo were saved from genocide by the interventions of Labour in power – or that over 2 million Muslim girls go to school in Afghanistan because of our actions?

The point is that Jim Murphy will be asked these questions. He will unable to avoid them, nor to wish Labour’s record in power away.  He will need to admit to Labour’s undoubted failings, but also take on the critics and the enemies of the Labour Party and defeat them.

He will need to lash himself to the mast of Labour values and record and convince the Scottish people that we will serve them by delivering policies and programmes inspired by those values.

It will be a tough task. But because of Labour’s record is Jim Murphy’s record, he will need to fight on it. And because that record is one to be proud of, he can win.

That is why I am voting for Jim Murphy: because he has to deliver to Scotland some much-needed explaining about Scottish Labour, about what we stand for and –crucially – what we can achieve again in future.

 

Makar Liz Lochhead My Letter in Herald – Not in online edition.

As published, i.e., with a few Herald cuts (but annotated accordingly.)

Sir,

Colette Douglas Home is correct to question the wisdom of Liz Lochhead making herself a political cheerleader for the SNP. According to the SNP’s Code of Conduct [1] “a member shall not disavow the aims of the party in whole or in part.” In other words, her membership forbids criticism of the Scottish Government if the SNP is in power: speaking truth to power is not on.

On a wider note, it worth considering the role that literature and language has played historically.

Recently, in his masterful Radio 4 series “Germany: Memories of a Nation,” Neil MacGregor of the British Museum demonstrated the roles played by Martin Luther and Goethe in defining the language and culture of the German people. Likewise, the cunning James VI/I saw how a new shared Authorised Version of the Bible could unite his kingdom both religiously and politically[2].

On her own literary doorstep, Ms Lochead may have done well to look no further than Robert Burns. Those who have tried to comandeer his genius for or against the questions of the day (most recently in the independence referendum) may be missing the point a bit.

This is that the Burns canon (like that of his contemporary Goethe) is extensive and inclusive, with his subjects and lexis ranging from his native southwest to his forefathers’ northeast, encompassing lowland and highland, merchant and agricultural, warrior and pastoralist, republican, rebel and unionist, as a passionate lover and a teller of Scotland’s tales.

Burns’ entire life was led less than a century after the Act of Union; if he first “committed the Sin of Rhyme” in 1774, his writing career began less than  thirty years after Culloden and the final defeat of Stuart absolutism.

In that period, his work embraced all of a broken Scotland and set it as a single country within a poetic framework which has endured until the present day. It is in fact an inspirational example to poets as to how their work can heal a divided nation.

During the independence debate, I found myself reading one of my No-themed poems at an open mic night; in thanking me, the host reflected “if poets cannot debate this, who can?”

Let us hope that Liz Lochhead will defy the [3] censorship to which she has signed up as a requirement for membership of the SNP, and speak for the whole of Scotland. In doing so, she could make her own contribution towards mending our present-day political divisions. Again, if poets cannot do so, who can?

Yours

Peter A. Russell

 

[1] Cut by Herald: Presumably Ms Lochhead was warned by her party of its Code of Conduct, which says in paragraph 2.2.

[2] Cut by Herald: (It is a shame that through their idiocy, subsequent generations of the UK’s Scottish dynasty worked so hard to destroy his achievements and those of his editor-in-chief, the wonderfully monikered Bishop Lancelot Andrewes.)

[3] Cut by Herald: rather Stalinist

 

Herald letter 1st December. No paywall, no Herald edits.

Passages edited by the Herald in bold.

We have been told many times about the wonderful, energising effect of the independence referendum, which was no doubt the case for those in the happy-clappy Yes bubble. For the majority of us outside, the experience was very different, with our politics, our patriotism, our courage, our intelligence and our age-related faculties having been insulted by the Yes campaign.
The result is a divided Scotland, which opinion polls show to be marked by high levels of bad feeling between families, friends and neighbours. It is hard to see why the healing of these divisions is not the number one commitment of the Scottish Government. For example, the new First Minister told the Scottish Parliament last Thursday that she would govern for the whole of Scotland, then on Saturday convened a massed rally of pro-independence partisans, complete with waving Saltires and sentimental and warlike songs.
This is not the only opportunity that the Scottish Government has missed to reunite Scotland after the damage of the referendum campaign. Before 18th September, Alex Salmond undertook to convene an all-party Team Scotland to manage the ongoing process following the Yes vote that he so foolishly expected. Some of us believed then that he should have offered to set up such a team whatever the outcome, and invited others into a government of national unity and concilation to govern until the 2016 election.
The publication of the report of the Smith Commission offers another such opportunity. It is not perfect: in particular, many in the No camp believe that it risks going too far, as the referendum result only meant one thing: No to Scotland being an independent country.
However, it meets and exceeds the aims set in the Vow made by the Prime Minster, his Deputy and the Leader of the Opposition, by which the Yes campaign has set such great store since the result. Moreover, it is a cross-party document, whose signatories include both the SNP and the Scottish Green Party. And essentially, it is also necessarily a compromise, which many of us regard as a good thing in itself.
Scotland faces a stark choice. We can either continue deeper into a dark place of division and increasing polarisation. Or we can accept that although our differences continue, we need to live together, respecting those differences and accommodating them through a new constitutional settlement within the UK. The Smith Commission proposals offer the chance  to do just that.
It looks like they may be the last opportunity that we may have for reconciliation. Let us hope that even at this late stage, our politicians of all parties – but especially the SNP – give Smith the unqualified support it requires and deserves.
Yours
Peter A. Russell