Couple of letters I had in the Herald: Royal Commission on UK Constitution.

3rd September.

THERE can be no doubt that the UK’s political structure is in a terrible mess, and that the time has finally come for the kind of radical constitutional overhaul that many of us have been calling for since the 1980s.

The twin rocks on which the UK has foundered have been the conjoined twin referendums.

In Scotland, the country has been fractured by the inability of the losing side to acknowledge its de-feat, and its obdurate continuation as a noisily large minority. The rock at UK level has been Parliament’s inability to reconcile the outcome of an exercise in direct democracy (the Brexit referendum) with the workings of a representative democracy.

Against this background, the recent contributions of Gordon Brown and Professor Jim Gallagher will be welcomed by most sensible people. However, individual efforts of this kind are unlikely to be enough. What is required is a major inquiry, in the form of a Royal Commission on the British Constitution, and the commitment of all political parties to enact its findings as far as possible.

Its remit should include electoral reform, the role and status of devolved administrations, the responsibilities and composition of the Upper House, the use of referendums (including thresholds for approval), the role of the Speaker, and the codification of the constitution itself.

Those with long memories will remember the defeat of the 1979 devolution referendum, and that what emerged 20 years later was a much better arrangement than the assembly which would have been delivered at that time. In the same way, the Scottish and UK referendums might in turn lead to a long-overdue modernisation of the way in which we are governed, and a settlement which will be accepted by most reasonable people.

Peter A Russell, Glasgow G13.

7th September.

STEWART Chalmers (Letters, September 5) writes that Westminster has had a century to sort out the issues to which I refer (Letters, September 3) when proposing a Royal Commission on the British Constitution. In doing so he misses the point.

For example, life peerages as we know them date back to 1958, the current voting system based on the franchise for over-18s to 1969, referendums to 1975, and the devolved administrations to 1999. The current arrangements have developed piecemeal over Mr Chalmers’ century, resulting in a hand-knitted Heath-Robinson contraption of a constitution.

Now that its wheels and wings have fallen off and its engine has blown up, the people of the UK deserve a sleek, efficient and up-to-date model – perhaps like the one we built for our German neighbours.

Peter A Russell,Glasgow G13

Herald letter: Citizens Assemblies

IT is a shame that your correspondent Alan Fitzpatrick (Letters, July 4) is so sceptical about the value of Citizens Assemblies, although widespread cynicism was inevitable when the announcement was made by Nicola “Once In A Generation” Sturgeon. These doubts can only have increased with the naked admission by Joanna Cherry MP that their specific and dedicated task will be to advance the cause of Scottish independence (“SNP’S Cherry fuels fears over Citizens Assembly”, The Herald, July 3).

However, all is not lost. Maybe the idea will be salvaged if Citizens Assemblies are piloted in less contentious areas of public policy, for example, assisted dying, or the decriminalisation of drugs, or maybe even the division of school children on the grounds of their parents’ religions. Or whether disruptive and provocative marches such as those held by All Under One Banner and the Orange Order have any place in modern Scotland.

Or would that be going too far?

Peter A Russell.

Herald letter: Thank God We Voted No.

WHAT with Brexit, TV licences for the over-75s, and Boris Johnson, things seem a bit a of mess. But of course, we can cheer ourselves with the realisation that had Yes voters from Nicola Sturgeon down had their way, things would have been very different.

An independent Scotland would not be facing Brexit, but would be struggling to meet the terms of Acquis Communitaire so as to rejoin the EU, having left in March 2016. This would mean massive public expenditure cuts and the application of VAT to items such as children’s clothing and shoes.

Pensioners would not be facing paying for their BBC services, but would be coming to terms with John Swinney’s report from 2014 which showed that Scotland could not afford to sustain their incomes at current levels.

And Scotland’s Prime Minister would not most likely be Boris Johnson, but a man who has been charged – though denies – nine charges of sexual assault, two of attempted rape, two of indecent assault and one of breach of the peace.

Thank God we voted No.

Peter A Russell.

Labour Hame article: a letter to Richard Leonard.

Dear Richard,

You will recall that I wrote to you back when Kez resigned from the leadership and that I urged you to stand as her potential replacement. You may also have seen my letter in the Herald shortly after, in which I hoped that you might become the Scottish Alan Johnson, just as Anas Sarwar might have become Scotland’s Sadiq Khan. That Scottish Labour is now in a very different place is clearer than ever since the European Elections; however, I believe that it would be as unfair to place all the blame at your door as it would have been to blame Anas if he had won the leadership.

The reasons for our crushing defeat in that campaign are numerous. Some of them are structural and some of them are tactical. There are of course others who will be able to see more clearly than I can what brought about such a catastrophe, and I will limit my own comments to saying we have no-one to blame but ourselves. A party which represents the message “for the many not the few” in the context of its position as the party of devolution or “the best of both worlds” must have some kind of genius for suicide if it fails to get that message across.

What I wish to concentrate on is how we move forward, or how Scottish Labour can be a worthwhile project again: one which has real relevance to the people of Scotland.

Before setting that out in more detail, I would establish that the siren song of supporting independence is just that. If you want a (grim) laugh, it is worth contemplating where we would be if the New Nats who joined the SNP in the wake of the 2014 referendum had had the gumption to join Scottish Labour in their tens of thousands instead: we would have been an independence party. However, they were too stupid to do so, and we can judge what happens to SNP-lite by the fate of the Scottish Greens in the Euro Elections. In country after country across Europe, Green parties hoovered up votes from Social Democrat parties, but not in Scotland, where the evidence was that if people wanted to vote for nationalists, they would go to the organ-grinder not the monkey. There is no future for Scottish Labour in being a fading shadow of the SNP.

At the same time, it would be highly dangerous to hang on to the idea of Scottish Labour as the natural home of Scottish voters, or as the cultural party of Scotland. That was for many years an illusion created by the FPTP system, and we have to admit to our position: we are no longer a credible party of government at Holyrood. It is more likely that any future chance that we have of influence would be, for example, as a junior partner in a multi-party minority government or as a minor player delivering confidence and supply to such a government.

As a result, we need to look at what roles we will be able to play, and how we can achieve a position of influence. In a conventional strategy-building way, we can look at these in terms of the old acronym VSOP – Vision, Strategy and Operational Programmes.

Our Vision is unproblematic, as it is established and clear, as stated above: “for the many not the few” “in the best of both worlds”.

As far as Strategy to support this Vision are concerned, Labour needs to be bold and honest. This means seeing that if we are not going to be influential as we once were in terms of votes and Holyrood and Westminster seats, we need to exercise influence in terms of ideas and policies.

Observers of the current SNP administration can see that they are in truth totally hopeless in a whole range of devolved areas: education, economic development and employment, transport and infrastructure, energy and resources are all being neglected in favour of their independence obsession. The country’s policy community is crying out for new ideas and a new practical radicalism that would make Scotland again the envy of the world in some of these areas.

So our Operational Programmes should be a new approach from Labour, that would see us making common cause with other parties and bodies within and outwith Holyrood.

For example, on transport we could combine with the Green Party and local councils as well as trade unions to create a plan for sustainable urban and rural public transport. We could work with the same parties on green energy plans for Scotland. Likewise, we could combine with the Tory Party and business organisations and trade unions to seek to build a business environment that works both for employers and employees. ‘Big tent’ partnership working of this kind could also play an invaluable role in post-CFP fisheries and post-CAP farming policy.

Such collaboration would also be a return to the non-adversarial politics envisaged by Donald Dewar and the architects of Holyrood.

It is also vital that we combine with the Liberal Democrats and COSLA to create a double-devolution plan that returns power to local voters, if only because the Scottish Government cannot deliver all of its current responsibilities, let alone more after Brexit. So a transfer of powers onward to local councils and regional consortia makes complete sense in terms of accountability and practicality.

At the same time, such a development would help us, as Scottish Labour, to play to our biggest electoral strength; we must be clear that we are still a major force in local government.

For too long, Scottish Labour councils have been regarded as either a nursery for up and coming MSPs or as a dumping ground for those on a downward path. Our councillors are now our most important resource in delivering services for the many not the few. We should be celebrating their work and encouraging more activists to take on the unique role of citizen-politician that being a councillor offers.

Never again should local councillors be the poor relation amongst our elected members. Scottish Labour can and must be the party of Scottish local government: its leading light and its leading advocate. We must also dump the idea that Scottish Government knows better than local councillors when it comes to local agreements and coalitions.

In the short term, we also need to look at how we are represented at Holyrood, if our aim of being the party of influence through ideas is to be achieved.

We need to take a good hard look at those we send there and whether they can do that job. We can all see that some of our best MSPs in the past were experts in the own field before their election: Sam Galbraith springs to mind, as does Dr Richard Simpson. Both of these are sadly gone – one deceased and the other retired – but since then do we have one single eminent scientist, one single prominent academic? Or even one single trade union General Secretary or Poverty NGO Chief Executive? Who are our outstanding engineers, doctors, farmers, musicians, and authors?

In another world, we would have Professor Adam Tomkins, hooked in during his trajectory from the Scottish Socialist Party to the Tories, as our spokesperson on the constitution; and Professor Angus Armstrong (rejected by a selection meeting) as our spokesperson on economics. There must be others out there would do a better job than the current crop, and who would have the authority to command respect beyond our party and beyond Holyrood for the policies they head up. However, to recruit them to Scottish Labour and to Holyrood, we must be clear that their contribution will be taken seriously and that we will support them to the full in the debating chamber and in our policies.

Our next MSP intake must be built on the confidence that we have experts put into the Parliament by the party through its regional lists – which will include these expert voices, and also those who have shown political expertise (such as Anas Sarwar and Jackie Bailie) and campaigning expertise (such as Monica Lennon) We already have someone who actually ran a business (Daniel Johnson) – but we need more from the worlds of manufacturing and high technology.

The prize on offer is for you to lead a group of experts in a Parliament of Nobodies (just look at the Scottish Government benches.) And if CLPs wish to get mediocrities elected, they can be free to select them as candidates and campaign to get them elected if they can.

Richard, you are well-known for your knowledge and appreciation of the achievements of Keir Hardie a century and more ago. So you will know that he set the UK’s progressive politics on a different path when he saw that the old Liberal agenda of the mercantile class was not serving the working man and woman.

It is amply clear now that Scottish Labour’s agenda is increasingly irrelevant and needs a radical overhaul, possibly as great as that delivered by Hardie. You have the opportunity to start that process.

I hope that you can succeed in doing so, and indeed completing it. I also hope that you take this letter in the spirit that it is intended – as a proposed strategy to create a Scottish Labour Party that will be relevant and influential in the decades to come.

Yours in comradeship,


Herald letter: the Great SNP Vote Theft.

BEFORE the European elections, the SNP said that a vote for it would be a vote against Brexit, and not a vote for independence. And it now of course comes as no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon is immediately after the election using those votes to demand a new independence referendum.

The Great Vote Theft goes still further, as the Nationalists claim that Scotland voted to stay in the EU in 2016. This is not the case: in that referendum, Scotland voted for the UK to stay in the EU. This is in line with the decision of Scottish voters in 2014 to stay in the UK, seeing the benefits of sharing and pooling resources, risks and sovereignty for mutual benefit.

My voting paper in 2016 referred only to the UK’s membership of the EU, and had no disclaimer that “your vote may not apply in Scotland and may be assumed to be in favour of independence”. It seems that the SNP and its supporters had a different ballot.

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: Question Time People’s Revolt ‘aux armes, citoyen(ne)s!’

IT has long been a feature of the Scottish media that – with honourable exceptions including some in The Herald – the hostility of the SNP and its supporters to any kind of criticism has closed down scrutiny of the Scottish Government in many public arenas.

Luckily, the format of UK audience participation shows such as Question Time take the debate beyond the parochial Scottish media bubble (“Call for BBC to refer itself to watchdog over audiences”, The Herald, May 20). It is always a joy to see how Scotland’s SNP establishment squirms when taken to task by members of the public who cannot be cowed in the same way that some toadying professional journalists allow. Whatever their political affiliation, we should all salute the courage of these individuals who dare to speak out. It is a sign of both the weakness and the authoritarian instincts of nationalists that they wish to silence such voices.

Next time Question Time is in Glasgow I will apply to be in the audience and urge every lover of free speech and public scrutiny of our political classes to do likewise when it comes to your town.

Let the Question Time People’s Revolt continue and grow. We, the majority, will not be silenced.

Peter A Russell,

RIP Les Murray

Who I think I met in a pub in Norwich in the 1970s. He encouraged me to write poetry – above all, not to feel intimidated by those poets we admire, but to feel fellowship in the same struggle for words.

Mr Murray’s Words.

Riding on the central lowlands railway to the east
From the Soccerland end of the bar-bell line to make Haymarket
In past an earlier Murray’s field: this car today is full of
Ring-pulls of Tennants and Red Stripes who have

Brought along with them students and first year workers like
This couple: her next to me and him across from her, still
Linked by the spent cartridges of their last night’s
Hormones and the complicit sparkle of their day out after

I settle in some way similarly with my companion, who I swear
Forty years ago I met once in a pub backroom
In one his medieval knots of roundabouts
By the cathedral of the concrete university city

His are some parched towns and the flooded outback in
The Vernacular Republic; I long to be at that place
But am now fixed, a bluebottle butting inside this carriage
Intersection, an occluded Venn diagram of muscular young hope

Clipped across the sunshine cloud world, on a grenade splashed path
With a cut-out heron, an Asian family picnic on a racing green park,
Random gazing toy cattle, a gable end with its eyes put out,
Slops of spiny broom baby sick on a hill’s old shoulders,

Each harpooned between Bathgate-Livingston North-Uphall
In shattering relief while Mr Murray’s words keep coming
One after another straight and without fail like every polished rail
On the return journey home from Perth to New South Wales.