Couple of letters I had in the Herald…

5th October:

ALLISTER Mackie (Letters, October 3) is entirely correct to point out the likely catastrophic results of a hard Brexit. I am sure that he would agree that the Brexit mess could have been avoided if more people had voted for Ed Miliband to be prime minster in 2015 rather than for other parties, thus avoiding David Cameron’s EU referendum altogether. That, of course, is water under the bridge.

We need to look to how the catastrophe can be avoided while adhering to the voters’ choice to leave the EU. It seems clear that the only option that would do so would be a European Economic Area (EEA) arrangement, most easily through membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta).

This is the only solution that meets Labour’s six tests and there is evidence that many on the Tory benches would support this solution. Add the SNP, Plaid Cymru and Northern Ireland parties and it becomes possible that this is the only option to command a parliamentary majority.

The time has come for the Opposition to lead the call for Efta/EEA and for the minor parties to follow that call. As a gesture of goodwill, it would also make matters much easier if Nicola Sturgeon used her party’s forthcoming conference to withdraw her empty threat of a second independence referendum in Scotland. We voted in the Brexit referendum as a single electorate, and we need to face its challenges as one.

Peter A. Russell

Today (Less elegant than usual, I am afraid.)

IT is always nice to see readers such as Alasdair Galloway (Letters, October 9) noticing my correspondence. However, he is sometimes a little mistaken about what I have actually written.

First, I do not claim (Letters, October 5) that the Labour Party advocates membership of the EEA and of EFTA: I said that in my view the only Brexit solution that could meet Labour’s Six Tests would be such an outcome. I too am disappointed that my party has not been clear in its policy and hope that it is the very clever Sir Keir Starmer who is in charge, rather than the perhaps slightly less clever Mr Corbyn. Time will tell, but a bit of leadership in a clear direction would not go amiss.

Secondly, my statement about people voting in 2015 other than to elect Ed Miliband as Prime Minister was a reference to the whole UK in a national General Election. The prospect of the SNP influencing a Labour-led Government was understandably anathema to many voters in England, but more LibDems voting Labour and indeed pro-Europe Tories across the UK voting Labour to avoid a referendum would have done the trick, and a Brexit referendum would have been avoided.

In contrast, Mr Galloway appears to think and judge events only in terms of the narrow spectrum of Scotland and Scottish Nationalism. And as his comments show, when people do that, they can very easily come to entirely the wrong conclusion.

Peter A Russell,

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Letter in Herald – heavily cut.

This is what the Herald published:

I NOTE the letter from your correspondent Keith McLeod (August 28); he is wrong on several counts. Not only does he believe that St Pancras Station serves the west of England (in fact it is the international gateway station for the Eurostar), but he repeats the full roster of misapprehensions about infrastructure projects purportedly paid for by Scots.

It might be tedious to deal with them all, so I will stick with just one: Mr McLeod claims Scots are contributing to the new London sewerage system – which is not public expenditure at all, and is being paid for in its entirety by Thames Water customers. I have no doubt there are other correspondents who will blow the rest of his examples out of the water. Mr McLeod also has no idea of how the Barnett Formula works. To take the case of HS2, we contribute two per cent of the spend – based on the economic benefit to Scotland assigned by the Scottish Government – but receive in return Barnett consequentials based on 100 per cent of the cost. So we get far more back than we put in.

These widespread mistaken beliefs are another example of the crisis of information which we face in the internet age. People believe things they want to, because someone told them it on Twitter or Facebook – the tavern and street corner de nos jours.

Peter A. Russell

This is what I sent them (major deletions in italics): 

We can all be very grateful for the letter from your correspondent Keith McLeod for a number of reasons.
First and foremost, he demonstrates the sheer ignorance of the case of many Scottish Nationalists. Not only does he believe that St Pancras Station serves the west of England (in fact it is the international gateway station for the Eurostar), but he repeats the full roster of misapprehensions about infrastructure projects purportedly paid for by Scots.
It might be tedious to deal with them all, so I will stick with just one: Mr McLeod claims Scots are contributing to the new London sewerage system – which is not public expenditure at all, and is being paid for in its entirety by Thames Water customers.I have no doubt there are other correspondents who will blow the rest of his examples out of the water. Mr McLeod  and his fellow Nationalist dupes also have no idea of how the Barnett Formula works. To take the case of HS2, we contribute 2% of the spend – based on the economic benefit to Scotland assigned by the Scottish Government – but receive in return Barnett consequentials based on 100% of the cost. So we get far more back than we put in.
Above all, these widespread mistaken beliefs are another example of the crisis of information which we face in the internet age. People believe things they want to, because someone told them it on Twitter or Facebook – the tavern and street corner de nos jours. Perhaps one day, when Scotland’s education system is restored to its former excellence, we will teach our children not to be like Mr Mcleod, but how to identify and avoid misinformation. When we do so, Scottish Nationalist propaganda will provide some very pertinent examples for the classroom.
Yours
Peter A. Russell

Letter in the Herald: the information crisis.

YOUR correspondent Alan M Morris (Letters, August 2) is of course correct to point out the dangers of the Fake News phenomenon. However, in doing so, he presents an incomplete picture, in that in 2014 the Yes campaign made a number of assertions which have proven to be at best optimistic and at worst untruths. For example, the SNP told Scots that an independent Scotland could have a currency union with rUK when this was not the case. Likewise, the Scottish Government White Paper made assertions about the future of Scottish retirement pensions at the same time as John Swinney was telling his colleagues in private that they could not be afforded.

These various claims and counter-claims have been argued to death, as has the validity of the Scottish Government’s GERS figures (although it remains a mystery why the SNP would continue to publish figures which are detrimental to its own case). What is more important is to acknowledge that we now live in post-Gutenburg information climate, in which our information is gleaned not from authoritative academic and journalistic sources, but from the internet and social media such as Twitter and Facebook– the digital equivalents of the tavern and the street corner. The result was again seen in the Scottish referendum, where people chose to believe what they wanted to believe (for example, the laughable Business For Scotland) over that which they did not wish to (for example, the CBI or the Institute for Fiscal Studies). There are certainly other good examples in the Brexit debate.

There are two conclusions that may be drawn from this situation.

The first is that people are not so stupid as to be taken in by Fake News and propaganda, and voted according to their views based on a critical appraisal of the information that is available. The second is that people are indeed stupid, and were taken in and their view should not be trusted. I prefer the first of these, as much as I regret the Brexit result. Others, including Mr Morris appear to favour the second conclusion – although the implication is that if people are gullible fools and will be “hoodwinked”, they should never be allowed a vote ever again.

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: Ballots and UDI.

YOUR correspondent Alistair Galloway (Letters, May 11) suggests that the SNP should seek a mandate for UDI in future manifestos. Your readers might like to consider the following example of what happens when you take people’s votes away, as he suggests.

When the National Union of Mineworkers was set up following the post-war Labour Government’s nationalisation of the coal industry, it was decided that never again would the miners go into national strike divided. To prevent this, it was decided that there would be popular vote in form of a mandatory pithead ballot on any proposal for a national coal strike. This process resulted in the successful strikes of the early 1970s under Joe Gormley.

However, when Mr Gormley’s successor Arthur Scargill proposed national strikes to the membership, he was defeated. His response was to change the NUM constitution so that a national strike could be called by a delegate conference, and in due course he secured the strike that he wanted through such a conference. As a result, the union was divided, the miners’ strike of 1984-85 did not hold and was defeated, pit closures accelerated and deep mining is now extinct as a major industry. Possibly worst of all, many mining communities were bitterly divided and remain so in the memories of all concerned.

Scotland has been bitterly divided too, by the 2014 referendum and its continuing aftermath, in which the First Minister and her Government perversely fail to represent the two million Scots who voted to stay in the UK. It is not hard to imagine the outcome if those two million were to be betrayed and led into UDI, having cast their ballots in good faith that their vote in 2014 was decisive and would settle the issue of independence for a generation.

Mr Galloway has made it clear on many occasions that he supports independence at any price. For most people, however, I hope that it is more important to put Scotland back together again in honouring the outcome of 2014 than in promoting further – and potentially catastrophic – division and bitterness.

Peter A Russell

Herald letter: Scotland’s currency (“Haud me back”).

THERE is another very good reason “sterlingisation” is a non-starter for an independent Scotland within the EU: quite simply it is impossible to see how or why Brussels would allow a member state to use the currency of a non-member state as an international currency in direct competition to the euro (Agenda: “Not such a sterling idea for justice and sovereignty”, The Herald, February 13). If Scotland were to do so, why should, for example, other states not use the pound as well, or the dollar, or the yen?

At the same time, there are major impediments to a new independent Scottish currency. On the one side there is the question of savings: would these assets of individuals and families be forcibly converted from sterling to poonds (or whatever they will be called)? Conversely, there is the issue of existing mortgages and loans: in 99 per cent of cases, these are contracted to be repaid in pounds sterling.

As the currency of an untried economy that would immediately be depressed by the loss of a large chunk of its income in the form of tens of billions of fiscal transfers from the rest of UK, the poond would undoubtedly be valued by the markets at a level lower than the pound. So the case of the SNP will be: “Vote for independence to devalue your savings and put up your mortgage repayments.” Tempting.

Peter A. Russell

Herald letter: Institutional Cleansing

THE process described by Allan Sutherland, whereby all signs of Scotland’s Britishness are to be eliminated by guidance, regulation and custom and practice determined by the Scottish Government, could be best defined as “institutional cleansing”. Indeed, there is now a good deal of healthy suspicion that what the SNP failed to achieve by its failed referendum, it now seeks to bring about by stealth.

In that light, it would be far better if ceremonial issues such as the protocol for the flying of flags were taken out of the political arena, and made the responsibility of the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament. This would also reflect the position so frequently ignored by the First Minister and her colleagues, that she and they are in office to serve the Parliament, rather than vice-versa.

Peter A Russell,

Poem re-posted for International Holocaust Memorial Day

Who’s That Knocking At The Door?
Theodor Kramer
(1897 – 1958 b. Vienna)

Who’s that knocking at the door
Too early for most souls?
It’s just the baker’s boy my pet
Dropping off some rolls

Who’s that knocking at the door?
I’ll go, my child, don’t stir
Just a man at the neighbours’
Asking who we were

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Run your bath, you needn’t care
That letter we’re expecting
Here’s the postman on the stair

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Now there, just make the bed
It’s the landlord: we’ll be put out
On the first of the month, he said.

Who’s that knocking at the door?
The fuchsia blossom is so near:
My sweetheart, pack my toilet bag
– And don’t weep while they are here.