Letters published and unpublished

Letter to Herald not published Commons Syria Vote

1st September 2013

Sir,

Andrew Sanders letter regarding the Commons vote on action against the use of chemical weapons in Syria illustrates a very curious part of the nationalist campaign, that of denigrating Scotland and its influence. In truth, the government motion was defeated by a combination of opposition votes (including those of Scottish MPs) and Tory rebels. In other words, neither of these groups alone could have created the same outcome.

If – as I suspect – Mr Sanders welcomes the outcome of the Commons debate, it would be expected that he would be wildly extolling the actions of Scottish MPs, and would be extremely proud that they made their votes – and in turn, our votes – count. Instead, the power of the independence debate to diminish horizons and distort debate is such that he deliberately ignores them and surrenders all credit to English Tories. What is certain, however, is that without its MPs at Westminster, Scotland would have had absolutely no chance of influencing UK policy, and military action would probably have been approved.

Mr Sanders and other nationalists should remember that to leave the UK would mean forfeiting all Scottish influence in UK foreign policy, and in doing so turning our backs on inputs to its permanent seat at the UN Security Council. And if we really care about what happens in Syria, it would be criminal to walk away from the Security Council, which should ultimately be the source of solutions to that troubled country.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Letter to Herald not published national anthems

Sir,

Kenneth Neil and others make a number of elementary errors in their comments regarding national anthems.

The first is to assume that anyone takes seriously or even knows the text of God Save The Queen beyond the opening lines (just watch the lips of footabllers and athletes asked to sing it!). In fact, the only people who want to get as far verse six are the minority of Scots deliberately seeking a grievance.

The second error is to take seriously the enmity expressed at a football match. To boo and jeer one’s opponents is all part of the fun.

And finally, to refer to battles such as Bannockburn in terms of modern nation-states is absurd. At the time, Scotland (like England and Wales) had more in common with current-day Somalia, being the subject of multiple disputes between local and regional warlords, all of whom were of Norman background (including Robert the Bruce.)

Yours

Peter A. Russell

Letter to Herald not published VisitScotland timeline bias

5th July 2013

Sir,

It is the 65th anniversary of the Labour Party introducing the National Health Service, which has been one of the great social achievements of the UK in Scotland.

It is therefore disappointing to see that the timeline shown on the official VisitScotland website does not see fit to mention this historic event, while the election of the first SNP MP in 1945 is considered to be much more important (even if he was duly ejected by the Labour candidate a few months later.)

Looking more closely at the Timeline, we can see other instances of bias and distortion, for example the way in which the Union of Parliaments in 1707 is laughably subsumed under the heading of ‘The Jacobites and the Highland Clearances’. It is also claimed that the Poll Tax led to a revival of Scottish nationalism when of course the SNP was a miserable failure at that time, and their rallying cry of “Free by 93” became “The Wee 3 MPs in 93”.

In an especially odd omission, there is no mention at all of Scots who have served as UK Prime Ministers, from John Stuart, Earl of Bute to significant modern figures on the world stage like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Does VisitScotland assume that Scots are not proud that these, who have reached the highest elected office in the land? If so, this is like a US state shunning its own who had become President, which would be unthinkable.

We have by now become used to a Scottish government which only speaks for its own voters (which SNP Cabinet Secretary speaks for the majority in the country that does not support independence?) However, taxpayers have a right to expect that our government agencies like VisitScotland should not mirror that bias.

Yours,

Peter Russell

Letter to Herald published with cuts: Better Together

3rd July 2013

Sir,

Ian Bell continues to beat the drum against the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK, and in the process, he gives the lie to the nonsense put around by his fellow separatists that the media are biased in favour of the ‘Better Together’ campaign. However, at the same time, he seeks to promulgate another myth, in this case that there is no positive case for the continuation of the union.

Normally, the onus is on those who advocate change to prove its benefits, and in this the Yes campaign is continuing to fail, as policy after policy unravels under the weight of rational examination. The latest instance is the promise of ‘jobs for life’ for armed services personnel, which presumes an unending period of financial comfort, where there will never be a need to take difficult choices with the nation’s finances. It is also worth pondering what sort of people would want to join the forces to sit around and get old comfortably in a pacifist Scotland, and whether they would make effective soldiers, sailors and air personnel.

It is surely much better to have a defence force representing a major player in world affairs, which can play a strong role in tackling security issues at home and abroad, drawing its strength from all parts of the UK, which also guarantees an adequate turnover of staff to preserve the essential age profile required. Above all it is worth reminding your readers that the influence of the UK is much greater in bodies such as the UN, NATO and the EU than that of an independent Scotland could ever be. Internationally, Scotland and the UK are better together.

Another example is that of the national economy, whereby the combined industrial and commercial structure of UK is far more varied and sophisticated, and therefore more resilient, than that of Scotland alone, which would depend overwhelmingly on a single extraction-based industry, i.e. North Sea oil and gas. Nationalists are always very keen to point to Scandinavia as an example, but they very rarely admit that Norway is desperate to diversify its industrial base and struggles to develop onshore industries. In contrast, the UK economy is already diversified with strengths in knowledge- and skills-based sectors, such as financial services and manufacturing in London and the Northeast of England, to name just two examples. Norway, on the other hand, has all of its eggs in the one hydrocarbon basket. Industrially, Scotland and UK are better together.

Scotland has shared in the benefits of social progress within the UK, historically for example through the introduction of old age pensions, the NHS, and equal opportunities laws, and more recently through the polices of the last Labour government which lifted 1 million children out of poverty, and tripled spending on the NHS. In 2005, Scots votes helped elect a Labour government, when more individuals voted for the Tories than for Labour in England. In 2010, Scots thwarted an outright Cameron victory, although the coalition means that Scots Liberal Democrats and Tory voters got their choice of government. In 2015, the rest of us can vote to get them out. Politically, Scotland and the UK are better together.

The UK is not perfect, although measures such as Professor Michael Porter’s Social Progress Index lists us as no. 2 in the world for health and happiness. However, opinion polls show consistently that more people would prefer to remain part of the union than to gamble their future on the uncertainty of independence. These people are not dupes or fools, but our fellow citizens who know that Scotland’s history was shared with the rest of Britain, and that its future should be shared too. They are also convinced that Scotland and the UK are better together.

Yours

Peter A. Russell

Letter to Herald Not published: Burns and Independence

26th June 2013

Sir,

It is interesting that Maggie Chetty has entered the debate on the fatuous claim that Robert Burns would have been in the Yes Scotland camp.

It is always to be welcomed when ex-Communists (such as Ms Chetty) change their attitude to the right of small countries to self-determination, as they have not always supported these, as in cases of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic States. However, when changing ideological horses, it is also important to ditch other baggage, in this case the fallacious theories of political literary criticism.

In Marxist terms, this took the form of asking the question of how any particular work fitted into the political theories of Marx, Engels and Lenin, and came to such conclusions as that of Georg Lukas that the historical novels of Flaubert should be dismissed as “barbarism,” as they did not support this ideology. For the good of balance, it should also be admitted that on the other side of the coin, e.g., the Great Tradition theories of the Anglo-Saxon tradition tended to dismiss likewise any literature which did not fit into its elitist moral and cultural framework.

This also goes to show that there are always pitfalls for the unwary in trying to try to recruit literary culture to support any political standpoint, and the independence debate is no exception.

It is instead far better to appreciate that art (like life which it reflects) is usually riddled with ambiguity, and that it is part of the task of great authors to describe the world in ways which are not clear-cut and indeed may be contradictory. In this case, Burns has left us poems which both praise and condemn Scotland’s place in the Union; that he can do so with equal conviction and persuasiveness on both sides of the argument is a mark of his genius and his achievement.

Yours

Peter A. Russell

Letter to Herald Not published: Assisted Suicide

Friday 20th June 2013

Sir,

Suicide is a choice which people may legally take, but which may not be available to them if they contract a terminal complaint or disease. Indeed, one of the great cruelties of the law as it stands is that if an individual is robbed of their motor functions, suicide is denied them exactly at the time when they may wish most to consider it. In this sense, assisted suicide is an equalities issue.

In another context, assisted suicide is a matter of personal choice, similar to safe and legal abortion, and it should be perfectly possible to draw up legal safeguards to ensure a person’s right to choose in end of life situations. LIke abortion, many will find this unacceptable on moral or religious grounds, but in the end, they should not be allowed to deny it to others who believe differently.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Attracting inward investment

Wednesday 29 May 2013

If the SNP is really comparing the conditions for future foreign direct investment (FDI) to an independent Scotland’s alleged similarities with former Soviet bloc countries, we are in trouble (“Yes vote ‘would lead to boom in investment'”, The Herald, May 28).

The investment attracted to those countries was due in many cases to highly competitive, and often rapacious, multinationals which sought to exploit low real estate prices and low wages, encouraged by low taxation and an incentive regime.

As a result, those countries were basically ripped-off and they subsequently suffered from “dry pot plant syndrome” as profits flowed out as quickly as investment had been poured in. A prime example is Hungary, where Budapest enjoyed a property boom mainly fuelled by Irish developers and a financial services boom founded on German banks exporting risk.

Attracting FDI to Scotland has for decades been the responsibility of Scottish Development International (SDI), whose record includes making Scotland Europe’s top destination for foreign investment, according to Ernst & Young’s 2011 UK Attractiveness Survey.

However, if the Scottish Government feels this is not good enough, it already has direct authority to change SDI’s policies or even to sack them and start again.

As with so many issues where the SNP claims to seek better for Scotland, independence is simply not necessary.

Peter A Russell

Letter Published 17th May 2013
Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/both-labour-and-tories-seem-to-be-losing-the-political-plot.21095769
IT is hard to disagree with Ian McNeil (Letters, May 16) that the state of politics is currently somewhat surreal, and of course the Yes campaign is no exception.
First we have the Deputy First Minister declaring 31% support for the Yes Campaign to represent a “natural majority”, which recalls her laughable analysis as Labour swept to a stunning victory in Glasgow in the council elections (“Labour are in meltdown”).
To top this, the SNP’s position as stated by Linda Fabiani is that following the fabled Yes vote, Scotland will leave the UK but keep the pound and stay in the EU whilst refusing to adopt the euro, leaving Scotland (in the EU) tied to the pound (outside the EU), if the UK leaves.
Surreal indeed: like Dali’s clocks, the already thin credibility of the Yes Campaign is melting before our eyes.
Peter A Russell

Letter unpublished in Sunday Herald 5th May 2013 Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/westminster-still-holds-purse-strings.20916609

Sir,

Steve Flynn and Kris McFadyen both attempt to take me to task for over-estimating the scope of devolution. (Sunday Herald letters, 28th April.)

In fact, the case is quite the opposite, and it is they who under-estimate Holyrood’s existing powers. In some of the issues which they quote – especially economic and industrial development – these have been in the hands of Scots in Scotland for many years. If the wrong decisions have been made, and Scotland’s economy is weaker than it might have been, it has been the fault of the SDA, Scottish Enterprise and their political masters first in the Scottish Office and then under the devolved administration. The direct accountability for these issues now provided by Holyrood elections makes independence unnecessary, and indeed a distraction.

At the same time, their argument regarding devolved powers is very useful is to demonstrate how the current nationalist administration is failing to use its powers to their utmost to protect the people of Scotland.

In the case of the bedroom tax, the SNP Scottish Government is not agreeing to Labour’s offer to support legislation which would protect those threatened. Likewise, in the case of local government, the SNP’s failure to introduce a Local Income Tax (promised in 2007) and the continuing Council Tax freeze are starving local authorities of the resources to respond to local needs.

When these failures are added to the postponement of the SNP’s own headline polices such as childcare at European standards, a pattern begins to emerge, which fits with the direct political interest of the Yes campaign, i.e., to paint devolution as a failure.

We must all now suspect that Alex Salmond is deliberately under-using the powers that his Government has under the settlement agreed with the Scottish people in 1997, and is therefore playing politics with people’s welfare, jobs and services.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Letter published in Sunday Herald 21st April 2013

Dennis Canavan fails to make a convincing case for Scottish independence, despite his attempt to jump on the anti-Thatcher bandwagon (‘She reinforced the case for Scots independence’, Comment, April 14).

He is correct that her government imposed on Scotland unwanted policies for housing, health, education and local government. However, these are now responsibilities of the Holyrood Parliament, and such impositions will not happen again. The same applies to the poll tax, which was introduced early to Scotland at the insistence of Scottish Conservative MPs – they paid for their folly by losing their seats, proving that Westminster elections work for the Scottish people.

The sole case which Mr Canavan makes for independence is that this would bring to Scotland control over taxes and benefits. In doing so, he draws attention to the Achilles’ heel of the Nationalists’ case: their continuing and dishonest insistence that Scotland can be a Scandinavian-style welfare state funded by Irish or United States-style levels of taxation. The Yes campaign can have no credibility until it either admits that taxation will need to rise to Swedish or Norwegian levels, or that at best welfare benefits will remain at UK levels.

Finally, Canavan illustrates his argument with the revelation that Margaret Thatcher could not pronounce “Falkirk”. If this is evidence that she was a megalomaniac, then Scotland is full of them, in the shape of the many people who mispronounce “Portsmouth”. I suspect that is rather evidence of the narrow world she inhabited. Margaret Thatcher would have never watched and heard the football results, which is how most of us learn UK place names.

Peter A Russell

Glasgow

Letter published in Herald 16th April 2013

Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/english-hostility-to-scottish-cars.20790209

There was no set agenda against the Hillman Imp

Tuesday 16 April 2013

IT could be argued that Scottish victimhood has reached a new level with Alan Clayton’s reference to jibes about cars built in Scotland (Letters, April 15).

I am now immune to the complaints about the verse in the National Anthem (which no-one in England knows) about crushing rebellious Scots and the 1966 World Cup (which English people only reference in terms of how poor the current team is at any particular time). However, the comical paranoia shown by these examples has been exceeded.

My experience while growing up in the south of England was that there was little awareness whether the Hillman Imp and the Mini came from Scotland or the English Midlands or wherever. They were British products, and marketed and purchased as such.

As for workers at Fords commenting about a rival product and ribbing a Scot about it, this suggests that Mr Clayton has never worked on a factory floor, where making fun of [original: ‘taking the piss out of’ PAR] colleagues is part of daily life.

For the record, our family drove a VW Beetle, as it was more reliable than both, which also indicates why Mr Clayton’s final remark (“If we had a parliament … then Linwood would be developing and flourishing today”) is just as absurd. Maybe this would be true if such a parliament had enforced the comedy nightmare of a Hillman Imp monopoly on Scotland, like Ladas in the Soviet Union or Dacias in Romania.

Otherwise, there is no evidence that Linwood would not have gone the way of BL at Longbridge, Triumph at Speke and indeed car production at Ford at Dagenham. These were blown away by global competition and their own poor product design and build quality, resulting from low investment and productivity.

Peter A Russell,

Unpublished letter to Herald 10th April 2013

Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/yes-vote-in-the-referendum-would-take-us-a-step-closer-to-nuclear-disarmament.20750875

Sir,

It is incorrect for Brian Quail (letters 10th April) to attribute to me the belief that if others have nuclear weapons, the UK should have them too. But to clarify, it is what was I was told many times on the doorstep when campaigning for a Labour government in 1983. And I am unconvinced that people feel differently now than they did then, despite the end of the Cold War.

Isobel Lindsey tells us that the Scottish Parliament has voted to abandon Trident. It is incredible that it has escaped her notice – but surely not that of your readers – that defence is a reserved issue, in which a Holyrood vote has no standing. This was very clearly part of the settlement voted on and endorsed by referendum in 1999.

I would ask them to imagine the reaction if the Westminster Parliament were to intrude on devolved matters, and voted, for example, to scrap the NHS in Scotland: there would be justified outrage. Surely it works the other way round as well, or else devolution is a one-way street, rather than a sharing of sovereignty founded on mutual respect – and the will of the Scottish people.

Indeed, there are some slightly sinister elements to the argument put by Isobel Lyndsey that a Scottish rejection of Trident would lead to unilateral nuclear disarmament for the rest of the UK.

First, it would be deeply undemocratic to impose this outcome when the people affected had not voted for it – which topically, is the very kind of thing that Margaret Thatcher might have done. In contrast, if I have to repeat it, the Scottish electorate has had a chance to vote on the UK nuclear deterrent at every General Election since its inception.

Above all, I advise your readers to always examine the phrase “Scotland’s different centre of political gravity.” What it sometimes conceals, as in this case, is a chauvinist assumption that the English are incapable of making their own choices, due to some imagined moral or intellectual inferiority.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Published letter to Herald 8th April 2013.

There has been no mandate for the removal of Trident

Monday 8 April 2013

THE visit of the Prime Minister to defence industries and the Royal Navy has again brought the issue of nuclear deterrence and Trident to public attention, and to that of your correspondents (“Cameron: UK makes Scottish defence jobs safer”, The Herald, April 4 and Letters, April 6).

The fact is that since its introduction by the Attlee Government, the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent has been maintained by multi-party agreement at Westminster. Indeed the last time that a party of government challenged that consensus, it was roundly defeated – and recent re-runs of the 1983 General Election on BBC Parliament show just how potent the issue was with the British public. Opponents of Trident will point out that the Cold War has ceased to be a factor in the last 30 years: however, whether people feel safer in the world today is open to doubt, and there will always be a view that if others have nuclear weapons, the UK should have them as well.

As a result, at the last UK General Election the combined votes of pro-nuclear parties outnumbered those of anti-nuclear parties by a very large margin in all parts of the UK. This included in Scotland, where the pro-Trident parties received roughly four times those cast for their opponents.

I happen to agree with many of the opponents of nuclear weapons, and indeed with Denis Healey, who now says that he really cannot see the point of them, and I look forward to the day when a democratic consensus is reached to dispose of them.

However, no UK government has ever received a mandate from the British people to dispose of their nuclear deterrent, and that is a democratic position which demands our respect.

Peter A Russell,

Unpublished letter to Herald 2nd April 2013

Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/english-left-should-see-scottish-independence-as-an-opportunity.20675370

Sir,

Before giving any undue credence to Isobel Lindsay’s most recent contribution to the independence debate, your readers should bear in mind that Ms Lindsay has been an SNP candidate since at least 1978. Although she has failed ever to be elected in the intervening 35 years, this should not obscure the fact that she is hardly an uninterested or objective commentator.

Your readers may also wish to reflect that Ms Lindsey claims that there is no significant difference between Labour and the Conservatives in government – and has chosen to do so at the very time that the Tory government has brought into force the most vicious welfare cuts ever seen.

In contrast, of course, the last Labour government had an exceptional record in the areas of work and welfare, including creating record employment levels and lifting 800,000 children out of poverty. Only the blinkered and biased – amongst whom Isobel Lindsey clearly counts – could fail to see the difference between the parties and their records.

Indeed, I am sure that the more reasonable of your readers will see that it is because of the achievements of Labour governments, including those from 1997, that we have a welfare system that is worth defending from the Tories.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Unpublished letter to Herald 26th March 2013

Response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/expect-a-surge-in-innovation-and-creativity-after-a-yes-vote.20613168

26th March 2013

Sir,

I am of course in (almost) full agreement with your correspondents who are aware of the place Scotland’s intellectuals and scientists in the wider world.

The point of my letter regarding Hume, Scott etc., was to demonstrate that these figures were products of the UK as well as of Scotland, and that the union afforded them a larger intellectual platform beyond Scotland. As J.M. Barrie (b. Kirriemuir 1860) told us “there are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make”- and the union gave them the springboard to develop opportunities to fulfil that role.

Indeed, for many of us “Better Together” is the observation that unions bring us mutual benefits at all levels from the personal (with our families, neighbours and work colleagues) up to national and international relations (for example, through the European Union). This is a basic philosophical belief: that as human beings we achieve more by the strength of our common endeavour than we achieve alone.

Where I disagree with nationalists is with their deeply irrational but apparently unshakeable delusion that the relationship between Scotland and the rest of United Kingdom has the unique distinction as the one level where this does not apply. The reality is that there is no evidence to support their view: from 1707 to the present day, all parts of the UK have experienced the same advantages and disadvantages from our shared history.

Yours,

Peter A. Russell

Letter to Herald published 25th March 2013

Dr Hamish Maclaren quotes Hume, Smith, Scott, Clerk Maxwell and Fleming as examples of Scotland’s great intellectual and scientific heritage (Letters, March 23). It is interesting to note that each of these figures benefited significantly from the Union.

David Hume’s breakthrough in historiography was, after all, his History Of England, and Sir Walter Scott was a pan-UK publishing phenomenon who took English historical themes such as Ivanhoe from Hume as well as from Scottish history and myth. Likewise, James Clerk Maxwell worked at Cambridge and King’s College, London as well as Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin while working at St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. Even Adam Smith’s career took a decisive turn during his time at Oxford’s Balliol College (founded by a Scot), when he rejected Christianity and devoted himself instead to economics.

Each of these cases shows Scots intellectuals and scientists thrive and prosper due to the greater opportunities offered by the larger community of nations and regions which comprise the United Kingdom. The same, of course, applies to citizens from all other walks of life and occupations.

No-one is arguing “we’re just not up to it”. Better together means what it says.

Peter A Russell

Unpublished letter to Herald 22nd March: response to: http://www.heraldscotland.com/comment/letters/obfuscation-and-hypocrisy-were-behind-immoral-invasion-of-iraq.20554067

Sir,
I am asked directly: why Iraq? (Herald letters, 20th March: “Obfuscation and hypocrisy were behind immoral invasion of Iraq”). The answer is because Iraq had invaded its neighbours twice with enormous loss of life, committed genocide and was in breach of numerous UN Security Council resolutions following the first Gulf War. Crucially, it was a rare opportunity to rid the world of one its worst totalitarian regimes, which had arisen due to the evidence of Saddam Hussein’s non-compliance with those resolutions, including failure to prove that he haddisposed of the WMDs on which the Ba’ath regime depended.
 
This was a view the US and UK governments shared with the UK Opposition parties (including Ming Campbell for the LibDems), with Dr David Kelly and with George Galloway, who personally advised Saddam Hussein to “get rid of what you have got.” By this time, there was also significant doubt as to whether any inspections regime could operate effectively, due to the obstructive behaviour of the Iraqi regime and the knowledge that massive bribes had been offered to earlier inspectors.
As Tony Blair admits, lawyers who supported the war say it was legal and those who opposed it say otherwise. However, the invasion was legitimised in law by the need to ensure that Saddam Hussein was disarmed, and once that aim had been achieved, regime change was the only likely consequence. Your readers might also wish to consider that if regime change had been an illegal war aim in 1945, Churchill and Roosevelt would have been criminals for overthrowing Hitler and the Third Reich.
I am also happy to add my condemnation of repressive regimes wherever they occur, including that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and it is quite wrong for your correspondents to suggest otherwise. Indeed, part of the root of my endorsement of the overthrow of Ba’ath fascism in Iraq is the memory of the ousting of murderous despots, such as Idi Amin by the Tanzanians, the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot (who was, incidentally, supported by the UN) by the Vietnamese, and the Taliban by NATO .
In contrast, some of the opponents of the Iraq War seem to believe that if it is not possible to remove all repressive regimes, we should wring our hands but act against none. Who is the hypocrite?
Yours,
Peter A. Russell

Letter in Herald 19th March

It was wrong for the UK and United States to arm the fascist Ba’ath regime to invade its neighbours and slaughter its own citizens, and the best way to put that right was to disarm Saddam’s regime and remove it from power.

In 2003, the invasion of Iraq was one of three options to deal with the fascist crime family which was defying numerous UN resolutions relating to its internal and external conduct. The second option was to continue the “slow genocide” of sanctions and the farce of weapons inspection (as favoured by Robin Cook). The final option was to dismantle sanctions and inspections, and effectively to reward Saddam Hussein for his lawlessness, genocide, torture and aggression (as favoured by George Galloway).

Continued sanctions killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi men, women and children? Or rewarding a fascist regime headed by a Caligula-like pyschopath? Ten years later, we have yet to hear from opponents of the war which of these alternative options they would have favoured.

Peter A Russell

Cut by Herald letters editor.

Letter in Herald 11th March 2013

Ian Bell suggests governments should be swayed by the number of demonstrators any given cause can muster on a particular day, taking as his illustration the case of the Iraq war.

He and your readers should remember a few other instances. For example, the Countryside Alliance put more than 400,000 people on the streets of London to demand that foxhunting should not be made illegal. Likewise, after any particularly nasty murder or terrorist outrage, you can be sure large numbers could be mobilised to support the reintroduction of the death penalty. And Ukip, the BNP and others could be expected to organise well-populated demos to demand an end to immigration. Similarly, it is certain that enough religious fundamentalists could be assembled to demand the abolition of free and safe abortion. The logic of Mr Bell’s argument is that these should also dictate government policy.

And what about counter-demonstrations and the risk to public safety? During the Iraq demonstrations, it was reported that anti-Saddam protestors were removed by the police after threats from the “pro-peace” marchers. I am sure the police would not welcome, for example, an anti-racist vs racist riot, and indeed they probably feel they already have too many parades to supervise.

A representative democracy means we elect parliaments to govern the country, and the way in which they do so is ultimately moderated by accountability through the ballot box. Protest has an honourable and important role to play in expressing public concern, but this should not extend to dictating policy.

Peter A Russell

Public respect for our armed forces

Tuesday 5 March 2013
IN my former work capacity, I was closely involved in the organisation of Glasgow’s Remembrance Day and Armed Forces (formerly Veterans) Day events, as well as homecoming parades in the city for Scotland’s regiments.
What was evident about these events was the depth of understanding which the public shows for the work of the armed forces and for the risks and sacrifices which they face on our behalf. It is also notable that the people of Glasgow have turned out in increasing numbers at these events over the past few years to show their appreciation. In my experience there is no way that they would allow forthcoming events relating to the First World War to be exploited for political purposes, as feared by some of your correspondents (Letters, March 1 & 4).
Peter A Russell,

10th February 2013 – Letter Published Sunday Herald

Sir,

It was interesting to read of the report of the Jimmy Reid Foundation on access to Fair Access to Political Influence, and its findings that many “ordinary” people are excluded from important decision making processes and forums. In fact, the report deals overwhelmingly with access to Holyrood, which is no surprise given the record of the Scottish Parliament and Government of centralising power to itself.

What began with the then Scottish Office grabbing responsibility for non-domestic local taxation, further education and water, has been continued with the Scottish Government centralising police, fire and rescue and capping Council Tax levels. If in the past “politics” was synonymous with “Westminster,” not much has changed with devolution, except the substitution of “Holyrood” for the latter. In this, both former Labour/Lib Dem coalition and the current SNP administration have been equally at fault.

However, there is an effective way of bringing citizens and political decision-making closer, and increase democratic accountability and the social range of those taking decisions. This is to devolve powers to local councils, and with them the resources to serve their communities effectively. Under a system genuinely based on subsidiarity, Holyrood could be stripped down to its constitutional function plus a small number of truly national powers, for example, distribution of block grants and revenues. Looking at some of our neighbours in Europe, there is no reason why the vast majority of other government functions could not be devolved to the local level.

On a purely numerical level, there are nearly 10 times as many seats available at local authority level in comparison to Scottish Parliament elections. A councillor is also much more of a citizen-politician, being closer to the people, and – crucially – in most cases less obsessed with their own political career. In my own time as a local government officer, I met hundreds of councillors from many walks of life: surveyors, joiners, electricians, plumbers, shopworkers, railway and bus workers, home helps, parks workers, postal staff, minsters of religion, charity workers, trade union officials and businessmen, as well as retired people and housewives and a minority of academics, teachers and social workers. This a far better mix of people who should be brought to the heart of Scottish politics, and the simplest way to do so is to switch power to local government and away from the two-party nomenklatura which dominates Holyrood.

With this is mind, it is a considerable omission on the part of the Jimmy Reid Foundation not to include a local government voice on its commission.

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