Quiet day

11 September 2014 Quiet day

I jog around the park I still have arthritis in my left knee, but I manage to get round the park. A sunny but cool day. I potter around.

Mary’s back not much better today, duck for tea and her back pain is still there.

Obituary:

Jim Dobbin – obituary

Jim Dobbin was a Labour MP who opposed gay marriage and demanded mandatory testing and registration for cyclists

Jim Dobbin

Jim Dobbin Photo: UPPA/PHOTOSHOT

5:48PM BST 10 Sep 2014

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Jim Dobbin, the Labour MP for Heywood and Middleton, who has died aged 73, chaired the All-Party Pro-Life Group and trenchantly opposed same-sex marriage; his final contribution in the Commons, days before his sudden death, was to urge caution over producing “three-parent designer babies”.

He had already been selected to stand again at next year’s election, by which time he would have been 74. He died in Slupsk, Poland while on a Council of Europe delegation to present the city with the Europe Prize.

Dobbin’s politics combined a devout Catholicism, a Scot’s distrust of military involvements overseas, a scientist’s thirst for proof and a socialism that put him some way to the Left of the party leadership. He was widely respected, Lord Prescott terming him “an excellent local MP, a strong believer in Europe, a proud Scot and a passionate defender of the NHS”.

In July he co-sponsored a motion criticising Israel’s action in Gaza, telling David Cameron: “I cannot stress strongly enough the disbelief and shock communicated by constituents of mine, when considering the Coalition Government’s response.

“Where is the plan for a safe and secure future for the Middle East? What action is the Government taking? Constituents are asking for peaceful action that leads to acknowledgement of the legitimate claims of the Palestinians to statehood, leading to a viable Palestine, alongside a secure Israel.”

Last winter Dobbin upset the cycling lobby by calling during a Transport Select Committee session for all cyclists to be registered and tested. Some accused him of being a “dinosaur” when he complained of cyclists ignoring the Highway Code and scratching car paintwork.

Yet Dobbin’s opposition to same-sex marriage – articulated in a Commons speech in February last year as well as consistent “Noes” in the division lobby – made the greatest impact. “Marriage,” he declared, “is primarily an institution that supports the bearing and raising of children in a committed and constant relationship.

“The traditional understanding of marriage has three basic elements: it is between a man and a woman, it is for life, and it is to the exclusion of all others.” These crucial elements were “designed not to exclude people or create inequality, but to promote the unique benefit of marriage in our society: it secures family environments and provides the essential qualities of safety and reliability for children.”

Challenging the idea that same-sex marriage was about equality and fairness, Dobbin added: “The equality agenda has been narrowly limited to dogmatic principles of uniformity. Such language makes open debate and disagreement look like prejudice.”

James Dobbin was born at Kincardine, central Scotland, on May 26 1941, the son of William Dobbin, a miner, and the former Catherine McCabe. From St Columba’s high school, Cowdenbeath and St Andrew’s, Kirkcaldy, he completed his studies at Napier College, Edinburgh.

Joining the NHS as a microbiologist in 1966, Dobbin moved south, working mainly at the Royal Oldham Hospital. He was elected to Rochdale council in 1983, leading its Labour group from 1994 and the council after Labour took control in 1996.

Dobbin fought Bury North in 1992, then was selected for Heywood and Middleton to succeed the retiring Jim Callaghan (not the former prime minister). As Labour under Tony Blair swept to power in 1997, Dobbin was elected with a majority of 17,542.

At Westminster he became a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, serving until his death. Generally loyal to the Labour government, he rebelled against the Iraq war, and voted for a fully elected House of Lords – and more recently for a Mansion Tax.

When the furore over MPs’ expenses erupted in 2009, Dobbin had one of the lowest bills overall, though it did include £400 for decking for the garden of his London home. He had, however, made one of the largest claims for staff – £99,700 – justifying it because of the size of his constituency. That staff included his wife, the leader of Rochdale council and one current and one former Labour councillor.

Re-elected in 2010 with a majority of 5,971, Dobbin became a forceful critic of the Coalition’s social policies. He was also Fusilier Lee Rigby’s MP, saying after the soldier’s murder by two Islamists in Woolwich last year that the death had “absolutely traumatised” people in Middleton.

As a Catholic and a scientist, Dobbin watched closely the argument on mitochondrial replacement, which would create what have been dubbed “three-parent designer babies”. Referring to tests on the process that have yet to be completed, he warned: “Denying Parliament the opportunity to examine these results seems difficult to defend.

“In effect, it would be asking the House to vote blind on the safety of techniques that the House might reject outright on the basis of the results. LET us be clear and honest about this: the results could not be published and peer reviewed in time for the rumoured vote in the autumn.”

Jim Dobbin was invested as a Knight of the Pontifical Order of St Gregory the Great in 2008 by Pope Benedict XVI.

He married Pat Russell in 1964; they had two sons and two daughters.

Jim Dobbin, born May 26 1941, died September 6 2014

Guardian:

I do not need Michael Gove to explain to me what antisemitism is (Gove attacks ‘antisemitic’ Israel boycotts, 10 September). I have been the object of antisemitism by two Conservative MPs, Sir Charles Taylor, who told me to “Get back to Tel Aviv”, and Sir Alec Douglas-Home, who admonished me that my loyalty should be to this country and not to Israel, bringing the proceedings of the House of Commons to a roaring halt. Harold Macmillan referred to me antisemitically in his diaries.

Of course the Holocaust, the Nazi slaughter of 6 million Jews, including many members of my family, was an atrocity unparalleled in human history. That does not provide justification for the Israelis murdering thousands of Palestinians. Since governments take no action against these massacres, it is right that communities and individuals should boycott Israeli products.
Gerald Kaufman
Labour, Manchester Gorton

• Mr Gove creates the all-too-common (and deliberate?) confusion between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) is symbol of opposition to the policies of the state of Israel’s policies, in relation to the occupation, the continued building of settlements, the imprisonment of children and the murderous attacks on Gaza.

There should never be any devaluation of the Holocaust, and antisemitism should always be resolutely resisted. Very unfortunately some protesters also confuse antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Where Mr Gove is right is that “we need to stand united against hate” – but that of course includes Palestinians, and even Hamas, who are at least partially a product of Zionism. BDS should continue and grow, including a total arms embargo, until Israel is willing to seriously negotiate with all Palestinians, including Hamas. That was how the original apartheid state was brought to the table, with the hated ANC, and that is what needs to happen again.
Rev David Haslam
Evesham, Worcestershire

• Michael Gove needs to be reminded that one case is not a reliable basis for generalisation. Yes, the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods was followed by the Holocaust but the campaign against South African apartheid was not followed by the mass killing of whites. He also needs to be more careful in his assertions: the Tricycle theatre did not reject “Israeli money” because it came from Israel but because it came from the government of Israel, which is instrumental in the denial of Palestinian human rights and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The Palestinian call for the boycott of Israel is absolutely clear in its opposition to all forms of racism.
Professor David E Pegg
York

• Antisemites and defenders of Israel seem united in the delusion that opposition to Israel means hatred of Jews. Most people, I hope, can see the difference. Responsible politicians and commentators should make it clear that many Jews and non-Jews are critical of Israel’s policies without being antisemitic, and not fuel this dangerous fallacy.
Caryl Churchill
London

• Avi Shlaim (Israel will find wisdom when it admits its mistakes, 8 September) shamefully glorifies a designated terror group whose fighters, according to him, have “reasons for rejoicing”, for standing firm while their “spirit did not break”. Shlaim admits that Hamas “is guilty of terrorism”, yet says it should not be labelled as terrorist, because it is “also a legitimate political actor”. This argument makes little sense, and did not convince the European Union last year when it designated Hezbollah as a terror group, despite its role in the Lebanese government. Terror groups should be isolated, not “let off the hook”, as demonstrated just a few days ago when the president of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, harshly criticised Hamas for the group’s responsibility in instigating the Gaza conflict. It seems that while both Palestinians and Israelis are seeing the situation for what it is – a conflict between moderates and radical terror – Shlaim’s piece reflects an outdated narrative that is not only anti-Israeli but arguably anti-Palestinian.
Yiftah Curiel
Spokesperson, embassy of Israel, London

• Avi Shlaim’s excellent article explains why Israel’s current policies cannot bring it peace or security. The article’s flaw is the unspoken assumption that Israel wants peace and security. Since 1948, Israel’s aim has, demonstrably, been ever greater expansion by means of dispossessing Palestinians. The map of military conquests and settlements in the West Bank, including down the Jordan Valley, show over time how well that aim has been realised – and continues to be realised. Israel wants not peace and security but Palestinian, Arab and world acquiescence in this continual expansion. The various “peace processes” have nothing to do with peace and everything to do with providing a smokescreen to this end.
Mike Davies
Chair, Alliance for Green Socialism

• While the author’s intentions are no doubt good, articles such as this are detrimental to the cause of peace. Mr Shlaim admits that “Hamas is indeed guilty of terrorism” and that it “vehemently denies the legitimacy of Israel”. Surely, conferring any sort of political legitimacy to such an organisation (as the author suggests) would only reward terrorism, while weakening those Palestinians more amenable to a peaceful solution. Hamas – which has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings – is no more “a legitimate political actor” than Isis, al-Qaida, al-Shabaab or Boko Haram. Peace has never been achieved by empowering extremists, or by placing demands on just one side; but by working with the moderates in both camps. Both sides need to recognise that this is a conflict of right v right, not right v wrong; that both peoples are there by right, not sufferance. This is key: once this is recognised, mutual concessions, accommodation and respect become the self-evident next steps.
Noru Tsalic
Coventry

• I am a Jew, committed to the Jewish religion and the ethical values of justice, mercy and compassion. As such, I deplore the Israeli aggression against the people of Gaza. I hope that the present ceasefire will eventually lead to a wider agreement.

It has come to my attention that the deputy lord mayor of Cardiff, Cllr Ali Ahmed, has been reported to the south Wales police by the Liberal Democrat opposition, on the grounds that he referred to rockets fired by Hamas against Israel as “toy rockets” and that this reference was offensive to the Jewish community.

It would have been preferable, that instead of using the words “toy rockets”, he has said that “the damage done by Israel is not comparable with the Israeli bombing on the people of Gaza”; that may have been more explanatory. However, the sentiments that he expressed are the sentiments shared, not only by many Jews like myself but also of some Israelis with regard to their own government.

There is no need for the deputy lord mayor to resign. He is a man who has a strong commitment to ethical principles.
Walter Wolfgang
Former member, Labour party NEC; vice-president, CND; national steering committee member, Stop the War Coalition

• One night, when I was 13, I was woken by the sound of a door being broken down. Boots stumbled up the stairs, there was loud shouting, and a terrifying series of crashes. Nazi stormtroopers had identified our house as the home of a Jewish family, and this was the night of 9 November 1938, when the Kristallnacht pogrom raged across Germany. Our entire home was destroyed before our eyes, with axes and sledgehammers.

I have a vivid recollection of my father, after the monsters had gone, sitting on the one chair that remained and weeping. I had never seen him weep before. I now realise that, but for the presence of myself and my younger sister, my parents might not have survived the raid. It was a brutal demonstration of our situation. My sister and I left Germany on the last Kindertransport from Düsseldorf in May 1939. We have never had a full account of our parents’ fate.

Even now, I sometimes start up in bed, reliving that night. But in recent weeks, it is more often images of devastation in Gaza – of homes and families destroyed in Israeli targetings of such “military objectives” as the homes of officials in the democratically elected Hamas government – that have recalled the terror of the Kristallnacht. For I can hardly believe that a Jewish government is doing these things. How can Jewish people, aware of their own history, undertake a campaign of collective punishment that kills a higher multiple of the casualties cited as justification, than did the Nazi reprisals for resistance in occupied Europe?

Surely we have reached the point where every government not composed of utter humbugs must join in insisting that an Israeli renunciation of ambitions for expansion beyond the 1947 boundaries is a prerequisite for progress towards reconciliation and peace within a two-state solution. The very doubtful prospect of a unified, multinational, secular state in Palestine appears to be the only alternative.
Karola Regent
Newport-on-Tay, Fife

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron speaks during a visit to Edinburgh David Cameron gets all Breaking Bad on a visit to Scotland. Photograph: Reuters

If the Scots feel that they no longer belong in the UK, then of course they should vote for separation. But the debate should be based on facts. George Monbiot’s rant against UK solidarity ignores the facts (A yes vote would unleash the most potent force of all, 10 September).

In the late 1950s and 60s when Scotland’s GDP per head was around 10% below the UK average, it was one of the poorest parts of the UK. But, as Gavin McCrone, one of Scotland’s leading economists, has shown in his book, Scottish Independence, by 2011, Scotland’s gross added value per head was 98.6% of the UK average – exceeded only by London and the south-east. This seems to me to reflect UK solidarity, not its absence.

That solidarity also enabled Alistair Darling in 2008 to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland to the tune of £46bn after the disastrous takeover by RBS of a Dutch bank. Would an independent Scotland have been able to do that?

The tragic irony is that, without the solidarity of the UK government, the people who would have suffered the most from a collapse of the bank are the very underprivileged in the central belt of Scotland who appear to be swinging towards a yes vote. It is they who have the most to lose if independence does not bring the economic benefits that Alex Salmond has promised.
Vernon Bogdanor
Professor of government, King’s College London

• While Tom Holland and the Let’s Stay Together campaign may appeal to “our mutual bonds of affection and admiration” (Comment, 9 September), he, like the political leaders in Westminster, is missing a crucial point. For over two years we in Scotland have been debating the issue of independence. During this time Scots have discussed and considered various solutions to deal with our genuine grievances. What we have not had from the political elite at Westminster is a single concrete policy proposal to address these concerns. All we see is arrogance from the unionist parties matched by complacency from an English electorate who want to “love-bomb” us but have failed to ensure that real political alternatives were offered. Thanks for your affection, Tom; what we really wanted was your political support.
Geoff Earl
Edinburgh

• Your choice of headline (Party leaders take the high road, 10 September) may be prescient. In the song, he who must “take the high road” to Loch Lomond is already dead while he who is able to “take the low road” is alive. Will Cameron, Miliband, Clegg and Salmond never meet again?
Iain Mackintosh
London

• Someone should tell Steve Bell that it is not the “royal brat” who is going to save the union (If…, G2, 9 September), but Nigel Farage, who is going to descend on us next Friday, followed on Saturday by the Grand Orange Orders of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Both guaranteed to delight the yes campaign.
Myra Gartshore
Dumbarton

• Is it just me with this scene on a mental loop: David Cameron as Walter White in the Ozymandias episode of Breaking Bad, thundering: “We’re a family!”

Just me then.
Karen Peploe
Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire

Magazines on a stand in a newsagents. Image shot 09/2009. Exact date unknown. The new press regulator took over on Monday. Photograph: Alamy/Apex

Your leader on (Judgment on Ipso, 5 September) is apt in its analysis and expectation of a system for the independent self-regulation of the newspaper industry. You express, correctly, a perspicacious view of the Leveson inquiry and its aftermath. It is not too extreme to say that Sir Brian Leveson sought simultaneously to promote freedom of speech for the press as well as the regulation of certain incursions only into matters of privacy. Sir Brian’s report was, as you observe, cautiously welcome, but it has predictably been portrayed otherwise. What you now prescribe for the new organisation that took over on Monday is in line with what I, as the last chairman of the Press Council in all-too-short a time (1988-90), endeavoured to achieve. It was Pressbof (the industry’s newly created paymaster in 1988) that ordered the disbandment of the Press Council. It should be imperative that Ipso is adequately funded, at the insistence of the new chairman, Sir Alan Moses.

The Press Council was composed, as to half of its membership, of non-journalistic persons from a wide variety of occupations. The history (including the independent element in its chairmanship since 1966) was virtually ignored by Sir Brian, on the grounds that I could give evidence only on historical matters that were not strictly within his terms of reference. The historical aspect of the regulatory system before 1991, when the Press Complaints Commission took over (20 out of the 1,978 pages of Sir Brian’s report), is, sad to relate, inaccurate in several important respects.
Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC
Chairman of the Press Council 1988-90

• Is it appropriate in a democratic society that so many public appointments, of which the new press regulator Impress is the latest, require those applying to have worked at “a senior level in a public or professional capacity”? (And did they mean to exclude senior private sector experience, common in so many public appointment ads?) Impress will not be a big organisation and might benefit from not being dominated by another set of establishment suits. Recruiting from the senior and successful also discriminates against women and ethnic minorities. Open application and fair assessment of all candidates are surely the least we should expect from this and many other public bodies.
Peter West
London

Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather for humanitarian aid Displaced Iraqis from the Yazidi community gather for humanitarian aid at the Syria-Iraq border at Feeshkhabour border point, northern Iraq. Photograph: Khalid Mohammed/AP

As faith leaders we are called to dedicate ourselves to serving the poor and vulnerable both at home and overseas; we therefore call on MPs to attend and save lives by voting in favour of overseas aid legislation in parliament on Friday. The proposed bill means that the UK government will continue to honour Britain’s commitment to spend the 0.7% of our national income on international aid, a promise made in all three main parties’ manifestos and the coalition agreement of the current government.

Despite challenges at home, we should be proud to be a nation that has kept our promise to the world’s poor and upheld our responsibilities of fairness and generosity. Every day UK aid saves and changes lives and helps to respond to humanitarian crises like those in Iraq and Syria.

Enshrining our commitment in law would ensure that our support continues until it is no longer needed and will enable us to focus our efforts on making certain that UK aid is having the greatest possible impact, transforming and improving lives. By voting for aid legislation, MPs can play their part in the solutions to global poverty – we urge them to seize the historic opportunity presented by this bill.
Rabbi Danny Rich Chief executive, Liberal Judaism, Rt Rev Dr Alastair Redfern Bishop of Derby, Shuja Shafi Secretary general, Muslim Council of Britain, Rt Rev William Kenney Auxiliary bishop of Birmingham

As outgoing women’s editor Jane Martinson indicates (Four years on the feminist frontline, G2, 2 September), a major problem with the overrepresentation of men in the media, and public life more generally, is its invisibility. The appointment of a men’s editor might help to address this by drawing attention to maleness as gendered rather than the standard model of mankind [sic]. An encouraging example of male visibility has been set by the television channel movies4men, whose conflict-and-cowboy dominated schedules, however, are often indistinguishable from the daytime offerings of some supposedly gender-neutral film channels. Such commendable honesty could well be practised by programmes which regularly feature men and women in a ratio of 3:1 or worse. Thus we might have, for instance, Men’s Match of the Day, Men in the Saturday Kitchen, and Have Men Got News for You. Mastermind and the channel Dave, of course, need not change a thing.
Jean Northam
Exeter

• And if (heaven forfend) Kate Middleton’s morning sickness does not settle following Justin Welby’s prayers (Report, 9 September), can we take that as proof positive that there is no God, or simply assume that She heeds not the supplications of her Main Man? Either way, the duchess appears to be stuffed.
Sylvia Lockett
Nottingham

• George and Mildred, perhaps?
Mick Beeby
Bristol

• Poutine originated in the late 1980s (Farewell, doner kebab – hello, poutine, G2, 8 September)? Get a grip! French Canadians in Montreal had been eating poutine for at least 10 years in the late 1960s, along with “mae wests” and Pepsi.
Mabel Taylor
Knutsford, Cheshire

• Before we all get bored stiffof uses for a whisky tin (Letters, 6 September), I have always used one to store my rolled-up Panama hat. Keeps it safe, dry and moth-free, and it unfurls perfectly every time.
Paul Cabrelli
London

• Vatican’s first cricket team (Report, 10 September)? Acts 2:14: “Peter stood up with the eleven.”
Rev Tony Bell
Rochester, Kent

The arguments of the no campaign are no weightier (Michael White, 5 September) – they boil down to the currency question and uncertainty about future EU membership, both essentially political issues which are bound to be resolved by agreement – like all political questions – when the electioneering is over.

There is far more to the movement for independence than “desperate , insouciant optimism” – more than anything it’s a desire to be in charge of their own affairs as much as a small country which belongs to the EU can expect to be and this has an appeal that goes far beyond the SNP or Alex Salmond pace the patronising impressions of London-based commentator.
Conor Magill
London

• Although it is clear that the complexity of events following a yes vote in Scotland has been significantly underestimated, I sympathise with the many in Scotland who must yearn for the day when they can no longer be under the cosh of any conservative government. Scotland has a natural tendency towards a society built on fairness, justice and decent public services and must deeply resent the marginalisation of its priorities and values.

In terms of what is archaically referred to as the United Kingdom, a yes vote would offer an exciting opportunity to reform our sclerotic, creaking, hugely expensive and sometimes corrupt houses of parliament. The four assemblies of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be proportionally represented in an elected upper house, sweeping away the House of Lords with all its velvet and ermine. Might it even be possible to be citizens rather than subjects in a secular state where religion is a private matter, divisive faith schools a thing of the past and all religions are required to respect the laws of the land.

A refreshing wind of change would be very welcome.
Irene Short
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

• “No other issue now matters in British politics, “writes Martin Kettle (8 September). I’d say nothing better illustrates the chasm between the perception the Westminster political and media village has of Scottish independence and that of people in England, if our corner of England is any guide to it. In our street, indeed if listening as well to conversations in pubs, shops and the market tells me anything, there isn’t any interest in the issue at all. I’ve heard no one talking about it, no one is in the slightest bother over it, and I would bet my house that if I stood in the high street of this Cheshire town with a questionnaire tomorrow, nine of 10 people would, if asked, not know what is happening up in Scotland a week on Thursday.

Because the fact is, for all the hype, Scotland going independent won’t make a blind bit of difference to anyone in England. The whisky will still flow south, people will still take holidays in that most beautiful of countries, the Scots will still carry on coming down here to find work, English blokes and Scottish girls will still meet up and marry. During the Glasgow late summer fortnight holiday, the Glaswegians will still come in their thouands to the Lakes, to Blackpool, to the Yorkshire Dales, to England’s south coast for the sunshine and of course to Manchester to see civilisation at its best. Nothing real as far as English people are concerned is about to change.

But it will of course for the Scots. They will rule themselves. As indeed they should. Why should they be ruled by English MPs who make up some 550 of the 650 MPs in the Commons, by some 90% of the 800 or so lords who decorate the so-called upper house and by the public school toffs and the Oxbridge elite who dominate the judiciary, parliament, the civil service and the newspaers? Yes, why should they? They’d be mad to vote no. They’ve got one of the loveliest magnets in all of Europe for mass income from tourism in the shape of the Highlands and the isles, any amount of hydro-electric power, oil and gas in the North Sea, a great education service, a health service that is there to serve the sick and not the pockets of investors, and one of the most enterprising manufacturing and scientific traditions in the world. They’ve got it all before them. And they’d go independent without the slightest resentment from English people. We do not mind. Only the Westminster politicos do, and who gives a fig for that lot?
Michael Knowles
Congleton, Cheshire

• Do the quasi-Scots who are still espousing the Better Together campaign not realise they are strangling our political freedom? In the event of a no vote, and even if the British electorate delivered a Labour government at the next general election, in the larger scheme of things it would only be a fleeting visit to power.

However, unlike Labour supporters in England, Scottish Labour is customarily more leftwing but, when sitting 400 miles away at Westminster, through no fault of their own, have as much bite as a toothless tiger, incapable of giving Scotland satisfactory representation.

In any event, it will only be a matter of time, and perhaps a lot sooner that we think, until the Tory-Labour swings-and-roundabouts scenario takes a back seat to accommodate a Tory/Ukip coalition.

It would be a tragedy if we gave up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to choose a Scotland where governments, of any political hue, would be more concerned about social and political justice for Scottish people than any London government would.

We should not be listening to careerist, synthetic Scottish politicians with whom Rabbie Burns might have recognised certain similarities with the earlier treacherous nobles, hastening him to coin the phrase: “We’re bought and sold for English gold, such a parcel of rogues in a nation.”

It is unfortunate, but too many people in Scotland do not seem to know the difference between the reality of freedom and the illusion of freedom. We should listen to our heads, hearts and souls and not end up spending a lifetime lamenting the great opportunity we missed.
William Burns
Edinburgh

• I am not a nationalist. With a liberal Scottish Presbyterian father and a conservative English Catholic mother, I grew up in an atmosphere of tolerance and good humour. Working in both Scotland and England I always defended a tolerant marriage of differences rather than a petulant split because of them. The occasional victim mentality I met north of the border (“It’s all the fault of the English”) irked me as much as the casual ignorance which provoked it south of the border (“Why do these Scots whinge on so about the poll tax?). As a hybrid, I longed for each country to understand and accommodate the other better. Devolution in 1998 cheered me, and I looked for more both in Scotland and all parts of the UK. I did not initially welcome the independence debate, wary of the divisiveness it could cause. I despaired at David Cameron, early on, striking the middle of the road “devo max” possibility from the ballot paper.

Faced with a polarised yes or no vote, I naturally leant more towards Better Together, but was dismayed to find nothing positive I could vote for in their campaign. All I found were dire threats of all the future uncertainties involved in a yes vote, with no honest admission of the equally uncertain future a no vote implied. Better Together parties, amazingly late in the day, have promised to devolve more powers to Scotland but this promise has no reliable substance since they themselves are not together, and will be fighting each other tooth and nail in next year’s general election. If the Ukip vote continues to rise, no one knows or can predict what strange compromises may be born in Westminster 2015, regarding both EU membership and Scottish devolution.

The firm and unexamined assumption in the no campaign is that we are all very much better together. Well, by the evidence to date, are we? I had to admit that after decades of voting either Liberal or Labour I now live in a country where hundreds of thousands of British children are being shifted into poverty, where food banks have become a new necessity, and where social inequality is ever increasing. This is not an inevitable result of the financial crisis. It is the inevitable result of government austerity measures, backed by all three main parties, in response to that crisis. These economic policies favour the wealthy, and it is the poor and vulnerable who are paying for the financial crisis. Continuing welfare cuts are backed by Labour, and after the dreary disillusionment of the Blair years I can no longer trust a Labour government, if elected, to deliver the fair society that was John Smith’s vision.

Turning to the yes campaign, I looked not at Alex Salmond and the rhetoric, but at the actual results in Scotland of SNP policy decisions. I see that the NHS in Scotland, though struggling, has been firmly protected from the ravaging changes that are transforming the service forever in England and Wales. I see that the priorities are care of the elderly, supporting the less well-off, and above all a firm commitment not to put our young people into impossible debt if they wish to go to university. England has stopped investing in its single most important asset – its young people. Scotland (though far from perfect) has not. All the data shows that nothing fast forwards social inequality more rapidly than the introduction of hefty university tuition fees.

The central question is surely: which option offers the best chance of developing a more caring, creative and equitable society for all our children to live in, and contribute to? I have to admit the greater possibility, and the only vision, lies with the yes campaign. So much so that should Scotland become independent, my concern is more for England and Wales. Hopefully, an independent Scotland establishing a fairer more caring society (one that is natural to so many people in England and Wales) will help stimulate the English and Welsh peoples’ own long-overdue debate with a centralised Westminster government whose targets have become so predominantly monetary.

I will be voting yes, though more in grief than grievance. But I will also have a swing in my ballot box step for the first time in many years, at the thought of more imaginative possibilities ahead. I hope that both my parents, whose commitment to fairness and social justice was far deeper than any allegiance to political party or country, would understand.
Mary Gillies
Selkirk

• And so the gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands for the beloved union begins. So beloved by those who profess to cherish it and seek to defend it at all costs, that it’s taken until just 10 days to go to the poll for them to seriously contemplate the reform needed to transform it into a workable solution for everyone in these isles.

We’ve had patronising hauteur and dismissive brow-beating, intermingled with vacuous (if well-intentioned) pleas from sportsmen, celebrities and actors. But no meaningful attempt to consider this an opportunity to reappraise and refresh democracy so that it serves the interests of all and not some.

Whatever the result, hopefully this whole event may wake people from their slumber and engage with what it means, or should mean, be a participating citizen in a 21st-century capitalist democracy. As opposed to a docile consumer-cum-subject in a delusional post-imperial parody.
Colin Montgomery
Edinburgh

• As the scots (Alex Salmond included, I expect) like to quote Robert Burns, maybe the yes voters should remember this from Does Haughty Gaul Invasion Threat: Be Britain still to Britain true, Amang ourselves united; For never but by British hands Maun British wrangs be righted!
Dennis Falloon
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

• Excuse me for being a bit naive here, but if the Scots decide to leave the union, surely everyone benefits, particularly (from a fiscal point of view) the English. And the one person who has everything to gain from Scottish independence is David Cameron, since his party will walk into power again at the next election.

So would someone please explain the problem to me.
John Davison
London

• Alastair Deighton asks “How can so-called progressives have become so bewitched by a nationalist movement?” (Letters, 9 September). It is because the assumed progressives, the Labour party, have entered illegal wars, engorged the bankers and deserted the needy. They sent us Gordon Brown. How busted can a flush get?
Denis Jackson
Glasgow

• Were I a Scot I’d be voting yes for all the reasons set out in the independence arguments. But there is another reason: surely the end of the UK would mean the end of Ukip. Is Nigel Farage currently working on a new name for his party? English, Welsh and Northern Irish Independence Party doesn’t quite do it.
Barbara Richardson
London

A Union Flag and Scottish Saltire fly over Britain's Cabinet Office in central London A union flag and Scottish saltire fly over the Cabinet Office in central London. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

The sentiment expressed by a psychologist (Letters, 10 September) was news to few pro-union Scots. We have always known, only too well, that Cameron gifted first the whole referendum process which a majority of Scots did not seek, secondly the wording on the ballot paper and thirdly refused to include “devo max”. This last option would, as some commentators have lately observed, have been a winner. Salmond could not believe his luck. From then on he has wallowed in the extended period up to his chosen election date spinning his tartan dream world, firing up people who may never before have voted with spurious promises of milk and heather honey. This is his “Diana” moment, where disconnected people grab a chance to live vicariously their own drama, a soap opera that involves emotional chaos just like on TV. And not a thought is spared for the cold, dark mornings of the long Scottish winter to come.

If the Scottish government has resolutely refused to use the devolved tax-raising powers it has long had, that now looks very much like cynical bribery, one of the many unanswered questions Salmond declines to address. As Peter Hetherington points out (Society, 10 September), £1bn is the sum the SNP could have spent on an infrastructure fund. Instead we have a referendum, costly in so many ways – not least in the divisiveness and hostility within Scotland and the overt antipathy shown to anything or anybody English. Mandela might have called it apartheid. In desperation and fear I have finally dared to stick a no poster in my window.
Carolyn Kirton
Aberdeen

• I’m fed up hearing Mr Salmond promise voters that separation will solve all ills, with no mention of who’ll pay the bills. I’m sick of him attributing every problem to “Tories” and “Westminster” and “the English” – when his SNP has already controlled so much for so long.

But I also think Mr Darling’s indisputable economic arguments for a no thanks vote urgently need much more positive presentation. Sure, paint the vivid picture of numerous large employers finalising their plans for flitting south in the event of a yes vote. But simultaneously shout to the rooftops about the emotional “high” we all gain from Scotland being a leading nation within the UK! Heaven knows there’s a lot to be proud of.

Why else are immigrants bypassing countless countries to queue at Calais? Why else are the British parliament (warts and all), the British civil service, the BBC, the British military, the British NHS, the British Red Cross, British sport and arts, so globally admired? British farming methods are also renowned, and even “Made in Britain” is again becoming a proud boast.

Scots are deeply involved in all these very British things, with great affection, too, for our Queen and royal family – again, the subject of huge overseas envy – but who’d quickly be removed by President Salmond’s republican bedfellows. Scotland and the Scottish diaspora are intimately interwoven throughout the fabric of Britain, and we only have a few days left to convince the undecided that this is a cause for celebration and retention.
Graeme G Crawford
Edinburgh

• In my heart I hope the Scottish people, including many of my relatives, vote no next week. However, I am puzzled that more people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland haven’t started to discuss the many benefits to them that might be realised from Scottish Independence.

For example, there will be many job opportunities, as the departments like DWP and National Savings will have to relocate. In the past these have been allocated to areas where there has been low employment due to the loss of industries. Surely many cities would benefit from having these additional workforce requirements? This is one example, I’m sure there are many others.

If we seriously want the Scottish people to reflect on what they might lose by becoming independent, it may be better to phrase the argument in terms of what the rest of the UK will gain. Sadly I suppose it’s a bit late for that now.
Jenny Page
Sidmouth, Devon

• Should Scotland vote to separate from the rest of Britain then all our lives will be diminished at every level: cultural, political and economic. It is not scaremongering to remind people that a win for Alex Salmond could plunge the whole of the United Kingdom into an economic crisis the following day. The sharks are circling: our hard-earned, steady economic recovery is threatened.

We are better together, but we should not remain together in the same way as we are today. There is a deep malaise in our current system of government. Far too much power has been centralised in Westminster. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are rightly demanding more political and economic control of their own futures. England, where 85% of British people actually live, has had no distinct voice on the constitutional changes that have taken place over the last five decades.

Local government has been emasculated year on year since Margaret Thatcher won in 1979 and there is a compelling argument for some form of regional government that empowers business, industry and local communities.

Voter turnout for all elections is so low that our democracy is undermined by non-participation. Perhaps the one thing we might be pleased about is that over 80% of eligible Scots are expected to vote in their referendum. We need a full constitutional convention. It is time to stop tinkering with our system of government. It is broken – let’s fix it.
Ian Jones
Chair, North East Liberal Democrats, Middlesbrough

• Let us be quite clear, if there is a yes vote it is for ever. There will be no chance for second thoughts. Antagonistic attitudes will harden as if every issue was like a football match between the two nations. Before we get to this point of no return, could we plead for the matter to be looked at in a longer-term perspective?

Let us reflect back say 200 years or so and forward say 25 years. If Scotland leaves the UK, it is most likely that the “little Englanders” goaded by the popular press will ensure that the rump of the UK leaves the EU. Even if Scotland is accepted into the EU, which is by no means guaranteed, it will have little chance of influencing the much-needed reforms of that institution compared with what a well-led UK government could do.

Over the last two centuries or so the UK has fought hard and made significant sacrifices to ensure that the continent of Europe is not dominated by one national group for the clear reason that it would most likely be to the detriment of ourselves. The reunification of Germany, coupled with the investment and determination of the German people to make it a success, followed by the formation of the euro using political rather than economic criteria, and then the banking crisis, has put Germany in a dominant economic position which looks like growing at the expense of France, Italy and the rest. Of course, Germany is a good democratic European at present but who is to say as it gets even stronger that this will always be its stance.

The UK’s “special relationship” with the Americans will die once we have no influence in the EU. That will, of course, mean that we will no longer have to help them in their unwise wars, but they will not intervene on our behalf. They will be busy coping (or not) with their own decline in world influence as China becomes the dominant economic power. Our trading relationships with the EU could well suffer and our bloated banks will most assuredly be sidelined. Yet nationalised French and German companies will be dominating our electricity supply. We will both be impotent to look after our joint interests.

So, dear Scottish friends and partners, please reflect on the tough times ahead for our children and grandchildren and help us all to hold our own.
Graham Cooper
Smethcott, Shropshire

• The yes campaign hype has succeeded – so far – in masking its own hypocrisy and conning the electorate in the process. Here are just three examples:

First, ridding Scotland of Trident while still hiding behind the nuclear skirts of Nato. Really? The SNP and the yes campaign have proclaimed that Nato has a number of non-nuclear states, yet hidden the fact that none of them eschew Nato’s nuclear umbrella, part of which happens to be based in the UK.

Second, disavowing new nuclear energy, yet tacitly supporting extending the lifetimes of Scotland’s existing nuclear power stations and, through Scottish Enterprise (the Scottish government’s economic development agency) encouraging Scottish industry to “tool up” to support the nuclear energy industry outwith Scotland.

And third, proclaiming the Scottish government’s avowed holier than thou foreign policy, yet happy to hawk the Clyde shipyards around the world as the place to build warships for foreign powers with whose foreign policies it disagrees.

On this, and on many other issues, the SNP/yes claims of the moral high ground are totally dishonest. Social justice and equality of opportunity are felt just as strongly throughout the UK. The SNP’s moral and social concerns seem to stop at the border.
Professor Paul W Jowitt
Edinburgh

• Scotland is no more homogeneous than the rest of the UK. The Shetlands were effectively a wedding present to the Scottish king in 1469. Is it safe to assume, therefore, that, if the Shetlands vote no, the SNP would respect their decision not to be part of an independent Scotland (what would that do to their sums?). It is also notable that, despite the SNP’s negative rhetoric, the rest of the UK wants Scotland to stay – and no one else seems to care about the financial impact either way.

Nationalism is an ugly force, accentuating and exaggerating minor differences, creating and exploiting perceived grievances. It also creates simplistic, unrealistic solutions that will only be tested when it’s too late. The SNP’s unnecessary obsession with independence drowns out all else. It is a wonder drug, a panacea that solves everything. It gives rise to unrealistic expectations, not least in Alex Salmond’s attempt to treat the union as a pick ‘n’ mix where they can blackmail the rest into allowing them to choose unilaterally what they keep and what they reject. It is worth pointing out that, in the event of a yes vote, it would be the fiduciary duty of the rump UK government to negotiate the absolute best deal for the rest of the UK, and that means no favours for Scotland. The SNP will reap what they sow, but it is the ordinary citizen throughout the UK who will ultimately lose out. We will all be diminished.
Stewart Fergus
London

• The Scots have been warned that there will be no currency union and they will have to abandon the pound. It is deeply troubling that so many people seem willing to ignore the facts.

However a major reason for the growth of separatist feeling is the behaviour of the Tory and Ukip right wing. The Tory party lost Scotland several decades ago, and the growth between the largely social democratic Scots and the Thatcher brigade is massive. Nothing could be better calculated to remind the Scots of what they loathe about the English Tories than Douglas Carswell’s idiotic decision to trigger a byelection, in the run up to the referendum.

Carswell is not the only one to undermine David Cameron and his attempts to hold the UK together. Boris Johnson is making it very obvious that he wants Cameron’s job and is prepared to play the anti-European card. As the Tory party is going to be divided and dominated by its right wing, and in government, for the foreseeable future, is it any wonder the Scots may think, wrongly, that separatism is for them? But they are at least conscious about wanting to destroy the UK. Do the Tory right even grasp that by boosting Ukip they are helping destroy the union they claim to support?
Trevor Fisher
Stafford

• As a Scot living in England, I am sad, ashamed and angry at the level of support for the yes campaign. Sad when I think of the great Scots of the past like Andrew Carnegie, John Buchan and David Livingstone: principled, selfless and courageous – are these characteristics shared by Alex Salmond? Ashamed when I think how Scots’ emotions, especially Anglophobia, are being cynically manipulated by a rabble-rouser, supported by a spin doctor. Ashamed too at the bullying tactics and cheap jibes of the yes campaign and the resulting lasting damage to relationships between Scots. Angry because in the event of a yes vote my daughter and son-in-law will probably have to uproot their family to find work elsewhere, as they stand to lose their jobs in a national bank and an international energy company respectively. Such huge employers plan to leave Scotland because of certain financial chaos and because most of their business comes from elsewhere. Wake up: it’s not Westminster making fools of you, but a coterie of Scots hungry for power but irresponsibly clueless on policies.
Frances Edge
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

• There are three things about the yes campaign that have convinced me to remain a no vote: their rose-tinted speculation, their insistence that everything will remain the same when it will not, and the arrogance of the SNP leaders of the campaign.

The first two of these reasons were well illustrated during a television debate when the question of science research funding came up and it was stated that Cancer Research UK would continue to fund its research in an independent Scotland. CR UK does not fund any research outside the UK, but no one commented on the possibility that in the future this rule may be applied to Scotland if donors in the rest of the UK do not want their donations going to a foreign country, which is what Scotland will be. Having worked in academia I know how easy it is to move research groups; they will just follow the money out of Scotland.

The question of oil revenue has been hotly debated, but the main thrust of the yes campaign is that Scotland would get the majority of the tax revenue assuming the division of the North Sea between the UK and Scotland will lie on a line running due east from Berwick. However I believe that under international law the UK could claim that the boundary between the Scottish and UK parts of the North Sea should follow approximately the direction of the land border between the countries, giving Scotland the area north of a line from Berwick to roughly Bergen. This puts more production platforms in the UK area than the yes campaign have counted on. Also, Norway may insist on negotiating to increase its oil production zone as the original division was between Norway and the UK, not Norway and Scotland.

As for other things remaining the same, the yes campaign has remained silent over the domestic changes that will take place, for example: any product or special personal financial arrangement made by the UK Treasury will cease. Do you have Premium Bonds? They will be worthless but the UK Treasury will no doubt repay you their face value. Do you have any deposits in UK National Savings? These accounts will be frozen. Do you have an Isa? It will also be frozen.

Has anyone in the yes camp said anything about car insurance? If Scotland becomes independent in March 2016 the law governing car insurance will become Scottish law. UK insurance companies will not insure drivers resident outside the UK, so to renew car insurance for a year after March 2015 two insurance contracts may be needed with all the extra expense that will no doubt bring. Of course if you then drive into the UK after March 2016 you will only be insured as a foreign driver, and what is to happen about drivers who are Scots-based but spend most of their time driving for work in the UK?

As for arrogance, has anyone ever heard any SNP leader ever concede that any criticism of the yes campaign may be worth considering? To me Salmond, Sturgeon and Swinney are taking on the mantle of the old high Tory elite, putting the SNP up as the party with the manifest destiny to run Scotland. They are supporting the yes campaign with promises (increased state pension, reduction in corporation tax, increased agricultural subsidies) that they can only fulfil if they win both the yes vote and the 2016 election. Make no mistake, the yes campaigners outside the SNP have been hoodwinked into thinking they are doing the best for Scotland, but all they are doing is giving the SNP the right to split the UK and have the glittering prize of their own country to run.

Finally a question that I have never had answered by a yes campaigner: if Scotland is so well run, why does the yes campaign want to remove from the Scottish people any influence that it may have in the rest of the UK?
Dr Stuart McGlashan
Newton Stewart, Dumfries and Galloway

Independent:

Rosie Millard is rightly concerned about the electoral implications of the proposed “mansion tax” in London and the South-east (8 September). It would create an arbitrary threshold at which yet another tax, just like that on inheritances, is suddenly imposed at a high rate.

Instead, we need a complete revamp of the existing system of council tax, under which the owner of a £100m mansion in London currently pays only twice as much as the tenant of a flat in Middlesbrough.

Rather than clumsy “bands”, why not follow Sweden, which has a flat-rate annual tax of around 0.7% of each property’s value? Soaring property prices work against tenants and favour owners. This suggests that council tax should be paid by landlords.

It is contradictory for homes to be subjected to council tax by local authorities, while central government exempts principal private residences from unlimited amounts of capital gains tax. Why does the government use such reliefs to encourage people to put their money into ever-more lavish homes when they would surely be much better encouraged to invest in initiatives which create jobs and enhance the environment?

Aidan Harrison 

Rothbury, Northumberland

 

I find it difficult to believe that the taxpayers of London are quite as selfish as Rosie Millard asserts. Surely those who, through no effort or skill of their own, have accumulated property worth 10 times the average UK house price would have no objection to making more contribution to the exchequer than the current absurdly generous council tax allows? In a time when homelessness is widespread, surely exceptionally fortunate Londoners are more public-spirited than that?

Michael Godwin

Bath

The real case against the so-called mansion tax is that any change in the taxation of private houses should be to update the council tax.

At present council tax is levied on houses being placed in one of a number of bands but the highest is £350,000 and over. The bands were calculated in 1991. This is equivalent to about £850,000 today. So the owner of a house valued at £900,000 pays the same tax as a Russian billionaire owning a mega-mansion costing £60m or more.

Not even the most bare-faced plutocrat can claim this is fair. What is obviously needed is to introduce more bands above the present top one. The popular myth that this will automatically lead to higher council tax for everybody needs to be exploded.

Because governments of all parties tend to put a cap on local authorities’ spending, they would not be able to increase it. The income would however be differently raised. A larger share would come from more put into the new band (which would need only a revaluation of those now in band H – less than 3.5 per cent of the country’s 28m houses).

In fact everybody now in bands A to G would enjoy a reduction in their council-tax bill – surely an attraction to the politicians?

Harvey Cole

Winchester, Hampshire

 

Scots vote may be a boon for democracy

This referendum has been the greatest driver for many years in getting citizens actively involved in the political process and enabling them to express what kind of values they want politics to represent. It has also revealed the strength of feeling of many in England, too, that their interests are disregarded  in Westminster.

When the dust settles, there may well be a greater debate about how we can make Westminster more accountable to, and representative of, the wider population. For the first time in many years the political establishment may be sufficiently shaken out of its self-serving torpor to actually look beyond the Westminster bubble and listen to the voices they’ve been able to ignore for so long. We may all gain yet, regardless of what happens on 18 September.

Steve Porter

Reading

By the time the consequences of destroying one of the oldest and most successful political unions become clear I suspect Alex Salmond will be long gone to the lucrative lecture circuit.

Having bet the future of the UK on the voting whims of some thrawn Celts, David Cameron will also be gone, as will Ed Miliband for losing control of Scottish Labour supporters. Their successors, put in place by a now furious English electorate, will be in no mood to do us any favours and we are likely to end up in the enervating embrace of the IMF.

Too late we will realise we have voted for an impoverished statelet facing public-service cuts, endemic unemployment, raised taxes and the flight of both youth and capital.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

Yes, the Scots will go, and beyond doubt, the major responsibility lies with the governing elite. The Scots are inclined to be socialist in attitude, closer to the egalitarian and republican outlook characteristic of Europe than to the hideously class-riven society that exists south of the border.

Like the rest of us, they have suffered from the unrestrained capitalism of the past 30 years which has left ordinary people paying ever-increasing bills to private companies for the ordinary services of life.

By voting Yes they will free themselves of the cabal of public-school spivs that governs these islands. God help the rest of us.

Keith Purbrick

Canterbury, Kent

It now looks as though neither side can win a convincing victory in the Scottish independence referendum. What this illustrates is the gross inadequacy of our form of democracy. It is quite understandable that the Scottish electorate feels unrepresented by the “Coalition” – in fact essentially Tory – Government, because so do millions of the rest of us. It is surely time to end the system by which a party with a third of the popular vote feels empowered to inflict its nutty agenda on the rest of us, for example in education, the NHS and the bedroom tax.

The Scots are in a unique position to deliver bloody noses to these vain, strutting peacocks. There can be little doubt that the loss of Scotland to the UK would be remembered as the only lasting legacy of the “Coalition”.

Gavin P Vinson

London N10

We need each other within the UK and are stronger for it – on defence, trade and multinational organisations. Divided we would lose our voice on the UN Security Council – perhaps to India, Brazil or South Africa – and Nato could no longer rely upon a common UK foreign-policy position.

Meanwhile, across Europe independence movements and Russian geopolitical strategists take heart at the success of the Yes campaign. As Russia sows the seeds of division and chaos by encouraging separatist groups, it knows Britain will be weaker if divided from within.

The idea of a divorce between countries with a shared history of culture, language and religion sends shivers down the spines of those who champion harmony across Europe. Alarm bells are ringing at the prospect of Scottish independence heralding the atomisation of Europe.

The future is uncertain and potentially dangerous so the question of whether we face it together or apart extends beyond the shores of Britain to a Europe whose security has been built upon unity.

Geraint Davies MP (Swansea West) & Member of the Council for Europe

London SW1

The sight of all three Westminster party leaders arriving in Scotland in a blind panic is reminiscent of a group of leaders from a totalitarian state attempting to stop one of its outlying regions from breaking away.

Surely if the Scottish economy were such a liability they would be happy to see it go? Why, then, do they constantly talk it down and suggest that an independent Scotland would be bound to fail?

Dr Dominic Horne

University of Worcester

 

If the Yes vote wins, will it be written, correctly, that Scotland was lost on the playing fields of Eton.

Malcolm Calvert

Anglesey, North Wales

 

University educated, but unemployable

The OECD’s report on numeracy and literacy levels in the UK reveals a worrying gap between skills and qualifications (report, 10 September). To counteract this, school-leavers need to think carefully about whether the degrees they are about to start will enable them to get the skills businesses actually need.

Employers tell us that apprentices are often better placed to meet the needs of business than those with other qualifications. Young people who enter into apprenticeship programmes benefit by gaining technical qualifications while learning the skills necessary to succeed at work. However, they are often unaware that these options exist.

Recent YouGov research reveals that nearly two-thirds of 18-24-year-olds have not had advice at secondary school or college on paid apprenticeships.

Jackie Bedford, Chief Executive, Step Ahead

London EC1

I was interested to see your article (10 September) headed “University education boom fails to improve numeracy and literacy”. This would seem to be borne out by your health briefing, two pages earlier: “2bn: number of Britons who will suffer from Alzheimer’s by 2050”.

Roger Smith

Times:

The independence referendum debate has brought latent constitutional issues into sharp focus

Sir, As it appears from public comments by the Cabinet Secretary that civil servants are under instructions to make no contingency plans for a “yes” vote next week, I assume there has been no planning for the relationship, and share of resources, between a separate Scotland and both the British (United Kingdom) Diplomatic Service and the British Council.

As a former head of the Diplomatic Service, I should like to record the considerable contribution that the Diplomatic Service and the British Council make to Scottish interests at home and abroad. Scotland inward investments interests, export promotion and Scotland’s cultural and education profile form an important part of the work of both services. In particular, I commend the remarkable efforts by our embassy in Tokyo on behalf of the Scotch Whisky Association.

Whatever arrangements are made for Scotland’s future relationship with either service, I wonder whether an independent Scotland could reasonably expect the same commitment and effort from our diplomats in future.

Lord Wright of Richmond

House of Lords

Sir, Buckingham Palace put its finger on a key factor in the referendum (report, Sept 10). The statement that the choice is one for “the people of Scotland” surely casts harsh light on the composition of the current franchise. People have always been one of Scotland’s greatest exports. Whether sent unwillingly across the seas as a result of clearances, or in foreign lands by choice in search of adventure, fame or fortune, Scots have thrived and created vibrant communities and the very fabric of empires both commercial and political. Wherever they may reside, they see themselves as Scots.

Yet we have no vote. We watch powerless as our nation is torn asunder — knowing that our views will neither be sought nor reflected in this utterly misguided exercise.

Alastair Singleton

Chewton Keynsham, Bristol

Sir, The saltire and its colours are the emotive and endearing symbols of Scottish nationalism, and clearly demonstrate support for the “yes” campaign. Dan Snow’s bizarre suggestion (Sept 10) that flying the saltire will perhaps show support for the “no” vote simply demonstrates the total disarray and desperation of the Better Together campaign.

Peter Froggatt

Dorking, Surrey

Sir, As John Major describes (Sept 10), Scottish independence would not only substantially weaken the UK but result in major financial problems for an independent Scotland. The irony is that it would be those who are reportedly most likely to swing the vote to independence, based on Alex Salmond’s misleading rhetoric, who would suffer most: working-class Labour voters and the poor.

PA Macnab

Brussels

Sir, John Major appears to have drawn the short straw in who might be wheeled out to hastily shift blame for the debacle over Scotland. Let us be clear that this impending tragedy can be laid fairly and squarely at Mr Cameron’s front door. Not only did he dismiss devo-max options out of hand, he also agreed the date, a simple majority format and the unconstitutional “suggestion” that 16-year-olds be allowed to vote.

Ian Hoyle

Sir, John Major says that the strengthening of the movement for Scottish independence is the fault of the last Labour government. A more plausible cause was the the Local Government Finance Act of 1988. This unleashed the poll tax on the UK, starting with Scotland one year ahead of England and Wales. The Conservative government’s blindness towards the perceived unfairness of both the tax and the order of its implementation galvanised Scottish nationalism then — and continues to do so today.

Ian Ward

Westbury-sub-Mendip, Somerset

Sir, I was born, raised and educated in Scotland. As soon as I graduated, I left to pursue career opportunities in London. I have been here, in England, my home, for 35 years. But Scotland has changed much during those 35 years. On my frequent visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh, I am taken aback by how far Scotland has lurched to the left and how many of its leaders embrace socialism. I am saddened by their obsession with state control, trade unions, workers’ rights and public sector pay.

This is not the Scotland of my youth. It has become embittered, and the Labour party in Scotland has done a sterling job of making the Conservative party a symbol of evil. Ideologically, Scotland and the rest of the UK are miles apart. Scotland has rejected centrist and right-of-centre policies for nearly four decades and its alienation from Westminster should not come as a surprise. For that reason, and that reason alone, Scotland should vote “yes”.

Alan Templeton

Northend, Berks

Sir, The narrowing of the polls has led to a cascade of promises from the unionist political parties. Whatever the result of the vote, we need to decide where power in this country (or countries) should lie. It is time for a UK-wide constitutional convention, on the lines of recent conventions in Ireland and Iceland, that gives citizens a say in shaping the future. Such a process needs the support of all the political parties, but it must retain its independence from them. Above all, a UK constitutional convention must build on the passion ignited in Scotland by the referendum, and bring that desire for determining our political future to the rest of the UK.

Katie Ghose, Electoral Reform Society; Vernon Bogdanor, King’s College London; Graham Allen MP, chairman, Political and Constitutional Reform Committee Plus a further 16 signatories at thetimes.co.uk/letters

Sir, If Scotland votes for independence, the impact on the rest of the UK will be profound despite the fact that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have had no say in the matter. To ensure that we are not sold short, the terms eventually negotiated between the Scottish and UK governments must be put to a binding referendum of those of us who will remain in the UK.

Michael Patterson

Swineshead, Lincs

Many teachers think interactive whiteboards are a gimmick and a waste of educational finance

Sir, As a recently retired teacher, I find the claim that the use of “interactive whiteboards” has improved exam results by one grade intriguing (report, Sept 8). Just because students can skilfully find their way around interactive whiteboards does not necessarily mean that they are increasing their learning. Many students I taught were brilliant at using technology but lacked critical analysis, knowledge or understanding. Many teachers think that interactive whiteboards are a gimmick; the educational rewards certainly do not justify the enormous expense laid out for them, especially when most young people are computer savvy anyway.

Leo McCormack

Sedgefield, Co Durham

2014

Jane MacQuitty’s rebuttal of various wine myths was welcome — with one exception…

Sir, Jane MacQuitty’s dismissal of a number of wine myths (Sept 6) came as a pleasant taste to the palate. I would, though, question her plea to ignore the practice of letting wine breathe. It depends on the wine. A good Burgundy may often be drunk immediately after opening, but many ordinary, higher-volume wines from the new world improve remarkably after an hour in a decanter. She is right that wine starts to oxidise at once after opening, but this process initially creates the organic esters that please the nostrils so much. The deterioration comes later, when the half-empty bottle has been left overnight.

Dr AG Holton

Lockerley, Hants

The ortolan bunting deserves to be saved from the clutches of France’s finest chefs

Sir, Four of France’s finest chefs want the ban on hunting ortolan buntings to be suspended (Sept 10). They fear that the recipe for these birds — which are said to have inspired the first notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony — may be lost. Is there a happy chance that it may never be found?

Juanita Fenton

Ilkley, W Yorks

If we can’t get land use policy right in the UK, what chance for Sir Jonathon Porritt’s ‘very poor countries’?

Sir, Sir Jonathon Porritt (letter, Sept 9, and report, Sept 4) might reflect that forestry, like charity, begins at home, and consider the results of his previous campaign, to “save” our own state forests from privatisation. We have had nearly three years of reports, meetings, delays and obfuscations from Defra, which is now preparing to hand over its “recommendations” to a new government, after next year’s election.

If we can’t get forest and land use policy right in England, what chance for his “very poor countries”?

David WG Taylor

(Past president, Institute of Chartered Foresters) Rodley, Glos

Telegraph:

Mega-city: compact cities like Hong Kong tend to use much less energy per capita compared to sprawling cities Photo: AP

6:58AM BST 10 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Allister Heath is right to recognise the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation, including getting the infrastructure right.

One essential consideration is the impact on energy use and carbon emissions. Compact cities like Hong Kong tend to use much less energy per capita than more sprawling ones like Los Angeles – not least because of shorter distances between homes and workplaces and better access to public transport.

Other ways to make our cities more energy efficient include better integration of water, waste, sewage and power systems; switching from coal to natural gas-fired power stations; and expanding the range of cleaner fuels for vehicles.

Cities are, and will continue to be, a defining feature of our civilisation. Making sure we get city design right is one of the most important tasks we face.

Jeremy Bentham
Head of Scenarios, Shell
The Hague, The Netherlands

Arming the Kurds

SIR – Nato should take heed of the law of unintended consequences when considering whether to support and arm the Kurds further in their battle with Isil.

Those with a knowledge of the area will recall that for many years Turkey fought an insurrection in the south of the country, and that it has long been a Kurdish ambition to create a national state embracing the Kurdish areas of Syria, Iraq and Turkey.

Such a landlocked country would control the headwaters of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, together with several major oil producing areas, creating unacceptable economic and strategic threats to the current sovereign areas.

Where would the West stand on the subsequent political upheaval?

Col Peter Mitchell (retd)
Odiham, Hampshire

Talking greens

SIR – Am I alone in being weary of food manufacturers anthropomorphising their products?

Today I bought a bag of fresh greens from Tesco. The instructions on the bag were: “Please keep me in the fridge.”

I don’t want a relationship with a bunch of greens – it’s bad enough being told I’ve got to eat them.

Ruth Morgan
Horsham, West Sussex

More expensive police

SIR – If the president of the Superintendents’ Association believes amalgamating police forces will make savings, she is badly mistaken. Large organisations are always more expensive to operate.

Amalgamating police forces in Scotland resulted in additional costs totalling hundreds of millions of pounds – the opposite of what was promised – and the same would apply to any amalgamations in England and Wales.

Paul Hornby
Oxford

Ranking pupils

SIR – The next Conservative manifesto could include a promise to force schools to set pupils by ability. This is obviously a good thing and the fact that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers is against it gives it extra weight.

Unfortunately, this continues the practice of gauging a school’s performance on how well it does the things Ofsted thinks will make it a better school. What we need is an objective measure of performance.

A repeated IQ test for all pupils throughout their school careers would allow us to compare actual results with reasonably expected results and provide a good objective measure of the value added by individual teachers as well as schools.

Kenneth Hynes
London N7

Fair game

SIR – Major-General Dare Wilson, who kept a 12-bore shotgun with him throughout the Second World War, was not the only soldier to refuse to forego game shooting during the hostilities.

While serving with the 1st Armoured Coldstream Guards on September 1 1944 the late, great Major Nico Collin was passing a field of kale near Arras in France. Remembering that it was beginning of partridge shooting season, he offered a pound to anyone who downed one.

As a covey got up 200 yards ahead of him he blazed away with a light machine gun fixed to the turret of his Sherman. His disappointment at missing them was more than compensated when two German soldiers arose from the kale with their hands raised in surrender.

They were recorded in the “Various” column of his game book.

Michael Cleary
Bulmer, North Yorkshire

Cameron’s CCF cuts will damage state schools

SIR – Independent school heads are concerned that funding cuts jeopardise the future of their CCF contingents (report, September 6).

Given that the Prime Minister’s Cadet Expansion Programme aims to establish 100 new cadet units in state schools, readers may be more surprised to know that the funding cuts apply equally to existing CCF units in state schools.

My state school is celebrating the centenary of our Combined Cadet Force, which is currently thriving. Over the next four years the MoD plans to withdraw our contingent grant; adult volunteers will no longer be remunerated; and each cadet will be charged £150 per year.

These changes will lead to a contraction of state school CCF contingents – the opposite effect to that intended by the Prime Minister.

Chris Pyle
Headmaster, Lancaster Royal Grammar School

SIR – State schools are uniquely dependent on the direct grant to fund their CCF units, having no money in school foundations or from school fees. The CCF offers a tremendous opportunity for pupils, regardless of background or wealth, which is likely to disappear if the MoD’s proposals to charge cadets and schools for running a CCF are put into practice.

State school contingents are also heavily dependent on non-teaching volunteers who take time off work to help run CCF activities and undertake extensive personal training in order to be competent. By withdrawing funding to existing programmes, the MoD’s proposals may force them to resign from their positions. Their equivalents in the Army Cadet Force and Air Training Corps face no such threat – a clear and unjust disparity.

Wg Cdr David Hobbs RAFVR(T)
Contingent Commander, Sutton Grammar School CCF
Sutton, Surrey

Jack the Ripper, from Le Petit Parisien, 1891, engraving with later colouration Photo: BRIDGEMAN ART LIBRARY

6:59AM BST 10 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – On the basis of DNA analysis, Russell Edwards claims that Aaron Kosminski was “definitely, categorically and absolutely” Jack the Ripper.

The detective in charge of the case, my great-grandfather Donald Swanson, named the perpetrator as just “Kosminski”, a fact first revealed in your columns in 1987.

Nevill Swanson
Worcester

SIR – As Catherine Eddowes was described as a “casual prostitute”, can the intimate DNA samples linked to Aaron Kosminski, found on her shawl be taken as definitive proof of him being Jack the Ripper, or was he a recent client?

I’d be surprised if this would stand up in court today.

Arthur Bayley
Tyldesley, Lancashire

Exports: independence could have a significantly negative effect on businesses based in Scotland Photo: Alamy

7:00AM BST 10 Sep 2014

CommentsComments

SIR – Independence would be damaging to the Scottish-owned, independent Scotch whisky company of which I am finance director. We are wholly based in Scotland so, unlike our globally based competitors, will face the full impact of the ensuing changes and associated risks.

The prospect of higher interest rates

will curb our ability to fund stock and therefore reduce growth or force us to contract.

Will we be able to trade as a member of the EU, and what will our currency be? If it is to be the euro, how will we progress to meet the accession criteria?

The presence of greater currency risks will affect our margins, which are reasonably protected at the moment, as nearly all of our export sales are in sterling.

Our global representation will be diminished as few Scottish trade missions will be established, and they will take time to become credible.

It is startling that independence could affect an independent Scottish export business more adversely than others. I am concerned that these risks will only be appreciated when it is far too late.

Mike Younger
Ian Macleod Distillers
Broxburn, West Lothian

SIR – The consequences of a Yes vote would be dire for Scotland, and I believe that the SNP’s economic promises amount to little more than fool’s gold.

However, money is not the sole reason for keeping the Union. Together we have achieved great things in the world and the Scottish contribution has been very significant. Whether on the battlefield confronting fascism or in the fields of engineering, medicine, science, sport or politics, Scottish representatives have been up there with the best.

I find it hard to believe that the Scottish people would want to retreat from an international front-row seat for their representatives to a place with little influence in the world.

For those of us in Northern Ireland, the people of Scotland are our kith and kin, and the thought of them leaving us is very sad indeed. The main parties in Parliament must set out a clear vision of what all of us in the Union can do together to expand our economies, improve standards of education and redraw our constitutional future.

Lord Empey
Chairman, Ulster Unionist Party
London SW1

SIR – What clearer message that your cause is lost could you give than to wheel out as your spokesman the most embarrassingly inept prime minister in living memory?

Clive Boddington
Armathwaite, Cumberland

SIR – Presumably, if Scotland becomes independent, the Royal Mail will no longer be able to justify the cost of postage within the UK by citing the excessive costs of providing a daily delivery service to remote Scottish dwellings, and therefore the cost of sending letters within England and Wales will go down and European rates will apply to letters to Scotland.

Doubtless the BBC, Met Office and Forestry Commission, to name but three, would also have to downsize substantially, with resultant large savings to the new United Kingdom.

John Mellows
Kilmington, Devon

SIR – Having lived through a period during which two Scottish prime ministers, aided by two Scottish chancellors, steered the UK into a financial downturn in which two Scottish banks needed to be bailed out by British taxpayers, I regard the prospect of Scottish independence with equanimity tinged with relief.

John Gordon
Kingsbridge, Devon

SIR – To appease the Scots, should the next royal baby be christened Bonnie Prince Charlie?

Roger Briers
Fitz, Shropshire

Irish Times:

Sir, – If the people of Scotland vote Yes to independence but the majority of the people in the northeast, say the Grampian district, vote No, would those unionists be entitled to partition the country?

If they did not want to be called Scottish they could call themselves Northern Scottish or Grampians. – Yours, etc,

PEADAR DALY,

Tuamgraney,

Co Clare.

Sir, – Your editorial “Scotland’s Moment” disappoints me. You imagine Ireland in the personage of our Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan telling Scotland with confidence that we’ve “been there, done that”. You make the troubled course of Ireland’s independence seem like a jaunt on a luxury coach to the Palace of Versailles. Such grandiosity, sir, needs to be challenged.

We have paid a very high price for our independence and the burden of that price has been disproportionately borne by the ordinary people of Ireland.

Scottish independence, rather like Irish independence, will be a marvellous boon for those who are well heeled and middle class.

As for the rest, they will have to make themselves familiar with the street plans of London, Manchester and Birmingham. – Yours, etc,

KEVIN RYAN,

Buckingham Road,

London.

Sir, – Your edition of September 9th presented an interesting divergence of opinion on Scotland’s forthcoming referendum. In your editorial “Scotland’s moment” you conclude, “Scotland’s desire to forge its own direction should be supported”. While in your Business section Paul Krugman (“Why Scotland should think hard about going it alone”) succinctly points out the huge risks of an independent Scotland using England’s pound sterling.

Surely, Mr Krugman’s case is correct, because the Scottish economy would remain totally controlled by the interest rates set by the Bank of England, and there could be times when the two economies would be heading in completely different directions.

We have only got to cast our minds back a few years when the rates set by the ECB did not suit Ireland’s economy.

Scotland’s economy is tightly integrated with the rest of Britain’s, which would seem to suggest a new government in Edinburgh would have little room to manoeuvre, and little chance of Mr Salmond delivering the goodies he is promising in return for a Yes vote. – Yours, etc,

MIKE CORMACK,

Ardagh Close,

Blackrock,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – After spending some time recently in the UK, I’ve just returned to read the editorial “Scotland’s moment”. The difference between the treatment of the debate about independence for Scotland in the majority of the newspapers in the UK and your commentary is glaring. The calm, considered, informed and balanced tones of The Irish Times contrast with the one-sided, strident disparagement meted out by the UK press to the Yes side. – Is mise,

NIALL Ó MURCHADHA,

An Spidéal,

Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – One week to go and the outcome is in the balance.

I am nearly 70 and I notice that most of the older age-group is firmly in the No camp. Why is this? Is it only because they selfishly fear for their pensions and savings, as some Yes people have dismissively claimed?

Or could it be that they can transcend such considerations, have travelled a bit, and understand better the importance of good relationships among this family of nations?

Could it be that those in the older generation have a better sense of how unstable our modern world is, economically and politically, and how the union, for all its inadequacies, has served people well? – Yours, etc,

PADDY McEVOY,

Ardmore Road,

Holywood,

Co Down.

A chara, – I cannot agree entirely with Susan Fitzgerald (September 5th) that “in every area of public service run by the State there are calls for regular and thorough systems of regulation” and that, therefore, Monica O’Connor was wrong to refuse to submit to such regulation regarding home schooling.

Article 42 of Bunreacht na hÉireann safeguards the right of parents to choose a school with an ethos they support, or alternatively to home school. The latter, far from being a public service provided by the State, is precisely a method of education outside State direction. Not all parents are happy with State education, or else simply believe that home schooling is a better alternative for their own children. Consider the tiny number of people who actually write the syllabus which is imposed on all State schoolchildren – it is in the dozens, for a nation of millions.

The family is the basic unit of society and of civilisation, and parents are the natural and primary educators of their children. The school – and the State – exists to support and protect the family, not the other way round.

What if parents do not agree with the criteria by which their children are to be “inspected” by the State? Home schooling groups made these points in the debate leading up to the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. The initial draft of this legislation had effectively equated home schooling with truancy. Some of our ideas were incorporated. We were willing to have our children present a portfolio of work at a neutral location, or present for State exams as external candidates, but objected to the intrusion of inspectors into private homes.

The question remains, who is the ultimate boss of our children – the parents or the State? There will always be “hard cases” that can be dealt with on an individual basis; but the basic fact remains – you cannot have two bosses. – Is mise,

MICHEÁL

Ó FEARGHAIL,

BSc, Dip Ed,

Sallybrook House,

Glanmire, Co Cork.

Sir, – In his reference to Kenmare, Frank McDonald has got the wrong end of the stick (“Time to let go of the hanging baskets”, September 8th). Today I counted eight hanging baskets in Kenmare. Yes, we do have a profusion of flowers, but they are in window boxes, and they do not obscure any of our wonderful architecture. I have seen many overseas visitors in our town, over the last 25 years, who stop, wonder at and photograph our most colourful displays. I can see them back home sharing the beauty of Kenmare with their friends and relations.

Kenmare is a living place, a place we are very proud of. Having lived, over the years, in over 20 counties in Ireland, I have found nowhere more beautiful or fulfilling than Kenmare.

Come back soon, Frank, and see for yourself ! – Yours, etc,

TERRY O’ DOHERTY,

Lodge Wood,

Kenmare, Co Kerry.

Sir, – Frank McDonald in the early 1980s accepted an invitation to visit our, then, rather dull and dirty town, Kinsale. He told us that it was up to us to care for our environment. He was inspiring. He got us going.

He was right – painting, planting and caring for our plants unites our community. Kinsale is now alive, well loved and lived in. Our planted environment is evidence of individual involvement. We in southwest Cork enjoy our hanging baskets.

Times change. I live over the shop in a Victorian house and feel much better since I got rid of the aspidistra and planted geraniums. – Yours, etc,

COLETTE BOLAND,

Barrys’s Place,

Kinsale, Co Cork.

Sir, – I am a native of Leitrim who moved to the US since in 1960. I read The Irish Times almost every day. I got a really good laugh from Frank McDonald’s tirade against hanging flower baskets. I am amazed that someone had the courage and the time to disparage such an innocuous practice with such venom, but it was very refreshing. But please tell him to lighten up. – Yours, etc,

CONOR WRAFTER,

Union,

New Jersey.

Sir, – Hanging baskets are a modern phenomenon, so how could Frank McDonald see them in photos from the Victorian era, as if that would authenticate their use?

There are a lot of ugly buildings out there that are redeemed by the use of baskets. Victoriana had its fair share of bad taste, including aspidistras. It was not a golden age of good taste but it was remarkable for its pomposity. – Yours, etc,

JOE BYRNE,

Ballyboughal,

Co Dublin.

A chara, – Dr Ronan McCrea’s response (“Muslim pupils should not be deprived of the cultural resources to take a full part in Irish society”, Opinion & Analysis, September 10th) to Dr Ali Selim’s call for a “revolution” in the Irish educational system to combat “discrimination” against Muslims (“Call for State schools to accommodate Islamic beliefs”, September 3rd) seems to have missed the update that the vast majority of Muslim parents in Ireland do not regard the system as discriminatory at all (“Irish Muslim organisations praise schools system”, September 10th).

But then again, as Dr McCrea’s article makes clear, this particular controversy has nothing to do with discrimination. It has to do with dismantling our school system and replacing it with one designed to promote a particular worldview. This is made clear in his statement that “parents do not have the right to prevent their child from encountering anything with which they may disagree while using the State education system”.

It is apparently now intolerable that schools should foster the values or beliefs of parents, or even be a safe haven for children from the wider culture’s constant barrage of ideas and values which parents may reject and wish to protect their children from, or at least wait until what they think is the appropriate time to introduce their children to them; the wise and benevolent state must protect children from their parents and schools must “brainwash or propagandise” their students solely in the cause of secularism.

All this flies in the face of our constitutional recognition of the fact that it is parents, not the state, who are the primary educators of their children. The mask is slipping. Those who think faith is nonsense and that religion has nothing to offer see our schools as the best place to promote their own ideological “revolution”. And every opportunity must be taken to promote that agenda; even if those “opportunities” turn out to be media-driven non-events. – Is mise,

Rev PATRICK G BURKE,

Castlecomer,

Co Kilkenny.

Sir, – Rob Sadlier (September 9th) declares it a”fallacy” to state that we might not have ended up with a bankrupt country if women were represented in the Dáil at nearer their 50 per cent proportion in the electorate .

It can be argued that women are more vulnerable in situations of societal upheaval, insecurity and chaos and that renders them less reckless decision-makers. We could have done with less reckless decision-makers during the boom. Indeed it is perfectly reasonable to argue that if we had more of them we might have avoided the highs of the Celtic Tiger and the lows of the post Celtic Tiger bust. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LEAVY,

Shielmartin Drive,

Sutton, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Dr Colette Finn (September 9th) states that “women are by far the biggest group under-represented in Irish politics”. One crucial fact here is that, since the foundation of the State, no one has been excluded from standing as a Dáil candidate because of their gender.

Also, while it is true that the main political parties have been, and continue to be, mainly male, one does not require, and never has required, the nomination of a political party to stand for election.

As Dr Finn is obviously dissatisfied with the performance of the political parties in respect of nominating female candidates, let her and her 5050 Group organise the nomination of independent female candidates to contest every Dáil seat at the next general election. If nothing else, this would provide an opportunity to see what importance the electorate as a whole attaches to the gender of Dáil candidates, as distinct from the importance attached to this by Dr Finn and her colleagues in the 5050 Group. – Yours, etc,

HUGH GIBNEY,

Castletown,

Athboy,

Co Meath.

Sir, – To read that the planned expansion of cancer treatment facilities at St James’s Hospital in Dublin has now been deferred because of the construction of the National Children’s Hospital was enough to send me into orbit, crutches and all (“Expansion of cancer facilities at St James’s Hospital deferred”, September 6th).

What is it about this Government’s propensity to try to squeeze health facilities into small spaces? There simply isn’t enough room at St James’s to fit a children’s hospital, an adult hospital, a maternity hospital and expanded cancer facilities. I can only hope that the Fota Island think-in gives our political masters the time and space they need to revisit the location of the children’s hospital at St James’s and to reopen the file on Blanchardstown, which would give everyone enough room to breathe and expand.

While they’re at it, they should also establish a new government department – a “Department of Common Sense”.– Yours, etc,

JONATHAN IRWIN,

Johnstown Manor,

Johnstown,

Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – The recent upheaval in council chambers over the determination of the chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities to proceed with the Poolbeg incinerator highlights yet again the excessive powers of their offices over those elected by the citizens of Dublin city and county.

It was former minister for the environment Noel Dempsey who amended the 1996 Waste Management Act to vest decision-making powers in the county managers (chief executives) rather than elected representative. In the context of the ongoing debate about an elected mayor for Dublin, it is time this Government reversed Mr Dempsey’s decision in favour of councillors, who are democratically elected and accountable to the citizens. – Yours, etc,

Cllr VICTOR BOYHAN,

County Hall,

Dún Laoghaire.

Sir, – Fintan O’Toole (“Turning our dead taoisigh into great leaders”, Opinion & Analysis, 9th) may be missing the point that speaking well of the dead, even our taoisigh, may just about rectify the inevitable torrent of abuse most receive during the course of their political lives. As he stated, “death is one of the things we do well in Ireland”; but is it not this fact of celebrating the life of a recently departed relative or friend that is at the heart of Christian burial? – Yours, etc,

FRANK BROWNE,

Ballyroan Park,

Templeogue,

Sir, – In his letter on Mary Feely’s article criticising school uniforms, David Marlborough (September 10th) talks of “steering children towards some degree of professional attire”, conveniently forgetting that this country was brought to its knees by bankers and politicians who “appreciate how a nice elegant tie sets off a neat suit”.

I would prefer to be led by honest people whose primary concern was not conforming to an outmoded dress code. – Yours, etc,

ADRIAN J ENGLISH,

Kilcolman Court,

Glenageary, Co Dublin.

Sir, – Further to Aonghus Dwane’s Rite & Reason article of September 2nd (“Retired Church of Ireland archbishop led his community to places they had not been”), and just to keep the record straight, the first woman to be ordained priest in the Republic was Janet Catterall in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork. The first two women priests in the Church of Ireland, Irene Templeton and Kathleen Young, were ordained in Belfast by the Bishop of Connor, Dr Samuel Poyntz. Ginnie Kennerley was the fourth woman priest to be so ordained. – Yours, etc,

Right Rev ROY WARKE,

Kerdiff Park,

Naas, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Christopher Wood (September 10th) appears to think that I am too young to remember the street cries of newsboys of old. I wish! He also refers to the death of the “Mayell” as unlamented. Poor Jiggs and Maggie! – Yours, etc,

PN CORISH,

Oaklands Drive,

Rathgar, Dublin 6.

Irish Independent:

In his recently-published letter, Philip O’Neill was right that the banality of irrational news from the Middle East distracts us from the fact that Arab cities were once beacons of tolerance, science and enlightenment.

Most of the pillars of Western civilisation were built up in Muslim Spain, such as free trade, open borders, diplomacy, etiquette, alternative medicine, hospitals, fashion, techniques of academic research and anthropology, to mention just a few.

It is true that the beheadings of innocent journalists, the desecration of Christian symbols and places of worship and asking Christians to leave the Iraqi city of Mosul within 24 hours were done under the rubric of religion.

However, we must remember that such appalling acts are nothing but a blot on a tradition that prides itself on being a cultural and religious mosaic.

The region has been a home for myriad faiths for thousands of years. There is no clash of civilisations or religions, as Muslims bear the brunt of oppression, injustices and atrocities.

Also, those who heap blame on religions as the drivers of hatred and animosities need look no further than the UK, where many disparate faiths, ethnic groups and religions cohabit peacefully. Another example of ancient harmonious cohabitation could be found in Jordan, where the kingdom derives its name from the River Jordan: a site revered by the three Abrahamic religions as the river where Jesus Christ was baptised by John the Baptist and the river which the Israelites had to cross to reach the promised land.

In our quest for civil rights and the sanctity of human life and dignity, we should always look for such shining beacons as oases of peace.

Dr Munjed Farid Al Qutob, London NW2, UK

 

Badger cull based on old science

There is going to be a badger cull.

This will probably please many farmers who, for very good reasons, see the badger as a spreader of the dreaded TB to their cattle herds.

This will not please environmentalists, who see the badger as an integral part of Ireland’s ecosystem.

But do we really need to cull the badgers?

Do we really need to spend a fortune on an “eradication programme” that has proven itself to be anything but that which its proponents claim it is?

When an animal tests positive for TB on a farm, it is sent to the meat factories for slaughter. After the beast has been killed, its lungs are subjected to a veterinary inspection for lesions on the lungs caused by the disease.

In some cases, despite the positive on-farm test, the animal in question may not have any visible signs of the disease. The test is paid for by the farmers through veterinary fees paid by all who send livestock to be slaughtered.

This scheme was established many, many moons ago, when food processing and milk production was carried out in a completely different manner and when there were very poor medicines for dealing with TB in the human population.

It was also a time when all the beef eaten in Ireland was home-grown. Today, because the world is now a global market, the beef you eat may have been transported from many different countries in the world.

Do these exporting countries test for TB to meet our high standards, which see badgers being killed ?

The cull seems to be relying on old science.

Well, I suppose at least the badgers won’t form a group of protesters.

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway

 

Rebuke for Leo, none for James

For more than three years James Reilly presided over fantasy budget proposals, medical cards being taken from sick children and controversy after controversy.

All the while, Dr Reilly retained the full, unwavering support of Enda Kenny.

Perhaps that was because Enda saw Dr Reilly as a close ally and supporter or perhaps because Dr Reilly was an unquestioning and eager participant as the Government annually slashed the public health budget and promoted the ideology of the privatisation of health.

Whatever the reason, it’s clear that the Taoiseach stood four-square behind Dr Reilly as he lurched from one scandal to the next.

Contrast that with his response to Leo Varadkar’s comments yesterday.

Mr Varadkar spoke candidly about the current state of the public health system and about how unrealistic some of the Government’s health policies actually were.

Mr Kenny, however, apparently didn’t take kindly to Mr Varadkar’s refreshing honesty and instead publicly rebuked him in a manner that he never did with Dr Reilly.

Simon O’Connor, Dublin 12

 

Hanafin – a woman scorned

Mary Hanafin has done it again, and there really is nothing quite like a woman scorned.

Micheal Martin still has a lot to learn. The Fianna Fail leadership’s handling of Ms Hanafin’s local candidacy has come back to bite him and the Fianna Fail party.

Senior figures in the party seem to be terrified of anything that will remind voters of failings while in government. Ms Hanafin has tussled with the elephant in the room. This will resonate with voters, but rankle with Mr Martin.

Mr Martin needs to bring Ms Hanafin back into the fold before she finds a way to really get stuck in.

Killian Brennan, Malahide Road, Dublin 17

 

Bring back the gold standard

For seven years, through letters to editors and politicians, I have endeavoured to raise the issue of the need for nations worldwide to return to the gold standard – to no avail.

It is that time of the year for me to make another attempt. Here goes: Fiat money is eventually worth the paper that it is printed on. Within 25 years, the planet will recognise such a need when the world’s major economies all collapse at the same time, and many of us will ask: “How could we have let this happen?” Sound familiar?!

Vincent J Lavery, Dalkey, Co Dublin

 

The great USC giveaway

Brendan Howlin thinks there is no room for a “giveaway budget”.

What about my Universal Social Charge, which is taken from me each month and given away?

Darren Williams, Blackglen Road, Waterford

 

The whole truth

You carried a piece stating that almost €7m had been spent on air travel for public service “high flyers” “whisked” around for the year 2013 (Irish Independent, September 9).

Various statistics and expenditure breakdowns were quoted, with the observation that the €6.97m spent was a 13pc increase over 2012. All these figures are doubtless true.

But one important element was missing from the article – for six months of 2013, Ireland held the EU Presidency.

It’s hardly surprising that this tenure would have incurred increased traffic to Brussels, the permanent hub of Europe.

It’s another example of nuanced journalism: print the truth, nothing but the truth. But don’t print the whole truth if it doesn’t fit the agenda.

I have a bet with my bookmaker that this letter will not be published. I’d love to lose it!

Larry Dunne, Rosslare Harbour, Co Wexford

Irish Independent

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