Meg and Ben

17 September 2014 Meg and Ben

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 take Mary to the GP and Myself. Meg and Ben come to do some books.

Mary’s back much better today, breakfast wt up gammon for tea and her back pain is still there.


Dr Sandy Holt-Wilson – obituary

Dr Sandy Holt-Wilson was an eye surgeon who devoted his retirement years to the sick and needy in Ethiopia

Sandy Holt-Wilson treating a young patient in Ethiopia

Sandy Holt-Wilson treating a young patient in Ethiopia

6:13PM BST 16 Sep 2014


Dr Alexander (Sandy) Holt-Wilson, who has died aged 78, crowned a career in which he became a consultant eye surgeon in Wales with a retirement devoted to establishing health services in Ethiopia.

The African country had fascinated him since he had heard tales of it at his grandmother’s knee, and between 2001 and 2014 his achievements there included founding an eye hospital in the grounds of the university at the former capital city of Gondar; setting up a health centre at Debarq, at the foot of the Simien Mountains; initiating cataract surgeon services for rural areas; and almost single-handedly running a charity to train Ethiopian doctors.

Sandy Holt-Wilson examining a patient in Ethiopia

Alexander Daniel Holt-Wilson was born at Alverstoke in Hampshire on April 30 1936, the youngest of three children of a naval officer.

Holt-Wilson’s grandmother had been the daughter of Henry Montagu Draper, headmaster of Lockers Park School in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, where Prince Alemayu, the orphaned son of Emperor Theodros II of Abyssinia, was a pupil after having been brought to Britain on his father’s defeat and suicide at the battle of Magdala in 1868. The prince, whose mother had died from illness, became a protégé of Queen Victoria.

Sandy’s boyhood dreams of Ethiopia were soon matched by ambitions to become a doctor and, in his teenage years, a keen interest in the achievements of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr Albert Schweitzer (who also founded a hospital in Africa). So enthused was the 17-year-old Holt-Wilson that in 1953 he bicycled all the way to Schweitzer’s house in Alsace-Lorraine to shake hands with the great man. Possessing, however, no shared language, the two were unable to make conversation, so Holt-Wilson turned round and cycled off again on the long journey home.

Having attended Rugby School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, he did his medical training at Barts, spending a year of it at Bulawayo, Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. He made a point on his way home of visiting Ethiopia, staying with friends working for the British Council in Addis Ababa. He completed his training as an ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital, London.

He married, in 1970, Caroline Davies, whom he had met while both were volunteering with Rugby School’s boys’ clubs. Her father, Rear-Admiral Anthony Davies, was at that time Warden of St George’s House, Windsor Castle, and the wedding ceremony was held at St George’s Chapel, where Prince Alemayu’s funeral had taken place in 1879, and where he had been interred at Queen Victoria’s wish.

Holt-Wilson took his surgeon’s examinations in 1971, working in London until moving to Kuwait in 1976. On their return to Britain, the family settled in South Wales, and Holt-Wilson became a consultant ophthalmologist at St Woolos hospital in Newport and Nevill Hall hospital in Abergavenny.

Nevertheless, Prince Alemayu and Ethiopia remained in his thoughts, and he would often travel to auctions, acquiring related photographs and artefacts. His discovery of items left by the Prince’s guardian, Captain Tristram Speedy, yielded up a letter from Queen Victoria.

Sandy Holt-Wilson and his wife Caroline

In 1989 he bought a farm near Raglan on which the family bred free-range bronze turkeys. While that proved a success, the stress of managing the farm’s flock of sheep during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2001 spurred Holt-Wilson to return to Ethiopia. Fed up with the agricultural crisis, he eagerly agreed to fill the place of an absent member of staff at the University of Gondar, which was until 2003 Gondar College of Medical Sciences, and before that had been known as the Public Health College, the country’s oldest medical institution, founded in 1954.

There he found himself fully occupied removing cataracts and attending to eye problems, many of which sprang from vitamin deficiency or fly-borne infections. By 2004 he had established the charity GEES (Gondar Ethiopia Eye Surgery) to remedy gaps in care and training.

The work was not without risk. In his seventies and bent on attending to Ethiopians’ eye complaints, he lived on tinned sardines for six months and began to show signs of scurvy. He also caught the protozoal gut affliction, giardia, which made him so thin and weak he became stuck in a bath.

Despite these setbacks, he tirelessly conducted negotiations with Ethiopian government ministers and medical bodies to bring nursing and doctoring expertise to rural areas. He communicated his news to his wife by letters which took 10 days to arrive, there being no other means of communication. On one occasion she joined him to climb the steep-sided, flat-topped Simien mountains, 40 miles from Gondar, where they stayed in a tent surrounded by grass-grazing baboons.

Holt-Wilson, his wife Caroline, and their border collie Bet (NICK MORRISH/SOUTH WALES ARGUS)

His last journey to Ethiopia was in October 2013, and at the time of his death, by then confined to home by illness, he was pursuing a means to bring into production a small, cheap, light and portable ophthalmoscope of an acquaintance’s design that doctors in Ethiopia might carry about easily in their pockets.

For his work he was appointed OBE in 2013.

Sandy Holt-Wilson hoped his collection of mementoes of Prince Alemayu might raise money for the charity’s work, and also gave lectures about the prince to the Anglo-Ethiopian Society in London and to students in Addis Ababa. One of his talks was broadcast in Ethiopia. At their farm he and his wife entertained the novelist Elizabeth Laird, to whom he gave access to his collection for her book about Alemayu: The Prince Who Walked With Lions (2012).

He is survived by his wife and their son and two daughters.

Dr Alexander (Sandy) Holt-Wilson, born April 30 1936, died May 7 2014


Cyclists pass pro-union banner Perthshire Cyclists pass a pro-union banner in Perthshire. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

I’m a pro-union Scot, but I have to admit that the yes campaign’s positive vision for a fairer society with closer control of its fiscal affairs has appealed to me and others. The overly negative no campaign has also upset many on both sides. The question though is not can Scotland be independent but should it?

The yes campaigners talk about national debt, social inequality, the NHS, TTIP and UK intervention in wars, but those concerns affect the whole UK. Our friends in England are disaffected too, but feel they have no power to change things. People underestimated Scottish teenage voters, but look how informed and articulate they proved themselves on a televised debate recently. Together we could put more pressure on politicians in central government to effect change for everyone, from the inside.

If we gain independence, we still won’t like our neighbour’s wars and ethics, but without any MPs in Westminster, we will have absolutely no power there any more. And if the UK’s massive debt causes a financial implosion, we’re stuffed as well if we’re in a currency union. Many people have compared this to a divorce. It’s not and we can’t move out. Our fates will be for ever inextricably linked and we can either be selfish and go it alone or work together for the good of all these islands.
Jenni Allardyce
Braco, Perthshire, Scotland

• Billy Bragg (Scottish nationalism and British nationalism aren’t the same, 16 September) is correct to say that the SNP is a different kind of party from the BNP. Though its central aim to repatriate powers is akin to Ukip’s, it hasn’t linked this policy to immigration. True, terms like rUK-settlers can be heard from the yes camp, but this is a broad church and groups such as Radical Scotland have done much to avoid it.

Yet these blunt facts do not absolve Scotland’s “civic nationalism” from all of the accusations so readily levelled at “ethnic nationalism”. This distinction, popularised by Michael Ignatieff in the mid-1990s, has received much debate, which Bragg blithely ignores. Its critics point out that both kinds of nationalism require drawing a boundary between those who belong and those who do not: between citizens and non-citizens. Nationalism can embrace multiculturalism and draw its boundary liberally, but a boundary must still be drawn.

The Scottish left hopes that a yes vote will bring rights for Scots that are not available in the UK. But these will only be extended to the rUK through hard work; work which the Scottish left, as citizens of a separate state, will have debarred themselves from doing. This is the reason why those of us who oppose a yes vote claim it is a break in solidarity.
Dr Liam Connell
University of Brighton, England

• Tom Devine (How history turned on Tory-voting Scotland, 16 September) seems to show that while historians are good at analysing the past, they are no better than the rest of us in making political judgments about the present or the future. His account of Scotland’s history since the second world war is interesting, but does not seem to me to support his conclusion that it now makes sense to end the union. The UK is surely at its strongest as a united kingdom, which accounts for its continuing importance in the world today. In the face of the 2008 recession, most particularly in the west, I find it hard to understand why Tom Devine thinks that a relatively tiny country can, let alone should, be insulated from the effects of that recession.

He says that many Scots think the union has outlived its purpose but that does not, I think, justify the breakup of this small island. That would seriously disadvantage all of its inhabitants as we face the increasing globalisation of the world’s economies. Economic wellbeing and social justice are a target for all of us. In my opinion we must tackle it together.
Terry Holmes
Pocklington, East Yorkshire, England

• For a while it looked like this might be different, but sadly tomorrow’s decision seems to be coming back to the usual political choice of whom we distrust the least. We have the “vow” of more powers from Westminster and, from the SNP, indignation that anyone might question the economic viability of the “land of Adam Smith”. Going with what seems a reasonable assumption – that Scotland can be successful either independent or in a federal Britain – we are left with a leap of faith in one direction or the other, based on whose utopian vision of our future is most likely to be untrue.

For Westminster’s part, we have definitely been let down before. Alex Salmond referenced Nick Clegg’s broken promise on tuition fees. The very man who is now asking us to trust him again. But at that time Clegg led the smaller party entering negotiations with a larger party that held the opposite position. Agreement of the three main UK parties is unprecedented in my lifetime.

For Alex Salmond’s part, Alan Greenspan has described his economic forecasts as being “so implausible they should really be dismissed out of hand”. Both are smart men, but which is the more reliable? One, as the retired chairman of the US Federal Reserve, has no obvious reason for bias in the question of Scotland’s independence. The other has dedicated his career to one political moment. Thursday.
Hamish Matheson
Edinburgh, Scotland

• Paul Younger (Letters, 15 September) says: “A yes vote would simply formalise a parting of the ways that was started under Thatcher and perpetuated under Blair.” Exactly right – a yes vote will finish the job for them. That job, the very thing Thatcher set out to accomplish, with the backing of the richest and the most powerful, was the breakup of the British working class as a force for change. Will Scottish voters hand them that prize?

Why can’t we build a better Britain together? The Scots have to ask themselves: what is deficient in ordinary English and Welsh people that makes it impossible to continue this vital struggle with them as allies? Most people south of the border hate the bedroom tax, as they did the poll tax, the Iraq war and the idiotic tuition fees. Can it make sense for the British people to separate into their constituent parts? Our foes won’t make that mistake.
John Rigby
London, England

• The SNP has been in government in Scotland for seven years, in which time it could have transformed governance in Scotland so that come the independence referendum the voters of Scotland would be able to observe their achievements and think what further transformations would be possible if Scotland was fully independent. The outcome of the referendum would then have been a shoo-in. Unfortunately, the SNP missed this opportunity and attempted to rely on flattery to achieve their goal, rather than a bedrock of actual positive achievements. Stay calm. Vote no.
Neil Sinclair
Edinburgh, Scotland

Yes supporter Richard Harrow on the roof of his home in the shadow of Stirling Castle. Yes supporter Richard Harrow on the roof of his home in the shadow of Stirling Castle. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

It is no surprise that the big financial guns and corporate bosses are coming out at the 11th hour to try to frighten the Scots people into voting no. They are inevitably worried about what they have to lose if Scotland becomes independent. But they don’t seem to understand that this debate is not just about money. It is about equity and social justice. It is about creating a fairer society for future generations by taking care of its weakest members. Of course finance is important, not for its own sake but in the service of vision and values. Yes, currency matters but life ultimately does not reduce down to pounds and pence, or euros or any other currency.

Successive Westminster governments put the demands of big business and profit ahead of wellbeing every time. The creeping privatisation of the NHS and children’s services, the contracting out of the probation service, the selling off of Royal Mail and so on, have not been in the best interests of society but instead are lining the pockets of corporations, a process that will only be exacerbated by the TTIP negotiations which the government appears to support. Meanwhile Serco and G4S are allowed to continue bidding for public contracts in spite of being under investigation for serious fraud.

So Scotland needs the freedom to find another way. As I understand it, the yes campaign is about Scotland being able to realise the communitarian principles which are embedded in the Scottish psyche by rejecting the neoliberal policy agenda of both main Westminster parties in order to create a better, fairer and more sustainable future. This referendum is not about Alex Salmond and the SNP. They could be voted out in May 2016, two short months after the planned date for achieving independence.

Perhaps the pro-independence camp should give a nod to another small, mountainous, albeit poor, country – Bhutan – which pursues GNH (gross national happiness) rather than GDP. That might help to clarify the difference between the two sides by drawing a clear line between a government in hock to big business and the aspiration to achieve a government by the people, for the people.
Fiona Carnie
Isle of Coll, Argyll, Scotland

• How many members of Labour feel a sense of shame about their part in the referendum debate? They must know deep down that their door-to-door campaigning and transporting of MPs en masse has far more to do with their fear of never winning an election again in the UK than with genuine concerns for the people up here. Yet still they do the bidding of the establishment and the Tories, who could not possibly persuade voters on their own.

I am no nationalist. Maybe that is because I am English and I am not particularly proud of some of my country’s history. Maybe it is also because I don’t believe waving a flag ever did much for anybody. But where I will defend the Scottish Nationalists is on the policies they have introduced since they came to power. It is no coincidence that their majority increased dramatically after they introduced genuine democratic socialist policies, which New Labour could only dream of.

That is the big threat that this referendum poses to the establishment – the setting up of a real alternative to what is going on in Westminster. Is wrangling over Europe, updating nuclear weapons rather than schools and hospitals, and prioritising fracking over investment in renewable energy, the best we can come up with? Why should Scotland vote no this week and then next year wake up to the nightmare of a Tory or Tory/Ukip coalition? Despite what they have been promising, Labour cannot guarantee this won’t happen.

Many in England and Wales want the same vision that much of Scotland has. However, the status quo will not achieve it. The liberation of our different peoples is essential for the flourishing of a new perspective that will prevent us falling into social fragmentation and European isolation.
Peter Strother
Grantown-on-Spey, Inverness-shire, Scotland

• I listened in amazement to a TV contributor explaining how she didn’t want Scotland to leave because as British she felt 40% Scottish and she didn’t want to lose that 40%. Like a lot of other people she just doesn’t get it: we don’t want to be 40% of something or 20% of something or any per cent for that matter, we just want to be Scotland. I know this has come as a great shock to many people, especially Mr Cameron – he does seem a bit like the husband who reacts to his wife saying she is leaving him with “I thought we were great together … you can’t manage on your own … I’m going to stop you using our bank account” and when all else fails “If you leave me now I’ll never let you come back ever, ever”.

Don’t worry, folks, you will get over it – and when you do, we will be very good friends.
Douglas Martyn
Sandilands, Lanark, Scotland

• To choose to stay in a union is as valid an expression of self-determination as voting for independence. So whichever way it goes, I think it is incumbent of everyone in the UK – including Scotland – to respect that decision. I just hope the Scots have the courage to decide their own future. Scotland’s not a region trying to break away from the rest of England. It’s a country that happened to share a common government with England. The time has come to unshackle those political bonds, but even with independence England and Scotland can remain close, just as Sweden and Norway do.
Richard Bartley
Henllan, Denbighshire, Wales

• The historical momentum is with the nationalists. Whether it happens on Thursday or 25 years down the road, independence for Scotland is coming. Once the future has been imagined, it is best to be realistic and strive to achieve that outcome as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Change can be difficult but it can also be invigorating. Not just for Scotland but for England, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

There is nothing to fear in an independent Scotland. Scotland will be one of the wealthiest and most vibrant economies in Europe, with one of the highest GDPs per capita in the world. Ireland, with a similar population, ranks 17th or 18th in GDP per capita (higher than the UK) and we don’t even have any oil.

So, will there be another 10 or 20 years of frustrating procrastination while the reactionary naysayers dwindle and eventually concede defeat, or will the people of Scotland take their destiny into their own hands and embrace the future with courage and confidence and create a fairer, wealthier, more democratic state that will be an inspiration to the rest of the world?
Tom Gelletlie
Rathnew, County Wicklow, Ireland

• I know I’m only 72 and three-quarters but I’ve never looked forward to something so much in all my life. Even if Scotland doesn’t vote yes, just getting this far has done irreparable damage to the nonsense world our current constitutional arrangements are built on. Either way it will be the Bullingdon Club’s, and Toryism’s, greatest gift to civilisation. Can’t wait.
John Smith
Sheffield, England

Referendum If Scotland votes for independence, what will be the point of the SNP? Party leader Alex Salmond campaigning in Glasgow. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Catherine Shoard compares the film Still Alice to a “Glasgow kiss” (Review, 13 September), describing the emotional effect as “a sucker-punch that smacks sufficiently hard you have trouble breathing”. I hope she is alluding not to a head-butt but to John Barrowman’s cheeky wee snog with a male dancer during the opening performance of the Commonwealth Games, which has led to a revised definition of the term – one that reflects the modern, friendly and tolerant city that Glasgow really is.
Patricia Davies
Lenzie, Dunbartonshire, Scotland

• Whether or not the Scots follow the Queen’s advice and think carefully (Report, 15 September), how can David Cameron say a vote for independence would lead to a permanent split from the UK? Neither he nor Alex Salmond will be in power for ever. What happens in the future will be decided by others and, as Gladstone said in the Reform Bill debate in 1866, “You cannot fight against the future.”
Chris Birch
London, England

• There’s a lot of hand-wringing now in England about “losing Scotland”. Unless there is some major tectonic shift, we will be able to find Scotland in the same place, and people will be able to move up and down freely as before. What we will have lost is the ability to control the day-to-day life of Scots from Westminster.
Jim Pettman
Anglars-Juillac, France

• What would Jesus vote? Surely yes, since he chose Saint Andrew to be an apostle, whereas all the other home nations have made-up patron saints.
Fr Alec Mitchell
Manchester, England

• Is it too late to offer London independence and let the rest of us get on with redesigning the society we’d like to live in?
Jill Wallis
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, England

• If Scotland votes for independence, what will be the point of the SNP?
Brian Ronson
Liverpool, England

• If it’s a yes, does that mean we can do away with British Summer Time?
Les Farris
South Petherton, Somerset, England

Detail, Act of Union 1707 Detail of the Act of Union that unified Scotland with England, 1 March 1707. Photograph: National Archives of Scotland

With a vote so close, in many senses of the word, the historian’s sense of perspective is increasingly being drowned out, even though we are often invoked: we must “learn the lessons of history” or we are “doomed to make the same mistakes again”. Slogans that the vote would mark the “end of Britain” or “the end of the union” provoke anxiety and caution. But Britain existed as a concept and an identity before parliamentary union, and if people wish to continue to identify themselves as British, they will not cease to be so if the inhabitants of Scotland vote to dissolve the parliamentary union of 1707.

The new slogans of this final week of campaigning also cause anxiety, probably because they are contradictory. While warning that the decision is irrevocable, there is now the threat of “neverendum”. Whitehall has made statements on the benefits of stability and permanence that come with union in 1536, 1603, 1653, 1654, 1707, 1801, 1914, 1922, 1937 and 1972. And if Scotland votes yes there will still be a union, but maybe those who live in England, Wales, islands, and six of the 32 counties of Ireland might be encouraged to have a debate about whether union is the most appropriate and workable political model.
Sarah Barber
Department of history, Lancaster University

The former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble says a yes vote in the Scottish referendum The former Northern Ireland first minister David Trimble says a yes vote in the Scottish referendum would inevitably intensify pressure for a similar vote on Northern Ireland’s future. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian

As the English press has woken up to the possibility of Scotland voting yes this week, there is relatively little coverage of what is happening in Northern Ireland and the implications of a yes vote in Scotland for political stability in Belfast. On 9 September, the Belfast Telegraph carried an article by first minister Peter Robinson where he claims that the institutions agreed in 1998 and refined in the St Andrews agreement are “no longer fit for purpose”.

He is merely confirming what the Northern Ireland electorate has known for several years: devolution has ground to a halt because of the intransigence and mutual dislike of the two extremes of local politics – the DUP and Sinn Féin – who dominate the executive.

A yes vote in Scotland will provide a huge destabilising dimension to a settlement which is already in trouble. Unionists will be very unsettled by the loss of those with whom they feel closest to in the UK, while Sinn Féin will demand a referendum on Irish unity under the terms of the Belfast agreement. Instead of tackling the entrenched segregation of Northern Ireland through the devolved institutions, we could be facing political turbulence on a massive scale.
Professor Emeritus Bob Osborne
University of Ulster

• “If Scotland votes yes, Sinn Fein will call for a new referendum on Northern Ireland’s membership of the UK” (The genie is out of the bottle – we want more power, 12 September) Well, yes, it would certainly be a nice revenge to see the partition of the island of Britain used as a justification for the ending of the partition of the island of Ireland.

What would be interesting would be the inducements Sinn Féin might offer the electorate of the six counties to lure them into union with the Republic. Vote to withdraw from the NHS? Vote to adopt the euro? Vote for centralised rule from Dublin rather than devolved government from Stormont? Vote for union with an economy that offers so many of its young people the opportunity to emigrate?

Martin McGuinness and his fellow Sinn Féiners currently share power at Belfast and cooperate in the government of the six counties; one must wonder if they really are eager to relinquish that power for the pride of seeing the tricolour flying above a redundant Stormont.
Michael Ghirelli
Hillesden, Buckinghamshire

• I can’t work out whether was it to antagonise the yes camp or the no camp that you let Fintan O’Toole loose on your pages (Forget Braveheart, kilts and tribal nationalism, this is about democracy, 13 September).

Any commentator who speaks of “Ireland” (26 counties thereof) gaining “independence” (sic) whole ignoring the fact that almost one million of its citizens are now trapped in a gerrymandered United Kingdom statelet in which they want no part of, nor ever wanted, shouldn’t be pontificating on Scottish independence.

The “toxic bitterness … passed on through generations” that he refers to stemmed exactly from this same partition, the sticking-plaster British solution to the Irish problem of the time, which stored up trouble for generations to come.
Kieran Murphy
Dromintee, County Armagh

• Owen Jones may be right that “whatever Scots decide, the old order is dead” (Comment, 8 September) but there is an interesting omission in his article. Among the constant references to the Scottish, Welsh and English, including the “need for a new constitutional order” involving these three, there is no mention of Northern Ireland.

As you reported earlier this year (Don’t harm no campaign, Ulster loyalists urged, 12 May): “The cross-party Better Together organisation banned the Orange Order from taking part in its official campaign as soon it was set up in 2012 … fearing it would inflame sectarian tensions or polarise voters.” Nor do I imagine would Better Together have welcomed the Orange Order march in Edinburgh on Saturday, which included Loyalist marchers from Northern Ireland.

However, the implications for Northern Ireland are the real issue. Loyalists are very proud of their “Ulster-Scots” heritage. If Scotland leaves the union it can only make the position of the North of Ireland as a part of the rump UK even more untenable.
Declan O’Neill

• Recent days have seen the Westminster unionists’ desperate appeal to the Scottish people to reject a yes vote. Their argument appears to be based on a great principle – the idea that the people of small islands should remain united. This sounds good, but only until we look at the country closest to Britain.

The British government partitioned the island of Ireland in the early 1920s and Westminster has ensured the division of that country’s land and people ever since – with Britain’s armed forces being used to enforce this.

So, until we see the parties at Westminster supporting and calling for the unity of the Irish people, we can only believe that the great calls of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg to the Scottish people are just weasel words intended to gull them into accepting the Westminster unionists’ status quo.
Alastair Renwick and John Lloyd

• David Trimble said a yes vote in the Scottish referendum would inevitably intensify pressure for a similar vote on Northern Ireland’s future (Ulster warning, 11 September).

Surely the people of Northern Ireland should be given the choice of whether to go with the UK or Scotland. History and geography make Scotland the logical choice. It’s rather strange that this question hasn’t been raised. It might affect Scottish votes. Presumably Mr Trimble means that union with the Republic of Ireland will be an option. How a referendum should accommodate three choices is an interesting question.
John Wilson

Yes and no signs in Newtonmore. Yes and no signs in Newtonmore. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

A yes vote in the Scottish independence referendum would initiate the breakdown of the current UK constitutional settlement, decided on a narrow margin by an electorate of less than 10% of the total.

The arrangement that made this seem appropriate was set up by the leaders of the Scottish Nationalists and the Conservatives. As things stand, initial arrangements for the separation would also be made by negotiations between those two parties, perhaps starting on Friday. Is this, as hoped by Ruari Gordon (A yes vote in Scotland would be good for the rest of the UK, Letters, 15 September), or the constitutional assembly elected by all Britons preferred by Hugh Brogan (Historical messages for the Scots, Letters, 11 September), more likely to lead to an “informed, peaceful, democratic” shakeup or breakup? If the latter, how could such a constitutional assembly be created, outside the reach of existing political parties?

Yes or no is a simple question, but the ideas it suggests are complex, as will be the results of asking it. How do we take the power we need to make a new, equable, constitutional settlement?
Jan Dubé

• After a close-run general election, the losing side commonly asserts that, if a couple of thousand voters in a dozen constituencies had voted differently, they would have won. While this may be arithmetically correct, it relies on the highly implausible event that they would have won a dozen seats with a majority of just one vote, while their opponents won no seats narrowly at all.

With 650 or so constituencies, we can confidently expect that narrow majorities are shared fairly evenly across the parties, so that the overall result is generally seen as just. But in the Scottish independence referendum – a single constituency with several million voters – would a yes victory by, say, 20 or so votes really constitute a mandate for separation?

Many clubs place a high threshold – perhaps 75% – for a change to their constitution; plainly that would be too high in the present question, but should not such a momentous change require a comfortable majority, say at least 52%?
John Haigh

• The closer we get to the date of the referendum, the more obvious it seems that to base the outcome on a simple majority is just ridiculous. Surely such an irrevocable change to the constitution of the UK should require at least a 60% majority of the voters, and preferably two-thirds. Presumably the UK government agreed to a straight majority because it was confident Scotland would not vote for it. If the yes votes do marginally exceed 50%, I do not think this could be considered a sufficient mandate for such a fundamental change.
Peter Garnham
Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire

• The yes campaign will have to win by more than a percentage point or two if independence is to be justified against the terms of the Edinburgh agreement signed by the UK and Scottish governments in 2012 (Nine legal questions if Scotland votes yes, 11 September). The agreement reads: “The governments are agreed that the referendum should deliver …. a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of the people of Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.”. It is hard to see how victory by a few percentage points would constitute a “decisive expression of views”; nor how it could command the respect of “everyone” in Scotland, let alone the rest of the UK.
Tim Lankester

• Practically all the ex-colonies of the British empire with constitutions require three-quarters of votes for any change. Mauritius went through this process recently to remove the obligation to declare one’s “community” in order to be a candidate for a general election. There was and is much sense in this three-quarters requirement: it guarantees stability and preserves acquired rights of those who do not wish for “catwalk” change.

How come that the UK itself can stand to undergo a major constitutional change with only 50%+1 of votes? We call on Britain to apply to itself what it has to so many of our nation. No independence for Scotland without a 75% of votes. (Northern Ireland would have been a better candidate to independence, leading to a possible unification of Ireland.)
Dr Michael Atchia
Past programme director with the United Nations, Mauritius 

• Whichever way the vote goes, Scotland’s future is going to depend on how the winning side behaves immediately afterwards. The losers are going to be worried, fearful and/or heartbroken. If the winning side treats them with compassion, humility and respect, then the divisions and wounds of the referendum campaign will begin to heal. If, however, the winners exhibit triumphalism and smugness, then wounds will become scars, disagreements will become enmities and the country could end up permanently divided. A public “day of celebration” by whichever side wins would therefore be extremely unhelpful – let them celebrate in private, instead of making the day even worse for those who don’t get what they want. Everyone from the leaders to the ordinary people involved in both campaigns needs to bear this in mind.
Dr Richard Milne

• Whichever way the vote goes on Thursday, Alex Salmond can bask in the glory of his achieving the acrimonious splitting of the Scottish people. If the result is yes, he will also have earned the animosity of the other residents of the UK who were given no opportunity to participate in a decision that affects all of us. I hope he feels proud.
Sam Sexton
Kenilworth, Warwickshire

• George Monbiot (Comment, 9 September) paints a sunny picture of a nation united in the struggle to free itself from foreign domination, ready to emerge on to the level playing fields of independence. Isn’t it more likely that, as in the case of so many liberated nations, from Ireland to Ukraine, once independence has been won, divisions in Scottish society will re-emerge as Scotland becomes a battleground for rival factions struggling for power and influence?
Hugh Closs

BBC Scotland's studio complex at Pacific Quay, Glasgow, Scotland. BBC Scotland’s studio complex at Pacific Quay, Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Your feature answering the key questions raised by the prospect of Scottish independence (What a carve-up! From politics to sport, oil to national debt, how the split could work (10 September) leaves out an issue which many of us consider extremely important: culture. There is constant, fruitful cultural collaboration between the four nations of the UK, including touring across borders, funding and sponsorship, co-production and shared educational initiatives. The article mentions the BBC, but as the BBC Proms 2014 season ended many of us were asking whether the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra will still be around in a couple of years, and whether the participation of an independent Scotland in this great national music festival had yet been considered.

Scotland may be able eventually to join the EU as an individual nation, but in the meantime will it still be able to draw on EU funding for cultural projects – and, indeed, for educational purposes? Even a short hiatus could be deeply damaging.

The Edinburgh festivals receive funding not only from Scottish sources but also from the BBC, VisitBritain and Arts Council England. Will, and indeed should, this funding cease in the event of independence? The Edinburgh fringe may well remain a mecca for arts companies from all over the UK, but the funding and resources that individual national arts councils currently put into this annual cultural hotbed may be thrown into question.

I think it very likely that artists north and south of the border will strain every sinew to keep cultural relationships strong and thriving, but I fear that the upheaval of moving towards independence for Scotland may unintentionally break or damage a great many cultural links and ties.
Catherine Rose
Olney, Buckinghamshire

• The debate on the Scottish referendum has been littered with the panegyrics to the union from the Westminster-based politicians. Yet what has the union done for the cultural life of Scotland and its heritage?

From my experience the union has stunted the cultural life of the country. Linguistically, Gaelic has been brought to the point of extinction, Doric and Scots have been sidelined for years. Scotland remains the only country not to teach its own children its history, and the built heritage has been neglected, bulldozed or shunned by politicians fearing anything that might be construed as “too nationalistic”. During my time on the Ancient Monuments Board, the struggle to secure the protection of Scotland’s battlefields was a case in point, as time and again the political masters of the British parties sought to block moves that might be too Scottish.

In conclusion, if you believe in the cultural life of Scotland unhindered and a heritage truly protected and nurtured for future generations, then there can be only way to vote.
Dr Scott Peake
Director, The Saltire Society, 1998-99; member, Ancient Monuments Board for Scotland, 1996-2000

• Claire Enders (What would a Scottish yes mean for democracy, 14 September) claims that “Scotland simply isn’t big enough to support strong independent media”.

She suggests the substitution of a Scottish Broadcasting Service for the BBC in Scotland would reduce media plurality. However, since 1957 Scotland has had an independent commercial station, STV, with a vibrant news and current affairs output, which would continue to offer strong competition to any licence-fee/state-funded broadcaster. Not since the 1980s has Channel 4 had any Scottish current affairs or political output, so the level of plurality would remain unchanged.

She suggests Scotland could not secure a free-to-air deal with the BBC. The licence fee (or post-independence equivalent) in Scotland raises £300m; the pro-rata share of network BBC television is £75m, while BBC Scotland costs £86m. Even if the BBC secured £100m for supplying its services to Scotland (considerably more than Ireland currently pays for the same privilege), that would still leave £200m to fund SBS, radio and online services.

After independence the Scottish parliament and whichever government the people of Scotland elect would shape Scotland’s media regulation. Holyrood, elected on a proportional representation basis, and with much greater cross-party pre–legislative scrutiny, is considerably more democratic than Westminster.

The biggest threat to democracy in broadcasting posed by independence has been the BBC reverting to the kind of suspension of impartiality that we last saw during the General Strike of 1926.
Professor Robin MacPherson
Edinburgh Napier University

• Tara Conlan’s article (Independent Scotland faces doubling of BBC licence fee, 12 September) chimes very closely with my own knowledge and experience. I was BBC controller Scotland from 1982 to 1992. While the sums involved now are different, the relativities will be unchanged. In my time the licence fee income from Scottish viewers pretty well equated to the sum required to run the radio and television services for Scotland. In effect the BBC centrally provided network programmes for Scotland at nil cost. The same is true of Wales and Northern Ireland.

To provide the programmes which Scots currently enjoy from London and other parts of the UK would require the successor body to purchase broadcast rights and content. The cost of such provision could, as suggested, double the licence fee for Scots.

If a BBC paper was drawn up three years ago, I am disappointed that it has not been published. As Burns said , “facts are chiels that winna ding”.
Patrick Chalmers
Bibury, Gloucestershire

Letters pic Will the wars ever end? Illustration: Gillian Blease

Let countries fix themselves

Is US foreign policy “principled realism or failed isolationism?” writes Dan Roberts (5 September). Indeed, this debate has merit: many argue that Obama has used hard power too much, such as with his drone programme, resulting in many innocent deaths. Others argue he is too soft, on Vladimir Putin and others, resulting on lines being crossed. It seems Obama can’t win, as he is criticised heavily either way.

However, I would argue Obama is soft or softer than George Bush. This is what many Americans and people the world over have wanted to see for many a decade: for there to be more time and thought given before intervening. This is what Obama and his associates are doing. He knows complete western intervention will not solve any problem in the Middle East, neither is the Islamic State his problem; sectarian infighting has existed since Islam’s inception.

What is needed is less US intervention and for countries to sort out their own problems, perhaps with a helping hand from the west. This is no failed isolationism, or it is at least too early to call it that.
Daniel Pearson
Perth, Western Australia

Growth is not the answer

In your editorial about the EU (5 September) you state that “nothing matters more … than the crying need for a stronger growth strategy”. Are you kidding me? How can you publish all your thoughtful articles by writers like George Monbiot and yet still tout this nonsense in your main editorial? As we all know, indefinite growth in a finite world is impossible; in the short term, in today’s crowded world, one person’s gain can only be another’s loss.

Europe started the modern world and its greatest challenge now is the responsibility to lead us out of it. Europe is wealthy and its population is relatively stable, so there is no need for growth. What we have is all we’ve got and we have to learn to live with it. The “crying need” is to show how to expand, not upwards but sideways – sharing what we have equitably, both globally and nationally, so that poverty and unemployment are reduced. If you don’t say it, who will?
David Trubridge
Havelock North, New Zealand

Will the wars ever end?

Why are there so many wars? My compatriot Annie March (Reply, 15 August) is correct. Further to her comments, “For every dollar spent on United Nations peace-keeping, $2,000 is expended for war-making by member nations … Four of the five members of the United Nations security council, which has veto power over all United Nations resolutions, are the top weapons dealers in the world: the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Russia” (Paul Hawken, Blessed Unrest: How the largest social movement in history is restoring grace, justice and beauty in the world) .

So how can wars ever end? It would seem to be impossible. But we have to keep trying, by wielding our pens and demonstrating, and all of us maintaining our own little oases of peace in our daily lives. It doesn’t seem much and we don’t have much money for our cause but what’s the alternative?
Penny Hanley
Canberra, Australia

Solution for India’s women

I do not understand the problem outlined in your article, Lethal risks in India’s sanitation battle (5  September). You report that millions of Indian women have to wait all day to relieve themselves so that they can go out in the fields at night, braving monsoon rains, wild animals and an occasional rape. All the blame seems to be levelled at the Indian government, but what are the Indian people doing individually to solve the problem?

I was born in a small village in North Dakota. We had an outhouse: a small wooden building over a hole in the ground. All the farms in the area did the same thing. No one had to wait to relieve themselves in the fields at night. So why don’t the Indian people build an outhouse when they build a house as a matter of course, instead of suffering while waiting for the government or some charitable organisation to do something?
Jon C McKenzie
Fairfax, Virginia, US

The wonder of books

Rachel Cooke’s article about Phyllis Rose hit the mark (22 August). I grew up in a household with no bookshelves to explore, no stirring dinner table discussions, and in our neighbourhood, no libraries that I knew of.

When I went to high school, I discovered a library. At first I was selective. But then I decided to just go along the shelf and take whatever book was next. My world suddenly changed. I read about other countries; I read books about nature and other areas of science. But most of all, I discovered creative writers who connected me to their imaginary world, and this was a eureka moment. I found that my imagination had its fellow in those who wrote the novels I took home. I had discovered a place where I might belong.

I had not thought about another “hoovering” exercise at my age. Maybe I could consider a trip to another library, and try books that I otherwise would bypass. Who knows what I may discover this time? And what that may do to my own writing. And to my perception of the world.
Lavinia Moore
Aldgate, South Australia

Resting is a good thing

Like Stuart Heritage (29 August), I’m dedicated to siestas, and organise my days around an hour’s rest at noon, and a 20-minute endocrine recharge before tea. The odd one out in a family with boundless energy and nerves of steel, I can’t remember ever not being more or less tired. I’d always grudged, resisted, felt guilty about resting, until an epiphany during a conversation with an ex-athlete crippled by chronic fatigue. We were shocked by the realisation that in heroically, habitually forcing ourselves to override tiredness and instinctual wisdom, we were in fact enacting on our bodies the self-same abuse that humankind is inflicting on the planet; and that entrenched in our psyches was a template not just of violation and power misused, but of the body-mind dualism that so corrupts our religious traditions. Can our bodies, can earth forgive us?

Resting is an act of moral, political, ecological, spiritual and creative defiance and sanity.
Annie March
West Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

City of dreams

The good news for Paul Mason (5 September) and his 10 criteria for the perfect city is that it already exists as Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. The bad news is that if he wants to join in, he’d better get a move on because it’s under attack from the usual quarter – the multinational property developing financial and commercial monster that swallows up all good things.
Tony Simpson
Wellington, New Zealand

• I read Paul Mason’s criteria, and was amazed that he did not realise he was describing Vancouver. Near the sea: yes. Hipster neighbourhoods: yes. Finance sector big enough: yes. Theatre: yes. Bicycle lanes: yes. Hangouts of various orientations: yes. Concerned with heritage: yes. Hospitable to women: yes (mostly). Hopeful slums: yes. Loud political culture: yes.
Donald Grayston
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Solving the Scottish problem

As an American living high in the inland mountains of the western US, I am far removed from the political turmoils of Scotland and England. Yet, perhaps because of that very objectivity, I believe I have a good solution to your problems.

Somewhere in Scotland there is likely to be a presentable Stuart duke, hopefully with a few good stalwart sons, who could replace the Windsors at Buckingham Palace. I recommend to my British friends that you usher the Windsors into an honourable retirement and end their long and arduous duties as royals. Bring back the Stuarts: that way the Scots cannot complain, and by all means invite Elizabeth II to replace Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey, where I feel she would be a huge success. I call it representation without taxation.
Jim Van Sant
Santa Fe, New Mexico


• The Queen may have inherited wealth and position, but not power (22 August). While the sovereign remains head of the legislature, of the judiciary and of the military, no one else with power can combine these roles. And while all power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely and should be accorded to no one, especially one who would then also wave flags.
Adrian Betham
London, UK

• In my experience the reason teenagers need to sleep in late (5 September) has less to do with their neurological development and much more to do with electronic devices in their bedrooms.
Nicholas Houghton
Folkestone, UK


Whatever the outcome of the Scottish referendum, I fear the consequence will be one of bitterness and resentment.

For this the blame must fall largely on Alex Salmond. Day after day Mr Salmond has given knee-jerk reactions to anything he doesn’t like – it is irrelevant, it is incorrect, it is a lie, it is driven by panic. There is never an acknowledgment that there are arguments in favour of continued union that deserve consideration and need to be answered.

The fact that independence would also sever links with the Welsh and Northern Irish seems never to be mentioned. Mr Salmond seems determined to foster the notion that the Scots are a subservient people waging a heroic fight for freedom from a hated foe.

There will be a price to pay for this. It is beginning to look as if the result of the referendum will be either acrimonious divorce or an equally acrimonious marital relationship. Can I appeal to both sides to do their best to exercise restraint and display a constructive spirit when the result is known?

Adrian West
London N21

Scotland is a weathy country. We have one quarter of all the renewable energy potential of Europe and we still have oil reserves. We have had enough of  Westminster: they bailed out the banks as they didn’t regulate them properly in the first place; they went to war against Iraq against the will of the United Nations; and they also were found with their hands in the till in the expenses scandal. That’s why I’m voting Yes.

Sarah Barts

At this time of bitter conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, combined UK energies must not be diverted by introverted dissension about our own differences. History will shame us if our island peoples put national self-absorption before international peace building.

Yvonne Craig
London WC1

Progress, wealth and health are created through partnerships: in businesses and councils, schools and clubs, the NHS, fair government and, of course, marriage. Compare the opposite: dictators, feudal lords, divorced states. Look at North Korea, a destitute and starving nation.

Neighbouring countries will question the Scottish separation campaign: ‘‘Why can’t you make compromises and hold the union together? Where will the young adults go for work? And where is the integrity with this proposed separation?”

A UK without Scotland will be a disaster, not only for Scotland but for all of us. An expensive, divisive scenario, especially when one compares other unions and their successes: East and West Germany, the United States of America, the Union of South Africa, the Dominion of Canada, the Commonwealth of Australia. The UK together stood firm and strong. Divided it will weaken, topple and fall. There is no benefit in separation, it will be a disaster for all.

Norman Ball
Maryport, Cumbria

It would be a tragedy if Scots 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.”  We should listen to our heads, hearts and souls and not end up spending a lifetime lamenting the great opportunity we missed.

William Burns

The whingeing from the Scottish nationalists about the so-called BBC bias is the way other groups have behaved whenever coverage is impartial. When someone accuses the Beeb of bias, what they usually mean is that they are angry the BBC isn’t taking sides in their favour. It was the same when Andrew Gilligan was attacked. All the BBC has done is to report the referendum, which I think it has done without any preference for either side.

Steve Lustig
Willesden Green, London

Setting aside all economic and legislative issues, the one thing that should concern the Scottish people about the potential secession of Scotland from Britain is this: with just over a week to go, polls suggest that the result is too close to call. Indeed, it is likely that the outcome will be a matter of 1 or 2 per cent one way or the other. This being so, Scotland could be in the position of opting for drastic upheaval against the wishes of, effectively, half its population.  Surely there should have been built into the referendum protocol a requirement for a minimum two-thirds majority before its result could be the basis of such a break-up?

John Thorogood
London NW2

I am an elderly campaigner for Scottish independence. Many old people are worried about their pensions if we vote Yes, but I am much more afraid of a No vote, because of the opposition to welfare in any form by all Westminster parties.  Over the years the state pension – classed as a “benefit” – has been eroded and gradually replaced by means-tested benefits.

Independence or not, London is legally obliged to pay the contributory pension, but not the means-tested parts. For future pensioners, the state pension may be means-tested, as recommended by the think-tank Civitas, or made conditional on workfare, as recommended by Lord Bichard in 2012.

In addition, Westminster is raising the pension age, so that, given high unemployment for all ages, plus age discrimination, many elderly people will find themselves on JSA, facing the same threats of sanctions as younger people.

In fact, Westminster will probably soon be claiming that ‘we’ can’t afford retirement at all as a right, but only as a privilege. In Scotland, the political culture is different. ‘Welfare’ is not a dirty word here. And crucially, we have influence over the Scottish government, but none over Westminster. For security and dignity in old age, vote Yes.

Katherine Perlo
Prestonpans, Edinburgh


Our role in the death of Haines

Everyone is saddened by the death of David Haines, the British aid worker who was recently killed. However, we must put this horrific act in context, and look at our country’s role in this disastrous situation.

Our media seems to forget that this country, along with the US, invaded Iraq on a pack of lies 11 years ago. We are also still fighting in Afghanistan for some reason. In those two countries combined, around one million people have been killed by Western forces. Then you had Libya, where around another 30,000 people were killed. In addition to the destruction caused, we have also sold huge amounts of weaponry to that region. The result – chaos.

Let’s face it, in order to gain control of the Middle East, and its resources, we have trashed much of the Muslim world. And, if that wasn’t enough, we’ve seen Cameron and Obama back Israel’s recent slaughter of at least another 2,100 Muslims in Gaza. I am in no way justifying what Isis/Islamic State are doing, but I can understand how they’ve come about, and why they have a grievance with America and its allies.

So now David Cameron is trying to push for war in Iraq (partly because he failed last year to get one in Syria). We must not be fooled again, and need to oppose the killing of any more civilians there. We’ve done enough damage already. I say to our PM, why not try and save people in this country first, by reversing this coalition government’s aggressive privatisation of our NHS. That’s if he’s sincere about saving lives.

Colin Crilly
South London

Will the NHS be protected?

David Cameron has promised that NHS Scotland will be “protected” from privatisation if there is a No vote. Will NHS England be similarly protected? Why should the NHS need protecting from privatisation? Could it possibly be to do with the potentially dire con- sequences to the NHS of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership?

John Murphy
Bapchild, Kent

Doctors fighting back at last

You report ‘Doctors to run against Cameron and Hunt’ (8 September). What a relief the medical world is fighting back at last. I hope they can slow down or stop the lunatic “market” between hospitals and other madness.

SG Ball

Berlusconi to chair ethics committee

Using the same thinking that led to Tony Blair’s appointment as Middle East Peace Envoy, perhaps the EU should appoint Silvio Berlusconi to chair an ethics committee, or Ireland should posthumously award Oliver Cromwell a humanitarian award. The reason groups like Isis form are obvious. They will continue to form as long as we provoke contempt from Islamic countries.

Conor Mulligan
Rathmines, Dublin


Even if Scotland votes “no” on Thursday, Britain has another conundrum to answer

Sir, You are right to endorse the answer to the West Lothian question (“Wild West”, leading article, Sept 15) proposed by John Redwood (who, contrary to your assertion, has often called big issues right, such as the disastrous European exchange rate mechanism).

The idea of “English votes for English laws” was the basis for the 2010 Conservative manifesto commitment to set up what become the Mackay Commission in 2012. Devo-max makes implementation of its key principle even more urgent, namely that “decisions at the United Kingdom level with a separate and distinct effect for England (or for England and Wales) should normally be taken only with the consent of a majority of MPs for constituencies in England (or England and Wales)”. This can be given effect by resolution of the House of Commons, rather than by legislation, and would give the English an effective parliament.

There would, however, be consequences for Whitehall. We could never have a Scottish UK chancellor setting English taxes in England at the annual budget but not in his or her own constituency. So Parliament will have to consider how to establish an English executive, with an English first minister and finance minister, along with England-only departments for matters such as health, education and local government, made accountable to English MPs alone.

This does not preclude enhanced functions for counties and cities (rather than for artificial regions), but that would be a matter for the new English executive.

Bernard Jenkin, MP
Chairman, Public Administration Select Committee

Sir, You say in your leader that the best answer for the Union and its nations in the event of a “no” vote in Scotland is not clear. It seems to me to be obvious. If the Scots get devo-max, historically known as home rule, then England and Wales must have the same (Northern Ireland already has own its unique version). That means an English parliament.

This need not be a costly and cumbersome solution because, as has been pointed out by others, English MPs could divide their time between the English parliament and the UK parliament, and could share the Palace of Westminster. The only extra cost would be the setting up of an office for the English first minister to whom the devolved English departments would report. It could also be enacted by the coalition government before the next election, thus being up and running next June.

Any other solution — grand committees or stronger regions — are just fiddling at the edges and would eventually collapse under pressure, as the present arrangements have done.

Lord Horam
House of Lords

Sir, Equitably solving the conundrum which would be posed by the introduction of devo-max and the ramifications of the West Lothian question might prove difficult. Matters apparently of only English relevance could, nevertheless, have indirect implications for other regions. Issues might also come before parliament that were not within the purview of devo-max assemblies but which did not affect England. In that case, presumably only MPs from Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland would be able to debate and vote on them?

Without the benefit of relevant precedents to be drawn upon in Erskine May, the task of future Speakers and Clerks to the House does not seem enviable.

Gerry Jackson
Nether Poppleton, N Yorks

Sir, The alarming fall in the value of sterling (report, Sept 13) has been accompanied by many clear reports on the financial damage that a “yes” vote would bring to Scotland. Without seceding, however, the case for the devolution of Westminster’s power is strong.

The best example of devolution comes from the United States, where individual states can accept the policy decisions of central government while retaining a freedom of action that is the envy of countries in the European Union.

If the United Kingdom could follow America’s devolution policy, it would not only preserve a vital relationship with Scotland but would serve to remind the EU of its commitment to “subsidiarity”.

Professor Maurice Lessof
London N1

Sir, How can Will Hodgkinson omit Madonna’s Jean-Paul Gaultier-designed conical bra outfit from his “10 fashion statements that changed pop music”? (Times 2, Sept 16).
Nicholas Bostin
Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbys

Sir, Your chief rugby correspondent decries the overuse of military metaphors in sport (Sept 16). In 1966, on the eve of the World Cup, your distinguished football writer, Geoffrey Green, asked that if the Germans defeated us in our national sport we should remember that we had twice defeated them in theirs. Times pass.

John Pittman

London SE9

Sir, Dr Shaw’s admonition against ties (Sept 13) may be justified in the case of schoolchildren — I hated them then myself. But when she adds “for adults too”, I take exception. A tie can show a quiet allegience to one’s clan, or to a sports team; I wear my Olympic tie with pride. On the correct date I wear the Tanzania independence tie, with its fine long blue giraffes. And, increasingly at my age, I wear the black tie of mourning.
craig sharp
Brunel University, West London

Sir, Just over 30 per cent of my GCSE candidates this year have appealed successfully against results issued last month and gone up a grade in at least one subject. The range of subjects affected is wide, including arts, sciences, mathematics and, as ever, English. It is increasingly clear that our experience is not isolated. We have devoted considerable staff time and expenditure to holding the exam boards to account, an annual ritual to which we have become accustomed, if not resigned. I fear, however, that wrong grades in state schools may have been allowed to stand because they are not equally well-staffed or resourced.
I have now been informed that a person appointed by one of the exam boards to oversee A-level exams in classical languages has studied neither Latin nor Greek to A level. This inspires zero confidence in a system that is already bereft of credibility. We have a new secretary of state for education who has stated that she wants to listen to teachers. She would do well to begin by asking them what they think of the utter shambles that is our public examinations system.

Richard Russell

Headmaster, Colfe’s School,
London SE12

Sir, China will welcome, as Leo Lewis confirms (Sept 16), an independent Scotland as it welcomes all new small nations — with the construction of a vast new embassy. From these the Chinese expand their military and political influence. What a chance for China and indeed the Russians to sit athwart Nato’s communications and bases and preside over the emasculation of the UK’s Trident nuclear defence system base in Scotland. One trusts the Scottish people will weigh the emotional attraction of separation from Westminster against the proven practices of the communist powers when new nationhood is available for their exploitation. There will be no way back.

Sir Kenneth Warren
Cranbrook, Kent

Sir, Ian Ward’s claim that the strengthening of Scottish independence was caused by the Tories and the poll tax does not in its own right stand up to electoral scrutiny (letters, Sept 11). The SNP only re-emerged on the parliamentary scene in 1987, winning just three seats from the Conservatives, and were still stuck at three seats in 1992, four years after the introduction of the community charge. If the impact of the poll tax was so strategic, the Conservatives would never have held all the nine Scottish seats they were defending in 1992 or go on to gain Aberdeen South from Labour and take back their by-election loss in Kincardine. It is worth comparing that result to 1987 when the Conservatives lost nine of their Scottish seats and a tenth at a by-election. Poll tax was not even mentioned.

Neil Pearce
London E16

Sir, Professor Martin West (letters, Sept 15) makes valid points on the origins of the geographical term Great Britain. However, his suggestion on the name of a successor state should Scotland secede is inelegant. Far simpler would be changing the “of” in the current title to “in”. The United Kingdom in Great Britain and Northern Ireland would be geographically correct as neither component would encompass the whole of Britain or Ulster but would compose the larger part of each territory. Moreover, the Union Flag should be retained in its current form as it represents our country being a mixture of peoples.

James Dawson
London N11

Sir, Ben Macintyre’s article on William Wallace (Sept 11) struck a chord. Much has been made during the referendum debate of Scottish history and culture, including several references to Braveheart. That is all very well, but during the past seven years the Scottish government has invested absolutely nothing in preserving the original medieval remains in Lanark relating to Wallace’s era. These are St Kentigern’s Church and Lanark Castle.

Ed Archer

Sir, Those of us who have been watching the Invictus Games and Last Night of The Proms must be asking what is it that Scotland does not like about being part of the UK. The unpleasant and sometimes suspect attitudes and actions from the independence movement’s so-called debate leaves me somewhat ashamed to call myself a Scot.

Andrew Irwin
Yeovil, Somerset

Sir, Is there a conspiracy to keep quiet those English who want to see Scotland leave the UK? Or could it be that I am the only Englishman who has that aspiration? The West Lothian question will return with a vengeance unless Scotland votes yes.

John M Bostock
Paddock, W Yorks

Sir, As an expat Scot, I shall be making my mark for Scotland and the Union on Referendum Day by riding my motorcycle from Land’s End to John o’Groats. Of course, with all the hazards and uncertainties along the road I may never reach my intended destination — rather like voting in a flawed referendum where the only choice is between two bum steers. And yes, I shall be taking my passport.

Pete Evans
Wisborough Green, W Sussex

Sir, I listened in amazement as one contributor on Sky News explained how she didn’t want Scotland to leave the Union because she was British and felt 40 per cent Scottish — and she didn’t want to lose that 40 per cent. Like a lot of other people she just doesn’t get it: we don’t want to be 40 per cent of something or 20 per cent of something or any percentage for that matter . . . we just want to be Scotland. Don’t worry, folks, you will get over it and when you do, we will be very good friends.

Douglas Martyn
Sandilands, Lanark

Sir, If, and I hope it is not the case, the referendum returns a “Yes” vote, we must not erect a “tartan curtain”. What will be required is for men and women of goodwill on both sides to negotiate the best deals and compromises. If that means using the pound or letting Trident remain, so be it. Both nations must maintain the bonds and friendship which currently exist.

John Crook
Brookwood, Surrey

Sir, How unfortunate it is that, so far, neither party seems prepared to look beyond the arithmetical result — “one vote is enough”, presumably, after a recount. When the result is announced, the time for statesmanship will begin. Let us hope that both parties will rise to the challenge.

Sir Anthony Evans
Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2

Sir, The Yes campaign is built on “civic” nationalism and there has been no talk of sacrifice, just a plethora of uncosted giveaways and some inane warbling about “Scottish values”. It is Yes voters who will be devastated in the aftermath of a Yes victory — No voters have few illusions, will transfer their assets south and follow them if the new statelet hits the wall.

Rev Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife

Sir, Can the time-expired phrases “too close to call” and “go down to the wire” be despatched to a fiery grave after the current hostilities?

Robert Aspinall
Christchurch, Dorset


SIR – The simplest way to improve the air quality in London is to ban the use of private cars there completely, not by using government-backed bribes to change from diesel-powered cars as mooted by Boris Johnson.

As a frequent visitor to London, I find public transport options are fantastic and can get you to places far more quickly than driving can, without the complication of finding somewhere to park. Taking private cars off the roads would improve air quality more effectively than charges or bribes, by reducing congestion at a stroke.

Alan Brown
Medstead, Hampshire

SIR – Someone down south has decreed that diesel cars are bad, not sparing a thought for us rural dwellers who bought the most economical cars – diesel – in the quest to reduce running costs. Diesel fuel can be stored legally in a tank above ground, avoiding trips to rural fuel stations many miles away.

William Bradley
Middleton on the Wolds, East Yorkshire

SIR – Years ago, when a rash of new diesel vehicles were being launched, there were warnings in the newspapers about particulates. I decided I would not buy one. Those who ignored the warnings, in order to make savings promoted for diesel over petrol, benefited, so why should the rest of us have to subsidise diesel car owners now?

The best incentive to bring about change is to raise the duty on diesel.

Paul Beevers
Cliddesden, Hampshire

Flight path risks

SIR – Dr Michael Fopp correctly points out that flying over densely populated areas of London is very dangerous. London is the only major world city where the main aircraft flight paths pass directly over the city centre.

Has he communicated his concerns about aircraft safety over London to the Davies Commission, which is currently contemplating more runways at Heathrow?

Peter Bryson
Addingham, West Yorkshire

Challenge to Speaker

SIR – The fallacy that Speakers remain politically neutral and the main parties do not field candidates in their constituencies may be more honoured in the breach than in the observance.

Speaker Weatherill, for example, consistently faced Labour challenges. Was it just Labour that broke the “convention”?

R A McWhirter
Zurich, Switzerland

Last post or reveille?

SIR – A notice on my local post box advises that the last collection will be 9am Monday to Friday and 7am on Saturday. One wonders when the first post will be.

Sheila Robertson
London W11

Under-age flutter

SIR – Yesterday, an item on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme was sanctimonious on the issue of children using betting shops to gamble while under age. Presumably, the youngsters get their tips from the same Today programme, which gives daily suggestions on which nags to back.

Bill Thompson
Birkenhead, Wirral

Is the Scottish referendum a case of not knowing how much we love something until it is gone?

Aeroplane trails leave a saltire on the blue skies of Scotland as it debates its future

Aeroplane trails leave a saltire on the blue skies of Scotland as it debates its future Photo: Alamy

7:00AM BST 16 Sep 2014


SIR – It is said that we don’t know how much we love something until there is a risk of losing it. I have mixed English-Scottish ancestry. My grandfather played for Rangers, was capped for England and was awarded the Military Cross for rescuing other British soldiers under fire in the First World War.

I have lived in England and Scotland, but I regard Scotland as home. For the past 18 years, working and bringing up a family in Edinburgh, I have found Scotland a great place to live. Looking at other countries, I feel fortunate that I could take for granted the freedom to live peacefully, go about my business and plan for my future.

Not everything in Scotland is perfect (nor is it anywhere else), but over the past 50 years there have been huge improvements in living standards and in social mobility.

Yet the values that have made all of this possible – tolerance of others and respect for the rule of law, combined with a willingness to question authority, peacefully – are essentially British values that allow all in these isles to be governed with a relatively light touch.

The proposition now being put to the electorate of Scotland represents, I believe, a threat to freedom and security. Despite continually calling itself positive, the Yes campaign has whipped up resentment of “Westminster”, which in turn manifests itself as bigotry towards anything English.

The greener-grass social aims of the Yes campaign are to be delivered by economic policies that any savvy householder will realise don’t add up. Yet questioning of such policies is shouted down.

Of more concern is that we are being asked to give an open mandate to politicians who, in government, have already centralised policing and brought police with guns on to our streets. The SNP administration has also passed a law determining that all children born in Scotland are to have a state-appointed guardian to ensure they are brought up “correctly”.

Finally, the unrealistic timetable for the uncoupling would produce 18 months of bitter rancour between people who have lived together relatively harmoniously for all of my lifetime.

I plead with my fellow voters not to take for granted the many, many benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.

Sally Grossart

SIR – Scotland is a wealthy country. We have one quarter of all the renewable energy potential of Europe and we still have oil reserves. We have had enough of those in Westminster: they bailed out the banks that they didn’t regulate properly in the first place; they went to war with Iraq against the will of the United Nations; and they were found with their hands in the till in the expenses scandal. That’s why I’m voting Yes on Thursday.

Sarah Barts

SIR – It would be a mistake if some voters opting for Scotland to leave the United Kingdom did so on a tide of Scottish patriotism coupled with anti-English sentiment. One can be a Scottish patriot as well as being British, and emotions should not rule the mind on such an important matter.

Should the Yes vote prevail, the stark realities would dawn once the initial euphoria had died down. It seems to me that the Yes camp has tended to ignore the many warnings of adverse economic consequences that could arise.

John Brenton
Storrington, West Sussex

SIR – If a referendum were held in Ireland on September 18, and the question was “Should Ireland stay independent or go back to being part of the United Kingdom?” I wonder what percentage of the people would vote to return to the UK. I imagine it would be exceedingly small.

Scottish voters should focus on the long term. Issues such as currency and pensions will be sorted out, just as in Ireland, and will become irrelevant in the future.

Harold Beirne
Amersham, Buckinghamshire

SIR – My great-grandfather was Angus McDougal, a sea captain. His daughter, my grandmother, married Jack Jones, son of a sailmaker who was later the landlord of the Gun Inn on the Isle of Dogs in London.

I am deeply proud of my Scottish-Welsh heritage. The thought that either nation should want to detach itself from England is upsetting. An emotional view, I know, but valid for the many people like me.

Will I be a foreigner in Scotland if the Yes voters win?

Dinah Parry
Ottery St Mary, Devon

SIR – Our poor Queen – who, if she were not so level-headed, would surely be close to despair at the range of idiocy on display – has to appear neutral.

Scotland is a much-loved part of the Union for which she has worked tirelessly all her life. Anyone who needs to ask how she feels really has his head in the sand. (It’s crowded down there at the moment.)

Those who have counselled her to appear neutral have done her, and the whole of the United Kingdom, a disservice. Perhaps she should “stay out of politics” – but this is about far more than just politics.

The Queen’s opinion and advice are much needed, especially when so many of her subjects have been denied a vote.

Antony Thomas
Esher, Surrey

SIR – As things stand, if Scotland votes for independence, it will still elect MPs to the Westminster Parliament next May.

On taking their seats, they will be asked to take the following oath: “I do swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successor, according to law. So help me God.” Will they do so, knowing they will represent a foreign country in less than 12 months?

Edward Rayner
Eastbourne, East Sussex

SIR – The Scots, should we reject independence, are not being offered “devo max”, which can broadly be described as full fiscal autonomy, with all revenue generated in Scotland under the control of its government.

What is being proposed is a far cry from this: some tweaking of income tax rates but no control over, for example, corporation tax or the precious oil and gas revenues. Nor is there any guarantee we would see these powers. Christopher Chope has stated that there are enough of his fellow back-bench Conservative MPs who are against more powers going to Scotland to vote down such a move. Proposals would also have to go through the Lords.

Alex Orr

SIR – The House of Lords plays a major part in legislation, yet I have not heard it mentioned during the run-up to the referendum.

How does one define a Scottish peer?

Diana Spencer
Wigton, Cumberland

SIR – Usdaw, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers – of whose executive council I am a member – is at one with several major retail companies in supporting a continuation of the United Kingdom, with Scotland as an integral part.

Retailing consists of a complex network of outlets, distribution chains and manufacturing venues. Thus a fully functioning UK single market is a prerequisite in expanding this sector.

John Barstow
Pulborough, West Sussex

SIR – Whatever else, the referendum is not about sacking Nick Robinson from the BBC. Thank heavens for a free press, which can tell us what Alex Salmond does not want us to know.

Rob Dixon
North Berwick, East Lothian

SIR – If there is a Yes vote, which nation pays the generous severance packages of the 59 Scottish MPs who lose their jobs by March 24 2016?

Peter Saunders
Salisbury, Wiltshire

SIR – Should Scotland turn its back on the rest of the UK this week, will the Royal Yacht Britannia be returned to its rightful place alongside HMS Belfast?

Phil Williams
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire

SIR – Whatever the outcome, English will still be Scotland’s official language. I would wager that most Scots will be relieved to hear this – even the anti-English ones.

Cllr Simon Fawthrop
Petts Wood, Kent

SIR – Ae fond X and then we sever.

Geoff Milburn
Glossop, Derbyshire

Irish Times:

A chara, – Daphne Guthrie (September 16th) wonders if the UK will become the SK, or “Split Kingdom”, in the event of a Yes vote. Perhaps “Former United Kingdom” would provide us with an acronym that would more faithfully reflect the resulting mood in Westminster. – Is mise,





Sir, – The latest panic-stricken initiative by the Better Together campaign is genuinely mystifying. What they appear to be saying to Scotland is, if you don’t vote for independence, we’ll give you rather a lot of independence! – Yours, etc,





A chara, – The entire referendum debate has clearly proven how the UK, US and EU establishments are afraid of an enquiring population thinking critically about its future and how its country is run. The mainstream UK media’s nefarious campaign of fear and misinformation has backfired spectacularly, shifting many No voters and undecideds to a Yes vote. – Is mise,


Kessock Road,



A chara, – An interesting feature of the Scottish referendum is that it allows people of 16 and 17 to vote for the first time. On a hugely significant issue affecting their future, these young people are being asked their views. It will be interesting to see, following such an intense debate, the impact this will have on their future levels of political participation. I believe that it will be positive and will encourage young people to vote more often in later life, as well as become more engaged in civic activity.

Austria has allowed 16-year-old citizens to vote since 2007 and the early evidence suggests that this has led to higher levels of voter turnout among young people. An increasing number of countries allow 16-year-olds to vote at least in local elections. This could have been done by the Government for the council elections here this year simply by legislative change.

If a referendum takes place on this issue next year, as indicated, we should reflect on the Scottish experience and look at other ways of encouraging active youth participation in society as part of that debate. – Is mise,



Wexford County Council,

Gorey, Co Wexford.

Sir, – Patricia Stewart (September 16th) writes that “Scotland is currently ruled by a Conservative Westminster government, having elected only a single Conservative MP out of a possible 59”.

The current UK government is actually a coalition of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, which together have 12 of Scotland’s 59 MPs and achieved 35 per cent of the vote in Scotland at the 2010 general election. So it is quite inaccurate to suggest that the current UK government has no mandate in Scotland.

But even prior to 2010, Scotland has wielded incredible influence over the “Westminster government” which they now portray as some kind of foreign colonising power.

David Cameron’s immediate predecessor as prime minster, Gordon Brown, was Scottish, and his predecessor Tony Blair was born and raised in Scotland. In fact, nine of the last 25 British prime ministers going back to William Gladstone have either been Scottish or represented Scotland in the House of Commons.

So despite having an average of about 10 per cent of the population of the UK for the last 150 years, Scotland has provided over a third of its prime ministers. And perhaps the ultimate irony is that David Cameron himself, with his obvious Scottish surname, is also of direct Scottish descent, as his great-great-grandfather was born in Inverness and migrated south in 1860.

Scotland and Scottish voters have punched well above their weight in the government of the United Kingdom since it was established, and will continue to do so into the future if this ill-advised attempt at independence is rejected. – Yours, etc,




Dublin 3.

Sir, – I wonder what the odds are against Scotland winning next year’s Eurovision Song Contest? Lulu may be available! – Yours, etc,




Co Dublin.

Sir, – I’m appalled at the amount of anti-English sentiment circulating since the campaign for Scottish independence began. Seemingly it’s slipped some minds that a significant number of Scottish men and women emigrated in their droves to England for hundreds of years in search of a better life. Perhaps Scottish nationalists would quit exploiting this old chestnut to win a Yes vote. – Yours, etc,


Cypress Springs,

Mill Lane,

Leixlip, Co Kildare.

Sir, – Speed, bonnie Scotland, with the wind in your sails. I have high hopes that you will say Yes. Dare for the best. – Yours, etc,


Sitric Road,

Arbour Hill,

Dublin 7.

Sir, – It’s not the fiscal consequences or political implications of an independent Scotland that concern me, but the real possibility that us Sassenachs will be deprived of the Scottish football results and with it the unlikelihood of us ever hearing the score East Fife 5 Forfar 4. – Yours, etc,


Lonsdale Road,



Sir, – The message from Mr Cameron and Mr Miliband to the people of Scotland – vote against independence and we will give you more independence. – Yours, etc,


Bóthar an Chillín,

An Cheathrú Rua,

Co na Gaillimhe.

Sir, – At last some new – or perhaps not so new – thinking in relation to the dire housing crisis (“Prefabs may be used to ease housing crisis”, September 15th.

After the second World War in 1945, the UK needed an immediate means of replacing the vast number of houses destroyed by six years of wartime bombing. It was recognised that the traditional “bricks and mortar” method of building would be far too slow to provide the answer and factories which had been used to manufacture aircraft and munitions were rapidly converted to assemble “prefabs”.

They were transported in sections by road and assembled on pre-constructed bases to form new estates in and around every major city in Britain. They were robust, low-maintenance and comfortable homes produced rapidly for thousands of families and even now, some 70 years on, there are some of them still in use. In Ireland we have come to associate the word “prefab” with temporary school classrooms, which are greatly inferior to the prefab dwellings produced in postwar Britain and certainly inferior to units which could be manufactured today.

With the advances in technology, materials and assembly processes, it must be possible to produce modern, pre-fabricated homes to form attractive long-term estates in Ireland.

Traditional house-building could continue simultaneously employing the skilled workforce available. However, the factory-built house production would be a quick and effective means of producing much-needed accommodation, unimpeded by weather and providing additional employment.

Perhaps the starting point for factory-produced homes would be a design competition to harness the abundant talent in Ireland’s educational establishments? – Yours, etc,


Temple Manor,

Celbridge, Co Kildare.

Sir, – We should have great sympathy for the failures of John Michael McDonagh (“Director of The Guard says Irish films are not ‘intelligent’”, September 15th). He fails to convince the public, the arts “industry” and even the more objective tax authorities that his Calvary is anything but an Irish film.

It was filmed and set in rural Ireland, featuring a cast including Brendan Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Pat Shortt, David McSavage and with a plot based on clerical sexual abuse, suppressed adolescent rage, drunkenness, domestic violence and fanaticism.

Whatever about the ordinary filmgoer, Mr McDonogh’s arguments evidently also eluded the aesthetes of the Irish Film and Television Academy who insisted on awarding Calvary the 2014 best Irish film accolade. The revered authorities of the Irish Film Board gave his film almost a million euro in funding. Clearly they failed to recognise that his work was too technically accomplished and too intelligent to qualify as Irish. Presumably the artistic devastation of this insult prevents him returning either award or money.

He also seems to have failed to persuade the Revenue Commissioners that his film should not be granted section 481 tax relief certification for, as the Act specifies, the “contribution which the film will make to the development of the film industry in Ireland, and the promotion and expression of Irish culture”. There is hope yet for, as the Revenue’s documentation adds helpfully, the relief can be withdrawn “if it subsequently transpires that these conditions cannot be satisfied”. – Yours, etc,


Moyclare Close,


Dublin 13.

A chara, – I would never consider the film The Guard to be an intelligent film – which is precisely why I enjoyed it. The old phrase “notions as high as the goats of Kerry” springs to mind when reading Mr McDonagh’s comments about Irish films. – Is mise,


Windmill Park,


Dublin 12.

Sir, – Charles Townshend reviewing Gemma Clark’s Everyday Violence in the Irish Civil War (“Campaign of fire”, September 6th) writes that: “Between 1911 and 1925 [County] Tipperary lost 46 per cent of its Protestant population . . . it seems likely that the great majority left after 1921”. He concludes: “fertility and migration patterns can hardly account for such an exodus. If this was not, as some historians have suggested, ‘ethnic cleansing’ . . . it was a process far from the normal”.

Prof Townshend’s observations balance on a hunch and a few statistics.

In a recent article in Irish Historical Studies (“Protestant Depopulation and the Irish Revolution”, November 2013), Prof David Fitzpatrick arrived at different conclusions. Prof Fitzpatrick charted the steady depopulation of southern Irish Protestants between 1911 and 1926 in which, he argues, revolutionary violence in 1920-3 played no exaggerated role. “The . . . Protestant malaise in the nascent Irish Free State”, Prof Fitzpatrick says, “was not excess migration but failure to enroll new members, presumably as a consequence of already low fertility and nuptiality, exacerbated by losses through mixed marriages and [religious] conversions”. Prof Fitzpatrick’s reinterpretation rests on a sophisticated analysis of census and other data.

However, common to both interpretations is the laboured suggestion that southern Irish Protestants might have experienced, despite the lack of evidence, ethnic cleansing. For Prof Townshend, this is because some historians have “suggested” as much. In 1996, the late Prof Peter Hart used the term “ethnic cleansing” to describe the experience of southern Protestants, whereupon it was seized on by polemicists. Prof Hart was the only serious historian ever to apply the term to the 1920s, but he reversed his position in 2005. Then he conceded that the conditions for ethnic cleansing had not existed in southern Ireland. Prof Hart’s unequivocal rejection of his earlier findings is often overlooked.

In her new study of the Civil War, Gemma Clark also categorically rejects “ethnic cleansing” terminology.

In his article Prof Fitzpatrick writes: “If any campaign of ‘ethnic cleansing’ was attempted, its demographic impact was fairly minor”.

But “if” ethnic cleansing was attempted, how, logically, could it go undetected and still be worthy of the name? For reasons unexplained, an invented event for which there was never any credible evidence remains a reference point for diametrically opposed interpretations of Protestant demographic decline.

“The spectre of Protestant extermination has distracted debate about revolutionary Ireland for too long and should be laid to rest”, says Prof Fitzpatrick. I could not agree more.

Prof Fitzpatrick’s conclusion that the “inexorable decline of southern Protestantism was mainly self-inflicted” is very far distant from continued suggestions that ethnic cleansing, or something of its kind, might have happened. – Yours, etc,


School of Humanities,

University of Dundee,


Sir, – In your editorial of September 15th, the question is raised concerning whether Islamic State “poses a direct and serious threat to western countries”. This terrorist organisation poses a lethal threat to the people of the Middle East, as evidenced by its murderous assaults against various communities in Iraq and Syria. Nations outside the region should not wait until the threat arrives within their own borders.

Members of Islamic State have publicly issued warnings that it is prepared to carry its campaign of terror to the United States.

When Islamic State issues threats to create a vast region under its control, these remarks are neither accidental nor inconsequential.

The environment of external threats to any nation’s security is no longer defined exclusively by massed armies of millions, or by intercontinental missiles with megaton nuclear warheads. A force of several thousand, or a cadre of just 19 men, can inflict staggering destruction in this age of asymmetrical warfare. – Yours, etc,


Shandon Street,

Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Sir, – Margaretta D’Arcy (September 15th) is outraged that a US military aircraft used Shannon airport at the same time that she was arriving at the airport on a commercial flight. She says she repeatedly demanded answers from an air hostess on her flight.

She knows, of course, that Shannon airport facilities are used by the US military because of an agreement between the governments of Ireland and the United States. Instead of interrogating an air hostess, perhaps in future she could simply address such concerns to our political representatives. – Yours, etc,



Rosscarbery, Co Cork.

Sir, – Further to “Should I be worried about knotweed?” ( August 28th), in Co Clare, where I live, Japanese knotweed is rapidly establishing itself in local woods, roadsides, hedgerows and on the shores of Lough Derg.

In the UK, where I come from, there is legislation in place to control it. Educational courses are also being run for homeowners, builders, forestry workers, etc, to help them recognise what this invasive plant looks like – so they know what to do about it.

Two forestry workers in Clare that I spoke to had never heard of it and had no idea what it looked like or how it spread, which is worrying because they were not far from where it was growing.

Wake up officials in Clare! Get proactive or face the prospect of spending millions of euro the longer you put it off. – Yours, etc,



Ogonnelloe, Co Clare.

Sir, – At last we’re catching up with the rest of the developed world and getting a national postcode system. This is a good thing. Why, though, do we have to insist on giving everything a “uniquely Irish” name? Why can’t we simply call it a postcode, not an Eircode?

I can foresee endless confusion when fields on official forms are labelled Eircode, and when foreigners are asked for their Eircode, etc.

Everyone knows what a postcode is, but no one knows what an Eircode is. Other countries are secure enough in themselves not to have to call it the “Britcode” or the “Deutschecode”. Why can’t we simply call it a postcode or a postal code, like a sensible country would? – Yours, etc,




Co Louth.

Sir, – I notice that this morning’s Irish Times chess puzzle is number 13,000.

At a rate of six per week this represents over 41 years of daily puzzles.

Congratulations and thank you to your chess correspondent JJ Walsh for providing this daily mental stimulation to chess fans for so many years.

I remember that JJ (Jim) Walsh presented a weekly chess column in The Irish Times during the 1950s and 1960s. His endeavours must be some kind of record.

Well done and keep it up.


Lucan, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent:

Published 17/09/2014 | 02:30

So the clouds of war are being mustered by politicians again. The Islamic State is an evil that must be “destroyed” according to some politicians, and we have been fed scenes from that part of the world that would make one think so. Nothing new there.

It is a sad fact of history that all wars are politically motivated. They are the result of one rhetoric sizing up another, with the men of each side thrown on the bonfire of the vanities of politicians and the businesses that benefit from making machines of war. They are also an excellent method of what we farmers call “a cull” of the young men of these nations.

These are cold hard facts of history and not some conspiracy theory. Politicians do not die in wars on the battlefields – gone are the days when the political leaders had to lead their men out to face the opposing army. The recently-discovered bones of Richard III in England are those of one of the last warrior kings to die in battle when two large groups of men faced each other in open war.

We can look to Michael Collins as an example from this island of a politician soldier dying. He was killed by one who he went to liberate from British rule.

Modern war is now a very ugly beast. It has become urban. It has become as much about genocide and refugees as it has about principle. It uses weapons that can create such havoc and injury that one could be forgiven for wondering if the lucky victims of war are those who die in it, rather than those who witness and survive it. It allows men with military training to wipe out enemies many miles away without ever having met one of their enemies or having to stare into the dead eyes of their victims.

And, as if Isil are not enough of a problem, our “wonderful” European Union seems a little zealous in its attitude to getting embroiled in Ukraine.

Perhaps we shouldn’t care. America and its allies have been at Russia’s throat for years and vice versa. Perhaps we shouldn’t care that the Middle East has now enough blood spilt on its sands that another oil boom is guaranteed when that blood soaks down through the sand and decomposes into oil.

Dermot Ryan, Athenry, Co Galway

Scottish referendum

Regardless which way the vote goes in Scotland, the governments in the UK and across the EU and the EU itself should now realise that proper and balanced regional development across all regions is important and necessary. We should return to European Economic Community for all, rather than a centralised federal system ran by all politicians for banks.

John Healy, Liverpool, England

Dominic Shelmerdine (Letters, September 15) has a very strange view of the United Kingdom. The Scottish parliament already has powers to change the lives of its people and has chosen not to. The fact that there is oil in Scotland is the only reason the SNP want this separation. If there were no oil they would not be considering it at all. To say Britain is ruled by a bunch of old Etonians is laughable. Was he born after the ten years of Labour in government?

The houses of Parliament are full of Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and English. They have all had an input into the policies of the UK, including invading Iraq, which was under Tony Blair. Gordon Brown was Scottish and was not very canny to sell the gold reserves of the UK cheaply.

For myself, I will be very sad if Scotland leaves the UK. Although I am English and live in the Irish Republic I view all of the people of the UK as my fellow countrymen and women. As a body we are the arms and legs; if an arm or leg is amputated the body can carry on, but it will never be as good as a whole body.

Jayne Donnelly, Enniscorthy, Co Wexford


Time to harvest Sam

Our lovely town of Glenties can also be heaven on a sunny Sunday evening, especially with a nice pint of Guinness at around 6pm on the Main Street outside Phelan’s lovely pub. That’s the way it felt last Sunday after watching all the wonderful floats and bands at the yearly Harvest Fair Festival.

Sitting with me were a group of lovely ladies with diamonds in their eyes and gold dust in their hair. And if you don’t believe me come and meet me there at next year’s festival.

Congratulations to the festival committee, it’s a real credit to you all for giving such enjoyment to us all. Thank you so much.

Please God, we will be in heaven again this Sunday when our Jim and the lads bring Sam home again to the hills!

Brian McDevitt, Glenties, Co Donegal


The Trident firing line ?

The thought has occurred recently: exactly where are the UK’s 250 Trident nuclear missiles pointed? At Lagos? At Johannesburg? At Mumbai? At Dublin?

As the UK and its wartime ally, the United States, seek to put Iran on trial for developing nuclear technology, those of us in their potential nuclear firing line are eager for answers.

Cadhla Ni Frithile, Clonard, Co Wexford


Education and gender

Last week’s publication of this year’s Junior Cert results again draws attention (Irish Independent, September 12) to how well girls do relative to boys in this exam (and, of course, the same is true in respect of the Leaving Cert).

While various explanations are offered in respect of this phenomenon, one point that is rarely mentioned is the feminization of the teaching profession in recent decades (something which appears to have coincided with the development of the present academic achievement gap between boys and girls), which is illustrated by the fact that 68pc of secondary teachers and 86pc of primary teachers are now female, with the overall percentage of teachers who are female being 74pc, which is up from 63pc in 1961.

While, ideally, the gender of a teacher shouldn’t matter provided they have been employed on the basis of merit and doesn’t favour pupils of one gender over the other, some UK research suggests that boys’ academic performance has suffered due to the shortage of male teachers there (which is similar to here).

It also suggests the existence of a preference among this mainly female teaching force for teaching girls (though this is a general point, of course, and is by no means necessarily true of all teachers, whatever their gender). In relation to the above, the following statement can be found on a UK website ( “Sexism has died out in schools, with teachers recognizing, and preferring to teach girls than boys.” Now, if the last part of this statement is true, that’s obviously not good news for boys.

While that research relates to the UK, could it be, given the similar female/male imbalance in the teaching profession here, that the findings of this research are relevant to this country as well?

Hugh Gibney, Athboy, Co Meath


Top Marx for Mary Lou

Mary Lou McDonald obviously never heard of Karl Marx‘s riposte when he was accused of betraying the proletariat while travelling first class in London.

“But when my socialist revolution comes, everybody will be travelling first class!”

With his usual impeccable timing, Michael O’Leary is now introducing business class for Mary Lou’s proletarian revolutionaries.

Travellers of the world unite, – you have only your (socialist) baggage to lose!

Brendan Dunleavy, Killeshandra, Co Cavan

Irish Independent


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