Rarely do I disagree with Ian Bell, but to abandon our love of free speech when confronted by fascists is not so far removed from the idea of abandoning natural justice when threatened by violent criminals; or opposition to torture when confronted by terrorists (“We cannot grant the BNP the rights it would not grant us”, The Herald, October 21).

If we believe in freedom of conscience, and the freedom to hold and express controversial opinions, then that must apply to all. Can anyone really be happy to let politicians decide what it is acceptable for us to think and say? Would anyone willingly take moral guidance from the likes of Tony Blair or Jacqui Smith?

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Certainly, freedom of speech does not imply any right to be heard. None of us is under any obligation to listen to fascists, but to ban people from speaking defiles us more than them. Instead of giving up yet more essential liberties for the sake of a cossetted life, free from the risk of being offended, we should use our liberties to build the world we wish to live in. If fascists preach hatred, more of us should use our freedom of speech to defend the values we hold dear.

On Saturday, November 14, the English/ Scottish Defence League intends to take its brand of Islamophobia to Glasgow’s Central Mosque. Calls for the council or police to ban the demonstration are misguided. Instead, decent Scottish folk should be there to make clear their commitment to an inclusive society in which people are free to live in peace, free from discrimination and prejudice.

Let us not give an undeserved victim status to those who would oppress others. Instead, let them be challenged in public. Let their vile opinions be heard and let decent people reject them on the basis of their own poisonous words.

Dr Geraint Bevan, Glasgow.

 

Ian Bell raises an excellent point with regard to the BNP. Borderline rhetoric and immigration policies from the Labour and Conservative parties have helped legitimise the BNP. By making xenophobia mainstream, the BNP itself has become mainstream.

The same process has been playing out across Europe for two decades. Politicians seeking an easy scapegoat have targeted immigrants and, with that poison becoming acceptable, the extreme right has claimed only to be expressing mainstream “concerns”.

Politicians respond to the rise of the far right by saying they have to tackle “legitimate concerns” regarding those who move here and, as a result, they further fuel the far right. Consequently, in many European countries, fascist parties have come to be major parties able to form state-level governments in federal nations such as Austria and local governments in unitary states. It seems only a matter of time until they can form a national government. They have already had a spell as a junior coalition party in Austria, after all.

The same thing will happen inBritain unless mainstream parties reject racism and move the “mainstream view” to one of acceptance of those who come from abroad and welcoming them when they arrive.

Iain Paterson, Bearsden.

 

‘Insane’ retail plan

 

I note the controversy regarding the granting of permission to Glasgow Harbour for retail development (“Glasgow Harbour retail plan approved”, The Herald, October 21).

First, the British economy is and has been far too dependent on consumption. Environmental and economic considerations mean we will have to rebalance sharply over the next few years, even simply to control escalating debt.

Secondly, retail is finite. If you open a shopping development in one area, it will remove retail spend from another area. We should challenge the major retailers who claim massive job gains as they open superstore X or distribution centre Y. There is ample evidence that these centralised retailers are destroying jobs in a local economy. They are also de-skillers in their removal of local autonomy of economic decision-making.

Thirdly, large integrated shopping developments do not want local retailers. They want national names with whom they have a track record of dealing and of whose economic viability they can be reasonably assured.

Fourthly, the entire retail sector is facing enormous pressure from online and internet retailers.

Given all that, to be granting an application for further retail space when there already is a glut, when the evidence is overwhelming of the damage caused by over-provision of retail and when one is surrounded in the beating heart of cities by “to let” signs galore seems to me an act of insanity. But, then, this is Scotland.

Hugh Andrew, Edinburgh.

 

Housing crisis

 

The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) has campaigned for an end to right-to-buy and we were delighted by the Scottish Government’s announcement (“SNP kills off right to buy council homes”, The Herald, October 19).

Almost 500,000 homes have been lost to Scotland’s affordable housing sector since the policy was introduced by Margaret Thatcher 30 years ago. This year, despite the recession, a further 3000 people have applied to buy their homes.

The policy has been the single biggest blight on our sector for decades. It has been a constant drain on resources, with associations losing their best properties in the most desirable locations. It has also acted as a deterrent to development. Why spend cash building new homes only to be forced to sell them at discounted prices in a minimum of five years? There are about 142,000 people on waiting lists for affordable rented housing. Our industry is facing the most tumultuous period in three decades with public spending tightening, bank lending constricting and less favourable loan terms on offer.

The real issue we are facing is finance for development and the SFHA is continuing to call for a greater share of the Scottish budget to be invested in our sector. The provision of affordable rented housing is inextricably linked to improved academic achievement in children, better physical and mental health in all ages and the creation and safeguarding of jobs.

Andrew Field, SFHA deputy chief executive, 375 West George Street, Glasgow.

 

Lloyds has a moral responsibility to continue charitable arm’s good work

 

we write to express our deep concern at the potential closure of the Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland (“Charity arm of bank is on the brink of closure”, The Herald, October 20). Over the past generation, Lloyds TSB Foundation for Scotland has made a massive positive difference to many of the very poorest people and neighbourhoods. We cannot afford to be without this vital resource at this time.

We believe that the bank’s directors -- and the government as its major shareholder -- have a responsibility to find a solution that maintains the foundation’s grant-giving capacity at a time when there are negligible dividends within the group; ensures the ongoing independence of the foundation’s trustees; and ensures that the future funding of the foundation is maintained, at the current percentage level of 1% of pre-tax dividends under the covenant negotiated at the merger of the Trustee Savings Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank PLC in 1999.

At a time when we are hearing of the culture of an obscene level of bonuses returning to the banking system -- and of the continuing need for the government to underwrite the toxic debts of the Lloyds Banking Group -- surely there can be no justification for withdrawing from one area of work of which the bank (and its shareholders) should be proud.

In addition, the Lloyds group has enjoyed trading benefits through the work of the foundation in garnering unmeasured goodwill in Scotland over the past 10 years.

Martin Johnstone, chief executive, and John Matthews, chairman, Faith in Community Scotland, 759a Argyle Street, Glasgow.

 

It is high time that the banks were made to put between 5%-10% of their profits into supporting the voluntary sector rather than giving bonuses to people who do not need or deserve extra money in their pockets.

As someone who lost his job in the voluntary sector as a development officer, I feel particularly bitter about this state of affairs. I was responsible for 510 people who, of their own free will, put more than £1m worth of work into the social economy at a total annual cost of £60,000 in 37 different projects.

The plight of my own volunteers is mirrored across the whole of Scotland and this is why I would argue for a compulsory donation from the banking sector. It is to be hoped our politicians might be jogged into action to be of some use to the community and pass the appropriate legislation to bail out a voluntary sector on the verge of collapse.

But this is a pipe dream as most politicians seem more interested in their expenses than the community. Perhaps I am just too cynical, as nothing will change. There goes yet another voluntary organisation helping the people of the community.

Ed Archer, Lanark.

 

We’re on the wrong road to reducing congestion

 

Could the great difference between the distances travelled by road and rail cited by the roads lobby just possibly have something to do with the fact that the total number of miles of railways is a mere fraction of that of the entire roads network (“Increase spending on roads, demand lobbyists”, The Herald, October 20)?

Large parts of Scotland are bereft of railway lines. When a major tourist destination such as St Andrews is accessible only by road, the wonder is that rail passenger mileage is as high as it is; perhaps that is because, in general, people like travelling by train.

One thing is certain: building more roads will certainly not reduce car use or carbon emissions, but it will generate more car journeys and thus more congestion. That, I would have thought, is precisely the opposite of what is required.

Jane Ann Liston, St Andrews.

 

Cure for banking’s ills

 

We hear much about the banking culture. When I studied bacteriology, a culture also referred to “a crop of experimentally grown bacteria”. These organisms include potential pathogens such as E coli, C difficile and MRSA. We do not need people such as Mervyn King or Gordon Brown to clean up the banking pandemic of usury. Send for Professor Hugh Pennington.

Alistair Campsie, Kincardineshire

 

We’re on the wrong road to reducing congestion

 

Could the great difference between the distances travelled by road and rail cited by the roads lobby just possibly have something to do with the fact that the total number of miles of railways is a mere fraction of that of the entire roads network (“Increase spending on roads, demand lobbyists”, The Herald, October 20)?

Large parts of Scotland are bereft of railway lines. When a major tourist destination such as St Andrews is accessible only by road, the wonder is that rail passenger mileage is as high as it is; perhaps that is because, in general, people like travelling by train.

One thing is certain: building more roads will certainly not reduce car use or carbon emissions, but it will generate more car journeys and thus more congestion. That, I would have thought, is precisely the opposite of what is required.

Jane Ann Liston, St Andrews.

 

A second attempt at election will serve only to highlight the ‘savage paradox’ of Afghanistan

 

More concerned with being the world’s policeman, winning the mythical “war on terror” and extirpating something called the Taliban, the US/UK axis becomes ever more deeply involved in the quagmire of Afghanistan (“Karzai bows to pressure and agrees to Afghan vote runoff”, The Herald, October 21). Since 2008 things have gone from bad to worse. So it is that Hamid Karzai, having radically corrupted the recent election, remains able to dictate a runoff which he will certainly win.

In so doing, he has shot our “demo­cratic” fox since there is nothing to gainsay that the second round will be immune from the many irregularities that characterised the first. And a decade of conflict has deeply damaged the mission in which so many British, American and, especi­ally, Afghan lives have been lost. For what? To bolster an election result riddled with fraud where a dubious character will be confirmed as Afghan president and in which the Taliban has been given much sustenance.

We will now have a hiatus of death of at least two months until Karzai is finally confirmed, with local conflicts, assassinations, a breakdown in law and order, and a country paralysed for most of that period while the Taliban will further condemn democracy as an infidel conspiracy. It is a savage paradox that the Taliban embodies a hellish form of governance but is not corrupt.

Meanwhile, the military operation is costing cash-strapped US and UK taxpayers more than $4bn a month. Some of us never bought into the “making

the streets of Britain safer” dimension. Nor, since Afghanistan provides more than 93% of the world’s opium-derived heroin, has our presence been a brilliant success in that respect either. That presence has far from stemmed the all pervasive influence on Afghan (and much of western) life.

The Afghan Taliban will wait out the Americans before eventually walking into Kabul while its Pakistan division prepares its “liberation” of Pakistan. This now seems unavoidable, as does the prospective loss of many more lives. Or will our military overlords advise that we sort out the Pakistan Taliban as well and thus become entraped in the Indian/Pakistan/Kashmir imbroglio?

Chris Walker, West Kilbride.

 

Much hope for future law and order has been placed in the establishment and training of an Afghan national police force. One might expect that, eight years after the arrival of the west, all police training, except perhaps for the most senior ranks, would be in Afghan hands.

But there is no syllabus or common training doctrine. International Security Assistance Forces troops from many different nations, using different languages, some with home police instructors, have been training Afghan police to their indigenous police standards. For example, Italian police are instructing but there are few Italian to Pashto or Italian to Dari interpreters: so much translation goes through imperfect English.

Even the word police used on vehicles does not exist in a local language. They use Boolees written in Farsi, or Persian, script. In recruit classes, many do not know enough Dari or Pashto to understand much of what is being taught; many recruits are illiterate.

A 2006 joint report by the US Defence and State Departments found that the American-trained police force in Afghanistan was incapable of carrying out routine law enforcement work; managers of the $1.1bn training programme could not say where thousands of trucks issued to police units had gone; most police units had less than 50% of authorised equipment on hand. No effective field training programme had been established, despite years of warning from police training experts that this was the backbone of success.

According to reports, at least one-third of all police recruits desert. Corruption has apparently sapped the motivation of some recruits. Police officers often receive only two-thirds of their monthly salary. Fuel and food goes missing. In Farah, marines said drug and alcohol use by Afghan police officers was also affecting the situation. About 2000 Afghan police were killed last year and up to 3000 wounded, according to a German police officer responsible for training local recruits.

Now, according to reports, the United States is calling on Nato to help with police training. It is difficult to deduce anything except that the west has made a complete shambles of organising police training in Afghanistan.

Michael Hamilton, Kelso.