Is the annual state opening of parliament an essential part of the democratic process, underlining the ancient and enduring relationship between the monarch and her Lords and Commoners? Or is the whole performance just an out­dated piece of medieval pageantry that has no relevance to a modern democracy and 21st-century Britain?

As with other colourful but meaningless ceremonies, is it not just a throw-back to the great days of British imperialism and more of a tourist attraction today?

Hundreds of police officers and troops line the streets, mounted cavalry in gaudy uniforms escort the royal procession in horse-drawn gilded carriages. Inside parliament, dozens of heralds and elderly flunkies with strange titles, wearing black silk stockings, morning dress and frills, have important duties to perform, one of them being to hammer on the door of the Commons and another to walk backwards ahead of the Queen.

In the Chamber of the Upper House, ermine-clad peers sit on padded benches, while the people’s elected representatives are summoned from the Commons to stand tightly-packed like football fans on the old-style terracing.

The Queen, in full-length evening gown, diamonds and pearls at 11 in the morning, is escorted by her prince consort in full admiral’s uniform bedecked with gold braid, sashes and rows of medals.

In a dull monotone, she reads out a long wish-list of future legislation which has no chance of reaching the statute book before next year’s General Election and which could just as easily be announced by the Prime Minister or issued as a government press release.

All this pomp and ceremony must cost hundreds of thousands of pounds each year, but does it have any constitutional significance? Does sovereignty still rest with the monarch. Is it still “her government” and are the people of the nation still “her subjects”? And is any of this still relevant in modern-day Britain?

Iain A D Mann, Glasgow.


The Queen’s Speech has long been regarded as a solemn and traditional occasion. However, these are not normal times. Our country is at war. Casualties from the Afghanistan conflict mount daily. Our country is experiencing the worst recession for many years. The MPs’ expenses scandal lingers on. Many public and private sector employees have lost their jobs. Many more face the spectre of unemployment.

Yet, on a dank November day, the good and the great, suitably garbed, turn out en masse to witness our sovereign lady read a prepared speech in a chamber where, paradoxically, more than half of those present could not normally gain entry.

It is certainly not the aforesaid ensemble who will meet the cost of this most expensive gathering. It will be the ever-reliable taxpayer, already destined to keep the banks solvent.

Perhaps a bit of self-inflicted down­sizing from the top is required. Now that would be leadership at work.

Allan C Steele, Giffnock.

Proposals by the Labour government in the Queen’s Speech to delay implementation of the Calman Commission recommendations until after the General Election are deeply disappointing.

The transfer of powers in areas where all parties and the Scottish Government agree -- over firearms, speed limits, drink driving, and running Scottish elections -- could be done immediately, along with borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament. Instead, it is clear from this delay that Labour has no intention of increasing powers to the parliament and is simply playing politics with the Calman Commission.

Even Sir Kenneth Calman acknowledged that elements of the report can be implemented quickly and easily. With David Cameron making clear he has no plans for reform for at least another parliamentary term, and Labour kicking Calman into the long grass, it is clear that these parties have no interest in delivering such vital powers to Scotland.

Alex Orr, Edinburgh.

Catastrophe is coming

Ian Bell writes that “December looks like another bad month for planet earth” and observes that most Britons are in denial that we are living in a civilisation scientists have determined to be unsustainable (“’Tis the season to be jolly worried about the planet”, The Herald, November 18). This head-in-the-sand mentality means a lack of pressure on politicians, and is one of several obstacles standing in the way of an adequate and binding global climate deal at Copenhagen.

It is hard for us in the developed world to accept that catastrophe is imminent in our way of life, that the industrial revolution is escaping our control and that we are moving inexorably from a period of abundance to scarcity.

People are rarely motivated by nightmare scenarios and there is a sense of powerlessness when one considers that the decisions of China and the United States will make or break any chance of averting disaster. However, small countries such as Scotland, whose legislation on carbon emission reduction targets led the way in heeding the advice of scientists, all need to make a contribution.

We need our leaders to forge a “new deal” based on a positive and pragmatic vision of an alternative future, freeing us from our dependence on oil and creating prosperity through a different kind of economy; one based less on luxury consumption and financial ser­vices and more on investing in renewable technologies, adapting to the impacts of global warming and undergoing a revolution in agriculture.

Dr Chris MacLullich, Edinburgh.

Tackling alcohol abuse

I agree with Dr Richard Watson that the introduction of minimum pricing would be a step forward in tackling harmful drinking in Scotland (“What’s more important: saving lives or saving profits?” The Herald Society, November 17).

The Church of Scotland has long held the opinion that the evidence supporting the positive consequences of minimum pricing is overwhelming. Since 1983, the Kirk has challenged government to place the health and wellbeing of communities ahead of the interests of the alcohol industry. When I look at reports from the past 27 years, I am saddened that nothing has changed. However, I remain optimistic that our political representatives will look beyond the lobbyists employed by the Scottish Whisky Association and respond to the needs of constituents by introducing minimum pricing.

Rev Ian Galloway, Convener, Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, 121 George Street, Edinburgh.

Sweet dreams

Evidently the biggest cause of rows in the bedroom can be put down to the improper use of the duvet by one person at the expense of the partner (“Biggest cause of rows in bedroom? Pinching the duvet”, The Herald, November 16). Our solution restores harmony: buy a king size bed and two extra long single duvets.

Muriel Draper, Bearsden, Glasgow.

Havoc continues in Iraq

While Afghanistan has removed Iraq from the front pages in the UK, killing and carnage continue on a grand scale in the latter, with the death rate running at around 500 each month. Although compared to other countries (including Afghanistan) this is extremely high, by the standards of Iraq things seem almost normal. Key infrastructure remains collapsed. Bombs are going off all the time. Kidnapping, a crime unknown in Iraq prior to the invasion, is now a major industry. Al Qaeda wreaks havoc. In total, the situation is referred to as a “banalisation” of violence.

We are now entering a period of fractious wrangling over the formation of a government in January’s elections. Levels of violence likely will escalate as that month approaches. Iraq stands again on the brink of political collapse.

When I lived there in the 1980s, in the period framed by the eight-year war with Iran, opinion was, by 1988, that Iraq “won”, albeit marginally. Now the feeling among Sunnis is that the western coalition, with its invasion of 2003, has made a gift of Iraq to Iran and, after a two-decade delay, Iraq is now “snugly within the Iranian embrace”.

All wars have unintended consequences but it was not supposed to be like this, quite apart from one million innocent people dead, two million displaced externally and four million internally. But the new-found Iranian hegemony surely represents the biggest one of all.

Chris Walker, West Kilbride.

Ideas for better TV

Teddy Jamieson is right to criticise the lack of imagination in Scottish television programme-making (“I’m fed up with Tunnock’s Tea Cakes telly”, The Herald, November 17). STV should be praised for a least making an effort to restart production after many years of neglect, but does it all have to be so dull?

Teddy Jamieson mentions the adaptation of Iain Bank’s The Crow Road. Banks has written a number of novels that sell all over the world. Why has neither the BBC nor STV thought to televise more of them?

In current affairs, BBC’s Question Time has acquired large audiences as we near a General Election. Why isn’t there a similar type of programme in Scotland on which our politicians can face an audience of voters and defend their policies?

Scottish programme-makers also appear to have been left behind in the popularity of reality TV. If Big Brother is no longer wanted by Channel 4, for example, why not produce a similar programme from Scotland?

Sophie L Anderson, Edinburgh.

Un-Christian attitude

It is a sad reflection on attitudes in our society that, when a group of Christians takes steps to uphold a position on moral conduct which has been held by the church for 2000 years, its members are branded hardliners (“Hardline victory on gay clergy”, The Herald, November 18).

Rev Bill Wallace, Banchory.

Glasgow Airport needs to add new destinations

I write in response to Amanda McMillan’s heartfelt plea for passengers to use Glasgow Airport (Letters, November 18). Living only two miles from Glasgow Airport, I would very much like to use it more often but, sadly, it does not provide direct routes to where I would like to go -- for instance, Frankfurt and Madrid (to name but two destinations). The upshot is that, inconveniently, I need to fly either from Edinburgh or via another airport such as Amsterdam.

It is a chicken and egg situation. Yes, more passengers are needed to boost the airport. But the airport needs to provide the direct routes for passengers. Edinburgh Airport is bucking the recession with increased passenger figures. It does so by attracting airlines that provide more direct routes to Europe. Why cannot Glasgow Airport do likewise? If it cannot, I fear for its future.

Alistair Sharp, Renfrew.

I am somewhat unimpressed that the new MP for Glasgow North East, Willie Bain, elected to make the first part of his journey to Westminster by bus (“Bain takes bus to make Garl point”, The Herald, November 18). Should he not have made the journey by train and reduced his carbon footprint as a consequence?

Alastair Scott, Uddingston.

Those who signed up to the Covenant understood their protest against Charles I’s religious changes

I write in response to Professor M Lynch (Letters, November 17) regarding the BBC Scotland series, A History of Scotland. On a point of fact, Professor Lynch queries whether all who subscribed the National Covenant in 1638-9 “fully understood the content and implications” of its 5000 words. Obviously not, when one examines the document, but they would have got the gist of it easily

enough. It was a protest against the religious changes that Charles I and his bishops were introducing. People were not so stupid that they were subscribing to the Covenant in ignorance.

On the matter of impartiality, Professor Lynch claims that he “attempted objectivity” in writing about the Covenanters but dismisses others, particularly those “who see themselves as the heirs of the Covenanters”, as trading in “half-truths”. But perhaps academic historians do not have the monopoly on objectivity they imagine.

For one thing, they have an unfortunate prejudice against “received opinion”. “History,” says Professor Lynch, “has a duty to challenge received opinion and to confront cherished views.” But what if these received opinions and cherished views are correct? Must they still be challenged boldly and overthrown? The contribution of the Covenanters to modern views of equality and liberty is a case in point.

Historians nowadays are likely to be unfamiliar with the religious motives of the Covenanters and to have a superficial understanding of their beliefs. Professor Lynch’s comment on “predestination”, for instance, is that of an outsider. Predestination and human equality do not interfere in the mind of a Calvinist. The desire to be saying something novel, combined with a hazy understanding of the heart of one’s subject, is hardly conducive to impartial history.

Rev Dr D W B Somerset, Scottish Reformation Society, 18 Carlton Place, Aberdeen.

Michael Lynch seems to attack Presbyterianism for its predestinarianism, perhaps forgetting that Augustine and Aquinas had a place for it . The harsh reality was that of godly men and women who, perhaps mistakenly, adhered to the ill-conceived Solemn League and Covenant between Scotland and England.

The context was that of governments which, following Stuart policy, attempted to impose their own uniformity. A wider context was the policy of Louis XIV, by which the terrible persecution against his French Huguenot subjects made the repression of the hard-line Scots Presbyterians look like a Sunday school picnic.

The fact was that, in The Killing Times, men and women in our land, by reason of the Test Act, could be and were summarily executed. The late Gordon Donaldson suggested that there was some evidence for Albany, later James VII, supporting this to justify a standing army.

With violence toward them begetting violence, it is to some extent understandable that some extremist Covenanters actually deposed the Stuarts -- The Sanquhar Declaration and all that.

Ironically, this was just what the two nations did effectively at The Glorious Revolution when James VII forfeited the Crown. To be sure, the Covenanters were hardly tolerant but, curiously, their strength helped effect James VII’s perhaps desperate tolerant religious indulgence and also the religious tolerance of William and Mary.

Perhaps the last word about the Covenanters may rest with J D Mackie: “They did not believe in religious freedom; they had no formulated scheme of constitutional government; yet, as has been said, ‘It was from the impact of Stuart steel upon the Covenanting flint that our modern freedom of thought and belief was born’. Scotland does not err in reverencing the tradition of her martyrs.”

A Douglas Lamb, Kincardineshire.