I WAS under the impression that a "multicultural Britain" implied a community that shared a belief in democracy and the rule of law, and provided that people subscribe to that without quibble or qualification, they are welcome to continue and indeed develop their own cultures (News in Focus, August 7). What matters are the civic values people hold. So long as people have sufficient standard English to understand the law, participate in the democratic process and not be disadvantaged in public life, whatever other language they speak is their own business. One reservation: no state "faith" schools. They are a breeding ground for intolerance and mischievous pressure to manipulate the law for sectional interests.

But now we have politicians and pundits raving about inculcating some notion of "Britishness". They demand that people speak English at home, preach in English, besides Tebbit's asinine notion that British citizens should cheer for English cricket teams. All this will degenerate further into some corny nightmare about English cultural nationalism. Were it not all so sad and abusive towards our fellow citizens, the rest of the UK would die laughing.

Gavin Sprott Edinburgh

MULTICULTURALISM is appeasement, a betrayal of those who died fighting for our freedom in the wars of the last century.

Mr B Fraser Newmilns, East Ayrshire

Politics of race

NEVER having been a member of any political party, and certainly being no friend of either the Conservatives or the BNP, I am both angry and disappointed at Iain Macwhirter's column "Political correctness is not the answer" (Comment, August 7).

He spoiled what could have been a seminal piece in this newspaper's history, with his characterisation of his concerned contact as "not a Tory MP or a member of the BNP, but a rational, well-connected, media-friendly liberal intellectual". When the British National Party use the word "British", they do not do so in the same context in which a black or Pakistani British citizen might.

To the BNP it means "ethnic Briton", of the same genetic stock as the ancient ice age peoples, the Celts, the Normans and Anglo-Saxons. The correct title for their politics is "racial nationalism".

A well-briefed David Davis, Charles Clarke or Iain MacWhirter could destroy the credibility of the BNP in about four seconds, if they got off their backsides and decided to engage with them intellectually, as opposed to either feeling superior and ignoring them or else passing comment on them without knowing what they're talking about. For as long as the BNP are ignored, they will only grow stronger by appealing to those who feel disenfranchised in a society in which they are part of the ethnic majority.

Martin Kelly Glasgow

I READ Iain Macwhirter's article on "Islamofascism" with great dread: what smears will be made against my religion and my community now? It turns out that despite the use of this disgusting compound word, he made no attempt to establish why the British Asian racism he documented has anything to do with Islam. The article was just another excuse to take a dig at Muslims, and insult their religion, while declaring the "failure of integration".

If journalists and the general public wish to understand what role Islam plays in forming people's ideas, they should speak to people other than the self-defined liberals on the one hand, such as your much-quoted comedian Shazia Mirza, and the extremist loudmouths like Omar Bakri on the other. The problem isn't Islam: and suggesting so, even by using such ridiculous coined terms as "Islamofascism", is insulting not only to Muslims, but to those who make the simple effort to know us.

Sohaib Saeed Muslim Association of Britain

A man we trusted

I WAS devastated to hear of Robin Cook's death. For those of us who increasingly see the government of this land misrepresenting their thoughts and wishes, it was comforting to know that there was a man of stature who could, and did, articulate those thoughts that desperately required a voice prior to our invasion of Iraq and after. Quite simply, Robin Cook told it like it was and did it in simple, logical tones that held respect and the belief of those who heard them. We live in confusing times, where increasingly the tendency is to mistrust our leaders and politicians. Robin Cook reminded us that there were those willing to put principle first and not be ashamed to defend the logic.

Stuart Blair Glasgow

A simple answer

IN answer to the question "Should the police respond differently to the way they handle emergency calls involving drug overdoses?" then the answer is yes, yes and yes again (News, August 7).

The main priority should be the welfare of the person who has overdosed, not the possibility of drugs on the premises or other persons present, or whether or not there are outstanding warrants on such persons.

Des Swan Glasgow

Zoos still needed

AS Advocates For Animals suggests, (Readers' Views, August 7), it would be nice if endangered animals could be protected in their natural environments. But in the world which exists human numbers are increasing and natural habitats for many wild animals are decreasing. In the absence of effective environmental protection, zoos may give the best hope of survival for several species. Zoos and other collections also give many people their only chance to see animals in reality, rather than on TV or on paper.

David Stevenson Edinburgh

Grasp the nettle!

I HAVE long been an admirer of Tom Shields's writing. His sense of humour and his take on the world we live in are akin to mine. This was never more plain to me than in his Buffer Zone piece last Sunday (Seven Days, August 7).

Would that the powers that control Scottish - and indeed, UK - politics had the courage to grasp the nettle.

Douglas McNicol Renfrewshire

Exams are failing

ERIC Wilkinson's claim that "school examinations are a reasonably fair and secure way of demonstrating . . . the abilities and aptitudes of our young people" (Guest Vocals, August 7) does not, in my view, bear scrutiny. Take, for example, the following statement by the minister and deputy minister of education in the foreword to A Curriculum For Excellence (Scottish Executive, November 2004): "The National Debate showed that people want a curriculum that will fully prepare today's children for adult life in the 21st century."

A Curriculum For Excellence then sets out a comprehensive list of desirable attributes that children should develop over the course of their school careers, to prepare them for "adult life in the 21st century". Many of these attributes cannot be adequately measured by traditional examinations. But because exams are the main means by which crucial judgements on children and their schools are made, attention inevitably concentrates on preparing pupils for them, to the detriment of all the other important attributes that we want our children to develop.

So long as exams in their current form continue, so will the profound mismatch between our aspirations and actions continue, to the detriment of our young people.

Colin Weatherley Critical Skills Programme Manager (Scotland) Gullane East Lothian

Change of focus

Your article "Palestinians prepare for fresh start" by Martin Patience was a beautiful story (International, August 7).

Thank you so much for printing it. In most of the world's media, the overwhelming focus is on the sad plight of the misguided Gaza settlers rather than the tragic plight of the 1.4 million Palestinians, most of them refugees from the 1948 war; most of them women and children who have been enclosed in a crowded, miserable, besieged, impoverished ghetto on roughly 75-per cent of this small piece of land while 8000 state-subsidised settlers and soldiers have expropriated the rest.

Pamela Olson Ramallah, West Bank Palestine

Shuttle support

MONA McAlinden may well have been right to say that the US public is increasingly concerned about the costs and risks of the space shuttle programme, but her assertion that the US space programme has enjoyed "decades of unstinting public support" could not be more wrong. An analysis of a public opinion poll data published in Space Policy a couple of years ago showed convincingly that, while the American public was interested in and "approved" of space, it did not match that approval with support for more government spending on space, but instead believed that federal money could be better spent in other areas, such as housing and health.

Paradoxically, the public has consistently believed the space shuttle to be a good investment, while tending to oppose government-funded human trips to the Moon and to Mars, and demonstrating lukewarm support for other human endeavours, such as the International Space Station.

Paradoxically again, post-Discovery levels of support may rise following the media attention devoted to it as a result of its apparent problems. Clearly there were difficulties with the mission, but I suspect that the situation was not as desperate as portrayed and that Nasa astutely grasped the opportunity to have the public rooting for it, Apollo 13-style.

Frances Brown Editor, Space Policy Maidens

Online poll

In last week's online poll we asked you:

Is the space race worth the money it costs?

Yes 49% No 51%

See www. sundayherald. com for this week's online poll question. Results will appear on this page next week.