I HOPE you will permit me a right of reply to Mark Smith’s column which began with the words “We need to talk about Joanna Cherry” ("A nationalist view of history that raises a worrying vision of Scotland’s future", The Herald, January 11).

Since entering public life during the independence referendum and then as an MP I have become accustomed to nasty hatchet jobs on my character and views. Sadly, they have been a particular feature of my experience in politics. Usually, they come from a position of ignorance from those who have never spoken with me and wish to distort something I’ve said by taking it wholly out of context. I am afraid Mr Smith’s column yesterday was typical.

It is clear that Mr Smith had not read properly or, if he did, had not understood the original article written by me from which he selectively quoted. First, I explained that the ideal method for Scotland to become independent would be after a referendum based on an agreement between the British and Scottish governments as set out previously in the Edinburgh Agreement. Secondly, in the context of exploring whether there might be other legal and constitutional options, amongst other points I identified that there is historical precedent for a country exiting its union with England by a process of treaty negotiation after a majority of pro-independence MPs win an election. That is what happened when Ireland and England entered into the Anglo-Irish treaty in 1921. As might be expected given the subject matter, I went out of my way to stress that no one would want to replicate the violence which intervened and that my reference was to the legal and constitutional precedent.

It is of note that the Irish Times, a newspaper which one might expect to be well acquainted with the matter, reported what I said accurately and without hyperbole or hysteria. I would respectfully suggest that Mr Smith might do well to aspire to their standard of journalism and commentary.

If we can’t have broader intellectual discussion of political ideas without this sort of ill-informed backlash it’s not a good thing for Scottish public debate nor indeed for freedom of speech, of which I know your newspaper is a proud proponent.

I set out in further depth some of the legal and constitutional options open to Scotland in my recent keynote address to the Cardiff Centre for Governance which can be viewed in full at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9zCGxLPQwU.

There is much that is wrong with Mr Smith’s column in fact and tone, but my main objection is that in saying that there is a necessity to talk about me he has not taken the slightest trouble ever to speak with me or to properly acquaint himself with my background.

Had he done so he would know that I am an Irish as well as a British citizen and as such well acquainted with my country’s history. As the daughter of an Irish woman and of a historian, I was brought up to know and understand the history of Ireland, Scotland and indeed Britain. Accordingly, I don’t need an Irish history lesson from Mr Smith nor indeed a lecture on what parallels might or might not be drawn with Scotland.

Mr Smith sought to accuse me of ignorance and distortion but that is in fact a charge that is more fairly laid against him for failing to inform himself of the subject about which he chose to write.

I don’t expect an apology, but I’m pleased to put my position on the record.

Joanna Cherry QC MP.


MARK Smith’s article included Irish independence and is a topic well beyond the scope of single articles or letters and writers thereof have no choice other than to be selective. Mr Smith does this by discussing the violence which preceded the years running up to the 1918 Irish election but not the causes of the violence and calls Joanna Cherry irresponsible for citing the Irish election of 1918 as a route for Scottish independence, a sort of Plan B.

Whilst acknowledging the violence, Ms Cherry was unwise to use Ireland as a comparator, and caution has to be exercised when discussing Ireland’s complex political history. Anyone with the most elementary knowledge of the background to Ireland’s independence cannot disassociate the accompanying violence. I do believe Ms Cherry was attempting to illustrate there is precedent for an alternative democratic method other than a referendum for voters to make their wishes known on Scottish independence. Absolutely no one can castigate the SNP leadership for seeking other than a democratic and peaceful route to Scottish independence.

Irish unrest went back centuries but a major catalyst, among others at different periods of time, was the Famine or Irish Potato Famine starting in 1845 (which spread to Scotland in 1846) resulting in mass starvation with more than one million people dying and many emigrating and the population of Ireland falling by more than 20% in the period. Good crops continued to be exported across the Irish Sea and the plight caused in Ireland by the famine was largely ignored by Westminster despite many entreaties, until such time as the number of deaths meant it could be neglected no longer. The solutions to Irish problems continued to be ignored by Westminster and played no small part in the early 20th century history of Ireland.

What then are the ways to Scottish independence if there is a clear democratic and sustained majority vote by the people to return to being a sovereign country once again?

Alan M Morris, Blanefield.


“A NATIONALIST view of history” writes Mark Smith, but it is his nationalist perspective that seems blind. Irish home rule bills were repeatedly vetoed by what Lord Roseberry called “the majority vote of English MPs”. This denial of peaceful change, led, eventually, to the collapse of the parliamentary nationalist home rule parties in Ireland to be replaced by Irish Republican Sinn Fein seeking independence. There was violence, many people died in fighting between British forces against Irish, and Irish against Irish. You could argue the Irish civil war only ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Mr Smith argues Joanna Cherry is wrong to argue against another route for Scottish independence other than a 2014-style referendum. Independence without a referendum worked for Czechoslovakia; it looks highly unlikely that any referendum bill for Scotland could get through the Westminster Parliament, never mind any subsequent independence bill, and a Velvet Divorce would avoid much the unpleasantness that is already evident in the metropolitan commentariat.

If unionists had expended as much energy finding a solution to Ireland's desire for home rule, independence might never have happened. You could argue exactly the same in Scotland since Keir Hardie argued for dominion status for Scotland, but England seems to want us gone, as much as we want to go.

GR Weir, Ochiltree.


I HAD to smile just a little at the irony of Kevin Orr's letter (January 11) regarding Jill Stephenson's letter of January 7 on May's elections. He said: "Ms Stevenson is living in a country that still has a democratic process and she will therefore have to accept the result of that election". As Mr Orr is clearly of the SNP/independence position, did he and his fellow travellers accept the result of the 2014 election? Of course they didn't, despite the overwhelming result – 55 per cent to 45% – against independence.

I know that Ms Sturgeon has been presenting herself very well on TV day after day as a more concise leader of her country during this Covid pandemic (let's face it, anyone would look good in comparison with Boris Johnson). However, as a country with the embarrassing record of being sixth-worst for deaths in the world, an education system on the point of collapse, a health service which cannot cope, local government desperate for some of the millions of pounds which the Scottish Government has kept from it, failed policies such as the Named Person and football bigotry policies, why would anyone want to praise Ms Sturgeon's Government? And that's before we even consider the road that independence would take us down. Have we not learned from that other nationalist action – Brexit, and the damage that it has done to all the UK?

Councillor Eileen McCartin (Scottish Liberal Democrats), Paisley.


MAY I improve on Mrs Freddie Dale's statistics (Letters, January 11) by adding a couple more? Seventy-five per cent of Scottish voters did not vote Tory and yet we have a Tory Government in the UK, and 62% of Scottish voters voted Remain and yet Scotland is out of the EU.

This is known as the democratic deficit and to continue to support it, as Mrs Dale seems to, is fundamentally anti-democratic. I hope that she will eventually come round to a better understanding of democracy.

John Jamieson, Ayr.

Read more: Independence: Joanna Cherry: A nationalist view of history that raises a worrying vision of the future