WHERE Scotland was once the fiefdom of the Labour Party and where it used to be said that if it put a donkey up as a candidate it would be elected overwhelmingly, now the party is clinging on by its fingertips in Holyrood, having slipped into third place behind the Tories.

Its solitary Westminster MP makes it look like the Scottish representation in Westminster could soon be an extinct species and, without Scotland in its grasp, the party has little hope of regaining power in Westminster.

The last two leaders of Scottish Labour in Holyrood have lacked a presence and cutting edge, without which no impression has been made on the Scottish electorate or in the Holyrood chamber.

Now that Richard Leonard has finally left the room after three years where to say the most he made very little impact, having neither the persona nor the presentation skills to capture the hearts and minds of his target audience ("Leonard quits as Labour leader in Scotland", The Herald, January 15), it is now time for the party to find a leader with presence and gravitas.

There is one candidate currently in Holyrood who could fit that bill as she has an assured delivery and an established presence. If she were put in pole position, there could be a reasonable chance of turning the tables on the current dominant party.

Both Kezia Dugdale and Richard Leonard had as much personality in the political arena as a wet blanket left out on a rainy day, though socially they are probably engaging company. But whenever Scottish Labour's deputy leader Jackie Baillie rises to speak, there is a distinct frisson of interest and sharpness in the chamber, which is what any leader needs to excite interest from the public.

There is a mountain to climb to restore the electorate's faith in the erstwhile cynosure of Scottish eyes now that the SNP is riding so high in the estimation of so many of the Scottish public, despite its cack-handed efforts in education, infrastructure, hospital building and reorganisation of the police, its policy of independence solely driving its popularity.

Denis Bruce, Bishopbriggs.


JUDGING by straw polls on social media Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray are way ahead of Anas Sarwar and Monica Lennon in the popular choice for Scottish Labour leader. Their election might pave the way for the reinstatement of nine Aberdeen councillors suspended for the heinous crime of forming an effective, successful coalition with the Conservatives. But no doubt the electoral suicide gene that drives the party these days will force the latter pair on us underwhelmed voters. Along with appeasement of, and annihilation by, the SNP.

Allan Sutherland, Stonehaven.


RICHARD Leonard is a decent man, and clearly wants to give his party a fresh start as the Holyrood elections approach. In resigning he has been courageous and selfless, and should be thanked by all those who want more pluralistic politics for Scotland, in the face of SNP hegemony.

As the SNP shows its unpleasant side, and the manoeuvring of Alex Salmond and his opponents has only just begun, let's hope there is no overall majority for any party after May.

A calm and collaborative period is going to be needed, as we rebuild after the horrors that we are presently enduring.

John Gemmell, Wem, Shropshire.


SCOTTISH fish exporters are warning that prices are “collapsing” by up to 80 per cent due to Brexit red tape and bureaucracy ("Fish industry chiefs: We’ll hold PM’S feet to the fire over compensation", The Herald, January 15).

So much for the return of the coastal-global country. Everyone, according to Boris Johnson, will "prosper mightily".

The guys who provide school lunch packs in England through the Tory chumocracy are hauling it in. Their nets are full.

John Edgar, Kilmaurs.


HAVE I got this right?

This week the UK Fisheries Minister admitted she didn't read the trade deal agreement on fishing with the EU because she was too busy with Jesus ("Scottish fishing companies to receive compensation over Brexit ‘frustrations’", The Herald, January 15), and the Leader of the House of Commons joked about happier British fish as a result of that agreement, while these happier British fish rotted at the ports and fishermen demanded compensation from the Government to save themselves from bankruptcy (and thereby saving themselves from the result of what they voted for in 2016 in order to save themselves) and a Scottish Tory MP replied "how long is a piece of string" when asked how long it would take to resolve this crisis.

Are we still holding all the cards?

Alistair McBay, Perth.

*JACOB Rees-Mogg told the House of Commons on Thursday (January 14) that fish are "better and happier" because they are "now British" after Brexit. That will reassure the onshore and offshore fishers whose livelihoods are in peril just now because of the difficulties in exporting their catch. The reaction of the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to Rees-Mogg was a masterly understatement: "Obviously there's no overwhelming evidence for that."

Gilbert MacKay, Newton Mearns.


THOSE still flummoxed with the First Minister’s popularity in opinion polls, attributed in the main to her handling of the coronavirus crisis and despite Scotland’s dismal performance in comparison to similar-sized countries, must surely see the obvious answer.

Not another regional or central government political leader, anywhere on the planet I venture, has had the unfettered, unopposed, daily exposure afforded her by BBC Scotland. It would be difficult not to appear relatively competent in these one-sided circumstances. In fact, BBC Scotland should be ashamed.

BBC Scotland’s over-exposure is clearly interfering with legitimate democracy in our country. Why cannot there be a daily briefing by a politically neutral health expert, if such is deemed necessary and such a person can be found in nationalist-run Scotland, and let the FM expound in Holyrood, where, at the very least, she can be questioned and other views expressed?

As it is, Scotland under the SNP is becoming more akin to North Korea, where there also the leader’s ratings remain sky high no matter what.

Alexander McKay, Edinburgh EH6.


THE Scottish Government’s decision to completely close churches is disproportionate, and I was pleased to read that 500 Christian leaders are standing up for the rights of religious communities (“Record number of Covid patients in hospital and it’s set to get worse”, The Herald, January 12, and Letters, January 14 & 15).

The fact that England has allowed its churches to welcome worshippers – albeit in a restricted manner – is the first red flag that this move is disproportionate. Freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among various other international agreements, because it is a foundational right. Churches have taken great care to comply with mask-wearing, no-singing and social-distancing mandates, and Chris Whitty admitted in November that there was weak medical support for full closure. The suspension of a human right carries a heavy weight. The question as to why that weight is measured differently in the balance of Holyrood than in Westminster is awaiting answer.

But the case for reopening places of worship should not only be based on calculated legal or medical arguments. In a time of crisis, people turn to God. Churches have been deeply engaged in bringing help and healing. They have been extending charity to those in need, comforting the mourning, providing structure in the lives of the lonely. To many, it has been a lifeline of stability and peace. The open door of the church is one of our nation’s greatest public services, and the Government is choosing to cut the supply at our greatest point of need.

Lois McLatchie, Helensburgh.


THE "greyness" of things often displays them at their most beautiful. In Kenneth Steven's poem Grey Geese (Poem Of The Day, The Herald, January 13) he tells of seeing skeins of them, their greyness, and hearing them as they fly south.

A short while ago Lesley Duncan chose another of Kenneth Steven's poems about geese, called Seeing. The little child, was it possibly the poet, held up by his father in the attic to see through the window in the roof, was asked what did he see. He saw hundreds of geese as they seemed to be "swimming ... deep through the water of our sky".

I find grey to be such a contemplative colour and love it in the feathers, cast off as if for me to find, in the little wood. I think of them as my passport to wander under the trees. Permission to be there.

Thank you to Ms Duncan for another lovely poem; one that quietens the mind.

Thelma Edwards, Kelso.


WHY have we heard so little recently about President Trump being half-Scottish?

Iain L Macleod, Isle of Bute.


MR Google tells me that the word "Menage, Menodge" was the Scots word of the week when used in your edition of September 12, 2017: " We Scots had lacked confidence in the ability of our leaders and institutions to run a menodge."

Avoiding the politics inherent in either statement, I note the heading of Ian McConnell's commentary, "Starmer U-turn dismal as Brexit Tories unable to run menodge" (Herald Business, January 15).

Plus ça change ....

David Miller, Milngavie.


WHILE I am in accord with Catriona Stewart’s views on the reported shortcomings of free school meals ("Food snobbery is entwined in the school meals scandals", The Herald, January 15), I am a little disappointed with her passing reference to “a nice, healthy demi-tomato will be a step up from chips”.

I will continue to enjoy les pommes de terre frites and the undoubted health benefits of tomato ketchup and a splash of le vinaigre with a clear conscience and no lessening of self-approbation, and can even forget sometimes my dismay on receiving a packet of crisps after ordering chips in the US.

R Russell Smith, Largs.

Read more: Candidates to be the next Scottish Labour leader