AT first reading, Adam Tomkins’ article ("Free speech matters – even when it’s offensive", The Herald, June 9) said little with which I could disagree. He wrote: “Just because someone else’s speech upsets you – just because you find it offensive – does not mean they have no right to say it.” However, a little thought makes me side with the University of Edinburgh, who described free speech as “complex”, and not with Mr Tompkins, who thinks it’s simple.

Radio 4’s Thought for the Day this morning was by Professor Robert Beckford. He recalled an incident from 1976, when he was in his first year at secondary school and in a metalwork class. He says that, when he asked a question, his teacher said: “You’d better get this right, or I’ll put you on a banana boat back to Jamaica.” An internet search reveals that Prof Beckford was born in the UK to Jamaican parents.

I hope Mr Tomkins would agree that the teacher’s remark was offensive. He says the remedy for such remarks is “to speak out, to respond, to answer back”. But how on earth does an 11-year-old answer back in a situation like that? And if he does, he’ll be labelled a troublemaker and treated accordingly for the rest of his schooldays.

I experienced by proxy a little of what people of colour regularly experience in their daily lives during my career flying for the UK’s flag carrier. As a first officer, a captain told me: “I don’t like Indian women, I think they’re dirty.” Another captain complained at length about “all the blacks and yellows coming into the country”. Mr Tomkins thinks I should have “argued back, as robustly as I could”; but a raging argument between the two pilots isn’t exactly conducive to a safe flight.

I did voice my objections, despite the steep power gradient between captain and first officer. I was then told by my managers that I would experience “difficulties” in my future career. Perhaps this wouldn’t happen in the refined worlds of academia and politics that Mr Tomkins inhabits, but it does elsewhere. Many people regularly experience offensive language, aimed at them because of their personal characteristics, and are poorly placed to challenge it. We can’t leave it to individuals to fight their corner; the state also has a major role to play.

Doug Maughan, Dunblane.


IT is good that Adam Tomkins focused on the vexed issue of free speech in Scotland in his first column for The Herald. It is especially troubling that the arena for some of the apparent stifling of free speech has been Scotland’s universities, which ought to be bastions of respectful and open debate.

Scotland has historically punched well above its weight in terms of its world-class Higher Education provision and continues to do so. Our nation is also regarded, the world over, as a bastion of liberty. If the hard-won reputation of our universities, and of our democracy itself, is to be safeguarded for future generations, then the active protection of the right to freedom of expression must be paramount. With steps under way to protect free speech in England, it would be reassuring to know what plans the Scottish Government intends to pursue in this area.

Ultimately, Scots must be free to disagree among ourselves – and to rigorously express those differing views – especially in our splendid universities, which must continue to be places where people can debate and challenge ideas, rather than being forced to comply.

Michael Veitch, Parliamentary Officer, CARE for Scotland, Glasgow.


LAST week, a woman from Airdrie was charged under the Malicious Communications Act over some feminist tweets she allegedly made using the banner Women Won't Wheesht.

One of these tweets was a picture of a ribbon in the Suffragettes’ colours of green, white and purple. If convicted she faces up to two years in prison.

But what is most surprising about this is that the new Hate Crime Law was not even needed for her to face charges. If a law already existed which criminalised hurtful speech, why were we told the new Hate Crime Act was so necessary?

John McArthur, Glasgow.


THERE is a row brewing over members of Oxford's Magdalen College Middle Common Room deciding to a remove a portrait of of the Queen. My view is, so what? It’s their common room and their decision.

We recently took down a picture of the Queen from the wall of my parents’ house. It was a 60th wedding anniversary card from the Palace and it had given my dad a bit of kick to receive it. He’s gone now and we’ve cleared the house. I’ve no intention of displaying the card but we have it and it forms part of our memories of my dad.

Personally I think the monarchy a ridiculous anachronism. The idea of being a subject rather than a citizen is an affront and appointing a head of state on a hereditary basis is both entirely irrational and a democratic outrage. I’m not sure my dad would have quite agreed, but different people will have different views and that’s okay.

However, the current UK Government doesn't think that’s okay and we see ministers lining up to show us the size of their Union Flags and to make sure their portrait of the Queen is in shot at their public utterances. It has become de rigueur to foam at the mouth at anyone who shows any sign of not subscribing to that attitude. Such increasingly intolerant and authoritarian behaviour is a far greater threat to us all than student common room makeovers.

Grant McKechnie, Glasgow.


JILL Stephenson (Letters, June 8) berates the Scottish Government, stating that having been assigned “responsibility for introducing 11 new social security benefits”, “the SNP has had 14 years to lift Scots out of poverty”, concluding that “it’s just not good enough”. Of course it’s not, but the responsibility for the poverty which continues to scar our country lies elsewhere.

She cites powers devolved to the Scottish Government by the 2016 Scotland Act. These include such as a variety of ill health and disability benefits, (for example Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment, Attendance Allowance, Disablement Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Carers Allowance) along with the Sure Start Maternity Grant (replaced by the Best Start Grant), funeral expenses, cold weather payments and winter fuel payments, discretionary housing payments and some powers in relation to Universal Credit such as the ability to split payments between household members.

Now, I would not want to argue that none of these have any impact on poverty, but is it an unreasonable conclusion that the main “levers” on poverty are included in the powers Westminster has chosen not to devolve? These include Universal Credit (replacement for Jobseeker's Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits and Housing Benefit), Contributory Job Seekers Allowance, Child Benefit, Maternity Allowance, the State Pension and Pension Credit? I think if one was set the task of achieving a significant impact on the levels of inequality and poverty that have made the UK consistently less equal than the EU average and way behind the Scandinavian countries, one would want access to these kinds of powers.

As for the time taken to implement some of these, any text on organisations will tell you that, cet par, it is easier and quicker to set up a stand-alone organisation than an organisation with a critical interface with a much larger (and in the case of DWP, much more byzantine) entity. A social security agency that did not have to integrate with DWP would have been so much easier, but equally impossible.

Ms Stephenson is right – it’s just not good enough. While Professor James Mitchell is correct that more could be done about poverty by moving more resources into the most deprived areas; ultimately that fails against the barrier of a Westminster Government, whose political philosophy is increasingly foreign to our country, but which still dominates tax and welfare decisions.

Alasdair Galloway, Dumbarton.


GERALD Edwards (Letters, June 9) talks of a "fractious Europe", conveniently failing to mention that it was his unionist chums who chose to fracture it. He also fails to tell us why Scotland would be vulnerable but not for example Norway, Austria, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Iceland or Denmark (to name just a few small nations) who, by his logic, are doomed as they are outwith the "United" Kingdom

He exhorts nationalists to to view the world as it is now, claiming that their ethos is from the last century, which is ironic as his appears to date from about 1707.

David Hay, Minard.

* RUTH Marr (Letters, June 8 ) derides Rob Goulburn (Letters, June 7) for suggesting there should be a two-thirds majority for constitutional change sought in any indyref2. As a regular supporter of all things SNP in your Letters Pages, perhaps she will enlighten the rest of us now as to why that party insists on a two-thirds majority for any change to its constitution?

Alan Fitzpatrick, Dunlop.

Read more: Why can't the SNP use the powers it already has to fight poverty?