YOU report today an academic study that claims that the precise question asked in any future referendum could have "a dramatic effect on the result".

Indeed it could. The separatist side would gain most from a "do you agree?" question of the type favoured by Alex Salmond in 2014. Every responsible examiner knows that "do you agree?" is a leading question. It implies "why would you not agree with this?". Respectable education institutions do not use that formula, and the Electoral Commission ruled it out for 2014. Rightly.

The academics criticise a "Remain/Leave" question because it has connotations of the Brexit referendum where 62 per cent of Scots voted Remain. It is hard to see why that should affect any Scottish referendum. They say it could make things "look very different from the Yes/No battle" of 2014. Indeed it could: it would obviate the need for the words "yes", which is positive, and "no", which is negative. These experts may think that "d you agree?" promotes "acquiescence bias", which it does. But so does a "yes/no" formulation, giving the side with the "yes" answer an advantage.

If the "yes/no" question is insisted on – and one would hope the Electoral Commission would rule it out – then the only fair way to use it is in a different formulation. Last time, the separatist side had the advantage of the positive "yes" answer. As a matter of balance, in any future referendum, the question should be "Should Scotland remain in the UK? Yes or No".

Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh.


WITH respect to Walter Paul (Letters, October 5), the statement that Scotland did not elect the Westminster Government is not an untruth but a simple and incontrovertible fact. The majority, and a very substantial majority, of Scottish voters did not support the Tory party in its bid to form the Government of the United Kingdom; and a very substantial majority of Scottish voters did not support the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union: Mr Paul may argue that these facts don’t matter, but he cannot deny that they are facts. And many of us think they matter a lot, and that there is absolutely no reason, in democratic practice or in common justice, why Scotland should suffer the effects of an incompetent Government in pursuit of a disastrous policy, when we did not choose it and have a ready means of escaping from them.

Scotland is a “normal country” to the extent that it is not an aberrant society like, say, North Korea; but it is certainly not “normal” in claiming to be a “country” and not having the full powers of self-government that “countries” like Norway or Switzerland take for granted. And it is hardly logical of Mr Paul to argue that Scotland is part of the UK and “therefore” independent: it is part of the UK and therefore not independent, though this aberration will be rectified before long.

Finally, the recovery of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey was not a “theft”. If somebody steals my property and I take it back, he is the thief, not I. And the situation in which Ian Hamilton wrote the noble words which Mr Paul quotes was that of 1952: we are in a very different world, and particularly a very different UK, in 2021.

Derrick McClure, Aberdeen.


MICHAEL Sheridan (Letters, October 4) refers to the Union Flag as "our nation's flag". That is most emphatically not the case. Our Scottish nation's flag is the Saltire, which is represented within the Union Flag along with the flags of the other constituent nations of the Union at the time the flag was designed. The United Kingdom is not, never was and never will be a nation. Who would display the Union Flag at any match during the Six Nations rugby competition? The rugby union fraternity understands the concept of nationality and continues to recognise the existence of the Irish nation.

It is perfectly reasonable for the Union Flag to be waved as an indication of support for unionism. By the same token it is equally reasonable for those who, like me, identify their nationality as Scottish to reject the Union Flag as a symbol of their nation. We were all taught to be British as a legacy of the last war but that legacy has faded steadily over the intervening years and my grandchildren would never identify their nationality as British.

Willie Maclean, Milngavie.


WHILE Douglas Ross is engaged in pursuing a law to remove absent MSPs ("Sturgeon accused as Ross vows ‘to stop nationalism for good’", The Herald, October 4) perhaps he could go for a double, including Ross’s Law to remove himself as an MP.

The hypocrisy is staggering. Or are there two of them?

Hugh Currie, Glasgow.


THE revelation from Pandora’s Box that the Blairs saved £312,000 in stamp duty is very disappointing news and particularly when taken with the previous admission by David Cameron that he also used offshore facilities to his financial advantage. That two of the more morally decent leaders of Great Britain managed their affairs in this way rather suggests that many more less scrupulous figures of power and privilege are making much more use of these "facilities", which even if not legally wrong are without question morally wrong and all the more so when Rishi Sunak is talking up tax increases for ordinary people. Taken with the news that London is one of the world centres for money laundering it all presents a very squalid financial picture.

However, looked at another way it may just be that this perfectly explains Brexit. By no sensible measure was Brexit a good idea. Not in terms of the environment – trading with Australia is hardly better than trading with Europe – and not in terms of access to those countries for holidays and education and so on. This is quite apart from losing a large chunk of the workforce with no plans in place to mitigate this in the short term, and not forgetting the complications for Northern Ireland. So who benefits from Brexit?

One such explanation may be that the very rich, worried about the EU imposing stringent curbs on offshore tax havens and other financial manipulations, such that proper amounts of tax are paid where they are due, decided that the only answer was to get the UK out of the EU.

Preposterous, you may say. But if you are very rich and used to getting your own way then is it not feasible that they would find some populist mainstream politician, one perhaps who is short of money after several costly divorces, and who is no stranger to telling downright lies if need be, and you finance a push to make Brexit happen? Of course this politician won’t be able to sell Brexit on the idea that it is to benefit the very rich so you have to come up with another scheme. And what better twin-pronged attack than both bashing Johnny Foreigner and righting some perceived and unfounded financial wrongdoing by the EU against GB? That will always play really well in Little England.

Add in the complete ineptitude at Westminster of the Remain campaign and lo and behold the very rich and shady people get their Brexit. And worse still, can now benefit from the ongoing privatisation of the NHS, certainly in England, and other such opportunities.

Bought and sold for ill-gotten gold seems like the appropriate summary. Thankfully Scotland can escape with our independence, and it can't come soon enough.

Rab Mungall, Dunfermline.


CONGRATULATIONS to Neil Mackay on a frank if bleak summary of the world today ("A shameful world of obscene wealth and abject poverty", The Herald, October 5). He sums it up perfectly: "a shameful world of extreme wealth and humiliating poverty".

A Conservative MP at the Tory Conference had the decency and honesty to question how the removal of the £20 per week Universal Credit uplift would help "level up". But Rishi Sunak et al have no interest in levelling up and no interest in the poorest and most vulnerable in society; they seem only focused on increasing their personal wealth and privilege.

We need to be clear of this cesspit. The Pandora Papers, and the ennoblement of Malcolm Offord, shows how deep and poisonous it is.

Sandy Slater, Stirling.

* READING Neil Mackay’s article today brought to mind a couple of quotes that he may consider appropriate. Vladimir Lenin volunteered that "When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will compete with each other to sell us the rope at a lower price”. Perhaps also from that great philosopher Al Capone, “capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling classes. .I believe Mr Capone was something of an expert re rackets, particularly in the executive branch.

Sid Leslie, Kirkintilloch.

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