VETERAN SNP MP Pete Wishart regards Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for turning the next Westminster election into a "de facto referendum" as a "massive gamble", but then asks "what else can we do?" ("SNP MP: De facto indyref a ‘massive gamble’... but party left with no choice", The Herald, January 12).

In truth, there is no such thing as a "de facto referendum". The clue is in the name: GENERAL Election.

Still, I am left wondering about Mr Wishart’s thinking. If he regards trying to use a General Election as a surrogate referendum as, dismissively, "a throw of the dice", then what on earth does he think a referendum is? I’ll tell him: it is a snapshot on a random day. People who vote one way on that day might well have voted the other way a month later. It is binary, with no nuance. This is why referenda should never have been imported into the UK’s constitutional apparatus.
Jill Stephenson, Edinburgh

A better UK has to be the answer

ALASDAIR Galloway (Letters, January 10) challenges my principles and those of the Labour Party. In response, I would point out that in all of the issues he raises – Brexit, Scottish independence, nuclear disarmament – the policies which I support are those endorsed by the electorate, either through representative democracy at the appropriate lawful level or through direct democracy in the form of referendums.

Although I regret losing the argument and therefore the votes on EU membership and on unilateral nuclear disarmament, I do not regret that I respect the verdict of the electorate – you don't always get what you want in a democracy. Moreover, openness to compromise with one's fellow voters is itself a worthwhile principle, although it requires a commitment to the ballot box and the rule of law which sadly appears to be beyond many nationalists.

On Scottish independence of course, the No campaign won the argument and the vote in 2014. The legal position has now been defined, that is, that the subsidiary Holyrood parliament cannot overrule Scotland's sovereign UK Parliament at Westminster, which is what any rational person would expect. Personally, I would prefer that the power to call an Indyref2 was transferred to Holyrood (provided it was subject to a super-majority in the same way as other amendments to the Scottish Parliament's representation arrangements).

However, that is not the case at the moment, and there is therefore no lawful route, except through an agreement as equals with Westminster, to the nationalist utopia we are improbably promised. This is further evidenced by the floundering of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP ahead of their Special Conference – if they do not know how to do it, how can the rest of us?

As I said in my original letter of January 9 the only way to a better Scotland is in a better UK, which is possible through a simple vote for Labour at the next General Election. Everything else is wishful thinking dependent upon a non-existent political process.
Peter A Russell, Glasgow

A fear-laden argument

A FAIR summary of Guy Stenhouse’s piece ("Liz Truss, independence and a warning from turbulent Turkey", The Herald, January 11) might be “hold on to nurse for fear of something worse”.

After 13 years of Conservative economic mismanagement and a continuing devotion to neoliberal economic doctrine, there is barely a sector of the UK economy that is performing adequately, let alone well. The UK is the worst-performing G7 country and is the only G7 economy not to have grown past its pre-pandemic peak. Nor do widespread poverty wages and low investment over many years imply strong economic prospects.

Mr Stenhouse says we now have a “sensible Prime Minister” to steer the economy but Rishi Sunak remains wedded to the economic doctrine and to Brexit which have brought us to our present pass. Covid and the war in Ukraine have been problems that a lack of economic and public sector resilience has only exacerbated.

Mr Stenhouse says that “our growth is lower than that of our neighbours, including England”. However, the imbalance in the UK economy is such that “levelling up” is deemed necessary even by this otherwise-doctrinal Government. All UK regions are seriously under-performing compared to London and the south-east. Within the UK economic context, Scotland is, in fact, a relatively strong performer and that despite UK economic mismanagement.

The claim that it could always be worse is clearly part of, if not central to, Mr Stenhouse’s argument. True or not, it is, at best, a poor way to endorse the status quo.
Alasdair Rankin, Edinburgh

More spin from Sunak

I NOTED with interest that our esteemed Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, in his grandiose new year address to the nation promised that “we will halve inflation this year to ease the cost of living and give people financial security”.

I find this very interesting. For many months now Tory Government ministers from the PM down have been claiming that inflation is not something over which they have control. Rather, they say, it has been caused by factors outwith their control, such as the pandemic, the sharp rises in worldwide fuel prices and the war in Ukraine.

But surely Government ministers can’t have it both ways? Either inflation is not something over which they have control, in which case Mr Sunak’s pledge to half inflation in 2023 looks a mite disingenuous, or else inflation is something over which the Government does have control, in which case the citizens of the UK might be interested to know why it hasn't got it under control already.

I suspect that Mr Sunak’s “pledge” is actually nothing more than typical Tory spin. It seems likely, according to informed commentators, that inflation will indeed fall in 2023, but that is unlikely to be due to anything which Mr Sunak’s Government does or does not do.
David Howdle, Dumfries

Nothing to fear in Hate Crime Act

MARK Smith's comment piece on the Hate Crime Act ("A worrying glimpse into the future of new Hate Crime Act", The Herald, January 9) is significantly inaccurate. More than 99 per cent of all hate crime prosecutions are for "statutory aggravations", or for the offence of racially-aggravated harassment. The only significant change the new Act makes to those laws is to add age alongside the existing protected characteristics of race, religion, disability and LGBTI, for the statutory aggravation.

These laws are clearly defined, have been in place for many years, and are working well.

Around 0.1% of hate crime prosecutions are for the decades-old offence of stirring up racial hatred. The other change the Act makes is to extend this offence to the other protected characteristics mentioned above.

Far from criminalising stirring up of hatred generally, the offence only applies where behaviour is what a reasonable person would consider to be threatening or abusive, is deliberately intended to stir up hatred, and is not, in the circumstances, reasonable. Behaviour consisting simply of discussion or criticism is explicitly excluded from the offence. Not a vague definition, but a tightly-drawn one.

The experience with the similar offence in England is that it is very rarely prosecuted. An example was the prosecution of men in 2012 who put through people's doors in Derby a leaflet calling for the death penalty for all gay people, in order to "erase" them, including a picture of a mannequin being hanged. I think most people would agree that doing that should be against the law.
Tim Hopkins, Director, Equality Network

Why obsess over new ferries?

DURING this apparent hiatus in the CalMac/CMAL/SNP stooshie over our ferry services in Scotland, or lack of them – occasioned primarily by the ongoing travails within the NHS diverting everyone's attention – it is interesting to note that as we recall only a month or two back when it was announced that the summer 2023 ferry timetable was not yet published, it led to howls of protest from your regular anti-Government scribes about the damage to the tourist industry, island infrastructure and the like.

It is fact that the largest inter-island ferry operation in Europe is that in Greece. Yesterday I learned that its summer 2023 timetable would not be released until mid-March. No howls of protest, wringing of hands or gnashing of teeth. Stoicism, I think it is called.

Still on the subject of ferries, perhaps the residents of Arran or Lewis/Harris should look to the islanders of Skyros in Greece, who own and have operated their ferry service successfully for decades now. Furthermore, their existing craft was bought second-hand in the Far East, modified as necessary to suit their needs, given a lick of paint and sailed home, at a fraction of the cost of having one built. Why our obsession with "build new"?
Gordon Robinson, Perth


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