Scotsman Letters

In the fall of 2010 I started to contribute letters to the Scotsman and some of these I have placed below:

Doubtful Evidence

I noted today in your columns that Lord MacLean, still a staunch defender of the controversial decision to jail Megrahi for the Lockerbie bombing, said, “I have no doubt, on the evidence we heard, that the judgments we made, and the verdicts we reached, were correct.” I am reminded that the head of the FBI later admitted, “We would never have gotten that stuff (evidence relating to the bomb timer) past a jury.”

Poignant Moment in Tripoli

The meeting of Dr Jim Swire whose daughter died in the Lockerbie atrocity and Abdelbaset al Megrahi dying in a Tripoli hospital was a poignant moment. It reminds us that while the decision to release the Libyan may have been the responsibility of Kenny MacAskill, he was not without support. The release had been recommended by the Scottish Prisons health director, the parole board, and the Greenock prison governor. It had also long been sought by Nelson Mandela, the Church of Scotland, the Catholic Church, the law faculties of the Scottish universities, the representatives of British relatives and the UN’s official observer at the notorious trial in The Hague. The inquiry demanded by the visiting US Senators should include the original investigation and trial as well as the part played by the downing of the Iranian passenger plane over the Persian Gulf by the renegade American battlecruiser Vincennes. It would certainly appear that many people in Scotland believe the grubby fingerprints of Iran and Syria were all over this dreadful episode and that the guilty verdict on Megrahi was manifestly unsafe.

Papal Ascendancy

I am not sure I agree with the names put forward by Stephen McGinty (your report, 21 September) as possible successors to Benedict XVI. The front-runner is the hard-liner Francis Arinze of Nigeria, but as he is approaching 80 his chance has probably gone. He was the favourite last time, but was blind-sided by a late run from Cardinal Ratzinger. This was a huge disappointment to many of my Catholic friends, who valued his long record of good relations with Muslims. The name of the brilliant polymath, Oscar Maradiaga of Honduras, is close to the top of most lists. Aged only 67, fluent in Spanish, English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and with a superb grasp of all things financial, the South American star would seem the ideal candidate. However, he is a moderate and while that is attractive to the outside world, it probably renders him unelectable among the old men of Rome. That leaves the Italian Angelo Scola, 68, the present Patriarch of Venice. After a Polish and German pope, many will feel it is time to go back to Italy. With his long interest in education and youth and the pastoral scene in general, he could be seen as the man to clean up the Augean Stables of child abuse.


Mass unemployment was used by American demagogues in the 1930s to attack Europe, Jews and immigrants and recently to denigrate China, Muslims and immigrants. Sarah Palin and others have rubbished Muslims and immigrants to such an extent that one in five Americans now believes the President is a secret Muslim and not born in the USA. Yet high American unemployment has little or nothing to do with China or immigration and a great deal to do with the collapse of demand after the US housing bubble burst. No longer able to borrow against the rising value of their homes, the vast American middle and working class are not spending enough to keep the economy going. China bashing will not educate the public about what must be done in the years ahead and will simply reinforce the politics of resentment, isolation and xenophobia.

Unfair rules

The award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Robert Edwards for his work in IVF was long overdue but it is sad that the rules did not allow the inclusion his co-worker Patrick Steptoe. Often decades pass before the significance of a discovery becomes apparent so that having a rule which forbids the names of deceased co-workers is manifestly unfair. It has led to such outrageous exclusions in the past as Rosalind Franklin for her contributions to the DNA structure and Richard Feynman for his seminal work in Liquid Helium. The Victoria Cross was in like manner initially restricted to live heroes since the old Queen wanted to present the medal in person. This incongruous restriction was lifted as soon as Victoria departed and the Nobel committee should revisit this exclusion.

 Fall-out from Climate Change

Alastair Harper rightly draws attention to the perils of our ruling class simply accepting the word of self-serving scientific cliques. In fact the Second World Conference on Research Integrity held in Singapore has addressed this very problem and laid the basis of a new international agreement on the ethics and professional responsibilities of scientists. In the light of recent scandals such as Climategate, scientists taking part in public discussions will be required to clearly distinguish between professional advice and opinions based on personal and political views. There have been too many instances when they have gone far beyond their professional expertise in making policy recommendations to national governments and studies have shown a disturbing tendency for their views to be influenced by their source of funding.

Damage Limitation

The welfare state was never the seamless robe originally planned and even the flagship NHS does not have a satisfactory dental service or care system for the elderly. In education, the existing commitment to free primary and secondary education has continued and for a time after 1960 free higher education was also achieved. In recent decades, however, tertiary education ballooned from its base of a few elitist universities catering to high flying undergraduates from grammar and public schools. While there was no comparable disaster in the universities to the catastrophic destruction of the grammar schools, there has been an increasingly fierce competition for resources. The Browne Review limits the damage but does not solve the problem of New Labour’s reckless overspending and our universities, students and their families are the victims.

Same old Labour

Listening to Ed Miliband, I had to keep reminding myself he was Gordon Brown’s policy wonk and responsible for the dire manifesto on which Labour fought the last election. His speech was, for the most part, as bland as a pan loaf and the “brave” bits, such as the Iraq denunciation, were not really so courageous.  He wanted to declare himself part of a new generation, yet his ideas and language came straight from the old, and every policy statement was qualified out of sight. He praised big government but criticised its consequences; he was for spending cuts but gave reasons to oppose them; he slated “irresponsible” strikes but not those looming.

English nuclear plants to save Scotland?

At last reality is dawning even among the Lib Dems as to the dire future of energy supplies faced by the UK after years of green warbling about renewables. The Coalition’s Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, once a vocal opponent of nuclear power, has accepted that such power plants are crucial to filling our looming energy gap. “A large slice of our current capacity is shutting down and we will need a mix of proven and reliable nuclear and fossil fuels as well as renewables hooked up to the Grid.”  He has shelved the wildly expensive £30 billion project to build a ten-mile barrage across the Severn estuary to produce (at best) very limited supplies of ‘green’ electricity. Announcing the plans, he admitted the stand-off between advocates of renewables and nuclear has been self-defeating – as we have seen only too clearly in Scotland.

Miliband Loyalty

In his first speech as leader, Ed Miliband told the nation: “You saw jobs disappear and economic security undermined and I understand your anger at a Labour government that claimed it could end boom and bust”. While I fully agree with the content of that statement I was somewhat taken aback that it should have flowed from the lips of the Honourable Member for Doncaster North. After all, “Red Ed” is the former policy wonk of Gordon Brown and, as such, bears at least some responsibility for the financial disaster the coalition inherited. Miliband was chairman of the Treasury’s council of economic advisers and if he had such concerns about government policy he certainly kept them strictly to himself. I am sure his colleagues have noted that neither brotherly love nor loyalty to his former mentor have been allowed to stand in the way of his manifest destiny.

 Benefits Problem

The absurdity of paying benefits to the wealthy should have been addressed decades ago but the whole scenario was such a hot potato that even the Blessed Margaret flinched. It is a complex issue which goes far beyond the perception of what is fair to what is within the bounds of financial perversity and complexity. Means testing government services has failed in the past because the administrative costs and delays in processing applications outweigh any potential benefit. The legendary inefficiency of the British civil service simply results in yet more bureaucratic red tape while the effect at the sharp end is to encourage fraud and idleness. I wish the coalition all the luck in the world but that dedicated reformer Rab Butler would surely remind them of Bismarck’s warning, “Politics is the art of the possible.”

Defence Review 

Rudyard Kipling saw a time when, “Far-called, our navies melt away; on dune and headland sinks the fire, and all our pomp of yesterday, is one with Nineveh and Tyre!” Half a century later the British Empire started to collapse and today, a further sixty years on, any pretension we retained to being a world power has finally been finished off. The two aircraft carriers will be built but only because Gordon Brown’s “pork-barrel” politics locked us into Byzantine contracts to provide jobs for his constituents. In the aftermath of New Labour’s disastrous military adventures and shambolic economic stewardship it is probably sensible that we stop pretending we can police the world. For Lord Curzon, the greatest Viceroy of India, prophesied at the height of our Imperial power that one day we would resemble Belgium — small, comfortable and powerless.

Pensions Apartheid

Some public sector workers spend 40 per cent of their adult life in retirement, so reform of their pension schemes was coming, even without the dire legacy of Gordon Brown. Less then 10 per cent of private sector pensions are based on final salary, in comparison with 90 per cent in the public sector, and this is rightly seen as a form of apartheid. The crisis should have been dealt with by the last government, but New Labour’s financial reliance on their client state made this impossible. Unlike so many in the real world whose entitlements were reduced overnight, public sector workers will retain final-salary pensions for at least the next four years. The unions hyperventilating over Lord Hutton’s proposals would be advised to see these as the best offer they are going to get, because it may be necessary to go much further.

Military Blunders

New Labourites in their days in student politics fought like ferrets in a sack and the only thing uniting them was their utter contempt for and ignorance of all things military. It was, therefore, only to be expected that Tony Blair would be unaware that the reason the bar for resort to military action is set so high is that wars always go wrong. He pledged unquestioning support to US president George Bush in his reckless over-reaction to 9/11 and helped to invade a country that had nothing to do – at that time – with al-Qaeda. Now WikiLeaks has laid bare the arrogance with which he dismissed Colin Powell’s warnings of power vacuums, sectarian strife and breakdowns in civil order. Blair is clearly shown aiding and abetting America in one of the greatest foreign-policy blunders in its history.

Crown Prince Eccentric

The Prince of Wales has produced a New Age bible entitled “Harmony” in which he claims we must reject science and evidence in favour of following our instincts. Obsessively convinced of his own rightness, Prince Charles has always viewed his scientific and medical critics with the weary ­resignation of an early Christian martyr. He craves the return of a “happier, ­simpler, more natural world” forgetting that while rural grandees such as he may have enjoyed times past, peasants most certainly did not. His ideas include homeopathic quackery such as a carrot juice cure for cancer, insisting GM crops are “the devil’s work” and global-warming tosh that would embarrass Al Gore. Sadly the Prince insists upon addressing a range of issues beyond the scope of mortal man and his book is often as devoid of reality as the meditations of a Buddhist mystic.

Airport Safety

In my experience, Heathrow is much worse than any American airport and BA chairman Martin Broughton was absolutely correct to speak out against pointless security searches. It is possible an al-Qaeda cell could be disguised as a three-generation family on holiday but surely it is absurd that officious staff should insist that elderly grandparents remove shoes and belts. Aviation experts argue passenger profiling is far better, in spite of the fact that the politically correct will throw a hissy fit 

Obama Euphoria Fall-out

The high flown rhetoric and political baloney of Obama’s presidential campaign has inevitably led to his problems in the mid-term elections. He gave a stupendous hostage to fortune in making over 500 promises though, to be fair, of the 25 most significant, about 20 were ‘carried out’ or are ‘in the works’. New Labour never came near fulfilling any of their pledges yet kept the British on board for 13 long years so it is sad to the Obama euphoria evaporate so soon. Like Kennedy he surrounded himself with highly-educated metropolitan elitists but JFK had the obscene wealth and gangster-gloss which entrances small-town Americans. That much-loved vulgarian, Bill Clinton, warned, “It’s still the economy, stupid.” and those who lead the most materialistic society on earth must take material very seriously.

Entente Cordiale Mk II

The fall-out of the disastrous New Labour era continues with the toxic residue of the Blair-Bush adventures undermining our trust in the US as sensible allies. The financial wasteland left by Brown and the complete economic shambles made of all things military has left the coalition clutching at the straw of a French lash-up. As a Franco-Scot I am at a loss to see where British and French interests might coincide or any possible way in which their radically different way of doing things might work. During my service career I saw the excellent fit of British and German forces but German officers spoke English and the idea of our squaddies speaking French is simply hilarious.

Student Fee Discrimination

New Labour’s ability to create legislation guaranteed to produce a stream of unintended consequences caused mayhem in such disparate areas as GPs’ salaries and student fees. The Devolution Act is littered with the toxic residue of their incompetence including the “legal” discrimination against English – but not European – undergraduates. There are many instances when an opt-out from EU law might be beneficial but this exemption effectively permits a form of racism within the borders of the UK. It will only draw further attention to the obsolete Barnett formula which forces the English to pay for a range of services in Scotland not available in England.

A flat-rate pension scheme ?

The fell hand of Gordon Brown left us with the worst state pension system in Europe, managing to be both over-complicated and niggardly. His Byzantine credits maze was not only extremely expensive to administer but so obtuse that over 2 million pensioners entitled to the payment simply give up trying to claim. There was also the scandalous nonsense of “qualifying years” which permitted less than one third of women to qualify for a full payment state pension. However the new flat-rate pension could drastically cut the income of those moderate earners who have paid SERPS or second state pension contributions and it is not even clear if the scheme will apply only to new pensioners. It is welcome as a statement of intent but much critical detail remains to be revealed.

Pushy Parents

In a disturbing study, Leicester University has found that deterring “pushy” parents is a huge mistake, since they are the critical factor in a school’s success. Examining data from the National Child Development Study which follows 17,000 people born in 1958 throughout their lives, they uncovered an unexpected phenomenon. They found that a child’s propensity to try hard at school is not greatly influenced by its socio-economic background but that does affect the performance of the staff. It is surely deplorable that teachers are so much more likely to be conscientious when faced with vocal and demanding professional (“pushy”) parents than less advantaged ones.

Green Swindle

Alex Salmond’s announcement of a £70 million investment fund for the renewable energy industry reminds us of the tempting sums of money swilling around. Carbon billionaire Al Gore was rightly accused in Congress of a conflict of interest when he campaigned for huge subsidies for his own green-energy technologies. L Ron Hubbard advocated starting your own religion as a sure way of making money and certainly Gore’s “carbon trading credits” look like green Papal indulgences. Prince Charles, our Royal renewable-energy hustler, is behind the expansion of offshore wind farms – though he refuses the onshore variety on any of his vast estates. Is it an act of lèse majesté to note that the Crown Estate owns the seabed of our territorial waters and he will earn tens of millions from the planned 8,000 offshore turbines?

Naked Prank

It was only to be expected that Ed Miliband would rush to defend the naked DJ prankster. After all, he was officially photographed at home in front of a weird painting of 13 fleshy women bouncing around in the nude. The Labour leader’s wife compounded my sense of wonderment by assuring the nation that he found the painting “deeply meaningful.

Welfare Reform

Iain Duncan Smith’s plans to tackle the vicious cycle of benefits dependency have been denounced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, as “unjust and unfair”. Yet, when the last government failed totally to come up with any rational plan to help people out of the downward spiral to a life on benefits, Dr Williams was silent. In fact it is two years since he last intervened in the secular affairs of the nation, on which occasion he claimed the adoption of sharia law in parts of the UK was “unavoidable”. As for international trade, he believes that “every transaction in the developed economies of the West is an act of aggression against the economic losers in the worldwide game”. I suspect his long career in the groves of academe has not really helped this gentle poet from the Welsh mountains to understand the grim reality of life in modern Britain.

London Student Riots

The most depressing picture to emerge from our students’ day of violence in London was of a group of Neanderthals with a mis-spelt placard stating, “We are your future”. The obvious alternatives include highly concentrated degree courses in local colleges and a return to the night-school and day-release programmes available to my generation. Or students could apply to elite American universities such as George Bush’s alma maters Harvard and Yale which offer free (“needs-blind”) classes and accommodation. Sadly in spite of the contempt they have for the former President, only a couple of thousand of our half-million students are bright enough to have any hope of entry.

Bull safety rules

Bulls of a recognised dairy breed (Ayrshire, Holstein, British Friesian, and Swiss Brown) and over ten months old are entirely banned from fields crossed by public paths. There is no such thing as a totally safe bull but the most lethal is a dairy bull that has been raised alone – though any bull penned alone for long periods can be dangerous. A bull will perform a broadside threat prior to attack (standing sideways to show his size and power) and you must back slowly away and never, ever, turn tail and run. Any bull that performs a broadside threat to “milkers” is removed from a commercial dairy and certainly a mature bull that charges people must be culled. I believe the bull in the Nottinghamshire tragedy was a Swiss Brown and if that is the case I cannot understand why he was let loose in a field where ramblers cross.

The Royal Bride

Kate Middleton belonged to the group of well-off, privately educated young women to be found at St Andrews University and known collectively as the “hair-flickers”. They are tall, striking and usually (but not necessarily) blonde – typically wearing Barbours, pashminas, tailored tweed jackets, padded bodywarmers and pearls. They are mainly English but if not they are “preppy” American transfer students from the Ivy League, notable for an even greater awareness of family lineage. Some may even be Scots but these will have accents just as cut-glass as their southern sisters though they are generally more skilled on the ski slopes. As a group they are highly decorative, lifting the spirits on a winter’s day in the auld grey toun, and geriatric natives such as myself would be quite lost without them.

Doing harm by doing good

It has long been known that the foreign aid we provide has propped up despots, fostered corruption, destroyed local enterprises and harmed the communities we tried to help. The one area where unquestionable good has been done is where people with transferable skills such doctors, nurses and engineers go out to train local people. But this has morphed into “voluntourism” where western teenagers bestow their surplus graces on slum schools and tourists actually pay to hand out food to poor rural families. A devastating report by the Human Sciences and Research Council has challenged this new fad of the bien pensant and lays bear the toxic effects of these guilt-trip jollies.

Bishop rains on royal parade

As is the case with many prominent churchmen, Peter Broadbent spent precious little time working in a parish having been mainly chaplain to this, that and the other thing. He is essentially a committee man, preferring the life of an Islington Labour councillor and chair of its planning committee to being a pastor to ordinary parishioners. This is all very fine but it results in clerical leaders who believe no-one will mind what they say unlike a lowly vicar who knows his people mind very much indeed. Referring to Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana as “Big Ears and the Porcelain Doll” may go down a treat with the Islington anarchists but outrages the rest of us. Most people do not think Prince William and Kate Middleton are “shallow celebrities” and see no reason to believe their marriage “will last just seven years”.

Margo’s Bill

Margo MacDonald’s “End of Life Bill” looks as if it will not find favour with her fellow MSPs though opinion polls routinely show it is supported by 80% of the country. When non-identifiable surveys are carried out, large numbers of doctors in the UK admit they have resorted to euthanasia when all other options have failed. In Oregon and elsewhere, when legalisation finally passed into law, it brought out of the back alley the practice of giving compassionate release to patients in extremis. Access to physician-assisted death allows the patient to maintain control over his or her situation and to end life in an ethical and merciful manner. Having such access in Scotland would remove the necessity of a premature journey to a foreign country and dying among strangers – surely the ultimate unintended consequence.

Prophylactic Pope

Pope Benedicts’ remarks on contraception are in line with much of Catholic lay opinion since oral birth control come on stream in the early 1960s. A medical commission established by Pope John XXIII in 1963 to study contraception was broadly in favour of the change requested by the Catholic laity. After his death the commission, extended to include theologians, bishops and the laity, also advised the new Pope Paul VI that the Church should move with the times. A horrified curia encouraged Paul to issue “Humanae vitae” but this provoked huge lay dissent demanding freedom of conscience in such personal and private issues. Sadly the encyclical, which Paul realised almost immediately was a mistake, has also frustrated efforts to contain both the population explosion and the spread of AIDS.

Gay animal sensitivity

The fuss over gay animals (Letters, 25 November) reminds me of an otherwise peaceful London street protest in 2006 when a student approached a mounted policeman and said: “Excuse me, officer, I’m sure your horse is gay.” He was immediately arrested and charged with causing “emotional distress to the horse and its rider” before being released with a warning as to his future conduct.

A Poisoned Chalice

New Labour’s toxic legacy lives on with the Government’s decision to accept Harriet Harman’s “equality” bill with all its political correctness, red tape, and quotas. Clearly I have been wrong to assume that all liberals endorsed the idea that individuals should be judged on their own merits and not according to their class, race or gender. This change in the law will encourage firms to choose women, gays, trans-genders, ethnic minorities and the disabled ahead of better-qualified, straight, white males. It is difficult to imagine a more illiberal piece of legislation and government attempts to block law suits for unfair discrimination by rejected candidates are bound to fail. The highly subjective judgements employers are now being encouraged to make will inevitably find their way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Charity begins at home

In the last year alone, the UK paid £500 million for new wind farms, solar panel power plants and forestry protection schemes across Asia, Africa and South America. Now the Government is to sign us up for a further £3 billion to be thrown at dodgy governments in India and elsewhere for “global warming” projects. These are mainly flood defences to protect beach resorts from rising oceans though the International Commission on Sea Level Change reports no change in the last century. Quite apart from this hard evidence, the elementary laws of physics undermine the UN’s flood-apocalypse conjured up by the notorious “Climategate” computer models. Yet one third of Scots families are living in fuel poverty in the worst winter for ages and our money would be better spent here than on some fatuous foreign non-problem.


The Wikileaks cables may have been written by Americans for Americans but, on the whole, they were well-informed, well-sourced and well-judged. The US thinks Ahmadinejad uses “Hitler brinkmanship”, Karzai is a “corrupt paranoiac”, Kim Jong-Il is a “physical and psychological wreck” and Gadaffi is “truly weird”. The admirable Angela Merkel is “risk averse”, Putin and Medvedev are the “Batman and Robin show”, Sarkozy is “thin-skinned” and Berlusconi is a sleazy “lounge lizard”. Gordon Brown was a “weak and unstable”, our forces made a horlicks of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone is scared of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. I think that is pretty much spot on and it is certainly interesting, if not entirely surprising, to hear that our Arab allies would not really mind if someone bombed Iran.

Pandora’s open box

As a Ph.D. student in X-Ray Crystallography almost 50 years ago I operated the giant, slow, infuriating main-frames having first learnt the computer language FORTRAN. I had to write my own programmes and few who spent their days and nights on second generation machines such as the IBM 1620 could have dreamt what was to come. The bacillus escaped the laboratory late last century when Steve Jobs and others launched the personal computer and Tim Berners-Lee gave us the World Wide Web. Some maintain we should know absolutely everything about absolutely everyone but privacy is crucial in our personal lives and security is an essential tool of government. Sadly, the fact is that if something is recorded or transmitted electronically, it is vulnerable to exposure and I cannot see how we will ever get this genie back in its box.

Benefit of the Doubt?

The British ambassador in Tripoli, Vincent Fean, gave Gordon Brown a “heads-up” that Gaddafi was becoming increasingly desperate to have the dying Megrahi released. Until the recent Wikileaks hoo-ha I thought that is what ambassadors were supposed to do and the PM understandably did not want the Libyan to die in a British jail. It is a huge jump to go from this routine diplomatic exchange to claiming that for reasons of fear and greed Brown then “instructed” Alex Salmond to release Megrahi. Anyone acquainted with these veteran politicians knows this is a ludicrous scenario but not as ludicrous as the idea that Salmond would cave in and “do his masters bidding”. There are far more obvious reasons for the Scottish government to seek closure on this sad affair one of which might actually be compassion for a dying man far from home.

An Inconvenient Nightmare

Our government’s unachievable goals for emissions reduction and its wildly optimistic forecasts of the availability, cost and performance of new technology are alarming. Its meddling with the energy market is also a mistake now that the Canadian oil sands and giant new oil fields off the coasts of Brazil and Africa are coming on stream.  Meanwhile, almost limitless supplies of natural gas have been discovered in shale rock fields across the United States, Europe and Asia and gas prices are plummeting. The world of energy is being turned upside down and experts predict decades of residential and commercial power at reasonable prices – except in Scotland. Committed to ruinously expensive renewable sources of energy, Scottish households will suffer years of high fuel costs to pay for our government’s moment of green insanity.

Climate caravan rolls into Mexico

Even if delegates to the Cancun jamboree face the threat of being kidnapped by gangs of local drug dealers at least they are assured nice warm weather in Mexico. This will be a relief because Copenhagen showed the difficulties of selling “global warming” to world leaders trying to flee before an ice storm grounds their flights. However, the hopes of compelling countries to pay vast sums to underwrite the UN’s green wish list look as forlorn as they did last year in the aftermath of Climategate. Europe and America are now battling the financial crisis while China, India, Brazil and South Africa are even less likely to agree cutbacks on their growth.

A Poisoned Chalice

New Labour’s toxic legacy lives on with the Government’s decision to accept Harriet Harman’s “equality” bill with all its political correctness, red tape, and quotas. Clearly I have been wrong to assume that all liberals endorsed the idea that individuals should be judged on their own merits and not according to their class, race or gender. This change in the law will encourage firms to choose women, gays, trans-genders, ethnic minorities and the disabled ahead of better-qualified, straight, white males. It is difficult to imagine a more illiberal piece of legislation and government attempts to block law suits for unfair discrimination by rejected candidates are bound to fail. The highly subjective judgements employers are now being encouraged to make will inevitably find their way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Benefit of the Doubt?

The British ambassador in Tripoli, Vincent Fean, gave Gordon Brown a “heads-up” that Gaddafi was becoming increasingly desperate to have the dying Megrahi released. Until the recent Wikileaks hoo-ha I thought that is what ambassadors were supposed to do and the PM understandably did not want the Libyan to die in a British jail. It is a huge jump to go from this routine diplomatic exchange to claiming that for reasons of fear and greed Brown then “instructed” Alex Salmond to release Megrahi. Anyone acquainted with these veteran politicians knows this is a ludicrous scenario but not as ludicrous as the idea that Salmond would cave in and “do his masters bidding”. There are far more obvious reasons for the Scottish government to seek closure on this sad affair one of which might actually be compassion for a dying man far from home.

OECD Education Rankings

In the OECD rankings British schoolchildren are now ranked 16th in the world for science, 25th for reading and 28th for maths. Before New Labour took over with the silly mantra “Education, Education, Education.” the rankings were 4th for science, 7th for reading and 8th for maths. Their claim to have “improved” our schools is utter nonsense and the increased spending of £30 billion was simply thrown into the black hole of comprehensive education. Both Blair and Brown colluded with the exam boards to keep lowering the bar in a desperate attempt to hide the fact that Britain’s state schools were failing. The OECD also found that in Finland, Japan, Turkey, Singapore, Korea and mainland China almost half of all disadvantaged pupils excel at school despite their background.

Doing harm by doing good

It has long been known that the foreign aid we provide has propped up despots, fostered corruption, destroyed local enterprises and harmed the communities we tried to help. The one area where unquestionable good has been done is where people with transferable skills such doctors, nurses and engineers go out to train local people. But this has morphed into “voluntourism” where western teenagers bestow their surplus graces on slum schools and tourists actually pay to hand out food to poor rural families. A devastating report by the Human Sciences and Research Council has challenged this new fad of the bien pensant and lays bear the toxic effects of these guilt-trip jollies.

Fuel Bills to soar

The Climate Change quango has laid out a blueprint for “green” energy requiring around £200 billion to be spent on infrastructure over the next couple of decades. Consumers will have to pick up the tab for unreliable wind farms and other weird contraptions as well as the networks needed to support them. This will send electricity prices for hard-pressed families and the elderly into the stratosphere and household bills will rise from today’s £1200 to over 2,500 a year. The vulnerable would not be in such a desperate situation if “global warming” was true but there has been no warming since 1995 and our winters are increasingly severe. Of course, winter fuel bills are nothing to wealthy “believers” such as Prince Charles and Al Gore who can in any case jet off to a green jolly in the likes of sunny Mexico.

Finance Secrets

Wikileaks has revealed it was Mervyn King who insisted that developed countries must override the “dysfunctional” G7 and orchestrate an international bailout for global banks. Six months before Gordon Brown’s epiphany, the governor of the Bank of England told both the Prime Minister and US officials that a coordinated effort was required to recapitalise the global banking system. The leaked US embassy cables may have had security implications but they have also resulted in the delightful deflation of many political egos and much innocent mirth.

Snowy evidence of Gaia’s wrath

The green guru James Lovelock dreamed up the quasi-religious “Gaia hypothesis” which claimed that the sum of the parts of the Earth’s ecosystems make up a living thing. Gaia was the old Greek goddess of the Earth and the advantage of proposing an irrational, pseudo-scientific theory is that it is impervious to rational, scientific argument. Adherents of the parallel theology of Global Warming react to any extreme weather as evidence that modern economic and technological activity has doomed humanity. Pagans believed the angry gods could be appeased by the sacrifice of precious things and similar sacrifices are now demanded of us to appease the offended ecosphere. Yet the good and the great were usually excused and there is an echo of that today when the elite fly off to endless green jollies in exotic places to demand a halt to plebian travel.

Arrogance and Impotence

I am intrigued by the notion that we have the right to be able to travel to the furthest corners of the globe regardless of the weather, and if we cannot it is somebody’s fault. Clearly many believe the infantile nonsense that we can control climate change and are infuriated when nature once again demonstrates our arrogance and our impotence. And, of course, local authorities are also influenced by Met Office baloney and anyone advocating more gritters in the autumn would have been branded a “denier”. So why don’t we just take this opportunity to settle somewhere cosy, give the stressful family Christmas nightmare a miss, and wait for the snow to go away.

Unwinnable wars

Forty years ago, the late and unlamented President Richard Nixon launched his infamous war on drugs, transferring the prohibition tactics that had failed with alcohol to narcotics. Today, 80 per cent of Americans believe it has been a vastly expensive fiasco which has made US violent crime endemic and destroyed its southern neighbour, Mexico. Then ten years ago, George W. Bush declared a war on terror which has proved just as counterproductive, uniting the enemies of the West and aiding terrorist recruitment.  Not to be outdone, Al Gore launched his war on carbon, which the scientific illiterates among our political class have used to undermine modern western lifestyles.  Now Barack Obama looks set to become the fourth horseman of the apocalypse by declaring war on WikiLeaks and starting an unwinnable cyber-conflict with every geek on the planet.

Same-sex disparity

The European Court recently ruled that its convention on human rights had not been violated when Austria refused to allow two men to marry. However, unlike Austria, our civil partnerships give gay couples virtually the same rights as married couples in all key areas including adoption, surrogacy, and donor insemination. Our exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage and different-sex couples from civil partnership is thus discrimination purely on grounds of sexual orientation. The twin bans clearly violate article 14 (protection against discrimination), article 12 (the right to marry) and article 8 (the right to respect for family life). I can see no justification for Britain continuing to withhold access to both arrangements and look forward to the UK government’s position being tested in Strasbourg.

New Year Resolutions

We are pretty judgmental about self-destructive behaviour even though such behaviour does not appear to be simply the result of personal weakness, peer pressure or heredity. The true meaning of such conduct is likely to be unconscious and develops because it serves deep-seated needs which are important building blocks of our identities. Thus New Year’s resolutions rarely work because for every conscious decision to change there is an unconscious commitment to keep things exactly the way they are. In spite of the advances in psychoanalysis in recent decades we seem to be as far as ever from understanding the forces that motivate our behaviour and inhibit our development. Yet in my time in the ministry I was aware that some do manage to hang on long enough for the demons to subside and battle through the surf into the quiet lagoon of later years.

A perilous rush to sainthood

The Catholic Church is traditionally cautious when the question of honouring public figures arises because all too often unsavory actions and inactions surface years later. Usually the process leading to sainthood does not begin until at least five years after death and Pope Benedict’s rush to beatify his predecessor is a cause for concern. Under John-Paul II, the Vatican clearly mishandled its infamous pedophilia cases and failed to expel the guilty priests many of whom went on to molest other children. The fast-tracking of Mother Teresa was a bad precedent because serious doubts emerged later about her “cult of suffering” and the millions lying inNew York bank accounts. Another precipitant sainthood would make it difficult for the Church to refuse the likes of Argentina’s demand sixty years ago for the immediate beautification of Eva Peron.

 Costly energy epiphany

British wind farms ground to a halt during the coldest spells in December and the National Grid had to rely on coal and gas stations and even French nuclear power. Our coldest winter spells are typically cyclonic and the government is now to insist that power companies build standby power stations to cover for their unreliable turbines. Some of these will be nuclear but most will rely on fossil fuel including the vast new shale gas supplies soon to come on stream after major technological breakthroughs. This late acceptance that wind power cannot “keep the lights on” will cost industry and consumers billions with household bills set to double by 2020.

US Gun Culture

Attempts by the US media to explain events in Tucson ignore the elephant in the room – over-the-counter sale of guns – to blame a rare moment of divisive political debate. Yet gun culture is a central feature of the American identity and has its roots in the myths of the Wild West when settlers slaughtered buffalo and native people. Before the Revolutionary Wars, standing armies were seen as a threat so that providing one’s own weapons for service in the local militia was mandatory for all adult males. This ended with independence but obtuse misinterpretation of the Second Amendment over many years has put 300 million firearms in private hands. Gun crime in Scotland accounts for less than half of one percent of all crime and sharing a common language does not help the Scots understand this American obsession. Clearly allowing deranged people to buy powerful automatic weapons in supermarkets to kill school children and even presidents is seen byAmerica as a price worth paying.

A necessary debate

Blackburn has not had serious ethnic disturbances even though it has one of the highest proportions of Muslims in England and its MP, Jack Straw, usually speaks his mind. He caused hysteria in “liberal” Britain last week by refusing to ignore the elephant in our sitting room which is that some Pakistani men clearly regard white girls as an easy target. The politically correct led by the Guardianistas will not even discuss the cultural background of such criminal groups and the Home Office refuses to collect statistics. For far too long, this has suppressed any inquiry into why most of those involved are Muslim men even though their community abhors such predatory sexual crimes. But any examination needs to be extended to our own debauched society where highly-sexual behaviour by even pre-teens is ignored, excused, condoned or encouraged.

The beam in thine own eye, Sir?

Prince Charles told the European Parliament that our economic model is
flawed and that encouraging growth to bring the global economy out of its downturn is an “eco-sin”. Yet it is beyond dispute that the more advanced societies in Europe and North Americahave a much better track record on environmental policies than other parts of the world. In addition, many of the prescriptions he promotes, such as biofuels, are part of the problem and have been the cause of food riots in some of the poorest parts of the world. Rain forests are being destroyed and land formerly used to grow food in the Third World switched to the production of the “green” fuel he uses in the Royal Train and his cars. He also claimed that sceptics have eroded public confidence man-made global warming but the damage was really done by his exaggerations and events such as Climategate.

Wiki tax justice

It is difficult to have sympathy for the two thousand obscenely rich tax
evaders whose names look likely to be exposed in WikiLeaks’ latest bout of whistleblowing. Julian Assange is to hand the information to the Serious Fraud Office and hopefully action will be taken against those who hide their loot in the infamous Swiss banks. Many international celebrities clearly feel that laws are only there for the “little people” and the outrageous expenses scandal demonstrates our politicians are no better. Southwark Crown Court was told yesterday that it was not only plebeian politicians who broke our tax laws but that graft and corruption was just as rife in House of Lords. As one of the “little people” who religiously kept every receipt and honesty filled every tax return I expect these plutocrats to be treated as I would have been if I had tried it on.

Tolerance Please

As she must have expected, Tory chairman Baroness Warsi provoked a fierce backlash by claiming that Islamophobia is commonplace in British dinner-party conversations. In fact Britain has a long history of tolerance and diversity and Lady Warsi would serve us better by encouraging greater integration within our 3 million Muslim community. Intolerance for Jews, Christians and Hindus is expressed socially and legally across much of the Islamic Crescent so that a slightly less hectoring tone would also be appreciated. I agree with parts of her speech but I cannot follow the reasoning behind her assertion that distinguishing between ‘moderate’ and ‘extremist’ Muslims fosters prejudice. Like many other indigenous Scots I have gentle, cosmopolitan and much-valued friends within the Islamic community and most certainly distinguish between them and al-Qaeda.

The Ball is in Ed’s court

When Gordon Brown took over from Tony Blair he tried to change: to smile, to be collegial, empathetic, open to other people’s views – for about a month. I wonder how long the new improved Ed Balls, all soft and cuddly, not plotting against his colleagues, hiding his intellectual arrogance under a bushel, will last. Balls was bullied at school for his surname and his stammer and Brown felt out of his depth at Edinburgh University after dominating the industrial graveyard of South Fife. At some stage both decided to become the aggressor, going ballistic, shouting and threatening people, humiliating colleagues and endlessly briefing against them. Can Balls break all his old habits? Can the clone learn from the glaring failures of the original? I doubt it. As many a forlorn wifewill attest, most men don’t change.

 Incomparable Scottish Genius

The invention of the telephone was one of the great moments in modern technology and like the jet engine and the personal computer it was an idea whose time had come. Acrimonious debate exists over who “invented” the jet engine, the birth of the PC arrived in a blizzard of law suits and Alexander Graham Bell’s patents are still disputed. However, Bell did for the telephone what Henry Ford did for the automobile and succeeded where others had failed in assembling a commercially viable system. He was not the first to experiment with such devices, but the practical instrument was his alone and there is absolutely no doubt that he invented the telephone “industry”.

Egyptian Uprising

Thirty years ago, Anwar Sadat, the heroic Egyptian leader who restored the nation’s self-belief in the October War of 1973, was publicly gunned down by Islamic assassins. His crime was the noble gesture of visiting Israelto promote a lasting peace and his killers belonged to Gamma Al-Islamiyya, one of the groups behind the present unrest. Some forty other groups, including all the usual suspects in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Muslim Brotherhood, aim to turn Egypt into an Iranian-style fundamentalist state. If, as seems increasingly likely, an extremist regime does take over this ancient land it will revoke the peace treaty with Israel and the lights will go out across the Arab world.

Egyptian Warnings

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, initially expressed hope of a gradual and peaceful transition in Egypt but refused to pull the plug on the embattled Mubarak. President Obama was less cautious and may rue the day because the result of the present rioting is likely to be the replacement of the West’s “partner in peace” by a clone ofIran. In a similar situation thirty years ago, Jimmy Carter treated America’s long-time ally, the Shah, like an international pariah and the democratic government replacing him imploded. We should not forget that the Iranians also rioted for freedom and human rights but ended up with a rogue régime promoting Islamic terrorism and hungry for nuclear weapons. Sadly there is no credible secular alternative in Egypt and the political vacuum is going to be filled by religious extremists organized and supported by our deadly nemesis, Iran.

Watching brief on Egypt

In a move which Barack Obama and David Cameron would do well to follow, Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers not to comment on the situation inEgypt. Some 40 groups aim to turn Egypt into an Iranian-style fundamentalist state, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Gamma al-Islamiyya, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Like al-Qaeda, they use Egyptian theocratic hero Sayyid Qutb’s “Signposts” as the basis of their training manual in Islamic fundamentalism and international terrorism. It argues that God alone should rule the state and that any society which does not accept this edict should be attacked and destroyed in the name of Islam. If an extremist regime does take over the “heart of the Arab world” and bins the crucial peace treaty with Israel, the last lights will start to flicker out in the whole region.

PM on the right track

The Prime Minister has opened the long awaited debate on the UK’s experiment with “state multiculturalism” and signalled a crackdown on extremist groups of every hue. It is difficult to argue that most multiculturalists are not at heart ethnocentric separatists who see little in British heritage other than the “crimes” of the Christian West. Certainly under New Labour the doctrine encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream, weakening our collective identity. And our individual rights such as liberty, democracy and equality before the law must not be replaced by the rights of groups, defined by race, ethnicity, sex and sexual preferences. The Archbishop of Canterbury claimed many British Muslims don’t like our legal system and Sharia Law should be sanctioned. That is inane and David Cameron is right to say so.


As our deplorable politicians dive for cover for fear they are accused of moral courage I prefer to recall the noble people who did seek freedom for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. First among these is the English GP, Jim Swire, whose daughter Fiona was a victim but who relentlessly campaigned for the unsafe verdict at Camp Zeist to be over-turned. He was joined by such seekers after justice as Nelson Mandela, Lockerbie’s Jim Black, the UN observer Hans Köchler, Tam Dalziel and the leaders of the Scottish churches. Even in the vengeful USA, there were brave individuals such as President Kennedy’s valued adviser, Pierre Salinger, who protested the innocence of al-Megrahi. He reminded Americans that, not only was there no evidence that the bomb had been put on board in Malta, but Air Malta won a libel action in 1993 establishing that it was not!

Pensioner Drivers

Almost every day reports appear in the press of fatal accidents caused by elderly motorists becoming disorientated and driving on the wrong side of a motorway. Italy, with some of the most dangerous roads in Europe, is considering the highly controversial move of rescinding the driving licenses to all drivers over 80. Any Italian over the age of four score years who wants to continue to drive will have to re-apply and pass stringent mental and practical examinations. All over the Western world the first generation involved massed motoring is approaching extreme old age and dementia is an increasingly serious problem. Perhaps the Italians go too far but pensioner motorists like me should be routinely screened because driving on our increasingly crowded roads is a privilege not a right.

Is the future India?

The US has already tapped and commercialized North America’s vast reserves of shale gas and, working with Canada, will completely revolutionize the energy market. In his State of the Union speech, Obama gave shale gas the green light by moving the debate from “renewable” to simply “clean” energy and sacking his climate change czar. Now India has also found unlimited reserves of this low-cost, eco-friendly fuel in the Damodar basin and the future looks ever brighter for the sub-continent. With a growth rate as impressive as China, abundant raw materials, skilled workers and brilliant professionals, India may end up the dominant power of the eastern hemisphere.

Wedding Tips

I agree with Jim Davidson’s general advice to groomsmen preparing their speech (14th Feb). When a couple approached me to discuss a wedding during my 35 years as a parish minister, I would always ask if I could talk to the mother-of-the-bride. I would tell her that there are only two things that routinely go wrong in weddings: an out-of-control photographer and the best man’s speech. For reasons I could never fathom men, tend to choose the greatest loony they know for the job and if in any doubt she should insist on seeing the speech and that he stick to it. She should also set the photographer strict time limits because most people have a light lunch on the day of a wedding and a four hour wait in the free bar results in mayhem.

Civil war looms for the Kirk

In the turmoil of late 20th century changes in public norms and values, the traditionally austere Kirk surprised many by proving more adaptable than the Church of England. Women clergy were ordained without fuss in the 1960s and the first female Moderator elected in 2004 while the Anglicans engaged in an all-out civil war over the issue. Until recently, the innocent party in a divorce was refused an Anglican remarriage but the Kirk left the decision to the individual minister and ignored the blessing of gay unions. But the issue of gay clergy may see a reversion to type now that the Church of England is to drop its requirement for clergy to disclose their “marital arrangements”. In contrast, at the General Assembly in May evangelicals will demand the Kirk ignore secular employment laws and expel gay clergy and all hell will break loose.

Mistaken Parallels

I suspect that the European events which most closely parallel the present upheavals in the Middle East are the revolutions of 1848 rather than those 1989. The street revolutions ending communism followed similar patterns because they resulted from an identical event: the abrupt withdrawal of Soviet support for the local dictator. The Arab revolutions, by contrast, are the product of diverse national technological, economic and demographic issues as was the case inEurope in 1848. It was also the case that most of the 1848 rebellions collapsed in what the historian A.J.P. Taylor called a moment when “history reached a turning point and failed to turn.” Television creates the illusion of a linear narrative but it is likely these revolutions will also fail and tyranny be re-imposed because Arab democracy won’t work at this juncture.

Time to get a grip

Two Greek ferries evacuated around 5,000 Chinese workers from Libya through heavy seas but 1,000 risk-averse Americans remained at the dockside. Turkey also braved the big seas to evacuate more than 7,000 of its 25,000 citizens in two ships but HMS Cumberland, lacking the Nelson touch, refused to risk entering the port. There is sheer chaos in Tripoli airport but France, Russia and the Netherlands bribed Libyan officials and evacuated all their citizens. Whitehall refused to indulge in “unethical activity” and failed to get a plane airborne even though the much denigrated BP managed to fly out its 150 workers. It would help if the Foreign Office’s “Humphrey Appleby” got a better grip on reality and we deployed a couple of our big military transport aircraft.

False Spring

The media touted the “Arab Spring” as an unambiguous leap forward towards democracy and pluralism but now that the circus has moved on, the outcome in Tunisia is chilling. In spite of political restrictions, it was the most progressive country in the Islamic world with the least brutal regime and the wealthiest and best educated population. But its traditional secularism and unprecedented championing of Muslim women’s rights have now been replaced by armed fanatics declaring an Islamist state. Anti-Semitic slogans are heard everywhere in a land which never persecuted its Jewish minority and a Polish priest died in the first sectarian murder in its modern history. Talk of a new era of freedom was hugely premature and the sad truth is that Islamic fundamentalists, under the cloak of democracy, are already imposing a new dark age.

Fair v free trade

My gravest sin as a parish minister was asking the General Assembly: “Is Fairtrade fair?” and it would clearly have been less odious had I questioned the divinity of Christ. However, in a former life I was an economist and felt it right to ask whether, as just another form of market manipulation, it really was so morally superior to free trade. Fairtrade claims to bring better working conditions to poor producers, together with higher prices and better social infrastructure, but unsatisfactory practices abound at every level. Poor farmers have to pay large sums to join and have to organise themselves in particular ways which are clearly not suitable for all producers, especially in the poorest countries. It castigates free trade, but real development requires not only good governance, the rule of law and property rights but also free enterprise in markets at home and abroad.

Libya and the Law

The resurrection of liberal interventionists calling for action against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya requires an urgent debate over the legal status as well as the wisdom of such activity. The starting point of any legal analysis is the basic prohibition in international law of the use of armed force against the territorial integrity of an independent state. An exception would be operations authorised by the United Nations Security Council in response to a threat to international security, but in the case of Libya that would be quite a stretch. Fortunately, permanent UN Security Council members France and Russia are poised with their vetoes and the three Arab members are absolutely against such a move. In any case, the unlawful use of force will hardly encourage Arab respect for the rule of law and will damage our ability to influence events in the region over the longer term.

Key issue kicked into the long grass

Over three-quarters of civil servants are in final salary schemes, compared with a fifth in the private-sector, yet the latter provide 80pc of public-sector pension contributions. It is a toxic societal division because the gold-plated public service pensions are a rising tax burden on private sector workers who are less able to save for their own retirement. As an interim measure it would be sensible to introduce immediately a “career average” scheme with a salary cap of £30,000 with defined contributions above that. This would protect lower earners, however, with the unfunded public-sector pension liability already £1 trillion (£50,000 per household), defined contributions are inevitable. Yet it has clearly been decided to kick the issue into the long grass because the hyper-cautious Lord Hutton has yet again been resurrected to do the pensions review.

Permanent damage to Christchurch foundations

A terrible feature of the otherwise unremarkable 6.3R Christchurch quake caused such liquefaction of the earth that large parts of the city will have to be abandoned. The Richter scale measures the total size of an earthquake whereas the key feature in this case was peak ground acceleration (PGA) which measures how hard the earth shakes. This value, expressed in G (acceleration due to gravity), is one of the main parameters in earthquake engineering in vulnerable cities such as San Francisco and Tokyo. Until recently, seismologists thought quakes could not produce a PGA greater than 1G but the shallow Christchurch quake was a catastrophic 2G dwarfing Haiti’s 0.7G. This has caused consternation in California casting doubt on the safety estimates for all tall structures as well as its ubiquitous multi-unit condos and apartment buildings.

The Top Ten

The most powerful earthquake in modern times was the phenomenal 9.5R Chilean quake in 1960 followed by the 9.2R quake in theGulf of Alaska in 1964. Chile makes the top ten twice more (1868 and 2010) joining Sumatra (2004), Russia (1952), the Canadian Pacific (1700), Assam-Tibet (1950) and Japan (2011). Europe features only once but the giant Portuguese quake in 1755 led to the near-total destruction of Lisbon and the deaths of a quarter of the city’s population. While the resulting tsunami devastated the coasts of North Africa and France, the cultural impact spread even further inspiring sensationalist art and philosophical tracts. Scientists of the European Enlightenment found a wealth of written first-hand accounts which did much to advance their understanding of the physical world.

A new economic reality

Virtually all the reforms in the Hutton report have been considered by both Conservative and Labour governments across the years and rejected out of sheer political cowardice. It suggests that civil servants, doctors, teachers and others work longer and contribute more to a pension based on a career average of earnings rather than final-year pay. Such a reform benefits the lower paid and public sector workers will still receive a secure pension with employer contributions which is more than most people can expect. In his years in power, Gordon Brown irresponsibly hid the true situation from his client state but rising life expectancy requires everyone to face the reality of a longer career. Threatening strikes is an infantile union response because the alternative is for the public sector to decay into the sort of protection racket for existing groups we see today in Italy.

A whole new ball game

Former Israeli Premier, Golda Meir, complained that: “Moses dragged us for 40 years through the desert to bring us to the one place in theMiddle East where there was no oil. Unnoticed in our hysteria over Japan’s nuclear plants that situation is ending because one of the largest deposits of oil shale in the world has been discovered inIsrael. All known undersea gas fields together have some 25 trillion cubic feet of gas, but the US geologists estimate there are 125 trillion cubic feet of gas in Israel’s Levant Basin. Even more dramatic, the Israeli oil shale reserves could be the equivalent of 250 billion barrels (that compares with 260 billion barrels in the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia). Finally a by-product of the new technologies separating the oil from the shale rock 300 meters underground will be water and the Middle East is a whole new ball game.

Dangers of radiation

Some things we are hardwired to fear such as heights and fierce animals which fire our “fight or flight” response. Such rational fears have preserved us since pre-history. But we also have “learned” fears which are irrational and stem from our childhood or culture and no amount of reassurance can erase these deep-seated, personal phobias. Today only kindergarten science is taught at schools so that many people have a visceral terror of nuclear power production and believe all plants to be potential atom bombs. To scientists like me, the Japanese incidents simply highlight the safety of nuclear energy because the plants automatically shut down as planned and radiation leakage was trivial. Thousands died in the tsunami but no-one was killed by radiation; and the greatest risk Scots face is death through hypothermia brought on by insanely expensive renewables.

Common Sense Melt-Down

As hysteria engulfed the West’s scientific illiterates, Japanese engineers laid a new power line to the Fukushima plant and skillfully carried out emergency holding procedures. The old line was comprehensively wrecked by the earthquake and the tsunami created a perfect storm by damaging other facilities such as the pool containing the spent fuel rods. I remember a similar melt-down of public common-sense during the incident at Three Mile Island in 1979 which occurred shortly after the release of “The China Syndrome”. This wildly unscientific film, starring noted conspiracy-theorist Jane Fonda, claimed the fuel would melt through its containment structure and the Earth until it reached China. In the end, local radiation exposure was negligible, lessons were learned and resource-rich America continued to generate over 20 percent of its electricity from nuclear plants.

This could end in tears

No-one becomes the world’s longest serving ruler by accident and though the western media routinely refer to the Libyan dictator as “The Mad Gaddafi” he is a survivor. Supported by his formidable sons, his determination to fight contrasted starkly with the aging Tunisian and Egyptian presidents who quickly lost the support of their military. In spite of the enduring belief of his involvement in Lockerbie, Gaddafi is not an enemy of the west and two years before 9/11 specifically warned America of the al-Qaeda threat. Though his warning was contemptuously ignored by both Clinton and Bush, in the wake of the attacks Libya was the first Muslim nation to denounce the bombing out of hand. There are disturbing parallels between the Arab and Prague Springs, between tribal Libya and tribal Afghanistan, and Gaddafi’s clever son Saif is surely preferable to anarchy.

“You break, you own it”

The foreign policy of most US Presidents has been characterised by circumspection and even George Bush was initially determined not to be drawn into dirty little foreign wars. Few have looked less like a “wartime consigliere” than the cerebral Barack Obama and he is as cautious as the first great African-American military leader, Colin Powell. Cameron and Sarkozy made all the running for the Libyan intervention and it was clear from the start that Obama shared the doubts of Angela Merkel and Turkey’s Premier Erdogan. To date, all combat operations have taken place under American command but Obama and his generals are desperate to hand over responsibility toEurope. It is a pity the British and the French did not remember Powell’s bleak warning before the Iraq invasion: “It’s china shop rules, Mr President: You break it, you own it.”

Italian Justice – The Seattle One

Some criminal cases leave a nasty taste and I found the proceedings against Amanda Knox particularly disturbing. She was subjected to a relentless character assassination she had no chance of fighting and the piecemeal leaking of salacious information by the prosecution was a disgrace. There was not one iota of reliable forensic evidence placing the American girl at the crime scene and the case against her struggled to reach the realm of the circumstantial. Even the Italian prosecution at the trial acknowledged it could not supply a motive for the involvement of Knox in the killing. Certainly, nothing in the facts sustains the prosecution’s absurd belief that the murder was a she-devil’s sex game gone wrong. That was conjecture, pure and simple.

Oh dear! How sad! Never mind!

Schadenfreude overcame me when I read your report that Irving Picard, the trustee recovering funds from the Madoff scandal, is now seriously targeting the bankers. So far he has retrieved some $10bn of the missing $18bn from settlements with financial institutions, feeder funds, peddler-cronies and insiders who scored early and left. In an effort to recoup the remaining $8bn, Picard is now after the likes of Morgan Chase, UBS and HSBC who continued to pass on client money when all was flashing red. These bankers made the fatal error of giving post-trial interviews where they presented themselves as great sages who were too smart to fall for the likes of Bernie Madoff. This ticked off the old rogue now serving 150 years in the subtropical humidity of the Carolinas who is now said to be singing like a canary and the bankers are in a panic.

 Learning Respect

George McMillan is right to say that the greatest problem faced by teachers in state schools today is the attitude that they are there to be challenged, mocked, and abused. A miner’s son like me could have been a handful but in the 1950s there was a shared concept of reasonable behaviour which united teachers, parents and the police. The Butler Education Act allowed me to move on from the west-central coalfields to the high school in the nearby town where I joined a tsunami of bright working-class kids. Recently there has been no lack of trendy initiatives designed to remedy state school problems and lift the life chances of children from the industrial graveyards ofScotland. Everything in fact except what was critical in my escape: iron discipline, a strong work-ethic and the “three Rs” as the door-opening passport to a fulfilling life and career.

Campaign Costs

Jimmy Carter’s tragic error of arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan cost thousands of US lives and Barack Obama looks set to repeat the mistake by arming Libya’s Islamist rebels. Such an action would intensify hostilities resulting in really serious civilian casualties, the avoidance of which I understood to be the purpose of trying to remove Muammar Gaddafi. He has been selected from some 70 of the world’s ruling megalomaniacs such as Kim Jong-il, Mugabe, Burma’s Than Shwe, Sudan’s al-Bashir and Ethiopia’s Zenawi. Gaddafi is by no stretch of the imagination the worst and his deposition could have been left to the Libyans but if we must interfere, it should be via trade and diplomatic isolation. Our leaders were deaf to the endless warnings from Turkey that trouble was brewing in the Islamic Crescent and at this stage we should simply avoid making things worse.

 Education Deficit

Undergraduates in Englandmarch against “an increase in student fees” but “fees” have actually been replaced by long-term, government-guaranteed, taxpayer-funded loans. The confusion is understandable because both north and south of the border the sharing of education costs between government, universities, parents and students is shambolic. After the Stalinist control-freakery of recent governments it had been hoped the coalition would re-establish the autonomy which allowed British tertiary education to thrive. But Vince Cable’s decision to pay for the tripled loans in England by cutting teaching grants and Scotland’s “electioneering” economics will doom most universities. For some there is no escape, but the likes of Oxbridge, St Andrews and London could opt for a fee-paying “Ivy League” which relies solely on the enduring appeal of quality.

Eastern Biomass Failure

Hopes that Japan could become the world’s first recycling-based society have been dealt a severe blow by a report which should be required reading for the Scottish government. Japan’s Internal Affairs Ministry, tasked to evaluate public work projects, is about to pull the plug on some 200 vastly expensive biomass projects which are clearly failing. These cost a mind-boggling $80 billion of public funds yet an official report concluded that none had “produced effective results in the struggle against global warming”. The six ministries conducting the biomass projects using sewage sludge, garbage and wood were warned that this excessive hemorrhaging of tax payers’ money must stop.

The Boomer Legacy

Our soldiers started to come home in the summer of 1945 and this spring, 65 years and nine months after that joyful time, the first baby-boomers draw their pensions. The average boomer-pensioner will enjoy a further two decades but a million will survive to receive their telegram from King Charles, possessor of the royal longevity genes. Conceived amid the rubble of post-war Britain and brought up in a society moving from austerity to affluence, they were fromthe first absolutely sure of their own uniqueness. Supported by social security and grammar schools, delighting in cheap holidays and the shopping revolution, they enjoyed comforts their parents could only imagine. Yet in spite of their high flown rhetoric, they had a toxic “buy now, pay later” mentality and the two boomer-premiers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, left a terrible legacy.

Beware Attila the Hen

Nanci Griffith put into song one of the pillars of 20th century feminist thinking: “If women were in charge, wars would cease.” but that was not how Libya played out. At the start of the Arab Spring, the US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, observed that any President thinking of bombing another Muslim land needed “his head examined”. Yet he lost out to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the warrior ladies of the White House who bullied President Obama into the ill-advised North African incursion. The wilting maiden story has never played well in Scotland because our greatest military defeat was not inflicted by macho figures such as Edward I, Cromwell, or Cumberland. It was a pregnant Catherine of Aragon who road north in full armour to annihilate our army at Flodden and sent the blood drenched coat of James IV back to Henry VIII.

Missing 50 million refugee

In 2005, the United Nations shaded a world map to show areas where sea level rises of up to 20 feet, caused by global warming, would create 50 million refugees by 2010. This was reinforced three years later by Prince Charles who claimed the world would end in 18 months with all sorts of biblical disasters, plagues of frogs and other ‘thingies’. As a geriatric retiree reduced to playing increasingly bad golf I was looking forward to seeing some of this exciting stuff in the great coastal cities of Europe, America and Asia. Sadly sea levels remained disappointingly constant and far from populations fleeing the likes of the Caribbean, the Pacific islands and Bangladesh, they are rapidly expanding. If anyone has seen the missing 50 million global warming refugees perhaps they could let us know and Prince Charles would love to hear of any disasters.

Hope subsides but curiosity remains

I much appreciated Allan Massie’s magisterial overview of the proposed reform of the British voting system and agree that we should take another look at the French set-up. Our experience of the Scottish parliament has been disappointing but the expectations were simply manic given the quality of the candidates and the scope of their powers. The “tail-wagging-the-dog” was not as bad as many feared though its fox-hunting legislation was farcical and we will pay dearly down the line of its obsession with renewable energy. The last, execrable, Labour government with its vast Commons majority and minority electoral support showed that “first-past-the post” can land us with a tyrannical regime. Yet hopes should be muted because the coalition has shown the same delusional thinking at home – and propensity to interfere abroad – as we saw with their unlamented predecessors.

Doubts over viability of wind power

Ed Miliband pointed out that Alex Salmond’s renewable energy plans will require an upgrade of the National grid fare beyond our means in an era of tight budgets. The spectacular growth of renewable energy sources, driven by high subsidies and green rhetoric on global warming, has meant the national grid is already struggling to cope. The costs and technical obstacles soar with offshore wind facilities and the problems of tailoring this highly variable source of power to our needs may prove intractable. If reducing emissions is what truly motivates Mr Salmond, he should bin plans for the expansion of renewables and build gas power stations to replace those based on coal and fission.

Another self-righteous campaign

The new furore about the use of child labour in 3rd world sweat shops is
being supported in lofty moral tones by the bien pensant, the churches and tellingly, our trade unions. There are the usual demands that their products should not be retailed here unless the people who make them receive decent wages and work under decent conditions. Well, that’s all very fine but follow-ups done when such campaigns succeed in blocking supplies do not find the former child workers in school or enjoying three squares meals a day. The boys are back making mud bricks and the girls in prostitution because although fat-cats do benefit from the industry, the biggest beneficiaries are the children. Sweat-shops are not the problem: as we saw in Singapore, they are part of the solution and if you, like me, want the poor to get rich, buy things made by poor people.

The Kirk’s gay dilemma

Councillor John Stewart, leader of Aberdeen City Council, is right to warn the Kirk that a decision to exclude gay clergy would undermine its position as the national church. The law of the land makes discrimination against gays in employment illegal and recent surveys show this is supported by well over 90 per cent of the population. Other mainline protestant churches such as those in North America, Scandinavia, Germany and Holland accept gay clergy in sexually active monogamous relationships. The disastrous 19th century schism in the Kirk was driven by the evangelical wing’s insistence on the absolute right of a congregation to choose its own minister. It would be deeply ironic if the successors of these Victorian dissenters caused another split by denying that right on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Libyan fall-out

I doubt that the Muslim world will miss the irony of the UK celebrating the wedding of our ruler’s grandson and the next day slaughtering the grandchildren of Libya’s ruler. UN Resolution 1973 authorised action to “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas” but NATO took this as permission to shoot upTripoli’s suburbs and kill civilians. Serious questions need to be raised about who authorised yet another failed attempt at the state assassination of a foreign leader which yet again resulted in the deaths of children. Of course, as was spelt out at Nuremberg, only the defeated are ever guilty of war crimes otherwise there might be a case for Obama, Cameron and Sarkozy to answer.

Bin Laden’s mark

Winston Churchill said of Afghanistan, “Nothing is ever forgotten and very few debts are left unpaid”, for the past runs deep in such places and in men like Osama bin Laden. The military mission to kill him has been completed but the cultural task of expunging his toxic vision of history and the dictates of Islamic destiny has not even begun. For bin Laden, the present jihad is simply part of an endless war with the infidel, begun by the Prophet and seamlessly including the Crusades and 19th/20th century imperialism.His take on history may be one-dimensional but it is highly contagious. The Prophet said, “The ink of the scholar is worth more than the blood of a martyr”- and we shall see.

Atmosphere of St Andrews brought out the joy in legendary Ballesteros (Mon 9th May)

After he retired, Seve Ballesteros was asked why he had danced on the last green at St Andrews in 1984 when on other occasions he simply tipped his cap and walked away. He said he had always hoped to hear the sound that meets a Spanish footballer or matador but it did not happen because in his home country golf was still too up-market a sport. To the “Confederate” galleries at Augusta or the polite English crowds he was just another foreign winner and he had no idea until 1984 of the support he had in Scotland. Vast numbers of Scottish working-class golfers packed the amphitheatre in St Andrews that day and when he holed his final putt they erupted in a prolonged “Hampden” roar. The bedlam went on and on, echoing off the houses and buildings lining the Old Course, and at last he was engulfed by the sound he had waited so long to hear.

Fears for the Copts (Tues 10th May)

Fear is mounting among Christians throughout the Middle East that rioters will turn on them and their churches have already received letters with the message: “You’re next.” For decades, secular Arab governments protected Christian and other minorities by enforcing a strictly non-religious program and curbing the Muslim Brotherhood fanatics. However, with Mubarak gone, Egypt’s Copts are on their own and Salafi thugs shot up and fire-bombed Christian churches in Cairo on Saturday killing twelve and injuring 230. In many countries the Christians make up only 10 percent of the population but they are often highly educated professionals in medicine, engineering and the government. The “Arab Spring” has not proved to be a glad confident morning but has instead brought widespread violence and is likely to end with total ethnic and religious cleansing.

Healing words (Tues 24th May)

The General Medical Council’s decision to give GP Richard Scott an official reprimand because he discussed his Christian faith with a patient could lead to his being struck off. Had Dr Scott withheld orthodox medical treatment, the GMC would have had a cause for concern but all he did was discuss spiritual faith as an element of the healing process. I believe the GMC acted with inappropriate and disproportionate force and applied its own guidance about personal beliefs in medical practice in a selective and unbalanced way. This says, “Discussing personal beliefs may, when approached sensitively, help doctors to work in partnership with patients to address their particular treatment needs”. GPs report that patients often seek help in other ways than prescriptions and want to discuss everything from relationship problems to unemployment and work stress.

Being gay is a sin only in translation (Wed 25th May)

Whether by accident or design, the Kirk’s mainline theological heavyweights such as Dr Iain Torrance were absent from the debate about gay ministers and the field was left to the conservative wing (your report, 24 May). The only challenges to the misleading fundamentalist claim that the Bible specifically outlaws consensual homosexual relations came from American and African clerics. In fact, the scriptures in the original Greek are ambiguous about homosexuality and do not contain any clear references to gay activity within a committed relationship. Paul did condemn homosexual orgies, ritual gay sex in Pagan temples and the sexual rape of young boys by adult males, but that would elicit general Christian agreement. The problem is that, after having been filtered through the belief systems of the many translators, some English versions of the Bible do condemn all homosexual behaviour. The make-up of the Kirk’s committee to look at the theological issues over the next two years is immaterial, since progress towards compromise on homosexual rights is unlikely. Conservatives will continue to hold that homosexual behaviour is always a serious sin and oppose the inclusion of sexual orientation in anti-discrimination legislation.

Flying is more than monitoring computers (Tues 31st May)

The 2009 crash of an Air France Airbus in a tropical storm over the Atlantic casts doubt on the safety of the fly-by-wire system if computers controlling the cockpit fail.

While a degree of automation is inevitable, the whole interface between pilots and such systems should be re-examined in the light of the performance by cabin crew that night. Used to simulators and automated flight controls, young pilots trained by civilian airlines appear to lack the skills and experience to cope when their screens go blank. Certainly the French pilots compared badly with veteran Captain Sullenberger, ex-US Air Force, who coolly landed his crippled plane on the Hudson River earlier that year. There must be a more physically-aware, hands-on approach and tellingly, after the AF447 accident, Air France pilots were given extra training in coping with speed-sensor failures.

Regarding Lagarde (Wed 1st June)

Christine Lagarde, the French front-runner in the race for top job in the IMF has two things going for her: she spent most of her career in the US and she is not Gordon Brown. Yet it would be astonishing if one the major architects of the punitive and ineffective bailouts in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, should find herself at the helm of the IMF. Though an haute-bourgeoisie aesthete would be a relief after that seedy libertine Strauss-Kahn, she too is involved in scandal involving Sarkozy’s sleazy financial backers.After the Strauss-Kahn fiasco, the IMF may be embarking on a Lagarde debacle and it should surely look for a replacement in the fabulous talent pool lying outside Europe.

Political Cowardice Rules (Sat 4th June)

The Home Office has re-issued its standard response to any suggestion that the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 be revisited: “Drugs are illegal because they are harmful.” But in a liberal democracy, you need a reason to make things illegal and all international studies confirm prohibition has been as big a disaster with drugs as it was with alcohol. The number of dependent British heroin users soared from 4,000 in 1970 and the UK now has by far the highest level of dependent drug use in Europe. The US has not only created a nightmare world for its urban underclass but has allowed its vast narcotics trade to effectively destroy Mexico and other nations in South America. Only political cowardice prevents Anglo-American governments removing this problem from organised crime and treating victims like patients and not criminals.

Gas attack in Follyrood (Mon 6th June

A couple of years ago George Foulkes caused general hilarity – and great offence – by calling Alex Salmond, “Il Duce” – a reference to the roly-poly fascist leader of Italy. Mussolini was portrayed in Charlie Chaplin’s film “The Great Dictator” as the verbose Benzole Gasolini who bore an even closer resemblance to our First Minister. Question Time in Follyrood descended into farce with the FM doing his Fidel Castro impressions and the Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick cowering in frozen silence. Donald Dewar was warned this could happen but took no notice and Scotland is now at the mercy of the belligerent incompetence of this “elected dictatorship”.

 The coming Apocalypse (Thurs 9th June)

I once worked in an ethical pharmaceutical division of what is now GlaxoSmithKline and I have never forgotten their scientists’ warning of humanity’s microbiological timebomb. Most of my initial training was in the sales and marketing of drugs but what stuck in my mind was their researchers’ dismay at our GP’s over-prescription of antibiotics. But that dismay turned to fear when they started to describe the massive and unregulated overuse of these drugs on livestock by farmers not to cure disease but increase profits. Large doses of antibiotics modify the gut of perfectly healthy animals making them put on weight more quickly – but this procedure will eventually create superbugs. The practice was later banned in the EU but farmers are still allowed to administer huge prophylactic doses to intensively reared pigs, cows and chickens. This recent morphing in Germany of a common and normally manageable bacterium into a deadly strain may not be the Apocalypse – but it is coming.

Dress Sense (Tues 14th June)

Like many fathers of daughters, I sympathise with the policeman who warned girls that “dressing like sluts” was asking for trouble. I thought the inflation of his well-meaning – if incautious – advice into a thought-crime and the international explosion of “slut walks” was self-indulgent and absurd. No girl dresses to be raped but clothing, like all social conventions, carries meaning and girls are surely aware of the effect such “signals” have on hormonally-driven young men. Insisting her behaviour never contributes to any harm that befalls a woman is deeply anti-feminist. It infantilises women as incapable of taking responsibility for their actions.

Bombing for peace and raping for virginity (Mon 20th June)

The line from Robert Burns, “O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us”, applies to our air force and what it stands for at home and abroad. To us the RAF evokes the image of fighter pilots and the Battle of Britain – abroad it stands for wanton destruction and the pointless saturation-bombing of civilians. We protest that our brave bomber crews had a causality rate in WWII higher than any force other than the U-boats – but both groups were widely perceived as neo-terrorists. After three months of shooting up the suburbs of Tripoli and other “targets”, we are doing little more than shifting rubble and increasing our already deplorable rate of “collateral”. In recent decades, we flattened the suburbs of Dresden, Bagdad, Belgrade and a hundred other cities and if this is all we can contribute to world peace, we should stay home.

Rights of Passage (Mon 27th June)

The passage of the marriage equality bill through the New York state senate is a huge victory for gay rights and a significant step forward for the human race. It is clear that most Americans are no longer prepared to have people told they have no right to partake in a basic human ritual on the basis of sexual orientation alone. One can only hope that it will hasten the arrival of that moment when this dispute – which seems jarringly ridiculous even today – will be relegated to the dust-bin of history. Perhaps one day children will be taught about it in school alongside slavery and the burning of witches to show how far America has progressed from barbarism. I congratulate those gays who, through sheer force of will against truly unthinkable levels of hostility, have forced New York to recognize their fundamental humanity.

A whole new culture (Sent Sat 2nd July)

Recalling my time in industry, this is how things would look if public sector “culture” was replaced by private sector “culture” and the whole operation run in “survival mode”. The lower pay grades would be kept but all managers would reapply for their jobs to a panel of local businessmen with successful candidates re-employed on new, lower, salaries. Departments supporting spurious Labour and EU legislation will be cut and managers’ pay reflect their ability to reduce their budget/headcount whilst improving services. To keep the title “manager”, they must have at least 20 people under their direct control whose performance they will measure with all non-performers retrained or sacked. As regards pensions, private sector rules apply: pay more, work longer and receive what can be afforded. Welcome to the real world, ladies and gentlemen of the public sector.

Wedded Bliss (Mon 4th July)

Heidi Withers was invited to spend the weekend with her fiancé’s father and his second wife and told to make herself “feel at home” – which the girl clearly did. Without realising what happens when you send stuff into the ether, the stepmother, Carolyn To-The Manners-Bourne, fired off a stunningly snobbish e-mail, (your report). It reached the entire planet, as did the father of Heidi’s description of the sender: “She has her head stuck so far up her own arse she doesn’t know whether to speak or fart.” This response is worthy of Oscar Wilde (or at least Billy Connolly) and well-deserved. During my 35 years as a parish minister I loved conducting weddings, which were always happy occasions – except when the parents-in-law were divorced and remarried.

Dressed to lose (Mon 4th June)

In the iconic film ‘The Hustler’ after completing the grueling early rounds, Minnesota Fats days to his young opponent, “Fast Eddy, let’s play pool.” When Andt Murray waklked onto the court, unkept, unshaven, looking as if he had spent the prioe evening in a bar and the night in a park, he looked like a loser. A large retunue of portly ladies wrapped in Scottish flags watched him fail with almost half his serves, double fault 15 times, and commit 40 unforced errors before the end. Unlike great international champions, Murray has always looked lost and fragile – the very antithesis of the old truism, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Caring for the vulnerable should be a priority (Wed 6th June)

Long term social care is a scary problem for most people in that entails unlimited costs for which it id difficult to plan leading to considerable distress at  the point of need. Aswith many of the professional middle class, I am only a generation away from the pits and heavy industry which curtailed the lives of my male realtives to around 60. Though I rattle with the number of pills I take, I have now outlived my ex-miner father by a decade and – much to my surprise – long term care is starting to appear on my radar. While I love him for trying, I do not believe Henry McLeish’s free personal care is affordable in the long term and we need to explore alternative methods of funding. I like the sound of Andrew Dilnot’s idea of a huge social insurance policy with a large but affordable ‘excess’ which means that once I have paid it, the state will take over.

News of the World closure (Sat 9th July)

Though the Good Book says, “Greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her scribes for her life” I doubt News Corporation’s Rebecca Brooks can survive. After all, it was on her watch that Milly Dowler’s phone was hacked, the police were bribed and such sensitive headlines as “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” appeared. She also oversaw a campaign which the authorities called “grossly irresponsible” of naming and shaming paedophiles which led to pediatricians being attacked. Only the truly delusional can now believe that News Corporation is a fit and proper business and should be allowed control of the £10 billion satellite broadcaster BskyB

Work Experience (Mon 11th July)

As life expectancy increases and retirement benefits decline, more people will remain in some form of work and – in spite of public sector hysteria – it is not necessarily a bad thing. It is not all about money because work gives people a purpose, as well as a structure and social connections – what the Japanese call ikigai: a reason to get up in the morning. The rise in working seniors aged 75 and beyond began long before the recession and the US Bureau of Labour Statistics say 8 per cent are now employed in some capacity. A limiting factor has been the reluctance of employers to accept that the stereotype of the senior worker as slower, less flexible and less tech-savvy is out of date. Older workers come from generations significantly more literate and numerate than today and some seniors, like me, have been working with computers for almost half a century.

Echoes of expenses scandal in hackgate (Wed 20th June)

The repeated statements by Sir Paul Stephenson that he had done no wrong in accepting a £12,000 jolly was an uncomfortable echo of similar protests from our MPs last year. Police freebies at the highest level and our MPs’ gross sense of entitlement show a nation with a Third World mind-set where officials expect to enhance their lifestyle with perks. And the unedifying sight of Gordon Brown in a fit of moral outrage should not blind us to the fact that most of these misdeeds were done on New Labour’s watch. From the very start, the United Nations and the European Union have been riddled with corruption which only sees the light of day when uncovered by the rare whistleblower. To my mind, the most dangerous aspect of the recent phone hacking farrago is that it will give those in authority the chance to clamp down hard on press freedom in general.Teutonic solidarity is the euro soluition (Fri 22nd July) As its is better to have a nightmare solution than an endless nightmare, an economic ‘Greater Germany’ of Austria, Germany, Holland and Luxembourg should bite the bullet and leave the euriozonme. This revamped Grossdeutschland could also include the workable (German speaking) parts of Italy and Belgium, namely the Lombard League and Flanders. The resulting surge in value of the newly reconstituted Deutsch Mark would require a Germano-bank bailout but that would be politically more acceptable than bailing out irresponsible peripheral banks. Once divorce from the euro is complete, this natural union of Proto-German speakers will have the fiscal freedom to offset export and external shocks by running large government budget deficits for a time. France, the Club Med banana republics and the rest of the zone could retain a greatly devalued euro, giving a huge boost to their competitiveness in trade and tourism. Resulting instability would require the European Central Bank to backstop all of their bonds but it would encounter much less resistance to doing so in the absence of a German mindset.

Hate in a Cold Climate (Mon 25th July)

After the Viking era, Norwegians spent much of their history as impoverished second-class citizens under the lash of Sweden, Denmark and finally Nazi Germany. Until oil was discovered, it was notable only for the stark beauty of its coastline and its obtuse preference for the likes of Arafat over Gandhi as Nobel Peace Prizewinners. But oil only increased its isolation because its new petro-currency made it prohibitively expensive for tourists which, to be fair, was exactly how most Norwegians preferred it. They did not want to spoil their lonely idyll by joining the EU or becoming multicultural and the influx of Islamic refugees has been met with fierce anti-immigration rhetoric. It is this spirit of “volk und vaterland” that has turned murderous and Norwegians will clearly have to confront their racist demons as we have had to do in Britain.

Wrong Debate (Sat 6th Aug)

It is disappointing that British voters, when invited to petition Parliament on-line for an issue to be debated, chose that old chestnut: capital punishment. Polls have found that, in spite of the murder rate having doubled since its abolition in 1965, support for the death penalty has waned from 70 to around 50 per cent. Amnesty International claims most countries are “abolitionist” and the United Nations has adopted resolutions calling for a global moratorium with a view to eventual abolition. My late father was a leading spokesman for the Kirk in the debate half a century ago and was fiercely opposed having a jaundiced view of our judiciary’s ability to get it right. Nothing has changed and the most likely recent execution would have been that of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi whose conviction showed our courts are as implacably obtuse as ever.

 Testing Times (Wed 10th Aug)

When the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development survey gave Scots children a dire education report our reaction was to bail out of the survey. Equally infantile was our authorities’ response to questions being asked about the increasing number of “failing” schools – to ban the use of such an adjective. Now the Scottish Qualification Authority is to axe appeals by teachers against their frequently flawed marking of children’s exam papers. A much more sensible response would be to fax a copy of the marked script back to the school so that the teacher could judge whether further appeal was worthwhile. This is done in England but the spirit of secrecy and official arrogance is so great north of the border that no-one should hold their breath.

Feral Parents (Fri 12th Aug)

The problem is not simply feral children but feral parents who produced these Lord of the Flies degenerates and are now too drunk or drugged to care what they are doing. This was exacerbated by our schools’ child-centred approach which expected children to learn and decide for themselves, leaving them illiterate, innumerate and unable to think. But behind it all are our amoral bien pensant who have undermined everything which could socialise these children and turn them from feral savages into civilised citizens. And the worst of these non-judgmental wreckers was deputy leader of the Labour Party Harriet Harman, who has the gall to blame the recent riots on “Tory cuts” necessitated by New Labour’s economic incompetence. In fact, Harman was the last government’s principal promoter of lone parenthood, the side-lining of fathers and the toxic welfarist entitlement culture the looters displayed.

Different Brown (Wed 17th Aug)

I was taken aback to hear Gordon Brown berate the British press for being “politicised” and for daring to challenge politicians’ motives and integrity. Could this be the same Gordon Brown whose spokesman, Charlie Whelan, was forced to resign after he was found trashing Peter Mandelson in leaks to the press? Whose special adviser, Damian McBride, was caught publishing sleaze and innuendo on the internet about Brown’s political rivals in the Labour Party? Whose election campaign manager, Derek Draper, posted personal smears about David and Samantha Cameron in the “LabourList”? Perhaps this is another Gordon Brown, equipped with moral compass and righteous indignation, ready to redeem the world from spin and sin.

Change for the worse (Mon 22nd Aug)

Wag the Dog, the Dustin Hoffman-Robert de Niro black comedy based on a cover- up of Clintonesque indiscretions with a fake-war is best remembered for two prescient scenes. Dreaming up ‘official’ reasons for the Albanian attack, it is suggested they might be ‘fighting for freedom and democracy’ but Hoffman character asks, “Why would they want that?” The other is when told there is no a war because CIA surveillance units gave no warning de Niro, in an observation recalled after 9/11, says ‘intelligence’ never gets it right. Now six months after the unexpected ‘Arab Spring’ burst out, it is clear we have misread the situation and the joyous outcome we predicted looks more absurd by the day. As Harold Macmillan warned, “Things never turn out as you expect, dear boy, and in the Middle East, no regime is so bad it cannot be replaced with something worse.

Flawed Genius (Mon 29th Aug)

Stephen Jandali, the German-Syrian computer genius better known as Steve Jobs, has announced his resignation from his role as Apple’s Chief Executive. Like Bill Gates, he was a college drop-out managing but one term at Oregon’s Reed College before leaving to train for the contemplative life of a Zen Buddhist monk. Finally he returned to California to become a unique individualist in a world of corporate conformity known for both his technical genius and his commercial eccentricity. He bequeaths a business model of a company redolent of the vision, innovation, quality, perfectionism, marketing genius, arrogance and sheer weirdness of its founder. The huge allure of Apple’s products allowed Jobs to break every rule but his proprietary instincts made him spurn compatibility with other brands and that was a major flaw.

Rough Justice (Wed 31st Aug)

The demand by US politicians that Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi be extradited to the United States and tried again for his “crimes” is redolent of both ignorance and arrogance. Not even the vengeful American judicial system, for all its tiresome exhibitionism and glacial pace, permits someone already convicted of a crime to be re-convicted of it. Such a request, though it comes from the usual rabble-rousing suspects, is based on the absurd presumption that all other judicial systems are inferior to American “justice”. It may be that not even Megrahi’s death will satisfy this vindictive nation, where the primitive biblical injunction of “an eye for an eye” is so woven into the judicial fabric. Some may wish to follow the precedent of the medieval Catholic Church, which allowed Pope Stephen VII to exhume the body of his predecessor and put the corpse on trial.

Are we all on the same page? (Wed 7th Sept)

Phil Shiner, the leading British human-rights lawyer, is to challenge this latest attempt by Alex Salmond and Edinburgh University to drive Boris Johnson and the Home Counties bonkers. Shiner quoted a former Education secretary who said, “Discrimination on the basis of nationality is unacceptable and it is high time the government stopped defending the indefensible. Such discrimination is not only wrong in principle; it also damages the reputation of Scotland’s higher education system and undermines the Scottish four-year degree.” And who is the former education secretary? Why none other than the all-singing, all-dancing Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister of Scotland and SNP Secretary for just about everything.

The Catholic Church has no single claim to marriage rights (Mon 12th Sept)

Archbishop Mario Conti opposes same-sex marriage claiming that the “capacity to create a natural family is an essential characteristic” but that is a subjective opinion. Marriage is a multifaceted institution of great antiquity pre-exiting the Catholic Church by millennia and has never had a single unchanging definition. Same-sex marriage itself has a long record in world history and it was certainly celebrated in Ancient Greece and Rome as well as regions of China such as Fujian. The Church has been repeatedly assured that the law will continue to guarantee its right to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages and that should surely be enough. The Archbishop should not presume to speak for Kirk ministers like me who are not bound by Catholic tradition but by the Scriptures and the inclusiveness of Christ.

Fuel Poverty (Mon 19th Sept)

Utility price rises have pushed the average household hjeating bill to almost £1,300 a year much of it driven by ‘green’ taxes imoposed by Energy Secretary Chris Hume. With the winter months now looming, he has had the gall to tell families facing fuel starvation that it is their own fault because they do not shop around. Not only does this self-serving nonsense ignore his stealth levies of 20 per cent for wind turbines, it also ignores the complex nature of the tariffs in our uncompetitive energy market. It is totally unacceptable for this wealthy political maverick to blame poverty-stricken families for the distressing out-come of his utopian green obsessions.

An obvious barrier to recovery (Fri 23rd Sept)

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore told the Lib Dem conference of his cunning plan for a new talking shop to identify the barriers that are holding back our economy. He surely does not need “the good and the great” to tell him that the greatest barrier is his colleague Chris Huhne’s ruinous fixation with costly renewable power generation. In The Myth of Green Jobs, Gordon Hughes points out that as costs rise in manufacturing and related sectors, firms will simply relocate taking ever more Scottish jobs with them.

Particle Exchange (Tues 27th Sept)

If CERN’s discovery of neutrinos moving faster then light is independently verified (your report, 24 September), such an anomaly will require a revisitation of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Fortunately, it has nothing to do with global warming so theoretical physicists will not feel compelled to defend Einstein by referring to the CERN researchers as Holocaust deniers, flat-earthers and religious creationists. Incidentally, when the German-Jew Einstein was asked in the 1930s what the consequences would be of his theory being proved wrong, he said Germany would refer to him as a Jew and France would refer to him as a German – and vice-versa if he was correct.

The truth must be fearlessly pursued (Tues 5th Oct)

 The trial of Amanda Knox in Perugia had echoes of that of Abdelbaset al Megrahi who, like Knox, suffered from national and racial stereotyping by the general public. British tabloids have a tendency to suspect all Muslim men of being bombers while their Italian counterparts present West Coast American girls as drug-crazed sex maniacs. The prosecutor, Giuliano Mignini, had form when it came to concocting weird scenarios, and his descriptions of satanic rituals were reminiscent of the scandalous Orkney trials. The performance of the Italian forensic team was deplorable and on a par with that seen in the prosecutions of Detective Constable Shirley McKie and Abdelbaset al-Megrahi. Yet Italy can be proud that its system is self-righting while our judiciary still struggle to admit culpability in the manifestly un-safe verdicts on McKie and al-Megrahi.

 Change of heart (Wed 12th Oct)

The Rev Scott Anderson was the “closeted” gay Presbyterian minister of Sacramento, California between 1983 and 1990 until a Christian couple threatened to “out” him. The next day he admitted from the pulpit that he was gay and, in spite of protests from his supportive congregation, resigned from the then homophobic US Presbyterian Church. Twenty years later, the national church accepted that being gay “was only a sin in biblical translation” and last Saturday Anderson took over a church in Madison, Wisconsin. In a moving service he was “preached-in” by the Rev Mark Achtemeier of Iowa, once a fierce critic of gay people but who, like St Paul, experienced a Damascene conversion. If such an event can take place in the land of conservative Christianity there may yet be hope for mainland Scotland – if not the gulags of the Highlands and Islands.

Yellow card would have been sufficient for Warburton (Mon 17th Oct)

 The law is quite clear, “lifting a player from the ground and dropping him so that his head and upper body come into contact with the ground, is ruled dangerous play”. But the law also specifies either a penalty or a yellow card and to go further to a red card is such a critical decision most referees would have consulted their officials. I do not think the fact that that Wales v France was a World Cup semi-final, that there was no malice involved and that Sam Warburton’s tackle occurred early in a largely clean match can be dismissed as irrelevant. Having the knee-jerk decision of a referee in the early stages affect the outcome of such an important game is simply deplorable.

Modern Nursing (Tues 18th Oct)

The Care Quality Commission’s report that half of all English hospitals fail to provide adequate comfort and nutrition for the elderly signals the collapse of nursing ethics. Its horrifying revelations have nothing to do with that perennial excuse, “lack of money”, but illustrate the replacement of altruism and compassion by apathy and indifference. In recent decades, in order to achieve professional equality with doctors, nurse training was taken away from the hospitals and turned into an academic university subject. Student nurses study sociology, politics, psychology and management with core vocational skills of caring increasingly perceived as beneath the dignity of “professionals”. Yet Florence Nightingale wrote that “the greater part of nursing consists in preserving cleanliness and if a girl declines to perform such functions, nursing is not her calling”.

Gadaffi’s death (Sat 22nd Oct)

With the execution of Muammar Gaddafi, the world’s longest serving non-royal ruler is gone (your report, 21 October). In contrast to the recent slaughter, he overthrew the Anglo-American puppet King Idris in a bloodless coup 42 years ago and dismantled the corrupt remnants of Western colonialism. As a result he replaced Nasser as the Western bogeyman, was styled “the Mad Gadaffi” and every act of terrorism up to and including Lockerbie was laid at his door. In practice he was one of the better third-world rulers, giving one of the poorest nations in the region food security by irrigating the desert and ensuring a stable water supply. Perhaps his great achievement was to protect Libya’s minorities from Islamic repression and the real losers of this Western neo-colonial interference are the Coptic Christians.

Fathers’ Rights (Fri 4th Nov)

The long-awaited Family Justice Review will disappoint many by supporting the bias of family law which puts the rights of mothers above those of fathers and grandparents. The latter will have no legal right to see their grandchildren and the report disparages the notion that men should have equal or even shared time with their children after divorce. This is so monstrously unfair I cannot believe it will fly as there are decent people in the Cabinet like Iain Duncan Smith who will surely fight for more equitable legislation. The review bears the hall marks of its originator Harriet Harman and was chaired by David Norgrove, the failed M & S “director of clothing” who almost destroyed the firm. It flies in the face of all recent research in Europe and America which shows that it is essential for a child to have extensive access to both its father and mother.

Flawed seekers after power (Mon 7th Nov)

The late Auberon Waugh endeared himself to my generation by proclaiming that his ideal government would be a “junta of Belgian ticket inspectors”. As Europe’s political pygmies vainly strive to prop-up their pretentious monstrosity, it is clear such limited ambitions as having the trains run on time is preferable. At home, having endured the pomposity of Gordon Brown’s economic delusions, we face the nightmare of heating our mid-winter homes with Alex Salmond’s becalmed wind-mills so it appropriate to recall that Waugh also said: “Until the public accepts that the urge to power is a personality disorder in its own right, like the taste for rubber underwear, there will always be the danger of circumstances arising which persuade people to start listening to politicians and taking them seriously.”

A dilemma – but not a moral one (Sat 12th Nov)

When I sent my two children to boarding school, many of my friends thought I was daft, that it was not worth it and they would do just as well in the local comprehensive. But I thought it was, not only because they were sports fanatics but because it widened their radar to include everything from US colleges to German technical universities. Now all parents face a similar dilemma over tertiary education and must ask themselves: is a UK university degree, now that every second person has one, worth £9,000 a year? This is not a question of morality or fairness but simply the inevitable consequence of the convergence of student fees in both American and European research universities. If students benefit from higher education they should bear a larger burden of its costs. But will your child benefit or is direct entry into the world of work a better option?

Golf’s heart of darkneww (Mon 14th Nov)

THE dismissal of Steve Williams’ vile comment by Greg Norman as “not racist” and his claim that golf has “always been cohesive” are an insult to our intelligence. I am old enough to remember when Charlie Sifford, the black former caddie from the Carolinas, was finally given his PGA card in 1960 at 40 years of age. In spite of vicious and relentless abuse from the loathsome “Confederate” galleries who would kick his ball into the rough, he was eventually a champion on the Tour. His election into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2004 was a belated gesture of recognition by the golfing world of his long and ultimately successful fight against racial exclusion. Golf has NOT always been “cohesive” and Norman may be too young or insensitive to acknowledge our deplorable past, but this incident must not be swept under the carpet.

 Herman’s little helpers (Mon 21st Nov)

The poet John Betjeman said that in light of the wanton destruction wrought by the 1960s planners in London, Herman Goering deserved a medal for architectural preservation. The Scottish conservation architect James Simpson has produced a widely acclaimed plan to convert Perth City Hall into a beautiful and much needed covered-market. However the city’s councillors, not previously known for their architectural flair, are determined to spend the same amount of money to knock it down and create a ‘plaza’. Their last effort was the St John’s shopping centre – a dire construction with a façade of unparalleled charmlessness and an absence of grace so total it is a thing of wonder. The City Hall hides this monstrosity and the wrecker’s ball should be stayed because Edinburgh’s Festival Square is an example of the sort of ‘plaza’ Perth has in mind.

Those were the days (Wed 23rd Nov)

The Government plans to intervene in the property market by guaranteeing mortgages but such schemes were common practice when I bought my first flat in 1970. There were no mortgage advances in excess of 80 per cent of value and the guarantee was underwritten by a commercial company for a premium paid by me. In addition building societies would only provide a mortgage equal in value to between two-and-a-half and three times of my salary and my wife’s income could not be included. This was deemed the amount that could be repaid within 25 years, allowing for other family expenditure, pension savings and the likely pregnancy of my wife. I do not know why this sensible set-up was ever changed and it certainly allowed me, aged 26 and just married, to acquire a top-floor flat in Marchmont Road – for £3,500!!!

 Let’s play ball (Sat 30th Nov)

The country should not be held to ransom, especially at a time of economic crisis. Only a third of union members even took part in the ballot and less than a quarter of Unison’s members have triggered this facile, political strike. If the unions go ahead, the Government should give notice they will freeze all existing pension schemes with a view to moving state employees to money-purchase. The public-sector clearly wants to play hardball, so let play commence.

Life on Mars (Wed 2nd Dec)

Aircraft dials used to be painted with a phosphorescent compound mixed with radium which made them glow in the dark. At the end of the Second World War a number of planes were dismantled at the old Donibristle airfield on the River Forth. Some equipment, including the dials, was incinerated, mixed with runway rubble and building material, and used to reclaim the coastline where Dalgety Bay was later built. Traces of radioactivity were discovered in 1990 by a monitoring team from Rosyth and though observable with sensitive devices the danger to humans is absolutely negligible. There are protozoa on Mars with a greater knowledge of Physics than Gordon Brown and he should return to his self-imposed purdah and not ramp up silly scare stories.

The Kirk’s incoherent response (Mon 5th Dec)

Quakers, Jews and liberal Protestant churches accept the SNP’s gay marriage proposals and rightly see the issue as being about civil rights and not some perceived morality. The Kirk insults our intelligence by claiming that homophobia a sin, insisting it ministers to all ‘regardless of sexual orientation and practice’ and refusing to marry gay members. It is regrettable secular society has moved on in the UK and its tolerance is exemplary yet our church leaders foam at the mouth over legislation which is so manifestly fair-minded. The very people one might expect to support diversity and inclusiveness misuse biblical language to insist discrimination against gay people must continue on hallowed ground.

Granny Muggers (Wed 7th Dec)

The HSBC fiasco is only the most recent scandal to hit our banks and will come as no surprise to those of us who spent our professional lives caring for the elderly. The FSA found “serious and systemic” mis-selling where frail elderly people struggling to pay care-home fees were lured into gambling their life savings on risky investments. It has been going on for decades and I have not the slightest doubt many more pensioners have fallen victim to snake-oil salesmen in other financial institutions. Granny-mugging is clearly industry wide. This case should be a wake-up call for anyone with a trusting elderly relative.

Ainslie disqualification sends wrong message to media (Mon 12th Dec)

The disqualification of Britain’s triple Olympic gold medalist sailor Ben Ainslie after a confrontation with a media boat at the World Championship in Australia is surely sending the wrong signal to the media. What next: paparazzi racing onto the pitch and interfering with play during the World Cup or setting up on the track during the Olympic Games forcing the sprinters to run round them? It is about time the Hooray Henry’s in the Royal Yachting Association stopped fawning over the television industry. I trust they invited the skipper of the press boat over for a pink gin and reminded him of that old law of the sea: “sail before steam”. Or would that be too provocative?

More questions than answers (Tues 13th Dec)

Alex Salmond misses the point when he accuses David Cameron of “blundering” by using his veto to protest a deal which leaves the EU configured to the interests of Germany. John Maynard Keynes first identified the fundamental problem we see today in the euro crisis and the US-China trade tensions and saw earlier in the 1980s US-Japan discord. Sadly at Bretton Woods he failed to convince the others that the exchange rate regime needed symmetrical obligations on creditor and debtor countries to deal with imbalances. Germany today is clearly in denial of the growing need to balance its enormous (euro-driven) trade surpluses by making fiscal transfers to the debtor nations of the EU. Yet a supranational scheme which condemns much of Europe to indefinite austerity will not survive the realities of national politics and Cameron was right to walk away.

Green Energy (Fri 16th Dec)

At the Rio de Janeiro UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, George Bush Snr drew a line in the sand: “The American way of life is not up for negotiation.” He was just being realistic and no democratic government should be expected to take measures which significantly and overtly undermine its electorate’s standard of living. Portraying the debate about global warming as a simplistic morality tale of good against evil does nothing but entrench attitudes. The only way to achieve effective action is to develop methods that can maintain existing living standards at around the same cost and sell these methods to the general public. Expensive and unreliable wind farms which blight the landscape and drive a large section of the population into fuel poverty is the wrong way to go about it.

Je ne care pas (Mon 19th Dec)

Infuriated by Anglo-Saxon remarks like, “We told from the start the euro was bonkers.” President Sarkozy ‘outmanoeuvred’ Britain into exile from the main EU disaster zone. Since the vast majority of Britain had longed for this outcome for decades and despaired of our supine political class, this was something of an own goal. Just how much of an own goal is shown by the bile flying our way but Nick (Fotherington-Thomas) Clegg’s sissy phone calls are exactly the wrong way to react. As a Franco-Scot I advise Sergeant Wilson’s reply of “How terribly kind” – preferably in Franglais – with cartoon platefuls of bile and the query, “Can we have chips with that?”

 Timely change (Wed 21st Dec)

Given our obsession with home ownership and the disproportionate influence of property prices, anything that threatens loan accessibility is going to raise a storm of protest. However, the Financial Services Authority’s effort to put common sense back into the mortgage market and curb its runaway lending is surely a step in the right direction. In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis in decades, precipitated by a housing bubble fuelled by ludicrously lax mortgage deals, the status quo is simply not an option.

Bleak is not best (Mon 26th Dec)

 The idea that some bleak off-shore islands in the remote and inhospitable North West of Europe offer the highest quality of life in Scotland is frankly bizarre. The fact that the closest opposition is claimed to be Aberdeen and the Orkneys rather than Edinburgh, North Berwick or St Andrews is suspicious. It may be that the islanders live longer than most mainlanders but they still have to live in Shetland and as Elton John sang, “Life isn’t everything.”

 Railway disgrace (Sat 31st Dec)

In the end, New Labour admitted British Railways, with its poor rolling stock, decrepit permanent way and over-paid, strike-prone workforce, was an “intractable problem”. Despite being showered by deplorable amounts of taxpayer largess, the last government left a “shambolic inheritance” which, by a clear margin, was the worst in Europe. It is also the most expensive, with fares up to ten times more than in the rest of the EU and huge new fare-hikes coming plus even worse time-keeping – if that is conceivable. Those who delight in the spacious comfort of the Continent’s high-speed trains or marvel at Swiss rail’s punctuality in a snowy winter know our train system is uniquely bad. It is the product of Neanderthal union barons, management of awesome incompetence and adversarial governments incapable of making apolitical, strategic decisions.

Victory for police (Fri 6th Jan)

Convictions in the retrial of two men suspected of involvement in the murder of Stephen Lawrence were secured by advances in forensic science since the crime took place. Holding the police accountable when they make mistakes is essential, but it is grossly unfair to blame them for every aspect of the delay in arriving at this result. The Macpherson Report claimed the police were institutionally racist, called for privately made racist statements to be criminalised and insisted double jeopardy be abolished. But William Hague and others rightly observed the bien pensant have used it “as a stick to beat the police”, thus damaging morale and fueling a 30 per cent rise in street crime. Macpherson’s “tendentious reasoning and illiberal recommendations” – to quote Michael Gove – impair effective policing, with police now blamed for every disorder, including last year’s riots.

Unbridled greed (Wed 11th Jan)

Tony Blair paid tax of just £315,000 last year on £12 million income by claiming “costs” of £11m, which raises UK political expertise with “expenses” to a whole new level. Since the start of New Labour, fat-cat pay has risen ten times as fast as that of workers, with FTSE chiefs now earning princely packages of around £4m. No-one resents high earnings for entrepreneurs who create jobs, but most chief executives are just climbers of the greasy pole and rarely able to organise the hen’s march to the midden. It is deplorable this unbridled greed continues amid the human and financial wreckage of recent years and that no banker saw the inside of a prison following the idiocies of 2008. However, the greatest insult is to see Blair jet-setting around, hoovering up millions while the nation he helped steer over a financial cliff struggles to regain basic solvency.

Salmond alienates with his Irish claim (Mon 16th Jan)

Alex Salmond has been much criticised for comparing the coalition’s attempts to start discussions about Scottish independence to military interventions in Ireland. Yet the two independence movements do have similarities – in particular the radically diverse nature of the populations of Ireland and Scotland. In 1922, the Ulster Protestants were allowed to remain in Britain, but would the proto-Saxon populations of south and east Scotland be allowed to remain with England? Or would the Celts of the west and industrial Scotland allow the proto-Vikings of Orkney and Shetland to opt for union with Scandinavia – and take their oil with them? The First Minister is justified in drawing such parallels, which raise issues as important as our new currency or whether the Airdrie Savings Bank might set our interest rates.

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