Leaders: Salmond should stand up for free speech

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: PA
Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. Picture: PA
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In A speech he made in March last year, Alex Salmond cited Scotland’s first first minister Donald Dewar who said devolution was about more than our politics and our laws.

It was in part about “who we are, how we carry ourselves”. Our current First Minister went on to say that Mr Dewar’s words “were true of devolution, and will be true of independence”.

As we reflect on the controversy which has erupted over the remarks made by Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, in Scotland on Thursday, we should do so with the wise words of Mr Dewar, echoed by Mr Salmond, in mind.

First, let us deal with Mr Farage. This newspaper has no sympathy for him or for his party. We believe the UK, and Scotland within it, benefits greatly from the European Union, flawed though it may be. We believe immigration, properly regulated, can be a positive for the UK, and for Scotland. We believe Ukip’s recent U-turn to be more accepting of devolution – up until Thursday it wanted virtually to abolish Holyrood – was political opportunism.

However, although we disagree with Ukip we believe the party has a right to be heard. Which is why the shouting down of Mr Farage on Thursday by left-wing activists is deeply regrettable. Voltaire reputedly said: “I disagree of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” That should be our attitude. Perhaps the activists, many of them students, should spend more time reading Voltaire, and less time shouting people down.

Mr Farage’s reaction was, if anything, worse. Calling his abusers “yobbo fascist scum” showed the Ukip leader not to be the ordinary chap at the bar he likes to portray himself as, but a man who, if provoked, shows his true colours. His petulant hanging up on a interview with BBC Scotland – which put perfectly reasonable questions to him – proves he is unable to cope with scrutiny.

However, there is a final troubling element, which is the ­response of Mr Salmond. Asked if he condemned the demonstration, the First Minister said: “If there’s been any law-breaking then obviously we condemn that, as we always do in Scotland, but you’ve got to get things into context. A student demonstration isn’t the Dreyfus trial.”

The Dreyfus trial it was not, but Mr Salmond has noticeably not condemned the fact that the demonstration stopped Mr Farage putting his case. The First Minister perhaps was not asked about this but his words leave him open to the criticism that he supports behaviour which seeks to curb free speech. We are sure this is not Mr Salmond’s intention but his statement has allowed opponents like Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie to question his motives.

Referring to the Farage incident, Mr Rennie said the First Minister “must speak out against this attack on free speech”. Mr Rennie is right. We look to Mr Salmond to respond with an ­unequivocal statement in ­support of free speech.

Not all patients want single rooms

SINCE 2008, the Scottish Government has had a mandatory policy of equipping all new hospitals with individual rooms. Indeed, 26 of the country’s 218 hospitals already operate 100 per cent with single rooms. The advantages are obvious: dignity, privacy and a reduction in the risk of hospital-acquired infection. Three patients have died of Clostridium difficile in Scottish hospitals in the past six months.

Yet there are obvious drawbacks to the single-room policy: many people prefer companionship and the stress of being ill could actually be reduced by the warmth of human contact. Being isolated, especially for the elderly, can prove counter-productive. While Scottish hospitals, thankfully, have avoided the worst sort of gross negligence towards ­patients seen in other parts of the UK, single rooms surely heighten the risk of leaving the sick un-attended at vulnerable moments.

For these sound reasons, a ­petition has been submitted to the Scottish Parliament asking the Scottish health secretary, Alex Neil, to think again. Mr Neil would do well to pay heed to their calls for further consultation on the single-room policy.

However, the petitioners go too far in suggesting there is no evidence that the single rooms cut the level of hospital-acquired infections. For instance, a recent Canadian study, by the chief of staff at Ontario’s Belleville General, shows an 11 per cent increase in the risk of Clostridium difficile with each exposure to a new hospital roommate.

Where the petitioners are on firmer ground is to argue there must exist a mix of single and four-bed wards that minimises the risk of infection, yet provides for patient choice – surely a basic ­requirement in the NHS of 2013.