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IT IS likely that Scottish Secretary David Mundell had some form of clearance from Downing Street before he made the case for a June referendum on Europe (The Scotsman, 19 January).

Is that too soon after the elections for the devolved legislatures and the London mayoral elections? It is patronising to suggest that voters in Scotland cannot cope with two major votes in the space of seven weeks, and there is a precedent, though not a happy one for those of non-Conservative persuasion. In 1979 a referendum on a Scottish Assembly in early March was followed by a general election in early May and a European election in the middle of June.

On the other hand, we need to remember the debacle of 2007 when computer systems were unable to cope with local elections and Scottish Parliament elections on the same day. The problem was compounded by inadequate information given to voters beforehand about how the new system was meant to work, resulting in a large number of spoilt papers. As a result we now have a situation where the authorities are anxious to ensure that votes for local, Holyrood and Westminster elections never take place even in the same year. Some have argued that this is only right if each poll and the people who participate are to be given proper respect. But arguably it is more a sign of a lack of respect for the intelligence of the electorate.

From a Scottish perspective, a September referendum is preferable, if only because it will give the political parties some time to recover after the exertions of May. Most of the school holidays will be over. But Mr Mundell’s point – that Scottish voters can cope well enough if it is in June – deserves to be taken seriously.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court, Glenrothes

Healthy scepticism

According to Scott Macnab, it makes little sense for Holyrood to have control over the rest of “health”, but not abortion (Inside Politics, 19 January). Can anyone provide a definition of “health” that encompasses killing the unborn?

Abortion does not cure an illness. Pregnancy does not become a health problem just because a woman decides she doesn’t want a baby just now.

I’d be interested to see Mr McNab’s evidence of US funding for anti-abortion activists in Scotland.

Richard Lucas

Broomyknowe, Colinton, Edinburgh

Medic alert

The tenet, “first do no harm” is one of the foundations of patient care.

While it may be true that the junior doctors’ strike did not affect patient mortality, there may have been effects on morbidity. Junior clinicians have a key role in establishing the doctor-patient relationship and the placebo influence on all therapy

Medical cover by senior clinicians during strike action inevitably results in less doctor-patient contact, and loss of continuity. The quality of care declines and confidence in the profession may be adversely affected.

(Prof) Anthony Martin Frcp

Eglinton Crescent, Edinburgh

Fairy (s)tories

I am struggling to understand why election leaflets produced by the Conservative Party seem always full of half truths, designed to deceive, and ill-thought-out claims that spectacularly backfire.

Their leaflet currently being handed out by candidates says “Labour and the Lib Dems have dropped their opposition to independence... only the Scottish Conservatives... are committed to the UK”. But the Labour and Lib Dem parties still oppose independence. Yes, MSPs and party members may have different views which they are being allowed to put forward, but there is a world of difference between allowing democratic debate and changing party policy. The Tories are not the only party opposed to independence.

It beggars belief that this claim is made just as David Cameron has his own similar difficulties over Europe. The Conservative Party is so divided, and Cameron’s position is so weak – as a lightweight opportunist more interested in office than principle – that he has been forced to allow his own ministers to campaign against him while retaining their jobs.

Does that then mean, in Tory half-truth speak, that even though Cameron clearly wants to stay in, the Conservative Party have dropped their opposition to leaving the EU, and they now want to exit? Even though a successful vote to leave would give a big push to Scottish independence, which the Tories say they are committed to preventing.

The electorate are turned off by politicians who twist facts and spin stories, something the Conservatives clearly need to learn.

Phil Tate

Craiglockhart Road, Edinburgh

Honestly pleased

With all the gloom and doom doing the rounds, an article in the Business section (January 19) gave some grounds for cheer. The report from KPMG showing a 46 per cent drop in the level of fraud in Scotland is certainly worthy of note.

The value lost in 2015 in Scotland of £4.7 million, compared favourably with the increase to £732m for the UK as a whole. Maybe there is some truth in the claims of “honest Scots” after all.

The honesty of his countrymen was a trait which Robert Burns recognised in his day. If this is holding true in the modern era amongst the people of Scotland, this can’t be bad news for Scottish business.

John Proctor

Majors Place, Falkirk

Speaking up

David Cameron has launched a £20 million language fund to help Muslim women facing discrimination and social isolation since 40,000 don’t speak English at all and 190,000 have very poor English (The Scotsman, 19 January).

The usual suspects rushed to criticise because he said not speaking English might make people “more susceptible” to terrorist recruitment messages. In Canada the deal is simple: if you want to live in this country, learn the language.

Cameron also said schools, courts and any other public institution which wants to ban Muslim women from wearing the veil can expect the full backing of the UK Government. France and Belgium have had a ban on wearing the veil in public for some time.In France, those who defy the ban are fined and made to attend classes on French values.

Some observers have said that it isn’t Muslim women that are the problem as regards not learning English and wearing the veil but Muslim men and hardline imams who do not consider women to be equal. Being able to speak English is the key to education, a career and other Western opportunities, so why is this denied?

Clark Cross

Springfield Road, Linlithgow

Corbyn’s lament?

How the new Labour leadership must envy the SNP.

With the latest shadow cabinet resignation and rumblings from the unions whose members in their many thousands will find themselves rapidly out of work should Trident be abandoned on the altar of dogma, Jeremy Corbyn must wish he had the power over his elected members that Nicola Sturgeon has over hers.

As it is, the hardcore of moderates in Labour who persistently cling to reality and speak out will not lie down. This is most frustrating for the mass of zealots who joined in the mass membership drive in the wake of Ed Miliband’s departure and skewed the leadership election.

They must look at the iron control imposed by the SNP – where no elected member ever utters a syllable that is not laid-down dogma imposed from above – and wish they could impose similar control.

Alexander McKay

New Cut Rigg, Edinburgh

As ye sow, SNP

“SNP bad” seems to be the new succinct way to try to dismiss critics of the SNP. The implied irony being that all these problems we are seeing in health, education, councils and infrastructure cannot possibly all be down to the SNP. Really? After all the SNP’s claims of how much better things would be if they controlled everything, do they really expect their opponents to keep quite when they so patently let us down on everything from hospital resourcing to police reorganisation, from bridge maintenance to the school curriculum?

Keith Howell

West Linton, Peeblesshire

Protection racket

Countries hosting American military bases enjoy appropriate remuneration. One fails to understand how the USA is permitted to park its rather hazardous weapon of mass destruction (with its own finger on the button) in our backyard, free of charge.

As if that weren’t enough, they have the effrontery to extort from us an estimated £167 billion for the privilege. As the old hillbilly song puts it, “When are the apples goin’ to fall on our side of the fence?”

James Stevenson

Drummond Avenue, Auchterarder

Last orders

Whilst the SNP administration’s introduction of new lower alcohol limits for drivers in Scotland was well intentioned, the fact is that it is proving to be the death knell for our Scottish rural pubs, hotels and clubs.

Takings are down by a staggering 30-40 per cent and with many facing closure as the only option available the impact on Scottish communities will be considerable.

Dennis Forbes Grattan

Mugiemoss Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen

So far, so bad

Given that The Scotsman is a Scottish newspaper, perhaps you could ask your reporters to brush up on Scottish geography. Not for the first time, Lamington viaduct is described as being “near Lockerbie” (January 19), but my map says it’s about 35 miles north of there.

Is this because Lockerbie is the only place south of the Central Belt which anybody’s heard of so it must be near there? At least last night’s BBC Scotland News had it as “near Abington” (it is about 5 miles away), which many people will have heard of – as that’s the M74 junction where you turn off northbound to head for Edinburgh.

Alasdair Taylor

Swanston Grove, Edinburgh

Smelling an idea

I have just returned from Japan and feel it is streets ahead in keeping their public thoroughfares in a clean state. Mainly and significantly, smoking is banned from the main pavements in the centre of their cities. How refeshing a change such action would be here. I walk along the likes of the capital’s Princes Street and feel I have smoked at least one cigarette passively.

And what a great thing for the Scottish Government to take the lead on.

Keith McLaren

Melbourne Place, St Andrews

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