Be proportionate

I OFTEN read in The Scotsman, most recently in today's Perspective article by Scott Macnab, that 'an overall majority was not supposed to happen at Holyrood, with the complex electoral system deliberately designed to prevent one party gaining such an advantage' ('Time to open up debate at Holyrood', 11 May). This is simply not true.

To amplify Bob Taylor’s letter of 9 May, if a party gains more than 50 per cent of the vote of the aggregated Regional lists, the system will give that party an overall majority. That is how proportional representation works. No party has ever achieved more than 50 per cent of the list vote so no party should have had an overall majority.

The anomaly is that the SNP achieved an overall majority in 2011 without gaining more than 50 per cent on the list. The reason for this is the hybrid system of constituency votes run on the first past the post system and the proportional regional list votes. At the extreme, in a multi-party competition, which mercifully we have, one party could in principle win all the constituency seats with very much less than 50 per cent of the vote (as low as 25-26 per cent if there are four almost equal parties). They would get 73 seats. They would not win any on the list if the voting pattern were the same, but they would still have an overall majority.

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The system we have is broadly proportional, but a party that wins heavily in the constituencies can still win an overall majority even with less than 50 per cent of the vote. A party with more than 50 per cent of the vote should and will gain an overall majority.

David Cole-Hamilton

Buchanan Gardens, St Andrews

Off to Remainia?

Dr Francis Roberts makes a very good point when he reminds us of Mr Cameron’s undertaking to campaign to leave the EU if he could not get the concessions he wanted (Letters, 12 May). So if the UK had not, reluctantly, been given permission to defer for a short period the payment of some benefits to certain EU immigrants all the dire warnings from assorted big-wigs, which the Remain camp makes so much of, would have been disregarded .

As Bill Jamieson points out in his witty plea for scepticism, the UK’s position in the EU is anomalous (Perspective, 12 May). The EU’s clearly expressed raison d’etre is ever closer political union, in which the euro is an essential element. However, successive UK governments have made it clear they do not wish to participate in either. In short the “Remainians” want us to be a member of an organisation to whose main features we do not subscribe.

Alongside the warnings we are offered inducements – freer trade, easier travel, etc.However, if any two or more countries feel there is mutual advantage to be gained from such arrangements there is nothing to stop them making them. For example, for over a century it has been possible to buy a stamp from the postal authorities in one country and affix it to a letter which is then delivered, without further charge, in another.

S Beck

Craigleith Drive, Edinburgh

The arguments put forward by the Remain camp regarding the forthcoming EU referendum are surprisingly flimsy considering they are coming from the most senior government figures, with their battalions of speech writers and spin-doctors. One of the main issues is that we do not have control of immigration numbers, although on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show two weeks ago, Home Secretary Theresa May repeatedly insisted that we do.

The simple fact is that if anyone with an EU passport turns up at Dover docks or Heathrow airport they have automatic right of entry into the UK to stay for as long as they want, unless we can demonstrate that they pose a clear threat to “life or livelihood”. With another 75 million people due to be added to the total of those entitled to these passports when Turkey gains admission to the EU, I must say that my definition of “control” is somewhat different to that of the Home Secretary.

Not to be outdone, Prime Minister David Cameron tells us that our leaving the EU would threaten peace in Europe and international security agency co-operation.

Leaving aside the fact that peacekeeping in Europe is the duty of Nato and nothing to do with the EU, why would security intelligence sharing stop simply because the UK was no longer a member?

This goes for trade agreements, too. If an arrangement is mutually beneficial, why stop it? After all, the USA trades with the EU without being a member.

If the issues of war in Europe and financial disaster were indeed real, then a responsible prime minister would not have put a referendum on the table in the first place.

No, It is clear that Mr Cameron desperately wants to stay in the EU, but what the real compelling reasons for this are, he is not telling us.

Walter J Allan

Colinton Mains Drive, Edinburgh

Police innuendo

There is surely something still very unsavoury about South Yorkshire Police. Notwithstanding Hillsborough, and their underhand deal with the BBC to film their raid on Cliff Richard’s home in his absence, they now go public on referring a file to the CPS.

Do they have no understanding that their actions prejudice the course of justice? Or are they trying to deflect criticism and curry favour by subjecting a celebrity to trial by opportunist innuendo?

Geoff Miller

Newtyle, Blairgowrie

Only corrupt

It was bemusing to see Prime Minister David Cameron’s latest gaffe, labelling Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt”. Of course there is corruption in both these countries, but it is clearly rather hypocritical given this is largely at the connivance of the UK, which through its 17 tax havens in Crown Dependencies has for decades harboured funds exported by wealthy individuals. This has come to the fore most recently through the Panama Papers.

These tax havens are governed by the UK Crown, so what we are witnessing is one huge state-sponsored tax avoidance machine. Indeed, the anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, has said that the UK is a “big part of the problem” of corruption in Nigeria where around 40 per cent of Nigerian GDP is effectively stolen.

If we are to call other nations “fantastically corrupt” we need to step up to the plate and play our part both internationally and domestically to tackle this. Failing to do so is nothing short of rank hypocrisy.

Alex Orr

Leamington Terrace, Edinburgh

Secular time

This week saw the pageant known as The Kirking of the Parliament and much is being made of its new “inter-faith” credentials, including a 
contribution from Humanist Society Scotland.

Is this a step in the right direction? We know that membership of all religious groups combined now amount to fewer than half of all Scots.

The solution to the privilege of one minority religion proclaiming its affiliation with our democratically elected parliament is surely not to shoehorn in a whole bunch of other religions. Pageantry and ceremony add value to our lives but could we not have a secular event which represents all Scots voters?

Neil Barber

Edinburgh Secular Society
Saughtonhall Drive

Scaled down

Ilona Amos is right to point out that the cause of any decline in west coast salmon and sea trout stocks is not clear (The Scotsman, 12 May). However, this has not stopped Salmon & Trout Conservation (S&TC) persisting with yet another complaint to Europe attaching the blame to salmon farming.

The complaint does not actually provide concrete evidence linking any decline to salmon farming. Instead, a new, yet unpublished, study has shown that at least one constituent part of the stocks in 59 per cent of west coast rivers within the so-called aquaculture zone has actually increased since salmon farming was established on the west coast. All attempts to contact the S&TC to discuss these findings have failed to elicit any response.

(Dr) Martin Jaffa

Callander McDowell

(Fisheries Consultants)
Middleton Road, ManchesterPull together

Now Nicola Sturgeon has managed to hold onto the title of First Minister, where do we go from here? Will we push forward as a great country or shall we spend the next five years bickering about being Scottish or British? I am proud to tell people I am Scottish but also proud to be British.

When George Reid challenged my late father on his doorstep (before he became presiding officer) my father’s reply was: “United we stand, divided we fall.” George was left speechless. Can we not all now pull together and become the great country we could be?

Barbara Izatt

Broom Road, Kinross

Have mercy

Zika and its associated brain-damaging birth defects is about to hit the American Deep South where long-lasting birth control and abortions can be hard to procure. Complicating the situation is the fact that ultrasound scans of the foetus don’t show signs of Zika-related birth defects until after 20 weeks, resulting in “late-term” abortions.

The epicentre of the epidemic is Latin America, home to many nations where abortion is illegal and the Catholic Church shows no sign of allowing mercy to outweigh doctrine. Mainly spread by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, the colder weather plus the greater use of air conditioning and window screens may limit its main impact to Florida and Texas.

Half of US pregnancies are “unintended”, resulting from the use of ineffective forms of contraception, but in an increasingly Hispanic South it is two out of three. Both states refuse to fund family planning services for low-income women and given the intransigence of Pope Francis, a plethora of disabled babies among the poor is inevitable.

(Rev Dr) John Cameron

Howard Place, St Andrews