Readers' letters: Church of Scotland should apologise for hundreds of deaths

Nowadays, it is almost impossible to believe that in Scotland in the great age of witch trials (1550 to 1700), nearly 4,000 innocent people – 84 per cent of whom were women – were tried as so-called witches under the Witchcraft Act 1563.

The murder of so-called witches is a crime instigated by God’s command in Exodus 22:18. For this reason some people believe that an apology is due from the Church of Scotland.

Interestingly, the Church’s Theological Forum has been working in this area and it will both report to the General Assembly and make material available on their website in the same time frame. Certainly, an apology for trying and executing individuals accused of witchcraft has been long in coming.

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The General Assembly played a key role in the indictment of Thomas Aikenhead, a 20-year-old student from Edinburgh, who was prosecuted under the Acts against Blasphemy 1661 and 1695, and hanged on January 8, 1697. He was the last person in Great Britain to be executed for blasphemy.

A group of supposed witches being beaten in front of King James I (King James VI of Scotland) around 1610A group of supposed witches being beaten in front of King James I (King James VI of Scotland) around 1610
A group of supposed witches being beaten in front of King James I (King James VI of Scotland) around 1610

During his trial the Privy Council ruled that they would not grant a reprieve unless the church interceded for him. The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, sitting in Edinburgh at the time, urged “vigorous execution” to curb “the abounding of impiety and profanity in this landW. Thus Aikenhead's sentence was confirmed, and God’s will was done.

Perhaps as it sits in Edinburgh this week the General Assembly will be moved to apologise for those who also perished for blasphemy and heresy.

Doug Clark, Currie, Midlothian

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Life with meaning

Dr Andy Steiger thinks that he owes nothing to a “meaningless universe” (“If you care about the planet, invite God into your thinking”, Scotsman, 19 May). Instead, he thinks belief in God alone justifies care for the environment and gives meaning to life.

However, we don't need belief in an invisible deity to know that we need to care for and fix our environment. The reason being that, if we want humanity to survive (I take that as given), we owe it to future generations.

We are here by lucky chance on this planet, probably the only one in this galaxy with intelligent life. So we also have a duty to survive and make the most of the situation in which we find ourselves. It would be a shame to so ruin the planet that human life becomes impossible. Unfortunately it looks as if we will. What would Dr Steiger's god think about that?

Steuart Campbell, Edinburgh

F for fail

Sadly, Vincent McCann's informants are correct about how underfunded the Scottish Government's education inclusion policy is (Letters, 21 May).

Integrating learners with more complex needs into mainstream schools is only workable if adequate resources are available; the majority of our demoralised teaching profession would agree that this is not happening.

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There is a crisis in recruitment and retention of Pupil Support Assistants (PSAs) due to low wages and a lack of any career structure. Along with chronic shortages of supply staff to cover absence, this is one of the many factors driving down standards of care and learning.

Not only has attainment declined since the introduction of so-called "Curriculum for Excellence", but teachers’ workload has spiralled out of control, with 93 per cent now working well beyond their contracted hours. Many are considering a career change.

How ironic that last week the SNP quietly abandoned their 2026 target of eliminating the poverty-related attainment gap! But clearly the First Minister has more important concerns than the mere trivia of education, transport or healthcare.

Her cosy photo opportunity with Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neil is no big surprise, given their shared anti-British sentiments and far-left economic and social policies.

Martin O’Gorman, Edinburgh

Big money

Nearing 80, I was excited to receive a letter informing me that I would be getting an extra 25 pence a week (less tax) for my big birthday. This means that each day, I will be able to enjoy about two minutes of electricity absolutely free over a 24-hour period. What generosity!

James Watson, Dunbar, East Lothian

Echo chamber

A number of writers, such as Richard Allison (Letters, 21 May), who regularly contribute letters to this newspaper, appear to delight in repeatedly listing perceived failures of the Scottish Government without any attempt at presenting a wider context referencing the relative performances of the UK government and governments elsewhere, never mind any balance acknowledging Scottish Government successes.

Of course, if one’s objective is to convince oneself, or those inhabiting the same echo chamber, of the merits of one’s own opinions, it is much easier to do so if one ignores any wider context. Unfortunately for such contributors, the general public are not so dogmatic in their views and can see for themselves that for every example listed a comparable, if not more significant failing, can be witnessed in the actions of other governments.

Furthermore, the electorate will make up their own minds as to which of our politicians they trust to genuinely attempt to act in the best interests of the public as a whole, and which politicians are focused on their own self-interest and on enriching their pals and already wealthy party donors.

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This does not mean that we should accept failings of the Scottish Government, but as in life, lessons can be learned from mistakes made and progress achieved through honest reflection and constructive proposals, often arising through assessing the experiences of others as well as one’s own.

But surely, if nothing else, the disdain for the electorate evidenced through “Partygate”, the gross deceit around “getting Brexit done” and the massive scale of cronyism and corruption in the awarding of PPE contracts by the UK government, has clearly demonstrated that Scotland will be better served in future by an independent proportionately representative government with integrity in Holyrood than a non-representative narrowly-focused and dishonest government in Westminster.

Stan Grodynski, Longniddry, East Lothian

Off the rails

Scotrail receives a subsidy from the taxpayer of over £32m a month. During the pandemic it received millions more. In April 2019 its employees gained a 6.5 per cent increase over 18 months “tied to more flexible working to minimise disruption”. What happened to that promise?

Its driver are on an average salary of £54,000 a year. The general secretary of the RMT union, Mick Lynch receives over £165,000 a year in remuneration. He said about the proposed ballot for strike action by Scotrail staff: "ScotRail needs to put its hands deeper into its pockets and start rewarding their staff properly.”

Scotrail has no “pockets” to delve into. The money comes from UK taxpayers – and its worth noting that only 56 per cent of adults actually pay income tax.

ScotRail is a drain on taxpayers’ finances and if its employees vote to strike that drain will only get worse. Money printing by quantitative easing has ended. The question is do ScotRail employees actually support nationalisation – as I do – or do they wish ScotRail to enter a spiral of decline? Staff should vote against strike action.

William Loneskie, Lauder, Scottish Borders

Last train

As an older reader I can recall a popular song where it mentions that once that last train to San Fernando has departed, “you'll never get another one!”.

Little did I ever think the day would come when the last train to Fife would leave Edinburgh each evening before 8pm, resulting in Fifers who were visiting friends or perhaps theatres in Edinburgh having to either remain in the city overnight or find some other means of travel to get home

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We, the Scottish public, were led to believe that our SNP government would improve life for all of us, but quite apart from the ridiculous timetabling mentioned above, I notice that no mainline trains are now stopping in Fife to pick up passengers for say, Newcastle, Manchester or London in the south, or to drop-off travellers from those far-flung places as they return north again. We Fifers are now being required to board and leave such trains at Edinburgh, then to find our own way home… before 8pm of course!

The strengths and weaknesses of our railway system have been apparent for years, so how has any political party the nerve to suddenly tell us that we appear to be about 100 drivers short and that almost 700 trains will be curtailed daily perhaps for a year or two. Ridiculous!

Archibald A Lawrie, Kingskettle, Fife

Broken Hearts

Dear Heart Of Midlothian, the next time you reach a cup final and make a fortune selling tickets for fans to attend, could you perhaps have the good manners of having your players and manager turn up for it as well?

Saturday's Scottish Cup final was a complete disgrace, where a team half-dead from a midweek match in tropical temperatures that went into extra time somehow had more energy and motivation than one with a full week's recuperation and no major honours in a decade.

It says it all that the outfield player with the least motivation for trying – Rangers-bound John Souter – did the most to keep Hearts in the match for over 90 minutes. Too many were like bored pensioners doddering around the Gyle Shopping Centre.

Hearts are a fan-owned club. Its staff would do well to remember that.

Mark Boyle, Johnstone, Renfrewshire

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