The Scotsman is publishing a selection of its best opinion articles from the previous seven days to showcase some of the most insightful writing in Scottish journalism.
Andrew McCornick, the director of NFU Scotland, added his voice to the growing chorus of concern that the UK will leave the EU without a trade deal, with catastrophic effects on our supplies of food.
“A two-minute delay at the UK border to complete customs checks could result in a 17-mile tailback – so warned the Port of Dover authority recently,” he wrote. “For the agricultural industry, which relies strongly on ‘just in time’ processes in order to trade in fresh produce, this is a deep concern with the rhetoric around a ‘no deal’ Brexit continuing to build. As Scotland’s largest agricultural organisation representing more than 9,000 farmers, crofters and growers, NFU Scotland has always been clear: ‘no deal’ would be the worst-case scenario and tantamount to the kind of chaotic cliff-edge change that we are desperately trying to avoid.”
Joyce McMillan said the visa problems that have been affecting international authors coming to take part in the Edinburgh International Book Festival were a sign of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” towards visitors to this country, a policy that had created a “painful downward spiral into the kind of xenophobia that is bound to harm us far more than those we seek to exclude”.
“The truth is that the whole British visa system is now based on the assumption that most applicants are confidence tricksters trying to sneak into the country in order to take up permanent residence; and people who may be traveling for very different reasons – for work or cultural exchange or urgent medical treatment, to visit a dying relative or attend a family celebration – can only take so much of being treated in that aggressive and hostile manner, and essentially addressed as if they were criminals,” she argued.
Chris McCall wrote a moving piece about the Edinburgh International Book Festival. While he urged people to go along to this year’s event, he said he could not bear to do so himself.
“This year I will be missing all this for perhaps only the second time in my adult life. My dad, a resolute supporter of the event from its inception, died suddenly in February. The festival was our father-and-son outing, a tradition we continued even after I left the capital for Glasgow,” he said.
“Authors can now rest easy. They won’t be button-holed by my dad any longer. While I mourn his loss, I know he would agree with me on this point: in the age of Trump and social media blowhards, any forum for respectful debate must be supported.”
John Swinney, the Education Secretary and Deputy First Minister, defended Scotland’s education system, pointing out that “the overall pass rate remains high at 77.4 per cent” and that the number of awards of skills-based qualifications had increased to over 50,300 this year, “more than double the number in 2012”.
“That reinforces to me, yet again, that we have fantastic young people led by dedicated teachers and lecturers delivering first-class education in our schools and colleges every day. And that is backed by a robust, credible assessment system,” he wrote.
However, Lesley Riddoch slammed ministers over the decision to make primary one children sit tests.
“The Scottish Government’s new national tests in literacy and numeracy took a pummelling last week with the publication of teachers’ concerns. Some said the test had prompted otherwise confident five-year-olds to burst into tears and one child had ‘soiled itself due to the extreme distress’. Children said things like; ‘I’m no good’, ‘I can’t do this’, and ‘Why are you making me do this?’ Others were ‘shaking and crying’. One teacher branded the tests ‘completely useless’ and ‘cruel nonsense,’ saying pupils could get high scores simply by guessing answers,” she wrote. “The urge to stuff education into five-year-old brains may be understandable but it’s not rational, helpful or kind.”
Ayesha Hazarika took Boris Johnson to task over his decision to describe women who wear burkas as looking like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers”.
“Johnson is shamefully using Muslim women as a pawn in the wider toxic, nasty, racist political climate. He can see that the far-right is on the march. He knows that there’s a growing group of people who want to a racist, anti-immigrant political leader and he’s playing to that,” she wrote.
“This about normalising hate to point where it’s so in the social bloodstream, that Muslim women are being verbally abused, intimidated, spat at, having their veils ripped off and even physically attacked.”
Brian Monteith urged the Government to legalise cannabis and tax the £2.6 billion people spend on the drug every year in Britain.
“All told I would expect there is probably a billion pounds a year in public receipts. It would be more honest because the consumption is already there but is driven underground to the benefit of organised crime,” he argued. “The police could focus on more serious crime and by taking cannabis out of the hands of criminal dealers and regulating it, it would actually be easier to control its supply to children than currently. There is concern that cannabis consumption causes mental health problems but that surely misses the point. If consumption is already significant (and it is) and it does have an impact on mental health (and it probably does) then surely it is better to bring it out into the open and allow its supply to be regulated and those with problems to be treated?”
Kenny MacAskill urged people not to forget the struggle to prevent dangerous climate change from occurring and to accept that significant changes would have to be made to our way of life.
“Many years ago, I recall speaking to an influential US Republican acquaintance who’s view of global warming was akin to that of the markets on society. There’d be winners and losers according to him, doubtless imagining warmer summers in parts like Scotland and simply regretting the catastrophe that might happen elsewhere. But, wealth and power cannot insulate you as death and destruction don’t discriminate on those criteria. Floods in Texas and fires in California have shown that wealthy parts suffer and rich folk die, even if greater efforts are made than were after Hurricane Katrina for the poor black communities of New Orleans,” he said.
“We need to change and change fast. That means governments must take decisions that are hard and probably unpopular but cannot be shirked.”
Darren McGarvey, writing bravely about his own experiences, warned about the effect pornography was having on relations between men and women.
“Increasingly, porn is used to get around intimacy and straight to gratification; making the natural ebb and flow of sexual intercourse seem slow, clumsy and cumbersome. Not only does repeated porn use rewire your sexual preferences, but physically you become a different animal; constantly setting yourself up for a fall because, on one hand, you desire sex, but it must conform to a certain, often very specific, expectation or it won’t excite you. Then there is the more humiliating factor that often you cannot physically rise to challenge of your own veracious sexual appetite,” he said.
And finally, Jim Duffy found himself in the battle of his life trying to put together some Ikea furniture, but there was a happy ending to his tale.
“As I get to about page 10, my lack of dexterity and mobility, my lack of mental agility and focus, and my lack of understanding of spacial awareness and how to follow simple instructions really kick in. All the fancy degrees in the world cannot save me now. I’ve started this Krypton Factor Ikea test and I cannot escape as the kitchen floor is strewn with wide, laminated wooden panels, wooden dowels and all the tools I can muster from my garage,” he wrote.