A casual observer from abroad might be puzzled by recent developments in British politics. On the one hand, he or she might see a surge of nationalism north of the Border in the form of an SNP majority government.
On the other, they might see a growth south of the Border of a party with independence right at the heart of its name but dedicated, apparently, to the idea of Britain.
What exactly explains the surge in support for Ukip in the South Shields by-election and English shire elections (your report, 4 May)?
The SNP and Ukip have really only one thing in common. Their growth cannot be put down simply to rise in different forms of nationalist sentiment. Their emergence is broadly due to dissatisfaction over more than half a century with over-centralised government that persistently fails to deliver.
People in the south did not vote in large numbers for Ukip simply because of Prime Minister David Cameron’s apparent weakness in dealing with our European partners.
It was a cry of despair about remoteness from the decision makers, overt political correctness, a perceived loss of identity because of immigration, and perhaps even a notion that welfare recipients are rewarded better than workers.
For politicians on both sides of the Border there are lessons. This is the centre ground pleading for answers, not simply a frustrated middle class venting its prejudices. Ukip leader Nigel Farage and his colleagues may soon learn the limitations of what can be achieved in office.
But those in the main parties need to do more than learn to listen. This time there is a need to come up with policies that are credible, practical and meet aspiration without offending the dignity of large sections of the population.
I wish to offer to my English friends a word of caution. Be careful how far you push a protest vote. You might find that you end up with that party in power, suffering from an interminable period of debate regarding an independence referendum and, even worse, being subjected to endless lecturing from Gerry Hassan about England’s place in a post-imperialist world.
Be careful what you wish for. Do you really want that?
Paul F Galloway
House O’Hill Gardens