Unbalanced

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ANYONE who wonders why President Barack Obama’s period of office has been less radical than anticipated need only look at the pending controversy over a new United States Supreme Court justice (your report, 15 February).

It would be simplistic to dismiss the late Justice Antonin Scalia as simply a reactionary on social issues, as your obituary of the same date outlines. But there can be little doubt that he represented something of a barrier to the ideals that helped propel Mr Obama to office.

Justice Scalia seems to have interpreted laws strongly in favour of the gun lobby and those who strongly support individual states determining rights to abortion. Of course his role is to interpret - in particular what the founding fathers meant when they drew up the Constitution. But his edicts seemed to fly in the face of majority opinion as expressed through ballots in the presidential elections of 2008 and 2012. His role has been part of the checks and balances that holds governments to account, certainly, but can lead to interminable delay in a country that often cries out for progress.

It should be no surprise then that Republican candidate Donald Trump is calling for “delay, delay, delay” in the appointment of the justice’s successor. He wants any decision to be put off until after next January’s inauguration of a new president - another 11 months without an Obama nominee which might just tip the balance towards more liberal Supreme Court judgments.

Of course, even that nomination could be thwarted by the existing Senate,simply reinforcing the point that the president’s discretion is always limited, as it has been throughout his seven years of office by vested interests both at home and at international level. It is a salutary lesson for those who overestimate how the American system can bring about change.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court, Glenrothes, Fife

Failed architect

Does Alex Salmond’s outburst on the European Union referendum suggest the SNP mask is slipping? (your report, 15 February)

Everyone knows Nicola Sturgeon’s favourite trigger for another independence referendum is the rest of the UK voting for an exit and Scotland seeking to remain. Alex Salmond is now talking up the chances of the Out campaign winning, safe in the certainty that a pro-EU majority in Scotland is likely.

However, if I were looking for advice on how to win the EU vote, the failed architect of the 2014 referendum wouldn’t be my natural choice.

Martin Redfern

Royal Circus, Edinburgh

Percentage game

Another defeat for the national rugby team, albeit a noble one, and this time against Wales. The parlous state of rugby in Scotland has been well-documented and commented upon, since the arrival of the professional game. We simply do not have a player base that can be sustained against the larger, or more committed nations.

It is a matter of numbers.

Of the Six Nations, Scotland has the second lowest percentage of players per population at 0.7 per cent. Wales have 2.6 per cent, Ireland (North and South ) has 2.4 per cent, England 3.2 per cent , Italy 0.2 per cent and France 5.4 per cent. By way of interest, New Zealand has 1.5 per cent, South Africa 5.9 per cent, Argentina 2.5 per cent and Australia 0.5 per cent. 

Making allowance for some manipulative reasoning, Scotland would probably end up at the bottom of a percentage to success ratio, based on these figures, with Australia and New Zealand on top. 
If we are to improve and regain a position of credibility in world rugby, which we held until, perhaps a decade ago, then immediate efforts must be made to build a player base that begins with schools, and is carried on in clubs with a proper programme of incentives and training, sustained by both government and private initiative.

It can and must be done. Whatever is in place at the present time, is not enough, plain and simple.

Hamish Alldridge

Pittenweem, Fife

No choice

Conservative Party canvassers are being urged to identify themselves as being from Ruth Davidson’s party, rather than the Scottish Conservatives, as the leader is perceived to be more popular than the party. As they are the party of the bedroom tax, food banks and benefit sanctions, it is little wonder. Meanwhile, the SNP relies on Nicola
Sturgeon’s ability to walk on water in order to hide their failings.

But we should be in no doubt: whether it is Ruth or Nicola, we will end up with the same austerity policies, the same income tax rates, the same council tax freeze and the same cuts to local government services, all designed to protect or help the better off.

Lucy Grig

Roseneath Street, Edinburgh

Computer says no

The Health Secretary plans to digitise all NHS patient records. There are problems to address with this scheme.

Not all computer systems “talk to each other”. Academic entries can be difficult to interpret by clinicians in different specialties and multiple specialty involvement can lead to loss of the central narrative on the patient’s problems.

Electronic recording tends to ignore vital verbatim patient comments, key to diagnosis, patient understanding and establishing the doctor-patient relationship.

Computer-based records can also be affected by system downtime.

(Prof) AM Martin

Eglington Crescent, Edinburgh

Votes v services

Many regular Scotsman correspondents incredibly seem to believe the Westminster government is financially competent and are critical of Finance Secretary John Swinney for not increasing income tax.

They should also ask why the chancellor refuses to raise the tax which has affected the whole of the UK, resulting in a culpable shortage of funds for local services and the NHS.

It would appear that votes are more important than services.

Brian Hunter

Liberton Place, Edinburgh

Dead against this

Rick Powell (Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities) is absolutely correct in his call for a rethink on crematoria distance limits (your report, 15 February). Who are the “ stakeholders who back the view that existing controls provided by the Scottish Planning system combined with strict monitoring by Sepa are sufficient to address all relevant issues relating to crematoriums”. We have asked these stakeholders to be named, but have yet to see who they are or if they exist.

One of the main instigators of the review of the 1902 Burial and Cremation Act was the perceived lack of respect paid to the deceased by local authorities which became known as the “Babies Ashes Scandal”.

To remove the 200 yards “respect” zone from the new Bill and place matters in the hands of local authorities rather than protection under law would be a major error.

My home is only 43 yards from a site which has been given planning permission for a crematorium. How can our family life and crematorium business be kept separate?

The public, the professional cremation and funeral businesses and the committees commissioned to look into the changes all wish the 200yds distance to be retained and even strengthened. What possible motive does health minister Shona Robison have in wishing to take it away?

Bob and Lesley Heath

Alderston, Haddington

Smack addicts

I was pleased to see the prominence given by the Scotsman to the work of Children 1st to change the law on the physical punishment of children (your report, 13 February).

However, perhaps we should stop using anodyne language such as “smacking”. Physical punishment is not an effective long-term method of discipline, but if it is to be effective in the short term, it will have to hurt. It will leave the child temporarily sore. He or she will feel humiliated and angry. It teaches children that one way to resolve difficult situations is to use violence. What it says about parental love must be very difficult to fathom for children.

It is a paradox that our society allows physical punishment to be used on the most vulnerable section of our society in the place they should be most secure – the home.

And it is in the home that this debate should begin.
People will always say that legislation will be invasive, but there are many similar examples of public policy initiatives which are now accepted. Use of the belt in schools; seatbelts; smoking in public places; smoking in cars and (possibly) minimum prices for alcohol. It is time to consign this archaic practice to history.

Douglas Turner

Derby Street, Edinburgh

Rubbish move

Plans drawn up by Brussels could see congestion charging introduced into cities. (Your report, 15 February)

In addition residents could also have to pay to have their rubbish collected.

Local authorities have been sent a document “Delivering the Europe 2020 Strategy” direct from the EU thus by-passing Westminster.

The European Union say that these changes will be needed to meet the EU-wide targets on climate change of reducing emissions by 20 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2020.

This is typical of the EU and its interference. Time to leave the dictatorial EU.

Clark Cross

Springfield Road. Linlithgow

As a person who voted for independence I can’t understand how the SNP is so pro-EU, as in my opinion the EU will continue to control Scotland instead of the UK. The pro-exit group have captured the mood. If Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson were to back the exit from EU, I am sure she would garner votes.  

John Connor

David Henderson Court, Dunfermline, Fife

Devo here to stay

Many would agree with David McEwan Hill (Letters, 13 February) that devolution is a recipe for ever continuing argument over the distribution of powers.

He offers independence as a solution. It would be but – with the polls not showing a clear majority for it – it is not on the table at present.

He also mentions the absorption of Scotland by England,which would settle matters. However, it would be anathema to the Nats, and many Unionists – not to mention vested interests such as the legal establishment.

A third way would be a federal system. This would put into the hands of the Scottish Government virtually all the powers the Nats say are necessary to cure Scotland’s ills,while meeting the basic desire of the unionists. However this would necessitate Westminster downgrading itself to a purely domestic English body.

It seems we are stuck with devolution for the foreseeable.

S Beck

Craigleith Drive, Edinburgh