I WAS moved more than I can articulate by Nan Spowart’s essay (The barbaric story of the islanders cleared like cattle to Canada, Sunday National, September 13).

Apart from the heart-rending atrocities inflicted on the 451 victims seized and thrown on to the ship by the orders of Colonel John Gordon of Cluny, two other aspects of tragedy in particular struck me.

The first was how recent this awful event was. Lady Emily Gordon Cathcart, the wife of the colonel’s son John and who only visited the island once, died in 1932. This is only six years before I was born. The whole terrible story is well within the living traditions of folk memory.

The other depressing thing was how the local authorities and police cravenly executed their allocated tasks. “I am only doing what I was told to do” is the universal excuse of every lackey of every tyrant.

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And the barbaric charade goes on. It is simple obedience, blind to every human impulse, that drives us to ruin. Nothing changes. In confronting the worst thing in the world and acting against it, at Faslane, I and others today face the same obedient police as the poor folk thrown on to ships in 1851. Just doing their job, that’s all.

This is in spite of the fact that the 1945 London Agreement on War Crimes, which led to the prosecution and conviction of the Nazis, enshrined the principle that no-one, of whatever office or rank, is above the jurisdiction of international law. All individuals are deemed to be personally responsible for their actions. You cannot plead in your defence that you are merely obeying orders.

Richard Falk, professor of international law at Princeton, wrote: “Everyone has the right and duty to say no to illegal state policy … It is not disobedience but the enforcement of the law to refuse to be an accomplice to the preparation of nuclear war.”

But today at Faslane the law is ignored by officers of the law – as it was on Barra.

Brian Quail


I READ with great interest the article last Sunday on the selection of SNP candidates for the forthcoming Holyrood election and particularly noted the references to my current MSP Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North).

It is very clear from the article and the ascribed quotations that there are considerable tensions within the constituency organisation. It is surely most unusual for the constituency association of any party actively to seek challengers to the incumbent, but that is what seems to be afoot here.

I am not an SNP member but have consistently voted for Mr Gibson and there can be no doubt that he has earned the reputation of a hard-worker on behalf of his constituents, but, as Malcolm Kerr says, that is no less than we have a right to expect.

The question then arises: why do these active and engaged representatives of my constituency have less than complete confidence that Kenneth Gibson is the man to take forward the interests of this constituency into the next parliament? The issue is clearly not one of his willingness to work on behalf of his constituents. The inference I draw from the article is that there are issues around his ability or willingness to work collaboratively with the elected councillors in the constituency and with branch activists.

It is perhaps not unexpected that such difficulties arise when someone has been in post for such an extended period as Mr Gibson. It would take a high degree of self-awareness and critical self-examination to ensure that a sense of entitlement did not develop in these circumstances and that may go some way to explaining the tensions apparent in the constituency between members and their current Holyrood representative.

If the prospect of a challenger does nothing more than cause our MSP to take a step towards such self-reflection it will have served a purpose. If the challenge goes further then a new MSP in whom party activists have full confidence, it cannot be a bad thing.

David Nicholson

via email

THE comments and observations on the antics in Westminster about breaking international law and the risible reasons proffered by the hapless but autocratic Boris Johnson have been extensive, informative and also, in places, predictable.

Summation is difficult, but John Crace’s sketches in The Guardian, while witty and pointed, are more like serious summations on this clownish government at Westminster these days, where comedy mirrors actual events.

He said it succinctly when he pointed out that Johnson’s comments when opening the debate showed “serial incompetence of a man who could not remember that it was his deal he was reneging on”.

While we watch the antics and silently mock and openly shake our heads, let us not forget that the present “government” has full powers and a large majority and openly supports breaking the rule of law. Its adviser to the PM espouses weird chaos theories and seems intent on turmoil.

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Such scenarios were well known in Germany after 1933. Behind the fanfares and uniforms and chants of the Nazi equivalencies of Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory, ruthlessness was still the norm, with violence both covert and overt towards individuals and institutions increasingly prevalent with the added brutality of reneging on international treaties and assurances. Bluster and intimidation were daily occurrences and power grabs were prevalent after Hitler’s enabling acts.

The Brexit finale unfolding at Westminster is the apotheosis of the decline of post-imperial Britain. It is openly voiced in Parliament that it is now acceptable to break the law and tear up treaties. “Get Brexit done”, no matter the outcome, and especially by the ways and means it is now being rammed through, will lead to the start of the “Brexpandemic” at home and abroad.

John Edgar


I AM very disappointed at the letter from Alan Hinnrichs (September 13).

Mr Hinnrichs advises us to dump Nicola Sturgeon if she does not immediately reveal plans for a referendum. This is a view from those normally opposed to independence, but I do not put Mr Hinnrichs in that category. It is worth noting that there is a Covid pandemic crisis, that the public recognition of Nicola Sturgeon’s management of this has been superb and that independence support is higher than I have ever seen in my lifetime – 85 years and rising (I hope). I have only been an SNP member for 54 years.

In my time I have been a branch and constituency chairman in Aberdeenshire and Edinburgh, an elected member of the national council, and fought four Westminster seats as a parliamentary candidate. I never lost a deposit. In those days standing for the SNP was not conducive to helping one’s working career, but I survived.

The above is not a boast but a factual statement as to where I am coming from.

Opinion polls do not vote, Yes marches help morale, but do not necessarily create new votes. We win by identifying voters and by ensuring they vote. I recall when knocking up for Pete Wishart at one election a lady told me she was too busy but “I’ll go the morn!”

The Unionists are panicky. I see we are on a winning streak, and Nicola Sturgeon is the best leader of the SNP I have seen in my 54 years.

Think before you write, Mr Hinnrichs. I do not believe you are pro-Union, but just too impatient. At my age I should be more impatient than you.

Jim Lynch


I FIND Michael Fry’s narratives on capitalism infuriating, as is his recurring inference that human exploitation and inequality are a necessary facet of a supposed free and liberal world. Thank goodness for Kevin McKenna’s counterbalance in Wednesday’s National (Think socialism is bad ... then how about disaster capitalism?) and his account of why socialism should not be dismissed, coupled with his vivid characterisation of that neoliberal monster: the International Monetary Fund.

Capitalism is a historical economic and social system which creates grotesque wealth inequality and is exploitative of human beings. It denies us of our real worth. Our human value becomes reduced to our labour value and we are doomed to a life of alienation and mindless consumerism. Capitalism does not work, and it will never work. Its inherent contradictions facilitate structural and permanent poverty and endless human suffering. This is a world system which relies upon nurturing inequality, both intellectual and economic, and is entirely ineffective at distributing resources equitably for the common weal and sustainability of our communities.

Michael Fry presents a system that is apolitical: free trade, the labour market and entrepreneurship are presented as a neutral set of economic arrangements. This is a falsity. The neoliberal free market is in fact a structural system which inherently concentrates wealth and political power in the hands of a privileged capitalist elite. The role of the Westminster Government is to administrate this system. The current health crises tragically illustrate the social consequences of this arrangement: through the amplification of existing health inequalities and under-resourced yet profiteering care home services and with no adequate social security system. This is unacceptable in any fair and just society and will lead to our destruction. Fry has an overly simplistic notion of socialism and is clearly confused when he attributes socialist systems with what are in fact authoritarian state-controlled capitalist states like China.

McKenna references disaster capitalism and he is correct: the world is at war, poverty is rife, and we stand amid a climate emergency. Is this really the best we can have or get? Can this then be the inevitable economic system which we have to perpetuate through time?

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No it is clearly not. As McKenna illustrates, socialism may be blemished by human frailty, however we must believe that it will facilitate a higher form of human existence than how we currently live. Socialist policies and economic strategies are an existential issue. The status quo is leading us into a dystopian nightmare.

Another Scotland is possible.

Chick Hosie


“IT’S not cost effective,” I was smartly told by PM Thatcher when asking for an agricultural development programme to include the protection of biodiversity.

Would Michael Fry agree with her? Visit any scrap yard, cars are piled six deep. All manner of excess from the capital system will cover acres of ground. The Greenland ice cap is melting faster than the average Tory brain comprehends the problem of spending to survive. Plundering the environmental treasure chest is coming to an end.

Farming must respond, move to organic methods of production which includes maintaining soil fertility by using grass and cattle and wildflower breaks. Food prices are set to rise, impacting on the poorest. The speed of change is overtaking our ability to respond effectively. A major cut in lifestyles by affluent societies is required. The wealthy are most comfortably placed to set an example. In the Highlands semi-racing cars are still powering around the North Coast 500; campervans fill the roads. Those lucky enough to have a garden would be wise to buy a spade. For many it’s only a window box. Bring back potting sheds. Cycling to the allotment worked during the war.

Iain R Thomson