WHERE now for democracy in the nations of the United Kingdom? There was the unseemly haste of the Smith Commission, which excluded the populace from having any input and delivered a miserly and mean-spirited outcome.

English Votes For English Laws (how will the Tories handle that in relation to needing Scottish Tory and Ulster DUP votes?). An EU referendum delivered in a cack-handed gamble by a prime minister who ran away as soon as his roulette spin backfired.

Judicial defeat on the need for Parliament to vote on Brexit.

A last-clown-standing PM who climbed a mountain, heard the voice of God, reached for the stars and fell flat on her face.

The dodgiest of deals with the DUP, which leaves the Good Friday Agreement hanging by a shoogly peg. Brexit ministers who make the Chuckle Brothers seem competent.

The totally avoidable horror of Grenfell Tower and its shoddy and shameful aftermath. This disunity of nations is, to use the modern phrase, “not fit for purpose”.

I am an English-born Scottish-independence-supporting Green Party member, and if there was a vote tomorrow I would again vote for Scottish independence. But this does not mean that I think the democratic set-up now in place in Scotland is or would be fit for an independent nation. And my first concern is for Orkney, the place that has been my home for the past 12 years.

Even if the politicians at Westminster and Holyrood were all selfless angels whose only regard was for the health and wellbeing of their constituents, what was best for people in a corner of Orkney would still be low on their collective agenda.

I am increasingly convinced that we need to reverse the polarity of devolution. This would mean that all democratic power starts at the smallest democratic level of community or parish councils. The electorate would then decide which powers and responsibilities to keep locally and which to sub-contract to district, county, national or international governance, with the golden rule being that local communities always have the right to revisit and amend the point at which powers are actioned.

As things stand, politicians at Westminster, Holyrood and regional council level all act as if they can dispense democracy to the electorate as they see fit. For the democratic and social health of our nation this must end.

The tragic events at Grenfell Tower show how badly wrong things can go when the justifiable needs and queries of local communities are ignored. The aftermath of this disaster also highlights the total failure of central and local government to respond adequately to such a disaster.

The centralised UK state came into being as a consequence of having to survive two World Wars. But since 1945 we have somehow managed to lose the ability to respond as a nation to major events and harness our abilities to repair as best we can the damage done. If, as I have described, power did truly start at local level then the train of events that led to the Grenfell tragedy would have been more likely to have been stopped in its tracks.

Since the early 1980s deregulation has been the mantra of choice, and over the last seven years central government has placed regulatory responsibility with local government and various quangos but starved them of the powers and resources to actually regulate, with disastrous consequences.

If we sit around waiting for central governments to lend a hand, places like Orkney will wither on the vine. And if anyone doubts our potential, are the Faroe Islands any more able and talented than the Orkney Islands? I certainly think not.
Jonathan Southerington


Did Poet of Leven really influence Robert Burns?

THE claim that the poems of Michael Bruce influenced Burns is surely open to dispute (Profile: Michael Bruce, The National, July 15). Franklyn Bliss Snyder, one of the best biographers Burns had, in expressing his satisfaction that the poet avoided a tendency to Anglicise himself, commented: “Had his native genius been less strong, it might easily have been warped entirely out of its destined orbit, and rendered as insipid as that of his contemporary Michael Bruce.”

In response to a new edition of Bruce’s poems being published, Burns declined the offer of perusing the manuscripts and giving his “opinion and suggesting ... curtailments, alterations or amendments”. He did, however, make the generous offer of sending several (as then) unpublished poems of his own, including Tam O’ Shanter, stating that any or all of them could be added to the proposed volume. They were not accepted because: “(in) the moral tendency of Bruce’s poetry, the insertion of Burns’s ‘Alloway Kirk’ would be as gross a violation of propriety as the exhibition of a farce after a tragedy.”

Incidentally, Burns died at the age of 37, not 36, as given by Martin Hannan.
Norrie Paton


I WAS enjoying Martin Hannan’s piece on the less well known Scottish poet Michael Bruce and did not pay particular attention to the accompanying picture until I had finished reading.

Doubtless you have received many messages advising that the Loch Leven featured is not the one in Kinross but rather the one near the villages of Glencoe and Ballachulish. The prominent hill on the right is Sgorr na Ciche, better known as the Pap of Glencoe.

At a height of 742m it falls short of Corbett status by a mere 20m. I offer these comments with my keen hillwalker hat on and assure you that the mistake detracted in no way from my enjoyment of the article.
JF Davidson

I THOROUGHLY enjoyed Martin Hannan’s profile of Michael Bruce, “The Poet of Loch Leven”, commemorating the 250th anniversary of his death.

One point, however, which should be mentioned is that there is a commemorative plaque in Bruce’s memory at Gairney Bridge, a couple of miles south of Kinross.

his is affixed to a wall on the right-hand side of the B996, (The Old North Road before the motorway was built), just before you reach the left turn on to the road that takes your along the south side of Loch Leven.

This plaque records the fact that “Near this spot, Michael Bruce (1746-1767) taught at a school during 1765/6”. This plaque was erected by the Michael Bruce Trust in 1939.

George M Mitchell

HAVING just completed a fascinating cruise around the Lofoten Islands, I have returned with renewed enthusiasm for the intelligence and foresight shown by our Norwegian neighbours, particularly in dealing with their oil wealth. For a country slightly smaller than Scotland in population they have done wonders in keeping their small, isolated communities viable, even inside the Arctic Circle.

Everywhere we went we saw excellent roads, elegant bridges and tunnels connecting islands and the mainland, and a multitude of ferries small and large scurrying about between small towns and villages.

One tunnel through a mountain had a huge roundabout in the middle, complete with a crossroads!

Since tourism is now an important part of their economy, another tunnel is planned large enough to take cruise ships through between two fjords thus cutting down on sailing time. Yes, I do mean a tunnel! Norway is undoubtedly an object lesson to Scotland on how to develop its physical infrastructure.

Incidentally, the locals I met clearly had a very special feeling for the Scots and a sympathy for our problems.

When I expressed the hope that our tour piper, who piped us ashore at every stop, had not woken them up too early that morning, I was assured that at the sound of the pipes everyone in the village had rushed down to the pier to greet us!

Altogether a most encouraging venture to our northern cousins.
Peter Craigie