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 Press Letters from 2001 - 2003


Published Letters to the Press, from 2001 - 2003


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Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 6  Nov 2003, p. 4, under the heading, "Whiteford: 'Thanks to a great teacher'.
I was saddened to read in the Gazette of the passing of Alan Whiteford, teacher of English at the Nicolson Institute.
Having been what in those days was called a "slow developer" at school, I vividly recall struggling with a number of subjects when I first went to the Nicolson in 1967. Strange though it may seem as one who now makes his living as a writer and public speaker, English was one of these bewildering realms.
By sheer good fortune Alan Whiteford then arrived on the scene. Our class - 1F - had him for several months. I still remember sitting electrified through the first lesson he gave us. It involved interpreting a text. The central character in it was an ex-Naval man who liked everything in his house to be kept "shipshape". Alan invited us to speculate as to the meaning of this new and seemingly obscure word. In particular, he got us thinking about what it said about the psychology of the man in question. What did it imply about how he kept his house? How might his past career have influenced it? And what might his wife and kids have thought? From this I learned that good writing was more than just descriptive. It could also invite interpretation. It could help us to see more deeply into the world and so make more sense of it. In retrospect it was a very simple lesson, I agree, but one that was an eye-opener to a 12-year old.
Next there was the matter of poetry. Alan deepened our capacity to use language to communicate feeling. He taught poetry as a tool of the heart's empathy. My own output in this regard was a few lines called "The Elephant Hunt". This entered into the feelings of a majestic beast being hunted down by old colonial types in an Indian forest. I remember it ending with the shot being fired and the great animal kept crashing through the jungle awhile from sheer momentum. I couldn't believe it when the grade came back as "Excellent". It was the first time I'd ever got "Excellent" for anything in school. So it was that Alan's teaching stimulated not only creativity, but also a confidence that could have consequences far beyond the English class.
Another thing that Alan did was that he encouraged as many of us as he could so persuade to study for Spoken English examinations. These were not part of the school curriculum, for in those days the curriculum had a very bookish focus. Alan had evidently recognised that kids raised in Lewis could benefit from being cultivated in their public speaking ability. He therefore took the trouble of arranging for an examiner from a rather Victorian-sounding institution called the English Speaking Union to come to the school once a year and listen to our presentations.
These Spoken English examinations were taken out of pleasure, not fear. It didn't matter what grade we got. The important thing was to show a gradual progression, as we learned from the coaching that Alan gave us at lunchtimes and after school hours. I remember giving a speech without notes that had to last for about 5 minutes on the theme of "Preparing for Fishing". Then to demonstrate diction, I recited Longfellow's poem, "Hiawatha". I recall Alan explaining the meaning and use of onomatopoeia - that is, words that sound like what they describe - for example, there was the rhythmic "lapping" of the waves against Hiawatha's canoe, and the resonance of this with the name of his beloved squaw, who, if I remember rightly, was called "Minihaha".
So there we are ... English taught the way that Alan Whiteford communicated it could be a doorway into understanding the nature of romance as well. And at that point, I had better sign off before my elderly mother gets even more embarrassed than she normally does when I have long letters in the Gazette!
Sign off I will, but not before one last word of thanks to a great teacher who, along with several others at the Nicolson during Eddie Young's era, gave me the tools of my trade and maintain the esteem of the school.
Doubtless the sympathies of everybody will be going out to Alan's family. Let it just be added that physical parting does not diminish the presence of figures like Alan Whiteford. The Spirit lives on. Through so many of us, it will continue to serve the whole community.

Yours faithfully

Alastair McIntosh

Published in The Herald 8 Oct 2003, p. 15 with others under the heading, "Life for Scots living in England is no better".

In the debate about anti-English feeling (October 7) it is essential that we disaggregate ethnicity from social class. Past Scottish experience of "the English" has often been one of class domination, whether by the laird, corporate chiefs, or distant public schooled civil servants. This is particularly unfortunate for the majority of ordinary English folks who, since 1066, have themselves been colonised by the same sanctimoniously odious elite for which they catch the blame in Scotland.
A difficult new dimension, made possible by cheap travel and relatively low house prices, has been a perceived influx of "oddballs" to remote communities. Greater sensitivity from incomers and locals alike are needed to face genuine threats without slipping into the lazy unacceptability of xenophobia, stereotyping and scapegoating.
Given that incomers will keep coming and that, as Jack McConnell recognises, Scotland needs them for demographic survival and vibrancy, what might be a mutually respectful way forward?
Incomers owe it to host communities to be transparent about their backgrounds. They ought be sensitive about behaviour patterns that might be experienced as domination. They might consider studying the history and literature of those they settle amongst. They should understand that merely buying a property does not overnight purchase full membership of the community. And they should expect to be able to set their seeds but without trampling the flowers already growing in a place.
Similarly, locals need to extend a welcoming and helping hand in the cultural induction process. They must accept that it can take time for incomers fully to realise that they have entered a different society. They might be more generously appreciative of the incomer's ability to create social and economic bridges with the wider world.  And above all, they might teach by example the sacred duty of hospitality in the short term, which can open the doors to full fostership into the community in the long term.
Let Scottish identity be like a good dram: enough for all, mellow aftertaste, tantalisingly heady, but not to be abused.

Yours faithfully

Alastair McIntosh


Published in The Hebridean, Stornoway, 25 Sept 2003, under the heading, "Wind Farms". 

Having been working abroad for much of the past month, I have only now caught up with the letter that you published on 4th September from A Macphail of Mid Borve responding to my 21st August article about wind farms, and asking if I could, “enlighten the public as to the procedure of removal, and in particular, describe the size of the foundation of each wind turbine…”


I have, accordingly, spoken with David Hodkinson, Managing Director of the wind energy division in AMEC. He advised me as follows: “In principle what happens is that the local authority or whoever authorises planning requires a bond to be put in place by the developer and this can be called down should the decommissioning process not take place properly. As far as I’m aware, we’re required to remove all of the above-ground infrastructure. The foundation, which will typically be a metre below ground level, remains in place. The site is required to be visually restored as it was.”


Mr Hodkinson added: “Any interference with water courses will be avoided as part of the design process.”


In response to more specific aspects of A Macphail’s question, he passed me on to his colleague, Sandra Painter, who is Head of Consents. She said that the foundation for a large wind turbine typically comprises 10 – 15 square metres of reinforced concrete, set below ground level. Unless specifically required to do so, they would not plan to remove foundations in the event of decommissioning because this would cause disruption whilst leaving them in place is harmless.


She said that while present calculations of viability have been based on 2 – 2.5 megawatt machines, by the time the project is ready to start in, say, 5 years’ time, the norm may be to use 3 – 4 MW machines. Due to this uncertainty they cannot yet say what the precise height of the turbines will be.


Another uncertainty is the means of connection to the National Grid. Options are still being explored, and questions such as whether the transmission lines will be overground or underground cannot at this stage be answered.


I asked why AMEC should bother with the Western Isles when there must be easier sites to develop on the mainland. She said it was because they were invited in. The Council had approached them, being interested in developing Lewis as a centre of excellence in environmentally-friendly energy production.


I notice from their website that AMEC are a vast company with interests spanning food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, electricity transmission and even nuclear waste packaging. With 45,000 employees worldwide and an annual turnover of £5 billion, they are a considerably larger economic entity than the entire Western Isles. This need not in itself be problematic. If Lewis is to export energy to the National Grid (and thereby contribute more towards environmental sustainability and balancing the nation’s books), the reality is that companies like AMEC will be necessary partners. Unlike with a superquarry company, the consequences can be dismantled after 20 years if necessary.


Those favourable points made, there clearly remain concerns about community benefit, land value capitalisation, zoning and the protection of prime landscape where crucial details have yet to be worked out. These must be explored and agreed through democratic community structures at as early a stage as possible to avoid the risk of planning blight.


In short, hard questions must be asked, and hindsight engaged from the outset.


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh


Published as the lead letter in The Herald, 9 September 2003, p. 17, under the heading, "Stunning lesson in Scottish internationalism".

DAVID Blunkett should have been at Dungavel last Saturday for a stunning lesson in One World Scots Internationalism. Here stood Scotland as a community of inclusive national identity, where all can belong who are willing to cherish and be cherished by this place and its peoples. A Scotland where "a man's a man for a' that", and Maya Angelou can arrive from black America telling how Robert Burns's Slave's Lament taught her that we really are capable of rising above such bygone perversions as the Ku Klux Klan, the Fiery Cross, and those over-trumpeted Imperial Scots, adjutancy of a sordid British Empire.

Where hospitality is a sacred duty for the short term, and fostership a gift of grace when folks are in it for the long haul. Where nurture counts for more than mere blood lineage because of conscious choosing and being chosen to belong (And did not one Joseph foster a seeming bastard child into royal lineage to do his stuff?) and thus such hearkening Gaelic proverbs as, "The bonds of milk are stronger than the bonds of blood". Where our constitutional charter Declaration of Arbroath reminds us to loosen up, for a' that: for ultimately, in this "Community of the Realm", there is "neither weighting nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman".

Ultimately, indeed, what binds us in this community-writ-large of Scottish nationhood is our stance towards freedom. A freedom that knows no distinction of race or religion or other cause for domination. A freedom that asks us to stand this ground, with reverence for that among which we tread. A freedom to look our neighbour directly in the eye, and offer back the same such honesty of being.

Then, as Ben Okri says: "Exile ends when we sense that home is everywhere that the soul can sing from". And with MacDiarmid: "The inward gates of a bird are always open . . . That is the secret of its song".

Alastair Mcintosh, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, Fife.



Published as the featured letter in The Herald, Glasgow, 27 June 2003, p. 19, under the heading, "Sioux example to put an end to Campbellism". [Nb.  This pertains to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's spin doctor and his role in producing the "dodgy dossier" leading up to the 2nd Gulf War in Iraq. It addresses the reputation historically given to clan Campbell on account of their massacre of the Macdonalds of Glencoe on 13 February 1692. I would define "Campbellism" as being "the stereotyping of a person by their name".]

IF I were a Campbell, I would feel hurt and caricatured in an almost "racist" manner by your cartoonist Bill's quip: "These slippery Campbells used to be all cut and thrust . . . but now they're all cut and paste" (June 25).

On the same day you reported how the Lakota Sioux have opened a war memorial to the dead of Little Bighorn, 127 years after the event. What your brief report lacked space to mention is that the ceremony, attended by 30,000 Native Americans, was opened by Crow Indians, who had actually betrayed the Sioux and other bands to General Custer.

Asked why the auld enemy were being so honoured, a Sioux spokesman simply said: "We have forgiven the Crow." It had become understood that the Crow, like the Campbells, had been manipulated as tools of imperialism and that the time had come to heal that traumatic history.

Bill's cartoon reinforces Scottish clan stereotypes that some of us, it is true to say, have had embedded at an almost instinctual level. Like racism, such Campbellism is no longer acceptable in modern Scotland. Dealing with Alastair Campbell ought be a matter separate from his surname. We must learn from the Native Americans. It is time to forgive the past and renounce such caricatures.

Alastair McIntosh, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn.


Published in The Herald, 18 April 2003, p. 23, with another under the heading, "Black incomers have other things to worry about". 

I would concur that Sir Ian Noble probably expressed himself less eloquently than he might have intended. Unfortunately, Andrew Lockhart Walker is no more sensitive in claiming, “I am no anti-English racist…” but “… English immigration into Skye should be stopped” (letters, April 17).
I agree with both Noble and Walker that Scotland and, specifically, Gaelic Scotland, is facing a cultural crisis. We all know the reasons for this and Noble, Walker and I have done what we can, within further education, business and in our books, to address it. Where we must be terribly careful is never to permit our cultural values to become racially defined. Culture is something that people can do something about, whereas “race” is a closed concept that shuts minds.
The touchstone must be that you belong inasmuch as you are willing to cherish, and be cherished, by a place and its peoples. In sustaining communities of place that, incidentally, is a challenge to incomers and locals alike.
 Alastair McIntosh

Published in The Herald, 15 April 2003, p.17 as the feature letter under the heading, "Setting the Scottish record straight".

"Stands Scotland where it did?" asked Shakespeare's Macduff, to which Ross replied: "Alas, poor country - almost afraid to know itself! It cannot be call'd our mother, but our grave".

While I admire Sir Iain Noble's efforts for the Gaelic language, he shares a trait of many imperial Scots. He sells the underlying mother culture short and boxes Scotland's Gaelic roots into a racist grave (Landowner condemned for his "offensive" black ghetto speech, April 14). While this might delight some members of the "Scottish" Countryside Alliance, others of us, not least for the reassurance of our black and ethnic minority compatriots, wish to set the record straight.

The very notion of Scotland is both historically Gaelic in considerable degree, and internationalist. As William Ferguson shows in his magisterial The Identity of the Scottish Nation (EUP, 1998), Scottish identity rests on Gaelic origin myths. While factually questionable, psychologically these legends can help to understand and chart our course.

The 1320 Declaration of Arbroath mentions that "the chronicles and books of the ancients" point to our having been a migrant people. Mythologically, we originated in ancient Scythia by the Black Sea and travelled for hundreds of years - via the Holy Land, Egypt, Spain, and Ireland - before coming to rest on this island. As proof of these wanderings we brought along the Stone of Destiny - "Jacob's Pillow" of the original Genesis 28 version of Stairway to Heaven.

According to medieval texts like the Scotichronicon and the Lebor Gabála, the Scots' leader reconstructed Gaelic (as the original language of Eden) from the 72 languages of the world after the fall of the Tower of Babel. He married Scota, daughter of Pharaoh, who gave Scotland its name. Some versions imply that this was the same daughter as disobeyed her tyrannical father's edict with respect to baby Moses. We might infer, with a most delicious piquancy, that the mother of the Scottish nation was both a feminist and "black"!

The Declaration of Arbroath is uncompromising in its assertion of Scottish identity. At the same time, it echoes Galatians 3:28 in remarkably reminding us that, before God, "There is neither weighting nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman". How might we understand this particular "Caledonian antisyzygy" or Scots yoking of apparent opposites? A look at the Gaelic traditions of hospitality and fostership suggests answers that speak loudly to today's world.

Hospitality is for the short term and fostership for permanence. Both were held sacred. The nineteenth-century folklorist, Alexander Carmichael, remarked that fostership "was a peculiarly close and tender tie, more close and more tender than blood". Gaelic proverbs affirming this include, "Blood to the twentieth, fostership to the 100th degree," and, "The bonds of milk [ie, nurture] are stronger than the bonds of blood [ie, nature]".

These traditions are rooted in both tribal bonding and religion. It is Christ who goes in the stranger's guise, thus counselling hospitality (Matthew 25:35), and Jesus could never have fulfilled prophecy had Joseph not fostered him into the House of David (Matthew 1).

Set in such light, Sir Iain Noble's idealisation of racial purity is inconsistent with the very tradition he champions. That tradition respects guests but expects them to reciprocate respectfully. At its best, it asks the outsider not to trample the flowers found here but offers sharing and invites contribution.

Such are the deep roots of Scots internationalism, and we find it proclaimed in our finest national anthems, such as those of Robert Burns and Hamish Henderson. Such is the underlying mother culture that makes it possible, in the words of a current Executive advertisement, to celebrate "Many cultures; one Scotland".

It's time to drop any residual Shakespearean cringe at knowing ourselves. The world needs this understanding of strong but inclusive national identity. Let's turn up the music and get on with the ceilidh.

Alastair McIntosh, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, Fife.




Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 11 April 2003, p. 21, with others under the heading, "Ten disturbing questions for the war's supporters".


In the days to come we, the near-90% of your letter writers who opposed this war, can expect to be vilified by the cluster bomb triumphalists. We will be called to recant. We will be told that this victorious draining of America’s post-Vietnam quagmire exposes our gnat-brained naivety. We will be told that any who question the right of might threatens freedom and democracy.
Well, let us go canny in our response. While the proof of violence is immediate, the test of peace is slow.
Let us accept that we’ve been thrust into an experiment where we can but watch and see whether this war really smothers out the fire of terrorism, or whether, like a fast-breeder nuclear reactor, it starts a chain reaction.
Let us coolly compare the progress of Afghanistan and Iraq with countries like the Philippines and Eastern Europe, where revolutions toppling dictators were substantially nonviolent.
And let us finally ask, where were the hawks as our politicians cynically fobbed off our protests and Amnesty International letters over 3 decades; as those in power built up, sustained, and, only when he became disobedient, pulled down that icon of their own dark psychological shadow - that scion of the West’s own self-seeking colonial manoeuvring – Saddam Hussein.
Yours faithfully,
Alastair McIntosh

Published in The Herald, 24 March 2003, p. 17, with other anti-war letters under the heading, "Tears of joy turn to sorrow after 58 years".

Dear Sir

Dr Johnson summed it up during his journey to the Hebrides in 1773: "Yet what the Romans did to other nations, was in a great degree done by Cromwell to the Scots; he civilized them by conquest, and introduced by useful violence the arts of peace.”
Then, such military and cultural invasion was called Empire. Today, lest amid the bombs and bluster we forget, it's called Globalisation.
But it's the same old competitive Roman story; the grandiose, narcissistic and brutally patronising antithesis of that Scots Internationalism by which we can and will build a co-operative One World alternative, "for a' that, an a' that".
Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, 14 Feb 2003, p. 23, with others under the heading, "Some alternative solutions instead of war", and in response to a letter by mainstream Scottish church leaders (except RC) calling on people to attend Saturday's anti-war march.


Dear Sir


What has Scotland done to deserve a Church leadership (Letters, February 13) of which we can now be so proud?


Alastair McIntosh


Published in The Herald, 6 Feb 2003, p.21, with another under the heading, "A disgrace and an affront to democracy".


Dear Sir


I can never understand why the London press harps on about a leadership crisis in the Conservative Party when it's got such a supremo in Tory Blair.


Alastair McIntosh,

6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, Fife,

Scotland, Old Europe.




Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 23 January 2003, p. 21, as a lead letter under the heading "War will be unconstitutional unless it is 'just'" (Nb. there is a detailed exploration of British constitutional theology and war on this site in relation to Trident nuclear submarines - click here). 


Dear Sir

"Under royal prerogative," writes Iain Macwhirter (February 22), the prime minister "has the right to go to war without a vote in parliament".

So now we see the state we're in. Lord Hailsham's accusation of an "elective dictatorship" is vindicated. Not only is our British constitution explicitly, centrally, and, arguably, irrevocably sectarian under Article II of the Acts of Union 1707, etc, but the future of world peace now rests on a residual feudal notion of "prerogative"!

Even the great constitutional expert, A V Dicey, admitted that this term "has caused more perplexity to students than any other expression referring to the constitution".

Dicey's view was that "prerogative" was merely "the residue of discretionary or arbitrary authority, which at any given time is legally left in the hands of the Crown". As such, his definition is broadly consistent with his famous eight-word summary of the British constitutional position, namely, "What the Queen in Parliament enacts is law."

The other great institutional authority on the matter, Sir William Blackstone, took the view on which Blair's position now depends. He maintained that "prerogative" was "that special pre-eminence which the King hath, over and above all other persons, and out of the ordinary course of the common law, in right of his royal dignity".

Now, it is manifestly demonstrable that the core source of "royal dignity" and legitimacy in Britain is spiritually constructed.

Speaking for Scotland, Lord Stair famously surmises that religion provides "the prime positive law of God" so as to "make the absolute sovereign divine law".

For England, Blackstone concurs, saying that the "unerring rules laid down by the great Creator" are binding to the extent that, "no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this".

These principles were implicit to Scotland's constitutional charter text, the Declaration of Arbroath (1320). They are central to the Acts of Union (1707). They surface again in the Church of Scotland Act (1921) which acknowledges that "the Church and State owe mutual duties to each other" in honouring God and recognising "the divine appointment and authority of the civil magistrate". Likewise in the Coronation ceremony's reference to the Bible comprising "the Royal Law". Lastly, they are found in the Royal Titles Act (1954), specifying that the Sovereign is, by divine grace, "Defender of the Faith" - accounting for the "DG" and "FD" on all British coins.

In short, the construct of "royal dignity" upon which Blackstone gives Tony Blair absolute power as the sovereign's stand-in, is theocratic.

But there, also, lie the checks and balances on such power. For, while the sovereign may be Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, she is also "Defender of the Faith". As such, it would be unconstitutional to go to war if it did not, as a minimum, conform with Christian constructs of "just war".

If Blair is not to confirm the Tory poster's "demon eyes" caricature he is left with an interesting consideration. Constitutionally, it may rest with the Established English and Scottish churches to say whether a prime minister's warmongering is treasonable.

Alastair McIntosh, 6 Abden Court, Kinghorn, Fife.




Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 14 September 2002, p. 12, under the heading "Global renown".


Dear Sir


Prospective buyers might value, and will certainly be measured up against, the fact that the Herald's independence is renowned internationally, and not just at home.


The spring 2002 issue of the influential American journal, Whole Earth Review, carries a review of "uncensored" international news media. There, amongst 26 online recommended sources of "news you can trust, from whatever perspective", and alongside The American Civil Liberties Union, the Afghan Daily and The Electronic Intifada, is our very own, The Herald.


The write-up says: "Always inquisitive and feisty (one of the first newspapers to report on plans by Borders Books and Music to use surveillance cameras for checking customers' faces against police data), this Glasgow-based site ran articles soon after the 9/11 attack about British and American operations in the Mideast 'that never touched public consciousness in the west.'"


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh



Published in the Stornoway Gazette, 5 September 2002, under the heading, "The thin edge of a wedge".


Dear Madam
As befits the modern age, the argument in favour of Sunday air and ferry services is a very individualistic one. It is that a majority should not be able to dictate the wishes of a minority.
The weakness of this position is exposed if one grants that the glue that holds together a community as a whole matters more than the fragmentary concerns of communities of interest.
Sunday travel will inevitably be the thin edge of a wedge. It will pull many people in to the temptation, or the “necessity”, of seven-days-a-week business activity. Homes offering bed and breakfast will be forced to have people coming and going on Sunday, promotion prospects of staff in travel companies will be subtly affected by their willingness to work on Sunday, emergency and support service staff will need to turn up for duty, and so on.
In short, the issue in question is not one of minority versus majority rights. Rather, it is a debate about whether Lewis and Harris should continue being a place where the community as a whole is marked by, and partly defined by, having a collective period of rest and reflection in which it is simply not the done thing to bother one’s neighbour with commercial demands.
Many of us have, since childhood, frequently been inconvenienced by the lack of Sunday transport back home. Many of us know ourselves and know that, if it is now provided, we will probably make use of it - just as we do with public services on the mainland. In particular, many of us sympathise with those of our friends and colleagues who see this as a necessary step “to pull the islands into the modern world”. And yet, and yet, will the community be stronger, and will many of us really be happier, if Mammon is allowed to win on this score too?
Yours faithully
Alastair McIntosh


Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 4 September 2002, p. 19, in counterpoint to another letter under the heading, "CND saddled with the dead hand of careerists".


Dear Sir


Gordon McNeill suggests that Brian Quail, Secretary of Scottish CND, along with other “self-righteous brethren, nice but daft old biddies and the po-faced clerics” are ineffective.


Well, over the past five years I have been in the peculiar position of having lectured to some two thousand senior military officers on the Advanced Command & Staff Course at Britain’s foremost military training institute.


Pulling no punches, I suggest that whilst most of us are prepared to die for our countries, the difference between violent and nonviolent approaches to building peace lies in whether we’re also prepared to kill for our beliefs, and especially, to do so with genocidal weapons.


Far from being ostracised, I find that the military respond warmly to such views. “They help us to remember the values we’re serving,” I get told time and time again. “You and your protestor friends at Faslane help to stop us from getting carried away in our own little world. If you weren’t there, it would be easier to forget the awesome responsibilities that we carry”.


The genius of Brian Quail’s recent remarks on breastfeeding and Trident is that he shifts the debate about violence away from the merely symptomatic military and geopolitical factors and onto the underlying psychological and spiritual roots.


How? Because nothing testifies to tenderness more powerfully than a child at the breast. It is a visceral reminder of the love that too many folks have lacked in their own childhoods and which, unrecognised and unresolved, underlies violence in the adult world.


Quail’s may be “a voice crying in the wilderness”, but such messages carry far.


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh




Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 12 July 2002, under the heading, "Eigg's old master".


Dear Sir


It seems lamentable that the Catholic Church's proposed sale of The Lamentation may have to be determined abroad (Ownership dispute that halted sale of Eigg's old master may go to Vatican, July 10).


Given that it is valued at under £20,000, can a way not be found to acquire it for the nation?


This picture is of great importance. It shows a love that will never die, even when all else is put to death. It illuminates an expression of women's ministry in what has been called "the spirituality of the foot of the Cross".


The old Gaelic name of Eigg is Eilean nan Ban Mhor - "the Island of the Great Lady". Whether the lady in question was St Bride, Mary, or some other "big woman", this picture belongs to that place. It is part of the Hebrides' richly diverse spiritual traditions.


That heritage is a lighthouse for many who visit or live there. May its beam shine on. May the picture be returned.


Yours faithfully 


 Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 7 May 2002, with others under the heading, "Ancien regime swiftly and brutally restored".


Dear Sir

I am surprised that the wigless Colin McEachran, QC, made front-page headlines (May 4) when a much more significant case, involving Lord Prosser in Edinburgh's High Court of Justiciary, slipped by unremarked in the media on March 30, 2001.

To quote from Angie Zelter's book, Trident on Trial (Luath Press), "Lord Prosser appeared without his wig and without looking anyone in the eye. In a weak and unconvincing manner, he stated that the answers to all four questions [about the illegality of Trident submarines] were negative. He was not accompanied by Lords Kirkwood and Penrose [who had formed the judgment with him] - but by two others".

Advocates who were present said they would likely have been thrown out as "improperly dressed" had they appeared in court similarly naked. To the suggestion that Prosser had perhaps accidentally left it behind on the bus that day, one advocate said: "He could easily have borrowed one."

Most observers saw this as Lord Prosser signalling dissent with his own ignominiously political judgment. Would that such public servants had the conviction to do more than merely fiddle with what's over their heads.

Yours faithfully

Alastair McIntosh


Published in The Big Issue in Scotland as "Letter of the Week", 2 May 2002, Issue 373, p. 28 under the heading, "An open letter to the Prime Minister".

The following letter was sent to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 8th March. It was written by prominent Scottish Muslims and Christians in personal capacities including the Imam and the President of Glasgow Central Mosque, Quakers, a Jesuit, a Notre Dame sister, a Church of Scotland minister and an Episcopalian priest. So far Mr Blair's office has not issued any acknowledgement. It is now being made public as an open letter through the Big Issue in Scotland.



Christian Muslim Forum

1 Mosque Ave


G5 9TA


8 March 2002



Rt Hon Tony Blair

10 Downing St





Dear Mr Blair


We are members of the Christian Muslim Forum which meets regularly in Glasgow to maintain good relations between our communities. At a recent meeting we discussed the impending threat of attack against Iraq.


We condemn the abuses of human rights that have taken place in Iraq but equally we unreservedly condemn any intention to attack Iraq.


As common citizens inspired by faiths which grow out of a spirit of justice, peace and integrity we actively oppose violence such as is being planned. We call upon you to work unstintingly for peace through dialogue and negotiation.


As Christians and Muslims we object to our religions being used to justify and support aggression. We are committed to continuing our work for peace through prayer and friendship.


Yours sincerely



Bashir Maan

Habib Rauf

Andrew Barr

Isabel Smyth

Tom MacIntyre

Ellen Moxley

Alastair McIntosh

Shabbir Akhtar

Damian Howard

M T Shaheen

T H Shah


Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 18 March 2002, p. 15, with others under the heading, "State terrorism is even worse".

Dear Sir


The story is told in Jewish tradition of a young Rabbi who said to an elder, “How come that in days gone by people saw God, but they don’t anymore?”


The elder replied, “Because these days, nobody’s prepared to stoop low enough.”


In his criticism of Ariel Sharon’s “bloody and brutal policies”, Pete Tobias, as the Rabbi of Glasgow New Synagogue, has evidently struggled to stoop (Letters, March 14). But in so doing, he has shown us something of God.

Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 14 March 2002, p. 19, with others under the heading, "Empty rhetoric on Palestine is not enough". 


Dear Sir


Bashir Maan's description of the Palestinian tragedy as a "slow holocaust" (Letters, March 8) invites defence against those who have written in condemning it.


The word, “holocaust”, means “a sacrifice wholly consumed by fire” or “complete destruction by fire” especially “of a large number of persons” (Oxford English Dictionary). It was first used in 1497, considerably before the Nazi holocaust and therefore does not belong uniquely to that particular context.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


The first dozen chapters of the book of Joshua in the Bible depict the “Promised Land” being seized under a holy mandate of colonisation. The word, “holocaust”, is entirely fitting. City after city falls to Joshua.  The twelve thousand men and women of Ai are “utterly destroyed” and the city itself burnt and made “a heap forever, even a desolation” (Joshua 8).


Moses similarly perpetrates holocaust (Numbers 31) and King David hunts Philistines (“Palestinians”) merely for their foreskins to pay his bride price (1 Samuel 18). At the end of the day, however, God indicts David as a war criminal. He says: “You shall not build a house for my name, for you are a warrior and have shed blood” (1 Chronicles 28). Indeed, God had earlier objected to the Israelites even having a human king in the first place precisely because it would militarise them (1 Samuel 8).


Seen historically then, the Israeli oppression of Palestinians is, indeed, an ongoing “slow holocaust”. Only by gripping the spiritual roots of such holocausts, as Jeremiah did, can we make sense of Middle East geopolitics today and emerge with heartfelt sympathy for all parties blinded in the spiral of violence.


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 9 Feb 2002, p.13, with a letter from Allan Murray of the Scottish Countryside Alliance headed, "No alliance control over 'rural rebels'".



Dear Sir


If the militant wing of the Countryside Alliance are to continue their campaign, they should consider learning from our Scottish traditions of non-violent direct action. They should join the bigtime fox hunt, and help to flush out Trident nuclear submarines at the Faslane Big Blockade next Monday to Wednesday [11th -13th].


In so doing, they might learn how to protest in ways that respect, rather than cause injury to the police. Indeed, these "Rural Rebels" might reflect on whether it is actually possible to advance the interests of recreational killing nonviolently.


Yours sincerely



Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 6 Feb 2002, p. 17, with a letter on the same topic from Bill Macaskill of Inverness under the heading, "Landowner Lobby and Wild Propaganda".



Dear Sir


Landowner Charles Pearson seems to think that the late Donald Dewar was disingenuous in saying that “good landowners have nothing to fear” (Estate owners claim reform plans hurting investment, February 4).


If a “good landowner” is one who optimally serves the social and natural environment of a place, then by definition, an owner who enjoys the support of the surrounding community is “good”. I have, for example, heard the Duke of Buccleuch claim to be in this category.


Only last month, I was invited, by the factor of a Highland estate, to meet with the owners who, largely out of community spirit, are considering gifting all their extensive croft lands to the crofters.


Ironically, I found myself advising that the biggest difficulty might be persuading the crofters to accept! On this particular estate there has been little cause for complaint over the years: the estate has arguably played a useful role as part of a wider community of interests.


If Mr Pearson’s management of his own estate has ensured similar local consent, then he too will, as Donald Dewar promised, have little to fear from land reform. However, if the local community have good reason to wish to see the back of him and his type, then the legislation will provide them with an organising framework.


Accordingly, land reform leaves Mr Pearson with two options. He can enhance the value of his property by managing the resource in ways that have community consent and so generate stability. Or he can behave in such a way that, as he puts it, the best advice would be, to “cash in and get out while you have something left to sell”.


Yours faithfully



Alastair McIntosh



Published in The Herald, Glasgow, 1 December 2001, on the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Dear Sir


Our MSPs of various parties, and particularly the Executive, warmly deserve your editorial plaudit that the Land Reform (Scotland) Bill is a "radical document". Anybody who doubts this need only read Thursday's Daily Telegraph with its front-page story, saying: "Landowners claimed yesterday they were facing the 'nightmare scenario' [whereby] crofting communities in the north of Scotland will be able to take land and salmon fishing rights from families that have run private estates for generations."


Well, precisely. It's called the return of property which, as R D Don of Caithness points out in his splendid letter of 30 November, has never been "private" property in Scots law, but has only been lent, on the people's behalf, by the Scottish Crown.


However, in praising the land reform Bill as relatively "radical", there are two provisos. One, that this is but a starting point. It is land reform, as the Scottish Office's 1999 "Green Paper" promised, "not as a once-for-all issue but as an ongoing process."


And two, that MSPs must not water down the Bill in committee stage. If anything, they might fortify it, whilst watching their backs. For as Brian Wilson MP put it in a letter to me of 19 November, that I quote with his permission: "The whole land debate is now entering a crucial phase and the opportunity will either be seized or lost. The landowners are certainly organising hard and lobbying brutally. I can only hope that a similar level of activity will be maintained from the other side of the argument throughout the Bill's progress through the Scottish Parliament."


So-called "landowners" represent a concentrated, well-connected, wealthy oligarchy who will bend with the wind of reform then bounce back like a whipcrack. Just a thousand owners control nearly two-thirds of Scotland, and do so not primarily for the people, but to enjoy recreational killing, hijacked social standing and speculative capital gains.


This debate is not about anti-English xenophobia, as Allan Murray of the Scottish Countryside Alliance seems to think (Letters, 30 November). It is about power - the power of a ruling class which, as the Daily Telegraph admits, "have run private estates for generations", or at least since 1746; a class that also colonises the common people of England, where the most illustrative "noble families" have maintained permanent occupation since 1066 with periodic "countryside marches" into Scotland; a class that is, at long last, being made accountable by virtue of having got back our own parliament, thereby finding the voice this "parcel of rogues" took from us at an early stage.


That is why land reform is just the first stage. Learning anew how to function responsibly and effectively as rural and urban communities, and developing parliamentary political maturity, will take a little longer.


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh




Published in The Scotsman, 9-10-01, p. 15, in counterpoint to another letter that had been headed, "Islam must put its own house in order". Only the first half of this letter was published - the portion shown below in italicised text was cut.


6 October 2001


Letters to the Editor

The Scotsman



Dear Sir


Brian Allan's letter misrepresents the Qu'ran by quoting out of context Surah 9:5, about slaying the "infidels" (6 October). In proper context, this verse describes Islamic "just war" theory, and goes on to require that any "non-believer" requesting asylum must be given what Qu'ranic commentaries describe as double protection - protection against both Muslims and protection from their own people - because "Allah is oft-forgiving and most merciful."


As such, the notorious passage that Mr Allan quotes is actually one of many examples where Islam, whilst not pacifist, can be seen to be more accommodating of human rights than Old Testament law, most notoriously, in chapters 20 - 25 of Deuteronomy. In these passages Moses sanctioned both male genocide and the violation of beautiful women captured as booty in warfare, as well as the stoning of drunken or gluttonous youths and the cutting off "without pity" of miscreant women's hands.


Thankfully, most Jews and Christians have allegorised or otherwise abrogated these antiquated and embarrassing components of the Holy Bible. On the basis of doing unto others as we would have done to us, it might be mutually beneficial to allow Muslims the same opportunity in dealing with difficult Qu'ranic passages so that the highest potential humanity of Islam can more readily find expression.


Yours sincerely



Alastair McIntosh




Published in The Herald, 15-2-01, p. 19, in column headed, "Parliament's scope to fight Trident," with letters' page banner headline highlighting the quote, "Perhaps we should not have assumed that this country was above what happened to the media in Nazi Germany."


Letters to the Editor

The Herald


Dear Sir


Iain Macwhirter is disturbed at how roundly the Daily Record denigrated Monday's Faslane demonstration (It's now time for someone to call the Trident bluff, Feb 14). Well, during the Gulf War, I monitored media coverage for Scottish church leaders. A report, The GulfWatch Papers, is in Issue 87 of the Edinburgh Review and on the Internet. One of our observations was that the Daily Record, which had challenged Britain's role in the escalation of hostilities, had great difficulty in subsequently getting a reporter to the spot once the fighting started. Whitehall had placed PR control into the hands of a specialist private company, thereby distancing accountability from the democratic process. Reporting permits to Saudi Arabia were rationed, and the Record, as Scotland's leading tabloid, was initially deemed unworthy of getting one.


In a competitive environment this amounted to manipulation. It meant the Record couldn't make its crust by getting the best stories. Perhaps this threatening experience partly explains that paper's subsequent hawkish stance over both Kosovo and Trident. Perhaps we are looking at the carpetbombing of consciousness. Perhaps this is how the social construction of unacceptable realities is manufactured. Perhaps we should not have assumed that this country was above what happened to the media in Nazi Germany.


Such is the Achilles' heal of the media. It is very good at digging out the stories behind the stories beyond its own backyard. But it takes great editorial courage when those stories concern the industry's own control and ownership.


Yours faithfully


Alastair McIntosh.




Published in The Herald, 9 Feb 2001, p. 23, under the heading, "Faslane blockade."


Letters to the Editor

The Herald


Dear Sir


I see that, once again, your columnist Ron Ferguson is both guilty and not guilty in his support of next Monday's blockade at Faslane (The doomsday clock is still ticking, Feb 8).

Guilty, as usual, of preaching Christianity.


Not guilty, of treason in the face of the British constitution.


May members of the armed forces asked to make arrests on Monday take heed. After all, their Commander in Chief under the Royal Titles Act (1953) purports to be, by Divine Grace, "Defender of the Faith."


Have I missed something, or does this not make the possession of genocidal weapons treasonable?


Yours faithfully



Alastair McIntosh



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