LETTER from THE EDITOR

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The Independent Online
Readers have complained about ''Golden Virginia'' Ironside's article on the pleasures of taking up smoking again, even suggesting that tobacco companies must have sponsored her piece. (No, Professor Ian Oswald of Innerleithen, not so.) Well, I'm sorry, I understand the anger, but if people cannot be irresponsible in The Independent from time to time, we are in a pretty pickle. We have intelligent, mostly highly educated readers. You all know the anti-smoking case. You know it kills. This is repeated directly and by implication in story after story, and in features; and has been, in virtually every medium, for years. Having once been a heavy smoker myself, I loathe smoking. But people are strange and do perverse things. Think of the dangerous and often hilarious things people get up to in pursuit of sexual fulfilment. A proper paper mirrors life; it isn't an organ of social propaganda. And anyway, the protests are strangely disproportionate. Why is it that when someone admits to taking ecstasy, smoking dope or engaging in serial adultery, no one writes in to complain, but I get a postbag, heaving with anger, about this single, personal and idiosyncratic piece on smoking?

Many people are writing in already about devolution, or Home Rule. We will hear a lot on the subject in the months ahead. But I find myself harping on the trivia - like where will the new Scottish parliament actually be? It was meant to go in the Edinburgh Royal High School building, a fine piece of Greek temple fakery chosen in the Seventies and kitted out with a chamber, microphones, committee rooms and so on. Since the failure of the 1979 referendum it has been little used. But now, apparently, ''security issues'' make the converted school a problem. You may scoff; but this worry shows that someone in government has an acute knowledge of Scottish political history.

For the High School was indeed targeted by terrorists. Luckily, however, they were hilariously incompetent ones. Calton Hill, which overlooks the would-be parliament on its northern side, is a well-known gay meeting point. This had not been appreciated by the stout class warriors of the Army of the Scottish People, who drove through from Glasgow in June 1980 intending (for obscure reasons) to bomb the building. They parked their Ford Cortina on the hillside and waited to carry the bomb into position. Then the ASP militants noticed that men kept hovering round the car. One "amorous homosexual" in particular kept knocking on the window and smiling invitingly. Eventually they panicked and drove back to Glasgow. They all went back to one flat, and left the bomb in the kitchen. It went off. Dazed and dejected, they were then arrested.

Nevertheless, it is no doubt important that this sort of thing be avoided if the Scottish parliament really is opened in a couple of years' time. But wherever it is, to be a proper parliamentary building this one will need statues outside. There must be one of John Smith, the former Labour leader and passionate devolutionist. There should certainly be one of Fletcher of Saltoun, the anti-Union leader of the Patriotic Party in the last Scottish parliament and one of the first people in these islands to make the case for British federalism - he wanted regional economic capitals to balance the power of London. But since one of the biggest threats to any new parliament is its own self-importance, there must also be a statue raised of Tam Dalyell, Labour's most passionate anti-devolutionist, shaking a great granite fist at the whole affair.

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