Columns

Headline Losing the life and soul of the party

Rock on, Tommy. What would the Scottish Parliament be like without Mr Sheridan? It is like asking what small Scottish towns would be like if the Italians had never arrived. They would be about as exciting as watching paint that has already dried gradually flake and fall off.

Picture a wet November night in 1850s Airdrie with the chip papers blowing across the high street like tumbleweed. Do we want Holyrood to be like that?

There are very few memorable characters in our young parliament and we simply cannot afford to lose Sheridan, who is under pressure to step back from public life in the aftermath of an expose of his private life in the News of the World.

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When does security turn to paranoia?

So what, finally? So what that a middle-aged man in a wrinkled pyjama suit and bat hood climbed a wall at Buckingham Palace? After a while he got cold and came down again. Then he was arrested. Later he was released without charge as he did not appear to have broken any obvious laws.

Nobody was hurt, nobody died, nothing was damaged. The Queen and her gang weren't even there - they were about as far away as it is possible to get and still be in Britain, shooting anything that moves on the Balmoral estate.

And yet the nation seemed to go into an instant paroxysm of fear and panic. The home secretary was called to account to parliament for a ''breach of security'', calls were made for security to be stepped up.

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Policing the peace

"The terrorist and the policeman both come from the same basket," wrote the novelist Joseph Conrad in The Secret Agent in 1907. A century later, the insight retains its resonance as British police are being asked to train local forces to fight terrorism in far-flung locations. Police officers seconded from UK forces are being dispatched to help their counterparts in trouble spots in the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, East Timor and Africa.

Now officers on international secondment are being offered an online course in peace studies to help strengthen their contribution. The postgrad certificate - in international policing: peace support operations - is being offered for the first time this year by Stirling University in collaboration with the Scottish Police College and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It draws on ideas from education and politics.

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Saki and Sven Goran-Eriksson

There is a Saki story about a woman who begins telling the truth about everything, even her age, which greatly annoys her older sister. ''Veracious, even to months,'' she goes around informing everyone that she is 42 and five months old. The habit grows on her, ''like lichen upon an apparently healthy tree''. Soon she can no longer restrain herself from truth-telling. She tells the truth to her dressmaker - which is reflected in the bill. Finally, in a few ill-chosen words, she tells the cook that she drinks: ''The cook was a good cook, as cooks go, and, as cooks go, she went.'' Sadly, this satirical portrait of the pitfalls encountered by the sanctimonious truth-teller will probably seem rather shocking today.

Our increasingly puritanical society seems to demand that those in the public eye tell the truth about everything, even or especially, those matters about which  it would once have been de rigueur to dissemble.

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A place at the table for old age

IN THE former Gold Rush town of Oroville in Northern California a week ago today, a 92-year-old man leapt from the green steel of Table Mountain Bridge into the deep green water of Feather River. Coval Russell died instantly landing on rocks. He ended his life on a brilliantly sunny morning for one main reason - he was kicked out of
jail.

The incandescent beauty of the scene before him could not make up for the fact that it was not Butte County Jail where Russell spent one of the happiest years of his life. ''Pops'', as the other inmates called him, was sentenced early last year for stabbing his 70-year-old landlord with a pocketknife. Once he got used to his surroundings, razor wire and
clanging doors, Russell found some things he did not have outside.

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