As a fellow Scot, an alumnus of the same University as yourself, and an admirer of your strength of character if not your politics, I hope I may address you familiarly as one man to another.
Let me begin with a blinding statement of the obvious. Every vote on which your Party candidates depend for their election to Parliament, and hence on which you personally depend for your continuing to hold your high office, comes from a citizen of the United Kingdom or, if you prefer, from a subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Your first concerns must therefore be defence of the realm and maintenance of good order within it.
The wars in which the nation is currently engaged are far from popular with most of your electorate. Your Party gets no votes from Afghanistan, Iraq, the United States of America, the countries of mainland Europe, or the "Third World". I feel certain that the Queen's most mature and responsible subjects cannot possibly support the continuing waste of the lives and health of the nation's most energetic young men and women, the flower of British society, in futile wars which have little to do with the defence of the realm but rather tend to make enemies at home as well as abroad. As I have argued elsewhere, there never has been such a thing as a "just" war: justice is always on the side of defence against aggression.
The crocodile condolences, which in your predecessor's term of office became such a depressing feature of Prime Minister's Questions, sound very hollow when it becomes known that a soldier who on a foreign battlefield sustains multiple injuries, including the loss of both legs, is deemed worthy to receive only a fraction of the compensation allotted to a minor Civil Servant who sustains "repetitive strain injury" operating a keyboard in a comfortable government office. Politicians whose greatest desire is to save face will advise you not to "cut and run" from Iraq and Afghanistan. Nevertheless, that is precisely what both morality and ordinary common sense insist you should do. There is no reason to suppose that the feared consequences will turn out to be any worse than the present grim reality.
Of course I realise that military support for friends and allies has long been taken as the acid test of solidarity; but it should by now be obvious that technology has rendered military might powerless against determined ideological opposition from small groups of fanatics, however misguided, who equate suicide with martyrdom. Insurgent terrorism cannot be eliminated by state terrorism. It is difficult enough to counter suicide bombers ideologically without continuing to provide them with ideological ammunition in the form of "collateral damage" inflicted on defenceless civilians by aerial bombing, long-range guided missiles, and sneaky land mines, all of which lack any semblance of chivalry.
Support for friends and allies should be limited to moral support and I emphasise moral. Treaties which might involve going to war at the behest of a hysterically bellicose President, whether of the United States or of a European Union, should be renegotiated. The so-called "independent" nuclear deterrent, which for over fifty years has cost the British tax-payer far too much treasure without its ever being "used", should be abandoned as being no longer credible as a deterrent. It could, however, easily be seen as a challenge to an aggressor and so place the United Kingdom in the class of candidates for early elimination as a possible combatant. Hence the United Kingdom should emulate Switzerland, another small country with clearly defined boundaries, and adopt a foreign policy of strict neutrality while making the best possible provision for defence of the homeland against natural disasters and insurgency at home as well as any threat of invasion from abroad.
Earl Mountbatten had the good sense to combine the War Office and Admiralty, relics of Imperial power, into a unified Ministry of Defence. It's a pity he didn't at the same time reduce three forces to two by dispensing with the Royal Air Force as an entity and thus eliminating a purely political obstacle to military efficiency. No-one can survive for long in the air: hence air power can be wielded effectively only from bases on land or ships at sea. It should therefore be under the direct command of the soldiers and sailors most immediately concerned.
Given a neutral foreign policy, there would be no need for large aircraft carriers for defence of the realm. The two carriers at present on order make no sense except as adjuncts to a United States Fleet which is liable to be engaged in bullying adventures world-wide. A carrier task force implies a horrendous commitment of capital: and the running costs in materials and manpower are well beyond the means of a small country such as the UK to sustain. In present-day conditions, such a force could neither be hidden nor effectively defended, and its loss by enemy action would deal a severe blow to national morale. (Here I speak as a retired Naval officer who last served at sea as a meteorological officer in HMS EAGLE.) A fleet of smaller more nimble units designed to meet the requirements of home defence and protection of legitimate British trade would be much more appropriate to current conditions and constitute evidence that the United Kingdom had at long last abandoned any pretensions to being a "Great Power".
By the same token, it is hard for the British tax-payer to see the justification for a "Ministry for Overseas Development" which, for a country that no longer runs an empire, merely seems to constitute a gratuitous insult to the people of target countries. Citizens of foreign nations would surely prefer respect for their own independent ways of doing things to inter-governmental bribery, just as they naturally resent any other form of interference, no matter how well-intentioned, in their domestic affairs. Individual Britons and British companies which have the means and the inclination to give financial or other aid to foreigners in need can do so either directly or through any number of non-governmental charitable organisations such as Oxfam.
Having left the rest of the world to take care of itself, you should be able to concentrate more of your attention on the ever-accelerating loss of discipline in your own nation. This is due not so much to financial poverty as to decline in the moral support formerly given to children and young people in the family home and the local neighbourhood. As the son of a crofter, I was brought up in a subsistence economy where money was scarce but where "nurture and admonition" (words with which a son of the manse must be very familiar) were of a very high standard. Had the country not been at war during six of my formative years, I doubt whether I should have been aware of the existence of central government or seen any need for one. Subsequent centralisation of powers formerly vested in parents, neighbours, social institutions, and truly "local" government has been an unmitigated disaster.
The "handout culture" may "buy" votes: but it stifles a natural tendency towards personal responsibility and diminishes both the incentive and the means of affording charitable help of all practical kinds to the truly needy. It introduces the unfeeling tentacles of the state into essentially private places where grown-up people should be able to look after themselves and each other without first having to protect themselves from the attentions of the officious bureaucracy of a "Nanny State".
The United Kingdom is an over-crowded country in an increasingly over-crowded world. This, and not "global warming" (which is at worst only a symptom) is the gravest problem now facing the world. A world-wide programme of population-reduction is urgently necessary if the human race is to avoid a cataclysmic decline, and if island nations such as the United Kingdom are to live within their natural means, i.e., to be self-sufficient in food, water, and non-muscular energy.
Severe restrictions on immigration will be needed but they will not by themselves be sufficient. It will also be necessary to rein in the "social welfare" policies which currently tend towards the proliferation and extended longevity of individual human life regardless of its moral or economic value. A change in mind-set is called for. Would the country not be healthier in all respects if it did not subsidise layabouts, scroungers, vandals, thieves, rapists, murderers, and other people who make only a negative contribution to the welfare of the whole?
Instead of building more houses in unsuitable places and continually striving to provide more facilities for unnecessary transportation of people from one place to another and back again, shortage of such wasteful amenities should be welcomed as a means of reducing demand, thus allowing the problem to develop its own solution. If people cannot be bothered to put up with the discomforts inevitably associated with over-crowding, they should be encouraged to try their luck elsewhere.
A National Health Service, free at the point of "need", reduces any sense of personal responsibility for the maintenance of one's own health. People who "burn the candle at both ends" all too often have no compunction in resorting to lawsuits should the NHS fail to nullify self-inflicted damage.
A "gambling culture", sustained by Premium Bonds, the National Lottery and state-sponsored proliferation of casinos, promotes selfishness, undermines respect for natural economics, discourages saving against the likelihood of unforeseen contingencies, and lays people open to the blandishments of get-rich-quick merchants of all sorts.
Far too large a proportion of present-day parents of juvenile children, themselves brought up in a lackadaisical social climate, lack the personal qualities required to nurture and admonish their offspring especially if neither Mum nor Dad provides full-time parenting during the crucial first seven years of life in a new human body.
In state-sponsored education, far too much emphasis is placed on compulsion, both in duration and in content. As a son of the croft, I learnt very early that cream naturally rises to the top of the milk, and there is no justification for the convenient political assumption that educational cream must be academic cream.
I am very glad I am not a young person in the UK today. I should hate to be wrenched away from Mothers' knee and committed at the age of three to a "Nursery School" where what I am most likely to learn is how to dislike other babies and to resent arbitrary restriction by strangers. In these very early years, it is vitally important that disciplinary correction should be loving correction.
I should also hate being sentenced to compulsory school until I was sixteen if I could not appreciate the relevance of its curriculum to my personal interests. I should very probably rebel by deliberately doing "naughty" things such as throwing rubbish in the street, smashing bus shelters, smoking pot, drinking alcohol, or indulging a powerful sexual drive to help me vent inhibitions imposed by interfering busybodies. No wonder young people, lacking any sense of significance in their present existence and any confidence in a meaningful future, are liable to become addicted to drink, drugs, sex, vandalism, and anything else that might relieve their pain if only briefly and spesmodically.
I came across the following in Trial Run, a novel by Dick Francis:
"I looked across ... at the naked hate-filled faces of international terrorism, and thought about alienation and the destructive steps which led there.
"The intensifying to anger of the natural scorn of youth for the mess their elders had made of the world. The desire to punish violently the objects of scorn. The death of love for parents. The permanent sneer for all forms of authority. The frustration of not being able to scourge the despised majority. And after that, the deeper, malignant distortions.... The self-delusion that one's feelings of delinquency were the fault of society, and that it was necessary to destroy society in order to feel adequate. The infliction of pain and fear to feed the hungry ego. The total surrender of being moved by a sort of divine rage. The choice of an unattainable end, so that the violent means could go on and on. The addictive orgasm of the act of laying waste."
To forestall the psychic distortion produced by misguided attempts at "social engineering", the first seven years of a child's life should ideally be spent at home in the bosom of a loving family or at least of a caring mother. It should not require more than a further seven years of purposeful formal schooling to inculcate respect for oneself and others and to develop the inquiring, expressive, and manipulative skills which should enable them thereafter to learn for themselves. There is no obvious reason why, at or about the age of fourteen (the end of the traditional second heptad of life) adolescents should not be allowed to start exploring the world on their own account, paying their way through whatever form of further education they might feel most appropriate to their needs. State provision of such education could not, of course, be guaranteed: but, as another wise Scot pointed out, the market can safely be relied upon to supply anything for which there is sufficient demand. Even youths with no interest in further education could find useful paid work and reduce the likelihood of their falling into terminal hopelessness.
Governmental attempts to "relieve poverty" by means of financial handouts and state provision of ruinously expensive "free" health and education "services" are counter-productive. "Public services" should mean "services available to the public", not "services provided by government at the non-negotiable expense of anonymous tax-payers". Can you imagine the retail industry, for example, being run cost-effectively by a government department?
Members of the public expect to pay for the services they really want. They vote for something every time they part with their money. The free local market is the closest possible approximation to true democracy. I am certain that only action along the lines of re-introducing a culture of personal responsibility for the maintenance of health, strength, and social discipline offers any prospect of effectively combating antisocial behaviour and other forms of home-grown terrorism.
I realise, of course, that taxation is the lifeblood of every politician. I am also convinced that politicians extort far more blood from the body politic that is good for the health of either. I shall confine my remarks to income tax which, as at present administered, bears excessively hardly on the young people who have at long last won their liberty from school.
These young people have to find some way of earning a living: their self-respect cannot survive indefinite dependence on either their parents or the State. They must find and, by rent or mortgage pay for, somewhere to live possibly with a partner with whom they may hope in due course to rear a family of their own. These early years of unaccustomed freedom, almost inevitably on a low income, are bedevilled by the abysmally low level of income at which the individual becomes liable to income tax. If there is any reform which would raise the morale of young people, it is the raising of the tax-free personal allowance to a level at which the individual, given sufficient desire and energetic enterprise, can both sustain personal life and have a realistic expectation of setting up a home. The unitary family and, in certain circumstances, the "communal household", should be treated as a unit for tax purposes.
In summary, the poor should not expect handouts but, on the other hand, must be spared the debilitating effects of income tax until they have achieved financial self-sufficiency. Taxation in general should be adjusted to raise essential revenue after this primary condition has been met.
I am not a fan of political parties, but they seem to be a necessary evil unless and until something more like true democracy can be introduced. If I were younger, I should consider forming a Tax-payers' Party to give the anonymous tax-payer a distinctive voice and to promote thrift in all forms of government as well as in personal life. As things are, I can but hope that these remarks will, through you and others who may read them, bear health-restoring fruit.
P.S. Please could you also let us have a referendum to determine whether or not the United Kingdom should subscribe to the latest variant of the European Constitution, whatever it is called officially?