Kenneth Roy's article (14 November) on punditry struck a chord. But 'pundits' inhabit the world their readers do, a world that now demands simplistic easy answers to complex multifaceted questions. This was best exemplified by the demands for 'more information' during the independence and Brexit referenda. In fact there was a plethora of information available; the only problem was that you needed to know what to do with it. What was actually being demanded was: 'Tell us what to do!'.
Many years ago a university friend of mine approached our philosophy tutor and told her he was considering taking the subject as his degree but was curious about what avenues this would afford him. She stopped, thought hard, hesitated, then replied: 'Well...I'm writing a book'.
I've often thought about this, but it's only been in the last few years since the advent of so-called 'social' media – and the access this affords to anyone with an internet connection to become a pundit – that I have truly begun to understand exactly what she meant.
I graduated with a distinctly unimpressive degree, but in the many years since I left Gilmorehill, I have treasured the training I received there. Not in my chosen subject (English literature), but in analysis: the ability to take a subject and address it from all angles, to provide an evaluation of the facts as presented to me, not only from the source material, but from commentators on that subject.
Under guidance from tutors, I started to spend hours in the library, reviewing criticisms from all sides of a subject, looking at how other views impacted upon the premise that was presented, before coming to my own conclusion that I would have to argue and present for evaluation. Cutting and pasting from Wikipedia was not an option in those days.
Having learned the principle, I started to apply it – to begin to challenge for the first time my own, immature, world view.
This world view was inevitably coloured by my upbringing, my parents' values setting the foundation upon which my school teachers impressed their own opinions, some positively (stand up, Mrs Bell) some negatively (sit down, Mr Pritchard) along with a widening circle of friends who had all helped form my own thinking up to that point.
Going to university gave me a sense of intellectual freedom that I had never before experienced. I became increasingly aware that until then what I had thought of as my opinions were in fact those of others. I had no critical facility, my father in particular being a man of very fixed views. I began to openly question my thinking and in so doing opened a deep rift with my parents who saw me as challenging absolutes and, by extension, their authority.
My attitude towards religion changed and having been a regular attendee of Bible class, a member of the Boys' Brigade and the youth fellowship, I consciously rejected the Church of Scotland. This precipitated a long-term fracture in my relationship with my mother. It only really healed some years later when my wife and I married in a registry office and she acknowledged that my wife espoused more Christian values, regardless of her professed atheism, than many in my mother's church.
My political opinions started to evolve, in fact it would be more accurate to say that they formed. Voting Labour was an unthinking testament of faith in our family and I started to examine alternatives and to examine what underpinned the different political philosophies. (My subsequent conversion to the cause of independence is based on my own considered evaluation of the circumstances we find ourselves in and not an emotional 'Wha's like us!' rant, and I am quite prepared to understand, accept and indeed respect why others do not share this view.)
I can clearly see the faults within the SNP. I understand the difficulties that Kezia Dugdale is facing and while I have great difficulty in squaring the circle of current Tory party acquiescence to UKIP (whose views, in direct contradiction to the content of this essay, I find intolerable and offensive on all levels), I genuinely believe that Ruth Davidson represents old school Conservatism based on the principles of service to the community. I admire Patrick Harvie's commitment and acknowledge the need for a green perspective on our treatment of our planet. (I do, however, struggle to see a purpose to Willie Rennie...)
I admire David Torrance's analysis and writing ability while disagreeing fundamentally with many of his opinions; I baulk on occasion at Kenneth Roy's polemics but salute his passion and underlying commitment; I read Michael Fry with one eye and find much of Kenny MacAskill's analysis simplistic and self-serving. I miss the genius that was Ian Bell and look forward to Iain Macwhirter's invariably thought-provoking consideration of prevailing economic thinking.
The point is that my opinions are formed as a result of my accessing the writings of such a diverse constituency of writers, many of whom I disagree with but whose ability to provide an alternative perspective forces me to question my own attitudes.
Most people, however, look to find reasons to reinforce their existing prejudice rather than taking the time and trouble to evaluate information that will help them to form their own answers. The tabloid press has always understood this, and Farage and Trump and others on the extreme right today are only the latest group throughout history to exploit it.
What is different now is that technology provides immediate pre-formed and packaged opinions as absolutes that are immediately reinforced and the facility exists to respond instantly and with personal invective attached. It is no longer enough to have an alternative opinion. The technological limitations of Twitter or blogs make a constructive response impossible and this has led to a situation where both the opinion and those who express it must be dismissed and ridiculed. The tragedy for me is that the ability to research, evaluate and analyse that I learned at university is now disparaged. Blogs and tweets have replaced considered intellectual challenge.
The claim that recent events are a repudiation of 'elites' is to invite the question of exactly what constitutes an elite. I was brought up in a council house in East Kilbride when nearly everyone I knew lived in a similar home. I was the first person in my family to attend university, like many of the other 500 students in my first year Eng Lit class at Glasgow University. I have since worked and travelled throughout the world and lived in Paris and New York. Am I a member of an elite? No, but I am a member of a cadre of people who were taught to think for ourselves and to express our views in a manner that respected the opinions of others. Current events have provided a frightening counterpoint to that.