Breaking the unions
Sir: By the time this letter appears we shall know whether the land of my birth has separated from the land of my life. I hope not. But is there not an uncanny parallel between the rise of the Scottish desire to quit England and the English desire to quit Europe? The same arguments about control from a city outside the nation; about elites and technocrats dictating to and imposing upon a sturdy independent people; the belief that outside the union (with England, with European partners) a radiant future beckons; endless columns, pamphlets and books explaining why rule from London/Brussels must be overthrown; and a charismatic, one-liner leader worshipped by his followers and given uncritical support by the BBC and other media. For 25 years the Scots have been told with increasing intensity that union with England is a bad thing, and the English have been told that being in Europe is like being ‘shackled to a corpse’, to use Douglas Carswell’s metaphor.
If, as I hope, the United Kingdom is still around, I wonder if all the ultras of the anti-EU crusade will pause for thought. I doubt it.
Dr Denis Macshane
Lay off the Welsh, Toby
Sir: Writing as a Welshman, and a strong unionist and former Conservative MP, to me it was always obvious that Labour’s wheeze of devolution was a self-seeking racket, designed to contain nationalism and embed socialist administrations in Wales and Scotland in perpetuity. The racket has rebounded on them, for devolution has only served to nourish the nationalist appetite. The cause of Union is not helped when your associate editor, Toby Young, a self-styled ‘munificent Englishman’, takes gratuitous potshots against the Welsh and the Welsh language (Status Anxiety, 13 September).
Mr Young casts the Welsh as being the ‘chippiest in Europe’: ‘quarrelsome… hobbits’. Given his deep involvement in education, I would have preferred him to adopt Shakespeare’s take in Henry V when the King, rather more fondly, reflects: ‘Though it appear a little out of fashion, There is much care and valor in this Welshman.’ But, then, the King appreciated the value of unity in a band of brothers.
He criticises the Welsh language for its putative omission of vowels. I agree that Welsh is a very difficult language to learn — especially for adults. However, an associate editor of The Spectator should have checked his facts. Welsh boasts more vowels than does English. I fear that Mr Young has served only to confirm what all Welsh speakers know — in time-honoured phraseology — that every Englishman begins with a vowel.
Borough Green, Kent
A woeful response
Sir: I would like to defend Mary Wakefield’s article (‘999 emergency’, 30 August), and to criticise the woeful response of Ann Radmore, chief executive of the London Ambulance Service (Letters, 13 September). I am sick of leaders of organisations who, when criticised, simply close ranks and say, ‘we have dedicated staff, good customer satisfaction, nothing to see here, move along please’ (Mid Staffs NHS, South Yorkshire Police, Islington Council, etc). Only after a good few thousand have been killed or sexually abused do they finally admit that ‘lessons must be learned’. Ann Radmore should have written to Mary Wakefield to say: ‘Thank you so much for highlighting problems in our service, we will aim to investigate and, if necessary, address them immediately.’
Wimbledon, London SW19
Sir: Boris Johnson’s comparison of Boris’s London with the Athens of Pericles (‘The spirit of Athens’, 13 September) was hugely enjoyable but utterly specious. Wasn’t Elgin’s acquisition of his collection of sculptures from the Parthenon more like Nazi cultural plunder than Greece’s desire to have them returned? Do the Marbles belong in the British Museum, or in the Unesco World Heritage Monument from which they were taken? Most importantly, to which city did Pericles intend them to belong forever: London or Athens?
Chairman, the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles
Sir: It is interesting that Toby Young writes about Isis atrocities (Status Anxiety, 6 September) and is offering Latin at his new school. If more people had a proper classical education, they might be less shocked by this kind of thing. As a beginner Latinist I had to read a book that ought to have been titled ‘Caesar’s Gallic Genocide’, while for Greek A-level we had Thucydides’ ‘Internecine Bloodbath’.
Heroes of West Africa
Sir: Another Man’s War by Barnaby Phillips, as reviewed by Aidan Hartley (Books, 6 September), is a much-needed book on the sacrifice and service of West Africans.
As a young third mate in 1964, I met a tally clerk on a ship loading logs and sawn timber in the creeks of Nigeria. He told me that he had been to the Far East as a soldier in the West African Rifles. I was ignorant of this aspect of the second world war and did not give his story much attention. However the next day we got into conversation again. From his pocket he produced a presentation case, and there in the row of medals was the Burma Star. It made a lasting impression on me and I have remembered it ever since. Truly these men were heroes.
Weeting with Broomhill, Norfolk