The Spectator

Letters | 9 March 2017

Also in Spectator Letters: Remainer readers; private schools; Rod and the elites; Queen Camilla; Islam; sheep worriers; and mumbling

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On Scottish independence

Sir: Alex Massie writes of the order permitting a second Scottish independence referendum: ‘Having granted such an order in 2014, it will be difficult to refuse Mrs Sturgeon’s demand for another’ (‘Back into battle’, 4 March). Surely that is precisely why Mrs May should refuse another? It was the SNP who described the 2014 vote as a chance in a lifetime.

The only thing way in which Brexit could have changed matters is if it had been a fundamental and unforeseeable upset. Alex Massie, from this and his previous writings, clearly believes it was. But the Conservatives, at the time of the Scottish vote, had promised to hold a Brexit referendum if they won the 2015 general election, so Brexit was certainly on the cards. Furthermore, Mrs Sturgeon had been told that if Scotland left the UK, it would have to reapply if it wished to rejoin the EU and accept the single currency. It did not seem to trouble her then.

Tim Hedges

Panicale, Italy

Vote for continuity

Sir: In last week’s piece on Sturgeon and Indyref 2, Alex Massie seems to have overlooked the fact that a million Scots opted for Brexit in the EU referendum. That is a quarter of the entire Scottish electorate. Nor should anyone assume that the 1.6 million who voted to remain in the EU were the foot soldiers in the van of a secessionist movement. On the contrary, most probably voted for reasons of continuity within both the UK and the EU. The two million Scottish voters who voted ‘No’ to independence in 2014 make that sufficiently clear.

Donald Thomson


A Spectator reader writes…

Sir: I do wish Matthew Parris wouldn’t address ‘Spectator readers’ as if we were all Leave zealots (4 March). I voted to remain in the EU, and I think Brexit could be a disaster, but I still subscribe to and read your magazine because it provides different points of view. What makes me doubt my decision in the referendum is the throbbing apoplexy of others on my side. I have admired Parris’s journalism for many years, but fear he is becoming unhinged on this matter. The gracious tone of your editorial in the same issue (‘Carry on, Major’) was a welcome contrast.

Perhaps Matthew is reading angry online comments below his articles and taking those commentators as his audience. If so, he’s rash. Many of us Spectator readers can still read and write without foaming.

Daniel Moss


Invested in state schools

Sir: Charles Moore (Notes, 4 March) takes issue with Michael Gove for seeking to put VAT on school fees and accuses him of having ‘a chip on his shoulder’.

Well let me share Mr Gove’s chip. The UK has some of the best private schools in the world, appreciated by the 7 per cent of parents able to afford the vast fees. At the other end of the spectrum, we have 93 per cent who cannot afford the fees and suffer patchy ‘free’ education in the state sector.

This folly will continue as long as the most influential people who dominate the UK establishment, particularly those involved in commerce, politics, the law and the media, have no direct interest in improving standards in the state sector. Why? Because usually their children aren’t involved. Only when those with influence and campaigning skills are involved in state education will standards rise. So it is in the national interest that everyone should be encouraged to send our children to state schools. This can best be done by making private education so costly that the fees can only be afforded by the really super-rich. VAT-exempt charitable status has to go.

Tom Benyon

Bladon, Oxfordshire

Rod’s social history

Sir: I’m intrigued as to why Rod Liddle (4 March) thinks the now faltering elite has lasted ‘since about 1985’. What made him alight on that particular year? Is it something to do with the rise of David Owen and the SDP? The beginning of EastEnders? The start of Aids in Britain? Or did he just pick a year in the middle of the 1980s?

Perhaps 1985 was the year when Rod Liddle himself, then working as a Labour speechwriter, first thought of himself as a voice to be reckoned with? We always confuse the ups and downs of establishments and insurgencies with our own highs and lows. For instance, I think Britain’s social decay began in 1976, when I was turned away from a Rolling Stones concert.

Catherine Mannering


Yes to Queen Camilla

Sir: Melanie McDonagh’s argument against the Duchess of Cornwall becoming queen is flawed on every level (‘Against Queen Camilla’, 25 February). Her attempt to cite Prince Albert and Prince Philip as precedents as consorts fails on the simple point that neither of them could be crowned king, whereas the wife of every king of England has been a queen. Under British law, wives take the rank and status of their husbands, which means when Prince Charles becomes king, the duchess should indeed become queen.

Furthermore, Melanie’s argument that occupying a throne somehow validates adultery ignores the fact that the Duchess has been happily married to the Prince for 12 years now, whereas there have been literally dozens of adulterers who have sat on the throne over the centuries while actually committing the sin.

As a Roman Catholic, Melanie should believe in the power of redemption, and rejoice that in this case the institution of marriage has won out. When the sad but inevitable day dawns, we should be happy to cry ‘God save Queen Camilla!’

Andrew Roberts

London SW1

Islamic retrogression

Sir: I enjoyed Christopher De Bellaigue’s advocacy of an ‘Islamic Enlightenment’ during the 19th century (‘Islam’s lost Enlightenment’, 25 February), yet remain unconvinced about the bigger picture. I agree that some westernised Muslims saw the value of buying in steamships, electric telegraphs, constitutional politics, and female education, but as none of these had any indigenous Islamic roots, they failed to find fertile soil.

Conversely, in the 18th century in the West, experimental science, libertarian politics, steam engines, Methodism and romantic poetry were homegrown products, and hence easily absorbed into an evolving cultural mainstream.

I would argue that since the Iranian revolution of 1979, Islam has been actively in the throes of a reformation, or a return to cultural roots. But unlike the European Reformation of the 16th century, this did not involve a return to figures like St Peter, St Paul and the Christian Gospel Evangelists. Rather, it meant a return to the Holy Wars of conversion unleashed by the Prophet Mohammed after ad 622.

Dr Allan Chapman

Wadham College, Oxford

Shoot the owners

Sir: Camilla Swift’s otherwise excellent piece on clueless dog owners (‘Flock horror’, 4 March) omits to mention the scourge of the professional dog walker. Two or three of these descend on our neck of the woods most mornings with anything up to eight dogs each, and allow them to roam with impunity. One local sheep farmer has lost several lambs already this year due to his ewes self-aborting after being chased by dogs, causing distress to the sheep and financial loss to the farmer.

May I suggest the 1971 Animals Act be amended to allow farmers to shoot the owners as well as the dogs?

Martin Allen

Eastcombe, Gloucestershire

Trouble in Kenya

Sir: As a fellow farmer, albeit in the UK, I wonder how your ‘Wild Life’ correspondent Aidan Hartley is surviving the dangerous times in Kenya. I fear for his safety, being very aware that the current government appears neglectful of its white residents and that some native tribes are openly hostile, especially towards those who farm, help feed the local population and contribute to the country’s economy.

I have read that the white settlers in East Africa, many of British descent who have devoted their lives to help African states emerge from their colonial past, are being forced off their holdings with no regard for the rule of law, nor for the support they give to their loyal workforces. Many of these settlers previously gave great service to our Commonwealth alongside native citizens and they do not deserve to be ignored in their hour of danger. One Zimbabwe is one too many — are we to condone what is happening in Kenya by looking the other way?

Marshall Taylor

Taunton, Somerset

Wetherspoons vs brewers

Sir: Henry Jeffreys (Notes On, 25 February) misses the point on Wetherspoons — or ‘Spoons’ as he affectionately calls it. The whole concept of the business is to screw the brewer down to almost unprofitable margins.

I have sympathy for the students and old men he describes as typical clientele, but not much with the pre-work Post Office drinkers, or girls guzzling cheap wine. Of course, the depressing cheap hell of Wetherspoons is partly a result of excessively greedy alcohol taxation here the UK — 50p a pint, compared with only 4p in Germany. Mr Jeffreys obviously enjoys good beer. Yet his pursuit and glorification of Wetherspoons is damaging to the British brewing industry. Really good beer is worth paying for.

David Gladwin

Black Isle, Ross-shire

Serious fun

Sir: Henry Jeffreys is right to say Wetherspoons has ‘colourful characters’. In the Railway in Putney on a recent Saturday, I think I overheard people having sex in the toilet cubicle next to me. That or they were ingesting large amounts of illegal substances — I can’t be certain. On another occasion, a woman threw a pint glass at my head because I asked her group to be quiet.

I don’t report this disapprovingly. I keep going back every weekend: the cheapness of the beer makes the Railway fun.

Matthew Salt

London SW15

Nature’s soundtrack

Sir: It would be good if Tim Martin, the ‘jovial boss’ of the music-free pubs (Letters, 4 March), could take charge of the television productions in this country. We then might be free from the dreadful noise that masks bird and animal sounds in nature documentaries, which obscures speech in plays and frustrates the intelligence in TV dramas.

Martin Bloomfield

Kingston, Surrey

Fashionable mumbling

Sir: Peter Jones, as usual, is spot on when he writes of mumbling becoming fashionable (Ancient and Modern, 4 March). I’ve been complaining for years that the younger generation hasn’t been taught to enunciate clearly. When I was in school (I’m 83 now), we had to read aloud in class and declaim poetry learnt by heart.

I searched Google for hearing aid sales and saw this headline: ‘Hearing Aid Unit Sales Grow by 10% in Q2 of 2016’. Am I being ingenuous in seeing a connection?

Flora Selwyn

St Andrews, Fife