The Spectator

Spectator letters: Fears for Scotland, and John Cornwell answers Melanie McDonagh

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Save our Scotland

Sir: Matthew Parris is quite right to praise Lord Lang’s speech in the Lords on Scottish independence 9 (‘The End of Britain’, 8 February) and there were other notable contributions, especially from Lord Kerr, on the European dimension, and Lord Robertson, the former secretary-general of Nato. But is anyone listening? The debate got virtually no coverage in the Scottish editions — and I suspect even less in the English ones. Meanwhile the SNP publicity machine rolls on here and is now promising an annual ‘Indy bonus’ of £600 for every man, woman and child in Scotland, exceeding the £500 threshold at which (as Alex Massie pointed out in the same issue) surveys suggest the average Scotsman will sell his British soul. The no campaign and the UK government must act soon to counter the tide of SNP half-truths and wild aspirations that is currently making the debate so one-sided in Scotland. Debates and speeches in Parliament are not enough.

Peter Mackay

Kincraig, Kingussie, Inverness-shire

It’s my country, too

Sir: At last somebody who can actually get published (Matthew Parris) has said the obvious. Any settlement that changes the structure of the UK must be put to all four members, to approve or not. They all have a big financial stake, not to mention other less tangible but equally significant stakes. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must each, as entities, agree any ‘change in the rules’, to adapt Mr Parris’s words. Anything less is unacceptably inequitable. Equally obviously, it is essential that they all agree — nothing less will do. And presumably Scotland will bear the costs of all this farrago, if — as seems perfectly possible — multiple referenda are needed.

Nick Hudd

Tenterden, Kent

Confessors and abusers

Sir: Melanie McDonagh comments dismissively that my book The Dark Box: A Secret History of Confession is ‘riddled with sex’ (‘Forgive me, Father’, 8 February). The first half is a ‘brief history’ of the sacrament in which sex does arise, but no more and no less than extensive spiritual and cultural dimensions. But the main thrust of more than half the book deals with a serious sociological and indeed criminal and currently legal point, as the UN made last week in its criticisms of the Vatican handling of the paedophile priest problem.

In 1910 Pope Pius X lowered the age at which children make their first confession from 13 to seven. He also advocated weekly confession instead of annual. This meant that through the last century, Catholic children were unprecedentedly and frequently exposed to priests in a circumstance of extraordinary intimacy and secrecy. The hundreds of respondents and sources cited by my book demonstrate a decisive link between childhood confession and the clerical sexual abuse phenomenon. Priest psychotherapists counselling offending priests after jail sentences are repeatedly on record reporting that, in the majority of cases, victims of abuse were tested for vulnerability during confession. My conclusion is that however much adults may value confession in their spiritual lives, the church should seriously review the obligatory practice of confession before first Holy Communion.

John Cornwell

Jesus College, Cambridge

Da Ponte in New York

Sir: In his 25 January ‘High life’ column, Taki has many complimentary things to say about Mozart’s most admirable librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte. Less flattering, however, is his remark that Da Ponte ‘ended up in Brooklyn of all places, giving Italian lessons to upper-class New York women’. I fear that Taki, surely inadvertently, sold Da Ponte short.

Da Ponte became the first professor of Italian literature at prestigious Columbia University in Manhattan. He also founded the New York Opera Company, widely acknowledged to be the predecessor of the Metropolitan Opera. He died in 1838 at the age of 79. A funeral service was held in St Patrick’s Cathedral, which by all accounts was massively attended, doubtless by many grief-stricken New York women of all classes who had been the object of his well-known seductive charm, so wonderfully described by Taki.

Héctor Eduardo Luisi

Bethesda, Maryland

Bottom dollar

Sir: Stephen Marsh’s letter about school fees (Letters, 8 February) reminded me of the prep-school headmaster who dictated a letter to parents informing them of an increase in school fees the following year. His secretary unfortunately transcribed ‘per annum’ with a single ‘n’. Quick as a flash the head received a reply that, if it was OK by him, they would prefer to carry on paying through the nose as usual.

Adrian Lloyd-Edwards

Dartmouth, Devon


Sir: Alexander Chancellor made a number of surprising assertions in his article about wind energy (Long life, 8 February). He claimed that ‘wind farms do nothing whatsoever to reduce carbon emissions’ — in fact, the UK’s wind turbines are cutting our carbon emissions by 11 million tonnes per year. Hardly ‘nothing whatsoever’.

I was also puzzled to see his assumption that wind energy is unpopular. In fact, independent opinion polls from the government and the BBC have shown consistently over the last three years that two thirds of the public support the deployment of wind energy in the UK. So it is somewhat misguided to assume that Mr Chancellor is speaking for the majority of ordinary people.

Groups such as the RSPB, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth support wind energy because they believe that climate change poses the greatest threat. Harnessing the forces of nature is a better way to preserve our precious environment.

Jennifer Webber

Director of External Affairs, Renewable UK

London SW1