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Tuesday 10 May 2011
Letters: the SNP won because it offered real policies
The London-based parties forgot to take the Scottish voters seriously: there were no real policies from Labour or Lib Dem but scare tactics aplenty: "Vote SNP and you'll get independence"; "Vote non-Labour and you'll be back to Thatcher". The SNP offered many solid policies, not just independence, as did the Greens – the only two parties to grow and the two parties that took the Scottish election seriously.
Scotland may well become independent because London-based parties, and newspapers, keep forgetting the UK is effectively a federation.
When the electorate delivers the result Cameron wants, e.g. No to AV, the people have spoken. When the electorate delivers a result that Cameron does not want, as in Scotland where a thumping majority voted for a party committed to negotiating independence, he will campaign with "every fibre of his being" against it.
In Scotland his party won only three constituency seats on First Past The Post but picked up another 12 seats in the top-up regional lists held under proportional representation, which he does not want, despite winning only 12 per cent of that vote. The Conservative & Unionist Party has been all but wiped out in Scotland under FPTP.
If it comes to a struggle between Cameron and Salmond, where fibre counts, my money is on Salmond.
The SNP's victory in the Scottish Parliamentary elections was a historic result. The party swept all impediments aside, delivering 69 MSPs via an electoral system designed to prevent the SNP gaining an overall majority.
Labour's domination of Scottish politics, reaching back half a century, has not just been broken but smashed to smithereens. And the Liberal Democrats are now confined to the Northern Isles, with no constituencies held in mainland Scotland.
But the challenges facing the SNP government are immense, the biggest of these being the economic situation and the public-sector cuts ahead. The party needs to use the years in the run-up to the independence referendum to demonstrate to individuals the benefits of independence to them in their everyday lives.
With an outright majority comes considerable power, but also considerable responsibility, and Alex Salmond's pledge to govern with consensus and co-operation, as was done during the previous minority SNP administration, is to be greatly welcomed.
I would like to congratulate the Scottish National Party on their success at the elections, and wish them good luck with a future referendum for Scottish independence. If they do decide upon full independence, can we expect all the Scottish MPs to leave Westminster, and hence have no say over English rule?
Should we now be thinking about English independence from the United Kingdom ourselves? Surely if it is important enough for the Scottish and Welsh to debate, it should be something the English have to question.Or are we all afraid of being accused of jingoism or bigotry?
Woodford Green, Essex
I am absolutely delighted that the SNP swept the board in the recent election. Let's hope that Alex Salmond makes secession from the Union his priority.
I am all for an independent Scotland – especially if it means an end to the huge subsidies that English taxpayers have to fork out so that the Scots can enjoy, for example, free university tuition and free prescriptions – unlike those of us who live south of the border.
You report "SNP triumph puts break-up of Britain on political agenda" (2 May). That's scary-sounding stuff.
Will the election result trigger cataclysmic earthquakes leading to the cleavage of the Highland Fault? Perhaps it will prompt thousands of people to attack Offa's Dyke with chisels, to liberate Wales from the mainland.
Or perhaps you mean the slightly less dramatic scenario where the victory of the SNP leads to the break-up of the United Kingdom.
If the Scots are going to paddle their own canoe, does this mean that we can stop fiddling around with the clocks every spring and autumn? That way we will become more European and less isolationist.
Burchill wrong about boycott
Julie Burchill (5 May) makes an offensive, unfounded and absurd analogy when she accuses human-rights campaigners picketing Ahava of "carrying on Hitler's work".
The "little Ahava shop" in Covent Garden promises "beauty secrets from the Dead Sea". The real secrets it keeps are an ugly truth – its products come from stolen Palestinian natural resources in occupied Palestinian territory, and are produced in the settlement of Mitzpe Shalem. Israeli settlements on Palestinian land were declared illegal in a 2004 ruling of the International Court of Justice.
Ahava seeks to profit from violations of international law and receives Israeli government subsidies for its role in whitewashing Israeli oppression. That two years of pickets and direct action have forced a landlord to refuse to renew Ahava's lease and to end their relationship with this criminal enterprise should be celebrated and be seen as part of the broader movement for Palestinian rights.
Israel systematically denies Palestinians their basic rights and the international community has failed to hold it accountable. In response, Palestinian civil society calls for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law. Heeding this call, electronica band Faithless, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd and scores of other artists have vowed not to play in Israel. Tower Hamlets council recently passed a policy excluding Veolia, a company that runs infrastructure projects for Israel's illegal settlements, from bidding on future service provision contracts in the borough.
Boycotts helped to end apartheid in South Africa and have an important role to play if we are to bring an end to Israeli apartheid.
Bruce Levy BDS London;
Deborah Fink Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods;
Sarah Colborne, Tim Hicks
Palestine Solidarity Campaign;
Pete Jones International Solidarity Movement London; Michael Kalmanovitz
International Jewish anti-Zionist Network,
For Julie Burchill to dismiss the growing anti-Tesco movement as "Toytown Trots" misses the point.
Mega-retailers like Tesco are powerful oligopolies that destroy independent retailers and the vibrant and diverse communities they support. They help create clone towns, urban food deserts and more traffic congestion. Farmers and suppliers complain that they are sometimes forced to sell their produce at a loss because there is no other large-scale customer for their goods.
They probably have more direct impact on local communities, local economies and local landscapes than any political party or government organisation.
Personally, I don't want to live in Tesco land. Near my home you can drive past orchards and farms full of rotting fruit to park for free in Tesco and buy produce flown in from North America in neat cellophane packaging. I find that offensive.
By dismissing protesters in Bristol as "tossers" Julie Burchill only helps the case for the growth of Tesco. With £13.4bn profits to call upon I don't think Tesco need support from Julie, but at least they can save a few quid from their huge PR budget this week. Thanks Julie.
Every little helps.
Objections to use of whip in racing
The RSPCA has always taken a pragmatic view of the use of the whip in racing (Sue Montgomery, "Flight or fight, the whip stimulates heated responses", 23 April).
We have not sought an outright ban on the use of the whip, but worked with racing authorities to introduce the shock-absorbent whip. This greatly reduced the ability of the jockey to inflict high levels of pain on the horse.
It was hoped that this would be an end to the matter. However a small number of jockeys use the whip with unacceptable force. We are seriously concerned about this and we are discussing the problem with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
In particular, the RSPCA objects to the use of the whip in the forehand position where a high level of force is applied. However, its use in the backhand position offers an option more consistent with the term "encouragement".
Indeed, we feel that the definition of whip use described as "encouragement" urgently needs closer examination and further discussion.
Finally, we support the proposal made by Towcester Racecourse which, on its own initiative – not at the request of the RSPCA – has decided to introduce a trial of the "hands and heels" option, as long as it's agreed with the relevant authorities.
RSPCA equine consultant,
Horsham, West Sussex
At the current level of risk the three deaths of horses at this year's Grand National meeting were not freak or unforeseeable accidents but entirely predictable (letters, 15 April). As an academic involved in animal welfare and as a horse rider, I consider this level of risk too high, and believe it morally unacceptable that horses should be exposed to it.
The British Horseracing Authority and the racing industry are doing excellent work on the causes and prevention of injury and fatality; racing bodies take equine welfare seriously. Cruelty implies intention to cause harm, and such intent is rare in racing.
But harm is still inflicted. Relevant factors may include the size of the field, the design of jumps and the use of the whip, and these must be investigated. But there may be a level of risk in having a field of horses jumping large obstacles at a gallop which we cannot reduce significantly.
I accept that if we are to use horses at all (as I believe we should) we cannot reduce risk levels to zero. I am not an abolitionist, and do not argue for the end of all horse racing. Racing on the flat still carries a significant level of risk to the horse (one fatality per thousand starts), but this is a more acceptable level than that in jump racing.
We need a debate on the moral acceptability of the level of risk we expose horses to in steeplechasing and hurdling.
Dr Mark Kennedy
Senior Lecturer in Animal Welfare, Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge
Keep mobiles out of classrooms
In "Save our state schools" (5 May) Melian Mansfield spoils a balanced article about potential loss of local accountability in our school system with her alarmist complaints about "huge infringements of the rights of young people" such as the temporary confiscation of mobile phones.
Has Mansfield not read of the increases in phone bullying of staff and co-pupils by disruptive children? If children misuse their phones is it so unreasonable for a teacher to confiscate them? That is what used to happen, sometimes until the end of term, when schools had more powers to ensure that their charges did not grow up to become antisocial young people.
Many pupils seem to laugh at the impotence of teachers. If a detention is not notified at 24 hours in advance and causes mild inconvenience to a parent then that may be a good thing; it might encourage bad parents to have some interest, even if selfish, in their children behaving well, and perhaps even remonstrating with them.
South Warnborough, Hampshire
Talent takes work
Matthew Syed's "The truth about talent: Can genius be learned or is it preordained?" (5 May) was very encouraging, but he did not make clear the distinction between talent and technique. Talent relates to innate abilities (be they physical, cognitive, psycho-motor or sensory-perceptive), while technique is acquired through hard practice. For instance, I could spend hours every day practising piano playing, but I would never be a pianist because I am totally tone deaf.
So I'm afraid that, for some things, talent is indispensable. But those with talent still need to work on their technique. As just about every famous golfer is quoted as saying: "The more I practice, the luckier I get."
The CPS are about to spend an undisclosed sum reviewing their original decision not to prosecute PC Simon Harwood in connection with Ian Tomlinson's death at the G20 protest in 2009 (report, 4 May). Let me save them some time and money: it was because he is a policeman.
Canvey Island, Essex
Perspectives on Germany
Vital lessons of the the Third Reich
While debate about the place of history in the school curriculum continues, I write to make a case for maintaining the high profile given to the teaching of the Third Reich.
The Nazis' rise to power provides a fine example of how a small minority can exploit the opportunities that a democratic system provides to subvert, undermine and ultimately destroy it. The period immediately before the Nazis' accession reminds us that democracy is a fragile flower, in whatever conditions it exists.
Similarly, a study of the Nazis' "euthanasia" (i.e. murder) campaign may shed light on the continuing debate on the sanctity of human life and the treatment of minorities. And finally, the willingness of ordinary people to turn a blind eye to acts of state violence on their doorstep – and not just in the cellars of the secret police – informs us about the weakness of the human condition, as well as the moral dilemmas faced by a minority who chose to defy the authority of the state.
I have read much of Germany's modern history and have had the privilege of living in the country for nearly a year now. But the mystery of how a civilisation that has produced the likes of Beethoven, Schiller and Brecht could also succumb to the monstrous regime of Hitler, Himmler and Goering remains, and is as perplexing and paradoxical as ever to me.
But, unless you fall for the myth that "it could never happen to us", a study of the Third Reich still provides a lesson for us all, and should retain its prominent place in our schools' history syllabuses.
Why we need a united Europe
There is much with which I can agree in the letter from Anthony Pick in reply to John Lichfield's article (28 April), and more with which I should like to agree. Like him, I instinctively favour a Europe based on a close alliance of the two former imperial powers (i.e. France and Britain). However, he is too optimistic.
No European concept is valid without Germany, and Germany is really not interested in what goes on in the Middle East, and what is true of Germany is even more true of the former communist states to its east. I am sure they feel that the fate of the Arab world is for the Arab world itself to decide. Those who have oil are still going to want to sell it, whatever their eventual government turns out to be. Who has the right to say that they are wrong, especially when one considers the mess created by western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya?
The US is in decline and likely to be overtaken economically by China within 10 years, and a further economic worldwide collapse seems likely by that time. In those circumstances, some sort of European union is going to become essential if we are not to revert to nationalism, economic and political rivalry, or even military squabbles.
Ludicrous fears about royal family
I was staggered to read Dennis B Stuart's "Our German royal family" (letter, 6 April) stating that anybody who dismissed the German background of the royal family as insignificant should think again very seriously. Why? Because it is "our" British royal family? Or because being listed in Germany as belonging to the country's royal elite makes you suspicious?
I've been living in England for 18 months and I keep explaining to my family and friends at home that the times when headlines like "The tanks are rolling again" preceded every England-Germany football match are over, and that we are all Europeans in one united Europe now.
Am I wrong?
Dr Dorothee Mueller
University of Leeds
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