Letters: Scots' suspicion of the English

Monday 23 February 2009 01:00

Suspicion of the English comes naturally to the Scots

I read, with amusement and irritation, Dominic Lawson’s column (17 February) berating, not just Scottish bankers, but Scottish politicians, and ultimately, Scots in general. I can fully understand his frustration at English taxpayers having to bail out RBS and HBOS. But I too, as a Scottish taxpayer, am bailing out these institutions, just as I’m doing for Northern Rock.

Since Scotland doesn’t have an ex-chequeur, I assume that any corporate taxes paid by these banks goes straight into the coffers of the Inland Revenue, so the whole of the UK benefited from these Scottish banks in the good times, in much the same way that the UK benefits from revenue from Scotland’s oil and gas fields. In the future, England will benefit from the wave power created in Scottish waters, such as the Pentland Firth.

Mr Lawson’s propensity to castigate Scots, is presumably a consequence of the disproportionate number of Scottish politicians running the UK. This is only a recent occurrence. Historically, Scotland has had to fend off the threat of English ambition, and armies, from countless English kings stretching back to the 10th century.

Consequently, forgive us if we appear a little paranoid, but mistrust of London is in our blood. Our culture has been outlawed, ridiculed and then anglicised, and attempts were made to obliterate the Gaelic and Scots languages, thus destroying any semblance of national unity. The idea that English culture is superior to anyone else’s is an insult.

Suspicion, even pathological suspicion, is only natural where any small country is under threat, either militarily or economically, from a much larger neighbour. London based newspapers regularly carry anti-Scots rants, which in the main, are nonsense. This sort of xenophobia is almost unheard of in our own papers.

I certainly don’t blame England for Scotland’s ills. If we, as Scots, are that unhappy, we should vote to leave the Union, and go our own way.

Richard McHarg

Livingston, West Lothian

Jacobson and Gaza: continued

As an overseas student, I am grateful to Howard Jacobson (Opinion, 18 February, letters passim) for articulating many of the concerns that Jewish students studying in Britain have about anti-Jewish sentiment in the public domain.

The rhetoric of obsessive, vitriolic, and discriminatory attacks on Israel which one finds at many university campuses, including my own, masquerades as reasoned criticism of Israel in the defence of human rights. But often it is bigoted, fiercely dogmatic and anti-democratic in nature, hostile to diversity of opinion and totalising in its refusal to engage with anyone who challenges its prejudices, assumptions, and arguments.

The LSE Student Union, for example, voted to condemn Israel’s attacks on Gaza, but refused to condemn Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. In doing so, it violated the basic principles of human equality and the universality of human rights, opting for a motion that discriminates on the basis of ethnicity and nationality. It was anti-Jewish and it unfortunately typifies the overheated atmosphere generated by some in the press and the media and on university campuses in which demonisation and dehumanisation of Israelis has become all too commonplace.

Criticism of Israel is welcome and essential. Israel should be held to the same human rights standards as all other countries. In my experience, it’s not well-intentioned and well-reasoned criticism of Israel which is problematic, rather it is defamation, discrimination and bigotry which we must vigorously condemn.

Noam Schimmel

London School of Economics WC2

Howard Jacobson’s article is a brilliant counter-attack against the excesses of one sided anti-Israel opinion, currently expres-sed in Britain, large parts of the Muslim world and increasingly in American legislative bodies. He cites several reasonable examples of an enlarged societal hypocrisy, which disguises its anti-Semitic intent by rationalising the justification of negative assessments as being only a criticism of Israel.

Perhaps the debate about the moral aspects of this rather one-sided war (insofar as destruction and deaths are concerned) would be less prejudged if all the staunch war supporters, did not so insistently object to any criticism of Israel’s actions as being disloyal, and also a cover-up for latent anti-Semitism.

Many Israelis also challenge criticism by asking why didn’t the world protest when the Armenians were slaughtered, or by citing, as Jacobson did, Hamas’s record of violence against its own people. Certainly, prejudices are part of an inherited and ongoing tribal psyche, in the 21st century, whether in the Middle East, Africa or even some developed countries. The emotive, exaggerating words “massacre” and “slaughter” come into use when one antagonist doesn’t have a chance of winning.

So we have a million or so Palestinians surrounded by giant walls and tightly controlled entrances. They have few resources, and what they have is rationed – or not – at intervals. Exports are minuscule in earnings and their children have limited access to education and certainly no future, unless they leave their designated homeland.

Hamas are firing rockets, probably supplied by neighbours with a vested interest in keeping the pot boiling. Perhaps young, unemployed Palestinians are helping. If Israel, while protecting its citizen’s security and future, could make a deal for co-existence with the Palestinians, irrespective of what has been written thousands of years ago, we could concentrate on the anti-Semites.

Theo Matoff

Bushey heath, Hertfordshire

With Howard Jacobson’s talk of trenches and Berlin, he tries hard to make the atrocities in Gaza seem like an unfortunate, “natural” consequence of warfare. In fact, as the Israeli historian Avi Shlaim noted, this so-called “war” was “one-sided carnage”.

It is unsurprising, though no less remarkable, that Jacobson can see fit to pen a lengthy piece lamenting the apparently irrational hatred for Israel in the UK, having resolved that “some things cannot any longer go unchallenged”.You would think this kind of sentiment might be more appropriate coming from the Palestinians, a people who Israel have expelled, denationalised, colonised and occupied for more than 60 years.

That many in Britain and around the world are belatedly starting to echo this cry of “Enough!” is concerning enough for Jacobson that he, and others,can only fall back on cries of “anti-Semitism” and lazy, vague alarmism.

Ben White

Sao Paulo, Brazil

No Jew will say that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic per se but few Jews can understand why there are, for example, no worldwide protests against what is happening to the civilians in Sri Lanka who are suffering the same as those in Gaza did recently.

And as for the protests themselves, what is the explanation for sympathising with Hamas and Hezbollah, both devoutly anti-Semitic, as opposed to the Palestinian people per se?

And then there is the total disproportionality of equating Gaza with the Warsaw Ghetto and the Holocaust itself. When Jews see protesters accusing Israel of disproportionality while protesting against Israel in such a disproportionate manner you can’t blame them for seeing anti-Semitism at work.

Richard Millett

London NW4

Why wasn’t Leeson lesson learnt?

Some years ago, Nick Leeson the famous “rogue trader” brought down Barings Bank. Following this rather embarrassing incident, a whole raft of legislation was introduced, designed to force banks to set aside capital for different forms of risk, including credit risk and operational risk. So what happened? No one seems to have mentioned that legislation was already in place to supposedly prevent the kind of financial fiasco the people have had to pay for.

Was it too expensive to implement? Would it have meant reduced bonuses for the overpaid, incompetent excutives?

Dr Peter Smith


In praise of the older fathers

I am a 59-year-old expectant father of twins; Janet Street-Porter’s claim that I need morality lessons has naturally raised my ire, (Opinion, 18 February). Unlike their teenage counterparts, older fathers (and their younger wives) have usually made a conscious decision to have children together rather have them by accident.

At my age, I have no need to “validate my masculinity” but I do feel very privileged to be able to enjoy fatherhood and I will have far more time to devote to them as they develop than I would have had in my younger years when career-building was the priority.

Now I can provide a stable home with financial security and a wealth of experience of the world to pass on. It would seem that Ms Street-Porter’s opinions have more to do with the fact that older men leave a first wife for a younger woman than it does with their subsequent pro-creation. Well, as the divorce lawyers will have already told her, people don’t leave if all is happy at home. Hell hath no fury like a woman four times scorned.

Dr C Burgess

Conwy, North Wales

Has Janet Street-Porter become ageist? In her article, she says, “What bothers me more than young parents is the parallel rise in older dads”, then lists older men who have become fathers, including Robin Gibb, Jonathan Dimbleby, John Simpson and Rod Stewart.

She then proceeds to spout statistics about older fathers as a direct comparison to young fathers and, without a trace of irony, finishes with, “All these men are intelligent and comfortably off. Is that why we secretly think they make more acceptable parents than Chantelle and Alfie?”

Er? Yes? And “we” don’t think it very secretly either. She could also have added that they are no doubt more grounded, experienced, loving and actually wanted them. So, let’s turn the question around: what makes them more unacceptable?

Jane Crossen

Knutsford, Cheshire

Janet Street-Porter, in her sweeping observation that “middle-aged macho man decides to breed with his new partner as a way of validating his masculinity”, ignores the possibility that the new partner, maybe with a ticking biological clock, could be the one making the decision.

And yes, Janet, we do think, and not secretly, that intelligent and comfortably-off middle-aged men make more acceptable parents than 13-year-olds. Most of us would shout it from the roof-tops.

Peter Kellett

Kinlochewe, Ross-shire


Playing percentages

I have just been notified by CitiCard that the applicable rates of interest will shortly increase from 16.9 per cent to 19.9 per cent a year on purchases, and from 21.9 per cent to 27.9 per cent on cash advances. A curious state of affairs when the Bank of England has reduced base rate to an unprecedented level. Would the BoE, or even Gordon Brown, care to comment?


Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Act of faith

May I add another notable non-believer to your atheist list (20 February)? Charles Bradlaugh, founder of the National Secular Society, was in 1880 elected to Parliament as MP for Northampton. Asking to secularly affirm instead of swearing the religious Oath of Allegiance, he was at first prevented from sitting in Parliament. Eventually, he was admitted and achieved the 1888 Oaths Act, allowing universal affirmation as an alternative, stripping away the requirement for religious obsequiousness from the secular sitting at the Mother of all Parliaments.

Matthew Bloomer


About the house ...

To correct your report about allotments (19 February), Kingston Lacy was not built for the Earls of Lincoln. It was built for Sir Ralph Bankes in 1663. The architect was Sir Roger Pratt, and only two of the houses he designed still survive. Sir Ralph’s namesake, Ralph Bankes, bequeathed the house to the National Trust in 1981.

J M Moses

Richmond, Surrey

Blame Churchill

It is amusing to observe that lack of knowledge displayed in many comments arising from the award of damages to the terror suspects (report, 20 February). Large sections of the Press blame the EU without realising that the Court pre-dates the EU by a very long time, and the UK signatory on its founding in 1953 was Winston Churchill.

Tim Brook


Easy does it

The Bank of England is far from being the first great state institution to promote easing (front page, 19 February). Henry VIII’s Hampton Court Palace could provide such a service for at least 28 bodies in its Great House of Easement. In contrast with the Bank, this establishment usually provided relief from runs, rather than possibly provoking them. It certainly dealt effectively with short-term liquidity even if finally everything went down the drain.

Tom Blaney

Laleham-on-Thames, Surrey

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