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18 November 2015updated 07 Sep 2021 11:06am

LETTER OF THE WEEK The breaking of Britain

By New Statesman

In 2014 Scotland narrowly rejected independence after a long SNP campaign. With Brexit looming, Scottish independence is back on the agenda.

One issue was never seriously raised during the 2014 debate. At present Scottish police chasing criminals can enter England, and Scottish warrants are valid in England, and vice versa. If Scotland was independent it is unlikely that these arrangements could continue. Instead there would have to be an extradition treaty.

Extradition is cumbersome. Even when supposedly foolproof treaties have been agreed they can break down when lawyers get to work. This is a regrettable necessity when countries with different legal systems are involved. It is tolerable between, say, Britain and France because the Channel is a clear barrier. It would be intolerable between England and Scotland.

The Anglo-Scottish border is a long one. Even if road crossings were policed, which would be a major issue in itself, criminals could use the paths through the hills that straddle the border, unless a 95-mile Hadrian’s Wall-style barrier was built. Many properties would then be divided.

Before 1603, when James VI came to rule both England and Scotland, cattle raiding, blackmail, arson, blood feuds and vendettas dominated border life. George MacDonald Fraser’s book The Steel Bonnets is a good study of this period.

Suggesting that Scottish independence could mean new border wars may seem unlikely, but the names of the old border-raiding families still fill local phone-books. Cattle and sheep rustling are still problems in the area. Yugoslavia was once a peaceful country and a major tourist destination. When the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, who could have predicted the Russian-Ukrainian border war?

JP Lethbridge

Cardinal sins

In a characteristically thoughtful article on John Henry Newman, Rowan Williams avoided discussing his being made a saint by the Roman Catholic Church earlier this month (“What Cardinal Newman knew”, 18 October). While recounting Newman’s achievements and asserting his lasting influence and relevance, Williams sidestepped the issue of his canonisation, writing: “If a saint is someone who shows you why the notion of God might matter to the mind and the heart, Newman has surely earned the title.” But sainthood means more than this – the recipient also needs to have interceded to enable two miracles to be performed.

Does Williams believe that prayers to Cardinal Newman really made any difference in the case of the two “miracles” cited by the Pope in support of the canonisation? And if so, or if not, I wish he had said so.

John Boaler
Calne, Wiltshire

In his essay on John Henry Newman, Rowan Williams displays a somewhat inadequate understanding of Papal Infallibility (and the new saint’s interpretation of the dogma) when he writes of “the dangers of mortgaging the Church [that is, in 1870] to an arbitrary form of centralised governance”. That is not how the dogma was defined, nor is it how Newman understood it – though some then and now do so misunderstand Infallibility. In his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1875), Newman quoted a pastoral letter of the Swiss bishops which said that the Pope was “tied up and bound to the Divine Revelation” (that is, to the then-defined teaching of the Church). Newman noted that the letter had the approbation of Pius IX – the pope at the time Infallibility was defined and promulgated. Indeed, the interpretation of Newman and the Swiss bishops conforms with the definition of the dogma in Pastor Aeternus.

So, far from permitting arbitrary papal governance in relation to papal teaching, the dogma in fact acts as a constraint on it.

CDC Armstrong

A little credit

Pippa Bailey does her calling an (amusing) disservice in describing it as “moving commas around for a living” (Out of the Ordinary, 11 October). A sub-editor on a regional daily once described being charged with the delicate task of explaining (to a female journalist) how, in a dispute between an MP and a high-ranking cleric, she would be unwise to use the strapline “Local MP bashes Bishop”.

Brian Stokoe
Fulford, York

Flying the flag

In the illustration accompanying Robert Saunders’s recent essa “Myths from a small island” (11 October), a lion is depicted clutching a stick with a Union Jack which is the wrong way round (or, perhaps more accurately, upside-down). I have seen such flags being held by protesters on both sides in Brexit demonstrations. And the British flag being upside-down at the World Athletics Championships was regarded as a joke by BBC commentators. Is Britain the only country whose citizens (or a huge proportion of them) don’t know which way round their national flag flies?

Chris Cowles
Via email


Chris Mason revives the well-trodden “snicket”/”ginnel” debate, which I’m sure will bring a plethora of regional alley words to your postbag (The Diary, 18 October). However, I remain intrigued by a word from my own upbringing relating to providing a lift on a bicycle: while most areas seem to use some variation on “backer” or “backie”, my own South Yorkshire associates would surely refer to “giving somebody a cog”. Anyone else?

Sean Burnside
Newcastle upon Tyne

Fun Faversham

I find Nicholas Lezard’s column on Faversham odd, as it describes my hometown as something I don’t recognise (Down and Out, 18 October). He draws much verbiage from what was clearly a couple of hours spent on a quiet day, and draws conclusions that have little to do with reality.

With his emphasis on our town as a paradigm of a picture-postcard provincial Brexitville, lacking the educated populace to read the New Statesman, he misreads everything he has seen (unless he only came to sneer). I and many like me have NS subscriptions, and many of our fellow townsfolk are London commuters and are very likely to read the NS. The fact that an above-average proportion of less-well-off over-50s are to be found here does not qualify us as a political lost cause.

Why does Mr Lezard choose to denigrate our attractive and lively little town? Those of use who fly the flag of Europe, baulk at the Johnsonian coup, and band together to join the People’s Vote marches in Westminster feel let down by the comments, which imply that to be geographically provincial is also to be politically so. This is a huge disservice to your many readers who live in market towns.

As far as the boredom accusation is concerned, look at certain outer-London suburbs and you will see what boredom really is. Faversham can boast a theatre and independent cinema, amateur dramatics, professional concerts, three markets a week and a host of other events that frequently crowd the place with activity.

Many of us have spent our time arguing that the creed of internationalism, education and progress are a struggle that involves us all, but Mr Lezard’s column contributes to entrenching the them-and-us view, in which the allegedly educated and urban are posited against the allegedly ignorant and provincial.

Tim Jennings
Faversham, Kent

The old Statesman

I was originally Ann Sidgwick. I worked from about 1946 in the New Statesman’s Turnstile Press, and then in the Ganymed Press (founded by the New Statesman and Lund Humphries). I ran Ganymed Gallery at 11 Great Turnstile until it closed. I was therefore on the fringe of the New Statesman for many years.

I have only once forged a signature. The circumstances were these: John Roberts was the manager. He was also a director of Ganymed Press. In the New Statesman he had a secretary called Leonora, a nice girl with whom I was friendly. One Friday morning, John Roberts dictated to her a long letter of very important New Statesman affairs, and gave her a large sheet of New Statesman writing paper that he had signed at the bottom. She must type out the letter, check it carefully and be sure it was in Friday’s post – he was leaving the office at Friday noon, not to be back until the Monday.

I, knowing nothing of this, had occasion to go to her office and found her in tears over her typewriter, as she had made a mistake in the typing of the letter, and Jack Morgan, the New Statesman’s company secretary – who lived by the signed will, the signed agreement etc – looking desperate and hopeless.

I told Leonora to stop crying, to get a new sheet of New Statesman paper, type out the letter again, check it carefully and I would forge Roberts’s signature. Morgan was horrified – but this was what we did. Leonora typed, I found one of Roberts’s pens, practised a bit, signed his name and the letter went into the post. I think Morgan was even more horrified by the ease with which I had forged Roberts’s signature.

On the Monday I told Roberts this. He was rather surprised but accepted it. As far as I know the recipient of the letter never queried it. It occurred to me that some day the New Statesman may like to reprint this little story from the old days.

Ann Baer, aged 105
Teddington, Greater London

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