Support 110 years of independent journalism.

27 November 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 7:04am

Letter of the Week: Wrong on the Claim of Right

By New Statesman

Your well-intentioned editorial “The Disunited Kingdom” (22 November) falls on its face in the second sentence: “Devolution had been granted to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.” Granted by whom?

Scottish devolution was not “granted”, firstly, because it is not for England or anyone else to grant a measure of self-determination to a people. It was claimed as a right by the sovereign Scottish people.

The Claim of Right was an Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland in April 1689. It is one of the key documents of Scottish and hence UK constitutional law.

It was echoed in the document “A Claim of Right for Scotland” signed by all Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat parliamentarians (with the exception of Tam Dalyell) in 1988 as part of the campaign for a Scottish Assembly. Scottish devolution was passed by an overwhelming majority in the referendum of 1999.

The English blind spot remains clear to all but those who possess it. Scotland is not England’s possession. It has never been.

John O’Dowd
Bothwell, South Lanarkshire


English caricatures

Alex Niven tells Jason Cowley that the English “don’t exist as a national culture because we were an imperialist internationalist culture” (Encounter, 22 November). Why is it that such claims are made by people who don’t feel English, but not by those who do?

The empire, which engaged the Scots and the Welsh as much the English, was British. Boris Johnson and his allies are Anglo-centric British nationalists who rarely talk about England. Those who emphasise their English identity, by contrast, tend to be sceptical about the Union and want the interests of England itself protected. If there is a problem with the empire, it is that the English have forgotten what they should remember. England’s future story must reflect the nation we are today, building on both English and British identities as we now know them. Condemning Englishness with inaccurate caricatures simply makes that harder.

Prof John Denham
Director, Centre for English Identity and Politics,
University of Southampton


Trial by television

In the midst of a shrewd commentary on the current state of the parties, Stephen Bush comments on “the success of Johnson and Corbyn in squeezing the Lib Dems out of the main television debates, and with it the headlines” (Politics, 22 November). I can well understand why the two main parties would not wish to expose their vulnerability via the third-party challenge – but for the broadcasting authorities to conspire with them for the same purpose is completely unacceptable.

To confine the debate to two party leaders – one of whom is obsessively pro-Brexit and one of whom refuses to decide if he is for or against the Brexit deal that he hopes to negotiate – and to exclude from the debate the leader of the Liberal Democrats, the only party consistently in favour of a united Europe including the United Kingdom, is, frankly, electoral corruption.

Michael Meadowcroft

Stephen Bush writes: “The Conservatives have a new political strategy: it’s called ‘lying’.” He then devotes his column to this thesis, blind to the reality that telling fibs is what all politicians do, particularly at election time. Jeremy Corbyn is no exception: he and his team parrot away that the Tories want “to sell our NHS”. There is no foundation for this allegation, yet out it comes from the mouths of the shadow front bench as if it were written into the Tory manifesto. All politicians tell lies to advance their cause.

Charlie Leggatt
Irnham, Lincolnshire


Personality politics

I was disappointed, on listening to the excellent NS political podcast, to hear experienced and thoughtful journalists use phrases such as “if Jeremy Corbyn wins’’ [the general election]. Do they not realise that one of the major contributing factors to the broken state of British politics is the importation of American “presidential” personality-driven politics into what is supposed to be a parliamentary democracy? This is far more than a semantic question since the mass media and social media demonise and exalt personalities at the expense of discussions of policies.

Michael Gorman
Chicago, Illinois


Behind the times

In her review of the new BBC production of HG Wells’s War of the Worlds (“Extra terrestrial”, 22 November), Rachel Cooke rightly points out that the Martians were “only doing what the British did across their empire”. But moral equivalences aside, it may not have been a good idea for the BBC to set the story in Wells’s own time. Watching in the 21st century, it retains its strangeness and terror but the plot doesn’t really stand up. Assuming the Martians’ aim was to colonise Earth and exterminate humanity, how long would it take to work their way around the planet and achieve that? And wouldn’t governments soon unite purposefully against them? Wells was a man of far-reaching prophetic vision, but this, one of his most famous stories, could have been a little better thought out. Presenting it as just another 19th-century costume drama doesn’t help.

MG Sherlock
Colwyn Bay, North Wales


Asleep on the job

David Willis identifies the importance of sleep (Correspondence, 22 November). At my theological college, St Augustine’s at Canterbury, a tutor went to bed every afternoon at 2pm. He informed his students that when he woke up, if he had his pyjamas on it was time to say Mass, and if he had his clothes on it was time for tea. He also pointed out that when one died it was a permanent sleep and that it was a good idea to get in some practice before the final moment. Good advice on both counts for a frenetic world.

Rev Canon David Jennings
Market Bosworth, Leicestershire


Long-term lacking

David Edgerton’s essay “How Britain was Sold” (15 November) was most impressive and salutary. I am a bit older than Professor Edgerton and have lived in the US for more than 40 years. My observation of Britain is that we as a nation have no concept of long-term capital accretion:

we’re traders at heart. Unlike Germany, Japan, Korea and now China, we do not have long-term strategy or goals.

Andrew Baker
Via email


Spell it out

Jeremy Cliffe’s illuminating column (World View, 22 November) contained one basic error: the Chinese romanisation of the word China is not hyphenated and also misspelt. His misspelling of “zhong-gu” should be spelled zhongguo.

Adam Dannreuther


Unavoidable illness

It would be unreasonable of me, as someone with health anxiety, to request that Phil Whitaker not write about medical symptoms, and in any case I can avoid reading his column – with a heavy heart, as he writes well (Health Matters). But, as I flick fearfully past his pages, my eye cannot help but be caught by the column’s standfirst owing to its bigger point size. After last week’s, I am dreading seeing “white lights”. If I have a dream, it’s that you at least keep the standfirst symptom-free.

Nicholas Royle


No big surprise

No doubt I am what Kate Mossman would consider an “older man” (Access All Areas, 22 November), so, as a longtime jazz gig-goer, can I say that we are past being surprised by female instrumental virtuosity? Our Bristol jazz scene boasts many well-established and talented women players, vocalists, composers and bandleaders. We are still some way off equal representation but, as Nubya Garcia rapidly becomes one of the UK’s biggest jazz names, it won’t be surprising when we get there.

Tony Benjamin


It’s all in the detail

I don’t intend to bombard you with letters during the election campaign but when Trevor West (Correspondence, 22 November) chides you for not censoring my opinions, I can’t let such nonsense pass me by. West lists a number of issues on which Labour has policies, and says we should back the party even though “the details are not there yet”. But all parties mention the same issues. Details are all-important. Take an example: the Tories say they will plant 30 million trees. The Lib Dems will plant 60 million. Details I want to know are where will they be planted, the type of trees and whether the figures are net or gross. I can then decide which is more plausible.

Labour says its plans are fully costed, but it is funding that is the problem. Shareholders in industries to be nationalised will receive bonds in place of their shares. Will those bonds be cashable, like shares? What interest rate will be paid? Will they be at market price or fixed by the government? If so, there is a real risk that the Supreme Court will decide the legislation is invalid. Millions of voters hold shares, and pensions may be affected if they lose a substantial amount. Detail, again, is crucial.

Every public service worker will get a 5 per cent increase in pay; but what do you do with the railways that are part nationalised? Pay some but not the others or make them all wait until nationalisation is complete? I could go on but I won’t. I’ll now self-censor until 13 December.

Joe Haines
Tunbridge Wells, Kent


Joe Haines believes Corbyn is an electoral liability, but this is capable of neither proof nor refutation. In our appalling electoral system, outcomes turn on the whimsical decisions of swing-voters in marginal seats, who tend to be among the electorate’s least engaged. Most people expect conflict between political opponents but internal criticism is more credible and signals a divided party. Thus, if the thesis is correct, it may be due to heavy criticism from Labour Corbynsceptics than anything intrinsic to the man himself. 

Alan Parker


Is Joe Haines the embodiment of “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”?

Peter Lock
Woolton, Liverpool


We reserve the right to edit letters.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action