Letters: no equality for Scots in United Kingdom

Photograph: Robert Perry/EPA

How sad is it that Gordon Brown can only view Scotland’s drive for independence in the context of 20th-century politics, irrefutably different to contemporary reality (“The Union is too precious to be lost to narrow nationalism”, Comment)?

Scots now realise there can be no equality of partnership in the UK union. That the prime minister can give a blanket refusal for a Scottish referendum proves both the inequality and the illusion of UK democracy when the express will of the people has no formal right to be tested in the face of such refusal.

Brown eschews independence for Scotland while the tenet of his argument proves the very need for it. However, don’t we really know why the Labour party wants Scotland to remain in the UK? The truth is, Labour is unelectable in the UK without Scottish MPs. And there lies Labour’s “Hobson’s choice” problem. If Scotland does hold a referendum and chooses to leave the UK, Labour will be unelectable.

And if Scotland is denied even the referendum, its democratic right to choose, Labour will be lucky to return even the one MP they have now as Scots shun them for their appalling democracy denial. Either way, Labour nationally has long blown its prospects in Scotland.

Brexit is the game changer. Not just for Scots’ salient desire to remain in the outward looking and thinking EU, but also the disregard Westminster has shown for the contribution Scotland should be making through the representation in the “negotiation” being denied it and government’s power grab of repatriated powers.

Here’s the challenge for Brown. Organise a march to remain in the UK and let’s compare it with the tens of thousands who turned out on a cold winter day in Glasgow in support of independence. The UK claims democracy. Get the referendum going now. If not, let’s no longer pretend the UK is a democracy.
Jim Taylor

Gordon Brown’s timely call for a fresh debate on decentralising the UK accurately depicts a country disunited, uneasy and prone to insular nationalisms incapable of resolving underlying economic imbalances. His ideas for relocating power and resources from Westminster justifiably include new pressure groups and regional councils for areas like the north of England. Such a “radical alternative to nationalism”, though, also needs to counter major global challenges, including climate change, over-powerful multinational corporations and intercontinental money laundering.

As Brown notes, “getting Brexit done” is leaving Britain undone. Democratising and strengthening international bodies such as the EU – now working to control artificial intelligence technology and regulate companies’ use of our digital information – still remains the only practical route to meeting these challenges, as the reality of Brexit will prove. Stronger regionalism and meaningful internationalism are both essential to halting destructive nationalism.
John Chowcat
Hythe, Kent

My fears for conservatoire

I read with alarm your report on the threat by Julian Lloyd Webber to step down from his job as principal of Birmingham’s music conservatoire if a block on national funding is not lifted (“Lloyd Webber: I’ll quit top music job over arts cash cuts”, News). As a former graduate of Birmingham University, when I also received piano and organ lessons at what was then called the Birmingham School of Music, I share the concern at any failure to provide proper finance for such an important institution.

Action should now be taken to reverse this decision by those in power. The failure to recognise the conservatoire’s important contributions to our musical culture, and the achievements of its graduates, many of whom have achieved worldwide recognition, is absolutely regrettable. Quite clearly, the Conservatoire deserves all the support it needs.
Meirion Bowen
London N10

Ofsted’s toxic influence

Nine years of retirement as a teacher and lecturer in education does little to diminish the anger I felt reading yet another article about a teacher driven out of her job by Ofsted (“I’ve been a head for 17 years. Ofsted has driven me out of the job I loved”, Focus).

Is it any wonder that successive governments have faced mounting teacher recruitment and retention crises when they have failed to address the cause of much of the haemorrhaging of the profession – the inspection system?

Ofsted has contributed to a climate of such relentless surveillance and aggressive monitoring that teachers are distracted from actually doing their job. This toxic climate has sucked the joy out of teaching and learning and sapped the confidence and energy of teachers.

Inspectors themselves, as the article demonstrates, lack continuity and consistency yet it is the system itself that is at fault and requires urgent reform. Above all else, I urge government and Ofsted to recognise that the monitoring and development of one’s practice and the drive to improve are intrinsic to teaching. Teachers are the experts in their classrooms and have the deepest knowledge of their pupils and how to engage them in learning. It is time inspectors showed some respect for teachers’ individual and collective professionalism.
Dr James Hall
Hexham, Northumberland

The language barrier

Your report of the controversy in Spain over the use of feminine nouns, instead of the collective masculine, to cover mixed groups contrasts with the move in anglophone countries to adopt masculine terms to replace their feminine equivalent (“Masculine, feminist or neutral? The language battle that has hit Spain”, World).

Actresses, waitresses and conductresses are now referred to as actors, waiters and conductors because, as I understand it, the feminine form was felt to diminish those female roles. France has a similar concern in that if a female were to be elected as president, there are those who argue she should be addressed as Madame, le président rather than Madame, la présidente.

The development of language is a complex matter and clearly English does not have the same issues as those European languages that have gendered nouns and the need for adjectives to be modified in agreement. Nor do we have an official language academy as do the Spanish and the French to “police” the use of grammar. Nevertheless it is interesting that feminists in anglophone countries appear content to adopt previously masculine terms, presumably on the basis that they are seen as gender-neutral, rather than insisting on a specifically female identifiers, as their sisters in Spain are doing.
Derek Beaumont
Stony Stratford, Buckinghamshire

Soldiers need lawyers

While Nick Cohen is absolutely right to warn of the sinister dangers contained within the Ministry of Defence’s latest consultation, he’s wrong to encourage the government to go after the lawyers or the legal recourse they represent (“Trump lets soldiers get away with murder. That mustn’t happen here”, Comment). The MoD’s proposal would, as Cohen points out, result in impunity for war crimes and no accountability for torture. He could add to this a reduction in access to justice for soldiers, given that the government wants to make it harder for soldiers to bring claims against the MoD in court.

Based on the actions of just one lawyer, who has been struck off, the government has managed to cast those of us in the legal profession who work in the public interest as “vexatious”, castigating and dismissing our clients for daring to stand up to power.

It is, of course, very much in the government’s interest to do this. Why would the government encourage the scrutiny that comes from litigation, or from independent watchdogs like Liberty?

Lawyers can and should take cases that reveal human rights abuses by the state. These cases range from high-profile, hard-hitting inquiries, such as that of Baha Mousa (conveniently overlooked by the MoD when they talk about these claims), which revealed the torture and killing by British soldiers of an Iraqi receptionist, to the everyday abuses of marginalised people, such as disabled people challenging benefits cuts.

The government doesn’t like these “vexatious” claims – that’s the whole point. In fact, the government has gone so far as to coin the phrase “lawfare”, a mythical concept stacked full of what are, at best, profound misunderstandings and, at worst, untruths about what a few, very measured court judgments have actually said about soldiers’ conduct on the battlefield.

The government has pledged to restrict the mechanisms by which we hold the powerful to account. Don’t be fooled into cheering them on.
Emma Norton, Liberty head of legal casework
London SW1

Time’s up for luxury travel

Travel agent Jack Ezon tells Rupert Neate that round-the-world private jet holidays “give people the opportunity to explore the world in the limited time they have” (“50 wealthy tourists, eight countries… and one giant carbon footprint”, News). That’s let the cat out of the bag.
Tom Hardy
London N5