Reasons for Britain’s diminishing influence date back to colonial days

“So, let’s move on to the new world,” writes Ian Bell (“The new world order is full of eastern promise”, The Herald, September 26). “Welcome to the new world”, says your editorial in the same issue. Yes, we need to understand and react to the new global environment.

Our relationship with Washington has becoming increasingly cold over decades, even with both recent Labour Prime Ministers making obsequious speeches on Capitol Hill.

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Why? There is a new and very different world out there. Plus, there is a dramatically changed cultural mix at the top of the Washington power table with little historical regard for Great Britain. There is attorney-general Eric Holder, son of immigrants who “grew up stupid under the Union Jack” (in Barbados); Joe Biden, Vice-President, whose mother, Jean Finnegan, is from Derry; while President Barack Obama himself has deeply-felt insights from his family’s challenges in colonial Kenya.

All three have near visceral understanding and resentment of Britain’s imperial role while, at the same time, Britain has lost any significant leverage in the corridors of global influence.

Geopolitical weight in Washington has shifted dramatically with Britain’s flaccid status being replaced by the power and influence of a new team of real world players from the Bric nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China). David Cameron won’t make any significant traction with the social democrat Obama. So let’s move on into the new world.

Thom Cross,Carluke.

 

It was ex-Prime Minister Harold Wilson who observed that “a week is a long time in politics”, and the last week provides a supreme example of that.

First, we had Gordon Brown travelling to New York to be a central figure in the UN and G20 gatherings and pick up his award as World Statesman of the Year for his role in guiding the world community in avoiding the worst excesses of a global downturn and providing a platform for an early recovery from the recession, and to be a leading light in proposing a new economic strategy for the world community, only to have it reported in the British media as “Obama snubs Brown”. As the PM returns from New York, he finds his party languishing in the polls and his own personal ratings in the doldrums.

Meanwhile, the Tories under David Cameron advocate policies the opposite of those used by the PM to solve the country’s and the world’s problems. If the Tories had been in power and followed their stated policies, the recession would have been much worse and the effects much longer-lasting than they have been. Even so, the Tories stay ahead in the public regard.

In Scotland, an SNP administration under the leadership of Alex Salmond has failed to deliver on many of its main manifesto priorities, the latest being an abject retreat on the promise to deliver class sizes of 18 in primaries one, two and three. The SNP’s lack of vision for Scotland is such that the two major projects designed to promote economic growth and raise Scotland’s profile around the world, the Glasgow and Edinburgh

airport links, are both abandoned without even consulting the cities concerned. But the SNP also rides high in the opinion polls.

So the politician who is admired and respected across the globe, and whose policies and diplomacy have been instrumental in staving off an economic catastrophe for his nation and the world, faces rejection by the public for his efforts, while other politicians, such as David Cameron, whose policies are wrong-headed and destructive, or, in the case of the Alex Salmond, not even delivered, are regarded by the public as a safer bet.

Alex Gallagher,Largs.

 

So, President Barack Obama is demanding immediate inspection of Iran’s secret second nuclear base. The words pot, kettle and black spring to mind.

I probably hold to the same sentiment expressed by Brian Quail (Letters, September 26). President Obama’s country doesn’t only have the second largest stock of nuclear weapons on Earth, it’s the only one that has used them so far. Does that mean the Americans are stable and trustworthy compared to the Iranians and Koreans? Perhaps we should ask them what they think of the west.

As Brian Quail pointed out, Gordon Brown did not announce that he would “cut the nuclear deterrent”. He just proposes to take one submarine out of service. Each submarine is equipped with up to 48 independently-targeted warheads, each with the equivalent power of 100,000 tonnes of conventional explosive. Each warhead , therefore, is as powerful as eight Hiroshima bombs.

So, do we pride ourselves on the fact that we can destroy 192 Hiroshima-sized cities? No, we’ll reduce this to “only” 144. And probably store the balance on land.

In any event, these submarines aren’t battlefield weapons. Their only purpose is to destroy large centres of civilian population. Isn’t that illegal, Messrs Brown and Obama?

Barry Lees, Greenock.

 

The US and Britain, armed to the teeth with nuclear WMD, are lecturing Iran on its nuclear programme. Is there any limit to the hypocrisy?

Kevin Orr, Bishopbriggs.

 

 

Palestinians in Israel enjoy the same opportunities as Jewish residents

Joyce Carmichael is so intent on demonising Israel that she doesn’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good story. (Letters, September 26).

Her account of brutality to people does not ring true. As for activists in Israel caring about the Palestinians, actually nearly all Israelis care and would like to live in peace. It would be good if that were also the attitude of the extremists in Hamas, Hizbollah and Fatah, and that they would stop so much brutality to each other.

It always interests me that no-one shows any concern about the way the Palestinians (and there are plenty of Jewish Palestinians living in Israel which people seem to forget), have been treated and denied citizenship in almost all of the Arab countries.

It seems Palestinians only matter to the do-gooding activists if they are living in the disputed territories.

As for medical centres and schools being demolished, maybe Ms Carmichael could give a single example of that.

A further false claim is that the standard of living of Palestinians in Israel is appalling and that “schools, hospitals, universities and all public services are decidedly inferior”.

First, there are no segregated hospitals or universities in Israel and, quite rightly, Arabs, Druse and Palestinians enjoy exactly the same conditions, opportunities and services as their Jewish counterparts. Go to any Arab village in Israel, be it Abu Ghosh, Ein Naqquba, Tamra or Umm Batin, or better still go to Haifa and Beersheva, and see people from all backgrounds living and working harmoniously alongside each other, and you will not find the “appalling” conditions Ms Carmichael alleges. Where you might find them is in the Palestinian- and Hamas-controlled areas where for the past 61 years Palestinian people have been forced to remain as refugees while their leaders refuse to make peace with Israel and allow the people to enjoy the benefits that would have brought.

It is a widely accepted fact that Arabs living in Israel, particularly Muslim and Christian Palestinians and women, enjoy a better lifestyle than in most Arab countries. (Where else do the women go to university, hold down high-profile jobs and enjoy complete equality?) That is why so many of them rushed to claim their Israeli passports when they thought their areas might go back under Palestinian Authority rule, something they clearly did not want. Talk to most of them, and while they will say not everything about their living conditions and lifestyle is rosy, they certainly won’t paint the same false picture as Ms Carmichael.

As for her taxi driver story, I regularly travel to the airport with an Arab taxi driver who has never given any indication that his licence could be threatened, but clearly it makes a nice embellishment to Ms Carmichael’s story.

There is no policy which seeks the uprooting of her Palestinian taxi driver and his family and getting them to move to the West Bank, or, indeed, of moving any of the 1,498,000 Arabs (20.2 % of the population) out of Israel. Interestingly, only 24% of Israeli Arabs consider themselves to be Palestinians, and virtually none of them would choose to move out of Israeli jurisdiction.

Joy Wolfe, Cheshire.

 

 

Belief in God does not bestow moral or ethical superiority on those who adhere to organised religion

James MacMillan believes all society’s ills stem from a lack of religious observance and belief in a superhuman deity (Letters, September 26). I’m not exactly sure what “sexual hooliganism” is, but I wonder if his ideal of moral rectitude would mean the church imposing its morality such that “deviants” had to appear on the cutty stool every Sunday or, even worse, be banished to a home for wayward girls, as depicted in Peter Mullan’s film The Magdalene Sisters.

Most rational observers would concede that Christians and other faiths can, in their extreme, fundamentalist forms, be responsible for a long list of repressions which apologists will try to defend.

Philosophers, poets and novelists have all written about the intricacies of human sexual relationships and these attempts to shed light are often derided by the church as evil in as much as they challenge the Christian ethic of sexuality which sees sex as problematic in itself and as the root of original sin.

The dilemma for the liberal mind (and not just “the liberal elite”) is how to awaken rationality and intellectual debate without offending those who find it appealing to believe in God and who want or need the structure of a religious doctrine. However, the great moral questions of our world are about human rights, war, poverty, the arms race (including nuclear weapons proliferation) and climate change, and these should be debated by believers and non-believers without bringing God into the debating chamber. The moral health of society rests on the way it deals with these issues.

I’d like to quote Bertrand Russell in his autobiography: “Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.” Thus wrote Russell, an atheist, who was twice imprisoned for his ethical principles. His was a Godless morality but surely just as compassionate as a Godly one and surely as fit a rallying cry to Scotland’s people “hungry for an infusion of love and virtue” as that offered by any religious leader.

Mhairi Hodgart, Kilwininng.

 

 

Whatever the problems facing our society today, James MacMillan’s views are certainly not the answer. Irrational belief in some supernatural deity -- for whose existence there has never been a shred of evidence -- is unlikely to achieve much; nor is adherence to ancient texts of doubtful provenance.

Progress is also unlikely by putting one’s hopes in a man who is declared to be infallible (how dangerous is that?), or in seeking integrity from a profoundly undemocratic, male-dominated organisation with a nasty track-record in child abuse (and the covering-up of same).

As for the notion that our “liberal elites have preached personal gratification as a means of public salvation”, it is as offensive as it is ridiculous, given the huge number of well-intentioned people in public life doing their best to administer our society and help others.

A balanced, rational approach to all social and moral questions is what is required -- not an irrational rant based on a grossly distorted view of modern society.

Alan Lawson, Dundee.

 

 

James MacMillan rejoices at the impending papal visit and seems to be hoping that it will help “heal this broken society”. He adds that the “liberal elites” have contributed to the increasing corruption in our society.

This prompted a memory of a tele­vision commentator speaking outside 10 Downing Street, following an item about a family tragedy, who said: “Tony Blair is a father, so he will be able to empathise.”

You don’t have to be a parent to empathise with any kind of suffering; you don’t have to put your toe in the water to know it’s wet; and you don’t have to have any religion to be concerned about the ills of society, or to care enough to do something about them.

If those who are organising the papal visit would like to effect some kind of change, then perhaps they could consider including Ulster in the visit.

My recollection of previous such religious visits do not include any radical or sweeping measures of change or improvement, though there were some versions of individual spiritual uplifting.

Tina Oakes, Stonehaven.

 

 

Crossrail decision

I am not surprised that Iain A D Mann agrees with me on Crossrail (Letters, September 24). So do most travellers with experience of Glasgow’s traffic -- as do their elected representatives, of all parties, at Westminster, Holyrood, local authorities and Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.

This consensus continued until last week when Alex Salmond and John Swinney decided to exploit increasing Glasgow Airport Rail Link (Garl) costs for a confrontation with the Treasury, and Glasgow’s SNP MSPs fell in line to support the decision.

However, Mr Mann is wrong in attributing the ditching of Crossrail/Garl to the current financial crisis. The Strategic Transport Projects Review report, published in December 2008, made no mention of Crossrail or of Garl. Glasgow projects were vaguely defined, and costs estimated vaguely at between £1.5bn and £3bn “required to deliver one or a combination of the elements”. It was a wish list, with no reference to financial constraints, yet no commitment to Crossrail.

Equally surprisingly, there was no commitment to Whifflet electrification, scheduled for completion before 2014 in Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategy Report of 2007 -- yet another project of relevance to the Commonwealth Games, as it would re-route Whifflet trains through the upgraded station at Dalmarnock.

John McMaster, Glasgow.

 

 

Protecting children

YOU reported on the sentencing of Alan Wilson for offences against children (The Herald, September 25). Despite the inference from the headline, the activities for which Mr Wilson was convicted were not connected with his volunteer administrative role as chairman of one of almost 600 local Scout groups in Scotland.

The Scout Association takes very seriously its responsibilities for safeguarding children and operates a robust vetting system. While the normal duties of a local group chairman do not involve direct work with children, because of the position of trust this entails, the association requires office-bearers in local groups to go through a vetting process, to include an enhanced level disclosure check.

The Protection of Children (Scotland) Act requires that trustees of a children’s charity are disclosure-checked. However, there remains a loophole that provides no legal entitlement to disclosure-check holders of similar positions of trust in children’s organisations that are not charities. The Scout Association has been pressing for a change in the law to ensure that disclosure-checking is extended to office-bearers in all children’s organisations in Scotland.

James A Duffy, Chief executive, The Scottish Council, The Scout Association, Fordell Firs, Hillend, Dunfermline.