A letter to Scotland

Dear people of Scotland

This week you will decide your future and my future, and the future of everyone in the United Kingdom.

I am English and I am proud to be English, even though my father was descended from those brave Scots who had had carved a life for themselves in British Guiana. My grandfather was a Cunningham and my grandmother a Cameron, and there is a roll call of other Scottish names in my family tree. Even though I am English, I prefer the Union Flag for the England needs Scotland (and Wales and Northern Ireland)

Whichever way you vote will bring in a new United Kingdom. The resilience and determination of both peoples from Scotland and England will ensure that we will prosper even if not together, but separation will come at a terrible cost for both our countries for the foreseeable future. Do not underestimate the hurt that you will do to Anglo-Scottish relations. Do not be lulled into thinking that the only opposition to sharing the pound, currency of the United Kingdom, exists in only in the “Westminster clique”. Most English people believe that currency union must go hand in hand with political union, and the English have a great distrust of anything that seems like foreign domination.

What if you vote No on Thursday? September 19th will be day 1 of United Kingdom Mark II, that you (and the other UK nations) will help shape. The changes will be seismic and we need you to help with this. Together we can build a better country for all the people in the United Kingdom. Team GB in action. The UK needs DevoMax for Scotland and also for Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as devolving power to the English regions. We have all suffered from the decline of our heavy industries. Vote No and make the United Kingdom a better place for all of the people.

Margaret Hawkes (nee Cunningham)

Should Scotland be an independent country?


Maybe, before this referendum became a reality, I would have said YES, Scotland should be independent. From an English perspective, why do we need the Scots, with their whining and the massive chip on their shoulder about being hard done by? Hey the act of union joined two countries, Scotland was not the only country to lose its identity; England too lost something. We lost the English parliament, our nationality; we had to share everything, including our currency. What loyalty should we have to a country which gives free university education to Scottish students, and to other members of the European Union but not to those from England?

The Act of Union forged one country that was able to bestride the world like a colossus, one country that formed the British Empire and created the wealth of the nation that is now to be divided. Only together could this have happened. England, Wales and Scotland; augmented by Ireland in a later Act of Union. Now the heady days of Empire are a fading memory. But the wealth generated from the age of Empire still sustains the United Kingdom although the spread of wealth is somewhat uneven. Resources are unevenly distributed throughout the UK. Scotland has oil; the South East of England has the powerhouse of London. Our heavy industry, shipbuilding, steel making, coal mining all belong to a bygone age, along with textiles and other manufacturing. Their demise has left heavy scars all over the UK, not just in Scotland. The challenge to the government of the UK is to ensure that prosperity is evenly distributed.

Would England be better off without Scotland? Maybe England would be better off if she shed Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland, and stood once again, after many hundreds of years on her own. A proud nation, a nation with a world class capital. Maybe. But England would be poorer, for the wealth of England comes not from being England, but from being part of a union. Would Wales and Northern Ireland benefit from the breaking up of the Union? If Mr Salmond can argue that small countries can have more vibrant and successful economies than larger countries, then surely this must hold for Wales and Northern Ireland. Small is beautiful, so smaller must be even more beautiful.

The fundamental question that should be asked is not about the independence of Scotland, but rather can the financial instruments of the United Kingdom be separated out into their component parts? If this cannot be done, then whatever the vote is on September 18th, Scotland could never be fully independent of the United Kingdom.

Should the United Kingdom be destroyed so Scotland can have its independence? If there is anything that Team GB in the 2012 Olympics has taught us, is it not that as the United Kingdom, we are a nation that can still bestride the world like a Colossus.

We have a shared history, may we still have a shared future.


UK day

Come what may on September 18th, when Scotland votes in their referendum, there is something that can and should be done. A new public holiday is needed, to celebrate the United Kingdom in all it’s glory, and hopefully to celebrate a full United Kingdom with all four nations at its heart. Over the last few years there have been various lukewarm attempts to introduce a new bank holiday, St George’s Day, Trafalgar Day and others. But this public holiday will be a special day – not like the old Empire/Commonwealth Day, but a day when we can reflect on who we are and marvel at the diversity of our combined nation. And hopefully, it will not also be a day of mourning, when we reflect on the leaving of one nation from our fold.

Many countries celebrate the founding of their nation. We do not. If there is something that the Scottish Referendum gives us, it is an opportunity to start again and to celebrate who we are, a United Kingdom with many different peoples and identities. A national day strengthens the nation and fosters a sense of identity. If the Americans, the French, the Norwegians, the Italians and so many others celebrate with pride their national days, ought we, as the United Kingdom, do the same?

And the date of this new public holiday? What about the Monday nearest September 18th?

Multiculturalism: the biggest mistake

Should we abandon multiculturalism for the sake of unity in this country?

There is a misunderstanding that culture and religion are the same. This misunderstanding came to the fore when the subject of Christmas trees was discussed in the office where I work. One member of staff is a devout Muslim and some thought that he would find it offensive if the office Christmas tree was placed too close to his desk. This is all very well, but there is nothing in the Koran about Christmas trees. And I would suggest, there is nothing in the Haddith so beloved by some Muslim clerics to forbid Christmas trees. And yet this man has been convinced that a Christmas tree is as forbidden as alcohol or pork. Why? There is this mistaken conviction by some that the humble Christmas tree is a religious symbol, despite the fact that there is no mention at all about Christmas trees in the Bible.

So what is going on here? The Christmas tree is not a religious symbol. It is not like the Crib that my family place on the mantelpiece every Christmas, nor is it like a Crucifix. For centuries, for almost two millennia, the Church has celebrated Christmas in this country without the Christmas tree. The Christmas tree belongs to the culture of this country, and is no more religious that the giving of gifts at Christmas, eating turkey and putting up decorations. The midwinter festival celebrated in this country is called Christmas and comes with a variety of rituals (many of which only date back to the reign of Victoria and Albert). As such, stripped of any religious overtones, it is a festival open to all, regardless of religion. It is sad to see that the mad mullahs in this country are so determined to prevent their co-religionists from joining in the celebrations.

And now we come to the issue of multi-culturalism. Culture and religion are not the same. It is right to allow people to worship their God in whatever way they think is appropriate. But we have to be very careful about confusing the demands of culture and the demands of religion. At stake is the future of this country as a tolerant and inclusive society. To continue to be such, there has to be one culture and one law that everyone subscribes to, that embraces all people regardless of religious perspective. But we have to be clear just what is our culture.

Our culture is based on monogamy, as practised by the Romans, the Greeks and the Jews. We place great emphasis on face to face encounters, so much so, that there is a linguistic record to show the importance. Face to face, to show ones face, bare-faced cheek, lose face, save face… The covering up of women’s face, just because they are women’s faces is totally alien to our culture. Our culture allow both men and women to be proactive in finding a partner. We have a respect for equality, each step along the road to full equality has been a difficult one, the equality of races, equality of women and now equality of people who are gay. We are tolerant of others, even if there values are different from ours – and we celebrate Christmas. The only time that Christmas was not celebrated in England was when Oliver Cromwell was in power. A miserable few years for the English people. And we have one law for all.

An example is abortion. Any woman has access to abortion regardless of religion. The law does not discriminate against those whose religion bans abortion. Civil partnerships (and later marriage) are available to all regardless of religious persuasion. Adultery is not illegal. But because these things are permitted by law, the religious devotee can live to a stricter moral code. The Catholic Church forbids divorce, but there is a court system set up within the Church to examine cases of marriage breakdown and the marriage may be annulled. This is an optional add-on for Catholics and does not replace the law of the land. Shariah law can be a useful addition to the life of the faithful but must never be seen as a replacement for our law, but only as a way of maintain relationships and faith within the Mosque community.

Multiculturalism is wrong, for it fragments the wider community so that common experiences cannot be shared and as the Jews in parts of Europe found, living as a separate culture makes it easier for the pogroms that were mounted against the Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries. As a society we have a right to be able to decide what is acceptable and what is not acceptable both in terms of behaviour and dress.




Aleppo now and during the Armenian Genocide

“in late August (2012) Human Rights Watch reported that targeted artillery shelling and bombing raids on ten bakeries specifically in Aleppo, “killing and maiming scores of civilians who were waiting for bread.”

Aleppo is no stranger to human misery and degradation as a totalitarian regime inflicts its wrath on a people. Today we watch as brutality after brutality is inflicted on the Syrian people for daring to challenge those on power. The Assad clan is supported by Iran and now it seems that it is getting backup and support from North Korea. In 1915, 97 years ago, it was the Armenian people who were the victims as they were marched from their communities into the Syrian and Palestinian desert to be left to die.

The saddest thing of all is that the lessons of this brutal genocide were learnt well by those who wish to perpetuate evil. The shortcomings and inefficiencies of the genocide were analysed by the Nazis, so that there systematic slaughter of the Jews could be more effective and consume less resources. The lesson that brutality can win has been taken to heart by those who run Iran and certainly was learnt by Saddam Hussein and now by Assad in Syria. Can we learn how to prevent such massacres and abuses of human dignity?

When I was a little girl, I was taught the Catechism at school, and we were told that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. If more people truly believed that and let that inform there actions and decisions, then maybe, just maybe, the world would change. It would be very sad to think that genocides are always going to be part of human history.

Aleppo 1915

Picture from the Devolution X Blog article about Armenia

Freedom of speech and the right to be offended

Today I find myself in a world where I dare not say anything against the state of Israel, for fear of being called anti-Semitic. I dare not say anything that shatters the myth of Mohammed, for fear of causing riots hundreds of miles away. And if I were to say anything derogatory about homosexual people – well, I am homophobic at best, if not the worst example of fundamentalist Christianity. And I must not, on pain of being deemed a social pariah, say anything that could be construed as racist. If I were a person in the public eye, say a politician, I would be drummed out of office, even if these terrible blasphemies were uttered in private.

Perhaps, the extremist talk that encourages people to riot, plant bombs, kill, should be banned – that which can be caught up in the umbrella of incitement to hate. But ordinary intellectual discourse or the expression of deeply held beliefs, should they too be banned? And if so, then who decides what is to be allowed and where?

July 2012: A drought in Surrey?

Today it rained and tomorrow it will rain and also, according to the forecast, it will rain on Wednesday. June has been the wettest on record – to go with a wet May and an even wetter April. And yet our local water company, Veolia, is declaring a drought and the hosepipe ban is in full force. My garden does not look as though it is suffering from a lack of water – even before it started raining in April. Just what is Veolia trying to prove? That the amount of water saved from a hosepipe ban during the wettest summer on record will fill the aquifers? In which case, it is the wet summer not the hosepipe ban that is the cause.

As I drive over the Thames each morning on my way to work, I am constantly amazed a the level of the Thames at Walton. Not high enough to flood, but high enough. Now remind me. Is there not a myth that the water is taken out of the river at the pumping station to supply the local population. If that is the case, why are we on drought alert? Using the water at Walton for water supply would surely be preferable to allowing this water to flow out to sea. If our water does come from the pumping station, then why are we subject to drought restrictions when there is plainly not a water shortage in this area?

Perhaps I also take exception to use of the word drought. A real drought is when it does not rain for months if not years. It is when nothing grows and much dies. It is when vegetation catches fire spontaneously. A drought is not when you have to keep listening for flood alerts. It is not when your strawberries and raspberries rot because it keeps raining.

But Veolia says there is a drought. And they have spent the princely sum of £30 million to fix the leaks. They are also spending money to educate the consumer. And at the same time, they are have to pay off a massive debt. There is no money for the sort of investment in infrastructure that is really needed. It is definitely true that the bulk of the population lives in the south-east, but the water surplus in sin the north and west of the country. What is needed is a scheme to harness the water surplus in one part of the country to ensure that eh southeast does not go short. Such problems could be solved by the Romans 2000 years ago – but not in seems, the British in the 21st Century.

Veolia – the only drought you have is one of your own making. So get real.