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Readers’ letters: Columnist ill-informed about British Empire and colonialism

Jawaharlal Nehru and Lord Mountbatten Declare Indian Independence in Constituent Assembly, Delhi, 15 August 1947. Photo by Universal History Archive/Shutterstock
Jawaharlal Nehru and Lord Mountbatten Declare Indian Independence in Constituent Assembly, Delhi, 15 August 1947. Photo by Universal History Archive/Shutterstock

Sir, – Kirstin Innes (Opinion, June 2), an anti-British republican, says she wants to have a conversation with her son about the British Empire and Union Flag.

Before doing so, I hope she gets herself a bit better informed than she seems to be at present.

India did not “join” the empire in 1947, she achieved independence then and joined the Commonwealth.

To say that Britain “went to war on those countries and took over those countries” is simplistic to put it kindly.

There were good and bad aspects to British colonialism.

Many countries saw huge benefits in education and healthcare.

As a result, a country like Zimbabwe saw a precolonial population of less than one million become a seven-million population in 1980 when Robert Mugabe took over. This was largely as a result of healthcare improvements and malaria control.

On a more trivial level, the introduction of cricket by the colonialists seems to have gone down quite well in India and the Carribean.

Of course, there was a downside. However, British colonialism was far more benign than German, Belgian or French.

When there were excesses like the Amritsar Massacre in India, they were usually caused by out of control settlers rather than as British policy. The officer responsible for this particular event was sacked and sent home. Churchill described the event as “monstrous” and anti-British. If the British Empire was as wicked as Ms Innes seems to think, why have just about all former colonies joined the Commonwealth with the British monarch as its head? Indeed, even some countries that were not colonies like Mozambique and Cameroon have chosen to join. Should Ms Innes want to become better informed, I would recommend the book by Scottish historian Niall Ferguson, “Empire”, based on the channel 4 TV series of the same name from around 20 years ago. It gives the whole picture, good as well as bad.

Her Majesty the Queen is probably the most admired and respected head of state in the world and it is natural that millions want to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee. It’s a shame that those like Ms Innes cannot share in the joy.

Keith Shortreed, Cottown of Gight, Methlick.

We deserve this time to celebrate

Sir, – I am a great believer in free speech but at the right time and place. I found Kirstin Innis’s piece (Press and Journal, June 2) a real party-pooper with her generally negative musings on empire and the Platinum Jubilee.

The British Empire did a lot of things that in a modern “woke” context are considered “bad”, but the dynamics of colonialism are complicated and were competed for by various other powers who would have filled any gap perhaps more malevolently.

The British Empire was less bad than many of the alternatives, like warring ruling tribes, despotic rulers or other European powers. So, by being a bit less bad than other institutions of the time, the British Empire may have prospered, but generally left a world changed for the better.

There are 54 countries voluntarily part of the Commonwealth, comprising 2.1 billion people or a third of the world’s population! So a bit of an endorsement of British values, don’t you think, Kirstin?

So instead of the negative view, let’s look at it as part of Britain’s “Road to Damascus” and its evolution to becoming one of the most free and fair democracies in the world.

That is the main attraction for people wishing to come to the UK, and many as we know will undergo desperate struggles and risks to get here.

On the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, one lady from abroad standing on The Mall quipped: “This is not a once-in-a-generation event, it is far greater than that, it is an absolute one-off historical event unlikely ever to happen again.”

So let’s celebrate. After two-and-a-half years of Covid, we need it and deserve it!

William Morgan, Midstocket, Aberdeen.

Tough questions for football probe

Sir, – Observing the fallout from the Champions League final in Paris with police brutality against Liverpool fans attempting to enter the stadium – and pictures of many waving their tickets in the air or through the railings, bringing back memories of similar scenes at Kabul airport as Afghans tried to get on the remaining flights before being left to their fate at the hands of the Taliban – has brought condemnation right up to the heart of our government, with a Downing Street spokesperson calling for a thorough investigation into the mistreatment of the Merseyside fans.

Will those inquiries include if there was industrial-scale ticket fraud, whether Real Madrid fans were similarly treated, or was the harsh treatment of British fans a lingering reminder of how Brexit has soured relations with our Gallic neighbours?

The chaotic scenes are reported to be an embarrassment for the French government, and will similar scenes be seen at the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and Olympic Games in 2024?

Almost certainly they will not as only football fuels the intense hatred of the opposition that necessitates fans entering by separate gates and being kept apart during a match.

Rugby fans will enter by the same gate and, despite fierce national pride, will sit intermingled as drama on the field enfolds.

As for the Olympics, can any event arouse such passion that the gates are besieged to gain entry?

Ivan W. Reid, Kirkburn, Laurencekirk.

Honesty needed on cost of living

Sir, – For the past few months we have all gone through Brexit and Covid as well as seeing the destruction of Ukraine. Perhaps someone can tell me why the following things are now happening?

Why now that most of us are using renewable energy (those huge ugly windmills on land and sea) is the cost of our energy that we use every day to heat our homes and cook meals going up in price every week?

Why is the cost of our food shopping going up in price daily?

Why is our fuel, ie petrol diesel and LPG, going up in price every day?

Why is travelling abroad for leisure or work now like a game of poker ie holiday and flights cancelled after sitting in an airport departure lounge for many hours?

I could go through many other things that we here in the UK have to endure on a daily basis but I hope a UK MP may give me true answers.

Gavin Elder, Prunier Drive, Peterhead.

Watchdog’s role on climate claims

Sir, – Roy Turnbull attempts to rubbish the views of the Global Warming Policy Foundation – GWPF. (Letters, June 1).

There are 18 professors, three doctors and others who evaluate GWPF reports.

The GWPF has previously pointed out that the UK Met Office data shows that storms in the UK have been declining in strength since the 1990s.

Last August the IPCC recorded that, while rainfall over land is generally increasing, this has not translated into a higher risk of flooding except in a few rivers.

On droughts the IPCC stated that there is no observable upward trend in their frequency or severity.

There has been no increase in the number of hurricanes, and cyclone activity is at its lowest level for 500 years.

Roy Turnbull will remember the University of East Anglia and its discredited hockey stick graph.

The BBC has admitted that its climate editor, Justin Rowatt, made false climate claims in a Panorama broadcast. Could that possibly be because his wife, Bee, joined Extinction Rebellion protests and his sister, Cordelia, took part in Insulate Britain’s M25 protests?

These are some of the reasons we need a climate watchdog such as GWPF.

Clark Cross, Springfield Road, Linlithgow.

Union Street must change with times

Sir, – With regards to your readers’ letters on the decline of Union Street as a shopping centre, Union Street was never designed for the volume of traffic it now carries, nor were superstores included in its plans, although for many years now Union Street has indeed been Aberdeen’s retail heart.

But people’s expectations change. We demand online shopping from our armchairs with next-day delivery or perhaps a visit to an out-of-town megastore with acres of goods on display, an equally big car park and good, fast roads to get there.

When the winds of change blow you may bend with that wind or be broken trying to resist the inevitable.

Surely it’s time for Union Street to evolve, as indeed it always has, to a new purpose.

With its handsome granite buildings Union Street could become a car-free leisure space with small shops, bars and cafes. Its central location would make an eco-friendly residential district with excellent public transport links and local services – who needs a car? Market Street to Union Terrace is the place to start. An example I saw recently was the Laisves Aleja in Kaunas, Lithuania, where they started with stark Soviet-era concrete. How much better can the Silver City do to rejuvenate its beating heart?

Doug Gibb, Morven Crescent, Westhill.

SNP should foot referendum bill

Sir, – As a Scottish taxpayer I must agree with Gavin Elder’s letter in Saturday’s paper that this SNP government have the audacity to expect the Scottish taxpayer to fund £20 million for their indyref 2.

This, surely, has to come out of SNP funds.

We have already funded a once-in-a-lifetime referendum, but the SNP are hell-bent on doing it all again.

This money would be better spent training medical staff.

Brian Simpson, Culpleasant Avenue, Tain.

Spend £20m on something useful

Sir, – SNP MP Alyn Smyth MP says the SNP may have to support nuclear weapons to join Nato.

Sir John Curtice has advised that keeping the Queen would win votes in a referendum. They want to keep the pound, they are closing their biggest 2014 asset – the oil industry – they don’t want a border with the UK, they want to be our “best friends” and they want the UK to continue paying Scotland’s £8bn pensions post-indy (they can’t and they won’t).

Surely the best way to achieve all that is to ditch the whole idea.

And spend the £20m on something more useful.

Allan Sutherland, Willow Row, Stonehaven.

Money vanishes if airlines go bust

Sir, – The flight cancellations in the past weeks have been horrendous not only for departing passengers with the expenses they incur travelling to the airport, but for returning travellers having to find the money for alternative arrangements.

Both travellers will wait months for the return of their money and not the incidental expenses from the airlines.

It has been three months since the lifting of Covid restrictions and plenty time for airlines to retrain and train new ground staff.

All the money their customers have already paid is lying there in the bank account of the airlines and will take many months to sort this out.

Now, I wonder, are some of these airlines which have all your money maybe going into administration? Then you will never see your money again.

Don McKay, Provost Hogg Court, Torry, Aberdeen.

How can LEZ trump MoT?

Sir, – Scottish vehicles go through a UK Ministry of Transport test (MoT) every year – this includes a basic emissions test making it legal to drive in any street in the UK.

Now, the SNP government and certain Scottish councils have deemed this not good enough and are introducing low emission zones (LEZ) where a “non-compliant” vehicle will receive a £60 penalty on entering.

On what basis can the SNP MSPs and councillors ban or fine a vehicle if they have passed a UK MoT with a basic emission test?

Blue badge holders with “non-compliant” wrecks can enter an LEZ – where is the rationale?

T Shirron, Davidson Drive, Aberdeen

City makes me feel ashamed

Sir, – I ventured into town last week for the first time since Christmas, I have never been ashamed of my home city before.

Dirty buildings, closed shops, charity shops, bookies and e-cigarette shops everywhere – not anything to attract tourists, certainly nothing to encourage them to return or recommend us to their friends.

Sporadic public transport which takes you everywhere but exactly where you want to go.

Message to the new council: Please clean up Union Street buildings and reduce business rates to encourage quality stores back into our main street. I won’t even mention the state of Union Terrace Gardens.