The Spectator

Letters: is the Scottish ‘McMafia’ model still better than Westminster?

Scot free

Sir: In last week’s piece on the SNP, Fraser Nelson was critical of the Covid scenario in which ‘civil servants were enlisted in the SNP secret state’ (‘The Covid clan’, 27 January). Fraser makes comparisons with Whitehall but fails to ask the obvious question: is the Scottish model preferable, where the civil service and state media join a ‘mafia’ run by elected politicians? Or is Westminster governance since 2010 better, where the elected government pontificates and the civil service, quangocracy and state media continue to do what they like?

Now Nicola Sturgeon has time on her hands, perhaps she can hire herself out as a consultant to Rishi Sunak on the subject of Taking Back Control.

Richard North

Hayling Island

The quickest route

Sir: Your leading article (‘Europe’s feebleness’, 27 January) misses the main point regarding the government’s dealing with the Houthis. If one really wants to stop the Houthis’ action, then the quickest and most cost-effective way would be to declare the Red Sea a war zone to commercial shipping, and allow the insurance rates to rise accordingly so that ships divert around the Cape of Good Hope. The subsequent collapse of Suez Canal transit fees would ensure the Egyptians sorted out the Houthis in a very short time and at no cost to the UK.

Capt R.M. Bishop

Kilbarchan, Renfrewshire

Profound hounds

Sir: Tanya Gold’s review of Robert Hardman’s book on King Charles III (Books, 27 January) mentions the bowing of her ponies’ heads as the late Queen’s coffin passed by them.

When my father died at the turn of the century, we had a meet of our pack of foxhounds at which his ashes were committed to the ground in a silver bowl. As our padre said his words of blessing all went quiet; perhaps 18 couple of hounds ceased expressing their enthusiasm for the day, and at least 50 mounted followers with their horses, and as many on foot, all came to rest. It was fantastically moving and even as I write this I can hear and see the silence among the beech trees. It was a moment of complete stasis. The (apocryphal) Gospel of Thomas alleges the same phenomenon occurred at the birth of Jesus.

Animals display a sixth sense when the dead are laid to rest. They are profoundly intuitive. I am sure the close connection the royal ponies enjoyed with their late owner would have augmented this.

Marian Waters

Pebworth, Warwickshire

Medical record

Sir: Kit Carson (Letters, 20 January) is riled by a Spectator editorial that is ‘unfairly critical of junior doctors asking for higher pay’. (Actually my reading was that the wrath was directed against their going on strike for a 35 per cent pay uplift – not quite the same thing.) Carson quotes some curious figures: with annual earnings of £52,900 translating to a mortgage of £224,470, a 38-year-old doctor ‘would not be able to buy any reasonable house or flat’ in greater London. This is questionable on several counts. First, the £224,470 figure assumes no deposit, which seems unlikely. Second, Rightmove suggests that, within the M25, small apartments for this sum are far from rare. Third, how many first-time buyers are single earners? Finally, the 38-year-old has spent ‘five years at medical school and five years working’. In fact, most NHS consultants (starting salary £93,666) are appointed at around 32 to 33, meaning they have been five years in post by the age of 38 – with the associated automatically awarded, non-performance-related pay uplift to £105,390. Strongly worded The Spectator may be, but hardly (in this instance) immoral.

Neil Scolding

Emeritus professor of clinical neuroscience (and NHS consultant), Bristol

A stirring number

Sir: Richard Dawkins enquires: ‘Why do we English put up with our own national dirge: dreary melody and words to match?’ (Diary, 27 January). Well, there are critics and critics. In 1818 Beethoven noted in his diary: ‘I have to show the English a little of what a blessing “God Save the King” is.’ He promptly introduced it into his stirring ‘Wellingtons Sieg’, having ten years earlier composed a set of variations on the melody for chorus and piano trio.

Among others who admired and made use of the tune in their compositions are Johann Christian Bach, Joseph Haydn, Rossini, Liszt and Debussy. Altogether, some 140 composers have created musical adaptations of the British national anthem. Not bad going for the ‘dreary melody’.

Nikolai Tolstoy

Southmoor, Berkshire

Deer to me

Sir: Melanie McDonagh’s ‘Notes on… Venison’ (27 January) reminded me of first tasting this delicious meat eaten alfresco as sausages in a Salisbury Cathedral canonry garden 50 years ago. More recently I discovered a pub called the Haunch of Venison, with an extensive menu of venison sourced from the New Forest. I recommend visiting this ancient Salisbury hostelry as it is a gem of historic interest, where Churchill reputedly entertained Eisenhower when planning the D-Day landings. The guest ales sometimes include Exmoor Stag.

Peter Saunders

Salisbury, Wiltshire

Polished behaviour

Sir: I read with interest, in Juliet Nicolson’s review of Gill Johnson’s Love From Venice (20 January), that Nancy Mitford had a fascination with nail varnish. Not having read the book, I don’t know why. I do however know, from a reliable source, that her sister Deborah strongly disapproved of it and if you were invited to dine at Chatsworth, you were well advised to attend with well manicured but naked fingernails.

Fiona Rusling