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1 May 2024

Letter of the week: Context dependence

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By New Statesman

I read your excellent Leader (26 April) with great interest. You state that support for Scottish independence remains “at around 44 per cent”. While this is true, it is important to note that pollsters, infuriatingly, never put a time-scale on their questions. I strongly suspect that if participants were asked whether they would like a referendum next year, or for the SNP to immediately negotiate independence with Westminster following the general election, there would be far lower support for the cause.

It’s one thing to have a somewhat vague aspiration for Scotland to be independent at some unspecified time in the future. It’s quite another to actively support the idea of Scotland leaving the UK in the near future.
Graeme Youngson, Aberdeen

The Goldsmiths standard

Jonathan Rutherford’s reflections on the crisis at Goldsmiths (Another Voice, 26 April) and what it represents were well put, though an important name was omitted. Before Stuart Hall at Birmingham there was Richard Hoggart. It was Hoggart who founded the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies and was its first director. After a stint with Unesco, Hoggart was warden at Goldsmiths between 1976 and 1984. Among many issues, he had to deal with a proposed “rationalisation” within the University of London, which was keen to reduce the number of constituent colleges. It was recognised that there was an argument for merging Goldsmiths, with its broad social and cultural offer, and Queen Mary College in the East End, which was strong in science and engineering. Although Hoggart didn’t see this crisis out, his replacement, Andrew Rutherford, did. I was president of the students’ union at the time and had a ringside seat for the machinations. I pointed out that having the Thames between the two campuses may present a logistical challenge that would probably cancel the savings envisaged. The proposal was dropped and the colleges remained stand-alone institutions.

Like EP Thompson and Raymond Williams, Hoggart was a public intellectual. His presence at Goldsmiths imprinted an identity on the college which endorsed a radical outlook on the world that would be built on by others to create a remarkable world-class institution. Of course, change is always a constant, but we need to ensure that the agenda is also one worth pursuing.
Wayne Bennett, Toller Whelme, Dorset 

Hate on the march

Hannah Barnes misses the point (Out of the Ordinary, 26 April). She argues the 13-minute video of Gideon Falter’s altercation with Met officers shows a “more complicated, more nuanced” story than was thought. It doesn’t. It throws into question the line that there are no no-go areas for Jews in London and that the anti-Israel demonstrations are peaceful. But when a Jewish man walks near one, Met officers tell him this is provocative and that he is putting his safety at risk.

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Why would his safety be at risk? “Chants of ‘baby killer’, ‘scum’ and ‘shame on you’ can be heard,” Barnes writes. The officers “do not act: they don’t search the crowd for those who shouted the abuse” because “they are trying to keep Falter safe”. But British Jews don’t want hate marches in central London where people scream anti-Semitic abuse in the streets. We don’t want to be told that wearing a yarmulke is a provocation to anti-Semites and that we should walk away under police protection. Anything else, apparently, is asking for trouble. That’s what the video showed.

These are not peaceful marches. According to several Met officers, Falter would need police protection if he got anywhere near these marchers. They are, as many of us have argued for months, hate marches, and it is not safe for Jews to walk in parts of London when there are demonstrations. It’s not safe because the police are putting freedom of speech first and allowing an atmosphere of intimidation to dominate public spaces in the capital. And the authorities – Sadiq Khan, Mark Rowley, the Home Secretary – are telling them that’s what they should do. That issue is at the heart of the Gideon Falter story. That’s why Barnes is surely right to say, “The answer to any kind of racism in society cannot be to ‘stay inside’.”
David Herman, London SW13

Dark art

I greatly enjoyed Andrew Marr’s lessons from Goya (Letter from Madrid, 26 April) but when I finished reading it I wanted to shout out “Bosch”! Two panels of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights are also particularly apt. The central panel teems with nude figures engaged in innocent joy – the 1989-2022 “holiday from history”? The right-hand panel presents a hellscape with humanity succumbing to the temptations of evil and reaping damnation – a post-2022, John Gray, Bruno Maçães future? Perhaps fellow readers could help me place the left-hand panel – the Garden of Eden?
Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria

A privileged voice

Nicola Sturgeon has enjoyed a privilege available only to a very few. For almost a decade as Scotland’s first minister she set the tone of public debate, directed policy, spoke for our nation. To read her review of Salman Rushdie’s memoir Knife (Critic at Large, 26 April), the casual observer could believe she was a crusader for open and inclusive dialogue. The opposite was true. Under her leadership Scotland became a monoculture where debate was shut down. No better example of her tight grip on public discourse exists than her dismissal of women’s arguments against self-ID as “not valid”. The Cass report now stands as a reproach to her resistance to examining the ethics of the social and medical transition of often vulnerable adolescents.

Sturgeon’s authority may have dimmed since her resignation last year, but she is still a significant public voice. Her attempt at reinventing herself as a champion of free speech, and using Rushdie’s important book to do so, shows at best a total lack of self-awareness. Her rewriting of history should not go unremarked. We shall judge her on her record, on this, as on everything else.
Susan Dalgety and Lucy Hunter Blackburn, Edinburgh

Circadian ribbing

Rachel Cunliffe (Deleted Scenes, 26 April) appears to be confused about daylight saving time. Putting the clocks forward makes us think it is an hour later, and so we do everything an hour earlier, thus having more daylight when we are out of bed. It is strange for Cunliffe to object to being advised to get up earlier; moving to British Summer Time is getting her to do exactly that. Having BST all the year round would be the same as having GMT and doing everything an hour earlier by the clock.
Rebecca Linton, Leicester

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[See also: Letter of the week: Schools out]

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This article appears in the 01 May 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Forward March