Congratulations on your issue of 25 March on national identity and culture. Its ideas are thought-provoking, but miss an important point. While Katy Shaw (“Postcards from a small island”) alludes to tiers of identity, we all also carry multiple micro-identities to do with gender, religion, occupation, etc. These form a mosaic, where certain aspects can be hidden or brought out on specific occasions, with some bits easier to hide than others. Nationalism under the guise of patriotism allows creation of “the other”, changing the precept of individual identity, and this otherism often plays a role in creating discrimination. The culture of institutions also moulds our world-views, thereby creating, as Shaw says, yet another tier.
Dinesh Bhugra, emeritus professor, mental health & cultural diversity, King’s College London
Death and taxes
I was interested to read Andrew Marr (Politics, 18 March) quoting a senior Labour figure as saying: “To win the essential number of seats in Scotland, we will have at least to promise a closer relationship with Europe.” As so often before, Labour is missing the point. Its stance on Brexit and Europe is no vote-winner in Scotland, but it is not why so many lifetime Labour voters like me abandoned the party after 2014. The main reason was its refusal to even discuss a referendum on independence, let alone articulate what an independent Scotland might look like under Labour. Until this changes, Scottish Labour will remain dead in the water, however much lukewarm support the party in England may express for closer ties with Europe.
Robert Reid, Kilmarnock, East Ayrshire
Nicola Sturgeon (Another Voice, 25 March) claims that the Scottish government is restricted by its limited powers. However, the 2016 Scotland Act gave Holyrood the power to top up any reserved benefit, the power to vary income tax, and other tax-raising powers. For example, although the SNP continually attacks the UK government for stopping the £20 Universal Credit top-up, its Scottish government could have retained the £20 UC top-up in Scotland and funded it by increased tax, if necessary. So, if the Scottish government did “maximise [its] own ability to act”, a better benefits system in Scotland, funded by taxes in Scotland, is possible today. But that, particularly the higher taxes, does not advance the separatist cause.
John McShane, Glasgow
I am not sure that Rowan Williams’ analysis of the motives of Vladimir Putin and Patriarch Kirill (Another Voice, 18 March) – as the champions of Orthodox Christianity – is correct. Putin, it seems, wishes to restore the Russian/Soviet empire, with himself as emperor in all but name. Patriarch Kirill has long made it clear that he sees himself as the leading Orthodox Patriarch, knocking the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew off the top spot, claiming that, since his flock is numerically the greatest, the place should be his. He has spent some years seizing Church property in western Europe, helping to ensure Russians living abroad remain tied, culturally and politically, to Putin’s state. Something like a third of his parishes are in Ukraine – and with some already lost to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, he is anxious to regain his hold over all his territory.
Putin and Kirill are both using Russian Orthodoxy as a smokescreen. Their words carry as much truth as certain of their kinsmen’s interest in the spire of Salisbury Cathedral.
Gillian Crow, Orthodox writer, London NW5
I enjoyed the interview with Thomas Piketty (Encounter, 25 March). However, it reminded me of how far we have to go to dislodge the dominant neoliberal ideological consensus. We are still stuck in the UK with a government parroting the discredited platitudes of laissez-faire economics. There have been occasional statements of acceptance that inequality is a central factor in driving down growth and making acutely worse a number of major social problems such as public health, the housing shortage, educational failure, rising mental illness and so on. One example even came from David Cameron! However, the idea continues to drop out of sight.
The OECD, followed with limited enthusiasm by the IMF, the World Bank, and other key players in informing world opinion on economics, started, post-2008, to publish research that attempted to highlight the damage being generated by rising inequality, but with no impact in the UK. Rishi Sunak’s pathetic Spring Statement, and the feeble laissez-faire ramblings of people like David Frost, seem to be the diet we are resigned to eat forever.
Dick Brown, Buxted, East Sussex
Huevos y tocino
I look forward to Felicity Cloake’s Red Sauce Brown Sauce: A British Breakfast Odyssey, but her article (Food, 25 March) suggests she may have missed the deepest irony at the heart of British breakfast as the epitome of patriotic gastronomy.
The evidence suggests that bacon and eggs – and perhaps beans with tomatoes, and onions and potatoes – as a fried breakfast came from Spain in the 1570s, when that country was the undisputed world superpower. Spanish fashions in all things (except, for the majority, religion) were all the rage in English elite circles. Far from being patriotic, its adoption rather resembled the attraction in the 20th century of burgers and Coca-Cola. As a memorial to the transitory nature of imperial power pretensions, it could be thought well-suited now to Brexit Britain.
John Stevens, London SW1
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This article appears in the 30 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The New Iron Curtain