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What really counts: country or class?

One crucial factor missed in the debate over who "controls" Scottish culture is the influence of class, on both sides of the Border (James Kelman enters the controversy over Scotland's culture, Cover story, December 23).

Its potency has never been greater, largely as a result of the erosion of outward class distinctions. This apparent democratisation has created an illusion of greater equality, while in reality, the upper and upper-middle classes have generally increased their wealth and influence, reinforcing the long-established lines of class privilege.

The poisonous criticism levelled at James Kelman (pictured left) illustrates this perfectly. This hugely talented writer applies his forensic insight to the working class and underclass, elevating their agonies and frustrations to the level of an art form.

Much of the "Scottishness" of which Kelman writes is alien to the middle and upper-middle classes in control of the UK publishing industry. Irvine Welsh, also writing about the Scottish underclass, sustained similar bilious attacks on his writing, although his huge commercial success eventually blunted those complaints. To illustrate how the middle classes much prefer the comforts of their own psychological outlook, contrast the fortunes of Alexander McCall Smith, whose popular novels have never sparked the same acidic reactions as the likes of Kelman and Welsh.

The increasingly rabid pronouncements of politicians over Scotland's looming independence vote have resulted in the cultural debate being sucked into the mire created by the anti-Union and pro-Union camps. Class, almost a taboo word, has rarely been mentioned. Yet the ancient class distinctions of this island will remain in force whether or not Scotland ever declares independence.

David Gray

Haddington

Vicky Featherstone, the departing artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), has done an exceptional job in building up the new company to such an exalted place in to Scotland's theatrical scene. She has rightly been given much praise for her outstanding achievements, and we all wish her well in her new post at London's Royal Court Theatre. I am surprised and disappointed to learn that she feels she was the victim of "anti-English bullying" because of her reluctance to allow the NTS to stage any of the older traditional Scottish works.

I am sure such criticism was based on genuine concern and strongly-held opinion rather than anti-English feelings towards her personally, and openly expressing such views does not amount to bullying. Ms Featherstone achieved success leading the long-awaited National Theatre of Scotland because she had a clear vision and the courage and determination to back her own judgment and see it through. That does not sound like a woman who would allow herself to be bullied by critics or fellow members of the theatrical community.

Iain AD Mann

Glasgow

Last weekend's leader provides an important reminder that we must not allow ourselves to be dragged into the gutter politics of racism and bigotry (Tolerance and respect must guide nationality debates, Editorial, December 23). Your assertion that "the debate sparked by Alasdair Gray's recent comments about 'settlers and colonists' caught fire because culture goes to the heart of how Scotland defines and perceives itself" is correct. Scottish culture mirrors Scottish life and helps define what Scots think of themselves.

There is obvious concern among many of Scotland's artists that our cultural progression is not what it could be. Some argue that Scotland's cultural life is being stunted because, at the present time, so many of its cultural institutions are run by people who were not born here. It is an argument which I, as a long-standing member of the SNP, am not entirely comfortable with. Surely, any job must go to the person best qualified, irrespective of creed, colour, sexual orientation or nationality. That said, there can be little doubt that Scotland is suffering from a cultural cringe. Many artists have little confidence in bodies such as Creative Scotland and bemoan inconsistent funding. Scottish culture reflects Scottish life: both need an injection of self-belief and a consistent revenue stream governed by those who have Scotland's best interests at heart.

Bill Cruickshank

Dinnet

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

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