Is Scottish Independence Decolonisation?
By Professor Alf Baird
Professor Edward W. Said, and the UN for that matter, had no doubt about Ireland’s former colonial status, which it shared with a great many non-European regions, despite being incorporated in 1801 as a part of the UK ‘union’. Professor Said referred to W.B. Yeats’ cultural dependence and simultaneous antagonism levelled against the British during Ireland’s ‘anti-imperialist insurrectionary stage’, which ended over 700 years of colonial domination since Ireland was ceded by the Pope to Henry II of England in the 1150s. Whilst imperialism in Ireland preceded the exploitation of Asia, India, Africa, and the Americas, it was no less exploitative and destructive of the indigenous community. Said reminds us here that imperial expansion subordinates’ peoples by ‘banishing their identities, except as a lower order of being’, and in separating them from their own culture.
In the context of Wales, Adam Price, the leader of Plaid Cymru, similarly leaves us in little doubt as to his views on the status of that nation, given the title of his book: ‘Wales: The First and Last Colony’. In this work, Price describes Wales’ historic and ongoing cultural, political and economic subjugation and its long-plundered function as cheap and plentiful supplier of high-grade minerals and agriculture to support and feed England’s imperial appetite and enhance its relative prosperity; meantime, Wales and its people are left languishing in perpetual socio-economic underdevelopment and subsidiarity.
Some folk in Scotland, primarily those comprising the more privileged bourgeoisie (the latter said to readily ‘mimic the colonizer’ in terms of language, culture and more, according to Albert Memmi), mostly take a rose-tinted view of our ‘status’ within the UK. This is despite the fact our enforced and undemocratic EU exit demonstrated Scotland’s subordinate status, whilst the post-2014 referendum Downing Street narrative views Scotland to be little more than an‘incorporated’ territory and people, much like Wales, and Ireland previously. A certain Professor Adam Tomkins now seems keen to rewrite the union alliance on the Scots’ behalf, such is his regard for what he seeks to ensure remains a subordinate people.
Of course, us Scots have aye been fed a quite different history narrative from the reality, and mainly through a British Anglophone and unionist prism and mindset. Scotland’s real story is one of many centuries of conflict with an over-dominant and aggressive imperialist neighbour, the standoff only partially ending through a corrupt subjugation arrangement in the form of the Treaty of Union. The price of this is that Scots ever since have remained subject to an endless cultural assimilation process combined with economic plunder and exploitation of resources, all coordinated via external political control, deceit and mystification concerning Scotland’s strategic ‘national’ matters; much like the typical lot of any downtrodden colony and its wretched folk, then.
What the UN term as the ‘scourge of colonialism’ is defined as economic exploitation and political control by another country, plus occupation by settlers, and may also involve a degree of population displacement and replacement, all amidst a heavy dose of cultural ‘assimilation’, or what we know as cultural and linguistic imperialism. It would seem rather difficult to argue that Scotland has not been subject to much of that, and more, with the nation’s enforced EU exit merely offering confirmation of our colonial ‘status’.
Scotland (and Wales) is also subject to what Professor Michael Hechter called ‘Internal colonialism’. In this we see an ethnic and cultural division of labour, with most of Scotland’s top jobs advertised and handed out from the metropolitan core, with the remainder generally held by the more privileged Scots who tend to align with the dominant Anglophone cultural hegemony. The outcome of this internal colonialism for the ‘peripheral nations’ is their persistent economic underdevelopment, in part due to an enforced narrow industrial specialization which is primarily aimed at supplying the needs of the ‘core’ nation, aided by what is invariably a mediocre meritocracy. An Anglophone cultural hegemony also gives rise to structural inequalities in society,reflecting Scotland’s persistently high levels of deprivation, poverty, attainment gap, illness and drug abuse, as well as the highest prison population per capita in Western Europe, the latter being another salient feature of colonial subjugation and oppression; the construction of a good number of prisons is a well-established feature of historic colonial oppression globally.
Hechter concluded that UK internal colonialism, as with colonialism more generally, likewise involves racial oppression and prejudice against ethnic peoples in the ‘Celtic Periphery’. These wholly unsatisfactory outcomes are what gives rise to the development of an independence movement which primarily reflects the ethnic solidarity of, in Scotland’s case, Scots speakers. In this sense the Scots language and culture remains sufficiently strong, despite assimilation efforts to remove them, to still generate a national consciousness, without which, according to Frantz Fanon, there would be no motivation for national liberation to begin with. This also helps explain why most peoples in self-determination conflict are linguistically and hence culturally divided.
As Scotland edges ever closer to independence, we increasingly see the colonial fangs of the oppressor bite a little deeper into its prey. Lest we forget, features of colonialism also include coercion, force and worse (colonialism is considered to be at the very root of fascism, according to Aime Desaire), and here we see in action what George Osborne refers to as ‘the arms’ of the British state in Scotland, which is the crown and civil service. The politically motivated prosecutions of Alex Salmond, Mark Hirst, and Craig Murray are but a few of the more well-known examples. The state censored ALBA Party, prevented from using its saltire logo and starved of media coverage, forms another part of the UKs anti-independence stance. Scots need not look very far, nor in the distant past to discover the extent of barbarism that is British colonialism disguised as ‘unionism’.
If Scotland is a colony, as increasingly seems evident, Scots should not therefore be surprised at the evolving colonial picture. And with that, inevitably the reality begins to dawn on what also seems to be therefore a colonial justice system, colonial governance, colonial education, a colonial economy, a colonial media, and an entire colonial structured society and mindset. Frantz Fanon also reminds us here that a single dominant National Party will make its own ‘accommodation with colonialism’, much as we see in the actions of the current SNP elite. This realisation then gives rise to the creation of new National Parties such as ALBA, which reflects renewed urgency and momentum by the independence movement in an effort to drive forward the cause of independence to its desired conclusion.
In this regard Scots should perhaps take heed of the Estonian approach and where, in Lesley Riddoch’s documentary, the leaders of that Baltic Sea nation cited the following three essential requirements for independence:• national consciousness, without which there can be no momentum for independence in the first place; • courage, of the country’s independence leaders and people at the time of the declaration of independence and assertion of sovereignty, and; • to ensure that, upon independence, the new independent state replaces the leaders of the nation’s social institutions put in place under colonial rule.
Clearly, in regard to the last point, an independent Scotland would no longer be concerned with prioritising and elevating an Anglophone unionist elite hierarchy to continue to run its affairs. Nor would it be about serving primarily the economic needs of the former ‘mother country’. The primary focus would be on developing Scotland’s own people, culture and economy, which is the purpose of national independence and decolonisation.
(Related to the article, this video summarises the results of recent published research undertaken on the subject of Scottish independence.)
I am grateful to Alf for this excellent article. There is method and tactics here, being able to classify Scotland, and Wales as colonies opens up a range of avenues to pursue Independence on the International stage and via the UN.It is but one of the possible range of options Alba will look at in the future. New thinking and tactics will always be welcome on this blog. Please share widely and please take time to look at the video (link above)