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By Jason Michael
The greatest lie of the Union is that Scotland was never a colony dominated by the will of another nation. This was and this remains to be the political and economic reality of Scotland, and it is time we put this falsehood out of its miserly once and for all.
“Scotland,” the unionists argue, “was never a colony. We were never colonised.” They will point to the British Empire and remind us that Scotland and Scottish people were joint partners in the enterprise of British imperialism, and that we benefited from it. Even of the trade in black African slaves they will show that Scottish slave-traders were complicit in this monumental historical injustice, profiteers from the sale – as property – of one human being to another.
In part they are correct. Access to England’s colonial markets in North America after the Acts of Union brought previously unknown opportunities to merchants in Scottish towns and cities. Scotland’s educated middle-classes – deprived of other career avenues at home – rapidly occupied positions of influence in both the domestic and imperial administrations. Others too made fortunes in the barbaric trade in slaves. Lower down the social hierarchy, Scots joined the ranks of the British Army and by their martial efforts helped to extend the reach of empire to every corner of the globe.
All of this – and more besides – is true, but any analysis of these facts which on the basis of them concludes that Scotland was an equal party to empire is simply wrong. They are wrong because such a conclusion presupposes a parity that has never existed between Scotland and England. We may assume that today, with our own parliament and a fraction of state sovereignty devolved to it, Scotland – as a nation within the Union – has more power than at any other time since 1707. If today we are without the constitutional autonomy and power to resist the legislative will of the English parliament, then it is true to say that we were in an even worse predicament in the past.
The SNP (@theSNP) April 13, 2017
Scotland rejected leaving the European Union in the June referendum last year, and – despite the recognised nationhood of Scotland – the will of England determined that we too must leave the EU. The reason we were given for this was that we voted “as one United Kingdom.” Scotland’s near total lack of representation at Westminster – hence, “the English parliament” – meant that we were powerless to determine our course one way or the other.
Exactly the same was true when the question of airstrikes against Syria was put to the English parliament – the parliament of the Union. With the exception of three unionist MPs all of Scotland’s MPs voted against the use of violence, and once again – as has always been the case – the will of England was imposed on Scotland. Right now we are witnessing the very same with a cap being put on the number of children in a family in receipt of tax credits who can receive Child Benefit. Even with more than 90 per cent of Scotland’s MPs rejecting the Bill, the will of England was imposed. If our devolved parliament desires now to mitigate the financial harm this will do to low-income Scottish families the money will have to come from that fraction of our national income the London government permits us to spend.
This is not equal power. This is not less power. This is powerlessness and economic domination, and it is precisely in this regard that Scotland can be correctly spoken of as an English colony. Colonisation is not, and nor has it ever been, defined as narrowly as Scotland’s unionists now attempt to define it. A better understanding is offered by Horvath:
It seems generally, if not universally, agreed that colonialism is a form of domination – the control by individuals or groups over the territory/behaviour of other individuals or groups. Colonialism has also been seen as a form of exploitation, with emphasis on economic variables, as in the Marxist-Leninist literature, and as a culture-change process, as in anthropology.
Ronald J. Horvath, Definition of Colonialism: ‘Current Anthropology,’ 13.1 (1972), 45-57.
Both politically and economically, as we have seen, Scotland is a dominated possession of the English-dominated British state. Britain qua the English state controls both the territory – economy – and behaviour – politics – of its Scottish dominion. Yet this is only a consideration of two areas of Scottish nationhood that are dominated and therefore colonised by Britain. Our mineral wealth, like that of India and Africa under British control, is daily exploited, our culture is eroded and threatened by the continuation of a dominator-dominated relationship, and our society is dictated to by a will that is not our own.
So, returning the question of Scotland’s partnership in Empire, we can see that this is a fallacy. It is so because it relies on a distorted view of history which ascribes to the Scottish nation in Union more power than it has ever had. When, even by the most rudimentary calculations, we can conclude that Scotland is powerless today to the whims of the English parliament, we can know for certain that at the height of the power of the British Empire Scotland was even more dependent on the will of the English state. This is, by definition, colonial domination.
Yes, there were Scottish slave-traders. But whether Scotland desired this obnoxious crime to be legal or not, it was powerless to sway the English government one way or the other. In reality, then, it was the will of Britain qua England to legitimise this criminality and cruel exploitation, and that certain Scots prospered from this legality is a sin that is upon them for which history has rightly judged them. In no sense is it right to say that this was the will of Scotland or indeed that the Scottish nation had an equal part in this dark history.
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