By Chris Bamberry. Chris is the author of ‘A People’s History of Scotland‘ [see also his impassioned talk ‘Why You Should Support Scottish Independence’ here].
Is support for independence based on the belief that Scotland is under the English yoke or a colony of our southern neighbour? Few if any historians would make that claim, yet it has been trotted out by Colin Kidd and Gregg McClymont (‘Say no to colony myth‘)as somehow being the key argument underlying the argument for a Yes vote. Having introduced this canard they then move onto demolish it, succeeding in their eyes, to demolish the case for independence.
Yet the argument for independence does not rest on the notion Scots have been colonised by England, just as it does not rest on that other canard that it flows from hatred of the English.
Support for independence rests on the need to escape a British state which has failed, and is failing, its people, is trapped in relentness decline and is slavishly following the US in a series of disasterous military adventures.
Unlike the people of Liverpool, Sheffield or Brixton the Scots have a constitutional mechanism for escape. If we choose to escape our example can help encourage our Welsh and English sisters and brothers to seek an alternative, not least to the Victorian model of democracy that is Westminster.
But let’s return to Kidd and McClymont’s claim that Yes supporters believe they are engaged in some anti-colonial struggle on a par with the Vietnamese, Indians or Irish.
In my A People’s History of Scotland I argue that the Scottish upper classes were not a junior partner in the running of the British state founded in 1707 – one which was created in war-time and which has enjoyed few if any days of peace since – but an equal director of the board.
Scots played a cutting edge role in the creation of Empire, not least in India, and in the slave trade. It’s not a pretty story. One of the biggest drug dealers of all time were the Hong Kong based firm of Jardine and Mathieson, whose wealth is based on peddling opium in China. Their surnames are a clue as to their country of birth.
The contrast with Scotland’s position within the UK is with Ireland’s, formally part of the British state, following the crushing of the 1798 United Irish uprising, until 1921. In reality Ireland was a colony, run by a viceroy.
Scotland experienced commercial and industrial take off following the destruction of the old feudal order at Culloden. Following Ireland’s incorporation into the union it suffered de-industrialisation, outside the north-east, and became an agricultural provider for its colonial ruler.
Scots played a key role in the conquest of Ireland, and Clydeside became closely involved with the shipbuilding and engineering industries of Belfast. They of course prospered on the basis of sectarian divide and rule, and as a consequence Scottish society became contaminated by that evil. The first Orange Lodge was formed by Ayrshire militia men who returned from crushing the United Irishmen.
The Scottish identity which emerged in the 19th century was created from Calvinism, militarism and imperialism, and the kailyard. As late as 1967 Lieutenant Colonel Colin Campbell, “Mad Mitch,” became a national hero, lionised in the press, for his role in brutally suppressing nationalist rebels in Aden. He came home, left the army and was elected a Tory MP in the North East. That’s almost incredible to record today and illustrates a profound change, not least as to how most Scots identify themselves, free of that 19th century construction.
Does this sorry and bloody history negate support for independence? Firstly, only by breaking from a British state desperately clinging to a belief it remains an imperial power, can we come to terms with that history.
Secondly, Scotland’s role in the Empire was reflected in brutal exploitation at home. Prior to the First World War Scottish workers suffered lower wages than their English counterparts and worse housing. The trade unions were weaker north of the border and strikes fewer. The exploitation was largely at the hands of Scottish employers.
On the eve of World War One the future looked bright for them. Within a few years Scottish capitalism, in terms of ownership, became largely extinct. Scotland was trapped within a declining British economy, whose industries could no longer compete, while investment and productivity were low.
Today that still holds true. The “Thatcher Revolution” did not halt that decline. Despite all this the three main Westminster parties remain in thrall to a neo-liberal economic and social model and prioritise the interest of finance, notwithstanding even the 2008 crash.
That brings us to why so many people will vote Yes. The Thatcher and Blair years left deep scars and this is when Britain lost Scotland. Like many of their English brothers and sisters most Scots want to prioritise welfare not the free market, and see a way of achieving that via independence.
Added to this is the issue of democracy. Scots did not vote for David Cameron and yet get saddled with him. It’s a simple question, but could we achieve a wee bit more democracy than exists at Westminster? Surely the answer is yes.