Monday 4 July 2022

If Scotland is a colony, who are the colonisers?


I don’t know whether the SNP thinks Scotland is a colony, but certainly many if not most independence supporters think this. They often point to a list of countries that have gained independence from the UK

and argue that none of them have ever wanted to go back. Most of these countries used to be part of the British Empire. The implication is that Scotland is too.

But there is an obvious problem with the argument that Scotland is a colony. Who are the colonisers?

A large number of Scots are like me of Irish descent. Our ancestors arrived in Scotland in large numbers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Are we the colonisers?

There are over 400,000 people living in Scotland today who were born in England. Are they the colonisers?

What about the 80,000 or more Poles or those whose parents arrived from India or Pakistan?

Many if not most Scots will be able to trace their ancestry to people from other countries certainly if you go back far enough. Are we all colonisers?

It’s not exactly a welcoming form of Scottish nationalism to separate us all into the indigenous Scots and the colonisers. Perhaps we could call the indigenous Native Scots as the Americans refer to Native Americans. But this would turn Scottish nationalism into a form of nativism.

Some have argued that the British are the colonisers. But British citizens are either English, Welsh, Northern Irish or Scottish, so if you don’t want to say that the English are the colonisers, you cannot very well say the British are.

I have even come across one person who thinks that Westminster colonises Scotland. But Westminster is a building and there are only 650 MPs. They would struggle to colonise the Bass Rock and if they tried, they would be driven out by the gannets.

Scotland cannot therefore be a colony. But it cannot be a part of the British Empire either. No one seriously thinks that there is a British Empire today. Apart from the UK there are only the British Dependent Territories, dotted around the world and these retain this status voluntarily.

But Scotland cannot either claim to have ever been part of the British Empire, not least because Scots played as big a part in running the British Empire as anyone. We were the imperialists as much as if not more than anyone living in England.

Scotland wasn’t taken over by English. Rather the Scottish King became the English King in 1603 and a little over a century later the Kingdom of Scotland merged with the Kingdom of England to form the Kingdom of Great Britain. This did not happen by means of an invasion or a conquest, but by acts passed by the Parliaments in England and Scotland.

So, Scotland is neither a colony nor were we ever part of the British Empire. People from England moved to Scotland, but Scots likewise settled in England. We were not colonists. We were moving around our own country, living and marrying who we pleased. Few English people won’t have a Scot in their family tree and vice versa.

It is true that countries that leave other countries rarely want to go back, but there is another list of countries that the SNP never mentions. This is the list of former sovereign states.

Countries are formed in two ways. Either they secede or they unify. Sometimes they do both. Almost every country of any size, including Scotland is made up of parts that formerly were independent.  

It is true that countries that gained independence from the UK do not generally regret it, but nor do formerly independent countries that merged to form France, Germany or Italy. I have yet to hear of a Burgundian who regrets joining various other kingdoms to form France. Few in the Southern states of the USA today wish that the Confederacy achieved independence in the 1860s. The majority of Germans are pleased that East and West Germany unified rather than remained separate.

So, while Scottish nationalists can point to content countries that achieved independence, it is equally easy to point to people living in formerly independent states who are content to have unified.

It makes sense for places that used to be part of the British Empire to be independent, because they are very distant from the UK. But Scotland is not in that position. We are geographically contiguous with England. We speak the same language. We share a common culture and history dating back centuries. We are mixed together to the extent that the only difference most of us can point to is an accent. Our religion, if we have one, is basically the same.

It is rare indeed for a country to split when it is geographically contiguous, ethnically similar and culturally and religiously homogenous. The reason countries formed in the first place was because the inhabitants saw each other as similar. But there is less difference between people in the north and south of the UK than there is between the north and south of Germany or Italy. What differences there are simply do not merit separation. If the people of the UK cannot bear to live in the same country, then this must justify the breakup of a large number of other countries. But this would mean chaos and most likely war.

To suppose that Scotland is a colony or the victim of the UK is to suppose by analogy that Burgundy is a colony that is oppressed by France or that Saxony is a colony that is oppressed by Germany. But this is laughably absurd. But Burgundy ceased to be independent because it lost a battle in 1477 and Saxony in 1866. No one forced Scotland to join England.

No Culloden was not about independence. Bonnie Prince Charlie wanted his father to rule over the whole of the UK. The Jacobites were the last act of a century long British civil war about the nature of the monarchy, parliament and whether we would be Catholics, Episcopalians or Presbyterians. There were English Jacobites and there were Scots who opposed it.  

Scots have maintained a distinct separate identity, but it is a separation in name only. We are as similar to our fellow British citizens as the citizens of any country in the world and more so than many.

There have been political differences within the UK. But there are more socialists in England than in Scotland and more Remainers too. There is hardly a single political viewpoint, except Scottish independence that is not equally popular in large parts of England as it is in Scotland.

The British population is not the result of colonisation, unless we are talking about the Celts, Romans, Normans and Vikings. Rather it is the result of marriage and centuries of intermingling. Scotland is not a colony, but the mixture from a merger that can no more be separated than a head from its torso.

Everything about Scottish people living today is due to our being part of the UK. We would be unimaginably different if we had not joined Scotland to England in 1707. We could barely comprehend the people living then and everything about them would be foreign to us.  

Scottish nationalists think they share a common identity with Bruce or Wallace or the Jacobite Clans in 1745, but they don’t. They could not even hold a conversation with these people.