Posted by: rosa alba | August 8, 2014

For whom the bugle tolls, as the sun finally goes down.


While it is undoubtedly offensive to equate the experiences of Scotland with the experiences of former overseas colonies, there are degrees of colonisation and Empire; the South American analysis speaks of Internal Colonies. No one doubts that the Scots were the foot soldiers, factors and fiscal administrators for Empire around the world, and that many did, as Hamish Henderson wrote, curse the tune of Scotland the Brave and soldiers marching to the pipes.  It is Scotland’s shameful complicity in Empire, and a wrong which we need to make right, if not  in terms of old wrongs, then by changing our behaviour going forward.
The recent variation of responses by the Scottish Government and the Westminster Government make it clear that Scotland IS willing to take a stance on humanitarian issues and against the financial interests to the Westminster Elite in terms of the Israeli War, Trident, and the persecution of peoples around the world.
I would argue, contrary to the article in this week’s Scotsman,c laiming a colony myth,  that in the aftermath of the Great War, the First War and the abandonment of the Home Rule Bill of 1914, Scotland became increasingly a perceived outpost of the British Empire and many of our best and brightest continued to migrate  to London and beyond: whether they gave predominance to serving Empire or making their own fortune, it persists a variation on a theme of previous centuries where Scots served as the military gurus of much of Europe and Russia.
Many of our best and brightest still travel far for employment and professional progress, so  it is only fair to add, that part of this far flinging of the Scottish people was also emigration, whether economic migrants from the North to the Central Belt, or today to London, or to the Americas, New Zeland or Australia – or further afield to seek opportunity, or whether the devastating, destitute emigration of no choice that followed the Clearances.
As Empire proper diminished so did the diminution of Scotland, Scottishness and the Scots in the public eye – as a public and authentic identity –  for Britishness was needed to coalesce what remained of Great Britain™ into a coherent identity: the final result of the Battenburg recipe of blending individual national identity into British over three centuries, and baked with the experiences of fighting a common enemy under the same banner of the Unionist Flag;  a process of where the identity morphed both as the gazer and gazed upon, to an extent: there always existed the Jock: whether Harry Lauder, the solider in the film Geordie, the See You Jimmy Wig, the mockery on Game Shows, or the very offensive Economist cover of two weeks ago.
BsLmCFNIgAAbrj1.png_large On an fairly immediate level, the Scottish response tends to subversion, satire and self-parody as in the Opening Ceremony of the Commonweath Games,
But to encapsulate this morphing of equal partner in Union into internal colony in anything than an extensive Historical thesis is to be reductionist: factors are many: from (as mentioned) war, television, oil  but do not start to frame this.
Poverty is however a common thread.   The poverty and lack of secure tenancy – as highlighted by  Lesley Riddoch in her book Blossom, seminal as an analysis of how Scotland ended up the filleted sick patient of Europe – of the Highland and Lowland Scots (as also in Ireland) cleared from land by the landed classes does mirror  experiences of colony. Around Bennachie, the mountain on the outskirst of Inverurie, are abandoned settlements, known as The Colony, and from which Inverurie football team got its name.  These were people cleared from the land who took refuge on common land on the North East of the hill, which they worked on a crofting model; wikipedia has the Colony stretching from 1800 to 1859, but there is little to find about the history of this period. 

Dòmhnall Iain Dòmhnallach writes extensively about land ownership and land reform an article on Bella Caledonia in  “Whose Land Is it Anyway? Ray Burnett expands on these issues further in his response to Dòmhnall Iain’s artilce, in a reference to the Woody Guthrie song, This Land is Your Land.
Allthough from the start in this wider internal  colony situation, there was a middle – factorial – class (as Burnett points out) complicit with the endowed landowners, their proclaimed or perceived national identity is moot, their interest alighed with the landowner, against the interests of their community of origin; these men would have been among the more educated of their community – an education in English, though, not Gaelic. As was the Education provided to the inhabitants of the colonies across the Empire, colonies in which I presume that, latterly during the last shouts of overseas Empire, this class of agent – not the Empire building Scots factor but a middle man of the people he was administrating – also served his masters, residing in the hill stations, the country clubs, the capitals of the colonies, and back in Blighty.

A side note might be the colonisation of the Gaels, not just through property dispossession, or in a role as footsoldiers of the Empire, but through language, in the likes of the  Nicholson Institute and its forebears, before the restitution of Gaelic Education; in her poem  Bairnsang, which she reads here, Liz Lochhead speaks of the deliberate eradication of Scots as a legitimate language.  She stops short of the term colonization but mentions poverty.
Poverty in working-class communities – from fisher fowk to fee’d fairm workers to miners to the weavers, winders and oilers or any other worker in the industrialised cities was not unique to Scotland but to the whole United Kingdom and beyond.  It is the common thread of capitalism that winds through connecting.  Experiences of the subjugated and exploited in the overseas colonies of Empire had their own thread. These are spun together as one with the internal colony experience – one of exploitation and enrichment – into the cloth of elitism and capitalism.  A spinning and winding, where the work of so many – from India to Paisley, if we think of cotton alone – benefits not the workers themselves, nor their communities but fills pockets of the few in their  damasked and brocaded waist- or morning coats (or country tweeds), from Kelvingrove to Kensington, from estates at Rannoch to estates in Norfolk.    
This, then, is a point at which Empire and Capitalism become inextricable.
The  talk – the current buzzword – is  of game- changers.  The game-changer in this myth of the myth of Empire and Colonies is oil.  While the food and drinks exports from Scotland to the rest of the UK and to the world are impressive and potentially solely able to sustain an economy,  oil is the thing. 
Again one cannot expect to meaningfully comment on the nexus of Thatcherism, Oil and the (Putative, Post-Industrial) Colonisation of Scotland in an article in The Scotsman, nor in a blog response to that article, but there is a (potential) matrix of the Keynsian capitalism of Thatcher, the de-Industrialisation of the regions, the bubble of de-regulated and speculative Financial Services, and unabashed fiscal self-interest: profiteering, and the underwriter of this that the oil in the furthermost corner of North Britain became.  One visit by a UK PM to Shetland in 34 years is all I need to add as a commentary on hubris and how the hub of power viewed the hub of wealth.  
Clair Ridge or no Clair Ridge, the politicians of Westminster need the corner of their country that produces oil – and whisky too, perhaps –  to remain a player in any international game in which they – rUK – wish to take part. Not as an independent team as Scotland does in FIFA, nor even as identifiably as one of the “home countries” (or nations) in the recent Commonwealth Games (even DevoMax will only go so far, chaps!) but as one in a fully inclusive and incorporated Team GB.
The promises of increased powers and Devo-Whatevah are likely to bear as much fruit as did the similar promises of the Thatcher Adminsitration in 1979.  Just to remind ourselves, no such increased power materialised.  At all. But we did become the test ground for the Poll Tax, and we continue to house the weapons of destruction next to our largest city.
For those Scots who would vote Yes, it is about representation to ensure that we “reap our own harvest and ring our own tills”  in the words of the Corries, and where in doing so we make sure that everyone both plays whatever part they can (with no ATOS, and no Workfare) and that everyone is rewarded, without regard to the size of their contribution,  with a fair share of the resources of their country.  

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