Does Independence Decolonise?

Professor Alfred Baird

As recently as 2012, to use the term colonial or colonialism was considered an outrageous slur on the relationship England with Scotland. Speak the word and you were brabded someone who ‘hated English people’. In fact, the novelist and illustrator Alasdair Gray was hounded for weeks by the press and politicians alike for publishing his seminal essay Settlers and Colonists. The content of the work born out of his years of experience and observation working in Scotland’s arts community. Fire and brimstone rained down upon his head from all quarters, encouraged and inflamed by the media, frontline of the British state. ‘Let’s get the bastard’ said one tabloid hack to his editor. The SNP hierarchy fell silent and failed to defend him, a body better entitled The Self-Preservation Society. Everything Gray wrote was substantially true, yet he was forced to point out the obvious, he had no dislike of English people.

The reality is, we are expected to live an ersatz English existence, never querying English priorities, accepting their neo-liberal economic policies, their cultural standards, and paying for their follies, such as our youth sent to fight in endless illegal wars. Taken out of the European Community against our will, we were comprehensively ignored by the Boris Johnson administration. This highlighted Scotland’s predicament in widescreen technicolour. When we reject Westminster rule at the ballot box it is still imposed upon us, though the miserable Scottish branches of Tory or Labour party might be reduced to one representative in the whole of Scotland. A ‘Union of Equals’ it aint.

Those who read my website know I picked up the baton from the sorely maligned Gray and expanded on his critical theme – see links below. I am pleased to say, today, people understand and acknowledge Scotland is a colonised country. The word ‘colonial’ need no longer be whispered in safe company. The reality is, we are caught in a one-way, illegal, land and tax grab Mafia-style Treaty – we pay for protection we did not ask for. Here Professor Alf Baird expands on the theme. (His biography is at the essay’s end.)

Is Scottish Independence Decolonisation?

By Professor Alf Baird

Professor Edward W. Said, and the UN for that matter, had no Professor doubt about Ireland’s 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.

NOTES: Related to the article, this video summarises the results of recent published research undertaken on the subject of Scottish independence.


BIOGRAPHY: Professor Alf Bair was, prior to his retirement in 2016, Professor of Maritime Business and Director of the Maritime Research Group at Edinburgh Napier University. He has a PhD in Strategic Management in Global Shipping. His specialist area of research and teaching is strategic management in maritime transport. His research activities encompass most of the world’s main shipping markets in Europe, Asia, Mid-East and North and Latin America and Australasia. He has published more than 200 research articles, plus delivered over 150 conference papers, many as invited speaker at major maritime industry events, also winning several international prizes for his applied research work and development of applied theoretical and analytical frameworks in areas such as port privatisation, strategic management in shipping, container transshipment, and shipping service feasibility studies. In 2020, he published a research-based academic textbook on the subject of Scottish independence: ‘Doun-Hauden: The Socio-Political Determinants of Scottish Independence’, available from: Doun-Hauden: The Socio-Political Determinants of Scottish Independence: Baird, Alfred: 9798634652320: Books.

England’s Neo-Colonialism, or How to Decolonise Your Mind’:

Colonialism is a Crime’:



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8 Responses to Does Independence Decolonise?

  1. lorncal says:

    The only way that anyone not born in Scotland should have reacted to the 2014 referendum on independence was to abstain. We know that most did not because the results indicate quite literally that they lost us our independence, for which a majority of Scots-born Scots voted in the positive.

    You don’t need to have the massive brainpower of a philosopher to work out that a people’s future belongs to them, and, if you are a recent immigrant into Scotland, you really do not have the requisite standing in either domestic law or international law, let alone morality, to vote down another people’s aspirations. That is why I find the ‘From NO to YES’ contingent infuriating. On the one hand, I am glad that they have seen the light; on the other, I am enraged that they didn’t see it in 2014; and would have, had they exercised their innate sense.

    Not once, since 2014, have I heard or read of the SNP (or the Unionists, for that matter) pointing out that it is, indeed, illegal in international law to vote down another country’s self-determination. Courtesy and decency afforded rUK and EU residents the vote in 2014, to which they had no automatic right, but a majority of them failed to reciprocate. The shame of it will stain our politics for a long time to come. That is the absolute truth pdf our present situation and it has nothing to do with racism. In fact, it could well be racism in reverse, as colonialism is.

  2. tombkane says:

    Gareth, it’s a very difficult topic, but if one city in the United Kingdom knows that Scotland has been colonised it’s Edinburgh.

    There are countless stories of stark colonialism… Among the most pernicious are those surrounding the demise of the Royal Bank of Scotland, the institution that saved Natwest. The short-selling that Alistair Darling permitted to continue on the RBS til the share price dropped from over £12 to 10p, making a lot of money from the City of London financial cartels. I have no doubt it was orchestrated.

    The renaming of RBS because the tax payer bought it for peanuts and it’s move to London… All but inevitable.

    At the same time, the offloading of Dunfermline Building Society, a fantastic building society that was building social housing… It’s offloading to Nationwide by Gordon Brown along with £1 billion to take them, was seriously corrupt.

    That it was the Labour party at the source of these crimes against the Scottish economy… that alongside their burial of the McCrone Report of the oil situation, while presiding over a growing prison population and reduction of opportunities for the poor… Serious flexing of the Colonial muscles.

    Yep. Unless we address it as colonialism, that Scotland is only the last true outpost of the triumphant British empire, we will continue to be the toast that eats itself.

  3. alfbaird says:

    Many thanks Grouse Beater, and for guiding me to your excellent essays on the same topic.

    Like you, I too enjoyed Alasdair Gray’s essay on colonialism, which I followed up with my own analysis of Scotland’s universities on the subject of leadership appointments.

    My essay was published by the late Kenneth Roy in Scottish Review, and highlighted the fact that Scots academics form a minority in Scotland’s own universities, and with very few institutions led by Scots. This exclusion of indigenous people from key roles in their own seats of learning would be unthinkable in most countries.

    My own university hierarchy were critical of me for even raising the matter and I notice Scottish Review subsequently removed my article and a follow on piece I did (on the matter of university research), which I suspect was due to unionist/colonial censorship by Universities Scotland and RSE; so much for academic freedom in an auld colony, however it illustrates how the unionist establishment works behind the scenes as it were.

  4. Hugh Wallace says:

    My (Glaswegian) father’s view was that the English practiced colonialism on the Scots then exported it. My mother (New Zealand born of Scottish descent & now a naturalised Scot) didn’t disagree.

    I’d be more inclined to say the English practiced colonialism on the Welsh, Irish & Scots, etc.

  5. Hugh Wallace says:

    I recently (2020) watched a TV programme that brought a new idea home to me: that of being an indigenous person. It is not something I’ve ever heard used in the context of being Scottish (Irish or Welsh) but is used widely when referring to the brown skinned peoples we Brits displaced from their lands in the colonies.

    I spent half of my childhood in New Zealand (now increasingly being referred to as Aotearoa) & had great sympathy for the Maori people, seeing them as people harmed by the British Empire as much as my Gaelic ancestors from Scotland & Ireland had been (& all too aware that some of my more recent ancestors had benefited in turn from the displacement of Maoris & Native Americans). I also learned that the Aborigine peoples of Australia had been treated even more harshly by the Brits & saw that modern (1980s) NZ & Australia still treated their indigenous peoples poorly.

    So the programme I watched last year was about an Aborigine player of Aussie Rules football by the name of Adam Goodes (good colonial name that) called ‘The Australian Dream’ by another Aborigine, the journalist Stan Grant (the name again). A very good film examining racism & much more that I’d urge all to watch.

    But the point that struck home with me was that I had never thought of myself as an ‘indigenous Scot’ before & it made me contemplate why. I am an indigenous person with roots firmly set in Scotland (& to a lesser extent, Ireland). It doesn’t matter if my DNA shows Viking, Saxon, Pict or anything else for that matter because it still doesn’t make me any less culturally indigenous to the Celtic parts of the ‘British Isles’, especially Scotland.

    I think there would be great merit in more Scots thinking of themselves as an indigenous people rather than considering that a term we only apply to the natives of foreign shores (with all the racial baggage that brings).

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Professor Baird

    Honored to find you here, Professor, and sad to learn you encountered censorship though not surprised. You say Napier was annoyed the subject matter was raised? Really? The same that asked me to apply for job of head of their Film Department, and gave my wife an honorary degree? Did the university authorities know she and I support the restoration of Scotland’s self-governance, her father one of the earliest provosts an SNP member. Please feel able to publish more work on my site. You have an open invitation. Meanwhile, I penned this which might interest you.

  7. lorncal says:

    Read the piece, GB, although not intended for me. I did a study of Vichy France just as an exercise for my own interest, and it seemed to me that the real collaborators (not people just keeping their heads down and doing what they are told because they feared reprisal) who actually gave the Milice/Gestapo names, who betrayed Jewish people in hiding, and so on, even when they didn’t have to, and the only conclusion I could come to, was that they did so willingly in hopes of reward/power but, crucially, they knew that they were doing it for those dubious reasons.

    In other words, they were willing to sacrifice their own people to torture and death, deportation to a concentration camp, etc., for gain with the enemy. Many escaped any retribution after the war, because they had not been discovered, they went into hiding or they were protected by people in power who, themselves, had something to hide, while many others were shunned, or worse, were later found with their throats cut.

    Short-termism seemed to be the default position, and they appeared to be unable to project any longer-term scenario on the possible/probable outcome of the Occupation. My conclusion was that most of these people were unable to relate with any kind of empathy to others, were prompted solely by self-interest and were utterly ruthless; sometimes, they just enjoyed harming others. Psychopaths? Sociopaths? Probably.

  8. alfbaird says:

    Lorncal. In any research of postcolonial literature the collaborative role of the native bourgeoisie with regard to their seeking an ‘accommodation’ with the oppressor is especially notable and is stressed as such, also in regard to the propensity of that same group conspiring to undermine the cause of independence. We might see this ‘collaboration’ even in the Treaty of Union itself to some extent, where status and privileges were protected notably for the legal establishment, church and universities, in addition to financial and other benefits for the landed gentry and aristos. Oor ain legal establishment still bide in the auld parliament itsel.

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