Scotland is not a colony – and the UK is not an Empire

Scotland is not a colony – and the UK is not an Empire

by Effie Deans
article from Saturday 8, April, 2017

ALEX SALMOND wishes to inform us that “the days of the British Empire are over, and the days of British prime ministers denying self-determination to the Scottish people are over as well.” 

There are all sorts of odd things about this sort of statement. Most of us who have any knowledge of history are well aware that the British Empire is over. There are some British Overseas Territories, but they are few and far between. They could hardly be called an Empire. So Mr Salmond is informing us of something we already know. Why is he talking of the British Empire at all? Could it be that he thinks that Scotland is somehow the last remnant of that Empire?

I come across the idea every now and again from Scottish nationalists that Scotland is somehow a colony. I sometimes wonder where such ideas come from. Well obviously they come from the top. But it is a very odd idea nonetheless. If Scotland is a colony, who has been colonising us? From where have they come? During the days of the British Empire people from the UK did indeed settle in parts of the Empire. Many of the descendants of those people still live in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. So who are the settlers who came to Scotland? Are they the English, the Poles or the Pakistanis? It’s fairly obvious how offensive this is likely to get quite quickly.

Scotland isn’t a colony. Rather for the past 300 years and more we have been part of a nation state called the United Kingdom where people have moved about freely. Scots have moved to England in large numbers. English people have moved to Scotland. This is not settling an Empire, but rather it is people moving within their own country. I am not colonising England if I decide to set up home there. It is ludicrous and offensive to suggest that I am.

Mr Salmond is complaining about a British Prime Minister apparently denying something to the Scottish people. What is this thing that is apparently being denied and who is denying it to whom? Firstly there is a false distinction between a “British Prime Minister” and the “Scottish people”. A British Prime Minister could well be a Scot and has been on many occasions. Moreover, the Scottish people are all British citizens. Some of them may not like this fact at the moment, but nevertheless, it is a fact. 

Britain is not some Empire ruling over Scotland. Rather we are British. If you doubt this, I suggest you look at your passport at the point at which states British citizen.

Has anyone denied self-determination to the Scottish people? It depends what we mean by the “Scottish people”. Who are they and how do we determine who they are? Are Scots a tribe that can be distinguished from other people in the UK? If so I would very much like to know on what basis Alex Salmond thinks he is from a different tribe to Theresa May. Is it because he speaks a different language to her? Is it because his culture or religion is vastly different to hers? Does he think that his ancestry means that his tribe by necessity must diverge from her tribe? What then is this “Scottish people” that Alex Salmond belongs to but, Theresa May does not? How is it defined?

No-one is denying self-determination to people in Scotland for the simple reason that we live in a democracy. The British Prime Minister was elected just as much by Scots as she was by any other British citizen. The fact that most Scots would have preferred someone else is neither here nor there. In any democracy some people are disappointed. Scotland is not ruled as if we were part of an Empire, because we each have just as much representation and just as much electoral power as any other British citizen. I, as a Scot, have one vote in a General Election. So too does someone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition I have a vote for the Scottish Parliament where all sorts of devolved issues are decided.

Constitutional matters are not devolved. That was the deal when we set up the Scottish Parliament. That is what people in Scotland voted for. The Scottish Parliament cannot decide UK foreign policy, nor can it decide UK macroeconomic policy and nor can it decide that Scotland ought to have a vote to become independent. For this it requires permission. This is what the majority of Scots voted for when we voted to establish a Scottish Parliament.

No-one, as far as I am aware, has denied Scotland the right to have another independence referendum. All that has been said is that the SNP will have to wait. There is nothing undemocratic about this for the simple reason that electorate in Scotland expressed their view about this matter decisively less than three years ago.

There is hardly a nation state in existence that would allow a part of it a vote to leave. I can think of no EU member state that would allow such a vote. The United States likewise has shown that it would prefer to fight than allow itself to break up. Yet because the UK Prime Minister has said that Scotland will have to wait, Alex Salmond has the nerve to describe her as if she were Queen Victoria and Scotland was part of her past Empire.

People in Scotland are a similar mix to people in other parts of the UK. Some of us can trace our ancestry back to Macbeth others of us have arrived more recently. We have a shared history, language and culture with our fellow British citizens across the UK. There is no real distinction between us.

What I find most peculiar is the contradiction in Scottish nationalist reasoning.  The SNP accepts that someone can arrive from anywhere in the UK – or the world – and become part of the Scottish people. They can do this almost instantly. All that is required is that you live in Scotland. But how is it that this quality of being Scottish is so easily achieved that Theresa May could acquire it simply by retiring to Inverness – but that after three hundred years of living in the same nation state Scots cannot acquire the quality of being British? 

How is it so easy for anyone to become a Scot, but so apparently impossible for Scottish nationalists to be British? After all we Scots live in the United Kingdom. Does this not by the reasoning of civic nationalism make us British? If not, why not? If we all share the same identity by virtue of living in the same country, why on earth are they trying to split it up?

Given how easy it is to become Scottish. Given how this quality is open to anyone who arrives, on what basis does Alex Salmond speak of the Scottish people at all? This is where the real nature of his thinking peeks through. He feels that there is a real distinction between a Scot and someone from elsewhere in the UK and it isn’t a matter of where they live.

The SNP likes to give the impression of how welcoming it is. All those Remain voters who are disappointed by Brexit should move to Scotland. But what if they actually took up Nicola Sturgeon’s invitation? What if the UK Government decided to help them by giving them tax breaks and grants to move to Scotland? We could set up some new towns and add half a million to the Scottish population quite quickly. But what if these new arrivals despite their wishing to remain in the EU also wished to remain British citizens and for the UK to remain intact? 

What if they opposed Scottish independence and by their arrival tipped the balance against the SNP? How long would it be before they were described by Scottish nationalists as settlers? After all, Alex Salmond apparently already thinks that they come from an Empire. 

The illustration, taken from a postcard, shows the Empire Exhibition, held at Bellahouston, Glasgow in 1938. To read more from Effie Deans please visit her blog Lily of St Leonards

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