Colonial Status – 3 August 2023


I’ve never been someone who believed Scotland was a colony. It’s complex and was a union rather than a takeover, albeit a political “shotgun wedding”. However, advocates of muscular unionism are now making me reconsider.

Whilst history cannot be rewritten, the democratic nature of the relationship’s threatened. Some seem to be suggesting that although it was a voluntary union, what they have they hold and there’s no way to leave. That simply cannot be.

Scotland financial challenges following the Darien disaster and England seeking to close off any possibility of a state on its northern border aligned to other powers, ensured that a union would come about. Scotland got access to the Atlantic markets and had a deal not been struck then invasion whether directly or more likely in support of a section of Scottish society encouraged to rebel might have occurred. But England knew that such action would be opposed vigorously, probably making the future Jacobite Risings small beer in comparison.

So those twin pressures saw a deal struck by the Scottish Establishment. Had there been a plebiscite or referendum it would have been rejected comprehensively. But there wasn’t and the Lords in charge ensured not only that many enriched themselves through bribes, but that Scotland’s distinctive Law, Church and Education were protected. Ensuring that Scotland remained a distinct society despite being part of an incorporating union.

Scotland also fully participated in the British Empire, albeit as a junior partner. The idea that we were innocent of the crimes perpetrated whether slavery or exploitation’s fanciful. Of course, the wealth wasn’t shared equally. Lords and Ladies built estates with grand houses whilst the poor suffered in the pits, factories and on the land or in being removed from it. But the collective wealth and the industrialization of Scottish society was largely fueled by it, even if it was misery for the many.

But the ability to withdraw from that union was always seen as inviolate with even Margaret Thatcher stating that Scotland could be independent if that’s what Scots wanted and supported. Regret it she would and campaign against it she did but happen it could was her belief.

And not just hers. In 2014 when David Bowie was singing “Scotland, Please Stay”, the leaders of the No campaign talked of a voluntary union and the freedom to leave it, albeit arguing for the wealth and benefits they believed were to be gained from remaining.

Now though that history’s being rewritten and the mantra’s changed. The broad shoulders of the UK replaced by imposed austerity with even the Daily Telegraph and Brexit Tories talking of Britain now being a poor country. Exactly, as Scotland came into the union for economic reasons, it’s economic reasons that now dictate why we should leave. That an Energy Rich Scotland, sees almost have of Scots in fuel poverty encapsulates it.

But the charm and wooing that was there in 2014’s now supplanted by derision and oblique threats. The distinct society that operated under the union’s now threatened by diktat and even direct intervention. The Scottish Parliament, now the embodiment of the powers once held by Church, Law and Education, undermined in attempts to mitigate austerity and protect environment and institutions.

Muscular unionism’s not only ugly, but undemocratic. It’ll also be unsustainable as even Thatcher acknowledged.