Is Scotland hammering the last nail in the British Empire?
Facts are bitter, and one such bitter fact is that the so called Great Britain will never ever be as great as it was during the British Empire colonial days.
At its peak, the British Empire was the largest formal empire that the world had ever experienced. As the table illustrates, it covered more than 70 countries across all continents.
After decades of superiority, the ‘chickens have come to roast’ nearer home! Scotland is now seeking the possibility of getting ‘independence’.
That is more or less the point where the now independent states started! Once the momentum grows to a certain critical point, then it becomes not just a matter of ‘if’ it will happen, but ‘when’ it will happen. For now, however, we are still in the ‘if’ domain.
It is stated that the end of the British Empire was formally recognised with the end of the British presence in Hong Kongin 1997.
I beg to differ. The British Empire in fact theoretically still exists. To me Hong Kong was merely the last of the major colonies. However, there are still a dozen or so countries, comprising mostly small Islands, which are yet to become independent.
The citizens of these countries now have the full rights to aboard Britain – including access to British passports. It remains to be seen whether any of them have the guts to claim independence particularly given their evidently small sizes.
However, like many other empires which ceased to exist, it is now a question of when the British Empire will practically succumb and become pure history.
The Scotland issue
Let us start off with the following equations:
Great Britain = England + Scotland + Wales
United Kingdom (UK) = Great Britain + Northern Ireland
The Commonwealth = UK+ former colonies – Arabic speaking former colonies – USA.
The name Scotland was derived from the Scottia, a Celtic people who migrated from Ireland to Scotland and eventually displaced the native Celtics known as the Picts.
When King James VI of Scotland claimed secession to the throne of England and Ireland in 1603, he strove to turn his three Kingdoms into a United Kingdom. One of the measures he took was to arrange for Scots from the troublesome border regions to colonise Northern Ireland.
In 1707, the Scottish Parliament voted to combine with the English Parliament in the Acts of the Union. One major strategic reason for pushing for the union was to build a bigger force that could contain the then ongoing military involvement in Europe, particularly with France.
Therefore, unlike the colonies of the British Empire, Scotland is in fact in a marriage that formed the Empire, in which it is (has been) a truly and fully willing participating partner – a marriage of convenience.
After living together for over 300yrs in this marriage, Scotland now wants independence – not independence from a master, but independence from a partner – independence to be able to do its own things.
It is like a company which initially thrives, but then enters terminal decline then the partners start having uncompromising differences until it gets to a point when one of the founder partners wants to call it a day, disentangle from the business, take a separate route and have the freedom to do his(her) own things, which he(she) has probably planned for over a long time.
Scotland’s disengagement would effectively be the final nail in the coffin of the British Empire. It has implications for the remaining colonies. Britain, which they have the right to aboard, would cease existing! They would then have no choice but take decisions on whether to become independent or to choose one of the now two countries – and that is if Wales doesn’t also eventually start thinking about going its own way!
This is a divorce which unlike the characteristic wars that proceeded colonial independence could be resolved in a bloodless manner – referendum, followed probably by the courts to resolve how the assets should be shared.
The problem is – one partner doesn’t want to let go!
Here are some of the arguments being put forward for and against Scottish independence.
- Britishness is dying. Scotland has its own parliament, its own laws and legal system. Scottish national feeling and self confidence are currently high. Hence, the need to take the next step.
- Scotland is currently semi-independent. Semi-independence is unsatisfactory. Fiscal powers and economic control remain at Westminster (i.e.UK government). Independence will allow Scotland to cut business taxes (like Ireland) to promote Economic growth.
- Other small countries like Norway and the Republic of Ireland are more successful and more dynamic. An independent Scotland will have the tolls to match them.
- Independence would give Scotland clout where it matters: a seat at the UN and in the EU council of ministers. Scottish interests e.g. fisheries and agriculture, are poorly served in Brussels and by UK ministers.
- Relations between the Scots and the English are deteriorating. Independencewould free Scotland from dependence and England from resentment. An amicable no-faults divorce is better than a bickering marriage.
- The union has served both countries well for over 300 yrs. Devolution is a young experiment, and it is too soon to judge.
- There is a gap between between public spending in Scotland (£40bn) and revenue raised there (£27bn). A Scottish government would have to choose between higher taxes and cuts in public services.
- Scotland has more influence in Brussels as part of the UK than it could have as an independent state.
- The integrated British economy is more capable than an independent Scotland would be of meeting the challenges of globalisation. Likewise, having independent defence and security structures would overstrain Scotland’s resources.
- Scots should recognise that devolution has put England at a disadvantage, and should press for reforms to the way Westminster works. Satisfying English grievances would put the marriage back on an even keel. Divorce is unnecessary and would be painful.
- The relationship between Scotland and England could change for the worst. At this moment in time the relationship is bad enough with football, TV and other stupid things. Who knows how far it could go if Scotland were independent.
Least we forget
As we keep vigil at its death bed, I can’t help but put down some reminders on British colonialism to which Scotland was very much a willing participating partner – least we forget.
It is a very well established fact that the British Empire was built with much brutality.
Occupation was split into two categories:
- Settlement colonies
- Resource colonies
There were two categories of settlement colonies:
- Colonies where criminals were sent to settle – United States of America and Australia.
- Colonies along the strategic trade routes – South Africa, New Zealand and Canada (Newfoundland).
The resource colonies were to be exploited of all forms of resources they had, to feed the empire’s industrialisation demands – including people (slaves) and all the agro-mineral resources.
Slavery is evidence of how exploitative and morally bankrupt colonialism was. Slave-worked sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean helped finance the industrial revolution. Plantations needed labour, and labour was available very cheaply from West Africa – this alone justified the trade in people.
The occupiers brutally grabbed the land without regard for the people living there at the time, effectively considering it their property.
- In South Africa, they fought not only the native but also descendants of the Dutch settlers. They literally massacred the Zulu.
- In Australia the whole area was declared a territory of Britain – the local Aborigines were ignored and treated as though they were animals.
- In America land was grabbed from the native Indians.
The occupiers assumed that British civilisation was superior and imposed it on the natives – offering a justification of imperialism and racial superiority.
The British Empire didn’t voluntarily give up its colonies.Independence came through some form of resistance, which in certain cases led to what could in modern language be treated as crimes to humanity:
- The Amritsar Massacre (1919) in India.
- The crashing of the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya.
The colonisation of Britain
Let me end with another bitter fact – the final Chapters of the British Empire are yet to be written. In fact, an entire section hasn’t been written.
The former colonies have very slowly but surely started ‘colonising’ Britain. The ongoing globalisation process has enabled some residents of the former colonies to immigrate into the empire, and get a share of the wealth reserves taken from their ancestors.
The table shows England and Wales cities where as of 2009 at least one out of every five people is non-white.
Evidently, the colonisation of Britain has no doubt started with the largest cities. The concentration is highest in London, Birmingham, Luton and Leicester where at least one out of every three people is non-white. This is followed by Bradford and Wolverhampton where at least one out of every four people is non-white.
The dynamics are captured by the population composition of the 0-15 year olds and the annual population growth rates. It appears the ethnic groups are doing what God told them to do – ‘go and multiply’. When these two attributes are considered collectively it isn’t unrealistic to assume that by 2050 non-whites will be the major ethnic group of the population in a number of cities, and hence local authority administrative areas.
Each local authority is run by locally elected people. Members of parliament are elected by local people in local constituencies. So, what do you think will happen when ethnic groups dominate certain administrative areas of Britain? I leave that to your imagination. Game on!
 Compiled from The Week on line newspaper.
 An empire involves an extension of a state’s sovereignty over external territories.