Scotland’s Colonial Status

Author: Professor Alf Baird

Brexit proved that the Scottish nation is treated more or less as a colony, with Scots forcibly dragged out of the EU against our democratic will. The recent UK Supreme Court ruling that Scots are unable to organise a referendum on independence, despite several electoral mandates in favour of a referendum, serves to reinforce a colonial status.

Welsh and Irish nationalist movements have little doubt about their colonial status, but for some reason many Scots still believe we are not an oppressed people. This is despite half the Scottish population living in or close to poverty in what is a resource rich nation. The Scots have been fed a narrative of a ‘union of equals’, which is difficult to comprehend whenever our 59 MPS or 9 percent of Westminster sovereignty is outvoted, which is most of the time.

Colonialism is not that difficult to understand. Colonialism is first and foremost economic plunder. Everything is taken from the country cheaply – oil & gas, energy, aggregates, food, whisky – with goods sold back to the natives at higher cost. The role of a colony is primarily to serve the needs of the mother country, in this case England.

Colonialism involves external political control, and is always a co-operative venture with native elites. These elites assume the culture and language of the colonial power and help manage the territory in the colonizers interest.

Another aspect of colonialism is settler occupation from ‘the mother country’. The largest in-migration of any ethnic group to Scotland over the past century and more has been people from England, oriented towards the professional and managerial class, according to census records. All the best jobs in Scotland are advertised mainly in the London press, and the only linguistic requirement is the English language.

Scotland has also been subject to population displacement, initially through genocide and clearances from the 1700s. This was followed by over a century of state sponsored transportation and emigration of Scots to Britain’s overseas colonies. The result was a loss of around 4 million Scots, one of the largest losses of population in Europe for a country of our size and population.

‘Cultural assimilation’ is a key feature of colonialism. Here a supposedly ‘superior’ culture which includes the values, ‘history’, heritage and language of the colonial power replaces that of the native people. In a colonial environment it is only the values of the colonizer that are sovereign. The colonized are effectively ‘out of the game’ internationally and in terms of history. An Anglophone unionist cultural hegemony, which includes native elites, controls the territory in the colonizer’s interest.

Cultural assimilation leads to institutionalised socio-linguistic prejudice, inequality, and development of internalized racism within an oppressed society. Only the language of the colonizer opens the doors of opportunity, while the language of the colonized is deemed invalid and made subordinate, as are those who speak it. The outcome is manifest in a people with a colonial mindset, what we know as the Scottish Cultural Cringe. This is a psychological condition which develops in an oppressed people a feeling of self-hatred, a belief that they are incapable of running their own affairs, and even rejection of their own liberation.

Colonialism is therefore mainly about economic and political exploitation, which is achieved through cultural control mechanisms. The exploitation of a people and their land by another culture leaves the nation and its people under-developed and marginalised.

There are only two main protagonists in colonial theory – the colonizer and the colonized. This reality is obscured in that colonized elites also become colonizers through adopting the colonizer’s values, and end up suppressing their own people and nation.

Peoples in self-determination conflict are invariably linguistically divided. The Scots, who are deprived of learning their language, are no different. The formation of an independence movement depends on the solidarity of the oppressed ethnic group, in this instance Scots language speakers.

In a colonial society there are only two possible outcomes: either the people secure independence, which is decolonization and liberation from oppression, which includes self-recovery of native culture, language and sovereignty, or; cultural assimilation and oppression continues, in which case the native culture, language, identity and national consciousness ultimately perish.


Professor Alf Baird

Professor Alf Baird

Alf Baird 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 and delivered over 150 conference papers.