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The Mindset of a Colony

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The May/June issue of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, which of course you will all have read, actually resonates in a surprising way with the Scottish referendum debate. (Actually, this journal is not our usual reading matter either, but that is another story). An article on peripheral vascular disease examined illness beliefs among patients. Big lifestyle risk factors are smoking and lack of physical activity. When questioned, some patients believed that physical activity was the cause of their muscle pain. One had walked his dogs twice a day for years: “So I don’t know if that could have been it, maybe going out in the damp weather, I used to go out in all-weather, you know?And I don’t know whether that caused it, you know?”. Another’s view was: “Well, they say the smoking, I mean, I don’t know.”The researcher’s findings suggested that patients with this disease do not change their physical activity behaviour after diagnosis and treatment because they have “dysfunctional and incongruent beliefs” about their illness. What this illustrates is how patients tend to cling to spurious and superficial views about the causes of their illness. This chimes with the way the referendum debate itself has been conducted at a superficial level and on the basis of spurious beliefs.

To give an example of what we mean: in a bookshop in Edinburgh last Saturday the sales assistant was concerned that a YES vote would lead to Scotland’s isolation, so damaging life prospects for his nephew and niece. Really? In fact, quite the opposite. The isolation is now. Currently, as part of the UK, we are barred from direct representation in so many organisations and committees. We have no direct representation in Europe or at the United Nations. In past meetings with Enterprise Ireland and the enterprise agency in Flanders in Belgium, these agencies both made it clear that direct representation in European institutions and committees was important to them: and not just at the top table. Academics and business people of small countries have much greater involvement in and benefit from European projects and are brought along with Ministers to mix with their counterparts and represent their country. So it is a myth that Scotland would be isolated. It is the colonial mindset that is brainwashed to regard the present situation as the norm, and that fails to see that what we are just now is isolated,

As a second example, consider the thornier question of funding for research in higher education. A major argument often given for staying in the union is that as an independent country there would be risks involved in accessing funds from UK research councils and UK charities. Well, again, is the mindset here not a bit limited, and the back up evidence not a bit shaky?

While the headline percentage of funds from UK research councils does favour Scottish institutions, a proper examination of the benefit to Scotland from access to these funds would involve looking at the following questions: (1) how much of the funding sticks to Scotland as opposed to other joint but junior partners in the research; (2) where are the businesses benefiting from the research located; (past evidence shows that the percentage located in Scotland is small); (3) which bodies are making the fundamental decisions as to the fields in which research is to be carried out and what is Scotland’s representation on these bodies; (4) are the major health, industry, etc. needs of Scotland being adequately represented in the research decisions being made by these UK bodies; (5) how much are we losing out in the basic decision-making in European research and in the ability to form partnerships at an early stage in EU research programmes because we have no direct representation in Europe; (6) how much we miss out on European funding because, within EU rules to encourage co-operation among states, we cannot join up with other UK institutions alone to gain EU funding. Ireland, however, can join with the UK.

A full examination of these questions would do two things. First, it would suggest that Scotland is not really doing all that well at present from the UK research funding it receives: and secondly, it would suggest how, under different constitutional arrangements, things could be done better. But the colonial mindset, which takes the status quo as the norm, in an almost Orwellian fashion blocks off the mind from even thinking about these kinds of question. In addition, another aspect of the colonial mentality also comes into play – namely, the colonial cringe: who are we to presume that we could possibly manage things better than they are currently managed for us. And who are we to presume to challenge the vested interests who do well out of the present situation.

Another example concerns the health service. A recently heard comment was  “I am worried that we won’t have a national health service if we leave the UK”. Eh? In fact, the real threat to Scotland’s health service comes from the union. What we are seeing down South is the progressive dismantling of the health service in England, with widespread outsourcing of the more lucrative functions to the private sector, leaving a rump of public sector provision in the more Cinderella fields. This has the effect of forcing more people to go privately.  This in turn has an adverse effect on public expenditure in Scotland through the Barnett formula – so that, under the union, funding pressures will mean that, even with the best will in the world, no Scottish government will be able to protect the health service from decline. Failure to recognise what is happening is akin to the type of “dysfunctional and incongruent belief” highlighted in the paper referred to in our first paragraph.

What we have illustrated is how a colonial mindset permeates Scotland, and how this has two major features – one being the acceptance of the status quo as being the norm, and the other being a sense of inferiority, with a concomitant lack of confidence in our ability as a nation to actually manage our own affairs. Both of these features contribute to a situation where fundamental issues are not identified, analysed, and addressed.

And yet, there are such a plethora of fundamental issues that ought to be addressed. For example:

Why is it that, between 1950 and 2000, Scotland was the only country of similarly sized European countries, (Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Ireland), to have a falling population.

Why does Scotland have the most unequal pattern of land ownership in Europe.

In our largest city, Glasgow, why is it that a boy born in one of the 15% most deprived areas, has a life expectancy which is just marginally above that of male life expectancy in Russia and Iraq, and just below Pakistan.

Why is it that West Dunbartonshire had 11% of its entire working age population reporting as being long-term sick, averaged over the twelve months in 2013? Why in Glasgow was it 10%? (For comparison, the average for Britain was 4.9%.)

Why is it that less than half of young, Scots domiciled university graduates find graduate employment in Scotland?

Why do we have only have 45% of the employees in oil related jobs in the UK when Scotland has over 80% of the UK’s hydrocarbon production?

There are, of course, many other similar fundamental issues that need to be addressed. But addressing these issues will not be possible unless we are able to shake off our colonial mindset. And this, of course, will not be easy, given that it has been a fundamental part of unionist strategy to dumb down the debate and encourage this very mindset. It is no coincidence, for example, that when the Treasury produced its analysis setting out what it claimed was the so-called “union dividend”, it presented its results in a childish fashion, complete with lego-men figures.


Cunningham, M. et al., (2014), “Illness Beliefs and Walking Behavior After Revascularization for Intermittent Claudication”, JRCP, vol. 34, no. 3.

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  1. Will McEwan says:

    Absolutely excellent. Wide distribution essentail

  2. bellacaledonia says:

    An internalised colonial mindset isn’t just a Scottish thing it would seem. From today’s Independent.. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/negative-feelings-about-accents-can-undermine-britons-sense-of-identity-research-suggests-9593031.html

  3. Of course the status quo tends to be “the norm” in people’s minds; as the existing state of affairs, that’s what makes it the status quo. 😉

    Just did a quick check and noted that Scotland isn’t included in the UN’s list of Non-Self Governing Territories (though Gibralter is, obviously), so can I ask if you think people in the north of England, or Cornwall, (for example) are equally isolated within the British state?

    1. Dean Richardson says:

      It isn’t just the north of England that’s isolated within the British state . It’s all of England. I used to live in London, just 6-7 miles geographically from the Wastemonster/Shitehall village, yet a universe away in any other respect. As an average [English, rather than British] Joe, I’ve never felt any connection to the British ruling classes. I suspect I’m far from being alone, even among those living in the London area and who are reasonably comfortable compared to most.

  4. Incidentally, feeling a part of the UK doesn’t automatically mean feeling inferior about being Scottish. That’s like declaring yourself European must mean you’re not proud to be British. Or Scottish. It’s not just simplistic, it’s blinkered too. And insulting. And you never get anywhere by insulting people–just ask the Better Together people!

    1. Hugh Wallace says:

      Paul, as per usual you are seeing offence where none is given. But your response is a perfect example of the colonised-mindset which cannot see beyond the limitations imposed on it from an outside source, in this case the UK.

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    Joan McAlpine cutting through the “too wee, too poor, too stupid” mindset in today’s Daily Record…. http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/joan-mcalpine-scotland-big-enough-3831002

    1. rabthecab says:

      I spoke to an older Scots gent yesterday after we came out from a roundtable @ the House of Commons. He’s been in London 50 years, as opposed to my mere 28

      Naturally the conversation turned to the indyref; I enthused about how it could be the start of an exciting new chapter, for Scotland to become a fairer, more open & egalitarian society, where people are treated as people, not just numbers on a spreadsheet (which happens so often it’s hard not to notice.)

      His reaction? “I don’t think it’ll work, Scotland’s just too wee.” Apparently my wail of despair was so loud my neighbours heard it.

      Unfortunately at this point a burly Policeman told us to bugger off as we were blocking the entrance, and that was the end of that.

      Hopefully we’ll bump into each other at the next meeting & I can explain one or two things to him!

  6. James Dow a voice from the diaspora says:

    I live in a former colony, Australia and we are not going too bad, but then we became a Sovereign Nation and took charge of our own destiny. Ironically a Nation where Scot’s were massively influential in all aspects of progression and eventual Nationhood. But then we were not as unfortunate as Scotland to be conjoined to England our former master.

  7. Marian says:

    Margaret and Jim Cuthbert have already done some brilliant work on the economics of independence and this is no exception.

    This is exactly what our YES leadership should be ramming home to the people of Scotland at every opportunity.

  8. thisgreenworld says:

    I agree completely about the cognitive dissonance and that most people tend to favour the status quo (incidentally, it could be argued that this is why the BBC and other media are pro-Union: they support the status quo and possibly genuinely believe themselves to be unbiased…I know, I’m giving them a large benefit of doubt, here…).

    The smoking/health analogy is helpful too. People will continue smoking and think the 1 in 3 chance of getting cancer won’t happen but the 1 in 14 million chance of winning the lottery could happen. People believe what they WANT to believe, because to believe otherwise would mean they have to change their behaviour (it’s the same with why so many people don’t ‘believe in’ climate change – because the responses require a radical change in how society is organised).

    The message has to sell the BENEFITS of change, not the FACT of change…most folk mostly don’t like change…radicals (‘pioneers’) need to understand that they must ALWAYS win over the comfortable and the secure (‘settlers’) in order to get a majority.

    So part of the YES message has to appeal to those who do nit like change – something like saying “vote Yes to preserve the things you like about society – the NHS, fairness, more equality, a government that cares, a voice in your own life (insert favourites here)”

    It also has to remind people just how much the people of Scotland are being taken advantage of by big UK money and professional politicians. The ‘settlers’ also do not like to be feel they are being made fools of…

    …So, in the same way that an anti-smoking message might say “by smoking, you make yourself a profitable slave to big tobacco”, a pro-independence argument might go like “by voting NO, you are agreeing to be taken advantage of…again, and again, and again…”

  9. John McLeod says:

    Excellent article.

  10. lastchancetoshine says:

    “This is exactly what our YES leadership should be ramming home to the people of Scotland at every opportunity.”

    Unfortunately, you can’t ram anything home if people are not listening because they have switched off to avoid discomfort – exactly the point.

    Meanwhile over at Better together, no thanks Blair and Alistair may actually be so entrenched in their beliefs, they don’t know they are fibbing.

    But what to do about it and are we guilty as well?

  11. rocky says:

    This may be of interest.

    If America was still in British Empire they would still be under the strangling control of a colonial Monarchy.

    Colonial and Monarchy governments have to be oppressive to ensure status quo of the establishment elite.
    Thus restricting and restrictive, which permanently dampens economic growth and the economy.

    America’s Independence was not a done deal, they had desperate struggle for Independence.
    America rightly honour their Independence hero’s.

    Americans had a very close shave.
    Read below for what the British Empire did to the defeated.
    Its pure evil.

    This is what would have happened to Americans if they were defeated and not won Independence.

    I’m reading Harvard Prof of History, American Maya Jasanoff’s book ‘Liberty’s Exiles’ about the final days of British Empire’s fight to keep America and the aftermath. A great historical factual read.

    extract from Liberty’s Exile page154:

    “faced with organised French Acadian(N. America Maritimes provinces) protest. British officials adopted policy similiar to recently prosecuted in Scotland, after the Jacobite rising 1745, British forces swept through Highlands confiscating land, destroying villages, deporting suspected insurgents.”

    “same would be inflicted on Nova Scotia’s ‘rebel’ French Catholic Acadian’s. In 1755 British troops seized French Fort Beausejour, renamed Fort Cumberland after the Royal Duke in charge of slashing burning Highlands. Fort Cumberland was British HQ of anti-Acadian operations. Acadian land, houses, livestock was confiscated and French Acadian’s suffered ‘Great Expulsion’ to America”

    ps. It took 2years for America too negotiate Independence after total defeat of British at Yorktown.

    This 2years was achieved in the days of sail and horse transport, and an Atlantic Ocean to voyage. Its an amazingly short time for the age.

    extract from Liberty’s Exiles page57:

    ” it took a year for British and American negotiators to work out a preliminary peace treaty, and another year until a definitive peace was signed and British troops evacuated.”

    (North America’s North East Maritime provinces was French Acadia(the original Cajun homeland))

  12. bringiton says:

    Probably why we sometimes hear “I hate that Alex Salmond” for no other ‘reason’ than that he represents a challenge to their mind set.
    This is especially true for those who perceive themselves to be doing well out of the current constitutional arrangements.
    What price democracy?

  13. yerkitbreeks says:

    Continuing the revascularisation analogy, in trials concerning the heart there was little difference in outcome between groups having (1) bypass (2) dynorod jobbies and (3) dietary programme.

    As a senior consultant, often chairing large committees in England, I admit to feeling the Scottish cringe when a ” Dick, nice but thick” or “Tim nice but dim” talked AT me rather than with me in a plummy accent.

    Now, years on, I’m happy to think I’m a bit like the dietary option – lower key but just as effective, and this is how we can go ahead with confidence after September.

  14. Hugh Wallace says:

    Reblogged this on Are We Really Better Together? and commented:
    There are those who say that Scotland is not a colony of England, and technically speaking, they are correct. But my father used to say, ‘the English practiced colonialisation on the Scots, then exported it’ and I have always believed him to be correct. The mindset of a colonised people is exactly what I see in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the mindset of the colonising people is prevalent amongst English people in positions of relative power.

    I grew up in New Zealand, which everyone acknowledges as a former British colony. NZ is unique in the respect that the British signed a treaty – the Treaty of Waitangi – with the native people – the Maori – whose land they were appropriating which deemed them to have equal and parallel rights to the colonial emigrants from the UK. The fact that they promptly ignored many of the details of the treaty is not really a surprise and the Maori, a once proud and fierce warrior people were reduced to the status of second class citizens in their own lands. There is a film made exploring the effects this has had on the Maori men called ‘Once Were Warriors’ and it makes for harrowing viewing. But the parallels between the Maori and the Scots are plain to see for those who are willing to see them.

    We Scots have been colonised for far, far too long. So long in fact that we forget what was done to us. Time to grow beyond our present state and become a confident and self-assured nation again!

  15. Fay Kennedy. says:

    I agree with James Kelman’s view that Scotland is a colonised nation and us Scots have done likewise wherever we have gone in the world. The antipodes are good examples of that where in Australia and New Zealand the indigenous peoples have some of the worst conditions to live in. It is a weeping sore that will never go until it is recognised and the same goes for the Scots, Irish and Welsh no matter what they believe. Reality is never pleasant to see but it’s a necessity if there is to be any sense of decency and progress. I just keep hoping that the 18th. will be a turning point in Scotland’s history.

  16. Marian says:

    I was incredulous, to put it mildly, when I read a piece on the ever loyal to Westminster BBC Scotland website last week, that quoted Labour’s Scottish Health spokeperson Jackie Baille as claiming that Better Together has set up a 300 strong “Scottish NHS Health Workers for NO” Group and that she had also claimed that “the Scottish NHS was safer with a NO vote because of the broad shoulders of the UK.”

    For goodness sake what planet does Jackie Baillie live on where they spout equine excrement like that?

  17. Longing for Freedom says:

    Isn’t it much worse than a ‘The Mindset of a Colony’?

    Almost every single colony in the world has fought bitterly for independence and freedom.

    If Scotland votes to effectively remain a colony in September, than the encyclopedias of the world will have to find a proper description for the unique mindset of Scots.

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