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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.