Sorry Prof Devine but Sarwar was a hypocrite and you’re wrong

I hesitate to correct Professor Tom Devine in his defence of Anas Sarwar. Once compared with Prof John Curtice, a writer said he was like a premier league footballer and I was like a third-team reserve at Elgin City. Anyone who saw me play would agree that I should have been so lucky. Goodness knows what league I’ll be relegated to if I question Prof Devine.

Anyhow, Sarwar’s support for Pakistan’s independence, considered hypocritical by many including me, was dismissed by Devine as ‘no comparison‘ because Scotland was not ‘subjected to imperial authority‘ and because ‘Scots‘ (sic) took part in the Empire with ‘relish and enthusiastic commitment.

He’s wrong. Like even the best of historians, he seems to have forgotten that ‘Scots‘ embraces a far wider spectrum than those few thousands from some Scottish elite groups who did, as he puts it, take part enthusiastically. The millions who remained in Scotland, along with thousands of ordinary soldiers who died in India were the tragic victims of an Empire which had been growing across the British Isles for centuries before their subjection to it – England. It was always called ‘England.’ Ask any Pakistani today and they’ll call it that too.

Surely no credible academic could consider the Union with England anything other than a hostile takeover resulting in monumental suffering, poverty, ill-health, clearance, death in war and mass emigration, for all but a few.

Doesn’t this map of British forts in Scotland in 1746 speak, with articulation, of imperial authority?

Were there this many British forts, per square mile, in 18th Century India?

Finally, didn’t many of India/Pakistan’s elites take part in the Empire with ‘relish and enthusiastic commitment?’

32 thoughts on “Sorry Prof Devine but Sarwar was a hypocrite and you’re wrong

  1. OK, I will be devil’s advocate here.
    First of all, it is certainly true that part of the Scottish elite did very well out of Empire, going abroad to work for the Empire, keeping the natives in order (I might add that my own father was the product of a marriage between a Dumbarton Vet who had got the gig as UK government vet in Mauritius and the daughter of plantation owner – of British stock it goes without saying). But, as you say John, they were the minority.
    What of the remainder? What of the majority of Scots who didnt profit in this way? One of the best, high level explanations for where we are with independence, I think, is Alan Little’s. He argues that Scots profited from Empire in other ways – Empire preference meant that ships, railway engines, the tracks for them run on, the bridges over the rivers and so on would probably be made in the UK (and often in Glasgow). This provided employment. It was certainly not good, all that well paid employment, in which regard my grandmother on my mother’s side, was the product of the marriage of an ex Irish guardsman and a Glasgow bookbinder – both were dead of poor folks’ diseases by the time my gran was 11, leaving her and her two sisters to be cared for, as best she could by their grandmother – no Universal Credit then – and then her two sisters were dead by the time my gran was 16, so no bed of roses at all. But the fact remains that there were benefits from the Empire even if not all that great (and even if much of what they produced was to more systematically exploit the Empire). Little goes on to argue that it was when these “advantages” disappeared along with the Empire that Scots began to ask themselves why are we here, what was the point of the Union if it delivered nothing to us?
    We also, of course had representation at Westminster (unlike other parts of Empire) and (unlike Ireland) troops were not on the streets (very much).
    Some writers like Alf Baird see colonisation and the colonial mindset as critical to this, but when they invoke someone like Fanon and use his work to illustrate their view of Scotland, I’m sorry it just goes too too far.

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    1. Thanks
      ‘But the fact remains that there were benefits from the Empire even if not all that great’
      Were there not also such limited benefits for workers in India too? The Empire stimulated a kind of globalisation with increased commerce.

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      1. In 1900 Scotland’s GDP was higher than any other country in the world including the US though the slums of the cities were teeming with people poorer than the serfs in Russia. None of that trickle down shit happening here.

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      2. Yes John it did, but it was a distorted globalisation – not to the betterment of the world, but only to one party.
        When I was at Uni (50 years ago – gawd!) globalisation was being justified to us as comparative advantage – that there were things that some countries had an advantage in doing and that other countries should abstain from these industries because they could be fulfilled more efficiently elsewhere. For instance, why grow strawberries in Carse of Gowrie when they can be grown all year in Kenya? This of course leads to planes stuffed with strawberries flying from Africa to Europe. The problem of course is that the Kenyans get buttons for their strawberries, most of the wealth sticks in Europe. (Sub whatever product you want in place of strawberries).
        Have a look at https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2018/12/19/how-britain-stole-45-trillion-from-india

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      1. I can remember only too well people leaving Scotland because they saw no future in it – still happens doesnt it? But how often is it about opportunity elsewhere of Scotland? How many of our young graduates head south before the ink is dry on their degree parchments? Is this a reason to condemn independence – Scotland is a country without opportunity, without the ability to hang on to its young people? Or is it not one of the most powerful arguments FOR independence, in that it gives us the powers, the freedom to take decisions, to create structures that will give our young people these opportunities here so that they no longer have to leave to fulfil their potential?
        I agree with you that a prosperous country does not suffer depopulation, but the issue for Scotland when I was talking about (100 years ago +) was not prosperity – Scotland was prosperous. The problem was the failure to distribute the fruits of that prosperity in any way that could be seen positively – ie fairly, ensuring a good life for all citizens and so on. Instead it all went to an already wealthy elite who not only saw no reason to want to change things, but saw such arguments as offensive.

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        1. Some people leaving for their own reasons is quite different from mass emigration, which you acknowledge, so I don’t understand what you are getting at about some graduates leaving. Mass emigration did happen in Scotland during the entire British Imperial period, including the early 20th century. There was always one stratum of the population the was prosperous under the empire, the upper class and the rich merchant class. That did not make Scotland prosperous. It made certain people in Scotland prosperous.

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    2. As it happens there has been an excellent series recently repeated on aljazeera.

      “Blood and Tears: French Decolonisation
      The story of the decline of the French empire and the indelible mark colonialism left on countries that were colonised.”

      https://www.aljazeera.com/program/featured-documentaries/2020/11/24/blood-and-tears-french-decolonisation/

      One of the issues that is clearly explained in the series is the way that the French administration manoeuvered to attempt to cling onto as much of its Empire as possible whilst having organised the legal framework in such a way as to be able to claim to comply with the post 2nd World War United Nations settlement against Imperialism and Colonialism.

      At the time I was struck by the unspoken but suddenly obvious similarity with the situation in the United Kingdom.

      IIRC the UN situation came to a head in 1957, and by 1960 it appears that it had become the official position that the ‘4 Nations’ of the UK were similarly complaint.

      It seems to me that is in that context that Fanon and in particularly French post colonial theory should be understood.

      You site that Scotland “had representation at Westminster” with the implication that this negates the assertion of similarities with the conditions of colonialism, as described by for example the work of Frantz Fanon, whom you mention.

      Yet Fanon wrote from the perspective of what were and are known as the “French Overseas Regions”, in his case Martinique in the Caribbean.

      Each of the five “French Overseas Collectivities” has representation in the French Parliament.

      So the example that you site as a repudiation of the idea that parallels can be drawn between Scotland and some of the conditions of colonialism that did exist when Frantz Fanon and also French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi described post colonial theory actually serves to highlight 2 further similarities, and not in fact the decisive difference that is implied.

      p.s. I am not a historian, so anyone please feel free to chip in if they see any mistakes!

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  2. In 1739 a man called James MacRae purchased the Estate of Ochiltree for £25,000. That was just a single years income for him, as he had become a very rich man as first, in 1720 Governor of Fort St George, then in 1725 Governor of the Presidency of Madras.
    Born in Ochiltree, he left his widowed mother in Ayr to go to sea, then went to India, then after 40 years came back home.
    A rich man. From the lowest to the highest rank.
    The vast majority of people in Ochiltree, Ayr or anywhere else were not rich, but would probably applaud his good fortune (at the expense of of the population of the Indian sub-continent).
    History is but a partial review of the past, written usually by historical “winners”, and we view “our” history through a lens skewed by a degree of personal prejudice.
    I like history.

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    1. I like history. Have a couple of degrees in it and make a living writing fiction about it. And I know that a nation profiting from an Empire does not become impoverished or have mass emigration.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry but no. just no.
    I was born in 1955, growing up through the Sixtys into the Seventys, and I can still remember many of the garrisons shown on the map still being in active use.
    I remember “Pennies from heaven” as we crossed the bridge on the train from Waverley direct into Rosyth (My father was in “the Andrew”) for Navy day.
    Of coarse as children they were just the army and navy to us.
    Many of our uncles and my father served Per Mare, Per Terram and uncle Peter who flew planes from Essex.
    It wasn’t until Aden and the way Colin Mitchel was treated by the “British Military” and the first time they tried to disband “the thin red line”, that I began to question why so much army in Scotland had different voices from me.
    It wasn’t until I worked for the MOD in the late Seventy’s the day my daughter was born, in the Sargent’s Mess in Ritchie camp over a dram with a certain redcap from the Black Watch.
    I was invited to check the history of deployment in the UK if I did not believe what I was being told.
    And what he was telling me was that, at any one time there are more non-Scottish troops in Scotland than Scottish, and that since before 1786 when the second battalion was raised no more than 60% of the Scottish Regiments were ever at home at the same time.
    They may not have been on the streets but they were in Scotland.
    IMO Parades with fixed bayonets (on Lee–Enfields and later on L1A1 SLRs) which were common in towns and cities in Scotland were merely to remind us where the whip hand lay.

    Yes I think you will find should you wish to check that Scotland was still garrisoned until the later part of the last century.
    Within living memory.
    So Mr Sair ti weer and the professor are either wrongly informed or worm tongues, I leave you to decide which.
    Today independence for Pakistan or Scotland is the same thing.
    Anything else is reality denial.

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    1. Everybody knows about Redford barracks, I’d bet many won’t remember the one sited between Newcraighall and Musselburgh.

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      1. Look at the map again, and you will see that at the time the map starts from, all international ports in Scotland were garrisoned. Fisherrow traded regularly with the continent ergo the garrison at newhailes. Which became a council yard, and now an industrial estate, the bulk of the land and main house returning to the family.
        The same applies to Prestonpans which covered Morrison’s Haven and Cockenzie. These three ports all had international connections and established and developing industries.
        Around the forth everything from Eyemouth to Crail even Cove where the southern upland way starts/ends (Cockburnspath) a harbour which requires detailed local knowledge to enter safely was covered.
        As the railways developed later everyone of these camps had a siding or station next to it.
        I have not researched it, but I consider it a strong possibility that the longest lived camps all developed rail connections which in turn increased their life span until Beeching.
        It would be interesting to overlay the map with the before and after Beeching map. To see how economics takes over from not so subtle military control. With the decline of the no longer connected camps.

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    2. Thankyou Pogmothon for that interesting take.

      Not being as chronologically advantaged as yourself, I have often wondered ‘how it really was’ in that period in Scotland before I was born, when The Empire was gone, but the residual ingrained Empire Mindset was very obviously still in effect.

      Some searching brought me to this:
      “Colin Campbell Mitchell”
      https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/Colin_Campbell_Mitchell

      “Aden 1964-1967
      “The Barren Rocks of Aden”
      http://britains-smallwars.com/campaigns/aden/

      Fascinating. 😉

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    1. Thanks Stuart
      Can I credit the map to you?
      Also, I got a B in H History in 1968, Grangemouth High, taught by a Mr Danskin and a Mr McHardy – you?
      Years later I discovered why a Danskin would teach us the partitions of Poland – Danzig/Gdansk!

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  4. Parts of Scotland are still occupied by the English army? Even in Edinburgh and the Pentlands. I know some of the Fife coast is out of bounds most of the time, (watched a Ytube site I follow who do beachcombing) because of MOD operations there…beautiful beaches, occupied, out of bounds.

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  5. A 40million diaspora from Scotland around the world. 36million + in US of Scottish/Irish descent deported or cleared out. More in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The result of 1707 and the Westminster colonial exploits. Not exactly bringing peace and harmony. Death and destruction worldwide, including in Scotland and Ireland. Trident still present 40 miles from Glasgow.

    Green Common missile site beside London shut down in 1992.

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  6. Yes we were being told recently that the Scots were responsible for Slavery. Ordinary people didn’t have a choice but to obey there masters ordinary Scots were victims of Slavery at the hands of Cromwell and later under the Hanoverians. 4 million people chased out of their homeland for the greed of a landed Anglophone gentry. These are the people who profited under the empire and not the ordinary working class who were ruthlessly exploited. Nothing changes is UK.OK.
    Dissolve the Union.

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