Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A restricted homecoming?

If you take a close look at this invitation being sent out for the SNP’s Homecoming Scotland event, you’ll notice somewhat of a uniformity amongst the various folk pictured:

Professor emeritus of Heriot-Watt University, Geoff Palmer, whose mother was a West Indian woman with a Scottish name, has also noticed it:
"I have a Jamaican telephone directory, and I would say that about 60% of the names in it are Scottish," he says. West Indians with Scottish names acquired them from slave owners and slave drivers, a huge proportion of whom were Scots. Some fathered children with slaves while others simply imposed their names on them.

"Most Scots are completely ignorant of this," says Palmer. He points to the nationalist Scottish government's Homecoming Scotland next year - a festival to welcome back the Scottish diaspora with a series of events like a great clan pageant. There is no mention of the West Indies anywhere in the publicity material: "This event is being marketed in Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Why are they not inviting people from Jamaica with Scottish names?"

"Why not" is probably a difficult question for the SNP to answer; it’s not a question of direct racism, but more wishing to present their own sanitised narrative of history in which the Scottish would always play the oppressed, never the oppressor. Unfortunately, history, as opposed to its interpretation, rarely can be packaged into such convenient (and marketable) boxes This article on the subject in The Guardian is worth the further reading, especially the Scottish National party MSP Christine Grahame’s prickly response to the leading historian, Professor Tom Devine’s (author of Scotland’s Empire)"revisionist" views.


DG said...

Oh look, they actually left an (absolutely tiny) Union Jack in this image...

I refer, of course, to this:

O'Neill said...

Your eyesights better than mine...

The Aberdonian said...

Undoubtedly the picture is not an accurate one of modern Scotland. Maybe a couple of Asian faces would be in order - probably the Kohli brothers - but no doubt some of the Tartan was supplied and will be supplied this weekend by the Gold Brothers - the Scottish Sikh clan who have cornered the Edinburgh market in "Tartan tat".

I would probably say O'Neill that most countries (maybe with the exception of Germany) sanitise their history. The Japanese for example are still in denial about events of the first half of the 20th century - ranging from the annexation to Korea to the Burma railway.

In A-H the Czechs did and still do post A-H complain about being oppressed by Vienna, particularly after the Battle of White Mountain at the beginning of the 30 years war. This despite Czechs being at the vanguard of A-H's industrialisation, soldiery and diaspora throughout the Empire (hence the large amount of people of Czech origin in modern day Austria, Croatia, Serbia and the Ukraine).

And we will not go into the Irish (both sides and their involvement in the British Empire).

Of course the UK does not try and doctor its history. That is why the events in Ireland from 1912-22 are never really discussed in the UK media. Remember the furore over "Rebel Heart" in 2001.

To be blunt O'Neill, the SNP has fallen over itself to attract the Scots-Asian vote. Indeed the only non-white MSP, Bashir Ahmad, is an SNP MSP. Indeed the minister in charge of the Homecoming thing is called Linda Fabiani. To add, the SNP leader in the Commons, Angus Robertson is half-German.

Not to mention a handful of SNP Scottish-Italian and Scots-Asian councillors.

Of course Scotland was involved in slavery. Many streets in Glasgow ("second city of the Empire") are named after prominent slavers. Burns himself considered emmigration to Jamaica to work "as a negro driver". A man's a man for all that.

But "All men are created equal" trilled leading slaver T. Jefferson.

Access to the slave trade was on of the "dividends" that Scotland got from the union. Scotland benefited from slavery as did other parts of the UK. The cotton that powered the mills of the north of England was produced by what?

The ships built, possibly built by your forebears in Belfast, carried what and goods produced by the labour of what? no doubt made your part of the world more integral in the British Empire.

Are the Indian subcontinent nations hypocrites? After all they talk occassional British oppression but it was the British universities via the Empire that educated Nehru, Gandhi and Jinna - and gave them good livings - to name a few. Maybe when you should point that out the next time you are out for a curry!

Most western European nations are not free of slave blood. France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands to give good examples.

In Ireland's case, the Irish were involved in the Dutch and Spanish trades. The Dutch possession of Saba was populated by Irish and their black slaves. Today the island is full of coloured people with Irish surnames speaking with Irish twangs.

Irish Catholics - due to the British penal laws which oppressed them and limited their opportunities - went to Spain and worked for the Empire there. One notable character was Ambrose O'Higgins of County Meath who rose to become the most powerful man in South America - Viceroy of Peru - who oversaw the oppression of Indians and the Peruvian Slave trade (hence the large amount of black Peruvians on its coast). His son - fathered when he was in his fifties with a 12 or 13 year old Indian girl (peadophilia being part of the perks - he had pursued her from the age of 10) - became Bernardo O'Higgins, the Chilean national liberator.

So will you apologise to the people of South America for the O'Higgins clan?

O'Neill said...

Undoubtedly the picture is not an accurate one of modern Scotland.

I took the picture as representing people with Scottish roots "returning" as opposed to people already living there, which is why there is a problem with the racial homogenuity portrayed.

Regarding the culpability of just about European nation/race for the slave-trade, obviously yes, you're right. But it is the SNP who have set themselves (rather sanctimoniously) up as operating on a higher moral plane than the nasty British unionists and Westminster government. And if I remember correctly hasn't Blair already apologised for the slave trade on behalf of us all? (Or was it The Famine, there's so much collective responsibility flying about, it gets very confusing sometimes!!)

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