The British Empire - wikimedia
20) do you want to be represented by a new nation, or an old empire?
“The worst thing that colonialism did was to cloud our view of our past.” - Barack Obama
Ontario or Belgium; Santa Ana or Iceland; Provence-Alpes-Cote d'Azure, or New Zealand: Which of these similarly populated areas has a louder voice? The idea that by getting a seat at the UN and a vote at the WTO, Scotland would lose influence in the world always seems dubious to me. So too does the suggestion that independence would make us more parochial. It's hard to know how to measure such a thing, but here's a table of the world's top aid donors as a percentage of their national income. Countries in green have fewer than 15 million people. Countries in blue have more.
In any case, Scotland isn't a small country. If you rank the self governing areas of the world in order of population, we come out almost exactly in the middle. Where there's a risk of average sized nations being shut out of global negotiations by the unusually large, they tend to team up. That's what we have the EU for – and potentially the British Isles Council, the Nordic Council and whatever future alliances we choose to build.
Those who argue that Scotland's voice is louder within the UK make a case that Britain is exceptional. Iceland may have more influence in the world than Santa Ana, but the UK is different. “Britannia Rules the Waves”. Etc.
When people talk about this power, though, they rarely mention how Britain got it. When they celebrate our Security Council seat, they ignore that it comes from owning weapons more dangerous than those which trigger sanctions and wars against other countries. When they laud the advantage gained through the dominance of our language, people always omit that, from Ireland to Canada, the USA to Australia, the tool used to spread English was genocide. We rarely hear how the UK invaded 90% of the countries on earth, built its wealth on the slave trade and invented concentration camps. And they don't talk about how we clung onto control.
Just one example is what happened when Kenyans made a bid for their freedom in the 1950s. Britain imprisoned around 1.5 million of them in camps and fortified villages. Here's George Monbiot describing how they were treated. It's only for those with stronger stomachs:
“Interrogation under torture was widespread. Many of the men were anally raped, using knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels, snakes and scorpions. A favourite technique was to hold a man upside down, his head in a bucket of water, while sand was rammed into his rectum with a stick. Women were gang-raped by the guards. People were mauled by dogs and electrocuted. The British devised a special tool which they used for first crushing and then ripping off testicles. They used pliers to mutilate women's breasts. They cut off inmates' ears and fingers and gouged out their eyes. They dragged people behind Land Rovers until their bodies disintegrated. Men were rolled up in barbed wire and kicked around the compound.” I could have chosen similar stories about 20th century Britain's behaviour in Yemen; Cyprus, China, India, Iraq...
Many countries on earth have histories of brutality. The difference with Britain is not so much that we are more murderous, but that we've never come to terms with it. We won, so we wrote the history books. When some (but not all) in Better Together trumpet British power, it's important to remember what they are really talking about.
We aren't so directly involved these days. Instead, we outsource our cruelty: acting as arms salesman to the dictators of the world; training troops in “crowd control” as they murder those demanding democracy and appointing Peter Mandleson to the EU to bully poorer countries into trade deals which lock them into their poverty. What we give in aid is a fraction of what we take back through these 'agreements'. Modern Britain is a crumbling empire clinging to its former glory and deluding itself that it is still one of the big boys.
With that decline, Britain shifts from bully to blunderer. As the bookies slash the odds on a yes vote, it's hard not to sound an irony klaxon. A large chunk of the case the British state makes goes something like: “It's a big and scary world out there. We understand it. We can protect you from it”. The addendum they now have to include is “even though our understanding of geo-politics is so poor, we thought Scotland was joking”.
Can we expect the foreign policy of an independent Scotland to be better? Perhaps. Look at the ark of history or the Kiwi flag and we are living in the dying days of imperial Britain. It infects how we see ourselves and the world. It's why we spend so much on our military and desperately hang on to the status that comes with nuclear armament. To improve, Scotland would just have to be normal.
Likewise, there is a case that size matters. As Professor Ivor Neuman explained at a Nordic Horizons lecture last year, the attitude long taken by Norwegian governments is that small-medium countries do better in more peaceful, stable worlds and so it's in their interests to help build peace and stability.
Or maybe it's a question of attitudes. Who is more likely to think beyond their borders – someone from a state the size of America, or Andorra? People from smaller countries are surely more likely to be aware of the outside world than those from bigger ones. And are governments less likely to have cruel foreign policies if their citizens are paying attention? That has to be the best guard. The referendum is a choice between being represented by a new state or clinging to this brutal aged empire. Letting go can be tough. But sometimes, it's the best option.
"The independence referendum provides a great opportunity not just to remove Trident from Scotland, but to achieve nuclear disarmament in Britain." - Arthur West, chairman of Scottish CND
George Robertson, CND and Westminster's Scottish Affairs Select Committee seem to agree on one thing: Scottish independence would probably mean the end of the UK's nuclear weapons. The suggestion is there's nowhere else in Britain geologically suitable that they can be stored. Robertson thinks this is a bad thing. I don't.
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