Learning from Steve Biko
I have traveled all over the world in the past 50-years. I go to places to expand my cultural insights and to see the world with a fuller Weltanschauung (world view). I just got back from a month in Scotland where I did a year of post-graduate study at the University of Edinburgh 45-years ago. I went back to Scotland to show my wife where some of her family come from in Scotland, places that I had been, and to do further research on the issue of Scottish independence.
When I was in Edinburgh during the academic year 1968-69, some Scots would talk about the good old days when Scotland was free. However, that was either 3-centuries, 7-centuries, or 2-millennia ago. Those days were viewed by those few like the days of Camelot. Nevertheless, those were the days, but they had come and had long gone.
However, much has changed in Scotland during my absence. The Scots will be voting on independence from the UK on September 18, 2014. Interestingly, approximately a third of Scotland is for it, a third of Scotland is against it, and a third of Scotland hasn't thought much about it.
There are 4-major issues that the Scots will have to address over the next 15-months before voting on the referendum: Scottish cringe, racism and the royal we, history of Scottish/English relations, and English needs.
The Scottish cringe is their feeling of cultural inferiority in comparison to the English. The English make the Scots feel a lesser partner within the UK. The Scots feel that England treats them as country bumpkins. Here is an example. The Bank of England governs all of the UK monetary issues. When I was in Scotland 45-years ago, many stores in southern England would not accept Scottish bank notes. Even today, many shops in England often won't accept the foreign currently...Scottish bank notes.
This self-awareness has been due to the way the English have treated the Scots since the Romans built Hadrian's and the Antonine Wall back in times of the Roman Empire. However, not all English have spoken poorly of their northern neighbors. Winston Churchill, who wrote the 4-volume: A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, didn't view the Scots in that way at all. He was an authority on history in general and especially the history relating to English speaking peoples of the world.
Churchill said of the Scots "of all small nations of this earth perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind." That is pretty high praise from an Englishman. However, many Scots and English don't believe Churchill's assessment.
In addition, Scotland is almost in the very middle of countries in the EU when it comes to geographical size and population. There are 28-EU members and Scottish population and landmass would rank pretty much in the middle of other EU members. Those members smaller than Scotland function as EU members quite well. However, many Scots don't feel that they are capable of this, which reinforces the cringe factor. The Scottish cringe also morphs into racism and the royal we.
Racism and the Royal We:
In 1169, Henry II etched into the English mindset the notion of divine right of kings. Since then, royalty have seen themselves as superior to the commoner, because they were born into a special relationship with God. Royals and many commoners bought into that notion, and it has been operative for nearly 1000 years. Royal families have a special relationship with God. In some magical or mystical relationship, the two become the royal we. This special kinship includes all the different royal families like the Tudors, Stuarts, Hanoverians, etc. While they are different royal families, the relationship with God continues without reference to which royal family ruled England. Brits really buy into this belief even though kings and queens haven't had any political power for at least several centuries. Nevertheless, the feeling of most English and many Scots is that in some manner royalty has a special ability to rule Britannia without any real power...only royal power.
In Caroline Holland's Notebooks of a Spinster Lady published in 1919, Holland affirms that Queen Victoria did say, "We are not amused" in 1900. Whether Queen Victoria said it or not, she is obviously not amused in this painting.
In addition to Queen Victoria and the royal we, it is so imbedded in the English psyche that Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister back in the 80s and also a commoner with no ties to royalty, had a son whose wife had a child. Thatcher made the announcement about the birth with this strange statement, "We have become a grandmother." Okay, that is at best a rather silly thing to say and at worst it is very haughty.
Nonetheless, it underlines a feeling prevalent in the UK. Certain people are special...divinely chosen by God. A columnist for The Guardian, Peter Tatchell, wrote a long article about this royal racism when President Obama was elected in 2008. I referenced his column in my article Royal Racism.
When Americans hear the term, racism, we think of it in reference to black/white issues. However, human beings have been around for 200k years and most of that time racism hasn't been about skin pigmentation. It has only been seen as a color issue in the last 500-years. Racism was based most often on poverty, spoils of war, religion, etc. and not based upon skin color.
However, over the century and a half since Stowe's story was published, racism has further muddied the water and now most Americans think of Uncle Tom as someone who would kowtow to white racists. And this racist term about Stowe's character now becomes a term applied by some whites to all blacks.
George Orwell's Animal Farm talks about the same thing as Uncle Tom. The animals revolt over a bad farmer. They want freedom and equality. However, it isn't long before one group of animals, the pigs, announce to the other animals that some animals are more equal than others. In both cases, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Animal Farm, we get the notion of inherit superiority over others by birth or what the English call the royal we. In some strange way, whites and pigs are linked to some deity, which confers upon them special status. This special status is control over the rest of the commoners either in the UK, America, or the farm.
I have been to South Africa and researched this issue of black consciousness by interviewing both blacks and whites. Even though I am an outsider, I have a fairly clear understanding of what Biko fighting and why.
Having said that, I don't see any difference between racism in South Africa and royal racism is the UK. It should be noted that South Africa and its apartheid government apparently learned a great deal about racism while it was a colony of Great Britain starting in 1806.
I just returned from a month in Scotland where I asked anyone that would talk with me about independence or what they call devolution. Many said that in their hearts it sounded nice, but they were afraid. What they were saying was that they didn't think that they run their own country without either the support of their queen or Westminster. There is a vast fear factor-the cringe and racism are intrinsically linked.
Nonetheless, the Scottish immigrants have helped make America what it is today. What is true about America is equally true also about Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. None of those countries could have been what they are today if Scottish immigrants hadn't come to their shores. In spite of this, fear is operative even though one of the greatest leaders of the UK and historian, saw Scotland being second only to Greece in its contribution to mankind. Our entire Western culture's very foundation is Greek, and Scotland is second only to Greeks in enabling us to live in this world.
History of Scottish and English Relations
While in Scotland, I raised the devolution issue with the Duke of Argyll, who is the head of the Campbell clan. The Duke of Argyll has the same level of power over the clan as does the queen over the UK...none. However, 45-years ago when I was at the University of Edinburgh, I wrote to his father who was then the Duke of Argyll about visiting the castle. If someone owns a castle and opens it to tourists during part of the year, there is a tax exemption. However, because of my schedule, the castle was not open at that time.
I wrote to the present duke's father explaining the situation. I received back within a couple days a welcoming note with this statement: "My castle is your castle." I was enthralled by his openness and my visit with him. Interestingly, the present duke had just been born when I first visited Inveraray Castle.
I wrote to the present duke and told him about being with his father and at the castle nearly 50-years ago. In deference to the duke, I broached the issue about devolution cautiously. The duke was open and wasn't at all put off with my question. (My interview with the Duke of Argyll) He was very upfront and was quite willing to discuss devolution. I asked about devolution in reference to the larger picture of the devolving of the British Empire. In 1922, it consisted of 450 million of people...1/5 population and 1/4 of the earth's landmass.
This is what remains of the British Empire today: 6-counties in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Gibraltar, a section of Antarctica, and a dozen small islands...like the Pitcairn Islands.
This devolution movement has taken less than a century. Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland are in varying places related to independence. The UK/British Empire might well consist soon of England, Gibraltar, a dozen islands, and some Antarctic ice and snow. Wales has voted 64% for devolution and Northern Ireland vote 80% in a recent poll wishing for devolution. In both cases, when they addressed devolution, Wales and Northern Ireland don't want independence but devolution meant to them home rule. However, Scotland will be voting on independence.
Finally, what concerns the English about devolution in Scotland if they have faced massive devolution already in the past century? While there are many issues confronting them, there are two primary concerns they have. One is economic and the other psychological.
The economic issue is primarily off-shore oil revenues and to a lesser degree the revenues from whiskey, tourism, and woolens. Revenues from off-shore oil and control of that industry is located at Westminster not in Scotland. While the English don't view the Scots as equals, they do want the income and control of Scottish off-shore oil.
The psychological issue goes back to Churchill who was correct about what he said about Scotland and Greece. However, the British were saved from Hitler during WWII by Churchill, but he wasn't reelected at the war's end. Churchill's mindset was on going back to the days of the British Empire back in the early 1920s...1/5 of population and 1/4 of land mass of the world. Now, the British knew then that the days of a vast global empire were gone...forever. Therefore, they replaced Churchill with Clement Attlee as prime minister.
Nevertheless, the English are concerned about the British Isles as a nation; it is on the verge devolving. The Scots will vote on independence in just over a year. However, Northern Ireland has for decades been trying to resolve issues with the rest of Ireland and may in the next decade reunited with the republic. Surely, Wales is watching what is happening with the both Northern Ireland and Scotland.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, sees the writing on the wall. He knows that the tide of their little empire, the British Isles, is about to change. And he knows that he can't do anything that might upset the apple cart. He also must avoid any provocation of any sort. Cameron knows what the Scots have felt for centuries. He has had to grovel and smile at the same time especially when he and Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, signed the agreement on October 15, 2012 that would allow Scotland to vote on Scottish independence. Two years from that signing, the Scots will vote on devolution.
Westminster is in the position to grovel and to buy off the Scots by promising them something in the future if they just stay together now. I get that. What I don't get is why Westminster hadn't already been benevolent or at least equalitarian with Scotland if Scotland was truly viewed by them equals. Had the English been so grand, Scotland wouldn't have put on their agenda a vote to secede from the UK. In addition, Northern Ireland or Wales wouldn't be clamoring for home rule.
Actually, look at the devolution of the British Empire starting with the US and the American Revolution in 1776. Why did we wish devolution or any of the long lists of other countries and colonies leave English control? For freedom and independence.
Many in London see the Scots in the same way that they did in Roman time... two millennia ago. The Roman Empire built Hadrian's and Antonine Walls to keep the Scots out. Westminster today wants to wall in Scotland...for the betterment of the English. They want Scotland, because it will economically and psychologically help the English and their self-image.
Robert the Bruce said, "For as long as one hundred of us shall remain alive, we shall never in any wise consent submit to the rule of the English, for it is not for glory we fight, nor riches, or for honour, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life." He understood what it meant to be free because of the oppression of the English. However, in more recent times, many Scots have accepted their lesser station in life in comparison to the English.
William Wallace added to what Robert the Bruce felt, "Every man dies. Not every man really lives." It seems to me as a descendent of many Scottish forbearers that many Scots today need to realize that there is more, far more, to living as mere breathing. The Scots need to breathe but do so in a free Scotland.
Finally, the issue of Scottish independence is more than just about Scotland and their quest for independence. It is about everywhere: Tibet, South Africa, Palestine, North Africa, and the Arab Spring to mention just a handful. Scotland is a microcosm of the larger macrocosm. It is about racism...of any sort.
Steve Biko put his life on the line to get his fellow sisters and brothers to acquire a black consciousness. It seems to me that Scots need to learn his lesson. Interestingly, Robert the Bruce understood Steve Biko's Weltanshauung about black consciousness as it applies to Scottish consciousness. Robert the Bruce was fleeing from the English after being defeated in a battle and hides in a cave in Scotland to avoid capture. With nothing to do while hiding from certain death, he watches a spider attempt to construct a web. The spider started and failed, started again and failed, and started still again and failed. However, finally, the Scottish spider was able to get his web built. Robert the Bruce sat there and pondered the exploits of that tiny Scottish spider.
Then Robert the Bruce left the cave, regrouped his supporters, and fought the English at Bannockburn on June 24, 1314...precisely 699 years ago today...June 24, 2013. Robert the Bruce beat Edward II and in the process regained Scottish independence from the English. The only question is whether Scotland will remember the story of that Scottish spider and Robert the Bruce.
Paul Simon wrote a song years ago called The Boy in the Bubble. The Scots need to know this truism especially for them as they ready themselves for the referendum. Listen carefully and believe the message: "These are the days of miracle and wonder ...and don't cry baby, don't cry."
Visit the Scottish Independence page to read more about this topic.