Lessons from the colonies

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By Thomas M. Cross

This is a piece with many lessons for Scotland from the anti-imperialist struggles of the former colonies. Though it is dedicated to Jamaica, and the many enslaved Africans who fought for their freedom and the dedicated sons and daughters who struggled through the riots and hardships of the 1930s in order to gain Independence 50 years ago, there are lessons also for Scotland.

The people of Jamaica too were forced to play constitutional ‘games’ set  by London but with popular success through a Referendum they found political sovereignty . But their struggle isn’t over. The haves have too much, while the have-nots in the ghettos of Kingston have too little.

By Thomas M. Cross

This is a piece with many lessons for Scotland from the anti-imperialist struggles of the former colonies. Though it is dedicated to Jamaica, and the many enslaved Africans who fought for their freedom and the dedicated sons and daughters who struggled through the riots and hardships of the 1930s in order to gain Independence 50 years ago, there are lessons also for Scotland.

The people of Jamaica too were forced to play constitutional ‘games’ set  by London but with popular success through a Referendum they found political sovereignty . But their struggle isn’t over. The haves have too much, while the have-nots in the ghettos of Kingston have too little.

With the Queen still head-of-state in Jamaica, self- reliance, self-determination and self-assertion are being restrained. The de-colonization process continues while resistance to  the blandishments of the giant neighbor to the North is on-going . We wish the Jamaica people well, who raised their green, gold and black saltire in August of 1962.

LESSON ONE

I met an old man recently in a bar in Barbados. An ancient mariner, he was anxious to tell me a story. He had been part of the Caribbean anti-colonial movement from the post-war days and was full of tales of British nefarious treachery and perfidious politicians.

He knew I was a student of decolonisation and ‘liberation’ movements. He also knew I was Scottish and seriously, perhaps sentimentally, looking forward to some enhanced sovereignty. I know Westminster has years of form in preventing the honest aspirations of colonial peoples. (The little beach-bar sat in the centre of the magnificent arch of white sand that is Carlisle Bay, adjoining Bridgetown. Carlisle named after the libertine Earl of Carlisle aka John Hay, another Fifer, first proprietor of Barbados in 1627, serial debtor and friend of James VI and I.)

He asked me if I knew of the case of the 2nd Earl Baldwin. (Former Labour MP for Paisley 1945-47, Oliver Baldwin, leftist-radical son of the former Conservative prime minister, Stanley Baldwin) I explained my ignorance of noblemen (especially Paisley-socialist noblemen), so he bought more rum and went on.

Earl Baldwin was appointed in 1948 by Creech-Jones, secretary of state for the colonies, as governor of the Leeward Islands and based in Antigua. Hated by the white planter classes and fervent empire loyalist elites across the Leewards, he found his socialist sympathises in harmony with the nascent native union leaders and the masses of the people.

Indeed when he was recalled to London for making a speech that was critical of the London (Labour) policies towards enfranchising the ordinary folk who were clamouring for greater autonomy, the Antiguan union leader (Bird) went to London and warned that if Baldwin were to be sacked ‘the islands would explode’.

Creech-Jones, and indeed Attlee, who met with Baldwin, urged him to slow down the call for greater powers for the islands. The demand for independence was growing loud and angry. Meanwhile on his return to Antigua, Baldwin was met with a quite extraordinary display of mass support and indeed joy from the masses.

Baldwin’s anti-colonial socialism prevailed and in 1950 he was forced from office in a ‘resignation for personal reasons’ statement. Mind you, my story-teller whispered, Baldwin also caused reactionary outrage by bringing his long-time partner John Boyle out to Antigua with him, much to the disdain indeed disgust of the local elites. (Rumour had it that Baldwin had been warned by Attlee himself to leave Boyle behind or face resignation. His uncle, Rudyard Kipling cut all ties with his nephew when he discovered Baldwin’s relationship with Boyle.) But Britain wanted nationalism delayed. London had plans to create a neo-colonial federal structure across the region. Federalism has been a Westminster ploy for a long, long time.

MORE LESSONS

The old man explained that Westminster has had years of form in preventing the honest aspirations of colonial peoples. Post-war Whitehall created a whole cadre of Oxbridge trained colonial cadets brought/bought in to delay/deform/destabilise/destroy genuine liberation movements.

In 1947 alone 3,000 additional colonial staff were hired, fostering, forming, framing, foisting neo-colonial ‘brown-man’ rule on the colonies. The delay tactics in the whole decolonisation process, due to begin with India in 1947 and continue, meant that for most of the British colonies it was the 1960s until freedom came.

I had to agree, as we shared another flask of rum while the sun burned its way to dusk. I knew that the decolonisation delay was, it was said, necessary in the post-war world of cold wars and Marshall Plans. The US insisted to the Attlee government that in order to repay its Marshall Aid Bill, Britain would have to retain sovereignty over colonial minerals and resources in order that US corporations could plunder them.

But I heard new pieces of the story. The Pan-African conference in Manchester in 1945 had urged the Labour government to grant independence now. Labour Party policy was for the granting of sovereignty. Privately however, the British government held a meeting in 1947 that brought in other colonial and neo-colonial political voices to prevent nationalism, though publicly preaching support.

This 1947 African governors’ conference called for maximising the exploitation of  local resources while minimising the call for independence. Ernest Bevin, the foreign secretary, was quite clear.  He drooled over the ‘great mountains of manganese’ and other raw materials in Africa. ‘If only we pushed on and developed Africa we could have the US dependent on us and eating out of our hand in four or five years’.

The other factor was the fear that the anti-imperialist movement would insist on ‘socialism/communism’ and Washington would have none of it. I told him a tale of Jamaica. There, from 1950, the US government intervened, in a British colony, to ensure that Jamaican bauxite, a strategic military resource (bauxite produced aluminium, a key ingredient for jet engines, rocketry, atomic weapons and armaments) would be secure and under US control. Washington forced the Attlee government to pressure Jamaica to ban (and lock-up) left-wing union leaders, while Uncle Sam stepped in and developed a US-funded client-unionism on the island.

Thus it was the 1960s until weak-independence ‘came’. All the main drivers of the economy in the West Indies – sugar, bananas, oil, bauxite, tourism, off-shore financial services – were/are built on foreign exploitation of white capital-black labour. With the Queen as head- of- state in Jamaica, Barbados, Antigua and so many more, the reality of ‘Massa Day Done’ is a fiction.

He grasped my arm; my rum-hand, as he hoarsely slurred: ‘today Westminster politicians will have their Defoes and their “brown-men” in Scotland with their delay/deform/destabilise/destroy guns/gunners poised/poisoned and in place. London might receive support, and expertise, from Washington, urged on by Cameron’s ‘special relationship’, and paid for by the likes of Trump. They have had many years of practice and know how to play the anti-nationalist game well. After all, London wrote the London rules- okay’.

He left down the beach: his dog at his side, leaving marks in the sand. His words remained in my head washed by the rum.