The Colonized Mind



By Jeremy Millar


Jeremy Millar is a lecturer for the Social Work School of Social Sciences at the University of the West of Scotland in Paisley. He has over 20 years work experience in social work and social care in mainly residential settings. He has taught social work for  ten years and was employed at the Robert Gordon University prior to joining UWS in February 2014. 
Jeremy is keen on developing an awareness of the concept and practice of social pedagogy and how this approach could be utilised in the Scottish context. 
Jeremy has great hopes for the creation of an independent socially just Scotland.

Contact Jeremy at 


The Colonized Mind


An opinion piece designed to stimulate debate on the future of both Scotland and Scotland’s children and by default ask questions of the future choices for the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.


Those familiar with the history of the British Imperialism will understand the key role played by Scots in the subjugation of indigenous peoples across the Empire. The powerful vested interests in trade and commerce, maintained in part by slavery, led to Glasgow becoming the second city of Empire. Scottish people are well and truly implicated in the British Imperial project but what is often overlooked in this narrative is the colonization of Scotland.

To understand this set of circumstances we need to go back in time and look at events in the history of the British Isles that shaped this destiny. I am no historian and would point you to the work of Devine (1999) and more recently McWhirter (2014) to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how of this complex historical relationship evolved. However I will offer an alternative discourse on how we come to this momentous decision regarding Independence on September the 18th 2014.

My first observation is that Scotland never has been a cohesive nation and Scottish nationalism fails to speak to a collective experience other than a romantic construct ironically developed by the Victorian aristocratic, literary and capitalist elites. The Scotland of kilts, bagpipes, castles, shooting estates and whisky is shorthand for their power in suppressing the people of the land, the factory, shipyard and mine. The true national spirit comes from the struggle against these ruling interests; it lives in the seldom-reported history of the poet, the philosopher, the activist, the poacher, the reiver, the striker and freedom fighter.

What Scotland has experienced is the colonizing influence of the British ruling elites and Empire builders. The Union of 1707 was effectively an act of colonization by the back door brought about by national poverty, Scotland had just bankrupted itself in an ill thought out imperial adventure of its own, the Darien scheme, and the duplicity of the ‘parcel of rogues’ led by the Duke of Queensbury who engineered the buying of the necessary votes to secure the Union. Here we can see the start of the modern competing narratives around the costs and benefits of the Union.

On the one hand we have the subliminal Imperialist narrative reinforced by years of colonial and cultural domination that says that Scotland is ‘too wee, too poor and too stupid’ to govern itself and it is a self evident fact that we are better together. On the other there is the narrative of a culturally distinct nation that has resisted domination by the ruling elites at every turn only to see its people broken and displaced; the 1745 rebellion and repression of the highland culture, the clearances, poverty of the working people, stripping of resources (oil) and most recently rule from Westminster by neo-liberal governments that the Scottish people did not vote for.

The greatest sleight of hand of the British Empire has been its ability to assert a moral high ground of bringing civilization and opportunity to otherwise ignorant suffering savages. The dominant discourse as taught until very recently in UK schools is that of the greatest empire in the world whose benefits to all outweigh the odd atrocity committed along the path. This discourse presupposes that establishment institutions are beyond reproach; the monarchy, the armed forces, the church, the right of elites to rule and central to this belief is the United Kingdom. The evidence that people who identify themselves as Scottish support this view is for me, evidence of what I will call the colonized mind.

There is always an attraction to power and influence both at a personal and social level. We can see how people in colonialized countries internalize and replicate the ideology of the oppressor. Freire (1970) explores this in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed and I believe that the British Empire has developed one of the most highly skilled and often subtle cultivations of oppressor identification in subjugated populations. In the Union with Scotland they assimilated the ruling elites into the mechanisms of Empire leaving them to control the populace. In the 19th century they developed the Scottish national identity of into one of their choosing and sold it back to emerging industrial working class. Alternative narratives along with cultural practices become prohibited, assimilated or reinvented into sterile facsimile. In these endeavours the Empire builders are ably assisted by the church, military and of course the legion of civil servants educated in public schools of England and Edinburgh. The power of the old boys network cannot be underestimated in the growth of the colonized mind, as witnessed in the public school domination of the current UK Cabinet.

The aspirations of those oppressed can be easily met if they internalize the ideology of the oppressor. Often these individuals are the ideal candidates to progress the goals of Empire both in new territories and colonized countries. This is exemplified in the bright and industrious working class Scottish people enabled by our egalitarian educational system to quickly establish themselves as indispensable cogs in the mechanism of Empire. They became boys own heroes of the imperialist adventure immortalized in print and taught in school as aspirational figures.

For this relatively new class of Scottish people their identity is intricately bound up in Empire and their national identity is expressed through the romantic construct described previously. Their families continued to flourish and prosper even as Empire retreated and many became stalwarts of the British Establishment. We now see many of their progeny populating the UK political parties, big business and media having benefited from nepotism and an Establishment education and career path.

They trumpet the idealized construct of British democracy whilst presiding over a sustained period of increasing inequality, voter disenchantment, spectacular disenfranchisement and creeping concessions to greater Scottish devolution. They have considerable vested interest in retaining and preserving the status quo but they are at a loss as to how to make a positive argument for the case.

Over the last century repeated calls for Scottish independence have been frustrated by divide and rule tactics deployed by all the major parties coupled with an undemocratic referendum in 1979 and the suppression of research evidence that favoured the nationalist position. I believe we have clear evidence of the Scottish colonized mind in the actions of politicians such as Gordon Brown with his appeal for a collective sense of Britishness and jingoistic waving of the Union flag.

Michael Gove perhaps offers the most insidious example of the colonized mind working at both an interpersonal and societal level. Here is an illegitimate Scot adopted into the middle classes who finished his education in a private school and went on to Oxford where he mixed with the establishment. He is drawn to power in the form of his privileged cabinet colleagues, who treat him as the fag and he occasionally snipes at them from the sidelines. The worrying manifestation of his colonized mind takes form in his ‘reform’ of the English education system. He harks back to the ‘halcyon’ days of colonial teaching; learning by rote, streaming, deference from children and parents, reading the English classics and a strong religious moral influence. Ideally, in Gove’s world this would be the Church of England, which he joined, on his journey into the establishment. However as current events are demonstrating his ‘free’ school initiative has, due to forced adherence to human rights legislation allowed all manner of zealots to set up their own schools and damage the educational opportunity of a generation of children.

I take the example of Michael Gove to illustrate the pull of the Union and the manner in which he, and others across the political classes are unable to articulate a coherent vision for Scotland within the Union. The fact that Scotland was granted devolved powers in 1999 was tacit acknowledgement by the Establishment that in the global information era they could no longer shape and control the colonial/unionist narrative and concessions would have to be made. It was then up to the political masters to ensure that within the new paradigm their interests continued to be met. This was turned on its head when the Scottish National Party won an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament despite the presumed protection of the PR system against a one party majority government.

The political landscape as shaped by Westminster Governments since devolution has through a combination of neo-liberal ideology, fiscal mismanagement and downright corrupt self-interest furthered the belief in the free thinking sections of the Scottish electorate that Independence offers the most rational choice at this moment in time. For those of you reading this from beyond Scotland’s borders it may be puzzling as to why intelligent and articulate people wish to throw away all the advantages of being in a Union for a poundless, Europeless, defenceless and impoverished nation.

Unfortunately you really need to be here in Scotland to grasp the vibrancy of the debate and the grass roots engagement of the people of Scotland. Sadly, relying on that mouthpiece of the colonial legacy the BBC won’t offer much constructive insight. A recent example being Jeremy Paxman on BBC Radio 4 stating,

“Increasingly, since there is now such a head of steam in Scotland for hating the English, I describe myself as English, although I am in fact one quarter Scottish.

“It’s interesting, isn’t it, that in this union of supposed equals, only one side gets to vote on whether the union continues.”

Initially this comment went barely challenged in the studio and following, no doubt, sharp words through the glass from the producer a joking half retraction was made. Thankfully the digital era offers people a range of platforms on which to share and debate the vision of other possible Scotlands. This power of the social network is creating ideas and alliances between previously disparate groups. The colonial mantra of ‘too wee, too poor, too stupid’ is being debunked by arguments articulating a vision of a Scotland built around social justice, greater equality, an inclusive welfare state, innovation and capacity building in the most marginalized communities.

Much of this vision is informed by and built on the lived reality of the people of Scotland since 1999. We have established a fairer PR voting system that dispenses to a degree with the first past the post model that has consistently returned Westminster Governments that the majority of Scottish voters didn’t vote for. Ironically the PR system ensures that the Conservatives have some representation in the Scottish Parliament when they have all but been wiped out in the Westminster Parliament. I can’t resist sharing the observation that currently there are more pandas in Scotland than Tory MP’s.

Since devolution we have dispensed with prescription charges, our students study without the additional burden of tuition fees, we offer free personal care to our older and vulnerable citizens and most importantly we understand and are prepared to vote for Governments that substantially reject neo-liberal ideology informing all policy implementation. This is not to say that all is rosy in the country as the years of economic attrition and neglect from successive UK Governments has produced some of the poorest health and wellbeing outcomes in the developed world.

Thankfully the majority of people in Scotland understand these to be the product of a vindictive right wing political ideology and not the fault of the poor. We are not looking to welfare reforms that further rob the poor or tax breaks for the super-rich to turn around the country’s fortunes. We are not looking to invest in the new generation of nuclear warheads to ‘protect’ our population or engage in illegal foreign wars to justify our delusion that we are a world power. We see only the advantages in growing a young and economically active population through immigration to pay for the care of our older citizens. We want to welcome overseas students who can learn in some of the best universities in the world before enriching the research and development capacity that Scotland has historically nurtured.

Whilst some of the above has been achieved under devolution the majority of these goals are stymied and blocked by the reserved powers of Westminster in the form of major control over taxation, I acknowledge the minor tax raising concessions in the devolved powers, immigration legislation, defence policy and welfare benefits legislation. The people of Scotland who are able to envision a future beyond the colonized mindset are voting for independence because it offers the democratic powers to realize fully accountable governance. The political configuration of the government voted for in 2016 will be a result of an invigorated and engaged citizenship that will have in their own hands the ability to shape their destiny.

From my viewpoint, as a former residential worker and social work academic independence offers the opportunity to build on some of the advances already made for children, families and communities marginalized and demoralized by the last 30 years of neo-liberal governance. We have a new Children and Young People Bill that will come onto statute next year. The part played in developing this legislation by those in care and care leavers has been significant. In Aileen Campbell, Minister for Children, we have a compassionate children’s champion who has a vision that Scotland will be the best place in the world to bring up children. Policy makers in the child care sector are increasingly looking to the Nordic countries and the social pedagogic approach to inform child care provision in Scotland. There are Government commitments to promote greater equality and eliminate poverty. Our leading health and wellbeing thinkers are actively promoting the understanding of economic poverty and poverty of aspiration as the key drivers in perpetuating social ills. Our police are reducing violence in communities by addressing structural factors that lead to alienation, despair and violence. They comfortably deploy an understanding resilience and strengths based interventions in their work. Underlying this there has been, until recently, an unspoken sense of optimism that together we can take this vision forward. Now when we meet at conferences and training events the enthusiasm for the possibilities inherent in Independence are palpable.

It has taken 300 years to break the shackles of the colonial mindset but as Bobby Seale the Black Panther stated, we must seize the time (1970).

Post script: as I complete this piece Michael Gove has once again pronounced in Parliament that in his vision of education schools must promote British values. The colonized mind at work again.



Devine, T. M., (1999) The Scottish Nation: A History 1700-2000. New York: Viking

Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed, New York: Seabury Press

McWhirter, I., (2014) Road to Referendum. Edinburgh: Cargo Publishing

Seale, B,(1970) Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton, Arrow Books and Hutchinson & Co: excellent blog on the referendum debate report of the Paxman interview Gove and British values



Charles Sharpe writes,

I think Stuart Russon’s comments are valid but I don’t think nationalism equates to true socialism any more than it might to the far right and diabolic national socialism of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

I agree and I am pleased that the Scottish National Party is currently left of centre but as Stuart suggests it may not be that for ever. Those who are Scotland’s children and young adults now are the ones who will have a huge influence upon these matters if Scotland becomes independent.

I do not think that a Scotland integrated within the United Kingdom and ruled by its government – the latter centred, focused, infatuated,seduced and captured, as it is, by the power and wealth of London  –  would have any opportunities on an international stage to speak out for those who are the vulnerable and poor and for whose rapidly disappearing rights, our trade unions have struggled for almost 200 hundred years.  What with the dismantling of the health services, welfare services, the legitimizing of the notion of “zero hour” contracts, high student fees and the politicisation of schools towards a “capitalist ideal” (a contradiction in a term if ever there was one) the future for children not born into a family with at least a £50,000 income looks bleak.

May I say the statements I’ve just made hold good not just for the Scottish nation but also for Wales, Northern Ireland and the regions of England.

Scotland, with an independent and strong voice unfettered by the chains of London, will be able to get the message across on an international platform, that it believes in creating a society which cares equally for all its members. This notion is reinforced by Jeremy Millar’s  suggestion that Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s minister for children has involved children in care and care leavers at the core of the development of new child care legislation in Scotland.

As a further symbol of this kind of caring , of greater democratisation and as a demonstration of the respect it holds for Scottish youth the Scottish government, has lowered the right to vote age to 16 years.

I wonder if the Westminster government will follow the Scots and demonstrate this trust in young people.


Stuart Russon comments

This is my response to Mark Smith’s article, “Throwing off the Cringe” and Jeremy Millar’s article, “The Colonised Mind”. The one thing that is starting to grate with me is the total lack of consideration for the future of the English and Welsh folk in all of this. As if our comrades in Scotland have just washed their hands of us. What did we do wrong? We thought we were your mates.

Broadly it seems the left supports a ‘yes’ vote and the right will vote ‘no’. So if we accept that premise I have some questions for my comrades in Scotland.

Do you care about those of us down here in England looking north and feeling a little bit let down? Many of you will have been involved with the left wing movement via the Labour Party or Trade Unions. We campaigned together but now you are just walking off and leaving us to fight alone.

I’m alright Jock, pull up the ladder.

Turns out it wasn’t a class movement after all. You were nationalists first and foremost. Will you still fight on behalf of the British working class as you used to or does the English and Welsh working class not matter anymore?

Do you feel any responsibility for the potential impact your independence has on English and Welsh working class folk? Or did they never really matter in the first place?

Also I am disconcerted by the debate seemingly focussing on the current political situation as if it is a permanent state of affairs. This isn’t a vote for Alex Salmond or the SNP or progressive politics or a more equal society. That may be the immediate impact but this is just a vote for independence. There are no other guarantees. Are you ready for the worse aspects of nationalism which will inevitably appear? Have you thought about the prospect of a tory government being elected in Scotland one day? I know you wll say ‘at least we voted for it, we chose it’ but this perhaps shows the yes choice as being purely about nationalism and not to do with a fair, equal society.

(The above is written as part of my advocacy for the devil…. If I were you I’d be voting yes, Yes, YES).

Jeremy Millar responds to Stuart Russon

I am by nature an internationalist and I can sympathise with your position. I might indeed feel similarly if I lived in the blighted south. I am of the left but I have little time for Labour who have progressively sold out the working class and s–t on the most vulnerable in our society in pursuit of power. I see many honourable Labour voters in Scotland campaigning for independence and there is a vibrant coalition of the broad left who are engaging with previously disillusioned, disenfranchised and ignored working class communities. Voter registration is increasing in these communities.

The vibrancy of the political debate is a wonder to behold despite the fear tactics of ‘Bitter Together’. There is little if any overt flag waving nationalism from the Yes campaigners. This impression is more down to the biased reporting from the BBC who are also spinning the position that you take, i.e.  we are abandoning our brothers and sisters in pursuit of self-interest.

Let’s look at it another way. The broad left in Scotland will form a coalition government in 2016 that will reflect the desire of the people of Scotland to live in a more socially just country. One that works to protect the most vulnerable and maximise potential for all people living in Scotland. We will offer a beacon of hope to others that aspire to do similarly in rump UK. The shock to complacent Labour may initiate grass roots activism and resolve to actually abandon neo-liberal ideology and get back to a belief in the social contract.

We will  welcome our comrades in the north into ‘greater Scotland’ and incrementally work our way south until London and the home counties become an isolated island of greed and exploitation.

Come and join us and live the dream. No more living on our knees.

Peace and good wishes


Stuart Russon adds this personal reflection upon “the Scottish Cringe.”

My clearest memory from my childhood in Scotland is very precise and may not say anything about anything in particular but on a personal level it was a pivotal moment for me as an English kid moving to Scotland. It gave me confidence that I may not have had had the moment gone a different way.

My first day at Dunnotar Primary School in Stonehaven as a 10 year old just arrived from Birmingham. I felt shy and nervous and got hassle from a lad who was hostile and intimidating.

Teuchter – “Say ‘Aberdeen’”

Me – “Aberdeen”

Teuchter (to his mates) – “Ha ha, check the boys accent. Aber-Doyne, Aber-Doyne”

Me – “I didn’t say Aber-Doyne, I said Aberdeen”

Teuchter – “HA HA HAAAA. English dick… Say something else. Say Birmingham”

Me – “Birmingham”

Teuchter – “Burminum, Buuuurminoom Ha ha”

Me – “I didn’t say Burminum I said Birmingham”

Teuchter  (to his mates) – “Ha ha, what a prick…He disnae even ken he’s daein it”

Me – “What? Disney what?”

Teuchter’s mates (to teuchter) – “Ha ha, yer just a f***in teuchter, he canny understand a word o’ what yer saying ye glechit c**t”.

And with that I had accidentally ‘won’ this verbal joust and I was accepted into the group. I realised I didn’t have to change. Didn’t have to speak or act a different way, I could be myself with these folk.

Was the teuchter’s mates response to turn on their friend for sounding too Scottish/Doric when talking to the English kid something to do with ‘The Scottish Cringe’ or was it just the usual classroom mockery? I dunno, but I often look back on that very, very brief moment in my formative years and think it could have gone a different way and my whole perception of myself and the way I deal with situations could be different.  And it sends a genuine shiver through me.

I had expected problems but after that initial hiccup there was nothing. I was allowed to be my English self throughout my school years with no real sense of prejudice except for in jest. Of course there were times when I deserved to be put in my place and that would be when ‘English’ would prefix whatever swear word had been selected to be spewed at me (English C**t was the top choice, followed by English W***er).

Schmaltzy footnote – 32 years after the above occurrence I still meet the teuchter and his mates in question every year for a game of golf and a catch-up.




Please email your comments about this article to
Return to the Journal index  here.