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Resource pack for Non-Scots coming to Scotland for COP26

Public version from Sustaining All Life 26/10/21

We are committed to overcoming any barriers that might prevent climate justice activists working together to achieve the major changes needed at  COP26.

This short resource pack is to help activists from outside the UK understand that Scots are a different people and Scotland is a different country from England; and that for many centuries Scotland and Scots have experienced English domination. This is still continuing and will affect COP26.

Scotland is not a “region” of England or even of the “UK”. It is a longstanding nation which, under pressure from England, united with England (and Wales) to form Great Britain. Great Britain later brought in its nearby colony of Ireland, to form the UK.

Scotland has always had its own legal and education systems. Since 1999 it has once again had a Scottish Parliament with limited powers, including over environmental policy. The UK has kept key powers, including on finance and foreign affairs.

The UK government, based in London, is hosting COP26 in Glasgow. Scotland is not officially part of COP26 because it is not an independent country. Its role in COP26 depends largely on the UK Government. Scottish leaders and the Scottish Government have mostly been excluded from the planning and organising of COP26. This is an example of the oppressive relationship between England and Scotland.

Sustaining All Life is part of the COP26 Coalition. The Coalition has worked hard to bring together grass roots social change organisations in Scotland with the “UK” larger organisations which tend to have a London/English base. 

Some elements of history

For many centuries Scotland fought off attempts by England to conquer it. In the end Scotland was colonised (annexed) by England. This was enabled in 1603 when the Scottish Kings also inherited the English throne. 100 years later came the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments. The Scottish Parliament was dissolved and all powers went to the Parliament and Government at Westminster in London.

There was strong opposition in Scotland to this change. However, enough of the owning class and aristocratic Scottish men in the Scottish Parliament were bribed and manipulated into passing the Act of Union. This gave them access to trade in and taking wealth from England’s expanding colonial markets in North America, Asia and Africa. This participation in what became the British Empire led to the rapid growth of Glasgow as a trading centre and later – with coal and iron nearby - as a centre of industry.

A higher proportion of Scots than English served in the colonies, as soldiers in India, and as agents of slave owners in the Caribbean. This was mainly because there were fewer economic opportunities for Scots. This is still the case. Many young Scots still travel to England, especially London, for better job opportunities.

Although Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, Glasgow is a much bigger city. It is still trying to adapt to the closure of many of its big industries. It has big differences of health between its wealthy and its poor areas. It also has a strong and proud history of supporting socialist ideas and of fighting for workers' and tenants’ rights. This was necessary in a city that industrialised rapidly, drawing labour from Ireland which was impoverished by English colonialism and from the Scottish Highlands which was depopulated by the Clearances.

Both groups were mostly indigenous people trying to escape from severe economic, political and cultural oppression in their homelands.

The Clearances were when the anglicised Clan chiefs, or the English landowners to whom they had sold out, cleared native people off the land to make way for more profitable agricultural methods, especially grazing sheep. This happened especially in the Highlands and caused large-scale migration within Scotland and emigration to North America and other places.

There was a huge increase in immigrants from Ireland to the West of Scotland during the Great Famine in Ireland 1845-52 and for many years afterwards. Most Irish immigrants were indigenous, Catholic and poor. They met with anti-Irish racism and anti-Catholic prejudice. 

To some extent these attitudes still persist; if you hear about them, they are usually described as ‘sectarianism’. This presents the difficulties as an outdated religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics where ‘one side is as bad as the other’. It denies the basic daily reality of ongoing anti-Irish anti-Catholic prejudice against a large immigrant population.  

Some elements of the current situation

England is the largest and most dominant nation of the United Kingdom and wields great influence and control culturally and politically.

It is clearly undemocratic that the major English-dominated parties in the Westminster Parliament (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat) all assume they can prevent a Scottish independence referendum taking place when between them they have only 11 MPs elected in Scotland, compared to 48 pro-independence MPs from Scotland. Also, a majority of people living in Scotland, and a majority of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament want an independence referendum. About half the people in Scotland support Scottish independence. 

Scotland voted strongly against Brexit but still had to leave the EU because that’s what people in England voted for.  

The UK government is trying to use the COP to strengthen England’s domination of Scotland and its resources by promoting the UK and limiting opportunities for the Scottish Government. One very obvious way is by widespread use of UK symbols, especially the Union Jack flag, near the Conference itself and throughout the city. But expect to see far more Scottish saltires (the blue flag with a white cross) than Union Jacks on the big demonstration on November 6th.

Almost all the mainstream media in Scotland is owned or managed from England. Only one is pro-independence, a daily newspaper, The National. Expect other newspapers in Scotland, and most TV also (often including the BBC in Scotland), to focus on real news or fake news about Scotland’s difficulties and to blame the Scottish Government for them.

During COP26 the media in Scotland is likely to be easy on the UK Government and hard on the Scottish Government in relation to Climate Policy, international influence, visibility of the Scottish Government etc. The Scottish Government is likely to get far more positive reporting from international non-UK media than it will from within the UK.

There is a mistaken belief that England “helps” Scotland; Scots are characterised as being mean, stupid and the poor relation needing help. In fact, England takes economic and other resources from Scotland e.g. the oil and gas in Scottish waters, including UK approval for the big new Cambo oilfield; many Scots having to move to England for work.

English people sometimes mimic or patronise Scots people for their accent or language. We are proud of our language and the many Scots words and phrases that are used today.

Gaelic is different to Scots, and is a language closely related to Irish Gaelic. It was spoken mainly in the Northern and Western parts of the country, and its use, along with other aspects of Highland culture, was suppressed (often viciously) after the defeat of the Scottish Kings’ claim to the UK throne. There is a Gaelic TV channel and some Gaelic medium schools.

Scots Language – Mag Davies

This is a very short version of my experience of the oppression of the  Scottish language.

Scots is a language, it's not a dialect of the English language. Scots is as much a language as Portuguese, French or Italian.

Many folks still deny the fact that Scots is a language.

I heard the language of my people before I was born. The tones, the shapes and the rhythms made me feel at home. Everyone I knew and loved spoke Scots, My family, friends, and the folk in my community.

I must have heard the English language spoken on the radio and television and was more or less aware of the attitude of superiority from the speakers of that language.

I was certainly aware of that superior attitude from people in my family Aunts and Uncles who considered that they had moved up in the world and this moving up in the world involved speaking English.

I never felt as connected to these members of my family, they kind of made us feel that we were the poor relatives of the family, so class oppression went hand in hand with language oppression.

I started school at the age of 5 and I feel that, that is when the oppression and attempted destruction of my language really began. I talked in Scots, I thought in Scots and I dreamed in Scots, I felt at home when I was with other Scots speaking people. At School I was told by the middle-class English-speaking teachers that Scots wasn't a language, that only ignorant, uneducated, stupid people spoke that way. Me and my classmates were continually corrected, humiliated and punished for speaking in oor ain tongue. It wasn't like learning another language, it was like being constantly beaten into submission with this language. We were told that the English language was a superior language, we were told that English was the language of power and the divine.

And so, we were told that oor mither tongue, the language of our poets and story tellers, the language of our ancestors was NOT a language. and that our people and the way we spoke were therefore inferior to English Speaking folk.

This treatment of me and my countrymen went on back then and it still goes on now. This denial of us as a country and of our way of being, our language, our culture is still being perpetrated by the people of the oppressive country.

Since 2014 when Scotland made her bid for independence the oppression by the English has reached new heights. We see it every day in the media and from the Houses of Parliament in England where the representatives of the Scottish people are regularly made fun of in an attempt to humiliate them for the way they speak.

 The story of the Scots language is a story of survival, our way of speaking survived because working class Scots refused to stop speaking their own tongue in the face of a persistent determined effort by the oppressive forces to wipe our language from the face of the earth.

Len Pennie: “I’m no havin ’children” is an example of a poet speaking Scots with its beautiful tones and rhythms.

Two Videos that we recommend from the COP26 Coalition, made earlier this year.

Mary Church on Scottish Independence and why it never went away

Rory Scothorne on the Scottish Independence Movement


Last modified: 2021-10-28 16:44:02+00