THE SCOTTISH EDUCATION system may well soon get a whiff of what teaching would have been like if Britain had not repulsed the might of Nazi Germany in 1940 and instead had been swallowed up in a Greater Reich, ruled as a province at the mercy of Berlin. The SNP government has centralised power in Edinburgh as completely as any 20th century autocratic regime and it is now it wishes to reinforce its grip over the curriculum, especially in the sensitive area of history. Pupils will be taught about the horrors of Britain down the ages with Black Lives Matter-inspired history lessons designed to create (or deepen) revulsion about the UK’s colonial past.
It is unlikely that this politically-inspired delve into the past will be comparative in focus, otherwise Britain’s imperial phase might well emerge with a lot of credit. It remains to be seen how the fact that Scotland played an outsized role in Britain’s imperial past will be handled. But it is likely that there will be a concerted effort to discredit Scots who played a distinguishing part.
SNP Manifesto excerpt advocating Black Lives Matter lessons
Sir John MacDonald, the founder of Canada has already been declared a non-person by the SNP and it is likely that figures like David Livingstone and Mary Slessor will be consigned to the trash can of history. The SNP is nothing if not a self-referencing movement: it sees the story of Scotland’s greatness beginning with its arrival on the historical stage. So it is necessary to delegitimise episodes and people from the wider consciousness, especially from the age of achievement that characterised much of the three centuries of parliamentary Union.
Ironically, it is only the need to step up indoctrination which seems to motivate the SNP in the sphere of education. Standards have declined disastrously and to prevent this becoming an electoral issue, the government has blocked the disclosure of an OECD report into the performance of Scottish schools.
It may not be that far-fetched to assume that a series of dreadful education ministers, the incumbent John Swinney easily being the worst, have been doing far more harm to the minds of school-age Scots than any colonial administrators did to the children of empire. Radical historians find it difficult to denigrate the impact of mission schools in fostering educational standards in British-ruled Africa. It has even been reckoned that in parts of the former empire where they were strongly implanted, democracy has often put down strong roots.
Clearly, Nicola Sturgeon thinks a large swathe of the electorate is as malleable as were colonial subjects who were offered cheap trinkets by unscrupulous slave traders in order to surrender goods and people at a give-away price. It is hard to see how the destruction of a once world-class education system and its transformation into a prop for contemporary propaganda which is creating a servile and easily manipulable population can avoid being anything but a disaster.
Tom Gallagher is Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Bradford. He is the author of Scotland Now: A Warning to the World, 2016. His latest book is Salazar, the Dictator Who Refused to Die, Hurst Publishers 2020 (available here) and his twitter account is @cultfree54