I have relatives who toasted white supremacists of the US south. The moment occurred decades ago, according to a family tale, a story only recounted once, and in disgust. That it was all a long time ago is the point – we forget our sins.
Those still living would never admit to raising a glass now.
Go to the movie house and watch BlacKkKlansman. It’s funny and snaps along at an entertaining pace.
It is the part-fictionalised tale of the first black recruit to a US police department who goes undercover in the Ku Klux Klan.
It is important the KK was a Klan. It is Scottish history, and we are the villains.
It’s nice to revel in the popularity of the musical Hamilton, about one of the many Scots who helped found the USA, but we shouldn’t forget that our people traded, shipped and enslaved black Africans. The Klan showed we enjoyed it.
There is no historical or cultural doubt where we stood on slavery – in the blood of others.
The fact that Glasgow University has admitted its benefactors included slave owners and traders is welcome but no more than obvious.
The wealth of the “Scottish” empire was built on exploitation of foreign people before the union, and better organised exploitation after 1707.
Should there ever be a reckoning of Scotland in global history, we are going to be on the sinking scale, our record closer to Hell than Heaven.
We did amazing things and have much to be proud of but when it came to the brutal centuries of slaves, sugar and tobacco, we were in the thick of it.
These thoughts came to mind while watching BlacKkKlansman, and in particular the phrase “if not now, when?”. This quote is firmly rooted in two resistance movements.
It is the doubt hanging over Jews, as expressed in Primo Levi’s novel of the same name, and it is the cry of the black-equality movement in America.
On one level, it means – when will we be free? On another, it signals the inevitability of further oppression.
The treatment of the black African in America is something close to the Holocaust.
There was not the ruthless intent to destroy as in mid-20th-Century Germany but, instead, a legacy that began in abuse and which still plays out on the streets of America.
Despite our well-documented historic role, a modern image of Scotland is being created which is blameless.
We are no longer the ruthless soldier in northern India, nor the vile enforcer against Mau Mau in Kenya.
Instead, we are the good guys. We are born again in the light of our nationalism as a force for all that’s gorgeous in politics and spirit.
We have invented a story of modern Scotland that it’s been hard done by, so we are in the same category as the Irish, blacks, women and Jews (or Palestinians, depending on context).
It makes for a nice movement – a force for nothing but good, a progressive movement that wishes to liberate people from all forms of racial, gender and economic oppression.
We should all be grateful our nationalism is so positive. But it is a concoction.
We are not people expelled from the land by oppressive colonisers who wouldn’t give us grain when the potato crop failed (Ireland).
And we are not oppressed in the manner of the black African, bought and then sold, whipped and abused.
The crimes that have occurred against Scots are broadly self-inflicted.
It was Scots who fought Scots on the fields of Culloden. It was Scots who bankrupted Scotland before 1707.
The Scots who emigrated did so because other Scots pushed them, and when they arrived became the masters of destruction for native peoples.
We have invented a story about ourselves which presumes we Scots can do no wrong, when history suggests that, like most brutal crime, the victim and the guilty are of the same family.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon follows this ideal, however invented.
Thank goodness she does as Brexit England and Trump’s America show there are other fictitious national stories far more damaging.
However, the appeal to Scots to go their own way because they are somehow oppressed is offensive.
The SNP and Yes movement should apologise for this distortion – it is offensive to those genuinely oppressed.
In his address to the 2013 SNP conference, Alex Salmond said: “Let us ask ourselves these simple questions: If not us, then who? If not now, when?” A rhetorical flourish, a speaking style – but utterly inappropriate.
On no level are Scots equivalent to either blacks in America or Jews in Europe.
We are simply a nation which abused itself and would now like to be seen as a victim.
We are entitled to our sovereignty and to choose our destiny but we are only the victims of ourselves and we should not pretend otherwise.