There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning

The Telegraph has run a piece by its digital editor on something very topical, or would have been more than 300 years ago,  under the title  “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” – not many pejorative terms used here, well, not quite all pejorative.

How much the derogatory title is down to a sub-editor with a grudge or the author I’ve no idea and quite why this piece was run is curious for it adds nothing of historical value to the account of this centuries-old venture but with its disparaging title appears as an excuse to have a go at the incompetent Scots. I was not impressed by the character Oliver has chosen to quote in his article on the subject of the Panama isthmus -“you can’t trust the Indians” he says, “with a glint in his eye” as he describes the deaths of hundreds of illegal immigrants in the area. I’m getting that smell again.

The Darien venture runs something like this. Towards the end of the 1600s a group of Scots with some cash behind them planned to establish overseas trading posts with the intention of colonising just like their neighbours the English were doing only the English had got in first and had erected barriers to other nations trading by the imposition of its Navigation Acts.

England’s Navigation Acts of 1651 were protectionism on the high seas. By applying them English colonies and places not colonised had their commerce restricted and were banned from trading in most circumstances except through English vessels and companies. The Acts were enforced by England’s powerful gunboats. The intention was to accrue more wealth for England and to develop London as the world’s powerhouse. Needless to say not everyone was happy with England’s high-handed policies which, in part, stoked resentments among the colonists in America eventually leading to the American declaration of independence from Britain.

While England sought to dominate trade Scotland endeavoured to establish its own merchant enterprise abroad and in 1695 the Company of Scotland for trade with Africa and the Indies was created with monies raised in Scotland and in England. Immediately alarm bells rang in London at the prospect of this mercantile challenge that might impact on the East India Company and aware of the unease south of the border the Scottish company looked at setting up a merchant colony on the other side of the world, around Panama.

The description of the Darien isthmus had been greatly misrepresented by a Welshman with a huge imagination and proved not to be the opportunity he sold it as. If the land was challenging for the Scots who sailed there to establish their trading post the determination of the English to scupper them was as great if not greater for England’s colonies in America and the West Indies were forbidden to trade with the Scots. There is no mention in the piece of the vehemence of England’s active opposition to the Scots e.g that survivors of Darien were denied help when they landed at Jamaica, an English colony, seeking help. When Oliver states “the English still refused to offer any support” he doesn’t quite get to the nub of its wrecking policy.

Oliver refers to the Scots angering “the enemy” not in his view the English but the Spanish who had colonised what England hadn’t in this part of the world. And he can’t help reveal his surprise that in a naval skirmish between the Scots and the Spanish the Scots came out victorious – “an unlikely victory” writes Oliver, dispassionately. Aye, too wee, too feckless.

Vast amounts of Scottish wealth were lost with Darien. Lost to those who had money which excluded the majority of the Scottish population and if there’s something that drives those with fortunes it is the need to preserve if not build on those fortunes so they were open to persuasion to offer up Scotland’s independence as a nation in return for personal gratuities. Even today’s tawdry politicians neck-deep in sleaze and corruption might not quite sell out a whole nation. Well, might.

What the people of Scotland wanted did not come into the reckoning when there was an opportunity to recoup some of the assets lost through Darien. What the people wanted was for Scotland to retain its independence but when did the people matter?

Oliver ploughs on. “The English were blamed for the expedition’s abject failure.” Perish the thought. Surely they must have looked at the evidence. Perish the thought twice.

As I wrote at the outset I don’t know why this article was written other than to take another pop at Scotland – to highlight the ineffectual Scot not quite up to the mark. As for that misguided rascal William Paterson, a director of the Company of Scotland, he went on to found the Bank of England – but Oliver makes no mention of this – well it would be a shame to spoil the damning narrative.

Oliver dismisses suggestions from historians that Darien might have been a success were it not for the fierce opposition it faced from England- he doesn’t explain why so readers are left to surmise it was because Scots have failure built-in.

Not highlighted in the piece:

1) England’s wars with France had seriously damaged Scotland’s mercantile economy.

2) England’s Navigation Laws were aggressively protectionist and rigorously upheld on the high seas by its vast navy preventing Scots pursuing trade.

3) Initially individual English people were found keen to invest in Darien (presumably they weren’t all ineffectual failures) but were strongly pressurised by the government in London to withdraw their money so that England could keep Spain as an ally while it (England) was at war with France (again.)

The financial shock felt in the pockets of Scottish nobles, many of them parliamentarians, took Scotland into a Union with England. There was no popular support for this, quite the contrary, and it was a cynical self-serving betrayal of the Scottish people. As for the London government it was keen on the union because Scotland was too friendly with France for England’s liking and Scotland was seen as a potential backdoor into England for France. And for those who argue the union was of greater value to Scotland than England the response is that if that were true England would not have entered into it. England was fiercely protective of its own power and status. England wanted to shut down Scotland’s relationship with France, it wanted to absorb Scotland’s exports and it wanted that immensely valuable resource it has been exploiting for 300 years Scotland’s strapping young men to fight in its never-ending wars with the enemies it kept making.

Those same people sneered at in “The farcical story of Scotland’s ill-conceived colony in the jungle” went on, as Paterson did, to start up the Bank of England and become core administrators in the vast East India Company till eventually Scots ran it along with many of the colonies that shaped the British Empire which is strange for a nation that was a ship of fools a few short years before.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/central-america/panama/articles/darien-scheme-scotland-only-colony/

2 Comments to “There’s nothing like the smell of xenophobia in the morning”

  1. I really do enjoy your posts. This one is a beauty and should be shared around as much as possibe. Perfidious England exposed ,warts and all. Not too much has changed in it’s attitude toward Scotland.

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