Kenny MacAskill MP and former MSP was Scottish Justice Secretary from 2007 to 2014. His article severely critical of the British Empire (The Scotsman, 11 June) reflects poorly on his successful career. Michael Portillo’s BBC2 TV series ‘Great Asian Railway Journeys’ showed that indigenous people in that part of the world value the inheritance of Empire as well as acknowledging that exploitation took place and the necessity of rebellion to achieve autonomy. Bringing tribes into nation states, creating civil institutions, bringing education, technology, communication and expertise formed the basis of today’s prosperity. Singapore is a redeeming case in point. India is a great example.
I worked in Kenya in the eighties. One day I came across a Kikuyu leaning on the fence watching two portly expatriates playing golf at Limuru Golf Club. I thought he might be thinking about how much maize he could grow on these verdant acres. ‘The English did not conquer the world’ I thought, ‘They confused it’. One of my students was a Luo from the Lake Victoria region who told me ‘We were primitive, man. In the fifties we were still walking around naked’. Christianity led people out of animism and educated Jomo Kenyatta and others so that they were able to lead their nation.
The British Empire was racist and exploitative and it was atrociously violent from time to time. Mahatma Gandhi knew however that his non-violent politics would win against an Empire which was not like the USSR or Germany of his day. Nor was it like the China of today. Harold MacMillan’s 1960 Cape Town ‘Wind of Change’ speech recognised that time was up. Britain has always been self-interested but it also left a positive legacy.