ON the BBC yesterday morning the eminent Barbados academic, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, vice-chancellor of the University of West Indies, outlined the eternally insidious nature of British colonialism.

“The British Crown has been a part of the imposition of appalling atrocities,” he said. He stressed that this had also been acknowledged by Prince Charles, who had attended the ceremony formally removing his mother as Barbados head of state. Thus the Caribbean island, with a lower population than that of Glasgow, struck out boldly on its new future as a republic.

Then, the professor said a curious thing. Breaking free from the last chains of colonialism, he said “would go a long way to helping the citizens here improve their emotional health”.

He expanded a little further on this by pointing out that the legacies of the colonial-era atrocities could be seen everywhere. “People are now trying to put all of this behind them as best they can,” he said. According to the professor his fellow citizens were saying “we’ve had a terribly awful history, let’s hope in our future we can turn this history around”.

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Beckles said: “Barbados was known for slavery. It was England’s first slave economy and now Barbados has an opportunity to become the freest democracy in the world by flipping this history on its head.

“The structure of the economy is a colonial one; it’s a white supremacy dominated economy, the vast majority of black people here who are 96% of the population are structurally marginalised in the economy because it is a colonial economy, established to serve a narrow interest.”

Nor did Beckles feel that the two-headed menace of Covid and an economic recession would deter his fellow citizens. He felt that Barbados had a golden opportunity, regardless, to build something fairer.

“These institutions of the past did not serve democracy well, he said. “This is an opportunity for economic reform, to create a new generation of entrepreneurs; to diversify the economy, to bring younger people through innovation into the economy and effectively the population now has to dig deep, to be creative, to be innovative.”

It was a cry from the heart of a man whose keen intellect and education had allowed him to study the colonial past of Barbados. He was saying that after a period of 396 years – most of them dominated by slavery, followed by overt and institutional racism – the pandemic wouldn’t be allowed to delay their transition to a republic any longer. The self-confidence that this would engender could overcome the challenges posed by Covid.

The National: BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS - NOVEMBER 30: (L-R) Prince Charles Prince of Wales is joined by President of Barbados Sandra Mason, and Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley as they prepare to depart following the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony at Heroes

Last year, the UN reported that race, income and gender hierarchies, persisting from the era of colonialism, had left a legacy of exclusion of the poor. It added that, despite general improvements in living standards, poverty rates still averaged 30% of the Caribbean population.

Single words like “slavery” and “colonialism” don’t even begin to describe the implacable evils they visited on their victims. For more than two centuries the indigenous black population – like those of other Caribbean countries – were regarded as less than animal livestock. They were raped, tortured and murdered at will by plantation owners given licence by the UK and other richer white nations.

Even when slavery was abolished, simple racism continued to flourish. Having been accustomed to treating these people as less than human for several centuries, you don’t suddenly begin to accept them as equals just because an act of parliament says so.

Removing the Queen as head of state was important because it tells the world that Barbados was a unique nation with its own customs and aspirations – all of them peaceful – long before the Spanish and the British arrived to divest it of all of its riches.

IN recent generations Barbados has become a playground of the rich and famous. The indigenous black population might not now be slaves but they’re admitted to this world only as low-paid service providers to clean and cook for the super-rich few who use the island as a theme-park. Striking out as a republic without an absentee head of state who is the living embodiment of an empire built on the blood of their ancestors might give them the self-confidence to seize the riches hitherto reserved for Western capital.

You’re tempted, of course, to draw parallels between Barbados gaining its republican status and Scotland struggling to break free from the Union. There aren’t really that many. For starters, much of Scotland’s civic splendour and locked-up wealth came directly from its enthusiastic participation in the Caribbean slave trade.

Glasgow University acknowledged this three years ago when it made an audit of how much of its own wealth was derived from the profits of slavery. Sadly, few other institutions and grand Scottish families whose bequeathed wealth came directly from this evil trade have done likewise.

Besides, by virtue of being white, no Scot has ever suffered in the same way that Afro-Caribbean slaves have through the ages (and still do). We have never been slaves in our own country and to equate the dominion of the British state in Scotland as somehow comparable is not only wrong, but grievously so.

That said, there was something inspirational in Barbados seizing back its natural state. Other dominions in the British Commonwealth (there is nothing commonly wealthy about this) will now surely seek to do likewise.

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For them, like Barbados, the Commonwealth is little more than a gentler name for the empire that was built on the flesh and blood of their ancestors. While the Queen remains as their head of state and a link to conquest and slavery they can never truly be themselves.

Scotland’s link in the chain of empire came about because in a pre-democratic age a tiny few very rich people at the top of Scottish society were happy to renounce sovereignty and self-respect for the pursuit of more money and a share in a wicked trade. This was not – and never has been – Scotland’s natural state. The Union to which we’ve belonged for only 300-odd years fetishises all the accoutrements; all the fixtures and fittings of slavery and violent conquest.

This can be seen in the increasingly shrill displays of military machismo, the absurd indulgence of a sprawling royal family, the ceremonials of parliamentary democracy, the shady tax havens, the illegal weapons industry. Scotland can be better than this but only as an independent country – our natural state of being.

After four centuries of this Barbados simply said: “Enough!” And neither Covid nor economic uncertainty was going to stop it.