SNP’s Dr Paul Monaghan Speaks on Chagossian Exile in Parliament

paul monToday SNP MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross Dr Paul Monaghan referenced the forced deportation of the Chagossian people whilst making his his first ever speech in Parliament (known as his maiden speech).

 

“[the Highland Clearance] devastated the cultural landscape of the counties that I represent and the resulting impact destroyed much of Scotland’s Gaelic culture.This Parliament’s policy ultimately failed, although I suspect that the Chagos islanders would recognise this account.” Dr Paul Monaghan MP on the similarities between Chagossian deportations and Highland Clearances.

Dr Monaghan drew parallels between Chagossians’ expulsion from their homes, demanded by a UK-US deal to turn their homeland into a military base, and the Highland Clearances. He commented that “Chagos Islanders would recognise this account” of cultural denigration and enforced destitution inflicted deliberately by the UK Government.

Asides from the obvious parallel of physical displacement, Dr Monaghan is right to note the cultural aspect of the injustice suffered by Chagossians. The UK deliberately and knowingly mis-represented Chagossians as “migrant workers,” when authorities were well-aware that the islands had hosted a distinct Chagossian community with a vibrant culture for a number of generations.

Credit is due to Dr Monaghan, a member of the Chagos Islands All-Party Parliamentary Group, for making this point in his very first Parliamentary speech.

 

His full speech, was contains a brief but welcome reference to the Chagossian people, can be read below. The reference to Chagossians is highlighted in bold.

 

Dr Paul Monaghan (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (SNP): Maiden Speech in Full with reference to Chagossian exile

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to contribute to the Budget debate.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (Calum Kerr), history is important. We can learn much by studying the social and economic conditions of the past, and my constituency holds many lessons that are relevant today, for I represent the part of Scotland that endured the clearances. Indeed, it would be remiss of me if I did not begin my speech by paying tribute to the remarkable families, and the crofters, who lost their livelihoods, their homes and their lives during that shameful period of history.

The clearances were perpetrated during the 18th and 19th centuries when highlanders were forced from land they had held for generations. The clearances shifted land use from farming to sheep raising because sheep were considered more valuable than people. In the process, a way of life was exterminated to further the financial ambitions of aristocratic landowners. The evictions that took place are remembered for their brutality and for the abruptness of the social change that they prompted. At the time this Parliament compounded the inequity by implementing legislation to prohibit the use of the Gaelic language, the playing of bagpipes and even the wearing of tartan. The cumulative effect devastated the cultural landscape of the counties that I represent and the resulting impact destroyed much of Scotland’s Gaelic culture.

This Parliament’s policy ultimately failed, although I suspect that the Chagos islanders would recognise this account. In those dark days the cries and pleas of innocent families were ignored. If they were lucky, those families were dragged screaming from their homes, evicted and left to face destitution. If they were unlucky, their homes were simply set alight as they sat within them. The clearances forced the migration of highlanders to the sea coast, the Scottish lowlands, and further afield to the new worlds of north America and Australasia. Today more descendants of highlanders are found in those diaspora nations than in Scotland itself. These dispossessed highlanders travelled the world and applied their creativity and resource in ways that have benefited all of humankind. The economic and social contribution of the ancestors of people from my constituency stand today as a shining example of why the free movement of people is something no Government should hesitate to encourage.

As we debate the Government’s Budget, it is unfortunate that the cries and pleas of many people in my constituency continue to be ignored. Whereas in history the people of the highlands were burned out of their homes so that others could profit from sheep, the beneficiary of this Budget will be the financial markets that continue to take precedence over people. The impact will be that vulnerable people will face impoverishment owing to lack of economic opportunity, low wages, Europe’s lowest pensions, further experimentation with the failed system that we know as universal credit, the erosion of working tax credits and, frankly, the stifling lack of imagination that is self-evident in the austerity these measures promote, and that has raised the UK to be the fourth most unequal society in the developed world in terms of wealth inequality. For many in my constituency, past and present, the hardship, misery and impoverishment that accompany this inequality are the only consequences of the Government’s long-term economic plan that has been over 300 years in the making.

While some here today speak of economic laws, I choose to highlight the fact that many of our fellows are starving. It is time we recognised that economic laws are made not by nature, but by human beings. These laws are chosen for implementation by human beings and their effect will be felt by human beings. A further £12 billion of cuts, accompanied by a punitive sanctions regime, will do nothing except ensure that the jeely piece, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow South (Stewart McDonald) spoke in his maiden speech, will remain a significant feature of childhood for far too many of our children.

Until 8 May my constituency was a Liberal stronghold. As long ago as 1918 the seat of Caithness and Sutherland was held by Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, Baronet of Moray Lodge in the Royal Borough of Kensington. I don’t think he was a local. Later the seat was held for many years by Robert Maclennan, who sits now as Baron Maclennan of Rogart just a short walk away, and more recently by the 3rd Viscount Thurso, John Archibald Sinclair, the fifth generation of the Sinclair family to represent Caithness in this Parliament. I pay tribute to Lord Thurso. In the past few weeks I have learned that he was a popular member of the establishment here at Westminster and I wish him well for the future.

I have lived in the highlands of Scotland for the greater part of my life and I can confirm that Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross is one of the very largest parliamentary constituencies by area and, despite what many of my colleagues will claim, it is easily the most beautiful—spectacularly so. It is a great honour for me to represent a highland seat in this Parliament. It seems clear that in my constituency at least, few ordinary people have had that privilege.

Beautiful as my constituency is, it is subject to great acts of vandalism. Cape Wrath is the only site in Europe where live 1,000 lb bombs are dropped. The bombing is enormously destructive to fragile wildlife and excludes communities from the proximity for up to 120 days each year. Similarly, Scotland’s oldest royal burgh, Tain, is tormented by fast jets flying as low as 150 feet to drop 1,000 lb concrete bombs just a few miles from housing estates and primary schools. It is instructive that while many of my constituents work tirelessly to protect our marine animals, our rivers, our wildlife and our environment, this Government consider it acceptable to bomb the land that we consider precious. I say instructive because this seems to be the manifestation of the one nation ideal that my hon. Friends and I are expected to be impressed by, but from which communities in my constituency derive only disadvantage.

I have spent much of my adult life in the voluntary sector, working with those cruelly challenged by the UK Government’s long-term economic plan. Like others, my family and I pay the punitive electricity charges and excessive carriage charges that this Government impose. We are exposed to the reform of rural fuel duties that has brought a new and vital meaning to the word “failure”. My communities prepare for the disastrous repercussions of the recent announcement of the closure of three Royal Bank of Scotland branches in our rural areas, and our businesses endure the iniquitous transmission charging regime maintained by this Government, which acts as the main obstacle to securing energy supplies and wealth for Scotland.

We are used to empty promises, but in the early days of this Parliament, Scotland has chosen to watch as the promises of something

“as close to a federal state as possible”,

where

“all the options of devolution are there and are possible,”

are publically erased from the Scotland Bill. The Government know that for many, this Budget visits hardship on disadvantage.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan), I grew up fascinated and inspired not just by the technological achievements of Project Apollo, but by the social achievements of the civil rights movement. As a child I learned of the bravery of Rosa Parks and how she changed the world, and as an adult I learned of the personal challenges met and overcome, and of the uncommon political imagination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In those individuals I found examples not only of bravery but of imagination; the imagination to perceive the benefit of change in a world that aspires to achieve, not receive.

Many of those who supported me on 7 May did so in the belief that it is now time to achieve, and their uncommon political imagination sits around me today. Our aim is to achieve the right to build a fairer Scotland; we aim to establish a state of affairs where our old, our disadvantaged and our vulnerable are valued, and where our poor are protected not punished.

I made the decision to stand for election to this Parliament knowing, as Mrs Parks did, that

“I had the strength of my ancestors with me”,

and I know, as you do, Madam Deputy Speaker, that “all are equal”. Indeed, I stand here today knowing, as Mr Roosevelt did, that the

“test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little”.

In that task we will not be found wanting for, like Roosevelt:

“We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.”

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