The above is the audio-video commissioned from myself by Emma Rushton and Derek Tyman as part of their Flaghall installation in the Where Do I End and You Begin exhibition in the City Arts Centre, Edinburgh 1 August-19 October 2014 as part of the Edinburgh Arts Festival. (Click on ‘Vimeo’ and watch full screen for best effect).The exhibition features work by artists from across the Commonwealth exploring and interrogating the ideas, ideals and myths that underpin notions of community, common-wealth and the commons. This audio-video lecture explores these themes in the context of Scotland and the British Empire and invites the viewer to consider how we can reverse centuries of colonialism and ideas of exclusive possession and move toward a world in which our common-wealth is reconstituted and governed for the wellbeing of all.

There are three events on this Saturday 30 August discussing the UK work in the exhibition including a talk by myself at 2pm. Below is the extract from the exhibition catalogue.


The Commonweal is an old Scots term meaning “wealth shared in common for the wellbeing of all”

In 1884 the Earl of Rosebery visits Australia and asks, “Does the fact of your being a nation… imply separation from the Empire? God forbid! There is no need for any new nation, however great, leaving the Empire, because the Empire is a Commonwealth of Nations“.

On the 22nd of August 1770, at Possession Island off the north coast of Australia, Captain Cook writes in his journal, “I now once more hoisted English colours and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third, took possession of the whole Eastern Coast  .. together with all the bays, harbours, rivers and islands.”

In 1949, the people of Alyth in Perthshire, Scotland march to the top of the Hill of Alyth to destroy the fences that have been built to enclose their common land.

In 1955, the UK government decides to annex Rockall – a small rock in the North Atlantic around 187 miles west of St Kilda. Captain Connell of HMS Vidal is given the following order by the Queen. “On arrival at Rockall you will effect a landing and hoist the Union flag on whatever spot appears most suitable or practicable and you will then take possession of the island on our behalf.”

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo, on behalf of the Meriam people from the Mer Island in the Torres Strait off the north coast of Australia launches a legal action challenging the claim of the Crown to ownership of his land.

On the 3 June 1992, by a majority of six to one, the High Court upholds the claim of the Meriam people and overturns the legal fiction that the land of Australia was ‘terra nullius’ before colonisation.


  1. Brilliant video, Andy!

  2. I noticed that when planting the Union Flag, Captain Cook referred to it as planting English colours. That sums up the Union and the Empire for me. I ‘ll be voting YES like you Andy.

  3. If the Act of Union in 1707 was an Incorporating Union by which England & Scotland were united as the United Kingdom of Great Britain ( officially Ireland was included later ) then technically you could not claim international territory on behalf of England because it no longer existed as an independent sovereign country. Either the process was flawed and Cook’s taking possession was not legally sound OR it became the property of the Union.

    • or just that Captain Cook and much of the English Establishment considered England and Britain to be one and the same thing.

  4. oh woe to the conqueror who thought not of the costs and the price

    • thanks for the video Andy, great. What a rancid history we have. Time to start again and build a much more equal society, and it can only be done with a YES vote.

  5. What happened to the comment from someone called Smeeton? Have you “redacted” it?

  6. You could bring the story up to date with 26 June 2014 when the Canadian Supreme Court granted – for the first time as I understand it – a declaration of aboriginal title to land to a First Nation group, the Tsilhqot’in, in British Columbia. See

    What’s interesting about the case is that the aboriginal title was recognised as flowing from occupation in the sense of regular and exclusive use of land which had to be sufficient, continuous and exclusive. That’s another way of describing what’s called “prescriptive possession” in Scottish law but which some people revile so much they call for it to be abolished!

  7. Many thanks for the link Andy and thanks to the creators of the work – much to absorb there.

    Matheson’s descent upon Lewis seems to have been more benign on balance than that of the Gentleman Adventurers of Fife had been 300 years earlier. Certainly more benign than that of his influence on China

    May I add a footnote about what we now call North American first nations and some of the implications of Rosebery’s speech? In 1887 Buffalo Bill took his circus to Earls Court where Victoria visited, emerging from her Windsor purdah – she was much taken with the Lakota and they loved her anyway as ‘Grandmother England’ whose land was a sanctuary during the wars with the US She and the shaman Black Elk got on very well in particular – she told him that if the Sioux were her people, she would not let them be taken about in a show. In Black Elk Speaks – the founding text of the New Age movement – the shaman suggests British rule would have been better for the Lakota.

    Victoria’s meeting with the Lakota seems to have inspired her return to public life, thus restoring her popularity (even The Times had been saying it was time to consider a republic).

  8. Really enjoyed the video, very enlightening. Time for the people of Scotland to take back the land.

  9. Great video, what about the rights of the scots to their own land?
    The lairds seem to be the only ones with human rights in property.