Personal reflections on the leaving the European Union

EU flag

There is never a good time for parochialism, and now is an especially bad time. But a slightly parochial thought is providing me with one silver lining amid the gloom following the EU referendum result.

I am very proud to live in Edinburgh. In the 2014 Scottish independence referendum it delivered one of the most resounding results to remain in the United Kingdom. This week it has delivered an even more resounding vote to remain in the European Union.

These are not easy times to be a liberal who values unity, openness and cooperation. But Edinburgh, my home, is a city whose people cherish those concepts.

Some people who do not cherish those values have quickly taken advantage of the current turmoil to talk about a second ‘once in a lifetime’ referendum to leave the other union we are members of. It is easy to understand why the temptation to do so is strong. At the moment, I feel it would be wrong to succumb to that temptation.

The reasons why I voted ‘no’ in 2014 and ‘remain’ last week are broadly the same. Many noted that the pattern and arguments of the two referendum campaigns were strikingly similar. That went right down to accusations of ‘Project Fear’ ‘talking Scotland/Britain down’.

Perhaps it was the experience of the Scottish independence referendum that made me complacent about this referendum. Maybe the company I keep and the place I live means I am in a bubble.

Unlike the Scottish independence referendum, I am struggling to think of anyone I know in real life who say they voted to leave the EU. Unusually, my Facebook feed — often the home of many a questionable political opinion — is unanimous on the issue.

There seemed little reason to speak out as much as I did in 2014. I was frightened then. But this time round, it was almost as if there was no referendum — at least in Scotland. You had to look very hard to see any referendum activity. It was a stark contrast to the Scottish independence referendum.

Last week my brother and I drove to Le Mans to watch the Le Mans 24 Hours. Soon after we entered England, we began to see several Vote Leave signs. There were many fewer Stronger In signs. It was quite unnerving.

I also noticed something interesting driving on the continent. Or more to the point, I didn’t notice something. You barely realise when you cross the border between Belgium and France. It simply isn’t an issue.

That is quite a contrast to the road entering Scotland, which has flags and a sign so big it might as well be setting fireworks off in your face.

The beauty of the United Kingdom and the British identity is that it is, by definition, a multicultural concept. Built into it is the idea of people of different backgrounds and nationalities working together for the greater good. Unfortunately, the downside is that our culture often makes too much of our differences.

I much prefer the continental approach. I detest the concept of borders generally. I massively resent it when I return to the UK from holiday and I’m herded around like livestock and made to present my papers. It is not a way to treat humans. And I am British. I can only imagine what it feels like for foreigners entering the UK.

You see, I don’t identify with the concept of nations and borders. I took exception when Scottish nationalists accused me of being a “Brit nat” for voting no in the Scottish independence referendum. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a British nationalist. I am not a nationalist of any stripe.

My identity is a complex tapestry. I identify with huge parts of Scotland’s culture and traditions. But other aspects leave me cold. Within my Scottish identity, I adore Edinburgh. But a bit of me is in Dundee. And Fife feels uniquely like home in many ways.

I also feel an affinity with lots of things that are culturally British, rather than Scottish or indeed English. There are yet more aspects of what I value that are European, or even western concepts. At the end of the day, I’m a human. And huge parts of who I am are just me.

In other words, I think all that nationality stuff is complete bunk. Complete bunk. I have no interest in it. It means nothing.

The reasons I voted to remain in the EU last week are exactly the same as the reasons I voted to remain in the UK in 2014. There is the pragmatic aspect — that it is better for the economy and our life chances.

But it is also because of the values I outlined at the beginning of this post. I want us to pursue unity, openness and cooperation as far as possible.

That is why I don’t want a second Scottish independence referendum. And it is why I find it unlikely that I would vote to leave the UK in any such circumstance.

I am heartbroken that my fellow citizens (a majority of Brits; over 1 in 3 Scots this time round; 45% of Scots last time round) have decided to turn their backs on the values of openness that are the foundation of the free and liberal society that has benefited us so much over the centuries. I didn’t see it coming, and I am shell-shocked at the decision.

I have lost a huge part of my identity as an individual. I have lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. I will be financially worse off.

Every employer in my sector, higher education, will be negatively affected — guaranteed. It is difficult to know what sector might be safe (except for government itself, and that isn’t exactly a comforting thought).

Right now the future is a scary prospect. I was already bracing myself for a difficult working life made harder by the choices of previous generations. My chances have been minimised still further with this vote to turn our backs on the global economy.

In a decade’s time, graduates will be getting into thousands of pounds worth of debt to become baristas. That is assuming there are enough busy professionals left to keep coffee shops in business.

We have to respect the referendum result. Holding it in the first place was a disastrous idea with monumental consequences. But it can’t be undone.

Whingeing about being part of the 48%. Talking about holding a second referendum. Moaning about changing the rules for future referendums. These are all anti-democratic ideas that are being taken too seriously. It was a bad look when the cybernats did it, and it is just as bad now.

However, I dearly hope we can find a way out of this mess. That does not mean pursuing independence for Scotland. That would further exacerbate this economic crisis. It would send another message about turning our backs on our neighbours. Nor should we unduly force a way back into the EU through underhand means (although talk about a reverse Greenland solution is appealing).

Our job now is to pursue the best solution given the democratic decision that has been made. We must fight for liberal values. We need to persuade people of the need to cooperate with our neighbours. We have to promote openness and tolerance in our attitudes.

These are turbulent times across the west. Liberalism is under threat globally.

It is feared that the brexit vote will embolden extremist anti-EU elements across Europe. If anti-EU sentiment spreads further, there is a good chance there wouldn’t even be a half-decent EU worth rejoining.

For decades, supposedly liberal politicians have spent their careers “listening to the concerns” of racists. Well look where that has got us.

It is now time to stop pandering to these toxic and dangerous opinions, and start actually arguing against them.

Liberals and moderates: step up.

3 comments

  1. It is extremely unlikely that the UK will enact Article 50, despite the Leave vote. This is because the UK government’s finances are in a parlous state due to Tory mis-spending. The budget is dependent on remaining in the EU (contrary to Leave’s statements, we make more money by being in the EU than outside it). MPs have a statutory duty not to make the UK bankrupt. Leavers will be further dismayed once they realise national bankruptcy means the UK is at the mercy of its debtors (likely to be a combination of the EU, USA and China), which is an even worse version of the situation they were trying to reject.

    As such, the best way for Leavers to handle the situation is to continue the current impasse – of threatening to hit the Article 50 button but never actually doing so. Hence, cutting themselves off from EU scrutiny and doing enough sabre-rattling to bait their core fanbase, but not making themselves bankrupt and defeating the entire point. That is why the Leave leaders are among the most miserable (except Nigel Farage, who appears to be emotionally tone-deaf).

    Eventually, sheer demographics and/or a political leader with some sense and a political mandate (which nobody in Westminster seems to have, the four noisiest parties having imploded in various ways in the last 18 months) will become a hero in the eyes of the public by taking the button away – perhaps with a second referendum, justified by it happening 2+ years after the original one and demographic change making Remain the most likely outcome anyway.

    This is lucky, as nobody in Westminster with a mandate appears to have a clue about… …much of anything, really. They certainly aren’t minded to do a liberal approach to the matter. Until someone does, then liberal thinking isn’t likely to get very far, except in local communities.

  2. Author writes

    “I much prefer the continental approach. I detest the concept of borders generally. I massively resent it when I return to the UK from holiday and I’m herded around like livestock and made to present my papers. It is not a way to treat humans. And I am British. I can only imagine what it feels like for foreigners entering the UK.

    You see, I don’t identify with the concept of nations and borders. I took exception when Scottish nationalists accused me of being a “Brit nat” for voting no in the Scottish independence referendum. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am not a British nationalist. I am not a nationalist of any stripe.

    My identity is a complex tapestry. I identify with huge parts of Scotland’s culture and traditions. But other aspects leave me cold. Within my Scottish identity, I adore Edinburgh. But a bit of me is in Dundee. And Fife feels uniquely like home in many ways.

    I also feel an affinity with lots of things that are culturally British, rather than Scottish or indeed English. There are yet more aspects of what I value that are European, or even western concepts. At the end of the day, I’m a human. And huge parts of who I am are just me.

    In other words, I think all that nationality stuff is complete bunk. Complete bunk. I have no interest in it. It means nothing.”

    …and that’s all well and good. But. Extremely conflicted – this is the root problem in all Unionist logic.

    “prefer the continental approach” – supports the Leave position.

    “detest the concept of borders” – supports UK Gov who apparently support ‘hard border’ for iScot

    “I am British” – “I don’t identify with the concept of nations and borders” – “I am not a British nationalist.”. What is it you are then, if anything?

    “My identity is a complex tapestry. I identify with huge parts of Scotland’s culture and traditions. But other aspects leave me cold. Within my Scottish identity, I adore Edinburgh. But a bit of me is in Dundee. And Fife feels uniquely like home in many ways.” Bit vague but OK.

    “nationality stuff is complete bunk” having spent the whole post writing about nationality.

    It seems to me as if the author is quite happy as a ‘British’ national, or nationalist. That is fine, everyone needs to decide BUT you can’t seek to conflate “bad stuff” or nationalism on the other side and in the process somehow explain or justify your position as superior to others. Each is capable of reaching their own view and given the likely direction of travel from the ‘mother of Parliaments’ it is perfectly reasonable to question – again, shock horror – the right of London to make 60% of the decisions which effect people north of the border. Actually, just like a shotgun license what would be wrong with a 5 yearly question to justify the glorious Union?

    #YesYet
    #BetterChoices

    P.S. Seriously hope this article will be posted after writing all this.

  3. Alistair, thanks for the comment.

    You have made an assumption that I support the UK government, which I emphatically do not.

    You have also made an assumption that because I am not a Scottish nationalist I must be a British nationalist. This is not true, and I always find it sad that nationalists often only ever attempt understand opposing viewpoints through the prism of nationalism, as though that’s all there is.

    Thanks.

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