Thursday, 14 June 2018

Europe Is Our Playground

I sometimes wonder what my grandparents would make of my life. My grandfathers both died in the late 60s just before I was born so they never used an ATM or owned a colour television or told the time with a digital watch. They also never got to meet Switzerland's premier Brexit and Scottish independence blogger. That's something we have in common because as I only just scraped in to the top 100 of Swiss-based combination Brexit/Scottish independence blogs I never got an invitation to hang out with the premier league. Sometimes, being snubbed really hurts.

I would imagine my grandparents would be astonished by the modern world. I'm sure they'd be amazed that their offspring would go on to have children with university degrees and do all sorts of crazy nonsense for a job. They would probably wonder why anyone would ever need heterogeneous computing in their lives and I doubt they would understand why anyone would gawp for hours on end at a simulated world that doesn't physically exist.  My grandfathers were both workers in the Glasgow shipyards so it was already quite something for my parents to be allowed to stay at school to sit their Highers before entering the world of work. I know that they prized education very highly so I guess they'd be quite astounded at how quickly my family went from one end of the education spectrum to the other. Society has changed in leaps and bounds. Life today is not as it was 45 years ago. It's much better now.

When I was born the war was just 25 years distant. I would guess my grandfathers would have been pretty suspicious of Germany back in 1970. Even if they'd had the funds to travel abroad, a weekend break in Berlin would not have been on their list. I can't imagine them sipping cappuccinos in Prenzlauer Berg or travelling to Bavaria to see a German/French chanson rockabilly band sing silly songs in a multitude of languages. My grandparent's generation experienced the Luftwaffe bombing the shipyards and their kids were evacuated to farms. They could never have guessed that the spheres of our lives would grow and grow from the streets of Scotstoun until they encompass all of Western Europe, nor that Germany would one day become the de facto leader of the free world. It would have been unimaginable that Scots would look forward to German beer served by Germans in German cafes in Edinburgh and Glasgow. They couldn't have guessed that it would become normal for Scots to have colleagues and friends and partners from all over Europe. The size of our playground was unimaginable when they were alive - what was normal in the 1970s is no longer normal. We are no longer restricted to a few streets, to a handful of trades, to summer holidays in Largs. Everything has changed.

The thought that an Entoure would go to live in the beautiful city of Munich to participate in a pan-European network of quantum physicists would have been utterly fantastical in 1970. Yet that is precisely what happened to me in the mid-90s. Back then, freedom of movement of people was new and the EU had to take steps to encourage its citizens to take advantage of the new freedoms of the post-Maastricht EU. The idea that UK citizens can cross borders and take their professional skills and families wherever they want is commonplace today. Everybody's at it. It is part of our lives. I reckon my grandfathers would never have believed it if they'd been told that their grandchildren would live and work in Europe. If you were lucky in the old days you only really went to Switzerland for tuberculosis treatment. Nowadays, you can come here to hike in the mountains, cycle up a mountain pass or repeatedly bang your head against an office desk while trying to debug a complex software stack. Hah, it's not all good, you know!

Like almost everyone else in Scotland I have uncles and aunts in Canada. That must have been a huge decision because Canada is a long way away and travelling back to Scotland would have been prohibitively expensive. Moving to Canada back then meant a real break from family and friends. I can't really imagine doing that, to be honest. Even today, Canada feels far away. Even if I wanted to go, getting a work visa is non trivial and couples your rights to your employer. It just doesn't feel like my world. My world feels European, not North American. This is something that can't be said enough: we Scots are European. Despite the language difference, Edinburgh has more in common with Zurich than with Toronto. Likewise, Glasgow has more in common with Berlin than with New York.  These homes from home are right on our doorstep, just an hour away. Get it while you can.

The EU has always been so much more than a trading arrangement. It is as much cultural as it is legal and political and commercial. Maybe England doesn't feel culturally European but Scotland most definitely is. Our connections with Europe are going to be weakened when the UK leaves the EU. It will be harder for us to visit them and for them to visit us. It will be harder to live and work in the countries that most share our hopes and fears, who laugh at the things we laugh at, who have the same understanding of life/work balance. It will be harder to fall in love with the people we are most likely to fall in love with. Everywhere we look, barriers are busily being erected to human experience in all its forms. 

Brexit means Scotland can no longer face the European Continent in the way it does now. The freedoms and opportunities and connections we take for granted will simply stop when laws are struck out and treaties annulled and legal barriers erected in their place. I can't begin to express how sad this makes me. A few years ago I walked across a bridge over the Danube from Slovakia to Austria.  No checks, no barriers; just rollerbladers, walkers and cyclists.  The bridge replaced watchtowers and barbed wire that had stopped anyone crossing the border during the Communist years.  Imagine knocking down that bridge today?  Well, that's precisely what the UK is doing and it will affect Scotland most keenly. 

The devolution arrangement we've enjoyed for the past 20 years only makes sense for as long as Scotland and rUK are aligned through shared EU law. Leaving the EU opens the possibility for that alignment to be undermined if Edinburgh makes policy choices that London doesn't. That cannot happen, however, if the UK is to negotiate a post-Brexit path. The United Kingdom will need to become more united if it is to survive the post-Brexit years. After all, the sunny uplands of global trade cannot flourish if the UK has a fractured regulatory framework, if fracking concessions are regional rather than national. It cannot happen if the people of the UK cannot form a binding consensus about the kind of country they want to live in. That means Scotland will need to become more British and less European in its outlook. We will need to align more with our closest geographical partner because we will have fewer opportunities to align with anyone else. If we don't want to align, then we will be forced to do so. Westminster has already made that perfectly clear.

I'm despondent about the future. Europe was our playground but that cannot continue for much longer. Instead, our future is to be confined to the United Kingdom. Our world will shrink, rather than expand. Our world will be a country dominated by a particularly nasty and small-minded strain of English nationalism. It is a world where MPs are traitors and saboteurs, where Ministers of State appropriate unprecedented powers with barely a squeak of protest, where people are berated on the street for speaking a foreign language. It will be a world without space for new ideas, where human rights are a dirty word. It will be a mono-culture that ought to have died in the 1950s.

The freedoms and opportunities brought about by EU membership would, I'm sure, delight my grandparents. They would find it easier to understand the modern world and all of its complexities than to comprehend those who took it all away.

Over and out,


PS I rarely talk about identity on this blog but this post was obviously entirely about identity.  I no longer feel British and soon I will be excluded from the European family of states.  I feel Scottish but there is no Scottish state, I have no Scottish passport. I live in Switzerland, yet I am not Swiss, even though I love living here. Brexit has made me a citizen of nowhere.  Oh, the irony.


  1. What a brilliant piece of writing.

    I find it hard to understand the pettiness and small mindedness that has driven Brexit.

    I suppose it is complex in nature: Island nation, once a massive superpower, although now diminished, feels immensely superior to other nationalities (with no justification at all). Eventually dragged in to join the European project that they had been excluded from (by France). And has been ever since an uncomfortable partner, constantly whining about foreigners having control of OUR laws, and, without a hint of irony, the EU's lack of democratic legitimacy.

    I've always thought that Scotland sat pretty naturally with the Nordic nations from the point of view of social attitudes, aspirations, and more physical manifestations like geography and climate. Obviously not completely, because heaven knows, much has rubbed off on us from our southern neighbours, but much more so than England.

    But England never sat well with anyone, except in my lifetime, as America's lick-spittle.

    The world is getting smaller all the time, as you point out.

    My grandparents rarely left Dundee and never went abroad, not even to England. My father's generation probably did national service in Germany or Malta or Cyprus, then took holidays in Spain and maybe France.

    My generation take foreign travel throughout Europe and the world for granted. I lived and worked in France. And some of my younger friends have done degrees in several different countries. My Hungarian buddy did his bachelors here, masters in Sweden and is off next term to do his doctorate in Dublin.

    And that is the future. Be there or be square, as I think they used to say.

    If you exclude yourself from these things, you become a backwater. Opportunities available to a Frenchman or Icelander will not be available to you, Cinderella.

    And why? Manufactured grievances against foreigners for taking our jobs? Except that they didn't and without them we may have difficulty filling the jobs in tourism, agriculture, health, care and other sectors. Unless, of course, we can soak up ex car workers whose jobs have moved to Slovakia.

    Or was it that it costs too much money and we wanted that mythical £350 m a week for the health services. If so there's a disappointment coming down the line when the UK government introduces a ring fenced health tax.

    Nothing good that they promised will happen. I simply cannot think of one single positive.

    Except that hopefully it will mean that Britain breaks up. Northern Ireland goes home to Ireland and the EU, and Scotland joins the other Nordic nations in the EU.

    What ever possessed Cameron to risk this for small electoral gain?

    It was never going to heal the Tory party rift over Europe, no matter what the result.

    Now the two parts of the Tory party are at each others' throats and the country is reliant on a pack of dinosaur deniers who hold the balance of power.

    Even a competent prime minister with a competent cabinet would have been at a loss to hold that together. The ridiculous excuse we have for cabinet and leader have absolutely no chance of anything but abject failure and ignominy. Why else has no one challenged the incompetence they display.

    It's as well that the world is laughing at the far more important Trump idiot, and are perhaps failing to notice the Mayhem in the UK.

    It's people's lives; their whole futures they are ruining as they force British citizens with their iconic blue passports (fabriqué en France) into an economic,cultural and social backwater.

    We all laugh about it, but it really is the pits that they have done this to us, and taken away our, and our children's future. All becasue Cameron wanted to be prime minister without having to be in coalition.

    1. Many thanks!

      England and Scotland are very similar in many ways but so, so different in many ways. The way that we see ourselves is one of those differences. History tells us we are not a superpower and of the need to forge alliances. "A man's a man for a' that" is also something that has real meaning up North.

      My grandfather left Scotland only once - to go to a Home Guard training week in North England. But Entoure Sr never had to do any of that because he had a TB scar on his lung and wasn't allowed to do his National Service. After he retired he went on cycling holidays in France. So much changed for the better in just one generation. And then again for the next. But what about the one after that?

      I agree with you that even the best government would be undone by the current situation. Even Blair, with all his political skill, would be unable to make it a success. Having said that, and despite all his faults, the managerial style of New Labour probably wouldn't have made the mistake of starting A50 without having a plan that would be met with parliamentary consensus. What were any of them thinking?

  2. I can really understand what you're thinking and feeling because I took the same path in 1971, the year before the UK actually joined the EU.
    Scottish and European in Geist with an apprenticeship of living in Norway for a year as well as a German Gf, I'm afraid Düsseldorf got the pleasure of my company (it has apparently recovered in the meantime I've heard..!).

    Allthough being based in Germany/Cologne-Kiel-Frankfurt (today) I spent a lot of time working for my company (graphics) in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Scandinavia, + 3 years in Denmark, but nevertheless I always felt I was coming home as a European.

    One of the great advantages of living abroad is the ability to take a couple of steps back and review the utter political madness of a UK fully entrenched in a very strange bubble and cut off from the reality of a modern forward looking Europe - a 19 century museum stuffed with banks and pagentry.

    I'll probably take up German citizenship within the next 12 months to be on the safe side and without hopefully needing to sacrifice the first born or the neighbors cat independence will come and I'll get the Scottish passport of my dreams.

    1. Wow, that has been quite an adventure. It's hard to quantify but I always find the US the most foreign place of all, even though I have no language difficulties there. I understand the words but I don't fully understand the people, to paraphrase Alan Partridge.

      You're absolutely right that living abroad gives a difference perspective of home. The UK has a weird political system and is obsessed with class and class signifiers. Perhaps the weirdest of all is the belief that the UK is the only country that observes queuing etiquette or has a sense of fairness.

      Good luck with your citizenship. I don't think Germany requires cat sacrifice any more. Maybe still in Bayern but you should be ok up there in Cologne.

  3. What your did :

    "The thought that an Entoure would go to live in the beautiful city of Munich to participate in a pan-European network of quantum physicists would have been utterly fantastical in 1970. Yet that is precisely what happened to me in the mid-90s. Back then, freedom of movement of people was new and the EU had to take steps to encourage its citizens to take advantage of the new freedoms of the post-Maastricht EU."

    ought to be a freedom that we do not give up.

    It is too late for me. But I have children and grandchildren whose limits are being set by fools.

    I have no idea - apart from independence - how we can reverse this.

    Taking away freedom of movement is, pretty clearly - to me at least - nonsense.

    1. I would be quite interested in your knowledge about how the UK is treating it's commitment to EU science. There are major initiatives particularly in cosmology and fusion that will perhaps be weakened and delayed by this.

      Perhaps I am wrong?

    2. I would be surprised if a EU/UK science initiative isn't cobbled together. Switzerland participates in EU science initiatives in return for a fee that is officially a donation. I would guess the UK could do the same. The big problem, however, is FoM. Science works by people talking to each other and working together. I don't know what the UK plans for that.

  4. A beautiful piece, Terry. This thing of identity is something I've long contemplated as I am half Scottish, half New Zealander by nationality but entirely Scottish by identity. Note, that leaves zero parts of me to be British despite what my passport says. I am worried about the Brexit future but I am particularly worried about a future where Scotland chooses, again, to remain British. I am, even now, contemplating a move to Ireland, Canada or NZ. The latter is an obvious one but I really don't want to go there as I, like you, feel Scottish & European not North American or antipodean regardless of how much I like Canucks & Kiwis. If I end up in Ireland I can foresee me obtaining Irish nationality & renouncing my British one entirely.

    1. It's important to live where we feel happy and free. That might sound like hippy nonsense but it's really true.

      I've been to Ireland a few times. It's a great place. I can see myself living there. For me, Canada and New Zealand are just too far away. In truth, I'm not terribly adventurous. They look like great places to live, particularly NZ. But so far, far away. For some people, though, especially people with more of an adventurous spirit, that is no obstacle.

      Brexit is making us make all sorts of choices we never envisaged. It's also making us all reflect on ourselves and our own identities. I really hope it all works out for everyone. I think people who understand what is going on have the greatest chance. Those who support it probably have the least chance of a positive outcome.


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