Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Two pumps and a squirt ...

...and the land that we stand on is ours.
When I was around 15 years old I used to like The Smiths.  Even in the heady days of 2016 I occasionally bung on a Smiths song on Spotify.  I'm particularly partial to "Sweet and Tender Hooligan".  A few years ago my then-girlfriend told me that she had been to see The Smiths.  I thought that was extremely cool; I wished I'd been to see The Smiths because it must have been incredible.  Today, in the here and now, I sit and wonder (at unwarranted length) if The Smiths contributed to a reactionary force that ultimately led to Brexit;  abetted a movement that will try to make me live in a land with an inferior network of cycle paths.  In my feverish mind, the way that The Smiths conjured up a vision of pre-immigration Britain now seems less of a quaint Ealing-style affectation and more of a pre-UKIP political manifesto.  "A rush and a push and the land that we stand on is ours" could have easily been uttered by Paul Nuttall at the 2015 UKIP conference.  "England is mind and it owes me a living" sounds horribly like something you might hear at a BNP rally.  Maybe it's irrational but I've started to think like this in these uncertain times.  I'm seeing signs of Brexit and English nationalism in all sorts of unusual places.  This blog post will be about being Scottish and European and definitely not feeling British.

When I was about 15 years old my parents and I travelled down to London by train to visit my sister, who at that time was a student thereI remember seeing all the landmarks and thinking how cool everything in London seemed, especially compared with gloomy Glasgow. I remember on that trip, and on subsequent visits, seeing Westminster and thinking, wow, that is where important decisions are taken that affect all our lives.  I remember feeling connected to it because I was British and it represented the centre of British politics.  A couple of years ago I walked along the Thames and looked over at Westminster. And I felt absolutely nothing, certainly nothing more than I felt when I walked past the Lithuanian Parliament or the Bulgarian National Assembly. It's just an old building that needs urgent repair.  It means nothing to me at all. 

What happened in those intervening years?  The first thing that happened is that the EU happened.  When I was at secondary school in the mid-80s my German teacher excitedly told us all about all the coming changes in Europe.  She impressed upon us that learning Deutsch would present amazing work and life opportunities.  In the late 90s, when I was a stuggling but hopeful academic, I took advantage of those very rights.  I blagged a job at a German science research institute when I would otherwise have been unemployed.  Later on in life, when I'd had more than enough as an overworked UK games developer, I secured another job in the leafy city of Zurich.  I exercised my rights again to work in any country that was a signatory to the EU free movement of labour.  The EU has been good to me at times when I considered UK employment conditions, laws and practices to be a lot less shiny.  In short, I feel European and have warm, fuzzy feelings about the EU.

What else happened?  Well, in truth, I started to feel ashamed to be British.  First we had Afghanistan, then Iraq, then Libya, then Syria. I think we are involved in something underhand in Yemen too but I'm not really on the ball with geo-politics and my sense of shame can't take any more.  If you factor in Suez, Aden, and the Falklands then barely a year has gone by since the end of WW2 in which Britain hasn't been at war somewhere.  These are supposed to be the peaceful years.  I've left out the Icelandic Cod War because it wasn't really a war, although someone did actually die so it was still a bit shit.  I haven't even mentioned the complete lack of commitment to human rights by successive British governments, who seem keener on warring than abolishing torture. Anyway, I have a creeping sense of shame that Britain is most definitely not a force for good in the world.  Is now the right time to mention the Chagos Islands? Please take the time to read Craig Murray's blog if you want to know more.  He is much better at this than I will ever be.

To add insult to injury, people are forever wafting the Union Jack around on TV.  David Bowie even put one on his frock coat. Perhaps in a misplaced stylistic nod to the Thin White Duke, Nigel Farage had it painted on his shoes. If you feel like tattoing your face why not give it a go?  Not your thing?  Then try out some Union Jack Doc Martens, perfect attire for far-right street marches and EDL meetings.  Give them the slightest opportunity and someone will get out their Union Jack wellies and their Union Jack festival poncho and prance about in the rain while banging on about their unique ability to laugh in the face of adversity.  I've been lucky enough to have travelled around quite a bit and I've seen people enjoying themselves in downpours in almost every country where precipitation is a commonplace meterological phenomenon.  You don't need to cover your body in political symbols historically revered by far-right street movements to have a laugh in inclement weather.  Right now, I have never felt less British.  I probably feel as British as Bernd from Bochum (look him up if you ever find yourself in Bochum, great guy). All of this means nothing to me.  I am no longer British.  Brexit finished off any remaining vestiges of British sentiment.

The problem I face is that I am definitely still a national of the UK.  I can moan all I want about the rising tide of nationalism but it won't give me back my EU passport.  I can unfavourite everything by The Smiths on Spotify; I can shout at the telly when some knob in his Union Jack pants prances about at Glastonbury Festival; I can bang on and on and on and on and on about it but the clock is still ticking on my right to work in any nation that is a signatory to the free movement of labour in the EU.  My UK passport is metaphorically pissing on my chips. Don't forget that I am Scottish and I bloody love chips.  This sucks.

I'm going to end with a true and not hilarious anecdote.  A few years ago I was in Germany and some young people who may have been junkies asked me for some money.  I'm from Glasgow so I know what a junkie looks like.  I didn't give them any because I didn't want to fund their habit am mean and heartless.  It is true what they about Scottish people.  Anyway, they voiced their displeasure by callling me, "you f**king British man".  That was probably the worst thing they could have said to me. 

Over and out,


PS I think I might blog about Scottish independence next. Maybe there is a glimmer of hope in all this gloom.

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