Brexit: a depressing day

Today is a depressing day for those of us who believe in European integration.

In marking the day, I posted six photos on Instagram from a visit last week to the northern European city of Schwerin, where trade, religion and art from all across northern Europe has characterised the city and the people. All six are reposted below.

The Westminster government is putting all such connections for the UK at risk, and whilst parliaments/assemblies in Edinburgh, Belfast, and Cardiff may yet help their people retain those connections, in England, there are few such prospects, it seems to me.

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Brexit – what next? Thinking about the outcome.

I regard the referendum outcome to leave the EU as a disaster for many reasons, as will be clear from my last blog posting, written shortly before the vote. I’ll maybe write something short about my reaction to the outcome in the coming days.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

Brexit: what happens next? Click to download the report.

In the meantime, the report from the House of Commons Library makes for fascinating reading (tweeted in the early hours of 25.6.16).

There are countless useful resources here, such as this note (p12) about devolution and how this situation may affect Scotland, citing Sionaidh Douglas-Scott:

It would still be necessary to amend the relevant parts of devolution legislation. But this would be no simple matter and could lead to a constitutional crisis. Although the UK Parliament may amend the devolution Acts, the UK government has stated that it will not normally legislate on a devolved matter without the consent of the devolved legislature. This requires a Legislative Consent Motion under the Sewel Convention. However, the devolved legislatures might be reluctant to grant assent, especially as one feature of the ‘Vow’ made to the Scottish electorate was a commitment to entrench the Scottish Parliament’s powers, thus giving legal force to the Sewel Convention. So the need to amend devolution legislation renders a UK EU exit constitutionally highly problematic.

Section 7 on the future options for Scotland are also very interesting for me (pp17-19), given that England (and to some extent Wales) voted to leave, but Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay. It will be for Holyrood and Nicola Sturgeon’s government to chart a course through this situation; I am confident that she and her allies in Holyrood will do this well. Her speech after the referendum indicates as much:

I think it is safe to say that independence for Scotland looks much more likely in the meantime.

Sleepless in Stuttgart, Stockholm, Stirling…

The stupid EU referendum that the Conservative Party have called is causing me – quite literally – sleepless nights. The danger that too many people, especially in England, are falling for the lies peddled by the demagogues controlling the right-wing press, is deeply worrying.

As so many have done, I grew up and live as a European:

  • my mother is from Germany, my father is from Britain;
  • I have both passports, and have lived in both states;
  • I am married to a someone from Germany who has a German passport, but has lived and worked here since the early 1990s;
  • our son has both passports and like his parents speaks both English and German fluently;
  • my wife’s family all live in Germany;
  • my parents, who both now have only British passports, have retired to Germany, and can do that because of reciprocal healthcare arrangements and the like;
  • we visit family in Germany with ease – in fact, my wife is visiting her sister in Hamburg right now.
My British and German passports

My British and German passports

I am very aware that purple passports are markers of incredible privilege in the global context – and having two means I can choose which one to use when, so I’m even more privileged than most! This freedom to travel is a privilege that I would rather everyone could share.

There have been many arguments against leaving because it would damage Britain’s interests (for example, I liked Carolyn Leckie’s take on this in yesterday’s National and Maggie Chapman’s recent piece on the fallacy behind the so-called Lexit). But it would also damage more than our direct economic or working interests. Given all that I have said about my family, Britain leaving would have profound personal consequences, many of them completely unpredictable, but it’s hard to see how any can be positive. And yet, all these things can be overcome, even if they would be difficult. For example, my parents after a lifetime of constant moving house (my father was in the British armed forces), have finally settled in Germany, but would almost certainly have to move back here – now in their mid-70s – when reciprocal healthcare arrangements end. It’s not great, but it can be done.

No, what worries me even more than the unfolding disaster for Britain or the personal difficulties I or my family might encounter is the complete unravelling of the European ideal (Jonathan Freedland elaborated on this in polemical form recently). Let me add to the family story:

  • my British grandfather (my father’s father, of Irish descent, marrying a woman from Peebles in southern Scotland, and eventually settling in Northumberland) fought in World War Two;
  • my German grandfather (my mother’s father, originally from the Saarland, near the present border with France, eventually settled in the Harz mountain area, later moving to Bonn) also fought in World War Two – on the opposite side.

When my parents wanted to get married, my mother’s father was reportedly somewhat sceptical about his daughter marrying a British man, and a soldier at that. But this did not last, and my father and my mother’s father developed a deep affection for one another over the years. My family is as dysfunctional as many, but it is also a great example of European integration, and the EU has – for all its faults, and I think they are many, as my MEPs will know from my emails and letters to them! – embodied much of that. We need structures, we need frameworks, we need patterns around which to build our lives, and the EU offers precisely that. The Brexiteers are wanting to throw all that away, and the readiness with which people are falling for their lies is what is causing me so many sleepless nights. I am, like so many of my generation and younger, a convinced European, right to my core (I often identify as European before I identify with any nation state):

We are the ones whose future will be most damaged by a vote for Brexit, sacrificed on the altar of Conservative Party internecine rivalry. That is unforgivable, and I’d go so far as to say it is a grave dishonour to all those who, like my two grandfathers, fought in World War Two and yet afterwards found ways to reconcile themselves to changed realities, even letting a daughter marry a descendant of the former enemy. Love across borders – what more powerful symbol can there be of what the European ideal is? And yet, we seem to be at risk of losing it all, in a mad headlong rush towards the Brexit cliff edge.

No wonder I’m having sleepless nights.

British ethnic nationalism – an ugly exclusiveness that encourages Scottish independence

One of the most welcome features of the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was the principle that (almost) anyone who lived in Scotland could have a vote in the referendum. This meant that those who identified as Scots but did not live in Scotland would not have a vote, but those who had decided to live in Scotland and wanted to play a part in its future could vote. This is called civic nationalism: it is based on who lives in the country and is contributing to it, and is not based upon origins or birth or parentage.

One of the side effects of this decision was that many people who had been born in Scotland or who had Scottish parents but who did not live in Scotland were not able to vote. Many of these people left Scotland because they felt it lacked the opportunities for a good career that other places offered: I heard this many times in the years we lived in London and my wife was the minister of one of the two Church of Scotland churches there.  In today’s judgemental environment we would probably call them ‘economic migrants’ even though many of them would be appalled to think of themselves like that (other people are economic migrants…).  Many left for love, or had to leave for work even thought they didn’t want to, and still others will have had other reasons for leaving Scotland.  I know that many of these people were disappointed not to be able to vote in the 2014 referendum – but the referendum was decided by those who had stayed in Scotland or who had moved here, and quite correctly in my view, they were the only ones determining Scotland’s future.

This approach also represented the starting point of many of the Yes campaign’s arguments: they/we took a civic nationalist standpoint, whereas the British nationalist/unionist position was very different – it took an ethnic nationalist standpoint for its arguments.  I explained this in a blog posting that was widely read at the time, and is available here (the original place of publication), and (republished by National Collective) here, and (archived on this blog) here.

United Kingdom EUNow we face another referendum in 2017, this time across the whole of the UK, to decide whether Britain should stay in the European Union or not. In this referendum, organised by the Conservative party, only people who have a British passport will be allowed to vote, according to a report in today’s Herald newspaper:

Members of the House of the Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will be given a vote, in addition to those on the Westminster voters’ roll.

Those entitled to vote in UK elections include British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, plus UK nationals resident overseas for less than 15 years.

This means that all of those people who have moved to Britain and chosen to make their lives here (including other EU citizens – such as my wife!) are going to be denied a vote. However, those British passport-holders who have chosen to live elsewhere as (economic or other) migrants, or those who have chosen in the last 15 years to retire abroad (including my parents!) will have a vote – even though they no longer have as substantial an interest in what happens here compared to those who live here.

In doing so, the Conservatives are disenfranchising people who have chosen to contribute to this country – it is classic exclusive ethnic nationalism, rather than inclusive civic nationalism. There is a measure of hypocrisy here too, as David Leask of the Herald points out:

So let me state unequivocally, that this is the consequence of what people have voted for last year and this year:

When the No voters prevailed in last year’s Scottish referendum, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for (if you voted No you may say that you are not an ethnic nationalist, but that is the basis on which the No campaign argued the referendum and it has given the British nationalist/unionist parties the mandate to act as ethnic nationalists).

When people voted Conservative in this month’s general election, this exclusive understanding of nationalism is what they were voting for.

Ethnic nationalism invariably leads to chauvinism (I think that in theory it doesn’t necessarily do so, but in practice it always does), and in my view, is to be utterly condemned.  Westminster’s espousal of ethnic nationalism despite the good example of broad engagement set in the Scottish referendum affirms my view that Scotland and Westminster are still moving ever further apart, and this in turn encourages me – and no doubt others – to work harder towards the day when Scotland becomes independent and engages all those who live here and contribute to the country in whatever form.  I want a truly broad and inclusive body politic of all who live here, not one that excludes people on the basis of their birth and parentage.  We are clearly not getting that from Westminster.