In the darkness and howling wind that sat upon Scotland on Friday night, the lights went out on our relationship with Europe as we officially left the EU.
Whilst there was little material difference at one minute past 11, symbolically Europe changed as Big Ben failed to bong and flags of many colours were flown in celebration, commiseration and solidarity.
We asked Europe to leave a light on for Scotland in the hope and belief that we’ll be back. Back stronger as an independent European nation.
In the wake of Brexit is a renewed urgency in the independence movement to build support and maintain the relationship we have with our European neighbours.
On Friday night in Scotland there were more vigils than there were celebrations. For those who voted to remain part of the EU, the sense of injustice was universal. At the gathering outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh many spoke of their deep sadness, loss and feeling “angry at being separated from Europe against the will of Scotland”.
That sense of loss is shared by Marta, an EU national who has been living in Scotland for the past 12 years.
“It’s devastating to think of how many people will lose opportunities for a good quality of life because of Brexit. I was very lucky to get an opportunity to come here as a teenager and go to school and university. My siblings and myself got an opportunity for a privileged life which we would not be able to get back home. It is all very sad and disappointing.”
Marta is one of 237,000 EU nationals living in Scotland, for whom Brexit has brought a degree of uncertainty to their future.
What of the voices in Europe, our neighbours who haven’t gone anywhere but now seem further away? Iida Aino, from Helsinki lived in Glasgow for seven years, considers the city her second home, but doesn’t feel welcome in the UK anymore.
“I know Scotland is different and the people voted to remain in the EU but it feels like things have changed and while Scotland is still part of the UK you are going to be associated with Brexit and all xenophobia that surrounds it. Scottish people are friendly and welcoming but the laws of the UK now say something different.”
This sentiment is echoed by others in Europe. Andre Jegodka, a music promoter, spoke to us about the view from Berlin.
“No one in Germany could believe it or could understand it when the UK voted for Brexit. It was like a comedy or tragedy by Shakespeare, but we weren’t really sure which it was.’
“The relationship between countries is like a friendship and the EU seemed to do everything it could to keep that friendship with the UK, but it just got a stage when everyone in Europe got a bit fed up and felt we couldn’t do anymore.”
Across Europe the distinction between Scotland’s and the rest of the UK’s view on leaving the EU isn’t always clear.
We can ask Europe to leave a light on for us, but we need to illuminate the sky with the fireworks of our love for Europe, extending the hand of friendship and neighbourliness wherever and whenever possible.
As the independence movement grows and the public recognises the need for a campaign in the absence of a referendum, working together is vital for success.
The YouGov poll putting support for independence at 51% is an encouraging step in the right direction, but it is just that, a step. We need to continue the campaigning, keep moving forward and move support towards 60%.
Organisations like All Under One Banner bring tens of thousands of people together, creating an amazing spectacle that shines a light on Scotland for the world to see. Voices for Scotland brings people together to discuss the Scotland we want to be, the Scotland that will proudly stand as an equal among other nations.
Outside parliament on Friday evening people spoke of their reasons for wanting independence, with almost everyone wanting a fairer, more equal and just society.
At the core of this is a unity and togetherness in building the county we want to be. Despite this, ‘Thick’ was trending on Twitter on Friday in reference to those who voted for Brexit. This unfair and lazy characterisation does little to mend the political and ideological division in society.
The aims should be to bring people round to the idea of independence through a sense of unanimity and togetherness so we can show Europe and the rest of the world that we are united in our vision of a Scotland for everyone.
Where people have differing views about the future of Scotland, these can be met with respect, understanding and an effort to find common ground.
In creating a vision of a Scotland for everyone, we campaign in an inclusive and progressive way, showing our neighbours in the rest of the UK, Europe and the world that we are, and always will be, the friendly, welcoming country befitting our reputation.
Andre, who was in Glasgow the day after the Brexit vote spoke to woman, who on hearing his accent approached him and apologised for what had happened. “I think everyone across the world knows that Scotland is a welcoming and friendly place but I think you guys need to make your voice heard internationally so that people remember this after Brexit.”
Allan Whyte, Campaign Organiser
(First published in The National 04 February 2020)