Brexit in someone else’s shoes

Posted by in October's Magazine

Sandy Campbell 
On the Loose

I am proud to be living in the constituency with the highest Remain vote in Scotland. I voted Remain, and will do so again, given the chance. But I’m no fan of the EU, certainly not in its current form. When it came down to it there were really only two reasons:

1 Nicola told me to. It felt like having another vote on Scottish independence.



2 The EU has, so far, just, kept its member states from going to war with each other. 

 The EU can’t lay claim to preventing war in Europe per se: the bloody carnage and savagery of Yugoslavia in the early 90’s gave us a disturbing premonition of what might be coming. It’s a sobering thought to speculate on whether, if the Soviet bloc had not collapsed, we might have all chugged along quite nicely, with fluid cross-border trade, seamless travel to sunny southern climes, and maintenance of our former characterful currencies. But the Wall did come down and the EU then hoovered up the freed nations of eastern Europe at a breath-taking pace.  That Pandora’s Box of ethnic identity politics and religious hatred has been well and truly flung open and all sorts of hideous creepy crawlies are emerging. I fear the worst.

So, what is so wrong with the way it has conducted itself to-date? The implementation of the Euro has had disastrous consequences across southern Europe, as witnessed by the German-led European Central Bank’s callous treatment of Greece in the aftermath of the financial crash, where the young (under 25 years) were condemned to levels of unemployment of over 50%, with equally depressing statistics in Spain, Italy and Portugal. (It’s now falling slowly to between 30 and 40%. Meanwhile Scotland stayed throughout at a steady 10%.) The ripple effects of this disregard of the life prospects of a generation will be visible in those countries, and their diaspora, for generations to come. That’s how trauma of this magnitude visited on a single generation works. It’s a dereliction of the duty of elders towards their young. 

Then there are the rules. Not the ones about the permissible bend in a banana, or whether we can sell homemade jam – most of which are pure fantasy anyway. No, it’s the shape-shifting ingenuity needed to comply with EU grants. 

Take our charity’s experience. We were over the moon when we secured two-years EU funding to launch one of our employability projects in Edinburgh specifically targeted at some of the most troubled young in our city: those on the cusp of homelessness, well known to the police, often from the care system, most with mental health problems, and largely cut loose by an overwhelmed education system. We achieved over 70% success into jobs and college. But in order to get the funds in the first place, we had to move office. The EU required us to create a separate front door for this project alone, entirely distinct from other projects run from the same office – so we all had to move to new premises with two front doors – thankfully still in Leith. 

As it happens, the very same EU grant route that our 40 struggling young people benefited from during our 2 years of funding is now in trouble across Scotland. The grants were suspended in June this year when the EU descended and found “problems with how the Scottish Government administers the cash”. Whoops. Glad we got our two front doors. Rules made up by the Germans to stop the Greeks from misbehaving, then in true Euro-centralist fashion, rolled out across the continent regardless of local circumstances – and of common sense. 

At the time of our independence referendum, I described the then forthcoming EU referendum as  ‘England’s Independence referendum’ 

Looking at the whole UK, as we teeter on the brink of a no-deal Brexit, it is England I feel most sorry for. England is a country deeply divided. We in Scotland have an escape route from this chaos, should we choose to take it. But not England. At the time of our independence referendum, I wrote a piece for an obscure blog that described the then forthcoming EU referendum as actually ‘England’s Independence referendum’. And I still believe that this is the real character of that vote. Come what may, England will achieve their independence from Germany and France. It’s in their DNA to not be integrated with the rest of Europe. They thought they were an island people. Well they certainly know about that land border with Ireland now. So even if they have to shed their troublesome neighbours of Scotland and Northern Ireland to achieve it; they want out in enough numbers, and it really would be undemocratic to stop them. 

What’s more, I respect them for it. Why is it so difficult to reach out and imagine a lifetime in someone else’s shoes? If I imagine my alter 63 year old self, having spent my whole life in Sunderland and seen first-hand Thatcher and her lieutenants wage and win a class war against my people; cleansing the landscape of the yards on the Tyne and Wear, and the Durham coalfields, ripping out the anchors that kept us proud and with a purpose.

And the cruellest twist of all – the Party formed to fight for us, turned its back on our suffering; now rebranded as ‘New’ to make it palatable to the metro-chic and suburbia’s ‘floating voters’. If I had seen my community effectively disenfranchised by the Blair project, when the choice was either a deaf ear, or having the likes of Peter Mandelson flown in to take over. Some representation. Just how was that Millennium Dome supposed to help us Peter? 

Then out of the blue, (ironically, thanks to David Cameron) I get a vote that really counts; where my cross on the ballot paper will have real power. Damn right I would have voted Leave. Any chance to fight back and give a royally extended finger to those who think they destroyed our spirit; who believe they have an educated right to tell us what is good for us. 

And right now, I would be furious at those who think the solution to this current mess is to disenfranchise us all over again and declare our first ever, real vote a silly mistake, and we just weren’t bright enough to understand. 

And maybe I would at times, vent my built-up frustration on convenient scapegoats: Poles, Rumanians, and all those who wear the signs of a different faith. The same Poles, Rumanians, Sikhs and Muslims who we incorporate with ease into our multi-ethnic community of Leith – with ease. How can it be so different? 

And so, as Leith approaches the centenary of its annexation by Edinburgh, and calls are heard from some for a kind of devolution, even independence – perhaps a re-run of the referendum that voted 90% against incorporation into Edinburgh in 1920. I wonder if there are lessons to be learned from our two recent referendums and the Brexit mess we are in now. 

The speed and passage of both unification and self-determination require delicate handling and wise diplomacy. Thankfully we have Nicola on the Scottish stage, wisely resisting calls for a quick Indy-ref re-run, whilst consoling the nutters who thrive on disdain for all Unionists, by keeping the flame alive. 

In Leith we have a perception of ourselves as a port and therefore welcoming to newcomers. So far so good. Perhaps we could use our centenary year to reflect on why and how Leith is different to Edinburgh, and why that matters, if at all. And if there were to be a change in that relationship, how could it be beneficial to both the port and the city on the hill? ν 

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