The forthcoming referendum is not about old country rivalry, as I have been explaining to our German friends, but about Scotland’s position now. As a former supporter of the UK Union (albeit a lukewarm one) I see that Independence would serve Scottish interests better. Unlike other countries, Scotland has the infrastructure to support the changeover and there would be less step changes required than going ahead with Brexit. However, to explain my thoughts on Independence and Brexit I need to go back to the morning when the EU referendum result was announced.
I was lying in bed at 4:30 am watching the results of Brexit and woke my husband with the yell "we are out, OUT. We are OUT of the EU!" I am writing to you from Offenbach Bieber, a town near Frankfurt. We are a Scottish family living in what we jokingly refer to as "Brexit Island"; a kind of no man’s land because we don't know what the future holds for us here in Germany.
The Monday after Brexit I was teaching at an office in Frankfurt. "Der Brexit" was everywhere. Frankfurt, Germany, Europe was stunned. I watched Nigel Farage on a screen in an office reception as he gloated in his speech to the EU parliament:
"You’re not laughing now! By stealth, by deception, without ever telling the truth to the British people... you have imposed upon them a political union!"
Stealth, deception and non-truth telling? Mr Farage certainly knows about that, having encouraged Brexit on the back of a lie. Mr Farage described the Brexit supporters as "the little people" and as the German translation ran across the bottom of the screen I felt ashamed to be British. My eyes filled with tears. This was how Britain was represented on a global platform. A UK politician insulting Europeans, whilst simultaneously insulting the British people who voted for him. The "peasant revolt" as Farage dubbed it was not meant as a compliment. I don't think I will forget seeing that awful speech.
In the following weeks people wanted to understand Brexit. They were looking to us for answers, as the only Brits they knew. We didn't have any answers!
Our landlord expressed sadness at the result and I could see in his eyes the question he wanted to ask: would we be staying on in Germany? My German boss contacted me as business owner utilizing the EU freedom of movement. She was wondering how she was going to manage things now. Another language school based in England that I work for emailed "Brexit? What are we going to do?" We corresponded and she replied:
"Can't talk, Laura, I'm emotional and don't know what will happen to my business. I might have to move to the Republic of Ireland".
These conversations left us wondering, would I still have a job?
Then there were questions from the German construction company surrounding the building of the home we reserved. Would we get a mortgage they wanted to know? Brexit is now up close and personal and rather like a person who sits too close to you on the train, it is getting uncomfortable. Pulling the train emergency stop cord isn't an option. The UK legal court challenges and House of Lord's opposition were failed attempts to stop Brexit. But we are now on a journey with an unknown destination. Where next? The UK is galloping towards a hard Brexit, with no plan and no desire to talk with the devolved Governments of the UK.
Our life has moved on post Brexit. We have cancelled building our new home, and have registered for language courses which may be needed for future applications for German citizenship. We are also thinking about our passports, particularly for our German born son, John.
Now, I read around 6 newspapers a day, listen to German news on the car radio and tune into Parliament debates to try to understand what might happen next. The German people we know are curious about Scotland's future. The day of (First Minister) Sturgeon's announcement, my students asked me what I thought about a possible 2nd Scottish Independence referendum. They are excited for us. I am grateful for their encouragement.
We didn't get to vote in the Scottish Independence referendum in 2014 and I felt that was right and was quietly relieved at the result. But, unlike the first Independence referendum, Scotland now has more to lose by staying in the UK Union than leaving it. Brexit will be felt more acutely in Scotland and it will take longer for Scotland to recover.
There are 3 areas over Brexit that concern me most for Scotland. The first is Scotland's agriculture & fishing industries. The UK has said that control and rights surrounding Scotland currently with Brussels, will be repatriated back to the UK Government in the first instance. Not back to the Scottish Government. In this delicate political poker game the UK has the weaker hand in Brexit negotiations. Scottish fishing quotas, new drilling sites for oil, renewable energy and agricultural agreements all big areas for Scotland, could be bargained away. The UK Government remain secretive about their strategy. They could chose to meet the devolved Governments of Scotland, N. Ireland and Wales privately, but have chosen to keep them at arm’s length. Is a country still a country if it is refused discussion over how its land, waters or renewables are to be used?
Then there is the problem of funding gaps. According to the Orkney News: from 2014 to 2020, under EU membership, the Scottish farming industry would receive around £ 3.5 billion under CAP funding directly from the EU. On top of this £3.5 billion we have another figure to add, EU funding to the fishing industry. One example is the £108m that goes to Scotland via the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund. Will the UK government find the money to bridge this gap? Or will they do something even worse, hand the funding problem back to Scotland. This would leave Scotland to find billions lost in a decision they didn't vote for.
I have also reassured our German friends that Scotland is not just looking for what it can get from the EU. Scotland has so much to give! Scotland is a leader in renewable energy and sustaining the environment and has received support for Independence from the Scottish Green Party. Ms Sturgeon recently visited California to discuss climate change, and this topic is very much aligned with EU mentality to promote a better environment. So, on this topic we have much in common with the EU.
On the business end of things, the Scottish Government’s business export report from 2015 shows Scotland is exporting goods to the value of £78.6 billion and that's excluding oil and gas. The Scottish Government reported recently that exports of food and drink reached a record high of £5.5 billion, 9 new distilleries have opened between 2014 and 2016 and 40 new distilleries are planned for the future. That is a lot of distilleries! Then there is the discussion of asset division, according to Business for Scotland, an Independent Scotland will gain its share of UK assets to the value of £103 billion in additional money. I would suggest to you, that these facts are why the UK Government is determined to stop Scotland leaving the Union. If Scotland were an economic liability the UK would let them leave, but Scotland is an economic asset to the UK and would be an asset to the EU.
The second area that concerns me is the human aspect. Scotland has offered to accept more refugee children and Ms Sturgeon made a statement on the day of the Brexit result addressing EU nationals saying "Scotland is simply home to all who live here". Scotland needs immigration to support its aging population. Brexit will impact every sector in Scotland if EU nationals leave. So, what will the UK Government say to your EU nationals? No one knows. They will likely feature as part of a negotiation process. Your EU nationals are on Brexit Island with us until further notice.
The third aspect for concern is that of democracy. Nicola Sturgeon was elected by Scots in a huge landslide victory. Theresa May is an unelected Prime Minister trying to prevent Scotland having another referendum. What does this say about Scotland's place at the UK table?
We have found that Scots and Europeans live together happily. Our EU friends in Germany understand us in a way the Scots' geographical neighbors do not, it seems. I don't mean they have fondness for the whisky, Scottie dog stereotype of Scotland. I mean the EU see Scotland in vibrant technicolor, not tartan and understand having given up the Deutschmark the concerns Scots might have about giving up the pound. As I watch Mrs May trying to rekindle relationships with other countries such as the US and Saudi Arabia, it is all the more unkind that Scotland, their neighbour, is being met with a stone wall. That is hard to watch.
When we arrived in Germany we were welcomed warmly. The local Mums of Bieber invited me to their mother and child group. Many of my students have wanted to help us, suggesting good places to go on holiday and some are looking out for apartments for sale that we might be interested in. It reminds me of our life, in my 20s, in Scotland socializing with the EU students. Many of us became close friends, and are still friends today. My son's Godmother is Hungarian!
So, Independence must be the desire of Scotland? You would think so. But we sense for ourselves Scotland’s people are politically weary. The last referendum was a long battle and now with Brexit, people are tired of politics. Many just want the division to end. Some of the older generation worry about their pensions and some people just feel British in their identity. I know that I used to feel British. But my hope is people see this as the opportunity it could be.
Meantime we are thankful for the warm reception we continue to enjoy here. With Brexit and the EU elections we are watching with a mixture of interest and concern from Brexit Island.