All I remember is falling in love; fast, deep, lasting love. So I packed my bags, bid farewell to friends in Copenhagen and moved. This was in the early 1990s. My journey was as easy as it sounds because of the EU: no complicated border procedures, and my tuition fees were paid in full by the ERASMUS fund. I even received a maintenance grant (those were the days)!
How privileged I felt! I was studying Scottish Literature, History and Ethnology at the University of Edinburgh, every day brought new insights into the majestic and battle-scarred soul of my big love: Alba, Caledonia, Scotland. Aye, I am a cultural immigrant, and you have treated me with nothing but kindness and opportunities.
Born in Scandinavia in the 60s I consider my generation to be the lucky one; we have been in the enviable position of reaping the rewards of the EU. The open borders allowed us to hitchhike and couch-surf in Poland, Romania, Greece and Sweden. With ease, we have studied and worked in other EU countries, picked up snippets of language from natives and other visitors; we have made friends, business partners, marriages. We have also contributed to our host countries, sharing our culture and foods, inviting visitors to tour the sights we have come to call home, paying our taxes.
Europe is an exciting, vibrant continent with many diverse cultures, customs, languages and dialects, all within a relatively small geographical space. It is also a peaceful place. It hasn’t long been such – I am mindful of that. Our great grandfathers fought in the great war, our grandparents lived through it. Then they, in turn, fought in WW2, and our parents grew up during this dark time and its aftermath. My generation doesn’t know of war on our doorstep. I repeat: we are the lucky ones. EU nations have been at war with one another for so long, yet now there has been peace amongst them for 70 years. I feel such gratitude to the EU, not just for keeping this peace, but for the opportunities, subsidies and funding as well as all the vital human, environmental- and labour market rights.
For 23 years I’ve observed successive Westminster governments blame the EU for all the ills befallen on our society. At the same time, the advantages of being a member of the EU have never been made clear by our ruling politicians. Exacerbated by biased reporting from much of the mainstream media, we now find ourselves in this Brexit situation. Yes, the EU may need reform but surely that is best achieved by staying around the negotiating table.
There are around 3 million EU citizens in the UK, ca. 170.000 in Scotland. We work, employ people, pay taxes, and we spend what we earn here. We are integrated, sometimes intermarried; children were born here and thus have UK and/or dual citizenship. We have bought property and made plans for the future. We may still speak with foreign accents, but our dogs bark in Scots. And until the Brexit referendum most of us felt welcome here.
This week my French husband and I attended the Scottish Government’s Q&A session with EU citizens. Great sympathy was shown for our situation, and our First Minister kept assuring us that we have a place in Scotland and that our contribution is valued. Sadly despite this, we came away more confused than before, and the million dollar/euro/pound question to me remains: will we be able to stay here?
There are practical questions of course:
What are the implications of 3 million EU citizens leaving the UK? Will we be made to swap places with the approximately 1.2 million UK citizens in the EU? There would still be a huge gap in the workforce here – who would fill that?
Where would we even go post potential Brexit-expulsion? Denmark? France? Portugal? New Zealand? Sweden? Canada? Who would want us? Will the UK Government reimburse us for having to close our businesses? Will it help us with set-up costs elsewhere? Will it ensure that our houses sell at their market value? Will we be able to draw our pensions in full from another country, and will these be inflation-linked?
These financial and work concerns aside, for me the crucial issue is one of belonging. I belong here. My husband belongs here. Our dog belongs here.
People have been forced to leave their homeland for millennia, so I feel a certain degree of shame expressing the loss I would feel if we had to leave Scotland. There are many millions of displaced people on this planet at this moment; fleeing wars, famine and persecution; afraid to go back from where they came.
And yet, please allow me to whisper gently in your ear that I am profoundly, emotionally and culturally tied to this land.
It has been such a privilege to make my home here, to meet kindred souls, find inspiration and reasons to live, learn and create, to forge strong and important friendships, to run a business for 20 years, pay off a mortgage, make art and engage in the cultural, spiritual and political life of the land. My dogs and I have had enormous joy on our walks through so much of your landscape, high and low, barren, lush and waterlogged, sometimes even sunny and warm. I know this place so much better than my old country and I love it here: I belong here.
Bonny Scotland, I hope I never, ever have to utter these words: cheerio and thanks for all the guid craic.