Throwing It All Away



There was a time, back in 2012, watching the opening ceremony of the London Olympics, when many of us felt at least a stirring of pride in - or perhaps I mean genuine affection for - the island group that we call home. It was a production full of historical awareness, creativity and good humour. We liked to think it reflected the best of us.  

Yet here we are, eight years later, and many of us can't think about that time without a profound sense of regret and horror. Because in eight short years, we've been precipitated into the most divisive political situation of my life - although I know other parts of this now precarious union have been through worse times.

How on earth, we wonder, could a country that is supposedly part of a voluntary union, deliberately throw away all that goodwill, all that affection, in the pursuit of an unattainable, unrealistic and unworthy dream - one, moreover, that has turned into a nightmare for so many of us, based as it is on lies, greed and xenophobia. The sabre rattling we're now seeing at Westminster is terrifying. It takes an Irish writer, wise Fintan O'Toole, to call it out for what it is: England recasting itself as a victim of colonisation, emerging from the imaginary 'empire' of the EU. 

Somebody remarked to me today that - living in the EU - he always makes it clear that he is Scottish, not English, because so many of his friends, coming from many different nations, have admitted that they really don't much like the English now. They're very fond of Scotland though.

I'm glad for Scotland, but sad for England. After all, I was born there, albeit with an Irish grandmother and a Polish father. I spent the first eleven or twelve years of my life in England and I loved it deeply. Still do, in so many ways. But the cultural and ideological gap between Scotland and England is now a gaping chasm, one that can't be spanned - and certainly not by one of the PM's imaginary bridges.

As most of my friends know, last year, after thinking about it since 2016, and taking some time to gather together the various papers needed, I reclaimed the dual nationality I had when I was born. It was a fiddly but not particularly difficult or expensive procedure, largely down to helpful advice from the Polish vice consul in Edinburgh and the fact that I still had a number of my father's old documents squirrelled away.

I haven't yet applied for my passport. I had all my 'ducks in a row' but then Covid and lockdown and shielding (for my husband) intervened and I couldn't get to Edinburgh. I'm hoping to do so before the end of the year. 

What the process has done, though, is to highlight for me that the citizenship is more important to me than the passport. The passport, when I get it, will be a convenience. The rather beautiful and formal citizenship letter was what I craved. Let's face it, Poland too has its troubles. But I don't think it's ever going to be stupid enough to vote to leave the EU. So the letter symbolises something very important to me - not just Poland, but Poland in the heart of Europe - and the precious retention of my European citizenship that the Cummings government has tried and failed to take away from me.

I loathe the constant stream of tabloid insults to our European friends and relatives. Now the government intends to break international law, threatening the Good Friday Agreement in the process. I resent every lie, every implication that the EU is the enemy, every wretched inconvenience. I resent having to try to stockpile food and medication. I resent every smirking politician who invades my TV screen, disparaging the rest of the continent to which I belong, and which I love. 

But you know what I hate most of all? I hate the way the revulsion at what this government is inflicting on the rest of us fills my days and disturbs my nights. 

I've always been interested in politics. I can't call myself an activist, but I've done my bit. I campaigned to join the Common Market, back in the 70s. I've been a Labour party member and now I'm a member of the SNP. I've read and debated and I've always voted. 

I've also made big mistakes. Huge. Voting no at the last indyref was the biggest mistake of my life, and, hand on heart, I did it because I swallowed the lie that it was the only way of remaining in the EU. I've regretted it every day since. I didn't do my homework. I didn't look at countries like Finland - which I know well - and Denmark and Norway, and wonder why on earth we couldn't be like them. There's nothing I can do about that now except say sorry, and campaign for independence. And to be fair, I've been welcomed into the fold like the lost sheep in the bible. 

But it strikes me that although politics should be something we all engage with, it works best when we don't have to think about it every single day; the way so many things that are important to us in our lives go on working just well enough that - even the most proactive of us - don't have to consider them or be afraid of them all the time. I am careful what I buy, shop local as much as possible, read labels. But I don't spend my entire days worrying that the farm shop down the road is up to something nefarious behind my back. I trust them. I love the fact that the water that comes out of our taps here tastes pure and clean and I would be alarmed if it didn't. But I also pretty much trust Scottish Water to keep it that way, without worrying about it every time I drink a glass of water.

Throughout my life there were some governments who seemed to be doing their best, and some that I didn't trust. Some I voted for and some I didn't. I never believed that any of them would keep all those fine election promises. And there were some that I disliked intensely. But there has never been a government like this one. 

It was in 2016 that everything changed. At first, we thought it might be OK. Given the closeness of the referendum result, and the way in which Scotland voted to remain in the EU by an overwhelming majority, we actually thought that some sensible compromise might be reached. And you know, we would have gone along with it. Leaving the EU would have been bad and we wouldn't have liked it, but staying in the single market and customs union would have honoured the referendum result while accepting that just under half of the country disagreed. That would have been a way forward: a decent and honourable compromise. And it wouldn't have threatened the Good Friday Agreement in the way that it is under threat now.

There was no compromise. None whatsoever. There were people who predicted the way things would go and we thought they were exaggerating. We underestimated the xenophobia and carelessness and malice at the heart of the state. We underestimated their determination to placate the Brexit Ultras. They threw it all away: forty seven years of co-operation and collaboration. Almost all of my adult life. All that goodwill, all that regard, all that honour and honesty. All those - let's face it - special privileges England demanded and largely got. They threw it all away to placate a minority of delusional haters.

 Why? 

God alone knows. For money? Because they're disaster capitalists? To save an ageing Tory party? Because it was always the plan? Because some of them never really understood that blackmailers will always ask for more? Because they thought that if they were dishonest in very specific and limited ways, we would all be fooled into agreement? 

As I write this, the European press are increasingly bemused - but also amused - by our self destructive posturing. They still have each other and they can do without us. So long and thanks for all the fish.

Hunting around for some - any - words of wisdom, I'm reminded of an F Scott Fitzgerald observation: Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

It doesn't help our despair, but it helps to explain their difference and their indifference. 

In last week's Brexit Blog post, The Descent Into Political Insanity, the usually measured and restrained Professor Chris Grey pulls no punches when he points out that the Brexit Ultras are now willing to sacrifice anything and everything to a cause that has long since ceased to bear any resemblance whatsoever to the promises they made. It has now become – and I don’t use this term lightly or carelessly – a form of political insanity, and it is an insanity which has spread to the entire government.

Precisely. Which is why Scotland must save itself. And soon. We must not allow ourselves to be dragged off the cliff with our neighbours. We've tried to talk sense into them, but it hasn't worked. We've been willing to compromise in all kinds of ways, but we've been ignored and our elected representatives insulted. We are rich in things that matter. And we have plenty of friends elsewhere in Europe who would be happy for us to cut the rope. When England comes to its senses, we can forgive, get on, heal our divisions, be better neighbours. But it doesn't look as though that's going to happen any time soon.

Meanwhile, how's your stockpile of imported goods coming along? 





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