The Braveheart I encountered on the bus had wrinkles and wore a Christmas hat. It was the day after the General Election. “You look bit sad, love”, he said. “Well, I’m an EU citizen from Germany and concerned about the election results”, I replied. I had made Glasgow my home in 2018 and somehow I am still amazed by the way people here just chat with each other. “Aye. So am I. Cried my eyes out last night”, the old man said. “The Tories, they don’t like poor people like me.”
So here we were. Scotland stuck with a Tory government – including all of its austerity policies – that it did not vote for. I remembered the letter that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had written to all EU citizens, reassuring us that we would be very welcome in Scotland. Not for a single second have I felt not wanted here. Every Scot I met has been nothing short of lovely to me. But how welcome am I in the UK as a whole – a place that wants to “get Brexit done” and cut off its ties with the continent? That is enforcing restrictive immigration rules? And what is Scotland truly able to do to keep Europeans here as long as it is tied to Westminster?
The difference between Scotland and England could hardly be more obvious than it is along this line. And although Scottish national identity has always been distinct, but intertwined with its closest neighbour.
Scotland always had closer ties to Europe than England, even directly to Germany. In 1297 William Wallace personally wrote to the Hanseatic League to reestablish trade with Scotland. This nation has been part of the European idea for centuries; even today it is a respected member of the European community. Yet, Scotland will be taken out of the EU without its consent. How is that possible – in what kind of union is one partner a prisoner? Certainly not in a voluntary one, a union of equals.
Looking at the German reunification in 1990, a rift between East and West Germany is still felt today – economically, politically, and to a certain extent, culturally as well. The way the West then arrogantly ignored the experiences and needs of the people of the former GDR socially and economically devastated entire areas, making it painfully obvious that any union always needs to be established and maintained at eye level and with mutual respect. But throughout history, Westminster, too, has ignored or neglected Scottish concerns more often than not – from the introduction of the malt tax in 1713 to Boris Johnson’s recent reply to Nicola Sturgeon’s letter.
The election results in Scotland, with an overwhelming majority for the SNP, showed a clear case for a second referendum on independence. And no, this would not simply mean repeating the same question. The circumstances have changed radically since 2014. Denying the Scottish people another informed vote after those past years that have shaped and distorted the UK with the argument of a “once in a generation”-opportunity would be comparable to having one General Election every 50 years. How is that democratic? The Scottish people deserve the opportunity to express their will. Let the no-voters vote no again if they still feel inclined to do so. But let them vote.
Scotland is my home now. It’s a stunningly beautiful, diverse, incredible country. I want to stay here with all my heart. I want Scotland to be self-determined, able to take care of its particular needs and concerns, learn and grow from its own mistakes and successes. I want this country to be free and independent.
The bus stopped and the old man looked directly at me. Suddenly, his face lit up and he said with confidence: “The SNP is all right. They’re gonna get us out of this mess. This is Scotland, not England!” I hope he is right. Because it’s time.