22 June 2016

The sentimental European

Purists hate the politics of the big coalition. This much seems uncontroversial. Divide a country - any country - of sufficient bigness, richness and complexity into two massive tribes, and you form uncomfortable, often incoherent coalitions. You quickly find folk vote your way for reasons you disagree with, and worse, which you disrespect. You find people you think of as your political fellow travellers voting for the other side, because some detail -- piffling to you -- torments them, some wrinkle in their soul, a different perspective. 

Purists also - in their bones - hate the cynicism of political campaigns.  It isn't my reasons for believing in Brexit, or supporting our continued membership of the EU that matters. Not to the instrumental activist. What matters is the arguments and reasons which might convince you, rather than those which convince me. And if I happen to hve an unpopular ideosyncratic view, unless I can bracket my own sentiments, unless there are a lot of people who share my outlook, I can't be an asset to your cause.

On the 18th of September 2014, I spent much of the day standing outside a kirk near Queens Park, Glasgow. The area was Yes inclined. It was a pleasant -- but doomed -- way to spend the day.  I'll never forget the woman who left the polling station, buoyant. "If we vote Yes, we automatically leave the EU" she said, having swallowed the Better Together line, hook and sinker. When she bounced out into the balmy afternoon, she had cast her Yes ballot. There was no use remonstrating, no use suggesting she'd misread the arguments of reached a - truly perverse - conclusion based on the two campaigns. I waved, dumbly, as she toddled down the street, having put up token resistance to her analysis. It wasn't worth it: her ballot was in my pile.

The EU referendum has brought out the awkwardness of the big coalition in spades. Pro-European Scottish Nationalists have watched a scorched earth economic case, orchestrated by the same folk in the Remain campaign who assured us that Scottish independence would result in an economic crucifixion. It has not been compelling. On the other side, eccentric - perhaps - but good-hearted, unbigoted leave campaigners have found themselves aligned with an often odious campaign, with which - I am sure - many would rather having nothing to do in any other circumstances. As I say: big coalition politics is difficult. It is often uncomfortable. It often feels a little dishonourable. And it makes for strange, incoherent coalitions. 

It is important to understand and scrutinise both campaigns - and both arguments - in this light. Different arguments will convince different people. There is no necessary hypocrisy in this. I would encourage you to vote Remain tomorrow. But the reasons which persuade me may not be reasons which persuade you. Some other advocate -- on either side -- may more effectively speak to your concerns than I can. Heed them. Follow your own best judgment. We are large. This is a country of several million people. Domestic politics is still diverging in the home nations. We contain multitudes.  

But speaking solely for myself: the European ideal still seems to me a noble one. The academic world is full of European citizens. I am surrounded by folk who live here, love here, work here, labour here, raise and educate their children here, because of the free movement of people. In the 2014 referendum, European citizens voted on the constitutional future of Scotland because -- at its most simple -- they are part of us. They choose to live here. They persevere here. They have their pleasures and their pains here, their friends and enemies. They have sparkling evenings, and dull times, they share laughter and kisses and rows and sorrows. They do precisely what the rest of us do. You may say this is sentimental. Very well: it is sentimental. But quietly, undemonstratively, this decision was one of the noblest things the SNP has done in office.

I cannot look at these people in the eye tomorrow - these colleagues, these allies, these friends - and vote to Leave the European Union. Unlike Jim Sillars, I cannot and I will not prosecute my indyref feuds with the European Commission and European governments by turning a cold shoulder on my comrades, who are part of us, who live with us, whose children are our friend's children, who elaborate Scotland and Britain's still largely monochrome tapestry.

They are immigrants and emigrants, just as Scots have traipsed across this globe for centuries, inflicting their lousy patter on the peoples of the world on the banks of the Hudson, in the scorching territories of Australia. They are people -- people who I have watched suffer, largely in silence, through this referendum. Tomorrow too, they will be silent in the ballot boxes, their votes missing. But one of my Dutch friends, who has lived in Britain for fifteen years, put it horribly starkly. "I will never forget the headlines. Stay or go, I will never look at you the same way again."

I believe that Scotland has a European destiny, inside the UK, or outside of it. For me, this is existential. Despite the slurs and the sallies, the wits and the wags and the denigrators, ours is not and has never been a separatist movement. I have no interest in narrow nationalism. Too often too isolated in this debate, the leadership of the SNP has forthrightly made the case for immigration, uncowed, unbend, courageously. They are to be commended. Alex Salmond recently put it well in the Oxford Union. We know being involved in mankind is nothing to fear. We know that the lean sphere of sovereignty is a boyhood fantasy. We aren't afraid of negotiating, even negotiating hard-headedly, in our collective interest. We abjure easy solutions to complex problems. 

Confident people -- truly confident countries -- do not hirple through their collective lives, cramped and shivering. They do not go into the darkness of the future with fear. They are emboldened by their own best traditions. They are fierce friends. They don't cringe.  They see opportunities, more often than they tremble. As a Scottish Nationalist, I am soaked in pessimism about the United Kingdom. This much you know. But this is a land with a better tradition which tomorrow will be weighed in the balance. I have no confidence about what the result might be -- but I know this. 

Despite my long-standing pessimism about the UK, I'll be exiled to the doldrums of unhappiness on Friday, if Britain crashes out of the European Union. The bottom will - once again - be speared out of what I thought was a bottomless bucket of disappointment with Britain. This may seem perverse. You are right. The force of those multitudes again, I suppose. But in my bones, I'm an optimistic soul. I remain a Scottish nationalist with regrets, still somehow stubbornly attached to the possibility of a better Britain. It will be a painful to discover my most harsh suspicions about this union are true. I'm not trying to be cute. I will be horribly unhappy to be confirmed in my prejudices.

Tomorrow is one of those days in our history which will try Britain's soul. It is difficult, even to begin to calculate the consequences of a vote to leave. Yet I cast my ballot, more in hope than expectation. And I cast it for my friends, sentimentally perhaps, but unrepentantly, a European.


  1. As a sometime academic I know how you feel. I've laughed and cried with colleagues from all over the world. The worst thing to my mind with this referendum is that non British EU citizens cannot vote in it.

    How could you meet the eyes of colleagues after putting their right to employment at risk when their voices are silenced?

    My youngest and some of her friends have votes tomorrow, from far New Zealand. Why is it right that they get a vote but EU citizens do not? Those most affected, potentially, get no say.

    We have a responsible to these people when we vote tomorrow. Are we fair weather friends about to cold shoulder people you smiled at yesterday? Really?

    But then we are 'elites' who can be expected to vote Remain. Except I for one know what it is to be poor. I was not always thus.

  2. "In the 2014 referendum, European citizens voted on the constitutional future of Scotland because -- at its most simple -- they are part of us. They choose to live here. They persevere here. They have their pleasures and their pains here, their friends and enemies. They have sparkling evenings, and dull times, they share laughter and kisses and rows and sorrows. They do precisely what the rest of us do. You may say this is sentimental. Very well: it is sentimental."

    It is not sentimental when those same European citizens are denied a democratic right to vote in a referendum which affects them just as much - perhaps more so - than any of us. I have no problems viewing my vote as a proxy vote for all those whose futures depend on it.

  3. Mmm, can't help but wonder if you are making the same type of decision as the woman you met in Sep 2014.

    My way of seeing it, if your European friends can't understand the very real dangers of the EU after the treatment of Greece, the imposition of a bureaucrat as Italian leader against the democratic will of it's people and the up and coming danger of TTIP (sold to us as a free trade agreement but really legislation to give rich investors power over elected governments) then I'm not sure I would worry about their feelings. A simple explanation of these concerns would muster an ounce of understanding in most reasonable people. It's a pity that these real concerns have been omitted from the debate.

    But hey, if you want to vote Remain and give a vote of confidence to European Central Bank chief and ex- Goldman Sachs director Mario Draghi then so be it. You'll be able to look your European chums in the eye and remind them of what great virtues that bank has bestowed upon the world in the last 8 years and why we should all remain one single entity to make his difficult life so much easier.

    Only kidding.

  4. Beautifully put

    We want our neighbours as our friends - both neighbouring countries and neighbouring families. For us or them to be unwelcoming diminishes us all. For us or them to be welcoming releases us all from fear into friendship.

  5. Just writing to endorse this article - it's how I feel, as a self-exiled Nat. Both in respect of my own feelings and observing others.

    Funnily enough, this is the first time I may have had some actual political influence, as opposed to just venting whatever views in conversation or online. My mother voted no in 1975, always votes Tory and seemed genuinely undecided, yet I've managed to sway her.

    The clincher, oddly enough, was Niall Ferguson's blog in the Spectator yesterday. I passed it on to her and she ended up sharing it herself. Nothing particularly brilliant about the column, as it battered away on the hoary old divorce metaphor. As you say, what strange bedfellows referendums make.

  6. I remember seeing 'The Radetzky March' described as the ‘greatest political novel’ and have only come to see that lately, working my way through Roth (fact and fiction) and his portrayal of how the Austrian-Hungarian Empire - in a crazy way - worked, and what its ruin meant.

    In one of his newspaper pieces Roth described how before the Fall, a Russian garrison the other side of the border would cross on occasions for a dance, for socialising - within days they were throwing bodies down wells, butchering the families who were their hosts.

    I’m not optimistic about human nature. I remember the Balkans chap who described how, in the 80s, when they come for you, your postman will show them your door and the man leading them will be your children's teacher. All ordinary people.

    As J K Rowling recently observed - without pointing fingers - all nationalisms claim to be different. I’ll point a finger - Salmond described learning history at the knee of his grandfather in Linlithgow (a fine Ladybird illustration that would make). I’m willing to bet that Gramps taught him about the Glencoe Massacre, but not the worse Linlithgow massacre - not far at all from that ancestral knee - in which Covenanters murdered captured Irish woman and children, while the river choked with their bodies.

    Salmond has just been on about how merry and (Jeez) how inclusive the indy referendum was compared to the EU referendum, proof yet again that we all inhabit different universes.

    The EU project is in deep trouble, as opinion polls show in Europe. I’m voting Remain not out of hope, but because the alternative is worse.

    Cheers a’body. Vote Remain.

    1. That was the poison of religion, not nationalism. Unfortunately, when the pied piper of hate plays,all too many dance.

  7. Remain. Civis europeus sum.

  8. I have many friends from different nations and have worked outside the UK. Quite was an unreformable, undemocratic body such as the EU has to do with any of that I can't quite fathom. I value democracy and sovereignty over facile virtue signalling any day.

    I do wonder if pro-EU SNP supporters give any thoughts as to why Eurosceptic sentiments are rising across the EU - beyond the tired cliché of "racism" or whatever?

    It seem the SNP are semi-independence supporters (independence light - currency unions etc.) whilst being British Unionists for certain issues (oh it's our pound too) and then fanatical and deeply uncritical EU federalists (if it's not Sterling then the Euro will do).

    Such as shame that the party is seemingly a place where serious policy differences/debate is verboten.

    1. I think there is an argument to be made about promoting a different vision of democracy and sovereignty; the problem surely is that the Leave campaign (much like Better Together in 2014) has singularly failed to make that positive case. I have no time for Baroness Warsi, but in rolling her grenade towards the Leave campaign, she did us all a service.

      The trope about the SNP promoting "pretendy" independence is more convincing for its constant repetition, whether by opponents of the SNP or erstwhile friends like Jim Sillars; this intellectually last trope can be dismissed with the ease of the supposed undemocratic nature of the EU, or the economic armageddon awaiting us when we vote Yes - or indeed Remain, or (of course) that old favourite that dissent in the SNP is verboten and we're all unthinking cultists.

      I suppose we should be thankful for small mercies that Joe K didn't regale us with observations that Alex Salmond is fat, or Nicola is a nippy sweetie?

    2. Omission, sorry: "The trope about the SNP promoting "pretendy" independence is NO more convincing for its constant repetition"

  9. I will vote remain,because of my experience in the European Union.Forty years ago I voted no,but have since changed my mind and wish to remain as part of the EU.I do not wish to be part of this United Kingdom union for a variety of reasons,the main one being that the UK is not a true democratic country it has a pretence of democracy while being run by an elite for the elite I want independence and let us have another discussion about the EU after we have been an independent country inside the EU,then I may change my mind once more.Until those days arrive let us all vote for what we want.

  10. I like the generous tone of LPW's argument but not the argument itself. Free movement of peoples which coincidentally ends where the brown faces become a majority is not very noble or decent. It belongs to an era when Bernard Manning was on mainstream television, like much of the EU's dilapidated machinery. If we were an independent democracy again, we could conceivably come up with something better (if the Left can still imagine such a thing). That's why I have voted Leave to take back control.

    1. Hm tychy am not sure who 'we' are - as Tonto observed to the Lone Ranger when ambushed by Indians ' What do you mean, 'we' Paleface?'.

      If you vote Leave you may be perfoming the same action as Tommy Sheridan and the BNP, but you will be doing so for very different reasons; the Remain camp has some very odd bedfellows as well.

      To be cheery: have heard nice stories today about Toris, Labour, SNP, and LibDems at the polling stations. Maybe we can scrape by.

    2. By "we" I mean the demos. And every vote will count tonight so maybe this is not the wisest time to criticise my new, er, comrades in the BNP.

      Yes, you'll probably scrape by...

  11. I suppose my reaction to Edwin's thoughts, echo the point of the OP. We are both pro-indy and pro-Remain, yet there is much that divides us otherwise. There aren't that many fellow Yessers I have blocked on twitter, but he's certainly one of them.

    I liked Peat Worrier's elegiac, almost wistful take on the EU referendum, and sympathise with it wholeheartedly. Edwin's conjuring of the perils of sub Radetzky March (still less 1990's Balkans) ethnic nationalism will strike most folk as the hyperbolic tosh it so undoubtedly is. Quoting J K Rowling, doubtless pontificating from her island full of lawyers, hardly helps his case, any more than trying to draw some equivalence between the horrors of religiously inspired terrors of three centuries ago, and the civic nationalism exhibited in the indyref.

    About the only think I'd agree with Edwin on is that we appear to inhabit different universes. I'm glad I don't live in his.

    1. Fair do's nds (if I may abbreviate). I am a bit puzzled that you seem to think I am a Yesser, but cybergab does often resmeble the Monty Python semaphore version of Wuthering Heights, mixed signals fluttering in the wind.

      A glass with you sir, life is short.

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