By Alyn Smith
LIKE MANY on the night of 23 June, I watched all night a UK map turn Brexit red in slow-motion as a horrified silence settled around me. Within hours of the Leave victory, Nigel Farage and his friends admitted that they wouldn’t be spending £350 million a week on the NHS after all, and that our non-EU status isn’t going to be the magic solution to the immigration fears whipped up by the Leave campaign.
So, I have one thing to say:
Scotland, thank you.
Thank you for everything you did in making sure that Europe knows Brexit wasn’t Scotland’s choice. Thank you for the street stalls, thank you for hauling yourselves out to deliver leaflets and talk to undecided voters on your own steam. Thank you for the public meetings, the emails and phone calls, and thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do.
The EU referendum was very much two bald Tories fighting over a comb, and we hadn’t even had time to recover from our third big vote in under two years. There was a real feeling that this wasn’t our fight. But when the call came, Scotland rallied magnificently.
In Scotland, we won the EU referendum in every single area; we won in Shetland, in the Borders, and everywhere in between. This was the genuine cross-party Scotland that we’d been waiting for, with decent folk from across the political spectrum pitching in for Scotland’s best interests.
We knew what we were up against. We saw the bus, heard the dogwhistles, and made ourselves hoarse by rebutting every Brexit lie and misunderstanding we came across… And we won.
We were up against a well funded, slick and utterly dishonest campaigning machine, one that has been blaming immigration for the problems caused by austerity, one that, backed up by chunks of the mainstream media, lied without batting an eyelid… And we won.
The UK government decided that EU nationals were good enough to work and pay taxes here but not good enough to vote in the referendum… And we still won.
I’ll confess, we on the Remain side hoped that Scotland would come through for us, but nobody assumed that Scotland would prove so comprehensively how different the UK is. Some of my European colleagues didn’t quite understand why we wanted independence… They do now.
In our independence referendum, a lot of decent, thoughtful, clever folk voted No because they were told that the only way to ensure EU status was to stick with the UK. I respected that, because the EU has been so good for Scotland.
The EU costs around £2.20 per person per week, but for every £1 we put in, we got £10 back in economic activity. The EU protected our human rights against our own government, including workers’ rights underpinned by EU protection. In the EU, we had the right to live, work, study or retire across the entire European Union, with EU immigrants in turn contributing £55 per second to the UK economy. Bearing all that in mind, I understand why folk would vote to remain part of the UK in order to keep all these rights.
But now, these people have been sold out by a government that risked it all on a hubristic whim.
By the time you read this, we’ll have had time to lick our wounds and decide what to do next. The fact remains that Scotland has shown itself to be an outward-looking nation that wants to be a full part of Europe and engage productively with our European neighbours.
While Boris Johnson and Michael Gove were looking horrified and numb at their own victory press conference, our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon started her own speech at Bute House by reminding EU nationals that they remain welcome here.
“Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued”. Look at the message that sends out to our friends and neighbours around the world. Our First Minister told the world that a second independence referendum is “highly likely” but used the opportunity to make sure the world’s media knew that Scotland remains an open-minded, inclusive nation that wants to play its part in the world.
We have a lot of thinking to do over the next few weeks, months, and possibly years. So let’s look out for each other, and face the future together, whatever it may bring.
For my part, I’ll be wherever I can be most useful, and will continue to fight Scotland’s corner.
…Its what we do.