Scotland might legally be dragged out of the EU, but not culturally
A year on from the fiasco we call Brexit, the sun also rises.
I was in Edinburgh the other weekend. Strolling along the Royal Mile, my friends and I stumbled upon what was the end of a pro-Europe, anti-Brexit rally organised not only by my fellow EU citizens but, heart-warmingly enough, by Scots too. It’s precisely this rhetoric, of Scottish and European identities being intertwined, that makes me less hesitant to feel European in a nation that lashed out against us. Yes, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain; nonetheless, this does not change the fact that, by March 2019, Europeans will lose the rights and privileges we’ve had in this country for 44 years.
Yet I cannot say that I feel unwelcome here. Perhaps it’s the University of Glasgow’s welcoming nature towards international students (EU or otherwise), or the fact that Glasgow itself is one of the most diverse cities in Scotland. Maybe it’s even the kindness and genuine interest that my Scottish peers show us when we introduce ourselves. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it, there is something about Scotland that I think EU students would not necessarily experience in other parts of the UK. Feeling accepted by your community is crucial. Here, I not only feel accepted by the community, I believe I am part of it, too.
The pro-Europe rally in Edinburgh isn’t the sole experience I’ve had in Scotland that makes me feel at home. I like walking into my tiny Tesco in the morning and seeing the little Polish shelf featuring all the products I nagged my mum to buy me while growing up in Eastern Europe. When you bring up last year’s controversy in which people in England put derogatory posters against Poles up the day after the referendum vote, the only reaction you will receive from Glaswegians is disgust and sadness. The Scottish government’s commitment to providing EU/EEA students home fees in Scottish universities is not only encouraging but comforting. For many students, going to some of the top universities in the world is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
I remember watching the referendum results come in and crying. It was two months before I was meant to submit my university applications, and I knew that without the possibility of EU fees, I would not be able to afford university in the UK. The same burning in my eyes returned a few months ago when my friends, most of whom were off to English universities, told me horror stories of freshers’ group chats rampant with racism and their nationalities being constantly mistaken or forgotten. A personal favourite of mine was when my friend’s flatmate asked her if she was “half-Asian and half-Chinese.”
This leads me to ask the question: how different were the attitudes towards Europeans in Scotland a year ago, or even before the referendum? According to the Scottish students I interviewed, their views have not changed in the slightest. As one student put it, “I’ve always been interested in European history, and I really respect European students that come and study here. They are brave to move so far away and learn in a different language from their mother tongue.”
Why is it, then, that we constantly come across sensationalist articles in national newspapers talking about the “destruction of our European nature?” Maybe this attitude persists south of the border, but certainly not in Scotland – not in my experience, at least.
Discussing the topic with European students, we find some varying opinions. Third and fourth year European students claim they can’t tell the difference between pre and post June 2016 attitudes. A first year, contrastingly, says she feels stressed thinking about her job prospects when she graduates. The University itself reiterates its appreciation for the benefits provided by being a member of the EU. There is, naturally, stress regarding the future, but for the moment it appears that students feel protected (as they should!). If anything, it may be easier to feel European in a place that supports the EU, what with the rise of Euroscepticism on the continent itself.
Although I thought that coming here post-Brexit would tempt me to push the proverbial panic button right away, I’ve actually found that there is no need for me to even hold onto one. A year and a half from now, Scotland may be dragged out of the EU against its own will “legally.” But culturally? Realistically? I highly doubt this. We must not panic; we must persist. We must resist this attempt to take this shared identity away.