By Katarina Bungerfeldt
Flags are flying in the breeze on Princes Street in central Edinburgh. The Scottish flag, blue and white, flaps side by side the Union Jack. Bagpipes play in the distance. Sometimes when passing by, I have heard them play “God Save the Queen”. But outside the city centre, on smaller streets — where people actually live — things are different. There are flags here too; the Scottish cross, together with the EU Stars. Draped across doors, framing the windows, adding a political touch to people’s balcony decorations. The message could not be clearer. Scotland belongs in the EU.
The problem, as most of us know, is that Westminster disagrees. News reports get updated on a daily basis, with the latest developments and projections of the Brexit negotiations. Yet no one really knows what will happen. Meanwhile in Scotland, the Brexit situation has sparked new life into a never-ending debate: if the UK leaves Europe, why should not Scotland leave the UK?
From an outside perspective, the reignited Scottish sovereignty debate may seem far-fetched and downright peculiar. Everybody lives on the same big island, which has been one single country forever. To suddenly change things may seem like a total overreaction. However, the matter is obviously much more complicated than that. Scottish history is mingled with rivalry, conflict, and even full-scale war against the British. After a crushing defeat on the fields of Culloden (which people still sing songs about by the way) Scotland was reluctantly incorporated in the emerging British Empire.
Yet the Scots have preserved a culture, a language (although very few people still speak Gaelic fluently) and an identity separated from the English. Scotland has its own version of the pound, it is to some extent politically and legally estranged from the rest of the UK, and they have an independent transportation network (which means it could actually cost me more to book a one-way train ticket to London than to fly home to Stockholm and back). Furthermore, there is the fleeting concept of Scottish identity. When spending time in Scotland, it becomes increasingly clear that Scots do not consider themselves unconditionally British. They feel they belong primarily to a Scottish culture, different from the rest of the UK. The question in many people’s minds is therefore not “what will happen to Britain when we leave the EU?”, but rather “what will happen to us when they leave?”
In the independence election of 2014, the main reason that the remain-side won (with an incredible small majority) was membership to the EU. If Scotland were to become an independent country the government would have to re-apply for membership, and although they meet all formal requirements, their application would run the risk of being blocked by other EU member states. And even if they did succeed in becoming a member, the process of acceding to the EU would take such a long time, and be a terrible hassle to go through. But of course, now that the UK is leaving, hassle has become inevitable.
That being said, Scotland is entangled with the rest of the UK in many ways. Considering everything that has happened since the battle of Culloden, the Scots do share a common history and culture with their countrywomen in the south. Many Scots move down south for work and education, and many from England, Wales and Northern Ireland come to Scotland for the same reasons. For most of the people I have met at the University of Edinburgh, Scottish sovereignty could come to have devastating outcomes on a personal level.
Of course, these are the young and educated people who have wanted to remain in the EU from the very start. Their vote did not decide the Brexit referendum, and — unless Scotland can hold off on another independence referendum for twenty years or so — it probably will not decide the question of Scottish independence either. Their only hope is that the political power-players in Brussels, Westminster and the Scottish Parliament can keep their cool and agree upon a settlement that prioritizes people’s interests over personal pride.
Katarina Bungerfeldt is currently studying international relations and international law on an exchange at the University of Edinburgh. She has previously studied political science at Uppsala university, during which time she was also a board member of UF Uppsala, and will soon go about to start studying law. In her spare time she enjoys reading, watching netflix (a little too much to be honest) and dancing lindyhop.
Image: Julien Carnot