Scotland’s Dissent

2nd April 2019

Have you ever sat in the back seat of a car, certain of the route to be taken only to witness your driver make a disastrously wrong turn?

That’s Scotland. 

One of my signal memories of that June morning after Brexit came from north of Hadrian’s wall. The troublesome tribes, which the Romans decided were unconquerable, had a word to say… 

The cogent response to Brexit of Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister, on June 24th 2016 was notable. Cameron (Brexit’s driver) had gone to ground, and then promptly resigned. Wales got what it wanted, and said zilch. Northern Ireland was in consternation, trying to figure out what had just happened, and began thinking through border implications as if for the first time. 

Sturgeon, whose country had voted by a persuasive 62% to stay in the EU, made her voice clear.

From the back seat, she grabbed the steering wheel.

Clad in red and steely of composure, she outlined her disappointment at what the UK had decided, promising to vigorously explore all options to secure Scotland’s place in the EU. She took a moment to address Europeans directly, assuring EU citizens living in Scotland of their welcome. She continued, announcing legal preparations in readiness for a second Scottish independence vote. 

I had long ceased being a political wonk, but it seemed even to me that Sturgeon was the only one holding a map. Scotland’s voice was clearest. It was fully for turning back. Back from the exit, back to the heart of Europe. 

And then politics happened. 

A snap election in the Spring of 2017 delivered success for Scottish Conservatives and a gaping 21-seat loss for Sturgeon’s SNP party. A principal component of the loss? Talk of another independence referendum. 

It turned out that Scots were sick of navel-gazing, and had begun referring to the quest for Scottish independence from the UK as a ‘Never-endum’. Conflating this issues of British identity and European identity was contentious, seen by many as over-reaching. The people wanted some stability, and the ability to get on with life. Sturgeon announced a ‘pause’ in her devolved Government’s pursuit of a second independence vote. 

Observing from a distance, it seemed that the result of all these shenanigans was that Scotland had been chastened, its fire to remain European outdone by the grind of Westminster.

My attention returned to London. 

This remained the case until three days ago, when I found myself targeted (as a European, and someone in business) by the soft power of Scottish advertising. A thirty second ad called on me to rethink what I know of Caledonia. It has been e-stalking me now for seventy-two hours. Nicola’s advertising pockets seem deep.  

Under the banner #scotlandisnow, and created jointly by Visit Scotland and Scottish Enterprise, Caledonia has found her voice. 

Brexit Shmexit! Scotland is having none of it. 

The ad’s message begins with a young confident man, standing alone on the vast expanse of Lunan Beach, Angus, talking to camera. 

‘Hey Europe, Scotland has a message for you…’

He looks at the camera with a wry expression.

He knows. We know. 

‘From the bottom of our hearts, our beautiful country is open to you…Our arms are open. Europe, let’s continue our love affair’. 

The camera pans back as our smitten hero, knowing that he should not be parted from us, delivers his last lines. 

‘Scotland is open. Scotland is now’.

I watched the ad several times, remembering all the reasons why I love those pesky Scots, and had so admired Sturgeon’s fire on the morning after Brexit. 

Because what do you do when you don’t agree? When vital interests and principles are at stake, how hard should you be prepared to fight? How rebellious should one’s rebelling be?

I find these questions important no matter what the context: political, professional, familial, personal. 

If I were British – and I am not – I would be achingly pissed off with the vote to leave, and the current process of Brexit-ing. I’d be pissed off with the performance of my British politicians and the uniquely precarious cauldron of emotions which the referendum has roiled and boiled. 

As we sit in the middle of the Brexit muddle, I read this ad from Scotland as a sort of wilful insurgence. The United Kingdom may indeed leave the European Union. But Scotland’s heart will not. There is deep power in making one’s emotions clear. The troublesome tribes are feeling revolt. 

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