Coming from an Irish family, I have always felt some affinity with Europe. I don’t remember much about the referendum campaign, mainly because I didn’t pay close attention – I had the foolish assumption that we were going to stay. I grew up in England and would have been in sixth grade at the time. I didn’t even have a voice.
At the height of the Brexit years – those long, hard years when normal politics were put on hold – I lived in Scotland and loved every second of life in busy, cosmopolitan Glasgow. Somehow it reminded me of Manchester, another vibrant, bustling city that embraced its European workforce and recognized the importance of EU membership to the local economy.
The contrast between Scotland and England was stark. There was genuine resentment among my Scottish friends, even among Unionists, at what was happening in London. The fever that had gripped Westminster and corrupted our MPs was utterly foreign to Scotland, a country that, like Manchester, had built entire industries on healthy relations with Europe and the contribution of EU nationals to its hospitality, health – and financial sectors.
And yet, for all the confusion, shock and dismay that followed the referendum result, it seemed to unleash something new in British politics. Countless young people in the UK, myself included, were suddenly aware that politics mattered – our futures were being decided for us, largely by Westminster politicians who didn’t know what they were doing. They often had little understanding of the Scottish economy, and it became clear to Scottish voters that they had been misled in 2014 – they had voted against independence, believing their place in Europe, their family finances and their children’s futures would be secure .
The Brexit dream – a return to the glory days of sought-after exports and industries such as engineering, steel and shipbuilding – is turning into a nightmare for Scotland, a country where services now make up 75% of our economy and manufacturing only 11%. In 2018, trade between Scotland and Europe was worth a whopping £33.8 billion – a figure that represented countless jobs, industries and livelihoods.
How Brexit affected Scotland
The Scottish economy has since been hit by an exodus of European workers, a shrinking financial services sector and rising prices. Far from the abundance of jobs and homes promised us by the likes of Johnson and Farage, the UK’s economic outlook looks bleak. There’s not much the Scottish Government can do on a limited budget in the face of stagnant wages and a housing crisis that Westminster has little appetite for. Why should they, when a wealthy elite takes advantage of both? In some ways we have never been more polarized – but at least Labor and the Conservatives have agreed on a consensus in favor of trickle-down economics and impotent financial policies.
At the time of writing, the UK economy will lag behind the G7 countries with a contraction of 0.3%. The really depressing news is that the UK is behind even Russia, which is looking at a 0.7% growth rate for its sanctions-hit, creaking economy.
If the argument for independence was lost on the core of the economy in 2014, it has never been more clear than now that Europe is at the center of winning that argument next time. In addition to the free movement of goods, services, people and capital, Scotland in the EU is part of a trading bloc of 440 million people, a unique partnership with far more influence on the world stage than a decrepit UK, tottering with its begging bowl and not in able to remember his rules.
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A union worth being a part of?
There will be those who argue that the United Kingdom is the only union Scotland should be interested in. And while it is true that trade with the rest of the UK dwarfs trade with Europe, the same can be said of Ireland, India and numerous Commonwealth countries. before their independence. Scotland accounts for over 22% of the UK’s renewable energy generation, 61% of its timber production and 82% of its oil and gas. . A belligerent UK would be more than foolish to do further damage to its economy by complicating Scotland’s independence.
If voters in England were won over by Vote Leave’s critique of the European project, then Scotland has built its identity on the best Europe has to offer; a social democratic economy, a compassionate welfare state and a commitment to free trade. This is a far cry from the protectionist populism championed by Westminster and further emphasizes the crossroads the UK faces.
Scotland is the only British country with a consistent international trade surplus. Food and drink exports have increased by more than 80% since 2007, while international exports of goods and services have increased by 64% since 2002.
With the powers of independence, there’s no reason why a European, internationalist Scotland couldn’t succeed. The UK is indeed at a crossroads and it is time for Scotland to choose the path it wants to take.
This article is part of the YSI International Conference Supplement