Why I’m relieved to be living in Scotland after Brexit result
First thing I did was check the map to see if immigrants like me were still wanted here
Jennifer Nyhan: ‘I looked desperately on the Irish embassy website or for a statement from the Taoiseach about what this would mean for those of us living in the UK. But I couldn’t find a thing.’
As a woman from the Republic of Ireland living in Scotland for almost three years now, the EU referendum held last Thursday was another historic moment for me to exercise my right to vote here. I woke up on Friday morning and grabbed my phone in a sleepy state. The cold realisation of the night’s events unravelled themselves in a flurry of notifications. Maybe some of the Brexit mood had rubbed off on me too because rather than look outward at the wider issue, the first thing I did that morning was to think about what this meant for me.
I went straight to the BBC News website and looked at their election map. I wanted to see which parts of Scotland didn’t want to be in the EU. Or, if I’m really honest, which parts didn’t want people like me.
I was relieved to the point of tears to see the golden top of the map of the British Isles. The landslide victory for the remain campaign in Edinburgh and East Dunbartonshire, the over 60 per cent in favour in Glasgow, all swelled my soul with sweet reprieve.
That sense of uncertainty which prevailed that day hasn’t yet lifted. There was obvious disbelief and deep disappointment among my friends and colleagues. With the political turmoil in Westminster unfolding, I held little hope for any guidance from there. Like a lot of people, I looked desperately on the Irish embassy website or for a statement from the Taoiseach about what this would mean for those of us living in the UK. But I couldn’t find a thing.
And then the first minister of Scotland stood up. Nicola Sturgeon stated right at the beginning of her address that European immigrants had a place in Scotland. We value you, she said. We welcome you. Then she got down to business.
As a resident of Scotland and as a European, watching her stand alone on her podium and clearly state what she would do to bring Scotland through this moment in history was a masterclass in leadership on a national scale. Her resolve, her inclusiveness and her certainty in her duty even when the road ahead was unclear were inspiring in a time of doubt. She set the tone of the Scottish discourse which would be one of open and frank discussion. She was deliberate and clear, avoiding any hint of superiority or blame which seem to have been the ugly overlords of the referendum campaign.
There were many statements like Ms Sturgeon’s and there will be many more. There will be those who disagree with her politics. There are people who disagree with the EU. But if you ever find yourself in a time of difficulty, a time of change and unrest or a time of bigotry and blame, remember the Scottish first minister. Carefully chosen, honest words aimed at inciting unity. That is the kind of leadership I will follow. It is the kind of leadership that the UK and the world needs.
Not everyone leads in this way. It is up to us to ensure we are challenging leaders who are divisive. Because they are not leading. Rather than looking down our nose or gleefully tapping out our keyboard indignation and jokes among our ever-agreeing peers over social media, we should be listening to each other, explaining our viewpoint. I’m happy to hold my hands up and say that like most people I am guilty of this. But I want to change.
There were many realistic concerns about the UK’s place in the EU which were never fully answered before they were drowned in a sea of opportunism and blatant racism. Just because someone is less educated, or older, or has less money than you, it doesn’t mean they don’t matter. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be frustrated. It doesn’t mean that they won’t have their say. If anything should be taken from the events of the past few days it is that. Bring the questions, the challenges, the listening ear. Include others in the discussion. Be leader not a follower. There is always a chance to change the conversation.