Hello…bonjour…guten tag…ciao…hola…ahoj…jo napot…hallo…czesc…salut…bok…as salam alaykom. I am welcoming myself back in style for I have been absent a while. No sinister reason, just a combination of busy life, laziness and enjoyment of the summer, for despite the occasional shower, a lovely warm summer this has started to be. This Queen has been indulging herself a bit too much and needs to get back to reality.
And there’s been a bit of travel too…a long weekend in Berlin, a weekend at a music festival, both wonderful experiences. The kind of experiences I want to keep having, free to move around this continent that I feel I belong to.
Apologies to all who are sick of the subject, but this post is about Europe and is not a political or economic one, just a personal view. I am sick of it too – the campaign for the EU referendum has been vile. Like many, I have more or less switched off from political debate due to election fatigue. Following the Scottish referendum only 18 months ago, we were a bit like ship wreck survivors finally washed up on shore: gasping for breath, with a few cuts and bruises, but otherwise in one piece. Then within six months, another nasty, bitter, general election. Now we have the Battle for Brexit, which has taken all the previous unpleasantness, tripled it and added a dollop of racism to the mix. With the similarly horrible US presidential election as an omnipresent backdrop, it’s becoming more and more difficult to open a newspaper without wanting to scream. If anyone ever trusts any politician ever again, I will be surprised.
That aside, I care a lot about the outcome of this vote. Like most Brits, my first experience of foreign travel was to Europe. I grew up in the age of expansion of cheap travel: first the package holidays, then the budget airlines. I remember the first tastes of familiar, yet slightly exotic things e.g. those crispy, fluffy frites that the French and Belgians do so well. It was made from the same ingredients as the humble Scottish chippy chip, yet so much tastier. And who knew that if you stretched out a pancake it became even more delicious, with much more room for filling…?
Of course I’m not basing my decision on a fondness for French chips at the age of ten. But I’ve always had that feeling of being European, even if slightly out of it as a Brit. However, as Scots, we were always welcomed more in Europe than our closest neighbours – England has always been a common enemy. This experience will have tempered our prejudice a great deal.
There has always been a bit of an ‘us and them’ mentality, from the stereotypes I learned from television as a child, e.g. French equals horny garlic eaters, German equals efficiency obsessed warmongers without a sense of humour, Swedish (and all their neighbours) equals permanently naked blondes in saunas. And so it goes on, not forgetting the ‘everything east of Germany’ equals suspicious/possibly communist. And the German thing generally…jeezo. The war ended 70 years ago! In Berlin, I saw a country upfront about the terrible mistakes of its past. A vibrant city, wealthy of course, but also one that embraces it’s artists and young people, as well as refugees from all over the world. If I had the choice of Angela Merkel or David Cameron as my boss, I know who I’d choose.
And it’s not that I think continental Europeans are better than us. What nonsense. There are racists and xenophobes and extremists all over Europe too. The people really are just like us, except maybe a bit less uptight at times. That first holiday, we played with some French children on the beach and then my parents were introduced to theirs. I remember the discomfort my father felt about meeting the mother, who was topless and had hairy armpits – he said at the time he didn’t know where to look, this European woman so relaxed about it all. They also have far less propensity for drunken violence on their streets. Europeans like a drink – in fact alcohol is everywhere, all the time – but they seem to be better at managing it than we are and for this in particular, I admire them.
Even using the term European is disingenuous. The difference between the Mediterranean south, the Baltic north and the landlocked East is massive, in terms of social behaviour, political structures and the impact of religion. But that’s fine by me. Diversity is good, and it means that our British idiosyncrasies are just another strand of the melting pot of people that is Europe.
Anyway, we are not as diverse as we think. Apart from the standing joke that half the royal family are actually German, most of us here in Europe do have our origins in Germanic tribes. I know very little about British history but I studied medieval European history at university (yeah yeah, I know, what was I thinking?). In the period 300-1000 AD, after the end of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes from central Europe expanded all the way from Spain to Byzantium. The Franks, the Gauls, the Goths, the Visigoths, the Vandals, the Huns, the Magyars, the Merovingians…mix in the Vikings, the Celts, and Arabs and you end up with a collection of mongrel peoples, clinging to borders as some kind of identity. And yes, Muslims have been a part of European history for well over a thousand years.
Most of all, I have personal reasons for remaining. My son, while born here in the UK, with a father who is a naturalised citizen, is half European – or fully if you count my ‘European’ roots. His grandmother lives in France and his father owns a business that relies heavily on trade with Europe. His mother thrives on travel, and wants that for him too. His friends in his primary one class are from all over Europe and the world, as well as Scotland. He can say hello in several European languages and an African one. I too, have friends from all over Europe that live in Glasgow and can’t imagine returning to a closed off society where we are constantly afraid of ‘the other’. At some point in the future, when my son is old enough to go his own path, I want to live in mainland Europe and I want that to be as easy and accessible as it is right now.
There is no question that the EU needs reforming, but so do most political structures. People who want to vote for Brexit have a point about some things; they are not all racists, despite the attempts of the Leave campaign to stir up fear and hate in this regard. There are solid political and economic arguments for both sides, most of which have been lost in a groundswell of anger and lies. But there are things that are certain fears: for example, what will happen to this country, this city, without the support of funds from the EU that will not be replaced by Westminster in the face of Brexit?
Ultimately, the majority of people will vote tomorrow with their guts. I hope that their gut reaction isn’t based on the fear that Britain will soon be overrun by brown people, planning to steal their jobs, their GP appointment slot and their cultural identity, which is the biggest load of bollocks ever. This doesn’t describe any of the people I know, but reading comment threads on social media chills my blood, and makes me worried for the state of the country I live in.
Mine is a gut reaction too. The two key themes for me are peace and freedom. History reminds us that until the middle of the 20th century when the fledgling League of Nations was formed, most countries in Europe spent thousands of years fighting each other or engaged in border skirmishes over contested land. This doesn’t happen in Western Europe now. With the world going to hell in a hand basket, more peace and co-operation is what we need.
And I want to live in a country that has relatively open borders, where we stretch out helping hands to refugees and others who want to come here. Where I and my family and friends are free to travel or live, knowing that we have some of the safety net of being European citizens.
Whatever happens tomorrow, I have decided there is no point getting incensed about it. There’s nothing I can do in the immediate aftermath, and the last thing this country needs right now is the level of despair and anxiety that followed the Scottish referendum. We need to look forward, whatever direction that is in.
So with an open heart, an open mind and a truckload of optimism, I will cast my vote to remain tomorrow. C’mon Britain…let’s stay together.
Until next time,