Fragment

I don’t really know what I’m going to say here, other than I need to say something. It’s going to be fragmented, I’m afraid, but that’s how I feel.

Yesterday Britain voted to leave the European Union. I voted to stay, for the little difference that made. I know exactly two people who planned to vote to Leave, and yet here we are. A combination of nostalgia, blind principle, entitlement, xenophobia, fear and blind rage have brought us to an abyss. The EU is far from perfect, and there are some good reasons for leaving, though these are nothing compared to the pragmatic impacts of actually doing so. But I also suspect that for every person voting to leave with good intentions, there were an awful lot of people who simply wanted to break something so hard it would stay forever smashed.

There’s a Combat 18 neo-Nazi on the cover of The Sun, celebrating Brexit.

On Twitter, some cockroach threatened to burn the writer Nikesh Shukla to death for talking about the impact of the result. Someone else told him to go back to brown land.

Brown land.

Every time I found myself on the edge of tears, I had a cuddle with my boy. Indy is now eleven weeks old. When he sees me, his wee face scrunches in joy, and his arms and legs curl in too, as though his whole body is smiling.

A Polish worker at Dora’s school doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t feel at home here any more.

Dora’s best friend is Chinese. Her mother is thinking about moving back to Hong Kong.

A man stood outside a school on Friday morning, flashing V signs at Muslim kids and parents.

Most Leave voters are not racist. But whether they like it or not, they – and now the entire country – have legitimised open racism.

That man on the BBC – one of hundreds, it seems – who didn’t think his protest vote would count, and is now worried about the result.

The same expression on Boris Johnson’s face at that first press conference, knowing that he’d gone too far, that it had really happened, that he’d pushed the button. He’d taken back control, and now he had to deal with it. There’s no rush to leave, he said, sweating.

EU leaders already enquiring when Britain is going to start negotiations to leave.

Big companies already moving staff to Dublin and Frankfurt.

The extraordinary split in age between older Leave voters and younger Remain voters. The older generations have taken opportunity from the hands of their children, their grandchildren, and torn it into strips.

£2trillion wiped off the value of global markets inside 24 hours. A pro-Leave Lord saying that Britain will have to tighten its belt. All that austerity, all that pain. Literally for nothing.

It’s now excruciatingly clear that no one from the Leave campaign knows what happens next. Little wonder they wanted Cameron to stay. He was a Tory puff piece in a suit, and he’s broken everything.

How will we implement a border in Northern Ireland for EU workers moving north from Eire?

Why on earth would France maintain the border at Calais? That’s not their problem any more.

“The thing you need to understand about Michael,” said Cameron to Clegg, “is that he believes in change as a process of creative destruction. He’s something of a Maoist.”

Imagine Michael Gove as Chancellor, looking at the national balance sheets and rolling up his sleeves.

“£350million a week for the NHS was a mistake,” says Nigel. “We shouldn’t have said that.”

“Daddy,” says Dora, “I’ve drawn a rainbow unicorn castle. And some keys. Don’t tell anyone they’re made of paper. They open all the secret doors.”

A man in a cafe told three Poles they’d have to go home soon.

What kind of country have we turned into? Smaller and more selfish, sharper, colder, meaner. Leave voters keep talking about a warm Britain, an open-hearted Britain, a Britain that can finally choose the right kind of immigrants to let in.

The right kind. 

Where will all the resentment go when the EU isn’t there to sponge it up?

If this is all about democracy, when do we move to Proportional Representation, please?

If this is all about democracy, when do we abolish the House of Lords and introduce an elected second chamber?

Yeah, I thought so.

I’m half Scottish. My dad is Scottish, and I was partly raised in Scotland. But I was also raised in England, Germany and Northern Ireland, and I have a very strained and jumbled sense of who I am and where I come from. Until yesterday, I was European more than British and certainly more than English, but now even that has gone, and I’ve been stunned at how bereft it leaves me. I feel Scottish when I’m in England, but when I’m in Scotland, and I start relaxing into the landscape, I hear my own voice, my weird middle-England voice, and feel like a cheat.

I briefly taught adult literacy, a few years ago. I met another army brat, who articulated it much better than me.

“Up north I talk funny. Down here I talk funny. I don’t know who I am.”

Unless Boris finds a way to never initiate Article 50,  which I honestly think he’s terrified of doing, then Scotland will almost certainly have another independence referendum, and it will almost certainly be a Yes. Mon and I are not quite yet packing our bags, but we have started looking for a house in Scotland, and we have started looking for jobs, if only to know where the work is. I don’t want to live in a small-minded country, always looking in. I want to live in a country that knows what it is, and looks out. A country that doesn’t define an immigrant by where they come from, but defines everyone, native or not, by their contribution to the community.

I’m not an idiot. Scotland isn’t perfect – nowhere is. But Scotland is at least trying to move forward with the rest of the world, while England is deliberately, consciously moving back.

This is not sour grapes. It’s a spiritual schism about who we are and where we go from here.

I vaguely remember a book of fables from my childhood – the tale of the dog in the manger. The straw was no good to him, but he refused to share it. I remember, like a dream, the illustration of the dog – teeth bared, crouched low, ready to snap – and the other farm animals clustered at the door, both scared and disbelieving. That’s England today. There is no more United Kingdom and there never will be.

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32 comments

  1. benjaminjudge

    It’s horrible isn’t it. I have always considered myself to be European before anything else. Now I don’t know what I am or what I’m allowed to be. I still feel sick. I can’t stop thinking about how I’m going to have to explain to my daughter why she won’t have freedoms and opportunities that were there for me. It’s just all so pointless, so unnecessary.

  2. Bev

    So much I’d like to say but one of the most important things is perhaps your child has more of a chance of having a place in school now that we can control our borders. & why won’t your child have the freedom & opportunities you’ve enjoyed ??? The world hasn’t disappeared neither has Europe. Change is frightening but I believe as a grandmother of nearly 60 years old who has worked through 3 recessions & watched this wonderful country crumple that we had to take back control. This from an immigrant Jewish family who have England to thank for our survival

    • simonsylvester

      Hi Bev. Sorry, I don’t buy it. My child has a place in school, along with amazing Polish and Chinese kids, whose parents are already thinking they’ll have to leave. I do agree that the country has crumpled, but it’s not because of migrants. Successive governments, from Thatcher onwards, have dismantled communities and stripped away industries in the name of making money, and all the glue that binds us has gone. School places and hospital beds are in short supply because they’re underfunded them, not because of a relatively tiny number of migrants, almost all of whom work themselves raw and pay their taxes.

    • Su Newton

      I agree with you Bev, we are not European, we are British. The E U is showing its true colours mow by telling us to go asap. What happened to the exit treaty rules of a minimum of 2 years negotiating.britain could not continue to take in3-500,000 a year, that is a city annually!! School places are becoming scarce and those with kids not at school will cry wolf when they have to take their 3rd or 4th choice. Workers coming are very welcome and quite naturally they marry and have families, but that is when the problems escalate as they need more public services than they needed individually. Equally as they put down roots it is natural their extended family wish to join them. So we have gone from 1 foreign worker to a family of four (2adults,,2 kids plus dependants)” fine but let’s build more Milton Kenes and Basingstoke new towns to house them with new schools etc then invite the workers to join us. We do not have to be in the EU to invite workers to Britain from anywhere in the world but we do have to accommodate them somewhere. The right to come here to look for work has to be questioned, many towns now have manual car washes which have sprung up. 10 out of 10 for iniative by these foreign workers but do we really need them, what is the matter with an auto car wash at the local garage or better still do it yourself! Then there is the issue of field workers who are employed by gang masters overseas. These not only lower local workers wages but locals are not employed by the gang masters.
      Just flitting to another criticism tossed into the arena by young voters that older voters should not have a say re their future, firstly I with other 60 year olds have paid our taxes which have gone to the EU social experiment for 40 years or more which a 20 year old has not done (when they have they may comment) secondly, I for 1 intend being here for at least another 30 years so will equally have to live with the decision and thirdly we have life experience and know our history. For example we tried to get into the EU 3 times before we were accepted. Who vetoed us, General Degaulle of France, the nation we rescued twice from Germany’s clutches. Margaret Thatcher was duped when she renegotiated our terms, when she realised what had happened she pushed it through Parliament over a weekend when few MPs were around to vote. John Major said in1995 further union would not be I our interest. I could go on. Cameron failed to heed his party’s history with the EU. It is their nemesis but he thought Britain was with him.
      Re the Irish question,I have always thought they should be united, re Scotland, good luck if you go it alone, you can keep North Sea oil we will frack ( another topic another time) but we will withdraw all the government jobs sent to you, they can kickstart the northern powerhouse. Plus we will take Trident with its jobs.
      To all migrant workers who are here today we thank you and I hope you will go forward with us in this exciting time. Rant over but lots more could be said

      • simonsylvester

        Hi Su.

        1. Fracking is insane.

        2. How do you feel, after the vote, about Gove, Johnson and Hannan now saying that free movement of workers isn’t going to change after Brexit? Don’t you feel that you’ve been sold a string of lies?

      • ElaineS

        I hate to tell you but we already know Westminster/MOD lied to Scots about ships being built in Clydebank… that is how they kept us in union last time by threatening jobs, the workers who voted No on that basis are seriously angry they were conned because they will lose their jobs through MOD going back on their contracts. Doesn’t matter, Nicola and SNP have a good record in turning round lost jobs and Scotland is world renowned for their shipbuilding, I’m sure we in Scotland will be showing a massive middle finger at MOD and get plenty contracts from other countries to build ships….we know how to diversify and it won’t be the first shipbuilding company Nicola has saved. Maybe you haven’t realised but an Indy Scotland will have to build ships for its own navy. You are welcome to fracking which I think you’ll find a big objection, you need to go read up to what is happening in the fracking world globally. Check our http://www.frackoff.org.uk and educate yourself. I will say though, the door is open to the people who cannot bare to live in an inward-looking country and the massive problems that will ensure with Brexit. We have hundreds of thousands of English folk living here not to mention many other nationalities, as squidgybridge says… anyone who choses to live in Scotland are classed as Scots, we don’t differentiate between non-Scots and Scots… we are all Scots together in Scotland.

      • simonsylvester

        Exactly so – didn’t the MoD end up admitting only 520 civilian jobs depended on Trident in Faslane? Still, I bet the people of Portsmouth will love having the country’s nuclear submarines on their doorstep. Thanks for your words on being welcome in Scotland. It helps to know that so many people up there see what’s going on and want to make it better.

  3. squidgybidge

    My friend. Scottishness is not in the blood, it is not about your ancestry. Skin colour, religion, sexuality, accent, none of that defines what is to be a Scot. A Scot is defined as somebody who wants to live amongst us, to build a better society that puts #AllOfUsFirst. It doesn’t matter if you were born in Hong Kong, Poland or anywhere else. So long as you want build a better world for your boy “Indy” you are a Scot, that is what defines us.

    • simonsylvester

      Thank you so much for saying so. I’ve had so much support from Scottish friends (and strangers) about moving up. We’ll see how the next few months go before making up our minds, but in the meantime I’ll keep looking for a job… Thanks for your message. It means a lot.

      • Sab

        As are many of us Simon, but to leave, as many capable, disillusioned people are considering, gives in to those who would create a nasty, small-minded, intolerant, bigoted, introspective chunk of land no longer worthy of being called a ‘country’. I voted ‘remain’, I feel European to my core, yet I have to believe that, if creative, culturally aware, resourceful, people work together we can imagine and build a brighter future. Not putting ourselves first (after all, look where that has got us), but imagining a brighter future. Not hoping, fingers crossed, that it’ll all be okay, but proactively joining together to understand what’s happened and formulating a strategy, a plan, to build a brighter future. There is currently a power vacuum, a lack of clarity, no plan: surely now is the time for the clear thinkers to shape what comes next rather than leave others to do it for us…

      • simonsylvester

        There’s a lot of truth in this, Sab, but I want to be part of the EU more than I want to be part of England.

  4. Kev

    Maybe if enough people WAKEN UP and smell the coffee , realise what they had done the government might stop this. Intervene and say no we are not leaving. It might not be democratic but seeing and hearing that bloke the other night on the news say “I voted to leave but didn`t THINK! it would happen”. OMG look on his face; what have I done? He might as well been voting on what colour of socks he was going to ware. If this is the way of the people then we are all well and truly shafted. Message to Westminster – be brave and bold for once over rule this stupidity. This is about our children; the legacy we leave. The EU is not perfect but we should be united and work to make it better. Every politician I saw on both sides had shock and horror on their face. They were voted in by the people so MAN UP before we plunge this country into darkness. Sort it before it is too late. It can be done!! Here endeth the rant.

    • simonsylvester

      Hi Kev — yup, I agree. The referendum is advisory, not binding, and we have a representative democracy. I hope they’ll choose to represent the future, rather than the past.

  5. Vera Eve

    This was beautiful. I’m a European student in Scotland and even though many have said that this won’t affect me in any way I cannot help but feel unwanted. Some leave voters have said that this won’t change anything but if you don’t want anything to change then why are you leaving? I feel like Brexit was just a misguided way to channel anger towards the rich and the upper class who are screwing the middle class and the poor and this is certainly a step backwards. I fear that the hate will spread to the rest of Europe, the EU will break and we’ll be left alone and angry, still not managing to direct our anger and frustration and need for change towards right things. It feels like the early 1900s and I don’t want to feel like that. I want to fix tings, the EU, wars, inequality, all of it, but I don’t want to break and smash everything or mitigate all the things we have done to have gotten this far.

    • simonsylvester

      I agree that these are dark times across the country, continent, world. I hope things are going to start getting better at some point, but I’m really really worried that they won’t. Fingers crossed. Scotland, for the most part – is trying to be better.

    • squidgybidge

      Vera you are wanted. You chose Scotland and thus we choose you. We will fight for you, you will NOT be abandoned, you are our neighbour, our country women and our friend simply by choosing to come to here. The Scottish Govt is going to fight tooth and nail to make sure everyone who resides in Scotland stays within the EU. You are valued. I value you, even though I don’t know you.

      • simonsylvester

        And you saying that, squidgybidge, is exactly why we want to move. Thank you again.

  6. piershunt

    Really nice piece mate. I like it up here in Scotland but I am worried sick about what happens to the rest of the UK without the Eu and without Scotland. I worry that England will be punished to scare the nationalist groups on the continent that are agitating against the EU. I have family in the north east, and even though I don’t live there any more it’s where I come from and I need it to be ok. It’s heartbreaking.

    • simonsylvester

      It’s frightening times, isn’t it? Genuinely sad and genuinely scary. I hope your friends and family will be well.

  7. J smith

    Thank you Simon Sylvester for helping me to verbalise just exactly why Thursday’s vote has left me feeling so sad…. It is reassuring to know I am not the only person who feels this way.

  8. Sooz

    What a beautifully written and thoughtful piece.

    Nicola Sturgeon this week said that people who make Scotland their home do us a great honour. And she’s right. Everyone who comes to live or work or study in Scotland is welcome, valued, respected and appreciated. We are, overall, an inclusive, outward-looking, internationalist country and we welcome new people to help us build for the future.

    I hope you will come, with your wee family. I’ve been here for about ten years, and I’ve never found anywhere else in the world that comes as close to feeling like home. 🙂

    • simonsylvester

      Thank you, Sooz. I appreciate your support — it’s voices like yours that are drawing us north.

  9. Chris Stern

    Very well said Simon, I agree with every word. We are all going to have to do something about not only Brexit but the whole electoral and political process that got us into this horrendous situation.

  10. Mary Jenkins

    Simon, I am so sorry for the position you now find yourself in, I was born in England, came to live in Scotland when I was 12. 51 years later, Scotland is my home, not by birth but because I live here, I love Scotland and I want the best for Scotland, which for me is independence. Despite living here for that amount of time, I have not lost my accent, but it has never been a problem, I have always been excepted (except 1 little incident, which isn’t worth mentioning, we have narrow minded fools too)
    I don’t know what the answer is for you, you could move to Scotland, others are considering it, or we can hope that the mindless fools in Little England, come to realise what they have done, before it goes to far, rise up and demand the referendum result to be trashed!

    • simonsylvester

      Thanks for stopping by, Mary, and yes – I agree – Scotland generally seems to be far more welcoming. I was a huge independence supporter in 2014 (though obviously I didn’t have a vote) and it now seems plain that Scotland is ready. Fingers crossed.

  11. kitty

    Dear Simon, you won’t recall me but we went to uni together and you had a huge influence on my life going forward – in a great way. I stumbled upon your book and blog a few months ago via my friend in Perth. Thank you for articulating how I feel at present. Brexit broke my heart – both in general as it goes against all I believe in and also on a personal level. It has turned my current life on its head and I am heartbroken and confused. I am one of those people who over night has been affected by Brexit. I live in Paris (a dreaded immigrant) with a small French child with a funny name (split family) – we moved here 6 months ago (and on the day after Brexit random Parisians hugged me and cried.) so he could grow up with both parents and both cultures – we travel to the UK where I work at weekends…. Now my costs have increased suddenly and I have no idea if I will loose all rights in France and then battle to remain there, or be forced back to the UK possibly without my son. If that happens I may also have to accept I can never again move back to France… we have become the bargaining chips in a dangerous game now. My whole life hangs upside down and it does not feel very democratic – democracy has never caused me to have panic attacks before…… I am scared and am trying to live one day at a time and block out the future. I loathe the people who have led us to this point, the media that feeds us a daily diet of immigrant crap and all the rubbishing of experts that was allowed as lies became truths during a crappy campaign. Now those who led us down this path are no where to be seen – who is accountable? It reminds me of that saying where you don’t do anything until they come after you….. well they are coming. Love to your beautiful family – they will pull you through this. x

    • simonsylvester

      Hi Kitty — I remember you well, and it’s great to hear from you, for all these are shitty circumstances. I’m taking some vague hope from the fact that almost all the pro-Leave political class have disappeared, either through resignation or radio silence, and there seems to be zero political will to carry this forward. Even Gove, that awful ventriloquist’s dummy, yesterday called for ‘open trade and friendly cooperation’ with Europe — I’m starting to wonder if there’s a climbdown on the horizon.

      Honestly, though — even if we don’t end up actually leaving the EU — it feels like something here has broken forever. The stone has been truly lifted on the racism and xenophobia that’s been there all along, and it’s not going to go away. It feels like a smaller, poorer, meaner little island. I feel wretched for folk like you with jobs and relationships and children that cross borders — the uncertainty must be awful. As you said to me, though — take heart from your son, and know that his generation will try to put right what we’ve broken.

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