As we begin round two of the “once-in-a-generation” referendum that could apparently happen twice in 5 years, the nationalists make an emotionally appealing case: it is anti-establishment, it is exciting and offers a new world . And I understand that we, as students, finally have independence from our parents, and an opportunity for self-discovery and an optimism about how, just as our lives have recently radically changed for the better very quickly, so can everyone else’s. We have just been thrust into academia, learning about great men and women (often with very fancy hats, if not with fancy books) who have changed the world through defying convention; through sheer willpower and faith in some abstract ideal. Pragmatism may well be the way of the businessperson, but idealism is the way of the student. So, for the benefit of my fellow students, let me run through some of the big ideas running through the call for a second referendum.
Many of the people who have already decided to vote one way or the other will do so on the basis of identity. Perhaps you consider yourself British, which is not surprising in St Andrews – where you have a chance to of meet English people and confirm that we are more like you than you thought; or to meet Americans and realise things you had previously thought universal are actually uniquely British (apparently, many Americans don’t say “twenty to” six, for instance), all in the space of a day. I understand that and respect you.
Perhaps you consider yourself Scottish – I understand this, but you must agree that the Scottish culture and life are closest to those of England, Wales and Northern Ireland than any other country on the globe. Living in St Andrews, with students from all around the world should have taught you that, too. The largest cohort of potential Yes voters of student age also wanted the UK to remain in the EU. This is borderline incompatible with any identity-fuelled independence, as you will be rejecting a union with three English-speaking countries for a union with twenty-seven countries all separated by an ocean, the vast majority of whom could not understand a lick of what you are saying. While I am not here to justify everything English armies have done in Scotland, we undeniably now have a shared history. How could we stand as one nation, the last bastion against fascism in Western Europe, only to break apart after Brexit?
I understand that arguments over identity are entirely subjective but, for many, the “Scottish and European but not British” identity is not based on a sober reflection of our history; nor who lives most like the Scots or understands them linguistically, but based on a reaction of enmity towards the English. Some of that may be political, as England historically votes Conservative much more; this animosity will be rekindled during Brexit.
I can accept the opposition to how England votes as a reason to leave the UK. But I come from London, which voted Remain almost as heavily as Scotland did. The reason there is no realistic prospect of London independence is certainly not because of economics – the case is much stronger than for Scottish independence, as London has a bigger economy, much more global investment, lower unemployment, a bigger population, and higher average incomes (although also much higher living costs). The reason Scotland may vote on the matter is because there is an idea in the heads of Scottish nationalists that Scotland is inherently distinct from the rest of the UK, in lifestyle, history and culture. But as the child of a Welsh-born mother and an English-born father, studying in Scotland, I can tell you we have more in common than we have dividing us.
I implore you. I value you as my fellow St Andreans. So please stay, my fellow-Brits.