Walking through the streets of St Andrews it is casual to overhear some sort of conversation about Brexit. Whether it’s fierce arguing, a shake of the head and sigh of disapproval for Boris Johnson, seeing flyers put up for Brexit Society socials, or passing a European Union flag in a window, Brexit is everywhere. Perhaps such interest that this tiny town has in this subject, besides it being in Scotland, stems from the international student body. With about 17% of the student body at St Andrews* being American, myself included, Americans are exposed to Brexit probably as much as they would have been exposed to debate about the 2020 presidential elections if they were in the States. Then the question arises on social media or in conversation, “what does it matter to you? Since you’re American it doesn’t mean anything to you, keep your opinion to yourself.”
Personally I have never been told these words, but seeing or hearing parallels of them tossed around, such as: “#StFessdrews6479 Americans vouching for Scottish independence need to get their grubby mitts off of British politics”, I find myself metaphorically taking a step back and listening when Brexit comes up in conversation in fear of being called out. And then I wonder, are Americans entitled to an opinion on Brexit?
An opinion is an opinion: not one is more correct than the other. In this way, opinions are technically harmless. As humans though, sadly, things that are supposedly harmless are, in fact, harmful. I imagine that if a British person told me an opinion about President Trump which I disagreed with, I might quickly brush it off, thinking that they simply don’t understand because they are not from the States. But by perpetuating that just because one’s opinion is foreign, they don’t belong in the conversation, one is turning away from a potential learning experience. There are countless meaningful remarks people might voice if you let them, and it may cause you to sit for a second and question how you formed your own opinion. It is somewhat ironic that students at university can shy away from listening to new perspectives despite the fact that in our classes we are encouraged, and even forced, to decipher and make sense of a new perspective, and consequently question the popular opinion.
Nevertheless, the complexity and ambiguity of Brexit makes it hard to have an outside perspective. Brexit most likely will not have an immediate effect on most Americans at St Andrews. The minority of dual citizens of the US and an EU country could be minimally affected, as these students, myself included, have an EU passport instead of a BRP card. Since Brexit was first proposed in 2016, nothing about it has been set in stone. This lack of clarity could cause serious stress for roughly 10% of the student body, who are EU students at St Andrews, as a hypothetical Brexit deal could completely change an EU student’s tuition cost, and therefore provide financial stress at home. Because of this, it is more important for Americans to listen to, support, and advocate for EU students who could be negatively affected by Brexit.
So, yes, Americans are entitled, like anyone, to have their own opinions on Brexit, but their role in British politics reaches beyond remarks at the dinner table. Americans should listen to EU students who feel Brexit will negatively affect them and they should encourage those eligible to vote to voice their opinion in the December 12th elections. General elections are always important for the future of any country, but the way in which this UK election influences the future of Brexit should encourage young citizens of the UK and Commonwealth citizens to vote, in order to make sure the beliefs they care about are heard. You can use this link to register to vote: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote
*all percentages about the student body in this article come from information provided by the Registry of the University of St Andrews