Opinion piece by Fiona Grahame
The shocking and pointless death of toddler Alan Kurdi in 2015 brought to the fore the real plight of those fleeing conflict and war by seeking refuge in Europe. People who were described by David Cameron the Prime Minister of the UK at the time as a ‘swarm’ have continued to drown in the Mediterranean. Those who do make it to relative safety face uncertainty as the EU continues to fail to manage the crisis in caring for and processing our fellow human beings.
The 28 countries of the EU have failed to adopt a cohesive strategy in dealing with this huge influx of distraught people who have risked everything to get thus far. If there was one thing the EU could have done to prove the importance of nations working together a concerted response to this humanitarian crisis was that chance. Instead 28 countries took their own measures often working at odds with those of others. Some opened their doors whilst many put up barbed fences and walls.
The Brexit debate in the UK was dominated by talk of ‘taking control of our borders’ of limiting those who want to come to the UK .
“If I am Prime Minister, we will come out of the European Union, and part of that will be control of free movement.” Theresa May (Brainy Quote)
In Scotland that debate was rejected as every part of Scotland voted to Remain.
“It would be a very serious mistake for the U.K. to vote to leave the European Union, and I think it would be democratically indefensible for Scotland, if we had voted to stay in, to face the prospect of being taken out.” Nicola Sturgeon
But as we know that decision was never one for Scotland to make and Leave we will.
What does this mean for a nation of 5,404,700: an outward looking nation which itself has been an exporter of people?
Many of Scotland’s industries and public bodies have benefitted from rEU workers contributing to our economy: fish processing, fruit picking, tourism, social care and health workers. Skilled people living and working in our communities, paying taxes, making friends and embarking on loving relationships. All now face great uncertainty over their future in a UK that has turned its back on them to a mythological past when it ‘stood alone’.
Our young people face the greatest betrayal of all. Scottish Universities have blossomed with the exchange of research and ideas with European partnerships. Scottish students have embarked on studies in Europe under the Erasmus Programme.
“The programme is aimed at cross-border cooperation between states to aid the growth of international studying, and with over 4000 students involved in the programme at any one time it offers an excellent chance of experience abroad.”
That will all end with Brexit.
Only last week in their latest announcement from the UK’s chief Brexit negotiators we learned that the UK wishes to have a seamless border between Northern Ireland and its EU neighbour Eire.
“The UK and Ireland have been clear all along that we need to prioritise protecting the Belfast agreement in these negotiations, and ensure the land border is as seamless as possible for people and businesses,” said David Davis
A border that is 310 miles long and where 30,000 people have daily been crossing it. Northern Ireland voted Remain – but that didn’t count either and they too will leave with the rest of the UK.
Will this seamless border be achievable?
Well it wasn’t possible for a future independent Scotland. The same people who are insisting on a seamless border between Northern Ireland and Eire argued that an arrangement of this sort was totally impossible between Scotland and rUK. A border that is 96 miles long. In fact the border between England and Wales is longer at 160 miles.
“An international border would be created where one does not currently exist. This would have implications for people travelling to visit family, go on holiday or do business, and for our economies more generally.”
“So that would mean border controls between a separate Scotland and the United Kingdom. Passport checks to visit friends and relatives. A literal and figurative barrier between our nations.” Theresa May ,2014
This is the line we were sold then and that the UK Government continues to sell us.
The EU is very far from perfect when it comes to its response to People. The crisis in refugee camps in Italy and Greece. The unaccompanied children left to the clutches of the modern day slave trade. All of this is a monumental failure of the EU and an issue that they could have brought their considerable economic and social strength to solve.
Where the EU has had the greatest success,however, is also in its response to People. Allowing the free movement of its citizens. Enabling workers to seek employment in member nations. To allow young people to travel and experience other cultures. This is the fundamental strength of membership of the EU and one which Scotland embraced.
When Scotland voted No by 55% in 2014 it was assured that it would remain in the EU. In 2016 it strengthened that resolve and voted to Remain in the EU by 62%. It now has a choice to make. Will it continue to embrace the freedom in movement it has blossomed with as a member of the EU or will it prefer to stay in a UK where that freedom will no longer exist?
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine