The following article is a record of the conversations between German national Ellen Höfer living in Scotland and Scot Laura Muncie living in Germany
How did you feel on hearing the Brexit referendum result?
I was worried as soon as they announced there would be a referendum. I knew that the debate was going to be horrible, I had a bad feeling in my stomach the whole time. When I woke up and saw the result, my first thought was am I really this stupid? Have I just spent 15 years of my life betting on the wrong horse? When I came to the UK it was an open society. It was aspirational to be part of such a diverse place. But it had changed over the years.
When you say things had changed Ellen, what do you think caused that change? I have been thinking about this and asking myself what on earth happened, because I have not been away from the UK that long yet and I have seen a huge shift in public opinion.
For me in the UK, what changed opinion was 7 years of Tory rule. The Tory party have been pushed to the right by UKIP. The British public has been complacent about politics. I think once they got fed up of Blair and Labour there was a vacuum. Anger about social inequality, which increased with austerity, got laid at the feet of people who had nothing to do with it- foreigners and people on social welfare. I left England because I could see what was happening. Being a German it was very hard. I felt very much a foreigner in England. Then I went to Ireland it was different, much less discriminatory and more open.
I was pretty shocked by the Brexit result. Scottish people, in my view, have always been fairly open, fairly liberal compared to other countries. Based on that, I had a lot of confidence that the vote would be to stay in the EU in general. I laugh at myself now, because the night of the referendum I was at a German friend’s house and they asked me what I thought would happen. I said we will still be here tomorrow! Whatever way London votes the rest of England will reflect! But the reverse was true! I don’t know if I was just not receiving the target messages on social media that other people were.
You are in a similar situation to me in Germany. When I left Germany years ago all the neo Nazi stuff the AFD wasn’t out in the open. I had no experience of it. I remember going back and being in a Christmas market in Koln and seeing a crowd of neo Nazis. It is really hard because as a German you struggle with your past. But before we could at least say “that’s in the past”, but it is not completely in the past now.
People have said to me that these referendums, take things down to the personal and that’s why it is hard to accept referendum results, or even get into the discussion in the first place. What is being talked about, the language around the topic, is about people and it can be hurtful.
It really is and it was dealt with in such an inhuman way. In the context of this, I think EU citizens got off quite lightly. At least visually we pass as white British, most of us. I know now that the UK has been acting in a way that is racist, in the home office for example, towards non EU nationals for much longer than I was aware of and more than I cared about. I know I should have cared more. I wasn’t aware I was a migrant until Brexit! I didn’t think of myself as a migrant, I was just doing the European thing where you can choose where you go and live the life you want.
How has your life been affected by events since the Brexit result?
I left Germany without many qualifications, which is unusual for someone coming from the EU. But I was accepted for a course in product and service design at the Glasgow School of Art. A few months before the Brexit result I graduated and thought my career would now go in a more secure direction. But the opposite has been true. Businesses have 400 applicants for a job and 399 of them are Scottish, what is the incentive to hire a European whose status you cannot be sure about? Not even the Government is certain about our status. So it has been detrimental. On a personal level it causes insecurity and it makes you think a lot about your identity.
Do I want to be British? No.I don’t have the money to do so anyway, because Theresa May when in the Home Office changed the requirements. So it has been hard, but it also made it clear that if I had the opportunity to become a Scottish citizen I would do it today. I would have done it yesterday, but I don’t have that opportunity. I have been in Scotland 10 years now, a big part of my heart is Scottish. Scotland values its diversity and I am part of that diversity. I also think European values are extremely Scottish. Scottish values come from past struggles . That is what European values evolved from also. Europe now is about peace and peaceful cooperation.
In my case we were in the process of having a house built. In Scotland building a house is something very rich people do, but here in Frankfurt there is a lack of housing so it is something that a lot of people have to do. There are incentives to build and it was part of a new housing development. We knew the building project would be at least 2 years, our friends who had done the same warned us to add a year or two on to whatever the building firm said, so there was a good possibility the house would not be finished when Brexit fully happened. Then our status within Germany would change, which like you, created uncertainty for us especially over what our rights would be.
I have been anxious about my ability to work because I’m a freelancer and dependent on EU citizenship. It would have been a strain on us to drop down to one salary during a house build. Relying on my husband’s job is also not who I am as a person. A house is a huge investment and half way through the build if we found my husbands’ job changed or I couldn’t work we could have a problem. So we had a rethink, decided it was too risky and pulled out. That was tough, saying we are going to have to abandon this. We had worked so hard, 6.30am starts Monday to Friday for years to get ourselves into a position of having our own house.
So I decided I wasn’t going to be quiet, because I know other people in this Brexit boat, and felt the public should know about the real life people the result effects. Brexit is not some abstract thing, it is closer to life than people realise. One impact is that Brexit speeds up your need to make decisions. People making decisions about lots of things including relationships and plans changed because of a political vote.
So, I got started writing. People have responded because what I write is not just about data and statistics, politicians and experts, it’s about real life stuff.
We have only given up a house, but it will end up more than that. What restrictions are going to be placed on lives? I am going to have to prove in future that a German cannot do my job? Am I going to have to go back into a German educational system to get German qualifications to do job I have already been doing for 6 years? There are questions but no answers.
Absolutely, a friend of mine is getting married and she said to me she would not have done so at this time but they are now going ahead early to secure her rights. It is really difficult for British citizens in Europe too because you’re facing 27 different systems.
Ellen recently organised the Phoenix public art project in Glasgow in response to the Glasgow School of Art going on fire
Ellen is creative director of the group EU Citizens for an Independent Scotland.
The 3 Million has been involved in talks with the EU parliament and at Westminster in progressing discussion about citizen rights post Brexit.
The Interview was conducted by Laura Muncie
Laura is a contributor to The Orkney News, covers Europe related topics and is a teacher in Frankfurt and Mum to a lovely German Scottish boy.