In Scotland, issues of Brexit and independence divide generations


I came to Scotland with the naive thought that maybe I would be able to escape the drama of politics for a semester. Well. I was able to free myself a little bit from American politics, but I was thrown right into even more drama and tension when I arrived in Scotland. Brexit is in full swing and frustration levels are high as a result.

As background, the United Kingdom is a sovereign state composed Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and several smaller islands. Scotland has had tensions for a while with the rest of the UK, especially with current matters such as Brexit, which I will mention later.

The United Kingdom’s Parliament is held in Westminster, England, and has the overall say in everything that happens throughout the UK. The UK is a part of the European Union as of now, but has often been seen as only being so half-heartedly. For example, they still use the Pound Sterling (£) as opposed to the Euro (€), which the rest of the EU uses. They also are not a Schengen country, cutting themselves off from freedom of travel customs with other countries in the EU.

But what seems to be happening, after three tiresome years of debate over the issue, is that the UK is going to be leaving the EU entirely.

There is a major generational divide on the issue, particularly in Scotland. Oliver Fernie, from Glenroths, Scotland, currently attending university explains, “The public opinion in Scotland is firmly against Brexit, especially the younger generation which tends to be very liberal in Scotland. There is a clear generational divide however, with older generations being the most ardent supporters of Brexit.”

Alan Fernie, Oliver Fernie’s father, is a supporter of Brexit and seemed to confirm his son’s statements. “Everyone (in Alan’s generation) just wants to get on with Brexit. Three years have gone by and it has to happen. If it gets cancelled, the waste of time and financial costs all for nothing would leave a bad taste…The ‘older’ generation of which I am part of are more likely to wish to leave than remain. Young ones tend to go against the flow.”

Erin Wright, a journalism major at Edinburgh Napier University, has similar feelings. “I feel like the younger generations feel that Brexit will be disastrous for the UK, and that it was a decision made by older generations who feel like they don’t have anything to lose, or are nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ which never really existed.”

There are also tensions between the people and the government. “The public has largely been ignored since the initial vote,” explains Oliver Fernie, “with it having been three years since the public’s opinion was cast and given all the information that has come to light about Brexit.”

A decision was supposed to be made by Oct. 31, or they would be leaving the EU with a No Deal Brexit. However, Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, reluctantly had to ask for an extension for the decision to come up with a better deal. Parliament now has until Jan. 31, 2020 with its “flextension.” (i.e. they can make a decision before then and leave sooner).

Back to the tensions between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Even mentioning Brexit in Scotland can cause people to shake their heads and you can see the frustration boiling up inside them. Wright sums up the general attitude toward the issue: “I’m both bored and frustrated by Brexit,” she says. “It’s terrible, but whenever it’s brought up, I automatically start switching off.”

Even supporters of Brexit, who keep up with the issue, are sick of the debate. Alan Fernie, when asked if he had any hopes for the future of Brexit he stated: “Hopes? Get Brexit done so we can all move on with the UK getting back to normal.”

The only thing the generations agree on is that this whole political mess has gotten old and they just want to move past it.

Scotland has been a part of the UK since 1707, but has toyed with the idea of leaving the UK and becoming its own country for one reason or another over the years. There are several economic and social benefits to leaving, but the people didn’t want to do it all at once. In 1997, after a very positive vote by the people, Scotland was able to create a devolved legislation that could focus on Scottish matters as well as matters of taxation. However, this did not give Scotland independence, as Parliament can decide to override their decisions at any time. Still, this was a huge step for Scotland toward independence.
In 2014, there was an independence referendum that asked if Scotland should be an independent country. Notably, the opportunity to vote on the matter was extended to anyone 16 or older, as opposed to 18 and older. Over 80% of voters turned up and a vote was held throughout the UK, and was shut down after it lost by 5%.

The issue had been put to rest as it were until the issue of Brexit came up. Scotland has always been largely in favor of being a part of the EU, which was a large reason for why they had ruled to stay in the UK in the past. When asked in 2016 if the UK should remain in the EU, 62% of Scots voted to remain. With the UK pushing harder for Brexit, and leaving the EU, Scotland feels as though it’s being reluctantly dragged along.

“In Scotland especially, there is a feeling of betrayal as in the last Scottish independence referendum, the fear that was spread around by the conservative UK government was that an independent Scotland may not be able to join the EU again after leaving the UK,” says Oliver Fernie. “Then, after Scotland voted to remain part of the UK, the whole Brexit thing happened and the UK is now leaving the EU anyway.”
A solution to that issue? Another vote on Scottish independence if the UK decides to leave the EU so that Scotland will be able to reapply for membership in the EU. In a poll done in 2018, 45% of Scotland was shown to be in favor of independence if Brexit went through. In a poll done in April of this year, that number grew to 49% in favor of independence.

“As you could probably guess,” says Wright, “I hope that somehow we stay in the EU, but if we do end up leaving, I hope that Scotland uses the opportunity to push for independence so we can make our own decisions and rejoin the EU.”