National Identity Abroad

It was exactly a year ago (Sept 18th 2014) that Scotland voted on a referendum for independence (see my views post), a mandate that was defeated by 55% to 45% (see my results post). British Prime Minister David Cameron at the time promised more devolved power to the Scots which may well have swung the vote to remain within the UK. He has not delivered on that promise yet and the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has spoken of the PM “living on borrowed time”, a view I can’t help but agree with. Both the referendum issue and the General Election result have had a profound impact on me, which I became acutely aware of on holiday in Brussels two weeks ago.

Ever since my first visit to Brussels in 2002 I have adored the place and felt very comfortable there despite my linguistic short comings. English is beautifully spoken, menus are in various languages and even I can negotiate the French part of the dual language signage (the other is Flemish) for the metro and tourist spots. You just can’t help but know that you are in a city that prides itself in being at the heart of the European Union, something I’ve felt very relaxed about.

But in 2015 on my fifth visit to the city I realised for the first time I was embarrassed by my own national identity, and it has all stemmed from my feelings regarding the political shenanigans that have gone on here for the last year. When politely asked which language I spoke I happily replied English. But the question “where are you from” stirred in me turmoil and I floundered to respond. Previously my reply would instantly have been Britain but this time I found myself saying that I had travelled from England but was a Scot, although basically we were all sort of British! I racked my brains to remember what we were called in the Eurovision Song Contest and of course it is the United Kingdom. The museum clerk who had asked the question smiled at my eventual UK answer and commented “ah yes the UK like Belgium we are all European”, to which I ruefully responded “well for now anyway”. I walked away disconsolately feeling utterly hollow inside.

England is where I live, but I had identified myself as a Scot in a mental attempt to put distance between me, the nationalistic UKIP party and David Cameron’s Tory England. The Prime Minister advocated the Scottish referendum debate, something I deeply opposed, because in my opinion it has begun the process where Scotland and England will separate in the future. His determination to have an IN/OUT vote to remain within the European Union could well be the catalyst for this to happen. Knowing all this made me somewhat hesitant and a little ashamed to admit my British nationality whilst in Brussels. But the internal political strife of this country is little known within the EU, for now anyway!

Before David Cameron relinquishes his tenure as British Prime Minister, he might guide the nation into sleep-walking out of the European Union and preside over the disintegration of the United Kingdom. My passport is for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but sadly under Cameron’s government I no longer feel the country is great, nor the kingdom united.

A British Scot in Europe. Image credit abmj
                     A British Scot in Europe. Image credit abmj

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