March 2016

At the beginning of this year, my brother moved with his girlfriend to Edinburgh. It wasn’t that long ago that the furthest north I had been (in the world) was Oxford. 

But I’ve been edging north with trips to Cambridge, Coventry, Lincoln and Manchester. Always keen for free accomodation in a new city, I passed them all heading for Edinburgh.

My sisters and I flew from Gatwick and (by chance) my amore was visiting her brother (who studies in St Andrews) the same weekend. A proper gathering.

Edinburgh’s dark, imposing buildings are melancholic and onerous. They demand something special with the weight of their long, proud history. (My brother’s building has stone steps worn concave by countless feet and a wooden rail polished by generations of hands).

And it’s a beautiful city, full of life. A particular speak-easy-style bar stands out: disguised as a barbers, it serves French martinis behind a false bookcase downstairs.

I wonder at the future of Scotland. The Scots (with the Northern Irish and Gibraltans) voted overwhelmingly to remain members of the EU, but only marginally to stay a part of the UK. The Scottish Referendum and the Brexit one share small margins. The votes proved only that either outcome would upset almost half the electorate.

Shortly before I visited Scotland, Boris Johnson had ‘come out’ in favour of Leave. He is a character who was able to attract a lot of attenion and support. As foreign secretary, I suspect May is hoping he will now use this to detract attention away from the upcoming Brexit negotiations.

The EU referendum campaign was often fought on the basis of heightening the fear of ageing, white Englishmen of change: of increased openess to nee cultures, people and greater education; of the liberalism of the generation fast replacing them; and of gloablisation that no longer held England at its centre. It played off the white fear of growing impotence and insignificance in a changing world.

(We see the same in the US elections that are dominated by Trump’s negativity that ignores the fact that his country is doing better than ever before by almost every measure. Yet his doomsday rhetoric rings true with those whose wealth and power is finally beginning to be threatened).

Yesterday, Theresa May announced that she will trigger Article 50 before March 2017, a year since I was in Edinburgh. It has been an eventful six months so far. I suspect the next six will be far from dull. The two years of negotiations that follow have the potential to be far more intriguing yet.


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