A Spanish journey
As a Scot and a natural born European I dug my ‘X’ hard into the ‘Remain’ box on the voting paper in the booth with the dedication of a surgeon demonstrating to his students on a patient how to make a life saving incision with years of practice and precision ….. and then I boarded a plane for Malaga, Spain.
By the time I reached my destination Britain was in turmoil. Lots of lightweight politicians were falling about like rotting plums in a gale, shown up to be the ineffectual opportunists that they are. The world altered in a matter of a few hours.
Disarray UK had arrived in the form of a mass of white cloth capped suicide bombers chanting “We want our country back” – meaning England, for Scotland, Northern Ireland and what I call real Ireland, the Republic, all want to remain in Europe.
And the Gibraltarians were livid too. Over 98 per cent had voted to remain sane and European. Now they were abandoned, marooned. What next for 30,000 loyal ‘Brits’?
Cameron committed the worst that hubris could bestow on an ignorant elitist politician. Having won the Scottish Independence Referendum by a small margin, and mixing every day in London’s City with people whose very income depended on European membership, he assumed he could do it a second time, and called a completely unnecessary referendum on European unity in an effort to take supporters from the odious Ukip, another business-centred party masquerading as a party of the people.
In reality a great number of English were exercising their traditional right to show intense dislike, their detestation of Johnny Foreigner. They wanted not England out of Europe, but Europe out of England.
The slap in the face
When my plane emptied us of its cargo at Malaga’s new but uninspiring airport there was a shock. Over 250 of us found ourselves lined up in single file at the ‘Aliens’ section. No ‘EU Citizens’ straight-through for us.
Now, this was not a case of Spain taking immediate retribution for England’s brazen racism. The plane was two hours late, exchanged for one on a featureless flat field somewhere in Middle England when the toilets failed to function. This was the first of many symbolic events I encountered. Late, we got herded to the non-EU resident’s line. The lone security guard scrutinized our passports one page at a time.
“This will take for ages”, said the worried Scot behind me, annoyed he was losing hard won holiday sun tanning hours, already dressed for the occasion in thin T-shirt, half-trousers called pants, and flip-flops.
“Get used to it,” I responded, and looked him in the eye. “This is what Brexit has given us. We are now officially foreigners, the thing unionist millionaires warned we would become, (the ones who flit around in private jets) only if we voted to reinstate Scotland’s nationhood.
I turned to the assembled line, and in my best after-dinner voice shouted, “Repeat, after me, everybody, ‘No soy Inglés. Soy Escocés!'” The ripple of understanding that ran down the line turn into full realisation and then applause.
I opened my European passport at the photograph and repeated the phrase to the security guard in the glass booth but with a calculated addition.
“No soy un estúpida inglés. Soy escocés. – I am not stupid English. I am Scottish.”
The guard pushed back his military police issue cap, paused to check my eye line, until a huge involuntary grin broke across his stern visage. He let out a roar of laughter and waved us through in lickety-split time. I looked back to thank him, “Viva Espana!”
Each day transpired to offer similar confrontations: momentary scrutiny followed by my disclaimer, laughter from officials, pats on the back and warm handshakes. The reply was always the same, “Gracias escocia. Que son bienvenidos.”
What have we done?
But the frisson of angst those queuing had experienced jolted them; the hard reality of most of England voting for separatism was palpable. They recognised a serious regressive step had taken place, without their say so, a threat to their freedom.
Wherever I went, bank official, waiter, hotel receptionist, store assistant, they asked why British people had done what they had done. “Andy Murray – he came to Barcelona to train, no? Why do you now stop talented players doing the same as he did? Please tell us?”
They admitted what the European Bank had done to Greece was inexcusable, but they felt change was on the way, they could see it in the election wins for the mass left-wing movement Podemos. It will take time and good organisation, but their protest is not a racist one. It’s aimed at the right targets, the political elite, banks, the economic system.
In any event Ukip had never begun its days on a platform to save the people of Greece. Farage has never been seen in meetings with Greek politicians, or in conversation with Yanis Varoufakis discussing ways to bolster the Greek economy. What does he care about the Greek poor and the desperate? He doesn’t want those democracy loving, dance crazed Zorbas in England, for god’s sake! He wants them out, kebabs, souvlaki, and all!
Hypocrisy rules – okay?
That brazenly hypocritical excuse was chucked into the mix only lately by Farage when addressing the European Parliament, making his overtly racist declaration that he alone had achieved English purity. He’s England’s answer to Barry Goldwater.
And who should be called upon to speak after him in his defence, but the far-right French fascist Marine Le Penn. What a pair; Al Capone told by Don Corleone he’s one great stand up guy. Farage and his BNP and EDL refugees only ever talked of too many immigrants, and asylum seekers soaking up ‘our’ welfare funds.
(An SNP MEP was next to speak: “I am a Scot and a European!” he began. As applause rose from the parliamentarians the BBC cut him dead.)
Multiculturalism hasn’t worked, was Ukip’s battle cry, until the Tory party took it up then the Labour party and saved Ukip the advertising costs. How did the English ever allow Farage a soap box? Not all liked what they heard, but not enough stopped him. The con artist declared, “This will be our independence day.” I can’t vouch for readers, but I felt physically sick.
The ringing reply from Scotland was clear, we want no part of bigotry and prejudice.
And then it happened.
England’s over-paid, and over-there football team got their arses kicked by the one country they thought a joke, Iceland. It seemed to me all of Spain was watching. As Iceland’s team scored its second goal the cheers went up among the diners in Malaga’s narrow tapas bar alleys. It mattered no longer Spain had lost too.
A tall, grey haired, burly man got up from his table to reach the restaurant toilet. As he past my table and glanced at the television screen showing the match he said, “This is terrible. We’re in despair.” His Dublin accent was unmistakeable. He gave the thumbs up sign and a wink. Now I was laughing. England had made itself a laughing stock in its politics and in its inability to understand its football team do not have a god-given right to win every game they play.
An English television commentator couldn’t believe it. Unconsciously repeating the same colonial racism Farage is happy to incite he said. “We have to accept a superior team got licked tonight!” Listen carefully – that’s the very reason it got beaten, you idiot, beaten hands down. It is most certainly not superior.
The resignation train departs from platform 9
The next day everybody who was anybody had resigned, was on the point of resigning, or refusing to resign but getting kicked out of office.
It was like a JK Rowling door stop novel – never-ending, full of Death Eaters. After his teams humiliations at the feet of Iceland’s, Roy Hodgson, England’s manager was the first to commit hari-kari. David Cameron, UK prime minister had already resigned making the least statesman-like speech a resigning prime minister can make sacked by the voters.
Then it was Lord Hill’s turn, the UK’s European Commissioner, and soon in a tsunami of disaffection and disloyalty over fifty per cent of Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet left him high and dry, he soon to follow out the exit door in a vote of no confidence. Even his former champion, the Scottish Labour groupie, Kezia Dugdale was taking to the lifeboats. “If I lost over 80 per cent of my MPs support I could not do my job”, she averred, oblivious that she had lost over 81 per cent of her constituency MSPs only two months earlier.
Nothing like Groundhog Day
Westminster skies were blazing with lethal trails of drones each a politician’s name inscribed on its nose. And there were no air raid shelters to be found.
One quiet pleasure was perceiving that those hated messengers of Scotland’s self-confidence, Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon, had seen off every influential unionist critic that had ever attacked Scotland’s wish for genuine democratic structures and civil rights. Every one. With the entire Tory party and Labour in disarray, leaderless, and godless, the official opposition at Westminster was now the Scottish National Party.
A small miracle appeared in the Guardian newspaper. Seeing the chaos unfettered racism had reaped upon his country, the same yobs who had swung Union Jack flags into the faces of demoralised independence supporters in Glasgow’s George Square, a regular columnist wrote, “I have to accept that now Scottish independence is a certainty.”
Freedom of expression was unchained. Hard-nosed politicians suggested Scotland and Ireland could stay in the EU if they opened negotiations. Was that true? It was. Guy Verhofstadt, MEP, the former Belgian prime minister and now European Union Liberal leader repeated the assertion. Westminster’s past bluff was neutered!
However, everybody agreed England could not hang around the EU. England would not be allowed to ‘cherry pick’ what it liked and stop anything that was a responsibility. It could not refuse to pay the golf club’s fees but continue playing on its course and use its club facilities. The club’s owners had had enough.
And in one final symbolic moment I got talking briefly to a successful London dentist, on holiday in Malaga. He was as English as you can imagine, in manners, attitudes, and civility. Without solicitation he said his grandfather and his father were Russian, refugees from Stalin’s regime.
And I remembered all the Russians who had fought in the second European war, and all the Poles too, millions who had fought and died side by side with Tommy and Jock and Paddy and Taffy, for freedom, for peace, but not for racism, or xenophobia, or intolerance, or the vomit of Nigel Farage.
And I heard myself say… adiós inglés.