The anti-immigrant sentiment of the Brexit debate has swept all before it in many parts of the UK, but in Scotland the tone is very different as the country grapples with the consequences of Thursday’s historic vote.
Teaching union activist Donny Gluckstein was among demonstrators in Glasgow and Edinburgh on Friday night complaining about the hostile rhetoric. “Nobody clinging to a rubber dinghy in the middle of the Med is responsible for the lack of housing in this country,” he told the demonstration outside St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, where 74.4% voted to remain in the EU.
As speakers attacked “the scoundrels who peddled racism and division”, Maria, a Spanish woman living in Edinburgh with her Scots-born daughter, watched in tears. “I love this great country,” she said. “I’m proud to be here and that my daughter is Scottish. I woke up to the result and I felt very sad.”
Josie Law, 11, who was with her mother, Lindsay, and little sister Lori, nine, said: “In my class at school lots of my friends are from other countries and I don’t want them to have to leave.”
Lindsay Law said that her daughter loved her school, where 37 languages were spoken. “We all love it, parents too, everyone brings something special, it’s enriching. Everyone we know from other countries are here to work and contribute. The idea that they are a drain on resources is farcical. I was a no to independence, then I changed my mind; an independent Scotland within Europe, that was key for me. Now we have neither, and I don’t know if the EU would want Scotland without the rest of Britain. So that would be the thing for me, if Europe reaches out to Scotland and says ‘we’ll have you’, then a second vote on independence definitely.”
Her parents are English and voted Leave, but Law says: “They genuinely think it’s best for their children and grandchildren, that’s why they voted, they think it’s right. It’s not.”
The morning after the demonstrations, Scotland’s ministers gathered to consider the constitutional dilemmas Thursday’s vote poses. The government is to immediately seek talks with European officials over Scotland’s place in the union, and has set up a taskforce to look at paving the way for a “likely” second referendum on independence.
The first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also said that she would be hosting a summit with other European leaders in Edinburgh within a fortnight to reassure foreign nationals “who do us the honour of wanting to live here” that they are still welcome in Scotland.
After an emergency cabinet meeting, the Scottish leader gave a statement about the country’s future meant to reassure Scots on all sides of what is far from a binary debate after it voted emphatically against Brexit by 62% to 38%, just two years after voting against independence by 55.3% to 44.7%.
A headline in the Scottish Daily Record this weekend read: “EU GO Girl” over a picture of Sturgeon responding to Friday’s result with the statement: “Scotland faces being taken out of the EU against our will. I regard that as democratically unacceptable.”
Voters in Scotland, while dazed by the result, are also cautious, with some expressing fears over whether there is any “stomach” for another divisive political referendum soon. Sturgeon insisted all options remain on the table. Some within the SNP have suggested that the polls would need to be running at 60% in favour before she would consider calling a second independence vote, and the tricky question of which currency an independent Scotland would use would have to be resolved. She said there was now a “significant divergence” between Scotland and the rest of Britain which she “deeply regretted”.
Although all five party leaders in the Scottish parliament backed Remain, Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives and Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale have both said the results did not justify holding another independence referendum. Davidson said an independence vote would not help the country to achieve stability, and was not in the best interests of the people of Scotland. She added: “The 1.6 million votes cast in this referendum in favour of Remain do not wipe away the two million votes that we cast less than two years ago.”
It’s tricky to stop someone in Edinburgh’s historic centre who isn’t a tourist, but several Europeans told the Observer they were horrified by the UK’s decision. A French family said they believe their country will be next. “It’s the end of the EU, I really think,” said Giles Cotte, from Nîmes. “Our daughter lives and works in London and she is very upset. She cares deeply, like a lot of young people.”
But even if it takes so long that she might be able to vote in it, Josie Law says she does want a second referendum. “It’s for young people to decide. My friends in my class want to stay together.”
Lori wanted to add her note of caution: “If anyone has to leave, then I’d actually like some of the boys in my class to go. Mostly the Scottish ones.”
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