Tag Archives: Scotland

A not so splendid isolation

Never was so much messed up for so many by so few. That pretty much sums the Brexit experience.

The post-Brexit referendum reality turned out to be worse than the gloomiest predictions. British stocks have taken a beating, the pound fell through a dark hole and the repercussions are being felt around Europe and the world. Nevertheless, these are the first panic reactions and it is best to wait for a while and see if things will be settling down. The long-term consequences are still unclear, but as a mental experiment, it is useful to try and catch a glimpse of what the future holds, based  on current trends. Fasten your seat belts, hold on to your hats and join me as we fast forward to… let’s say the year 2020.

Independence
The main slogan of Leave was “taking our country back”. What they did not mention was that “back” meant “300 years back”. Brexit meant independence alright. Scottish independence. As the negotiations between UK and the EU lead to nothing, Scotland voted to leave and declared its independence. Since it had already implemented all EU regulations and satisfied all demands, Scotland was welcomed immediately into the EU, on the condition it will join the Euro zone within 5 years. Empowered by Scotland’s success, Northern Ireland held  a similar referendum, with an extra question – join Ireland or become an independent state. They joined Ireland. Welsh nationalism saw a surge after Wales’ surprise victory at Euro 2016. English-Welsh tensions are reaching boiling point, as both countries are set to meet in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 at Wembley. Oddly, these developments “fix” the old mismatch. Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales were always members of UEFA and played international football while technically not being fully independent. As the UK and Britain are now history, the football countries now match UN member countries.

The economy
What economy? The economy of England has been annihilated. London banks left to Frankfurt, Paris, Dublin and Amsterdam. The credit rankings of England were slashed, leading to massive rise in national debt and falling pound caused a runaway inflation, only held in check by plummeting housing prices. Having failed to negotiate a trade agreement with the EU, England is now facing steep tariffs and taxes, pushing up the prices for imported goods like food and medicine. With the supply of Europe’s brightest students and staff to English universities cut off, tech companies are fleeing to the continent. Chinese, Indian and American students also no longer come, not wanting to study in a country that is cut off from its continent.

Immigration
Oh my. Brexit did stop EU immigration into England. With no agreement in place, EU citizens in England were given two years to apply for a job permit or leave. Not that most of them wanted to live any longer in a country plagued by the biggest recession in 300 years. EU countries each set their own rules with regard to English residing there. Most were lenient, bot some viewed the English pensioners as an easy prey and a cash cow, imposing new taxes on their savings and property. Many retirees were unable to meet the new regulations and returned to England, putting an extra strain on the NHS, already desperately understaffed after the doctors and nurses left to the EU. Tensions in Northern Ireland and Scotland caused massive English immigration into England, with the best and most capable choosing for Canada and Australia instead. Young and educated English are massively immigrating to Ireland, Scotland and mainland Europe, usually via the “Scottish route”, where they discover their Scottish roots that grant them the right to Scottish citizenship and free movement in the EU. The flight of the creative class has left parts of London, Manchester and other English cities ghost towns, only partly filled by remigrating pensioners.

All this is of course a doom scenario. The worse that could happen. But I’m afraid even 1/10th of the above will be devastating for England, Britain and possible Europe as well.

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To Brexit or not to Brexit?

The Brexit referendum is looming, and this may (or may not) be a major milestone in European history. I was planning to write a serious, thoughtful article about this whole Brexit thing. How it might mean the end of the UK, with Scotland leaving to join the EU, and Northern Ireland following suit. I thought of mashing up that ridiculous, fear-mongering article Boris Johnson wrote about the Scottish referendum. You know, the one subtly titled “Scottish independence: Decapitate Britain, and we kill off the greatest political union ever”. Like, rewriting his article and replacing “Scottish” with “British”, and “Britain” with “European Union”. Would be fun to read Boris’ writing along the lines of:

Brexit: Decapitate the EU, and we kill off the greatest political union ever

By Boris Johnson

The British are on the verge of an act of self-mutilation that will trash our global identity.

Right: it’s time to speak for the European Union. If these polls are right, then we are on the verge of an utter catastrophe for this continent. In just 5 days’ time we could all be walking around like zombies – on both sides of the English Channel. I don’t just mean that we will be in a state of shock, though that will obviously be true: most people (especially the British) have yet to think through the horrific financial and constitutional implications of a British-EU divorce.

As I sat down to write my article, I started with a bit of background research. What is the referendum question, whether it is binding or not, that sort of things. Naturally, the first place I went to for information was Wikipedia. And then I realized, that I don’t need to write much about Brexit. One paragraph from the Wikipedia article about the Brexit referendum tells the whole story.

A Remain vote is supported by the British government, most economists, the leaders of the USA and the rest of the EU countries, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the G20, the IMF, and all living past and present Prime Ministers. The Leave campaign is supported by Boris Johnson, Iain Duncan Smith, Michael Gove, UKIP, the UK fishing industry and James Dyson, the founder of Dyson.

So there you go. The UK government, the world leaders, financial institutions, thoroughly British businesses such as Rolls Royce and BAE Systems, historians, economists, healthcare professionals and scientists, and so on and on and on, all support Britain remaining in the European Union.

On the other hand, UKIP, the Communist Party, the majority of British fishermen, Aspall Cider (cidre manufacturing company), Go Ape (outdoor adventure company) and the Portsmouth City Council are in favour of Britain leaving the EU. And of course Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are also in favour of Brexit.

Dear Britons, in a few days it is up to you to decide on the future course of your country. Make up your own mind, and in case you’re still in doubt, the full list of endorsements is here. But do think of this – are a few more tons of fish worth it? Do you want to have a passport control booth on the border with Scotland? Is Putin the best of friends? When was the last time you agreed with the Communist Party? Right. Now stop being silly, would you?

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Will Brexit become just Exit?

If the British vote to leave the EU, instead of Brexit (British exit) it might boil down to just an Exit (English exit), with the other members of the United Kingdom deciding to stay in the EU after all, as independent states. This way, Europe will be one big country poorer but four small European countries richer.

With the dust settling on Britain after the dramatic elections, the question on everyone’s lips is “what about Brexit”? That is, will there be a referendum about the United Kingdom leaving the EU, and what will be the outcome? To be honest, I don’t really care whether the UK will be a member of the EU or not. I don’t think most Europeans care much either. I do feel the British public is not fully aware of the impact of such a decision and I think their politicians and media are doing a poor job informing the public. 

Now that Nigel Farage, (former) head of UKIP, has left the political scene, it seems the referendum issue will lose some momentum. But it is unlikely that David Cameron will dare back off his promise to hold one. And if he will back off, there are plenty of people who will remind him of his promise. However, without Farage, who was the main force in the pro-Brexit camp, there is an opportunity for the British to engage in a meaningful discussion on the aftermath of leaving the EU.

What is it really about? The Brits are concerned about immigrants taking their jobs and straining the social services. They say the EU is costing a lot and is providing little in return. What they forget is that without the EU they would have to take back millions of Britons who retired to Spain. How’s that for strain on healthcare? It’s not like it would not be possible to retire or get a job in EU, it just would be much more difficult. Jobs in the UK, too, would be at risk, as exports to EU will suffer. And London, that lives on its banking system, will perhaps not be cut off all together, but will be left out of much of European decision making, and banking across the channel will be pricier. I’m pretty sure people in Frankfurt and Zurich would be more than willing to fill the gap.

Not that leaving the EU will stop the illegal immigration. The illegals are not EU citizens anyway, so they come regardless the UK membership. Leaving the EU is not going to address immigration from Commonwealth countries like Nigeria and Pakistan. I also don’t see how the UK will remove the millions of Germans, French, Poles and Romanians who live in the country for years or even decades. And who will do the plumbing? Are German doctors, French bankers and Dutch engineers also to leave? Sure, some immigrants are not model citizens. But leaving the EU because of them is a bit drastic, isn’t it?

What about Scotland? Surely, if the Brexit referendum will decide for leaving the EU, Scotland will want to hold a new referendum about leaving the UK? Having narrowly lost the previous referendum, Scottish nationalists stand a good chance of winning the next one, especially if the choice is between the UK and the EU. Scottish independence might reignite the flames in Northern Ireland and maybe even Wales will decide to split. And so, instead of Brexit (British exit) it might boil down to just an Exit (English exit), with the other members of the United Kingdom deciding to stay in the EU after all, as independent states. This way, Europe will be one big country poorer and four small European countries richer.

These are mere possible scenarios. I’m not claiming knowing the future or even that these are likely scenarios. I do think it is absolutely necessary for the British public, politics and media to be able to discuss the possible consequences of Brexit, without the rhetoric, in a polite, responsible fashion. If the BritishU do decide to leave the EU, its their legitimate choice. It would be a shame if they leave for the wrong reasons and under false assumptions. Whatever happens, Britain will remain a European country. They can vote whatever which way they want, but they can’t ship the whole bloody island to Australia. They can’t, right?

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The most awesome weekend trip I ever had, Part III – Scotland, the small European country… wait, is Scotland a country?

This was it. We were really going to Scotland. Waking up at 6, again, at the airport in time, even the flight was leaving on schedule. Well, I guess we just have had our share of bad luck the previous day. Uneventfully, we landed in Glasgow, made it to city centre, bought our groceries (a pack of juice and some gasoline, please) and took the train to Fort William. In my life, I’ve had my fair share of beautiful train rides, but this one was special. Perhaps because as we chugged through the highlands, I was putting together the ironing board, that I had to disassemble to fit into the luggage size limits of Ryanair. The other passengers were true Britons though and besides the occasional glare everybody kept pretending that people assembling ironing boards were most common on this stretch of rail. But the views on the West Highland Line are pretty damned spectacular, as well, so the ride was memorable even without the ironing board.

Fort William at the end of September is not that crowded. Our appearance with an ironing board would have caused quite a stir, hadn’t it been for the fact that among the 100 000 people ascending the Ben Nevis annually there’s plenty of freaks, and we were not really standing out, even in the thin autumn crowds. We set our tent on the camping at the foot of the mighty mountain and went to bed early to be ready for the big day.

Early start, again...

Early start, again…

The next morning started bloody early (again). We had our breakfast in pitch darkness and started our ascent. At this hour, we were the first on the track and had the whole mountain to ourselves (and the ironing board, of course). Weather was as fine as it gets on the most rainy spot in Europe, the thick mist lifting every now and then to give us a glimpse of magnificent views before settling down again. Close before the summit, however, we came across a small group that spent the night in the shelter at the top, so we had to settle for being the second group on the summit that day. The summit itself was what you’d expect a summit visited by 100 000 people a year to be – a giant public toilet. The ruins of the observatory and the scattered memorial boards and urns with people’s ashes did make it quite surreal up there. I wonder if all those people would wish their ashes to be left there if they’d know how many people take a dump on their grave.

Ironing board in the thick mist

Ironing board in the thick mist

The ruins of the observatory

The ruins of the observatory

Still shrouded in mist, we accomplished our task, ironing on the top of the Ben Nevis. We were done. From here on, everything we’d experience was a bonus. As it turned out, we’d get a wholla lot of bonuses. First of all, there were still quite a few people going to the top that day, and we’ve met them all on our ascent. We were given a heroes welcome. People cheered, congratulated us, asked whether they can take a picture of us and the lady holding a rag doll named Valery, who was going to the top in a red cocktail dress with the objective to stand there in high heels called us “crazy”. We were kings of the mountain.

This is it - extreme ironing on the top of Ben Nevis!

This is it – extreme ironing on the top of Ben Nevis!

Every now and then, the mist would lift

Every now and then, the mist would lift

Back in Fort William, our next task was to get out of there ASAP. Since we were on a budget, we planned to hitch-hike to Glasgow. Withing just a half an hour, we got a ride from an elderly gentleman who’s driving style was best described by “I’m old, and I don’t care anymore if I die”. I’m sure he’s been down that road many, many times before and knew every curve. But on the wet highland highways, in the darkness, driving on what for me was the wrong side of the road, I had to do my best to concentrate on the conversation with him to avoid looking at the road. Fortunately, the old dude was a great conversation partner – he was a retired Navy officer, going to Glasgow to attend a course in… tying knots! Apparently, if you’re a Scouting guide, even if you’ve been tying knots for the past 70 years, you still have to take a refreshment course every two year. The 3 most dreaded words in the English language are “health and safety”, I guess.

P9290090We were dropped some 50 km from Glasgow, at the side of a lake, the name of which I would never learn, and pitched our tent on the shore. By this time, Kristof, a housemate of ours who was in the area on an internship, has joined us as well, and we all hit the sack. The next morning we were… but wait, this has nothing to do with Ben Nevis anymore. I’ll just leave the last part of the story for another time.

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The British Isles

Of the bite-sized regions I’ve divided Europe into, the British Isles are seemingly the least diverse. Just two coutries (UK and Ireland), one language (supposedly, English) and a uniformly depressing climate don’t appear too varied. But appearances can be deceiving. The countries of the British Isles may have only two embassies, but they do possess 5 national football teams, and national pride runs high, especially among the Scottish. Not to mention Northern Ireland. While everyone on the Isles speaks English, there are countless variations of it, to great frustration of the tourist who thinks he or she has mastered the language of Shakespeare yet can’t understand a word that’s being said. And oh, the climate. While some of the wettest locations in Europe are in the highlands of Scotland, London actually gets less rain than Rome. Let’s just say the climate adds variety to the British life. Never a dull moment – that’s the motto of the local weather.

 

  • Why go there?
    Americans and Australians favour the Isles as they offer a “soft landing” – culturally and linguistically speaking. The harsh reality is that the differences turn out to be rather noticeable, as this blogger found out. But experiencing these differences has a charm of its own. Plus there’s really a lot to see and do here. Like top-notch surfing sites in Ireland, superb hiking in Scotland, some of the world’s best beaches in Wales and, of course, London.
  • What’s it best for?
    To me, the greatest attraction of the British Isles is not the history, not the culture, not the drinking or the football, although all of these are generously offered. I go here for laughs. Seriously, this is the most humorous corner of the globe I’ve ever been to. This is where Monty Python, Rowan Atkinson, Douglas Adams, Lewis Carroll and many more come from. And it shows – the locals appreciate a good joke and are always prepared with one of their own. I occasionally do extreme ironing. In Belgium I was ignored, in Switzerland I was mocked, but here people genuinely appreciated me coming with an ironing board, and cheered me up all the way to the top of Ben Nevis.
  • When is the best time to go?
    July and August are the warmest, but May and June are the driest, so make your bet. Be warned though – London has seen summer temperatures over 35 degrees in the last few years and the tube is really no fun in such weather.
  • How to get around?
    British Railways are not famous for comfort, precision or speed, and the highways are rather congested. Plus fuel prices are ridiculously high (as pretty much everywhere in Europe), so driving 1000 miles to the Highlands may be pricey. Fortunately, this is where budget airlines have been invented, and all the major cities are well connected. Fly, but remember to read the fine print!
  • Why is it best to avoid?
    Some have difficulties distinguishing the British summer from the winter. Not the place to go to if you’re looking for weather guarantees.
  • Where to go if you just have one week?
    Stick to London. Hell, you can spend a year in this city and not ever be bored!

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