As Big Ben, the iconic clock that adorns the British House of Parliament in London, the British capital struck at midnight to signal the arrival of the year 2021; the significance of the moment hung in the air like a miasma enveloping not just the entire country but the world as a whole.
This was the hour when Britain finally and formally exited of the European Union (EU) to which it was first admitted in 1973 during the tenure of conservative Prime Minister Edward (Ted) Heath.
As Britain commenced its life out of EU, there was an unmistakable feeling of anti-climax to the whole issue, due as much to the fact that the British people had gotten fatigued by the whole conundrum of the Brexit and wanted it done with one way or the other, as it was also of the palpable sense of uncertainty that lay ahead for Britain in its new reality.
Instead of the expected accompanying fireworks and popping of champagne (no pun intended) on the day Brexit finally came, the atmosphere was subdued, if not sombre. The nationwide lockdown as a result of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic which is ravaging the country is partly responsible. But it was also as much due to the fact that Brexit had brought along with it a slew of issues which many fear may eventually result in the disintegration of Britain itself.
Of special attention in this regard is the issue of Scotland.
At the 2016 referendum, the Scots had voted to remain in the EU and were disappointed that the final count turned out the opposite way in favour of those who wanted Britain to leave the continental body.
Long before the referendum, feelings had been running high in Scotland for independence from Britain. In the 2014 Scottish referendum on the issue, those who did not want independence from Britain had narrowly triumphed over the naysayers.
Indeed, over the years, Scotland had been steadily demanding and getting some form of autonomy over its affairs within Britain. It now has its own parliament that sits in Holyrood, Edinburgh the Scottish capital. The Scottish National Party, (SNP) has virtually displaced both the Labour and Conservative parties in Scotland. And Scotland enjoys some measure of independence in financial, cultural, educational and political matters.
Although, much of Scotland’s history for over a thousand years have been tied to England its neighbour to the south, the Scots have strenuously tried to maintain a separate identity. They are known along with the Welsh and Irish as the indigenous Gaelic tribes of Britain distinct from the Angles, Saxons and Normans of England who emigrated into present day England in waves from Scandinavia, Germany and France. Over the hundreds of years of their history with the English, the Scots have endured a mostly bitter, acrimonious relationship with their English cousins. By the act of Union on January 6, 1707, the parliaments of England and Scotland were joined into one; an act which many Scots today have come to rue.
The Scots are especially known for their kilted and tartan wears which they wear proudly in an in-your-face manner intended to annoy the English, their so-called auld enemy. The English in derision refer to the Scots as Jocks.
Also, nothing moves a Scot more than the sound from a bag pipe which can see him doing feats of unparalleled courage and valour. Although, English has long replaced Gaelic as the language of the Scots, they however deliberately speak it with a distinct heavy highland accent which an Englishman or any other English speaker would struggle to understand. The Scottish national dish is Haggis, a salmon based delicacy palatable only to the Scots or persons whose origins are Scottish, downed usually with generous helpings of Whisky or Glenfiddich, both as distinctly Scottish as the Lochness.
Following the Brexit, Scottish First Minister (Prime Minister of Scotland sort of) Nicola Sturgeon, appealed to the EU to as she said, ‘’Keep the lights on’’. By this, she meant that her ruling SNP party in Scotland hopes to activate another demand for a referendum for Scottish independence from Britain probably in a couple of years when the Scottish elections come up.
The argument of the SNP is that at the time of the last Scottish referendum in 2014, the issue of Brexit was not on the cards and that had it been included, the Scots would have voted for Independence from Britain. Indeed, various opinion polls conducted in Scotland since the Brexit vote indicated that the Scottish people by an overwhelming majority will vote for Independence from Britain and a return to the EU if a referendum were to be conducted today.
Such a prospect will certainly come to fruition if the economic benefits promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Brexit does not materialise. In this regard, the Scots will justifiably feel that staying in post Brexit Britain with all the economic hardships constrains them greatly especially as they were not in favour of leaving the EU in the first place. The Scots will also point to the fact that there are a number of EU member countries who by any parameter of measure do not rank up to Scotland.
Adam Fergus, a resident of Edinburgh who spoke to me on phone from Edinburgh said, “The Scots would definitely have something to say in the next elections on their status in Britain following Brexit. I think Bo***cks Johnson talks a load of blarney and we don’t trust him here in Scotland. He is leading Britain to a blind alley and us Scots don’t want to be part of it anymore. If it means getting out of Britain in order to get into Europe, we will do it the next time.’’
As the reality of a post Brexit Britain kicks in, those watching the unfolding events in Britain will be doing so with keen interest. For now, it would appear that the last of the Brexit saga in Britain has not been heard.
Iliyasu Gadu writes via Ilgad2009@gmail.com