The London of my childhood, the London of the 1950s, was not at all colourless and depressing, whatever the popular image. It was vibrant with Jewish culture, West Indian culture, Polish culture. It was full of hope and, sadly, also of conflict and some really nasty attitudes. It was a long and bitter struggle to establish that the minorities were British, that curry was delicious and that Asian fabric rocked. In my memory, those less affluent times remain as the time I learned to be an internationalist. Those of us fighting that battle always believed things could and would improve.
Economic prosperity really matters. I have been poor too long not to know that. When an economy bombs – it is the weakest and the poorest who really suffer. I opposed Scottish Independence last time round for two reasons: that economically we were better off in the UK, and that I am at heart an internationalist. There was really very little conflict in my views.
In the time since, the UK has voted for Brexit. Or, to be blunt, England and Wales have. What has surfaced since are some of the nastiest views from the 50s. Arguments I thought were over have come back. Not just back, but mainstream and butched-up. Nor is there the slightest prospect that this nastiness will in any way be accompanied by a growth in prosperity. It will not. Brexit will make us all poorer.
So here I sit wondering if, in fact, the risks (huge) and the certain losses of an independent Scotland might, after all, be worth it. Not because I want ‘my country, free at last.’ But because I want ‘my country, linked to others, richer for shared humanity, for cultural diversity.’
It is no longer true at all or in any way that belonging to the UK is an internationalist option. Those of us struggling for an inclusive society in the 50s had hope. I do not see what hope remains. We will not be part of Europe, and it seems, we will be a deeply racist society. It is not that firms have to report the numbers of ‘foreign’ staff, it is the idea somebody could suggest that. I simply think that belonging to such a society is something that one should avoid. Possibly, avoid at any cost.
I hope and pray that a Scotland in Europe might prosper in the way an England out of Europe might not. But I am rapidly getting to the position where that is not my chief consideration. And that is something I never thought I would say.