HMS Brexit

I represented Creative Edinburgh at an event this week, about protecting Scotland's cultural, creative and tourism industries as the UK begins the process of leaving the European Union.

Fiona Hyslop and Michael Russell spoke very candidly and took questions on the Scottish Government's approach to brexit, after which the 150 or so attendees spent an hour discussing our fears and hopes, and the areas we wanted Holyrood to prioritise.

It hadn't occurred to me before then how fundamental the freedom of movement questions is, and how it alone explains the way different parts of the UK swung in the vote. In Scotland, the freedom for others to come here unhindered and for us to roam mainland Europe is seen, in the main, as a hugely positive thing full of hope and opportunity; in many parts of England quite the opposite is true, where fears of foreigners taking jobs and diluted cultural identity abound.

The economic aspects, and the pros and cons of Free Market vs global trading are, I think, secondary to the point of insignificance. The desire or a mandate for a referendum certainly wouldn't have grown around that issue in the way it has around some of the horrific and skewed fears being imagined and peddled by the far right in the South.

What really frightens me—and most of those at my table on Wednesday—is the very real prospect that those who have come from other parts of the world and made Scotland their home will at best begin to feel unwelcome, at worst be made to leave. That the influx of fresh ideas, energy and culture will be stemmed. I know we will be so much poorer in every sense as a result.

Of course the counter argument is that nobody wants to stop immigration, we're simply taking back control of our borders so we can choose who to let in and for what reason.

But the wonderful thing about open borders is that people don't have to prove themselves or arrive for a specific reason or job. Neither society nor industry are that predictable and many of the best things happen unexpectedly when you throw a bunch of random people together. Working in Codebase and on projects like CivTech, I see that stuff happening every day—it's real.

Of the many EU nationals I've been lucky enough to work with since our borders were opened, I can't think of one who came here because of a specific job. They arrived for education, love, or as a tourist. They decided they liked the place (who wouldn't), started laying down roots, getting jobs, starting families, building companies and adding real value to our society and economy.

Any barriers we put up, no matter how small, will stop this wonderfully organic process.

It was encouraging that so many people had made the time to come along and contribute enthusiastically, but perhaps equally despondent that it in spite of any optimism, energy or ideas in that room—or indeed throughout Scotland—it may all be futile. Scotland is but a small vessel, tied helplessly to the back of an unstoppable cargo ship being steered into a storm by grinning maniacs we didn't vote for.