I write this post at 9:15 PM in Scotland, and it is still bright as day outside of my Airbnb window. Today was quite an important day in Scotland — my first full day of Exploration Summer and EU Election Day! Today, the people of the United Kingdom voted for their Members of European Parliament. Even though the people of the UK voted previously to leave the EU, until such plans are finalized, they must continue to elect representatives to its parliamentary body. A number of polling stations were open around the city, complete with campaign signs out front which I made sure to photograph and document. This afternoon, I encountered a number of EU supporters demonstrating their appetite for a second UK referendum on Brexit. I spoke to one man, waving an EU flag at a busy intersection, and asked him why he supported the EU. “Our most important challenges — peace, climate, economy — are universal problems. Breaking up into nation-states is a troubling and ineffective trend,” he said. In his view, the ideal outcome of the current political situation would be Scotland remaining in an EU-member United Kingdom. In reference to Brexit and its significant support primarily in England, he joked, “The British think they are better than everyone, while the Scots just think they are better than the British.” Results of the election will be announced on Sunday, and I will be on the lookout for any related activities I can observe this weekend.
Beyond the political events of today, I spent most of my day in Edinburgh visiting the city’s namesake, Edinburgh Castle. Located at the heart of the city atop an inactive volcano, the protected castle grounds, comprised of a number of structures, is more reminiscent of a fortress than a traditional castle. During the tour, I learned of the important role the structure held in the Wars of Scottish Independence between England and Scotland in the 13th and 14th centuries. These wars, and the events that preceded them, highlight the complicated and ever-changing relationship that has existed between the two countries for centuries.
At one point, a level of trust existed between Scotland and England with such strength that King Edward I of England was invited to select the next King of Scotland during its ascension crisis. The previous King, Alexander III, had died, and his named successor Margaret Maid of Norway, a 3 year old girl at the time, fell ill and died shortly after arrival in Scotland. King Edward named John Balliol the new King, but soon after it became clear that the English crown was controlling his actions. After Balliol attempted to distance himself from the King’s influence, England invaded Scotland and took control of Edinburgh Castle, beginning an English campaign to seize as much of the country as possible.
Another story, this one from around 500 years later, represents a potential parallel in human behavior between previous Scottish-England tensions and modern UK-EU tensions. After a period of over 170 years without a royal visit from the monarch to Scotland, people in the country began attributing virtually every negative occurrence in their lives to the Crown. Realizing the potential danger of this trend, King George IV of England enlisted Sir Walter Scott, a prominent novelist in Scotland, to organize his first royal visit to the country. After wearing a kilt upon arrival and spending several days in Scotland, public sentiment of the monarchy experienced a paradigm shift. Is this tendency to attribute negative happenings to an outside and unknown governing body similar to what has occurred in Brexit? After the tour, I spoke to my guide about this, and he confirmed the comparison, explaining that in recent elections, many wanted to leave the EU because pro-Brexit politicians and media attributed the UK’s problems to its membership in the EU.
Tomorrow, I head south to the Scottish-English border in hopes of learning more about the historical context of this complicated relationship.