Brexit from Afar

With the second extension to Article 50 granted in April, the almost three-year-long Brexit epic drags on. With Britain distancing itself from Europe, I feel the last bonds which tie me to a place once considered home slipping away.

My future in Europe rests on the deliberations of Westminster MPs and Downing Street executives. The numerous delays, endless votes, and overall confusion that has characterised the Brexit process has extinguished any remaining flickers of hope I had left for the competency of the UK’s political system.

Living as someone on the outside looking towards the turmoil on the inside, I ask myself, why should I feel aligned to what I see as a misrepresentation of my interests and rights?

Though Brexit has exacerbated these feelings, feeling like an outsider is not new to me. I’ve been living away from my home country of Scotland for most of my life, having emigrated with my family to Canada while in primary school, so I have always dealt with fleeting questions of where ‘home’ is for me.

Even now, living in the Netherlands as a foreign student – despite my warmth towards this country and everything it has to offer, I can’t help but feel like a vagrant. A passerby of sorts. An outsider observing the comings and goings of places that I feel homesick for, despite them not actually being my ‘home’.

I am by no means a patriot, nor am I  a ‘world citizen’, but at present I feel without roots – caught between my own competing identities.

As a Scot, a British national, and (until October 31st, supposedly) an EU citizen, Brexit has made me consider the relationships I have with these attachments. I now ponder how they define my own identity—if at all—and with that, even the possible redundancies of national identities overall.

Viewing Brexit from afar makes me wonder: how do national identity and community compel us? How did they become so deeply ingrained in our lives?

Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities offers one compelling answer: As a work which explores the origins of nationalism, it seeks to explain our partiality to a certain place, regardless of where we’re actually from.

In brief, Anderson boils down nationalism to this: the proliferation of mass media creates expansive ‘imagined communities’ which today manifest themselves as ‘the nation-state’. During the industrial revolution, with the spread of literacy and unified medium of exchanges, normalised the idea of the sovereign nation as a collective identity of a community.

In this climate of nation-states that seems to be ridden with competing identities, cultures, and values, I find we can take a lot from the implications of these “imagined”, physically intangible communities.

Anderson’s work almost trivialises the whole idea of nationality. It highlights the existence of nationalism as nothing more than our own feelings towards an artificial sentiment of community. And our feelings of ‘community’ seem outlandish if we consider how we can feel so strongly unified with thousands, if not millions of people that we don’t even know.

However, these feelings of community, regardless of how visible they are, clearly have a deeper importance to us than being just ‘imaginary’. This importance connects to my doubts over my own attachments. Will my feelings as an outsider therefore drive me to find my own community?

On the other end of the spectrum, this importance shows itself through the double-headed dragon of unity and disunity that has arisen from Brexit.

Politically, nationalism today often manifests itself in the pursuit of selfish goals, such as the British nationalist sentiments behind the Leave movement’s success, based on falsified threats to the perceived grandeur of the UK. On the other hand, there are the strands of nationalism pursued more out of a struggle than of selfishness. That of civic nationalism seen in Scotland and Catalonia, for example.

With my own feelings of indifference to national identity, movements advocating for moving toward an interconnected global citizenry have an inherent appeal to me.

However, with said indifference, I also find myself enticed toward the pursuit of self-determination, particularly when thinking about my relationship to my home country. The aim of reaching a renewed imagined community for my birthplace almost offsets these feelings of indifference. Such hopes incline me to connect myself to Scotland as my community than to Britain as my community.

I can only wonder, if in fifteen years: will I find my place within my own ‘imagined community’ or will I remain ever the outsider?