This piece tries to capture my thoughts over a four week visit to family in Canada over July. It covers conversations with family, their friends and in some cases complete strangers.
Long story short; my parents divorced when I was a toddler and just 5 years ago, at the age of 60, I discovered that I have two brothers and a sister in Canada.
Fortunately, we all get on well and over the last few weeks, the Boss and I have been visiting them for a family wedding in Calgary with stops along the way. But I wanted to take the time to have a few conversations about how Brexit and its potential impacts are viewed on the far side of the pond. I did not have to worry about having such conversations – so many Canadians, and a few Americans, wanted to talk about it even more than I did.
The first thing that is obvious is that Canadians think the UK has lost leave of its collective senses. The second is that there is a real understanding that Scotland voted differently and that it would be a democratic outrage if our voice is unheeded.
Before we had even set down in the land of the Maple Leaf we had been in two conversations with fellow passengers about Brexit and what the consequences might be for the UK, Canada and particularly for Scotland.
Our fellow passenger on the flight across the pond was a former US Navy pilot who expressed concerns that “the UK might be about to go into an isolationist period at a time when the world is entering an increasingly dangerous phase.” He viewed the decision to leave the EU as “inexplicable” (something we were to hear many times) and was eager to explore our thought. He was also enthusiastic about a second Independence referendum in Scotland and hoped we would not repeat the mistake of 2014.
On our first internal flight we sat beside a lady who worked in the financial industry and she thought it was a “crazy, mad” decision which would seriously undermine London as a major global player in her field. Before we were to leave Canada her prediction was becoming a fact! Again she viewed our situation as a major opportunity and was confident that Nicola would rise to the occasion. It became quite obvious early on that she was quite well known and not once did we hear her criticised. Her appearance on the Tonight show was mentioned more than once favourably.
Family were of course more aware as you would expect but even the most casual meeting would lead in the same direction.
On one occasion we walked into a museum in Ontario and spent more time answering very good questions from a couple of lovely young Canadian girls. One, whose family had migrated to Canada from Eastern Europe, was incensed at the depiction of her fellow migrants as lazy, sponging and work shy. She explained that her father had arrived penniless and had created his own business and put her through University studying history. Her views of Farage were pungent and demonstrated an understanding which he completely lacked. Her Canadian born colleague had finished University but once more found the decision very hard to comprehend. In both cases again they quickly asked about Scotland’s position, how could we use this to gain Independence and wished us well.
Even just walking out of a diner with a Scotland t-shirt, going to a bar or even a ball game would get the questions going with the same sequence, how could you be so silly, how would you manage the economic consequences and how could this help to bring about Independence.
On the one occasion we did meet someone who thought Brexit was a good idea, he believed that the Commonwealth could replace the EU, he also thought Scotland needed to make its own decision.
Two years ago Mary and I had made our first trip to Canada to meet our new found relations and there was a polite interest in our arguments but it was not a big issue for them. Now the Brexit vote has changed everything. No longer is London regarded as a rational centre of decision making, for England or for Scotland. No longer was there a basic question of “but why?” Instead there is a recognition that Scotland’s democratic voice is being ignored and that we have a strong moral. Political and economic case for a second Independence referendum.
Now I must emphasise that this is not meant to imply in any way that Justin Trudeau or his government will back us, nor that I have any new insight into the thinking in Canada’s decision making circles. I do not. But, I do know that among ordinary Canadians, and the US citizens, we met there is a strong well of understanding which I did not meet two years ago.
There is a deep reservoir of goodwill and support and it may well be that we can tap into it and influence not only the positions Canada adopts but also use the strong and deep family ties. As a final example, on Saturday night we were in a great Indian restaurant in Okotoks. As we were leaving, the staff picked up on the accent and it turned out they had family in Pollokshaws in Glasgow. They were explaining to us why now, we had to vote for Independence.
One final and unrelated thought which is completely unrelated to politics.
On Friday night night I was lucky enough to go to a minor league baseball game between the Okotoks Dawgs ad the Medicine Hat Mavericks. It was “fan appreciation night” when players and staff saluted “the best fans in baseball”. It was a lovely family night and even the concept of such a night stood in such stark contrast to the way fans are treated at football grounds across Scotland where we are barely tolerated far less appreciated. If football authorities and the football clubs, want to change fan behaviour perhaps changing club behaviour as well would be beneficial. If you want respect, showing some is often a good starting place.