Like many others, I spent last Friday grieving for what I knew Scotland was about to lose. I joined hundreds at a vigil held outside Scottish Parliament on Friday night, where we collectively mourned and stood in solidarity with our European friends, family, colleagues and neighbours. It was heartening to see so many rally together and deliver a clear message to our EU citizens: you are not alone. Scotland stands with you.
Despite the constitutional limbo of the past three and a half years, I cannot feel any relief now the Brexit date has passed. I feel only sadness for what Scotland has lost and for any pain it has caused our friends in the EU. While not much appeared to have changed on Monday morning, with most of us going about our daily business as usual, the truth is, we have taken a step into the unknown. No one can be certain what the coming weeks, months and years will bring, but I know that many of us in Scotland will feel the same connection and comradery with our EU neighbours as we ever did. Whatever chaos may ensue, that certainty will remain.
Edinburgh has a long and proud history as an international and European city. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Scottish scientists, mathematicians and philosophers were leading lights of the European enlightenment. Every year, hundreds of thousands of our fellow Europeans come to perform in and attend events at our festivals. Edinburgh’s four universities have students and staff from all over Europe, with the University of Edinburgh being the top Erasmus destination in the UK. Edinburgh also has the highest number of EU citizens resident than any other part of Scotland. An estimated 56,000 people from across the EU have come here to live, work and start a family. Citizens from Ireland, Poland and Italy are especially well-represented, reflecting Edinburgh’s long-established connection with these countries.
To close the door on this would be a huge mistake. Free movement enriches Scotland and has only increased the vibrancy and vitality of our country. We must continue fighting to keep those channels open and to protect all of those who call Scotland home throughout the transition period and beyond. Scotland and Edinburgh have not left Europe. Edinburgh is and will remain a European city. To all EU citizens living in Edinburgh and throughout Scotland: please know that we need you and that you are welcome. You are part of the fabric of our society and your departure would be an immeasurable loss.
The heartbreak we feel right now may make the future look bleak, but I look forward with hope: the time has come for Scotland to take its future into its own hands. One day, Scotland will re-join the European Union as an independent nation and leave this painful period of its history behind. Until then, we all, I am sure, will do everything within our power to ensure our country is as open and welcoming a place as it was when Scotland was in the EU.