Citizenship

I fell asleep in the early hours of 24 of June 2016 listening to the BBC’s all-night Brexit coverage. In spite of the British state broadcaster’s clear pro-leave bias during the campaign, I felt pretty sure the UK would, as a state, choose to remain in the EU. This is certainly what I’d been telling Danish friends who’d been asking for months what I thought would happen. My consistent answer was that leave would, at best, achieve 40% of the vote.

Of course, I said that as a Scot who’d lived in Denmark for decades. Granted, it has many faults, but I still couldn’t imagine more than 40% of my fellow Scots opting to exit the European Union. At about 4.40am I woke up to the voice of David Dimbleby announcing that ‘leave’ had won, saying that the decision taken in 1975, “to join the Common Market has been reversed by this referendum”. Dimbleby sounded shocked and despondent but, two years after listening to the miserable indyref result, I felt it was Scottish fortunes that had been reversed. My mood, even at that early hour was exultant. Independence was now inevitable. The Treaty of Union was effectively over, or so I thought.

That’s why in 2016 I set up the @indyscotnews Twitter feed. Inspired by Nicola Sturgeon’s assertive tone at the Bute House press conference on the morning after the result, I was sure a referendum campaign would start within weeks. This time we needed to be on the front foot, actively combatting the British state propaganda mouthpieces. And what better way than to promote the pro-indy media that played such an important role in the 2014 campaign.

Alas, Alex Salmond’s chosen heir had none of his inner drive. In spite of mandates covering material change, and outright election victories on independence in Europe, nothing happened. 2017 also came and went with a lacklustre general election campaign that saw the First Minister shy away from mentioning independence. Her attention was then taken up with trying to reverse England’s vote. The English had voted for Brexit. It was their decision. It was not Nicola Sturgeon’s place to try to overturn a referendum vote. This deeply anti-democratic gesture set a terrible precedent for any new Scottish indyref vote. It was an open invitation for any rUK prime minister to campaign to overturn a future indyref Yes vote in Scotland. This was the point where I personally became seriously concerned. But, like so many others, I kept the faith, convinced there was indeed a secret plan. I mean, the whole purpose of the SNP was to deliver independence.

With Brexit negotiations reaching their conclusion in 2019, time was running out for Scotland to have its indyref2 before Brexit day. Nicola herself had stated that the most logical time would have been when there was clarity, but before we left the EU. In reality, things had been clear for quite some time. England was leaving the European Union and it was intent on ‘dragging Scotland out against its will’ – in spite of Ian Blackford’s defiant rhetoric. With no prospect of a Scottish passport anytime soon, I began the long process of applying for Danish citizenship.

When Boris Johnson was chosen by the Tories to replace May, in July 2019, Scotland’s worst nightmare unfolded before our eyes. Most of us felt ’now was the time’. But once again Nicola Sturgeon retreated into her shell. It was beginning to look as though there was no secret plan. There was to be no sudden revocation of the Treaty of Union. No declaration of independence by our Claim of Right armed, multi-mandated, elected representatives – followed by a confirmatory referendum. That’s the kind of decisive, pragmatic reaction I’d come to expect after decades living among our Nordic cousins.

Gradually other issues took priority over independence. Many of these issues so divisive that they split the SNP itself. However, there was Nicola’s eagerly anticipated Brexit Day speech of 31 January 2020. And there were Ian Blackford’s constant assurances that we’d not be dragged out of the EU ‘against our will’!

With Boris Johnson having been returned with a huge majority of English MPs in December’s GE 2019, and Brexit now a reality, there was no more reason for delay. Nicola’s upcoming ‘Brexit Day’ speech had a last-chance saloon feel about it, and since the world’s press was gathered in expectation, this was surely going to be Scotland’s moment.

As it turned out, her January 31stspeech was the biggest damp squib ever. Mocking alternative routes to indy and insisting English MPs at Westminster had a veto on our self-determination. It was the day when Nicola Sturgeon lost any last claim to being de-facto leader of Scotland’s independence movement.

Nothing that’s happened since, has changed that. Her ongoing post-trial demonisation of Alex Salmond has left many of us appalled and shocked at her petty vindictiveness. And for European Scots, it became obvious that Sturgeon’s SNP was not going to save Scotland, or us. Seeking citizenship of our host countries was our only secure option.

And so on the 22 September 2021, I was finally booked to attend the local ‘Grundlovsceremoni’ (‘Constitution Ceremony’). That’s the name the Danes give to the event where foreign residents who’ve applied (and who fulfil a number of criteria) are granted citizenship. It was the end of a 2-year process.

The day itself was sunny, as our diverse group of foreign residents gathered in front of the local town hall. In this case, it was a very modern building, constructed to house the greater numbers of staff after recent council amalgamations.

We were guided into a rather large auditorium, with huge ceiling to floor windows on one side and with bright and colourful modern Danish art on the walls. The ceremony itself was brief. The Lord Provost gave a short speech and we were then invited up to ‘give haand’ (pronounced ‘gie haun’) in other words, shake hands with him and his deputy after formally signing our citizenship declaration. We were told that shaking hands was the old Viking way. You can’t draw your sword with an outstretched hand.

It was far more festive than I’d imagined. Each ‘new Dane’ was applauded enthusiastically. Some had several guests who waved their small Dannebrog flags, as you do in this country. And of course, no formal ceremony is complete without some ‘hygge’. We’d already received a book of local history and a small table-top national flag in a gift bag, but now it was time for drinks and snacks. There was also a chance to be photographed with the Provost, and his impressive chain!

One of the last things the Lord Provost mentioned was that we now have full voting rights and should remember to vote in local elections in November. He is, after all, a politician and up for re-election.

Oddly enough, I’m now the only member of my household who can vote in general elections and referendums in Denmark. My Iceland-born wife who’s lived here since her teens has never been included in the franchise. Neither are my bairns who have inherited their maw’s Nordic nationality along with UK citizenship. Local and EU elections are the extent to which Nordic citizens can vote in Denmark. Is this Danish blood and soil nationalism? If it is, it must be the same throughout the enlightened countries that make up the Nordic Council, because only citizens in each Nordic country can vote in that country’s general elections and referendums. Residency, even long-term residency, does not automatically confer voting rights.

Protecting the franchise is a big deal in these small nations. Otherwise, in all other areas, Nordic citizens can live, work, attend university, apply for student grants, get free healthcare – basically, live as a citizen in each other’s countries in all practical areas. Voting, however, is sacred and strictly ‘citizens only’.

The Scandinavians and wider Nordic nations have had their share of wars, colonialism, foreign occupation, and failed politcal unions. Independence is in their DNA, and they know how to protect it. Scotland should perhaps take a leaf out of their book. Residency, even long-term residency does not make you a Scot, any more than it made those of us recently granted Danish citizenship, Danes. Our genetic make up didn’t change. What did change, though, was our decision to accept the solemn terms of citizenship. This includes upholding Denmark’s constitution, a key section of which enshrines the country’s national independence. Future ‘new Scots’ will have a chance to do the same.

Alba is a small country and it has more in common with its Northern neighbours than its anti-European colonial master to the south. We should perhaps learn from our Nordic cousins about small-nation democracy. We don’t have Scottish citizenship as yet, but If we repeat the franchise of 2014 in any new indyref we run the risk of being entirely subsumed by our southern neighbour. Allowing anyone who crosses the border to vote on your nation’s constitutional future is not international best practice. Arriving in someone else’s country as a settler and throwing a hissy fit if you can’t decide your host country’s constitutional status is both arrogant and entitled.

Foreign occupation by a larger state is something my adopted country has experienced. I’m often moved by the name plaques I see in unexpected places to Danes who fell in the resistence. You’ll see names in a shop doorway in Elsinore. And on the memorial stone by a local rural cycle path, where flowers are still laid each spring. These are a few of the locations where young men fell fighting for this nation’s freedom. They spilled their blood on the soil of this country, for liberty. We Scots don’t have to shed our blood. We can simply use our historic claim of right, and international best practice when it comes to choosing the voting franchise, in the democratic struggle for our nation’s liberty from an imperial, aggressive, bullying neighbour.