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Brexit, identity & Euro 2016

It’s been a breathtaking few days in British politics. I’ve never experienced anything like it – I’m sure not many of us have. Although the 2014 Scottish independence referendum packed a powerful emotional punch, this has felt like a totally different beast. I’ve watched my Facebook feed with morbid curiosity as it has lit up with a heady mixture of depression, angst and anger (and, interestingly, no jubilation or euphoria whatsoever…). The uncertainty, for all of us, is palpable. These are indeed historic times.

However, I have to say something is different for me on this one. Whilst my initial reaction was one of shock and shame, it quickly shifted. Although the future of the UK still feels really unclear, a combination of being Scottish, and being in France as I woke up to the news of the result, has given me a different perspective to many of my English friends. I feel proud of the way my country voted in this referendum, and the outcome has reinvigorated my identity as a Scot. I haven’t held back from reinforcing this with every French person with whom I’ve discussed Brexit over the weekend. And whilst the political landscape in Westminster is in total meltdown, I took instant confidence from Nicola Sturgeon when I listened to her post-result speech on July 24th. Regardless of what works out in the months ahead, there is no doubt in my mind that Scotland currently has a really effective leader.

Identity is a subtly psychological and uniquely human trait – it’s something I think about a lot in my work, mostly on an individual level, but sometimes on a societal scale. In terms of national identity, something monumental has shifted as a result of the Brexit vote, and to me, Scotland feels more different to England today than I’ve ever known it. I wonder (and worry a bit) about the long term impact of Brexit on English national identity. English identity was already complex. Now, it’s screwed up on an industrial scale (at least if social media is anything to go by).

England, who are you?

The timing of Euro 2016 could hardly be more ironic. It will be fascinating to see how the England team respond to these wild geopolitical fluctuations. Maybe it’ll make no difference at all. I doubt this. I think the English will feel under attack, and the English nation I know (and respect) usually find strength in adversity. Perhaps a siege mentality, which is often highly effective in team sport, will serve England well over the remainder of the tournament. If it does, Euro 2016 represents a fascinating opportunity to bring a divided nation together, at least temporarily.

However, as we all know, sport is rarely straightforward and always unpredictable, and perhaps heightened expectation will undermine the team’s performance. I can imagine an early exit from the tournament will intensify English insecurity about identity and lead to further existential turmoil.

I will be watching with interest!

Yours in psychology,


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