Politics The one thing that I’ve learned this year isn’t even one thing and I’m also not sure that I’ve finished learning it. It’s a bit like ‘travel broadens the mind, but not half as much as trying to make it work where you are’.
To give some less abstract context, in 2014 I came back to the UK after two years working in the Netherlands. My partner and I had been taking advantage of the freedom of movement within the EU that has become such a vexed issue, and it was absolutely great. Honestly, if you are at the stage in your life where you can take a bit of a risk and you have a skill that’s in any kind of demand, you too can relocate to one of the various beautiful and ancient cities of Europe, have a great time and become a much braver person to boot. You don’t even actually have to go very far. It turns out that Europe was inside you all along - or is it possibly the other way round?
Be warned though, you will find yourself doing the all the half-barking expat things: complaining about imperceptible differences in teabags, explaining to French dudes that mince pies aren’t savoury, becoming a serious fan of The Archers, not understanding why your health insurance doesn’t cover this or that prescription. Obsessing over the Great British Bake Off. Weeping salt tears over the result of Strictly. Missing Britain.
When we came back, nobody seemed to know what Britain was about. Over the summer, we watched the Scottish referendum play out, tense and captivated and totally unable to predict the result. Maybe that would help us work out what 'British' meant? No, as it turned out.
Obviously, this is just a wild stab in the dark, but I think that what 'British' is [might be, could be, should aim towards?] is an acknowledgement that your identity is a complicated accident of history, made up of compromises and triumphs and travesties. The multiple strands in a British identity are inclusive and, if you’ll forgive an extended textile metaphor, this makes the whole thread stronger and creates a much more interesting weave.
I’m worried and saddened by the isolationist right wing, who see the British identity as a way to differentiate Us from Them. I can’t see things their way. I mainly see a whole world of people who have more in common than they have to separate them. I see the causes of inequality somewhere different to where the right wing see them. The one thing I hope to learn in 2015 is how to make my voice heard clearer and stronger than theirs.
You can follow @ellielabelle on Twitter here. She's also the writer of The Hand Knitted Pirate blog.