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Brexit, Borders and Belonging: Experiences of citizenship and belonging among highly-skilled EU nationals and politically active Scots in the Central Belt of Scotland


In a time of globalisation and movement, belonging to a certain place or nation is often uncertain, unclear and not self-evident. Who or what manages to provide a sense of belonging and protect the rights of citizens? With this research, we have aimed to gain insight in the lived experiences of citizenship and a sense of belonging among highly-skilled EU nationals and politically active Scots in the Central Belt of Scotland at times of Brexit negotiations. From February until April 2017, we have conducted complementary fieldwork in this area to explore what meanings our informants attach to concepts such as free movement, borders, the Self and Other, political activism, and the interrelationships between national and supra-state citizenship. While our informants’ sense of belonging appeared to be more naturalised and implicit before the EU referendum, the vote for Brexit seems to have caused them to question and articulate their feelings of citizenship and belonging, encompassing various levels. Overall, informants of both of our groups tend to experience a decline in identification with and belonging to the UK as a whole. When it comes to citizenship and belonging in relation to Scotland as a country, our group of politically active Scots expresses an enhanced experience of Scottish national membership. Meanwhile, highly-skilled EU nationals appear to develop a growing ambiguous relationship with their host country Scotland with regard to their sense of home, while also acquiring new senses of belonging. We conclude that both of our groups of informants – each in their own unique way – have become more explicitly aware of their relationship with the European Union and its provided citizenship. Due to the current Brexit discourse, however, it is still unsure what this notion actually entails, as the rules seem to be able to change during the game.

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