I’m desperately sad to see my long term Danish friend Lene Kruhoffer reluctantly abandon her adopted Scotland after 33 years. Essentially Lene has been forced out of her defacto home by the uncertain future of the Brexit shambles . I have known Lene for about half of that time and attended Napier University in Edinburgh with her 16 years ago and I’m even loosely related to her long term Scottish partner Gordon. Lene has kindly translated her story for independencelive.net which was recently published by Mette Rodgers on a Danish website. I would like to wish Lene a great future from her many Scottish friends and hope that she can return one day to an independent and egalitarian Scotland.
Lene Kruhoffer has, after having lived in Scotland for 33 years, chosen to move back to Denmark. Brexit has resulted in her feeling less welcome in the country where she has worked, lived and brought up her five sons, and where she also became involved in the campaign for Scottish Independence. There was no doubt among the people in Lene’s circle of friends and family prior to the EU referendum. Of course the outcome would be remain! Her partner, Gordon, even managed to dissuade her from wasting money at the book makers by betting on ‘leave’ which she considered for a brief moment ‘just for the hell of it’.
Despite the tiny feeling of uncertainty rummaging around deep inside Lene, she was still in for a shock when she woke the next morning at 5am just to confirm the remain outcome. Instead she saw that Leave had won with 52% of the votes cast.
“I felt completely paralysed. It was like I had been punched hard in the stomach. It was horrendous” recalls 53 year old Lene who moved to Scotland aged 20 and since had 5 sons with her now ex-husband.
She had never obtained British nationality – Denmark did not allow for dual nationality until September 2015, – besides Lene felt Scottish, not British – and could accordingly vote in neither in the EU referendum nor in the subsequent General election. “I really felt kicked in the arse because we (EU nationals) had been banned from voting, but it actually took some time before I really started taking it personally”, she says.
Them and us.
The personal aspect quietly sneaked up on Lene. First the stories that her 33 years in the UK counted for nothing, then whether she would be able to obtain permanent residence without comprehensive sickness insurance or had paid enough into the system to stay. She had, like many other EU nationals, never heard of these rules before, and it made her feel very unwelcome. In addition, there was the xenophobic atmosphere which gripped the country straight after Brexit and which reminded her that she is after all ‘an immigrant’ herself.
“People will often – quite ignorantly – sit and talk about how difficult it is to get an appointment at the doctors ‘because of all the foreigners’. I’ll just listen and think: ‘you do know I’m a foreigner, right?’ And if they do realise I’m foreign, they will say to me: I don’t mean you, it’s all the other foreigners” Lene says. She feels that the referendum created an ‘us and them’ divide which she has not seen the likes of before. She even sees it in Scotland where the majority voted to remain.
“I have kind of pulled away already. When I recently got in touch with a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in a while, she confessed that it had ‘felt awkward’ to call me as she had voted leave. When I asked why she had voted this way, she told me it was because of immigration and ‘all the foreigners’. All those little drip-drip remarks have led to me realise that Scotland isn’t really my country after all” she says. That in turn meant, Lene adds, that she has lost interest in the
independence campaign in which she had been so very involved in the lead-up to the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. “I feel completely burnt out. I just keep bumping into the uncomfortable fact constantly: that this is not my country after all.”
The consequence of the increasing feeling of not belonging in Scotland anyway led to Lene applying for a job in Denmark a bit out of the blue. She was surprised when she was invited to an interview and even more pleasantly surprised when she was offered the job straight away. “I sometimes thought about moving back to Denmark some day but it is such a massive upheaval and worry, and it took Brexit to make me finally decide to do it. Eventually I thought that I really would just like some peace and quite, and I’m quite sure I’ll find that down there in the deep south of Denmark,” says Lene, who still speaks Danish with her native Jutland accent, even if it betrays that she hails from further north.
Lene’s decision has settled her right down and it has helped her to disconnect from the whole Brexit debacle and the ongoing negotiations. “I do keep an eye on it, though, because I am importing a Brit to Denmark” she says, referring to her partner consenting to moving across with her. “But I can certainly feel that I am no longer that deeply involved here. I have a right to live in Denmark, they couldn’t throw me out” she says and declares herself deeply shocked at the general developments in UK in latter years. “I never thought I would see them gamble with the peace process in Northern Ireland. People are becoming much more confrontational and the various fault lines much more drawn up. “
It was not an easy decision to accept the job in Denmark and move back after so many years abroad. Especially as only one of her five sons has retained their Danish nationality which children will lose automatically when they turn 22, unless they specifically apply to retain it. For many, it was unnecessary because of the freedom of movement within EU. “It feels very unnatural that I am leaving them. It’s normally the kids who pull up the tent poles and take off into the World. But we talked about it and they said: of course you’re doing it” Lene says, and adds that they might follow one day. She could even imagine one of them going to Greece with his Greek girlfriend. “My family might end up being spread right across the globe – which would be a knock-on effect of all this” she says, adding that her sister lives in Berlin.
Moving now – before Brexit – means that Gordon can move to Denmark with Lene without any problems, however, as Lene “simply has no wish to become a British Citizen”, she runs the risk of having problems should she wish to return to UK. “I’m quite clear in my mind that I would not return to Scotland. I really don’t like the increasing attitude of everyone kicking people who are already down, and the worsening relationship between Scotland and Westminster which is just getting increasingly bad” she says, although she can’t say it will be Denmark ‘forever’. “If it doesn’t work out in the end, I’ll maybe end up in Berlin. My German [language] is still in there somewhere and I’m quite close to my sister” she says.