In the recent light of Brexit, but also last week’s decision of the Austrian constitutional court to overturn our latest presidential elections, I have been finding myself saying one thing over and over again: Thank God, I live in Scotland. I knew I would love it here long before I made the decision to apply for university in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. That was in early 2014. Eight years earlier I told my mum about this amazing thing called Wwoofing (if you don’t know what that is, have a look here) and how much I wanted to travel around Scotland and wwoof my way through the Highlands. I had fallen in love with pictures of the Highlands, the islands and the lush green hills. I was 17 at that point, had never traveled on my own, and as you can imagine, my parents said no.
How lucky do I consider myself now, ten years later, living in the country of my teenage dreams. And how lucky do I consider myself to live in a country where the majority voted in favour of the European spirit that enables me to do so.
Here are my top ten reasons to move to Scotland and why you should consider living here as well.
1) Free Education
I wish I would have known this earlier – my parents are probably quite glad that I didn’t. Undergraduate education at Scottish universities is free of charge for all students from the EU, except the English who have to pay the same fees as charged by English universities (currently £9,000 a year).
The Scottish government has just released a statement to reassure current and prospective EU students that this will stay this way for the coming time, despite the results of the EU referendum. Of course none knows what will happen by the time the UK actually leaves the union, but for the time being Scotland should be your number one choice for free and excellent higher education!
Scottish universities rank consistently high, with the institutions in St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh scoring particularly high. But also the schools in Aberdeen and Stirling are great choices. For added bonus just picture the Hogwarts-esque cloisters all these buildings have to offer!
2) Low costs for freelancers
One of the ‘little’ annoyances I remember from living in Austria and Germany was how expensive it was to be a grown-up without a proper full-time job. I had always earned my money with part-time jobs and freelancing, so I hardly ever had a full-time contract that would have covered me for health insurance or automatically deducted my taxes. While the systems are different in everywhere, I feel comfortable to generalise one thing: being a young entrepreneur is not easy in in Austria or Germany. You pay extortionate amounts of money for health insurance regardless of your income, and you only get €10,000 of tax-free income per year.
In the UK this immediately rises to £10,000 (a lot more, at least until last week) which is particularly convenient if you still have a majority of clients paying you in Euros.
The other thing that I found way easier and more affordable as a freelancer here, is health insurance. As long as you remain under a rather generous income limit, you only pay £2.50 a week to cover you fully under the NHS. Starting your business and gain ground as a freelancing writer after my masters was so much easier here than it would have been back home.
3) Free healthcare
Now that I’m a student again I enjoy one of the greatest perks of life in the UK – free healthcare. While employed and self-employed pay a small contribution towards their National Health Insurance, I am exempted from this for the time being. I remember the first time I had to go to a hospital in Glasgow for an emergency. I was worried sick after my experiences back in Germany, when I had to be rushed to the hospital after being hit by a car. In the 48 hours I spent there for observation of my concussion I had to speak to the hospital’s finance administrator at least three times and eventually faced a €600 bill for the ambulance transport. All that with a European insurance card that is supposed to cover me for emergencies…
In Glasgow I got picked up by an ambulance, received the friendliest treatment by the A&E staff (one of them gave me a tenner go get myself a taxi home afterwards) – no questions asked. When I asked a nurse whether they wanted to see my insurance card, she said to me: ‘You’re here and need help, so we help you. That’s it.’ Let that sink in.
4) Politics matter
While anywhere else in Europe people seem to be increasingly disillusioned by and disinterested in politics, I thoroughly enjoy the general political engagement of the Scottish people. I moved to Glasgow a year before the Independence Referendum 2014 and ever since have noticed how eager everybody here is to discuss politics in a mannered way (mostly). No matter what their opinion is, whether they are cab drivers, uni colleagues or just random strangers in pubs, they want to talk about what’s going on in Scottish, British and European politics.
It is refreshing to live in a country where, no matter what their political opinion is exactly, people take an interest in partaking in political debates.
5) Witnessing the writing of history
The Austrian composer & conductor Gustav Mahler once said that if the world will end one day, he’ll move to Vienna where everything happens with a 50 year delay. I want to opposite.
Since I have moved to Scotland I have witnessed an independence referendum and a EU referendum, a Scottish parliament election and a UK general election. I have seen friends and colleagues doing some world-changing research and achieve personal goals. Things are changing and developing all the time, but somehow I feel closer to it all ever since I moved here.
6) Backyard Adventures
Let’s change the topic. One of the reasons why I loved growing up in Vienna is that the Vienna Forest is just a 15 minute tram ride away from my parents’ flat – even though I am a city kid, nature was always so close. Now, Scotland is even better. Living in Glasgow I don’t need to drive far to get to the seaside, beautiful lakes, the mountains or all three in one day. The Highlands and the west coast islands are my backyard and I can venture out whenever I have a day or two off.
The country is full of places perfectly suitable for micro adventures by car, train, bike or by foot – you only need to take the weekend off and point your finger on the map.
7) Experiencing Scale
While we’re at it – Scottish natural landmarks are a great reminder of how small we are in comparison to the world. Take a road trip through Glen Coe, or a hike up to the Old Man of Storr and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Do you see the tiny man standing next to the pinnacle on the picture below?
Scotland would not be the same without its pristine, untouched wilderness. The same counts for the rest of our planet, but experiencing it first-hand right here has changed my mindset towards an eco-friendlier lifestyle significantly.
8) Environmental Consciousness
In correspondence with my personal lifestyle choices, I am glad to see that the Scottish government has a very progressive energy strategy to protect its country as well. Almost 60% of Scotland’s energy comes from renewable sources and the plan is to raise this to 100% of Scottish electricity consumption by 2020.
Yes, the economy still relies strongly on the offshore oil and gas reserves in the North Sea, but at least it is a step in the right direction. In shops you have to pay for plastic bags and re-useable containers are encouraged by many coffee shops and takeaway places. I hope that soon the government will think about introducing deposits for glass and plastic bottles and tin cans like in Germany – then I’d be even more happy!
9) First Class Cultural Hub
It’s absolutely out of question that Scotland is a first class cultural hub. The country is famous for institutions like the Edinburgh Film Festival, the Edinburgh Fringe and the Glasgow School of Art, artists like Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Alasdair Gray, and musicians like The Proclaimers, Belle & Sebastian or KT Tunstall (admitting a few guilty pleasures here) – the talent in this country is incredible.
As an arts student I love the thriving contemporary arts scene as much as the rich history of arts and culture in Scotland. And I’m not the only one. Artists are relocating to Glasgow in big numbers because other artsy centres of the UK, like London, become too expensive and exclusive. There is always a gallery opening, a free gig or a poetry slam going on in one of Glasgow’s many venues. \
The Scottish countryside might be a bit quieter, but even there you have very active cultural community centres, touring cinema vans or art exhibitions, and many former industry towns, like Dundee, are re-branding themselves as arts and design centres. Check out the programme for this year’s special initiative, the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016 which hosts exhibitions, installations and other events all over the country.
10) Everyone is Welcome
Whether you live in Europe or not I’m sure you have heard about the ‘refugee crisis’ the continent is dealing with at the moment. While some people have to leave their lives behind in order to survive, many politicians/people in Europe are more concerned about what that means for their local neighbourhood than to talk about actual strategies to end the wars that have forced these people out of their homes in the first place.
Whenever the hateful voices grow too loud (like right now in many parts of England) I am glad to hear the Scottish people extend a warm welcome to everybody who needs help. Just like the NHS nurse in a Glasgow hospital helped me out because I needed help, the general vibe in Scotland is ‘Refugees & immigrants welcome’!
Being white and from the EU I used to take my place in the Scottish society and the privilege of freedom of movement for granted way. Post-Brexit though I am happy about the extended welcome of the Scottish government, the reassurance that my contribution is valued by my university, the hugs of Scottish friends who make sure that I know that I – and everybody else who was not born here – is welcome.
There is no place I’d rather live right now than Scotland, and these 10 reasons are only the beginning. The friends I’ve made, the career opportunities I get and of course the love I found are the reasons I want to stay in Scotland – that and the pizza of Paesano in Glasgow’s city centre…
And if you need a little more convincing – travel around the country before you make any decisions. Scotland is an amazing place for female solo travel – here are my eight reasons why!
Would you move to Scotland?
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.