Gavin Dunbar (Camera Obscura) Talks Being a Scottish Musician Post-Brexit

Dunbar wants to live in a socially just society, and he believes the one in which he has been living and working is likely to disappear

I am a musician from the UK. I was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and I still live there now. I am lucky enough to have been in a position in which I have toured all over the world with my band Camera Obscura. We’ve spent lots of time traveling — playing concerts in Europe, America and beyond. We’ve recorded our albums in Sweden and the US as well as in the UK. We’ve been on a Spanish record label as well as US record labels, and have had our music licensed all over the world. I’ve always been proud to be in a Scottish band that has translated itself across the globe. We’ve been welcomed by people in every country we’ve visited, and made friends in all the continents we’ve toured. We may come from Scotland, but we look outwards to our friends and influences the world over.

On the morning of Friday, June 24, 2016 I woke up to discover that a majority of the UK had voted to leave the European Union — a move many called Brexit. I swore at the news in sheer disbelief that people could think this was the right thing to do. Our world community has changed. More borders will be created, and whether we are at work or play, the ease with which we can travel has just gone. Music, much like life in general, thrives in a melting pot — and we’ve voted to shut ourselves out.

For months, we’ve been debating whether the UK should vote to leave or remain in the European Union. Neither campaign has been particularly positive. Scotland went through an independence referendum in 2014, where the Yes Scotland campaign for independence was a largely vital, positive, forward-thinking effort. Can you imagine a better Scotland? Lots of us could; and as a country we became engaged in political debate. Alas, independence was not to be. It was a comparatively narrow result of forty-five percent for and fifty-five percent against. It felt like a light had been shone on a brighter future, and then turned off again at the last minute. The desire to improve your country for the benefit of everyone and for future generations doesn’t just disappear, though.

Brexit felt different. It felt like it should never have been happening. The European Union, whilst not perfect, has arched over Europe in its current (until last Friday) incarnation for most of my lifetime. Nations that warred with each other throughout history worked in co-operation — a single market economy and free trade and movement of people being one of the advantages. People in any EU country could freely travel through the EU, live and work in any EU country, study in other EU country — no need for a visa.

Music, much like life in general, thrives in a melting pot — and we’ve voted to shut ourselves out.

In Camera Obscura, we have, at no extra cost, recorded albums and played concerts in countries around Europe. We’ve signed to an independent Spanish record label, which realistically wouldn’t have been financially viable if there had been additional costs between the UK and Spain. Trade, money and goods can move as freely as people. If we’d had to get work visas for those recording sessions — and for every country we visited in Europe whilst on tour — the costs would have mounted up. Especially in our earlier days when we were playing in smaller venues, this could have made trips abroad something we couldn’t have afforded to do. For us, signing to Elefant and touring in Spain made us realize that we were actually starting to make it as a band. If that hadn’t happened, we might not have got beyond the second album. It had already taken us a long time to get to that point.

But the EU doesn’t just benefit the economy. The EU parliament sits above the governments of its member states. Some issues are bigger than the five-year political cycles of national governments. Global issues such as human rights, employment rights, consumer rights, equality, the environment. These things should never be at the mercy of people with their own political or economic agenda, and the EU has been there making sure improvements have been made in these areas. Member countries have had to comply with these laws on rights and justice, and have been held to account when they missed the mark. Job security and safe and secure working conditions for employees are another major achievement of legislation in the EU, such as the maximum forty-eight-hour working week, which protects the people of Europe from exploitation.

Having left the EU, however, Britain is now divided. Old versus Young. The majority of people under fifty voted to stay; the majority of those over fifty voted to leave. Brexit is disenfranchising future generations, the younger set believes. After two consecutive austerity governments in the UK, arts funding, for example, is already reduced massively as they have carried out austerity economics. European arts funding has been one of the respites from how little is spent by the UK government.

It is hard enough being a musician as your main job; it is never going to be the most stable of careers.

When you look at the UK, it seems one of the biggest exports it has in the modern age is its music. Musicians and bands that sell records all over the world, tour all over the world — not only earning money for themselves, UK record companies and the UK government (to which they pay taxes), but also promoters, venues and staff in the places they visit (along with taxes to those governments). Putting up barriers to musicians being able to work abroad, be it legal or financial, prevents money being brought into each country’s economy. The Musician’s Union in the UK was one of the many organizations that came out against voting to leave.

When the UK voted to leave the EU, the value of the pound started to plummet. People were warned of the economic implications of the split, but ignored them because they were told it was scaremongering — or perhaps because they couldn’t see why the stock markets would affect them.

It is hard enough being a musician as your main job; it is never going to be the most stable of careers. Income is never guaranteed, and you often don’t know when your next proper pay could come in. Imagine being in that position in a world where your country’s economy has just collapsed. Worrying about paying your own rent/mortgage and bills is a big enough headache. Now imagine going on tour knowing that your money is worth a fraction of what it was abroad. That could make touring abroad virtually unaffordable — and that’s before you have to start paying for visas to get out of the UK.

I want to live in a socially just society, and the one in which I have been living and working is likely to disappear — leaving uncertainty and a far bleaker future for many. Whether you are a musician in the UK or have a “real job,” your ability to work and travel abroad and, indeed, quality of life at home has just diminished.

Bass machine with Camera Obscura, DJ, gentleman, Whovian, thrift store manager, geek for music, geek for sci-fi, geek for sitcoms, Petrocelli of the home studio, expert in the art of procrastination, waistcoat-sporting aficionado of the pocket watch, longstanding supporter of the Harry Wraggs and King of Partick. You can follow Camera Obscura on Twitter here and Patrick on Twitter here.