For members


Meet the Scottish mayor in north Germany being pushed out due to Brexit

EXCLUSIVE: The Scottish-born mayor of a town in northern Germany is being forced to step down when Brexit happens. We heard what he had to say.

Meet the Scottish mayor in north Germany being pushed out due to Brexit
Iain Macnab in 2018. Photo courtesy of Iain Macnab

Iain Macnab has served a community in Schleswig-Holstein for more than 10 years, making him Germany's only Scottish mayor.

But this is set to change when Brexit happens.

“I got a letter in December from the government in Kiel telling me that I would stay in office until March 29th [the original Brexit day] with the qualification that if Brexit is put off then you will remain in office until Brexit actually happens,” says Macnab when we meet in Berlin.

SEE ALSO: Updated – The ultimate Brexit checklist for Brits in Germany

'Remote northwest Highlands'

There's also a fairly remarkable coincidence: when I learned of Macnab's story, I was astonished to discover that he comes from the same tiny village in the northwest Highlands that I grew up in. That village, Achiltibuie, has a population of less than 300 people and is so remote that it would take a day to walk there from the nearest town.

Macnab is now 69 and left Achiltibuie long before I was born. But an adventurous life has taken him from salmon fishing on the Atlantic as a boy to having the distinction of being Germany’s only Scots mayor.

However, after 11 years serving the community of Brunsmark – which like Achiltibuie has a tiny population (around 160) – Macnab’s time in office is about to come to an abrupt end. The state government in Schleswig-Holstein has informed him that he will be stripped of his post on April 12th, the day Britain is supposed to leave the EU.

“It’s a bit strange having served the community for so long. I’ve been in the volunteer fire brigade for 25 years and on the local council for 16 years. You feel… well that’s it, but what can you do?” he reflects.

As an EU citizen, Macnab had the right to stand for election at the local level of German government. But on Brexit day he will lose both his EU citizenship and his job as mayor. Instead, he will have to start all the way from the bottom again by applying for a German residency permit.

Things could have been different. As someone who is married to a local, he is eligible for German citizenship. That never came into question though. “I’ve been Scottish for 70 years, why change now?” says Macnab.

SEE ALSO: 'I feel slightly more German': Reflections of a Brit after taking the German citizenship test

Achiltibuie. Photo: Douglas Nelson, CC BY-SA 2.0/Wikipedia Commons

‘They made me a dictator’

Despite his personal predicament, Macnab remains philosophical about the greater significance of his enforced resignation.

“I have an excellent village council and regional office,” he says. “For example we as a council ensured that the area has fibre-optic broadband connection in all our houses, 200 Megabit speed in both directions.”

This lightning-fast internet connection is highly unusual in rural Germany, where digital infrastructure is often lamentably out of date.

“You don’t even have that [speed] in some towns. We have it in our whole spread out country area,” he says, proudly.

This partly explains why Macnab, who runs his own IT firm in Brunsmark, has been re-elected twice as Bürgermeister, on one occasion with 95 percent of the votes. “They made me a dictator,” he jokes.

But he has also used his status as an outsider to broker peace in local disputes.

“I was pushed into local politics in 2003 at a time when two factions in the village were going at each other. Since I lived a little outside town people said ‘Iain you’d better come in and deal with this’,” he recalls.

“It certainly raised a lot of eyebrows that a Scottish person was running for mayor. But it’s amazing how much support I get nowadays. People have learned that, whether you are my friend or not, if you deal with me in my official capacity I’ll treat you exactly the same.”

SEE ALSO: From west Germany to Westminster: Unbrexit bus makes first solidarity trip

‘Enough laws’

The 11 years as mayor are just the latest chapter in a colourful life.

Macnab emigrated to Hamburg in the 1970s as a trained reporter who didn’t speak a word of German. With journalism being a non-starter, he made his living as a tour manager for rock bands.

He then simultaneously ran a translation company and a pub (“I thought it was better to spend half the day in my own pub than someone else’s”) before being offered a position as a partner at a German IT company. Eventually he settled down in Brunsmark where he built up his own web hosting company.

Macnab has been around the block enough times to recognize what he calls the “bureaucratic monster” that is EU regulation.

Photo: DPA

“There are already enough laws in Germany without all the others that come on top from Brussels. We see it in local government – we have to beg local companies to tender for schools because they can’t face the EU paperwork that comes with it,” he says.

Nonetheless, he is convinced that Britain has much more to lose by leaving. He is particularly worried that the UK could fall apart and that Scotland would struggle to cope as an independent nation.

SEE ALSO: OPINION: Why Germany struggles to understand the issues at heart of Brexit

The villagers of Brunsmark seem more sanguine about the future. “They don’t believe that the British could be so stupid [as to leave] so they say ‘your still going to be Bürgermeister’. They think there’ll be a second referendum and that it’ll all end well.”

Macnab is also pinning his hopes on another referendum. “People were completely led down the garden path” in the first one, he states. Whatever happens though, his Highland stoicism helps keep things in perspective.

“If you come from Achiltibuie, nothing shakes you,” he laughs. That goes for settling disputes in a small German village. But it also applies to being caught up in a distant fight between London and Brussels.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


OPINION: Pre-Brexit Brits in Europe should be given EU long-term residency

The EU has drawn up plans to make it easier for non-EU citizens to gain longterm EU residency so they can move more easily around the bloc, but Italy-based citizens' rights campaigner Clarissa Killwick says Brits who moved to the EU before Brexit are already losing out.

OPINION: Pre-Brexit Brits in Europe should be given EU long-term residency

With all the talk about the EU long-term residency permit and the proposed improvements there is no mention that UK citizens who are Withdrawal Agreement “beneficiaries” are currently being left out in the cold.

The European Commission has stated that we can hold multiple statuses including the EU long-term permit (Under a little-known EU law, third-country nationals can in theory acquire EU-wide long-term resident status if they have lived ‘legally’ in an EU country for at least five years) but in reality it is just not happening.

This effectively leaves Brits locked into their host countries while other third country nationals can enjoy some mobility rights. As yet, in Italy, it is literally a question of the computer saying no if someone tries to apply.

The lack of access to the EU long-term permit to pre-Brexit Brits is an EU-wide issue and has been flagged up to the European Commission but progress is very slow.

READ ALSO: EU government settle on rules for how non-EU citizens could move around Europe

My guess is that few UK nationals who already have permanent residency status under the Withdrawal Agreement are even aware of the extra mobility rights they could have with the EU long-term residency permit – or do not even realise they are two different things.

Perhaps there won’t be very large numbers clamouring for it but it is nothing short of discrimination not to make it accessible to British people who’ve built their lives in the EU.

They may have lost their status as EU citizens but nothing has changed concerning the contributions they make, both economically and socially.

An example of how Withdrawal Agreement Brits in Italy are losing out

My son, who has lived almost his whole life here, wanted to study in the Netherlands to improve his employment prospects.

Dutch universities grant home fees rather than international fees to holders of an EU long-term permit. The difference in fees for a Master’s, for example, is an eye-watering €18,000. He went through the application process, collecting the requisite documents, making the payments and waited many months for an appointment at the “questura”, (local immigration office).

On the day, it took some persuading before they agreed he should be able to apply but then the whole thing was stymied because the national computer system would not accept a UK national. I am in no doubt, incidentally, that had he been successful he would have had to hand in his WA  “carta di soggiorno”.

This was back in February 2022 and nothing has budged since then. In the meantime, it is a question of pay up or give up for any students in the same boat as my son. There is, in fact, a very high take up of the EU long-term permit in Italy so my son’s non-EU contemporaries do not face this barrier.

Long-term permit: The EU’s plan to make freedom of movement easier for non- EU nationals 

Completing his studies was stalled by a year until finally his Italian citizenship came through after waiting over 5 years.  I also meet working adults in Italy with the EU long-term permit who use it for work purposes, such as in Belgium and Germany, and for family reunification.  

Withdrawal agreement card should double up as EU long-term residency permit

A statement that Withdrawal Agreement beneficiaries should be able to hold multiple statuses is not that easy to find. You have to scroll quite far down the page on the European Commission’s website to find a link to an explanatory document. It has been languishing there since March 2022 but so far not proved very useful.

It has been pointed out to the Commission that the document needs to be multilingual not just in English and “branded” as an official communication from the Commission so it can be used as a stand-alone. But having an official document you can wave at the immigration authorities is going to get you nowhere if Member State governments haven’t acknowledged that WA beneficiaries can hold multiple statuses and issue clear guidance and make sure systems are modified accordingly.

I can appreciate this is no mean feat in countries where they do not usually allow multiple statuses or, even if they do, issue more than one residency card. Of course, other statuses we should be able to hold are not confined to EU long-term residency, they should include the EU Blue Card, dual nationality, family member of an EU citizen…

Personally, I do think people should be up in arms about this. The UK and EU negotiated an agreement which not only removed our freedom of movement as EU citizens, it also failed to automatically give us equal mobility rights to other third country nationals. We are now neither one thing nor the other.

It would seem the only favour the Withdrawal Agreement did us was we didn’t have to go out and come back in again! Brits who follow us, fortunate enough to get a visa, may well pip us at the post being able to apply for EU long-term residency as clearly defined non-EU citizens.

I have been bringing this issue to the attention of the embassy in Rome, FCDO and the European Commission for three years now. I hope we will see some movement soon.

Finally, there should be no dragging of heels assuming we will all take citizenship of our host countries. Actually, we shouldn’t have to, my son was fortunate, even though it took a long time. Others may not meet the requirements or wish to give up their UK citizenship in countries which do not permit dual nationality.  

Bureaucratic challenges may seem almost insurmountable but why not simply allow our Withdrawal Agreement permanent card to double up as the EU long-term residency permit.

Clarissa Killwick,

Since 2016, Clarissa has been a citizens’ rights campaigner and advocate with the pan-European group, Brexpats – Hear Our Voice.
She is co-founder and co-admin of the FB group in Italy, Beyond Brexit – UK citizens in Italy.