The Clearances – why Scotland welcomes immigrants

 

The Emigrants

“The Emigrants”, Helmsdale (credit: Mary and Angus Hogg)

 

It was in the summer of 2016, when me and my partner went on our first car trip around the Scottish Highlands, that I first encountered the term “Clearances”. In fact, we did not encounter the term per se, but upon reaching Ullapool on one of the legs of this trip, we were asking ourselves: “How come the Highlands are so empty?”. As we settled into our B&B for the night, I googled that same question, and so I stumbled into a very grim and depressing period of Scottish history which had remained totally unbeknownst to me.

I love the rugged emptiness of the Highlands, their feeling of remoteness; it’s part of what makes them so beautiful. But since that first trip, I’ve done a lot of reading on the Clearances, and that sense of beauty will forever be entwined with sorrow. My heart despairs whenever I think of the suffering and hardship suffered by those who were ripped off their land and scattered along the coasts of Scotland, told to survive on impossibly small pieces of land, which inevitably resulted in thousands upon thousands of people risking their lives in the hopes of finding a better future elsewhere. Fortunately, many did, but many died on the way, or even before they could pay for the expensive transportation out of Scotland.

The horror of the Clearances shall not be forgotten

Despite the many attempts by certain people to erase the human horror of the Clearances, or portray those found dispossessed and forced into exile as “mere economic migrants” (Looking at you, Neil Oliver, and that utter mess of a documentary that you put together for the BBC. Perhaps you should leave history to actual historians, and focus on your archaeology, a very noble but very different science, next time?), the memory of the Clearances has never gone away.

How many Scots today have family around all four corners of the world? How many of those families are descended from Highland & Lowland exiles, those people who, as the historian James Hunter puts it in the title of his book on this subject, were simply set adrift upon the world? Many others, who might not remember the Clearances, will have family abroad descended from emigrants in the 20th century, many of them leaving in equally desperate circumstances, after the calamitous effects of two World Wars.

This reality, I think, explains why immigration is much less of a toxic debate in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK. Because many Scots will hopefully remember the hardship faced by those forced into exile, but also recognise the wonderful contribution those people have made around the world, and hope that immigrants coming into Scotland bring those same benefits into this wee part of the world.

 

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“The Last of the Clan” (1865), by Thomas Faed

The Clearances are a uniquely horrible period

Let me make it clear that I don’t think there are many similarities between the reality that forced Scottish people into exile during the Clearances, and today’s reality of economic migrants like myself. Refugees from war-torn countries certainly have much more in common with those dispossessed Scots, but I’m lucky enough to never have experienced the utter desperation that leads to forced displacement. I’m privileged to have saved up money and prepare in advance before I moved to Scotland, I am privileged that it only took me a 3-hour flight to get here, and I am privileged that I had a safety net back in Portugal if everything fell apart with the move. Refugees today, and Scots fleeing the country back in the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries, enjoy none of these privileges.

We look at places like Badbea, in Caithness, and how people cleared from the straths and glens were literally forced to live on a cliff-edge, stuck between a wall meant to keep in the sheep and a deadly precipice, and we get just a tiny glimpse that there was no choice when it came to emigrating for many of these people. All hope had been lost, their entire way of life shattered in order to feed the greed and vain desires of an aristocracy that couldn’t spare a moment’s thought for the victims of their calamitous pursuits. This was ethnic cleansing, pure and simple, a continued part of the British state’s attempt to destroy Scotland’s identity and culture. A project that went into full force right after the Battle of Culloden, and, we could argue, one that hasn’t fully stopped since then.

And today, although there are now memorials to many of these exiles, such as the one in Helmsdale, the statue to one of the architects and main actors of the Clearances still stands in Sutherland, overlooking the deserted landscape he created. (I’m not one for tearing down statues, but I’d rip that cunt right off that place and put one up to the victims of this horror instead, the ones whose strength and courage deserves to be immortalised and celebrated).

 

The consequences of this on Scottish attitudes today

I don’t want to keep going on about the historical side of the Clearances, as there are many brilliant books out there for you to read. James Hunter, who I mentioned above, depicts these horrors in his brilliant Set Adrift Upon the World: The Sutherland Clearances, so far my favourite book on the subject, although focused on the Sutherland region alone, so you may want to look out for others if you want a broader picture. Consider the Lilies is a novel recommended to me many times, and I finally bought it this week, so I can’t wait to read it. And there’s also the very recent The Scottish Clearances by T. M. Devine, recipient of much praise.

My point is that the waves of forced emigration have ensured a sense of empathy in Scotland about the plight faced by emigrants in today’s world, even if the circumstances may be very different. There is also a sense of the great things that these exiled Scots went on to achieve, and perhaps a hope that by welcoming immigrants into Scotland today, these New Scots will too go on to enrich and improve our country.

May we never forget the plight faced by those people, cleared from the Highlands, Islands and the Lowlands, and may we rejoice in the legacy they have left around the world. Equally, may we never forget the humanity and sacrifice of those migrants leaving their native countries behind and coming to Scotland in the hopes of having a better life.

I am such one of these New Scots, and I hope to prove myself worthy, in time, of the love and hospitality that I’ve been greeted with since the moment I set foot upon this land of ours.

A Celebratory Burns Night

rabbie burns

It’s Friday afternoon, the vegetarian Haggis is cooking in the oven, and I’m mildly tipsy from the spoonfuls of cream infused with whisky that I ate as I prepared the cranachan for tonight. It feels like the end of a crazy week, with many things happening in my life and all of them good. Rather than my usual political diatribes, this post is more of a reflection, so if you’re not into that, just scroll down to find my cranachan recipe with a Portuguese flair.

Having said that, it’s not been an easy few days for the pro-Indy movement. Stay strong. A man is a man is a man, but our cause stands above any one individual. Don’t squabble, don’t play into the hands of our political adversaries, and don’t undermine our judiciary. Uphold the presumed innocence of the accused, but respect the right of any accusers to come forward, no matter how interesting the timing appears. Our moral principles come first, and the truth will reveal itself – eventually.

Being published in The National

On Monday morning, I went through the masochistic process of applying for my pre-settled status as an EU citizen living in the UK. Having witnessed the shenanigans that the Home Office can get up to as part of its hostile environment policy, I did so with a lot of trepidation.

Somehow, though, thanks to the magic of social media, I was contacted by Callum Baird, editor of Scotland’s largest (and best) pro-Independence newspaper, The National. He asked me if I could write about my experience of going through the settled status application, which I did, and it was published in their website as well as in their physical newspaper on Tuesday. I was very proud when I saw it that morning, and so happy to receive so much lovely feedback from it.

Then, on Tuesday night, I happened to re-publish my love letter to Scotland on Twitter (the blog post I wrote back in December and that was the spark behind creating Brawblether.com). It had enjoyed some traction back in December, but because it was the holiday season many people weren’t as active on Twitter. This time around, however, it spread even wider, and on Wednesday morning I was approached by Wings Over Scotland, who wanted to have it published over on their website.

This put me in front of Wings’ very big audience and brought me hundreds (literally, hundreds) of messages, tweets, comments, emails, you name it – all filled with kind, supportive, welcoming words for me and my partner. I gained around 400 new followers just this week, and Brawblether also saw a spike in visits. On top of that, emails were exchanged, stories heard and told, and there was even an invitation to speak at a YES group in the future.

Overall, it felt like many pieces coming into place, and I’m very grateful for my luck and living among such fine folk. I am truly humbled.

Celebrating Scotland, the Scots, and Scots language with Burns Night

Tonight is meant to celebrate oor Rabbie and his poetry. Me and my partner have done it since our first 25th of January in Scotland, only two months after first moving here, back in November 2015. And although we also like to observe St. Andrews day, and celebrate Scotland then, I think tonight is the evening when I really feel like we celebrate some of the things I love the most about Scotland: its people, its food, and the poetry and music of its spirit.

As I said, the Haggis is cooking, the neeps n’ tatties are ready to be peeled and cooked too, and the cranachan is in the fridge, whipped up and ready to enjoy. As it will only be the two of us (and our two cats) at home, we don’t read poetry or anything during dinner, but we acknowledge Burns and do something related to him during the day, like reading in bed a biography or some of his work.

We would also love to be wearing kilts and all of that, but we just haven’t been able to afford them yet. We want to have some really good ones, that would last us a lifetime, and so we’re saving up for that (it’s also the only thing stopping us of getting married right now, as we want to do it in full Scottish clothing).

So, at the end of a week that felt really good and for which I am thankful of living in oor wee country, accompanied by such braw folk, and experiencing it all with the love of my life at my side, I shall be dining very happily tonight, and enjoying a wee dram in your honour. Slàinte mhath.

Thank you for all the love. Scots are the best cunts in the world, and I mean this as the highest compliment I can come up with!

‘Cranachan alla Saraband’ Recipe

Now, cranachan has to be one of the simplest and most delicious desserts in the world. My take on it is that I infuse the cream with the whisky, and the oats with just a hint of Port, letting the sweetness come through the honey. Also, I think I use a bit more raspberries than other recipes, but that’s because I love their flavour and colour.

As with any recipe, take it and make it your own!

Cranachan homemade

Ingredients:

  • 20g rolled oats
  • 300 ml double cream
  • 150g crowdie cheese (quark or cottage cheese will do too if needed)
  • 300g raspberries (250g to be mashed, 50g aside to decorate)
  • 4 tablespoons of honey (try to use some good heather honey, it’s worth it)
  • 2 tablespoons of red Port
  • 130ml of whisky (this will be strong – reduce if you like it less intense)

Preparation:

  • Toast the oats in a frying pan (no fat! just the oats!) over medium heat for 5 mins (7 mins if using electrical stove), shaking them regularly until they’re slightly brown and smelling nutty / popcornish. Set aside and leave them to cool down (I usually get this step done 1 hour before doing the cranachan);
  • Mash the 250g of raspberries with a fork, no need to be too fussy, until you get a puree-like substance. Add 1 tablespoon of honey and the 2 tablespoons of red Port, mix and set aside;
  • In a large bowl, add the double cream, the crowdie cheese, 3 tablespoons of honey (be more / less generous depending on how sweet you like your cranachan to be), and the whisky. Whip it until you get a soft peaks – no need to go for the very hard consistency, as the oats will suck some of the moisture and make your cranachan more solid when it is all assembled and refrigerated;
  • Now, simply assemble! I usually do a generous layer of cream, topped with the raspberry puree, followed by the oats. You can repeat until you fill up the glass (this recipe usually allows you to do two layers of each on 4 tumblers). Top the final layer with a couple of raspberries and a mint leaf, and just a thin drizzle of honey;
  • Enjoy!

Fiona Bruce on Question Time – a verdict

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Fiona Bruce, new host of BBC’s Question Time

When Fiona Bruce was first announced as the new host of the BBC’s Question Time programme, I was somewhat happy. I knew the corporation would never have gone with anyone too risky – this is a show tailored to draw and amplify the imaginary anxieties of Little Britain – and although I would have much preferred Victoria Derbyshire, as I have witnessed her properly questioning politicians in her morning programme, I was okay with Fiona Bruce.

Many a gammon immediately let out their oink oinks at the idea of a woman, and I have no patience for those insecure men who find a threat in a woman more intelligent than them – which is often the case for every women these men encounter. Some furore was also made of the fact that she was too posh, too Antiques Road Show – but for a show previously presented by David Dimbleby, one can only go down in the overall level of poshness. Unless they went with Jacob Rees-Mogg, which, in these mad time of Brexitlandia, I wouldn’t consider it an impossible consideration for the BBC’s execs.

As such, I tried to watch last night’s programme, especially because the panel counted with the rare participation of an SNP MP (the lovely Kirsty Blackman, in this case, one of the few voices of reason on that show). But I stopped after 29 minutes, because this was around the time that I lost the little bit of hope I had saved for Fiona Bruce as a professional journalist.

Around the 28 minute mark, Daily Mail’s sweet princess and Brexitannia rising star, Isabel Euphemia Oakeshott, came out with a lie that should have been immediately questioned by Fiona Bruce. This was the lie that freedom of movement had been a disaster for the UK. See the clip:

 

The implication of this assertion is that immigration has somehow ravaged the United Kingdom, brought on immense social and economic damage, and made the lives of everyone here worse – for what else could a disaster mean?

My hopes for a change in tone for #BBCQT have died

Such is the scale of the accusation, that any trainee journalist would immediately know that it was his or her duty to offer a contradictory, or to give the person making the ludicrous claim a chance for clarification. But Fiona Bruce, even though she is such an experienced professional, did none of this. Isabel Oakeshott spewed her bile on national television – to the roaring applause of her English audience – and by the hostess failing to do her journalistic duty, it gave the lie an illusion of substance.

Now, to be fair, would have David Dimbleby done any different? I would like to think so, but I doubt it. The problem may go deeper than the individuals here – there is much to be question about the BBC’s Question Time, from its production team’s possible associations with the Far Right, to the BBC’s own editorial guidelines which often make a mockery of reasonable discourse (like the idea that they have to have a climate change scientist debating a climate change denier almost all the time, creating a false perception of it being a 50/50 debate).

I wish Fiona Bruce all the best, and hope that this was only a journalistic faux pas. But, as an immigrant in the UK, I had long stopped watching BBC’s Question Time due to its constant dog-whistling of xenophobia towards migrants. I have no interest in intellectual sadism – I’d rather turn off the TV than go to bed irritated with the lies often spouted by the programme’s audience and panel members. I hoped that a change in host would change the tone of the show, but last night revealed to me that such hopes should be left for fools.

There is nothing much to be gained from Question Time, beyond disappointment and irritation, and the confirmation that Great Britain has now fully metamorphosed into the amalgamation of all the phobias and ignorance contained at the heart of Little England.

 

Nicola Sturgeon on immigration: defending the unpopular truth

Nicola Sturgeon drawing

On the morning of the Brexit referendum result, there were immediate political reactions. David Cameron resigned, even though he said he wouldn’t when asked what would happen if Brexit won, and Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 “to be invoked immediately”, because that’s how sensible a leader he is (read this bit sarcastically, please).

Unlike those two, Nicola Sturgeon had a different message on that morning. She made it her top priority to offer some solace to EU nationals living in the UK and Scotland in particular, to reassure us that we were still valued, and to repeat that Scotland had rejected the Brexit rhetoric and remained an open and welcoming nation for all who chose to call her home.

Of course, these were just words, but for any EU national waking up to the realisation that the UK had, somehow, rejected us as a valuable part of society, these words were more than welcoming. They gave us a pause to gather ourselves, and be firm in the conviction that not everyone was a xenophobe – there are people who see immigrants as the three-dimensional human beings that they are, and it’s very crucial that some of those people are our elected leaders themselves.

Labour and Conservatives play with immigrants’ lives

The only minority that the Conservative Party will ever truly care about are its millionaire donors and their big business friends. I have come to expect no sympathy or respect from them in this country, and I wouldn’t want it – the Tories have destroyed the lives of thousands of people with disabilities, forced people to become homeless, and implemented profoundly homophobic laws only a few decades ago.

But I always expected Labour to be better than this – to be fair, it isn’t a high bar to surpass, after all. Especially with someone like Corbyn, I expected their supposedly Socialist values to extend beyond the people native to these islands, for Socialist solidarity should know no bounds.

Alas, Labour too left me only disappointed, as they increasingly tried to appease the xenophobic sentiments present in some of their demographic by playing with their antagonism towards immigration – something perfectly encapsulated in their “Controls on immigration” mug. (You can read my thoughts on Corbyn’s betrayal of the Left in another recent post on this blog – click here)

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No, you’re not the only one cringing at this…

Scotland is not perfect, but she’s so much better than her neighbours

Scotland has a very particular relationship with bigotry, reflected in its problems with sectarianism, whose tendrils spread to things as supposedly benign as football. However, there have been significant improvements in the last two decades, not only regarding sectarian hatred, but also the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, racism, and the treatment of immigrants who have made Scotland their home.

I have only read and heard about the old Scotland – which I know still exists, if you know where to look. But I have lived in this open Scotland, where we have a Parliament in Holyrood with lots of women and openly LGBTQ+ politicians, some of them leading their respective parties.

I have also witnessed the Scottish Government’s repeated support of immigrants living in this country, claiming that immigration is positive for the country, and not the other way around. And that is not an easy message to put out there – you just have to see how the pro-immigration video below, put out by the Scottish Government in the summer, accrued more dislikes than likes on YouTube.

It takes a great amount of courage for a politician to say the uncomfortable truths, rather than the things voters want to hear. Labour, Tories and Lib Dems have shown themselves for what they are and done very little to make a positive case for immigrants, the majority of which contribute massively to the UK’s economy. Only parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have done something in that regard, and EU citizens in the UK should be well aware of that.

Time and time again, when I tweet about immigration, I receive much more support from fellow Indy supporters than the hatred spread by trolls. The events and marches I have attended have been filled with flags from all nationalities – no one needs to be born in Scotland to have the same love for it running in their veins. I know this all too well, how this wee country and its people resonate with my heart more than any other place on earth.

Fighting the bigoted media

Glorified toilet paper like the Daily Mail and other rags have poisoned this country’s discourse on immigration. They ensured that immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, benefit scroungers, homeless people, prostitutes and drug dealers all got blended into this immigration concoction, the source of all problems in the UK, rather than the actual truth: the inept management of this country by New Labour and Austerity-Max Tories.

However, times like these also allow for more assertive shows of courage in the face of adversity, and that was the case with The National newspaper last edition of 2018: a magnificent pro-immigration front page. Such shows of empathy for immigrants are so rare in our public discourse that this made me very emotional when I first saw it.

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31st of December 2018’s edition of The National – Scotland’s only daily pro-indy newspaper

It’s not just trash like the Daily Mail that is to blame for all the negative rhetoric surrounding immigration – look no further than the BBC to see how they have different words for the same things. A foreigner here is always and always an immigrant, whereas a Brit abroad is always an expat – a euphemism that somehow tries to expunge British citizens from the stereotypes manufactured for and applied to everyone else.

Immigrants are as good and bad as everyone else

If we are able to bring the immigration debate to basic facts, than there are only a couple of points to be made that bear any relevance. The first is that, as studies show, immigration is financially positive to the UK, contributing more than it costs. Secondly, immigrants are not more or less prone to criminality or any other vices – they are people, just like everyone else, who took the very big decision of moving to a different country for a myriad of reasons. Some of us may indeed be rotten, but don’t judge such a diverse group of people on a few bad a apples.

There’s so much to be gained from immigration, not only from EU, but from everywhere else. And in Scotland, skin colour, ethnicity, religion or nationality should have no bearing on one’s Scottishness. As I never tire of repeating, we’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. And if you treat immigrants with the dignity and respect we deserve, you will be pressed to find more loyal citizens and neighbours than us.

Some people are also seemingly unaware of the anxiety clouding the lives of all EU citizens living in the UK (as well as UK citizens abroad), as my recent phone in to BBC Radio Scotland made clear:

Thank you, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP, and the other few politicians and parties standing by what is right. I will gladly return your support when the time comes for #IndyRef 2.

2019 is the year of IndyRef 2

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2018 AUOB Independence March in Edinburgh

We’re only three days into 2019, and The Times has already graced us all with an opinion piece titled “Brexit has shown the pain of leaving a close union. It is written by Struan Stevenson, a former Conservative MEP for 15 years, and the whole thing is as morbidly distorting of reality as you’d expect from someone who is opposed to the renewable energy generated from off-shore wind turbines.

His perspective is premised on the idea that the shambles of the Brexit process made clear that breaking from any political union would be an almost Sisyphean affair, and so Scotland must forget all about her aspirations for independence.

However, I think that Brexit has outlined one thing only: that there’s never been a stronger case to hold a second Scottish independence referendum, and that it must be announced this year.

Westminster trampled over Devolution

I’m not a big fan of Devolution, in the sense that I find it wholly patronising, a commiserating prize. It’s like having a parent holding on to the car keys and bank accounts of their adult son/daughter, because they aren’t “responsible enough” to manage their own affairs, telling them that they can only use the plastic cutlery and look after the family pet. Of course, thank goodness we have Devolution at least, because the alternative would be much worse, and we wouldn’t have achieved many of the great accomplishments of this generation, like free tuition in Scotland, a moratorium on fracking, and many other things.

Nonetheless, Devolution was voted for, and it was supposed to be the law of the land. I say supposed because Devolution recognises a degree of sovereignty to the Scottish Parliament, something which has been wholly ignored in the power-grab pushed through under the guise of the Brexit negotiations.

Holyrood’s cross-party majority made it very clear: there was no Scottish consent for the Withdrawal Act of the European Union. The Scottish Government offered compromises (staying in Single Market) that reflected Scotland’s overwhelming vote to Remain, but the UK Government stuck its fingers into its years screaming BLAH BLAH BLAH as it pushed through with its shambolic Brexit.

So much for J. K. Rowling’s fantastic assertion that rejecting independence would put Scotland in a stronger position within the United Kingdom (just writing this down makes my blood boil). By rejecting independence in 2014, Scotland had a chance to take the key to its shackles and be set free, but 55% of us chose to hand that key back to our overlord, for fear that too much freedom would be the end of us.

Two different world visions

Some Brexiteers might go on and on about how cutting ourselves from the EU will make us more able to act internationally, but that is ridiculous. The UK has always been a key international player, not least because of its history, and the EU didn’t put a stop to that.

Leaving the EU while claiming to do it for the sake of internationalism is like choosing to amputate a leg because getting rid of the extra weight will make us a better sprinter. It’s such a stupid idea only a buffoon like Boris Johnson and his blind acolytes could swallow it.

Scotland has always been an outward looking nation. Perhaps not so much by choice, but because it was necessary for a small nation sharing an island with a much more powerful neighbour. Pulling up the bridge and closing the gates to our castle built out of straws doesn’t make any sense in 2019. It will only ensure that we starve ourselves to death – metaphorically speaking – as the world outside goes on like before, facepalming themselves as they wonder how a population could do this to itself (decades of Right-wing press brainwashing, in short).

Many of those who voted against independence did so because they were told by Labour, Tories and Lib Dems that independence risked pulling Scotland out of the EU. In their words, voting No was the only way of guaranteeing our continued EU citizenship (no, you’re not the only one feeling your stomach turning at the irony of this).

The Scotland I know isn’t reflected in this Brexit clusterbourach. And if we have a different vision for our future than England and Wales, then let each follow the path chosen by their people – without dragging Northern Ireland and Scotland along.

2019 must be the year IndyRef 2 is announced

As I’m writing this, Brexit is only 85 days away. There is no greater clarity today about what the future holds than on the morning of the EU Referendum, no reasonable path to follow, no cohesion across the UK. The only certainty is that both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are despised by the vast majority of the population, and that we’ll all be worse-off under any scenario that takes us out of our current arrangements with the EU.

At last year’s SNP Conference, Nicola Sturgeon said her party would make an announcement about a possible new IndyRef once the terms of the Brexit deal became clearer. That time has come, because I don’t think there won’t be much more clarity than what we have at the moment.

Brexit is a path towards a bigoted, nasty, inward-looking future. Scotland deserves much better. We voted Remain. Everyone I speak to within the independence movement is anxious to get started on a new campaign.

Unlike the Brexiteers, we have actual plans about the future for an Indy Scotland. This isn’t a spur of the moment vanity – our people have been waiting for independence since the corrupt aristocrats of this country sold themselves and their country to this Union little over three centuries ago. There isn’t a better time to make our hopeful, positive case for a future brighter than any shithole Corbyn and May try to lead us to.

Go on, First Minister. You’ve continuously stood by me as an EU migrant living in Scotland. Give me the opportunity to play my role in the fight for Scottish independence, so that me and thousands of other Scots may get on with striving for a better future than anything promised by the United Kingdom.

Saor Alba.

Corbyn’s Labour: a betrayal of ideals

Jeremy Corbyn Drawing Painting Sketch

As a non-British Leftist millennial, I was very happy with Corbyn’s election for Labour’s leadership. I was even more excited when he was reelected after the challenge from the majority of his own parliamentary party. Why? Well, for many non-British European Socialists like myself, Tony Blair had moved the party so far to the Right, emulating so many of the tropes brandished by the Conservatives, that it felt like the Left had been dealt a kiss of death in Britain. I mean, no Tory PM would have been more supportive of the American invasion of Iraq than Blair himself.

Corbyn appeared to be a welcome tonic – a sign that the base of the Labour Party wanted to go back to its Socialist core values. His promise to bring about a new kind of politics was also refreshing, in a British political reality so stale and far-removed it felt like an episode of Dad’s Army about a packet of crisps gone off. I was willing to give him time, as such radical change takes time, but how could he possibly fail?

Corbyn’s base seemed energised, the country had been ravaged by years of Tory austerity that had done nothing but widen the gap between the poorest and the richest in society, and with a political civil war splitting the Government and its backbenchers apart because they cannot agree on how damaging they want Brexit to be, Corbyn’s Labour had the road to power wide open.

And yet, despite all this, Corbyn has failed.

Labour is pulling rabbits out of a xenophobic UKIP hat

Anyone with a basic interest in UK politics knows full well what Labour’s position is regarding Brexit: to have no position. Like the multi-armed Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction, Labour has been dancing in a circle of chaos created by the calamitous Brexit referendum result, grasping at political straws as a ring of fire burns all around them. Rather than taking a clear, unapologetic stance, their hope seems to be that by standing for nothing, voters from both sides will flock to them instead of getting swallowed by the Tories greed-is-good typhoon.

In doing so, the Labour Party occasionally throws a biscuit to anyone watching, sometimes from the Left, sometimes from the Right. For example – their wish to put an end to hospital parking charges for NHS staff in England. That is something that most people on the Left will happily support. How unoriginal and sad, however, that such policy is taken directly from the Scottish National Party who have already enacted this in Scotland, except for those hospitals being operated under Labour-negotiated PFIs.

However, what worries me about Labour is not the policies it steals from the SNP or from the Greens, but rather when it starts using UKIP’s xenophobic rhetoric in order to appeal to the anti-immigration sentiment rife in the working-class communities of, particularly, Northern England, where for decades now they have been fed a slow, poisonous drip of lies and immigrant-blaming bile provided to them by the Tories and their friends in the press.

This is all too clear in Barry Gardiner’s (Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade) recent contribution to the BBC’s Politics Live, in which he spread the lie that immigrants have been responsible for undercutting UK wages. Yes, a Labour politician blaming workers for the exploitation they suffer – unfortunately, you can’t make this up because it’s reality. See the clip for yourself:

 

Recent, independent research has categorically stated that immigration has had a positive fiscal impact in the UK, not to speak to all the other social and cultural benefits that come from the interaction between different people. Barry Gardiner and, by extension, the Labour Party, should be attacking the UK laws that permit the exploitation of workers, rather than attacking those people being exploited. Their struggles should be every Socialist’s struggle – that is what solidarity means.

Corbyn’s Labour is damaging actual labourers

Not only is the Labour Party now using the same party tricks of the Far-Right, in a desperate attempt to gain some voters, but their non-stance on Brexit is allowing Theresa May to put an end to freedom of movement, hence curtailing the rights and freedoms of… workers. The same workers who, no matter where they were born, should be backed by Labour, not stabbed in the back.

By not opposing Brexit effectively, they’re also supporting the impoverishment of the United Kingdom under every predicted post-Brexit scenario, be it soft or hard. Who will suffer most from that stunted growth? Not the Tories and their friends, but the working class of this country, who will have to live with further cuts to vital public services, fewer benefits, and costlier bills at the end of each month.

Corbyn’s presence was as weak as it could be, for the leader of a largely pro-Remain party during the 2016 referendum, leading many to accuse him of being a Brexiteer at heart. I don’t know – I don’t believe in mind readers, so I can only judge Corbyn by what he says and does, and so far I remain unimpressed.

The current case for Lexit is irrelevant

Some ardent Corbynistas have tried to frame Brexit as something good for the Left – Lexit, or Leftist Brexit – a possibility to break with the chains of the EU’s Neo-Liberalism. They would have my sympathy in this, if that was what had been debated during the Brexit referendum, if the public had been shown what a Tory and a Labour Brexit look like and asked to decided on which one they preferred. But Labour and the Conservatives are both leading us down the same type of Brexit: one borne out of xenophobia and British nationalism. (No, not all Brexiteers are xenophobic – but the campaign and much of its rhetoric was.)

Lexit is meaningless when Far-Right authoritarianism is rampant across Europe. That ship has sailed – the arguments for it should’ve have been made on the ashes of the 2008 financial crisis before the Farages, Orbans and Le Penns swooped in to feast upon its rotten devastation. Brexit is only going to strengthen the rhetoric of these autocratic leaders, allowing them to point to the UK and say “Look, even the Brits have had enough of this!

The true case for Lexit is one that can only be made from within the EU. Rather than setting it on fire and burning to the ground an institution that, although flawed in many ways, brought an unparalleled period of peace in this continent’s bloody history, the aim is for Socialists across the board to come together and find a way to reform it from within. More democratic accountability, less power to the German and French banking magnates, more solidarity and proportionality in providing help for refugees, safer and better working conditions for workers from all nations. These are things that the UK can have a massive role in, if it stays seated at the table – not shouting from the outside.

Labour must sort itself out

Losing the support of the Scottish working classes so drastically should have been a much more serious wake up call for the Labour Party, but they seemed to have done nothing but stick the fingers in their ears and pretend like it never happened. It’s not good enough to childishly attack the SNP on policies that Labour has completely failed to enact in Wales, or when it is running some Scottish councils in coalition with the Tories.

Occupying this political limbo, where Labour is perched on a tree waiting for the Conservative Party to finish tearing itself apart, is doing more harm than good. The polls don’t move, and no one’s fooled by the false promise of kinder politics when Corbyn himself sits in front of the despatch box calling Theresa May a “stupid woman”, or going on TV morning programmes to pretend that he watches Celebrity Big Brother, pulling the exact same tricks that all career politicians do.

I don’t have an easy solution for Labour – nor should I. I’m not a member. I’m an outsider looking in, trying to make sense of a growing political black hole threatening to consume us all.

Despite my firm belief in Scottish Independence, I want an independent England to thrive just as equally, and that can only be done under a true Social Democratic government that stands not for what is easy, but for what is right. They should make the positive case for immigration, and shift the blame of our society’s ills to austerity and an insatiably greedy financial system, not the hard-working Polish hairdresser down the road, the Portuguese dentist, or the Czech accountant.

Labour should be opposing the Tory Brexit like any Opposition worthy of its name – before we’re all taken over a precipice from which it won’t be easy to return.

How a Portuguese laddie became a new Scot

Yesterday, the Tory government published its white paper on EU migration post-Brexit. As a result, I spent my day arguing positively for immigration on social media, sharing fact-based articles showing that EU migration has had a very positive impact on the UK’s economy in the last decade. However, one tweet in particular was particularly popular, in which I specifically mentioned my personal experience with Scottish attitudes towards immigration.

Twitter is meant to be short and brief, leaving little room for telling long, nuanced stories. But the story behind this tweet is one I find worth telling, and I think it reflects incredibly well on the fact that there’s a bright, open future ahead of Scotland. I hope you find what follows to be worthwhile.

Where I come from

I was born in 1991, in Faro, the largest city of the Algarve – Portugal’s southernmost region. Like many people my age, I faced the blunt of the 2008 financial crisis when I went to university the following year, and when the Portuguese right-wing government adopted increasingly destructive austerity measures, little hope was left for middle-aged people, let alone us young ones trying to make a life of our own. I was determined that I would emigrate after I finished my Master’s Degree in Medieval History of the Islamic Mediterranean, especially because in 2012 I had started dating the most wonderful man in the world. He was studying to become a dentist, and he too had no real prospects of staying in Portugal.

In 2014 I finished my Master’s and he finished his Dentistry Degree, and so we moved from Lisbon back to the Algarve, to live with my mother. She owned a wee restaurant in Tavira, and my partner got an offer of work at a local practice, so we packed our bags and in early 2015 started saving up money to go abroad.

It wasn’t easy. Working with my mother, despite the love between us, was incredibly stressful. I was earning about €100 (around £75) a week, because I didn’t want to take wages from her as she was struggling at the time; I chose to rely exclusively on tips. My partner was working 5 days a week, full-time, as a dentist, and earning about €600 (£450) A MONTH. Yes, you read that right. That is the Portuguese reality, with a minimum monthly wage at the time of €550, a lot of people survived however they had to.

The upside of staying with my mother was that we didn’t pay a rent. We helped out with bills and food, but could put the rest apart and save up for the big move. Emigration was the light at the end of a dark, hopeless tunnel.

Where life took us

At my mother’s restaurant, 95% of our customers were tourists visiting the Algarve, or people born in another country who now resided there. And from those, about 60% were from the UK & Ireland, with the rest coming mainly from the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavian countries. Given that my mother speaks very basic English, she was quite happy to have me as a Front of House waiter – I can hold a conversation in a few languages besides Portuguese and English, including Dutch. And I will tell you why that is relevant.

From a very young age, I had thought about moving abroad (the reasons for that merit its own blog post, but let’s just say that I never felt like I fitted in Portugal). I always thought it was either going to be the UK or a Scandinavian country (Yes, I hate hot weather). But my partner wasn’t so keen about the idea of a cold country, and so we compromised on somewhere a bit less extreme – the Netherlands. We started teaching ourselves Dutch with apps like Duolingo, my partner prepared the paperwork to register on their General Dental Council equivalent, and we started preparing mentally for the move, reading about the country and all of that.

Now, on one particular evening, we had a couple of customers who had flown in from Amsterdam. I proudly practised my Dutch, and they were interested in knowing why the hell had a Portuguese waiter learned to speak Dutch. I told them I intended to move there. I will never forget their response. They exchanged a quick glance, and then the lady said to me, in English: “We have a small country. Not everyone has to go there, you know. The sky is blue everywhere.”

Yes, she sounded that much like a cunt. I was lost for words, telling my partner what had happened, and for the rest of the evening I was ruminating on how horrible she’d been. (She’d also left me a €1 tip on a €60 bill, to top it all off)

Because life finds a way of spicing things up, and as I grew increasingly depressed about the idea of the Netherlands, we had a table of three magnificent Scottish folks later that week. They were our only clients that night – a middle-aged couple with a female friend of theirs. Since it was a small and very intimate restaurant, they warmly started making conversation with me, which I was always happy to do with our customers. It started being about food and how they liked their steaks cooked, and me telling them about how we typically cooked them in Portugal, developing to them asking more and more questions about myself, why I spoke English fluently, my degree, and all of that. My mother was in the kitchen, cooking, but my partner was behind the bar that evening, and he joined in too. One of the ladies had a niece who was a dentist in Scotland, and as we became more familiar with each other, they started asking my partner a lot of questions about being a dentist in Portugal, including wages and work conditions, and were quite shocked to hear the truth.

That’s when they started telling us how Scotland needed young folk like us, how I would love Edinburgh and maybe even go to Uni there, and how my partner could lead a much more dignified life with wages that reflected the skill required for his work. I cannot tell you how lovely they were. The warmest, friendliest group of people, who were genuinely interested in hearing our stories and wanting us to have a better future. Before they left, they actually made a reservation for the night prior to leaving Portugal, so I got the name of one of them: Mrs. Pamela Speirs, from Glasgow. (I haven’t spoken to her since, but I would love her to know the impact she’s had on our life, so if you have any idea who this might be, do tell).

When we got home that evening, me and my partner looked at each other, and we didn’t need to say much. The Netherlands’ plan had died – Scotland it would be.

Now, this didn’t all happen in a vacuum. As I said before, we worked with a lot of UK & Ireland folk, and I had already began forming a few impressions. While our English & Welsh clientele tended to be more reserved, less generous in tipping, Scottish and Irish customers were the absolute opposite. They were always incredibly polite, very appreciative of my dedication to good service, complimentary about my mother’s food, and deeply generous when it came to tipping. (As with any generalisation, there were exceptions to all have this, I’m just outlining my overall impressions)

After that night with the Speirs and their friend, I started telling Scottish folks who came to the restaurant that I was planning to move to Scotland, and not once did I hear a negative comment. To the contrary. Mrs. Speirs’ attitude seemed to be replicated, as if all the Scots had been passed the same memo – telling me how Scotland needed young folk like me and my partner, that I would love the country. Some joked that I should take a picture of the sun with me, however, lest I forget what it looks like amidst the constant dreich weather. They talked to me about their own sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and how they were all doing so well back home, and how they already had so many foreign friends who had moved there and were happy.

A few more months of work until we felt like we had a financially robust safety net for the move, and on the 10th of November 2015, we took a plane from Faro and landed in Edinburgh.

What these three years have meant

Some of you might say that I couldn’t have chosen a worse time to come, due to the Brexit shitestorm. But I disagree . As the Brexit campaign exposed the terrible winds of xenophobia taking over England & Wales, it also showed how Scotland was a very different country. Of course, I am a white European, so I am still very much a privileged immigrant – Black and Asian people may have different experiences to tell from mine, especially since Scotland is a very white country.

But the thing is that I felt like the vast majority of Scottish folks didn’t swallow the anti-immigration rhetoric coming from down south, and that was confirmed with the overwhelming vote for Remain. While some of my friends in England despaired at the result (I admit that, in the morning of the referendum result, I felt genuine grief for how small and self-centred the UK had just become), I was energised by Scotland’s adamant rejection of that kind of nationalism that wants to put up impassable border and scapegoats the “other” for faults that aren’t theirs.

AUOB March Edinburgh

Taking part at the AUOB Independence March in Edinburgh, October 2018

In these three years, I have joined the Scottish National Party (and recently Plaid Cymru, the biggest Welsh pro-indy party), I have marched amongst my new Scottish brothers and sisters, I have voted in Holyrood & council elections. I have worked, I have lived, I have adopted two beautiful cats, and with every day, Scotland has seeped deeper into my bones. I have travelled widely across “this wee country of oors“, as I like to call it, met many a different folk, visited countless historical sites via my Historic Scotland membership.

Staple Scottish foods have become part of my diet, and I’ve fused many elements of my Portuguese roots with my newfound Scottish ones – I assure you that my Cranachan recipe with a hint of Port wine is to die for.

None of this would have happened if I didn’t feel like I had the Scottish people behind my back in these troubled times. Xenophobia is sweeping all over the West, but somehow Scotland has shone a light against that darkness. Our nationalism, if it can even be called that, comes from a place of acceptance, of a want for justice, of seeking a better future for the young folk that can do better without the cruelty of countless Tory governments we never voted for.

Of course, Scotland is not a place of exception. It has plenty of numpties and bawbags walking around, it has profound issues with alcohol and drugs, sectarianism, obesity, and I wish it were less white and more diverse, but that’s just a reflection of its history. And I love Scotland with all of these things to – for it wouldn’t be this beacon of light without the dark side, and I hope that I can contribute to strike another match, to make it all a bit better.

I can’t vote in UK-wide elections, but I can’t separate myself from this sense of belonging to Scotland any more – I always talk about our country, our people, our voice. Sure, I open my mouth with my Portuguese accent and it is clear that I wasn’t born here – and I don’t mind that people ask and are interested about where I come from. I’m always happy to tell all the good things about Portugal, about the food and the wonderful places to visit, and all of that. But it doesn’t feel like I’m talking about home, like it feels when I talk about Scotland.

At the risk of sounding really corny, and bear in mind that this comes from an atheist with no time for superstitious silliness, I do think that I was born with a Scottish soul. Its flame just brightens up at the sound of the bagpipes (or the Proclaimers, for that matter), its spirit is lifted when I smell the freshness of our cold winter mornings, and it is fuelled by the affection and love of the many folks I have crossed paths with here. Nowhere else on earth do I feel the peace I do when walking around the Trossachs, or setting my sights on the majesty of the Highlands, or when I’m walking around the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, my favourite museum in the world after London’s Tate Modern. I love the historical atmosphere of Edinburgh, as I love the working class spirit of Glasgow, and how genuine Glaswegians can be, especially compared with some Edinburgh folk who come off as slightly more… stiffer (they’re sweethearts once you get to crack their shell).

And there’s still so much about Scotland that I don’t know, and I look forward to it all – as long as the nasty Government from Westminster doesn’t try to get rid of me post-Brexit. Regardless, I’ll be fighting the good fight for this country to be independent, a sovereign nation within the European Union, which is a true equal union, not this little, narcissistic, inward-looking United Kingdom that is becoming increasingly less United with each day its glaring injustices are exposed.

What matters is that we’re all human beings, all one clan. We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

Me (left) and my partner Roger basking in the elusive Scottish sun