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)

screen_shot_2015-03-28_at_17.57.50

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.

screenshot_20181231-083943

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

IMG_20181006_122309

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.

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 especially 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 belonged 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 really sounded like a proper twat. 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, my partner and I 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 of 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 us, that we 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 permanently 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 too – 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… stiff (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