‘Scotland is your home, and your contribution is valued’
EMPATHY FATIGUE’ sounds like the kind of malaise that sits alongside Gauloises and Garbo, a dated phrase from another time. Not something you would associate with a vibrant, modern society, one more globally interconnected every day.
But Brexit stirred the pot and brought all kinds of muck to the surface, including the notion that people are problems. People who have built their lives in this country – raised their children here, ran businesses, enriched our communities – are now being overlooked and made to feel unwelcome.
As an MEP for Scotland, I’ve received emails from EU nationals that would break your heart, and I still don’t know what’s worse; the terrified folk who have nothing to go ‘home’ to, or the ones who are resigned to being ‘kicked out’, as one young man’s girlfriend said. “Dunno whether I should leave this country before they kick me out forcefully. Maybe then at least I’d have a chance to pack beforehand.”
This is not a country I recognise.
We had a referendum about Scottish independence 2014, and we lost, accepted the result, and got on with it. But in our referendum, we made sure that EU nationals could vote. Our definition of Scottish is “Do you live in Scotland? Aye? Great, you’re in.” Compare this to the shameful decision by the UK Government to block EU citizens from voting in the EU referendum, and you’ve got an instant example of the difference between the two governments. Open, welcoming and progressive, or narrow-minded and insular
I accepted the result of the IndyRef, albeit with a heavy heart, but I cannot accept the EU referendum result as being the best option for Scotland. For a start, it’s not how Scotland voted! Every single constituency in Scotland voted to Remain, but we’re being dragged out anyway by a government that appears to want to out-do itself every day in terms of petty jingoism and self-destructive nonsense. To turn around to folk and say “well, you can live here and pay taxes here, but this decision doesn’t really concern you, yeah?” Is a democratic abomination, but it’s exactly what we saw in the EU referendum.
Right now, on my desk, I have multiple cases from folk who married EU nationals or who came to Scotland to work hard, pay their taxes, raise their bairns and enrich our communities. Now they’re being left in a state of limbo. Why? Because the UK Government sees these people as bargaining chips in the ongoing Brexit high-stakes gamble. Nobody doubts that governments have to make difficult decisions, but by not giving these people reassurance that their home remains their home, the UK Government is plunging thousands of people and their families into uncertainty.
The Home Office has seen its full-time staff reduced by 10% since 2010, and at the current rate it will take 50 years to process the 3.2 million EU nationals currently in the UK. These people have made Scotland their home, and their legal rights are not being respected. Can you imagine living here for literally years, enriching the country both socially and economically, and then suddenly being forced to jump through hoops in a convoluted process to prove you have right to
permanent residence, all the while with a Sword of Deportation hanging over your head?
That doesn’t only apply to EU nationals living here, by the way. Scots abroad are considering adopting the citizenship of another country, flocking to lawyers who have no clearer idea than the rest of us.
The day after the EU referendum, while the Leave figureheads were conspicuous by their stunned absence, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon strode out to meet the media at Bute House and addressed EU citizens directly. “You remain welcome here, Scotland is your home, and your contribution is valued.”
As it stands, immigration is reserved to Westminster, not the Scottish Parliament, and so we have explicitly urged the Prime Minister to guarantee citizenship rights for these three million EU nationals living and working in the UK. Across the country, Scots are reaching out to their European neighbours, making sure they know that Scotland voted to Remain. One constituent in particular springs to mind, Barry from Bathgate, who spent the weeks after the referendum posting cards through his neighbours’ letter boxes. “I want to let you know you are valued. No matter what the EU Ref result, Scotland wants you here, I want you here, my family wants you here, our First Minister wants you here, and we will continue the fight to make sure every family, every person who has chosen to make Scotland their home remains here.”
This UK government deserves nothing but odium for the way it has deliberately presented people as a burden, and for its actions in making the UK a meaner, less welcoming place. ‘Take Back Control’ will surely be remembered as one of the most catchy yet inaccurate campaign phrases of all time, as the elite political class continues to use ordinary people as pawns. In the game of political chess, the UK Government is playing Kerplunk – wildly yanking at straws and waiting for all the balls to drop.