Thanks to a timely job offer from McDonald Hotels the ordeal of the Brain family from Dingwall has been brought to an end, and Scotland rightly celebrates this small victory over fortress Britain’s draconian immigration policies. We have watched on in tenterhooks as Kathryn and Gregg Brain, along with their seven-year-old Gaelic speaking son Lachlan, have been pulled through the immigration wringer under the threat of forced deportation to Australia. We have been frustrated with how even the interventions of our First Minister and the Scottish Government have been shown to be subject to the whims of London rule, and now, thanks to this job offer, our wee Lachlan and his family can stay.
Quite out of the blue, however, the Guardian has decided to racialise this “feel-good immigration story” with an article written by Lola Okolosie, suggesting that the attention it received and the outcome would have been different had the Brain family not been white and of “Anglo-Saxon origin.” All of a sudden we are blind-sided, and left feeling perhaps a little ashamed of ourselves.
Okolosie is dead right. She brings up the hyper-aggressive television culture of UK Border Force and the outright vilification of not-so-white people seeking new lives and fresh opportunities on our shores. She is also spot on when she comments that being sent packing back to the security and comfort of Australia is a damn-sight better than being forcibly deported back to a post-colonial nightmare – the likes of Eritrea, Nigeria, or South Sudan – to a whole host of frightening human rights violations, and where escape is regularly the difference between life and death.
Yet there is something not quite right about Okolosie’s otherwise perfectly correct observations on the deep contradictions apparent in the Brains’ story. Let’s start with her assumption that Lachlan and his family received preferential treatment because they are white Anglo-Saxons. We’ll that’s just not true, is it? The Brain family came to Scotland under a scheme – heavily advertised by the Scottish Government in Australia – designed to repopulate the Highlands with people of Scots Gaelic heritage. That would be the, largely deported and historically victimised, indigenous people of the ethnically Gaelic Highlands; a people – like many in Nigeria – who felt the sharp edge of cultural contact with white Anglo-Saxons.
When she makes the claim that they came from the “other side of the planet” she isn’t being entirely honest – or perhaps she’s not too well informed. In this regard it is interesting that her article neglects to mention the specific programme under which the Brain family came back to Scotland, preferring to run with the incidental fact that the original entrance visa was for study.
Somehow, because this family are white, the assumption is made in her article that they deserve a welcome, and it goes on to criticise what we have done to those “we seem unwilling to welcome.” A couple of things stand out here. First, there is the more than necessary who-is-this-we? She reminds us of the nastier realities of Brexit; how it has brought to the fore our acceptance of only those foreigners we like – the white ones – and to hell with all the rest, and, second, that “we” have done this as a country. Up here in Scotland “we” are not part of the same country she lives in down in London. Okolosie lives in England, and we live in Scotland. Both are countries in their own right, different nations with very distinct characteristics. Both of our countries are part of the same crumbling state – but that is quite another thing.
The British state, so completely dominated as it is by England and London’s agenda, is exactly the brutal, racist Brexit nightmare she describes, but it goes beyond ridiculous for someone writing for the Guardian to tar Scotland with the same brush. Doesn’t she read the papers? In our country – Scotland – we couldn’t have been clearer in our rejection of Brexit and the despicable racism and xenophobia that lay behind much of the Leave campaign. Yet now our country is faced with living with the consequences her country chose for us.
She doesn’t stop there either; she goes on to guilt us over the plight of the less-than-white Syrians who are dying in their droves in an attempt to get to the safety of Britain. This isn’t the Guardian, but we’ll break the news anyway: 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster MPs voted against UK airstrikes in Syria and against any form of British qua English aggression in that poor country. Where south of the border – in her country – racially motivated violence has mushroomed since the Brexit referendum, all forms of racist violence have been in sharp decline in Scotland for the past ten years. Moreover, and very much on the Syrian crisis, the independence movement in Scotland – the same movement that has been so committed to the Brain family – has been at the forefront of efforts over the whole of the United Kingdom to force Westminster to open the doors to the victims of its neo-colonial proxy war in Syria, and to be a place of welcome for all people seeking refuge from racial and political violence.
So, upon reflection, Okolosie’s analysis of the Brain family’s situation in Scotland is entirely misguided. Throughout the independence campaign in this country it has been repeatedly made clear that being Scottish is not about colour, religion, political opinion, sexual orientation, or what have you. Scottishness is the particular quality of the people who live here or who identify with Scotland. We can be more than sure that had Lachlan be as brown as Ali Abbasi, the Pakistan born champion of Scots Gaelic, we would have still fought tooth and nail to keep him here.
The Butterfly Rebellion