Brexit, intolerance and Effie Deans; lessons in strawman building.

Brexit may not have made Britain a more intolerant country, but it has certainly made expressing intolerance easier, as the shameful spike in reported in hate crimes in England and Wales has amply demonstrated. Closing the door to further immigration as a way of promoting further integration and helping us “get on better than before”, even if it could be achieved without harming future economic prospects, looks a lot like special pleading to me. If you dislike multi-cultural societies then reducing or severely limiting immigration is obviously an appealing policy. Whether people who have this view would be quite as keen where such a policy had a negative impact on their economic well-being and provision of services is another matter.

EU immigrants make up 10% of the NHS’s doctors and 4% of registered nurses. They constitute 5% of overall NHS staff, the last figure being the same percentage as they make up of the English population as a whole (figures from the independent charity Full Fact). 24% of doctors in the UK are foreign nationals; 36% of all doctors and 23% of GP’s qualified abroad. There is general agreement that immigrants contribute more to our economy than they take in benefits, so if ones concern is not financial or economic, presumably it relates either to issues of social cohesion or  a belief that the country is “full”? Some people genuinely don’t want immigration and fear multiculturalism. Such fears can of course be attributed to bigotry, lack of education or concerns (whether realistic or not) that mass immigration places intolerable strains on our public services and/or risks “swamping” the host culture.

I agree that one shouldn’t sneer at people who see uncontrolled immigration as something that changed their world and removed their “control”. It is of course easy for people with no direct experience of the pressures caused by a sudden influx of immigrants (whether on housing, schools, health services or jobs) to sneer at those complaining about such pressures, pace Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” debacle, BUT (…and yes, it is a big but!) it is also incumbent on those of us who support immigration and a multi-cultural society, especially one which welcomes refugees from war-torn areas of the world, to point out the positive aspects of immigration, and educate the public about many of the misperceptions surrounding the issue.

It has long been acknowledged that people in the UK routinely over-estimate the % of the population who are immigrants, often grotesquely so. The Guardian published an IPSOS-Mori poll in 2014 showing people thought 21% of the UK population were muslim, whereas the true number is 5%. Similarly people thought 24% of the population were immigrants when the true figure in 2011 census was 13%.

Such overestimation of the scale of the problem is if anything compounded by the fact that it is generally areas which are least diverse and least subject to immigration which are most strongly anti-immigration. People do perhaps fear what they don’t know, but given the widespread misapprehension about the scale of the problem, the financial impact and the role of immigrants (both EU and non-EU) in important public services, it is important to point out that Brexit isn’t the magic bullet that many of those who supported it primarily as a route to reducing immigration suppose. Brett will of course do nothing to reduce non-EU immigration, and of course we do not even know if May’s government will be able to negotiate a deal which squares the circle of reducing EU immigration by limiting the free movement of labour whilst retaining access to the single market. Noises from the EU don’t look encouraging so far, and it will be a brave government which accepts “hard” Brexit with no access to the free market if (when?) the EU tell them free movement of labour is non-negotiable.

The way to tackle the actual and perceived problems of large-scale immigration is by promoting equality, multiculturalism, the integration of the basic values underpinning a 21st century secular liberal democracy, education and toleration. Seeking to place stringent limits on immigration in general, and the specific Brexit “cure” prescribed to achieve this, look about as useful as King Cnut’s attempts to stop the tide from coming in.

Effie Deans in her recent blog (“Brexit Has Not Made Britain a More Intolerant Country” from 29th July 2016) as so often in the past assiduously builds straw men in an attempt to bolster her case. On closer inspection however, her examples don’t support the argument; her superficial understanding of the historical background exposes them for the tendentious misrepresentations they are. Many Latvians (and other Balts) have pretty good reason to be wary of the attempted Russification (and later “Sovietization”) of their countries. Their experience of being dominated by Russia in the 19th century, cycles of violence throughout the early 20th century, being subject to huge deportations of their own populations and introduction of huge numbers of mainly ethnic Russians post 1945, are hardly analogous to experience in Western Europe.

Similarly the unwillingness of countries like Poland and Hungary to countenance large-scale immigration (although in truth relatively few of the recent influx of immigrants show any desire to settle there) has much to do with their own recent histories of ethnic conflict, their relative poverty in comparison with the “old” EU, and their perception that they don’t want to see the kind of problems happening in their own countries that they see in places with large immigrant communities like France, Germany, the UK and others. It’s one thing to assert that Latvians who speak Russian aren’t considered to be Latvians, but quite another to draw from that assertion the conclusion that Pakistanis or Syrians or Poles in the UK won’t be considered British or Scottish. Large Russian minorities implanted in the Baltic states represented (and were positively conceived as) an existential threat to the nationalities they were implanted amongst. It is surely to the credit of such countries that they have offered such minorities full citizenship.

In the end Effie’s conception of preserving “the unique character” of her country, whether Scotland, the UK or anywhere else, looks a lot less like King Cnut trying to turn back the tide and rather more like the “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” signs of yore. You don’t have to put the sign in your window to be recognised for sharing the same values.


Confessions of a “cabernat” or how to behave when doorstepped by a Scottish Daily Mail journalist.

As one of those non-anonymous folk selected for inclusion in Wee Ruthie Davidson’s select band of “cabernets”, I confess to being particularly interested in the recent media coverage of “cybernats” as a result of yesterday’s events. Leaving my house in Sussex en route for the London bound train, I was surprised to be doorstepped by a journalist representing the Scottish Daily Mail. As someone identified as active online posting about the Scottish independence referendum, he wanted some personal background information and my views on the debate around the use of the term cybernat. He explained it was for a potential piece in the paper and that they would be contacting other people with similar views.

In truth I’m still unsure about the wisdom of even interacting with a title whose whole outlook I find both morally bankrupt and politically loathsome. I may come to rue the decision of course. However I decided to give as good an account of my conversion to the cause of Scottish independence as the 10 minute walk to the 8.40 AM train allowed. I explained why I thought it would be a good thing for both Scotland and the rest of the UK, my personal disillusionment with the prospects for change within the UK and my distaste for the current political environment with UKIP gaining support and an EU exit increasingly likely. He asked me general questions about my background, what I thought about being labelled a cybernat and if I thought it was a negative term. He even asked me if I’d ever thought about being a politician (to which of course the answer is “Hell, No!).

I also expressed frustration with the main stream media and its perceived anti-independence bias and highlighted the recent University of the West of Scotland media report, and my view whilst online abuse came from both sides it seemed both more copious and more vitriolic from the No camp. I wondered why politicians, party hacks and their media supporters from the unionist side appeared to get a free pass from the media for some extraordinarily negative or even abusive comments, whereas any nationalist or pro-independence commentator would be crucified for much less.

Finally I pointed out that in general the weighting of many debates and indeed general media coverage, appeared fatally skewed in favour of the unionist side because they frequently field representatives of the three unionist parties versus one from the SNP, which is hardly representative of the binary choice facing Scots in September.

All in all I was somewhat taken aback by the experience, although given that my name and profile are public it didn’t bother me that they had tracked me down. The journalist said that they would be contacting others and I found out later via twitter that a few other presumed cybernats had indeed received similar visits. A few of my neighbours and my wife received visits following up on the journalists “walk and write” on the way to the station, no doubt to ensure that I wasn’t in fact the Sussex equivalent of Rab C. Nesbitt hiding my atavistic “Hail Caledonia!” complex under a veneer of reasonableness.

What is more interesting however is what the motivation for researching such a piece could be, and why now? Does it show the nervousness of the Main Stream Media (MSM) at being by-passed by citizen-led new media? Are they troubled by the rise of pro-indy sites like Wings Over Scotland, Newsnet and National Collective and their ability to raise funds via crowd sourcing?

Whether the piece ever sees the light of day remains to be seen. I will await it with interest if it does; all I have to do now is find some way of reading it that doesn’t involve actually buying the Daily Mail!