I am a migrant. I have been one most of my life. I’ve lived in twelve English counties and learnt to call each one of them ‘home’. But here in Scotland I am a migrant proper. Admittedly I didn’t have to hand over my life savings to a trafficker, or spend years in a squalid border camp, or suffocate inside a container-lorry. Jenny and I just got in the car and drove up the A1 from Leeds. There were no border guards, no checkpoint or razor wire – just a sign saying ‘Welcome to Scotland’.
Two days after the Brexit vote, we drive south again. As we cross the border, there is no reciprocal sign. England does not bother to greet its returning sons and daughters, let alone it’s Scottish neighbours. It never has, but with xenophobia and racism shaping the outcome of the referendum, this lack of welcome now feels deeply troubling.
We arrive in Leeds, the most diverse city in the UK outside London, for a peace event – a celebration of men and women, past and present, of different faiths and philosophies, who stand against war and seek to build peace. Afterwards, Brexit is pretty much the only topic of conversation. There is so much shock and disbelief in the air that you can almost touch it. It is as if, overnight, the country we’ve been living in has disappeared – taken away from us. We feel like exiles in our own land.
Friends in Leeds used to quip that, if the referendum went the wrong way, they might soon be joining us in an independent Scotland. Now they repeat it but with discernibly more seriousness. It appears that Jenny and I may only be the advance party.
Arriving back in Edinburgh, I am struck afresh by the relative lack of diversity among its residents. Of course there are many migrants like me – from England and across Europe – but we tend to go unnoticed until we open our mouths. I look forward to the day when this is no longer so; whenever this city is enriched by the glorious, rainbow people of our world, whatever brings them to our shores.
However, that is for tomorrow. Today it is Jenny and I who know ourselves welcomed here. Migrants and exiles we may be, but we are home again.