Bringing together researchers, practitioners and policy makers working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland
I woke up yesterday morning feeling afraid.
The radio was spluttering on about immigration and a scan of the papers confirmed unimaginative rants in the usual suspects about “people not like us”.
I am afraid because people are being told to fear, blame and hate people I love, need and respect. The toll on them is devastating. Apparently 47% of Yes and No voters, split equally between both camps, fear the possible impact of an “influx” of Eastern Europeans, according to this week’s Social Attitudes Survey.
Well, what a surprise. People are afraid of what the leading politicians in the largest political parties in Westminster are telling them to be afraid of; of what elements of the press are telling them to be afraid of. The report that placed icy fingers of fear around my heart was the one saying this was part of a strategy of “an anti-immigration policy a week”. That’s a lot of nastiness ahead.
There is a very considerable body of research in many different respected academic disciplines, including my own, that demonstrates that, if people are enabled to blame others for their misery or unease or normal fear of uncertainty, then they will indeed do so. Equally, if people are enabled to help others in misery, unease or uncertainty they will also do so.
In every generation, there’s a suspicion of “people not like us”. It’s not because people are at heart naturally racist, ageist, sectarian or classist. It’s because people are naturally cautious about unfamiliar things. If their natural discomforts are indulged by political leaders with no compunction or surveyors coaxing such answers, the percentages will spike.
A diet of dehumanising phrases describing people in non-human terms (swarms, influxes, floods) conjures up natural catastrophe and promotes fear. It’s the ultimate triumph of survey-led politics rather than politics led by courage, reflection and ethics. It frightens me.
The Scottish Parliament has shown it is possible to talk humanely about immigration.
The debate on the Home Office Go Home campaign was exemplary, as have been the positive Scottish Government statements about migrants’ contribution to the economy, social, cultural and family life.
Politicians have a duty to speak out and to be clear that, while immigration needs intelligent discussion and careful consideration, as with any changes to be made in a society, the bloody record of history is far too compelling for race and immigration to be used like this.
Martin Niemöller, the German pastor who spoke out against Hitler and spent seven years of his life in concentration camps, is perhaps best remembered for these words:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.
I am afraid of the consequences of abject failure on the part of a political and cultural class in Westminster to speak out on behalf of the most vulnerable.
We need policy making that enables trust and social relationships, intercultural empathy and loving kindness that would allow us to flourish in our diversity. We need initiatives such as The Scottish Refugee Council’s work in Gorbals and Kingsway, with A View From Here celebrating diversity among those who have overcome fear and vulnerability on both sides.
Vulnerability saves us when we don’t let it rule us. Speaking out is necessary. It brought about the end of apartheid and the abolition of slavery. It makes walls fall. Don’t be complicit. Listen to history. This is what I am trying to tell myself, too. Don’t give in to the pedlars of fear. Overcome fear with love and relationship.
*This article was originally published by the Herald Scotland on Saturday 25 January 2014.