We often hear anguished cries from die-hard Unionists that Scottish independence would put a border through families. During the last independence referendum Labour’s then Shadow Scottish Secretary Magrit Curran went on telly to bewail how she was opposed to independence because she didn’t want her children in London to become foreigners to her. Because being foreign is obviously bad. Funny how it’s always the Unionists who accuse independence supporters of being blood and soil nationalists, but it’s typically Unionists who think that being foreign is a bad thing.
There are in fact three reasons why Magrit was talking nonsense. Well OK, four if we include the reason that anything that issued from Magrit’s gob whether during the independence campaign or at any other time was likely to be self-serving nonsense. The first reason is that Magrit’s weans, wherever in the world that they live, will be entitled to Scottish citizenship because they have at least one parent who is a Scottish citizen. So Magrit’s weans won’t be foreigners to her because, like her, they will be Scottish.
The second reason that Magrit was talking nonsense is that we’re all British citizens at the moment, and unless the British government changes its citizenship laws after Scottish independence, we’ll all still retain the right to British citizenship. During the last independence referendum the British government had no plans to change its citizenship laws in the event of independence. If they did, the likes of Liam Fox who’s negotiating trade deals for a Brexit-Britain will find that he’s no longer a British citizen and will be out of a job as would several Conservative MPs who were born in Scotland but who represent English seats. Admittedly getting rid of Liam, Michael Gove and Alberto Costa is a very good reason for the British government to change their citizenship laws, but in the real world they won’t. Doing so would create chaos, as hundreds of thousands of people who are currently UK citizens residing the rest of the UK would find they were no longer citizens and would have to apply to regularise their position. Under current laws, the only people who would lose their right to British citizenship after Scottish independence would be the children of children born to Scottish people in Scotland after the event of independence. In other words, a generation of Scots who won’t be born for many years to come. So Magrit’s weans won’t be foreigners to her because like her, they will have the right to British passports.
The third reason that Magrit was talking nonsense is of course that if you sincerely believe that you’d be estranged from your children because they possess a different passport from you and would be foreigners, that’s not an argument against Scottish independence, that’s an argument that you are seriously in need of family therapy and counselling.
In fact the UK government is extremely good at separating families and dividing relatives from one another without any assistance from Scottish independence. This week a married couple took the British government to court because they are unable to live together in the same country. When a British citizen marries a citizen of a non-EEA country, the British citizen has to prove that he or she has an income of more than £18,600 annually before they are allowed to bring their foreign spouse into the country. When the couple have a child, that figure increases to £22,400 annually, then increases by £2400 for each subsequent child. Campaigners claim that 15000 children in the UK are separated from one of their parents because of the rule.
It doesn’t matter if your foreign spouse earns more than you do. It doesn’t matter if your foreign spouse would be able to find well paid work in the UK. If the British citizen in the couple doesn’t earn at least £18,600 a year, the foreign spouse is not allowed to reside in the UK. It’s the strictest, the most heartless, immigration regime in Europe. This week the Supreme Court ruled that the law as it currently stands doesn’t violate human rights legislation, but that the needs of children are not being taken into account and that alternative sources of income also need to be considered.
As someone who is engaged to an American citizen, and who is a self-employed blogger earning a precarious living, this rule could seriously affect my chances of being able to live in my own country with the man I love and want to wed. And I’ve got Theresa May to thank for that. She introduced the rule in 2012 when she was Home Secretary. If you’re rich, if you’re lucky enough to come from a family with wealth, if you are the likes of Theresa May, you have no problem. It’s only the poor, the low paid, and self-employed people who scrape a living that the British state tells that they cannot live with a foreigner as a married couple.
Love and marriage isn’t enough to allow a person into the UK. The right to a family life isn’t enough to allow a person into the UK. Britain puts a price on love. This is the land where a political party has a £ symbol as its party logo. It’s a nasty xenophobic island which knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. It’s the land of the hard face of an immigration policy that divides families, that reduces a marriage to late night Skype conversations and longingly touching a computer screen instead of touching and hugging the person you love in bed beside you.
41% of employed people in this country earn less than £18,600 a year. They are effectively barred from living with the person that they love and want to marry if that person is not the citizen of an EEA state. After Brexit, it’s possible that the current rules could also apply to citizens on European states too. Thousands more families and couples will be divided and separated by the uncaring barrier of Theresa May’s wealth wall.
Yes, it’s reasonable to ask that a person coming to live in the UK doesn’t become a burden on the state. But it’s not reasonable to refuse to consider the earning potential of people who are married to a British citizen. Britain isn’t interested, because due to the pressure on the Tory party from the frothing spittle flecked xenophobes of Ukip, controlling immigration has become a fetish.
Britain divides families. Scottish independence can unite them. With Scottish independence we have the opportunity to introduce more humane, more human, more compassionate immigration rules. We have the opportunity to allow Scottish citizens to live together with their families and their spouses irrespective of where in the world their spouses come from. We can show the world that Scotland is a place which welcomes new citizens, where becoming Scottish is something that anyone can achieve. And to do it, all you need is love.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-22nd-feb-2017
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