Ian Cowley: Proud to be an immigrant, not an expat

07/03/2017
angela

Ian Cowley, who currently lives in the Basque Country, addresses the hypocrisy in language around Brexit

WITHIN the Brexit debate there are two related issues that really stand out for me.

Firstly, the insistence of the mainstream British media in referring to UK nationals who live in EU countries as expats, while EU nationals who live in the UK are called migrants.

It’s incredible to think that in the lexicon of human migration these hierarchical terms remain so prevalent. The word expat infers a non-existent elevated status upon British nationals who live, work and reside outwith the UK. Indeed, in the language of Brexit there appears to be a kind of three-way hierarchy where expat is at the top, migrant is somewhere in the middle and immigrant is way down at the bottom.

In the language of Brexit there appears to be a kind of three-way hierarchy where expat is at the top, migrant is somewhere in the middle and immigrant is way down at the bottom.

This twisted terminology hangover of colonial times only contributes to dividing people further. Without delving too far into the history of modern statehood, it’s clear that the emergence of sovereign states over the past couple of centuries has contributed to greater animosity between citizens of different countries. 

That the British state and its former empire has been one of the most ferocious exponents of nationhood of all is clearly a contributing factor to the xenophobia which is rife in the UK.

The EU may have many flaws – not least its own migration policy – but the ideal that all countries are equal within the partnership is a positive force. Free movement means free movement. It does not imply that citizens of one country are somehow superior to those of another. The EU is much more than ‘the single market’, despite what many politicians would have us believe. 

I live and work in Spain, although I was born and brought up in Scotland. If an immigrant is a term that refers to a person who is no longer living in his or her country of origin, then I’m proud to be an immigrant.

The second issue which stands out for me is the attitude of many UK nationals living in Europe who continue to believe they are somehow superior to other people who, for whatever reason, do not reside in their country of birth.

That the British state and its former empire has been one of the most ferocious exponents of nationhood of all is clearly a contributing factor to the xenophobia which is rife in the UK.

In a BBC Scotland report broadcast last year on Scottish people living in Spain, they managed to find people who voted for Brexit. On a personal level, it’s incredible to think why you would want to shoot yourself in the foot like that, and it’s bordering on madness. 

But aside from this, it shows both an incredible lack of solidarity as well as a self-inflated sense of superiority. I encounter this feeling of superiority when I meet a lot of UK citizens living in other countries, that they somehow have a special status in the migrant community. 

Brexit must’ve come as a leveller for many people who are seeing that their government has effectively abandoned them, and is using them as bargaining chips, in order to pursue a hard line migration policy in the UK.

Perhaps even more worrying is that even if there was eventual agreement to back the rights of EU nationals in the UK, the details of any arrangement that aims to protect the body of rights enjoyed today by EU citizens is highly complex, as BuzzFeed Europe Editor Alberto Nardelli pointed out in a recent article.

To those who regard Scottish nationalism as an inward-looking, exclusionary movement, it’s worth reflecting on the Scottish Government’s intention to remain within the EU in the event of independence from the rest of the UK. 

To those who regard Scottish nationalism as an inward-looking, exclusionary movement, it’s worth reflecting on the Scottish Government’s intention to remain within the EU in the event of independence from the rest of the UK. 

For me it’s clear that Scotland’s place as an equal partner within a union of states makes more sense than as an unequal partner that’s ‘too poor, too wee and too stupid’ to make decisions for itself. 

The only way to combat xenophobia is by proving we are equal. We’re either all expats, or all immigrants. EU citizenship makes no difference between the two.

Picture courtesy of Nicolas Raymond

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