Deidre Brock MP

Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith

Windrush debate is less than it should be

Windrush is not some isolated case, and it is not an aberration or a deviation from the norm. It fits right into the institutional racism of this place.

Deidre Brock MP

In many ways, our debates over the Windrushers have been too small, too fixated on destroyed immigration documents or on who knew what when.

Like those of EU citizens, the interests of the Windrush citizens have not been given the attention they should have been afforded; they have been afterthoughts as far as too many UK politicians are concerned.

The political game has seemed more important than the people whose lives are affected, and the point scoring more important than sorting the matter out.

The debates are too small in another way, too. They are about a group of cases regarding the symptoms of a policy malfunction, not about the policy malfunction itself. It is not, as was suggested earlier, simply a structural problem in the Home Office.

The anti-immigration rhetoric of successive UK Governments has created an environment of xenophobic mistrust, hate and fear. The "go home" vans that the Prime Minister created in her previous post of Home Secretary were a development from Gordon Brown's "British jobs for British workers".

We know, too, that the Government of Clement Attlee was not the benign, welcoming and inclusive regime it has recently been painted as. We know that the Ministers in that Government wanted immigration to be a temporary phenomenon.

Racism runs deep in the political psyche here. A bias is embedded in the minds of many politicians that will not easily be dislodged.

Windrush is not some isolated case, and it is not an aberration or a deviation from the norm. It fits right into the institutional racism of this place.

From the attempts of Attlee's Ministers to turn the ship away, to the Immigration Act 1971, and on to the vicious, hostile environment of the current Government, there is a thread of hate linking the attitudes of the generations. Those attitudes have driven public perceptions too, in the casual racism we all too often see.

The right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Diane Abbott) can testify to that, I believe, with the appalling flood of bile that is directed at her.

Even with that evidence so easily available to us, all the attitudes persist here, and that has driven the debate on a number of issues, not least of which has been the debate on our relationship with the EU.

For all that nonsense about that bus with the promise to pay the NHS millions every week, the main driver of the leave debate was racist. It was an argument of exceptionalism—an opinion that we are somehow better than everyone else.

It has continued into the aftermath too, with the Government's disregard for the worries of EU citizens concerned for their future here. Treated as pawns, they have been left with no certainty about their position post-Brexit.

People who have contributed to our communities, paid their taxes, made society better, and built lives and futures here have been dispossessed by a Government who seem determined to fight Agincourt again.

Three million people who—like the Windrush generation —live, work, study, pay taxes and contribute to society here have had their lives thrown into question.

EU citizens have been packing up and leaving ahead of Brexit: shutting down businesses, resigning from the NHS and leaving their research labs and universities. That damages Scotland. We need the people who will help run our services, build businesses, support our academic sector and build our future. People who come to share Scotland are as welcome as they are necessary, and we need them.

The Government's attitude is disgraceful. They have targets for deporting immigrants. Imagine that: those are not targets as in, "This person or those people should not be allowed to stay", but targets as in, "8,337 a year". What could possibly be the driver of that, other than racism, a sense of exceptionalism and an attitude that we are somehow better than others?

Successive UK Governments have created an atmosphere of mistrust and fear, and they are proud of it—the Prime Minister even praises the "hostile environment". They thought that they had tapped into a source of votes by painting immigrants as some kind of threat to an imaginary British way of life.

Now Windrush is blowing up the dust of the UK's imperial past. People who came to these islands as British citizens are being deported. People who came here half a century ago are being told to go home. The vans may be gone, but the attitude has not.

They are being told to go back to countries they would not recognise now. Their children and grandchildren are also targeted—people who were born in the UK and have never lived anywhere else. Some have already been deported, some have declared themselves stateless to avoid deportation and many more are living in fear that their lives are about to be utterly broken.

These people came here when there were labour shortages. They worked, paid their taxes and built lives and communities. They had children who worked, paid their taxes and built on that legacy. They have grandchildren who are doing the same.

The UK is unlikely to change any time soon, but Scotland needs immigrants—we need population growth, and we need the energy and the impetus that comes with them. Our country is damaged by the right-wing xenophobia of deportation, document checks and fear-mongering.

EU citizens and Windrush people should not be discouraged or deterred; they should be welcomed and encouraged.

This debate is less than it should be—it should be an in-depth and unflinching analysis of the continuing racism of the body politic here. That is our shame and our disgrace, and we should not be content to hand it on to future generations.

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Monday, 24 September 2018

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