Monday, 6 June 2016

Dear Aymara

23rd June 2036

Dear Aymara

Happy 20th birthday!

When your dad - my son - met your Mum in that refugee detention centre in Greece back in 2015 her situation was desperate. She had escaped with her sister from the cluster bombs of Aleppo and then spent three months walking across Turkey trying to avoid the kidnappers and the people-traffickers.

You were born on the day that Britain voted to stay in Europe.

Thanks to a massive vote in Scotland in favour of staying in, the UK voted 51% to 49% to remain. It was horribly close. The campaign for the EU Referendum was particularly nasty, focusing on migration in a way that hinted at, even if it did not directly condone, discrimination. This was especially ironic in Britain whose islands were populated by migrants who had settled there after the last ice age, and then by endless waves of peoples - Romans, Vikings, Normans… after that. Britain had been the source of huge migrations to Canada, the USA and Australia, and then had taken back the people of the world either as refugees (the Jewish children and the Norwegian resistance during WWII) or because it needed the labour force. The result is that the Glasgow I know and love is a wonderful mixture of Vikings and Pakistanis, of Picts and Italians (Mr Nardini in Largs always made the best ice cream!), of Afro-Caribbeans and Irish.

I am a migrant, one of the hundreds of thousands who has taken advantage of the EU to move to Catalonia (remember your tenth birthday, when we cerebrated Catalonia becoming independent? That was a p-a-r-t-y!!!) You spent last year as an Erasmus student in Paris being a migrant. You and I know that migrants are good for their adopted country; you were able to help your new friends in Paris to understand what happened in Syria all those years ago and I saw the lovely pictures of the dinner you cooked for them; dolmades from Greece, Kebab Halabi from Aleppo and cranachan from Scotland!!

In the end the EU referendum was not about migration. It could never be about migration in a country made by migrants. It was about beliefs.

The closeness of the vote, like the Referendum in Scotland two years previously, made us all think. What did we believe in? Did we believe in a US style of capitalism, focused on individual freedoms? Or in the European style of welfare state that protects people who are poor, in pain or in need?

Thanks to the EU Referendum our special European model, the welfare state, was revived.

That meant the end of a set of political beliefs started when I was about your age by a Westminster leader called Margaret Thatcher. She believed (it sounded reasonable at the time) that if you cut back on the state's responsibilities and cut taxes, the rich would be encouraged to be more entrepreneurial, building new businesses and creating new jobs. The result would be that the wealth would 'trickle down' to the poor.

By the time you were born (under a different prime minister called David Cameron - but I doubt you know his name, he left no mark in history) it was obvious that this idea, called 'neoliberalism', did not work. The gap between the rich and the poor had widened. Not only had neoliberalism made hundreds of thousands of people in the UK poorer, it had allowed people of wealth to stash away billions in secret hiding places, including many former British colonies. The wealth was not trickling down. It was bleeding out.

The people of the British isles - migrants all of us - voted for our belief in a welfare state.  The revival of the welfare state has finally started to close the gap between wealth and poverty. You and I and 500 million other people across Europe have benefited in the last 20 years from the results of that choice by the people of Britain. We have had opportunities - from your education to my pension - that we might not have had, had Britain voted itself out of the arms of Europe.

Enjoy every day of that - your birthday especially.



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