Immigration, patriotism, us and them

The United Kingdom is a nation of proud inhabitants. We drink tea, we invented Doctor Who, we cannot help but turn to our default conversation topic – the weather. Our history is long and fruitful. Today, a rich multicultural diversity is bestowed upon us with unending advantages. Why then, does the subject of immigration rage on with such intense pace?

In December last year, the press pounced upon a local statistic. Boston, it would seem, has a population wherein 10% are Eastern European. That’s around 7,000 people living, working, socialising and investing in the area. At this point in majority of articles you will ever read on this topic, there will be a back story from several of those who have moved to this area for whatever reason. Perhaps a job opportunity, increased life chances for their offspring, economic viability or indeed, safety from exile. Then there will be a set of quotes from locals, as to why they are bewildered, confused and possibly dismayed at the lack of control they have over their hometown.

I do not disagree with either side of this story. Every human has the innately programmed urge to do the best for themselves and their kin. To provide adequate shelter, sustenance, knowledge, physical and emotional comfort and wellbeing. When larger numbers stand beside us, seemingly now wanting a share of these resources – our survival instincts will inevitably emerge in one form or another.

With so much statistical data to pour over, it’s little wonder many are sat on the fence as to what should or shouldn’t be done. The sheer amount of evidence for and against is staggering, and yet no one has come up with a solid conclusion. This is sociology at its finest.

The Migration Observatory (at Oxford University) notes that “evidence suggests that in the four fiscal years following EU enlargement in 2004, migrants from the A8 countries made a positive contribution to public finance in the UK.” Whereas Migration Watch UK are worried that the NHS will be put under unbearable strain, with the 2012 directive to give care to all those who walk through their doors.

The question I ask here though is not whether immigration is damaging or not. No, I ask, in layman’s terms, what is it that makes the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’? The stretching of resources is not limited to immigration. The increase of housing developments across the country do nothing to quell the fears of those struggling to survive in a tough economic climate.

But as soon as the European Union is mentioned, a media frenzy breaks out. When doing a quick internet search on news associated with migration, I instantly pick up on the headline ‘Scandal of cheaper foreign workers who snatch British jobs‘. This is in fact a link to an article published by the Express in August of this year. The article goes on to say that “FURY erupted last night after the Daily Express lifted the lid on a cheap foreign workers scandal that could mean tens of thousands of British jobs are going to people from elsewhere in Europe.” I do not dispute that fury erupted, merely why the headline didn’t read something along the lines of ‘Scandal as companies underpay hard-working European citizens desperate to make ends meet.’

This attitude is interwoven into our subconsciousness, that we, like many others, are a proud nation.

The film maker SG Collins posted a video online some time ago about what it means to be a nation. In it he raises the question of migration. “Migration is how we survived as a species. Look around you. Those dreaded ‘foreigners’ are already here. And you’re one of them. You don’t live in a world where you can stop people from moving from one place to another. People will keep moving. And like it or not, they will be sharing what you have.”

Whether one is to agree or disagree with Collins’ outlook on the state of nature, it raises a stance that is all to often forgotten. Right now, wherever and whoever you may be, I can guarantee amongst all other things in life, your primary intention is not to cause others hardship and suffering. It is to survive.

The inhabitants of Boston are going about their daily lives, wherever they are from and whoever they may be. Perhaps they rub shoulders in the wrong way sometimes, but when the soap boxes are put away, people carry on living.

People will continue to move in and out of this our glorious land; politicians, journalists and researchers like myself will continue to debate the subject. Our economic balance will ebb and flow as we make our way through another period of recession or prosperity. And perhaps foreign immigration does add pressure to our resources, perhaps for the wellbeing of its inhabitants we need a (foreign?) population policy.

Regardless of stance on the rights of other nations, I ponder on the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive.”