The Home Office’s leaked paper on EU citizens was sadly rather predictable. They clearly want to deal with EU citizens in the same way as all other foreigners – and as Pavel Iosad has repeatedly reminded us on Twitter, nobody has ever seemed to mind that much.
However, it will have huge repercussions for the UK. Most EU citizens have ID cards only (no passports), and if that’s not good enough any longer, a large number of tourists and business people will go elsewhere.
Also, whereas people from outwith the EU will expect to jump through various immigration hoops if they want to work anywhere other than in their home country, EU citizens will still have nearly 30 hassle-free destinations to choose from. For instance, when I accepted a job offer in Bishopbriggs back in 2002, I was weighing it up against another opportunity in Norway. If the Scottish job had required a time-limited visa, I don’t think I would have been interested in it (or at the very least, they would have had to offer a much higher salary to make me consider it).
Although it’s possible the new rules will only apply to new arrivals from the EU after Brexit, nothing is certain at this stage, and practically all EU citizens are watching developments with fear and dread. Lots of people have already left, and many more are frantically searching for a job on the continent (or two jobs, if their partner expects to work, too) to allow them to leave, too.
A year ago, Nicola Sturgeon’s reassuring words made a lot of EU citizens in Scotland relax – it felt like she was standing up for us, and that she wouldn’t allow Scotland do be dragged out of the Internal Market.
However, after June’s general election, things feel different. Although we still feel welcome on a personal level (which is very different from the stories EU citizens in non-metropolitan England are reporting), it now feels like the Scottish Government has lost its ScotRef mojo, that their plan now is to exit the EU with the rUK, trying to gain some powers over fisheries and agriculture in the process (something which I couldn’t care less about), and hope that the Brexit clusterfuck will make the people of Scotland rise up and demand independence within a few years. But if that’s the plan, I’m most likely to leave, together with a great many other EU citizens.
I might of course be wrong, and something might be happening behind the scenes. The Scottish Government might for instance have been told confidentially that the UK government will stay in the Internal Market (including free movement of people) forever more (but that doesn’t tally with the Home Office paper), or that Scotland will get full powers over immigration after Brexit. It might even be the case that Nicola is planning to declare independence without a referendum if need be, but that’d surprise me.
The main thing is that the EU citizens in Scotland increasingly feel like we’ve been forgotten. That we’ve been marched up to the top of the hill, and then abandoned.
If the Scottish Government has a great plan for how to protect us, they’d better start saying it out loud, or we’ll start leaving in great numbers. And the only two things that will really reassure us are either that the UK decides to remain within the Internal Market (either by ditching Brexit or by going for a Norwegian-style solution), or that Scotland declares independence before Brexit happens.