Post-Brexit future of Pakistani Scots

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 29.06.16

On June 23, through a referendum, about 52 percent of the British voted in support of the
exit of Britain, called Brexit, from the European Union (EU). In 1973, Britain joined the
precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, and the decision was reinforced
through a countrywide referendum held in 1975 in which 66 percent voters cast a
favourable vote. In the media, much has been discussed about the pros and cons of Brexit
for Britain and the EU, but less has been debated about the post-Brexit future of the
Pakistanis permanently settled in Scotland, called Pakistani Scots, who are originally
immigrant settlers.

After 1947, Pakistanis as immigrants got settled in Scotland because of two main reasons.
First, the United Kingdom (UK) which was represented mostly by the English during their
colonial rule over the undivided India. Secondly, it was because of the policies of UK’s
Labour party, which continually kept ruling the centre, London. Hence, Pakistani immigrants
settled in Scotland neither because of Scotland itself nor because of any Scottish political
party. These two reasons make Pakistani Scots vulnerable to exploitation in any new
situation where the hold of London over Scotland wanes and where the influence of the
Labour party reduces. The turn of events indicates that such a situation — where a
departure from these two L’s, London and Labour, is possible — is imminent and perhaps
ineludible.

Since September 1997 when the simple majority referendum in Scotland engendered a
devolved government, the Scottish parliament has been extracting more and more powers
from London. The consequent decentralisation is kindling the hope for independence in the
Scots, though in a referendum held in Scotland in September 2014, about 55 percent Scots
opposed and 45 percent supported Scottish independence from the UK. The results were a
caveat for London, which devolved more powers to Scotland, recommended by the Smith
Commission and incorporated into Scotland Act 2016. The change in the thinking of the
Scots about power distribution between London and Scotland has also witnessed a
dwindling appeal for the Labour party in Scotland. Consequently, Pakistani Scots have
been facing a problem of representation and protection. Some have taken refuge in
supporting the Scottish Labour party — a subsidiary of UK’s Labour Party — in the Scottish
parliament, whereas others back the Scottish National Party (SNP), which hankers after
independence.

Nationalism, steeped in identity crisis, is a double-edged weapon. Nationalism is the force
behind Brexit to make Britain leave the EU; nationalism is going to be a force behind
“Scexit” to make Scotland leave the UK. That is, Brexit has shown the importance of
nationalism to the Scots who are keen to show their kind of nationalism to the UK. Secondly,
Brexit has produced a rift between London and Scotland, as the results of the referendum
disparage the aspirations of the Scots who wanted to remain in the EU, as one of the major
arguments given by pro-independence Scots during the 2014 referendum was that as an
independent country, Scotland would sustain financially by being in the EU. Now, after
Brexit, the surge for independence is bound to rise in the Scots so that they could express
their nationalism and be part of the EU. The same surge is bound to strain relations
between London and Scotland.

Over the years, Pakistani Scots who kept on exploiting Labour slogans to their advantage
now tend to think that they can side with the Scots who would embrace them as a minority
reality after seeking independence from the UK. Pakistani Scots are mistaken. Nationalism
does not respect multiculturalism, which is a vague umbrella term to obscure the nude
realities of multi-ethnicity or multi-racism. Given the rage of racism — an expression of
nationalism — rampant in Scotland especially in the post-Brexit phase, it is highly likely that
the Scots may court Pakistani Scots to vote for independence from the UK in any future
referendum, and after winning the referendum get rid of them under the same spell of
nationalism. It is apparent that the distance of Pakistani Scots from London and from
Labour is bound to uproot them from Scotland.

Some argue that Pakistani Scots are integrated into Scottish society, and hence they
cannot be jettisoned by the Scots. In this regard, an observer may find two main trends.
First, some Pakistani Scots have married with the Scots. Second, at their work place,
Pakistani Scots also employ the Scots. Collectively, these two points may give Pakistani
Scots a sense of security and association, but these also indicate that Pakistani Scots are
facing a perceived compulsion of engaging the Scots, whereas this compulsion is almost
absent in England. Similarly, Pakistani Scots are no doubt active politically in Scotland, but
they leave no opportunity to make the Scots realise their separate identity. For instance, in
May this year, Humza Yousaf, a Member of Scottish parliament elected on the ticket of the
SNP from Glasgow Pollok, took oath in Urdu, besides English, in the Scottish parliament.
Moreover, at the oath-taking ceremony, instead of dressing up in a formal suit, he wore a
traditional Scottish kilt with a sherwani jacket which made him look like a clown. Both these
acts were to express his identity somehow, and the same belied the claims of integration
into the Scottish society.

Some also argue that Pakistani Scots and the Scots share one thing in common: they call
themselves colonial cousins. That is, as England colonised undivided India, England also
colonised Scotland, and as Pakistani Scots are a product of independence from England in
1947, the Scots are yet to be independent from England. Pakistani Scots are confident that
after Scotland seeks independence, minorities including them will not be thrown out of
Scotland. However, no one has given Pakistani Scots any guarantee in this regard. The
point is simple: minorities may not be thrown out of Scotland, but life can be made hell for
them socially to let them think about an alternative place to live.

Back to columns in 2016