Before I go into why I’m voting Yes in September (my first vote ever), I’ll say a bit about my background and how it relates to my decision. My father comes from Mindanao in the Philippines and his father was from Madrid. My mother is from Manila. I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada, and now live permanently in Scotland. I suppose that makes this the Spanish-Filipino-Scottish-Canadian take on the independence referendum, which I suspect is a fairly unusual one.
My parents could have met in the Philippines because my mother, as we discovered later, was the nurse to my father’s cousin. Instead they met in the stationary aisle in Simpson’s Department Store, Toronto having come separately to Canada. My mother and I were both twenty two years old when we moved countries. I’m glad I share an immigrant narrative with my family – they know how hard it is to reinvent your life in a new place.
I came to Scotland in 2006 to do a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University, with poet Tom Leonard as my tutor. I had never been to Glasgow before. In fact, I had never been on an international flight before. My mom sewed seven hundred quid in cash into a secret pocket inside my jeans…I think she thought I was going to get mugged as soon as I landed. I loved my Masters at Glasgow and got a Fresh Talent visa for two years so that I could stay. I worked at the Centre for Contemporary Arts and freelanced for The Herald and The List. I then got a student visa and a scholarship to do a PhD in Scottish Literature on the work of Tom Leonard. In the meantime I published a poetry pamphlet called Close and moved to Edinburgh where I work as a researcher and tutor. I made my way through the ranks of visas and I finally got my Permanent Resident card.
Last year, I took the Life in the UK test which was an interesting experience. I had to learn 30,000 facts from the test’s preparatory book. I know the names of all of Henry the Eighth’s wives, and who opened the first curry house in Britain. Because I see myself as a Scot now, I was interested in the Scottish content in the test. My test had very few questions about Scotland. The ones I remember were: where did Bonnie Prince Charlie raise his army, and what is the maximum level of debt that can be handled in the Small Claims court in Scotland. Otherwise, Scotland sometimes was seen to be treated as comic relief. One online practice question, for instance, asked me to name the constituent parts of the UK Government: House of Lords, House of Commons or House of Fraser.
It’s not been easy to stay here in Scotland and it’s getting harder. In Canada if you are not an immigrant yourself then somebody in the extended family almost certainly is. Here the immigration system seems a mystery to many as they don’t know anybody who has gone through it. I get very upset when I read news stories of people like me who are turned down for visas, or Yashika Bageerathi, the teenager originally from Mauritius who was recently deported before finishing her A-levels. Immigration is still seen as a good thing in Canada. By contrast, I think Britain is close to treating every immigrant as an imposition, if it hasn’t reached that point already.
One of the reasons I’m voting Yes is that I would like Scotland to be in control of its own immigration system, which I don’t believe currently fits either Scotland’s needs or Scotland’s inclinations. I come from a very multicultural country. Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism is the reason my parents are there and I think that Scotland aspires to be multicultural as well. The avenue to residency that I initially took – as an international student who got a Fresh Talent visa – no longer exists. I don’t think it’s fair that it is now very difficult for Scots living outside of Scotland with non-EU partners to come back to Scotland. I don’t think it is right that so many good people have to leave when they want to stay here and contribute. I think Scotland would do things differently if it could and that that can only happen with independence.
It also frustrates me that Scotland can’t make independent decisions on the other things that matter most – the war in Iraq, for instance, which Canada refused to participate in, or nuclear weapons on its territory, which Canada got rid of. I sense how different Scotland is from Westminster already and as a young, global citizen committed to living and working in Scotland, I don’t feel represented by the UK government’s increasingly inward-looking, predominantly male, predominantly white, culture.
I think sometimes about the former Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau and his revamping of the immigration system which created the multicultural Canada that you can see today just by walking down the street. I think too of the Constitution Act which he signed thirty-two years ago, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which was embedded in it. Scotland could do these things if it chooses to – not simply by copying them but in its own inimitable way.
I hesitate to finish with two slogans from North American advertising culture, but, for once, ‘just do it’ and ‘be all that you can be’ seem to fit the bill quite nicely.
Theresa Muñoz is a poet and critic born in Vancouver, Canada, now living in Edinburgh. She was an Overseas Research Scholar at the University of Glasgow where she wrote the first thesis on the poet Tom Leonard. She works as a tutor/researcher and is also the online editor for the Scottish Review of Books. Her pamphlet Close was published by HappenStance Press in 2012.
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