I find the Brain family quite difficult to write about a second time.
Back in May I contrasted their case with five Bangladeshis who were trafficked to the UK and enslaved in a hotel in the same constituency the Brains live in. My focus was on how their immigration status had been taken up by their MP, the SNP’s Ian Blackford, while he seemed indifferent to the tragic case of the Bangladeshi workers.
I don’t intend to reprise the story of the Brains’ coming to the UK on a student visa. The details are complex and disputed by some. The current, undisputed, situation is that the third (yes, third) extension to their visa came to an end at the beginning of August and the Home Office has asked them to leave voluntarily, failing which steps will be taken to remove them. As I write this, I assume they are still in the UK, ten days after their third deadline expired.
The reason I find it difficult to write about the case is that the important things it exemplifies are issues of principle. But they can only be understood by the specifics of their case, foremost among which is the fact that they have a child who attends a Gaelic-medium school. My personal view is they have used their child specifically and their own wishes more generally to make a special plea to stay in the UK – although they only seem to want to stay in Scotland, and then maybe only in Dingwall.
I’ll return to some of these details later in what threatens to be a longish post. I could have made it shorter, and given it a lot more visual impact, by just copying a number of photos that have appeared on Facebook or Twitter. Taken collectively they tell a story with many curious aspects. But many also feature the child they have used to help argue their case: he is not central to the problem and I do not wish to focus on him.
So, I am about to refer to images I have found on the web or people have sent me. As far as I can see they have all been in the public domain at some time. If anyone doubts the truth of what I say about them, I have retained copies.
To begin where I left off with my previous post, on 30 May Mrs Brain’s Facebook home page featured a group of nine photos that appeared on her timeline, five of which included nationalist/SNP logos or symbols (it’s shown at the end of that post). When I checked the same page yesterday it included only two bland family pictures and the timeline had only three innocuous entries dating back to January.
Someone pointed out to me that Mrs Brain must have made most of her Facebook page private and, sure enough, a box headed ‘Kathryn’s photos … Albums’ says that the now presumably private part of her page includes 43 profile pictures and 40 cover pictures. I assume the nine I included at the end of my previous post are among them. Here are the others I have seen:
- from 31 October 2014, a shared link with a photo of Alex Salmond as he ‘opens Lidl store as snub to Asda for failing to back Scottish independence’
- from 11 November 2014, a photo posted by someone else of a crowd waving a forest of flags, most of them Catalan, with the legend ‘CATALONIA VOTED YES.’ To that Mrs Brain has added ‘Catalonia the Brave!’
- from 20 January 2015, a post beginning ‘I have moved my young family and myself here …’ summarising the story of her family’s move to Scotland. It is abundantly clear from her reference to their visa situation that she is fully aware of the work requirements on her and her husband – ‘I have to return to Australia at the end of May  if I am unable to extend my visa to seek work …’
- from 18 March 2015, a photo confirming she has signed a petition on Change.org, about what is not clear, but to which she has added a long comment – ‘My husband and my family are ancestrally [sic] from Scotland and we, with our 6yo son, have been living here the last 3+ years while I undertake University study. We want to make Scotland our permanent home, but unless my husband obtains a Tier 2 Work Visa before the end of May (when my Tier 4 Student Visa expires), we will have to return to Australia.’ and finally
- from 1 July 2015 a stock photo of a crowd waving saltires and Yes posters confirming that she has signed another petition, this time for a second Scottish referendum. She has added the comment ‘Scotland’s voices are still falling on Westminster’s deaf ears, not for want of trying by our esteemed SNP ministers.’
I have also culled a number of other images from the web, including:
- the family standing at Holyrood with first minister Nicola Sturgeon, SNP of course, and SNP MSP Kate Forbes
- the family standing outside the Dingwall Museum with, again Kate Forbes SNP MSP, and their MP Ian Blackford, SNP
- another photo of the family, again standing at Holyrood with the first minister, Ms Forbes and a huddle of 9-10 other people, presumably all MSPs. I recognise one of two SNP faces, but just to show that their case is non-party the huddle includes the bespectacled figure of the Greens’ Patrick Harvie.
As I wrote at the end of my other post on the subject ‘Notice anything? Yes, me too.’
This time I’ll spell it out in the way I didn’t before. The Brains are very-pro Scottish separation and very pro-SNP. Despite being a guest on a student visa, Mrs Brain has not hesitated to express her views (now hidden from public gaze) on British politics, not least in her comment that ‘Scotland’s voices are still falling on Westminster’s deaf ears, not for want of trying by our esteemed SNP ministers.’
There is of course a possibility that she made most of the content of her Facebook page private because she feared abusive comments from people unsympathetic to her situation. But is it not more likely that someone with more political nous advised her to do so because her obvious allegiance to separation and the SNP would blow a hole in the touching image of a family with Gaelic-speaking child and Scottish heritage keen to make the Highlands their ‘permanent home’?
The UK (yes, UK) is a free and open country and I doubt if any conditions are attached to the Brains’ visas that restrict their expressing a political opinion about UK politics. But one of them at least has clearly gone beyond the expression of opinion to active participation. It’s as if I’d gone to Australia as a student and started campaigning publicly for something controversial there (aboriginal land rights?), signed a petition against the federal government’s policy, and criticised their ‘deaf ears’ on the subject.
Other aspects of the case increase my scepticism about the motivation of these now presumably illegal immigrants.
For example, the number of job offers both are said to have received or are on the brink of receiving (an appropriate job could have regularised their immigration status). Here a job at a distillery, there one with a property company, and even after this third visa deadline has passed, several ‘promising’ possibilities. But as long ago as 20 January 2015 (Facebook post mentioned above), if not before, they had a complete awareness of the work issue. That’s at least 19 months ago. Not one successful job application in all that time? How serious were they about finding work? Would they even consider moving from their beloved Dingwall? (Amusingly, I noticed someone from Birmingham yesterday on a Facebook page called ‘Help the Brain Family with their fight to stay in UK’ offering them both a job and a house – in Birmingham. It was politely but peremptorily rejected online by Mrs B without further apparent investigation as not meeting their [expired] visa conditions).
For example also, a factor previously unknown has suddenly emerged in their case – they are Christians and Mr Brain
believes God has called his family to the UK [although in every other public statement it seems to be Scotland he called them to] and he has brought them to this point.
He said: ‘It has been our experience that when we feel these sorts of callings that God has opened doors for us …’ (Premier Christian Radio web site 4 August 2016)
What being Christian has to do with the family’s immigration status I cannot see. Mr Brain does not say what their current allegiance and church-going involves although he does ask people to pray for them. If you’re concerned about this dimension of the case check the comment on the Premier web site by ‘Alec,’ which does an efficient (although not very Christian) hatchet job on this seemingly new dimension of their campaign to stay in Scotland. Still, perhaps they hope this last minute publicity results in some practical support and lobbying as well as prayer.
I’m afraid that for me the Brains don’t come out of this very well. The essence of their case seems to be ‘We’ve got Scottish ancestry, we like Scotland and its history and we’d like to stay.’ The same could be said of many people but it’s no way to run an immigration policy.
As for the SNP, my cynicism abounds. For them the Brains tick all the right boxes – Scottish ancestry/ethnicity, self-evidently love Scotland, a track record of support for independence/SNP, photo opps, another grievance to hammer the UK with. If you doubt my conclusion try to imagine the same support for, say, an Australian overstaying his welcome who was descended from a Highland landowner, come to study his ancestors’ stewardship of the land, expressing support for ‘No’ in the referendum, and lauding ‘our esteemed Conservative ministers.’ Difficult.
When I wrote about this case before, I contrasted it with the indifference the Brains’ MP Ian Blackford seemed to have towards a genuinely shocking case of modern slavery in his constituency. He finally seemed to be stirred into some sort of action in early June when a migrant support worker arranged a meeting with him for the men concerned. At the time, Blackford was quoted as saying he was happy to meet these men to hear about their plight and although (quite properly) he could only act for the one who was still in his constituency, ‘I need to speak with them to discuss what avenues are open to them’ (Press and Journal, 6 June). It’s better than nothing but it’s not exactly wholehearted, is it? And I haven’t heard what, if anything, he’s done about it since the meeting.
Meantime, ten days after they are supposed finally to have left the country, the Australian family are still here. Will they go voluntarily, or will they have to be removed forcibly?
Could my cynicism about the SNP extend to thinking that forcible removal would be their preferred option – tears on the doorstep, the plucky victims surrounded by banner-waving members of the community, all of Scotland outraged (they hope), a final and faux desperate intervention by the first minister, Westminster blamed yet again? It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. My preferred option, unsurprisingly, is that the family leave voluntarily, quietly, and with their dignity preserved.