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Indeed; I remember that evidence session well. Stuart McMillan is quite right. That was at an earlier stage, but that evidence nonetheless reflected how quickly the uncertainty impacted on people’s lives and people’s sense of what they were able to plan for and do.
Some of those who responded to the RGU study experienced direct discrimination as a result of the vote. Others were nervous at being marked out as different and were unsure how much even we British citizens who were most sympathetic could understand how they felt.
Thirdly, there was a sense of loss through change. Some participants described that as being like mourning. First, there was denial; then there was sadness; finally, there was acceptance of their loss. One talked about taking a different way to work to avoid seeing the endless and depressing headlines about Brexit and immigration. Others found that the mental ill health that they already faced was made worse by depression about the referendum vote or anxiety about what might happen next.
Those are consequences of the vote to leave the EU. To some degree, they are unintended consequences. Many who voted to leave the EU did not think about the implications for EU citizens any more than they thought about the implications for Gibraltar or for peace in Ireland. However, for others—including some in the Conservative Party—immigration was at the centre of their campaign to leave, and the pain and loss of EU citizens here and of British citizens elsewhere in the European Union were a price worth paying.
The report is one of many reports to confirm just how deeply irresponsible the leave campaign really was. As we all know, what will ultimately happen with Brexit is still to be determined. Whatever the outcome, the underlying sense of rejection for many EU citizens in this country will not simply go away. Even if Brexit is not taken forward, work will still be needed to convince them that they really are welcome, not just by some of their neighbours but by the community and the country as a whole.
The motion that we are debating does not propose an approach in Scotland that is different from that in the rest of the United Kingdom. The minister has proposed that the next UK Government takes a different approach to protect EU citizens throughout the UK in the event that Brexit goes ahead, and that is absolutely right and welcome.
The minister’s party and mine agree on the matters that we are debating today, just as we do on the wider impact of Brexit on people’s human rights. However, we should not ignore the implications of the debate for other potential referendums, which may also pose hard choices, and where some of our fellow citizens may also feel that they have a great deal to lose.
The report, and many other studies of the impact of the Brexit referendum on European citizens, is clear: hostile intentions are not required for there to be very distressing impacts when it comes to erecting borders that cut through people’s lives. We should all be open to understanding what that might imply for decisions that we might take now and in the future.