One of Scotland’s many blessings is its international reputation, built on many varied and dazzling things but not least on the warmth and welcome of its people. As Billy Wolfe, one-time SNP Leader and inveterate champion of Scotland and its people was once heard to observe: “why shouldn’t we welcome incomers—we’re not nearly full up”. And when you consider that under 10% of the population of Britain is stretched across a third of the island, that’s a hard statement to argue with.
Billy also saw us as a mongrel nation. One of the earliest septs of Clan Donald—and who may even have been part of the Dark Ages outpost of Ulster Scots who founded Dalriada—were the MacIsaacs. With a name probably derived from St Kissock, they were mainly bailiffs of Clanranald, coming to regard the beautiful, rugged corner of Moidart as ancestral ground. They were hard-hit by 19th © Clearances and, driven from their lands, congregated in the Nova Scotia counties of Inverness and Antigonish, from where they spread along the rugged Atlantic Provinces and New England coast.
So when in the 1960s, a David MacIsaac first made a living in the choppy seas off Massachusetts, it was amidst uncles and brothers who, between hauling fleets of lobster, told him tales of the Highlands and of the Hebrides, making them seem so real and so seminal. They would point ENE: “follow that direction straight and you will find Scotland”. He swore to himself, one day, he would do just that.
It took him 40 years and, by then a teacher, his first visit not only revealed his ancestral homeland but also that it was crying out for teachers in rural communities. It took him another two years to secure such a job, along with a permit to do it, tie up affairs in the States and move here to be sole teacher to 17 pupils at the primary school in Ae, a small village of unpretentious houses in the rolling hills North of Dumfries.
He soon met Susan, a local artist and when they married in 2006, it was a whole village affair with all of his pupils and their parents attending, as well as old friends from Massachusetts. Not long after that, Susan’s parents became infirm and moved in with the couple, with David becoming their official carer. Just last year, things became tougher when Susan was diagnosed with cancer, leading to a now completed but difficult course of radiotherapy and the prospect of surgery early in 2014. She is full of praise for David: “He has been my rock and I simply don’t know how I would cope if he were deported”.
Sorry—deported? This story was going so well—where did that come from?
Being a US citizen, when David’s first visa expired in 2009, he had to apply for (and got) a three-year skilled worker permit, which ran out last year. Upon his enquiry to achieve his long-term goal of permanent residence, the Home Office advised him to apply for just that and everything seemed to be moving, albeit sluggishly, towards that goal of ensuring happiness for all concerned. That happiness lasted until last month when a letter arrived from the UKBA part of the Home Office, refusing that permission.
It appears that some desk-driving pencil-neck suspects the marriage to be one of convenience: “It is not accepted that the evidence you have provided is sufficient to confirm that there is a genuine and subsisting relationship between you and your sponsor”. That last is his wife. The ba’heid then adds insult to injury by observing “English is the first language of both you and your wife; therefore language is not considered to be an insurmountable obstacle to your partner accompanying you to the United States”. Just how a hospital bed is fitted into a plane was not among the helpful hints.
As an example why bureaucrats should be the first up against the wall when the revolution comes, this can scarcely be bettered. But, rather than choose any such immoderate behaviour, David and Susan have been cheerily patient and slightly embarrassed by the entire community swinging behind them. A petition is being signed by everyone; support has been sought and received from D&G Education Authority and local politicians of every political stripe. No-one who knows the MacIsaacs can believe any of this need happen.
His councillor Andrew Woods, a stocky, jovial farmer from nearby Auldgirth, says “parents and children are devastated that he could be lost to us. He is an outstanding teacher, leader and a real asset. He has opened up our school to the community in so many ways.”
The local MP Russell Brown says “We have a shortage of head teachers in local primary schools. It would be a real blow if David were prevented from continuing. We need the Minister to use a bit of common sense.”
It would be a stretch to equate the bureaucratic insensitivity confronting David and Susan with the utter brutality that drove his MacIsaac ancestors to seek a better life elsewhere. But his many friends are outraged that a highly qualified and gifted leader who has more than paid his way since his arrival should so resoundingly represent the kind of immigrant the present government claims we need and yet be treated with—at the very least— misinformed callousness.
But it is no stretch to posit that the (currently non-existent) Scottish Home Office Minister who believes in what this mongrel nation could become would take one look at this case before having a couple of heavies named ‘Shuggie’ and ‘Gash’ wheechle the numpty who wrote the letter up a close to have a word wi’ himsel’.
(To publicise this outrage, the basic story was extracted from Kevin McKenna’s article on page 11 of The Observer of 27th October 2013)