In what proved to be a very interesting and contrasting schedule last night, the BBC chose to explore the immigration issue across both BBC1 and BBC3 from the contentious hotbed of a so called 'state of the nation' debate to a more clarion call to righteous anger. Those programmes were Too Many Immigrants? at 9pm and Glasgow Girls at 10pm.
Too Many Immigrants? saw the two stars of The Apprentice, Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford tackle the immigration question by pairing up British people who believe the UK is, to quote one 'full up' with immigrants who have come to live and work here.
Hewer and Mountford make for a formidable duo, looking not unlike two long retired villains that James Bond may have had to have faced during his 60s heyday. But thankfully rather than have them hector and express their own points they tend to sit back, often in a black cab, and let the others deal with the hot potato at hand.
Perhaps unsurprisingly we were faced with some stubborn, obnoxious and fearful Brits who believe that their unemployment, housing woes and lack of social activities are down to immigrants 'coming here, taking all our....' blah blah blah whilst the immigrants are shown to have adapted to our society, knuckled down and made a living in their own quiet way. Some of the British people's concerns seem quite realistic at first, specifically the young man who had been unemployed for two years compared to his French female counterpart who got a job in London almost instantly. It was only when the programme explored the man's issues, peeling them back like layers of onion, that we, and indeed he himself, realised his anti-immigration issue ultimately doesn't hold water; he had self confidence issues (no doubt hindered and multiplied from two years on the dole) which led to him choosing to seek employment in one narrow and much contested role, namely warehouse work. When he got the chance to work just for a day alongside the French girl in the eaterie she worked at, the change in him was visible for all to see and his opinions altered - the only one thus far to actually do so.
We also met an elderly couple who seemed to believe that the lack of a social club or Darby and Joan in their neighbourhood was down to immigration. Not quite sure how that works - surely this is an issue with local councils not providing you with leisure facilities? The only argument I can perhaps see is that an immigrant community still has a stronger sense of community itself than a British born one does. Tragic but perhaps true. They equally complained about the number of foreign owned businesses on their high street, a thoroughfare that once held a number of independent British shops that ultimately went bust or upped and relocated. No one thought to ask the couple however if they regularly shopped in those businesses or if they used the Tesco round the corner. Their concern was allowed to stand.
There was also a young man still living at home and bitter at not having a home for both him and partner. He was surprised to see a Polish man living in an area that looked quite respectable, one that was not 'a ghetto' which was what he expected, but realised after chatting to the man that he still struggled to pay the bills and keep his family afloat. I sometimes wonder if the real root of some twenty/thirty somethings apathy towards immigrants is down to belonging to a generation, born in the 80s, who believed everything was on offer to them, only to find reality being rather different.
Lastly we met what can only be described as a clearly very anxious and ignorant man, a UKIP voter no doubt, who feared immigration would lead to the erosion of British way of life. He cited cups of tea, piers and funfairs, fish and chips and beer as things that peered perilously into the abyss unless the government brought in stricter border control. Not quite sure how that works really and it was rather disheartening to see him stubbornly keep his views despite meeting an immigrant who had been snapped up to work in healthcare because of a shortage here some years ago. This man is paid to keep people alive, to keep them around to support the way of life his British counterpart believes is dying because he is here. Umm?
Like a palette cleanser, Glasgow Girls commenced immediately after this on BBC3. Oh BBC3, I do worry what will happen to such bold and topical drama making when you go, because unless you're Jimmy McGovern the BBC doesn't seem to care for one off drama all that much of late, preferring to sideline it on BBC3, with both this and the recent Murdered By My Boyfriend being prime examples.
Glasgow Girls is based on a true story concerning seven pupils at Drumchapel High who, alongside their teacher, launched a campaign against the unnecessarily traumatic and insensitive dawn raids upon asylum seekers which lead to child detention and ultimately deportation.
It was a bold and novel drama in that it skirted around the musical genre, with characters occasionally singing songs like Rudimental's Not Giving In when confronting police who were trying to remove families and Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here when considering their friend being sent back home to face who knows what. Occasionally that, coupled with the necessarily youthful cast and school setting, made it feel a bit like a school play but it was done with such integrity and commitment that ultimately it was a stirring pleasure to watch.
I wonder if anyone who happened to have sat through BBC1's offering would have tuned in to this only to find them reconsidering their position. You know the type I mean, those who say 'I don't mind them coming here if they've something to give us and if they're happy to work for it' because essentially what that means is I don't mind an immigrant workforce, but I draw the line at those seeking asylum. Would they still say the same when considering the horror of families who fled a land of secret police and disappearances in the night to come to the alleged democracy and security of the UK...where they were confronted by the police who would make them disappear in the night...would they feel the same about asylum seekers then? Or does that require an empathy and an ability to consider the cruel and unnecessary trauma they face that they perhaps do not have?