This project explores how Polish migrants and the long-settled population ‘live together’ in the context of Brexit. It examines the nature of migrant-‘host’ encounters in the East End of Glasgow, a rapidly changing and an increasingly diverse urban area. It also investigates if and how growing insecurities and anxieties caused by the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) affect these encounters and the local community more broadly. In doing so, it contributes to the understanding of how Brexit impacts on the lives of people in Scotland, which is a home to sizable migrant populations. While this issue has been heavily discussed in the media ever since the EU referendum on 23 June 2016, academically it remains largely unexplored and demands urgent attention.
By giving voice to both Polish migrants and the long-established population in the East End of Glasgow, the project looks at everyday lives in the area (i.e. interactions, relationships, solidarities and concerns). It also investigates the sense of security and belonging, and how they are shaped by Brexit. The project employs an intersectional approach in order to move away from the migrant/non-migrant binary and to explore how people’s encounters with each other are shaped by their diverse backgrounds (e.g. gender, age, ethnicity, class).
The project utilises a range of qualitative methods including documentary analysis, participant observation, interviews and focus groups with the residents of the East End, and expert interviews with the representatives of the local voluntary and public sector organisations.
Why Polish migrants?
Polish nationals are currently the most numerous migrant group in Scotland and the UK more broadly (ONS 2016). An estimated 8,400 of them settled in Glasgow and have significantly contributed to the growth of the so-called ‘Other White’ population in the city (Scottish Census 2011). Polish migrants have been particularly prominent in the UK following the accession of Poland to the EU in 2004 and the opening of the UK labour market for Polish and other accession counties’ citizens. For example, Polish is now the second most spoken language after English in England and Wales, and the third in Scotland. However, there are also negative aspects of this prominence. A rise of anti-immigration sentiments has been recently noted in the UK and Poles have been targeted alongside other migrant groups. There also seems to be a growing sense of insecurity among migrant Poles, as well as other EU nationals, who appear to be increasingly anxious about their status and the right to remain in the UK post-Brexit.
A focus on Scotland provides a compelling case not least due to Scotland’s devolved government, distinctive immigration patterns and ethnic diversity. In the Brexit referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the EU vis-à-vis the overall vote to leave in England and Wales. The EU referendum has also revived debates about the Scottish independence from the UK, and issues related to Brexit have been increasingly intertwined with those of civic nationalism, citizenship and belonging. It is therefore crucial to look at the Scottish context to contribute to the wider investigation of regional disparities in attitudes towards and understandings of immigration and Brexit.
Why Glasgow’s East End?
The East End of Glasgow has been changing rapidly and is becoming ever more diverse. While it comprises neighbourhoods with history of poverty and deprivation, it has experienced a major shift over the last decade because of the extensive regeneration agenda and the influx of inner-city middle class. It also has a growing migrant population, in particular ‘Other White’ population, and boasts one of the largest Polish communities in Glasgow. Polish spaces, including delis, businesses and other venues, are increasingly visible there and have been contributing to the changing landscape of the area.