What Can We Do?

23rd September 2015

There are too many days now when I turn away from the news on radio or in the newspaper, with a vaguely guilty, helpless feeling. Across Europe, whole peoples are on the move, escaping terror and torture, war and destruction, desperately seeking peace and the normal life the rest of us take for granted.

There's nothing I can do. My house is in chaos with the extension work, and even if it weren't, what family of refugees is going to want to come all the way north to Muir of Ord and move in with me and the cats? And R., let's not forget him, as he's been here since he had his operation, being looked after and eating all the chocolate biscuits I bought for the builders.

I've been astonished at my own powers of concentration. There's Beethoven or Sibelius in the living room and upstairs Moray Firth Radio and relentless sawing and banging. In the wee study at the top of the house there's me, trying to work. Most of the time I've managed it, only once or twice fleeing to walk dog-next-door and get a bit of peace.

All this time, I've been sharply aware of my own good fortune, the privileged life I lead. So when I was asked to take part in an event to raise money for Syrian refugees, via UNICEF, I was very glad to agree. I'm going to be in good company – with Val McDermid and Lin Anderson – so I feel doubly honoured. To read, too, in St Andrew's Cathedral in Inverness, will be a tremendous thrill. Indeed, I'm being asked to show off and enjoy myself, for a good cause. My Calvinist-trained soul is very uncomfortable about this – surely one should suffer a bit when being virtuous?

There are politicians and commentators complaining that allowing all these 'migrants' into their country will destroy its culture and identity – shamefully, our own Foreign Secretary is one of them. History tells us that all countries change their identities and cultures over time – that is what makes for richness and diversity, and builds the future for our young people and their descendants. Of course it's frightening to think that our island will be over-crowded with strangers, but that's simply not going to happen. Certainly not in Britain, and under the current government.

Often we don't deal well with the mix of people we have here at present. I'm getting exercised about the housing estate going up near me – surely they're not coming any nearer? I watch the earth-moving with trepidation. As if I'm threatened in any way. Perhaps having more refugees, more and different people coming to join us, would actually help our tolerance and willingness to welcome and adapt to change.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do except keep challenging your own prejudices – and that's hard enough. But if you live in or near Inverness, and can make it to this event, please come. If you can't, tell any friends who do live here, so that as many people as can be crammed into the cathedral will hear Val and Lin, and put a little money into what is increasingly the crisis, and the cause, of our age.